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!

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.