Friday, December 31, 2010

Rabbi Shneor Zalman of Liadi (1745-1812)

Today (the 24th of Teves) is the yahrtzeit (anniversary of death) of Rabbi Shneor Zalman of Liadi, the first Rebbe of Lubavitch.

Reb Shneor Zalman is an important figure in Judaism in general, and in Chassidus specifically. The youngest member of the inner circle of Rav Dov Ber (the maggid of Mezritch; the Ba'al Shem Tov's primary disciple and successor), Reb Shneor Zalman was charged with disseminating the teachings of Chassidus through Russia and Lithuania. A tremendous scholar and a deeply pious man, the Alter Rebbe (as Reb Shneor Zalman is affectionately referred to) further developed the philosophy and structure of the Chassidic movement by penning several masterful works.

Likutei Amarim - Tanya was Reb Shneor Zalman's magnum opus, in which he defined his singular approach to Chassidus, Kabbalah, and philosophy. With a heavy focus on intellectuality, the Alter Rebbe formulated his system of ChaBaD thought, which re-introduced fundamental concepts like panentheism in Jewish thought, the absolute Oneness of God, the structure of the Sefirot and the Tzimtzum process, and the parts of the Soul. What set the Tanya apart primarily was its insistence that one can approach Chassidus not only through faith, but by using the rational faculties as well. The Tanya is a staple for anybody who wishes to really enter the world of Chassidus.

Reb Elimelech of Lizhensk reputedly marveled at the brilliance of the Tanya, remarking that he didn't know how Reb Shneor Zalman had managed to fit a "God so big into such a little sefer!"

The Shulchan Aruch HaRav was Reb Shneor Zalman's response to the Maggid's challenge that he write a codification of the Chassidic customs based on the original Shulchan Aruch, complete with his own insights in    halacha. Indeed, not only is his Shulchan Aruch "required reading" for any serious student of halacha, some of his innovations were adopted universally, such as the use of a honed-steel blade for shechita (ritual slaughter) as opposed to the traditional iron blade. The honed-steel not only made for a sharper edge, it lasted much longer without the need for resharpening.

There is so much to write about this important figure, it could fill an entire book. As a matter of fact, someone did write a biography about the Alter Rebbe, and I highly recommend it.

Z'chuso yagein aleinu.

By the way, tomorrow (Shabbos) is Rav E.E. Dessler's yahrtzeit; please check out B'nei Machshava Tova for a special item tomorrow night in his honor.

Have a great Shabbos!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

This video fills me with a lot of hope.

For a very long time, I've been hearing members of the older generation bemoaning the fact that today's generation of Israelis don't feel any connection to the Holy Land. They're too complacent, concerned more with pursuing life's "pleasures" than building the land, defending it from our enemies, etc. ( Time magazine even had a cover story devoted to this theme a few months ago.)

This video shows that at least some young Israelis still care. I hope this inspires more of them to join forces...

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


I love snow.

Growing up in Cleveland, snow was a very large part of the winter experience; some years we would have snowfall as early as Succos and as late as Pesach. In my hometown, your attitude towards snow was very clear - you either loved it or hated it.

If you were anywhere in the Tri-State area earlier this week, then you're probably still feeling the lingering effects of the mini blizzard we had on Sunday. Although the forecasts predicted heavy precipitation in the early afternoon, I had decided to go to yeshiva anyway, and play it by ear. Sure enough, by noon the snow was coming down steadily, and our Rosh Yeshiva encouraged the commuters (the bulk of our kollel) to return home before conditions worsened.

On my way home I made a detour to the local grocery to stock up on important items in anticipation of being snowed in for an extended period of time. As soon as I got home, the sky really opened up and covered us with layer upon layer of beautiful white snow.

One of the things I love about being snowed in is the chance it gives me to spend time with my family. Yesterday I spent time playing with my two little boys, and snuggling on the couch reading Safta Simcha to them (I don't think either of them understood the story, but they still enjoyed it.). My wife and I had a chance to sit and talk and enjoy each other's company in a way that is usually reserved for Shabbos, when we're both already extremely tired.

Moreover, I love the contemplation and insight that I get from the snow. After a fresh snowfall, I love to gaze out at the white expansiveness and reflect. The virgin snow reminds me of what my neshama once was - pure and unadulterated - and what it could be again, with the right amount of dedication, consistency, and honest teshuva.

Walking to ma'ariv on Sunday night, I looked back at the knee-high depressions that my thick soled boots made in the freshly driven snow; I knew that when I came back this way fifteen minutes later, not a trace of those seemingly permanent tracks would be found. What a lesson about our time on this plane of existence - we think we are leaving a mark on this world after our relatively short lifespan, but can we ever be sure? Only with our focus on the real priorities of life, the values set out by the Torah and its paths to righteousness...

Finally, the silence. When it snows, the world is covered by a muffler that dampens all the ambient noise. In the stillness, you can finally hear yourself think. Bundled up in my coat, hat, hood and gloves, I stood outside in this beautiful white-washed world - serene in its cold quietness - and prayed like I've never prayed before...

Sunday, December 26, 2010


I received some pretty harsh e-mails responding to my posting of a YouTube video parodying a scene from a World War II movie featuring Adolf Hitler, in which the original subtitles were replaced with a rant about the Lakewood yeshiva system.

As Reb Y. commented, it's in very bad taste, and I regret posting the video. The truth is, I don't know why I decided to publish the video; to try and find a reasonable explanation after the fact would cheapen my words, and would insult my readers' intelligence.

Instead, I am apologizing.

I am sorry if anyone was insulted or hurt by this video.

Most of us know at least a few people who went through the horror of the Nazi death machine, and so many years later, the Holocaust is still a painful subject. I should know better. None of my grandparents would be laughing at this, despite the fact that the video makes a mockery of an enemy of Israel.

Again, please forgive me for my callousness.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Monday, December 20, 2010

SHeMOS (Shnayim Mikra v'Echad Targum)

This week we begin reading the second of the five Books of Moses, Sefer Shemos (literally the book of Names, but the world knows it as the book of Exodus). The commentaries explain to us that Shemos is actually an acronym for Shnayim Mikra v'Echad Targum, which is a formula prescribed by the Torah for our weekly review of the Torah. Simply put, SHeMOS consists of reading each verse twice, with it's translation once, and proceeding through the entire portion. However, like everything in Judaism, there is much more to this concept than meets the eye.

More than an effective tool for review, the codifications of Jewish law state that this practice is an obligation on every Jewish male. The Shulchan Aruch and the Mishna Berura discuss the various ways that one can fulfill this obligation. While "targum" is classically interpreted as the Aramaic translation provided by Onkelos that accompanies the scripture in nearly every single printing, most authorities agree that this should be supplemented by any of the classic commentaries on the Torah, such as RaSHI, RamBaN, or the Ohr HaChaim. Additionally, there is a time limit to each week's portion: ideally, the portion should be completed before the first Shabbos meal of the week that we read that particular portion. Of course, the deadline can be extended by ever increasing increments, up until the next Simchat Torah, but this is the preferred method.

As such, the system is set up in a way that the portion can be broken down into daily sections, paralleling the seven aliyot of the Shabbos reading. Moreover, there are various methods to how one may go about accomplishing the act of Shnayim Mikra: some sources suggest going through the portion reading each individual verse twice, followed by it's translation and commentary, and continuing in this fashion. Others maintain that one may read through the entire portion once in the verse, followed by a read-through of the targum and commentary, and then yet a fourth read-though of the verses again.

It should be noted that there is a method which consists of reading through the verses only once, and then relying on the Torah reading to complete the "double" verse obligation. This only works if one continuously reads along with the Reader; listening to the Reader does not count towards fulfilling the obligation.

Of course, there are several other methods but these are the most common. For more information, see Mishna Berura 285 (see, I even supplied a link - you have no excuse!).

It cannot be stated forcefully enough how important this particular mitzva is. Aside from the fact that this is a way of fulfilling the directive to learn the entire Torah, this is a valuable source for major foundations of faith. To my mind, there is a direct correlation between crises of faith and the laxity in observance of this practice. If a person never continues past his childish, elementray school level of understanding the Torah, how can he ever have a firm gounding in the face of the powerful elements of heresy in the world?

In yeshiva, I see an astounding display of ignorance in basic knowledge that people would have if they went throught the Torah portion every week. They're not rebelling, of course - they simply aren't aware of the value of Shnayim Mikra, or the fact that it's an obligation. Truth be told, I myself was negligent in this for a very long time, and to this day I regret it.

This week also marks the beginning of a very special time, the period of the year known as Shovavim (in an earlier post I provide a brief explanation to what Shovavim is). This is no coincidence; this time of year is a very potent time, full of opportunities to make innovations in our personal service of God, as well as fix and uproot negative traits. Reb Elimelech of Lizhensk writes in the Tzetel Kattan (#17) that if a person wants to develop and strengthen a trait, or change an aspect of his nature, he must strive consistently for forty days, with great effort and single mindedness. Through this practice, he will receive Divine assistance and continue to elevate himself to the greatest heights, successfully altering his spiritual makeup. To that end, Reb Shalom Noach Berzovsky of Slonim (author of Nesivos Shalom) writes that this is why Shovavim is longer than forty days, to provide a greater opportunity to take on new "projects" that work toward the goal of reaching shleimut (literally completion or wholeness) in serving God.

May we all merit that our innovations take root, and that we continue to grow and find new ways of coming closer to God!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Rabbi Nosson Sternhartz of Breslov (1780-1844)

The tenth of Teves is also the yahrtzeit of Reb Nosson of Breslov.

Although not the first, Reb Nosson was by far the foremost disciple of Rebbe Nachman. During the rebbe's life Reb Nosson diligently recorded his holy words, and even after Rebbe Nachman's death Reb Nosson continued to proliferate the rebbe's teachings. A prolific writer, Reb Nosson expanded upon Rebbe Nachman's lessons with volumes upon volumes of innovations in avodat HaShem culled from Likutei MoHaRan. These seforim run the entire spectrum of Torah showing how each path can be followed with the rebbe's teachings as a guide.

Reb Nosson was the ultimate student, joining the illustrious ranks of Reb Chaim Vital and Reb Chaim of Volozhin, among others. In fact, Rebbe Nachman himself is recorded saying that Reb Nosson was "his Yehoshua"; this has deeper significance, as Rebbe Nachman held himself to be a reincarnation of Moshe Rabbeinu. Reb Nosson was content to sit at his master's feet, drinking in the wisdom with an unquenchable thirst. By Rebbe Nachman's death, Reb Nosson affirmed that there would be no more rebbe henceforth in Breslov, rather everyone would be considered a student of Rebbe Nachman.

Reb Nosson struggled his entire life with adversity and people trying to stand between him and Reb Nachman. It was only with tremendous mesiras nefesh that he ever made it Rebbe Nachman's side, sometimes for extremely brief intervals. His dedication to something he believed in is an inspiration to me...

Z'chuso Yagein Aleinu

10 Teves, 5771

Today is the tenth of Teves, which is a fast day commemorating several dark events that occured around this time of the year.

First of all, the siege on Jerusalem commenced on this day, as the Roman legions surrounded the city walls. This was the beginning of the destruction of the second Beis HaMikdash (the Holy Temple) and our exile which we are currently still in.

Also, the ninth of Teves is traditionally known as the yahrtzeit of Ezra HaSofer (the Scribe).

The third major occurrence was the completion of the Septuagint, Ptolemy of Egypt's directive that seventy different Torah scholars translate the entire Torah into Greek, which actually happened on the eigth of Teves. The translation was a miraculous feat, as each scholar determined what and how to alter certain parts of the Torah in a completely consistent fashion with each other, despite their being cloistered in individual rooms. Nevertheless, we still view the translation as a tragedy, and our sages teach us that upon completion, "a great darkness descended upon the world." Indeed, the Septuagint ultimately served as the template for the Christian Old Testament, and has been used as a weapon against those who are unfamiliar with the original text...

As mentioned above, the day is observed as a fast day; the event is so severe, that unlike any other fast day we fast even when the tenth falls out on an erev Shabbos, like it does this year.

I would like to wish everyone a meaningful fast; may we all meditate on the significance of the day, and learn valuable lessons to apply to our lives...

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Acknowledging Inner Strength

B'nei Machshava Tova: 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 ..."
It's starting to get really cold outside here in the Tri-State area, and I have always felt that some good music can get the juices flowing, and be a viable source of chizuk. Here's a small sampling of what I have playing lately on my iPod...

Bustan Abraham is a Middle Eastern ensemble that has had a rotation of members over the years, keeping their sound fresh and tight. Naor Carmi (who has recently been playing with Chilik Frank as part of the haLev v'haMaayan quartet) plays on this album.

What a beautiful rendition of a beautiful piyut. For some reason, I often find myself humming this niggun when going to the mikvah on erev Shabbos. Look at how intense the Rebbe was - vibrating with this quiet, pulsating energy waiting to burst forth...and when the levee breaks, he really gets into it.

Shivi Keller (aka Shirat Ha'Asavim or Ein Od Milvado) makes some of the most transcendent music that I've ever had the pleasure of listening to. If you're in the mood for an uplifting experience, Shivi's your man.

These guys are relatively new to the scene. I enjoy the music, but the rapping is kind of hit-or-miss. When the MC's flow is on, then he's great, but sometimes it just falls flat. Nagila is an old favorite of mine (I firmly believe that I was Sephardi in an earlier lifetime), and Shtar's version has some groovy bass to it...

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

"Children, remember..."

From the Aliyah Blog, a transcription of a beautiful story from Rebbe Shlomo that carries significant weight with me, as it is the first introduction I had to Reb Kalonymos Kalman (kudos to my friend Neil Harris for pointing me in its direction):
The Holy Hunchback
By Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach zt”l
In the Warsaw ghetto there was a Rebbe, the heiliger Reb Klonimus Kalman. He wrote a book and knowing prophetically that he would not survive, he put the manuscript under one of the stones in the ghetto where it was found after the war.   
He had a yeshiva not of young people but of children. He was accustomed to say, “My followers eat on Yom Kippur. You know why-they are not bar mitzvah yet.” A great Rabbi would come to him, or an old man and a little girl of four or five. He would say to the older man, “You’ll make it without me. This child needs me.” With older people he would spend five minutes; with children all night. He had thousands of kids. He was their father, their mother, their best friend. After the war, there was nobody left.

My whole life I was hoping and dreaming to see one of these people. A few years ago I was walking on the Yarkon in Tel Aviv and I saw a hunchback -a street cleaner. Do you know that sometimes we are all little prophets? Our heart tells us something. I had a feeling this person was special. He was a real hunchback. That as his face was very handsome, but every part of his body was disfigured. And I said to him. “Hey, shalom aleichem my friend.” And he answered me in a very heavy Polish-Yiddish Hebrew, “Aleichem shoolum.” I said to him in Yiddish, “Mein zeisse yid, my sweet yiddele, where are you from?” He said, “I’m from Piaseczna .” I said “Piaseczna . Gevalt! Did you ever see Reb Klonimus Kalman?” “What do you mean, did I ever see him? I was a student in his yeshiva from the age of five to eleven. I was in Auschwitz for five years. I was eleven when I got there. They thought I was seventeen; I was so strong. They beat me up so much I never healed. That’s why I look this way. I have nobody in the whole world, really nobody, ” I said to him, “You know something-my whole life I have been waiting to meet one of the students of Reb Klonimus Kalman, Would you be so kind to give me over one of his teachings?” He kept on sweeping the street, “You really think that after five years in Auschwitz, I remember the teachings?” I said, “Yes-the words of the heileger Rebbe penetrate you forever.”

He stopped sweeping. He looked at me and said, “Do you really want to know?” He touched me so deeply and although you shouldn’t swear, I said to him “I swear to you, and I mean it with all my heart, that whatever you tell me I shall tell all over the world.” You know he was a real chasidisher Yid, so he put the broom against a wall and went to wash his hands. And this is what he said: “There will never be a Shabbos as by my holy master, my heiliger Rebbe. Can you imagine -hundreds, sometimes thousands of young people dancing with the holy rebbe in the middle. What a sight! Not until Meshiach is coming. Can you imagine the Rebbe making kiddush sitting with hundreds of children with so much holiness. He gave over teachings between the fish and the soup, between the soup and the meat, between the meat and the dessert and after every teaching, he would always say, “Kinderlach, taire kinderlach, my most precious children, gedenkst shon, remember, die greste sach in die velt ist, tun emetzin a tova. Children, precious children, just remember the greatest thing in the world is to do somebody else a favor. ”
When I came to Auschwitz, 1 knew my whole family had been killed and I wanted to kill myself. Each time I was about to, I suddenly heard the Rebbe’s voice saying to me, “Gedenkst shon, the greatest thing in the world is to do somebody else a favor.” Do you know how many favors you do in Auschwitz late at night? People dying, people crying; nobody had the strength even to listen to their stories anymore. I would be up all night. A few weeks later I wanted to kill myself again but always at the last moment I’d hear my Rebbe’s voice. Now I’m here in Tel Aviv, but believe me, I’m all alone, There are moments when I decide to commit suicide. I go into the sea until the water reaches my nose. Then suddenly I hear my Rebbe’s voice again and I just can’t permit myself to do it and I run back to the streets. Do you know how many favors you can do on the street?”
My friends, this was before Rosh Hashana. After Succos I came back to Israel and the first morning I went to the Yarkon and I asked the people on that street corner where the hunchback was. They said he died on the second day of Succos.
Listen to me, my beautiful friends, when the Meshiach comes, when all the holy people will come back to the world and the holy hunchback, the holy street cleaner will come back. He will clean the streets of the world. Do you know how he will clean the world? He will go from one corner of the world to the other and he will say, “Yiddelach, gedenkst shon, the greatest thing in the world is to do somebody else a favor.”

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Lighting a Spark...

The mishna in Shabbos describes the very specific types of oils and wicks that may be used for the Shabbos candles. Only the pure oils that can give off a steady, unwavering flame - drawn through a wick spun from fine material - are considered appropriate for the Shabbos licht (Shabbos kindling). Lesser quality oils, kerosene, and flammable substances that give off unpleasant smells cannot be used.

On Chanukah, however,any type of oil and wick is usable. Indeed, while using olive oil is the preferable method of kindling for the Chanukah lights (pure olive oil is even better), the halacha states that anything may be used, as long as it can last the required amount of time.

What is different about Chanukah? Chanukah's essential mitzvah is the lighting of the menorah; logic would dictate that of all the times of the year that we would be didactic about what sort of kindling we use would be on Chanukah, not Shabbos!

Reb Yehuda Leib Alter of Ger (author of Sfas Emes) offers a beautiful explanation. "The flame of God is the soul of Man." - every soul is an aspect of flame, created from a Godly spark. Some, by virtue of their good deeds and merits, have a strong, clear flame, fed by the very purity of their actions; they glow brilliantly and radiate light towards others. Others, through their sins and shortcomings have more coarse material to use as kindling; their fire is lit, but it can be weak, unsteady, sputtering, hardly able to light their own lives, let alone anyone else's.

These latter souls can go through an entire year and not be affected by the radiance of the Shabbos light; their coarseness simply doesn't allow for it. Chanukah possesses the unique ability to warm any Jew's heart, no matter the quality of their "oil". On Chanukah, even the simplest, lowliest Jews feel the stirring of something deep within them, a dim light fighting to shine forth and illuminate the recesses of their hearts. They feel this way because Chanukah is different than all the other holidays; the eight days of Chanukah represent the existence of something Beyond - above the natural order. Seven alludes to the finite, the world of limitations and physical laws. Eight is outside of those restrictions, unfettered by limiting forces. On Chanukah, we are awakened to that Beyond because the Chanukah lights allude to the Or HaGanuz (the "hidden light" reserved for the righteous), and we yearn to be drawn close to it and to draw it into our lives.

This is apparent even today: there are many Jews who remain unaffiliated, who want nothing to do with Judaism. The three exceptions are Pesach, Yom Kippur, and Chanukah. Of those three, the one that they enjoy the most is certainly Chanukah, and that is the secret of the oil, and the light that shines into their souls...

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

It's Almost Here!

This morning I shifted all of our kitchen furniture around to make room at the window for our menorah. Chanukah begins tomorrow night, and I'm quivering with excitement!

There is so much beautiful Torah about Chanukah and the wonderful opportunities these special days present us with. I bless all of us that we should capitalize on the chag...

I've got a few new sefarim I'm eager to learn from: Reb Tzvi Meir's latest kuntres; a beautiful little book called Lev HaShamayim. I look forward to sharing things I've learned with my readers, God willing, over the course of Chanukah.

In the meantime, here's a new song to listen to while you make your preparations, and hone that wrist-flick-dreidel-spin technique (but stay far away from kvittlach [cards]!). It's Matisyahu's latest single Miracle, and while it's more than a little on the "pop" side of the music spectrum, it's cheerful, lively, and catchy. Enjoy!

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Danger of Cynicism

A cynic is a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. - Oscar Wilde

Reb Ally had a very thoughtful post about leitzanut a few days ago. The only thing that I would like to add - for effect - is this observation:

I have seen quite often people who try to give off an air of aloofness. They maintain a stance as if they are "thinking out of the box" and that their commentaries on the Jewish community are merely satirical, meant to bring out a point. While humor can be an effective vehicle for mussar, that is not the case here.

While it is certainly possible that some of the online "satirists" have good intentions, it is my belief that they are doing more harm than good. Satire stems from cynicism, which ultimately serves to undermine any set of beliefs, no matter how rock solid. Worse, I have noticed that people place great emphasis on so-called "irreverent" personalities - people who are unafraid and unimpressed by power and importance, and say whatever comes to mind without any concern for whom they are speaking to. Rebbe Nachman's story The Sophisticate and the Simpleton is built on such a premise, and we know what the chochom's end is.

What's so great about being irreverent? When I was a kid, we called it chutzpah, and it only got you a sore bottom; nowadays, it means that everybody hangs on your every word, to hear what outrageous thing you'll say next (and that's subject for another discussion: how real are those friends, anyway?).

My main issue with those who would "poke holes in the tapestry" of Jewish living is that there really is no positive outcome from their shenanigans. Even if there were a kernel of truth in their "social commentary" (admittedly, there often is), what do they propose we do to fix it? It doesn't take great wisdom to point out the flaws in a community, but rather to provide solutions.

Years ago, my own blog was a platform for complaining about perceived weakness in Judaism. But I quickly learned that this was not the way to go about affecting change; if I wanted things to be better, then I had to start brainstorming myself, and take a little initiative. Like Reb Ally said, we need to focus on spreading light, not just whining about the encroaching darkness...

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Pey Dalid show tonight in the Village


Pey Dalid NYC W/ Special Guests. 
The Bitter End 
November 26, 2010 
$10 at the door 
147 Bleeker Street (Bet. Thompson and LaGuardia)
Stonehill-Publicity/Just Us Productions

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Prodigal Sons

I'm in a musical mood, so I decided to post this video:

Rock of David is a band with pedigree. The drummer and singer are sons of Isaac Bitton, drummer of Seventies French rock sensation Les Variations and frontman of Raya Mehemna.

The guitarist is Yudi Piamenta, Yossi's son.

The song is an old piyut from Tunisia, with a psychedelic twist. Yudi's style is very influenced by his father, and yet he brings some nice originality to the table.

 The only thing that irks me is that the singer doesn't know all of the words, which sounds kind of stupid.

Remembering Diaspora.

Recently, Neil Harris posted a great music video from the original Diaspora Yeshiva Band playing one of their classics, "Hafachta".

I am a huge fan of Diaspora - particularly Ben Zion Solomon's songs - and listening to them always brings me back to one of my most precious childhood memories: the Diaspora Yeshiva Band's reunion tour, which paid a visit to sleepy little Cleveland one winter night, a blew a fourth-grader's mind, never to be the same again.

My best friend and I sat a few rows from the stage, near the aisle, in the auditorium of the Frank L Wiley School in University Heights. I had been to the public school several times - for Uncle Moishy concerts, a few Yavne High School productions (that's what happens when your sisters are G.O.'s) - but nothing prepared me for this.

Up until that point, I had never heard anything like DYB, certainly not from a Jewish band. And yet, here were bearded, yarmulke'd men wearing standard yeshiva garb, completely rocking out! With "HU! Yiftach Libeinu", the band kicked off the night and seamlessly ripped through an awesome set. Song after song, the Band brought their inimitable style to the table, as two nine-year-olds head banged, air drummed, and played air bass like stoners at a Rush concert. When Gedalia Goldstein threw both drumsticks high in the air, only to catch them in time for the last crash of the cymbals, I totally lost my equilibrium.

Our third grade rebbe was seated behind us, and got a kick out of the spectacle. Even now, when I see him, he reminds me of that night with a big laugh, " you remember that concert? You and your friend went nuts! It was great!"

I nod in agreement, as always. It was great. And although over the coming years I attended numerous concerts from many talented (and some not-so-talented) bands, nothing compares to that transformative experience.

Monday, November 22, 2010

I came across something in this past week's parsha (Torah portion) that intrigued me, but I wasn't able to find any comments on it:

We're all familiar with the story concerning Dinah's abduction and violation, and the retribution that her brothers visit upon the city of Shechem. At the beginning of the story, after Shechem rapes her, the verse states that "He became deeply attached to Dinah, daughter of Jacob; he loved the maiden..." (Gen. 34:3). By all accounts, after Shechem's assault, he falls - hard - for the object of his depravity.

The reason this is so interesting is because it seems counter-intuitive; as described elsewhere, once the overpowering desire is fulfilled, the object of that lust is no longer appealing. As a matter of fact, the "love" is replaced with an even more intense hate and disgust! "Afterwards Amnon despised her with a great hatred; his hatred was even greater than his love that he had felt for her. So [he] said to her, 'Get up and go away!'" (II Shmuel 13:15)

If this is indeed the case, as explained by the commentaries, then what happened between Shechem and Dinah? What was different?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Nosson Zand - Kosher Hip-Hop

Nosson Zand is an inspired young ba'al Teshuva (lit. "one who possesses repentance" used in reference to returnees to observant Judaism) from Boston, Mass. A Lubavitch chossid, Nosson weaves mystical concepts into his rhymes along with stories about growing up as a troubled youth in Boston, finding meaning in his religiosity, and his aspirations as an individual and as a member of the Jewish nation.

I really enjoy his style; for the most part, his lyrics are clear and understandable, and his earnestness shines through. Matisyahu has taken him under his wing, and the two tour together a lot. Below is a short movie that was produced for the American Film Institute, and won several awards, starring Nosson as the protagonist, a student in yeshiva struggling to maintain a balance between his interests, his yearning for spirituality, and finding his identity...

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Rabbi Tzvi Aryeh Rosenfeld (1922-1978)

Today (the Eleventh of Kislev) is the yahrtzeit of Reb Tzvi Aryeh Rosenfeld, the man who is primarily responsible for bringing Breslov Chassidus to the English-speaking masses. A tremendous talmid chochom, Rabbi Rosenfeld grew up in Brooklyn, where he went to the famed yeshivas Chaim Berlin and Torah VoDa'as.

Rabbi Rosenfeld was ordained at an early age, and began involving himself in matters of the klal immediately, specifically with the goal of spreading Breslov and making it accessible to a new generation. Interestingly, Rabbi Rosenfeld ordained many young Rabbis, including Rabbi Meir Kahane and his brother. Among his foremost disciples was Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan OBM and Rabbi Chaim Kramer (head of the Breslov Research Institute), his son-in-law. He recorded countless hours of lectures on Breslov Torah which are available on the BRI website, and his contribution to the American Jewish community is immeasurable.

Although he died long before I was born, I still feel the impact he made. If not for his endeavors - carried on by his son-in-law and other students - I don't know where I would be. Their efforts to translate certain staples in Breslov Chassidus allows those who may be initially discouraged or unable to decipher the depths of the sifrei Breslov and continue on their spiritual journey...

Z'chuso Yagein Aleinu.

For more information about Rabbi Rosenfeld, click here.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


For the lull in activity on the blog.

I'm in the middle of midterms, and with my Internet being on the fritz most of last week, I am swamped with work to catch up on.

Hopefully things should cool down in the near future...

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

True warmth...

Friendship is like stone.
A stone has no value, but by rubbing one stone against another, sparks of fire emerge. 
- Rav Mordechai of Lechovitz
My Internet has been down for the most part of the week.Verizon says it will be a while before all the kinks are worked out, so my posting may be sporadic for the next couple of days...

Sunday, November 7, 2010


One of my favorite niggunim (melodies), ChaBaD or otherwise. I sing this almost every Shabbos, gaining speed with each subsequent repetition until I can't keep up with myself. My oldest loves watching the spectacle; I hope he'll enjoy singing it with me when he gets older...

Kudos to the Echoing String blog, where I originally found this video...

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Sudilkover Eitza

B'nei Machshava Tova: 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. ..."

Monday, November 1, 2010

Looking for a remedy in all the wrong places

I would first like to issue a disclaimer stating that I usually don't read Mishpacha Magazine - the few encounters that I have had with the publication have given me sufficient reason to avoid reading it, despite buying it every week for my wife, l'kavod Shabbos Kodesh. I don't enjoy the subject matter they choose to feature, the writing style (or lack thereof), and the advertising (although that is not a complaint specifically against Mishpacha; these advertisements are featured in many publications). I do realize that I have a bias, but I have tried to ignore that several times when the cover has caught my eye (e.g. a few months ago, "Breslov Revisited" with Rav Weinberger and Rabbi Chaim Kramer of the Breslov Research Institute) with a subject that had tremendous potential and/or interest to me. I try to read such articles without prejudice and with an open mind.

That said, I found last week's cover story ("Hanging on by a Fringe") about outwardly frum teenagers struggling with serious hashkafic issues to be very disappointing.

While the cover blurb seemed very promising ("It's not about rebellion. It's about emptiness"), hinting that our mechanichim (educators) and Rabbis may finally be getting to the crux of the problem, the article itself ultimately seemed to present the same problems we have been dealing with - in a different form. Instead of an outward rebellion that manifested as dangerous behavior coupled with an external display in terms of appearance, we have kids who "dress the part" but are engaging in the same negligible activities as their "street" counterparts. When trying to determine the cause for such behavior, the interviewees quickly resorted to blaming external sources, including the same old villains: society, the Internet and modern technology that makes it more accessible, etc.

One of the anecdotes provided was about a yeshiva boy (a very good one, according to the article) in his late teens, preparing to go to the Holy Land for a year of learning. He "chanced" upon a neighbor's unprotected unfiltered (because his home naturally was protected with Pentagon level security) Wi-Fi connection, and happened on inappropriate images from websites of ill repute. These images led to a downward spiral that caused him to nearly shirk everything and have a serious spiritual setback.

No one is arguing the fact that the Internet can be an extremely dangerous place, and a filtering system and/or a buddy system like WebChaver is a prerequisite for safe Internet usage. However, to blame the Internet - effectively attributing the causes of our spiritual failings to it - is not only wrong, it increases our risk for more danger, because we are focusing on the wrong issues.

Moreover, some of the "professionals" correctly described the problematic element of indoctrinating kids through the educational system to carry out our religious duties by rote performance. This is obviously an issue, one that has been prevalent for quite some time. And although there is value in initiating children to the performance for the sake of getting them accustomed to it, that is a very basic level that needs to gradually be enhanced and deepened with explanations that suit their maturity to instill in them an appreciation. But by bombarding these kids with all sorts of proofs that illustrate the validity of the Torah is not the answer. Even if such tactics don't further confuse the kids, exacerbating the situation, this approach does not effectively address the real issue at hand, where the core of the problem lies. The intellectual rejection (or even ignorance) of Judaism and the tenets of faith is but a veneer that hides what is really deficient in our youth; no amount of dialectic will be enough to heal the gaping wound that is the essence of our spiritual atrophy, and ultimately it will not be able to staunch the flow.

In short, this article and many like them are only addressing the symptoms, and not the root cause.

It is my firm belief that many of our anxieties, including this problem, can be traced back to a severe lacking in recognizing God in each of our personal lives, and understanding the close relationship we have with Him.

Reb Shimshon Pincus OBM declared many years ago that we have "constructed a yiddishkeit devoid of HaShem", and I believe that this is in part what he was referring to. If each of us were able to feel God's presence in our lives - as a "living" "breathing" entity, as it were - many of our problems would be nonexistent. For all intents and purposes, we have relegated God to abstract, profound thinking, beyond the ken of the layman (it can be argued that this is the case even among the scholarly). Even the terms we use, such as "yira'at Shamayim" create a distance, a curtain between God and ourselves, so that we can comfortably discuss an idea (fear of Heaven) without really giving any thought to Who is in Heaven. This results in a serious emptiness,a God sized hole in our souls.

 If we truly appreciated God's presence in our lives, if we worked on feeling Him and His love, that would be a deterrent for many things, and not out of fear. If I am sensitive to God's feelings for me (so to speak), then the activities and things that create an adverse reaction in our relationship would be anathema to me. The first time the aforementioned teen stumbled on that dirty website, his initial impulse would be to fling away the offending device, because of the sensitivity to the precious nature of his personal relationship with God.

This is not limited to teenagers, either, and is another point that the article missed. As Reb Kalonymos Kalman writes in Chovat HaTalmidim, children base their actions on the adults in their lives, and gauge the suitability of their deeds according to the reactions of their elders. Additionally, children are especially adept at detecting insincerity and hypocrisy - and they learn from it. How else do you explain the people who wake up for vasikin, go to shiur without fail, and then commit the most heinous transgressions? If these people would but once ask themselves "And what does God have to say about this?" with real honesty, they would never step out of place. The numbness that the article should have discussed is present in all of us, at every age level, at every level of religiosity, without exception; it may very well be the avodat haYom for our generation to rekindle this feeling of closeness with God.

If you disagree, just look at the renaissance of Jewish literature concerning this topic that has gained an ever increasing popularity over the past few years. The Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh series, etc. all focus on this important foundation of Torah true Judaism: God loves you, and wants to be a part of your life. He cares for you, and takes care of you, and wants you to be like Him. We must increase our focus on this; if we do, I can almost guarantee that we won't need articles like this one anymore. But forget about all the peripheral issues, forget the proofs and the filters and all the other things that get rid of the symptoms while the body continues to weaken...

Friday, October 29, 2010

Shabbos Royalty

Over the past few months, I've been listening to a series of shiurim (lectures) given by Rav Moshe Weinberger on the topic of Shabbos Kodesh, specifically the erev Shabbos preparations and the significance of the candle lighting. I highly recommend the series; I listened to a shiur every Friday as I went about with my own preparations for Shabbos Kodesh, and I found that the series deepened my appreciation for Shabbos, how inextricably intertwined it is with Creation, and gave me a glimpse at the sublime experience that Shabbos Kodesh can really be.

For the last shiur in the series, Rav Weinberger pulls out the big guns to leave us something to hold on to until a new series on Shabbos is available (there is a new chabura [study group] on the topic of Shabbos happening at the Aish Kodesh shul right now; my friend Dixie Yid is participating in it now. The shul's website has a teleconference number available for anybody interested.). Rav Weinberger quotes from the Rishonim a sefer called the G'vul Binyamin - apparently an obscure and very difficult sefer to learn, written by the earliest of our sages - and brings a kabbalah (in this sense, a tradition, although there are mystical connotations) that the author writes that he received from his own teachers about the roots of Shabbos.

Originally, HaShem created the world, with time and space being limited to only six days, each consisting of 28 hours. Altogether the week equals 168 hours, corresponding to the 28 "times" that Shlomo HaMelech refers to in Kohelet.

These six days asked HaShem for a king and HaShem replied that if they want a king, it has to be from amongst themselves. Just like when bnei Yisrael requested a king, it was understood that such a king would come from our midst, so too with the days of the week. Somehow, this "king" would have to come from them. Therefore, the days of the week agreed to each relinquish four hours of their own structure - a tremendous sacrifice on their part - so that a new day could be created, a day that is 24 hours long. Then there would be seven days of 24 hours each, again equaling to 168 hours in the week, and the six days of creation would have a king. This is Shabbos.

We know that Shabbos is royalty - we call it the "Shabbos Queen" and we wear our finery for Shabbos' honor. But more than that, royalty represents the idea of cohesion, the unifying factor of a nation. The King exerts his influence over us, leads us, gives us direction. Conversely, we know that "there is no King without a nation," - by rallying together under the banner of one sovereign, we face things as a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts, truly crowning our leader. Just as a King has a powerful influence in shaping our lives, Shabbos has the power to shape our week - for better or worse. If we observe Shabbos properly, with holiness and purity, that will extend into the week; if we don't give it the respect it deserves, if we squander our time on Shabbos with mundane affairs or God forbid desecrate the Shabbos - the quality of our week will be negatively affected.

The six days represent the six different directions, each branching off on its own, susceptible to the danger of aimless wandering, of lacking a solid grounding. Shabbos is their starting point, and gives them direction by projecting its holy influence over the other days of the week, who "willingly" accepted the yoke of Shabbos leadership. The holy AR"I HaKadosh describes it in his piyut, Azamer b'Shvachin as "To the right and to the left, and between them the Bride,"; the six days escort the Shabbos, flanking her on each side. This is, I suppose, one reason why the cutoff point for Shnayim mikra v'Echad targum of the previous week is Tuesday; Wednesday already "belongs" to the entourage of the approaching Shabbos while Tuesday is still part of the previous week's procession.

This Torah from Rav Weinberger blew me away, and is only a taste of how deep and truly beautiful the secrets of Shabbos are.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Reb Tzvi Meir Zilberberg. In English!

Hearing words of encouragement from Reb Tzvi Meir is an unparalleled experience. Hearing a sicha (a sermon) in English from this special tzaddik is a very rare gem for those who struggle with Yiddish and Hebrew.

In this sicha, Reb Tzvi Meir expounds on the essential virtues of Eliezer, Avraham Avinu's servant, and what we must learn from him.

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Powerful stuff.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Anyone who has seen the Unity official music video knows about the tremendous effort exerted to gather folks from across the Jewish music spectrum, to benefit Sholom Rubashkin's cause.

While I personally don't care for the song, nor many of the mainstream artists who contributed, I certainly enjoyed the idea and what they were trying to affect. It's a laudable thing, and halevai ("it should be") we should all take a lesson.

The below clip is a humorous anecdote of two drastically different cultures converging. Watch as MBD reminisces about his own youthful controversies.

It seems that Y-Love and MBD have more in common than we thought. But hey, I guess Seagate can be considered a "ghetto" too, right? Except we'll have to trade the 40 inch rims for cherry lights, light-bars and antennae...

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach (1925-1994)

Today is the 16th yahrtzeit of Rabbi Carlebach, affectionately known by many as Rebbe Shlomo.

Rebbe Shlomo was a wonderful singer whose soulful melodies gushed forth from the depth of his heart and penetrated to his listener's very souls. Both his original compositions and the songs that he breathed new life into as he introduced them to a younger generation and broader audience carry messages of hope and longing, of striving for a better world, of a harmonious existence of the spirit and body.

The stories that he would relate to us - stories of ordinary people accomplishing extraordinary feats as well as spiritual giants and their deeds - captured our imaginations and sent us soaring through the transcendent heights that one could reach, if we only "opened our hearts."

I'm well aware of the controversy surrounding Rebbe Shlomo, and I understand why many people have difficulty lending him any credence, but I cannot hep but give him his due. Despite his personal shortcomings, he played an integral role in bringing many people closer to HaShem, including myself. Rebbe Shlomo gave me my first taste of the warmth and energy of Judaism in general, and specifically the world of chassidus. With his stories, he escorted me into the world of Ishbitz and Breslov, and taught me about a holy rebbe from Poland who wrote staggering works filled with insight and love for Jews.
When I first encountered his music, I was going through a particularly difficult time, and I had many questions and not enough answers. Rebbe Shlomo seemed to be the first person to validate my feelings, to echo certain ideas and sentiments that I held that separated me from the more mainstream crowd. Through his world, I was introduced to the broad, textured, incredibly deep experience that being a Torah true Jew can be...

I owe him a tremendous debt for that...

Image result for rabbi carlebachI am sure there are others who feel the same way.

Z'chuso yagein aleinu.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

No laughing matter...

Then HASHEM said to Abraham, "Why is it that Sarah laughed, saying: 'Is it even true that I shall give birth, though I have aged?' (Gen. 18:13)
Scripture altered its report of Sarah's words for the sake of peace, for she had said "and my husband is old." (Rashi, ibid.)
The general understanding of this passage is that when HaShem confronted Avraham Avinu about his wife's response to the message from the angels, He changed the statement to one of self-deprecation on Sarah's part rather than a comment on her husband's age - ostensibly for the sake of shalom bayit (peace in the household).

A question on this Rashi has been bothering me for quite some time. We know that Sarah had a greater level of prophecy than Avraham; why did HaShem have to say anything to Avraham, and restate the facts to preserve marital harmony? Why didn't He just ask Sarah herself why she laughed?

If anybody has an answer, I'd be much obliged...

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Today is the yahrtzeit of my grandfather, Reb Eliezer ben R' Yitzchak Chaim A"H. He died five years ago, out of the blue, and I still miss him terribly.

PLease try to have him in mind during your tefillot (prayers) and learning throughout the day.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A Guide to Happiness

 I'm telling you like this: if you want be happy, if you want to mamash experience joy, first you need to be happy for no reason. That's it, joy for no reason. And if you can do that, sweetest friends, then you'll start finding thousands of reasons for joy. - Rebbe Shlomo Carlebach

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Awesome Guitar Soloing!

I was feeling nostalgic about the classic electric guitar shred-fests from the Eighties, so I looked up this video:

Paul Gilbert is an extremely talented guitarist who was in several pioneering thrash bands, most notably Racer X. Technical Difficulties is one of his signature showcase songs. Enjoy!

Catch Karduner before he returns to the Holy Land!

For those of you who missed the Hillula (celebration) for Reb Kalonymos Kalman hosted by Congregation Aish Kodesh last motzei Shabbos (I didn't...!), there's still a chance to hear Yosef Karduner's beautiful melodies at three locations in the Tri-State area:

Thursday Oct 14 @ 8:00 p.m.
Torah Ohr, 75 Middle Neck Rd, Great Neck
$10 admission, separate seating 
Saturday Oct 16 @ 9:00 p.m.
Jewish Music Café
401 9th Street, Brooklyn, NY
$15 admission, separate seating
Sunday Oct. 17 @ 7:00 p.m.
The ROC House (Ramath Orah)
550 West 110th St. New York, NY
$15 admission ($12 Students), separate seating

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Rabbi Shapira was very striking in his appearance. He is universally recalled as being handsome and well groomed, distinguished and elegant - although not "modern" - in his dress. He radiated an aura of dignity and nobility. His eyes were penetrating, his manner thoughtful and deliberate. As one person put it, "He was the most impressive man I ever met in my life. You could not be indifferent to him."
Those who knew his family well and who were often present at his home recall the atmosphere of love and respect that prevailed in the household. The mutual devotion and admiration between the rebbe and his wife, Rachel [Chaya] Miriam Hapstein, were evident to all. Like her three sisters, Rachel [Chaya] Miriam was very learned; she would avidly follow her husband's discourses. In one passage, he notes that his wife reviewed his writings, making comments and posing questions. When she passed away in 1937, he wrote a poignant and moving letter to his chassidim in Eretz Yisrael eulogizing her. Chassidim recall that after her passing Rabbi Shapira never again played the violin.
The following took place soon after her passing: the rebbe led one of his close chassidim to a cabinet in his home, opened up the drawer, and took out a piece of paper. On it was written a ma'amar ... but as the chassid noted, the handwriting changed in the middle of the paper. The rebbe explained that he was writing his ma'amar when he was called away for a medical consultation. When he returned, he saw that his Rebbetzin had picked up the pen and finished writing the ma'amar. Displaying the treasured paper in is hand, the rebbe looked at the chassid and said, "You see, this is the true fulfillment of the verse 'And they shall be one flesh'!" - Nehemia Polen, The Holy Fire: The Teachings of Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Shapira, the Rebbe of the Warsaw Ghetto  (Jason Aronson Press)

The above passage moved me very much when I read it a short while ago. I am always looking to learn new things about the rebbe; the appreciation and pride that the rebbe so clearly displays for his zivug is an inspiration that has bolstered my own relationships...

Also, consider the description of the rebbe's appearance. In a very modest way, the rebbe was able to carry himself with a certain regal bearing. His efforts to look presentable were not a manifestation of some prideful egocentric need to impress, but rather a lesson on the importance of looking like a mentsch.

Monday, October 11, 2010

לזכרון עולם
הרה"צ קלונימוס קלמן בהרה"צ אלימלך זצוק"ל הי"ד
אדמור דק"ק פיסצנא
"בעל הספרי קודש "חובת התלמידים" "הכשרת אבריכים" "מבוא השערים" "צו וזירוז" "בני מחשבה טובה" "דרך המלך" 
"ו"אש קודש 
נפטר על קידוש השם ד' ר"ם חשון התש"ד
זכותו יגן עלינו

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Keep on shucklin'

B'nei Machshava Tova: 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 ..."