Friday, March 31, 2006

Ari Boiangiu

I initially read about Ari Boiangiu in a posting from MOChassid. A few days later, I heard Ari perform on the Nachum Segal Show and immediately bought his new CD after he performed his live version of my favorite niggun; Kumi Roni.

I have already listened to this CD a few times and am greatly impressed with the high caliber of musicianship. Besides Kumi Roni, my favorite songs on this CD are Ma Gadlu, and Ana Hashem.

In an e-mail correspondence with Ari this week, I asked him why he chose to cover Kumi Roni; a niggun that dates back to the Maggid of Mezeritch and whose words come from Megillas Eichah. Ari responded, "I feel all 3 parts build flow and build from one to the next, which in my mind was reminiscent of someone beginning the long path of teshuva back to God. In fact, the words taken from Eicha (as explained by the Targum) are really Hashem's call to us to return to him with Torah and Tefila - it's this Targum that moved me to call the album Rosh Ashmurot, when the gates of teshuva are open."

Luckily, I have another 13 days to listen to this new CD before Sefira....

(Click on the image above for more sample tracks on Ari Boiangiu's CD)

Practicing for Pesach

A Shattered Arm

The story is told of one of the pious whose neighbor, a skilled scribe, supported himself from what he earned in the practice of his art. One day the pious man asked his neighbor, "How are you faring?" "Fine," he said, "so long as my arm is sound." That very evening he shattered his arm, and he could not write with it for the rest of his life. It was Divine retribution for having placed his trust in his arm.

If a person obtains his livelihood through other individuals, he transfers his trust to them and comes to rely on them. But when his intellect matures, and he sees their deficiencies and their need for the Creator, may He be exalted, he transfers his trust to Him and relies on Him in matters beyond his control and in which he has no alternative but to surrender to the Divine decree.

(Chovos HaLevavos, Shaar HaBitachon, Perek Zayin)

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Guest Posting From Rabbi Dovid Sears - Rabbi Nachman's "Self-Praise"

In honor of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov's birthday, Rosh Chodesh Nissan, Rabbi Dovid Sears, Director of the Breslov Center for Spirituality and Inner Growth, and author of many books on Jewish thought provided the material for the posting below. It is excerpted from an e-mail interchange between himself and a person studying Breslover Chassidus.

Rabbi Nachman's "Self-Praise"


In Chayei Moharan 241-290, Rabbi Nachman indicates that he reached a level above that of the Tannaim, and speaks about his uniqueness as being beyond compare. How does this relate to the concept of "yeridas ha-doros?" To say that he was the greatest tzaddik of his generation (or since) doesn't bother me so much. I simply don't understand how this could be, or how one could surpass the Tannaim. What was the Rebbe's true intention in saying such things, and how is this understood, by knowledgeable Breslover Hasidim?

He also mentions that there were four unique figures: Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, the ARI HaKadosh, the Baal Shem Tov, and himself. But that seems to leave out quite a few. What about Moshe Rabbeinu? What about the Patriarchs? There seem to be many others, too, who brought major chiddushim to the world.

I would like to understand how to understand these things in terms of hashkafah, and also to understand the Rebbe's intention in making these statements. Rabbi Chaim Kramer told me the answer in passing: "So we would know what we're dealing with!" I hear that answer, but still feel the need to understand a little more. The advice and derech of the Rebbe have been very healing in my life, and his teachings speak to me in a very profound way. From his Torah, my sense of wonder in life and in the Torah has been restored. I want to go forward, and have actually made some progress. (I have really wrestled greatly with these kinds of things, internal battles about Breslov's legitimacy, etc.). Thank G-d, I have been able to come closer. But I want to be sure that I know why I am doing what I am doing -- "what to answer the apikorus (within me)" -- and that is why I ask these questions.


The idea of yeridas ha-doros gets a lot of emphasis in the yeshivah world, which is heavily influenced by the hashkofahs of the Rambam. However, the mekubalim teach us that simultaneously -- although we are moving away from Sinai both temporally and spiritually -- pnimiyus ha-Torah, the inner dimension of Torah, is becoming progressively more revealed. That is, the keilim / vessels of human consciousness are subdividing and multiplying, which inevitably dims the light of divine revelation; however, at the same time, these oros / lights are shining from a higher spiritual altitude, or from a deeper source, so to speak. Ironically, this is gives these later generations an advantage over their predecessors.

This principle underlies the Rebbe's statement about the four pre-eminent tzaddikim, each of whom, according to Rabbi Gedaliah Kenig's Chayei Nefesh (chapters 21, 34), revealed a "hischadshus be-kol ha-Torah kulo" -- that is, they revealed an entirely new dimension of Torah. Needless to say, this process begins with Moshe Rabbeinu, who is the personification of the "tzaddik emes" throughout Rabbi Nachman's works. The Rebbe focuses on Moshe Rabbeinu, and not so much the Avos, because Moshe includes the Avos within himself. That is, Moshe, who represents the sefirah of Da'as, includes Chesed-Gevurah-Tiferes, which come forth from Da'as, and are represented by the Avos. The Rebbe says so explicitly in Likkutei Moharan I, 58:4.

As for the Rebbe's hispa'arus (self-praise), these statements come as a shock to most new mekurovim, because they seem so out of character for the Rebbe, or for that matter, any tzaddik. The Torah describes Moshe as " 'anav me-kol adam... the humblest man in the world." How can a tzaddik praise himself so shamelessly? However, this very pasuk provides an important key to understanding the entire problem. Moshe himself wrote these words -- yet he remained totally unimpressed with himself in doing so. This indicates that he had completely overcome any need to "prove himself," and had purged himself of even the least trace of self-importance.

Reb Noson discusses this in Shevachey Ha-Ran 22. He also adds that many tzaddikim in the Gemara behaved similarly; e.g. R' Yossi who declared: "Do not say that humility does not exist, because I am still here!" (Sota 49b).

Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai is also famous for such statements, e.g. "I have seen people of high attainments, but they are few. If there are one thousand, I and my son [Rabbi Elazar] are among them. If there are one hundred, I and my son are among them. And if there are only two, they are myself and my son" (Sukkah 45b). He also said: "I am able to absolve the world from heavenly judgment from the day I was born until now. If my son were with me, we could absolve the world from the first day of creation until now. And if Yotam ben Uziah [King of Yehudah] were with us, we could absolve the world from the beginning until the end of time" (ibid.).

Moreover, it is known that there is an intimate connection between Reb Shimon and the Rebbe -- this being why Reb Noson placed the teaching "Lekhu chazu..." about Rabbi Shimon at the beginning of Likkutei Moharan.

A few years ago, I translated some quotes about humility from the Breslover seforim in "The Tree That Stands Beyond Space" (Breslov Research Institute), pp. 8-17; however, there are many more such teachings. In addition, the Rebbe indicates that bittul ha-yesh (nullification of ego) is the goal of hisbodedus and the doorway to all divine perception; see Likkutei Moharan I, 52 ("Ha-ne’or Ba-laylah"). So we are not discussing an issue that the Rebbe was unaware of, chas ve-shalom!

Maybe the answer lies in the debates between the various tzaddikim in the Rebbe's awesome story, "The Seven Beggars." It is axiomatic that no two tzaddikim occupy the same madreigah. Therefore, there must be one who is the highest: the "tzaddik bechinas Moshe," or "tzaddik emes." This tzaddik alone can lead all of Klal Yisrael, and enable each person to reach his or her tachlis / spiritual goal, together with all neshamos and all creation. However, we must do our part and recognize the "tzaddik bechinas Moshe" as such. This is what we failed to do again and again throughout the forty years in the wilderness; and this is our final challenge in these times, be-'ikvasa de-meshicha. The other tzaddikim in particular need to recognize this.

See what the Tcheriner Rav writes about this problem in Rimzei ha-Ma'asiyos in connection with the debates in "The Seven Beggars." In the section that discusses the Sixth Day (although he also mentions the fourth day), beginning "le-'inyan hispa'arus," the Tcheriner Rav states: "When [the other tzaddikim] finally begin to perceive their own inadequacy, realizing that they are far from the power that [the Beggar With No Hands] possesses in his hands, then it will be possible to complete the healing of the Queen's Daughter all the more speedily -- may this be His will, speedily in our days!"

If the Rebbe had not said these things, we never would have known.

And we really need to know!

"The Stone That the Builders Rejected"

There is a story in Reb Avraham Sternhartz's Tovos Zichronos (oral traditions) about some astounding things one of the Reb Noson's talmidim told him in his youth about the Rebbe's power of tikkun ha-neshamos. An English translation by Rabbi Chaim Kramer appears in the back of The Breslov Haggadah.

This is a slightly shorter version: Reb Pinchas Yehoshua was the son of Reb Isaac the Sofer, a close disciple of Reb Noson. He was very poor, yet well known for his piety and great devotions. One day, Reb Pinchas Yehoshua made the pilgrimage to the Rebbe's gravesite in Uman, together with Reb Avraham Sternhartz, then in his early twenties, and Reb Motele Shochet, both of whom were very close to him. The three of them prayed there for many hours.

Reb Avraham writes:

As we turned to leave the Rebbe's gravesite, Reb Pinchas Yehoshua began to tremble with great trepidation. "My friends," he said, "I looked at myself, and I saw that I have been reincarnated again and again into this world."

He then began detailing the various generations in which he lived. He said that he had been alive in the time of a certain Tanna, and then in the generation of a particular tzaddik... As he spoke, Reb Pinchos Yehoshua carefully weighed his words, their truth being clear. We believed him because we knew of his greatness and his incredible devotion to G-d. He even told us how many times his soul had already come back to this world.

Reb Pinchas Yehoshua found it very hard to understand why, of all the people that lived in the world when his soul was first incarnated, he alone had to endure this. The Tanna had rectified other souls. Why not his? Why did he have to suffer so many incarnations? Reb Pinchas Yehoshua began saying to himself, "Why was my soul left without a tikkun? Why was I left in the depths, in the abyss of my sins, so that I had to come down to this world again? Perhaps I will be rectified the second time around..."

Then he told us that he came back in the generation of a different tzaddik. This tzaddik worked diligently to rectify neshamos and bring them back to their source. But as before, his soul was left without its tikkun, and he had to return again -- and again.

"I tried as hard as I could to understand why this was happening," Reb Pinchas Yehoshua continued. "Finally, I realized that I alone was responsible for my fate. I, myself, because of my difficult nature and improper deeds, had made it impossible for anyone to provide me with a tikkun. Had I not learned in the Gemara that 'the tzaddikim are builders?' It must have been my fault that these righteous leaders were powerless to include me in the buildings of holiness that they had built."

I looked at Reb Motele Shochet, and he looked back at me. Neither of us could believe what we were hearing. We stood there transfixed as Reb Pinchas Yehoshua went on.

"When constructing a building," he said, "a mason gathers all the stones that he needs for the first level of the building and starts cutting and chipping away at the corners. He forms the stones so that each one fits properly into place. When he has finished the first level, he again gathers the stones he needs and shapes them, so that he can then erect the second level. So it goes, level after level. At each level, the mason must make sure that all the stones he uses for the building are suitably formed. Many times we see that builders come across certain odd-shaped stones, which they try to use, only to find them too awkward to fit properly. In the end, they have no choice but to discard them.

"The same is true in spirituality. The great tzaddikim try to 'build' by attempting to rectify the souls of Israel. The Torah calls these souls 'stones.' The tzaddikim work hard at this. Each stone they come across, every soul they encounter, they do their very best to fit into the building of holiness they erect."

Reb Pinchas Yehoshua interrupted his words with a long, deep sigh. Then, with even greater intensity, he began again. "When it was my soul's turn to play its part in the building, I came before this great Tanna. He attempted to correct me, but found that he could not succeed. He worked very hard to ' shape' me, trying all different angles. However, no matter what he tried, it did not work. As soon as he corrected me on one side, I was found to be crooked on another side. Whichever way he turned my soul, it was still impossible for him to find a place for me in his 'building.' Seeing that it was futile, this Tanna left me alone. There was absolutely nothing he could do. The exact same thing happened the second time my soul descended into this world; and so it was with every subsequent incarnation. All the tzaddikim tried to rectify me, but their efforts failed. I was left alone through all those generations, thrown away like an odd-shaped stone, to be cast and kicked about forever.

"Yet G-d, Whose kindness is everlasting, wants all souls to be rectified, no matter what they have done. He saw my difficulties and sent me back to this world again. However, this time, in my current incarnation, I discovered something completely new: a tzaddik with a 'building power' that I had never seen in any of my previous incarnations. This was Rebbe Nachman of Breslov! All the Upper Worlds tremble in awe of his greatness and his holiness. Rebbe Nachman believed that a person could always come close to G-d, no matter how distant he was. In a strong voice he called out from the depths of his heart, 'Never give up! Never despair!' This Rebbe Nachman described himself as 'a river that can cleanse all stains.' From Creation until today, there never was a tzaddik who spoke such words, and with such strength and such power. In addition to hearing about Rebbe Nachman, G-d gave me the privilege of knowing Rebbe Nachman's closest disciple, Reb Noson. He taught me Rebbe Nachman's lessons and brought me to serve G-d.

"This is where I am now. "

And now, when I think about this, I cannot help but wonder: How, after being so distant from G-d all those years, how is it possible that I should I merit such a great light? How could someone so undeserving come to know of Rebbe Nachman?

"I only understood this after I contemplated the psalms of Hallel. 'The stone despised by all the builders has become the cornerstone.' In other words, this soul -- the very same soul that had been discarded by all the great tzaddikim -- has now come to the tzaddik, who is the 'cornerstone,' the foundation of the entire world. 'This has come from G-d; it is wondrous in our eyes.' It is truly wondrous how G-d deals with every single soul, making certain that it achieves its tikkun. The great tzaddikim never give up trying to correct all souls, because this is what G-d truly wants.

"I saw from this," Reb Pinchas Yehoshua concluded, "that no matter what happens to us, we must understand that there is salvation. We can always come back to G-d.

"And these are the next words we say in the Hallel: 'This is the day that G-d has made, we will rejoice...' For today, in our generation, G-d gave us such a great leader, Rebbe Nachman, who instilled in us the faith that we can always turn to G-d, no matter where we are. Then G-d will redeem the Jewish People, and we will know nothing but great joy and happiness all the rest of our days, amen!"

Attaching Oneself To Tzaddikim

Before the arrival of Moshiach, people's faith will be put to difficult tests. Whoever does not attach himself to the tzaddikim of the generation will have great difficulty maintaining his level of Jewish observance.

(Chiddushei HaRim)

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Ukrainian Jews Remember

This posting is in honor of the yahrzeit of Sholom Schwartzbard. While Schwartzbard's yahrzeit is actually on 30 Adar I, his yahrzeit is observed today on the 29th of Adar since this year is not a leap year that contains two months of Adar or a 30th of Adar.

Who was Sholom Schwartzbard?

On May 25, 1926, Sholom Schwartzbard made a place for himself in Jewish history by assassinating Simon Petlura, the leader of independent Ukraine, then residing in Paris.

Under Petlura's short-lived political and military leadership when the Ukraine was briefly an independent republic (1918 -1920), and with Petlura's knowledge and his instigation, the Ukrainian army and Ukrainian civilians massacred thousands of Jews. During these pogroms, fifteen of Schwartzbard's family members were killed by Petlura's forces.

Sholom Schwartzbard assassinated Simon Petlura to avenge his family and the Jews killed in the pogroms. As he fired three bullets into Petlura he said, "This, for the pogroms; this for the massacres; this for the victims." He then waited for the French police, calmly handed over his pistol, and told the arresting officer, "You can arrest me, I've killed a murderer."

Although Schwartzbard was brought to trial for the assassination, the French court saw that his actions were justified and acquitted him after only three weeks.

In his book Inem loif fun yoren, Schwartzbard later wrote about the pogroms in Ukraine and his motivation to take Petlura's life:

"I need only recall the dreadful time for a shudder to pass over my body. The hideous visions pursue me always, though I strive to ward them off. Though I seek to expunge them from my memory, they remain always fresh and fearful. Pogrom scenes I witnessed float before my eyes and at night keep me awake. I jump up from my sleep and cannot shake off the bloody nightmares.

All the remembrances of my life are gruesome, as is our whole history of martyrdom. My anguish grows greater when I cannot aid my suffering brothers and sisters. There are times when private sorrows disappear in public woe, like a drop of water in the sea. But as for him who suffers for humanity, his sorrows continue and are vast as the world. These sensitive souls suffer every injustice done on earth, on their bodies they feel whiplash, they cannot endure the oppressor's arrogance and the slow pace of justice. They must act.

The blood of the innocent and of the martyrs demands justice and vengeance."

Schwartzbard died on March 3, 1938 during a visit to Cape Town, South Africa and was buried there. In 1967, a committee was formed in Israel to organize the exhumation and reburial of Schwartzbard in Israel. Schwartzbard was finally laid to rest with great honor in the Soldier's Cemetery at Moshav Avihayil near Netanya.

Sholom Schwartzbard z"l (1886 - 1938)

The gravesite of Sholom Schwartzbard in Netanya, Israel - The inscription reads, "Sholom ben Chaya and Yitzchok Schwartzbard, avenged the spilled blood of the Jews of Ukraine."

A Reason To Envy The Rich

Sometimes there is a reason to envy the rich: They contribute reluctantly and are dragged into Gan Eden against their will.

(Rebbe Shlomo of Radomsk)

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

A Picture From My Family's Shtetl - Week 32

Guest Posting From My Wife - The Innocence of a Child

Our daughter is 3 1/2. Today, she asked me about the little girls she sat next to at the pool on Sunday during her swimming class.

"Mommy," she said. "The little girls at my swimming class.....they had brown hands." It was the first time she ever differentiated that someone looked different than herself. She continued, "And, I have white hands."

I told her that people come in all colors and sizes. And, we can be friends will all different kinds of people.

Later this evening, she told my husband the same thing about seeing little girls with brown hands. And, he, too, told her that people come in all colors and sizes and that the most important thing is that we treat people kindly. And, that no matter what someone looks like, we can be friends with them.

Then, she said, "Mommy, I wonder what color their tummies are?" She told us before bed that in the morning before school, she wanted to color her new found friends a picture. Hopefully, next Sunday we will see them again during swim class and our daughter can present them with her picture.

There is nothing more precious than the innocence of a child. I'm not sure at what point the innocence is lost, but I'd like to think we can preserve our children's innocence for sometime.

Be Calm

Be calm and confident, for fear will not push away what has been decreed.

(Rabbi Yehudah Aryeh of Modena)

Monday, March 27, 2006

The Israeli Elections

Last Thursday, my friend Akiva answered a question that I posed to him about which party he supports in tomorrow's Israeli elections. While Akiva answered that he supports Hazit, I however, have come to be very wary of politics, and now subscribe to the opinion of Rabbi Aryeh Levin and Rabbi Lazer Brody which shuns all involvement in political matters.

In his last will, Rabbi Aryeh Levin wrote these words on the subject of supporting political parties:

"I was careful not to be allied with any political party or group, in keeping with the teaching I received from my tutors, the great and holy Torah scholars: "And truth was ne'ederes [lacking]" (Yeshayahu 59:15) - because they became adarim, separate little herds, in which a person would strive only for the good of the members of his group and vote only for candidates of his group, even if that person was unfit for the position under consideration, rejecting a fit and qualified candidate. Moreover, this brings misfortune for generations; and it is in contradiction to our principles of faith and trust in Divine providence: For a man acts in this way in order that they - his group - should work for his benefit, at the time of his need. To this the verse of Scripture applies, "Cursed is the man that trusts in man...Blessed is the man that trusts in Hashem (Yirmiyahu 17:5,7)"

Similarly, last month Rabbi Lazer Brody wrote:

"My Israel has nothing to do Labor, Likud, Kadima, or the religious parties either. I don't spend 2 seconds a day thinking about the Hamas. Politics has no place in a such a divine sanctuary."

Looking at the parties running for the Knesset today, I just shake my head. It makes me recall a teaching from the Gemara (Bava Kamma 52a), "When G-d is angry with Israel he appoints leaders for them who guide them into pitfalls."

Insightfully, the Lubavitcher Rebbe wrote (Igros Kodesh, Volume 24, 1968, page 89), "The Hebrew words for political party is mafleiga, whose etymology pilug means divisiveness, argumentation, and disunion." It is for this reason that the Melizer Rebbe also refuses to talk about politics or politicians.

Based upon the events since the Oslo Accords, one can sadly predict that once the religious parties join a coalition with one of the larger parties after the elections, they will quickly compromise their principals and ultimately become accomplices to ceding parts of Eretz Israel and uprooting Jewish communities. This disturbing occurrence should be a warning to us illustrating the problem of combining religion and politics.

Who is left who will not betray the Jews in Eretz Israel? Like Akiva, I believe that only Moshiach can solve the problems facing the Jewish people.

When Rabbi Aryeh Levin met Prime Minister David Ben Gurion for the first time, he gave the prime minister this brocha, "I hereby bless you that you may soon vacate your position." When Ben Gurion asked him to explain, Rabbi Aryeh Levin replied, "I pray that you step down in favor of David, king of Israel, risen from the dead upon the advent of Moshiach."

This is what we all want; Moshiach and not a politician.

In the meantime, we would be wise to heed these words from Rabbi Brody:

"We Jews must have no political opinions; we should only ask what Hashem wants us to do, as specified in Jewish Law, and implement Hashem's will.

The Essence of Eretz Yisrael

The very essence of Eretz Yisrael as a spiritual concept is bound up with faith and prayer. If we abuse Eretz Yisrael we go down into exile. Prayer goes into its own exile, and then it is impossible to pray and bring about miracles in the world.

(Rebbe Nachman of Breslov)

Friday, March 24, 2006

Little Critter Meets Lil' Tzaddik

On Sunday morning as I was reading my children "Just Me In The Tub", I noticed a striking resemblance between Little Critter and my Lil' Tzaddik, whose hair continues to grow longer until the day of his upsherin.

A Secret's Prisoner

Your secret is your prisoner; if you reveal it, you will become its prisoner.

(Mivchar HaPenimim 29:6)

Thursday, March 23, 2006

A Book Recommendation

This book is full of wonderful pictures. Be sure to click on the image above and look inside.

Interestingly, page 51 contains the following statement:

"A discrepancy exists regarding the shape of the menorah's branches. Are they rounded, like those found in ancient drawings, or do they rise in straight diagonal fashion, as Maimonides illustrates his writings? The question is not imperative, since according to all authorities either version is acceptable for use and legally binding in terms of Jewish law. Today, the generally accepted view that Maimonides' straight-branched menorah was intended solely as a schematic drawing to illustrate several details of the candelabrum, and that the branches of the menorah in the Holy Temple were indeed rounded."

Learning Nach Again

Rabbi Chaim Kramer wrote in his book Crossing the Narrow Bridge, "Rebbe Nachman once said, 'My mussar book is Tanach' (Sichos V'Sippurim #21). The Rebbe was referring to yet another major benefit from studying Tanach - faith. Reading about and taking to heart all that happened to our forefathers, we find ourselves instilled with a faith and a trust in the One above. We are given encouragement to 'wait out' the trials and tribulations that afflict us; all the while hoping for the salvation promised to us by our prophets and righteous leaders."

Realizing that my knowledge of Nach is lacking, this week I started a seder of learning Nach at a slow pace. Two years ago, I made my way through Shoftim and Shmuel I and II. Now, beginning with Melachim, I hope to make my way through the rest of Nach along with some basic commentaries.

Without Hair-Splitting

One should first study the words simply, and not become involved in hair-splitting and the like.

(Lubavitcher Rebbe)

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Guest Posting From Yoni Lipshutz Of Simply Tsfat - A Return To The Violin

I started playing the violin when I was seven after begging my parents for a whole year - 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year, for 17 years, what my parents wouldn't do for me! We lived in a brown stone, single family attached house in Queens. I was in the backyard playing in the mud when I heard some music from the courtyard of the 10 story apartment building behind our house. I could not see anyone, so I washed down and went around the block into the courtyard to find an itinerate violinist with people throwing nickels and dimes from 10 stories up. His music was enchanting.

In my second year at music school, I met my soon-to-be wife. Growing up I do not recall knowing the difference between Pesach and Rosh Hashanah aside from that the family got together for meals. After graduating music school and getting married, we decided to "do" the Shabbos and kosher thing. At first only eating vegetarian at our favorite treif restaurants, and driving to shul on Shabbos. Eventually, we realized that Shabbos was an all or nothing venture, so I stopped answering the phone on Shabbos and declined Friday night gigs and Saturday matinees. As soon as I stopped performing on Shabbos, lo and behold, I stopped receiving offers for the rest of the week and I quickly took a computer vocational course. We sold my expensive violin and moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota where with the proceeds from the violin sale, we put a down payment on a house. I must say, I did not miss all the Bach, Beethoven or Mozart. As I started reconnecting with my Jewish past, I actually started thinking, no, feeling, how all that musical culture stood by, as a supportive witness, while we walked to the gas chambers.

I was busy working and raising a family in the "American" way, well almost, we had three daughters and three cars. Although something was missing. I recall my wife buying a new book on the market, "Rabbi Nachman's Tikun" with a picture of a hand on the cover, and of course being Americans, we DID judge a book by it's cover…. A friend, Reb Chaim (with a Chassidish background but now with a short cropped beard, no peyos and a short jacket) shouted at us, "What are you doing with that! Do you know what it can do to you? Don't read it, you'll go crazy!" With that introduction, and without reading it, it was quickly given to a local used book store, little did Reb Chayim and us know …

Five years after moving to Minneapolis, two weeks before the Gulf War, we moved to Israel. I recall our first meeting with the Israeli Shaliach when we were first married, we enquired about the "program" called aliyah. The Shaliach literally shouted at us "It's not a 'program' like in college". Yes, our first introduction to Israeli sabra culture…. What a turn off.

We arrived in Israel, modern Orthodox, black hat, with a bit of a Zionist tilt. At the absorption center, we met people from all over the world. Why they call it an "absorption" center I don't know. We arrived January 1, 1991 with 50,000 Russians and a large number of Chassidim from France with wild unkempt peyos. Yes we were very lost indeed. To add to our bewilderment, I went through about five jobs the first year. Call it a culture clash, like I had some and "they" didn't. We only had nine months on the absorption center before we needed to move off.

Our main concern was schooling for our three daughters, now aged six, three and one-and-a-half. Where to send them? In the USA it was very easy, there was one school, no choice. Here in Israel there is a multitude of choices and everything is a political statement. After much searching and feeling extremely forlorn, my wife called Rabbi Chaim Menachem Kramer of the Breslov Research Institute for advice on schools, the man's name is in all the books! She had learned much from our French Chassidic neighbors, much to my chagrin, but I was not buying into it. What? Go to UMAN!!?? We just got here to Israel! NO! Absolutely not, in no uncertain terms NO NO! NO! Yes, we almost got a divorce several times over the issue. Eretz Yisroel has that unique quality to test a person to the hilt. Back in Minneapolis, I thought my best character trait was patience, I was now learning quite differently. I met Rabbi Kramer to discuss schools and of course Uman in his "world wide head quarters", really a large walk in closet. What a breadth of fresh air, he was not at all like the French Chassidim or other Israelis for that matter. All of a sudden Uman was on the plate. He and I struck up an immediate friendship, and don't ask me, but nine months after doing the "aliyah" program, on Rosh Hashanah I was in Uman. I have not been in "medinat" Yisrael (as opposed to Eretz Yisrael) for Rosh Hashanah since. I should have known better when saying NO so vehemently….

After our second year in the Jerusalem environs, after another five jobs (UGH) we decided to "check-out" of Israeli society and move up to Tsfat, Zfat, Safed or however you spell it. Now with long peyos and after 15 years of starting the t'shuva process and not playing the violin, let alone having one, all of a sudden I started yearning to play again. Those haunting Breslover nigunim plagued me day and night. I said to myself, "self, if you had a violin you could play all those holy nigunim and maybe bring a smile to someone's face. After all, for what were all those hours of practicing four, five and six hours a day seven days a week, month after month for 17 years?"

One of Rebbe Nachman's main teachings is about hisbodedus. Well might as well try it, right…? After seven years of going to Uman for Rosh Hashanah and seeing the tremendous market that gathers to meet all the foreigners, I decided to go to Uman with a small group of 25 people after Pesach, not 5,000 people not 10,000 and not 20,000, just 25 people. Year after year I had seen people walk off with clarinets, flutes, accordions and so much more at ridiculous prices. But when this small group arrived, lo and behold, there was no market, no peddlers trying to sell chachkalas or trinkets, no pushing, no shoving. How wonderful it was to spend a week without all the noise and confusion that accompanies such a trip, the quiet solitude was deafening.

Motzei Shabbos I found myself at Rebbe Nachman's gravesite, Shabbos was the highest, the learning, the singing, the davening, the nigunim, oh the nigunim. Tatty, if I had a violin I could play all those nigunim I could put to use all those 17 years, what was it all for. For 20 minutes or so, midnight, pitch black and freezing cold, I stood there talking to HaShem saying, "What was it all for? How can I serve You? What am I supposed to do with my life? HELP! HELP! HELP! HELP!" As I walked out of the plaza, yes folks, there was a Ukrainian selling a violin. And after 15 years of being "frum" that's when I started to do T'shuva!

Yoni Lipshutz with his violin at Swan Lake, New York
(Photo courtesy of Simply

Making "Good" Music

Music of holiness is on an extraordinary high level, as is well known. The essence of such music is created when good is clarified and removed from evil. When one removes and separates good points from evil, music is formed. When a person does not allow himself to fall, but rejuvenates himself by searching within himself for the good points, and he gathers these good points out of the bad that is also within him, tunes are formed.

(Rebbe Nachman of Breslov)

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

A Picture From My Family's Shtetl - Week 31

The Brilliance Of The Feminine Mind

One day when my wife went to pick up our three year-old daughter from nursery school, she witnessed another little three year-old girl run over and aggressively push a little boy onto the floor. Hearing the little boy's crying, the teacher instantly turned around and asked the little girl what happened.

Without hesitation, the little girl shrugged her shoulders and sweetly replied, "I think he misses his mommy."

...and the teacher believed her.

Regretting Silence

If sometime you regret being silent - you will regret many times your having spoken.

(Rabbi Shlomo ibn Gevirol)

Monday, March 20, 2006

A Gentle Man

Today, the 20th of Adar, is the yahrzeit of my great uncle Harry (Tzvi Hirsh ben Nochum).

Harry was the epitome of selflessness. Realizing that higher education would give his family new opportunities, Harry started working at a young age and saved up enough money to put his two younger brothers through college. Despite the fact the he never went to college, he still paid for my grandfather to go to medical school and his other brother to go to law school. When his parents were too old to take care of themselves, Harry was always by their side to help them with whatever they needed. To Harry, nothing came before family.

Harry never got married and when he passed away he left all his money to his nieces and nephews. The money he left for me helped put me through college. For this, I am eternaly grateful.

At Harry's funeral in 1978, the rabbi said these words as part of his eulogy:

"Pervading all his words was a most rare graciousness and kindness. Here, I recall thinking, is a gentle man, a gentleman. Many persons do not associate gentleness with the kind of work Harry did. How can a person tend a restaurant-bar and not become hardened in spirit and language by the nature of the work and by the customers such a place often attracts? It can be done. Harry did it. At Harry's place, the Marcus Hook Restaurant, there prevailed a friendly atmosphere - of his making. Customers were friends. Even strangers, experiencing the warmth of Harry's greeting and concern, were soon aware that they were in the presence of a friend. How many strangers, including men from ships that docked at Marcus Hook, did Harry befriend - in his business and at home? No wonder once-strangers and regulars returned and returned to Harry's place for eating and drinking and chatting."

Today, on the day of his yahrzeit, I remember him and will give tzedakah in his merit; the person responsible for the success of my family in America.

Harry's place, the Marcus Hook Restaurant

Tzvi Hirsh ben Nochum z"l (1903-1978)

In Context

A pearl must have a stony shell; grain must have chaff; a vineyard must have weeds; and a rose must have thorns.

(Rabbi Yaakov Emden)

Friday, March 17, 2006

Maintaining A Distance From Nudniks

On occasion throughout our lives, "needy" people try to attach themselves to us and monopolize our time. If we allow them to, they will eventually drain our strength and patience. If, however, we maintain a distance from the beginning, we will alleviate uncomfortable situations in the future.

While it may appear cruel to act in this manner, ultimately isn't it a minor form of kindness since we may truly not have the time or resources they need?

Or is this question in of itself just a rationalization?

Insight On A Chabad Minhag - To Klop Or Not To Klop?

A Lubavitcher friend of mine pointed out that the Chabad minhag to only make noise at Haman's name where he has a title (e.x. Haman ha'agagi) was the minhag in Lithuania and White Russia. Interestingly, he also pointed out that the Rebbe said in a sicha that people should not be stopped from making noise at other mentions of Haman's name if they want to.

A footnote in Sefer HaMinhagim also indicates that the Friediker Rebbe did such:

"The compiler of the Siddur Yaavetz (R. Yaakov Emden) records that his father (the Chacham Zvi) used to stamp with his feet and clap with his shoes when Haman's name was mentioned; and I saw my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe, do likewise (in contrast to the views of the Acharonim cited in Sdei Chemed, loc. cit., sec. 10)."

Does anyone know the basis of the minhag in Lithuania and White Russia not to klop at every mention of Haman's name?

How To Give Tzedakah

Just as a coin is created through having its metal purified in a fiery cauldron, removing impurities, so too, by giving with great enthusiasm, one's soul is cleansed.

(Shem MiShmuel)

Thursday, March 16, 2006

A Reader Provides A Piece In The Puzzle

A past commenter, Eli Dishon, e-mailed me a link to an eBay auction of the sefer Har Hashem, printed in 1791(5551) in Polonoye. This sefer contained an interesting notation about the son-in-law of the Degel Machaneh Ephraim that made me reconsider the timeline I put together on the Degel's life.

The title page states that the sefer was brought to the printing house by Rabbi Dovid son of Rabbi Yehoshua Heschel HaLevi Horowitz - son-in-law of the Rabbi of Sudilkov [the Degel], who presently resides in Medzhebuz.

I knew that the Degel moved to Sudilkov in 1780, and moved back to Medzhebuz before he passed away in 1800, but I had not considered that he left Sudilkov this early.

Although others have suggested that he only lived in Medzhebuz the last two or three years of his life, the notation in this sefer proves otherwise. Exactly when the Degel left Sudilkov has yet to be determined.

Timeline of the Life of the Degel Machaneh Ephraim

1748 / 5508 - Born in Medzhebuz
1752 / 5513 - Called "Ilui Gadol B'tachlis Halimud" at age 5 years-old by the Besht
1753 / 5513 - His brother Baruch is born
1760 / 5520 - The Baal Shem Tov passes away; the Degel is 12 year-old
1772 / 5532 - His father, Rabbi Yechiel Ashkenazi passes away
1780 / 5540 - Moves to Sudilkov at the age of 32
1782 / 5542 - Gives drash for Shabbos HaGadol in Sudilkov [noted Parshas Tzav]
1785 / 5545 - Gives bar mitzvah brocha to Rebbe Nachman of Breslov [1 Nisan]
1788 / 5548 - Leaves Sudilkov and settles in Medzhebuz
1791 / 5551 - The Degel resides in Medzhebuz
1800 / 5560 - Passes away in Medzhebuz at the age of 52 [17 Iyar]
1801 / 5561 - His sister Feiga passes away [19 Adar]
1810 / 5570 - His son Yaakov Yechiel prints Degel Machaneh Ephraim in Koretz
1811 / 5572 - His brother Baruch passes away [18 Kislev]

Title page of Har Hashem - Polonoye 1791

Notation from about Rabbi Yehoshua Heschel HaLevi Horowitz


In an e-mail interchange, Dan Rabinowitz of Seforim wrote,

"There is some indication that it may have been printed in 1797 based upon a statement at the end of the book. However, that itself is questionable. As the date given at the end is Friday, 29 of Adar I 1797. That date is, however, impossible. First, 1797 was not a leap year. Second, the 29th never falls on a Friday. Consequently, some say there is an extra VAV in the dating (they use gematria for the date) and place it at 1791."


If your life is not as you will it, adapt your will to your life.

(Rabbi Mordechai of Lechovitz)

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

A Guest Posting From "Space Cadet"

Below is an e-mail I received from "Space Cadet". I am posting it since it truly reveals his poetic soul.

Clouds (Apologies to Joni Mitchell)

Rebbe Nachman of Breslev states that it is a segulah to gaze at the sky (Sefer HaMidos, "Segulah" I, 2). (A segulah is something that has some sort of mysterious power, although we may not understand how it works.) He does not exactly say what this is a segulah for, but it seems to be for wisdom.

The other day, feeling that I could use some wisdom, I sat down on a bench in front of my friend's house and gazed at the sky for about twenty minutes. The blue expanse was especially clear and luminous, within which ephemeral masses of clouds like continents slowly sailed and swelled and dispersed.

It occurred to me that all heavenly bodies hover in space and are just as evanescent as the clouds: coming into being, changing, and ultimately disintegrating.

It also occurred to me that the sky is like the white space around the letters on a Sefer Torah, within which the letters float, waiting to be read. If only we could read the clouds!

And it occurred to me that thoughts are like clouds, massing in the open space of the mind, even taking over, magnetizing all of our attention, but still constantly changing, rearranging like the glass fragments of a kaleidoscope. Yet the open expanse remains the same.

Spiritual obstacles are also like clouds. Rebbe Nachman states that all obstacles are illusory (Likutey Moharan II, 46), but the main obstacles are those of the mind. They may seem to be the most insubstantial, but not when a person stares them in the face. Oh, no! The Baal Shem Tov gave a mashal, a parable about a king who magically created a fortress surrounded by many thick walls. Only a great sage could recognize that the entire structure was really an illusion, and walk through the walls and discover the king. The walls were like clouds, covering up the true essence of things, which is HaShem, Who rules over all that transpires.

In another teaching (Likutey Moharan I, 234), Rebbe Nachman suggests that the essence of reality is actually the "World of Thought" (Olam HaMachshavah): the cosmic mind. Everything comes from there, and returns there, and in truth -- although this is hard for us to grasp -- everything constantly remains there. We experience a physical universe, but it emerges from the divine thought: "kulam b'chokhmah 'asisah . . . You created everything with wisdom." Thus, all existence is like the clouds. Each created thing appears to be solid and firm, but in truth it is insubstantial and transitory. As we say on Rosh Hashanah at the end of U'nesaneh Tokef, "Like a broken shard, like withering grass, like a fading flower, like a passing shadow, like a dissipating cloud, like a gust of wind, like a swirl of dust, like a fleeting dream..."

Rebbe Nachman said: "My entire mission is Rosh Hashanah." I guess that's why he had to teach us to gaze at the sky.

A Poet's Heart

When the poet's heat becomes bitter, his poetry becomes sweet.

(Rabbi Yedaya Ha-Bardashi)

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The Paintings Of Rabbi Elyah Succot

A gallery of more of Rabbi Elyah Succot's beautiful paintings can be seen here.

Future Tense

All the king's courtiers at the palace gate knelt and bowed low to Haman...but Mordechai would not kneel or bow low (Esther 3:2) ...but Mordechai would not bow low. The literal translation of the phrase is, "but Mordechai will not kneel and will not bow low."

By using the future tense, the verse indicates that in every generation there will arise a spiritual leader who will not kneel and bow to the tyrant of the time. Haman knew that even if he killed Mordechai, another intrepid leader would emerge and take Mordechai's place. That is why Haman wanted to destroy all the Jews in the kingdom.

(Sefas Emes)

Monday, March 13, 2006

Chag Purim Sameach!

In This Week's Parsha: What What Is Not There Says About What Is There

Finding Love

If you wish to be loved by your fellow, involve yourself in helping him.

(Derech Eretz Zuta 2)

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Haben Yakir Li is a wonderful organization that provides assistance to young men from dysfunctional homes to overcome learning disabilities and behavioral problems.

This organization, founded 16 years-ago, received brochos from Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt"l and Rabbi Moshe Aryeh Freund zt"l, and has helped hundreds of young men go on to build batei ne'eman b'Yisrael.

People wishing to help Haben Yakir Li can send a tax-deductible donation to:

Friends of Haben Yakir Li, Inc.
5515 18th Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11204

Friday, March 10, 2006

Question & Answer With Rabbi Dovid Sears - Purim Mysteries

A Simple Jew asks:

While I was reviewing books on the subject of Purim, I ran across this teaching from Likutey Moharan II, 74:

Purim is a preparation for Pesach. Through the mitzvah of Purim we are protected from chometz on Pesach.

In my slow-paced learning of Likutey Moharan, I have not yet reached this lesson. I can't say that I fully comprehend what Rebbe Nachman of Breslov is trying to teach us. I know that joy is the main aspect of Purim and that chometz symbolizes the character trait of arrogance. I don't yet understand how the joy we experience on Purim helps protect us from arrogance.

Rabbi Dovid Sears answers:

Like most of Rebbe Nachman's teachings, this lesson is full of mysteries. This reflects Reb Noson’s words in his Introduction to Likkutei Moharan, citing the Gemara (Chagiga 13a) that in mystical matters, one must simultaneously reveal and conceal. This is particularly true of Rebbe Nachman’s teaching style. So whatever we say must be understood as speculation only.

1.) On a basic level, the Rebbe is darshaning on the "coincidence" that in the Jewish calendar, Purim is followed by parshas Parah and then by Pesach, and he finds profound meaning in these connections. Even though the miracle of Purim took place more than one thousand years after yetziyas Mitzrayim, the paradigm it represents "paves the way" for Pesach.

Rebbe Nachman states: "Through Purim, we are protected from chometz on Pesach." Purim represents hidden miracles, be-derekh ha-teva'; Pesach represents open miracles, le-ma'alah me-derekh ha-teva'. Purim shows us that what appears to be natural is truly supernatural. It elevates us above nature, above ego, and destroys Amalek, which represents p'gam ha-bris (symbolized by the fact that the Amalekites sexually mutilated their victims) and disbelief (the word "Amalek" = gematria "sofek," or doubt). Thus, Purim protects us from chometz, which variously represents ego, ta'avah / lust, and the illusion of nature as autonomous -- the antithesis of Pesach.

2.) Rabbi Borukh Ephraim of Homel, a talmid of the Tcheriner Rov and author of Be'ibey ha-Nachal on Likkutei Moharan, looks at this teaching from another angle.

First let's recap the original lesson in Likkutei Moharan:

After Purim, we read parshas Parah, which is a preparation for Pesach. This is customary because when the Beis ha-Mikdosh still stood, we were required to eat the Korban Pesach in a state of taharah, purity from tumas mes (ritual defilement that comes from contact with the dead). This is attained through the ashes of the Parah Adumah, the Red Heifer. Today, lacking the Beis ha-Mikdosh and the ashes of the Parah Adumah, we cannot do so. However, in a spiritual sense we reenact this process every year beginning on Purim, when we commemorate the "pur" (pey-vav-reish), the lot that was cast concerning the fate of the Jews, after which Purim is named. Then a little later we read parshas Parah. Thus, the "pur" of Purim turns into the aspect of "Parah" (pey-reish, the root letters of "pur," plus the letter "heh"), the Red Heifer. (Rebbe Nachman takes this connection of "pur" and "parah" from a teaching of the ARI zal in Pri Eitz Chaim, Sha'ar Purim 6, which is too complex for us to discuss here.)

The Rebbe finds an allusion to this idea in Shir ha-Shirim: "Sifsosav shoshanim notfos mor 'oveir . . . His lips are roses overflowing with myrrh." "His lips" refer to Pesach, which the ARI interprets as "peh-sach," a mouth that speaks. (In other words, on Pesach we can now speak HaShem’s praises openly, as free men.) "Shoshanah" has the same gematria as "Esther"; thus it hints to the Purim story. And "mor" hints to Mordechai, whom the Gemara homiletically connects with the biblical phrase "mor d'ror," flowing myrrh (Chullin 139b). The word "d’ror," which literally means "free," also alludes to Pesach, the Festival of Freedom.

This Purim-Pesach connection is further borne out by the verse: "Shivas yamim tokhal matzos ka’asher tzivisikha le-mo’ed chodesh ha-aviv ki vo yatzasa mi-mitzrayim ve-lo yeira’u fana’I reikam . . . Seven days you shall eat matzos as I have commanded you at the season of the month of Aviv ["springtime," the biblical name for Nisan], for then you came out of Egypt; and you shall not appear before Me empty-handed" (Exodus 23:15). The initials of the five words "mi-mitzrayim ve-lo yeira’u fana’i reikam" spell the word "Purim." For Purim is the way to Pesach. Through it, one can be protected from chometz on Pesach…

Reb Noson, the editor of Likkutei Moharan, mentions that at this point, the Rebbe paused and did not finish explaining this idea. Then the Rebbe added another cryptic remark:

At first, all beginnings were from Pesach; thus, all mitzvos are zekher le-yetziyas Mitzrayim, in commemoration of the Exodus from Egypt. Ve-‘achshav, and now…

He stopped again, and did not finish.

A fourth-generation Breslover, the Be’ibey ha-Nachal detects in the Rebbe's words some amazing hints as to how the derekh of Breslov works today, after the Rebbe’s histalkus (ascent from the body). To sum up the gist of his remarks:

"Nachman" is numerically equivalent to "Pesach" (148) - "ve-’achshav," and now, we can all make a new beginning by going to the Rebbe’s holy burial place on Rosh Hashanah, which is so called because it is the "head" (rosh) and beginning of the year. Pesach is also a new beginning. Thus the lesson states that Purim is named after the "pur," and subsequently turns into "parah," which is spelled pey-reish-heh. These letters are the initials of Pesach (pey) and Rosh Hashanah (reish-heh), which together include all spiritual rectifications (tikkunim) (see Likkutei Moharan I, 49).

This is the aspect of the Parah Adumah, which "purified the impure, and contaminated the pure" (Rashi, Numbers 19:22, end). That is, when one comes to the cemetery, where the dead are buried, one contracts tumah. However, by reciting Tehillim and praying to Hashem from the depths of one’s heart - especially by reciting the ten psalms of the Rebbe’s awesome Tikkun ha-Klalli - one "purifies the impure." This is accomplished by teshuvah, and by rectifying the spiritual damage one has caused, through the merit and power of the tzaddik who is buried there.

Thus, one may make a new start in serving G-d, which is the aspect of Pesach and the Exodus, leaving one’s state of impurity and receiving the Torah anew. All this is accomplished through the holy grave of the Rebbe, whose name has the same gematria as "Pesach." This leads to our "personal ge’ulah," our inner exodus from spiritual alienation, which is true slavery, to freedom from the ego and self-serving desires, which is gained through the Torah.

3. Breslov tradition includes still another interpretation of this lesson from a different vantage point.

According to Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Bender (Si’ach Sarfei Kodesh VI, 233), the Breslover Chassidim of old used to say that the Rebbe gave us a precious piece of spiritual advice by concluding "ve-‘achshav / and now…" That is, one can only serve Hashem in the present moment -- for the past is gone, and the future has not yet come, as the Rebbe states (Sichos ha-Ran 288). Therefore, the present moment is all that truly exists.


The greatest sophistication is to avoid sophistication.

(Rebbe Nachman of Breslov)

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Blast From The Past

I spent my junior year of college abroad at Tel Aviv University in 1993/1994. During that time, I spent many a Shabbos over at the Kfar Chabad home of Rabbi Fishel Jacobs.

Today, after seeing that he has just released a new book, I ordered a copy and look forward to reading it.

(Click on the image above for more details)

Dispatches From The Home Front - Adar Edition

In the midst of a crowded room, my three year-old daughter started singing, "Haman wanted to hurt the Jew, hurt the Jews, hurt the Jews..."


Daughter: "Daddy, its not a cookie! Its a Hamantaschen!"


Flattery sure works. My daughter recently told my wife, "Mommy, I missed you sooo much. ...Can I have those colored Cheerios?" [Froot Loops]


Walking down the stairs into the toy room, my wife noticed a pungent odor indicating that I had not yet changed our son's diapers. She looked at my daughter and said, "Your Daddy is going to have to go to the nose doctor if he can't smell that." Now, every time I leave the house, my daughter asks me if I am going to see the nose doctor.


Daughter: "Fooah Shawayma" [Refuah Shleima]


Daughter: "She [three year-old friend] said that the man - Hashem, is in the shul."

Mother: What does he look like?

Daughter: "He wears a yarmulke."


Daughter: "My picture here says that I am a little shy..."


When I asked my wife if she read my blog, she responded, "Only when I am bored".

(Cross Posted on Our Kids Speak)

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

I Knew It All Along

All attributes that a person has in the prime of life or in old age were already there in his childhood.

(Orchos Tzaddikim)

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Misplaced Pride

A person may pride themselves in wearing an expensive clothing, but this clothing is not who the person is.

A person may pride themselves on driving an expensive car, but this car is also not who the person is.

Pride is misplaced when it is derived from something external to ourselves.

Pride cannot be bought at an exclusive boutique; it only comes from within.

Despite this, there are still people believing otherwise; believing that their shells are who they are.


You should be very particular about your clothes. Never treat them carelessly, and make sure they are not stained or dirty. A person's clothes become his judges if he does not show them the respect they deserve. The greater the man the more care he must take over his garments, because the higher one's level the more scrupulously one is judged.

(Rebbe Nachman of Breslov)

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

A Picture From My Family's Shtetl - Week 30

Mordechai & Esther Buried in Eretz Israel?

Beyond Teshuva has an interesting posting about the burial place of Mordechai and Esther in Hamadan, Iran (also known as Shushan HaBira).

However, seeing a picture in the 2006 Tapestry of Wisdom Jewish Engagement Calendar of the kever of Mordechai and Esther in Israel arouse my curiosity. Once I started looking into this, I noticed that Dei'ah veDibur had an interesting article on the history of this site in Israel. The article entitled, "Who is Buried in Queen Esther's Tomb?" states:

"While various monuments in Persia have been cited as their burial place, a strong alternate tradition indicates that even though both Esther and Mordechai died in the Persian capital city of Shushan, they were brought to Eretz Israel for burial. Written tradition from the Middle Ages locates the burial place in the Galilean village of Bar'am, along Israel's northern border with Lebanon."

Apparently, this written tradition began with the account of HaRav Shmuel ben Shimshon who visited the site Bar'am in 1211. In 1537, the sefer Yichus Ho'ovos Vehanivi'im recorded, that "every Shushan Purim a minyan goes to her grave [in Bar'am] from Tsefas and reads the Megillah there."

The article later notes that knowledge of the exact location of the kevarim was lost over the centuries. The site identified today as the kevarim of Mordechai and Esther is located "more than a kilometer southwest of the ruins of ancient Bar'am". How it was decided that this spot was the actual location is not discussed.

Perhaps someone with information on this site could provide the details....

Picture of Bar'am from Tzaddik Publishing's
2006 Tapestry of Wisdom Jewish Engagement Calendar
Photo: Alan Mandel

Map from "HaM'komos HaKedoshim"
showing the location of the kevarim in Bar'am.

Provided by my friend, Yitz of Heichal HaNegina

Released Just In Time For Purim

The new Artscroll Interlinear Megillas Esther

Purim Priorities

It is better to give more gifts to the poor than to spend more on one's Purim feast or on sending portions to one's friends.

(Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Megillah 2:17)

Monday, March 06, 2006

A Fire In The Shtetl?

I bought a copy of Tehilos Baruch after my friend Avraham Nisan of informed me that this sefer mentioned Rebbe Baruch of Medzhebuz's curse of my family's shtetl. With Chabakuk Elisha's translation assistance, below is the reference from Perek Heh of this sefer.

Our holy master [R' Baruch] and his holy brother of Sudilkov [the Degel Machaneh Ephraim] were close friends and they had great love for each other since childhood. Therefore he [R' Baruch] cursed the inhabitants of Sudilkov harshly for their lack of respect for his holy brother. We must know and understand that he was tzaddik whose level was as lofty as Atzilus and higher, and who worked on himself to reach his soul’s lofty level - to the point that he truly became a vehicle for it, so that this level was manifest in every part of him. He was a vessel through which the Shechina spoke, and was on the level of tzaddik who decrees and Hashem fulfills - and conversely, the tzaddik who when Hashem decrees, can nullify the decree.

The holy master (R’ Baruch of Medzhebuz) aside from the rest of the qualities of his soul’s source, being a vehicle for the attribute of complete kingship, he himself was a king in his own right in all his ways. And as such, anyone who opened his mouth against him was tantamount to a morid bemalchus (one who rebels against a king), and thus, is deserving of death.

Therefore his [R' Baruch's] curse that he placed on the town of Sudilkov for their sins would have wiped them all out, if not for the sweetening of the decree by other tzaddikim, and therefore only a portion of the homes there were destroyed by fire. If not for that, the entire city would have been destroyed.

Interestingly, I mentioned this story to the Sudilkover Rebbe in a recent converation and he said the he did not believe that it was true. He further questioned how a tzaddik could curse a shtetl with inocent men, women and children to be destroyed by fire for the sole purpose of defending a person's honor.

Since there are no footnotes relating to this in Tehilos Baruch, I would be curious to know what the source of this story is.

Title Page of Tehilos Baruch
Pshemesheler Rebbe (Rabbi Shmuel Teich) - 5762

Heart & Mouth

"And the breastplate will not be loosened from upon the ephod." (Shemos 28:28) Aharon wore the breastplate "al libo" - "on his heart" (Shemos 28:29). The word "ephod" has the numerical value of 85, which is the same numerical value of "peh" - "mouth". This is suggesting that the mouth and the heart should be in harmony. Being "echad bepeh ve'echad belev" - saying things that we do not really mean is contrary to the Torah.

(Degel Machaneh Ephraim)

Friday, March 03, 2006

The Blonde-Haired Book Goniff

Unlike my three year-old daughter, my twenty-one month-old son has not yet learned not to pull books down off the bookshelves in our house. He used to sneak into the living room on almost a daily basis and pull a sefer (usually a small Tanya) off the bookshelf and walk around with it before he was caught red-handed. I finally put our vacuum cleaner in front of the bookshelf to stop him since I knew that its menacing presence would scare him away from the room.

The vacuum cleaner trick was successful in keeping him out of the living room and I was finally able to put the vacuum cleaner back in the closet. Now, my son pulls books off the lowest shelf of the bookshelf in the family room. The lil' book goniff snatches one of two small paperbacks each day; either "The Diary of Anne Frank" or Primo Levi's "Survival at Auschwitz".

He has bookshelves for his books in his room and also in the playroom and he still can't keep his little fingers off mine!

This Shabbos, the 4th of Adar, is the yahrzeit of Menachem Begin. Below is an article that reveals why I have always admired him:

Sniffing the foul air of prejudice
Yehuda Avner
The Jerusalem Post
Feb. 16, 2004

It was an exquisite June morning. Sun shafted on the upper reaches of the Western Wall, enhancing its luminous cinnamon hue and brightening its bouquets of caper bushes that sprouted from high crevices. Kvittelech - those ubiquitous snippets of scribble stuffed into cracks and chinks and bearing the petitions of the pious - profiled the Wall's lower tiers, most of whose immense antique blocks looked almost fresh from the quarry.

A crowd of black-clad worshipers, Hawaiian-topped tourists, and a host of other sundry onlookers gawked at the sudden appearance of the prime minister emerging from a gray Chevrolet, ringed by a squad of security men.

Women ululated in excitement. Yeshiva boys sang and danced. A gleeful throng quickly surrounded the premier's party, already swelled by a clutch of obtrusive newsmen and a huddle of pigheaded photographers who walked backwards, shooting every stride the prime minister took.

Step by step, Menachem Begin made his way toward the Wall, his bespectacled, patrician features alive with a dazzling smile as he waved and nodded heartily to the hand-clapping and singing assembly pressing in on him from every side. There, at the Wall, he laid his head to rest on a weathered stone, a gesture so spontaneously spectacular in its symbolism it sparked a blaze of photo flashes, which startled a flock of starlings and sent them wheeling and screeching off the strata above.

From his pocket Menachem Begin solemnly drew a tehilim, a book of Psalms, and recited its lamentations and thanksgivings with reverence. For, on this day in June 1977, he, the veteran Likud leader, would mount the Knesset podium to assume the burden of the nation's premiership for the first time. Hence his pilgrimage to the Wall, to pray and parade his profound passion that because of what happened here, at this exact location once upon a time, Jerusalem was Jerusalem, Israel was Israel, and Jews were Jews.

BEGIN'S DISCIPLES watched in devoted silence as he worshipped. But when he patted the Wall for the final time and turned to go back to his vehicle, they formed a chanting chain around him, singing "Begin, King of Israel" at the tops of their voices.

Above the din, an audacious Jerusalem Post correspondent yelled, "What does it feel like, Mr. Begin, to become prime minister after 30 years in opposition?"

Begin's smile widened in recognition of the journalist. Old-timers knew that look of good-humored seriousness and easy rapport. It made him a press favorite. So pencils bristled eagerly in anticipation of an impromptu press conference.

"What does it feel like, you ask?" Begin pushed his bottom lip forward in thought and, in a tone of total conviction, said, "I feel like the hazan [cantor] on the High Holy Days, when he stands alone before the Holy Ark in the synagogue and he appeals to the Almighty in the name of the whole congregation. And he says to G-d: 'I have come to plead before You on behalf of Your people, Israel, who have made me their messenger, even though I am unworthy of the task. Therefore, I beseech You, O Lord, make my mission successful.'"

Begin's voice had gone husky with sincerity, and there was an air of consecration about him, his hands clasped, and his eyes lowered.

With Haaretz pugnacity a woman sporting a man's haircut challenged, "So, does that mean that from now on you're going to be planting settlements all over the occupied territories, introducing Israeli law into the occupied territories, and annexing the occupied territories?"

Begin pensively stroked his chin and embraced the woman with his dark, watchful eyes. Benignly, he replied, "You good people of Haaretz have been calling them 'occupied territories' ever since they were restored to us in the Six Day War. Call them Judea, Samaria, and Gaza, please. That, after all, is their original and proper name."

Then, unequivocally, "No, they are not occupied territories, they are liberated territories. And, yes, a Jew has every right to settle in the liberated territories of the Jewish homeland. And, no, you annex foreign land, not your own country." "So, under these circumstances, how do you visualize a solution to the Palestinian refugee problem?" asked a paunchy fellow with bushy eyebrows and a baggy suit, on whose lapel hung a New York Times tab. "

"I see a ready solution," sparred Begin, taking the world by the nose. "In 1948, on the day of our independence, five Arab armies invaded us. We defeated them at great human sacrifice. As a result of that aggression not one, but two refugee problems arose - Jewish as well as Arab. An almost equal number of Jews fled Arab lands to Israel, as did Arabs to Arab lands. Hence, a de facto exchange of populations has taken place."

"And would you be willing to negotiate this and other matters directly with Mr. Yasser Arafat and his PLO?" asked a tall, gray-haired Christian Science Monitor fellow in the precise tones of a Brahmin Bostonian.

Something flickered far back in Begin's eyes. The sun caught his glasses, sending a fierce flash across his face, and in a tone reserved for stubborn doctrines, replied:

"No, sir - never! That man is the godfather of international terrorism. His organization, the so-called PLO, is a gang of murderers bent on destroying the State of Israel. We will never conduct talks with that arch-criminal about our own destruction."

"And were Mr. Arafat to recognize Israel's existence - would you negotiate with him then?"

"No, sir!"

"Why not?"

"Because I wouldn't believe him. It would be a trick, a subterfuge, a stage in his plan to destroy the Jewish state in phases, bit by bit."

"May I butt in at this point," insinuated a tall, debonair, rakishly good-looking chap in a bow tie, with a deep, perfectly-pitched BBC announcer's voice. "Mr. Arafat's asserts that the Jewish state is an illegitimate entity with no right of existence in international law. Arab governments hold to that same view. What say you to that?" His rich English accent was saucy and provocative.

Begin sniffed the foul odor of prejudice. But, honed by years of training and shrewd intuition, he restrained himself, and, with the demeanor of a practiced lawyer, said, "Traditionally, there are four major criteria of statehood under international law. One: effective and independent government. Two: effective and independent control of the population. Three: a defined territory. And four: the capacity to freely engage in foreign relations.

"Israel is in possession of all four and, hence, is a fully fledged sovereign state and a fully accredited member of the United Nations."

And, with that, he left. About an hour later an envelope reached my desk, addressed, "To Shakespeare from Shylock." It was written in Begin's taut and cramped handwriting.

(The man's wit was impish. Why Shakespeare? Because one of my tasks was to stylize - or, as he put it, shakespearize - his excellent English, he nicknamed me after the Bard of Avon. And why Shylock? Because ever since an Egyptian newspaper had contemptuously called him Shylock he would, on occasion, gamely sign off thus).

IT WAS clear that the BBC man's acerbic comment on Israel's right to exist had infuriated Begin. So he penned a last-minute addition to his Knesset speech, which he was about to deliver, and he wanted it translated into English for the foreign press.

Thus, a few hours later, in a Knesset already buzzing with excitement, every seat taken, the president in his chair of honor, senior officials cramming their reserved sections and all the galleries packed with ambassadors, senior officers and other dignitaries, Menachem Begin, a picture of confidence and robustness, mounted the podium to present his cabinet for approval. Old-timers, noting that he held in his hand a sheaf of papers, called out to each other in jocular surprise, "Look, he's going to read a speech!"

Begin had not read a speech since addressing his compatriots over the Irgun underground radio on the day of Israel's birth. Now, 29 years later, in deference to the magnitude of the parliamentary moment, he, undisputed master of the impromptu word, began reading his address.

He dryly outlined the democratic processes that had led to the present changing of the guard from Labor to Likud. But as he went on to tell of Israel's inherent right to exist, passion crept into his voice.

Wagging a finger, his eyes defiant, he asked in a sonorous and trembling tone: "The right to exist? Would it enter the mind of any Briton or Frenchman, Belgian or Dutchman, Hungarian or Bulgarian, Russian or American, to request for its people recognition of its right to exist? Their existence per se is their right to exist!"

And as he said these words he rose up on his toes, and every chattering voice in the chamber stilled. He made a Norman arch out of the tips of his fingers, glared at his text, and thundered, "We were granted our right to exist by the G-d of our fathers at the glimmer of the dawn of human civilization 4,000 years ago.

"And so it is that the Jewish people have a historic, eternal and inalienable right to Eretz Yisrael, the land of our forefathers. And for that right, which has been sanctified in Jewish blood from generation to generation, we have paid a price unexamplified in the annals of the nations."

Spontaneous applause rose from the benches. Many got to their feet in full-throated acclaim. It was a stirring moment to observe - as if beholding a crowd spurring on a nation whose independence was then only 29 years old, but whose roots in the Land were 4,000 years deep.

The writer, a veteran diplomat, was an adviser to four prime ministers, including Menachem Begin.

The Inheritance of Adam

A father's devotion to his child is an inherited trait handed down from Adam to his descendants. He could not pass on, however, a child's dedication to his father, since he had no father.

(Rebbe Meir Yechiel of Ostrovtza)

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Guest Posting From Rabbi Dovid Sears: Knish Wars

Rabbi Dovid Sears, Director of the Breslov Center for Spirituality and Inner Growth, and author of many books on Jewish thought provided the material for the posting below.


Are there fundamental differences of emunos ve-de'os (basic theological beliefs) that divide Chassidim from non-Chassidim? Or are the main differences those of emphasis and spirit?


Reb Noson once observed, "The difference between a Chassid and a Misnaged is the difference between a hot knish and a cold knish." We all have the same Yiddishkeit, the same Shulchan Aruch. So I would say that the latter part of your question is nearer the truth -- although we cannot gloss over differences of emphasis and spirit, either.

My teacher, Rav Elazar Kenig of Tzefat, has often said, "All the pnimiyus ha-Torah we study is only meant to help us to learn the same blatt Gemora with more emes and more geshmak!"

Reb Elazar's father, Rabbi Gedaliah Kenig, zal, addressed this issue in his book-length essay, "Chayei Nefesh," Chapter 4. There, he states:

"We maintain that it is impossible that there could be any contradiction between [Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin's] holy words and the premises of Chassidism. For I have received a tradition from the house of my father and master [Rabbi Elazar Mordechai Kenig, after whom the present Rav of the Tzefat Breslev community, shlita, is named], as well as from the house of my teacher [Rabbi Avraham Sternhartz, zatzal], that the issues in the dispute between the Chassidim and the scholars known as the P'rushim did not touch upon the principles and foundations of our religion. In fact, these principles and foundations of our holy faith are beyond dispute. All Jews share the same underlying faith in the absolute unity of the Creator, may He be blessed, in Divine Providence, in His holy Torah, and in His faithful servants, who are the Prophets and Sages, the true tzaddikim of every generation, and in their holy words that are spoken in truth. This is the very foundation of the entire Torah, both Written Torah and the Oral Torah. Since the words of the Sefer Nefesh HaChaim mentioned above deal with fundamental and essential matters of our holy faith, then clearly it is impossible to conjecture that the Chassidim, may God protect and bless them, say or think otherwise, heaven forbid."

Some say that there is a dispute over the kabbalistic concept of tzimtzum, the Chassidim following the view of "tzimtzum she-lo ke-pshuto," and the Misnagdim following that of "tzimtzum ke-pshuto." There is much discussion about this in the Chabad seforim in particular. However, the idea of tzimtzum she-lo ke-pshuto did not originate with the Baal Shem Tov, but appears in earlier sources. And the concept of tzimtzum ke-pshuto, to which the Vilna Gaon and other great kabbalists in the non-Chassidic world subscribed, was rejected by Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin, the author of Nefesh HaChaim. So we can't even say that this constitutes a real dividing line between the two movements.

Yet the distinctions between the various schools of Chassidus and the various "Litvishe" approaches also need to be recognized and appreciated for what they are.

The Litvishe approach tends to be more focussed on intensive Torah study, particularly of Gemara and Poskim, keeping the Kabbalah pretty much under wraps for all but a small elite. It takes a more rationalist approach overall; does not foster the same attitude of bittul toward tzaddikim and teachers; and allows the critical intellect to remain dominant, within the confines of basic emunos ve-de'os. Additionally, in modern times, the yeshiva has become the unifying factor in Litvishe communities, as contrasted with the Chassidic "courts," which revolve around the figure of the Rebbe, and which tend to be intensely close-knit.

Rabbi Nachman praised the Chassidic Rebbes for preserving the traditional Jewish form of dress and appearance, and for keeping their followers distant from secularism (chokhmos chitzoniyos) (see Chayei Moharan 421). He also praised the early Chassidim for their fiery enthusiasm in prayer, which he wanted his talmidim to emulate (Chayei Moharan 79; Tovos Zikhronos 5).

In addition, Chassidim have traditionally placed greater emphasis on matters of kedushah (sanctity of body and mind), including regular use of mikveh before davenning, etc. They also have placed greater stress on hiskashrus / attachment to tzaddikim; on ahavas Yisrael, which eliminated some of the elitist tendencies of the Litvishe world; and on deveykus / mystical attachment to Hashem as a serious goal in the spiritual life of the average person. Although these points of emphasis have gone in and out of focus over the course of time, they are still recognizable in the Chassidic world.

These are the roots of the seemingly opposite polarities of the "cold knish" and "hot knish." However, despite the implicit value judgment in Reb Noson's comparison, he is clearly stating that the contents are the same -- although I don't know if he identified the Universal Orthodox Knish as kasha or potato.

The Gaze

The essence of adultery is in one's gaze.

(Rebbe Nachman of Breslov)

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Photo Essay: Rosh Chodesh Adar

My great-grandfather's shtetl

Train tracks leading west out of the shtetl

S.S. Furnessia - Arrived in New York City on Rosh Chodesh Adar
(February 23, 1898)

Philadelphia 1898 - Reunited with his older brother

Train tracks located next to his new home in America

My great-grandfather's house/grocery store

Site of his house, now an empty lot (1999)

My son, named after my great-grandfather - June 2004

Gluttony Without Eating

It is possible to fast from Shabbos to Shabbos and still be a glutton.

(Rebbe Aharon of Karlin)