Wednesday, September 30, 2009

What Is Going On Behind The Scenes?

On Erev Yom Kippur, after receiving the Sudilkover Rebbe’s brocha, I began to devote the majority of my “free time” to a new project that I pray will serve as a great source of chizuk to others.

The more that I work on this project, the more my ratzon to complete it increases. Unfortunately, with this increased ratzon, my ratzon to continue blogging has decreased. I honestly believe that the whole purpose of my “A Simple Jew” blog was to develop my knowledge, writing skills, and contact network to the point where I could take on this new project. In a sense, my last five years of blogging has served as a springboard for this project.

I certainly do not intend to pull the plug on my blog with this posting; just to inform my readers why my postings have been more sparse recently.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Guest Posting By Rabbi Perets Auerbach - “In the Wilderness”

(Picture by P. Gillet)

Bamidbar” (“in the wilderness”) is the name of an entire book of the Chumash (Pentateuch). The Torah was given specifically in a wilderness, away from civilization. Fields, forests, and mountains share this quality, but each one has its special nuance that makes the practice of hitbodedut in it have a unique taste.

“For Dovid, in the wilderness of Yehudah” (Psalms 63:1). “If only I had wings, I would distance... I would stay over in the wilderness, selah” (ibid. 55:8). Dovid HaMelech wandered through the wilderness expressing his longing for God in hitbodedut. What is its special quality?

The city at night is empty after a day of the masses pursuing materialism. Their “somethingness (yeshut)” is embedded in the sidewalk and lingers on. Fields, valleys, and forests are full even at night with sparks, light, and souls in the grass, trees, and flowers. The unique quality of the wilderness is that it is devoid of all of this. It is accordingly the best setting in which to attain bitul (nullification of ego). With not even positive energetic distractions, one is left to dig within and face himself. From this to nullify ego and sprout, flower, and blossom from amidst surrounding desolation into inclusion in the Ein Sof (Infinite One). Dovid HaMelech appreciated this so much that he was happy to abandon his royal accommodations in order to have the special Divine communion that only the ‘unfriendly’ wilderness provides.

In Rabbi Nachman’s story, “The Lost Princess,” the Viceroy follows a side-path through forests, fields, and wildernesses in search of the Lost Princess. Tefilah (prayer) is a quest of searching for the Shechinah (Divine Presence), which represents the sefirah of Malchut (“Kingship”). It catapults the soul to Keter (“Crown”), the ultimate source of Malchut.

“Triple-header.” Keter expresses through three heads: RaD”LA (“Unknowable Head”), Atik (“Primordial One”), and Arich Anpin (“Vast Countenance”). Arich, from which arises our deepest feeling of yearning, is called the “root of the emanated.” One connects to it through yearning – through “tree-hitbodedut” in the forest. Atik, which is the root of delight (oneg), is the “end of the Supernal Emanator.” One links to it through meditation in the delightful “field of holy apples” (another symbol for the sefirah of Malchut/Kingship). RaD”LA, which is related to bitul, remains aloof. One accesses it through hitbodedut in the wilderness–the place of complete ego-nullification.

The seder ha-hishtalshelut is the order of the worlds. The Divine flow is transmitted below through this order. In Rabbi Nachman’s story, the Master of Prayer would entice people to leave material pursuits and go after spirituality. He would take them out of civilization. Civilization is a metaphor for the seder ha-hishtalshelut. The ultimate meaning of taking them “outside of civilization” is that he would take them outside the seder ha-hishtalshelut. They would beat the system. “Mesirat nefesh iz gohr andererish—giving up one’s life is something completely different.” That is, one who puts his entire self into spiritual pursuit and gives everything for it accesses the light that surrounds all worlds. This light jumps past the order (hishtalshelut) and is a direct gift from God, coming without any intermediaries. It affords special closeness. It is reserved for those who are totally dedicated.

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:

Thursday, September 24, 2009

5770 = שְׁעַת

Last night, the Sudilkover Rebbe told me that 5770 (תש"ע) will a year in which Hashem will express His rachamim (compassion) and ratzon (desire). He explained that this is hinted to in the fact that the letters that make up this year תש"ע can be rearranged into the word שְׁעַת that is found in the tefilla of Avinu Malkeinu:

אָבִינוּ מַלְכֵּנוּ תְּהֵא הַשָּׁעָה הַזּאת שְׁעַת רַחֲמִים וְעֵת רָצון מִלְּפָנֶיךָ

Without Understanding - Selichos

I understand very little of what I am saying with the Selichos that I recite each morning. As I am saying them, one part of me tells me that my time would be better spent if I recited the entire Sefer Tehillim that day instead. Yet, I know that saying Selichos during this time period is what I am supposed to do and that avoda that I am supposed to engage in.

Ultimately, it is not about what "I" want to do, rather what Hashem wants me to do that is important.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Rabbi Itche Meyer Morgenstern: Explorations In Tanya

“I speak, however, of those who know me well...”

As explained earlier, any person who believes in the holiness of the tzaddik has a connection to him and these words are meant for him. It is especially clear that one is a student of the Baal HaTanya if he feels the deep G-dly light that is imbued in his works. One who grasps the inner holiness of Torah without love, fear, and dveikus through the Da’as afforded by this holy work can be sure that his soul is deeply connected to the author.

The fact that the Baal HaTanya reveals a dual path of entering the avodah of toiling in serving Hashem while at the same time feeling the light of the unity of Hashem is alluded to in the Baal HaTanya’s name, שני-אור, which can also be read as “two lights” or a dual illumination. Of course, when the Tanya discusses the aspect of toil, this is also included in the light of the yichud.

On a simple level, the Baal HaTanya wrote in his great humility that this was merely a work for those who were close to him. But on a deeper level, this is because there are some great souls who do not follow the path of the Baal HaTanya. Rav Avraham Kalisker did not hold like the Baal HaTanya, for example. In addition, the entire path of Slonim in Chassidus is not like the way of the Baal HaTanya. Many great luminaries held that the Baal HaTanya was mistaken. These greats argued on the entire pathway of revealing the depths of Torah in this manner, even citing as proof that the Maggid had taught that the Mishnah that one whose wisdom exceeds his deeds ultimately loses his wisdom also refers to developing too much Chochmah in Chassidus.

This opinion is the path of those neshamos that are rooted in judgment, such as the Be’er Mayim Chaim, a student of the Maggid of Zlotchov who was also rooted in judgment. [Rav Michel Zlotchover died while singing a melody of his own composition during the third meal of Shabbos.] He explained the Talmudic dictum that one who does not understand the laws of divorce and marriage should not administer them metaphorically. One must first master the subject of “divorce,” that is how to distance evil, before one can focus on doing good.

Of course, these are completely valid paths in avodas Hashem, since they hold that a person first build his spiritual level before focusing on understanding the depths of Torah. According to these greats, one should only learn that which is really suited to him. But the focus of the Baal HaTanya—like Beis Hillel explained above—is to shine the light of G-dliness into a person even if he is still in an aspect of mochin d’katnus, of immature and constricted consciousness. The reason for this is similar to the Talmudic axiom that a little light dispels a great deal of darkness. This path of teaching wisdom even to small neshamos is rooted in the side of Chessed.

Monday, September 21, 2009


I have resolved that this one word, comprised of just three letters, is going to be the focus of my avodas Hashem for 5770. I have rushed over the word אתה so many times, whether it was in the siddur, machzor, Tehillim, or in the brochos that I say each day, that it is questionable whether my davening at times was truly davening or just the rote recitation of some Hebrew formulaic phrases.

Beginning with the new year, I have made it a practice to slow down anytime I encounter this word and ensure that I am directing my thoughts and speech to the Ribbono shel Olam. It is my sincere hope that by doing this that my kavana and deveykus will increase significantly over the course of the next year; allowing me to come even just a small step closer to shleimus hatefilla (perfected prayer).

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Please Help Eizer L'Shabbos Before Rosh Hashana

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

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Guest Posting By Michoel - Tikkun Yuck

There is an old minhag to have a rosh keves (ram's head) on the table on the first night of Rosh Hashana and to say the yehi ratzon when we eat from it. In the US, the very prevalent minhag is to be yotzei with a fish head, for those that even do all the simanim. I was surprised to hear recently from a friend that the only siman he does is the tapuach with d’vash and he says that he thinks most people do only that. Feh! We go all out. My wife was m’chadesh a few recipes that she only makes Rosh Hashana for the purpose of saying yehi ratzon’s on them and we say them with hislavus.

Anyway, the highlight of our tish is a Rosh Keves. I started buying one soon after we had children. My original impetus was simply that I wanted to keep the minhag in the most authentic way. Being a baal t’shuvah, I didn’t really have a mesora one way or the other so we took on this minhag (bli neder). But another kavana in buying it is what I call Tikkun Yuck. (it has nothing to do with Rebbi Nachman zt”l). Tikkun Yuck has to do with purging “Yuck” from my kids (and my own) personalities. Yuck is an American musag that I consider antithetical to true Yiddishkeit. We don’t kasher beef, we don’t work the land, we don’t even see blood on chickens that often. We sit in front of our PC screens and live highly sanitized lives. I consider it spiritually unhealthful. We should be in touch with ourselves and the world around us. We shouldn’t be so terrified of getting dirty and doing hard physical work. There is something about seeing the head of an animal sitting there on the table, with empty eye sockets, buck teeth, skull showing and gooey membranes that stretch out when you pull off a piece with your fork, that helps straighten out a person’s thinking.

There is another aspect of modern America that I am trying to fix in my kids. It is the perverted idea that killing animals for food is not nice. What shtus! And this ties into all the other nicey-nice wacky hashkafos that leak into the frum community. I want to get across to my kids and myself that we need not be so hypersensitive. We need to live with a little azus d’k’dusha. Animals are here for us to use al pi Torah. An Ish is an Ish, A Yid is a Yid, v’chulu, v’chulu. I don’t want my kids to be wimpy Jews. And the severed head of an animal, something that was commonplace in earlier times, helps to knock out some of that hypersensitivity.

In days before Yom Tov, our very frum block becomes something of a carnival. One family with a fig tree has their kids running around giving all the neighbors fresh figs to make a she’hechiaynu on, wives borrowing last minute cooking items from each other, some people beginning to put up their succos. So in the middle of all this, our rosh keves has become one of the central “tourist attractions”. Kids from the block know that they can come in and chop a peek at “the head”.

So far I am not certain that my tikkun yuck is actually accomplishing what I intended. My kids seem more or less on the same level in these inyanim as their friends. I am not even sure that it is accomplishing what I want in myself and my wife. But one thing I do know for sure. It’s geshmack.

A chasiva v’chasima tova by the blog owner, readership and all the Yidden.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Guest Posting By Rabbi Y.Y. Bar-Chaiim - Beyond Satan

“We blow the Shofar for an entire month before Rosh Hashana– right?” I asked the kids, with a suspicious twinkle, during one pre-Rosh HaShana Shabbos meal.

"Na-uh!" a few quickly corrected me, glad to catch my all too typical mistake from the outset.

“Alright, alright" I groan, pretending to mope for losing that round. "So we blow it every weekday morning throughout the month of Elul and then, on the last day, suddenly stop. WHY is that?”

“Oh, that’s eeeasy,” squeal all five in unified, contagious enthusiasm as they vie for getting first shot at the answer.

“Okay sweetheart,” I say to my seven-year-old girl, getting her all excited to become the leader of the pack.

“Because we want to m'arbev es HaSatan,” she bellows triumphantly, quoting a famous statement from the Sages. It means to mix-up the force of evil.

“Very nice. Now, how does that actually work?" I surprise them with my determination to get to the bottom of this fairytale-ish tradition.

“OH, OH... I KNOW!”

I nod to my pensive looking ten-year-old son.

“Well, when we blow the Shofar we’re trying to arouse ourselves do t’shuva (spiritual return; repentance), and so the Satan becomes worried that we just might succeed!"

"Yes, yes, go on…"

"Well, eh, I mean, when he sees us get all this help then he works exxxxtra hard at distracting us. But when we stop with that help, then he loses interest.”

“Aha. I see. Pretty good," I respond, pedantically. Then, after noting that they're thoroughly off their intellectual guards, I zoom in for the jugular. "So tell me, kids: We do this every year. Doesn’t he ever catch on?!”

Giggle, giggle, giggle.

“Nu, Dovidy. What do you think?”

My youngest, our sweet little five-year-old, scrunches up his face and ponders. “Mmm, ummm. Well... eh… that’s just how Hashem MAKES him!”

The giggles now become loud chuckles. They apparently like the idea of the big bad guy a buffoon.

“What do you mean, Dovidl? Hashem makes His k'neged (adversary) stupid?!”

“No, NO!” he fervently protests.

The entire family now bursts out in laughter. Not at but with him. He's so right. How dare we flaunt our faith when there are real forces out there bent on puncturing it. At the same time I've got a very real and holy agenda brewing here. My kids must understand that Torah life is not some sort of mythical mumbo jumbo about one-upping a nefarious other.

"Okay, okay. So let’s try again. What I'm asking is that if there's really a big bad guy out to get us, why doesn't he catch on that every year we trick him the same way?

Our little yiddle now straightens up, determined to meet the challenge:

“Isn't it, like, well, with all malachim (heavenly messengers), that he can only do one thing at a time?"

"Yes, I guess so …"

"So maybe Hashem made him so that he can only hurt us when we blow the Shofar but he has nothing to do when we're not blowing it. It's not that he's stupid but bored! That's why we have to be extra careful when we sneak it in on the chag (holy day) to do it just at the right time, fast and good, because if he gets re-interested before we're finished he's gonna really hurt us!”

Whew. The laughter has subsided. The kid is talking straight.

“Alright, Dovidy," I finally respond. "That makes a lot of sense. But now I’ve got a really BIG kasha (query)............ ready?”

All eyes are riveted. The motors of curiosity are revved up as I'm finding myself feeling nice and proud about having successfully prepared my kids to learn the unvarnished, anticlimactic halachic (legal) truth that the "real" reason not to blow on Erev Rosh Hashana is in order to distinguish between tekios d'reshus u'd'chova, blasts that are optional and those that are obligatory (Shulchan Aruch 581:3).

“If the main thing the evil one’s looking for," I now sing out with a rabbinic lilt and upturned thumb," is to keep us from doing tshuva upon hearing the loud cry of the shofar, and the whole point about diverting his attention before Judgment Day is to hush up our tshuva… well then, what on earth are we doing crying out, with all our might, the longest Slichos (supplication prayers) of the year on that day?!"

Ha. Got 'em!

My ten-year-old girl, the twin of the pensive son, suddenly rockets up her hand. She seems oddly calm. There's an eerie energy emanating from within her, as if I can't NOT call on her. In all honesty, though, I'd rather not. I'm afraid she's going to spoil my fun…

“Well, it's really quite simple," she begins, on her own initiative. "It’s like having two kids. They each want to give a present to their Abba. The first saves all her pennies and buys him a nice pen. The second takes a pencil and paper and draws him a picture. Nothing particularly outstanding. But it’s from her heart. Which do you think he’ll like best?”

“Hmm. Okay, let me guess," I offer indulgently. "The Abba would like both, equally. Because everyone gave what he could."

“NO!” she bellows emphatically, barely concealing her holy glee. “The Abba will appreciate the second one most. Know why?"

Well, quite frankly – no.

"I'll tell you. Because the first, as nice as it is, can never be something he couldn’t get himself. But the second comes purely from the heart. Nothing on the outside to speak of; just a desire to say ‘I love you’. That’s a gift he could NEVER get on his own! So, too, the shofar and Slichos. The shofar is the pen and Slichos is the drawing…"


I'm blown away. Literally speechless. All the kids notice and smile from ear to ear. They beat Abba at his game! In the meantime I keep staring at this little chachama (sage) to see if she’s serious.

She is!


I jump up and give her the biggest hug. She has done exactly what she was speaking about: given her Abba a tremendous gift!

Ever since then, for about ten years now (the picture above is of "little" Dovidy this year), this truth has perennially impressed me; haunting in its beauty, shaming in its simplicity. This year, however, in light of my delving into a couple of related halachos, the message has sunk in especially deep.

For one, the Rema brings down that those whose custom is to fast a combination of ten days in preparation for Yom Kippur (starting on the first day of Slichos and skipping over the two days of Rosh Hashana and Shabbos) should begin it from the time they sleep until the end of the day except on Erev Rosh Hashana – which should begin only from alos ha'shachar, dawn. That is, they should get up before dawn and drink something. The reason, says the Rema, is in order to not imitate chukkas ha'amim, the superstitious ways of the nations who make a point of doing major fasts before their holy days. Furthermore, such pietists shouldn't worry about making up the lost fast-hours; this one duly qualifies as a whole fast (Haga on Shulchan Aruch 581:2, and commentaries).

The second halachic issue is with the Mishna Berura which informs us that the prohibition against shofar blowing on Erev Rosh Hashana does not apply to individuals who need to practice for tekios d'chova. Nevertheless, in deference to the tradition about the Satan, we should refrain from practicing in the synagogue, and some say it should only be within a closed room (Mishna Berura 582: 3, s.k. 24).

Now I ask – could it be that the all-threatening Accuser doesn't see behind closed doors?? And if we're serious about preventing him from making a case against our superficial tshuva, what in the world are we doing legislating a partial fast as a substitute for a full one??

Indeed. The point is that genuine tshuva is not dependent on external actions, whatsoever. Neither the tekios nor the fasts nor any other behavioral mitzvahs are going to do it – no matter how long and loud. Their job is merely to prepare us; indispensably so, but still mere preparation for something that must occur deep inside.

It's called tshuva pnimi, inner repentance; the kind that produces a unique divine gift – a "drawing" straight from the heart.

Slichos, especially on Erev Rosh Hashana, is one of the segulos, blessed means we have for entering that straight-hearted, divine gift world. When we do so, our Father above undoubtedly responds with the greatest of Hugs. And when we respond to that Hug – UNbelievable! – in there lies our salvation. As the Psamist says and we repeat twice daily throughout the holyday season (Psalm 27): "Hashem is my light and my salvation, from whom shall I fear?"

My light = that Hug.

My salvation = the hug we give back.

The "whom" we shall no longer fear = the big bad guy.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Rabbi Itche Meyer Morgenstern: Traveling To A Tzaddik

Rebbe Nachman writes in Likutei Moharan: “Know that one must travel to the tzaddik to seek what he has lost. Before a person enters the world, he is shown and taught everything he needs to do in his Divine serve and everything that he must grasp during his sojourn in this world. But the moment he enters the atmosphere of this world he immediately forgets everything. Now, forgetting is an aspect of a lost object, as we see from the way our sages describe a forgetful person: ‘Quick to hear and quick to lose.’ It is our task to search for what we have mislaid. The tzaddik of the generation searches for what he has lost until he finds it. He then begins to search out what others have mislaid and finds their ‘lost objects’ as well. For this reason one must go to the wise man to search for and recognize what he has lost so that he can recover it.

“However, the tzaddik does not restore lost objects to their claimant until he checks the seeker to ensure that he is not a lying trickster. As our sages learn from the verse: 'עַד דְּרֹשׁ אָחִיךָ אֹתוֹ, וַהֲשֵׁבֹתוֹ לוֹ'—“And [the object] shall be with you until your brother require it [literally, ‘until you investigate your brother’] and you shall restore it to him’—the object will remain with you until you have checked carefully to ensure that your brother is not a fraud.’”

The meaning of Rebbe Nachman’s words is that every Jew comes to the world to prepare and grasp his proper spiritual inheritance through serving Hashem. But since he lost what he was taught [in the womb, and even later; that is, his spiritual direction and deep connection, it is as though he had lost] a part of his neshamah. But he can recover it by going to the tzaddik. However, the tzaddik can only restore what each person has lost in accordance with how connected he is to the tzaddik. One can only connect to the tzaddik inasmuch as he sanctifies his limbs and sinews. When a person is not careful to sanctify himself, he is filled with doubts about the tzaddik until he [either does teshuvah or] incites controversy against the tzaddik. [Of course, this takes time and there are many levels to sanctifying oneself, but at the very least one must wish to attain holiness with his entire heart. As Rebbe Nachman writes, if one yearns to be “absorbed” by the holiness of the tzaddik he will merit this, but if not then he is not truly close to the tzaddik.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Guest Posting By Chabakuk Elisha - Ratzo V'Shov To Lubavitch

A hirhur teshuva is a common thing; it’s that feeling that I should improve and stop doing what I know is wrong. We all have them, but what’s interesting is that they’re selective – there are many things that I don’t feel the slightest bit guilty about while other things I am consciously regretful for. For example, it’s a universally accepted halacha, cited by the Beis Yosef and the Rema, that we must never go a moment without a conscious recognition of G-d’s presence. Yet, I dare say that a very high percentage of religious people have moments that pass without this conscious focus on Hashem – and nevertheless there is seldom a hirhur teshuva for this. The reason is simply because this is something that we consider beyond us.

There is little regret for things that we don’t think we can do – each person on their own level. One person may feel terrible that he didn’t go to shul on Yom Kippur, but it doesn’t bother him that he doesn’t keep Shabbos – because to him attending shul on Yom Kippur is something that he knows he can do, while keeping Shabbos is something that he can’t imagine; it’s beyond him. Someone else may feel guilty for speaking during davening, but he isn’t heartbroken that he transgresses the issur of bittul Torah many times throughout the day. There are things we don’t even consider possible, so they don’t show up on the hirhur teshuva radar.

So what does get the teshuva bells ringing? Things that we know we can achieve. In fact, anything that we feel a hirhur teshuva for is, by definition, something that we can definitely achieve. We know it – that’s why we feel remorse. It’s a simple truth that if we are remorseful then it’s clearly within our conscious ability to achieve, and therefore, with this knowledge we should feel empowered to overcome the obstacles that we place in front of ourselves to improving. We just need to employ that empowerment and we’re most of the way there – and I’ll tell you what I mean:

A Simple Jew asked me why it was that I left and returned to Lubavitch. It’s hard to answer such a question, because the answer is only going to focus on specific elements, when, in truth, there are always many reasons why things happen or develop – but I’ll try anyway. Life is a journey – no doubt about it – and while we weave in and out of traffic, we’re homeward bound; the question is: Where is home?

I grew up with a Lubavitcher identity – we davened in a Chabad shul; I attended a Chabad Cheder, came to the Rebbe, learned some Chabad Chassidus, etc. But in my teenage years I drifted away from Chabad and joined a different group, becoming a chossid of a different Rebbe. It was around 1990, and for various reasons Lubavitch had lost its appeal to me. I felt this strange feeling that by moving away from Chabad I had joined the rest of Klal Yisroel – probably because in Lubavitch there was a strong “us vs. them” mentality that created a sense of exclusiveness and isolation. In many ways it was like a breath of fresh air, and I still remember the feeling. Everything seemed new and exciting – the different attitudes, pronunciations, minhagim, stories, histories, clothing, ideas, points of view, you name it. I had joined a small group and I enjoyed it. My friends and peers were great there; the community was very appealing and the Rebbe was a very special man – what more could you ask for?!

Time passed and things became stale. I got married and struggled. Sure, the people were great; the Rebbe was special; the community nice. But I couldn’t help but be bothered by this little voice that gave me no rest – it continuously whispered in the recesses of my brain, “Is this all there is? Shouldn’t there be something more? I grew a more demoralized and more cynical as time went on. I moved away and was going about my life very much in tune with a bumper-sticker that I once saw: “Life is what happens while you’re busy doing other things.”

I had fully realized that I was going nowhere; even worse, I didn’t even think I was capable of getting anywhere. I felt that, although I was in my early twenties, I would never be able to “be a contender.” Everyone else seemed to have a better head, everyone else knew more, everyone else was more successful, they were better husbands, they were better people, they were more inspired, they were more ‘tuned in.” Me? Well, I was a living dead man on a road to nowhere.

By this time I had two children. I really had remorse – I didn’t think I was capable of doing anything meaningful with my life in the first place. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t wallowing in self-pity or anything like that – I was just out of the running. But one day I said to myself that I have to do something about the situation. I needed to at least try to have a relationship with G-d, and so I made a decision:

I decided to move back to New York and try to get into the fast lane; attend shiurim; daven more often with minyan; try to focus – to give it my all and see where it goes. I undertook to give it a year. For one year I would throw myself full-force into being the best Jew I could be. If by the end of the year I would feel that I was getting somewhere then I’d be a new man. But if at the end of the year I still felt like I had gotten nowhere, and felt no joy or relationship with Hashem, then obviously I wasn’t made of the material to make it and it’s simply not for me.

It wasn’t an easy year. I began with Rosh Hashana, but by Purim I still felt like I was putting in energy with no return. I made sure to stay the course and keep my commitment to try to “hear the music” but I was beginning to think that it wasn’t going to work – soon Pesach was on the horizon. Half a year had passed.

Now, it was about 7 years since I had left Lubavitch. I don’t know if I had even thought about Lubavitch for ages at that point. I was sitting there in my shul next to a friend of mine who liked Chabad and I asked him about something that had come up:

My boss had invited us to eat with his family for Acharon Shel Pesach. But, he said, I should be aware that they don’t eat gebrokhts (matza that comes in contact with a liquid) even on the last day. Now, as far as I knew, everybody ate gebrokhts on Acharon Shel Pesach, so I asked him why, and he said: “Because it’s illogical. If gebrokhts is a problem on Pesach, it should be equally avoided on the last day. So, while my parents and grandparents may have done so, I don’t – as you’re allowed to be stricter than your parents – so we added this chumra on our own.”

It didn’t sit well with me. I knew the general reasons why most people eat gebrokhts on the eighth day, but they weren’t compelling – something bothered me about this added chumra. So, there I was. I mentioned the matter to a friend of mine sitting there in shul, and he reached into his pocket and handed me a sicha from the Lubavitcher Rebbe that he had just been learning about this specific question. Aside from my amazement at this unlikely occurrence, I was excited by the analysis of the matter – and the message that the Rebbe emphasized in it, basically:

On Pesach we are being transformed from slaves to free men, and we begin on the lowest rung - the 49th level of impurity - with the goal of refining ourselves to the point where we can receive the Torah on Shavuos – and being as we are on that low level, we are at great risk of being damaged as we are still as yet unable to refine by leavened products, thus, we abstain from all chometz.

Gebrokhts is an added stringency – lifnei meshuras hadin – signifying our seriousness about avoiding the risk of chometz at this precarious time. However, once we reach Acharon Shel Pesach we have completed the first set of sefira (the sefira of chesed), and we’re out of the most serious danger. Now, while we outside of the land of Israel still must avoid chometz for another day, the risk is far lessened – therefore we eat Kosher L’Pesach food prepared in other people’s homes and lessen many of the added stringencies that were maintained until this point – as we are now more capable of elevating this food – and therefore gebrokhts is not the issue it was. And, what’s more, since we are capable of elevating this food, a sincere person is obligated to take part in this avoda – and not disregard this ability granted to us by G-d in completing our mission in this world.

The sicha hit me just right at the right time, and I was immediately overwhelmed by a deep desire to return to Chabad. From that day on I began to go through sicha after sicha, maamar after maamar and sefer after sefer of Chabad Chassidius. It didn’t take that long and I was a Lubavitcher again (albeit, perhaps not a typical one), and things very quickly began to change for me. I began to enjoy every mitzvah. Worlds opened up for me. A few minutes with a sefer became my greatest pleasure – It was like the lights went on. It was amazing to me that I had once felt so alienated and lost.

That was ages ago, almost 15 years, and while life still has its challenges, the empowerment and joy that Chabad gives me is what keeps me going. And while I know that all is not perfect in Lubavitch, nevertheless, as the saying goes: “Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home.”

Friday, September 04, 2009

Rabbi Itche Meyer Morgenstern: Parshas Ki Savo

The holy Zohar writes: “Who is the face of the Shechinah? Rashbi — Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai.” In Likutei Moharan, Rebbe Nachman writes — and Reb Nosson elaborates on this in Likutei Halachos — that one’s main spiritual work is to connect to true tzaddikim. This is actually just the fulfillment of the very beginning of Shulchan Aruch:"שויתי ה' לנגדי תמיד שהוא כלל גדול בתורה ובמעלת הצדיקים אשר הולכים לפני האלקים"—“’I have placed Hashem before me always’ is a fundamental principle of Torah and it is an essential element of the greatness of the tzaddikim who go before Hashem…” As the Gra explains it: "וזה כל מעלת הצדיקים" –““This is the entire greatness of the tzaddikim.”

In this light, the Degel Machaneh Ephraim explains the verse in our parshah, "והיו חייך תלאים לך מנגד ופחדת יומם ולילה ולא תאמין בחייך"—“Your life will hang in suspense. Day and night, you will be so terrified that you will not believe that you are alive.” The word teluim [תלאים] means ‘hanging.’ the Degel explains: If the Source of all life [חי החיים] is always “suspended” before you, then you will merit fear of heaven by day and night, and you will not believe in your life—you will not place your faith in your own power to sustain your life. You will realize your dependence on Hashem and the influence of His tzaddikim.

"Staggering Social Pressure"

A Diet Anti-Zionist Living In Israel commenting on A Conversation About Zionism & Anti-Zionism :

My understanding of what Chabakuk Elisha said was that the medinah should be accepted because Hashem has sent it here and therefore it must be His will. Now this is an interesting theory. I am not sure I agree with it either, since a kanay (anti-Zionist) would reply that if a plague broke out, chas v'shalom, this shows us all that Hashem wants us to daven and work in whatever way we can to be healed, not to accept it as Hashem's will that people be killed.

The Gemara tells us that those who cause others to sin are worse than those who kill them physically. How many children speak flawless Hebrew but have never even HEARD of Shema Yisrael or virtually anything else that is relevant to Torah? Many many thousands. Do these children even feel that there is anything truly wrong with marrying non-Jews?

In any event, Rav Wolbe said that Rav Kook held that the medinah was a necessary stage towards the ultimate redemption since when the non religious mingle with the religious for long enough in the holy land, they will surely be drawn to keep Torah and mitzvos. (Halevai!) So this is not a necessary evil as much as one of the stages of the redemption. It is similar to a moth which must molt before it finally finds its wings.

If this is true the strongest questions of the kanayim do not apply.

Rav Wolbe pointed out that most of the Gedolei Yisrael held that this was unrealistic and incorrect. Quite the contrary, they held that the chilonim will be a force that will need to be reckoned with, since even very religious and connected Jews will have to work assiduously to ensure that they or their children are not influenced by the anti-religious here.

Unfortunately, we see that even those who are religiously observant here in Israel either move to the right or fall to the left by dropping mitzvos as a result of the staggering social pressure applied by the anti-religious here.

What can we say about those who are not religious? Most Gedolei Yisrael held that helping the non-religious is predicated mostly on the avodah of those who do know better, since all Jews are really one and if I move closer to Hashem, I move everyone else a bit closer too. Only teshuvah en mass will really help those of us who are most distant return.

Hashem should help all of His children do teshuva m'ahava in this most holy month!

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Anne & Sue - Redux

"Why do I have to deal with this nonsense!?", Anne thought to herself. Her strained relationship with Sue had not improved all that much over the past two years despite her repeated attempts to remain on friendly terms.

Anne's answer came late on afternoon when her realtor sent her a text message, "News flash! They are going to send you an offer soon."

This "they" referred to Sue's sister and brother-in-law who wanted to move into the neighborhood to be closer to their family. Anne and her husband had been trying to sell their house and move for many months so this news could not have come at a more welcome time.

Settlement day came and all the papers were signed. Anne then understood that there was a reason why Sue had been placed in her life and why she had to endue what she had to endure.

Sue was Anne's key out of the neighborhood and onto to the next stage in her life.

Uman Emergency Clinic

(Click on image above)

"Surely, the introducer must have had me tested and evaluated..."

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

וְהָיָה כְּעֵץ שָׁתוּל עַל-פַּלְגֵי-מָיִם

A tall tree weakens and then comes crashing to the ground - missing a house by only a few feet.

All of the sparks of holiness have been uplifted; in this location, none remain.

The house's owner understands; he too is a tree.

After almost a decade, he must be planted in a new place where he can anchor himself into soil that continually nourishes and strengthens him.

12 Elul Links - יב אלול