Monday, April 30, 2007

101:2 - Part II

(Picture courtesy of

Commenting on my favorite verse in Tehillim, Rabbi Yaakov Meir Shechter wrote in his book "Lights on the Path":

"We must go through life with simplicity and a pure heart. By acting this way, G-d may give us wisdom, for simplicity is the vessel we need to hold wisdom."

Question & Answer With Chabakuk Elisha - One-Dimensional World

(Picture courtesy of

A Simple Jew asks:

In his book "Jewthink", Rabbi Avi Shafran wrote:

"Picture before you a one-dimensional world, flat and absolutely thin, a line floating about in space. Now on this world lives a one-dimensional man shaped like a short line who lives there with his family and pet point. Now imagine our man trying to comprehend a two-dimensional world, where length and width exist, or even more preposterous, a 3-d world and the concept of depth. He simply cannot."

Have you ever considered what your life would be like without Yiddishkeit; what it would be like to return from a 3-d world to a one-dimensional world? Can you even begin to fathom what you would do to fill your days?

Chabakuk Elisha answers:

What a question!

Before I start, let me just mention that I remember Rabbi Shafran from my younger years back in mesivta (high school) when I was a student of his, and I'd have to say that he was one of my all-time favorite rabbeim at that. Moreover, his book "Jewthink" had a big impact on me; I recommend it highly. A short and concise book, it covers most of the "big issues" head on, and in plain and simple terms provides the view of what (for lack of a better term) could be considered Main-Stream Torah Yiddishkeit for the thinking man. For me it was compelling and calming.

In this quote, he is expressing the fundamental challenge a human being faces when trying to relate to G-d and G-d's ways: Just as our one-dimensional friend the line and his pet point are clearly hard pressed to relate to our world, so too, we are missing too many dimensions to comprehend G-d's reality.

Yet, in our decidedly limited reality, we humans find ourselves in a tough predicament: Unlike animals, we have the gift of intellect – this causes us to recognize the emptiness that surrounds us and pushes us to seek fulfillment in our lives and to add a dimension or two to the empty, mundane and colorless realities that we perceive. This is true for all religions, all belief systems, and all "isms" – some more so, some less so – and not exclusive to Yiddishkeit. Every path makes absolute claims and every believer thinks his path of choice has the answer to all of life's questions. Obviously, as a Jew, I believe that Judaism is the answer, and life sans-Yiddishkeit is hard to contemplate…to be sure, there would be a vacuum that would need to be filled.

Perhaps I would be sitting in the bleachers of some stadium, beer in hand, gut spilling over my belt, fist raised in the air, screaming "Yeah!" Because the question really is not if you will look for meaning in life, rather, it is WHERE you will find it. The story is told of an early group of Chabad Chassidim - they were once sitting together when the topic came up of what they would have been, had they not become Chassidim. R' Shmuel Munkas stood up and said: For example, Reb Isaac here would have been as great as the Shach or the Taz, and began to go around the room announcing what that individual chossid would have been, until one of the Chassidim spoke up and asked him: "And what would you have been?" Reb Shmuel turned to him with a smile and replied: "Me? I would have been the world's greatest alcoholic! Moreover, I would have used my charisma to convince misnagdim to pay for it!"

So, if you ask me what my life would have been, I cannot really know, but what is important to know is what we DO have – and to make sure that it indeed does fill our days – which is really what your question means, right?

(Picture courtesy of

Setting An Example

In the education of children, it is meaningless to say simply, "This is permitted; that is forbidden." A child must see his parents perform the mitzvos joyfully. If a child hears his father say, "It is very difficult to keep Shabbos and Yom Tov, but I, nevertheless managed to overcome the temptation to work on Shabbos," the son will not necessarily follow suit. He may rationalize "I am not as strong willed as my father; I cannot withstand the temptation." But if children hear from their parents that it is not at all difficult to keep the Torah, and that mitzvos are wonderful for they are the essence of life and the length of our days, their education has a chance of being effective.

(Rabbi Moshe Feinstein)

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Black & White Picture Of The Week - Curtains

Friday, April 27, 2007

Worries About Tomorrow

(Painting by Boris Dubrov)

Excerpt from "Lights on the Path" by Rabbi Yaakov Meir Shechter:

How often do we make a commitment to Torah study, or to better observance of mitzvos, only to find that we cannot live up to the ideal? This is especially true of young yeshivah students, who tend to become depressed afterward. The reason this happens is because at the time of the commitment, we are in a positive state of mind - the very reason for our renewed desire to succeed! Yet our moods change and when the time comes to implement our decision, we may not be feeling up to it, for the schedule we chose is not appropriate for our present state of mind.

This trick, then, is to set up two or more kinds of schedules, one for the strong times and one for the weak ones. For it is precisely when we are feeling up and making positive commitments for the future that we must also prepare ourselves for the low times. This is the only path to success.

This was Reb Noson's practice. We he first became a disciple of Rabbi Nachman, and saw that he could not maintain the demanding study program that the Rebbe had set for him, he did not become upset or frustrated. Rather, he arranged for himself a large variety of study goals, one for every situation. He had thirteen different approaches to studying the Shulchan Aruch! There was a certain amount he had to learn on a regular day, another amount for Friday afternoons, another for traveling, for the eve of Yom Kippur, for holidays, etc. In this way, he learned the entire Shulchan Aruch many times.

Another approach is to take a large scale agenda and divide it over a two day period. Whatever we hoped to accomplish in one day, we should allow ourselves two. The load will be lightened, yet we will still feel like we are reaching our goals.

The problem is that during the times we feel strong and confident, we avoid making back up plans. We are loath to abandon our large scale projects that seem, for the movement, within our reach. And yet, in the end, the plans fall through and we become bitter and depressed, until we may abandon all form of study whatsoever.

A Handful of Time

If you ask the average yeshivah student if he learns Shulchan Aruch, he will answer you, "Of course." If you ask him if he learned 365 halachos in the course of the year - one a day - he will probably answer, "No."

This leads us to another piece of advice. Besides all our other plans, the large projects and the small, the in-depth study and the broad, we should make an unbending commitment to learn two halachos from the Shulchan Aruch every day. Although this takes only a moment, at the end of the year we will have learned 700 halachos.

There used to be a great Torah scholar of Jerusalem whose life was devoted to unceasing study, who nonetheless learned the daily portion of Chok L'Yisroel. Despite his busy schedule, he still worried about the question of the Heavenly Tribunal, "Did you fix times for study?" We too, should have at least one text that we learn daily, no matter what, for we are not always able to maintain our normal routine. The we too will have a positive answer for the Heavenly Tribunal, when we arrive there after 120 years.

Rabbi Nachman once admonished a person who claimed to be too busy working to learn. "You should at least grab a little time for Torah study each day," he said. "A person has to steal time from his other activities to study Torah"

The best way to do this is through small, yet fixed, periods of study. These should be arranged around other regular events, such as prayer or meals. Even if you miss a meal, you will be able to pick up again tomorrow.

Here is one possible "menu" of what to learn during these times. The daily amount is very small, but it adds up to much over time.

Breakfast: One chapter of Tanach, even if there is only enough time to read the words without commentary. After a while, you will finish all of Tanach, and certainly understand a large part of it.

Lunch: Three verses of Chumash and Rashi (starting from the beginning of the Torah until the end - not following the weekly reading.) At the end of the month, you will have learned ninety verses.

Dinner: One halacha from the Shulchan Aruch. At the end of the month, you will have learned thirty halachos.

Before sleep: One Mishnah, which adds up to thirty Mishnayos a month.

This is only one example. Each person should set up a schedule appropriate to him. He will soon see the large amount of Torah knowledge he has acquired. Even if he misses part of his larger, daily program, he will still be happy to have completed these smaller projects. Rabbi Nachman alluded to this when he said, "A little is also good."

The source for this idea is in the Midrash: "Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai said, 'Learn two or three chapters of Mishnayos on Shabbos, two or three halachos a day, two or three parshas a month, and you will end up very rich. About this, the verse says, 'One who gathers a handful at a time will eventually have much' (Mishlei 13:11), but one who says. 'Tomorrow I will study' ends up with nothing."

This much is certain: By following this advice, you will end up with years of constant Torah study.

Reb Dovid'l

Kehillas Dovid - Lublin, 1881

Heichal HaNegina: The Keen Wisdom of Rebbe Dovid’l Tolna

A Talmid: Doing What He Does Best

Illustration from Avodas HaKodesh - Pressburg, 1856

Gaining Admittance To Rashi's Chamber In Olam Habah

Segulas Of Shnayim Mikrah V'Echod Targum

More Segulas From Mishnayos

Hating Your Brother In Your Heart

The Torah urges us that if we harbor some resentment against a fellow Jew not to bottle it up in one's heart. One has to come out with one's feelings into the open, speaking them, and rebuking the person who one thinks as guilty of having bad-mouthed him or otherwise hurt him to cause such hatred. Do not assume in your heart that whatever it is the other Jew has done to cause you to hate him he has done purposely and that he continues to feel hostile towards you. Give him the benefit of the doubt and discuss the matter with him. The discussion could lead to one of two possible results. He may explain to you that he had good reason for what he did so that there is no reason to hate him. Or, he may change his attitude towards you, undertaking not to continue hostile conduct. As a result he becomes "your friend, your brother".

(Ohr HaChaim)

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Tzedakah Tatzil Me'Maves

(Picture courtesy of Moriah Galleries)

Hand wrought silver " bowl" depicting skeleton head and Hebrew inscription: "Charity Shall Avert Death". A very rare and unusual item from Ukraine, 18-19th century.

(Picture courtesy of

Rare antique spelter Tzedakah charity box, Hungary, Ca 1900, Judaica. Of rectangular shape set on the front with a plaque inscribed in Hebrew and Hungarian "Tzedakah Tatsil Me'Mavet" (Charity will save from death).

(Picture courtesy of

Rare authentic silvered metal Tzedakah / charity box, Hungary, Ca 1900, Judaica. Of round form, inscribed in Hebrew "Tzedakah Tatsil Me'Mavet". The hinged lid with slot on top for inserting the charity. Locked with a safety lock. Set with a carrying handle

Question & Answer With Reb Nati - The Omer & Shoresh Neshoma

(Picture courtesy of

A Simple Jew asks:

As noted in a previous posting, a person's neshoma is rooted in multiple shorshei neshomas. If a person was born during Sefira, is it possible that this person's neshomas is rooted in just the two the corresponding sefiros of that day? (ex. my youngest daughter was born on day 46 of the Omer, which corresponds to Netzach she-b'Malchus)

Reb Nati of Mystical Paths answers:

Just as physical body is made up of DNA and is made of the genome, the spiritual soul body is made up of a mix of different but similar material. As the soul leaves the heavenly storehouse by the kesay hakovod, it is split and passes through the sefirot, now the sefirot are constantly in motion so the soul is impacted by the particular configuration of it's entry time. Next it passes through the mazalot, which are spinning. As the neshomah (heading towards this world) comes down from the tree of life, it goes into the tiklah, a scale of sort as the deeds of minute, the time of conception and the thoughts of the parents, all contribute to the mix. If everything is going well then it passes down through their tiklah, then through the sefirot, then through the mazolot, then into the physical body of the baby.

I think that was confusing. Let's try it this way...picture this: they reach in and pull a soul from it's spiritual womb of bliss. Kicking and complaining it is brought before Hashem on the kisay hakovod, and complains about having to descend so far away into physical the world. Hashem says, "this is what you were created for, Go!" and poof the 'floor' opens. The soul falls down this tube in the tree of life, as it passes out the other end in falls into a scale where the deeds of man at the moment are decisive on where it is good or bad. Then, if it (the moment) falls on the side of good then it is split in two: male & female. Then they (the male and female of this soul) fall through the sefirot, tiferet she'b'tiferet for example, then the mazolot, Kislev for example. All these traits have an effect on the soul. Then finally the parents, what their kavanot are at the time of conception, like programming the egg and the sperm. Then it passes into the guf of the newborn, nine months later : wow what a ride.

Guest Posting By Rabbi Tal Zwecker - Kings and Princes

(Illustration by Rabbi Dovid Sears)

The Toldos Yaakov Yosef teaches in the name of the Holy Baal Shem Tov:

Bezos Yavo Aharon el Hakodesh - The tzazdik represented by the High Priest Aharon haKohen must bring "zos" into "kodesh" - Zos represents the lower levels of teshuva - repentance even that must be brought into kodesh - sanctity and holiness. Therefore we always have to remember that whenever we find ourselves on a lower level, if we have fallen and need to rise up, Hashem is down there with us. His glory is everywhere and the holy sparks that are there down below with us need to be uplifted back to their source.

The Baal Shem Tov told a story to illustrate this:

Once upon a time there was a king who sent his son the prince far away into exile. The king wanted his son to learn to appreciate his father, since distance makes the heart grow fonder he rationalized that the further his son was from him, and the longer time he spent away the greater his son's yearning and desire for his father the king would grow. Unfortunately once in exile the prince began to slowly forget his royal ways. He forgot how to act and speak like royalty. He began to dress like a common peasant and eventually he began to associate himself with common criminals and people of ill repute. Soon he was dressed and acting like them claiming that life was meant for dancing, merry making and frivolity.

His father the king was greatly distressed to hear of this and he sent many great dignitaries and officers to convince his son the prince to return. The prince laughed at them all and they returned sadly empty-handed. Then one wise dignitary had a plan. He disrobed himself and dressed in the clothing of a common man. Dressed like the prince he began to dance and make merry and slowly befriended the wayward prince. Once they were friends the dignitary slowly helped the prince mend his ways and eventually brought him back up to his former level and returned him home to his father the king.

We are the prince, our Father in heaven, Avinu SheBashamayim, is the King. He exiled us to bring us closer to Him. We have strayed off the path and dressed like the gentile nations and learned from their ways.

The parable teaches us that when we someone falls from their level, no one from a higher level can just bring them back up. No one except a tzaddik who is willing to first disrobe and remove the garments of royalty and dignity. Only a tzaddik who lowers himself to our level, who associates with us on our level, he has to talk the talk and walk the walk of the common folk to befriend us. Once he does that we too can be brought back to repentance back to the King our Father.

Rabbi Nachman of Breslov told a similar story of the Turkey Prince:

Once there was a prince who went insane and thought he was a turkey. He sat naked under the table picking at crusts of bread and bones. All the kings physicians could not cure him. One doctor disrobed and sat naked under the table with the prince. The prince asked him who he was. "I am a turkey like you!" They sat together under the table picking at bones and bread. One day the Doctor signaled and they threw him shirts. "Do you think turkeys cant wear shirts? you can still be a turkey and wear a shirt." And they put shirts on. The next day he signaled and they threw them pants. "Do you think turkeys cant wear pants? you can still be a turkey and wear pants." And they put pants on. The next day he signaled and they threw them real food. "Do you think turkeys cant eat real food? you can still be a turkey and eat real food." And they ate real food. The next day he sat at the table. "Do you think turkeys cant sit at the table? You can still be a turkey and sit at the table." The doctor continued until he was cured.

We are like the turkey prince too. In the first story, the prince was still human and went off the derech and associated with common criminals. However, in Rebbe Nachman's story he went insane and became like an animal! Some people in our generation have fallen even lower, and still Hashem sends us doctors of the soul, tzaddikim, to heal us and teach us step by step how to return to our father the King!

Illuminating The Moon

(Picture by Murray Neill)

The sun tries and tries to illuminate the moon. At times, the moon refuses to accept the sun's light and be illuminated; troubled by the activities of the tiny stars. The sun redoubles its efforts and sends a burst of light to shine and remove the darkness. But now, the moon is only dimly lit. The sun realizes that the moon refuses its illumination because the little stars sap its strength. The sun keeps on trying and eventually the moon accepts its light and casts its own bright moon beams in return.

Moshe & Meir - 60 Years Later

Moshe Barazani HY"D and Meir Feinstein HY"D

Received via e-mail from the Temple Institute:

Mot Kedoshim: The Death of the Righteous

Iyar 8, 5767/April 26, 2007

"And Samson said: 'Let me die with the Philistines.' And he bent with all his might; and the house fell upon the lords, and upon all the people that were therein. So the dead that he slew at his death were more than they that he slew in his life." (Judges 16:30)

The year was 1947. Their original plan was to blow themselves up at the gallows, taking with them as many of the enemy British jailers as they could. When it became clear that they could not carry out their plan without also endangering the rabbi who was to accompany them in their final moments, a last minute change was made. Nineteen year old Meir Feinstein, a member of the Etzel underground, and 19 year old Moshe Barazani, a member of the Lechi underground took the hollowed out orange peel in which they had smuggled explosives into their cell, placed it between them, sang the traditional Adon Olam, embraced, and lit the fuse. A huge blast was heard throughout the Jerusalem Central Prison. The British guard raced to the cell. But it was too late. The two boys had robbed the British Mandatory Government of the fruit of its relentless policy toward the Jews. They were to have been the first two Jews to be hung to death in the holy city of Jerusalem, all the other eleven olei hagardom - "those who went up to the gallows" - had been or were to be hung in the northern city of Acco (Acre). The courage of the two boys, with the help of G-d, snatched from the bloody jaws of the British their "victory" of executing Jews in the holy city.

Meir Feinstein and Moshe Barazani were buried in twin graves on the Mount of Olives. Their story became legend in Israel. When Menachem Begin, Israel's sixth Prime Minister died in 1992 his final wish was to be buried in a simple grave alongside the two boys. Thus the legend remained. Until recently.

Several months ago, Thomas Goodwin, the British guard whose life Feinstein and Barazani had spared by asking his to leave their cell just moments before they blew themselves up, so that (as they explained to him), they could pray, passed away. Before he left the boys' cell, Meir Feinstein handed him his Tanach (Hebrew Bible). Of the two British jailers that kept watch over Feinstein and Barazani, Goodwin was admired by the two as "the good jailer" because of the humane and respectful manner in which he treated the condemned men. Only after the two had taken their own lives did he notice the inscription Feinstein had addressed to him, both in English and in Hebrew:

"In the shadow of the gallows, 21.4.47. To the British soldier as you stand guard. Before we go to the gallows, accept this Bible as a memento and remember that we stood in dignity and marched in dignity. It is better to die with a weapon in hand than to live with hands raised. Meir Feinstein"

It had been Thomas Goodwin's wish to return the Tanach to the Feinstein family, and after he died, his son Dennis made contact with the office of the Prime Minister of Israel, which directed him to the Feinstein family in Jerusalem. I had the privilege of being invited to attend the ceremony on Thursday evening, April 20th (the 2nd of the Hebrew month of Iyar), when Dennis Goodwin and his mother presented the Tanach to Meir Feinstein's nephew Eliezer. The ceremony took place in the very prison where the two were held, adjacent to the Russian Compound in Jerusalem. The former prison is now the Underground Prisoners Museum, dedicated to preserving the memory of the underground members who fought and died for the Jewish people's independence. The day was the 60th anniversary of the boys' death.

The following Monday, Israel's Memorial Day for its fallen soldiers, a small group of people visited the graves of Feinstein and Barazani at the Mount of Olives, where Eliezer Feinstein and Moshe Barazani's brother recited the Kaddish prayer. In a private moment, Eliezer Feinstein remarked that over the past few days he had repeatedly looked through his uncle's Tanach. Each time he opened it, it opened automatically to Judges, chapter sixteen, and the verse: "And Samson said: 'Let me die with the Philistines.' And he bent with all his might; and the house fell upon the lords, and upon all the people that were therein. So the dead that he slew at his death were more than they that he slew in his life." (ibid) Thus testifying to the two boys' original plan to blow themselves up at the gallows.

The long history of the Jewish people is lined with the names of martyrs who fell for the right of every Jew to live his life in freedom and dignity and in accordance to the will of the G-d of Israel. Some names are household names in Jewish homes the world over. Others not. There is no better time to consider their selfless acts of courage than on Yom Atzma'ut - Israel Independence Day. For without their willingness to give of themselves entirely for their people, the Jewish nation would not be dwelling today in the land of Israel.

The challenges facing Israel today are enormous. A new generation of Feinsteins and Barazanis, willing to give their all for the people of Israel, the land of Israel and the Torah of Israel, is rising up. We see them in their hilltop villages, ("outposts"), manning the barricades at Amona, astride the ruins of Chomesh, and yes, fulfilling the commandment of "My Holy Temple you shall revere" (Leviticus 19:30), by ascending the Temple Mount. As we stride toward tomorrow we will surely achieve the hope of our people:

"The hope of two thousand years,
To be a holy nation in our own land,
The land of Zion : Jerusalem."

One Argument

One argument can destroy a hundred livelihoods.


Wednesday, April 25, 2007

A Black & White & Color Evening

"Searching In The Dark"

(Picture by Chris Lambert)

Chabakuk Elisha commenting on "From That Moment On" :

The Rogachover Gaon was once asked to attend a certain conference pertaining to communal issues that faced Klal Yisroel at that time, and (as was his way) he responded with a Talmudical answer: "It's a machlokes between the Talmud Bavli and Talmud Yerushalmi – and since we pasken like the Bavli, I cannot attend."


As mentioned, the Bavli is long and full of questions – comparable to searching in the dark - while the Yerushalmi is much shorter - comparable to searching in a light filled room. So why do we learn Bavli? Because that is the state of Galus.

Chazal tell us that we should learn Torah all day, but if someone takes time from Torah learning to help others, he is rewarded that the Torah that he learns later will come easier so that he won't lose by it. This is the Yerushalmi approach. Nevertheless, that time was lost and Torah was not studied during it. The Bavli - Galus - reality is that the time lost is irreplaceable, and even though the "Yerushalmi Jew" is happy that his question is answered, the "Bavli Jew" is focused more on the search than the solution - and he opposed taking off time for any reason unless absolutely necessary.

The Megilla ends with the statement that Mordechai was liked by most Jews - which begs the question: What's so special about that? "Most" liked him? Well, I would hope so! Is that a high standard?

But we are told in the preceding line that he was the King's Prime Minister, which meant that he didn't have the time to learn all day since we had to spend some time on communal matters. Now, Mordechai was a Yerushalmi Jew, so he was fine with that, but at that time many "Galus Jews" had already been born in Bavel and Persia (at the time of the Purim story), and they were opposed to this approach, resulting in Mordechai only being approved of by most Jews. (The above is based on a well-known Sicha of the Lubavitcher Rebbe)

In more recent times, the Bavli approach was shown to have another possible danger:- that study without contemplation does not bring one to a higher spiritual place. Instead, one spends their life in darkness – as we so often see. The Baal Shem Tov taught that all the study in the world without the intent of connecting to G-d is a tragic loss - and instead one should take time from learning to contemplate and focus on the divine. I could go on, but I think I've rambled on enough...

"From That Moment On"

Maseches Shekalim - Slavuta, 1820

The following story is found in the sefer Siftei Kodesh:

"The grandson of the Baal Shem Tov, the Degel Machaneh Ephraim, was, after his marriage a great masmid, and most of his learning was in Gemara with Rashi's commentary and Tosafos. He had deviated somewhat from the Chasidic way which did not concentrate so heavily on Gemara.

The Baal Shem Tov liked to take him on excursions every now and then, and this caused the Degel anguish at having to cease from his Torah study. But once a guest came to them from some town or other, and the Baal Shem Tov asked him about a certain householder from that place. The guest answered with praise, saying that this person was a great masmid.

The Baal Shem Tov then said, "I am very envious of his ceaseless learning, but what can I do? I do not have time to learn for I have to serve Hashem."

When the Degel heard these words, uttered in holiness and purity, they entered his heart, and he began to conduct himself in the Chassidic way from that moment on."

I have thought about this story for some time after A Yid brought back to my attention in December and I continue to have lingering questions. The story is very short, yet it appears that it contains within it many worlds.

Once the Degel heard his grandfather's words, did he realize that he had placed to much of an emphasis on learning Gemara? In what way did he start "to act in accordance with Chassidus"? Does this mean he changed his daily seder of learning?

Reminding Yourself

You should continually remind yourself before Whom you are learning, because it happens that even while you are learning Torah you can easily lose your awareness of G-d. So you should bring yourself back to awareness again and again, every minute.

(Baal Shem Tov)

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Kever Of The Rashash

Kever of the Rashash zt"l - Jerusalem
(Picture courtesy Yeshivat Tikun Ha'midot)

When I saw the above picture of the large stone on top of the kever of the Rashash, I instantly recalled a story I had once heard about it. Tonight, when I located the story I found that it was not a story about the Rashash at all, but about Rabbi Klonimus Haberkstein whose kever was later known as "the mound of Rabbi Klonimus" because of all the stones piled atop it. He had written in his will:

"Since I was forced to desecrate a Shabbos to write on that holy day, when the recent disaster threatened the Jews of Jerusalem, I deserve the punishment of stoning, for such is the law for anyone who violates Shabbos in public. I, therefore, request of the residents of Jerusalem that whenever they pass my tombstone - they throw a stone at it. This is to be done for one hundred years after the day of my burial."

Now that I see that the story I recalled was not about the Rashash afterall, if anyone knows a story about the kever of the Rashash, please e-mail me and I will add the story to this posting.

"We Don't Do That."

(Picture courtesy of

These four words, said over and over like a mantra, year after year after year. "We don't do that" - an explanation for why a person cannot accept an approach or path different from their own; an expression of the negative yet a perplexing and feeble attempt to describe exactly just what it is that they do.

What do these words mean? They are not so much words of explanation, but rather they are words of dismissal. A fellow person receives a non-answer when attempting to clarify why the person doesn't "do that". Scratching their head in wonder, the fellow person now can only speculate why this person is a prisoner to what they were taught as a child.

We would expect that such a person would come from an insular or conservative background. Yet, it is all the more perplexing when you consider that this person was raised and educated in an extremely open and liberal home.

The word "liberal" is defined as "broad-minded" or "tolerant of differing opinions", so one would expect that this person would have a better appreciation and tolerance for people who "do that". This is sadly not the case and thus they continue to remain an enigma to others. Despite claims to the contrary, they have shown me that open-mindedness is not the sole domain of the liberal secular thinker and closed-mindedness is not the sole domain of the conservative religious thinker.

Always Carrying A Chumash

Rebbe Raphael of Beshad told us that we should always have placed before us a little Chumash to look into each and every minute, together with Rashi's commentary - like what is said about the king, "and it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, so that he learns to fear G-d.

(Pe'er L'Yesharim)

Monday, April 23, 2007

A Tax Refund & A Kiddush Cup

Chayei Moharan #577 states, "The Rebbe once told someone he should make a special effort to use a beautiful and valuable goblet for kiddush..."

A friend of mine recently purchased one of these kiddush cups and now I too am thinking about spending some of my tax refund money on one of these beautiful but expensive kiddush cups that I have had my eyes on for years.

Some people I know will spend an tremendous amount of time before purchasing a new car or flat-screen television set. I, on the other hand, will become totally obsessed when seeking to purchase a costly new item such as a silver menorah, seder plate, or this kiddush cup by which I can fulfill a mitzvah in a more beautiful manner. Is my desire for these things indicative of the fact that it contain sparks which are connected to my shoresh neshoma, or is this just a lofty sounding reason for me to justify and rationalize my spending for something that I just simply want?

"On His Back"

(Picture by Graham Morrell)

Lazer Beams: Mighty Mahlouf, of blessed memory

Eizer L'Shabbos Update

(Picture courtesy of

Thanks to the many generous donations to Maos Chitim Campaign, Eizer L'Shabbos was able to distribute food vouchers to 800 families for Pesach.

Eizer L'Shabbos also continues to provided much needed assistance to a ten year-old boy in Tsfat who was severely burned when another child threw a bottle of flammable liquid on a fire where chometz was being burnt for serefas chometz. The boy, Akiva Shimon ben Doba, sustained third degree burns to his face and second degree burns to his stomachs, hands, and feet. Thank G-d, his eyes did not sustain any injuries. He was miraculously saved by a bystander named Buchspan who came to Tsfat to stay by his brother-in-law for yom tov. Two weeks after the accident, some of Akiva Shimon's bandages have been removed and he is continuing to receive medical treatment for the burns.

Finally, as Jews from all over Eretz Yisroel and the world prepare to make the annual trek to Meron to celebrate Lag B'Omer beside the kever of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, Eizer L'Shabbos is preparing food packages to be given to local poor families on the holy day.

Tsfat and Meron are linked in many ways. Those who have visited the northern Galil know that they are only fifteen minutes away by car. One can stand in one town and see the other on the next range of hills. In ancient times, both were part of the portion accorded to the Tribe of Naftali. Indeed, "Naftali" has the same gematria as "Tsfat". For hundreds of years, when the bonfires were lit in Meron on Lag B'Omer, they were seen in Tsfat. And, the bonfires in Tsfat were also seen in Meron. Tzaddikim have said that Tsfat is truly the door to Meron.

What greater way can there be to honor these tzaddikim than to give food in their zechus to the many poor religious families living near them; their "children" who walk in their holy ways. Please help Eizer L'Shabbos help them, along with the thousands visiting Tsfat for Lag B'Omer, by contributing to its Lag B'Omer Campaign.

Tax-deductible donations can be sent to:

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

To donate by credit card, please call 917-499-7760

For more information on weekly and yearly sponsorships, please call (347) 448-4206

Question & Answer With Mottel Of Letters Of Thought - Kitzur Shulchan Aruch

Kitzur Shulchan Aruch - Munich, 1948

A Simple Jew asks:

Unlike Mishna Berura, I have noticed that many people tend to disregard or hold Kitzur Shulchan Aruch in low esteem. Perhaps the more bizyonos that it gets, the greater its inherent kedusha. What do you think?

Mottel of Letters of Thought answers:

Before we delve deeper into the question, perhaps it is appropriate to give the background of the sefer . . .

The Kitzur Shulchan Aruch was written at a time of great spiritual upheaval in Hungary - communities were divided between the Orthodox standard and the Neolog, a reformist movement that pushed a change in the 'status-quo'. Seeing the peril that faced his brethren, Rabbi Shlomo Ganzfried decided to create a work that would present the day to day requirements of G-d's Torah in a fashion that was accessible to all. An act that in truth is no different then the original writing of Shulchan Aruch, or for that matter the Rambam before that.

Based upon the works of the Alter Rebbe, the Chayei Adam and Rabbi Ya'akov of Lissa, the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch renders psak based upon the majority agreement, much as the Shulchan Aruch did using the works of the Rif, Rambam, and Rosh.

In the need to bring out the final 'psak' Rabbi Ganzfried put brevity before all, even if it meant sacrificing explanation. The sefer had been estimated to have had "over two million copies come of the press since its initial printing."

Despite the wide publicity and popular demand of the sefer, there is an apparent disregard for it amongst the elitist, 'yeshivish' circles which choose the works of Mishna Berura and the like over it. The reason simply being, to paraphrase a ma'amar Chazal, that the very act for which the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch strives - brevity, is in truth his undoing . . . for in the yeshivah world there is a need to dive deeper into the inner workings and meanings of the law - something impossible when faced with the simple words of the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch. Even more so, to properly render a psak halacha from a sefer is, in the words of the Rosh, impossible from an abridged work.

In reality, however, all those who wish to compare the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch to other halachic works and thereby degrade it, are in fact mistaken. For the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, in truth, performs an entirely different purpose then that of the Mishna Berura - the former being a work of psak halacha, of the basic precepts of Jewish life, while the later serves to dive into the realm of pilpul; one is a Rav, the other a Rosh Yeshivah.

True the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch can not be used to pasken, it's abridged nature prevents that, but that was never it's intent. The Kitzur Shulchan Aruch was meant to bring out the bottom line, which it so elegantly does.

On a deeper level, the very brevity of the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch brings out a greater unification of the Jewish people. For while halacha in general is a common denominator that unites us all - the obligations of Shabbos, kashrus, and the like apply to all indiscriminately- how the law is learned can vary from person to person. The greater ones understanding and level of education, the deeper he can delve. In the realm of Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, the halacha has been distilled to its essence, on this level every Jew can open the book and easily understand the halacha. Even more so since Kitzur Shulchan Aruch is probably the most translated book next to the Chumash and siddur. Rabbi Shlomo Ganzfried's sefer represent the advantage of klal over prat, of the general principal over what is derived from it. It is the yechida of the soul where we all stand the same with Hashem. (Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe -12 Sivan, 5744)

Learning Halacha

It is very important to study Halacha. If you can, study all four sections of the Shulchan Aruch in order from beginning to end. Otherwise, study one of the concise guides that explain the laws of daily life.

The study of Halacha is a great spiritual remedy. When a person sins, good and evil become mixed up. Each individual Halacha is a legal decision that makes a clear separation between what is permitted and what is forbidden, what is clean and what is unclean. When you study Halacha, good is once again separated from evil, thereby rectifying the sin.

Every Jew should study Halacha every day.

If you are under pressure and have no time, study at least one paragraph of Halacha on any subject, even if it is outside your regular study schedule. Learn at least one law every day of your life.

(Rebbe Nachman of Breslov)

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Black & White Picture Of The Week - Cul-de-sac

Friday, April 20, 2007

Contained Within Simplicity

(Picture by Dorothea Lange)

In Degel Machaneh Ephraim, Parshas Metzora, the Degel teaches that when the letter aleph (representing "or" - the light of the Torah) enters the letters tav and mem (making up the work "tam" - simple) it combines to make the word "emes". This means that there is only truth when the light of Torah is contained within simplicity.

The Records Are Sealed Until 2045

I just ordered a copy of this after reading this.

Grab And Eat

(Painting by Boris Dubrov)

Excerpt from "Lights on the Path" by Rabbi Yaakov Meir Shechter:

How often instead of devoting ourselves to spiritual matters, we find ourselves offering an excuse, "Not just now. I'm too busy, too disorganized. When things settle down, then I'll get to it and even make up for lost time."

This is a big mistake! Chazal said, "This world is like a wedding banquet - grab and eat!" We must never wait for a "better time" to fulfill our spiritual obligations, but must grab whatever we can now, even in the middle of our disorganized lives, because if we wait until everything "settles down," we lose a great deal in the meantime. We have to recall this countless times. Life has its cycles. Sometimes things go our way and sometimes not. We must be able to serve G-d in all situations, even when times are difficult.

The mishnah in Pirkei Avos says, "Don't say, 'I will study when I have time.'" The Kotzker Rebbe commented on this, "Perhaps this is the very thing that G-d wants from you, to study when you do not have the time."

I would like to offer the following piece of advice: Grab whatever you can without worrying about the outcome. You will soon see that you gained much more in the moments when you mind was unsettled, than in the times you were calm. This is alluded to in another mishnah: "Whoever fulfills the Torah in poverty, will ultimately fulfill it in wealth." Precisely by studying Torah in the "poor" times, when things are not going well, we will eventually come to study it amidst "riches" - when things will go very well. For in this world, the main time to serve G-d is when times are difficult.

Where to Begin?

The question then become, where do we begin? How do we make the best use of our time? One answer is to always have available basic books of Judaism, simply written, but of fundamental importance, such as the Aruch HaShulchan, Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, Mishnayos, or Ein Yaakov. We can use them to fill up all the "cracks" in our busy day, and read them when we are unable to concentrate or something deeper, such as during a lunch break, while standing in a bank line, or waiting for a bus. Nor do we have to limit ourselves to only one sefer during these moments. We can have one text for longer breaks, another for shorter ones. It is amazing how much Torah can be learned during these unstructured times - often more than we learn during our structured periods.

Psalms All Day

I heard of one man who worked behind am information desk. Day to day, he was busy answering people's questions. But in between, he would recite a few Psalms. He finished the entire book of Psalms every day, and sometimes even twice a day!

I heard of another man in America who would ride a train two hours to work each morning, and then again coming home in the evening. He carried a small volume of the Gemara with him, and would learn one side of a page going, and the other side coming home. At the end of seven years, he completed the entire Talmud and understood it well!

Overcoming Obstacles

However, there are a number of obstacles that we must overcome if we want to succeed in this type of study. For instance, when we start learning even the most basic texts, we soon come to topics that are difficult to understand, such as the Mishnayos of tractate Kelayim, or the halachos of writing tefillin in the Shulchan Aruch. These threaten to bog us down. The best thing is to pass over them quickly, even without full comprehension. Soon, we will come to clear passages that we also need to know, and can continue as before. Later, when we finish the entire text and start again from the beginning, we can try to tackle the difficult subjects. Frustrating as reading the texts may be, it too is part of the mitzvah of toiling at Torah. However, under no circumstances should we stop learning because the material has become too difficult.

Watch Every Second

In any event, until we can discover the method of Torah study that is best for us, we must be careful not to waste a moment. Until G-d opens our hearts as to what and how we should study, we must grab whatever we can, even in an unstructured way, because the sin of wasting time from Torah is very grave, while the reward for Torah study is greater than all the other mitzvos.

Many people become so confused by the various approaches to Torah study that they do not know what to do or where to begin. Even after committing themselves to one approach, they still have doubts. They start to learn Gemara, then they think it would be better to learn Mishnayos. They study Mishnayos and worry about Halacha. What about Chumash with Rashi? Perhaps they should drop everything and start learning Daf Yomi. They start learning halachos of kashrus and end up worrying about those of Shabbos. And so on and so on...

Once again, the best advice is to commit oneself to studying without any program at all. To learn a lot of whatever one can, and a proper study program will soon become apparent.

The bottom line is: don't busy yourself with making plans to learn, just sit and learn. The proper balance will emerge by itself.

More From A Talmid...

Zchus Avos Yogen Aleinu: Tefilas & Segulas From Tazria-Metzora

I wonder if A Talmid has an answer to my Shir HaMaalos Question from last year...

UPDATE: The answer can be found here

Getting Bogged Down

If you spend too much time in detailed, in-depth study, you will never cover a lot of material.

(Talmud - Eruvin 48a)

Thursday, April 19, 2007

From The Archives

(Picture by Tony Jacob)

Virtual reality

I Too Have Been Curious About This

Rabbi Yakov Horowitz: Yahrzeit

A Story Read Every Year

The shul of Rebbe Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk in Tiveria
(Picture courtesy of

Guest Posting From Chabakuk Elisha - Rebbe Shmelke Of Nikolsburg

Kever of Rebbe Shmelke of Nikolsburg zt"l
(Picture by Samuel Fleishman)

I remember sitting at the Bostoner Rebbe's tish in Boro Park, about 16 years ago, when the Rebbe spoke about R' Shmelke of Nikolsburg – the Bostoner Rebbe being a descendent (the eighth generation in a direct line from R' Shmelke) – and stated that after the passing of the Maggid of Mezritch, the Chassidim all initially went to R' Shmelke as the next rebbe. Of course, being a direct descendant, we can understand where his loyalties lay, but indeed we know that R' Shmelke was the leader and Rebbe for the vast majority of the Rebbes of Galicia and Poland. The Maggid remarked about R' Shmelke that, "I found a chest of unlit candles; I lit one, and from that candle all the others were ignited, providing great light."

Although R' Shmelke and his brother did not come from a Chassidic background, and were even skeptical, R' Shmelke's father, R' Zvi Hirsh of Tchortkov (the same R' Tzvi Hirsh Tchortkover that famously gave the brocha to R' Moshe Amshel Rothchild) did have a positive relationship with the Baal Shem Tov – who praised him greatly – and was a widely recognized tzaddik. He had a large family, including five sons of note, the most famous being Reb Shmmuel Shmelke (the second son) and R' Pinchas (the third son) – also of interest is that their fourth son, R' Yehoshua Heshel passed away on 7 Nissan 5491/1731 as a healthy young man at the age of 15. It is written on his gravestone in Tchortkov that he saw that he was needed in the mesivta d'rakiya to serve on the Heavenly academy so he prepared himself and peacefully returned his soul to its Maker.

His mother, Rebbetzin Malka, was famous for her devotion to the chinuch and raising of her children; she is said to have remarked about her sons R' Shmelke and R' Pinchas, "I have two sons – one who never says Birchas Hamazon, and one who never says Krias Shema shel Mita..." ( i.e. one who never eats and one who never sleeps) Indeed, R' Shmelke avoided worldly pleasures, and was known to hardly eat any food at all, while his brother R' Pinchas was known to eat considerably – causing R' Pinchas to comment: 'Two brothers: One stuffs himself like an animal, while the other is comparable to an angel." And to which, R' Shmelke responded: "Not so! Rather, two brothers: One a High Priest, that through his eating is able to rectify all food as on the Holy Alter, and one, through his many sins, is a simple man of flesh and blood."

R' Shmelke came from an illustrious family, one of at least three families that can trace their roots all the way back to Adam HaRishon (Shapiro and Margolis are the other two famous ones), he was a descendant of many great luminaries such as the Shelah (R' Yeshaya HaLevi Horowitz 1570-1626) and Shmuel Hanavi – about whom R' Shmelke stated while on his deathbed: "The time of my passing has come. Know, I contain a spark of Shmuel HaNavi – I share his name, I am a descendant of his and I lived 52 years as he did, but he was 'Shmuel,' and I remain 'Shmelke'" (and as such he was, of course, also a descendant of Korach, as was his student, R' Yaakov Yitzchok haLevi Horowitz, the Choze of Lubin - who was known to refer to his famous antecedent as "the Zeide Korach"). It has also been said by some that the fourth Lubavitcher Rebbe – R' Shmuel, who's birthday (2 Iyar 5594/1834) follows the yahrzeit of R' Shmelke (1 Iyar 5538/1778) – may have been named in connection with R' Shmelke, and who was also known to have commented about his containing a spark of Shmuel Hanavi.

R' Shmelke and R' Pinchas were extremely close brothers. They had established a yeshiva where R' Shmelke was rov in Ritchval, Poland (among the students were R' Yisroel (the Maggid) of Koznitz, R' Yuzpa (known as "Yuzpa the righteous) and R' Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev), when (circa 5522-5525 /1762-1765) they finally decided to make the trip to meet the Maggid – and due primarily to the efforts of R' Zusia of Anapol and R' Avrohom of Kalisk they became close adherents to the Mezritzcher Maggid and Chassidus. They both became part of the inner circle of the Maggid's students, after which R' Shmelke became the leading Chasidic figure and disseminator of Chassidus in Poland, counting the Koznitzer Maggid, the Chozeh of Lubin, R' Moshe Leib Sassover and R' Mendele Riminover among his students. Not unlike R' Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk in White Russia / Lithuania to the north, R' Shmelke carried the torch of Chassidus to the west – and quite interestingly in fact, the two of them share the same yahrzeit (1 Iyar), albeit 10 years apart.

Subsequently, R' Shmelke became rov in Shinova and then in 1769 the communities in Nikolsburg (former home of such notables as the Tosfos Yom Tov & R' Yonason Eibishitz) and Frankfurt both sought a rov and sent requests to R' Shmelke and R' Pinchas. Ultimately R' Pinchas went to Frankfurt and R' Shmelke to Nikolsburg, while R' Elimelech of Lizensk replaced R' Shmelke as rov in Shinova.

I have always found it interesting, somewhat perplexing actually, that both R' Shmelke and his brother R' Pinchas ended up leaving the region where Chassidus flourished – and relocated to areas where the Haskala was stronger and the ways of Chassidus less acceptable: Frankfurt in Germany and Nikolsburg, not far from Prague in Moravia (today it is known as Mikulov and is located in the Czech Republic). In fact their children did not grow up to be Chassidim, and it seems that they served their communities in various ways in line with the non-Chassidic establishment. There are even many who claim that the Hafloh had nothing to do with Chassidus and question if he ever had a relationship with the Maggid – and while this is ridiculous, we can see that even a suspicion of that type is significant. In his seforim, predominantly on Nigleh matters, scarcely a Chassidic word is discussed, and subsequently we see that their children had nothing to do with Chassidus – their descendants, however, did eventually rejoin the Chassidic world.

When R' Shmelke came to Nikolsburg all the scholars in the vicinity came to hear his drasha. At the outset he began by quoting and discussing many secular matters and sciences, after which he continued on to deliver a detailed Talmudic pilpul and words of mussar. The audience was famously astounded, and it is written about by a number of the attendees; those who knew him to be a scholar and baal-mussar were shocked at his knowledge of secular matters.

Subsequently, he explained that, "I intended to speak words of mussar to inspire and awaken the assembled, but I knew that they wouldn't accept it since they would say "it's easy for him to speak words of mussar – he has no involvement in worldly affairs," so first I had to prove that I am quite aware of worldly matters, and nevertheless, Torah and our traditions is the essence of life…"

R' Shmelke struggled considerably in his life from his opponents, especially in Nikolsburg; at one point he exclaimed: "Master of the Universe! What have I done to deserve such persecution when other rabbis are able to serve you in peace?" And on that day Eliyahu HaNavi ceased to visit him, after which he fasted 40 days for his comment, and subsequently, Eliyahu visited him again and said, "Believe me, my son, when you begin to pray all the angels and seraphim are unable to approach you – but so it has been decreed in Heaven, and we cannot question the ways of Hashem."

In 5535/1775 his opponents, according to some sources led by Moses Mendelsohn, complained to the government in Vienna that R' Shmelke was uneducated and led his community in an extremely unenlightened manner. R' Shmelke traveled to Vienna where he met the queen and government ministers and displayed incredible knowledge of the German language and its dialects as well as the sciences, and it is said that his handwriting in German was so beautiful that it remained in the museum there. As it happened, he stared at the ground rather than look at the queen, who demanded to know why he refused to look at her, to whom he answered: "I stare at the ground, since it is from the ground that I am taken." The queen and the officials were so impressed by his knowledge and wisdom that they gave him full authority as rabbi of all of Moravia, and as such they asked him if his enemies should be executed. But R' Shmelke asked that they not be executed, and instead banished from his community – so they were sent to Berlin. The Sochachover Rebbe lamented this however, complaining that had R' Shmelke allowed them to be killed, Klal Yisroel would have been saved from the damage later caused by these reformers. Three years later, on Tuesday, 1 Iyar 5538/1778 he passed away in Nikolsburg.

R' Shmelke wrote a list of hanhagos that he learned from the Maggid of Mezritch – quite a high standard, but one that it seems we should at least aspire to, and if nothing else, it gives us a glimpse of how these men lived their lives…

1. Bechol Dirochecha Daehu – To serve G-d in all our actions, from the most mundane to the most sublime.

2. To guard against any Bittul Torah – time wasted from torah study – and to be sure to guard against Torah study lacking in love and awe, for study without love and awe arouses G-d's anger.

3. To remember how Torah and G-d are one – and study of it must be for its own sake. Be aware of the path that connects one to G-d.

4. Guard against Torah study not for its own sake, as such study is an elixir of death – seek to remain pure even of any foreign thought.

5. Study Tanach every day, until it becomes familiar to you. Study Mishnayos every day, and Gemora in-depth, for in-depth Talmud study breaks the klipos – as long as it is Torah for its own sake.

6. Study ethical works (musar) every day, especially Reishis Chochma – study it carefully and review it twice so that you'll remember it.

7. Know the 613 Mitzvos fluently; review it at least once a month.

8. Take special care to keep Shabbos according to halacha, together with all the stringencies that the earlier and later chachomim practiced. Constantly keep Shabbos in mind, as it says, "Remember the Shabbos day" – don't take the mind off Shabbos at all.

9. Take special care to keep an account of your actions, and review the days activities in every night – if a sin was committed, G-d forbid, ask forgiveness immediately, and donate money to charity as a penalty.

10. Never speak of mundane things, only things that are essential, from the time one awakes, until one hour after prayers – and only with one's wife or children if absolutely necessary, and even then keep it to a minimum. Furthermore, avoid any casual speech at all – only what is necessary for one's livelihood and other essentials – as the verse, "Vedibarta bam (to speak of holy things), and not of mundane things." Obviously, when one has a moment to study than other speech or thoughts are forbidden, and when one is unable to study, still contemplate your connection with G-d and not to remove one's thoughts from G-d for a moment, G-d forbid. Certainly, one must not speak of foreign things, or evil speech & silliness, which are the cause one not to merit to greet the shechina, as explained in many places. Also, do not speak of the mundane between Mincha and Maariv.

11. Take special care to show honor and respect to the poor as much as possible - especially to have proper poor people as guests at the Shabbos table, or at least Yom Tov, or at least on Succos (as Succos is especially connected to guests, as we see from the Ushpizin). Before every Shabbos and Yom Tov, give gifts to the poor to the best of your ability.

12. Be sure, at least once a week, to devote oneself to contemplation, repentance, Torah study and prayer, and not so speak of mundane things the entire day, and to read the Torah sections pertaining to Teshuva and Fear of G-d with concentration.

13. Pray with contemplation and without any foreign thoughts, G-d forbid.

14. Take care not to transgress the laws of bodily cleanliness, and to relieve oneself prior to prayer. Also, to be sure to donate something to charity before praying.

15. Be sure to say the Shema before going to sleep at night as arranged by the Ari Zal. Be sure to sleep in tzitzis, to say Tikkun Chatzos every night, to study a few chapters of Psalms every day, and to say L'shem Yichud prior to every mitzvah.

16. Be careful never to use G-d's name in vain, and should one accidentally transgress he should immediately take excommunication upon himself, and seek out a group of thirty people to reinstate him.

17. Say Parshas HaYirah & Parshas HaTeshuva every day and at least on fast days, after concentration and contemplation.

18. Take special care to avoid haughtiness.

19. Take special care not to look at women and girls, Jewish or non-Jewish, for it brings to desire. In addition, do not look at their clothing, their bed, or one's wife while she is forbidden. Do not look at animals while they cohabit, or any impure thing. Never come in physical contact with a married woman, G-d forbid; never look at one's bris, or at undressed men in a bathhouse or the like.

20. Take special care to donate 20% of one's money to charity, and certainly at least 10%. Be sure to fulfill a mitzvah that comes your way; avoid depression and serve G-d with joy – since depression is almost like idol worship, for it means that one is displeased with G-d's decree.

Avakesh: A visit to Satmar Cheider (Talmud Torah) Winter 5767

Double Parsha Week - Wishing Every Year Was A Leap Year

(Painting by Talko)

I prefer a week where there is only one parsha. It is difficult to learn two parshas with any depth, and with anything more than Rashi's commentary, in the same amount of time that one would spend learning just one parsha.

Does anyone else feel this way?

Inside Out

If you could turn a person inside out, you would see how many myriads of worlds depend on his every limb.

(Rebbe Nachman of Breslov)

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

A Niggun From Sudilkov - 1913

The recording "Yavu Adir" from Sudilkov was made during S. Ansky's second enthographic expedition in 1913, and it was included on a CD entitled "Treasure of Jewish Culture in Ukraine" that was released in 1997.

Recently, I have learned that the Phonoarchive of Jewish Folklore at the Vernadsky National Library of Ukraine has many other recordings from the Sudilkov shul taken during this time period. However, these recordings are still on the original wax cylinders and there are no plans to digitize them in the future due to a lack of funding.

More background on the archives and S. Ansky's enthographic expeditions can be found here.

A recording of the Baal Shem Tov's niggun from the enthographic expeditions to Berditchev in 1913 can be heard here.

A Mishnayos Statistics Question

Does anyone know the answer to the question raised by this commenter?:

There are 525 perekim of Mishna.

1) How many Mishnayyos are there altogether in the 525 chapters?

2) Is there a breakdown anywhere of the number of mishnayyos per tractate?

Meditation & Sefiras HaOmer

Breslov Center:
Seven Branches of the Menorah (Kabbalistic Meditation of Psalm 67)

Psalm 67 contains forty-nine words, corresponding to the forty-nine days between Passover and Shavuot. Some have the custom to meditate upon the word in the psalm that matches one day of this period every evening after counting the 'Omer, so that one finishes the last verse on the night before Shavu'ot.

The Muqata: Accusing Shoes, Empty Shoes

Also, be sure to read Jameel's other posting about his visit to Budapest here.

Do What I Do

My son, give me your heart, and let your eyes observe my ways.

(Mishlei 23:26)

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

A Sleep-Away Camp Mashul

One summer night when I went to sleep-away camp, all the kids in my cabin got to use the camp sauna that was located a stones-throw from the lake. Sitting in the sauna in our swim suits, we added more water on top of the heated rocks until the sauna was unbearably hot and we were all sweating profusely. Once we had all turned red, we ran outside and jumped into the freezing cold lake for a few seconds and then ran back to the sauna to warm up once again. We repeated this procedure four or five times that night before returning to our cabin where we instantly fell into an incredibly deep sleep.

Why I am telling you about this? Because it appears to me that it a good mashul to describe a certain phenomenon in interpersonal relationships. Sometimes we develop a real closeness with a person only to later have that relationship cooled off due to circumstances beyond our control or beyond our comprehension. The relationship can change from being incredibly warm to freezing cold.

Sometimes this phenomenon reoccurs occurs over and over again. And just like the mashul above, this repeated transition between hot and cold saps a persons strength and leaves him totally exhausted.

An Art Guest Posting By Shoshannah Brombacher

Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Heshel of Apt (the Ohev Yisrael, 1755-1825) was a student of Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhensk. He stressed the importance of Torah study, and he used to say to his students:

"Everyday a Jew has to see himself standing at Har Sinai to receive the Torah. Why? Because for every person, there is a past and a present and a future. Not so for HaShem: everyday He gives the Torah."

Quickly & Broadly

The main thing, however, is to simply read the Torah itself - the Talmud, halachos, and midrashim. If a person can learn deeply, two hours of this type of study is enough each day. If he cannot learn deeply, he should learn quickly and broadly instead.


Monday, April 16, 2007

Question & Answer With Rabbi Tal Zwecker - Avodah For The Common Man

(Picture by Yosef Wosk)

A Simple Jew asks:

In Degel Machaneh Ephraim, Parshas Lech Lecha, the Degel teaches,

"I have heard from my grandfather that everything belonging to a tzaddik, his servants, his house pets, even the objects of his household, are all part of the sparks which belong to the root of his soul. His task is to raise them to their root on high."

To what degree does this teaching also apply to the common man, and what is the application in our daily lives?

Rabbi Tal Zwecker responds:

Your question is very good but it is based on an assumption. The assumption is that the word tzaddik is lav davka, not necessarily the case, but even the common man might see application to him. I believe that there are two approaches in this dispute: namely does the average Jew, the "non"-tzaddik have any "job" to serve Hashem mystically and uplift sparks and meditate on yichudim etc.? Or, is this type of avodah solely reserved for righteous tzaddikim?

To me it seems clear that the Baal Shem Tov's approach was that all Jews even common ones must serve Hashem "mystically", that they should learn and understand that there are spiritually higher worlds that they are unifying when the perform mitzvos and daven. This awareness however contrasts the avodah of a tzadik who not only says leshem yichud before performing a mitzvah as every Jew should say. The tzaddik isn't just aware of the yichudim, he may meditate on them and reflect on them using the classic kabbalah texts such as the writings of the Arizal and the siddurim which contain such Divine Names and unifications. This would be how we can explain:

In a letter to his brother-in-law, Rabbi Gershon Kitover, the Baal Shem Tov relates:

"On Rosh Hashanah of the year 5507 I made an ascent of soul ... I ascended level after level until I reached the chamber of the Moshiach... And I asked Moshiach: "When will the Master come?" And the Moshiach replied: "When your teachings will be disseminated and revealed in the world, and your wellsprings will spread outside regarding those things I taught and then they too will be able to make unifications and have ascensions like you..." (Keser Shem Tov 1:1).

How are we to understand Moshiach's words to the Baal Shem? The Komarna Rebbe's conclusion in Nesiv Mitzvosecha was that we all have to therefore study the Zohar and the writings of the Arizal and learn the Kabbalistic system for yichudim to fulfill this.

However that seems to be the minority opinion. Most other Chassidic Rebbes and their followers although they accept this account and letter as authentic, do not understand those words literally, rather they understand as we explained that one can enact tikkun and rectification including yichudim and aliyos - unifications and ascensions of the soul without the Kabbalistic background and knowledge without using a siddur full of Divine names etc. In fact, the Baal Shem Tov himself teaches in several places this idea:

"He who uses the kavanna the Kabbalistic meditation intentions that he knows in his prayers, is only having in mind those meditations and kavvanos that he knows. However he who says the words with great connection, binding [himself on high] all the possible kavvanos and meditations are included! ...therefore see to it that you pray with intense devotion and concentration and excitement and surely you will succeed in enacting great things in the higher worlds since each word awakens above." (Tzavas HaRivash 14b and also Likkutim Yekarim 17d)

We see the idea that with great binding, excitement concentration etc. we can enact these unifications and achieve "all" the possible kavvanos - Kabbalistic meditations even without being a Kabbalist and using Divine names etc. In fact this teaching makes it sound detrimental to even try to use some intentions since it implies that the simple method achieves more!

Nonetheless in prayer we find that all schools of the Baal Shem Tov's students printed various siddurim trying to achieve the correct nusach Sefard of the holy Arizal. There were siddurim printed with kavanos and Divine names and those printed without. We can assume that those siddurim printed without kavvanos were for the masses and those with kavvanos for the elect tzadikim. In fact the Tzemach Tzedek chastised his chassidim for printing the Baal HaTanya's chassidic discourses in Zhitomir in a siddur with Kabbalistic kavvanos for ashrei since that was against his will. The Chabad tradition is that the Baal HaTanya had 60 versions before him while he worked on his version of nusach Arizal and that he added only those things that in addition to being based on the Arizal also fulfilled criteria such as that they would also fit with the Talmud and decisions of Poskim as Halacha. The Rebbe was very meticulous seeing that the words should contain within them the secrets, however he did not explain these Kabbalistic kavvanos and secrets in order that all could use it. Shaar HaKollel. (See Notes and Introduction to the siddur with Divrei Elokim Chaim from Kehot. )

It seems that this approach is the approach the Baal HaTanya takes namely that the Kabbalistic devotions and intentions may be studied but the average chassid does not and should not use them. He need only use the nusach Arizal and daven with awareness of these things with great enthusiasm and joy and the kavvanos and unifications take care of themselves. In HaYom Yom the Rayatz is quoted as saying that its enough to have in mind that "May Hashem hear my prayers with all the Kabbalistic intentions as found in the books and works of Kabbalah."

Tanya, chapter 28 states:

"Even if lustful imaginings or other extraneous thoughts occur to him during his service of G‑d — in Torah or in prayer with kavanah, he should pay no attention to them, rather he should avert his mind from them immediately. Nor should he be a fool and try to elevate the middot of the extraneous thought, as is known. For such things were intended only for tzaddikim, in whom there do not occur any evil thoughts of their own evil middot, but only from the middot of others."

Contrast this teaching however with the Meor Eynaim, the Chernobyl Rebbe who was a student of both the Baal Shem Tov and the Maggid of Mezritch. In Parshas Bereshis pg 6 (Meor Eynaim Jerusalem edition) he teaches that Yosef went to look at Potiphar's wife to elevate the beauty of the sefira tiferes in her (this teaching is also found in Noam Elimelech and in Kedushas Levi). However the Rebbe adds, "We find that every person must do this." Stating explicitly that this is meant as a form of avodah for all not just tzaddikim. See also Meor Eynaim, Parshas Lech Lecha (pages 26-27) and Shemos (page 83) where he says explicity, "This is something everyone must do even those on the level of Beinonim."

We see therefore a classic dispute is the avodah of elevating sparks and sefiros, middos solely the realm of tzadikim as Chabad tradition teaches or is it for everyone even beinonim as the Chernobyl tradition clearly indicates?

The seforim seem to support both approaches but the vote has already been tallied in practice the average Chassid follows the Chabad approach. While we study Chassidus and even Zohar and Arizal occasionally this is more to create an appreciation and an awareness to the mystical to excite and enthuse us. However we say leshem yichud and have general intentions in mind to connect to Hashem out of love, joy and sincerity and we hope and pray that all the kavvanos are done and the unifications occur and that we will help bring Moshiach closer as the Baal Shem's teachings spread.