Wednesday, July 31, 2013

A Lesson From Current Events

Without making reference to specific individuals who were allegedly involved in wrongdoing many years ago and everything is coming out now: A lesson for us all. All רע comes with a serious punishment. This punishment almost never waits for the next world but is usually received right here in this world. Almost no bad goes unpunished. Sometimes it takes a year or two or ten or thirty - but eventually it comes out.

The same applies to bad middos. A person with bad middos - jealously, anger, lust, excessive desire for money etc. - all have their painful consequences in this world.

Middah tova meruba - good is always at least 500 times stronger than evil [according to Chazal]. If one does acts of goodness in this world he will be rewarded almost always right here in this world.

Good middos also have their immediate reward. A person with bitachon, optimism, love for his fellow, a generous heart etc. etc. will also reap the benefits right here,

In my lifetime, I have seen countless examples of both:-). May we all enjoy the rewards of our good in both this and the next world.

A Good Investment

Issav Siyag related the following story:

In 1985 I was living in America and came to Israel for a visit. My friend suggested that I go visit Rav Ben Tov who was living in Beer Sheva at the time. I rented a car and arrived with tremendous hashgacha pratit. I brought a mezuza along and the Rav looked at it.

He told me "You are healthy but have high cholesterol. Leave the city where you live and don't worry - you will make money, gold - from garbage [מזבל - it can also mean fertilizer].

That night I returned to America and after being examined it turned out that I indeed had high cholesterol. I moved cities to New York and invested in a business. All I had then was debt but I invested in the stocks of a company that made electricity from garbage. I invested more and more and received dividends ten-fold from what I invested.

צדיק המזוזות 244

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Free To Change Our Minds

"Like so many of us, I spent a great deal of my life....cataloging all the ways I had been injured and abused...I analyzed and categorized the whos, whats and wheres of my misery.  I was a confirmed pessimist, always able to see the dark side of anything and everything.  My belief was that life was hard and disaster was looming around every corner...Despite life's difficulties, it was my responsibility to do all the good I could and become the best person I could be...I started to notice the dearth of positive emotions in my life...I knew precious little about joy, happiness, optimism, faith and trust....That's when I learned that you don't have to be saddled for life with mental attitudes you adopted in childhood.  All of us are free to change our minds, and as we change our minds, our experiences will also change."

M J Ryan
Source: Attitudes of Gratitude: How to Give and Receive Joy Everyday of Your Life, Pages: 3...5

Get Dressed For The Wedding

The Tolna Rebbe ztz"l [Rav Yochanan Twerski] related the following mashal:

Two brothers were in a huge fight and didn't talk for many years. One day, one of the brothers was planning a wedding for his son and decided that he must let bygones be bygones and invite his brother. He went to his house to invite him but his brother wouldn't hear of it. NO WAY!!

On the day of the wedding he had an idea. As the band was playing he told them to go to his brother's house and play under the window. His brother loved music and he hoped that he would follow the music. And so it was. The brother woke up and heard the band playing and got out of bed. The band started walking towards the wedding hall and the brother followed - in his pajamas!

He arrived at the hall  - in his pajamas. His brother told him "Oyyyyy - had you only made peace with me you would have come dressed in respectable clothing. In the end you came anyway - but in your pajamas."

After 120 we are all going to the same place. We have the choice whether we are going to arrive in our pajamas or we can choose to "dress ourselves" in Torah and mitzvos and feel respectable.


A Good Head

A woman who manages a beauty parlor related the following story:

Women who come to me relate their problems. A woman once came and told me that the ultra sound showed that her fetus has an abnormally large head which is the right size for a three year old and that they must abort. She started to cry and asked "What should I do?"

I told her that we have to take her mezuzos and go to Rav Ben Tov. He looked at her mezuzos and said "Listen, the baby is healthy. He will be just fine."

The woman said "OK, I hear what you are saying. But what if the child has a problem. Then what?"

The Rav took a paper and wrote "I, Rav Moshe Ben Tov, declare that I will raise your child if he is not born healthy."

She looked at the paper and said "What? The doctors don't understand? They say that he has a big head."

The Rav said "Look, when you plant wheat, it looks like the first stalks that grow will be meters high, but when the whole field becomes ripe, all of the stalks are the same height! Look, everyone starts with their strongest part. Your son will be very smart, he will have a good head!"

And so it was!:-)

צדיק המזוזות עמוד 178

Women Rabbis - Part 1

I have been asked to comment on woman rabbis, yoetzot halacha etc. I will divide my remarks into two parts.

I will begin with a general discussion of feminism....

Judaism is a theocentric religion. This means that G-d is at the center. It is not about me or my needs but about submission to the Divine will. This idea is anathema to the post modern, narcissistic attitude of "me-first-me-only". We are not looking for self empowerment, we are instead actively seeking self-nullification, called bittul in our holy books. So when I hear people talking about it not being "fair" that women don't have the same role as men do, I get all farfutztied [a word I made up meaning "bent-out-of-shape"]. What does "fair" have to do with anything?? When I hear people talking about "equality" I similarly lose my bearings. Where is "equality" a Jewish value???

There is one question and one question only - what is the will of Hashem. Period. All other questions are irrelevant and [usually] self-serving. My own desires and spiritual yearnings must be aligned with Hashem's will, otherwise I have invented a new religion and the god is me [indeed "Ally" sounds eerily close to the name that the Muslims call the Deity].

A story to illustrate: When Reb Mottel of Chernobol passed away he left 8 sons, all of whom became Chassidishe Rebbes [including Reb Dovid'l Mi-Tolna]. The brothers split up the inheritance before their brother Reb Yochanan of Rachemstrivka arrived. He said that at least he would like to inherit his father's "gornisht" [being nothing]. But then he was apprised of the fact that his brother, Reb Moshe'le Mi-Koroschev, already took their father's "gornisht".

Now there was "nothing" left. Not even "nothing". 

[I love chassidishe myses!!!:-)]

So, said Reb Yochanan, I decided to take my father's "gornisht mit gornisht" [nothing from nothing]. He in fact was an extremely humble person. [Told by the Rebbe Shlita at my son's Bar Mitzva which took place on the yahrtzeit of Reb Yochanan]. 

I am gornisht [given the difficulty I am having finding a job and its attendant challenges leads me to believe that many others agree:-)]! In a millionth of a second I can cease to exist. Every second of life and proper functioning is a gift from Hashem and completely from Hashem. I have NOTHING of my own. When I realize that I am nothing I can connect a little bit to what is Real.

Here I get to feminism. How odd that I rarely hear them talking or writing about submission to the will of Hashem. The key word by many is 'empowerment'. No more are men going to rule over us. We are going to flex our feminine muscles and show the men who is boss.

Sweeeeet ladies, daughters of Sarah, Rivka, Rachel and Leah! Men [emotionally healthy ones] have no desire to rule over you. I would even guess that in more Jewish marriages the wife is more domineering over the husband than the opposite. All men want [if they are spiritually balanced] is that you and they should serve Hashem. Haaasssshhheeeemmmmm!! It is not about my ego, my stature, my position in the community or anything about ME. It is about submitting and nullifying myself to Hashem's purpose for me. I think a good example of people who embody such an attitude would be Chabad shlichim who move to bastions of Torah and hubs of Yiddishkeit such as Jackson, Wyoming and Vietnam! It is much more convenient for them to live in Crown Heights but they live not for themselves but for Him. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh:).

So if there is a discussion of women rabbis and the like the starting point must be that this is what G-D wants and that is is an an expression of devotion and dedication to Him. The rhetoric I hear around 'women-in-Judaism" discussions rarely focuses on that and therein lies the problem. When I see people so outspoken about equality who are less than observant of many laws, it makes me suspect that their motivations are less then pure. Of course He is the ultimate judge, but we have to know how to think and relate to these issues and people. 

Am I wrong? Please show me!

Monday, July 29, 2013

Sharing The Burden

I came to Israel and settled for ideological reasons. Not for Zionistic reasons because I am not a Zionist. I am also a fervent Zionist. It all depends on how you define "Zionism"..... [I am also Modern Orthodox and not Modern Orthodox, it all depends on how you define "Modern Orthodox." I am not a big "labels" fan. They mean nothing and lead to shallow thinking.]

I have this really-really-really popular book [called by some goyim the "Khumash"] which constantly emphasizes the centrality of the land. I quote one such passage in the name of Moses: "See that I have taught you the statutes and laws as Hashem commanded me, to keep in the Land that you are going to inherit [i.e. Israel]" - Va-eschanan 4/5. Wowwwwww  - tefillin, tzitzis, shabbos, taharas hamishpocho, learning Torah, eating matza on Pesach, drinking wine on Yom Tov and eating cholent on Shabbos, were all given as mitzvos to be performed in the Land of Israel. Passages like this one do a "number" on me and make me just want to be here....

That leads me to my point. In this country there is a heated debate about army service for yeshiva boys. There is a powerful party in the Knesset [including a renegade "rabbi" who is the darling of many modern people and communities in chutz la-aretz because he so outspokenly tries to erode the foundations of charedi society - with a large black velvet yarmulke on his head:-)] that is doing everything they can to close down just about every yeshiva in the country. The secular and many religious as well say "It's NOT FAIR! Why should our children serve and risk their lives while you charedim sit in the comfort of your yeshivas."

On the surface this is a very convincing claim and appeals to our sense of morality and fairness. I have to deal with the question myself as my son quickly approaches draft age. It is not right that he should be exempted while others aren't!

Let me preface by saying that everybody who serves in the army is doing a great mitzva and is greatly appreciated and valued by me. If they'd let and want - when I saw chayalim I'd hug and kiss them all. They deserve it. They sacrifice the best years of their youth in order to defend me so that I can live safely. They are heroes. I have an even more special place in my heart for religious soldiers who have to sacrifice even more [sleep, comfort etc.] in order to serve. Instead of sitting around the shabbos table with their families they instead sit in some far off base surrounded by nothingness. Every soldier a star and recipient of endless gratitude and appreciation. No question.

So why not my Shmuli [followed by his two little brothers]? Is his blood redder?

The answer is that it is not. Nobody keeps their son out of the army because he wants to protect him at the expense of others [at least I hope not]. If we had to die for Hashem we would do it. There is a greater value than life and that is fulfilling the will of Hashem. If I had to choose between having a child of mine either transgress one of the three cardinal sins or die, there is no question what I would choose. I love my children, however they are not mine but a Divine gift given conditionally.

I spent 13 years in a yeshiva where the students combined army service and yeshiva study. It was presented as an ideal. On me it had the opposite effect. It helped me decide to do whatever I can to keep my children out of the army.


The army is a very secular framework guided by very secular people who have no or limited respect for what we deem most holy and sacrosanct. I have heard time and again from soldiers about their difficulty in keeping mitzvos in the army. I have numerous relatives who are no longer religious and the yarmulke "flew" during their army service.

Someone once asked the Chazon Ish: If I go to the army, I will remain religious but my spiritual passion will cool off. Should I still go? The Chazon Ish answered "A cooling of spiritual passion is יהרג ואל יעבור!!" Since there are great spiritual dangers in the army, thousands of young men don't serve. Period. On top of that is the issue that in order to develop into talmidei chachomim they need to devote these years to Torah study.

I don't feel guilty in the slightest [despite my natural predilections to feel quite guilty about things] for encouraging my children not to serve and sending them to like minded institutions. I am merely following just about every gadol bi-yisrael since the birth of the State. Why should one feel guilty when he follows dvar Hashem as understood by the tzadikim??

The problem is that everything I wrote is complete nonsense in the eyes of many secular minded people. I was once in a yeshiva which brought one of the highest ranked ['religious'] members of the army brass who proclaimed [in a Beis Medrash with a yarmulke on his head!!] that if there is a conflict between democracy and Torah - then democracy must prevail. Nobody protested these words of blasphemy [I wasn't present but I fear that I wouldn't have protested either because it might have cost me my job and I really like it when I can buy food for my children] but it shows the mindset of the army. Religion is OK as long as everybody understands that the army comes first. That is an attitude that a religious solider can never accept and thus can't allow himself to be subject to their authority.

Rav Shteinman Shlita agreed to send boys to the Nachal Charedi, I hear people saying now as they read. Are you more frum than Rav Shteinman???

No I am certainly not. But the facts are that Rav Shteinman said to send boys who were yeshiva dropouts to the army to get them off the streets and into a life of productivity. Sending them to the army was an attempt to preserve their religiosity [the army is better than the street if the army creates a special framwork for charedi boys, as they promised to do]. Also, the sad facts are that many of the soldiers in the Nachal Charedi aren't even religious [I watched a promotional video of theirs and, unbelievably, they highlighted this fact] and many of those who are religious, are very far from being Charedi. Sending a devout and pious boy to such an environment where the language, behavior and attitudes are so foreign to the way he was raised will place him in great spiritual peril.

If this didn't convince you - we remain friends:-). I don't need people to accept my viewpoint [most peoples minds are made up already] but to respect those who think differently.

An Unlikely Tzadik

My friend Reb Yoel Weisberg who recently passed away used to talk about his doctor. Reb Yoel had a very rare blood disease from which he suffered for almost thirty years until it got the better of him and he went to a place where there is no blood and no disease. His doctor's name was Dr. Ayalew Tefferi. Why am I telling you about him?

He is an Ethiopian born doctor who is the world's number one hematologist. Reb Yoel used to bombard him with emails asking questions about his condition. The very busy doctor answered EVERY ONE WITHIN FIVE MINUTES!!

Reb Yoel wanted to somehow repay him. The doctor said something to the effect of "I don't want anything from you. I just want you to get better."

When he came to Israel for a yearly medical convention in Herzlia, Reb Yoel used to ask each time if he could come see him [Reb Yoel refused to go to chutz la-aretz for treatment]. One year the doctor told him "You don't have to ask anymore. You can always come. You are like a brother to me."

Sweetest friends - Yidden should only have such good middos. If I would put labels on my posts, this one would be labeled "Tzadik story". Just this tzadik is a goy with who is בן אחר בן descended from חם.....:-).

Why The Multiplicity?

לע"נ ר' יואל בן ר' פינחס הלוי

Did you ever wonder why there are so many creatures and things in this world? Billions of people, and then the countless animals, fish, plants, rocks and let us not forget all of the galaxies.

My, what a large universe:-)!


See Shmone Kvatzim 3/23 and you will have some insight into the secrets of creation.

ברוך שבחר בהם ובמשנתם.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

It Is A Virtue

Inner peace is impossible without patience. Wisdom requires patience. Spiritual growth implies the mastery of patience. Patience allows the unfolding of destiny to proceed at its won unhurried pace.

Dr. Brian Weiss
Source: Same Soul, Many Bodies

Expectations Expectations

I have meant to revisit the recent post on friendship but other things got in the way. Now is my opportunity:

What I wrote about friendship applies to families as well. Let us take the parent child relationship as an example: Every child has expectations of his parents [many of them subconscious] . He may expect that they help him with his homework, attend his sporting events, take him places, give him love, attention and warmth. There are always going to be gaps between what a parent does for his child and what the child expects from his parent. This creates much disappointment and provides a great deal of parnassa for therapists.

Parents also have expectations of children with which the children either aren't aware or aren't willing to comply. The parents might expect obedience, respect, good grades, certain religious standards to be met etc. Children don't sit around all day and think - how can I make my parents happy. He is thinking more along the lines of "how can I make myself happy". When the child doesn't comply the parent shouldn't take it personally. It has nothing to do with the parent very often. What a parent should do is reassess if his expectations are reasonable.

The husband-wife relationship is another example. Every couple has an "unwritten marriage contract". Each side comes to the union with a list of expectations [again - many subconscious]. The problems begin when the couple's differing expectations clash.

For example: When the two dated, they would talk for five hours, giving each other undivided attention. She expects these long dates to continue after marriage. They get married and then BOOM. He gets up early, runs to the shul/gym/work and arrives home late. He wolfs down a quick dinner and runs off to maariv, a little learning and then to sleep. She wonders - How come he doesn't spend time with me anymore. His expectations were that she would keep home while he advanced his career, while she was looking for continued romance [of course, this is just an example and there are many many others].

It is important for couples to discuss their expectations and reach agreements that are mutually satisfying.

Learning How To Relate

In the world of true mussar study [of which I often lament its rare appearance on our planet and see it as one of the primary problems in our religious life ואכמ"ל] there is a rule: דער קליינע זאך איז דער גאנצע זאך - The small seemingly insignificant behaviors are really everything. Most people just don't notice the subtleties of speech and action which often cause an [albeit subtle] breach in proper behavior. These matters on not even on most peoples radars but Baruch Hashem it takes only a simple yeshiva bochur from Eretz Yisrael who is not part of the rat race [Remember: Even if one wins the rat race, he is still a rat:-)] to give us all a gentle reminder.

I will illustrate one such הנהגה.

I have a very close friend whom I have known for year and spoken to on countless occassions both on the telephone and in person. He is extremely busy, large family, full time job, learns every free second, involved in communal affairs etc. etc. He has NEVER in all of the time I have known him, interrupted a phone call to tell his wife something, answer a call waiting, ask the parking attendant how much it costs or order a burger and coke. Most people are involved in 50 different things as they talk. I recently spoke to a friend I hadn't spoken for the longest time. In the few minutes I spoke to him he must have interrupted 10 times. He is not a bad person, he is actually quite the opposite. But he is also unaware.

This person has also never ever ended a conversation by telling me that he has to go [how do you feel when somone says "I can't talk, I am in a huge rush. Bye...:-)"] If he needs to go he will gently end the conversation. He also looks at me when I talk to him. He really gives me the feeling that he is with me. He has mastered the fine art of transcending his personal selfish needs of the moment for the sake of another human being. [I have a friend who experiences this person in the same way]. When you meet such a person you should make a שהחיינו

There was a famous Jewish Philosopher [important note: In his personal behavior he was quite deviant but I must grant him that he was immersed in something that many practically Observant Jews all but ignore, namely, G-d:-)] whose main proposition is that we may address existence in two ways:
  • that of the "I" towards an "It", towards an object that is separate in itself, which we either use or experience;

  • and that of the "I" towards "Thou", in which we move into existence in a relationship without bounds.
  •  This person relates to other people in an "I-Thou" fashion. Almost everybody else relates to others in an "I-It".
  •   To copy from this Philosophers Wiki page:
  •  For "I-It," the "It" refers to the world of experience and sensation. I-It describes entities as discrete objects drawn from a defined set (e.g., he, she or any other objective entity defined by what makes it measurably different from other living entities). It can be said that "I" have as many distinct and different relationships with each "It" as there are "It"s in my life. Fundamentally, "It" refers to the world as we experience it.
  • By contrast, the word pair "I-Thou" describes the world of relations. This is the "I" that does not objectify any "It" but rather acknowledges a living relationship. "I-Thou" relationships are sustained in the spirit and mind of an "I" for however long the feeling or idea of relationship is the dominant mode of perception. A person sitting next to a complete stranger on a park bench may enter into an "I-Thou" relationship with the stranger merely by beginning to think positively about people in general. The stranger is a person as well, and gets instantaneously drawn into a mental or spiritual relationship with the person whose positive thoughts necessarily include the stranger as a member of the set of persons about whom positive thoughts are directed. It is not necessary for the stranger to have any idea that he is being drawn into an "I-Thou" relationship for such a relationship to arise.
Sweetest friends - let us stop relating to people as "Its".

You will probably not be surprised to hear that the aforementioned individual is one of my favorite people on the planet. I hope to find more such people.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

I Want To Be Like A Woman Kohen [Sort Of -Read On]

I recently saw an interview with a famous female personality who serves in some forms in the capacity of a rabbi. I was impressed with her passion for Torah, her declaration of commitment to halacha, her modest appearance and likable personality.

However, she made some statements that I found quite shocking. One example: I learned at a very young age that there is nothing that I can't do as a woman. No door is shut before me and everything is possible. Not her exact words but that was the idea.

I wonder.....

If she is correct then I think as follows. I am not really cut out for financial success. My interests lie primarily in researching talmudic topics [this week it was the nature and powers of one lone witness in Jewish law - riveting!]. There are few financial rewards connected to such a vocation. The problem is, that I gave my wife a Ksubah exactly [in a few days] 19 years ago, promising her full support - forever. So if we blur gender distinctions I would like her to give me a Ksubah promising ME full finanacial support for as long as I live. Hey - if a woman can be like a man, let's apply it wherever necessary.

I also want to duchen. I will bless the congregation [after a Levi washes my hands] Bi-ahaaavaaaaaa! Then I will go and hug every guy there. Problem is that I am not a Kohen - nor for that matter is my father. But if a woman can be a man then a Yisrael can be a Kohen.

Sweetest friends - Judaism is 3,300 years strong. Lets try to preserve it and not allow every passing wind of this or that "ism" to change the way we live and think.

She also said that the "Women of the Wall" should be allowed a place to pray at the Kotel with tallis and tefillin. That is after all, their personal expression of Divine service and why should they be denied their basic rights.

The answer is of course that those women can daven as much as they want but they are anti-tradition and extremely combative and instigating. They don't want to daven - they want to violate the holiest place a Jew can go to today and by doing so insult tens of thousands of Jews [and Hashem for that matter]. In addition, according to Rav Moshe Feinstein [the primary halachist of the 20th century] in a famous teshuva, the very notion of feminism constitutes a denial of the Torah. So if we are in favor of halacha and tradition then we can't support these reformers [despite attempts to find halachic basis for a woman to don tallis and tfillin].

No To Disco - Yes To Yerushalayim - Crrrraaazzzy World - Lord Redeem Us

I love Jewish weddings, really I do. Recently I noticed that in America a "minhag" started where they have flashing lights of different colors giving one a "discoteque" feeling. I have no desire to be at a disco or even feel like I am in one.

So I vote for the abolishing of the "minhag" and we leave the flashing light for the goyim in mid-town Manhattan.

Ahhhh - midtown. As I was writing I had a flashback of how I asked someone for directions during a recent trip and after answering, he offered me a card which he encouraged me to take which would have dragged my poor neshama into the deepest reaches of gehenom.

I declined....

A tzadekes I know told me that she was on the train and a man offered her his card for a similar trip to the depths of gehenom.

She declined.....

May Hashem save us and bring us all up to Yerushalayim Hebenuyah. Booooy, do we need it!

A missshhhhhhiiiggggiiinneeeeee world. There seems to be no place safe from everything yicheeeee.

The World Is Poorer When A Tzadik Passes On

Today was the yahrtzeit of my dear friend R' Avraham Yehuda ben Pesach Eliezer Kordish ztz"l. He was filled with simcha and he had reason to be. He never had to do anything for himself because he had a "servant" do everything for him.

You see, R' Avraham Yehuda was a paraplegic. He didn't move a limb from his early twenties [when he was shot senselessly by a Vietnam veteran] until his passing at the age of about 67. He never complained and didn't seem to understand people who wondered how he could be happy despite such horrible daily struggles. He said everything was just great.

The Rebbe Shlita was once talking about how the word את comes to include someone or something else. So what, asked the Rebbe Shlita [in the name of the Abudraham], does the את in the pasuk ואכלת ושבעת וברכת come to include?

He saw that R' Avraham Yehuda wanted to say something so he asked him what he was thinking. R' Avraham Yehuda said "The Rebbe":-). Pashut. If there is someone to bless - it's the Rebbe.  For him, everything was about being able to connect to Hashem and His tzadikim. He was zocheh to learn through all of Shas despite his handicap and his late start in learning.

He often had guests over at his house. One guest was formerly a great athlete who was injured and unable to play any longer. R' Avraham Yehuda told him simply - "What's the problem - you take what you have and start over." He was talking about himself.

There are hundreds and hundreds of stories about him and his tremendous drive to serve Hashem. One of my favorite qualities of his was his generosity. He gave and gave and gave more. Recently I wrote about those people who hoard money. He was the diametrical opposite.

My worst-worst-worst day would be far better for him than his best day, yet never a word of complaint or self despair. Complete emunah in Hashem with thanks for all of his constant chesed were his guiding lights.

He never ever ever missed a shiur or tisch of the Rebbe Shlita, despite the hours it took to get him dressed and ready to go daily [and the fact that I don't think he even understood the Yiddish the Rebbe spoke]. He would go to mikva [no easy task for him] and then come to shul early or in time so that he could say everything  - including korbanos.

Last night we had a tisch in his memory and the Rebbe Shlita asked everybody to learn at least one mishna in his memory as he left no children. Please do so and may you be blessed with many.

When Yeshivish Isn't Yeshivish

I believe that about the greatest religious and spiritual question is modern technology and how the Torah Jew relates to it. This post will focus on the Internet.

First I will lay down the ground rules. Just about everybody who reads this blog is a committed Jew so you will understand where I am coming from. My starting point is both the strict halacha and the spirit of the law. The halacha is clear that it is forbidden for a male to see, even for a moment, a part of a woman's body that should be covered such as above her elbows or knees. It is also forbidden to look at a woman for the sake of pleasure, even if she is dressed properly. Reading material containing explicit sexual content is also a serious no-no. In addition, it is strictly forbidden to read lashon hara or words of spiritual blasphemy. [I can provide sources for those interested but I assume that what I write is axiomatic to all].

On the Internet it seems virtually [pun intended] impossible to avoid inappropriate pictures. If it is not the website itself there will be advertisements there with lewd pictures. This is all well known. What is so bothersome to me are the so-called "religious" websites. Let me take one of the most popular websites as an example: They have great, inspiring articles on a variety of topics. How odd it is that a website run by people who wear black velvet yarmulkes with white shirts and black pants [read: Charedi garb] consistently features very large color pictures of extremely attractive [by Western standards] women. It is not necessary and has nothing to do with their subject matter. Shame on them for being מכשיל so many men. I once saw a video that they featured. A guy was giving one of these four minute inspirational talks with picutes in the background to illustrate his point. One of the pictures was of an woman wearing a sleeveless outfit. I wonder - doesn't this person know that he is causing thousand of people to sin??? What about the director of the site? Kosher food in a treif kli is treif. Here the food is also treif. If they are trying to spread Torah and Judaism - why don't they do it according to halacha?  A mystery...

A very popular blog has a daily feature where they link the latest news stories. Just about every single link sends you to sites that are both irreligious and anti-religious. That of course means: Pritzus-dike pictures and stories [recently a detailed description of the various behaviors of a pedophile. Arghhhhhh! Why do they have to go into such minute detail? It is nauseating at best, unbearably painful at worst], lashon hara and general anti-Torah sentiment. Yes, he once wrote a disclaimer saying that he is not responsible for the links but  - please. One cannot link one to a place where it is forbidden to go and then claim that he is not responsible for the content. The person who directs this blog is both religious and religiously knowledgeable which makes it all the more surprising. If I link a site with inappropriate content and cause people to go there I am in the category of מחטיא את הרבים. See the Rambam hilchos tshuva 3/6. וגדול המחטיאו יותר מן ההורגו. Scary.

Recently I was at a very "yeshivish" new site which spoke about and linked further to a story detailing the sexual perversions of a famous politician [his wife forgives him so it's OK:)]. Why did they have to drag my mind together with thousands of others into the gutter. I purposely don't go to non-Jewish news sites in order to avoid reading such filth but I discovered that I can't escape by staying in the range of "religious" sites. [I remember being a young yeshiva bochur and seeing secular newspapers in the homes of one of my rabbeim and role models, which in Israel are nothing less than pornographic - like the New York Post. Made me wonder back then - still does...]

I am very careful on this blog not to name names or be overly specific. I have no personal vendettas or axes to grind. My only intention is to preserve your spiritual purity which is corrupted when innocently going to "kosher sites".

My suggestion. If you don't need Internet - avoid it completely. If you do, get a filter, make sure others are in the room when you use it, do what you have to do and then get off as soon as possible.

As always, I am eager to hear from others showing me where I am wrong so I can correct myself...:-)

Love and blessings.     

From A Life Of Crime To Kollel

Avraham Yom Tov who was close to Rav Ben Tov for many years, related: I knew a person who was an underworld crime figure, Hashem Yishmor. A inhumane and aggressive person who used to beat his wife. They didn't have kids.

I once told him "Come to my Rav. What do you care? What do you have to lose?" To my great surprise he agreed and so we went.

The Rav looked at him with a loving expression and asked him "Do you keep Shabbat?" I interrupted and said "What Shabbat?? He is faaar, faaarrr." The Rav turned to me and asked me not to intervene. The Rav asked him "Do you eat kosher?" Again I couldn't contain myself and said "There is no Shabbat, no Kashrut, no boundries". The Rav said "It will be OK".

"Do you want children?" The Rav asked. "Do what I say: Take your wife to a woman who is an expert at hilchot mikva, she will tell her what to do, you also do as you are told and follow the rules and in two months your wife will be pregnant and she will give birth to twins."

After everything the Rav said came true the couple started keeping more and more mitzvos until they did complete tshuva. Today he sits in kollel and learns full time.

צדיק המזוזות עמ' 127-128

A Dreamy Mikva

One of the multitude of stories about the tzadik and famous mezuza and tfillin expert Rav Moshe Ben Tov ztz"l-  lizchus [like the future stories I will post] yedid nafshi R' Ephraim Abba ben Miriam Shoshana who is my role model in honoring and revering tzadikim:

A women who lives in France, dreamed three weeks before the tzadik passed away, that she came to the tzadik's office in Paris with mezuzos from her house to be checked. While he checked, she saw in her dream, the Rav spoke to her about her sister-in-law, and told her to relate to her that the reason she has not yet had children is because the mikva where she immersed was lacking the necessary conditions that enabled her to be checked prior to immersion. "Tell her to go to a different mikva", the Rav paskened.

Immediately when she awoke she told her sister in law about the dream. Her sister in law said that she also had been thinking recently that the mikva didn't have adequate conditions to properly check her and she had been considering switching mikvas.

She did and soon after became pregnant.

[צדיק המזוזות עמ' 127

 זכות הצדיקים יעזור ויגן ויושיע
A riddle for Kushya Yomis here.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Re this post: After all is said and done the ultimate goal is to fill yourself with love for all. The strong words written there don't change that in the slightest. To quote the Heilige Rashb"i הכל בחביבותא תליא - It is all about love. The great pleasure of life is overcoming one's natural, innate narcissism together with overlooking the many failings and inadequacies of others and filling yourself with love.

Hashem's name in the gemara is "Love".

He puts up with us and we should be happy to put up with others.


Goals are a means to an end, not the ultimate purpose of our lives. They are simply a tool to concentrate our focus and move us in a direction. The only reason we really pursue goals is to cause ourselves to expand and grow. Achieving goals by themselves will never make us happy in the long term; it's who you become, as you overcome the obstacles necessary to achieve your goals, that can give you the deepest and most long-lasting sense of fulfillment.
Tony Robbins (1960 -)
"Man is not a creature of his circumstances. Circumstances are a creature of man."

Benjamin Disraeli

Mesirus Nefesh

A fellow finds himself in front of the Gates of Heaven. God greats him and explains that it's not so easy to get in heaven. There are some criteria that have to be met before entry is allowed

For example, did the man go to synagogue? No? "That's not good," says God.

Was he generous? Did he give money to the poor? Charities? No? "That's not good," says God.

Did he do any good deeds? Help his neighbor? Anything? No? God is becoming concerned.

Exasperated, God says, "Look, everybody does something nice sometime. Work with me, I'm trying to help. Now think!"

The man says, "Well, there was this old lady. I came out of a store and found her surrounded by a biker gang. They had taken her purse and were shoving her around, taunting and abusing her.

I got so mad I threw my bags down, fought through the crowd, and got her purse back. I then helped her to her feet. I then went up to the biggest, baddest biker and told him how despicable, cowardly and mean he was and then spat in his face".

"Wow", says God, "That's impressive. When did this happen"?

"Oh, about 10 minutes ago", replied the man.

Being Re-educated

I have posted numerous times about what I consider the rudeness of people who ignore emails of friends and associates. However, I have some exciting news that I would like to share:)!

It happens so often that I have come to expect it and am actually surprised when people do respond. So, if I email a yeshiva about possibly teaching there they will in all likelihood ignore me completely, so I am no longer disappointed when they do. That is par for the course. If I email a friend asking for the contact information of so and so, I know in advance that he probably won't answer, because - what's in it for him. My kavod?? Who am I?? To my face people will pretend to respect me but these same people will ignore me when I can't see them. Isn't responding to someone a sign of respect? Isn't not responding a sign of disrespect? As someone once wrote to me "Thank you for dignifying my email with a response".

Since I have learned that this is standard practice I must take it to the next level. When someone calls or emails me I will first determine if I will in some way benefit from responding. If I will not - then of course I won't. "Rabbi Ehrman, how is it permitted to make tea on Shabbos?" What will I get out of answering that question?? No personal benefit. I will therefore delete it and remove it from sight. "Rabbi Ehrman, I heard you are starting a program. Are there any jobs available?" Someone needs parnassa?? Not my problem. I will ignore. Anyway, I don't like when people call a yeshiva "a program". Besides the fact that his facts are off and I am starting nothing.

Sweetest friends!! I need your help. Can someone show me that I am wrong. I of course wrote the foregoing as a satire, using humor and sarcasm to convey a point. What justification is there for ignoring people? Why is it mentchlich to look at caller ID and ignore peoples phone calls?? I am not saying that every time the phone rings you must answer at that second but don't we decide whether to answer based purely on selfish reasons? Maybe someone is calling because he needs to talk with you about something??

Maybe the meshulach who knocks on your door is a human being with feelings?? You don't have to give him a million dollars but he deserves something much more important - his personal dignity.

I walk around and cannot get over the self absorption of people that I see again and again and again with infinite expressions.

Money. Is there anybody out there who believes that all of their money is really a deposit from Hashem that was given to take care of one's needs but beyond that it all belongs to the poor. The Torah clearly views it that way. Most people don't. They are very possessive. I have learned that there are two people in every person. Him in general and him when it comes to money. It is two different personas. I have a lot more to say on this topic but not for now.

 Baruch Hashem, I have never in my life taken myself or my family on an expensive vacation. Not because I am a tzadik but because I have never had the means to. I can't judge others because I have never had this test. But I can ask the following question - How can a person spend fifty k on a pesach in Miami when with that same money he can feed FIFTY POOR FAMILIES AT LEAST for an entire pesach including matza.  How can he enjoy himself?? There is only one way - by forgetting that these people exist. Otherwise the whole experience is spoiled. Of course people need and deserve a vacation - but at what price. One's own needs come before anybody else according to halacha [חייך קודמין] but one's luxuries don't come before the basic needs of others [I owe that formulation to Rabbi Aviner].

I feel like I am a kol korei bamidbar - a lone voice in the desert. I wish someone would show me that I am wrong and my faith in my fellow Jews would be reinstated. In the meantime - I wonder, wonder and wonder. Is this what Hashem wants?? Do people really view all other Jews as brothers and sisters as they declare in their liturgy??

I am not sure.

My intention is not to be מקטרג but to be מעורר  - to wake people up.

I will start with myself....:-)

New Shiur

What did Rav Kook say in his Shabbos Shuva drasha 120 years ago?

An exclusive, here!!!

Until 120!:-)
Rabbi Moshe Shalit - Shabbat Bi-shabbato Parshas Eikev:
The Seven Species in this week's Torah portion, the choice products of Eretz Yisrael which are unique for the nation of Yisrael, can teach us the way of serving G-d  through the concept that "man is the same as the tree of the field" [Devarim 20:19]. The verse in this week's portion can be viewed as symbols of internal steps to be followed by the soul. Here is how the Chabad Rebbe interprets the words of Devarim 8:8 one word at a time, following the Chassidic approach:
The earth is hard, and specifically from there, "the earth is from where the bread comes" [Iyov 28:5]. The earth symbolizes the necessity of hard work in the service of G-d. Nothing will succeed without hard labor, plowing the earth, planting, watering, and taking care of the fields. There are no shortcuts. It is necessary to develop a sweat.
Wheat is the food of human beings. The spiritual part of wheat is called a person, named for "earth on high," representing the Divine soul. It is necessary to awaken the supernatural forces within us, the "real portion of G-d above" which exists in each and every one of us. Just like an atom bomb, where a miniscule amount of material provides power and value that it is difficult to grasp in our minds, so is the soul of every Jew.
Barley is the food of animals. After we have revealed our internal Divine strength and we have become filled with holy energy, we can and should work on the "animal" inside us, referring to our "animal soul." It is not inherently bad, rather it is far removed from the light of the Living King. It is our duty to "work" on it and to bring it closer to holiness.
The Vine
Wine represents happiness. And this teaches us how we must perform our labor – our service must incorporate the happiness of the grape, "My liquid, which makes G-d and man happy" [Shoftim 9:13]. Both the labor of revealing the "Divine" within us and our involvement with our natural "animal" souls – the humanity within us – must come about through happiness. This is the only way to burst out of the limits of the real world and to truly advance.
The Fig
The fig represents a garment. Fig leaves were Adam's clothing. A garment hides the body, but it is also an expression of our personality. Similarly, our thoughts, speech, and deeds are an expression of and cover the soul hidden behind them. We must do our best to maintain the perfection and the purity of the "clothing." Improving the internal soul alone is not enough, it is also necessary to carefully watch over the form and content of our thoughts, speech, and deeds. The fig teaches us to treat the practical expressions of the soul with respect.
The Pomegranate
The pomegranate is a symbol of natural abundance. Above we discussed the perfection and mainly the purity of the clothing, including the force of action. Now we discuss an increase in the number of good deeds. We must draw out the holiness from within, through the "clothing," into this world. We must perform many deeds, to insert holiness into more and more things in this world. A few seeds is not enough, we must be "as full of mitzvot as a pomegranate has seeds."
The second mention of the land also refers to labor, but of an "enhanced" type – to face problems, obstructions, and hindrances that block our way. While the "land" at the beginning of the verse refers to the fact of existence in the natural world, which requires meeting challenges and labor, this second mention of the "land" refers to survival while in exile and conquest in wars against tests which demand from us and reveal within us unique strength.
Oil-Giving Olives
Success in meeting challenges is found in "olive oil." The olive is bitter and is not edible as it is. The "only way it will release its oil is through crushing" [Menachot 53]. But from bitterness and crushing the result is the choice and prestigious olive oil, which floats on top of all other liquids, demonstrating its superiority. This is the unique reward for the labor of struggling against special difficulties.
Unlimited patience, an investment, and care will lead to "honey!" The labor of the palm tree takes a long time. In the Zohar it is written that the dates on a palm start to appear only after seventy years (Vayikra, page 17). The verse does not give the name of the fruit, only that it is made into "honey," in line with the verse, "the light is more beneficial than the darkness" [Kohellet 2:13].
After arriving in this world (land), awakening of the soul (wheat), labor on the animal soul and the clothing, in both quality and quantity (barley, figs, and pomegranates) in joy (wine), and by meeting the challenges (earth and an olive with oil), we are able to achieve the final goal – "honey!"

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The words "I love you," spoken in moments of genuine appreciation, wonder, or caring arise from something perfectly pure within us - the capacity to open ourselves and say yes without reserve. Such moments of pure openheartedness bring us as close to natural perfection as we can come in this life.

John Welwood
Source: Perfect Love, Imperfect Relationships: Healing the Wound of the Heart, Pages: 1

טוב שברופאים

טוב שברופאים לגיהנום - The best of doctors to gehenom, says the gemara. There are many explanations. One is that there are 18 brachos in our shmoneh esrei. A really good doctor skips one - רפאנו - because he doesn't need Hashem's help. He can do it himself. The gematria of טוב is 17 which is the amount of brachos he says. Such a doctor is not destined to go to a good place....

A chasidic explanation - The best of doctors goes into the gehenom his patient is feeling. He truly empathizes.

טוב שברופאים לגיהנום - compliment or criticism? It all depends on how you read it.

ציפורה בת הינדא

Please daven for Tziporah bas Hinda, who had surgery.

Sharing The Burden!!

This country is nuts. There is such inequality. It is simply unfair. A travesty of justice. Why do only the religious get benefits??

The greatest pleasure is learning Torah and keeping mitzvos, getting married young and having large families. The government should make a law requiring ALL Israelis to receive a thorough Torah education and then spend at least 3 full years in a Yeshiva after the age of 18. It should then offer financial incentives to get married and have many children. Girls should be similarly required to attend inspiring shiurim and enjoy shabbos and yom tov in an uplifting atmosphere. They should be allowed the pleasurable experience of dressing respectably but modestly, not revealing their bodies to every lustful male eye just because the sun decided to shine powerfully.

Let the "chilonim" share the holy burden. The "burden" of קבלת עול מלכות שמים באהבה!!

New Shiur

A new shiur on the various בריתות between Hashem and the Jewish People, here.

Not normal.....:-)

Monday, July 22, 2013

Humans, like other animals, are shaped by the places they inhabit, both individually and collectively. Our bodily rhythms, our moods, cycles of creativity and stillness, even our thoughts are readily engaged and influenced by seasonal patterns in the land. Yet our organic attunement to the local earth is thwarted by our ever-increasing intercourse with our own signs. Transfixed by our technologies, we short-circuit the sensorial reciprocity between our breathing bodies and the bodily terrain. Human awareness folds in upon itself, and the senses – once the crucial site of our engagement with the wild and animate earth – become mere adjuncts of an isolate and abstract mind bent on overcoming an organic reality that now seems disturbingly aloof and arbitrary.
David Abram
Source: The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World (Vintage), Pages: 267

The Chief Rabbinate

Very soon the elections for the chief rabbinate will be taking place. It is a source of great anguish for me. I like to be bi-simcha but I feel the Torah is being trampled upon. Think about it - Shouldn't the Cheif Rabbi be the person who is the greatest talmid chochom, biggest tzaddik, holiest person and greatest leader? I believe so. However, the people who decide on the appointment are not at all able to determine such a thing. Nobody is reading the chiddushim of Rabbi Dovid Lau [Sefer Maskil Li-david] and comparing them with the Shiurim Klalilim that Rav Yaakov Shapira gave in Mercaz HaRav on the huge migo sugyos in Bava Metzia. Here is the issue: Many of the voters never even heard of migo and certainly cannot intelligently discuss it. Some aren't even religious. Many are women who [with all of the tremendous respect and admiration I have for Jewish women] have never seriously studied Torah. So on what basis are the Chief Rabbis chosen?? Their degree of yiras shomayim? Their intensity of prayer?

Three words: Politics, politics, politics.

That does not mean that the candidates are not talmidei chachomim. It just means that they are not chosen on that basis.

Also, the entire race has led to so much lashon hara that all of the good that those elected will do might well not be worth all of the spiritual dross created in their road to the throne. Lashon hara is saddening.

Our job? Keep focused on the true "Chief Rabbis" of Klal Yisrael: Moshe Rabbeinu and Rebbe Akiva, the Rambam and the Chofetz Chaim, to name a few. Government appointed Chief Rabbis will come and go but our Torah remains forever:-).

One more point - For all intents and purposes most people don't really have much reverence for the position anyway. The Charedim have their own "Chief Rabbis" [such as Rav Shteinman Shlita and Rav Chaim Kniyevsky Shlita], the Religious Zionist world already has their own "Chief Rabbis" [such as Rav Aharon Lichtenstein Shlita for those who live in Gush Etzion and his other talmidim and Rav Tau Shlita for those who associate with the "Chardal" movement]. The non-religious jews don't really need a rabbi because, frankly, they don't keep many of the mitzvos... Who is left? So ultimately, the position is one that is more political and less spiritual in nature and garners few followers.

I yearn for the glory days when the light of Israel, Maran HaRav Kook was Chief Rabbi or the noble and distinguished man of letters who was a gaon olam and had a heart of gold - Rav Herzog ztz"l.

Of course I don't mean to belittle the present candidates. They are fine Jews and talmidei chachomim but they are involved in an endeavor that brings both glory [if they do it right] and disgrace [due to all of the surrounding brouhaha] to Toras Hashem.   

Writers Bloc

Recently, I have found myself not wanting to blog. I was wondering why this is. In my personal life there are things going on that are requiring a great deal of attention [and heartache Baruuuuch Haaaasheeeeemmmm:-)] but that is not all there is to it.

On the blog I write about many topics which can all be subsumed under one umbrella: Ruchniyus - spirituality. The problem I have been dealing with is that I don't feel that I am able to convey my religious experience on "paper". I want people to be able to get the same excitemement from observing Torah and mitzvos as I do but the written word is an inadequate medium. Even when I was zoche to teach face to face I often felt to my heart wrenching dismay that I failed to properly convey to the students the depths of my feelings and experiences. I could give a long talk on the sweetness and holiness of the eternal Torah and only minutes later the boys would be huddled around a box watching oversized goyim trying to paralyze each other in an effort to get a piece of pigskin filled with hot air past a white line, to the delight of tens of millions of other goyim who are convinced that such activities matter. I could give a fire and brimstone talk on kedusha and shmiras habris and shortly after the boys would be back in the dorm watching half clothed, gentile women pretending to be someone they are not and kissing random men on a DVD [which should be roshei teivos "Don't Vatch Dis"].

Part of me is glad that I no longer have to deal with that and that no more does gemara compete with the playoffs [or sultry actresses רחמנא לצלן]. But writing this blog puts me in a certain sense back in that reality. Mevakesh has to compete with Facebook, Lashon Hara news websites, ESPN.COM and other forms of lower entertainment. On the odd occasion that I still give a shiur it is always in heavy competion with the blackberry and cell phones that are active during the proceedings. Ring-ring. Bzzzzzz. They look and then apologize. Another ring, another look, another apology. So many hatzala guys around Baruch Hashem:).

Sweetest friends. At heart, I am just a pashut yeshiva bachur who wants to retreat into the charming and lofty world of Torah. So I guess that I am inviting everyone to join me. I want you to experience for yourselves the grandeur of Torah and Avodas Hashem. The writer of this blog is no holier, smarter, more spiritual or deeper than you are. My goal is nothing less than for you to reach a state of ruach hakodesh. That is the goal of the sefer mesilas yesharim and our goal is no more modest.

Hope you will join me for the ride.

Love always,


Sunday, July 21, 2013

Deep Love

Shimon and Reuven are playing golf one day at their local golf course. Shimon is about to chip onto the green when he sees a long funeral procession on the road next to the course.
He stops in mid-swing, closes his eyes, and bows his head in prayer.
Reuven says, "Wow, that is the most thoughtful and touching thing I have ever seen. Shimon, you truly are a kind man."
To which Shimon replies, "Well, we were married for 35 years."
A freilichin Tu B'av:-)!!
Another shiur recorded yesterday in my grandfather's memory.

New Shiur

Today was my grandfather's yahrtzeit, R' Alexander Zusha ben R' Yosef. Here is a shiur delivered li-ilui nishmaso.

Erase The Name Of Amalek!

Many years ago, the legendary Mashgiach of Yeshivas Torah Va-daas [later of Torah Ohr in Yerushalayim], Rav Zeidel Epstein, gave a shmooze in Yeshiva about the "piece of Amalek" that we ALL have within us. It is a common theme in yeshivos and mussar sefarim. When we talk about having Amalek within us it doesn't mean that we should obliterate ourselves. It means that there is something impure and unholy that must be fixed. When the board heard about this talk, they called him in and censured him for his horrific, vituperative words. All of his explanations that he didn't meant to be taken literally fell on deaf ears. He was warned never to say such words again.

Recently a well known [now more well known..] rabbi compared a large group of Jews to Amalek. All over the world people went ballistic. HOW COULD HE SAY SUCH A THING. HORRIBLE! UNFORGIVABLE!!

 I am not justifying his comments. Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach didn't express himself that way. Nor did Rav Moshe Feinstein. But I think that his words should be seen in their greater context. He didn't mean that we should kill those people. He has lived for decades in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City where there is a large population of people who identify with the group he associated with Amalek. He davens with them, he listens as the baal koreh from their group reads the Torah, and his chazan is also often someone associated with this group. He also treats them with respect. I have watched him for many years and never seen anything negative shown towards those people. He was merely expressing - in extreme language-  the large ideological gap between what he perceives as truth and what the group that he condemned represents. I know of a well known rabbi [who is close to many of my readers] who is famous for making very extreme, shocking and insulting statements. Yet, people continue to love him. When challenged, they explain "You have to take what he says with a grain of salt."

This applies to other statement we hear and that shock us. They must be seen in their proper context. The Satmar Rebbe used very harsh language against the Zionists but on a personal level he was ready and willing to help them - even with large amounts of money [a person's inner heart is measured by his willingness to shell out money. People of means used to say to me - "Good luck in your Kollel". I would think "You could actually make it successful if you'd like...." They didn't:-)].

Again - I am not sure that in our generation rabbis should use such invective. But when they do, I have 2 rules: 1] If they are big talmidei chachomim they still deserve our respect. Even if they are wrong - people are human and allowed to err. All disagreement should be stated with respect. 2] Their words should be understood in their greater context and with an attempt to determine what the person really means. 

There is a lot more to be said on the topic, but I will suffice with this for now.

What They Didn't Tell Me At My Bar Mitzvah

Excerpts from an essay in the Intermountain Jewish News [Denver, Colorado] by Rabbi Hillel Goldberg:

What they didn’t tell me on my Bar Mitzvah was to love my parents a thousand times more than I already did because a parent can die. Life can be wrenched upside down in a second.

I think back to a boy who was tutored for his Bar Mitzvah, who had to learn the “trop,” the speech, the davening and had to gain some competency in chanting or singing.

What they didn’t tell me on my Bar Mitzvah was that I would proceed through schooling, rarely having the privilege of a teacher as effective and as loving as that Bar Mitzvah tutor.

Nor did they tell me that when he was tutoring me, he was a scant 14 years removed from the death camps, and that explained a lot of how he acted.

I think back to a boy whose grade in music the semester of his Bar Mitzvah jumped up to an A.

What they didn’t tell me is that it takes persistence and practice to retain that increased musical sense. Or, maybe they did tell me, but age 13 is too young to get that.

They didn’t tell me that the rabbi I revered could one day drop dead at age 50.

They didn’t tell me that one day I would realize that my most prized possessions were my tefilin — and that, paradoxically, they would wear out over time. And those precious Bar Mitzvah tefilin would need to be replaced.

They didn’t tell me or my cohorts that it wasn’t worth cheating on the SAT or other exams — because they didn’t need to.

They didn’t tell me or my cohorts that it was important to read and learn and study new things — because they didn’t have to.

They didn’t tell me that some of my cohorts, honest and curious as they were, would nonetheless ruin their lives on drugs. They didn’t tell me how lucky I was to have the right parents or the right something to figure out how to “just say no” not only to drugs but to many other temptations that veered from the teachings conveyed . . . on my Bar Mitzvah.

They didn’t tell me that travel could be eye-opening in an unimaginable way, or that a single college course could shape the way a person looks at the world, or that somebody could decide to pay young men the attention they needed to gain a foothold in the mysteries of the Torah.

They didn’t tell me a lot back then, no doubt because I wasn’t capable of listening, but also because those elders of mine could not see what would unfold from the day of my Bar Mitzvah forward any more than I could.

They didn’t tell me about the coming assassination of an American president, or the coming Civil Rights upheaval, or the liberation of the Western Wall. They certainly didn’t tell me about the fall of Communism or the rise of terrorism.

They didn’t tell me about the glory of a cool fall day, or the beauty of a Swiss waterfall or the wonder of a jet airplane. These I would find out on my own — with the tools, the life tools, acquired from the loving tutors and teachers and elders I had for my Bar Mitzvah.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Where Did Our Brains Go?

David Epstein came home from work to see his wife and young daughter Rivkah, reviewing the girl’s Hebrew homework.

“What are you learning honey?” asked David.

"Well we’re learning Bereishis and Mommy told me how Hashem made the first man and the first woman. He made the man first. But the man was very lonely with nobody to talk to him. So Hashem put the man to sleep. And while the man was asleep, Hashem took out his brains, and made a woman from them."

Kushya yomis here.

Quality Sleep

A Charedi news website reported [I was directed by a blog] that last Wednesday, on the 3rd of Av, in the middle of the 9 days, when Rav Kanievsky Shlit"a awoke from his short afternoon nap, he asked his grandson Rav Gedalia Honigsberg Shlit"a to get him some wine.

Rav Honigsberg was surprised at this request since it was in the middle of the 9 days.  He didn't think that there would be a Siyum so soon since Rav Kanievsky makes a Siyum on Yevamot only on Erev Tish'a Be'av, which is 5 days later.  Confused, he asked his grandfather what the occasion was.

To Rav Honigsberg's astonishment, Rav Kanievsky told him that he completed Mesechet Berachot in a dream he had while sleeping.  When Rav Honigsberg asked how long it took, Rav Kanievsky replied in Yiddish, "Freg nisht tzu fil" (don't ask so much).

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

What Is A Friend?

A good topic for after Tisha B'av: Friendship.

What is a "friend"? The Mishna says that one must "acquire" a friend but leaves it up to us to define the word friend. It is so interesting that almost all texts and communication are like that. Words are used but not defined which can lead to a great deal of misunderstanding and confusion.

Most people are too busy to think about such things. People in school have class and another class, a paper on this topic and then a paper on that topic. Midterms and finals followed by midterms and finals. Older people have work, a spouse, carpool and mortgage payments to make. Oh yes, daf yomi too. People are biiii-zzzeeeeee!!! Busy, in theory, is a positive thing. But it often causes us to overlook important things that require our attention. Friendship is one such thing. If the gemara says או חברותא או מיתותא [a friend or death] that means that friendship is a matter of true life or semi-death.

So let's define our terms.... And here is the crux of the issue: Everybody has a different idea of what friendship entails. This creates circumstances where one person expects something from a friend as an act of friendship but the friend doesn't act accordingly. This can happen for a number of reasons: Either because 1] he doesn't see friendship the same way, 2] he doesn't consider this person his friend or 3] he is just too busy [or self absorbed ... or both] to notice.

An example: I used to live in a building where just about everybody who was visiting from the States would pass by when he was in Israel. On the way to the kotel, main street etc. So a friend would come to Israel, walk right by my apartment and not stop in to say hello. In my conception of "friendship" a friend stops in to say hello when he is visiting from overseas. I learned over the years that almost nobody else felt the same way. This is either because they just didn't consider me a friend and it was an uneven relationship because I considered them a friend, or, they didn't see friendship that way. Friendship to them meant that if you see a friend on the street you will say hello but not that you will make a special effort to say hello. I wish I could say that I was never offended... It is not that I was bored. Ahhhhh, that Talmud and it's commentaries keep me quite busy, but it is axiomatic for me that we live, in part, in order to cultivate friendships. What is most likely is that people didn't think much about it. They walked by, said to themselves, "There lives [whatever they happen to call me]" and moved on with their buuussssyyyyy day.

On the very rare occasions when people did stop in, it always came with the caveat "I can only stay for a minute, gotta run". Here once a again was the clash in perspectives. For me, a friend is not someone who you make feel that you really have no time for. A friend is someone with whom you cherish every minute. Others feel differently.

Another example: Simchas. I once had a "good friend" [or so I thought] for about twenty years whom I saw quite frequently. When he got married, he didn't invite me. Hmmmmm. To this day, I don't get it. Did he not consider me a friend? Or did he just forget? Or did he not invite all of his good friends? I still remember on the night of the wedding that people went whom he knew for a much much shorter period of time than me. So odd. Again, it is not that I am bored and need to attend simchas. It is a question of friendship and it's definition.

When I made a bar mitzva for my oldest son, we had a davening and a kiddush. Just about none of my friends came, even people who lived very close to the shul. We barely had a minyan. To this day, I wonder. What does that mean? Maybe, that I don't have very many friends. Or, that people don't define friendship in terms of joining in friends simchas. The next bar mitzva I made, I didn't bother having a special minyan. I just went down to the kotel with my son and we joined in a random minyan. A bit sad. Both times we had a party during the week and more people attended but even there I wondered. I wondered about all of those friends who didn't attend and many of those who did but could only stay for a minute. I also noticed those who came and stayed around. Ahhhhhhh! 

Recently, someone I know passed away. In my life I have never taken a death so hard [besides my great grandmother 24 years ago]. I was trying to understand why. I have known so many people who have died, what made this one different? Then it hit me - he was a true friend. What made it more painful was that I didn't realize this until he was gone and I took him for granted. In a sense, more than mourning for him, I was mourning for myself. I also mourn for him because the world lost a special tzadik. But I mourn for myself because I lost someone irreplaceable. A person who cared for me, respected me, liked me and who was an source of spiritual inspiration. A person who never made me feel that he was too busy. A person who was there for me [he was the one - together with his sons - who came to the bar mitzvah davening]. When his son was married and I couldn't come because I was in the States, he really missed me. He was someone whom I wasn't the only one to call him, he would call me - even just to say good shabbos. This is all the more remarkable because he was considerably older than me and was someone who made a decent living [people often don't respect people like me who don't...:-)].

In short - he was a true friend, according to all definitions of the word, certainly according to my definition. So, yes, I mourn for the passing of a tzadik. But I also mourn for the loss of something that I find so-so-so-rare in my life.

A chaver bi-lev va-nefesh.

לע"נ ידיד נפשי ר' יואל בן ר' פנחס הלוי


לע"נ ר' יואל בן ר' פנחס הלוי

I posted this last year:

The Shulchan Aruch rules that pregnant or nursing women must fast, so it seems to be an open and shut case. But halacha is rarely that simple. The Chofetz Chaim in the Biur Halacha [תקנ"ט סעיף ט] quotes a Rebbe Akiva Eiger who says that on a year such as this when Tisha B'av is pushed off a day the halacha is more lenient and when a woman feels weak or otherwise unwell she may eat. Rav Ovadiah Yosef [Yabia Omer 5/40] takes this one step further and allows all pregnant or nursing women to eat [I am not presenting his argument here  ע"ש] and Rav Moshe Shternbuch [Tshuvos Vi-hanhagos 2/253] is open to being lenient as well [although Rav Bentzion Abba Shaul ztz"l in his Or Latzion Vol. 3 29/3 and the Yemenite Gadol Rav Yitzchak Ratzabi Shlita in his Olat Yitzchak 1/67 argue] . Things are VERY hot and we must protect our wives. In any event, a pregnant woman should turn on the AC and lie in bed [if she needs to] and stay COOL.

Halacha Li-myse - ask your local authority and don't posken from my blog:-).

What I meant in quoting the Yabia Omer [and R' Shternbuch] is that they allow all pregnant or nursing women to eat on a Tisha B'av nidche [pushed off from Shabbos to Sunday]. That is an expansion of the heter of Rebbe Akiva Eiger who only permits it only if she is feeling unwell. However I received an email from a Rov in Los Angeles who understood from my words that I meant that they allow pregnant women to eat even on a regular Tisha B'av [such as this year] which is incorrect. Since he understood it that way then many others probably did as well and I apologize for my lack of clarity.

That being said there are many poskim in Yerushalayim who are lenient and allow pregnant women to eat if they suffer from the heat [see, for example, Halichos Beisah (Ch. 25 footnote 3) and Encyclopedia Hilchatit Refuit (Vol. 3 page 17)]. See another very lenient opinion in Tal Li-Bracha [Vol 2 Simman 74].

As for Halacha Li-myse? I reiterate, ask your Rov:).

Monday, July 15, 2013

Zimun For The Seuda Hamafsekes

Kushya Yomis here

Aninus, Aveilus And Taanis

לע"נ ידידי האהוב ר' יואל בן ר' פנחס הלוי

Erev Tisha B'av is a time of "aninus". We know that when a relative dies, until the burial one is an "onen" and after the burial he becomes an "aveil". We see from the gemara [Taanis 30] that when eating the seuda hamafsekes, Rebbe Yehuda felt like an onen.

The aveilus is expressed in refraining from learning Torah. On a regular fast day one is permitted to learn Torah.

Tisha B'av is also like a Taanis Tzibbur [Psachim 54b]. It is in some ways as severe a fast as Yom Kippur. We see this in the Rambam [Taaniyos 5/7] who compares Tisha B'av to Yom Kippur insofar as they both begin at night. We see this in the gemara in Taanis [30b] where Rebbe Akiva says that one who eats on Tisha B'av is as if he ate on Yom Kippur.

To summarize: Erev Tisha B'av is a time of אנינות while Tisha B'av is a time of both aveilus and a public fast.

[See the excellent sefer Ohel Moshe on Inyanei Mikdash Ch. 11]

Always Following The Correct Path

השם בדד ינחנו - Hashem guides us alone [Dvarim 32/12] - Even in the galus as it says איכה ישבה בדד  - How did [Yerushalayim] sit alone? Regardless, Hashem is with us always, as it says [tehillim 139/10] גם שם ידך תנחני - Even there [in the galus] Your Hand will guide us. Only Hashem guides us. ואין עמו אל נכר [Dvarim 32/12] - There is no foreign god. 

בדד is an acronym for בכל דרכיך דעהו [Mishlei 3/6] - In all of your ways know Him. "All" includes the galus where the path is often crooked. Nevertheless, the Jew follows Hashem there too, and that will result in והוא יישר אורחותיך [Mishlei 3/6] - He will straighten your path. All of the crooked paths of the galus were given to the Jewish people so that they can straighten them out.

Shabbos is the witness that we always follow Hashem, as it says ביני ובין בני ישראל אות היא  - Between Me and the Jewish People it [Shabbos] is a sign. That explains why if Tisha B'av falls out on Shabbos it is pushed off until the next day. On Shabbos we are already following Hashem and we don't need the painful lesson of Tisha B'av and following Hashem even in the galus.....

[A Torah said by the Sfas Emes, Parshas Dvarim in the year 1900]

לע"נ ידידי אהובי ר' יואל בן ר' פנחס הלוי שאתו התפללתי בתשעה באב


Happy Tisha B'av

An answer to an email I received from across the ocean and above the border.......

Are we supposed to be completely shattered on Tisha B'av??

Clearly not.


Let us learn a few halachos:

1] We don't skip the mizmor li-soda tfilla where we say עבדו את השם בשמחה [those who were in yeshiva with me know that as my theme song  with which we ended shiurim].

2] We don't say tachanun at mincha before Tisha B'av or on Tisha B'av itself because it is called a מועד.

3] We learn Torah which [as I pointed as in the previous post] is inherently an act of simcha. In the terminology of Rav Soloveitchik: The cheftza of divrei torah is mesameach.

The churban was a good thing. The pogroms that we remember were a good thing. Ultimately, EVERYTHING is good. Hashem doesn't do evil or even allow it to happen. Humans do evil but from a Divine perspective everything is ultimately for a good purpose. This is hard for some to swallow but a basic principal of faith. The gemara often refers to Hashem as רחמנא - the Loving, Merciful One.

On Tisha B'av we are happy. On Tisha B'av we are also sad. We are happy to be alive. We are happy that Hashem is with us. We are happy for an infinite amount of reasons. We are also sad, but only for one reason, because the is the avoda of the day is to feel the pain of all of the destructions. The Batei Mikdash, the Inquisition, the Holocaust, everything. But we never allow our emotions to overcome us and lose all perspective. 

When a parent dies one makes two brachos, one mourning the loss [דיין אמת] and the other celebrating the inheritance [הטוב והמטיב]. We don't want anyone to die but if it happens then we are halachically obligated to take the good with the "bad" and even see the bad as good.

On Tisha B'av we KNOW that this is only temporary. There will be motzaei tisha b'av [feast], there will be shabbos nachamu [men seek out women to build eternal edifices] and there will be seven weeks of haftorahs consoling us and promising us a better tomorrow.

Jews are taught to be optimistic. It is healthy and it is also the absolute truth. There WILL be a better tomorrow. In the meantime we mourn but within proportion.

To summarize in one word: Balance.

May your fast be easy and bring you closer to Hashem and what is real.

[Part of what I wrote I heard from the Rebbe Shlita]

Learning Before Tisha B'av - Updated

We all know that one is only allowed to learn "sad torah" on Tisha B'av, such as Eicha and Hilchos Aveilus. What is less well known is that this begins already at midday of Erev Tisha B'av. [Note - Many authorities argue and are lenient about learning on Erev Tisha B'av].

Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach says that the prohibition of learning the "sad torah" in depth [בעיון] is forbidden only on Tisha B'av proper but on Erev Tisha B'av one is allowed to learn in depth.

Wheeeew. Saved.

[The Maamar Mordechai permits even learning in depth on Tisha B'av. The Chazon Ish agreed because he maintained that learning superficially is not considered learning. See also the shiurim of Rav Soloveitchik on page מה who says that learning Torah is inherently an act of simcha because that is the essence of divrei torah. The mitzva to learn "sad torah" is because it is a fulfillment of the aveilus of the day. Learning in depth is also considered part of the aveilus. A proof was brought by his zeide R' Chaim from the fact that we are permitted to learn midrashim on Eicha. Midrashim are taking us beyond the simple meaning of the text.]

Sunday, July 14, 2013

We find a place for what we lose. Although we know that after such a loss the acute stage of mourning will subside, we also know that a part of us shall remain inconsolable and never find a substitute. No matter what may fill the gap, even if it is completely filled, it will nevertheless remain something changed forever...

Sigmund Freud (1856 - 1939)
Kushya Yomis here.


The advertisement for my skype yeshiva [Yeshiva Gdola D'skype Nefesh Yochanan] to the left of this post is for real. However, the phraseology "Opportunity of a lifetime" is a spoof of all of the false advertising I see. It is geshmak and fun to learn with me [I learn with myself all the time and have endless fun] but it is not really the opportunity of a lifetime. I don't take myself that seriously.

I would like very much to comment on the much discussed race for the chief rabbinate in Israel but I am so tired and want to say shema, hamapil, put on my orange Na-Nach kippa with a pom pom [I will appear publicly with it at choice weddings Im Yirtze Hashem] and give my soul to Hashem to get refreshed for another day of Avodas Hashem. Instead [in the meantime] I will link this which presents a serious halachic difficulty with the proceedings. [If you don't understand Lashon Hakodesh - then BY GOLLY! This is a great time to master it. It takes time and effort but just think - if you know Hebrew and Aramaic then every single important Jewish book in history is open to you:-)]


In response to this post, I received the following email.

Before you advise anyone to re-sign Metta World Peace (formerly "Ron Artest"), you should know that in 2004 he was suspended for the 86 games for an on the court fight that resulted in MWP going into the stands and punching a fan. It was the longest NBA suspension ever. He's more of a Rodeif than a Rodeif shalom. 

I assume that changing his name was part of his teshuva process (he holds that Shenui Shem makes him into a new person - like the Rambam). Last year he elbowed James Harden in the head as he was celebrating a dunk. Harden was later found to have suffered a concussion. MWP was suspended for seven games. I wonder what he'll change his name to next?

Have a good shabbos,
So I take it back. Send this "gentleman" to a deserted island somewhere off Antarctica and that will bring a greater degree of safety and security to all of mankind.
Ideas for a new name?

"World War"

"Idi Amin"
"Sucker Punch"
"Ex Con"
"Baaa-aaad Duuuuuuddde"
"Not Feryer Daughter"
"Nicht Ken Bentoirah"

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Mazel Tov!

Today the seventh of Av is the Yahrtzeit of Rabbi Jerry Robbins. I hereby post a recent email:
This is a special week. I am going, with G-d's help, to finish Meseches Ksubos that was learned in the memory of the late [not to shul, he was in fact quite punctual] great Rabbi Jerry Robbins, 'R' Yaakov Shlomo ben Dov Ber' who passed away two years ago before tishba b'av at the age of 93. Rabbi Robbins had a storied lifetime. He was born in California and received his semicha from the Hebrew Theological College [in Skokie] in 1942. He then served as a chaplain in the United States army. The last 15 years or so of his life he lived in Israel where he served as the Rabbi of the Shmuel Meir Synagouge at Kikar Safra where I was often the baal tfilla and annoyed the heck out of him with my singing. I often managed to daven loud enough that people could have thought that I was the chazan even when I wasn't. He liked that even less. We were chavrusas and it was amazing to see how quick and supple of mind this elderly man was until just about the end. It was inspiring to see the geshmak he got out of learning Torah. He is missed by many. He was never zoche to get married and have children so it is a special mitzva to learn Torah and do mitzvos in his memory. If you would like to take upon yourself a limmud in his memory please tell me.
I will have a "virtual siyum" in this email which also connects to the parsha. Please feel free to have a festive meal and join me. Sort of lonely having nobody at my siyyum so I send the email to millions and we all join together. When you are connected in the heart, geography doesn't separate between you.
In Parshas Massei it says והורשתם את הארץ וישבתם בה כי לכם נתתי את הארץ לרשת אותה - לג נג  You should banish the residents of the land and settle it for I gave you the land to inherit it. This is a clear Torah command to capture and live in Israel. There is a mitzva to live in Israel but there is an additional mitzva to love Israel. We see this from the gemara at the end of Ksubos that relates that Rebbe Acha would kiss the stones of Akko. The gemara goes on to relate that Rebbe Chiya would roll around in the dust of Eretz Yisrael as it says [in tehillim] כי רצו עבדיך את אבניה ואת עפרה יחננו - Because Your servants desire your stones and its dust found favor in their eyes. Beautiful. "Ooooooood loooooooo aaaaavdaaaaaa tiiikkvateeeeeiiinuuuuu". But wait. There is the strangest Rashi on this gemara. He doesn't explain anything. He just copies the pasuk כי רצו עבדיך את אבניה ואת עפרה יחננו. That's it. Now Rashi's job is not to copy but to explain. We already saw the pasuk in the gemara. So odd. But it's the holy Rashi so he must be teaching us something....
Explained Mori Vi-rabi the Tolna Rebbe Shlita what he heard from the Gerrer Rebbe, the Beis Yisrael: The gemara explained Rebbe Chiya's behavior from the passuk and writes שנאמר - as it says. Rashi omits the שנאמר. Meaning, Rebbe Chiya didn't artificially roll around in the dust of Eretz Yisrael because there is a pasuk to that effect. He did so because he lived the pasuk. One cannot compare loving someone because the pasuk says to do so, with loving somebody naturally. Rebbe Chiya loved Eretz Yisrael so much he didn't need the pasuk to tell him to roll around in it's dust.
Wonder of wonders.
.[Maybe Ksubos concludes with discussions about the importance of Israel because the theme of the masechta is building a home and marriage and the only true home is in Israel, to the extent that one spouse may force the other to make Aliya]. 
The pasuk tell us ואהבת לרעך כמוך - meaning that just as you don't love yourself because there is a pasuk that tell you to but naturally, so you should love your friend. An important message for this period when we remember the Beis Hamikdash which was destroyed because of sinas chinam.
Hadran Alach Meseches Ksubos Vi-hadrach Alahn. Bar Pappa, Bar Pappa, Pappa Pappa and more Pappa!! I love drinking Li-chaims at a [wedding] Bar and I love my Pappa! Bar Pappa!!! Now a lot of aramiac which most mesayimim mumble and make numerous mistakes. So I won't even try. MAZEL TOOOOVVV!! May we all be zoche to finish many masechtas together [our skype yeshiva is quite active Baruch Hashem so it doesn't matter where you are], ללמוד וללמד לשמור ולעשות  - now a virtual rikkud.
אשרי מי שגדל בתורה ועמלו בתורה ועושהההההה נחת רווווחח נחחחחחת רווווווווח ליווווווצרווווווו