Inspired by Reb Kalonymos Kalman's ideal of a group of people coming together with the common goal of enhancing their service of God, increasing their sensitivity to all things spiritual, strengthening their love of acheinu kol beis Yisrael, and unlocking the enormous potential that we all have to cleave to the Almighty.

Interaction and discussion of practical ideas and concepts toward this end, culled from any Torah true source is welcome and appreciated.

Observations and personal experiences are also welcome; the point is to grow!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Warning - Danger Ahead!

Every Yeshiva Bochur worth his salt knows that there are FOUR major categories of damage: Shor - Ox [Ox does damage], Bor - Pit [harm caused by ones pit] , Maveh - Tooth [animal consuming others produce], Hever -Fire.

Listen to the Heilige Ba'al Shem Tov in the Tzavaas Harivash: Four major damagers in Avodas Hashem.

Shor - From the word 'Ashur' which means to see. Looking at what is forbidden KILLS your Avodas Hashem.

Bor - A sdeh bor is an empty neglected field. This means batala - wasting time. That DESTROYS your soul.

Maveh - Tooth. When a person overeats - BAAAAAAD!!!Hever - Fire.

Anger. Anger is the most reliable servant of the Satan. Anger must be quashed. He is the arch-enemy of all that is holy and pure. The Zohar says [quoted in the sefer "Erech Apaim" - an entire book devoted to the evils of anger and how to conquer it] that when a person gets angry he loses his G-dly soul and the spirit of impurity penetrates in its stead. Scary.

But the explanation of the Besht - GESHMAK!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Humble Beginnings

There I was at my friend Kenny's mansion sipping a cup of tea in his backyard and enjoying the view of his pool and beautiful grounds [approximately the size of Rhode Island].

"Man", I said, "who built this place? Two tennis courts, manicured lawns, parking lot for all of the cars - the Lexus, the Limo's, the minivans, full length football field [with a big aqua and orange dolphin in the end zone -he is a Dolphins fan - and yellow uprights] and gorgeous fruit trees everywhere. And the house - 26 rooms, paintings that go for an average of 1.5 mil, exquisite furniture, domed ceilings - and that's the not even the half of it!!"

"Nobody built it", explained Kenny, "one day a bunch of Mexicans were driving down this street with a truck full of dynamite and them BOOM! It blew up."

"And then?"

"And then this mansion slowly EVOLVED over time and the final result is what you see today. Including the paintings, the pool, including the water which suddenly EVOLVED out of thin air. Also the tennis court with the straight lines, the colors - green on the inside and red on the outside, the fruit trees with the delicious, juicy fruits which contain seeds to plant more such trees, the furniture which not only EVOLVED into what they are but EVOLVED in the exact place where they are needed. Also the fancy cars including the cd player and air conditioning."


Anyway, we were talking and I asked him about his parents background.

"Well today my Dad is a world famous brain surgeon. He developed a number of new ways to perform surgery and has done extensive groundbreaking research. But he had humble beginnings. He used to be a MONKEY. Mom is an artist and writes poetry and has sold millions of books of poetry that touch the soul. She, too, was born a monkey."

I guess that is what attracted them to each other, I thought. My first date with my wife was also at the zoo, but we were on the other side of the fence.

"So how did they develop into who they are" I asked.

"Oh, they slowly but surely EVOLVED into who they are. Just like that. By accident."

Uh huh.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Belief in "Self Empowerment"

Pearls of wisdom from the Chovat HaTalmidim:
Just as it is impossible to accomplish anything without will, or to practice a discipline on a constant basis without decisiveness, it is equally impossible to ascend spiritually without having faith in oneself and in the power of one's devotions.
That is to say, we have already established the fact that doing good deeds is not sufficient in and of itself; a person must himself become good. He must take his character traits and transform them to goodness; just as Israel as a whole is engaged in a process of ascent and of growth, so must he be. But it is very difficult for a person who is in a lowly state, who feels that his personality is composed of degraded traits and that even his essence is ignoble to believe that his character will be transformed and made virtuous, and that he himself will experience spiritual ascents.
Because of this, he will be halfhearted and will not make a real effort. He will perform good deeds, but that is all. He will not try to strengthen himself in order to transform his being itself into good.
And yet, have we not said over and over again that you do not know yourself, that all you see is the outer covering - what is inside is concealed from you as well? Why doubt your own ability, thus destroying your own great future, when you do not really see and cannot really know?
Desire, decide, and believe in the power of Israel that is within you and within your devotions. Then you will see whether or not you will become holy as others have, and whether or not you too will shine like a bright star...*
There are so many valuable things to take away from this small excerpt.

First of all, the Rebbe is teaching us an important concept of avodah: there are many levels to serving God, but if one wants to truly grow, he has to internalize his dealings on a "molecular" level. When performing a mitzvah, one has to do it with the intent and the desire that it should have an impression on the very fiber of his being, refining him, altering his spiritual construction; it doesn't happen without a cognizant effort.

But most important, Reb Kalonymos Kalman once again begs us to focus on our innate qualities. This element of faith in oneself does not stem from hubris but rather from knowledge of a special power vested within us by HaShem; as a member of Knesset Yisrael we have to ability to tap into the deepest reservoirs, the richest potential that manifests itself in each Jew through his or her unique expression. It is rooted so deep that we cannot even see it without consciously focusing on that power, and striving to coax it out.

* translation adapted from A Student's Obligation by Rabbi Micha Odenheimer

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder."

G.K. Chesterson

The first word out of a Jew's mouth every morning - "thanks".

"Yehudi" means "thanks".

A Jew IS thanks and gratitude.

Internalizing what you have to be thankful for is the secret to happiness.

The secret is OUT!!!:)

Love and Blessings Tyere Yidden!

Friday, November 19, 2010

What Defines Greatness?

From R' Gil Student's blog "Hirhurim", a sad quote about the underlying greatness of my rebbe:

When I was a bochur in yeshivah I had a scary experience. I had the zekhus of assisting a gadol ba-Torah in his last days. When R. Dovid Lifshitz got very sick, I was assigned the task of helping him out during davening. At the end of his life, I saw something incredible. He would come to the beis medrash and someone else would put tefillin on him. Then he would sit with a siddur and daven. I was waiting to see when he finished the page to turn it for him and I realized that he would keep davening the same page over and over if I let him. Sadly, the illness and the medication took away his memory and almost his ability to function. But one thing he knew, something that was in his very bones, was that he wanted to daven. When you strip away all of the learning, all of the accomplishments, what you end up with is a simple, kosher Jew. Deep down, that is what a gadol ba-Torah is – a kosher Jew.

"If I were to wake you up at 2 o'clock in the morning," R' YB Soloveitchik would often ask his students to get their instinctive responses, "how would you answer?"

Friday, November 12, 2010

In one sentence, what Yeshiva chinuch is all about

(Cut-n-paste from R' Chaim Brown's blog, Divrei Chaim.)
Thursday, November 11, 2010
“In public school, they’ll ask you at the end, ‘Well, what have you learned?’ But here at Rice, the question is, ‘What kind of person have you become?”
I don’t think I could come up with a better one sentence summary of what yeshiva education should be all about.
Posted by Chaim B. at 3:28 PM

Thursday, November 11, 2010

My 5 second rule

Neil posted this over at his own blog, but I felt that this is a very pertinent example of tikkun hamiddos, and would be a proper entry on this blog...

My 5 second rule

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Sudilkover Eitza

I found this on A Simple Jew's blog. It's worth taking the time out to read, and furthers my previous post about the value of making lists. Enjoy it - I did.

The day after our three hour conversation, I called the Sudilkover Rebbe as directed to hear his specific advice for me.
The Rebbe prefaced his advice by saying that his advice was not his advice. It came directly from Rebbe Nachman of Breslov's instruction to seek out one's good points in Likutey Moharan "Reish Peh Beis". The implementation plan that he prescribed to me, however, was his own. He told me that he wanted me to start this 40 day plan that very day and guaranteed that I would start seeing a real benefit from it within four to five days. He further stated that it was a wonderful way to develop my emuna and remarked, "I guarantee you will see miracles through doing this."
First, he told me to review Likutey Moharan #282 (Azamra) and to listen to the corresponding audio shiurim from Rabbi Nasan Maimon in order to obtain a fuller understanding of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov's teaching (I also listened to Rabbi Lazer Brody's CD as well). The Rebbe then advised me to get a notebook and draw lines down the pages and divide them into three columns. In the first column, I was to record things that I did good that day; to include even small things like washing negel vasser in the morning upon arising. In the second column, I was to record the challenges and nisyonos that I experienced that day. This was to include things such as occurrences when I failed to maintain my composure and expressed my anger. Finally, in the third column I was to record examples of Hashem's chasadim (kindnesses) that I observed that day.
The Rebbe instructed to read what I had written down out loud before I said Krias Shema al HaMita each night. After doing this for forty days I would have a clearer picture of how I should proceed. He even mentioned that he too kept such a note book from time to time and said it might be something I may find that I will want to continue past the 40 day period.
Following my hour-long conversation with the Rebbe, I went right out and bought a notebook so I could begin that day.
My yetzer hara immediately started its barrage of arguments.
"How is writing down these things in a notebook really going to help you? And you will see results in four to five days??!!"
I knew better than to listen to my yetzer hara.
My mind then recalled that the Rebbe's advice also fit into another shtickel of Degel Machaneh Ephraim that we learned together. In the Likkutim section at the end of this sefer, the Degel wrote that one time his grandfather, the Baal Shem Tov, told him that if he would say the tefillos "Keil Rachum Shemecha" and "Aneinu" as he did, that he could quite literally be able to bring Moshiach.
The Sudilkover Rebbe explained that these prayers from Selichos are located at the end of the Selichos service and are very often rushed through in an attempt to finish. The Rebbe explained that the Baal Shem Tov was teaching his grandson that one should not treat these tefillos in such a haphazard manner but rather should understand that these tefillos represented the pinnacle of the Selichos davening; that the little things that we do have the potential to accomplishment unbelievable things if only we would believe in ourselves.
Little things like walking me to our meeting were not little in the Sudilkover Rebbe's eyes. When Chabakuk Elisha came to pick me up, the Rebbe thanked him. In his modesty, Chabakuk Elisha tried to brush it aside, but the Rebbe persisted to tell him what a great thing he had done and how much nachas he had brought him by escorting me. He stressed to Chabakuk Elisha that this was not just a little thing which lacked significance. Quite the contrary.
By identifying confidence/good points as the area where I needed improvement, the Rebbe had also zeroed in on advice that I received from co-workers in a recent 360-degree assessment. While noting that I was strongest in my ability to see other viewpoints and opinions, my co-workers noted that I was not forceful or confident enough. This was not news to me. For some people arrogance is something that they have to continually work on, however, it is definitely not so in my case. My father constantly ingrained the trait of humility into me from any early age with perhaps too much zeal and not enough confidence building. If anything, I now swing too far in the opposite direction and can be too self-effacing at times.
In order to return me to a proper equilibrium to follow the middle path, the Sudilkover Rebbe's plan was a pendulum swing in the opposite direction of self-effacement. It was exactly what I needed. Amazingly, as I followed the Rebbe's instructions, I started seeing results immediately. Each night my list of good points and the list of chasadim grew longer and longer and my list of challenges/nisyonos grew shorter and shorter. The process of having to be conscious each day to write something down made me stop and think at intervals throughout the day. What am I doing good today? What am I not doing good today? What are some examples of Hashem's kindness that I am aware of at this very minute?
Twenty days after I began keeping the notebook, I noticed that what I wrote in my good points column was three or four times longer than my entry from the first day. I began to become so aware of more and more good points each day that I needed to bring my notebook along with me to work so I would not be forced to remember them all at the end of the day when I got home.
Searching out Hashem's daily chasadim, I came to have an new awareness and renewed appreciation for numerous things such as my sight, hearing, smell, taste, and digestive system. I spoke to the Sudilkover Rebbe again about my observations, and he told me that as the days go on, that I would not just be able to note a few things, but I would be able to identify literally hundreds of acts of Hashem's kindness each day.
It was not long afterwards that I was able to see kindness in circumstances that others might have labeled as tzoros. Whether it was leaky pipes, a return of mice in my house, or my oldest daughter falling down and scaping and bruising her face, the first thing I did was thank Hashem for these things; knowing that it was tremendous act of kindness since each of these events could have all been much worse. Later, I even added these events to the "chasadim" column of my notebook.
Aside from these "negative" types of chasadim, I also became even more aware of the traditional "positive" types of chasadim and soon attained the ability to stop what I was doing at any given time and name a handful of them at that very moment.
My last insight into the whole 40 day process came during the final 10 days. The Sudilkover Rebbe's advice benefitted me greatly in the area of my davening. It was only then that I was able to really tie together the notebook advice, the concept of finding one's good points, and my davening.
In Likutey Moharan #282, Rebbe Nachman taught,

"The prayer leader is called the shaliach tzibbur, the messenger of the people, and he must be sent by the all the people. His job is to find and gather all the good points in each of the worshippers."

I asked myself, "If am not the shliach tzibbur today, how can I still gather up all my good points?" I then recalled another of Rebbe Nachman's directives, "You can crease and wrinkle my book any way you like when it comes to your own interpretations – as long as you don't violate a single paragraph of the Shulchan Aruch."
A little creasing, wrinkling, and hisbodedus provided me an answer.
Remembering the connection Rebbe Nachman made between davening and the hands, I decided to modify the bed time ritual that I wrote about here. Before davening each Shachris, Mincha, and Maariv, I used my right hand and counted out five new examples of Hashem's chasadim, and then counted out five new examples of my good points using my left hand.
Reb Noson wrote in Likutey Halachos, Hilchos Haskamas Haboker 1,"Discovering one's good points is the foundation of prayer." Indeed, I found that the more I discovered more of my good points and employed this new strategy, the easier it was to daven and to shake of any lethargy that sometimes tried to convince me otherwise.
Although the 40 day period came to an end on the 12th of Teves, I have continued this practice before davening and I continually seek to find more and more good points in myself and in others. As Reb Noson said,
"Each person's life is unique, but this teaching is universal; it applies at all times in life, in youth and old age. The lesson of Azamra can revive us. Happy are those who take it to heart."


Sunday, October 31, 2010

Rabbi Yisrael Salanter on writing

Rabbi Yisrael Salanter said, "Writing is easy; erasing-very difficult."

(as sited in "The Story of Rabbi Yisroel Salanter" by R Dr. Zalman F. Ury)
Cross-posted here.

Erasing seems to mean that either we made a mistake or have changed our thoughts, as expressed in the written word.  Admitting that a mistake was made isn't always the easiest thing to do.  I think this is what R Yisrael is getting at.  The digital version of erasing could be the delete button (which requires no effort and isn't even seen by a reader) or using strikethrough.  

The hashkafic implications of strikethrough

From Wikipedia:
Strikethrough (also called strikeout) is a typographical presentation of words with a horizontal line through the center of them. Here is an example.
It signifies one of two meanings. In ink-written, typewritten, or other non-erasable text, the words are a mistake and not meant for inclusion. When used on a computer screen, however, it indicates recently-deleted information. (The difference is that in the latter situation, the struck-through text previously was a legitimate part of the document.) It can also be used for humorous purposes, such as something that normally shouldn't be shown is shown anyway, but with the striketrough put on, rather than the text being deleted.

I admit, using strikethrough is nice, once in a while.  The new version of Blogger in draft allows one to publish using the typographic element of strikethrough.  In life I hardly ever use a pencil, I prefer pen.  When taking notes, if I make a mistake I simply mark it out with a pen.  I have no problem with this.  With writing (non-digial) I try to give as much of a finished product as possible, mistakes included.

When it come to Yiddishkeit and mitzvah performance, I'm not so sure where I stand on strikethrough.  One one hand, it's important to show ourselves and others that we make mistakes, think before we speak, and attempt to even take back things that we say (this can also be done with the DELETE or BACKSPACE key).

On the other hand, there is much to be said for a "finished product"' that represents hard work, rough drafts, editing, and spellcheck.  There are stuggles that one may have and accomplishments that one may have made that result in the "finished product".  These struggle and accomplishments might be of a private nature that only a close friend may know about.  It may be that only Hashem was privy to know of these things.

When it comes to giving chizuk, by showing somone that I made a mistake in a certain area, and thus, exercised a strikethough on a particular thought, action, or word is important. However, showing the process involved in correcting something or doing teshuva seems to have even more merit, in my mind, as the total end result should be shelaymus (perfection).  While the goal of reaching a level of shelaymus is admirable, remembering the process that got you there is just as important.
(Adapted and updated from a post written here)

Friday, October 29, 2010


Yet Another Peshat in the Aqeidah

One thing highlighted by the vast rabbinic discussion of the aqeidah -- we can't expect simple, clear-cut, answers to these questions. Much like the numerous opinions in the gemara as to what led to the destruction of the Beis haMiqdash or the many explanations of Nadav and Avihu's sin.

There is an earlier pasuq (Bereishis 21:12, tr. R' Aryeh Kaplan): "וַיֹּ֨אמֶר אֱ-לֹהִ֜ים אֶל־אַבְרָהָ֗ם אַל־יֵרַ֤ע בְּעֵינֶ֨יךָ֙ עַל־הַנַּ֣עַר וְעַל־אֲמָתֶ֔ךָ כֹּל֩ אֲשֶׁ֨ר תֹּאמַ֥ר אֵלֶ֛יךָ שָׂרָ֖ה שְׁמַ֣ע בְּקֹלָ֑הּ כִּ֣י בְיִצְחָ֔ק יִקָּרֵ֥א לְךָ֖ זָֽרַע׃ -- But God said to Abraham, 'Do not be troubled because of the boy and your slave. Do everything that Sarah tells you. It is through Isaac that you will gain posterity."

So it would seem that Abraham knew that something was up. Here he was about to slaughter Yitzchaq, who didn't have children yet, but he also knew that Yitzchaq that would father the nation of his covenant with G-d. What was demanded of Avraham here was two things:

(1) The suspension of disbelief, knowing that God would only allow the contradiction to be resolved in a positive way. That you can trust Him (the middah of bitachon) rather than need to know all the facts up front. And

(2) The ability to place mind before emotion, to be able to act even as the gut tells him he's hurting his little boy. As the Mussar Letter opens (tr. R' Zvi Miller), "Man is [created to be] free in his imagination, and bound by his intellect."

(Cross-posted from here.)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Peek Into The Psyche Of A 21st Century Jewish Teenager

By Doni Joszef, LMSW

You’ve seen me around town. I’m your prototypical Jewish teenager, voyaging through the strange sea of adolescence. Don’t be fooled by my blank stare or my un-engaging affect; beneath the surface simmers a whole array of thoughts and emotions. Just take a closer look… If you want to know me, feel free to check out my Facebook profile. It’s quicker, simpler, less challenging, and, quite simply, much cooler than having a real heart to heart. Until proven innocent, I may consider you non-existent, at best, or guilty, at worst – depending mainly on my fluctuating moods, which depends mainly on the whims of my ever-digitalizing social life (read: did she accept my ‘friend request’ or not). Indeed, my self worth feels proportionate with the amount of cyber “friends,” “fans,” and “followers" I’ve managed to amass.

Once we’re on the topic of moods and emotions, I generally like to simplify the terminology as such: :-) = I am happy.:-( = I am sad.: - I = I am indifferent. (And this is usually the face I show most often).:-O = I am surprised (a.k.a. “OMG”) You get the idea. Earning my trust and attention is a strategic skill. I’m happy to hear words of wisdom from caring rabbis, so long as they can first win my confidence with a jump shot, guitar riff, or good sense of style. I’m proud of my Jewish-ness, so long as it can be identified with Matisyahu or Bob Dylan. The state of Israel may have been an inspiring novelty for my parents, but to me it’s all about Kosher KFC and the Inbal lobby. Unless you can show me a YouTube clip to demonstrate your point, I’ll probably have a hard time following. ADHD are the initials of my generation, and I’d like to thank my parents’ generation for inventing Ritalin and Adderall to slow down my otherwise speedy, cluttered, scattered brain. I guess it’s the least they can do to combat the insanely over-stimulated society they helped create (with good intentions, of course).

I can’t believe there was really a functional world without Internet access just a few years ago. How did anyone get by before cell phones, GPS, Google and iPads? It’s strange that while I have access to the most advanced contraptions and cutting edge devices, my generation is showing symptoms of declining mental stability. Seems counterintuitive – don’t you think?My parents may have studied and worked hard to achieve the lifestyle they currently enjoy, but I’ll figure out some way to keep the cozy lifestyle without putting in all of that extra dirty work. There’s gotta be some get-rich-quick strategy, and I’ll make sure to implement the required procedure (so long as I can do it from my iPhone). If my parents had to spend days in libraries to research what I can instantly access via Google, why can’t I, likewise, accelerate their notion of a long and laborious road to success?

I’m not as respectful or revering of my elders as they may have been as youngsters, but this doesn’t really bother me in the slightest bit. Chill out adults; when you take yourselves too seriously, it’s hard for us to play along. Granted, “respect” isn’t a prime part of my vocabulary, but I’m slick enough to pin my parents, teachers, and therapists against each other – and, so, my strategic “triangular operation” has earned me the right to deride any form of authority. You may call this manipulation, but I just think of it as maximizing on opportunities. When the authorities openly point fingers at one another, I naturally feel a sense of entitlement. Like I was wronged and you all better figure out who messed up. Works wonders when I’m in a jam. Sounds bratty? Well, then, it’s for the parents/teachers/counselors to figure out where the blame lies. And until they do, I’ll be my own Master of Ceremonies.

Although I like to “chill,” I’m driven to succeed down the road. Regardless of what my report cards may reflect, I’ll “make it” – in some shape or form. I’m not sure how much of this drive comes from parental expectations, social competition, genuine aspiration, or plain old go-getter Jewish-genetics – but it’s probably some combination of these and many other ingredients. I can’t stand being preached to or lectured at, but when sincerely and honestly engaged, I’m all yours. I know when I’m being talked down to, probably better than the one doing the talking.For better or worse, I’m skeptical, cynical, and suspicious. The Internet and media have exposed my childhood to grim realities from which my parents were probably sheltered. I’m not smarter than them, per se, but I’m certainly more technologically savvy, and experientially curious. I may not be as dumb as some of my teachers believe; but I’m probably not as smart as I think I am, either. Humility isn’t one of my favorite practices. I love the trait in others, but haven’t yet matured to see its appeal for myself.

I’m too cool to get inspired or emotionally animated, but catch me in a dark room full of Jewish peers, singing one of those slow Hebrew songs that I generally feel proud to mock– and you just may discover an unexpected soft spot. Don’t force me into that position, because my emotional network is too guarded to be manipulated. But with the right time, place, and company, it will almost naturally evolve.I look at pop-culture with a mixture of admiration and suspicion; the glitter certainly catches my attention, yet something inside refuses to see celebrity icons as true heroes to model. But that doesn’t stop me from becoming one of their millions of Facebook fans. Identifying with something – anything - gives me some glimmer of a defined sense of self – and that, my friend, is gold for any teenager. Superficiality irritates me more than anything – especially when I see it operating within myself.

I’m American, I’m Jewish, I’m a teenager – three very confusing roles that seem contradictory and complimentary, simultaneously. I think. I feel. I’m aware. During this strange and bizarre stage, I embark on my lifelong search for whatever it is we humans search for – and I’m not even aware of this immanent quest as it unfolds within me. This is my Google Status, my Facebook Status, My Twitter Status, and my Emotional Status. In other words, this is me. I’m a 21st Century American Jewish Teenager.

Nice to meet you.

Doni Joszef, LMSW, has published numerous articles on communal trends with a self-reflective twist, exploring spiritual realities, psychological dynamics, and the fascinating place where these two roads merge. He is currently pursuing various post-masters certifications at New York University, specializing in Child Therapy, Family Therapy, Addiction Treatment, and Advanced Clinical Practice.Doni welcomes feedback and input (working on welcoming criticism, too) at

For more information, visit

Friday, October 22, 2010

I just saw something in my good friend Reb Y.'s blog (which is criminally under-posted on) that struck me as a very powerful tool for use when faced with nisyonos (emphasis mine):

If a Jew is faced with the choice to worship avodah zarah or die, even if all his senses tell him to bow down, if logic dictates that he bow down. It is his inner emunah that screams, "How can you? How can you deny Hashem's existence for even a second? How can you not give up your life for Hashem?" This voice is louder and will defy any common sense.
The Tanya goes on and brings this into the everyday life of a Jew. When faced with an inclination to do something against the will of Hashem, remind yourself of this. You would be willing to die for Hashem's will. How big is your taivah to do wrong? Can it be bigger than dying? If you're willing to die for not being separated from Hashem for even a second, you should be able to overcome any desire you have and not go against His will.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Making a list, checking it twice...

One of the tried and true techniques for character refinement that I have witnessed (my wife is a master of this, and is awe inspiring. THANK YOU HASHEM!) is the practice of forming and assigning oneself a set schedule, in writing. The keeping of a self imposed schedule has many practical advantages, both material and spiritual.

In Chovat HaTalmidim, Reb Kalonymos Kalman outlines it clearly:

It is beneficial to write out a schedule for yourself on a sheet of paper, starting with the time you wish to get up in the morning and continuing with all your activities. Use the sheet as a reference, checking back during the day to see if you have accomplished what you set out to do. (Chapter 5)

While the rebbe's target audience for the sefer was yeshiva age students, and thus he mentions this in the context of learning sessions and finding spare time for extra sedarim, the rebbe clearly saw the value in this technique for people in all walks of life:

Whether you are in yeshiva or not, the schedule of study that you set for yourself should be followed to the minute. You should get to the point that if for some reason you are not able to complete a period of learning, you should feel pained, as if the day itself remained uncompleted....
Each day, make it a practice to check yesterday's schedule. What you did not complete yesterday, you should attempt to complete today. you should only do this, however, if you were unable to to finish because of laziness or lack of diligence. If you were thrown off schedule because of a difficult passage...then you should not force yourself to complete [what] you missed yesterday.
The whole idea of keeping to a quantitative schedule is to discipline yourself to learn crisply and without meandering. (ibid.)
While it is clear that the rebbe's focus was on Torah learning, his advice can be applied to the totality of the day. The carefully mapped out day will more often than not yield far better results in accomplishment than the haphazard approach to our busy lives. Moreover, it introduces the concept of discipline into our everyday operations, which generates consistency, an important ingredient to a Torah true lifestyle.

There are varying degrees to the stricture of your structure;  some people may prefer an outline as opposed to a minute-to-minute checklist. As with everything, it has to be done with a keen sense of self awareness and intellectual honesty.

This eitza also lends itself finely to the idea of cheshbon haNefesh: at the end of the day, one can refer back to his schedule and see how he did. as he starts to sort through the day's events, determining what held him back here, why he dragged his feet at that point, etc., that will aid him in recalling the particularities of the day, and his interactions with people. This segues perfectly into a real, honest soul-searching...

Monday, October 11, 2010

Holy Extremism

כשם שהפשטות והאמת הם שמות נרדפות, כן הקיצוניות והגדלות הם שמות נרדפות .הקיצוניות היא ההשתלמות של הנושא. הדוגל בהבינוניות ומואס בקיצוניות חלקו עם הזיפנים או עם חדלי תבונה
The words above are a quote from the letters of the Chazon Ish. His claim is that to be great one must be an extremist. Anything less is assuring oneself of mediocrity at best and renders such a person ..... well I'd rather not translate.
What does he mean?
Example: The Olympics. To be an Olympic athlete one must train obsessively for years. No social life, no other serious interests. One thing. TRAINING. That means getting up at three am and running 10 miles, then lifting weights followed by a healthy breakfast with lots of nutrition and less taste. No doughnuts. Why? To excel!!
In ruchniyus a person must have the same intensive focus on excellence in order to become truly great. It means sleeping less than he might want to, not eating foods he enjoys, not going places he would like to visit and denying himself what his natural instincts dictate that he desire. This single minded focus on spiritual perfection produces a tzaddik. Always careful to say the right words, act the right way and even control his thoughts ensuring that only purity and holiness enter his personal domain.
Does extremism mean throwing rocks on passing cars on Shabbos or calling anyone you disagree with a heretic? OF COURSE NOT.
Spiritual Extremism means; extremely sensitive, extremely loving, extremely caring, extremely honest, extremely generous.
I bless myself and anyone else who so desires that we become holy extremists!:)

Sunday, October 10, 2010

"These and These Are The Words Of The Living G-d"?

I saw the article linked by Reb Shmuel on his blog and was actually quite disturbed.

Firstly, I want to say that I am in favor of Ahavas Yisroel. I am no smarter that the Ribbono Shel Olam who said "Vi'ahavta Li'rayacha Kamocha". And no smarter than Rebbe Akiva who said that loving your friend is the "Klal Gadol" of the Torah. It is such an important rule that it is "kolel" [encompasses] the entire Torah.

Also I have nothing against the honorable Rabbi who wrote the article who is undoubtedly a MUCH better human being than I am. A better human being and most likely a better teacher, a better Jew and contributing much more to the future of our people than I.

BUT [a big "but"] I think that the educational approach he espouses is POTENTIALLY dangerous. I don't think that all the views of all branches of Orthodox Judaism are the "Words Of The Living G-d" [Divrei Elokim Chayim]. Almost nobody thinks so. Take for example the Rebbe of the writer of the aforementioned article. He often writes that the Charedim are making FUNDAMENTAL errors in their Yiddishkeit. The Chazon Ish was WRONG when he didn't support the Medinah and didn't say Hallel and Shehecheyanu on Yom Ha'atzmaut. Breslovers are off, Briskers are off, Lubavitchers are off. The only true way of Hashem is the path explicated by Rav Kook [as he understands it]. This is what he writes all the time.

Is he correct? He is right in believing passionately in a certain approach and trying to spread his views which he thinks reflect dvar Hashem but one could definitely argue that HE is mistaken and dvar Hashem should be understood otherwise [I certainly don't subscribe to many of his opinions].

Are Vayoel Moshe and Eim Habonim Smeicha both accurate reflections of Dvar Hashem? I think not. [If you haven't learned these books I recommend that you do.]

There is the story of the student who once suggested an interpretation of a pasuk to Nechama Leibowitz which she summarily rejected. The student said "Shivim Panim La'torah!" She answered "Yes, but yours is the seventy first."

When we teach our students we have to make it clear that not everything everybody believes is valid. We must not fudge some very basic issues of hashkafa on which we differ. Some people believe college is lichtchila, others believe that it is assur mi'dioraisa. How can somebody who believes the latter teach the former and someone who believes the former teach the latter?!

A well known Rabbi spoke at my sheva brachos and [he didn't know me or my wife] so he spoke about how his students are frum but they go to theatre and the movies [not an exact quote but that was the message] and that's GREAT. Some might argue [like the chassan at that simcha] that the immodesty shown on the movie screen renders such entertainment as nothing less than a transgression of "Vilo sassuru acharei livavchem viacharei eineichem", a contamination of a pure neshama and [at the very least] a waste of life's most valuable resource - time.

Was the chassan right or was the Rabbi right? You decide. But everybody would agree that they weren't both right. When educating children one has to have a clear-cut hashkafa and try to convey it to his students. This liberal "everybody is right" will produce moral relativists who lack passion for anything because whatever you do is fine. Ultimately this will result in people justifying all behaviors because "this is the way I see it". I am not making this up. I have seen it too many times.

A Rabbi got up at my son's bar-mitzva and gave a speech which disturbed me greatly. Do I love him? He is a beautiful man! I think he has more merits that I will ever have and "yehei chelki imo". But he was pushing an agenda he received from his Rebbe which I think is a subtle perversion of the Torah.

What is crucial to point out is that at all times we respect those with whom we disagree. Respect, love [heck, kiss the guy if he doesn't mind:)] treat with dignity, care, daven for and with etc. etc. But love doesn't mean that I condone his way of life or viewpoints.

I also believe that there are many valid paths in Judaism and don't think for a second that everybody has to be what I am [weird?] and this should also be made clear to the students. The Lubavitcher Rebbe once sent a boy to a Litvishe Yeshiva because he thought that was right for him. Rav Shach sent a boy I know to a Hesder Yeshiva because that was right for him. People have different spiritual needs and this should be realized by educators.

The Satmar Rebbe said that the sea split into 12 sections to teach us that every tribe literally has a different derech in Avodas Hashem.

May we all find our personal path to shleimus.


PS - Again I want to make clear that this piece was an attack against nobody! I just think that it is important that truth not be misrepresented. The Gemara teaches that truth is nothing less than the signature of G-d. I hope my tone was respectful. If I offended anybody I sincerely ask for forgiveness.

Let it move you...!

Beruriah [the daughter of Reb Meir] happened upon a scholar who was studying silently. She gave him a kick, and said to him: "It is written 'established for all time and secure' (Shmuel II 23:5) - if it is 'established' in your 248 limbs, it [the Torah you learn] will be secure, but if it is not established, it will not be secure!" (Bavli, Eruvin 53b-54a)

The above passage teaches us the necessity of learning Torah out loud, even when learning alone. Part of the idea is as Beruriah expressed it: only by involving our entire body in the process of learning - with movements, vocal expression, and the like - can we truly hope to acquire our Torah in the proper manner.

Similarly, there is a story with the author of the Noda B'Yehuda, Reb Yechezkel Landau that illustrates this point. While serving as Dayan in Brody, there was a group of secularists who sought to discredit him. One of their ploys was to recruit a gentile boy and tutor him in Torah until he was beyond fluent, not only in the Torah, but the  nuance, inflection, and colloquialisms of the Yeshiva community.

In other words,a flawless forgery.

Bringing this boy to the Dayan, he was tested for hours on a broad range of subjects in Torah. Halacha, Aggadah, Hashkafah, this boy knew it all and held his own.

Eventually, the Noda B'Yehuda dismissed him with a wave of his hand. "This is all meaningless. He is not Jewish."

He said it with such conviction that his detractors realized that their facade had failed. "Rabbi - how did you know?" they asked him.

Rav Landau turned to them and said "It's certainly possible for someone to have such a level of mastery in Torah. But one thing: the entire time, the boy sat there like a statue, rattling off halachas and sugyas, but not moving even once. A Jew who learns Torah cannot help but move; he'll sway and shuckle, because the vibrancy of Torah is coursing through his veins. A Jew must move when he is learning Torah!"

Monday, October 4, 2010

Concern For All

After reading the personal recollection about Rav Dovid Lifshitz written recently by Rav Micha, I was reminded of what happened one day about 25 years ago. My brother, who was in MTA at the time, came home one day and related that he was on his way out of the building on a cold day. Suddenly Rav Dovid [who didn't know my brother] called out to him softly "It is cold outside. Do you have a coat?"

Not only did Rav Shimon pass on his learning to his students but he also passed on his sterling qualities. THAT is true chinuch.


When I was in High School we had to learn the etymology of words. I found this as interesting as the knowledge of what color socks the President of Zimbabwe wears. But as I grow older I see how much can be learned from the etymology of words.

Take "education" for example. The word comes from educare. In Roman culture the verb educare was constructed meaning “to bring up, rear, train, raise, support, etc." Education is NOT the conveying of information. It is so much more. So too the word chinuch. See what the Rebbe says at the beginning of Chovas Hatalmidim.

Many teachers think that their job is to make sure that the students master the material.


Be pleasant!

Rav Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler, author of the numerous essays and articles that comprise the Michtav M'Eliyahu, would often be called upon by tzedakkah collectors in his home in Bnei Brak. In those days, there was a certain scarcity that we could never relate to, and the Ponovezh Yeshiva had trouble making payroll on many occasions; it goes without saying that there were instances where Rav Dessler simply didn't have anything to give this poor man.

Nonetheless, Rav Dessler would invite him into his home, and sit with the man for a nice amount of time, engaging in pleasant conversation. He would ask the man about his background - where was he from? who lived there? did so-and-so live in that little town? After establishing a commonality with the man and making him feel good about the fact that such an esteemed personality such as Rav Dessler recognized his little town and knew people there, Rav Dessler would sit for a little while longer, making this man feel like an actual human being rather than a faceless meshulach going door to door, collecting alms without garnering any real attention to himself.

Very often, that man would leave Rav Dessler's home feeling better than he would if he had received a hefty donation.

If a Torah giant could spare time from his busy schedule to give a little recognition to a stranger, to offer some validation to a person many of us wouldn't give a moment's thought to - how much more so when it comes to us and the people that we deal with on a regular basis...

Engaging in pleasant conversation is not a formality - it is an essential tool to establishing positive relations with others.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Two Questions - A Personal Note

Mevakesh Lev recently described Rav Shimon Shkop's entrance bechinah. If you didn't yet, read that post before continuing on to this one.

When I read this story it made me feel truly privileged to have experienced what it means to be part of this tradition. For two years I sat in the shi'ur of Rav Dovid Lifshitz zt”l, the Suvalker Rav, a student of Rav Shimon's. And Rav Dovid's notion of a test was similar to his rebbe's.

YU required written finals. I think Rav Dovid once told me that he wouldn't have given them otherwise. In any case, the morning of the final, rebbe would ask us two questions that echo Rav Shimon's "fahrher":

First, he would want to know who had eight hours of sleep the previous night.

Second, he would ask who had breakfast that morning.

Rav Dovid’s primary concern was for the welfare of his talmidim who were often overextended during final week. How can he worry about how we would test when he wasn’t yet sure we were fully equipped to succeed at our learning?

Those who didn’t get a full night’s sleep were sent back to bed. Those who skipped breakfast were given $5 (mid-1980s money) and sent to the cafeteria. (At least, those who addmitted to it. Few people would raise their hands the second time around, and I know for sure at least some of us were just avoiding taking rebbe's money...)

Similarly, the question Rav Dovid most frequently asked me when he was mesader qiddushin at my wedding, "Are you hungry? Fasting today is at best a minhag; simchas chasan is deOraisa!"

There is an old saying,
יענעמס גשמיות איז בא מיר רוחניות.
Another’s physical needs/wants are for me, spiritual.

To Rav Shimon and Rav Dovid, a talmid's gashmius was truly their ruchnius.

But I realized there is another layer to this attitude, one that makes it one of the fundamentals of Yahadus:

Why is there a gashmius to begin with?

Because the Creator wanted to provide us with a venue where we can interact with other people. Where things aren't perfect, and we must step in and take partnership with Him in completing their creation. A place where we can be givers, not just recipients.

In other words, the sole reason for this world is so that my ruach, my soul-as-will (ruach also means wind — the unseen power that moves the seen) can step in and provide for others their physical needs. This is why we were created such that sexual intimacy is of the greatest bonding forces. A the Torah says “Therefore man will leave his father and mother and bond with his wife, and they will become one flesh.” (Bereishis 2:24) This is why we associate sharing a celebration with sharing a meal (such as the qorban Todah, for giving thanks, which was of a size too large for any one person or his immediate family to eat).

Another's gashmius is thus the reason for my soul being extended into this world. Beyond simply calling it a religious duty, it truly is my ruchnius.

Two Questions

AHHHHHH RAV SHIMON SHKOP! To learn his Torah is to enter a garden of delicacies and to experience sublime pleasures which make all of this world's pleasures seem lame in comparison. A my'seh with the Rebbe ztz"l related by one of his students from the sefer "Torah Yevakesh Mi'pihu".

I was a young man who wanted to be accepted to the yeshiva in Grodna. I came from a poor family so we couldn't afford traveling expenses. I was given a little bit of food for the three day walk [!] and told that when the food runs out I was to ask Jews to open their hearts and share their food with me. When I finally arrived in Grodno I was exhausted. I was also very nervous about the test. What if I fail and don't get accepted? What an embarrassment it will be for me and my family and then I will have to make the return trip with a horrible feeling. So I made sure to prepare the page of Gemara very well. I was shown to the office of the Rosh Yeshiva, Reb Shimon Shkop. His office was also the kitchen in home. He said to me "I have two questions for you". UH OH! The test was beginning. "The first question is .... When was the last time you had a warm meal?" I thought for a little and answered "Three weeks". Reb Shimon said "My wife is not home and I am not much of a cook but I will do my best". He then proceeded to cook me a meal which I ate - with doubles! Now that I was satiated Reb Shimon said "And the second question ...." UH OH!! Now the test begins for real. "When was the last time you slept on a bed?" I told him that I didn't remember. So Reb Shimon went into a room and prepared a bed for me which I proceeded to sleep on. I found out afterwards that it was his own bed.

That was my fahrher [entrance examination] for the Grodna Yeshiva. Since then I have had many tzaros. I lost my family in the holocaust and many other tzaros. What kept my Judaism alive all those years were those two questions that Reb Shimon asked me on my fahrher for the Grodna Yeshiva.

!!זכות הצדיקים יעזור ויגן ויושיע

Thursday, September 16, 2010

We know that the ideas of kol ram and peh malei have very effective results in tefilla and in learning.

Rav Yisroel Salanter used to emphasize numerous times that the only way to truly acquire yiras Shamayim, to truly inculcate it into our very beings is to learn mussar out loud, with a niggun.

In terms of realities, the fact that our bodies are completely physical and our souls are naturally spiritual, the marriage of the two is not really a natural relationship. Any additional work requires vast amounts of effort and continuous input just to keep the two realities from rejecting each other.

Music is one of the only things that can bridge that gap; on the one hand, it is physical, made from physical motions or actions, and yet it is so powerful it has the ability to penetrate to a person's very core (Rebbe Nachman has many Torahs dedicated to this concept, and warns about the spiritual ills that accompany music that wasn't created with pure intentions).

In order for mussar to really make an impact, we must learn it with a tune, a melody, more so than the singsong chant we have when we learn gemara.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Loss Of Fear

About 16 years ago Rav Soloveitchik's son, known affectionately as "DR. Grach" wrote a famous article in Tradition which generated a great deal of discussion and argument. One of his many astute observations was that while today people are "frummer" than they once were [note the mass scale of Torah learning in yeshivos and kollelim, minyanim everywhere, ubiquitous payos, head covering for women, the popularity of mikva for women and men etc.], the palpable sense of FEAR of Hashem that people once had is all but lost.

It says in the Holy Books that one should cry during davening on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. I see very few tears if any during these Days of Awe. I think that people are just not afraid for their lives anymore. Things are COOL! Well, the reality is that things are NOT cool. People DO die [many many this past year, of all ages. The Angel Of Death doesn't discriminate]. So my own small blessings that we should merit to feel the awe during these Days of Awe. And if you are not afraid for your lives and well being - I am. So you can do me a favor and daven for Elchanan ben Henna Miriam and his family [keyn yirbu!] that we should make it through this coming year in good health. If you are interested you can send me your name and I will return the favor and daven for you.

The fear I am talking about is constructive. It is the impetus for a transformation of the self [known in our literature as "tshuva...].

Love and blessings and wishes for eternal good for all:)!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Yamim Nora'im Prep part III

Our third segment on different suggestions and approaches to the concept of forgiveness focuses on reaching an idealized perspective via-a-vis the people we come into contact with.

Whereas the earlier approaches we discussed involved either "forcing" ourselves into the recognition of  the necessity of mechila (and the gravity of half-hearted forgiveness) and techniques to calm our animus towards those who have wronged us, I'd like to focus for a moment on nuturing healthy relationships, which facilitates itself toward forgiving others with ease.

What is love? Where does it come from? How does it develop?

Rabbi E. E. Dessler makes a powerful observation concerning this very topic in his Kuntress HaChessed (Michtav M'Eliyahu Vol. 1). Contrary to popular belief, Rav Dessler asserts that love is not enhanced by giving - it is the giving that creates love. Rather than being in a loving relationship and therefore feeling compelled to act with kindness towards someone, bestowing them with gifts and favors, it is quite the opposite: the very act of giving, of providing for someone stirs within the giver strong feelings of attachment and closeness, and allows an true and honest relationship to flourish.

My suggestion is this: with friends and loved ones, strive to give them what they need, whether it's moral support, a handout, or a smile. When the relationship deepens through the mutual acts of giving, it will be that much easier to separate from our selfishness and see through to the truth. As for those whom you may not get along with? Try very hard to be pleasant to them, and help them any way you can. By constantly giving to them, you will be strengthening your relationship (obviously this has to be done with common sense and no attitude...), and hopefully they will see the effort you are exerting to make it work with them...

Friday, September 3, 2010

Yamim Nora'im Prep part II

Continuing our theme of forgiveness, we are going to explore different ways to reach a point in which we can actually provide someone with a sincere wholehearted mechila. In an earlier post, we provided a way to obligate ourselves to forgive someone, but how do we put that necessity into action? To have a bona fide mechila for anyone who is not really our friend - or someone who really wronged us - merely acknowledging that we are forgiving him won't help us actually come to a true mechila, which is the real goal.

The holy rebbe of Piaseczna gives us a daring piece of advice in his seminal work Chovat HaTalmidim. At the end of the ninth chapter, the rebbe addresses the issue of reconciling with an enemy with whom the mutual hate is so great that you simply cannot find any redeeming qualities in this person.

This is what you should do. Write him a letter. Don't send it to him; hide it somewhere in your home. In the letter, insult and shame him as much as the serpent of anger in your heart desires. For some days, read the letter aloud, and imagine that you are standing in front of him, taunting and abusing him with all the expressions of the letter. After some days, you will find your anger has dissipated, and if you are a sensitive person, you may discover yourself running to reconcile with him. *

More than an act of catharsis, the rebbe's advice shows a profound quality in our nature. After pouring out all the venomous feelings and thoughts about this person into this composition, we are encouraged to reread it every few days. Despite the fact that in the heat of the moment we were able to pen such hateful, hurtful words, a few days later those words will seem to be alien and foreign, and we would have a hard time believing that we actually wrote them.

With every subsequent reading, we'll comment "wow, I was being pretty harsh. He's not like that all the time..." and we will begin to see flaws in our hateful view of this person. Moreover, we will begin to find ways to counter the arguments made in the letter, and find redeeming qualities in this fellow as we revisit this letter. Eventually, the feelings of hate and anger will have been replaced by a powerful desire to reconcile with this person, and like the rebbe says, we will run to make peace with him.

This idea enables us to bring the conceptual understanding of mechila into a more concrete form, out of potential into action.

* English adapted from A Student's Obligation by Micha Odenheimer

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


From the mevakesh lev blog:

One of my favorite stories:

In a village in Europe in order to marry a girl you had to pay the father with cows [women of all ages - please forgive the moshol!:)]. A really special girl - 10 -11 cows. Average girl - 5-6 cows. Less - 2-3 cows. There was a certain fellow in town who was especially shrewd. Everyone was sure that he would get a great girl at a bargain price. He ended up with the least attractive, least desirable girl in town for which he paid [drum roll] SIXTEEN COWS!!!

HOLY COW!!! [li'ilui nishmas Phil Rizzuto]

Nobody could believe it! This dull, unintelligent girl with almost no skills and less personality for such an exorbitant price?!

About a month after the wedding someone came to visit and the girl was unrecognizable. Beautiful, well-mannered, noble and with many intelligent things to say. Not to mention a FANTASTIC cook [not that guys care about such things:)]. The visitor pulls his friend aside and whispers - "What happened? Such a drastic change!"

The shrewd chosson answers "Every day she looks in the mirror and says to herself 'My husband paid SIXTEEN COWS for me.'"

Moral: Always make your wife feel that she is worth diamonds and pearls. She will become her greatest self and you will both be happy.

Happy wife - Happy Life.

Ad Kan mi'divrei ha'blog.

The Rebbe in the Chovas Hatalmidim teaches so cogently that the only way to get the best out of your talmidim is to make THEM feel like they are priceless gems.

May I humbly add - start with yourself.

"Bi'shvili nivra ha'olam."

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Yamim Nora'im Prep part I

As Rosh HaShana draws nearer, we begin brushing up on our hilchot Teshuva. A very significant factor is the aspect of forgiveness not only between us and God, but between us and our fellow man. I have seen numerous times an emphasis on how to gain forgiveness from people that we may have wronged in one fashion or another, but less focus on granting forgiveness.

Naturally, there are many deterrents to our ability to forgive others, despite the fact that the RaMBaM tells us that we should be quick to forgive. Human nature is that we have a very long memory when it comes to perceived slights and injustices experienced.

Over the course of the next three posts - God willing - I am going to present three separate eitzot that lend themselves to the concept of forgiving others. While each suggestion/exercise can be taken as three disparate ideas, I do believe that they complement each other. Moreover, they can be done in any number of combinations, although the order in which I present them display a progression, of sorts. It is important to note that these are not the only ideas, of course, and that there are many effective ways to reach the goal we are aiming for; these ideas resonate with me for personal reasons, and have an overarching effect in their scope.

The first idea was shown to me a few years ago, and addresses an attitudinal aspect of the concept of forgiveness. In this vein, we are taught a method that practically forces us to forgive someone, for our own sake and our best interests.

In Nesivos Ohr, Rav Yisroel Salanter OBM explains the Talmudic concept of "Yesh lo ta'arumos" ("he has complaints"). Rather than being a postscript comment on the outcome of a particular legal case, Rav Salanter asserts that this is an actual ruling, distinct from the legal rulings of reparations or remunerations. In such an instance of "he has complaints [on the defendant]" we see that although the defendant is not obligated to pay any money, he must still deal with the plaintiff's complaint, in which case the plaintiff is encouraged to be "mochel" the grievance, so long as the defendant makes a sincere effort to placate him and make peace.

Rav Salanter then draws a comparison to this aspect of mechila vis-a-vis ta'arumos and the practical  application that mechila can play in actual litigation. For instance, if Reuven is owed money, he can opt to be mochel the loan - without any material acquisition. However, if Reuven later regrets his mechila and decides to pursue the debt that was previously owed to him, then this is gezel gamur - actual stealing - because he has already absolved the debt through his mechila. Similarly, if one has an instance where he has the right to harbor ta'arumos against his friend, and his friend subsequently pacifies him and earns his mechila - he can no longer harbor any ill-will towards the offender. In fact, to do so after granting forgiveness is considered to be a grave sin against his friend.

It is at this point that Rav Yisroel offers up his eitza towards abolishing the negative trait of kapdanut and intensifying the idea of mechila:

If a man sins against his fellow, either through speech or action: [the offended should] forgive him immediately, with verbal acknowledgement. Then, if he begins to feel resentful of [the offender], he should remind himself that this is a grave sin. Just as the one who reneges on his absolution of a debt is known by all to be a thief, the same applies to the one who retracts his forgiveness for a prior grievance.

The above is a seemingly counterintuitive way of approaching the concept of forgiveness, but in a display of deep psychological insight, Rav Salanter shows us a way in which we can literally force ourselves to maintain an attitude of forgiveness, rather than allow ourselves to commit an even greater sin.

This suggestion can be used as a very basic step towards forgiveness; one can even say that it is a seemingly "begrudging" approach to the idea of mechila. Even so, it's brilliance demonstrates how seriously we need to take the granting of forgiveness to others...

A Fortress

Made to protect, this fortress is strong
It shelters me from the elements that erode
The very essence of who I am
It almost as old as creation and waits for me
Protecting, guiding, helping me
A constant in an every changing world
I allow myself to enter it and leave renewed
Ready to face challenges unknown
Walls reverberate with music that draws me in
And back to when I began to realize that it need
This fortress
The safety and protection is unyielding if only
I accept it and treasure it
Shabbos Kodesh

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


“Our judgments judge us, and nothing reveals us, exposes our weaknesses, more ingeniously than the attitude of pronouncing upon our fellows.”

Paul Valery

The way Chazal put it was "kol haposel bi'mumo posel". The revered mashgiach Rav Volbe ztz"l calls it a "panas kessem" - a magical flashlight. If you want to know about yourself, explore how you judge others. A person only sees the world through the prism of his own experiences. I often remind myself when being criticized [all too often...], that the words say more about the criticizer than they do about me. [This takes place after I feel hurt and get defensive.]

There are really two issues at hand [I have been learning a lot of Brisk recently so everything is two issues]. 1] How to criticize and 2] How to receive criticism.

1] In a word - with a lot of love, genuine care about the criticized and after verifying that the person feels good enough about himself that will allow him to accept the criticism in a healthy, productive way. Also, the criticism should [generally] be sugar-coated. As Rebbetzin Mary Poppins taught me in my impressionable youth: "Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down." Well, more than a word.

2] One of the 48 ways of acquiring Torah is "Ohev es hatochachos" - Loving rebuke. Rebuke helps us grow. Amazing!!! BUT [ a big "but"], make sure not to blow it out of proportion. Yes, maybe you are not perfect but that doesn't mean you lack all redemptive traits. You are GOOD, you are WORTHY and your are loved by many - particularly the Master Of The Universe. You have a specific uniqueness and task shared by nobody on earth.

And like we said earlier, the person rebuking and criticizing has his own issues and his words are often a reflection of those issues.

Love and Blessings!!!:)

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Increasing The Plentiful

In a previous post, both Reb Ally and Reb Micha weighed in on different kavanot (intentions) to have while making a bracha (blessing). Continuing in that theme, I'd like to share an idea I saw from Reb Chaim Volozhin (the foremost disciple of the Vilna Gaon, and a tzaddik in his own right), in his seminal work on Jewish thought Nefesh HaChaim.

In his introductory paragraphs to the section concerning the subject of Tefillah (prayer), Reb Chaim prefaces his remarks by examining the nature of blessings in general, their purpose, and their particular construction for the sake of fulfilling that purpose (emphases mine):
The word baruch does not mean "blessed" or "praised" (as an adjective), as most people think...
The true meaning of beracha is asking God to increase that which is being blessed as in "He will bless your bread and your water" (Ex. 23:25) and "He will bless the fruit of your womb" (Deut. 7:13)...These passages clearly denote increase; they certainly cannot be interpreted as expressions of praise and glorification.
But when we recite a beracha and "bless God", we are not speaking about God Himself. After all, God is perfect and lacks nothing; thus, "increasing" anything about Him is ridiculous.
The essence of God is completely beyond human comprehension. When we speak of God, we are referring to His attributes as they become apparent to us by the way He sustains and guides the world and His creations - with Justice, Kindness, or Mercy. That is why we describe Him as "Almighty Judge", "Merciful One", and "Compassionate One".
And so, the purpose of reciting a beracha is to increase our awareness of God in creation (first in our mind, and then in the minds and lives of as many people as we can reach). Therefore, when we bless God, we are really saying "Please increase Your presence in creation." (Sha'ar Beis, Chapter 2) *
Reb Chaim elaborates further on this concept and its implications throughout the section, but this integral idea jumped off the page at me. We aren't really telling God that He is praised so much as we are asking Him to strengthen the awareness of the Divine in the world. This passage caused a paradigmatic shift in my approach to berachot by teaching me to keep this thought in mind.

* English adapted from Rabbi Avrohom Yaakov Finkel's translation Nefesh Hachaim: Rav Chaim of Volozhin's classic exploration of the fundamentals of Jewish belief (the Judaic Press).

Sunday, August 15, 2010

שיתברר ויתאמת

There are two ways of resolving points of doubt in learning.

1] Finding one strong, incontrovertible proof.

2] Finding numerous hints that might not explicitly resolve the doubt but certainly point one in the direction of truth.

The advantage of the former is that the proof is clear and cogent while the advantage of the latter is that the numerous hints one sees serve to drive the point home with more emphasis.

NOW, we can understand the famous beginning of the Messilas Yesharim, where it says that the obligation of every Jew is "she'yisbarrer vi'yisameis aitzel ha'odom mah chovaso ba'olamo" - to clarify and find the truth revealing your obligation in this world. Many of our spiritual titans have tried to understand the difference between "yisbarrer" and "yisameis". Yisbarrer is that it should become clear through one proof what your purpose in this world is. "Yisameis" is to find many hints in your life until this truth penetrates to the core of your soul.

[Based on Maran HaRav Hutner ztz"l]

People spend much time reading the sports pages and finding out what is going on in Washington - and in China, but are ignorant as to the purpose of their own existence. This requires much soul-searching and introspection.

But what's an Elul for?!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

חנוך לנער על פי דרכו

A man in Toronto once wanted to make a pidyon ha-ben for his newborn son. Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky ztz"l who was the Rav there, politely suggested to him that since he was a Levi it was not necessary to do the pidyon.

"No way Rabbi, I made a pidyon ha-ben for my first son, I made a pidyon ha-ben for my second son and I am NOT going to skip the pidyon ha-ben for my third son!"

The Rebbe ztz"l in his Chovas Hatalmidim stresses that every child is different. This seems obvious but unfortunately our educational system generally does not abide by this teaching. It is very difficult to do when you have fifty students in a classroom. The ideal according to the Torah is home-schooling [see the seminal essay of Maran HaRav Hutner ztz"l on the topic in the Pachad Yitzchak-Shavuos]!

So if you are fortunate enough to have children or to be an educator, remember to try to identify the uniqueness of each child and treat him him accordingly. And don't forget the most important child.


Love and blessings:)!!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Picking Your Chumeros for Elul...

(No idea why my posts weren't published before now... Guess I've been using Wordpress instead of Blogspot for too long. Sorry. -micha)

As I write this, it's a few hours before Rosh Chodesh Elul. For many people, a time for choosing chumeros, stringencies in those areas of our lives that could use that extra attention.
The Daf Yerushalmi Yomi recently learned Shevi'is 20a (in the Vilna edition) 7:20. The gemara is citing a Tosefta (Maaseros 1:2):
התני הסיאה והאיזוב והקורנס שהובילו לחצר אבל אם היתה שניי' נכנסת לשלישית שלישית מששית לשביעית ששית הכא את מני לחוריה וכא את מני לקומיה אמר רבי יוסי שלישית וששית אע"פ שאין בהן מע"ש יש בהן מעשרות שביעית אין בה מעשר כלל לא כן אמר רבי אבהו בשם רבי יוחנן לית כאן מששית לשביעית ששית אלא שביעית מן ברשות בעלים ברם הכא ברשות עני הן מוטב ליתן ליה אחד בודאי ולא שנים בספק
Doesn't it say in the [Tosefta], "Si'ah, hyssop and qornos [three herbs that general grow wild] that were brought into the yard: If they were [plants] of the second [year of the shemittah cycle] going into the third [and now they are brought into the yard], they are of the third year [in terms of tithing]. If they were from the sixth year going into the seventh [sabbatical] year, they have the law of the sixth." -- this [case] one counts to the later [the third year], and here one counts to the earlier [sixth] year???
Rabbi Yosi said: The third and sixth [years] even though they do not have maaser sheini [a tithe eaten by the owner but only in Jerusalem], they do have maaser [-- they have the tithe given to the poor]. The seventh year does not have maaser at all.
Didn't Rabbi Avohu say the same in the name of Rabbi Yochanan? "From the sixth going into the seventh [ie sabbatical year] is not of the sixth year but of the seventh -- that is only with respect to the control of the owners, however here it is about the control of the poor. It is better to give that one with certainty, that two give two [for the earlier and later year] in doubt.
After terumah is given to the kohanim, and maaser rishon, the first tenth, is given to the leviim, the second tenth has different dispositions depending on which year it is in the shemittah cycle. In the first, second, fourth and fifth years, it is eaten by the owner in Jerusalem. In the third and sixth years, it is given to the poor. (In addition to the other parts of the crop which are given to the poor as well as the usual obligation of tzedaqah.) On the seventh, shemittah, year, the crops are holy, ownerless, and thus there is no tithing of any sort.
Here we have a plant that in general grows wild, and therefore isn't subject to maaser. However, in this particular case the person takes the plant and allows it to finish growing in his vegetable patch. And a new year began in between Does the herb follow the year it was grown, or the year it became subject to the obligation? The shenuttah cycle is rabbinic at times when most Jews live outside of Israel, and thus the Sages had leeway as to how to label the years with respect to tithing. The Yerushalmi tells us that in order to avoid giving two kinds of maaser in doubt, the Tosefta rule stringently.
All of the above is by way of background. What I want to point out is their definition of stringency:
When in doubt whether to group something with the second year, and thus the maaser is part of a spiritual pilgrimage to Jerusalem, or with the third, and thus the maaser is given to the poor -- "stringency" means giving to the poor. Similarly, if it's between declaring the food sacred or giving it to the poor -- give it to the poor.
When I posted a version of the above to Avodah (corrected off-list by REMT, thank you!) R' Danniel Shoemann pointed me to a similar chumerah in Chagiga 3b (quoting Mishnah Yadayim 4:3). In sefer Bamidbar, we conquer the lands of Amon and Moav from the Emori (who in turn had won them from the Amoni and Moavi) and after the wars in the book of Yehoshua they are settled by the people of Re'uvein, Gad, and half of the tribe of Menashah. (This is the land just east of the much of the Jordan river, in the western part of the current country of Jordan.) However, the land is not resettled by Jews in the second time around, in the days of Ezra. Shemittah only applies to lands conquered in the days of Ezra, or those lands with Jewish populations next to it that the law was rabbinicly extended to.
Rabbi Yochanan says that this does not include Amon and Moav with respect to shemittah, but one is obligated to give maaser from crops grown in that area. Given that the second tithe differs depending upon the year of the cycle, but in Israel proper there is no tithe for the shemittah year, what does one do in the seventh year in Amon and Moav? Rabbi Yochanan (note: the same Rabbi Yochanan as in the gemara I quoted) rules that one gives maaser ani to the poor.
Hunting for spiritual experiences or prohibiting things so as to avoid doubt are NOT appropriate chumeros if it means difficulties for others! Quite on the contrary -- the gemara recommends starting with being stringent in how we extend aid...