A Simple Jew
אַשְׂכִּילָה בְּדֶרֶךְ תָּמִים
Friday, March 30, 2007
I will be taking a break from blogging starting today. I plan to return to regular posting on Wednesday, April 11.
Chag kasher v'sameach to all my readers!
Nine Years Ago Tomorrow
Even For A Minhag
I wish to teach my children that one must make a sacrifice not only for a mitzvah, but even for a minhag.
Thursday, March 29, 2007
Excerpts from the Breslov Center's website: Pesach Customs (.pdf)
Like his saintly great-grandfather, the Baal Shem Tov, the Rebbe did not eat gebrokhts. However, in the Breslov community this chumrah is not taken to extremes. This is due to the Rebbe's remarks about not allowing chumros yeseiros (excessive stringencies). Therefore, although most Breslovers refrain from gebrokhts, those who have a previous custom to eat gebrokhts are not obligated to change.
(Re. Rabbi Nachman’s attitude about chumros yeseiros, see Sichos ha-Ran (English: "Rabbi Nachman's Wisdom," Breslov Research Institute), sec. 235. This seems to have been the prevailing view in the circle of the Baal Shem Tov; cf. Rabbi Pinchas of Koretz, Imrei Pinchas ha-Shalem [Frankel ed., Bnei Brak 2003], vol. I, "Pesach," sec. 170-173, that Reb Pinchas was opposed to excessive stringencies except on Pesach, and even then limited himself to those mentioned in the Shulchan Arukh.)
Reb Nachman Tulchiner once said, "Don’t tell me if a piece of matzah falls into my soup!"
He also once remarked, "The Torah is makpid on a mashehu chometz, not a mashehu matzah."
Guest Posting By Rabbi Dovid Sears - The Search & Destruction Of Chometz
From Reb Noson of Breslov
Likkutei Halakhos, Hilchos Netilas Yadayim: Shacharis, 2:8:
The essence of the search for chametz and its destruction is that we must purge our minds from all twisted ways of thinking, which are derived from our taking nature to be an autonomous entity (chokhmas ha-teva'). Rather, we must know with lucid clarity that everything is but a reflection of Divine Providence alone. With this perception, we nullify all exiles and all spiritual darkness; because when Divine Providence is manifest in the world, darkness no longer exists, for the essence of "light" is Godliness. Then "night will shine like the day," as will be the case in time to come. "And it will happen that in the evening, there will be light!" (Zechariah 14:7)
This is why the night of the search for chametz, when we transcend the illusion of nature, in the language of the sages of the Mishnah is called "the light of the fourteenth day" – "light" specifically.
Another insight into Bedikas Chametz:
I recently ran into Reb Itzel Kenig and Reb Shmuel Burshtein of Tzefas at Rabbi Landau's Shul in Flatbush, and Reb Itzel told me an interesting vert'l that his friend, Reb Shmuel, had just come up with.
The word "chometz" corresponds to three levels of creation and three stages of human life: the letter ches corresponds to "Chai," living creatures; the mem corresponds to "medaber," the level of human beings, who can speak; and the "tzadi" corresponds to "tzome'ach," vegetation. These elements parallel three stages in our lives. When we are born we are "chai," living; as we grow older and learn to speak, we become "medaber"; after we have attained maturity, we marry and have children, who are compared to fruit, so now we are in the category of "tzome'ach." The only level that is missing is "domem," the "silent" level (which includes things like earth, stone, water, etc.). This is attained on Erev Pesach, when we nullify the chometz and declare it "ke-afra de-ara," ownerless as the "dust of the earth."
Since the two shluchim from Tzefas were leaving the Shul after Minchah, and I was hurrying to get ready to daven, Reb Itzel didn't have a chance to explain further. But what I think he meant (or actually Reb Shmuel, who came up with this insight) is that through bittul chometz, we nullify the ego. This represents the completion and perfection of human life, which is the undoing of the aspect of chometz / ego. Then all four elements form one harmonious whole.
The four elements in turn correspond to the four letters of the Shem HaVaYaH (yod-heh-vav-heh). Through bittul chometz and the nullification of ego, the Divine Name becomes revealed.
A Story To Read Before Beginning Your Seder
A Seder In Auschwitz
It is preferable to eat the simple matzah in joy rather than the shmura matzah is sadness.
(Rebbe Yitzchok of Neschiz)
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
Conversation With Chabakuk Elisha - Running An Enjoyable Seder
A Simple Jew asks:
What is your recommendation to keep everyone engaged and happy at the seder?
Chabakuk Elisha answers:
My personal opinion (never happened yet though) is that the seder should have these basic rules:
Like any performance, the MC needs to be in tune with the audience. Most audiences like songs, stories and entertainment. Obviously, these things need to be geared to the taste that can reach the crowd, and there is quite an opportunity for dual-tracking at the seder.
For this reason, I believe that there needs to be review of the Haggada so that the MC can scatter spots for song, spots for story and spots for something fun. Getting stuck-in-the-mud at spots in the reading can bore the crowd to misery, so keeping the show moving is important, if time is getting to be a concern skip some extraneous activity and step on the gas.
I find the biggest mistake is to let the meal take to long, cause the best part is still to come.
A Simple Jew responds:
What do you do for the entertainment and how much time do you spend in advance of the seder preparing for it to run smoothly?
Chabakuk Elisha replies:
Well, the thing is that my seder is usually a very disorganized affair. My parents come over, and I more-or-less try to ride the wave. If I ran my own seder, I would use the Artscroll Haggadah of the Chassidic Masters (a treasure-trove of stories) and involve the kids as much as possible. As it is, I think much of the conversation is between my father and I, and over the kids heads. Every year we try to run it better, but it doesn't seem to really happen (maybe this year).
But I think you can prep it in a few hours. Run through the Haggada and make some notes - try to scatter some songs that you might know and look for some good stories and a couple light insights (Rabbi Akiva Greenberg says nothing during the Haggada, he just sings the entire thing. There is a famous story about a neighbor that called the police because of the late-night singing, and when the policeman came he was awed. He asked if he could just sit there - and he sat there until it was over. Afterwards he asked about the Pesach and the Seder, and he told Rabbi Greenberg, "Wow Rabbi, you should write a book!" and Rabbi Greenberg said, "The book has already been written.")
There are minhagim to make it fun, and I think that we have so many rituals during the seder that, if done with a little gusto, can all make it a very enjoyable experience.
We have eaten the proper measure of matzah and of maror. How can we now find our proper measure of Nirtzah so that our actions will be acceptable to our Creator?
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
Heichal HaNegina: How the Prisoners Saved Their Rabbi’s Daughter
Mentalblog: Homesh 2.0
Lazer Beams: Final Preparations for Pesach - Beware of Senseless Stringency
Eizer L'Shabbos: Pesach video
Modern Uberdox: As we get closer to tax day...
Why Are We Eating So Late?
Every year before the seder in my house, I hear this common refrain,
".... says we have to start at 8:05."
And I always reply,
"Yes, it was ME who came up with this, I just make ALL these halachos up. It wasn't the Shulchan Aruch, it was me. I make it all up because I want to eat late tonight and make YOU wait."
This year, I am going to attempt to liven things up for some guests who do not care for the seder by taking Tamara Eden's suggestion and incorporate the above pictured finger puppets into the seder.
I haven't quite figured out how we will all use them during the seder, so I welcome any suggestions you may have.
Returning To The River
A teaching of Rebbe Yechiel Meir of Ostrovtze cited in Birchas Chaim:
Two times a year, the Jewish people go down to the river. On Rosh Hashana they go to cast away their sins during Tashlich. And before Pesach they go to draw water for baking of matzos. The actions and the times are significant.
On Rosh Hashana we repent because of fear, fear of the imminent judgment, and we throw our sins away from us. But on Pesach we are chosen as a nation against a background of miracles. Then is the time for teshuva from love. And when one does teshuva from love, the intentional sins are changed into worthy acts in his favor. Then we return to the river to gather up the sins which we had cast away and transform them into shining deeds of merit.
The Paintings Of Boris Dubrov
The Mystical Meaning Of Ma'os Chitim
"Tzedakah (charity) saves from death" (Proverbs 10:2). The initial letters of these three Hebrew words spells "matzah." (Likkutei Moharan I, 201).
Commentary: From this we see that tzedakah possesses a certain spiritual power to protect one from violating the prohibition of chametz on Pesach – for the Zohar (III, 251b) states that chametz represents the "Side of Death" – and it enables us to fully attain the holiness of eating matzah.
This gives us a further insight into why the sages of former times established the custom of giving the needy "ma'os chitim" (literally, "wheat money," to be used for the purchase of matzos) before Pesach.
(Rabbi Nachman Goldstein of Tcherin, Otzar HaYirah: Teshuvas HaShanah, "Pesach," Part II, sec. 6)
To tack another thought onto this teaching:
While chometz represents death and the evil trait of self-importance, matzah represents da'as, higher consciousness. Giving charity represents letting go of one's innate selfishness, and expresses a sense of unification with others and their needs. This itself is an aspect of da'as – and it leads to even greater levels of the perception of unity. Therefore, there is an intrinsic connection between tzedakah and matzah, which is da'as.
It is important to accept suffering with love for Hashem. Chazal has alluded to this in the saying, "If one swallows matzah without first chewing and tasting it, he has fulfilled the mitzvah; if he swallowed maror, he has not" (Pesachim 115b). Maror was meant to be chewed well.
Monday, March 26, 2007
When A Leader Sins
Fortunate is the generation whose ruler sets his heart to bring an atonement for his unintentional sin. All the more so that he has regrets over his intentional sins.
Sunday, March 25, 2007
Friday, March 23, 2007
An Unheeded Call
A teaching from Degel Machaneh Ephraim, Parshas Vayikra in this week's Parsha Parts :
And He called to Moshe. And Hashem spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting saying. (Vayikra 1:1)
Rashi explains, "To him the voice came. Only he head it and the rest of Bnei Yisroel did not hear it.
There is an allusion here based on what I heard from my grandfather of blessed memory on the Mishna (Avos 6:2), "Each day a Heavenly voice emanates from Har Chorev and says, 'Woe to those people because of the shame suffered by the Torah.'" The question is asked that if no one hears the voice, why does it emanate? And if they do hear it, why don't they heed it? This has already been printed in the holy sefer Toldos Yaakov Yosef. My grandfather explained that the Heavenly voice is the inspiration to do teshuva that one feels in his own heart each day. One who has knowledge reacts immediately when he feels this inspiration. He then understands that this is one of the announcements of "Return My backsliding children!" He immediately analyzes his actions and does complete teshuva. However someone who lacks this knowledge doesn't feel this inspiration at all and there is nothing for him to heed.
This is the allusion in this posuk. And He called - the call that is made each day from Hashem, the inspiration to do teshuva. To Moshe - only by him is the voice heard, only to someone who is in the realm of "Moshe" - the realm of knowledge represented by Moshe. However the rest of Bnei Yisroel that have not entered this realm don't hear anything. They have not let the inspiration to do teshuva be placed within their hearts.
Yet Another Piece In The Puzzle
Today, Yitz posted a piece entitled, "Why Did The Ohev Yisrael Leave Apta?" which confirms an earlier piece of information that I discovered about when the Degel Machaneh Ephraim left my family's shtetl of Sudilkov. An article in this week’s English HaModia magazine written by Shia Ellen states:
The Jews of Medzibuzh had become accustomed to having a venerable tzaddik in their midst. Only half a century earlier, the Baal Shem Tov had resided there. For the past twelve years, it had been his grandson, the Rebbe Reb Baruch, and for the twelve years before that the Rebbe Reb Baruch’s older brother, Rebbe Moshe Chaim Efraim of Sudylkov, the author of the Degel Machaneh Efraim, had served as their Rebbe.
These twelve years began in 1788 when the Degel left Sudilkov and ended in 1800 when he passed away on the 17th of Iyar. Record of this date when he settled in Mezhibuz is also noted in Degel Machaneh Ephaim, Parshas Bo where he wrote that he was "po b'kahal kadosh Mezhibuz" - "here in the holy community of Mezhibuz."
"Let All Who Are Hungry Come And Eat"
Last night, Rabbi Binyomin Rosenberg told me a story that his son had just related to him. Rabbi Rosenberg's son in Tsfat witnessed a young boy caught stealing a salami at one of the local markets because his family did not have any food in their home. Upon hearing this story, Rabbi Rosenberg instructed his son to find out the identity of this boy so that he could have an Eizer L'Shabbos food package, complete with salami and other foods, sent to the boy's family.
This story illustrates the desperation of Tsfat's needy in these days before Pesach. Eizer L'Shabbos has only raised less than a third of the amount of money that it needs for its Maos Chitim Campaign. With just a little more than one week left before Pesach, please remember those who will be without the proper provisions for yom tov without your help.
Please send your tax-deductible donations to:
5014 16th Avenue, Suite 319
Brooklyn, NY 11204
To donate by credit card, please call 917-499-7760
Maybe I Didn't Need The Traps
Anonymous commenting on An Impediment To Pesach Cleaning :
I am suprised that nobody mentioned the picture of Reb Shaya Karestier known to ward off mice.
Here is a link:
This is a picture of a holy tzaddik, Rabbi Yeshayah, the Karestier Rebbe, ztk"l, zy"a. This picture is a famous segulah, and it is thus worthy to have a copy of it somewhere in your house or place of business. According to some, the Rebbe promised that any house or building where his picture was would not be plagued with mice. (Because of this many food stores in Israel have this picture hanging somewhere.) Even according to those opinions who don't accept this (the present Karestier Rebbe, shlit"a says that he does not know the source of this segulah), it is always worthwhile to have pictures of holy people around you for a source of inspiration. Thus it is surely worthwhile to print this picture and even to make copies for your family and friends.
Related: Good Questions: Photo of Rabbi Who Keeps Rats Away?
Kedusha Of The Jewish Kitchen
Received via e-mail from Rabbi Dovid Sears as a preview of the Shabbos section of the Breslov Center's ongoing Breslover minhagim project:
Reb Noson Sternhartz, son of Reb Avraham, once related the following anecdote to Rabbi Moshe Bienenstock: His grandmother Chanah Tzirel said that her father, Reb Noson, once entered their little kitchen on Friday, while the women were preparing food for Shabbos. He told them:
“You should know that the cooking you do in honor of the Shabbos is comparable to the work that the Kohanim performed to prepare the korbonos in the Beis ha-Mikdosh!”
(Heard from Rabbi Moshe Bienenstock)
Mindfulness On Erev Shabbos
Be especially on the alert on Erev Shabbos. Since the Friday that Adam sinned with his wife, the Satan has been granted special powers to wreak havoc between husband and wife during the late hours of Erev Shabbos. The mature husband and wife will resist any temptation to get angry before Shabbos, reassuring themselves that it is only because of the rush before Shabbos that they are feeling upset in the first place. Fighting is the surest way to chase the Shechina out of the home. It is the quickest route to marital unhappiness.
(Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss)
Thursday, March 22, 2007
Who Wrote This?
"And, hand in hand with this, came the inexplicable withdrawal of the most fundamental of Jewish books and sources from the world of the yeshiva and scholar. While the Talmud and commentaries because a central place of the house of study, as well they should, the basis of Judaism, the Tanach grew steadily less important, less a part of the regular curriculum, until today, the average yeshiva student is so grossly ignorant of its contents that a Baptist missionary can run intellectual rings around him."
Mystical Paths: A Jewish Table
Zchus Avos Yogen Aleinu: Segula for Parnasa - 3 Nisan - Nasi of Zevulan - Eliav ben Chelon
The Chassidic Dimension: Background on the Nasi
Heichal HaNegina: Don't Forget Birchas Ilanos!
Lazer Beams: Anger - the Real Chametz
MySefer.com: Pninei HaChassidut - Pesach & Sefirat HaOmer
Kehotonline: A Simple Jew's Haggadah Recommendation
Question & Answer With Shoshana (Bershad) - Maintaining A Distance From Nudniks
A Simple Jew asks:
In the past, I wrote about maintaining a distance from nudniks. I wonder if you have any insight of how do such in a manner that will not be perceived as unfriendly.
Shoshana (Bershad) answers:
Most women will listen patiently while someone "pours her heart out" about a serious problem. If we can offer a useful suggestion or refer someone to a professional for help, we do so; but most people just need a sympathetic ear. They need to have someone acknowledge their pain and confirm that their feelings are valid, and we can help them by sympathizing and soothing. Often, they just need a sounding board: as they put their distress into words, they begin to formulate a decision, or a path toward a solution becomes evident. And for the listener, even if the subject matter is painful and depressing, it feels good to respond to a need and help someone else.
As I reflect on this, two individuals stand out in my memory. One was a close friend I used to work with. She was a decent and moral person, raised in a very traditional family, yet her life turned into a soap opera: her grandson had been sexually abused by his own father, yet the court was ordering visitation with the perpetrator. The saga continued for years. My friend was under tremendous stress, which took a physical toll on her health. When she talked to me about the pain of being unable to protect her grandchild, there was little I could do to help, except to listen and sympathize, but I could not begrudge her a minute of the time, as I knew it helped her. And when I was going through a crisis of my own, she was always there to listen to me. We felt like sisters, and the burden was lighter when it was shared.
The other person I remember was a neighbor going through the ups and downs of a difficult marriage. I didn't know her well, but I babysat her children in the afternoons, and I would hear a new episode of her story every evening when she picked up the kids. I do remember feeling drained, to the point of wanting to avoid hearing any more of the sordid details. Now that I am thinking about it, I can't tell you why this experience was so different from the other. Was it that I didn't like her or that I disapproved of her? Was it that she never took my advice? No, I remember feeling that our relationship was completely one-sided; she never, ever, asked me about MY life, even though I had problems, too. I felt that she wasn't being a friend; she was using me. Maybe that's the difference.
Another aspect is timing. My office friend would usually talk with me at lunchtime; at other times, she would ask whether the time was convenient for me, or, if she couldn't hold back the tears, she'd apologize for interrupting my work. In contrast, my neighbor generally caught me when it was time to start dinner and our kids were getting "antsy." In retrospect, I probably should have suggested meeting with her at a more convenient time, without the children, so that I could give full attention to her problems. But when emotions are running high, it's difficult to confine them to a schedule.
You asked how one can politely maintain a distance from nudniks. As you can see, I am not good at setting boundaries (although perhaps I've learned my lesson). When you feel true friendship and sympathy, you don't hesitate to listen if you think it will help the other person. What makes a person "needy" (as opposed to being "a friend in need")? I think the needy person is someone whose troubles become an imposition, blocking you from fulfilling your own needs; he shows no concern about inconveniencing you, and he is not someone you consider a true friend.
I opened my remarks with the comment that there is, perhaps, a gender difference in the reaction to hearing other people's problems. Women are nurturers, and we often have a sense of sisterhood with our extended "family" of friends, so we are generous with emotional support. Men may have a warm sense of brotherhood, but they learn not to express and share their emotions openly with other men (except through sports! I often observe that this is the medium through which my husband and son connect emotionally). A person who breaks through that invisible barrier is more likely regarded as a pest. Men may also be more goal-oriented; they see no purpose in simply commiserating unless a "solution" is achieved. And yet, men are fathers, sons, and brothers, and they serve as rabbis, coaches, and mentors. Certainly, they, too, can experience the tremendous joy of "being there" for a friend.
A Simple Jew responds:
The people you described above are truly in need of our compassion and attention, yet there are others who I would define as true nudniks. These are the type of people who try to speak with you about nothing in particular and follow you while you try to attend to your children's needs without any concept that you too have responsibilities. They only speak about obscure topics that they want to talk about and ask inane questions about the particulars of your life, such as inquiring about the specific times your wife woke up to feed the baby. These were the people I was referring to when I asked for advice on how to distance oneself from them in a "friendly" manner.
Shoshana (Bershad) responds:
Hmmm, I think my husband and son regard ME as a nudnik sometimes! My husband tends to focus intently on one thing at a time, and he simply does not respond when I intrude on his thoughts; or he pretends to listen, but I soon notice his eyes glazing over and his attention wandering off. My son handles these interruptions more diplomatically: he explains that he's working on something and promises to listen when he's finished. That is usually my response, too; if I'm in the middle of doing something that requires concentration, I will ask someone to "hold that thought" or even use a hand signal (raising a cautionary index finger) to indicate that I need "just a minute" to finish what I'm doing. My daughter is unlike the rest of the family; she's much better at multi-tasking, and she seems able to carry on several tasks and conversations at the same time. But, if necessary, she politely indicates that she's busy but will get back to me as soon as she can.
If the topic is totally uninteresting, of course, a request for postponement is not the answer; it just delays the pain. Think of how you behave when you're interested and attentive, and do the opposite: avoid eye contact, utter monosyllabic responses, and use body language (e.g., yawn, glance at your wristwatch, shift your posture, look away) to show that you're bored. If you want to remain friendly, you have to tone this down and be subtle, but you can certainly avoid asking follow-up questions or nodding encouragement to the speaker.
I have a few friends whose phone calls I dread because they tend to drone on and on. I've learned to wrap up these calls by saying, "thanks for telling me about this; keep me posted on how it turns out" or even, "well, it was nice talking to you, but I've got to go now" (without being too specific about my plans). You can add, "Have a good day!" (or the Hebrew equivalent), which is recognized as a conversation-ender.
As for the person who asks questions that are too personal, I'll pass on the advice of a newspaper columnist: turn the tables on the questioner, saying, pointedly, "Now, why on earth would you ask me about THAT?!" Or, if you'd prefer to handle it more delicately, you could say, "Oh, I'm sure my private life isn't all that interesting," and if the questioner persists, just smile and keep mum. After a few attempts, the nudnik will learn that you are not going to back down. Follow up immediately by changing the topic to something extremely innocuous, like the weather, which sends a signal about the degree of intimacy you're willing to tolerate in casual conversation.
I hope my remarks are not seen as evidence of a yetzer hara (evil inclination). It’s better to overcome a selfish preoccupation with our own thoughts and activities when others have a real need for our attention. But we have responsibilities, obligations, limited time, a right to privacy, and needs of our own. We are not obliged to answer every prying question, nor be everyone’s best friend.
A Complete Heart
One ought to know the route to the supernal chambers, though it is not crucial. All you need is the main thing, to help your fellow with a complete heart and with sensitivity, to take pleasure in doing another person a favor.
(Rebbe Sholom Dov Ber Schneersohn of Lubavitch)
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
Question & Answer With Rafi G. Of Life In Israel - Understanding The Korbanos
A Simple Jew asks:
How has your training as a shochet helped you better appreciate Sefer Vayikra since it deals with the more physical aspects of animals and their anatomy?
Rafi G. of Life In Israel responds:
Honestly I was wondering if it would help me understand and relate better. I think I will only be able to answer the question completely when Sefer Vayikra is behind us.
But being that I have almost finished going through half of Parshas Vayikra already, I can say that I understand better the physical aspect of the korbanos, meaning I am able to follow the different parts of the animal and understand what is getting burnt, what is getting eaten; what the different parts are. I realize that I do feel a certain understanding of the korbanos.
When shechting my most recent animals, I tried to contemplate what it would be like doing so in the mikdash for a korban. The first thing I thought about was the amount of time it took.
Of all the people I went with, none of us were professional butchers, aside from the Arabs who skinned the animal and made the initial breakdown. It took us an awfully long time to cut the animal up. I thought about how it would be done in the mikdash when they are slaughtering tens, hundreds and even thousands of korbanos in a day.
They have to get the animal down into the rings (I am sure it was no easy feat) at the northern end and then slaughter it. They had to then skin it and cut it open and remove various organs for various procedures. They had to break it down and separate the various parts that needed to be placed on the mizbeah or eaten. This must have taken plenty of time, even assuming they had expert kohanim there butchering the animals. And they had to do this tens of times a day, minimum. The work in the mikdash must have been an awesome sight to see, the kohanim whizzing about efficiently breaking down all these animals.
The Ramban is famous for saying that when one offers a korban on the mizbeah, he is meant to consider as if he should be the one up there being sacrificed as atonement for his sins. The animal takes his place, but his feeling should be that it should have been him up there. That will spur a person on to doing t'shuva.
As I waited to shecht my animals, I looked at them and thought about that. I considered myself doing that in the mikdash (shehita is kosher for a non-kohen to perform in the mikdash) and thinking about the animal taking my place. I stood there looking at the animal, even petting it a bit and talking to it. I said to it that it is the vehicle for my performing a mitzva and it is fulfilling its purpose in this world in the process.
The actual requirements for Pesach cleaning are not too overwhelming. It does not say anywhere that you have to vacuum, wash, scrape, or wax your floor. The halocho is that you have to sweep the floor clean with a broom. One does not have to shampoo carpets. It is good enough if you vacuum them. If you wish to wax the floor, shampoo the carpet, wash the Venetian blinds, and change the shelving paper, do it "gezunterheit," but first take care of what is required.
(Rabbi Avrohom Blumenkrantz)
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
Degel Machaneh Ephraim On Rosh Chodesh Nisan
Excerpt from Degel Machaneh Ephraim, Parshas Bo:
Why is the month of Nisan called the Chodesh ha-Aviv (the month of Spring)?
We can explain this by way of the verse in Mishlei 8:15 "Bi Melachim Yimlochu" - through Me kings shall rule. There are 12 mazalos (zodiac signs) which correspond to the 12 months. These in turn have 12 corresponding combinations of the spelling of the four letter name of Hashem (YH"VH) which rules over each month.
The zodiac constellations influence the decisions and actions of the kings and rulers that are decided by way of these letter combinations. This is alluded to in the first word in the verse in Mishlei , "Bi" that is spelled with a yud and bet and equals the number 12, corresponding to the number of letter combinations of the Divine four letter Name. This verse can then be read as: "Bi Melachim Yimlochu - through the 12 combinations of the Divine Name, kings shall rule."
Therefore the month of Aviv which is Nisan, is the head of the year. It is the Rosh haShana for kings. This is because the combination of the four letter Divine Name is in order on the month of Nisan (YH"VH). It is the "Av" (father) of all other possible combinations which are all "born" from that initial order.
I heard from my grandfather (the holy Baal Shem Tov) that he once said on Rosh Chodesh Nisan to the famous Maggid from Tortshin,
"Now at this moment we must pray, because the first of Nisan is the Rosh haShana for kings, and all the "sarim" (angelic leaders) are appointed as to how well they shall rule over the world, and just now they appointed angelic leaders which are not good and extremely detrimental to our cause, therefore now is the time to pray."
This is what I heard from his holy mouth.
Translation by Rabbi Tal Zwecker
The Conversation On Gemara Continues
Litvak comments once again on "Torah Is A Smorgasbord" :
Interesting article somewhat related to this here
When people don't enjoy what they are learning, great problems can arise, G-d help us. That's why it's so important that the learning be satisfying and even enjoyable, by learning what people are interested in and is appropriate. To force a youngster to learn something on a level he is not ready for has caused many problems.
If one is learning Gemara, one should first learn simply, without too many commentaries, covering significant amounts of ground, and only later get into deeper, more intricate analysis and learning slower.
Another problem is that alot of Gemara deals with things that, while part of regular life when it was compiled, are not so for most Jews today, which can make it seem out of touch and hopelessly irrelevant, especially for youngsters. Like learning about oxen goring each other, lost and stolen sheep and the like. We have to either make it relevant to today (e.g. by analogizing cars and trucks to oxen perhaps) or otherwise deal with this disconnect.
The Trial Of Sickness
A person should always pray for mercy that he not become sick; for when one becomes sick he is told, "Bring evidence in your favor and then you will be acquitted."
(Talmud - Shabbos 32a)
Monday, March 19, 2007
How Do We Say Thank You?
I am not sure if this or what I wrote about in the postscript of my last posting were miracles. However, it certainly appears that on two occasions within the past month that Hashem has watched over and protected my family from unbelievable tragedies.
What should we do to say thank you? Is a se'udas hoda'ah warranted for such a thing, or would it be better that we give money to tzedakah?
An Impediment To Pesach Cleaning
Last Sunday afternoon, we discovered mouse droppings in the basement and kitchen of our house. We haven't had any problems with creatures in the house, aside from the occasional spider or grasshopper, since the days of the "panda bear".
My wife rushed off to Home Depot within minutes of discovering them to buy some mouse traps and returned shortly thereafter with the glue trap variety. That night, I placed peanut butter-covered Cheerios on top of these traps in the kitchen and basement. The Cheerios were gone the next morning and there were tiny foot prints across the top of the glue traps. This mouse (hopefully not mice!) was good, but was he good enough for what I had in store for him for night two?
On night two, I placed two Victor snap traps in the kitchen and two in the basement. I placed Cheerios under the lever to bait them and to verify whether they visited the trap. In the middle of the night, I went down stairs to check on the status of the traps. I turned on the lights and all the traps were still set and the Cheerios were gone. To add to the insult, I found a mouse dropping on top of the counter top as if to say, "Ha HA! You think you are so smart that you can catch me. Well, I will show you what I think of your traps. I can go ANYWHERE I want, buddy. You hear that!?"
Reassessing the situation, I now placed Cheerios directly on top of the levers that activate the snap traps to further lure the mouse to its last meal. Additionally, I put down two d-Con traps baited with cheese. I came downstairs hours later to find every trap still set and all the Cheerios gone. I had been had once again by a rodent whose brain is much smaller than mine.
After a little internet "research", I discovered that my placement of the snap traps was incorrect. I decided that on night three that I would place the snap traps directly up against the wall and to increase the sensitivity on the snap trap lever by putting peanut butter on it in the hopes that the vibration would set off the trap. During Mincha that day I said, "Ribbono shel Olam, you want us to start cleaning for Pesach, but how can we start doing this now when there is still a mouse in our house? I don't want to harm this living creature, I just want it out of my house."
Before I went to bed that night, I heard a loud SNAP in the kitchen. I found my first mouse when I went to investigate. Then, within the next hour there was another SNAP in the kitchen shortly followed by a SNAP in the basement. Two more mice.
I set some more "peanut butter hair trigger" snap traps before I finally went up to bed and was happy when I came down the next morning to find them all still set and no additional signs of mouse activity. However, hours later, my wife called me at work and reported the first daytime sighting. Lil Tzaddik was looking at a book in the family room when all of a sudden he yelled out, "Mouse! Mouse! Running all around! I see it. I see it. I promise!"
My wife immediately called a pest control person to come over to deal with the problem, however, he could not come until the next day. In the meantime, my father-in-law brought over three packages of snap traps, some mouse poison, and put steel wool in any hole that he suspected a mouse might try to get in. He and my wife worked diligently cleaning places they had never cleaned such as behind the washer and dryer in the basement - only to find even more mouse droppings. In hisbodedus that afternoon I said, "Ribbono shel Olam, everything in this world comes from You! While Pharaoh hardened his heart when he was overrun with frogs, I am not hardening my heart now with these mice. I know that the filth that we are finding in my house is only but a physical manifestation of what I have created spiritually. I know in my heart of hearts that recently I have not been careful to refrain from speaking lashon hara and I resolve at this very second to me more careful in this regard. Ribbono shel Olam, please accept my teshuva and help me clean my house and rid it of these mice - if not for my sake but for the sake of my children who are in school learning Torah at this very minute!!"
On my commute home, I recited Tikkun HaKlali and shortly thereafter my wife called me on my cell phone to tell me that the pest control person had rearranged all his appointments so he could put us at the top of his list and come over and handle the situation in our home. That evening, he put down mouse bait/killer throughout the house that he said would take about a week and a half until it was 100% effective, and also gave us instructions on what we needed to do during this time. There were no additional mouse sightings after he left and I did not notice any additional dropping when I woke up the next morning or even the next morning after that.
Reflecting back on all of this, it was a tremendous act of kindness on Hashem's part to have this occur when it did since we had to take all these things out for cleaning anyways, and also because it happened before we had switched over the kitchen for Pesach.
Yesterday, I learned that a neighborhood woman was in a serious car accident early last week. A garbage truck ran a red light and smashed into the side of her car as she was making a left turn. The garbage truck came within six inches of killing her. After 45 minutes of cutting her out of the wreckage, she walked away relatively unscathed.
The accident occurred at 8:30 in the morning - the same time my wife would have been at this intersection to take the kids to school. The only reason she wasn't there that morning was because she left early; scared at the thought of being home with mice in the house.
The Applicable Verse
And the mouse says, "I shall exalt You, G-d, for You have impoverished me and you have not let my enemies rejoice over me." [Tehillim 30:2]
Sunday, March 18, 2007
"Wrestle With It And Make It Your Own"
Litvak commenting on "Torah Is A Smorgasbord" :
R. Yaakov has given good advice.
Also, it should be noted that many other seforim today have portions of Gemara contained in them.
Let's say you are learning the Torah commentary of the Netziv, for example, which we discussed here recently. It is full of references to Gemaras and other teachings of Chazal (so much so that a beginner probably would be hard-pressed to follow them).
Could one say that learning it is totally 'leaving out' Gemara? I don't think so.
That is somewhat of an extreme example perhaps, but there are other such works as well.
Just as Tosfos (Rabbeinu Tam I think it was) famously stated that Talmud Bavli is a mixture of different parts of Torah, therefore one could fulfill the requirement of studying Chumash through it, so too, perhaps we can say that learning Chumash with a commentary that incorporates Gemara can fulfill the requirement to study Gemara!
Additionally, we must understand what 'Gemara' really means. Gemara is discussions of Torah, using the Mishna as a starting point. It is analysis and arguments of 'static' texts such as Mishna and Breisos, which make them come alive. When we treat Gemara as if it is a static text itself we are making it into a new, another layer of Mishna to a degree. But it's not meant to be like that. The correct idea is to take what you are learning, wrestle with it and make it your own.
Friday, March 16, 2007
"Torah Is A Smorgasbord'"
Rabbi Yakov Horowitz commenting on A Tzaddik's Advice To Me:
While I agree with the Ein Yaakov eitzah, I respectfully disagree with the overall message of the advice you were given.
In my opinion, our Torah is a ‘smorgasbord’ of learning options and it is my contention that people should ‘nosh’ on what satisfies them. This is what Chazal meant when they said a person ought to learn "mah she'libo chafeitz" - that one should learn what one's heart is drawn to.
Nothing succeeds like success. This means that a person will only be successful when he feels himself making progress.
The Gemorah-only thinking is sending an inadvertent message to those who find Gemorah difficult. One that they are chas v’shalom second class citizens in the community of lomdei Torah.
Question & Answer With Michoel - Dangerous Shabbos Candles
A Simple Jew asks:
From time to time, I hear horrible stories about homes that are burnt down by unattended Shabbos candles. It never ceases to leave me with an unsettling feeling since my logical side understands the danger of leaving an unattended flame. Yet, my emunah tells me that what is more important is the fact that a woman perform the mitzvah of lighting Shabbos candles.
Perhaps the answer to the question of why this happens is not for us to understand. What are your thoughts on this?
I also feel unsettled when I hear of such tragedies, in a way that is different from the feeling one gets when hearing of a car accident. Hashem’s mitzvos are supposed to do provide a shmirah for a person, and now, to the superficial appearance, the exact opposite has happened.
This issue needs to be looked at both mi’tzad haseichal and mi’tzad he’emunah. I once heard Rabbenu Avigdor Miller zecher tzadik v’kadosh livracha address a similar subject. There was a terrible tragedy one Chanukah. A young child was burned to death when his clothes caught fire while he was lighting Chanukah licht. Rabbi Miller said that people may ask how such a tragedy could happen. He said that it happened because the father failed to use seichal, being makpid that even his very small children should light their own menorah. He failed to follow the rules of Nature that were decreed by the Ribono Shel Olam. As is known, Rabbi Miller was very makpid about taking care of his health. When he had to turn a door-knob, he would cover his hand with his frock so as to avoid picking up germs from the door-knob. There were and are many tzadikim from different streams that were makpid on “u’shmor meod es nafshoseichem” to the full extent. It would seem that if one truly loves the Ribono Shel Olam then one would want to maximize their opportunities in this world to do his mitzvos. And that would dictate that we should do everything possible to preserve our families’ lives and well being, “v’chal hamarbeh, harei zeh m’shubach”. Such an approach doesn’t show a lack of b’tachon but rather an abundance of true longing to do His will. In my home, we try to follow this approach some-what. My wife lights on a high glass shelf over-looking the table, and not on the table itself. I generally stay up Shabbos night until the licht goes out.
On the other hand, it is known that there were great tzaddikim that pushed themselves in their performance of mitzvos in a way that would seem to not be in their best interest in terms of health. This is true even when there were permitted ways that would not involve health risks. As a bochur, I often ate at a chasidishe family that was brucha banim ad meod. The mother would bentch licht in the middle of the tisch. She lit a huge amount of licht such that it was uncomfortably warm sitting at the table. The children served the seudah. When I used to see a six year old carrying a tray and putting it down right next to the licht, I felt in my heart that maybe it wasn’t the right thing to do. But that was their mesora of how to fir ois. When I was last in their community, I stopped by and they were still all in good health and doing quite well. All their children are very shtark, chasidishe yidden, and mistama the married ones are all lighting the way their mother does.
I really don’t have any answers. Is the issue one of sufficient emuna? Meaning, if a person is on a certain madreigah, he can get away with some things that others cannot? Or is the emes that shomer mitzvah lo yadah davar rah applies to everyone equally and those that got hurt would have gotten hurt in any case and Hashem brought it about this way for reasons that are hidden to us? These are deep issues for great ones to answer.
The One Above should protect all the Yidden and bentch us with good, long life, healthy children bnei Torah, parnassa in a good way, and all the things we need to serve Him.
I Enjoy Reading This Each Week
Rabbi Yakov Horowitz: A Torah Thought for Teens – Parshas Vayakheil-Pikudei
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The Pure One
One should flee from high office as far as possible, and as we discussed at length concerning the characteristic of pride, and as written in the Zohar; The pure one is the one who makes himself humble in this world.
Thursday, March 15, 2007
"Their Silent Consent" - A Comment By The Ohr HaChaim On Parshas Pekudei
"…and the children of Israel did…" (Shemos 39:32)
The Torah teaches that a person's delegate is accounted as like the person who has delegated him. The Torah here credits all of the Jewish people with having constructed the Mishkan although it was only Betzalel and his helpers who had actually performed all the work. While it is true that Betzalel had received his instructions from Hashem and not from the Jewish people, the fact that the Jewish people had given their silent consent to Betzalel's appointment meant that he acted as their delegate.
It appears that the Torah teaches us a general rule about the way Torah can be observed successfully by showing how the Jewish people conferred merits one upon the other. The Torah in its entirety is only capable of fulfillment by means of the entire Jewish nation. Every individual Jew is charged with the duty to perform those mitzvos which he is capable to fulfill, keeping in mind his individual status. This is the true meaning of Vayikra 19:18, "You shall love your fellow Jew as he is part of yourself." Without the fellow Jew, no individual Jew would be able to function as a total Jew. Each Jew has a task to help another Jew become a whole Jew by means of his fulfilling mitzvos which the second Jew is unable to fulfill either at that moment or ever. As a result, the fellow Jew is not "someone else", but is part of "oneself".
This is the only way in which we can reconcile ourselves to Hashem's commanding us to fulfill 613 mitzvos without which our body and soul are not really truly healthy. The Torah has actually denied us a chance to fulfill a substantial part of all these 613 mitzvos. Are we to be permanent physical and spiritual cripples? Clearly, the Torah and its observance then is not only a project for the individual but for the community. The Torah drove home this point by legislating halachos which can be performed only by women, only by Levi'im, only by Kohanim, and, in some instances, only by sinners who are anxious to rehabilitate themselves. Our verse describing the whole nation as performing what Hashem had commanded Moshe that they do, teaches this lesson. The reason that this was an appropriate time to teach us this lesson is that the 13 basic raw materials needed for the Mishkan were as interdependent one upon the other as Jews are dependent upon each other in order to achieve the harmonious personality Hashem desires for each Jew to develop by means of his mitzva performance. It makes sense therefore, that the Torah considers every Jew as having contributed all 13 kinds of raw materials needed for the Mishkan.
Translation by Rabbi Eliyahu Munk
Neil Asks Me A Question
Neil Harris asks:
What character or personality traits do you see in your kids that you feel are worth developing and make them unique?
A Simple Jew answers:
When some good thought or inspiration comes to you, use it to do a mitzvah or to learn Torah, and so clothe it in holiness.
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
A Tzaddik's Advice To Me
Instead of continuing to ponder and post questions about my daily learning seder, yesterday I spoke with the Sudilkover Rebbe about my difficulties learning Gemara. I told the Rebbe about my constraints and my limited time to learn Torah as a baalebos who works full time and has three small children at home. I explained to him that I learn for two to three hours each day and that I had just recently paired down my daily learning seder to consist solely of Chumash with Rashi and the Ohr HaChaim's commentary, Tehillim, Halacha, and Degel Machaneh Ephraim. I then asked him if he thought that this was sufficient or whether I should also be learning Ein Yaakov.
The Rebbe acknowledged my time constraints and instructed me to learn Ein Yaakov. "A Yid must learn Gemara!", he said unequivocally. Learning Ein Yaakov would help me do just that, he said, while still allowing me to get some enjoyment from my learning. The Rebbe told me to remember, "Gemara brings holiness into the Jewish neshoma and into the Jewish body." He then stressed the importance for me to continue learning a significant amount of Kitzur Shulchan Aruch every day in order to know how to live a proper Jewish life.
I thanked the Rebbe for the guidance and the brocha that he gave me and told him that I immediately planned to adhere to his advice concerning my daily learning seder; a daily learning seder specifically tailored for my neshoma and my life as a simple Jew.
A Special Room
Have a special room for yourself dedicated just to Torah study that will have the sanctity of an actual beis midrash. But if that is impossible, then at least dedicate one corner of your room to this purpose, and set times to study Torah there.
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
The Debate In The Circus Tent Continues
The Ice Hill
A few weekends ago, I spent some time playing with my two oldest children outside in the snow. The freezing rain hardened on top of the snow on the hill on the side of our house and made it into a giant ice ramp that was impossible to climb. Try as we might to reach the top, we always slipped and slid all the way down into the neighbor's yard.
We tried getting a good running start but only made it a third of the way up before we wound up in the neighbor's yard once again, laughing and out of breath. I finally discovered that I could slowly make it up the hill if I combined the running start with stomping the heal of my boot into the ice at the very instant that I felt myself slipping.
As I reflected about this some time later, I realized that it was an excellent illustration of ratzo v'shov. When I feel myself slipping backwards, I just need to dig my heels in and hold firm to the level that I am on before I attempt another ascent.
A Sefer At Work
Whether he is standing in his shop or in the marketplace, every businessman should have a sefer in his pocket - such as a Chumash, Tanya, Mishnayos, or Tehillim - so that whenever he has a free moment he can reach a verse of Chumash, or a few lines of Tanya, or a mishnah, or a passage of Tehillim.
(Rebbe Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn of Lubavitch)
Monday, March 12, 2007
Dixie Yid: How to daven for one's children
The Paintings Of Raphael Eisenberg
A Useful Book
Question & Answer With Dixie Yid - Lawyers & Ethics
A Simple Jew asks:
Fundamentally, the practice of law deals with ruling on what is right and wrong. I once asked a friend who was a lawyer whether he had to take classes in ethics in law school. My friend responded that aside from some brief instruction on the ethics of not to over-bill clients he was not taught anything on this subject.
Don't you find it highly ironic that a lawyer, a person who will determine right or wrong, has no more training in ethics than the common man?
Dixie Yid answers:
Good questions. Here are a couple of thoughts:
One is regarding the idea that an American attorney's practice deals with ruling on what's right and wrong; I'm not sure many attorney's view their role that way. That might be a better description of a Rav's job! An attorney would probably say that a better description of his job is to help his clients understand what is legal and what is illegal.
Another thought is that, unlike your friend's law school, my law school does require each student to take a 1 semester ethics course (taught by a frum professor!), not merely a few hours on how not to overbill. (And overbilling is just the tip of the iceberg about what goes on with billing.) They get into other basic issues like what to do if, after you've made certain representations to the court, you find out from the client that they weren't true. What are your obligations?
In general, however, American lawyers don't really see themselves as moral guides for their clients. So what, if anything, stops an attorney from representing clients who deserve to lose, whether it be in criminal or civil issues? One thing attorneys must do is sign every motion they make to the court, stating that the motion they are submitting is legitimate, and not frivolous. I think the test most people who want to be honest use is: Is the argument that I am about to make at least somewhat legally cognizable? If not, I think good attorneys would not make the argument.
I guess the way I would answer you is that you should not look to your attorney for moral guidance about what's right and wrong, but rather about what is legal and what is not legal.
Although in the formation and argumentation about law, there is a place for morals. They serve as the basis for a lot of the law, even today in our secular society. When a judge is deciding on how to rule in a case, he looks to what social policy goal is best served by whichever rule he picks.
An example: A contract is only binding if both sides give something in exchange for the other party's promise. That something is called "consideration." And if that consideration is something that is considered clearly morally wrong (or criminal), then the contract is void. For instance, if A takes out a contract on B's life by hiring hit-man C, by giving C a $10,000 down-payment before carrying out the job, that contract is unenforceable by secular law. If C backs out because he becomes a baal teshuva, and A sues him to either complete his contractual obligations (!) or return the deposit, American law says that he doesn't have to because the contract is void as a matter of public policy. It's an extreme example, but it illustrates the point that morality is the basis for much American law.
In the end though, I think that despite the major role public policy and morality play in the formation of the law, the modern attorney's role isn't to decide what's right and wrong, but it is to advise his clients about their legal rights and obligations.
As a side point, it is fascinating to study the similarities and differences of how halacha treats various types of situations and how American law does. But that's a topic for another day!
Sunday, March 11, 2007
Eizer L'Shabbos Maos Chitim Campaign
How are my appeals received by readers? I have absolutely no idea. I don't know if it is only me sending in a tzedakah check each time and I truly wish I knew whether my postings were making any difference.
Nevertheless, like last year, I am still going to tell you about Maos Chitim campaign since Pesach is right around the corner. This year, Rabbi Binyomin Rosenberg is planning to give out food vouchers in the amount of $100 to $300 to each family in need to be used at local supermarkets in Tsfat. These food vouchers will be given out approximately two weeks before Pesach to allow people time to buy all their holiday needs.
Rabbi Rosenberg has set a goal of helping 700 families and is now seeking to collect $50,000 in funding to accomplish this goal.
Please, please remember the needy people in Tsfat who, without your help, will be without basic amenities on Pesach. If you cannot give anything, I would like to ask you to at least daven that Rabbi Rosenberg (HaRav Binyomin ben Malla) be successful to raise these funds.
Tax-deductible donations for the Maos Chitim campaign can be sent to:
5014 16th Avenue, Suite 319
Brooklyn, NY 11204
To donate by credit card, please call 917-499-7760
UPDATE: Eizer L'Shabbos pictures from Purim can be seen here.