Seder Reflections: Where are you coming from?

Rabbi Mordechai Rhine – Torah Links of Cherry Hill

The Pesach seder revolves around one simple phrase. “Start with the negative, and conclude with the positive.” The Talmud records two views as to how this should be done, both of which are implemented in our hagadah. One view focuses on physical salvation and says, “We were once slaves to Pharoh in Egypt…but G-d set us free.” The second view focuses on spiritual ascent. “Our family before Avraham were idol worshipers…but now G-d has brought us close to Him through Torah.” In these two ways the hagadah reminds us of who we once were so that we can properly celebrate who we are today.

The Dubno Maggid describes the structure of the hagadah by way of analogy. He describes a man who was once very poor and then experienced good fortune and became a wealthy man. Once a year he would take out the rags that he wore in his poverty and would wear them to remind himself and his family how it used to be. This, the Dubno Maggid says, is the point of the seder. We strive to remember where we come from, both physically and spiritually, in order to fully appreciate who we are today.

Although the analogy is meant to explain the Pesach seder, it also serves as an important lesson for life. Often people experience good fortune and go “from rags to riches,” only to forget how it used to be. In most cases they mean no harm. They just get used to the good fortune. But the structure of the seder teaches us that at least once a year, a person should remember where he is coming from.

The Kotzker Rebbe used to ask his students, “Who is higher? The person on the bottom of a ladder, or the person near the top?” When the students looked at their mentor is puzzlement, the Kotzker explained, “Who is higher? It depends in which way they are climbing. If the person on top is going down, but the person on bottom is climbing up, then I maintain that the person on bottom is considered higher.”

For a person to properly gauge where he is up to, it is not sufficient to know which rung on the ladder they are standing. Where you are coming from is also a critical piece of information. This helps to appreciate one’s mission in life and assess one’s achievements.

I once read an account of a man who grew up in a city in southern United States in the 1950s. When he graduated from high school his family took a trip to Israel to celebrate, and through a series of events they began their journey towards observance.

This man describes how he excelled in his studies and in observance until there was only one area of observance in which he did not participate. He describes how in his teenage years it was very “in” to get tattooed. When he was seventeen he had gotten a series of tattoos on his back that went from one shoulder to the other. True to the environment he was then in he had chosen the most provocative “I’m doing my own thing” tattoos imaginable. Now as an observant Jew there was only one area of observance he could not bring himself to participate in. The custom of going to Mikvah before the High Holidays was unthinkable. He could not bear the thought of having people see him without his shirt.

Eventually he decided that he would have to figure out a solution. He was observant in every area of life. Every law and custom in Jewish tradition had become the norm of his life. He was a beloved member of the community and was blessed with a delightful family. He decided that he would have to figure out a way to go to Mikvah before the Holidays.

After much deliberation he decided that it could be done. He would simply take off his shirt in a corner and then cover himself with a towel until he was in the Mikvah. No one would see his back, and he would be able to fulfill the sacred custom.

But somehow things don’t always go as planned.

As he walked across the wet tile floor he slipped slightly and reached for the railing to regain his balance. In doing so, however, he lost hold of the towel that was covering his back. In his account he describes the “roaring silence” that he perceived as the towel slipped off and people saw the tattoos for the first time.

The milliseconds felt like hours as he stood frozen to his spot not knowing what to do. Then, he describes, how the gentle hand of a sixty year old man touched him. He looked down at the man’s hand and saw that the man was pointing to the numbers that were etched on his own arm. The older man said, “I also have tattoos. My tattoos remind me of what they wanted to do me. I must never forget. Your tattoos should do the same. You should never forget where you are coming from. We’ve both come a very long way.”

Often, as we climb our own personal ladder of life we wonder if there is any point of remembering the past. Our sages taught that at least once a year there is purpose in appreciating the uniqueness of where we are coming from.

Sometimes we mistakenly think of people as clones of one another. The reality is that we are all very different and unique. Consider, for example, the difference between handmade articles and those that are made by machines. When an item is made by machine the manufacturer will take pride that every item is made the same. But when an item is handmade the craftsman takes pride that each item is unique.

Every human being is handmade by G-d. Each of us is unique in circumstances and in qualities. Appreciating one’s past is critical in order to climb one’s ladder properly.

May all the rungs on your ladder be blessed ones.

Bringing People Closer vs Opening Kiruv Files

There is a Mitzvah to bring people closer to Hashem whether they are observant or not. Many observant Jews feel that most if not all Jews would benefit greatly in this world and the next if they were Torah observant. On the other hand it seems unhealthy to view people as a target for your Kiruv files.

So how do you strike the proper balance of trying to bring a person closer to Hashem without turning them into a Kiruv file?

Iggeres HaRamban in Memory of Rochel Bas Aryeh

The following entry is Zecher Nishmas (in memory of) Rochel Bas Aryeh. She was a friend of Beyond BT commentor Jaded Topaz (JT). JT relates that she was a very caring, thoughtful, altruistic, brilliant and modest person – and an awesome listener. Even when she was very sick she continued with the same level of altruism, caring and concern for others. Her Yahrzeit is today and she always used to say over the Iggeres Ramban.

Here is a the Iggeres HaRamban for anybody who would like to carry it in their wallet and read it regularly.

JT relates:
“They gave the letter out at her shloshim which is why I started saying it many moons ago. I think it is a very good doctrine to base ones personal spiritual life space on because it gives you a framework to be in control of your emotions. I love how it breaks down respect for others , humility, pride, haughtiness, anger. I love the think before you speak sentiment. Also I think it has a cumulative effect. I’ve gotten less emotional and more logical and rational over the months I started saying it every morning. I used to say it once a week. Sometimes it was the only religious thing I did. It helps me stay focused not angry, pride free, and haughty less. That’s why I love it. ”

Here is the Iggeres HaRamban. Perhaps you can read through it in memory of Rochel Bas Aryeh:

Listen my son to the admonitions of your father, and do not disregard the teachings of your mother. Attempt to constantly speak softly to every person, at all times, and through this you will avoid anger, which is a terrible trait, and (which) causes people to sin. The Rabbis have taught us that whoever gets angry, all forms of purgatory are visited upon him, as it says, “Remove anger from your heart and evil from your flesh.” This “evil” refers to purgatory, as it says, “Also wicked on the day of evil.” When one saves himself from anger he begins to reflect on the trait of humility, which is the best of all the wonderful traits, as it says, “The heel of humility is the fear of Hashem.”

As a result of humility you will reflect on the trait of fear, as you constantly think: from where did you come, and to where are you going? In life you are an insect and worm, and also in death. And before whom are you destined to give an accounting? Before His Honor, the King, as it says, “Behold, the Skies and heavenly skies cannot sustain you, certainly not the heart of men.” It also says, “Is it not so that I occupy the heavens and earth, says Hashem.”

When you will think of all this, you will fear your Creator and guard against sin, and with these traits you will be happy with your lot. When you will act with humility, to be ashamed before all men, and to fear from them and from sin, then, the spirit of Hashem will descend upon you, together with a halo of glory and life in the world to come.

Now, my son, know and observe, that one who is arrogant, is rebellious against the Heavenly Kingdom, as it says, “Hashem rules, dressed in arrogance, etc.” With what should man be arrogant? If with wealth – Hashem impoverishes and gives wealth; if with honor – this belongs to Hashem, as it says, “Wealth and honor are from you,” and thus how can one flaunt with the honor of his creator? If he flaunts with his wisdom, “He uncovers the lips of the trusted ones and removes sanity from the elderly.”

Since everyone is equal before Hashem – who, when angry, cuts down the arrogant and with His will lifts up the downtrodden – therefore lower yourself, and Hashem will uplift you. I will therefore explain to you how to constantly act with humility; all your words should be said softly, your head should be bent, your eyes should look down to the ground and your heart should be up; do not stare at a person when talking to him; every person should, in your eyes, be greater than you. If he is wise or wealthy you must honor him; if he is lacking and you are wealthier and wiser than he, think in your heart that you are the guiltier, and he is the more innocent – since if he sins it is unintentional, while your sins are intentional.

With all your words, actions and thoughts, and at all times, think in your heart that you are standing before Hashem, and His countenance is upon you, since His glory fills the world. Your words should be with fear and trepidation like a servant before his master. Be shy before every man; if a man calls you, don’t reply in a loud voice, but rather softly, like in the presence of your master.

Be careful to constantly read the Torah so that you will observe it, and when you finish your study, search out what you have learned to see if there is something you can now observe. Review your actions in the morning and in the evening, and in this way all your days will contain repentance. Remove all your worldly issues from your heart during prayers, and prepare your heart before Hashem. Purify your thoughts and think before you speak; do this all the days of your mundane life in every area, and you won’t sin. In this way your words, actions and thoughts will be straight, your prayers will be pure, clean, well-intentioned and acceptable to Hashem, as it says, “Prepare their hearts – your ears will pay attention.”

Read this once a week, and not less, to observe and constantly go in the way of Hashem, so that you will succeed in all your endeavors and you will merit the World to Come that’s hidden for the righteous. Every day that you read it they will answer you from Heaven, whatever you will decide to request, forever – may it be so eternally.

Sefirah – Teaching What Counts

First Published on April 24, 2006

Sefirah is viewed by the Sefer HaChinuch and many other Rishonim as a long Chol Hamoed between Pesach and Shavuous to get ourselves ready as a people and individually for the Kabalas HaTorah that occurs each year on Shavuous. It is interesting that the aveilus associated with the death of the talmidim coincides with this period. Obviously, we can only experience growth in Torah via Tikun HaMidos. R A Z Weiss in his Hakdamah to Minchas Asher on Shabbos makes this point.

I haven’t seen this observation elsewhere, so here is a possibly novel idea- Perhaps, the episode of the death of R’ Akiva’s talmidim as described in the Talmud (Yevamos 62b) is designed to teach us that quality matters over quantity, inasmuch as R Akiva’s original 24,000 talmidim were decimated to the point whereby only four of his talmidim were left to spread Torah.

Chesed as a Source for Life

In my wife’s pre-school class last year there was an amazing girl, who happens to have Down Syndrome. This girl is currently in her third year in the pre-school. Each year she has a college-aged girl in class with her, as a ‘shadow’ to help her throughout the day.

My wife told me that this girl’s ‘shadow’ just got engaged. It was pointed out to my wife that the past two ‘shadows’ for ths incredible girl also became engaged while they were helping her. It turns out that all three boys were named were named “Chaim”.

When I was told this story, I was speechless. It seemed so clear, in this case, that doing a chesed to help others, was, literally, a source of ‘Chaim’, life.

Rav Henoch Leibowitz, 1916–2008

By: Rabbi Yair Hoffman – 04/17/2008
Reprinted by permission from the Five Towns Jewish Times.

Naflah ateres rosheinu. On Tuesday of this week, Klal Yisrael lost one of the last great rashei yeshiva and ba’alei mussar of the previous generation, Rav Alter Chanoch Henoch Leibowitz, zt’l. The loss is indescribable.

Rav Leibowitz was the only son of his saintly father, Rav Dovid Leibowitz, zt’l, founder of Yeshiva Rabbeinu Yisroel Meir HaCohen, commonly known as Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim. The yeshiva was first established in 1933 by Rabbi Dovid Leibowitz, a nephew of the Chofetz Chaim. On December 7, 1941, Rav Dovid Leibowitz passed away, and his son would take over at the helm of the yeshiva.

Rav Henoch Leibowitz molded the yeshiva in the image of the great yeshiva of his father’s rebbi, the Alter of Slabodka. Indeed, Rav Mordechai Shulman, zt’l, a rosh yeshiva in Eretz Yisrael who had intimate knowledge of the Slabodka Yeshiva, commented, “Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim is Slabodka.”

Slowly but surely, Rav Henoch Leibowitz shaped and molded his talmidim to be talmidei chachamim as well as mentchen. He imbued them with a sense of mission to do and work for Klal Yisrael. The greatest achievement for one of his talmidim was to merit to be a marbitz Torah in Klal Yisrael.

And harbatzas Torah they did. Rav Henoch Leibowitz’s talmidim opened up high schools across the nation and beyond—in Miami, Los Angeles, Rochester, Milwaukee, and Ottawa, to name just a few. Rav Leibowitz nurtured his talmidim and the mosdos they set up. Soon, Chofetz Chaim became a major force in American Judaism. Entire Torah communities were to spring up around the Chofetz Chaim branches. These communities yielded fruit. Many graduates of the Chofetz Chaim schools entered harbatzas Torah themselves, in every capacity. The attitude of Rav Henoch’s talmidim created a major turning point and shift in the field and in the public perception of Jewish education, which affected all other yeshivos, as well. A career of harbatzas Torah became a lofty profession, something that the elite should aspire to achieve.

Rav Leibowitz focused his efforts on developing his students in three major areas.

He felt that mechanchim—indeed, everyone—should strive to achieve the highest level of iyun (in-depth study) possible. Toward this end, Rav Leibowitz spent countless hours with his students, teaching them how to unfold the latent processes of reasoning in a Talmudic text. He taught them to highly esteem the words of the Maharsha and to home in on the essence of an argument between the Maharam and the Maharsha. And he taught his talmidim to appreciate the words of the Acharonim, too.

He taught them to focus very closely on the shift between a text’s initial supposition and the turning point in its final conclusion. “What is the shift between the havah amina and the maskana?” was a question he often asked. Most importantly, he taught his students the notion of “muchrach”ism, that each and every piece of Torah they spoke had to be both textually and logically compelling. He eschewed the methodologies of baseless chakiros (logical inquiry and differentiation) and the standard use of “reid” when understanding Torah texts. The yeshiva was well known for the thorough manner in which the talmidim examined the texts they were learning. Shiurim were not just heard once; they were worked on for days and sometimes weeks, so as to understand and appreciate every nuance. (This slow pace, however, was limited to the morning iyun seder. Indeed, for the afternoon and evening bekiyus sedarim, the rosh yeshiva instituted a quota system, where a minimum number of blatt had to be learned each week.)

The second area in which Rav Leibowitz “grew” his talmidim was in the area of mussar thought and texts. Talmidim were taught how to develop a genuine mussar insight, either in psychology or midos or some other area of Torah growth. Such insight, of course, also had to be logically and textually compelling. The true “Slabodka shmuess” was not a d’rush-filled exposition of any Torah thought that comes into the talmid chacham’s mind; no—it had to be derived from a previous Torah text: a Ramban, a Seforno, a Rashi, a Midrash. Otherwise, the integrity of Torah could be compromised, if people’s own ideas were read into the text and represented to the world as Torah.

Thirdly, Rav Leibowitz imbued his students with a sense of mission toward Klal Yisrael. His talmidim were in the forefront of chinuch and the revitalization of Torah throughout North America. His students opened Torah institutions and branches in many cities, including Los Angeles, San Diego, St. Louis, Cherry Hill and Manalapan (New Jersey), Cedarhurst, Huntington, Monsey, New York City, Vancouver, Ottowa, Phoenix, and Dallas—and in places in Eretz Yisrael, too.

He personified the midah of emes, as well. Once, for example, a wealthy individual gave a $10,000 donation that was doubled by his corporation’s matching-funds program. The problem was that the donor’s check did not clear. Rav Leibowitz promptly refunded the corporation’s money. Any behavior otherwise was sheer anathema to him. He was a genuine Torah sage in every way, and he would never countenance any form of dishonesty, chalilah.

Rav Leibowitz had a warmth and a smile that conveyed his love for each member of Klal Yisrael. He also had a great sense of humor, which he utilized to connect with talmidim, baalei batim, and other members of Klal Yisrael. Once, when my mother, aleha ha’shalom, met him, she asked him to compile the Kabbalistic writings of her father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. For the next four weeks, he playfully teased me about it, but it was a loving, playful tease that served to connect. When I, a boy from California with no family in New York, had surgery during my first year in yeshiva, he and his rebbetzin put me up in their house to recover. His rebbetzin, zt’l, served me her nurturing kasha, chicken soup, and kosher jello, and Rav Leibowitz patiently sat and learned with me.

Rav Leibowitz personified the idea of sensitivity toward others and making sure that people realized what it means to cause anxiety to others. A typical shmuess of Rav Leibowitz involved examining Rashi’s comments regarding the person who cursed the name of Hashem, found at the end of Parashas Emor. The pasuk says, “Vayanichuhu ba’mishmar,” they placed him under guard. Rashi comments: “Alone—and they did not leave the person who gathered [sticks] with him.” Why? Rashi explains that even though they both committed their sins during the same time period, one of them, the gatherer of sticks, incurred the death penalty; they just did not know which particular death penalty. But regarding the one who cursed G-d, they did not know what his punishment was to be at all.

Rav Leibowitz asked, how does this difference explain why these two prisoners were housed separately? He answered that they were placed in separate locations to avoid the additional anxiety that the one who cursed G-d would feel if he observed that they housed him with someone who incurred the death penalty. How sensitive we must be to each tzelem Elokim, if even a criminal deserves this sensitivity. The lesson is even more profound when we examine the words of the Da’as Zekeinim. From there we see how particularly heinous the blasphemer who cursed Hashem actually was. And yet we see that we should be sensitive to his anxieties.

Rav Leibowitz, zt’l, was one of the gedolei ha’dor who personified the highest ideals of the Torah—in his words, deeds, teachings, and actions. His impact on Torah in America will be felt for centuries to come. The loss to all of us is most profound.

Passing It On When You Were Almost Passed Over

This post first appeared on A Simple Jew’s site

Pesach definitely is special to me. It has always been kind of a “self-made Yuntif” for me. From the very earliest time that I was becoming religious, I was always in charge of kashering my parents house and leading the sedorim, and I did not have the opportunity to go to other frum families for Pesach.

One funny story very early in the process for me (before I was shomer Shabbos or really shomer much of anything), in a fit of newbie Baal Teshuva zealotry, I decided a few hours before Pesach came in, in the afternoon of Erev Pesach (after the Isur of Chometz has already taken effect) that I would clean out my parents house as best I could. As part of this effort, I started to go through my parents’ pantry to get rid of any obvious chametz. The problem was that I really had no idea what chametz actually was. So for help, I called up one of the Shomer Shabbos ladies in the neighborhood, and asked some very important Pesach sheilos, like “Is oatmeal considered Chametz?” and “Does everything have to have a Kosher L’Pesach kosher supervision symbol on it?!” Poor lady and my poor parents!

While I went to halacha shiurim before Pesach and learned the halachos in in many books like the annual Bloomenkrantz guide (yes, there’s a 2008 edition) and Rav Eider’s sefer on hilchos Pesach, I never actually got to observe any mainstream frum families observing Pesach and the sedorim. As things stabalized and my parents happily let me kasher their house for Pesach, I used various haggadahs to help create a theme for each year’s seder like Rav Avraham Dov Kahn’s The Chosen Nation Haggadah, or Rav Yaakov Moshe Charlap’s Mei Marom Hagaddah (He was the Talmid Muvhak of Rav Kook).

However, since I never had a real example of a frum seder to base myself on, there was always a certain amount of “winging it.” One example of this is the minhag of wearing a kittel at the seder. Since I never saw anyone doing this since I really never saw anyone other than myself leading a seder, it didn’t occur to me that I should be doing this. I had read that some have this minhag, but I just assumed that this did not apply to me. However, after hearing a couple of friends mention that they were wearing a kittel at the seder, I decided to ask my rebbe if I should be doing that. His response was “Of course!” (Remember, he was speaking to me, and this does not mean that this guidance would necessarily apply to everyone.) I didn’t know it was so obvious, but it brought home the more general point that as a BT/Ger, I lack elements of the mesorah, the “תורת אמיך.”

But I think that, as I heard from my rebbe in YU, Rav Aharon Kahn, Hashem would never leave those who lack a real mesorah, through no fault of their own, completely without all benefits of that mesorah. Therefore, he said that it is his belief that whatever level of benefit “FFBs” get from growing up with the mesorah of frumkeit from an early age, will somehow be given by Siyata Dishmaya, Divine help, to the BT or Ger.

This principal is especially relevant to Pesach, with its theme of transmitting our mesorah to our children. The biggest mitzvah of the seder night, specifically, is “V’higadeta l’vincha,” telling over Yetziyas Mitzrayim to your children. It is a difficult challenge to pass on the mesorah of our emunah to our children, especially for people who didn’t grow up with that emunah. But with Hashem’s help and some preperation ahead of time, we will be zocheh to bring down down our mesorah into our and our children’s lives!

Petira of Alter Chanoch Henoch Leibowitz ZT”L

We regret to inform you of the petira of Alter Chanoch Henoch Leibowitz ZT”L of Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yisrael Meir HaKohen, also known as Yeshivas Chofetz Chaim: Rabbinical Seminary of America (RSA), and often referred to as just Chofetz Chaim.

The levaya will take place Wednesday at 1:30 PM at the Yeshiva in Kew Gardens Hills.

There will be a phone hook-up to the levaya. The number to call is 218-936-1600 and the code is 7601147.

What’s Your Biggest Seder Issue?

The Seder is less than a week aways so we thought it is appropriate to ask What’s Your Biggest Seder Issue? If anybody has any solutions to some of the problems it would be greatly appreciated.

1) Not enough extended family

2) Hard to give the second half of the seder its due after the third cup and the meal

3) Finding the right balance between vortloches, keeping the kids interested and inspiring ourselves to get the most out of the night

4) Trying to fulfill the mitzvos in the best possible way leads to eating a lot of matzoh and maror

5) None of the Above

How Will Freedom Look Tomorrow?

In 1648, the Cossack massacres in Poland led by Bogdan Chmielnicki plunged European Jewry into nearly a century of spiritual darkness. Peasant uprisings fomented against the Polish nobility, with the Jews caught in the middle, left at least 100,000 dead, and perhaps many times that number.

Many Jews sought meaning within the senseless violence by imagining that the bloodshed constituted the chevlei Moshiach – the birthpangs of the messianic era. The appearance of the false messiah Shabbtai Tzvi raised, then dashed, the hopes of thousands, spreading depression and despair through Jewish communities across Europe.

The sages of Europe, fearing the rise of other charismatic personalities that might draw Jews desperate for hope into folly, issued decrees against the teaching of mysticism and against practices that might, by enflaming the emotions, lead the people astray. According to the law of unintended consequences, these edicts left many Jews without the means of expressing themselves spiritually and condemned them to life without either joy or inspiration.

It was a dismal time for European Jewry. The average Jew lacked sufficient scholarship to find inspiration in learning. Expressions of the heart and soul were not allowed. Potential leaders, like the saintly Ramchal, were literally chased out of Europe.

The appearance of Rav Yisroel Ba’al Shem Tov changed everything. Controversial, contested, and at first universally condemned, the Ba’al Shem Tov persisted against his many detractors and spread his message of inspired joy. The Chassidic movement transformed Europe, until even its most vehement opponents could no longer deny that it had saved the soul of European Jewry.

In stark contrast to many the reformers who would soon attempt to revitalize Judaism by stripping it of both form and content, the Ba’al Shem Tov offered no new ideas. Rather, he sought to re-emphasize that which had fallen dormant, stressing aspects of traditional Torah philosophy that had been actively suppressed. For his efforts, the Torah establishment demonized him and persecuted his early followers with vitriolic passion.

Perhaps, as we enter into the Festival of Freedom and prepare to celebrate HaShem’s overthrow of the Egyptian nation that oppressed us, it’s worth our while to contemplate whether a bit of revolutionary spirit is not consistent with Torah ideology. Condescension for – or outright contempt toward – legitimate expressions of Orthodoxy characterizes too much of today’s Orthodox community. When superficiality increasingly characterizes the right, when complacency increasingly characterizes the left, when arrogance and indifference frequent every quarter, uncompromising adherence to the status quo seems an unlikely recipe for redemption.

Virtually no one today would question the legitimacy of the Ba’al Shem Tov and his movement. It is sobering to contemplate how much violence was justified in the name of Truth and Torah in the early conflict between the Chassidim and Misnagdim. If the tensions and frustrations that afflict so many Torah Jews today can be directed and channeled by our leaders, perhaps we can prevent a similar upheaval. If not, the tortured history of those ideological adversaries may provide a solemn prophecy of what lies ahead.

Halachos for Shabbos Erev Pesach 5768

By Rabbi Herschel Welcher

When Erev Pesach occurs on Shabbos, it is necessary to observe a number of the Mitzvos in an unconventional manner. This letter as a guide to practical observance, based on zmanim for Queens, NY.

1. Bedikas Chometz should be conducted on Thursday evening, April 17.

2. The first Bittul Chometz should be done immediately after the Bedika.

3. Biur Chometz should be done on Friday morning, April 18 before 11:48 A.M. If the Biur was not done before this time, it may be done at any time before Shabbos. The second Bittul Chometz is not done on Friday.

4. Preferably, we should finish eating Chometz before 10:16 A.M. on Shabbos morning, April 19. We must finish eating Chometz before 10:40 A.M.

5. The second Bittul Chometz must be done on Shabbos after we have finished eating Chometz. Preferably, it should be done before 11:36 A.M. It must be done before 11:48 A.M.

6. There are two basic approaches to fulfilling the mitzvah of Seudas Shabbos. Some make Hamotzi on Challah and eat the Challah in an area of the house that is not adjacent to the table where the actual meal will be conducted. After each person eats the equivalent of a large slice of Challah, the crumbs should be cleaned away, the clothes should be shaken clean, and the tablecloth should be removed. Then the hands should be washed and the mouth should be rinsed. Then the actual meal should be eaten; it should consist of Pesach foods, served on Pesach dishes.

Some use egg matzos, instead of Challah. If egg matzoh is used it may be eaten at the same table where the meal will be conducted. Even though we don’t eat egg matzoh on Pesach, it isn’t considered Chometz. It is permissible to keep egg matzoh in our home on Pesach. If egg matzoh is used, the Hamotzi is recited on two egg matzos. Preferably, each person should eat two egg matzos at each meal. The minimum amount of egg matzoh is one egg matzoh per meal.

7. The most significant difficulty with the Shabbos meals concerns the Seuda Shlishis. It is appropriate to recite the Hamotzi for this meal. However, on this Shabbos afternoon it is not permissible to use bread or matzoh.

Preferably, one should divide the morning meal into two parts. One should make the Hamotzi and eat the first course of the meal. Then the Birchas Hamazon should be recited. After the Birchas Hamazon, it is preferable to take a fifteen minute break which should be used for learning, strolling or any other activity. Then, one should wash again and recite the Hamotzi. After finishing the Challah (by 10:16 A.M. or 10:40 A.M.–see # 4), the main Shabbos meal should be eaten.

If egg matzoh is used it may be eaten until Chatzos (12:54 P.M.).

During the afternoon, it is preferable to eat a piece of meat or fish (or at least a fruit) to fulfill the view that this Seuda cannot take place before Chatzos.

Those who wear braces on their teeth should only use egg matzoh, on this Shabbos. (Such a person should not eat solid Chometz or liquid Chometz which is hot or sticky after 10:40 A.M. on Friday morning.)

A Premature Depth

By Yaakov Eric Ackland

Imagine wanting to be a neurosurgeon and beginning by doing an extended and intensive study of the hypothalamus alone, rather than first studying general anatomy and the principles of medicine, and instead of even studying the general schema of the brain itself. Would you buy a lobotomy, let alone a sophisticated surgery from this person?

Imagine wanting to be a historian of the United States, and starting by spending a year learning all about the city of Cleveland, and the next year learning all about the city of Little Rock, and yet never picking up a general history of the United States, or even a volume about the states of Ohio or Arkansas. Will someone with this strategy ever attain any semblance of comprehensive knowledge, even in, say, 75 years of diligent daily study?

Imagine spending a year or two re-reading and studying Chapter 8 of The Brothers Karamazov both in the original Russian and in translation, along with dozens of commentaries on the chapter by the finest literary critics from the past 125 years without ever having read the rest of the book. Imagine taking daily classes on Chapter 8 given by a professor who had also never read the entire book, but had read chapters 12, 15, and 3 with commentaries. Are you at all likely to ever be able to truly understand the chapter, let alone the book?

These are all obviously poor strategies for success. For not only will one never achieve comprehensive knowledge by such narrow focus, one won’t even have true understanding of the area which he or she is focusing on, because context is everything.

Imagine wanting to be a knowledgeable Jew. Would you attempt a similar strategy to attain your goal? Alas, this same misdirected tactic of “learning in-depth” known as “b’iyun” learning dominates the yeshiva world, both for FFBs and BTs, children and adults. Ever since I became religiously observant, this has frustrated me. The narrow focus on “in-depth” learning (which is a misnomer, as there can be no real depth without breadth) over broad based (b’kius) learning is sadly a recipe for cumulative and individual inadequacy and relative ignorance.

The general disregard for serious study of Tanakh (The “Old” Testament) and Mishnayos (terse densely encoded statements of law) and broad-based Gemara (Talmud) study in favor of in-depth Gemara study is awry by almost any pedagogic gage. It’s putting the ox before the cart. It’s building a castle of sand. It’s like heaping cliché upon cliché in a futile struggle for clarity. We all know that Rambam wrote that first one should learn Chumash (The Five Books of Moses), then Mishnayos, and only then should one learn Talmud. Yet few do it this way, and consequently few ever attain anything resembling comprehensive knowledge and depth.

I think fondly of the 1963 World Book Encyclopedia set that my parents kept in the attic. My favorite thing was a multi-layered diagram of the human body. The base sheet showed the skeletal system. A transparent plastic sheet illustrated with the nervous system would be lain over that, and another sheet showing the musculature would be lain over that. It would have been futile to try to understand how the muscles work without understanding the systems underlying them: without the context. In an imperfect yet useful analogy with Torah, the Tanakh is the skeleton, the Mishnayos, the nerves, the Gemara the muscle, and the practical Halakha (Law), the skin.

To spend a year learning a chapter or two of a mesechta (tractate) without at least having a broad view of all of the Mishnayos of the Gemara is like reading a chapter of a great novel over and over without even having at least read the Cliff’s notes, let alone having read the novel. You might enjoy it, and you might find it intellectually rewarding, and you may feel that you’ve accomplished something significant, and you may even feel that you understand it, but the triumph is in significant part illusory, because you can’t contrast the fraction with the whole.

I’ve talked with Rabbis and others about this, and I’ve heard lots of explanations: how people need to get and stay interested and enthused and thus they need to get into the “heart” of Torah learning quickly, and stay there; how learning Gemara in-depth really trains one’s mind to think meticulously in a Torah way and how it reshapes character; and about the “weakness” of our generation and our “inability” to achieve anything like what our forefathers did. Some turn the question around and point to the Daf Yomi (program for learning a daily page of Gemara) as evidence of widespread and largely superficial b’kius learning, making it the sole representation of breadth learning. Many just say, “Both ways have merit. This way for this person, that way for another.”

Though there are truths in these objections, and though virtually all the people I’ve spoken with are respectable and vastly more learned and pious than I, these seem like weak answers to me. As I’ve illustrated, no matter how stone cold you think you have a line, paragraph, chapter, or masechta (tractate) down, you can’t really have it down if you don’t have comprehensive context. I agree that it is crucial to know how to learn in-depth, but it is more crucial to first have breadth of knowledge, for that’s what truly makes depth possible. Depth should be the ultimate goal, but real depth, not the shallow imitation.

Furthermore, by taking our eye off of the goal of broad mastery, we get bogged down in largely unquantifiable learning, which can be terribly discouraging. We begin to feel that no matter how much effort and time we put in, we’re really just treading water, barely moving forward or making progress, and that we’ll never succeed. B’iyun learning fails because the proper goal has been lost sight of from the very beginning. Even those with the greatest talent, enthusiasm, and diligence can’t succeed if they have been off-course since day one. By emphasizing b’iyun learning, the tacit message is that true mastery of the whole Torah is impossible and thus not worth aiming for. The bochur (student) is demoralized and hobbled from the get-go, even if he isn’t conscious of it.

I’ve found two excellent books which endorse and expound upon the urgent necessity of learning for breadth. The first is “The Meister Plan” by Rabbi/Dr. Tuvia Meister. In one small segment of the book he shows how one can create a plan for covering the entirety of Torah in 10 or 20 years. Although he doesn’t go into extensive detail about the process, there are a number of great learning tips. The focus of the book though is stock investment strategies.

The second book is thorough, inspiring, and walks you through the process of learning systematically with a broad-based approach in order to facilitate true long-term depth. It is called “The One-Minute Masmid,” and it is by Rabbi Jonathan Rietti. He shows the reader how, even if his or her time for learning is very limited, he or she can, through methodical, structured, daily study in very small chunks, steadily accrue the comprehensive broad-based knowledge of Torah that is every Jew’s heritage. (My use of the female pronoun is not so much my being pc, but a very deliberate indicator to women that although “The One-Minute Masmid” is written with the male Torah learner in mind, the strategies within this book are excellent for anyone wishing to build a solid knowledge base in any subject, Jewish or secular. (A great secular book on the subject of how to learn is “How to Read A Book” by Mortimer J. Adler.)

Most crucially and fascinatingly, Rabbi Rietti cites long passages from Torah sources as diverse and as great as The Vilna Gaon, Reb Shach, Reb Chaim Shmuelevits, Reb Yaakov Kaminetsky, Rav Moshe Feinstein, The Steipler Gaon, Reb Yoel Teitlebaum, Reb Yisroel Alter, Reb Moshe Chevroni, The Chofetz Chaim, The Ramchal, Reb Elchanon Wasserman, The Brisker Rav and more, all in strident advocacy for and defense of the primacy of b’kius learning, including mastery of Tanach and Mishnayos.

One such quote from the Vilna Gaon’s “Even Shlema”:

“First one must full his stomach with Tanach, Mishna, even if he doesn’t know how to explain each Mishna he should learn the entire Mishnayos, then he should continue to fill his stomach with Talmuds Bavli and Yerushalmi, the Tosephta, the M’chilta, Sifra, Sifri, and all the Braitot. Only after this should one engage in pilpul with his colleagues. This is the way of learning Torah. If one changes this sequence of learning, however, and learns first how to dive into pilpul without knowing a single Mishna properly, ultimately he will lose even the little Torah he heard in his youth.”

Finding these books has been tremendously helpful and motivating. They’ve enabled me to power on, albeit slowly and without a support network, to see that comprehensive knowledge isn’t an impossible goal, that I’m not alone in my perception of the misplaced emphasis of the current mode of learning, and that in fact I find myself in some pretty impressive company, such that I’d never merit to rub shoulders with in a million years. I do yearn to find a yeshiva or at least a Rabbi that takes individual students that learns this way, but am resolved to make the best of the way the world is, and still strive for and advocate for change. I don’t seek heated dialogue on this article so much as I hope that all who read this will read Rabbi Rietti’s book before responding hastily, reinvigorate their learning, and give copies to their friends and more importantly, to their Rabbis. As a final thought, the Chofetz Chaim, as quoted by Rabbi Rietti wrote, “One who invests all his energies and mind into mastering a specific area of the Torah while ignoring all other areas of our Holy Torah is likened to a person who spends his entire wealth on an expensive hat, and yet the rest of his body he leaves unclothed!” May we all have success in our learning, and not arrive in heaven virtually naked.

“The One Minute Masmid” is available only directly from Rabbi Rietti. You can contact him at

“The Meister Plan” is published by Mesorah Publications.

Should We Hide or Expose Our Imperfections?

When trying to show the beauty of Torah, we are faced with a dilemma: should we reveal or hide the imperfections of the Torah Observant community?

From our feedback here at Beyond BT, we know that many people feel we should hide the imperfections. They tell us quite clearly that they would never send a potential or new BT to this site. Their valid point is that people will focus on the imperfections of its adherents and not see the truth and beauty of Torah.

On the other hand the Torah and the Gemorra make it quite clear that the Jewish People have many blemishes that need to be corrected. Hiding this fact is not truthful and often leads to disillusionment down the road when the truth is discovered.

What do you think: Should we hide our imperfections or expose them to the non observant?

Pesach In A New Light

This week’s parsha, Tazria discusses a mother giving birth. There is a great irony in the birth of a child. The mother is one with the embryo before birth. Physically, a closer bond could never be attained between two. However, at birth, when the infant emerges and mother and child are physically separated, the love intensifies and there is an even greater bond than before. The irony is; through the separation is a stronger union. This new connection can be referred to as a union “face to face.”

The gemarah (Eruvin 18a) explains that Adam and Chava (Eve) were first created as one being, back to back. Hashem separated the two in order to achieve a greater union face to face.

In the deeper wisdom, the back represents the side of negativity. It is the side of darkness where light does not shine. It is a lack of revelation (expressions can only be seen on a face, not a back) and it is the place of filth. Negative energy is referred to as the sitra acher, the forces of the back.

Hashem separated Adam and Chava. In doing so, He created their back, great negativity. The sacrifice, however, was for a greater good. It was in order to attain an eventual, superior union face to face.

The Arizal elucidates that a soul before birth is created back to back. It is explained that a zivug (one’s soul mate) is half of one soul, separated into two, male and female. It seems that, like Adam and Chava, one is attached to his zivug in Heaven back to back. At birth, the two are separated and a virtual back is created. This is the negativity the couple experiences through separation in this world. However, all the uncertainty and anguish is for a greater good. It is in order to have the exalted relationship of face to face under the chuppah.

I would like to suggest this is all a parable for the ultimate relationship in life, our relationship with Hashem. We too were one with Hashem before birth. The soul is a part of Hashem above. Perhaps, our attachment to Hashem on high was like a back to back relationship. Our soul is separated from Hashem and plunged into this lowly world. It is only through the back, the darkness and pain of this world that we can achieve the supreme, ecstatic union of face to face with our Creator.

This is the challenge of Parshas Hachodesh (the Torah portion of the new moon read this Shabbos). The moon only shines in the night sky after it experiences great darkness. A crescent blossoms into a complete sphere. This is the Jew. Through the darkness he shines most magnificently. The non-Jewish calendar is exclusively a solar calendar. A solar year is called a shana. In Hebrew, shana means old. However, our calendar is also based on lunar months. A month in Hebrew is a chodesh. It means new. The Jewish people, like the moon, are always reinvigorating and becoming stronger and brighter than they were previously.

This is the message of Pesach. One can only complete the hagadah when the matzah and marror (bitter herbs) are before him (Pesachim 115b). His mouth can only be full of song through the recitation of Hallel (praises to Hashem) on the Pesach night, when there is a constant reminder of the darkness of Egypt. This is the breaking of the glass at a wedding. This is the plight of a baal teshuva. The apparent negativity and distance is not simply a reminder. It is an integral component of growth. It is this very darkness that yields the greatest simcha. This is Pesach. It is the back to back union transformed into a face to face relationship through the birth of the Jewish people into a nation.

Good Shabbos,

R’ Moshe Zionce

Of Folk, Faith and Famous Father-in-Law

This interview originally appeared in the Forward ( and is reprinted with permission.

By Rebecca Spence
Tue. Mar 11, 2008

Peter Himmelman is an eclectic musician who has earned critical accolades for everything from his television show scores to his folk-rock albums. His work scoring the TV series “Judging Amy” garnered him an Emmy nomination in 2002, and just a few months ago, his latest children’s album, “My Green Kite,” was nominated for a Grammy. “The Pigeons Couldn’t Sleep,” Himmelman’s 10th studio album, was released last summer. If that all sounds like enough, it isn’t: Himmelman is currently scoring the Fox series “Bones” and ABC’s “Men in Trees.”

The 48-year-old Santa Monica resident grew up in Minneapolis, where he began his musical career while still in high school. One of his earliest collaborations, the new wave band Sussman Lawrence, recorded two albums before Himmelman went on to a solo career. Since then, Himmelman has successfully navigated the waters of multiple, often wildly different, genres and come out rocking in all of them.

Oh, and he also happens to be Bob Dylan’s son-in-law.

Himmelman recently fielded some questions from the Forward.

Why did you decide to expand into children’s music?

I have four children of my own, and so as they were growing up, it was very natural to me to sing for them and make up songs and stories for them. At one point, a company in the Midwest contacted me and asked if I’d be interested in making a record for children. As every artist knows, there’s nothing more motivating than a deadline and a fee, and so when I got both those things, my first kids’ record, “My Best Friend Is a Salamander,” came into being. I’ve since made four more.

What are the challenges of writing in so many different genres? Does it ever get musically confusing, so to speak, or do the different genres inform one another?

As a rule, I thrive when I’m doing several different projects at once. It doesn’t get confusing for me because I’m able to focus my attention to whatever task is at hand. It’s difficult to explain, but there is a radically different feeling when I go about making music for children as opposed to making music for adults. The same truths are existent in each, but perhaps similar to the way one talks to a child versus the way he would speak with an adult, the metaphors, expressions and context need to be appropriate for each. A third facet of what I do — aside from performance, which is its own unique universe — is composing for film and television. It’s another perspective, which really requires me to adopt a service mentality. That is to say, when I’m making my records, they are really expressions of my personal vision. When I’m composing to picture, I’m primarily serving the needs of the director or the producers. The structure created by helping another person achieve their goals can be very liberating.

How would you define your level of Jewish observance?

I’m not too comfortable with labels in general, but I suppose you wouldn’t be far off if you characterized me as an Orthodox or observant Jew.

Have you always maintained a high level of observance? How were you raised?

I was raised in a home that was very Jewishly aware. My grandma spoke Yiddish, we were very Zionistic and I attended Hebrew school. We went to a Conservative shul in a suburb of Minneapolis. I started becoming more observant in 1986 while living in New York City.

How does your religious observance affect your music?

Since I write mostly about my observations — as opposed to fictional accounts — the prism through which I see the world most definitely affects the music I make.

How has it affected your career?

There have been many missed opportunities to further my career. I’ve turned down several “Tonight Show” engagements and some major tours, but it’s important to remember that nobody forced me to turn these things down. I did it all of my own volition, and though there was a price to pay, I believe that the rewards I continue to get from having success on my own terms have been well worth any short-term sacrifices.

Does being an observant Jew in any way conflict with your role in pop culture? Can they co-exist peacefully, so to speak?

I don’t think I have a role in pop culture. All my roles are played out in my family life and in my community. It would be disingenuous of me to say that I have any role in or any allegiance to pop culture. In fact, it’s something I try to protect myself and my family from. If you mean to ask, can an observant Jew be an artist and make a living creating things, the answer in my opinion is yes, of course. There is no conflict in that.

What do you think of the Matisyahu phenomenon?

I like Matisyahu both as a musician and as a person. I think he’s an extremely talented person who, like any real artist, is on a quest. I’m always anxious to see where it leads.

Given that your father-in-law is Bob Dylan, has he been a particularly influential figure in the development of your music? Has that relationship affected your work?

Every musician from St. Louis to Botswana has been influenced by him. Why would it be any different for me?

In Light Of Klal Yisroels Current Situation: Kol Koreh From The Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of America

In Light Of Klal Yisroels Current Situation: Kol Koreh From The Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of America

We are in the wake of a terrible destruction, Jewish blood spilled like water in the Holy Land, of precious sons of Zion who fell in sanctification of Hashem’s name in their Beis Medrash – nations have entered the estate of Hashem and turned Yerushalayim into heaps of rubble. And all that is besides the frightening danger to the nation of Hashem from enemies from without who threaten to obliterate it – may it never come to pass, and may Hashem have mercy.

And then there are other heartrending tragedies that have suddenly afflicted our community. We are all enveloped in mourning over the calamities borne by Jews in every land.

We therefore call and encourage the entire community to gird and strengthen itself in what the Jewish people relies upon, the pillars of the world: Torah, avodah and gemillus chasodim – and to gather in shuls and botei medrash to pour out prayers and pleas before our Father in Heaven, through recitation of Tehillim and the Yom Kippur Koton service on Thursday, 27 Adar II, may it arrive bringing blessings.

May our entreaties be pleasing to the Master of all, and may He listen to our cries, accept our prayers in mercy and quickly bring us the Redeemer without delay.

Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of America

24 Adar II, 5768

Special Address

Horav Aaron Feldman, Rosh Hayeshiva of Yeshivas Ner Yisroel and Chaver Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah, will be delivering divrei hisorerus b’ inyana d’yoma on the eve of Yom Kippur Koton, this Wednesday evening, 27 Adar II 5768/April 2, 2008, at 8:45 PM.

The Rosh Hayeshiva’s address, which will take place at Agudath Israel of Baltimore, will be broadcast live nationwide by TCN – The Torah Conferencing Network. You can also hear Horav Feldman’s shiur by calling 718-705-5555, and punching in access code 2626.

What Were the More Difficult Mitzvos For You to Take On?

Everybody has a unique path in Torah Observance with their own victories and challenges. It’s often helpful to see what other peoples challenges were. So tell us in the comments:

What were the more difficult Mitzvos for you to take on?

What made it difficult?

What were the keys to success?

Here are some Mitzvos to think about:

Taharas Mishpacha
Tzinus Dress
Regular learning
Reading the parsha twice with explanation
Not wasting time
Knowing there is a G-d
Loving G-d
Fearing G-d
Don’t go after your heart & eyes
Yom Tovim
Trust in G-d
Loving your neighbor as yourself
Loshon Hara
Giving the benefit of the doubt
Helping Others