Brilliant Torah Insights From Harav Yissocher Dov Rokeach, Zy”a

Harav Yissocher Dov Rokeach, zy”a, was born in Belz, Galicia, in 5611/1851. He succeeded his father, Harav Yehoshua, zy”a, upon his passing in 5654/1894, as Rav and Rebbe of Belz. He attracted thousands of followers and was a renowned baal mofeis — miracle worker — who encouraged his Chassidim to devote all their available time to Torah learning. He was renowned for his fervent tefillos that inspired all those who merited hearing them.

Rav Yissocher Dov’s hasmadah was legendary, and he was an outstanding talmid chacham who corresponded with Gedolei Yisrael throughout Galicia. He continued to lead the Machzikei Hadaas movement started by his father to strengthen Yiddishkeit throughout the community.

We present here several of his illuminating divrei Torah, where you can see his Torah brilliance, as well as the great words of chizuk through which he inspired his Chassidim.

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When Eliezer found Rivkah, the future wife of Yitzchak Avinu, he gave her (Bereishis 24:22) two bracelets that weighed 10 gold shekels. Rashi explains that the two bracelets symbolize the two Luchos and the 10 shekels allude to the Ten Commandments. What was the purpose of Eliezer giving Rivkah gifts embodying Mattan Torah?

The Tur (O”C, 417) teaches that the three chagim were established to correspond to the Avos. Pesach corresponds to Avraham, who was visited by the malachim on Pesach; Shavuos corresponds to Yitzchak, as the shofar of Mattan Torah was from the ram that appeared at the Akeidah; Sukkos corresponds to Yaakov, who built sukkos for his livestock when he returned to Eretz Yisrael.

Therefore, it was most appropriate for Eliezer to give Rivkah gifts symbolizing Mattan Torah, befitting the future wife of Yitzchak, the paradigm of Shavuos.

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The Yerushalmi asks why we begin saying the formula of morid hageshem in Shemoneh Esrei specifically in Mussaf on Shemini Atzeres. Why not start saying it during the preceding Maariv, similarly to Yaaleh v’Yavo and V’Sein Tal U’Matar, which we begin saying during Maariv on the appropriate days?

The Midrash (Vayikra Rabbah 29) relates regarding the creation of Adam Harishon that although Hashem created Adam earlier in the day, Hashem only blew into Adam his neshamah, his soul, during the seventh hour of the day. The Rebbe recognizes that certainly Adam, realizing his good fortune, immediately proceeded to pray to Hashem.

The Torah (Bereishis 2:5) tells us that at the time of Creation, “Hashem had not sent rain upon the earth, and there was no man to work the soil.” Rashi explains that it did not rain because there was no one who would recognize the goodness of Hashem. However, when Adam arrived and realized the world needed rain, he prayed for it and it came, causing the trees and vegetation to sprout.

Adam was the first person to pray for rain, and he specifically began to pray during the seventh hour, the time of tefillas Mussaf. (The halachah is that Mussaf should preferably be said before the end of the seventh hour.) Chazal therefore designated Mussaf as the time to begin saying morid hageshem, praying for rain, as this was the first tefillah of Adam, when he prayed for rain.

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How could it be that the Dor Deah, a generation that soared to the heights of receiving the Torah at Har Sinai, stumbled so badly during the episode of the chet ha’egel?

The Gemara (Avodah Zara 10b) describes how a righteous person merited Olam Haba based on his good deeds done in a short period of time. Rebbi cried and proclaimed “Yesh koneh olamo b’shaah achas — One can acquire his portion in the World to Come in one hour.” Why did Rebbi cry?

The Gemara (Sukkah 52a) says, “Kol hagadol me’chaveiro yitzro gadol heimenu — Whoever is greater than his friend, his evil inclination is also greater.” If so, how is a tzaddik ever able to overcome the yetzer hara, which flourishes commensurate with the tzaddik’s spiritual growth?

Hashem orchestrates the world so that as a person grows in spirituality, he does not advance too quickly, but rather a little bit at a time. This orderly progression empowers an individual to overcome the yetzer hara that grows alongside his advance in ruchniyus.

When someone merits Olam Haba based on doing good deeds in a short amount of time, this is certainly wondrous. This is because, notwithstanding that the yetzer hara grows commensurate with a person’s spiritual growth, this person was able to negate the yetzer hara. When Rebbi heard that someone indeed reached this exalted spiritual status in such a short time span, and wasn’t impeded by the yetzer hara, he began crying tears of joy.

Klal Yisrael had miraculously risen from the depths of the 49 shaarei tumah and quickly reached up to the shaarei kedushah at Mattan Torah. The yetzer hara naturally grew as well. Klal Yisrael was unaccustomed to the swift ascent to this exalted status and hence couldn’t resist the yetzer hara’s enticement to sin at the egel.

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The Torah stresses (Vayikra 2:13) “V’chol Korban Minchascha bamelech timlach — You shall salt every Korban Minchah with salt.” Why does the Torah choose to teach us the mitzvah of bringing salt onto the Mizbei’ach specifically with the Korban Minchah?

The Midrash states that the two Mizbechos — the two altars — have unique tasks. The outside Mizbei’ach’s purpose was tikun haguf — improvement of the body — epitomized by the bringing of korbanos upon it, to be eaten by the Kohanim and the owner of the korban. The inside Mizbei’ach symbolized tikun hanefesh — improvement of the soul — as the Gemara Brachos (43b) states, “What does the neshamah enjoy that the guf does not? The sense of smell.” This corresponds to the ketores, which is brought on the inside Mizbei’ach.

Every day the Avodah was done on both Mizbechos. Today, as well, though we have no Mizbechos, it is incumbent upon us to serve Hashem with both our guf and our neshamah daily. Melech — salt — is derived from water. There is water above us in the heavens, and water below on the earth. The Shulchan Aruch (O”C 167:5) teaches that salt should be used at every meal. Salt, derived from water (above and below), signifies our life’s purpose to serve Hashem with both body and soul, and our table is considered to be a mizbei’ach (Brachos 55a).

The Korban Minchah embodies tikun haguf and tikun hanafesh. It was brought on the outside Mizbei’ach, tikun haguf. Yet it contains levonah, one of the ketores spices normally brought onto the inner Mizbei’ach, tikun hanefesh. The Torah therefore gives the mitzvah of bringing the salt at the Korban Minchah, as both the Minchah and the salt embody tikun haguf and tikun hanefesh.

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Hashem commanded Noach (Noach 6:16) to construct a tzohar in the teivah. Rashi explains that some learn that the tzohar was a window and some say it was a precious stone.

In Parashas Vayeira, when Hashem saved Lot during the destruction of Sodom, the malach commanded Lot and his family not to look at Sodom being destroyed. Rashi (Vayeira 19:17) explains that since Lot was only saved by Avraham’s merit, he and his family were not sufficiently worthy to watch Sodom being destroyed as they were saved. Only someone who is being saved on his own merit may observe the ruin of others.

This episode teaches us that the two explanations in Rashi concerning the tzohar are dependent upon how Rashi (Noach 6:9) explains that Noach was a “tzaddik b’dorosav — in his generations.” Rashi teaches that some Rabbis viewed this description of Noach as praise. Noach was a tzaddik during the period of the Great Flood; certainly he would have been an even greater tzaddik had he lived among righteous people. Others derived that Noach was indeed a tzaddik during the Great Flood; however, he would have not been considered at all noteworthy if he had lived at the time of Avraham Avinu.

Those who maintain that Hashem told Noach to construct a window interpret this to mean that Noach was a genuine tzaddik, and he would have been considered a tzaddik even among other tzaddikim. He was therefore permitted to view the destruction of the Mabul. However, those who learn that the tzohar was a precious stone maintain that Noach was indeed considered a tzaddik during his generation, but would not be reckoned as a tzaddik in another era and was not considered worthy enough to view the destruction of the Mabul. Therefore, Hashem did not permit a window to be constructed, but only allowed a precious stone to be inserted to emanate light for the teivah’s occupants.

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In the aftermath of the great miracles of Krias Yam Suf, the Torah relates (Beshalach 14:31) “Vayaar Yisrael es Hayad Hagedolah … vayaaminu baShem — Yisrael saw the great hand of Hashem … and they had faith in Hashem.” If Klal Yisrael saw the Great Hand of Hashem, the actual miracles that transpired during the splitting of the Yam Suf, isn’t it superfluous to state that they had emunah — faith — in Hashem? What need was there for faith when everything could be seen?

The chiddush is that notwithstanding the fact that all Klal Yisrael witnessed the splitting of the Yam Suf, they nevertheless preferred to accept this event as truth based on their faith and emunah in Hashem. Their emunah and trust in Hashem stirred them even more than their own experience at Krias Yam Suf.

May our learning these divrei Torah of Rav Yissacher Dov of Belz be a merit for his neshamah as well as for the entire Klal Yisrael.


Rabbi Menachem Pollak, aka Reb Mendy Pollak, learns and teaches Torah on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.