Monday, September 29, 2008

Resolutions & Simplicity

(Painting by Avinoam Shemesh)

I asked a friend before Rosh Hashana one year what mitzva or hanhaga tova (good practice) he planned to take on for the new year. He replied, "I am not going to take on anything new. This year I am going to abide by all my past resolutions."

Being fully cognizant of the level on which he was holding, he felt that he wasn't doing all the things he currently did in the most optimal manner. Perhaps he also understood that if he resolved to do something new at this stage he could easily boomerang right out of it just as quickly as he started once the thrill of its newness wore off; that the desire to do more in this case derived from the yetzer hara not the yetzer tov.

Reflecting on my friend's answer to me, I can see that it reveals the essence of simplicity. A Jew who exhibits the quality of simplicity cuts through all external trappings and ulterior motivations and performs a mitzva for the simple reason that Hashem commanded him to do so; he takes the "old" and transforms it into the new.

In An Instant

Mincha on Erev Rosh Hashana is said in the very last minutes of the year. Yet in the Shemoneh Esrei of this final Mincha we pray that Hashem bless us this year even though all that is left of the year are just a few short minutes. This teaches us that every minute counts. Even in the last minute of the year, His salvation can come in an instant.

(Rebbe Shalom of Belz)

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Guest Posting By Shoshannah Brombacher - The Strength of Youth

On the second day of Rosh HaShanah we read the story of the Akedah (Bereishit/Genesis 22), how Avraham went together with his son Yitzchak to offer a sacrifice to G-d. Avraham knew what the sacrifice would be, because G-d Himself had told him this to test his loyalty: his only son, whom he loved, and for whom he had prayed and waited very long. Yitzchak did not know till the last moment; he assumed it would be some animal, as usual.

We read about their journey to the place of the sacrifice in Bereishit 22:6: “and the two of them went together...”

The great Chassidic Master Rabbi Simchah Bunem of Pschyscha explained this verse as follows:

The test of the Akedah was much more difficult to accept for Yitzchak than it was for Avraham.


Avraham had been told by HaShem Himself that the sacrifice would involve his only beloved son. Yitzchak however, heard that he would be the sacrifice from his own father, a man of flesh and blood, and not from HaShem. Yitzchak accepted this readily, and he agreed to do as his father asked. He did not put up a fight nor did he argue or flee. Avraham wondered why this was so? Wasn’t his son scared? Wasn’t he human? What would he have done himself? Then he figured: it must be because Yitzchak is so young, that he has the ‘strength of youth’.

Realizing this, Avraham himself felt filled with the strength of youth at once to perform his difficult task. And so they ‘went together’ in the true sense of the word, both with strength.

May we all be zoykheh to have the strength of youth to do mitzvoth and have a good and blessed year.

Friday, September 26, 2008

My Unblemished Offering

(Painting by David Avisar)

These tears that cry are my unblemished offering to You.

It is these tears that fall as a result of my broken heart that reveal who I truly am.

Just one tear can say to You what thousands of pages of Selichos cannot.

The Shabbos Before Rosh HaShana - Standing Before G-d

Excerpt from
The Jewish Marriage Book: Improving Your Marriage One Jewish Holiday at a Time by Rabbi Shlomo Slatkin:

With Rosh HaShana less than a week away, we often look for ways in which we can improve ourselves for the New Year. The list of options appears daunting. What is most important? What do we choose to work on? One of the most challenging areas to change is in the arena of interpersonal relationships. Even Yom Kippur does not atone for sins that occur in this realm unless we first make amends with the individual. Yet it is precisely in the difficulty of this work that lies its greatness; the transformative power that enables us to stand before Hashem on Rosh HaShana.

Every year before Rosh HaShana, we read Parshas Nitzavim (Devarim 29:9-10): Atem nitzavim hayom, kulchem lifnei Hashem Elokeichem rosheichem shivteichem zikneichem v’shotreichem kol ish yisroel, etc… “You are standing today, all of you, before Hashem, your G-d: the heads of your tribes, your elders, and your officers- all the men of Israel; your small children, your women, and your proselyte who is in the midst of your camp, from the hewer of your wood to the drawer of your water, etc . . .” The Zohar comments that hayom, ‘today’, refers to Rosh HaShana (See Ramaz on the Zohar II 32b). Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the Baal HaTanya, explains (Likutei Torah, Nitzavim) that all of the souls of the Jewish people form one collective unit, a koma shleimah. On Rosh HaShana, all of them ascend together and stand before Hashem, from the highest to the lowest. When we are able to gather together and unite as one, G-d can be proclaimed our King.

The Key to Unity

How do we achieve this unity? It is through the recognition and the attitude that every individual has qualities that we do not possess; those which we need to become more complete and whole. It is to view relationships from the paradigm of holiness, a circle. There is no hierarchy, no top or bottom. It is like the human body. While the feet may be the lowest part of the body and the head the top, the head needs the feet. The feet hold up the entire body and are necessary for walking. If one has a headache, performing bloodletting in the feet provides relief to the head. The head may be at the top but it is incomplete without the feet.

So too, the Jewish people are one body. You may think you are superior to your friend but you will surely find something in which you lack that he can complete. Approaching individuals through an attitude of humility and mutuality, allows for the dwelling of Hashem. Rosh HaShana is the quality of teshuva, return, when the collective of Jewish souls return to their source. This return can only occur when we rectify our interpersonal isolationist and separatist mentality.

What the Baal HaTanya is saying is that every interpersonal relationship is a growth experience; it is a way for us to become whole by receiving from the other that which we are missing. This is an incredible and inspiring idea, yet why do people often avoid working on their relationships? Why does growth in this area of our lives seem so difficult?

Receiving Through Giving

If we could become more complete people by merely learning and mimicking the good others have, it would be easy. What makes it so challenging is that this process requires an almost paradoxical interaction. We ‘receive’ what we are missing, not by taking, but by giving others what they most need from us. We become more complete because what they need from us is what is most difficult for us to give and vice a versa. Meeting their needs compels us to grow into parts of ourselves that we are not yet comfortable experiencing.

I see this dynamic all of the time with couples. For example, an extroverted wife who likes to get together with friends and socialize may want her husband to get out of the house a little more. An introverted husband may wish his wife would spend more quiet time at home. As their needs are on opposite ends of the spectrum, they are likely to butt heads. This is where conflict arises in relationships. Although they both wish to connect with each other, their way of connecting is very different. The answer lies in how we articulate our needs.

Learning How to Talk

How does a baby get his needs met? He cries. That is the only way he knows to communicate. He does not intend to inflict harm upon his parents, yet anyone who has heard a baby’s cry knows that it is not the most pleasant of sounds. In many ways, we are still babies. We act unconsciously and immature. We may not cry but we can yell, criticize, blame, and shame. How do we grow up? Through learning how to talk and ask for our needs in a safe and honorable way. We truly do not want to hurt each other. We want to get our needs met yet we know no other way. Through safe intentional dialogue we are able to ask for our needs, share our hurts, and have compassion for each other.

Instead of replaying the same fight over and over about how she wants to go out and how he would rather stay home, I have couples share their feelings in a structured dialogue where they can both listen to each other and also understand that there may be something deeper going on. Recurrent frustrations usually indicate that there is more than meets the eye. What feelings are being triggered for the woman when her husband will not go out with her? What other experiences does it remind her of? What is triggered in the husband when he is feeling pressure to do something he does not want to do? When couples, and anyone in a relationship, become more conscious about their needs, they can express them in a mature way, transforming conflict into connection. I find that when this happens, people want to step out of their comfort zone and give to the other, and thus grow.

We need each other. Let us realize that to become whole, and to stand before G-d on Rosh HaShana we must view our interpersonal relationships as a way to close the circuit of our incomplete selves. While it may be the hardest thing you do, there are effective tools that you can learn to grow and transform your relationships from conflict to connection.

אגוז = טוב

Another Person's Heart

The key to anyone is his broken heart, and who can know another person's broken heart?

(Reb Nosson of Breslov)

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Question & Answer With Rabbi Micha Golshevsky - Limiting Speech On Rosh Hashana

A Simple Jew asks:

Rebbe Nachman of Breslov gave the following advice regarding Rosh Hashana:

"On the first day of Rosh Hashana people should be very careful to speak as little as possible. The greater the person the more careful he must be."

With a wife and three small children, if I spoke very little during yom tov my family might think something was wrong or that I was mad with them. How would you advise that I fulfill Rebbe Nachman's advice on my level?

Rabbi Micha Golshevsky answers:

The general rule is to do what you can. Don't lose track of the main thing by focusing on non-essential "inyanim" especially at your wife and family's expense.

There is a famous story: Someone once saw the Kotzker Rebbe eating nuts on Rosh Hashana and was very surprised since many have a custom not to eat nuts on Rosh Hashana. He asked: "The Rema brings that the Hebrew word for nut "egoz" has a gemartria of 17, the same as sin "cheit". So how can the Rebbe eat them?" [This works by either adding the kolllel for egoz, or by writing cheit as ches/tes without the final alef. It is brought down both ways.]

The Rebbe replied with characteristic sharpness:"Don't forget that 'sin' is also the gematria of the word 'sin'!"

I believe that this simple but compelling lesson can be applied here as well. The main avodah on Rosh Hashana is to be happy and not to get angry since this is a siman for the entire year, as Rebbe Nachman emphasizes so beautifully in Sichos HaRan. This concept is in many sources and poskim as well.

There is another reason for this practice: On Rosh Hashana we begin the process of atonement by crowning Hashem as our King. What kind of Jew could be unhappy at such a precious time?

Anger or dissatisfaction shows that we lack true perspective of what is happening on this special day and (you guessed it!) is a sure sign that it is time to make a new beginning. As you know, it is never, ever too late.

Just as we must all refrain from anger or sadness we must also avoid doing anything that will cause such feelings in anyone else, especially our family.

It follows that if this inyan causes your family distress then you must definitely speak. But speak joyously and and remember the somber yet ecstatic character of this holy yom tov with all your might.

At times when it will not effect your family you can limit your speech -- but only if remaining silent does not cause you distress. If it does, then this inyan is not (yet) for you.

Hashem should help us truly "crown Hashem alone as our King" with our thoughts, speech, and deeds throughout the coming year!

Eating The Symbolic Foods

The Maharshal did not eat fish on Rosh Hashana. Although he was fond of fish, on Rosh Hashana he abstained from his favorite delicacy. Why was this? After all, the Gemara says that fish is one of the symbolic foods we should eat on Rosh Hashana.

This statement holds true, however, only if we eat the symbolic foods with the purest of intentions, solely for the sake of the mitzva. But if we eat these delicacies because we enjoy them, we are merely satisfying our physical desires, and the symbolic value of the food is lost.

Since the Maharshal enjoyed eating fish, he was afraid that he might not eat them for the sake of the mitzva. Rather than indulge in mundane pleasure, he did not touch the fish.

(Ma'or Vashemesh)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Question & Answer With Avakesh - The Sefer That Chose Me

(Painting by Raphael Eisenberg)

A Simple Jew asks:

There is a well-known saying that we do not choose the books we read, rather the books choose us. This seems to be somewhat connected to Likutey Moharan #11, in which Rebbe Nachman of Breslov taught that when we enunciate words from the sefer before us, they reveal to us the the areas where we need to do teshuva.

Have you ever felt that you did not choose a sefer, but rather the sefer chose you specifically for the purpose of illuminating your path back to Hashem?

Avakesh answers:

I was fourteen when the Mesilas Yeshorim found me.

A polite, diffident, overly brainy, and intense teenager, awakening to the vastness and meaningfulness of the world that the Master of the World has set before me, I was not prepared. Under the surface, mostly hidden from my as of yet immature mind, a spiritual awakening was gathering strength and when Messlas Yeshorim came to me, it struck with the force of a gale and an impact of a hurricane. I put the book inside of my Gemorra and toiled at it for three days, all day long, over and over. Fortunately, my rebbi was wise and did not intervene. The book changed me, radically, decisively and forever. I now know that this reaction is not unique among yeshiva bochurim and I met other sensitive souls who had undergone similar experiences.

What Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto offered was an orderly plan to spiritual perfection, presented with wisdom and authority. I was sure that if I only followed the plan exactly as written, it would take no more than two weeks to achieve its final stages (it did not occur to me to ask why others have not done it as well because at that point it was just me and the book).

It did not take long for me to learn that it might take longer, a few months perhaps. Gradually, I understood that bringing Mesilas Yeshorim to life might require a lifetime. Mussar became my pathway into spirituality. I became friends with and proficient in Shaarei Teshuva, Orchos Tsaddikim, Sefer Hayashar, Chovos Halevovos and the whole breadth and length of mussar literature. I wrote a book about the Mussar movement and still teach and lecture about it. I never did go very high on the ladder of Mesilas Yeshorim, but I learned humility and submission. The most valuable lesson that Mesilas Yeshorim taught me was the one grows more from failure than from success.

I still believe that Mussar is crucial, especially in the early stages of spiritual growth. Rav Elya Kaplan wrote an insightful essay that compared the approach of Mussar and Chassidus. He analyzed several reports of the meetings between Rabbi Yisroel Salanter and the Rebbe Maharash, bringing out and contrasting the differences in approach between them. Chassidus aims to lift a person above the field of the struggle with the evil inclination, through joy, fellowship and striving for spirituality. Mussar wants to reconstruct man’s character. The former is at the danger of self-delusion, thinking that external characteristics of the spiritual lifestyle equate with its accomplishments; the latter risks sinking into exaggerated self-analysis, despondency and fear.

I am much older now. I know now that detours bring one closer to the destination than highways, that failure is a better teacher than success, and the God is often found in all the hidden places. The mystical and the complicated mirror the inner man better than simple schematics, and ladders often lead nowhere. Teshuvah is not merely a means to set right what one has spoilt but the very basis for moving forward in the vast, complicated and wonderful worlds of spirituality. Spiritual advancement comes in spurts and unexpectedly, not always when we want it, but always when Hashem desires it. Our job is to be aware and take advantage of the opportunities that he sends us; it demands deep introspection and cannot be forced. Upon this path, Mussar can only take one so far, even though without mussar the path does not even exist.

I do not know why Ramchal presented spiritual growth as a linear and directed phenomenon. I now know deeply inside that it is not like that. Nevertheless, Mesilas Yeshorim awakened and launched me, and it will always hold a special place in my heart.

24 Elul Links - כד אלול

(Picture by G. Wild)

A Fire Burns in Breslov: Likutei Halachos on Teshuvah

Long Beach Chasid: Fifty Seven Sixty Eight

Moshe David Tokayer: "From The Second Day Onward"

Mystical Paths: Photo Tour: Rosh Hashana at the Shuk

The Pressure Release Valve

If not for the annual day of judgement, the world's sins would continue to accumulate, until it would reach the stage where it would have to be destroyed. This is why Rosh Hashana is a yom tov, a day of celebration.

(Sefer HaChinuch)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


(Picture courtesy of

Kav HaYashar #70 provides insight into the great importance of ensuring that crumbs from the challah at the Shabbos table are properly disposed of. Kav HaYashar notes that lack of attention to this detail can result in a person falling into poverty.

This teaching seems to fit in perfectly with the Degel Machaneh Ephraim's equation that bread equals parnossa. When reading Rebbe Nachman of Breslov's story "The Clay Digger" to my kids it also struck me that there was yet another connection, and I wondered whether Rebbe Nachman of Breslov had Kav Yashar #70 in mind when he wrote this story. In Rebbe Nachman's story, the clay digger lost his wealth when the ship's cabin-boy shook the crumbs from the table cloth out the window and into the sea without noticing the clay digger's precious diamond; his seemingly haphazard manner of disposing the crumbs resulted in the clay digger's loss of fortune.

Maybe I am now trying together things that are not even tied together, however, I wonder if throwing bread crumbs into water during Tashlich and burning bread crumbs before Pesach can also be connected somehow to the Degel's bread equals parnossa equation. Do you think there is a certain unifying element that ties all of these things together and connect them to the concept of parnossa?

Rushing Through Selichos

The Degel Machaneh Ephraim wrote that one time his grandfather, the Baal Shem Tov, told him that if he would say the tefillos "Keil Rachum Shemecha" and "Aneinu" as he did, that he could quite literally be able to bring Moshiach.

The Sudilkover Rebbe explained that these prayers from Selichos are located at the end of the Selichos service and are very often rushed through in an attempt to finish. The Rebbe explained that the Baal Shem Tov was teaching his grandson that one should not treat these tefillos in such a haphazard manner but rather should understand that these tefillos represented the pinnacle of the Selichos davening; that the little things that we do have the potential to accomplishment unbelievable things if only we would believe in ourselves.

Originally posted here.

23 Elul Links - כג אלול

(Picture by N. Chow)

Shturem: Selichos at the Ohel of Baal Shem Tov

Here in HP: Watercolor: Pomegranate

Sfas Emes: Elul 5634 First Ma'amar

Gruntig: Carlebach Slichos with Yehuda Green

A Simple Jew: 5768

Still Waiting

On Rosh Hashana, the kings and rulers of all nations are standing before the Heavenly Court, anxiously waiting to hear the judgement of their nation. Moshiach, too, is standing there, hoping that in the coming year the complete redemption will come to pass, and the Jewish people will at long last be freed from golus.

When the verdict is read that the Jewish people did not merit to be redeemed, Moshiach leaves the Court, ashamed and deeply embarrassed, while all the gentile rulers taunt and ridicule him.

(Yismach Moshe)

Monday, September 22, 2008

Question & Answer With Inside Man - Protecting The Rebbe

(Picture courtesy of

A Simple Jew asks:

Just as it is the chassid's job to be a bit brazen and make every effort to see his rebbe, it is gabbai's job to make sure the rebbe has an opportunity to eat, sleep, learn, and daven without being overwhelmed by the countless people who come to see him. What aspects of the gabbai's role do you think are not well appreciated by others? Having served in this inner sanctum, what insights did you gain from your close access to the rebbe?

Inside Man answers:

There was once a man who had the world's fastest boat. Since he liked people, he let anyone who asked take it for a spin – until one day he noticed that it was had taken quite a beating and needed a considerable amount of work. Unfortunately, he was forced to cease letting people use it all the time anymore, and instead, he only allowed it to be used with supervision at certain times, or else it would have broken down completely and would have needed replacement. Not surprising, people didn't like him so much anymore…

Ok, it's not a great mashul. However, the gabbai does have a tough job. For the record, even though I had a somewhat inside relationship with a Chassidic Rebbe, I wasn't (and would never be) a gabbai. Probably not that unlike many people in important positions, for better and for worse, a Rebbe becomes somewhat subservient to his gabboyim. Gabboyim also become easy targets for people's frustration; and even if the complaints are legitimate it's a little unfair. A gabbai is like anybody else: he's just trying to do his job, and even if makes mistakes or even abuses some power, where is it written that he is perfect? He's just a gabbai; a guy trying to do his job and make a living. Is anyone else so much better?

That said, a gabbai is a gatekeeper and has some real considerations to keep in mind. His primary concern should be to balance the well being of the rebbe vs the needs of the chassidim. It's a tough job, and an error on either side can be even disastrous. If the gabbi isn't concerned with the rebbe's health, who will be? At the same time if the gabbai isn't concerned that the needs of a chossid are being met, who will be? What happens is that both the rebbe and the chossid live their lives at the mercy of the gabboyim. And it's a risky business; it doesn't take much for power to get to our friend the gabbai's head. Soon he makes decisions for the rebbe, and there are numerous cases of gabboyim with sticky fingers, and wielders of power they had no right to. It's not always pretty.

There are exceptions to the rule, but historically, Rebbes tended to take gabboyim that were not the elite among the chassidim. In the old days it was said that this was because a rebbe didn't want his gabbai paying too much attention to the rebbe's avodos and hanhagos, and furthermore, a gabbai that was too in awe of his Rebbe wouldn't be able to perform his job well. In any case the mystic isn't well-suited for the job; it takes specific talents that aren't necessarily shared by the serious ovdei Hashem. On the other hand, one of the drawbacks to this is that if they aren't the finest of the Chassidim, it is more likely that they will have some undesirable traits. Zalmen Leib ganif is one of the famous olden day gabboyim that people love to joke about, but that's only one example of many. In the good old days, many gabboyim had a bad name – sometimes deserved, sometimes undeserved.

Today, things are a little different. Maybe because people have fewer or different demands on the rebbeim, or maybe because the role of a rebbe, the structure of the groups and society has all changed, so has the job of gabbai. And I'm sure there are differences from group to group, but generally speaking, he's a guy that's good at keeping secrets, good at getting his way, good at making things happen and has basic trust of both chossid and rebbe. Where I was, it was a more relaxed structure. Access wasn't a huge problem, and the gabboyim were good people and easy to get along with – but in a larger group it's harder to do. The size of the group, number of instructions, size of the budget and responsibilities can demand tougher gabboyim with more concerns, and this throws a monkey wrench into the works, as the rebbe looses the luxury of close personal relationships with the Chassidim. It's just a reality.

Sorry for rambling a little – I'll get to your question now: "Having served in this inner sanctum, what insights did you gain from your close access to the rebbe?"

I'm not sure where to go with this. I saw incredible Hashgocha and Siata Dishmaya constantly. It was very special and instructive to see how the rebbe lived on a regular basis. A rebbe who was raised in a rebbe's home and received the upbringing and chinuch influenced by his forbearers going back through generations to people like the Baal Shem Tov and the Chozeh is something worth witnessing at close quarters. Access to such people is always an enlightening experience.

At the same time, and it didn't really sink in right away, it was enlightening to see the human side. A Rebbe is often put on such a pedestal that it actually takes away from his humanity. By relating to him as person, I find that he is far more relevant. It's hard to extrapolate from one rebbe to many, but I do think that it's usually the case: He is a teacher, a seeker, a knowledgeable and a sensitive, caring man. He can get upset, he can be wrong, he can even do things that are beneath him. He's human. But he is a great human.

22 Elul Links - כב אלול

(Picture by A. Modena)

Treppenwitz: Just no words

Dixie Yid: Raising Children the Bilvavi Way

Baal Shem Parshas Nitzavim (Part 1 & Part 2) חומש; אנחנו עוד נשוב

A Simple Jew: A Pasuk from Selichos - כְּרַחֵם אָב, עַל-בָּנִים

"So This Is What He Meant"

The Rebbe once told a story about a certain tzaddik whose attendant was a simple man. He attended the tzaddik constantly and heard a great deal from him, but he understood nothing and did not see any relevance in what he heard. Still, he had great faith in the tzaddik and his holy words. After many years, the tzaddik died. The man then started remembering all kinds of things he heard. In every situation he found himself remembering something the tzaddik had said, and he would say to himself, "So this is what he meant." In retrospect he could see that everything the tzaddik had said referred to his life as it was now unfolding.

(Tzaddik #544)

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Guest Painting By Shoshannah Brombacher - The Selichos Klopper

Friday, September 19, 2008

Nullified Within The Infinite Light

(Painting by Zoltan Jedlicska)

Reb Noson's teaching is based on Likutey Moharan I, 65 – one of Rebbe Nachman's key lessons, which discusses the "Master of the Field" who brings all souls to perfection, the experience of spiritual ascent, self-nullification in prayer, the ultimate illusion of evil, and transcendence of suffering. One of the intriguing concepts of this lesson is that of "making one" out of the sequential words of prayer – so that when one has recited the last word of prayer, he still remembers the first word. This happens when one binds his mind and heart to each word of prayer, thus uniting with each word completely. Then the entire prayer bears this quality of unity, and is not merely a string of separate words. This nullifies all harsh judgments and afflictions.

Rosh Hashanah is the great and awesome Day of Judgment. Due to the severity of the heavenly judgment aroused then, it is necessary to nullify oneself completely – to the point that one becomes absorbed within the Infinite Light. One beholds the ultimate goal, the perfected world where everything is entirely one and entirely good, and all harsh judgments dissolve.

This is the paradigm of the sleep of Rosh Hashanah, discussed in the kabbalistic meditations of the ARI. One removes and negates his self-awareness, and becomes subsumed within the ultimate, which is the Infinite Light. Thus, all harsh judgments and all afflictions cease and desist.

However, it is impossible to remain constantly in this state of self-nullification; it can only be experienced intermittently, in a manner of "advance and retreat (ratzo va-shov)" [alluding to the living angels in Ezekiel's vision of the Merkavah / Divine Chariot]. And when one returns to ordinary awareness following the state of self-nullification, the harsh judgments and sufferings intensify, because they see (so to speak) that one wishes to overcome them. Yet while one remains in the state of self-nullification, they have no effect; for one has transcended everything and become subsumed within the Infinite. Only afterward do they increase. This is like the struggle of two combatants.

However, through the after-impression of this light which remains after the return to ordinary awareness, one experiences joy. This joy enables one to draw forth new Torah insights. These Torah insights "cool off" and annul the judgments and sufferings that seek to latch onto a person after he returns from the state of nullification.

This is reflected by the shofar service of Rosh Hashanah. The shofar is associated with Receiving the Torah, an event that was accompanied by the sound of the shofar. When we sound the shofar, we elicit the spiritual power of the Receiving of the Torah -- which is an aspect of drawing forth new Torah insights via the "afterglow" of illumination that follows the state of absorption in the Infinite Light. This is the paradigm of "awakening from sleep" [i.e., spiritual sleep].

Thus, the main tempering of judgment on Rosh Hashanah is accomplished by the sounding of the shofar. For the tempering of judgment goes hand in hand with returning from the state of nullification, when [these forces] seek to prevail. Then they must be tempered by the shofar blasts, which are bound up with the elicitation of Torah insights. As a result, the light of Oneness illuminates the mind – for in essence, everything is one.

This is the fundamental tikkun (rectification) of prayer. One must bring the [multiplicity of the words of] prayer into a state of unity, so that when one comes to the last word of the prayer, he still remembers the first word. This is the perfection (sheleimus) of prayer. Thus, Rosh Hashanah is called the "Day of Remembrance." Then, the faculty of memory is rectified. (Otzar HaYirah, Rosh Hashanah #36)

Posted by permission of the Breslov Research Institute, translated by Rabbi Dovid Sears

The Simple Intention

The mitzva of shofar has profound Kabbalistic significance, which the Sages had in mind during the shofar blowing. But in Heaven, the simple intention of blowing the shofar because Hashem commanded it is cherished greatly.

(Ma'or Vashemesh)

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Simcha In A Box

Many women are known to say a prayer while kneading the challah dough l'kavod Shabbos. Mrs. Rosenberg, however, also says a prayer when she is preparing boxes of food to be given to needy families in Tsfat. She davens that she be able to put in just the right foods to bring simcha to the families that are receiving them.

Her husband, Rabbi Binyomin Rosenberg, has been in the United States for the past three months raising months to ensure Eizer L'Shabbos can give out as many of these boxes as possible. On Monday, he will be returning to Tsfat to help the numerous families who are without food or other basic necessities through the month of Tishrei.

The Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh taught, "Giving tzedaka before Rosh Hashana is considered to be a great mitzva. In fact, as a result of Jews giving tzedaka, the Heavenly Gates of Mercy are opened wide. For in the same measure we take pity on the poor, Hashem takes pity on us."

Please help Eizer L'Shabbos before Rosh Hashana this year and send your tax-deductible donation to:

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

Secure online donations may be sent via the Eizer L'Shabbos website here.

Guest Posting By Rabbi Shlomo Slatkin - Preparing For Rosh Hashana

Over the years as the yomim tovim have approached, I have been privileged to speak with the Koidenover Rebbe and receive guidance in preparing for yomtov. He has recommended many mamarim which have really helped transform the way I approach yomtov. This is especially true with Rosh Hashana. The pieces in the Yosher Divrei Emes have been most enlightening and while I will not attempt to explain them all, I will focus on one nekudah.

We often wonder what to focus on as yomtov approaches. It can be confusing or overwhelming at times. What do we ask for on Rosh Hashana? It is the day when the coming year will be determined. Maybe we should daven and focus on all of the various things we want or do not have. Yet there is really only one thing to ask for on Rosh Hashana and that is for deveikus, to connect with Hashem. We mistakenly think that this is separate from our physical needs, health, wealth, children, etc... In fact, all of those things are included in deveikus. When we asked to be inscribed in the Sefer HaChaim, we are asking for connection, v'atem hadveikim b'Hashem Elokeichem, chaim culchem hayom. Once we have that connection, everything else falls into place. All of our specific needs are met. The din is on our true desire for deveikus.

I learn this piece every year before Rosh Hashana and it has taken on new meaning in my personal and professional life. The one thing to ask for in any relationship is connection. In a marriage we are often focusing on the "problems", hoping that if we cure the symptoms, the relationship will improve, yet as soon as we solve one problem, another arises. When we are in true connection, though, all of the problems melt away. We often get stuck in the details and are not able to see the big picture. Keeping this teaching in mind gives us insight into what is truly important.

I have written an article in my new book which explains the practical application of this Yosher Divrei Emes and marriage. It can be found on my website here.

18 Elul Links - חי אלול

(Picture by Ruth G.)

Cosmic X:
The Selichot Experience in the Eyes of a Ba'al Teshuva

Life in Israel: 30 years on one mitzvah

Letters of Thoughts: Go Back to the Garden you were Picked From

Machon Torah Ve'Chaim: Tiferes Mordechai

A Simple Jew: "Just An Illusion"

Ohr Chadash: Word and Gematria Tanach Search

Modern Uberdox: as heard from Rabbi Hershy Kleinman

Chossid's Photo Blog: Kvarim Trip 5768

Guest Painting By Shoshannah Brombacher - Chai Elul

pastel on paper , 24 x 18 inches, New York 2008

The Baal Shem Tov is Revealed to the World and Accepted as Master by the Pious of Kitov

The Baal Shem Tov is sitting on a tree stump, receiving the dignitaries of Kitov. They are approaching him in a constant stream, on foot and in wagons from the city, which is depicted in the top of the painting. The three Chassidim in the wagon in the upper right corner symbolize the patriarchs, Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya’akov, supervising the situation. The women overlooking the city are the wives of the rabbis who went out to meet the Baal Shem Tov. They also symbolize the matriarchs Sarah, Rivka, Leah and Rachel, who played such an important role in the development of the Jewish people.

Rushing Through

On Rosh Hashana everyone davens with extraordinary devotion, concentrating on the special tefillos that are the hallmark of the day. Regrettably, people tend to rush through the important portions of the Rosh Hashana service we say every day, such as Pesukei D'zimra and Shema.

This is a mistake. For when we say these tefillos on Rosh Hashana with proper intent and concentration, we elevate all the prayers we said routinely and without kavana all year.

(Yosher Divrei Emes)

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Selichos & A Letter From The Kherson Geniza

The only known letter of undisputed authenticity in existence from the Degel Machaneh Ephraim was written to Rebbe Naftali of Ropshitz. The letter was signed:

הק' משה חיים אפרים ממעז'בוז

"The small/insignificant (הקטן) Moshe Chaim Ephraim from Mezhebuz"

The Kherson Geniza, however, contains a letter of questionable authenticity written by the Degel to his brother Rebbe Boruch of Mezhebuz inquiring of the details of the Baal Shem Tov's minhag for saying Selichos. This letter is signed: "Moshe Chaim Ephraim son of our holy teacher Yechiel - grandson of the Baal Shem Tov"

After noticing this I asked the Sudilkover Rebbe two questions:

1) If he knew of any other chassidic rebbes, other than the Degel and Rebbe Zusia of Anapol, who added the adjective הקטן before signing their names.

2) If he thought it would be unlikely that the Degel would sign a letter as he purportedy did in the Kherson Geniza letter.

The Rebbe responded that many other rebbes such as those from Vizhnitz, Belz, and Spinka added the adjective הקטן before signing their names. He also mentioned that he had in his possesion a copy of another letter from the Degel with the prefix הצב"י (The young one amongst the thousands of Israel - הצעיר באלפי ישראל).

The Rebbe also responded the he didn't believe the letter from the Kherson Geniza was authentic. He stated that the Degel would not need to add such an elaborate signature for a letter to his brother, and certainly would not need to inquire with him about the minhagim of the Baal Shem Tov since his brother was younger than himself.

Blessing Within The Tochacha

(Picture by Alon HenZion)

בָּנִים וּבָנוֹת, תּוֹלִיד; וְלֹא-יִהְיוּ לָךְ, כִּי יֵלְכוּ בַּשֶּׁבִי

You will bear sons and daughters, but they will not be yours, for they will go into captivity. (Devarim 28:41)

Degel Machaneh Ephraim, Parshas Ki Savo:

This is also a great blessing. Mitzvos and good deeds are also referred to as בָּנִים (children). When the verse says "they will not be yours", this means that you will do these mitzvos without the ulterior motive of receiving a reward. Rather, your sole intention will be to return the captive fallen sparks back to their source.


In the Shulchan Aruch, the laws of Rosh Hashana begin with the words, "It is the custom to rise early in the morning to recite Selichos and supplications." The inclusion of this paragraph is exceptional - as a rule, the Shulchan Aruch does not mention customs. Why was this included here?

The Selichos service marks the beginning of the yemei hadin, the days of judgement. The word din in fact has two meanings - both "law" and "judgement".

If a custom is contrary to a law, the rule is that custom overrides the law. Perhaps the author of Shulchan Aruch, Rabbi Yosef Karo was hinting that our custom of rising early for Selichos should override and set aside any harsh din - judgements - that may be decreed.

(Rebbe Shalom of Belz)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

An Entirely Different Angle

(Picture courtesy of

Although I repeatedly left voice mail messages and e-mails for him to contact me before he did so, he left town for good without ever saying goodbye.

"Should I view his actions in a positive light and just assume that he was swamped with the logistics of moving and a myriad of other tasks, and that is why he didn't have a chance to find time for me and and why we did not get together one last time before he left? Or, should I view his actions according to a strict accounting because someone in his position and with his knowledge should be held to a higher set of standards," I asked.

"You should view it from another perspective all together," my wife answered.

"How so? What perspective is that?", I asked.

"Maybe you were never meant to speak with him again before he left town. Maybe what he would have told you would not have been beneficial to you and only would have discouraged you." she replied.

Hearing the these words full of emuna, I said, "Undoubtedly that's what happened. Thank you for putting this in perspective and helping me understand this situation from an entirely different angle."

16 Elul Links - טז אלול

(Picture by Sue H.)

Dixie Yid: My Meeting With Rav Schwartz

A Fire Burns in Breslov: Bringing the Redemption

A Simple Jew:
And Overtake You

Baal Shem Parshas Ki Savo

The Blueprint Of The Year

We should spend the day of Rosh Hashana immersed in davening and learning Torah. This may be compared to a builder who is about to put up a new house. Before he begins, he draws a blueprint of the planned construction. Rosh Hashana, the first day of the year, is the blueprint of the year that lies ahead. Whatever a person does on Rosh Hashana becomes the pattern of his conduct throughout the year. The davening and learning he does on Rosh Hashana will set the standard for the coming year.

(Rebbe Pinchas of Koretz)

Monday, September 15, 2008

Question & Answer With Moshe David Tokayer - Sfas Emes & Rebbe Nachman

A Simple Jew asks:

The Imrei Emes related that his father, the Sfas Emes, often learned Likutey Moharan and Likutey Halachos. After consistently reading your blog Sfas Emes for some time now, I am struck by the numerous similarities between the teachings of the Sfas Emes and Rebbe Nachman of Breslov. Have you also noticed this as well?

Moshe David Tokayer answers:

I posed your question to some of my children who are more knowledgeable about Rebbe Nachman's seforim than me. They said that there are close similarities between Rebbe Nachman's ideas and the Sfas Emes. In fact, many times when I say a Sfas Emes at the Shabbos table, they embellish with quotes from Likutey Moharan or Likutey Halachos.

I know that the Sfas Emes quotes the Tanya a few times and some Chabad friends have told me of the historically close relationship between Gerer Chassidus and Chabad.

The most surprising discovery I've made, though, are the similarities between the Sfas Emes and the Nefesh HaChaim. Coming from a background that stresses the differences between Chassidic thought and practice and non-Chassidic thought and practice, the similarities between these two classics from opposite poles came as a complete surprise, one that demanded a re-think and resulted in a new way of approaching both Chassidic and non-Chassidic classics.

First I must apologize because I'm a bit off the topic of the question. However, to find similarities between Breslever thought and the Sfas Emes is not really all that surprising. Regardless of the bad rap that Breslever Chassidus may have gotten over the years, we find Rebbe Nachman's seforim and ideas surfacing in other Chassidic courts. For example, not long ago I read a quote from the Klausenberger Rebbe encouraging the saying of the 10 chapters that comprise the Tikkun HaKlali. He said that whoever says these 10 chapters of Tehillim with kavannah, can break through metal barriers.

To find close similarities between a Chassidic master and Reb Chaim Volozhiner, one of the standard bearers of hisnagdus, came as as complete surprise to me and makes me wonder whether the gap between Chassidic and non-Chassidic thought is all that great. To be sure, Reb Chaim rails against what he saw as a breach in the keeping of halachah. He writes particularly against the practice of not saying Krias Shma and davening in the proper time. Other than that though, to the best of my knowledge he does not complain in the Nefesh haChaim about anything else that can be attributed to Chassidus. If someone could point to some other complaint, I'd be grateful.

Here, though, is the major difference that I noticed between the two. Reb Chaim Volozhiner stresses the overriding importance of learning Torah and fulfilling the mitzvos whereas the Sfas Emes stresses the intent and preparations that must precede the mitzva. Reb Chaim was concerned, because of the stress on intent etc, that people would think that learning Torah shelo lishma, for example, is worthless and would refrain from learning altogether. Although he states clearly the importance of proper intent and its benefits, still, he stresses the importance and great benefits of kiyum hamitzvos even without proper intent.

And perhaps therein lies the big difference between Chassidus and non-Chassidus. The Chassidic movement enabled people to dedicate their lives to serving HaShem with the tools they had at their disposal. A Gerrer Chassid who was working long hours in order to support his family, could nevertheless experience closeness with HaShem by fulfilling the mitzvos with intense kavannah. Those long hours of work themselves could be turned into mitzvos "simply" by intending to fulfill HaShem's will through them, instead of feeling guilty his whole life that he was not learning during most of his day.

Although this is no doubt an oversimplification, with the proper qualifications, I believe it is true that the Jewish world is in the midst of a process of synthesis wherein halacha is given its proper status and importance and, at the same time, people are more open to imbuing meaning into their daily activities and trying to serve HaShem by all means at ones disposal. This type of synthesis is a beautiful thing and, to my mind, is a strong indication that the geula shleima is right around the corner.


Excessive contemplation is one of the things which prevent a person from returning to Hashem.

(Reb Nosson of Breslov)

Friday, September 12, 2008

Guest Posting By Chabakuk Elisha - Shelo Asani Isha

(Painting by Yefim Rudminsky)

Baruch Hashem, my third daughter (and seventh child) was born erev Shabbos Nachamu – may she grow to Torah, chuppa, umaasim tovim amid happiness & good health; needless to say, we are ecstatic! This event brought about the usual referendum on gender, just as the prior births in our family. With balance of power, room sharing and other concerns in mind, some of my children wanted a boy and others wanted a girl. My eldest daughter was disappointed (as the leader of the "I hope it's a boy" camp), but I had been rooting for a girl all along - something that the nurse at the hospital found surprising and unusual.

Perhaps the reason people might think that it's "unusual" for a religious man to want a baby girl has something to do with a stereotype that Judaism is male-centric, patriarchal, and chauvinistic. The commonly cited proof for this is the daily brocha of "Shelo Asani Isha" (Blessed are You, Lord our G-d, Master of the world, who did not create me a Woman). Obviously, this brocha sounds a bit shocking in contemporary society with our modern sensitivities, but I really think that things like this are easily misunderstood due to various preconceived notions.

This brocha is one of three such brochos in birchas hashachar which is to thank G-d for not creating us as something else: a slave, a gentile, or a woman.* The most common explanation given for this is that the brochos are based on thanking G-d for the mitzvos that He gave us as a method of connecting to Him. Thus, in appreciation of those mitzvos, Jewish free men thank G-d for giving them the maximum amount, as opposed to the gentile, slave, or woman - each of which have fewer mitzvos.

Now, there is nothing wrong with that approach, but it can be a little hard (for me) to relate to in those terms, so – although the change may be only slight – I understand it somewhat differently. When I analyze the three creations which are the subjects of these brochos, it appears to me that the central unifying theme between the gentile, slave, or woman is that they have fewer demands and lesser responsibilities.

Why then should I say a brocha for having additional responsibilities?

Responsibility can be a burden, and it is easy to fall prey to the trap of seeking a way out of responsibility. The responsibilities of the religious, free, Jewish male are indeed significant and limit our participation in many areas. Everything from grocery shopping to choice of profession comes with numerous limitations. A man is obligated to learn Torah in all "free time," must daven three times a day with a minyan, teach his children Torah, and provide his wife with whatever material & emotional support she needs. So the brochos reflect the escalating halachic responsibilities from gentile to slave to man. If we appreciate those responsibilities we can succeed in our role, which is why we say the brocha – to remind us of this. Whereas, should we seek to run from those responsibilities, failure is all but guaranteed.

To illustrate my point, I am reminded of the mini-scandal, a few years ago, when Tom Brokaw was lambasted for an insensitive remark during a morning news program. It seems that he was in his limo on the way to the station in the dark and very early morning, and passing unfortunate NY homeless people asleep in that predawn hour he couldn't help but reflect: "I saw the homeless people in the shelters and the park benches; You feel great sympathy for them, but you also envy the extra sleep that they're getting." In essence he was expressing a bit of the resentment that we may harbor towards responsibility. But this is something we must overcome; if we don't take responsibilities as important we won't fulfill them properly. When we are given responsibility we need to view that as a positive – as Benjamin Franklin said, "Those who sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither."

So, every morning, before I begin my day, I am to remember that these brochos are specifically for my responsibilities. If I shirk them, and don't fulfill my role, more than just my single note will be missing from the symphony. Although it can be perceived as a burden, it is a burden G-d gave me because He wants me to rise to the task. Ultimately, these brochos are not meant as a slight to gentiles, slaves, or women – they are about preparation for heavy lifting.


*I didn't want to get sidetracked, but as to why the brochos are worded in the negative rather than the positive, Chazal explain that this is due to "tov l'adam shelo nivra mishenivra – man would have been better off not born."

12 Elul Links - יב אלול

(Picture by ovaratli)

A Fire Burns in Breslov: Spirit of the Law: Rosh Hashanah II

Long Beach Chasid: Shabbos Tish in Bnei Brak

Mystical Paths: Kever Rabbi Yehuda bar Ilai

Chabakuk Elisha: Chalitza & Tefillin

Rabbi Yakov Horowitz: Yeshiva Darchei Noam YoDo & 3 Na Nachs

If You Think You Are Already There

Once a person considers himself to be simple and sincere, he falls from his level. He must constantly burn with a passion to do more and more as part of his avodas Hashem.

(Degel Machaneh Ephraim)

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Honor, To What Extent?

Excerpt from "The Garden of Peace":

One of my students was preparing to say Mincha, the afternoon prayer service. His wife phoned him and asked him to come home immediately. He told her that in two minutes he was about to pray Mincha with the other students at our yeshiva, and asked if she agreed that he'd come home in another half an hour. She said no and asked him to come home immediately - that's just what he did, and rightfully so, even if it meant praying alone at home.

Let me qualify - the above example is talking about an upright young man who's not looking for excuses to shirk his responsibilities, such as prayer in a minyan with ten other men. Our sages said that sometimes we fulfill Torah by putting our Torah books back on the shelf. Once a wife has the security that she's first place and that her husband will be there when she needs him, then she'll allow her husband to virtually whatever he wants.

My esteemed and beloved teacher Rabbi Eliezer Berland would always tell those of his pupils that had marital problems, "Listen to whatever your wife says. If she tells you to come home, go right away, stay with her at home, and afterwards she'll give you a month's vacation."

If Jewish law can be stretched for the purpose of peace at home - in other words, if the Torah is willing to allow a person to miss a Torah lesson or prayer in a minyan - then a husband should certainly be willing to put aside his own plans, work, or hobbies to fulfill his wife's requests.

When a husband complains that his wife locks him jail, then that husband hasn't given her the feeling that she's first place. When she perceives that other things are more important than she is, she fights against them. Not only that, but her anguish is indescribable when he prefers other interests rather than being with her. So, as soon as he gives her the feeling that she's highest priority in his life, his "jail cell door" becomes unlocked.

A Reason To Speak To Him Again

(Picture by M. Petelicki)

Degel Machaneh Ephraim, Haftaras Ki Seitzei:

"Do not be like servants who serve their master in order to receive a reward; rather be like servants who serve their master not upon the condition of receiving a reward." (Pirkei Avos 1:3)

There is another version of this statement: "be like servants who serve their master in exchange for no reward". I heard from my grandfather, the Baal Shem Tov, that both versions are correct, and reflect two different levels, one higher than the other.

"In exchange for no reward" is the proper and greater form of avoda. Your intention in davening for something should be for the sake of Hashem. It should not matter whether or not you receive the object of your prayers. Indeed, everything you do should be for the sake of Hashem, and not for your own pleasure at all.

However, there is another, higher level which can be understood by way of a parable:

A certain person had a deep and burning desire to speak with the king. The king issued a decree that anyone who presented him with a request would have it granted. When this person who longed to speak to the king presented his request, he was actually afraid that the king would fulfill it, and then he would have nothing more to talk to him about. He preferred, rather, that the king not fulfill his request, so that he has a reason to come before the king and speak to him again.

September 11

(Painting by Shoshannah Brombacher)

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein & The Petek

Continuing the conversation from here.

Bikur Cholim & Hachnosas Kallah

Received via e-mail:

Rabbi Binyomin Rosenberg, the director of Eizer L'Shabbos, is in the United States now, raising money for the poor families in Tsfat. Here in Tsfat, we all know how hard he works to help struggling families in the Holy City. He is always ready to help another Jew – no matter the hour – day or night.

Rabbi Rosenberg is making a wedding for his daughter very soon, and he has no money for the expenses. The kallah (bride), who should only be excited and happy, doesn't know what to do or what will happen. The father of the chassan (groom) said that there won't be any wedding if Rabbi Rosenberg can't come up with the money beforehand.

In addition to the fund raising that Rabbi Rosenberg is trying to do in the United States, he has cellulitis (in Yiddish, a "royz") on his leg, and vein problems that force him to spend an inordinate amount of time off his feet and laid up in bed.

Please do the mitzvah of Bikur Cholim and Hachnosas Kallah the same time! Call him to give him a donation. His number is 646-284-1231

We all know the value of the mitzvah of Bikur Cholim & Hachnosas Kallah, so I ask everyone: please help the one that's always helping others, and may Hashem bless you with everything you need.

Tizku L'Mitzvos – May everyone experience only joy and simchas in their own families!

Donations for this mitzah can be sent to:

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

Beyond His Means

A man should always eat and drink below his means, dress according to his means, and honor his wife beyond his means.

(Talmud - Chulin 84b)

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Kitzur Likutey Moharan

Should a person first learn Kitzur Likutey Moharan before attempting to learn Likutey Moharan?

Rabbi Lazer Brody:

"No - he should learn Kitzur Likutey Moharan as a summary aid in reviewing the salient points of the Rebbe's Torahs, and as a way of checking his own comprehension compared to Reb Nosson's summaries."

A Yid:

"I think the opposite is the case. Kitzur Likutey Moharan should be used for reviewing the practical conclusion of each ma'amar, and one should learn it after finishing the Torah from the complete Likutey Moharan. Kitzur Likutey Moharan HaShalem also contains some implicit explanations from the Tcheriner Rov ztz"l so it is best used as a commentary on Likutey Moharan geared towards the practical application of Rebbe's teachings."

A Talmid:

"I am no expert but I would suggest learning the first few pieces of Likutey Moharan and then some of the more famous pieces such as Kavonos of Elul (6), Azamra (262) and those on Hisbodedus and simcha such as Part 2, 24 & 25. There are also many relatively easy (at least on a simple level) pieces at the end of Part 2, with many on Hisbodedus. I like to use the Kitzur also by going through it on the pieces that go completely over my head, and when something piques my interest, I look it up in the regular sefer. I have heard very knowledgeable Breslovers say that they would suggest the English version of Likutey Moharan, since the footnotes explain a lot based on the teaching of Breslover gedolim. I would imagine this should be easier than using the Kitzur. In the end each has it's place. Since I am no expert on Likutey Moharan, I enjoy going thru the Kitzur at times trying to pick up the practical aspects of the teachings."

Rabbi Nasan Maimon:

"You can learn it before, after, and together with Likutey Moharan."

Rabbi Chaim Kramer:

"It all depends on how advanced he is. Generally, it is suggested anyway, because it gives the person somewhat of a review before getting into the actual text."

Rabbi Dovid Sears:

"Before a couple gets married, they must meet each other in order to get acquainted and see if they like one another and if they have the same values, goals, sensitivities, etc. Likutey Moharan is really a limud that requires "total immersion". Therefore, the Kitzur Likutey Moharan composed by Reb Noson and subsequently expanded by the Tcheriner Rov is a good way of "getting acquainted" with the key ideas and practical avodahs of Likutey Moharan. It is also a good way to review the lesson you are studying when you are ready to dive in. Aside from presenting excerpts from the larger sefer, there are many interpretations and hesberim in the Kitzur that are extremely helpful. Last but not least, it can be a good springboard for hisbodedus when you are working on a certain lesson and want to internalize its message and follow the living path it delineates. Thus the "Kitzur" can be a shortcut to the tachlis!"

10 Elul Links - י אלול

(Picture by B. Mezzera)

Dixie Yid: Fear; Laziness' Excuse

A Fire Burns in Breslov: parshas Ki Teitzei and Hakoras Hatov

A Simple Jew: Rebbe Pinchas of Koretz

Selichos & Nusach

Is Nusach Polin the most commonly used by chassidim? Do some chassidim use Nusach Lita?

Without It

Were not Your Torah my occupation, then I would have perished in my affliction.

(Tehillim 119:92)

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Speaking With The Agent Provocateur

If we became aware that a friend or neighbor routinely betrayed us, would we still speak with him?

When put in these terms, I would imagine that the answer is obviously not. Yet, our yetzer hara betrays us time and time again and we still listen to him!

First he acts as a provocateur and incites us to disobey the Ribbono shel Olam. Then, in act of utter chutzpah, he turns around and acts as an informer; telling Him just how disloyal we have been.

Since I am now aware of his modus operandi, how is it possible that I still fall for his provocations? If he were a human being, I would have absolutely no association with him.

And yet, I fall for the same trick over and over again; ensnared in a moment of weakness.

9 Elul Links - ט אלול

(Picture by photosecosse)

Chassidus Online: The Power of Translation

Dixie Yid: Having Breakfast with the Bilvavi

A Waxing Wellspring: true love

Be'er Mayim Chaim, Parshas Ki Seitzei (Audio Shiurim)

Get this widget Track details eSnips Social DNA

Get this widget Track details eSnips Social DNA

"I believe many of the foundations of Chassidus and Toras HaBaal Shem Tov are found in this piece of the Be'er Mayim Chaim on Ki Seitzei."

Audio shiurim by Rabbi Tal Zwecker

The Most Important Mitzva

Shalom bayis is a person's most important mitzva, a barometer of his service to Hashem, his lifelong project, and his real test in life.

(Rabbi Shalom Arush)

Monday, September 08, 2008

Avoda For The Common Man - Part II

(Painting by Zvi Malnovitzer)

In several places throughout his sefer, the Degel Machaneh Ephraim teaches that a person only experiences problems and deficiencies in his life because of a corresponding deficiency in the Shechinah (the Divine Presence).

The Degel then explains that a person can only rectify his own personal problems by davening for the sake of the Shechinah. While in Parshas Vayeira, he states that a tzaddik understands how to daven in such a manner, in Parshas Beshalach and Parshas Terumah he does not make mention that this must be done by a tzaddik.

I asked Rabbi Tal Zwecker if davening for the sake of the Shechinah could be done by the common person or if it was considered to be an avoda solely for tzaddikim? Rabbi Zwecker recalled that he had addressed this question quite thoroughly in one of his past postings, however, he also had the opportunity to ask the Sudilkover Rebbe about this issue on Shabbos Shelach at the Bostoner Beis Medrash in Ramat Beit Shemesh. The Sudilkover Rebbe told him that he agreed with what he had written in the posting and remarked that this topic was also addressed in Likutey Moharan.

Likutey Moharan II:120 states:

You should not try to follow the Kabbalistic devotions of the Arizal even if you have started to study his writings. The only people to whom these devotions apply are those who have already attained such a level that for them these devotions are the plain meaning of the words! This is the level of the truly great tzaddikim. But all other people should simply concentrate on the straightforward meaning of the prayers.

Thanks to Rabbi Tzvi Aryeh Adler, Rabbi Zwecker also provided me with some additional sources on the issue of avodas for the common man:

Likutei Halachos, Yoreh Deah, Hilchos Shiluach HaKen 4 teaches that a person who has not sanctified and purified the body should totally disregard the thoughts which attempt to mix him up and bother him during davening.

Rabbi Zwecker commented,

"This seems to indicate that you could become a tzaddik one day and then you could work on these things, however one must remember that in my previous post we quoted the Baal HaTanya's opinion, that the Baal HaTanya believes that tzaddikim are born and not made. You can become a beinoni but never a tzaddik. Therefore this would seem to be a dispute between Chabad and Breslov. In Chabad, tzaddikim are born and not made, and this type of avoda is for tzaddikim only. In Breslov although this avoda is for tzadikim only, you should strive to sanctify and purify yourself to reach that level and then it will be your avoda as well!"

Sfas Emes, Parshas Chukas, teaches, however, that the common man may sometimes achieve even more than the tzaddik:

"The song about the well indicates that although great tzaddikim originally dug the well, the simple people who had a desire and yearning to serve Hashem where the ones who completed the task. This is because once the great tzaddikim have opened a passageway and dug a well, the simple people can also achieve what is on their level. Therefore their digging is called Kriah and is even deeper. And it may be that the simple man digs even deeper than the tzaddik and draws down light to even the lowest realms and levels that even tzadikim cannot reach. "

Additionaly, Noam Elimelech, Parshas Metzora states,

"When a wicked person repents from grave sins, like theft or promiscuity, Heaven forbid, nothing stands in his way since "nothing stands in the way of teshuvah". When such a person does complete teshuvah, repenting completely for his past errors, he can even uplift the tzaddik's prayers that have fallen due to some slight ulterior motive or distraction. This is the meaning of "In a place where the ba'al teshuvah stands, not even the completely righteous can stand." The ba'al teshuvah is on a loftier level than even the tzaddik, since he can even uplift the Torah and prayer of the tzaddik which has fallen, as we said."

Could You Elaborate On This Further?

וְרָאִיתָ, בַּשִּׁבְיָה, אֵשֶׁת, יְפַת-תֹּאַר; וְחָשַׁקְתָּ בָהּ, וְלָקַחְתָּ לְךָ לְאִשָּׁה

And you will see among the prisoners a beautiful woman and you desire her, and you take her as a wife. (Devarim 21:11)

Degel Machaneh Ephraim, Parshas Ki Seitzei:

This is also a promise. When Hashem gives the yetzer hara into your hands, then “you will see” how the Shechinah, which is “a beautiful woman,” is in captivity so to speak.

“And you desire her,” to redeem her from captivity, “and you take her as a wife.”

Choir Forming At Sheves Achim/Flatbush Minyan

To add an extra dimension to Sheves Achim's Shabbos and Yom Tov davening, a choir devoted to singing both known and newly discovered Chasidic compositions, as well as appropriate contemporary works, is being formed. Participants will be trained by a world renowned choir conductor. Interested parties should contact Rabbi Meir Fund: 718-338-8442, or email

The Importance Of The Goal

The enormity of the barriers are, as you know, a sure indication of the importance of the goal. There is much to say on this subject. Thousands of pages would not be enough to begin to explain it.

(Reb Nosson of Breslov)

Friday, September 05, 2008

Question & Answer With Rabbi Tanchum Burton - Our Parents & Other Parents

(Illustration by Raphael Eisenberg)

A Simple Jew asks:

At early stages in their journeys, Baalei Teshuva and Gerim may wish that they were born to frum parents, yet with time and perspective they often realize why Hashem did not allow this to occur. As someone who was born into a non-observant family, at what point in your life did you finally gain the appreciation for your parents and were glad you were not born to any other people?

Rabbi Tanchum Burton answers:

I was once reading a book written by a well-respected rabbi, wherein the author was extolling the virtues of mesorah, received tradition, which he regarded as a protective blanket against the erosion of religious Jewish culture. He spoke of the elaborate family rituals and practices that he, a scion of a multi-generational Chassidic dynasty, observed, and of the heirloom silverware which virtually told the story of his ancestors. I found myself yearning for such a connection to the past, one which would link me to my lost ancestors and imbue me with a refreshed Jewish identity, replete with my own time-honored rituals and practices. By the end of this stream of consciousness, I was ready for Prozac. It took me some time until I recognized how ridiculous it was for me to get depressed over a bunch of monogrammed spoons.

If you think about it, there are roughly 13 million Jews in the world. A small minority of them are genuinely Torah observant and bearers of an authentic, mimetic Jewish culture. The vast majority of us have been separated from our respective minhagim by several generations, and in many cases, it would be difficult if not impossible to recover the contours and textures that minhag gives to Jewish life. I truly regard this as a sad reality. I think it is much better to have heard a Zaidy make kiddush and seen his kiddush cup, than to have to listen to nusach tapes and consult books telling you how many fluid ounces have to be in the cup. Tradition is, no matter how much of a reframer or deconstructionist you want to be, an empirically important element in the handing-down of Judaism. There is no Judaism without Torah she'ba'al peh.

People respond to this vacuum of tradition in interesting ways. On the one hand, there are those who completely reject the aesthetic of their ancestral heritage, such as Ashkenazi Jews who either feel that the various Ashkenazi accents are outdated since the advent of the Jewish State, or that they are, simply, revolting. On the other hand, you have people who layer borrowed minhagim upon themselves in a desperate attempt to become reinvented and authentic -- a total contradiction. Consider a Sephardic Jew, for example, who is likely the recipient of a glorious and ancient heritage, who feels the need to wear a shtreimel, something that has nothing to do with the authenticity of his Jewishness.

I think that, underlying all of this is the basic tendency to believe that I am deficient, unacceptable and flawed as I am. We all have self-esteem problems to some degree. The irony is that Judaism is supposed to be the great equalizer, giving us all a share in a redeemed life, and yet it too can be used as a tool for making ourselves feel bad -- if we focus on the wrong things. The fact is that, although being Jewish is not simply a checklist of behaviors as Reb Dovid Sears points out, the Shulchan Aruch--which is for all intents and purposes a checklist of behaviors -- is a set of standing orders that, if we observe them, we will succeed in being Jewish according to the opinions of Chazal and the Rishonim, which is good enough for all of us, even without the spoons.

After I had been through my umpteenth existential crisis of Jewish identity, I realized that I may always have the perspective of an outsider. You can't become "frum from birth", and annihilating all elements of who I am that stem from throughout my life is a prescription for depression and self-hatred. Hardly a "best-odds" for handing down Judaism to MY children! And, incidentally, my parents and grandparents, despite their place on the Jewish continuum, taught me about honesty, fairness, kindness, and respect -- which are not easy to come by in this world. We have principle called derech eretz kadma le'Torah. Rav Chaim Vital, in Shaarei Kedushah, states that mitzvos observed with out derech eretz as a context are as if performed by monkeys--and monkeys get no credit for doing mitzvos. You have to be a person. A mentch. That was my family's contribution to me. I can't say that I always manifest these holy qualities to the best of my ability, but they give me a higher-quality context for my mitzvos.

By the way, I actually am in possession of monogrammed silverware. It's just that I had to kasher it.

5 Elul Links - ה אלול

(Picture by T. Cherana)

Letters of Thought: I didn't want to write this

Mystical Paths: Video: Rabbi Brody on Shoftim

Joe Settler: Trash that TV

Chabakuk Elisha: Elul

A Simple Jew: An Elul Message From SRV

Shabbos In Yerushalayim

Reb Nosson's Blogging Advice

Composition is a basic element in Torah, in avodas Hashem, and in social interaction. Therefore you must try to develop a pleasant and lucid style. It is especially important for you and for the other members of our group who, as you know, employ writing a great deal to benefit the community.

(Reb Nosson of Breslov)

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Peter Himmelman's Tikkun Chatzos

When justice and mercy have fused into one
When the knots of frustration are finally undone
When all hatred and shame have vanished from sight
I will love you with the love of midnight

When the victim shall stand and the aggressor shall fall
When hunger and fear are unknown to us all
When men aren't divided by black or white
I will love you with the love of midnight

We will stand at the pinpoint between darkness and light
Where the truth is made so plain to see
We will witness the enemies and opposites unite
As our captive spirits run free
When the bearers of injustice are making amends
When the ghosts of all sinners will finally be cleansed
When we throw down our guns refusing to fight
I will love you with the love of midnight

When pride and fortunes cease to be real
When the cold at heart can suddenly feel
When all wars are won by reason not might
I will love you with the love of midnight

We will stand at the threshold the bisecting of worlds
As if at the top of some hill
And out of our blindness we shall have been hurled
Not driven by fear but by will
When the scoffing of cynics is silenced at last
When the eons of pain and suffering have past
When the angels of mercy have taken to flight
I will love you with the love of midnight

When the nations see that they're immeasurably small
Compared to the One who created us all
When the dying of dark meets the waking of light
I will love you with the love of midnight

We will stand at the river where silence collides
With countless generations of screams
Where the mysterious Name which never divides
Gives life to our blood and our dreams
When the veils and their shadows are taken away
We will witness the birth of the immaculate day

To stand in the flashes between darkness and light
Is to love you with the love of midnight

I'm so tired of waiting for it
so tired of praying for it

Lyrics from the song "Love of Midnight"