Thursday, May 28, 2009

Guest Posting By Rabbi Ozer Bergman - Two Parables On Receiving The Torah

(Painting by Raphael Eisenberg)

This is from the Ben Ish Chai of Baghdad (d. 5669/1909). Even though he lived after the Magid of Dubno, this is a more “general” parable so I am presenting it first.

A rich man had two sons. One was handsome, strong and wise. The other was homely, weak and—let’s be generous—not as intelligent. Before he passed away, the rich man sold his properties and furnishings. With the money, he bought precious jewels and gold coins. He sewed extra pockets onto a pair of overalls, and filled them with the jewels and coins. Then he sewed up the pockets and died, without saying which of his sons just receive the overalls.

The brothers went to court. The strong, wise, handsome brother claimed that because of his superior qualities, and because he was the firstborn and always closer to his father than his brother had been, certainly the overalls were meant for him. It was a persuasive argument. The judges turned to the younger brother and asked for his arguments.

“Esteemed judges, all that my claims is correct. Just one thing, though. Let’s see whom the overalls fit. If they fit him, they’re his. If they fit me, they’re mine.” They fit him, not the older brother.

The angels had many arguments why the Torah should stay with them, and not be given to human beings. But Moshe Rabbeinu responded, “Were you ever slaves in Egypt? Have you parents to honor?” The Torah is a perfect fit for we homely, weak, could-be-smarter humans.

This is from the Magid of Dubno, who occasionally visited the Vilna Gaon.

A country bumpkin went to the city. He walked passed a men’s clothing store and saw a beautiful suit in the window. He went inside and told the salesman that he wanted to buy the suit in the window. The salesman took the bumpkin’s measurements and brought him the suit in his size. He gave it to the bumpkin and told him to try it one. In the meantime, the salesman went to another customer.

The bumpkin went into the dressing room and put on the suit. It was very uncomfortable. The jacket and pants were too tight—he couldn’t close them—and the sleeves and legs were too short. He looked ridiculous.

He came out of the dressing room and the salesman came over to help him. “This doesn’t fit me at all! Look at the sleeves, the legs—everything. It doesn’t fit me at all.”

The salesman knew he had brought out the right size. He looked closely at the bumpkin and realized the problem. “Sir, if you want the new suit to fit, you must take off the old one first!”

This, explained the Magid, is why we often feel that what we learn in the Torah “doesn’t fit.” We foolishly forget (ignore?) the fact that in order to try on something new we have to shed the old. To grew in our Torah awareness and observance, we have to let go of our ideas and behavior that prevent them from fitting.

© Copyright 2009 Breslov Research Institute

Tikkun Leil Shavuos - Sudilkov Minhag

I just found out from the Sudilkover Rebbe that the minhag for saying Tikkun Leil Shavuos in Sudilkov was to say it without the Mishnayos. This is what I will plan to do tonight.

5 Sivan Links - ה סיון

(Picture courtesy of Breslov Customs for Shavuot

Solitude / Hisbodedus: Hitbodedut & Rabbi Moses Cordovero

Mystical Paths: A Little Help for Torah and Young Men?

A Screen Of Separation

There is a screen of separation between Hashem and man. And during the time of prayer you have to exert all the energy of your mind, making the words that you say shatter and break through the separating barrier until you are able to to cling to Him in devekus.

(Darkei Yesharim)

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

תּוֹרָה אַחַת יִהְיֶה לָכֶם

Thanks to Chanie and Chabakuk Elisha, I present below the English translation of an article based on a shiur given by Sudilkover Rebbe, shlit"a in the neighborhood of Ramat Eshkol in Jerusalem on Erev Shavuos 5763 (2003):

One Torah Shall You Have
(Bamidbar 15:29)

The Jewish calendar is defined and elaborated upon well. Our holy Torah clearly specifies every special time and holiday, from Rosh Hashana through Pesach.

Yet, there are two holidays that differ in this regard, since they do not have a definite date.

The first is Shabbos Hagadol - commemorating the miracle when the Jewish people pulled themselves away from idol worship by publicly taking sheep - which were considered to be gods by the Egyptians - and sacrificed them to Hashem. Although this event occurred on Shabbos, 10 Nissan 2448, we remember this event on the Shabbos before Pesach each year, regardless of whether or not it falls on the 10th of Nissan.

The second holiday is Zman Matan Toraseinu (Shavuos). Not only are we not provided with the date of the giving of Torah until discuss it in the Talmud (Shabbos 86), but even this is not to establish the holiday - rather, Chazal, simply add the mention of it in our Festival prayers.

Shavuos is not bound by a set date. It is set only as the fiftieth day of the counting of the Omer. What this means, in essence, is that during the period when the Jews determined Rosh Chodesh by whether they saw the moon, Shavuos could fall either on the fifth of Sivan (when Nissan and Iyar were 30 days), or the seventh of Sivan (if Nissan and Iyar were 29 days), both of which were acceptable according to what Chazal set, but neither of which were the day that the Torah was given - the sixth of Sivan.

The very fact that the Torah establishes a day of holiness, on which the Torah was given, but does not specify a date, begs us to expounded upon it!

However, one important point is worth clarifying first:

Chazal taught us (Yerushalmi, Berachos 9:1), “Just as faces are not alike, so too opinions are not alike”. It is therefore understood, that there is no occupation in the world which will be fitting for every person. When a person learns any sort of skill, it is dependent on his talents, abilities, tendencies, and preferences. How then is is possible to give one Torah to an entire nation of millions of people and to require them to learn it day and night?

On a very superficial level, this could be comparable to forcing an entire nation of men, women, and children to learn shoe making without taking any of their talents into account. If we consider this matter a little deeper, however, we will understand that this is not how things really are.

King David told us that: “The Torah of Hashem, is perfect and complete, settling of the soul, the testimony of Hashem is true; it makes wise the fool; the laws of Hashem are straight – they make happy the heart." (Tehilim 19:8) And the Tzofer HaNa’amati added, “The Torah’s measurements are longer than the land and wider than the sea.” The Torah of G-d is perfect and complete, wider than the sea, and its greatness is beyond measure.

There is no person who cannot find for himself "his part" of the Torah, through which he can bring completion to his soul and climb higher and higher on the path to Hashem.

Our holy Torah is not comparable to any wisdom or occupation. Special talents or specific abilities were not required before it was accepted or before one may learn it today. Since every Jew was at Har Sinai, everyone can find their place in the Torah.

In Mechilta 19:2, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai taught, “One should always relate how the Torah was given to the Jewish people in the desert... If the Torah would have been given in Eretz Yisroel, those living in the land would have claimed that it was theirs; if it would be given in another land, the citizens in that place would attempt to lay claim to the Torah. Therefore, Hashem decided to give the Torah in the desert, in order that all those who wanted to could come and claim a part.”

Rebbe Naftali of Ropshitz further elucidated upon this in his book “Zera Kodesh”. He explained that the word of Hashem was given in the desert in order to spread out to all the valleys and low places and to uplift the people who were considered to be the lowest of the low.

However, before these lowly people could toil in Torah, Avos d'Rabbi Noson 32 tells us that Hashem set a condition,

"Hashem said to the wicked; good deeds you do not have and you ask to learn Torah? As it says, ‘And to the wicked G-d says, what do you have to tell My law’. My law you do not keep, how do you talk about them, and you hate reproof?!”

It is evident from this that the one precondition to learning Torah is to “pull your hands away from idol worship” – all worship that is strange, unrelated, to the commands of the Creator and the fulfillment of His mitzvos.

An example of this "strange" worship may occur if a person wakes up one day and listens to a lesson in Torah that deals with the greatness of the mitzva of a sukkah for the first time in his life and then runs to fulfill the mitzva in the height [and heat] of the summer. If we witness such an occurence, we should tell this person to wait and have patience since the holiday of Sukkos is limited to a certain time - just as the mitzvos of tefillin and the blowing of the shofar.

While Hashem limited the time in which these mitzvos can be performed, He did not, however, set a specific time when one can do teshuva or accept the yoke of Torah. For these, there is no time limit!!

This is the reason that the Torah did not set a specific date for Shabbos Hagadol and Zman Masan Toraseinu.

The times that the two holidays symbolize – the time of leaving sin and that of accepting the Torah - are always available to us. There is no set time! We always have the opportunity to jump on the bandwagon and repair what we may have damaged in the past.

4 Sivan Links - ד סיון

Solitude / Hisbodedus: The Baal Shem Tov on Silence

Solitude / Hisbodedus: Rabbi Aharon of Zhelikhov on Silence

Chabakuk Elisha: Tikkun leil Shavuos

Rabbi Dovid Sears: Akdamus Milin

A Simple Jew: Shavuos & The Baal Shem Tov's Shul

Dixie Yid: Every Day Is A Test

Rebbetzin Yehudis Golshevsky: Shiurim on Shavuos (Part 2)

A Fire Burns in Breslov: Only Dairy on Shavuos?

Only Now

On Shavuot we receive the answer and come to understand the reason for the Exodus.

(Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz)

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Question & Answer With Rabbi Micha Golshevsky - Tikkun Leil Shavuos Or Tehillim?

A Simple Jew asks:

While I understand that is the minhag to recite Tikkun leil Shavuos, I would personally prefer to complete the entire Sefer Tehillim instead because I feel that it helps me better connect to the Ribbono shel Olam. I ultimately want to do what Hashem wants me to do and am trying to discern how I should approach this awesome night. What advice could you give me regarding this question?

Rabbi Micha Golshevsky answers:

As you know Rebbe Nachman said that the main thing on Shavuos is not to sleep. Of course there are many levels to sleep. The Ramchal explains that the wicked are likened to being dead because their life is without the vitality afforded one who hopes to Hashem. Similar to one who is asleep, they don't really live in the full sense of the word. Rebbe Nachman and the Gra both explain that some people sleep their whole life away, rachmanah l'tzlan!

I have always felt that many people make a big mistake by forcing themselves to say the Tikkun when they feel no vitality in it and are much more prone to falling asleep. Of course, this is not always so. Some people merit to accept upon themselves the yoke of heaven, by forcing themselves to say the Tikkun even when this is difficult.The Sulam says that by overcoming the hardship and saying the Tikkun despite it, one accesses a big part of the light of Shavuos for this very reason. Yet if one feels this is a burdensome or he will fall asleep, he should at least consider doing something else. After all, the Tikkun is not a chiyuv just like most of what the Arizal prescribes is often not necessarily meant to be done in action. This is the view of the Gra and most of Chassidus. There are others who argue, most notably Sephardic poskim such as the Ben Ish Chai and the Kaf Hachaim.

Many tzaddikim would hear the sound of Matan Torah sometime during this most precious night. Although regular people don't often merit this level, we should do what we can to truly experience the joy that is such an integral part of kabbalas HaTorah. As the Chasam Sofer, zt"l, points out, one of the brochos we make on the Torah begins, v'ha'arev na.

I am certain that reciting Tehilim is as efficacious as learning Torah since Chazal say that Dovid Hamelech asked Hashem to accept one who recites Tehilim as if he were learning the hardest areas of Torah.

Although the Nefesh Hachaim points out that since we don't have any record of Hashem's answer to Dovid Hamelech, it is not clear that this prayer was accepted, very many sources argue. They reason that this request is recorded to teach that Hashem granted it.

In any event, in Breslov, some people would spend hours dancing while singing, "Ashreinu," (after completing the Tikkun.) I have always understood their reasoning to be as I wrote above: one needs to connect to the joy of Dveykus to Hashem, the Nosain HaTorah (as discussed in the Shelah HaKadosh and many other sources.)

Tehilim is actually exceedingly appropriate, since Shavuos is the Yahrtzeit of Dovid Hamelech Rav Nosson actually writes that one reason we read Rus on this night is to connect to the humility of Dovid Hamelech and through this merit to truly accept the Torah.

The Mekor Chaim (a student of Rav Chaim Vital) says clearly that one who learns Torah all night until the morning merits to rectify his nefesh and is afforded atonement for his sins. So we see clearly that even one who did not learn the tikkun is able to access the light this beautiful and holy chag.

If the best way for you to connect to Hashem on this wonderful night is to say the entire Tehilim, you should do so with connection and joy!

Ruling Over Angels

Don’t tell yourself that you can’t achieve this. You certainly can. But you have to first begin with the angel closest to you, the one that resides within you – your evil inclination. First you have to gain dominion over him. Then you can worry about how to rule over the other angels.

(Rabbi Eliyahu Chaim Rosen)

Monday, May 25, 2009

Before You Take The First Bite...

Rabbi Binyomin Rosenberg of Eizer L'Shabbos routinely provides hundreds of needy families in Tsfat with food packages before each and every yom tov.

Now, just days before Shavuos, he finds himself hard-pressed to be able to provide food for even 100 families this Yom Tov and following Shabbos due to the current economic situation.

Please help Rabbi Rosenberg however you can; give him the ability to say "yes" to the next person who calls him in desperation in their attempt to obtain food for their family's yom tov meals. Your tzedaka will mean more than you can even imagine.

Your tax-deductible donation may be sent 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.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Guest Posting By Yehonasan - Worshipping Our Own Worship

"When a person becomes accustomed to holiness, and he attains intense radiance and [high] rungs, the evil inclination comes to him and says to him: “Look at your deeds—see how much holiness you’ve attained! So many brilliant illuminations!” (Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac of Komorna, Nesiv Mitzvosecha, Hakdamah)

“…Anyone who sets up an image on high to the Holy One Blessed be He in a secret place—any form, tzelem or likeness, in the likeness of the forms of those who serve Him—his soul will become garbed in that very image! Then when he departs from this world, a voice will go forth to that image saying: "Consume him with fire!" (Tikkunei Zohar, Tikkun 66, p. 97b).

The soul’s pure intention is to connect back to its source, to G-d. For a Jew, Torah and mitzvos are the means to this connection. And that is all they are—the means. “The entire Torah and mitzvos were given ONLY for the goal of ‘u’vo tidbak’ ‘cling to Him.’” (Toldos Yaakov Yosef, Hakdamah).

The danger is that the means are so often confused for the end. When our intention falls from the level of “I want to connect to you, G-d!” to the level of “I want Torah and mitzvos! I want holiness, I want illuminations!” then we have confused the means for the end. Instead of our service being toward G-d, our service goes toward setting up an image of ourselves on high, an image of ourselves as a lofty being serving G-d in the higher realms. We worship our own worship.

The Tikkunei Zohar tells us that our punishment, then, is that we are allowed to become that image that we wanted to be. Our soul becomes snared in it. And then the image itself consumes us with flame. That flame is the burning shame our soul feels when we see that we had been worshipping an image of ourselves.

Torah and mitzvos are not the goal, they are the means. As a person who is striving to increase his observance and Torah knowledge, I find I forget this basic point all the time. Now, I am resolving to remind myself more often.

Therefore, next time I want to buy that especially beautiful tallis, or complete that entire masechta, or daven beautifully before the amud, or attain that lofty meditative radiance I have been craving, I will try to remember to ask myself whom I am serving.

Perhaps when my soul burns in shame inside that image of myself I have created in my religiousness, my “spiritual path,” G-d will have mercy on me, because in the midst of it all, I at least tried to remind myself to connect to Him.

A Yahrtzeit Seudah In Modzitz

On Tuesday night, a yahrtzeit seudah in honor of the Zvoliner Rebbe was held in Brooklyn at the Modzitzer Shtibel. Rav Newmark spoke divrei Torah about the niftar and related to the coming Yom Tov of Shavuos, and the legendary baal menagen, Rabbi Ben Zion Shenker, led the singing to an enthusiastic gathering of Jews from all backgrounds, Chassidim and non-Chassidim alike.

From (abridged):

Upon the passing of Reb Chaskale Kuzmir zt'l, his son the Zvoliner Rebbe, Reb Shmuel Eliahu, was called upon to lead the Chasidim. Reb Shmuel Eliahu lived in Zvolin, Poland. From his youth, Reb Shmuel Eliyahu was outstanding in his Torah scholarship and his musical abilities. When he davened before the amud in his father's Beis Medrash, the place shook. People then said that they experienced the meaning of "and the entire nation saw the sounds" (a description in the Torah to describe the giving of the Torah).

Nevertheless, he didn't continue for long to daven before the amud, to the dismay of the Chassidim. Precisely because he understood the value of niggun, he refrained from singing. Even so, he composed many niggunim, especially for Shabbos and Yom Tov that were known thoughout Poland and attracted many people. He was the first of the Polish Tzaddikim to concentrate his creative powers in negina. With his awesome memory, he was able to remember everything he composed.

His attitude towards negina was as if the singer were standing in the Beis HaMikdash, and the Leviim were accompanying him in the shira v'zimra. He passed away in 5648 [1888], leaving behind five sons: Rebbe Moshe Aharon, who succeeded him in Zvolin; Rebbe Yisrael of Modzitz; Rebbe Yaakov of Radom. The other two sons, R. Ovadiah and R. Chaim Benyamin, did not have a Chassidic following. He passed away on the 26 of Iyar 5648 or May 8, 1888. Modzitz as such, started with his son, Reb Yisrael Taub of Modzitz.

Rosh Chodesh

Rosh Chodesh gives a Jew the power to renew himself in his avodas Hashem.

(Chidushei HaRim)

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Tehillim & Chassidim

(Picture by Mikhail Levit)

Excerpt from Law and Custom in Hasidism:

The entire volume of Tehillim was never recognized as a single unit, the reciting of which should be obligatory or a segulah (i.e. an efficacious means toward obtaining a desired goal). Only in the latter part of the Middle Ages do we find the first statements in the name of R’ Avigdor of Regensburg and Rabbeinu Ephraim which speak of the Book of Tehillim and of the segulah of reciting it as a single unit.

From the various sources scattered here and there on the particular segulah of the book as a way to protect oneself from the destructive angels, it appears that its importance grew greatly among the people under the influence of the kabbalists. It was especially valued by the later kabbalists of the Ari’s school. They instituted the recitation of Tehillim on the night of Hoshana Rabbah, and composed a Yehi ratzon prayer to be said throughout the year after concluding the recitation of each of the five books into which Tehillim is divided. For Hoshana Rabbah, there are special versions to be recited after the conclusion of each book. Through the kabbalists, the Book of Tehillim became beloved by the people as a whole, and whenever there were troubles or a calamity which befell the community or an individual, they would pour out the bitterness of their heart through this book. In it, they found consolation, strength, faith and hope.

It is therefore not suprising with the growth of Hasidism, which followed the footsteps of Kabbalah, the value of this book increased, and the Hasidim considered the reading of Tehillim to be of great importance. But one should not seek the source of this only in the influence of Kabbalah on Hasidism, for this minhag is primarily a Hasidic product. After all, Hasidim attempted to lift the spirit of the simple Jew and to implant within him the recognition that he was equal to the “lamdan” in value and status, and that every Jew can be as righteous, or even more righteous, than the lamdan, as long as whatever he does is for the sake of Heaven. There is nothing better for this than the Book of Tehillim, for our Sages tell us, David asked that those who recite it should receive the same reward as those who study Nega'im and Ohalos. If so, the simple Jew who recites Tehillim is no less worthy than the Jew who studies the most difficult passages of Talmud.

There were tzaddikim who recited all of Tehillim over the course of each week, while others completed it twice a week, once over the course of the week and once over the course of Shabbos. They especially made a point of reciting Tehillim during the month of Elul and the Ten Days of Repentance, on the night of Yom Kippur and the night of Hoshana Rabbah, According to the tradition of the Hasidim, the Baal Shem Tov instituted a special group of Tehillim to be recited Erev Rosh Hashana at the graves of tzaddikim, these being: 4, 7, 11, 12, 13, 22, 23, 24, 38, 39, 40, 42, 43, 51, 86, 90, 91, 102, 103, 141, and 142, and thereafter one recites from Tehillim from 119 (whose verses begin with the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, eight verses for each letter) those verses which spell out one's name (for example, if one's name is Avraham he should recite the verses that begin with the letters alef, beis, reish, heh, mem) and then the verses which spell out Shadai K'ra Satan.

The great Hasidic masters also used the reciting of Tehillim as repentance for various sins. There are many stories in the Hasidic literature about this, showing the power of the Book of Tehillim in the forgiveness of sins. Not only in the the aggadic literature of the movement, but in the halachic words of Hasidim as well, one finds this - as actual halacha. A famous tzaddik answered a question about "a mohel, where of the children whom he had circumcised had died, and who is afraid that he was negligent in that he circumcised the child while he was jaundiced" and did not wait "to postpone the circumcision until his blood had settled down." The mohel now asked what he could do as penance for having killed the child through negligence. The tzaddik answered [She'elos U'Teshuvos Cheishiv Moshe, Yoreh Deah 49] that he was to fast forty days over a period of time, and that on each day that he fasted was to recite all of Tehillim slowly, from the beginning to the end. Furthermore on the yahrzeit of the infant each year "he is to say all of Tehillim" and study Mishnah in memory of the infant, for the infant, too, might need a tikkun from a previous gilgul (incarnation). If he accepts this, his sin will be forgiven, and from that day on he is to examine each infant on the day prior to the scheduled cirmcumcision.

"Rebbe, I Don't Believe You."

Keren Yitzchok Isaac

Rabbi Yitzchok Isaac Reichman a"h

Received via e-mail from Rabbi Dovid Sears:

This week, I attended a meeting of askanim and chaveirim about a newly-created fund for the almana and ten children of Rabbi Yitzchok Isaac Reichman a"h. Reb Yitzchok, an accomplished talmid chokhom in the Stoliner Kollel and a key figure in the Breslover Shtibel of Borough Park, passed away recently from complications following heart transplant surgery at age 45. Like virtually everone present, I committed myself to try to raise funds for Reb Yitzchok's family.

If we all work together on this important mitzvah, we should be able to insure that the Reichman family's financial needs will be covered until his children grow up and can provide for themselves, be"H.

This may sound like a tall order.

But, in fact, a similar campaign was spearheaded by some of the same askanim on behalf of my late chavrusa Rabbi Yitzchok Wolpin a"h's family a year ago, with tremendous success. And what made all the differences was the tzedakah given by people who didn't even know the niftar, but recognized the need and wanted to help. Whether you give $18 or $18,000, it all adds up.


Therefore, I urge you to join us by sending your tax-deductable check to:

Keren Yitzchok Isaac
1225 Ocean Parkway, apt. 1-C
Brooklyn, NY 11230

Finding The Specific Path

Through reciting Tehillim, Hashem will grant a person wisdom, understanding, and knowledge so as to enable him to find the specific path that pertains to him according to the root of his soul. He will then know what he must do in order to return to Hashem completely.

(Reb Nosson of Breslov)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Question & Answer With Rabbi Dovid Sears - Vidui Devarim

A Simple Jew asks:

One of the controversies surrounding Rebbe Nachman of Breslov was that his followers practiced vidu'i devarim (verbal confession) in his presence. Thus their detractors called them "vidu'inikers." What was the purpose of this practice? Is it still done today in Breslov? Some say that it is not a legitimate Jewish practice at all, and might even be assur. What's your take on this?

Rabbi Dovid Sears answers:

First, let's back up a little. Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch (known as the "Tzemach Tzedek") states in Derekh Mitzvosekha (“Discourse on Confession and Repentance”) that teshuvah / repentance is not only a way to gain forgiveness from G-d, but retroactively uproots and "undoes" the sin. It spiritually restores us to "factory specs." And as the Rambam rules in his Mishneh Torah, Hilkhos Teshuvah, confession is an essential part of this process.

What is the spiritual reason for this? Again, to quote Derekh Mitzvosekha, just as the sin has both physical and emotional elements – the physical act and the evil, or at least misdirected desire, that led to it – teshuvah also requires a physical and an emotional component. When we feel remorse in our hearts, this uproots the passion behind the sin. And when we verbally confess our wrongdoing, this physical act of confession cancels out the sinful deed that we carried out with our bodies.

The vidu'i devarim described in Likkutei Moharan I, 4, though, was something more than this; it was a special tikkun that the Rebbe instituted for a certain period of time. The Rebbe's chassidim not only confessed their sins, but did so in his presence.

We might raise an eyebrow at this unconventional practice. But in fact, such confessions in front of a spiritual teacher or members of a spiritual brotherhood were not unprecedented; they were also performed in earlier kabbalistic circles. Moshe Hallamish mentions this in his introductory volume on the Kabbalah, citing the example of Rav Chaim Vital and his talmidim. Confession in front of others was also practiced by some groups of Chassidim as a more intense method of teshuvah. Even the Chabad farbrengens of old were known to occasionally elicit such public expressions of repentence. However, in Rebbe Nachman's circle, something more was going on. The point of such confession was to create a spiritual condition which would enable the penitent to experience the Ohr Eyn Sof, G-d's Infinite Light, which the tzaddik experienced and for which he became a channel. Thus, others might share something of this mystical experience, too.

Some may find this hard to believe; but for those who experienced it, such as Reb Noson and Reb Yidel and other followers of Reb Nachman, this glimpse of divine illumination, however brief it might have been, was vividly real.

So how about us today?

The Tcheriner Rov writes in his Parpara'os L'Chokhmah (on Torah 4) that today we only practice such vidu'i devarim beside the Rebbe's kever, particularly on Erev Rosh Hashanah -- but not in the presence of others. Thus, we have a bechinah, an aspect of the Rebbe's tikkun; but whatever took place when the Rebbe was physically alive is no longer available to us, at least not in the same way.

I remember that many years ago, a ba'al teshuvah friend who was a new mekurav to Breslov came to New York to meet Rav Elazar Kenig of Tzefat, who was visiting at the time, and my friend asked me to serve as translator. At one point, he asked Rav Kenig if he could confess a certain sin to him, as the Rebbe describes in the lesson we have been discussing. Rav Kenig declined, explaining that this was only done in the Rebbe's presence and is not our custom today, except perhaps privately at the tziyun (Rebbe Nachman's grave site in Uman). Nevertheless, my friend insisted, until finally Rav Kenig gave in. But I saw that the Rav looked pained by the whole thing and didn't allow him to elaborate. Then he gave the young man some words of encouragement and told him not to brood about the past.

As for the legitimacy of all this, I assume you are alluding to confession in Christianity. There are a lot of things Christianity took from Judaism, some of which were subsequently played down by our rabbis in order to keep a healthy distance between the two faiths. (I haven’t studied Christian theology, but assume that their practice comes from the confessions made in ancient times by Jews who brought sin [chatas] offerings in the Beis HaMikdash, as well as by the Kohen Gadol on Yom Kippur. This is probably the model for the kind of confession we are talking about here, too.) But just because another religion advocates confession to a priest doesn't mean that vidu’i devarim in front of a tzaddik is assur.

The confessor is certainly not shamelessly recalling his sins, which is an actual prohibition; see Rambam, Hilkhos Teshuvah, 2:5 (re. sins between man and G-d). From the Rebbe's words in Torah 4, we see that the confessor's embarassment is no cozy “fireside chat” -- he compares it to dying, rachmana litzlon!

Of course, what dies is one's prideful nature. What is born is a new way of being in the world, illuminated by the Presence of the Creator. Although we may not be able to experience this in as dramatic and intense a way as the Breslover Chassidim did when the Rebbe was still alive, we can reach the same goal by following his other eitzos, his other advice in avodas Hashem. The Rebbe tossed us many spiritual lifelines. In fact, every teaching in Likkutei Moharan is one. Through cheshbon ha-nefesh (self-examination), hisbodedus, learning and davening, and trying to “live the life” that the Rebbe sought to initiate us into, sooner or later, we’ll all get there.

26 Iyar Links - כו אייר

(Picture by M. Day)

Solitude / Hisbodedus: Techniques of Exploring Mysteries

A Simple Jew: Drinking A Cup Of Coffee In A Tallis And Tefillin

Up To The Neck

To help another Jew who is stuck in the mire, a person must be willing to immerse himself in mud up to the neck in order to drag the other person out.

(Rebbe Shlomo of Karlin)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Question & Answer With Rabbi Tanchum Burton - Segulos In Breslov

A Simple Jew asks:

Sefer HaMiddos contains numerous segulos such as saying Shemos HaTzaddikim. Are segulos emphasized to a greater degree in Breslov than in other Chassidic groups?

Rabbi Tanchum Burton answers:

These days, it seems like everyone wants a segulah. Many people seem to prefer special hanhagos and practices that are said to have a specific power to make their wishes and desires come true, over the most basic instrument of Judaism: prayer.

I have noticed that "segulah fever" comes in different intensities to match the spiritual level and stamina of its victims: red strings around the wrist for the lightweights (even Madonna wears one); expensive silver amulets if you have money to spend; hire a rabbi to go to the Kosel for 40 days for you. I have seen that many of the tzedaka organizations (even respectable ones) have begun to respond to this type of magic consumerism by advertising - in the name of Gedolei Yisrael - that miracles and long life are assured their donors.

Of course, there are also many people in the environment surrounding Breslov that have succumbed to this mindset. Consider, for example, those people who utter the "Na Nach" phrase because they believe it is "the root of Creation", "the future song", etc.; it seems to be an "off-Broadway Breslov" response to the "Yechi Adonenu" chant of the meshichistim in Chabad. Or the people that make a small fortune selling knives in Uman claiming that toting one around on Erev Rosh Hashanah guarantees parnassah for the next year. Without questioning the greatness or purity of the people who are involved with these things (certainly not that of Rabbi Yisroel Ber Odesser zt"l), I question whether these activities represent the true, authentic Breslov tradition that is grounded in the teachings of Rebbe Nachman and his disciples, and that has been handed down, generation after generation until our very day (and is based on authentic Torah sources!).

Having said that, I will also admit that Rebbe Nachman's writings are loaded with mentions of segulos. A brief glance through Sefer HaMiddos, for example, will confirm this. Of course, the entire body of Torah She Be'al Peh, the Talmud included, is brimming with references to segulos, spells, and formulas - and yes, amulets; that is precisely how and why these items made their way into the teachings of Rebbe Nachman. The question is, what role should segulos and the like play in a person's life, and what position do they occupy in the normative framework of faith of a Jew?

The Jewish people are called am segulah, or "treasured people" (Exodus 19:5; Deuteronomy 7:6, 14:2, 26:18), indicating the special closeness that the Jewish people share with Hashem. A segulah might be a type of 'treasure' that people can recommend to or give each other as an aid to focus a person on his or her desired change. For example, it is said to be a segulah for a woman who has difficulty conceiving children to immerse in a mikvah immediately after another woman who is in her 9th month of pregnancy. What would be the nature of a segulah like this?

Going back to the aformentioned definition of segulah as signifying closeness with Hashem, it would make more sense that this type of activity is intended to enable to focus the consciousness of the woman wanting to conceive as a type of physical "tefillah" to Hashem, Who is the One Who causes these things to happen. If, however, the woman focuses only on the segulah itself, i.e. she uses it as a type of rabbit's foot as if the act or object itself has the power to bring about the desired result, than this is extremely problematic from a theological standpoint, and is possibly a form of avodah zara. Note that this distortion can occur in any context, and any Torah "object" or behavior can be made into idolatry, including using one's visit to the grave of a tzaddik to "make things happen", which is relevant to Breslov. There is a whole video (on YouTube, in Hebrew), on the miracles that have occurred to people "because" they went to the Rebbe's grave, as opposed to because they focused their teffilos towards Hashem while evoking the merit of the Rebbe - which is what we also do in the first paragraph of Shmoneh Esrei by mentioning Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov.

In short, segulos have to bring a person closer to Hashem while expressing his or her requests; He runs the world. They have to be based on authentic Jewish sources - and a real authority should be sought for advice concerning these things.

I should add that, despite the abundance of segulos mentioned in the teachings of Rebbe Nachman and his students, I have heard from Rabbi Nasan Maimon that the Breslov elders whom he knew and from whom he received a mesora made no use of these segulos, preferring to simply pray to Hashem for their needs. Lots of prayer, both formal and hisbodedus, is the simple, unadulterated method of staying connected to Hashem, asking Him for what one needs, no matter what.

There is a story of a meeting between the Rebbe and Reb Noson where Reb Noson's shoelace tore.

"You should have prayed to G-d that it would not tear," said the Rebbe.

"A person has to pray for something like this?" asked Reb Noson.

"Is it beneath you?" asked the Rebbe

And Reb Noson himself believed so much in the power of prayer that he once said, "anytime a person wants something and has not achieved it, it is because there was either an insufficient amount of prayer or no prayer."

I believe that this is the authentic Breslov approach.

Hidden Keys

There are hidden keys within Sefer Tehillim that can unlock the gates of joy and deliverance and even the power to revive the dead.

(Rabbi Yaakov Meir Shechter)

Monday, May 18, 2009

"Dry" Chassidus

(Picture courtesy of

The other night, a friend who has recently become interested in Chassidus asked me about some Chassidishe seforim. He told me that he had recently purchased a number of the well-known early classics, tried learning some of them with his chavrusa, and quite honestly found some of them to be rather "dry".

I explained to my friend that a person cannot approach learning Chassidshe seforim in the same manner that he approaches running on treadmill. Although a person may see tangible and immediate results from routine physical exercise, learning Chassidishe seforim requires true humility, and depending on how accessible the sefer is, it may require years of perseverance, sometimes with little or no noticeable gain.

I advised my friend not to become discouraged by a perceived lack of progress since sometimes the progress remains hidden for a significant amount of time. I shared with him my experiences learning Degel Machaneh Ephraim and told him that his situation is analogous to a pregant woman in the early weeks of her pregnancy. A foolish person might say that she is absolutely no different than any other women around her since outwardly there is no sign that she is pregnant, yet inside her their is a life growing larger and larger with each passing day.

Likutey Halachos On The Weekly Torah Portion Online

Rabbi Dov Grant of Jerusalem has embarked on the worthy project of translating excerpts from Reb Noson of Breslov's masterwork Likutey Halachos as related to the weekly Torah portion.

Please visit his website here.

Notzer Chesed Shiur - New Time & Place

Please be advised that Rabbi Betzalel Edwards’ weekly shiur in Notzer Chesed has changed its time and location:

Where: 24 Misgav Ladach, Jewish Quarter, at the home of Charlotte Saunders

When: Wednesday nights, 8:00 pm - 9:30 pm

All My Desire

Hashem, all my desire is before You, and my sigh is not hidden from You. My heart is engulfed; my strength has left me, and the light of my eyes - they too are not with me.

(Tehillim 38:10-11)

Friday, May 15, 2009

Question & Answer With Space Cadet - Davening In An Open Area

(Picture by S. Santikarn)

A Simple Jew asks:

Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 18:8 states, "One should not pray in an open area such as a field because when a person is in a private area, such as an enclosed space, the awe of the King comes over him, and his heart is broken and submissive. However, if he is travelling he is permitted to pray in a field; but if he can, he should pray among the trees."

How does your inner hermit relate to this halacha?

Space Cadet responds:

My "inner hermit" has no problem. It is my "outer hermit" that must come to grips with this halakha (which is actually stated in the Gemara in Berachos). Personally, I find that standing under an open sky arouses my feelings of awe toward the Infinite. It also creates a certain psychological spaciousness, which can put me in touch with the "space" surrounding the mental clamor of my busy thoughts and feelings. Chazal don't seem to be addressing this, but are more concerned that one who is standing in prayer might feel a certain arrogance if there were nothing physically over him to remind him of God's watchfulness.

Maybe this reflects the difference between prayer as scripturally mandated -- when we are in trouble and call out to God for help -- and prayer as understood by the Jewish mystics, as a way of communing with Hashem and ultimately experiencing deveykus. Feeling a physical presence over one's head, be it green and leafy or painted white and decorated with flourescent lights, is a lot less abstract than the mystery of the seemingly endless heavens. Despite the Rambam, maybe we need to "corporealize" G-d ever so subtly in order to set up a dialogue. Because we are human and mugbal and don't really know how to "converse" with the Creator, who is by definition bli gevul and totally beyond us.

I have gone out to the fields to do hisbodedus with the Breslover Chassidim several times, and seen that people are not particular to look for trees to stand under, unless they are readily available. Maybe this is because the halachah is not so strict about this, as your quote from the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch indicates. But it might also be that while hisbodedus tends to combine both types of prayer, personal and mystical, it leans toward the mystical -- at least the way Reb Nachman describes it in Likutey Moharan I, 52 ("HaNeor BaLaylah"). We're supposed to purge our inner being of all feelings and evil passions and ultimately even the least trace of ego in order to attain the realization Reb Nachman says awaits us after all this: that everything is an expression of the Mechuyav HaMetziyus -- G-d -- including what a moment ago we took to be "ourselves." This isn't the same thing as regular tefillah, when we are supplicating G-d about one problem or another.

Aside from this, maybe we could say that by using the Rebbe's teachings as guidance for our prayers during hisbodedus, he is the "big tree" we're standing under. In that case, there's no problem from either point of view!

Always Possible

It is never too late. It is always possible to put things right.

(Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson of Lubavitch)

Thursday, May 14, 2009

20 Iyar Links - כ אייר

(Picture by G. Ottaviano)

Solitude / Hisbodedus:
Abarbanel On Prophecy

Solitude / Hisbodedus: The Prophetic Meditative Position

Revach L’Neshama: Shabbos Minhagim

After Eating

A Gentile is able to elevate the holy sparks contained in food if he performs an act of favor for a Jew after eating.

(Me'or Einayim)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Guest Posting By Rabbi Yaacov Yisroel Bar-Chaiim - Between Feelings and Truth

(Picture courtesy of

Yesterday, on Lag b'Omer, after perusing a fascinating e-article about Rabbi Moshe Chaim Ephraim (The Bitul of the Degel Machane Ephraim), the Chassidic Master of the Ukrainian town of Sudilkov (1748-1800) who was also known as the author of "the Degel" as well as the grandson of the Baal Shem Tov HaKodosh, I was struck by a powerful insight into how one can distinguish between true divine servants and wannabes.

It came together with an e-encounter I just had with a certain Jew doing heroic medical care out in the African boondocks. I had been told about him on my recent trip to the U.S.A. to gather funds for supporting what my Rebbe has been encouraging me to do for some time: Bris Mila (religious circumcision) for people that few others get to. It was suggested that this Jew might be a part of a team which makes a point, among other issues of hygiene, of promoting basic circumcision amongst the gentiles, which might provide me with abundant experience in the mechanics of my holy trade.

So I Googled.

He's been dubbed a lamed vavnik (hidden Jewish saint) as well as a Father Teresa. This appears at first blush to be a tremendous Kiddush HaShem, a source of holy pride for the Jewish people, since he calls himself Orthodox in his devotion to Torah. Yet when I began my email with a question about how he fares out there as a Yid, all alone, he offered the following:

"Problem is that I work all the time and see patients on Shabbat and people with a different view of Pikuach Nefesh (the law about abrogating Shabbos restrictions in order to Save a Soul) are not helpful."

"Different view?"

He replied:

"I see going to clinic on Shabbat to see routine cases as Pikuach Nefesh. Actually, there is no doubt in my mind about that."

Hmm. I couldn't hold back:

"You speak as a man of conviction and devotion to a higher cause, which seems intimately tied up with Judaism. Yet it's unclear what that has to do with the authentic tradition of Torah law. You said your view of Pikuach Nefesh is 'different' than others, but avoid explaining what that has to do with Halacha (Torah Law). Now you add that you have 'no doubt' about the Divine value of this. Well my friend, this tells me absolutely nothing about the truth!"

Now the good doctor spoke straight:

"Please excuse, but I feel it's best to end our conversation!"

Fascinating how world saviors defend themselves, no? I found it an unbelievable parallel to the present visit of the Pope in the Holy Land. Isn't there somewhere way back in his religious tradition something about another talented Jew who had "no doubt" about the righteousness of his abrogating Torah Law??

It's also providential that those lines were written on no less a day than Lag b'Omer and when I read about the Degel.

That is, according to that article, the gist of the Degel's teachings is about the mystical meaning of the Hebrew term Mah, which Moshe used in response to the Israelite criticisms about his and his brother Aharon having personal agendas in facilitating the Exodus (par. Beshalach 16, 7). He exclaimed: וְנַחְנוּ מָה, "what are we?!" as the two brothers threw themselves face down to the earth.

One might think this was an expression of shame and helplessness. But the Degel teaches the absolute opposite. It was a supremely positive, spiritual achievement, known as bitul, self-nullification. Moshe's response to questions about his motives was not to dodge them and certainly not to wax on about his conviction, but to utterly subsume himself into G-d's reality.

There are several ways to spell out the letters in the main name of G-d, continues the Degel. One of those יוד- הא- ואו- הא)) is based on the use of the letter א, alef, which equals 45, the numerical equivalent of מה, Mah. This offers an amazing parallel to what the father of formal Jewish mysticism, the Arizal, teaches about the importance of concentrating on this particular permutation of the Name while reciting the blessings of Sefiras HaOmer (the counting of the period between Pessach-Shavuous, which is/was the essence of the Exodus). Accordingly, we should understand that human beings are composed primarily of blood, דם and when you add to this the א (numerically equaling one, which only G-d is, and pronounced alef, which is associated with the pharse “Alufo Shel Olam” – the Chief of the World”), you get א-דם, human, which numerically equals 45, the same as מה! That’s why this version of the Divine Name is spelled with alefs.

The implication of this powerful teaching is that when one comes to bitul, positive self-nullification, only then does he become a truly heroic human being; a pure image of G-d.

But that's not all. This truth was so real to Rebbe Moshe Chaim Ephraim that we see it etched into his very being. For his first name was Moshe and the Divine sphere associated with the original Moshe is known as the quality of Netzach, which is also associated with the 32nd day of the Omer in it's being a repair of the sphere Netzach sh'b'Hod… which just "happens" to be his Yahrzeit (the anniversary of his passing from this world)!!

Now for my two cents.

It's accepted tradition that Rebbe Shimon Bar Yochai, who's Yahrzeit is the 33rd day of the Omer, known as Lag b'Omer, which parallels the quality of Hod sh'b'Hod, was the reincarnate of Moshe Rabbeinu. So which is it – Rabbi Moshe Chaim Ephraim or Rabbi Shimon; the 32nd or 33rd??

The key, I believe, is in understanding the relationship between the first 32 days of the Omer and the last 17, which are famously associated with their numerical equivalents לב טוב, Lev (32) Tov (17), Good Heart. BOTH elements are crucial for achieving bittul. There needs to be heart, profound personal feeling, but also objective goodness.

As the Mishna in Avos states (6:3): אין טוב אלא תורה, "there's no good other than Torah." This doesn't mean that someone who hasn't learned Torah has no relationship with good. In fact, the first sparks of goodness are to be found within the heart, as per the Talmudic dictum: רחמנה ליבה בעי, G-d wants the heart (Sanhedrin 106:B). Wants – but is not satisfied by only it. Rather, while truth begins within the heart, it can never find pure expression without the objective guidance of Torah.

Like the world says, "paths paved with good intentions" can lead in many directions. The Nesivos Sholom on Avos (4:21) explains that this is the precise meaning of the phrase edified by the Mesilas Yesharim as the foundation of Jewish ethics: "This world is likened to a corridor before the Next World; prepare yourself in the corridor in order that you shall enter the grand palace".

Why not say "as an entrance to"? Rather, doing so wouldn't have alluded to the very real danger of entering the wrong palace! It's not enough to cultivate spiritual movement in this world; it must be movement in the right direction.

And so we learn of two great Tsadikkim, true saints, Rebbe Shimon and Rebbe Moshe Chaim Ephraim, who were pure embodiments of the one absolutely selfless teacher, Moshe Rabbeinu, being associated with the 32nd and 33rd days with of the Omer. For this is the formula for life:

Where the Lev ends, the Tov begins

As it's written (Deut.10): "And you should circumcise the foreskin of your hearts and the back of your necks should stiffen no longer."

The back of our necks means these last 17 days of the Omer, the last period before receiving the Torah anew on Shavuous, the commemoration of the time when the "G-dhead" revealed absolute truth to Moshe Rabbeinu.

Normally this truth appears stiff. But after seeking it deeply within the heart, for 32 consecutively meaningful days, it suddenly presents itself as progressively accessible. F-i-n-a-l-l-y we can make the radical shift between our personal sense of truth calling the shots and letting G-d's truth do so.

Is there a better time for becoming a Mohel?

Question & Answer With Ahuva Gray - Solutions Within Obstacles

(Picture by M. Elguero)

A Simple Jew asks:

In your book “Gifts of a Stranger” you wrote,

“I viewed each challenge along the way as an opportunity to break the chains that had shackled my ancestors. When I was blocked from success by some obstacle, I looked to the obstacle itself for the solution; the solution to every trial was interwoven in the trial itself.”

Throughout your life, how exactly were you able to identify the solution as a solution if it was interwoven in the obstacle?

Ahuva Gray answers:

Chazal say that the remedy for our illness is contained in the illness itself. Our rabbis of blessed memory also state that sickness is sent because we have a spiritual weakness that needs to be perfected.

Throughout my life I have always relied upon my davening to help me overcome my obstacles. First, I had to identify the problem through asking Hashem what character trait did I need to develop from a given experience. Once the answer came I would daven and ask Hashem what I needed to learn from the experience. I have always felt that whatever trial the Holy One sends, there is a lesson that I am supposed to learn from the experience that will enhance my middos.

An example of this would be how I feel after every lecture tour that I have been privileged to do. Once I return home, I am so tired and drained of energy that it takes weeks to recover. There has also been a couple of times that I have come down with a flu or virus after a lecture tour.

Now that I have been doing lectures for fifteen years, I realize that in my sickness Hashem is humbling me so that I realize that He is the one that gave me the koach to be successful and to strengthen Klal Yisrael.

Through these experiences, it prevents me from becoming prideful and feeling like I have done something independent of Him. In my humble opinion, whatever I have accomplished in my life is because Hashem gave me the chochmah and strength to persevere.

Counsel In My Soul

How long will I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart by day; how long will my enemy have the upper hand over me?

(Tehillim 13:3)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Guest Posting From Yoni Lipshutz Of Simply Tsfat - Stories From Our New CD

The new Simply Tsfat Live in Concert CD has yet to be named. As Rav Elazar Kenig once told my wife, the name is not given until it is born! The CD is 2 years in the making and a combination of 3 concerts, the Chasam Sofer shul in lower Manhattan, a concert in Baltimore, and one recent concert in Chicago. There are 2 new songs which we have never recorded and 2 stories from Rebbe Nachman for your listening pleasure below. Yonatan also has words of chizuk.

We have endured a plethora of potholes in publishing this CD (how's that for alliteration?). For example, the laptop which we used to record all the concerts was stolen! Luckily all the concerts were backed up, whew. Then of course the main computer used for mastering and mixing caught no less than 1000 viruses and totally crashed. I think that's when we (at least me personally) almost gave up... Where have I heard never to do that?

We are now waiting for the last song to be converted from Protools to Cubase, I just hope it happens in time….

What we learned from this whole process is never to give up, don't get angry (it doesn't help one bit) persevere, to daven to HaShem and just when you run out of patience, to reach down deep into your pockets and pull out some more patience!

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Get this widget Track details eSnips Social DNA

Comforting A Person

When a person expresses himself and articulates his pain before Hashem in hisbodedus, and he confesses and feels contrition over the enormous blemishes and damage he has done by his sins, at that time the Divine Presence also expresses Its pain in front of him, since with every blemish that a person causes to his soul, he also causes a blemish, so to speak, to the Divine Presence. Then the Divine Presence comforts the person saying that It will look for ways to rectify all of the blemishes.

(Rebbe Nachman of Breslov)

Monday, May 11, 2009

Guest Posting By A Talmid - Alone With Hashem

(Picture courtesy of Haside Breslev)

Last year, I wrote about “The Bitul of the Degel Machaneh Ephraim”. I would recommend reading it first since I reference it many times in the following paragraphs that show what I learnt from last years article.

There are many great seforim that we learn from. Those that really teach us how to be better must have been written by someone who was able to fulfill what he was teaching. This is perhaps what gives the sefer the strength to influence us for the good. This came to mind after writing my post on the Degel last year. I had often looked through the sefer, but until now had never really appreciated the great lessons that are found throughout this sefer. It is not for naught that Degel Machaneh Ephraim is one of the most respected seforim of the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov.

There are at least 4 different times that the Degel mentions the teaching of Reb Nachman Horedenker on the verse: וְאִישׁ לֹא-יַעֲלֶה עִמָּךְ וְגַם-אִישׁ אַל-יֵרָא בְּכָל-הָהָר - “No man shall go up with you, and also no man shall be seen throughout the mountain” (Shemos 34:3). We can learn out from this that when one wants to serve Hashem, he needs to imagine as if there is no one else in the world but himself. The Degel then uses this teaching to explain several other verses. My feeling is that the reason why the Degel mentions this teaching so often, and he found ways to explain other verses with this, must have been because this was a teaching that he took to heart and constantly worked on. It wasn’t just another “subject” and then on to the next. Rather, “bitul” was a teaching that was in his blood, and, therefore, he would often see this teaching brought out in other places. Bitul is something that we need at all times, whether we’re praying, learning, eating, playing, etc.

Another teaching he mentions many times is what it says in the paragraph titled “Parshas Bo”. He also writes about this in Beshalach, Tazria and Acharei Mos. All these things are connected to “Bitul” and seem to support what I wrote about in the last paragraph, “Praise of the Degel”. Now, the Degel doesn’t need my stamp of approval. The only reason I’m mentioning this is that I reasoned that he kept on mentioning these teachings because we need to be constantly reminded of them. I therefore decided that I would try to work on the items I wrote about.

The words of the Degel and Likutei Moharan, about one imagining there is no one else around while davening to Hashem, were on my mind for much of the day. I tried to put the teaching into practice. When I daven Shemona Esrei, I try to block out any outside noise and imagine that I am talking privately to Hashem (which we really are doing, but don’t always internalize it). Many times I will find that the fellow davening next to me is davening so loud that I can hear every word. (Exactly what Likutei Moharan and other seforim hakedoshim say should not be done.) My first reaction is to think what a fool he is and how annoying it is, but then I realize that this is no way to think about another Jew. This is besides the fact that the Arizal says to say before davening: “hareini mekabel alai mitzvas asei shel ve’ahavta l’reiacha komocha”. Although you need 10 people for a minyan, there is a great difference if those 10 people like or dislike each other. If they dislike each other, technically you still have a minyan, but it obviously is not what a minyan is supposed to be.

In Likutei Moharan 281 it says that even a simple person can learn things out of a sefer that the author never intended. Reb Yisroel Dov of Velednik (Shearis Yisroel, Drush l”Succos al pi Pardes) based on the Baal Shem Tov says that even later seforim can be interpreted with “PaRDeS” (4 different methods of interpreting Torah: Pshat – simple explanation, Remez – allusions, Drush – expounding, Sod – secrets) This I put into practice in the following way. The Degel and Likutei Moharan said that you should not hear anyone else while davening and that it should be as if there is no one else there. This, based on my own extrapolation, is on a physical level; if I can daven without anyone praying loudly around me this works. However, if I hear others around me, instead of getting annoyed (definitely a bad trait), I have to interpret the teaching in the following way. Klal Yisroel is all one, like it says when we accepted the Torah “like one man with one heart”. Instead of getting annoyed at the noisy davener, I try to have in mind that there really is no one else there, because we aren’t separate people. My noisy neighbor and I, together with all of Klal Yisroel, are all part of one neshama. There really is no one else, since we are all one. In this way I come to like the noisy davener instead of getting annoyed at him. Additionally, I have noticed, that since I’m not distracting myself by being annoyed at the noisy davener is, I can concentrate better on trying to imagine myself as being in a private audience with Hashem. (This reminds me of what Rav Eliyahu Chaim Rosen said about hearing someone alse clapping during davening. If it bothers you, it’s a sign for you to concentrate more.)

Also, I have become more aware of the times we say in davening “Ein Od”, such as when we take out the Sefer Torah and say “Atah Horeisa” and in Aleinu we say “Ein Od”. On Shabbos and Yom Tov by Nishmas, we also make mention of this concept. All of a sudden parts of davening are coming alive. I am more cognizant of “there is no other but Hashem” that is in so many places that I usually blow right past without thinking about what I’m saying. Before I start Shemona Esrei, I try to imagine that I am in the Kodesh Hakodoshim (as outlined in Shulchon Aruch) with a private audience with Hashem, but that on a spiritual level I just a part of the “one person” that is Klal Yisroel. This helps me have in mind that I am davening for every member of Klal Yisroel and not just for myself and my family.

This might not sound like much, but the difference is night and day. The davening is not the same davening. Don’t think I’m fooling myself. I know that I have a long way to go (a very, very long way, to say the least), but at the same time I feel that I have come a long way. One has to realize when he has improved, but at the same time not be satisfied and keep on striving, realizing that there is no limit to how much we have to accomplish. Trying to live with “Bitul” makes life a lot easier, when you acknowledge that you aren’t in control and there is nothing else but Hashem.

Reb Chaim of Volozhin (Nefesh HaChaim 3, 12) says it is an "Inyan Gadol V'Segula Niflah" to erase and cancel "harsh judgements" if one implants in his heart that Hashem is the True G-d and אֵין עוֹד מִלְּבַדּוֹ (Devarim 4:35) – there is no power except for Hashem. If one does this, Hashem may help him through "natural" means are supernatural means, as the Gemara (Taanis 25a) says that Rebbi Chanina ben Dosa wife didn't have oil to light the Shabbos candles, but had vinegar, which miraculously stayed lit, to which he said: "the One who tells the oil also told the vinegar to burn".

It is well known that the Brisker Rov, a descendant of Reb Chaim Volozhiner, through concentrating on the words "Ein Od Milvado" was able to escape the Nazis in this manner. Only when he lost his concentration was he noticed by the Nazis. As soon as he regained his concentration, he turned "invisible" again and managed to escape to Eretz Yisroel.

The Degel says that when serving Hashem, it should be as if there is no one else but you and Hashem. I understand this as being the same as what the Nefesh HaChaim is saying. “Nobody else” in the Degel can mean absolutely nothing else – no other person, power or thing - only Hashem. We need to realize that there is nothing else that can affect us. Although everything seems so “real”, they are just messengers of Hashem, therefore we need to internalize that we have no one to rely on, but Hashem. Also, mentioned was the concept of Hashem being "One", which is the letter "Aleph" and also stands for "Alufo Shel Olam". There is a fascinating connection here. The letter "Aleph" spelled out in Hebrew is אלף, which has a numerical value of 111. The first letters of א׳ֵין ע׳וֹד מִ׳לְּבַדּו also equal 111. And of course we have a mitzvah d’oraisa to say twice daily שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל ד׳ אֱלֹקֵינוּ ד׳ אֶחָד, Hashem is One. He is One and there is no other.

What I realize is that every “little” item in every sefer is not just for intellectual purposes. It is meant to be put into action, enabling anyone to become a better Jew. Also, I realize that just as the Degel brought down certain teachings in multiple places to let us know that they need constant review. I had learnt many of these before, but only after spending several days putting together my article last year, which forced me to constantly review these teachings, did I really try to give serious effort to these teachings. If we try to work on our Avodah one step at a time, in a very short time we can climb to heights we thought were only attainable for others. Today on the yahrzeit of the Degel Machaneh Ephraim, may Hashem give us all the siyata d’shmaya to grow and attain our greatest potential.

An Awakening From Below

We must remember that there is a tremendous difference between the mitzvos a person does on his own initiative and those he does in response to outside influences. For example, if someone lives in a community in which everyone is doing mitzvos - praying, studying Torah, building sukkos, putting mezuzos on their doorways - it is relatively easy for him to do the same. He gets a "boost" from his environment which is like "an awakening from above". But if someone lives in a non-religious environment, he has to fight against the prevailing attitudes and influences in order to do mitzvos. When he serves G-d without any special assistance from heaven or from his environment, he makes "an awakening from below" that is very precious to G-d. Every mitzva is valuable, but a mitzva motivated by such an "awakening from below" is inestimably more precious.

(Rabbi Yaakov Meir Shechter)

Friday, May 08, 2009

Sudilkov Challah

In my attempt to reclaim more Sudilkov minhagim, I once asked the Sudilkover Rebbe about the challahs used for the Friday night meal. The Rebbe told me that the challah placed on the left side was a traditional braided challah and the challah placed on the right side was a unbraided challah with a very thin strip of dough across the top (somewhat resembling an American football). After providing me with these directions, the Rebbe asked me to send him a picture of the "football" challah so that he could verify that we were making it correctly. I sent him this picture below after a few weeks of trial and error, and the Rebbe acknowledged that these challahs were indeed made in accordance with Sudilkov's minhag. From that day forward, the "Sudilkov challah" became a fixture of Shabbos in my home and now my children ask for it by name.

Even Simple People

Even simple people can annul harsh decrees through saying Tehillim with heartfelt sincerity.

(Reb Arele Roth)

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Letter Permutations

Degel Machaneh Ephraim, Parshas Emor:

The Divine Speech is made up of individual letters that can combine together to form words; words that can be received as good or sometimes as otherwise. The tzaddik has the power to change the letters from bad decrees and transform one word into another making Death (מת) into Perfection (תם) and Affliction (נגע) into Delight (עונג).

My grandfather [the Baal Shem Tov] told a story of a great fear (פחד גדול) that occured in the village Zaslav. He and Rabbi Dovid of Ostrog were in the faraway village of Kaminka and observed that very difficult events were about to transpire back in Zaslav.

These two tzaddikim were able to take the Divine letters and recombine them into good words and thereby save the village. An impression of the word fear (פחד) remained nevertheless, and it was this that was what was felt by the residents living in Zaslav.

More on this topic can be seen here.

13 Iyar Links - יג אייר

Solitude / Hisbodedus: Hitbodedut & Abraham Abulafia

Solitude / Hisbodedus: Hitbodedut and Shutting the Eyes

Solitude / Hisbodedus: R. David Ibn Zimra and Hitbodedut

The Blog @ Insights from Reb Ephraim - A New Series

Whichever Way

I pour out before Him my speech; my distress I recite before Him. When my spirit enwraps itself upon me, and You know my path. In whichever way I go, they have hidden a snare for me.

(Tehillim 142:2-3)

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Guest Posting By Anonymous - My Questionable "Jewishness"

When I was 16 years old I started keeping Shabbos. When I was 26 I found out that my "Jewishness" was questionable.

As a teen I got involved with my local NCSY chapter and eventually after much reading, many discussions, and really thinking about what mattered in life, I became Torah observant. I went on, after graduating public school, to spend some time learning in Eretz Yisrael and then returned to continue with my learning in a yeshiva and attend college. Several years later I met "the right" person and we decided to get married.

When we were dating I informed my future spouse that my father's mother converted when she was in college (prior to marriage) but the conversion was officiated by Reform rabbi in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the 1920's. My wife, who is first generation American (both parents are survivors) understood that this had no affect on my status of being a Jew.

A month before my wedding I was meeting with the rabbi who would be officiating our marriage and he asked me to do some research on my mother's side of the family, just to verify my "Jewishness". I felt that it was no big deal, as I knew that my mother's mother was Jewish. As I started asking my mother and grandmother questions about my great-grandmother, I was shocked to discover that she had converted as well.

I was stunned. Here I was, about to get married, having lived a life of Torah u'Mitzvos for the past 10 years, and all of these questioned began flooding my mind: Was it a good conversion? Can I still keep Shabbos, if the conversion wasn't acceptable? Did the brochos I made during lunch even matter, or where they empty words?

My future spouse and I were dealing with a major crisis even before going under the chuppah. I was able to actually find the documents regarding my maternal great-grandmother's conversion that took place in 1910 in Dallas, Texas. She had been converted by a "Traditional" rabbi, but I was not able to find out information about his specific level of observance. I contact a rav that I am very close with and he spoke with a rosh yeshiva on the East Coast who put me in touch with an "expert" in issues regarding a safeik geirus (questionable conversions).

This expert decided that I should go to the mikvah before a beis din and halachically commitment myself to Torah observance because of the the question regarding the legitimacy of my great-grandmother's conversion. It was somewhat awkward being asked questions about my level of observance, since at the time, I had be observant for a decade, but the members of the beis din were all respectful and very understanding of my situation.

I am very thankful to Hashem that my spouse stuck with me, even though I put "it on the table". I would totally understand is she wanted to walk away from me and my situation

In retrospect, as a third-generation American, I see that I am a true product of Golus and assimilation and have a very personal perspective on the life of both a Baal Teshuva and a Ger. In truth, I do not really share the information above with too many people, but I am grateful that Hashem gave me a true opportunity to begin my married life with a fresh start.

12 Iyar Links - יב אייר

(Picture by G. Gedvilaite)

The Blog @ Happy birthday to me Shimush Tehillim

Lessons in Tanya: Likutei Amarim, end of Chapter 46

A Fire Burns in Breslov: Preparing for Shabbos

Modern Uberdox: Please help me raise money for Chai Lifeline

Meaning in Mitzvot: Music During Sefira

Advice From Dinov

I have received a tradition that in order to improve the verdict against oneself he should recite the entire Sefer Tehillim.

(Igra d’Pirka)

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

A Simple Question: Yes Or No?

Do you find that when you are learning halacha you just want to know the final ruling and are not as interested in the myriads of discussions throughout the centuries that leads to the final resolution?

All of the discussion revolving around each halacha reminds me of a recent conversation in my house:

I asked my wife whether she wanted me to to take an old cardboard box out to the trash. She responded, "Well, it is full of ...... and then again we could..... so.....maybe it would be good to...or..."

I replied, "Should I take it out? Yes or no?".

And then I got my answer, "Yes".

This is how I like my halacha.

As a working person with limited time for learning, I am a Kitzur Shulchan Aruch kind of guy. I just want to know the final psak.

11 Iyar Links - יא אייר

(Picture by F.Diniz)

Solitude / Hisbodedus: The Rashab on Knowledge and the Emotions

A Fire Burns in Breslov: Spirit of the Law: Shabbos #12

Rebbetzin Yehudis Golshevsky: Sefiras HaOmer - Part 3

A Shabbos With Rabbi Peretz Auerbach of Jerusalem

A born and bred Brooklynite, Rabbi Peretz Auerbach made aliyah many years ago and learned from many masters until he became an accomplished scholar in all areas if Torah. Today he is one of the key figures in Breslov outreach. Rabbi Auerbach is presently working on a commentary on the Zohar in English, b'derekh avodah -- as related to spiritual practice, both in prayer, meditation, and the inner work of tikkun ha-middos / self-refinement. The Breslov Center and Congregation Sheves Achim / The Flatbush Minyan are honored to host him for this Shabbaton in Brooklyn on his spring trip to the US.

When: Shabbos Parshas Emor, May 8-9.

Times: Minchah Erev Shabbos 15 min. after candle-lighting. Shacharis beginning 9:00 AM. Shabbos Minchah 7:40 PM, followed by a public Shaloshudes in the Shul.

Rabbi Auerbach will speak Friday night after the se'udah at the Fund home for a "desert tisch" open to the public; briefly on Shabbos day before Musaf; during the noon meal; and again during Shaloshudes.

Topic: "The Time-Space-Soul Continuum" -- with an additional group meditation related to this theme beginning 45 min. before Minchah.

Where: Congregation Sheves Achim / The Flatbush Minyan
1517 Ave. H, off corner of East 16th (across from Q Train)

Friday night "dessert tisch" at Fund home, 1049 East 13th St (bet. Aves. K-J)

To join us for the day meal, please call Rabbi Fund as soon as possible, so that catering can be arranged: 718-338-8442

Cost: $20 per person for Shabbos day meal; Friday night "desert tisch" and Shaloshudes open to public free of charge.


Lag BaOmer Celebration in Flatbush

This Monday night, May 1th, a Lag BaOmer gathering will be held at Rabbi Fund's shul: Congregation Sheves Achim / The Flatbush Minyan
1517 Ave. H, off corner of East 16th (across from Q Train)

The festivities will begin after Maariv, 9:00 PM.

Guest of honor Rabbi Peretz Auerbach of Jerusalem will lead the singing and music and also share divrei Torah with the olam.

Don't miss it!

$10 suggested donation


Events that seem to deprive us of important possibilities can ultimately turn out to be invaluable opportunities for spiritual improvement. If we are worthy to use them correctly, the very difficulties that appear to impoverish us can become gifts to enrich us.

(Rabbi Yaakov Meir Shechter)

Monday, May 04, 2009

Guest Posting By Michael Mordechai - Art & Avodas Hashem

I will begin with an excerpt of my artist statement from my first solo art exhibition;

"To sum my art up in one sentence: “I am an Orthodox Jewish Youth, living in a sometimes Unorthodox Art World”. As a printmaker, I print on paper utilizing different techniques ranging from traditional use of lithography and relief, to an experimental mixture of serigraph and monotype. With these materials my goal is to introduce Judaism to my viewer in an aesthetic manner, regardless of their previous knowledge of Judaism, so that anyone will be able to appreciate the work on some level. For this reason, I chose to incorporate Judaism with other aspects of my life such as bicycling and skateboarding into my art to bridge the gap between the Torah and the secular worlds. My work ranges from humorous Chassidim popping wheelies on track bikes to very serious depictions of Jewish and Torah life. This visual bridge shows Judaism more empathetically and illustrates to the secular world that not all Jews that follow Torah reject the outside world. Whether it’s simply relating to the aesthetics of the work or understanding the Hebrew text and Judaic imagery, I attempt to create art which speaks to many audiences." (Dont Mess With the BESHT / Solo Art Exhibition / April 2009)

The relationship between my Torah observance and my artistic aspirations has been very interesting to say the least. Art college isn't the best place to try to live a daily Torah life but due to hashgacha pratis it was no coincidence that I got accepted to a really good art school the same time my eyes were open to the emes of Torah and of HaKadosh Baruch Hu. I was a late bloomer in education and it took me some time to be able to transfer to a four year university. Looking back, it seems that the additional years I wasted were in fact purging me of animalistic ambitions so that I would be able to fuse higher learning with Yiddishkeit. In the end of 2005, after seeing my parents religious growth since their 2000 Israel trip, I to became curious about my Judaism. They seemed different, much happier, more satisfied, and less stress about life. I started going to shul with my parents and seeking out what it was that was making them so darn happy. The Chabad rabbi told me I should go on Birthright, so in the summer of 2006 I spent a month in Eretz Yisroel. This was the point that I decided that every aspect of my life should be influenced by Torah and Hashem. After this realization, I decided to what any responsible mature young adult would do: I decided to drop of out college, forget about the bachelors degree, and run away to Israel to go to yeshiva. Thank the G-d Almighty that I did not put such a brilliant plan into action.

Hashem gives us all a skill and a mission in life. I realized at this point that my skill was an artistic ability and my mission at least at this point is to bring the glory of Hashem into this world with my art. Easier said that done, like anything in life that is truly important. I struggled a great deal in the early stages of this artistic transformation. 2006-2007 produced only one work that represented what I was trying to accomplish. The work is titled Kapporos and is a wood relief carving printed on paper.

During Sukkos in 2007, I met my future wife and found out that it is true when they say that all the blessings come from your wife (as long as she's a happy wife). We were married on Rosh Chodesh Nissian 5768 and spent the summer learning in Eretz Yisroel. When I started the Fall semester, it was as if my artistic ability was put on anabolic steroids. In my last year of college I produced an entire portfolio's worth of work. In total I will have twenty pieces all completed between September 2008 and May 2009 and created a website to features my artwork.

It seems that as my commitment to fulfilling Hashem's Torah grew, so did my skills as an artist. The more Torah I learned the easier it was to create Jewish/Torah inspired art. The art itself strengthened my commitment to Torah, because now I was able to better visualize the holy words I read in the seforim. The more I learned Chumash, Chassidus, and yes, even Mussar the more I was able to bring about a visual association to these holy words. Now that I have gone public with my artwork and am able to receive feedback from all walks of people, from the non-Jew to the religious Jew, it has given me the perspective that I now have a distinct style and that with time my art will continue to mature and evolve. Below are works completed in the last year that were in my solo exhibition and will be in another solo exhibition as well as a Jewish Art Exhibition in Los Angeles, California.