Monday, March 31, 2008

Question & Answer With Akiva Of Mystical Paths - Jealousy

(Illustration by Abel Pann)

A Simple Jew asks:

Do you think an average chassid may feel jealousy if another chassid has greater access or a closer connection to their rebbe? In the case when their rebbe is no longer living, do you think it is natural for a chassid to feel a certain sense of possessiveness of this rebbe when someone else mentions a story or teaching from or about him?

Akiva of Mystical Paths answers:

Jealousy, almost without exception, is a negative middah (attribute). For, who is rich? He who is satisfied with what he has. (Pirke Avos) Many is the story of the chassidic master who didn't recognize their own deprivation among the material while living a rich spiritual life.

Yet, we are taught that jealously for another's Torah accomplishments, if used to drive oneself to greater accomplishments, is the sole positive use of jealously.

Can a chossid feel jealous of closeness to the rebbe of another chossid? Yes. If used positively, this may drive the chossid to greater heights of avoda and positive service to their rebbe, as they strive to achieve the greater connection they have seen. If used negatively, it's completely poisonous as they either attempt to drag the other down, poison the environment in general, or quietly let it eat away at their heart. This is often the Yetzer's opening into a tzaddik's environment.

It is natural for chassidim devoted to a rebbe, or even those devoted to a particular tzaddik or great rosh yeshiva, to feel a certain possessiveness about their relationship. Whether still physically in this world or only spiritually so, those who build an attachment through their devoted efforts of learning the rebbe's path, learning his Torah, and focusing their efforts in the directions that the tzaddik has set, feel exactly that, a special attachment.

So, they would ask, how can others come forward and represent our rebbe, whether giving over a story or a word of Torah, when they haven't given the years of commitment that we have?

And from one perspective, they're right! Understanding the nuances of the rebbe's Torah are developed through years of relationship, studying his Torah and following his path. Yet, this response would close off these gates of Torah to only those who are devoted followers, rather than enriching all of Klal Yisroel, and that surely isn't the intention of any tzaddik. (Perhaps with the exception of a few mekubalim, kabbalists.)

So I don't think it's unusual for a chossid to feel jealous and protective of his rebbe. (For example, I saw a post a R. Brody's blog of a story that's commonly attributed to the Baal HaTanya, being attributed to another rebbe. I found that very upsetting!!! Was R. Brody trying to be disrespectful to the Alter Rebbe of Chabad? G-d forbid, of course not. That didn't stop my initial feeling though.) However, we need to be on guard as this type of jealously is not positive, and make sure that if we're feeling jealously, we use it ONLY in the right way. Otherwise, we are simply giving ourselves over to the Yetzer Hara.

As I tell my children, the Yetzer Hara doesn't come to a chossid and say eat treif. Ahh, protect the kavod of your rebbe, that's a different matter, right?

More On Comparing Judaism And Buddhism

(Picture courtesy of R. Thrum)

Rabbi Eliezer Shore commenting on HaNei’or BaLaylah:

Once, when the Tzemach Tzedek, the third Lubavitcher Rebbe, was a little boy, he was sitting in the lap of his grandfather -- R. Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of Chabad.

"Where is Zeide?" his grandfather asked him.

The little boy pulled at his grandfather's beard.

"No, that's Zeide's beard. But where is Zeide?" R. Shneur Zalman replied.

The little boy pointed to his grandfather's body.

"No, that's Zeide's body. But where is Zeide?"

The little boy pointed to his grandfather's head.

"No, that's Zeide's head," was the reply.

Now, a Buddhist might say that there really is no Zeide. That Zeide is only a combination of all these different aggregates, lacking any self- existing center. But that's not what the little boy thought. He got off his grandfather's lap and went out of the room. Suddenly, from the other room, he cried out, "Zeide! Zeide!"

"Yes, I'm coming!" replied R. Shneur Zalman.

The little boy came back and declared: "There is Zeide!"

It seems to me that we can say the same thing about G-d. True, in the depths of the Infinite there is no-thing, there is only Divinity, transcendent of all contingent existence, above all "existence" altogether. However, when we call to G-d, He answers us. And that is what Jewish life is all about.

24 Adar (II) Links - כד אדר ב

(Painting by Cindy Richard)

Dixie Yid: "Shalosh Sheudos" Speeches?

Treppenwitz: An African Correspondent

A Fire Burns in Breslov: Pay Attention!

True Wisdom

A great scholar cannot study among small children and a one not proficient in his learning cannot study among great scholars. However, one who has true wisdom and is able to connect to it can study with both of them and receive from them new understandings according to his level.

(Degel Machaneh Ephraim)

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Guest Posting By A Yid In Iraq - My Purim Experience

I have been in Iraq now since December 2007 and I will be leaving in March 2009. It is not getting any easier since the heat is starting to cap out at 100 degrees at 12:00 in the afternoon. Attacks on coalition forces are not letting up either. As a matter of fact they are getting worse, turn on CNN if you want to see what I am talking about.

I believe everything comes from Hashem and I have had two experiences when I was going to leave for a combat logistical patrol that confirmed this belief in my mind. On both occasions, I had a strong feeling as if I was being told not to go and there was going to be mortar attack on the route. The first time I did not go on the patrol and as soon as the patrol left, they we mortared and they had to go the bomb shelter on the other forward operating base were they were to pick up supplies. They had to wait for six hours in the bomb shelter to all clear was called. On the second occasion, I did not listen to this feeling and soon as I was stepping in the vehicle, mortars started to hit the route that we were going to travel on. I went and immediately davened and thanked Hashem for warning me.

A couple days before Purim, I was walking from our barracks and had three mortars land 150 to 200 meters in front me. I felt the ground shake. I just shook my head since it was only 0900, and thought to myself that it was not such a good way to start the day off. I thanked Hashem that these terrorists aim was off that morning.

Despite all of this, I had an outstanding Purim. It really made think of how our people are always being targeted and the strength our forefathers how they had to persevere in hard times. I had a vegetable kosher MRE (meal ready to eat), crackers, pomegranate juice (POM), and some dried mangos for dessert. It really hit the spot. I did not get to hear the Megillah, but I did read it. Haman's descendants were also present with me on Purim and they fired three mortar rounds into our forward operating base. Luckily no one was hurt. I know this sounds cynical but I am use to it now, at first I was a little nerve racked about it but I got use to it.

Regardless of where you are, you can still perform a mitzvah in any situation. On a daily basis I am assisting these war torn Arabs with food and water and trying speak English better. Today, I received a complement that I am the first Jew they have seen and I am representing my people well. That felt really good to hear, and I told him there are good people in all groups.

I always do my best to keep my head covered out of respect of Hashem and also because I want everyone to see that there is a Jew assisting them - so there is no confusion on who I am and what I represent. I also do not want to be confused with one of the Gentile soldiers.

The reason I am writing to the world is that as a Jewish soldier I want our people of Israel to be proud!

My intent behind all of this is I want to break the stereotype of Jews. A lot of times Jews are not presented correctly as if we are weaker or softer than other groups especially in the military. We are a nation of holy people, we are also warriors and we all have a fighting spirit!

I am very excited because next month is Pesach, I have put in a request for two days off to travel to another base where a rabbi will be leading a seder.

G-d willing, things will go as planned.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Guest Posting By Chabakuk Elisha - Appeal, Meaning, & Relevance

(Illustration by Issachar Ber Ryback)

Lately I've seen many articles and write-ups about "kids at risk;" gedolei Yisroel weigh in on the matter more and more, and it has been determined that this is the biggest crisis facing the Frum world today. Somehow, though, it seems to me that predominantly it is the symptoms that are being addressed rather than the underlying causes. Without a doubt, there are many reasons for the "kids at risk" phenomenon, but there are really three primary and irreducible needs that we need to focus on, but often don't. However, before I get to them, let's remember that history is cyclical and these times are hardly new; the Jewish people have been through ups-and-downs on many levels throughout the ages, and this crisis is a recurring one.

Appeal (what we call "chein"). Yiddishkeit needs to be appealing. When the chein, the appeal, of Judaism fades, so do its youth. This is obviously not shocking news, but whenever people's associations with religious Judaism have turned negative, away they go. We need to insure that the chein of Yiddishkeit is there – and this is not merely an external, material appeal, but an emotional and spiritual one, as well.

Meaning. Things like bagels and lox, fancy weddings, or cholent and kugel isn't going to do it. If we cannot make Yiddishkeit meaningful and compelling, there is little reason for the next generation to stay on board. If all Yiddishkeit is perceived to be is a list of "do's-and-don'ts," or traditions and rituals without any real substance or compelling reasons to follow them, why would the next generation buy into it? Religious education needs to speak to the individual deeply and address the real issues that humanity struggles with; it needs to address the big questions. Unfortunately, these things are supposed to be "a given" – but we live in an age, and not for the first time, where "givens" aren't good enough. Sadly, our Yeshivos and religious institutions seriously overlook this need in the curricula of Jewish education. (Some might say that they actually lack curricula!) Why this is the case is a long and frustrating discussion, but it badly need to change (and I think it is changing…slowly).

Relevance. Yiddishkeit can't afford to get outdated; nobody wants to belong to the "flat earth" society. In Chareidishe circles it feels holy to hold up the banner of "TRADITION" and battle the forces of modernism – we may feel like we're modern-day Chashmonaim or Perushim – but this is not done carefully and intelligently, it cannot succeed. Yiddishkeit cannot remain relevant if we are busy living in the past and denying current realities. As Reb Aharon of Belz told the Satmar Rov: "I don't believe in fighting yesterday's battles." Modernism cannot be denied. Even those who claim to be protecting Yiddishkeit from alien forces have to agree that many elements of modernism are currently embraced (how many of us that dress in the finest eighteenth century garb of fur shtreimelach and silk caftans still ride in horse drawn carriages?) -- our ideological battles must be chosen carefully. Fighting losing battles and holding the line in defense of ideas that don't sound convincing is a risky business, and our younger generations may not feel obligated to keep marching in tow.

Of course, big problems don't have simple solutions. Moreover, every generation has its struggles granted from on High, and even the best efforts will have a percentage of failure – it's that "free will" thing – in defiance of even the best conditions. But if we focus on these three points above, we will provide our future generations with the best opportunity to succeed. Secular America in the sixties famously exploded when the nation's youth were frustrated and disillusioned; we need to insure that our Jewish communities don't experience a similar phenomenon. The key, it seems to me, is that if our generation – the parents – can fulfill the above three needs, we will reduce the "at risk" children to a very small number.

I am confident that there are many figures in the contemporary Jewish world that "get it." Rabbi Yakov Horowitz of Project YES, for example, continuously writes and speaks about the real issues; so I do believe that "help is on the way." As always, the solutions come from the problems themselves, and out of the crisis will sprout improvements and new visions that will serve our future generations. I only hope that it all happens sooner rather than later.

21 Adar (II) Links - כא אדר ב

(Picture by A. Black)

Mystical Paths: Decisions

Dixie Yid: Handling A Loss of Motivation

Lazer Beams: The Sword on Israel's Jugular

A Fire Burns in Breslov: The Mystery of the Red Heifer

The Muqata: Eliyahu's Cup

Against Conformity

A person who is fit for true fear of heaven, for piety and holiness, must know that it is utterly impossible to be like the average man. Instead, he must toil to keep hold of his unique character.

(Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook)

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Question & Answer With Dixie Yid - The Lego Castle Phenomenon

(Picture courtesy of

A Simple Jew asks:

In our e-mail correspondence you indicated that you too have experienced the "lego castle phenomenon" in regards to your learning. After the thrill of starting something new slowly wears off have you found it to be difficult to maintain a daily learning regimen?

Dixie Yid answers:

For sure. I would say that one the whole, my "self motivation" for my learning regimen lasted about 3 and a half years. At the beginning, as crazy as my schedule seems to outsiders, it was not terribly hard. My basic feeling was and is that I was aware that since I was unable to learn at night (before law school this was for motivational reasons/family obligations and after law school started it was because of classes), I had no choice but to learn in the early mornings. I have to work during the day, I can't learn any significant amount at night, so the only way I'm going to be able to keep up any kind of serious learning seder would have to be early in the morning. I felt like my choice of schedule was b'leis breira, that I had no choice.

However, the feeling of learning with my chevrusas when virtually no one else in the world was up was a great feeling. That feeling of specialness of what I was doing and when really kept me going for a long time. However, like you said with regard to the "lego castle phenomenon," that feeling of newness can only take you so far.

Recently, it has become exceedingly difficult to get myself up in the mornings for my regular morning seder. So I recently spoke with my rebbe about it. His main advice to me in our brief conversation was that when I feel that I have no "self-motivation" for doing things, he said that the main avodah in such a time is Bitul because Hashem is preparing me for something big.

He said that there's no such thing as "self-motivation." It's an illusion. Everything comes from Hashem so a lack of "self-motivation" is really Hashem's way of telling you that you should realize that none of "your" motivation, to begin with, was your own! It came only from Hashem.

Now, Hashem is emptying you out so that you will realize that everything that you can do is from Him and so you will say to yourself; "Hashem, I was never the source of my own will-power and motivation to begin with. Just as You gave it to me, You have taken it away. I know that I have nothing and am nothing on my own. You took my will from me so I simply won't have it until You decide to give it to me again."

This avodah of Bitul is the main task for a person in my situation, where the "self-motivation" is waning. I think he's saying that the answer is to accept the fact that my motivation in the past is not due to my own powers to begin with and that the only way I will get "my" motivation back in the future is to daven daily before learning and before going to bed at night that I recognize that Hashem is the source of motivation and that I ask him to grant me motivation to get up in the morning and to learn energetically.

The Safe Way

There are many ways to approach Hashem, but they are all dangerous. The only safe way is through the Torah.

(Kotzker Rebbe)

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Guest Posting By Rabbi Tal Zwecker - Jewish Meditation

(Picture by Viton)

"Hisbodedus (Seclusion and Meditation) is one of the greatest among the lofty character traits. It is the path of the greatest righteous Tzadikim and through this very medium the prophets achieved revelation.

It is divided into two categories: external and internal hisbodedus. The purpose of external hisbodedus [or seclusion of the body] is to reach a level of internal hisbodedus [or meditation and seclusion of the mind] which is the top rung of the ladder of revelation. And more so it itself is revelation."

Rabbeinu Avraham Maimonidies son of the Rambam – Sefer Hamispik leOvdei Hashem

Hisbodedus means both self seclusion and self isolation in a physical literal sense and in a mental spiritual capacity as well. In the latter it leads to isolation of the mind through meditation leading to levels of receptiveness akin to revelation, Divine intuition (ruach hakodesh) and in times past even prophecy. In the former its purpose is to aid introspection. It seems clear from the sources that this method is as ancient as the patriarchs and the prophets; it has filtered on through Talmudic times to our own as well. Somehow along the way this very important mussar tool seems to have been overlooked or cast aside by the masses.

It has fallen into an obscurity as the domain of those few who searched and found it.

However this tool is a powerful key to understand just how much can be accomplished and how close one can come to a deep personal relationship with the Almighty. It is an important tool for repentance, deep introspection and character development.

As stated above there seem to be four possible objectives or purposes to using hisbodedus (the third really leading to the fourth.

They are:

1. Seclusion from man and society to help character trait development and self perfection.

2. Seclusion for the purpose of humbling oneself to Hashem and repenting before Him, often through personal prayer.

3. Seclusion in order to isolate oneself, block out distraction as a preparation for meditation.

4. Isolating the mind in actual meditation to reach a level of expanded consciousness, merit revelation and a level akin to prophecy.

If we were to begin with a simple practical meditation we could sit down, relax in a quiet comfortable position like sitting in our favorite chair or on the couch.

Make sure you have reviewed our summary and that there is nothing to disturb you or distract you for 20 minutes or so.

Begin by visualizing in your minds eye a ladder. It's an ordinary wooden ladder, the kind you might have in the garage or could pick up in your local hardware store, except that this ladder reaches up to the heavens and beyond.

It has four rungs to it:

Seclusion from man and society. This is the first step which you have just taken by secluding yourself in privacy to meditate and avoid distraction.

Seclusion for humbling yourself through prayer. Do this now reach out to G-d in prayer. You might introduce yourself and explain why you haven't spoken out loud to G-d this way before. You might discuss why you wish to climb this ladder or how hard it is for you. Any discussion is good. You might wish to do this for a week or two. Mentally stepping from the first to the second rung on this ladder and going no further till you are ready.

Once you feel ready climb the third rung and you are preparing for meditation. Clear your mind and relax. Depict yourself on the third rung if the ladder. You might wish to use a tool for help. If visualization in your mind's eye is too distracting try using the four letter name of Hashem as its written in the Torah or Siddur as a ladder. Ascend from one letter to the next. This sight tool is permissible in Halacha and is one of the few things one is allowed to see and meditate on while praying to Hashem.

After contemplation of Hashem's name or another meditation on G-d you can now attempt to climb the fourth rung. Before you do so, repent and confess your sins. Immerse in the mikva if possible that day. Dress in clean appropriate attire. Try doing this at night closer to midnight when your mind is clear and free of distractions. Make sure you are free of negative character traits to the best of your ability. It may help to study a mussar work such as Mesillas Yesharim of the Ramchal, or Chovos HaLevavos, or Reishis Chochma. These we shall see are some of Rav Chaim Vital's (the Arizal's foremost disciple) pieces of advice.

When you are ready to ascend the fourth rung and expand your consciousness the next lessons will become more relevant. We will discuss this final rung in the ladder at the end of this series,G-d willing.

Rabbi Tal Zwecker's blog on Jewish meditation can be seen here.

Machon Be'er Mayim Chaim has many future projects including: Degel Machaneh Ephaim in English, Kedushas Levi in English, and Sefer Hisbodedus among many others. If you believe in spreading Torah & Chassidus in English please make your US, Canadian or Israeli tax deductible contributions to:

Mosdos Cleveland
11 Rechov Har Sinai
Ra'anana, Israel

Include a USA/Israeli check payable to Mosdos Cleveland. Canadian: Shikun Cleveland. Please write in the memo section which project you are sponsoring.

What Are You Doing This Year?

(Picture by S. Buchanan)

Aside from the physical preparations of your home for Pesach, what preparations are you making to enhance your seder or understanding and appreciation of the yom tov this year?

19 Adar (II) Links - יט אדר ב

(Picture by A. Martin)

Dixie Yid: The Area of Our Greatest Weakness

A Fire Burns in Breslov: And Walk Humbly With Hashem, Your G-d

Crown Are you related to the famous Rebbe?

A Simple Jew: Sam Maves

After Bar Mitzva

After a boy becomes bar mitzva and starts putting on tefillin, he feels a surge of excitement of kedusha. If he maintains this enthusiasm for Torah and mitzvos, he can attain the loftiest heights of scholarship and piety. But as he grows older, his fervor cools off, and the youthful exhilaration of his adolescence gradually fades away. As a grown man, he has to work hard to keep a small trace of the fire of devotion to Hashem alive.

Knowing man's weakness, Hashem mercifully sends great tzaddikim down to this world, men with sublime souls who are inspired with a burning love of Hashem and the Jewish people. Klal Yisroel was given the mitzva to cling to the Torah sages and tzaddikim. When a person travels to the tzaddik of his time, establishing a spiritual bond with him, he is uplifted by the tzaddik's holiness and idealism. The ecstasy of his visit with the tzaddik invigorates him and strengthens his emuna, helping him to maintain a high level of devotion that lasts until his next visit.

(Ma'or Vashemesh)

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Guest Posting By Rabbi Dovid Sears - Two Melaveh Malkah Stories

(Picture courtesy of

The Zohar states in the name of the “Book of Adam” that there is a certain soul which descends to this world and dons a human form, and this is Eliyahu ha-Novi / Elijah the Prophet. He ascends to heaven in a whirlwind, exchanging the physical body for a spiritual one, and interacts with the angels; then he returns to this lower plane in the guise of men (Zohar II, 197a). He attends every bris milah (at least in spirit) and may appear as a Torah scholar or laborer, Jew or gentile, to reward us for a good deed, or to teach us the ways of wisdom -- or to correct our behavior, as many stories in Tanna Devei Eliyahu attest. Thus, we should all keep a lookout for Eliyahu ha-Novi in our personal lives, even if we know that we are unworthy of wondrous revelations.

Eliyahu is also the harbinger of the Moshiach, which is why we are accustomed to speak of Eliyahu on Motza’ei Shabbos; for Chazal taught us that the Moshiach will not arrive on Erev Shabbos, but he may arrive immediately upon the termination of the holy day. Here are two first-hand Eliyahu ha-Novi stories – well, at least, they might be – which we can tell while the nights are not too short and it is still “Melaveh Malkah Season.”

Elijah Comes For Shaloshudes

One Shabbos in the summer of 1980, as the sun disappeared behind the trees, a group of middle-aged and elderly Jews sat with the Rabbi of our little Orthodox shul in Connecticut to partake of "shaloshudes," the third Shabbos meal. I was the only person there under thirty (although by only a year). As the Rabbi began to sing “Askinu se’udasa,” we heard a commotion in the hall nearby. I went to the door to see what was going on, and observed the elderly Mrs. Goldstein (name changed to protect the record), one of the five star generals of the synagogue's corps of volunteers, remonstrating with a tramp who had came to the shul asking for food. The stooped, ragged man looked like he might have walked out of a John Steinbeck novel: a real old-time hobo.

"Go away!" the diminutive but fierce Protector of the Kitchen commanded. "Don't your own people have food for you? This is a synagogue! Go to the church instead!"

The shabby old man turned and shuffled away, and I returned to the table, deeply troubled, as the Rabbi continued to sing the melodies of shaloshudes with those gathered around him.

"Look at all of this food," I interrupted. "Couldn't we spare something for a hungry old man?" I had hitch-hiked around the country a few times during my teenage years, and knew what it feels like to be hungry and without a roof over your head.

"Don't worry," the Rabbi assured me, "he won't starve."

"Maybe he's Eliyahu ha-Novi,” I suggested. "Doesn't he often come looking like a ragged beggar? Maybe we just turned away Eliyahu ha-Novi without a crust of bread!"

The Rabbi flinched. Without delay, he poured a cup of wine and made ready to recite the Grace After Meals. "OK, Dovid," he whispered, "we'll go find him in a few minutes, right after Ma'ariv."

So we hastily recited the Grace After Meals, reassembled in the basement minyan room for Ma'ariv, and ten minutes later hastened to the Rabbi's station wagon in search of our mysterious visitor. We drove through all the side streets in the neighborhood until we reached Case Street, near the old City Hall building, where we spied an old man who might have been the same wandering tramp -- although not necessarily -- walking down the hill. However, when we asked if he had come to the synagogue in need of food a little while ago, he snarled at us like a growling dog, and told us to leave him alone.

The old beggar was nowhere to be found. If indeed Eliyahu ha-Novi had come to our shul for herring and crackers, he seemed to have disappeared as mysteriously as he had come. I wouldn’t see him again for nearly a decade.

Our First Visit to Breslov

In Elul of 1988, still before glasnost and the rebirth of the Uman Rosh Hashanah gathering, my family and I were part of a small group that visited Reb Nachman's grave site, as well as other kivrei tzaddikim in the Ukraine. Then we continued onward to Eretz Yisrael to spend Rosh Hashanah in Meron. The trip was action-packed, and would require many pages to describe. However, one memorable incident took place in the village of Breslov.

Our Intourist bus arrived just before sundown (note: the same time of day as in the previous story) and parked at the foot of a steep hill, atop which was the old Jewish cemetery where Reb Noson, Reb Aharon the Rov, and other Breslever Chassidim were buried. A light rain was falling, so some of us donned umbrellas and rain coats, Rabbi Symcha Bergman being particularly well prepared; others (like me) had packed their rain gear in their suitcases and therefore left the bus defenseless against the elements. Rabbi Shlomo Goldman had fallen ill and was feverish, so he stayed behind; knowing the resolute Reb Shlomo a little better now, I realize in retrospect that he must have been in pretty bad shape not to go. I asked my wife Shira to stay in the bus and keep warm and dry, and headed up the steep muddy path. The Ukrainian blotteh (muck) proved to be as slippery as ice, and after falling once, I climbed up the grassy shoulder of the deeply rutted dirt road and slowly made my way past several decrepit farms, one of which housed two Volvos in a covered cattle stall made of planks. Finally we came to the crest of the hill and the stone steps marking what had once been the gate to the cemetery.

However, we now faced a new problem. Our tour guide, Reb Shlomo Fried, a”h, although a seasoned Breslover who had visited these holy sites several times before, couldn't remember where Reb Noson's kever was. In the past he had entered from a different direction, on the other side of the hill; this approach was unfamiliar to him. We wandered around, searching here and there among the overgrown tombstones, as the light began to fade.

I was standing under Rabbi Noson Maimon's umbrella feeling bereft when suddenly Shira appeared, slightly bedraggled but undaunted. I couldn't believe it!

"What are you doing?" I asked. "I thought you were going to stay in the bus and keep out of the rain!"

"Not me," she retorted, her faced stained with raindrops and flushed from exertion. "I didn't take this trip just to sit in a bus! If you’re going to Reb Noson, so am I!"

This was so moving to me that I was at a loss for words. We both were sharing the chivalrous Rabbi Maimon's umbrella, when another newcomer appeared - someone who had definitely not been on the bus with us. He was a spry old man in his sixties or maybe even his seventies, dressed like a medieval European peasant, with wispy gray hair, clean-shaven, wearing a ragged brown tunic with a thick rope for a belt, a short-brimmed cap that didn’t say “Kangol” on the back, and baggy pants tucked into high boots that almost reached his knees. He leaned on a tall staff and smiled courteously. I gestured questioningly and said "Reb Noson," not knowing one word of Ukrainian to explain further, but no matter - still smiling, the old man nodded in affirmation, pointed down the hill with his cudgel, and quickly ran ahead of us, leeading us straight to our elusive destination.

I tried to pay our deliverer, but he refused any compensation for what he evidently considered simple human decency. However, I pressed a few dollars into his hands, touching my heart to indicate that I understood his feelings but wanted to give him something just to express our gratitude. In the end he nodded his thanks, and hastily disappeared, as we began to recite the psalms of Tikkun ha-Klalli. However, even today I can’t help but wonder: was the old man really the Ukrainian peasant he appeared to be - or was this my second encounter with Eliyahu ha-Novi? If so, I hope he forgave me and my fellow mispallelim for that rude shaloshudes back in Connecticut long ago.

“Make us rejoice, O God, in Eliyahu ha-Novi, Your servant, and in the kingship of the House of Dovid, Your Moshiach, speedily in our days!”

A New Book By Rabbi Yakov Horowitz

Nurturing Georgie and Friends

(Picture courtesy of

Received via e-mail from Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen:

I live in Bayit Vegan, Jerusalem, and I have four parakeets that are temporarily living in my apartment. One of them has developed a pious vocabulary, but before I tell you his particular story, I need to tell you how these parakeets came to me. My good friend, Hershel Zvi Chernofsky, was living in another neighborhood of Jerusalem, and one summer, he went to visit family and friends in Canada. He was unable to find someone who would take care of his parakeets when he was away, so I volunteered. Hershel was supposed to return before Rosh Hashana of that year, but due to illness in his family, he had to extend his stay in Montreal. In the meanwhile, the parakeets are still with me, and I am trying to give them proper care and nurturing.

The oldest parakeet is “Georgie” – the name that Hershel gave him when the parakeet was still a baby. When Georgie was very young, Hershel, who is a teacher of English and skilled with languages, was pleased to discover that Georgie learned how to say, “You're so cute!” Hershel therefore taught him a few other phrases.

A week before Georgie and friends were to move into my apartment, I decided to have a humorous “heart-to heart” talk with Hershel about Georgie’s vocabulary. I reminded Hershel that Bayit Vegan is a very spiritual neighborhood, and I therefore requested that he teach Georgie to say some words that would be more appropriate for Bayit Vegan. Hershel asked, “What do you suggest?” I replied, “Teach him to say, “Good Shabbos!” Hershel promised me that he would try. Although my name is Yosef, Hershel occasionally calls me by the nickname, Yossi, and on the day the parakeets moved in, Georgie called out:

“Good Shabbos, Yossi!”

After Hershel left, I realized that I had a new mission. I have a Master’s Degree in Education, specializing in Jewish culture; thus, I felt that I should continue to teach Georgie to say other spiritual phrases. For example, during the Festival of Succos, I taught him to say, Chag Samayach – A Joyous Festival. Some of the other phrases that he learned – mostly Hebrew – are the following:

Simcha – Joy

L'Chayim – To Life!

Zei Gezunt – Be Well! (Yiddish)

Gevaldig – Great! (Yiddish)

Baruch Hashem – Blessed is Hashem

Gan Eden – the Garden of Eden

I was especially proud when he also learned how to say, “Learn Torah!” I was once in the middle of writing a Torah lesson, and feeling very tired, I decided to take a rest. Suddenly, Georgie yelled out, “Learn Torah! Learn Torah!” I immediately felt a resurgence of strength and went back to writing.

Georgie has great enthusiasm for learning, and it seems that the lessons I give him are nurturing his spirit. For example, whenever I approach the cage to give him a lesson, he jumps up to greet me, even if he is in the middle of eating! He then inclines his head to listen to the latest lesson.

This pious parakeet can remind us that true piety must include good character traits. For example, when anyone waves to him, Georgie will lift up one or both wings and wave back. You can therefore understand why both adults and children love Georgie. In general, he is warm and friendly to human beings and to his fellow birds.

During the songs at the Shabbos table, the birds chirp along, and Georgie occasionally adds to the Shabbos delight by crying out, “Good Shabbos!” I am therefore grateful to the Creator for the inspiration and pleasure that my feathered friends give me, and I have them in mind when I sing the following words from a traditional song which is sung at the Shabbos table:

“Praises shall I prepare morning and evening, to You, O Holy God, Who created all life: holy angels and the children of humankind, beasts of the field, and birds of the sky.” (Kah Ribon Olam)

Before Georgie and my other feathered friends go to sleep at night, I sing to them a special song which has the following blessing:

“Be well, my little friends, be well. May Hashem bless you and protect you, my friends, and may you all be well. May Hashem bring us together once again on this earth in Gan Eden. ”

When I sing these words, I remember that all creatures dwelled in “shalom” – peace and harmony – in the Garden of Eden. I therefore feel a special kinship with my little friends, for my ancestor and their ancestor were neighbors in the Garden; moreover, I long for the day when we will once again dwell together in the Garden. This longing is based on the following prophecy concerning the messianic age and the spreading of the knowledge of Hashem:

"The wolf will live with the sheep, and the leopard will lie down with the kid; and a calf, a lion whelp and a fatling together, and a young child will lead them. A cow and bear will graze and their young will lie down together; and a lion, like cattle, will eat hay. A suckling will play by a viper’s hole; and a newly weaned child will stretch his hand towards an adder's lair. They will neither injure nor destroy in all of My sacred mountain; for the earth will be filled with knowledge of Hashem as water covering the sea bed." (Isaiah 11:6-9)

Before the arrival of the messianic age, Georgie and his friends – who were raised in bird cages – would find it difficult to survive if they were returned to the wild, as studies have shown that birds raised in captivity lose some of the instincts and skills that they need in order to be protected from birds of prey and other dangers in the wild. This situation will change, however, with the arrival of the messianic age of shalom, for when the earth will be filled with knowledge of Hashem, creatures will no longer prey on one another, “and a lion, like cattle, will eat hay.” This is a return to the shalom of the Garden of Eden, for as the Malbim, a noted biblical commentator, explains, the spreading of the knowledge of Hashem will affect even the animals who prey on one another; thus, their nature will change. Georgie and his friends will therefore be able to leave their cages and enter into a renewed and elevated world, where no creature will ever harm them.

And just as they will be liberated from the confines of their cages, so too, will we human beings be liberated from the “cages” that confine us and prevent us from fulfilling our spiritual potential. In this new age, our souls will soar high like the birds of the sky, for “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of Hashem as water covering the sea bed.”

In the spirit of the above prophecy, I would like to give all of you the following blessing:

“Be well, my friends, be well. May Hashem bless you and protect you, my friends, and may you all be well. May Hashem bring us together once again on this earth in Gan Eden. ”

Learning In Order To Teach

If person has the intention to teach what he learns, Hashem gives him the ability to understand even more of his learning.

(Degel Machaneh Ephraim)

Monday, March 24, 2008

Question & Answer With Yitz Of A Waxing Wellspring - Bridging The Gap Between Thought & Action

(Picture courtesy of

A Simple Jew asks:

The Degel Machaneh Ephraim taught,

"Sometimes a person can be thinking good thoughts and he is cleaving and connecting to Hashem. But the thoughts are easily interrupted and forgotten. This is because he has not yet brought them out through speech or action."

Can you think of examples in your life where a holy thought remained in the realm of ideas because you did not act upon it or even discuss your desire to act upon it with another person? Also, has the process of writing blog postings ever helped you bridge this gap between thought and action?

Yitz of A Waxing Wellspring answers:

First off, I've always sort of held the opposite view, I fear that whenever I write down what I'm thinking about, it empties out my head. Once the idea has been written, I feel I cannot really think about it anymore, it has been concretized when it leaves my head. Perhaps for this very reason the Degel encourages expressing holy thoughts so they don't get lost if something else were to distract us.

Rebbe Nachman explains how we need to serve HaShem new every day. No matter what level/understanding we have attained until now, we must serve Him anew, a blank slate waiting to be inspired by HaShem. Contrasting this, Rebbe Nachman also teaches that one can't give over an idea that isn't fully worked through, otherwise one runs a risk of choking one's students on a raw indigestible lesson. He explains that when we give over an idea, we give over our present pnimiyut. This creates a vacuum within us, which sucks in our makifin (that which was previously beyond our ken) so that we can now digest this new loftier understanding. If we pass on this new idea before we have made it pnimi, before we have internalized it, then our students will stumble over makifin that are beyond their ability, and learn in error.

The Noam Elimelech brings down regarding the Akeidah that sometimes our initial thoughts are very holy, but over time, they cool down and lose their initial intensity. For this reason Avraham Avinu chopped the trees that would be used for the Akeidah right away after receiving the commandment. He knew it would take a few days journey and he wanted to enter into the mitzwah with this initial complete intensity. [Perhaps this is part of the reason we start to build the Sukkah on motzaei Yom Kippur.]

I believe the Baal HaTanya mentions that a child's ability to think conscious thoughts doesn't really develop until they learn how to talk. By speaking they allow themselves to hear what is going on within themselves, and in this way they may become aware of the inner world of their mind.

When we tie these lessons together, perhaps we can understand the depth of the Degel Machaneh Ephraim a little better. It seems to me there are three stages to developing an idea, perhaps this relates to the quote of the Degel Machaneh Ephraim which you quoted recently on A Simple Jew:

In the beginning a person needs to learn the simple meaning before he can delve into the mysteries of the Torah. Afterwards, he should return and seek out the simple truth.

First, When we are inspired with a particularly holy thought we should give it the physical vessel of expression in this world, as soon as we can, like Avraham Avinu by the Akeidah. In this way we don't lose the initial excitement that comes with this thought.

However, once we've phrased the holy thought vocally, it awakens us to the depth of that thought as well as provides it with some physical being. Then we can ponder and puzzle over it until we have totally internalized the thought and it has become a part of us. At this point we can properly serve HaShem through this new understanding.

Finally, we then share this thought with others putting it into new and simpler words. In this way we clean the slate of our mind to encounter and relate to the next holy thought.

Despite my original inclination, I've found that what I write up in my blog has a much more lasting impact on me, and it comprises the majority of what I remember from my studies. Whereas the ideas I've kept inside in order not to lose them have simply vanished over time, or become indecipherable.

I know your question was more about experiences, but for better or worse, HaShem made me a person whose thoughts and understandings are his most cherished experiences.

17 Adar (II) Links - יז אדר ב

(Painting by Yechiel Offner)

Shturem: Purim in Crown Heights

HNN: כ"ק האדמו"ר מסערט ויזניץ' שליט"א בקריאת המגילה

A Simple Jew: Parshas Shemini

Dixie Yid:
Big Kiddush Hashem by Frum Yid

With Your Friends

Talk over spiritual matters with your friends. Each Jew has his own unique good point. Thus when two friends have a discussion, each can benefit from the other's good point. Sometimes your friend's good point may shine to you during a conversation that is outwardly about mundane topics – because at times even mundane conversations may give rise to new ideas and inspire you spiritually. At times a person's good point may be veiled – and the words of the conversation become a kind of clothing for it.

By discussing spiritual matters regularly with your friends you will all be able to benefit from each other's good points. This will enable you to break the “foreskin of the heart” – the lusts and desires that break a person's heart – so that you are filled with holy desire for Hashem.

(Rebbe Nachman of Breslov)

Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Power Of "Amen"

Received via e-mail from a reader:

A woman was niftar and left a house filled with yesoimim. The father, as a zechus to the mother's neshamah, asked the kids in the house -- the yesoimim -- never say a berachah without someone answering Amen. One day, a daughter was home alone. She poured herself a drink and then realized that nobody was home to answer Amen. Therefore, she poured back the drink and waited two hours for a family member to come home. She then said a berachah and drank.

That night the deceased mother came to her in a dream and told her daughter that her restraint of not drinking without an answer of "Amen" caused a ra'ash in shamayim -- and that a girl in her class who had been diagnosed with a terminal illness would now be cured.

The girl awoke and shared her dream with her father. The father then went to the diagnosed girl's father and asked if his daughter was ill. Shocked, the father asked, "How do you know this? Nobody knows!" The father of the orphan told the father of the classmate the unusual dream. The other father replied that his daughter was to begin chemotherapy that day. He then hurried to his Rebbe, who said that the girl should not start chemotherapy, but go for a new test. They did so -- and the results were that the disease was gone, B"H!

This story has been verified by Rav Yaakov Meir Schechter of Yerushalayim.

A Book Recommendation From Chabakuk Elisha: The Soloveitchik Heritage: A Daughter's Memoir

(Click on the image above)

Friday, March 21, 2008

"To Be Astronauts, And Proud Of It"

(Painting by Alan Bean)

Chabakuk Elisha: Purim

The Missing Sense - Achashverosh & Music

Me'am Loez, Esther 1:6:

Achashverosh made a banquet that gave pleasure to four of the five senses. The sense of taste was stimulated by the food and drink. The sense of sight was delighted with the beautiful hangings and decorations. The sense of smell was satisfied by the perfume of the garden's blossoms. The sense of touch was gratified by the fine couches provided for each guest.

The only sense that was not provided for was the sense of hearing. Although the king had the finest musicians, he did not provide music at his banquet. People have different tastes in music, and it is impossible for those who do not enjoy it to shut it out.

Furthermore, music can bring a person to a very high spiritual state. Sometimes it can bring a person to a level where the soul almost departs from his body, and he enters into a lofty mystical realm. Since Achashverosh prepared the banquet especially to make the Jews transgress the Torah, such spiritual edification was the last thing he desired.

Shalach Manos In A Melted Record Album Basket

Received via e-mail from a friend:

This shalach manos contains:

Rolling Rock Beer
Fruit Roll-Up
Challah Roll
Rock Candy

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Guest Posting By Rabbi Shlomo Slatkin - Purim In The Rebbe’s Court

I sometimes see myself as a bridge between the past and the future. In connecting with my own roots I am also reviving a new transmission of mesorah for my children. Yet it is not just about nusach hatefillah or how I put on tefillin, etc… It isn’t even about my great great grandfather Benzion’s (a Koidenover Chassid who never made it to America) Megillas Esther that I have. The greatest impression I have had in spending time with the Rebbe, even more than learning old minhagim or singing old nigunim, has been in the experiential realm. To experience a Shabbos, a Pesach Seder, a tekias Shofar, a davening…Davening is not the same. Shabbos and Yom Tov are not the same. I have been blown away by the intensity and the passion for Avodas Hashem that I have witnessed, and I have come to see myself and what is possible in a different light.

I have fond memories of the time I spent by the Rebbe when I was in Eretz Yisroel. I experienced every Yom Tov in Koidenov besides Shavuos and Purim. While I have a special connection with Shavuos (for reasons I will not go into here), Purim was the one yom tov that I have felt a harder time connecting to. As my kids were growing, I found myself lacking a “memory” of the type of Purim I wanted to create for them. I felt that until I could experience Purim by the Rebbe, something was lacking. I did not have what to draw upon, some internal picture from which to derive chizuk. As I had not been to Eretz Yisroel in seven years, I was itching to go back, and with a milestone birthday approaching, I felt that last Purim was the time. With my wife’s brocha, I embarked alone on a weeklong trip to Bnei Brak.

There were so many memories: Taanis Esther, going to the Rebbe’s mother’s grave on her yohrtzeit, Parshas Zachor, Krias haMegillah, the Purim tish, and of course Yerushalayim. So much had changed in 7 years. Young boys were now married men with children. There was a new Koidenover yeshiva. A complete revival had taken place. Old nigunim were now being sung again. Shalosh Seudos was now in the dark. Koidenov was much different than when I last visited, though much more similar to how it was hundred and seven years ago.

Of all the incredible experiences I had during my stay, one of the most memorable has to have been hearing the Rebbe leyn the Megillah. I recall learning the Kav haYashar (perek 99) about the awesome kavanos of the brocha al mikra megillah. It has always been somewhat of a letdown to hear that brocha every year after learning what the Kav haYashar writes. However, this year when I heard the Rebbe make that brocha, it was clear that he had something in mind. He was jumping up and down and saying it b’kol ra’ash gadol. It was worth coming just to see his intensity. When he leyned the Megillah it was an avodah. He wasn’t just reading a story that happened a long time ago. The recurring theme throughout this visit as well as all of my interactions with the Rebbe has been to view mitzvos in an entirely different light. It is not about going through the motions, discharging an obligation, or following “tradition.” Mitzvos, especially Shabbos and Yom Tov, are transformative and must be approached with care and yiras shamayim. This is my greatest hope for my children, to find Yiddishkeit meaningful and full of vitality. Instead of “having to sit through the Megillah” bored out of our minds, chas v’shalom, to understand what is really going on in the spiritual realms. Life becomes entirely different.

So as I prepare for Purim and we get ready to make our first seudah ever at home, I am excited to share with my family what I experienced. And while I missed spending Purim with them last year, I now have something to pass on to them which is much more meaningful than even Zeide Benzion’s megillah. A freilechen Purim.

Experience a glimpse of Purim 5767 in Koidenov by listening to this recording of the Purim tish, full of nigunim and divrei Torah (Yiddish). The three and a half hour recording can be downloaded here.

Rabbi Shlomo Slatkin's website can be seen here.

"With Royal Garments"

(Picture courtesy of Sofer of Tzfat)

Degel Machaneh Ephraim, Drash L'Purim:

ומרדכי יצא מלפני המלך בלבוש מלכות

"And Mordecai left the king's presence with royal garments..." (Esther 8:15)

A person standing in prayer who forgets Hashem's presence cannot be considered as if he is standing before the King. Mordechai, however, was a tzaddik and when the Megillah says that he left the king's presence, it notes that he was wearing the royal garments; the garments that were a constant reminder of the King.

דורש טוב לעמו ודובר שלום לכל זרעו

Mordechai judged the Jewish people favorably. He constantly sought out and found the good that was within them and spoke to them in a peaceful manner.

13 Adar (II) Links - תענית אסתר - יג אדר ב

(Picture courtesy of

Zchus Avos Yogen Aleinu: Taanis Esther, Shabbos Zachor and Purim

Zchus Avos Yogen Aleinu: Segula of Tanis Esther

Sfas ha-Nachal: Drinking on Purim - A Comparison of the Sources

Mipeninei Noam Elimelech

As the Rebbe of all Rebbes and the recognized third-generation leader of Chassidus, the Noam Elimelech is revered for his holiness and brilliance. His profound sefer of Torah elucidations has been diligently studied for centuries. But how many can truly understand his lofty teachings? In this groundbreaking, first-ever English rendition of selections from the Noam Elimelech's classic sefer, Rabbi Tal Moshe Zwecker has opened the world of chassidus - the world of the Noam Elimelech to the English speaking public. With essays based on the weekly parashah and various appendices, including his famous "tzeitel katan" and his stirring "prayer before prayer", every one will be deeply moved and inspired by this important and profound work.

Elevating Thought

(Picture courtesy of

וְהַכֹּהֵן--הַמַּקְרִיב, אֶת-עֹלַת אִישׁ: עוֹר הָעֹלָה אֲשֶׁר הִקְרִיב, לַכֹּהֵן לוֹ יִהְיֶה

"And the kohen who offers a person's olah-offering - the hide of the olah-offering that he offered, to that kohen, his shall it be." (Vayikra 7:8)

Degel Machaneh Ephraim, Parshas Tzav:

As a sefer Torah has a mantle, a person's thoughts also have a garment to cover them. I heard from my grandfather, the Baal Shem Tov, that each of a person's thoughts contain a complete world. After a person hears words of mussar from a tzaddik, takes them to heart, and acts on them by improving himself, his bad thoughts turn to good thoughts. When the Torah says that the kohen offers a person's olah-offering, this means that the kohen (i.e. the tzaddik) extracts all of the bad thoughts and elevates the good thoughts by bringing them to Hashem. The bad thoughts that initially adhered to the person's good thoughts are considered to be the hide of the olah-offering.


Esther was attractive to everyone who saw her. The fact that she was quite unhappy with her situation dimmed neither her beauty nor her personality. Esther's appeal was universal, nor merely ethnic. People from countries throughout the kingdom automatically assumed that she was one of their own. Every tongue in the palace was filled with praise for her.

Esther was able to attain this because she had a deep inner love for all humanity. If every man was created in Hashem's image, she must love every man as she loved Hashem. Even when she became queen, she was humble. She treated even the lowest commoner like a long-lost member of her family. She would ask about each one's welfare and sympathize with his troubles. This in itself made everyone feel comfortable with her and treat her as a countryman.

(Me'am Lo'ez)

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Eizer L'Shabbos - Purim 5768 / 2008

Eizer L'Shabbos Purim Campaign

A Conversation With Chabakuk Elisha - Death As An Illusion

A Simple Jew asks:

I noticed that Degel Machaneh Ephraim contains an idea that is remarkably similar to the story you shared from the Beis Yisroel of Ger. In Parshas Tzav, the Degel wrote that in the future there will no longer be any death and that a higher consciousness will allow us to see that the dead are really living.

Do you think the Degel is actually saying that death is only an illusion?

He wrote:

כי יהיה הכל בהתגלות מוחין עילאין אשר הם חיים

Chabakuk Elisha answers:

It's a longer conversation (not for one foot), but it depends on the definition of the word illusion…

A Simple Jew responds:

Perhaps it means that there are different definitions of death. To us, it means that the person is no longer "here". The Baal Shem Tov, however, once said,

"Death is nothing but the passage from one corner of the universe to another."

Using this analogy, when a person walks from one room into another he is no longer "there" in the first room. And, at the time a person dies he goes from one world to the next. He doesn't die, meaning that he ceases to exist, he is just no longer present in his previous location.

Chabakuk Elisha answers:

Definitely true, but that's not all there is to the mashul.

Use of a dream as a mashul needs to be properly understood. If we translate a dream as "something that seemed to, but didn't actually, take place" we would destroy the entire concept of Torah and mitzvos. For this reason I think (I could be wrong though) that the mashul of the dream should be understood as follows:

Dreams are a real experience - dreams can be felt deeply and we truly experience them. Everything that happens in dream is palpable in that "dream realm" -- where the emotions of pain, joy, fear, frustration or hilarity exists in a real way, and may very well have impact on our existence when we are awake. What changes when we wake up is that we find out that it's not the only reality, and the course that was set in that dream is reversible, or need not be continued, etc. The significance being that dreams are not final in relation to our awake state.

So, of course you are right in quoting the Baal Shem Tov's remarks that point to out continued existence after leaving this world, and in addition, I think, the dream mashul of the Beis Yisroel & the remarks of the Degel illustrate our relationship with reality.

12 Adar (II) Links - יב אדר ב

(Picture courtesy of

Mystical Paths: 2nd Attempt on the Tzadik of Meah Shearim!!!

A Waxing Wellspring: knowing who you are

Revach L'Neshama: Sending Mishloach Manos Before Purim

HNN: חתונת בית גור בתענית אסתר: תפילה כללית למען עם ישראל

Conquering Amalek

The main strategy of the klippah of Amalek is to attack the weak by convincing them that there is no hope, G-d forbid. However, by finding the good point within yourself, even when you seem to be in a state of spiritual decline, you conquer Amalek.

(Reb Nosson of Breslov)

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

My Hidden Pleasure

(Picture courtesy of

Until very recently, I had a hidden pleasure. I would derive a certain superior satisfaction when I viewed another parent acting out of anger because it showed me that I was not the only one who did such. If a parent really lost their temper at their child's misbehavior, I would arrogantly think to myself, "Wow, I might not be a tzaddik gamur when it comes to controlling my temper, but I am certainly not as bad as THAT guy!!"

Commuting home one Erev Shabbos, I stood on the subway platform and waited for my train to arrive. A little girl wandered over near the edge and then was suddenly yanked back by her mother. Leaning over with a bright red face and eyes bulging, the mother quietly screamed at the little girl for what seemed to be an inordinate amount of time; longer than what would seem necessary to explain that what she had just done was extremely dangerous.

The mother ended her tirade and stood up as her blood continued to boil. The little girl's eyes were now full of tears after having been subjected to this verbal onslaught. It was impossible for me to derive any inner "pleasure" after witnessing this scene and I suddenly came to the realization how I had been wrong on previous occasions. I recalled a quote I had read earlier that day from Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach:

"If I became the chief rabbi of Israel, the first decree I would make would be that yelling at wives and children would be a criminal offense."

Perhaps Hashem arranged for me to be on the subway platform at that very moment in order to show me just how wrong I had been with my prior feelings of superiority when another parent lost their composure. Instead of reveling in the parents loss of control, I should have been empathizing with the feelings of the berated child.

11 Adar (II) Links - יא אדר ב

(Picture courtest of Sofer of Tzfat)

Life in Israel: an incident with the Sadigura Rebbe

Modern Uberdox: As heard from R Paysach Krohn...

A Simple Jew:
Purim Links

An Antique Wooden Gragger

"Cursed be Hitler, Cursed be Haman"

(Pictures courtesy of

Under No Duress

Many times, enemies wanted to exterminate the Jews, and they were saved only at the last minute. Of all these miracles, why is only Purim celebrated with a yom tov? There was something special about Purim. Besides being delivered physically, the Jews were also delivered spiritually at this time. They accepted Hashem's Torah wholeheartedly, without any reservations. Seeing the tremendous spiritual renaissance that this miracle produced, the sages felt that it should be commemorated by a special yom tov. Although the Jews accepted the Torah on Shavuous when it was given on Sinai, they were actually under duress at the time. Their lives were in Hashem's hand and they knew it. If they did not accept the Torah, they knew that their graves would be right there in the desert. But on the first Purim the Jews were already victorious, and under no duress. In the midst of their great celebration, they reaffirmed their acceptance of the Torah without reservation.

(Me'am Lo'ez)

Monday, March 17, 2008

Using Igros Kodesh - A Story From Chabakuk Elisha

Chabakuk Elisha commenting on Using Igros Kodesh:

When my third son was born, a rebbe that I was close to was going to be the sandek and I planned to name my son Moshe after one of the sandek's ancestors. The bris, however, was scheduled for the yahrzeit of the Baal haTanya (24 Teves) and I felt that it would be more appropriate to name my son Schneur Zalman. The primary problem was that this rebbe was unhappy about my Chabad interest, and since he was sandek, I felt that I should stick with the name Moshe. I figured that naming my son Schneur Zalman would be perceived as a slap in the face. I considered combining the two names, but the minhag in Chabad is not to mix names of rebbes, so I was hesitant to do that. I would probably have just wimped out and named him Moshe, but my wife wouldn't hear of it - she was adamant that the name include Schenur Zalman.

I was a bit torn, but I had a week to figure out what to do. Thy days went by and the big day got closer, so with two days to go my wife said that we should open an Igros Kodesh and see if the Lubavitcher Rebbe could guide us to a proper resolution. I was hesitant, but after thinking about the reality that I had no way to resolve this I agreed. The letter went something like this:

Regarding your question about what language to use on the matzeiva, my opinion is that you should combine the Lubavitcher nusach and your own community nusach so that the best of both will be included. Furthermore, you should never feel ashamed of your connection with Lubavitch, and there is no reason why you cant be proud of all your affiliations.

So, my wife felt that this was a clear answer to name him Moshe Schenur Zalman, and I pretty much agreed - but was still a little hesitant. The next day (the day before the bris) I was up early and before davening I randomly took out a Likkutei Sichos #7 and opened it up to learn the 24 Teves sicha there, and wouldn't you know it! The entire sicha was about the connection of the name Schenur Zalman and Moshe. I was blown away, and today that's my son's name.


Since I sent this comment as an email to our friend ASJ, and I didnt completely state my position in it, I feel that I should post a clarification:

Conceptually, I'm fine with the use of Igros under the proper circumstances and depending on usage; however, it is often abused and improperly used. Moreover, the Rebbe never promoted it, nor did he advise people to use it when he was gone. The Rebbe explicitly stated that: In times when one cannot ask the Rebbe, they should speak with the Mashpiim and the Rebbe will guide them (“Aseh lecha Rav”). And for this reason there are many Lubavitchers that completely oppose using the Igros in this way. The Igros were not printed as a magic trick – to the contrary, printing the Rebbe’s Igros is so that when you have a dilemma you can look up and read what the Rebbe responded to people in similar situations; that is its intended use. Nevertheless, the Rebbe did say that the Rebbe will find a way to answer us, and I do think that using Igros is one method of trying to find that long as it’s not abused.

But here's the deal:

There are problems with using Igros for guidance. I do think that using Igros has legitimacy (as does any Holy Sefer), but we need to think twice first. Is the specific question or matter one that should be directed to a mashpia, a rabbinic authority or a knowledgeable friend? If so, one shouldn’t use the Igros for that. We need to be self-aware and think twice before taking the Igros route – are we trying to avoid something by it? Is it really the right direction for the specific issue? Like many things, we must be introspective about it first. Some common unfortunate motivations for using Igros this way are:

1. It is often used as an easy way to avoid responsibility.

2. It feeds a certain desire to feel connected with the supernatural (as it feels more mystical & kabbalistic) to open the Igros and get responses from beyond the grave. This is actually very problematic and comes close the issur of nichush (divination).

3. It makes no real demands.

Using Igros for guidance provides the very cool freedom to interpret it however you like. Thus it’s an easy tool to do whatever the heck one may please, and convince one’s-self (and attempt to convince others) that this is what the Rebbe wants – when, of course, a mashpia might tell you something you disagree with

So I think that use of the Igros by opening to a random page for an answer should be used only on rare, select, occasions: Only on occasions that a mashpia or other route wouldn’t really be helpful.

Question & Answer With Chaim Of Life-Of-Rubin - Using Igros Kodesh

(Picture courtesy of

A Simple Jew asks:

Since Gimmel Tammuz there has been a common practice amongst Lubavitchers to consult the Rebbe's letters contained in Igros Kodesh in order to obtain the Rebbe's personalized advice for the present. This is accomplished by a person writing a letter to the Rebbe and randomly choosing one of the many volumes of Igros Kodesh off the bookshelf. Once an individual volume of Igros Kodesh is selected, the person opens up the sefer and puts his letter inside. It is believed that the Rebbe's letter contained on this particular page that the person opened up to not only contains an answer to the person who originally wrote the letter but also to the person who is now attempting to elicit an answer.

Do you personally follow this practice or do you have problems with the practice of using Igros Kodesh in the manner in which it currently is being used?

Chaim answers:

I remember very shortly after Gimmel Tammuz I started hearing more and more people doing this. At the time it was very emotional for people and I think that people were using it sub consciously as a grieving process. I'll be honest with you, at the time I did it a few times also. Although I never got a "personalized" answer.

I'll tell you a funny story. A guy I know use to do it a lot and he once told me "what do you think it means that I keep getting answers pertaining to women?"

So I told him I have no idea - that is weird. Then I asked him "what volume" he was using, what years? He shows it to me and I point out to him that this particular volume contained all the letters that The Rebbe had written to the Shluchos (female emissaries) at the annual Shluchos Convention.

Obviously most people will say that it can't be used as a real method in which to receive an answer. I know that many people still use it, but I don't. I don't see the point. Tragically, The Rebbe is not physically with us anymore and that means we can never truly get a "personalized" response. But there are dozens of volumes of letters from The Rebbe.

It's a beautiful thing, if a person wonders what The Rebbe would say about any topic under the sun, all you have to do is find where he specifically addressed it. You don't have to play silly games. It's all right there, in black and white. Just open the Sefer and read all The Rebbe's Igros. Yes, many times The Rebbe did have different answers for different people. But if you read the context of the letters you can attempt to see why the different reasons applied to different people.

I believe we are lucky that we live in the technological times that we do. There are so many unique ways to gain knowledge. We have almost 50 years worth of teaching of The Rebbe in every way imaginable. We have thousands of hours worth of videos and audios.

But I won't admonish people who do it either. For them that's the way they continue to connect with The Rebbe. It's not easy; The Rebbe was more then just a spiritual leader. He was like a father. We're still painfully mourning Gimmel Tammuz and it's very hard to come to terms with the realization that he isn't physically here to answer us like he used to.

But like I said, he left us with more then enough detailed teachings and it's our job, and the job of our Chabad spiritual mentors and older chassidim to help us decipher what we should do and how we should do it.

10 Adar (II) Links - י אדר ב

(Picture courtesy of

Cosmic-X: Zachor in Merkaz HaRav

A Fire Burns in Breslov: Missed Opportunities

Dixie Yid: One Last Story on Uncovering Hidden Jewish Sparks

Breslov Center: Breslov Teachings On Purim

Beyond Teshuva: The Jerry Seinfeld Method Of Spiritual Growth

The Significance Of 166

Megillas Esther contains 166 verses. This is also the precise number of words in the portion of Amalek (Shemos 17:8-16; Devarim 25:17-19). The Great Hallel (Tehillim 136) also contains 166 words; it is a praise for Hashem's saving us from all our enemies.

(Me'am Lo'ez)

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Guest Posting By A Yid In Iraq - A Jewish Soldier In Baghdad

First off, I would like to thank A Simple Jew for letting my post my story on his blog. I have never posted anything like this before and I just wanted to have the opportunity tell the Jewish community that there are Jewish soldiers that they can be proud of serving in the military that are trying to make a positive difference.

I am a Yid deployed to Baghdad, Iraq assigned to a Military Transition Team training Iraqis to be more proficient in war time tasks and enable them to be more sufficient so that the American military can eventually leave. This is a new concept for the Army.

There are a total of sixteen of us on the team we all have different military occupational specialties and backgrounds. I work in the operations cell, working hand in hand with the Iraqi chief and his staff on operations. I also battle track all significant acts that happen in the Baghdad area. I request air assets and work as a liaison with other units in the Baghdad area and some various other tasks.

We are on a Iraqi outpost in a secluded area where food and logistical support has to be either flown in or trucked in. Additionally, there are four thousand Iraqi soldiers here. The kicker is that I am the only Jew on the team in the middle of this and I am observant. It is very difficult to keep kosher here as well as trying to keep Shabbos and other holidays.

When I first came to Iraq, I requested kosher MRE’s (meals ready to eat) but they were not delivered on time. It just so happened that there was a rabbi at the forward operating base that I was assigned to and he gave me two cases of meals to hold me over.

Initially I was not fond of starting my new assignment working with the Iraqis. I was a bit nervous due to all of my family and friends' warnings not to reveal my Jewish identity to Iraqis. You can turn on CNN at any time of the day and you will see what happens here in Baghdad, however it is more dangerous than what the television reports because a lot of the contact or combat operations are not reported on.

One day, I was in the tactical operations center reading my Chumash (I also keep my head covered but I wear a military style baseball cap to cover my yarmulke) and one of the interpreters asked what I was reading. I told him a book about Moses. Before you know it, we get into a conversation about Israel and Abraham and I made it known that I am Jewish. He warned me do not let this get out.

I replied by telling him that it couldn't not get any worse with the mortar and IED attacks and he laughed in response. I then explained to him that essentially there were more similarities than differences between us. While he prays five times a day and faces east, I pray three times daily and face east. While he does not eat pork, I also do not eat pork. We both come from Avraham (or Ibrahim) who was from Ur (located in present day Iraq). We started talking more about our history and we compared stories and the many similarities. By the time we were finished talking, there were about ten soldiers around me asking questions on everything. I showed them my yarmulke and explained why I wear it.

Today many of the Iraqi soldiers have a great deal of respect for me. For those who don't, at the least know that I am religious and not like the other team members so they look at me differently. The majority of the Iraqi soldiers have never come into contact with a Jew before but know that at one time there were forty thousand Jews here in Iraq and also that the Ben Ish Chai came from Baghdad.

Aside from the Iraqi soldiers, my team members are respectful of my beliefs. While I have experienced anti-Semitism before in the U.S. Army, unlike other Jewish soldiers I proudly reveal my Jewishness and do not fear of being ridiculed or treated differently.

My Radical Father and the Kollel

Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen commenting on A Hardened Heart:

My father, of blessed memory, grew up in Brooklyn, New York City, during the era of the Great Depression – a severe worldwide economic downturn which the United States began to experience when the stock market crashed in 1929. My father’s sensitive soul felt the pain of the poor, the unemployed, and the homeless; moreover, his strong sense of justice led him to become involved in various radical groups that were trying to address these social problems.

My father grew up in an era when the majority of American Jews were beginning to assimilate into the American culture. This culture stressed the importance of economic success, and the worth of people, especially the worth of men, was often measured in terms of the money they earned. When Jews came to America, they discovered that when people would ask about a man, they would often ask, “How much is he worth?” Many American Jews would therefore feel pride if they or their children were financially successful, as they felt that through this success, they had fulfilled the American dream.

My father’s parents were immigrants from Eastern Europe, and like many other Jewish immigrants, they no longer observed many mitzvos of the Torah. Most of these immigrants, however, grew up in traditional Jewish communities that stressed the following Jewish dream: to be successful in the study of Torah and in the fulfillment of good deeds. For example, at the circumcision ceremony, the baby boy receives the following traditional blessing:

“Just as he entered the covenant, so may he enter into the Torah, the marriage canopy, and good deeds.”

There is no mention in the above blessing about becoming rich and famous. Although Judaism does not oppose financial success, it stresses that such success should not be the goal of life.

Although my father, like most American Jews of his generation, did not have the opportunity to get a meaningful Torah education, he felt in his soul that life had a higher purpose. He therefore did not seek his sense of worth through “making money”; instead, he took pride in his social activism and deeds of lovingkindness. In this spirit, my father liked and respected the rabbi of our neighborhood synagogue, Rabbi Gavriel Beer, especially since Rabbi Beer, an activist in Agudath Israel of America, was concerned about the plight of the poor and the needy. I attended the afternoon Hebrew school of this synagogue, and when I was age nine, Rabbi Beer persuaded my parents to send me to a Jewish day school in order to study Torah. This was a big step for my parents; nevertheless, they were aware of my growing interest in the path of the Torah, and they felt that I should have the freedom to follow this path.

At age 14, I had a rebbe who tried to inspire his students to make the study of Torah their primary goal in life; thus, he suggested that we go to college at night and study in a yeshiva during the day; moreover, he also suggested that we learn in a kollel for several years after college in order to become talmeidei chachamim – scholarly disciples of the wise – that could be a source of strength for Klal Yisrael. We were never told that “everyone” should spend their life in a kollel; however, the idea of spending a few years in a kollel was encouraged. My rebbe’s emphasis on Torah learning – including the emphasis on going to college at night and later to a kollel for a few years – troubled many of the parents, for they were very concerned about the future financial success of their children.

During the winter, there was a special week where my rebbe was scheduled to meet with the parents of each of his students during the evenings. The purpose of these meetings was not only to discuss the progress of the students, but to also discuss their spiritual life goals. My parents had never met my rebbe, and I wondered how the meeting would go. When they came back from the meeting, their faces were glowing. I asked, “Did I get a good report?” They assured me that my rebbe had said nice things about me, but they mentioned additional reasons why they were pleased and happy. My father told me that my rebbe was his kind of guy. My father revealed that he was especially pleased that my rebbe did not speak of financial goals, and although my leftist father did not consider himself to be religious, he expressed his admiration for the religious idealism of my rebbe. He said that my rebbe spoke about the possibility of my learning Torah all day for a number of years after graduating college, and that he told my rebbe that he and Mom always encouraged me to follow my ideals.

When I came to class the next morning, my rebbe told me that he needs to speak with me privately during recess. I began to feel nervous, as I wondered if my father, who was not shy about expressing his radical views, had said something that might have upset my rebbe. Due to my worry, I found it difficult to concentrate on the lesson in Talmud that my rebbe began to teach.

When recess came, my rebbe called me over and told me that my parents have very special souls. He said that, unlike many of the parents, my parents did not express concern about my financial success when he discussed spiritual goals. He mentioned that he asked my parents how they would feel if I made Torah study my primary goal by going to college at night and studying in a kollel after college for a number of years. He then told me how moved he was when they replied that they always encouraged me to fulfill my ideals.

I now had a better understanding of why my father felt that my rebbe was “his kind of guy.” They both felt that making money is not the goal of life, and neither my father nor my rebbe would ever ask the question, “How much is he worth?” They both realized that a human being’s true worth is in living for a higher purpose.

P.S. It is a topic for another discussion, but the Tribe of Levi served, in a certain sense, as the first kollel of our people. Members of this tribe were not given a portion in the Land, and they lived in special cities where they were supported by tithes which enabled them to devote themselves to the study and teaching of Torah, as well as the service in the Sanctuary.

Today, the community kollels found in many cities in North America devote themselves to the study and teaching of Torah, and they have become centers of adult education.