Wednesday, October 31, 2007

"There Are Two Ways To Read This"

(Picture courtesy of

A Yid commenting on A Question From Levi Yitzchock - Peyos Minhagim:

Reb Chaim Vital simply says, that Arizal did cut his peyos, so they wouldn't go into "zokeyn mamash", i.e. actual beard. The Arizal says nothing about cheek bone.

There are two ways to read this:

1. Simply the beginning of the beard (i.e. cheek bone). This understanding is used by Chabad and Chernobyl.

2. The beard under one's chin (here the "mamash" is stressed, i.e. the actual beard is understood as the part of the beard underneath one's chin. This is practiced by many chasidim, including Breslov).

So you can see these are both legitimate ways of reading Arizal. So one shouldn't negate the other. So if someone is pushing you about it, you can say that these both traditions have a right to be used, and they shouldn't push you.

Now concerning those who wear very long peyos beneath the chin even, or not cut them at all. There is no reason for this al pi Kabolo. On the contrary, Arizal says, that peyos below that length are not good because of klipos. In Breslov, many chasidim follow the second view, and let peyos grow until one's chin. So do those who have a mesoyro in Breslov. The trend to make peyos very long below chin is a non-traditional an innovation by some newcomers to Breslov.

Now regarding Chabad. Many in Chabad today for some reason not only cut peyos short, but make them unnoticeable at all. There is no good reason for it. Also it is known, that Rayatz ztz"l had somewhat long peyos, wearing them under his yarmulke. On photos of old Chabad chasidim you can see pretty noticeable peyos.

Also note, that in Russia and Ukraine, there was a gzeyro prohibiting wearing long peyos introduced by the evil Tsar Nikolay I. For this reason virtually all Russian chasidim didn't wear long peyos for a long period of time.

Question & Answer With A Shliach Of The Rebbe - Shlichus & Territorialism

(Picture courtesy of

A Simple Jew asks:

Many people who have visited Chabad houses perceive that there is a territorialism between Chabad houses located in close geographical proximity since they rarely encourage people to go to events or classes held at another Chabad house. If one of the missions of Chabad is to help unaffiliated Jews return to their heritage, why is there not more collaboration at least between shluchim assigned to the same general locality?

A Shliach of the Rebbe responds:

To begin with, we must acknowledge the practical considerations of Shluchim who operate in close proximity to one another. In order to avoid conflict, certain boundaries must be respected. Ideally, collaboration is the goal and, when feasible, is preferred. However, there is much to be said for autonomy as well. As such, the system which governs how Shluchim are to interact with one another does not require that Shluchim extend open borders to one another. Rather, the system protects each one’s boundaries and places collaboration with other Shluchim at the discretion of the Shliach. This arrangement – while perhaps being only “the lesser of two evils” – is meant to preemptively avoid conflict, rather than merely react to it after it has already occurred.

What are the concerns that make it important that collaboration between Shluchim in nearby areas remain purely voluntary? First, when a Shliach works with a person, he uses his own approach. Each Shliach has his own style and his own way of relating to his people. Often, when a person gets direction from too many sides, he becomes confused and loses focus and momentum in his development. Thus, it can be damaging for the person getting close to Yiddishkeit to be overly "eclectic." It is all too common that "too many chefs spoil the broth" and a person can end up overwhelmed when receiving direction from more than one spiritual mentor. Additionally, it cannot be denied that there is a material benefit to the Shliach to be the sole steward to his constituents. As you may or may not already know, all Chabad institutions are essentially self-supporting. Since it is the case that im ein kemach, ein Torah, thus, if one Shliach is operating at a deficit because a nearby Shliach who also serves his people happens to be a better fundraiser, then the former will be limited in his ability to continue reaching more Jews.

Now, both of these concerns can be addressed with a little dedication and sensitivity on the part of the Shluchim themselves. But, again, you must remember, no Shliach is compelled to coordinate with others. It has to be his choice. As more and more Shluchim go out, territorialism is actually becoming obsolete and we see more and more specialization amongst Shluchim. For instance, a Chabad shul and a campus Shliach in one city; a Shliach who runs a school alongside a Shliach who runs a Chabad House; a Shliach who does adult education in the same area as a Shliach who does community programming. Of course, all of this must be coordinated. But it's becoming more and more common for many Shluchim to operate in one geographical area. Heck, the Federation has hundreds of employees in some cities. There is certainly room for hundreds of Shluchim in one place if they all abide by the system and answer to the letter and the spirit of acknowledging a single authority which in this case is Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch, the organization that oversees placement of Shluchim.

A Simple Jew replies:

Many people have the mistaken notion that there is a large efficient corporation-like machine called Lubavitch that had layers of management and huge vaults if funding. Instead it's a loosely united network of "franchises" and mom & pop-type operations. Seemingly, this system might result in certain pitfalls that would undermine the stated goals since each shliach needs to protect his revenue sources, mikurovim, and resources in order to continue. Unfortunately, the shliach may even end up almost forced to make sure that others are not as successful.

Every shliach is his more-or-less own boss, and his very survival is at stake. In many cases it may take real self-sacrifice for him to work with anyone else and it's probably unfair to expect that. Like any mom & pop shop, it may also set him up to get stuck in territorial disputes and nepotism.

Of course, I understand that by giving each shilach a tangible personal stake he will be more motivated to succeed, but this seems to come at a price of having a more unified effort with shared resources and a sense of esprit de corps. Are there systems in place to promote unity and be sure that the true goals aren't obfuscated by the business or "kemach" side of the equation? Does Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch have the authority and power to step in and make sure that the network of shluchim is functioning as best as it can?

A Shliach of the Rebbe responds:

Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch is the Rebbe's system. Anyone who calls himself by the title of “Shliach” is explicitly invoking the authority of the Rebbe in doing so. Thus, you can't have your cake and eat it too. If you want to be the Rebbe's representative, then you have to follow the Rebbe's system.

Of course, this requires that everyone abide by the system and respect its rules. Most Shluchim understand that it is in everyone's interest to sometimes put personal concerns aside in order to make way for the common good. The problem comes about when people decide that they want to be a "Shliach," but that they don't want anything limiting them. They hang up a shingle and call themselves a Shliach without being part of the system. Now, everyone has a right to open a shul or to do outreach. But don't move in on top of another guy who is abiding by the system and then start unfairly competing with him. It's not hard to understand that if you have one guy who is playing by the rules and another guy who is not, that it's the rule-breaker who is at the advantage.

If you ever want to know who is part of the system and who is not, just check the Chabad centers listings on

Ultimately, it must be stated that the Rebbe devised a system that – when dealing with such a massive operation and such a radical goal – would allow for the best of all practical outcomes. Human nature can rear its head even amongst rabbis. It is thus remarkable to observe how effectively Shluchim actually do work along side one another toward a common goal. One only needs to observe the scene at the yearly Kinus HaShluchim to be reminded of this fact.

A Question From Levi Yitzchock - Peyos Minhagim

(Picture courtesy of

My Dear Friend,

I have a question concerning Peyos. Since my conversion, I have never cut my peyos or my beard. As you know I converted through Chabad. I usually wear them rolled up behind my ears, but this Yom Kippur I decided to wear them down. I was told in no uncertain terms that the wearing of long Peyos was frowned upon by the Arizal and this is why Lubavitch doesn't wear them long. Mine only come to my jaw. I cannot find anything regarding this other than the Arizal trimmed his peyos with scissors There may be something in the Zohar also that says the peyos should not touch the beard. Rebbe Nachman says, that the peyos are part of the beard. If this is the case why do most of the Chassidic world have long peyos?

I realize some do wear them small, some under their Kippot, and some behind the ear. I do understand that hair in that area is considered peyos even if is short. I've also heard that the Alter Rebbe had long peyos as well as the Freideker Rebbe and they also wore them under there hats or Kippot.

Irregardless, I will not cut them off, trim them ok, but not to cut them. People in the Satmar community told me that the Baal Shem Tov had Peyos as well as the Teimani who have no Chassidic influence and trace their wearing of them back to the time of the Beis Hamikdash.

Zei gezunt,

Levi Yitzchock

19 Cheshvan Links

Mystical Paths: Power of Tehillim

Life in Israel: Shmitta: a story indicating the state of affairs

Treppenwitz: Monsters of Victims

Hirhurim: Does Olmert Deserve Cancer?

Dixie Yid: New Site on Hisbodedus

Lacking Simplicity

When a person's drawing closer to the Tzaddik lacks simplicity, he will later become the Tzaddik's adversary.

(Rebbe Nachman of Breslov)

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Question & Answer With Yitz Of A Waxing Wellspring - The Most Difficult Mitzvah

(Illustration by

A Simple Jew asks:

It has been taught that a person accomplishes his tikun neshoma by overcoming obstacles and performing the mitzvah that he finds most difficult to observe. What mitzvah is this for you and how have you struggled to overcome the obstacles?

Yitz of A Waxing Wellspring answers:

I know it isn't exactly what you hear every day, but I'm sure there are many people who feel similarly. I've always wanted to die al kiddush HaShem. My name Yitzhak has always had me associated with the Akeidah. I don't mean to say I'm suicidal, suicide is forbidden by Judaism, and dying for no reason seems pretty pointless. I've always wanted to die al kiddush HaShem.

Which, to answer your question, makes living al kiddush HaShem my ideal Tikkun. This is the hardest thing for me to bear. I have no problem with tasks that have deadlines, (not that I in any way enjoy the stress of deadlines) but open-ended tasks that never end weigh very heavily on me. Living for HaShem is something that takes literally a lifetime.

When I was younger (very early teens, late teens, even early twenties) I had the distinct impression that I was here by mistake, that I couldn't possibly bear the burden of living every day and suffering the knowledge of all the things I was doing wrong. Not that HaShem ever makes mistakes. I imagined that I had made a special request of HaShem either to come here, or to come back, and HaShem, in His infinite kindness, granted my request. So, it was my mistake. I didn't know how hard living in this world would be, or so I imagined.

Coming to Israel and learning Hassidut allowed me finally to start to see a way to live my life al kiddush HaShem. First I learned the Hassidut of Rebbe Nachman, Sichot Haran mornings and nights, on the busses to and from work or wherever else I was going. Later I picked up the Tanya, learning a perek a day, I went through it three times in one year. In college I had once asked the Chabad Rabbi (Eliyahu Cohen) @ NYU what was the fifth level of Torah that corresponds to the fifth level of the soul (yechidah) and fifth level of the world (adam kadmon)? He told me Hassidut and specifically Tanya. At the same time I was learning Likkutei Moharan on Shabbat night each week. One Torah each week.

Hassidut felt very much like coming home. I was raised by my parents to be creative, to think outside the box. My problem was that outside the box there's always another box and I was driven by the challenge to think outside ALL of them. In Hassidut I finally found a derech of Torah that incorporated the ability to endlessly turn something on its head, always learning new hidushim from the simplest of ideas. In Hassidut I found that everything had its root in something good and that Happiness was something we control and not something that controls us. (The Tanya explains that we can be happy and sad simultaneously and there is no logical contradiction.) Another problem I had with logic was the difficulty people had with paradoxes. I never found them a problem, in general they were comforting because of the symmetry and the depth of the wisdom they contained. This awareness and acceptance of paradox also found a home in Hassidut.

As I grew HaShem sent me everything I needed, a Rav who knew so much I could never know more than him, my main requirement in a Rav at the time. It turned out he was also a Sephardi Rav, the student of a great Mekubal, with a tremendous closeness to Hassidut and Tzaddikim living in our time. He helped me to piece together all of my answers and questions, encouraged me to learn the Maor Eynayim and eventually the Notzer Hesed.

The Tanya taught me that this world was better than the next world, because here we can enjoy a closeness with HaShem that we can't attain there.

Rebbe Nachman taught me that we can bring things entirely to the side of good simply by finding points of goodness in them.

The Baal Shem Tov taught me that every stimulus is part of HaShem's relationship with you and also that judging people only accomplishes passing judgement on yourself. (and In reality all of the other teachings listed here are just a fleshing out of the Baal Shem Tov's teaching)

The Maor Eynayim taught me to connect everything back to its source in HaShem.

The Noam Elimelech taught me that Tzaddikim recreate a more favorable world through their prayers.

The Notzer Hesed is still teaching me about ayin, about losing yourself in HaShem.

(Tears come to my eyes thinking about this, even now, the priceless treasures of Hassidut with which I was blessed.)

It wasn't until I was married, Pesach 5766, that HaShem made it clear that every choice I had made and every step I had taken had lead me to the right place. Finally I understood that I was supposed to be in the world, right here, right now. That HaShem puts us wherever we need to be most.

There are two major obstacles to my tikkun today: Zrizut and Humility.

As an offshoot of living for HaShem, there is the matter of not dragging your feet about it. Avraham Avinu was the living embodiment of this midah, the midah of zrizut. I have so much trouble with this. Getting up on time, getting anywhere at all on time, being consumed with the desire to jump into a mitzwah rather than taking my time to warm up to a mitzwah, once I've taken care of my own basic needs and let my yetzer get the better of me a little.

The other issue is that I'm deathly afraid to go down the path of selflessness. I don't really see another way to go, and I don't really want my possessions or anything at all other than to serve HaShem, but I'm still afraid I won't have the strength or the drive. I'm afraid people won't understand, or that my yetzer is lying to me and deluding me, that perhaps this isn't my path at all.

I'm not exactly a ba'al teshuvah, my parents were ba'alei teshuvah in their teens and twenties, I grew up religious, knowing HaShem and knowing what a Jew is supposed to do, but I think, and I've written about it, the hardest part of being a ba'al teshuvah is going from trusting your own internal voice (without which you could never have returned to HaShem) to the bitul of ignoring yourself and your own needs in the face of others. In that sense I am a ba'al teshuvah.

I did follow my internal voice to bring me to where I needed to be. And now, I'm afraid to let go of what I've always thought is "me." But I'm starting to get the impression it's not me, it's my yetzer.

I don't think anything else needs to be said except that when I look back at where I've been I can only thank HaShem for every moment of it. I don't know how I got there, or why I did what I did, but it got me to where I am today. When I look forward I need to remember that the biggest kiddush HaShem is recognizing that nothing comes from me.

18 Cheshvan Links

(Picture by Rebecca Marr)

Psycho Toddler: The Hebron Trip

Hirhurim: Peshat in the Or Ha-Chaim Commentary

Dixie Yid: Mussar from "Last Lecture" of a 47 Year Old Terminally Ill Professor

Temunot: Parshas VaYera Cake


When the wicked have troubles, they ascribe them to chance.

(Rabbi Yaakov Culi)

Monday, October 29, 2007

Guest Posting By Space Cadet - Crossing the River

(Picture courtesy of

Our old friend, Catskills hermit Space Cadet, informs us that he has set aside his camera for the moment, being unable to afford printing the images he describes as “the abstract expressionism of everyday life.” Instead, he has been writing poems based on Rabbi Nachman’s Likkutei Moharan, such as “Crossing the River.” The poems may not be as good as the pictures, but they are much cheaper. For those unfamiliar with Rabbi Nachman’s lesson, a key to the poem’s symbols appears below.

Crossing the River

Based on Likkutei Moharan, Torah 64

The silence of Your concealment

Surrounds us like a river.

Within its vast circle:

Answers and questions,

Feasting and hunger,

Birth and death.

Beyond its terrifying edge –

Your Infinite Light!

How to cross over?

Through faith alone.

To rescue lost souls,

The True Man of Faith gazes into the deep.

“With one silence,” he explains,

“I answer all conundrums.”

In this silence, the river dissolves.

Gone are answers and questions,

Feasting and hunger,

Birth and death.

As the raft touches the dock,

Everything becomes clear.

There is no other shore.

There is no river.

There is no journey.


Related Concepts From Torah 64:

1. Creation comes about through God’s constriction of the Infinite Light, leaving a Chal HaPanui / Vacated Space.

2. This Vacated Space encompasses all of creation, like a circle.

3. This is also symbolized by the river that Abraham crossed, and why his descendants are called Hebrews (“Ivri’im / Those who cross over”). With faith in God’s omnipresence, even in the midst of His seeming absence, the Jewish people transcend all questions and confusions (see below).

4. Beyond the Vacated Space is Sovev Kol Almin, God’s absolute transcendence. Within it are all of the “worlds,” animated by Memale Kol Almin, God’s imminence.

5. The nature of the Vacated Space is a paradox, because God is absent there -- yet God must also be present, for nothing can exist without His animating power.

6. All divine concealment, hence all suffering, comes from the Vacated Space. This, too, is the source of disbelief and all philosophies that deny God.

7. The essence of the Ge’ulah / Messianic Redemption is the solution to the riddle of the Vacated Space. With this, all conflicts and confusions vanish, and with them all suffering.

8. The Vacated Space embodies the paradigm of silence, for no animating divine wisdom or “letters” of God’s creative speech are present there.

9. It can be traversed only by one who makes himself silent to all of its derivative conundrums. This is the tzaddik in the category of Moshe, whose is “The True Man of Faith” in the poem.

10. By impassively contemplating the conundrums that proceed from the Vacated Space, this tzaddik / True Man of Faith rescues all of the lost souls that ever fell into this cosmic abyss.

11. This “rescue mission” is accomplished by the Song of the Tzaddik, which is the Song of Faith, from which all songs and all music derives. It is also the Song of Silence – but I didn’t get around to working this into the poem.

12. The idea of reaching the other shore and seeing that there is no other shore, no river, and no journey alludes to the realization of God’s Infinite Oneness from which all multiplicity emerges and returns – because that's where it always was!

One Halloween Night In Monsey

(Picture courtesy of

Excerpt from page 243 of Reb Yaakov:

Someone was visiting Reb Yaakov, shortly after he moved to Monsey, when someone Halloween trick-or-treating rang the bell. (Monsey was not yet the largely Jewish town that it is today.) The man assumed that Reb Yaakov would not be familiar with such a non-Jewish custom from his years living in Williamsburg and hastened to explain to him what the children wanted. But Reb Yaakov was not only familiar with Halloween, the Rebbetzin had already prepared bags of sweets for any child that might ring.

17 Cheshvan Links

Kesser Shem Tov - Lemberg, 1863

YIVO Institute: The YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe

A Waxing Wellspring: double vision Is Starbucks Kosher? - Halachic Musings

As I Grew Old

When I was young, I admired clever people. As I grew old, I came to admire kind people.

(Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel)

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Black & White Picture Of The Week - Slide

Friday, October 26, 2007

Question & Answer With Chabakuk Elisha - Akeida

(Picture courtesy of

A Simple Jew asks:

Amongst the midrashim about the Akeida, there are descriptions of Avraham's strict adherence to the details and halachos of how a korban must be brought to Hashem. Yet when Avraham was not able to use the knife to slaughter Yitzchok, before he was stopped by an angel, he began to strangle his son in a last minute attempt to fulfill what he believed was Hashem's will. In the midst of strangling his Yitzchok, he said to himself, "Obviously, Hashem does not want me to kill him by cutting his throat. He must want me to kill him with my bare hands."

Is this midrash an example of Avraham Avinu following the logic of his own mind rather than adhering strictly to what Hashem actually commanded? Isn't this the same thing that Hashem faulted Nadav and Avihu for?

Chabakuk Elisha answers:

I would say no, and very shortly: Avrohom Avinu was the first fundamentalist Jew. We spoke about it a little here. Avrohom wasn't one to consider taking an alternative way around G-d's desire - that's the entire point of the test of the Akeida in the first place.

G-d told Avrohom that he should be makriv Yitzchok. It wasn't ambiguous. It wasn't misunderstood. Avrohom took it seriously, and he was undaunted by the obstacles that got in the way. The same was true when he got to this point, and the fact that some angel told him to skip it was really just another test. Avrohom could no longer use a knife, that's true, but G-d didn't mention knives; since the initial order came from G-d, any cease and desist order would also have to come from G-d. Therefore, it must be that an alternative means, other than a knife, was to be used.

And this was the right choice. Had G-d wanted him not to try this, G-d would have notified him of the change in plans, not an angel. This was indeed another element of Avrohom's test, to see if he'd take the various "ways out" that were set up along the way - and once again, Avrohom Avinu passes the test...

"Chassidim Remain Chassidim"

(Picture courtesy of

"... he was hesitant to enter the Chabad House knowing that his granfather was one of the investigators who interrogated and tortured the Previous Rebbe but gradually the ice was broken." Lulov's grandson becomes observant Jew

"What Works For One Will Not Work For Another"

(Picture by Letizia Ribechini)

Moshe David Tokayer commenting on Me'am Lo'ez:

Ok, now that I've had a chance to calm down, Shneur Zalman has actually provided us with the opportunity to cull something positive out of his post.

As I and others have commented, Shneur Zalman's post contains obvious inaccuracies. That being said, it is also obvious that the Litvishe Yeshiva world stresses different things that the Chassidishe world. Within the Chassidishe world there are different stresses and, for that matter, the Yeshiva world is not homogeneous either.

Ultimately, we are all here to come close to G-d. Since each of us has a unique neshama, whose roots are in differently spiritual places, it follows that what each of us needs to do to come close to G-d differs.

One person may need to effect a tikkun through learning Torah his entire life. Another person's tikkun may involve spending an entire life immersed in works of chessed. What works for one will not work for another simply because his spiritual needs differ.

Stated simply, there are many different paths leading to closeness with G-d. What this means in practical terms is that Chassidus A may be the best thing for Reuven but Shimon will gravitate towards Chassidus B and Levi will only find happiness in a Litvishe Yeshiva environment.

Neither is better than the other. Notwithstanding the views of certain Chassidus and Roshei Yeshiva, Klal Yisrael needs all of it.

Nothing in this world is perfect. There are obviously problems in the Yeshiva world as well as in the Chassidishe world. Nevertheless, the best thing for Klal Yisrael is to focus on the good that each has to offer. (Doesn't Rebbe Nachman of Breslev say to focus on the good point within each person?) In my experience, serious people tend to gravitate to that which is good for them spiritually.

On a personal note, I had a decidedly Litvishe upbringing and raised my children that way. Nevertheless, one of my sons left the Litvishe Yeshiva he was learning in for a Breslever Yeshiva. Another one of my sons is very happy in a Litvishe Yeshiva. This son went to Uman last Rosh HaShana. It was an experience but he was happy to return to his Litvishe Yeshiva. I encourage them to do what makes them happy and fills their inner needs.

I sincerely believe that the geula will come not when all Jews become ____________ (fill in the blank with your favorite segment of Klal Yisrael.) Rather the geula will come when we all recognize that the Ribbono shel Olam loves each part. When there is shalom between us, there will be shalom between us and the Ribbono shel Olam.

A True Teacher

Everyone must search very hard in order to find a true teacher who can help him attain great wisdom and Godly perception. This requires an outstandingly great teacher who has the power to explain this deep wisdom in terms comprehensible to the simplest people.

(Rebbe Nachman of Breslov)

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Question & Answer With Schneur Zalman - Me'am Lo'ez

A Simple Jew asks:

In the introduction to "Me'am Lo'ez", Rabbi Yaakov Culi wrote,

"When a person reads this book, it is counted if he had studied Tanach, Gemara, Midrash, and Shulchan Aruch, since all are included in it. I have written it in the vernacular so that everyone will be able to understand it and read it daily. When Hashem asks him if he set aside times for Torah study, he will be able to answer in the affirmative."

Despite this promise, Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan wrote that today "many yeshiva students seem to shun it". To your knowledge, historically to what degree did Me'am Lo'ez gain popularity within Chassidic communities in Eastern Europe?

Schneur Zalman responds:

An interesting question. In my reading I cannot recall that sefer ever being mentioned as being part of the daily or weekly Torah corpus of the Chassidic Jew in Europe. The Or HaChaim HaKadosh, Pele Yoetz, Chok LeYisrael - yes, but Me'am Lo'ez I would have to say no. Actually the Chok was established with the same reasoning by the talmidim of Rav Chaim Vital Calabrese to enable the Jew to study all sections of the Holy Torah daily and yes that was translated to Yiddish in Eastern Europe and was popular, certainly amongst Chassidim.

Finally the yeshiva world shuns everything besides Limud BeIyyun. They shun Shnayim Mikro, Chok, Mishnayot, saying Tehillim and until recently the Daf Yomi. As Dr. Nachum Lamm so knowingly said, the Torah world of today has become Pan-Halachic forgetting about our wealth of material on Midrash, Hashkofa, Kabbalah, Mussar, Chassiduth, Kedusha, Piyyutim, Liturgy, Hebrew Language, etc.

13 Cheshvan Links

Mystical Paths: Despair

Dixie Yid: Perspective & Story on Laziness Within Industriousness

Life in Israel: Shmitta: the Hetter Mechira

Daily Imposing Personal Stringencies Upon Others

Simply Tsfat Klezmer festival pictures

Cross-Currents: It's Not What The Neighbors Say

A Potential Underlying Reason

Reb_Baruch commenting on So, What Would You Do?:

I've been taught that there are some things in this world (like pork) where the kedusha lay only in our avoiding them. I don't think that German cars would fall under that category, no matter what that nation perpetrated upon our people. I personally hold with "A Talmid". I think that you are doing far more good by allowing that Jew to support the shul, and possibly be supported by the ad. If it isn't an aveira to sell a German car, then who knows, after Moshiach comes (soon, Hashem, please!) and we get all our answers, we may find out that Hashem only made these cars so that the Jews can earn a parnassah, give more tzedakah, pay for more Shabbos meals, support more shuls...

In other words without excusing one iota of the German people's less than sterling history with our people, even here we can uplift and convert the world into a dwelling place for Hashem. The only caveat would be to find out if there are any members of the community (i.e., holocaust survivors or their families) who would feel genuinely pained, or even betrayed by seeing such an ad in their shul's calendar. If the salesman who placed the ad is a prominent, strongly affiliated member of the shul, then anyone who knows him would probably be okay, or at the very least, the Rabbi might be able to bring the two parties together to work it out somehow.

For This Sole Reason

I heard from my Master the Baal Shem Tov, in the name of Rav Saadiah Gaon, that a person is created in this world solely to break his negative, inborn character traits.

(Kesser Shem Tov)

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Facebook, No Thank You

"Facebook, you got to sign up for Facebook!"

Well, I am not going to for a number of different reasons:

I can see a real benefit to the exchange of ideas that goes about on the blogosphere everyday and I do not believe that Facebook contributes to this discussion. From what I gather, Facebook is mainly a social networking tool that enables you to get back in touch with people you have lost track of over the years. At this point in my life, I simply don't have the time to keep tabs on this many people, nor do I really care all that much what Steve from second grade is doing now.

I am interested in exploring views and ideas and discovering information that I was previously unaware of. For the sake of an open discourse on my blog, I sometime have included views that I do not necessarily agree with in the hope that a commenter will express an opposing view and a dialogue which is hopefully civil will ensue.

With that said, I think Facebook's inability to provide a platform for a wide and open discussion is one of the main things that is sorely lacking. Perhaps Facebook does not claim that it was intended for this purpose, yet communication via Facebook seems to now have replaced many other forms of online discussion.

Facebook's popularity stems from a person's innate curiosity to reveal the concealed and to know where he stands on the status ladder in relation to others. Did Steve from second grade get married? Where is he living now? What does he look like? How big is his house? Was he more successful than I am? This last question is essentially what drives a person to do a Facebook search of another person.

Rabbi Chaim Dovid Green once wrote,

"We see that the nation of Israel voluntarily situated their tents such that they should not violate the privacy of their neighbors. That means that they were not interested in their neighbor's business. They possessed the emotional refinement to prefer not to know "interesting" things about the people around them. This is a trait which requires cultivation and maturity."

It is my intention to cultivate this trait, so don't expect me to find me on Facebook.

Related: I do not like that Face book, Sam-I-am

Middas Sdom & The Only Child

(Image courtesy of

Even though I am married, have three children, and it has been almost 17 years since I left my parents home, I am still an only child at heart. My wife has told me that I do not exhibit the classic signs of only child syndrome, yet I know that I am still a 34 year-old only child.

My "only childness" is most apparent in my innate preference not to have guests in my home. Yes, yes, I know all about the importance of hachnosas orchim and have even probably posted quotes here on my blog before as a way to give myself chizuk in this area, nevertheless, my selfish inner only child remains uncomfortable in this area.

As an only child I tend to divide the world into two categories: mine and not mine. I am uncomfortable when someone else touches something that I label as "mine" without first asking permission.

I tend to approach hachnosas orchim with dread because guests sometimes do not know how to be guests. While I certainly make every effort to make a person feel welcome and comfortable when they are in my home, I still want them to behave with a bit of trepidation and not be overly familiar. Quite simply, I want them to be the type of respectful guest that I would be in their home.

By now, you are most certainly thinking to yourself, "I hope I am never invited over to A Simple Jew's house. He sounds like a real head case". Rest assured though, that what I have written is what I keep internally and I would certainly welcome you warmly.

While as an only child I might be more inclined to be a taker, my wife is a giver and it would physically pain her not to do something kind for another person. I have been blessed with a wife who is pure chessed and cannot help but be positively influenced by her.

Through her, I learn how to break this negative trait and redefine what I consider "mine".

So, What Would You Do?

You are the rabbi of an Orthodox shul and you are asked whether or not you will allow a Mercedes dealership advertisement from a Jewish man who owns the dealership and wanted to sponsor the advertisement in the shul's calendar.

Would you permit the use of the advertisement since you will thereby be raising more money for the shul's programs, or do you refuse to include this advertisement since it is for a German car?


Don’t waste money inviting many guests - rather, invite one guest and treat him properly, and Hashem will bless you.

(Rebbe Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk)

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Shmiras Einayim Forum

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Rabbi Velvel Cheshin once said, "The yetzer hara is not allowed to enter a person except through the eyes." Indeed, shmiras einayim remains one of the greatest daily challenges since a person is literally surrounded on any given day with sights that he is forbidden from gazing at. I have posted on this topic in the past on several occasions and in this posting have collected responses from others on their thoughts and struggles in this area:

Response #1:

The first step in shmiras einayim is to be “holding somewhere”. To be learning, davening and trying to shteig in yiras shamayim. If one is doing that, there is hope. If not, he is like putty in the hands of the yetzer. That is my experience after enumerable periods of both shteiging and yerida. So the question is, how do we guard our eyes when we are in a period of growth.

Again, we need to make a distinction. In the workplace there is often an extreme lack of modesty. But for someone that is in a period of growth, the yetzer for low, blatant untzinusness is fairly weak. It is more revolting and depressing than it is enticing. That doesn’t mean that we don’t’ have to avoid gazing but I don’t feel this is the real battlefield. I assume that we all have had the same experience.

However, the real place of milchama is, b’avonoseinu harabim, in our frum communities where helige bnos Yisroel, try to walk the line between proper, unapologetic tzinus, and “being fashionable”. I was told by my Rav, an adam gadol, that the correct approach is that which is advocated by Rav Chaim Volozhiner. To not walk with one’s head down trying to entirely avoid seeing anything untzinus. My Rav explained that when one does that, unavoidably he will eventually slip and raise his eyes at the wrong time. This has an effect of magnifying the yetzer, and making it burn more strongly and with a sudden force. This can have a very bad, long term effect. Better to walk with one’s head up and a smile on one’s face and ask the Ribbono Shel Olam for siyata d’shmaya to be an ehliche Yid and to not gaze directly. Maybe he will be zoche. And when he does see something, he won’t come to focus on it overly and the image will hopefully pass quickly. I have found his advice to be on the mark.

All that applies when one has to go to mixed areas. When one can avoid the issue entirely, by going out the back door of shul or by taking less walked roads, mah tov u’mah na’im. I don’t remember the exact lashon but Chazal say that one who goes through the marketplace instead of taking an available alternate route, is called a “rasha” even though he didn’t look at anything immodest.

The One Above should help us all to succeed in this area. And we should all have the strength of character to make sure that our own wives and daughters are not creating michsholim.

Response #2:

These measures have not been totally successful, but I think they have helped:

1. No TV set at home

2. Cut back reading of daily local newspaper

3. Cut back reading of material at news-oriented and politically-oriented websites

4. Watch, at most, Weather Channel at hotels

It also helps that I commute by car, although mass transit in my area is so poor that it was never an real option anyway.

One major obstacle lately is all the magazines displayed at supermarket checkout lines, which are hard to avoid seeing. Lately, nearly all the magazines displayed are built around sex and promiscuity.

Response #3:

Rebbe Nachman said that one's neshama is always seeing supernal visions. If one guards his eyes, he can grasp them. If not, he won't experience them at all. Sounds so inspiring, but how do I do it? A constant theme in Rav Nosson of Breslov's writing is that every little movement towards spirituality is inestimably precious. It is worth coming down to the world even for the sake of once in my lifetime avoiding an illicit thought. Rav Levi Yitzchak Bender would say: this is the key to shemiras einayim in our times, since there is a marked lack of tznius and very often the going is rough. The only way is to internalize the preciousness of every time that I do manage to guard my eyes. The biggest problem in this area is giving up after a slip. "Since I already saw something that affected me so negatively, there's no point continuing the struggle any more." The truth is just the opposite. If I failed earlier and need to repent, why does this have any bearing on trying again right now?

Response #4:

Shmiras einayim is difficult for everyone, but especially for those whose work or location brings them in constant contact with the crass culture that surrounds us. The surroundings erode even the natural, inbred modesty that crowns those who were fortunate to grow up in communities in which holiness is the default of everyday living. The eyes promise an immediate reward and most conventional methods do not necessarily work well. Proscriptions, guilt, routines do not compete on the even ground with the immediate pleasure of "looking".

What works better is rising to a spiritual level at which every misstep results in an immediate visceral sense of reduction in holiness (how to rise to such a level before achieving shmiras einayim is a topic for another time). Those who reached the level of sensitivity that enables them to feel spirituality, also to sense its ebbs and flows. Such people know the damage that lack of shmiras einayim causes. The pain of dropping levels is the only true antidote to illicit pleasure.

Response #5:

I find it hard not to be in situations when I am tempted with looking at things/images that might cause hirhurim that are not benificial to my neshama. I am constantly bombarded by images. In my office, people often dress in manner that is rather revealing. My supervisor also is quite fond of wearing low cut clothing, which make me uncomfortable when I am speaking with her. I often (especially in the summer) will walk around my office without my glasses on, to avoid looking at people. Even when I am out at the shopping mall or walking around downtown in the summer, I'll take off my glasses. My wife just chalks it up to be slipping into 'wacky BT mode", but she understands. Also if I am watching something on TV or a DVD with another couple I'll often take off my glasses, while other males will just look at a particular scene or image and make inappropriate comments. We all do what we can do. I'm often refered to as not being 'one of the guys' because I have never bought the Sport Illustrated swimsuit issue. I stand my ground, none the less.

I find it, at times, to even go online to check email or the news because there are so many questionable images even on site like or The temptations opened up by the internet are very dangerous, IMHO. After attending an internet safety seminar, I installed watchdog software that tracks all site that are visited on my computer. I've explained to our children that mommy checks where abba goes on the internet, just like everyone else who goes online in our home. Starting at a young age with this idea of accountability for web use, I hope will reduce temptation for all of us.

As difficult as shmiras einayim might be, the lasting effect on the imagination is just as challenging. Rabbi Yisrael Salanter's Iggres HaMussar deals with this issue and the constant struggle with the many forms of the yeter hora.

Response #6:

I think the most difficult part of shmiras einayim is with modestly dressed women. As frum Jews we know that looking at immodestly dressed women is forbidden and hopefully will turn away when we see that. When I do see this I say to myself "Velo sosuru acharei levavichem veacharei eineichem" as suggested in Tzetel Koton. However, the guard is down when seeing a woman who is properly dressed, because there is nothing exposed that is forbidden, but it is still forbidden to look at even the small finger of a woman for pleasure. I try to constantly work on this by reading the seforim hakedoshim on this topic and asking for Hashem help in observing shmiras einayim properly. If one has a problem with shmiras einayim this is probably the best thing to do. I definitely understand those who walk through the streets looking down, as suggested in Tzetel Koton.

Response #7:

Lately, I try to recognize that we have the whole world through which to relate to HaShem. From horizon to horizon we have a huge hemisphere full of stimulus. When something comes up that I'm not supposed to see, I remind myself that I don't want my relationship with HaShem to come solely through that source, I don't want to lose the whole world around me. That is what essentially happens when we choose to look at something forbidden. We transition from a direct panim el panim relationship with HaShem to receiving just the merest trickle, the achoraim, of divine revelation that shines through that forbidden view.

To conclude on a word of chizuk, this excerpt comes from A Talmid's posting on shmiras einayim:

There is a kabalah passed down from the Vilna Gaon, which is also said by Reb Ahron Roth. If one comes across a forbidden sight, and conquers his yetzer hara and doesn't look, it is a shaas rachamim, a time of mercy from Heaven, and whatever one davens for at that time is mesugal to be accepted.

Rembrandt & Rav Kook

Received via e-mail from a reader:

Jewish Chronicle article (PDF) by Avram Melnikoff (1892-1960), a sculptor from Jerusalem who lived in London from 1933-1959. The article was written two weeks after Rav Kook's passing and the author recounts a conversation that he had with Rav Kook, where the latter told Melnikoff:

"When I lived in London I used to visit the National Gallery, and my favourite pictures were those of Rembrandt. I really think that Rembrandt was a Tzadik. Do you know that when I first saw Rembrandt's works, they reminded me of the legend about the creation of light? We are told that when God created lighht, it was so strong and pellucid, that one could see from one and of the world oto the other, but God was afraid that the wicked might abuse it. What did He do? He reserved that light for the righteous when the Messiah should come. But now and then there are great men who are blessed and privilaged to see it. I think that Rembrandt was one of them, and the light in his pictures is the very light that was originally created by God Almighty."

Melnikoff concludes that he had "read much about Rembrandt, but none gives such a vivid description of his genius... Only a man as pure of heart and soul as Rabbi Kook could have seen Rembrandt in that light."

Sources: London Jewish Chronicle, September 13, 1935, p. 21.

Remembrance & Altering History

If Israel was really interested in building bridges in Israel's society, Rabin's legacy of hate should be acknowledged, instead of sweeping it under the rug and going on an offensive attack on the right wing. The mantra, "words kill" has become synonymous with "protecting democracy" -- and the demonization of the right wing continues daily.

The Muqata: The Festival of Hate

Constant Challenge

Hashem constantly challenges each indivdual according to his or her own level. We are continually placed in situations in which we must choose between good and evil - or between the good we are capable of achieving and the evil to which we are liable to succumb. If we pass the challenge we condition ourselves for good, and we are ready to face a slighly harder challenge. If we fail, we slip ever so slightly - and Satan will tempt us with commensurately worse temptations.

(Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler)

Monday, October 22, 2007

Rachel - 11 Cheshvan

Point of Pinchas: Live Feed From Kever Rochel

Could Someone Translate This Article Into English?

Is anyone willing to translate a four-page Olam HaChassidus magazine article on Mezhibuz written by the Sudilkover Rebbe? My Hebrew is not good enough to do the translation so I was wondering if anyone out there would be willing to translate it for a posting. Please e-mail if you are interested and I will send you a .pdf copy of the article.

Thank you in advance for your assistance.

Question & Answer With Dixie Yid - Hashgocha Pratis

(Picture courtesy of

A Simple Jew asks:

In many of my recent postings, I have attempted to uncover the hand of Hashem in events significant, and seemingly insignificant in my life. Can you think of something significant that happened to you this past year which you clearly believe is an example of hashgocha pratis?

Dixie Yid answers:

Recently, I've been upgrading my wardrobe and way of dressing to be more fitting with the image of a successful lawyer. By nature, I've always veered away from dressing nicely or expensively, so this is a step I've been procrastinating for a very long time. I've always seen it as a waste of time and money to invest so much in the way one looks. Because of this, I've always looked somewhat less than sterling when it came to my shoes, clothes, etc. I have also recently been trying to place myself on the track towards working in the top level law firms.

I watched this video of Rav Tzvi Mayer speaking in English. In it, he spoke about not falling into kavod hamedumah, illusiory forms of honor/prestige. He said that one shouldn't compare himself to other people or focus too much on honor. He illustrated this with two stories.

He said that once the Mirer Rosh Yeshiva was walking down the street, when a garbage truck drove past. After passing him, the truck stopped, and the man hanging onto the back of the truck jumped off and approached the Rosh Yeshiva. He then said to him, "You should know that I don't always hang on the back of the truck. Really, we have a rotation, and soon, I will be back in the front of the truck. Also, I'm only in the back today because I was mevater and I let someone else take the front, but you shouldn't think that I'm the kind of garbage man who always has to hang onto the back of the truck."

Rav Tzvi Mayer wondered how this man could hang onto kavod and honor in that situation. Sof kol sof it's a garbage truck! But the point is that we are no different. We may try to feel honorable or prestigeous by what college we went to, what job we have, what car we drive, what clothes we wear, or who our friends are. But sof kol sof, Olam Hazeh is a garbage truck relative to the Olam Ha'emes. Nothing that is of this world is of any true or lasting value, yet we cling to these things.

He told another story of a gevir who gave up and sold his businesses in order to learn full-time. When asked why he did it, he said that he observed something life changing. He had, for a long time, admired another, even richer, gevir, who was so rich that he was on the Forbes 500 list of wealthy people. One day, this man noticed his richer friend in a terrible state of depression. He asked him what was wrong. The answer from this man, who he desired to emulate, astounded him. Forbes had just come out with their list and this man had expected to be at a certain place in the list, but instead, he was about 150 places lower than he expected. He was devastated and depressed about this. When this gevir saw this, he could not believe that such smallness and pettiness is the portion of the kind of man who he admired. He then realized that his efforts at finding happiness in the kavod and prestige of wealth and business success was pointless and illusory.

I saw hashgacha pratis in the fact that R' Tzvi Mayer talked about this inyan that I have been making changes in, which, I have to consider, may or may not be for the better.

In court, during my day job, I witnessed another small incident that brought home the smallness that can swallow a person when he envelops himself in that lifestyle. I saw an attorney of seemingly low class and standards arguing in a pointless fashion with a judge, just to prove that he was right about something, when there was very little point in doing so, given the particulars of the circumstances. Afterwards, I was sitting behind him and noticed that he pulled out a magazine, and I noticed that he was deeply engrossed in an article about about a certain model of Lexus.

Immersed in lowly things, all this man can think about is driving that Lexus. It made me think of the mishna in Avos 4:27, "הקנאה והתאווה והכבוד, מוציאין את האדם מן העולם." When one is living or desiring that lifestyle of nice cars, nice things, expensive clothing, etc, it can cause a person to be enveloped in that smallness and it will truly take the person out of this world, the world of truth.

So I saw hashgacha pratis in what R' Tzvi Mayer talked about in the video shiur and what I saw in the man in court the morning after viewing this shiur. I see a message that I should re-evaluate the role of this physicality in relation to what I should really be doing relative to my style of dress and my career goals, plans, and hishtadlus'n.

May I and all of us merit to see Hashem's hand in every detail of life!

10 Cheshvan Links

(Picture by Mateusz Przywecki)

Be'er Mayim Chaim: Noam Elimelech News

A Waxing Wellspring: the dwelling of brothers

"When I Am Awake Late At Night"

Gentle Words
by Elizabeth Applebaum

I came across a black-and-white picture of a mother holding her baby. Below was this quote from author W. M. Thackeray: “Mother is the name for God on the lips and in the hearts of little children.”

… I think of this many times during the day, and always when my children seem to be most trying. It reminds me that what I say to each one of them matters. It reminds me that my praise will nourish them, and that a thoughtless comment can wound them for days. It reminds me that for this short time their father and I are the center of their universe.

I don’t want God to ignore me. I don’t want Him to be short-tempered with me, or impatient.… I need Him to hear my prayers, to watch over me, to comfort me when I ache and forgive me when I err. I don’t want God to leave me when I am awake late at night and cannot sleep and whisper into the silence, “I’m afraid.” That is when, most of all, I need Him to be there for me.

The other night Yitzhak, still wide awake at 10:15, crawled out of his little bed and walked into the den where I was resting. He was rubbing his hand across his eyes, coming fresh out of the dark into a room stained by the harsh lights of television.

It had been one of those days, and I had phone calls to return and floors to mop and laundry to put away and dishes to wash. Yitzhak said, “I’m afraid.”

“Come here,” I said.

Then I pulled him to me – his soft hair falling on my cheek, his warm legs resting against my own – and I held him close like that, making my arms a nest for his tiny body, deep into the night.

Reprinted from the newly-released One Baby Step at a Time: Seven Secrets of Jewish Motherhood (Urim) by Chana (Jenny) Weisberg. Available now at half-price through

Removing The Veil

A person must work to uncover Hashem's presence in his heart. This is done through a simple way of holiness. If a person is wise, he can discover Hashem through each detail of creation, and remove the veil from his heart.

(Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh)

Sunday, October 21, 2007

With Their Intentions

(Picture courtesy of

Excerpt from VaYeira 5765 by Rabbi Zvi Leshem:

The Piaseczner Rebbe grapples with the question of martyrdom in the Holocaust in relation to the classic model of medieval times. Then the Jews were given the choice to convert or be killed. In choosing death the Jew made a conscious religious decision to die as a martyr rather than betray his faith. In the Shoa the situation was entirely different. All Jews were to be killed regardless of their religious convictions. There was no way to save one's life through conversion. What is the status of Kiddush HaShem, Sanctification of the Name, when it occurs without conscious religious decision? The Rebbe's answer is powerful and shocking. In the Akeida there was self-sacrifice in thought only, as the act was ultimately prevented. In the Holocaust, on the other hand, self-sacrifice occurs in deed only, lacking forethought. Thus the death of Jews in the Holocaust serves to complete the process begun at the Akeida, and together serve as a “complete sacrifice”!

One could say the same regarding the martyrs of the last few years HY”D. When people are (God forbid) killed in a sudden explosion they die as martyrs without having made a prior conscious decision. Nonetheless their souls ascend to Heaven as a perfect sacrifice with the intentions of Avraham and Yizchak from the Akeida.

HaRav Efraim Moshe Wohl z"l

Baruch Dayan HaEmes

Black & White Picture Of The Week - Banister

Friday, October 19, 2007

Body Checking Bentch Licht

(Picture courtesy of

The Gemara [Gittin 52a] teaches that one must be especially mindful to refrain from expressing anger on Erev Shabbos since this is a time when the yetzer hara makes an extra effort to incite discord in our homes before the Shabbos candles are lit.

Week after week my two oldest children jockey for position next to their mother in front of the Shabbos candles. As they attempt to body check each other out of the way, the scene often turns into the opposite of what Shabbos is all about, namely peace.

On a few occasions I have explained to my son that just as there are some mitzvos that are only for boys, the mitzvah of lighting Shabbos candles is a mitzvah for girls. I then ask him to stand back with me so we can watch his mommy and older sister light the candles together.

The problem is that this only works some of the time. The rest of the time my two oldest children transform into two hockey players trying to slam each other up against the boards. If I want to judge them favorably I could say that they have a great zeal to fulfill this mitzva. However, the incessant fighting before bentch licht unnerves me and occasionally lets my yetzer hara get the better of me in these moments before we bring in Shabbos.

I gave some thought on how to rectify this problem and instituted another new family minhag before bentch licht in order to calm the atmosphere. Now, before we go into the dining room each person now gives every one in the family a hug and tells them that they love them. We then proceed happily into dining room where my wife and oldest daughter light the candles.

Did this new family minhag work immediately from week one? Of course not.

However, over the course of a few weeks the body checking slowly decreased and a little bit of shalom was finally added to my Shabbat Shalom.

7 Cheshvan Links

(Picture by Patricia Matthews)

Mystical Paths: The Problem

Dixie Yid: Hillula with Yosef Karduner - Embedded Audio

Redemptions: Contemporary Chassidic Essays on the Parsha and the Festivals

Yeshiva World: Will Of Founder Of Shatnez Laboratory Tribes of Israel

Daled Amos: When An Israeli Arab Works At A Holocaust Museum

The Real Test

(Picture courtesy of

Received via e-mail from a reader:

Uninspired; Why This Lull In My Spiritual Motivation?
by Rabbi Mendel Bluming

Do you remember your first bike with those training wheels on both sides? Then, just as you started to get comfortable, your parents removed the training wheels and told you to get on the bike and ride. For only when those training wheels are removed is it really you riding the bike. You may fall a few times, but as long as you get back up and keep pedaling, you’re doing great.

When someone gets in touch with their Jewishness for the first time, there is a thrill and an excitement. This initial inspiration is a little helping hand from G‑d; spiritual training wheels that help us start our journey. But once we have advanced along the spiritual path and are ready to go deeper, the training wheels are removed and we have to ride on our own. The inspiration disappears, the motivation fades, and we are left dangling.

Here's the real test. Rather than being propped up by divinely created inspiration, we have to search within and start riding on inspiration that we create ourselves. We will fall again, but keep on pedaling, inspired or not, and you will advance further and further in your soul's journey.

Even If

Even if a person performs a number of mitzvos and constantly seeks to perform more mitzvos, on each occasion when he does not have yiras shamayim it is considered as if he has not done anything.

(Degel Machaneh Ephraim)

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Question & Answer With Yitz Of A Waxing Wellspring - Projecting An Illusion Of Intelligence

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A Simple Jew asks:

You once wrote,

"The real problem today is that everyone is so busy worrying someone might find out they don't know anything that no one has time to actually learn anything."

Could you expound on this thought and perhaps provide some examples or experiences where you have seen this has been the case?

Yitz of A Waxing Wellspring answers:

One of the foremost principles encouraged in this information age is intelligence. There is so much information that we need to be able to process it quickly and accurately. As Plato points out in his Republic, espousing a trait doesn't necessarily engender that trait, it only ensures that people will act as if they have that trait. The information society is no different than ancient Greece in this respect.

It's far easier to take the easy route and seem intelligent and knowledgeable than it is to take the route of deep wisdom. Of course the difference between the two is only readily apparent to a true seeker of wisdom.

The Maor Eynayim, Rebbe Menachem Nachum of Chernobyl, explains the fear a thief feels at being discovered. While he may be involved in an underhanded act, the fear he experiences is a potential doorway to a new and deeper relationship with HaShem. If only he would learn to connect that fear to HaShem who sees all.

Just like the thief, when we spend our time in g'neivat da'at, convincing others that we are knowledgeable, the fear of being found out has tremendous potential as a source of relationship to HaShem who knows everything and is utterly unknowable himself.

Until we discover the comfort and closeness of recognizing that we know nothing, we members of the information age cannot develop a deep and intimate relationship with HaShem who is the source of all knowledge.

This is the root of the concept that wisdom, Hochmah, is ko'ah mah, the power of being able to ask, the power of acknowledging that we don't know. In fact, the world was created and draws its life wholly from HaShem's divine Hochmah. (As it is written, החכמה תחיה - Wisdom enlivens) When we hide from true wisdom, we are doing no less than hiding from life itself.

This whole issue is very apropos of parashath Bereishith: When did Adam haRishon hide from HaShem? Only after he sunk from the potential level of Hochmah, of Hayyim, (of eating from the tree of life) to the level of knowledge, of da'at. (When he ate from the tree of knowledge)

We can draw this down in very practical terms as well. The rise of Google and the power of search is a result of the incomprehensible volume of information contained in the internet. Search is so valuable and powerful because it allows us to root out the meaningful information from the mass of all knowledge. Similarly, Wisdom is the ability to take meaningful lessons from the experiences, the knowledge, of our lives. We can memorize endless data, but if we can't weed out the life-lessons we've accomplished nothing.

The only way to wisdom is to acknowledge our own ignorance by learning to ask מה – what? as well as why? how? where? and when?

As a personal example of what I'm talking about, I quoted Plato's Republic without ever having read it in its entirety. This is what I learned in school, to quote enough so that it sounds like I know what I'm talking about.

Plato's Republic was actually a turning point in my life in that I put the book down not because I didn't care about the contents, but because I saw a deeper wisdom. His argument, put forward by Socrates, didn't actually hold water. From the outside, people who appear righteous and people who are righteous are the same, which was the foundation from which he began to argue. But what he didn't mention was that from the inside, people who appear righteous live an empty life and people who live righteously have a fulfilling life. Since the perspective from the inside is too subjective, Plato dismissed its relevance, but since all we actually have is our own subjective perspective, the view from the inside is the only one that really matters.

We can make everyone else think that we know something, but when we're alone with ourselves we either know it or we don't. In other words, we are either spending our time making other people stupider (convincing them of our false knowledge) or we are spending our time making ourselves smarter. It's really much easier to make ourselves smarter than to try to fool everyone else, I don't know why we usually take the difficult route.

Without A Gemara, This Is What Happens...

"I realize that I was known in Hebrew as a Chasid Shote. A righteous idiot."

6 Cheshvan Links

(Illustration by Chaim Goldberg)

Cross Currents: A Visit to Sochaczew

A Mother in Israel: A Trip to the Shmitta Store

The Muqata: Go to Land which I will show you.

The Sofer: The Arab and the snake

Three Types Of Exile

There are three types of exile and they are of increasing severity. The first is when Jews are in exile among other nations, the second is when Jews are in exile among fellow Jews, and the third and most severe is when a Jew is alien to himself, for then he is both captor and captive, in exile within himself.

(Rebbe Sholom Rokeach of Belz)

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

"Those Who Live In The Holy Land"

(Picture courtesy of the AP)

Me'am Loez, Parshas Lech Lecha:

"Hashem decreed that those who live in the Holy Land suffer. They suffer because of crowding, because of the rulers of the land, because of hunger, and because of want. Few are the years when such troubles do not exist... We who live in other places, and do not merit to make aliya to Eretz Yisroel, have an obligation to help those who live in the Holy Land, so that they can live in peace. When we make it possible for them to pray, our prayers our also accepted. When we do not help them, they are persecuted by the government there."

"We must constantly keep the people who live in Eretz Yisroel in mind, since this is the place where our ancestors are buried. If Jews did not live there, the gentiles would come and dig up the ancient graves, plowing over the graves of tzaddikim who are buried there. We must also be concerned with the ancient synagogues and Torahs that are there. Since so much of our history is tied up with the Holy Land, each individual should support it to the best of his ability."

Tikun Hanefesh & Hiskashrus

(Picture courtesy of

Moshe David Tokayer commenting on Breaking Down Hiskashrus:

Regardless of the reason a person feels a connection - just is, brought up that way, decided, etc. - the underlying principle is that there is a ruchniyesdiga need that the individual has that can only be satisfied by the connection. In other words, the individual's tikun hanefesh is to an extent dependent on the hiskashrus regardless of what brought him to it.

It could be, for example, that a person is born into a certain chassidishe family because min hashamiyim it's determined that he needs a hiskashrus with that chassidus for his tikun. The same, applies to everything.

I've heard, for example, that adopted children may very well have a much stronger ruchniyidiga connection with their adopted parents than with their biological parents and for whatever reason, determined in shamayim they needed to be born to people other than the ones that actually raised them. This is certainly an encouraging attitude for adopted children.

My point is that whatever the apparent reason for the connection, it is always a "soul connection."

The Photography Of A Simple Jew's Father - Part III

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