Friday, July 30, 2010

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

B'nei Machshava Tova: The Most Important Part of the Day

Introducing the new group blog, B'nei Machshava Tova! My own posts will be cross-posted here at Tikkun! but check in over there to see the other writer's contributions...

So as to clear up any confusion, the title of the blog is not meant to indicate that we are following, translating, or rendering Reb Kalonymos Kalman's holy sefer, per se. Rather, it is the ideal that said sefer is predicated on that serves as the template for the writings on that blog.

I would like to see several individuals (whom I have invited, but invitations are not closed) who have similar goals (and perhaps disparate approaches, and are at different stations in life) to come together and discuss meaningful topics in all matters of growth in middot, etc.

If you are a blogger and are interested in joining, shoot me an e-mail at

B'nei Machshava Tova: The Most Important Part of the Day: "I am always looking for ways to elevate the seemingly mundane aspects of my daily interactions. I especially like it when I find short littl..."

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan on Kabbalah, Mysticism, and Meditation

I always find Rabbi Kaplan to be fascinating.

His books are masterful, concise, and clear. He is another one of those people on my list of people that I wish I had met...

Monday, July 26, 2010

What's it mean to Jew?

To be a Jew means to swim eternally against the dirty, criminal tide of Man.
I am happy to belong to the most unhappy people on Earth, for whom the Torah represents all that is most lofty and beautiful in law and morality. - Emanuel Levinas, "Difficult Freedom" Essays on Judaism (1977)
While the above quote might leave some people unsettled, it inspires me, in a sense.

I believe that it is an important thing for each and every one of us to be able to summarily explain - on a personal level - why we are happy to be Jews, similar to the way Levinas puts it. That is, if someone were to ask us: "Why do you do all these things? What is it about Judaism that you cherish, what is it about being Jewish that you enjoy?" we should have an answer that reflects our true inner thoughts on what it means to us - as individuals - to be Jews.

The RaMBaM constantly exhorts his readers to always question, to always search for meaning - within the context of the Torah  - and determine how to better oneself. Assessment and evaluation, and then reassessment and reevaluation.

And yes, we all need to find something about Judaism that we enjoy. It is not difficult to be a Jew; like Rav Moshe Feinstein OBM once said, "It is geshmak to be a yid (Jew)!"

There are many advantages to this exercise; it forces us to look inward and really focus on what characterizes us as Jews, how we identify with our birthright, and examine that idea and question if that thought, that self-conceptualization is enough...

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Heavy Shtetl

I'm not sure what I was expecting when I clicked on this after it popped up in my recommendations window over on YouTube, but it wasn't this.

This is just really bizarre, and it's only compounded by the fact that it's in Spanish. When the music started playing, I wasn't ready for it, and almost shot Snapple out of my nose.

The band is called Atzmus, and they are from Argentina.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Shabbat Shalom!

Reb Avrohom Borenstein of Sochatchov (author of the Avnei Nezer) explains the concept behind the passage in the gemara that attributes the Shabbos candles to shalom bayit (peace in the home). He writes that the body is the physical encasement - the home - in which the soul of the Jew resides; the neshama remains hidden inside the body. During the week, there is no peace in this "home", everything is a fight: the neshama says "make a bracha with all your heart" while the body tells you to stuff that food into your mouth. The neshama encourages you to go the shul a few minutes early and says a few chapters of tehillim or learn a little something, and the body tells you "You've really worked yourself hard - you deserve a few extra minutes of sleep."

It's like that the entire week! There is no shalom bayit; the home and the resident are engaged in this constant battle. The whole time the neshama is straining and striving to serve God while the body is only interested in satisfying its urges. During the six days of the week, it's very difficult to do mitzvot because the body is expressing itself whereas the mitzvot are the expressions of the neshama. Occasionally the neshama is victorious during the week, but even then - as Rav Moshe Weinberger puts it - you come into shul "injured and limping". The body is very strong during the week and wins many times.

On Shabbos, however, the body allows the neshama to take over, the body surrenders and says "Today is your day." Shalom bayit is achieved, as the body gives itself over completely to the neshama. The body's entirety is subservient to the soul on Shabbos Kodesh, and this totality - this harmonious coupling of body and soul - is dedicated exclusively to serving God.

I love this idea; it perfectly sums up my feelings about Shabbos and the week. During the week, everything seems like a struggle. With so many distractions pulling us in all directions, I don't always feel 100% in my service. But on Shabbos, it doesn't feel like that. I don't feel any pressure, nothing is waiting for me, I don't have to be anywhere, running on a tight schedule. My prayers feel like they are at their ideal on Shabbos; it seems like I pray then the way I want to pray all the time...

Have a wonderful Shabbos!

It's The Little Things In Life

The female readership won't be able to appreciate this, but nothing feels as good as that first time laying tefillin after a haircut.


Thursday, July 22, 2010

Music Update

As per a friend of mine's request, I'd like to introduce you to a *new* artist in the Jewish music scene. Saadyah Tzvi is a talented guitarist, songwriter, and beatboxer. He's also the newest member of the Shemspeed Label.

I don't know too much about him, but apparently he's a holy chozer b'Teshuva (returnee to observant Judaism), and he seems to be pretty versatile.

Glad for the hours
And in springtime for the flowers
As this season showers
In the wind His will empowers
Still set out to see the sun
Glad for breathes
Savor every last one
Won't give up before it's done
Lay us down The Holy One

Lay me down to rest
It was all a test
Intricacies now seen by naked eyes
Sleeping on the floors
Unlocking all the doors
Lord Your loving kindness is so wise
Your shelter, life, and peace is all right

Grateful for the green grass
And water flowing in these springs, pass
The next stop on the way
This road gets more familiar everyday
Oh how excited for the sunset
Yet the rain has turned the ground wet
So ready to take this ride back home
Relieved to never walk this road alone

We remember everything, our Redeemer
May You wake us up each morning
We trust with faith in You, The Holy One
Hope and splendor to the glory of Your name

Definitely potential there. 

If you want to hear more of his music, check out his Myspace page (linked above), or search for him on YouTube.

Below is another video of him jamming with my buddies from Simply Tsfat.

The Ultimate Litmus Test

If a person does not recognize one's own worth, how can he appreciate the worth of another? 
 - Rabbi Yaakov Yosef of Polnoye, author of Toldos Yaakov Yosef

Monday, July 19, 2010

For these, I cry...

I always dread this time of year. I know that most people do: the fasting, the discomfort, the whole theme of this season, seemingly mismatched with the climate of this point in the year...but I have other things on my mind, that probably bother others as well.

It is so hard to conjure up any true feelings of sadness for the 9th of Av. What are we mourning for? I know that I don't understand what it means to be in exile. For my entire life, this existence is all I have ever known! What does it mean to not have a Beis HaMikdash? Do we really understand that? Does any of us really have any appreciation for what we're missing? I don't.

Like Ne'ila on Yom Kippur, we are supposed to at least try and bring ourselves to tears on the 9th of Av; our tears have tremendous spiritual power in Heaven and arouse God's mercy.

How am I supposed to cry when we read Eicha? How am I supposed to stir up an emotional response to the many kinot that will be said tomorrow?

I have discussed this with people in the past, but they always respond with the same platitudes. They offer up abstract ideas to consider, observations that are saddening, but don't carry the emotional weight that they ought to, at least not with me. This might sound harsh, but while the myriads of unaffiliated Jews who don't know how to even recite the Shema is sad, in the grand scheme of things - it is still a very difficult thing to relate to. Those countless Jews have no faces, no names, I don't know their favorite colors, dishes, or anything about them that should cause me to care more about them than anyone else. Don't get me wrong - anyone who reads this blog often knows how important kiruv is to me. And yet, it's not enough to enable me to mourn.

Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik once explained this idea, citing a story wherein Rabbi Akiva was going from town to town, raising funds to support the revolution. In one particular village, he was relating horrific tales of death, destruction and chaos that was occurring in the Holy Land, and no one responded to his reports. Switching tracks, Rabbi Akiva started telling them the story of Iyov, a wealthy businessman who had it all. Success, prominence, a healthy family, piety - the man who had it all. Until one day, he lost his fortune, and then is livestock, and then his family started to die. At this point, the villagers were stricken with grief and started opening up their coffers to give to Rabbi Akiva's cause.

Rabbi Soloveitchik summed up this phenomenon by stating "The story of the annihilation of mankind didn't move them. What moved them was the story of an individual tragedy...It is easier to be touched by a private, personal tragedy; it is impossible to think of six million graves."

So the idea is to somehow find something closer to home, something that we can relate to on an individual level. If we can arouse some feelings, that may open the doorway for us to create more relevant feelings for the churban.

So tomorrow, I'm going to think of my good friend who has been married nearly twice as long as I have, and still has not been blessed with children.

I will think about that tzaddik in shul, who never knows his son's whereabouts, or whether he'll come home safely, every night.

I'll mourn over the fact that an institution that I know and love - a place where I have invested much emotional, spiritual, and physical energy and called home for many years - may be forced to leave their home of many years. Forced to leave because of a few individuals who's financial concerns and blase attitude toward halacha and tzniut outweigh their debt to us for ensuring their endurance.

But most of all, I will mourn over the fact that I have to try so hard - the fact that the more "global" issues don't bother me because I fail to recognize their significance in my daily life. That indeed is a churban that we are experiencing in our times...

May this 9th of Av become a day of celebration, quickly...

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Divine Reciprocity

I present to you a translation from Reb Kalonymos Kalman's sefer Derech HaMelech for Shabbos Chazon. This took a lot of effort, so I hope you enjoy it.
Disclaimer: This is not a "literal" translation; the English language simply cannot perfectly translate some of the expressions, syntax, and feel of the rebbe's writing.
Additionally, the rebbe's writing is lucid, fluid, and precise. Any lack of clarity or clumsiness in the text is solely a product of my own limitations.
This is my way of trying to spread - albeit feebly - the rebbe's works...

Shabbos Chazon 5696

Zion will be redeemed through justice and those who return to her, through righteousness. (Isaiah 1:27)

          What is the need for the repetitive language of the verse? If “Zion will be redeemed”, then surely “those who return to her” will be redeemed as well…?

          The Medrash Tanchuma states:

Moreover, the Holy One, Blessed is He says: “…appoint the Levites over the Tabernacle of the Testimony”, for any who cleave to a matter and are found trustworthy to God are trusted forever.

          Because the Levites cleaved to God, and were found trustworthy [as it says regarding the sin of the Golden Calf]: “And the sons of Levi gathered unto him”, therefore, God says “…appoint the Levites…

          All Jews believe in God. As a result of that belief, they draw down His holiness to this plane, as the sacred texts explain that the word for “belief” also connotes “pulling”. Conversely, God ‘believes’ (as it were) in Israel, in their desire for Him, service of Him, and their innate holiness; as a result of His ‘belief’ in us and our servitude, He draws us upward and attaches us to His holiness. When does God ‘believe’ in man? When – like the medrash describes – one is tested and found to be trustworthy by God; then he is trusted forever.

This is the essential task of man: he should work on himself, fixing himself in his characteristics and traits - all of them, not just one negative aspect, or a singular fault. For the essential difficulty in battling the Evil Inclination is that we cannot completely extricate ourselves from his grasp, as we find in the sacred texts. We could fight him off one hundred times, and he would still come, still try and seduce us; if only we could strike him but once with a killing blow…then, even the weakest of Israel would be emboldened and strengthened beyond his own capabilities. What wouldn’t a person do for his God? He would even give up his life, casting himself into the inferno for His sake; he is only held back by the burden of the Evil Inclination, who is inescapable, indefatigable.

Therefore, all the strengthening that a man experiences, all his reinforcement stems from God’s belief in him, and the fact that God attaches him to Himself, through his service. To what extent does God establish this attachment? According to the amount of effort that man exerts himself to be found trustworthy.

This is not limited only to those who have surpassed great trials, epic achievements like that of the tribe of Levi or Joshua, when he battled against Amalek. Rather, in all aspects of service there can and must be an element of cleaving to God. One who utilizes his hands - or any limbs – in service of God, of course this is considered service; however, he is not considered to have given himself fully over to the service of God in the manner described to be considered trustworthy:

Only one whose thoughts and yearnings are constantly directed toward God; one who is constantly worried about his lowly state and the fact that he cannot stand in the King’s presence all day; one who – when it comes to serving God – gives himself over entirely, and searches for ways to connect to God with an even stronger, unbreakable bond. This man serves with strength and commitment; every element of his service is an aspect of this effort to cleave to God in trustworthiness, and it is easy for him to stand against his Inclination.

In terms of being a completely righteous person, in all matters, unfettered by the Evil Inclination - this is very difficult indeed. But to be completely righteous in one thing, in one aspect of living in which he has no Evil Inclination – every single person is capable of reaching this level. For example, is any one of us inclined to desecrate the Shabbos, God forbid, or to eat forbidden foods, chametz on Pesach? And yet we see that there are others who are in fact inclined to do so, and transgress these matters. The reason is because we cleave to God in these specific matters (through observance of the halacha); God in turn believes in us concerning those things, and His belief in us draws us near Him in holiness - allowing such matters (like those examples mentioned above) to become engrained in our being entirely.

This is also an effect of our belief in God: when we serve Him with effort and commitment, then He believes in us. His belief in us strengthens our own belief in Him – and vice versa. “An arousal from below causes an arousal above.” – The degree that a person believes in God, this arouses God’s belief in him. Through these ‘mutual’ beliefs we are strengthened and connected to Him in a way that the Evil Inclination cannot recover from; quickly, we rise and ascend God’s mountain, to the place of His holiness. Thus, it is not possible for a man to attain a strong faith if he does not struggle with great effort and yearning to serve God, nor can he remain in a state of holiness without this strong faith. A man who sees that he is fickle – sometimes he works, other times he leaves his tasks, etc. – he knows that his belief, his faith is weak. He cannot arouse his belief in God, to draw it near and attach himself to it through service and holiness.

This is not to say that he has to be consistently on one level of service, for such a thing is impossible. A person must always be either ascending or descending. And yet, even when he lacks enthusiasm, when his service is weak – he is still a servant of God, and must certainly guard himself from sin.

Now, there is a type of belief that when a person sees a “sign” or experiences some form of salvation from God, he then believes in those things that are not as apparent. But complete belief is really when we do not see anything, quite the opposite – we see the enemies of God succeeding, and our loved ones suffering…! Even then, we believe: “I have kept faith although I say: ‘I suffer exceedingly.’” (Psalms 117:10) Even when “I say” words of supplication and Torah and still “I suffer exceedingly”, still “I have kept faith” in God. The result of this is that God believes in us - if only one would accept upon himself to strive, and choose willingly to sacrifice himself to Divine service despite blockages and setbacks in his path, God forbid.

It is impossible for a person to be considered wise if he has knowledge in only one area of interest: he has to be knowledgeable in many things, and then he can increase his wisdom in a particular field. This is also true of temperament; he must be good in all areas, not just one. Similarly, it is impossible to arouse one’s inner reserves of faith if he doesn’t work to nullify his sense of self, his ego - to some degree – in all matters. For what really causes damage to a man’s faith? - The fact that he “cannot grasp”, he “cannot understand”, and according to his “knowledge” things seem to be confused and distorted.

People say by way of questioning:

“I see that those who hate the Jews are successful, while the Jews are on a very low level. Moreover, within the Jewish community there are those Jews - true servants of God – who are very low, while the transgressors enjoy success. But we are not allowed to question anything, after all: ‘God is righteous in all His ways.’

A man only says this once this “question” forces itself into his mind; he pushes it away, but realizes that it is only “gone” in the most superficial of ways. In truth, in the recesses of his mind – without him even being aware of it – this thought can weaken his faith. This can be compared to a stone slowly eroded by water. This question – although it doesn’t seem to be such a terrible thought, because he recognizes that he cannot fathom God and His workings, and he continuously pushes it away – since it remains in his mind it chips away at his faith every time it arises. And this is directly tied to the extent that his “self” carries significance to him. Someone who’s “self” is important to him in other aspects: he sleeps as long as he wants to sleep, eats as much as he wants to eat, because his “self” wants what it craves, and he demands respect – his “self” is the foundation for his outlook. Therefore, his thoughts, his “comprehension” is the basis for everything as well; however much he wants to push that doubtful thought aside, it will still damage his faith, without his being aware of it.

On the other hand, one who – in all matters – submits himself and nullifies his sense of self (i.e. in terms of controlling his impulses of physicality), the same occurs with his thoughts. His “knowledge” is negated and his faith in God is strengthened without anything constraining it. Those who agonize over the damage done to their faith know that they need to mend their character traits.

And he trusted in God, and He reckoned it to him as righteousness” (Gen. 15:6) the sacred texts write that this is the greatness of charity, which atones for sin, in addition to sustaining the poor man. This is in part because a person puts a lot of effort into earning money, and now gives it to charity; in essence, he is giving part of himself. This is the explanation of the verse: we interpret “him” to refer to him giving himself If he would not give himself to God, then he would not be able to trust in Him as stated; since he believes in God, he arouses God’s belief in him as well, and attaches himself to God.

“Zion will be redeemed through justice”, but even after one has experienced redemption, he can regress, and return to that situation, God forbid. Therefore, “those who return to her,” meaning those who have returned after the redemption – “through righteousness” they give themselves to God and cleave to Him in faith and attach to Him.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Listen to this...!

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I just listened to this shiur (lecture) by Rav Moshe Weinberger, between classes in school today, and it is phenomenal. It was delivered while he was visiting the Holy Land, at Yeshivas Derech HaMelech (an awesome place), about the Three Weeks. It was deep, inspiring, and very, very emotional.

Among other things, Rav Weinberger relates a story about the Bobover Rebbe OBM, that had me in tears (I know that's not saying much for me, but you get the point); the other people in the student lounge were giving me the hairy eyeball.

For those of you interested, the torah from Rebbe Nachman can be found in L.M. I:247; it's worth seeing inside...

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Going to Uman for Rosh HaShana? Want to stop at kivrei Tzaddikim along the way?

From Dixie Yid's blog (emphases mine):

If you are going to Uman (like me!) and would like to travel to daven at the kevarim of several Tzadikim on the way to Uman for Rosh Hashana, I have an opportunity for you.

My friend Chaim is coordinating transportation to several kevarim on the way to Uman. A number of us are already coming and we're going to Mezbitz, Berdichiv, Vilednick, Annapoli, and Breslov on the way to Uman.

If there is enough interest, we will be renting a tour bus. Details:

  • Departing Monday Sept. 6th from Kiev airport @ 3 PM

  • Cost: $200 (unless enough people sign up, then it will be less)

  • Traveling to the kevarim in Mezbitz, Berdichiv, Vilednick, Annapoli, and Breslov

  • Traveling for about 24 hours

  • Arriving in Uman about 2 or 3 PM on Tuesday Sept. 7th, erev erev Rosh Hashana

  • This will allow us plenty of time to rest and go to Rebbe Nachman's tziyon in preperation for Slichos at about 3 AM erev R"H.
Please contact Chaim at 516-851-8855 or by e-mail if you're interested in joining.
Unfortunately, I won't be going to Uman for Rosh HaShana. The truth is, I would love to go any time; Rosh HaShana would be icing on the cake, so to speak.

I guess it goes without saying that if you are interested, you should get in touch sooner rather than later...

Monday, July 12, 2010

Through the eye of a needle...

I thought this was appropos to convey my initial frustration with the Baby Jogger City-Mini Double stroller that we bought prior to Shabbos.

Assembling it was easier than figuring out how to close it; trying to fit it in the trunk yesterday required a diagram, a crane, and a jar of Crisco.

Don't ask. I had to remove the wheels before I could close the trunk door...

But my wonderful wife - who puts up with me all the time - is happy, and we have a way of transporting the kids, so I'm not complaining.

The comic is Jordan Gorfinkel's Everything's Relative.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Bobover Rebbe (1907 - 2000)

Tonight is the yahrtzeit (anniversary of death) of Rabbi Shlomo Halberstam, the third rebbe of Bobov. The rebbe was a holocaust survivor; after witnessing the death of his first wife and several of their children, he and his surviving son came to America to rebuild their dynasty. The Rebbe's wartime efforts and subsequent relocation to the States are chronicled in the book Nor The Moon By Night.

The Bobov community in New York, under the rebbe's tutelage, is also featured prominently in the 1987 documentary A Life Apart - Hasidism in America, narrated by Leonard Nimoy.

A regal figure with a shining countenance, the rebbe had a dazzling smile for everyone and piercing eyes that could barely be contained behind a pair of glasses. He exuded joy, and did everything with vigor and exuberance.

He was also extremely sensitive to people's needs, especially when it came to holocaust survivors. It goes without saying that the Shoah had a profound impact on his life; the rebbe composed a kinah (elegy) for the holocaust that has been accepted by all into the canon of the kinot of the Ninth of Av.

As I have mentioned earlier, I had the special z'chus (merit) to lay tefillin for the first time with the rebbe. Unfortunately, I didn't quite appreciate the significance of that event until later; at that point, I was more enamored by the fact that Mr. Spock was doing the voice-over in a movie about Chassidim than the rebbe actually featured in that movie. Still, the memory of that day is fresh in my mind, because of what happened after we prayed.

It was a cold, wintry morning, and I was nervous that I was going to get sick from my still-damp hair from the mikvah. I was all dressed up in a suit, and my father showed me how to button my jacket in a way that allowed me to have my shirtsleeve exposed to accommodate the tefillin. We were waiting for the rebbe to arrive in shul; the rebbe was still making his special preparations for the morning prayer. My father stressed the fact that the rebbe was a very holy man, and that I shouldn't be frightened by his intensity. Within a few minutes, the rebbe swept into the shul with a small entourage. He was already unwell at the time, so he had several people helping him move about. Even so, he carried himself with a certain dignity that I have not witnessed since.

While my father stood by proudly, and my grandfather (he should live and be well), stoic as ever, looked on, the rebbe took my hand in his, and helped me roll up my sleeve. He made sure that I knew the berachot on the tefillin, and the proceeded to show me how to wrap them, binding them to my head and arm in the tradition of our ancestors. My tefillin have never been wrapped as tightly around my arm as that first time when the rebbe helped me with them. When I close my eyes, I can still remember how it felt...

After shacharis, the rebbe's assistant informed us that we could have an audience with the rebbe in his study, but for only a few short minutes; the rebbe had many duties, as well as health concerns, and we could not expect to take up too much of his time. After receiving us, the rebbe gave me a large walnut covered in glitter.  He explained that it was used as an ornament in his father's succah, and that it had certain esoteric significance. After another minute or so of pleasantries, we rose to leave, when the rebbe suddenly put out his hand to stop us. My grandfather had been rolling down his sleeve when the rebbe noticed the familiar tattoo on his left arm. The rebbe signaled to his assistant to escort my father and I out of the office, and motioned my grandfather to sit back down.

We waited outside for an hour, while my grandfather and the rebbe spoke. When they came out, they were arm in arm, the two of them weeping together. I had never seen my grandfather so emotive; I don't believe my father ever had, either. Although my grandfather refused to reveal exactly what they had spoken about, it was pretty obvious, and that is where part of the rebbe's greatness lay: despite myriads of obligations, with all sorts of issues jockeying for the rebbe's attention, the rebbe could not let a Jew who had gone through the holocaust leave him without sharing his story. It's almost as if the rebbe needed to hear every testimony, every trial, every tale of hope and sorrow. His empathy was boundless; it enabled him - racked with illness and fatigue - to lend an ear to a Jew he had never met before in his life, and share in his pain.

What a tzaddik.

Z'chuso yagein aleinu (may his merit shield us all).

Friday, July 9, 2010

L'Kavod Shabbos Kodesh!

Some of my favorite Shabbos stories from Rebbe Shlomo for all of you to enjoy as you prepare for holy Shabbos!

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Chatzkele L'Kavod Shabbos is one of my favorite stories of all time; this story is one of the original influences that inspired me to carefully say "L'Kavod Shabbos Kodesh" as I shop for our Shabbos needs, as well as for each individual food that I eat on Shabbos....

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This story is especially significant for me, as I had the z'chus (merit) to meet Reb Shlomo Halberstam (the same Bobover Rebbe in the story. His yahrtzeit is this week, on Rosh Chodesh Av); he put tefillin on me for the first time. What a tzaddik! I have a story from that occasion, but I'll leave it for another time.
As for the story itself, I think it illustrates how a true righteous man prepares for Shabbos and interacts with others, regardless of their station in life...

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Shabbos Candles is simply a beautiful story. It's poignant and gut-wrenching, and carries more weight this erev Shabbos for my family than usual. This is our first Shabbos home with the whole family; while we were at my in-laws, we only lit the prerequisite two candles for Shabbos - now that we're home, we can light candles for each family member...

Have a wonderful, restful, uplifting Shabbos...

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

A Matter of Perspective

In Jewish thought, there's an idea that the way we perceive the world around us determines the reality of that world. While this has far reaching ramifications in a spiritual/existential sense, it can also be applied on a day to day level. How we live our lives depends in part on our outlook; while there are certain things that remain absolute and unchangeable, many other areas can be influenced by our attitude. A few examples:

  • On a brutally cold morning in Auschwitz, three men huddle near their barracks. One turns to his friend and says "You know, I am so happy to be here in this camp." His friend incredulously exclaims: "Are you crazy? How could you say that you are happy to be here?" The first man shrugs. "Maybe you are right," he replies, "but if I was upset and angry, instead of happy, I would still be here!"
  • A mechitza (a structure used to separate men and women in a synagogue) can be seen as a terrible thing, causing a separation between the sexes. Women can feel like second class citizens, relegated to the back of shuls, shunted off to the side, put behind a impregnable barrier. The truth is, however, that the mechitza should be looked at as a tool for bringing people together. In the context of halachic decorum in the shul, the lack of a mechitza would make it necessary for women to stay outside; men cannot pray in the presence of women. Therefore, the mechitza is one of the greatest attributes of a shul - it allows women to enter and join in the prayers, and hear kriat haTorah, etc., effectively causing a wonderful unity and harmony for all.
  • Once, Nazi hunter Simon Weisenthal was honored by a religious group, who presented him with an award for his efforts. Deeply moved, Weisenthal related a story that occurred shortly after the war, involving himself and Rabbi Leizer Silver, who was an army chaplain at the time. They and several others had been conferring about various issues. At the end of the meeting, the group gathered together to pray. Weisenthal refused to join: "When I was in the camp, there was one Jew who had smuggled a siddur (prayer book) into the camp - a crime punishable by death. At first, I thought he was courageous, and righteous. The next day, however, I learned that he was renting this siddur out: for the meager scraps that were given out as food rations, he would let a person use it for a few minutes. This man was stealing food from their mouths! I decided then that if that is how a 'religious' Jew can act, I want no part of it, ever." As he turned away, Rabbi Silver touched him gently on the shoulder: "Simon, don't be foolish! Instead of seeing the one Jew who was willing to take his comrade's last crust of bread, see the many Jews who were willing to give their last crust for the chance to say a few words from a siddur!"
There are countless opportunities every day to exercise this idea. Our approach to familial obligations, prayer, school, the possibilities are endless...

Monday, July 5, 2010

Meditative Techniques of the (Piaseczna) Rebbe

Reb Kalonymos Kalman wrote extensively about enhancing our awareness of true reality, and increasing sensitivity to our world on a visceral level.

Among many ideas, one of the more famous ones is his method of hashkata - the quieting of the mind in order to facilitate focus and meditation.

While this method proves effective for spiritual growth - as that is the primary intent of such exercises - I have found that the rebbe's instructions extremely helpful in the midst of a crazy day. While many people believe that these things are behind their ken, at the very least they can benefit from the actual help that hashkata offers in quieting the maddening thoughts that flit around inside our heads.

In an instance of profound psychological insight (which was not uncommon, for the rebbe), the rebbe informs us that when we examine our thoughts in an objective manner - i.e. when we follow a thread of thought, a train of thought through all of it's twists and turns until it's conclusion - we realize that the only thing that differentiates between us and the insane is that the crazy man actually tries to act upon every thought that comes to mind. We on the other hand filter out most of the extreme stuff, and ignore many impulses that arise on a minute-to-minute basis. But if we can watch the stream of thought without getting swept away in it, we naturally cause the thought process to slow down, beginning the process of quieting the mind.

Below is a video that will explain, in brief, the rebbe's techniques, as found in a letter printed as an appendix to his sefer, Derech HaMelech.


Friday, July 2, 2010

Waters of Tranquility

Rav Moshe Weinberger suggests a very simple, yet effective, kavana to have while immersing in the mikvah on erev Shabbos. He quotes from the Shulchan HaTahara, by Rabbi Isaac Yehuda Yechiel of Komarno. 

The rebbe writes that one should have in mind that the initial immersion that water has the ability to extinguish. We should ask God that He allow the waters of the mikvah to extinguish the burning desires to do bad, the fire of the wrong passions. The water should dowse the flame of anger, of hatred.

By the second immersion, we should have in mind to accept fully the sweetness of Shabbos, the holiness of Shabbos, which the rebbe explaines is the "mystery of the fire of God". 

The first dip cleanses us, and removes the dross that we naturally pick up in the duration of the six days of the week. The second one purifies us, to enable us to be able to accept the Shabbos to the fullest extent...

Have a great Shabbos!