Sunday, December 31, 2006

On His Yahrzeit

The Ohel of Reb Noson in Breslov
(Picture courtesy of Yeshivat Tikkun Ha'midot)

Over Shabbos, I came across an idea in Aveneha Barzel #41 that made me recall a recent e-mail discussion I had a few weeks ago with my good friend Chabakuk Elisha about our difficulty learning Gemara. I am curious to see how he will respond to the idea in this story:

"Reb Nachman of Tulchin was orphaned as a young boy and never had formal Talmudic education. Once he was traveling with Reb Noson, who told him off for not studying Torah. When they came to an inn, Reb Nachman took out a Gemara and began to learn. Reb Noson said he was what is called a "turbulent learner." Reb Noson continued, "The Baal Shem Tov came into this world to uproot the turbulent learner. It would be better for you to study the basics - Chumash, Mishnah, Ein Yaakov, Shulchan Aruch, and Midrash." Reb Nachman was about twenty when he became a serious follower of Reb Noson. Were he to concentrate exclusively on Gemara, he might acquire a veneer of Torah knowledge but would not attain true piety. Reb Noson understood that for Reb Nachman of Tulchin to rise to his full potential he should put his main emphasis on refining his character. Reb Nachman of Tulchin did indeed become a great tzaddik and leader."

"The Beard May Mislead Others Into Believing That I Am At A Certain Level"

Crawling To Uman: Good Beard, Bad Beard

Friday, December 29, 2006

Question & Answer With Rabbi Lazer Brody - Dealing With Unpleasant Memories

(Picture courtesy of Encarta)

A Simple Jew asks:

Sometimes a person's thoughts flash a memory from a person's past of something that is unpleasant. This same image may return again to the person's mind before one is able to chase it off at a later date as well.

While it appears that the Baal Shem Tov, Toldos Yaakov Yosef, and Degel Machaneh Ephraim taught that the common man could uplift these thoughts to their roots, others such as the Baal HaTanya advised that uplifting these thoughts was solely a task for tzaddikim.

In our generation should we try to get to the root these thoughts that remind of a something we might not be proud of or ashamed of that we did when we were children, or are they simply coming from yetzer hara and trying to depress us and keep us from our avodas Hashem? In others words, what is the advice we should follow, the advice of the Baal Shem Tov, Toldos Yaakov Yosef, and Degel Machaneh Ephraim, or that of the Baal HaTanya?

Rabbi Lazer Brody answers:

Rav Yisroel Lugasi shlit'a writes in his very important guide book for this generation's faith seekers, "Dor Tmuros", that a Baal Tshuva should not be downhearted and disappointed when suddenly visited with an image of the past of something that he or she is less than proud of. Indeed, their embarrassment at the strange thought in the middle of davening is a wonderful soul correction that brings Hashem great gratification. How? A few years ago, they enjoyed eating the forbidden fruit of a transgression. Now, they are ashamed and embarrassed - this is a superb form of Tshuva.

Rebbe Nosson of Breslev writes that thoughts are like a unruly horse; a good wagoneer has to grab the horse firmly by the reins, and lead him in the right direction. Not only thought, but the brain can only hold one thought at a time. Yet, it's senseless to fight the Yetzer straight on. Rav Shalom Arush shlit'a teaches not to struggle with the nasty thought, just simply focus on a good thought, such as Hashem's name, and the bad thought withers.

The Melitzer Rebbe shlit'a, great grandson of the Degel - teaches that this generation can sweeten a thought at its source by simple faith and intent in prayer. When a person tries to daven with "kavannos" above his or her madrega, they are inviting trouble and stiff resistance. Therefore, the best way to pray is with simple faith, trying the best we can to understand what we say, for in this generation simple faith accomplishes what the lofty deeds of the tzaddikim accomplished in former generations. If the wild horse of negative thoughts gets out of line, just pull the reins back to kedusha with a good thought.

In closing, let me add that all our thoughts come from Hashem, so don't lose heart because of a silly bad thought. Refocus on kedusha, and continue whatever you're doing with joy.

Seforim Links

Custom Reprints of Sifrei Chassidus

Custom Reprints of seforim printed in Sudilkov

Not A Reason

No mitzvah shall be forsaken because of shame.

(Orchos Tzaddikim)

Thursday, December 28, 2006

"Little Nothing" - The Discussion Continues

(Picture by Paulo Pevero)

Rabbi Avraham Chaim Bloomenstiel commenting on "Even In Eretz Yisroel":

I looked over the discussion on the site - very interesting. Here are some of my thoughts. Please feel free to quote, post, etc. :

The term nittle nacht is actually a clever Yiddish word play. The proper word for cratzmach in Yiddish and middle German was nittel, related to the Latin “natal,” source for the English “nativity” and French “noel.”

Nittel, in Yiddish, is also the diminutive form of the word “nit” – meaning nothing. Nittle = little nothing. Nittle Nacht is thus both “cratzmach eve” and “night of little nothing” or “little-nothing night.”

As far as the Minhag of Breslov, most Breslov Chassidim refrain from learning from shkia until chatzos ha-layla. The zeman here for chatzos is actually very early, being only six-clock hours after tzeis. In general, Breslov Chassidim follow the opinion of the Mogen Avrohom O.C. 1:4 who mentions the zeman for chatzos as such based upon the Zohar in Parshas Vaykhel. So, the actual time to refrain from learning may only be from about 5:00 to 11:00 PM.

As to the date of nittel nacht in Breslov – In Ukraine it was January 6th as per the custom of the goyim (this was also the date of nittel nacht in Eretz Yisrael). It seems that there was a shift in minhag when many of the Chassidim came into western lands. Those Chassidim began to regard nittel nacht as December 24th.

Both dates in Breslov are kept depending upon which date the goyim observe. In the West, most churches regard the 25th as the main point of the holiday. In the eastern/orthodox churches, most view January 6th (Feast of the Epiphany, observed on the 7th by Coptic churches and a few others) as the culmination and main celebration of the holiday.

You also asked about the minhag of Rav Yaakov Meir Schechter. I am almost certain that he keeps both dates – but my recollection isn’t 100% (this wouldn’t represent the majority practice in Breslov).

Even though I observe this minhag, I've always had problems with it. I am torn between the minhag of my Rabbonim and a statement that R’ Y .B. Soloveitchik once made echoing the opinion of many misnagdim: “I would rather see the gehinnom for learning Torah on nittel nacht than the olam ha-ba for playing cards on it.”

He has a point, but then so do those who advocate the nittle nacht minhag.

Nireh li, if one doesn’t have a mesorah he shouldn’t observe the minhag.

Yet, if a person joins a Chassidus that is particular about nittle nacht, it is considered like his mesorah and he should be particular as well and rely on the minhag ha-makom as to the date.

The Year Between - A Story For 7 Teves

Degel Machaneh Ephraim (Satmar, 1942)

Excerpt from
The Great Maggid by Rabbi Jacob Immanuel Schochet:

The succession had to be resolved by itself to preserve the structure and propagation of Chassidism. The disciples thus appointed Rabbi Tzvi, the only son of the Baal Shem Tov, to succeed his father even while assigning certain organizational tasks unto different members of their group. This appointment was as much a temporary compromise as an act of piety and posthumous respect to the great master. Rabbi Tzvi was an interim leader only. His leadership was not a reign but a regency. In spite of his personal merits, Rabbi Tzvi was not the right man. He did not have the personality and qualifications required for that taxing office in those crucial times when the very life of the movement hung in the balance. Moreover, he could not possibly overlook the strict advice of his father who two years earlier cautioned him:

"For G-d's sake, Heaven forbid that you should occupy yourself with leadership; pursue but business and therein you shall thrive and succeed. Remember, just remember, how I told you already that ever since that bitter day in which I was revealed I have cried daily over my bitter lot. If I had not been pressed from Heaven..."

Rabbi Tzvi's term in office lasted for one year. For Shavuous 5521 (1761) the Baal Shem Tov's senior disciples gathered in Mezhibuz to observe together the first anniversary of their master's passing. On the second day of the festival Rabbi Tzvi sat as usual at the head of the table and delivered a Torah discourse. Immediately upon concluding he rose and said:

"Today my father appeared to me and informed me that the Shechinah and Heavenly Assembly that used to be with him have gone over this day to Rabbi Dov Ber; therefore my son, transfer to him the leadership in the presence of the Chevraya Kadisha (Holy Society). Let him sit in my place at the head of the table and you, my son, sit in his place."

Rabbi Tzvi then removed his white robe, the robe which had belonged to his father and symbolized the office of leadership, and he placed it upon the shoulders of Rabbi Dov Bear, while wishing him success in his new task.

Interpretations

You can crease and wrinkle my book any way you like when it comes to your own interpretations – as long as you don't violate a single paragraph of the Shulchan Aruch.

(Rebbe Nachman of Breslov)

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Paintings Of Ron Cohen



More of Ron Cohen's artwork can be seen here

"Even In Eretz Yisroel"

The Clevelander Rebbe, shlit"a
(Picture courtesy of 613.org)


Rabbi Tal Zwecker commenting on "Why Do I Have To Start Now?":

I spoke to the Clevelander Rebbe who said that he thinks that other groups do observe Nittel in January. As to which day to observe, one should follow his mesora, otherwise he felt that December 25th was the day that should be observed. He re-iterated that the power of the klippos is misgaber, gets stronger, and they have the power to sap from our learning at this time so he holds that one should observe Nittel even in Eretz Yisroel.

Guest Posting From Yitz Of Heichal HaNegina - Can Jews Celebrate January 1st As New Year’s ?

From a Google search, found on Mail-Jewish Digest [slightly edited by Yitz]

IMHO, no Jew who calls himself Orthodox, religious, or religiously observant should be celebrating or observing New Year's Day, Rav Moshe's apparent hetter notwithstanding. Aside from the day's debatable direct religious association - if Yeshu was born on Xmas Day (a big if), then New Year's Day was his “bris” - it has all sorts of quasi-religious associations. For example, people wish each other a happy, healthy and prosperous new year, just the way they do before Rosh Hashana, thus investing January 1 with a similar status. Our joining in this, other than as a matter of darchei shalom, denigrates Rosh Hashana. Moreover, the only non-religious association of January 1, particularly New Year's Eve, is drunkenness and general debauchery, values that are, or ought to be, alien to us, with a limited and questionable exception of Purim.

With rare exceptions, New Year’s Eve is celebrated in a manner antithetical to Jewish values, and to the extent it is not, what is being celebrated is not something we ought to celebrate.

If in response to this: For example, people wish each other a happy, healthy and prosperous new year, just the way they do before Rosh Hashana, thus investing January 1 with a similar status.

You will say: The fact is that the world operates on a secular calendar so even observant Jews deal with the secular year . . .

I would like to mention that there is a Halachic opinion (the source eludes me right now) that one may not use numbers to designate the months of the general calendar, but should refer to them by name. The reason for this is as follows:

The Pasuk says, of Chodesh Nissan: "HaChodesh hazeh lachem Rosh Chodashim, rishon hu lachem l’chodshei haShana" - This month is to you a head for all months, a first shall it be to you of the months of the year. Chazal learned from this duplication, that there is an (at least implied) Issur to call a month other than Nisan "The first month" - "Hu rishon, v'ein acher rishon" - [Nisan] is the first, another is not the first. Using a numbering system to denote the general months, even when referring to a month other than January, implicitly defines January as being "the first" - which is not allowed.

The sad fact is that many Jews forget completely about the Jewish dates and run their lives around the goyish calendar. This sometimes borders on the tragic-comic. In many conversations with secular Jews in Israel, my father will ask them: When is Yom Ha'Atzmaut? Roughly 95% of them have no clue! Mind you, this is a National holiday - not a strictly religious one. Could you imagine an American not knowing when is Independence Day? But then, they were never taught that we Jews have a calendar which is older than the general one by about 3700 years, and yet so well regulated that it is still accurate (whereas the general calendar gets "fixed" by some seconds every few years to prevent what happened to the Julian calendar).

What Is The Story Behind This?

Prominence

If one seeks prominence, prominence flees from him; but if one flees from prominence, prominence seeks him.

(Talmud - Eruvin 13b)

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

"Why Do I Have To Start Now?"


Yitz commenting on Nittel:

Smashed Hat wrote: The Chasam Sofer takes a more rationalist position, explaining that going to the Beis Medrash and even staying up and learning at home by candle-light was to take one's life in one's hands, and that's how the minhag got started. One might be discovered as not following the "god of love," and therefore suffer dire consequences!

This is the reason for my comment above. The rational reason for this minhag is not very applicable in our times, except perhaps in parts of Russia, and maybe somewhere else. As to the mystical, I'm with ASJ - if I don't have this b'mesora, why do I have to start now? So far, no one here has convinced ASJ or myself to keep this custom. That said, I am not telling others to "throw it away" either.

UPDATE: Be sure to read Chabakuk Elisha's comment here.

Rabbi Lazer Brody's view can be seen here.

"How Many Even Notice The Clouds Or The Ripples In The Water?"

(Picture by Gerry Simpson)

Excerpt from Ecology Awareness on the Uman Pilgrimage:

Many of us walk around with spiritual blinders on, totally oblivious to G-d's creations, even when we are out in the woods or the fields. How many of us stop along the road, to hear a bird or see a butterfly? How many even notice the clouds or the ripples in the water? In so many ways, the animals, trees, and rivers have become strangers to us. We often see them as mere physical objects, not living, breathing things containing sparks of G-d's Holy Light.

This lack of understanding about nature is a serious defect in our perception of the world -- a defect that Rebbe Nachman is teaching us how to repair. There are any number of reasons why he told us to make our hisboddidus in the fields and forests. One reason might be, that he recognized the need for Jews to re-connect with living things in nature.

Look At The Sky

Looking at the sky, taking a deep breath of fresh air, and going for a ride with the family out in the country are wonderful for the body, mind, and soul.

(Rabbi Lazer Brody)

Monday, December 25, 2006

A Phone Call With Rabbi Binyomin Rosenberg

I spoke with Rabbi Binyomin Rosenberg on the phone this evening about the recent activities of Eizer L'Shabbos. He related to me that Eizer L'Shabbos delivered over 400 packages of food to needy people over Chanukah and seeks funding to continue its food deliveries for each Shabbos. He also noted that they plan to upload a new video shortly which includes interviews of people who have received help from Eizer L'Shabbos to show others what is happening Tsfat.

Rabbi Rosenberg told me that he has continued to gets calls thanking him for these Chanukah packages and even more calls from people who continue to be in real need of basic necessities. One widow related that she did not even have money for a slice of cheese, and another cheder rebbe said that on Chanukah he and his family danced like it was Simchas Torah when they received a Eizer L'Shabbos package because they did not have any food in the house.

The important work of Eizer L'Shabbos never ceases. Please help however you can.

Tax-deductible donations can be sent to:

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


To donate by credit card, please call 917-499-7760.

Guest Posting From Robot Costume - An Orthodox Jew's Christmas Story

(Picture courtesy of Agapebears.com)

It was back in the early 1970's, I was in kindergarten and we lived in a relatively small town. My parents were becoming frum and we davened in the Orthodox shul. There was a Jewish community – but most of them were not extremely frum. I was in a small private – but not a specifically Jewish – kindergarten. There were other Jewish kids there as well (not frum, of course), and my family & I definitely had a strong Jewish identity.

This preschool that I attended rented space in a Christian parochial school building (I don't know what denomination). As it happens, I was a popular kid, and all the teachers were friendly towards me, including the teachers from the parochial school. Sometime in November one of the parochial school faculty members asked me if I would like to be part of the play they put on every year; it seems they had a part that called for a robot, and they needed someone small to play it. As a 5 year old kid I was very excited, and got permission from my parents to be in the upcoming production.

The big night came, my father was in the crowd, the parochial school's parent body was all there. I was very excited. Maybe they should have realized… well, maybe they did realize, but saw that I was so excited about it… but as it turned out, I was in the Christmas play. I wore a robot costume and hung decorations on their Asheira – I mean Christmas tree – and I had 4 words: "Beep, Beep, Bop, Bop." But, I have no idea what the play was about. I didn't even know what Christmas was, and nobody bothered to tell me. To me, it was just exciting to be in that costume and part of a play. It wasn't a big deal to me, and I don't think anyone ever mentioned it again; but as I got older I realized what it was, and how ridiculous it was to have this Jewish kid in the play. I wonder how my parents allowed it (but for some reason, I never asked), and then I wonder what effect (if any) it may have had:

You see, I never was, and I'm still not, much of an anti-Christian. Intellectually, I realize that our Christian cousins have a long record of violence and atrocities against klal Yisroel. I know that many of my other relatives were regularly beaten-up by the Catholics in the neighborhood for being Jewish, and I've been faced with Catholics who called me "Christ-killer" during my life, but oddly I don't harbor all that much negativity for Christianity. Obviously, I don't accept their belief system, but I always felt that it's good for them; as a religious person, in a less and less religious world, I sort of feel some solidarity with the Christians. I tend to think that Christianity has something valuable to offer them, and growing up out of town, in a (nominally) Christian country, we have been influenced and share a certain amount of experiences, and a culture, with them – and that creates a common ground. So, I must admit that I don't mind, (actually I kinda like) the lights on the houses. The "holiday" songs? Well, my Latin is terrible, but I don't mind the songs. The reindeer and all that stuff – it's too commercialized, but it doesn't bother me from a religious perspective.

But my kids go to chareidi mosdos, and they have completely different sentiments. They have a palpable feeling that Christianity is something to fear – that at any moment there could be a pogrom, C"V, and that there is a powerful anti-Semitic message emanating from Christianity.

My kids and I were in different worlds, we have different relationships with our neighbors – and all these things play a role in how we react or respond to foreign religions or customs. I wonder what the appropriate, shall we say "correct" sentiments are?

Required Viewing

From The Source

Everything is from Hashem. Even if we gain an object because of an intermediary agent, we must fully believe that it is directly from Hashem, who wished to sustain us in this way.

(Degel Machaneh Ephraim)

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Nittel

Excerpt from the Breslov Customs and Practices:

In the Ukraine and in Eretz Yisrael, nittel was observed in January. However, it is not clear if this applies to countries in which the prevailing practice is to observe nittel in December. Therefore, today’s Breslover Chassidim follow different customs on this issue.

Video Of Eizer L'Shabbos Activities During Chanukah

Eizer L'Shabbos has just uploaded a new video showing their activities over Chanukah. You can watch it here.

Other videos can be seen here.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Guest Posting From My Wife - Chanukah Gifts, Unwrapped?

(Picture courtesy of Highlightsteachers.com)

It seems that I learn more and more gift giving tricks with each passing Chanukah. A Simple Jew and myself have really down-played the whole idea of gift giving during Chanukah. Our children receive gifts from some of our family members. These gifts I save for during Chanukah so the children have something to open the first night. We definitely do not associate gift-giving with the lighting of the menorah. We learned this the hard way after the first time our then 2-year old daughter screamed every time we lit the menorah just so she could get to the gift. Now, she is 4 1/2 and barely even asks for a gift after the menorah lighting. It almost seems as though she does not even expect a gift from Mommy and Daddy.

I've been speaking with many friends lately who are all disillusioned by the way their children act during Chanukah, especially when they seem to reject or be ungrateful of gifts that people give to them. A friend of mine told me that her two eldest daughters seemed totally unappreciative of expensive digital cameras that were given by their grandparents and that her two youngest boys could have cared less that they got brand new scooters. She said to me, "What have my husband and I done to create such spoiled and ungrateful children?" To this, I have no answer. It just makes me ponder the whole idea of gift giving during Chanukah and how I can try to do things differently with our children. The worst feeling a parent can have is when their children seem to act ungrateful, especially around people who have been thoughtful enough to buy gifts to them.

Admittedly, I do have a bunch of gifts that I did stockpile before the holiday in case I felt pressured to give the kids each a gift. However, this year I did not even wrap the gifts. I find that if I present the children with unwrapped gifts, they are much more appreciative and do not act disappointed. They are just simply thankful to have something new to play with or wear. I am not professing to be an expert in child-rearing or gift giving, but it this day in age when it is becoming more and more challenging to raise grateful, unspoiled children in a materialistic society, this is just a glimpse of our simple way of looking at gift-giving during Chanukah.

"Too Much Outer Form, Not Enough Inner Light"

(Picture by Andrea Briscoli)

Space Cadet commenting on "I Dread To Say It":

Let me volunteer an opinion, and we'll see if Smashed Hat agrees:

1. Too much outer form, not enough inner light;

2. Creativity has petered out;

3. Conservative tendencies succeeded in keeping the movement "in line," but soon neutralized the dynamic individualistic spirit -- for better or worse.

Rabbi Nachman saw that this was already happening in HIS day, and said that when the Baal Shem Tov passed away, he removed his light, as well. However, he went on to say, his task would be to leave behind a light that would flicker until the Moshiach: "Mien fierl vet tluyen biz Moshiach vet kumen!"

At least we can see that it is still flickering...

Impeding The Redemption

I heard from my teacher and father-in-law, who was the chief disciple of Rebbe Yechiel Michal of Zlotchov, that once when the Baal Shem Tov was traveling on the road, he stepped into a wooded area to pray the afternoon prayer. His disciples were dumbfounded to see him hitting his head against a tree, crying and screaming. Afterward, they asked him what had happened. He explained that he had seen, with divine inspiration, that in the generations before the coming of the Moshiach there would be a multitude of rabbis, and that they would be the very ones who would impede the redemption.

(Otzar Chayim)

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Seventh Night

Rav Elazar Kenig

More pictures of Rav Elazar Kenig's recent visit to the United States can be seen here

"I Dread To Say It"

(Picture by Angela Craggs)

Smashed Hat commenting on "What Is Chassidus?":

The Lubavitcher Rebbe zatzal in "The Essence of Chassidus," writes that Toras HaBaal Shem Tov is actually a revelation of the pnimiyus, or innermost essence of being. Thus, it applies to both the "great and small," learned and unlearned.

As far as the specific practices emphasized by the Baal Shem Tov go, each group seems to have at least some of them: outreach, chesed, neginah, brotherhood, hisrachakus from secularism and chokhmos chitzoniyos, and even mystical contemplation (although this has, alas, fallen by the wayside in many groups with the exceptions of Breslov and maybe Toldos Aharon).

I am amazed that this question is so perplexing to most Jews today. Maybe -- and I dread to say it -- this is because Chassidus / Toras HaBaal Shem Tov has actually been played out. We are now in the very painful zone of uncertainty, waiting for the next gilui: when the one who answered the Baal Shem Tov's question "eimasai kaasi mar?" brings us all to the next level, b'rachamim!

A Natural Remedy

In the past, I wrote about my nine month caffeine experiment, so today I was interested to read Treppenwitz's new posting, Caffeinated Kid.

Mini Likutey Moharan On Ebay

See the listing here

My Review of Yosef Karduner: Breslever Melave Malka


It was definitely worth the wait!

Yosef Karduner's latest release "Breslever Melave Malka" is fantastic. After "Simonim Baderech - Road Marks & Kol Haolam - The Whole World", this is my favorite CD from him. This latest CD did not require any time to grow on me, I liked it from the first time I listened to it. While my favorite song is the first track entitled, "B'motzoei", I also really liked "Agil V'esmach", "Adir Ayom", and "Elokim Yisadenu".

I liked every song on "Brelever Melave Malka", however, the musical accompaniment to song "Machrozet Shirim Breslev" is out of place with the primarily acoustic feel of the CD. The amateurish use of synthesizers, electric guitar, and a drum machine on this song brings out all that is wrong with many Jewish music releases. Also, although I really like the song "Chodosh Sassoni", something sits wrong with me when listening to it, and I believe it would be much tighter if the only instrument used was the guitar [the other instrument sounds a bit cartoonish].

That aside, the songs on this CD are gorgeous and everyone in my family, from my wife to my seven month-old daughter, enjoys listening to it. My four year-old daughter even started singing along to it after only a few listens in the mini-van and makes sure to scream out "Eliyahu HaNavi" whenever it turns up in the lyrics.

"Breslever Melave Malka", more so than his 2005 release "Bakesh Avdecha", is a return to the roots of what makes Yosef Karduner so great; an amazingly beautiful voice and an acoustic guitar. If this CD is bad, then I don't have any taste in music, and I would advise you never to read any of my reviews in the future.

Overall Rating = A

A Sign In A Dream

When a person feels during his dream that he must explore the meaning of what has happened to him in the dream, this is a clear sign that the dream cannot be dismissed as being of no consequence but that it presages something that will occur in the future.

(Ohr HaChaim)

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Sixth Night


"Doesn't The Box Become Shaimos If It Has A Picture Of A Tzaddik?"

I'm Haaretz, Ph.D.: Last night's explosion on my Rebbe picture menorah (received via e-mail from Soccer Dad)

Bittul HaYesh With A Wrecking Ball?

(Picture courtesy of RoyalCityRecord.com)

From a window in my office building, I have been watching with great interest and excitement as workers use a wrecking ball attached to a large crane to demolish an old ten-story building. Instead of using total brute force and smashing down half of the building, the workers have been using the wrecking ball almost surgically to meticulously take down the building.

I have not determined why, however, I greatly enjoy watching this destruction, but also ponder why I enjoy it so much. At the same time, I refuse to believe that this scene of destruction that unfolds before my eyes each day does not have any deeper lesson, since there is no such thing as coincidence in this world.

If this is a lesson about breaking down self in order to rebuild, why would I derive so much enjoyment from watching it? Nothing is enjoyable about such a thing.

The holy Baal Shem Tov taught that every thing we see in this world contains a lesson that is applicable to our avodas Hashem. My question is, what exactly is the lesson contained in the destruction of this building?

No Coincidence

Trust involves faith that there is no coincidence in the world and that every occurrence under the sun was by His proclamation.

(Chazon Ish)

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Light On The Darkest Night




"A Guy With A Beard, Hat And Kapote, Who Can't Read Hebrew"

Letters Of Thought: The Kapote Conundrum

Question & Answer With Chabakuk Elisha - Shoresh Neshoma

Illustration from Pardes Rimonim (Koretz, 1786)


A Simple Jew asks:

You once wrote, "We know that some people are rooted in Chesed and some are rooted in Gevura."

When I look at my wife, I can see a clear example of a person whose neshoma is rooted chesed; she does not need to work at chesed because it comes so naturally to her and it bound up with her very essence. Being married to her helps better draw this quality out of me and allows me to grow into the person I strive to be.

If a person were to ask me what middah my neshoma was rooted in, I would not know how to answer. I am not pure chesed, like my wife, nor pure gevura like Rebbe Baruch of Mezhibuz. Perhaps I am combination of middos and only a true tzaddik could reveal to me what my shoresh neshama is.

Have you ever given consideration to trying to figure out what your shoresh neshoma is? If you had to take a guess, what would you answer?

Chabakuk Elisha responds:

First of all, let me preface my remarks here by saying that I am not an expert on these matters by any stretch of the imagination. Indeed, this is a subject of lengthy discussions in the writings of the Ari Zal, especially in Sha'ar HaGilgulim (and Sefer haGilgulim edited by R' Meir Poppers. I am really not knowledgeable in these areas; for those who are seriously interested, seforim and experts are out there that can be consulted. With this disclaimer, I would say that as far as I know, simply put, we're all mixed up - we all have mixed shorshei neshamos, mixed "soul roots."

Shoresh neshama is often simplified to either Chesed / Gevura, or shoresh Kayin / shoresh Hevel (remember this conversation in the comments here). There are discussions about how to wear one's Talis (rolled on the shoulders or hanging down covering the arms) based on one's shoresh neshama. The Minchas Elazar writes that one should figure out which shoresh they come from for this reason (see Sefer Darkei Chaim V'Shalom, where he is quoted as saying that if someone, for example, is naturally afraid of water and drawn to visual arts, he is likely to be from Shoresh Kayin; and if someone is gentle by nature and a gifted orator, he is probably from Shoresh Hevel; and he refers the readers to further examine their traits as they are described in Rav Chaim Vital's Sha'ar HaGilgulim).

But this is not so simple as it sounds. As I understand it, Chesed (Hevel) & Gevura (Kayin) are used here are general terms: There are seven middos (chesed, gevura, tiferes, netzach, hod, yesod, and malchus), and they break into three basic groups: Right (chesed/netzach), Left (gevura/hod) and Center (tiferes/yesod/malchus). One's shoresh can be from any of them, and to further complicate matters, there are combinations and sub-combinations as well.

To quote Rabbi Sears: "Neshamos are collectively like a great tree with many roots (shorashim) and branches, stems, buds, flowers, petals, etc. And everything becomes increasingly diversified in combination with all the elements that make up the tree. Just as during the days of sefirah, we relate each day to a different combination of sefiros, such as chesed she-b'chesed, gevurah she-b'chesed, tiferes she-b'chesed, etc., so too, each neshamah is related to a certain stem, branch, root, etc. and it is self-understood that this gets a lot more complicated than the days of sefirah."

So it seems to me that we are not simply pure chesed or gevurah. Furthermore, I would even be hesitant to say that the Kotzker or Reb Boruch'l was from "pure gevurah"; rather it would probably be more accurate to say that he was "predominantly of gevurah d'kedushah" (or something like that).

And if all this wasn't enough, the modern man has further complications, since the "we" that we take ourselves to be is not equivalent to a single soul with a single source anyway. I don't want to get into a lengthy conversation about ibbur neshamos (souls spiritually "impregnated" within other souls), gilgulim (transmigrated souls), etc, but we are commonly made up of multiple soul roots. Maybe this would help make it a little easier to understand:

We have the concept that one's name reflects his essence. In sefer Pri Haaretz, R' Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk comments on a relatively new phenomenon: people have started using multiple names. In the past, people almost never had multiple names; they had names like Avrohom, Yitzchok, Shmuel, etc. Seldom was anyone the bearer of two or more names, like, say, Chabakuk Elisha. R' Mendel explains this as a reflection of who we are today: While, once upon a time, souls were once from a single shoresh, over the various incarnations those souls have been mostly rectified, leaving only fragments that still need to come into this word for their tikkun. Thus, today we are made up of these multiple soul fragments, with different roots – perhaps even conflicting roots – which is the reason for the common practice of multiple names (reflecting the "multiple personality" of the soul's identity).

To further illustrate the point: it is customary to remove (or cover) knives from the table when saying Birchas Hamozon. The commonly given reason for this is that there was a man who became so distraught after reading the third brocha (regarding the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash) that he picked up the knife and stabbed himself. This story took place on a weekday; so, too, this custom is generally only practiced during the weekday, and on Shabbos this is not viewed as a great a concern. However, according to Kabbalistic sources, one who is from Shoresh Kayin should remove the knives even on Shabbos.

Someone once commented to R' Gedalya Kenig Z"L (founder of the Breslev comunity in Tzefas) when he removed the knives on Shabbos, "Shoresh Kayin?" To which he answered, "Today we all have an element of Shoresh Kayin!"


Our Commentary

In Olam Haba, each Jew will read and understand the entire Torah from the perspective of that commentary which is the root of his soul.

(Rabbi Avraham Azulai)

Monday, December 18, 2006

Fourth Candle, First Word

Standing holding my seven month-old daughter after lighting the menorah, she opened her mouth and said her first word, "Dada".

Over and over she kept repeating it.

The fourth candle will forever remain special to me.

Dispelling The Darkness

(Picture by Tsafrir Abayov)

"What Is Chassidus?"

(Picture courtesy of Pinchas)

Schneur Zalman commenting on A New Generation Of Chassidim:

I tend to agree with your stand. But frankly I do not know what Chassidus is. I do not like being a cynic, but what is the Derech HaBesht? What is Chassidus? What makes it unique? Does it have a different philosophy of Halacha?

Because I do not know even after years of reading about learning Chassidus and talking to adherents, I am not qualified to comment. In the U.S. most of what is called Chassidus should much more properly be labeled the derech of the Chasam Sofer that is a conservative reactionary religious stance ignoring reality and mitzvoth shel ben adam lechavero. Satmar, Pupa, are Chassidic? But even the other groups are essentially conservative religious sects devoid of the mystic of the Shivisi Hashem...

Chabad stresses outreach and Messianic belief, what's unique about this? Where is the Chabad in Lubavitch? How many shluchim can teach proper Chabad prayer? How many care? The Divrei Chaim's answer to my question was lernen, so in that case the Gra was a Beshtian Chasid too. I just read a wonderful book about Reb Yankele of Husyatin by R. Yehuda Brandes. There I found some definitions of what true Chassidus was. Its one of the best books I have ever read about REAL Chassidus. It should be translated for the US reader. But the key word is WAS. All Chassidic groups except for 2-3 are basically in the path of the Chasam Sofer not the path of the Besht. Perhaps Breslov offers that derech, but even in former years shanim ketikunnom, the vast majority of rebbes were not excited by Breslov either. But that proves nothing, maybe Breslov does have the Toras HaBesht? I have broken bread with groups of Satmar, Bobover, Belzer, etc. and many times they ask me a Modern Orthodox guy to tell them what Chassidus is, they simply do not know, and I agree with them - what is Chassidus?

Links Worth Visiting Today


Daily Halacha: A Dignified Menorah

Psycho Toddler: Bagel Parts

MoChassid: A Home of His Own

Life in Israel: Nervous

Verbiage: Pre-fab Menorah kits: Not safe

Absolutely One

The menorah was absolutely one, all of a piece, because truth is one. Although ornamented with numerous buds, flowers, and cups, the entire object was formed from a single piece of gold. By analogy, from the core of truth emerge the Torah and mitzvos as well as all the worlds, both spiritual and physical, which possess colors and variations beyond number; nevertheless, in their source, all things are absolutely one... The menorah was one because the diversity of existence is one. This is the essence of truth, which is one.

(Reb Noson of Breslov)

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Third Night Pictures



"Being Obsessive" About Olive Oil - Part II


Akiva commenting on Last Year Soccer Dad Said...

So, which kind are you using this year? (of wicks, clippy, floating, or stick up?)

Personally, my wife bought the pre-filled, plastic cover, metal top. Good burn, not to big not to small, good size, last long but not too long.

A Simple Jew answers:

This year I am trying the floating wicks. And while they burn for almost 3 hours, they burn out after only using up only half the oil. The flame is also not that large as I remember with the clippy type.

I haven't figured out why this is. Perhaps the shape of the glass holder makes a difference? (cylinder verses bulb)

READER FEEDBACK REQUEST:

What have you found that works best?

Friday, December 15, 2006

A Market In Jerusalem

(Picture by Yitz Wolf)

Three Months Later

KaballaOnline: Seal, Cord and Staff

The Significance Of The Second And Third Candles

(Click on the picture above)

Last Year Soccer Dad Said...

"Simple, you have to remember this post for next Chanukah."

Focus

After you kindle the Chanukah candles, sit down to focus on the little flames. Open your eyes to see the Divine Light; open your heart to the illumination. Allow the life force that shines through the candles to permeate your being. Then allow the life force that shines through your being to permeate the entire world.

(Rabbi Yehoshua Starrett)

Thursday, December 14, 2006

If I Am Not For Myself, Who Will Be For Me?

Reflecting on my posting Tikkunim For Cremation?, I now realize that this was a misguided question on my part. Why should I concern myself with the tikkunim of another person's neshoma who has passed away? Isn't my own neshoma blackened as a smokers lungs and in need of tikkun?

Pictures Taken This Morning

Cease fire (at least for this second)
Lil' Tzaddik's long hair is in a pony tail behind him for this picture

Homemade pushkas for Eizer L'Shabbos

Links

Lazer Beams: Join the battle for Jerusalem

The Breslov Center: Chanukah and the Paradox of Jewish Unity

Aish Kodesh: Free Audio Shiurim Downloads

DovBear: The Boundaries of Rationality

Two Years Later - An Answer

(Picture by Manlio Balestrini)

Over two years ago, I asked this question on something that bothered me in the parsha.

This morning, I came across an explanation in Chok L'Yisroel (citing Tanchuma 2 and Pirkei d'Rabbi Eliezer 38) on Rashi's comment that finally helped me understand. It stated:

Hashem agreed to go along with the brothers' agreement for three reasons:

1) Had Yaakov known that Yosef was really alive, Yaakov would have bought back Yosef and not have gone down to sojourn in Egypt, and consequently, the Divine will of (Bereishis 15:13), "Know for sure, that your offspring will be strangers in a land that it is not theirs" would not have been fulfilled;

2) Yaakov might have cursed Yosef's brothers for what they had done, and they would not have numerous offspring, whereas Hashem wished them to multiply; and

3) Hashem wished to separate Yaakov from his son Yosef for 22 years, just as Yaakov himself had avoidably stayed away from his own father, Yitzchak, for exactly that period of time.

UPDATE: See the latest posting on Heichal HaNegina which addresses the third reason listed above.

My Review Of "The Miracle Flame"

My friends at Sameach Music sent me a copy of the new DVD release for children (ages 3-11) entitled, "The Miracle Flame" to review. Through the use of puppets "The Miracle Flame" retells a Chassidic story about Chanukah involving Rebbe Baruch of Mezhibuz.

Both my four year-old daughter and two and a half year-old son sat enraptured as they enjoyed watching this DVD, which they lated referred to as "Chanukah puppets". My daughter really seemed to get a kick out of some of the musical numbers, especially the one where there is horse singing along with the rider a snowstorm. Both kids, however, seemed a bit scared by the leader of the bandits and they wrinkled up their face in disgust at the sight this villain.

On the whole, this DVD did not seem to excite them the way an Uncle Moishy one does. While they did watch it a few times, after a day or two neither of them requested it any more. In all fairness, my son has been a little under the weather for the past week, so I do not know if his lack of attention was due to whether or not the DVD kept his sustained interest. Since Chanukah is quickly approaching us, I did not want to wait another week to determine what it was and I felt duty bound to write a review in timely fashion so that others could learn of this DVD as well.

My only criticism of this DVD is the price that it is sold for (originally $24.99, but now on sale for $19.49). While this price seems to be keeping line with other Jewish-themed DVDs, it is only 30 minutes in length and perhaps a price of $12.95 would be bit a more reasonable and help increase sales. But hey, at the end of the day, I can't really complain too much because Sameach Music was kind enough to send me a free review copy, and for this my kids and I thank them.

Overall Rating: B-

(B for the DVD and the minus for the price)

Subjugated

When a person is afraid of something, he is actually subjugated to that very thing. If he is not afraid, he remains above it.

(Rebbe Pinchas of Koretz)

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Guest Posting From "Space Cadet" - Learning Torah Beside Walden Pond

(Picture by M. Rowinski)

Ever since I escaped the hometown of my youth -- overcrowded cockroach-infested cement and steel garbage-strewn car honking sock-in-the-nose New York City -- and retired to the majestic beauty of the Catskills, I have felt that Hashem is somehow nearer to us, or at least is easier to reach, in the untrammeled, or at least not so badly trammeled countryside. Not for nothing did the holy Baal Shem Tov spend his days as a young nistar wandering in the Carpathian mountains in hisbodedus; not for nothing was the Chassidic movement he founded basically a rural phenomenon. One writer from the 1950s described New York City as “six million people hustling for a buck” (fifty years later, make that nine million). Away from the frenzy and artifice of city life, one can get in touch with deeper parts of the soul that lie closer to the core of being than the constantly buzzing conscious mind, conditioned by all the fly-by-day-or-night comings and goings of the forever vanishing world.

As I sat on the porch learning Torah in the summertime, in the shade of a leafy maple tree, I would sometimes pause to gaze upon the nifla’os haBorei surrounding me – and immediately I felt guilty. What does the Mishnah say? Hamehalekh baderekh v’shoneh u’mafsik mimishnaso v’omer: mah na’eh ilan zeh, u’mah na’eh nir zeh, ma’aleh ‘alav hakasuv k’ilu mischayev b’nafsho (Avos 3:7). [“One who walks along the way, and interrupts his review of his Torah studies and exclaims, ‘How beautiful is this tree! How beautiful is this freshly plowed field!’ Scripture accounts it to him as if he had forfeited his life.”]

I often wondered: is it sinful to contemplate the beauty of nature, which is Hashem’s handiwork? Is reviewing by rote the Torah one has memorized inherently superior to relating in a heartfelt way to the esthetic qualities of the world around us, which is animated by the Creator, as it is written “Kulam b’chokhmah ‘asisah” (Tehillim 104:24) [“You have made them all with wisdom”]?

One recent Shabbos afternoon I came across an answer to this troubling question.

The late Rav Zvi Yehuda Kook, zal, seems to have been bothered by this Mishnah, too. He shows the error of the commonsense reading of the Mishnah by taking a careful look at the phraseology of the text.

First of all, the Mishnah is discussing a person who is walking and reviewing his Torah studies, and who then interrupts his learning – not one who is simply strolling through the woods or orchards, etc. The main thing Chazal zero in on is the act of distracting oneself in the midst of Torah study. However, there is a deeper meaning here, as well.

The text states that this person interrupts his Torah study to extol the beauty of nature. That is to say, he creates a false division between creation and G-d’s Torah. It is for this reason that he “forfeits his life.” The beauty of trees, for which we recite a brokhah every spring, is a Divine gift to humankind. Through contemplating this beauty one comes to love Hashem, as the Rambam states. However, the problem is that this person praises the beauty of nature in context of a hefsek, a “split” or break from the Torah, and not in a state of spiritual connection to the Torah. The intent of Chazal is not to reject this world; rather their intent is to reveal the eternity of the World to Come right here, in the colorful tapestry of the temporal world that we experience.

Rav Zvi Yehudah also proposes a correction of the more common text of the Mishnah, which attributes this saying to Rabbi Shimon. Another girsa attributes it to Rabbi Yaakov (see, for example, the Kehati edition, ad loc.). The younger Rav Kook prefers this version because it is the same Rabbi Yaakov who taught in Avos 4:16: “This world is like a vestibule before the World to Come. Prepare yourself in the vestibule so that you may enter the banquet hall!” And in the following Mishnah (4:17), Rabbi Yaakov taught: “One hour of teshuvah and good deeds in this world is better than the entire life of the World to Come; and one hour of spiritual bliss in the World to Come is better than the entire life of this world!” In all three teachings (including the Mishnah we began with, about one who interrupts his studies to praise the beauty of the tree, etc.), Rabbi Yaakov is consistent with his viewpoint: one must be careful not to lose sight of the goal and essence of things, which is called the “life of the World to Come,” and resist being distracted by the appearance of nature as an end in itself. Then one can successfully relate to this world in keeping with its underlying purpose: as a means of coming to know Hashem.

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Based on Sichas Avos ‘al Masechtas Avos (Jerusalem)

An E-mail From Neil On Blogging

A few thoughts...

1) The fact that you get 300 hits a day is amazing and even if only 15-20% of the people actually read what you post, I think that you are giving those people tremendous ideas in Torah and Chassidus. That blows my mind.

One of the things that attracted me to blogging was that it levels the playing field in the sense that anyone can publish material. Think about this: While some readers might know your real name, the majority of your readers have no clue who you are and you're getting 300 hits a day. This shows that we are thirsty for authentic Torah, even if it comes from an unknown source. This is not a chiddush. Many seforim were originally published anonymously. Granted, I'm sure when you started blogging you didn't think that you'd reach so many people. This is a good thing.

2) You've been at this for two years. I'm still a rookie. While your content is fresh, I can see that it might feel like you're just 'posting the same stuff' over and over. I admit, I'm pretty impressed by your collection of quotes.

I've been debating for a while about slowing my blog down quite a bit. As I near my 100th posting, I remember typing my initial post (still my favorite) and thinking "who will actually read this and how long can I keep this up?" While one of the main reasons I started blogging was to 'write on a more consistent basis', it has become more than a light-hearted hobby. I find that I write about 'heavy' issues that I think about and, thus, only show one side of my personality. This bothers me.

One of the lessons of we learn about Rabbi Akiva becoming Torah observant (remember he was walking in the forest, saw a stream with rocks that had become smooth over time) is the lesson of consistency. Water can on affect stone after a consistent amount of time (I heard this idea from Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Weinrib of the OU). This is key in our growth towards Avodas Hashem. It is true in parenting, dealing with ones' spouse, davening, learning, and maybe blogging, too. Some inconsistency is ok once in a while, but it's the big picture that matters.

Israel Fund 2006 Chanukah Appeal

(Click on the image above)

Like A Mother

When a person rises at night to study Torah, the Torah reveals to him all his sins. Not in a harsh way, but like a mother who speaks gently to her children. He will not forget what she told him and he will return in teshuva to his Master.

(Zohar 3:23b)

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

"I Thought So - You Have A Mirror Instead, Right?"