Monday, May 29, 2006

She Is Here!

With gratitude to Hashem, I am pleased to announce that this morning at 10:10 a.m. my wife gave birth to a beautiful 8-pound 4-ounce baby girl. Both mother and baby are healthy and doing well. My three year-old daughter was also estatic to learn the news that she now has a little sister and is excited to go see Mommy and the new baby in the hospital this afternoon.

We plan to give our new baby girl a name this Shabbos at our shul.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Eight Minutes Apart

(Yom Yerushalayim photograph courtesy of Point of Pinchas)

Yesterday when I was still at work, I received an e-mail from my wife asking me from if I wanted to go out for dinner and get a deep dish pizza with pineapple. I immediately agreed, and had no idea then that later when we would be driving to the pizza shop that my wife would start having contractions.

At that time the contractions were very mild and about 25 minutes apart. Now, at 4:25 am they are getting stronger and are about 8 to 10 minutes apart. Needless to say, I will be leaving for the hospital fairly soon.

I will report back once there is any news....


FRIDAY AFTERNOON UPDATE: The contractions subsided and the doctor sent us home. Perhaps true labor will start later this weekend...

SUNDAY MORNING UPDATE: No new news. Waiting for something "imminent" day after day is truly a lesson in bitachon.

Through Faith

Thursday, May 25, 2006

"Scorched From The Fire Of Kabbalah And Chassidus"

From Heichal Hanegina:

"Everything that is lofty contains a danger of harming someone if it is misused. In the physical realm, we can see this with fire, which can give light and warmth, but can also destroy whole buildings and even towns. We know that the Chassidic movement was faced with fierce opposition at its outset, led by the Vilna Gaon and others. A few generations later, the author of the "Aruch HaShulchan," R. Yechiel M. Epstein, paid a visit to the Tzemach Tzedek, the third Lubavitcher Rebbe. He noted that the Rebbe was learning Shulchan Aruch with the commentary of the Vilna Gaon.

The Tzemach Tzedek related that he once remarked to his grandfather, the Baal HaTanya that something good came out of the sharp opposition that the Gaon had towards Chassidus, for without that opposition, Chassidus might have retreated from where it was – the Torah could have been "scorched" from the fire of Kabbalah and Chassidus. "The opposition of the Gaon led the leaders of Chassidus to feel without a doubt that the Shulchan Aruch is the yesod of Judaism and not to budge from it. This prevented any mistakes in later generations."

(Shulchan Aruch, Chukei Daas - Sudilkov: 1835)

UPDATE: Related Posting over at Circus Tent: CE: Change Is Good

Now that I am back on caffeine, I am interested to try this new product.

The Paintings of Yefim Rudminsky

More of Yefim Rudminsky's artwork can be seen here.


One who has the opportunity to protest against evil and remains indifferent is deemed culpable by Hashem.

(Etz Yosef)

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Yesod Of Yesod

Today is forty-one days, which is five weeks and six days of the Omer.

Supposedly, today is also my wife's due date.

Question & Answer With Chabakuk Elisha - Eretz Yisrael

A Simple Jew asks:

In your posting for the yahrzeit of Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk you wrote of your feelings of attachment to him. Given this tzaddik's great love for Eretz Israel, did you ever contemplate moving to Eretz Israel as he did in 1777? Also, do you believe that living in Eretz Israel is a central point in his teachings?

Chabakuk Elisha responds:

For generations, Chassidim (and non-Chassidim for that matter) have longed to go to Eretz Yisroel. The Baal Shem Tov's desire and unsuccessful journey to reach the Holy Land is legendary, as it was similarly so for many subsequent Tzaddikim. Indeed, reaching Israel was an ideal sought after throughout our history, and especially by Chassidim. Reb Mendel made it and remained there, and one must ask what that meant to him and to chassidus.

The importance is further highlighted by the fact that Chassidim throughout Europe were told to, and did, send much needed funds to support the community R' Mendel had established, and a number of Chassidim eventually joined R' Mendel's community.

It is generally accepted that R' Mendel left Europe because of the many persecutions Chassidim experienced at the hands of the Misnagdim. However, it cannot be the only reason as R' Mendel and the Chassidic movement was still growing with great success, and R' Mendel was the leading figure. R' Mendel would probably have been the single leader of Chassidus and successor to the Maggid. Was he simply fed up with the struggles of Europe? Especially in light of the hardships he still had to endure in Israel, it is unlikely that that's all there was to it.

With this in mind, it would have to be said that living in the Holy Land was a significant, if not the most significant, element of R' Mendel's legacy today. But, R' Mendel also stated that the Land of Israel is not acquired with ease; it is a great zechus to live there - a zechus that not everyone merits. He would pray constantly that the Eretz Yisroel would accept him and continue to allow him to live there. Chazal also tell us that even those who live in Israel are not necessarily treading Holy Land as malachim, we are told, throw earth from chutz leaaretz under the feet of those who do not deserve to tread the Holy soil.

Sure, I wish I was in Eretz Yisroel, and I hope I will be one day. I also regret that I didn't move there when I was young (when it would have been much easier), but unfortunately, for now, I remain in America. Personally, I'm an American boy and with a house full of children and adjusting would be hard on many levels - but I pray that I will get there one day.

In the interim, I can try to live with this story: It is told that in 1857 there was a Chossid of the Tzemach Tzeddek that wanted to move to Israel. When he asked his Rebbe for a brocha, the Tzemach Tzedek said, "Mach da Eretz Yisroel" (basically, wherever you are, make that place into Eretz Yisroel)

(Picture courtesy of Akiva of Mystical Paths)


Motive For Aliya

The motive for making the journey to the Land of Israel should be purely spiritual: to draw closer to G-d. A person who goes there with this as his aim will certainly benefit. Merely by stepping foot on the Land he will become merged with it and transformed by its sacred character. That is why even "one who walks four cubits in the Land of Israel will assuredly inherit the World to Come". On the other hand, if a person's motive has nothing to do with devotion to G-d and cleansing himself of his evil, then what help will the Land be to him? The Land will vomit him out "as it vomited out the nation that was before you" (Vayikra 18:28)

(Rebbe Nachman of Breslov)

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

A Picture From My Family's Shtetl - Week 39

Hocus Pocus or Proven Segula?: Precious Stones

Recently, as I was learning Degel Machaneh Ephraim, Parshas Vayikra on my lunch break, I came across a statement that caught my attention:

"...and also precious stones give vitality to man as is known by those who work with diamonds."

I have always thought that the use of crystals or precious stones for healing purposes was some sort of new-age hocus pocus. However, from what I have recently discovered, it appears that there are even seforim, such as "Segulot HaAvanim HaTovot", that are written about "the power of stones and gems for everyday life and healing."

In her book, "Diamond Stories: Enduring Change on 47th Street", Renee Rose Shield noted, "From the biblical era onward, abundant refences to diamonds occur in religious texts such as the Torah, Mishna, Midrash, and the Talmud. Special powers were attributed to diamonds...."

As I continued looking into the subject of using precious stones for healing purposes, I wrote to Rabbi Avraham Greenbaum of the Azamra Institute since he is the author of a book on Jewish teachings on healing. Rabbi Greenbaum responded,

"I don't know much about this subject, but the twelve tribes had their corresponding stones in the High Priest's breastplate, and since each tribe had its own unique qualities, these would obviously be associated with their corresponding stone. I don't even know where there is any serious discussion about the qualities of stones in the classic sources -- there may be brief references in Talmud, Midrash and Kabbalah, but I can't recall any sustained and detailed discussion. It would take some research to discover more on this, but I am sure there must been more, if only because Jews have been so involved in trading in jewels over the centuries. I do know that rubies are thought to have protective power against evil eye. One of Rabbi Nachman's stories is about a Prince who was made of Precious Stones -- check it out!"

With my friend Chabakuk Elisha's help, I found the link to the story here (The Prince Who was Made of Precious Stones - pages 62-65 on the .pdf) In this mysterious story Rebbe Nachman of Breslov wrote that a hidden tzaddik asked the king, "I need you to bring me all the varieties of precious stones. For each stone has a different power."

After the king brought all kinds of precious stones, the hidden tzaddik, "took them and crushed them. Then he took a cup of wine, and put the crushed stones in it, and gave half the cup to the king to drink, and half to the queen. And he [the hidden tzaddik] told them that they would have a son who would be made entirely of precious stones, and he would have all the powers of the stones."

From this story it seems that Rebbe Nachman of Breslov is continuing the teaching of his uncle, the Degel Machaneh Ephraim.

If anyone else has knowledge on the sources for Jewish teachings on the powers of precious stones please leave a comment. I am intrigued to find out more on this subject.

Perhaps knowledge of this subject led tzaddikim such as Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto and the Kopyczynitzer Rebbe to be counted among "those who work with diamonds".

Reason For Misery

Man's desire to add to his wealth and honor is the chief reason for his misery.


Monday, May 22, 2006

From Today's Hayom Yom...

"With the advent of Moshiach, there will be revealed the superior quality of the traits of simplicity and wholeheartedness found in the avoda of simple folk who daven and recite Tehillim with simple sincerity."

Recommendations From A Yid - Sifrey Chasidus

Since we have been discussing for a while various sifrey Chasidus, it might be interesting to describe some less known sforim of early tzadikim, which still might be of interest today to learners of Chasidus, but are simply not widely known, and hence not learned often. I give only some brief information. Whoever wants to know more about these tzadikim should look for example in a beautiful anthology of biographies of Chasidic tzadikim - “Oyr Yekoroys”.

Rabbi Yisroel Chorif miSatanov zy”o.
Seyfer “Ateres Tiferes Yisroel” - More known simply as Tiferes Yisroel. Very profound discourses on seyder parshiyoys, full of yichudim and hasogoys. Available in recent copy reprints of older edition.

Seyfer “Mefoyresh Sheym”
Deep expositions on Kriyas Shma. In ksav yad only.

He was one of the intimate talmidim of Baal Shem Tov. Rabbi Yisroel was an outstanding genius and had a very sharp mind (so he was called Chorif, that means “Sharp”). Originally (like quite a number of Baal Shem Tov’s talmidim) he was a misnaged, but later became a staunch talmid of Baal Shem Tov. It is evident from his seyfer, that he was Baal Shem Tov’s talmid, as he quotes complicated kavonoys and yichudim, which he received from his master.

Rabbi Meir Margolius miBrod zy”o (Baal Meir Nesivim).

Seyfer “Soyd Yachin uBoyaz” - A classical work on Chasidic hashkofo. It teaches an approach to limud, tfilo, tshuvo in a very Chasidic fashion. It also brings a very deep insight into what is Toyro lishmo according to Baal Shem Tov (which is mysterious practice of dveykus to the letters of Toyro which is half-secretly discussed in early Chasidic sforim). Available in new very recent print.

Shayloys uTshuvoys “Meir Nesivim” - The first part of “Meir Nesivim” are classic Halocho tshuvoys. The second part of it are actually his deep maymorim on Chumash full with Kobolo and Chasidus. Out of print for a long time. Might be available in rare sforim stores.

He was one of the earliest talmidim of the Baal Shem Tov (he became his talmid even before Baal Shem Tov’s hisgalus). He was one of the famous poyskim of his generation, serving as an Ov Beys Din in Ostrog.

Rabbi Yehuda Leyb “haMoychiach” miPolnoe zy”o

Seyfer “Koyl Arye”- Chidushim (al derech pshat and drush) on parshiyoys. He also quotes Baal Shem Tov. Available in recent copy reprint of old Koretz edition. He was also an early and close Baal Shem Tov’s talmid, serving as a moychiach (moral mentor/preacher) in Polnoe, where Reb Yakoyv Yoysef zy”o was the Rov.

Rabbi Moyshe Shoha”m miDolina zy”o
Seyfer “Divrey Moyshe” Chasidic discourses on Chumash. Its style is quite often to ask a difficult question on the parsha, or Rash”i and to follow it with an extensive answer, which will utilize yesoydoys of the Ariza”l and Baal Shem Tov. There are some haghoys on it from Rabbi Yehuda Horovitz miDzikov ztz”l, known as Gilyoynoys Mahar”i. He made a number of very insightful notes in his sforim, like sifrey Toldoys Yakoyv Yoysef and this one. They were published under collective name Gilyoynoys Mahar”i. All this is available in new print.

Seyfer “Seraf Pri Eyzt haChaim”

Expositions on seyder “Pri Eytz Chaim” of Ari haKodoysh. Made as a practical manual for performing mitzvoys according to kabbalistic teaching of the Ari za”l. There we see a tremendous work of the mechaber, where he combined all his extensive knowledge of kisvey Ari za”l and his precise and sharp insight to produce this masterpiece trying to get the most exact meaning from all various Ariza”l’s ksovim that he had. Available in new print.

Reb Moyshe miDolina zy”o was a young talmid of Baal Shem Tov, and quotes him quite a number of times. After Baal Shem Tov’s ptira he became a talmid of Rabbi Yechiel Michel Zlotchever zy”o and quotes him a lot as well.

Rabbi Gedalya miLinitz zy”o
Seyfer “Tshuoys Cheyn” - Beautiful chasidic maymorim deeply permuated with Baal Shem Tov’s teachings. Available in copy reprint of the old edition. Rabbi Gedalya zy”o was also a talmid of Baal Shem Tov in his youth, but he considered himself primarily a talmid of Rabbi Yehuda Leyb haMoychiach miPolnoe zy”o. Interestingly, many of his teachings have quite a remarkable connection to the Rebbe z"l and Breslover chasidus. (The same can be said about Reb Pinchos Koritzer’s maymorim. It worth to research this issue, for those who are seriously learning sifrey Breslov).

Rabbi Yehuda Leyb miAnipoly zy”o
Seyfer “Oyr haGonuz - Quite an unusual seyfer, all built on the inyan of “oyr hagonuz” – a hidden light, and how it is found in every single parsha of Chumash. To prepeare the learner of his seyfer, the mechaber in his introduction gives a very lengthy and systematic explanation of the concept of “oyr hagonuz”, and because of this, his introduction has a big value on its own.

Rabbi Yehuda Leyb ztz”l was one of the best talmidim of the Gr”o in his youth, but later he became an intimate talmid of the Mezhiritcher Maggid zy”o. He is the one, who gave haskomo on Taniya, together with his close friend Rabbi Zusha miAnipoly zy”o. Available in a very recent new print.

Just worth to add, that there is another seyfer often called "Oyr haGonuz", which is really called "Oyr haGonuz leTzadikim". It was written by Rabbi Aharon miZelichov ztz"l. This is also a very beatiful and profound seyfer, but it shouldn't be mixed up with the last one.

Jealousy & Desire

Man is born with jealousy. Desire is a matter of habit.

(Kotzker Rebbe)

Friday, May 19, 2006

Unaware Of The Preceding Chapters

A cheder in Shepetovka, Ukraine
(Picture courtesy of The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life Before and During the Holocaust)

On my lunch hour I occasionally take walks with a Ukrainian Jewish man named Yevgeny. Yevgeny, now in his fifties, was able to leave Soviet Union with his family in the 1980's and now works in my building.

During our walks we commonly talk about Jewish history. Growing up under communism, Yevgeny was never taught about his country's rich Jewish history and culture. His knowledge of his country's history begins at 1917. While I realize that information on Jewish religion and history was suppressed by the Soviet government, it is still is amazing to me that a Jew born and raised in Ukraine may never have heard about the Baal Shem Tov, the Maggid of Mezeritch, Rebbe Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev, Rebbe Yaakov Yosef of Polonoye, Rebbe Pinchas of Koretz, Rebbe Zusia of Anapol, or Rebbe Nachman of Breslov.

Being unaware of what came before him, Yevgeny cannot appreciate why I am so interested in Ukraine and what prompted me to visit my family's rural Ukrainian shtetl in the summer of 2001. He continues to be perplexed why some in American Jews spend their hard earned money to visit ancestral shtetls and see mass graves and the ruins of shuls and Jewish cemeteries.

I explained to Yevgeny that for the majority of American Jews, our knowledge of our family history begins with our immigrant ancestor. By returning to visit the shtetls where our families once lived, we connect with what came before us. Our visit allows us to view the history of our family in greater context; perhaps even giving us insight into our own role in history.

Despite my explanation, Yevgeny still does not understand. After all, how can one be expected to appreciate what one has no knowledge of? If his history book began on chapter 15, how could he know the contents of the preceding chapters?

A mass grave outside of Slavuta

MAZAL TOV to my friend Judah HaKohain!!!

Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi once said to one of his grandchildren: "Let me tell you about the simple faith of the Jews of Vohlyn (Ukraine)."

Path Of One's Ancestors

Even if you told me that it would bring the redemption, I would not depart from the path of my holy ancestors.

(Rebbe Naftali Asher Yeshayahu Moskowitz of Melitz)

Thursday, May 18, 2006

"Mi Sh'Dochek es HaSh'ah..."

Today after I posted this, I kept hearing these words in my mind. I knew that I had heard them while listening to Rabbi Nassan Maimon's Likutey Moharan shiurim on my MP3 player, but I didn't remember exactly where in Likutey Moharan they were found.

Tonight I looked them up and found them in Likutey Moharan #20:5. Appararently these words come from the Gemara in Berachos 64a, "Whoever forces the moment, the moment forces him. But whoever yields before the moment, the moment yields before him."

To this, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov commented,

"Because of this, a person should not pressure himself about anything. Rather, he should request with pleading. If G-d will give it to him, He will give it; and if not, not."

Skipping Ahead Of The Present

Reb Noson of Breslov once wrote, "While this hour lasts don't think about the next."

Intellectually I understand the rationale behind this statement, however in reality I can't say that I abiding by it these past few days now that it is less than a week to the due date. It is not that I am worried or wonder how I will manage with another child, rather it is just the unadulterated excitement that I am feeling that keeps making my mind skip ahead into the future. Strangely, it seems as if my brain simply does not want to operate in the present.

I need to constantly remind myself that I can only operate in the here and now; that life's most precious moments are like shooting stars that will never be seen unless we are paying attention.

(Image courtesy of


The repair of the world and its perfection is through the birth of children. Through this, G-dliness is revealed from generation to generation.

(Otzar HaYirah, Bris 24)

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

A One Man Siyum

Yesterday I made a siyum for Maseches Megillah and today I began learning Maseches Taanis.

Since this posting in November 2004, I have completed:

Rosh Hashanah

I plan to keep learning one blatt at a time until I complete all of Shas.

(Images courtesy of

Why Page Two?

Why do all Talmudic tractates begin with page two? To remind us that even if we know them from one end to the other, we have not even begun.

(Rebbe Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev)

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Mystical Paths: Why Isn't Lag B'Omer Special Outside of Israel?

A Picture From My Family's Shtetl - Week 38

Lag B'Omer - 5754

Embarrassing, Insulting, Or Deceiving Someone

Rabbi Yochanan said in the name of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai: Ona'as devarim (verbal wrongdoing) is a greater sin than monetary wrongdoing, for concerning the former the Torah states, "And you should fear your G-d," whereas, concerning the latter it is not stated "And you shall fear your G-d."

(Talmud - Bava Metzia 58b)

Monday, May 15, 2006

Netzach Of Hod: Yahrzeit Of The Degel Machaneh Ephraim

Today is the 17th of Iyar and the 32nd day of the Omer*. It is also the yahrzeit of the Degel Machaneh Ephraim.

The 32nd day of the Omer corresponds to the sefira of Netzach of Hod. Rabbi Lazer Brody explained that Netzach of Hod is the eternal quality of Hashem's splendor and can be experienced as a sudden, inexplicable awe such as one derives when standing on a mountain peak for the first time. Rabbi Brody also noted that it "is a very appropriate day for a tzaddik's yahrzeit, since the tzaddikim of every generation, via the radiance of their magnificent neshomas, help us feel the 'netzach of hod'".

Understanding the importance of this day, I spent the past few weeks leading up to this day trying to figure out how to observe the yahrzeit of the Degel Machaneh Ephraim in a manner that increases my hiskashrus to him. Recently, I found the answer to this question in his sefer.

Citing Pirkei D'Rabbi Eliezer 25, the Degel Machaneh Ephraim stated that a person who goes into a perfume shop and does not buy anything cannot help but leave with the fragrance of the perfume on his clothing. Similarly, the Degel explained that it is impossible for a person to visit a tzaddik without walking away with some of the tzaddik's kedusha.

In Parshas Bereishis, the Degel quoted a teaching from Rabbi Nachman Horodenker that notes that the words "shem" (name) and "sefer" (book) share the same gematria [340]. Since a person's name is tied to the root of his neshoma, the Degel notes there is also a connection between a person's neshoma and a sefer that the person authors. For this reason, when one wants to attach himself to a tzaddik who is no longer living he can do so by learning the tzaddik's sefer.

The sefer Degel Machaneh Ephraim is arranged according to parsha. While I learn this sefer every day without fail, I learn it by starting on the first page and making my way to the end without consideration to the relevant parsha of the week. Starting today, I have decided to supplement my daily learning of this sefer with the Degel's teachings on the parsha of the week and thereby increase the amount of time I spend learning this tzaddik's holy teachings.

G-d willing, one day I will be able to appreciate the true brilliance, depth, and "netzach of hod" of the Degel Machaneh Ephraim; understanding his teachings on more than just a superficial level.

* During the period of Sefira it is customary to learn the forty-eight ways by which the Torah is acquired (found in Pirkei Avos 6:6). The yahrzeit of the Degel Machaneh Ephraim falls out on the 32nd day of the Omer, a day that corresponds to attribute of "ohev es habrios" (loving His creations).

As noted above, the 32nd day of the Omer also corresponds to the sefira of Netzach of Hod; a sefira represented by the figure of Aharon. Interestingly, Pirkei Avos 1:12 notes that Aharon was known for "ohev es habrios" and uses the exact terminology as the attribute for this day.

This attribute of "ohev es habrios" is quite an appropriate description of the Degel Machaneh Ephraim since he was known to smile and say good morning to all the residents of Sudilkov, whether Jew or gentile. To him they truly were all Hashem's children.

UPDATE: Be sure to read my friend Yitz's latest posting on the Degel's yahrzeit here.

Photo Essay: 17 Iyar

(Satellite image showing the location of Sudilkov, Ukraine)

(Signature of the Degel Machaneh Ephraim)

(1912 Pietrokov printing of Degel Machaneh Ephraim)

(Gravesite of the Degel Machaneh Ephraim - Medzhebuz, Ukraine)

The Nation Of The Segol

You shall be my treasured possession. (Shemos 19:5)
The Hebrew term for "treasured possession" is segulah, which has the same root as segol, the three-pointed vowel - two dots on top, the third dot on the bottom. This teaches us a lesson in Jewish unity. Each of the three points needs the other two to form the vowel. To be a segol the two points that are on top cannot exist without the one on the bottom. The Jewish people are the am segulah, the nation of the segol. All Jews must be united, like the three points of the segol, regardless of their station in life and whether they are on top or on the bottom. In the same vein, you may say that each Jew is like a zero. Standing by itself, a zero represents nothingness, but if you place it behind a number it raises the value of that number tenfold. The more zeros you add, the greater becomes the value of the number. So is it with the Jewish people. If they are united, even the common fold among them count, for by their presence they contribute immensely to helping their learned brothers grow intellectually and spiritually.

(Degel Machaneh Ephraim)

Sunday, May 14, 2006

A Picture From Today

The journey is not endless,
and every step is precious.
The purpose is in the process.
It's all one.

(Eliyahu Reiter of Simply Tsfat)

Friday, May 12, 2006

At The Forefront Of My Mind

My wife started experiencing contractions in the middle of the night before she had our first two children. Perhaps it is for this reason that I expect the contractions to start at the same time for baby number three, who is due any day now.

Lately, thoughts about when my wife is going to go into labor have been at the forefront of my mind. While I am at work it has been hard to concentrate; I am on edge every time the phone rings. I estimate how long it will take me to travel 22.2 miles to get home if I got the call at my desk.

Each night before I go to sleep, I wonder whether I will be woken up by my wife at 1:00 or 2:00 am, telling me that she has been experiencing contractions for the past few hours. I realize, however, that the baby will be born when it is time; something I have no control over.

Many months ago, the Melitzer Rebbe advised me, "Know that Hashem decides everything, and we decide nothing."

Given this tzaddik's advice about the futility about making detailed plans for the future, every morning before I leave for work I now daven, "Ribonno shel Olam, please let me be with my wife when she goes into labor so I can help her get to the hospital in time."

Shir HaMaalos Question

Today, I was browsing through an auction site for seforim and came across this.

(Photograph courtesy of Virtual Judaica)

In the description it says:

Kabbalistic Shemira poster normally placed by the crib of newborns, or according to other customs above the bed of the woman and above the doorposts of the room. The Shemira poster is also known by other names, such as kindbet, tsetl, and Shmir-Tsetl. In all cases its purpose is to protect the baby from Lilith or other harmful spirits. The name comes from Psalm 121, which here appears below the header, Shemira le-yeled ve-yaldah. That Psalm begins, "A Song of Maalot. I will lift up my eyes to the mountains. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved; he who watches you will not slumber. Behold, he who watches Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep." The Shemira is erroneously attributed under the title to R. Israel Ba'al Shem Tov (Besht).

I have always heard that putting this sign up near a baby's crib was a segula that was attributed to the Baal Shem Tov.

Does anybody know anything about this?

UPDATE: Another Shir Hamaalos sign can be seen here. Attribution to the Baal Shem Tov is mentioned on the back here.

Note: The sefer "Segulos HaBesht v'Talmidav" does not mention this segula or attribute it to the Baal Shem Tov.

Why Shomer Shabbos?

Observing Shabbat shows one has faith in G-d. It shows that one believes G-d created the world yesh mi'ayin (creatio ex-nihilo). The reason is that by resting on Shabbat we affirm that there is no need to rectify or repair anything. We indicate our faith that even by doing nothing, G-d will provide for us, just as He created an entire world from northing and provided for it. Furthermore, observing Shabbat indicates our faith that G-d is One; there is no other. He commands and we accept His sovereignty; we guard the sanctity of the day He calls holy. In these ways, keeping the laws of Shabbat is an expression of faith.

(Rabbi Chaim Kramer)

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Men of Silk: The Hasidic Conquest of Polish Jewish Society (Book Review)

Although I am fascinated to read about the lives and teachings of the great Chassidic masters, reading academic books on Chassidus often bores me to tears. Perhaps I am just put off by the cold and detached tone in which they are written, or maybe it is reading through the myriad of pages in their introductions where they tell you what they are going to write about before they really start writing.

When I first read about Professor Glenn Dynner's new book, "Men of Silk: The Hasidic Conquest of Polish Jewish Society", I was intrigued after I read a sentence in the book's description, "Dynner also mines the Hasidic texts for valuable historical and biographical data." I was also encouraged before I started reading the book since the index included ten pages referencing "Moses Hayyim Ephraim of Sudzylkow" (i.e. the Degel Machaneh Ephraim).

Since I am primarily interested in Ukrainian Chassidus, much of this book on the spread of Chassidus in Poland was of relatively little interest. However, noteworthy were chapters four "Yihus" and chapter six "Sermons, Stories, and Songs: Marketing Hasidism".

Chapter four was particularly interesting to me since it provided and answer to a question I posted about on the subject of yichus last Friday. In this chapter, Professor Dynner wrote,

"A definition that begins to reveal the nuances of yihus as understood in eastern Europe is offered by Mark Zborowski and Elizabeth Herzog: "it relates to family background and position, but cannot be called pedigree since it can be acquired currently as well as by inheritance, and does not necessarily require transmission 'by blood'." This is a good starting point in that it reveals how east European yihus could mean something more than lineage and could be attained as well as inherited. Yihus may be more precisely defined as prestige grounded in the scholarly, mystical-magical, political and, to a lesser extent, economic achievements of one's ancestors and living relatives. It transcended mere lineage because it was conferred on a person by a virtue of his own attainments or those of living brother, brothers-in-law, cousins, sons, sons-in-laws, and so on."

I usually do not read appendices, however, I found appendices one and three to be especially noteworthy. In Appendix I -Yihus and Marriage Strategies of Early Zaddikim outside Central Poland, Dynner wrote, "Moses Hayyim Ephraim was matched with Esther daughter of Gershon of Kuty, the Besht's brother-in-law."

Although I was aware that the Baal Shem Tov and Rabbi Gershon of Kitov were trying to make a match of their children, I was not aware that this match had actually taken place. I was also not aware that the wife of the Degel Machaneh Ephraim was named Esther.

Additionally, Appendix 3 - Works by Hasidic Authors through 1815 is a very good reference since it provides the names of Chassidic seforim and lists all the people who gave haskamos to them.

While I had problems with the academic tone and use of Polish spellings (e.x. Levi Isaac of Berdyczow and Dov Ber of Miedzyrzecz) in this book, Professor Glenn Dynner has produced a thoroughly researched work that provided me with some new leads in my research on the Degel Machaneh Ephraim. I plan to post more about this in the future.

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Thank you.


Attempt to go through all our sacred books in the course of your lifetime. You will have then visited every place in the Torah. The very rich constantly travel from land to land. They spend huge amounts just so that they should be able to boast that they have been to some faraway place. They consider it a sign of high status if, for example, they can boast that they have been to Warsaw. You should likewise travel everywhere in the Torah. In the Future Life you will then be able to boast that you have visited every place in our sacred literature. At that time, you will also remember everything you have ever learned.

(Sichos HaRan #28)

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Caffeine Detox - Part IV

My nine month caffeine detox experiment has finally come to an end. After watching on the "The Secret Life of Coffee" on the Food Network and reading Frum Philly Farmgirl's posting on coffee, I realized that I could not stop drinking coffee for the rest of my life. My self-control was tested every time I smelled its rich aroma wafting out at me as I passed by coffee shops.

On Sunday morning, I went to the kosher Krispy Kreme near my home and drank a large cup of coffee. Needless to say, it was fantastic! I got such a buzz off it that I felt a tremendous surge of energy. I came home played with my kids outside and all the kids in the neighborhood. Twelve hours later, I still felt that my energy level had not dissipated, and after laying down in bed I could not fall asleep for an hour.

So, here it is, the last posting in the "Caffeine Detox" series. While I do not envision returning to drinking coffee or sodas on a daily basis, I will now enjoy an occasional cup of coffee.

(Photograph courtesy of Krispy Kreme)

Chassidic Story About Coffee

Excerpt from The Jewish Spirit Journal:

The daughter of Rabbi Meir of Premishlan told this story:

She used to prepare coffee for her father, Rabbi Meir, every day. One day, her sister said to her, "why don't you let me have the mitzvah for once?" So she let her sister prepare the coffee that day.

But when she offered the cup to her father, he pushed it away; he didn't want to drink it. When she asked him why, he said,

"If you want to serve me coffee, you have to know how to do it. First, one puts in the coffee, which is the aspect of judgment; then, one puts in the sugar, which is the aspect of sweetening judgment. But you put them in the reverse order! You put the sugar in and then the coffee. So the judgments are floating on top!"

More Chassidic stories about coffee can be found here.


Hashem does not make demands of a person which he is incapable of fulfilling.

(Talmud - Avodah Zarah 3a)

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

A Picture From My Family's Shtetl - Week 37

Question & Answer With Yoni Lipshutz Of Simply Tsfat - Music During Sefira

A Simple Jew asks:

During Sefira music is distilled down to its essence; a simple melody without instrumental accompaniment.

Is there a deeper meaning that we can derive from the fact that we are prohibited to listen to instrumental music and only permitted to listen to vocal music in these days before Shavuos when we prepare to receive the Torah anew?

Yoni Lipshutz of Simply Tsfat answers:

Sorry I thought about it and looked around but didn't come up with anything. I guess putting it simply, Sfiras haOmer is a time of mourning, so no music, it's that simple.

On a higher plain, prophecy can't occur unless one is in a happy state of being. An example is Yaakov Avinu when he thought that his son Yosef had died.

Rebbe Nachman says that music comes from the same place as prophecy, under the kisay haKavod, so the implication by association is that music can't occur either, unless in a happy state of being.

When Yaakov was told of Yosef being alive, he was told in song, and with his happiness his ability to prophesize returned.

Regarding vocal music as opposed to instrumental, the voice is part of the body as opposed to an external instrument. The voice is connected to the heart and lungs and this is the prayer most desired, the prayer of the heart. When using an instrument, it is possible to "perform", in other words, put on a show. But when singing, you almost need to use your whole body, especially your heart and this one cannot fake too easily. So during a time of mourning, we need to purify our prayer and thoughts and not put on a show... Just some thoughts....

Yoni Lipshutz's posting "A Return to the Violin" can be read here.

Fear In Perspective

If a person realizes that not one of the created things can help him or harm him, except with the permission of the Creator, may He be exalted, he will turn his heart away from fear of them or hope in them, and will trust in the Creator alone.

(Chovos HaLevavos, Shaar HaBitachon, Perek Gimmel)

Monday, May 08, 2006

Talleisim Minhagim & My Tallis

My family's shtetl was known for making talleisim. The yizkor book Yalkut Volhynia from 1948 states,

"Talleisim of Sudilkov were known internationally and their production was the main source of income for the townspeople. The people of Sudilkov believed that anyone who bore the family name Talisman or Talismacher certainly could trace their origin to Sudilkov. The silk and wool threads were brought from Lodz and in the local workshops, skilled craftsmen wove the talleisim. Traveling salesmen sold their product in all the Jewish communities both near and far".

I have been wearing a Chabad tallis since my wife and I got married in 1999. As I have slowly shed my Chabad minhagim over the past year, my Chabad tallis is the last remaining item of someone else's tradition.

For some reason, using a Chabad tallis continued to bother me and I started looking into replacing it with one similar to that which could have been made in Sudilkov. In September 2005, I asked Rabbi Lazer Brody if I should use a standard traditional tallis instead of my Chabad tallis. He replied, "Keep doing as you are - the tallis your wife bought you is a sgula for sholom bayis - don't change it!"

Recently, once again I strongly considered switching to a standard traditional tallis. I discussed my feelings and motivations for doing so with my friend Chabakuk Elisha. Chabakuk Elisha replied, "The Beis Yisroel of Ger used to say often that a item that has served you in kedusha needs to be respected."

Given the arguments of Rabbi Brody and Chabakuk Elisha, I have now decided once and for all to keep using my Chabad tallis. While it might not have similar to those made in my family's shtetl, it is my tallis; saturated with years of davening.

(Image courtesy of Sefer HaMinhagim)

Questions Beyond Time

There are questions beyond time that cannot be answered. If you try resolving them, you'll simply be led to even harder questions, until you enter the realm of questions and explanations which are beyond time - in the sense that there is not enough time to sufficiently explain them.

(Chayei Moharan, Sichos HaShayachim, L'HaToros 24)

Friday, May 05, 2006

Genealogical Breakthrough!

I have been trying to obtain the naturalization records of my great-grandfather for the past seven years. Unfortunately, the courthouse containing the naturalization records would not honor requests of a genealogical nature.

This morning I just received word that this court house has changed its policy and is now excepting requests. On my lunch break, I spoke with a professional genealogist who had access to the Petition Books for Naturalization. Within a matter of minutes she was able to find my great-grandfather.

Excitedly, I just finished writing a letter to the county courthouse to obtain these records and dropped the letter in the mailbox.

Now all I have to do is wait....

Site of my great-grandfather's house (now an empty lot)

Genealogy, Yichus, and Fathers-in-Law

While researching information on the Shotzer Rebbe, Rabbi Sholom Moskowitz, I read that, "The Shotzer Rebbe was a son-after-son descendant of Rebbe Yechiel Michel of Zlatchov". I verified this in Alfasi's sefer "HaChassidut M'Dor L'Dor" and then noticed that this information is also noted on the Shotzer Rebbe's kever in Enfield Cemetery in London.

(Photograph courtesy of

As a genealogist, I found this to be particularly interesting since many of those who trace their yichus back to a famous rabbi often include a number of fathers-in-law in their lineage until they reach their distinguished ancestor. One rarely claims to be a son-after-son descendant.

Does anyone know why is it a standard practice to trace yichus by counting fathers-in-laws? I tend to have a narrow viewpoint on who is truly a relative or ancestor and would appreciate any insight that would allow me to view this from a broader perspective.

A Chumra Just In Case

Chazal were vigorously opposed to those who viewed a chumra as a safe alternative to thorough halachic inquiry.

(Rabbi Moshe Weinberger)

Thursday, May 04, 2006

A Sentence On Page 176

After visiting Ground Zero in February, I bought a copy of "102 Minutes : The Untold Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers" upon the recommendation of a posting on Wolfish Musings.

I came across a disturbing sentence when I reached page 176. At this point in the book, both towers had been struck by planes, thousands of people below the crash zones had already evacuated, and firefighters were slowly making their way to try to rescue people on the top floors. As they progressed floor by floor, the firefighters checked each evacuated floor to make sure everyone had left. The book then states,

"Most of the floors were empty, except for stragglers who seemed incapable of leaving their computers."

I surely hope these were people who were e-mailing their loved ones and not people who could not pull themselves away from their jobs; workaholics who could not separate themselves from their position title. It boggles my mind to imagine that a person could be so foolish.

"Man's origin is dust and his end is unto dust. He earns his bread at the risk of his life..." - from the Machzor


You must not let embarrassment prevent you from sharing with your religious mentor all your thoughts that are inconsistent with our holy Torah.

(Rebbe Elimelech of Lizhensk)

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

A Fire In The Shtetl? - Part II

(Photo courtesy of the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration)

After writing this posting about a story of a fire in my family's shtetl, I sent a letter to the Pshemesheler Rebbe, Rabbi Shmuel Teich, inquiring about the story. Shortly before Pesach I received a letter from him that contained this response:

"As far as to the hakpeida of my great great-grandfather, the Rebbe, Rebbe Baruch of Medzibuz of blessed memory, please bear in mind that this took place a generation or more before many of the shtetl adopted the Baal Shem Tov's doctrine. The vast majority of the town were fervent Misnagdim, who did everything in their power to endanger the life of the Degel and constantly harass him. The shtetl changed in succeeding generation when your ancestors resided there, and the episode of the hakpeida did not involve the succeeding generations whether be Misnagdim or Chassidim."

Since this answer provided background to the story but did not mention the source of the story, I sent the Pshemesheler Rebbe another letter and received a response a few days ago.

In his letter, dated 26 of Nissan, the Pshemesheler Rebbe replied,

"Regarding your inquiry, most of the information contained in Tehilos Baruch is from tradition from ancestors, although I have seen much of it brought in various books especially Mekor Baruch, which is an introduction to Botzina DeNehora, a collection of teachings from the Rebbe, Rebbe Baruch of Medzibuz, written by the famed author, Rabbi Reuven Margulies (author of Margolios HaYam al Maseches Sandhedrin and dozens of other works, known throughout the Torah world.

However, I scanned the sefer briefly today and did not find the story brought there (though I could have missed it in haste). I do, however, remember someone writing about it, but at present I can't recall where, and it was also with some variation.

I would be very pleased to meet with you personally, as it is difficult to relate some items without actually knowing the person. Briefly, I do not cite sources for several reasons. Firstly, as said my information is family tradition before I even knew of the books that also bring these sippurim.

Secondly, our tradition is that almost all books writing sippurei ma'asios and non-documented history are not that accurate. What I mean to say is that with the rise of various Chassidic groups, those endowed with good writing skills, usually were not interested in confining their books to researched truth, and also did not have a profound comprehension of the mystical attitude behind the reasons for the behavior of the great Rebbes. Rather, their own Rebbe was more of a hero role, and the same incident could appear in ten different versions, according to the loyalty of the writer-chassid who though he had to make sure that his Rebbe emerged victorious.

The sublime reason concerning friction and opposing ideas and methods of the Chassidic masters belong to a world much higher than comprehensible to the average scholar even if he be a distinguished talmid chacham. I will give one example, the Rebbe, Rebbe Baruch of Medzibuz, cursed the inhabitants of Sudilkov for causing aggression to his brother, the Rebbe, the Degel Machaneh Ephraim. This was to be a fire, triggered by a lightning bolt during a heavy thunder storm, which would have destroyed some homes, and resulting in no loss of life. This calamity was averted by another great Rebbe to whom the leaders of Sudilkov appealed. My great-grandfather Rebbe Baruch did not make any further move against Sudilkov to override the other Tzaddik's intervention.

However, in another similar episode, which involved himself in a bitter conflict in his own town, Tulichin, when the inhabitants turned against him, implored G-d not to punish anyone because of their sins against him and was very upset that anyone be harmed because of their aggression. To the naked eye, the two stories seem conflicting, yet both occurred. There are many Kabbalistic mystical ways in which one Tzaddik perceives things and another does not, each according to his soul root, etc. Think about it, the burning of their homes in 1788 could have prevented Divine retribution much time afterward. I do not speculate, but am just arousing your curiosity. If G-d wills it we will meet and continue from there."

Pure Truth

Pure truth does not exist in this world. You can say that one man is far from falsehood, and another man still father. But no one is completely truthful.

(Rebbe Menachem Mendel Hager of Kossov)

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

A Picture From My Family's Shtetl - Week 36

Last Shabbos

After I was called up for an aliya, my twenty-three month old son held my hand as we walked up to the bima. He let go of my hand just long enough for me to recite the brochos and then once again held onto my hand and stood patiently while the rabbi leined revi'i from Parshas Tazria-Metzora. When we sat back down, he sat on my lap quietly and played with my tzitzis for another fifteen minutes.

Later when we returned home from shul, my three year-old daughter fell asleep in my arms. I layed down on the couch in the basement and she and slept on my chest for a little more than an hour. She hadn't done this since the days when she was a baby when we first brought her home from the hospital.

It was these two small things that made it a wonderful Shabbos for me; one with memories that I will cherish.

A Single Movement

In this world people can never have a true understanding of their position or what they are faced with. This ignorance is actually the source of free will. It is the trial. If you want to succeed, you need faith. You must also have faith in yourself. You must realize that a single movement you make in the direction of good is never lost.

(Reb Noson of Breslov)

Monday, May 01, 2006

Question & Answer With Rabbi Fishel Jacobs - Israel Behind Bars

A few months ago I discovered Rabbi Fishel Jacobs, author of "Family Purity" had also written a new book on his experiences as an Israeli prison chaplain, entitled "Israel Behind Bars." Below are his answers to some questions that I asked him on his new book:

A Simple Jew asks:

Is it difficult to maintain a positive view of mankind after working in a prison?

Rabbi Fishel Jacobs answers:

Not for me. In fact, thirteen years only confirmed certain truths I've always held. Specifically, "man" is neither good nor evil -- per se. We all have inclination to do good; and, conversely, inclinations to do bad. Many criminals are products of environment, habit; their duty is, using available resources, to reeducate themselves to be able to blend back and contribute into society.

A Simple Jew asks:

In your book you wrote that the toughest question to answer as a prison chaplain is, "Will G-d ever forgive me?" How do you answer this question when it comes from murderers, rapists, child molesters, and thieves?

Rabbi Fishel Jacobs answers:

There was never a blanket answer. Repentance/forgiveness regarding a murderer are different from those of a thief. (Rambam, Hilchos Teshuva; Shulchan Aruch.) Additionally, you need a personalized attitude speaking to each and every prisoner. They're all individuals. A standard approach I can give, however, is that I always tried to encourage and give hope -- for many that was all they had in this life.

A Simple Jew asks:

While each person and circumstance is certainly different, what kinds of things would you generally recomment for a murderer, rapist, or child molester to do in order to do some for of teshuva for his act?

Rabbi Fishel Jacobs answers:

The general concept of teshuva is remorse on a specific act and conviction to never repeat it. Let's take that one step further. The Chasidic approach to teshuva -- though certainly inclusive -- is not limited to repentence on specific acts. It is an overall return to Hashem and Torah. Teshuva in this sense is not only remorse and conviction specific to any given act. It is a total refocus of the entire soul and personality. Working as a prison rabbi in Israel is unique from anywhere else in the world where chaplains exist. Elsewhere it's a visit, for whatever amount of time. Here, I was inside the wards--and cells--for ten full hours a day, five work days a week, for over ten years. When you have that opportunity to study, talk, "farbreng," rejoice, share sorrow, with your men you verily experience inmates, incarcerated for lenghty periods, undergoing such intense changes. This, I am convinced, is totally unique to this country's penal experience. I hope the reader sees this through my book, Israel Behind Bars. And I believe the Israeli government is to be blessed for creating a situation where this is possible.

The Most Powerful Force

The most powerful force in the world is the changing of an attitude in a person’s heart.

(Rabbi Yisrael Salanter)