Jun 10, 2017

Purity is not Focus

I started reading the book based on Rabbi Noach Weinberg's famous 48 Ways classes and stopped when I got annoyed with the "purity" chapter.

Rabbi Weinberg developed a curriculum on the mishna in Pirkei Avos which lists the 48 ways needed to acquire Torah. But, as I agree with Rabbi Dovid Orlofsky, the mishna refers exclusively to acquiring Torah, while R' Weinberg uses it as way to wisdom and success in life in general. So his class on tahara is used to discuss focus,which is definitely not what tahara is about! He lost me there ...

Jun 9, 2017

What Sort of Virtues?

Slovie Wolff wonders whether parents these days are producing kids with "resume virtues" instead of giving them "eulogy virtues."

By that she means, many parents seek to provide their children with numerous extra-curricular activities (music, sports, art, martial arts) to broaden their experiences, develop their talents, and ultimately, look good good on their college resumes. But none of those activities are important, in and of themselves.

Rather, parents should be cultivating children who are idealistic, who want to make a positive difference in the world, who see a need and rise to the occasion and fill it.

She was addressing a general Jewish readership on Aish.com. The same applies to those who are religiously observant. Resume virtues for shidduchim include which great schools the boy/girl attended, which camps, and for girls - if they were the heads of anything in school or had prestigious jobs in camp.

Eulogy virtues would include middos tovos, erlichkeit, ahavas Yisrael.

I sometimes read tributes-obituaries in the Jewish paper and am amazed by the wonderful people we had among us, with eulogy virtues that include things like devotion to family, devotion to G-d, and kindness for fellow Jews.

May 30, 2017

About Henny Machlis a"h

I haven't even gotten halfway through the book and I'm writing a review. I've written about Henny Machlis before, here because the author of the book, Sara Yoheved Rigler, wrote articles about her on Aish.com years ago.

Rigler is an excellent writer and the subject of this book is a Brooklyn girl who went to Central and grew up modern-frum as most religious American Jews did in the 60's. But she wanted more and she undertook more careful observance of mitzvos. It's her personality though, her love for Jews, her ability to make anyone feel comfortable, her "good eye" that saw only good in people, that comes across most powerfully.

Even if we are not like Henny in personality, which I'm not, we can all adopt some aspects of her good middos. Whether it came easy for her or not, and some things she worked on, it wasn't all a gift, we can stretch, as she did, to do chesed and serve Hashem.

May 29, 2017

If It Feels Good

In Inyan magazine #952, Rabbi Zecharya Greenwald writes, "Children today, by and large, have replaced the concept of "good and evil" with 'comfortable and uncomfortable.' Not that they do not want to do what is right; on the contrary, they very much desire to do what is correct. How then do they "know" what is the right thing to do? They see how it feels. If it "feels good," it is good, and if it "feels bad," it must be bad."

I wonder whether this comes from "safety" talks with kids, in which children are told that if someone does something that makes them feel uncomfortable, that's not good and they should leave immediately and report it.

May 22, 2017

Family Mission

Yisroel Besser in a Mishpacha article asks the question, what does your family stand for. Answers might include: chesed, Torah study, hospitality, kiruv etc.

I think the question is an interesting one. I hadn't thought of that idea before, that a family might stand for anything. Aren't we all trying to be good Jews, doing mitzvos, learning Torah, celebrating Shabbos and Yom Tov?

But just like a person who is shomer mitzvos might have a particular mitzva that is dear to him, that he excels in (Gemara Shabbos 118b - Avuch bameh havah zahir tfei? What was your father punctilious in observing?), so too, a family can collectively have their specialty. Maybe it's Shabbos, Rosh Chodesh, being friendly to whoever we meet.

If I had to say what it was in the family I grew up in, I would say an inquiring mind, learning, asking questions, thinking for yourself.

May 19, 2017

Bird Sighting

Right outside my window, on the ledge, was a bird that looked like this:

I was quite sure it was a female cardinal and I checked online and I was right. I knew the male cardinal is bright red, like this:

It was a thrill to see this not-very-common bird a few inches away from me. It did not seem to know I was there, on the other side of the glass. I'm used to seeing pigeons and sparrows, some starlings. A cardinal sighting was a treat!

Apr 29, 2017

Choosing Well

In contrast to the sad story told two entries ago, here, here is a story where one positive remark changed a person's life:

The story is told (I read it in Let There be Rain) about the secular president of an Israeli university who recognized Rabbi Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman, the Ponovezher Rav in an airport. The president introduced himself by saying, "K'vod harav, we are in the same business. I am raising funds for my university and you are raising funds for your yeshiva."

R' Kahaneman responded by embracing the man and greeting him warmly.

The president said, "If the rav knew what a sinner I am, he would not give me such a warm greeting."

The rav said, "If only you knew what a holy spark lies in your neshama, you would talk differently about yourself."

In his memoirs, the man wrote that from that day on, "I began to feel like a Jew and act like a Jew. I refrained from certain sins forever, and I accepted upon myself to do certain mitzvos.  I was reborn because of how the Ponovezher Rav greeted me and spoke to me."

In this case, it was the yetzer tov and the neshama coming to the fore. In the previous examples, it was the yetzer hara triumphing.

Apr 23, 2017

27 Nissan: The yartzeit of Rabbi Avigdor Miller z"l

Rabbi Miller passed away 16 years ago. Although I only attended one of the famous Thursday night classes one time, I listened to dozens of his tapes and felt that I owed him the respect of attending his funeral.

He was a remarkable man for his time (he was born in 1908). Not too many young men were raised frum in America, and of those who were, not many remained religious. He was one of the few. He was also one of the few to make the trip to the famous yeshiva in Slabodka in Europe to learn Torah. His brother Yeshaya followed his older brother there and became a rav in Boston.

What stands out about him to me are:

his discipline - every moment was accounted for
his focus on Shaar Ha'Bechina of Chovos Ha'Levavos
his hasmada
his focus on bitachon and gratitude
his humor and simcha
his talk about love for Hashem
his outreach, i.e. teaching Torah to people on all levels
his principles like only speaking Yiddish in the home
his being an American gadol
his emphasis on "asei lecha rav" and living in a makom Torah
his having a program for every goal with exercises, breaking it down into steps, leading his kehilla step by step
the supremacy of Torah learning
his half hour walk every day
his being a non-conformist
his outspokenness

His teachings are widely spread today by his books, MP3 lectures, and emails.

yehi zichro boruch

Apr 21, 2017

We Do Have Choices 2

As a follow-up to this post here, Rabbi YY Jacobson tells the following story:

He got an email from a parent. A ten year old girl started displaying apathy to Judaism. Today she is 14 and is completely irreligious. The parents are wonderful people and have a wonderful home. They could not understand what went wrong. They tried various therapists, was there trauma of some kind? What alienated her? They couldn't figure it out.

A few weeks ago, she told them what happened. She was eight years old and she did something wrong in class. The parent was embarrassed to tell R' Jacobson what she did, it was silly. The teacher went over to her in front of the class and said, "I never met someone who has a yetzer hara as big as yours."

The girl told her parents that she decided to prove her teacher right.

Why was her self-image defined by a statement by a teacher as opposed to all the things she saw and heard at home? Granted, a morah is a major force in a little girl's life, and the way the woman said it to her in front of the class made a huge impact, but still ...

Does the 14 year old understand that she is living her life as though dictated by a lady whose class she was in six years ago? That she has not thought through what life is about and made her choices accordingly, but is acting like the woman's lackey? Is her life so enjoyable this way, with her thinking every day - Yes! I will show my teacher she is right! - ?

As someone who recreated herself as an adult put it, "We are the people we decide to be, not the people others expect us to be. We can decide."

Apr 14, 2017

Splitting the Sea

With Shevii shel Pesach around the corner, which marks the splitting of the Yam Suf, here is an astonishing observation.

The term "keria," splitting, which is how the miracle is known, i.e. kerias Yam Suf, קריעת ים סוף, does not appear in Tanach. It is a much later word used by the Sages almost exclusively scores of times and is quoted by Rashi.

What is used in Tanach to refer to the splitting of the sea is the root בקע as the verse that describes the event says, ""נטה את ידך על הים ובקעהו" stretch out your hand and split it," and גזר as in "לגוזר ים סוף לגזרים."

When googling this, you can find articles that explain why this is so.

Apr 7, 2017

Some Answers 4

Answer 10:

No answer to that – but something I sense when cleaning: A Yid has to live in 2 different worlds: among the non-Jews but apart; hishtadlus in earthly matters but knowing Hashem controls everything; sadness at our pain and suffering but joy in life, serving Hashem – and, of course, chometz and non-chometz!

Answer 11:

freeing ourselves from internal and external limitations that keep us from serving Hashem in the most complete way.

Answer 12: 

From Rabbi Miller: Because as we said before, the purpose of the whole story of Mitzraim was to create seichel in us; deiah, emunah, understanding.

Answer 13:

I would say that our job is to internalize the message that Hashem loves us with a tremendous love and expressed his love in an unprecedented manner (breaking nature in numerous ways and selecting us from all the other nations despite our not being worthy at that moment etc...)

As a result of that love we should have an unending hakoras hatov to Hashem and should praise him and please him by reciprocating his love to him through fulfilling his will with passion and devotion.

In this sense Nishmas is the high point of the Haggada (I heard this from Rav Brevda zatzal).

Apr 6, 2017

Some Answers 3

Answer 7:

I think the main message is about breaking though our self-perceived limitation in our avodas Hash-m, as well as leveling out our ga'ava (ego, arrogance) -- both of which create a barrier between one another. Then we can achieve the achdus (unity) originally established at Matan Torah.

Answer 8:

I think the main message would be that Hashem is always there and when He promises something he fulfills His promise.  Hashem promised Avraham that his children will be strangers in a strange land, but they will be freed and will leave with great wealth.  Well, that is exactly what happened.  So a lesson we can take is that if Hashem says He will do something, it will come.  For example, the Mashiach will come even though it feels like it won't as it is taking so long.  
Also throughout the Hagaddah, there are things that remind us of what our role in life is.  For example we say that there will always be nations who will rise up against us.

Answer 9: 

'vehigadeta lebincha bayom hahu leimor ba'avur zeh asah Hashem li b'tzeyti mimitzrayim'  (and relate to your child on that day, saying, because of this, Hashem did this for me when I left Egypt) - the centrality of mesorah, imparting our traditions to the next generation.

Apr 5, 2017

Some Answers 2

Answer 4:

Remembrance of who we are as a people and a nation.
Our essential connection to Hashem.. who rules the world
And... it takes work to leave one's personal Mitzrayim 

Answer 5:

I think the main message or event of Pesach is that we prepare very carefully and attentively to perform a very special mitzvah. 
On Pesach, we eat a mitzvah - matzoh. 
By eating it and digesting it, it enters into and becomes part of our entire system. 
We do this mitzvah for a long time and in many forms, as the bread of faith. 
The mitzvah cannot be undone or taken off. It is the closest possible connection with Hashem.

Answer 6:

Freedom from slavery
Faith in G-d
Gratitude to G-d

Apr 4, 2017

Some Answers

(see previous post)

Answer 1:


as we say in the Pesach davening - zman cheiruseinu

Answer 2: 

Let My people go so they will serve Me.

I think that line, from the Torah, includes the ideas of 1) we are Hashem's chosen people, 2) that He is involved in the details of our lives, 3) that our purpose in life is to serve Hashem - all three vital messages encapsulated in those words.

Answer 3:

If you don't let G-d's people go you get in mucho trouble!

Mar 31, 2017

Main Message of Pesach

I've been asking people, what do you think the main message of Pesach is?

I've gotten 10 answers so far and although there is a little overlap, what I love about this is the variety of answers, all valid.

So you can think about it, and post an answer if you like, and eventually I will post the answers that I got.