Sunday, January 29, 2012

Free Rav Moshe Weinberger shiurim!

The folks over at Rav Moshe Weinberger's website have just informed me that they are providing Torah Anytime with free content available for download from the original site!

As of now, two series Inspired Parenting and Children's Names in Halacha and Hashkafah are up on Rav Weinberger's TA profile page, in addition to other shiurim that he has delivered in Ohr Naava, headquarters of Torah Anytime. While you're there, don't forget to check the other lecturers that Torah Anytime has to offer! is a valuable resource for a whole range of topics, delivered by a dynamic personality who embraces all these different aspects of Judaism. Be sure to check out the original sire for many more topics and shiurim; it's worth every penny!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Having concluded that human suffering was beyond endurance, a certain Rebbe went up to heaven and knocked at the Messiah's gate.

"Why are you taking so long?" he asked him. "Don't you know mankind is expecting you?"

"It's not me they are expecting," answered the Messiah. "Some are waiting for good health and riches. Others for serenity and knowledge. Or peace in the home and happiness. No, it's not me they are awaiting."

At this point, they say, the Rebbe lost patience and cried: "So be it! If you have but one face, may it remain in shadow! If you cannot help men, all men, resolve their problems, even the most insignificant, then stay where you are, as you are. If you still have not guessed that you are bread for the hungry, a voice for the old man without heirs, sleep for those who dread night, if you have not understood all this and more: that every wait is a wait for you, then you are telling the truth: indeed, it is not you that mankind is waiting for."

The Rebbe came back to earth, gathered his disciples, and forbade them to despair:

"And now the true waiting begins."

Elie Wiesel, One Generation After

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Reb Moshe and "the Ruv"

Rav Moshe Feinstein OBM had a regular study session with a particular student of his, a descendant from a true Lithuanian family - a real litvack in every sense of the word.

Sometimes, when going through an especially difficult passage in the gemara or some other area of learning, Reb Moshe would instruct this student to "go ask Reb Yoilish". The student would get up from his seat, cross the Williamsburg bridge from the Lower East Side into the heart of the Hasidic community of Satmar in Brooklyn, and pose their difficulty to Rav Yoel Teitelbaum, the Satmar Ruv OBM. After receiving his answer, the student would return to Reb Moshe and share it with him. Reb Moshe would nod his agreement to the answer, and they would continue.

Once, the student asked for an explanation after returning from the long trip to Williamsburg. Obviously, Reb Moshe knew the answer to their own problem - if so, why did he insists on sending this student over to "the Ruv" with their difficulties?

Looking into his eyes, Reb Moshe responded "Because it is important for you to see that Reb Yoilish iz nisht 'nor' a kano'i - er is oichet a lamdan!" Reb Yoel isn't "just" a zealot - he is also a scholar par excellence! (heard from my father, who heard it from this student).

An important lesson here, especially in light of some recent very irresponsible blog posts out there concerning the Satmar Ruv. Reb Yoel was not some volatile, reactionary individual who acted on impulse. He knew how to "learn up" a sugya far better than any of us can possibly hope to, and any opinion that he had was the result of his own airtight method of learning the relevant sources and considerations of the current state of affairs, That doesn't necessarily mean that he was right, per se, for the general public, nor that we must go according to his rulings - there are other formidable authorities with their own divergent outcomes based on their own learning of the same sugyot that we can rely upon.

This is not meant as an apologetic for him - like Rav Kook OBM, he needs no defense, no apologetics. He saw a need in the world for a certain way of action that needed to be done, and he did it, without pulling any punches. Sometimes it hurts our ears and gives us much heartbreak to read his words, but you can be assured that he felt it was 100% sound and necessary (the unfortunate aftermath and state of affairs that are being laid at his feet today are another matter, beyond the scope of this essay) in a halachic and hashkafic manner. To think otherwise is baseless - just look at any of his responsa and you will find scores of textual proofs and logic that corroborate his point of view (according to his reasoning).

But I take issue with those whose hubris allow them to write pointless diatribes against a man who cannot even respond to their accusations; their assertions are emotional and passionate, yet either intellectually lazy (in one blogger's case) or so venomous that they immediately plunge into the logical fallacy of ad hominem - the very thing they vilify him for!

I try to avoid politics and expressing my opinions about such matters; at this blog, we try to spread the light, which is why I chose to include the anecdote at the beginning of this post. It is obvious that Reb Moshe and Reb Yoel had numerous, sometimes sharp disagreements. Yet Reb Moshe knew that nothing came out of Reb Yoel's mouth or mind that had not been carefully weighed according to his understanding of halacha. He may be wrong about something, but it came from a place of understanding, not a baseless conception that he conjured out of nowhere.

But those posts that I referenced earlier have necessitated this response, if only for my own conscience in knowing that I have done what is needed to defend Torah itself.

We should merit to witness the arrival of Moshiach, so that all these walls we construct should come down, and we will be able to see the truth that all tzaddikim exude, each in their own way...

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Pey Dalid live tonight at 10:30 EST!

Pey Dalid are playing tonight at The Bitter End in Greenwich.

Can't make the show? Watch it here. (Warning: the link goes to a live feed at the venue; it's not always Pey Dalid there!)

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Not reinventing the wheel

Rabbi Aryeh Leib HaKohen Heller (author of the Ketzos HaChoshen, one of the most important commentaries on the Choshen Mishpat section of the  Shulchan Aruch) was not a chasid. While he may not have been considered a vehement opponent like many of the mitnagdim, he saw no merit in the path of the Ba'al Shem Tov.

Once, he met Reb Tzvi Hersh of Zidichov. Although at that point Reb Tzvi Hersh was still a young man, his reputation as a true genius had already begun to become widespread. The Ketzos (as Reb Aryeh Leib was referred to) decided that who would be a more suitable person to ask about the merits of chassidus than Reb Tzvi Hersh? And so, he posed the following questions to Reb Tzvi Hersh:

"What exactly was the contribution of the Ba'al Shem Tov? After all, there hardly seemed to be any major innovation when viewed in the context of what Rabban Shimon Bar Yochai introduced with the Zohar, and the later additions of the ARI haKadosh. How did the Ba'al Shem Tov - and by extention, chassidus - distinguish itself?"

Reb Tzvi Hersh answered with a parable:

There was a small village where no one ever ventured out into the world beyond the village limits. Once, a villager decided to explore and he left to travel the world. At one point, he found himself in an exotic locale, where he encountered a strange, bird-like creature. This creature bore an uncanny resemblance to humans in many ways! When this fellow returned to his little provincial village, and tried to describe this amazing animal, the townsfolk just looked at him quizzically, uncomprehending.

A short while after, a second villager set off to travel the world beyond, inspired by his predecessor. He too encountered this strange animal in his exploration, and took many notes about the animal's physiology, characteristics, and other important details. When he tried to show these notes to his neighbors back home, they were now able to grasp a little bit of what the first fellow had been describing, but the mysterious creature still remained beyond their ability to fathom it.

A third fellow set off, years later.

This time, he brought the bird creature home to his village.

Reb Tzvi Hersh turned to the Ketzos and explained: Reb Shimon Bar Yochai went up to the farthest reaches of heavens and tried to explain what he saw. That is the Zohar, and it is extremely difficult for finite beings to understand without a frame of reference. The ARI came along, and brought us more detailed descriptions of what went on in the spiritual realm, making it a little more relatable for us.

But the Ba'al Shem Tov went up to the heavens, and "brought God" down to us, so that we can understand what we are seeing.

Rav Tzvi Meir on Shovavim, part IV

Shiurim - Sichos Hischazkus: Shovavim 4 - eSnips

Friday, January 13, 2012

The love of Shabbos Kodesh

Shabbos Kodesh is the greatest outpouring of love into the universe; one of the reasons we do not bring a sin offering on Shabbos is because when there is true love, all sins are forgiven (this does not preclude the necessity for the sinner to confess and repent, of course, but that is beyond the scope of this post).

The B'nei Yissaschar finds an allusion to this all encompassing love in a wonderful gematria: the numerical value of Shabbos (702) is equal to that of the phrase "Ahavah b'chol lev, ahava b'chol nefesh, ahava b'chol meod." (Love with all [one's] heart, love with all [one's] soul, love with all [one's] being/capacity)


On Shabbos we can return our focus to the relationships that matter most to us - with our spouses, children, family, God...and with ourselves.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Rav Tzvi Meir on Shovavim, part II

It's a little bit longer; I found myself getting carried away by the content - a common occupational hazard when learning from this tzaddik in particular. Again, any mistakes are my own, due to my improper understanding...
Shiurim - Sichos Hischazkus: Shovavim 2 - eSnips

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Rav Tzvi Meir on Shovavim.

Audio by me. I'm still trying to figure things out, but I feel like I'm groping blindly. Feedback would be appreciated. It's kind of awkward to speak to "no one", and it gets hard to pace it, too...
Shiurim - Sichos Hischazkus: Shovavim 1 - eSnips

Monday, January 9, 2012

A must read.

Greatness --- and those who sully it

Encountering Error in Education

This past Shabbos, I had my first run-in with misinformation as a result of education in my own children. As my big boy proudly recited his parsha sheet chapter and verse (which continues to be a trip for me; my friends and I marvel at the fact that *we* are sitting at the head of a Shabbos table, listening to parsha sheets. It's still very new...), he repeated something to me that he was taught that was flat-out wrong. Not incorrect for the sake of age-appropriate learning, which has its place, but rather a common mistake in pshat. To the best of my knowledge, there isn't even an opinion that learns the text the way his teacher gave it over...

I didn't want to contradict his teacher to him, because I realize that it will cause confusion and undermine the teacher. But when I shared this observation with my wife, she wasn't even aware of the mistake. Why? - because she had always been taught the same exact thing since she was a child!

My question is this: when we encounter such problems, what is the best way to deal with them? Do we "let it go"? If that's the case, until what age? Where do our obligations lie?

Friday, January 6, 2012

Musicians and punk fans will appreciate this: My soon to be three-year-old just discovered "feedback" with a speaker system. Nachas!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

A great shiur on the 10th of Tevet given a few years ago by Rav Mordechai Willig. Very interesting stuff, including strong mussar at the end. Link.

The killing blow

He falls to the ground, beaten, and lays still. Hardly breathing, he waits for me to step in and finish the job. I step forward to oblige.

Standing over him, I don't see a formidable enemy; I see a broken, foolish old man. I raise my staff to strike him.

He raises a weak hand over his head. "Stop!" he croaks, "give me a minute. You've got me, okay? Can I get a last request?"

I don't answer him. I keep my staff raised, ready to bring it crashing down, but I stare at him. He takes my silence as permission. With pleading eyes, he reaches into the inner pocket of his frock coat and pulls out a crumpled pack of cigarettes. "Just one last drag, okay? Send a man off right?" He gingerly pulls himself into a supine position, lights up, and takes a deep drag. Immediately, he starts hacking and coughing; there's a little tinge of crimson on his lips now.

"Ohhhh, yeah. It hurts so bad, but feels so good," he smiles up at me. "I think you broke a couple of ribs this time." 

I don't answer him. I maintain my position, waiting for him to finish. The staff is beginning to get heavy, keeping it raised like this. I tighten my grip, refusing to let go.

He takes another drag, letting out a long thin stream of smoke. He examines the glowing ember at the tip. "I have to tell you, I'm surprised that it's come to this. I always thought you were all talk." He grins up at me, a ghastly face with already drying blood from his nose crusting in his long beard. Leaning against the wall, he continues. "You always said that you were gonna end our relationship, but why would I believe that? You've never really protested anything I've suggested. Heck, most of the time you came after me! And who knows you better than me? No one, not your parents, not your wife, nobody knows you like I know you."

The stick is so heavy, my arms are starting to hurt. I can't lower my guard, but I have him where I want him. I lower my weapon, ever so slightly. Just to take some of the edge off.

He looks around the alleyway, scanning the dim area for his hat. Spotting it, he slowly crawls on bruised knees over to where it is lying in a puddle of brackish water. "Ach, just look at it!" He makes a futile attempt at shaking the water off the velvet, to no avail. "Man, do you have any idea how much Bencraft charges to clean it these days?" He puffs on his foul cigarette, ponderously looking down at the ruined hat. He shrugs. "What the hey. I'm not gonna need it soon anyway, right?"

He turns to me again, looking at me coyly. "That's why we're here, isn't it? The final showdown. After all we've been through together, the good times we had. Things that you can only talk to me about, because I'm the only one who understands you," his voice turns bitter, "I thought we were FRIENDS!" 

Leaning on the wall for support, he slowly climbs to his feet. I'm too far away at this point to stop him. He points a long finger at me. "Well, I'm not fooled," he mutters. "You still need me. It's only a matter of time until you want something so bad, and I'll be the only one willing to go with you to get it. You can't finish me." He backs away into the darkness, blending in the shadows.

I lunge forward, swinging my weapon at the space where he had just been. He's gone.

His voice floats around me, filling my ears with the familiar sounds of my very own pulse. "You'll always crave something. You can't kill me because you don't want to."

His laughing echoes after me as I walk out of the alley, cursing my failure.

v'haMeivin yavin

Monday, January 2, 2012

Kehot Online sale.

Kehot Publications, one of the biggest publishing houses/distributors of all things ChaBaD is having a major sale, going on until Wednesday, January 4, 2012.

Select titles are up to 70% off; other titles are up to 50% off. Hard to find titles are available at a steep discount for a limited time - now is the chance to grab them up!


Sunday, January 1, 2012

Take this survey!

This fellow's dissertation may help future practitioners gain better/deeper insight into the relevance and significance of religion in the crucial developmental years of adolescence.

This doctoral candidate needs help from people ages 18-25 who were raised (i.e. not necessarily religious today) in Orthodox Jewish homes to take some time and complete this anonymous survey.

Click here to take the survey!

I am partial to the idea of this survey, because I believe that we need more people who have a familiarity with the Jewish community and its numerous cultural nuances, trained with the proper tools to help our brethren...

Beyond the Pale

I am usually not one to join in the politics-laden fray; I try to live by the quote from Rav Kook reproduced at the top of the blog to the best of my abilities. However, the events occurring over in the Holy Land in and around Ramat Beit Shemesh have been escalating at an alarming rate. As of last night, the situation has gotten even worse, and for my own sake, I feel the need to protest - to not say anything would be remiss, as inaction often speaks louder than anything else.

There was a hafganah last night in Jerusalem, protesting something about negative attention cast on the chareidi community. I'm not quite sure who organized the rally, what sparked it (although I assume it had something to do with the Beit Shemesh debacle), and what was supposed to be accomplished, but I was dismayed when I saw the images from the rally prominently displayed on several new sites.

I cannot think of any cause that would justify the use of Holocaust imagery in such a perverse manner. Little children dressed in perfect replicas of concentration camp prison wear, striking poses similar to famous portraits from the war, etc. In one evening, we have completely marginalized and trivialized the Holocaust (I knowingly use the collective "we" for the obvious reasons. As I stated above, our silence is one form or another of compliance. At this point, our dissent is post-hoc and lacking any real significance.); we have sullied the memories of those who perished, and taught our children that nothing is sacred; we have shown the world that we are opportunists who will do and say anything to make our point, thereby "proving right" those very accusers who would have our land torn from our grasp. I am sickened, and disheartened.

What makes this worse is its obvious premeditation: a glance at the photos show professionally made looking costumes. these weren't hasty signs or thrown-together rags at the last moment, this was a planned idea.


The masterminds behind this egregious display of insensitivity will have to stand in din and cheshbon for this, on top of many other things.