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!

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."