Friday, July 31, 2009

Question & Answer With Moshe David Tokayer - Taking Breaks From Learning Torah

A Simple Jew asks:

Rashi explained that the purpose of the paragraph breaks in the Torah was to give Moshe Rabbeinu a chance stop and contemplate subjects before proceeding on another. Obviously if someone as great as Moshe Rabbeinu needed a break from learning, than all the more so, we do too.

How have you been able to utilize breaks as a way to recharge your batteries and return to your avodas Hashem reinvigorated?

Moshe David Tokayer answers:

First, I want to point out that Chazal say that Moshe Rabbeinu used the break between parshiyos to "digest" what he had just learned. It was not a break from learning. He used the break to review what he had learned. This is an interesting concept. Usually we think of a break from learning as just that. We discontinue our learning and do something else. However, a break from one type of learning to learn something else may also be an effective break. For example, I have various learning projects during the week. On Friday and especially on Shabbos, I learn other things. I find this invigorating and a welcome "break."

I'd like to address your question, though, considering the conventional understanding of a break - stopping to learn to do something else for a short period.

When I was in Yeshiva we were taught the importance of continuity. I remember clearly a shmuess given by Rav Yankel Galinsky on this topic. He related the story of Rebbi Akiva who left his wife for 12 years to learn Torah at the feet of the Torah greats of his time. On return as he approached his home, he overheard his wife speaking with a friend. The friend wanted to know why she put up with her husband being away for such a long period of time. She responded that she would be happy if he went away for another 12 years to learn Torah. Upon hearing this, Rebbi Akiva turned around and went back to study for an additional 12 years.

The obvious question, Rav Galinksy asked, is, why did he not enter the house and say hello!? The answer, Rav Galinsky posited, is that had Rebbi Akiva entered his home, it would have broken the continuity of his learning. Two stints of 12 years are not the same as one stint of 24 years.

Obviously, Rav Galinsky was not suggesting we emulate Rebbi Akiva exactly and leave home for 24 years. Rav Galinsky was trying to encourage the boys to stay in Yeshiva over Shabbosim. He was noting that continuity in learning is important and going home for a Shabbos was a negative break of continuity.

Having said this, I know from experience that sometimes I am just not learning efficiently. My head is not working well. I take a break, maybe a short walk and when I come back to my learning, it's a breeze. What was difficult before, is now simple and straightforward.

But doesn't this contradict the principle of continuity? The answer is that depends. It depends why you're taking the break and what you do during the break. In the situation I mentioned, taking a short break occasionally to air out my head works wonders for me. Going to China for a three week tour, on the other hand, I feel would cause a big break in the continuity of my projects. Instead of invigorating me, it would take me time to get back into it. Basically, it would be a major distraction.

Rav Galinsky encouraged boys to stay in Yeshiva for Shabbos but he did not suggest that for the sake of continuity the boys learn straight through from 8 in the morning until 11 at night with no break. So my answer to your question is that I find breaks to "clean out my head" very important, crucial even. But to be effective, they need to be brief and not involve distractions.

"Rousing Your Soul"

Excerpt From Hachsharas HaAvreichim, translated by Rabbi Betzalel Edwards:

The Chassidim strove to harness their sporadic emotions, and would go on to engage in activities that would inspire emotion in the service of God. Consider the example of drinking. Even though Chassidim explained a higher purpose in drinking liquor, explaining how Yaakov brought Yitzchak wine in order to facilitate the revelation of the Shechinah over Yitzchak at the time that he blessed Yaakov, as the Zohar explains, “and he brought him wine – hinting at something, bringing close that which was far away,” yet still, for every great and deep matter there is also the pshat, the simple meaning, especially for simple people like ourselves.

Liquor arouses man’s heart and stirs his emotions. Yet in the worst cases, even if he doesn’t get intoxicated, the emotions that are stirred after drinking could get him excited about sinning, and he could go and dress his partially revealed soul in the wrong places, God forbid. The Chassid and Baal Nefesh, who seeks out the hidden crevices of his soul by candlelight, will say, “True, it only took a drink in order to arouse a part of my soul, but now I must seize upon this small revelation and not let it go until I serve God with a more greatly revealed soul, and not just according to the size of the revelation that the liquor allowed. Yet through my avodas Hashem, I will continue to reveal it, with hisragshus, with great sensitivity, and even with burning hislahavus.”

You can do the same. Drink in the company of Chassidim, Baalei Nefesh, in this way and with this purpose in mind. Use it to bring about the hisragshus the soul, and with your soul revealed, you will add depth to your avodah. Since this is your intention and your preparation, rousing your soul by drinking in the company of Chassidim, you will feel how your soul is dressing in a holy garment. In this way you will be stimulated to avodah and faith. You will wake up to the love and fear of God.

It is a good idea for them to all get together for a drink once in a while, not in order to get drunk and disorderly, God forbid, but in the way of the Chassidim to bond together and to rouse the animal soul out of its slovenliness (as mentioned in chapter eight). Even someone whose constitution does not allow him to drink liquor should dilute it with water and drink together with the fellowship.

After the drink, they should sing a zemer (song) to further arouse and inspire their souls, like “Yedid Nefesh,” “Adon Olam,” “Mizmor L’David,” and so forth. If their souls are emblazed and they want to dance, then they shall dance, provided that they don’t use up all of their time together just for drinking, singing, and dancing.

Starting Again Today

On the day that you lift your heart to return to Hashem, throw off all of your aveiros as if they never were. Consider yourself as a newborn child, having neither merit nor culpability. Today is the beginning of your actions. Today you will reflect on all of your ways… This outlook will facilitate your complete return to Hashem because you will be unburdened from the weight of all of your aveiros.

Do not be hindered by thoughts that hold you back from returning to Hashem. You might feel, “How can I have the nerve to return to Hashem, after I acted so inappropriately so many times? How can I come before Hashem? I feel embarrassed, like a thief who was caught in the act of stealing… How can I observe His mitzvos?”

Do not allow these negative thoughts to enter your heart! These feelings of despair are the influence of the yetzer hara.

(Yesod HaTeshuvah)

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Use Of Language - Part 2

(Painting by Samuel Bak)

"Another word that I very much dislike is the word hate.", the Sudilkover Rebbe told me during my last visit.

He explained that the word hate is too often used in casual conversation when it could easily be replaced with a more refined and softer word. There is no need to say "I hate broccoli", "I hate cleaning the garage", or "I hate waking up early." when you merely are try to convey that you really don't like something. Hatred is the basis for so much evil that we see in the world today and at a minimum we should attempt to uproot this word from our vocabulary.

I told the Rebbe that I did not allow this word in my house and would correct my children whenever they would say it. He responded by telling me that I should allow for one exception to this rule; not to correct them when they speak about the mitzvah to hate Amalek and blot out his name.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

מי שרוצה לזכות לתשובה יהיה רגיל באמירת תהילים

(Picture by Mikhail Levit)

שָׁוְא לָכֶם מַשְׁכִּימֵי קוּם, מְאַחֲרֵי-שֶׁבֶת
(Tehillim 127:2)

If I believe that I can make great strides in my avodas Hashem by routinely waking up very early or staying up late into the night, I am mistaken since this power does not reside in my hands. Hashem controls absolutely everything; including whether or not He allows me to be successfull in my efforts to come closer to Him.

מַה-יַּעֲשֶׂה לִי אָדָם
(Tehillim 118:6)

Without Hashem's blessings, no man has the power to help me.

גּוֹל עַל-יְהוָה דַּרְכֶּךָ; וּבְטַח עָלָיו, וְהוּא יַעֲשֶׂה
(Tehillim 37:5)

When Hashem sees that I do not place any trust in others, or even my own actions, He will help me.

עֵינַי תָּמִיד, אֶל-יְהוָה: כִּי הוּא-יוֹצִיא מֵרֶשֶׁת רַגְלָי
(Tehillim 25:15)

Until then, I must maintain focus and not become disuaded by anything in the world. Eventually, Hashem will remove the snare from my foot and allow me to advance to the next level.

אַשְׂכִּילְךָ, וְאוֹרְךָ--בְּדֶרֶךְ-זוּ תֵלֵךְ; אִיעֲצָה עָלֶיךָ עֵינִי
(Tehillim 32:8)

He will reveal my path; an ancient path that reconnects to that of my ancestors.


Bahaltener commenting on Ukrainian Yiddish:

I fully support you in your interest for your dialect. Amongst Yiddish speaking crowd today the general attitude is to encourage preserving original dialects and not adopting common ones (like generic Hungarish/Polish or Litvish which became two major "players" today). This is simply because other dialects are almost gone, and therefore preserving them is worthwhile. Speaking to others doesn't always help to learn a given dialect, if so few people use it! But it helps in general to learn the language.

Polish/Hungarish Yiddish is prevailing in USA today, and Litvish one in Eretz Yisroel. Real Ukranish Yiddish (Podolish/Volynish) is used only by few today. Even though I've heard that in Eretz Yisroel, Litvish Yiddish was normative in Yerushalayim, and Ukrainish in Tzfas and Tveria. However it seems that the later became used less and less – you can ask someone from Tzfas about it.

In general, the difference between Polish and Ukrainish dialects is, that Tzeyre is pronounced as “AY” in Polish, and as “EY” in Ukrainish. Podolisher Yiddish also uses “O” for Pasoch, i.e. saying “Shobbes” and not “Shabbes” etc. The rules for Komatz are somewhat confusing (though they are the same for Polish and Ukrainish dialects). In Ukrainish/Poylish Loshn Koydesh if it is a closed syllable, Komatz is pronounces as “O” if it is an open syllable, as “U”. (Don't think about American English sounds though, which are usually pronounced for “O” and “U” when I write “O”, “U” etc. it will be misleading and too confusing). I'm talking about Yiddish sounds. So it will be “burich” and “atu” - open syllable - u, with “oylom” (not “oylum”) - closed syllable. In Yiddish however this rule is different and I don't know if it is formalized – so the only way to get it is to ask or to hear the right pronunciation. (May be there is a rule – I don't know it).

There is also more to it with different nuances (for vowels difference betwin Ukrainish, Litvish, Poylish and Hungarish) and I don't know all of them. I know one Yiddish teacher who is an expert in dialects. There is also an interesting site which collected many live recording of Yiddish speakers with different dialects from different locations. This helps a lot to learn some details:

As for shiurim, there are shiurim from Reb Michel Zilber (Rosh yeshiva Zvil). He speaks in Volynish Yiddish. You can get his shiurim on Mishna and Gemara (as digital files) from “Torah Tapes” archive.

Parsha Parts

My friend Tzuriel has resumed weekly updates to his site Parsha Parts. Be sure to check out this week's installment here.

Ukrainian Yiddish

Does anyone know where I can find a chart which shows how to pronounce Yiddish letters according to the Southeastern (Ukrainian) dialect?

Always Moving

Like a bird, man can reach undreamed-of heights as long as he works his wings. Should he relax them for but one minute, however, he plummets downward.

(Rabbi Yisrael Salanter)

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Question & Answer With Rabbi Y.Y. Bar-Chaiim - Tight Knit: A Chassidic Ideal?

A Simple Jew asks:

In honor of zayin Av, the yahrzeit of the previous Slonimer Rebbe, the author of the Nesivos Sholom, zts"l (1911 – 2000), I'd like to ask about your experiences of integrating into the Slonimer community. In particular I've heard that it is rather tightly knit and insular. Is that the ideal?

Rabbi Y.Y. Bar-Chaiim answers:

The Nesivos is definitely unique in having crossed deep cultural divides. The most surprising development since the publication of the first volume in 1982, steadily followed by six more over the next decade, is how it has stormed the National Religious camp. It's right up there next to Tanya, Likutey Moharan and sifrei HaRav Kook. For less proficient learners, it's often more popular, probably due to its more fluid, modern Hebrew. Add to this the fact that the entire chassidic world holds by it (some with a passion) as well as large swaths within the Litvishe and religio-academic world (I increasingly hear of steady shiurim in these circles, world wide) – well, we've definitely got a major message for the Klal going on!

My interest in understanding this message was a driving force in my coming into Slonim. As your question implies, there was a shock when I discovered that the ethics of self preservation and micro-refinement often trumped over devotion to the Klal and addressing macro-issues. At the same time, while you interchange the terms "tight-knitted" and "insular", I think we need to make a distinction.

Insular is reactionary. Tight-knittedness means internal integrity.

If anything characterizes Slonim, it's devotion to NOT being reactionary. While there is plenty of impurity and confusion in the wider world about which Slonimers are acutely cautious, which on the surface seems similar to the many anti-Zionist and anti-modernity neighbors of the main Slonimer Shul in Meah Shearim, the Slonimer Rebbes have always gone out of their way to prevent that caution affecting the inner life of the chossid. They don't want to be anti ANYthing! The main thing is to know what yes to devote to; to make dveikus (cleaving to Hashem) your proactive agenda. Every circumstance that impedes dveikus, by definition, must be avoided. That this may separate you from the norm of even the chassidic world – it's a temporarily unfortunate but necessary fallout of a most noble battle. In the end, it is fervently believed, we're tending the King's garden (the dveikus enflamed soul) not just for our own benefit but for all the King's kin, even those who presently aren't in the best position to appreciate it. When they are – we'll all readily bask in the wealth together.

Still, I must admit, after years of learning Slonimer sfarim, meeting the major mashpiim and attending a number of Tischim, during my first years of being in the community I was definitely under the impression that it championed a way of life that could be a model for the entire Klal, here and now. I understood it wasn't for everyone in an active membership way, yet my fantasy was stoked to view it as a paradigm for quickening the arrival of the Geula shleima.

Then, slowly but surely, the rude awakening occurred. I realized that while the doors were open to all kinds to peek inside (which many routinely do every Shabbos and Yomtov), the fact is that the community isn't so welcoming. It is rather a very distinct, refined spiritual brotherhood – and wants to remain that way! If you want a taste, feel free. But you're expected to nudge your way in, which, depending on your personality type, can be a real struggle. Very few will go out of their way to help you. They'll basically just nod and shine a profound little "hello" and on special occasions let you know that your Neshama (soul) is as precious as the best of 'em. Yet when push comes to shove, they have no compunctions conveying the tough and unvarnished truth – that the real work is yours!

The knitting is indeed tight and if you want to be a part you gotta learn the art.

The greatness of the Nesivos was in writing an incredibly learner-friendly manual to that art without compromising one iota on its depths nor making any attempt to whitewash the difficulty in getting there. For one little example, at the end of Volume I, buried snugly within the section on Chossidus, subsection Chavrusa (companionship), he writes:

Companionship needs wholeness. Everyone must share one covenant. If there are people whose heart are at odds with members of the community, even if no one expressly says so, they'll cause division amongst even those most fervently attached.

This is what Tsaddikim have said about the verse (Yer. 17): Mikveh Yisroel Hashem (G-d is Israel's hope). It alludes to the three realms that purify a Jew: The purification of a Mikveh (natural pool of water, which has the same verbal root as hope); the aspect of Israel – for when Jews unify, behold this also purifies, just like a Mikveh; when the blessed Holy One Himself purifies a Jew.

(…) Our master, the Beis Avraham, zy"a, adds: Just like a Mikveh won't (halachically) purify as long as there is even a miniscule division (between the one who immerses and the water), so too the aspect of Israel will not purify as long as there's even a miniscule division amongst a single Jew and his companion.

We could say even further: The Mikveh purifies the impure body; the aspect of Israel, the connection between members of G-d revering communities, purifies the personality and spirit; (love of) G-d purifies the soul. For there are blemishes that affect the body and those relevant to the personality and spirit. And then there are those of the soul.

Purity must be whole.

(…Now, in respect to the Mishna in Avos instructing us to "acquire" companionship), the Sifri on Par. Netzavim writes: "How can a true friend be acquired? Can it be done with money?? Rather the acquisition is through subjugating your personality to another; subjugating your personality, natural character and traits."

This is the spiritual price to pay for acquiring a friend. Much contemplation and probing thought is necessary to accomplish this, similar to that required for buying a precious diamond. One investigates its value sevenfold. Indeed, only especially gifted
individuals, possessors of rare character, are talented enough to achieve a truly loyal friendship; to achieve a genuine bond of loyal and reliable love.

(…) As the holy Rav Menachem Mendel from Vitebsk, zy"a, writes (…): "The general rule and main principle of everything (in life) is in this (saying of Chaza"l): The blessed Holy One never found a better vessel for retaining blessing than peace and unity amongst man and his brother who cleave their personalities one to the other, as one man; friends who mutually heed the voice of G-d, each companion assisting the other."

How great are these holy words! They describe the enormous affect that brotherly love can have on each and every one of us, in body and spirit.

And so we begin to understand the paradoxically attractive and daunting nature of tight-knittedness. It is indeed a chassidic ideal but not for the Klal; only for individuals. If we'd try to pander it amongst the Klal, it would dilute legitimate, individual differences. But once there is a natural affinity between INDIVIDUALS, then tight knittedness becomes the maka b'patish (final blow) for forging their achdus towards its true purpose: facilitating love for G-d.

Slonim is respectively exemplary, I believe , both textually and socially. Nevertheless our generation needs many OTHER models. Certainly for those communities without the advantage of being led by major Tsaddikim and time honored, holy traditions. They need new perspectives on how to realistically achieve "subjugating your personality, natural character and traits" to another. It should be studied at least as intensively as they do Talmud!

To be sure, I've met many good Jews at my Shabbos table, through my travels and yes (Shhh!), internet exchanges, who are impassioned about their initial interest in finding THE community, THE cheider, THE marriage, THE chavrusa… only to become profoundly discouraged, disillusioned, or worst of all, cynical. It gets me fantasizing about opening a "College for Quality Jewish Relationships". Or perhaps a "School for Social Chossidus". (In all honesty, if there are likeminded people out there who have an interest in promoting such institutions, and especially if you could help finance it – please let me know!)

In the meantime, let me conclude with a little less heady fantasy, which actually is quite HEADy – literally. I'm referring to that great picture at the top of this post. The white knitting, as I see it, symbolizes true chabura, brotherly bonding. The blue knitting indicates the more b'dieved, loosely knitted, scattered, dysfunctionally "religious" bonds that dominate our people today. What emerges is that there are three realms for cultivating the real thing: At the periphery, in the middle and at the top.

At the periphery, a thin white light of kindness guides our misfits. They are the "retarded sons" (see the A.S.J. posting of July 20) who deserve the best we can offer in communal sharing. Unfortunately, it's often neglected or simply too complicated to facilitate. Still, life seems to arrange its occurrence in many special circumstances. Like after a tragedy or while struggling with poverty and estrangement (lo aleinu!), many Jews find one another and experience the greatest moments of achdus. Sometimes the saatya d'shomaya (heavenly assistance) helping such yidden tighten the knit between them is unbelievably palpable.

Then there is the norm; the middle band. This is the realm of your Shul; your place of work; your family. Oh, the other members might "function" without you, but it's just not the same. If you make a concerted effort at tightening the knit, everyone will reap incredible benefits. True, it may mean not INcluding some who are not a part. But that's the price to pay for residing, temporarily, in a far from perfect world.

As for the star, well, what can I say? That's the tightly knitted place we should all aspire for; the dimension of genuine social cohesion we''ll all be in one day when the world is proactively pulsating with Jewish pride. Each and every social bond will vibrate with the most intense awareness that life is about better serving our Maker, b"H. No, not utopia – on a macro scale. No paradise where good feelings are served on silver platters. It will be still be WORK. But there will be a constant, shining light guiding that work in the right, micro direction. No more pressure to tow a line. No more need to imitate your Rav or Rebbe or Maggid shiur. No more worry about which design of kippa or style of tfilla or consistency of yichus or length of skirt. Each will just be his / her own, blessed self in total commitment to the only thing which truly bonds – love for G-d, in all its halachic glory.

May it come soon!

A Cry Of Hope

Legend has it that Plato the philosopher met Yirmiyahu the prophet, weeping bitter dirges about the Temple destruction. After witnessing Yirmiyahu's great wisdom, he inquired how it could be appropriate for a sage like him to cry about the past. Yirmiyahu replied that he could not answer this question since Plato would not be able understand it. What he meant is that he wouldn't appreciate the Jewish people's longing for the blessed Divine Light. Conversely the Jews of the Holocaust, as is known, weren't able to cry, for their situation was utterly desperate. Crying for the Holy Beis HaMikdash, however, is very different. Behold it is a cry of hope!

(Nesivos Sholom)

Monday, July 27, 2009

Question & Answer With Neil Harris - Difficult Learning

A Simple Jew asks:

Of all the seforim that make up your daily learning seder, what do you have the most difficult time learning?

Neil Harris answers:

While I find Gemara difficult, there is one sefer that I've been going through over the past six months that hasn't been as easy as I thought it would be. The Garden of Emuna by Rabbi Shalom Arush and translated by Rabbi Lazer Brody looked very inviting to me when I first saw it. I actually emailed A Simple Jew and asked him about it. As I started reading the first few pages I realized that learning the content of the book wasn't going to be as easy as I thought. I am fairly familiar with basic Breslov concepts and machshavos, but after the first few chapters I sort of got a bad taste in my mouth. I began to get the feeling that I was sort of "ahead" of the target audience for the sefer. Most of what I had read were ideas that were not so new to me. I decided to actually shelf the book and put it out on hold.

It took about me about three weeks before I looked at The Garden of Emuna again. Something kept nagging me about it. I spent a good amount of time in hisbodedus thinking about Rabbi Arush's sefer trying to figure out why I had been turned off to it. I realized, eventually, that my resistance and arrogance regarding the content was simply due to the uncomfortable fact that this book was was what I really needed to read. It's sort of like looking in the mirror one morning and accepting the fact that you'll never really have a full head of hair again.

I have found over the years that I tend to pay close attention to the details of halachic performance and the intellectual aspects of Torah observance (including ideas of emes, avodah, and emuna). Part of my initial draw towards Chassidus (especially Breslov) was the emotional growth it provided (I would not say that I'm a chassid of any sort, but I'm very chassidish-friendly). The Garden of Emuna reminded me of very important foundations of Yiddishkeit that, ironically, I had "put on the shelf" years ago. I am happy to say that, after reading no more than two pages a night, I'm almost finished with the sefer. It as been a growth experience for me. At times difficult, but worth it.

"Those Who Cannot Restrain Themselves"

Excerpt from a sicha of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, 6 Menachem Av 5741:

All previous limits of drinking liquor still apply - that people under 40 years of age should limit their drinking. This applies especially to bochurim for they are at a "fiery" age. They should content themselves with observing an older chosid's approach to a glass of liquor, but they alone must not drink. It is precisely his non-drinking that makes him a good bochur and a good Tomim.

It we haven't talked about this subject at every farbrengen, it is not because the limits have been relaxed. If anything, the opposite is true. Any change would be to substitute a limit of three drinks for the previous limit of four drinks! No tricks are to be played, such as taking three large or even medium size drinks. When we say three, we mean three small ones! Those who cannot restrain themselves do not do so because of holy and Chassidic reasons - but because they are not masters of their own selves, and cannot control their animal soul

The Grammar Of A Seven Year-Old

"You are ALWAYS mean to everyone and NEVER nice to NO ONE!"

This Point Needs A Lot Of Emphasis

Even when you fall or descend in any way, you must never allow yourself to be thrown off balance to the extent that you come to look down upon yourself or to hold yourself in contempt. You should refuse to dwell on the matter even momentarily. Regardless of what happens to you, in the end you will find that all your descents will be turned into great ascents and achievements, because the purpose of the descent is the ascent. This point needs a lot of emphasis because everybody who experiences a spiritual fall imagines that this idea was never intended to refer to his particular case.

(Rebbe Nachman of Breslov)

Friday, July 24, 2009

בְּעֵבֶר הַיַּרְדֵּן

אֵלֶּה הַדְּבָרִים, אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר מֹשֶׁה אֶל-כָּל-יִשְׂרָאֵל, בְּעֵבֶר הַיַּרְדֵּן

These are the words which Moshe spoke to all Israel on that side of the Jordan... (Devarim 1:1)

The Degel Machaneh Ephraim taught that the words בְּעֵבֶר הַיַּרְדֵּן refer to a person who perpetually views himself as if he was on the other side of the Jordan despite the fact that he continues to learn Torah and do mitzvos.

He must must always view himself on this other side since if he imagines that he has already entered the holy land and is close to Hashem, in reality he is very far away. If, however, he continues to make strides in his avodas Hashem, imagines that he has still not yet reached his final destination, and feels distant from Hashem, in reality he is not. Hashem is right there with him.

3 Av Links - ג אב

(Picture by K. Kirk)

Machzikei HaDas:
Laundering may kasher table-cloths but not money

A Simple Jew: Sam Maves שתי תמונות, זיוף אחד ייִדיש ווערטערבוך אויפֿן וועב

Eizer L'Shabbos - Summer Campaign

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What's Mine Is Yours

Inside my slice of bread there is your share too; Hashem is providing for you through me.

(Igros Kodesh)

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Rashi In Yiddish - פשוטו של רש"י על התורה

This edition provides a phrase-by-phrase Yiddish translation and elucidation of Rashi’s commentary of the Chumash. I have recently begun using it as part of my lunch time mini seder.

"I Know That In The Past You Told Me To Learn This Sefer."

After disregarding earlier advice to learn Me'or Einayim, one day the son of the Sudilkover Rebbe came to his father with a real excitement in his eyes and said,

"I know that in the past you told me to learn this sefer. But now that I started learning it, I really wish you had forced me to learn it back then!"

How Not To Give

One who gives tzedaka to a poor person with a sour countenance and with his face turned toward the ground, even if he had given him a thousand gold coins, he has ruined his meritorious deed, and lost the mitzvah.

(Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 34:7)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

בַּקְּשׁוּ פָנָיו תָּמִיד

(Picture by B. Marciniak)

How many times has your progress driving or travelling on the subway been halted by a traffic jam or other unforeseen delay?

How many times did you pause to consider that perhaps the reason that you were stopped at precisely that place was to serve Hashem in that location?


The power of Rosh Chodesh stems precisely from the fact that its greatness is so hidden. Superficially, it appears as a mere weekday and only in the esoteric sense do we begin to realize how holy it really is.

(Biala Rebbe)

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A Return To Simplicity

"You used to be all about the music, but you've changed!"

This is a common refrain heard from musicians upon learning that one of their band members is leaving them and setting off on a solo career.

Long-time readers have recently commented that my blog has changed. It is not because I am setting off on a solo career, but rather because, more often than naught, I am now playing with a band to the tunes of Q&As and guest postings.

I have given considerable thought to all of the comments in last week's posting and I have finally concluded that my recent feelings and consideration of throwing in the blogging towel did not stem from my whirling life around me, but rather from the fact that "I" have been absent from my own blog for some time now.

Although I have been blogging for close to five years, my blog has grown larger than myself in a certain sense. I now routinely stockpile two or three weeks worth of postings so that I never have to feel a daily blogging pressure. I admit, these days I also rely too heavily on Q&As and guest postings in order to ensure that I can continue posting on a regular basis and alleviate this nagging feeling of pressure. I have used them as a crutch. But now, I have decided to make a change.

Starting today, I will no longer post on a routine basis out of a sense of obligation. I plan to post less and less Q&A and guest postings and more and more postings containing my own thoughts and ideas. This is not to say that I will never post links or quotes postings. I still intend to post the stockpiled postings that I have in reserve and the postings that I have committed to others to post over the next few weeks. Afterward, however, when this reserve is depleted, readers may begin noticing that the postings' frequency and format on my blog begin changing.

Without shifting my focus on simplicity, I am plan to return to the standard I originally set for myself. I may have deviated off the road for a brief stretch over the past year or so, but now I plan to return.

Guest Posting By Rabbi Perets Auerbach - "Primal Scream" Hisbodedus

(Picture by D. Harris)

Rabbi Nachman taught: “The main thing is, ‘From the belly of She’ol [the deepest pit of hell] I screamed’ (Jonah 2:3)” (Likkutei Moharan II, 48). It is said that he went through the entire Tehillim saying only the verses about crying to God.

“I cry to God–I scream, I cry to God... I scream to You, O God” (Psalms 142:2, 6). “When I roar the whole day…” (ibid 32:3). “I roar from the crying moan of my heart” (ibid 38:9). “And it grieved Shmuel, and he screamed to God the entire night” (I Samuel 14:11). “And they screamed to God in their suffering, and He saved them from distresses” (Psalms 107:13, 19, 28).

The Zohar (II, 20b) tells that Shmuel abandoned all other types of prayer and only screamed. When things are difficult, a person groans. When they get more difficult, a person yells. When they get still more intense, a person screams. The depth of the scream depends upon the realization of how precarious the situation is. “And the children of Israel groaned from the servitude— and they screamed. And their cry rose to ELHYM (G-d) from the servitude. And ELHYM heard their wail...And ELHYM saw the children of Israel—and ELHYM knew” (Exodus 2:23-25).1

Why have we stopped screaming?

Sometimes the neshamah falls into such a state of concealment that a person cannot even cry and scream the way they need to. Here, too, one must use the “scream of the scream” to fix this problem. Cry out and ask to be able to scream.

“This entire world is a very narrow bridge,” said Rabbi Nachman (ibid.), and as long as the soul is here, it is in tremendous danger. Anyone who puts things in their proper perspective will be greatly concerned about how they will end up. If a wind begins to blow while you are walking a treacherous bridge, you will scream to be saved. Imagine hanging off a tall building—you hold on for dear life! Then an enemy comes and is about to step on your fingers... The more a person realizes potential injury, the more he will want to scream. The soul realizes the peril of being here. If you access it, it is possible to awaken a deep scream from the inner chambers of the heart. The more the one awakens the soul within, the more intensely he will cry for aid. This can reach to the very depths of existence and the entire tikkun (repair) of the universe; this is the “primal scream” of Adam realizing the damage he did through the sin of the Tree of Knowledge, and every soul’s portion in it (Sha’ar HaGilgulim, Hakdamah 1; cf. Shaar HaGemul, 9).

There are two ways that this primal scream can come out: in voice and in thought. The voice awakens the external world to realize its plight and also shout to God. Thought awakens the internal world to recognize the hazard and likewise cry for help.

Each has its own advantage. A voiced scream involves the body and its energy. Utilizing the body’s energies for a strong scream helps to redirect them above. A silent scream is bound up with a higher plane, the “World of Thought.” Its power is infinite. These are the “sounds of silence.” “Their heart screams to God” (Lamentations 2:18). Rabbi Nachman says that a person can mentally scream “from one end of the world to the other” (Chayei Moharan 241; cf. Sichot HaRan 16). The mind reaches to places that the body can’t go. There is a scream so deep from the depths of the heart that it transcends speech, cannot be voiced, and must remain silent (Likkutei Moharan II, 5). It is a most powerful sound, which can pierce the universe. “I call You from the depths, O God” (Psalms 130:1). From these depths, one can reach the Ein Sof. This is especially so during the Ten Days of Repentance, when the “ten depths” (Sefer Yetzirah 1:5) of existence are opened.

“Rabbi Yitzchak says, ‘[True teshuvah is when a person] returns before the Supernal King, and prays his prayer from the depths of the heart. That is what is meant by the verse, ‘I call to You, God, from the depths’ (op cit.).

“Rabbi Abba says, ‘I call to You God from the very depths’—this means that there is a hidden place above, and it is the ‘depth of the well’ [i.e., Ein Sof/the Infinite One]. And from this [source] flow out rivers [from the sefirah of Chesed/Lovingkindness] and springs [from the sefirah of Gevurah/Might] to every side [of the array of sefirot]. And that depth of depths is called ‘teshuvah.’ One who wants to return and be cleansed from his sins must call from this depth to the Holy One, blessed be He. That is what is meant by the verse, ‘I call to You, God, from the very depths’ ” (Zohar III, 70a).

One who screams from the innermost point of the soul awakens the Infinite Light to flow to the self and fill all aspects of one’s being with Divine goodness.

At times, one may feel so distant from God that He may seem not to be there at all. This is the time to utilize the “Ayeh” scream (see Likkutei Moharan II, 12). “Where (Ayeh) are You?!” This fixes the problem at its root. For as soon as you scream “Where?” this means that He must be present. It is the first step to taking off the veil, revealing the Godliness in the very place you have fallen, and reconnecting to it. This is a scream so deep that it reaches to the highest sefirah of Keter (“Crown”). The lowest fall becomes transformed into an ascent so high that it reaps dividends many times over. The whole reason for the fall is just to come to that special scream.

At times, the mochin (“mentalities,” potential states of mind) are in an embryonic state. One learns and doesn’t understand; or one doesn’t understand anything new in the material; or there is an unanswerable question. This is also the case when the flow of Divine inspiration stops. However, there is a principal that “voice awakens intention” (Kitzur Shulchan Arukh 6:1, citing Sh’nei Luchot HaBrit). Then it is good for a person to scream. This can bring the mochin back into active consciousness.

“And the voice is the voice of Ya’akov” (Genesis 27:22). Dovid HaMelekh mentions seven “voices” over water: “The voice of God is on the water...” (Psalms 29:3). The best thing is to scream seventy times4 - just as a woman screams seventy times before giving birth (Zohar III, 249b). There are seventy words in the psalm, “God will answer you on the day of suffering...” (Psalms 20:2). Therefore, it is beneficial for the husband to say this psalm while his wife is in labor (Likkutei Moharan II, 2). It draws the answer—birth. So do the seventy corresponding screams draw the “answer of answers” to all problems— the birth of awareness. It can reach so high as to draw in the birth of a new makif, a new level of the encompassing light.

From Rabbi Perets Auerbach’s “The Science, Art and Heart of Hitbodedut.” This work-in-progress may be purchased by contacting the author by email:

29 Tammuz 5701

Mass Grave Memorial - Shepetovka, Ukraine

Excerpt from Ordinary Men:

Postwar judicial interrogations in the Federal Republic of Germany, stemming from scant documentation, uncovered further information about the murderous swath Police Battalions 45 and 315 cut across the Soviet Union in the fall of 1941. Police Battalion 45 had reached the Ukrainian town of Shepetovka on July 24, when its commander Major Martin Besser, was summoned by the head of Police Regiment South, Colonel Franz. Franz told Besser that by order of Himmler the Jews in Russia were to be destroyed and his Police Battalion 45 was to take part in this task. Within days the battalion had massacred the several hundred remaining Jews in Shepetovka, including women and children. Three-figure massacres in various towns followed in August. In September the battalion provided cordon, escort, and shooters for the executions of thousands of Jews in Berditchev and Vinnitsa. The battalion's brutal activities climaxed in Kiev on September 29 and 30, when policemen again provided cordon, escort, and shooters for the murder of over 33,000 Jews in the ravine of Babi Yar.


Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, who wrote the Zohar, invested the Aramaic language with such sanctity that even other things written in Aramaic have the power to arouse you to Hashem.

(Rebbe Nachman of Breslov)

Monday, July 20, 2009

Question & Answer With Chabakuk Elisha - Above & Below

(Picture by J. Gerien)

A Simple Jew asks:

It is well known that an isarusa d’l’eila (arousal from above) comes only in response to a isarusa d’lesata (arousal below).

How do you think this concept should be best taught so that a person doesn't draw the mistaken conclusion that he can "control" Hashem's actions, so to speak, by performing actions that he believes constitutes Hashem's will down in this physical world with the hopes that Hashem takes notice and changes His course of action in the person's favor?

Chabakuk Elisha answers:

Before I get to your question, let me take it a step beyond isarausa; there is in inherent paradox between Hashgocha and Bechira that has to be addressed first. Does G-d control the world b’hashgocha (through Divine providence), and everything runs exactly as He sees fit, or do we have bechira (free will) to make decisions and thus impact the direction that things take? Simply stated: Do we run the world, does G-d, or is it a shared endeavor?

And there is no single answer (as with all things Jewish) – there are many opinions and nuances to those opinions. Chassidus generally focuses on Hashgocha as primary (with Ishbitz to one extreme) while others emphasize Bechira and personal responsibility – but in any case, there is an element of paradox that remains (and some, such as Breslov, even emphasize the paradox itself).

The Mitteler Rebbe in the beginning of Derech Chaim explains the paradox as essentially about point of view: When viewed from Above, it is indeed b’hashgocha, and when viewed from the perspective of the observer (us) it is (appears to be) bechira based. Or, in other words, one is how it is, and the other is how it appears.

Nevertheless, as long as we remain in this world, it is our perspective that is most essential to our success; we need to take responsibility for our actions and our role. We need to make responsible decisions and maximize our bechira for the good, as the Torah cautions us, “u’vacharta b’chaim (chose life)!” It is our role in this world of action to act properly and seek to cleave to Hakadosh Baruch Hu. Indeed, it is His desire that we do our best to change the world for good – and He charges and empowers us to achieve that task.

Yet, we all have our ups and down, as “there is no righteous man on earth who does good and does not sin” (Koheles). In Yiddishkeit one does not stand in one place – we are rising or we are falling – and through our actions we create a chain of events, along the lines of “mitzvah goreres mitzvah (one good deed brings another).” But G-d plays a role – we aren’t left to our own devices – which brings us to Isarusa d’lesata and Isarusa d’l’eila.

Isarusa d’leila: An awakening (inspiration) that is initiated from above. Hashem does us a favor and inspires us. Suddenly we have new-found energy in avodas Hashem, etc, that we didn’t have before – but since it isn’t internal it doesn’t last on its own. On a more macrocosmic level, some well-known examples of isarusa d’leila would be the festival of Pesach, or Creation for that matter.

Isarusa d’lesata: An awakening (inspiration) from below. Here, we take the initiative and create our own inspiration – which gives Hashem great delight, and He responds by drawing us closer. This time it’s our own, so to speak, so while it’s less powerful, is more lasting and internalized. Now, whether our inspiration is self-induced or induced from Above, that results in a reaction. When we experience an arousal or awakening from above it is less powerful – as it’s not really ours. It’s a fleeting feeling that can be easily wasted and we only use whatever limited amount we take advantage of. However, when it is self-induced, it if far more powerful, as G-d responds with energy far surpassing that which we put in. And most commonly, we experience an arousal or awakening from Above that initiates us to experience an additional arousal or awakening from below and in return a more powerful awakening from above.

These forms of isarusa obviously vary in degree and in circumstance, but the process isn’t as simple is either/or. The isarusa-d’lestata-isarusa-d’leila should bring a subsequent isarusa d’lesata, and so too should an isarusa d’leila-isarusa-d’lesata bring a subsequent isarusa d’laeila, and back-and-forth, on and on. So, who does it? G-d certainly sets it all up for us and it’s our job to take the baton and run with it. Does this mean that our avodah and our decisions control G-d?
We know the rule that “Torah lo baShomayim hi (the Torah is not in Heaven),” and G-d gives man the power to determine the Torah’s position. Furthermore, there is the rule that “Tzaddik gozer v’Hakadosh-Baruch-Hu mekayim (the Tzaddik decrees and G-d fulfills). So, it would seem that He gives us that ability and wants us to use it. It seems that it is His specific desire that we control His hand. In fact, all of Creation is really for the sake of the relationship between G-d and humanity, as the Zohar says “be’gin de’ishtimodin lei (or order to know Him),” which is what the isarusa reflects.

May we take advantage of our short opportunity in this world and not waste the awakenings from above or neglect our awakenings from below.

28 Tammuz Links - כח תמוז

Dixie Yid: Running After Emptiness

The Blog @ Rashi

Wikibooks: Yiddish for Yeshivah Bachurim

Love For His Children

There are two aspects of Eis Ratzon [auspicious moments for gaining Hashem's attention]. There is an Eis Ratzon regarding the King's wise and successful son... and there's another aspect of Eis Ratzon when the King has a retarded son who's incapable of doing most anything and one needs to do for him.

Now this latter Eis Ratzon is more powerful than that which the wise son aroused, for it's obvious that he can't succeed with anything! Such was the case at the time of Churban Beis HaMikdash. The situation then was the worst and most degraded it could be... Accordingly, we can understand how, by virtue of tremendous heavenly compassion the Kruvim [Cherubs on top of the Aron] were discovered interlocked with one another.

Thus we learn that Tzaddikim would sublimate every love of theirs except for that for their children – in order to feel this aspect of love that HaKadosh Baruch Hu has for Israel.

(Nesivos Sholom)

Friday, July 17, 2009

Question & Answer With Rabbi Micha Golshevsky - How To Learn Gemara

(Picture by Alfred Eisenstaed)

A Simple Jew asks:

There seems to be a never ending discussion about the merits and shortcomings to the plethora of scheduled "yomi" learning programs. Would you recommend that someone new to Gemara begin by learning Daf Yomi as a way to get a broad knowledge quickly or would you recommend that he take one masechta and go through it slowly and methodically?

Rabbi Micha Golshevsky answers:

Excellent question as always. Truth is that there is a lot of confusion regarding this issue for many people who are very experienced in Gemara. Should one focus more on bekiyus, trying to learn and remember what it says, or is he better off with iyun, learning slowly but with much more depth.

Rav Isser Zalman Melzer, Rav Shach's rebbe and uncle and the famed Rosh Yeshivah of Eitz Chaim, said that this was an unresolved question even in Yeshivas Volozhin. Some worked solely on bekiyus while others focused on iyun. Still others spent some time trying to attain depth in learning while also spending part of their time working on learning through the bredth of Torah.

Rav Melzer recounted, "Of those who learned only iyun, very few people attained greatness in Torah. Of those who learned only bekiyus, no one attained greatness in Torah. Most of those who attained Torah greatness used their time to gain mastery in both areas of Torah."

Now you may well ask: that's nice but what does it have to do with my question? Clearly Rav Melzer was discussing a young man who was willing and able to spend his entire day learning.

To this I would request that you give me a moment to explain.

Rebbe Nachman of Breslov also focuses on learning bekiyus and iyun. In Rabbi Nachman's Wisdom he adjures us to learn the entire Talmud every year! In addtion one must spend some part of his day learning "a little iyun."

As is be expected, Rebbe Nachman does not allow us to become depressed by this tall order. He immediately points out that one should not be discouraged if one does not manage to learn, since one can be a true tzaddik without knowing Gemara. But he adds that to be a true ba'al hasagah, a person who grasps things on a higher plane, one must be a lamdan, have deep understanding of Gemara Rashi and Tosefos. (Some say that a "little iyun" means enough to get to this level.)

Interestingly, iyun is an important part of Breslover avodah. Although it is well known that Rebbe Nachman said that it is a very great mitzvah to always be joyous, very few are aware that he also said, "It is a very great mitzvah to always sharpen one's intellect."

So now you understand the connection: it is best that every person should spend some time each day doing both.

But the Gemara says that only learn where his heart feels an interest. Rav Binyaman Zilber comments that the same is true regarding what part of Torah one should spend his time in. As Rebbe Nachman explains there is no point to learning out of a feeling of pressure. That will get you nowhere. Instead one must learn with pleasure where he feels like learning.

But the importance of gemara cannot be diminished. Rebbe Nachman and many other tzaddikim point out that the word Gemara is an acronym for Gavriel, Michael, Rephael and Uriel, since learning Gemara affords a very great protection from any troubles and especially spiritual hardship.

Rav Ben Tzion Abbah Shaul, pointed out that the word Gemara has the same root as the Aramaic word gumrah which means coals, to teach that the back and forth of Gemara burns out all evil like buring coals.

It is precisely because of the difficult to learn Gemara that it is so efficacious.

Interestingly, the Arizal makes the very same point. He explains that every person has kelipos, evil within that must be conquered. It is precisely through the toil we exert while learning that we break through these barriers to spiritual connection.

Interestingly, both the Chofetz Chaim and Rav Shmuel Shapiro would encourage people to learn Daf Yomi with the Midrash that states that in the ultimate future, Hashem will reveal the deep secrets of the sugyos of Shas but one who has never even learned through a mesechtah will not merit to enter the shiur. Even one who read through the Gemara but did not understand it will be allowed entry into the shiur. (The part about sodos is not explicit in the midrash but this is how the Chofetz Chaim explains it.)

So this is yet another reason.

But you make a good point: what about retention?

First of all, I would like to share an essential parable Rebbe Nachman said (from the Arizal.) This can be compared to some workers the king hired to empty an immense vessel of water into a pit using bottomless recepticles.

The foolish among them felt that the work was meaningless since hardly any water was transfered. The wiser did what the king said anyway. They reasoned that it was not their concerned how much work got done since they were well paid for this seemingly meaningless job. Besides, the work certainly served to cleanse the bottomless vessels.

Even when we do not retain what we learn, it still serves to cleanse us. In additon, exerting oneself to understand seemingly difficult sugyos is excellent preparation with dealing with one's fellow man. It is for this reason that Rav Aharon of Belz learned pilpul (as I once wrote in a piece for you.) Similarly, it is easier to see another's point of view even if it appears a bit specious or improbable.

The Gra would also say that one who learns Gemara has an easier time changing the bad within himself since he sees how little he knows and how often he is mistaken or that there is a side that he would not have thought of.

In addition, most people who stick it out and go through the Daf Yomi are able to learn Gemara anywhere with relative ease. When they are on the second cycle they find that they comprehend and retain with much less effort, even though it does not appear that they retained too much from the first time around.

So I think it is worthwhile to stick it out and make the difficulty into an avodah. If it takes you half hour or whatever a day to go through the daf - even in English, I think you should so. But if you see that even any of this advice doesn't work for you or you feel that it is disastrous or even just a recipe for failure, then you should learn however you feel drawn to learn! Most importantly : don't give up!

As you may know, the Chofetz Chaim said that Jews in earlier generations who could not attain mastery in Shas, would at least learn Rif with Rashi, and he lamented that people stoped learning Rif.

It is much less well known that the Ramah MiPano actually made a Kitzur Rif. It follows that even just reading through the daily daf in the English mini summary on Revach L'Daf is very worthwhile. This takes maybe two or three minutes and it adds up to a huge storehouse of essential concepts which also make learning Gemara.

Rebbe Nachman points out that Hashem only wants us to do our best, not to overextend ourselves beyond our present level. (This also comes out of Rabeinu Yonah on Avos and the writtings of the Gemara much easier. But one should only do this if he can manage to make this an avodah and feel pleasure in it. This means simply focuing on the connection to Hashem through the learning whatever one understands or retains. One who serves Hashem through his daily daf of Gemara, and yearns to truly understand and retain it all will eventually merit to do so. After all, Chazal tell us that Torah is a gift. Recalling our learning especially depends on siyatah d'Shmayah. One who uses the hardship in learning Torah to connect to Hashem will be afforded magnificent spiritual gifts that are literally beyond his wildest imagination- and the harder it is the greater the gifts. But this takes great perseverance and profound humility.

Please Help Breslov Research Institute Continue Their Work

We are on a worldwide search for just 1,000 people who will donate to us just $100!

Everyone is aware of the economic meltdown that took place around the world this year. Many who felt secure with their holdings no longer feel secure. Many who felt their jobs and income were considered stable no longer feel that stability. “God makes [the] poor and [the] rich; He lowers people and raises them up” (I Samuel 2:7). Nearly everyone we know has been some sort of recipient of the above verse, including us here at the Institute. God is sending His message to all of us.

For over 30 years, Breslov Research Institute has been producing high-quality publications of Rebbe Nachman’s teachings that speak to the soul and encourage people to recognize their self-worth. The Rebbe's teachings arouse from slumber and depression; they show us how to bring joy into our lives and heighten our awareness of God by forging our own personal connection to our Creator. “There is no despair!” cried the Rebbe. God waits patiently for each person to search for Him, even from the most difficult situation.

But this year has taken its toll on us, too. Between now and Rosh HaShanah (3 months), we are set to experience a shortfall of some $100,000(!), drastically down from last year’s income.

We ask you to do your best to help us cover this deficit. Think of it. If just 1,000 readers from around the world would send in just $100, we would reach our goal. This would enable us to continue our work uninterrupted, and not have to shelve important projects due to budget cuts. If just 1,000 readers send in just $100, it would enable us to keep up with those projects that are nearing completion.

These include: the Breslov Chumash, the Breslov Pirkey Avot, Likutey Moharan Volume 13, the Kitzur (Abridged) Likutey Moharan (2 volumes with facing Hebrew and English), More Blessed to Give: Rebbe Nachman on Charity, and Knights of the Rosh HaShanah Table – stories of the valiant “knights” who have faced obstacles and turbulence in their lives, yet overcame their difficulties to travel to Rebbe Nachman in Uman for Rosh HaShanah. We also have several books nearing completion in each of the following languages: Hebrew, Spanish and Russian.

Maybe $100 is a lot of money to ask for. But when we consider the mitzvah of tithing our income and then giving it to charity, it isn’t a large request at all. Consider: Tithes are just 10% of one’s income, and presumably one’s income is more than $1,000 per annum. Then the request for $100 is not a large sum after all! It might not be easy, but it’s not that difficult, either. Especially when the Talmud promises, “One who shears off money for charity will see his income increase!” (Gittin 7a).

We appeal to you, faithful followers of Rebbe Nachman’s teachings and readers who thirst, like us, to see more and better publications come into being. Please open your hearts and contribute life-sustaining money to continue our work! Of course, if you can send more, we appreciate it even more! And if you cannot afford $100, please contribute what you can. But please, everyone, help us out in these trying times. You know that we rarely make appeals, either by direct mail or internet. But in these financially difficult moments, we have also become desperate enough to feel the humiliation of asking for extra help.

May God bless you all with the Talmudic promise of increased wealth, together with good health, emotional stability, financial security and, most importantly, spiritual growth.

With deepest thanks,

Chaim Kramer
Executive Director
Breslov Research Institute

You can contribute US currency on line on our website.

For checks, please mail to:

Breslov Research Institute
POB 5370, Jerusalem, Israel
(for all Israel & non North American addresses.)

Or to:

Breslov Research Institute
POB 587
Monsey, NY 10952

Canadian Friends of Chasidei Breslov
c/o Levinson, 84 Regina Ave.
Toronto, Ontario, M5G 1V2, CANADA

Carrying A Weapon On Shabbos

A man should not go out with a sword, a bow, an alloh [round shield], or a spear. And if he did go out, he is liable for a sin offering. Rabbi Eliezer says: they are ornaments for him! But the Sages say: they are nothing but dishonorable, as it is said: "And they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruninghooks: national shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more."

(Mishnah - Shabbos 6:4)

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Way Stations

Using Street View, I took a trip back to the neighborhood of my childhood. Navigating up and down the street I examined all the details: the yards that I use to play in, the curbs that I jumped off on my bike and skateboard, the bushes I used for hide and seek, and the house where the old man lived who would yell at us and chase us off his property.

This same neighborhood, city, state, area of the country is the where I so deparately desired to leave my senior year of high school; convinced that East Coast was where I needed to be. Now, I look back with nostalgia as I virtually navigate my route to the neighborhood elementary school, park, and friend's house.

Unexplainably, I seem to be perpetually drawn back to these way stations of my past; way stations that the Degel Machaneh Ephraim taught mirror the way stations of the Jewish people as they made there way across the desert until they arrived in Eretz Yisroel.

"These journeys are recorded in the Torah in order to teach us the right path to follow in our lives, and that all of our journeys are holy and pure."

How many more way stations are there left along my path? How much further is the final destination?

Learning Baal HaTurim

It is a good idea to expose the children from time to time to some of the nuances of interpretation found in the Baal HaTurim, which brings out the richness and hidden complexities of the Torah, and which can bring us to a loftier appreciation of all that Torah is, to an abiding interest in the letters which compost it and their gematrios, and in comparing the expressions and words of the Torah, and so on.

Withholding Tzedaka

A gate that is not opened before the poor, will eventually be opened for a physician.

(Shir HaShirim Rabbah 6:11)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

"You Seem To Have Removed Yourself From Your Blog"

Received via e-mail from a reader:

If you look back on your posts of a few years ago, you will see quite a difference: there were humorous anecdotes about your children, memoirs about your family and your ancestors, and articles of sincere personal introspection, which, I'm sure, many of your readers could relate to. I've noticed that, in the past year or so, your posts are more often written by guest contributors, and the topics are almost exclusively interpretations of Chassidic teachings. There is much less input of your own personal views, even on these topics (although you pose the questions, so, in a way, you are focusing and controlling the topics). Whether consciously or unconsciously, you seem to have removed yourself from your blog. It is more of a "vehicle" for impersonal religious discussions and the views of other people. Perhaps the reason you are deriving so little satisfaction from it, these days, is that it is no longer a way for you to express your own thoughts and feelings.

Question & Answer With Long Beach Chasid - Passion Burning Fiercely

A Simple Jew asks:

Rebbe Nachman of Breslov taught, "The very strength of desire which a person experiences to draw closer to Hashem can in fact be a danger thrown up by the yetzer hara. At times his "passion" burns far more fiercely than it should....You must daven that Hashem's loving-kindness will protect you from this."

In retrospect, can you think of any occasions when your passion for Yiddishkeit burned a little too intensely?

I have a special love for davening with a minyan. The last time I didn't daven with a minyan when one was available was Hoshana Rabbah last year when I had food poisoning. It is something I am very passionate about and consider it one of most important things in my life.

This passion has many positive attributes but is not void of the negative. I am the gabbai at our shul's 7:30 minyan, and for over a year it went strong in the home of a member of the shul. When he no long had a chiyuv to say Kaddish the minyan moved to the shul's beis midrash. This move caused a great strain on the minyan and my struggle with the idea of the minyan ending was a painful one.

The rabbis told the shul members the importance of davening with a minyan and that with so many members in the community the 6:15 and 7:30 minyonim should be full. We tried time and time again but the minyan would fall short. Sometimes there would be eight or six and worsened to the point that we only had 3 show up.

It really bothered me that people passed up on davening with a minyan and the ones that did show up would supply one great excuse after another of why people couldn't show up. They worked, they had to watch the kids, its too early, and so on. It got to the point that I got in a full scale verbal argument with one member about how never davening with a minyan Shachris Mincha Maariv is unjustifiable. Then it clicked and I realized the error of my way thanks to a Chassidic teaching from the Baal Shem Tov, "When you see a flaw in your fellow, look into yourself to find the flaw and fix it." Paraphrased of course but the message is the same. What do you mean I said to myself? I never miss minyan! I am always here early and I always leave late. I learn Torah after I am done and I almost never speak during davening unless spoken to which I try to ignore if possible. I realized that my justifications were as long as the list of excuses why people don't come to minyan. This is when it hit me like a brick house. Am I really at minyan everyday? When my mind wanders to what I am going to do today or how I am going to finish a project am I really at minyan anymore? When I am in the middle of davening Shemoneh Esrei and I am thinking not about Gaal Yisroel or Shomeah Tefillah why does it matter that I'm here with a minyan. The Torah says that when you daven with a minyan even if your kavanah is weak, the collective brings your prayers to heaven. For all I know every absent member of the minyan davens with intense kavannah alone as I sit in shul complaining while my kavanah weakens.

This is just what the yetzer hara wants! He doesn't want me to work on my own davening, my own understanding of the prayers, and my own concentration and meditation. Such lofty thoughts make the yetzer hara sick to his stomach. So to divert me from any attempt at reaching such a level he will feed me lies of how I am at minyan everyday davening and how great I am for doing this and how could all these Yidden not come to shul. Once I realized this was happening I put a great deal of energy to repair this flaw in my soul. As I work on my davening it brings new appreciation of the ability to thank Hashem for bringing such blessing into my life. The blessing that I have had jobs that would let me daven and that I have a supportive wife would feels just as strongly about me davening with a minyan as I do. We haven't had a minyan since last Thursday and tomorrow could be a full week without hearing weekly Torah being read. Thank G-d though I have a passion for davening and a love for thanking G-d. This passion can be used for amazing things, but as you can see in my case it can also lead to much negativity.

My chevrusa and I will finish the first sefer of Mishneh Torah, Sefer HaMadda and begin the second book, Sefer Ahavah, which the Rambam's focuses on tefillah and the precepts which must be observed at all times if the love due to God is to be remembered continually. G-d willing, as I continue to learn and grow in my service of HaKadosh Baruch Hu I will learn to use my passion for the positive and to bring the Light of Torah and Emes into the world and with this help end this exile with the eminent redemption and the coming of Moshiach, Amen.

Shmiras Einayim - A 30 Day Program

The Left Side

The mezuzah belongs on the right which represents the positive, dominant aspect of things, specifically the right-hand side as we enter. The Zohar points out that as a result, as we leave the room the mezuzah is on our left - seemingly focusing our attention on the absence of holiness! Here is one understanding of this seeming paradox: As we enter our homes, where we have the ability to create a positive atmosphere of holiness, the mezuzah is on the positive side, the right, reminding us to "do good". As we move towards the street, where evil has sway, our main challenge is to "turn from evil". The mezuzah is found on our left side, where it can confront the negative challenges we face.

(Rabbi Asher Meir)

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Shrugging Off Compliments

Most don't know how to accept a compliment. Instead of graciously accepting it, they bashfully shrug it off.

The Sudilkover Rebbe explained that it is not proper not to accept a compliment. "Receiving is the biggest part of giving", he told me. If a person does not acknowledge his own nekudos tovos, he will be unable to appreciate the nekudos tovos of other people. Additionally, he will discourage the person giving him a compliment from complimenting other people in the future.

The Rebbe instructed me that if I received a compliment, that I should accept it warmly. Later, however, I could uplift the compliment by telling Hashem that I understood that that this person had only remarked about a gift or talent that He had given me. Responding like this, the Rebbe remarked, would be exhibiting true humility.

A New Angle

When a person is thinking about a Torah idea and wants to find a new angle he must go over the verse or the subject again and again. He must knock on the door persistently until it opens for him.

(Rebbe Nachman of Breslov)

Monday, July 13, 2009

Question & Answer With Rabbi Fishel Jacobs - Coercion?

A Simple Jew asks:

In the first epistle of Iggeres HaKodesh, the Alter Rebbe wrote,

“It is my intention to send spies secretly to all congregations to find out and to notify about anyone who has the ability and the time to worship at length and to meditate while at prayer, but is slothful. He shall be punished by estrangement, being distanced by both hands when he comes here to hear Chassidic teachings.”

Instead of motivating people with warmth and love, why do you think that the Alter Rebbe felt it necessary to resort to a tactic that some people may view as coercion in this case?

Rabbi Fishel Jacobs answers:

The following is my reply to this observation. Though, I would like to point out that it only represents my personal thoughts, not, for example, a researched response.

To understand this Iggeres HaKodesh, I think it's important to remember the time period. Of course, it was written by the Alter Rebbe, the founder of the Chabad movement. And, of course, the movement was in "infantile" growing mode. After all, that was the first generation of Chabad Chassidim.

In that context, it was the Alter Rebbe's necessary goal to grow the group. The followers needed to be educated in the proper way to pray, study, and serve Hashem. As we all know, there are different outlooks and aspirations to the Chassidic movement as compared to other schools of thought.

A primary emphasis is learning Chassidus and proper prayer.

In that light, I simply see this Iggeres Hakodesh having been enacted as a necessary tool. Simply to emphasize to the newly educated Chassidim the importance of slow, thoughtful and meaningful prayer.

Is there an element of coercion? Perhaps. But, isn't there an element of coercion in any educational atmosphere?

In school, principles pay surprise visits. And they can punish, (within guidelines).

The army, of course, uses surprise visits by officers to keep troops on guard.

In prisons, where I served for thirteen years as a chaplain, surprise visits after which sanctions could be imposed were a daily experience.

The rabbinate here in Eretz Yisroel generally uses the halachic concept of "yotzeh v'nichnos." That roughly translates as "a supervisor who can enter the premises unannounced." When we gave kashrut certificates in our kitchens we always used this halachic "tool." In broad terms it meant: "We trust your work. But, be careful. If our supervisor comes in and finds you straying from our guidelines, you will pay the consequences (maybe lose your certificate)."

I think one would be hard pressed to find an area in the human experience (from government audits, to medical school, to who knows where) where surprise visits are not found in order to keep people on their toes.

In that sense, and in the context of education, I think this Iggeres HaKodesh makes complete sense. For, after all, the Alter Rebbe, first and foremost was a leader and educator.

Punished For Accepting Without Checking

Adam was punished for having accepted his wife's urgings without checking... In the future when he would have to labor to secure his food supply he would know exactly where it comes from.

(Ohr HaChaim)

Friday, July 10, 2009

Question & Answer With Rabbi Dovid Sears - “Today I Have Given Birth To You”

(Picture courtesy of*)

A Simple Jew asks:

Shivchei HaRan #3 states:

“When he [Rebbe Nachman of Breslov] became bar mitzvah, his uncle, the holy Rabbi Ephraim of Sudilkov, called him and pronounced over him the verse, ‘Today I have given birth to you.’ (Tehillim 2:7). This speaks of the day a person becomes bar mitzvah, as discussed in the sacred literature. His uncle then spoke to him briefly regarding religious devotion, and these words were as dear to the Rebbe as finding a great treasure.”

Explaining the meaning behind this chapter of Tehillim, Reb Nosson of Breslov wrote the following in Likutey Halachos, Hilchos Milah 4:17-19:

"When a person genuinely desires to return to Hashem and to enter the realm of holiness with a perfect heart, every day and every hour he should contemplate that he was born today. He can strengthen his faith by binding himself to the holy tzaddikim. For they are filled with the spirit of Moshiach, of whom it is written, ‘Today I have given birth to you’ (op cit.). Forget the days and years that have passed. From now on, if you only live with this thought [of being newly born] at every moment, you will be worthy of true closeness to Hashem, and healing will come for all the days which passed. Everything will be transformed to good through complete teshuvah."

Do you think that the Degel Machaneh Ephraim was trying to convey this very message to Rebbe Nachman at his bar mitzvah?

Rabbi Dovid Sears answers:

The teaching you quoted from Reb Noson seems to be a spin-off on Rabbi Nachman’s words in Likkutei Moharan I, 272 (“HaYom Im B’Kolo Tishma’u”), which discusses living in the present moment and indirectly relates this to the Moshiach, who will come “today” – i.e., who personifies this quality.

As is known, a bar mitzvah bochur is comparable to a newborn child, because the Yetzer Tov/Good Inclination associated with the Nefesh Elokis, or Divine soul, only becomes internalized within him on this day. This means that now he can do things because of their inherent virtue, rather than just because he knows that such-and-such is the right thing to do, since his parents and teachers have told him so. He also has a new spiritual capacity for an altruism that previously had not existed for him. (The same thing applies to a girl on the day that she becomes a bas mitzvah, at age twelve.)

As for what the Degel had to say about this concept when he gave the Rebbe his blessing, we have really don’t know. The quote from Shivchei HaRan only states that the Degel invoked this verse from Tehillim. But there is another Breslover tradition that when the tzaddik Reb Nochum of Chernobyl first saw Rabbi Nachman, he commented that the Rebbe had "beautiful eyes" (Siach Sarfei Kodesh II, 237; also ibid. II, 239) -- which was said of Dovid HaMelekh, and which also might be a remez, or hint, to one of the attributes of the Moshiach. This would correspond to Reb Noson's teaching in Likkutei Halakhos, cited above, about living in the present moment being one of the qualities of the Moshiach. So your speculation might not be so far-fetched.

There’s another related teaching about this in Chayei Moharan 568. Reb Noson writes: “The Rebbe once remarked that he revived himself with the aspect of “I have given birth to you today!’ [This indicates that everything is “newborn,” every instant.] God will help us to skip over everything that ever happened to us, and He will reveal the truth at last. We will all return to God, and the former days will fall away; for all time will be nullified and will merge into the category of ‘beyond time,’ where everything is remedied.”

The “good eye” (which I think is synonymous with the concept of “beautiful eyes”) and the ability to live fully in the here and now actually go together. In Rebbe Nachman’s story of the “Seven Beggars,” the Blind Beggar is not really blind, but only appears this way from a materialistic point of view. In truth, he possesses the perfection of vision, which is spiritual vision, cosmic vision – and when the various elders in his story-within-a-story make their various claims about how far back they can remember, the Blind Beggar alone declares, “Ich gedenk gohrnisht . . . I remember Nothing!” -- by which he means the Primordial Nothing from whence all existence derives. That is, he has transcended past, present, and future to live in the “eternal present.” So the Blind Beggar is a sort of perpetual bar mitvah bochur, newborn in every moment.

This is the Blind Beggar’s “wedding gift” to the chosson and kallah in the Rebbe’s story. And as Reb Noson tells us in the section cited from Likkutei Halakhos, living vividly in the present is an avodah that we may all accomplish – and must accomplish – because it is our common destiny. This is how we can live a true life and a “good life,” and it is the Blind Beggar’s wondrous gift to us all.

* The picture above is a replica of the Baal Shem Tov's Shul in Medzhibuz where Rebbe Nachman was first called to the Torah on his Bar Mitzvah.

Azamra In Gan Eden

It is a mitzvah to offer mitigating arguments in defense of Adam and Eve, the creations of Hashem's hands.

(Minchas Elazar)

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Tefillin In Auschwitz

(Illustration by Jordan Krimstein)

Excerpt from Bar Mitzva & Tefillin Secrets:

These recollections were written by the author’s grandfather, HaGaon Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Meisels zt”l, the Weitzener Rav, author of the responsa works Mekad’shei Hashem and Binyan Tzvi.

Putting on Tefillin in Auschwitz

It was heartening sight to behold. Day after day, Yidden lined up to put on tefillin, reciting the berachah, happy to say the verse Shema Yisrael—in Auschwitz. They risked their lives, since the Germans would have clobbered to death anyone caught in the act.

It was a miracle that a pair of tefillin was there at all. The moment we arrived in Auschwitz our clothing and all our possessions were taken. Often we were frisked to see if we had stowed away anything that had escaped their scrutiny. Miraculously, we were still able to put on tefillin every day.

In Auschwitz, the capital of death, it was impossible to have emunah based on reason and logic. Nothing made sense. The only way we could bolster our faith was by putting on tefillin and accepting G-d’s sovereignty as expressed in the tefillin. People put their lives on the line for the mitzvah of tefillin because it restored their broken spirits. The tefillin reinforced their determination to continue to believe, though the things that occurred in Auschwitz were beyond comprehension.

Divine Concealment

Through the tefillin we remain bound to Hashem with unflagging emunah, trust, and faith. The tefillin inspire Yidden with valor and vigor to endure periods of Divine concealment, with the firm belief that Hashem will have mercy on them and “remove them from distress to relief.”

The Chasam Sofer offers a beautiful insight on the verse, “[Hashem said to Moshe,] ‘You will see My back, but My face may not be seen.’” (Shemos 33:25) Only after an event has passed, in retrospect, we can understand G-d’s reasons, recognize His wisdom, realize that things that seemed unfair were all for our good. But, “My face may not be seen”—we cannot fathom G-d’s ways while the event is taking place. Moshe Rabbeinu asked, “How will the Yidden come through the long galus when Hashem’s Face is completely hidden?” G-d showed him the tefillin-knot at the back of His head, indicating that even in the darkest galus—yes, even in Auschwitz—Yidden will put on tefillin.

This clarifies the Gemara in Megillah 16b which says that Haman prohibited the Jews from putting on tefillin. Why did he pick this particular mitzvah? He knew that the tefillin would help the Jewish people endure even in times of the greatest concealment of Divine guidance. In the merit of the mitzvah of tefillin, they would be saved from his tyranny.

Living Like a Jew … Dying Like a Jew

When we davened and put on tefillin in Auschwitz, the non-observant Jews watched and admired us—but they were not stirred to do teshuvah. Only when they were forced to take their final journey they would say, “I know that I did not live like a Yid, but I am happy to die al kiddush Hashem as a Yid.”

Often I was told by secular Jews, “If I knew that I would die tomorrow, I would do teshuvah, but I know that I cannot keep it up for a long time.”

The Sages (Shabbos 153a) tell such a person: “Repent one day before you die.” Repent today, since you may die tomorrow. Don’t think that you’ll have to live according to the Torah for a long time; instead, consider tomorrow to be your last day. That way, you will spend your whole life in teshuvah.

Salvation and Hope

The Gemara in Menachos 44a says that whoever puts on tefillin will live long. The Rosh in Hilchos Tefillin declares: I certify that whoever puts on tefillin, Gehinnom will have no power over him.

Auschwitz surely was Gehinnom. We cherished the mitzvah of tefillin, for it protected us, assured us of long life—and would save us from the agonies of Gehinnom.

The arm-tefillin is placed first on our left arm, the weaker arm, indicating that we are powerless, unable to achieve anything by ourselves. Once we place all our trust in Hashem, we need no longer fear our enemies. We can then put on the head tefillin, regarding which it is written, “Then all the nations of the world will realize that the name of Hashem is associated with you and they will be in awe of you.”

In Auschwitz we were captives, incapable of doing anything to save ourselves. Our trust in Hashem was our only source of strength. Our treasured tefillin alluded to the helpless situation we were in—and inspired us with hope for a speedy liberation.