Rabbi Ephraim Sprecher, Dean of Students and Senior Lecturer at Diaspora Yeshiva, is not only a popular speaker and teacher, but also a dynamic thinker and writer. A student of Harav Yaakov Kamenetsky and Harav Gedalia Schorr, Rabbi Sprecher was granted smicha (rabbinical ordination) by Torah Vodaath Yeshiva. Prior to his current position, Rabbi Sprecher was a professor of Judaic studies at Touro College in New York. In addition to his duties at Diaspora Yeshiva, Rabbi Sprecher writes a regular column on various Judaic topics in the Jewish Press, and lectures regularly at the OU Israel Center in Jerusalem.
Rabbi Sprecher on the Exodus and the Corona virus. What are the lessons:
The Exodus Message for CORONA
Published: Monday, March 30, 2020 07:21:27 PM
L’ILUI NISHMAT ASHER SHMUEL CHAIM Z”L ben EPHRAIM v’TZIONA
What can the events leading up to the Exodus teach us about dealing with Coronavirus? Rav Soloveitchik posed the question on the verse in Parshat Shemot, “And G‑d saw the suffering of the children of Israel and He knew He must help them.” Rav Soloveitchik asks that if G‑d knew that He must help us, then why did He wait decades before redeeming Israel? Rav Soloveitchik answers that G‑d waited for Moshe, His human partner, who at the time was unprepared to accept the mission of redemption.
As King David teaches in Tehillim, “The Heavens belong to G‑d but the Earth was given to human beings.” G‑d acts only in concert with His earthly partners. Thus, only when Moshe was ready for his mission, he found G‑d waiting and calling to him at the Burning Bush!
That is our dilemma now in the year 2020 as we are being overwhelmed with the Coronavirus pandemic all over the world. The message for us is that just like Moshe, G‑d is waiting for us to be His partners to find a vaccine to stop the deadly plague. This spiraling out-of-control Coronavirus forces us to reflect on the existential realities and uncertainties of life. The sudden health catastrophe of the entire world awakens us from serenity and leads us to extreme hysteria. G‑d’s message is that despite our tremendous scientific and medical knowledge, we are not in control at all!
Rav Soloveitchik points out that the erratic nature of life and our susceptibility to seemingly random turns of events is all part of G‑d’s plan to teach us Who REALLY is in charge. He wrote that our occasional helplessness is not simply a tragic truth. “It is an ethical postulate that gives rise to modesty and humility in the human being. Instability serves to ennoble us, and to dispel arrogance. The awareness of our vulnerability, that there lurks a deadly threat which can transform our complacent condition, that suddenly without reason we can be cast down from the height of success to the pit of despair – should enhance our ethical character.”
People were convinced that modern scientific cures protect us from almost all diseases. Now we see the bitter truth. Thus the Mishna in Avot teaches “Be exceedingly humble and modest.” Perhaps the Coronavirus will convince us to act with more humility and modesty.
A good and ethical society depends on a system of restraints. That is the main feature of living a life lived according to Halacha. As the Mishna in Avot states, “Who is a hero? The one who is able to restrain and control his passions and impulses.”
How do we deal with our fears? One way is by taking action in our own personal environment. We CANNOT control what happens to us, but we CAN always control how we respond to it.
G‑d’s message to us now is to be humble, NOT helpless! As Rabbi Nachman of Breslov famously said, “The entire world is a narrow bridge and the main thing is not to be afraid at all.”
CORONA means CROWN. Now is the time to restore the Crown of Kingship to G‑d. As we are all praying now during this crisis, “Our Father, our King, we have no king, only You!”
To learn more of Rabbi Sprecher's thoughts on the current state of the world and what it may be teaching us check out more of his writings here:
Crosby Stills and Nash had a number one hit song called “Teach Your Children Well.” Were they singing about the Festival of Chanuka? Because the Talmud Shabbat 23 states, “One who is careful about Chanuka lights will have children who are Torah scholars.” Rashi explains this enigmatic passage referring to the verse in Mishlei 6 which states, “A candle is a Mitzva and the Torah is light.” On the basis of this Mitzva of the Chanuka candles, the light of Torah will illuminate us and our children.
However, Rashi does not explain why. To answer this question, we will ask another. Some of the laws of Chanuka seem strange. For example, a poor person is required to light the Menora, even if this entails begging from door to door to get money to purchase the oil and wicks.
This is not so for any other Mitzva, where one is not obligated to spend more than 20 percent of one’s assets to fulfill the Mitzva. Why is there such a tremendous stress on the lighting of the Chanuka candles? How can it be that the Mitzva of Chanuka, which is only Rabbinic, requires one to spend all his money to observe it? How can it be that by observing this Mitzva we will have worthy and learned children?
To answer these questions, we must face a simple reality – candles burn out. It was a miracle that the oil lasted for a week longer than expected. The Menora of the Beit Hamikdash had to be tended and refueled daily. When the little amount of oil lasted for eight days, it was a miracle. This seems like such an obvious fact, but it often passes us by.
The Mitzva of Chanukah is so precious and important because it reminds us of this elementary fact of life – we must constantly provide fuel if we expect candles to burn. This fact is also true regarding the Light of Torah. Whatever is true in the physical world is certainly true in the spiritual world. Chanuka teaches that in matters of spirituality there is no status quo. If we are not progressing spiritually, we are automatically regressing.
This is what Shlomo Hamelech meant in Mishlei, “The candle of G-d is the soul of the human being.” Just as a candle needs constant refueling in order to give light, so too the G‑dly soul needs the constant nourishing Light of Torah.
Chanuka is related to the word CHINUCH – education, teaching and dedication. Our existence as a people depends on proper CHINUCH – education and communicating our beliefs, values, observances, and feelings on a constant and continual basis.
Chanuka reminds us to light the candles and to REFUEL our soul with Mitzvot. This festival reminds us that we must be involved daily in growing and progressing spiritually.
Therefore, the Talmud tells us that if we are careful about the Mitzva of Chanuka, our children will be Torah scholars. Perhaps the reason now becomes clear, because our children will understand what the meaning of constant commitment to Torah Judaism is all about. “For a candle is a Mitzvah, and the Torah is Light.” As Rashi explains, on the basis of the Mitzva of Chanuka, the Light of Torah will illuminate all the members of our household.
Chanuka teaches us that we need a constant refueling of Torah and Mitzvot in order that our soul will shine forever. As John Lennon famously sang “WE ALL SHINE ON!”
Our Dreams - A Portal to Eternity!
Sefer Bereshis contains many dreamers and their dreams. First we have Yakov’s dream followed by Yosef’s dreams, Pharaoh’s dreams, and the Butler and the Baker’s dreams.There was a popular song called “Life is but a Dream.” Why do we dream? What is the meaning of our dreams? The Mishnah in Avot states, “One moment of pleasure in the After-Life is better than all of life in this world.” How can we have confidence that another world awaits us after death? The answer is dreams! Have you ever had a dream that was so vivid, that you experienced it as if it were reality, but then you woke up and realized that it was all an illusion?
Dreams remind us that this world is not the ultimate reality.
Throughout the act of Creation, after each major step such as the creation of light, water and vegetation, the Torah tells us that va-yar Elohim KI TOV, "and G-d saw that it was good." Taken literally, these passages strike us as grossly anthropomorphic, as if the Creator of the universe is a Cosmic Artist who, after every significant addition to His composition, steps back to admire His masterpiece. But Onkelos and Rambam teach that G-d has no human needs or emotions. What, then, does it mean when the Torah tells us "G-d saw it was good ?"
Of all the abilities that human beings possess, perhaps none is as mysterious as our talent for compartmentalization. Each of us is multiple people, and different ones emerge in different circumstances and relationships.
If we can never fully know somebody, it's not simply because his exterior does not match his interior. It's because we have so many chambers inside, and some are more hidden than others, even from the person himself. As the radio program of yesteryear called “The Shadow” stated, “Who knows what evil lurks in the heart of man?”
Thus, even mild mannered people, including me, lose their temper and get angry on occasion. Is there a magic formula to control and manage our anger?
Rosh HaShana is a puzzling Yom Tov for us. On the one hand, we are facing an awesome judgment; on the other hand, we celebrate the day as a joyous holiday. One can hardly imagine someone facing a life and death judgment enjoying himself on that very day. Yet, the Halacha states that we must celebrate on Rosh HaShana by feasting on meat and wine. What is even stranger, we not only celebrate amidst the judgment, we actually invoke the judgment on ourselves. According to the Zohar, our shofar summons the Judge to the chamber to begin the Judgement. Clearly we would only do so if we viewed that judgment as beneficial to us.
Yaakov had a dream, a ladder was set on the ground and its top reached up to heaven, and Angels of G-D were going up and down on it" (Bereshit 28). What is the meaning of this Heavenly Ladder? Life is like a ladder, a series of ups and downs. The ladder that was standing on the ground showed Yaakov that we must use the physical world as a ladder with which to elevate ourselves by serving G-D. Through our service of G-D we help all of existence to fulfill its ultimate destiny. The Angels that were going up and down convey the idea that all of creation depends on us. Even the rise and fall of the Holy Angels is related to our actions.
If we use the physical world for holy and spiritual purposes, then all of creation, including the Heavenly Angles is elevated. But if we abuse G-D's world by neglecting the Torah, then all of creation, even the Holy Angels descends along with us. This reality demonstrates the awesome and frightening power of the human being.
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