Ashreinu Ma Tov Chelkeinu …..

Mishenichnas Adar marbim besimcha; the time of simcha has arrived and we are supposed to increase our simcha from the beginning of Adar. In case we are searching for help in this important mitzvah, the Beis Yosef (Siman 45) is a good place to start.

He is discussing the section in Birkas Hashachar which says, “A person should always fear Hashem both in private and in public.” What chiddush do these words contain? We know that the test of yiras shomayim is when a person is beyond the gaze of others. How does he conduct himself when he is alone? One explanation which the Beis Yosef gives is that this statement refers to a time when it was forbidden for the Jews to say the Shema. The only possible way to say the Shema was to find somewhere very private and secretly say this basic expression of our emuna. In other words, when we can say the Shema in public, we should do so, as normal, but in a time of a gezeira when it is forbidden to say the Shema we should at least try to say it in private. Simply contrasting such a situation when it was forbidden to say the Shema with our experience with shuls packed full of mispallelim calling out krias shema, davening Shemone Esrei, singing Kabolas Shabbos without any interference is a source of great simcha.

Gittin (16b) tells us about a discussion on an intricate halocho in hilchos Gittin at the home of Rabba bar bar Channa who was ill at the time. Suddenly one of the chaveirim (a group who forbade the use of fire on certain days of the year) entered Rabba bar bar Channa’s  home and took away his candle, leaving them in the dark. Rabba bar bar Channa was so disturbed by this that he called out to Hashem, “Either in your shade or the shade of the Romans.” The Gemara explains that even though Hashem had exiled the Jews to Persia because it was ‘impossible’ to survive under the Bnei Eisav  (Romans), this was before these chaveirim arrived in Persia. After they arrived, it would have been easier under the Bnei Eisav. Thinking about this, when we can learn in light and in comfort in our Botei Medrash  or in our homes is another thought which should give us much simcha.

And we all know about Elisha Ba’al Kenofayim (Shabbos 130a) who lived at a time of a gezeira that if anyone wore Tefilin on his head, his brain will be removed from his head. Not to be deterred, a Jew called Elisha wore his Tefilin as normal, When a Roman soldier saw him, Elisha ran away, with the soldier in hot pursuit. Elisha removed his Tefilin and held them in his hand. The soldier caught up with him and demanded to know what was in his hand. Elisha opened his hand to reveal a dove’s wings (kanfei yona) into which the Tefilin had miraculously been transformed. That is why he was henceforth called Elisha Baal Kenofayim. We should think of this as we put on our beautiful Tefilin, some of us Rebbeinu Tam Tefilin as well, without any fear of arrest. Another source of simcha if we would think about it. These are just a few examples.

This explanation of the Beis Yosef, that the paragraph “le’olom yehei odom” was written at a time when we were not allowed to do mitzvos might explain why the sentence continues with the mitzvos of modeh al ho’emes (acknowledging the truth) and dover emes bilvovo (speaking the truth in our heart). Both are mitzvos we can do in the recesses of our hearts undetected by those who made this cruel  gezeira.

The siddur goes on to contrast our insignificant physical and mental strength compared with the greatness of Hashem. Avol anachnu amcho bnei brisecho…our comfort is, however, that we are the people who have a covenant with Hashem and we are the descendants of our holy forefathers Avrohom,Yitzchok and Yaakov, whom Hashem loved and swore an eventual great future for their descendants. Most people are not their descendants and have not inherited the love and fear for Hashem which we have. Their lives consist, for the most part, of a nonstop chase after the pleasures of this world, wealth and power, which they can never achieve to their satisfaction. We know about Koheles’ warning that all is vanity and the pursuit of physical pleasures, divorced from Torah and Mitzvos, is an exercise in futility.

Lefichoch.. Therefore we have to thank You and praise You and bless You and to sanctify Your name. We should feel a surge of simcha at our good fortune to be heirs to such a spiritual treasure, to know what the purpose of life is, to appreciate what real values are and to have been given the keys to achieving inner happiness, to say nothing of the spiritual pleasures which await us in the next world.

Ashreinu ma tov chelkeinu… How happy we are that our neshomo is a chelek eloka mima’al, a part of the Ribono Shel Olom Himself, that Hashem has guided us to choose a spiritual life (uvocharto bechaim) (Eitz Yosef) and that He gave us the heilige Torah as our inheritance, (moreshet lekehilat Yaakov).  Ashreinu she’anachnu mashkimim umaarivim v’omrim pamayim be’ahavo. How happy we are that we are not living at a time of gezeira, that we are not restricted in the mitzvos we keep and nobody is stopping us from declaring in the morning and evening with pride, love and enthusiasm, Shema Yisroel Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echod.

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