Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Black & White Pictures For Erev Sukkos

Blogging Break Until After Simchas Torah

I will be taking a brief break from blogging until after Simchas Torah. I plan to return to regular posting on Monday, October 8.

"The Succah Of Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov Is Fit"

(Painting by Vyacheslav Braginsky)

Another Shtetl Mystery: Two Versions Of A Story

"The Answers May Be On A Different Plane"

Space Cadet commenting on "Predetermined" Cheeseburgers:

1. Does any of the free will we have fall under "real" and not just "apparent"? What could the concept/function of reward and punishment be in relation to free will that is only apparent? Would the rewards and punishments also be only apparent?

2. Can we from our vantage point ever know the quality and quantity of "sparks" in anything?

3. Do the above fall into the category of unanswerable questions that Rebbe Nachman cautioned against?

Three good questions!

1. To even attempt to answer the first question, we would need to define the terms "real" and "apparent." In a certain sense, the only reality is Divinity, and the phenomenal world is only an apparent reality (based on Likkutei Moharan I, 52, where Rebbe Nachman uses the terms Mechuyav HaMetziyus vs. Efshari HaMetziyus / Imperative Existent vs. Contingent Existent -- meaning approximately the same thing).

As I mentioned, this is a paradox because in terms of the absolute, there can be no freedom of choice or s'char va'onesh / reward and punishment; while in terms of the "relative" or "contingent" or "apparent" reality, there surely is! So your question can't be answered in a simple, straight forward way.

2. The "sparks" are not physical in any sense, and this term ("nitzotzos") is only a metaphor. Therefore, we cannot know the sparks via our physical senses (except maybe through inference). However, if we were to develop our hidden spiritual potential, it is possible that we might recognize the encounter with such estranged elements of holiness. Oral traditions about great tzaddikim like the Baal Shem Tov and Reb Pinchos Koretzer and Reb Nachman, etc., often allude to their "sixth sense" about such things, and their devotion to the tikkunim that cause the elevation of holy sparks, fallen souls, etc.

3. Are these among the "unanswerable questions?" In the sense that they don't admit of common-sense solutions, yes. But that doesn't mean we can't ask them. Just that we must be willing to accept the fact that the answers may be on a different plane than the questions.

After reading this, Bob, I confess that I am having a hard time recognizing myself. The last time I looked, I was an eccentric artist-recluse, and now I am mutating into a cyber-professor without a chair, but an old stump in the woods!

Tefillin On Chol HaMoed - Assur For Breslovers

Excerpt from Breslov Minhagim / Customs and Spiritual Practices:

Reb Elazar once told someone from an Ashkenazic background that for a Breslover Chassid, it is assur to put on Tefillin on Chol ha-Mo'ed, despite any family minhag to the contrary. Evidently this is due to the deep connection between the Zohar and the Rebbe’s derekh.

An Auspicious Time

Erev Sukkos is the time to give tzedakah.

(Rebbe Pinchas of Koretz)

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

"Hundreds Of Packages" - Erev Sukkos In Tsfat

Please send your donations to:

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

Question & Answer With Space Cadet - "Predetermined" Cheeseburgers

(Picture courtesy of

A Simple Jew asks:

Let's say that a kosher hamburger and a cheeseburger are put in front of you on separate plates. You have free will to determine whether or not you will eat the kosher hamburger.

If two kosher hamburgers are placed before you, you will select the hamburger that contains the sparks that are connected to the root of your neshoma.

Now, if two cheeseburgers are put in front of you, you certainly have free will whether or not to eat the cheeseburger. However, if you do decide to commit an aveira an eat one of the cheeseburgers, does Hashem predetermine which of the two cheeseburgers you will eat?

Space Cadet answers:

The question of free will (bechirah) and divine providence (hashgochah protis) is a paradox in the choice of hamburgers and in all things.

Plus there are different views about the subject in Yiddishkeit. The Rambam's concept of hashgochah is different than that of some other authorities. For example (although he is not a Rishon) the author of the Sefer HaBris disagrees with the Rambam, and takes the view that hashgochah is specific to each creature, not just the various species. The Baal Shem Tov, as is well known, takes an even more extreme view, extending hashogochah protis to every detail of creation. But this does not detract from the fact that we have free will and are subject to reward and punishment, according to divine justice.

There is also the concept that at some point we will be elevated above all this to the level of angels, and the paradox will dissolve (see Likkutei Moharan I, 21). And there are levels beyond this, too (see Likkutei Moharan II, 1, that our destiny is ultimately to surpass the angels).

So the specific cheeseburger the sinner chooses may be "predetermined" on a higher plane, somewhere above the clouds; but the aveirah remains an aveirah. (If the meat was kosher, eating the cheeseburger violates the issur of basar b'chalav; if the meat was treife, it violates the issur of treifos u'neivelos, but not basar b'chalav.) Instead of the person raising up the food and any holy sparks it may contain, the forbidden food will pull him down spiritually, causing profound damage to the soul (see Tanya, chapter 7).

Personally, I haven't eaten even a kosher hamburger for many years -- and the one time I did so (about sixteen years ago) was an exceptional situation, since I had elimated meat from my diet long before. These days I'm working on elevating the sparks in grains, vegetables, fruits, and dairy products -- and maybe in my digital camera as I run around taking pictures of reflections, shadows, and sidewalks!

Alcohol & Chassidus - Some More Sources

(Picture courtesy of

Excerpt from a sicha of the Frierdiker Rebbe:

Mashkeh itself should be out of the question for Chassidim. It's surprising how Chassidim have anything to do with mashkeh. Chassidus is intellect, and even middos Chassidus have to be guided by intellect… So, why do Chassidim drink mashkeh? The main point of Chassidus is being on guard (against undesirable practices)… and particularly mashkeh - according to Kabbalah, one has to be especially careful about wine. The Alshich writes, success in one's studies depends upon three things, and one of them is delicate foods. Especially for the study of Kabbalah, for which one of the ways to prepare oneself is to avoid drinking wine. There was a time when Chassidim were told not to make kiddush on wine but one challos.

(from the Sicha of Yud-Tes Kislev, 5691 - 1930: Likkutei Dibburim IV, page 1438)

Excerpt from the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe:

Some think that by drinking they help the Divine soul predominate over the animal soul. The truth is just the opposite; it causes the animal soul to predominate over the Divine soul.

(from the sicha of Shavuous 5728 - 1968)

Concerning what you write about mashkeh…, in my opinion there are two reasons why the situation has changed since the time when considerable drinking of mashkeh was a widespread practice:

a) Because, through the abundance of easier Maamorim (Chassidic philosophical discourses) and Sichos (transcripts of public addresses) on themes that explain and enable one to understand Chassidic concepts, the potential has already been given for Anash (members of the Lubavitch community) to impress their audience with no need for them to imbibe much mashkeh, so that even a little is sufficient.

b) Because, particularly in recent years, it is demanded upon us with added emphasis to spread the wellsprings of Chassidus outwards, and drinking much mashkeh is likely to disturb this considerably. It didn't matter as much when spreading Chassidus was confined to just within the limits of Chassidism and Anash.

In connection with the first reason, I support myself with what I once heard from my father-in-law, the Rebbe, in Riga. He said, "I am at present just as I would be after taking a little mashkeh" - by at present meaning not just at that time but all through the years since he had started taking less mashkeh.

Indeed the ostensible reason was because the doctors had ordered him to take less mashkeh. However, it is obvious that this was only the ostensible reason, which is why it was accepted as such by Chitzonim (those who perceive only the ostensible and irrelevant), but not among Anash who know that Chassidus demands Pnimius (perceiving inner intention). They realized this certainly also a lesson for us on this subject in general - for according to the rule that "the body follows the head," the Chassidim follow our leader, my father-in-law, the Rebbe. Since he said he is now as he would be after taking a little mashkeh, this gives us an instruction to all the Chassidim and it gives them the ability to be at this level.

In the course of my conversation with…, I specifically told him that this is not, G-d forbid, any sort of prohibition or command about not drinking mashkeh, and also does not mean complete abstinence. It is only what seems to me the difference between the effect of a farbrengen with little mashkeh and the extent that the participants go beyond all proportion.

(Letter - Igros Kodesh, Volume VII, page 58)

Source: N'Shei Chabad Newsletter

Sukkah Decorations

(Illustration by Rabbi Dovid Sears) Succah Decorations That Were Made For Non Jewish Holidays

Decorations: Many communities decorate the Sukkah with colorful posters depicting holiday themes on the walls or by hanging fresh fruits or other decorations from the sechach beams. The Chabad custom is not to decorate the Sukkah, as the Sukkah itself is considered to be an object of beauty.

Breslov Minhagim / Customs and Spiritual Practices (Elul‐Chanukah):

It is common practice among Breslover Chassidim to decorate the Sukkah. Most hang fruits and other objects from the s’khakh, according to their family minhagim. There does not seem to be any hakpeidah to refrain from hanging things from the s’khakh due to chumros.

(Heard from Rabbi Avraham Shimon Burshteyn)

Rabbi Riddle: Chassidic Sukkah Decorations!


(Picture by Michele Sartori)

This is why Sukkoth comes after Yom Kippur, so that the rectification of our past transgressions complete the clouds of glory of the Sukkah. On Sukkoth we sit surrounded and protected by the product of our refined sins .

A Waxing Wellspring: clouds within and clouds without

Head In The Clouds

One should be careful to study in a room with windows and gaze frequently at the sky, for this aids comprehension.

(Kav HaYashar #53)

Monday, September 24, 2007

My Neila

(Picture by Carlo Galli)

I thought of this story when a young boy behind me yanked the gartel off my kittel and tugged at my tallis during the closing moments of Neila.

HaRav Efraim Moshe ben Rechel

I have just received word that the father of the Sudilkover Rebbe is not healthy and in need of our tefillos.

Please keep the following name in mind when you daven or say Tehillim:

HaRav Efraim Moshe ben Rechel
הרב אפר'ם משה בן רעכל

A Grape Juice-Drinking Teetotaler

(Picture courtesy of

A Simple Jew commenting on Alcohol & Chassidus:

In his CD "No To Drugs", Rabbi Lazer Brody mentioned that many Breslovers avoid drinking alcohol and drink grape juice instead except in places where it is required explicitly by halacha. When I asked Rabbi Brody about this, he responded:

"Rav Shalom Arush is very adamant about this - he says that a person needs tremendous spiritual preparation before he can make a proper tikkun to drinking wine. On Purim and Pesach, he cries his eyes out to Hashem for 30 minutes before the wine touches his lips."

I found Rabbi Brody's response to be particularly interesting since I too use grape juice for kiddush since I don't care for the taste of alcohol and also because I have small children at home. Furthermore, while some may accuse me of being a teetotaler, it my contention that the vast majority of people use alcohol as a way to simply cope with their present reality. This can be a slippery slope since an alcoholic is often defined as someone who has to drink to feel normal.

Commenting on the verse "wine gladdens the heart of man" (Tehillim 104:15), Radak wrote, "Hashem creates the grapes from which wine is pressed. When drunk in sensible proportions, wine gladdens the heart and drives away melancholy. It heightens the intellect and even prepares the mind for prophecy."

Wouldn't you agree, however, that the man who rushes back to retrieve the bottles of scotch and vodka on Shabbos morning after davening is thinking more about the liquid inside the bottles rather than using this liquid to aid his avodas Hashem? Does he really have a lofty goal in mind or is he just trying to get a chemical reprieve from his screaming kids who he expects others to watch while he pours another shot?

"A Defined Purpose"

(Picture by James Collier)

"Inspiration means talking to the heart. Inspiration also means light as well as darkness. One cannot live inspired at all times. There are ups and there are downs in Avodas Hashem. One of the greatest challenges to a life of wholeness is the challenge of bringing the mind and the heart together. This must be acknowledged and addressed. A blog must be true to life or it will sound inauthentic."

Avakesh: Blogging -lessons learned.

What I Am Reading Now...

The Alien Fire Of Alcohol

Our sages examine the sin of Nadav and Avihu, and write that Nadav and Avihu wanted to serve Hashem under the influence of alcohol. They certainly weren't drunkards; on the contrary, they were tzaddikim of the highest level. Their mistake was that they believed they could attain even higher spiritual heights by way of substance usage. Hashem doesn't want "spiritual heights" that result from the alien fire of outside substances like wine, liquor, and drugs of all sorts. These are the alien fires that Hashem doesn't want. Hashem wants our spiritual gain that results from yearning, dedication, perseverance, and hard work.

(Rabbi Shalom Arush)

Friday, September 21, 2007

Erev Yom Kippur

A Treadmill Chiddush - Explaining Shema Yisroel

(Painting by David Friedman)

With a belly full of chicken, kishka, lochshen kugel, and home-made challah, I decided to run on the treadmill for forty-five minutes after Shabbos and listen to the third shiur from Rabbi Ozer Bergman's series "Being a Hassid L'maaseh". Midway through my run, I was blown away by an amazing explanation Rabbi Bergman gave concerning the meaning of the Shema. I have read and heard countless explanations concerning the meaning of this prayer, but once I heard Rabbi Bergman's explanation, I felt as if I never truly understood its meaning for all of the 34 years of my life until this time. It was as if a light finally turned on in my mind.

Rabbi Bergman explained that the Shema contains two Divine names; Hashem [the four-letter name] that denotes the aspect of kindness, and Elokim that denotes the aspect of harshness or severity. When the Ribbono shel Olam relates to us with kindness, He is relating to us though his name Hashem. And, when He relates to us through harshness and severity, He is relating to us through his name Elokim. Thus, the middle stanza of Shema is better understood.

Shema concludes with the words "Hashem echad", which means that the two Divine names and attributes are in reality an aspect of the name Hashem and are essentially one. On a simple level, this means that although we may perceive good and bad, kindness and harshness, with our physical eyes, everything comes from Hashem and is ultimately good.

With this explanation in mind, I can now see why the Shema is the central prayer in Judaism, why we recite it twice everyday, and why it is one of the first prayers we teach to a child when they learn to speak.

Once again, Hashem is revealed through simplicity...

Erev Yom Kippur Links

(Illustration by Alexander Vaisman) Selichos at the Kosel

Lazer Beams: "Tzarich Lihyot Baki" Kaporos all over the world

A Blogger's Apology

Have I ever posted something that has disturbed, upset, or offended you?

Invariably, the answer is most certainly yes.

I am not going to make excuses to justify my reasoning. On this Erev Yom Kippur, I am only going to tell you these simple words:

I'm sorry.

A Tikkun For Eating

Eating on Erev Yom Kippur rectifies how one ate throughout the whole year.

(Rebbe Baruch of Mezhibuz)

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Eizer L'Shabbos

Question & Answer With Michoel - Challenging Ahavas Yisroel

A Simple Jew asks:

Ahavas Yisroel is a cornerstone of Chassidus. Can you think of an example in your own dealings with your fellow Jews where your Ahavas Yisroel was greatly tested, yet you were able to overcome your natural inclination to respond negatively and you responded in a positive manner; guided by the principal of Ahavas Yisroel?

Michoel answers:

My first reaction to this question was, "A Simple Jew has got to be kidding! Maasim b'chol yom!".

But the truth is that it is hard to know what the inner kavana of one's actions is. Many times I responded in a positive fashion, not because of pure ahavas Yisroel but because of my own deficiencies. Meaning, I know that I have many faults and I want Hashem to be m'lamed z'cus on me, to act toward me lifnim mishuras hadin, so therefore I force myself to behave toward others in a positive manner. I don't think that qualifies as ahavas Yisroel.

However, there was a time not too long ago that we had an interesting guest over for a seudah. This 30 year old single gentleman brought a small children's toy with him. He fiddled with it constantly and was clearly very attached to it. At one point he got up to use the rest room. When he returned, he exclaimed that the toy was missing and that someone had taken it. He started brooding and implying that one of our kids must have swiped it. Let's just say that my wife and kids were less than thrilled by his strange behavior.

So if I had been with this gentleman by myself, I would have been free to act like a tzaddik and reassure him that everything was fine and that I would help him find his prize possession. However, I needed to make my family feel protected and reassured that I knew they were good kids that would never snatch away a guest's toy chas v' shalom. I was not free to sit on my high horse and "collect cheap z'chusim" by being m'lamed z'chus on someone with difficulties. I had to really focus on finding the right balance between protecting my kids and making them feel secure, and making this gentleman calm and treating him with dignity.

This opportunity to slow down the instincts and thought process allowed some (seemingly) sincere ahavas Yisroel to surface, which guided my reactions. As gently as possible, I explained that I don't think anyone took the toy and that it would certainly turn up soon. Baruch Hashem the toy was soon discovered covered by his napkin. At the end of seudah, I walked him home a bit longer than I normally do, reassuring him that it was an honor and pleasure to have him. I later explained to my kids that making a person with difficulties comfortable (even when we are uncomfortable) is a tremendous mitzvah. I don't think they were quite ready to appreciate this fully but hopefully they will in time, b'ezras HaBorei Olam.

Thursday Links

(Picture by Tom Kuhn)

The Muqata: What happened in Ichilov Hospital?

Mystical Paths: Aushwitz - A Walk In The Park...

A Waxing Wellspring: peace of house

Rabbi Fishel Jacobs: Boris - A Story For Yom Kippur (.pdf)

"My Brother And I Recently Became Leviim"

(Picture courtesy of

Long Yisroel's Journey Into Levite

Banishing Hatred

If a person does not banish hatred from his heart on Yom Kippur his prayers will not be heard, G-d forbid; but if you are tolerant and forgiving all your sins will be forgiven.

(Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 131:4)

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Our Conversation On Leadership Continues...

(Picture courtesy of

"Certain issues are indeed a 10; and we rely on the daas Torah of our gedolim to guide us as to which they are. But in all other non-essential matters, we should practice the concept of darchei noam, 'paths of pleasantness,' and be sensitive to the wants and needs of others outside our community. Keep in mind that no one was ever brought closer to Hashem by force. And even if we don't practice tolerance for its own sake, we ought to do so strictly for pragmatic reasons."

Did Chabakuk Elisha say this about leadership? No, it was someone else.

Guest Posting By Chabakuk Elisha - Post Gimmel Tammuz Hiskashrus

Someone once told me: "You know, you're a Lubavitcher the way a Conservative Jew is religious." He meant this as a compliment, but it got me thinking – what does that mean? Is it bad or good? And is it true? Of course, this begs a number of definitions: What is Lubavitch? What is a Lubavitcher? And, where do I fit in?

To me (and to pretty-much anyone else as well) there is a fantasy "Lubavitch" that we create in our minds eye. Most of the time, that "Lubavitch" is no more than one person's perception, and its relationship to reality is entirely subjective. No doubt there are elements of truth – sometimes more, sometimes less – but it's far more complex than one individual's description, because it is so many things: It's a culture, it's a philosophy, it's a movement, it's a path of avodas Hashem, it's a community, and it may very well be more things that I haven't listed. Each individual decides which elements are more significant and important, and which are less so – myself included. But to all people, Lubavitch is represented by the Rebbes of Lubavitch, and most recently by the last Rebbe – and, again, everyone thinks of the Rebbe using their own ideas and definitions and creates a Rebbe in whatever image they fantasize, just as they do with the definition of Lubavitch in general. Sadly, it becomes almost inevitable that the Rebbe is turned into a two-dimensional caricature – and we often see that the Rebbe has been turned into not much more than a superhero, the kind we might find in Marvel Comics named "Moshiach–Man" or something like that, all that's missing is the cape.

It's a bummer – it's tragic really. The extent of the "caricature-ization" of the Rebbe and Lubavitch in general, by Lubavitchers, saddens me constantly. To quote R' Manis Friedman, "Zei hobben genumen a groiseh Rebbe, un fun em gemacht a kleiner Moshiach - They took a great Rebbe and turned him into an insignificant Moshiach" – a the Moshiach campaign quickly turned into shallow, silly, ridiculous and warped ideas – and to add insult to injury, this comes complete with slogans, key chains, trading cards, engravings, posters, clocks, bumper stickers, watches, cell phone pouches, to who knows what else. I think that the word Moshiach is so loaded, and so full of mystery and people's dreams, that as soon as the label got thrown around by the masses, we were doomed to a cartoon Rebbe almost immediately. Honestly, I will never understand the Moshiach craze. Honestly, I don't see why I should care who Moshiach is and what he looks like – he is who he is. What's wrong with the word Rebbe that anyone saw the need to add the title Moshiach and thus add confusion and mayhem – was anything lacking in the title "Rebbe" that this was necessary? I have attempted to discuss this with people, including "Meshicistin" that I've met or know, but I am still no closer today to understanding the Yechi Yarmulka or the Yechi mantra than I ever was. In the process though, rather than building the Rebbe up, I think they have defaced the Rebbe and Lubavitch in such a way that had it been from an outside force it would be tantamount to an act of war.

But I'm not a "movement" person, so who am I to speak about this. Indeed, the Rebbe was aware and promoted much of what led to this. Indeed, I am a worthless Joe that should be ashamed of my lack of Torah & Mitzvos. Indeed, who am I to look askance at anyone who probably is doing far more than me to spread Yiddishkeit and be oveid Hashem? I shouldn't, but it still pains me. It pains me, because I love the Rebbe, and I love the Lubavitch that I believe in. I wish it was all a dream, and a serious Lubavitch, a refined and spiritual Lubavitch, a completive and pure Lubavitch would suddenly appear. What can I say, is it wrong to wish for that? Maybe it is…

I don't like "group think," and what can I say… I like nuance. Why must we define the Rebbe or Lubavitch with simplistic and flat definitions? Why does a shliach or mashpia need to state simple definitions as emphatic truth without qualifications? Why do people demand that others project certain one dimensional definitions on everything? I guess that's what movements do, and I guess there's merit to it – just look at its success – but I don't think it works long term. I don't think the younger generations buy it. I haven't done a survey or a study of this, but I don't think it has lasting power with this generation growing up that never saw the Rebbe. Instead, I think it erodes respect – as the gabbai in my shul once said, "How do they expect our children to respect the Rebbe when they have turned him into Mickey Mouse?"

Indeed, how?

Lubavitch will survive. The bookcase of seforim will see to that. The underlying messages and the lives of the Rabbeim have compelling and powerful truths that will endure – this is assured. But the movement? I don't know where it will lead. Today, Lubavitch is a small klal Yisroel; there are people – that call themselves Lubavitchers – that cross the spectrum, from truly refined Chassidim, ovdei Hashem, to people that aren't religious… and everything in between. There is no standard, no single type, no shared element across the board other than perhaps a picture of the Rebbe a visit to the Ohel, or "770," or a Likkutei Sichos. There are Chassidim with long beards and once white shirts that spend their days discussing maamroim, there are clean shaven folks with colorful shirts and jeans talking (hopefully) about sports, there are people putting on events, there are people – Lubavitchers – doing any-and-everything imaginable.

As for me, I guess I also fit in there somewhere… also doing my own thing…

Wednesday Links

(Picture courtesy of

Life in Israel: latest Breslav trend

Dixie Yid: What's the Yetzer Hara behind Historical Tanach Reading?

Reshimu: reshimu experiment This Year in Uman

Reshimu: A World Where They Only Show Syndicated Re-Runs

Gershon ben Rav Mordechai Leib z"l

(Picture courtesy of

Chabakuk Elisha: An Obituary

Aggada Gladdens The Heart

Aggada gladdens the heart. The Midrash relates that a man who knew the Chumash came before the heavenly court. Hashem said to him, "Why didn't you study Aggada? When Aggada is expounded before the congregation, I forgive the Jewish people for all their sins." In gematria Aggada (אגדה) is equal to Love (אהבה) - to hint that through Aggada the sins of Israel are atoned and Hashem's love for Israel is restored... By cleansing Israel of sin, Aggada makes peace between the Jewish people and its Father in Heaven.

(Ben Ish Chai)

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Kav HaYashar - Now In English

Excerpt from the foreword:

The Kozhnitzer Maggid said that studying passages of the Zohar from within the sefer Kav HaYashar had a more profound affect than studying the Zohar directly.

The Gaon of Ostrovtza explained, "Since there is a chain of levels of the soul, someone who has a soul rooted in a lower level cannot understand matters that originate from a very high place, for he is limited by the level of the root of his soul. Therefore, the Maggid said that if someone who learns a piece of Zohar from Kav HaYashar understands it on a higher level than someone who learns it on his own directly from the Zohar, for the author of Kav HaYashar imbued his sefer with the power of holiness of the lofty root of his soul. Thus, we can be affected and influenced more profoundly from Kav HaYashar than we can from the Zohar itself"

Rabbi Elimelech of Lezinsk, author of Noam Elimelech, knew the Kav HaYashar by heart, and reviewed it 102 (kav) times, corresponding to the title and the number of chapters. Rabbi Menachem Mendel, the Tzemach Tzedek, third Rebbe of Lubavitch, advised his followers to learn the Kav HaYashar for the attainment of fear of Heaven. Rabbi Shalom Rokeach, the Sar Shalom, first Belzer Rebbe, learned Kav HaYashar 102 times as well, and testified that its holy words were the source of his fear of Heaven.

5 + 7

(Picture courtesy of

Of all the proofs of the Divine origin of the Torah, I can think of no better than "proof" than the fact that it includes the laws of taharas mishpacha. If the Torah was written by man, I can't imagine that any sane man would include such laws that restrict the marital relationship.

Countless books have been written for woman on the topic of taharas mishpacha, however I have never seen even one book written for men to address their emotional needs at the time when all physical contact is forbidden. Man's difficulty lies in the fact that he is created as an extremely physical creature and is not given a corresponding physical outlet during the time of separation. This separation, in turn, can often lead to depression and irritability.

Rebbe Nachman of Breslov was keenly aware of man's innate difficulty and taught,

"Sexual temptation is man's main test in this world."

Indeed, of all the biographies I have read on tzaddikim, I have never been able to find any with descriptions on this subject as honest and comforting as what I found in Shivchei HaRan #16.

For years, I use to think that my thoughts on this sensitive topic were mine alone. I finally garnered the courage and broached this topic with my friend Aharon. In response to a recent conversation we were having on controlling one's desires he wrote,

"I live in terror of my wife being a niddah. I especially can't bear the isolation. When I think about it, I think I must be the most coarse and shallow excuse for a human that ever existed. Yet, if others feel this way, or experienced difficulties that becomes less depressing."

Aharon is certainly not alone with these honest feelings and it appears that a continuation of these honest discussions on man's "main test in the world" would be beneficial to many in order to provide practical solutions instead of just more questions. In Likutey Moharan #36, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov stressed to us the importance of finding these solutions and wrote,

"It is impossible for any person to grasp and comprehend the tzaddik' teachings unless he has first properly rectified the sign of the holy covenant."

Yom Kippur & Separation - A Question

(Illustration courtesy of The Temple Institute)

In the days preceding Yom Kippur, the Kohen Gadol separated from his wife and spent days in preparation on Har HaBayis. One of the reasons that the Kohen Gadol separated from his wife was so that he could perform his avodah in the Holy of Holies in a state of ritual purity.

Aside from ritual purity, do you think that perhaps another unwritten reason was because if he had physically satiated himself through marital relations he would not feel a lacking in his life that would allow him to better direct his longing towards Hashem?

Tuesday Links

(Picture courtesy of Haydn Brookes)

Crawling to Uman: Hooping for Hashem

Yeshiva World News: UPDATE On Condition of Ruchama Aliza Schwab

Heichal HaNegina: The Zeide Sues the Almighty

Dixie Yid: The Biggest Chiddush That No One Knows

The Best Remedy

Patience is often the best remedy for all kinds of troubles.

(Rabbi Yaakov Culi)

Monday, September 17, 2007

From Three To One

(Picture by Nicholas Pavloff)

In order to combat the aspects of my personality that I am least proud of, I decided to take it upon myself this Rosh Hashana to correct one my shortcomings. Initially, I wrote down the following three goals with the intent to work on them in the new year.

1) I will not yell or act out of anger.

2) I will be diligent to act in a friendly manner to any Jew whom my natural inclination is to avoid or ignore.

3) I will be diligent to control my thoughts from thinking about impure matters or thinking negative thoughts about a fellow Jew.

I let a few weeks pass by and revisited these goals. I decided that trying to accomplish all three of these three goals would be biting off more than I could chew so I decided to pick just one to work on; number 1.

Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh notes that overcoming one's anger plays a paramount role in one's avodas Hashem:

"Anger is a measuring rod for a person, through which the extent of one's faith in Hashem's Providence can be checked. The greater one's emunah in His Providence, the weaker is his trait of anger."

In order to ensure my success, I will view this goal as a daily goal instead of long-range goal. Each morning, I will read this goal to myself, speak to Hashem about it in hisbodedus, and tell myself that I don't have to do it every day, just the day that is before me. I will imagine that someone is going to pay me my entire yearly salary if I can refrain from expressing my anger for just that day alone.

Question & Answer With Akiva Of Mystical Paths - Spiritual Arrogance?

Toldos Yaakov Yosef - 1881, Warsaw

A Simple Jew asks:

There is a phenomenon within certain Chassidic groups only to learn the Chassidus of their rebbes. If you ask them about Sefer Baal Shem Tov, Toldos Yaakov Yosef, Me'or Einayim, or Degel Machaneh Ephraim they look at you with a blank stare or suggest you learn one of their seforim. While a person only has a limited amount of time to learn, and it is a given that he will learn the seforim of his Chassidus first, would you still consider it to be a form of spiritual arrogance to believe that a person can ignore these classic seforim that are the bedrock foundation for all Chassidic groups?

Akiva of Mystical Paths answers:

First, I don't believe this 'phenomenon' is limited to 'certain Chassidic groups', but rather is a general phenomenon among what some call 'ultra-orthodox Jews', both Chassidic, Litvish, and Sephardic. I'll explain what I mean by this a little further along.

Regarding Chassidim, we see that the students of holy gaon, student and leader of the chassidic movement after the Baal Shem Tov, HaRav Dovber, zt"l, the Maggid of Mezerich, fanned out to become the Rebbe's of various geographic areas. But stories from that time teach us that this was not a random affair, rather the holy Maggid targeted specific leaders to specific areas. As different communities faced different needs, such as a depressed farming district that needing uplifting, versus a more town or city centric area that was dealing with nasty issues of Jewish society class stratification, different leaders, Rebbe's, with different approaches focused on the same goals, were appropriate. More emotional, or more intellectual, more learning, or more davening, more singing, or more meditative.

As the chassidic communities grew and the generations past, the Rebbe's directed the spiritual welfare of their communities. More learning, or teaching, of a particular type. Adjustments to yeshiva curriculum's, deciding which minhagim would strengthen, and which would not.

Historically, these communities where geographically separate. Indeed, one could easily understand the differences in the local environments, political and social conditions, education and work/commerce opportunities, leading to different approaches to which parts of Torah life to strengthen, and which not to. If one would travel from one community to another, itself a major journey of days to weeks to months, one could easily understand a community's directed learning and minhagim in the context of their local conditions.

Ahh, but now we live side by side. A single family may contain members of different chassidic groups (indeed, we had a neighbor with 5 married daughters, one married a Lubavitcher, one a Breslover, one a Gur, one a Tzanzer, and one a 'generic' chossid), and a single neighborhood may have many living. Still, our Rebbe's of today (or spiritual leaders if not chassidic, or one of the chassiduses without a living Rebbe) try to focus the community path in relevance for their situation, whether it be part living in New York and part in Israel, or in tighter communities, or spread around the world. More insular or more worldly.

So now to your question... "would you still consider it to be a form of spiritual arrogance to believe that a person can ignore these classic seforim that are the bedrock foundation for all Chassidic groups?" Given what I wrote above, though the goals are the same, the paths to get there are not. One who has a mature understanding of their path can learn from others, and/or take positive parts from many and synthesize a a wonderful multiple view. However, others can become confused at apparent conflicts between paths. And this is the majority.

G-d forbid, this is not 'spiritual arrogance', this is following the tzaddikim of their generation who focus each path for the generation, the place, and the conditions of our time.

And referring back to my opening comment, we see this among the Litvish and Sephardim as well, to study Zohar or not, to study Rambam or not, to study the Aruch HaShulach or the Mishneh Berurah or the Shulchan Aruch HaRav.

I'll add two personal notes... In dealing with a recent personal problem, I consulted my friend and co-blogger, Rabbi Nati, who's a Breslover chossid, and a Chabad rav of mine. The action answer both gave was identical, but the spiritual reasoning was quite different, one focusing on emunah in Hashem and seeing the best in the situation and emunah that all will work out with the opportunities presented, the other focusing on the value of the mesiras nefesh in working on the opportunities presented, and that doing so will open spiritual channels to blessings being fulfilled.

The other is my spending time learning Tzavarat HaRivash. This is a wonderful sefer with many foundational concepts of chassidus (attributed to the Baal Shem Tov, or at least a direct compilation of sayings from him). Yet, for personal application I found the sefer daunting, as many of the concepts presented seem way beyond reach my reach. I could easily understand how a Rebbe would state that such a sefer is not appropriate for the general community population (the again, maybe it's just me.)

...G'mara v'Chatima Tova, you and your family and all of Klal Yisroel should be sealed for a good and sweet year, one with the ultimate blessing of Moshiach Tzidkaynu, mamosh now! Please, Ribono Shel Olam, no more waiting, no more pain, no more tears, no more fear of this world!

Yesterday, Lil' Tzadik Asked...

"Daddy, who made this Slurpee? Hashem?"

(Picture courtesy of

Words That Resonate

(Illustration by Rabbi Dovid Sears)

A must listen before Yom Kippur

Parenting Links

(Illustration by Patricia Dalton)

Orthonomics: Kedushat Yom Tov: Nannies at the Park on Yom Tov

Patricia Dalton: A Lost Art: Instilling Respect

To Be And To Do

The purpose of learning Torah is not to become a Torah scholar, but to be good and do good.

(Kotzker Rebbe)

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Black & White Picture Of The Week - Dining Room Sunset

Tzom Gedalia

Rebbe Ahara'le of Koznitz once said that one who is lenient and eats on Tzom Gedalia and does not fast, eats all the blessings that he just received on Rosh Hashana.

(Kisvei HaChassidim)

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


If I were brutally honest, could I truthfully say that my preparations during the month of Elul were considerably superior to my normal avoda throughout the rest of the year? Although there may be a few additional practices here and there, can I really say they are all substance and not just form; having the appearance of piety?

The vast majority of my physical preparations for Rosh Hashana have already been accomplished and yet I feel as if I have not even begun my spiritual preparations.

Perhaps this impossible, though. For to be properly prepared for Rosh Hashana one must be prepared to leave this world and enter the next.

Ending One Year & Beginning Anew

I want to take this opportunity to thank those of you who have commented on my postings. I would also like to express my great appreciation for those of you who have answered questions for Q&A postings and those who have provided guest postings over the past year. Honestly, I cannot thank you enough.

I wish all of you a beautiful new year full of gezunt, parnossa, and nachas!

"Your Whole Year Depended"

(Painting by Boris Dubrov)

No!!! That Was Your Whole Rosh Hashana!

Not An Echo

Let me hear the sound of the shofar itself, not the sound of an echo. Let the holy sound of the shofar penetrate deep into my heart and fill me with kedusha.

(Reb Noson of Breslov)

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Guest Posting From Chabakuk Elisha - Nuts On Rosh Hashana

(Picture courtesy of

We have a minhag not to eat nuts on Rosh Hashana. It's an old minhag, and the common reason given is that egoz (nut) is the same gematria as chait (sin); on Rosh Hashana we look for positive things as simanim, and sin, of course, isn't one of them. Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 129:9 states, "It is customary not to eat nuts and almonds, because the numerical value of Nut (אגוז) is 17, the same as Sin (חט). Also, nuts increase phlegm and mucus which interferes with prayer."

I keep this minhag, but ever since I was a child, this one has made me scratch my head:

Egoz = 17, Chait = 17 (without the alef), and Tov = 17. I'm sure there are other words that total 17 as well, for example, Haggadah and Zevach also share the gematria 17.

Now, we know that midda tova meruba mimiddas puroniyus (good outweighs bad). Therefore shouldn't the good connotations for 17 outweigh the bad? After all, Tov/Good should be a great thing! Moreover, if we spell chait the way that it is normally spelled, with an alef, it totals the number 18 (Chai), the very number that we almost always try to use in gematrios; we don't avoid donating Chai dollars to tzedaka because 18 can also = chait, to the contrary, 18 is specifically the number of choice!

And there's also the famous story: When the Baal HaTanya was in Mezritch for Rosh Hashana with his Rebbe, the Maggid wished him "a GUT yom tov" (instead of using his regional pronunciation of GIT). The Baal HaTanya was surprised, but the Maggid continued: "Don't think I'm making fun of you (as the Alter Rebbe, being from Lithuania, would have said GUT), it's just that I want to emphasize the spelling of "gut" with a vov, which is gematria "chai (life)" and not "git" which could be spelled with a yud and the gematria would be off (22)." So by using the word "gut" (18) on Rosh Hashana in his brocha – which could also be the gematria of chait – the Maggid was giving the Alter Rebbe a brocha for life on Rosh Hashana. So, what's really the problem?

Yes, I know, there is another reason there: "nuts increase phlegm and mucus which interferes with prayer ." But even if that's true, it seems odd to me to ban nuts for this reason. I don't know, but I haven't noticed a difference, and there are probably other foods that we could avoid for similar reasons, so this answer never really seemed compelling to me. Actually, the reason I do it is simply because it's a minhag, and a Minhag Yisroel is special. We all know the klal that Minhag Yisroel Torah Hi – and therefore, if we have a minhag not to eat them, then for those of us that have the minhag - that is "Torah." As for the true reason for the minhag…I don't know if it really has anything to do with the gematria, rather, I suspect that the gematria is just a way to remember it - but the real reason? I suspect that the reason for it is something else entirely.

The Rosh Hashana Minhagim Of Sudilkov

The following are the minhagim of Sudilkov for Rosh Hashana as related by the Sudilkover Rebbe:

- Fasting untill Chatzos hayom on Erev Rosh Hashanah.

- Saying Yehi Ratzon between the three sets of shofar blowings.

- Eating the simanim of Rosh Hashanah before the meal.

“Good Shabbos, Boimelah.”

(Picture courtesy of

Received via e-mail from Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen:

On this Rosh Hashana, we begin the "Shmittah" – the Sabbatical Year! During this year, we are to allow the Land of Israel to experience its "Shabbos"! In the spirit of the approaching Shabbos of the Land, I would like to share with you the following story:

During the early days of the State of Israel, there was a beloved sage, Rabbi Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman, who was the founder and head of the Ponivez Yeshiva in Bnei Brak. Rabbi Kahaneman was aware of the difficulties facing those farmers who were striving to fully observe the Shmittah. On the eve of the Sabbatical Year, this sage traveled to Kibbutz Chafetz Chaim, a Chareidi kibbutz which was keeping the Shmittah laws, for he desired to strengthen the spirit of the farmers. He spoke to them about the holiness of this "Shabbos for Hashem" – a holiness which permeates each plant and each "boimelah" (an affectionate Yiddish term for a tree). As the Shmittah year was about to begin, he suggested that every farmer go over and wish a tree, "Good Shabbos, boimelah." He himself then kissed the earth and wished it a "Good Shabbos"!

The story about Rabbi Kahaneman appears in the book "Builders" by Chanoch Teller.

"The Only Empty Tent"

(Picture courtesy of AFP)

"Certainly this time they'll use the words 'deplore' or 'deeply regret' when they call the news conference" said one distraught mother. "After all", she continued, "my daughter lost an eye and has shrapnel lodged in her neck. That has to be worth a 'deplore', right?"

Treppenwitz: Formulating an appropriate response

The Muqata: The Erev Rosh HaShana Miracle

Reminders From Last Year And The Year Before

(Picture by Richard Payne)

A Three-Part Strategy For Successful Davening During The Yomim Noraim

My Spiritual Selfishness

"Together As One"

(Map courtesy of

Two-Day Yom Tov

September 11

(Picture courtesy of

A Sentence On Page 176

In Error

Those who argue that it is unnecessary or even wrong to leave Eretz Yisroel in order to go to Uman for Rosh Hashana are in error. The opposite is true. Our love of Eretz Yisroel and yearning for its rebirth mandates that we travel to the tzaddik for Rosh Hashana.

(Rabbi Avraham Sternhartz)

Monday, September 10, 2007

Entering The Light - A Beautiful New Book By Rabbi Dovid Sears

"Here are the keys forged by a master locksmith to unlock the closed doors of Shabbat and Yom Tov. May all who seek to enter the King's palace use them, and find their way inside."

Question & Answer With Dixie Yid: Implementing Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh

(Picture courtesy of

Simple Jew asks:

You have written in the past about the advice prescribed in Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh. As you continue to learn this sefer, how have you successfully implemented its teachings in your daily routine? What difficulties have you encountered doing so? And finally, did your opportunity to listen to the recordings of the mechaber's shiurim that you posted give you any new insights on how to learn this sefer and put it into practice?

Dixie Yid answers:

As a sentence or two of background, the author outlines a regimen of at least one hour of hisbonenus each day to really internalize 1) Ratzon for Kirvas Hashem, 2) Consciousness of metzius Hashem, 3) consciousness of Hashem's immediate closeness and 4) Hashem's hashgacha pratis in every detail of life. He also says that we must reinforce this hisbonenus with a 10-15 second hisbonenus every 15 minutes or so throughout the day.

At the beginning, I tried the hour of hisbonenus a couple of times. However, my powers of concentration have been so eroded by years of bad habits and perhaps my natural difficulty with concentration. Therefore, I had difficulty staying focused on one line of thinking for such a long time. My other problem was with the periodic mini-hisbonenus'n throughout the day. At the beginning, I set alarms for myself on my PDA and, as part of a chaburah, we would call each other as a reminder a few times a day to do that mini-hisbonenus.

This became hard to maintain as well, so I basically stopped trying to apply the teachings of the sefer for almost 2 years. On one hand, I couldn't give up learning the sefer because I don't want to give up the ship. And on the other hand, I felt that I didn't want to start applying it again if I wasn't sure I could succeed. Furthermore, I had kind of an all-or-nothing attitude. I'm learning, working full-time, and in law school. I certainly don't have time for an hour of hisbonenus in the day. And if I can't do all of it, I don't want to do it at all.

However, in the last couple of weeks, with all of the excitement around the mechaber's visit to the United States, and now being the heat of the Elul teshuva season, I realize that now is the time to reinvigorate my efforts and making Kirvas Hashem a priority again in my life. This was not really advertised in advance, but many people were able to get private meetings in person or by phone with Rav Shwartz to discuss his eitzos for that person's personal avodas Hashem. Baruch Hashem I was able to speak with him by phone and I was able to lay out my situation and ask him how to apply what he teaches into my practical life.

I will not share the very specific advice he gave me, lest people think that what he told me will be applicable to everyone, I'll share a couple of principals that I think might not be obvious from the seforim in terms of practically applying what he teaches.

One thing is not to have the all-or-nothing attitude. Although it might seem from the seforim that if you can't spend 1 hour on hisbonenus per day, you won't succeed, the fact is that everything that you do counts. the main thing, however, is that what you do be consistent. If you can only commit to 5 minutes a day, do 5 minutes a day, every day, seven days a week. The important part is the consistency, more so than the amount of time, though doing the full hour is obviously more effective than 5 minutes. But if, for practical reasons, you can only spend 5 minutes, then do so!

The second thing is just to reinforce the importance of doing mini-hisbonenus'n throughout the day to reinforce the idea you're working on inculcating into yourself during the hisbonenus time.

So IY"H, my plan now is to reinvigorate my efforts and commit to a regular, sacrosanct time for some significant hisbonenus per day and to create reminders for myself as I get into the habit of doing mini-hisbonenus moments throughout the day.

May we all be matzliach in incorporating consciousness of Hashem into our lives!

"A Mitzvah For Every Bite"

(Painting by Rabbi Elyah Succot)

Fun with Shmittah!

Sephardi Selichot

Rosh Hashana: A Classroom Mashul

(Picture courtesy of

Received via e-mail from a reader:

Rosh Hashanah In 18 Seconds by Rabbi Mendel Bluming

Did you ever wonder why we don’t say the ‘viduy’ penitential prayers on Rosh Hashanah as we do on Yom Kippur? On Rosh Hashanah G-d determines "who will live and who will ….." shouldn’t we ask forgiveness as we do on Yom Kippur?

The answer to this question touches the heart of what Rosh Hashanah is: namely, the time of accepting the sovereignty of G-d for the new year.

Let me explain this idea with an analogy. There can be two reasons for why a child misbehaves in the classroom. One is a problem of the moment: the child is bored, tired or fidgety. The other is a deeper rooted problem where the child has difficulty in recognizing and accepting the teacher’s position of authority. Of the two problems, the former is easily overcome while the latter is much more serious.

On Rosh Hashanah we get to the core: personally accepting the legitimacy of G-d’s complete authority (accepting the King), everything else follows.

Merely Information

We have seen that we are already close to Hashem in every kind of way, but we merely know mentally that we are close. The problem amongst most people is that this is merely information. But the clear feeling of closeness, the feeling that Hashem is always near us and in us, the feeling that we are really His children, the feeling that we are His friends, is something we lack. We are close, but we don't sense it. When we are physically close to something, we sense it, but when the closeness is spiritual, we may know of it, but we don't always feel it all that much.

(Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh)

Sunday, September 09, 2007

"Different Colored Swirls"

Selichos In Crown Heights