An Exceptional Speech
The Sanzer Rov would deliver an intricate drasha in pilpul and halacha on Shavuos before Kiddush at his tish.
One year, on Shavuos, after davening, the rebbe asked his shammas to summon the chassidim for Kiddush. A group of wealthy chassidim eagerly entered the rebbe’s home and gathered around the table, which was laden with delicacies. They stood and waited eagerly for the rebbe to begin the drasha.
The rebbe, who was elderly at the time, turned to his chassidim and said, “Every year, I say a complicated drasha before Kiddush. However, this year I am too frail and weak to say a lengthy drasha, so I will say it kortz un sharf.”
The chassidim bent closer to the rebbe. To their surprise, the rebbe merely said, “I desperately need a thousand rendlech for tzedokah. And I need it now. It cannot be pushed off! Therefore, I will wait until you raise the money among your group and only then will I make Kiddush. On Motzoei Yom Tov, I want to receive the entire sum.”
The rebbe waited patiently while one of the chassidim gathered the pledges from the group. Soon the entire sum was pledged. The rebbe smiled and said, “I have never yet said such a nice drasha like this year. I was mechayeh many souls with my drasha…”
Stretching Out His Neck
The Sanzer Rov told his chassidim, “There are two worthy mountains: Har Sinai, where Klal Yisroel accepted the Torah, and Har Hamoriah, where Avrohom Avinu was prepared to sacrifice Yitzchok.
Why was the Bais Hamikdosh built upon the mountain of the sacrifice rather than the mountain of Kabbolas HaTorah?
The Sanzer replied, “A place where a Yid is prepared to stretch out his neck for the Ribono Shel Olam’s sake and be moser nefesh is more precious to Hashem than the place where the Torah was given.”
The Krepel P’shtel…
The Kol Aryeh traveled to Sanz for Shavuos for 26 years and was honored with the aliyah of kohein every single year. He was one of three rabbonim who had the zechus to say Hallel in Sanz. The others were Rav Shlomo Shapiro of Munkatch and Rav Yosef Chaim Gottlieb of Stropkov.
The first time he was in Sanz for Shavuos, the Sanzer Rov sat the Kol Aryeh on the mizrach wall and said to the other rabbonim, “Make place for this yungerman who learns with hasmodoh.”
The Sanzer Rov would say a p’shtel on Shavuos morning during the Kiddush. Traditionally, this Torah would be called the “krepel p’shetl,” named after the cheese-filled kreplach eaten at the Kiddush.
One year, the Kol Aryeh missed listening to the p’shetel and was greatly distressed about his loss. However, when the Divrei Chaim heard that the Kol Aryeh missed it, he repeated the entire devar Torah in honor of the visiting rov. The Kol Aryeh fregged up the p’shetl, quoting a specific Mordechai to the contrary.
Hearing this, the Divrei Chaim stooped in awe. He went over to his children and ainiklach and said, “You only know how to eat cookies and butter, but this yungerman knows of the Mordechai!”
The Kol Aryeh would counter that during his lofty Shavuos visits in Sanz, he received enough raw material to be mechadeish chiddushim all year.
Just like Napoleon
The rov of Kolshitz would relate that his zaide, the Shinever Rov, would sleep three hours every night, an hour more than his father, the Divrei Chaim of Sanz. During the remaining hours, he would learn Torah.
When the Divrei Chaim was asked why he slept so little, he replied, “When Napoleon was once asked why he slept so few hours, he replied, ‘I am a king. How can I sleep away the hours that I am in charge of my kingdom?’
Said the Divrei Chaim, “Likewise, we are the sons of kings. How can we sleep during these precious hours?”
Talk As Much As You Want…
Rav Chaim Volozhiner once noticed two bochurim shmoozing instead of learning. He went over to them and asked what they were talking about. They replied, “We are imagining what the yeitzer hara is saying as he sees such a large group of bochurim learning with such hasmodoh.”
“I will tell you what the yeitzer hora is saying,” said Rav Chaim. “He is saying, ‘Talk about me as much as you want, as long as you are not learning!’”
Shabbos Derech Eretz
On the eve of Shavuos, the Chiddushei Harim refrained from saying divrei Torah at the tish before the chassidim. “Derech eretz kodmah laTorah,” he would explain, “and it is not derech eretz to say Torah before kabbolas haTorah.”
The Chiddushei Harim also commented, “The Shabbos before Sukkos is Shabbos Shuvah, and the Shabbos before Pesach is Shabbos Hagadol. What of the Shabbos before Shavuos? It should be called ‘Shabbos derech Eretz,’ because derech eretz comes before Torah.”
Learning, Against All Odds
Chazal explain that during Matan Torah, the Ribono Shel Olam lifted the mountain upon Klal Yisroel’s heads, forcing them to accept the Torah, lest they be buried alive.
Our sages ask: Why did the Bnei Yisroel need to be forced if they willingly accepted the Torah upon themselves by saying, “Naaseh venishma”?
The Baal Shem Tov explained, “This teaches us that a Yid who finds himself in a situation where he has no desire to learn Torah or occupy himself with avodas Hashem should force himself to learn. He should imagine that Hakodosh Boruch Hu, kevayachol, is holding the Torah above his head and shouting, ‘Learn Torah!’ Thus, even if one has no geshmak, one should learn, and the taste will follow.”
A Special Niggun
In Karlin-Stolin, from Pesach until Shavuos, there was a minhag to say Birchas HaTorah with the niggun of Akdomus. In other kehillos, they used the niggun from Rosh Chodesh Sivan until Shavuos or during the three days before Shavuos. This minhag originated from Rav Ahron Karliner.
The Komarna Rebbe would sing the following three tefillos with a special niggun: Ahavah Rabbah on Shavuos night; Tefillas Chanah at the Chanukah licht; and Mechalkel Chaim on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The rest of the tefillos were davened by the regular baal tefillah.
The Shabbos before Shavuos is known as Shabbos Kallah, because the Torah is like a kallah and Klal Yisroel is compared to a chosson. Thus, the Yidden of the Western lands (Germany, France) listen to drashos on that Shabbos just as they do on Shabbos Hagadol and Shabbos Shuvah.
The Jews of Babylon had unique piyutim that they said on that Shabbos.
Not to Speak Divrei Chol
On the first night of Shavuos, when Rav Yehoshua Heschel of Monistritch said Tikkun Leil Shavuos, he did not utter any extraneous words until “Keser” was said in the next morning’s Mussaf. Every word he spoke was only Lashon Hakodesh. This minhag is followed today by many chassidim.
The Hasmodah of Previous Generations
In his youth, Rav Eizikel Zidichoiver learned Torah in poverty and deprivation. He learned from morning until night, subsisting on a few dry crumbs of bread.
As long as the grocer was willing to give him bread on credit, everything was fine, but eventually the bill became too high and the grocer demanded payment. Having no choice, Rav Eizikel set out on a journey to bring parnossah.
For the next few weeks, the ben Torah traveled to Galicia and Hungary, where wealthy ba’alebatim who cherished the rare opportunity gathered funds for him.
Wherever he went, Rav Eizikel brought numerous candles in order to learn through the night while his host slept. He would ask for a private room so as not to bother anyone. Often, however, especially in the smaller villages, there was no private room available, so Rav Eizikel went into the wood pile room. There, he would take a board and put it on a basin, which became his table. Another overturned basin was his chair, and he would sit comfortably and learn until the morning.
If he was unable to go to the wood pile room, Rav Eizikel would simply make himself comfortable in the hallway, where he would stand on his feet and learn all night until dawn.
Swallowing the Branches
In Tripoli, Libya, several weeks before Shavuos, small branches and flowers with thorns were prepared. This alludes to the sneh, in which Hakadosh Boruch Hu appeared to Moshe Rabbeinu.
On the morning of Yom Tov, each child was given seven leaves, which he swallowed after drinking water from a well. This was a segulah for him to grow in Torah.
In addition, the locals would eat cookies in the shape of a ladder, to symbolize Moshe Rabbeinu, who ascended to Shomayim on a ladder. Some would eat cookies in the shape of a hand, to say that they are sticking out their hands to accept the Torah. Others would eat cookies in the shape of a dove, because Klal Yisroel is likened to a dove.
A Four-Cornered Challah
The Chida writes in his sefer Birchei Yosef, “In several kehillos, the mara d’asra is called up to the Torah instead of the kohein on Shavuos lekavod kabbolas haTorah.”
Some women had the minhag of baking a special challah for Shavuos, with four corners, an allusion to the Shtei Halechem that were brought on Shavuos or to the mazel of the month of Sivan, which is twins.
Reading the Kesubah
In Morocco, the minhag was that during Tefillas Shacharis, the baal kriah took out a special kesubah, between Hakadosh Boruch Hu and the Bnei Yisroel, written by Rav Yisroel Nagara. This was read loudly by the baal kriah while the men whispered along. This kesubah is read in many kehillos today, as well.
Kever of Dovid Hamelech
In Yerushalayim, there was a minhag to go to Har Tzion on Shavuos, to the kever of Dovid Hamelech on his yahrtzeit. In Tzefas, there was a minhag to go to the kever of Hosheia Ben Be’eiri and daven there all day.
A Loyal Soldier
When he was but a child of four, the holy Sanzer Rov already knew the Taryag mitzvos by heart.
“Why did you choose to memorize the Taryag mitzvos?” he was asked.
The little tzaddik replied, “I discovered that a soldier must know all the commandments the generals declare by heart. Since we are soldiers in Hashem’s army, I want to know His declarations by heart.
“And what are these declarations? The Taryag mitzvos. Now that I know all the mitzvos ba’al peh, I can work on being a loyal soldier in the Ribono Shel Olam’s army.”
The Medrash states that when Moshe Rabbeinu went up to shomayim to accept the Torah, the malochim wanted to interfere. Hashem caused Moshe’s face to assume the likeness of Avrohom Avinu, and He asked them, “Aren’t you embarrassed to start up with one in whose home you ate?”
The Alexander Rebbe repeated in the name of his father Rav Yechiel, “Hashem wanted to show the malochim that the Torah can only be given to those who possess good middos.
“Hakodosh Boruch Hu said to the malochim, ‘When you went down to the physical world, Avrohom Avinu hosted you with grace and gave you food. Yet when a human being comes up to shomayim, you want to harm him. This proves that you do not possess good middos, and are not worthy of kabbolas hatorah.’”
Only Eight Hundred Blatt Gemara!
Rav Yosef Shaul Nathanson and Rav Zev Itinga were wealthy men who were able to learn Torah without financial worries. Since they didn’t want to waste time in business, they entrusted their fortune to a rich man to invest. The wealthy businessman promised to share the proceeds with them, fifty-fifty.
To their sorrow, the wealthy man cheated them and took their money, with no intention of repaying it. The two talmidei chachomim suddenly were left without a means of sustenance, which distressed them greatly.
When the holy Sar Shalom of Belz heard what happened, he sent his son Rav Yehoshua to comfort them. Rav Yehoshua asked Rav Yosef Shaul, “Did the loss create bitul Torah for you?”
“Of course,” replied the latter. “It is already a few weeks into the z’man, and I only learned eight hundred blatt of Gemara.”
The Belzer Rov would relate this to his children with awe.
To Borrow a Sefer
The Divrei Chaim of Sanz did not own many seforim. Whenever he needed a sefer he didn’t own, the rebbe would borrow from an acquaintance or from his sons.
The children once asked him, “Tatteh, you give away so much for tzedokah; why don’t you buy seforim?”
“Seforim can be borrowed, but mitzvos cannot,” the rebbe replied.
How Can He Sleep?
Once, on Shavuos afternoon, the mother of the Ahavas Yisroel of Vizhnitz begged him to lie down for a nap.
To which her young son replied, “Mama, please don’t ask this of me. How can I sleep on Shavuos when the holy Sanzer Rov did not sleep for two days and two nights of yom tov?”
Hiding His Greatness
The Tzelemer Rov was known as a humble tzaddik who strove to hide his spiritual elevation so that many were unaware of his tzidkus. However, there were times when he was in such a lofty sphere that it was impossible for him to hide his dveikus. One of these times was on Shavuos, during the reading of the Aseres Hadibros.
One year, on Parshas Yisro, his nephew the Pupa Rov wanted to see how the Tzelemer Rov read the Aseres Hadibros. Thus, on Shabbos morning he davened in the Tzelemer Shul. When the rov noticed his nephew, he took care to read the Aseres Hadibros with no exemplary dveikus, just as he leined the other pesukim.
However, those standing close to the rov while the Aseres Hadibros were read later said that the Rov held onto the bimah so tightly, trying to contain his dveikus and the fire that burned within him, that he nearly broke the wood of the bimah!
Losing His Appetite
The Minchas Elazar of Munkatch related that Rav Zev of Lemberg, a talmid of Rav Uri of Strelisk, became seriously ill shortly after Shavuos. He was so weak that it was hard for him to swallow solids. The doctors begged him to try and taste a morsel of food.
“At least eat some light, sweet foods,” the doctor begged. “They will help you recover.”
“How can I eat?” cried Rav Zev. “On Shavuos, during pesukei dezimra, I said the words ‘mesukim midvash venofes tzufim.’ When I began to contemplate on how sweet the divrei Torah were, I became nauseated from food, and lost my appetite for sweets.”
All In a Meal’s Worth
The Tzemach Tzedek would hold a tish on the first day of Shavuos, called Shulchan Niglah, the revealed tish.
During this meal, the rebbe would host many rabbonim who did not come to him for the other yomim tovim because they were busy with their kehillos. At the milchig meal, the rabbonim would ask the shailos that had accumulated during the year. In the span of less than an hour, without hesitation, the Tzemach Tzedek would answer them all.
With Fear and Trembling
Rav Shlomo Leib of Lentcha once repeated the following vort from the Yid Hakodosh on Shavuos:
“Why do we have the minhag of not saying any Torah on the night of Shavuos during the seudah? Because ‘derech eretz kodmah latorah,’ and it is not derech eretz to say divrei Torah if we will only receive the Torah the following day.
“So what should one do tonight? One should prepare for kabbolas hatorah with eimah and yirah.”
When he said these words, the rebbe was consumed with such yirah that all his limbs began to shake, and he held onto the table for support. The guests began to quake in fear, and several chassidim escorted the rebbe to his chamber. After the rebbe rested in bed for several minutes, he was able to come back to the tish to resume the shmuess.
The Shinever Rebbe’s Kreplach
The Shinever Rebbe had a minhag to serve kreplach to his chassidim during the milchig meal on Shavuos. It was accepted among the devout chassidim that the kreplach symbolized children who would become talmidei chachomim. As many kreplach as one received, that’s how many distinguished children one would merit.
One year, a rov from another kehillah was at the tish, and, having heard of the minhag, demanded kreplach from the Shinever Rov.
The Shinever became angry. “Am I a kreplach cook? Go to the kitchen, and they will give you as many kreplach as you need.” The chassidim became filled with awe and fear, and no one dared ask for kreplach.
After a while, the Shinever turned to Rav Elya Katz of Raslovitz, and said, “You want three kreplach? Nu, here are three.” Rav Elya was later zocheh to three distinguished sons, all talmidei chachomim and rabbonim, among them the Riskaver Rov of Bnei Brak.
Stuffed With Cheese
The Klausenberger Rebbe explained why we eat kreplach on Shavuos.
Kreplach are made by taking sweet cheese and stuffing it inside a piece of dough which is tightly closed on all four sides. If a small hole remains, all the cheese will run out during the baking process.
From here we learn that one who hides his Torah knowledge and does not boast about his abilities will merit having the Torah remain within him.
This can be alluded to in Shir Hashirim, “devash vecholov tachas leshoneich, milk and honey are under your tongue.” Devash vecholov, the milk and honey will only be with you if the Torah knowledge remains under your tongue and you do not boast about it in public.
Torah and a Lamp
Rav Yechezkel Levenstein, the renowned mashgiach of the Ponovezh yeshiva, once saw that members of his household had purchased a lamp. When he opened the box, he saw a small booklet inside.
“What does it say in this booklet?” he asked.
“These are the operating instructions for the lamp,” his family explained.
Rav Yechezkel appeared very impressed, and announced, “Ah, Toras Emes!” Those around him wondered at his excitement, until the mashgiach explained:
“Look, even such a small, simple machine comes with its own booklet of instructions, explaining how it is used. Kal vochomer, when the Ribono Shel Olam sent man down upon this world on such a long journey, giving him a physical body, there are so many questions as to how he should behave. It is only logical that he was also given a book of instructions.
“The manufacturer, the Yotzer Ho’adam, gave us the holy Torah to teach us how to behave on this lowly world. Therefore, I announced ‘Toras Emes,’ with such ecstasy!”
Let Me Taste Another Krepel
The Shavuos tish of the Ropshitzer Rebbe was awe-inspiring. The rebbe would say divrei Torah replete with gematriyos and Torah secrets. Especially noteworthy was the krepel p’shetel, vertlach about the Shavuos kreplach and their significance.
At the tish, the chassidim felt tremendous awe. However, despite the earnestness of the moment, the renowned badchan, Rav Zanvil Ropshitzer, was fond of jesting with his customary wit, bringing pleasure to the rebbe.
One year, after the Ropshitzer ate the traditional Shavuos kreplach laced with butter, he turned to Zanvil and asked, “Can you tell me the ‘taam,’ the meaning (or taste), of the kreplach?”
Zanvil replied, solemn-faced, “The rebbe is eating the kreplach and I should tell the rebbe what they taste like?” The assembled burst into laughter.
Then the rebbe said, “If Zanvil doesn’t want to say the ‘taam,’ then I must say it: Shavuos is the zeman of Matan Torah. The kreplach allude to the Torah. Inside, there is cheese. The word cheese is b’gematria seventy, corresponding to the seventy facets of the Torah.
“Surrounding the cheese is a sweet dough made of flour. ‘If there is no flour, there is no Torah.’ The flour, the parnassah, is the shomer, the levush, of the cheese, which is the Torah. One can’t have one without the other. And that is why the Torah was not given to the malochim, because they don’t need parnassah or other earthly requirements.”
“Now, Zanvil,” said the rebbe, handing the jester a krepel, “now that you know the meaning of kreplach, you can taste a bit of Torah.”
Zanvil made a brocha and bit into the pastry with relish, exclaiming, “A dear and sweet Torah!”
“I see you like this Torah,” the rebbe said with a smile.
“Rebbe!” Zanvil declared, “But we have two Torahs, the Written Torah and the Oral Torah.”
The rebbe handed him another krepel…
The Woodcutter’s Tehillim
During the days of the Baal Shem Tov, a bitter gezeirah of annihilation was decreed upon a small Jewish kehillah in Poland. The Baal Shem Tov heard about the terrible decree and summoned two hidden tzaddikim, Rav Mordechai and Rav Kehas, to his home to find a solution and save the Yidden from extermination. Despite their best efforts, it seemed that the gezeirah was sealed.
The Baal Shem Tov then made “yetzias neshamah” and ascended Heavenward, his soul temporarily leaving his body, to see if he could annul the decree. In Shomayim it was revealed to him that the decree was set in stone and could not be revoked.
On his way back to this world, the Baal Shem Tov passed a hallway where a great light was shining. The Besht discovered that the Heichal was set aside for a simple woodcutter, who was still alive and made his living by chopping down trees and murmuring chapters of Tehillim all the while. Throughout his day, he would say Tehillim with great concentration and finish the entire Sefer Tehillim five times every single day. That is why his Heichal was aglow with such a great and pure light.
The Baal Shem Tov came back to Earth and went to see the woodcutter, who was surprised at the unexpected honor. The Besht explained what he had seen in Shomayim and told the simple Yid that there was a kehillah that faced annihilation.
“If you had the opportunity to save the village by giving up your Olam Haba, would you do it?”
The woodcutter replied, “I am giving away my cheilek in the World to Come for the sake of the kehillah.”
His noble gesture was accepted On High and the entire community was spared.