Friday, December 30, 2011

Rabbi Gershon Chanoch Henoch Leiner (d. 1890)

Today (4 Teves) is the yahrtzeit of the Radziner Rebbe, Rav Gershon Henoch Leiner. A genius and Torah scholar, the rebbe was a prolific writer, producing numerous manuscripts, including a compendium on seder Taharos modeled after the Talmud Bavli. Unfortunately, most of his writings have been lost.

In the greater Jewish world, he is known for his mission to reinstate the use of techeilet by identifying the chilazon and formulating the extraction (of the blood/sepia) and dying process. He published several works on the topic, ultimately asserting that the common cuttlefish was the biblical creature in question.

Although many today do not consider his techeilet to be the true one, each of the other types of techeilet begin their processes using his groundbreaking work as a template.

Z'chuso yagein aleinu!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Joseph harnessed his chariot and went up to meet Israel his father, to Goshen; and  he appeared to him, fell on his neck, and he wept on his neck excessively. (Gen. 46:29) 
...[b]ut Jacob did not fall on Joseph's neck, nor did he kiss him. Our Rabbis said [that he did not do so] because he was reciting Shema. (Rashi, ibid)
Rav Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin writes in Haamek Davar that Yaakov Avinu did not recognize Yosef; mistaking him for Pharaoh, Yaakov genuflected upon meeting Yosef. Yosef allowed him to bow, recognizing this as the fulfillment of his second dream. Afterward, he revealed himself to Yaakov.

But Yaakov harbored a complaint about this turn of events! True, he had waited for the matter (ibid, 37:12) concerning Yosef's dreams, but not in an instance where Yosef would be the immediate cause for his father's "lowering" before him.

This was why he was reciting kriyat Shema: he wanted to regain composure and peace of mind. The Shema, recited with dveykut and love of God has the capacity for calming inner turmoil.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Idle hands...

Be extremely careful not to waste even a moment. You should view even ten minutes of wasted time as a grave sin (Heaven preserve us). You pay for wasted time with your life. The time that you have thrown away, a part of your life, is gone forever; you will never regain it. Remind yourself of your mortality. This day and time are fading away, and you cannot bring them back. 
If you have wasted time, imagine that you have cut out a strip of your heart and thrown it to the dogs. - Reb Kalonymos Kalman Shapira, B'nei Machshava Tova
This excerpt sent chills up my spine as I read it between aliyot this past Shabbos. Thankfully my busy schedule doesn't necessarily afford me any considerable free time, but in those few moments where there is a lull in activity, I know that I don't always capitalize on that time properly. When the rebbe puts it in such a perspective, this whole matter becomes an issue of v'nishmartam!
As the rebbe stresses numerous times in this sefer as well as in his other writings, boredom and sitting idle is anathema to Judaism...

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Awesome sale!

The website for Rav Moshe Weinberger's shiurim is holding a MAJOR sale until Sunday. All Chanukah related shiurim are 25% off, and all shiurim in chassidus are 32% off!

Rabbi Weinberger has given thousands of shiurim on a broad variety of topics and sefarim. Now you can get shiurim on the Avnei Nezer, Be'er Mayim Chaim, the B'nei Yisaschar and much much more for a significantly reduced price.

Every penny is worth it, believe me.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Slonimer Rebbe on Chanukah

Any mistakes are my own, obviously. I'm still trying to figure out the volume levels, and I am naturally soft spoken, so you may need to turn the volume up. Enjoy, and please give feedback!

Shiurim - Nesivos Shalom: Chanukah 1 - eSnips

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Minhag Yisroel

Once, someone found a sefer Torah in the trash heap outside their city. After examining it, the townsfolk realized that this was a valid, kosher, sefer, and were mystified as to what this sefer was doing in the garbage, hardly a befitting place for such a sacred object.

Someone suggested that maybe this sefer was in fact a sefer written by a heretic; halacha states that a sefer Torah written by an apikores must be disposed of. If this sefer was written by scribe who was a heretic, then the terrible treatment visited upon this Torah was indeed appropriate.

But how could they determine the authorship of the sefer? After all, the scribe doesn't sign his work! How would they know who wrote it? They decided to bring the matter before Rabbi Akiva Eiger, the rav of the town. After hearing the case presented to him, he responded that there was exists a custom among Torah observant Jews that the last two lines of a sefer Torah are not filled in by the scribe himself; he makes the outlines of the letters, and then the townsfolk - eager to join in the completion of this wonderful mitzvah - take turns filling in the letter themselves. The result of this custom is that the last two lines are easily distinguished from the rest of the sefer: whereas the  body of work has the signature style of a professional, the last two lines are not as polished or refined as they would be in the hands of the scribe.

He instructed them to roll the sefer to the end. If the last two lines are slightly imperfect, then they would know that it is indeed a kosher sefer, and would have to restore the Torah to its rightful place in a shul, with a massive induction ceremony in order to make reparation for the sullied honor of the Torah. If the last two lines matched the style of the rest of the body, i.e. the scribe wrote the entire sefer himself, then they would know that the sefer was unfit, as it had been written by a heretic.

Sure enough, the sefer's last two lines were slightly imperfect, indicating its validity. The town made a big celebration, bringing the sefer Torah into the shul with joyous singing and dancing. Rabbi Akiva Eiger himself, whose time was carefully measured and weighed, danced with the Torah for an extended period of time in an effort to appease and mend the honor of the Torah.

*  *  *

Years ago, the P'nei Menachem (the Gerrer Rebbe OBM) dedicated a sefer Torah in memory of his son, who had died in an accident. He invited a select few to the completion ceremony, including Rav Shlomo Zalman Ohrbach OBM, the Rachmastrivka Rebbe OBM, and Reb Yochanan Twerski, the Tolna Rebbe. At the ceremony, Rav Yitzchak Menachem Weinberg (a talmid of the P'nei Menachem and grandson of the Tolna Rebbe) related this story which he had seen in a sefer to the group.

At that point, Reb Yochanan commented that now he understood the statement that Tosafot makes, that "minhag Yisroel, Torah". The comment is usually understood to mean that although there may not be any source, scriptural of otherwise, a minhag found among the Jewish nation is considered to be Torah, and cannot be done away with - it is binding and enduring. After hearing this story, the Tolna Rebbe continued, he realized that it can be understood that through the minhag Yisroel, we have Torah! Because of this minhag, we had a way to establish the quality of a Torah, and so too, the customs of the Nation of Israel testify to the veracity and immutability of God's Torah.

Rav Shlomo Zalman leaped to his feet and exclaimed "I don't know which is greater genius - Reb Akiva Eiger's chap (stroke of insight), or the Tolna Rebbe's tzu-shtell (thematic connection)!
- As heard from Rav Yitzchak Menachem Weinberg, the Tolna Rebbe of Jerusalem.

An Evening With Rebbe Nachman: Rabbis Chaim Kramer & Moshe Weinberger

Finding this video in my inbox was the high point of the day. I was disappointed that I couldn't make the event, but this tempers that a little.

As posted earlier, the Breslov Research Institute is nearing the completion of its translation of Likutei MoHaRan, a staggering project that spans fifteen volumes with full text and commentary. These projects don't run on their own steam, though; the BRI needs help with funding. Follow this link to see how you can help.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Maccabeats cover Matisyahu

It's pretty cool that Blossom (Mayim Bialik) is in the video. Didn't recognize her without the hat at first.

Saturday, December 10, 2011


This was a short story I wrote a while back. While it contains some autobiographical content, it's highly fictionalized.

I felt like sharing.

I could hear his slow, plodding footsteps clunking down the stairs over the crunching of my Rice Krispies. I hunkered down, trying to make myself invisible as he entered the kitchen. Maybe he would just ignore me. 
Fat chance.
As he passed me, he whacked me on the back of the head. “Hey, Booglet. Where’s Mom?” he asked, as he opened the pantry and took out the Cocoa Puffs.
“She’s in the shower. You know we’re not supposed to have the sugary cereals during the week.”
He poured himself a heaping bowl, little balls spilling over the edge after he added the milk. After a defiant bite, he glared at me. “Well, you’re not going to tell her, will you, Booglet?”
Booglet. That was his nickname for me because he said I was too small to be a booger. The first time he called me that was after he made me eat a piece of snot that he had picked out of his nose. “It’s bigger than you!” he laughed as he sat on my chest, holding it by my lips.
“I won’t tell her.”
“You better not. ‘Cause if you do, I’m just gonna tell her it was really you, and we know who she’ll believe.” He ate another large spoonful and stuck his tongue out at me, laden with half eaten Puffs. “Besides,” he said, “if you told on me, you know what I’d do to you, right?”
I knew. With five years between us and him being more than twice my size, he was capable of inflicting all sorts of pain on me. I knew this from first-hand experience; as the youngest kids in the family we spent a lot of time ‘playing’ together. What that really meant was that he gave me rug burns, Indian burns, noogies, wedgies, and other delights.
Recently my parents had signed him up for Karate lessons following his guidance counselor’s suggestion. Idiots! Didn’t they realize that they were just taking his natural brute strength and honing it into a carefully trained killing machine? Our free time was now devoted to him practicing holds, throws, and other techniques on yours truly. My parents, so happy to see my ‘involvement and support’ in his new project, bought me sparring pads and a foam helmet so that I could really help him. I have never seen such an evil gleam in my brother’s eye like when he realized he could now use full contact.
“I won’t tell her.”
“I know you won’t.”
I’m not even sure how we are related. I mean, I know that we have the same parents and everything, but I can’t understand how two radically different people could come from the same genetic material. He was athletic and excelled in sports, while I was uncoordinated and clumsy. He read the sports page; I read anything and everything I could get my hand on. He was large, broad, and solid as a rock and I was a scrawny thing that could blow away with the wind. He was loud and funny (at least, to others. Most of his jokes came at my expense, so I found it hard to laugh); I was quiet and serious.
For as long as I can remember, this is how our relationship ‘worked’: he dominated anything we did together, assuming charge and delegating all the work to me. If I didn’t follow his instructions precisely, he would berate me, giving me a severe tongue lashing. He would add venom if there were others around. Occasionally I would resist, but only for a moment. After all, what could I do? He was older and stronger, and willing to use those advantages. Besides, I could only bear to have my arm twisted for a few seconds; the pain was so intense I used to think that I would pass out.
Complain about him? Yeah, right. For some unfathomable reason, he had our father’s ear; the powerful lawyer saw his elder son’s aggressiveness as a positive trait, and would dismiss my reports as coming from a weakling who was ‘too sensitive’. My mother would tell me to stop exaggerating. “Honey, he’s your brother! He would never do something like that to you! I think you’re watching too much TV…all that violence, with those super heroes and guns.” Besides, one time he overheard me telling them about him; boy, did I get it afterward. He gave me a ‘dead arm’ that ached for days.
My only solace was in reading, especially science fiction and comic books. I used to dream about being like them: glistening, muscle-bound protectors of the weak, fearless in the face of death and pure evil, standing up for justice and facing their demons head-on. I envied their bravery and resilience and escaped into their alien worlds and dimensions.
My daydreams were filled with scenarios where I stood my ground in a confrontation and won! Many times, my adversaries would be spineless cowards who – after seeing the faintest hint of a challenge – would turn tail and run. The mere fact that someone was brave enough to stand up to them and not back down would reduce them to whimpering fools, defeated.
But I had nothing, really. I couldn’t fight, I wasn’t brave, and I didn’t have enough backbone to do anything remotely similar to the heroes in the pages of my novels…
He barged in without knocking, like usual. “Booglet! Let’s go to the basement and practice Karate.”
I was in middle of arranging an army of action figures on my desk, preparing for a battle royale. There would be a lot of bloodshed, and valor; it would be an epic that was discussed for centuries afterward. ‘Karate practice’ was not on the agenda for now, and I told him as much. My brother flopped down on my bed and grabbed my pillow. “Come on,” he protested, “don’t be such a loser. Don’t be such a wimp.” With a snort, he threw the pillow at the desk and sent my entire battlefield flying, knocking pencils and papers everywhere, and my precious toys to the ground.
Ears burning, I got down on my hands and knees and started cleaning up the mess he just caused. His shadow loomed over me as he got up and bent over to taunt me while I picked up my things. He snatched a few action figures from my grasp and held it out of my reach, laughing as I tried to jump and grab them from him. “What are you gonna do? Just take them from me – take them!” He would lower the toys, and then yank them away as I reached for them.
I don’t know exactly what happened then, but I lost it.
“I’m sick of you!” I bellowed at him. “You’re nothing but a bully! You make fun of me to feel better that you’re fat and stupid, but you’re just a bully! You’re just trying to look cool in front of the few friends you have, but we all know that you’re only ever going to be a bully, and I’m sick of it!” I pointed a finger at him. “This is the last time you bother me, ever, got it? I’ve had it with the way you treat me, and I’m not gonna take it anymore!”
My brother blinked, stunned by my outburst.
Could this be? Had I gotten through to him? I could just see it now: he would break down into sobs, confronted by the evil of his deeds, and beg my forgiveness. We would live happily ever after as loving brothers, him being my protector and guardian. Together, we could take over the world! I waited for his apology, my chin raised in defiance.
His nostrils flared and his eyebrows knitted together into a contorted mask of rage. I didn’t even see the shove coming; the next thing I knew, I was crashing into the wall so hard it rattled my teeth. Grabbing a fistful of my shirt in each hand, he lifted me up until I was level with his gaze.
Breathing hard, he stared into my eyes. “Never. Ever. Call me a bully again. I will kill you. Do you understand me? Dead.”
I nodded my head in agreement. He nodded back, and then hoisted me up until the back of my shirt caught the hook on the door. He muttered something about practicing by himself and left me hanging on the door to my room.
The next day, I burned all of my comic books.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Even Shlomo - now available!

Once we're bringing up Reb Shlomo Katz, it seems like a good time to announce the new sefer he has put out, Even Shlomo: The Torah Commentary of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach Genesis vol. 1.

The sefer was produced in conjunction with the Carlebach Legacy Trust, an organization that Reb Shlomo (Katz) is closely involved with.

Very exciting!

You Gotta Dig Down Deeper...!

The title of this post was inspired by one of my favorite songs, but also ties directly into the title of this shiur delivered by Rav Moshe Weinberger two weeks ago. The shiur is accompanied by music and singing courtesy of Reb Shlomo Katz, who is set to release an new concert album any day now.

I love free shiurim!

Find tons more here, here, here, here, here, and here!

Monday, December 5, 2011

A Matter of Perspective

The town of Hanipol had a rebbe and a rabbi. Rabbi Zusya was a Hasidic rebbe, and there was a rabbi who ruled on matters of Jewish religious law. Rebbe Zusya did not, however, have a congregation of Hasidim. The Maggid of Mezritch told his son Rabbi Avraham the Angel never to try to make Rebbe Zusya a leader of Hasidim because he was above that; he was on a higher level. But people did come to him for help and advice.
Rebbe Zusya, personally, had much trouble all his life, but he was always full of joy. The rabbi, by contrast, was rich and had a good salary, but he was always angry, always bitter. Now, a person who hates other people finally begins to hate himself. One day, the rabbi simply couldn't stand himself anymore. He decided to go to Rebbe Zusya. But he was worried about his prestige and what people would think, so he went at night wen nobody would see him. He came to Rebbe Zusya and asked, "Why are you always happy, and why am I always angry?"
He (Rebbe Zusya) replied, "Zusya* will explain it to you. Take the wedding of the rich man's daughter last week. (In those days, one did not send invitations to a wedding by mail. A rich man had a gabbai who went from house to house.) The gabbai knocked on your door and said 'Moshe the Rich Man has the honor and pleasure of inviting you to his daughter Feigeleh's wedding on such a date at such a time.'
You said, 'Let me see the the list.'
You thought, 'I'm number sixteen on the list. What chutzpah! I'm the rabbi of the city! I'm the one performing the wedding! And me, number sixteen?! I'm supposed to be number one!'
After the manager left, you said, 'I'll show him. I'll come three hours late. They won't be able to start without me. They'll see how important I am!'
So you came three hours late. Meanwhile, they found someone else to perform the wedding. By the time you arrived, everybody was sitting down at the table waiting for the meal. Nobody paid any attention to you. Finally, the rich man saw you and said 'Oh, our rabbi! We waited for you. But we couldn't wait any longer. Please come to the head table.' But the head table was completely filled. So they put your chair behind somebody else. When the waiter brought the food, he didn't see you, so you weren't served.
You were so angry! You were cursing the bride and groom; you were cursing God.
Finally, the rich man saw that you had nothing to eat. He said 'Oh, Rabbi, please forgive me. I'm sorry you didn't get food!' He went into the kitchen and collected some of the leftovers. When he brought it to you, you got even more angry. 'What chutzpah! I'm the rabbi of the city, and they bring me leftovers!'
As the wedding feast was coming to an end, you consoled yourself: 'Soon they'll honor me to recite one of the wedding blessings after the Grace.' But by now the rich man had already forgotten that you were there. He called on somebody else. You went home, cursing your wife, cursing your children, cursing the bride, cursing the groom, cursing God. You were angry!"

Rebbe Zusya continued: "But see what happened with Zusya. The rich man's gabbai came to Zusya's door and said 'Moshe the Rich Man has the honor and pleasure of inviting you to his daughter Feigeleh's wedding on such a date at such a time.' Zusya said to himself, 'Zusya can't understand it. Zusya's never done anything good to him. Why would Zusya have the privilege to be invited? And if he's such a good friend to Zusya, Zusya wants to be a good friend to him.'
So Zusya went three hours early, to help them set up everything. When you were late, they asked Zusya to perform the wedding. Zusya sat at the head table. Zusya was asked to recite one of the wedding blessings and the Grace After Meals. Finally, Zusya went home and was loving to his wife and children.
So you see, you expect everything, and whatever you receive is too little, so you're angry.
Zusya expects nothing, so he's always happy no matter what happens."Jewish Tales of Mystic Joy, by Yitzchak Buxbaum (as heard from Rebbe Shlomo Carlebach)

This is such an amazing story. The book that I got it from is a beautiful little gem of a book, worth every cent.

*Reb Zusya was one of those tzaddikim who eschewed the egocentric "I" when referring to himself, preferring to use his own name.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Beautiful article.

Why more than 100,000 attended his funeral

This article about the late Rosh Yeshiva, Reb Nosson Tzvi Finkel, is beautiful. I don't know why, but this piece more than any of the others brought tears to my eyes...

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks at YU

I enjoy Rabbi Sacks' writing style, but he's an even greater pleasure to listen to.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Awesome fundraiser idea.

An Evening With Rebbe Nachman

The Breslov Research Institute is trying to finish the final volume of their momentous translation of Likutei MoHaRaN. All proceeds of this event is going toward the project, which is a boon to those searching for a lucid text and clear explanation of Rebbe Nachman's Torah.

I would love to go, but it's beyond my budget at this time.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

"Buzz"-worthy reading...

From Hirhurim, an important piece to read that brings the necessity of being dan l'kaf z'chus into light.

Catharsis on Paper

A recent paper I wrote for one of my college Psychology courses:

Judaism has always been a religion of positive focus, its adherents finding inventive ways to infuse their service with joy, meaning, and fervor. It is taught that through honest, selfless worship of God, one can simultaneously elevate the mundane through divine service as he transcends his physical trappings in spiritual bliss. Perhaps more so than other religions, Judaism takes pains to ensure that humans – not just constituents of the faith – live a life of pleasantness, compassion, and ultimately happiness.
Similarly, Psychology has a focus on health and wellbeing. For a while, the zeitgeist focused on the pathological aspects of the psyche, focusing on abnormalities, mental illness, and other negative characteristics that crop up in the field. However, both the field’s philosophical beginnings as well as its shifting focus of research have been that of helping others achieve healthier lifestyles and mindsets. Indeed, even during that era of psychopathology, it is self evident that the original intent and subsequent efforts of therapy, psychoanalysis, and other innovations were with the goal of returning the patient to an point of origin beyond sickness, on the road to health. As such, the field has grown rich with many interventions, designed to help people cope, adjust, heal and determine the best possible path in life.
The Importance of Language
In both Judaism and Psychology, there is a primacy placed on language. The way we give expression to feelings, thoughts, and emotions, as well as our conceptualization of many different ideas and theories is contingent on the common language that we share. It is as integral a tool for the rabbi sermonizing to his congregation as it is for the therapist establishing a rapport with his client; coreligionists and colleagues alike rely on the jargon of their respective communities, yet strive to find the words to make it accessible for the “outsider” or layman, when necessary. Language allows us to reify the abstract, to clearly delineate and define our magnificent ideas into something coherent and structured.
Ultimately, language bestows us with the power to create; every instance of speech or communication is a creative process that we tap into, usually unaware of the amazing power that we yield. Practically speaking: using language we can build bridges between people, and perhaps more importantly, inroads into our selves.
Most of therapy is predicated on some sort of communication; the same can be said about religious worship. While it often seems as if the dialogue is one-sided, there is an inherent belief in both instances that there is a reciprocal relationship occurring, albeit in a more nuanced fashion. Beyond the dynamics of the sessions themselves, however, is the utilization of the written word as a helpful, effective intervention with various applications.
Writing as a Cognitive, Behavioral Practice
Psychologist Martin Seligman has written extensively about the positive effect of writing exercises. One of his innovations is “gratitude writing”, in which the client makes a list at the end of the day of all of the good things that happened to him or her throughout the day. Seligman stresses that when it comes to these exercises, nothing is too small or insignificant, but rather the person should strive to remember and record each positive occurrence, along with why he or she thinks such a thing happened (e.g. “My wife pressed my shirts the way I like them today.” and “She did this because she is a thoughtful, caring person.”). The effect of this exercise is twofold: it trains one to view the world, and others in a good light. Seligman also exhorts the practitioner to keep a physical record of the list (Seligman, 2011): the writing itself is of equal importance, due to its role in the habituation of the practice, as well as the creative awareness that writing engenders.
A parallel practice exists in Judaism as well. Hasidic thought – especially that of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov – is preoccupied with focusing on the positive elements of life. The inherent joy that can be found in our existential roles in the physical realm is a main tenet of Hasidic philosophy, and most of the practices associated with Hasidism reflect this sensitivity. Rabbi Nachman in particular battled the human tendency toward depression by preaching the necessity of finding the “good point” (nekuda tova) in every person – most all, the good point within one’s self. That infinitesimal spark of goodness – hidden in even the most depraved, wretched being, mired with the filth of sin – can be found, cultivated, and blown into a raging fire of holy passion that resuscitates the soul of that person. That is the deeper meaning of the verse in Psalms: “I will sing to God with what I have left.” (146:2) To wit: with that small part of what is left of the Godly soul, the sinner rapturously clings to it and returns to God (Sternhartz).
Utilizing the above teaching, Grand Rabbi Aryeh Wohl of Sudilkov (based in Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel), a contemporary Hasidic teacher, has designed a similar – yet unique - practice to Seligman’s. Here is an excerpt from a student who received instruction from the Sudilkover rebbe (explanations and translation of terms mine):
The Rebbe then advised me to get a notebook and draw lines down the pages and divide them into three columns. In the first column, I was to record things that I did good [sic] that day; to include even small things like washing negel vasser (ritual hand washing upon arising from sleep) in the morning upon arising. In the second column, I was to record the challenges and nisyonos (Hebrew for “challenge” or “test”) that I experienced that day. This was to include things such as occurrences when I failed to maintain my composure and expressed my anger. Finally, in the third column I was to record examples of Hashem's chasadim (kindnesses) that I observed that day.

The Rebbe instructed to read what I had written down out loud before I said Krias Shema al HaMita each night… (Anonymous, 2007)
After several weeks of carefully following the instruction of his teacher, the student observes with pleasant surprise:
…Each night my list of good points and the list of chasadim grew longer and longer and my list of challenges/nisyonos grew shorter and shorter. The process of having to be conscious each day to write something down made me stop and think at intervals throughout the day. What am I doing good today? What am I not doing good today? (Anonymous, 2007)
As with Seligman’s intervention, Rabbi Wohl’s methodology helps the practitioner build up a sense of self efficacy, allows the person to place matters in a proper positive perspective, and increases the cognizance of one’s actions in day-to-day dealings. People who engage in these sorts of exercises will seek opportunities to find the good in daily occurrences. They will be more aware of the consequences of their actions when they recognize that they will have to make an accounting at the end of the day. This is in line with the Jewish concept of cheshbon haNefesh (“accounting of the soul”), a similar exercise wherein one keeps extensive, detailed records of nearly every action and thought that he had, with the intention of examining these records at the end of the day to discern the areas of his character refinement that require attention.
Structure Building Exercises
The above ideas can be adapted for nearly anything. Rabbi Kalonymos Kalman Shapira of Piaseczna, a Hasidic Rabbi who lived (and perished) in Poland during the Holocaust, wrote a masterful volume geared toward young students. The book, A Student’s Obligation (Chovat HaTalmidim, Warsaw 1929) is replete with behavioral (as well as cognitive) exercises designed to help the youth overcome such common deficiencies like laziness, poor planning skills, lack of commitment, and inefficient task completion. He too emphasizes the importance of writing things down:
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. (Shapira, 1995)

While the rebbe's target audience for the book was yeshiva (Rabbinical seminary) age students, and thus he mentions this in the context of learning sessions and finding spare time for extra study sessions, 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 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. (Shapira, 1995)
While it is clear that the rebbe's focus was on Torah study, 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 everyday operations, which generates consistency, an important ingredient to a healthy 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 suggestion also lends itself finely to the idea of cheshbon haNefesh, as explained above: 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, which is Rabbi Shapira’s ultimate intent.
Writing as Therapy
Perhaps one of the most important elements of writing is the therapeutic nature of writing. As Ernest Hemingway once said, “There is nothing to writing – all you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” As we mentioned earlier, the process of writing is no less than a creative act, one in which we conceive an idea and carry it within us until it is ready to emerge into the world. The “birth process” – fleshing out an idea and putting it out into the common reality we share with others is simultaneously painful and exhilarating. By giving voice to our passions, our hopes, even our fears, we proclaim our existence to the world and lend credence to our innermost thoughts by acknowledging them openly. Moreover, the very act of writing may assist in relieving tension by serving as an outlet for strong emotions, the medium serving as a “safe” forum for expression. Those thoughts that are too provocative, frightening, or hurtful to be shared with another person can be let out in a private journal. The writing process is a pressure valve, an opportunity for catharsis that is almost unparalleled.
Returning to Rabbi Shapira for a moment, he offers another daring intervention based on this principle. At the end of the ninth chapter, the rebbe addresses the issue of reconciling with an enemy with whom the mutual hate is so great that you simply cannot find any redeeming qualities in this person:
This is what you should do. Write him a letter. Don't send it to him; hide it somewhere in your home. In the letter, insult and shame him as much as the serpent of anger in your heart desires. For some days, read the letter aloud, and imagine that you are standing in front of him, taunting and abusing him with all the expressions of the letter. After some days, you will find your anger has dissipated, and if you are a sensitive person, you may discover yourself running to reconcile with him. (Shapira, 1995)
More than an act of catharsis, the rebbe's advice shows a profound quality in our nature. After pouring out all the venomous feelings and thoughts about this person into this composition, the student is encouraged to reread it every few days. Despite the fact that in the heat of the moment he was able to pen such hateful, hurtful words, a few days later those words will seem to be alien and foreign, and he will have a hard time believing that we actually wrote them.
With every subsequent reading, the student will observe "Wow, I was being pretty harsh. He's not like that all the time..." and he will begin to see flaws in his hateful view of this person. Moreover, he will begin to find ways to counter the arguments made in the letter, and find redeeming qualities in this fellow as he subsequently revisits the letter. Eventually, the feelings of hate and anger will have been replaced by a powerful desire to reconcile with this person, and like Rabbi Shapira asserts, he will run to make peace with him.
Writing allows one to work through a problem, to record all the different factors swirling around in his thoughts and categorize them, and give him something to work with. When ideas are brought into the practical realm, it makes them more manageable to deal with – and a lot less scary.
Writing as Legacy
Writing serves another important function: the giving others a part of one’s self, preserved for posterity. Writing provides an opportunity to bestow on others an intellectual legacy, his curriculum vitae that can be passed on to subsequent generations of family members, students, and general audiences. Lord Byron wrote: “But words are things, and a small drop of ink, falling like dew upon a thought, produces that which makes thousands, perhaps millions, think.” Giving the world works that inspire creativity, that challenge people to consider (and reconsider) their tightly held notions, that encourages people to imagine something larger than themselves is an important value for many. Writing helps them achieve this goal and reach the greatest amount of people.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Rabbi Meir Kahane

Today is Rabbi Kahane's yahrtzeit - he was murdered in New York by a member of an international terrorist group.

Many did not agree with Kahane's views, neither politically nor hashkafically, but one thing you have to give the man was his backbone, his ability to stare his adversaries straight in the face without backing down. He believed in what he held, with a might and brazenness. We can all learn a lesson from him when it comes to dealing with the various mockers in our lives who try to discourage us from doing what we need to do. The above video is amazing to watch, as he deftly, calmly handles a large crowd of ignorant, immature kids who think they know what they're fighting about.

Sounds familiar these days, right?

HaShem Yikom Domov.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

For shame...!

Here is something that bothers me a little (okay, more than a little):

Today was Reb Shlomo Carlebach's yahrtzeit. Last year, I wrote a little post about him, in acknowledgment of the day, but I also observed another very important yahrtzeit - that of Rabbi Elazar Menachem Mann Shach, the "late" Gadol haDor.

Unfortunately, Rebbe Shlomo's yahrtzeit seems to have eclipsed the "other" yahrtzeit. Granted, Rebbe Shlomo died first, but still. In shul yesterday (Shabbos), the gabbai got up and made a lengthy announcement about the Carlebach memorial concert that was held on motzei Shabbos in New York City. He encouraged everybody to go, because it was important. I approached him after the services to ask him what he was doing for Reb Shach's yahrtzeit - he hadn't even realized that they were on the same day, and by his response, he couldn't care less, either.

I understand the significance of Rebbe Shlomo's life and legacy, of course. He had a profound influence and impact on me as well. But the fact that we place the remembrance of an entertainer - even a saintly, holy entertainer who meant so much to so many - over the remembrance of someone who assumed the mantle of leadership (accepted almost universally by religious Jews as the bottom line in halacha and hashkafa), and after the deaths of Rav Moshe Feinstein and Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky, shouldered the burdens of American Jewry as well...that is so very, very sad.

And par for the course, as well.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Remembering the Rosh Yeshiva

The Jewish world suffered another shock earlier this week with the news of the passing of Rav Noson Tzvi Finkel, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivas Mir Yerushalayim.

Under his tutelage, "the Mir" continued to grow and expand, its ranks swelling until it became the largest yeshiva in the world. A bastion of Torah learning and values, the Mir offers a place for literally anyone looking for somewhere to learn - ranging from newly minted ba'alei teshuva to bachurim who as of yet haven't been accepted into Brisk, and everyone in between. While some criticized the Rosh Yeshiva's open-door policy, others viewed it as a natural expression of his dedication to the yeshiva - and those who learned there.

Indeed, despite the fact that the Rosh Yeshiva suffered from a debilitating disease, when it came to matters concerning the yeshiva and the b'nei hayeshiva, he spared no effort. Even as he grew progressively weaker, he maintained his schedule of shiurim to the best of his abilities, and continued to travel far and wide on behalf of the yeshiva's needs.

I remember the first time I met the Rosh Yeshiva. It was chol hamo'ed Succos, and my family was in the Holy Land for the holiday. My older brothers - both Mir talmidim - went to the Rosh Yeshiva's house to pay him a visit in his Sukkah. I tagged along with them, out of curiosity.

I was in high school, and going through a difficult time; I was in the market to transfer to a new yeshiva, but I had no idea where I was going, or what to look for in a new yeshiva.

When we came to the Finkel home, we were led upstairs to the sukkah, where the Rosh Yeshiva was greeting visitors. I had never seen him before, so at first his erratic movements frightened me, but I got over it. My brothers spoke with him for a while, and then introduced me. He asked me where I was learning, and we spoke for a minute or two, at which point one of my brothers interjected "And one day, he'll come here, too!"

The Rosh Yeshiva nodded, looked straight at me, and said "We're waiting for you!"

I was taken aback. In my experience, prospective yeshivos made you feel like they were doing you a favor, by allowing you to come to them to benefit from what they had to offer, leaving you in a position of indebtedness. When I would mention that I was considering applying to a certain yeshiva, invariably the representative of that yeshiva would say something to the effect of "Well, what are you waiting for?!" That arrogance was something that I was looking to get away from.

Rav Noson Tzvi's comment was the exact opposite of what I had encountered up until that point. His response was that of a person looking to serve others; someone who wanted to offer whatever he could to help someone, while at the same time giving the impression that it was the recipient who was in fact doing the "favor".

I will never forget that kindness. It lifted me, filling me with a sense of value, but more importantly it showed me exactly what to look for in my next yeshiva.

Z'chuso Yagein Aleinu!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

My Soul Thirsts...

Thirst is a very great desire. The more thirsty you are, the greater your pleasure in drinking water. 
The same is true of your holy thirst for God; this is the delight of the World to Come. - Rebbe Nachman, Sichot HaRan 259
Rav Moshe Weinberger once related a story that happened when he and his father went on a fishing trip. As they were sitting out in the middle of the lake, it began to rain. His father showed him that the fish swam to the surface, and jumped to catch the raindrops in their mouth.

He explained that indeed, these fish are surrounded by water all the time. But when it comes down straight from the Source, there is nothing that tastes better.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Moshe Hecht: Heart Is Alive (debut album)

Moshe Hecht is an inspiring singer/songwriter whose debut album recently came out. A few years ago ago he released a song "Lamplighters" that pays tribute to ChaBaD shluchim everywhere.

I picked up his album "Heart Is Alive" last week, and something just clicked as I was listening to it. There are a few tracks that jumped out at me right away, including HaMavdil, which is in the embed below:

The lyrical flow dovetails nicely with the original verses; I hear a certain earnest quality, a yearning that I can relate to.

Here is his website; there is a free download available on the site, but the whole album is worth it.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Feels like Cleveland

It's only October, but you wouldn't be able to tell that by looking out the window. It's snowing outside; it began earlier this morning, and hasn't abated yet. there are downed trees everywhere, and some blocks have no power.

Unfortunately, due to the driving conditions, I can't go out, so I am missing the hillula tonight at Aish Kodesh. But I'm warm, my family is safe, and there is plenty of things to do, so I am not complaining.

Stay safe, everyone!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Aish Kodesh Hillula 5772

Congregation Aish Kodesh
Congregation Aish Kodesh
Rav Moshe Weinberger, Mara D'Asrah
 Hilula L'Zecher the Aish Kodesh
(Please Note New Location)

This Motsai Shabbos, October 29/ 2 MarCheshvan, Aish Kodesh will be celebrating the annual Hilula for the Yahrzeit of our namesake, Harav Kalonimus Kalmish Shapira, ZY'A, HY'D, the Aish Kodesh, the Holy Rebbe of Piacezna. The Hilula will once again feature the music of Yosef Karduner and the Divrei Torah of Rav Weinberger.
The Hilula will take place at a new location (Not YILC). The Hilula will take place at Bnos Bais Yaakov (613 Beach 9th Street, Far Rockaway, in the lunchroom on the lower level). The Hilula will begin at 9:00 p.m.
Admission Donation: $10
Separate Seating
As usual, it is our policy to open this special event to as many people as possible to be inspired by the uniqueness of the Aish Kodesh himself, the heartfelt nigunim of Yosef Karduner, and the emotional and powerful Divrei Torah of our Rav, HaRav Moshe Weinberger, Shlita. We have always tried to keep the event affordable to everyone by having several sponsors step forward and become major sponsors of this holy evening. The opportunity exists for sponsorship of the Hilula. If you have the capability to sponsor the Hilula, and be Mezakeh Rabim with this event, please contact David Waltuch via reply email, or Elliot Blumenthal or (516) 457-7893.

I'm sure it will be awesome, like last year, and the years before it. I hope to attend, where I'll be able to spend time with a few hundred "friends" coming together to pay respects to the rebbe.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The dangers of substance abuse

And Noah, the man of the earth, debased himself and planted a vineyard. (Gen. 9:20)

The Medrash Tanchuma reveals what happened (adapted translation):

As Noach was planting the vineyard, the Satan came along and engaged him in conversation. 
"What are you planting?" he asked. 
"I am planting a grapevine," replied Noach. 
"What are grapes? What is their nature?" Satan asked. 
"Their fruits are sweet, whether they are dried or moist," Noach answered, "and you can make wine from them, which gladdens the heart." 
The Satan offered to enter in a partnership with this vineyard; Noach agreed. The Satan fetched a sheep, slaughtered it, and let its blood seep into the ground where the vine was planted. Next, he brought a lion, slaughtered it, and drained the blood into the same spot. Then he brought a pig, slaughtered it, and spilled its blood into the soil, before finally bringing a monkey and doing the same. The vines took in the blood, along with the nourishment that the soil offered. 
The Satan was hinting to Noach what the effects of alcohol are: 
Before a man drinks, he is gentle and unassuming, like a little lamb; the first few swallows deepen the mellow. When a person drinks a moderate amount, he gains courage, and confidence; he is like a lion, ready to take on any challenge. Once he imbibes too much alcohol, he becomes violently ill, and wallows in his own filth like a pig in a sty. Finally, when he has gone past a certain point of indulgence, he ultimately loses all inhibition. He jumps around like a monkey, out of control and hurling insults and profanity at everyone he encounters without shame.

When I saw the above medrash, I was floored; I think anyone who has ever gotten drunk or seen others drink too much recognizes these familiar descriptions.


One of the lessons I think we can learn from this account: never get into a conversation with the Satan.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Thank God, we can now remove Gilad ben Aviva from our collective tehillim lists, as he is now home and safe!

I know that there were many who were vehemently opposed to the swap, for compelling reasons, but I don't want to focus on that. I would like to express my hope that this will indeed be the profound kiddush HaShem that it had the potential to be. We have just shown the world how precious one single life is to us as Jews - we are willing to make enormous sacrifice with tremendous risk to bring one of our own home.

Who is like Your nation Israel?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Does anyone know whether there are vasikin minyanim in Washington Heights during Chol HaMoed? I have an extremely important test at the YU campus on Monday, the third day of Chol HaMoed, early in the morning. I would like to pray with a minyan beforehand, especially considering that the test takes three hours, so afterwards isn't necessarily an option...

Any info can be posted either to the comments section, or directly to me via e-mail at


Wednesday, October 5, 2011

B'nei Machshava Tova: Ten Things to Remember

B'nei Machshava Tova: Ten Things to Remember: A great post by Yitz, of the Waxing Wellspring blog. I'm posting it here because I think it has very practical applications.

Active vs Passive

"Some day I will do it." - is self deceptive. 
"I want to do it." - is weak. 
"I am doing it." - that is the right way. - Reb Menachem Mendel of Kotzk.
Something I read in Reb Micha's Aspaqlaria: Aseres Yemei Teshuvah reader yesterday evening resonated with me, and reminded me of the above aphorism. As he writes, as reflected elsewhere both within Torah as well as sources of non Jewish wisdom, we must be concerned with becoming, not just being; we have to be focused on the quest, the journey toward perfection, because the path we travel along is as much a part of the process as the goal at the end of the road.

And until we come to a point when we can say "I am traveling the path now," all our reflection, our introspection and plans toward a better life are merely abstract exercises that lull us into a false sense of purpose and accomplishment.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Holding On To It...

Over the past few days since Rosh HaShana, I've encountered people who ask me how my yom tov was. The truth is, that's a really difficult question to answer, to my mind. Answering that it was "nice" seems a little too pat; on the other hand, saying that it was meaningful doesn't seem appropriate, either, if not a little bit pretentious...

For one thing, I won't truly know how my Rosh HaShana was until next year, obviously. But even in terms of experience, I just don't feel comfortable expressing my thoughts on it just yet, because to a certain degree, it's not reflective of reality beyond these Days of Awe. Of course, I had a positive tefillah experience; at this point in my life I am lucky to have reached a stage where I anticipate the opportunities of our annual milestones, as opposed to the anxiety concerning how I will "survive" them. But with that comes the recognition that it isn't so much about how inspiring the actual moment may be, in the moment - it's about how it affects me days later, weeks later, months later, in the cold darkness of the winter stretch.

A little exercise to illustrate my point:

Leiby Kletzky

When I tried this in person with several of my friends, I saw a widening of their eyes as they remembered, at the same time recognizing that they had in fact forgotten about the sweet little boy whose tragic death affected us so viscerally a few months ago. At the time, did any of us think that we would forget him? We were so profoundly moved; his image was stamped on our collective consciousness...

And now...

The same thing gives me pause about the Days of Awe. And I know that it happens, because this is the twenty seventh time that I am living (thank God!) through this auspicious time, and I don't feel that my year was significantly better...

I pray every day that our sensitivity should increase, and that we should be able to truly incorporate the lessons learned and maintain the resolve that we feel during these Days of Awe.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Reconnecting the Day After

As I hope many of you are aware, yesterday was the Day to Disconnect, an initiative headed by Rabbi Zechariah Wallerstein and Ohr Naava; the goal was to get pledges (I believe the aim was for one million hours)  from people around the world to unplug from their technological devices for at least one hour on October 2, 2011 (yesterday) and find something meaningful to do, be it with their friends, family, or God.

I had the opportunity to pledge two hours; with the just passed holiday, it seemed like a great time to take stock and enjoy what is really important in the world: the ones I spend my life with. I had a beautiful day (the fast notwithstanding) with my family, reading to my boys and talking to my wife.

One of the members of the campaign was nice enough to send me the official press release concerning the initial results of the campaign:
 Thousands disconnected from their cell phones and laptops for at least one hour on Sunday, October 2, thanks to DaytoDisconnect, the campaign created by Ohr Naava, a Brooklyn based educational organization.
 In August, Rabbi Zechariah Wallerstein, the founder and director of Ohr Naava, launched a campaign to encourage people to switch off their mobile devices for at least one hour on Sunday October 2, and to connect with people face-to-face instead. He chose that date since it was the first Sunday of the Jewish New Year, an opportune time to begin enhancing personal relationships.
 In a few short weeks, the campaign received worldwide attention. It registered people from over 28 countries including Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada/Quebec Country, Chile, Columbia, England, France, Germany, Gibraltar, Hungary, Israel, Italy, India, Indonesia, Mexico, The Netherlands, Poland, South Africa, Ukraine and USA.  Within the United States, over 26 states were represented.
 Elisheva Perlman, the Executive Producer of the campaign, said, “We were shocked by the response. Emails, Twitter mentions, and Youtube comments poured in from people of all backgrounds, religions and ages. People thanked us for doing this and jumped on board.”
 One teenage registrant emailed, “It really helped me to be more focused on myself, and really helped me to connect with my family instead of being connected to electronic devices.”
 Ms. Esti Zicherman, Director of Program Development, said that the reason for such broad participation is “the issue of people being addicted to their technology doesn’t discriminate. Taking a break offers people the opportunity to think outside their screens and be creative.”
 Unplug and Reconnect, headed by Dr. Joseph Geliebter, is a strategic partner of Ohr Naava’s DaytoDisconnect.  It’s a movement for people to find a balance between their technology-laden selves and their creative, emotional and spiritual needs.
 As for what is next, Charlie Harary, the campaign’s spokesman, said “it’s clear how important and universal this issue is. While we are still collecting hours from this Day to Disconnect, I can confidently say that there will be another Day to Disconnect in the near future. Stay tuned.”
 For more information about this wonderful idea that I hope picks up steam, visit!

Thursday, September 22, 2011


In nature as a whole - and especially in its systematic regularity and in the technical character of its processes, in the scientific drama occurring within it, in the exact mathematical relationships between the natural phenomena and especially in the permanent laws of physics - the primeval will of the Master of the Universe is reflected. A man goes outdoors on a fair summer's day and sees the whole world blossoming; that man comes "to know" that there exists a Primary Being Who is the originator of all that is; in every budding flower, in every rose opening its petals, in each ray of light and in every drop of rain - "to know that there is a Primary Being and that He is the Originator of all that is." - Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Repentance and Free Choice, On Repentance
This paragraph jumped out at me late last night, as I was trying to steal a little time to read some really valuable material. Symmetry is a wonderful thing, and we naturally strive to find it in the world around us. To some extent, this is the basis for Pythagoras' theory of mind, but our seforim haKedoshim have expounded on this idea for eons.

According to chassidus, this is a valuable tool towards reaching true emunah, but it isn't the highest point; rather, the highest point of emunah is recognizing the fact that we have a deeply personal relationship with the One Above - the fact that we are able to address Him in the accusatory tense in our prayers, that we converse with Him as if we are speaking to a contemporary, or (as it were) an equal in a relationship, a beloved companion in a reciprocal pairing.

And yet, despite this loftier ideal of emunah, the Rav's expression guides us toward a level of knowledge, a security that perhaps reinforces the faith, bolstering the relationship. With security, even when the "object" of the relationship is not present, or not attending to the current situation, we still rest assured that the relationship is robust, and we can trust.

The laws of nature with their immutable continuity remind us of the symmetry that can only be maintained by the Creator of all things. That same "dedication" bolsters our faith in the symmetry of our relationship with Him.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A parable concerning a group of bandits held captive in the King's dungeon: They dug a tunnel, broke through, and escaped - but one of them stayed behind. When the warden came and saw the escape tunnel, and this man had remained, he began beating him with his truncheon. He [the warden] said to him: "Fool! There is a tunnel leading to freedom; how can you not hurry to save your life?!"
So too, the time will come when the Holy One, Blessed is He will say to the wicked "Repentance was laid before you, and you did not return?!" (Medrash, Kohelet Rabbah)

Rabbeinu Yonah learned from this (Sha'arei Teshuvah 1:2) the gravity of the punishment reserved for the sinner who delays in repenting from his sins:

His punishment grows heavy upon him with every day, for he knows that there will be wrath upon him and that he has a way to allay that wrath...that is, repentance, yet he stands in his rebelliousness..."

Monday, September 5, 2011

A Day To Disconnect

Neil posted about the "Day to Disconnect" initiative a short while ago on his blog. I just found this video ad for it via Hirhurim:


Sunday, September 4, 2011

Friday, September 2, 2011

Elul: Unity and Repentance

In honor of the yahrtzeit (anniversary of death) of Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook OBM. Some timely words to begin our month-long preparation for the High Holy Days:

As we stand before the beginning of a new year, it is incumbent upon us to draw near to the path of teshuvah (repentance), which brings redemption and healing to the world.The Jewish people have become divided into two camps, through the categorization of Jews as Charedi (religious) and Chofshi(secular). These are new terms, which were not used in the past. Of course, not everyone is identical, especially in spiritual matters; but there was never a specific term to describe each faction and group. In this respect, we can certainly say that previous generations were superior to ours.Emphasizing this categorization obstructs the way towards improvement for both camps. One who feels that he belongs to theCharedi camp looks down upon the secular camp. If he thinks aboutteshuvah and improvement, he immediately casts his eyes in the direction of the Chofshi camp, devoid of Torah and mitzvot. He is confident that full repentance is required by the irreligious, not by him.The secular Jew, on the other hand, is convinced that any notion of penitence is a Charedi concept, completely irrelevant to him.It would be better if each person would concentrate on discerning his own defects, and judge others generously. It could very well be that others have treasure-troves of merits, hidden from sight. We must recognize that there exists in all of the camps a latent force leading towards goodness. Each camp has much to improve upon, and is capable of learning much from the light and goodness of the other camp.Let us be known to each other by one name — "Klal Yisrael". And let our prayer be fulfilled:
"May they all become one group, to perform Your Will whole- heartedly" (from the High Holiday prayers).
(adapted from Mo'adei HaRe'iyah, p. 58)
For more Torah from Rav Kook adapted into English, see here. I am eagerly awaiting my copy of Song of Teshuva Vol. I, which has been delayed several weeks already...

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Worrying is like a rocking chair: it gives you something to do for a while, but in the end it gets you nowhere. - Unknown source

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Winds of Change

I think that the coinciding of Shabbos Mevarchim Elul (on the Shabbos preceding the new month, we announce the arrival of the new month, and the exact time of the appearance of the new moon) and the approach of Hurricane Irene is particularly apropos. Anyone who lives in the Tri-State area was very busy on Friday preparing for the storm, stocking up on dry goods, batteries, emergency supplies, and the like. I know that I myself entered into Shabbos with more than a little anxiety, as I considered the responsibility of protecting my family in the event of an emergency, God forbid. I knew that ultimately the One Above would protect us, but I also recognized that I would have to be ready to take action...

Reb Kalonymos Kalman writes (see B'nei Machshava Tova; Hachsharas Avreichim) that any feeling is a key to the inner recesses of a person's soul; even if said feeling is completely related to the mundane, the physical, it can be capitalized upon to allow us into our deeper selves. During davening yesterday, as the prayer leader announced the imminent arrival of the month of Elul - the month that officially kicks off the season of repentance and Judgement - I tried to grasp this feeling of wary dread that Hurricane Irene inspired. I imagined hearing the news about the arrival of the King, and quickly running out to stock up on provisions - the mitzvot a parallel to batteries, Torah and prayer spiritual provisions that would keep my family and I sustained during times of scarcity, God forbid...

I think that whether or not Hurricane Irene inflicts major damage on our region, there are valuable lessons to learn from this occurrence...

Stay safe!

Rav Avraham Pam OBM

Rav Avraham Pam's tenth yahrtzeit is today. This poignant article encapsulates but a thimble-full of the Torah VoDaath Rosh Yeshiva:
The majesty of man: Remembering Rabbi Avraham Pam

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Feet of Clay

How are you supposed to deal with the possibility of people whom you expect to hold up certain standards miserably failing?

A prominent kiruv personality on the lecture circuit lives in my neighborhood. I have heard him speak numerous times, and am quite aware of his erudition and charisma. And yet, when he leads us as the shaliach tzibbur (the prayer leader), he gives off the impression that he's engaging in something tedious, a chore that he can't finish soon enough.

A talmid chacham who I have known for the better part of my life, who is intimately involved with community affairs. The lack of respect and dismissive comments he makes about people who don't quite adhere to his idea of what a religious Jew is is appalling.

What sets these people apart from the rest of us is the fact that they are so closely associated with Torah, considered to be among those who have taken upon themselves to travel a special, lofty path. I understand that no one is infallible, but I worry that if we can so easily lose faith in these "junior level" personalities, there is a risk of seriously undermining the reverence we have for those who especially personify the Torah ideal.

Just a thought...

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Intellectual Honesty

You can not be a good Zionist unless you know Vayoel Moshe by heart. Once you know Vayoel Moshe by heart, with Al HaGeula Ve’Al Hatemura…then you can be a Zionist. Until then you’re a faker. 
- Rabbi Aaron Rakeffet-Rothkoff, in a lecture given in 2009

I was so impressed by the above statement, I had to share it.

I don't know V'Yoel Moshe by heart. Nor do I consider myself a Zionist, with a capital "Z". All I know is that I truly, deeply, love the Holy Land, and how to move there very soon.

If not because of Mashiach, then because I got accepted into Bar Ilan University's doctoral program in Psychology...that would be nice (hopefully mashiach will come first).