Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Question & Answer With Yirmeyahu - A Rebbe's Prediction

(Picture courtesy of

A Simple Jew asks:

In June 2004, David Hatuel asked the Sanz-Klausenberger Rebbe whether a settlement in Gaza should construct a permanent or temporary ark for Torah scrolls dedicated in the memory of Hatuel's murdered family. The Sanz-Klausenberger Rebbe replied that a temporary ark should be built, not because of the planned withdrawal from Gaza, but because one day the ark will need to moved it into a larger shul once the settlement expands.

Looking back now with the knowledge that Gaza's Jewish community was expelled by the Israeli government, as a chassid of this Rebbe what is your reaction to his statement?”

Yirmeyahu answers:

I cannot answer as a chassid. My relationship to Sanz-Klausenberg is that of an admirer whose goal is to focus my slow growth in such a direction. I cannot serve as a spokesman but I can share my thoughts as is done among chaverim.

We learn in Mishlei 10:20, “כסף נבחר לשון צדיק”, the tongue of a tzadik is choice silver. The Ibn Ezra explains that a tzadik refines his words in the same way silver is refined. What we have read are not the direct words of the Rebbe shlita, but I believe we can see an application of this concept in this story.

I believe that the Rebbe’s words should be understood as a brochah and as chizuk. In such light they display a great deal of compassion and sensitivity. The individual asking the question to the Rebbe had already suffered a great personal loss. Now he, and his entire community, was facing the disengagement. What is there to say to such an individual?

We learn in B’rachos 10a "אפילו חרב חדה מונחת על צוארו של אדם אל ימנע מן הרחמים", that even when a sharp sword rests upon one’s neck one shouldn’t cease seeking compassion from HaShem. It was not the time for resignation or to concede the worst as inevitable. One certainly has no justification for discouraging others.

I believe the Rebbe’s words reflected sensitivity to the man’s situation, to the possibility that Hashem would send a yeshuoh, and to our obligation to anticipate the Geulah Sheleimah. At the same time the eitzah he gave proved pragmatic even when the outcome was not as desired and it would seem that the holy Sifrei Torah are secure in their aron.

I do not believe that the Rebbe’s words were intended, nor taken, as a guarantee. That would require actual prophecy of the “כה אמר ה׳” type. Rather the Rebbe shlita intended to give encouragement to those who faced a very tragic situation. May we merit to see the Geulah Sheleima and the fulfillment of the Rebbe’s brochah that larger shul’s will be built in Gaza.

25 Nissan Links - כה ניסן

(Picture courtesy of

Sfas Ha-Nachal: Chalav Yisroel (Part 1)

Lazer Beams: Birkat Ha'Ilanot: Blessing of the Trees

Letters of Thought: Pesach in Germany III - Dachau

Shlomo Katz: A Musician During Sefira

Circus Tent: Colorful Warsaw 1939

Tzitzis & Tax Evasion

Sellers of clothing are permitted to put on four-cornered garments to which tzitzis are not attached, because their intent is not to derive benefit from wearing them, but to show their size to their clients. It is forbidden, however, to wear a garment without tzitzis to avoid paying customs duty which is charged for merchandise, but not for one's personal garments. At such a time one derives benefit from actually wearing the garment, and this is his intention, for in this way he evades customs duty.

(Shulchan Aruch HaRav 191:3)

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Question & Answer With Alan D. Busch - The Secret Of Life

(Picture by B. Carter)

A Simple Jew asks:

People who have gone through a near death situation or lost a loved one often remark that the secret of life is to live each day as if it were their last. Practically speaking though, do you believe that this is possible to do? Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik once wrote, "There is a tragic aspect to man's essence; it lies in the fact that people and things closest to his heart are not properly appreciated so long as they are alive and present."

Alan D. Busch answers:

Permit me to state unequivocally I do not endorse this notion that one live each day as if it were his last because it does not, I feel, reflect a Jewish point of view. It seems more akin to hedonism that elevates “gashmius” to a level higher than godliness.

Many people, having survived a near death situation and/or the death of a loved one, feel themselves morally entitled to live their lives per this seemingly wise maxim. As justified an approach as it may seem, I hope to show how seriously flawed it really is.

Implicit is the suggestion that—because I have suffered--I am now at liberty to live my life with few if any restraints and even question my belief in a god that permits bad things to happen to good people. In other words, having survived a near tragedy or coped successfully with loss somehow absolves me of moral responsibility and guiltlessly entitles me to shed all semblance of moral constraint.

On the contrary, I have found the “secret of life” rests upon a foundation of bitachon, emunah, the solitude of prayer and readiness to know before Whom I’ll someday stand.

We strive to build a personal relationship between man and His maker which guides our lives in accordance with Torah values.

Secondly, no man knows when his last awakening will be. For this reason, Jews of faith recite "Modei ani lefanecha" upon arising in the morning. Living each day to the fullest does not mean with abandon but thanksgiving.

In place of a “philosophy” of “wine, women and song”, Jews of faith declare: “Hodu l’ Ha Shem ki tov, ki le’olam chasdo.”

I recall a story from years back of a certain religious Jew who responded to a series of questions by a local newspaper features reporter. The interview went something like this:

"So, Mr. Goldberg, what do you do on Christmas Eve?"

"I do what I do every day. I go to shul and pray but not because it is Christmas Eve."

"Ok, gotcha. Tell me about what you do on Friday nights when the weekend begins?”

"I go to shul to pray Kabbalas Shabbos to welcome the Sabbath, and then return home and together with my wife welcome the Sabbath Queen."

"Oh, okay got it." the reporter, clearly frustrated that his interviewee was adhering strictly to his story, came up with something he thought would turn out to be the ultimate "gotcha" question.

"Mr. Goldberg, this year New Year's Eve is on Friday night. What big plans do you have? What are you going to do?" hoping to elicit an "appropriate" response.

"I plan to go to shul to pray Kabbalas Shabbos to welcome the Sabbath, and then return home and together with my wife welcome the Sabbath Queen."

That pretty much says it all, and we can be certain that Reb Goldberg would continue to lead his life just as before were he to lose a loved one or survive a near death experience-notwithstanding any wayward notions of the “secret of life”.

Practically speaking, would it be possible to live each day as if it were our last?

Yes, but not without first clarifying our choices beforehand.

We are beings of free well and can live our lives as we wish. The key to the “secret of life” is the recognition that the choices we make are not all equally good.

The Rav is correct when he points out we all too often only really “appreciate” our blessings when they're irretrievably gone. It is my belief one should acknowledge the Bo’re Olam by praising Him optimally in times of familial bounty and material success rather than lamenting their loss when it’s already too late.

While true that we are busy raising our families, being married, tending to hearth and home and going to work, my point though simple is easily forgotten. Hug your kids every day when all is good. Enjoy and nourish them now. Be thankful for their good health. Take nothing for granted.

Does it make any sense to write a book about our living brachot? It seems absurd but is it really? I wrote a book about my son but only after he was gone. Our lives are exceedingly delicate and fleeting like blades of grass caught up in a breeze.

All the things we know intuitively to be right are. Here is a starter’s list. Do them now lest the opportunity slip away:

- Hug your kids now in sickness and in health.
- Appreciate your spouse for all (s)he does for hearth and home.
- Greet every one with a smile; practice "darchei noam".
- Perform gemilus chasadim-no matter what form it may take.
- Praise a child for the good rather than only pointing out the bad.
- Let a friend know how very much you value him for whom he is.
- Plant a tree.
- Raise a child.
- Write a book.
- Live your life in a way that you wish your children to imitate.

Aron Ralston On Hashgocha Pratis

Excerpt from Between a Rock and a Hard Place:

Understanding my responsibility for my circumstances placates my anger. My despondency remains, but I stop striking out against the rock. One thought in particular circulates over in over in my mind: "Kristi and Megan were angels sent to save me from myself, and I ignored them." Everything happens for a reason, and part of the beauty of life is that we're not allowed to know those reasons for certain, though on this question, my conviction grows. They might not have had wings and harps, but Kristi and Megan came into my life to fulfill a purpose. They were trying to spare me from my accident. I am convinced that they somehow knew what was going to happen to me. Again and again I think about Kristi's last question - "What kind of energy do you think you'll find down there?" - and about their repeated urgings, but my stubbornness and ambition had closed my brain in a lock. I did get myself into this. Somehow, in some convoluted way, it's what I have been looking for in my life. How else did I come to be here? We create our lives. I don't fully understand why, but little by little I get that somehow I've wanted something like this to happen. I've been looking for adventure, and I've found it.

To Be Small

The world says that the scholars (i.e. the Misnagdim) study but the Chassidim do not. The truth is that the scholars, the more they learn, the more they become great in their own eyes, and so it seems to them that they have learned so much that it is enough. The Chassidim, however, the more they learn, the more they become insignificant in their own eyes. Their entire purpose is to teach themselves to be small and lowly in their own estimation.

(Degel Machaneh Ephraim)

Monday, April 28, 2008

Created Anew

(Picture courtesy of

A person is created anew each Pesach. He can be considered as if he were brought out of Egypt as a newborn baby.

These words from the Sfas Emes remained in my mind throughout yom tov. While they express a beautiful and inspiring thought, I wondered whether they could be understood literally. It seemed hard to fathom that I could now be considered as a completely new person since all of the negative character traits and shortcomings that were present on the 14th of Nissan were also still present on the 15th of Nissan.

Having seen this teaching quoted in Pninei HaChassidus - Pesach & Sefirat HaOmer and not in the original sefer, I sought out a further explanation from an elderly chassid. We sat down together one night during Chol HaMoed and I opened up this sefer and asked him my question that had been weighing on my mind.

The elderly chassid explained to me that the unique character of Pesach is that on this yom tov Hashem gives a person a new ability to overcome the obstacles in front of him. Pesach does not merely give him a renewed vitality, but rather an infusion of an entirely new vitality. While a person may certainly have all the negative character traits on the 15th of Nissan that he had on the 14th of Nissan, the yom tov of Pesach gives him abilities that had never had before in his life and enables him to succeed where he may have previously failed. In this way, it can be considered as if he was created as a completely new being.

The Kinneret During Chol HaMo'ed Pesach

Received via e-mail from Rabbi Shmuel Rosenberg:

23 Nissan Links - כג ניסן

(Picture by S. Sandy)

A Simple Jew: V'Sartem

A Talmid: Shlissel Challah

Be'er Mayim Chaim: Travel with us to the Ba'al Shem Tov

Breslov World: The Pearls of Noam Elimelech

Dixie Yid: Our Escapist Tendencies - Getting To Know Yourself

Crown Photo Gallery: Seudas Moshiach in 770

A Waxing Wellspring: a little bit of knowledge

The Dangers Of Humility

Sometimes excessive humility can cause a person to fall away from serving Hashem. One perceives oneself as so lowly, that one cannot believe that a human being can elicit an abundance of blessing to all worlds by virtue of one's prayer and Torah study, for indeed, even the angels are sustained by human prayers and Torah study. If one would believe this, one would serve Hashem fervently with joy and awe, and out of a sense of abundance. One would make sure that every word one utters and every movement one makes is done properly.

(Rebbe Yaakov Yosef of Polonoye)

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Break From Blogging - חג כשר ושמח

(Picture by J. Smith)

I will be taking a short break from blogging starting this afternoon. I plan to return to regular posting after Pesach on Monday, April 28.

Guest Posting By Rabbi Shlomo Slatkin - Pesach With The Koidenover Rebbe

(Painting by Chaim Goldberg)

A few days before Pesach I got the call. The Rebbetzin just had a baby. The Rebbe requested that I come to his house a few days early so I could lend an extra hand with Pesach preparations. I was on my way to experience my first Pesach in Eretz Yisroel with the Koidenover Rebbe. I was filled with excitement to know that I would be spending Pesach in Koidenov. The Rebbe had already given me a copy of the Koidenover Hagaddah, replete with divrei Torah and many unique minhagim previously unknown to me. The one thing I did know, and which besides the tefillin was my “shtar eidus” that my family came from Koidenover Chassidim, were the Pesach nigunim. These nigunim were taught to my grandfather by his father and passed down to my father. They were not the standard nigunim. From what I have later heard, many of them are attributed to R' Aharon haGadol of Karlin and his talmid R' Chaim Heike of Amdura.

Pesach was quite an experience: the maim shelanu, the bedikas chometz, biur chometz, baking matzos Erev Pesach, the seder with the Rebbe, the bris of the Rebbe’s son on Chol haMoed with the Lelover Rebbe as sandek, shvii shel Pesach, the neilas hachag. The one lesson that stood out for me most was at the seder.

Here we were sitting at the seder with the Rebbe, the Rebbetzin’s grandfather, the Naroler Rav zt”l, who lived with them, the Rebbe’s children, myself and another American (a Canadian) whose family also comes from Koidenov. I remember how the Rebbe engaged his children. This was not like a tish where he would say over a Torah; this was about the kids, as that is the point of the hagadah anyway. I remember him taking out the matzo and saying “matzo zu”. Perhaps I was feeling the effects of the wine, but it sure looked like that matzo that he flashed in the air was on fire. Finally, I remember the feeling of cheirus as the Rebbe, the Naroler Rav, and two of the latter’s sons and their children took a little walk on the streets of Bnei Brak after the seder in the wee hours of the morning. Although the rest is a bit of a blur as it was eight years ago, the biggest impression still remains. See, the Rebbetzin was in Netanya for Pesach with her new baby. Although she had cooked a lot of food in advance, her absence was noticeable. The Rebbe actually plated the meal and served us. In addition to his regular involvement as a father, he did whatever needed to be done given the circumstances.

As I was caught up with the novelty of just being at the Rebbe’s seder, it was not until the Rebbe himself later mentioned what happened that I became aware of an essential lesson that I carry with me to this very day. When we were walking to the Rebbe’s beis medrash the next day for Mincha, he brought to my attention that the ikkar question a Yid must ask himself is, “what does Hashem want from me now, at this moment?” He went on to explain about the seder night and how it is the highest night of the year, yet he was without his Rebbetzin and had to serve the meal himself. This is not necessarily what he was envisioning, yet this is exactly what Hashem wanted from him. While this may not be the biggest chiddush in the world as it is intellectually self-evident, for a self-centered yeshiva bachur with no responsibilities it was eye-opening.

Unless one lives in a bubble and does not have a wife and children, it is inevitable that these moments will occur. In fact, I had one this Shabbos. It is especially challenging for those of us who strive to find meaning in our avodah, when things don’t necessarily go as planned or others don’t act according to our program. Yet, the anger and resentment that can result when our expectations are not met, negates any possible ruchnius we could have gained. As we prepare for Pesach and seek spiritual heights on the seder night, yet the table may not be set, and the kids may be fussy, a fifth question we must ask is: “what does Hashem want from me now?”

Rabbi Shlomo Slatkin's website can be seen here.

12 Nissan Links - יב ניסן

(Picture courtesy of M. Justamond)

Rabbi Dovid Sears:
The Search & Destruction Of Chometz

Mystical Paths:
The Tzadik's Request

A Simple Jew: A Story To Read Before Beginning Your Seder

Shturem: Photo never seen before

Mystical Paths:
Spiritual Preparation for Passover

Breslov World: Breslover customs for Pesach

Pesach 2008 - Eizer L'Shabbos

Breaking The Middle Matzah

During Yachatz we break the middle matzah into two slightly uneven parts - one slightly larger than the other. Hashem originally condemned Avraham's descendants into exile in a foreign land for 400 years. But in His great mercy, Hashem cut the years by about half, much as the middle matzah is broken, just about in half. The Jewish nation spent only 210 years in Egypt until the Exodus, instead of the full 400.

(Orchos Chaim)

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Desert Of The Unknown

(Picture by S. Blake)

For the past few days, I have been eagerly anticipating and even longing for Pesach. I have had the feeling that there is still an aspect of the yom tov that I have failed to focus on or take advantage of. Perhaps in past years I have focused too heavily on the genealogical / historical and halachic aspects of Pesach and not enough on the fact that it is also a yom tov of personal liberation; a time that will give me a renewed vitality to overcome the obstacles I have in my avodas Hashem.

Lacking knowledge of my ultimate destination much like my ancestors before me, I trust that Hashem is leading me slowly step by step to a place where I can fully actualize my potential and fulfill the purpose of why He sent me down into this world. Will it also take me a 40 year period of refinement to reach this destination? How many encampments will there be along the way?

Pesach is my first foot forward into the desert of the unknown. With emuna, I know that the answers to my questions will be revealed to me and that any obstacles that rise up before me will disappear like a mirage.

I am preparing; looking at the clock and anticipating midnight.

הדריכני באמתך ולמדני כי אתה אלהי ישעי אותך קויתי כל היום

Guide me with Your truth and teach me, for You are the G-d of my salvation; I hope for You all day long. (Tehillim 25:5)

11 Nissan Links - יא ניסן

(Painting by Carl Braude) שירי פסח ונוסחאות ההגדה להאזנה

Zchus Avos Yogen Aleinu: The Most Exquisite Kiddush Cup Visiting Joseph

Modern Uberdox: HaMakir es Mekomo, Pesach, and Blogging

Beyond Teshuva: Sederim Without Extended Family

Dixie Yid: Achieving Harmony at the Pesach Seder - Part 3

A Blemish

The numerical value of chometz (חמץ) is 138. This is the same as the numerical value for pegimah (פגימה), the word for blemish. Whoever eats chometz on Pesach thus blemishes his neshoma.

(Rabbi Yaakov Culi)

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Question & Answer With Chana Jenny Weisberg - 10 Easy Tips For An Unforgettable Kid-Friendly Seder

(Picture courtesy of

A Simple Jew asks:

What recommendations do you have to keep everyone, especially small children, engaged and happy at the seder?

Chana Jenny Weisberg answers:

When we invite single people to our family seder, we warn them in advance that our Seder’s focus is our children. No longer are the seders of yesteryear, when we filled Seder night with hours upon hours of adult discussions on the deeper meaning of the Haggadah until the wee hours of the night or even early morning.

As the parents of small children, today making the seder fun and exciting and accessible to our children is our #1 mitzvah and priority on Seder night.

If you are the parent of small and school-age children, here are some ideas on how to make the Seder fun and memorable for your kids:

(1) Broadway in your Living Room - In our home, my husband and children prepare short, funny plays that they intersperse throughout the Seder. Every year the seder begins, for example, with my husband and children walking in our front door carrying suitcases, and calling out, “I’m wiped out! It’s been a long journey from Egypt!”

These plays are one of the main highlights of seder night for my children. Now that my children are a bit older, they spend weeks and weeks preparing plays on their own before Passover night.

(2) 4 Questions in the Spotlight - Young children in Jewish schools have been practicing Mah Nishtana for weeks and maybe even months with their teachers. This is their long-awaited moment of stardom. Take time to stand all the kids up on chairs, and let each of your smallest children sing the 4 Questions on his or her own.

(3) 10 Plagues Props - When my husband announce the 10 plagues, my kids run into the living room demonstrating the plagues: wearing sunglasses during the Plague of Darkness, covered with red stickers during the Plague of Boils, and throwing ping-pong balls in all directions during the Plague of Hail. They look forward to this all year.

(4) Candy for Questions - Seder night is not a time to worry about your kids’ teeth. In our home, every child who asks or answers a question at the Seder receives a toffee. This encourages the kids to not be shy, and to get the questions rolling. It is also a good idea for parents to prepare age-appropriate questions for each child.

Here are some more amazing ideas for kid-friendly seders from Rabbi Da’vid and Rebbetzin Reva Sperling. (You can see a 6-minute class by Rabbi Sperling on this topic here.)

(5) Walk like an Egyptian - During each of the plagues, one person at the table pretends that he or she is an Egyptian suffering during a given plague: scratching his head during the Plague of Lice, or terrified at the sight of her water during the Plague of Blood.

(6) Don’t Drag it Out - Longer, adult-oriented discussions on the Haggadah and Passover are reserved for when the meal is served and the children are searching for the Afikomen. This means that the pace of the Seder is relatively quick, so young children do not become bored.

(7) Dayenu Thank You - After the song Dayenu every person at the table recalls something good that happened to them that year for which he or she wants to thank G-d. An engagement, a new puppy, a cure from illness.

(8) Preparing the Haggadah - During the weeks before Passover, the parents assign each child a part of the Haggadah to prepare. For younger children, this means that they learn how to read a paragraph or, for the very young, even a line of the Haggadah. For older children, this means that they prepare a small talk (Dvar Torah) on an assigned topic that they deliver at the meal.

(9) Crying Out - When the Haggadah says that the Israelites “Cried Out” every person at the table cries out in his or her own way. One yells “Oy! I can’t stand it any more!”, one cries “Mommy!”, one pleads, “Dear L-rd, take us to the Promised Land!”

(10) The Eternal Nation - When the Haggadah mentions all the enemies who rise up against us in every generation, every guest mentions an enemy of the Jewish People: the Roman Empire, the Spanish Inquisitors, the Crusaders, Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia. Then the leader of the seder says, “And where are all those mighty empires today? They are all gone! And where are we? The Jewish people has always outlived all of its enemies!”

Some last practical suggestions for the day before the Seder.

- Naps are a must for all children during the day before the Seder so children will be able to stay up late.

- Have a stock of boiled eggs, potatoes, and chicken soup for the day before the Seder (or whatever your kids like to eat) so kids won’t come to the Seder starving.

- Have a babysitter take young children to the park or zoo on the day of the Seder so you can prepare in peace and so children won’t have to associate Passover with the stress of last-minute Passover preparations.

To this day, I still remember my family seders as one of the highlights of my childhood, and I pray that my own children’s happy memories of Seder night will accompany them for the rest of their lives. Even if you can only integrate 2 or 3 of the ideas I’ve suggested here into your own seder, that will still go a long way to making Seder night what it is supposed to be: a unique opportunity for our children to experience how holy and sweet it is to be a Jew.

Chana Jenny Weisberg is the author of the newly-released book One Baby Step at a Time: 7 Secrets of Jewish Motherhood and the creator of the popular website

10 Nissan Links - י ניסן

(Picture courtesy of

Chabakuk Elisha: Running An Enjoyable Seder

A Simple Jew: The Pesach Minhagim Of Sudilkov

Aspaqlaria: Tam, does he say?

Lazer Beams: Pesach that begins on Motzaei Shabbat

Circus Tent: Chalukos, Bushos

Burning Chometz

The burning of the chometz indicates that the evil inclination will also be eliminated from the world, after which we will all be holy and Hashem will dwell in our midst. At that time all the klippos of impurity and all the wickedness will disappear from the earth and "Hashem will be one and His Name will be one".

(Kav HaYashar #90)

Monday, April 14, 2008

Question & Answer With Schneur Zalman - Using An Onion On The Seder Plate

(Illustration by A.C. Kulik)

A Simple Jew asks:

Given the fact that Chabad did not have the Baal Shem Tov's mesora to refrain from eating raw onions for karpas (see Sichos HaRan 265), is there a reason why Chabad is so adamant about using a whole onion in its place? I noticed that Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 118:2 states, "For the first dipping, which is called karpas, many people follow the custom of using parsley, but it is better to use celery, which tastes good when raw. Best of all is to use radishes."

Was using an onion for karpas originally a regional minhag of White Russia and later adopted by Chabad as its minhag?

Schneur Zalman answers:

Not being an official Chabad person I can not answer this question. But permit me to ask a few related questions that may assist in answering the question.

What do Lithuanian Jews use for karpas? My mother a Lithuanian Misnaged used onions (I know because she never objected to my father using onions it was an ongenumene zach). My father did too and he came from a Chabad background. Many Chabad minhogim mirror local minhogim such as not having atoros on Tallesim, not having a Mizva Tanz at weddings, clothing, etc. So you may be correct perhaps this is a regional minhog.

Until 1951 there was no uniform Chabad minhog. Individual towns in White Russia had their own minhogim and the Bais Horav had its minhogim. Clearly Rav Levi Yitzchok of Yekatrinislav had many of his own minhogim. In 1951, the Lubavitcher Rebbe started revealing the minhogim of Bais Horav to Anash. Rabbi Barry Gourary, the grandson of Rabbi Yosef Yitchak Schneersohn, however, told me that he does remember many of these customs in his grandfather's house. My father was "raised " and educated in Reb Ziskind's kluiz in Kurenitz and he too had no inkling of many of the new minhogim practiced by the chassidim after 1951. The explanation thus is that the Rebbe interpolated his owns father's minhogim in the new institutional version of minhogei Chabad.

Guest Posting By Rabbi Tal Zwecker - Chad Gadya

(Illustration by Ben Shahn)

Degel Machaneh Ephraim
Shabbos HaGadol Drash - Sudilkov - 1782 /5542

Chad Gadya - One kid that my father bought for two zuz. We will explain this using the method of remez (using hints and allusions). By manner through which the Holy Zohar says "Worthy is he who can go in and come out and go in." This is alluded to by the fact that we say he buys or acquires. And Abba, the father, alludes to the [sefirah] of Chochma as is known. With two zuz as in the Gemara Kesubos 27 b Lo Zaza Yada (Zaza moves and Zuz share the same spelling). This alludes to the duality movement of movement (two zuz, hence two types of movement going in [and coming out] and going in again) whereby he moves from one level to the next. At first he goes in and later he goes in again. The one who has intellect will understand.

Rabbi Tal Zwecker comments:

This piece is very deep and I had to study it before I could explain it.

When a person wishes to walk the pathways of teshuva (return and repentance), he must be a baki (expert) in Halacha (literally walking on the way). He must be an expert in both the ways of running and returning. As taught in the Zohar III 292a, "Deserving is he who enters and exists [and enters]" etc. This is the passage quoted by the Degel above. More on this topic can be found in Likutei Moharan 6:4.

The idea here is that there are two levels: going up and going down. We all experience these ups and downs during the times of our lives. However, the concept is known as yerida letzorech aliya, we descend in order to ascend. When we hit rock bottom, when we feel like we are at the bottom of the pit when we can't get any lower, that's when we have to remember that the Zohar is saying he enters leaves and enters again. We have a high, a rush, then we are let down but this is temporary until we rise and ascend to an even higher height. The Breslov seforim read yerida tachlis aliya, the purpose of downs is to help you rise. In Chabad its reads yerida letzorech aliya gedola yoser, you have downs to help you rise to even higher heights.

This is Pesach - as Rav Baruch Mezbizer taught, "Chazal teaches that Hashem says open me a small opening like the eye of a needle and I will open it for you like a vast hall" And by Pesach it says Pasach Hashem al HaPetach, Hashem skipped over the doorways [lit. openings]. On the seder night there is a high a hitarus dilela, we rise to the highest height! Ayil, we enter, then nafik we go out, there is a down where we count sefira we must mourn the death of Rabbi Akiva's talmidim, the gift is gone and we must do the work ourselves. When we reach Shavous ve'Ayil we enter once more having done the work and climbed the mountain ourselves. This is the tzorach aliya gedola yoser, this is that purpose of the aliya that comes from hitting rock bottom.

A five minute audio shiur on another shtickel of the Degel's teachings on the Haggadah can be heard here:

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9 Nissan Links - ט ניסן

(Picture by R. Ray)

Heichal HaNegina: Reb Shlomo on Jewish and Chassidishe Music

Dixie Yid: Achieving Harmony at the Pesach Seder - Part 2

A Fire Burns in Breslov: Seder Night

Mentalblog: Human bones in the city of Gomel

Letters of Thought: I want to write . . .

Shiloh Musings: A Wonderful Jewish Picture Blog

Reciting The Haggadah

If a person views the recitation of the Haggadah as a burden to be fulfilled reluctantly or listlessly, without joy and intention of the heart, he will not merit having miracles performed on his behalf in times of danger.

(Kav HaYashar #90)

Sunday, April 13, 2008

"Not Looking For Other Adventures"

Excerpt from The Soloveitchik Heritage:

A very moody man, Reb Yoshe Ber Soloveitchik was prone to introspection and self-doubt, mainly in the execution of halachic precepts. He always submitted his own actions to close censure.

Even after Reb Yoshe Ber had left Volozhin, he and the Neziv habitually baked matzos together for Passover. On Passover eve, immediately after they finished, Reb Yoshe Ber, in a very festive and jolly mood because of the approaching holiday, said to the Neziv, "This year we have fulfilled the commandment of baking matzos. I hope that next year we will not only be able to bake matzos together in Jerusalem, but also that we will have the privilege of participating in the ceremony of the Korban Pesach."

The Neziv gave Reb Yoshe Ber an amazed look and, unable to contain himself, cried out, "What did you say, Reb Yoshe Ber? Did I hear you correctly? You want me to join you in performing the paschal lamb commandment? You must be joking. I won't deny your greatness in Talmud scholarship, but your abnormal fears with regard to the discharge of religious rules are very disturbing to me. Your anxiety that you missed some minute details upset everyone here today. Tell me, Reb Yoshe Ber, how many times did you ask the young girls who were rolling out the dough, 'Did you wash your hands?' Believe me, the matzo baking is enough of an experience for me. I am not looking for other adventures."

Friday, April 11, 2008

Guest Posting By Rabbi Micha Golshevsky - Extra Stringencies

(Painting by Boris Dubrov)

The Degel Machaneh Ephraim, zt"l, once said, "The Jews of Russia observe many stringencies above and beyond the letter of the law regarding Pesach, but none of these really find much favor in my eyes. There is one exception, though: the fact that they set aside enough water before the holiday to last through the entire festival. You might ask, then, why don't I do the same? The reason why is because this was not the custom of my grandfather, the Baal Shem Tov, zt"l."

After hearing this explanation, the Kochav M'Yaakov, zt"l, asked Rebbe Yisroel of Ossatin, zt"l, a pointed question. "How could the Degel Machaneh Ephraim fail to observe a chumrah that he admits to be proper just because his ancestor or Rebbi didn't follow that custom? If there is a true need for the stringency, shouldn't it be observed regardless of what one's parents, grandparents, or mentors did?"

Rebbe Yisroel of Ossatin responded on the spot with an anecdote from the Gemara.

He said, "On Beitzah 36b, we find that Abaye asked his mentor Rabah what to do about his millstones which were disintegrating from prolonged exposure to the dripping rain. Rabah responded that he could move them to another, better protected, place if he would move his own bed into the mill. Since the millstones are a type of muktzeh that can be moved because they are repulsive, they can be moved if they are within one's living space. Abaye expressed doubts as to whether it is really permitted to move his bed just to enable the removal of the millstones. Abaye was told soon afterward that his mill had collapsed. He responded that this was his due punishment for choosing to be more stringent than his own rebbi. So here you have a clear source not to adopt chumros that were not observed by one's Rebbe!"

Rabbi Micha Golshevsky's blog A Fire Burns in Breslov can be seen here.

And Dinner Was....

Around this time every year, my wife enjoys telling the story about a Pesach in her house growing up. It goes something like this:

Sitting around the Seder table before Pesach officially began (before sundown), her mother kept nudging her father to speed up and forced him to skip around in his Haggadah - finishing the whole seder in approximately 15 minutes.

Upon his completion of the Haggadah, my wife's mother got up from her chair and went to the kitchen to bring out the meal. She then returned with plates full of food that included the main course…

Breaded chicken breasts.

6 Nissan Links - ו ניסן

(Picture by V. Harrison)

Mystical Paths: The Tzadik in the Field: Only Emunah!

Aleph Society: On Reading, TV, and the Talmud

Cross-Currents: Five-Star Pesach

Beyond Teshuva: Halachos for Shabbos Erev Pesach 5768

The End of Maggid At The Seder

This is a favorable moment on High for each individual to pray for redemption from his personal form of exile. Just as we believe that He redeemed our ancestors from Egypt, we also believe that He will soon redeem us from our present exile.

(Rebbe Avraham Yehoshua Heshel of Apta)

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Question & Answer With A Talmid - Lev Tov

(Painting by Zvi Malnovitzer)

A Simple Jew asks:

In Pirkei Avos 2:13, Rabbi Elazar ben Arach stated that having a lev tov (good heart) is the best character trait a person can have. The Degel Machaneh Ephraim taught that Hashem resides inside a lev tov. Later, however, he defines a good heart as a heart that is broken.

Obviously, the Degel is not telling us that we must be perpetually downcast and depressed. Could you provide any further clarification for exactly what a lev tov is?

A Talmid answers:

The following are my thoughts on this, though I can’t say that this is what Chassidus has to say about the subject. If what I say is “emes” then let it stand, otherwise these words should be deemed null and void.

I believe that a “lev tov” and “broken heart” are one and the same. A “broken heart” can mean a heart that is not complete, meaning someone that knows that he has more work to do for his neshama, as opposed to one who thinks that his neshama is perfect. This person may be very learned and follows halacha meticulously, but thinks that he has “arrived” and doesn’t have to work on becoming a better Yid. This is someone who does NOT have a “broken heart” in the sense that he thinks his heart is “complete”. Someone like this has a “sick heart” (R”L) as opposed to a “broken heart”. "Lev tov" can mean the same thing as a “broken heart”, because as long as one is striving to improve that is definitely a "good" thing. Not trying to reach higher in ruchnius is actually a descent. It is analogous to driving a car up a hill; if you stop accelerating and shift into neutral, you will coast for a short distance, and then roll down the mountain backwards. A “broken heart” should not be a depressing think, but rather a joyful thing. After all, isn’t Hashem happy when we are trying to get closer to Him. We can’t just jump to the top, so we need to crawl up from whatever level we are on.

Another explanation: We may see people who are “frum” in every aspect but when it comes to basic decency there is none; they have a very mean heart. They can be rude, obnoxious and haughty. A reason why Rabbi Elazar ben Arach stated that having a “lev tov” is the best character trait a person can have, can be based on the Gemara (Yoma 86a) which says: “One who learns and serves Torah scholar, but… whose manner of speaking with people is not pleasant, what do people say about him? ‘Woe to that person who learned Torah. Woe to his father who taught him Torah. Woe to his Rebbi who taught him Torah. This person who learned Torah, see how perverse are his deeds, and how ugly are his ways’.” Rashi explains that this refers to “Chilul Hashem”. If this learned individual is the result of this, then it’s no wonder that Rabbi Elazar ben Arach says the best thing is a “lev tov”. It also says “Derech Eretz kadmah l’Torah”. If one doesn’t have the “lev tov” and the Derech Eretz than there is no proper vessel to accept all the Torah learning. (In case some want to, chas v’Shalom, make the argument that Derech Eretz is all that’s needed, saying as long "as long I’m a good Jew in the heart, I don't need to keep the Torah", this is a grave mistake. It says “kadmah l’Torah" - Torah is the main ingredient here and one needs the Derech Eretz with the intention of trying to fulfill the Torah. This is besides the fact that one can only learn real Derech Eretz from the Torah. We all know about the great “manners” and “civility” of the Nazis.)

For some people, their nature can be to be mean and unyielding people. But, if they realize that they need to work on these bad traits and improve their character (it's not easy and they may fail many times), this can also be a “lev tov”. “Lev tov” means someone that knows that he is not on the level he should be and acknowledges that he needs to constantly improve himself. Also, it could mean trying to love (at least start by not hating) those that are different or those that you don't want to associate with for whatever reason.

The bottom line is that we all have to realize that our work is never complete, no matter how far we have advanced. There is always a higher level to strive for. One should be happy with every small improvement, as opposed to being depressed about how far we have to go. If one is headed in the right direction and puts in effort to improve, this should bring a lot of “Nachas Ruach” to the Ribono Shel Olam. Growing up, some may not have felt that they were doing mitzvos or davening for the Ribono Shel Olam, but thought they were just fulfilling the will of a teacher or parent. Whenever you learn something new, be it halacha, mussar, etc., don’t just think that you are listening to what a sefer says, but realize that you are doing the will of our Loving Father, the King of kings, Hakadosh Baruch Hu. One step at a time - many steps closer to Hashem. That, I believe, is a “lev tov” and a “broken heart”.

5 Nissan Links - ה ניסן

(Picture by Viton)

Rabbi Yakov Horowitz:
Take a Child to Shul...Please

A Fire Burns in Breslov: Raising the Roof

Mystical Paths: Our Power: Prayer and Emunah!

Dixie Yid: Getting to Know Rav Tzvi Mayer

Letters of Thought: Where I'm at . . .

Kumah: Tzfat Tzfat Rosh Hashanah!

The Middle Matzah

The middle of something is often represented by the word heart: the heart of the heavens, the heart of the earth, the heart of the sea. Seforim hakedoshim tell us that "there is nothing so perfect as a broken heart," a heart broken by feelings of remorse and humility. We break the middle matzah, our hearts, subjugating our hearts and deeds to Hashem.

(Haggada Dvar Tzvi)

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Question & Answer With Chabakuk Elisha - Birthdays

(Picture by B. Braun)

A Simple Jew asks:

In Rabbi Moshe Weinberger's teshuva drasha from last Tishrei he quoted an amazing thought from Rav Kook. Commenting on the words עד שלא נוצרתי איני כדאי in the Machzor, Rav Kook commented that these words should not simply be translated as "Before I was created I was not worthy." Rav Kook interpreted these words to mean that before the time that a person was born, there was not yet a need for that person since the whole purpose of his existence began precisely on the date of his birth.

There are people who believe that the whole world should stop, revolve around them, and their every wish and desire should be catered to on their birthday. And then there are people like you and I who tend to take the position diametrically opposed to this for ourselves; believing that that if anyone should celebrate on our birthdays it should be our mothers.

While there are certainly plenty of sources that support the view that one should celebrate on one's birthday, given Rav Kook's teaching it would seem to me that a person's birthday should be observed with soul searching - more like a Yom Kippur solely for that individual; a day to take on new commitments to improve one's avodas Hashem and not simply to eat cake and receive presents.

If you had to venture a guess how the Baal Shem Tov, Maggid of Mezeritch, Rebbe Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk, or any of the other great chassidic rebbes observed their birthdays what do you think it entailed?

Chabakuk Elisha answers:

I know that birthdays are a big deal to many people, and there are loads of quotes and statements for both the pro-birthday-celebrationists as well as the anti's. But I don't want to get into the specific pros and cons or the minhagim here; rather I'll just speak about my subjective feelings on the matter. Personally, I have always had a hard time relating to birthdays as anything other than simply another day – after all, what is a birthday celebrating? The fact that I'm still around? What accomplishment is there in that? Yes, we do, and we should, thank G-d every day that we're alive for granting us life and opportunity, but what is so special that a birthday should be celebrated? I always felt that the Bar-Mitzva celebration, when a boy becomes a man, should also be celebrating the end of birthday celebrations.

No doubt, part of my aversion to birthdays is that I don't like the limelight. Public speaking, or even davening at the amud, is a very stressful experience for me, and while I'm not a purely introverted person I am certainly not an extrovert by any stretch of the imagination; as such, celebrating my birthday and being the focus of attention is something that makes me a little queasy. But I think there is another reason why I don't like them. I think it's a less noble and somewhat irresponsible reason – bear with me a minute and I'll get to it.

I recently spent a night away from home, and I slept in a room with a grandfather clock – and while most clocks today are silent, this clock serenaded me with a relentless tick-tock throughout the night. I felt as if someone was pursuing me at top speed cracking his whip and steadily exclaiming, "Another second has passed! Another second has passed!" I felt guilty for each wasted second, something that in places where time passes silently I have seldom truly felt.

Now, hardly a couple weeks after my night with the grandfather clock, I now come upon yet another birthday and begin a new kapitel Tehilim. But the ticking of the clock made me realize what I think may have been my real reason for disliking birthdays: they notify me of wasted time that has passed and gone, and will never return. If nothing more, a birthday needs to be a reminder that we need to pay attention to the clock of the year and remember what we say in Pirkei Avos quoting Rabbi Tarfon:

"The day is short, the labor vast, the toilers slothful, the reward great, and the Master urgent" (Avos 2:20); "You are not obliged to complete the work, but neither are you free to evade it; if you have learned much Torah, great shall be your reward, for He who hires you will surely repay you for your toil; yet the requital of the pious is in the future" (Avos 2:21).

It is quite possible that it is my inner sloth expressing his displeasure at the rude awaking of a birthday – he takes it as a subtle personal attack on his laziness this year. If I take more advantage of my time, maybe then I'll be truly celebratory next year at this time!

But there's more than one way to celebrate. I would certainly agree that a birthday should be similar to a personal Rosh Hashana or Yom Kippur, but that doesn't mean that one must put on his kittel and spend the day in shul. For example, Yom Kippur has a counterpart – Purim – which seforim tell us, is even higher, but it sure looks different. So, I think that all Tzaddikim would agree that the merits of celebrating a birthday must be about introspection and growth, each individual in his or her own way, and each Tzaddik in his own way, based on his view and shoresh. As far as the specific Tzaddikim that you mentioned, I think that there may even be written accounts that answer your question – I simply don't know or don't remember them – the main thing though, without a doubt, was the emphasis on being a better Jew and accomplishing their task in this world.

Next Year In Jerusalem

But why do we ask for "next year"? We await the geula every single day - why push it off another whole year? Moshiach will arrive with miracles that will exceed even those of the exodus from Egypt. The purpose of the world's creation will be revealed, and accordingly, a new system for counting the years will be instituted - the years since the geula. That is what we mean when we say "next year". Let Moshiach arrive immediately and allow us the privilege to begin counting the years anew.

(Divrei Yoel)

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Midah Keneged Midah

(Painting by Leonard Baskin)

A Mile Down the Road commenting on More On Comparing Judaism And Buddhism:

I recently sent my mentor Chabakuk Elisha the following story, which I called "A Zen View of 'Ein Ode Milvado' ":

Nothing Exists

Yamaoka Tesshu, as a young student of Zen, visited one master after another. He called upon Dokuon of Shokoku.

Desiring to show his attainment, he said: "The mind, Buddha, and sentient beings, after all, do not exist. The true nature of phenomena is emptiness. There is no realization, no delusion, no sage, no mediocrity. There is no giving and nothing to be received." Dokuon, who was smoking quietly, said nothing. Suddenly he whacked Yamaoka with his bamboo pipe. This made the youth quite angry.

"If nothing exists," inquired Dokuon, "where did this anger come from?"


Returning the favor, Chabakuk Elisha then sent me the following Chassidic tale:

A Lesson in Acosmism

A Chossid once complained to the Tzemach Tzedek that another Chossid owed him money, but refused to pay. The Tzemach Tzedek called them both in to his private room and asked the second Chossid why he was refusing to pay -- to which the latter responded: "Ein Ode Milvado -- I don't exists, he doesn't exist, and the money doesn't exist!"

"Aha," said the Tzemach Tzedek. "Very true."

He turned to the Gabbai, and as the eyes of the Chossid who didn't want to pay widened, he said, "Bring the whip that doesn't exists, and whip the Chossid who doesn't exist until he pays the money that doesn't exist to the other Chossid who doesn't exist..."

The stubborn fellow quickly jumped up and said, "Oh no, that's not necessary! I'll pay, I'll pay!"

Question & Answer With Dixie Yid - Pesach

(Micro-caligraphy by Yitzchak Nachum)

A Simple Jew asks:

Do you have an easy time relating to Pesach? How has your understanding and appreciation of this yom tov evolved over time?

Dixie Yid answers:

Pesach definitely is special to me. It has always been kind of a "self-made Yuntif" for me. From the very earliest time that I was becoming religious, I was always in charge of kashering my parents house and leading the sedorim, and I did not have the opportunity to go to other frum families for Pesach.

One funny story very early in the process for me (before I was shomer Shabbos or really shomer much of anything), in a fit of newbie Baal Teshuva zealotry, I decided a few hours before Pesach came in, in the afternoon of Erev Pesach (after the Isur of Chometz has already taken effect) that I would clean out my parents house as best I could. As part of this effort, I started to go through my parents' pantry to get rid of any obvious chametz. The problem was that I really had no idea what chametz actually was. So for help, I called up one of the Shomer Shabbos ladies in the neighborhood, and asked some very important Pesach sheilos, like "Is oatmeal considered Chametz?" and "Does everything have to have a Kosher L'Pesach kosher supervision symbol on it?!" Poor lady and my poor parents!

While I went to halacha shiurim before Pesach and learned the halachos in in many books like the annual Bloomenkrantz guide (yes, there's a 2008 edition) and Rav Eider's sefer on hilchos Pesach, I never actually got to observe any mainstream frum families observing Pesach and the sedorim. As things stabalized and my parents happily let me kasher their house for Pesach, I used various haggadahs to help create a theme for each year's seder like Rav Avraham Dov Kahn's The Chosen Nation Haggadah, or Rav Yaakov Moshe Charlap's Mei Marom Hagaddah (He was the Talmid Muvhak of Rav Kook).

However, since I never had a real example of a frum seder to base myself on, there was always a certain amount of "winging it." One example of this is the minhag of wearing a kittel at the seder. Since I never saw anyone doing this since I really never saw anyone other than myself leading a seder, it didn't occur to me that I should be doing this. I had read that some have this minhag, but I just assumed that this did not apply to me. However, after hearing a couple of friends mention that they were wearing a kittel at the seder, I decided to ask my rebbe if I should be doing that. His response was "Of course!" (Remember, he was speaking to me, and this does not mean that this guidance would necessarily apply to everyone.) I didn't know it was so obvious, but it brought home the more general point that as a BT/Ger, I lack elements of the mesorah, the "תורת אמיך."

But I think that, as I heard from my rebbe in YU, Rav Aharon Kahn, Hashem would never leave those who lack a real mesorah, through no fault of their own, completely without all benefits of that mesorah. Therefore, he said that it is his belief that whatever level of benefit "FFBs" get from growing up with the mesorah of frumkeit from an early age, will somehow be given by Siyata Dishmaya, Divine help, to the BT or Ger.

This principal is especially relevant to Pesach, with its theme of transmitting our mesorah to our children. The biggest mitzvah of the seder night, specifically, is "V'higadeta l'vincha," telling over Yetziyas Mitzrayim to your children. It is a difficult challenge to pass on the mesorah of our emunah to our children, especially for people who didn't grow up with that emunah. But with Hashem's help and some preperation ahead of time, we will be zocheh to bring down down our mesorah into our and our children's lives!

3 Nissan Links - ג ניסן

(Picture by K. Beath)

A Fire Burns in Breslov: The Sweetness in the Bitterness

A Simple Jew: Contained Within Simplicity

Dixie Yid: Geirim Are Often More Meticulous in Mitzvos

"Such A Haphazard Manner"

(Picture courtesy of

Yirmeyahu commenting on Television & Orthodoxy:

I understand your intent on posting your Q&A with “Reb TiVo” but I cannot help but feel that it was inappropriate to do so. He opens by stating that he has no expertise in halachah but then immediately proceeds to opine that it is permitted when, as I understand, leading authorities have ruled that television is prohibited. We are left with an opinion piece without any supporting sources, halachic or hashkafic. If you can support your position fine, but in my opinion pseudo-utilitarian arguments against the halachic or hashkafic statements of Gedolei HaTorah fall into the category, “There is neither wisdom nor understanding nor counsel against Hashem” (Prov. 21:30). Even if this matter is in the realm of geddarim, geddarim are within the purview of Gedolei HaTorah.

Reb TiVo notes how with regard to other issurim there are permissible outlets. His conclusion that it is somehow unreasonable to have an all-inclusive prohibition in such matters is faulty for multiple reasons. First of all, as already noted by commenters, there is a huge dis-analogy between those examples which he cited and the topic under discussion. Each example he gave reflected a fundamental need of humanity without which we would not survive while “normal” people survived for millennia without television. Furthermore, insofar as he extended the discussion to other forms of recreation, there are other forms of relaxation which are far less problematic or permitted.

It is an out and out non-sequitur to argue that insofar as one can incidentally encounter certain prohibited sights when going out in public one can therefore willfully introduce such sights into their homes. For one thing one cannot control what other people do in public while one can, to a great extent, control what goes on at home. Furthermore when one confronts such sights in public one is obligated to not look while at home “not looking” defeats the purpose of watching something and minimizes it’s effectiveness as a mean of relaxation. There is a well known Gemara in Bava Basra (57b) where we learn that one who passes by women doing their wash is called a rasha even if he averted his eyes if he had the option to go another route. This is the source for a halachah found in E.H. 21:1 and is brought more fully in Aruch HaShulchan E.H. 21:1. The Igros Moshe E.H. 1 56 explains that when necessary for one’s parnassa our other needs one may rely on himself to divert his attention from such distractions. But when going on an outing there is no need and it is prohibited even when no other route is available.

Each of the various forms of entertainment mentioned are different but each have very real halachic issues. Some issues are more clear-cut than others. Nevertheless the halachic aspect must be evaluated before any ideological factors are considered. So far I do not see those who do not view television as an all out prohibition speak of the potential halachic pitfalls in anything other than the most generic terms. Meanwhile many specific programs and films that are questionable at best are being viewed by our community. People will watch something simply for fun without knowing (or knowing full well r'l) what prtizus, leitzanus, nivul peh, or apikorsus they will encounter. We would never approach kashrus in such a haphazard manner.

A New Idea

When a new idea is thrust upon the world, it generally passes through three stages. First, it is scorned, then it is fought, and finally it is accepted as self-evident.

(Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik)

Monday, April 07, 2008

Question & Answer With Reb TiVo - Television & Orthodoxy

A Simple Jew asks:

Watching broadcast television in a religious home is essentially permitting the viewing of continuous infomercial that is attempting to sell secular society. Within minutes of turning on a television a man encounters numerous sights which halacha forbids him to look at and sounds that he is forbidden to listen to. Yet, there is still a large segment of Orthodox Jewry that doesn't seem to regard this as an issue. What would attribute this to?

Reb TiVo answers:

I hate arguing halacha because it isn't my strong suit. There are many things that our current rabbinic authorities are banning that may not actually be assur al pi halacha, but which may be related to forming extra gedarim to prevent people from getting into trouble. Music is one, the internet is another, and TV has long been the old fall guy.

I guess I don't want to answer this because what it really means is that I choose not to be under full rabbinic authority for certain aspects of my life, particularly for areas for which there isn't a good substitute.

For example:

Kashruth: Yes, it's hard but with minor adjustments to your menu you can still continue eating.

Shabbos: I love my Shabbos, but it is a major obstacle for many career paths. However there are other ways to make a living, and if you’re creative it doesn’t have to limit you that much.

Nidda: There are times when I wonder why WHY for the love of everything WHY?!!! But the other half of the month is…pretty good, y'know?

Banning something outright, like all entertainment, whether it is music, books, magazines, movies or TV, without an ample replacement is just a recipe for disaster, and what I consider "normal" people (people I can sit around a table with and have an interesting dinner conversation) will leave this religion in droves.

I think it's possible to be engaged in the real world, whether professionally, intellectually, or socially, and still be an Orthodox, kosher, Torah learning Jew, and make real contributions to making the world a better place. Pretending the outside doesn't exist doesn't solve any problems.

If one were to follow the premise of your question, one would have to conclude that you can never read a newspaper, never open a magazine, never read a secular book, never listen to the radio, never watch TV, rent a movie or go out, never go to work lest one see or even speak to a woman, and unless you live some place like Bnei Brak, never leave your home between the months of April and November when skin may be seen. I choose not to live that way. It makes Judaism into a negative religion, one of restrictions. It becomes a list of rules about what you can’t do, instead of a positive way to live your life.

I guess I can still remember the days when you could run into a local rabbi at the movies with his wife, or when the cool rebbes could quote Star Trek and Monty Python, and these are the people who inspired me to become frum, because I could see that they lived in the real world and yet were passionate about their Yiddishkeit. It seems to be a type of Judaism that's disappearing and frankly, I prefer it to what I see emerging now.


For the sake of clarification, my view of television can be read in this posting.

2 Nissan Links - ב ניסן

(Picture courtesy of

Mystical Paths: The Ruin

Mentalblog: One Week's Worth of Food Around Our Planet

Treppenwitz: Feeling like a monkey's...

Dixie Yid: One Must First Know Himself in Order to Know Hashem

A Fire Burns in Breslov: Medicine for the Soul

Mystical Paths: Meet Those in Need - Meet Yitzchok

Hunger & Anger

When a person returns home for the day he should ensure that he is not overly hungry because this will lead him to display his anger with the members of his family.

(Rebbe Menachem Mendel of Rimanov)

Sunday, April 06, 2008

A Haggadah From Sudilkov

(Click on the image above for the .pdf)

This sefer has a haskama of Rabbi Ephraim Wohl, an ancestor of the current Sudilkover Rebbe

Rosh Chodesh Nissan On A Sunday

If the first of Nissan falls on a Sunday, the first day of the Jewish week, then it is precisely like the first Rosh Chodesh Nissan from which all of the goodness and blessing for all the years are derived - for the Rosh Chodesh Nissan on which the Mishkan was dedicated also fell on a Sunday.

(Rabbi Eliyahu Kitov)

Friday, April 04, 2008

Question & Answer With Rabbi Zvi Leshem - Terminal Illness & Emuna

A Simple Jew asks:

The Biala Rebbe taught that the fact that a certain terminal illness has no known cure is an absolute clear indication that its only true cure is through supernatural means such as prayer. In his Ma'amar Techias HaMeisim he wrote,

"We must never discourage a sick person from his hope to recover, neither through our words, nor even through our thoughts. When friends and relatives lose hope of a patient's recovery, this itself can cause death, G-d forbid, though no fault of his own."

Later in this discourse, he provided these explicit instructions if a doctor suggests that the patient's condition is indeed terminal,

"We must not even repeat such words in the doctor's name. This creates an atmosphere of despair and discourages others from praying wholeheartedly..."

Given the Rebbe's opinion expressed above, how would you suggest that a person communicate the doctor's prognosis to concerned family members?

Rabbi Zvi Leshem answers:

Needless to say this is question of the deepest significance, of hatzalat nefashot mamash. I will share some insights from my experience as a community Rav, from my learning and from a discussion that I had with one of my Rebaim on this topic. As a Rav I have had both congregants who were very ill and congregants who had family members who were very ill, so I have dealt with this from both sides.

Very shortly before my teacher Rav Shagar z”l was niftar last Sivan from pancreatic cancer; he was asked if he had resigned himself to death. His response was that the possibility of a miracle was still a very realistic possibility. We must note however, that he, like the Biala Rebbe, was indicating his clear awareness that al pi teva, there really was no hope. Thus it would seem that after engaging in the hishtadlut of chemotherapy etc, the Rav was focused upon two tracks; still davening for a miracle, but at the same time, preparing with equanimity for death. I also recall my dear friend Rav David Zeller z"l, who died two weeks earlier just two days after Shavuot from a rare blood disease. He as well, while on the one hand ordered new experimental drugs on Motzei Shavuot, seemed clearly to have made his peace with either possibility. Thus in the weeks before his death, and on Shavuot itself, he seemed to be especially at peace with himself and with those around him. From the longer version of the Piaseczner Rebbe’s Death Meditation (HaChsharat HaAvreichim, chapter 8), one can receive deep insights into the self awareness that the dying person receives.

In discussing these issues with one of my Rebbaim, specifically regarding the questioning of counseling family members of terminally ill patients, he made the following distinction. The patient himself has an inner self awareness that he may die and that he needs to prepare himself accordingly. This involves a deep cheshbon hanefesh, and squaring away (at least mentally) of accounts with others that may have accrued over the years. As the awareness comes that one is preparing to meet HaShem, the anger and resentment that plague most of us throughout our lives no longer have significance. I would like to quote from a letter that I received today from a friend who is gravely ill with cancer (may HaShem grant him a miracle):

I think more about what my day of judgment will be. How can I answer for my life? I am proud of the life that I have led, the father that I am, the husband that I have tried to be, the values and goals that I represent – even my failings, mistakes and all have always been the result of the best of intentions.

Everyday that I am here is a bracha (blessing) for those who care about me but I have no expectations of tomorrows…The good news is that I have few regrets and I feel ready to stand at the gates of heaven and hear my decree…I feel ready for the big day.

However, the Rav explained, this is not the case for family members. They cannot fully share the deep spiritual experience that the dying patient is going through. Their only desire and fervent prayer is to prolong life and maintain hope. For them the discussion of the possibility of death is not constructive, it is devastating in a way that leads to paralysis. They need to maintain hope even in a situation where the patient himself has made peace with his imminent death.

According to this understanding there is a slight variation on the Biala Rebbe’s words. His concern seems to be solely for the recovery of the patient, who may be effected negatively by the atmosphere of despair, or the lack of prayer, should his true situation be understood by his family. We are pointing out that in addition, that there may be times when the patient understands and accepts that it is time to move on, and in fact needs this clarity and equanimity in order to do teshuva properly and transfer to the next world peacefully. Nonetheless, his family may need endless encouragement and hope in order to cope with their fears and grief. Thus the Rav or counselor needs to walk a thin line in helping both the patient and his family, whose needs may be entirely different, through this trying situation.

May HaShem heal all of the sick and wounded and comfort all mourners. May we merit Techiat HaMatim in our time.

Eizer L'Shabbos Pesach Campaign

The dropping dollar has led to an extremely desperate situation in Tsfat. Numerous tzedakah organizations will be unable to provide Pesach supplies this year and the responsibility to help the poor of Tsfat will now fall almost entirely on Eizer L'Shabbos. As the days have been geting closer to Pesach, Rabbi Binyomin Rosenberg's telephone has been ringing almost non-stop from 7:00 in the morning until midnight. Each call comes from another person who simply will not be able to make Pesach for their family without assistance from Eizer L'Shabbos.

With Hashem's help, this year Eizer L'Shabbos will provide 800 needy families with vouchers from local supermarkets so they can purchase meat, wine, matzah, pots and pans, or any other things they may need for yom tov. With your donation, please know that it can be considered as if you hosted a guest from Tsfat at your seder table; you will be able to say the words "Let all who are hungry come and eat" with absolute sincerity.

Do not let this request for tzedaka go unanswered and please give whatever you can.

Those wishing to help Eizer L'Shabbos in its important work may send their tax-deductible donations to:

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

Secure online donations may be sent via the Eizer L'Shabbos website here.

28 Adar (II) Links - כח אדר ב

(Picture by E. Cervigón)

Lazer Beams: You Don't Need to Change

Sfas HaNachal: On the Seder Plate…

Ohalei Tzaddikim: זעקת הקבורים בויניצא מאות לאומן לער"ח ניסן

Mentalblog: Gaza Googling

Noticing Everything

Hashem's eyes take in everything that is done by the children of Israel, His treasured community, holy ones descended from holy ones. He notices all the effort they go to in the eradication of chometz throughout the month of Nissan and in return He scrapes away the plagues brought on by the sitra achra and the accusers, on account of which we must bear the burden of this bitter golus.

(Kav HaYashar #89)

Thursday, April 03, 2008

"I Couldn't Keep Silent"

(Painting by Zvi Malnovitzer)

Yitz commenting on The Voyage Of Prayer:

With exponential (deserved) respect and honor to Avakesh, who is a much more learned person than myself, I feel compelled to state my difference of opinion on one particular matter mentioned.

Shortly after I made Aliyah, in the fall of 2000 (5760) I was praying Mincha very hastily and without a minyan. I pondered why it was that sometimes I was able to pray with great kavanah sometimes, and other times it felt like I was an empty automaton. At some point I realized, "Wait a minute! my prayers aren't lacking because HaShem has no interest in connecting with me. He is unchanging and always there waiting for us to call out, he has literally infinite patience. It must be that I'm not connecting because I don't care enough to invest the energy to do so."

And so I stopped rushing through Mincha and slowed down and slowed down and slowed down, determined no matter what to connect.

In the end it was a spectacular tefillah.

Since then (almost eight years ago) I know without a doubt that whenever my tefilla is less than phenomenal, it is because I'm not investing the energy. You ALWAYS have the option of sticking out your tefillah no matter how long it takes, if you really care and really yearn and really strive, and never give up, you can ALWAYS have the highest tefillah.

Note that this insight should never be a source of depression or cause tefillah to feel like a burden, rather it should be a source of comfort, to know that HaShem is ALWAYS there ready to hear you and rejoice in your company. [If you don't feel up to the challenge, then fulfill the halachic requirement of tefillah and rejoice in the fact that you didn't let your yetzer get you upset about your simple tefillah. This is a very lofty accomplishment.]

Another (tantamount) thing I learned over the years is that you never lose any time to tefillah. If you take the time to pray properly, you never suffer for it.. no matter how long you take. So many times I cut short because I was in a rush or running late or had other commitments.. and every time I got stuck in traffic or couldn't find a bus/cab or something else came up (hefetz hashud) that ensured that I never gained anything with the time I spared skimping on my tefillah.

Avakesh, I ask mechilah for disagreeing with you in this context. It is just so important and close to my heart, I couldn't keep silent.