Monday, June 15, 2009

Summer Vacation - Blogging Break

This year, the majority of the yomim tovim in Tishrei fall out on weekends. This allows me to finally take some time off this summer for a true vacation with my family. Although I don't plan to go too far, I plan to take a break from blogging during this time and will return to regular posting on Monday, July 6.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Question & Answer With Rabbi Zvi Leshem - How To Identify A Spiritual Fall

(Picture by Y. Nachomi)

A Simple Jew asks:

Rebbe Nachman of Breslov taught that when a person advances to the next level in his avodas Hashem he is immediately besieged by new obstacles which make a person feel as if he has fallen all together. A person should know, however, that he has not fallen at all. He must exert himself tremendously to break through and gain a solid foothold on this new level.

While Rebbe Nachman is telling us that we are not falling in this situation, how are we to know when we are actually are falling in our avodas Hashem since the symptoms of lethargic davening and learning occur with both the person who is exerting himself at the new level and the person who is not exerting himself at all?

Rabbi Zvi Leshem answers:

This is a serious issue (related to the issue I addressed a year ago in the article Peak Moments in Avodat HaShem) that all of us struggle with on our path of spiritual growth. I am willing to admit up front that the question may be better than any answer that we can give. As the holy Besht replied to his students when that asked how to test a new "holy man",

"Ask him for a remedy to be rid of machshavot zarot. If he gives you one he is a quack, since certain things require years of constant effort, and there are no short cuts." (The Piaseczner Rebbe, Hachsharat HaAvreichim 12a).

Here too, to develop the level of spiritual self-awareness necessary to answer our question, which is so personal, may require a long path of trial and error, and general rules may be inapplicable. Nonetheless I will try to give some insights that may be helpful.

In addition to Rebbe Nachman, this topic is addressed as well by the Mei HaShiloach and his student Reb Zaddok HaKohen of Lublin. They were acutely aware of the need to learn from the reality around us (See Rav Zaddok, Tzidkat HaTzadik 177, that all of reality contains the four hermeneutic levels of Pardes), but at the same time fully cognizant of just how misleading that reality can be. (See my article on Nazir and Sota). Regarding our specific issue, Rav Zaddok writes in Tzidkat HaTzadik 151:

"Times of falling, when you have no desire for Torah or Avoda, are preparation for a great aliya. This occurs due to the crying as one thinks about his path and contemplates his lowly state."

On the other hand, since we live in the alma d'shikra, the world of illusion, just as "failure" may actually be a sign of progress, "success" is not always a guarantee that we are in fact on the right path. In Tzidkat HaTzadik 64 he writes as follows;

"Sometimes you see clearly that Hashem is helping you and agrees with your actions, but this is no guarantee that your deeds are truly righteous…for in the path that one wants to go, he is led."

Based upon this principle Rav Zaddok explains how, after the followers of Korach were swallowed up in the ground in an open miracle, the people could still blame Moshe and Aharon, charging, you have killed the people of Hashem.

"For even though they saw the miracle in their demise, they thought that the Torah is not in Heaven, and therefore the Halacha is not necessarily with Moshe and Aharon against Korach and his gang. However, since Moshe and Aharon wanted to defeat Korach, and they had certain merits, they succeeded in killing the people of HaShem."

Perhaps it is this very confusion that Rebbe Nachman alludes to in Likutey Moharan 25:2, when he writes,

"When one ascends from one level to the next, he must pass through illusions (dimyonot), in order to achieve holiness. As soon as he ascends to a new level the shards (klipot) of these illusions are aroused, surrounding him. And he must subdue and shatter them, in order to purify this [new] place from these shards."

Later, in 25:5 he adds,

"Many Chassidim make the mistake of thinking they have fallen from Avodat Hashem, when there is no falling at all…therefore they need to strengthen each time anew to subdue and shatter the shards that prevent them [from growth], at each new level they achieve…"

Perhaps the answer to this quandary is that it may not really matter. I feel attacked by the illusion of the yetzer hara. It may be a fall, yet on the other hand, it may be the sign of my having reached a new spiritual level. Mai nafka mina – what difference does it really make? Of course, it would be nice to "know where I am holding" at any given time, but practically speaking, I have to serve Hashem in all situations, for the whole world is filled with His Glory – no place is empty of His Presence. If the yetzer is attacking, it is my job to optimistically fight it off, not to make cheshbonot, calculations about why this is happening to me right now. This would seem to be a perfect example of tamim tihiyeh im Hashem Elokecha, serve Hashem with simplicity. If we adopt this strategy we should hopefully react properly in all situations.

May Hashem bless us with more clarity as we continue to grow in our Avodat HaShem.

20 Sivan Links - כ סיון

Rebbetzin Yehudis Golshevsky: The Holiness of the Shabbos Meals

Solitude / Hisbodedus: The Holy Garment

Solitude / Hisbodedus: Dwelling in Caves

Solitude / Hisbodedus: Directing the Heart

Solitude / Hisbodedus: The Ramchal On Hisbodedus

Creation & Confusion

When one reads this portion, it is forbidden to ask, "Why was this created on this day and not on another? Why is one thing different from another?" Whoever delves into such questions only confuses himself. Better to study Torah for the purpose of knowing what he is obligated to observe.

(Me'am Lo'ez)

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Life & Teachings Of The Degel Machaneh Ephraim - An Audio Shiur By Rabbi Michel Twerski

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This audio shiur is from Rabbi Michel Twerski’s series In the Footsteps of the Chassidic Masters.

19 Sivan Links - יט סיון

(Picture by T. Davis)

A Simple Jew: Shmiras Einayim In The Summer

Solitude / Hisbodedus: Spiritual Ascent Through Prayer

Solitude / Hisbodedus: A Meditation Room

Solitude / Hisbodedus: Praying With the Universe

The Innermost Point

Tzedaka leads the innermost point of a man's heart to Hashem.

(Baal HaTanya)

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Campaign For Reichman Family Making Progress

Received via e-mail from Rabbi Dovid Sears:

Thanks to all those who have already contributed to our tzedakah campaign on behalf of Rabbi Yitzchok Reichman's bereaved wife and ten children. The checks mailed in were given over to those in charge of the account this week and receipts should be sent out in the near future.

However, we still have not reached the halfway mark. Therefore, we urge anyone who has not yet participated in this great mitzvah to send in a generous tax-deductable contribution as soon as possible.

Since I will be away for the summer, please send checks to:

Keren Yitzchok Isaac
c/o Rabbi Nosson Scherman
1181 East 9th St
Brooklyn, NY 11230

Rabbi Scherman is General Editor of Artscroll/Mesorah Publications and one of several prominent rabbis and community leaders endorsing this tzedakah campaign.



Just Five Minutes

Let it not seem trivial in your eyes to learn Torah even for just five minutes if it happens that you have no more free time than that.

(Darka shel Torah)

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Searching For More Nekudos Tovos

Beginning again on my birthday, the Sudilkover Rebbe recommended that I start another 40-day plan to work on being able to see the nekudos tovos in my children. This time the Rebbe told me to use only two columns for each day's entry: one column for my children's nekudos tovos, and one column for recording what I did well that day in my dealings with them.

After 20 days, I found that I was continually writing the same things and begining to question whether I was making any progress. I then called the Rebbe to speak to him about this issue. The Rebbe responded that it was certainly alright for me to record the same nekudos tovos, however, the main point of my exercise was to identify new nekudos tovos in my children each day; even if these nekudos tovos were the very simplest things or occured during times when their behavior was less than stellar.

On day 25, I came across an amazing teaching in Kitzur Likutey Moharan #59 that helped me during these times when my children misbehaved and my blood began to boil. In this lesson, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov taught that when a person begins to grow angry he should know that at that very moment some sum of money is being channeled down to him from above and his yetzer hara is attempting to spoil this influx of wealth and not allow it to reach its destination.

Having this new understanding of the dynamics of what was happening behind the scenes, I found that I could control my anger more often than naught. Additionaly, without the mochin d'katnus that goes hand in hand with anger, I was able identify new nekudos tovos in my children with more ease.

Looking back at these 40 days, I reached some conclusions about the efficacy of the 40 day plan. Firstly, taking on this type of avoda simply focused me to continually desire to achieve the goal I set for myself. It put me in a mindset where I would begin idenfifying nekudos tovos in my children the second I saw them each day. During each Shachris, Mincha, and Maariv, I would also daven that Hashem open my eyes and allow me to see my children's nekudos tovos shining in front of me anew; that I deal with them with more rachmanus and less gevura.

I am convinced that Hashem sends a person tailored advice on how to proceed and be successful once he begins to work on himself for 40 days. This advice might come through a conversation with another person, a sight a person sees, or through opening a sefer and learning a new concept that is immediately relevant to his circumstances. A person will definitely not attain perfection, however, he certainly will take a few steps forward towards the person he strives to be.

Giving Birth To Wisdom

When a person studies Torah without gaining new insights it is because the wisdom of the Torah is concealed from him like an embryo in the womb. He should cry out in his prayers and as he learns. Then he will give birth to wisdom.

(Rebbe Nachman of Breslov)

Monday, June 08, 2009

Question & Answer With Chaviva - Your Mitzva

(Painting by Isaac Besancon)

A Simple Jew asks:

Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 26:22 states that it is appropriate to instruct your children before you die to strengthen their observance of a specific mitzvah on your behalf. Furthermore, it notes that if your children fulfill this mitzvah it is of greater significance than their reciting Kaddish.

With the understanding that your answer is only offering a conjecture, what mitzvah would you envision instructing your children to strengthen in your merit?

Chaviva answers:

It is interesting (almost beshert!) that you should ask me this question. I recently found out that the husband of a good friend of mine started keeping kosher at the request of his grandmother as she lay on her death bed. This woman requested different things of her different grandchildren, including that another one of the grandchildren daven daily, three times a day. Both of these grandchildren have fulfilled the wishes of their grandmother in full, and as a result, both individuals are growing more and more in their observance and are inspiring to those around them.

"Honor your father and mother" (Exodus 20:12) is one of the most basic and essential of the commandments or Decalogue, which I had the pleasure of hearing over Shavuot in shul. Although it is significantly important to fulfill this command in life, it is almost more important to fulfill it in death, as Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 26:22 states: "After their passing, he is obligated to honor him more."

Although I am neither married nor the mother of any children (yet!), your question resonates with me as someone growing daily in observance. For me, the most obvious response to what mitzvah I would envision instructing my children to strength is kasruth observance. Why? Food is sustenance, it helps us through the day, giving us energy for all that we do. Midrash Rabbah Bereishit 70 says "The belly carries the feet." So much of what we do in Judaism surrounds food, be it the holidays of Shavuot, Rosh HaShanah or Pesach where we are commanded to consume certain types of foods in order to relive our experiences, or the Shabbos dinner table where we convene with friends and family from near and far. Judaism is a religion, culture, life fulfilled through a foundation of food.

It is written that "Man does not live on bread alone, but by the utterance of G-d's mouth does man live" (Deuteronomy 8:30). The Kabbalists taught that nestled within every created thing is an "utterance of G-d's mouth," and that when the body hungers for a piece of physical bread it is simply a reflection of the soul's craving for the divine utterance ("soul") within the bread. When we eat, in this example kosher bread, we uplift the divinity within the food toward a G-dly purpose. Thus contained within our physical hunger is really our hunger for the soul of the food, the sparks of holiness within it. After all, there was more depth to Solomon's prescription for man to eat, drink, and enjoy the pleasures of his labors from G-d.

On a daily basis, we consume (in theory) three meals, with snacks and desserts intermixed. Often we just know that we are hungry, so we pick up whatever is nearby, eat it, and whether we feel full afterward is the goal, not the process or thought behind it. But when one goes to eat, he or she should think about what is healthy, how hungry they are and what foods will sate that hunger, how to prepare the food, and where to buy the food. It is an activity that requires much thought. But the act of eating requires even more thought when one is observant of kashruth. Why? Because you have to make sure you are buying kosher foods, that your meat is properly killed and prepared, that you are not mixing meat and dairy when preparing food, you have to think about which pots and pans to use, which silverware and plates, you have to consider in what order you will eat the food, and you have to consider how long you will have to wait between your meat and dairy meals. Furthermore, and on top of the entire process, you have to consider which blessings to recite over which foods, making every meal and every snack a holy act in which you treat the food, your body, and your neshama as a temple. In sum? It requires a lot of planning. Keeping kosher makes you 110 percent conscious of everything you are buying, putting into your kitchen, onto your dishes, and subsequently into your body. From dawn until dusk, you are required to be hyper-conscious of everything that you do: food drives the body and mind throughout the day.

If I could implore my children to take something seemingly mechanical like eating to a higher spiritual plane, then my memory would be truly honored. I want my children to be hyper-conscious of all that they put in their bodies, to look at food as more than just things put on earth for our free use. I want every morsel of food consumed to be a holy act, working toward a greater goal of observance and spirituality. It seems like such a simple, ineffectual act at the outset, but over a lifetime, or even just a month, observing kashruth can inspire the undertaking of more mitzvoth. Food should be an act of cause and effect, an act with intention: eat to sustain and nourish, use the energy to perform and fulfill mitzvoth. And this, this is how I will instruct my children.

A Hachnosas Sefer Torah and Siyum HaTorah In Milwaukee

More pictures can be seen here

A Brazen Response

One should not be embarrassed from people who scoff at him with respect to his service of the Creator. But nevertheless, he should not respond brazenly, in order not to acquire the character trait of being a brazen person - even when he is not involved in his service of Hashem.

(Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 29:8)

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Practical Guide to Hisbodedus - An Audio Shiur By Rabbi Dovid Sears

Friday, June 05, 2009

Question & Answer With Yitz - Charting Likutey Moharan

A Simple Jew asks:

Rebbe Nachman of Breslov said that his teachings were made up entirely of complex linkages known as bechinos. Has anyone gone through all the lessons in Likutey Moharan and made a chart that visually displays the connections between all these bechinos?

If not, would you imagine that such a chart would help a person better navigative the intricacies of this sefer and aid his understanding?

Yitz of A Waxing Wellspring answers:

Until recently I really would have thought 'yes' .. but now, where I'm holding, I think when someone tries to learn Torah as if its the same thing as learning information, we're missing the essence of what it is to learn Torah. Part of not charting it out is forcing yourself to make it a part of you.

There will always be those people who argue for charting it out, and when it does happen, I think it will be a good thing, but it will also be a sad thing, just as the writing down of the Mishnah was. It means that people wont have to work as hard to attain it and so, it's value has been somehow cheapened. Yes, there's nothing stopping someone from learning it without the charts, ie. the old fashioned way, but how many people do you know that memorize the whole Mishnah rather than keep it handy on their iPhone/PocketPC. (or people who do the Daf without Artscroll because they really want to work for it.)

The other downside of the chart is mistaking the ability to understand the sefer at a glance with the deep relationship that only develops with time. When people see it and think it makes sense, think they get it, it's significantly less interesting. This is the same sort of problem people have with traditional Judaism when they want to return, they think they know what it is, when what they think they know is a bunch of superficial observations.

It's easy for me to describe this because I see how guilty I am of these things on a daily basis.

Guest Posting By Rabbi Yaacov Yisroel Bar-Chaiim - Misken, Mediated Learning, & MiLa

One very common but profoundly misunderstood Hebrew word is Misken. It's usually translated as Pitiful, Poor, Miserable, Pathetic …

The problem is that all these connote condescension. Something is wrong – with that individual. He has failed at something and is now stuck in a place, at best, where we never hope to be.

If you've ever heard the term being used with spontaneous Jewish compassion, however, you know it means something very different. "Oy, Misken!" conveys a piercing overlap of spirit; an abiding kinship; a mutual commiseration that leaves each feeling a little lighter, a little holier.

Certainly that's how the holy Baal Shem Tov understood the way Shlomo HaMelech used the word when he penned his famous metaphor (Ecc. 9:14 -16):

Ir katana…

U'matza ba EEsh Misken V'khakham…


Khokhmas Ha'Misken


The basic translation goes like this:

(There once was) a small city within which were few men. A great king came upon it, besieged and built great bulwarks against it. Now a man was found within it who was misken and wise and by whose wisdom he caused the city to escape; yet no one remembered that misken man. Then I said (in shock): While wisdom is better than strength, the wisdom of the misken is disgraced and his words are not heard!

The Besh"t heard a much more nuanced and symbolic narrative (as brought down in Nesivos Sholom I, Mavo: 6 & Avoida: 9, based on Gem. Nedarim 32:B; see also Rashi on the verse, where he immediately explains Misken as "Ha'Yezter HaTov"):

Every Jew's inner life is a small city. This world for him is restrictive. Opportunities for making his mark are painfully few. But what can he do? There's an awful tyrant out there, the Yetzer HaRa, the desire for resisting the Creator's Will. We must be constantly on guard.

Indeed, this tyrant will inevitably attack. He does so with a two-pronged strategy: besiegement and bulwarking.

Besiegement means cutting off the Jew from his primary sources of spiritual revitalization – Torah learning and prayer. When this happens, the city may keep functioning but with a severely deflated spirit. Bulwarking is what happens when the tyrant asserts himself via foreign ideas. Once they're allowed to loom high and mighty over a Jew's life they can fire their ammunition straight into the heart of the city – his belief system.

If this occurs, G-d forbid, his Judaism is doomed. His few men (merits) are overwhelmed.

Yet, there's a secret weapon: Eesh Misken v'Khakham, the town's wise and, well, let's just call him Misken man. Though the average citizen hardly knows him, lo and behold he's there in times of need. The problem is that after he does his heroic thing, galvanizing the divine determination to NEVER give in to an anti-G-dly way of life or thinking, all that anyone recalls is his wisdom. They fall all over themselves trying to analyze the psychology of his counterattack and completely ignore his simple, gut level resistance to the profane allurements of this world.

About this, our truly wise and righteous King Solomon sighs, in paradoxical enlightenment: It's difficult to identify with the misken. But if understood properly, he offers us the greatest of gifts. Hence bezuya, disgraced, can be mystically rendered b'ZU - Ya!

"In THIS is G-d!"

You hear?

The capacity to be a Misken, suffering from apparent failure in this world, is G-d's gift; a secret weapon He's planted within our souls for remaining loyal to Him no matter what the challenge. It's that purely Jewish orientation of being both at odds with this world and transcending it. A proper translation must respectively imply both a lack and strength; a deficiency and asset. Is there any such word in the English language?

Well, how about this. The buzz word of the generation:


That's right. The label given to those myriads of unsettled folk whom our outreach programs have been targeting for decades. Just think about it. Sikune, the root of Misken, means risk. And sounds like it! More importantly, the sociological implication of calling someone At-Risk is that what concerns us is not what got him to this point but what lies immediately ahead. He's extremely susceptible. The fact that he hasn't yet succumbed can therefore be viewed as a tremendous strength.

Aye, the best way to help our fellow Misken is to let him know that WE are the ones in need – of learning his stubborn refusal to succumb to the risks of this world. If only each of us would sublimate such energy then maybe just maybe our "healthy" religiosity would really bear out what it's touted to.


The revelation of G-d's Presence.

Actually, our nation once learned this lesson in a very big way. Long ago, back in Egypt we had reached such a low ("49 levels of tuma" which the sefarim point out was not about actual sins but the way we did Mitzvahs!) that we needed pharaoh to force us to build Arei Miskenot (Ex. 1:11). Now everyone falls over themselves trying to explain why this phrase is used for the obvious pshat (contextual meaning) of storehouses. They say it's referring to a breakdown in the Israelite-Egyptian social fabric, or the physical structure of old storehouses, or…

But maybe we can render it quite literally: Energized units (Arei from the root l'hisorer, arouse) of Misken-men.

Or more accurately: women (MiskenOT)!

To be sure, our women of that time were known to be much more meritorious than the men. So perhaps what was going on was that the Egyptians were beginning to affect our spirits like the bulwark-builders in Shlomo's metaphor. Egyptian Jewry was the "small city within which were few men"… but plenty of women! As we learn in the verse immediately thereafter:

K'asher yaanu oso

Ken yirbei

V'ken yifrotz

As (Egypt) would afflict (Israel), so would (Israel) increase and so would (Israel) burst forth

Rashi: "As much as (the Egyptians) would set their hearts to afflict (the Israelites), so was the heart of the blessed Holy One to increase (them) and make (them) burst forth."

And how did this happen? By blessing the women with miraculous quantity (six at a time) and quality (Moshe, Aharon and the entire Dor Deah) of children!

It was all because our women understood the secret of embracing the Misken.



Professor Reuven Feuerstein, shlit"a, is the founder of a world famous psycho-educational school of thought, based in Jerusalem, which seeks to radically improve the lives of official Miskens, otherwise known as "uneducables." The title of one of his books says it all: "If you love me – DON'T accept me as I am!" He claims, based on half a century of experience with and research into the assessment and remediation of major At-Riskers in every society, that the worst thing we can do for such individuals is to take pity on them. That leaves two options: Neglect or build them.

Better yet: Help them build themselves.

And so he set out to do. His most remarkable achievements (for which he's won prestigious prizes) have occurred with young children who would normally be placed in Special Education classes, like those with Downs Syndrome and other genetically based mental handicaps. For most of these precious souls, Special Ed means being condemned to a life, at best, in which they'd be pampered and "understood", but hardly ever challenged to make something of their lives. Thus he determined to challenge them with rigorous programs of "cognitive modification" that proved that their intelligence was much higher than believed and, most importantly, that this intelligence can be translated into the real world.

Amazingly, many of these "uneducables" have ended up carving out respectable positions in the army, dignified professions and sometimes even marriage.

A key notion in Feuerstein's theories is that intelligence is not a quantity that is genetically bestowed or even attained in childhood and then statically plateaus, like reaching a physical height. Rather it is a dynamic, structured way of thinking that can be increasingly molded throughout one's lifetime. It's all about learning HOW to learn. The capacity to learn anew is the crux of intelligence, Feuerstein asserts. True education accordingly enhances principles of good thinking far beyond the specific material being imparted.

Now, for the last eight months I've been participating in a course for religious men which is studying a classic Feuerstein model called the Mediated Learning Experience (MLE). It revolves around the use of various, content-less exercises known as Instrumental Enrichment. One of the most popular of these instruments is the Organization of Dots; a series of dot-patterns within which the student is challenged to discern geometric shapes, reflect on his success and build strategies for discerning the next, more complex dot-pattern.

An official summation of MLE explains: The teacher is "not concerned with solving the problem at hand. Rather (s/he is a) mediator who is concerned with how the learner approaches solving the problem. The problem at hand is only an excuse to involve the mediator with the learner's thinking process."

As an educator who has long been frustrated by the information stuffing aspects of most educational curricula (especially the religious ones), I've found this approach extremely refreshing. As one who has studied and worked for many years in youth counseling, I find the emphasis on personal process deeply encouraging. Finally, as a chossid of the Baal Shem Tov I've found it tremendously inspiring to witness the selfless passion and sensitivity that Feuerstein and company pour into the lives of those who are otherwise written off by society.

Yet, in light of the above teachings, I'm also disturbed. It's the whole de-Miskenizing mystique.

You see, even though the institute works with many religious Jews and some of their teachings are even seeping into the so called Ultra-Orthodox school systems, I'm finding myself questioning whether they're not eviscerating the b'ZU from the Ya! That is, they're attempting to normalize those who've been given the gift of NOT being normal!

This is not right. We should be concomitantly seeking to challenge their minds and sublimate their uniqueness.

Ponim b'fonim diber Ha'Shem imokhem

b'hor m'toch ha'aish;

V'Anochee omeid bein Ha'Shem


Moshe Rabbeinu tells us in this verse (Deut. 5:4): "G-d spoke with you face to face on the Mount, within the fire, while I was standing between you and G-d". But the Besh"t questioned (Nesivos Sholom II, 338): Was Moshe really BETWEEN them? If so, then how could it have been "face to face"?

Rather, the Besh"t emphasizes, there's no doubt that every single Jew had an absolutely direct encounter with blessed Infinite One. That's the foundation of our faith. Yet the power of that encounter all too quickly dissipated. How could that happen?? Because "I" (not Moshe himself) got in the way – the ego of each individual.

How did that "I" manifest? In the desire to be "normal"! As recorded a few verses later, in the nation's argument to Moshe about why they should STOP hearing directly (5:23-24):

Who is there amongst the flesh like us who have heard the voice of the living G-d speaking from within the fire and have lived?

(we respectively plead that)

You (alone) draw near and hear all that the L-rd G-d will say.

No question, the Sinai experience was abnormal. It caused our holy nation to experience a total unease with this world. Unfortunately we sought an escape.

Oh, it was a "kosher" one, to be sure! But in essence, a very grave spiritual descent had occurred. As Rashi points out, the Hebrew form of "you" that is used for Moshe here is feminine, because this request "dilluted (his) strength (until he became, spiritually) like a female, for (he) grieved (…) since (he) saw that (they) were not anxious to come close to (G-d) out of love".

Is it not reasonable to assume, then, as believing Jews, that also today any attempt to de-Miskenize is fraught with spiritual danger?

Please don't misunderstand. I don't mean, in any way, to dishearten anyone's dedication to assisting disadvantaged children becoming functionally autonomous, G-d forbid! But does it really need to include educating their abnormality out of them? Perhaps it's time we learn to educate it INTO people. As it's written, a few chapters later (Deut. 10:15):

G-d desired only your forefathers… from all the nations until this very day. Thus you shall circumcise the toxic-sheath surrounding your heart.

No question, the Mitzvah to cut past our emotional excesses is intimately tied in to our abnormal national identity! Furthermore, the root letters for circumcision, Mal, as in Bris Mila, are exactly the same as the official abbreviation, both in Hebrew and English, of this model of Feurostein's – Mediated Learning or Lomida Metuvakhet! Unbelievable as it sounds, let us briefly explore it.

Kosher circumcision involves three stages: Orla – the severing of the outer foreskin; Preeya – the peeling back of the remaining inner foreskin; Metzitza – the drawing of blood out of the wound. These stages perfectly parallel the soul's learning process.

Orla – This refers to the destructive (non-wise) elements embedded within the Misken identity. At this stage of the learning process we seek to detoxify the pupil's spirit from any "can't do it" attitudes by showing that as long as he has even a modicum of thinking strength, it's possible to learn. It could be likened to the beleaguered citizens in King Solomon's small city being encouraged to take control of their most vital means of sustenance.

Preeya – This is the precarious stage I've called de-Miskenizing. It's no longer a matter of detoxifying but of shedding the Misken's identity altogether; the temptation to make the new learner be "like everyone else". After all, haven't we gotten rid of a-l-l the foreskin?! This is comparable to our small city citizens encountering the high and mighty bulwarks of foreign ideas looming over them. The question is not whether but HOW to repel those bulwarks. Shall we fight fire with fire; build mightier bulwarks than theirs? Shall we combat the world's lust for normalcy by striving to become e-s-p-e-c-i-a-l-l-y normal? Or perhaps we should educate for awareness of the experience of normalcy as a deceptive, transitory stage…

Metzitza – Ah. This is when the true Jewish spirit can reign. This is when we imbue the baby with b'ZU-Ya. To be sure, drawing blood from a fresh wound on a sensitive organ will turn anyone into a Misken! But this is precisely what our spiritual tradition beckons us to do. That "G-d judges the righteous until the slightest of hairsbreadth" is a hallowed Jewish principle. It challenges us to believe that the more spiritually developed we become the less normal / conventional / attached to this-worldly comforts we must be.

The problem is that this last stage is extremely difficult to learn on our own. We need teachers. Better yet, as Feuerstein would say, we need Mediators. But is it possible to mediate for trans-normalcy? To the contrary, didn't Moshe and the Baal Shem Tov chastise us about ever entertaining the thought of a mediator between us and our Maker??

Yes and no.

As the pshat indicates, Moshe WAS there, reminding us how much he really shouldn't be! THAT's the kind of teachers we need; the ones whose very bones are challenging us to find the Ya in every b'ZU.

Balancing Our Actions

Do not be overly righteous or excessively wise. Why be left desolate?

(Mishlei 4:26)

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Finally Awake

Another year of school comes to a close for you.

And where was I?

A whole year passed by before I could even focus properly.

This time escaped me; slipped through my fingers.

Futile is my lament or attempt to reset the clock.

Futile is my attempt to be there for you when I wasn't.

But I am now awake.

Determined to live in the present.

A New Daily Mini-Seder In Chumash

Inspired by Rabbi Yaakov Meir Shechter’s advice in this posting, I began a mini daily seder that consists of learning three verses of Chumash starting with Bereishis.

After reviewing the three verses in Hebrew, English, and Yiddish, I learn the corresponding commentary in Rashi, Ohr HaChaim, and Me’am Lo’ez.

A Poem From The Ramban

The Descent of the Soul

From the very beginning,
before times long past,
I was stored among His hidden treasures.
He had brought me forth from Nothing, but at the end of time
I shall be summoned back before the King.

My life flowed
out of the depth of the spheres
which gave me form and order.
Divine forces shaped me
to be treasured in the chambers of the King.

Then He shined his light
to bring me forth
in hidden well-springs, on the left and on the right.
He made me descend the steps leading down from
the Pool of Shelah to the garden of the King.


The usual way is that when a child is stubborn they hit him and afterwards they give in to him. But I say: Don't hit and don't give in.

(Rebbe Nachman of Breslov)

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Question & Answer With Rabbi Betsalel Edwards - Komarno & The Internet

A Simple Jew asks:

Who are the Komarno Rebbes today, and what is their attitude towards the Internet and the dissemination of Kabbalah?"

Rabbi Betsalel Edwards answers:

It was the sixth of Iyar (May 4th), the yahrtzeit of the passing of the Komarno Rebbe zt"l, Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac Yehuda Yechiel Safrin of Komarno. Winter was exchanged for summer and I was wondering what was going on in Heaven. As I sat on the rooftop of our rented apartment in the Old City of Jerusalem, I looked at the clouds that reach down and touched me, sat down in the dust in my stocking feet, and felt the raindrops of a threatening climate. It felt a little like Tisha B'Av.

You are looking at the Internet. You are looking at a blog that is dedicated to the dissemination of Torah and Chassidus over the world wide web, and it is likely that you want to know about Komarno. You could click the mouse and read the news, watch a movie, or, God forbid, take another look at what anonymous people sometimes do for money in a depraved world. But God can be found elsewhere on the Internet. You seek a life of purity and holiness, reading in and around His Torah and loving Israel.

Which way are we turning the world? I don’t know, but in the world of Chassidus and Kaballah, you might say it has something to do with the Internet. There are two possibilities. Either ban it, or use it in a responsible way. But you can’t stop it.

I daven at Tzemach Tzedek, the Chabad shul in the Old City. There are a number of machers (businessmen) who come through our shul, and one Shabbos, I noticed that one of them had the word “Komarno” embroidered on his tallis bag. I have noticed how certain members of our shul seem to pander to the wealthy, even on Shabbos, often in the form of what they consider a brilliant speech at the Kiddush. At one such occasion, I assumed that the speech was really a guised, Shabbosdik appeal for cash, as the speaker couldn’t take his gaze off the macher, barely looking at the other fifty people in the room.

But, like all shuls, people often network, even on Shabbos, and it opens doors for them. Going back to the man with the “Komarno” tallis bag, struck up a conversation with him about our common Komarno interest. It turns out that he was an American baal teshuvah who works with Internet and a burning interest in Chassidus and Kabbalah. He said that for the past three years, he has wanted to fund a complete translation of the magnum opus of Komarno, the “Komarno Chumash: Heichal HaBracha and Otzar HaChaim” and put it in a data base on the web. I said, “I’m your man.” He said, “Wait a second, I am not doing it without the complete agreement of the Komarno Rebbe, shlita.”

So, up for a challenge, I said, “I’m right on it.”

I needed to confer with Rav Yitchak Shlomo Safrin, the Komarno Rebbe of Givat Shaul, who can be found any weekday at the Kotel around nine a.m. A shy, tall man with a beatific face that bears the burden of modern Israel, he is, as far as I know, the only Chassidic Rebbe who goes to the Kotel every weekday. In his younger, more mobile years, he went every day of the year, regardless of the weather. He has met thousands of people in his life, and after davening, takes out a list of their names and davens for them before the Holy Temple in Heaven.

I mentioned the Komarno Internet project. Upon hearing the word Internet he went pale and clutched his shtender. I felt a little uneasy, seeing as how I disturbed him, and offered a brief prayer that there would not be a repeat performance of the time when a group of modern religious girls started singing on the women’s side, whereupon he jumped up, put his hands over his ears, and bolted north in the direction of Robinson’s arch crying, “Kol B’Isha Erva! Kol B’Isha Erva!” (a woman’s singing voice is a kind of “nudity.”) In all seriousness, he is not a “haredi,” which is a pose, but rather, “chared mi’dvar Hashem,” trembling at the word of God. I got the feeling that Internet would be a very hard sell indeed.

The next day, after asking him about the Internet, he was still alive. He said to ask Rav Elazar Tsvi Safrin, Shlita, the Komarno Rebbe of Beit Shemesh. There are five men who have assumed leadership roles in Klal Yisrael – two in Jerusalem, one in Beit Shemesh, one in Bnei Brak, and one in Manhattan. I started to wonder why several cities in Israel don’t put a sign for “Komarno Rebbe” at the entrance to town in between the signs for “Center,” and “Rabin Park”. Though I was a little cynical when I first found out that there are five Komarno Rebbes, ever since forming a relationship with three of them my cynicism has waned.

Rav Elazar Tsvi Safrin was out of town, so I met with his sons. They were all enthusiastic about the possibility of putting their great, great, great grandfather’s Heichal HaBracha Chumash on a website. We made an entire business plan with the blessing of the Komarno Rebbe, Shlita, of Beit Shemesh. In order to make the website in the elaborate and wondrous form envisioned by the Chabad macher, it would take three years and a million dollars, but we were ready to roll up out sleeves and get to work. In a meeting with the macher at an undisclosed location, just before Tisha B’Av, he said, “I’m not doing this unless I have unanimous approval from all the Komarno Rebbes.”

I got a little nervous. After all, we are talking about a family of tzaddikim known for their ruach hakodesh. Sometimes ruach hakodesh runs in a family, where some descendants display its wonders more than others. One of the Safrin, not from Beit Shemesh, has such a pronounced clairvoyance that the Israeli Secret service wanted him to work for them. He refused. A Rav of mine once told me how he was sitting with him once with a few other visitors. They asked him about how his ruach hakodesh worked. He shrugged his shoulders and said, “Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t.” One of the visitors took out his cellphone. He said to Safrin, “Tell me where my sister is. Then I can call her and ask her myself.” Safrin closed his eyes, and said, “She is sitting in an airport on a bench under a sign written in English letters.” The man called his sister, and sure enough, she was in the airport in Rome sitting just as Safrin had seen it.

I have had a few personal experiences with the ruach haKkodesh of the Safrin family. As I drove through the Jerusalem hills to meet with the Safrin boys in Beit Shemesh, I was doing a bit of a cheshbon nefesh, a soul reckoning, about a certain mitzvah that I was neglecting. At the end of our meeting, we decided to choose one of the 613 mitzvos as explained in the Otzar HaChaim, and present it in English and Hebrew as a “pilot” for the Chabad macher. The boys asked me to wait, and went into their father’s study to discuss something. When they came back they told me which mitzvah to work on. And yes, it was my poor, neglected mitzvah. You might think of this as a case of how there is no privacy with some rare clairvoyant tzaddikim, but “k’mashama lan,” they could have been unaware of how God was using them to send me a message. Reb Chaim Yankiv, the eldest of the brothers, who seemed to be conducting the meeting, looked me in the eye and said, “My father is known as Rav Elazar Tsvi Baal haMofsim – the master of miracles.”

I decided to go to the top. I went to Rav Elazar Tsvi’s older brother, Rav Nesanel Safrin, Shlita, the Komarno Rebbe of Jerusalem. His conclusion?, “We cannot give criminals a Yad VeShem – a place and a name, in the secrets of the Torah.”

“But what about the many sites already on the net: Daf Yomi, Chabad, Breslov?”

He then shot down my argument with, “These sites deal with the revealed Torah, basic introductions to educate newly religious Jews. But the secrets are precious, easily misunderstood or corrupted, and must be protected,” The Rebbe, a wall, was harder to scale than the Kotel. And still, from the way he spoke one might say that he doesn’t know a Internet from a fisherman’s net. Clearly he is aware of how secular culture and the western entertainment industry are accessed at the click of a mouse, and this was the reason for his wall. “We must protect our children.” It may come as a surprise to some readers, but sadly, there are Ultra-Orthodox Jews who fall into the pit of porn. Just last week, I was reading the walls in Mea Shearim, who were turning over heaven and earth about the young Yerushalmi boys who went to Tiberias, rented some rooms and did something that the walls were too ashamed to repeat. Before the signatures of several rabbis at the foot of the poster, the conclusion was that, “anyone who knows the boys must confiscate their devices immediately.” “Devices?” I was a little puzzled, but still sympathetic to the need for vague language.

Regardless of how much I agree with the Rebbe about the dangers of the Internet, and the need to create fences or even walls in order to protect a community, I held my ground. After all, a million dollars in income for a team of torah scholars and the battle to redeem the Internet through Torah is nothing to sneer at. My recourse was to defend the need for transmission and dissemination of Kaballah through Chassidus while concurrently guarding the secrets from either unprepared or irresponsible enthusiasts. An English site cannot reveal too much by definition, as the mysteries cannot really understood outside of the Hebrew language. He was even resistant to any translation of Kaballah. “In order to be Jewish, you need to know Hebrew. And the only way to learn the mysteries of Komarno is through Torah classes held in synagogues and houses of study.” he ruled. End of story. Not giving up, I tried to find a common ground. First of all, a Jew is anyone born of a Jewish mother who holds Jewish beliefs regardless of the language he or she speaks. And furthermore, I suggested that we both have an interest, even duty, to educate and refine the world through the Torah of the Baal Shem Tov, particularly in the transmission of Komarno. The teachings of Komarno are something that would enrich the lives of Jews living in far off lands speaking strange tongues, and has the power to release them from foreign beliefs. I didn’t say it to him in this way, but as I see it, the web may catch some flies, but the net can catch some fish. Not to be eaten by the tzaddikim, but still, in this wayward world, one could do far worse. Such precious fish would then be kissed and then released to swim free on the ocean. Only to be gobbled up by a shark. In retrospect, it was good that I just asked the Rebbe to pass the herring instead of offering this analogy.

Many Jews, if not all, are taaddikim hiding from themselves. Internet Torah has the power to bring such a hidden tzaddik out of hiding. When Rabbi Shimon said, “Woe if I reveal it, and woe if I don’t reveal it.” He was not only speaking to an elite group of angelic men, but well knew that “a friend has a friend,” and that his secrets would inevitably spread beyond his fellowship. When the Arizal revealed the meaning of the Zohar, his teachings were also kept hidden, but he systematized the meaning of the Zohar in a way that more people could understand. And yet, “for every span of Kaballah the Arizal revealed, he covered up a thousand.” For most, the complex spiritual wiring of the Arizal as exemplified by the Rashash Siddur manages to keep the secrets better locked away than the Zohar! But when the Baal Shem Tov and his students, including the first Komarno Rebbe who actually lived four generations after the Besht, revealed a clear path to the love of God, the Torah, and Israel, they were not hiding the seeds but reaping the fruits of revelation. The Besht is for everyone. The teachings of Komarno are for the pure and brave of heart whose value for halacha goes hand in hand with the wonders of The Zohar, the Arizal, and the Baal Shem Tov. It is well to remember that the Zohar also has legal ramifications, practically affecting the way decide the Halacha when there is no clear conclusion in the Gemara. The Magen Avraham, one of the great Rabbis in the Shulchan Aruch, rules that the very customs and conduct of the Arizal have the force of Halacha.

In a letter to Rav Nesanel, Shlita, I offered the following teaching I heard from Rav Brandvine, the Stretiner, Shlita, who heard it from Rav Yehuda Laib Ashlag, ZTsL.

In the liturgical poem, “Bar Yochai,” dedicated to author of the Zohar, it reads, “Let us make a man was said for your sake, Rabbi Shimon bar Yocahi!” We can understand this through the lens of the Midrash (Rabba, Bereshit, 8.) “Moshe started taking dictation from God. 'In the beginning, God created, ect. And it was evening and morning...' and so he went, writing down everything that happened on each of the six days of creation. When he arrived at, 'and God said, let us make a man in our image and in our likeness,' he said, 'Master of the World! You will only give an excuse for heretics to believe that there are two Gods!' God replied, 'Write, and whoever errs will err.' And years later, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai was also unsure as to whether or not to reveal the Zohar for the very same reason. If he reveals the knowledge that, “...and Hashem E-lohim created – refers to Abba (the image of the father) and Imma (The image of the mother), heretics will take it as a proof that there are two “gods” or forces governing creation. It is known that the soul of Rabbi Shimon is the same soul as Moshe Rabbeinu. At this point, the Rashbi recalled what God had told Moshe, “write, and those who will err will err.” For this reason, we say in the poem, “Bar Yochai,” “let us make a man was said for your sake, Rabbi Shimon.”

How is Komarno different from any other Chassidus? The first Komarno Rebbe, Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac Yehuda Yechiel Safrin of Komarno, explained the Torah of the four worlds in the language of Halacha, the Arizal, and the Baal Shem Tov. Yet this is true of other masters. He was distinguished from them in his capacity as an expert in the revealed Torah and “piskei din,” or the current Halachic rulings of his day. In the estimation of Rabbi David Fink, a posek in Jerusalem, he is perhaps the most Arizal-based legal authority in Ashkenazic Jewry. In my limited experience with Chassidishe seforim, I have only found the Tzemach Tzedek of Chabad in the Derech Mitzvosecha and the Dinover Rebbe in the Bnay Yissocher to be in the same league as the Komarno – with regards to the overt use of the language and concepts of the Arizal in their writings. In other words, we know that the Isbitzer Rebbe, the Mei HaShiloach, was an expert in the writings of the Arizal, but rarely uses the Arizal’s terms overtly in his writings. The Isbitzer reworks the Arizal, and for that matter, the Baal Shem Tov, into his own language and conceptual world. But the Komarno will quote at liberty long passages from the Zohar and the writings of the Arizal – all from memory. In one of his introduction he apologized profusely for not putting in citations. He would enter into a kind of ecstatic state while writing, unable to stop it in order to look up sources and page numbers.

Rav Nesanel teaches in Yiddish mostly to students who wear velvet yarmulkes. His younger brother from Beit Shemesh, Rav Elazar Tsvi, teaches in Hebrew to velvet and nit kippas alike. If you are holy enough, you can discuss holy seforim with Rav Nesanel, and go to his house to enjoy ten kinds of food at his Shabbos table. (Rav Nesanel turned me on to “galleh,” a kind of cube of fat culled from the hooves of a cow.) In Rav Elazar Tsvi’s class on the Torah of the Baal Shem Tov, “anything can be brought to the table.” (Maybe even “galleh.”) Before opening up the writings attributed to the Besht, subjects like politics, military technology, and modern music pass over the table. And in the class, I recall once that the Rav even used a Buddhist tale, lehavdil, to elucidate a concept in the Besht’s teachings.

Rav Elazar Tsvi does not use the Internet. Still, he told me point blank, “You cannot stop the Internet.”

Though he is a Chasidische Rebbe like his brother, still, he doesn’t lead a community, only holding court while sitting in the succah at his yearly tish in Jerusalem. There is so much joy in the succah! If you are there, you bring him a glass of wine. He takes it, looks into it, rolls it a little between the palms of his hand, smiles as if seeing something. He may ask you few questions, and then confer with his top chassid sitting next to him. He may take a little sip of your wine before giving you a bracha. Sometimes he sees visions. I remember the man who came before him in the succah after me. Later, in the class, he shared with us how while the man was standing before him, he saw him wearing tefillin on his arm but not on his head. It turns out that that man’s head tefillin had defect in the calligraphy than needed correcting. “Prophecy only rests upon the prophets in a state of simcha!”

In retrospect, I am not so interested in the miserable ruach-hakodesh of contemporary Israel. As one of my Rabbanim is fond of saying, “I am the last Rabbi in Jerusalem to be left without ruach hakodesh.” What impresses me about Rav Elazar Tsvi is his genuine concern for his students, his depth of knowledge, and the fervor with which he “opens the gates” to the way of prayer of the Baal Shem Tov. I can safely say that studying the “Amud HaTefilla” from the “Sefer Baal Shem Tov,” has radically transformed my davening. I feel greater clarity and honesty in my daily meetings with the Master of Heaven and Earth.

The basic starting point for the way of prayer of the Baal Shem Tov is very simple. Think about the words in the siddur before you say them. Before every word, think about its meaning and before whom you are saying it. Train yourself to fill the words of your davening with thought, with consciousness.

And once doing so, you will find that you are no longer davening for your own personal needs, but for the Shechinah, healing Her “blemishes” that are the source of whatever we are missing in the world. A “blemish” in the Shechinah, in the ten sefiros, is a kind of blockage of divine light that is due to man’s transgression. I remind myself that it is not Betsalel saying the words, but as the Baal Shem Tov taught, the Shechinah using me to pronounce the letters and offer them back to the Source beyond. And it is such a wonder that I can share these words with you over the Internet.

Rav Elazar Tvi’s cousin, Rav Tsvi Elazar, the Rebbe of Bnei Brak, seems to also be adamantly against the Internet. Like the Komarno Rebbe of Jerusalem, he wants to protect his community as well as his ancestor’s writings. At a pidyon haben, I discussed the issues with him. “I wouldn’t put Komarno writings on the Internet for any amount of money,” he told me with a heart in the ways of Hashem. But it's not about money, its about kashering the Internet with Torah education. To his credit, Rav Tsvi Elazar was once sighted at an office of the macher witnessing for the first time the phenomenon of the “Download of an Internet Torah class,” and asked, wide-eyed, “Could you put up shiurim (classes) in Yiddish?”. Maybe it is a sign of hope, that one day the battle for Internet Torah will be won among the leaders of the houses of study and the dynasties of Chassidus.

All of these Rebbes were starting to fray my nerves, so I decided that I need to take it to a higher court. I make the long and arduous journey to the town of Komarno, in the Ukraine, to pray by the grave the first Komarno Rebbe, may mentioning the name of the tzaddik be a blessing for all of us. There was a slight rain as I got out of the car, miles from nowhere, and met with Iyor, the Ukrainian caretaker of the grave. We walked down a path through the tall grasses, and reached a building in a pasture that was once the Jewish cemetery, but had been desecrated during the war and has since overgrown. The only way they found the graves was because when Iyor used to take the cows to pasture there was a place in the pasture, where despite the tall, tasty grasses, the cows refused to go. Lo and behold, the graves of the Safrin family were found under these grasses.

He unlocked the building and let me in. I felt a need to serve the Rebbe, and though it was fairly tidy, tried to straighten things up a bit and clean the graves. Then Iyor left me alone, so I could converse with the rebbe. Laying flat upon the cold marble, with a Ukrainian storm brewing outside, I heard a little voice in my head saying, “Who is this worm crawling on my grave?”

“Its me, Betsalel, who took the time a few years back to learn … read your Otzar HaChaim, Rebbe. Please, let me ask you a question.”

“Speak,” he said.

“Can I translate your writings and put them on the Internet?”

“What’s an Internet?”

Something told me that this was going to be a non-starter. But I went for the gold. “It’s a tremendous new advancement of our age where a man can sit in a cabin in Alaska, click a button, and have your writings, complete with definitions and commentaries, appear in front of him.! He can be a million miles from nowhere, and take part in an online shiur with great rabbis! It’s a way to connect the world and if “koshered,” could even be an important step in bringing the Moshiach!”

The little voice was overjoyed, “Great, when do we start!”

“Just one problem, Holy Rebbe, what if your holy writings get in the hands of non-believers or Gentiles, and their corrupt it, either treating it like philosophy, or take it and make a new religion out of it, with Komarno centers all over America?”

“Feh!” the grave shuddered in disbelief. “What are the chances of that? Go and do it, and whoever errs will err.”

“Thank you, Holy Rebbe! I will now make a vow before the court in Heaven, that if anyone reads my translations of your works and as a result, falls in his belief or fear of Hashem, that I forfeit my portion in this world and the world to come.”

Laughter filled the Ohel (the building over the graves). “Betsalel, calm down! Just do what you have to do.”

The next week, back in Jerusalem, I told Rav Nesanel, the great wall before the Internet, that I had prayed at the Komarno Rebbe’s grave, not mentioning the details.

He smiled and said, “May all your prayers be answered.”

There won’t be any master site of the Komarno Chumash and the mysteries of the Torah over the Internet any time soon. But with God’s help, it is just behind the wall, and peering through the cracks of pixels that appear before you.

More On Birthdays

A few months ago, I asked the Sudilkover Rebbe about the issue of how one should observe a birthday. The Rebbe responded that his father, of blessed memory, viewed a birthday as a day to renew oneself.

He also mentioned that in Chernobyl a great importance was placed on birthdays and that they would make a small seudah on that day. In Vizhnitz, he mentioned that they would take a kvittel to the rebbe on that day and then make a small seuda with their family

When I asked the Rebbe what he did personally, he responded that he would have an aliya to the Torah on the Monday and Thursday closest to the date, sometimes read the Maftir on the Shabbos before, increase tzedaka that he gave, finish the entire Sefer Tehillim, make a resolution to strengthen his observance of a mitzva or to learn something special, sometimes make a siyum, and finally, if he was in Eretz Yisroel on that date, make a seuda along with his children.

Six days before my birthday, I had the opportunity to discuss the issue of birthdays once again with the Rebbe. This time I had the chance to ask him specifically about my birthday and what new practices I should take on for the coming year. In addition to a small new seder of learning, he also recommended beginning a new 40 day plan that used only two columns in the notebook this time. G-d willing, I will write about this in more detail in the future.

11 Sivan Links - יא סיון

(Picture by R. Fraser)

Solitude / Hisbodedus: After Bitul

Rebbetzin Yehudis Golshevsky: Audio Shiur in Likutey Moharan

Evil Eye

Do not make yourself conspicuous by flaunting your intellect, deeds, or wealth. Don't display your good fortune in the presence of people who lack your assets. Conduct yourself in a way that others will neither become jealous nor begrudge your good fortune. Conversely, do not pay attention to the good things which others have. If you praise others, immediately add the blessing that the evil eye should have no dominance. There are a variety of antidotes to combat the evil eye... The best thing, however, is to pray to Hashem to save the people Israel from the evil eye and from all bad things. You need never fear the power of the evil eye when performing a mitzvah.

(Pele Yoetz)

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

From The Archives Of Memory

(Picture by J. Cruder)

An event from my teenage years resurfaces in my mind from time to time as if it were hard coded into my memory:

This event occurred one summer day when I was probably 13 or 14 years old. I had walked to the far end of town and was hurrying back home for a reason that I cannot now remember.

As I approached a train crossing, the warning lights started flashing and the protective gate came down across the road and sidewalk. I stopped and observed the freight train; straining to see how long it was in order to make the mental calculations how long that I would have to wait for it to pass.

Observing it more closely, I noticed that the train had slowed down considerably and that there was a large space in between the front and back wheels. According to the calculations of my teenage mind, if I ran and then dropped and rolled at just the right time, I would be able to get to the other side and continue my way home.

I watched a few more freight cars pass to ensure my timing was just right and prepared myself mentally to go through with it. In my mind I was absolutely convinced that I would successful.

Unexplainably, however, I froze before I even began to attempt it. I just stood and watched as the rest of the freight cars passed and the protective gate opened once again.

To this day, I am thankful that I didn't go through with it since something now tells me that had I tried, things would have gone horribly wrong.

Learning Torah - Summed Up In One Sentence

It's not how much you learn, it's how you learn.

I Will Study When I Have Time

Perhaps this is the very thing that Hashem wants from you, to study when you do not have the time.

(Kotzker Rebbe)

Monday, June 01, 2009

A Niggun From The Sudilkover Rebbe

This niggun was recently included on a CD by chassidim from Toldos Avraham Yitzchok. It was originally composed by the Sudilkover Rebbe over 20 years ago on Erev Shabbos Yisro.

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One should cast his trust upon Hashem, and He will rescue him; He will save him because He delights in him.

(Tehillim 22:9)