Sep 30, 2015

And the Reason is ...

For years, I heard that the yeshiva in Volozhin was the prototype of a yeshiva, that it is referred to as the "Mother of All Yeshivos," even though yeshivos go back all the way to the yeshiva of Shem and Eiver.  The reason given was that it was set up differently, with the bachurim not having to eat meals with local people, but in the yeshiva.  The yeshiva was not dependent on the locals.  As though that is a reason to dismiss the numerous yeshivos that existed.  To mention a few, there were renowned yeshivos in Lublin in the time of the Maharsha (1555-1631) and the Maharam (1558-1616). The latter headed yeshivos in Lublin, Cracow, and Lvov, and had hundreds of talmidim.  The Maharshal (1510-1573) headed a great yeshiva in Lublin

Then, recently, I heard a shiur in which the speaker said that the reason the Volozhiner yeshiva was unique was because there was a structure and you had to conform to the seder and show up and learn at set times.  It wasn't a free-for all, i.e. learn what you want, when you want.  Oh.

Most recently, I was reading an article by R' Moshe Taub in Ami (#231) in which he says the Volozhiner yeshiva is referred to as the first modern-day yeshiva, even though there were many other yeshivos at that time and hundreds that preceded it (I am glad he wrote that, since I had been left with the impression for years that no yeshivos existed before Volozhin for hundreds of years going back to Sura and Pumbedisa!)

What made it unique? No, not the elimination of essen teg, and not the establishment of a curriculum and times for learning.  He says it is because R' Chaim Volozhiner recognized the need for a yeshiva to remain aloof from local politics.  Until his time, the local rav was also the rosh yeshiva and he was chosen by the balabatim.  Now, the rosh yeshiva was independent.  Oh.

Live and learn.

Sep 29, 2015

Tzipisa L'Yeshua

Rabbi Dovid Kaplan tells a great story in his Shabbos Table Impact about someone he knows who told him that he was leaving the Kosel when a non-Jewish woman approached him.  She asked, "Are you a rabbi?"

When he said he is, she asked, "I was wondering whether there are going to be any sacrifices here today."

Now before you hear what he answered, what would you have answered? Just, "Uh, no?"

What he said was, "Well, as of now, no, but there may be some later in the day."

I love it.

Sep 27, 2015

A Consistent Approach

There are those who dismiss the idea of celebrating birthdays because the only example we have in Torah of someone celebrating a birthday is Pharaoh, and he is not exactly a role model for us.

It would seem reasonable then, for those who hold that way, to feel the same way about goodbye parties or what is known in the yeshiva world as a seudas praida.  The Torah source for a goodbye party is when Lavan the rasha says that if he had known that Yaakov and his family were leaving, he would have sent them off with "joy, song, drum, and harp."

Although Lavan is not a role model for us, the fact that the Torah mentions this, without any negative comments from the pesukim or Chazal, shows that a seudas praida is something sanctioned by Torah (says R' Boruch Leff in his book, A New Shabbos Soul). 

So no birthday celebrations? Then no seudos praida.  Although I personally have not heard anything negative about goodbye parties but have heard aspersions cast on birthday parties.

Sep 25, 2015

Yes Scare Tactics

follow-up to previous post

According to R' Avigdor Miller z'l:

"We have to know that there's a dread of Hashem.  This includes the fear of facing Him in the World to Come, coming face-to-face with Him, the greatest dread of all.  One of the functions of this dread is to think of Gehinom. Every Jew must train himself to put into his thoughts as a permanent addition that there is a fearsome Gehinom going on all the time.  There is nothing as bad as Gehinom.  Whatever people have suffered in this world, even the crematoriums, the concentration camps, the gas chambers, is nothing compared to Gehinom.  There are some denizens of Gehinom who have always been there, reshaim of the nations who caused the Jewish people to suffer, and are there right now screaming in eternal, terrible pain.  Being aware of that is part of our emuna; just like we believe in Hashem, we have to believe in Gehinom.

"Of course we have to be convinced there is a Gan Eden too, but when we talk about pachad (as we do in the Rosh Hashana davening), part of our fear is directed at Gehinom."

Sep 18, 2015

No Scare Tactics

R' Yaakov Bender says (Chinuch with Chessed), "Gehinnom is not something to be discussed with 8 year olds, and perhaps not even with mesivta aged boys.  You may discuss reward and punishment but the gory details of Gehinnom will not create healthy teenagers.  There is a time and place for everything.  At the very sensitive age of 13 or 14, we are not trying to scare our children into being good."

Threat of punishment is scary.  So it's not clear how he proposes to discuss the punishment aspect without scaring the children.

And while only scaring children into being good is not a good approach, why should true, scary aspects of how Hashem runs the world be off limits?

I wonder how R' Bender thinks teachers should handle the more gory stories of our history, stories like Akeidas Yitzchok, Chana and her Seven Sons, the death of Rabbi Akiva, the curses in the Torah which are delineated in great, gory detail, etc. And I wonder how he thinks the Holocaust should be taught. Or maybe he is only opposed to gory details when it's Gehinnom, but when it entails what people do to people, he thinks differently.

I don't know, but this thought of his made me stop to think. I'm not convinced.

Sep 16, 2015

Loving Shabbos

The test to know whether you love Shabbos, says R' Boruch Leff in his third Shabbos book, A New Shabbos Soul, is how do we feel when Shabbos leaves.  Do we wait with bated breath for Shabbos to be over? If we do, we don't really love Shabbos.  Do we feel like we want Shabbos to be finished so we can get back to a project we were working on? Then we don't really love Shabbos, he says.

I disagree.  If you look forward to seeing your family and after spending many happy hours with them, you are ready to go, does that mean you don't love your family?

There is loving spending time with people, there is loving doing an activity, and then there is having enough and wanting to do something else.  I don't see how that demonstrates lack of love.  According to his reasoning, if I don't want to spend all my time, always, with my family, then I don't love them and of course, that is not true.

I think the same is true for Shabbos.  I look forward to Shabbos.  I am happy when it begins.  I like Shabbos morning.  I like Shabbos afternoon.  And then, when it is time for Shabbos to be over, I am not pining for more and more.  Now that's a chisaron, I know, based on many sources, for example, Shabbos being a taste of Olam Haba which is for eternity.  If I appreciated Shabbos even more than I do, I would want to extend it.  But to say that it means I don't love it? No.

Sep 11, 2015

Try Again, Maybe

On Rosh Hashana there is a new cheshbon, completely unrelated to last year's cheshbon, see this post.

I read this analogy long ago, not sure whose it is.  It goes like this.  There is a fly that is buzzing against a window, wanting to get outside.  The fly keeps hitting the glass in a futile attempt for freedom.  There is a  window without a screen that the fly could easily fly through, but the fly doesn’t see it. It doesn’t even look for it! It only sees one way to accomplish its goal as it repeatedly bangs against the glass.

The fly is motivated, but without help to see it from a new angle or perspective, the fly is doomed to repeating the only behavior it knows.

How do we know whether something we've tried, without success, needs to be tried again and we will finally succeed, or whether it is futile, no matter how many times we try, it just won't work?

I've read of people who tried, unsuccessfully, to learn Torah, who were determined and who davened, and who finally succeeded.  They could have said, learning is just not for me.

I've read of people who tried various ways of making money, unsuccessfully, until finally they succeeded.  They could have said, I'm just not the kind of person who succeeds financially.

Sometimes it's the method that needs changing, sometimes the method is fine but it will take time and repeated efforts to see change.  Davening is a must and asking an objective person is helpful.

Sep 10, 2015

Sharing the Burden

I read: Rav Chaim Shmulevitz had a son born in Eretz Yisroel in the middle of the War of Independence and the bris was held in the hospital. Since bombs and debris were falling every few moments, one had to run from building to building in the short moments between bombs. As Rav Chaim was running with a relative, he spotted an injured child who was almost completely bandaged. The great rosh yeshiva  stopped running to look at the child and cry over his injuries. His relative begged the rosh yeshiva to run for cover, to no avail.

The rosh yeshiva later explained: “Foolish people think that being nosei b’ol im chaveiro (sharing your friend's burden) only means offering practical help when you can. No, the essence of this middah is to share his pain.

In case you wonder of what use is this sharing, you must know that sharing the pain diminishes it for the one who is injured” (Sefer Moach Veleiv).

The discussion comes up now and then, whether it's a war in Israel or some other distressing circumstance, does it help anyone if I forgo dessert because other people somewhere are suffering?

I recently read that Rabbi Weitzman of Brownsville, Brooklyn issued a psak during World War II which said, if a couple wanted to marry, there was a chuppa at his house, some cake and soda, and nothing more.  No celebration, no dancing, because Jews were dying.  Rabbi Teitz of Elizabeth, NJ had a similar rule at his shul at that time.

As for this sharing the pain diminishing it for the victim, I would like to hear more about that.  How does that work? What's the source for that?


Sep 2, 2015

Taking Responsibility

I listened to a recent talk given by R' Dovid Orlofsky in which he says, today no one is a baal gaava, meaning, nobody thinks they are superior to others.

Rather, today's mindset is - I am the center of my world.

I thought that was an interesting differentiation.  He went on to give many examples of today's generation's lack of maturity, things like frivolous law suits (some of which are won).  He told the following personal story:
When he was a mashgiach in a yeshiva for boys coming straight out of high school, one boy kept saying he was more mature than the rest of the guys since he was a year older, having had a year of college before going to Israel. 

R' Orlofsky finally said, maturity means responsibility, and davening is at 7:15, and you don't get up till after 11, sometimes 12, so how are you defining maturity?
The boy said, maybe you should be asking yourself why you can't motivate me to get up in the morning, because ultimately this is your failure, rabbi!

Did your jaw drop upon reading that?
His point? Maturity is taking responsibility for your actions.

see here