Tuesday, October 15, 2013

We Miss You, Rabbeinu

I write this post with a sad and heavy heart. The passing of HaRav Hagaon Chacham Ovadia Yosef, zecher tzadik l'bracha, is a pain and loss that I can only compare to a person losing both parents in one day, lo aleinu. Although the loss is far, far greater than that.
The world feels like a colder, emptier place.
There's a sadness that lingers in the air here.

Upon reading the news, just minutes after Rav Ovadia's neshama left this olam, I started crying. Just minutes ago, we were reading Tehillim & tikun haklali, praying for the Rav's recovery and checking on his progress on theyeshivaworld.com
My husband had just finished reciting birkat hamazon, and seeing me cry, realized what had happened. We bought cried uncontrollably, and my husband tore kriya.
There was nothing to say. No words of comfort.
And on that note, we headed to the levaya in Jerusalem.

The amount of hakarat hatov, love, and respect that my husband and I have for HaRav Ovadia can not be put into words. Words wouldn't do the emotions justice. All I can say is that it is thanks to HaShem blessing our generation with Rav Ovadia that I am religious. That my husband is religious. And that our children will be religious BH. Without his sefarim & piskei halachot, I have no idea where I'd be today.
His shiurim, genius psakim/sefarim/halachot are what guide me daily, and without HaRav Ovadia, I would be lost.

I now understand Rashi's comments that Aharon HaCohen's sons were like Moshe Rabbeinu's sons, since Moshe was their teacher.
And what a teacher. Wow.

Here's a line from a very moving story that brought me to tears just now. Rav Ovadia told his wife, Rabbanit Margalit Yosef z"l, "give me olam hazeh, and I'll give you olam haba."
That "line" convinced her to marry him.
What olam haba they must have. What a marriage full of kdusha they must've have.

I copy this eulogy (taken from halachayomit.co.il) with tearful eyes & a broken heart. May the zchut of Maran protect us all, and may all of Am Yisrael be on the right path of Torah u'mitzvot:

In the year 5762, with the passing of “the true genius, crown glory of Israel, the great light of the Kingdom of the Talmud and Poskim, the light of Israel, the right pillar, the mighty hammer, an individual unique to the generation, Hagaon Harav Chaim Kreiswirth zt”l” (an excerpt from Maran’s very own eulogy for the Rav), Chief Rabbi of Antwerp, Belgium, Maran Harav Ovadia Yosef zt”l was thrown into great mourning. Maran zt”l was a dear friend of this great sage and Maran would constantly say that the world did not really know who Hagaon Harav Chaim zt”l really was. According to Maran’s words, this was a Torah personality that could not be matched.
When Maran zt”l rose to eulogize this giant of Torah, he began by asking, what is this tumult all about? Our Sages tell us (Kiddushin 72b) that “a righteous individual does not depart from this world until another man as righteous as him is created, as the verse states, ‘The sun rises and the sun sets’-before the sun of Moshe set, the sun of Yehoshua rose. Before the sun of Yehoshua set, the sun of Otniel ben Kenaz rose. Before the sun of Eli set, the sun of Shmuel Ha’Navi rose.” This should be our comfort, for another person as righteous as the deceased has surely been born. If so, why do we mourn the loss of the great rabbi so much?
Maran zt”l explained in the name of the commentators that even so, not necessarily will the righteous man just created be as great in Torah as the deceased righteous man, as the Gemara (Baba Batra 75a) states regarding Yehoshua, “the elders of that generation would say, ‘The face of Moshe shined like the sun and the face of Yehoshua shined like the moon.’” This is because the generations become progressively weaker as time goes on and the leader is relative to the generation.

Likewise, we mourn today along with Zion and the nation of Israel, for Hashem has sent us a great redeemer, Maran zt”l, who saved Sephardic Jewry from destruction and raised the glory of Halacha when it was almost completely forgotten from the Jewish nation. This man was the pillar of Torah, kindness, and prayer. He was the leader of the generation in so many ways: In his humility, in his holiness, in his discourses, in his halachic rulings, and in his understanding. Now, we have lost Maran zt”l and as downtrodden as we are, we have no choice but to gather together the remaining Torah sages of our generation and only together will they be able to continue the tradition which Maran pioneered on his own.Many times when speaking with Maran zt”l, we were able to catch a glimpse of his greatness in Kabbalah, which was truly far more advanced than any of the greatest Mekubalim in our generation who have not reached Maran’s level, just as no Torah scholars have reached his level of Torah knowledge in the revealed portion of the Torah.
Besides for Maran’s greatness in Torah, he would perform loving-kindness with all his heart. Maran’s right-hand man, our dear friend Rabbi Tzvi Hakak, recounts that many times, serious questions in Halacha were sent to Maran regarding Agunot (women whose husbands have gone missing and are “tied down” to their husbands and are forbidden to remarry) and children born from forbidden unions (who are prohibited from marrying regular members of the Jewish nation) and Maran told him to place these questions on the desk in his bedroom. At 2:00 AM, Maran zt”l would go to sleep. When Rabbi Hakak would arrive at Maran’s home at 6:00 AM, Maran would already be sitting and learning and would tell him to send the response to the relevant parties immediately, even before morning prayers. Everyone would be flabbergasted, when did Maran find the time to write this lengthy and tedious response?! He only went to sleep four hours before…
We cannot possibly adequately eulogize Maran zt”l, for every single one of his character traits can fill volumes. His tremendous greatness was unfathomable, so much so that two of the greatest Mekubalim of the previous generation, Hagaon Harav Yisrael Abuchatzera zt”l (the “Baba Sali”) and Hagaon Harav Mordechai Sharabi zt”l, attested that Maran’s soul was kept from the times of the Geonim (period preceding that of the Rishonim) and Hashem told Maran’s soul, “Wait until your time comes. During a generation when heresy will spread all over the world, it will be your time to save Israel.”
Indeed, it is almost non-existent for a child of six or seven years old to decide to dedicate his life to Torah study. However, when Maran zt”l was all but a young lad, he would sit and learn Torah, Prophets, and Scriptures for hours on end. By the age of ten, Maran had already written unbelieveable novel Torah thoughts (see the biography on Maran, “Abir Ha’Ro’im,” for some incredible pictures of Maran’s handwritten Torah essays when he was a child). At the age of fourteen, he had already mastered the entire Talmud. At the age of twenty-five, he was already greater in Torah knowledge than any Torah scholars living among us today. Maran was a supernatural genius in Torah. Who can replace him?
When contemplateing all of Maran’s accomplishments, we are reminded of Rabbi Chiya about whom the Gemara (Ketubot 103b): “Rabbi Chiya said: I prevented Torah from being forgotten from the Jewish nation, for I planted flax seeds and from the flax that grew, I wove nets and trapped deer. I fed the meat to hungry orphans and I processed the hides to produce parchment and on that parchment I wrote the five books of the Torah and the six orders of the Mishnah. About me did Rabbi Yehuda Ha’Nassi exclaim, ‘How great are the actions of Chiya!’”

Similarly, we exclaim, “How great are the actions of Rabbeinu Ovadia!” With all of his greatness and genius in Torah, he would be able to stand before laymen and speak to them in a language they understood and enjoyed through parables and anecdotes. He would speak about the deepest segments of the Talmud with the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, Hagaon Harav Tzvi Pesach Frank zt”l and then hurry off to deliver a Torah lecture to simpletons. He was unable to open a Sephardic Yeshiva because there were no Sephardic Yeshiva boys to learn in it. However, he did not give up; he was relentless. He began by teaching regular working men Torah daily until their children grew up; he troubled himself to place their boys into Talmudei Torah and Yeshivot and girls into Bet Yaakovs. He likewise taught the children Torah himself until many of them flourished into outstanding Torah scholars. In this way, an entire generation that was doomed to straying from Hashem’s path became completely G-d-fearing and Torah observant. Maran indeed “built up Jerusalem with mercy,” for all Sephardic Torah scholars and many Ashkenazi sages who are involved in rendering halachic rulings are all in Maran’s merit. Praiseworthy is the generation which had the merit of being led by Maran.
The entire Jewish nation felt a great void upon Maran zt”l’s passing and the reason for this could very well be because Maran’s soul was tantamount to that of Moshe Rabbeinu whose soul was comprised of all of the souls of the Jewish nation. Thus, anyone with a soul within him felt a great lacking with the passing of Maran zt”l.

May Hashem have mercy on us, the remaining ember of the Jewish nation, and not let us be like a flock of sheep without a Shepherd. May Maran act as a righteous defending angel on our behalf, let him not leave us or forsake us. May his blessings to the entire nation of Israel, whom he loved deeply like a father loves his child and whom he comforted like a mother comforts her child, come to fruition, for indeed, Maran was dedicated to the collective needs of the entire nation with every fiber of his being. May Hashem finally redeem us eternally and may we soon merit witnessing the Resurrection of the Dead at which point Maran zt”l will lead us and teach us once again, Amen.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Tzniut: Why The Obsession??

Well, I guess I should already ask for forgiveness before you read this post.
So, please forgive me if any of these concepts are offensive to your lifestyle and standards.
The frum people in this generation seems so obsessed with modesty. Both in left and right wing Orthodox circles. There're so many other mitzvoth/averot to focus on, like, lashon hara, Shabbat, chessed, kashrut, tefilla, etc.
Why is tzniut, particularly, something that is so focused on and emphasized in the Orthodox world? And why do people (particularly women) get so defensive and angry when their modesty standards are challenged?

I guess the answer in a one word nutshell to explain tzniut is: foundation. Tzniut is our foundation for keeping Judaism alive all of these thousands of years.
Chazal teach us (in Bereshit Rabba 18:2) that HaShem told Chava "be modest." Why would that be HaShem's message to Chava?
How about - be a good Jewess? Be nice to others? Help people? Smile? Keep Shabbat?
Chazal teach us that the Jews in Egypt remained Jewish because of their names, clothing, and language.
Our clothes are one of the three things that not only distinguish us but preserve our religion. Our lives. Our reason for being.
So, HaShem was telling Chava the method to keep Am Yisrael alive.

We're living in a generation unlike any other. The amount of openness in the world today is something that was unimaginable just a century ago.
The way celebrities dress today would've probably shocked the average 1950s movie star. In Western society, to fit in, a woman must give up her dignity, class, and refinement and trade in capris for shorts, short sleeves for sleeveless, pants for leggings, and dresses for long shirts. In the warm seasons, it is unusual to see any female with their knees covered, let alone their hair covered.
That might be obvious - like yeah, we're in 2013, of course it's normal not to dress in long skirts & hats! Well, it was actually the norm just a 100 years ago. Women wore dresses. Mini was not an adjective used to describe clothing. Low-cut shirts and tanktops were unheard of. 5 inch pumps were reserved for women of ill-repute. Hats were elegant.
But now?
Every summer I am bewildered at what has happened to society. Where has the class gone? What happened to self-respect? What happened to fashion?
I see how teenage girls dress, and I shudder. I was a teenager just over 10 years ago in a nonreligious school. My 13 year old classmates mothers would've threatened them severely if they walked outside wearing what today's teens wear.
Nobody wore mini dresses to bat mitzvahs. I'd be surprised if anyone even owned a mini anything before high school.
But alas, today, how many mothers blink an eye when their daughters wear short dresses and 5 inch pump heels to their classmates bat mitzvahs?
The standards have clearly been lowered - and that's in only a decade. One can only imagine what modesty standards will be in a decade from now.

So yes, 50 years ago, you didn't have to explain to your daughter why she needs to be modest. There was no need! She would've been modest anyway because everyone ELSE in society (not just in frum circles) was also modest. You didn't have to explain to your daughter why covering your body = respecting yourself. It was understandable. It was a given.
But now, that is no longer a given. Other than not walking on a sidewalk in a bikini, there are no longer any tzniut standards in this society. And, I won't be surprised if that will be the norm in 20 years (after all, people can take a stroll on a public beach boardwalk while wearing a bikini, right?)
Anything goes. Except racism. And homophobia. But short of those select topics + a few others, few actions will make anyone bat an eye.

The Nazis, imach shmam, knew that Germany had a well-renowned, refined culture & was a country full of "the most" polite citizens. How did they convince so many people to be immune (and even join) the intense hatred and slaughter of Jewish German citizens?
In Search Judaism, Rabbi Yitzchok Fingerer reveals the Nazis method for dissentisizing the German nation: inappropriate movies. Yes, the Nazis screened inappropriate movies in public FOR FREE for German citizens. The rationale behind that master plan was that if you show people immoral things, aka pritzut and znut, their whole morale will be lowered.

Chazal teach us that "HaShem hates Zima" - Zima is inappropriate relations and behavior. Basically, anything associated with immodesty.

The Gemara tells us that before Mashiach, "pnei hador k'pnei hakelev" - the generation's face will be like the face of the dog.
There're many explanations to this passage, but the following explanation I heard really hit home for me.
A dog is the only animal that gets offended when you rebuke it. If you scream a cat, snake, or bee, they probably won't flinch. Well, maybe the cat will get scared at the loud noise, but he won't get offended. The dog actually gets offended when screamed at. He will lower his ears and tail, look down at the ground, and whimper.
So, just as the dog is sensitive, so too is the generation before Mashiach.

 So, my friends, this is a sensitive generation. We take everything to heart, and oftentimes, it is difficult to accept the truth. It is difficult to look at ourselves and think that maybe, just maybe, we need to change. Maybe we've been wrong all along.

When the world's morale has gone down, we need to be concerned.
No. Wait. The world's morale hasn't gone down!
That's too generous.
The world's morale is LOST. History.
We can't rely on the world to govern our morals.
As Chazal teach us, in Pirkei Avot 2:6 "in a place where there are no (worthy) men, be a (worthy) man" (man - read: leader). We need to be the leaders; not the followers.
We Jews need to strengthen their morale by setting up gedarim (fences) to protect our children. Anything in the goyish world will infiltrate into our world.
I don't care how extreme that sounds because it is absolutely true. We see anorexia, drugs, severe marriage problems, divorce, all types of addictions, etc. because those issues are all more frequent in the goyish world than they were 50 years ago. And therefore, those tragedies infiltrate into our world.

It is unfortunate and sad how so many frum women view tzniut as the way to be covered while covering as least as possible. Is the goal to blend in with the goyim as much as possible? To appear to be covering nothing while you're secretly covering something?
The yetzer hara can be so strong, but we need to be even stronger.
If one is already wearing tights, then strive for real tights. Not see through, tanned, natural-looks-better-than-my-legs stockings. What's the point of those?
If one is covering her hair, then it should look like she's covering her hair. There are guidelines to sheitels. Just about every Gadol (Ashkenazi AND Sefardi) has assured long wigs, wigs with bangs, pony sheitels, wigs with natural looking parts, etc.
If one is wearing a skirt, then it should be a modest skirt, not a tight, above the knee skirt with a slit in the back. With such skirts, isn't it just more modest to wear pants?

In short, I guess what I'm trying to portray here is:
there's a reason Gedolim like Rav Elyashiv z"l, Rav Ovadia, Rav Wosner, Rav Kanievsky, etc. stress for women in this generation to strengthen their modesty.
if we women are not dressing like Jewish women, then it's not just one mitzvah that's kind of lacking. It's one of the three fundamental basics that's missing from our maintenance of being Jewish.
If we're not dressing properly, our daughters will dress even worse.
If we're not acting like Jewish women should, then our men will be out of line. Our men will not act as Jewish men should.
And then what will be left?
We will be blending in with the people on the streets.
And once modesty is gone, all morale is lost. Anything goes.
A society where "anything goes" is the most dangerous of all.
People get offended because this is a sensitive generation, and it's their very essence that is being challenge. Afterall, "hachitzoniyut marah et hapnimiut" - the outside reflects on our inside. The body is the house of the neshama and is representing our neshamot.

Anyway, I know that this post might be viewed as fanatical by some. And that's fine.
But I respect Rabbis, particularly Gedolim, who dedicate their entire lives to learning Torah, leading am Yisrael, writing books, and utilizing their every breathing second on this earth to do G-d's will.
So, if they say tzniut is the biggest nisayon of this generation, then that's enough for me.
But if that's not enough, just open your eyes and look around. And see the results.

Please note that this post did NOT deal with the halachot of tzniut or essence of modesty. There're beautiful, very logical and spiritual, reasons for why a woman should dress modestly. But that wasn't the topic of this post. :)

May we all be on the right path of Torah & always be close to HaShem and have all of our actions be l'Shem Shamayim.