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.