Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Random Thought On Blood Ties

On Monday evening when I was walking home from public transportation, a strange thought popped into my mind. Since I am an only child, when my brother-in-law and sister-and-law have children, I will be an uncle, but an uncle who is not a blood relative to the child. I wonder whether my relationship to my niece or nephew will be as close as my wife's relationship to the child since the baby will be her brother's child.

Perhaps my mind is just trapped in a narrow definition of family. Although it is certainly possible to have strong ties with non-blood relatives, or even a non-relatives for that matter, people often feel a certain affinity to others with a shared lineage. It is as if a person can actually "sense" whether another person is "truly" related; a "sense" many adopted children describe they get upon meeting their natural birth parents.

Someday will this nephew or niece sense that I am not "really" family? I guess it is futile to speculate since only time will tell....

A Show For Their Benefit

A person can only be perfectly truthful when he is not dependent on anyone or anything. As soon as he feels dependent upon others, whether for money or anything else, he becomes subordinate to them and cannot do anything in public without putting on a show for their benefit, even if only subconsciously.

(Rebbe Nachman of Breslov)

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

A Picture From My Family's Shtetl - Week 19

A teaching from the Degel Machaneh Ephraim at

Dispatches From The Home Front - November Edition

A conversation with my three year-old daughter last Friday night:

Daughter: I want a little puppy.

Me: Who is going to take care of this puppy?

Daughter: I will take care of it.

Me: Who is going to feed it?

Daughter: I will.

Me: Who is going to walk the puppy every day?

Daughter: I will walk the little puppy.

Me: Where is the puppy going to sleep at night?

Daughter: Outside.

Me: Outside? It is SO cold outside.

Daughter: That's ok, it will wear a jacket.


My 17 month-old son is truly the master of pushing his sister's buttons. Every time his sister yells at him, he snatches her favorite Ernie doll and runs out of the room. If she runs after him and hits him, he uses all the strength in his 30+ pound body, wrestles her to the ground, and then sits on her head.

On Sunday on the way to the kosher supermarket, my daughter started whining and carrying on in her car seat. Knowing the best way to antagonize her, my son looked over at her, scrunched up his face, and said, "AAAAGH!" My daughter immediately reacted to this sound with more hysterics. This prompted my son to repeat it over and over, "AAAGGGH!........ AAAHHGH!.... AGGGHH!" Both my wife and I started laughing, and my daughter finally calmed down when she realized that her brother had gotten the better of her.

True peace between siblings was not restored until later when we returned home and watched Uncle Moishy - Volume 8 for the first time. Unfortunately, they could only sit on the floor next to each other for so long and the ceasefire was broken once the credits started rolling.


At the kosher supermarket my daughter pointed to one the men stocking the shelves and told my wife, "Mommy, mommy that man looks like Avraham Fried!"


Later that evening at dinner, the following dialogue ensued:

Daughter: I don't want smells!

Wife: It doesn't smell. It's just juice.

Daughter: It smells stinky.

Wife: It doesn't smell, you smell.

Daughter: No, YOU smell!

Wife: No, you smell worse.

Daughter: Well you smell harder!!


Last night when I turned the channel to George Shrinks, my daughter put her hands on her head and said, "Oy gevalt, I want to watch Bob the Builder."


I sent this posting to Uncle Moishy's production company and on Monday night a large envelope with an autographed Uncle Moishy picture made out to my son and daughter was waiting for us in the mailbox. My wife and I are planning to give it to them once we get it framed for Chanukah. They sure are going to be excited!

Dispatches From The Home Front - August Edition can be read here.

As True Today As It Was In The 14th Century

Most of the masses raise their voice in prayer before Hashem but are going about it like a blind man in darkness, and they do not understand the words they are saying.


Monday, November 28, 2005

The Bane Of My Existence

Raking leaves is the bane of my existence. Even worse than the actual raking and bagging is the feeling of obligation to complete this task; especially when bags of leaves are already lining the curbs next to neighboring houses. Raking leaves, like mowing the grass, shoveling snow, or vacuuming the house, all seem to be tasks that rob me of time. As the Lubavitcher Rebbe once said, "The world says that time is money, I say that time is life."

With a birthday coming up next month, someone asked me what I would like as a present. I responded with my standard answer, "More time."

Looking back at my blog archives, I noticed that I have written quite a few postings on the subject of time. It appears to be appears to be a reoccurring theme in my writing.

Below are a few of my postings on this topic

The best 2 ½ hours of the day

The Irony of Time

But You CAN Do Something

Geneivas Zman - Stealing Time From Others

A Test Of Frumkeit

There are many people whom when it comes to mitzvos seem to be very frum. However, the real test of frumkeit is seeing how a person handles money.

(Rabbi Nasan Maimon)

Friday, November 25, 2005

Still Struggling To Learn The Other Half

After resolving my misguided thinking last November, I have spent the past year slowly learning Gemara. I have been able to finish Berachos and Rosh Hashanah, and now I am making my way through Maseches Sukka. As someone who never went to yeshiva, I continue to find learning Gemara to be extremely difficult. My simple mind constantly gets distracted by the numerous arguments and tries to remember who said what. I am pretty sure that a 10 year-old in Boro Park or Bnei Brak could learn circles around me.

I would be lying if I said that I do not struggle sometimes to find the relevance in the subject matter (ex. Can one who sleeps under the bed in a sukkah fulfill his obligation to dwell in a sukkah? [20b]) . An argument on a very minor detail in the Gemara can go on for pages and pages and pages while my mind says, "Just tell me the halacha already!!" Nevertheless, I continue to turn the pages and try to apply myself to the best of my ability.

In Vayikra 10:16, the words "darosh darash" ("inquired insistently" [literally: "inquire he inquired"]) mark the halfway point by word count in the Torah. In fact, in many Chumashim the phrase "Half of the words of the Torah" is written in small print between the words darosh and darash. The Degel Machaneh Ephraim explained that this hints to the fact that the Torah sheh b'ksav (Written Torah) is only half of the Torah. The other half of the Torah can be found in the Torah sheh b'al peh. (Oral Torah); the part of the Torah where the Rabbis "inquired insistently" to expound upon the meaning of the Torah sheh b'ksav.

I constantly remind myself that one who learns Chumash without learning Gemara is only learning half of the Torah. I daven that Hashem opens my mind and my heart to be able to better understand, appreciate, and be successful in learning Gemara. I hope that someday I will at least be able to get to the level of the 10 year-old yeshiva bocher.

Worry & Hope

Even if the chances of success and failure are equal, why worry about failure when you can easily hope for success?


Thursday, November 24, 2005

Thanksgiving on Rosh Chodesh Adar?

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

MCAryeh Responds

My good friend MCAryeh from A Whispering Soul responds to the questions in "What Does It Say About You?":

What does your davening reveal about your emunah?

Davening is a challenge. I find myself resisting the words and procrastinating in getting to minyan. My mind wanders during most of the tefillot and I find it hard to have kavannah and to be present and mindful of who I am standing before. It used to bother me that the prayers were prescribed. I felt like these would not be the words I would choose to say to God and I think on some level I resented that specific words were set down for me to say. How could I have true passion for and express well words which were scripted? How could I have any kavannah or avoid everything coming out in a rote way? A Rav advised me to compose my own prayers to say in addition to the regular davening. I actually found that enormously helpful, and after writing them realized that they expressed many of the same things and themes as the prescribed prayers! I use these prayers sometimes during hitbodedut and sometimes say them right before going to bed. For a time, it helped my regular davening as well, but it was not long before that fell back into the same old routine. I felt a little better after a Rav told me it was virtually impossible to have kavannah during all of davening and just to pick certain times where I would redouble my efforts to have kavannah. So I try during the Shema and Shemoneh Esrei to concentrate on what I am saying and be cognizant of HaShem, but it is still a struggle. Certain prayers do resonate with me more than others, and I am thankful for those. The Friday night davening I find myself being very present for, so I guess that would indicate that my emunah is very strong on Erev Shabbat and kind of wavery during the rest of the week! Very often during davening, I find myself asking HaShem to help me to have kavannah, and that in itself is a form of prayer and indicative of emunah, so it is not all bad. For the most part, however, I am very disappointed with my davening.

Does your emunah shine through when you say a brocha?

Brachot are much easier for me, possibly because they are shorter or possibly because they are almost always followed by an action (or occasionally preceded), which adds gravitas to the words I am saying. I am very cognizant of HaShem and the blessings he has given me when saying a bracha. I cannot recall the last time I forgot to say one. Now that I think more on it, the specificity of the act and accompanying bracha is certainly what makes it much easier to have kavannah. If you are holding a fruit, and are saying words of thanks to its Creator, who is also your Creator, how can you not be blown away? I find myself especially humbled and in awe of the Asher Yatzar prayer, said after going to the bathroom, where we thank HaShem for all of the orifices and cavities of the body, and for allowing them to function properly. This kavannah has carried over into everyday life, and I do take time to stop as I am walking and thank HaShem for the trees or a warm breeze or for arriving at a destination safely. Birkat Hamazon is still something I have trouble concentrating upon - again possibly due to its length, or perhaps because I have never taken the time to actually read through and translate the words and concentrate on their meaning. In general, though, I think my emunah (awareness of God) does come through in the saying of brachot, though there is always room for improvement. I am glad you asked this question as well as the other, because after the last one I was really feeling down about how sad my davening is!

Responses from Frum Philly Farmgirl and Sweet Rose can be read here.

Gates Of Prayer

Just as a thief breaks the lock when he does not have a key, so too, we should break our hearts with humility in order to penetrate the gates of prayer.

(Talmud - Sanhedrin 103a)

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

A Picture From My Family's Shtetl - Week 18

Looking For The Wizard Behind The Curtain

A colleague told me about a phone call he received from a friend that began with the question, "How are you doing?....and don't give me the PR [public relations] version".

Often when people ask, "How are you doing?", they are not excepting a real answer; they just want to hear the PR. Since most our daily conversations are on this extremely superficial level, I also respond to this question with my stock answer of "very good".

I found this caller's comment about PR to be very interesting since it showed consciousness of our use of meaningless words and phrases. It expressed a desire to cut through the small talk and get to the heart of the matter.

I have been following these postings from House of Joy the past few days.

After reading these postings, please daven that her son, Eliyahu Avichai ben Baila Bluma, has a refuah shleima.


It is better to neglect Torah study than to embarrass a fellow Jew.

(Rebbe Nachman of Breslov)

Monday, November 21, 2005

Four Levels Of Materialism

Observing the world of materialism, it appears that there are four levels:

Level 1: A person sees something and purchases it.

Level 2: A person sees something, desires it, but cannot afford it.

Level 3: A person sees something unaffordable, desires it, and despises the person who can afford it.

Level 4: A person sees something unaffordable, is happy with what he has, and is not bothered by another person possessing it.

Ironically, Level 3 people do not view themselves as materialistic. They wrongly believe that the fact that they do not have the means to purchase the object of their desire indicates that they do not have the materialistic mindset.

A person, however, can be materialistic without having money.

More thoughts on gashmius can be read here.

Be sure to go out and see this.

It Is Not Meant For You

A person cannot attain that which has been ordained for another.

(Talmud - Yoma 38b)

Friday, November 18, 2005

Guest Posting From Chabakuk Elisha - The Umbilical Cord

Two weeks ago my wife gave birth to a baby boy. After we brought the baby home from the hospital, he has gotten a great bit of attention from his two year-old sister and other siblings who have bombarded my wife and I with hundreds of questions.

Last night I came home from work and was greeted at the door by my very excited children, jumping up and down, and talking all at once. My wife informed me that the excitement was a result of the baby's belly button! The remaining piece of the umbilical cord had finally come off, and this was certainly a big event for all the children.

My younger children repeatedly asked me to explain why a baby needed an umbilical cord, and why it was no longer important. Indeed, the question why it was only temporarily important is interesting, since it also provides a great lesson in life: We live with certain realities that are very important, but are later told that other things will ultimately carry the most significance after this life. Although we may try to prioritize the spiritual over the physical, it is often quite a challenge - since our daily lives often dictate the opposite.

Looking to the development of a human being makes this idea easier to understand. While a baby's arms and legs develop in the womb, the baby has no real need for those limbs in the womb. The umbilical cord, however, is the most essential body part since it brings nutrients to help the baby develop. Perhaps, if the baby was able, it would try to get rid of those cumbersome arms and legs and ensure that the umbilical cord was safe and functioning. The reasoning behind ridding itself of these appendages would be incredibly short-sighted since the doctor will only cut and discard the umbilical cord when the baby is born. Removing the arms and legs in the womb would deprive the baby the ability to function normally in its post-womb environment.

Similarly, in our current reality, the "world" tells us that the physical is of primary importance and the Divine is a superfluous and superimposed element that is of secondary importance. It tells us that we must devote our efforts to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." The truth, however, is otherwise; just as a baby's limbs are essential for his future, so too is the spiritual element of our life on this earth essential for our continued development in the future word.

Now that my son's umbilical cord has fallen off, he has left behind the last vestiges of his former world and G-d has given him the tools he needs to accomplish his tasks in this world. Now, with G-d's help he must take advantage of those tools, and cultivate the tools he will need for the future world.


No man leaves the world with even half his cravings fulfilled; if he has a hundred, he wants two hundred.

(Koheles Rabbah 1:34)

Thursday, November 17, 2005

A Reader Responds To Tuesday's Posting

Frum Philly Farmgirl responds to the questions in "What Does It Say About You?":

What does your davening reveal about your emunah?

In davening I start off with what I hope is lots of kavanah and then sometimes I have difficulty staying focused. My mind will wander to the most ridiculous things. I think this also happens when it comes to my emunah. I will start off with a bang,"YAY HASHEM! I KNOW YOU WILL PROVIDE AND TAKE CARE OF ME!" and then I will lose focus and wander off track. Next thing you know I am in panic mode.

Does your emunah shine through when you say a brocha?

Oy, this is really something I am trying to work on. I can say a bracha with much enthusiasm. I love to make brachot. But sometimes again, if I get distracted, I forget. I feel so bad and then half way through, let's say eating an apple, I remember. :-( The other thing I forget is borei nefashot. The whole "thank you." I think this has to do with my mindfulness. Being in the moment, talking to HaShem and thanking Him for what He provides for me. The other day for example as I was looking at our budget and talking to my beloved about it. I said, "We need such and such amount for the rest of this month and next." He replied with OK, he would work on it. Then I started to tell him about January, what would we do about this, and I didn't know about the rent etc. He stopped me in my tracks and said "Let's get through this month first and worry about January when it gets here. Who knows Moshiach might be here and then we will other things to think about." I was glad he said this because he got me focused again. I went into panic and not having emunah. I just needed to sit there with the 'apple', make the bracha and say thank you when I was done. I wasn't supposed to worry about where the next apple was coming from, just be grateful for this one.

UPDATE: Shoshana from Sweet Rose posted here thoughts on these questions here.

A True Leader

A leader needs to be mindful of even the most minor detail, or his most insignificant follower. Only then can he be considered a "leader" in the truest sense of the word.

(Rabbi Yosef Deutsch)

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

King David's Fan Club

King David probably looks down from Gan Eden and smiles every time my three year-old daughter gets on her little red tricycle and starts singing, "Davimehfikayon". It seems to be my daughter's favorite song while riding.

On Monday, my wife took the kids to an open gym to play. She later related that my daughter started singing this song at the top of her lungs while she rode care-free through a gym full of children. Recognizing the tune, another Jewish mother looked over at my wife, smiled, and said, "My daughter likes to sing that one too."

The loud singing later continued out in the parking lot as they left the gym....

"Shout it out! Shabbos is coming! We're so happy!"

Others may look at my daughter like she is from Mars. I just laugh at her amusing antics and shake my head. I only wish I could be there when she sings this song to random people. I would like to be able to turn to the staring people and ask, "What are you people doing?? It's Monday! Don't you know that Shabbos is coming? Get your crock pots out and start cooking your cholent for the next five days! Let's get with the program!"

Building Monuments

Physical monuments can only be secondary to spiritual monuments. Therefore, if there was a question of choice as to spending the money on physical monuments of bronze or stone, or applying the extra funds towards sacred causes of Torah and mitzvot, and the like, there can be no question as to where the priority belongs.

(Lubavitcher Rebbe)

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

A Picture From My Family's Shtetl - Week 17

What Does It Say About You?

In a shiur on Likutey Moharan, Rabbi Nasan Maimon taught how the concepts of emunah and tefillah are intricately tied together and commented that one's tefillah is a good litmus test of one's emunah.

Refecting upon your davening, how would you answer these two questions:

What does your davening reveal about your emunah?

Does your emunah shine through when you say a brocha?

My last posting on the subject of tefillah can be read here.

Foundation Of Prayer

An important principle in the service of the Creator is that faith is of its essence. My grandfather, the Baal Shem Tov emphasized that it is the basis of the entire Torah and Divine service. King David said, "All Your commandments are rooted in faith" (Tehillim 119:86), because the essence of the commandments is belief in
G-d. Only he who believes that G-d renews the acts of Creation every day can pray every day; for as he becomes a new creature each day, and the worlds are newly created, he must pray and give thanks to Him who created everything, including himself. Likewise he must pray for himself, for his wife and children, for his daily sustenance, and for all appropriate things. If you do not believe with complete faith that G-d renews the act of Creation each day, then you will see prayer and the mitzvos as hackneyed and commonplace, and you will scorn the recitation of the same words every day.

My grandfather spoke in this vein when he commented on the verse, "Do not cast me off in old age" (Tehillim 71:9). This means that prayers should not be considered old by the supplicant. Just as old age causes weakness in man's limbs, because of the diminishing powers, juices, and circulation of the blood that keeps man alive, so it is with matters of the spirit. That which is old [i.e. prayer by rote] gives man neither great pleasure nor vitality. This is not the case with something new [i.e. prayer in which the worshipper believes and senses immediate relevance]. This is the meaning of "Consider them - the words of the Torah - each day as new," for "they are new every morning; great is Thy faithfulness." (Eichah 3:23). "They are new every morning" refers to G-d renewing the act of Creation daily, and because of this, "great is Thy faithfulness. Thus faith is the foundation of prayer and mitzvos.

(Degel Machaneh Ephraim)

Monday, November 14, 2005

Electronic Slavery

I work around a lot of engineers who are "in love" with gadgets and technology. As someone who doesn't own a PDA or a Blackberry, I sit back and laugh every time they get frustrated when one of their gadgets goes haywire.

My "palm pilot" consists of writing information that I want to remember on a yellow sticky pad and sticking it onto my wallet. When I return home at night and pull my wallet out I am immediately reminded of the information.

Many people do not realize that their reliance on cellular phones and other wireless communication devices has turned them into electronic slaves; shackled in the prison of technology. When used in moderation, there are certainly benefits to these devices, however, first we need to determine the difference between convenience, desire, and necessity.

Simply put, do we truly need everything we want?

Bridging The Gap

A song has the potential to bridge the gap between the heart and the mind.

(Rabbi DovBer Pinson)

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Collecting Seforim From A Judenrein Shtetl

Before being shut down by the Tsar in 1836, Yalkut Volhynia notes that my family's shtetl "was considered a junior partner to the Slavuta printing industry in the production of rabbinic literature. Many volumes can still be found in private collections, synagogues and libraries...."

Perhaps the largest private collection of seforim from this shtetl can be found on the bookshelf in my living room. Over the past few years, I have collected 22 seforim from this shtetl and continue to search for more. During my visit to Ukraine, I realized the importance of my collection when I discovered that little remained to testify to the fact that the shtetl once had a significant Jewish presence. Today the shtetl is Judenrein and the only remnants of the Jewish community include the ruins of a Jewish cemetery, a few remaining foundation stones from the destroyed shul, and three mass graves.

I would be fascinated to learn the stories of how these seforim made their way through time. One sefer in my collection has a stamp inside it that indicates that it survived the Nazis' destruction of the famed Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin library. I can only speculate the history behind how this sefer left the printing house in Ukraine, survived a fire, and wound up in an antique book store in Jerusalem.

Who were the people who passed these seforim down through the ages? I imagine that each sefer on my bookshelf has a story to tell and a secret yet to reveal.


My collection of seforim from this shtetl consists of the following volumes:

Beis Ephraim - 1833
Chidushei Haran - 1836
Chidushei HaRashba - 1835
Kitzur Shnei Luchos HaBris - 1831
Maaneh Lashon - 1824
Masas Binyamin - 1833
Meir Einei Chachomim - 1834
Mikdash Melech - 1821
Netivos HaMishpat - 1830
Orchos Tzaddikim - 1835
Pnei Yehoshua (Chelek Shlishi v'Revi'i) - 1834
Pri Megadim - 1819
Sefer Ha'Agur - 1834
Sheulos U'Teshuvos Betzalel Ashkenazi - 1833
Sheulos U'Teshuvos Givat Shaul - 1834
Sheulos U'Teshuvos Maharam Alshich - 1834
Sheulos U'Teshuvos Radbaz - 1836
Sheulos U'Teshuvos Radbaz (Chelek Rishon) - 1836
Shita Mekubetzes - 1836
Shulchan Aruch - Chukei Daas - 1835
Simchas HaRegel - 1836
Trumat HaDeshen - 1835


Besides seforim from my family's shtetl, I also collect printings of the sefer Degel Machaneh Ephraim. One day I hope to be able to purchase the first edition printed in Koretz in 1810. I am not sure this will ever happen since antique book sellers have told me that this printing has been previously auctioned for $5,000.

To date, I have collected the following printings of Degel Machaneh Ephraim:

1858 - Lemberg
1874 - Zhitomir
1883 - Yosefov
1883 - Warsaw
1912 - Pietrokov
1942 - Satmar
1963 - Jerusalem
1995 - Jerusalem

I continue to search for these four printings:

1850 - Zhitomir
1870 - Lemberg
1912 - Lodz
1947 - New York

If you ever come across any of these seforim, please let me know.

Retaining Knowledge

There is a story of a learned man who came to visit a rebbe. The scholar was no longer a younger man - he was close to thirty - but he had never before visited a rebbe. "What have you done all your life?" the master asked him. "I have gone through the whole Talmud three times," answered the learned man. "Yes, but how much of the Talmud has gone through you?" the rebbe inquired.

(Rabbi Abraham J. Heschel)

UPDATE: The Rebbe mentioned in this story was Rebbe Menachem Mendel of Kotzk. [Hat tip, Yitz]

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Do You Have A Recommendation?

Reading Naomi Regan's novel The Ghost of Hannah Mendes has made me realize that my knowledge of this period in Jewish history is severely lacking. While the back of Ragen's book cites "Expulsion 1492 Chronicles" as one of her references, a search on Fetchbook shows it to be very expensive. The references listed on Wikipedia also seem to be a little too cerebral for me.

Artscroll has a book entitled The Exiles of Crocodile Island about "a community of children torn from their homes by the Inquisition and their defiant struggle to keep their faith", however it appears that this is a novel for young adults and not a work of non-fiction.

Does anyone know a good non-fiction book in English on the history of the Spanish Inquisition? [preferably from a religious Jewish perspective]

Remember, I am just A Simple Jew and do not like books with more footnotes than actual text.

A Slippery Slope

If you neglect Torah for one day, you will neglect it for two more.

(Talmud Yerushalmi - Berachos 9:8)

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

A Picture From My Family's Shtetl - Week 16

Seventh Row Center

Waking up Sunday morning, my kids had no idea that we would be driving to Baltimore for a concert that afternoon. My daughter slowly started to understand that the concert had something to do with Uncle Moishy when she saw a picture on the program before entering the auditorium.

The kids' excitement further started to build as we found our seats; seventh row center with a perfect view of the stage. When Cousin Nachum the clown first walked out, my 17 month-old son was terrified and started crying uncontrollably. My wife held him tight in her arms until he was finally consoled by seeing his grey-bearded hero. Uncle Moishy entered the auditorium from a side entrance and my son and daughter sat in their seats in absolute awe. It was as if he walked right out of our television to sing songs just for them. My wife later told me that she could feel my son's heart racing in excitement as he bopped up and down to the music.

Uncle Moishy was mobbed by swarms of young children every time he tried to come out into the audience and could get no further than the seventh row. This meant that he had to come across our row and pass immediately in front of us on four separate occasions. During these pass-throughs he bent down and waved to my three year-old daughter, patted my son's head, and shook my hand.

At intermission my daughter started crying when Uncle Moishy left the stage for a 10-minute break. Not understanding the concept of an intermission, she thought he had left for good. After my wife and I explained that he was coming back out for more songs, she dried her tears and appeared to be relieved.

When the two-hour concert finally came to an end and Uncle Moishy and the Mitzvah Men walked offstage, my son continued to wave goodbye to the empty stage for a few minutes. He didn't want it to be over and just kept waving. Both he and my daughter listened to Uncle Moishy songs on the ride home in our mini van and were able to retain their concert "glow" until they went to bed. I wouldn't be surprised if both of them dreamt of their favorite uncle that night.

Uncle Moishy has performed this benefit concert for the Weinberg Academy in Baltimore for the past sixteen years. We plan to be in the audience when he returns next year....and the year after that!

Touching The Soul

Music has the potency to enter the person's consciousness and touch the essence of the soul. Thus, hearing is regarded as the most important and vital of all senses.

(Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson of Lubavitch)

Monday, November 07, 2005

Finding Meaning In The Workplace

I came across a story one morning that really helps put things into perspective. This story comes from the sefer Kuntres Chaim V'Chessed:

The Chofetz Chaim once expressed his great envy to a pharmacist regarding his occupation, which gave him myriad opportunities each day to dispense medication and thereby save lives. The pharmacist rejected the praise, confessing his real purpose was not saving lives, but rather earning a living. The Chofetz Chaim advised him that he should not waste the great spiritual potential of his profession. "When you dispense medication," he advised, "do so with the intention that 'I am fulfilling a mitzvah of chessed and saving lives.' Earning a profit does not devalue the mitzvah, as long as you have the proper intentions."

The pharmacist followed the Chofetz Chaim's advice. He became an important communal leader whose guidance was eagerly sought. Years later, he acknowledged that the merit of the intentions of chessed with which he performed his responsibilities as a pharmacist earned him his special status.

Although it sometimes close to impossible to find any meaning in my profession, I now go to work with the intention that I am there to fulfill a mitzvah by doing chessed for others in my office building. If nothing else, leaving my home each morning with this intention allows me to find some minuscule bit of meaning in an otherwise meaningless place.

Just The Simple Meaning

The Rebbe constantly told us to force ourselves to pray with devotion, strongly binding our thoughts to each word. He said that true devotion is listening very carefully to the words you are saying. The Rebbe had told many of his disciples to study the Kabbalistic writings of the Ari. But even these were not advised to follow the Kabbalistic devotions found in these works.

He said that perfect prayer is the plain meaning of such words as Baruch Atah Hashem. Devotion is concentrating on the meaning of the words and listening to them carefully.

(Sichos HaRan #75)

Friday, November 04, 2005

A heartbreaking posting...

Second-Guessing The Doctor

There are times when a doctor prescribes medicine to a patient and the health insurance company refuses to authorize payment for the high-priced medication.

Similarly, Hashem, the Doctor of Doctors, prescribes us the Torah and there are times when our yetzer hara refuses to accept it even though it benefits our neshomas.

How can a health insurance company say that the medicine costs too much and question the Doctor's expertise when prescribing a treatment that He knows will help a patient?


If faith in G-d were always fixed in the hearts of every person, and "G-d were his trust" (Yirmiyahu 17:7), he would certainly not need medicines or anything but the grace of G-d, arousing the love of G-d, may He be blessed, to restore him either by means of prayer or by means of studying the holy Torah.

(Degel Machaneh Ephraim)

Thursday, November 03, 2005

104 Fever Hisbodedus

My three year-old daughter spent Tuesday evening shaking and throwing up after suddenly coming down with a 104+ fever. A lukewarm bath was able to temporarily bring her temperature down to 102, however she still continued to throw up and her temperature climbed back up to 103.4 before she went to bed.

In my hisbodedus early Wednesday morning I said:

Ribbono shel Olam, it is written in the Gemara, "The world endures only for the sake of the breath of the mouths of school children." How then can You prevent my daughter from going to school today to learn Torah and sing Your praises?

At school, she sings this song, "Shalom, shalom, Mommy. What do you say? Tell me, tell me Mommy. What do you say? I say, 'Baruch Hashem. Hashem takes care of me every single day.'"

Ribbono shel Olam, don't You see that my daughter acknowledges that You are the One who takes care of her? Please have rachmonus on her and send her a refuah shleima!

Effective Medicine

There is no greater cure than faith in Hashem and trusting in Him.

(Piaceszna Rebbe)

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Mazal Tov To A Friend (And Frequent Guest Poster)!

I am pleased to relate that the wife of Chabakuk Elisha gave birth to a 7 pound 15 ounce baby boy this morning at 4:05 AM.

May Hashem bless the mother, baby, and entire family!

Change In My Seder

With a little nudge from Hirhurim's posting, I decided to make a little change in my daily learning seder. Starting today, I will supplement my learning of Kitzur Shulchan Aruch with a little bit of Mishnah Berurah.

My daily seder now consists of:

Chumash with Rashi
Gemara - Maseches Sukka
Kitzur Shulchan Aruch / Mishnah Berurah
Degel Machaneh Ephraim
Likutey Moharan
Chovos HaLevavos - Shaar HaBitachon
Perek Shirah

If you too have a daily seder, what are you learning?

Working & Learning

The great Sages of Israel included wood choppers, water drawers, and blind men. Despite these difficulties, they were occupied with Torah study day and night and were included among those who transmitted the Torah's teachings from master to student in the chain stretching back to Moshe Rabeinu.


Tuesday, November 01, 2005

A Picture From My Family's Shtetl - Week 15

Inside Next Year

On Yom Kippur while others were inside reciting Yizkor, I stood outside the shul in my kittel and tallis listening to a man tell me about his elderly father who was on his death bed. I listened to his words and tried to comfort him. While standing there, the thought entered my mind that this would be the last year that this man would be standing outside the shul during Yizkor. Next year he will be inside saying prayers on behalf of his father's neshoma.

Last week, I received word that this man's father passed away on Simchas Torah. I went over to the shiva house on Sunday to offer my condolences. From the look in his eyes, I could tell that the man appreciated my presence.

I continue to think about our conversation from Yom Kippur and wonder what makes me so sure that I too will be standing outside again next year. How do I know that someone will not be inside saying Yizkor for me?

House Of Mourning

It is better to go to a house of mourning than to a house of feasting, for that is the end of man, and the living should take it to heart.

(Koheles 7:2)