Monday, October 31, 2005

It Doesn't Take A Ph.D

Imagine what would happen if you gave into a toddler every time he threw a temper tantrum.

Imagine what would happen if you tried to accommodate a toddler's every demand.

Any sane person believes that you need to set limits with your toddler or else your toddler will be in control of your home.

Perhaps now all we need to do is send Israeli government officials to parenting classes so they can apply effective parenting techniques when dealing with Palestinian terrorism. It's time to stop responding to terrorism like grandparents babysitting their grandchildren.

What I Am Reading Now

Waiting For Peace: How Israelis Live With Terrorism

The Heavy Boulder

A king once sent his son to distance places to learn wisdom. When the son returned home, he was well versed in all branches of wisdom. The king then told his son to take a large stone, the size of a millstone, and bring it up to the palace attic.

The son looked at the stone and realized that he would not be able to lift it. It was a huge, heavy boulder. He felt very bad because he would not be able to fulfill his father's request. The king then explained his true intention to his son: "Did you really think that I wanted you to carry this huge boulder? Even will all your wisdom, you could not do it. My intention is that you take a hammer and break the boulder into small pieces. You will then be able to bring the entire boulder up into the attic."

The Rebbe explained that G-d wants us to "lift our hearts with our hands, to our Father in Heaven" (Eichah 3:41). But our hearts may be like huge, heavy stones, which we cannot possibly lift, no matter what we do. What we must do is take the hammer of words, and break and crumble our hearts of stone. Then we can lift them up to G-d.

(Shivchei Moharan 23a #5)

Friday, October 28, 2005

Who Are The Tzaddikim In Your Neighborhood?

Today, the 25th of Tishrei, is the yahrzeit of Rebbe Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev.

The appendix to the sefer Kedushas Levi relates the following story of his birth:

At the hour that Rabbi Levi Yitzchak was born in Hoshakov, the Baal Shem Tov offered his disciples cake and brandy. "A great soul came into the world who will be the defender of the Jewish people," he said. He then told his disciples, "Before this soul was destined to descend to this world, Satan complained: "Ribbono shel Olam, this soul will turn the whole world to doing good. It will do away with all evil. What will there be left for me to do?"

G-d reassured Satan saying, "The man who receives this soul will become a rabbi. The troubles and disputes he will encounter won't leave him much time for causing Jews to repent."

During my trip to Ukraine four years ago, I was able to visit the kevarim of tzaddikim in Medzhebuz, Anapol, Slavuta, Polonoye, and Shepetovka. Unfortunately, time did not permit me to visit the kever of this great tzaddik in Berditchev or the kever of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov in Uman. There were so many places that I did not get a chance to visit.

I hope to return one day with my children and show them that their ancestors came from the area that was the birthplace of Chassidus.

My Deeds Are Of No Importance

A man must be meek and humble in his conduct and in all his actions. Now you may ask, "Shouldn't I be modest and humble also in my service of G-d? Shouldn't I consider my prayer and good deeds as irrelevant and of negligible importance?" G-d forbid; don't entertain such thoughts! You should say to yourself, "The mitzvos that I perform are valued very highly by G-d. G-d takes immense delight in my good deeds." If you would be humble to fulfilling your religious duties, if you would say, "G-d is so great that my insignificant deeds are of no importance to Him," you would be committing a grave error; in fact, you would be denying G-d's greatness.

(Rebbe Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev)

Thursday, October 27, 2005

People Of The Book

Before Yom Kippur I went to Rabbi Yissocher Frand's annual teshuva drasha. After hearing him speak last year, I knew that it was an event not to miss.

Arriving twenty-five minutes early, I found a seat up near the front and watched the other early birds as they entered the room; each one entering with a sefer in hand. It was a remarkable to see people making use of every spare second before the lecture by learning Torah. Sitting idly in their seats was unthinkable. Whether they learned Mishnayos, Gemara, or Mishna Berura, every man was totally engrossed in the sefer he had brought along with him.

I sat there in awe at this wonderful testimony to the greatness of my people. I have never seen another people with such respect for books and learning; a people that always leave their homes with books in hand.

Mi K'amcha Yisroel?

What Is A Kofer?

A Jew who says he doesn't believe in G-d is called a kofer. To appreciate the implications of this word, we should see how it is examined in other contexts. In monetary law, for example, a kofer is a defendant who lies about his financial obligations. He himself knows the truth, but he is trying to deceive others. So too, a Jew who says he does not believe is doing his best to fool the world, but he himself knows the truth.

The root meaning of the word kofer is "to cover". We see this from the word kapores, which was the cover on the Aron Kodesh, the Holy Ark, in the Beis Ha-Mikdash. Even the word kapparah, "atonement", is related, since through the process of atonement, sin is covered and concealed. Similarly, a Jewish kofer is a person who "covers up" the reality of his own being. For, in essence, he to is a believer.

The deepest implications of a word are often revealed by the way it is used in the Torah the first time. The word kofer first appears when Hashem tells Noach to build the ark - "you shall smear it, on the inside and the outside, with a layer of tar." Thus we discover that the word kofer means a thin, external coating - a veneer. In other words, a Jewish kofer is a person who has covered himself with a thin layer of disbelief. But if you look just beneath the surface, you will find a believer.

(Rabbi Moshe Wolfson)

Monday, October 24, 2005

A Stinky Panda Bear In The Dryer?

Before we started to build our sukkah, my wife noticed a foul smell coming from the dryer. After putting my head in the dryer and recognizing the familiar horrible smell of a dead animal, I set off to the backyard with my three year-old daughter to investigate the window well where the dryer exhaust vent is located.

Since this window well is located under the bump-out section of our kitchen, I had to crawl on my stomach to access it. I looked down into window well and immediately smelled the horrible smell again and saw a grayish carcass that I thought was a squirrel.

I returned to the window well with gloves, shovel, plastic bag, and a bandana tied around my face. Crawling under the bump-out the second time, I tried to use the shovel to remove the dead animal but the animal was too heavy to lift. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I noticed that this grayish carcass was not so small. I could clearly make out a large head, long body, and two pointy ears.

I climbed back out and told my daughter that we could not remove the "stinky-smelling" animal because it wasn't just a little squirrel. To this she replied, "Not a squirrel? Is it a panda bear??" No, it wasn't a panda bear or even a giraffe. I told her that it was probably the fox we have seen in our neighborhood.

Not being a "manly-man", I decided to call in professional help at this point. Within two hours a truck pulled into my driveway with two men who looked like they made their living pulling dead animals out of hard-to-reach places. A muscle-bound man with tattoos on his neck and arms was able to remove the decaying 15-pound fox carcass in just ten minutes time. He told me he had just come from pulling a dead raccoon out of someone's wall and was now off to remove a snake from a car dashboard.

Before he left, he poured some moth balls down into the window well to help get rid of the odor. For the rest of the day our basement smelled of a bouquet of moth balls, scented fabric sheets, and lingering dead fox carcass. Luckily, the smell dissipated sufficiently so we did not have to eat our yom tov meals with the dead fox smell wafting in our sukkah - located just a few feet away from the window well.

A Thought For Simchas Torah


The Gemara states (Shabbos 127a), "Offering hospitality to a wayfarer takes precedence over receiving the Shechinah [Divine Presence]." How are we to understand this? Our sages teach us an important lesson. Even though the practice of hospitality sometimes involves neglect of Torah study or having to listen to innocent gossip, nevertheless, hospitality takes priority

(Baal Shem Tov)

Friday, October 21, 2005

Here & There

Before his passing on the 18th of Tishrei, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov moved to a house in Uman that overlooked the old Jewish cemetery. In in Chayei Moharan #138, his disciple Reb Noson related a conversation he had with Rebbe Nachman on the subject of a person's awareness of his own mortality:

He started to speak about life and death saying, "Surely the only difference between life and death is very minimal: now a person is here, then afterwards he lives there" - and he gestured with his hand to the cemetery.

Indeed, our lives in this world our only temporary and there is only a thin thread separating us from death. Sitting in the sukkah these past few days has helped me reflect upon the things in my life that are not as secure as I imagine them to be. It makes me grateful to Hashem for His constant protection in this vulnerable world.

Blocked By A Spider Web

When you come to the gate, you find it blocked with a spider web. Can you imagine anything more foolish than returning in defeat because of a spider web blocking your path?

The main thing is speech. Use it and you will win every battle. You can meditate in thought, but the most important thing is to express it in speech.

This parallel teaches a most important lesson. You may find it difficult to speak with G-d. You might also find it difficult to speak to a genuine tzaddik. This difficulty is great foolishness. It is mere laziness and bashfulness and a lack of virtuous boldness.

You are ready to use your speech to overcome the great battle against the evil within you. You are on the verge of victory and are about to break down walls with your words! The gates are ready to fly open!

Should you then not speak because of mere bashfulness? Should you hold back because of a minor barrier like this? You are about to break down a wall. Will you be discouraged by a spider web?

(Sichos HaRan #232)

Thursday, October 20, 2005

"Mine!" - An Only Child's Thoughts - Part II

The fact that my wife had an older brother and that I was an only child is sometimes apparent in how we relate to our children. When our 16 month-old son tries to disrupt our three year-old daughter as she sits nicely coloring with her crayons my initial instinct is to stop him from getting into her crayons. My wife's instinct is to let him go over and bother his sister.

Growing up as an only child, I always had a very clear concept of what was mine. I can thus relate to my daughter when she keeps things to herself. I can sympathize with my daughter when she feels that someone else is encroaching on her space.

My wife views things from a different perspective having grown up with a sibling. She looks at our son's "encroachments" as an opportunity to teach our daughter to learn the ability how to deal with frustration and conflict; something most of us have not mastered even in adulthood.

When I step back, I see the wisdom in my wife's approach and I try to moderate the "only child" instincts inside my 32 year-old mind. It continues to amaze me how one's family structure growing up plays a part in a person's evolving personality.

"Mine" Part I can be read here.

What Is That On Your Wall?

Selfishness causes tzora'as in houses.


Monday, October 17, 2005

Question & Answer With Rabbi Lazer Brody - Part V - Auctioning Honors

A Simple Jew asks:

Is it appropriate during Yom Kippur services for a rabbi to auction off honors (i.e. taking out the Torah during Kol Nidre, reading Maftir Yonah, and opening the Aron Kodesh during Neilah)? To your knowledge was this done by our ancestors in Europe?

Rabbi Lazer Brody answers:

Dear SJ,

Your question is an important one, and relevant to Yom Tovim and Shabbos, in addition to Yom Kippur. In Tractate Shabbos, page 150a, the holy Amoraim Rav Chisda and Rav Himnuna are uncontested when they say that one is allowed to make calculations for mitvas on Shabbos. Rebbe Elazar is even more specific when he states (ibid.) that one may promise to give charity to a poor person on Shabbos. In other words, even though we're not allowed to mention commercial, monetary, and day-to-day matters on Shabbos (Shulchan Oruch Or Hachaim 107:1), we are allowed to discuss matters of tzedakka on Shabbos, Yom tov, and even Yom Kippur, such as pledging money for the poor or for the upkeep of the shul (ibid., 106:6, see also Rama there).

The Chofetz Chaim adds (ibid., Mishna Brura 27, 33) that one is permitted to earmark/pledge money for charity, and although some poskim object to the sale of aliyas on Shabbos because it resembles bartering and auctioning, while those poskim who permit selling aliyas say that this is totally different from auctioning off "goods", since the money is for the upkeep of the shul, a very big mitzva that's allowed on Shabbos, and concludes that wherever the custom is to auction off the aliyas, it is permissible.

Here in Eretz Yisroel, we auction off aliyas in one of two situations: One, when people don't pay dues to the shul, and the money is critical for the upkeep of the shul; two, to avoid having people fight over the aliyas. This practice was widespread both in Poland and the Ukraine. In Uman on Rosh Hashonna, the aliyas are also auctioned off.

May Hashem grant you, your readers, and all of Clal Yisroel a happy and sweet New Year 5766. Yours with warmest friendship, Lazer Brody

Visit Rabbi Lazer Brody's website here.

Accepting "No"

One who trusts in G-d does not grieve if denied a request or if deprived of something he loves.

(Chovos HaLevavos, Shaar HaBitachon, Perek Heh)

Friday, October 14, 2005

Fuzzy Hat

I recently subscribed to Hamodia. My son and daughter really like this newspaper and enjoy looking at the "Pictures of the Week" section that includes a full page layout of pictures chassidic rebbes, roshei yeshiva, and other famous rabbis. Since my 16 month-old son cannot talk yet, he makes an exited noise every time I show him this page. My three year-old daughter is also interested in these pictures and asked me about the rabbis wearing the "fuzzy hat." After teaching my daughter that it was called a streimel, she enthusiastically pointed to each one and said, "That one's got a streimel! ....and that one's got a streimel! ....and THAT one's got a streimel!!!"

Why Are We Going There?

One must realize that each journey is a challenge to reach a more elevated level of holiness and purity.

(Degel Machaneh Ephraim)

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Guest Posting From Chabakuk Elisha: Kol Nidre

There is a beautiful vort from R' Pinchas Koretzer that I repeat every year Yom Kippur time:

Yom Kippur evening we all come to shul; the chazan begins the prayer with such awe and trepidation - who is not moved when standing in shul at Kol Nidre? But, why do we begin the holiest day of the year with this prayer? Kol Nidre is simply an annulment of vows, and seemingly a strange way to begin this day of awe.

R' Pinchas explained, that throughout the year we are not careful with our speech. We routinely say things we shouldn't - and we say things we wouldn't want to say if we realized we were standing before G-d.

The power of speech is very potent. Hashem, in His great kindness, does us a favor by not scrutinizing our mindless speech. Although this is for our own good, there are times when we do want Him to listen closely to our words - so, Hashem gives us a mechanism to annul this speech once a year. With our annulment of vows at Kol Nidre, all the foolish things that have escaped our lips are wiped away and we undertake to speak properly from now on. On Erev Yom Kippur we are telling Hashem that we want Him to listen very closely as we pray for our future and repent for our past.

Recognizing our sincerity, G-d listens closely to every word.

May G-d's infinite mercy be expressed, and may all of Klal Yisroel be sealed for a truly good, and visibly good, year.


He who wishes for happiness must bear with patience a measure of unhappiness. Light can enter only where darkness has been.

(Rebbe Yisroel of Rizhin)

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

A Picture From My Family's Shtetl - Week 14

Shades of Dishonesty

How do you feel when you know a crucial piece of information and are instructed not to relate it when speaking with another person?

If you knew one of your co-workers was going to be fired later in the day, how would you respond when he said, "Since it is a long weekend. I am tempted to leave a little early today."?

I know it is not my place to say anything. I understand that he has done everything to put himself into this situation. Nevertheless, I still feel that when I speak with him my words are words are tainted with shades of dishonesty.

Better Off Dead

A person would be better off dead than to be known as a liar.

(Rebbe Nachman of Breslov)

Friday, October 07, 2005

My Spiritual Selfishness

The first two years after my daughter was born I still tried to selfishly observe Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur the way I did when I was single. This misguided practice stayed with me for some time. At one point I even used to view children as an impediment to being able to observe a yom tov in the proper manner since children's interruptions made it difficult to get into a frame of mind where I could connect with the meaning of the day.

Over the past year I have changed my approach to yom tov. I realized how selfish I was and now do not feel complete if I am sitting in shul without my family. Since my wife and children are also "me", I am not really at shul unless they are there as well. I discovered that the most meaningful times on Rosh Hashanah are when I am together with my children, not when I am sitting alone with only a machzor in hand. While I might forget the two days of davening, I will always remember holding my son up in my arms singing Avinu Malkeinu or standing together with my daughter as we listened to the sound of the shofar.

Having young children is a constant lesson in bitul hayesh (nullification of self). I still cannot say that I am passing student in this class. Part of my old selfishness still remains, and I wonder how I will be able to observe Yom Kippur at shul with my children, confident that I am observing this day "properly".

Clothing Of The Soul

Conduct yourself with simplicity and genuineness at all times. Simple sincerity is the clothing that the soul wears in everyday life. Manipulation is the opposite of soulfulness; it is the triumph of rationalization.

(Piaceszna Rebbe)

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Words & Pictures

I have a very different perspective of the world today since my only exposure to the news comes via words and pictures rather than from television. Violence on the television news desensitized me over time. I slowly became somewhat numb to it after continued exposure to footage from combat zones, the aftermath of terrorist attacks, and natural disasters.

My sensitivity returned the more I pulled back and refrained from watching television news altogether. Today, pictures tell me what hours of news coverage does not. Whether it is a picture of a grieving mother sitting in front of her dead children in the aftermath of the tsunami, or the distress in a homeowner's eyes after Hurricane Katrina, these pictures stay with me and are burned into my memory. Today, I don't think I could watch these scenes on television. It is enough for me only to see the pictures or read the article.

May it be Hashem's will that 5766 be a year full of blessings and a year full of happy pictures and words.

May we never again see scenes like this:

May Hashem bless all of Klal Yisroel with a year of gezunt, parnossa, and nachas!

By Being Patient

Man will attain much more by being patient than he will by all the determination in the world.

(Vilna Gaon)

Monday, October 03, 2005

Guest Posting From Chabakuk Elisha: Two-Day Yom Tov

We celebrate Rosh Hashanah for two days, and we refer to it as "Yom Arichta" (a long day). What is the meaning of this term? How can a day be long or short? The cycle of a day consists of one day and one night.

I remember hearing the Bostoner Rebbe (of NY/ Beit-Shemesh), Rabbi Chaim Avrohom HaLevi Horowitz Shlit"a, explain this concept as follows:

It takes 48 hours for a day to pass around the world, thus in a simple sense "Yom Arichta" is a 48-hour day. Although it may be Sunday in one place on the globe, it may be Monday somewhere else. If Rosh Hashanah begins at the date line, so (for example) the Jews of New Zealand welcome in Yom Tov while Jews around the world are still preparing for Yom Tov.

24-hours later, the Jews in Hawaii begin their Rosh Hashanah and New Zealand's Jews end their first day. If Rosh Hashanah was only a "short day" of 24-hours, New Zealand's Rosh Hashanah would be over at this point. "Yom Arichta", a 48-hour observance of Rosh Hashanah, gives Jews everywhere in the world the ability to be celebrate Rosh Hashanah together as one.

We live in a fragmented reality, in a world full of discord and divisions that hide our true unity. G-d's desire, and our mission, is to reveal the true unity that is hidden; isn't it interesting that on Rosh Hashanah, the starting point of the year, we, in a sense, unite the world?

Good & Sweet

On Rosh Hashanah we make the blessing, "May it be Your will that You give us a sweet, good new year." If we are asking for a good year, why do we need to add the word "sweet"? Suppose someone goes to the doctor, and the doctor prescribes a bitter-tasting medicine for him. Even though the patient knows it's for his own good, he would still prefer something that tastes better. It's the same with us. We know and trust everything G-d does is for our good, even the worst suffering that He gives us; but we ask Him to give us not just a good year, but a sweet one too.

(Reb Yehuda Leib Meislik)