Monday, May 21, 2007

Guest Posting By Rabbi Dovid Sears - Akdamus Milin

(Picture courtesy of

"Even if the heavens were parchment,
All the trees were quills,
The seas and all waters were ink,
And all inhabitants of the earth were scribes and skilled writers,
His might eternal would remain beyond description.
Alone, the resplendent Master of heaven and earth
Founded the universe and garbed it in mystery…"

One of the highlights of Shavuos is the responsive chanting in the synagogue of Akdamus Milin, written by Rabbi Meir ben Yitzchak of Worms during the 11th century C.E. The hymn begins with these two Aramaic words, which mean "Before I speak…" (The author asks the Creator permission to utter His praise.) However, as a title, Akdamus Milin may be translated "Introduction to the Words," meaning the Divine Speech heard at Mount Sinai. Therefore it is usually read on Shavuos morning before the Torah reading, which describes the awesome experience of all Israel hearing the Ten Commandments at the foot of the desert mountain.

Rabbi Noson of Breslov (1780-1844) writes that Rabbi Nachman highly praised Akdamus.

"The Rebbe observed, 'Because the Jewish people are so immersed in and habituated to what is truly good, they don't fully appreciate the greatness of the sacred hymn of Akdamus, which we recite on Shavuos.'

"He went on to say, 'One who knows the loftiness of this poem of Akdamus, together with the melody to which it is commonly sung, realizes that this is something most wondrous and unique.'

"The Rebbe then chanted a few stanzas of Akdamus. He added, 'Akdamus is a song of cheshek – of love and desire for God.'

"The Rebbe said all of this on Shavuos, during the dairy meal [traditionally eaten after the morning service]. The second minyan was in the middle of their prayers in the synagogue, and the chazan was chanting Akdamus. That was when the Rebbe spoke with us about the loftiness of this hymn." (Sichot HaRan 256)

Rabbi Nachman clearly experienced Akdamus as an expression of the mutual love between the Jewish People and G-d. This love and desire is the pre-condition of prophecy, which is the essence of the Torah.

Continuing to expound upon this theme, Reb Noson also discusses the custom of reading Akdamus in his masterwork, Likkutei Halakhos:

"On Shavuos, we spiritually ascend to the supernal root of ratzon (will or desire). [An aspect of the sefirah of Keser (Crown), ratzon expresses the deepest will and desire of the soul for God, and God's corresponding will and desire, so to speak, for creation].

"Through this ascent, all profane wisdoms related to the natural order are transmuted to ratzon, due to the power of the revelation of ratzon that now becomes manifest. That is, we vividly perceive all existence and all that transpires as only a reflection of the Divine Will.

"Profane or 'natural wisdoms,' by contrast, are derived from the Aramaic tongue. [Aramaic is the language closest to leshon ha-kodesh, the 'holy tongue,' which is Hebrew. During the Talmudic period, Aramaic was used for everyday speech and writing.] On Shavuos, however, the aspect of ratzon is revealed to such an extent that even the Aramaic tongue, the source of 'natural wisdom,' becomes absorbed into the holy.

"This is why we recite Akdamus, which is an awesome expression of praise written specifically in Aramaic – for this transformation of the profane to the holy represents the fullest revelation of ratzon." (Likkutei Halakhos, Hilkhos Kaddish, 1)

Brief Blogging Break

Starting today, I plan to take a brief blogging break. I plan to return to normal posting on Monday, June 4.

The Chazon Ish's Shiurim

A Message From The Melitzer Rebbe, Shlit"a

Lazer Beams: Melitzer Rebbe's Erev Shavuot Message to the Web-viewing Public, 5767

"Thou Shall Not Be Prejudiced"

(Picture courtesy of

Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen commenting on "Heimishe" Racism :

Do not despise any human being and do not reject anything; for there is no human being who has not his hour, and there is no thing that has not its place." (Pirkei Avos 4:3)

Rav Shlomo Wolbe was a leading sage of Mussar who passed away a few years ago. In an essay titled Klall Olam - the World Community - Rabbi Wolbe guides students of Torah towards a proper relationship with the outside world. A student of Torah, he writes, follows the instructions which are cited in the above teaching from Pirkei Avos. He therefore develops the ability to recognize and appreciate the good in everyone and everything. A Torah student also learns how to recognize that which is not good; nevertheless, when he must criticize someone or something, he does not deny the purpose of that person or object within the creation. The same approach, teaches Rabbi Wolbe, applies to evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of other peoples, as they too have a place and a purpose within creation. Rabbi Wolbe reminds the student of Torah that although we, the People of Israel, have a responsibility to maintain our separate identity and unique role, we also have a responsibility to remember the following truth:

"We shouldn't negate the peoples of the world to say that they have no place in the universe or that their wisdom is not really wisdom; for they were 'created'; thus, without them, the creation cannot reach its goal!" (Alei Shur)

We carry much pain and anger within us as a result of the past and present suffering of our people. In addition, we feel much bitterness over the way most of the world abandoned us during the Holocaust. The current revival of anti-Jewish hatred in many countries is once again causing us to feel isolated and vulnerable. Our feelings are understandable, but we have a responsibility to maintain a balanced Torah perspective regarding the peoples of the earth. As the people of the Torah, we need to remain loyal to the totality of the Torah's vision, including its universal vision for all humankind. I would therefore like to share a story about a prominent Torah educator - a Holocaust survivor - who served as an example of how to respect other peoples in the spirit of the Torah:

Rabbi Binyamin Steinberg was the principal of the Bais Yaakov high school for girls in the city of Baltimore. He was also a close disciple of Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky, a leading Torah sage. In a biography of Rabbi Steinberg titled "A Matter of Principal" by Hanoch Teller, we find various stories about how he educated his students to respect all human beings and all creatures. On one occasion, Rabbi Steinberg entered a classroom and found the teacher very upset. It seems that one of the students has been entertaining her classmates with a derogatory story about a dark-skinned person. When the teacher told him what had happened, Rabbi Steinberg became incensed. He reminded the students that we don't like it when Gentiles make derogatory remarks about us, and he continued:

"A special level of sensitivity is expected from us, the Jewish people. Our people is one that has suffered immeasurably from persecution. Thus we are expected never to speak or act in a way that reflects a lack of sensitivity. We have been enjoined to respect all people and never to forget the suffering that we have endured."

Rabbi Steinberg then reminded the students of the Divine promise to Avraham, "through you all the families of the earth will be blessed" (Genesis 12:3, 26:4, 28:14). And he added the following comments:

"You ask, 'Who cares about all the families of the earth?' Nevertheless, that's what the Torah says...The People of Israel will be a blessing for all the families of the earth. That means the Albanians, the Greeks, the Chinese, the Indonesians, the African Americans - all the families of the earth. That's what it says in my Torah! "


Let me hear Your kindness in the morning, for I trust in You; let me know the way in which I am to go, for to You I have lifted up my soul.

(Tehillim 143:8)

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Black & White Picture Of The Week - Gerberra Daisy

3 Sivan - Rebbe Yaakov Shimshon of Shepetovka

Kever of Rebbe Yaakov Shimshon of Shepetovka zt"l
(Tiveria, Israel)

A story and a quote on his yahrzeit.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Drinking A Cup Of Coffee In A Tallis And Tefillin

(Illustration by Rabbi Dovid Sears)

Zchus Avos Yogen Aleinu: When NOT To Emulate A Tzaddik

Guest Posting By Chabakuk Elisha - The Tzaddik & Bamidbar

I have been asked on more than one occasion, by very different types of people, what basis there is in Judaism for the role played by the Chassidic Rebbe. I have answered this question differently to different people, but I always remember this question during the week of Bamidbar – however, I am getting ahead of myself.

The Minchas Elazar in his sefer Divrei Torah (7:81) provides one source: Yitzchok.

Yitzchok asks Eisav to bring him delicacies. Why? What does he usually eat? Can't Rivka make him delicacies? Why suddenly should he need Eisav to do this now? What does this act have to do with the brochos that he wants to bestow? Couldn't he provide the brochos without this strange request? And how is it that Yaakov can fulfill Eisav's mitzvah and receive the brocha?

The delicacies that Yitzchok requests are Eisav's pidyon. The Minchas Elazar bases his answer on the Chida – that connecting it to a mitzva makes the brocha effective. Therefore, Yitzchok gives Eisav a mitzva of kibud av in order to empower the brochos. and, of course, Yaakov does this as well since he is simply following his mothers instructions (kibud eim). So too, a Rebbe connects his brocha with the mitzva of tzedoka to make it effective.

But another source for the role of the Rebbe is found in Ramban's commentary on parshas Bamidbar. Towards the beginning of the Parsha, Ramban comments (Bamidbar 1:45, on the verse "These were the counted ones of the children of Israel" – about half way through): When counting the Jewish people…they were each brought before the greatest of all prophets (Moshe Rabbeinu) and his brother (Aharon HaKohein) – the holy unto G-d – and each individual provided his name, resulting in additional merit and life – since, through this, they placed themselves under the counsel of G-d's people and inscribed themselves in the house of Israel ( a reference to Ezekiel 13:9) … and each gained merit through their being counted by Moshe and Aharon, as Moshe and Aharon looked upon them with a kind eye and intercede for mercy on their behalf so that Hashem, the G-d of their fathers, should bless them exceedingly, and not lessen their numbers. And the shekalim that they donate stand them in good stead as a kapara (redemption) for their souls.

So, the Ramban is saying, by coming before the Tzaddik and giving him our name, this brings brocha and life based on the ahavas Yisroel of the Tzaddik and his ability to elicit mercy from above. Furthermore, through the pidyonos that we give, we achieve a kapara for ourselves. "THIS," the previous Klausenberger Rebbe often said, "Is the source for Rebberay."

Of course, the Klausenbeger Rebbe was also very critical of many Rebbes that may not be on that level, but we can console ourselves with R' Nachman of Breslov's comment, that there are Rebbes that are not at all worthy, but due to the emunas tzaddikim of their chassidim, their brochos are sustained.

Question & Answer With Yonason Shmuel Edelstein - Shmiras Einayim

A Simple Jew asks:

I once heard a shiur from Rabbi Yissocher Frand who said that shmiras einayim is an incredibly difficult daily challenge for the working man who has to leave the shelter of his neighborhood and go out into the world. As an unmarried man, do you also find shmiras einayim to be difficult? What techniques have you found to be successful in order to prevent yourself from slipping in this area?

Yonason Shmuel Edelstein answers:

There's a story with Reb Meir Premishlaner – he would hike daily up an icy slope to use the Mikvah. Despite already being an older man, he seemed to make the trip with great ease –an act which prompted a group of youths to attempt the difficult trip themselves. They, however, were unable to successfully make the trek, and returned to the town with bruised and soar. When asked how he managed to make the trip, the Tzaddik replied,

"One who is tied above does not fall below."

This then is the task that one must take upon himself when venturing into the world at large –we must remain tied above, so that come what may we shall not fall below.

There is a famous Chassidic adage concerning a Rashi on Chumash. The Torah tells us that when Yosef Hatzaddik was thrown into the pit by his brothers, 'The pit was empty, it had no water.' Rashi asks 'If the pit was empty, don't we already know that it had no water? Rather it was empty of water, but filled with scorpions and snakes.'

If our minds are empty and void of content then they will become filled with undesirable thoughts and sights –for nature abhors a vacuum. Rather we must work to fill our minds with words of Torah, holy letters, and they will become our thoughts and guide our minds. By saying words of Tehillim or Mishnayos by heart we will not only purify the air, but our lives as well.

Though in our age fasting is looked down upon (for we are a weaker generation) and even Iskafiya –the withholding oneself of world pleasures, particularly in ta'avas ha'achila –lust for food, is rare, by not indulging in every frivolous desire, we keep ourselves purer and refined. Our minds become less gross from the constant inundation of worldliness, which in turn helps keep us away from other, far greater, distractions.

And like the slippery path mentioned in the story of Reb Meir Premishlaner –once one slips, it is ever more difficult to stay up . . . for as one becomes coarse and unrefined through looking in the wrong places, then it further schleps him into an unrefined state.

May it be G-d's will that by increasing our separation from the mundane, we will increase our purity, which we will add in holiness, in turn bringing about the coming of Moshiach.

A Simple Jew responds:

While the theory behind your words is indeed true, the practical application of these ideas is much more difficult. Even a tzaddik like Rebbe Nachman of Breslov had to struggle greatly in this area (see Shivchei HaRan #16). Now that you have provided the theoretical answer to my question, perhaps you could provide a practical answer drawn from your own experiences.

Yonason Shmuel Edelstein answers:

While the philosophical musings of Chassidus on Shmiras Einayim may seem only theoretical, they are in truth quite pragmatic.

I myself can attest that days when I involve myself in learning, daven with more kavana and the like, are days where the nisyonos on the street are far less powerful.

I feel more eidel and therefor to a greater degree, I am more eidel. But as I am only human, at times Yirah Illah and Yirah Tatah just aren't pulling the strings they should . . . when it comes to that point one must come on to emergency measures.

Hesach Hada'as is a must - what ever works to pull my mind to better things . . . A Rosh Yeshivah once paraphrased the Lubavitcher Rebbe (though I have not seen this written anywhere, I must however assume that the Rosh Yeshivah has seen a source) as saying, 'If one is walking in Manhattan and Yichudah Illah just isn't working -get out of there . . . think Baseball!'

One must be careful though, because thinking in matters of Klippas Noga - of the mundane - may stop us from falling into shalosh klippos hatameios - utter impurity - but if one involves himself to long in Klippas Nogah, that itself will serve as a gateway down.

Another tactic is in a slightly mussar'dike way . . . Coming from a chassidisher background, I find it difficult to use pure mussar - yiras ha'onesh and the like; if that works for someone though, who am I to take away from it. I find on a personal level a saying of Reb Hillel Paritcher to be of use, "How can I do such a thing? I, a chossid of the [Alter] Rebbe, a person who has involved himself in purity and holiness, how can I stoop so low? I have a hat, a long coat and a beard! How can I be so foolish to go down that path."

Whichever way works for you, may it work well!

My Essence

I shall thank You for in an awesome, wondrous way I was fashioned; Your works are wondrous, and my soul knows it very well. My essence was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret, I was formed in the lowest parts of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body, and on Your book they were all written; days have been formed and one of them is His.

(Tehillim 139:14-16)

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Bad Writing

(Picture courtesy of Mohawk Media)

I don't claim to be a good writer. I realize that I repeatedly use the same words, phrases, and sentence structure in many of my postings.

I would like to imagine, however, that my vocabulary and writing skills have improved because of my voracious appetite for reading. Aside from learning good writing from good writers, I also try to learn how not to write from bad writers.

Who is a bad writer?

A bad writer has a flat writing style. He writes the who, what, where, and why in a robotic fashion and his writing has no soul; his words do not reveal a glimmer of his personality or his essence. He writes in long paragraphs which intimidate a reader and make the reader's eyes glaze over. The topics he chooses may be of extreme interest to a reader, but the way in which he writes immediately causes the opposite effect.

A reader does not want a regurgitation of facts, but rather something personal; the more personal the better. A reader wants to know how this story, teaching, or event affected the writer.

Although I don't claim to be successful in always writing in such a manner, this is the standard that I aspire to.

Links For Thursday

(Picture by Stephen Gloth)

Pearlies of Wisdom:
The Phone Call

Mystical Paths:
Sderot Update - Picture & Video

Begin Center Diary:
May 17, 1977

Lazer Beams: 29 Iyar: A Special Day to Pray for our Children

Zchus Avos Yogen Aleinu:
Reb Meir'l of Premishlan

Dixie Yid: Bilvavi Author in live streaming video shiur TODAY!

Lag B'Omer Video From Eizer L'Shabbos

Tax-deductible donations for Eizer L'Shabbos be sent to:

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

Searching For A Halachic Measurements Chart

(Mitzvah Measure available at Judaica Enterprises)

In the process of learning Mishnayos, I have realized that it would be nice to have a chart converting halachic measurements to a unit of measure I am familiar with. Since I am an American who was horrible in math and science, I highly prefer not to use the metric system. Does anyone know where I can find a chart that has the halachic measurements according to Rabbi Avraham Chaim No'eh converted into English units of measure? I have started compiling a chart on my own, however, I would rather not reinvent the wheel.


Here is an example from the chart I am putting together:

The Urge To Win

A person who always wants to win the argument is very intolerant of truth. The truth may be staring him in the face, but because he is determined to win at all costs, he ignores it completely. If you want to find the real truth, you must rid yourself of the urge to win. Then you will be able to see the truth if you wish.

(Rebbe Nachman of Breslov)

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Guest Posting By Chabakuk Elisha - "Heimishe" Racism

(Picture courtesy of

What is it about all of humanity being betzelem Elokim (in the image of G-d) that people don't understand?

I'm an American kid, so I can tell you that moving to Boro Park as a teenager was quite a culture shock. So many things were new and different, most for the better, but the mentality, the norms, the values and thought process was so foreign, that even now – many years later – I haven't really adjusted to it. Instead, over time, I learned to appreciate some things, make peace with other things, and I shake my head about the rest. However, now, raising a family, these issues tend to reach closer to home.

One of the cultural shockers is overt racism. Distain for people and belief systems that oppose Yiddishkeit I can understand, but the old-fashioned, peasant-like, uncivilized and coarse commonly accepted hatred and speech regarding other races can be more than just disgusting. Obviously, not everyone is this way, but it is prevalent enough that it is tolerated by even those that do not share the view. I've heard the ugliest terms and opinions about other races in all kinds of places, and 99% of the time nobody objects. I've had debates and arguments – some quite heated – on a number of occasions, but they just don't get it. I generally walk away in disgust.

But the real problem is that my children go to Yeshiva and live in this culture in a way that I never did and never will. How do I make sure that the negatives won't come along with the (many) positives? I have had the sit-down meeting with each of my older children when they have uttered a disgustingly racist word or idea – heard in school from classmates or even teachers or faculty members; they didn't even realize there was anything wrong with it. I sit down with them and we discuss it. We discuss the right and wrong of it; we discuss the concept of tolerance, we discuss what goes into choosing words when we speak. We discuss how to deal with people that we like or respect that may do things that are wrong. We discuss the way the Torah addresses these issues (for those interested let me recommend Rabbi Sears's Compassion for Humanity in the Jewish Tradition.) I never hear anything like it again, and I'm sure I'll eventually have the same meetings with my younger children.

But I know that it's probably going to be somewhat of a losing battle – because, more than a word it's the attitude. The matter is further complicated by the reality that it's simply not as easy to develop racial tolerance or respect when living in neighborhoods where the non-Jewish neighbors tend to be hostile and vulgar. When children are verbally accosted, regularly exposed to the most uncivilized behavior, not to mention stolen bikes and the like, it can be quite a task to convince them that their classmates (or possibly authority figures) are getting it wrong. Unfortunately, we often come in contact with the lowest classes of society which gives off the impression that they represent all non-Jews, etc. The attitudes are clearly influences by the day to day realities that Jews regularly deal with here – and racist attitudes become the norm.

I must clarify that "heimishe" racism isn't about violence; I've never heard someone express a desire to take up any action, even if they themselves were materially damaged in some way. And other than the occasional individual caught in the commission a crime (in which case, Hashem yerachem), it's not common to hear anyone express a desire that any violent action be taken up – nevertheless, the hatred is there. So, while I know I can't change the guy that told me he wouldn't call them "" if they didn't act like it," and I can't change the guy that told me he wishes, "they were wiped of the face of the Earth" – I have wasted enough time debating these morons – and I realize that the 20 year old Klausenberger camp counselor that teaches the bunk a song with the line about slapping the goy in the face (which obviously gets an easy laugh from the kids) isn't going to change into a better person, I can continue to speak with my children and complain to administrators, and maybe sometimes it'll make a difference. I can't change the overall attitudes; I know, but in my area of influence, I can still try.

Links For Wednesday

Hirhurim: The Road from Euphoria

Mystical Paths: Kever Shmuel HaNavi, zt"l

Zchus Avos Yogen Aleinu: Segulas For Good Children


A person should always be G-d-fearing privately and publicly, acknowledge the truth, and speak the truth within his heart.


Tuesday, May 15, 2007

A No Win Situation

(Picture courtesy of

Anne and Sue once were extremely friendly towards one another when Anne had two children and Sue had one child. Sue would routinely bring her child over to Anne's house so that all the children could play together.

Anne routinely did acts of kindness for Sue and was a paradigm of thoughtfulness. Relations between the two, however, began to become strained when Anne had another child and Sue only had one.

While Sue's tendency for overparenting remained somewhat latent when Anne had two children, it became fully manifest when Anne had her third child. It became evident that Sue viewed Anne's second child with a bit of contempt and made sure to always wash her child's hands with Purell lotion after her child had contact with Anne's child.

Picking up on this negative vibe, Anne's child grew to dislike Sue and the occasions when Sue would bring her child by since she was the quintessential "helicopter mommy". Anne's child would sometimes act out towards Sue's child since Anne's child could not yet verbalize displeasure with the hovering. Interestingly though, Sue's husband (Steve) did not hover and Anne's child would not act out towards the the child during the occasions when the child was being watched by Steve.

The negative vibe was not a figment of Anne's imagination. It was palpable even to Anne's husband and other neighbors who could feel it in the air during the occasions Sue brought her child by.

Sue became pregnant with he second child and a deep freeze ensued in her relationship with Anne. If they were together in a group of people, Sue would speak to everyone with the exception of Anne. If Anne walked into a room, Sue would walk out.

Despite all of this, Anne still attempted to restore the relationship and brought the issue up directly with Sue face to face. Sue did not even acknowledge the problem and suggested that it was Anne's issue.

Months passed by and Sue had her baby. Wheeling her stroller over in front of Anne's house with her two children, Anne's child once again immediately sensed the negative vibe and acted out towards Sue's older child.

Anne now feels at a loss since there is a no win situation. What does she do?

1. Go inside every time Sue brings her children by? [downside: this makes her a prisoner in her own neighborhood].

2. Let her child continually go after Sue's child so Sue will not desire to come by anymore [downside: this allows a child to misbehave, the opposite of what Anne is trying to instill in the child]

3. Tell Sue directly not to come by if she is going to be hovering. [downside: direct confrontation is unpleasant]

4. Force herself to act friendly to Sue. [downside: Anne feels she is being fake by doing so]

Today's Links

(Painting by Myra Mandel)

Dixie Yid: Remember the Day of Death - יזכור לו יום המיתה

Mystical Paths: I apologize…

Letters of Thought: Like the Face of a Man in Water...

Modern Uberdox: A Kiruv lesson from Eeyore

Lazer Beams: Praying for your children

Mentalblog: Charred Joseph's tomb hosts mediation séance

Баѓалтенер Пинкос: Несколько видео с Реб Лузером Кенигом шли"та

Bagel Blogger: The Mystery Blogger Series No #1

Perhaps This Is The Answer

With patience and friendliness we can prevail in all things, with G-d's help. With a denigrating attitude toward others and inflating our own importance we lose everything, G-d forbid.

(Rebbe Yosef Yitzchok Schneerson of Lubavitch)

Monday, May 14, 2007

Links For Monday

(Picture by Baleboosteh)

Mystical Paths: Kindergarten Lesson, Run for your Life!

Avakesh: Where Satmar and Lubavitch agree: Shavuos in Satmar

A Simple Jew: Yesod of Yesod - 5766

Lazer Beams: Consistency in Educating Children

Question & Answer With Dixie Yid - Kedusha & Man-Made Objects

(Picture courtesy of

A Simple Jew asks:

According to halacha, if one has a choice between toiveling a utensil in a river or toiveling it in a keilim mikvah, it is preferable to use the keilim mikvah. In essence, we are saying that it is better to use something created by man over something created by Hashem in order to imbue an object with kedusha. How can one explain this?

Dixie Yid answers:

Number one, that's a great insight you have by looking into a "simple" halacha, and seeing the underlying prinicipal behind it. In order to have asked the question, it sounds like you already know the answer. But thank you for asking me to write about this as it is one of my favorite topics. It is definitely a true concept that Hashem created us to perfect things ourselves, and not simply to enjoy living in a world where He perfects everything for us. I want to bring down a few of the places where this idea manifests its self.

The main source for this idea seems to be an amazing story in the Midrash Tanchuma on Parshas Tazria, 5th perek. I'll quote it in Hebrew and then paraphrase the relavent English translation.

מעשה ששאל טורנוסרופוס הרשע את רבי עקיבא, איזו מעשים נאים, של הקדוש ברוך הוא או של בשר ודם. אמר לו, של בשר ודם נאים. אמר לו טורנוסרופוס, הרי השמים והארץ יכול אדם לעשות כיוצא בהם אמר לו רבי עקיבא, לא תאמר לי בדבר שהוא למעלה מן הבריות שאין שולטין עליו, אלא אמור דברים שהם מצויין בבני אדם. אמר לו, למה אתם מולין. אמר לו, אני הייתי יודע שעל דבר זה אתה שואלני, ולכך הקדמתי ואמרתי לך, שמעשה בני אדם נאים משל הקדוש ברוך הוא. הביא לו רבי עקיבא שבלים וגלסקאות, אמר לו, אלו מעשה הקדוש ברוך הוא, ואלו מעשה ידי אדם. אמר לו, אין אלו נאים יותר מן השבלים אמר לו טורנוסרופוס, אם הוא חפץ במילה, למה אינו יוצא הולד מהול ממעי אמו. אמר לו רבי עקיבא, ולמה שוררו יוצא עמו והוא תלוי בבטנו ואמו חותכו ומה שאתה אומר למה אינו יוצא מהול, לפי שלא נתן הקדוש ברוך הוא את המצות לישראל אלא לצרף אותם בהם. ולכך אמר דוד, (כל) אמרת ה' צרופה (תהלים יח לא):

Turnus Rufus asked Rebbe Akiva, "Whose acts are better; those of The Holy One or of flesh and blood?" Rebbe Akiva answered him, "Those of flesh and blood." ... Turnus Rufus then asked him, "Why are your circumcised?" He answered him, "I knew that's what you were really asking me before, which is why I answered you the way I did." Rebbe Akiva brought him some wheat and a loaves of bread. He said, "One is the work of the Holy One and one is the work of man. Aren't the loaves better than the [raw] wheat?!" Turnus Rufus then asked, "If [Hashem] desires Mila, why aren't your born circucised!?" ... Rebbe Akiva answered him... "[It is] because the Holy one only gave mitzvos to the Jewish people in order to purify them." (Cf. Bereishis Raba ch. 11, which is a debate between a philosopher and Rebbe Hoshea)

What does this mean? One would think that it is an insult to Hashem. He hands us the most perfect thing in the world, a human baby. And the first thing we do is say, "No, no, no. This is not right. We have to cut a piece off right here. It wasn't good enough the way Hashem made it." It seems like such chutzpa. But the truth is that Rebbe Akiva is teaching us that it is davka the first thing we do in order to show that we do not have the outlook that Hashem gave us a perfect world and perfect selves, which we must merely protect in their natural state. We start off by changing ourselves immediately after birth in order to set the tone that our function in life is to fix, fix, fix. Hashem created us with imperfect bodies and in an imperfect world in order to give us the job of fixing it, and fixing ourselves.

It has the ability to turn the way we view so many aspects of life upside down. A non-Jew asked me one time, "If G-d didn't want you to eat pork, why did he create pigs? Do you think G-d creates things for no reason?!" If I had known this teaching all those years ago, I would have answered him that Hashem did not create the pig for no reason. He created it so that we would have something not to eat! The purpose of life is to be mesakein ourselves, not to relax in a perfect world. We'll have that in Gan Eden.

A similar debate took place between Turnus Rufus and Rebbe Akiva with the same theme in Bava Basra 10a, "וזו שאלה שאל טורנוסרופוס הרשע את ר"ע אם אלהיכם אוהב עניים הוא מפני מה אינו מפרנסם א"ל כדי שניצול אנו בהן מדינה של גיהנם." Turnus Rufus asked Rebbe Akiva, "If your G-d loves the poor, why doesn't he feed them?" He answered him, "In order that He save us from the judgments of Gehenom." Again, the philosophy of Eisav (from the word "Asui," made completed, not "needing" tikun) is that G-d must have made the world perfect, and there is no place for man to be the one doing the perfecting. But Rebbe Akiva teaches us that Hashem intentionally created the world in a way of "Bidieved," as a Lechatchila! This is because our job and focus in this world is to be mesakein ourselves and the things around us.

This is also referenced in Bereishis Raba 24:1, which questions the laws of shchita; Why do they have to be the way they are? "Rav says The mitzvos were only given as a means of purifying people. And does the Holy One really care if we shecht from the front of the neck or the back?! This indicates that the mitzvos were only given to purify us."

This idea is also found in the dichotomy between the Talmud Bavli and the Talmud Yerushalmi that Chabakuk Elisha referred to on this blog in this post. The Yerushalmi is clearer like light. It does not require our own clarification and yegiah as much. On the other hand, the Bavli is longer, more difficult to understand, it goes through a longer process to get to clarity and understanding. It's involved in a constant process of tikun, more so than the Yerushalmi. That is perhaps one reason why it is the primary Talmud that we learn; since our avoda is to be mesakein ourselves in an imperfect world, we must learn Talmud Bavli, which personafies that struggle. This idea is similar to the ma'aseh I brought down with the Shpoler Zeide here.

Similarly, this is perhaps one reason why the second tablets "survived," while the first tablets were not the ones to take us through history. The first luchos Hashem gave Moshe were carved out of stone by Hashem, and the letters were carved into the stone by Hashem. Those luchos had to be destroyed. But regarding the second luchos, it was Moshe who carved them out of stone, though Hashem did carve the letters into them. Since they were made by human hands, they represent what this world needs in a way that is very relevant to us, today. We must realize that our avoda is not to live in an idealized world. It is to live in a world and in a body that Hashem intentionally created "faulty," so that we would have the job of fixing and purifying it.

As you already said, this is probably the outlook behind the halacha you referenced, that it is better to dip your kelim in a man-made mikva, than a natural mikva, like a river. Our ikar Tahara and tikun in life is supposed to be done by us, and we have to know that we don't wait for Hashem to do it for us.

Reaching Above Your Level

It is forbidden for an unlearned man to practice the lifestyle of the truly pious who impose a variety of restrictive practices on themselves. The reason is that such a person while thinking that he imposes a restriction upon himself which is pleasing in the eyes of Hashem actually contravenes Torah law through his ignorance of what the rules our halachos are based on.

(Ohr HaChaim)

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Orange Balloon Shadow

Black & White Picture Of The Week - Dogwood In Bloom

Friday, May 11, 2007

Erev Shabbos Links

(Picture by John Norris)

Lizrael Update: Shabbat eve in full bloom

Lazer Beams: Sensitivity and Empathy [listen to the story at 15:21]

Kumah: Sderot - Kassam Battered, But Still Blossoming - Photo Essay

Rabbi Yakov Horowitz: Bright Beginnings Chumash Workbook

Guest Posting By Shoshannah Brombacher - The Breslover Tikkun

The Breslover Tikkun
Oil painting on canvas, 48x36 inches, New York 2007

The Breslover ‘Tikkun Kelali’ (General Remedy) is a collection of ten Tehillim (in this order: 16, 32, 41, 42, 59, 77, 90, 105, 137, 150) which Rabbi Nachman of Breslov (1772-1811), who was the son of Feige, the granddaughter of the saintly Baal Shem Tov, urged his followers to recite daily in times of need and distress. This practice has later been adopted by many others as well. In the Breslover works Zaddik (#229) and Wisdom (#141) it is told that the Breslover Rebbe made a promise to personally come down from Gan Eden after his death and save any sinner from Gehinnom, if this person had done the following during his lifetime: to visit the kever (grave) of Rabbi Nachman in Uman in Ukraine and to donate there at least a penny as tzedakah, to recite the ‘Tikkun Kelali’ with fervour and to commit himself to repent, and to stay away from his former sins and transgressions, whatever they had been. The Breslover Rebbe would than pull the sinner out of Gehinnom at his payot (his sidelocks).

This is the central theme of this painting. In the middle Reb Nachman with one hand grabs a Chassid at his payot, while holding a Torah scroll in his other hand. Other Chassidim in Gehinnom cling to their colleague like a cluster of grapes with panic stricken faces. They are illuminated by a red fire glow, because their averot (sins) are red, but they will be cleansed by teshuvah (repentance) and become white (... אם־יהיוּ חטאיכם כשּׁנים כשּׁלג ילבינוּ ... Yeshayahu 1:18 …though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow …), like the man dressed in white reciting the Tikkun at the right. At Reb Nachman’s right a Chassid puts money in a pushka (charity box), and under him at the right a man beats his breast in repentance while reciting the Tikkun from a book. On top of Reb Nachman’s feet many Chassidim wrapped in prayer shawls pray at his ohel, the little building in Uman which contains his tomb. One man just appears at the door after having poured out his heart. Reb Nachman, however, would not allow people to pray to him or to any other human being but to G’d alone. He loved to meditate on one short sentence or word, and his own personal meditation mantra was ‘Ribboyno shel Oylam’ (רבונו של עולם, Master of the Universe), which in this painting is written in the sky over his ohel. A winged messenger with a Torah scroll in his arm over the head of the man reciting the Tikkun sings a ‘song of redemption’, which Reb Nachman mentioned in his Likutey Mohoran (II. #8).

On top of Rabbi Nachman is a big letter ש shin with a smaller א aleph inside, forming the word אש (fire) and looking like flames, a symbol of HaShem and of Reb Nachman’s ardent faith: he prayed with hitlahavut (התלהבות fervour, flaming enthusiasm). The shin is also a focus point for meditation, and it is the first letter of the pasuk from a Psalm (שויתי ה לנגדי תמיד Tehillim 16:8 “I have set the Eternal always before me”) contained in the Tikkun.

There is a direct line upwards from the shin, past the singing Chassidim expressing their simchah (joy, a tenet of Breslov Chassidism), with songs (שירים), to the bays midrash (study hall) of the grandfather of the Breslover, the Holy Baal Shem Tov, in Medzhibush. Around the bays midrash are trees, because both the Breslover and the Besht loved to meditate in the woods. The famous wagon of the Besht flies over the roof. The chair signifies the waiting for moshiach. This whole scene is circumvented by several bridges. The one at the bottom of the artwork shows the pillars on which the world is built (עמודיה Hiob 9:6), but an allusion to Mishle 9:1 fails, since the ‘pillars of Wisdom’ (חכמות בנתה ביתה חצבה עמודיה שבעה) Wisdom has built her house, she has hewn out her seven pillars) obviously have not sufficiently sustained the Chassidim who are rescued by the Breslover Rebbe in their plight in Gehinnom. Under the pillars are the deep waters which are traditionally situated under the world. Here an allusion is also made to the Mighty Waters (מים רבים אדירים Tehillim 93: 3,4) with fish and a sea snake (a symbol of evil and the evil inclination יצר־הרע yetzer hora). On the thin line between the two opposites, flames and water, the elements of which Heavens is composed (Chagigah 12a), a little shtetl represents Uman, the town where Reb Nachman studied in the bays midrash, and where he was buried. Uman stands for the study of Torah (hence the scroll and the crown with a כ kaf and a ת tav, כתר תורה keter Torah), which goes on even in difficult circumstances, even when water and fire touch. The name Uman sounds similar to emunah, faith. The big fish symbolize Torah study: like a fish in the water a Jew is in his right element when he studies Torah. The deep blue water and the red bright fire are juxtaposed in the painting to visualize the difficulties and the beauty, the purification and the flaming fervour Reb Nachman’s students go through.

The bridge in the upper part refers to Reb Nachman‘s famous song: כל העולם כלו גשר צר מאד והעקר לא לפחד כלל : “The whole world is a very narrow bridge and the most important thing is not to be afraid”. People climb, walk, toil, trudge and proceed on the bridge of life, men, women and children. In the top right corner a woman lights shabbat candles, as stated in Avraham ibn Ezra’s song “because if I safeguard Shabbat HaShem will safeguard me..” (כי אשמרה שבת אל ישמרני ). The big letter ת tav (for Tikkun and Torah) over the bridge on the left side is written in a circle of light.

The four elements and their transmutations of which our world consists are represented in the four corners of the canvas: from the top right clockwise: the fire of the Shabbat candles and of the flaming fervour of Reb Nachman’s prayers, the earth, symbolized by the man saying the Tikkun, in reminiscence of an explanation of the Karliner Rebbe of Ber.28:12 (the ladder of Yakov’s dream): a man must stand firmly on the ground (or earth) with his feet, his head raised up to heaven. The fish and the sea in the bottom left corner represent the element water, and the sun and sky in the top left corner represent the air.

The structure resembling a cochlea around the shin, the kever and the scene with Rebbe Nachman dominates the composition. It shows waves of sound and singing, whirling in circles, like the dancing Chassidim who express their joy about the Torah, their Rebbe and his teachings, and like a joyful mother, now with many children ( אם־הבנים Tehillim 113:9). The shell-like segments open up in the contrasting colors of red fire and blue water, thus creating tension.
The full (unvocalized) texts of the 10 Tehillim of the Tikkun Kelali are scattered over the canvas in letters which sometimes seem to fade or are absorbed by dark lines and spots in the background and barely visible, but all the letters are present nevertheless, like the sometimes wavering and sometimes strong and growing faith and trust of the people reciting the Tikkun.

The 10 Tehillim contain basically themes like sin and repentance, HaShem’s mercy, catastrophes which befell the Jewish people, and praise for HaShem.

Tehillim 16 (שמרני אל ...) is written on the right side near the border next to the winged messenger. It states in pasuk 3: “For the sake of the holy ones interred in the earth (לקדושים אשר־בארץ ...) all my desires are fulfilled because of them” and is a clear reminiscence to the Breslover and his kever in the middle of the painting. The “own intellect which instructs me in the nights” (pasuk 7: אף־לילות יסרוני כליותי ...) is written next to the Torah scroll which invites to and leads to (intellectual) study.

Tehillim 32 (אשרי נשוי־פשע ...) is written on the right side of the bays midrash of Medzhibush (under the arches of the upper bridge, in the middle), and talks about repentance and joy, and is positioned close to singing Chassidim and the joyful mother with her children. It states: “Be not like a horse, a mule”; so the horse in the painting is not close to the singers.

Tehillim 41 (אשרי משכיל אל־דל ...) is to the left of the bays midrash, and talks about HaShem’s love for those in distress.

Tehillim 42 (כאיל תערג ...), about the exile of Israel and the longing for HaShem, is written in the arches of the lower bridge and in the foaming water, because it mentions the mighty roaring seas, waves and breakers and “the watery deep (תהום־אל תהום קורא ...) which calls to watery deep”.

Tehillim 59 (הצילני מאיבי ...) undulates over the upper bridge through the golden circle of light in the top left corner. It contains many pesukim about the punishment of the enemies which continue to threaten the Jewish people, seen here walking on the narrow bridge.

Tehillim 77 (קולי אל־אלהים ...), which refers to the sea, mighty waters and the crossing of the Sea (בים דרכך ושביליך במים רבים 77:17-21) after leaving Egypt is half hidden in the waves near the big fish.

Tehillim 90 (תפלה למשה איש־האלהים) describes the power of HaShem over His creation and is written in the left border, where the upper and the lower bridges meet.

Tehillim 105 (הודו לה ...) starts in the top right corner and flows down. It tells us about the exile and redemption of Mitzrayim, and is written close to the people and the bridge and the woman lighting Shabbat candles, which is a direct result of the Exodus, which led to the giving of the Torah, which implies the Shabbat.

Tehillim 137 (על נהרות בבל ...) is the classical lament about the Babylonian Exile and is written under the lower bridge, in the water but close to the flames engulfing Gehinnom.

Tehillim 150 (הללו־אל בקדשו ...) is written near the feet of the repentant sinner in his white tallit who now can say words of praise; over his head are some introductory words about Rabbi Nachman which are said before reciting the Tikkun Kelali.

This painting is not the only work about the Tikkun, it was preceded by several pastels and will be followed iy”H by many more artistic renderings of Reb Nachman of Breslov’s life and work.

Here are some details of the painting:

A Sanctuary In My Heart (Bilavavi Mishkan Evneh)

Received via e-mail from A Talmid:

"A Sanctuary In My Heart" is great. I read the part of the online version (the site is shut down for Shabbos). It is truly an amazing work. It is stuff you can use right out of the box. It tells you how to live every minute serving Hashem. It sounds like it's written by a Breslover. Maybe that's why it's anonymous. I heard Reb Nachman had said if people won't listen to things in his name just say it is from "Talmidei HaBaal Shem Tov" and don't mention him. That's just my own speculation. I was really blown away what I read. I have seen people keep the Hebrew one in their talis bags and learn it everyday after davening. The people that I know who read it (who are "simple" working people) are very passionate about it and try to fulfill what it teaches.

"Al Pi Hashem Yisu..." - Some Thoughts From My Learning

The Mishnah in Shabbos 15:3 states:

We may make the beds on night of Shabbos for Shabbos, but not on Shabbos for Motzaei Shabbos.

Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 85:1 states:

If, Heaven forbid, a fire breaks out on Shabbos, our Sages were concerned that the head of the household and his family who are in the vicinity of the fire, will be occupied with rescuing their belongings. They will be harried and panicky at the prospect of losing their valuables, and, as a result forget that it is Shabbos and they might extinquish the fire. They, therefore, forbade rescuing evem objects that are normally permitted to be handled. They forbid even to move them to a place where it is permitted to carry. Only that which is needed for the day is permitted to be rescued. For instance: If a fire broke out on Erev Shabbos before the Shabbos meal, you may rescue enough food for three Shabbos meals, food for humans, fit for humans. If the fire broke out in the morning, you may rescue food for two meals. If the fire broke out in the afternoon, you may rescue food for one meal…

It appears that the underlying message behind these two teaching can be summed up by Reb Noson of Breslov's quote, "While this hour lasts don't think about the next." This Mishnah stresses to us about the importance of living in the moment, and this Kitzur Shulchan Aruch stresses the importance of having bitachon; knowing that Hashem will provide for us even during the times when we feel nervous and uncertain of what the next day will bring.

Additionaly, Bamidbar 9:18 tells us that the Jewish people travelled only upon Hashem's command and that they encamped upon Hashem's command. They were unaware of the next place Hashem would lead them, however they remained in place as long as the cloud hovered above the Mishkan. Perhaps this pasuk can give us greater perspective when we face situations in our own lives were we feel trapped in a grown-up game of red light - green light. Internalization of the meaning of this pasuk can comfort us by allowing us to know that it is Hashem's will that we are where we are precisely because Hashem wants us to be there. And, we must know that sometimes we must remain there "for two days, a month or a year."

Hashem will tell when it is time to pack up our camp and move on forward.

But, how will we know when this time has arrived in these days without the cloud hovering above the Mishkan? Rebbe Nachman of Breslov taught, "To some G-d calls in a whisper, to others with a shout - depending on how close they are to Him."

(Picture courtesy of

A Sad Shabbos

Even sighing over spiritual things is forbidden on Shabbos.

(Maggid of Koznitz)

Thursday, May 10, 2007

A Question From Der Ewige Jude

Tikkun Leil Shavuous - 1855, Zhitomir

Dear Friend,

It is currently a little less than two weeks until Shavuot, or the cheesecake holiday as it is called here. As you have several small children I was curious as to how you make the celebration meaningful for them. All the other holidays have some interactive, or passive participatory aspect: dwelling in the succah, listening for the shofar, searching for the afikomen, lighting the menorah, etc. When Shavuot was reconfigured from a pilgrimage festival with the offering of the first fruits, to a celebration of the receiving of the Torah, the participatory aspects were lost. Whereas I might attempt to stay up for 36 hours and spend the night learning, attempting any such activity with the Little Rebbetzin would, in my opinion, be the height of folly. So aside from the consumption of the afore mentioned cheesecake, and an explanation of what the holiday is about, what do you do with the kinder to make it something special and exciting for them?

Your friend,

Der Ewige Jude

Question for readers: What advice do you have for Der Ewige Jude?

A Conversation With Chabakuk Elisha - Bombarded

(Picture courtesy of

This morning, I noticed a large poster while taking public transportation that had an advertisement for "Bodies: The Exhibition". The advertisement featured a macabre image. I was a little disturbed by what I saw, but I later checked out the website for more details about it. The website noted that the purpose of this exhibition is:

"To help you see what a body really looks like on the inside, this Exhibition uses real human bodies that have been preserved so they do not decay. A human specimen is first preserved according to standard mortuary science. The specimen is then dissected to show whatever it is that someone wants to display. Once dissected, the specimen is immersed in acetone, which eliminates all body water. The specimen is then placed in a large bath of silicone, or polymer, and sealed in a vacuum chamber. Under vacuum, acetone leaves the body in the form of gas and the polymer replaces it, entering each cell and body tissue. A catalyst is then applied to the specimen, hardening it and completing the process. This method of preservation creates a specimen that will not decay. This offers thousands of unique teaching possibilities for educators at all levels, including medical professionals, archeologists and other scientists."

Seeing this, compounded with my recent experience at a funeral, made me acutely aware of just how wide the gulf is between my thoughts and beliefs and those of the society surrounding me. A television set mounted on the wall in an elevator lobby at work constantly displays the latest news and also reminds me of this gulf. Pedophiles stalking children on the internet, campus shootings, celebrity suicides, soldiers killed in combat……all of these images and sounds bombard me on a daily basis in just the few moments that I wait to take the elevator down to the lobby. I don't need to watch the news when I return home each night since these few seconds show me a world that I am almost scared to acknowledge exists.

I know that it is foolish to believe that one cannot make this world of chaos go away by closing my eyes. So instead, I prefer to stare up at the clouds above me, or run away to the sanctuary of a sefer where Hashem's presence is more clearly revealed.

Chabakuk Elisha, in the past you addressed the negative aspects of isolation. However, our holy Torah also tells us (Vayikra 19:2 ) "kedoshim tihiyu" - be holy. Rashi noted that this means that at times we should separate and isolate ourselves. Additionally, the Degel Machaneh Ephraim taught, "The secret of Israel's survival among the nations is the fact that the Jewish people have gone their own way and have lived their own lives, regardless of what the other nations might think or say of them in scorn or in praise."

Since you have acknowledged the negative aspects of isolation, perhaps you might now address the positive aspects of this isolation, and perhaps suggest ways in which we can still live in this world spinning around us.

Chabakuk Elisha comments:

Unfortunately, the society and culture in which we live is full of values that are antithetical to those of a religious and sensitive individual. Moreover, the media is especially twisted - reporting things better left unreported and focusing on sensationalism rather than useful news or the like. It doest take a rocket scientist to know that this fosters and brings out the worst elements of human nature, as well as adding to the erosion and eventual collapse of the structure of our civilization.

Indeed, this is not a small matter, and the results that we already see are tragic, which causes the pessimist, or perhaps the realist, to repeat the refrain, "It's sick and getting sicker." Obviously, our environment has an influence on us, and it is a natural reaction to feel inclined follow the Rambam's advise that if one finds that he cannot live in society, he should move to the desert.

Yet, I do believe that this is a last case scenario. I don't think that Torah really expects us to take this action unless there is absolutely no chose; and that is the question: are we at that point? To that, I maintain that the Rambam's advise is not merely a physical one - rather, we can attempt at least to live in the bustling city, while at the same time, creating a "desert environment," isolating ourselves from our surroundings to a certain extant. And like we mentioned in the past regarding the concept of "Mach da Eretz Yisroel" (transform your current environment into the Holy land), we are advised to insulate ourselves to a reasonable extent and make our surroundings more sensitive and holy.

But this is not without problems. In attempting to doing this, we can easily run into a grey area of what to allow in and what to fence out, not to mention that how this is done can sometimes be worse than the initial problem. Rabbi Hershel Fried does a nice job of pointing this out in his recent article on the problems in chareidi chinuch. So while I can sympathize with your frustration, we must understand, as R' Nachman of Breslov said: "Kol Haolam kulo gesher tzar meod - v'haikkar, lo lefacheid klal!"

Alone In The World

Anyone who wants to begin serving G-d can do so only if he thinks of himself as being alone in the world so that everything is up to him. He must pay no attention whatever to anyone who tries to hold him back – not even if it is his own father and mother or in-laws, wife and children. He should pay no attention to any others who try to mock him or entice him to give up or otherwise stand in his way. Just as "Avraham was one", so too he must look on himself as if he is alone in the world and everything depends on him.

(Rebbe Nachman of Breslov)

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Question & Answer With Rabbi Lazer Brody - Asking For Forgiveness

A Simple Jew asks:

I recently listened to your CD "Queen of the Class" and wanted to know if you could address the issue of forgiveness from from the angle of our duty to ask forgiveness from another person. It is well known that Yom Kippur only provides atonement for the aveiros that we commit which are between Hashem and us, not for the aveiros that we commit against another person. We are instructed to attempt to make a rapprochement with anyone we are at odds with, and to ask forgiveness for things that we have done wrong to this person.

On a very practical level, let's say that you have repeatedly spoken lashon hara about a person. Are you obligated to go to this person before Yom Kippur, tell them that you have spoken ill of them when they were not present, and then request that they forgive you?

Now, perhaps they were truly unaware that you harbored such feelings in your heart. Whereas you can certainly explain that you gave voice to these feelings out of a sense of frustration, and tell them that these words were only spoken in the privacy of your own home, the underlying message you are sending this person is that "You made me mad and I didn't like you at one time". Are you exacerbating the problem by doing such, or is this truly what is required of us? Is this sense of embarrassment that we feel when asking for forgiveness supposed to be part of the tikkun for the aveira?

Rabbi Lazer Brody answers:

Superb question, SJ. Our answer depends on one of two situations:

1) The person is not aware that you spoke loshon hara about him/her, and no damage has been done: In such a situation, it's senseless to inform the other person that you spoke the Loshon Hara, because it will only trigger ill feelings. Teshuva to Hashem is the order of the day, with a firm resolve to try your utmost to improve.

2) The person is aware that you spoke loshon hara about him/her, and/or damage has been done: In such a situation we have to beg their forgiveness and rectify the damage to the best of our ability even before we do teshuva to Hashem. For example, if the person was fired from his/her job because of the Loshon Hara that a coworker says, then the coworker should help the victim find a new job or get the old job back. Please note that material damages from Loshon Hara are often difficult to prove in a Beis Din, and even so, the Beis Din is likely to view the damages as a grama, or indirectly caused, whereas the guilty party would be exempt from paying damages. The Gemarra warns though, that although grama lav milsa in this world, the guilty party remains liable in the next world, and that's bad news. Therefore, one should do his/her utmost to apologize and appease the damaged party. Halacha requires us not to be cruel, and to forgive those who ask our forgiveness.

With blessings for a healthy summer to you, your family, and your readers, LB

Eliezer Aryeh ben Yaakov Ber

Psycho Toddler: Yahrzeit


A wise man does not speak before one who is greater than he in wisdom or in years; he does not interrupt the words of his fellow.

(Pirkei Avos 5:7)

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

"Every Thing We Need"

Zchus Avos Yogen Aleinu: Magid Of Chernobyl - Pure Simple Emunah

"The Exact Same Trials And Tribulations"

(Painting by Ferenc Flamm)

The Muqata: Kavvana in Tefilla: Mission (mostly) Impossible

22 Days Left

(Picture courtesy of Lazer Beams)

There are 22 days left until Lil Tzaddik has his upsherin on 13 Sivan.

"Not Supposed To Be A Burden"

(Picture by Naomi Hotzler)

Rabbi Dovid Sears commenting on Question From A Reader - An Index Of "Frumness" :

I think your last remark should be addressed first. It might help your shemiras Shabbos to study more about the meaning of Shabbos, in addition to its laws. In English I would recommend Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan's book "Sabbath: Day of Eternity," Rabbi Moshe Braun's "Sabbath Peace," and Rabbi Moshe Mykoff's "Seventh Heaven: Shabbat With Rebbe Nachman of Breslov."

As for the weight shemiras Shabbos is given, Chazal also state that one who observes the Shabbos according to its halakhah is considered as if he kept the entire Torah -- and one who violates it is considered as if he rejected the entire Torah. The Shabbos demonstrates our emunah in a most basic way. Moreover, because Shabbos is the channel for Malkhus / G-d's Kingship, it spiritually connects us to the entire realm of kedushah.

The Shabbos is not supposed to be a burden, but an inspiration and a delight. This is why we are instructed to make the Shabbos pleasant both spiritually and physically by studying the "secrets of Torah" on Shabbos, according to our degree of understanding, by davenning at greater length and more slowly, by eating the best foods, singing zemiros, wearing our best clothes, etc.

A Little Booklet

Make a little booklet to note down what you have accepted on yourself. This booklet should be with you always so that you remember everything.

(Reishis Chochma)

Monday, May 07, 2007

Monday Links

(Picture by John Cameron)

Heichal Hanegina: How the Riminover became a Chassid

Mystical Paths: Miracles in Meron

Question From A Reader - An Index Of "Frumness"

(Painting by Venyamin Zaslavsky)

Received via e-mail:

A Simple Jew,

I saw your posting Shabbos & Emuna and I have a question for you. Why is observance of Shabbos seen as an index for one's "frumness"? Keeping strict kosher, especially in the workplace, is much more difficult than keeping Shabbos. Keeping kosher affects a Jew's choices every day of his life, not only one day a week. It also plays a role in where a Jew may travel or go on vacation. When you break it down, almost everything revolves around food in some way or other.

I know people who are Shomer Shabbos but eat dairy or vegetarian out and I know people who keep strict kosher but don't completely keep Shabbos. Why does it seem that keeping Shabbos is given more weight? Why is one's "frumness" judged just by this one thing? Does this go along with the statement in the Gemara in Shabbos 118a that says, "He who observes the Shabbos according to halacha, even if he worships idols, as did the generation of Enosh, will be pardoned for his sins" ?

Maybe you could post this e-mail and your readers could answer my questions. I am struggling with my observance and strict shmiras Shabbos has always been a big hurdle for me.


Shmuel B.


It is within your power to change your nature even if you are naturally slothful.

(Pele Yoetz)

Friday, May 04, 2007

Lego Castles & The Yahrzeit Of The Degel Machaneh Ephraim

(Picture courtesy of

As a child, I remember making grandiose plans to build a large and elaborate castle in my room made out Legos. I would picture the finished result in my mind's eye and then set about constructing it. Not too longer afterwards, I would realize that my castle looked nothing like the castle in my imagination; not even close. I would become discouraged and then stop working on it.

I have noticed that throughout my life I have been inclined to start other such "Lego castle" projects, only to stop before I completed them. Whether it was learning Mishneh Torah or Gemara, I made big plans and then stopped at a later date out of frustration.

This Shabbos, the 17th of Iyar, is the yahrzeit of the Degel Machaneh Ephraim. For weeks before his yahrzeit I pondered how to mark this date. Today, I gave tzedakah to Eizer L'Shabbos in his merit and I will undoubtedly learn Degel Machaneh Ephraim as I do each and every day without fail. I will also use my new kiddush cup for the first time tonight for this occasion. However, aside from all these things, I still felt that I needed to do something more to increase my hiskashrus with this tzaddik this year.

I recalled two teachings by Rabbi Yaakov Meir Shechter about making use of unstructured time that really left an impression on me. From these teachings, I dreamt up a "Lego castle" idea to complete learning all Shisha Sidrei Mishnah in the merit of the Degel Machaneh Ephraim using my unstructured time; without a schedule and without a deadline. I am not saying that I will be making my siyum on learning all Shisha Sidrei Mishnah in a year or two years, I have no idea at this point when I will complete this project. All I am saying is that right now, I have completed 23 perakim of Mishnayos in the past two weeks, and I plan to keep on learning - mishnah by mishnah - whenever I find a spare moment until I have completed all Shisha Sidrei Mishnah. This will obviously be in addition to my regular daily seder.

May it be Hashem's will that this "Lego castle" idea not be discarded before completion as I have done in the past, but rather may it become a beautiful and completed spiritual edifice that will stand in the merit of this tzaddik.

(A chart to mark my progress courtesy of Chardal)

UPDATE: Be sure to read Yitz's wonderful posting in honor of the Degel's yahrzeit here.

Lag B'Omer Links

(Picture courtesy of

Lag B'Omer in Meron [video] (via Mystical Paths)

My posting about Lag B'Omer 5754 is here.

…and as usual, A Talmid has more background here.

Shabbos & Emuna

Makeshift candlesticks in the Warsaw Ghetto
(Picture courtesy of Yad Vashem)

Likutey Moharan I:31:

Keeping Shabbos is the foundation of true emuna. All our tzedakah and other good deeds radiate to perfection only through Shabbos, which is the very essence of emuna. Tzedakah can bring many blessings and good influences into the world, but they are only actually revealed through Shabbos. As the essence of emuna, Shabbos is the fountain of blessings, bringing everything in the world to its ultimate perfection. Without Shabbos and the emuna it brings, everything is lacking, including our G-dly understanding and knowledge of the Torah. Genuine wisdom and Torah understanding can thrive only through the influence of Shabbos and emuna.

"A Fascinating Gematria"

Excerpt from A Sefira Message by Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss:

Let me share with you a fascinating gematria from the Ziditshoveh Rebbe. He revealed that the numeric value of the verse, "V’ahavta l’rei’acha k’mocha, Ani HaShem – And you shall love your fellow like you love yourself, I am G-d," is exactly the same gematria as the verse, "V’ahavta es Hashem Elokecha – And you shall love HaShem, your G-d." When I spotted this, I thought to myself, ‘Wow, this is consistent with the idea that in Judaism the responsibility of bein adam l’chavero, interpersonal relationships, is equally important as bein adom l’Makom, the responsibilities between us and HaShem. Indeed, this is the reason why the two luchos, the two tablets of the Ten Commandments – one representing our relationship with HaShem and one representing our relationship with our follow man – were the same size and had the same number of commandments.

On A Yahrzeit

On a tzaddik's yahrzeit, the merits of the good deeds and Torah study of his entire life are reawakened and come together to impact the Upper Realms in a profound way.

(Rabbi Avraham Galante)

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Guest Posting By Michoel - Shem Mishmuel

Poschin bichvod aksania…

Thanks to A Simple Jew for asking me to write another guest post. I appreciate the opportunity to express a few thoughts in public. I am avoiding blogs and the Web lately, having decided that it is completely treif, asur, full of lashon hara and machlokes, kefira, pritzus etc. etc. But one of the very view websites that might conceivably justify the existence of the Internet is this outstanding blog.

The host asked me to write on a chasidish sefer. The one sefer of Chasidus that I have a bit of familiarity with (literally “a bit”) is the heligeh Shem Mishmuel. Sometimes a person comes across a particular sefer or derech and their reaction is “What was I doing until now?”. That has been my reaction to the Shem Mishmuel, followed by “I have to have rachmanus (mercy) on the rest of Klal Yisrael and help them see the Or Hagadol of this incredible sefer”. If you are like me, you find the Sefas Emes to be fascinating and deep but sometimes hard to understand. The Shem Mismuel is somewhat similar to Sefas Emes but tends to speak out more clearly things that the Sefas Emes leaves as “v’hameivin yavin”. The mechaber (author) quotes often from many of the great Rebbes including the Baal Hatanya, the Alexander Rebbe, the Chidushei HaRim and especially from his father the Avnei Nezer and his zeide the Kotzker. He also quotes very often from the ARI z’l and the Maharal. He says things such as “from the fact that Chazal don’t mention anywhere …, we can conclude…”. He was a person who could make confident statements about the entirety of Chazal about 80 years before the creation of CD-ROMs. In addition to deep discussions of mamaarei Chazal in both talmudim and many midrashim, he discusses piyutim and yotzros, kinos and slichos with great depth. He was a great gaon in halacha, having written the hagaos (notes) to the Eglei Tal. The sefer was written over the course of several years. Some years, he built on what was said previously and some years he said something entirely new. I would like to present here some of the Shem Mishmuel’s thoughts on Lag Baomer and Sefira. They do not appear all in one piece in the sefer but rather are collected and adapted from his maamarim over a few different years. Please keep in mind that this is merely my own understanding and the author’s deep words which need to be seen inside.

It is mentioned in the seforim, that the ikkar (primary) part of Sefira is from the second day of Pesach until Lag Baomer. (Although the actual sefira is 49 days, if we count from the first day of Pesach all the way to Shavuos there are a total of 51 days, or three segments of 17 days each.) Lag Baomer marks the end of the second of these three segments. We know from the Maharal that the number three represents a transition of states. The first of the three is connected to what was previously. The middle is an emtzai (bridge or means) not touching either what came before the beginning of the transition or what is to come afterward. The third segment is already touching on, and connected to that which is being transitioned into. Avraham was born in a house of Avoda Zara, Yitzchak was an emtzai, and Yakov was already able to produce the Shivtei Kah. There are many other examples.

It needs to be explained why the 24,000 talmidei Rebbi Akiva died during this period for not being noheg kavod (treating each other with sufficient respect). We don’t see that a lack of sufficient kavod is normally punished with the death penalty. As is explained in the Shem Mishuel’s perush on the Hagadah, it was upon these 24,000 to be m’saken the cheit of the 24,000 of Bnei Yisrael that died at Shitim, whose cheit stemmed from their viewing themselves as “yesh” in their own eyes. See there for the reason. So too, a failure to be noheg kavod demonstrates the same fault and a failure to correct the cheit of Shitim.

We find that Yisrael camped at Har Sinai “k’ish echad b’lev echad”, with complete achdus. We can say that the reason they achieved such a complete achdus was because they experienced the Kavod Hashem on Har Sinai which affected them so deeply that they were able to come to a true sense of bitul (self-nullification) in there own eyes and this allowed them to achieve full achdus.

Chazal in Brachos teach us that the night has three mishmaros (guards). The last mishmar has particular simanim (indications) that the day is beginning to illuminate. So too, at the end of the last of period of Sefira the light of Matan Torah is beginning to illuminate, and those of great spiritual sensitivity can begin to feel that light from Lag Baomer on. With this we can understand why the Talmidei Rebbi Akiva stopped dying at that point.

The period of Sefira is a time of tikkun hamiddos (correction of character flaws), of transitioning oneself from a state of tumah and avdus (impurity and mental enslavement) to a keli (vessel) which is fit for receiving the Torah. Even if one has not yet made progress during the first two segments of Sefira, on Lag Baomer, they should recommit to grow, with greater drive, as the coming light of Shavuos begins to flicker on the horizon.


Someone too selfish to care about others will not subjugate himself to Hashem either; his own desires and ego will always get in the way.

(Chazon Ish)

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Mystical Paths: Pesach Sheynei "A Second Chance"

Vitality To The Printed Letters

(Picture by Wayne Brasch)

The absence of instrumental music during these days of Sefira once again led me to ponder the topic of music and made me recall two people with gorgeous voices.

I have often joked that the reason why no one listened to the prophets was because they spoke to the people in the same monotone chant in which the weekly Haftorah is often read in most shuls.

The Haftorah did not come alive for me until a few years ago when a Persian man at my shul recited it with a incredibly beautiful Sephardic cantillation. Rather than sounding like a grade school teacher taking attendance, his melody renewed the words of the prophets in such a way that it resonated deeply inside me. Instead of flipping the page ahead to see how much longer the Haftorah went on for, I found myself closing my eyes and relishing every second. I lament the times when another person is called up in his place since in comparision their delivery often sounds like the continous hum of a power generator. Every fiber of this Persian man's being is intertwined in the melody; his pain, his longing, his tenderness. His words soar upwards with a real power behind them.

His voice also makes me recall a man named Yosef, a Hungarian-born Holocaust survivor, who was the chazzan at a shul I once davened at. Yosef had been an opera singer in Budapest before the war, and today devoted his amazing voice to the words of prayer. His beautiful voice now most certainly gave merit to his father, mother, and sister who were murdered in the gas chambers of Auschwitz. His repetition of the Amidah was a masterpiece even to those who did not particularly care for chazzanus. Upon hearing the first note, one could immediately recognize that the emotion in his voice was not the showiness that characterizes some chazzanus, but rather drawn from all the things he had been through in his life. The sincerity in his voice could leave you speechless and in tears.

Today, I thank Hashem for the opportunity of being able to hear these people whose voices gave vitality to the printed letters and propelled them to the highest heavens.