Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Free MP3 Chassidus Shiurim - Download Links

(Picture courtesy of

Breslov Center

Aish Kodesh

Guest Paintings By Shoshannah Brombacher

Said the Sassover Rebbe: "Whoever does not have one hour a day for himself is not a human being!"

Note: This is a new series on this blog that will include the artwork of Shoshannah Brombacher. Last night, she e-mailed me and let me know that she would be having major surgery today and asked readers to please say Tehillim for her: Shoshannah Rachel bas Brayna Chavah-Dinah.

A Maskil Remembers Sudilkov

An aerial photograph of Sudilkov taken by the Luftwaffe

Excerpt from an address by Isaac Landman, entitled "A Program for Enlightenment", delivered at a meeting in Atlantic City on June 1, 1942:

"My father was a maskil in a Ukrainian town. He rejected semicha when the time came for his ordination. Vivid in my mind and still searing my heart is the scene when as a boy of seven I witnessed my father’s books—the Bible with the Biur, the works of Maimonides, HaMeassaef, editions of books dealing with profane history and the natural sciences—torn page by page and burnt in the brick oven of my grandfather’s home by what then appeared to me to be a group of wild, bearded, bespectacled, fur beschtreimeled, dancing dervishes. My father in distant America, my mother weeping with unseeing eyes—how I hated them then, God forgive me!

But my father was in America. By design he avoided the American cities where the Jews from Eastern Europe were thickly populated. He had already heard of the pioneers of the Middle West, of Abraham Lincoln. He found his way to Cincinnati, Ohio, and in Cincinnati he discovered Isaac Mayer Wise and Reform Judaism. While still peddling tinware in the hills of Kentucky, after six months he wrote me to stop studying the Talmud and to devote myself to study of the Bible and particularly the prophets. Within two weeks after our family reached American shores, three of his children were enrolled in a Reform religious school in Cincinnati. This maskil, who had rejected his East European Judaism while still in Russia, this Apikoros, had found and worked out a synthesis of Haskalah, and American Jewish. Reform.

And my father was a Zionist. He attended the Second World Zionist Congress and established the first Zionist society west of the Alleghenies. But as an American and as a Reform Jew, he rejected the nationalist phases of the Zionist venture. When his children were of age and self-supporting, he mobilized all his material resources, went to Palestine, opened a clinic for the treatment of trachoma, for which in his medical practice, he had developed a special formula, free to Jews and Arabs. He founded this clinic not under Zionist auspices, because he could not reconcile his Americanism and the Americanism of his children with the wide and wild Zionist propaganda for Diaspora nationalism. He died while on a visit to Cairo, a Reform Jew by conviction, an American by choice."

Just Released - The Essential Rabbi Nachman

(Click on the image above)


We should learn to be careful of every move we make in life, just as a chess player takes great precaution before he makes a move. Before making a decision, we should think in advance whether we will have cause to regret it.

(Rebbe Simcha Bunim of Pshis'cha)

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Guest Posting From Chabakuk Elisha - Isolation

(Picture courtesy of a friend of Chabakuk Elisha)

Chazal say no two opinions are exactly alike, and lehavdil, Winston Churchill summed it up nicely when he said, "The best argument against Democracy is to speak five minutes to the man in the street."

My wife often tells me that I'm too opinionated. I generally have found great canyons of difference between myself and the people that I interact with. Thought my life, I have felt somewhat isolated and frustrated by the people – be they Jewish, non-Jewish, religious or non-religious – that I am surrounded with. At times I have felt as if I was indeed an Alien that somehow landed on some far flung planet for whom there is little if any common ground. But I imagine that this not all that uncommon – every individual is an entire world, and although I'm sure that some experience this more than others, in many ways we really all are an island.

I have often thought about Avrohom Avinu in this context. The passuk tells us "echod hoya Avrohom" – Avrohom was alone – and we can imagine how isolated he should have felt… one man who's views and ideals differed so completely with everyone he ran into; we can imagine what that must have been like. And while it would have been quite understandable for him to pack up his things and move to Walden Pond, nevertheless he maintained quite a strong connection with his fellow man. Yiddishkeit is interesting this way, we are given two messages, one of individual asceticism of sorts, and another of communal interaction: We are obligated to marry; we need to join (at least) 10 people 3 times a day, we have many social responsibilities and we're constantly told of our deep internal connection to our fellow man. Judaism seems to eschew the idea of living isolated atop a mountain in Tibet.

So, while I sometimes think that I would be better off far away from the rest of the human race, I realize that in-truth, although many things obscure this, the similarities are actually far greater than our differences. And when I think about it, I must admit that why shouldn't I feel completely at odds with the guy sitting next to me? I certainly know that I would be completely at odds with the person I was, say, 10 years ago – shouldn't I give everyone else that same luxury? Often this feeling of isolation comes from, a perhaps subtle or subconscious sense of superiority. It's often the ego that wants to build an ivory tower for our personal opinions and look down at the rest of humanity with disdain for their pedestrian or unenlightened ideas. It reminds me of a story that I have thought of many times in my life:

There was a Chabad Chossid that came to America before the war. He didn't like this new modernity that he saw among chassidim, especially the dress and appearance that he felt was quite un-Chassidic. He was known to rant on about those who came to the USA and started wearing these fedora hats in place of the Russian kasket – indeed this was one of his pet peeves. But one day, to everyone's surprise, he showed up in the very object that he had scored – a brand new fedora hat. The others asked him how he could have such a change of heart after making is opinion to the contrary so well known! So, he answered them: The Rebbe Rashab had often said that one should not make himself too different from his peers, because doing so is ego – so, once he had made peace with the fact that the kasket was a thing of the past, he recognized that he must conform.

Similarly, although I do often find myself on a completely different page than virtually everyone that I know, I realize that I have no higher standing than the next guy. I may feel somewhat estranged perhaps – just as I hope to progress in life to have further developed my thinking to a point that I am estranged from my current ideas – but it's important that this doesn't just become one big ego trip…

Yom Shlishi - Parshas Beshalach

(Click on the image above for the .pdf file)

Background on Parshas Hamon

Perfect Physical Health

By fulfilling a mitzvah you impart life to the limb or organ with which you do the mitzvah. If you fail to do a mitzvah, the limb that is associated with this mitzvah will be deprived of its life-force and will become deceased.

Now, when a person is ill, if he is uninformed as to the true source of his sickness, he will consult a physician who may not restore his health. But if he would turn to the Book of Healing - the Torah - and examine his actions and search for his failings he would not need to undergo the lengthy therapy of the human doctor; his cure would arrive instantly. He would achieve not only perfect physical health but also prosperity and a happy family life.

(Rebbe Menachem Nachum of Chernobyl)

Monday, January 29, 2007

Dixie Yid: The Story Behind the Story, Part 2

Both The Father-In-Law And His Great Uncle - A Hypothesis

Kever of Rabbi Gershon of Kitov in Jerusalem
(Picture courtesy of HaM'komos HaKedoshim)

Shoshana (Bershad) commenting on A Footnote About His Life:

I’ve been trying to find some more information about the name of the Degel’s wife but have been unable to find anything further in online sources. I did, however, come up with a loose timeline and some background. According to some sources, Israel ben Eliezer, the Ba’al Shem Tov (1698-1760), first married at about age 18; his wife died soon thereafter. Around 1720, he married Leah Rachel (or Chanah), the daughter of Rabbi Ephraim of Brody. His wife’s brother was Rabbi Abraham Gershon Ashkenazi of Kuty (also known as Gershon Kittower or Kitover). He was the rabbi of Brody and a well-known Talmudic scholar and Cabalist. Since the Ba’al Shem Tov presented himself as an ignorant peasant, R’ Gershon at first disapproved of the match. In later years, however, he became one of the Ba’al Shem Tov’s most ardent followers. R’ Gershon traveled to Palestine in ~1742 and started the first Chassidic community there. Although many sources state that he arrived in Hebron in 1746 or 1747, there is a tradition that he studied Cabala in Jerusalem before 1743. According to a letter he wrote in 1757, he had lived in Hebron for 6 years [1743?-1749?] without his family (“Gershon relates that in the single Jewish courtyard there was so little room that they could not even let him bring his family”). He then went to the Beit El Synagogue (Yeshivat haMekubalim) in Jerusalem, where he lived for 4 years [1749?-1753?] with his wife and family. The famous letter from the Ba’al Shem Tov to R’ Gershon was written in 1752; in it, he refers to R’ Gershon’s wife, Bluma, and children. Apparently, R’ Gershon returned to Brody [~1753?] to arrange marriages for his sons and then returned to Jerusalem, where he died around 1760 (or 1765). The grandson of the Ba’al Shem Tov, the Degel (Moshe Chaim Ephraim of Sudilkov), was the son of the Ba’al Shem Tov’s daughter, Udel (Adel), and R’ Yechiel Ashkenazi. He is believed to have married a daughter of R’ Gershon. The Degel was born in 1748, around the time that R’ Gershon’s family moved to Jerusalem. If his future wife was born ~1750 in Palestine (when R’ Gershon was perhaps in his late 50s or early 60s and his wife, Bluma, was, presumably, much younger) and she returned to the Ukraine ~1753, she might have married the Degel in 1764 (the year they are listed together in the census). R’ Gershon would thus be BOTH the father-in-law of the Degel and his great-uncle! By the way, it occurs to me that the Degel’s wife might actually be a granddaughter of R’ Gershon; however, I could find no support for this hypothesis. (Some of the sources for this information are the Jewish Encyclopedia, BibleWiki, the Kuty Memorial Book, the RavSIG on JewishGen, the Jewish Agency for Israel web site, the Tluste/Tovste web site, the Baal Shem Tov Foundation web site, the web site, the Nehora web site, and the Grossman Project web site. Links available.)

A Simple Jew's comment:

There is some support to your hypothesis. On page 62 of the book "The Circle of the Baal Shem Tov", Abraham J. Heschel wrote: "Before leaving, R. Gershon secured the future marriage of his youngest daughter to R. Ephraim, the Besht's grandson, the future author of Degel Mahaney 'Efrayim. He seems to have promised to return to the Diaspora to give her in marriage."

On an interesting side note, "The Encyclopedia of Hasidism" by Tzvi M. Rabinowicz relates, "He [Rabbi Gershon of Kitov] was buried on the Mount of Olives. For more than two hundred years, his grave could not be found. Only after the Six-Day War (1967) were his grave and that of his wife (d. 1757) discovered."

Book Recommendation Of The Week


When a person repeats a lie twice, it becomes the truth for him. Having repeated it twice, he believes it is the truth. Not only does he deceive himself; he even has the power to deceive others and to cause such intense concealment that it seems as if even God agrees with him.

(Rebbe Nachman of Breslov)

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Sunday's Links

Dixie Yid: The Story Behind the Story, Part 1

The Muqata: Friday Night Spirituality vs. Friday Night Spirituality: An Internal Struggle

Heichal HaNegina: The Modzitzer Rebbe Shlita’s Visit to America

Mystical Paths: Video: Into Battle

Arutz-7: Photos: Arabs Ransack Samuel´s Tomb, Vandalize Hevron Graveyard

Black & White Picture Of The Week - Week 3

Friday, January 26, 2007

Videos For Erev Shabbos

(Painting by Martina Shapiro)

Lazer Beams: Footprints

Rav Elazar Mordechai Kenig: Birthdays [Yiddish]

Mystical Paths: The Righteous Will Flourish

Cynicism And The Parsha

Hirhurim: Ten Plagues II

A Footnote About His Life

Degel Machaneh Ephraim, Parshas Bereishis

The book Founder of Hasidism: The Quest for the Historical Baal Shem Tov notes:

"Several of these individuals who appear in Shivchei Ha-Besht also are listed on these annual inventories, many of which have survived in the archives. They are also found on the copy of the 1763 census of Polish Jewry. The individuals named are Hersh, the Besht's son; his daughter, Edel; Yechiel, the Besht's son-in-law..."

In the footnotes to this book it notes that in the 1763 census the Degel Machaneh Ephraim "is also listed as Froim together with his wife Jetel.

This name "Jetel", however, conflicts with information in Glen Dynner's book "Men of Silk", in which he wrote, "R. Moses Hayyim Ephraim was matched with Esther, daughter of Gershon of Kuty, the Besht's brother-in-law. One of their children, Ethel, married David Horowitz, of another aristocratic family." Since the name "Jetel" appears in the 1763 census, I tend to think that this information from "Men of Silk" is inaccurate since the source of this information is not provided in Dynner's book. Additionally, in Degel Machaneh Ephraim, Parshas Bereishis, the Degel refers to R' Gershon Kitover as "Dodi Zekeini" ("my great uncle"), not as his father-in-law.

It is extremely interesting to finally learn the name of the Degel's wife. Given the fact that the Degel was born in 1748, this would mean that he was 15 years-old or younger at the time of his marriage. To date, I have only heard this story about the Degel's wife and I would be interested to learn more information about her background.

Worry About Being Worried

All worry is forbidden – except the worry about being worried.

(Rabbi Yisrael Salanter)

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Could Someone Translate This Article Into English?

In a past conversation on this posting, the Sudilkover Rebbe told me about an article he wrote on this subject and suggested that I post an English translation on my blog. Unfortunately my Hebrew is not good enough to do the translation so I was wondering if anyone out there would be willing to translate it for a posting.

The Sudilkover Rebbe's article can be found here:

הסיפור שמאחורי הסיפור

Thank you in advance for your assistance.

UPDATE: See Dixie Yid's translation here

"An Emotionally Distraught Time"

(Picture by Roger Colson)

Akiva commenting on Conflicting Emotions:

There are few times when ritual and structure are needed more than death. Though not needed by the primary participant, for family, friends, and community, such an emotional and meaning laden event can perhaps only be dealt with within a firm structure.

Baruch Hashem, I haven't been directly faced with such events very much. While not a young man, only a set of grandparents has left my life. My wife, on the other hand, has lost grandparents and parents and aunts & uncles, becoming in the process a literal expert on mourning and the customs of shiva (as well as the difficult, often extended, processes leading up to the need for such).

I've seen her advise, prepare, and ultimately console others. She speaks of how meaningful each step is, how wise the ways of Torah, our chachamim (our sages), and Hashem, in the kavod (respect) to the departed, and the consolation to the family still here in this world. How the shiva allows the shock to be processed and absorbed at a reasonable pace, how much the human touch of the consolers and people that help mean at such a time, and how it gradually returns the mourners back into the world of the living.

With an area in such need of dignity and humanity to the living, and such a strong desire to treat the departed with respect, it's incredibly difficult in many circumstances today where families are mixed with religious and non-religious, Jewish and non-Jewish, strange secular desires left by the departed, and sometimes greater concern over assets than people. Often we get lucky (so to speak), and it's possible to step into a place of confusion with a template, a plan so to speak, and be gladly accepted as someone who has a way when all others are lost. Other times, firm ideas hold sway and things that violate our understanding of the path of Torah and Hashem are going to occur.

When that's the case, it's time to consult our wise rabbonim (rabbi's), as well as our mashpia (spiritual mentor), for our own emotions will be struggling with our intellect and empathy for others. Consult, and follow the wise advise blindly. When emotions are strong, as they usually are at such times, it's not the time to be doing calculations yourself (such as does respect for the dead override what they might consider a chillul Hashem in confronting the mourners about grossly inappropriate actions and even potential spiritual damage to the deceased????). Even the best meaning intention can cause terrible damage at such an emotionally distraught time.

Be cognizant of the impact to oneself as well. Consult afterwards with one's rav, advisor or friend. Strong emotions need to be processed and settled into their proper place, not let run rampant.

These are great challenges with which to be faced. Recognize it as such and turn to the wisdom of Torah and Hashem, not just for mourning and ritual, but for human relations during a time of powerful emotions and sometimes heightened conflicts between values.

May Hashem help us all react in a worthy fashion at such times.

Tears In His Eyes

One may not be worthy of having his prayers answered, but for the sincerity of his entreaties and the tears in his eyes.

(Rabbi Yehuda HaChassid)

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Spare Time

(Picture by Yaacov Kaszemacher)

Excerpt from "In All Your Ways" by Rabbi Yaakov Meir Shechter:

I heard a story about a great Torah scholar of the previous generation who was known for his remarkable diligence in study; he finished the entire Talmud many times. At the completion of one such cycle, he made an especially beautiful banquet. Why was this occasion so special, his family asked him? Hadn't he finished the Talmud many times before? He explained that this time was especially dear to him because he had done it all in his spare time. He always carried a small Gemara with him wherever he went, and would study from it during those spare moments that other people ignore: traveling, eating or waiting in line. This accomplishment made him extremely happy and so he made a special banquet. There are some people whose lives are so preoccupied by different projects that the only way they can even finish a book is by snatching up these free minutes. It only requires alertness and enthusiasm.

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Excerpt from this week's edition of Parsha Parts:

And Hashem will skip over the entrance (Shmos 12:23).

Generally, Heaven doesn’t save a person from trouble unless the person first makes an effort on his own to repent. Our Sages say, Hashem says, ‘Open for me an entrance the size of the eye of a needle and I will open for you an entrance the size of a great hall’. An entrance, even extremely small, must be opened first by the person. However, B’nei Yisroel were engulfed in the impurities of exile in Egypt and had no merits of their own with which to open any entrance. Nevertheless, Hashem had mercy on them and opened up the entrance to redemption for them without considering that they had not even opened an entrance the size of the eye of a needle on their own.

Hashem will skip over the entrance. Hashem skipped over the usual requirement that a person has to open the entrance first. He opened the entrance to redemption for them.

--Botzina D’Nihora from R’ Boruch of Medzhibozh

Pushing Away

It's not hard to push a person away. The real work is to draw him close and uplift him.

(Rebbe Nachman of Breslov)

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Conflicting Emotions

(Illustration by Solomon Yudovin)

On Sunday afternoon, I stood on a hillside in a cemetery as my great aunt's coffin was lowered into the earth. At 93 years-old, she was the last of her siblings to pass away and thereby close a chapter in our family's history.

I have such conflicting emotions about the events on Sunday because I was very close to my great aunt who was an exemplar of kindness and hakaras hatov. She was a person who was a source of encouragement to others because she was continually happy and only spoke about the good points of others.

I think, however, that my conflicting emotions about Sunday stem from the fact that I cannot simply go to a funeral without becoming extremely agitated with the unconventional way funerals are handled in my family. Five years ago, one of my great-aunt's older brothers passed away, was cremated, and his ashes were scatted in a Jewish cemetery on the graves of his parents and brother and sister. I was so incensed about this idea at the time and felt helpless because I had absolutely no say in what happened. This pain was coupled with the knowledge that my own grandfather had been cremated as well.

With these experiences in my past, I walked into the Jewish funeral home on Sunday to be greeted with a funeral featuring an open casket. To make things worse, there was a half-hour before the service began and family members and friends gathered around the open casket cried, hugged, and even engaged in idle chit chat. I was horrified at the sight of people standing with their backs to an open casket and laughing with their friends. I wanted to scream at the lack of respect these people were displaying. But, I remained silent. Who was I, only a grand-nephew, to make a scene in front my great-aunt's children and grand-children while she lay in the room before us? In reality, what could I have done?

At the cemetery, I helped carry her coffin. My great aunt's son was across from me on the other side and began to ask me about my family; making me uncomfortable as we carried his mother to her final resting place. Once again, this sacred moment was shattered by small talk.

I threw a shovel full of earth on my great-aunt's coffin, as is tradition, and went over to give words of comfort to her son. I told him that not only is his mother now together with his father, but that I also remembered that there were other family members buried in this cemetery. I told him that that now she is also together with her parents and her brothers and sister; that she has left one family and has returned to another. He responded, "They are also buried here?" When I explained that they are buried at another cemetery, he quickly added, "Oh, you mean together in a metaphysical way."

I drove home with this comment echoing in my mind since I perceived that he used the word "metaphysical" in place of "make believe" or "hocus pocus". I lamented the fact that in today's society that many people have lost the ability to take the concept of a neshoma returning to its source in a literal manner. I reflected on how many sacred moments that I have witnessed in recent months that were marred by unthinking people; a bris in which people stood taking pictures with their camera phones over the mohel's shoulders; a wedding where members of the wedding party complained about being hungry and continually inquired when they would get to eat; and now this, sons standing with their backs to their mother's body while they laughed and engaged in small talk.

I have no more words. Perhaps I do not belong on this planet any more.

Bagel Blogger: The Inaugural 1st Edition of J Pix the Photocarnival is coming up...


If you see that someone sometimes serves Hashem and sometimes does not, you can be sure that he has never really served Hashem as he should. For if he had served Hashem even once as he should, then he would serve Him continuously.

(Maggid of Mezeritch)

Monday, January 22, 2007

My Diamond-Studded Mirror

(Picture courtesy of

After relating a conversation that I had with another man in shul on Shabbos, my wife alerted me to the fact that it seemed that my friendship with this person was centered around our shared dislike of a certain thing. She further pointed out that a friendship based upon shared negative opinions was certainly not a healthy friendship and that I might want to reevaluate how I proceeded in the future.

Hearing the wisdom in her words, I immediately acknowledged the validity of her observation, and plan to act on her advice. Rabbi Lazer Brody compares a wife to a diamond-studded mirror that reflects the condition of ones neshoma.

I am not so foolhearted as to ignore this.

True Happiness

Moshe spoke in a kindly manner to Pharaoh even while delivering a warning of a devastating plaque. G-d warned him to do so as otherwise he might have lived up to the description in Tehillim of the tzaddik who rejoices when he observes G-d taking revenge. Moshe is reminded that what truly makes tzaddikim happy is seeing G-d's attribute of mercy in action.

(Ohr HaChaim)

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Black & White Picture Of The Week - Week 2

2 Shevat

(Click on the picture above)

Friday, January 19, 2007

"That Is Why They Are The Way They Are"

Received today via e-mail from the Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation:

R' Yissocher Frand relates the following story:

A man came to his Rav with a troubling question. "Rabbi, I don't understand. I come from a very distinguished religious family, I am quite learned and I am meticulous in observing every detail of halachah. Now, Mr. X, as you well know, is a simple man from a simple family. He keeps what he knows, which is not very much. Yet, I have not merited seeing nachas from my children, while every one of Mr. X's children is a gem. Can you explain this?"

"Are you prepared to hear something painful?" asked the Rav.

"Yes," the man replied.

"You entered the business world with nothing and worked very hard to be successful. But your approach was not at all straight; you would bend the rules to accomplish your goals, you could say one thing and mean another. That's what your children saw, that nothing really means anything. However, Mr. X, as you said, is a simple man - simple and sincere. I am certain that he has never told a lie willfully. That is what his children saw and that is why they are the way they are."

A House Without A Copy - More On Segulos

(Picture courtesy of Shalom-from-Israel)

Rabbi Tal Zwecker's translation of Noam Elimelech is scheduled to be released this year by Targum Press. On his website, he wrote, "There is a well known segulah - protection to carrying a copy of the sefer Noam Elimelech. The Biale Rebbe would not enter a house that did not contain a copy of this sefer and would often hand his gabai a copy and ask him to enter a home first so that the Rebbe would not enter a house that did not have a copy."

While surfing the internet, I came across a website that offers a number of seforim such as Noam Elimelech that were reduced onto microfilm cards at 1/3000th of the original size. I e-mailed the company and informed them of the segula associated with Degel Machaneh Ephraim and requested that they make a microfilm card for this sefer. So far, I have not hear back anything, but I hope they consider this suggestion.

Besides Noam Elimelech, Chitas and Likutey Moharan, are there any other Sifrei Chassidus with segulos associated with them?

(Picture courtesy of

All Good

When you believe that everything is from Him, blessed be He, then there is no evil or bad at all - there is just all good.

(Rebbe Pinchas of Koretz)

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Revamping The Curriculum

(Image courtesy of the Atlas of Jewish History)

Below is a hypothetical yeshiva curriculum to revamp how Chassidus is learned the Chassidic world. Would you imagine that such curriculum could help expand the focus of learning that may presently exist?


First Stage: A student will learn "the classics" of Chassidus such as Toldos Yaakov Yosef, Degel Machaneh Ephraim, Maggid Devarev L'Yaakov, Me'or Einayim, Kedushas Levi, and Midrash Pinchas.

Second Stage: A student will learn learn the seforim of the rebbeim from his group.

Third Stage: A student will be given exposure to learning the seforim from other Chassidic groups, with a particular emphasis placed on those that might be considered "opposing" groups.

The Latest Addition To My Collection

400 Aveiros

I received a tradition that any Jew who is not aware of 400 aveiros he commits from the time he wakes up until the time of Shacharis has not even begun in the service of G-d in holiness and purity.

(Chozeh of Lublin)

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Two Friends & Twelve Years

(Picture by Wayne Brasch)

Two close friends graduated from college together twelve years ago. One of them had been his high school valedictorian, received a full-ride university scholarship, and graduated with straight A's. The other was a mediocre student in both high school and college and graduated with a grade point average of 2.67.

This first person had a remarkable drive and a resolve that epitomized mind over body. He was on fire with his Yiddishkeit and even taught his less-observant friend how to put on tefillin. Upon graduation, he gained two more Masters degrees as well as an MBA degree. Today, however, he is lonely, unhappy, and working in a job far that is from commensurate with his education. He constantly dreams up new plans for the future to get himself out of his rut but seems to be stuck in the same place year after year. Each day he becomes more embittered at his lot in life and laments his waste of time since college.

The second person was a person who epitomized the path of least resistance. He did not pursue any further formal education, but got a job where he literally worked his way up from the basement to a well-paying desk job. He married a girl from college, bought a house, and together they were blessed with children. He has no other professional aspirations other than to figure out a way to continually make more money by working less hours and without having to manage people. He feels unworthy of all the kindness Hashem has shown him in his life and thanks Hashem each day for the myriad of gifts that have been given to him.

All indications seemed to point to the fact that that this first person would eventually become the successful one. However, today this is not the case and the second person is still scratching his head and trying to understand why. Haditz diary


One who is shy is not likely to learn.

(Pirkei Avos 2:5)

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Tonight's Magna Doodle Artwork

Question & Answer With Chabakuk Elisha - Parshas Hamon And Other Segulos

A Simple Jew asks:

The Yerushalmi mentions that a person who recites Parshas Hamon every day will never be lacking his parnossa. This teaching was later cited in the Mishna Berura and also explored in depth in the sefer Lechem Abirim by Rebbe Menachem Mendel of Rimanov.

Today, however, segulos like reciting Parshas Hamon or Ketores seem to be greatly ridiculed and held in extremely low regard outside of the Chassidic world. What would you attribute this phenomenon to?

Chabakuk Elisha answers:

OY, ASJ – I could write a book on this one! This goes right to R' Nachman's Sophisticate and the Simpleton paradigm; but I'll try to keep it brief. And rather than to discuss this as an Us vs. Them issue, I'll speak about this with the microcosm in mind:

We all have these little voices lurking in the recesses of our psyche. One of those voices is the Amalek voice. It, Chazal tell us, is the voice of doubt; it throws cold water on everything spiritual and everything Klal Yisroel might do (unfortunately, that voice is nurtured and promoted quite a bit in the blogosphere – as a good friend of mine aptly put it: "It's like Amalek jumping into the proverbial hot tub").

Another voice that pipes up is the Tzeduki (Sadducee) voice. As the Baal HaTanya explains, the Tzeduki theology is always with us; it is the voice that says: "I don't want to do anything more than I have to, and I'm definitely not interested in what the "Rabbis" come up with. I just want to know what G-d said I have to do, no more no less."

So, whenever we take a Jewish custom, a hanhaga, a segula or a story of a Tzaddik, these voices, that voice of Amalek and the Tzeduki jump in with a laundry list of problems and complaints to minimize it and question its legitimacy. Every Chassidic story is shot down as a fairy tale, every custom, hanhoga or segula is labeled as ridiculous or of non-Jewish origin, etc. But then we have that other voice who says: "Emunah! Simple faith! Stop throwing cold water on everything already!" But that voice often gets shouted down by the ostensibly smarter, more intellectual, rationalist agenda.

So here we have a minhag of reciting Parshas HaMon. And although it is not a minhag that I follow, all the debates out there as to its legitimacy are, in a word, rubbish. They are irrelevant. It reminds me of another argument: How can we give tzedoka to ______? How do I know if the tzedoka is actually completely legitimate? How do I know if the man is really so poor? But the bottom line is, it doesn't really matter.

Because the point is not the specific individual tzedoka recipient – it's all about the giver! It's a mitzvah to give, and if the recipient isn't as legitimate as he claims, that's his business, not the givers. Similarly (and even more so), the point is not the specific minhag / segula / hanhoga, it's the intent of the one following it!

This may help sum it up: R' Nachman said, "There are Rebbes who are not tzaddikim at all, but because of the emunas chachomim of their chassidim, their advice and brochos are mekuyom..."

Sadly, though, we are living in decidedly rationalist time. And while I agree with Napoleon Bonaparte when he said, "From sublime to ridiculousness there is only one step," I still do maintain that by deleting every supra-rational idea in the world of Yiddishkeit we throw out the baby with the bathwater. We live in anti-spiritual times, but I have met very special people in my life: People for whom Torah drips off their lips like honey; people who live with G-d at every moment of their day; people who inspire me on sight. And perhaps that's the difference: I know, deep down, that they live life the way I wish I did. I look to people like this and silently pray that I would spend eternity with people like this, and be saved from spending my eternity with the rationalists.


It is good to recite many prayers and supplications - such as those printed in the large prayer books. People think it is clever to ridicule these practices. But they are wrong. The essence of Judaism is simplicity and purity, without sophistication at all.

(Rebbe Nachman of Breslov)

Monday, January 15, 2007

Mystical Paths: More on Chabad and Breslov

The Paintings Of Hyman Bloom

Excerpt from the Foreword to the catalog "Hyman Bloom: A Spiritual Embace", written by Rabbi Dovid Sears:

"As we spoke, I realized that there might be a psychological symmetry in our encounter. In Hyman Bloom, I was looking for the fully actualized expressionist painter I never became - and in the bearded Chassidic Jew sitting beside him, perhaps Hyman Bloom was looking for the rabbi he never became."


It is impossible to pray with concentration without help. A person must ask Hashem for help and assistance.

(Baal Shem Tov)

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Lazer Beams: Hitbodedut - An Introduction to Personal Prayer

New Series For Sundays - "Black & White Picture Of The Week"

Yaakov Arieh ben Chaya Malka

Pearlies of Wisdom: Sayings These Days & Limbo

Friday, January 12, 2007

Question & Answer With Mottel - Black & White Photography

(Picture of Mottel courtesy of Letters of Thought)

A Simple Jew asks:

What is it about black and white photography that allows it to resonate deeper with us? Black and white photography relies on four main elements: texture, light, shadow, and reflection. I have noticed that the most compelling black and white photography includes at least two of the elements as part of its composition.

With black and white photography we are not distracted by the shade of a color but rather we focus in on all the details of the picture's subject. Things that we never thought as "art" may now take on a new reality once they are captured by the camera's lens. Black and white photography gives a clarity to the world that is often lacking in the world of color. Unlike a painter who may paint something solely out of his imagination, a photographer merely catches a sight that appears to his eyes. He may captures the look in another persons eye and that in of itself may become art.

Do you have any thoughts on this Mottel?

Mottel of Letters of Thought answers:

Let us start out with art in general.

Art has the power to change how we view the world.

With art we take the mundane, the normal, and give a new look on the world around us. We distill the world down to its basic elements and bring those that we wish to focus on in to the forefront. Even with abstract -'modern'- art, the artist has chosen to express certain elements from the world at large -only in a more greatly distilled manner; he has broken up the concept into mere color or form.

When it comes to photography, there are certain advantages and disadvantages to how this 'slice of life' is captured.

On one hand the photographer has the world around him already composed. The elements can be found in the mere click of a camera. A storm at sea can be caught in it's full furry with great ease (That's why I feel my pictures from my times spent in Venice came out so well -not because of any true skill I posses in Photography- rather the intensity and power of the city is so palpable that it can caught in a point and click matter)

However, the photographer must also work within the world around him and the technology disposable at his hands to capture what he wishes to bring out.

He does not have the infinite canvass of the brush to bring to life his world. In other words, if a photographer has a certain concept he wishes to bring out through his photo - let us say a picture of a single object- depending on how it is taken, it can bring out many -even conflicting- emotions. Therefore, in order bring out the desired image, the photographer rely on other factors -texture, light, shadow, and reflection (as you put it).

I think here in lies the power of black and white photography.

By limiting ourselves, we in truth can accomplish much more.

The lack of color focuses the eye on use of lighting, shadows, angle etc. thereby bringing out the desired effect. We distill the scene down to it's basic components -shapes and shades- in order to bring out the message hidden with in.

In Kabbalistic terms, we find a ma'amar Chazal, that in the place where one sees the greatness of G-d, in truth he is seeing the His humility. In other words, G-d in his essence is completely exalted beyond our frame of reference . . . the very fact that we can even experience miracles which break the world, that we can even know of his exalted nature, is because he has contracted himself to our realm.

In a similar light, l'havdil elef havdolos, we can say that by limiting the colors in the in a photograph allows the inner, basic, elements of the object to come out.

On the subject of the power of imagery, we find a letter written by The Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe to his Son in Law, Reb Mendel Hornstein. (Vol III, 580) :

There are three types of life (found in the three types of imagery: Mental, Verbal, and Visual (physical) ) which though all three are posses life, they never the less remain different one from the other.

The difference between them is:

1. The life force of a Mental Image comes from the fact that he himself lives -Er Alein Lebt.

2. The life force of a Verbal Imagery allows the one who hears live by means of his words.

3. The life of a force a Visual Image brings the image itself to life.

The Previous Rebbe then explains the power exerted on his father, the Rebbe Rashab, by the paintings of the great Raphael . . . He ends of by saying,

"'I gained very much," said my father, "in my service of G-d by seeing those paintings. For I heard from my father, in the name of our teacher, the Ba'al Shem Tov, 'Az altz vas a Yid zeht un hert is das altz a hora'ah un a derech in avodas Hashem yisborach,' ("That everything that a Jew sees or hears is a directive in the service of G-d, blessed be He.")"

(Pictures of Venice by Mottel)

2,017 Words

Crawling to Uman: Snowbodedut

Nothing Else

When you pray, you should be careful not to think about anything else, not even about mitzvos. Your mind should be directed exclusively to prayer. Just as all the labor of cultivating the earth - all the work of plowing and sowing - is for the ultimate purpose of producing crops, so to all the work a person does in providing for the body is for the benefit of the soul. Through prayer, you reap the fruits of all your labors during the day.

(Baal HaTurim)

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Light After Darkness

This copy of Sefer Baal Shem Tov was printed by Holocaust survivors in the Landsberg Displaced Persons Camp (1948).

Can Anyone Explain This Phenomenon?

My four year-old daughter's mood for the day appears to be dictated solely by whether she or her younger brother wake up first.

If she wakes up first, she is a wonderful all day long and is in a very good mood. However, if Lil' Tzaddik wakes up first, she will start screaming and misbehaving within minutes of seeing that he woke up first and she will remain in a bad mood for the rest of the day.

I have explained to her that he is not getting to do anything that she is missing during the time he is up. It only means that perhaps he gets to drink his juice and eat his waffle first.

My wife and I have observed this phenomenon over the past few weeks, and on every occurrence, our daughter's mood for the day can be attributed to who woke up first.

Does anyone have any insight or advice on this?

Consideration For The Poor

(Picture by Jack Klein)

Excerpt from Tales From Our Gaonim by Rabbi Sholom Klass:

Once a wealthy man who was known to be a miser, came to the Degel Machaneh Ephraim and boasted how he was able to subsist on a piece of black bread, some herring and onions.

The Degel became angry and he reprimanded the rich man. "You are committing a sin when you eat such a meager meal," he said. "A person of our means who was blessed by G-d with great wealth, should eat a sumptuous meal every day. A meal consisting of meat, fish, wine, and all the delicacies."

When the Degel's disciples heard this they asked their rabbi, "Rabbi, why were you so concerned with the meals of this miser? Does it matter to others what he eats?"

"It isn't him about whom I am thinking," replied the Degel with a smile. "I am thinking of the poor who have to come to him for tzedakah. If he is accustomed to eat meat and fish every day, he would then realize what it means to go without it. He will have more consideration of the poor and give them bigger donations."

The Very Pinnacle Of The World

Prayer is one of the things that stand at the very pinnacle of the world, and yet people regard it as unimportant.

(Talmud - Berachos 6b)

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Depth (Contrast) - An Honest Criticism

(Image courtesy of Bagelblogger)

Bagelblogger providing honest critique of Some More Black And White Photography:

I studied Art Theory at University so I feel some what confident in expressing my feelings. With a person's artistic pursuits, its always 'risky business' you're treading on very dangerous turf, art isn't about money, business, pure logic or even math, it comes from somewhere within. I'm sure you know what I'm saying.

Your compositional ability is good. You have that rare 'instinct' for a photo.

Your subject choices are superb.

Here comes the but:

I assume your using B&W film?

If not you should be. B&W digital mmm unless you have one very expensive Nikon or the ilk, it gets somewhat lost in 'translation' between the 'colour' CCDs (receptors) and conversion to B & W. [some would accuse me of being old fashioned, let them]

If they were photographed with film, were they perhaps scanned by yourself?

I recommend using a High Contrast B&W Film which is very suited to the 'ethereal' you capture.

I also recommend you do what most pro photographers do now days and allow your self the aesthetic freedom to adjust both contrast, brightness and even cropping of the image.

There's no doubt your images are beautiful, they to me just lack that last detail of depth (contrast) not field.

I like one particular photographer and I know you would both appreciate him and learn from him, and no doubt be further inspired.

Yet I angst telling you his name.


His work consisted of a lot of B&W, beautiful simple subjects that spring to live and have both an ethereal feel and 'other' sense to them.

His work also consists of a lot of Nude photography. Always tasteful and never condescending or disrespectful. The vast majority are not overly sexual but never the less they are photos of Nakedness.

I ask you to consider looking at his work.

His name is Edward Weston [Safe to enter first page, option to ignore nude section]

For an example of his work visit this site, especially 'Natural Studies' , this site gives you the option of avoiding his nudes [safe to view]

I think your work is beautiful, to me it needs slightly more contrast, possible high contrast film/use of hi contrast paper/ developing? or adjustment of contrast and brightness in a photo editor program if digital.

I do find your photography interesting, but knowing you asked for my honest opinion, It would be disrespectful not to give it to some one I respect so much.

Some More Black And White Photography