Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Standing On The Piano Bench


"The Feelings Resonate In The Crevices Of Our Souls"

(Painting by Yossi Rosenshtein)

Mentalblog: Emotional Geniza

Guest Posting By Der Ewige Jude - Anger

(Picture by Tracy Farrer)

I’m feeling a little down but I know how to make myself feel better, just a little push, and… I can feel the warmth spreading through my veins, my heart pounds, my breathing deepens, I can feel my skin tighten and my muscles bunch, my face is flushed, my scalp tingles and beads of sweat are forming on my forehead, I feel elated, I feel powerful, and I…..have an addiction. Like all addicts, I am ashamed of my addiction and would like to rid myself of it, but I also love the way it can make me feel, the euphoria, the invincibility. My drug of choice is not heroin or crack, my particular drug is anger, and I know just the words and images to play in my head to get the adrenaline flowing. The problem is that, like all drugs, when misused, it is emotionally and physically destructive.

Just as drugs can be beneficial when used properly so can anger. We are given examples of the consequences of negative and positive anger in two consecutive parshas. First parsha Chukas tells about Moshe and the misuse of anger, then parsha Balak tells of Pinchas and the proper use of anger. Before discussing these further, please allow me to quote a rather long passage from the Zohar, Soncino Press, II 182A:

And how is one to discern whether a person is one whose acquaintance is to be cultivated or shunned? By his temper; for by his demeanor when roused to anger can his character be discerned. If he guards the holy soul when he is wroth, in order that it may not be uprooted from its place, and supplanted by the "other side", then he is indeed a man, a servant of the Lord, complete and holy. But one who in his ire cares nothing for the welfare of his soul, uprooting it and letting it be replaced by the impure domination, such a man is a rebel against his Lord, one with whom we should shun contact of any kind, for he is one who, as it is written, "teareth his soul in anger" -- he tears and uproots his soul in heedless rage, and allows a "strange god" to usurp its place within him and to take possession of him in its stead. Thus the words, "Cease ye from a man whose soul is torn in his anger" (aph = anger as well as nostril), are obviously an injunction to refrain from intercourse with him who tears the holy soul and defiles it in his anger, "For wherein (ba-meh) is he to be accounted for?" – such a one is "accounted" an "idol" (bamah, lit. "high place"), and to associate oneself with such a person is like associating with idolatry. And not only that: such a person has uprooted holiness from its place and raised in its stead a "strange god" there; and as in regard to a "strange god" it is written: "Do not turn to idols" so it is prohibited to look on the face of such a person in his anger. As to the question, What about the anger of students of the Torah? That anger is good in all its aspects, since, as we have been taught, the Torah is fire, and it is she who kindles that holy anger in her devotees, as it is written, "Is not my word like a fire? saith the Lord". The anger of scholars is for offences against the Torah, it is in her honor, it is for the sake of the Holy One’s glory and majesty. Therefore it says: " For the Lord thy G-d is a consuming fire, he is a zealous G-d". But if a person becomes angry over purely secular matters, this is no service of G-d, and no sin that man commits is so literally idolatry as this, since it actually sets up an idol in the very heart of him who is angered: unto such a man one is forbidden to speak or draw nigh. Should one say, But, after all, this anger is only a momentary impulse from which he may soon repent – why, then, such severity as this? The answer would be, that in reality it is not thus, because he has uprooted the holiness in his soul from its place and the "other god" has entrenched himself therein, and will never leave him until by a great effort the person so afflicted completely purifies himself and roots out from his inner self that evil, and thereafter endeavors to sanctify himself afresh, and to draw holiness down from above upon himself; then only can there be a possibility of renewal and sanctification for him.’ Said R. Jose to him: ‘Why only a possibility of renewal and sanctification?’ R. Judah replied: ‘Consider this: when a man uproots the holiness of his soul and is given admission to that "strange god" in its place – the "strange god" which is called "impure" – that man has become polluted and he pollutes everyone with whom he comes in contact, and holiness flees from him; and, holiness having since fled, whatever the person may do afterwards, it will not return to its place again.’ Said R, Jose: ‘And yet, how many who had defiled themselves are purified!’ R. Judah replied: ‘But anger, in contradistinction to sins which pollute only the body, pollutes also the soul and, in fact, the whole being.

As can be seen from the above passage, anger in secular matters is compared to idolatry. When a person becomes angry and arouses the fire within, over a perceived insult or challenge to themselves they declare themselves to be extremely important. The "I" has taken control. How could someone say that to "me"? That person didn’t act in a properly respectful way towards "me". "I" gave simple instructions and they were not followed. In all these situations the person has taken affront over the challenge to the "I". He has made himself the most important thing, an object to be respected and feared. This, of course, is exactly what idolatry is. By acknowledging the supremacy of Hashem, a person must realize that he himself is nothing. How can someone that truly realizes that they are nothing take offense at anything that happens? They cannot, for they will realize that all is sent from Hashem for their own good. Every situation is a test. And what are they, they are nothing. But when a person allows "I" mentality to take over, then they have placed themselves as the most important entity in the situation, they are revering themselves, and want the reverence of others also, …idolatry.

Returning to our parsha examples:

Bamidbar 20:7 :

Hashem spoke to Moshe, saying: "Take the staff and gather together the assembly, you and Aharon your brother, and speak to the rock before their eyes that it shall give its waters…..
Moshe and Aharon gathered the congregation before the rock and he said to them: "Listen now, you rebels, shall we bring forth water for you from this rock?" Then Moshe raised his arm and struck the rock with his staff twice.

Moshe and Aharon’s punishment was premature death and not being permitted to enter Eretz Yisrael. Rambam states that Moshe’s sin was becoming angry, he forgot that he was there to sanctify Hashem by his actions. He became angry with the people’s complaining, challenging his leadership, and he shouted: "Listen now, you rebels" then he stated: shall "we", Moshe and Aharon, not Hashem, "bring forth water". In his anger he forgot Hashem and focused on himself. The people them assumed that Moshe’s anger was in fact Hashem’s anger with them, and for causing the people to think this, he and Aharon were punished.

Bamidbar 25:7 :

Pinchas son of Elazar son of Aharon the Kohen saw, and he stood up from amid the assembly and took a spear in his hand. He followed the Israelite man into the tent and pierced them both, the Israelite man and the woman…And it shall be for him (Pinchas) and his offspring after him a covenant of eternal priesthood, because he took vengeance for his G-d.

Pinchas also became angry and acted with anger, however, his anger was not anger of the self, it was not his own internalized anger, it was anger "for the sake of the Holy One’s glory and majesty". Because of this difference his angry action was rewarded.

I am not Moshe and I am not Pinchas. I am just some poloni who is trying to deal with his own anger. I try to redirect the need I have, for the fire within, into intensity in learning and davening. One of the reasons that I was drawn to the Chasidic world was the kinetic aspect of the davening, the movement, the niggunim, they provide me with acceptable outlets for that internal passion. I try to remember not to make it about "me."

In discussing the incident with Moshe and the waters of strife, Rabbenu says in Likutey Moharan 20:5 :

And this is striking the boulder twice. One striking was the taking of the Torah lessons by force, with coercion. He did not ask for it gratis, as explained. And there is another striking. For "whoever presses the hour, is pressed by it" and he passed away prematurely. And with his passing, the Divine Presence, which is the Supernal Heart, wails and cries over him. And this is "twice" for both Moshe and Aharon died as a result of the striking. As it is written, "Theses are the waters of strife…" Because of this, a person should not pressure himself about anything. Rather he should request with pleading. If G-d will give it to him, He will give it; and if not, not.

From the elucidation Likutey Halakhot, Gezeilah 5:7 :

Pressing the hour is one of the major causes of suffering in life and is often the reason that people sin. Even the very great tzaddikim, whenever the Torah attributes to them a shortcoming, it is because they "forced" something before its time….If the very great tzaddikim can make this mistake, how much more so is the average person likely to fall prey to this…. Even when one already faces difficulties and suffering, the only way to overcome them is by not forcing the issue; but by praying with entreaties. Praying and praying, again and again, waiting for G-d to send His help the way He understands it is needed.

Anger is about power, power to make things happen when you want them to, because you know best what you need and when you need it. This is forcing the issue.

I ask Hashem that my anger manifests only in acceptable ways, I ask to be able to recognize Hashem’s hand in all things, that I submit to Hashem’s will. I ask Hashem to help me, and I ask for Hashem’s help in accepting Hashem’s help

Der Ewige Jude's blog Crawling to Uman can be seen

"On His Heart"

(Illustration courtesy of The Temple Institute)

Heart & Mouth

Held From Below

On Chanuka their teshuva was not complete, for they were aroused from Above rather than engaging in proper teshuva, and that is why one holds the dreidel from above. On Purim, on the other hand, the teshuva came from being aroused below, by fasting and lamentation, sackcloth and ashes, and that is why the gragger is held from below.

(Ta'amei Minhagim I, 99)

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

How You Can Help

Donations to Keren Erez to help the wife and three children of Erez Levanon, HY"D can be sent to:

84-01 Lefferts Blvd
Kew Gardens, NY 11415

Note: In the memo of the check please write "Keren Erez"


A close friend of the Levanon family also opened a bank account yesterday to help support the family.

Checks can be sent directly to the bank at the following address:

Bank Mizrachi
Alon Shvut Branch: 454
Gush Etzion
90433 ISRAEL

In the “deposit to” line please write: “The Levanon Family #150531”.


UPDATE: Received via e-mail from Yitz:

Sunday the 7th of Adar 5767 towards evening the soul of the sweet singer Erez Levanon z"l was taken as he was deep in prayerful meditation in the nearby forest. He had been missing since the afternoon when his body was found by friends from Bat Ayin. They had been searching for several hours. Erez Levanon Hashem yikom Damo was brutally murdered by Arabs from the village of Beit Omar. He was laid to rest Monday the 8th of Adar in the cemetery of Kfar Etzion. More than 1000 people walked up the hill from the Beit Knesset in Bat Ayin and stood for more than two hours eulogizing Erez Levanon Z"l in the heaviest rain, --the tears of Heaven reflecting our tears and sobs. His eleven year old son Eder, recited the mourners kaddish with a brave voice piercing everyone's hearts.

Clall Yisrael cries with us in mourning for the tragic murder of Erez Levanon z"l survived by his dear wife Dafna Levanon, and his three young children between the ages of seven and eleven. Dafna is a popular and beloved Chassidut teacher at Midreshet B'erot Bat Ayin.

In his eulogy Shaul Goldstein the head of the regional council of Gush Etzion pointed out, that last week's Haftora described the building of the first Temple and mentioned how Shlomo bought cedar (Erez) wood from Levanon. This cedar wood was used as a covering of the roof of the holy Temple as it states: "So he built the house, and finished it; and he covered the house with beams and boards of cedar (Erez)". (1 Kings 6:9) The murder of Erez Levanon is a painful sacrifice towards the rebuilding of our holy Temple. We will neither be afraid nor give up, but continue in his spirit to build and live in our Holy Land.

May the memory of Erez Levanon, HY"D strengthens, inspire, and fortify Am Israel. His music, his humility and love of Am Yisrael will continue to bring light to us all and keep his loved ones close. A foundation has been established to build the music studio of the new B'erot Bat Ayin building dedicated to the memory of Erez Levanon ben Mordechai z"l. Donations for aliyah Neshama can be sent to Midreshet B'erot Bat Ayin earmarked "Erez Levanon Music Studio."

For tax deductible donation in USA, please make checks payable to American Friends of MBBA and send your contribution to:

American Friends of MBBA
c/o Leah Gelber
622 Sweetgum Lane
Charlotte, NC 28211
Tax id: EIN 20-1923745

For tax deductible donation in Canada, please make checks payable to Tzaddik Foundation and send your contribution to:

Tzaddik Foundation
c/o Miriam Kreisman
6592 C. Kildare
Montreal Quebec
H4W 2Z4

Guest Posting By Chabakuk Elisha - Purim

(Painting by Alex Levin)

Growing up, I didn't like Purim much. I dunno, it was just too extraverted a Yom Tov for me. Everything about it – the stuff that everyone else called fun - were things that I don't enjoy. I could relate to the story, but I found it hard to relate it to the events of the day. I distinctly remember thinking as a grade-schooler that this must be the way Hashem serves everyone differently, for the extraverts he gave Purim, for me… Tishrei. But as far as relating to the essential holiday, the background, that wasn't so hard. When I was a bochur, I heard a shiur from R' Immanuel Schochet – based on a talk by the Lubavitcher Rebbe - who explained it along quite meaningfully these lines:

There was one time that all of world Jewry was at risk of elimination: Purim. Had Haman succeeded C"V, there would in fact not be a Jewish people anywhere. I wouldn't be here, you wouldn't be here, no Jew would be here. If we think about it, since yetzias Mitzraim the Jewish people were never at any other time physically at risk of complete eradication – where they were all located in one place, and there was a decree that put a target on the head of every single Jew in civilization. Only Purim. So what are we celebrating? We are celebrating the existence of Judaism. We are celebrating the continuation of Sinai, the actual acceptance of Torah that began with Matan-Torah and was confirmed on Purim. And how should we relate to that? We start with understanding that the victory of Purim is about stopping assimilation.

To understand what the means, we must ask another question: How can G-d consider the destruction of the entire Jewish people? If Judaism is what G-d wants, where's the logic of annihilating it? And the answer is simple, if Jews lose their compass, if they stop seeking to be Jewish, if they stop respecting the value of being Jewish, then what does G-d need them for?

Let's say you're an astronaut and you dress a certain way, as astronauts do, would you be ashamed? Of course not, rather, you'd be proud that you're an astronaut. But let's say the astronauts felt embarrassed about being astronauts. Let's say they were ashamed of the plumbers – so they would go out of their way to fit in with the plumbers in every single way, do you think they'd be good at being astronauts? Of course not. Instead of a successful space program we'd have a dismal failure. So instead NASA would kick out the astronauts and say, if you want to be plumbers, be plumbers – but we have no use for you. This is the gezeira of Purim – Klal Yisroel in Achashveirosh's time wanted to be accepted. They wanted to live with the Persians peacefully. In fact, according to many opinions, their participation in the seuda was mandatory and 100% Kosher, but they were punished for enjoying it. Because what enjoying means is that they were happy to be recognized by the Persians as worth inviting. They were pleased that they had "made it" into Persian society… and the crime? The crime is that if we look to the Persian for acceptance and self-worth, then we have undermined out entire existence, our entire purpose, in this world. In that case, G-d has no use for the Jews, and put the life of every Jew in danger.

What Mordechai accomplished was that he was able to awake within the Jewish people a return to Torah priorities. They saw that the entire acceptance that they had seemed to achieve was gone, and in its place there was the harshest decree imaginable, and things changed. The teshuva movement took off, and people revaluated their priorities. This change was palpable, and Klal Yisroel once again took their Yiddishkeit seriously, which spurned a sudden conversion movement as well. We are taught that when their neighbors saw the sincerity of the Jewish people, the number of converts grew and grew – even while the gezeira on Klal Yisroel was in force – and this renewed Judaism was mevatel the gezira and provides us with an everlasting lesson – a lesson quite applicable to our lives and our times.

For this reason, we should be able to relate quite well to the Purim of Mordechai & Esther. Esther made it – a Jew that had reached the pinnacle of society – but she remains loyal to Mordechai – the Jew that remains steadfast in his dedication to Torah-centric Yiddishkeit. Is our current reality, are our challenges, all that different? It seems to me that this is the challenge of Galus; this struggle exists on some level for each and every one of us today. I don't know if there is any Yom Tov as easily applicable to our daily lives – and on this day we are reminded of our role… to be astronauts, and proud of it.

What Is The Origin Of The Pastry-Dough Hamantaschen?

(Picture by Pam Reiss)

My wife grew up eating soft pastry-dough hamantaschen that resembled a danish, while I was used to the cookie dough hamantaschen. Interestingly, in a discussion with my wife's father, he mentioned that his Polish-born mother would always make the pastry dough hamantaschen for Purim.

While no one seems to have ever heard of these pastry dough hamantaschen, my wife recently was able to find them at a kosher bakery along with the cookie dough type.

Does anyone know what their origin was? They do not appear to be an American invention.

More On Erez Levanon, HY"D


Whoever desires something that is not his, will not get what he wants, and will lose what he already has.

(Talmud - Sotah 9a)

Monday, February 26, 2007

Erez Levanon, HY"D

Arutz-7: Terrorist Ambush Victim Buried in Kfar Etzion

"...the murderers most likely waited in ambush for him. Erez often went to the same spot at the same time each day to pray alone, in the custom of Breslover Hassidim."

An Aid To Better Understanding Purim

"Post-Parsha Point"

(Illustration courtesy of

Elie's Expositions: Making Sense of the Mishkan

Doing What We Do Best

Chumash printed in Slavuta, 1817

Sometimes stores go out of business because they try to branch out into too many things instead of concentrating on the thing they are the best at.

Similarly, we have an innate knowledge of our strengths and weaknesses in learning, and sometimes I wonder if I am doing myself a disservice by not just concentrating on my strengths.

A Yid once commented that the Arizal taught that one has to complete his learning in the course of his gilgulim. He added, "If he feels attraction to certain field of study, it indicates, that this field was neglected by him in his previous gilgulim (if any), so now his neshomo arouses this urge to learn what it missed before, so the rule of "ma sheliboy chofeytz" according to mekubolim is really a deep indicator of what is missing for neshoma's tikun."

Explaning the lesson to the story of the turbulent learner, Rabbi Dovid Sears e-mailed his advice: "Whatever you learn, you should concentrate the most on the kinds of seforim you find most stimulating -- while maintaining your Minimal Daily Requirements of Chumash, Tehillim, and Halachah. (So say Chazal: "mah she-libo chafetz bah," as well as the ARI zal and Vilna Gaon in Even Sheleimah.)"

I think I will do just that. As Rabbi Lazer Brody once told me, "It's a mitzva to enjoy your learning."

Greater Abilities

A Jew can reach new spiritual heights only by connecting himself to a tzaddik, for it is through the tzaddik that one develops abilities greater than those which one can develop on his own.

(Nesivos Shalom)

Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Melitzer Rebbe, Shlit"a - Pictures and Video

Here and Here

A Sunny Picture On A Snowy Day

Black & White Picture Of The Week - Under The Table

Friday, February 23, 2007

The Mystery Of The Missing Red Hair

My wife went into my four and a half year-old daughter's room one morning and looked at her quizzically, trying to figure out what was different with her. After a few moments, my daughter broke down crying with her head in her hands.

"I cut my hair, Mommy. I thought it would only cut paper."

Cut her hair is just what she had done, and why she appeared odd to my wife. She had taken a good hunk of her bangs off; bangs that my wife said had taken two years to grow in.

I asked my daughter about it when I returned home that evening. Upon my request, my daughter, looking clearly regretful, showed me where she had hidden the scissors she used to cut her hair.

"Where did you hide the hair?"

"I forgot."

"If you remembered where you hid the scissors, you must have remembered where you hid your hair."

"I forgot, Daddy."

I tried every argument and interrogation tactic under the sun. Sometimes I played the good cop and sometimes the bad cop but she just would not break under pressure. I searched the house from top to bottom looking under cushions, behind furniture, and even in her toys, but to no avail. I would even randomly ask her where she hid the hair every day afterward to see if I could catch her at a weak moment.

"Did you flush the hair down the toilet"


"Where did you hide the hair?"

"I forgot."

So here we are, more than a week later and I still haven't found the hair. It remains a mystery yet to be solved.

Exhibit 1: The scissors

UPDATE: My daughter brought a handful of red hair to me on Sunday morning and said she found it on the carpet. Case closed.

"Did I Miss Something?"

(Illustration courtesy of The Temple Institute)

Bob Miller commenting on Engineering Questions From A Non-Engineer:

I hope someone can explain Rashi's Chumash comments on Shemos 26:28 (actually the Rashi on this is under 26:26):

A simple reading of this seems to say that each of the 3 walls has its own central rod from end to end. I see no indication here that all 3 really make up the same rod. Why no indication, or did I miss something?


If I as an ordinary engineer wanted one continuous center rod without miraculous help, I might do it like this:

1. Make two long rods slightly longer than the long walls, and one short rod slightly longer than the short wall.

2. Slightly narrow and then thread one end of each long rod (male threads).

3. Drill and tap the short rod to make two threaded holes in the same side of this rod, one hole near each end, to line up with the center holes in the long walls.

4. Once all the vertical boards (with their center holes) were in position and held in place by the assembly crew, put the short rod through the short wall with this rod's threaded holes facing the holes in the long wall.

5. Insert each of the two long rods into its long wall from the open end, threaded end first.

6. Rotate the long rods to screw their threaded ends into the threaded holes in the short rod. Rotating rods this long would not be easy, because of friction and their length, but some kind of giant Vise-Grip pliers could help the crew do this.

So this is difficult but seems doable. The problem is how to keep the whole assembly together in heavy winds, etc. So even here, some type of miracle might be needed to hold it all together reliably, unless some other bracing that we don't know about was allowed.

A Simple Jew comments:

Bob: I appreciate your astute engineering feedback on this and I too read Rashi the way that you did which led me to ask the question in the first place. Perhaps, however, this just brings our discussion on emuna peshuta full circle. How does the rational mind accept or explain the miraculous story concerning the middle rod? Is anyone able to find a commentary with an explanation of this that does not rely on a miracle story? It certainly does not appear so.

I just noticed that this week's Torah Tots Midrash Maven included this story which Yitz also mentioned in his comment:

Then there's the 103-foot (72 amah) wooden beam. Ever heard of "A Tree Grows In Brooklyn?" Well, here's "A Tree Grows In Be'er Sheva". Actually, that tree had an important cameo in Jewish history that goes all the way back to Avrohom Avinu. He planted the original seed and, throughout his years, prayed and served his guests beneath the shade of its towering trunk. As the Bnei Yisroel crossed the Yam Suf, the Malachim chopped down the tree and dropped the giant trunk on the sea bed before them. The people understood that this huge relic was destined for greatness, so they took it along with them. Indeed, the giant tree trunk became the middle beam in the Mishkan.

(Illustration courtesy of Torah Tots)

UPDATE: Dixie Yid comments:

I looked this up in the sefer Shaarei Aharon this morning and found this very interesting pshat.

It is actually a machlokes. The opinion Yitz originally quoted is from the Gemara Shabbos Daf 98, which said that there was one 70 (or 72) Amah long briach hatichon that went through all three sides curving miraculously at the corners.

However Shaarei Aharon quotes the Malbim who quotes "Braisa D'Meleches Hamishkan," which says that there actually were 3 brichim tichonim; two that were 30 amos long for the sides and one that's 12 amos long for the back minus two at the corners. According to this there was no miracle necessary for the briach hatichon.

Shaarei Aharon points out that the Gemara Shabbos clearly disagrees with this Braisa regarding whether there were 3 brichim tichonim (according to the Braisa D'meleches Hamishkan), or 1 Briach Hatichon that miraculously curved, made from either the makal of Yaakov Avinu or the Aishel Avraham.


Just as lightning breaks through heavy clouds and gives light to the earth, so does giving tzedakah give light and understanding to the neshoma.

(Baal HaTanya)

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Preparing Shalach Manos

"When you prepare your shalach manos, you can feel an extra simchah knowing that the aniyim in Tzefas are doing the same because of your tzedakah!"

- Rabbi Binyomin Rosenberg of Eizer L'Shabbos

Please help however you can and send your tax-deductible donations to:

Eizer L'Shabbos
5014 16th Avenue, Suite 319
Brooklyn, NY 11204

Engineering Questions From A Non-Engineer

(Illustration courtesy of The Temple Institute)

How did the corners work? If it wasn't a miracle, how was the bolt in the center able to go into the next beam if it was at a 90 degree angle?

Uman News

(Map courtesy of

Haaretz reports:

Construction halted on hotel near Rabbi Nachman's grave

In the wake of Israeli intervention, Ukrainian authorities temporarily stopped construction work near the grave of Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav in the Ukrainian city of Uman yesterday.

The work was taking place about 100 meters from the rabbi's grave, where Bratslav Hasidim say a mass grave is located. A hotel is slated to be built on the site where the construction was taking place, but the Hasidim want it classified as a heritage site.

Ukrainian authorities said additional evidence was needed before declaring the area a heritage site, and the Foreign Ministry has recommended that the Hasidim begin legal proceedings on the matter.

At the request of MK Meir Porush (United Torah Judaism), the ministry asked the Ukrainian ambassador to Israel on Tuesday to halt the construction until the situation is clarified.

Guest Posting By Rabbi Dovid Sears - Rabbi Nachman's Emphasis On Faith [Faith Vs. Reason, Part III]

Tikkun HaKlali - Jerusalem, 1904

We actually discussed this topic on this blog awhile ago, but it is worth taking another look at it in light of the sources cited in Parts I and II.

Echoing the sentiments of his great-grandfather, the Baal Shem Tov, Rabbi Nachman once remarked, "To the world, emunah (faith) is a small thing. But to me, emunah is a very great thing" (Sichos ha-Ran 33).

He also cautioned, "One who follows his intellect and wisdom [alone] can fall into many grave errors, and thus cause great evil, G-d forbid" (Likkutei Moharan II, 12).

Instead, we should fulfill the Torah’s mandate: “Tamim tehiyeh ba-Shem Elokekha . . . Be simple with Hashem, your G-d” (Deuteronomy 18:3). Cleverness as a pursuit unto itself is the biggest ego trip in the world. After all, the nachash, the snake in the Garden of Eden, was the only creature that the Torah called “clever.”

To some, Rabbi Nachman's valuation of simple faith as the supreme virtue sounds anti-intellectual and simplistic -- until one takes a closer look at his words in context of his teachings as a whole, and the path in avodas HaShem that he paves.

Attesting to the depths of Rabbi Nachman's thought, Rabbi Chaim Shmulevitz, the beloved Rosh Yeshivah of the Mir, once remarked to his students that when he wanted to "open his mind," he would study Likkutei Moharan. (Shivcho Shel Tzaddik)

Rabbi Bezalel Naor writes of his teacher, Rav Zvi Yehudah Kook, son of Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook and Rosh Yeshiva of Merkaz HaRav in Jerusalem: "[Rav Zvi Yehudah] was once distressed by a certain article in which the author let drop that Rabbi Nachman of Breslov was not a philosopher. Rav Zvi Yehudah lodged the following protest: 'The description "was not a philosopher" is out of place, because by its negation it would take away from the described [Rabbi Nachman] original thought of any value.' "

(Rabbi Bezalel Naor, "Shir Na'im as a Reply to Maimonides," published as an appendix in "Shir Naim: Song of Delight")

What does Rabbi Nachman mean by "emunah pshutah?" Something less than reason – or something that transcends it?

Actually, it is both. Emunah is the foundation for da'as (knowledge or clear perception), which means that it is "lower" than da'as -- yet it also goes beyond it. As Reb Noson says in explaining one of Rabbi Nachman's teachings, "Faith only applies when something can't be understood. Where one can understand something rationally, faith is not relevant." (Likkutei Eitzos, "Emes ve-Emunah," 4).

Rabbi Nachman ventures into the thorniest questions of existence, and again and again explore the paradoxical nature of reality. Likkutei Moharan is recognized as one of the most profound works of Jewish mystical thought ever written. Given this, how can we understand Rabbi Nachman's great emphasis on faith?

Maybe the answer (or one answer) is that he wants us to embark on the quest for enlightenment, not mere philosophical knowledge, which is one-dimensionally intellectual. Emunah, as the Baal Shem Tov also taught, is the gateway to deveykus / cleaving to the Infinite One.

At the same time, Rabbi Nachman warns against the dangers of a too one-sided emunah. In Likkutei Moharan 255, he states that faith must be accompanied by intellect -- or one can come to have faith in the wrong people and the wrong things. We must use both capacities.

Another thing Rabbi Nachman says is that faith is the more "democratic" virtue. In Likkutei Moharan II, 19, he writes: "Know that this matter is not according to the view of [the philosophers]. If so, no one would reach the ultimate goal except the fewest of the few; namely, the great thinkers, the philosophers. What would be the fate of those of lesser stature, who lack the ability to engage in such intellectual inquiry, to attain such rarefied perceptions? This would exclude most of humanity. How would they ever manage to achieve the goal of life? However, in truth, the essential grasp of the ultimate goal is attained through simplicity alone – that is, through awe of G-d and performance of the practical mitzvos, with absolute simplicity."

If intellect were the greatest virtue, that would leave 99% of the Jewish People out in the cold! And not only the Jewish People. In Likkutei Moharan I, 62, Rabbi Nachman states: "The completeness and adornment of faith consists in bringing close those who are distant, according to the paradigm of "All of them will call upon the Name of G-d" (Zephaniah 3:9) – even gentiles will draw near to the faith of Israel, to "serve Him with a common accord" (ibid.).

Defection of Youth

One of the comments to a previous posting expressed concern that our youth might become turned off to Judaism if they are told to rely upon simple emunah. Is there a significant number of Jewish youth today who have gone "off the derekh" due to a lack of philosophy?

I find this highly doubtful. It may have been true to some degree in certain times and places, when the intellectual climate was rationalist to an extreme and this had an impact on our society, too. (Two examples immediately come to mind: early medieval Spain, which produced the RaMBaM's Moreh Nevuchim / Guide of the Perplexed, and 19th century Germany, which produced Rav Hirsch's Horeb.)

However, we live in the heyday of "post-modernism," in which the conundrums of particle physics and the resurgence of interest in mysticism have created a new intellectual sensibility. Today's problems are different than those of past generations, as Chabakuk Elisha observed. For many, it is the lack of spirituality in the Judaism to which they are exposed that is the problem. For others, it is lack of physicality! Anyone who is genuinely concerned with this problem must analyze the full spectrum of cases and not just leap to conclusions.

In his opposition to rationalist philosophy, Rabbi Nachman seems to be following the position espoused by Chazal and reaffirmed by the kabbalists. His view seems to be in line with that of his great-grandfather, the Baal Shem Tov, as well as the Rabbi Yeshaya Horowitz and the MaHaRaL, among many others. I'll try to look up a few sample quotes from "Shnei Luchos HaBris" and "Sefer Gevuros Hashem" for a "PS" to this post in the near future. G-d willing.

Yet all of these Gedolim were profound thinkers, who grappled with the "great questions" in their own ways. Clearly even the opponents of philosophy were not advocating an escapist approach, or one that left the intellect begging for dimes in the subway station. Rather, they sought to avoid reducing the Torah to the limits of human reason, and even to elevate the ordinary mind so that we might attain perceptions higher than reason.

In this spirit, Rabbi Nachman often quotes the Sefer Bechinas Olam: "The ultimate knowledge is 'not-knowing' " (Likkutei Moharan I, 24:8, and elsewhere).

Another quote that sheds light on this aspect of faith from a kabbalistic perspective: "The power of faith is very great. Through faith and simplicity alone, without any sophistication at all, you can reach the level of Ratzon / Desire. This is beyond even that of Chokhmah / Wisdom."

Parshas Terumah

(Picture courtesy of The Temple Institute)

From this week's Parsha Parts:

Within the rings of the Aron the staves shall remain. Do not remove them. (Shmos 25:15)

The Mizbeach (Altar) also had staves (Shmos 27:6) but there is no similar Mitzvah of leaving them in always. Perhaps this alludes to the following.

It is known that the Mishkan is comparable to the entire world and a person is a microcosm of the entire world (see Medrash Tanchuma Pekudei 3). A person is also like a small Mishkan. The 'Aron' of the person is the brain in which resides the knowledge of Torah and Mitzvos to remember them always and perform them and to not allow the Yetzer Hora to entice him with the physical pleasures of this world. Rather, one must remember always that he was created in this world to serve his Creator and fulfill His Mitzvos. This is stated in the Posuk, Guard yourself lest you forget Hashem, your Almighty (Devarim 8:11) and, And stray from the path upon which I commanded you (ibid. 11:28). The battle with the Yetzer Hora is an inner struggle, constantly within one's thoughts as mentioned by the Chovas Halevavos (Gate of Unity of Action Ch. 5) that the war with the Yetzer Hora is more difficult than any other war. He lists 10 reasons why, one of which is that this war is internal and other wars are external.

One needs great tenacity and stubborness to ward off the Yetzer Hora, like the Mishna (Avos 5:23) states, Be brazen like the leopard. Brazenness and stubborness should only be directed towards the Yetzer Hora. Towards people, Chazal say, R' Elazar ben Shimon expounded, 'A person should be flexible like the reed and not stiff like the cedar'. (Taanis 20b).

This is the allusion being made by the staves of the Aron. Inside, the staves are made of cedar wood. A person must be hard like cedar internally when fighting the inner battle against the Yetzer Hora. The staves were also covered with pure gold outside. There is nothing as malleable as pure gold. Outside, towards others, a person must be congenial with everyone. A person must remember Hashem always, and to always remember to fulfill His Mitzvos and be tenacious internally against the Yetzer Hora and congenial externally with other people. Within the rings of the Aron the staves shall remain. Do not remove them from his 'Aron', his mind, where the testimony of the Torah and Mitzvos resides. The battle of the Yetzer Hora should also not be removed from his thoughts. He must maintain constant vigilance.

--Orach L'Chaim

Aron Kodesh

The Torah ark is called an "aron". This word is related to the word "or" (light) because from it light goes forth into the world.

(Talmud - Berachos 51a)

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

"Feelings...Felt And Shared By Many"

(Picture by Nathan Lee)

Litvak commenting on Guest Posting By Chabakuk Elisha - Gemara :

Firstly, I wish to congratulate CE on the fine and important posting and ASJ for hosting and posting it.

I think that such feelings as expressed by CE are felt and shared by many, though expressed openly in such a way by few.

Now, a few comments.

1) "There's no question that Gemara is the primary limud haTorah."

While of course it's important, I am not sure what that means. What if someone would learn Gemara and never Chumash ?

It is of said of Moreinu HaGR"A that he, bisof yomov (toward the end of his mortal life), spent most of his time learning Chumash.

2) I think that while in many things you instinctively and reflexively take a Hassidic point of view, however, here, for some reason, you are thinking like a Litvak, and that is somewhat surprising (the Alter Rebbe was a Litvak too).

3) I think the principle of 'ein odom lomeid Torah ela bimkom shelibo chofetz' (a person does not learn Torah, only in a place [subject area] where his heart desires), something the Gemara itself tells us (BT, AZ, daf 19 or thereabouts) must be stressed strongly to deal with this problem of loss of desire in learning. I recall hearing that the Chofetz Chaim was asked what should someone do if he lost interest in what he was learning and the response was to switch to something else he was interested in. And the Chofetz Chaim was not a Chossid.

As an interesting aside, a number of years ago in Brooklyn there was a symposim on derech halimud. R. Hershel Schachter and R. Yisroel Reisman were two of the speakers. I liked what R. Hershel Schachter said. One of the things he mentioned was learning bimkom shelibo chofetz. However, I was very upset when another speaker there said, subtly but significantly taking issue, that 'one should transform whatever one if learning into a mokom shelibo chofetz.' I think that was/is a terrible distortion of what Chazal taught and that he was migaleh ponim baTorah shelo kihalocho, Rachmono litzlon.

See also what Rabbeinu HaGR"A wrote about the proper way to learn - in sefer Even Shleima and elsewhere. He says that first one should fill up his belly of Mikra, Mishnah, Gemara, etc. and only then be oseik in pilpul chaveirim. But if he switches the sequence he will lose even the Torah he learnt before. The fact is that most Litvaks today do not follow the GRA unfortunately - whether in minhogim or things like this. Claims that they are following his ways are not accurate for the most part (though there are some laudable exceptions). The GR"A was very concerned about things like this. Many people, esp. Hassidim perhaps, unfortunately lump together the GR"A with the Litvak in the Yeshiva down the block. That is usually a big mistake. The GR"A was involved in so many different aspects of Torah, whether Halocho, Mikro, Kabboloh, Gemara.....He was so far from the stereotypical Litvak that you Hassidim like to conjure up and put down.

4) One can learn Gemara quickly, alot of ground, even without Rashi, certainly without Tosfos. The Maharal advocated a similar style of learning, as did other great gedolim, but many foolish midgets ignored them, leading us into the mess we are in today.

The Zilberman chadorim in Eretz Yisroel are a laudable attempt to fix things.

5) Rav AY Kook z"l, who was from an interesting background, having a Litvish father and a Hassidic (Lubavitch) mother, who learned in Volozhin and was a talmid muvhak of the Netziv, also dealt with some of these issues. He wrote a great peirush on Aggodoh called Eyn Ayah. Are you familiar with it ? A few pieces have been translated into English, but there's much more in loshon kodesh. Unfortunately, it only covers a few mesechtos - four volumes have appeared.

6) One also should realize that Gemara really means taking the Torah of the past and relating it to present conditions with debates and comparisons and contrasts. When we study Gemara today as a dry, static text, it's as if the Gemara has become another layer of Mishna. Gemara is basically debates and discussion they had in the ancient academies using the Mishna as a basis and jumping-off point. In our days real Gemara would be debates and discussion we have on the basis of the Gemara, not the Gemara itself, which has become a basically static text.

I have written much and there is more to say, but the matter is very important. I hope my words help.

A Talmid's New List

Maseches Zevachim [Slavuta, 1818]

Zchus Avos Yogen Aleinu:
Segulas From Learning Gemara & Mishnayos

Guest Posting By Chabakuk Elisha - Gemara

(Illustration courtesy of

Our friend ASJ has been asking me to share my struggles with Gemara, so I finally gave in.

There's no question that Gemara is the primary limud haTorah. From Gemara we understand more than the halachaic nitty-gritty with assorted anecdotes. Gemara contains the thinking of Chazal, who are basically the founding fathers of our Torah Shebaal Peh, and our Yiddishkeit. There we are taught how to think, we are taught the structure of Torah, and we are able to connect our thoughts with thousands of years of Jewish thinking. The Gemara contains great secrets, often hidden in the aggateda, as Chazal reveal an inch but conceal miles. In truth, Gemara is the ikkur limud haTorah for Klal Yisroel throughout the history of our galus.

Moreover, Gemara, Torah Sh'Baal Peh, is the other – equally essential - half of Tanach, and was equally given to Moshe at Sinai. Our learning Gemara connects us all the way back. Without it, it would be impossible to understand Torah correctly, as much of our understanding of Torah is only hinted at – or not even mentioned all – in Torah Sh'biksav and is only explained in Shas. In Tanya, R' Schneur Zalman of Liadi states that the Talmud is a manifestation of G-d's will, even higher than the level of Chochma (wisdom). By studying Gemara a person's mind becomes one with G-d's will in a perfect unity, making the person's mind G-dly.

What can be greater than that?

But then there are the facts on the ground. I don't feel it. I learn Gemara every day, and I've done so for years, but I usually walk away feeling somewhat empty. Sometimes I am inspired by an insight into Chumash or Navi, or a piece of aggadeta, but it's not every day, and it's not really what Gemara is anyway – technically, if I wanted those things, I could just learn Tanach with miforshim and Ein Yaakov. So, I do it day after day, and often wonder if I am getting anything out of it. Is there not a better use of that time? Am I being foolish learning something that doesn't speak to me, when I could be learning something that does? I feel like a guy that got invited to the greatest event in history, but after driving around in circles, I just can't find the entrance.

Sometimes, I feel guilty about it, other times I feel foolish in persisting. I know that I'd rather be learning Chumash or Tanach in depth – that's something I really enjoy! But, on the other hand, I know that this was a matter of great dispute between the maskilim and the chareidim of old… Tanach or Shas? The Maskilim said Tanach, the Tzaddikim said Shas. The Yorei Shomaim wanted us to spend our days with Chazal, learning Gemara. But maybe things are different today? Maybe because my Gemara skills aren't great, or because I'm a working man without the time for real in-depth Gemara study, the rules are different? I don't know, but my chavrusa won't let me change the seder anyway – so I continue, tomorrow morning I'll open up to Eiruvin, daf lamed...

"...And Not Studied By The Masses"

Rav Kenig's Curriculum

Rav Elazar Kenig, shlita
(Picture by Jack Klein)

Received via e-mail from Rabbi Dovid Sears:

I heard from one of the attendants of Rav Elazar Kenig, shlita, leader of the Tzefat Breslev community, that during the first year or two after the passing of his father, Reb Gedaliah Kenig, zatzal, he visited various Gedolei Yisrael to obtain letters of approbation (haskamos) for his Kollel. The reader should know that Rav Kenig is a very straightforward person, who as a rule does not "joke around." One day they met with a certain prominent Rosh Yeshivah, who asked the Rav about the matorah (purpose) of his Kollel. The expected answer would have been some field of halachah, or a certain special curriculum. Rav Kenig answered simply: "The purpose of our Kollel is to plant a deep, deep emunah in our talmidim!"

Extraneous Fears

Protect me from all extraneous fears, so that I will not be afraid of anything or anyone in the world - not of powerful officials or important personages, nor of wild animals, violent robbers, or anything else in the entire world. Let me have no extraneous fear whatever. Let me only fear You at all times, and help me experience supreme awe at Your exaltedness.

(Reb Noson of Breslov)

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Continuing The Conversation On Learning Chumash

(Illustration by Saul Raskin)

The Seforim Blog: Eliezer Brodt: A Censored Work by a Student of R. Hayyim of Volozhin: The Case of Menuchah u-Kedushah :

"Once the boy knows chumash only than should you go on to learn Gemara. When he begins this limud, be careful to go slowly so as not to over burden him. The main point is not to learn enmass, rather emphasis on making sure the student fully understands everything before going further. Instead what happens is the boy only knows how to parrot what the teacher says and on Shabbos he shows this off to the father; however nothing of value ever comes out of this."

Related: Learning Chumash In Volozhin

Three Friends - Then & Now [Part II]

(Painting by Ferenc Flamm)

Last week I got together with one of my friends for a cup of coffee during lunchtime. My friend was once a professional musician and now he earns his livelihood as a bureaucrat scrutinizing contracts for eight hours a day.

Our discussion centered around finding a creative outlet for our talents. I asked him if he ever had desire to return to the music business since it was apparent that this was still his true love. He replied that he wasn't yet ready to do so. He then asked me what my creative outlet was and I side-stepped the question with a non-answer. My mind raced and tried to determine whether I should tell him about my blog. I quickly decided against it, remembering the stories of others who had also regretted doing so.

As I walked back to my office, I started thinking about what this reluctance said about our friendship. Two of my current friends have absolutely no clue about my blog, while the other friend that I have never met in person only knows me through the words I write in my postings and e-mails to him.

I then reflected on these words that I wrote in a posting in November 2004:

When we are dealing with blogs, we are dealing with neshomas.

We can not see the person who blogs. We can not hear them.

We can only read their words. Words that come from within them; expressing who they really are.

I would say that my quality of friendship with my friend who I had coffee with is exceptionally strong. While we have discussed many very personal topics that I have addressed in my postings, I still have never revealed to him the existence of my blog; the inner sanctum of my thoughts. Does this fact reveal that our friendship is deficient in some manner? Or does the deficiency in friendship lie with my friend who only knows me through my blog but has never met me face to face? On one hand we have a person who only sees me for less than an hour once a week but communicates with me on an exceptionally deep level, while on the other hand we have a person who never sees me but communicates with me almost every single day on an equally deep level.

Perhaps the real truth lies within the words of Rebbe Yitzchak Meir Alter of Ger, who once said, "There are only two who truly know you: G-d and your spouse."

The Most Distant Place

A problem with this parsha is that it appears to be obsolete. The Mishkan was a temporary structure, which was superseded by the Beis Hamikdash in Jerusalem. So why do we have to read about it at all? The uniqueness of the Mishkan is that it brought its contribution to the farthest of places, the desert. So we read Parshas Terumah, year after year, to remind us of the need to bring Judaism to the most distant of places.

(Lubavitcher Rebbe)

Monday, February 19, 2007

Rosh Chodesh Adar 5658

(Click on the image above)

Guest Posting By Rabbi Tal Zwecker - Simcha [Part II]

Simcha - Part I can be read here

Rebbe Nachman of Breslov is famous for the saying "Mitzvah Gedola lehiyos beSimcha Tamid" - It is a great mitzvah to always be joyous and happy. I once heard a Rosh Yeshiva express his feelings that if such a Tzaddik said it, it must be true but he seemed at a loss to explain whose opinion it was that there is an actual mitzva of simcha.

The opinion that Simcha is a mitzva is found in the works of Rabbeinu Bachya on the Chumash and in Kad haKemach.

The verse most often cited as proof for Simcha in seving Hashem is found where we are rebuked for not serving Him with joy (Devarim 28:47), "Because you did not serve the Lord Your G-d in joy with a glad heart."

R' Bachya in Naso writes that the feeling of joy and simcha while fulfilling mitvos is in itself a mitzva and just as fulfilling the commandments is an avoda (a form of service and worship) so too is simcha called an avoda as in the above cited verse. And also the verse in Tehilim 100, Ivdu es Hashem beSimcha, serve Hashem with Joy, we see therefore that simcha is considerd shleimus in avoda, complete service and worship.

In Kad haKemach under the heading of simcha he also writes that simcha is a mitzva from the Torah and that it is even more important than the mitzva itself!

Even among those that did not codify simcha as a mitzva all agree that it is important and a great form of Divine service see for example the Rambam at the end of the laws of Lulav where he says that simcha and rejoicing that one feels while serving G-d and fulfilling the commandments is a great avoda.

The Sefer Charedim in his Introduction also writes that each mitzva is compared to a great gift from Hashem and the greater the simcha when fulfilling it, the greater the sachar - the reward we receive!

The Pele Yoetz explains that even though the Talmud in Kiddushin 39b teaches that there is no reward in this world for mitzvos, that doesn't apply to the joy that accompanies them. Sachar mitzva is enjoyed by man even in this world!

He quotes the Sefer Charedim who relates that the Holy Kabbalist, the Ari"zal, himself taught that the way he earned all his lofty levels of holiness (that the gates of wisdom and ruach hakodesh (Divine Inspiration) were opened for him) was, as a reward for the great simcha he had when fulfilling each and every mitzvah.

Next time imy"H : Practical advice about simcha, and happiness/joy vs. fear/awe in serving G-d.


The performance of kindness elevates a person and brings him close to Hashem.


Sunday, February 18, 2007

Dedicated To My Name

וְיִקְחוּ-לִי תְּרוּמָה

Black & White Picture Of The Week - Within A Puddle

Friday, February 16, 2007

Guest Posting By Rabbi Dovid Sears - Faith vs. Reason: Part II

Ohel of the Baal Shem Tov - Mezhibuz, Ukraine

Part I
can be read here

To better understand the arguments on both sides of this fence, we need to look at some of the larger issues that divided the original Chassidim and non-Chassidim, or "Misnagdim (Opponents)."

Aside from the battles over social organization in Eastern Europe (Chassidic courts vs. traditional kehillos, and in the 19th century, yeshivos), minhagim (kabbalistic customs vs. regional and other customs), and the issue of making mystical ideas available to the masses, one of the key differences between the early Chassidim and Misnagdim was in the realm of values: which human abilities and behaviors each ideology extolled, and which were played down; which kinds of people were perceived as "winners," and which as "losers." (Ultimately, both ideologies agreed that we should spiritually outgrow such egoistic considerations, but this is nevertheless one of the ways societies condition their members. Case in point: all of those bronze plaques on the synagogue walls, and award dinners for religious institutions!)

Traditionally, the Chassidim were more inclusive, emphasizing the virtues of emunah pshutah (simple faith), good deeds, religious feeling and devotion, and the "avodah she'ba'lev," which is prayer. These values broadened the range of who could hope to achieve success in the community and in their own eyes, and also engaged more of the whole person: intuition, emotions, and actions, as well as intellect (and a narrow slice of intellect at that).

The ideology of the Misnagdim, by contrast, emphasized limud ha-Gemora more exclusively, especially if the individual could achieve a certain kind of intellectual prowess in lomdus (scholarly analysis and debate); and it also honored the virtue of charitableness, especially giving tzedakah to those who represented the ideals of Torah excellence. (Learning Gemora and giving tzedakah were valued highly by the Chassidim, as well, but not in such an "all-or-nothing" way.) The Misnagdim saw themselves as standard bearers of a more conservative ideology that upheld time-honored traditions, and resisted innovation. However, in their world, if you couldn't succeed in learning, you pretty much felt like a lost cause. With the Chassidim, things were not so black and white. And even the nature of the learning was not so black and white. This is one of several reasons for the Chassidic movement's tremendous success in its heyday.

Having said this, we must hasten to add that this dichotomy did not remain clear cut. As conservative tendencies developed within the Chassidic movement to combat charlatanism and other abuses of mysticism, Chassidim moved closer to the Misnagdim; and perceiving the success of the Chassidim, the Misnagdim, too began to add more heart and soul to Yiddishkeit and to reach out to the masses.

Thus, it would be unfair to use these labels today as they might have been used generations ago. Yet there still are certain identifiable differences between these two paths, and one of them is over which receives greater emphasis: reason or simple faith. (True, there is a range of views on this issue in the Misnagdic world, and certain "special cases" in the Chassidic world, such as that of Chabad, which fuses mysticism with rationalism; but for the sake of this discussion, let's keep things simple.)

We are familiar with the approach that accepts the philosophical model and advances intellectual "proofs" based on the RaMBaM's philosophical views and those of certain Rishonim. What do the Chassidim have to say about emunah? What do they mean by emunah? Let's start with at the beginning, with the holy Baal Shem Tov:

The Baal Shem Tov on Emunah:

By crying out to God from the depths of one's heart, one attains lofty perceptions and his faith is strengthened. Faith depends upon the mouth, as it is written, "I shall make known Your faith with my mouth" (Psalms 89:2). If a person falls from faith, God forbid, he should [nevertheless] verbally declare that he believes in God. In this way, he will clear his mind with faith, for "the last in deed is first in thought" (Rabbi Shlomo Alkabetz, "Lekha Dodi"). One should keep far away from philosophy to the utmost degree, lest one forfeit eternity in an instant. Philosophical inquiry cause the power of forgetfulness to overcome the memory and weakens one's faith, God forbid. However, faith draws forth divine bounty, blessing, and success. (Minchas Yehudah, Emes ve-Emunah, cited in Meir Eynei Yisrael, Emunah)


The great principle in divine service and its main point is faith. My grandfather, the Baal Shem Tov, stressed this, for faith is the root of the entire Torah. (Degel Machaneh Ephraim, Tzav)


The Baal Shem Tov predicted: Before the Moshiach comes, there will be no more signs and wonders and open miracles, nor will there be outstanding spiritual leaders to attract and inspire others to serve God. The only way for the Jewish people to persevere will be by clinging to simple faith. (Eretz ha-Chaim 180, cited in Meir Eynei Yisrael, Emunah)


He once declared: Faith itself is deveykus (mystical cleaving to God). (Toldos Yaakov Yosef, Ki Savo)

For more quotes on this subject, see the anthologies "Derekh Chassidim" and "Leshon Chassidim" by Rabbi Nachman Goldstein, the Rav of Tcherin, under the heading "Emunah."

The Baal Shem Tov and his disciples saw faith as a way of connecting to Hashem – not something inferior to intellect, but both supporting and transcending the limitations of mortal understanding.

With reason, we may come to know Hashem's will through the Torah, and perceive the nature of His attributes through contemplation. However, reason only permits us to go so far. With faith, it is possible to connect to the Infinite. Thus, faith is simultaneously the highest and the lowest level of perception, corresponding to the sefiros of Keser and Malkhus -- the "woman of valor who is the crown of her husband" (Mishlei 12:4). Moreover, faith is a virtue to which all may aspire, not only a small elite.

Rabbi Nachman of Breslov has something to say about all this, too – which we will leave for Part III.

Parshas Mishpatim

From this week's Parsha Parts:

When you will loan money to My nation, don't be as a creditor to the poor person who is with you (Shmos 22:24).

There is an allusion to the following lesson here. 'Kesef', money, is similar to the word for desire, Nichsof nichsafta - you had longed greatly (Bereishis 31:30). 'Talveh', you will loan, is derivative of the word connection or joining, Livyas chein - an adornment of grace (Mishlei 1:9).

Im Kesef - if you desire physical pleasures -Talveh - and connect yourself to them - remember the poor who is with you. This refers to the Gemara (Kiddushin 31a), Anyone who sins in private is comparable to someone who kicks the legs of the Divine Presence [As if he believes the Shechina isn't there with him in private]. The Divine Presence is like a poor person in the exile. The poor person - the Shechina is with you, whatever you are involved with. Wherever you turn, you draw the Divine Presence there with you. This is how one would kick the legs of the Shechina, so to speak. Don't be as a creditor - K'nosheh is like the word 'Shikchah', forgetting as in The Almighty has made me forget - Ki Nashani Elokim (Bereishis 41:51). Don't forget the Shechina. Remember that the sin and spiritual blemish affects the Shechina as well, so to speak.

(Degel Machaneh Ephraim)

For more of the Degel's teachings on Parshas Mishpatim listen to Rabbi Tal Zwecker's five minute audio shiur here

Before A Fall

Before destruction comes pride, and a haughty spirit before a fall.

(Mishlei 16:18)

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Guest Posting By Chabakuk Elisha - What Do You Do With Dirty Money?

(Picture courtesy of

I heard a story (second hand, but originating with someone who was there):

An Israeli fellow had spent many years involved in some kinds of criminal activity. Recently, he has become a baal teshuva and changed his ways, becoming somewhat close to a certain Rov (who I respect greatly).

He told this Rov that he would like to give him $120,000 tzedoka to help with this Rov's mosdos (who desperately need funds). To this, the Rov asked, "How did you come to have this money?" The fellow said that the money was made through his criminal activity (I believe sale of illegal drugs) in the past - but that he no longer has anything to do with that stuff.

The Rov told him that he wouldn't accept any money that was earned that way - to which the fellow said that he would like to give it to someone who will use it for good, but the Rov said that dirty money can't really be used for anything good.

The fellow asked the Rov, "So what can I do with it?"

And the Rov said, "I think you should burn it."

The man told the Rov, "I can't burn it - but if you'd like, I'll give it to you, and you can burn it."

So the Rov did. He took the money, lit a match, and burned it right then and there.

If that's the halacha (If profit from the sale of illegal drugs is technically assur behanoh - that it's forbidden to derive pleasure from it) than the Rov is clearly right and this whole conversation is over. But if it's not the halacha, I would have to admit that I have a hard time with this. I can think of half a dozen explanations for the Rov's decision, but as they say in Yiddish, "ich ken es heren, ubur nisht der-heren." I can understand it in theory, but honestly, I can't help but be bothered that this is somewhat being frum at the expense of others...

My initial reaction was to think of countless ideas for what I would have thought are better uses for this money, and while I can understand intellectually that ill-gotten gains may be impacted negatively from a spiritual perspective, does the money halachically have to be destroyed? And how do we know if the dollar that we got for change in the grocery wasn't once used in a crime? So, sure, I think that this fellow should get rid of the money, but shouldn't someone else - even the police dept or the local drug rehab center - be able to use that money for something positive? When people have no food on their tables, shouldn't this money be able to at least help people who have real struggles just surviving? Or, rather than burn it, couldn't he just hand it to the first homeless guy he sees?

This reminds me of a story about three talmidim of the Mezritcher Maggid that were - as was their custom - preparing for a Rosh Chodesh seuda. They asked each other, who has some money for the expenses? The Hafloh replied that he would donate the couple rubles to cover the food - but another talmid said, "How do we know that money is 'kosher' - where did you get it?"

The Hafloh said, "I received it from litigants that had come to me with a shaylo and I paskened."

The other talmidim said, "Perhaps the litigants were unhappy with your psak. We cannot use such tainted money,"

So, (I think it was) R' Shmelke (later of Nikolsburg) said, "I worked for someone today and earned a couple rubles. I will cover the costs."

The talmidim said, "No, perhaps you didn't work as hard as you should have, or maybe you worked slow, or maybe your employer wasn't happy with your performance - we cannot use money that has been possibly tainted as ill-gotten"

Finally, R' Zushe said, "I will cover it."

"What?!", said the talmidim, "Where do YOU have money from?"

"I borrowed it," said R' Zushe.

"Very well!" said the talmidim, "In that case it can't be tainted. We will use your funds!"

It seems that all money can be considered tainted - and what about the origin of the money that R' Zushe borrowed? We don't know where the lender got the money - which was probably at least as ill-gotten as the money of the Hafloh and R' Shmelke. Rather, it seems to me that they were making a point about honesty, but more than that, it seems that lending (a form of charity) sort-of "cleans" the money (yeah, I don't like that word either), or let's say, it ends the need for investigation. Couldn't this fellow's $120,000 have been used in some legitimate way?

Again, if that's the halacha, then I am fine with it, but if it's not, maybe you can explain it to me?

What We Have

Accepting the idea that Hashem granted each of us the possessions and talents, which are just right for us, is an integral portion of our emunah.

(Rabbi Yakov Horowitz)

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

A Great-Grandson Of The Degel Machaneh Ephraim

Plaque marking the place of the Jewish cemetery
Khmelnitsky, Ukraine
(Picture courtesy of

A Tamid providing background information on a picture found by A Yid:

ASJ –I’m not sure exactly which Reb Aryeh Yehuda Leib Leiberson is buried there, but I do have this information which will fascinate you. He is a descendant of the Degel; I’ll explain. Reb Moshe Chaim Ephraim of Proskorov’s father was named Reb Aryeh Yehuda Leib, who was ben acher ben from Reb Liber “Hagadol”of Berdichev (that’s how they got the last name “Leiberson), who in turn was a great-grandson (ben acher ben) of the great mekubal, Reb Shimshom Ostropolier HY’D. Reb Liber was highly praised by the Baal Shem Tov. Now for the part you’re most interested in – Reb Moshe Chaim Ephraim of Proskorov’s father, Reb Aryeh Yehuda Leib, was a son-in law of Reb Yakov Yechiel, who was a son of Reb Moshe Chaim Ephraim of Sudlikov–the Degel Machaneh Ephraim. Hope I made your day.

Also, Reb Moshe Chaim Ephraim of Proskorov was also great-grandson of Reb Yosef of Yampola, son of the Zlotchover Magid- Reb Yechiel Mechel.

Three Friends - Then & Now

(Picture by Rajesh Lal Nyachhyon)

I have been thinking a lot about the topic of friendship recently. Last year, I wrote about the three categories of friendship, and now I have come to the conclusion that the three people who I once considered to be my closest friends were today in reality Category 1 (proximity) or Category 2 (circumstance) friends.

My three close friends moved away after graduating from college and I have only seen them a handful of times over the past decade. At first communication by phone or e-mail was a regular occurrence. Over time, however, the phone calls dropped off and communication was relegated to e-mail. The time between e-mails got longer and longer while the text of the e-mails got shorter and shorter. Today, communication between us is virtually non-existent.

To be sustained, friendship needs to be mutually nurturing. If one person makes all the efforts to stay in contact, is it really a true friendship, or even a friendship at all?

I can say that these three people were my friends at one time, however, in all honesty, I am not sure I can say that they are my friends today.

This leads me to my next question.

Who are my friends today?

I can count my friends on one hand; with three fingers. One is a former co-worker with whom I now get together once a week to walk with at lunchtime. The second is person who once worked in my building and now we stay in touch on a daily basis via telephone and e-mail. The third is a person that I have never met. I met him through blogging and now I am in touch with every day via e-mail. I have never heard this person's voice since we have never called one another. Somehow, it is the written word that connects us.

If I attempt to place these three new friends into categories, I would speculate that the first two friends would mostly likely be classified as Category 1 friends. I am uncertain, however, how my third friend would be classified. We do not share proximity or circumstance. We share many common interests and often see the world through the same set of eyes. We enjoy the discussion of ideas, trends, and events and routinely recommend books for each other to read.

This may sound completely ridiculous, and I am not sure what it says about me, but I feel that today he may be my closest friend.

Learning Chumash In Volozhin

The Netziv zt"l
(Picture courtesy of

Excerpt from "Discovering the Netziv and his Ha'amaik Davar":

What do we know about the Netziv's approach to students and his manner of teaching daily the weekly Torah portions? Fortunately, we have a window into that aspect of the Netziv's life from Bar-Ilan:

One of the unique features of the Volozhin Yeshiva was "learning Chumash." In no other known yeshiva was Chumash regularly studied. How do you explain that mature students, already adept in Torah and the learning of Gemorah, would spend time studying Chumash? Isn't that only a subject to be taught to young children?! Could there be a youngman who has reached the age of maturity who is learned in Torah studies but does not yet know Chumash? Nevertheless, in Volozhin a different attitude prevailed. My father used to say, 'Neither mature yeshiva scholars nor young students today know Chumash, Prophets, or the Writings. How will they ever learn if at some point in their lives they don't seriously devote themselves to it? When the time comes that these young students and mature scholars become rabbis in Israel and have to prepare Derashot, or sermons, they will surely need to search in Prophets and Writings for texts. But they will never learn or be well-versed in Chumash!

Meir Berlin added these details:

The schedule of each day at the yeshiva began with "teaching Chumash." Immediately after prayers the brightest students would gather alongside one of the tables, and my father, z"l, would learn the weekly portion with them. Even on the Sabbath they would gather in this way. The learning of Chumash at Volozhin was completely different from the usual way the subject was taught. It is possible to understand my father's method of teaching Chumash by observing his approach in the Ha'amaik Davar along with his notes in the Harhev Davar. Yet even that hardly does it justice, because the most exalted description used in print still cannot convey a fraction of the joy a student would experience in having heard my father teaching Chumash in person. He put so much enthusiasm into every single letter of the written Torah, such immense love and feeling into his explanation of its verses according to the Oral Torah, one cannot adequately describe it.