A new day, a new me

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“The true counsel can only be given by those who have already been released from the hands of the evil inclination. Because someone who is still imprisoned by the evil one is as blind as one who walks in thick darkness, with stumbling blocks placed before him, which he can’t see…What can this be compared to? A garden-maze, the type that was common among the upper class and planted for the sake of amusement. The high trees are planted and arranged into walls of confusing, intertwined and similar paths. The walker in the garden has no way of seeing or knowing if he is on the right path or not. But there was a high porch in the middle of these gardens, and he who has a commanding position on the porch can see all the paths before him. He can discriminate between the true and false paths. Only He can warn the walker where to go and where not to go” (The Path of the Just – Chapter Zehirus).

I always thought this analogy was a beautiful one. I recently learned a piece in Likutei Halachos that opened it up for me even more:

“Hashem saw that the world wasn’t worthy to use [the light], so he hid it for the tzaddikim. And now that the light has been hidden, it’s impossible to understand with our own knowledge that Hashem is recreating the world at every moment. The only way to believe it is with the faith that we get from the tzaddikim, who are nourished by the hidden light”. (Hilchos K’vod Rabo 3:14).

Reb Nosson is saying, based on Tinyana 8, that what makes us impossibly stuck in the garden-maze is our inability to grasp that Hashem is recreating the world. The world looks exactly as it always did. Our intellect doesn’t allows us to perceive its newness. This blockage also makes it impossible to understand how we can change, really change. We tried dieting before, we tried working on ourselves so many times, why would this time be different?

It’s only when we inundate ourselves with the words of faith that the tzaddikim teach us from their exposure to the hidden light, that we can believe in a new world, and a chance to be fresh again. This is so crucial. We must believe with every fiber of our being that we can fix what we’ve broken and be everything we’re meant to be. But we need the encouragement of the loving tzaddikim to infuse us with this faith.

May we merit to hear those words of faith and believe in ourselves and our potential to be absolutely novel. Amen!

Picture this

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So did you have any guests for Sukkos? Well, you certainly did. The holy ushpizin, the seven shepherds, come to visit our sukkah during this festival. Sound weird to you? Well, then you need to ask yourself if you believe it or not. If you (understandably) don’t, then essentially, there’s something integral to this holiday that you’re ignoring. What about the idea that the shechina (the Holy Divine Presence) rests on the schach of our sukkah? Are you into that one? Wait, wait, wait. You know those four species that we hold together and shake every day? The Torah explicitly says that holding them make us happy. The Talmud teaches that they respond to our spine, heart, eyes and lips. Do you buy it?

Reb Nosson recorded in Torah 25 that after Rebbe Nachman taught the lesson, he said “Now we need to call the Evil One by a new name. It’s time to call it the כּחַ הַמְדַמֶּה (the power of imagination)”. Reb Nosson writes that even though the Rebbe said it jokingly, he understood that there was a serious intention there, which Reb Nosson admits he didn’t know.

Maybe we can say that by renaming the Evil One, Rebbe Nachman taught us something amazingly unique about faith. We must use our imagination to believe. We have to paint pictures in our minds and hearts and dream with certainty. Believing in Moshiach, in world peace, and in our personal salvation seems impossible. So does believing in the seven holy guests. You know the Talmud tells us that Hashem taught Moses on Sinai a number of leniencies in the laws of Sukkah, where we imagine walls to exist in our sukkah that actually don’t. The bottom line is that with mere cerebral faith, our observance is dry  and uninspiring. It’s incumbent upon us to see past what we can understand and believe in our imagination as if it is reality. Because once we do, it will be the reality.

Everything the Rebbe taught can be summarized in two words – simple faith. He foresaw the atheism (or maybe cynicism)  that was starting to spread and he taught like no other to believe in ones self, believe in the tzaddikim and believe in Hashem. To me it’s no coincidence that he passed away on Sukkos, a holiday that takes a lot of imaginary-type, simple faith to connect to. He actually passed on the fourth day of sukkos, the day the sefira of Netzach shines through. The Arizal taught that prophesy flows through the sefiros of Netzach and Hod. Maybe because a prophet needs a good measure of simple faith and imagination to prophesy? Nachman actually has the same numerical value  as Netzach (148). One might say that the Rebbe’s main mission was to get an increasingly cynical nation to believe in a reality that exists only through the power of imagination. Even his most famous lesson charges the reader to work on finding the good points in everyone and imagining that good point to be their essence, (because it really is). And what about his famous advice of hisbodedus? Again, charging his devout followers to get away from all the noise of heresy in the marketplace and imagine oneself sitting and talking directly to God. Did you know that the Rebbe said of himself, “I am a river that purifies all stains” (Chayei Moharan 332). Do you believe it? Well he knew he would have contenders who would dismiss all his extraordinary statements. He even said, (Chayei Moharan 262) ‘There really is no middle road here. Either I am what all my opponents say against me, or I really am a True Tzaddik that I claim to be!’ You see, the Rebbe’s essence doesn’t allow for a middle road. He taught only simple faith, without sophistication; Just allowing the imagination take you to another dimension. This is what Sukkos is about too, living in the clouds. 

May we all merit that in the zchus of this magical holiday, and in the zchus of a Rebbe who was “more novel than all before him” (Chayei Moharan 247), we can let go of our coolness and fears and be free to imagine a world that we know nothing about, a world more beautiful and warm than anything we every knew. Because we can’t know it, we can only imagine it. 

לעילוי נשמת הצדיק האמיתי, רבינו נחמן בן פיגע, זיעועכ״א

Processing Uman Rosh Hashana 2019

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Shlomo Katz once said over that years back at a certain musical event Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach and Bob Dylan were participants of a question and answer forum. The Master of Ceremonies asked Shlomo first, “What would be your dream come true”? Shlomo said “To meet every person in the world”. At that point Dylan piped up, saying “That would be my worst nightmare”.

Why did Shlomo Carlebach want to meet everyone he possibly could? I think it’s because he believed, with his deepest depths, that every single human-being on Earth has a unique aspect of God to reveal that no one else possibly can. Only I can bring out what I’m meant to, and only you can uncover the facet of God that you’re meant to. If that’s the case, then Shlomo wanted to see every face of God that’s out there. After all, we’re meant to attach ourselves to God, (וּלְדָבְקָה בוֹ), so wouldn’t we want to see as many angles of His presence as possible? That would certainly make the connection more relatable and easier.

On the other hand, with all his poetry, coolness and musical pioneering, Bob Dylan was small minded. He saw people as a burden and a nuisance to his chill, so he couldn’t imagine a worse idea than Shlomo’s fairytale dream.

Everyone who’s been to Uman will testify that there’s something totally unique about the Rosh Hashana experience there. Many say the brotherly love is on a level that can’t be matched. But it’s not just a coincidence. Rebbe Nachman told his followers to never stop reviewing Azamra (Torah 282), in which he teaches to search out and hunt for the good points in yourself and in others. The Rebbe himself was the master of this quality. He was always able to see the good. (Is it a wonder that he wanted everyone by him on Rosh Hashana, when we’re all being judged? With his ability to see the good in others, it’s only fair for Hashem to see that same good and judge us favorably). But this skill that the Rebbe developed is absolutely contagious in Uman. For some odd reason, we travel to one of the crummiest places in the world and we’re suddenly able to see the good in one another like never before. No one is ‘better than’ and everyone belongs, no matter what he looks like, where he’s from and what he did in the past. Finally finally, we can see each other with the Rebbe’s holy eyes, the eyes of Hashem Himself. What better day, the first day of the year, could there be to start anew and see ourselves and others as the one-of-a-kind Godly beings that we truly are?

Always more

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Korach had completely neutralized his bodily desires. As one of the Levites that carried the holy ark, he was on such a spiritual level that he had absolutely no appetite for lusts and animalistic passion. This led him to believe, says Reb Nosson (Hilchos Shiluach Hakan 4), that he was perfect. He couldn’t understand why he needed to subjugate himself to leaders if he had attained such spiritual heights.

What he failed to recognize is that there are infinite levels of growth and connection to the Divine. It’s not game over when one has fixed his body alone. There are levels upon levels of sweetening the judgements that exist for those special individuals who soar at spiritual heights. Korach needed Moses to teach him and lead him higher, but his ego stopped his ascent.

How in the world is this relevant to us, who are nowhere near perfect? We, who struggle, every moment with bodily lusts and cravings – What can we learn from Korach’s mistake?

The truth is we make the same mistake all the time, because we think that on our low level, we can never rise up and reach new heights. By giving up on ourselves, we are essentially believing that Teshuva is not available for someone as bad as we are. The opposite is really true. The farther we are from Hashem, the greater glory He gets from our Teshuva. We too must believe that no matter how many times we tried, we can still be successful and reach places we’ve never been.

This is the job of the tzaddik. He encourages the sinners that there is still hope and they can certainly come back to Hashem, and he challenges the great ones to keep striving because they haven’t seen nothin’ yet. The tzaddik believes this with all his heart. He believes that the lowly Jews are the most precious jewels that fell in the dirt. And he believes that even on his awesome level, he essentially knows nothing.

When Rabbi Shlomo Freifeld was on his deathbed, his last words to his children were מער, בעסער, גרעסער – more, better, bigger. Greatness is always available. Always available.

 

This is how it is, or is it?

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Although the intellect of a child is typically much weaker than that of an adult, the opposite is true when it comes to his imagination. We’ve all seen how powerful a child’s imagination can be. They literally believe their thoughts to be an alternate reality.

In Tinyana 8, Rebbe Nachman says that the key ingredient to true faith is a clear imagination. The intellect is limited by its knowledge. Faith only starts where the intellect can no longer go. By means of a pure imagination we can soar to heights of faith and come close to our Creator.

So often in our life we’re faced with trying situations where we feel stuck. We don’t believe that we can ever break out of the cycle that we find ourselves in. Whether it’s a financial hole, a substance addiction or a bad job, we rack our brains exploring all the options to free ourselves, but we’re left with that dejected feeling of “the same old me”. I think this despondence comes from the opposite of imagination; cynicism. When we see a child lost is his imagination, it’s comical to us. We think it’s ridiculous that the child can believe in something that we can’t understand. We’re too limited by our intellect. Our ego doesn’t allow us to entertain something we don’t know exists. But the sweet child is in touch with a force that catapults him to another world. He imagines. He believes.

The Rebbe goes on to say that the role of the true tzaddik is to refine our imagination. With his ruach hakodesh (Divine Spirit), he teaches us about faith and cultivates our imaginative faculty.

Says Reb Nosson (Hilchos K’vod Rabo 3:6), this is what’s so bitter about the destruction of our Holy Temple. When the temple stood, there was a great spirit of prophecy. The tzaddikim drew down that Divine spirit and blew into our souls words of optimism that refined our imagination and enhanced our faith.

How sad that with so few true tzaddikim left, we feel stuck in a one dimensional world of repetition. Our only hope is to soak up their holy words and open our minds to another reality – The space of imagination, the world of faith.

 

Whether you know it or not

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“In every Jew there is an aspect of malchut, (rule, authority or influence). Everyone [rules] according to how much they possesses this influence. There [can be] one who rules over his household, another whose rule is even broader and even one who rules over the entire world…This aspect of malchut can be manifest in the revealed or in the hidden”. (Torah 56)

What does Rebbe Nachman mean, that a person’s malchut can be manifest in the revealed or in the hidden? Sometimes we clearly see that a person has overt authority. For example, the president of a country, in many ways, rules over its citizens. But other times, it may seem that a person has no authority over anyone at all, but in the most concealed way he rules over many. In fact, after delivering this lesson, the Rebbe said, “You think the only influence I have is over you. But the truth is that I have power over all the tzaddikim of the generation, only it’s hidden” (Tzaddik #150).

How does a person exercise his malchut? In Torah 49 the Rebbe taught that prayer is the way to lift up one’s malchut. When we pray with full belief in our prayers, we can certainly increase our affect on people and the world at large.

But why does Hashem allow one person to rule over many others? And why does Hashem have this unique relationship with the tzaddik and, in a certain sense, leaves us in the tzaddik’s jurisdiction?

Let’s take a step back. Hashem Himself also maintains this hidden influence over everything. In fact through the prophet Malachi, Hashem said “In every place, offerings are burned and presented to My Name”. This is referring even to idol worship. As Rebbe Nachman elaborates later in the lesson, in the most covert way, Hashem exists even in the greatest sins. There is no space in which Hashem doesn’t exist, but in sin He is greatly concealed. He made it that way, so that we can have free choice. If we were fully aware of His presence, we would be coerced to obey His will. The same is true with the tzaddik. If we were aware of his influence, we would be forced to follow his lessons, thereby losing our free choice. So, because of Hashem’s kindness and desire to reward us, he conceals Himself and allows free choice.

Now back to the original question. Why are we under the tzaddik’s jurisdiction? Can’t we have a direct line to Hashem?

Hashem created such a big world with millions of different organisms in it, ranging from rocks and leaves, to animals and mankind. But who did He create it for? He created it for mankind. But let’s be even more specific. Did he create it for all of mankind? Well, as Rashi tells us, in the first word of the Torah בְּרֵאשִׁ֖ית, Hashem created the world for the Jewish people (בשביל ישראל שנקראו ראשית). But He didn’t just give us this world as a present that we don’t earn. בְּרֵאשִׁ֖ית also is referring to the Torah (בשביל התורה שנקראת ראשית). He created the world for us to learn the Torah and follow His perfect instructions how to live in the world. Unfortunately, not all of us are living up to this task at every moment. Because of our shortcomings, and our lack of connection to the Torah, there are moments when it seems that Hashem, if you could say this, made the world for nothing. But Hashem is the best CEO. He doesn’t make a business plan and not carry it out. In His amazing kindness, he chooses to deal directly with the most righteous people, who justify the world’s creation at every moment. (For how the world can exist when the tzaddik is not learning Torah, see Tinyana 78). The word tzaddik, of course, means to justify. The tzaddikim justify the world’s creation, as we clearly see with the first person the Torah calls a tzaddik, Noach.

So, it’s because Hashem loves the Jewish people and desires the continuation of the world that He allows us to attach ourselves to the tzaddikim and relate to Him. Because the tzaddikim are so awesomely humble, our relationship to Hashem through them is totally unadulterated. It’s the cleanest pipe possible. In fact, they want nothing more, and they sacrifice everything they have just so that we can connect with Him, which is why He chooses to interact with us through them. If we attach ourselves to the tzaddikim, then we will have a more intentional connection to Hashem. If we don’t, He will interact with us through them without our knowledge.

But don’t forget how we started this article. We all have the capability of lifting up our own malchut and affecting others too. That comes from a real desire to affect the world outside us, peeling away the concealment, believing in our prayers and praying for the good of the world. So let’s get to work…

 

 

Only you

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The Talmud (Taanis 21b) tells of a certain surgeon named Abba, who was on such a lofty spiritual level that he received daily greetings from the Heavenly Academy. The great amora Abaye, who only received weekly greetings, felt dejected because of the great honor given to Abba the Surgeon. Others told Abaye that the honor is given to this blood-letter and not you, because you can’t do what he does.

The Talmud offers a few examples: Abba the Surgeon designed a special garment for women to wear during their procedures with him, so he wouldn’t see their exposed bodies. He also kept a box out of public gaze where the patients deposited their fees. Those that could afford it put their fees there, and those who couldn’t pay were not embarrassed. Not only did he not charge young Torah scholars, but he would also give them some of his own money, telling them to go regain their strength.

One day Abaye decided to test him, sending him two scholars. Abba the Surgeon received them warmly, giving them food and drink and in the evening, he prepared fine woolen mattresses for them to sleep on. In the morning the scholars stole the precious bedding and took them to the market to sell. While in the market, they met up with the kind surgeon and asked him, “how much are these linens worth”? He replied, “Such and such”. They said to him, “Perhaps they’re worth more”? He replied, “that’s what I paid for them”. They said to him, “They’re yours and we took them from you. Tell us, please, what did you suspect when you saw us with your linens”? He replied, “I said to myself, maybe the Rabbis needed money to redeem captives and they were ashamed to tell me”. They replied, “Please take them back” and he answered, “from the moment I saw they were gone, I dismissed them from my mind and I devoted them to charity”.

In Torah 34, Rebbe Nachman briefly mentions this story to show how every Jew has something precious, a nekuda (unique point), that no one else has. Even the great Abaye, one of the most often quoted Talmudists, in some way couldn’t reach this simple surgeon’s level. And as we see from Abaye, we are too often comparing ourselves with others and feeling unimportant because of how we perceive ourselves in comparison. “וְעַמֵּךְ כֻּלָּם צַדִּיקִים; Every Jew is a tzaddik” (Isaiah 60:21). This means, says the Rebbe, that just like the world is sustained because of the tzaddikim, so too, at least, in a small way every single Jew has something that the world must have, and could only attain through him. We need to stop comparing ourselves to the perceived perfect people we dream of our neighbors. Instead we must use those powers of imagination to examine the mysteries of our own minds and souls and find that point we must share with the world.

The funnel

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:בת קול יוצאת מהר חורב ואומרת”

“כל העולם כולו ניזון בשביל חנינא בני, וחנינא בני דיו בקב חרובין מערב שבת לערב שבת

(ברכות יז)

“A heavenly voice leaves Sinai and says: ‘The whole world is sustained because of my son Chanina, and my son Chanina is sustained the entire week by a small measure of Carobs’”.

The Talmud’s statement is referring to the great tzaddik Rabbi Chanina Ben Dosa.

My friend, Yehuda Raice, pointed out that the whole world was getting its nutrition in merit of this great tzaddik, whereas the tzadik himself was exceedingly poor, as we know from other stories about him. Because there are two types of prayer: The first is with the hands up to the sky, begging Hashem for sustenance. This relationship (at least momentarily) ceases when Hashem provides the sustenance.

But the other type of prayer of the true tzaddik, symbolized by the attribute of Yesod, has his hands out, because the flow is coming through him to others. But he himself doesn’t necessarily have a lot. Jacob said to Esau “I have all I need”. He meant that he had all he needed and not more. Esau said “I have much”, meaning much more than he needed, and he was right, because Hashem pays evil people for their deeds, so that the relationship isn’t an ongoing one. But the tzaddik gets only what he needs and has to constantly re-approach Hashem for more. This makes the relationship much deeper and one built on immense trust.

“The adulteress traps the haughty soul (Proverbs 6)”. The arrogant ones get caught in the net of promiscuity. This is why the tzaddik, who embodies the attribute of Yesod, is represented by the reproductive organ. By means of his humility, he avoids promiscuity at all costs. Because the tzaddik is so reliant on Hashem, he has so little ego, and the flow goes right through him to others, as the Baal Shem Tov points out on the words, בשביל חנינא בני the word שביל means a path. The whole world was sustained through the pathway of Rabbi Chanina. The Divine flow comes down through the tzaddikim because they’re ego doesn’t obstruct the flow.

וְעַמֵּךְ כֻּלָּם צַדִּיקִים

 

 

The tzaddik and me

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This time of year we read about the Jewish people’s exile in Egypt. Of course, the Torah is a living Torah, which is also addressing our current national and personal exile. Although Hashem ultimately brought us out of Egypt, he appointed a leader to effect our redemption. This is always the way it’s done, as the holy Zohar says, the soul of Moshe (Moses) exists in every generation. This means that there are always true tzaddikim who redeem their generations as Moshe saved his.

Moshe’s name was given to him by the daughter of Pharaoh. It means that he was drawn from the water, (referring to the waters of the Nile).  Reb Nosson (Birchas Hashachar 3) says that these waters also symbolize something much deeper. The Arizal taught that the Egyptian exile was in a sense a fixing for the sins of an earlier generation. After the flood, Hashem said that he won’t allow man to live past 120 (which was Moshe’s final age) because “בְּשַׁגַּם הוּא בָשָׂר” [“he is also flesh”]. The word בְּשַׁגַּם has the same numerical value (345) as משֶׁ֔ה.  This is why all the boys were sentenced to be drowned, and Moshe himself was even placed in the water, because there was still retribution necessary from the times of the flood. But the name Moshe means that the tzaddik will lower himself to the deepest, darkest waters in order to pull out the lost souls that are drowning in the floods.

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“טָבַעְתִּי בִּיוֵן מְצוּלָה וְאֵין מָעֳמָד, בָּאתִי בְמַעֲמַקֵּי מַיִם וְשִׁבֹּלֶת שְׁטָפָתְנִי”.           “I have sunk in muddy depths and there is no place to stand; I have come into the deep water, and the current has swept me away” (Psalms 69:3).

This is the power of the true tzaddikim. They prevent our ultimate destruction and give us hope to live again. Rebbe Nachman teaches (Torah 215) that the name Moshe stands in-between destruction and favor, because the word for destruction שמד is numerically 344, the name משה is 345 and the word for favor, רצון, is 346. So Moshe, and all the true tzaddikim of each generation, put themselves on the front lines to help lift us out of the mud.

I think one of the biggest obstacles we face nowadays is our low self confidence. With the whole world sharing information, we now see people who seem so much better than us in every way possible. If you have talent, there’s surely many out there who have more. If you’re making money, there’s definitely others who are making more. It can be disheartening.  And you don’t have to even look on the web. People are just not trying anymore, out of fear they won’t be successful.

I find so much solace by believing in the true tzaddik. I believe in Rebbe Nachman with every fiber of my being. I believe in his Year 2019 ability to help me and all those who cling to him, by representing us favorably to Hashem. This kesher (knot) that I have with the tzaddik makes me believe in myself so much more. I’m not limited by my own shortcomings. I can reach places I never even imagined because I believe strongly in my tzaddik’s ability to help me shine.

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The most devout

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Tonight is Reb Nosson’s yahrzeit. Reb Nosson was the closest student and scribe of Rebbe Nachman. The following story epitomizes in my mind the life mission that Reb Nosson sought to accomplish:

In 1807, Rebbe Nachman suddenly left on a most mysterious journey to Lemberg. His health was declining, and while in Lemberg he nearly died. He was so sick that in order to save his life, he was forced to send back to Breslov his trusted gabbai, Reb Shimon, to burn one of his precious manuscripts (later known as the Sefer Hanisraf). He was crying and crying to Reb Shimon that he lost his wife and children over this book, and now he knew that if he would reveal it, he would have to die as well.

Before he left to Lemberg, Reb Nosson describes in his diary the fear he had of losing his Rebbe, and his urgency to catch up with the Rebbe’s coach and see him one last time.

Early in the morning, Rebbe Nachman left without warning. Reb Nosson literally ran after the coach, even though it was silly to think he could catch it on foot. He ran and ran to the end of the village. The Rebbe’s coach was forced to slow down while ascending a little mountain and then finally, Reb Nosson caught up with the carriage.

He was standing before the Rebbe for what could have been the last time. The Rebbe asked him, “Tell me what you want. Should I bless you or should I say Torah?”

Reb Nosson answered him, “You’ll bless us when you come back home, אי״ה, but the Torah tell us now”.

Reb Nosson understood that if he didn’t hear the Torah now, he would never hear it again. It was there, in the wagon that the Rebbe taught him the conclusion of “Azamra”, the famous lesson about Nekudos Tovos (finding ones good points), one of the most indispensable lessons Rebbe Nachman left us with.

Clearly, Reb Nosson felt a responsibility to the world to learn as much Torah from Rebbe Nachman as he possibly could. It wasn’t nearly as important to him to get a bracha, or for that matter have any amount of serenity is his life. His dedication to his holy Rebbe caused him scorn, humiliation and great suffering. But the most important thing for him was to spread Rebbe Nachman’s fire, no matter what. He single-handedly kept the chassidus going against tremendous odds and everything Breslov we have today is in his merit.

May his soul keep rising and rising until Moshiach comes, speedily in our days, Amen!

 

לעילוי נשמת ר’ נתן בן ר’ נפתלי הרץ זצ״ל