Thursday, April 30, 2009

A Chassid In The Workplace Asks For Advice - Part 2

(Painting by P. Driessen)

Received via e-mail from a reader:

People in my office are passing around a card and collecting money to purchase a wedding gift for our boss. Knowing that my non-Jewish boss is getting married to a Jewish woman creates a real dilemma for me. If I sign the card and contribute money for his wedding gift could this be interpreted to mean that I agree with intermarriage?

On the other hand, if I don't contribute is it possible that co-workers will not understand my rationale and view my actions as the actions of a stingy, intolerant Jew and thereby create a chillul Hashem?

6 Iyar Links - ו אייר

Letters of Thought: A Lubavitcher Pesach in Uman (Part III)

A Fire Burns in Breslov: Spirit of the Law: Shabbos #11

Solitude / Hisbodedus: Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto on Prophecy

Solitude / Hisbodedus: Maimonides on Prophecy

To Yourself

It is forbidden to daven facing a mirror even with closed eyes.

(Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 18:8)

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

"This Opportunity, So Ripe For Redemption, Will Be Wasted"

Thanks to my good friends Dixie Yid and Chabakuk Elisha, I present below the English translation of a letter written by Sudilkover Rebbe to a professor during the time of the expulsion of the Jews from Gush Katif and the Northern Shomron in 2005:

Over time, one is likely to forget the fundamental point for which we must pray. For this reason, I have put pen to paper.

To my dear friend who does much good, Prof. ___,

As an answer to your question...

There have been many occasions in our history that have had a great impact on the future of the Jewish people, which could have been the proper time for the redemption or hastened its arrival.

In my humble opinion, with what has been happening and with what is taking place recent weeks (the upcoming expulsion of the Jews in Gush Katif) we are truly at a time when one can "smell it in the air" that this is an opportunity to achieve the true redemption from all exiles and not only the exile of Sharon.

I suspect that if we only daven for the suffering in Gush Katif and North Shomron – and not about the overarching hard and bitter exile in which we have found ourselves spiritually and physically for 2000 years – that this opportunity, so ripe for redemption, will be wasted. In my opinion, this is a signal to us, a smack from our Father who is saying, "Don't focus on rod. Rather, embrace the One who holds it."

The heart and the mind are inclined to say that it is not for naught that these things are happening specifically during Yemey Bein HaMeitzorim (The Three Weeks). It is not for naught that these events are literally happening during the days of destruction. And not on any day, but on Tisha B'Av – the very day that Moshiach is born.

Tzaddikim brought hints that in 5708 (1947-1948) we could have merited the redemption. Our hopes and the anticipation for November 29th and the prayers for the expulsion of the British mandate brought us the slap in the face from “Sdei Boker's” ruthlessly antireligious government. If only we had prayed harder then, maybe we would have already been redeemed...

The author of the "Sifsei Kohain," known as the "Shach," writes that this was the case in the year 5408 (1648) – that this was an opportunity for redemption, as the numerical equivalent (gematria) of "B'zos," (בזאת) as is hinted at in the pasuk "With this ("B'zos/1648") Aharon will come into the Temple." But, alas, that appointed time was exchanged with the massacres of Khmelnitsky, may his name be blotted out.

The same thing (potential dates of redemption that were exchanged for suffering) happened at other appointed times as we find in seforim:

5674 (1914): Which was exchanged for the First World War (which, incidentally, also began on Tisha B'Av).

5677 (1917): The Balfour Declaration befell us, in place of the true redemption.

5727 (1967): We exchanged our Beis HaMikdash for recapturing the Kosel. There too, I believe that if we had davened for the coming of Moshiach, and not just for a salvation of the Straits of Tiran, who knows if I would be writing these words right now.

But what happened, happened! I am not a mekubal and G-d forbid that I should engage in calculating the end of times – which is halachically problematic – but it seems to me that we find ourselves now in middle of the same film, just a newer version.

(Parenthetically, I would say that that the hint to the year 5760 [2000], one of the appointed times of the redemption, is brought in the seforim as "in the proximity of the year 5760," which still leaves us somewhat close...)

The truth is that according to Jewish law we are required to wait every single day for the coming of Moshiach – but, indeed there are times which are especially apropos for this!

To the extent that the generation has demanded it, things have gotten better in the exile; from 5708 (1948) until today many things have improved. Communism collapsed. Many people now see through the facade and question the holiness of Zionism. Many sacred cows have been slaughtered. Axioms have been broken. Thoughts are beginning to change. We cannot afford to waste this opportunity.

We must pray now for the coming of Moshiach to save us from the purification process – the cleansing from G-d, and from ourselves – just Moshiach, Moshiach, Moshiach. May the Ribbono shel Olam redeem us! See how confused we are. The blind are governing us. We know that we must "choose life" but we no longer know how or what. The yetzer hara and the Exile are drowning us. The curse of "And you shall be bewildered" (Devarim 28:34) has been fulfilled, and we cannot go on like this. Father in Heaven, don't leave us like this – please redeem us!

After the Holocaust, you still had a few strong believing Jews left. Now, we are all wearing a facade. We are weak, tired and spineless. We can be redeemed or we can be destroyed – what do You prefer precious Father in Heaven?! Redeem us from this terrifying Exile – this exile of the mind and intellect. Nothing is deep. Everything is superficial.

Redeem us Father – it’s enough!

Our tefillos are not real. Our Torah study is not real. Everything is fake. Master of the world, what was it that Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, zt"l, said before You: "Redeem the Jewish People as Jews before You have to redeem them as Gentiles" – How long can we hold on? We are lacking all endurance. Please send the son of David already and redeem us – Amen.

Prof. ___, forgive me while I cry as I type, cry and pray. I am not thinking at all, merely pressing keys in the throes of pain. And the tears mix with the letters.

These words are not directed at you, but at the Creator of the world – Our Father. I considered removing this spontaneous tefillah, and not send this whole outpouring to all of you, but in the end I said, "Why not?!" If a precious Jew like you, who I do not usually agree with ideologically but whose value I recognize, awakened me to cry like a small child to my Father in Heaven, you deserve a portion [in the fruits of the product that his inspiration produced].

As a related point:

With regard to your question about the prayer for the residents of Gush Katif: I received the copy of the prayer that you sent me. I was dismayed to see that there was not even the slightest reference to a prayer for the general Geulah and the coming of Moshiach. It appears to me, in my humble and low opinion, that the evil inclination is confusing us in a terrible way not to recognize the great potential of the moment – we should pray for the bartender, not just for a drink. (...)

The following does not relate to what I have said so far:

In relation to... I have thought about the matter and I will talk to you again, Bli Neder, with G-d's help, after the Nine Days, if G-d forbid, Moshiach does not come – and if not, hopefully the redemption of the Jewish People will come soon, and you will not require my advice.

I hope that... and we will soon merit to hear good news with regards to the specifics and to the general matters, and we will reach the prophesied time "like the wondrous days of the redemption from Egypt" may it come speedily in our days.


HaRav Aryeh Wohl

P.S. After signing, I remembered the amazing explanation of Rav Chaim Volozhiner, zt"l, the student of the Vilna Gaon in his sefer "Nefesh Hachaim," regarding the verse in Shir Hashirim regarding the Jewish People (Shir Hashirim 1:9): "I have compared you, my love, to a company of horses in Pharaoh's chariots."

The meaning of this is basically: While usually a rider drives his horses, at the splitting of the Red Sea, the horses miraculously lead their riders. So too, G-d runs the world, but to the Jewish People Hakadosh Baruch Hu says, "You are, in My eyes, like the Egyptian horses, who lead their masters. You also 'direct' Me with your prayers and with your good deeds. If you drive well with your tefilos and with your mitzvos you will make your will into My will."

It is interesting that even Rashi explains the verse as a comparison to prayer: “When Pharaoh and the Egyptians came to you with horses, I revealed Myself to destroy them in order to silence your cries and wailings to Me.”

Our only answer is tefillah. And tefillah for the complete and true redemption by Moshiach Tzidkeinu.

5 Iyar Links - ה אייר

(Picture by A. Hasan)

A Fire Burns in Breslov: Spirit of the Law: Hilchos Shabbos #10

Yoseph Robinson: A Ger from Jamaica סיום מחזור י"ב של העמוד היומי בליקו"מ

Rabbi Micha Golshevsky: Rodef Shalom

Every Second

Every second is a totally new world, and no moment is like any other.

(Rabbi Chaim Vital)

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Overcoming Nitzachon

Discussing the issue of feeling the need to resolve misunderstandings and be victorious in arguments, one of my friends remarked,

"You know, I'm not sure what happened to me over the years, but at this point in my life I seem to have reached a point of simple calm. I honestly don't care what others think anymore, and I don't have an iota of interest in explaining or debating with people. So, what happens is that it is very hard for me to build up the necessary requisite interest in other people's opinions to respond to these things..."

While one person may read these comments and be impressed with his ability to overcome his innate desire to be victorious in arguments, another person may regard these as the comments of an apathetic person.

Predictably, I tend to agree with my friend. I came to this realization a few months ago when in the very midst of a discussion with someone it became apparent that any logical arguments that I made were waved away with this person's ilogical responses. Right then and there, I concluded that it was the height of insanity to believe that I could ever win a rational argument with a person espousing irrational views.

This last sentence may sound elementary to some, yet I witness countless people falling into this trap on a daily basis; so strong is their trait of nitzachon that they cannot walk away until they get the last word in.

Music At Weddings

Melody and musical instruments serve to connect two separate things together. This is one of the deeper reasons why musical instruments are played at weddings.

(Rebbe Nachman of Breslov)

Monday, April 27, 2009

Question & Answer With Rabbi Shais Taub - Tanya: Where To Begin?

A Simple Jew asks:

While Shaar HaYichud v'Emuna, Iggeres HaTeshuva, Iggeres HaKodesh, and Kuntres Acharon are also included in Tanya, would you suggest that a person first focus his attention and continually review the first 53 chapters in Likkutei Amarim before learning these other sections?

The Rebbe suggested that beginners not start with Likkutei Amarim and that, depending on their background, they should either begin with Shaar HaYichud or Iggeres HaTeshuvah. He said that people with a “chakira” background should start with Shaar HaYichud and people with a “mussar” background should start with Iggeres HaTeshuva.

My question is what if someone really has no background in either?

Now it’s true that the Alter Rebbe had first intended that Shaar HaYichud be printed before Likkutei Amarim and then changed it at the last minute for reasons known to him alone. So in a way you can say that Shaar HaYichud is like a preface or preamble to Likkutei Amarim. Indeed, I have tried learning with people in that way, but I find that for the uninitiated, they lose interest in the cosmology of Shaar HaYichud. They want to hear stuff right away that is talking about their lives. When it comes to learning Tanya with people who are not used to learning Torah or who are not yet observant, then really, you have to be ready to switch things up and find what works for that person or that class. I have done all sorts of things, for instance, spending a year on Likkutei Amarim chapters 26-33 in depth. Those chapters appeal to everyone because they are about staying positive.

Anyway, what I would advise to you (since you are asking) is that really everyone should be learning Chitas anyways. The Rebbe made clear over and over that these shiurim were equally applicable to all. So, you should be going through Tanya once a year anyway. That five or ten minutes a day will familiarize you with all of Tanya. Then, for a shiur b’iyyun, I would say try to get a clear picture in your head as to what is going on in Likkutei Amarim. Get the overall approach and view. Learn a perek at a time and then sit and think about what the main point of that perek was and why it is where it is. (The map will help you keep track of that.) As you go, try to be aware of your own development as you implement the instructions. Watch how Likkutei Amarim naturally progresses as a series of private audiences. Notice how the Alter Rebbe is dealing with your questions as they come up.

His Place

A person must hold his ground and not become confused, even if he does not yet recognize his place, or his unique, G-d given talents. He should do those things that are obvious to him and, by fulfilling what he knows, the rest will become clear. Until then, this itself might be the most pleasing form of worship to G-d: to actually serve Him in the midst of confusion.

(Rabbi Yaakov Meir Shechter)

Friday, April 24, 2009

Question & Answer With Rabbi Betsalel Edwards - The Beis Yaakov Of Isbitza

A Simple Jew asks:

Could you elaborate on the hashkofah of Rebbe Yaakov of Isbitza, the Beis Yaakov?

Rabbi Betsalel Edwards answers:

There is no great difference between the paths of R' Mordechai Yosef, ZTs”l, the Rebbe of Izbitsa (the Mei HaShiloach), his son, Yaakov, ZTs”l, (The Beis Yaakov), and the Beis Yaakov’s son, R' Gershon Chenoch of Radzin, ZTs”L, the “Baal HaTecheles,” also known by the names of his books, the Orchos Chaim, the Sod Yesharim, and the Sidrei Taharos. All three Rebbes, and I would also include the Baal HaTecheles’s son, the Tiferes Yosef, form an organic whole and unified religious philosophy (“hashkofa.”)

Seeing as there is no great difference between the Isbitser and the Beis Yaakov, it is interesting that there is so much controversy surrounding the Isbitzer and no such controversy surrounding the Beis Yaakov.

Mei HaShiloach was transcribed and edited by the Isbitzer’ grandsons, R' Gershon Chenoch of Radzin, and R' Mordechai Yosef Elazar. It was published by a non-Jewish printer with no rabbinical haskomos (approbations) in the year 5620 (1860). Most of the extant writings of the Beis Yaakov were also transcribed and edited by R' Gershon Chenoch. So a part of the philosophical unity must be due to how all the writings were filtered through R' Gershon Chenoch, arguably a different temperament living in a different time and place from that of his father and grandfather.

Here is an excerpt from the introduction to Living Waters: The Mei HaShiloach, which summarizes the main points of the Mei HaShiloach:

"First and foremost, everything is in the hands of Heaven. Everything that we receive in our lives we are receiving directly from God, may He be blessed. It is then the world of man in the world to develop a mind that is conscious of this reality. In addition to an unwavering dedication to the Torah and its laws, which is the path of our refinement, man works through study and Avodas Hashem to know what God wants from him specifically in his life. He knows that God’s will could change at any time, and constantly looks to God to illuminate into him what He wants of man at any particular moment (the “way of Yehuda.”). This also necessitates that the individual not assume that what God wants from him is exactly the same as that which He wants from another. Even if he sees another transgressing the Torah, he may not automatically assume that the other is rebelling against God’s will, because he has no way of knowing the particulars of the other’s relationship with God at that time. Thus, through personal refinement in accordance with his illumination of the will of God, he develops the consciousness of the presence and intentions of God. Redemption is knowledge and understanding of God’s reasons for making Avodas Hashem difficult for us, as well as a revelation of the reasons for our exilic suffering. Such clarity and change of consciousness transforms all of the suffering into clear revelation. We look back and see that we were never in exile and God was with us at all times. "

For the time being, this is all I will say in my own words. In order to be true to the words of the Beis Yaakov, I will let him speak for himself. What follows are some selections from his writings that elucidate his hashkofa.

Here is how R' Gershon Chenoch described his father, the Beis Yaakov, and his grandfather, the Mei HaShiloach, in the Introduction to Beis Yaakov:

"Rav Mordechai Yosef was the first one to open the gate, and establish the fundamentals of the true tradition of the Torah's mysteries. He taught how all teachings of the Torah's mysteries, even those which seem beyond the reach of man's understanding, are all relevant and apply to every soul. His teachings are like plantings whose roots are below, and bear fruit in the realms above. This fruit is known, revealed, and seen in our own exposition of his words, expressed in the verse (Devarim, 28:10), "and all the peoples of the world shall see that the name of God is called upon – " us, the lovers of God and his Torah, constantly involved with the Torah, honoring the Torah, guarding its commandments, surrounding them with protective fences. He was a recipient of the true tradition of the Torah's mysteries, founded on the belief in God, may He be blessed, established on the faith of the holy shepherds of Hasidism. This will all be explained in the second section, the introduction to the Beit Yaakov. There we will present and explain the received tradition of the Torah's secrets, and that which cannot be overtly exposed will be alluded to in subtle hints. Furthermore, I will give over words that have only been transmitted from mouth to the ear of the mekubalim of our fellowship, each one according to his level.

Rabbeinu Mordechai Yosef lived a life of suffering. For a mere thirteen years he was publicly known as a Rebbe, of frail health the entire duration, scarcely seeing good fortune without several troubles closing in on him from all sides. He passed away on the seventh of Tevet, 5614 (1854) and found his final resting place in the town of Isbitza. Blessed is God who has not forsaken us, and a Tsaddik does not pass out of the world without God leaving a Tsaddik in his place! His son, Rabbeinu Yaakov of Isbitza, took on the role of leadership after him, and all of the followers of R' Mordechai Yosef who desired the true teachings of the mysteries of the Torah continued to follow R' Yaakov. The small opening which R' Mordechai Yosef began was greatly expanded upon by his son R' Yaakov. He was possessed a tremendous intellect, expert in the Halacha, Talmud Bavli and Yerushalmi, Sifrei, Sifra, and writings of the holy Arizal. He explained them all in a clear fashion, to the extent where while under his guidance, all these areas of Torah were open books to all who entered their gates. The incisiveness of his intellect in the area of Halacha was an awesome wonder to behold. With every law, he revealed its inner depths, and its clear connection to the source in the Talmud. I saw how whenever a student came to him who did not understand the nature or source of a law, R' Yaakov did not hesitate for a split second, but revealed its exact meaning and its source in the Talmud Bavli, Yerushalmi, Sifri, or Sifra on the spot. I never again witnessed a mind with such a tremendous hold on the meaning of the law and its way of learning. So many matters that he explained are recorded, yet not one of his numerous Torah innovations, and there are so many Torah matters included in his innovations. He was an ever flowing spring of Torah, each day increasing more wisdom and knowledge, both in the revealed and hidden studies. All who saw him witnessed this. He provided numerous clear expositions of the mysteries of the Torah, as to clarify the deepest depths and open the most closed of secrets. His teaching were a veritable highway for all who wanted ride on the way of truth in the hidden mysteries. Among them are many annotations on the obscure passages of the Zohar and the writings of the Arizal, all explained with wondrous understanding and wisdom, as all who look into this book will clearly see.

We possess many complete compilations of R. Yaakov of Isbitza's writings. They are:

*Ta'amei HaMitzvot on almost all of the 613 commandments.

*Commentary on all of the daily prayers.

*A commentary on the Shabbat and festival prayers, Rosh Chodesh, fast days. This includes an exposition of their sources from the Sages of the Talmud and the Zohar.

*Commentaries on all the writings of the Arizal, - the tree, the fruit and the branches – they are life for those who find them, fully explained for all who enter their gates.

(Most of his writings were lost during the second world war.)

R' Yaakov of Isbitza passed away in the year 5638 (1878) on the 15th of the month of Av. He left the world when traveling to the town of Drozganik for health reasons. His grave is in the town of Ratnitza.

Most of his Torah output was not written in an organized fashion, for he did not write down his teachings. The very little that was written down properly was that which he instructed me to write. In the first years he did not want to disturb my study of Halacha by asking me to transcribe his teachings. He once told me, "If I were to explain to you the true inner meaning of any matter in Torah, you would no longer want to learn Halacha. At that point in your studies, if I reveal the mysteries of the Torah, you will then be prematurely illuminated, only wanting to dwell in the realm of the mysteries and no longer study the revealed Torah. This is because you will see that the simple meaning of the Torah’s teachings are just a garment, and the inner essence is the neshama (soul). First occupy yourself with Halacha, and eventually you will understand that all of the inner mysteries of the Torah are within the revealed Halacha. Then you will take joy in learning both aspects of the Torah." At the end of his life I transcribed his commentary on the Etz Chaim of the Arizal. I managed to write more than two hundred pages on a few chapters. Also, I have hundreds of pages of his teachings on various disparate matters, including his commentary on the Torah."

What we would give to learn those two hundred pages of commentary on the Arizal that R' Gershon Chanoch transcribed from his father, the Beis Yaakov. Those writings, that, together with most of the Beis Yaakov’s output, were lost in the Shoah!

Consider the above statement of that the Beis Yaakov made, “First occupy yourself with Halacha, and eventually you will understand that all of the inner mysteries of the Torah are within the revealed Halacha.” This fits beautifully with the following statement about the study of Kabbalah by the Vilna Gaon:

“Even though you have studied the revealed Torah, and your “source is blessed,” still, be a ever flowing spring, and understand the sod (mystery, or kabbalistic meaning) in a clear fashion. Then you will “rejoice in the wife of your youth” (Mishlei, 5:18.) That is to say, you will rejoice in that which you innovated in the simple meaning of the revealed Torah. When you understand the sod, then you will see how the simple meaning is correct and true. You will see how there is nothing extraneous in the simple meaning.” (Commentary of the Vilna Gaon on Mishlei, 21:17, 22:13, 6:9, 5:18)

This is how R' Gershon Chenoch described his father’s book, Beis Yaakov.

"The first book of my fathers that I published was the Beis Yaakov HaKollel, a concise and comprehensive explanation of the holy Torah. It will open the gate that was closed by our predecessors, whose words were difficult to understand. The knowledge found in this book brings the words of the Torah into the grasp of man's understanding, offering the consciousness necessary to reveal the depths of the Torah's mysteries and the path of faith, free of doubt concerning God's governance and Providence over His creation. It contains moral instruction to refine the hearts of Israel, with advice on proper conduct. The book also explains the prayers and festivals, the fundamentals of the inner meaning of mitzvot, and a commentary on the Tanach and selections from the Talmud, all explained according to the, "pardes." (This is an acronym for Pshat, Remez , Drash, Sod, meaning all levels of exegesis from the simple meaning to the allegorical to the mystical.) Its goal is to show how all matters of Torah are relevant for all people, and how the events recounted in the Torah are experiences common to everyone. One may learn from this book how to serve God and truly fulfill that which He asks from us at any point in one's life – from the first moment he decides to conduct his life according to the wellsprings of Torah which flow from the house of God, to the time he draws the waters of salvation to heal the source of his soul. Through this knowledge one may even fix the deficiency he bears from the day of his birth, "for he is called an offender from his birth." (Yeshayahu, 48:8) He will be, "like a tree planted by streams of water, who spreads out its roots by the river." (see Tehilim 1:3 and Yirmiyahu, 17:8) He will see with faith how to strengthen his heart and proceed with courage. He will have hope and resolve, knowing how to take his soul in his hands and pray the God, trusting in Him forever. "

Perhaps the best summary of the teachings of the Beis Yaakov on the subject of emunah (faith) and Torah observance is found at the end of the introduction. There he writes:

"The Torah and its laws are advice given to man that allows him to fix emunah in his heart. The Zohar (Yitro, 82b) calls the 613 commandments of the Torah, “613 pieces of advice.” What exactly do the commandments advise? Perhaps it is subjective, for one can find many paths in the fulfillment of the Torah, whether it is the love of God, or the fear of God, or faith, or His oneness. Yet truly, they are called advice since the main principle of the mitzvot is that through the general fulfillment of the Torah and its laws as a whole, man fixes emunah in God in his heart with eternal permanence, and he shall not falter. Let not man ask, “How can I even start, for to begin with my heart does not even believe in the Torah or its laws?” For this reason God divided the Torah into positive and negative commandments, whereby even if man performs the commandments simply, what we call, the “garments” of the laws, without any appreciation of the deep intent within, he will be able to fix faith in his heart. In this way he will come to understand with perfect clarity that God is the Creator and Ruler of the universe, and that God’s intimate Providence extends to all the finest details of His creation. The more man accepts and builds fences around the law out of his growing love for the Torah and its mitzvot, the more the light will grow and he will feel the advantages of the laws, and in this way God will shine into him knowledge of the wonders of the inner nature of the Torah. This is as it is written in the Zohar (Vayeitze, 154b):

From this we learn how through the revealed Torah, one arrives at the hidden mysteries of the Torah.

The more one develops in his knowledge of the inner mysteries of the Torah, the more he will strengthen his emunah in every detail of his observance of the Torah.

30 Nissan Links - ל ניסן

(Picture by M. Mooney)

Rebbetzin Yehudis Golshevsky: Sefiras HaOmer

A Fire Burns in Breslov: The Danger of Philosophizing

Sfas Emes: Tazria-Metzora 5631 Third Ma'amar

Rabbi Dovid Sears: Learning Pirkei Avos & Sefirah

Michoel: Sefira and the Shem Mishmuel

A Simple Jew: Vitality To The Printed Letters

Lofty Heights

On Pesach we reach lofty heights of ecstasy and kedusha. But the euphoria does not last. How do we recapture that sense of enthusiasm? As we count Sefira we seek to retain the sense of spiritual elevation granted to us at the receiving of the Torah.

(Bnei Yissachar)

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Erev Rosh Chodesh - A Glass Almost Empty Or Almost Full?

(Picture by M. Lerch)

I once told a friend that I found saying Birchas HaChodesh each month to be somewhat of a depressing occurrence since it marked yet another month of life that had too quickly passed by. My friend admitted that he too shared these feelings. He confided that tears actually came to his eyes when saying הוא יגאל אותנו בקרוב ("He will redeem us soon") on Shabbos Mevorchim Nissan because it almost felt like Hashem was teasing us by by witholding Moshiach and forcing us to continually say the words בקרוב (soon).

While contemplating the meaning of Erev Rosh Chodesh as a Yom Kippur Katan, I concluded that I had not taken advantage of this day properly in the past. Some people say additional tefillos during Mincha on this day and others even fast in atonement for their sins for the previous month. I, on the other hand, hadn't ever done anything.

I began learning more about the observances of Erev Rosh Chodesh and discovered that it was also the minhag of the Baal Shem Tov to fast on this day. In my initial burst of excitement, I decided that I would like to follow this minhag. However, once I started thinking about the taxing nature of fasting and what abiding by this minhag would mean in all its practicality, I considered otherwise.

I then discovered that Imrei Pinchas mentioned that Rebbe Pinchas of Koretz said the entire Sefer Tehillim without a break on Erev Rosh Chodesh. I once again contemplated taking this on as a new avoda. I reasoned that it was certainly easier than fasting, yet in a certain way it was equally challenging since it would require that I find two hours of interrupted time - most likely in the middle of the night - to complete saying the whole Sefer Tehillim.

Nevertheless, Rebbe Pinchas of Koretz's practice appealed to me because it approached Rosh Chodesh from both "glass almost empty" and "glass almost full" perspectives. In certain sense, I could see saying the entire Sefer Tehillim as a tikun for my aveiros the past month. Yet, on the other hand, I could also view it as a supplication for Hashem to help me in the upcoming month. One can easily find both these themes within the pages of Tehillim.

Starting this morning, I am going to try to abide by this practice of completing the whole Sefer Tehillim every Erev Rosh Chodesh. Instead of viewing Rosh Chodesh as marking just another month behind me, I hope to view it as a blank canvas in front of me; in the way the Biala Rebbe describes:

"The constant renewal of the months and the ever-changing cycle of time enable a person to continue in life, persevering through his hardships. As the time changes and the difficulties of the past are forgotten, we hope towards a new and better future..... Rosh Chodesh is a renewal, a new face in time, in which the world is transformed from one state of being to another. A new reality is conceived, which never before existed."

Before Dawn

I arose early, when it was still night, and I cried out; I hoped for Your word.

(Tehillim 119:147)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Question & Answer With Rabbi Micha Golshevsky - Anava & Azamra

A Simple Jew asks:

Kitzur Likutey Moharan 79:5 states, "The essence of humility is when a person considers himself to be beneath his own true level and lower than he actually is."

How are we to understand this teaching in light of Rebbe Nachman's teaching of Azamra?

Rabbi Micha Golshevsky answers:

Before explaining this statement in light of Azamra, we must first understand it. The Chovos Halevavos writes that one who feels humility like an animal is on no great level. To the contrary; true humility means that one sees his strengths and uses them properly.

Rebbe Nachman writes the same thing but he adds that it is very hard to come to true humility. Ga'avah can come in many ways and who is to say that one has truly attained humility? This could just be his swollen ego feeding him false information.

Yet, many have difficulty understanding how someone truly great and who knows his greatness can possibly feel smaller than his level? Isn't this an inherent contradiction to true humility which is quite hard enough to attain on its own?

I always illustrate this point with a favorite story. As is well known, Rebbe Akiva Eiger was the paradigm of humility. There are many truly astounding stories in this regard. Once some yeshivah bochurim apporoached Rav Shach to explain one such story.

When Rebbe Akiva Eiger came to a certain city, crowds of Jews came out to meet one of the foremost halachic authority of the nation.

The moment he noticed this kingly honor, he was heard to say, "Why are all these people coming out to greet me? The people of this city have never seen a hunchback before?"

The students asked Rav Shach what this could possibly mean. After all, as the Chovos Haelvavos states, true humility entails knowing ones greatness; how could Rebbe Akiva Eiger fail to understand that these people had come to greet him because of his great stature as a posek and tzaddik? Although clearly the respected sage had not been disingenuous yet how could he have missed what was obvious to any five year old?

Rav Shach explained, "You do not understand humility. Humility is not so much what you know since everyone knows how reprehensible it is to be arrogant. Humility is how you feel about yourself. If a person truly knows his own strengths yet feels that what he has is truly from Hashem and that he has not done nearly as much as he was able, then he will immediately dismiss any inappropriate showing of honor with any excuse. He understood why they were greeting him but brushed it off since he truly felt that this was completely inappropriate since it and undeserved."

The insidiousness of arrogance is so powerful that we must work very hard to fight as much as we can.

This is one reason why Rebbe Nachman exhorted us to always be fresh. "One is not allowed to be old. Not even an old chossid or an old tzaddik. One must always be new."

In the words of Rav Nosson, we must strive to feel like a little child who is just learning in cheider "Kamatz aleph aw" for the first time."

I was very gratified to find this significance of such an attitude that one is just starting out in Rav Wolbe's writings as well. He explains that one must learn the art of "hislamdus". This means that he feels as though he has not truly davened or learned as it should be done but is "learning how." Rav Wolbe writes that in this way he will be able to avoid arrogance.

He says a truly stunning thing which I have never seen from a Ba'al Mussar: "If you do not manage to acquire this trait do not bother learning Mussar since whatever you do will just bring to more and more ga'avah."

This echoes the Gra and the Beis Avrahom of Slonim who writes that ga'avah is the worst sin. This is not the venue to explain the Gra's deep reasoning behind this but the Beis Avraham says a much simpler reason. "One who does any other sin will be drawn to do teshuvah by learning Torah or davening; the higher their level, the more likely they are to do teshuvah. Conversely, one who has a ga'avah problem gets a worse problem the more they grow in Torah and tefilah!" This aspect of hislamdus is even if one is truly able to learn or daven compared to his peers. He knows that he yet lacks and continues to work on yiras Shamayim to fill the lack.

I think it is clear that this is in no way a setira to Azamra. Azamra entails truly seeing the good. Anava is when one also knows he has so far to go. On the contrary. When one is not in a happy joyous mood, he is not in a state of anava by definition since Rebbe Nachman teaches that simcha brings to anava and anava brings to simcha.

Hashem should help us attain true hichadshus and hislamdus and serve Him with anava and joy!

"A Big Yellow Spider"

"When you come see me, be sure to bring the original," said the Sudilkover Rebbe.

"The original?", I responded,

"Yes, you sent me a scan of the picture. Please bring me the original drawing that your daughter made me for my birthday.", said the Rebbe.

My six year-old daughter was thrilled to hear that the Rebbe wanted me to bring him the original picture that she had drawn for him. When he finally saw it in person, he smiled brightly and told me how much he liked it and how happy that it made him. He then pointed to the picture of the sun and gently mentioned to me that the commenter who had written that it was problematic according to halacha was correct. He said that when he was growing up he had been taught to put the sun in the corner of the picture so that not all of it appeared. The Rebbe then took out a pen and wrote בס"ד in the upper right corner of the picture. Once again, he told me that I could also instruct my daughter to follow this practice. Her talent for art was certainly a gift from Hashem, so adding בס"ד to her artwork would help her always remember the source of her gift.

I finally did broach this topic with my daughter about two week after returning from seeing the Rebbe and telling her how highly he had praised her artwork. Instead of beginning by telling her what she shouldn't do, I once again reiterated how much the Rebbe liked her picture and then told her that the Rebbe had said that the best way to draw the sun was to put it up in the corner. She nodded her head in agreement, smiled, and remarked, "Yeah, because otherwise it looks like a big yellow spider with long legs in the middle of the sky."

I then explained to her about adding בס"ד to her artwork. She immediately drew a new picture using colored pencils, drew the sun in the corner, and added בס"ד to the opposite corner. She then told me that she was happy that Rebbe liked her pictures and had spoken to me about her artwork.

28 Nissan Links - כח ניסן

(Picture by B. Morse)

Solitude / Hisbodedus: Maggid of Mezeritch: On Prayer

Solitude / Hisbodedus: Two Types of Prayer

Bitachon & Tzedaka

The more bitachon a person has the more tzedaka he gives.

(Rebbe Nachman of Breslov)

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

"Everything Is Godliness"

Excerpt from The Path of the Baal Shem Tov: Early Chassidic Teachings And Customs by Rabbi Dovid Sears:

One of the controversial issues which led to the persecution of the Baal Shem Tov and his disciples was his assertion that "everything is Godliness, and Godliness is everything." Mystics have their own way of speaking - sometimes to the chagrin of rationalists, who, after all, account for the greater part of the population. To some of his rabbinic contemoraries, the Baal Shem Tov's statements sounded dangerously like pantheism.

Of course, the Baal Shem Tov never identified God with nature - it is a fundamental belief of Judaism that, before or after creation, God is immutable, infinite, and transcendent. What the Baal Shem Tov wished to communicate was the oneness of all things within God and the presence of God's Oneness within all things. (In the language of the Kabbalah, these two perceptions are called yichuda ila'ah and yichuda tata'ah - the Higher Unification and the Lower Unification.) This experience of Divine Oneness gave rise to the surpassing love - for God, the Jewish people, for all creatures great and small - which the Baal Shem Tov uniquely expressed.

So the question immediately arises: How can this love be applied to evil? And if everything is Godliness, how can it not? In fact how can evil exist at all?

The manifestation of all phenomenal reality is a consequence of what the Kabbalah calls tzimtzum (constriction). This term refers to the withdrawal of God's Infinite Light when it arose within the Divine will to the create the universe. As a result of the tzimtzum, an "empty space" was formed. This empty space is the precondition for creation to possess an appearance of independent existence; and, since it is the antithesis of revelation, the empty space is the source of the potential for "evil," i.e. an act which could appear to contradict the Divine will. Basing himself on the teachings of both the Ari z"l and the Baal Shem Tov, the Chasidic master Rabbi Nachman of Breslov defines the issues in the following way:

"When God wanted to create the world, there was no place to do so, since everything was infinitee. Therefore, He withdrew the [Infinite] Light to the sides, and by means of this act of withdrawal (tzimtzum), an empty space was formed. Within this empty space were brought into being all the various finite entities (midos) which comprise the creation of the universe. This empty space was necessary, for without it, there would have been nowhere for creation to take place. [However,] the tzimtzum which produced the empty space is impossible to understand or grasp. [Its essence will become known] only in the Ultimate Future. For [concerning the empty space] one must say two opposite things: it is both something and nothing. The empty space came about through the tzimtzum: [the Creator] withdrew His Godliness from there (so to speak), and no Godliness remained (so to speak). Otherwise, the space would not have been empty. Everything would have remained infinite, and there would have been no room at all for creation. But the real truth is that Godliness surely exists there too, for nothing can exist without His life force. Therefore, it is absolutely impossible to grasp the aspect of the empty space until the Ultimate Future."

Chasidic doctrine fully agrees that from the standpoint of creation, evil exists and must be repudiated, according to the Torah's dictates. Man possesses free will and is, accordingly, subject to reward and punishment. At the same time, from God's perspective (so to speak), evil has no essential existence - everything is perfect, subsumed within His absolute Oneness. And, according to the degree to which a person can sanctify himself, he can receive a glimmer of this higher reality. The position taken on this issue by Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin, one of the most prominet leaders of the Misnagdim, is essentially the same.

So, if the ultimate truth is that "everything is Godliness," what is the substance of creation? What is the nature of the empty space which is the precondition of all phenomenal reality?

As Rabbi Nachman states, there is no answer to this paradox - not one that the rational mind can grasp. When man is finally granted this perception, he will transcend his status as a mortal who must chose between good and evil and attain the level of the angels.

27 Nissan Links - כז ניסן

(Picture by R. Budnikas)

Solitude / Hisbodedus: Master of Silence

Solitude / Hisbodedus: The Perception of Universality

Solitude / Hisbodedus: The Mystical Dimension

Solitude / Hisbodedus: Expanses, Expanses

Letters of Thought: A Lubavitcher Pesach in Uman

A Waxing Wellspring: Dinov or Breslov


There is a fool who imagines that he is actually a tzaddik and that there is no tzaddik greater than himself. He doesn't know that he is a complete fool and that his Torah and good deeds are garbed in klippos.

(Degel Machaneh Ephraim)

Monday, April 20, 2009

A Subconscious Complaint

Over Pesach, it occured to me why so many people complain about eating matza. It is not the taste they are really complaining about; subconciously they are allowing their yetzer hara to vocalize a complaint regarding what matza represents.

Matza is known as michla dimhemunusa, "the food of emuna". Rebbe Naftali of Ropshitz taught that eating matza on Pesach actually strengthens the emuna in a person's heart.

In today's world, however, emuna is not such a sought after commodity. People literally drive themselves insane trying to control the myriad of logisitical details in their daily lives and reacting to the "random" occasions when things do not go as they had planned.

If you have any questions about how a person truly views the world around him, listen to how he talks about matza on Pesach. His words will reveal everything about his level of emuna.

26 Nissan Links - כו ניסן

(Picture by A. Barwick)

Solitude / Hisbodedus: Desire For White

Solitude / Hisbodedus: Curing Delusion

Solitude / Hisbodedus: I Like This Secret Walking

Solitude / Hisbodedus: A Summons to Higher Contemplation

Dixie Yid: Don’t Cause Yourself Early Death By Wasting Your Life

Mystical Paths: Politics and Free Will

Internalizing A Connection

When one eats matza, one internalizes a connection to G-d which transcends intellect, enabling the simple faith we all possess to permeate our lives.

(Rebbe Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn of Lubavitch)

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Pesach Blogging Break

(Picture by D. Dossler)

I will be taking a short blogging break beginning today. I plan to return to regular posting after Pesach on Monday, April 20, 2009.

Friday, April 03, 2009

More Than Just Four Questions

Rebbe Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev once asked why we are limited to just four questions in the Haggada since he could think of an infinite number of questions that he would like to ask the Ribbono shel Olam; namely, why is He keeping us in Golus for so long?

There are times we seek an answer and pursue it with vigilance and avid determination and are still unable to resolve our question. We may even bring our question to someone much wiser than ourselves for insight only to be told that the answer may be on a different plane than our question; that it is an act of kindness why we remain waiting with question in hand.

Do we have the humility and emuna to accept these delays to "our" schedule, or do we react as a small child who throws a temper tantrum in the car even as he is being driven to a place that he eagerly desires to go?

When instant gratification is too slow, how do we react when we are still holding on to our questions months and sometimes years later?

9 Nissan Links - ט ניסן

(Picture courtesy of

Solitude / Hisbodedus: The "Alter" of Novhardok ברכת האילנות

A Simple Jew: The Pesach Minhagim Of Sudilkov

Izbitza: Chametz

Revach L'Neshama: Shabbos HaGadol Minhag

A Simple Jew:
A Haggadah From Sudilkov

Visit to Jerusalem Matzo Baking Factory

Haben Yakir Li: Maos Chittim

A Simple Jew: "Not Looking For Other Adventures"


(Picture by Anjali)

Excerpt from Rabbi Bezalel Naor’s Haggadah “Springtime of the World”:

The word kadesh (sanctify) is in the singular. The lesson to be derived from this grammatical form is that though the sanctification of time is a collective event on the part of the Jewish People, nevertheless the individual is not obliterated in the collective. Rather, each individual contributes a unique dimension. Israel is not like some totalitarian regime where the individual becomes subjugated to the collective. On the night of this festival, which is the foundation of all the appointed times of the Lord, each member of Israel has the ability to bestow upon the day his or her very own dimension of sanctity. This individuality is part and parcel of our emancipation from Egyptian bondage. Each individual Jew is called upon to recognize the worth of his contribution. “Kadesh! Sanctify! (singular)."

(Rabbi Abraham Isaac Hakohen Kook, Siddur 'Olat RAYaH II, pp. 254-255)

Constantly In Mind

First and foremost remove all trace of self-interest from your avodas Hashem. But this requires profound insight, and you must keep it constantly in mind. For it is lost in a moment of inattention.

(Baal Shem Tov)

Thursday, April 02, 2009

People Of Form & People Of Matter

Degel Machaneh Ephraim, Parshas Tzav:

I heard a parable from my master, my grandfather [the Baal Shem Tov], may his memory be a blessing. When a king wages war, he uses many types of soldiers. Some are foot soldiers, and other ride on horseback. During the war, those who are on foot stand in joined ranks, linked and interlocked with one another, for they are bound together with rings of iron; and they stand in the depths of the battle so that is impossible for them to flee one way or another.

But as for those on horseback, even though they are also in the battle, when fighting breaks out violently around them, they escape on their horses and do not risk their lives. The foot soldiers, on the other hand, sacrifice themselves in battle for the glory of the king. When Hashem has helped them win the war, then those on horseback come and take the spoils, because they have horses and can carry burdens on them. But the foot soldiers do not take any of the spoils, except for a little bread and water in order to keep themselves alive at least for one more day, for the burden of the weight of the spoils is a heavy load for them, and the foot soldier’s life is enough spoils for him. He trusts: “Don’t we all serve one king for his supreme glory? When I lack something in peace time, then the horsemen will give it to me from the great spoils which he took, for we serve one king. We certainly have a greater share in this spoils than they do, for it was we who, with Hashem’s help, brought about the victory at the risk of our lives.” But those who were on horseback do not do this, and they do not want to given them even the food for one meal, saying that they brought about the victory.

The moral is clear. The spiritual people - the people of form and service (אנשי הצורה) - are the foot soldiers, continually risking their lives for the glory of the king, the King of the World. They are the ones who win the war, bringing an end to all the accusers and adversaries who arise against them and desire to keep the divine influx from the world; through them the flow descends to the world. But those on horseback are the physical people - the people of matter (אנשי החומר) - who ride on great and good horses, their good fate. At the time of victory, when bounty reaches the world, they snatch a great abundance; but the spiritual people are content with enough for each day, as is the way of Torah and those who have trust in Hashem. And it is sufficient for them that, through the victory, the King’s glory has been increased. They think that the physical people will surely supply them enough for their needs since the spiritual people are really the more important of the two. But it does not seem so to the physical people, and they do not want to give them anything. "All the bounty belongs to us," they say.

Eventually, though, Hashem will take notice, and will look upon His servants and their actions. Then, in His great goodness, He will certainly reward them with all manner of goodness and prosperity; for He knows the truth, that the victory depended upon them, and that they deserve all the rewards and bounty that descended in the first place.

8 Nissan Links - ח ניסן

(Picture by H. Folster)

Solitude / Hisbodedus: Finding the Shabbat Within

A Waxing Wellspring: really learning Torah

Rabbi Tal Zwecker: Chad Gadya

Chana Jenny Weisberg: An Unforgettable Kid-Friendly Seder

A Simple Jew: And Dinner Was....

Letters of Thought: Help this Pesach

Words In The Sounds

The Baal Shem Tov could hear words in the sounds of a musical instrument, for he had truly attained the level of man and therefore could transform inarticulate sounds to words of holiness.

(Rebbe Nachman of Breslov)

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Guest Posting By Chabakuk Elisha - Beyond Tznius

For some reason I seem to be having an unusually high number of conversations about tznius lately – which leads me to think that there is some confusion about some of the whats and whys out there.

I’ll begin with a conversation my wife had with a coworker that revolved around the difference in dress and appearance between the girls in various frum schools, and how the girls in school A – a large non-denominational chareidi school – looked very neat and mature even at the youngest ages, while at the other school they seemed to have loose uniform rules; they looked a bit unkempt, with shirts untucked, loud color tights, and all sorts of interesting hair styles from the youngest up to the oldest ages.

Now, while none of my children attend school A, my wife mentioned (they’re both teachers) how nice the children behave and look there, and that by raising children with such specific and clear a goal in mind – treating them as future mothers instead of children – one can understand why they are generally more successful producing simple, sincere, mature, responsible, knowledgeable girls who are ready and capable of being Jewish mothers in that model. My wife’s coworker, however, felt that school A (which the coworker had actually attended growing up) was stifling the children and taking away their ability to have any self-expression, while the other school was more normal and healthy. She also believed that this kind of repression is what causes children to go “off-the-derech.”

Without a doubt, we could discuss what causes people to “leave the derech” till the cows come home, and I don’t think that dress code plays much of a role at all (the biggest factors are probably bechira, time & place, abuse and ease), but I’d like to discuss what the dress-code thing is all about.

Why do chareidim come up with all kinds of rules for clothing in the first place – and what is baseline tznius anyway? I hear people say, “Shulchan Aruch says nothing about denim or four inches below the knee, dangling earrings, bun hairstyles or this or that – this is simple oppression of women!” Or, “Chareidim are so into clothing! They wear Shabbos clothing everyday – it’s simply materialistic!” Or, “What could be wrong with flairy skirts that reach the floor? That’s even more tzniusdik – yet they call me inappropriate?!” And other statements along those lines.

I could go on here, but I’ll get to the point: It’s about restraint.

Religion, and in our case Yiddishkeit, seeks to impart an essential value: that G-d wants us to practice restraint and self-control. One thing that I notice with my kids is that when they look wild, they act wild; and it does seem that the clothes we wear go a long way to defining who we are and how we act. Chareidi emphases on matters such as dress have this same intention in mind: To create an attitude of maturity, formality, self control and understatedness in dress and behavior. As one chossid once told me, “The clothes we wear are intended to restrain us; they remind us to act dignified.”

His Departure

Rashi on Bereishis 28:10:

The departure of a tzaddik from a place makes an impression, for while the tzaddik is in the city, he is its beauty, he is its splendor, he is its majesty. When he departs from there, its beauty has departed, its splendor has departed, its majesty has departed.

והמשכיל יבין

7 Nissan Links - ז ניסן

(Picture by R. Cattani)

Solitude / Hisbodedus: The Gentle Way of Silence in a Noisy World

Solitude / Hisbodedus: Meditation and Judaism

Solitude / Hisbodedus: The Technique of Quieting

Solitude / Hisbodedus: Conversing With God

Rebbe Nachman's Portrait

Reb Avraham Sternhartz (1862-1955), a great-grandson of Reb Noson and preeminent Breslov mashpia of his day, used to would say, "Yeder blatt in Likkutei Moharan iz a bild fin der Rebbe . . . Every page in Likkutei Moharan is a 'portrait' of the Rebbe."

At All Times

A person must be extremely scrupulous with the mitzva of mezuza because it is a mitzva that is obligatory on all people at all times.

(Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 11:23)