Born Anew or Born a Jew?

Rabbi Dovid Schwartz

Over the past several years a number of special “dedicated” Shabosos have emerged on the frum Jewish scene. We have AJOP and Torah U’Mesorah conventions, various Kiruv Outfits running Seminar weekends, a Hatzolah appeal Shabbos, a consciousness-raising Shabbos Machsom L’fee for Shmiras Halashon awareness and, on the west coast, a Shabbos Chizuk.

There have been many great inspiring-role-model Geirim in Jewish History; Yisro, Tzipporah, Rus, Onkelos, the Khazar King, Count Valentine Potocki of Vilna and Warder Cresson just to name a few. Yet the “Granddaddies” of all Gerim and Giyorot are Avraham Ovinu and Sarah Imainu. So I’d like to propose that the week preceding Parshas Lech Lecha become Geirus Awareness Week. After all, this is the parsha of their own geirus as well as that of the many mysteriously disappearing nefesh asher osu b’charan. = the souls that they “made” in Haran.
Read more Born Anew or Born a Jew?

The Real Solution to Broad Communal Harmony

I am writing this for myself as well as anyone else that could benefit from it.

Several years ago, someone approached Rav Mordechai Schwab, zecher tzadik livracha, and asked him to comment on a statement of Rav Shach regarding the Chabad movement. (This was before the Rebbe’s petira.) Rav Schwab’s response was a complete refusal to comment. Rav Schwab (although he was a Yekke by yichus) was clearly a strong Litvak, and much more aligned with Rav Shach’s derech ha’avodah and hashkafos. And yet his response was “dumia”, complete silence and refusal of any involvement in the discussion.

I was once at a JEP dinner in Monsey. The guest speaker was of a somewhat more modern orientation. Since Rav Schwab’s son, Rabbi Yehudah Schwab is the director of JEP, Rav Schwab attended and sat at the dais. His seat was facing forward toward the general seating. The guest speaker was behind him at the microphone. Being the incredible baal middos that he was, he could not turn his seat around so that his back would be toward the tzibbur. He also could not fail to treat the guest speaker with less than the ultimate kavod. So, he turned his seat a bit, and sat with his (80 year old) neck crocked around at an uncomfortable looking angle for the entire length of the drasha, never removing his eyes from the speaker.
Read more The Real Solution to Broad Communal Harmony

Using Our Talents For Achdus (Auction)

In Rabbi Brody’s recent post “Jewgrass, or don’t throw away your past“, he points out that Hashem doesn’t want Baalei Teshuva to throw away our past – He wants us to bring it into holiness, to sanctify it.

It’s the same with out skills and knowledge, Hashem wants us to use them to serve Him and the Jewish People. A good example of this is David’s involvement in the Achdus Auction. Here’s the writeup of the Auction from the web site:
Read more Using Our Talents For Achdus (Auction)

Pre Shabbos Links

Rabbi David Schallheim on Parshat Noach – From Generation to Generation
The true use of technology is to complete the Creation, as partners with the Creator. We mention this idea in the verse recited in Kiddush on Friday night: “God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it because on it He abstained from all His work; which God created to make” (Bereishit 2:3). It would have been sufficient to write, “which God created,” why does the verse add, “to make?” This teaches that mankind is partner in the ongoing process of Creation.

Our condolences to Rabbi Schallheim on the recent loss of his mother. May Hashem comfort him among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

Rabbi Zev Leff on Parshas Noach
The sins of immorality and robbery of the generation of the Flood were merely symptoms of the underlying disease of deficient character development. Noach attacked the symptom, but failed to cure the disease. He did not teach them to know Hashem through contemplation of His middos and to walk in His ways by correcting and developing their own character traits. Hence he was unsuccessful. His rebuke may occasionally have suppressed the symptoms, but they soon reappeared, since the underlying cause had not been treated. Without changing their underlying character, no true repentance was possible.
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My Name is Not Neil

I was recently having a discussion with close friend of mine about who we really are and what’s at the core of our personality. As we talked about what mitzvos we strongly identify with and how Hashem identifies with us, we got onto the topic of pasukim (verses) that are associated with our Hebrew names.

I’m sure you’ve seen those lines in small print in the last paragraph of the Shemoneh Essrei, right? Where you have the option to turn to page 924 in the back of the Artscroll siddur and insert the appropriate Hebrew verse for your Hebrew name. How many of us have actually taken a look at the verse for our own name?
Read more My Name is Not Neil

A Touchy Subject

Sexuality is a very touchy subject within the religious world, and understandably so. As I’ve tried to explain to my teenagers, this drive, right after the basic need for food and water (and those needs are met for most people most of the time) sexuality is the strongest natural (aka animal oriented) desire that humans have.

Though this subject is very touchy and must be discussed with the utmost discretion and care, still the religious world does a good job of educating those less knowledgable about kosher relationships, the mitzvot related to close contact between men and women, the obligations of family purity (those mitzvot regarding use of the mikvah for women and appropriate times and boundries for a kosher marital relationship).

However, there is a touchy subject within this touchy subject that is rarely dealt with, sexuality for men, especially the single man. Given that this is a more appropriate topic for a private discussion, it’s going to be tricky to get across some important concepts and still maintain the absolute G rating of this forum. But, I’m going to give it my best as I feel this is critical information that is, unfortunately, rarely shared.
Read more A Touchy Subject

Pre Shabbos Links and Stuff

A Simple Jew has a good post with some good comments on what to do when they order in “kosher” food at work. Here’s a comment from Akiva:

Here’s what I usually say….

“I’m sorry, I really appreciate you trying but I’m somewhat of a fanatic about these things. Because of that my religious position requires that I only eat the super-duper-extra-kosher stuff. Fortunately, that’s readily available in our area at xxxxx location or xxxxxx well know products. If you’re able to get those for us fanatics, that would be great. If not, hey, we really appreciate your efforts in considering kosher at all! Thanks!”

By self-labeling as someone really unusual, it puts the onus of the position on me and makes them perfectly comfortable in saying no. Yet it also opens the door to accomodation if they want. Sometimes I tone down the “super-duper” and use “extra kosher”, “extra stringent kosher”, “extreme kosher”, then I point to my big black kippah and beard and say, “hey, you’d never guess that I’d be fanatical, right?” That always gets a smile.

Jameel at Muqata posts the following about a new law making kiruv to minors illegal in Eretz Yisroel:

The winter session of the Knesset is now in session. MK Chaim Oron (Meretz) ascended the podium of Israel’s parliament and proposed a new law:

Any person who attempts to influence a minor, to become more religiously observant of Judaism,(להחזיר בתשובה) will be subject to arrest and imprisonment for 6 months.

A reader wrote a letter and MK Oron responded:


I welcome your letter to me.

Due to the many instances in which different religious groups in Israel try to cause minors to be “chozer biteshuva” [return to religion], either through activities, or the distribution of materials that contain threats within schools, I have proposed to outlaw all direct or indirect activities from organizations like those, that try to cause minors to return to religion.

My proposal applies to attempts to convince minors, who normally have less developed faith and opinions than those of an adult — and attempts to convince them to change from a secular person to a religious person; a transformation that should only occur based on self-reflection and without any pressure or external enticements.

I understand that you disagree with my viewpoint, and therefore, “[every] person in his own faith shall live”


Chaim (Jomas) Oron

Rabbi Yerachmiel Milstein has a free mp3 shiur at Aish, titled Bereishis: Who Banged the Big Bang?

In the beginning, G-d created…” These famous words lose some of their glitter when put alongside the many popular scientific theories that saturate our society. After all, what about the Big Bang, evolution, and the world being at least 8 billion years old? Rabbi Milstein looks between these divine lines and quotes ancient writings that show how the sages of old were light years ahead of current scientific discoveries – and that after all is said and done, the gap between science and Torah is really a lot closer than it appears.

If you prefer your Torah in black ink on white paper, then try this week’s Internet Parsha Sheet or try the archives for Bereishis Parsha Sheets from the past.

Sheep and Thinkers

A conversation I overheard during Simchas Torah.

“I can’t believe how much chesed there is in your community. I’ve been to a number of different communities and I’ve never seen anything like it.”

“That’s because there are kiruv rabbis here who have devoted themselves to bringing Jews back to the fold. There is a lot of young fresh enthusiastic leadership here.
However, there are a lot of ‘sheep’. There’s just starting now to be some ‘thinkers’.”

I didn’t finish the conversation because I wanted to down the bourbon and get back to the dancing. But the brief thought struck me as an important principle that underlies a lot of communities. Who are the sheep and who are the thinkers?

In order for Judaism to survive there needs to be the ability to continue what was already started. Sheep, a word not usually used as a compliment, in the context of Torah Judaism is a necessity. If everyone is a leader then nothing gets done. The Sefer HaChinuch points out the need to have one leader even if that leader is making mistakes! Because without a leader you have anarchy. You have several Torot, not one Torah.

This was exemplified by Yitzchak who imitated everything his father Avraham did. He looked like him. He had two kids, one on the path, one off. He pretended his wife was his sister. He redug the wells his father dug. Why didn’t he have his own unique identity? Because that WAS his identity. He was the pillar that continued in his father’s footsteps, that created a people of God. Abraham made many students. Where are they? They didn’t have the ability like Yitzchak did to continue what Avraham started.


We are in golus. Our communities are not perfect. We have many flaws. It often takes a fresh look, or an objective look at things to notice the flaws. Sure we need sheep, but we also need thinkers. We need people that are going to fight for the practical issues that are causing problems in our communities, and for the spiritual issues that are plaguing our communities.

Nothing is an accident. The BTs have the benefit of objectivity that can help a community grow.

But only if they are thinkers.

Rabbi Weiman’s new book, which discusses independent thinking,

A Simple Guide to Happiness: From a Mystical Perspective

is available to BT readers at a 10% discount. To order call 314-814-6629 or email

Short and sweet, Rabbi Weiman’s book will touch a happy chord inside your soul.

Don’t Wait for Tragedy

Like any other community, the St. Louis Torah community is not unfamiliar with tragedy. One of our most beloved rebbes died a few years back, barely 40 years old. One of our rebbeim has a child diagnosed with cancer. Too many divorces in such a close community.

But in ten years here I can’t remember anything like the shock we experienced over Sukkos, when a violent car accident sent four children to intensive care, children of the kiruv rabbi most singly responsible for building mitzva observance in our community.

Since then, so many people have commented on the outpouring of chesed and the powerful demonstrations of achdus, the whole community packed into the Aguda shul one Chol HaMoed evening at 9:00 with barely an hour’s notice, the bikkur cholim, the round the clock Tehillim and learning, the children coming for hakafos on Simchas Torah so the rav’s shul would not feel the melancholy of their spiritual leader’s anguish.

I wasn’t able to be there myself. My first obligation was to my students, I decided, after debating long and hard over which loyalty held the higher priority. As it turned out, it was the best Simchas Torah I can remember. I looked about the shul again and again, basking in the nachas of how so many of my students and former students — at least three-quarters of those dancing and singing — blended their energies together to fulfill the words of the niggun they sang: ivdu es HaShem b’simcha!

During a pause in the hakofos, a friend came over and suggested that one of us write an article about the communal response and the Kiddush HaShem of our community’s response to crisis, about the intensity of the achdus and the chesed.

My response was instantaneous: how much greater a Kiddush HaShem, how much greater a step forward to bring Moshiach, if we could do it without the crisis. As a teacher of Jewish History, I come back over and over and over again to how frequently we as a people have made the same mistake, waiting for tragedy to show our quality instead of binding ourselves more closely to our neighbors in times of blessing. If we could rise to the occasion on our own, those occasions of crisis and tragedy would never have to happen.

Then, as I reflected on the demonstration of achdus and simcha going on in shul around me, the dancing, the singing, the unrestrained joy of celebration before HaShem, I realized that we’re really not that far away at all. It’s not one great leap but one simple step that we have to take. The unity and the joy and the kindness are already within us. We just need to let it all out without waiting for it to be ripped out of us by our neighbor’s pain.

Let’s turn the aliyah of these concluded holidays into action. Let’s look for every opportunity to show kindness, to show unity, to express ahavas chinom — unreasoning love — to supplant the unreasoning hatred that plunged us all into darkness two millennia ago and has kept us there ever since. Let’s not wait for another tragedy.

Ivdu es HaShem b’simcha! Serve HaShem with joy!

Please daven for:

Rafoel Dovid HaLevi ben Bracha

Elisha HaLevi ben Bracha

Elyahu Chaim HaLevi ben Bracha

Tehilla bas Bracha

Reuven ben Tova Chaya

Driving from Teshuvah to Simcha

How many years did it take you to realize what was happening in the nusach hatefillah [the prayer liturgy] over the course of Elul and Tishrei? I’ve been at this for more than 20 years now but it was only in the last few years — when my Hebrew got good enough that I was not only no longer breaking my teeth on pronunciation, but was beginning to comprehend even uncommon parts of the liturgy such as selichos and hakofos — that I began to realize these two superficially opposite parts of the prayer service were one and the same thing.

It’s an extraordinary journey we take from the week before Rosh Hashana, when we awake bleary-eyed to push through the penitential prayers of selichos. Actually, for baalei teshuva it’s an extraordinary journey just to figuring the basics of selichos out! I remember as a young pup, being dragged by one of the leaders in kiruv today when he was a kiruv-shul rabbi in Twin Rivers, New Jersey, to the yeshiva in Adelphia, to steamroll the selichos out of those arcane paper pamphlets. Not only was my reading atrocious then, but these obscure paperbacks were positively confusing and compounded the disorientation. I paid my dues and eventually learned my way through the selichos, at least in terms of what goes where and what parts “no one really says,” and for a while I was happy enough to at least be able to do my duty by them.

At the same time I found hakofos, especially the versified encyclopedia of Judaism thrown at us on Hoshana Rabbah, more or less incomprehensible, as I did the services for Yomim Noraim. I spent the first ten — maybe more — years of observance mostly concerned with getting the points on the map right. I realize other, probably more sincere and serious, people have different approaches; they want to understand every word they say before they say it. This can have certain satisfactions, though one of them is not getting the hang of davening or even, realistically, covering as much of the liturgy as one is obligated to. I focused on learning what to say, when, and to pick up the idiosyncracies that cause variation from the what it says even in “dumbed down” English-Hebrew machzorim and compilations which seem to “bulk up” on obscure additions to the service in order to justify their existence.

Something happened, however, over time, which not only helped me appreciate the value of navigating this ocean of words, but also made me glad I had chosen fix my position by the stars and not count the drops of water. But, to drench this metaphor completely — and we will flop up onto dry land the rest of our journey — it could only happen, for me, because I kept paddling furiously. Now that meant, for me, a commitment to lifetime learning following a couple of years of full-time yeshiva. Well, if you learn an hour or two a day, using primary materials, and maybe raise a few yeshiva-educated children along the way, guess what? You learn! By which I mean, you learn some stuff — vocabulary, and halacha, and yidios [concepts] in Jewish sensibility and philosophy, not to mention aggadata [non-halachic Talmudical material] and scripture.

I don’t think there’s any other way to do it besides putting in the mileage. I don’t think all the transliterated, linear machzorim in the world will do it for you. I’m not so sure they even get you on the right entrance ramp… but let me not drive us down a dead end. The point: Okay, you put in your miles of learning and davening, and do your maintenance and of course fuel up at regular intervals, and after a while, guess what you figure out one morning before the summer comes up? Well, what do you think selichos is made up of? Those same yidios — those scriptural references – – those halachic and Talmudical allusions! They weren’t just dreamed up by holy medieval poets — they are made from the raw material of Judaism itself!

And guess what else? What do you think the Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur is made up of? Not only these concepts and words — but of selichos themselves! It’s the same selichos, only sideways! It takes forever to figure out how to say them, where they go, but once you do, why you can recognize them even when they’re dressed in kittels [white robes worn by some men during High Holy Day services]!

And what is most gratifying of all? Realizing, as you put together the words and the concepts and the patterns and the verses themselves — that over the period of a month, those terrifying, intimidating selichos have been transformed — by time, by the subtle change of season, and by the process of Tishrei — into the joyous simcha-songs of hakofos. The pleading recitations of spiritual misery, recited in a crouch with your head bowed down and your fist striking your chest, are — by the magic of teshuva facilitated by the chagim [festivals] and elucidated (brilliantly, really) by the Sages — transformed into a parade of upstanding, proudly-produce-wielding New Men. The very sins elucidated in the selichos become the merits and praise of the hakofos. It’s one magnificent manifestation of that teshuva process we’ve been hearing about since day one. It’s one that takes work, and an investment in one’s own spiritual and intellectual life, to appreciate. Maybe not just work, but time and commitment, too. It took me about two decades to “get it,” and, well, I’m not all that slow on the uptake, you know?

Could this level of appreciation of our tradition, this multifacted weaving of our entire national philosophy into these magical couplets, possibly have an actual spiritual impact?

Well, could it possibly not have one?

That’s what I am going to try to take away from the Elul-Tishrei intersection as I drive into the rest of the year. The longer we stay on the road, the more milestones we pass. Unlike a drive on Route 95, however, we should do more than recognize the similarity of the rest stops every 50 miles — we eventually learn the way. That means knowing where we’re going, and where we’ve been, and yes, of course, how we’re getting there. Which, as they say, is more than half the … dare I say, “fun”? (No, I am not suggesting the arba minim [four species of Succos] as hood ornaments, okay?)

As we say at the end of Hoshana Rabbah, a guten vinter. With sweet memories of my late-summer spiritual travels I’m putting on my spiritual snow tires, and with God’s help — and that of my family and friends and correspondents — I’ll keep it between the lines!

“Please Take a Child to Shul” this Simchas Torah

This week’s dvar Torah is dedicated to the heroic single mothers and fathers who are rising above their challenges and doing their very best to raise their children under trying circumstances.

Countless times in the past ten years since Project Y.E.S. was founded, I have been approached by single parents, usually mothers, asking me to assist them in finding a caring, responsible adult to take their child, usually their son(s), to shul on Shabbos and/or Yom Tov.

Talk about, “Water, water everywhere, but nothing to drink.” Lost in the anonymity of big-city life, many of the children of our single-parent neighbors and friends are struggling with this dilemma. So, as we approach the child-centered holiday of Simchas Torah, please, please, look around your neighborhood and community and see if you can help see to it that ALL our children experience true simchas Yom Tov in the welcoming embrace of our communities.

Over the next weeks and months, Project Y.E.S. will be launching a “Take a Child to Shul” campaign. We will be publishing posters for dissemination in shuls and taking out ads in newspapers with the “Take a Child to Shul” theme.

I would greatly appreciate your assistance with this project. If you would like to lend a hand with the dissemination of the posters, if you can donate your creative talent to create appropriate, sensitively-worded ads and posters for this project, or if you have any ideas to help reach our noble goal of seeing to it every single Jewish child can attend Shabbos and Yom Tov davening with dignity, please email me at .

In the zechus of helping Hashem’s children, may He give us the bracha of endless nachas from our own children and grandchildren.

Best wishes for a Gutten Yom Tov.

Yakov Horowitz
A Torah Thought for Teens – Simchas Torah/Parshas V’Zos HaBracha

By: Rabbi Yakov Horowitz


The reading of V’zos Habracha on Simchas Torah marks the completion of the one-year cycle of the weekly Torah parshiyos (portions). We mark this event with great fanfare and celebration each year as we dance with the Torah, complete the parsha of V’zos Habracha, and immediately begin reading from the opening words of the Torah in Sefer Bereshis. This demonstrates that a Jew never ‘finishes’ learning the Torah. Rather, we mark the completion of another lap in our never-ending cyclical journey to the mastery of the Torah’s eternal lessons.

One of the questions that come to mind is why we celebrate Simchas Torah at end of Succos, when a more logical time would seem to be during the Yom Tov of Shavuos. After all, wouldn’t the appropriate time to celebrate with the Torah be at the time when the Jews actually received it at Mount Sinai in the month of Sivan? Why wait four months to celebrate?

A Parable
Rabbi Yakov Kranz, better known as the Dubno Magid, once offered an interesting mashul (parable) to explain the reason for the delay in celebrating our acceptance of the Torah. (A Magid was one who traveled from town to town delivering stirring lectures. These talks usually included quite a few parables, which were used to illustrate a point or simply to generate interest.)

He related the story of a king who sheltered his only daughter during her formative years in order to protect her from danger. When it came time for her to find a life-partner, however, most people knew precious little about her personality, character and talents –due to the fact that she was so secluded from public view. In fact, several potential suitors were unnerved by the conditions of her upbringing and did not ask for her hand in marriage. One bright and gifted young man, however was undaunted by this factor. He approached the king and asked to marry his daughter – without ever laying eyes on her. He informed the king that he wished to become part of the royal family and would be proud to marry his daughter. The king recognized the sterling qualities in the suitor and after his daughter met with and was eager to marry this young man, the king readily gave his blessing to the match. They were soon thereafter married in the palace of the king.

A Wonderful Surprise
During the first few months of marriage, the groom became more and more impressed with the qualities and talents of his wife that he was unaware of at the time of their marriage. It seemed to him that each day he would discover a new facet of her life that he was not privy to before.

He was so pleased with his evolving discovery of the incredibly talented woman that he had the fortune to marry, that he decided to do something unusual. He re-invited all of his wedding guests back to the palace for a second celebration. In his invitation, he noted that during the wedding, he was celebrating marrying his wife and having the privilege of becoming a son-in-law of the king. Now he will be celebrating his good fortune to have married such an outstanding woman.

So too, explains the Dubno Magid in the instance of the Jews and the Torah. We accepted the Torah sight unseen – when we said “na’aseh v’nishmah.” During Shavuos we celebrated becoming Hashem’s Chosen People. We then spent several months in the desert developing an appreciation for the beauty of the Torah and the wisdom of its eternal lessons. Having done so, we reconvene and offer a second celebration – Simchas Torah – once we realize what a precious gift we were given.

Best wishes for a Gutten Yom Tov.

Going Home?

As I planned my holidays this year, I decided that my travels should include the exotic locales of Providence, Rhode Island; Baltimore, Maryland; and Lakewood, New Jersey. Well known, respectively, for quaint villages, being a third of the Triple Crown and world-renowned institutions of higher learning, I was quite looking forward to seeing such a span of the Eastern seaboard within just a few weeks. And, oh yeah, for spending the various holidays in the various places that have become “home.”

As Elul passed, and Rosh Hashanah approached, quite a few people asked the inevitable questions, “Are you going home for the holidays?” “Will you spend Rosh Hashanah with your family?” Or just, “Will you be around?” The simple answer to all these questions is “No.”

But that’s only the simple answer. As each holiday came close, I realized how incredibly excited I was for each trip, and seeing the people in each different city I was visited.

Providence for Rosh Hashanah. Residing there is the family who played an integral role in my teshuvah. This family has been there for me through thick and thin for the past eight years, and as I have watched their family grow from 2 kids to 6(!), they have watched me grow in my Yiddishkeit, and grow personally to the place I am now. I’ve spent many Shabbosim with them, and now the holidays are becoming a tradition as well.

Baltimore for Sukkot. I can’t even begin to enumerate the people who have become my family there. Baltimore, the city I lived in for three years, the place I feel I grew the most, both religiously and personally. This was my fifth Sukkot in Baltimore, and I hope to continue the tradition for many years to come. Baltimore is such a wonderful, warm community, and the only thing I regret about my visits there is that I never have enough time to see all the amazing people I love there.

Lakewood for Shemini Atzeres and Simchat Torah. In the home of my friend who has made me part of her family. The place I am expected to be for holidays and Shabbosim on a regular basis. Where, for Pesach, this Sephardi family specifically made dishes sans kitniyot in order that I could stay there.

So while I may not have visited Alabama for the holidays, and I may not have seen my relatives by blood, I did go home. In each of the above communities, people have outstretched their arms, and opened their hearts, and made me family. They say home is where the heart is. I guess it can be in many places at once.

Happy 100,000!

While we here on the admin side of the blog are generally not numbers watchers when it comes to blog stats, we do monitor the site to determine if we are adequately serving our readers. That being said, we are happy to note that this week, the blog surpassed 100,000 visitors (and over 293,000 hits) as measured by our Sitemeter stat counter.

One of our close relatives quite correctly says that it’s not about the numbers, it’s about the people. It’s about people sharing their experiences to make it a little easier for those facing similiar situations. And it’s about people encouraging one another to forge ahead on their path towards Hashem. And it’s about people connecting and caring for one another as we work on building the Klal Yisroel that we can all be proud of.

One of the main reasons that we wanted to share this milestone with you is to give our Hakaros HaTov to all of the writers, commentors and readers here on the blog. With your help, may we all continue to learn from each other, grow with each other and give to each other

Yom Kippur Takeaway – Forgiving Others When We’re Slighted

I was Googling for a web-based description of the origins of Avinu Malkeinu when I came across Rabbi Micha Berger’s great discussion of the trait of ma’avir al midosav – forgiving others when we are slighted:

Rabbi Eliezer once went before the ark [as chazan on a fast day enacted because of a drought] and recited twenty-four berakhos and was not answered. Rabbi Aqiva went [as chazan] after him and said, “Avinu malkeinu — our Father, our King, we have no king other than You! Our Father, our King – for Your sake have compassion for us!” and it started raining. “The rabbis started speaking negatively [about Rabbi Eliezer]. A Heavenly voice emerged and declared, “It is not because this one [Rabbi Akiva] is greater than that one [Rabbi Eliezer], but because this one is ma’avir al midosav and this one is not ma’avir al midosav.” – Ta’anis 25b

Rav Yisrael Salanter (Or Yisrael #28) elaborates. If being a ma’avir al midosav is so important, wouldn’t that mean that Rabbi Aqiva was greater than Rabbi Eliezer after all? Rather, there are two equally valid approaches to serving Hashem. Rabbi Aqiva, being from Beis Hillel, was ma’avir al midosav. Rabbi Eliezer was a member of Beis Shammai (Tosafos Shabbos 130b), and therefore insisted upon strict justice (Shabbos 31a). Both approaches are equally valid, and until the ruling that we are to follow Beis Hillel, both Rabbi Aqiva’s and Rabbi Eliezer’s approaches were equal paths to holiness. However, at a time when we can’t withstand the scrutiny of strict justice, it’s Rabbi Aqiva’s approach that is more appropriate.

Rabbi Akiva, the most prominent Baal Teshuva of all time, teaches us the lesson that rings in our ears throughout all of Yom Kippur – we need to favor forgiveness over demands for justice. We start Kol Nidre by offering forgiveness for all Jews (BT, FFB and Non-Frum) as we join together in a day of prayer. We end with a resounding Avinu Malkenu asking Hashem to forgive us, even though by strict justice – we don’t really deserve it.

Throughout YK, Rabbi Welcher stressed the need for understanding and unity. So, it was very appropriate and moving that during Neilah, five non-religious Jews walked into the Shul. A few who has multiple body piercings came towards my section and they were quickly given Art Scroll Machzorim. As we screamed for mercy they joined us, and nobody gave them a second look. They were Jews who had summed up the awesome courage to walk into an Orthodox Shul and join their brothers in prayer. We welcomed them with open arms.

The message of forgiveness and understanding is the message that Baalei Teshuva know all so well. One of the most recurrent themes we see here on Beyond Teshuva is that BTs often feel like they don’t fit in. We plead to our fellow Frum Jews: Please treat us with mercy. Please don’t judge us. Please don’t make us feel small. Please accept us as who we are and where we want to go.

Since we know this teaching all so well, we are well-positioned to teach it by example, as we show forgiveness and understanding to our non-frum friends and relatives, our talk-in-shul neighbors and all the Jews greater than us in Torah, Tefillah or Gemillas Chasadim. It’s hardest to live this teaching when we’re slighted and put upon, but that was the greatness of our teacher Rabbi Akiva – and that is the greatness we can each achieve as we internalize this message.

Back to Yeshiva

Before we go back to Yeshiva I need to give you a little background. Though my parents were not frum, for various reasons they sent me to a Yeshiva day school for first through eighth grades. After eighth grade it was left up to me whether I would travel by train for an hour each way to get to the nearest Yeshiva high school or go to the local public school. I opted for public school and it was probably a wise decision, as during those four years I became frum with the help of NCSY and I also met the girl who was to become my wife.

On a spiritual “high” from a Kumsitz during senior year I decided that I would attend YU. That did not work out so well and I ended up transferring to NYU after freshman year. During the summer between my junior and senior years of college I spent 3 months at Ohr Somayach in Jerusalem, and with that, came the end of my formal learning.
Read more Back to Yeshiva