76 posts categorized "Giants of Judaism"

Rebbe Natan's Yahrtzeit: Tonight and Sunday

Shavua Tov! Tonight and tomorrow mark the 10th of Teveth, the 172nd yahrtzeit of Rebbe Natan (Nosson) of Breslev. Here are some photos we took in Breslev, Ukraine a few summers ago:

Photo 1: Rebbe Natan's Gravesite

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Photo 2: View of the Ukranian countryside from Rebbe Natan's gravesite

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Photo 3: The River Bugg, here Rebbe Natan would pour his heart out in personal prayer

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Photo 4: Lazer praying at Rebbe Natan's gravesite

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Mattatyahu's Courage

Kever Mattatyahu
Image above: the holy gravesite of Mattatyahu son of Yochanan, the High Priest (Cohen HaGadol), father and spiritual leader of the Maccabees

Happy Chanuka!

Mattatyahu Cohen HaGadol, whom we remember every time we say the "Al HaNissim" prayer during Chanuka, is buried in a cave in a forest, about a kilometer north of Highway 443 near Mevo Modiin.

Mattatyahu and his sons fought a double war - not only against the Syrian Greeks, but against the 95% of the Jewish people who had become assimilated Hellenists. But because of his steadfast, unwavering and uncompromising commitment to Hashem, to his emuna, to the Torah and to his homeland, he was able to overcome all obstacles and instill the fire of emuna and total dedication in the hearts of his brave sons and daughter.

Where did he get his strength and courage from?

Nothing gives a person strength like clarification of the truth. A person who knows the truth and who lives according to the truth is as fierce as a lion. He is not willing to live a lie; so, if you take the truth away from him, he'll no longer regard his life as worth living. That's why our ancestors in every generation all the way back to our forefather Abraham were willing to sacrifice their last breath and heartbeat for our faith in Hashem and our Torah.

Mattatyahu and his sons Yehuda, Elazar, Shimon, Yochanan and Yonatan knew the truth. For a servant of Hashem, life is worthless without Torah, emuna, and holiness. The Hellenists fooled themselves while trying to dilute the truth and appease the Syrian Greeks, but the latter wanted to destroy it altogether and to substitute it with a life of pursuing bodily amenities.

Did Hashem send our souls down to this lowly earth just for another piece of steak, another fling with the opposite sex, or another NBA game? Those who waste their lives in the pursuit of material appetites are neither happy nor fulfilled. What's worse, they haven't devoted a single minute to clarifying the truth.

21" biceps won't give you courage. Truth and emuna will.

If the Prime Minister of Israel would clarify the truth, no foreign pressure in the world would sway him a single millimeter. If a teenager would clarify the truth, then he'd say no to the stupid things that his peers are doing. If a woman knew the truth, she wouldn't care if her neighbors called her "nebby" or "yachna" for dressing the way Hashem wants her to dress. If a man would be honest with himself, he'd realize how contemptable it would be to sacrifice one's entire family for a few moments of illicit thrills.

Mattatyahu and his sons were masters at truth clarification. They weren't willing to live for two minutes without the truth. That's where they derived the courage to fight a virtually impossible war. And that's why they won.

While we're basking in the holy light of the Chanuka candles, let's ponder the real meaning of this beautiful festival that commemorates the miracle of the few prevailing over many, the pure prevailing over the impure, and the light prevailing over darkness. Let's remember the dedication and commitment of Mattatyahu and his sons. Let's strengthen ourselves and carry their torch of Torah and truth, no matter what the odds. We can do it. All we need is emuna. Happy Chanuka!


The Story of the Holy Bach

Rabbi Yoel ben Shmuel Sirkis (1561-1640), aka the "Bach", named after his landmark commentary on the Arba Turim, was one of the greatest rabbis and scholars of all time. He was also my 11th generation great grandfather on my mother's side, which makes me a distant cousin of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, of blessed memory, who was a great-grandson of the Bach.

In the following memorable clip, here's Rabbi Shlomo telling a classic story about the Bach, which I enjoy telling to my guests and grandchildren in our Succa. It's really moving, and I'm sure you'll enjoy it. Moadim L'Simcha and Shabbat Shalom!


Rebbe Nachman's 206th Yahrtzeit

Willows Breslev

Above image: Lazer by a willow tree in the town of Breslev, Ukraine, near the Bugg River - these are probably the same willows that Rebbe Nachman used with his lulav...

Today, the 18th of Tishrei 5777, is the 206th yahrtzeit of our holy, esteemed and beloved Rebbe, Rebbe Nachman of Breslev, may his holy neshama intervene in our behalf, amen!

Please light a candle in loving memory of Rebbe Nachman the son of Faigie and Simcha. In his memory, ask Hashem for a favor you need, especially in the area of spiritual growth.

Breslev Israel and the Beams wish everyone a healthy, happy and joyous Succoth holiday!


The Blacksmith of Grodno

Blacksmith of Grodno
Shabbat Chanukah reminds me of my great grandfather, who died some 26 years before I was born.

My maternal great grandfather, Reb Yankev ("The Blacksmith") Podrub from Grodno, Belarus (formerly Poland) was a legendary figure in the annals of Stolin-Karlin Chassidus. He arms were like twisted steel, but his disposition was extremely gentle. Although he was a blacksmith. he was also a Talmudic scholar. He worked so that his little brother, Arie Leib, could attend rabbinical yeshiva. Ultimately, Arie Leib became the head rabbi of Meretch in Lithuania and one of the prime students of Rav Chaim Ozer Grudzinski, osb"m.

The renowned "Yanuka" of Stolin, the famous Rebbe Yisroel Perlov ob'm who had over 20,000 Chassidim, would stay in Reb Yankev's house every Shabbat Chanuka when he'd visit his chassidim in Grodno. Even more, The Stoliner Rebbe - who loved horses - insisted that only Reb Yankev shoe his horses. From what the old Stoliner Chassidim told me, the Rebbe loved my great-grandfather's pure and simple emuna and the innocence in which he served Hashem. Reb Yankev would be so excited that the Rebbe was a guest in his home that he'd dance all night long. Rav Binyomin Adler, who was head of the Kashruth Department in the Jerusalem Rabbinate, heard from his uncle - who was also a guest in my great grandfather's home when the Rebbe was there, that Reb Yankev danced all night long in the living room, singing, "Shabbat! Chanukah! Rosh Chodesh! Rebbe!" and making such a commotion that no one could sleep.

What was so special about Reb Yankev? He never spoke small talk. Even at work, he'd mumble tehillim and mishnayot. Also, his trust in Hashem was phenominal - he'd only work long enough to earn that same day's bread with one extra kopeck; he saved the extra kopecks in a jar all year long, and then at the end of the year, he'd use the money to travel to his Rebbe in Stolin for Rosh Hashanna. As such, my great grandfather lived his connection with the tzaddik all year long.

The minute Reb Yankev finished his day's work, he'd fly up the stairs to the Stoliner shtiebel, conveniently located on the second floor over the smithy, and open up a Gemara. Grodno lore holds him as one of the hidden tzaddikim of the area, may his blessed memory be cherished always.

***There's a poignant epilog to the above story: when I received my rabbinical ordination in 1992 from Rav Yitzchak Kulitz of blessed memory, former head Rabbi of Jerusalem, he told me that my great-uncle Arie Leib, Reb Yankev's younger brother, was the rabbi who ordained his father. In fact, when Rabbi Arie Leib passed away, Rav Kulitz's father took his place as the head rabbi of Meretch in Lithuania. It was my great grandfather who enabled his little brother Arie Leib to learn in Yeshiva. Now, Rav Kulitz was ordaining me - a lovely cycle was completed.

I heard the above stories and many more from my grandmother Kailie of blessed memory, from Rav Yitzchak Kulitz of blessed memory, former head Rabbi of Jerusalem, who as a little boy saw my great grandfather, and from Rav Benyamin Adler shlit'a of Jerusalem, whose uncle knew my great grandfather well, and from the elderly Stolin-Karlin chassidim of Jerusalem.

I know that alte zaidie (Yiddish for great grandfather) has nachas (gratification) that his great granchildren are continuing on in the way of Torah and Chassidus. You know what that means? The Greeks and the Hellenists lost, and so did Hitler and western assimilation. With simple emuna, we shall continue to overcome, with G-d's help. Have a wonderful Shabbat Chanukah and Rosh Chodesh!


Rabbi Yoram Abergel, of saintly and blessed memory

Rav Yoram Abergel ztzl
Breslev Israel, Emuna Outreach and the Beams grieve from the loss of an enormous tzaddik, Rabbi Yoram Abergel osb"m, who returned his holy soul to Hashem earlier today on Shabbat afternoon. At the time of this writing (10;30 PM Israel, Saturday night), the funeral procession is about to begin in Netivot, in the south of Israel, where Rabbi Abergel lived.

Rabbi Yoram was the head of the "Rav Pa'alim" Institutions, a huge network of Torah learning all across Israel. He had thousands of students, many of whom he personally brought in to observant Judaism.

He was not only a tremendous scholar and Kabbalist, but he cared tremendously about each human being and did tremendous loving-kindnesses for widows, orphans and the needy. He always had a smile on his face.

This is an irreplaceable  loss for the Jewish People at a difficult time, when we need the merit of our righteous spiritual leaders. Maybe Rabbi Yoram plead in our behalf at the Heavenly throne, and may we soon see Moshiach and the full redemption of our people, amen.