Category Archives: Hirsch

Rav Hirsch on "What the World Stands On…"

Like most people, I learn Pirkei Avos on Shabbos starting after Pesach and finishing six weeks later.  The following is part of Rav Hirsch’s commentary on this Pirkei Avos:   Shimon the Righteous was among the last surviving members of the Great assembly. He would say: The world stands on three things: Torah, the service of G-d, and deeds of kindness. (Chap 1, Mishna 2)

Torah implies the knowledge of the truth and the will of God with regard to every aspect of our lives, personal and public, individual and social.  Avodah denotes dutiful obedience, service God by fulfilling His will in every phase of our lives, personal and pubic, individual and social.  Gemiluth Chasidim signifies selfless, active loving-kindness to promote the welfare of our fellow-man.  These are the three things which shape and perfect the world of man and all that pertains to it in accordance with the measure and way of its destiny.  Whenever and wherever any of these three are inadequate or altogether lacking there is a gap which cannot be filled and there is no manifest destiny.  Without Torah the human spirit lacks the wellsprings of true knowledge; it will be blind to the basic, indispensable element which makes man a human being and it will be receptive to everything except truth and light.  Without Avodah man cannot have the proper attitude towards God, his Master and Creator, and toward the world into which God put him in order to develop and protect it in accordance with God’s will.  Instead of serving God he will think he is  a master when, as a matter of fact, he will be the slave of his passions and his lust.  He will pander to anything that he feels can serve or prejudice his interests, instead of being exalted and ennobled by him in accordance with God’s purpose, everything he touches will receive the impress of his depravity and error.  If he omits Gemiluth Chasadim he will be without that characteristic which is the  very first trait of godliness.  Instead of being God-like in acting as a creator of happiness and prosperity for his fellow-man, he will harden his heart in callous selfishness, and mankind will lack that bond of brotherhood and loving-kindness within which alone all happiness and joy of life can prosper.

Yeah, I know, it’s a long quote.  But, in these words, Rav Hirsch (as rendered into English by Gertrude Hirschler in 1967) really sums up Torah Judaism and our place in the world.  He not only shows us how Torah, Avodah, and Gemilus Chassadim must enhance our world, but Rav Hirsch skillfully draws a picture of what a person is like who doesn’t engage in these three things.  He willl:  “be receptive to everything except truth and light”, “be the slave of his passions and his lust”, and “harden his heart in callous selfishness, and mankind will lack that bond of brotherhood and loving-kindness within which alone all happiness and joy of life can prosper”.

The image of a three-legged table isn’t just a random picture.  If one doesn’t exercise a balance of Torah, Avodah, and Gemilus Chassadim then it’s as if the table is either missing a leg or the table is slanted.  Either way, it isn’t stable.  We see that all three elements must exist in order to achieve a “balanced” Torah observant Jew.

Rav Hirsch on Asarah B’Teves

This is the beginning of Rav Hirsch’s essay on the month of Teves (Tebeth) from my newly acquired first edition of Judaism Eternal- Selected Essays from the Writings of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (vol one):

The Tenth of Tebeth is the first of the four fasts which perpetuate amongst Jews the memory of their twice-suffered catastrophe, the downfall of the Jewish State.
The memorial is no mere form.
You are not invited to a merely idle mourning, to look back a little, to tie crepe on your sleeve, and to dedicate a tear of sadness to the departed great.  The anniversaries of the fall of Jerusalem and Zion find you fasting.  This fasting beckons you on.  It reminds you that Jerusalem and Zion have not fallen for ever.  It reminds you that it lies in your hnds to make “the fast of the fourth month and the fast of the fifth month and the fast of the seventh month and the fast of the tenth month to become to the House of Judah days of joy and delight”.  (Zecharia 8.19.)  It reminds you that you have but to will it and Jerusalem and Zion will rise again.
For look, you fast on these days of remembrance in order to tell yourself that your fate and your life’s task are still linked with this catastrophe, and you have to go on repeating this fast until your destiny is fulfilled and until you can comprehend and accomplish your life’s task.
Your fate is called “Galuth” and your life’s task “Teshubah.”

It turns out that Dr. Yitzchok Levine has posted the entire essay (published in Colllected Writings II, as well) on his website.  The short essay is well worth the read and is available here.
The portrait of Rav Hirsch is from a page of Judaism Eternal.

Rav Hirsch on Vayishlach-Property of a Righteous Person‏

The following was sent to me from from Dr. Levine’s email list.
Property of a Righteous Person‏
The following is from the new translation of RSRH’s commentary on Chumash Bereishis on 32: 25 Ya’akov was left alone, and someone wrestled with him until the break of day.

According to our Sages, nistyar al pachim k’tanim ( Chullin 91a): After he
brought everything across, he returned to see whether something had
been forgotten. And to this they add: mekan l’tzadikim shechaviv alayhem
m’monom yoser m’goofom v’kol kach lamah l’fee sheain poshtin yadeihen b’gezel (ibid.).
Property that a righteous person acquires honestly — even
something of the slightest value — is sacred in his sight. He will not
squander it or allow it to go to waste, and he is held responsible for its
proper use. A vast sum is like a shoelace to him, when he gives up this
sum for the sake of a good cause; but a shoelace is like a vast sum to
him, if it is about to be wasted for no reason or purpose. A person who
is not poshat yado b’gezel, who calls his own only what he has acquired through
honest effort , will see the graces of God’s providence in every possession
that he acquires; everything that he owns — even the very smallest
possession — has come to him through honest sweat and toil and
through God’s blessing, and hence is of inestimable value.

Rabbi Mayer Shiller on Rav Hirsch

I often find that music has a way of transporting me back in time. I’ll hear a song on the radio, a line from a song lyric, or even a niggun and I instantly return to a point in my past when at I associate with that music. I’m sure most people are like that. Rarely will I read something after a long period of time and get that same feeling. Yesterday was one of those times, though.

Dr. Yitzchok Levine, with permission from Jewish Action, sent an email out with a link to an old Jewish Action article from the summer of 1989 titled “The Forgotten Humanism of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch” by Rabbi Mayer Schiller. As I reread it yesterday I was brought back to reading it right before I had gradutated public high school.

I had read The Nineteen Letters in 1987 when I became Torah observant, but this was the first time I had actually read anything written about Rav Hirsch. Rabbi Schiller’s article discusses Rav Hirsch’s view of our relations with non-Jews and the purpose of Golus. The article opened my eyes to a bigger view of Rav Hirsch’s teachings, as well what the role of Jew should be in the world at large.  As a teen with very few Jewish friends in my city, I found comfort, strength, and purpose in this article.  Now, almost 20 years later, that feeling is back. 

Dr. Levine has given me permission to post the link to this important article available here. (Posted with permission from the summer 1989 issue of Jewish Action, the magazine of the Orthodox Union.)

In addition, Dr. Levine has a fascinating collection of article posted online regarding Torah Im Derech Eretz and Rav Hirsch available here, as well.  His site and email list is a great resource.

Rav Hirsh on the prerequisite to peace

“וְהָאֱמֶת וְהַשָּׁלוֹם, אֱהָבוּ” – You shall love truth and peace

These words from the end of Zechariah 8:19 are quoted thoughout Rav Hirsch’s writings.  R Eliyahu Meir Klugman eloquently write is his biography of Rav Hirsch that:

He explained that the concepts of truth and peace invariably occur in that order in Tanach, truth first and only afterwards peace, “For peace is not a father of truth; peach is the child of truth.  Win the people for truth, inalienable truth that can never be sold, nor even for the price of peace, when sacred causes are involved, and then true, everlasting peace will follow of itself.” (page 314)

During the Three Weeks we all try to be a bit nicer.  There are time that I succeed and there are times when I seem to not be able to get past certain things.  It’s a nesoyon (test) for me.  I accept that.  But, it seems that from the words of Rav Hirsch, making peace should not come at the expense of Emes.  In some cases, it’s not the other party that need to see the truth, but ourselves.  We must only be willing to really see what the Emes is, despite any difficulties that may result. 

Mishpacha article about Rav Hirsch

Dr. Yitzhok Levine has posted the Mishpacha Magazine article about Rav Hirsch’s 200th birthday. It was written by Rabbi Yitzchok Frankfuter and give a great history of Rav Hirsh’s life, struggles, and accompliments to Klal Yisrael (inlcuding a connection to both the beginning of the Agudath Israel and the Beis Yaakov movment). This was easily one of my favorite quotes for the article:

It is noteworthy that Rav Shimon Schwab related that the Imrei Emes once told him that “the Tzaddik of Frankfurt [Rav Hirsch] was a leibidege mussar sefer [a living morality text].”
The article is an easy read and is available here, thanks to Dr. Levine (who gave me permission to post the link).

The ‘other’ blog

The ‘other’ blog is the one that I haven’t posted anything on since April of 2007. The basis for this ‘other blog’ has been floating in my head for over ten years. I have for the last twenty years (yeah writing that make me feel really old) read The Nineteen Letters by Rav Hirsch every summer. Now, with Hashem’s help, I’m attempting to blog about this sefer.
If interested, please feel free to read more here.

Have a great Shabbos Kodesh!

Birkas Kohanim: A look inside

כד יְבָרֶכְךָ יְהוָה, וְיִשְׁמְרֶךָ. The LORD bless thee, and keep thee;כה יָאֵר יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ, וִיחֻנֶּךָּ. The LORD make His face to shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee; כו יִשָּׂא יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ, וְיָשֵׂם לְךָ שָׁלוֹם. The LORD lift up His countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.
(text from here)

This past Shabbos, in Parsha Naso, we find the Mitzvah of Birkas Kohanim. I admit that when I give my children these brachos every Shabbos night, I’m quite aware of the translation of what I’m saying, but until this week, while reading up on the fomulation of Birkas Kohanim, I really never gave the words too much thought. That, of course, has all changed.

My reseach included Rashi, Rav Hirsch’s commentary, and Rav Schwab on Prayer. I found it interesting that when the Kohanim bless B’nai Yisrael, they (the Priests) are not actually blessing “the people; rather, they are commanded to express their wish that HaKodesh Baruch Hu may bestow His blessings.” (straight out of Rav Schwab on Prayer pg 528)

This means that I’m also only wishing that Hashem blesses my own children when I say these same brachos every Shabbos night.

The first bracha, יְבָרֶכְךָ יְהוָה, וְיִשְׁמְרֶךָ is for protection and physical/material things. Food, clothing, a place to live, parnassah. All of the physical, maybe gashmius-type things that we need to live and function in this world.

The second bracha, יָאֵר יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ, וִיחֻנֶּךָּ is for one’s spiritual needs. Asking that Hashem’s face should shine towards us implies that we should see the hand of Hashem in what transpires in our own lives. Hashem is in direct control of everything. The whole “being gracious unto thee” is really a hard way to translate ” וִיחֻנֶּךָּ”, which come from the word “chain” meaning favor, gift, or pleasantness. Rav Hirsh (both in his commentary and quoted by Rav Schwab [no surprise there]) say that this refers to a “spiritual endowment”. Artscoll actually quotes the Degel Macheneh Ephraim) and he says that this bracha is about finding “favor in the eyes of others”. One must have a great relationship with other and be appreciated by others, as this builds mutual respect.

The third bracha, יִשָּׂא יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ, וְיָשֵׂם לְךָ שָׁלוֹם is about our relationship with Hashem. We ask for a bracha that Hashem should “lift His face” towards us. In the world of Mitzvos and Aviros, we either have opportunities to come closer to Hashem or we distance ourselves from our creator. This bracha reminds us that Hashem is never far from us. The last three words, וְיָשֵׂם לְךָ שָׁלוֹם “and give you peace”, descibe the peace and shalaimus (completeness) between the first two brachos, that Hashem should bless our phyiscal needs and our spiritual needs together as one.

These thoughts were said over in loving memory of my mother-in-law, Rivka bas Chaim Yosef a’h, on her first yahrzeit. A person who was protected and survived the Holocaust, had a stong attachment to Yiddishkeit, saw the chessed that Hashem did for her thoughout her life, and always knew that Hashem was with her.

Parsha Tetzaveh

כ וְאַתָּה תְּצַוֶּה אֶת-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְיִקְחוּ אֵלֶיךָ שֶׁמֶן זַיִת זָךְ כָּתִית לַמָּאוֹר לְהַעֲלֹת נֵר תָּמִיד.

Rav Hirsch zt”l says on the words l’halos ner tamid, to kindle the lamps continually, that only this term is only used for the menorah. We are taught that one must hold a flame against the wick until wick burns on its own. Rav Hirsh goes on to say beautifully that this is how it should be with with the teachers of Klal Yisrael. They should have patience and be persevering with each student, so to light a flame that will burn on its own. Rav Hirsh published his commentary on Chumash in 1878.

Fast forward to 1932, the year that the Piazeczna Rebbe, Rav Kalonymous Kalman Shapiro zt”l, published the Chovos HaTalmidim. This is taken from his introduction:
An educator, however, who wishes to uncover the soul of the child that lies hidden and concealed with him, who wants to help it grown and to ignite it so it will burn with a heavenly fire, upwards, towards the holy, so that the student’s entire being, including his physical body will increase in holiness and will long for God’s Torah, such an educator must adapt himself to the student, must penetrate into the midst of his limited consciousness and small-mindedness, until he reaches the hidden soul-spark. Then he can help it emerge, blossom, and grow. (From A STUDENT’S OBLIGATION page 5)
The same idea put forth, almost 50 years later. Two distinctly different Gadolim, using similar imagery. And why not? Neither Rav Hirsch nor the Piazeczna were interested in promoting themselves, they only wanted to teach us, so that we can continue to burn! Have a great Shabbos Kodesh.