Sunday, March 31, 2024

The Fearsomeness of Tefillin Shel Rosh - Automatic, or Conditional? A Closer Look, with Contemporary Angles, and Applications

Every once in a while, especially in difficult times perhaps, people bring up and promote an idea, based on a מאמר חז"ל, that wearing tefillin is a miraculous, magic solution for security and protection. This has been particularly put forth by some as a religious-mystical-magical protection solution for Yidden of ארץ ישראל, particularly those involved in the defense/security arena. The late, last Chabad-Lubavitch Rebbe used it prominently in promotion of his new project dubbed "מבצע תפילין", before the Six-Day War, in which his followers were instructed to lay tefillin on qualified men who weren't otherwise putting them on (which continues now). 

Due to the prominent and ubiquitous nature of this belief, it is appropriate and desirable to examine and analyze it, to hopefully gain a proper grasp of it, בס"ד, and see if its popular understanding is correct or not.

At first glance, the idea seems sound, as the gemara (ברכות דף ו' ע"א) says on the posuk וראו כל עמי הארץ כי שם ה' נקרא עליך ויראו ממך - דברים פרק כח, פסוק י, that רבי אליעזר הגדול אומר אלו תפילין שבראש, this is a reference to tefillin of the head. 

The problem is however, that teaching and experience have told us that the matter is more complicated than may first seem.

Firstly, from a Chabad-Lubavitch angle alone, the founding Rebbe of Chabad, known in Lubavitch as the Alter Rebbe, actually is reported to have expressed a differing opinion about the efficacy of that action.

As related in a Chasidic tale by prominent Chabad-Lubavitch speaker R. Y.Y.  Jacobson in a talk a few months ago  -

"There's a געוואלדיגע מעשה  - when the Baal HaTanya, the first Lubavitcher Rebbe, was arrested by the Czarist government in תקנ"ט/1798, after Sukkos. So the messenger of the Czarist government came into his home and he was wearing tefillin. He came to arrest him and he (Alter Rebbe-AR) made with his hands, like this (motions with hand), and the man left. So one of his Chasidim was there, he said Rebbe, what happened? He (AR) says שטייט אין גמרא (it says in the gemara) ויראו ממך, they see sheim Hashem and they're afraid, so he left. He (Chasid) said Rebbe, I also put on tefillin, no one is afraid of me? So the Baal HaTanya, the Alter Rebbe, said עס שטייט נישט אלו תפילין שעל הראש, ס'שטייט אלו תפילין שבראש, the tefillin is not only on the head, it's inside the head. The tefillin is inside, its berosh."

(As an aside, R. Efrem Goldberg, in a recent article, attributed that vort to the Vilna Gaon. So who actually originated it is unclear)

So according to this, the protective quality is not automatically attained solely by external wearing of tefillin, rather it must be internalized, on a higher level.

There is a greater, more fundamental problem with the notion though, namely, that the whole idea, that one can take someone that is fundamentally lacking in שמירת תורה ומצות and make him fearsome solely via a fleeting הנחת תפילין, is seemingly not supported by the פרשה of the Torah where the words they purportedly base it on appear. There it says (start reading from the beginning of פרק כח) that if a person follows Torah and mitzvos generally, and then puts on tefillin shel rosh (according to the derasha in Chazal) the עמי הארץ will be afraid. But מכלל הן אתה שומע לאו, if the earlier pesukim are not followed, then the latter ones lack their foundation to rest upon. One cannot just take one posuk of a parsha and promote it out of context.

As an illustration of the type of person that might put on tefillin with Chabad, but yet may not benefit from the fearsome nature of it, we can utilize the case of a recent victim of the Oct.7 attack, a taxi driver who was driving a passenger on that Shabbos/Shmini Atzeres morning, which was featured in a news report a few months ago. Interestingly, in the photo showing him accompanying the report on his murder, he is seen wearing tefillin. Obviously, when someone wears tefillin, yet is being mechallel Shabbos בפרהסיא (as many Chabad tefillin "customers" are), he shouldn't count on them saving him.

A new, different approach to hanochas tefillin as protection

Interestingly, a different campaign has arisen in recent months, also trying to tap in to the power of tefillin as above, but with a different approach than that of Chabad-Lubavitch, which seemingly is more faithful to the meaning of the Torah teachings cited earlier.

Tefillin Campaign for Israeli Soldiers - Israel Select Charity Fund

In contrast to fleeting, haphazard tefillin sessions, this new one promotes a much longer and deeper connection to the great mitzvah. It seems like a much more promising approach.

All should agree, however, that genuine observance of תורה ומצות overall, in general, is the key to our existence and survival, and needs to be promoted and strengthened. Especially in G-d's holy land, ארץ ישראל.

In the זכות of our sincere efforts in that regard, may we be zoche to סייעתא דשמיא, Heavenly assistance, and רוח והצלה וגאולה בקרוב. As the posuk states in Megillas Esther, which we read last week, ליהודים היתה אורה ושמחה וששון ויקר. אכי"ר, כן תהיה לנו, במהרה בימינו אמן.

Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Hope vs. Hype - The Danger of Messianic Frenzy

A leading בעל מחשבה and מדריך בהשקפת התורה in our world, has spoken out about the danger of messianic speculation and frenzy (evidently some people have been engaging and indulging in it recently, as has happened at times in the past, esp. during times of great stress and conflict).

Hype of imminent arrival of Moshiach may give birth to a false messiah

ב"ה we have such גדולים to guide us in a responsible Torah manner, in accordance with our מסורה, our holy tradition.

In one particular segment of his words that I especially enjoyed, he shared:

When the גדולי ישראל went through the '73 (Yom Kippur) war, the '67 (Six Day) war, like Rav Schach, Rav Moshe Feinstein, (זכר צדיקים לברכה) we didn't hear such things from them, they weren't talking about משיח, they were talking about התחזקות כראוי (general proper spiritual strengthening). 

The difference between hope and hype may be limited to one letter, but, as we know, even an אות אחת wrong renders a ספר תורה unkosher.

יה"ר מלפני אבינו שבשמים שנשמע ונתבשר בשורות טובות ישועות ונחמות בקרוב

Sunday, January 21, 2024

Litvishe Gadol Expounds on Self-Esteem's Importance - Toras Avigdor Spells it out for us

The matter of self-esteem and the fundamental importance of it in the Torah worldview has been touched on here in the past. For example, we observed that some people think that it is a Chasidic matter, a חידוש (innovation) of that group, and like to cite Reb Zadok of Lublin, for one, on the subject

Of course, that is absurd (as when some Chasidim pose as the inventors of the idea of serving G-d with joy, an explicit ancient scriptural verse in Tehillim), as way back in the Mishnah it states that a person is obligated to say that the world was created for me.

But some people might want, need, and enjoy a more extensive mainstream treatment of the subject, especially due to its importance in our day and age. So therefore I am pleased to share with you that the very recently released Toras Avigdor for Shabbos parashas Bo 5784, has an extensive and comprehensive treatment of the subject (particularly from page six onward). 

Let the lights of ישיבה כנסת ישראל of Slabodka and רב אביגדור מילער זצ"ל elucidate and illuminate the subject for you based on classic, ancient Torah sources.

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

להשתעשע בדברי תורה - Rav Asher Weiss Explains an Enigmatic Term of Torah-Human Interaction

There is a beautiful, evocative expression that is used to describe the ideal interaction of a genuine Torah scholar with תורתנו הקדושה. Beautiful, yes, but explanation and explication of it could seem elusive.

I am referring to להשתעשע בדברי תורה, based on the pasuk in Tehillim (קיט:צב) of לולי תורתך שעשועי אז אבדתי בעניי. A related expression is found elsewhere in Tanach with regard to young children here, and toddlers here

Recently Rav Asher Weiss שליט"א, in the course of a great hesped in Eretz Yisrael for Rav Baruch Mordechai Ezrachi זצ"ל, expounded on it, and his words are worth hearing (h/t 'כך לומדים קצויעס?' | ההספד של הגר"א וייס על רה"י • צפו (

I cannot duplicate his presentation, so I recommend you listen to/watch it yourself. 

But just to give you an idea, a taste, to whet your appetite, he references a רבינו יונה in מסכת אבות, which states that הקב"ה gave us the תורה to be משתעשע with it. He (RAW) describes that as, for example, saying a סברא forward and backward, to say it in one manner and then in another. Not saying it quickly and proceeding further, rather holding on to it, looking at it from all sides, turning it over. Elsewhere in his words he analogizes such Torah learning to people holding, scrutinizing, and enjoying a precious stone, examining it from different vantage points, its light, reflections, facets, and special qualities. Hear it from RAW here.

May we be zoche להשתעשע בדברי תורה, giving us holy strength and pleasure, in difficult times as well as easier ones, as we connect with הקב"ה through His holy gift to us, leading to גאולה וישועה, בב"א.

Monday, November 20, 2023

Dealing with Anxiety in the Present Matzav: Rav Shaul Alter Gives Direction and Chizuk at BRS

Recently, Rav Shaul Alter, renowned Rosh Yeshiva and מנהיג of Gur, visited the USA. In the course of his visit, he visited Florida, where, among other things, he appeared at the Kehillah of BRS. There, in the course of a moving and inspiring program of music and Torah, he addressed the matzav (situation) of Yidden and Eretz Yisrael since this past Shemini Atzeres, providing important הדרכה, spiritual guidance.

A high quality recording of the event is available online in several places, but I want to share some of the program here in writing, to whet your appetite, and for those who may not be inclined to sit through a video.

The Rabbi of the congregation, R. Efrem Goldberg, in introducing the guest, stated that during the Gulf War, circa thirty years ago, the guest's father. R. Pinchas Menachem Alter (aka הפני מנחם) citing Tehillim סד:ב, where it says מפחד אויב תצר חיי, expounded a distinction between אויב and פחד אויב, saying that דוד המלך didn't ask הקב"ה only for (physical) protection from the enemy, but also from the fear, tension, anxiety, psychological and mental stress that often exists in such a situation.

Rav Shaul Alter, in his address, in response, said that he would say that we need to speak of בלבול, confusion. People don't know what to think, how to view the matzav, and are bewildered, confused. Once they rid themselves of that, and understand that everything is with a חשבון, whatever happens, it is not at random, then they will attain a measure of equanimity that way.

He mentioned the gemara in מסכת עבודה זרה, where, in response to nations who try to take credit for milchamos, it attributes them to הקב"ה , citing the words of the pasuk that ה' איש מלחמה, that even in war there is השגחה, a Divine providence. Additionally he expounded on the meaning of מלחמות אני עשיתי with regard to הקב"ה. Despite the difficulties of such a time and situation, and the horrors of war, we are not forsaken. Our merciful heavenly father, אבינו שבשמים, אבינו אב הרחמן, is with us. 

The moving evening, which included singing and dancing, left people inspired and with greater clarity. May HKB"H help us get through the difficult time and reach שלום גאולה וישועה בקרוב.

A full version of the address of the Rosh Yeshiva, can also be seen here, among multiple other places.

Sunday, October 22, 2023

New Litvishe Singing Star Steps Out With Timely Songs of Emunah, Bitachon, and Chizuk

 Litvishe Singing Star? Yes, you got that right. Not a misprint.

I was looking around online, and was pleasantly surprised to come across an impressive talent that I was not aware of, a short while ago, a Shmuel Greineman of ארץ ישראל. Kikar Shabbos had a stellar post with a very recent recording of him, singing some great songs.

To give you an idea, some of them have lyrics like this:

א-ל נקמות ה' א-ל נקמות הופיע

אזכרה אלקים ואהמיה בראותי כל עיר על תלה בנויה ועיר האלקים מושפלת...ובכל זאת אנו לי-ה ועינינו לי-ה

לא אירא רע כי עתה עמדי

מי יתן ראשי מים ועיני מקור דמעה ואבכה יומם ולילה על חללי בת עמי

אל תזכור לנו עונות ראשונים

טוב לחסות בה' מבטוח באדם

סבוני גם סבבוני בשם ה' כי אמילם

דחה דחיתני לנפל וה' עזרוני

ואעבר עליך ואראך מתבוססת בדמיך ואמר לך בדמיך חיי

Take a look, have a listen, enjoy, and be strengthened.

יה"ר מלפני אבינו שבשמים שנשמע ונתבשר בשורות טובות ישועות ונחמות בקרוב 

Monday, October 2, 2023

Chabad-Lubavitch Adopts "Peylishe" Chasidic Mode of Simchas Beis Hashoeivah

 Nowadays, Chabad-Lubavitch is known for loud and lengthy Simchas Beis Hashoeivah celebrations in public streets, most prominently perhaps near their headquarters in New York. But it was not always that way. Evidently in the past there was a (indoor) Farbrengen then.

I came across a short video, in which a Lubavitcher explains the change.

It seems it might part of a general process in which Chabad-Lubavitch is becoming more like what they call "Peylishe Chasidim" than in the past. I could see Chabad purists looking askance at that. But since many Chabad-Lubavitch Chasidim nowadays come from "Peylishe" backgrounds, it is not so surprising. Anyway, the point is that Chabad is not an unchanging tradition some might want you to believe it is. From Lag Baomer parades to Simchas Beis Hashoeivah in the streets, to their last Rebbe's "mivtzoim", and on and on, much change has taken place over the years there, especially under their last Rebbe.

א גוטען מועד