Friday, August 29, 2008

"Have A Happy Shabbos"

(Illustration by Raphael Eisenberg)

On two occasions, I noted that the Sudilkover Rebbe wished me a "happy Shabbos" instead of "good Shabbos". While English is not his first language, I intuitively understood that he had chosen the word "happy" to express a specific idea.

When I finally asked him about his word choice, the Rebbe responded that he uses the word "happy" since it has an unmistakably positive connotation and the word "good" does not seem to mean anything as it is commonly used in American English. He then remarked,

"The most important thing on Shabbos is being b'simcha. A person must be happy!"

28 Av Links - כח אב

(Picture by Akcija Katarina)

Beyond Teshuva: Offering Up Our Egos on the Altar of Elul

Orthonomics: I'm Bored

Revach L'Neshama: Filling Our Children's Needs

Jewish Lights: The Sabbath is a Time of Joy

Dixie Yid: Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh - September Tour Schedule

The Prerequisite

A person who comes to purify himself gets help, but he is also told to wait.

(Talmud - Yoma 38b)

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Question & Answer With Dixie Yid - Life Through The Lens Of The Mei HaShiloach

A Simple Jew asks:

As someone who has been greatly influenced by Mei HaShiloach, how have you been able to find the right balance between engaging in your own hishtadlus (efforts) and seeing the world through the Ishbitzer lens that "It's all Hashem"?

Dixie Yid answers:

After learning a number of mind-bending Izbitz Torahs in Mei Hashiloach that have upended the way I perceive reality, I came to the conclusion that one could summarize the sefer Mei Hashiloach in three words: "It's all G-d." (See e.g., Parshas Vayera, D"H "Vatitzchak Sara" & also his piece on Pinchas killing Zimri).

I shared this observation with a holy lawyer friend and then he shared with me an observation that a Breslov Talmid Chacham that he knows shared with him. "Be careful not to get caught in 'Klipas Izbitz.'" (the "impure" side of Izbitz Torah)

His basic idea was that if one gets too caught up in the realization that "It's all G-d," one can come to tolerate Tumah & Aveira in his own life. He will say to himself, "Yes, I may have done/am doing this aveira (sin), but it's not sooo bad. Really all bad is just an external shell, but deep inside, everything is good. And doing this bad will ultimately bring me to an even greater level of good. Maybe I don't need to rush out of where I am so fast......." This is NOT the attitude that the Izbitzer is teaching one to have.

So if I shouldn't look at G-d providence as primary when thinking about sinning, what is the proper place of the deeper understanding of reality that one gleans for the Izbitzer?

A Rabbi of mine offered the following understanding of the place for these attitudes, when discussing a related topic. We need to know the proper place and time for looking at the world through the lens of "It's all G-d" and when it's the proper place and time for looking at the world through the lens of "It's all up to me."

When one looks to the present and future, one must have the attitude that "It's all up to me." One must focus on the power of free will and feel the personal responsibility of making the right choice. One only feels the pressure to do this with the attitude that "It's all up to me."

However, when looking at one's mistakes of the past, it can be paralyzing to think that all of my mistakes are all my fault. If I feel weighed down by guilt for my mistakes of the past, I will feel too unworthy & too guilty to continue forward in a new direction. That's where "It's all G-d" comes in. When I realize that everything happens for a reason, even things that happened through my own "free choice," and that everything is ultimately for the good, and that good is ultimately hidden within everything bad, then I feel lighter, fresher, and more able to forge ahead toward a better future and correct my mistakes and sins of the past.

The real challenge is knowing when to look through which lens. If one looks at the present and future through the lens of "It's all G-d," then one becomes complacent about aveiros and Tumah in his life, and this is what is meant by "Klipas Izbitz." However, it is just as bad to look at the world through the lens of "It's all up to me" when thinking about the past. Then one can be bogged down and weighed down by the guilt about the past.

May Hashem grant us the wisdom to see the world through both the lenses of "It's all up to me" and "It's all G-d," and the discernment to know when to look at the world through which lens!

Printed In Memory Of A World That Was

Degel Machaneh Ephraim - 1948 (Germany)


Numbers mean nothing - forget about a thousand mishnayos, forget about two thousand mishnayos. Learn one mishna and review it again, then a second. That's the only way to become a talmid chacham.

(Rav Shlomo Freifeld)

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Question & Answer With Rabbi Betsalel Edwards - Isbitzer Chassidus

A Simple Jew asks:

How does the Isbitzer approach to Chassidus differ from the approach of other groups?

Rabbi Betsalel Edwards answers:

Isbitz, like its parent courts of Kotzk and Pshisk, is an intellectual Chassidus, trying to create an elite of Torah scholars who are constantly re-evaluating the question, "where do I stand with God?"

Every kingdom of Chassidus stresses that which its community lacks. Chabad stresses the centrality of Ahavas Yisrael and Achdus, whereas Breslov is by and large about simple faith, Tikkun HaBris, and connecting to the Tzaddik. A Lubavitcher or Breslover Chassid may take issue with this statement. But still, we all agree that a Jew learns Chassidus in order to become whole, and I would only be insulting your intelligence if I added that that implies that we are lacking.

Isbitz stresses constantly re-evaluating the desires of God and His role in man's life. Isbitz also stresses trying to figure out what is really good and what is not as well as striving to know "your mitzva." Basically, all of the 613 Mitzvos are for every Jew at every time, in one way (action), or another, (speech-study, or thought). But really, are we all the same? Doesn't Chassidus teach the individual to find himself and actualize his true inner being? Didn't Rebbe Reb Zushia zt"l say, "When I get to Heaven, they won't ask me why I wasn't more like Moshe Rabbeinu, but they will ask me why I was not more like Zushia?"

To find "your own mitzva" is an idea that is originated with the Yehudi Hakadosh zt"l of Prshiska (See the first piece in Niflaos HaYehudi). He advises Jews to find two mitzvahs, one commandment and one prohibition, and become the world's expert in them. (It has to be a mitzvah that you can in fact do, not one of the mitzvos that is only for the king or only for the kohen, for instance.) Isbitz, growing out of Prshiska, expands on this idea, suggesting that every Jew has one mitzva that he or she cannot live without, that is truly a part of the individual's soul-root. (See Mei HaShiloach on sending away the mother bird in Parshas Ki Tetse) You would give over your life for this mitzva just as you would sooner die than worship idols, murder, or commit immoral sex acts. Before you know what your mitva is, you are asked to do all of them. And after you are convinced that, for instance, your mitzvah is not wearing shatnez, and that even though you still keep the other 612, but you are slightly annoyed by that little voice in your head that asks the question, "where you really born for this?" then you are mistaken in your convictions and are probably better off with Breslov, Chabad, and Piaceszna.

But if you know, you mammash know. How do you know? That is strictly between you and G0d, and even between you and yourself. Notwithstanding the inability to advise another person in this arena, I might add that if your enjoyment, taanug, of that mitzvah is not complete, then it is not your mitzvah.

And yet, if you truly know, then you keep the other 609 --

For the good of the community.

Because you don't want to lead someone who might imitate you away from his path

Because the Geulah has not yet come and we don”t want any misunderstandings

But not because you were born for it.

What would you give your life for? What is your life? Your life is also your reason for living.

Isbitz examines "aveira l'shmah" sinning for the sake of Heaven, in terms of bibical characters. The term "aveira l"shma" is not used even one time in the Mei HaShiloach, the central text of Isbitz, but he does talk about how the misdeeds of Yehuda and Tamar, Tslofhchad, who gathered wood on shabbos, Korach, Miriam's loshon Hara, and the one who never sinned, King David, and of course, Zimri and Cosbi, where all a part of God's divine plan. This is why the Kotzers burned the Mei HaShiloach and some frummers still keep it in the bathroom next to the Ladies Home Journal. If a man or woman has truly achieved purity and refinement in avodas Hashem, and is called upon God to do something that is outside of the law, then not doing it would be and aveira as long as the action is in no way connected to murder or adultery (See Mei HaShiloach, Chukos, "And the Bnei Yisroel camped at Ovos"). If it is connected to murder or adultery, then God is not to be blamed.

Isbitz goes deep into the Paradox.

Between Geula being right there in Galus. And of course, it focuses on the paradox of everything being determined and still having free choice (which was already in the Mishna). In many ways Isbitz is not just similar to other ways of Chassidus, but hides in the open spaces of the more difficult parts of the Talmud. The Piasetzner on Parshas Nachamu asks how a man could possess a Godly soul and simultaneously sin, and the Kedushas Levi … (machzir b’tshuva afilu derech chet.)

According to Getzel Davis and Professor Kimmelman, Isbitz is great for people who chucked Yiddishkeit and want to come back. It is for people who have a problem with halacha but want to still be included in Orthodoxy. I am not sure if it is good for conflicted types who never break halacha but are always wondering if they really have to keep halacha, as the paradoxes may intesify their conflited feelings. It is a good derech for finding your own voice in the Torah, perhaps stressing the value of the individual and being a maverik more than any other Chassidus. But like all chassidic courts, it's not for everyone.

Below are some quotes that I think sums up Isbitz nicely:

"Anne Bolyn was the most beautiful woman of her day, and because she was so beautiful, no one ever stopped to notice that she had one green eye and one blue eye. That's Isbitz. The Mei HaShiloach is always talking about being a vessel for God's desires even if it takes you outside of the Law, and yet, no one ever once saw R. Mordechai Yosef zt"l do a single aveira." - Rabbi Adin Even Yisrael, shlita.

"Without a doubt, The Mei HaShiloach was the most brilliant genius of his day, and if you look in his book you will not find a single sin." - Rabbi Yehoshua Reich.

"Isbitz is for after the sin." - Rabbi M. Lainer, Bait Vegan.

26 Av Links - כו אב

(Picture S. McGee)

Baal Shem Parshas Re'eh (Part 1 and Part 2)

Lazer Beams: Introducing The Garden of Peace

Rebbetzin Chana Bracha Siegelbaum: Mixing Dairy and Fish

Guest Painting By Leora - Contemplating A Stream

(Painting by Leora of Here in HP)


One who suspects innocent people of misdeeds is punished by physical affliction.

(Talmud - Shabbos 97a)

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Guest Posting By Yitz - Hiding & Blogging

Rebbe Nachman of Breslov teaches that the Yetzer Hara, the evil urge, has many ways of getting to us. One of the most tricky ways is to make us feel bad about the fact that we even have a Yetzer Hara. We often feel guilty for even thinking about or feeling like doing something wrong, even though we hold ourselves back. A potent cure to this particular tool of the Yetzer Hara, Rebbe Nachman confides, is to share with a close friend or a Rebbe what it is that your Yetzer Hara is driving you to do. By sharing these temptations with someone else, we realize how foolish they sound, and how ridiculous it is for us to feel bad about them in the first place. In this way, we are able to undermine the leverage of the Yetzer Hara.

Thinking about this Torah in the context of blogging, and even in discussion with a friend, I noticed that I often hide my Yetzer Hara away because I'm embarrassed of it. When broaching the subject of one desire or another, I will inadvertently replace the actual desire I'm feeling, or thinking of, with another that has less power over me. I know that I do this out of fear of letting on that I struggle with this particular desire (There are many). I fear that someone might see something ugly within me and judge me for it.

My question is: Are we aiding the Yetzer Hara and, in a larger context the Sitra Achra, the other side, by hiding our deepest temptations? Should I (or we as bloggers) perhaps be revealing my (our) desires and bringing them out into the light, rather than hiding them, in order to break the power of the Yetzer Hara, both individually and collectively? How many situations exist in the world where each person's individual fears played a large role in the universal suffering? How many second thoughts got stuffed away, eventually buried, under answers like "I was just following orders"?

In the end, these kind of questions necessitate a Rav or a Rebbe, but the questions themselves are worth pondering in order that we might increase our awareness of this problem, especially as Elul approaches.

Yitz's blog A Waxing Wellspring can be seen here

25 Av Links - כה אב

(Picture by D. Mosquin)

Mystical Paths: Important Israeli Lifestyle Advice

Rabbi Ari Enkin: Shirayim

Sfas Emes: Re'ei 5631 Fifth Ma'amar

Long Beach Chasid: Learning How Much You Need To Learn

Jerusalem Post: Streetwise: Hero on the outskirts

Their Inheritance

Hashem knows the days of the simple people, and their inheritance will be forever.

(Tehillim 37:18)

Monday, August 25, 2008

All Of These Thoughts From A Cool Morning Breeze

Leaving my home on the Tuesday morning following Shabbos Nachamu, I first noticed the colder air signaling the approach of the month of Elul and Rosh Hashana.

As soon as my mind turned to thoughts of teshuva, my yetzer hara instantly weighed in, "Teshuva?? You??? Of all people, I really don't think you need to concern yourself with such matters. You do more the most people anyways. What have you done that was really so bad that you need repent for? Everyday you are concerned with tachlis, tachlis, tachlis. Enough already!"

My yetzer hara didn't dissuade me though. I understood that there was a reason that I felt this Elul wind while it was still the month of Av. I then recalled the words of my friend Chabakuk Elisha,

" can happen that a spouse and children are forced to live in the unfortunate position of being at the mercy – so to speak – of someone that does not put their concerns first."

Indeed there are often times that I will forgo the opportunity to help my wife clean the house, put away laundry, do dishes, or go food shopping because I would rather engage in a more "lofty" pursuit such as learning Torah. I rationalize to myself that it is not my tachlis to squander my precious free time on menial household tasks. However, I realize that these selfish rationalizations are wrong, and that it IS my tachlis to give and to help others; especially my own family.

Although I certainly hate to admit it, sometimes putting away laundry or helping my wife with some home organizational project is on a higher level than the times when I open a sefer and learn.

24 Av Links - כד אב

(Picture by photosecosse)

Dixie Yid: Understanding Something & Acquiring It

Treppenwitz: Religious Coercion

A Waxing Wellspring: the friction of progress

A Fire Burns in Breslov: Israel is Like a Mirror...

Long Beach Chasid: Eretz Yisroel 5768

Paradoxical Living

In order to live simply, we must have faith that everything is in our hands, and that at the same time everything is sent to us only from Hashem. It may be impossible to understand this. But through living this paradox in practice, you will never be far from Hashem, nor will you ever fall.

(Reb Nosson of Breslov)

Monday, August 11, 2008

Another Break From Blogging

(Picture by S. Yeles)

I will be taking a another short break from blogging starting today. I plan to return to regular posting on Monday, August 25.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Sinas Chinam - A Story For Tisha B'Av

(Painting by Issachar Ber Ryback)

Excerpt from The Enemy At His Pleasure:

Rabbi Hoyzner told me a dreadful story. It was hard for him to talk, but impossible for him to hold back.

He had been summoned to a Russian military hospital to attend a mortally wounded Jewish soldier, who wanted to confess. When the rabbi arrived, the man was already dying.

"Rabbi! I can't die... I'm burdened with a great sin, and I beg you to grant me forgiveness."

"What is your sin?" asked the rabbi.

"Our regiment occupied a Jewish shtetl," the dying patient began. "As usual, there was a pogrom. The troops broke into the wine cellar and started drinking. I shared the liquor with them, got drunk, and set out to rob Jews. I stormed into a house and found an old man with a shtreimel and long side locks. Later on I learned he was the town rabbi. I grabbed the front of his shirt and screamed, 'Jew! Give me money!' He said he had none."

The dying man fell silent.

"What happened next?" Rabbi Hoyzner asked.

The soldier clammed up for a while, then murmured, "I ran my bayonet through him."

He moaned and pleaded. "Rabbi, grant me forgiveness so I can die in peace."

Rabbi Hoyzner was shaken, at a loss for words. He promised the dying man that he would think about it and give him an answer. But within a few hours he was told that the soldier had died.

This story was extraordinary but not unique. When savage instincts are unleashed by war, nightmares are bound to occur when even the weaker, backward Jewish soldiers yielded to the ferocious intoxication and joined their Russian comrades perpetrating the most shameful atrocities, even against Jews.

The Potential Of All People

Remember, we were at the forth-ninth level of tumah, in the depths of impurity, and a mere seven weeks later we stood on Har Sinai. Be careful how you talk about a Jew!

(Rav Shlomo Freifeld)

Thursday, August 07, 2008

If Only I Could Keep All Of These In Mind Every Day...

(Picture by Steve Rosenbach)

After Modeh Ani: Realize that I need to be concerned only with this day before me and not what I will do tomorrow.

After kissing the mezuza when leaving home - Remember that it is Hashem who decides what happens to me during the day.

Before Davening: Remember that I will be talking directly to the Ribbono shel Olam

While Davening: Remember that the second I open my mouth and daven that Hashem is right there listening to me.

Before and During Learning: Remember that I am not just studying any old book, rather it is a sefer that is precious and holy.

After Learning: Say a quick personal prayer that I am able to put my learning into practice.

Before Eating: Take time to slow down and realize I am thanking Hashem for the food and that without Him I would not even have it to begin with.

After First Bite/First Sip: Say a quick personal prayer that I use the energy from the food or drink for mitzvos and not aveiros.

Before saying Birkas Hamazon: Remember that bentching after I eat ensures that the channel of blessing that enables me to support my family is unobstructed.

Before Seeing Another Person: Ensure my eyes smile at them and that I greet them with a kind word.

After Work: Ensure I leave a bad mood outside before I enter the threshold to my house. Imagine that someone is going to pay me my entire yearly salary if I can refrain from expressing my anger for just that evening alone.

6 Av Links - ו אב

(Picture by C. Johnson)

Bahaltener: Из архива Ан-ского

Dixie Yid: He Guides Us Like Children

Sfas Emes: Devarim 5631 Fourth Ma'amar

A Fire Burns in Breslov: The Precepts of Hashem…

Hidden Behind

The whole world is filled with awesome and wondrous lights and secrets, yet a small hand stands before the eyes and prevents us from seeing the great light.

(Baal Shem Tov)

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Her Eyes

Looking into her eyes I can see the warmth, kindness, sensitivity, and love brimming over.

Her eyes are what caused me to fall in love with her.

Her eyes are my life's barometer. When they are radiating happiness, I too am filled with joy. When they are filled with tears, my heart is pained and yearns to bring her solace. When they are disapproving, I know that I am not living up to my potential and need to correct my ways. When they are shining, I know with certainty that I am on the right path.

I cannot imagine a world without these eyes.

And, I am humbled that every day these eyes look into my own.

5 Av Links - ה אב

(Picture by T. Cherana)

הלילה לקברו של האריז"ל

Eizer L'Shabbos: Ari Zal 5th of Av

Mystical Paths: A Very Israeli Moving Story

Zchus Avos Yogen Aleinu: Reb Michel Dorfman ZY"A

A Waxing Wellspring: heal the body, coax the soul

Dixie Yid: Memo from THE Managing Partner re Billable Hours

An Evil Eye

It is forbidden to stand at your neighbor's field, to gaze at it at the time the crops are standing, so as not to harm them with an evil eye. It is certainly forbidden to gaze at someone in a way that might damage him personally as a result of an evil eye. Even with regard to his business and occupation where there is no cause to fear an evil eye, if he works in his own house or property, it is forbidden to watch him without his knowledge, for he may not want others to know of his business and occupation. It is good manners, when seeing someone at his work, to bless him and say, "May you be successful at your task."

(Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 183:6)

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Question & Answer With My Yetzer Hara - Futile Mitzvos?

(Picture courtesy of

My Yetzer Hara asks:

If you are so concerned about honesty and truth, you have to admit that when you are "observing" a negative mitzvah, you are really not doing anything at all. Couldn't I rightfully say that right this very second I was observing a myriad of negative mitzvos? And now that I am on the subject, don't your positive mitzvos just evaporate after you commit an aveira? Your mitzvos are only being cancelled out by your aveiros my friend. Why do you even bother trying when the deck is stacked against you?

A Simple Jew answers:

Are you attempting to discourage me once again with a different approach?

The Mochiach of Polonoye (Rabbi Aryeh Leib - author of Kol Aryeh) taught that when a person restrains his natural inclination and does not violate a Torah prohibition, he doesn't simply remain in the same place as before as if he has done nothing; he actually takes a step upwards.

If by not doing something we are in reality doing something of great significance, you can only imagine the gigantic step upwards we take after doing a positive mitzvah. The performance of mitzvah does not just have value at the time it is performed, rather it is eternal. It creates a tremendous burst of energy that assists a person on the next occasion he has the opportunity to perform a mitzvah. Performing a mitzvah can thus be likened to rolling a snow ball down the side of a mountain that continually gains momentum as is rolls down further and further. So, doing just one mitzvah can result millions and trillions of mitzvos.

Performing a mitzvah cannot be viewed as a receiving a erasable tally mark, and refraining from committing a Torah prohibition cannot be seen as doing nothing. Each mitzvah we observe, whether positive or negative, increases our our connection to Hashem and elevates us closer to the tachlis of our creation.

Heichal HaRivash - A New Sefer

Rabbi Micha Golshevsky comments:

"Heichal HaRivash is a wonderful collection of Chassidus that includes a commentary (with sources) on Tehillim 107 by Rav Itche Meyer Morgenstern and on zemiros by Rav Morgenstern's nephew. I have the first edition just on the zemiros and I recommend it highly; it is truly superb."

4 Av Links - ד אב

(Picture by Henry H.)

Shiloh Musings: Like a Vitual "Elkana"

Here in HP: Candles

Rabbi Ari Enkin: Tisha B'av - Torah Study

Letters of Thought: Three on Russians

Dixie Yid: Keeping My Head on Straight

Baal Shem Parshas Devarim (here & here)

Direction For The Day

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

(Tehillim 143:8)

Monday, August 04, 2008

Guest Posting By Chabakuk Elisha - Summer

(Picture courtesy of

Summer! Here, where I live in Brooklyn, it's the most peaceful the city ever gets. Once the school year ends, the mass exodus begins – as so many folks pack up and head to "the country" – and finally open up some parking spaces and elbow room for us full-time city dwellers. For me, this is a foreign concept (having not grown up in New York), and I have never been able to come up with a convincing rationale to pay rent in two locations, pack up, uproot myself and family, live separated from them 5 days a week (and then commute in heavy traffic to see them only on weekends), multiply and accrue significant additional expenses, as well as the added stress and logistical work, just for some exposure to grass, clean air and insects (yes, I love the sound of crickets, but still…). However, for those who grew up this way, it's just part of life.

Growing up "out of town," we had a different summertime. Once school was out, we enjoyed the neighborhood that we lived in all year. We enjoyed the bugs and crickets that were always with us. We rode our bikes until it got dark, and then we headed home (only to get yet another lecture about not coming home after dark and why he hadn't called to say we were ok and on our way – don't we know that our mothers worry?). Sure, there were day camps, but we never thought of going away for the summer – only the very rich did such things – and my fondest memories of summers past usually revolve around my father taking us "for a drive."

He would just drive. Sometimes there may have been an intended destination, sometimes we may have been on our way back from somewhere, but my father would drive around through back roads and past old houses and farms that I would imagine hadn't been seen in eons by virtually anyone other than the owners and mailman (ok, I'm not sure if even I really believed that, but for my imagination it was a preferable fantasy). We passed seemingly endless cornfields and broken down barns. We watched skeet shooters and horse riders. We stopped to pet a few cows and we gazed at an awe-inspiring tree or two or hundred. We searched for Indian tracks or at least arrow-heads and war paint. We even searched for Elves and Snarks (you'd have to check with my father for the specific definition of a "Snark"). It's been quite a while since those days, but I can't imagine a better way to enjoy the summer.

And I feel guilty. I don't know if I've ever done that with my own children. Maybe once, maybe twice… maybe. My younger children see a patch of trees and point excitedly: "A forest!" We took them to feed the ducks last week and I told them "That's a Mallard Duck," and they look at me blankly wondering what the heck I'm talking about. Now three of my older children are away in sleep away camp. They love it. There are real woods. There are rabbits, chickens and goats. Walking with my 10 year old son, he spots snakes here and there with an almost intuitive sense from 15 feet away. I thought about my neglect in providing them the drives my father gave me, and the more rural experience. Before they're all grown up, I should do something about it.

3 Av Links - ג אב

(Picture by Todor Kamenov)
Too much remembering

Rabbi Yakov Horowitz: Memories of the Bobover Rebbe

A Fire Burns in Breslov: The Words of a Tzaddik

Jewish Lights: Faith and the Red Heifer

Revach L'Neshama: 300 Tzadikim In Burial Shrouds

In A Whisper

There are certain secrets which have sufficient power to draw even those furthest from Hashem to return. These are the secrets which the greatest tzaddikim are wont to reveal in a whisper.

(Reb Nosson of Breslov)