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.

Mar 30, 2017

The Fish Story that Sparked a Tikkun

14 years ago, people were buzzing about the talking fish in New Square. Some believed the story, others scoffed. It became the source for many a joke.  You can read about it here

I had no reason not to believe it and I looked askance at those who automatically dismissed the story.

Last year, before Pesach, Family First magazine had a remarkable story. In it, a woman shopping in a very busy hardware store before Pesach saw a woman who looked out of place in New Square, who looked like she needed help.  She offered her assistance and the woman said she was making her first Pesach and was not sure what to get and what to do.

The woman, who looked like she was in her early 30's explained that she drove all the way from West Haven, Connecticut to New Square because of the fish story.  Her family was traditional - they went to synagogue for Yom Kippur, and each year there was a big family seder. But then it petered out and her father died, and she did not attend a seder since she was 17.

She said her father loved to fish in a brook near her home.  When she heard the story about the fish that said "tikkun," she felt her father was talking to her through the fish, telling her to correct what she had abandoned, to make a Pesach seder again. And she thought "there was no better place to start than here (New Square), the place that was witness to the fish with a message."

The New Square lady helped the woman choose what to buy for Pesach and a few days later she went to West Haven to help her kasher her kitchen and get it ready for Pesach.

Mar 28, 2017

We Do Have Choices

In a talk, Rivka Malka Perlman told about a young man whom her brother (Benzion Klatzko) is trying to be mekarev.

The person is tough and bitter and her brother asked him what's your story?

He said, when I was younger I was okay, but then my mother got sick and passed away. I was very lonely and having a very hard time in school, and I ended up connecting with not the greatest kids.
One day, the boys threw a rock at someone's car and the alarm went off. The owner came out screaming but the other boys ran off and I was blamed for it. The man said I'm calling your father and the police. The police came and took a report. My father came and took me home and was very disappointed with me.

I was punished and I didn't know what to think. I had gone from being an average person to a horrible person. I left school and did horrible things.

One day he was at a pizza shop and a nice man came over and spoke to him. He began casually meeting him, and he gradually spent more time with the man and began to trust him. The man recommended a summer camp for him. He was excited to go and the man said he would take care of the money and speak to the boy's father.

He hadn't been in a Jewish environment for so long but this seemed like a chance to start over.
His father gave permission and camp was a fresh start and he was reminded that he's actually a nice guy, and he started to have fun again and to heal from his mother's passing.

He came back from camp a new person.

The guys back home saw that he was different. They invited him to a barbecue and he was nervous about attending because he hadn't had friends back home in a long time. He decided to give it a try. He wanted to be the kid he was in camp, but it was hard to do that at home.

The barbecue was wonderful and he felt so grateful that the good times could last. He went inside to the kitchen for more drinks and saw, to his dismay, that the host was the owner of the car that had been hit by a rock. The man yelled, I remember you, I don't forget kids like you, you think you can come to my house and be part of a barbecue here, what are you doing on my property? Get out of here, you don't belong here!

"That was the end for me. I joined a gang and that's me today."

I heard this story and thought, it is so important to teach children about free choice, that Hashem makes things happen to us, but we get to choose how to respond. We are not compelled to react one way or another.

Losing his mother and feeling lonely, made him friendly with fringe kids. Being yelled at, apparently wrongly, made him decide he's bad. Going to camp and having a good experience, made him feel he's good. Being yelled at again, made him feel turned off from everything and everyone. He behaved like a marionette - when his "strings were pulled," he moved in that direction.

One can imagine someone else in similar circumstances responding differently. It's not like this young man had to respond as he did, though he may have felt that there was no other way. It is this that I think we must convey, that we do have choices in our responses, that the way we respond is not a given.

As I read in a book about happiness long ago about a former prisoner of the Soviet gulag who spent 12 yrs. in concentration camps, starved, beaten, humiliated, who lost two fingers to frostbite who said, "Victim! I am not a victim! I survived!"

Many people can’t do this. They carry their hurt forever. They begin to define themselves as their pain.

Life hurts but you can’t allow yourself to get wrapped up in this hurt, constantly reliving it, fearing the future and grieving the past. That’s victimization.

Other people can hurt you but only you can victimize yourself.

Mar 20, 2017

Then and Now

Mrs. Grama, whose sensible view I've quoted before here, wrote another sensible piece in Inyan magazine that began with her relating three incidents.

In the first incident, a father takes his three year old to the Steipler Gaon and says, "He still doesn't talk."

The Steipler asked him, "Can he say at least one word?"

The father said yes, he says Abba.

The Steipler said, then don't worry, with Hashem's help he will talk.

In the second incident, a young father asked Rabbi Nissim Karelitz what to do about his four and six year olds who constantly fought.

R' Karelitz said, Tell them stories [that emphasize good middos]."

Third incident - an 11 year old boy's principal asked the mother to come down to the school where he told her that her son was brazenly breaking the rules and was having trouble concentrating in class.

The mother consulted with an experienced and successful mother of a large family who knew her and her son well and was told she must do a better job protecting her son from being bullied by his older brother, a child needs to feel safe in his own home, and told her how.

Mrs. Grama says the three stories ended well. She points out that nowadays, with these situations, most people would have consulted with a speech pathologist, a behavioral psychologist and a psychiatrist who would likely have:

asked the parents why they hadn't started intervention earlier and advised immediate speech therapy

discussed sibling rivalry and appropriate parental intervention followed by behavioral therapy

prescribed medication to calm the child followed by therapy.

She asks, are we made differently nowadays? Or is it our way of thinking that has become corrupted?

Mar 10, 2017

We Can Daven for Anything

Rabbi Dovid Kaplan, in an Inyan magazine article, wrote that he heard that Rabbi Tzvi Meir Zilberberg said in a shiur that over Chanuka he slept a total of 17 hours. This is because he wanted to absorb as much of the spiritual energy of Chanuka as he could.

Someone went over to him after the shiur and asked how it was possible to go for eight days on a little more than two hours of sleep a night.

R' Zilberberg responded, "Do you know how many years I've been davening to need less sleep?"

R' Kaplan said his embarrassed reaction to that was, "Oh, I didn't realize you can daven to need less sleep." He had thought that davening was just for parnassa and health and things like that.

I had a teacher who, if I'm not mistaken, said not to ask Hashem for the petty things. This is wrong. We can and should daven to make the bus or train, to find parking quickly, to get a seat or a good seat, to find what we're looking for, for the dish to come out good, to get a quick response, and everything else! Not that R' Zilberberg's tefilla was for something petty. The point is, Hashem is the address for everything, and we shouldn't limit our requests to the standard ones.

Mar 4, 2017

Women Are Absent

I find it interesting how we never hear a story about the beis din shel maala (Heavenly Court) that has a woman involved. If you know of any, please tell us ...

All those stories, about arriving in the next world and having one's deeds scrutinized, and piles of mitzvos and sins, and angels or tzaddikim getting involved in the judgment, and what it is like in the place of reward or punishment, never have a female as the protagonist! Why is this so? For that matter, I don't think I've read any stories about Jewish women who are nearly dead or apparently died, who come back to life to tell what they've seen in the next world.

I'm not talking about women who are no longer living coming to someone alive in a dream; there are stories like that.

For that matter, some of the questions that the Gemara (Shabbos 31a) says a soul will be asked do not apply to women. The questions are:

אמר רבא בשעה שמכניסין אדם לדין אומרים לו נשאת ונתת באמונה קבעת עתים לתורה עסקת בפו"ר צפית לישועה פלפלת בחכמה הבנת דבר מתוך דבר ואפ"ה אי יראת ה' היא אוצרו אין אי לא לא. Rava said: After departing from this world, when a person is brought to judgment for the life he lived in this world, they say to him ... Did you conduct business faithfully? Did you designate times for Torah study? Did you engage in procreation? Did you await salvation? Did you engage in the dialectics of wisdom or understand one matter from another? And, nevertheless, beyond all these, if the fear of the Lord is his treasure, yes, he is worthy, and if not, no, none of these accomplishments have any value. 

Did you conduct business honestly? (some women are in business; many aren't).
Did you set fixed times to study Torah? (not for women)
Were you involved in being fruitful and multiplying? (a man's mitzva)
Did you look forward expectantly for the redemption?
Did you engage in the pursuit of wisdom?
Above all else, does the person have fear of heaven?

Mar 3, 2017

The Pious Ones

I read The Pious Ones and thought it was quite good. The author, a writer for The New York Times, describes himself as "a fairly assimilated Jew who nevertheless attends synagogue and observes many biblical traditions," and yet he looks very favorably upon Chassidim. He puts a positive spin even on things that don't seem so positive.

His first chapter, about Yitta Schwartz, refers to a NY Times article he wrote about her: here . He said that the less than prominently placed article ended up at the top of that day's list of most emailed stories and stayed on the list for many more days.

Feb 26, 2017

Update on Modern Forms of Communication

As a follow-up post to this one here about communication nowadays, there was an article in Binah by someone who says she was as anti-cellphone as they come.  Whatever advantages owning one had, they were outweighed by the disadvantages, as far as she was concerned.

But there was a price to pay, she says and she finally bought a cellphone. Why? Because the lack of communication was disturbing.  Her friends and people she knows all text, and she missed out on more and more things that were important to her like meetings she attends that are arranged by text. By not texting, the organizer had to remember to call her (which is a bother) which she did not always do and not having a cell phone was putting the organizer out each month.

There were mazal tov texts that she never received, bris information she didn't get, and carpooling texts in which she wasn't included. "Not having a cellphone, I was separating myself from the klal, a klal that embraced texting as an easy mode of communication. Because like it or not, cellphone ownership (including texting) is a societal expectation."

She has since seen other advantages to owning a cellphone, though she says they are side benefits and not reason enough to own one.  She now owns one "in order to stay connected with my family, friends and community. In my opinion, cellphone ownership and close relationships are only mutually exclusive if you allow them to be."

This supported what I wrote years ago, that I communicate more with people with modern technology. It may still be true that for young people, it stifles their communication. I'm not even sure that is true.

Interestingly, kosher phones in the US are filtered phones which may allow some Internet connection and texting, while kosher phones in Israel do not allow any Internet or texting. So what in America is called "kosher," in Israel is called "treif."

Feb 20, 2017

No Sandwich

So this is what I learn from Yisro.

That when it comes to fathers-in-law and sons-in-law, 1) a father-in-law can criticize his son-in-law as it says: Yisro saw everything Moshe was doing to the people and he said, what is this that you are doing? ... What you are doing isn't good!

2) That you can give unsolicited advice (maybe this applies only to fathers-in-law to sons-in-law).

3) That the advice does not have to be done with the "sandwich method," in which criticism is "sandwiched" between two positive comments.

Feb 18, 2017

Hard to Relate

There is a famous Ibn Ezra on the dibra of lo sachmod - "Do not covet your neighbor's house. Do not covet your neighbor's wife, his manservant, his maidservant, his ox, his donkey, or whatever belongs to your neighbor." He says, a commoner does not think he will marry the princess because he knows the princess is out of his league. We only desire things we can relate to. If something is completely beyond us, we don't consider having it.

The Ibn Ezra says that if we consider that people have the things they have because Hashem wants them to, then we will not covet things that other people have.

Can Americans relate to the Ibn Ezra's analogy? I don't think so. American kids are raised with the message: You can be whatever you want to be.  You can be an astronaut. You can be the one to find the cure for cancer. You can be president of the United States. There is nothing you can't have or be if you want it enough.

This message has been internalized in the frum mindset.  You can grow up to be a gadol who will be on people's walls here . And why can't a middle class - lower middle class - or poor family have a fancy wedding like a rich person who can afford it? Back in the shtetl you can be sure that the cobbler never dreamed of making a wedding like the town parnas, but nowadays, with everyone equal and supposedly deserving of the same things as everyone else, why shouldn't the poor do and have what the rich do and have? The Ibn Ezra's understanding of lo sachmod is much harder for us to grasp.

Feb 17, 2017

The Wrong Address

I have been reading a diary that is printed weekly in Ami Living. A mother tells about her wonderful son who did beautifully in school through high school. Then he inexplicably began acting strangely. She says it is ten years now that she has been experiencing horrible situations with her son, his drug use, stealing, suicide attempts, outbursts, lack of religiosity.  For a while it was a mystery, until her son confided in her husband that he had watched inappropriate things (no further details about this). This is a letter that I wrote to the magazine which they have not published:

I have been following the tragic story of a woman's son's deterioration over the past many installments of Up the Down Escalator and I am perplexed.  What set the young man off was seeing inappropriate things. This led to consultations with psychologists, a social worker, and even medication and hospitalization.

But seeing inappropriate things is a spiritual problem! Out in the 'velt," seeing such things is not viewed as a problem! It would seem that the right person to consult about this would have been a rabbinic guide who could have provided a Torah perspective, direction in teshuva, and guidance in how to get back on track, spiritually.  

Wishing all of us yeshuos,

To me, it sounds like asking for a loaf of bread in a hardware store, shoes in a grocery story.  They may as well consult with a podiatrist; why a psychologist? These professionals were of no use and worse, the young man deteriorated under their care. It is painful to read how misdirected he was. They focused exclusively on his depression and other psychological symptoms and not on what got him in the mess in the first place.

Feb 16, 2017

Neither of Them Understood

I read two stories this week having to do with Rabbi Moshe Feinstein z"l and I thought they go well together.

One story, told by R' Simcha Bunim Cohen, who was a bachur at the time, took place in 1979 on a Shabbos afternoon at MTJ.  When R' Moshe, who usually said a dvar Torah shalosh seudos time, felt weak and unable to speak, someone volunteered to speak but said he did not Yiddish and could only say it in English. R' Moshe said he should say it in English.

As the man spoke, R' Moshe sat on the edge of his chair, fully focused, not taking his eyes off the speaker, smiling and nodding the entire time. But R' Cohen knew that R' Moshe barely understood English!

After Shabbos, in the car going home, R' Cohen asked R' Moshe whether he understood the dvar Torah. R' Moshe said: Only two words.  When R' Cohen asked why R' Moshe had looked so intently at the speaker, R' Moshe said, Chazal say: derech eretz kadma l'Torah (good manners precede Torah). If a person speaks publicly and I don't look at him and show that I'm listening, how will I be able to pasken and say shiurim?

The other story (in Torah Tavlin Tefilla and Haftorah) was about a man who came from out of town, every year, for the Aguda Convention, just so that he could hear Rabbi Moshe Feinstein speak. Then he would leave.  What most people, who saw him year after year, did not know was that the man did not speak Yiddish and yet, he sat through R' Moshe's speech which was delivered in Yiddish!

Someone who knew him finally asked him, "Why do you come here especially to hear R' Moshe when you don't even understand what he is saying?"

He answered, "Do you think I need to understand what R' Moshe is saying? And he cited Moshe Rabeinu at Har Sinai, "Moshe yidaber," that Moshe spoke but only Hashem could hear him. I just need to look at him and my neshama understands everything he says."

Feb 15, 2017

Mature Eleven Year Old

An 11 year old commented that she is not looking forward to being bas mitzva because then she will have the ol mitzvos (yoke-responsibility of mitzvos).  And she is not looking forward to age 20 because then she will be chayav b'dinei shomayim (obligated by heavenly judgement).

This was presented as something quite negative, that there is no joy in her observance of Yiddishkeit. I countered with - she sounds mature, like a yirei shomayim, not someone fixated on her bas mitzva party and presents.

True, she should be told that Yiddishkeit is about serving Hashem with joy, and this should be emphasized in various ways, with halacha and stories. But how wonderful it is to hear that a child that age takes mitzva observance seriously.

The other extreme is a focus entirely on Hashem loves us no matter what. Although that is true, it seems to be producing people who think they can dress as they please, go where they want, and do what they want, because regardless of their actions, Hashem loves them.

We need to meet in the middle and teach both yiras shomayim which includes yiras cheit, and simcha shel mitzva.

Feb 10, 2017

Idealistic Women

At the Agudah Midwest Convention, R' Dishon read a letter that he received.  The letter, from a woman in Lakewood, told him off (his words). He felt the tears and pain in the letter.  It said:

What do you want from me? You say to spend quality time with your children. Can you tell me when? I get up at 6:00 in the morning and have to hurry and get ready.  I can't afford a babysitter [to come to the house], so at 7:00 on the icy road, I run to bring my son to a babysitter.  

Then she goes to a town near Lakewood to teach. She comes home 2:00 and has to rush and prepare lunch because her husband has to get ready for 2nd seder. When he leaves, she cleans up the house. Her boys comes home from cheder at 4:00. In the evening she's falling apart and she has to prepare for teaching the next day.  Where is the quality time for my kids? she asks.

Unfortunately, the lecture ended with R' Dishon extolling these ladies who live such a life, who are so idealistic, and he does not respond to her question.  Nor does he, in any way, say: This is a crazy life you are living, in which you sacrifice your children for your husband's learning.

As R' Elya put it, " 'What you are doing is in gantzen nisht nohrmal!" (completely abnormal)" see here

The madness continues.  And so do the articles about the myriad problems that children today have, and the mothers with PPD and numerous emotional/mental problems.

Feb 3, 2017

Shabbos Reminders

Someone told me that she woke up in the middle of the night, Friday night.  She was more asleep than awake and not realizing it was Shabbos, shut two lights and unplugged the crock pot.

To me, this was a very sad story.  I asked, were there no visual signs that it was Shabbos? No tablecloth on the kitchen table?

There is no table in her kitchen so no, no tablecloth there.

If I walked out the door of my bedroom, I would immediately see it is Shabbos because of the layout of my house and the visible signs of Shabbos, but it led me to thinking, what physical indications are there, that it is Shabbos, in every room?

Well, every light switch has a cover. So every room has a physical sign that it is Shabbos.  And the dining room and kitchen have Shabbos tablecloths and the kitchen has a blech on the stove.  Apparently, a crock pot, which is often used on weekdays too, was not an indication to her that it was Shabbos.

Seems to me that since we are not on the level of the Ruzhiner tzaddik as a little boy, who knew it was Shabbos from the change in the appearance of the sky, that every room should have a physical indication that it is Shabbos.  Light switch covers and, if necessary, a Shabbos sign.

Jan 31, 2017

Timely Vort

This vort catches my fancy. I do not guarantee that the people cited as saying them are the correct sources. I would love if someone could verify it for me.

A thought from the Chozeh of Lublin:

The parshiyos of Bo, Beshalach, Yisro, Mishpatim, Terumah, Tetzave and Ki Sisa, all contain within them different Yomim Tovim. If you make the effort, you can experience the aura and inspiration of that particular yom tov during these coming weeks.

Parsha Bo has the story of the Exodus from Egypt which corresponds to Pesach. 
Parshas Beshalach has the Splitting of the Sea which happened on Shvii shel Pesach (the 7th of Pesach).
Parshas Yisro, has the Ten Commandments, corresponding to Shavuos.
Parshas Mishpatim, which has numerous laws, dinim, corresponds to the Yom HaDin and Yimei HaDin, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur   
Parshas Terumah has instructions for the building of the Mishkan and with it came the cloud that hovered above it, which corresponds to Succos.
Parshas Tetzave has the lighting of the menorah which corresponds to Chanukah. 
Parshas Ki Sisa which has the mitzva of giving the machatzis ha'shekel corresponds to the month of Adar when the half shekels began to be collected.

Another version or point to the vort, cited in the name of the Spinka Rebbe, is that the weeks of these parshiyos with yetzias Mitzrayim, kerias Yam Suf, and Mattan Torah, are more spiritually potent than the actual yomim tovim of Pesach, Shevii shel Pesach, and Shavuos! 

This is because the parshiyos contain the the koach (power, spiritual strength) of Torah while the yomim tovim are the koach of zeman (the time of year that they fall).

Jan 29, 2017

Mentch Before Ruchnius?

I have read the idea "emotional health comes before spiritual growth" several times and have wondered about it.  Sometimes it's couched as "first he needs to become a mentch, then we can work on his ruchnius." It is in the context of those off the derech or those having personal problems.

I can see that if someone is an emotional mess, they are in no position to listen to a shiur.  But they could very well be encouraged to do a mitzvah!

In the book Incredible, the story is told of Yossi Gevili, an inmate in an Israeli prison who showed up at an Arachim seminar.  He was on furlough, only his second one in seven years because after he was allowed out the first time and got into a fight, they were hesitant about letting him out again.  This time, he figured the safest place for him was at an Arachim seminar.

Yossi Gevili had been one of the worst prisoners at the prison.  He did not get along with anyone, he argued constantly, was mean, and broke all the rules.  When he returned to the prison after the seminar, he was a different person, polite, and he started using a siddur.  Four days at the Arachim seminar made him into a baal teshuva and model citizen.

Arachim personnel found him a job when he was released and gave him the support he needed to stay on track. He married and settled down and gave his mother nachas.

So here was a man who was difficult inmate in a prison who did not first undergo therapy or any sort of program to address his emotional state of being, his obnoxious behavior, and his anger.  He was exposed to Torah lectures and this changed his life.

Jan 28, 2017


On Shabbos, I was talking about the kal v'chomer that Rashi notes appears in this parsha, saying it is one of ten that appear in Torah (Tanach).  I commented, I wonder why Rashi first comments about this here, the second time a kal v'chomer appears, when the first one is in parshas Mikeitz.

Then I looked up the first one in Mikeitz and saw that Rashi actually does comment there, the first time a kal v'chomer appears.  That led me to thinking how absurd and embarrassing it is that after decades of reading Rashi, I still don't know the basics, i.e. what Rashi said.  That is amaratzus (being an am ha'aretz, ignoramus).  L'havdil, a medical student has to know far more information than what is contained in Rashi on Chumash, and he studies it and knows it because it's important to get good grades.  What I (we?) do is passively read it without committing it to memory (beyond what we had to study for school decades ago).  So yes, I know many Rashis, but it still surprises me what I don't know.

Jan 27, 2017

Shabbos and Rosh Chodesh

Many are unaware that it's a halacha brought in Kitzur Shulchan Aruch that it is a mitzva "l'harbos b'seuda" - to have something additional to eat on Rosh Chodesh, and if it falls out on Shabbos, to make one extra "tavshil" - cooked dish, more than you have on other Shabbosos.

This is a mitzva I like :) I have made it a point now for years to have an extra treat on Rosh Chodesh.

For those who want to make a good hachlata/kabbala in life, this is an enjoyable one.

Jan 26, 2017

Saving a World

continued from previous post

A woman said that many years ago, her sister went to an Israeli abortion clinic to dissuade women from aborting their babies.  She met a woman who was there for a scheduled abortion.  Her sister said don't do it; give the baby to me! The woman instinctively said, it's my baby! Then she realized the irony in what she said, considering what she was about to do, and said her husband lost his job, and they were in the middle of renovations which they could not continue and were exposed to the elements. She felt desperate.

Her sister pledged to raise money for the woman and did so and the woman gave birth to a boy.  They kept in touch and the sister went to the child's bar mitzva and wedding.

"Whoever sustains one Jewish life is like one who sustains an entire world."

Jan 25, 2017

Save Jewish Lives

I received a few emails promoting Efrat's fundraising campaign in which donations received were tripled in value.  I think they run a campaign every year around parshas Shemos, the parsha where Pharaoh decrees that baby boys should be killed.

I have written about my outrage over the lack of protest about Jews killing Jews daily in Israel here . We are horrified and upset, rightly so, when Israelis are murdered by terrorists, but I fail to understand why Jews killing Jews through abortions is not as horrifying or upsetting to people. Maybe if pictures of babies were posted every day with reminders that they're being killed, and their deaths are paid for by the Israeli government, something would happen.

In the meantime, Efrat and Just One Life do what they can to prevent abortions.  Here is what the founder of Efrat, Dr. Eli Schussheim, writes:

In 1977 when new laws about abortions came out and I found out that 60 thousand  abortions are done yearly in Israel, I was totally shocked.  I thought what I can do to stop this terrible plague but I had no means with which to proceed.

I felt it my obligation to act and not stand by the side. And so I stepped ahead and started to work on the matter by notifying people of the terrible situation. 

In this way, we reached where we are today saving  more than 68,600 terminations.
The amount of abortions shrank to  a third of the amount it was then.

It is not only with contributions that we can try to minimize abortions in Israel.  The main problem is that most of the Jewish population is unaware that 100 babies are lost daily due to abortions.

Jan 24, 2017

Having a Life

Overheard from two women who each have two children around the same ages.

Lady 1: I am older already, in my thirties, and I got married later.

Lady 2: I got married at 19. Right after high school.  I'm 24.

Lady 1: So you haven't had a life.

Lady 2: Basically ...

Lady 1 meant that Lady 2 went directly from her obligations at school to her obligations as a wife and mother, without having years to "do her own thing," which usually includes studying a profession, work, some travel.

I understand that, but it still sounded awful.  Maybe I should have piped up and asked, "Why do you think being a wife and mother isn't a life?" and seen where that went.  She may have said, I did not have any time for myself.  I might have responded, why then did you choose to meet someone and get married when you did? I don't know what she would have said.  I might have had the opportunity to say, if you want to study a field, you still can.  If you want to work, that is still possible (and I think she was working in the store I was in). So what do you think you missed out on that you cannot do now? She might say, a sense of freedom, being able to come and go and explore my interests. I might then say, there are hundreds, thousands of frum single girls who do just that.  Many get married along the way. Too many do not.  What do you think is more important than raising Yiddishe children?

Jan 22, 2017

Watch What You Pray For

In a shiur given by Rabbi Reisman he said a person he corresponded with told him that he wanted more time to spend with his family.  He became sick and spent more time with his family.  Lesson: watch what you pray for.  This is why we ask that our requests be answered l'tova.

I just read two other examples of this in an article about Yitzi Hurwitz in Mishpacha.  He is immobilized by ALS and his wife was interviewed and said, when they were dating, she had spoken about wanting to live in America as opposed to somewhere where they'd have to send the kids to school in another country.  They ended up in California but she still had to drive a thousand miles a week to take her kids to and from school.  The lesson, she said, "You really need to be specific when you ask G-d for things."

Even scarier is when she says, "The two things in my life that I wished for were not to have to worry so much about money, and that I'd have more time to spend with Yitzi because he was never home, he was working so hard.  And now, I have a lot more time to spend with Yitzi, and thanks to a lot of good people, I worry very little about money.  It's not exactly how I thought it would be ..."