May 19, 2024
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May 19, 2024
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Reb Mendel Futerfas was a legendary mashpiah, known for his incredible self-sacrifice and resilience in the face of Soviet persecution. With incredible resolve and inner strength, Reb Mendel maintained his faith and sense of self throughout 14 years of brutal incarceration and exile in Siberia. One of the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s most loyal and dedicated soldiers, Reb Mendel earned the compliment “a real chasid.”

At a farbrengen, Reb Mendel spoke of an alter Lubavitcher chasid named “Reb Yeshaya Shapiro,” who had a major impact on his own personal development. Reb Yeshayah was known as an oved—a “servant of Hashem,” a serious person whose service of God was exceptionally intense. His weekday Shemoneh Esrei could last more than two hours. Reb Mendel once asked Reb Yeshaya how he was able to “halt kup” and stay focused for such an extended amount of time. Reb Yeshaya answered that many years earlier—as a young man—he struggled with maintaining his kavana during davening, and went to consult with the Rebbe Maharash, zt”l.

When Yeshaya told the rebbe that he felt that his prayers lacked vitality and focus and that he did not know how to keep his mind on the davening, the Rebbe grabbed the young man by the lapels of his jacket, pulled them to the side, pointed at his heart and said, “Oyyy! Shayala! רחמנא לבא בעי! Hashem—the Compassionate One—desires the heart!” The Rebbe Maharash began to cry, “Oy! A Yiddishe heartz, a Jewish heart! The heart … the heart!” Reb Yeshaya told Reb Mendel, “For more than 50 years, ever since the rebbe tore open my coat—and my heart—I have felt inspired anew each day… and haven’t stopped davening.”

~

In preparation for the upcoming month of Nissan, this Shabbos, we are reading Parshas HaChodesh. In addition to the foundational mitzvah of establishing and keeping the Jewish calendar, we address different aspects of aliyah l’regel—our pilgrimages and ascents to the Beis Hamikdash throughout the year:

הבא דרך שער צפון להשתחוות יצא דרך שער נגב והבא דרך שער נגב יצא דרך שער צפונה לא ישוב דרך השער אשר באה בו כי נכחו יצא

“Whoever enters by the northern gate to bow low shall leave by the southern gate, and whoever enters by the southern gate shall leave by the northern gate. He shall not go back through the gate by which he came in, but shall go out by the opposite,” (Yechezkel, 46:9).

The pasuk seems to be over-complicating what seems to be a simple and clear logistical directive: the route used as entry and exit to the Temple should be opposite each other, as Rashi confirms: כי נכחו יצא—“He leaves from the opposite way that he entered.”

Rav Yaakov Bender, shlita—beloved rosh yeshiva of Darchei Torah in New York—reveals a teachable moment, and an important foundational value in avodas Hashem based on the seemingly extraneous wordiness of Yechezkel HaNavi’s instructions.

Like Reb Yeshaya, one of the great challenges many of us face in avodas Hashem is the habituation of halachic observance and service of God. When we become accustomed to consistent fulfillment of Torah and mitzvos, there is a danger of falling into perfunctory routine, going through motions until our observance becomes an automatic, thoughtless, rote activity.

Reb Menachem Mendel of Kotzk railed against this ossification of spiritual life, demanding renewal, freshness and a constant, deliberate choice to serve HaKadosh Baruch Hu with consciousness, insight and sincerity. If one davened today only because he davened yesterday, he is worse than a scoundrel.

“This,”—the great Mirrer rosh yeshiva and author of Sichos Mussar—Rav Chaim Shmulevitz says, “is the intent underlying the prophet’s instructions. If you ‘entered through the north,’ go out a different way. If one’s arrival is via the southern gate, find a new way to continue onward toward your destination. Don’t fall into habitual performance; take a different route, change things up, refresh your kavana.”

~

Rebbe Eliezer ben Arach was considered by many to be the greatest Sage of his generation, a maayan misgaber—“an ever-flowing spring of inspiration,” (Avos, 2:8). A string of events led Rebbe Eliezer to a far-away land where he was separated from his friends and students. Isolated and alone, his brilliance and Torah mastery faded. Upon his return to the beis midrash of Yavneh, Rebbe Eliezer was called to the Torah and honored with the aliyah of Parshas HaChodesh. Instead of reading החדש הזה לכם—“Consecrate the new month,” he mistakenly read the verse as החרש היה לבם—“Their heart was dulled,” (Shabbos, 147b).

The promise of great leadership and impact turned into disappointment. His forgetfulness was understood as a heavenly repercussion of detaching from the dynamism, newness, purity and vitality that he cultivated within a chabura which challenged him and encouraged him to grow and ascend to higher and higher levels.

May the arrival of Shabbos HaChodesh help us transform and enliven any dullness of the heart. On this Rosh Chodesh, “the new year of months,” may we generate a rosh chadash—a “new mind,” consciousness and clarity of kavana. As we leave the old year, may it be from a higher gate and higher state, than the one which we entered last Nissan. And from there, may we stay baderech aliyah—“on a path of ascent,” as the Gemara (Pesachim, 19b) says, דרך עליה טהורין—“If vessels were found on a path ascending (from a mikvah, they are considered) tahor, pure, free from stagnant energy.”

May we overcome all spiritual stagnancy and dullness by renewing our commitment to choose new, higher entrances into the world of holy growth and divine service.


Rav Judah Mischel is executive director of Camp HASC, the Hebrew Academy for Special Children. He is the mashpiah of OU-NCSY, founder of Tzama Nafshi and the author of “Baderech: Along the Path of Teshuva.” Rav Judah lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh with his wife Ora and their family.

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