Friday, September 29, 2006

Question & Answer With MCAryeh - Tears

A Simple Jew asks:

Before Neilah on Yom Kippur at the shul I used to daven, the rabbi would tell us about the importance of shedding tears during this last prayer of the day. Year after year I tried and tried, but my eyes always remained dry.

It hasn't been until very recently that I have found that I have been able shed tears during hisbodedus, and I do not know exactly what to attribute this to.

Have you found as you get older tears now come to your eyes easier than when you were younger?

MCAryeh of A Whispering Soul answers:

Good question! It is very situational for me. When it is natural, such as in the case of a funeral, a birth, hitbodedut, tears flow easily. When forced, as in trying to induce tears for neilah, it is difficult to impossible for me to cry. I have had that problem with Tisha B'Av for years now. It has always bothered me that I cannot cry on cue over the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash, and even that I cannot cry over not being able to cry.

By nature, I am very attuned to my emotions, but part of that includes recognizing where my feelings are coming from and checking them for emes. With age, of course, there are more things to cry over, both out of joy and sadness, there are more life-events to trigger emotions, and there is a greater comfortability with the vulnerability of tears.

Now that I am in my 30s, I do find it easier to tap into the built up experiences that will trigger tears, especially when communicating with HaShem from my own heart, with my own voice. When trying to induce tears during prescribed prayers, however, I still struggle. I have to trust that HaShem will sense my sincerity and that tears, for me, at that point, would be insincere. The bottom line for me is about genuineness of feeling. If I want to induce tears for something I don't feel, I will have to start cutting onions.

Maybe it is enough that I am able to cry to HaShem in my own prayers to Him, but it does bother me that a movie can move me to tears, as can a passage in a novel, so why not the prayers set down by our Sages in the Yom Kippur service?

Preparation For Yom Kippur

Even the smallest, most minute preparation to enhance one's Yom Kippur experience is invaluable, bringing boundless blessings of success. It saves one from many troubles - and there is no greater profit than this.

(Rabbi Yisrael Salanter)

Thursday, September 28, 2006

A Brocha For A New Job

Last night, I went to hear Rabbi Yissocher Frand give his inspiring annual teshuva drasha. My friend Neil posted his notes about Rabbi Frand's drasha here.

Before I left, I went up to Rabbi Frand and asked him for a brocha since I am starting a new job on Tuesday. I told him that of the many Jews who work in my organization, I would be one of the only Jews who wears a yarmulke at work. Rabbi Frand smiled and said, "Hatzlocha to you. May you be a kiddush Hashem there!"

It is my intention to do just this when I walk in Tuesday morning.

The Photography Of Dimitriy Larin - Uman

More Uman Links

Dreaming Of Moshiach: Al Kiddush Hashem

Mystical Paths: Reb Nati's Photographs of Uman

A "Simple" Jew

Excerpt from HaRav Eliezer Chrysler's Midei Shabbos BeShabbato:

A 'Simple' Jew

The Ma'asei la'Melech records how the Chofetz Chaim was once travelling in a train. In reply to a question posed to him by a co-traveller, he explained that he lived in Radin.

When his co-traveller heard this, he began to sing the praises of the Chofetz Chaim, who hailed from Radin and whom people described as a perfect tzadik.

The Chofetz Chaim, for his part, began to play the praises down. "Not at all," he countered "that's one big joke. The Chofetz Chaim is really a simple Jew!"

The co-traveller became most incensed at this Jew's chutzpah. How dare he display such gross disrespect towards the Godol ha'dor, who everyone agreed was a tzadik and a Gaon.

But the Chofetz Chaim insisted that he knew the Chofetz Chaim well and that he was no more than an ordinary Jew - not a tzadik at all.

At this point, the co-traveller could restrain himself no longer, and he began to regale the Chofetz Chaim and to call him names.

A short while later, the train stopped at a station, and new passengers entered the carriage. They recognized the Chofetz Chaim and asked him for a b'rochoh.

Imagine the co-traveller's chagrin when it suddenly dawned on him how he had just insulted the Godol ha'dor in his face. So he went up to the Chofetz Chaim and, with tears streaming down his face, begged him for forgiveness.

"Forgiveness?" replied the Chofetz Chayim in surprise. "Forgiveness for what? You thought I was a tzadik, but you did not know the truth. For that you cannot be blamed. But now you know that I am nothing more than a simple Jew. So why do you need to apologize?"

It appears that the one thing that transcended the Chofetz Chaim's abhorence of loshon ho'ra was his unbelievable humility. How is it possible, one may well ask, for a man who had served G-d and Jewry for so many years with total dedication, who had written so many books, taught so much Torah, achieved so much as spokesman of Klal Yisroel, and who had never spoken or listened to a single word of loshon ho'ra, to consider himself so small? And, we might add, he had never spent time with the angels, like Moshe Rabeinu had.

It must be because, although he had never been in Heaven with the angels, he had been - indeed, he always was - before Hashem. So he continually compared himself to Him. On the one hand, he succeeded in constantly growing and strove to perfection, but on the other, he was constantly forced to acknowledge that he was, by comparison, a simple Jew.

The Simple Essence

The wholesome simplicity of the simple Jew touches on the utterly simple essence of G-d.

(Baal Shem Tov)

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Milk And Honey Under Your Tongue - Part II

I would like to express my hakaras hatov to the Ribbono shel Olam for His brocha of parnossa. I would also like to thank the following people that gave me a brocha that I be matzliach to get this new job:

The Melitzer Rebbe
The Sudilkover Rebbe
The Clevelander Rebbe
Rav Elazar Kenig
Rabbi Lazer Brody
Rabbi Dovid Sears
Rabbi Binyomin Rosenberg
Rabbi Tal Zwecker

The Sinai Mountain Boys

The Sinai Mountain Boys
(Picture courtesy of Robbie Zev Ludwick)

Last month, I went to a Piamenta concert and was amazed when I saw the Sinai Mountain Boys, who were the opening act. I enjoy most all forms of music but do not particularly care for country music. To my surprise, the Sinai Mountain Boys were fantastic and I found myself really getting into their combination of Bluegrass music with Chassidic niggunim.

I met mandolinist Robbie Zev Ludwick previously at a Simply Tsfat concert and was excited to finally see him perform live. Robbie is an extremely gentle and kind person. In a recent Washington Jewish Week article he remarked, "Wherever Hashem wants to take me with the music, I'm willing to go." He further commented, "For me, it [the Sinai Mountain Boys] is about spreading the message of Judaism in song in a unique way that might grab people who wouldn't otherwise be exposed to Judaism."

The Sinai Mountain Boys other members include Yoni Tyberg on guitar, Gary Goodman on five-string banjo, and Michael Singer on bass.

If you get a chance to go see the Sinai Mountain Boys, be sure to go. You will be happy you did.

The Artwork Of Ronit Akavia

Ronit Akavia's website can be found here

Feelings Of Inferiority

The minute you lose your personal sense of worth and your positive self image, you become a slave. Lack of self-respect, self-deprecation, and ignorance of your own marvelous qualities are tickets to the slave train. Shame or embarrassment about your ethnic or religious background is tantamount to carrying around an iron shackle with a 50-lb. ball and chain. Your feelings of inferiority are an invitation to let society dictate how you should live your life.

(Rabbi Lazer Brody)

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The Wall "Art" Of Lil' Tzaddik

Today's Links

(Photograph courtesy of

Mystical Paths: Lechatchilah Ariber - Go Over!

Beyond Teshuva: An E-Mail To My Brother-In-Law

A Picture From My Family's Shtetl - Week 53

A Three-Part Strategy For Successful Davening During The Yomim Noraim

(Picture by Dinu Mendrea)

Despite the complaints of other people in shul that the Rosh Hashana davening was too long this year, I felt as if the davening went by extremely quickly. I think I have finally discovered a successful three-part strategy that allowed me to get the most out of davening for Rosh Hashana.

1. Seat choice: While you may not be able to dictate the seat assignments for all of the people surrounding you, sitting next to other people who are focused and do not talk to their neighbors is extremely important. Unless you already have a set seat, find a seat next to someone you don't know, or rarely speak to, so you will not be tempted to talk during the service. The people who sit around you may help lift you up during davening or prevent you from putting your all into it. This year my seat assignment was next to the same quiet older man that I sat next to last Rosh Hashana. Although we wish each other "Shana tova" before and after davening, we do not speak at all during the service. He is the perfect neighbor and I wish he had twin brothers with similar temperaments who could sit in all the chairs around me.

2. Focus only on the Machzor: I discovered that the single most important technique for me was not to look up from my machzor unless I really had to. This prevented me from getting distracted or looking at a person who annoyed me with less than a "good eye". At times when I felt that I was losing interest in the service, I would ask Hashem in my own words to help me to concrete and remember the great importance of Rosh Hashana. In this way, I interspersed the entire Rosh Hashana davening with hisbodedus; making it all the more meaningful to me.

3. Closing one's eyes: At times such as the blowing of the shofar and the repetition of the Amida, I closed my eyes to allow the sounds to resonate deeper. Hearing the sound of the shofar blown with my eyes closed was a completely different experience than hearing it with my eyes open. The awe-inspiring words of U'nesaneh Tokef even increased in their intensity. Blocking out the sight of people impatiently fidgeting during the chazzan's repetition of the Amida made it easier for me to remain focused and to allow the words to enter my heart.

This three-part strategy helped me immensely during Rosh Hashana and I plan to follow this strategy again for Yom Kippur.

"Just An Illusion"

(Picture courtesy of

A Yid commenting on Reinforced Concrete Barriers:

Are you hinting to a famous moshol (metaphor) from the Baal Shem Tov, which is brought in Degel Machane Efraim (haftoras Ki Sovoy)? It has a direct relation to Rosh Hashone and gives a very powerful insight into what kavono one should have (in general and on this day in particular).

I was sure you were refering to it. It says, that:

There was a powerful King, who created mighty fortifications, with many levels of tall walls, surrounded with deep ditches filled with water. Between the walls he put horrible soldiers, lions, bears and beasts, but all this was done as an illusion. Then the King called out, that anyone who'll come to him will be rewarded. Many rushed to the King, but most of them seeing unpenetratable walls and horrible beasts turned back right away. Still, few penetrated some outer walls, thus seeing that they were just an illusion. But there stood noble ministers, who were spreading hoards of gold. And many thought it's enough for them to take this innumerable wealth and they turned back, even though they realized that first walls were just an illusion. But every further barrier was more horrible than the previous. And only the son of the King didn't stop, and with mesirus nefesh he broke through all the walls and traversed all ditches, and they all were disappearing, to reveal that this was just an illusion. He was throwing out all his own money to scary soldiers, just in order to pass further. And eventually all illusions dissolved. All scary walls and beasts disappeared and he found himself on a beautiful plane, filled with gardens and orchards, where the servants in beautiful clothing of the King were singing around his throne.

The son of the King started to cry to his father - why did you hide so much?! - cried he, why was all this needed? It was for your sake - answered the King, - I wanted to test you and see that you really want to come to me. And I wanted to keep away your enemies, who don't want that you rule my kingdom and who slander on you. And the King closed his son in royal robes, and put a crown on his head, to show that he is in charge of the kingdom.

The Degel adds, that this is the meaning, that three books are opened on Roysh Hashone. Tzadikim are enscribed l'alter l'chaim. Tzadikim desire to come to the King, with self sacrifice they break all barriers to realize that they were a mere illusion.

So we have to think, that this is the true meaning of Roysh Hashone - we have to beg the Eybeshter to help us to truly come to him. And our whole desire should be to overcome all barriers of evil to come close to the King.

This moshol has many more nuances, which you can think about. Like all mesholim of the Baal Shem Tov it is very deep.

Davening With Absolute Simplicity

Even if you find it totally impossible to pray you should still force yourself to say the words with absolute simplicity -- as if you were a little child at school. You should say the words just like this, without any sophistication. Say a few words and simply try and listen to what you are saying and pay attention to the words. You should concentrate your thoughts intently so that you are not distracted by anything outside. All your thoughts should be concentrated on the words of the prayer. You should go through the prayers in order until in the end you will most likely be inspired and you will be able to pray with great passion and yearning.

(Rebbe Nachman of Breslov)

Monday, September 25, 2006

Remember Your Brothers And Sisters On Tzom Gedaliah

(Picture courtesy of

The Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 251:3 states that it is a priority to help feed the poor of Eretz Yisroel. During the Aseres Yemei Teshuva, please join me and give tzedakah to help Eizer L'Shabbos distribute even more food parcels and food coupons to our brothers and sisters in need in the holy city of Tsfat.

Tax-deductible checks can be sent to the following address:

Eizer L'Shabbos
5014 16th Avenue, Suite 319
Brooklyn NY 11204

Those wishing to contribute by credit card can do so by calling (917) 499-7760

Reinforced Concrete Barriers

(Picture courtesy of

Often we imagine that the barriers we face are many feet thick and constructed of steel and reinforced concrete. In reality they are thinner than a sheet of paper. It is only our mind that prevents us from breaking through them.

Confront these barriers head on and you will see that they disappear before your eyes.

Never let fear of the unknown hold you back. These barriers are simply a mirage.

Today Is Precious

If not now, when?

(Pirkei Avos 1:14)

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Pictures For Erev Rosh Hashana

Last year, I wrote:

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

May this indeed be true for 5767!

I wish all my readers a Shana Tova. I will return to blogging on Monday, September 25th.

English Lyrics & Jewish Music

MOChassid: English Lyrics

Parnossa & Rosh Hashana

All of a person’s earnings are preordained from one Rosh Hashana to the following Rosh Hashana.

(Talmud – Beitzah 16a)

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

A Picture From My Family's Shtetl - Week 52

Question & Answer With Psycho Toddler - Time Machine

A Simple Jew asks:

If you had a time machine and you could travel back to the time when your first child was born, how do you think your parenting style would be different? If you knew then what you know now after raising six children, do you think the difference would be drastic?

Psycho Toddler answers:

That’s a loaded question. The presumption is that I’m not happy with how my children turned out. Well, even with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, I’m not sure I’d have done much differently. The truth is, I like all of my kids. From the oldest, Fudge, on down to the eponymous Psychotoddler, they are all great, great kids. There are little things that could be improved on each of them, of course. Can’t you say that about everyone? This one is too sloppy. This one has a temper. This one eats all day. I doubt there was much I could have done over the course of the past 17 years to affect much of that. These are character traits. And for each kid, I can certainly see where they come from. Each is a unique combination of factors derived either from my wife or me. One has a little more of her, the other more of me.

When I see something positive, I of course kvell and try to take credit. Look at Fudge! Look at her writing! Look how she’s bloomed in New York! Isn’t it obvious that she’s inherited her creativity, her talent, her good nature from her father? Wasn’t it clear that, the first week of college, when her roommates went off to party in clubs, but she decided to join the Chesed Committee and visit a Nursing Home, that she got this from her mother, who took her to see her Great-Grandparents week after week?

Unfortunately, when I see something negative, I am also honest enough to recognize where it comes from. I see laziness, I see slovenliness, I see a certain disregard for authority, and I think, this is my fault, for not being neater myself, or for talking about the black-hatters at the Shabbos table.

So if I would change anything, I don’t think it would be how I brought up my kids. I am happy with the lot of them. I listen to my patients, my neighbors, and my co-workers who have children the same ages, and I cringe. I am glad that I live in a relatively insular community, and that I sent them to Yeshivas and not public schools. I’m glad I don’t have to deal with issues related to teen sex, crime, drugs, etc, like my peers do. When they tell me about how their teenage kids have their boyfriends overnight, or that their sons “disappeared” for days at a time, or that their grandson was arrested, I sympathize, and I think, “Thank G-d I don’t have to deal with this.”

Sure, I get a little chutzpadik talk every so often from the teenagers. They wouldn’t be teenagers otherwise. But that’s because I’ve always been self-deprecating and we have a relaxed environment at home. The kids know, however, that if their parents say something, that’s the way it’s going to be. Period. We have teenagers, but not TEENAGERS.

So if I would change anything, it would be me. I think that I’ve done well trying to tell them what to do, but I haven’t always done well leading by example. Over the years, I’ve had a bad attitude about certain things. Computer games would be one. I invested way too much time in them in the past, and while I don’t think there’s anything wrong with them per se, the very nature of gaming is that it’s addictive and draws you in, and it’s very easy to spend too much time on it. I was very involved in gaming when my kids were young, and I haven’t done such a good job of restricting them in this.

I’ve had a bad attitude towards shul in the past. I would try to go as late as possible and leave early whenever I could. I never went to morning minyan. My kids saw this as they were growing up. I had excuses. I had to get to the hospital. I was on call. The bottom line is that excuses don’t matter. What you do is what matters. And what I did was blow off shul. In more recent years, I’ve tried to correct this by showing up for minyan more often, and getting there earlier. Since my father died, I haven’t missed more than a handful of minyanim, and I’m always the first one there. But I think the kids look at this and say, “What’s up with him? When did HE get to be so frum? Maybe it’s a phase.” They don’t take it seriously now, and I think they resent it now that I’m suddenly rousing them early in the morning or pulling them off the computer to get to mincha.

I have personally tried to be good about lashon hora. But that hasn’t always stopped me from whining about right-wing Judaism and being critical of rabonim when they say things that I don’t personally agree with. I think that during the past 17 years I have still been too much of an immature teenager myself to control what I say around the Shabbos table, and I now regret that. My kids still have a far better attitude than I would expect, but I’ve found that you can’t be critical of authority in general and expect your kids to respect your authority specifically.

I guess what I’m saying is that I think, overall, my kids have turned out to be better people than their old man, certainly better than what I deserve given how I’ve acted. I have to give a huge share of credit to my wife for making this outcome occur. She has always been the disciplinarian. The bad cop to my good. She’s taken a lot of heat. But she’s raised some darn fine human beings in the process.

Rabbi Michel Twerski Niggunim

The Music of Rabbi Michel Twerski - Volume I

Gutten Shabbos (Sound Clip)

The Music of Rabbi Michel Twerski - Volume II

Shma Hashem (Sound Clip)

Veenenu (Sound Clip)

Inside Out

One must be the same inside as he presents on the outside.

(Talmud – Yoma 72b)

Monday, September 18, 2006

Neil Harris Of Modern Uberdox Asks Me A Question

Neil Harris of Modern Uberdox asks:

As parents who’ve just started the road of Jewish education what things do you intend to teach at home that might not be taught during the school day to your children?

A Simple Jew answers here

It Is Not Love

Love that is not accompanied by discipline is not love.

(Bereishis Rabbah 54)

Friday, September 15, 2006

Yitzchok - Who Was He?

Who was Yitzchok?

I only know his name because it is chiseled into the stone of my great-grandfather's matzeva. Yitzchok was my great great-grandfather.

In 1904, Yitzchok's 50 year-old wife named Gessie left Sudilkov, boarded the S.S. Main in Bremen, and was reunited with her children in the United States. My great-aunt Rose remembers Gessie only as a very religious woman who wore a sheitel. Gessie later passed away on the 16th of Sivan in 1918 and is buried in Har Jehuda Cemetery outside of Philadelphia.

But, did Yitzchok pass away before Gessie left Sudilkov?

I don't know.

What is the date of Yitzchok's yahrzeit?

I don't know.

Was Yitzchok a chassid?

I don't know.

What was Yitzchok's father's name?

I don't know.

Had Yitzchok's father or grandfather been one of those who disrespected the Degel Machaneh Ephraim and were then among the shtetl's residents that were cursed by Rebbe Baruch of Mezhibuz?

I don't know

Was Yitzchok buried in the shtetl's cemetery that I visited in 2001?

I don't know.

Yitzchok's great-grandson Asher now lives in Jerusalem but never knew him and does not know anything about him. Professional genealogists have confirmed that the shtetl's vital records were destroyed during World War II and also in a fire on April 10, 2003 at the Kaminets-Podilsky Archives that housed the oldest remaining documents concerning Sudilkov's Jewish population.

Without oral testimony or records about him and his family, I may never be able to learn more about Yitzchok or trace my lineage back another generation.

Perhaps I will have to wait to answer these questions when I reunited with my great great-grandfather in the next world.

Or, perhaps there is still yet another way that will allow me to uncover this information during my lifetime.

Documents destroyed in the fire - April 10, 2003
(Photograph courtesy of

Sudilkov's Jewish cemetery - Is Yitzchok buried here?

Mass Grave Of Massacred Jews Found In Ukraine

Arutz-7 reports:

The remains of some 1,800 Jews murdered by Nazis in Ukraine were discovered two weeks ago in a pit that became their mass grave. The search for additional mass murder sites there continues.

Yehuda Meshi-Zahav - founder of the Zaka organization for emergency rescue, identification and recovery - and his son Shimon were on hand near a forest outside Lvov's Jewish cemetery two weeks ago when the mass grave was discovered. Having received detailed Halakhic [Jewish legal] advice on how to handle and relate to the bodies, they thought they were prepared - but actually seeing the piles of bones appear under their shovels proved to be a great shock. Using metal detectors, they began digging in a particular area, and about two meters deep, the bones began to appear - with bullets still lodged inside them. On the bullets could be read the place and time of manufacture: Germany 1939, Germany 1941. Hundreds of skulls and bones were found.

Shimon, who was in Ukraine for three weeks, later said, "The scene unfolding in front of our eyes was shocking. An area of some 500 square meters filled with hundreds of skeletons, one on top of the other, in piles some two meters high. The most horrifying was to see two adult skeletons on top of children - parents apparently trying to protect their children. We know that the Nazis killed the Jewish families all together, as opposed to the way they killed the Gypsies." This in fact was one of the additional signs that the bodies were of Jews. Some of the skeletons were found standing, apparently indicating they were buried alive.

Free Of Sadness

If a person constantly keeps his mind focused on doing good deeds, his mind will be free from thoughts that lead to sadness.

(Rebbe Pinchas of Koretz)

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Based On "A Childish Prank" - Na Nach Nachma

(Picture courtesy of Yonassan Gershom)

Rabbi Dovid Sears commenting on Wikipedia & Na Nach Nachma

The Na Nach "movement" was started by a group of French baalei teshuvah who discovered an elderly Breslover Chassid named Rabbi Yisrael Ber Odesser z"l in an old age home in Eretz Yisrael. When they heard his story about having received a "petek" or letter from Rebbe Nachman when he was a bochur in Slonimer Yeshivah, they believed Reb Yisrael Ber and began to disseminate the now-famous petek and the "mantra" it contained: "Na Nach Nachma Nachman me-Uman!"

This is evidently based upon the Shem be-Achorayim, which the Rebbe mentions in Likkutei Moharan II, 8 (the last lesson the Rebbe gave, also known as "Tiku / Tochakhah"). Whoever invented the petek substituted the Rebbe's name for the Shem HaVaYaH and added "me-Uman."

I was personally told by Rav Zvi Ashkenazi, a Slonimer Chassid and one of the leading shochtim u'bodkim in America, that his grandfather had written the petek and tucked it into one of Reb Yisrael Ber's seforim as a childish prank. But when he told his extremely devout and temimusdikeh classmate that it was a joke, Reb Yisrael Ber refused to believe him. (Which shows you the danger of letzonus!)

The Na Nach group is a totally marginal phenomenon in Breslov today and not one Breslover gadol buys the business of the petek. But for these kids, the Na Nach sect with its rejection of middle class culture and its pursuit of electric niggunim ecstacy is a way to express themselves in a religious world that for one reason or another they can't relate to.

Being strongly committed to the Breslov mesorah, I can't endorse the Na Nach thing; but I also can't negate a movement that keeps many kids basically within the geder of Yiddishkeit, and which doesn't seem to be doing any major harm that I know about. Reb Yisrael Ber also left a small fortune of money that people gave him to publish the Breslover seforim, and his group has probably done more to publish and disseminate these books than anyone in Breslov history. If the Na Nachs would turn down their amplifiers in Uman I might be even more liberal-minded about them -- but as the saying goes, "that will be the day!"

The Kolbuszowa Rebbe HY"D

The Kolbuszowa Rebbe, Yechiel Teitelbaum, is forced to pose for a photograph in his tallit and tefillin (prayer shawl and phylacteries) in front of his home in the ghetto.

The Rebbe was later relocated to the Rzeszow ghetto, where he and his two granddaughters were murdered.

Note: Picture and text were taken from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Photo Archives Online Catalog

Question & Answer With Chabakuk Elisha- Observation On Shmiras Einayim

A Simple Jew asks:

Have you noticed that if a person is strict with himself in shmiras einayim, his sensitivity increases, and ironically if he accidently glances at something, he derives more pleasure from that thing that he is not permitted to look at?

Chabakuk Elisha answers:

I know that people say this, but I don't know if it is all that true. Honestly, I don't think that there is a significant difference between the shmiras einayim practitioner and the non-shmiras einayim practioner accidentally seeing something improper. If anything, the "desensitized" non-practitioner is more likely to continue staring while our friend who guards his eyes does not.

#1. Let's first address the concept of shmiras einayim. Shmiras einayim is not about what you see; it's about HOW you see. If someone stares at even the most modestly dressed woman in an improper way, he has violated the shmiras einayim concept. However, if someone was to happen to accidentally see a woman walking on main street in a tank top, but doesn't stare at her improper state of undress, he has not. It is also not about avoidance of "deriving pleasure"– shmiras einayim is practice that sensitizes us; it is about keeping out thoughts holy or pure.

#2. Then there is tznius. Tznius, in general, is a guideline with the stated goal to avoid attracting attention of the opposite sex. I'm not getting into any spiritual or Chassidic interpretations here – tznius in general helps us practice shmiras einayim. Immodest dress can be compared to neon advertisers screaming to be noticed, which is most certainly an obstacle to shmiras einayim. But that doesn't mean that tznius is simply about clothing or elbows or knees; tzinius is really an entire attitude or way of life...

The issue at hand: Chazal say that "The eye sees and the heart desires." I think that this is a simple fact of life - and applies even to someone who is, let's say, used to / cold towards / desensitized to seeing women in various states of undress. Perhaps one could argue that it may not have the same exact effect, I can't really say, but it will always have SOME effect. Moreover, I don't think that there is an advantage to the "desensitized man" – I think his desires only grow. But let's put it this way: I ask you – if one indulges in food, or abstains from such gluttony, how do you think it would affect him? I'd say that the indulger just wants more of his desire fulfilled, not less…

The Maggid of Mezritch was once visited by a local nobleman and his wife, as was common in those days. The Maggid came out to greet the noble couple, and the woman was wearing a gown which revealed more of her body that we would consider tzniusdik, causing the Maggid to immediately vomit upon seeing her. (This was not any avodah – he vomited because he was so spiritually fine tuned that anything improper disgusted him.) His shmiras einayim was fully in place – although his reaction may have been different than ours would be. Shmiras einayim is a method to assist us in becoming less animalistic, and thus, more holy – that's never a disadvantage!

Also, for those who are interested, we touched on this about a year ago, and I would once again refer interested readers to an article on the matter by Rabbi Manis Friedman where I think he puts it very well!


Modesty is an index of nobility.

(Rabbi Moshe ibn Ezra)

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Pouring Vodka On The Floor – A Story Of Overcoming Resentment

(Picture courtesy of

Excerpt from the chapter Hooked on Kindness by Rabbi Yissocher Frand:

Let me tell you a story about a simple Jew, an innkeeper, who understood the meaning of ahavas chessed. It was related by the great Rebbe, Reb Simchah Bunim of P’shis’cha, who was an eyewitness.

On a cold, raining night during one of his travels, Reb Bunim stopped in a small town for the night and took a room at the local inn, which was owned by a simple Jew. After the innkeeper serves Reb Bunim his dinner, he stops by the table to talk about what was on his mind.

“Rebbe, I am in trouble,” he says. “I don’t know what to do. Hardly, anyone travels through this town anymore. Business is bad. No, it is terrible. I cannot pay my expense, let alone make a decent living. I am on the verge of going bankrupt and losing everything I’ve accumulated in my whole life. What should I do?”

Before Reb Bunim had a chance to say anything, there is a loud knock at the door, and the innkeeper hurries off to open it. Perhaps it would be a customer. He opens the door and sees a man in shabby, drenched clothing standing on the doorstep and shivering in the cold.

“I need a place to stay,” says the man. “And I need something to eat. Can I sleep here and also get a meal?”

“Of course,” says the innkeeper. “Come right in.”

The man steps across the threshold and turns to the innkeeper. “There is only one catch,” he says. “I have no money. I am asking you to take me in as a favor. Is that all right with you?”

The innkeeper sighs. How miserable his fortune has become. Finally, he gets a live customer, and the man has no money to pay for his keep. At the same time, he wouldn’t dream of turning away a cold and hungry traveler just because he has no money.

“It’s not a problem,” says the innkeeper. “Sit down at one of the tables, and I’ll bring you something to eat.”

In the meantime, Reb Bunim is still sitting at his table and watching the tableau unfold.

The innkeeper serves the man a bowl of soup and then the main course. The man eats as if he hasn’t eaten in three days. Finally, he wipes his mouth and calls to the innkeeper.

“Sir, you are being so kind to me,” he says. “The food was excellent. But I am still shivering from the cold. I need something to warm me up. Could I possibly have a glass of vodka?”

The innkeeper nods. “All right. I’ll give you a glass of vodka.”

He goes to the barrel and pours a glass of vodka. Then he looks at the glass and spills the vodka on the ground. He fills another glass and looks at it, then he spills it on the ground. He does this a third time as well. He spills the vodka on the ground. The fourth time he fills the glass it seems to satisfy him. He does not spill it on the ground. Instead, he brings it to the penniless traveler, places it before him and walks away.

Reb Bunim is watching in amazement as all this transpires. He signals to the innkeeper to come over.

“What were you doing?” he asks. “Why were you spilling the vodka on the ground? Vodka is so expensive. You tell me that you are having money problems and then you spill three glasses of vodka on the ground? I don’t understand.”

“Vodka is indeed, expensive, Rebbe,” says the innkeeper. “When the man asked me for a glass of vodka, I was upset. It is bad enough that I’m taking him in and feeding him for free, but I should give him vodka too? Isn’t that a little too much? But then I thought that the man was shivering and that by giving him a glass of vodka I would be doing a chessed for another Jew, so I agreed. But when I poured the first glass, I did it with anger and resentment in my heart. I said to myself, ‘Is this how you are going to do a chessed for another Jew?’ So I poured it out. The same with the second and the third. By the time I poured the fourth glass, my anger was gone. I considered for a moment and was convinced I had no ill feelings, so I gave him the vodka.”

Here is man, a simple Jew, who was not satified with mere acts of chessed. Surely, giving the poor traveler a glass of vodka was a real chessed for that innkeeper, no matter what his inner feelings were. But he was not satisfied with that, because he loved doing chessed, and he knew that this was not the way a person who loves chessed gives a glass of vodka to a guest who is shivering with cold.

Uman Documentary

Last night, I watched the two-minute trailer on this new documentary on Rosh Hashana in Uman and can't wait to see it when it is finished!

UPDATE: Uman...for the ladies

Simple vs. Idiotic

You have to be careful that you are being pure and simple as opposed to idiotic.

(Rebbe Nachman of Breslov)

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

MOChassid's Latest Recommendation

MOChassid recommended a new CD here

Today's Links

Modern Uberdox: Anarchy in the Pre-K

Life-Of-Rubin: Some Background

A Picture From My Family's Shtetl - Week 51

A Map Of My Family's Shtetl

Remembering Gabe

Gavriel Yehuda ben HaRav Chaim z"l

Today, the 19th of Elul, is the yarhzeit of my friend Gabe Arzouan who drowned in an accident in Florida three years ago.

I was introduced to Gabe back in 1996 and I spent some time together with him in the late 1990's. Over time I lost contact with Gabe and then one day I read an article in the Jewish Press that marked his first yahrzeit.

I was touched by what was written, but I was also shaken. It wasn't until I read this article did I learn about what happened to him.

I remember Gabe as a gentle, intelligent, and funny individual. He was a true mentch in every regard.

Today, on his yahrzeit, I am giving tzedakah to the Keren Gavriel Yehuda G'mach, an organization that was established in his memory to provide assistance to struggling families in Eretz Yisroel.

Others also wishing to give to this organization can send checks to:

Keren Gavriel Yehuda - The Franco Foundation
c/o Arzouan
1111 University Blvd. West #505
Silver Spring, MD 20902