Friday, July 29, 2005

Progress Report - Eating Like An Animal - Part II

Despite a hearty appetite and mountains of appetizing-looking food, I am proud to report that I did not eat like an animal at a bris Tuesday night. It appears that I have made some progress since the bris I attended on July 4.

Restraining myself from overeating has always been difficult. After learning that my mother was diagnosed with adult onset diabetes a few years ago, I undertook a weight loss regimen and successfully lost 60 pounds by moderating my diet and running on the treadmill three times a week. My ability to lose this weight showed me that a person can truly do anything he puts his mind to.

Although the temptation to overeat is still with me, the $18 fine has acted as an effective deterrent.

Be careful not to gulp your food down hurriedly like a glutton. It was Esav who said, `Let me swallow some of this red pottage' (Bereishis 25:30). Get into the habit of eating at a moderate pace, calmly and with the same table manners you would show if an important guest were present. You should always eat like this, even when you are eating alone. Happy is the one who achieves this!

(Rebbe Nachman of Breslov)

Eating Foolishly

If the food a person eats is pure in accordance with the dietary laws and he eats it with dignity, without swallowing it hurriedly, the powers of his mind will be restored and grow and his foolishness will be subdued. But if he eats like a glutton, then he will be overwhelmed by foolishness.

(Rebbe Nachman of Breslov)

Thursday, July 28, 2005

A Guest Posting From My Wife - "Second Overall, First In The Middle"

"Second overall, first in the middle, Mommy," my daughter chants as we braid the challah dough for Shabbos. Since learning this short-cut to remember how to braid a 6-braid challah a few months ago, my daughter and I have been making challah together.

The amazing thing is that my daughter is 2 years old. She'll turn 3 in August. Since I have a 1-year old at home, too, I do take a short cut and use the bread machine to prepare the dough. Otherwise, my kitchen would become more of a disaster than it already is. My daughter loves to help me go to the pantry and get out each of the ingredients. She tells me, "Mommy sugar, yeast, salt and honey." She remembers everything that goes into the dough. Next, she drags the wooden stool across the kitchen floor and climbs on top to see what is going on at counter-height. Then, we carefully dump each of the ingredients into the bread machine. Yes, a little gets dumped on the counter and on the floor, but I try to maintain composure and remember that she is only 2 years old and there is nothing that a wet rag cannot clean up!

She begs me to crack the eggs and measure the flour :)

She pushes the button on the bread machine and we start the dough cycle. After an hour, she hears the beep and says, "Mommy, time to braid!" She runs down to the kitchen and pulls the stool back out. Now, this is the time she LOVES. I give her a piece of dough and she loves to squish and squeeze it with her little hands. "Mommy, it's sticky," she says and I give her a little flour for her hands. She loves this because it adds to the mess.

I divide the dough and she helps me remember how to braid, "Second overall, first in the middle." After I am done with my "big" challah, she lets me braid her "own" challah. It is so wonderful to see her smile when we finish braiding. Now, it is time to cover the challahs to keep them warm while they rise. She tells them, "Night, night...see you soon!"

While she is absorbed with her toys an hour later, I sneak upstairs to put the challah in the oven. A little while later, we have a beautiful Mommy and Daughter challah for Shabbos.

My husband comes home from work erev Shabbos and our little girl helps set the table and get things ready for Shabbos. She even helps place the candles in the candlesticks. When I finally bring the challah board over with the challahs covered for Motzi, everyone is excited to see what is underneath! At last, my husband says "Kiddush", we wash, and then we say Motzi. Ah...with a big smile, he uncovers the challah my daughter and I made.

Her ear to ear grin is priceless. After Motzi, she spends most of the meal drinking grape juice and gnawing on the mini-challah I braided for her.

"Daddy, second overall, first in the middle, me do it myself," she tells my husband. The moments we create now will last us a lifetime.

(Cross Posted on The Jewish Connection)

The Homeless Homeowner

Without peace in the house, you have no home.

(Rabbi Eliyahu Chaim Rosen)

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Question & Answer With Rabbi Chaim Kramer

A Simple Jew asks:

Have you noticed the language and concepts found in Degel Machaneh Ephraim are mirrored and expounded upon in Likutey Moharan?

Rabbi Chaim Kramer answers:

The concepts spoken about in the Degel Machaneh Ephraim are very similar to those found in Likutey Moharan - and most other, perhaps all - of the Chassidic writings. Their major focus is upon how to find joy, mitigate decrees, find G-d in all circumstances and so on.

However, there exists a major difference in the approach to these teachings. In the Degel, the verse is quoted and the Chassidic thought discussed, follows the verse. It is directed to the specific thought being expounded upon. In Likutey Moharan, Rebbe Nachman might or might not mention an opening verse. What he does do is begin an entire lesson, not just a thought, and then progresses with the lesson, slowly developing all the ideas that are inter-connected.

Rabbi Chaim Kramer is Director of the Breslov Research Institute and author of many books including "Crossing the Narrow Bridge: A Practical Guide to Rebbe Nachman's Teachings" as well as "Anatomy of the Soul".

Recitation With Understanding

As I continue to say Perek Shirah on behalf of the Jews living in Gush Katif and the Shomron, I am slowly making my way through Rabbi Nosson Slifkin's wondeful book Nature's Song: An Elucidation of Perek Shirah, the Ancient Text that Lists the Philosophical and Ethical Lessons of the Natural World.

I recommend it to all, and as Rabbi Sliflin wrote, "The benefits are not promised to one who merely says Perek Shirah, but rather to one who involves himself in it. Mere lip service is pointless. One must give genuine and serious contemplation to the concepts involved in order to benefit from them."


Above all, you should realize that you have not yet accomplished anything, and that you must try to improve your way of life. The closer you get to perfection, the more you realize you haven't made any progress at all. Your road to kedusha, sanctity, is a never-ending climb to Infinity. The more knowledgeable you are, the more you become aware of your ignorance.

(Rabbi Menachem Mendel Hager of Vizhnitz)

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

A Picture From My Family's Shtetl - Week 5

Manager's Amnesia

It appears that in many cases humility and position occur in inverse proportions.

Rare is the person who remains humble and has attained a certain level of stature in his office. The average person climbs up the ladder of success and soon forgets what it was like to be one of the "little people". He looks down on his subordinates in a condescending manner and heaps piles of menial work on them despite the fact that he too was once one of them.

Thank G-d, I have never had a position where I had to manage other people. It is my sincere hope that I will continue my career without ever having to do so. If I am ever in a management position, I pray that I don't get manager's amnesia and forget my humble beginnings.

I hope I always remember that I too once worked in the basement.

Where The Torah Cannot Be Found

The Torah is not found among those who think that they have reached the heavens.

(Kotzker Rebbe)

Monday, July 25, 2005

50% Correct

A 1915 banner from the women's suffrage movement contained the following statements:

Objection: Women are TOO PURE for the DIRTY POOL of politics.

Answer: If the Pool is dirty THE TIME HAS COME TO CLEAN IT. Women have Long Experience Cleaning up after Men.

While this answer was correct, the objection was also correct.

The objection, however, only addressed 50% of the problem and should have been rewritten, "Women and men are too pure for the dirty pool of politics."

Visiting Kfar Chabad many years ago, an elderly chassid asked me, "Mah atah lomed sham b'universitah? [What are you learning there in the university?] I told him that, among other things, I was taking political science classes at Tel Aviv University. The elderly chassid looked up at me with concern in his eyes and responded, "Sheker, atah lomed rak sheker." [Lies, you are only studying lies.]

I didn't argue with him. Today, I realize the truth in his words.

If the pool was dirty in 1915, what makes us think that it is clean now?

Rung By Rung

A man who wants to climb a ladder must first place his feet on the first rung. After his feet are off the ground he can begin to lift up his head. This teaches you in your quest for nearness to G-d you must begin by refining your base instincts and cleansing yourself of your lusts. It is wrong to think that you can begin searching for G-d intellectually while your character traits are still in a decay.

(Rabbi Avraham Weinberg of Slonim)

Friday, July 22, 2005

Shiva Asar B'Tammuz

This Sunday is the fast of the 17th of Tammuz, beginning the time period known as The Three Weeks.

The Baal Shem Tov taught that before a fast one should say, "I wish to offer my fat and blood, my body and fire, my spirit, soul, strength, heart and will before Him."

May Hashem answer our prayers during this time and rip up all the harsh decrees against us.

A Night As A Bachelor - 1995 & 2005

On Wednesday, my wife took the kids for an overnight visit to see her parents and I had the house all to myself. My night as a "bachelor" was quite different than a typical night ten years ago when I lived by myself in a small studio apartment downtown.

On a typical Wednesday night in 1995 I would:

- Rent a video from Tower Video
- Eat macaroni and cheese out of a pot placed on the coffee table in front of the television
- Drink Mountain Dew
- Stay up late

...and on this Wednesday night in 2005 I:

- Came home from work
- Ate macaroni and cheese out of a bowl at the kitchen table
- Mowed the lawn
- Read The Trail to Tranquility
- Went to bed early

Times have certainly changed!

At The Root Of The Problem

The root of gloominess is pride. An arrogant person thinks that the world owes him honor and respect. He always feels slighted, believing that people disdain him. As a result, he always is in a somber mood. A humble man cheerfully accepts everything that comes his way.

(Rebbe Pinchas of Koretz)

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Guest Posting from Chabakuk Elisha: Helpful Meditation

An interesting thing happened to me the other day. I was contemplating a certain activity, and as I was rationalizing it's legitimacy, I remembered a short lesson:

The Baal HaTanya was once visited by Rebbe Nachman of Breslov. While they were together, the Baal HaTanya expounded on Tehillim 23:4, "Even when I walk in the valley of darkness, I will fear no evil for You are with me.." Here, the Baal HaTanya interpreted it a bit differently by moving the comma and translating it thus:

"Even when I walk in the valley of darkness I do not fear, The real evil is, that I bring You here with me."

The lesson being taught here is, that we often are not concerned with our own state. If we act improperly (we rationalize), we're not hurting anyone, so what's the big deal. The Baal HaTanya hits on this, and reminds us to remember that we are not alone in our actions -- G-d is with us. How terrible it is for us to force G-d to be with us when we act inappropriately, for we force him to be a part of that act.

If only I would carry that thought with me at all times, I surely would never act improperly!

Chabakuk Elisha's last guest posting can be read here.

A Lesson From Your Yetzer Hara

You can take a lesson from your yetzer hara, the evil inclination. One day it lures you into doing something wrong. After you yield to your lustful craving, your vice becomes repugnant to you. Still the following day, the yetzer hara tempts you anew with the same sin, and you surrender to your lust all over again. Now, doesn’t it stand to reason, if you can be seduced repeatedly by the evil inclination, that you should regard the holy Torah and the mitzvos as fresh and attractive each new day, as they represent life and true happiness.

(Rabbi Aharon Perlow of Karlin)

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

The Window Washer - A Modern Day Mashal

We are like workers suspended by a rope, washing windows on the side of a building.

While we may foolishly think that our scrubbing and wiping keeps us from falling to the ground, our livelihood depends only upon our connection Above.

Swimming In The Workplace

The Talmud (Kiddushin 29a) teaches that a father has numerous obligations towards his son to prepare him for life: "A father must … teach his son Torah … and teach him a trade or profession; other opinions say that a father must teach his son how to swim in the water."

Why is swimming singled out as the one physical fitness pursuit which a father must teach his son? If the purpose of learning how to swim is for safety purposes then the Rabbis could have chosen many other examples; i.e. self-defense, first aid, or survival techniques. Rather the Rabbis were teaching a very special lesson by juxtaposing swimming with the obligation to teach one's son a trade, for the techniques of swimming can be applied to earning a livelihood.

The swimmer must place his entire body in the water and churn vigorously with his hands and feet in order to propel himself. At the same time, he must constantly lift his head above the water so as not to drown. Similarly, the man who works at his livelihood must strain every fiber of his body in order to do the job right, yet at the same time he must limit the scope of the labor to his hands, and not allow his heart and soul to "drown" in the mundane pursuits. Like the swimmer, he must keep his head above the waters. One of the fundamental and perilous errors of life is to think that what we do is who we are.

(Rabbi Avrohom Chaim Feur)

Tuesday, July 19, 2005


Today, at lunchtime I finished learning maseches Berachos. I have certainly come along way since since this day in November.

I will begin learning maseches Rosh Hashanah tomorrow.

A Picture From My Family's Shtetl - Week 4

An Index Of Refinement

A good index of a person's refinement is his ability to deal with an uncooperative toddler. Angrily disciplining a toddler does not exhibit parental skill; dealing with the child without a trace of anger does.

While I am not always successful in controlling my anger, I try to view each "toddler outburst" as a test to control my emotions. Each morning I daven, "Ribbono shel Olam, may we be matzliach to raise our children with middos tovos and yiras Shamayim. May we be able to discipline our children without displaying anger. May You help me be a better father."

Children become fools when their parents are quick tempered.

(Rebbe Nachman of Breslov)


Parents who think that they can convince their children to keep mitzvos through force, are treating them like soldiers. In the army, a soldier will not dare disobey orders, but when he gets out, he will often act in just the opposite way, since he is so sick of being forced to do everything he is told. The same is true for our children. If they feel that we are forcing them, chances are they will rebel and do just the opposite of what we are forcing them to do.

(Rabbi Yisrael Pesach Feinhandler)

Monday, July 18, 2005

Guest Posting From Rabbi Dovid Sears: Common Ground Between Breslev and Other Early Chassidic Texts

Rabbi Dovid Sears, author of many books on Chassidic thought including The Path of the Baal Shem Tov and the newly-released Shir Na'im/Song of Delight, provided the posting below upon request.

Common Ground Between Breslev and Other Early Chassidic Texts

There are strong similarities between virtually all early Chassidic texts, especially those that originate with the family members and close disciples of the Baal Shem Tov. To illustrate this fact (among other things), third generation Breslev leader Rabbi Nachman Goldstein, better known as the Rav of Tcherin, compiled two anthologies: Leshon Chassidim and Derech Chassidim. These two works present selections from dozens of Chassidic seforim on the most common themes, such as Da'as / Knowledge of G-d, Achilah / Holy Eating, Tefilah / Prayer, Hisbodedus / Meditation, etc. To a Breslever Chassid, the two volumes implicitly highlight some of the parallels between Rabbi Nachman's teachings and those of the spiritual environment in which he was born and raised -- the "Baal Shem Tov's Cheder," so to speak. To other Chassidim, they also show how many of Rabbi Nachman's primary ideas and concerns are connected to the streams of Chassidus that flow from the Baal Shem Tov and Maggid of Mezeritch, as well as their successors.

Beyond this, there are a number of interesting parallels we have come across. As is well known, Rabbi Nachman quotes the Baal Shem Tov many times, although not always by name. For example, the teaching that a person is "where his thoughts are," and the Baal Shem Tov's pshat in the Mishnah from Pirkei Avos: "The reward of one mitzvah is a mitzvah" -- that is, the reward is the connection to G-d inherent in the mitzvah itself. The reason why Reb Nachman does not mention his holy great-grandfather's name in such cases is probably because these teachings were quite familiar to all of his followers (although on occasion he does quote the Baal Shem Tov by name).

My chaver Reb Hillel Lubman has also noticed a number of such "overlaps." For example:

1. Rabbi Boruch of Mezhbuzh, Botzino de-Nehoro, printed by Chassidei Skolye, p. 159, on the verse in Tehilim 37:10: "Ve-od me'at ve-eyn rosho" -- compare this to the ma'amar "Azamra," Torah 282 in Likkutei Moharan I.

2. Rabbi Moshe Chaim Ephraim of Sudylkov, Degel Machaneh Ephraim, parshas Toldos, on the verse "Vayomar Esav," p. 33 (new print, "Hotzoas Mir"), citing a teaching from Rabbi Nachman Horodenker, z"l (after whom Rabbi Nachman of Breslev was almost certainly named) -- compare to the first ma'amar in Likkutei Moharan I ("Ashrei Temimei Darech").

To compile a list of such comparisons would be an enormous project. However, it would be worthwhile for anyone with the energy to attempt it.

The avodahs stressed by the Baal Shem Tov are also shared by most other "early Chassidim," including Breslev: Tikkun Chatzos / The Midnight Vigil, Hisbodedus / Secluded Prayer and Meditation, Mikveh / Ritual Immersion, Vasikin / Praying at Daybreak, Tefillah / Prayer, Neginah / Melody, Rikkud / Dance, etc.

It should be mentioned that there are numerous parallels between the Breslev and Chabad seforim, too. Thus, the Tzemach Tzeddek once met a Breslever Chassid and greeted him with the verse: "Bnei ish echad anachnu... We are sons of the same man" (see the recent collection of such anecdotes, "Shivchei ha-Tzaddik.") Although the ru'ach and style of the two derachim differ, they nevertheless share common roots, and this is readily apparent. But that's another discussion.

Rabbi Sears's last posting on this blog can be read here.

The Purpose

Torah was not given to mankind for any other purpose other than to refine people.

(Bereishis Rabbah 44:1)

Friday, July 15, 2005

Am I Learning Torah Lishma?

There are countless teachings on the importance of learning Torah lishma (for its own sake). While I can say that the only purpose of my learning is to come closer to Hashem, can I really say this with utter certainty, or is this just my arrogance deceiving me?

Yesterday as I was learning Likutey Moharan on my commute home from work, I came across an enlightening footnote in lesson #12 where Rabbi Chaim Kramer wrote:

"Obviously, no one will readily admit that his Torah study is, by nature, not purely for its own sake. The only way to come to some clarity and remove the confusion is constantly praying to G-d for truth and guidance."

In our Torah study, as in our mitzvah observance, we must be constantly on guard that we are serving Hashem and not our own ego.


People can sit and study the Torah and pray for seventy years, but if they lack sincerity, then in the end they will not have become one iota of a real Jew.

(Rabbi Yechiel Meir of Gustinin)

Thursday, July 14, 2005

A Thought For 7 Tammuz

If I return to 1301 Market Street, my great-grandfather's house is no longer there.

If I return to the tiny shtetl in Ukraine where my great-grandfather was born, there are few traces that Jews ever lived there.

Today, on my great-grandfather's yahrzeit, the past and present are bound together in my son who carries on his name.

Practical Genealogy

Every person in Israel is required to say: When will my deeds reach the deeds of my forefathers…

(Tanna D’vei Eliyahu Rabbah 25)

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Drinking Diet Pravda

Would you allow a stranger to place thoughts in your mind?

If you read the daily newspaper or watch television news you certainly do.

To some extent your mind is controlled by the people on the news editorial staff who decide which stories that you read or view. These people select, repackage, and present the news in a manner that tries to make you view the world through their eyes and with their world-view.

By continually reading newspapers and watching television news we are allowing other people to decide what we think about during the day. We are giving strangers the ability to fill our minds with distressing thoughts and images.

Your perception of the world is your reality. It is entirely under your control.

When you decide to expose yourself only to positive and peaceful things you can change your world for the better.

This post continues a thread that left off here.

Buy Your Copy Now!

The Trail to Tranquility

Wisdom's Paradox

Paradoxically, only by restraining the desire for wisdom and choosing to serve G-d with simplicity can one acquire the ability to grasp the perceptions that formerly remained beyond his ken.

(Rav of Tcherin - Rabbi Nachman Goldstein)

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

A Picture From My Family's Shtetl - Week 3

Is You Doin' Bat Girl?

My almost-three year-old daughter has been making me laugh a lot recently with her bad grammar, theatrical antics, and funny faces. While her vocabulary is quite remarkable for her age, the rules of grammar sometimes go out the window when she speaks. Examples of this grammar are sentences such as "Is you doin', Daddy?", "Thems got candy?", or "Me do it me-self!"

Recently, she has also come to me and said, "Hang me like a bat, Daddy!" - referring to when we play "bat girl" and I pick her up by her ankles and put her feet on the ceiling as she flaps her arms.

On Sunday, she cracked me up with a face she made while eating a home-made orange juice popsicle. I thought her head was going to implode as she crossed her eyes and scrunched up her face, sucking hard for the last remaining drops of juice. Although my daughter is a million times more extroverted than myself and has a personality quite different from mine, we share a common bond in that we both enjoy silliness.

The Most Important Five Minutes Of The Day

A crucial part of the day is the first five minutes after he arrives home. It is in a man's best interest, and the interest of the entire family, to make an extraordinary effort to make coming together with his wife a positive experience. If he is in a bad mood, he should contain his emotions for five to ten minutes and try to focus on the positive.

(Rabbi Yirmiyohu Abramov)

Monday, July 11, 2005

From Motor Mouth To Locksmith - Saying Tehillim

Since Hebrew is not my native language it has taken me years of saying Tehillim before I started connecting to what I was saying. Even to this day I continue to use an Hebrew/English interlinear version to aid my understanding.

Much of my past difficulty getting past a motor mouth recitation was a result of my lack of knowledge on how to approach this holy sefer. On a blank page inside my sefer Tehillim, I wrote down two quotes that have helped me connect to its words:

"But whatever Tehillim you recite, do not say them as if they were a report of what Dovid HaMelech said thousands of years ago. Rather, say them as if this is what Dovid purposefully arranged just for you."

(Piaceszna Rebbe)

"It is possible to reach all these gates [of teshuva] and open them by reciting Tehillim. You should concentrate when you recite Tehillim. Then you will be able to reach all forty-nine gates."

(Rebbe Nachman of Breslov)

A Kapitel A Day...

Be sure to recite Tehillim aloud every day with intense feeling and concentration, for when a person recounts the praises of the Sovereign of the Universe he causes his soul to cling to his Creator.

(Reishis Chochma)

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Degel Machaneh Ephraim Translation Project

Last Friday, I discovered that Rabbi Tal Zwecker of Ramat Bet Shemesh, Israel is in the process of translating the sefer Degel Machaneh Ephraim into English. While small excerpts of this sefer have been translated in the past, this will be the first time in almost 200 years that it will be translated from its original Hebrew.

More information on Rabbi Zwecker's translations of other Chassidic seforim can be found here.

Tax deductible donations for the Degel Machaneh Ephraim Translation Project may be sent to:

Tal Zwecker c/o Ben Farkas
366 Church Ave
Woodmere, NY 11598

Checks should be made payable to "Mosdos Cleveland"

UPDATE: Sample chapters of Degel Machaneh Ephraim can be read here.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Question & Answer With Rabbi Ozer Bergman - Shabbos

A Simple Jew asks:

If a person wants to become Shomer Shabbos, what are five easy things that a person could start to do to accomplish this goal?

Rabbi Ozer Bergman answers:

1. Start looking forward to Shabbos from early in the week, even Sunday. Look forward to it as you would to having a date with someone you are really interested in being with -- you just can't wait, it's going to be terrific, nothing's going to ruin it, all the preparations (preparing your wardrobe, getting bathed and dressed, making the reservations, etc.) are all part of the excitement.

2. Splurge on a food/drink that you normally wouldn't treat yourself to during the week; a fancy chocolate, better quality beverage of choice (for kiddush or l'chaim, for example).

3. TAKE SMALL STEPS. If it's initially too difficult to totally stop "work," then DO LESS. For example: Friday night: no TV, no movies/DVDs. Maybe in the morning no car/bike until a certain (late) hour of the day. Smokers can try to not smoke.

Remember: The goal is progress. Don't be afraid. Millions and millions of Jews have kept Shabbos. It's a matter of getting used to it. Don't do more than you can; don't fool yourself into thinking you can't do more.

4. (This is sort of related to #1.) Read/learn about the laws of Shabbos. It's crucial to strengthening your commitment to its observance, and to building your appreciation for its genius and beauty. I've wrote a short piece with some suggestions earlier this year. It's at my web site:

5. Relax. Take the weight off your shoulders and put it all on G-d.

Advice On Advice

When someone comes to you for help of some sort, think for a minute before you answer: what would be if the situation were turned around and you were approaching him for help - how would you like him to answer?

(Piaceszna Rebbe)

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Join The Spiritual Battle Against Disengagement

I started yesterday!

My House Is Bigger Than Your House

There is a well-known stereotype that Jews are only concerned about money. While we know that this is a common refrain of anti-Semites, a stereotype must have some kernel of truth for it to be perpetuated.

The anti-Semite hates Jews because he is jealous of them. But by flaunting his wealth, the Jew calls attention to himself and thereby increases the jealousy and the hatred of him.

The Biala Rebbe devoted an entire chapter of his sefer to the dangers of flaunting one's wealth. In the chapter, Let Their Homes Not Become Their Graves, the Biala Rebbe wrote:

"The home that is to be blessed with Hashem's good graces must be built upon the pillars of humility and tznius. If, G-d forbid, we make our homes ostentatious, in an attempt to attract envy and attention, this brings about all the tragedies and misfortunes that befall the Jewish people in exile."

Rabbi Yissocher Frand also addressed this issue at length in Dealing With Affluence, or, What's Wrong With a $2 Million Birthday Party and observed:

"..when we flaunt our money, we leave ourselves open to the ayin hara (the Evil Eye). If you become the talk of the community, inevitably that is going to cause a great deal of jealousy. That, in turn, causes you to be judged more strictly in Heaven. If people are jealous of you, the Heavenly tribunal starts appraising you in a different light above, and the question that they will be asking is: Does he really deserve that money? Is he using it for the purposes for which it was 'loaned' to him? How many of us can withstand that kind of scrutiny? If we can't, we shouldn't make a show of wealth."

From the above two teachings it is abundantly clear that when a Jew makes an ostentatious show of his wealth in Golus, he is playing with fire.

It is proper to understand and consider that which is surplus and superfluous, in order to cast it aside and not pursue luxuries, but be satisfied with what one has.

(Degel Machaneh Ephraim)

Question & Answer With Rabbi Dovid Sears

Rabbi Dovid Sears, Director of the Breslov Center for Spirituality and Inner Growth, and author of many books on Jewish thought has agreed to participate in question and answer sessions on this blog in the future. While is he preparing an answer to a question I sent him, he shared a reply that he gave on the subject of eating meat in light of teachings found in Jewish mysticism.

The following email interchange is posted here because it may be of interest to those seeking to better understand the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov and his derech in avodas Hashem.


The RaMaK [sixteenth century Rabbi Moshe Cordovero of Safed] in "Shiur Komah" advises the "baal nefesh" (seemingly someone who is not an "am ha-aretz" incapable of elevating the holy sparks) to refrain from meat, due to dangers posed by a reincarnated soul of a human sinner in the animal. The editorial note on that page also advises one not to eat meat unless a "divine secret" has been revealed to the consumer that the animal didn't contain the soul of a sinner. I find it interesting that some of the Chassidic sources you translate [in "A Vision of Eden: Animal Welfare and Vegetarianism in Jewish Law and Mysticism"] suggest that by saying the appropriate brachot and eating with kavannah, one can elevate such reincarnated souls. They make it sound fairly easy, but the RaMaK and his editor appear to suggest that it isn't so simple. In fact, the editor's emphasis is on a special revelation required if one wants to avoid the danger that the RaMaK mentions, not on the blessings and intention of the person eating meat or on those of the shochet. This suggests to me that at least some Kabbalists have regarded eating meat as quite spiritually dangerous, even for one who isn't an "am ha-aretz", i.e. one who is capable of the appropriate brachot and kavannah required to eat kosher meat. What do you think?

Rabbi Dovid Sears answers:

I think the problems are as the RaMaK defines them.

However, the Baal Shem Tov was born 150 years after the RaMaK passed away, at a time during which the kabbalists of Eastern Europe had become an ascetic elite, plagued by "new yetzer horas" that probably were not so commonplace in the circles of the RaMaK, ARI, Rav Chaim Vital, Rav Eliyahu de Vidas, RaMA mi-Pano, etc. Moreover he had a new mystical vision of his own. All of this led him to take a more complex and subtle stance regarding prishus / self-denial and segufim / self-mortification, etc. He did not want us to develop a negative, joyless attitude toward life -- or to become afflicted by pride in pursuing lofty spiritual goals beyond the grasp of the masses (like the punchline in the old joke, "Look who thinks he's nothing!").

So the Baal Shem Tov tried to "take the edge" off asceticism, and taught his followers how to experience Divinity through the very things of this world, rather than by entirely rejecting the world because of its impurity and spiritual risks. Yet this does not mean that we should think that it is now alright to "sink our teeth" into ta'avos olam hazeh / worldly pleasures, either! To paraphrase Rabbi Isaac of Homil, physicality is not a "lens through which to perceive G-dliness" unless one has the firm resolve to do so, as well as the eyes to see.

Kosher Money

The accumulation of money for its own sake has always been considered a form of idolatry, a worship of Mammon. The lust for money is considered a very dangerous passion that has no self-imposed limits. Whoever is caught up in it can no longer see anything else in the world, certainly not his fellow human beings. The halachic regulations dealing with money matters are more numerous and more complex than those dealing with many other matters, considered central tenets of Judaism. Just as their are obligations concerning kosher food, so there are even greater obligations concerning kosher money.

(Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz)

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

The Hypnotic Power Of Uncle Moishy

Watching my two kids last night while my wife was out, I noticed my one year-old son's trance-like stare while watching an Uncle Moishy video. Although he is still a big fan of Yosef Karduner, Uncle Moishy's hypnotic powers now have a firm grasp on both my lil' tzaddik and my red-headed maidel.

Eating Like An Animal

Just as I need to be mindful of the words that come out of my mouth, I need to be mindful of the manner in which I put food into my mouth. I am very cognizant that my passion for eating is most manifest at events and simchas where there are buffet tables. After piling a heaping portion of food on my plate I usually return to my table and gobble it down like an animal. Afterwards, I am ashamed with myself for exhibiting such behavior.

The Pele Yoetz taught, "You can strengthen your resolve by taking a vow, or by fining yourself every time you break your resolve." From today on, I resolve not to eat in such a fashion and hereby pledge $18 to tzedakah every time I do so.*

I have used this technique in the past to successfully break other bad character traits, and G-d willing, I will break this one as well.

* Because of the way I ate at a bris on Monday, I sent tzedakah to help others who are without food.

A person who eats excessively is like an animal. To be human is to eat only what is necessary.

(Rebbe Nachman of Breslov)

Definition Of Man

Only when an individual conquers his evil inclination can he call himself "man".

(Rabbi Ze'ev Wolf of Zhitomir)

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

A Picture From My Family's Shtetl - Week 2


Some rationalizations:

I don't agree that the speed limit should be 55.

Isn't 55 just an arbitrary number that symbolically tells us to be careful driving?

I am careful driving at 65 so there shouldn't be a problem, right?


I don't agree with this mitzvah.

Isn't this just a symbolic act anyway?

If I am mindful of the symbolism couldn't it be considered as if I fulfilled the mitzvah?

Many times in our lives we feel we have questions, and we are frustrated because we cannot get satisfactory answers. It would be well to examine these questions and see whether they are really questions, or rather terutzim (rationalizations/excuses). There are satisfactory answers to questions, but there are no answers to terutzim.

(Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski)


Now that the time when Moshiach will reveal himself is approaching, the yetzer hara is doing its utmost to sow dissension among brothers and to separate us from G-d...

I implore you not to malign any group of chassidim; do not follow in the path of fools who do this. All the Baal Shem Tov ever wanted to achieve was to bring unity to our people, and they should be close to one another. For even if you see that people are not going in the right direction, all your talking is of no avail anyway. Do not hate even those who hate our way of life. On the contrary, love them and bring them closer. Try to find an excuse for their actions, and pray for compassion for them so that they are not punished.

No Jew wants to commit evil; it is only his yetzer hara that leads him astray. What is the holy Jewish people to do, living in a dark age, surrounded by abominations from all sides? Therefore, even if it appears that a Jew committed a sin, do not hold this against him. Because the Jewish people are full of kedusha and mitzvos. Therefore, we should strive to love every Jew, and bring nearer all those who come to us.

("Reb Ahrele" - Rabbi Aharon Roth of Jerusalem)

Monday, July 04, 2005

Chabakuk Elisha's Comment On His Comment

After commenting here on Rabbi Lazer Brody's answer dealing with the subject of shmiras einayim, Chabakuk Elisha writes:

"The story about Rabbi Elya Lopian represents a certain philosophy - that of the Litvishe baalei Mussar.

I have a lot of respect for them, and the approach has legitimacy. I posted the story because I wanted to emphasize the seriousness of the issue, and this is certainly a matter that is often not given the proper attention. We all must avoid putting ourselves in situations that will lead to sin - and illicit thoughts are included in that category.

However, it is not at all practical or realistic to live life in seclusion - thus, we must go about our business as normal people do. In addition, we must have respect for others - so, special care must be taken not to offend women. Many women in today's society will take offence and assume that you are looking down at them if they are not treated as equals; we must be sure that women are respected and treated with dignity.

Rabbi Manis Friedman often laments at how sad it is that intimacy has been so cheapened that the modern man or woman doesn't think that there is anything wrong with men or women -- who aren't married to each other -- seeing each other as friends, or improperly dressed -- sad as it is, these realties exist, and we must function under these conditions. I don't think that seeing a women dressed improperly on the subway is likely to have the same impact one's mind as it would have 60 years ago - but surely we are not immune.

There are a couple historical & philosophical points to make here:

The Litvishe derech - especially Mussar - is primarily coming out of the Perushim. They would often wrap blindfolds around their eyes when walking in the street, and in many ways they would try not to involve themselves in matters of the world or the body. To be sure, shmiras einayim was a big deal to them.

Chassidim did not look at things the same way, and instead of employing "abstinence" as the proper approach - which often led to ego - Chassidism tries to refine the individual from within. Kedusha is very important to the Chossid, but it is not applied the same way.

The son of a certain Rebbe that I was close to, once read in Noam Elimelech (by Rebbe Elimelech of Lizensk) that one is forbidden to look out of his 4 amos (one's immediate radius). After that, this young man started walking with his head bent down, so that he could be sure not to look out of his immediate space.

His father, the Rebbe, saw this, and asked him what he was doing.

When the son explained how he was following the directive of the Noam Elimelech, his father was visibly upset and explained:

"Chassidus does not want you to walk into trees. The meaning of this directive is to teach us that we should never judge or look askance at another individual! Rebbe Elimelech means that you should be busy with your own 4 amos - your own space - not worrying about someone else's shortcomings. If you have a problem with what you see, work on yourself - tricks are not for chassidim."

Another story...

The previous Viznitzer Rebbe - R' Chaim Meir Hagar z"l - was told by his doctor that he should take a walk every day on the beach for his health. So, every day he would walk with a few of his inner circle along the waters, and his son (the current Viznitzer Rebbe in Israel) would walk next to him.

As it happened, the walk started to come close to where people were swimming, and obviously, were not fully clothed. The Rebbe noticed that his son was gone, and asked where he had disappeared. When they told him that he was afraid to see scantily-clad women, he asked that they go get him - so they did.

There they were, the Rebbe and his son, walking closer to the crowded beach, and continued right into the middle of the crowd. Suddenly, the Rebbe said that he wanted to rest, so he was given the chair that they had brought along - but facing the street and away from the water.

The Rebbe asked, "Why am I facing the street? I want to look out at the water, and witness G-d's wonderful sea!" The embarrassed attendant turned the chair around, and there the Rebbe sat looking out at the sea, in the midst of a crowded beach. The Rebbe turned to his son, and noticed that his eyes were closed - to which, the Rebbe said:

"Moshe, Moshe, G-d created a beautiful world - how sad it is that you can't see beyond..."

Obviously, he was a Rebbe - a Tzaddik - and most of us are not. It is Halachicly problematic (to say the least) for us to go to a beach, or look at improperly dressed women. Unfortunately we are inundated with the stuff everywhere we go, in catalogs, magazines, newspapers, billboards, signs, posters, etc - and we must to our best to avoid looking at the stuff... without a doubt, TV, movies, etc. are to be avoided for a religious person."

The Obligation Of Knowledge

In our times, it is crucial that every Jew who knows anything must be a teacher to others.

(Lubavitcher Rebbe)

Friday, July 01, 2005

Question & Answer With Rabbi Lazer Brody - Part III - Shmiras Einayim

A Simple Jew asks:

What is the modern application of the ruling in Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 152:8 that states, "He who gazes, even at the small finger of a woman in order to enjoy its sight, commits a very grave sin."?

Rabbi Lazer Brody answers:

The KSA 152:8 is based on a deoraissa commandment (Num. 15:39), "Velo sasuru", that you should not go astray after the [sights of the] eyes. The Chofetz Chaim gave paramount importance to this commandment, and included it as one of the six perpetual mitzvas that a person must fulfill always (see Mishna Brura, Be'er Halocha, "Klal gadol", Shulchan Aruch 1:1). The Rambam explains that gazing eyes lead to actual forbidden deeds, and therefore prevent a person from making Tshuva (see Rambam, Hilchos Tshuva, 4:4).

The Gemorra states (Brachos 24a), "He who looks at a woman's pinky finger is as though he looked at her private parts," equating looking with outright arayos. Our latter-day poskim, including Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, differentiate between seeing a woman and looking at her. While the former is permissible, the latter - especially when the intent is for personal gratification - is strictly forbidden.

Looking at a woman with the intent of enjoyment blinds and blemishes the soul, according to the leading mussar sforim, particularly "Reshis Chochma" (see Shaar Hayira, Shaar Hakdusha), thereby severely damaging a person's ability to learn Torah and to believe in Hashem. Rebbe Nachman of Breslev writes that impurity enters the soul much faster via the eyes that in does via the mouth. Also, looking at other women weakens a person's relationship with his own wife, according to the Melitzer Rebbe shlit'a.

When a man carries the images of other women in his mind, especially during conjugal relations, he risks having children with terrible character traits (see Gemorra, Nedarim 20b).

The Chofetz Chaim writes that it's preferable to lose every worldly possession rather than transgressing one deoraissa commandment. Therefore, we must execute extreme caution in the use of our eyes. One who watches television and movies almost surely transgresses "Lo sasuru" frequently, heaven forbid. Therefore, the modern application of KSA 152:8 is no movies, no TV, and no pleasure-gazing at women. Those who guard their eyes will surely merit seeing Moshiach tzidkeinu and the rebuilding of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, amen.

Visit Rabbi Lazer Brody's website here.

Question & Answer - Part I can be found here.

Question & Answer - Part II can be found here.

A Simple Jew's thought on Shmiras Einayim can be found here.

The Whole World Was Created Only For My Sake

The Gemara says that a person should say to himself, "The whole world was created only for my sake." This thought has far reaching implications. When you realize that the whole world was created for no one but you, it follows that you are the only person in the entire world, and that the survival or destruction of the world hinges on your choice to do good or evil. Since you are the only one around, you need not be concerned about the opinions of others when you are serving G-d, for next to you, all else is of secondary importance. When you look at life from this perspective then you will serve G-d with total devotion, without any ulterior motive or muddled thinking. You will then break down all the klippos - the outer barriers that prevent you from perceiving holiness.

(Degel Machaneh Ephraim)