Thursday, September 12, 2013

Thursday's Thoughts on Teshuva - aka The Erev Yom Kippur Recap of R' Frand's Teshuva Derasha

The following is a summary of some of the thoughts said by Rabbi Frand in his teshuva derasha which was recorded Tuesday Night, but played tonight in the NY area. Same rules as usual apply. I have attempted to summarize many of the thoughts to the best of my abilities. Any inconsistencies are the results of my transcription and should not be attributed to R' Frand.

R' Frand started the teshuva derasha by saying that the derasha was unlike any other teshuva derasha and that it would be more appropriately called "what I did on my summer vacation." He explained that this past summer he had spent some time as the Scholar in Residence for a Jewish group which toured Italy. In connection with this task, R' Frand did considerable research on the Jews of Italy. As such, R' Frand commenced his derasha with a little of the history of the Jews of Italy.

The Jews of Rome pride themselves as the longest uninterrupted Jewish Community in the world. They have been in Rome continuously since 130 of the Common Era, but the Golden Era of Jews in Italy was in the 1500 and 1600s. Many old seforim show that they were printed in Venezia - Venice.

The Jewish population in Rome exploded after the Spanish Inquisition and jews were given the choice of converting or leaving Spain. Many Jews left for Italy, while others stayed behind in Spain as conversos - jews who pretended that they had converted, but in reality they stayed Jewish in hiding.

R' Frand talked about the sacrifices of those who were conversos. These Jews could not outwardly keep the mitzvos, so they made certain personal sacrifices so that no one would know they were shomrei Torah U'mitzvos. R' Frand gave the example of people who ate no leaven products all year long so that no one would suspect them of eating matza on Pesach. They would tell their neighbors that they could not stomach leavened products and they would go the whole year without bread, cake or pasta, just so that they would not be suspected for eating matza on pesach.

Other Jews performed their own bris millah because of a concern that the mohel might be a government informant. Or others who would go up into the hills on Rosh Hashana so that they could blow/hear shofar in caves and away from the ears of the government. R Frand said that this might be the source for the gemara in Rosh Hashana which discusses the halacha of one who blows shofar into a cave. Other Jews did not light fires during the winter so that they would not be accused of keeping Shabbos.

These were the Jews who allegedly were "not committed enough" and are referred to in the pejorative term "marranos."

R' Frand mentioned visiting the Jewish ghettos in Sienna, Padua and Venice. The section of Venice was seven acres - about the size of five football fields and four thousands Jews lived there. They would have been allowed to leave if they converted, but they chose to stay Jewish and live in cramped conditions.

R' Frand talked about visiting the ghetto of Rome, where every Shabbos the Jews were forced to go in the morning after davening to hear a harangue about why they should convert. The Jews used to pack their ears with candle wax, just so that they would not have to listen to the speeches. It is for this reason that there is a custom until today in Rome that there are no derashas in shul on Shabbos morning, to avoid bringing back the memory of the speeches. 

R' Frand talked about a book written by Sarah Reger, a descendant of R' Simcha Zelig Reger (the Brisker Dayan) which was about the Jews of Italy. The book is entitled, "The most tenacious of minorities" and it discusses the Jews of Italy. R' Frand remarked that the title of the book is not only descriptive of the Jews of Rome, but of the entire Jewish people.

How did the Jews have the strength to keep up their resistance for millenniums? R' Frand answered by quoting an essay by R' Elya Lopian ztl in which he addresses the issue of the perception of Jews. He noted that a Jew is stereo-typically viewed as pushy and aggressive and he just can't wait. R' Elya asked is this perception of Jews true? He answered Yes - and it is not necessarily a negative thing.

The world of nature has flowers and creatures with defense mechanisms. Skunks when threatened will spray and porcupines will shoot quills. Chameleons will change colors. R' Elya observed that the defense mechanisms exist in the human world as well - on a national level. Jews have lived under the boots of governments which wanted to crush them. What was the Jewish defense mechanism? The Jews are referred to in Chumash as Am K'shei Oref - a stubborn and obstinate people. Chazal teach that the Jews have the most chutpah, audacity, boldness, impudent.  This is what allowed the Jews to survive until this day - strength, grit, obstinate and chutzpah.

The gemara observes that these terms are a badge of honor. R' Elya stated that this is what gave Channya, Mishael and Azaryah the strength to stand up to Nevuchadnezzar. When told that they must worship idols, they called him a dog and they were thrown into a fiery pit. It was this holy strength that allowed the Jews to survive. 

And this is how the Jews of Spain and Italy, Morocco and Tunisia, Poland and Russia, survived oppression for so many centuries.

However, R' Frand observed, the strength/chutzpah, when unchecked and unrefined by Torah, allow Jews to be perceived as pushy, aggressive and assertive. There must be a thirst for Torah which works with the strength to allow Jews to survive for "almost" the last 2,000 years. R' Frand explained that it is almost 2,000 years, because Jews have been blessed to live in America, a land which R' Moshe Feinstein ztl described as a Kingdom of Chessed - a land where Jews can practice as Jews without fear of punishment or reprisal. Jews today did not have to make the decisions of generations ago, of being told if you don't come in on Saturday, don't come back on Monday.

R' Frand noted that like any other muscle, the middah of gevura will atrophy from disuse. But, the middah does require use, especially in certain circumstances.

R' Frand told a story about a derasha that he gave in a shul in Israel before mussaf. The derasha was the Shabbos of Parshas Eikev. The story of Moshe breaking the luchos is retold in the parsha and the Torah uses the term "asher sheebarta" - that you broke. The gemara learns from these words yashe koach shesheebarta - good on you for breaking them.

R' Frand stated that Moshe's act of breaking the luchos might be one of Moshe's greatest accomplishments. He quoted a Rashi in the end of V'Zos HaBeracha which states on the words "leinei kol yisrael" that Moshe's greatest act was breaking the luchos. Why? Because Moshe invested his life into the luchos. Moshe spent 40 days and nights in heaven without food, drink or sleep. Moshe could have said, I will do something because of the Golden Calf, but I will not break the luchos that I invested so much energy in. But Moshe did break the luchos and this remains his crowning acheivement.

R' Frand also quoted a similar thought in the name of R' Gifter. The gemara discusses Shimon Ha'amsuni who learned every "es" in the Torah, until he got to the pasuk which says "es" to fear Hashem. Shimon was stuck on how to explain the es. So he said to the assembled crowd - I am wrong, so my prior teachings are wrong as well. They asked him, what will happen to all the teachings. Shimon responded - I received reward for teaching them, I will receive reward for walking away. But the story does not end there, as R' Akiva said to Shimon - "es" teaches that one must respect and fear Talmidei Chachamim.

R' Gifter asked - what is it that R' Akiva saw that Shimon did not, which allowed R'Akiva to learn this "es"? R' Gifter answered that R' Akiva saw Shimon, who was willing to walk away from the entire limud and that inspired him to say that Talmidei Chachamim are deserved of respect as well.

R' Frand said that the next day he was stopped on the street by a man who said to him that he had heard the derasha and decided that he would make a difficult choice and would have the strength to tell his family that they would not swim in mixed areas again. R' Frand said that in this time, we need to look at various things that we do and ask the tough questions - are we doing the right thing?

R' Frand next quoted a Rav who asked why we strike out heart with a fist for "al cheit?" He answered that they used to catch monkeys by putting food in a hole in the ground. The monkey would put his hand in, but once he had the food in his fist, he could not get his hand out of the ground. But the monkey will not let go of the food. This is why we strike out hands as fists as against our hearts. Because we are sinning in refusing to let go of certain things.

R' Frand also quoted R' SR Hisch who discusses the two goats which are brought on Yom Kippur. The one goat was a sacrifice, while the other was thrown off the cliff. These two goats were identical in appearance and bought together. R' Hirsch explains that these two goats have different ends - one appears to be sacrificed, but the other is thrown off the cliff. R' Hirsch explains that the goat which is thrown is l'azazel, which can be read as az azal - the strength left. We can learn from here that one whose strength has left him will go off the cliff. If we are unable to make the sacrifice, we can be headed for that destination, heaven forbid.

There were more stories and messages about gevurah which were told by R' Frand in the shiur. I hope iyh to blog more on this shiur in the near future.

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