Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Friday, March 25, 2011

A very poignant thought from an unlikely source (emphasis mine):

A good fighter has to be diligent and committed--doing what you hate to do but doing it like you love it, always testing yourself and forcing yourself to the limit. - Mike Tyson

The above quote jumped off the page at me. I think that there is such a powerful message in those deceptively simple words. This is a key toward growth in avodat HaShem - it's not enough to slog through something simply driven by the knowledge that it is "the right thing", despite the fact that we may not enjoy it. We must willingly try to make it into an enjoyable enterprise.

After reading that line, I was reminded of a famous story with Rav Moshe Feinstein OBM, told by a famed Rosh Yeshiva. This Rosh Yeshiva had spoken at a bar mitzvah where Rav Moshe was present as well. In the context of his speech, the Rosh Yeshiva admonished the bar mitzvah boy, trying to impress upon him the tremendous responsibility of fulfilling the mitzvot. He reminded the young man that "iz shver tzu* zein a Yid!" ("it's hard to be a Jew"), returning over and over to this theme.

Rav Moshe stood up and protested immediately after the Rosh Yeshiva concluded his speech. "Nein...iz nisht shver tzu zein a Yid - iz geshmak tzu zein a Yid!! Geshmak!" ('s not hard to be a Jew - it's a pleasure [roughly translated] to be a Jew! A pleasure!"

While Rav Moshe's intention was most likely to convey that ultimately the goodness and pleasure far outweighs any perceived difficulty associated with Judaism, I believe that we can take the message a step deeper based on the above idea. Even when it is difficult, it is imperative that we approach our tasks with the attitude that it is pleasurable, at the very least to be able to fully accomplish our goals. But in the end, this constant willfulness will bring about an actual change in our perspective as well...

* a big thanks to my good friend Steeeve for pointing out my grammatical error.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


Received this morning from Erez at the Shemspeed label. The Friendship Circle is a great organization, and I'm glad that they're getting some attention now:

Shemspeed Fam!
Celebrating a world where children with special needs experience acceptance and inclusion, DeScribe teamed up with Matisyahu to create “Pure Soul,” saluting these incredible children!
Also, be on the look out for DeScribe in the Daily News & on Lopez Tonight!
peace & Shemspeed



And once we're at it, enjoy this nice acoustic song from Matisyahu:

Monday, March 21, 2011

A powerful lesson from Purim

From the writings of Rav Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler, an exhortation concerning the importance of emunat chachamim (faith in the Sages). I learned this piece last week in anticipation of the chag, and decided to utilize the splendid translation of Rabbi Aryeh Carmell.

In response to his correspondent's argument that the Holocaust could have been substantially avoided had the European rabbis encouraged their communities to emigrate to the Holy Land en masse, Rav Dessler uses this opportunity to broaden his explanation of the necessity for emunat chachamim. Whereas in his earlier writings he lambasted our proclivity for forming ill-informed opinions and criticized this development as undermining an essential aspect of Torah-true Judaism, Rav Dessler develops that idea here to an even further extent: when we are presented with "facts" that all point toward the "faults" of our Elders.

To buttress his argument, Rav Dessler writes the following, in the name of his own teacher, the Alter of Kelm, Rav Simcha Zissel (emphases mine):
Megillat Esther is a record of events covering a period of nine years, from the third to the twelfth years of the reign of Achashverosh. We, and maybe even greater people than we, would never have been able to understand that all these apparently unrelated events really formed one related series. Only Mordechai, with the benefit of ruach hakodesh at his level (for not all levels of ruach hakodesh are equal), was able to discern the unity underlying these events. 
Mordechai had forbidden the Jews to attend the banquet of Achashverosh with which the Megilla opens. This is explained in the Midrash Megillat Esther: " 'At the completion of these days' (Esther 1:5) - he (Mordechai) said to them, 'Do not that the Adversary shall not have an occasion to accuse you'; but they did not listen to him." (see also Megilla 12a) There were certainly many who must have argued against him, saying that this was a matter of life and death; an irresponsible king like Achashverosh might well take it into his head to kill all Israel (God forbid) if he were to see that representatives of every nation attended the feast celebrating the third anniversary of his accession, while not a single Jew deigned to appear. For this reason they refused to obey Mordechai's command and they went to the banquet. Nothing bad happened to them as a result.  
Nine years later (in the twelfth year of Achashverosh), when Haman had been elevated to the highest position in the state and had issued orders that all should bow down to him - and our Rabbis explain that there was no real question of idolatry involved, only a rather far-fetched fear that it might "look like" idolatry - Mordechai refused to bow down.
There were many Jews who protested that he was endangering the lives of all Israel because of excessive personal piety, as is made clear in Aggadat Esther: "Israel said to him (Mordechai): 'You should know that you will bring about our death by the sword of that wicked one (Haman).' But he replied to them: 'What then, should I bow to an idol?' and he refused to accept their words." 
And immediately after this, everything happened exactly as Mordechai's opponents had feared: an edict was issued by Haman decreeing the destruction of all the Jews. If we had been there what would we have said? What was the "cause" of the decree? Was it Mordechai's obstinacy in a matter affecting the safety of Klal Yisrael? Or was it that nine years previously some people had ruled leniently and - for the best of motives - disobeyed a rabbinical injunction forbidding them to partake of Achashverosh's banquet, their motive having been to avoid endangering the lives of Klal Yisrael? We should certainly have said that we could see with our own eyes that it was Mordechai's action that had caused Haman to get angry and decree the destruction of all the Jews, and how can anyone deny the evidence of his own eyes? 
But the truth is otherwise. 
What appeared to be the indisputable evidence of the senses was in fact an illusion created by the yetzer ha-rah; the true cause was the sin committed nine years earlier. 
(It may be that Mordechai's decision to endanger himself for something which was no more than a possibility of an appearance of idolatry, an an unlikely one at that, was taken in response to the needs of the time - to impress on the people the gravity of any contact with idolatry. In this way he would correct the mistake they had made earlier o the occasion of the banquet, when they had taken lightly the prohibition against non-Jewish wine, which is itself connected with the prohibition of idolatry. Moreover, the Gemara suggests that the reason for the decree of annihilation was that they had bowed down to the image in the time of Nevuchadnetzar, although they had done it only for outward show. So by this act [refusing to bow down even in a case where according to the halacha it was permitted] Mordechai was actually protecting them [in a spiritual sense, by endeavoring to redress the balance].) 
But the yetzer ha-rah enticed them with the strongest of all arguments - "the evidence of their own eyes"; and this was why the attribute of Justice won the day and the decree was promulgated. But as soon as this happened they revised their opinions and admitted the truth. They might well have retained their former views and taken vengeance on Mordechai as a traitor to his people, but instead of this, they all followed him and responded to his call for repentance.
The fact that Esther, whom they knew to be a close relative of Mordechai, chose just this hour of terrible danger to her people to show friendship to the archenemy Haman by inviting him twice to a private banquet, would tend to reinforce the arguments of Satan that they should no longer listen to Mordechai. but they had returned to God in complete repentance and no longer listened to the yetzer ha-rah. On the contrary, they joined with Mordechai in fasting and prayer and in repentance for the sin they had committed by following the illusion of the "evidence of the senses"; and then the miracle happened; then they were saved. 
From here we can learn the answer to the question of what brings about murderous decrees upon Israel: the "mistakes" of the great Torah authorities of the generations, or our own willingness to listen to the wiles of the Satan and the illusory "evidence" he parades before our eyes so that we lose our faith in the Sages. And if the disaster comes and the destruction spreads, God forbid, this only shows that people have not repented; on the contrary, they still deny their teachers. 
Our Rabbis say that punishment commences with the tzaddikim, for they are punished for the sins of the generation...but if even this does not lead to repentance, a still greater desecration of God's name is involved. Rashi says in Yoma that desecration results from the very facts of the destruction of the righteous and the exile of Israel, for everyone says, "What did their righteousness avail them? See how misfortune overtakes even the pious and the wise!"
Such is the way of all those who move away from the truth; they love to show "by the evidence of the senses" that the tzaddikim perish in their righteousness. They could have pointed to Mordechai, too, as one whose excessive piety caused his downfall - but they did teshuva...[t]he way of Klal Yisrael is to return to Hashem, to admit the truth and to abandon the illusions of "evidence" presented by the yetzer ha-rah to induce one to deny one's teachers.
Lack of self-effacement toward our Rabbis is the root of all sin and the beginning of all destruction, God forbid. All merits are as nothing compared with that root of spiritual progress - faith in the Sages. - Strive for Truth! (pp. 219-223)

Kabbalah and Jazz: The Mystical Foundation of Improvisational Music

From Rabbi Adam Jacobs, via the Huffington Post:

In his great work To Heal the Soul, Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Shapira wrote that all humans each have their own unique musical ladder -- a distinct melody that allows one to draw down spiritual sustenance into this world. This melody is exclusive and in essence can not be performed by anyone else. He believes that it is so individualized that to use someone else's ladder is like putting someone else's saliva into your mouth to sing. This concept is so ubiquitous, so universal, that Rebbe Nachman of Breslov went as far as to say that each and every blade of grass has its own unique melody as well. Very poetic, but is there any substance to it?
Years ago this assertion would have been harder to make but not so since the advent of String Theory. Though there are many who reflexively disparage it, the fact of the matter is that as time progresses, science and mysticism seem to be merging. For instance, since the time of Aristotle, the common wisdom was that matter had always existed. So ingrained was this notion that even Einstein was prepared to "fudge" his own math to uphold the view (a move he would later call "the greatest blunder of my career"). The 3,300-year-old Jewish view that there was a "Beginning" to reality as we know it stood out in sharp relief against the prevailing wisdom and was vindicated in the last century. Science had taken a step toward religion.
As science developed the technological capability to peer deeper and deeper into the essence of matter, the familiar notion of minute balls or dots of matter was formed -- electrons, protons, neutrons and the like. As it turns out, this picture now seems to be inadequate and has been replaced by Super String Theory, a concept that suggests that the tiny matter contained in the proton is actually composed of uber-small strings, the vibrations of which give rise to all of physical reality. So we see that at its core, the universe is created through sound. In that light, Rebbe Nachman's singing grass does not seem quite as quaint, but is actually substantial. String theory also helps to explain why G-d specifically used the medium of speech (as opposed to thought, deed or anything else) to create the world as outlined at the beginning of Genesis. (Interesting side note: String Theory only works based on a model of the universe that contains either 10 or 26 dimensions which happens to be the exact same numbers suggested by the great Kabbalist Rabbi Issac Luria in the 16th Century.)
What does all of this have to do with Jazz? Well, as we have explained, every facet of the universe is currently singing its own unique tune. This highlights the intrinsic need for us to "be ourselves," and indeed, musicians perform at their peak when they are internally consistent. Miles Davis had trouble finding himself early in his career, preferring to incarnate as a second Dizzy Gillespie. Miles finally asked him why he couldn't play like him and Dizzy wisely explained that Miles heard other sounds in his head and that he should play those. The results were stunning. I once heard the great bassist Dave Holland defend the music of Kenny G as "authentic." "You may not relate to it," he said, "but he's being true to himself and you need to applaud that."
In Conscious Community, another classic by Rabbi Shapira, he explains the prophetic connection to music. Jewish tradition records that the prophets of antiquity used music to lull themselves into the prophetic state. There is a wonderful description in the Talmud of King David's meditative practice. He would prop up his stringed instrument by the open window and in the middle of the night as the wind began to blow across the strings he would be awakened by the tune and begin the process of focusing his thoughts. Rabbi Shapira relates that when the musician begins, he is playing the music and after a while, the music begins to play him. Every serious musician knows this to be the case. In fact, this is the reason they are drawn to play to begin with.
When I gave my graduate recital at the New England Conservatory, there was a moment during improvisations on Mahler's 9th that I simply ceased to be in control of what was unfolding. I became an observer of the performance, aware of it but no longer directing it. Melodies and musical ideas that I had previously been incapable of playing flowed from my fingers. It was fantastic, and for those moments I needed nothing else from life. The audience applause came as a shock, and then it was gone. There is something that the music does to the psyche. What is it? What properties does it have that so elevates the heart and mind? In an evolutionary sense, music has no value. The deaf are quite as capable of propagating the species as anyone else. How is it that these ordered tones compel us so?
Jazz, by virtue of its improvisational nature, forces the players to intently focus on the here and now. The musicians are balanced on a tight rope, not knowing precisely where the other side is and needing to depend on each other to get there. This trust and inspirational flow is similar to our relationship to G-d -- the less we are weighed down by the past or fretting over the future, the more of that natural creative (and spiritual) flow we can access. Many of the players I've spoken to and played with acknowledge this dynamic. They know that they have become a vessel for something bigger. It's their version of a religious rite, though they might never give it that appellation.
Kaballah explains that there are five spiritual dimensions and that at the intersection of the highest two, four energies merge: Eden, souls, Torah and music. This implies that each one of these concepts is a doorway to the others. Though Goethe wrote that architecture was "petrified music," dance, sculpture, drawing et al are not mentioned. It seems as though music hits a plane of reality that is simply higher than other artistic endeavors. It is the language of reality itself and its building blocks. Musicians also know the feeling of deep connection to the other players. It might not last five minutes after they leave the stage, but there is something magical while it lasts. As all people possess souls and as the root of all souls emanates from the top of that fourth world, it would follow that music is also a doorway to the merging of people on a soul level. Pleasure, wisdom, unity and transcendence are all byproducts of the true musical experience.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Game theory with a Chassidic twist

I just found this post via an article on Cross-Currents. Enjoy!

al tishali oti: The Game of Chess [explained Chassidicly]: "Once, at a Sabbath gathering (farbrengen in Yiddish), in 1948, the Rebbe, in recognition of the presence of Sammy Reshevsky (world-famous c..."

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A public service announcement concerning responsible behavior on Purim, courtesy of Reb Ally.

Also, some important things to consider regarding drinking on Purim, brought to you by the Rebbetzin's Husband.

A safe and freilichin Purim!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Work It...!

B'nei Machshava Tova: Reb Shmuel Strashun, author of the Hagahot RaSHaSH...: "Reb Shmuel Strashun, author of the Hagahot RaSHaSH (a supercommentary on the Talmud Bavli) was known as a genius par excellen..."

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Matisyahu's "Live at Stubb's, Vol. II" - In Stores Now!


Personally, I think that the "Israeli Keffiyeh" is a stupid idea, at best, if not downright provocative, at worst...

Friday, March 11, 2011

Passionate Judaism

This post by Reb Ally reminded me of something wonderful I learned from Rav Kook.

In explaining Chassidus, Rav Kook examined why the students of the Ba'al Shem Tov were always engaged in purification, with their penchant for immersing in the mikvah on a regular basis, saying the Tikkun HaKlali, abstaining from material pleasures, and practicing ascetics.

Rav Kook explained that the path of chassidus is to serve God with unbridled passion, with joy, and emotional outpourings of the soul. To do that, one must stoke the fires that fuel passion, a passion that arouses the soul and brings out its fullest beauty in expression. But this passion must be handled correctly, for it is an element that can be perverted and lead to inappropriate arousal, for the wrong things.

The glass blower must work with raging fires to produce the most exquisite work of art, but he must be wise and use the right equipment, lest he ruin the delicate glass - or worse, injure himself.

In order to maintain a balance and protect themselves from the potentially dangerous misuse of passion, it is imperative to take extra measures to ensure that the fire is tempered by the waters of the mikvah, and maintain a higher level of purity.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Birth of a new Halacha

I received this e-mail earlier this morning. It's an interesting commentary on our generation...
Many years ago, in a far away country, there was a well-known rabbi who was consulted on all sorts of matters relating to the Jewish people. His wise counsel was sought from people of all walks of life, and the community at large accepted his decisions, as they understood that his rulings and pronouncements were divinely inspired. So when one time he met with some parents of his students, and a few mothers complained that their children were not making their beds, he assured them that he would deal with the matter. That week, in his public address to his students, he mentioned that the students should always make sure to make their beds in the morning.
When the person transcribing the speech wrote up his review of the talk, he made sure to emphasize the rabbi's intention. He wrote, "The Rosh Yeshiva today ruled that one is m'chuyav to make his bed in the morning." Word spread fast. The halacha had been established: One was obligated to make their bed.
Later that day, someone came to the Rosh Yeshiva and asked, "I don't have time to make my bed before I go to davening. By the time I get back my mother is gone for the day so she doesn't think I make my bed, and isn't pleased. What should I do?" After hearing the answer that was given, the halacha was suitably amended to say that the bed should be made as soon as one gets up. "One is m'chuyav to make his bed in the morning, as soon as he gets up."
The next day, he was approached by a bochur that wanted to know, "When you said 'as soon as he gets up', do you mean immediately - right when one steps out of the bed - or is one allowed some time first? So they added to the text: "One is m'chuyav to make his bed in the morning, soon after he gets up."
"How long soon after?" he was immediately asked. "How much time exactly?" "10-15 minutes?", he replied, figuring that's a reasonable amount of time. And so it was added: "One is m'chuyav to make his bed in the morning, within 10-15 minutes from when he gets up." The bochurim found this to be a satisfactory resolution, but unsurprisingly, it resulted in some bochurim insisting that it should be made by 10 minutes, and others saying it was fine to wait even 15 minutes. After some time, they settled on an unofficial resolution by considering 10 minutes to be the first zman, and 15 minutes the second zman.
Things went along smoothly until one day a bochur came over and explained to him a problem he had run into. "My roommate doesn't like the way I make my bed! He claims it's not really made!" "What do you mean?", asked the Rosh Yeshiva. "Well, he claims that for a bed to be considered 'made' the pillow needs to be on top and the sides need to be even or tucked in, and I just lay out the cover on top, covering everything, however it comes out. What should I do?" The Rosh Yeshiva mulled this over for a while, and replied: You're allowed to make it however your family does it. What's acceptable to your mother (or father) is acceptable here. Hakol k'minhago. An addition was added to the halacha: "One is m'chuyav to make his bed in the morning, within 10-15 minutes from when he gets up. The manner of making the bed should be done according to one's established minhag." (Later that week when the bochurim went home for the weekend, many parents were somewhat confused when they were asked by their sons, "What is the minhag of our family of how to make our beds?", but they figured it was all part of the tremendous spiritual growth they could see in their young bnei torah.)
One morning a few weeks later, as shacharis was beginning, the Rosh Yeshiva was notified about an argument that had broken out between 2 bochurim. Approaching their room, he heard loud shouting through the closed door. As he entered, he found one of the bochurim vehemently yelling at the other. Seeing him come in, the young man turned to him and exclaimed loudly, "Rebbe! I'm so glad you're here! I tried to get him to make his bed but he wouldn't listen! He just ignored me, and now it's 5 minutes after the zman, and look - his bed is still not made!" Before the Rosh Yeshiva had a chance to respond, the other bochur quickly spoke up in his defense, "That's not true. I only got out of bed 2 minutes ago! I still have 8 minutes until the zman!" "Yes, he only got out of bed 2 minutes ago. But he woke up 20 minutes ago! That means he should have made his bed 10 minutes ago!"
It was clear that there needed to be some clarification: When the psak was issued that a bed must be made 10-15 minutes after getting up, did 'after getting up' mean after waking up ('m'sha'as kumuso') or did it mean after getting out of bed ('m'sha'as yitziaso')? At this point a small crowd had gathered around the room and a vociferous discussion had broken out. Everyone started buzzing, talking, sharing their thoughts of why it meant this interpretation and not the other one. Realizing what was happening, the Rosh Yeshiva put an abrupt stop to it all by loudly demanding that everyone should immediately go to davening and they would deal with it later on. By lunchtime that day the Rosh Yeshiva had still not addressed the burning issue and a fierce debate had already broken out in the halls of the yeshiva. Even the rabbeim had gotten involved. Some felt that the halacha had to mean from when a person got out of bed, because as they explained, "if it meant 'from when he woke up' then the first thing he would have to do upon awaking would be to look at his clock and remember the time. But this can't be, because we all know that the first thing a person must do when he wakes up is say 'modeh ani'. Therefore it must mean 'from when he gets out of bed'.
"In spite of this convincing logic others still held it was better to be machmir and go by from when a person wakes up and not to wait until he gets out of bed. They pointed out that all that was needed to avoid the above-mentioned conflict was to first say modeh ani and then subtract 10 seconds from whenever he first looks at the clock. "But not all clock have second hands on them," countered the first opinion, "and besides, it is too easy to forget the exact time including the seconds."
The machmirim had a ready response: "Firstly, someone who cares about the halacha properly can make sure to have a clock with seconds on it, and secondly, he should also have a paper and pen next to his clock so he can mark down the proper time, in order to avoid the chance of forgetting it."
Seeing that positions had already been staked out in this dispute, the Rosh Yeshiva decided not to voice his own opinion and instead told everyone to go by whatever their rebbe held.
Unfortunately, this had the effect of causing a lot of machlokes in the school as some people didn't agree with their rabbeim, and resented being forced out of their beds sooner than they preferred. The problems were soon settled when a young illuy came up with an ingenious solution. He pointed out that even though someone had woken up, if they had in mind that they were sleeping it was like they actually were, since 'machshava k'ma'ase'. Although his reasoning was roundly rejected by many others, it satisfied those lazier bochurim and they let the matter slide. No one was much surprised at their reaction, as these sorts of students had already demonstrated their laxity of the halacha when it was realized that they were deliberately getting dressed while still sitting in their bed, in order to give themselves more time until the zman of 'when you get up' would commence (according to the shita of m'sha'as yitziaso).
For a brief while the yeshiva. had some complaints from bochurim who wanted to switch rooms because their roommates were not keeping what they felt was the right zman for making their beds. Already very disturbed by the problems that the previous issue had caused and not wanting to cause any more machlokes in the yeshiva, the Rosh Yeshiva wisely dealt with the problem by declaring that if anyone was concerned about another not making the zman, they were allowed to make the other persons bed for them, as long as the first one had da'as that the other would be yotzei for himself. He also said that the person making the bed didn't have to specific da'as because obviously if he was making it he had da'as to do such a thing. Despite that, it wasn't uncommon to hear people loudly declaring, "Have in mind to be yotzei so-and-so when making his bed!"
Some months after the initial psak was issued, an enterprising bochur started selling a unique clock that had a special alarm. The alarm would wake you up, and when you pushed the right button it would turn off and ring 9 minutes later to remind you that you had 1 minute left to make your bed. He actually also made a second one that gave you 14 minutes instead of 9, but no one bought it since they felt it was better not to be meikel.
Another issue that the yeshiva had to resolve was that according to the opinions that one must make their beds from when they first woke up, what was to be done if someone fell asleep again shortly after waking up? After much learned discussion it was decided that falling back asleep wasn't a problem, and the zman only started after the real, final waking up. This was derived from the situation of if one woke up in the middle of the night: Was he then obligated to make his bed shortly after? For a brief time, some people in the yeshiva began to follow this custom. But when the Rosh Yeshiva ruled that it wasn't necessary, they understood from that that the zman only began after the last, real waking up.
These events all occurred many, many years ago, and boruch hashem nowadays it isn't as heated an issue as it once was. Everyone understands and accepts the principles of eilu v'eilu divrei Elokim chaim, minhag avoseinu b'yadeinu, ba'al nefesh yachmir, and shomer p'saim hashem. Each person has a tradition or chumra that he's entitled to follow. In addition, there have been many wonderful books written on this subject, most recently Artscroll's splendid translation of Hilchos Ish U'Mitoso, which sheds much light on this subject for the average layman (also available in a laminated, newly type-set, pocket edition that one can keep by their bed!).
However legend has it that if you go to this yeshiva and poke in on some of the rooms, you'll still occasionally find a bochur here and there that tries to be extra zahir in this inyan and - even on a cold winter night - will sleep on top of his carefully made blanket so that he never will - chas v'chalila!- find his bed unmade past the proper zman

Monday, March 7, 2011

The original story can be found in Shivchei HaBesht (In Praise of the Ba'al Shem Tov). A very close friend of mine shared this story with me about a week ago, and then this little gem fell into my lap.

The idea that sometimes, we need to be someone else's Eliyahu HaNavi, and that we have the power to do so, is extremely uplifting...

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Entering Into Adar

This is a shiur that Rav Moshe Weinberger gave several years ago at Derech HaMelech, a wonderful yeshiva in Jerusalem.

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Rav Weinberger discusses the importance of prayer, and Amalek's main strategy in trying to destroy us. As always, it's worth listening to.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The importance of context

A certain book came out recently about a famous 20th century Jewish leader who was instrumental in shaping much of American Jewry, one way or another. A tzaddik and talmid chochom by all accounts, this luminary had views and opinions which were not always very popular nor in congruence with other leaders in the Jewish world. However, as fiercely as this gadol may have advocated for his beliefs and halachic rulings, it's well known that he venerated his contemporaries and respected them wholeheartedly.

While this book seeks to lay out the tzaddik's positions on certain issues in a detailed, carefully explained manner, the biographical accounts are sorely lacking in that same painstaking awareness. There are certain anecdotes in the volume that can - and are - misrepresented in an awful way. I'm actually surprised that I haven't heard anything about calls for this book to be banned, due to the potentially inflammatory material in the book.

In one episode, this rav is being questioned about why his community's yeshivot don't emulate the style of the other communities' systems of learning, who seem to enjoy success in the level of scholarship. The rav replies that the other school of thought's success stems from their focus on boyche sevoros (an insinuation that they place esteem on pseudo-intellectual dialectics that stem from an egocentric, misinformed understanding) rather than emes (truth) in learning.

Another story relates how the rav once commented that no significant poskim (halachic authorities/arbiters) ever emerged from the other community's system.

Taken at face value, these stories present this rav in a very bad light, casting a pall on his legacy. From these stories, one can be led to believe that this rav was a harsh, ignorant man, which is the furthest thing from the truth. It's preposterous to claim that this rav honestly felt this way about the other school's style; while the egocentricity may present itself as an issue, the rav certainly did not mean to invalidate that style of learning. What may have occurred in that instance was that the rav was encountering an individual who wouldn't understand the varying reasons, or wouldn't be mollified in any case.

As for the second story, it's obvious that the rav would not say such a thing seriously. He was contemporaries with some of the greatest tzaddikim of the past generation: Rav Moshe Feinstein, Rav Aharon Kotler, the Chazon Ish...he dealt with them constantly and recognized their greatness. I don't claim to know why he made such a statement, but to publish it in this volume only serves to start machlokes.

 The task of conveying nuance in prose is an extremely difficult skill, and one must make sure that the context and tone of the story is fully conveyed. I don't know the author, nor can I claim to understand his motives for publishing this book. Aside from these stories, the book is a very good - and important - read, especially if you would like to gain an insight into what this rav was encountering and trying to accomplish in those early days of American Jewry. But the author should have been more responsible concerning these glimpses into the rav's day-to-day dealings; the fact that he can source them to other books means nothing, for the same reason that they are meaningless in his book: context.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Click on the image to enlarge it.

I found this here.

Yaakov Dovid Shulman is a versatile writer/translator/biographer/poet whose work appears in many books from both mainstream and independent Jewish publishing houses. He has translated B'nei Machshava Tova, as well as a primer of Breslov teachings, among many other things, and has made many of his works available for free online.

Hitting 'em where it hurts*

If you say that the chazzan can't learn, and the rabbi can't sing, then you're speaking lashon hora.
But if you say that the chazzan can't sing, and the rabbi can't learn...then you are committing murder.
- Reb Yisroel Lipkin of Salant
What a powerful lesson!

When we denigrate someone in general, that person may or may not be able to just shrug it off. But if we attack what characterizes them, what they put their efforts into and the strengths they pride themselves in having, we're engaging in utter cruelty.

Validating others is so important, especially when it comes to acknowledging their abilities in their chosen field...

* inspired by a post on Neil Harris' blog