Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Litmus Test Of Who You Are

לזכות הרב צבי משה בן שרה לאה
והרב משה צבי בן פרידא שמחה
וחי' גיטל פייגא בת ביילא בלומא
לרפו"ש בתוך שח"י

A careful reading of the Rambam in Hilchos Tshuva [3/1], reveals that Hashem is primarily concerned not only with what specific deeds we have done or not done but with who we are as people. Are we "tzadikim", spiritually oriented people, or "reshaim", people whose lives are ruled by materialistic and egotistic considerations. That is why the Rambam says that Hashem judges not how many "mitzvos" or "aveiros" we have, but how many "merits" and "losses" [זכיות ועוונות] we have. [See the Birkas Mordechai - Yerach Aisonim P. 382. While you are there, see the rest of the sefer:-)].

That is a completely different question. Not how much lashon hara do I speak or how careful am I not to talk in shul but what am I all about. Penetrating. An examination that probes the very core of our being.

One effective way to gauge a person's level of spirituality is by the measure of his connection to Shabbos. Shabbos is 25 hours of near bliss for the spiritually healthy and 25 hours of torture for the spiritually crippled. A person connected to ruchniyus enjoys the davening, the learning, the singing of zemiros, the family time, the quiet from all technological invasions. A person who is disconnected can't wait for it to end so he can surf-text-call-friend-like-link-tweet-etc.-etc.-ad-nauseam.

I live in a Charedi neighborhood. Completely Charedi. Kippot srugot only appear on Shabbos on the heads of a few scattered guests of the locals but othewise - black-black-black. Black is beautiful!! שחורה אני ונאוה cried Shlomo Hamelech in his song to end all songs. There are really many wonderful aspects about living among Charedim. The amount of chesed, tzedaka [people who have close to nothing, nothing, or less than nothing, give anyway!] and Torah learning are tremendous. Everybody understands why we are in this world. There are no televisions or secular newspapers in anybody's home [we believe and hope:-)]. The women all dress modestly [some more than others...] so one can walk down the street without having his soul drawn through the mud. So many benefits.

But one thing strikes me. Shabbos is so peaceful. No cars in the neighborhood. Quiet. Lots of learning, davening, strolling, relaxing, smiling, talking. Really pleasant time. But then Shabbos ends and .... BOOOM!

Every returns back to the way it was. The street is filled with cars. People are running here and there. The hustle and bustle recommences. The reason one is not allowed to exit the techum is so that he be content with his place on Shabbos and not feel that he will find his satisfaction and fulfillment elsewhere. The entire world movement towards a DIFFERENT PLACE betrays an underlying sense of an inner lack of calm. People aren't happy where they are so they feel that they must go elsewhere. I often walk down the street [only because I have to] and wonder where everybody is going? Why wasn't is good for them where they were? Why are airports so busy? [I am aware there are some places that people NEED to go but I hope that you understand my point]. Why does one have to RUN AWAY after Shabbos. Why can't one extend the Shabbos into the weekday just a little bit more than the halacha and even the holy Rabbeinu Tam require?! [That of course is the idea behind the Melave Malka. Keep your Shabbos clothing on, light some candles, eat a seuda, sing Shabbos songs, tell divrei Torah and sippurei tzadikim and keep Shabbos going].

Minutes after the end of Shabbos the cellphones are pulled out and you see people yapping and yapping. Why can't the yapping wait till Sunday morning? [Fortunately, with the advent of the Shabbos-Dumb-Phone, the need for post-Shabbos conversation will not be felt as acutely. Baruch Hashem:-)]

Shabbos ends and the cigarettes are placed between the lips and dozens of cancers causing agents infiltrate the body at the behest of the very same person who will one day [and probably already does] suffer greatly from this infiltration. You went 25 hours without your smelly-disgusting-disease-causing-air-polluting-money-burning-cancer-sticks, so by golly, can't you wait a little while longer?

"Chol" - secularism, has redescended into our semi-edenic world and for me it is a mini-churban. If the ruchniyus was so good then why not try to hold on to it a little while longer. Even if one already made havdala, he can still make his motzei Shabbos, more Shabbos-dike. My sense is that people are so connected to their "chol", that Shabbos is seen as a burden. Hence, the oft-heard krechtzen "Oy, a three day yontiff". Ne-buch!:-)

On Yom Kippur, called Shabbos Shabbason, G-d judges us if we are spiritual beings. In other words - are we Shabbos-ly oriented, even during the week, or are we merely going through the motions.

May we merit to connect to Shabbos and to Shabbos-dike people [the Zohar says that a talmid chochom is bechinas Shabbos] and live lives filled with tzidkus and all-encompassing ruchniyus. Amen:-):-)

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Capacity To Listen

What does it mean to listen? Listening is the most basic key to effective communication. If one wants a good marriage, well-adjusted children or to be a good friend, he must learn to listen.

Most listening is just waiting for the person to finish so that we can say what we want to say. What is the difference between a monologue and a dialogue? A monologue is when one person speaks and other people listen. A dialogue is when two people speak and ..... nobody listens.

We often create contact because we need stimulation [See "Facebook"]. We want Shabbos guests so that the meal will be interesting. We are human beings and the cholent and kugel are not enough to enable us to completely enjoy the gastronomical experience. We want company. Look inside a restaurant or in a hotel dining room, how many people are eating alone? Almost nobody or nobody. They are not eating there primarily because they are hungry but for social purposes. As Aristotle put it: “Man is by nature a social animal; an individual who is unsocial naturally and not accidentally is either beneath our notice or more than human. Society is something that precedes the individual. Anyone who either cannot lead the common life or is so self-sufficient as not to need to, and therefore does not partake of society, is either a beast or ...." If the person with whom we are eating is saying something interesting then we listen but usually so that he can finish and we can share what we have to add. If he is saying something uninteresting then we tune the person out. But the listening usually revolves around ourselves, unless we are being polite and feigning interest in the other person. At Mevakesh we aren't big fans of fakeness:-).

When someone - let's say a spouse or child - tells us that he is "sad", we imagine how we would feel if we were sad and assume that he feels the same way. That, say the experts, is a mistake. He DOESN'T feel the way you would. People experience things in a completely different way. Sometimes we decide that the other persons feelings aren't justified because if we were in an identical situation, we wouldn't feel the way this person does. That of course is another symptom of the self-absorption that afflicts so much of society. Just because I would have a different reaction, why does that make his feelings illegitimate? It doesn't, but the reality is that most people can only view other's through the prism of their own experience and perspective.

Even therapists make this mistake. They are paid hundreds of dollars to listen but spend much of their time thinking about what the right response should be. They also will often extract from their world view and judge how the client should be feeling and reacting. Quite patronizing if you ask me. Especially given the fact that studies show that a large percentage of therapists themselves need therapy. But who am I to impinge on the parnassa of good people.....

The only time I ever feel I have a real conversation with anybody is on Shabbos and Yom Tov. This is because that is the only time people aren't checking their phones or other toys every 15 seconds. I feel bad for goyim who don't have Shabbos and Yom Tov. When do they ever have the opportunity to listen or to be heard? 

If you learn how to listen, you are a rare, special person who has much to give to the world. Listen to your spouse, listen to your child, listen to your friend, listen to a shiur. Tune the whole world out and listen:-)!

Entertainment Vs. Celebration

“People of our time are losing the power of celebration. Instead of celebrating we seek to be amused or entertained. Celebration is an active state, an act of expressing reverence or appreciation. To be entertained is a passive state--it is to receive pleasure afforded by an amusing act or a spectacle.... Celebration is a confrontation, giving attention to the transcendent meaning of one's actions."


“Self-respect is the root of discipline: The sense of dignity grows with the ability to say no to oneself.”  

Annuling The Evil Decree

לרפואת חיים מנחם בן פרימט רויזא

We all know that Teshuva, Tfillah and Tzdaka remove the evil decree. Let us define our terms.


Teshuva means the feelings of remorse and regret one has as if he borrowed 250k from various sources in order to make an investment which turns out to be a complete bluff and all of the money down the drain. The person is left with not a cent and a debt of 250k - with a family of nine to support. How does he feel about his investment the moment he realizes that it all went down the drain, to the last penny? Indescribable regret and contrition. THAT is the feeling one should have when looking back on an aveirah.

Teshuva means returning to Hashem. Where is Hashem? At the end of Ksuvos it says that if one lives in Israel it is as if he has a G-d while if he lives outside the land is as if he has no G-d. Returning to G-d, teshuva, means returning to Israel. At the very least, if one finds it impossible, he should YEARN to return to Israel. The comfort people find in their palaces outside the land is Jewishly disturbing. Some people need to stay in Chutz La-aretz for parnassa purposes - they can partially fulfill the mitzva of yishuv ha-aretz by supporting the Aretz.

Teshuva means returning to Torah. The bracha in Shmoneh Esrei about teshuva begins השיבנו אבינו בתורתך - Return us to your Torah. To return to Hashem is to return to Torah. Why do the best balabatim suffice with daf yomi? Seven years of superficial learning with no chazara. True Torah is with ameilus, sweating, thinking, analyzing and finding the true meaning of the text. Daf Yomi is great for a quick kviyus in the morning to give one a sense of community and some yedios. But in the 14 hours a day when one is not working [I am giving 10 hours for work. I bless you that you don't have to work so much] there is time for deeper iyun [in addition to eating, sleeping, davening and maybe most important - family time].

What about weekends? Half a day Friday, all day Shabbos, all day Sunday, Jewish Holidays, [lihavdil] Secular Holidays, Chuppahs [a free hour to learn uninterrupted. You really don't have to watch the kallah's friend's walking down the isle...], Shmorgasbords, Bar Mitzvahs, waiting for trains, appointments, the chazan to start chazaras ha-shatz etc. etc. So much time to learn!!

Teshuva means to return to Torah.


The gemara says that one may not eat before davening because one may not eat before asking for his life. לא תאכלו על הדם - לא תאכלו לפני שתתפללו על דמכם. Davening is asking Hashem for existence and knowing that without Him we have nothing [Rebbe Shlita]. Davening is standing before Hashem with complete העדר - utter nothingness. I have no daas, no parnassa, no health - NOTHING. Then I come before Hashem and says "Please give me what I need. Without You I have nothing". [Maharal]

We feel quite secure in what we already have. We shouldn't.


Tzedaka means that a person appreciates that his money is not his. I know a lot of people who give a lot of tzedka but rare is the person who realizes that he is giving away Someone Else's money [Hashem's:-)]. If one has that realization he gives with tremendous simcha and an open heart as the Torah requires.

Tzedaka is giving at least 10 percent. If all frum Jews would give maaser all of the yeshivos would be out of the rough. Presently, they are almost all IN the rough. If a person has extra he may give 20 percent and even more. Why does a person need hundreds of millions for himself? I have read of goyim who have billions and are doing everything they can to give it away. We Jews should do no less.

ותשובה ותפילה וצדקה מעבירין את רוע הגזירה

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Growing Out Of Toys

I spend quite a bit of time using public transportation. I sit and observe the people around me and find a significant percentage who are playing with toys. I refer not to the children, they are usually sitting and looking out the window or munching on pretzels or the Israeli-born "Bamba". I refer to the adults. Playing with toys. Really. Adult toys. They have names like "Blackberry", "Iphone", "Ipad" "Ipod" or "mp3 player". Others talk endlessly on their favorite and most often used toy, the "cell-phone". Since I own none of the aforementioned contraptions [which I call adult toys], I ask myself "What am I missing out on?" "Why do they all have and I don't?" "Why am I more than content to sit on the bus without any form of amusement?"

I will tell you my conclusion: Everything we do is because we feel a void, a lacking. We sleep because we are tired, we eat because we are hungry [or bored or nervous or looking for easy pleasure], we go to work because we want money or a feeling of being useful or important, we marry because we feel alone and want companionship of the other gender and all that entails etc. etc.

We use these toys because we are ..... empty, at least to a certain extent. If a person feels like they lack nothing then they don't need these forms of amusement. So you are sitting on the LIRR. Many of the passengers are reading their New York Times or texting away. You say to yourself "הן עם לבדד ישכון ובגויים לא יתחשב" -  I am a Jew[ess]. I don't do things just because everybody else is doing them. I am going to use the next 47 minutes in a Jewish, Torah-dike way.


What does that mean??

Hmmmmmmm. I have no ideas. But here are a few anyway: You can review that day's daf yomi shiur [unless you are actually on the train that has the daf yomi shiur...]. Unless you have learned something 4 times it doesn't really count, said the Steipler. You can look through the Tosfosim or other meforshim. You can have a seder going through mishna brura or shmiras shabbos ki-hilchoso. You can go through a mussar or chassdishe sefer you find stimulating. You can go through Nach. You can listen to a geshmake shiur [using a toy:-)]. You can say tehillim. You can think of the chesed that Hashem has bestowed upon you - your family, health, parnassa, a roof over you head etc. etc. You can think about ways to improve your relationship with your parents or children. You can think of problems you have and strengthen your bitachon that Hashem can solve them in a second. You can sing a silent niggun and experience simcha that you are alive. You can feel remorse [simcha-dike] over aveiros you did and joy over mitzvos you did, called a cheshbon ha-nefesh. You can look around and thank Hashem that your life isn't empty like that of those around you. You can just allow yourself to relax for a few minutes and enjoy being you. There are so many worthy things to do!

An aseres yemei tshuva thought:-).

Who Knows...

Rav Moshe Shternbuch Shlita was a young bochur learning in Israel. He asked the Chazon Ish how many days of Yom Tov to keep and the Chazon Ish told him to keep one day and li-chumra make sure not to do melacha [called "one and a half days"] but the davening should be like a ben Eretz Yisrael. R' Moshe argued "But I am planning on returning home to chutz la-aretz". The Chazon Ish said "Who knows, something might happen and you might stay here for 2 more years."

On Yom Tov Sheni he davened with the Brisker Rov who noticed that he davened a weekday davening like a ben Eretz Yisrael. The Brisker Rov was very upset and asked him why he wasn't davening a yom tov davening like a ben chutz la-aretz. R' Moshe answered that the Chazon Ish told him to daven like a ben Eretz Yisrael. The Brisker Rov backed off and said "I don't start up with the Chazon Ish".

It turns out that because of unexpected circumstances he ended up staying in Eretz Yisrael EXACTLY 2 more years to the day!

[Heard from R' Moshe's son and recorded in the sefer Masseh Ish]

Yom Kippur That Falls On Shabbos

לרפואת חיים מנחם בן פרימט רויזא בתוך שח"י

A huge "ding-a-rye" [argument] in the achronim - Does a choleh make kiddush when he eats on Yom Kippur that falls out on Shabbos. The Ohr Sameach says that he does not because this Shabbos is not just Shabbos that happens to be Yom Kippur but a Yom-Kippur-dike-Shabbos. The Shabbos is suffused with the kedusha of Yom Kippur so even Shabbos tells you not to make kiddush. [The Kedusha of Yom Kippur is actually defined by the Rambam as a "Kedusha of Shvisa" so it is not at all absurd to mingle together the kedushos of these seemingly different days]. R' Akiva Eiger holds that one DOES make kiddush. For a healthy person, Yom Kippur stands and says "No Kiddush" and we respectfully obey. But for a choleh, Yom Kippur graciously steps aside and says "Come on in Shabbos, I can't assert my authority and prominence, for this, nebach, choleh." So kiddush should be made like on every other Shabbos.

Which brings us to another question: Why don't we healthy people accept upon ourselves Shabbos, say, a half hour before sunset, make kiddush and have some mezonos, then accept upon ourselves kedushas Yom Kippur? This way we fulfill the mitzva of Kiddush and in no way compromise the kedusha of Yom Kippur. We will fast the full 24-plus hours and still fulfill our Shabbos obligation.

Neichzee Anon ["lets see" in Aramaic, even though it sounds like an organization for addicts:-)]: According to the Ohr Sameach this would not at all be neccessary, for this Shabbos is a Yom Kippur-dike-Shabbos, so by accepting upon oneself kedushas Shabbos he is in effect accepting upon himself a Shabbos that has no kiddush obligation. It could even be that it is not POSSIBLE to accept upon oneself Shabbos without Yom Kippur or vice versa because they are intertwined and the acceptance of Shabbos contains within it an acceptance of Yom Kippur. According to R' Akiva Eiger who holds that the two days are viewed independently of each other, perhaps one could accept one without the other. It is noteworthy that no posek ever ruled that one should accept Shabbos early and make kiddush.

There is a very famous machlokes beteen the Taz and the Maharshal. The Maharshal says that when one accepts upon himself the obligation of Yom Tov Shmini Atzeres while it is still the seventh day of Succos - the obligation to sit in the succah still applies [therefore he shouldn't make kiddush because he would have to make a "לישב בסוכה" and it would be silly to make a לישב on the kiddush of Shmini Atzeres]. The Taz differs and says that by accepting kedushas yom tov, the seventh day is over for all intents and purposes and the eighth day has begun.

Their argument is whether the act of accepting tosefes Yom Tov creates for this person a new day [Taz] or merely adds kedusha to the already existing day [Maharshal]. Perhaps we could apply their argument to the question of whether one can accept kedushas Shabbos without kedushas Yom Kippur or the converse. According to the Taz who contends that the tosephes ushers in a new day this would be impossible whereas the Maharshal would say that it is possible for accepting Shabbos does NOT make it a new day which is also Yom Kippur but merely adds the kedusha of Shabbos to Friday.

עפ"י האחרונים ועי' בס' רץ כצבי שבת סי' י"ב, ובקובץ הערות חב"ד סוכות תשע"ד, שיעורי מבשר טוב על ברכת המצות ח"ב סי' י"א, פחד יצחק יו"כ מאמר א ועוד  

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Malkos After Tshuva

My dear friend, the Mirrer Ilui, R' Tzvi Moshe Kantor answered this kashya with the following illuminating distinction: A regular לאו הניתק לעשה is composed of an aviera with a cheftza and a mitzva with a cheftza. For example: He stole the object and now he performs the mitzva of returning it. He fixed the aveira - so no malkos. Teshuva, however, is on the gavra, he is fixing himself but the aveira on the cheftza is not rectified. Hence, the malkos remains in force.


Selichos And Your Fellow Man

Selichos are SOOOOOO beautiful, as here.

Think about it....

We spend hours upon hours beseeching Hashem - "We are sooooo sorrryyyyyyy. Please forgive us. PRETTY PLEASE!"

What a geshmake world it would be if people put in a fraction of the same effort into asking forgiveness from those people whom they hurt. But that rarely happens. Either when someone hurts someone else they don't ask for forgiveness [why should I, they reason, s/he has to ask ME for forgiveness] or they ask as lip service to the Jewish custom of asking for forgiveness. Sort of like saying tachanun - nobody really likes it [unfortunately] but it's something we gotta do [a topic for a future post b'rtzos Hashem bli neder].

How deeply people hurt others and are oblivious to the pain they have caused! I work with the assumption that most people aren't psychopaths who lack all ability to empathize. Yet, otherwise upstanding people cause great pain to others, be it a spouse, children, co-workers, friends etc., and go through the teshuva season without making amends. It is relatively easy to apologize to Hashem, especially if everyone is doing it with live music playing in the background and from a prepared text. But to apologize sincerely to your fellow man is far more difficult.

I still have yet to hear of an impending divorce that was called off Tishrei time because each side tearfully admitted guilt, apologized, and took steps never to repeat the offense. That SHOULD happen - but doesn't.

In that spirit - I want to ask everyone forgiveness for any sins of commission or omission. If I have hurt you in any way, PLEASE contact me and tell me what I did and how I can make amends. I have many faults but purposefully hurting others is not one of them.

And to the many who have hurt me over the years, some quite deeply - thank you. I know who you are and you taught me about you, about myself and about life. Emotional pain builds character and I have gratitude to those who helped build my character. I can't hold a grudge, because it weighs so heavily, sometimes it feels like it'll topple me over. So I let go. Thank you:-).

The ikker is not to let others get you down, to fill your heart with continuous simcha and to know that there is ALWAYS HOPE .   

Creative Solutions

“Those who only have a hammer treat every problem as if it were a nail.”

Abraham Maslow

Be versatile in finding solutions to your problems:-).

New Articles To Print Out And Read Over The Chag [!:-)]

Rosh Hashana here and Haazinu here.

Be Happy

A message from the Baal Shem Tov:

והנה היום בראש השנה התחלת עשרת ימי תשובה, הנה יהיה עתה אותה השעה הטובה, ושעת מזל, לעשות נחת רוח ליוצרינו ולבכות בכיה של שמחה, על שזכינו לעמוד לפני כסא כבודו, לפני המלך היושב על כסא רם ונשא, ויכון בחסד כסאו, וישב עליו באמת, ולשמח להקב"ה שמחה גדולה, ועל ידי זה ימתקו מעלינו כל הדינים, ועל ידי זה נעורר, אבינו מלכנו תהא השעה הזאת שעת רחמים ועת רצון מלפניך

Monday, September 22, 2014

Why Is There Ever Malkos For An Aveira?

A sweet friend, Habachur Hachashuv Meir Zev Steinmetz, emailed me a great kashya that the achronim ask: We know that one does not receive malkos on a לאו הניתק לעשה  - if the לא תעשה can be "fixed" by doing an עשה.  So one doesn't receive malkos for stealing because it is ניתק and fixed by the עשה of returning the stolen object. Why then can one EVER get malkos if he can fix every aveira by doing the mitzva of tshuva. Every לאו is ניתק to the עשה of tshuva!

There is much discussion surrounding this question. The Satmar Rebbe [I quote Rav Kook so often - I have to give Satmar a hearing as well] in his sefer on the yomim noraim [תשס"ט] answers based on a חתן סופר [the grandson of the Chasam Sofer] who says that an עשה can't perform two different functions such as both fixing a לאו and overriding [being דוחה] a לאו.

The gemara says that tshuva is דוחה a לאו [that Hashem takes us back even after we were unfaithful and married other gods while a husband must not take back such a wife]. Therefore it doesn't have the power to be מנתק the לאו as well. Hence, the malkos.....

There is much, much more.....:-)

לזכות ידיד נפשי ר' צבי משה בן שרה לאה לברכה והצלחה ובריאות איתנה

It's All For You Hashem



One of the greatest Rebbe's of our generation said that the main problem of the frum world today is .... "frimme nirven" - "frum nerves". People are tense. Was I yotzei, wasn't I? Did I say it or didn't I? Did I wash the entire hand or did I miss a spot? Then people go to a shrink and have to pay big bucks and take pills. Another big Rebbe said that it is not just the "frimme nirven" but basic nerves. People are nervous. They have no menuchas hanefesh.

On Rosh Hashana we read in the haftorah the pasuk הלוך הרגיעו ישראל - Hashem comes to calm down the Jews. That, on the very very tip of the iceberg, is the lesson of the day. And this day is the root of the whole year. We need to be calm on Rosh Hashana and the rest of the year as well.

Of course we should take halacha seriously and of course we should have a fear of judgement but we ALSO have to be .... chilled.

[Heard from the Rebbe Shlita]

Honoring Guests

An American tourist walks into a shul in Yerushalayim where many prominent people davened such as the President, Yitzchak ben Tzvi and Menachem Ussishkin, the famous Zionist leader. The shul was packed and there wasn't a seat available. The gabbai approached the anonymous man and showed him to a seat right next to the President. The man was taken aback-  a complete stranger walks into shul and is put next to the President?!

At krias hatorah, he is honored with an aliyah. When the gabbai says that he will donate ..... The man says "TWO HUNDRED AND FIFTY THOUSAND DOLLARS". Wonder of wonders. This is many decades ago when that was more than a princely sum.

His donation paid for the completion of the building and a sign thanking him is hanging on the wall until this day....:-)   

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Husiatiner Rebbe Ztz"l

At my Shabbos table I like telling the children stories of tzadikim. It is more interesting to them than the pilpulim I enjoy saying ["OK Leebie, let's chazer the Abarbanel's six kashas". Leebie is 3...]  and it strengthens their emunah in tzadikim.

This week I told them stories about Admor, Rebbe Yisrael Friedman of Husiatin [d. 1948]. He was a grandson of R' Yisrael of Rizhin and was thus his namesake. He had some really crazy ruach hakodesh. His biographer [Dr. Meir Gruzman of Bar Ilan University] remembers him well from his childhood and there are still people around today who can testify to his tzidkus and unique powers.

He felt the Holocaust coming and at the age of 80 made aliyah with some of his chasidim. To the others who remained behind he said that they should get out of Europe as soon as possible.

A secular women who had emigrated from Europe and wanted to leave the ancient traditions of her ancestors behind, was extremely nervous about the fate of her parents and siblings back in Europe. She was convinced by a brother in law of a close friend of hers to go see the tzadik and get a bracha for them. She finally went and had the gabbai write out the names of her parents and 8 siblings. The tzadik looked at the kvittel and went down the list. He picked out two of the names and blessed them that they should be zoche to come to Eretz Yisrael [which they ultimately did]. She was distraught when she realized that this meant that everyone else had perished. Of course, this was proven to be the case. This formerly cynical woman became a great admirer of the Rebbe and even had his picture on her wall.

The Holy Rebbe, R' Aharon of Belz would do the same. When someone would ask him for a bracha for a relative back in Europe, if he saw with ruach hakodesh that the person was alive he would give the person a heartfelt bracha. If he saw otherwise, he would say "Hashem should have nachas from all of his children". He was consistently on the mark.

זכות הצדיקים יעזור ויגן ויושיע! 

New Articles

Chiddushim on Rosh Hashana in lomdus and avodah, here.
Nitzavim - here.

Looking For Shelter

I am looking for a vacant apartment that will be available on Rosh Hashana in Yerushalayim. If you know of one, please contact me.

Machnisei Rachamim

From my archives as per the request of a beloved friend:

One of the most famous debates in Jewish history was over the issue of saying [or singing] the poem מכניסי רחמים where we supplicate the angels and ask them to bring our prayers before Hashem [and other similar prayers where we turn to the angels for help]. The problem is that the Rambam [Hakdama to Chelek in the fifth of the 13 foundations of our faith] rules that one may not daven to anyone other than Hashem, so what business do we have turning to the angels as intermediaries. If you need to speak to a big politician, or li-havdil a famous rabbi, sometimes you have to go through intermediaries but Hashem is accessible to all and it is FORBIDDEN to turn to anyone else.

In fact, the Maharal [Nesivos Olam chapter 12] changed the language of the tfilla so it won't sound like we are asking the angels for help [יכניסו רחמינו instead of הכניסו רחמינו]. The Chasam Sofer would say a long tachanun while everybody else was saying the poem so he wouldn't have to join. Many others as well avoided saying it. However the custom in most communities is to say it and it is printed in all of the slichos books. There is a mabul of literature on the topic and I will not quote all of the sources I know about that discuss it. That would make me seem very scholarly and knowledgeable when all it really means is that I have the Otzar Hachochma program with it's 60,000 books and rapid search engine. The one source I will note is the Yeshurun Journal in Volume 3 where there is an excellent, thorough treatment of the topic.

I will add something interesting which I didn't see anyone bring up: In some editions of the Rambam he writes  וכן אין ראוי לעבדם כדי להיותם אמצעים לקרבם אליו אלא אליו בלבד יכוונו המחשבות ויניחו כל מה שזולתו
Meaning that one is not allowed to SERVE anyone in order that he should be an intermediary between us and Hashem, rather all of our thoughts should be directed at Hashem Himself. This would indicate that if one is not actually SERVING the angels then just asking them for help would be fine and thus מכניסי רחמים would be permitted. [This was pointed out by Rav Asher Weiss Shlita in Minchas Asher on the Moadim סימן א].

However, in the Rav Kapich edition of the Rambam and so in the Rav Shilat edition the Rambam's words are rendered [from the original Arabic] as ואין עושין אותם אמצעים להגיע בהם אליו אלא כלפיו יתעלה יכוונו המחשבות ויניחו כל מה שזולתו. Meaning that one is not allowed to use the angels as intermediaries to get to Hashem. According to this the Rambam omits any mention of serving the angels and simply forbids turning to them at all as a means of getting closer to Hashem. This would effectively forbid us from saying מכניסי רחמים because that is exactly what we do.

So whether it is permitted or not would be dependent on what is the more accurate translation of the Rambam's words.

Interesting, no??

What is also interesting is that in our generation very few seem troubled by this issue. I believe that in our Internet/fast food/cellphone/sports obsessed/money pursuing/blackberry generation people are rarely troubled by theological issues. Ask the average guy in shul what was the machlokes between the Gra and the Baal Shem Tov over the concept of Divine Immanence and he will give you a blank look, probably not understanding the question. Ask him if the Yankees should trade for a relief pitcher or who won last year's Super Bowl or what his favorite restaurant is and you will receive a precise answer....

Ahhhhh, the galus.

We want Moshaich now!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Virtue And Happiness

From an article written by a researcher at Yale. I myself am only an acceptance letter and 4 years of intense study away from getting an undergraduate degree at Yale. However, I see no reason to spend over 50,000 dollars a year in order to have no money at the end. I can have no money for free...:-).

Students at a one-week seminar on happiness I co-taught recently at Yale University made a proposal so simple that I was mystified: they wanted to organize a conversation table in every dining hall.
During my days as a student at Yale, I always looked forward to dinner as it was a time when I could share my ideas and adventures with my friends. So I naively asked my students, “What do you do at dinner if you aren’t having conversations?” “Texting and checking social media on our phones,” they replied. And even when they put down their devices, they told me, conversations center on how stressed they are by work and extracurricular activities. By contrast, at the proposed conversation tables, students would be asked to disengage from technology and to discuss a variety of meaningful topics.

Such proposals indicate that although students today are connected to others electronically, they aren’t always creating connections with the people around them. By the time I started using Facebook and other social media, I had been out of college for more than a decade. By then, my identity was firmly rooted in strong friendships, family ties, and moral commitments guiding my life projects. But today’s college students began navigating social media more than a decade before entering college.
During the seminar, students asked: In a society where we spend so much time on Facebook bragging about ourselves and getting envious of others, how do we build strong friendships where we can express our vulnerabilities? If we are constantly measuring the worth of a person by GPAs and résumés, how do we learn to give and receive unconditional love? What would communities of friendships oriented toward the common good look like on college campuses?

Learning about Happiness, Growing in Virtue

The seminar framed the question of happiness by using Aristotle’s classic definition in the Nicomachean Ethics. Aristotle argues that happiness—human flourishing—is the highest aim (the telos or purpose) of human life, the only end that is not a means to some other end. Aristotle defines happiness as “an action of the soul in accordance with virtue.” Virtues are habits we have to practice daily. According to Aristotle, to be happy, we should reflect on the purpose of our lives and strive toward virtues such as justice, courage, wisdom, and prudence.

Before the seminar, students read Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project. Because virtues are habits made up of repeated actions, I asked them to keep a journal reflecting on one act of kindness they performed each day. These ambitious Yale students, accustomed to adorning their résumés with big accomplishments, initially wondered what effect daily acts of kindness could have. But by practicing the daily disciplines of reflection and intention, they learned just how hard and how transformative small acts of kindness can be.

One student stopped in the middle of a road in New York City to help a drunken young woman who had fallen over. Her date was so moved by her care for a stranger that he began to wonder how he could be kinder. When visiting her family at home, another student got up early to have coffee and quality conversation with her mother. The day she was to return to Yale, her family couldn’t get things organized to leave on time, so instead of criticizing her family, she smiled and tried to smooth things over. Through these acts of kindness, students learned how important it is for our happiness to build social connections throughout the day with both family and strangers.

To grow in virtue, we need to live in a well-ordered society. So we also read Alexis de Tocqueville’s classic Democracy in America. Students were struck by Tocqueville’s observation that Americans’ drive for wealth could become disordered if material things become their ultimate ends. They also discussed the threat to ordered liberty posed by a retreat from social obligations into hyper-individualism, which is particularly characteristic of Americans. Many students were inspired by Tocqueville’s notion that the antidote to individualism is Americans’ love of virtue and their penchant for forming voluntary associations.

The Little Platoons Project: Cultivating Compassion

We concluded the seminar with a practical exercise called The Little Platoons Project. The project title comes from Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France.
To be attached to the subdivision, to love the little platoon we belong to in society, is the first principle (the germ as it were) of public affections. It is the first link in the series by which we proceed towards a love to our country, and to mankind. The interest of that portion of social arrangement is a trust in the hands of all those who compose it; and as none but bad men would justify it in abuse, none but traitors would barter it away for their own personal advantage.
Although it is easy for students to propose macro-level social changes that would increase happiness, in the Little Platoons Project, students had to design a project they could carry out with ten to twelve people that could increase their happiness. We divided students into pairs, and instructed them to define an issue they wish to address, and to propose a way to address their issue of concern while also consciously building strong ties among platoon members. The conversations table was one such little platoons project. Other project ideas included training Yale students about how to become long-term foster care parents, and doing arts workshops that would bring together Yale students and New Haven community members.

The little platoons project taught students the principle that our own happiness cannot be separated from the good of the community where we live. Furthermore, as Burke suggests, our obligations to our community do not stop at doing only what is just. Rather, as philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre explains in Dependent, Rational Animals, the common good requires that we go beyond fulfilling the strict duties we have to others out of justice. The common good requires helping anyone who needs our help—not just our own kin, our own community members, or those who help us. Beyond just helping others, MacIntyre and Burke both argue that we also need to cultivate love, affection, and attachment for others.

Contrary to the illusion of self-sufficiency that underlines much political philosophy and happiness literature, MacIntyre argues that all human beings are vulnerable, not just infants or the elderly and infirm. To achieve happiness in the Aristotelian sense—leading a flourishing life that follows a purpose within a well-ordered society—we must acknowledge our dependence on others. Thus, according to MacIntyre, the virtue of misericordia, or a compassionate heart that reaches out to help others, is the key to the common good. By learning to see our own vulnerabilities in those who need our help, we can break the contractual view of personal relationships and social groups so deeply embedded in our consumerist and individualist society.

Justice, Love, and Vulnerability

College students are very familiar with the virtue of justice. But the students were intrigued when I said that to contribute the common good, we need not only justice but also unconditional love for others. How do you experience unconditional love if you didn’t have it in your family? How do you share unconditional love with others?

Those of us gifted with good educations and valuable skills should certainly share our gifts. But if, in serving others, you don’t see your own vulnerability in their neediness, you may be doing justice but it can’t be called love. One student told me she was met with distrust when she tried to do a service project on a Native American reservation. “Did you love them?” I asked her. I explained how my own work with vulnerable populations in the US, Haiti, and Central America taught me that people are very perceptive about what is in our hearts. For example, in Haiti, people didn’t just want the money I brought. They wanted to touch my hands, feel my hair, and stare into my eyes. The Haitians wanted to see me and for me to see them, for us to embrace one another body and soul.

Love requires rejoicing that another person is alive and celebrating that he or she is who he or she is. If you open yourself to receive the love of those you help, you will learn, as I did in the farms of Central America, the urban housing projects of Washington, DC, and the mountains of Haiti, that what people value most is not the things you give them but the connection they make with you. If you can let yourself be loved just because you exist—not because of your money, your power, or your knowledge—then you can transform your own heart and that of others. If they are rooted in the virtue of misericordia, our little platoons and small acts of love really can transform our hedonistic, success-crazed society.

Why Students Should Study Happiness

Humanities and social science students have told me that studying happiness gave them a rare chance to move from academic critique to personal reflection, from discussions about utility to ones about virtue, truth, and beauty. But it’s not only the poets and the philosophers who are interested: half of the students in our one week-seminar were STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) majors. Many of these students said that, toward the end of college, they realized how much the humanities and social sciences could contribute to designing good collaborative engineering labs, or developing applications of their medical findings for poor communities in the US and abroad.
One graduate student in biomedical engineering even used some of our seminar material in a recent presentation in her field of immunology. Our immune system, she explained, may be under attack from many microscopic viruses that we don’t know about until they hurt us. But we can build up a stronger immune system through the lifestyle choices we make. Strong friendships and serving others can actually stimulate a robust immune system.

Margarita Mooney, PhD, is an Associate Research Scientist in the Department of Sociology at Yale University.

Friday, September 19, 2014

I Wonder What Would Happen

Oh if a man tried
To take his time on Earth
And prove before he died
What one man's life could be worth
I wonder what would happen
to this world

Harry Chapin

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Holy Rebbe Of Kretchnif Ztz"l

לזכות רבי אפרים אבא בן מרים שושנה וכל משפחתו לברכה והצלחה וכל טוב סלה!

Rav Ephraim Rubinstein Shlita is a Mashgiach Ruchani in Yeshivas Noam HaTorah in Bnei Brak. He relates the following story that happened to him as a 14 year old boy [if you don't believe it - call him up and ask him yourself:-)].

I was 14 years old and was learning in a yeshiva high school in Rechovot called "Yeshivat Ha-Darom". I suddenly lost my voice. My mother thought that it was temporary laryngitis but my father was very concerned. I went to Dr. Markowitz who examined me and told me some scary news. He explained that in order to make sounds, ones vocal cords must rub against each other. He said that he couldn't find my vocal cords....

Afterwards, I heard about Dr. Chiliak who examined me and found my vocal cords but couldn't manipulate them to enable me to talk.

For 3 months I had no voice. My father told his colleagues at work about my problem. One of them suggested that since we live in Rechovot, why don't we go to the holy Rebbe of Kretchnif, Rebbe Moshe Dovid [d. 1969]? I had no experience with Rebbes but we had nothing to lose. My parents and I arrived at his home at 4 pm and the waiting room was packed. At 1am I finally was ushered in. It is hard to describe what happened in that room but I will relate it anyway.

My mother started to cry and said that when she was 12 she was distanced from her family and sent to a ghetto. First, she said, I heard that I had no mother anymore. Then I heard that I have no father either. The war ended and I returned home to discover that I had no brothers or sisters, either. Hashem left me alone in the world. This is what I need now, that my son should not be able to speak??! And she wept uncontrollably.

The Rebbe listened to her and said "Zi iz gerecht! Di Yiddene is gerecht". She is right! After a silence of a few seconds. the Rebbe said "Don't worry, everything will be OK. I promise. And you", he turned to me, "just so that your parents should see it with their own eyes, don't go back to yeshiva. Go home with your parents and tomorrow your problem will disappear". We left the room in shock. There were taxis waiting outside because they knew that at this hour they will find customers coming out of the Rebbe's home. We returned home.

The next morning I woke up very tired after little sleep. I went to shul and in the middle of davening I remembered that I was supposed to talk. I tried and was successful. My voice returned as if it had never disappeared.

The people in shul who witnessed the miracle were ecstatic. One person approached my father and said "You went to the Kretchnifer Rebbe, right? So what is the wonder?"

We returned to Dr. Markowitz and he was stunned to see me speaking like any regular person. He said to me "You were probably at the Rebbe. We [doctors] can't do something like this". He was a bareheaded, irreligious Jew.

The next Shabbos I went to the Rebbe's Friday night tisch. Immediately when I entered, the Rebbe motioned to me to come closer. Without asking whether I can speak or not, he said "It is not from me. It is all from Above". When I approached him to receive a li-chaim from his holy hands, he repeated "Remember that it is all from Above".

זכות הצדיקים יעזור ויגן ויושיע!!!

[Hamevaser Tamuz 5774] 

The Freedom To Change

"Ve have to be free. Ve have no choice"

Isaac Bashevis Singer

Interestingly enough in HILCHOS TESHUVA the Rambam teaches us about the principal of free choice and not in Yesodei HaTorah where he discusses philosophical concepts. This teaches that the basis of all teshuva is the belief that we can change. The fact that most people DON'T doesn't mean that they CAN'T.


Pursuant to this post, I heard the following story.

A man once wrote a letter to the Lubavitcher Rebbe ztz"l and complained. I am miserable. I keep mitzvos but they don't move me. I daven but don't feel the words. I feel empty, etc. etc. etc.

The Rebbe answered without one word. He just circled all of the places he wrote "I". Meaning you are miserable because you are so immersed in your "I".

This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish selfish clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no 'brief candle' to me. It is sort of a splendid torch which I have a hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it over to future generations.
George Bernard Shaw (1856 - 1950) 

Will I Be In Uman For Rosh Hashana?

I heard that over 100,000 people will be in Uman this Rosh Hashana.


As a psychology buff I view this as a classic example of what is called in Hebrew פסיכולוגיית ההמונים - The psychology of the masses. People tend to "follow the herd". I am sure that Rebbe Nachman would agree that learning meseches Rosh Hashana every free second on Rosh Hashana is ALSO very important, but believe you me, 100,000 people are not going to be doing so. In addition, most talmidei chachomim would tell you that it is better to be in Israel than in the Ukraine, on Rosh Hashana and always. Why does the directive of Rebbe Nachman [in all of his holiness, zchuso yagein aleinu] trump that of the Chofetz Chaim, the Chiddushei HaRim, the Noda Bi-yehuda, the Rambam etc. etc. Why not take the few hundred dollars that the ticket costs and instead feed a poor family in Bnei Brak?? The Torah clearly states that one must give tzedaka while the commandment to go to Uman has not yet been located....

The answer is that the reason that 100,000 people are gong to Uman is NOT because Rebbe Nachman said and they are suddenly Breslover Chasidim. I would presume that people are still going to doctors when they become ill even though Rebbe Nachman was strongly opposed, even in a case of serious illness [although interestingly enough he says that if one is already going to doctors he should choose the best]:
 מי שרוצה לחוש על חייו ועל חיי זרעו ובני ביתו - שיתרחק עצמו מאד בתכלית הריחוק מלעסוק חס ושלום ברפואות ודוקטורים.... מגנה מאד מאד ענין הרפואות ודאקטורים והזהיר מאד מאד... ואפילו מי שיש לו חולה בתוך ביתו ואפילו אם החולאת חזק ח"ו ר"ל, אף על פי כן ישליך על ה' יהבו וישען באלוקיו לבד ואל יעסוק ברפואות ודוקטורים כלל". [Sichos HaRan 50]

People are not fully Breslov, that is the fact. So what is everybody doing in Uman?

Answer [for a large percentage]: It is the "thing to do".

But wait! Many people derive tremendous inspiration from being amongst tens of thousands of fellow Jews. Others connect to a holy tzadik in ways they would not be able to if they would stay home. It is a truly memorable Rosh Hashana experience that leaves a lasting impression. There are numerous great reasons to go.

So BY GOLLY! Where should one be on Rosh Hashana?

The gemara explains that we are judged on Rosh Hashana communally like a herd of sheep and at the same time we are all judged as individuals. I think that this means that we are judged on both levels. Both as individuals who have a completely unique, sui generis, one time in history, personality, life circumstances etc. etc. Hashem examines whether we are fulfilling our special purpose on earth, divorced from any consideration of what anybody else is doing.

We are also judged as a member of society. Were we engaged in the positive aspects of the general culture or the negative. If we always have to get the latest style in eye-glass frames or haircuts or go to Miami for Pesach because that is what all of our friends are doing even though it might not be the best environment for the children, then we have one type of judgement. But if we "follow the crowd" to the grave of a tzadik because we are looking for some inspiration in our humdrum, run-of-the-mill existence then we are judged positively.

In conclusion: Be an individual. Don't do anything just because "everybody is doing it". On the other hand, if people are doing something, find out what it has to offer for you and if you will benefit and can incorporate it as part of your avodas Hashem, then go for it. לעולם יהא אדם דעתו מעורבת עם הבריות - A person must be part of society, a "[wo]man of the people". But he may never abdicate his throne. In Hebrew the word for "think over" is נמלך from the word מלך. A true מלך is one who can think for himself and doesn't follow the masses "just because".

The greatest way to be ממליך Hashem is to be a מלך ourselves. You can't compare the honor give to a king who is crowned by the common man to the honor of a king who is crowned by other kings. If we become kings and think for ourselves then Hashem glory is magnified many times over.   

I won't be in Uman this Rosh Hashana but I am trying to organize my family a stay in Yerushalayim. I hope I make it and hear the shofar we have been awaiting for 2000 years.

וְהָיָה בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא יִתָּקַע בְּשׁוֹפָר גָּדוֹל וּבָאוּ הָאֹבְדִים בְּאֶרֶץ אַשּׁוּר וְהַנִּדָּחִים בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם וְהִשְׁתַּחֲווּ לַיהוָה בְּהַר הַקֹּדֶש בירושלים ...

A Broken Heart

"One time the Baal Shem Tov commanded his disciple Reb Zev-Wolf to prepare himself and learn the mental intentions of the shofar blowing, because he would blow the shofar for the Baal Shem Tov. Reb Wolf studied all the proper intentions ("kavanos") and wrote them down on a piece of paper so that he would be able to look at it while blowing the shofar. He hid the paper in his pocket. Reb Wolf didn't know that the Baal Shem Tov made sure that the paper would be lost. When he rose up to blow the shofar he looked for the paper everywhere, but he could not find it. Reb Wolf was so upset that he blew the shofar with a very heavy and broken heart, without any special intentions.
"Afterwards, the Baal Shem Tov said to him: In the Palace of the King there are many rooms and halls, and each door to a room or a hall has a different key. But there is a better way to enter than to use the key, and this is to use an ax, which can open the locks of all the doors. The same is true of proper intentions. They are the keys to each and every gate, and every opening has the proper intention for it. However, the broken heart is an ax. It allows every person to enter all the gates and the halls of the King of Kings, the Holy One, Blessed be He."
[Moshe Chaim Kalman, Or Yesharim, Warsaw, 5684 (1924), pages 104-105].

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Salanter Challenge

לזכות שרה חאנטשה בת אהבה נחמה

"All changes even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves: we must die to one life before we can enter another."

The basis of all tshuva is change. The Alter of Slabodka explained that tshuva is not becoming better but becoming different. Rav Hutner [his talmid] explained in the Pachad Yitzchak [please listen to the shiurim - simply transformative!] that this idea is expressed in the Rambam when he instructs the Baal Tshuva to change his name, symbolizing the fact that he is not longer the same person he once was.

We are very connected ourselves and that includes our bad habits. We all have them and have trouble letting go. A person needs a high level of emotional awareness to understand what his or her faults are, why it is so scary to let go and to then find ways to in fact let go and become a different person.

To be honest - I can't say I know very many people who are different people in Cheshvan than they were before Elul. Most people just "go with the flow" and not much [or nothing at all] changes. As a follower of Rav Yisrael Salanter, I becry this phenomenon and wish the world would be a progressively better place as life moves on. But alas, people are people and creatures of habit.

Can you be an exception?

The Salanter Challenge!

The Head Of The Year

ר' צבי משה בן שרה לאה
רב משה צבי בן פרידה שמחה
חי' גיטל בת פייגע ביילא בלומא

Rosh Hashana is the "head" of the year. The head has three aspects to it: 1] It is the highest part of the body. 2] It encompasses and includes all of the body. 3] It leads the body.

Rosh Hashana has 3 parallel avodos: 1] The highest avoda of the year is תמליכוני עליכם - we crown Hashem as King. 2] Teshuva encompasses all of the mitzvos. 3] Rosh Hashana should inspire and lead us to do mitzvos the rest of the year.

The shofar as well parallels these three avodos: 1] With the blowing of the shofar we crown Hashem as King [as the gemara teaches]. 2] The shofar arouses us to teshuva [as the gemara teaches]. 3] The sounding of the shofar is a mitzva [besides its great spiritual symbolism].

As we alluded to, the shofar has two aspects: 1]  It is a formal mitzva like other mitzvos. 2] It arouses us to teshuva. The Rambam mentions the fact that it arouses us to teshuva not in hilchos shofar but in hilchos teshuva. This is because in hilchos shofar the Rambam discusses teshuva as a mitzva and not as a trigger and inspiration for teshuva. So the correct location is hilchos teshuva. The Rambam doesn't even mention שתמליכוני עליכם because it is much too elevated to even be mentioned.

When we crown Hashem as King we go to a place of עצמות - Hashem Himself [kiviyachol] and that is where Hashem chooses us not because of any of our deeds but because we are [kiviyachol] one with Him. That is why we say the pasuk יבחר לנו את נחלתנו את גאון יעקב אשר אהב סלה - Hashem chooses for us our Land and chooses His people. By connecting to malchiyos we reveal the deepest connection that Hashem has to us as His chosen nation.

[Based on sichos given by the Lubavitcher Rebbe in 1963 - if you couldn't make it...] 



Heart And Science

"Not too long ago thousands spent their lives as recluses to find spiritual vision in the solitude of nature.  Modern man need not become a hermit to achieve this goal, for it is neither ecstasy nor world-estranged mysticism his era demands, but a balance between quantitative and qualitative reality.  Modern man, with his reduced capacity for intuitive perception, is unlikely to benefit from the contemplative life of a hermit in the wilderness.  But what he can do is to give undivided attention, at times, to a natural phenomenon, observing it in detail, and recalling all the scientific facts about it he may remember.  Gradually, however, he must silence his thoughts and, for moments at least, forget all his personal cares and desires, until nothing remains in his soul but awe for the miracle before him.  Such efforts are like journeys beyond the boundaries of narrow self-love and, although the process of intuitive awakening is laborious and slow, its rewards are noticeable from the very first.  If pursued through the course of years, something will begin to stir in the human soul, a sense of kinship with the Force of life consciousness which rules the world of plants and animals, and with the Power which determines the laws of matter.  While analytical intellect may well be called the most precious fruit of the Modern Age, it must not be allowed to rule supreme in matters of cognition.  If science is to bring happiness and real progress to the world, it needs the warmth of man's heart just as much as the cold inquisitiveness of his brain."

Condoning And Condemning Violence

News item:
Ray Rice just lost his career, his multimillion dollar endorsements and his reputation – all because of a video that just went viral.
Rice is – or perhaps more correctly, was – a National Football League superstar. One of the league’s top rushers of the past few years, he was instrumental in bringing about the Baltimore Ravens 2012 championship season. As a reward, he signed a five-year $40 million contract extension that included 24 million in guaranteed money. Nike, the world’s largest sporting goods maker, paid Rice a magnificent sum to serve as their national spokesman.

All that has now come to an end. Rice has been permanently suspended by his team and the NFL as the result of an elevator video that showed him brutally punching in the face the woman who was then his fiancée, now his wife, a blow that banged her head against the rail and rendered her unconscious.

First, a side comment. Why did his fiance marry him after he knocked her out? Makes you wonder.... Seems that he has a middos problem. She doesn't want a bochur with good middois?

But my main point is as follows: He was being paid millions of dollars to knock innocent people senseless. Now he is being suspended for doing the same thing.


The entire sport of football is extremely violent. Sometimetimes you can have ten hungry Lions or Bears [if you are in Detriot or Chicago] hungrily pursuing one 'gentleman' and if they get him on time, they will gang up on him and violently crash their helmets and heavy shoulder pads into different parts of his already war torn body. Then they will aggresively and mercilessly throw him down to the ground and pile up on top of him.

His sin? He was holding the football.

Then 65,000 fans will jump out of their seats with uncontrolled euphoria and cheer on this wild bunch, encouraging them to do more of much of the same.

Fourth down and twenty five!:-)

I am not defending Mr. Rice. He is a criminal and should be treated as such. But violence breeds violence and American pop-culture encourages and supports violence. Football is just violence that society has mandated "legal" and/or "good fun", while knocking one's wife has not [Baruch Hashem] been given a stamp of approval by society. But violence remains violence.

Pro Football is a multi-billion dollar business which shows how much people love this violence. Watch the six pm news and see highlights of "great hits" which means one man caused severe and ultimately lasting pain to another. No former pro player even lives without pain again.

What is the Jewish angle? How many yidden are avid and die hard fans of this barbarism?! How difficult is it for them to open a sefer or spend time with their loved one's when an "important game" is taking place?!

Think about it:-).

New Article

Parshas Netzavim - geshmak Torah on the Parsha, here.

The Pleasant Fragrance Of The Future

The pasuk says וירח ה' את ריח הניחוח - Hashem smelled the pleasant fragrance of Noach's korban. The medrash expounds that the "smelling" connotes a viewing of the future. Hashem smelled the smell of Avraham Avinu who came out of the burning furnace, the smell of Chananya Mishael and Azarya coming out of the burning furnace etc. the smell of the generation of shmad [religious persecution] etc. meaning that Hashem saw all of these events and in their merit he made a covenant that there will never be another mabul.

The moon is called ירח which contains the same letters as ריח, because in the future the moon will be healed from its blemish, just like the Jewish people that will in the future be healed from there blemishes - שהם עתידים להתחדש כמותה even though now they are not in a good state, Hashem smells their future purity and therefore even now we create a fragrant aroma before Hashem. That is what the gemara in Eiruvin [21a] means when it says that even the reshaim will give a good smell in the future which can even be perceived now by Hashem. [Shem Mishmuel]

Now that we understand that "smell" relates to the future, we can understand what we accomplish om Motzaei Shabbos. Shabbos encompasses all of time  - past, present and future [שפת אמת תר"ן ד"ה בפסוק, מאור עינים ליקוטים ד"ה שבת, פרי צדיק ויחי אות ז]. On Motzaei Shabbos we return to the world of the present. In order to give us the strength to get through the sometimes difficult times that we will face, we make havdala which symbolizes past, present and future. We make a בורא פרי הגפן and the word בורא refers to the past [Brachos 52b]. We make a בורא מאורי האש on the fire and we know that the fire is renewed every second. That symbolizes the present. We also make a bracha on the bsamim, a bracha on the ריח which as we saw, symbolizes the future.

The Zohar says that the whole world stands in the merit of ריח. This can mean that we have the strength to keep going knowing what will happen in the future and that we will be redeemed. [See Pachad Yitzchak Yom Kippur Maamar 6!]

Tolna Rebbe Melava Malka Parshas Noach 5761

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Real Cause Of Problems + Update

Eventually you will see that the real cause of problems is not life itself. It's the commotion that mind makes about life that really causes problems.

Update: I posted the above before I attempted to go to sleep at about 3am. After tossing and turning for a long time, unable to sleep despite great fatigue because of a certain worry that is consuming me, I have arisen to pray. The truth is that the issue is indeed a burning one but the "commotion of the mind" makes it all that much worse. A clear balanced thought process reveals to me that my attitude is wrong on at least two accounts.

1] If a person has bitachon he sleeps soundly, so this is a clear indication that I need to bolster my bitachon. Hashem runs the show and the distressful situation I ponder is silly putty in Divine Hands. In one moment He can completely solve the problem. Feel free to apply that to your life. 

2] Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook was asked by the doctor in his old age, after a serious surgery [are surgeries ever funny?], what hurts. He said "Klal Yisrael". The doctor thought that the Rov didn't understand and repeated his question. Rav Tzvi Yehuda repeated his answer "Klal Yisrael". The doctor again thought that the Rov didn't understand. Rav Tzvi Yehuda explained that he understood perfectly what the doctor was asking and the answer is that what really pains him are the tzaros of klal yisrael. My focus on my personal tzaros are rooted in a self-centeredness that I find abhorrent. So I have something else for which to do teshuva. Boy, will I have a busy aseres yemei teshuva.....   

It's Already Tomorrow

Don't worry about the world coming to an end today. It's already tomorrow in Australia.

Charles M. Schultz

Chronic Worriers

The work of worrying – when it succeeds – is to rehearse what those dangers are, and reflect on ways to deal with them.  But worry doesn’t work all that well.  New solutions and fresh ways of seeing a problem do not typically come from worrying, especially chronic worry.  Instead of coming up with solutions to these potential problems, worriers typically ruminate on the danger itself, immersing themselves in a low-key way in the dread associated with it while staying in the same rut of thought.  Chronic worriers worry about a wide range of things, most of which have almost no chance of happening; they read dangers into life’s journey that others never notice.
Daniel Goleman

The True Tzadikim

We live in a generation that is characterized by gross superficiality. One of the expressions of this superficiality is that some of the the rabbis who are very popular are often not on the same level in learning and spirituality as some rabbis and talmidei chachomim who are less popular and well known.

It is similar to the difference between going to a less competent doctor vs. a more competent doctor. One might get treated well by the lower level doctor but it won't as effective as the treatment of the greater expert. So too, the dimensions of spiritual and intellectual elevation are decreased because people often follow those with more style than substance.

My eitza is to follow the true tzadikim and masters of the Torah and look less to the popular-appealing-to-the-masses-type-personalities. Of course, they have value as well and shouldn't be completely disregarded but one must remember where the real emes resides.

Ruchniyus and true gadlus are not gauged by popularity levels.

ודי לחכימא.

Bring In The Light Of Teshuva

Rav Betzalel Zolty [the great Gaon and Rov of Yerushalayim] was walking with the famed mashgiach, Rav Leib Chasman, at the funeral of Rav Kook. The streets were filled with talmidei chachomim and rabbonim. Rav Chasman turned to the young Rav Zolty and said "You see all of these heads? The head of Rav Kook was greater than all of these heads combined."

Rav Shabtai Rappaport, a grandson of Rav Moshe Feinstein, said that Rav Moshe was a great admirer of Rav Kook. He once showed Rav Moshe a brilliantly precise definition offered by Rav Kook that helped clarify a halachic matter. Rav Moshe asked what is surprising "Rav Kook was a gaon of gaonim" [a "Top-Gun" Gaon, if it is permitted to use such an expression].

I heard first hand, from an עד נאמן ביותר, that in Elul, Rav Kook's Oros Hatshuva was on the table of the Gerrer Rebbe, Rav Pinchas Menachen Alter ztz"l. This is in addition to Rav Kook's halachic sefarim which the Pnei Menachem learned thoroughly and added many, many comments, questions, additions etc. etc.

So I encourage ALL of my sweetest friends to spend some time learning the holy Oros Hatshuva during this tshuva season. If you can't understand it alone - find someone who does understand it and learn it together. Invite a Rav to give a shiur in the sefer and be mezake other yidden and yiddenes.

It will elevate you neshama to the highest levels.

Catch the fire. Absorb the light.

אורות ושלומים:-)

Fine Fragrances And Torah Scholars

The Medrash Tana D'bei Eliyahu [6/11] expounds the pasuk [Shir Ha-shirim 1/3] לריח שמניך טובים שמן תורק שמך על כן עלמות אהבוךBecause of the fragrance of your fine oils, your name is flowing with aromatic oils, therefore the maidens love you, to mean that if a Torah Scholar learns Torah Neviim and Ksuvim, Medrashim, Halachos and Aggados and also "serves" [learns from] talmidei chachomim, he will be happy in Olam Haba, as it says עלמות which can be read על מות - above death. The Medrash does not explain how the earlier part of the pasuk לריח שמניך טובים should be expounded. Why are talmidei chachomim compared to a fine fragrance?

In Parshas Noach we read of the korban that Noach served to Hashem and that it gave a ריח ניחוח - a good smell. The gemara in Sotah [49a] implies that "smell" is the capacity to perceive spiritual depth and thus Rav Huna gave his son Rabba a date that Rabba had smelled becasue his ability to smell showed that he possessed intrinsic purity.

In Sanhedrin [70b] it says that wine and smell make one a פקח. We know that when wine enters ones system the secrets emerge, so too, when one smells properly he can perceive the secrets hidden beneath the surface.

At the end of days Moshaich will judge by his sense of smell. Two women will be arguing over who is the rightful owner of a valuable gem, the Moshiach will "take a whiff" and tell them who the correct owner is.

Now we can understand why the Medrash compares talmidei chachomom to fine smelling oils. True talmidei chachomim are blessed with the capacity to "smell" the spirituality that inheres all of creation.

[Tolna Rebbe Shlita Melave Malka Parshas Noach 5761]

לרפואת חי' גיטל פייגע בת ביילא בלומא

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Marshmallow Man

One of the basic components of avodah is mastering self control. Here is a great article from the New York Times:

NOT many Ivy League professors are associated with a type of candy. But Walter Mischel, a professor of psychology at Columbia, doesn’t mind being one of them.

“I’m the marshmallow man,” he says, with a modest shrug.

I’m with Mr. Mischel (pronounced me-SHELL) in his tiny home office in Paris, where he spends the summer. We’re watching grainy video footage of preschoolers taking the “marshmallow test,” the legendary experiment on self-control that he invented nearly 50 years ago. In the video, a succession of 5-year-olds sit at a table with cookies on it (the kids could pick their own treats). If they resist eating anything for 15 minutes, they get two cookies; otherwise they just get one.
Famously, preschoolers who waited longest for the marshmallow went on to have higher SAT scores than the ones who couldn’t wait. In later years they were thinner, earned more advanced degrees, used and coped better with stress. As these first marshmallow kids now enter their 50s, Mr. Mischel and colleagues are investigating whether the good delayers are richer, too.
At age 84, Mr. Mischel is about to publish his first nonacademic book, “The Marshmallow Test: Mastering Self-Control.” He says we anxious parents timing our kids in front of treats are missing a key finding of willpower research: Whether you eat the marshmallow at age 5 isn’t your destiny. Self-control can be taught. Grown-ups can use it to tackle the burning issues of modern middle-class life: how to go to bed earlier, not check email obsessively, stop yelling at our children and spouses, and eat less bread. Poor kids need self-control skills if they’re going to catch up at school.
Mr. Mischel faced his own childhood trials of willpower. He was born to well-off Jewish intellectuals in Vienna. But Germany annexed Austria when he was 8, and he “moved quickly from sitting in the front row in my schoolroom, to the back row, to standing in the back, to no more school.” He watched as his father, a businessman who spoke Esperanto and liked to read in cafes, was dragged from bed and forced to march outside in his pajamas.

His family escaped to Brooklyn, but his parents never regained their former social status. They opened a struggling five-and-dime, and as a teenager Walter got a hernia from carrying stacks of sleeves at a garment factory. One solace was visiting his grandmother, who hummed Yiddish songs and talked about sitzfleisch: the importance of continuing to work, regardless of the obstacles (today we call this “grit”).
Mr. Mischel came both to embody sitzfleisch, and to study it. Over a 55-year academic career he has published an average of one journal article, chapter or scholarly book about every three months.
Part of what adults need to learn about self-control is in those videos of 5-year-olds. The children who succeed turn their backs on the cookie, push it away, pretend it’s something nonedible like a piece of wood, or invent a song. Instead of staring down the cookie, they transform it into something with less of a throbbing pull on them.

Adults can use similar methods of distraction and distancing, he says. Don’t eye the basket of bread; just take it off the table. In moments of emotional distress, imagine that you’re viewing yourself from outside, or consider what someone else would do in your place. When a waiter offers chocolate mousse, imagine that a cockroach has just crawled across it.

“If you change how you think about it, its impact on what you feel and do changes,” Mr. Mischel writes.

He explains that there are two warring parts of the brain: a hot part demanding immediate gratification (the limbic system), and a cool, goal-oriented part (the prefrontal cortex). The secret of self-control, he says, is to train the prefrontal cortex to kick in first.
To do this, use specific if-then plans, like “If it’s before noon, I won’t check email” or “If I feel angry, I will count backward from 10.” Done repeatedly, this buys a few seconds to at least consider your options. The point isn’t to be robotic and never eat chocolate mousse again. It’s to summon self-control when you want it, and be able to carry out long-term plans.

“We don’t need to be victims of our emotions,” Mr. Mischel says. “We have a prefrontal cortex that allows us to evaluate whether or not we like the emotions that are running us.” This is harder for children exposed to chronic stress, because their limbic systems go into overdrive. But crucially, if their environment changes, their self-control abilities can improve, he says.
Self-control alone doesn’t guarantee success. People also need a “burning goal” that gives them a reason to activate these skills, he says.
His secret seems to come straight from the marshmallow test: distraction. “It’s to keep living in a way one wants to live and work; to distract constructively; to distract in ways that are in themselves satisfying; to do things that are intrinsically gratifying,” he says. “Melancholy is not one of my emotions. Quite seriously, I don’t do melancholy. It’s a miserable way to be.”



Doubting Our History

There are some who are strongly inclined to cast doubt upon the historical accounts of the Jewish People [many of them like to write blogs]. Rav Kook, in his sefer "L'nivuchei Ha-dor" calls such people "ill" and holds back no words expressing his contempt for their way of thinking.

He continues and says that if one doubts the history of the Jewish people then he can just as easily doubt his OWN history and ask - How does one know that his father is really his father? Maybe his father was once away on business and his mother invited a male acquaintance over for dinner, what happened - happened, and a child was born. The mother decided, not surprisingly, not to tell her husband who the real father is [that could cause a shalom bayis problem or two]. Or maybe while on vacation together and the husband was sound asleep, something happened and 9 months later a baby. People are only people, you know. The gemara says in Chullin the same idea [which it rejects], ודילמא לאו אביו הוא - Maybe the presumed father is really not the father?!

Or maybe neither parent is the true parent and the baby was mixed up with another baby in the hospital and the true parents received a different baby. The gemara talks about a child who was just picked up on the street and we don't know his real parents [אסופי]. Do you remember what happened when you were a newborn?? So who knowssssssss.

Such an attitude would bring upon a tremendous catastrophe to the world. Nobody has to listen to parents anymore and authority is jettisoned. Those who seem to be sources of authority are really imposters....

If one rejects the tradition of our nation, he can just as easily reject the narrative of his own past. The results would be an erosion of society as we know it [in addition to the already present erosion...].  

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Don't Over Do It

לזכות משה יהודה בן פעשא דינה לברכה והצלחה וכל טוב סלה!

We all know that Yosef HaTzadik had to spend two extra years in jail because he asked to Sar Hamashkim to mention him to the Paroh so that he would be freed from the dungeon.

Everybody asks: Why the the punishment? A Jew is permitted to do hishtadlus. Also, why TWO years specifically?

Indeed a Jew is allowed to do hishtadlus, but not to OVER DO hishtadlus. In three days Paroh was making a birthday party [40/13]. That would have been the right time for hishtadlus. Asking the Sar Hamashkim to intervene two days prior was unnecessary. It was putting to [two] much faith in the hishtadlus and not enough in Hashem. So middah ki-negged middah, Yosef had to stay for two more years in jail. [Rav Charlap]

I must tell you that my life experience has taught me that this is absolutely so. Too much hishtadlus is so unneccessary and all too often backfires. Sometimes we just have to step back, relax and let Hashem perform his magic. The more bitachon - the more peace of mind.

How A Mansion Is Formed

You enter a beautiful mansion. 17 rooms, marble floors, winding staircases, high ceilings, two elevators, gorgeous paintings on the walls, state of the art furniture etc. etc. Outside is an Olympic size swimming pool, two tennis courts, a full length basketball court, manicured lawns, an 18 hole golf course etc. etc.

There are two ways that this complex could have come into being.

1] A large group of black and hispanic men with names like DeWayne and Jose wearing jeans and hard hats faithfully came to work for four years and built it up in between cigarette breaks.

2] There was this HUUUUUGEEEE explosion. Then there was rubble everywhere. It stayed that way for a thousand years. Little by little the rubble "evolved" into this mansion, plus country club outside. Dust and rocks were miraculously transformed into a gorgoeous eye-popping palace. Wow.

Who would believe fairly tale number 2? Nobody.

But people sleep quite soundly at night with the belief that we are here because there was this HUUUUUGE explosion which created this tremendous cholent. From this crawled out a single cell organism which was really bored and wanted to eat bananas so he turned himself into a monkey. The money was intimate with another monkey [also converted from single cell organism to monkey-ism] and many generations later - PRESTO - out came Kevin Durant and won the NBA MVP award. MAZEL TOV!! Yaamod - Kevin ben His Father, ben Monkey, Shliiiiiishiiiiii.

Evolutionist Harold Morowitz estimated the probability for chance formation of even the simplest form of living organism at 1/10340,000,000.  By comparison only 1020 grains of sand could fit within a cubic mile and 10 billion times more (1030) would fit inside the entire earth.  So, the probability of forming a simple cell by chance processes is infinitely less likely than having a blind person select one specifically marked grain of sand out of an entire earth filled with sand.

We have a hallowed tradition that G-d created and constantly guides the world. The evolutionists themselves would admit that the odds of me turning into a woman and giving birth to triplets tonight are much greater than the odds that their theories are correct.

So let us constantly remind ourselves, a hundred times a day [at least] that there is a Creator.

וידעת היום והשבות אל לבבך כי ה' הוא הא-להים בשמים ממעל ועל הארץ מתחת אין עוד.   

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Belief System Of The Kofrim

I believe that our basic belief in the authenticity of our tradition comes down to the following question: Where the Rabbi's [and/or our ancestors] a bunch of duplicitous, fraudulent, deceptive conniving murderers or were they an honest, sincere bunch. If one believes the former then he will not accept the Torah as binding and if he believes the latter then he will fully accept the Torah.

Let me explain: The Torah claims that millions of people witnessed G-d's revelation to His people. If this didn't happen that means that at some point in history a group of [most likely] Rabbis presented the people with a book that claimed that all of their forefathers witnessed this world-changing event. Now, convincing people that this actually happened when they never heard about it until then would be quite a challenge, especially given the notorious Jewish stubborness not to accept anything from anybody. What compounds the difficulty is that we have to believe that these falsifiers mandated capital punishment in quite a few cases, claiming that G-d is behind it when He really isn't. That would make them murderers [or aiding and abetting murder] because they decreed a death penalty when someone lights a match on Saturday, when G-d never said such a thing.

Why they would want to impose such a prohibitive lifestyle on a whole nation of people is one strong question. What do they get out of it? So now every eight day old baby is going to have surgery performed on his most delicate organ?? Were they sick? Now all of the farmers are going to be forced to take a year off every seven years and allow the land to lie fallow. Were they suicidal [or homicidal if they weren't farmers]? They then put themselves in a rougher spot by promising a more abundant crop in the sixth year. Why would they set themselves up to be disproven??

Why would they write in their book that in the future the Jews would sin, be scattered to all four corners of the earth and come back? That is so dumb. Maybe they wouldn't sin, stay in the land and the whole thing would be proven bogus.

Why did they say that the event was witnessed by millions of people when the people would have great reason to doubt that such an event ever happened when they never heard about it. 500 years [let's say] after Matan Torah purportedly happened they are hearing about it for the first time?? Why don't they start the religion the way other religions started - by claiming a small number of people witnessed a miracle. Try denying that what you were never supposed to have witnessed never happened. If I tell you that last night I had a chavrusa with Eliyahu Hanavi you could never disprove it [although you could ask me if I have been taking my meds:-)].

In conclusion according to the deniers you have to concoct a crazy conspiracy theory and then assume the gullibility of the entire Jewish people, men, women and children. Although we have records of the Jews doing really rotten things, we have no record of the Jews [with the exception of Korach according to some medrashim] ever denying that Har Sinai happened.

To add to this conspiracy theory we have to believe that the Rabbis also made up all of the miracles in the Navi and once again convinced the Jews to believe them.

So you see - deniers are really big believers. They believe in that the rabbis are a bunch of duplicitous etc. etc. the conspiracy etc. and the gullibility of the Jews etc.

Believers also believe. We just believe that rabbis didn't lie [see the Ramban Vaeschanan on the pasuk והודעתם], they claim that millions of people were present at Har Sinai because they really were, that the Torah mandates capital punishment because G-d said so etc. We believe that the Torah makes almost impossible promises to keep [that the Jews will be dispersed but come back, that land will be especially productive in the sixth year, that when all of the Jews visit the Beis Hamikdash three times a year, the goyim won't take their homes when they are gone etc. etc.] because Hashem has the power to make miraculous things happen. We believe that the Jews have had an undeniably miraculous history because He is behind us.

So it is our belief system against the beliefs of the kofrim. Which belief system makes more sense? I believe strongly that ours does. But even if one argues that it doesn't and accepts the arguments of the kofrim - there are some very serious problems with their theory that leave great reason for doubt. So how are kofrim so sure of themselves? If they are intellectually honest they should be having serious crises of disbelief.

Like people who believe that the world was created by accident. To see the vast universe in all of its infinite complexity [of which science has barely scratched the surface] and then to claim that it was all created by accident after a big bang [without explaining how the dynamite that made the big bang got there] is a difficult proposition to accept and requires a HUUUUUUUGE leap of blind, and quite foolish and farflung is you ask me, faith. 

Reminds me of an old blog post from Cross-Currents:

Dancing this past Simchas Torah to Toras Hashem Temimah, we arrived at the words “eidus Hashem ne’emanah, machkimas pesi” and the following occurred to me:

Elsewhere, chazal define a pesi as a “ma’amin l’chol davar,” one who’ll believe anything. Now, it was G.K. Chesterton who famously observed that when one stops believing in G-d, it’s not that henceforth he believes in nothing, but rather that he’ll now believe in anything.

This, then, is Dovid HaMelech’s paean to the Torah — it wises up the pesi. That is to say, Hashem’s testimony teaches the pesi, whose standards of truth are so low and whose inability to think subtly is so great that he’ll believe anything so long as it suits his physical and ego drives, to search for and believe in only that which proves itself to be the truth.

For a living, breathing example of how this works in practice, consider this gem from an interview last week in the Guardian of Dick Dawkins, who, for those thankfully unfamiliar with him, makes a living writing atheistic best-sellers and does a little teaching on the side:

"When you think about how fantastically successful the Jewish lobby has been, though, in fact, they are less numerous I am told — religious Jews anyway — than atheists and [yet they] more or less monopolize American foreign policy as far as many people can see. So if atheists could achieve a small fraction of that influence, the world would be a better place."

So there you have it, folks. Meet Richard Dawkins, Oxford don, evolutionary biologist, militant atheist, raving conspiracy theorist. And now, confirmed pesi.