Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Question & Answer With Chabakuk Elisha - Trapped In A Cube

(Picture courtesy of andya.org.uk)

A Simple Jew asks:

I realize that this is problem many other wish they had:

Baruch Hashem, I have a well-paying, stable, and stress-free job that I davened long and hard to get for months. While I excel working under pressure and never shy away from working hard, there are few expectations in my new job and I have very little actual work to do each day. I do not have a lot of interaction with other people and feel somewhat like I was sentenced to solitary confinement in a cubicle. I perform my work diligently and in a timely manner. I have been told that I am an excellent worker. I know from experience that if I ask my supervisor to take on additional responsibilities I will be tasked with such "fulfilling" work as organizing the file room.

So, here is my dilemma: Do I seek to move to another office where my stress level, working hours, and work-load will increase exponentially, or do I remain in my cubicle, professionally unfilled but with a myriad of brochas to be thankful for? Do I stay in this position until Hashem gives me a sign to move on? What would you do?

Chabakuk Elisha answers:

It depends (of course). It depends on a lot of things… Instead of addressing this specific case, I would just say that IMHO, this is the way I'd go about the decision:

Ideally, if possible, we should spend our time learning Torah and being a better Jew to the best of our ability. Therefore, the goal is to find a job that pays well enough to support our family properly and leave us more time that we use in Torah, Tefiloh and general improvement in Yiddishkeit. If we find such an opportunity, we grab it; if there is a job that will detract from those things, we are best off thinking about what that will mean as far as our mission on this world.

Now, I'm not an ambitions guy at all (nothing to be proud of), so it's easy for me to say. Most of the time, I wait for a sign (which may simply be laziness on my part). A more ambitious fellow might need to find more fulfillment from his job or career, and therefore he would probably climb the ladder to better and better opportunities, while a less ambitions guy might be happier with an easier, more laid back, job. In either case, I think, the issue – as far as what the right answer is – comes down to a couple simple things (in no particular order):

1. Are you fulfilling your responsibilities (short-term / long-term)

2. What are you doing with your "other" time

3. How does it affect your purpose for existence

4. What are the motives for staying / seeking-to-move-on and are they positive ones

And this is the main one:

5. What does your wife say?

A Simple Jew responds:

1. Yes, to the best of my abilities.

2. My other time is split between my familial responsibilities, avodas Hashem, and running on the treadmill for exercise. [one can argue though that this should all be considered avodas Hashem] I don't watch TV or go to movies so very little of my "free time" could be considered a waste of time.

3. Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs states that the number one need is "self actualization". Self-actualization is defined as "the instinctual need of humans to make the most of their abilities and to strive to be the best they can." As I sit within the confines of my cubicle I can't honestly say that I am "self-actualized'.

4. My motives for staying are basically that I am lazy and it is easier to do nothing. My motives for wanting to move relate to my answer for #3.

5. My wife thinks Hashem gave me a huge brocha with this job and wonders why I would want anything else.

Chabakuk Elisha responds:

1. Ok, but would you fill your responsibilities any less if you stay where you are? Would you fulfill them more if you were to move on?

2. Would you have less time for those things if you move on? Would your family, your learning, davening or avoda pay a price? Would it be likely improve?

3. Do you find that this is affecting you? If so, in what areas and is it significantly so?

Personally, I think that our wives usually know best ;-)

Chassidic Dynasties And Their Associated Regions

Tuesday Links

Museum of Jewish Culture: Matzevos In Sadagora

Flickr.com: Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY

Life in Israel: emailing during services

Shearim: My unknown Future

In The Obstacle

When a person has spent all his days immersed in materialism and suddenly feels a strong desire to walk in the ways of Hashem, the attribute of Judgment rises up to accuse him. It will not allow him to walk in the ways of Hashem and creates an obstacle. But Hashem loves kindness and hides Himself in the obstacle itself. Someone with understanding looks carefully and discovers Hashem in the very obstacle itself!

(Rebbe Nachman of Breslov)

Monday, July 30, 2007

"HaSimcha Tamid BaLev" - Erez Levanon, HY"D

I don't know what it is, but there is just something about Erez Levanon's song "HaSimcha Tamid BaLev" on the CD "Or BaLev" that immediately makes my heart overflow with sheer unbridled happiness every time I listen it. I sing this song dancing around with my children, I sing it before I walk into my house each day after work, and I sing it in hisbodedus.

So, don't just take my word for it, listen along to these words and when the song reaches the chorus, let its melody fill up your neshoma. As Rebbe Nachman of Breslov taught in Likutey Moharan #41:

"As the joy begins to radiate within you, it will spread to your legs until you literally start to dance for joy. This will banish the forces of impurity, which take hold of the legs, mitigating harsh judgments and enabling you to receive blessings."

Here is a translation of the lyrics:

The joy is always in my heart
Even if sometimes there is pain
The joy is always in my heart

Straightening the crooked
Leaping the heights
Announcing consolations

We are all friends
We are all in love
Even if sometimes we quarrel
We are still friends
Even if sometimes we quarrel
We are still in love
The joy is always in my heart

Erez Levanon, HY"D


A person must listen to every step which he takes and examine whether he is fulfilling Hashem's wishes with that step.

(Rebbe Moshe Leib of Sassov)

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Black & White Picture Of The Week - Forest Path

Friday, July 27, 2007

Question & Answer With Psycho Toddler - Small Kids At The Shabbos Table

(Illustration by Rabbi Dovid Sears)

A Simple Jew asks:

As a father of six children, what realistic expectations of behavior do you think a parent with small children should have at the Shabbos table? Also, what advice could you give such a person on how to run a successful Shabbos table?

Psycho Toddler answers:

Y'know, I was watching some old home movies the other night, circa 1994. And in those movies, I had 4 small children between the ages of 1 and 5. And after watching them, myself, my wife, and all of our interactions, I came to the realization that I'm not that person anymore, and I don't have the same relationship with my teenagers that I had with my toddlers. And not only don't I really remember what it was like then, I'm not sure which version of me I prefer.

So I guess maybe that's good, eh? I don't pine for the old days when my kids were small and under my direct control. And it probably means that I've raised a bunch of people whom I like and whose company I enjoy. But the practical upshot, vis a vis your question, is that I'm not sure if I remember what it was like to have a bunch of little ones at the Shabbos table.

I will say this, though: We didn't go out much on Shabbos. There were good reasons. The primary being that we had no eruv when my kids were small. That in and of itself was interesting, because kids didn't go to shul on Shabbos until they were old enough to walk, and by then it became a special privilege to go to shul, and so we expected the utmost in good behavior from them, both in terms of the long walk (kids who were prone to running off and not listening stayed home) and their behavior when they arrived. The other reason we didn't go out, even after our kids could walk or we got an eruv, was because I didn't want to be in the position of having to police them constantly at someone else's house during a long and often boring meal (from their standpoint…and…maybe also from mine).

So back to our place. My goal was always to have the kids comfortable at the table. Nobody enjoys a Shabbos meal with a bunch of fidgety, whining kids. So the length of the meal was often tailored to allow them to stay for the bulk of the meal. I also was not a stickler about having them sit at the table the whole time. They stayed as long as there was something for them to do ( i.e. eat), and then we let them go off and play, or read. The Shabbos meal should not be onerous for young kids. They come to hate it if it is.

We also focused our attention on them while they were at the table. Kids like to be the center of attention. If you think you're going to have a long philosophical discussion or a long involved Dvar Torah with a bunch of tiny tots at the table, you are delusional. They don't want to be ignored. So you either have to get them away from the table, or "table" your adult discussions until they are asleep or older, whichever comes first. This may, unfortunately, limit whom you invite for meals.

But, you know what? They DO get older. And their attention spans improve. And instead of sacrificing your table talk to focus on kids, as they get older, you actually will come to enjoy their contributions to the conversation. So my advice is, be a father first, and a host second, and keep that in mind, and eventually, it all works out.

Erev Shabbos Links

Shabbos Nachamu

Birkas Hamazon

Reciting Birkas Hamazon demands greater kavana than davening, because davening is a rabbinic edict while Birkas Hamazon is a Torah requirement.

(Maggid of Mezeritch)

Thursday, July 26, 2007


Bubblicious & Lo Signov

(Picture courtesy of advantageservice.net)

Reviewing the halachos concerning theft has resensitized me to the incredibly high standard that the Torah sets for us. It also made me recall some of my actions as a child in elementary school that I am not so proud of. While I don't recall exactly what age I was, I do remember my first experience stealing a pack of strawberry-flavored Bubblicious bubble gum at a small neighborhood supermarket. A few years later, my childhood-friend and I pulled off our largest heist which consisted of shoplifting six Star Wars figures from the mall. I am happy to report though, that my days of shoplifting ended there.

However, I noticed that the Torah also considers it to be a subtle form of theft theft when I recently borrowed a co-worker's pen without his knowledge, solely to sign a document and then returned it to his desk.

Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 182:2 states, "Taking a thing of trivial value, that no one would mind, like taking a splinter of a bundle of wood, in order to use it as a toothpick, is permitted. However, it is an act of piousness to refrain from this as well."

Additionally, Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 182:13 states, "It is forbidden to use anything belonging to your fellow without his knowledge. Even if you are certain when the owner finds out he will be happy and elated that you used it, because of his good feelings to you; nevertheless it is forbidden. Therefore, if you enter the orchard or garden belonging to your neighbood, it is forbidden to pluck fruit without the owner's knowledge, even though the owner of the orchard and the owner of the garden is a dear, cherished friend, and certainly will be happy and elated when finding out that you enjoyed his fruit. Nevertheless, since at the present time he knows nothing of this, you are enjoying it unlawfully. It is necessary to warn the public regarding this; for they break this rule for lack of knowledge."

When I looked into this matter a bit further, I found this:

An employee may not use any of his employer's property for personal use without permission from the employer. Therefore, an employee may not use the office telephone, copier, or any other business equipment for non-office use.

If the employee knows that the employer permits such use, even if only reluctantly, he may do so.

If the employer does not permit personal use, but it's well known that many of the workers use his property without permission when he is not looking, it is still prohibited. The fact that "everyone does it" does not in any way create a "Minhag HaMedina" (custom of that society) that would permit such a thing.

Rebbe Nachman of Breslov [Sefer HaMiddos, Geneiva u'Gezeila A:4] adds an interesting insight on the topic of theft from a mystical perspective. Since a person's possessions contain sparks which are specfically connected to his neshoma, Rebbe Nachman taught that one steals something from another person he is not just stealing a physical object, "Stealing, even indirectly, a penny's worth from one's friend is akin to taking his soul and the souls of his children."

Reflecting on my past and also these teachings, I found a teaching from the Pele Yoetz that appears to sum up this issue, "Since it is difficult to return a stolen item which has already been consumed, one who fears Hashem will be carefull not to steal anything even in the slightest amount."

A Yid's Slavuta Siddur Project

Received via e-mail from A Yid:

Really I wanted something more global - to make a project to scan all available Slavita/Zhitomir sforim, since they are known for their special kdusho. But not only to scan - to make it available for people. No one wanted to do it so far. However there are no resources for such a thing.

At least I wanted to get scans of some important sforim, like Zhitomir or Slavita Chumash with Ivre Taych (because it uses Ukranian and alive Yiddish), other Ivre Taych sforim if possible, and also the Siddur "Seyder Avoydo uMoyre Derech", since it has a very valuable chasidic pirush from Reb Aharon miZelichov, known for other beautiful sforim, and also it uses the nusach that was most common between chasidim in Ukraine (supposedly it is the nusach of Reb Pinchos Koritzer and his talmidim,because the siddur was published by his grandchildren. In their later siddurim they didn't reprint that nusach!).

All those sofrim are scattered in major libraries in Yerusholaim, Kiev, and other places, and amongst private holders. It worth to make a formal project to preserve those sforim, which will give it weight in the eyes of all those people. However it all requires a lot of money, which I have none for such a big thing. So if anyone is interested to support it- you can join (you can contact me through A Simple Jew).

Elul Approaching

With the days of Elul quickly approaching us, have you given any consideration to any new practices or resolutions you intend to take upon yourself for the new year?

Thursday Links

Two years later

Lazer Beams: Dealing with insult

Making A Place

It is helpful that at the time of Torah study you make some sort of change in your doings that will affect your body, for example, a change of place. If at all possible try to study elsewhere than in your home. If you do not have anywhere else to go, or if there are people in that place who will disturb you - then at least have in your home a special room or at least a special place in a room dedicated to Torah study.

(Piaceszna Rebbe)

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

A New Wikipedia Page

Question & Answer With Chabakuk Elisha - Yerida L'Tzorich Aliya

(Necklace by Michael Bromberg)

A Simple Jew asks:

I once heard a mashul about a man who forgot the date of his wife's anniversary. When the day of the anniversary came and went, the wife broke down crying and was extremely distraught because her husband had not marked their special day in any special way; he had simply forgotten her. Finding his wife in tears, the husband was devastated when he realized that he had caused his wife so much pain. He recalled that just that day he had learned a teaching in the Shulchan Aruch that said, "A person must be particularly careful not to hurt his wife's feelings and not to cause her pain with harsh words, for a woman is sensitive by nature and even a slight hurt will bring tears to her eyes. And G-d, blessed be He, pays heed to tears, for the gates of tears are never closed." The husband knew that he had failed miserably.

The husband resolved at that very moment that he would never again take his wife for granted and forget his anniversary. From that day onward, he became the attentive and caring husband that she had always dreamed of and remained completely true to the resolution he made. The wife later told him that she regarded the day that he forgot their anniversary as the most important day in their marriage, for it was that day which was the turning point in their lives together.

I think this mashul is an excellent illustration of the concept of yerida l'tzorich aliya (descent for the purpose of ascent). Sometimes the realization that we have failed miserably becomes the fuel that propels us to new heights.

Can you think of an example from your life whereby a fall propelled you to climb even higher?

Chabakuk Elisha answers:

I am sure there are many; so many that we barely notice them! When describing the concept of yerida l'tzorich aliya there are many examples used: such as climbing stairs or booster rockets (pushing downward propels us forward), or another example used is a string – when a string breaks, we tie a not in it, which makes it stronger than it was before. In fact, the entire concept of Tshuva is based on this idea – that the aveira becomes a catalyst for vastly improved behavior – not unlike hitting rock-bottom can cause a person to turn their life around for the better. But, I think that the most inspiring element of yerida l'tzorich aliya is that it can help us get through moments where things can be pretty bleak.

This is a simple example, but here's another way to relate to the concept of yerida l'tzorich aliya:

When I was much younger I went on a trip for a simcha with my family. On the way we ran into some challenges that cars have been known to experience: a break down and a flat tire. I was miserable (and so was everyone else), but eventually it was all straightened out and we ultimately got to our designation a little late. I clearly remember that when we got there we told people the whole story, fully dramatized, with laughter and a smile on my face.

One individual asked me, "Isn't it odd? Why do we laugh and smile about something that was hardly funny or pleasant at the time? Shouldn't we become full of frustration, anger or misery when recalling the episode? Yet, usually, we even find it funny – although we certainly didn't feel that way when it was taking place!"

"Well," I said, "Why do you think that is?"

"Yerida L'tzorich Aliya," he answered.

At that moment I realized that the "yerida" – the challenges, the hardships, the struggles, the failures – is part of progress. And since progress gets us to the goal, the yeridos are all just part of the trip.

When I was a kid I helped out on a small farm for a summer. One of the things I learned was that unpumped water will flow upwards – over hills and valleys – as long as the end is lower than the start point (once the flow has been started). It fascinated me at the time – how can water go up against gravity?! But it was explained to me that the main thing is where it begins and ends, and that the flow will carry it to its destination since the gravity at the end is what pulls it through. It seems to me that this is the case in life: We travel a bumpy road. There are peaks and valleys. But if we end up better off than we started, they all become part of the destination; the yerida dip or struggle was just a step on the way to getting closer to the ultimate aliya – which is what it's all about.

They say that "getting there is half the fun," and I agree, but that's often only once we "get there" – because once we do, we can look back and the entire trip is seen as part of that goal. So, sure, we might call it a yerida when it happens, but technically that yerida is in fact one step closer to the next aliya. So, while in a yerida it certainly helps to see that its all part of the coming, greater, aliya.

Of course, the obvious question is, wouldn't it be better to skip the yeridos? What if we could have only aliyos all the time? Who needs to be a Baal Tshuva if we can just be Tzaddikim?

And, of course, this is one of the big questions of creation. Indeed, why create at all? Can perfection be improved on? Why bother with the yerida?

Well, I'm sure we've all heard the phrase "Cause it builds character." I guess it does.

Wednesday Links

(Picture by John MacLean)

Lazer Beams: Anger part 3 - How to come home at the end of the day
Treppenwitz: A quiet place to sit

Mystical Paths: Faith in the Veil of Tears & Hanging On

Katifund.org: Prayer (Video)

Dixie Yid: Beat the Rush- Advice by the Piaseczna for Davening

Rabbi Yakov Horowitz: Teaching Our Children About Galus -- And Geulah

Key To Success

My achievements came mainly through simplicity. I spent much time simply conversing to Hashem and saying Tehillim.

(Rebbe Nachman of Breslov)

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Tisha B'Av

A Haunting Photograph

In the snow - Zawiercie ghetto, Poland, 1943
(Picture courtesy of USHMM.org)

What Remained

Confiscated talleisim - Auschwitz, January 27, 1945
(Picture courtesy of USHMM.org)

Monday, July 23, 2007

Guest Posting By Rabbi Dr. Carl C.G. Jung - Seven Wavelengths: A Chassidic Typology

Regular contributor Space Cadet has informed us that the late Swiss analytical psychologist has reincarnated and become a rabbinical scholar. Here are some of his thoughts on the Jewish psyche as expressed in the Orthodox world.

Upon their first encounter the Chassidic world, people often feel that they need an instruction manual to tell them which hats are worn by members of the various communities. Of course, the need for classification does not only apply to Chassidim and their haberdashery. The Jewish world has become increasingly diverse, and we all need a framework by which to understand what’s going on. There are many different ways of classifying Jewish groups and communities. First, there is the matter of religious belief. Jews may define themselves as Orthodox, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Reform, etc. (Some would add Unitarians and JuBus, as well!) In the Orthodox world, there are various ideologies, as well as regional and sociological differences between communities. We find different “brands” of Modern Orthodoxy, and different sub-groups and ways of divine service within the Yeshivah communities and Chassidic communities. There are also certain political divisions, especially in Eretz Yisrael. Some of these differences and their meanings are discussed by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of England, in his insightful “Arguments for the Sake of Heaven".

However, I would like to look at things from another angle: the differing “spiritual wavelengths” that people are on in the Orthodox world. I must admit that what follows is not “written in the luchos,” and the categories are arbitrary. Each category includes different types of people, who belong to multiple categories. However, despite its shortcomings, this chart may be useful to help us to see “the forest through the trees,” and thus understand the spiritual terrain a little better.

1) Basic Yiddishkeit

This category includes “baalebatim” and everyday people bridging all sectors of the frum world, from Modern Orthodox to Yeshivish and Chassidish (in Israel, from Mizrachi to Charedi), Askenazim and Sefardim. Conventional observance focuses on basic religious practices, establishing social bonds, and insuring Jewish continuity. The spiritual wavelength most observant Jews are on tends to be pragmatic and rationalistic, regarding emotionalism and mysticism with caution (if not suspicion). Most Modern Orthodox men attend the synagogue at least on Shabbos and Yom Tov, and as one moves from the left of the spectrum toward the middle, also during the week for Shacharis, Minchah, and Ma’ariv. A time-honored value is the giving of tzedakah and performing acts of kindness, both individually and collectively through Jewish or even secular institutions. Another important commitment is sending children to a Day School or yeshivah; and a cultivating a strong identification with the historical Jewish community, while also being part of the modern world. Many Jews in this category are deeply involved in their careers or professions. However, because learning Torah is so basic to Yiddishkeit, a significant percentage winds up in category #4, which stresses intensive study and use of the intellect.

2) Lifnim me-Shuras ha-Din – The Spiritual Upgrade

Many idealistic Jews are looking for something beyond the basics. Thus, various pietistic movements developed over the generations, such as Chassidism and the Lithuanian Mussar schools.

Today a sizable percentage of Orthodox Jews belong to Chassidic groups, or to close-knit, extended communities associated with various yeshivos. Such people usually search for a charismatic teacher and a congenial peer group in order to find greater depth in Yiddishkeit. They might identify with a school of thought initiated by a great historical personage like the Chafetz Chaim or the Chasam Sofer or the Baba Sali; or the founder of a particular Chassidic sect, such as the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Klausenberger Rebbe, Belzer Rebbe, Stoliner Rebbe, or Skvirer Rebbe, etc. The values they typically stress are faith in their particular mentor and path, religious devotion, moral refinement (especially in the Mussar world), as well as various minhagim (customs) which tend to unify each community. In some cases the desire to get more out of Yiddishkeit may fuse with emotionalism of category #3, or the intellectualism of #4. However, most people on this “wavelength” benefit most from the instruction of the teacher and the energy of the group, rather than from any private contemplative practice such as hisbodedus (meditation and secluded personal prayer) or hisbonenus (self-examination and / or intensive contemplation of religious philosophy and internalization of its ideals). Those who do so quickly move into categories # 6 and # 7.

3) Derekh ha-Hispa’alus – Emotionalism and Ecstasy

These individuals often reject the rigidity of the religious mainstream, emphasizing spontaneity and inspiration above fitting into a mold, even one that is widely perceived as “tried and true”; and they keep discipline to a minimum because they believe it leads to repression. This approach often appeals to the young, who rebel from the conservatism and dryness of conventional observance (#1); while viewing more demanding modes of religious exploration as beyond reach. They look for an experiential means of spiritual expression, such as singing, music, and dance; and in some cases, even the use of intoxicants to produce a simulated religious experience. Some early Chassidim seem to have been on this wavelength, as many stories of mead-drinking ecstatics suggest. Even today, the Stoliner Chassidim emphasize spirited singing and loud davening as a regular practice (albeit within bounds). Other less mainstream groups are geared to emotionalism, as well (sometimes venturing a little “out of bounds”): “Carlebach Chassidim,” the “Na Nachs” of neo-Breslov, and various exponents of “New Age” Judaism. This category attracts many idealistic young women, too.

4) Derekh ha-Sekhel – Intellectualism

All Orthodox men are obligated to study the Gemara and Halakhah, both ordinary people and thinkers of different types. However, those on this wavelength tend to emphasize rationalism above all, and regard the emotionalism of category # 3 as suspect and lacking in depth -- “flash in the pan” religion. Simple devotions, the “externals” of kehillah life, and non-rational expressions of religiosity are generally played down, while intellectual and philosophical forms of expression are idealized. This approach appeals to an intellectual elite (or those who aspire to be), whether Litvishe lomdim of various schools; Chabad’s “maskilim (thinkers)” (not to be confused with the secular maskilim of the early modernist Enlightenment movement), who are devoted to the abstruse mystical philosophy of their great teachers; and Orthodox academics. (This is not to say that these thinkers do not engage in Avodah – surely they do; but that their avodah is an offshoot of their intellectualism.) Most of those in this sector are highly educated, whether through the yeshiva / kollel system or secular academia. Those who venture into the realm of mysticism, or who combine intellectualism with Mussar and the quest for self-transformation, will move on to category #6.

5) Derekh ha-Sod –Mysticism

Followers of esoteric teachings (“sodos ha-Torah”) are on this wavelength. Such individuals focus on hidden meanings and realities, and often observe various special rituals and minhagim based on the Kabbalah. They obey a deep intuition that nothing is what it seems, and emphatically reject the idea that “what you see is what you get.” Probably most Kabbalists, Sefardic and Ashkenazic alike, fall into this category; or into category #6, “Rationalist Contemplatives,” who in addition to exploring the arcane, engage in some kind of hisbonenus (contemplation). However, more advanced kabbalists, such as those who use the Abulafian techniques, or yichudim (unifications) and kavanos (mystical intentions) of the ARI zal, etc., would be classified in category # 7.

6) Misbodedim be-Derekh ha-Sechel: Intellectual Contemplatives

Those on this wavelength not only study Chassidic and / or kabbalistic texts, but also engage in some sort of formal contemplative practice, whether hisbodedus (meditation of various types, or secluded personal prayer and reflection); hisbonenus (in-depth contemplation); cheshbon ha-nefesh (self-examination); or a similar discipline. Examples would be some devotees of the Mussar movement, who regularly engage in cheshbon ha-nefesh; Chabad contemplatives who practice hisbonenus, especially as set out by the Mittler Rebbe (although some of them may belong to category # 7); and individuals past and present who have developed their own forms of contemplation. However, their main focus is on the use of intellect in achieving their spiritual goals.

7) Misbodedim be-Derekh Sod: Mystical Contemplatives

This represents the smallest group: mystical souls, whose lives are devoted to deveykus (attachment to God) and hasagas Elokus (divine perception). Individuals on this wavelength typically emphasize faith, devotion, ethical refinement, personal discipline, diligent Torah study, and simchah shel mitzvah (joy in performing the commandments). However, they strive to see beyond outer forms and conventions and penetrate to the divine element within all expressions of religious and even everyday life. A few examples would be the disciples of the Baal Shem Tov, Maggid of Mezeritch, Rabbi Pinchas of Koretz, and early Chassidic leaders; “classical” Breslov; devotees of the Piacetzner Rebbe’s derekh; and various schools of Kabbalah, both Sefardic and Lithuanian – all of which emphasize hisbodedus in one form or another. One of the key distinctions between Chassidic mystics and non-Chassidic mystics is that the Baal Shem Tov took a different approach toward the prevailing asceticism of his day, and toward the body, in general. He emphasized the ethic of “be-khol derakekha da’ehu / know G-d in all your ways”; the “three loves” – of God, the Torah, and Israel; and not to relate to the physical in a negative manner, but in Rabbi Eizik Homiler’s phrase, as a “lens through which to perceive Godliness.”

Erev Tisha B'Av Links

(Picture courtesy of nowitz.com)

Heichal HaNegina: The Chozeh's Clock

Zchus Avos Yogen Aleinu: Chozeh of Lublin

Ynetnews: Machon Shilo publishes Ninth of Av dirge for Gush Katif

Excerpt from Shturem.net:

The Tzemach Tzedek, who used to refer to the Rebbe [R. Yisrael] of Ruzhin as "the holy Ruzhiner," once related: "The holy Ruzhiner would not brook any melancholy nor even bitterness - with the result that his chassidim became playful. One Tishah BeAv they occupied themselves for a while tossing burs at each other. They then decided to clamber on to the roof of the beis midrash, and to lower a noose over the entrance. Whoever walked in the door could then be lassoed and promptly hoisted on to the roof. The prank succeeded until, sure enough, who should walk in but - their Rebbe, the Ruzhiner. From up there it was hard to tell one hat from another, and only when the tzaddik was halfway up did they identify him.

"When they had lowered him to the ground he exclaimed: 'Master of the Universe! If Your children do not observe Your Yom-Tov, then take it away from them!'"


The Torah does not specify what time this is referring to. This is a hint that a person should always be ready to daven to Hashem, and should not say, "I don't have the time or patience to daven right now." Rather, he should be willing to daven in any place and at any time.

(Rebbe Naftali of Ropshitz)

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Lazer Beams:
Beating Anger through Emuna - part 2

Black & White Picture Of The Week - Slanted Floor

Alef Beis Software Recommendations?

I am looking to find a good computer program with games to introduce my almost five year-old daughter to the nekudos and how to read Hebrew. I noticed that Its Time to Learn Alef Bet: Hebrew Alphabet and Vowels Trainer was highly rated but do not know anything about it or the myriad of other programs.

Could anyone recommend some software for this?

Friday, July 20, 2007

Nusach Sudilkov - Changes From The Standard Nusach Sefard Siddur

I recently asked the Sudilkover Rebbe about the nusach of davening in Sudilkov and how it differed from the standard nusach Sefard siddur. He went over some of these differences that immediately came to his mind. These included:

Birkas HaTorah

V'haerev na - v'nihyeh anachnu v'tze'ehtzeinu v'tzetzaei tze'ehtzeinu v'tzetzaei amcha beis yisroel (adds v'tzetzaei tze'ehtzeinu)

Birkas HaShachar

ha'nosein l'secvi binah (instead of asher nosan l'secvi binah)


Ki l'cho no'eh Hashem Elokeinu v'Elohei Avoseinu l'olam vo'ed (l'olam vo'ed is added)

Melech yachid chei ha'olamim (deletes the word "Keil" in accordance with the minhag of the Baal Shem Tov)

Weekday Amida

Refayenu - v'ha'aleh refuah shleima l'chol makoseinu

Teka b'shofar gadol - v'kabtzeinu yachad m'arba kanfos ha'aretz l'artzeinu (does not include the word m'heira between yachad and m'arba)

Shema koleinu - Shema koleinu Hashem Elokeinu, Av Harachaman chus v'racheim aleinu

Birkas Hamazon

First brocha - hazan b'rachamav es hakol (adds the word b'rachamav)

Fourth brocha - Shelo nevosh v'lo nikaleim v'lo nikashel l'olam vo'ed (adds the words v'lo nikashel)

R'tzei (Shabbos addition) - tzion irach uv'vinyan Yerushalayim ir kodshach (instead of irecha and kodshecha)

The Sudilkover Rebbe noted that there are no siddurim printed in accordance to this nusach, however he dreamed to one day publish such a siddur. He also stated that currently the Vizhnitzer siddur printed in Israel and Chabad's siddur appear to be the closest to the Sudilkov nusach.

Until such time as there is a Sudilkov siddur, I plan to continue using my siddur and make the Sudilkov nusach changes that the Sudilkover Rebbe specified.

Erev Shabbos Links

(Picture by Richard Ghorbal)

Mystical Paths: HaAri HaKodesh, zt"l

Lazer Beams: Rav Michel Dorfman, ob"m

Hirhurim: Listen, Israel & A Love Affair With Books

Temunot: Aharon’s Tomb

iDaven: Essential Site For The Wired Jew

Dixie Yid: New Video About the Piaseczna Rebbe, the Aish Kodesh

Mar Bar Ravina & I

When I feel that another person is looking at me askance it is often a sign that it I am the one projecting these feelings onto this person. Yet, there are times when my perception is completely accurate and the person is looking at me and not seeing me, only my big red beard and yarmulke.

When I notice these disparaging looks, I fight against my innate nature and try return them with a smile or a friendly greeting. And when I daven, these people come to mind when I finish the Amida and say the last line of Elokai Netzor.


When people are asked why they are unwilling to settle in Eretz Yisrael right now, they have all types of cheshbonot - calculations - as to why now is not the time. One says his chesbon is that his children need to finish school or college; another's chesbon is that he has to vest his pension, and so on. If we look in the Torah, though, we will see that before the Jewish people entered Eretz Yisrael, they first killed the King of Chesbon. Once the King of Chesbon is killed, the decision to move to Eretz Yisrael becomes easy.

(Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak HaKohen Kook )

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Question & Answer With Yitz Of A Waxing Wellspring: Miracles & Complaints

(Picture courtesy of usgs.gov)

A Simple Jew asks:

Each year as we review the Chumash, we continue to be baffled by just how quickly the Jews started complaining after they witnessed miracles as they left Egypt and crossed through the Yam Suf.

One could argue that we too are often blind to recognize the continuous miracles that Hashem performs in each of our lives, yet the miracles in the Chumash seem to us to be on a much grander scale than those in our lives.

We may ridicule the Jews in the desert for their lack of emuna, but then when we turn around and judge ourselves by a similar standard, do we measure up to our standard, or are we also just a bunch of wandering complainers?

Yitz of A Waxing Wellspring answers:

I think the simplest and truest answer to the question is this. Both now and in the desert, we very rarely lose faith in HaShem, if we are familiar with Him at all, then we generally trust that He will deliver on His promises. We are far less trusting in ourselves. This was our mortal flaw back to Avraham Avinu who feared that, after overcoming the four kings and rescuing Lot, he had used up all of his merit and was in danger. Similarly Yaakov Avinu echoed Avraham's concerns after Shimon and Levi wiped out Shechem. He feared the other nations would gang up and wipe him out.

Moshe Rabeinu himself expressed the same mortal flaw, he asked HaShem to choose someone else to lead Bnei Yisrael out of Mitzraim, because he was not worthy.

Shaul HaMelech spoke similarly about the kingship.

Throughout all of the generations of leaders of the Jewish People, our greatest leaders have almost without exception shied away from the responsibility not because of a lack of trust in HaShem, but rather because of their small opinion of themselves.

David HaMelech was unique in that he made similar claims about his insignificance but always prayed to HaShem to help him all the same. The Noam Elimelech says "HaShem Ro'i Lo Echsar" is a plea to HaShem to shepherd the people for David so that David himself should never have to leave HaShem's presence. He explains that normally a Tzaddik has to leave HaShem's presence and connect to the world in order to bring down blessing into the world. David HaMelech asked HaShem, "Couldn't you bring down the blessing so that I never need to leave your presence?"

What can we learn from this? Well, for starters Rebbe Nachman teaches (along with the rest of Chazal) that the Yetzer Hara tries in every way possible to make us sad, to feel bad about ourselves and our past actions. If the Yetzer succeeds at this point, well we're back where we started. But, if we press onwards and as Rebbe Nachman teaches, find the good points in ourselves, then we can move forward in our avodat HaShem.

Later on, there comes a time when hubris, ga'avah, is a problem, but for starters we need to believe in ourselves. Actually this transition is, I think, one of the hardest transitions for a Ba'al Teshuvah to make. In the beginning we need ironclad self-confidence to pursue HaShem in all of our endeavors no matter what. Later on we need to learn to doubt and question ourselves, avoid anger, recognize our low level and call out to HaShem from that place.

I think it's easy to see, that since we are human, a fusion of a Godly soul and a mortal body, just as our ancestors in the desert, it's so easy for us to fall into self-doubt. No matter how great HaShem's revelations are, it's us, the little finite beings, that are the weak link in the chain. In fact, the more revealed HaShem is, the harder the challenge might be, when you wonder how you could possibly live up to the responsibility of all the blessing you are receiving from HaShem?

We need to take a page out of David HaMelech's book, or take the whole book, Tehillim, and learn how to pray like David HaMelech, that HaShem should take over for us, so that we never have to leave His presence.

Thursday Links

(Picture by Trevor Harley)

Lazer Beams: Pictorial Essay: Yanov, a world that was

Psycho Toddler: The Quest for Normal

Wildnerness City: What did they get right in Mexico?

Chambers Of A Palace

When you are learning Torah and davening from the siddur, realize that the holy letters are like chambers of a palace in which the king dwells. And if you intend wholeheartedly to attach your soul to the king who is there, you will be able to say the words with great fear and love of Hashem.

(Rebbe Mordechai of Chernobyl)

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Question & Answer With Chabakuk Elisha - How To Approach Learning Torah

(Picture courtesy of wheelockweb.com)

A Simple Jew asks:

Opening up a sefer before me, I unfortunately sometimes take the "checklist" approach to my daily learning seder. I am mindful of what I need to accomplish each day, and occasionally I rush through my learning so I can check each sefer off in my mental task list.

With the recent realization that perhaps my learning has not had the impact I imagined it to, I am attempting to pause for a few moments before I open each sefer. During these moments I attempt to remember a teaching I first heard in Rabbi Tal Zwecker's audio shiur on Jewish meditation. Rabbi Zwecker, citing a teaching from Rebbe Elimelech of Lizhensk, explained that when one sits down to learn Torah he must remember that he is making himself into a vessel to hold Hashem's light here in the physical world. I try to visualize this and also remember the Baal Shem Tov's teaching that one must pause briefly in the midst of learning to re-attach oneself to Hashem; remembering that He has constricted His wisdom into his holy Torah and commanded us to learn it.

In our private e-mail correspondence, I remarked that my learning seems to be superficial at times, while you, on the other hand, tend to explore the larger picture and are better able to put ideas and personalities into greater context. My question to you is what approach do you take when opening a sefer to learn Torah?

Chabakuk Elisha answers:

Gee, I don't know that I have a planned approach. I guess that there are three things that I try to keep in mind:

1. When learning Torah, it's important that we approach it with the simple focus that we be a vessel for truth – therefore, we must try to suspend our preconceived notions, lest they get in the way of that truth. Sadly, it isn't uncommon for us to open a sefer, and rather than letting the sefer speak to us we impose our own ideas on the sefer. It is obviously wise to keep this in mind and avoid it to the best of our ability

2. We are advised to look for subtlety and nuance. This can be a challenge, especially with the busy lives we live, but when we look for subtle themes and nuanced ideas, we find that a sefer becomes more alive. This is not really surprising, since real people and real ideas are often complex: They're subtle. They're nuanced. As a result, when finding the subtle nuances in a sefer it becomes more alive – and approaching it with this in mind helps us grasp far more than a superficial reading would.

3. I'll tell you, I get bored easily – if a book or sefer doesn't grab me quickly, I fade away; before I know it I'm reading words and sounds and looking at the patterns that the letters make on the page without any comprehension. So, basically as a survival technique I often need to find a way to care about the book first – and once I care about it personally, I can convince myself that the contents of the book are important for me to understand. Therefore, I'll become interested in the author, in the time-period, in the specific subject matter, and otherwise try to care about the book.

For example, long, long ago someone gave me Rabbi Steinsaltz's "The Thirteen Petalled Rose". I started it once, but I didn't get very far; so it sits, collecting dust, where it has sat for many years. It's not that I had anything against the book, it's just that nothing compelled me to keep at it. But I recently read "On The Road With Rabbi Steinsaltz" (to my great enjoyment) and I plan to revisit "The Thirteen Petalled Rose," and this time, I'm sure I'll get further along. Similarly, when learning Gemora, it becomes more alive when we know something about the figures involved – who they were and what happened in their lives – this makes it so much more relevant, and I find this to be the case for most books I read.

I hope it helps!

Wednesday Links

(Painting by Myra Mandel)

Ynetnews.com: Sick children shake Western Wall

Beyond Teshuva: Being a BT and a Ger

Complete Teshuva

You know your teshuva has been accepted before Hashem when you feel simcha after pouring out your broken, crushed heart.

(Rebbe Shlomo Hakohen Rabinowitz of Radomsk)

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Examining My Heart, Examining My Dreams

(Painting by Shoshannah Brombacher)

You examined my heart, You searched at night; You tested me and did not find that my thoughts transgress my mouth. (Tehillim 17:3)

Interpreting this pasuk in a different manner than Rashi, Ibn Ezra explained that Dovid HaMelech is expressing his belief that his words are an honest reflection of his thoughts.

We may pay lip service to lofty and holy concepts and ideals during our waking hours, however our dreams reveal to us our hidden truth. Rebbe Simcha Bunim of Peshischa taught, "Dreams enable us to recall what our mind was engrossed in all day." Indeed, these very dreams reveal to us the "mental residue" of our subconscious. They reveal to us whether our thoughts were truly tied to what we imagined them to be.

Sefer HaMiddos, Emes 44 contains a teaching from Rebbe Nachman of Breslov that gives me pause, "A man can tell from his dreams if his heart is true with G-d."

Is my heart as true as Dovid HaMelech claimed his to be? It would be the height of arrogance for me to answer this question in the affirmative. However, I can honestly tell you that it is a tiny bit "truer" than it was originally before the 21st of Sivan.

My eyes are the gateway to my mind; the purer the sights I see, the purer my thoughts become.

Tuesday Links

(Picture by Caroline Shipsey)

Letters of Thought: An Alterere Chossid Zingt II

Life in Israel: Nachal Haredi (video)

Bahaltener: Фотографии Шлойме Юдовина

Circus Tent: One Sunday in Sivan

Binding Speech To Thought

Whether in Torah study or in prayer, if a person understands the simple meaning of the words or the practical halacha to be derived from his studies, he binds Malchus, which is speech, to Binah, which is thought.

(Rebbe Yaakov Yosef of Polonoye)

Monday, July 16, 2007

Black & White Picture Of The Week - Matryoshka Cross Section

Question & Answer With Dixie Yid - The Irony Of Anonymity

(Picture courtesy of battlemedia.com)

A Simple Jew asks:

One of the advantages of being an anonymous blogger is the freedom to write one's inner thoughts and thereby give the reader a glimpse into the private thoughts within one's mind. Routinely, we share thoughts we would never share with someone who knew our identity.

Yet, as time elapses and we gain regular readers, we instinctively become more guarded with what we write. It is almost as if we are afraid that our words will reveal a divergence between our written words and our online personas.

As another anonymous blogger, do you have any thoughts on this phenomenon?

Dixie Yid answers:

I'm a new blogger (almost exactly 6 months). I was asking questions about this early on in my blogging career as well. I have noticed what you talked about as well. After writing for a couple of months and corresponding with you and others, I have also developed a certain online personality, an alter ego, if you will. Like you said, I am restrained by having to write in a way that lives up to that online expectation. One way I compensate for this is by being conscious of it, and trying not to say things just because I think that is what sounds good, but rather saying what I actually believe and think. I have turned down questions that ASJ has sent me to write about in the past because I could not write about them honestly and without pretension.

I have noticed another type of irony. On one hand, I write anonymously so that I can write things that are more personal, that I perhaps wouldn't share if everyone knew who I was, just as you said. However, as Rabbi Without a Cause wrote in a post on this topic, things do not necessarily work out that way. I feel restrained in my writing for two main reasons. One is similar to a reason given in the article I just linked. I may not always be an anonymous blogger and therefore I have to be careful only to write things I do not mind being known about me. For me, this obviates much of the benefit of anonymous blogging. I suppose only one who is sure they will always remain anonymous can really benefit from that anonymity in the form of the ability to write more freely.

The second restraint I feel is that of actually maintaining the anonymity. Very often there are things about my family, my shul, my rabbi, my friends, etc. that I want to write about or share but cannot, because it would make it too easy to figure out who I am. The anonymity that is supposedly designed to free me to be a more honest writer, its self, restrains me from speaking about things that I would like to speak about. Non-anonymous bloggers like Mr. Uberdox and MoChassid have many liberties that us anonymous folks do not, because they do not have to hide their identities.

I recently posted a funny story that happened to the real-life-me because of my anonymous blogging, I posted here. Right now, I am maintaining my anonymity because several people, not least of which is my rebbe, have advised me that at this point, it is wise to do so. Therefore, that is what I am doing. Perhaps some of A Simple Jew's readers can comment about their feelings about all of the blogging anonymity.

Shimshon HaGibor No Longer

Even with three clips securing his yarmulke to his newly-cut hair, Lil' Tzaddik is still able to shake it loose. If he does keep it on his head, his little sister - the crawling yarmulke goniff - sneaks up on him and snatches it off his head.

My mom e-mailed me this link for Klipped Kippahs, and after reading the description on the site I decided to check it out. I am happy to report that this product does everything that it says it does. From sun up to sun down the Kipped Kippah yarmulke stays on my son's head despite how vigorously he plays.

While my mother-in-law probably wished this product was never invented, it has made the life of my wife and I much easier and allowed us to reclaim all the time we would have spent searching the house for hair clips or readjusting his yarmulke when it slides off our son's head.

Truth & Temptations

One who desires to reach the truth must be able to subjugate all his desires.

(Degel Machaneh Ephraim)

Friday, July 06, 2007

Short Blogging Break

Due to a week-long training course that I am required to attend for work, I will be taking a short break from blogging. I plan to return to normal posting on Monday, July 16.

Question & Answer With Chabakuk Elisha - Alcohol & Chassidus

A Simple Jew asks:

The second will and testament of Rebbe Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk contains these items:

Never drink during the week, neither spirits nor wine, whatsoever - only do so when you have a guest or if there is a specific reason, then you should only drink one cup. On Shabbos it is permitted to drink an ounce of Arak, and two or three ounces of wine - not more.

Never become intoxicated, even on Purim or Simchas Torah - drink only two or three cups of wine.

Why do you think that drinking alcohol was something that was singled out by Rebbe Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk?

Chabakuk Elisha answers:

There are differing views on alcohol, and indeed, alcohol has a positive a negative side. Like many things, the "dark side" – which comes easier – can easily become the norm, even if the original intent was quite different. In hard times, alcohol can be an escape from trouble, in good times it can be an escape from boredom into fun and frivolity. Alcohol in small doses is healthy and has great benefits, and of course, excessive alcohol is decidedly unhealthy and can cause great damage. How do we insure that proper care is taken with so potent a substance?

Intoxication is a certain freedom. It frees us up to speak or act without inhibitions and without self-consciousness – and as such, there are times when a little intoxication may be viewed as a positive: For a truly refined person, a little alcohol will perhaps allow them to shine forth and their refined inner-self will come out, whereas, for the average person, the result may be a little embarrassing or even destructive. The question is, however, is that a reason to take a no-tolerance attitude? Was R' Mendele's son not especially refined? Isn't R' Mendele being a little extreme here? After all, the problem is only excessive drinking and only if the drinker is of low character, right?

I don't know what R' Mendele had in mind, but in my opinion it comes down to three things: 1. Alcohol, when it comes down to it, is the opposite of self-control. 2. Alcohol is addictive. 3. Alcohol is a short cut.

1. These three points fly in the face of the foundations of derech hachassidus. It is often said that a chossid must be a mesudar; hefkeirus undermines avoda and progress. Self-control is a foundation stone upon which Yiddishkeit in general (and Chassidus specifically) emphasizes: A Jew is obligated to control his desires – be it food, time, speech, interaction, taharas hamishpocha, you name it – self-control is a virtue that we promote very highly, and this is especially discussed in chassidishe seforim. Alchohol runs contrary to that ideal.

2. Addiction. Is there anything sadder than a human slave? Should we enslave ourselves, even if only a little bit, to a bottle? Can a chossid, who seeks to serve Hashem in all his ways, be a slave to OLD No.7?

3. A Chassid doesn't take short cuts. The advantages of a little alcohol can be gained through hard work as well, and that's the optimal way. There are quick-fixes and "kuntzen" (tricks) for all kinds of things, but derech hachassidus looks askance at the short cuts; do-it-right-and-do-it-real is the way of Chassidus. As such, what possible point is left for drinking mashke?

Of course, we do see that many Chassidim do have the minhag to drink, and although I haven't made a study of this, I suspect that R' Mendele's statement is unusual. In Lubavitch, for example, the attitude is quite the opposite:

"On the 24th Teves, 5663, the Rebbe Rashab gave three reasons as to why chassidim drink mashkeh (1. I t is a mitzvah to offer from the "hedyot" (Eruvin 63a, Yoma 21b) 2. "one gives the animal to drink before shechitah" (Baitzah 40a) 3."one waters the correct place."), and he said, "We need to be careful about drinking mashkeh. I say "we" as an heir to my holy fathers. My father taught me how to take mashkeh. When I was Bar Mitzvah he gave me a cup of mashkeh to say lechaim on. Those present protested that I was still too young. My father then answered: "The reason I am giving him mashkeh is so he stop being a naar (a child). It was then that my father explained to me the well-known tune, Nee Zshuritshi Chloptzi."

I'm not equipped to resolve to explain the differences in approach, but I once asked a respected Lubavitcher about this apparent difference in approach from R' Mendele, and he said:

"The position in Lubavitch is that we look at people based on their potential. We have the highest expectations for each human, and by expecting so much we hope they will strive constantly higher than they ever thought possible. Other tzaddikim were perhaps more realistic and less idealistic, and wanted to emphasize safer approaches – knowing that people have a tendency to come-up-short of expectations. Perhaps R' Mendele felt that the risk was too great, while in Lubavitch the Rabbeim felt that Chassidim, if they only learn to drink mashkeh properly, could benefit from it, and therefore didn't take that approach."

However, it has been my experience that very little (if any) visible good has come from drinking mashkeh; and as to the negatives, were better off not elaborating on them…

Into One

Loving Hashem and loving your neighbor are indeed two separate mitzvos, but, in essence, loving Hashem and loving your fellow man are one and the same. It is the tzaddik's task to turn the two loves into one.

(Rebbe Avraham Yehoshua Heshel of Apta)

Thursday, July 05, 2007

19 Tamuz

(Picture by Andrew Carew)

Baruch Dayan HaEmes

Book Of Rules For Baseline Behavior

(Picture courtesy of nhrhta.org)

Chabakuk Elisha: Allergic to the voice of contemporary Judaism

A Question To Ask Yourself Every Year

(Picture courtesy of Yad Vashem)

A student of Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz once asked him how he could be assured that he was making progress in his Torah study. Rabbi Steinsaltz replied that he honestly did not know how much the student had accomplished over the past year and advised his student that there was only one person who could accurately judge his progress - the student's wife.

Rabbi Steinsaltz instructed his student to ask his wife whether all the Torah he learned over the past year had contributed into making him into a better person, or whether he had just remained the same. If she told him that he was better person, he would know that indeed was on the right track and could be confident that he was making headway in his studies. If she told him there was no apparent difference, he would know that he would need to start making some changes.

This story resonated with me and I asked my wife this very question on Shabbos morning. My wife responded that she could not tell a noticeable difference. She further noted that there was still one area where I was lacking and could make improvement - Ahavas Yisroel. My wife explained that while I excelled in the way I treated and related to non-Jews and also religious Jews, my dealing with secular Jews, particularly those who were antagonistic towards religious Jews, was lacking.

Ahavas Yisroel - a cornerstone of the derech of the Baal Shem Tov - and I was lacking in this! I didn't dispute my wife's observation and was interested to hear her cite examples of where I did not meet the mark. After Shacharis, I reviewed the Tzemach Tzedek's teaching on this subject in Derech Mitzvosecha. There the Tzemach Tzedek advises one that although a his intellect may become aware of the shortcomings of a fellow Jew, he should never allow this cognitive knowledge to result in negative emotions, felt or displayed towards a fellow Jew.

Is this difficult advice to follow? Indeed it is, especially when one encounters a person who may take an antagonistic stance against you.

However, if this is the benchmark to gauge whether I am succeeding in learning Torah, I must remember that if I profess to love Hashem, I must also love His children.


I came across another piece of advice for Ahavas Yisroel in the process of learning Parshas Pinchas. Moshe Rabbeinu said [Rashi, Bamidbar 27:16],

"Ribbono shel Olam, the personality of each individual is revealed before You; they do not resemble each other. Appoint a leader who can put up with each individual according to his personality."

Moshe then warns Yehoshua about the character of the people he will be charged to lead [Rashi, Bamidbar 27:19],

"You should know they are troublesome, that they are uncooperative."

Hashem instructs Moshe to put "his splendor" upon Yehoshua and informs him that the Jewish people will heed his words when they recognize that his countenance is shining brightly.

The lesson for me behind all of this is clear: I may be fully cognizant of the shortcomings of a fellow Jew, nevertheless, I must relate to this Jew according to his or her unique personality; I must become a shining example of the person Hashem expects me to be.

Song Of Ascent

Thursday Links

(Picture courtesy of rosenblumcoins.com)

Circus Tent: "Meaningful Fasts"

Avakesh: Broken heart

Hirhurim: Books That Should Be Written

Mentalblog: earth and ashes


You sometimes give tzedakah to a poor man, and he returns it, asking for a larger amount. If you comply with his request you will receive a boundless reward, since what you did is contrary to human nature.

(Rebbe Menachem Mendel Hager of Kossov)

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Guest Posting By Rabbi Dovid Sears: Follow-Up On The Baal Shem Tov’s Way Of Meditation

(Picture by Jeremy Wallis)

Question: The sources you quoted sound intriguing. But how can you actually learn to practice this kind of meditation? There don’t seem to be any shiurim offered in this kind of thing at the local Orthodox synagogue.

Answer: A Chassidic scholar in Jerusalem who prefers to remain anonymous has devoted most of his life to searching for the elusive "inner point" of the Baal Shem Tov’s teachings, as well as the roots of "Toras HaBaal Shem Tov" in earlier Jewish mystical writings. His ongoing series of source-books on this subject is entitled "Shiva Einayim (Seven Springs)," and now numbers five volumes. Sometimes these books are available in the U.S. through Moznaim Publishing, 4304 Twelfth Ave., Brooklyn, NY (718-853-0525).

He also teaches people, I have been told. But if you don’t live in Yerushalayim, that won’t help too much.

In Brooklyn, I don’t know who is adept in this aspect of Chassidus, which has widely fallen into disuse. Maybe Rabbi Mordechai Zilber, the Stutchiner Rebbe on 54th St. or Rabbi Yosef Borukh Pinchos Rabinowitz, the Skolye Rebbe of 48th St., have some mesorahs about it. Both are both scholars and masters of Chassidus (although representing different traditions), whose knowledge is from the "inside" and not just the "outside." However, be forewarned: people tend to be very secretive about this kind of thing in the Chassidic world today.

I never heard of any special techniques related to how one should sit or breathe, etc., as in some forms of meditation developed by Far Eastern schools, which in any case are bound up with other religions. (Like most Chassidim, I am not in the right physical shape to spend much time in the lotus position!) In Breslov, the form of hisbodedus we practice doesn’t involve any special physical preparations or techniques, aside from finding a nice secluded place that is free from distractions, and standing or sitting there until the words start to come. Sometimes the silent part of hisbodedus just happens spontaneously. However, if one wants to focus on silent meditation, I would say that a chair and the inner resolve are all you need.

Question: Where can you read more about the Baal Shem Tov’s formal teachings?

Answer: For those who have never studied the Baal Shem Tov’s teachings before, three good anthologies are: Keser Shem Tov (gleaned from the works of Rabbi Yaakov Yosef of Polonoye); Sefer Baal Shem Tov Al Ha-Torah (Two Volumes); and a more recent collection, Me’ir Eynei Yisrael. These books, too, should be available from Moznaim in Brooklyn.

I translated some of this material in The Path of the Baal Shem Tov about ten years ago; and Rabbi Immanuel Schochet of Chabad translated Tzava’at HaRivash, one of the first collections of sayings and short lessons from the Baal Shem Tov and the Maggid of Mezeritch, with scholarly annotations.

Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan devoted an entire section to the Baal Shem Tov and early Chassidic teachings in his ground-breaking study, Meditation and the Kabbalah, as well as in Chassidic Masters (both published by Moznaim).

Another address is Rabbi Menachem Nochum of Chernobyl’s Ma’or Einayim. Although the Chernobyler Maggid, as he is also known, became a Chassidic master in his own right, he was one of the younger talmidim of the Baal Shem Tov and later the Maggid, and his explanations of the original teachings of Chassidism are widely considered to be among the most cogent. Samples of these works are available online at http://www.baalshemtov.com/

Wednesday Links

Mystical Paths: R. Shimon Was Here

Lazer Beams: The Horse's Song


Everyone must find his own individual approach in his avodas Hashem.

(Rebbe Pinchas of Koretz)

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Holding My Ground

(Picture by Mitchell Jamieson)

Rebbe Nachman of Breslov taught [Likutey Eitzos, Machshavos v'Hirhurim:2):

"Before, when he sinned, it was because the temptation entered his mind and he succumbed to it. Now the thought is in his mind again, but this time he rejects it. So don't feel discouraged if you find all kinds of temptations and fantasies continually pressing in on your mind. They are actually providing you with the opportunity to repent and make amends for the damage done in the past. Today you have the power to master your thoughts and temptations. When you do so, the sparks of holiness which fell because of your earlier transgressions are released, and you are able to purify yourself."

Rebbe Nachman is teaching us that each time we are successful to dispel a sinful thought from our mind it is a rectification for an prior sinful thought that we allowed to linger in our mind. As I reflected upon this teaching, I wondered if I have spent over 30 years without dispelling such thoughts, would I need to spend the next 30+ years dispelling these thoughts to make a complete rectification for them and to have a clean slate.

I asked Rabbi Lazer Brody this question and he responded, "Not necessarily - a person that invests effort can do it in a very short time; depends on the effort you devote." His words gave me tremendous chizuk for my 40 day offensive. However, at this point I still anticipating a robust enemy counter-attack, and I feel that I am only holding the ground under my feet.

Perhaps the enemy is still preparing its ambush and is content with random sniping in the meantime as it prepares....

Tuesday Links

Lazer Beams: The Mass Graves of Yanov

Tikkun HaKlali

A Jew who merits to say the prescribed ten kapitlach of Tehillim with devotion and strength can shatter walls of iron.

(Klausenberger Rebbe)

Monday, July 02, 2007

Guest Posting By Rabbi Dovid Sears - The Baal Shem Tov’s Way Of Meditation

I. Direct Encounter of the Mind

From Dor Dorim, Chapter 1: "The Light of Israel"

"Dor Dorim (Throughout the Generations)" is an intellectual history of the origins of the Chassidic movement and its most prominent leaders written during the early 1900s by Rabbi Yekusiel Aryeh Kamelhar of Stanislav, Galitzia. Rabbi Kamelhar was an accomplished Torah scholar, expert in both Halakhah and Kabbalah. He was also knowledgeable in many areas of secular thought, which he felt was necessary in order to reach out to the religiously disaffected Jewish youth of his day. Rabbi Kamelhar spent his last years in the Bronx until his passing in 1937. This lengthy introduction to Jewish mysticism was but one of many of his published works, today known only to bibliophiles and historians.

The first chapter discusses the Baal Shem Tov’s youth and early influences. This excerpt defines the salient features of the Baal Shem Tov’s meditation more clearly than any discussion I have ever come across:

"While the Baal Shem Tov was in Kutov, he used to meditate in the mountains and fast from one Shabbos until the next. The purpose of his meditation (hisbodedus) in the mountains and wilds of the forests was this: he sought to become one with his inner being – with his feelings and thoughts; to hear the voice of his inner soul from her very depths, without any admixture of external influences, the hustle and bustle of the city and its surroundings; to become lucidly aware of the flow of his inner being and its inclinations, and to bring them entirely under the authority of the mind, freed from all external distraction. Prior to him, spiritual seekers devoted all of their energies to searching out all that exists above and below, and completely forget about themselves and their physical existence in order to know their ‘I.’ By contrast, the Baal Shem Tov introduced a new method of spiritual probing: a way to become an explorer of one’s inner being, and to vigilantly observe whatever took place in the chambers of one’s heart and soul, all of one’s inner faculties, and every movement, however great or small.

"His meditation had one other goal, as well, as the eminent scholar and kabbalist (choker u-mekubal), Rabbi Aaron Marcus states in his work HaChassidus:

" ‘The atmosphere was fraught with terror due to fear of the enemy [i.e. the combined forces of Ukrainian Haidamaks and Cossacks]. Even the most stout-hearted feared for their lives, lest calamity befall from the marauders who lay in wait to put an end to them. Sounds of terror constantly filled their ears from horrendous incidents of pillage and murder, which were commonplace. In addition, the existential void of the Jewish world was filled with dreadful images of demons and ghosts. These were the causes of the widespread pietism of self-mortification and morbidity, due to the "lower fear," external fear. The ARI zal had already cautioned against this in his time – to keep far from external fears and to serve God with joy; as the Torah cautions, "Since you did not serve the Lord with joy…" (Deuteronomy 28:47). Therefore, the Baal Shem Tov meditated in the mountains and in uninhabited places to train himself to rule over the lower fear aroused by his desolate surroundings, and to transform it to the supernal fear, which is awe before God; to master his fear due to the awesome splendor of the Lord of Hosts.’ "

"The Talmudic sages called sailors "chassidim (devout)" -- "Most sailors are devout" (TB Kiddushin 82a). Men of the sea are habituated to overcoming their external fears because they often are faced with death, and this motivates them to attain the ultimate pristine fear, that sublime awe of which our holy master [Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev], the author of "Kedushas Levi," states: "There is no delight like the delight of cleaving to God in pure awe." This is the spiritual rung of the true Chassidim; and there, in the mountains, among the caves and cliffs where the Baal Shem Tov meditated in seclusion, he attained this trait: mastery over all external fears by bringing them under the sovereignty of God, Who reigns forever in His might."

Similarly, the Baal Shem Tov’s illustrious great-grandson, Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, states in Likkutei Moharan I, 15, "Whoever wishes to glimpse the ‘hidden light (ohr ha-ganuz)’ – the ‘secrets of the Torah’ that will be revealed in time to come – must elevate the trait of fear to its spiritual source…"

II. "Hearing" the Silence

Although the Baal Shem Tov has much to say about the cultivation of holy speech and attaining deveykus, attachment to Godliness, through verbal prayer, it seems that the hisbodedus we have been discussing was silent meditation. At the very least, it was a combination of using speech in spontaneous personal prayer and silent meditation. This is suggested by the following teachings:

The Fence for Wisdom

" ‘Silence is a fence for wisdom (chokhmah) (Avos 3:13). When one is silent, he is able to bind himself to the World of Thought (Olam ha-Machshavah), which is called ‘wisdom (chokhmah).’ "

Rabbi Aharon Hakohen of Zhelikhov, Keser Shem Tov 225

And in Tzava’as ha-Rivash (sec. 133), the Baal Shem Tov observes:

"Through silence, one can meditate upon the greatness of God and bind oneself to Him more completely than through speech."

In a teaching of his own, Rabbi Aharon Hakohen (who also authored the Chassidic commentary Keser Nehora, printed in the Siddur Tefillah Yesharah or "Berditchever Siddur") develops this key element of the Baal Shem Tov’s approach:

Two Modes of Divine Service

" ‘And it came to pass, when the Ark set forth, that Moses said: Rise up, O God, and let Your enemies disperse, and let those that hate You flee from Your Presence! And when it rested, he said: Return, O God, to the thousands of myriads of Israel!’ (Numbers 10:35-36)

"There is a type of divine service that entails movement (tenu’ah), which includes all of the positive mitzvos, Torah study, and prayer; and they all accomplish various mystical unifications. However, there is another type of divine service that entails repose (menuchah). One sits alone in silence and contemplates God’s loftiness. This relates to the World of Thought (Olam ha-Machshavah), which is also called the World of Rest; for one enters into a state of stillness. When one wishes to experience deveykus, he should sit in silence, with holy thoughts, in a state of awe and attachment to God."

Ohr Ha-Ganuz La-Tzaddikim (B’ha’alosekha)

In a related vein, Rabbi Nachman of Breslov states in Likkutei Moharan I, 234:

"One who wishes to enter the World of Thought must be silent. Even to speak properly would detract from one’s state of mind – for thought is an extremely lofty thing, and even worthy speech would have a harmful affect on it. This is implied by [the Talmudic narrative, in which God shows Moses how Rabbi Akiva was destined to be burnt alive by the Romans, and tells Moses in his dismay:] ‘Be silent! Thus it arose in thought…’ (TB Menachos 29a). That is, in order to ascend to the [World of] Thought, one must be silent. And even if one were to remain absolutely still and not utter a word, in spite of this, there are confusions that disturb the mind and interfere with [one’s attempt to reach the essence of the mind]. Therefore, one must attain purification of the mind…"

Rabbi Nachman’s lesson is far too involved to present here, but it also reflects the "direct encounter of the mind" type of meditation taught by his holy great-grandfather. (In addition, see Reb Noson of Breslov’s Likkutei Halakhos, Hilkhos Shabbos 6:5, 8; ibid. 7:43, which I translated in "The Tree That Stands Beyond Space," pp. 7o-73.)

III. God Is Right Here

Hand in hand with what Rabbi Kamelhar describes above as "becoming one with one’s inner being" is what scholars have called the Baal Shem Tov’s "immanentism": the pervasive sense of God’s omnipresence experienced by one who is properly attuned to this reality. The discovery of God’s immanence and omnipresence is one of the primary goals of the Baal Shem Tov’s way of meditation. Several works citing oral traditions of the Baal Shem Tov attest to this. (I have omitted introductions such as "The Baal Shem Tov taught…" from the quotes below.)

Contemplating the Word "Echad (One)"

" ‘Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One’ (Deuteronomy 6:6). When during this part of the prayer service a person recites the word ‘One,’ he should contemplate that the Holy One, blessed be He, is all that truly exists in the universe, for ‘the entire world is filled with His Glory’ (Isaiah 6:3). One must realize that he is nothing, for the essence of a person is his soul, and the soul is but a ‘portion of God Above’ (Shefa Tal 1a). Therefore, nothing truly exists except the Holy One, blessed be He."

Rabbi Dov Ber of Mezeritch, Likkutim Yekarim (sec. 161)

Banishing Spiritual Confusions

"When a person realizes that the Master of the Universe is actually present in his every word and gesture, however great or small, all spiritual confusions [literally "all workers of iniquity"] disperse that obscure the light of the mind."

Rabbi Yitzchak Eizik Yehudah Yechiel Safrin of Komarno, Nesiv Mitzvosekha (cited in Sefer Baal Shem Tov, Vayelekh, note 6)

The True "I"

" ‘I, I am the One Who consoles you…’ (Isaiah 51:12). When one realizes that the true ‘I’ is God, and nothing else exists besides Him, then [the divine promise is fulfilled that] ‘I am the One Who consoles you.’ "

Rabbi Gedaliah of Linitz, Teshu’os Chen, Tzav (cited in Me’iras Einayim, Inyan "Emunah")

Similarly, Ohr Ha-Ganuz La-Tzaddikim (Mattos) states:

"One must realize that essentially he, too, is Godliness. When one considers that the ‘self’ is really nothing, then Godliness will rest upon him."

No Need to Go Any Farther

"It is not necessary to ‘place’ oneself in Godliness – but only to realize that everything is subsumed in the Divine Light."

Rabbi Aharon Hakohen of Zhelikhov, Ohr Ha-Ganuz La-Tzaddikim (Vayera)

The Inner Soul of Everything

" ‘Why did the Torah begin with the account of creation? Because [the verse states], "The power of His acts He declared unto His people . . . " ‘ (Rashi, Genesis 1:1, citing Psalms 11:6). This alludes to the soul contained within God’s ongoing act of creation at every moment. The Great Maggid (Rabbi Dov Ber of Mezeritch) received a path from the holy Baal Shem Tov by which one may perceive in everything the inner soul that gives life to its physical form."

Rabbi Yitzchak Eizik of Homil (Chabad), Letter of Rabbi Raphael Kahan, cited in Ner Yisrael, Vol. IV (p. 237)

The catch is that this method seems to have been passed on from master to disciple as an oral tradition, and not put in writing. Therefore, one who is not merely curious but who wishes to embark on the Baal Shem Tov’s inner path is compelled to search for a qualified teacher – and as the old adage goes, "Those who know, don’t say; and those who say, don’t know." So how can one know where to turn? It seems that the first way to recognize such a teacher (or at least a likely candidate) is by his demeanor – if he personifies the way of being that he seeks to impart. As the Talmudic sages recommend: "If a teacher is like an angel of the Lord of Hosts, seek instruction from his mouth!" (TB Chagigah 15b)