Wisdom, Torah and Mussar

Rav Itamar Shwarz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh

Start preparing for Chanukah with some great Drashos

The Nefesh HaChaim (Gate IV: Chapter 1) writes that as the generations continued, the yetzer hora devised ways to fight Klal Yisrael’s study of Torah, and thus the idea formed of learning Torah for the sake of pilpul (give-and-take analysis) alone, with no involvement of yirah (fear of Hashem).

The yetzer hora fights our power of Torah study, and so did the Greek exile fight the Torah. Greek wisdom and philosophy was at war with the wisdom of the Torah.

Our Sages viewed Greek wisdom as being a wisdom that is entirely focused on the physical body and nature, with no trace of spirituality to it. There was also another way of understanding the difference between the Torah’s wisdom and Greek wisdom. Greek wisdom is entirely intellectual-based, with no mention of the “heart”. Regarding the Torah, “fear of Hashem is wisdom”, the Torah is a wisdom that requires fear of Hashem, whereas Greek wisdom is intellect alone.

When the Nefesh HaChaim says that the yetzer hora devised ways to fight against Klal Yisrael’s study of Torah, it is referring to the evil force of impurity that is “Yavan” (the Greek exile and its philosophy). When a person learns Torah, he is definitely not learning a wisdom that is focused on the physical body and nature, but it’s possible that he has Greek attitude towards the wisdom of Torah! In fact, he might have the exact thinking of Greek philosophy even as he’s learning Torah.

The yetzer hora has many different ways of how it fights Klal Yisrael. Sometimes it causes some people in Klal Yisrael to abandon Torah study by causing them to engage in the study of nature and the body. Another way it fights Klal Yisrael is through removing “yirah” (fear of Hashem) from the picture, where the fiery love for Torah is extinguished in their hearts.

The depth of this struggle throughout the generations, and in our generation especially, is that the Greek attitude has penetrated into the “tents of Shem” (the beis midrash), in the sense that a person today can be sitting and learning Torah in the beis midrash yet he has a ‘Greek perspective’ within his very learning. To an onlooker, it would seem that there is no difference between a person learning with a Greek perspective with a person who doesn’t. The difference cannot be discerned by the eye.

Those who study other wisdoms outside of the Torah, such as those who study nature and the body, are an obvious example of Greek influence. But even someone who merits to sit and learn in the beis midrash might be affected by the same problem: his Torah learning has become exiled by the evil inclination, whose purpose is to fight against the Torah.

When a person does not clarify to himself what his connection to Torah is [as we have begun to explain in the previous chapters], he might find out after 120 years when he goes up to Heaven that all of his Torah learning was with a Greek perspective.

There is a story told by Rav Shalom Shwadron of his grandfather, the Maharsham, which can make anyone shudder. The Maharsham fell ill, and he dreamt that he ascended to Heaven, where he stood in front of the Heavenly Court. They weighed out his merits and his sins. An announcement went out in praise of the Maharsham’s merits of Torah learning and how awesome it was. Then an angel came and declared that all of his Torah is not called “Torah”; it came and blew into his mouth, and all of the words of Torah were removed from him, as if the words had never been there before! It was all removed from him. In the end, the angel returned all the words of Torah to the Maharsham, for it said, “In the generation you live in, your words of Torah can be called ‘Torah’.”

Anyone familiar with the works of the Maharsham knows that his Torah is awesome. He was one of the greatest leaders of his generation and you can see his greatness in his sefarim. Yet the Maharsham testified about himself that in the Heavenly Court, they instantly removed all his Torah.

If someone searches for truth and he hears the above story, how can he not suspect that the same thing can happen to him? Of course, in the end of the story, the angel considered the Maharsham’s Torah to be Torah. But it is still shuddering to think that there was even such a possibility. How could such a thing be possible? We aren’t discussing here a great person such as the Maharsham. We are talking about someone on our own spiritual level. How is it possible that a person’s Torah is not considered to be real “Torah” in Heaven…?

If a person never clarified his connection to Torah – the external layer of the connection, and certainly the inner layer of the connection – he might think that he has love for Torah and that he learns a lot, but he might have a very mistaken attitude towards learning, for he has never clarified what connects him to Torah.

This is true even if he has learned much Torah both in quantity and quality; with understanding; with clarity; with chiddushim; with knowing the Halachic conclusions of each sugya (each on his own level); if he has not clarified the refined points of what connects him to the Torah he learns, then there is only a minimal connection to Torah he has (based on one of the qualities above), and he is missing much of what is required in a connection to Torah.

A person doesn’t know what’s missing from his learning, because he never makes this reflection. He thinks that everything’s great simply because he is sitting and learning Torah from morning to night; after all, he merits understanding in his learning, he even has chiddushim, he has clarity in what he is learning, he is becoming knowledgeable in Torah – each person can say this on his own level.

Yet the story of the Maharsham proves that one’s Torah learning is considered to be like nothing in Heaven. This is when one doesn’t clarify what is connecting him to Torah and he isn’t aware of what deeply connects him to it.

One who clarifies what connects him to his Torah learning is aware of what exactly connects him to the Torah and which parts he isn’t yet connected to. He is aware of which areas in his learning are weak, which areas need improvement, which parts he needs to decrease and which parts he needs to increase, which parts he needs more connection to. One must honestly examine himself and take apart his connection to Torah and see which parts he is connected to and which parts are missing from his connection.

When a person ascends to Heaven after 120, the first question he is asked is, “Did you set aside times for Torah study?” That will be the first part of the examination. But after this the question will go deeper: During the times he learned Torah, on what level did he learn it on? How deep was his connection to it?

We must know that we can’t run away from this examination. Either a person clarifies it as he is here on this world, or it is told to him when he gets to the World of Truth – where it will be too late to do anything.

Obviously, anyone who is sitting and learning Torah all day in the beis midrash is someone who wants to make progress in his Torah learning. But one must be aware of which parts are necessary in the connection to Torah learning. Through this, one’s connection to Torah will grow deeper and it will have more quality to it.

The evil spiritual force known as ‘kelipas Yavan’, the “Greek perspective”, is essentially the attitude that a person can learn Torah in a superficial manner, where he thinks that he is gaining wisdom and that he is understanding it, and the person thinks that everything here is fine. But with this attitude towards learning, a person will come upstairs after 120 and it will be shown to him that his entire way of life was spent incorrectly; that instead of being of those who sat in the beis midrash, he was considered to be of those who pursue other places, chas v’shalom. Although he did not actually run after frivolous things during his lifetime, he will be shown that his perspective is that not that far from those who do not consider Torah to be the main pursuit of life.

To emphasize again, each person will have to undergo this assessment of his Torah learning. The only question is if it will happen during a person’s lifetime – when he uses his free will to do so – or if it will be made in Heaven, where it will be too late. A person on this world has the free will to choose to make this examination on himself: To see how much he is exerting himself in Torah, how connected he is to Torah, how much clarity he has in his learning, etc.

If a person does not make this reflection, he will simply live a carefree life, thinking that all is well and that he just has to keep increasing his time for learning and that he should simply keep exerting himself more and more. Although this is also true, a person must not think that this is all he needs in his connection to Torah. There is much more to the connection to Torah that a person needs, and every person will have to see it at some point; whether on this world, or on the next.

If a person didn’t assess his connection to Torah on this world, he will be shown in the next world all that he was supposed to reach – which was a simple truth that he could have reached even as he lived on this world. If one realizes as he is on this world that improvement is needed in his connection to Torah learning, then he has a chance of changing, because he still has free will. But if a person waits until the next world to see the truth, there, it is too late to do anything, and there he will remain with his very minimal level of connection to Torah.

***

The Nefesh HaChaim explains that the study of mussar began because the great leaders were seeing that much was missing from their Torah learning. The Nefesh HaChaim calls them the ‘eyes of the congregation.” In other words, these great people had the ‘eyes’ to see what was missing. They had a spiritual lens that could see beyond the external layer of things.

When a person sees the world through a superficial lens, he does not see what the problems are. He walks into a beis midrash full of people learning Torah, and he might feel, “Ah, “praiseworthy are the eyes that have seen this.” But if he would have more inner vision, he would instantly see what is missing from the beis midrash. (To see and fix the problem, though, he would have to be on a very high spiritual level).

The Nefesh HaChaim says that the leaders of the generation who founded the study of mussar were the ‘eyes of the congregation.’ They had ‘eyes’ that could see things which others couldn’t see. They could see subtleties; they possessed the discerning eye of a Torah scholar, who sees beyond the superficial layer of things.

In recent generations, there has been a great increase of Torah study. But those with inner vision can see that a deep connection to Torah is missing, and they see a whole different reality than how others see it. The leaders of the generation, who are called ‘eyes of the generation’, see this painful reality. But each person on his own level can gain some inner vision and he can sense that there is much that is missing from his connection to Torah.

***

The Nefesh HaChaim continues that those who noticed what was missing from Torah study wrote sefarim that explain yirah (fear of Hashem) to redirect the hearts of the nation, so that they could rededicate themselves to the study of Torah and to serving Hashem, with pure fear of Heaven.

A superficial reading of these words of the Nefesh HaChaim seems to imply that they realized that their Torah learning was causing them to be in lacking in yirah and in avodas Hashem, thus the leaders of the past wrote sefarim that explain yirah, in order to gain back their yirah.

However, that is not what he writes. The Nefesh HaChaim is saying [in conjunction with the earlier paragraphs] that because their Torah learning was lacking in yirah, because it was lacking with a “burning love for Torah” as he puts it, they felt that their very Torah learning was lacking. [Thus they weren’t just missing yirah; they were missing Torah, because they were missing yirah in their Torah].

Thus, when they wrote sefarim about yirah, they didn’t do this just so they could gain yirah; they did it so that their Torah learning could become improved in this way. For it is written, “Fear of G-d is wisdom.”

***

They didn’t want to just improve their fear of Heaven; they wanted to gain back a fiery love for Torah which had gone missing from them.

From a superficial perspective, it appears to be that mussar sefarim are here to explain to us merely how to better our actions, how to improve our middos, how to improve ourselves, etc. This is all true, but there is a much deeper purpose of the mussar sefarim. It is because “Fear of G-d is wisdom.” When a person learns mussar in the true way, not superficially but with in-depth analysis, he reveals a deeper connection to Hashem and to Torah. He gains a clearer perspective on life, thus the way he relates to Hashem and to his Torah learning becomes totally different.

This is apparent from the words of the Nefesh HaChaim, that the reason why the leaders wrote mussar sefarim was “to straighten out… and fix the breaches” that had been made. They were trying to help us become more precise and exact in our way of living. They were trying to fix the ‘breaches’, reminiscent of the ‘13 breaches’ which the Greeks had made in the Beis HaMikdash, which symbolizes the negative Greek influences on our Torah learning. Thus the purpose of the study of mussar was essentially so that we would clarify our connection to our Torah learning and form a deep connection to Torah; to get it back to the way it used to be before all the breaches came along.

***

The Nefesh HaChaim writes that any sensible person understands that those who founded the study of mussar never intended for people to abandon Torah study and to learn mussar all day. Their entire intention was so that people would improve their Torah learning and learn Torah all day; to learn the Written Torah, the Oral Torah, and the many halachos of the Torah. They just wanted people to add learn it with fear of Heaven.

How indeed did people then come to make such a mistake? It was because people thought that the study of mussar\yirah was solely for the sake of knowing what yirah is and what avodas Hashem is. That is how they came to neglect Torah study and to instead involve themselves with only mussar.

The true perspective is that the mussar sefarim, which explain how to have yirah, are really coming to explain our connection to Hashem, and precisely through the study of His Torah. The study of yirah was not meant to imply that people should stop learning Torah in favor of learning about yirah; for the whole purpose of yirah was to deepen our connection to the study of Torah. “Fear of Hashem is wisdom” – the purpose of studying about yirah was to reconnect us to the subtle and refined wisdom of the Torah.

This explains the difference between those who serve Hashem superficially with those who really serve Him. Those who truly serve Hashem are people who use all of their spirituality to deepen their connection to Torah learning, more and more. By contrast, someone who improves his ‘Avodas Hashem’ without being focused on improving his Torah learning, will slowly drift off from Torah study, preferring instead to spend most of his time in the study of mussar and yirah. He erroneously thinks that only in that area can he feel a burning love for Torah.

When a person understands what Torah is all about and what mussar is about, he understands that mussar is coming to explain the subtleties of the Torah’s wisdom, and that this what ultimately connects a person to Hashem and His Torah. When this is the perspective, a person understands that the study of mussar is not meant to weaken our study of Torah; it is rather the ingredient that helps our Torah learning thrive. The study of mussar comes to analyze the subtleties of the human soul, which in turn helps our connection to Torah to be more precise and exact.

***

May Hashem give us the strength that kelipas Yavan (the Greek perspective) should be erased from the world in general, and on a specific level, from those who sit here in the beis midrash; that our Torah learning should not be a mere superficial and purely intellectual kind of study that resembles the study of Greek wisdoms. Rather, we should have a connection to our Torah learning which should stem from both the use of our mind and heart. Our minds should be heavily immersed in Torah, and our hearts need to burn with fiery love for it. Then our Torah learning can resemble the Menorah in its purity, in which the flame would rise on its own after it was lit; our souls should become enflamed with a burning love for Torah and thereby become exalted, going higher and higher.

Modern Orthodox and Modern Orthodox Baalei Teshuva Research Reports

Nishma Research recently (November 2019) published the results of an Online Survey of 1,817 Modern Orthodox American Jews of which 744 are “Baalei Teshuvah”. They released two reports which you can download at http://nishmaresearch.com/social-research.html.

Here are some of the key findings from https://www.jewishdatabank.org/databank/search-results/study/1078:

Sponsors: The Micah Foundation
Principal Investigators: Mark Trencher, Nishma Research
Study Date: 2019
Key Findings:
In 2017, Nishma Research reported the results of an online survey of over 3,900 Modern Orthodox Jewish respondents in America. Reports, slide shows, the questionnaire, qualitative verbatim comments to open-ended questions and the quantitative data file from the study are available at the DataBank’s 2017 study page.

Prior to that, in 2016, Nishma had issued a ground-breaking report on “those who left Orthodoxy,” including a substantial number who had left Modern Orthodoxy.

2019 Surveys of U.S. Modern Orthodox Jews

In November 2019, Mark Trencher (Founder and President of Nishma Research) published two extraordinarily informative and accessible reports which continued the research firm’s studies of Modern Orthodox Jews in America.

(1) The first report – “The Successes, Challenges and Future of American Modern Orthodoxy” – focused primarily on all 1,817 survey respondents who were Modern Orthodox Jews living in the United States, although appendix materials also compared the U.S. Modern Orthodox with another 130 Israeli-living Modern Orthodox and 174 U.S. charedi (often called the “ultra-Orthodox” in newspaper discussions, etc.).

(2) The second report – “The Journeys and Experiences of Baalei Teshuvah” focused only on the 744 US baalei teshuvah respondents (Jews who were not “frum from birth,” but who began to identify as Orthodox at or about bar/bat mitizvah age, or later in life); the baalei teshuvah respondents were also included in the 1,817 Modern Orthodox U.S. Jews who were discussed in the comprehensive Modern Orthodox report.

***

Both reports (individually and in tandem) provide fascinating portraits of Modern Orthodox Judaism in the United States; each includes a Summary of Key Findings, expanded text and tabular/graphic analyses of quantitative survey results, extensive verbatim comments to open-ended questions which are as important as the quantitative data to an understanding of Modern Orthodoxy, and the survey questionnaire (also available as a stand-alone PDF on this study page).

The comprehensive report on Modern Orthodoxy also includes summaries of the results of the 2017 survey and an earlier Nishma “pioneering study of those who have left the Orthodox community,” as well as copies of several articles on Modern Orthodoxy inspired by the earlier surveys.

***

Key Findings

The combination of quantitative and qualitative data in the two reports makes it important for DataBank users to review both reports, including the verbatim quotes. Only a few study findings are noted below:

• The “…vast majority (85%) of Modern Orthodox respondents say their Orthodox observance is an important part of their lives…”

• “Modern Orthodoxy’s worldview involves melding Jewish observance with secular knowledge and participation, and 88% experience positive interactions between their Orthodoxy and secular society – most often simply by taking advantage of opportunities to create a positive impression with non-Orthodox or non-Jews.”

“However, interaction with secular society can create conflict, with 88% of respondents having experienced such a conflict. While half (51%) stand firm in their religious practice, a substantial minority (37%) compromise at some level – most often in areas of kashrut and Shabbat.”

• “…Modern Orthodox Jews are far from uniform in their beliefs, attitudes and practices. While 42% say they are ‘centrist,’ a majority say they are either to the left or to the right, and almost one in five (18%) says they are primarily ‘Shabbat Orthodox.'”

“…A majority of respondents are concerned that too many Modern Orthodox communal leaders come from right-leaning segments.”

• “More than one-third (34%) believe there is no longer a single, cohesive Modern Orthodox community. Modern Orthodoxy should acknowledge this and would perhaps be better off splitting into separate camps.”

• 55% of respondents agree that their Orthodox community school systems are successful in creating committed Orthodox Jews, while 34% disagree. “But the historic near-universal attendance at Orthodox Jewish day schools seems to be slipping, as 31% of respondents say they might consider public school as an option …” for their children.

Baalei Teshuvah

• 42% of all Modern Orthodox American Jews are baalei teshuvah.

• The median age at which they started to identify as Orthodox is 23.5

• Nearly half (49%) of baalei teshuvah had previously been “…Conservative or Orthoprax, followed by the non-denominational – traditional, cultural, ethnic Jewish, or ‘just Jewish’ (23%).”

• “The top reasons baalei teshuvah give for why they became Orthodox are intellectual attraction or curiosity (53%), seeing Orthodoxy as more authentically Jewish (52%) and more truthful (35%), and connection to Jewish roots and heritage (36%).”

• “Among those who cited kiruv (outreach) as an influence, Chabad Lubavitch (42%) and “a rabbi or other mentor/ personality” (38%) are most often cited. However, while kiruv is effective in influencing people to become Orthodox, only 22% rate their “follow-up” as excellent.”

• “Men are more often drawn by kiruv and intellectual attraction; women by spirituality and the community.”

• Compared to those “frum from birth,” “Baalei teshuvah tend to be more liberal, have more ‘observance diversity’ in their households, and their Orthodoxy is a slightly less important part of who they are overall.”

• “By a very wide margin, the top challenge baalei teshuvah faced in becoming Orthodox was in their relationships with their parents and family (37%). These relationships were far more challenging than learning and knowing what to do as an Orthodox observant person (cited by 16%), social aspects and friends (13%), and kashrut (12%).”

• “The vast majority of baalei teshuvah (83%) say that they have ‘held onto’ things from their pre-Orthodox life, which are not commonly found in the Orthodox world, most often citing left-of center political views (20%) and socially liberal views (12%).”

• “Between half and two-thirds of baalei teshuvah are fully or mostly comfortable with davening (65%), Jewish learning (53%), and day-to-day Orthodox living (65%). However, their comfort levels are significantly lower than those of FFBs for all of these aspects of Orthodox life.”

• “Baalei teshuvah’s levels of religiosity continue to change. Half say they continued to become more observant over time, as they have learned more and as they gradually moved toward greater observance. But one in four says they have become less observant and gradually more lenient.”

Sample:
“Seeking to reach the broad community of Modern Orthodox (MO) Jews, the study contacted synagogues, reaching their rabbis and members via communication through the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA). As shul affiliation is virtually universal among the Orthodox, we see this as an effective way to reach the community.”

“We received 2,629 responses, of whom 1,817 self-identified … as Modern Orthodox residing in the US, and the findings presented in this report are primarily based on these respondents. Some had self-identified as charedi, Conservative and other non-Modern Orthodox, even though they are members of shuls whose rabbis are RCA members, and appendices include data for 174 US-based charedi Jews and 130 Israel-based Modern Orthodox Jews.”

“Among the respondents were 888 whom we classified as baalei teshuvah (having become Orthodox at bar/bat mitzvah age or later…744 are Modern Orthodox in the U.S.”

Sample Notes:
“…The extent to which these samples are representative of the overall populations from which they derive is not knowable, as no demographic profile of the community exists. Such profiles exist for larger denominations of American Jewry (via community, Federation, and Pew studies), but Orthodoxy – and particularly the Modern Orthodox and baalei teshuvah – are quite small segments…”

The online survey was seen as the only feasible strategy for large-scale data collection among the Orthodox; other methods would have been prohibitively expensive. For example, “Pew conducted 71,000 phone calls and completed their survey with only 134 synagogue-attending Modern Orthodox Jews.”

Compared with the Pew sample, “…our respondents appear roughly equivalent with respect to regional distribution, median age, liberal/conservative political balance, and the percentage that are baalei teshuvah. Our sample appears to report somewhat higher levels of education and income.”

However, the report noted that: “As is true for all surveys, sample respondents should be viewed with appropriate understanding and caution.”

Sample Size: 1,817 Modern Orthodox American Jews; 744 are “Baalei Teshuvah”

Thanksgiving and the BT

It’s clear that Thanksgiving is an “issue” for many Baalei Teshuvah. In addition to Neil Harris’ Being Thankful for Thanksgiving, the issue has come up in numerous posts and comments. We have highlighted some of those posts and comments below.


In Can You Really Get Everything You Want at Alice’s Restaurant?
, Rachel Adler sought advice on her first Thanksgiving in someone else’s non-kosher home:

“Thanksgiving, on the other hand, was one of the few holidays that I could spend at home with my family. For the past 10 or so years, we’ve hosted our extended family for Thanksgiving, with our cousins from New Jersey, California, and sometimes even Guatemala coming to the meal. Usually there are over 20 people. This was convenient when I started keeping kosher, since my parents started keeping a kosher house and no one had to make any special arrangements for me… I have a younger cousin, who just got accepted to Washington University in St. Louis, where she’ll be going next year. She’s among the cousins who usually visit us for Thanksgiving. This year, however, her parents want to host Thanksgiving since this is the first time she’s been away from her family and they want her to be able to go home for her first school break. This is understandable, but when my mom told me this yesterday, I asked “What am I going to eat? And what about Shabbat?”… My cousins don’t have a kosher kitchen and, as far as I know, they don’t even know how to keep kosher (besides the basics of no milk and meat) since they, unlike my parents, were never raised keeping kosher… I know that this would be a good opportunity for me to do a kiddush Hashem if I can figure out a way to make this work without causing strife. I really love my cousins. I just have no clue what to do. Any advice?”

Some advice from the comments:

Chaya:

Rachel,

If your aunt is open to you bringing your own food that is what I usually do in these circumstances. In my experience, it is better to discuss this directly with your hosts than have your parents advocate for you. Thanksgiving is usually celebrated Thursday afternoon, right? Could you be with your family Wednesday and Thursday night and then go to an observant family for Shabbat? …I have been doing stuff like this with my family for several years, and I have found that there is usually a way to compromise. I think you are taking a great attitude by thinking of the potential for kiddush Hashem.

Bob Miller:

As an aside, the kosher traveler can now find packaged kosher items in virtually every supermarket, convenience store, and Wal-Mart in the US. La Briute self-heating TV dinners are available in some stores and on-line (check www.labriutemeals.com )

Out of Town:

Thanksgiving can be a difficult holiday for BTs. I know my parents were very offended when I wouldn’t eat the turkey at their house when I started becoming frum. I would definitely agree that you should talk to the hosts in advance and warn them that you will be bringing your own food. Those La Briute meals are pretty good and I think they even have a turkey one. Another option is to either buy or make a meal at home, freeze it, then heat it up at their house. Or, maybe you could volunteer to bring one of the side dishes, that way you will have something to eat that everyone else will eat, then just bring your own turkey or whatever. Good luck!

Ilanit:

I have the same problem as well…

I would first discuss the situation with the appropriate family members. If you are comfortable, discuss the issue with the hosts. Since you love them and I am sure they love you, they will be happy to help come up with a compromise. This is a ‘better’ situation than one where the hosts refuse to compromise at all. I have done this in the past, and I have found it to be extremely helpful as it eliminates surprises and opens the lines of communication and sets expectations. Especially since Thanksgiving is an eating-oriented holiday, no one would want you to be left out of the eating.

Determine what is the most that you can do on your end. Bring a cold salad, plates & utensils, dessert, appetizers, etc. Do the max that you can do. When we went to a non-kosher house for Thanksgiving last year, I brought appetizers, side dishes, and dessert to ensure that we would at least have something to eat!

Include your family in your Shabbat plans. Since it’s also a family-oriented holiday, maybe your relatives would like to ‘do’ Shabbat with you, or whatever. See what their thoughts are. Maybe you can organize something! (which may be a relief for the hostess from all the cooking)

Now may be the time to be creative… It is obvious that you are willing to do that which maintains family harmony while also staying true to yourself. Being honest will help with that. Good luck!

SephardiLady:

Something that is definitely worth doing is really learning about kashrut, the foundations behind the halacha, and the very practical end of kashrut (what must have a heksher and what products don’t need a heksher, what is considered sharp/hot and what is not, steam, kashering burners, ovens, microwaves, bishul, and more).

As it is said, knowledge is power, and with some ingenuity, resources, and knowledge, it is more than possible to create kosher meals in a non-kosher home without upsetting everyone.

Goodluck and enjoy Palo Alto. The frum community there is very nice.

Chava:

Ah – Thanksgiving, the holiday of the BT :) . At least it is for our families.

Neither my, nor my husband have parents with kosher kitchens, yet we have managed to make a totally kosher Thanksgiving meal in their homes. Self cleaning ovens, tin pans, disposable plates and ’silverware’ with maybe a few pots brought in. If your relatives are game, it can be done. This also prevents the issue of ‘why do you have different food’ and ‘what, did I contaminate your food with my fork?’ and so on.

———————————————————————————–

Shayna spoke about how she “lost Thanksgiving” in Painfully Cutting Ties to the Past and the commentors offered support and some insight on the halachic parameters of the holiday.

Thanksgiving was supposed to remain a lifeline with my Before Teshuva world. At first, I stubbornly held on to New Year’s, defiantly rationalizing that we live by the secular calendar, too. But in truth, I’d long been uncomfortable with the idea that we kept our dates by their relation to the death of the Christian deity. (That’s pretty weird for a supposedly secular country.) Halloween was no great loss with the introduction of Purim. And, on Fourth of July, I usually serve my family something sweet and patriotically decorated and take the kids to a quiet spot to watch fireworks.

Then I lost Thanksgiving.

Rabbaim have poskuned that Thanksgiving has non-Jewish roots. Someone unhelpfully provided us with a pamphlet spelling out the problem. And since no one in the kids’ yeshivas does it, and, more importantly, I’ve lost my rebellious spirit in the realization that no matter how much I bristle, the frum way is usually best, after all…we don’t celebrate Thanksgiving either.

And now I feel a loss on that late November Thursday. I miss the politically uncorrect Pilgrims, stuffing, and pumpkin pie with whipped cream. Milchig.

Some advice from the comments:

Menachem:

It is by no means a foregone conclusion that Thanksgiving is a “treif” holiday. There was a diversity of opinion among gedolim in the last century on the subject. Rabbi Michael Broyde wrote an excellent analysis of the subject which you can read here http://www.tfdixie.com/special/thanksg.htm

There are enough things baalei teshuva must give up without going overboard and giving up things we don’t have to.

Melech:

See my response to another post on a similar topic on the suitability of Thanksgiving for BT’s!

Also, I think that some ties must be cut, and other ties do not need to be, or should not be. Here one needs the advice of a posek who “gets it” and who is familiar with your family situation in most cases. We should strive to make “yesses” wherever possible.

This year my parents could not make it,so we were spared some stress with non-Jewish cousins. But my wife still made some traditional dishes, and we talked about Squanto and mekoras hatov.

On the other hand, she refused to make me roast chestnuts, which my Dad always insists on- oh well.

David Linn:

Great comment. I wholeheartedly agree with the need to find a possek or rav who is familiar with one’s particular background and avoid making decisions, especially regarding restrictions, without first asking (we will be discussing the issue of finding a rav a sometime over the next few weeks). Sorry about the chestnuts, Melech.

Shayna – I think that the fact that no other kids in the yeshiva are celebrating is not, in and of itself, a reason not to do it. Sure, we feel peer pressure and we don’t want our kids to be singled out or made fun of. At the same time, we also need to teach are kids the importance of family and permissive individuality.

We are perhaps one of a handful of families in our school that actually has a Thanksgiving meal (my mother made a mean turkey this year, delicious!). At the same time, I think we would certainly be considered “more to the right” than the overwhelming majority of families in the school when it comes to many other social and parenting issues. My wife and I are constantly struggling to strike the balance where our kids understand that just because we don’t allow a particular activity until a certain age and their friends’ parents do doesn’t mean that we are better or frumer than they are. I think that equips them to handle the “peer pressure” when we do things that others don’t, i.e. Thanksgiving.

Teaching tolerance isn’t easy but as BTs that has got to be a priority especially when half of us are here complaining about how many sectors of the FFB world are intolerant of us.

All the talk of turkey and sushi on this site is making hungry!

Moshe Silver:

BS”D
Hey, BT! Lighten up! FYI, what we now observe as Secular New Year’s Day – 1 January – was observed in the ancient world before the birth of Christianity, and was co–opted by the Church. The reason Christmas Day falls eight days before the New Year has to do with making the beirth of the year correspond with the circumcision of Baby J. As to Thanksgiving, one way to look at it is to say it has Christian Roots. Another way is to recognize that its roots really lie in the quest for relgious freedom. I believe it was the Chofetz Chaim who exhorted his own children to go to America, stating that the future of religious Judaism would be there. The Founders of this country were more religion-oriented and G-d oriented than they were Christian oriented. They were Deists and Freemasons, for whom belief in a Deity superseded adherence to a religion. To this day, there is no country on earth more positively disposed towards religious observance, and more religiously tolerant. You couldn’t be a BT in most other countries in the world – not throughout human history, and not even today – without exposing yourself to physical danger. Here, all you have to worry about is embarrassing yourself by not knowing when to stand up and sit down during the services. Are you going to pasken yourself out of recognizing the blessing that HaKadosh Baruch Hu has given us, to be able to be BTRs in the world today? Or are you, like me, going to embrace the one holiday that celebrates G-d and belief, and America all at once?

———————————————————————————–

Rivkah cut to the chase with her American Holidays – Thanksgiving Survival Guide, really short version

For the last several years I have not had to face being around my family during any of the chagim because I had lived in Israel. Saying no to attending family holidays, for many people it is an extremely difficult burden to face. How do you say no when it is family? But how can you say yes to the Pesach Family Seder that lasts about 15 minutes and the Rosh Hashanah Meal both First and Second Night that isn’t kosher or Sukkot Chol Hamoed Lunch that isn’t in a Sukkah even when it isn’t raining. It is so hard because we love our family and we bend over backwards not wanting to alienate them from frumkite, chas v’shalom. But lets face it…knowing that the chagim are all about our relationship with HaKadosh Baruch-Hu and we just can’t get “there” to the loftiest of places in a home where there isn’t Kiddusha…or at least the brand of Kiddusha we need especially on a Yom Tov.

So how do you get out of the holiday of Thanksgiving? It never falls on a Shabbat…ok and it isn’t a Yom Tov… no problem there. The truth is, at least for me, Turkey-Day is the one holiday I don’t want or need to “get out of”. This year, for the first time in many years, I was able to and did attend the Family Thanksgiving Dinner. So here is my Survivors Guide, really short version, to spending Thanksgiving (or July 4th, Memorial Day, Labor Day, New Years Day fill in the blank __ Day) with your family.

It is really important that you are able to do the most important thing on Thanksgiving and that is of course EAT. Waking up early on Thanksgiving, my kosher turkey went in the oven. Quickly the house was filled with all the smells of my childhood. I made everything I needed to feel good at the table… I was able to sit next to my cousins (of course still at the children’s table) and stuff my belly with yummy Thanksgiving delicacies. I even had enough leftovers at home in the fridge to feel very American on “Black Friday”. The mashed potatoes were my “contribution” to the cornucopia feast. Of course they were parve. I couldn’t bring the traditional buttery potatoes to set along side the table of turkey and spiral-cut-you-know-what! At the end of the evening as we all reclined in our chairs, everyone wanted to know how I made the yummy dilled mashed fluffy stuff. They were all stunned to hear about my secret to make them creamy with out milk or butter (margarine and light mayonnaise). Smiling to myself I thought of my own theory. They tasted so yummy because they were the only kosher thing on the table…of course other than my shiny aluminum pan, double wrapped foil peeled back filled with all the essentials: half a turkey breast, a mini portion of yams with marshmallow, challah stuffing, string bean casserole and of course parve mashed potatoes. FYI … you can follow the Libby’s Pumpkin Pie recipe on the label but instead of condensed milk, replace with soy milk and Rich’s cream frozen.

Some advice from the comments:

Kressel:

BS”D

You did all that on a Thursday night? I am impressed. Did you have turkey for Shabbos?

Menachem

Thanksgiving is the last holiday one should try to “get out of”. In my mother’s extened family there are/were two huge gathering each year that go back at least 2 generations; Pesach Sedar and Thanksgiving. Both gatherings included 3 to 4 generations, often 50 or more people.

As soon as I became frum the Pesach sedar had to go as it was not even kosher let along pesadik. It just wasn’t an option.

Thanksgiving was another story. Since driving and housing were not an issue, I saw no reason not to continue attending this annual “seudah” in order to maintain ties with my extended family. It was usually held in a treif restaraunt and for a few years my mother would order special meals for us (my two siblings and I, and later my wife). Later on we decided to forgo the special meals as they were more hassle than they were worth and we realized the main thing was just to be together with family, not the eating.

David Linn:

I’ve been doing Thanksgiving at my Mother’s the past 15 or so years (that’s a lot of Turkey!) I’m fortunate in the fact that my Mother is now Shomer Shabbos (a story for another time) and kashrus is not an issue.

If you’re going somewhere where you can’t eat, make sure to bring something that you can eat and that everyone else can eat as well!

Conversation is just as importnat as food. O.K., almost as important as food. O.K., conversation is important too. Thanksgiving is just not the time to synopsize the daf for your non-frum cousin. Neither is it the time to sit on the side with your head buried in a sefer. Try to find common ground. If you follow sports and your family does too, voila. Reminiscences of childhood days may work (if you have good ones). Bottom line is to give it some thought before you get there.

Melech:

Hey, one of my favorite topics! I once heard an FFB make a crack to a very chashuv Rav, “Jews don’t do Thanksgiving, we thank Hashem _every_ day.” The Rav- very insightful and knew who he was speaking to said, “So what’s wrong with taking one day and doing it a little more?”

In my family, Thanksgiving persists because it provides few challenges. True, it has to be at our house so we can ensure the kashrus, but that’s not a challenge to my non-frum family and some of their non-Jewish spouses. We get together, eat, thank G-d for obvious blessings, sit around and talk, and don’t watch any football since we don’t own a TV. Then they all leave.

My own Rav has told me on many occaisions that BT’s have to work hard to find “yesses” since so much of what we do becomes “no’s” for them. Thanksgiving is a very easy “yes.”

Except when my wife served turkey on shabbos, my son, then 5 or 6, “poskened” “You’re not allowed to serve leftovers from a goyishe holiday for shabbos!”

That’s BBT’s, folks.

Oh, and there’s no kiruv either.

Originally published on 11/18/2006

Start Shnayim Mikra V’Echod Targum This Week with Bereishis

Chazal (the sages) instituted a weekly spiritual growth mechanism which takes advantage of the power of Torah learning called Shnayim Mikra V’Echod Targum, which is reading the weekly Torah portion twice in Hebrew and its translation once.

The Shulchan Aruch and Mishna Berurah describe different levels of performing Shanyim Mikra, but here’s the easiest way which will enable you to perform it and achieve its spiritual growth benefits:

1) Read out load the Parsha in Hebrew during the week to fulfill the first Hebrew reading.
2) Read out loud the Art Scroll translation in English during the week. This fulfills the translation component.
3) On Shabbos, during the public leining read along out loud quietly to fulfill the second Hebrew reading.

Each week counts as a separate mitzvah so don’t fret if you miss a week.

Rabbi Jonathan Rietti was kind enough to allow us to post the outline here, but you can purchase the entire outline of the Chumash for the low price of $11.95 for yourself and your family.

Bereshis
#1 Creation of the Universe
#2 Creation of Man
#3 The Snake
#4 Cain Kills Hevel
#5 Ten Generations of Adam
#6 Warning of Global Destruction

#1 Creation of the Universe
1st Day: Heaven-Earth – Light-Darkness
2nd Day: Rakia is split
3rd Day: Land-Sea & Vegetation
4th Day: Sun-Moon & Stars
5th Day: Fish-Birds-Creepies – Blessing to Multiply
6th Day: Animals – Man-Dominate-Tzelem-Blessing to Multiply. 

#2 Creation of Man
* Shabbat – Heavens and Earth complete 
* Rain-Man
* Creation of Adam & Chava
* Located in Gan Eden
* Tree of Life & Tree of Knowledge of Good and Negative
* Four Rivers: 1) Pishon; 2) Gihon; 3) Hidekel (Tigris); 4) Euphrates
* One Command: “Don’t eat from Tree of Knowledge or you will die!”
* Not Good To Be Alone
* No Companion – Adam Names all the animals
* Sleep
* Chava Created
* Naked

#3 The Snake
* Snake was Cunning
* Chava Ate
* Adam Ate
* Eyes opened-Clothes
* “Where Are You?”
* Adam blames Wife – G-d
* Chava blames snake
* The Snake’s Curse: Most cursed, Legless, Eat dust, Hated, Slide.
* Woman’s Curse: Pain in Pregnancy, Childbirth, Child-Raising, Husband will Dominate.
* Man’s Curse: Ground is cursed, Sweat from toil, Death-return to dust
* Man names his wife ‘Chava’
* Expulsion from Gan Eden

#4 Cain Kills Hevel
* Hevel’s offering
* HaShem rejects Cain’s offering
* “Why are you depressed? Pick yourself up and start again!”
* Cain kills Hevel
* Cain is cursed – Wanderer
* Cain’s children: Chanoch & Lemech-City named Chanoch
* Chanoch – Irad – M’huyael – Metusha’el – Lamech marries Adda & Tzilah.
* Adda mothers Yaval & Yuval (Yaval is first nomad, Yuval makes musical instruments).
* Tzilah mothers Tuval Cain – (he invents weapons and metal works)
* Tzilah mothers Naama
* Adam reunites with Chava – Shet

#5 Ten Generations of Adam
1st Gen. Adam 930
2nd Gen. Shet 912
3rd Gen. Enosh 905
4th Gen. Keinan 910
5th Gen. Mehalalel 895
6th Gen. Yered 962
7th Gen. Chanoch 365
8th Gen. Metushelach 969
9th Gen. Lemech 777
10th Gen. Noach-Shem-Cham-Yafet

#6 Warning of Global Destruction
* Population explosion
* Fallen Angels take women
* 120 year life limit
* Titans
* Man’s entire agenda was wickedness all day!
* Decree to destroy entire world except Noach

Rav Soloveitchik on Awakening the Emotional on Yom Kippur

In the Sefer, Before Hashem You Will Be Purified, the following is brought down from Rav Soloveitchik’s 1976 Teshuvah drasha:

My religious world-view was formed not only through learning Torah, but also by me religious experience…I continually refer to the the two traditions of Torah learning — halakhah and that or religious life and feeling — the enthusiasm, the love of Hashem, the yearning for Hashem… The first is relatively easy to impart; I can give long lectures on shofar, the halakhot of teshuvah, the Avodah, etc. with great depth and thoroughness. Yet what is easy for me [to explain] regarding the first tradition is very difficult regarding the second tradition.

To recount what Jews of earlier generations–not only the Gedolei Yisrael, but Jews in general — experienced on the Yamim Nora’im — the yearning, the nostalgia that overtook one’s entire being — to impart the emotion is almost impossible. As a child, I remember how infectious that emotion was: I felt the same yearning as everyone else without really understanding what exactly I was yearning for. Those emotions which overtook me as a child stimulate me still today, and my whole Weltenschauung, my whole religious philosophy, is a result of this experience.

Contemporary Orthodoxy is well ground intellectually. In spite of this, however, its followers lack passion and enthusiasm. This deficiency is especially evident on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

How can a Jew pray on Yom Kippur and not feel the greatness, the fire and holiness of the day? How can I possible impart such an experience? Perhaps one can begin to awaken the ecstatic feeling by discussing the customs and laws which we observe on Yom Kippur. From within the allegedly dry confines of Jewish law, there is an awesome, warm, enormous world — there is a definite transition from Halakhah to service of Hashem. Perhaps through such a discussion, the audience will be awakened to the religious mood that a Jew must find himself on Yom Kippur.

Originally published in Sept 2007

The Chofetz Chaim’s 85th Yahrzeit is the 24th of Elul – Here is His NY Times Obituary(1933)

Chofetz Chaim, 105 Is Dead in Poland

Venerated by Orthodox Jews as one of the 36 ‘Saints Who Saved the World’.

Lived Long In Poverty

Gave Up Store When Popularity in Village ‘Deprived Other Mechants of a Living’.

WILNO, Poland, Sept 15 (Jewish Telegraph Agency) – The famed Chofetz Chaim, venerated by Orthodox Jews throughout the world as one of the 36 saints because of whose piety the Lord has not destroyed the world, died today in the village of Radin, near here, where he had spent most of the more than 100 years of his life. He had been ill only a short time

The Chofetz Chaim, whose real name was Rabbi Yisroel Meier Cohen, had been a figure of almost legendary importance for almost half a century. Stories of his piety sprang up in the lore of Eastern Europe and among orthodox Jews all over the world. The village where he had served for a few months as a rabbi was the scene of pilgrimages of thousands of orthodox Jews seeking the blessing of the Chofetz Chaim.

In 1873 Rabbi Cohen published a book in Hebrew, entitled the “Chofetz Chaim”, listing all the forms of slander from which a pious Jew must guard himself. It was because of this book that he became known as the Chofetz Chaim.
Age Believed to Be 106.

He was born in the village of Zhetel, Poland. After a brief period as a rabbi in Radin he founded a yeshiva, a school for teaching the Talmud, and supported it for many years. He gained renown as a Talmudic scholar and many of his works on the regulations of the Jewish religion have been accepted as definitive.
Funeral services will be held Sunday at Radin.

The Chofetz Chaim was 105 years old, according to information from his family, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported. He never would reveal his age, however, and several years ago, when friends and relatives planned a birthday celebration in his honor, the scholar was very much perturbed.

Despite his fame as “the uncrowned spiritual king of Israel”, the Chofetz Chaim was a modest and humble man. His career as a merchant was of short duration. Because of his popularity all the Jews of the town flocked to his store. The Chofetz Chaim thereupon closed the store on the ground he was depriving other Jewish merchants of a living.

At the age of 90, when he was already a legendary figure among the Jews, the Chofetz Chaim became convinced of the imminent arrival of the Messiah, who would lead the Jews back to Palestine and he regarded it as his special duty to assume the functions of the high priest.

He was the author of a score of works surrounding the religious and ethical principals of the Jewish religion, including one which became a handbook for all rabbis. Despite his great distinction the Chofetz Chaim lived in povery all his life.

Chofetz Chaims Obituary

Beyond College Campuses – Judaism in Cherry Hill is Alive

I had the pleasure of meeting Rabbi Yisroel Tzvi Serebrowski, director of Torah Links Center in Cherry Hill, New Jersey at the Torah U Mesorah convention last week. He has clearly demonstrated that beyond College Campuses, interest in Judaism in Cherry Hill and other communities is alive and growing.

Here is an excerpt from the Jewish Action 2013 about Rabbi Serebroski’s community: (Note: that the community has grown more since this article.)

In 2000, as part of the outreach efforts of Beth Medrash Govoha (BMG) of Lakewood, Rabbi Yisroel Tzvi Serebrowski began teaching in the community of Cherry Hill. He organized classes in people’s homes and at the local Jewish community center and public libraries—basically any place that would open its doors—and offered compelling presentations such as “If You Hated Sunday School, Then This One’s for You.” He invited prominent guest lecturers and held Shabbatons in various homes. People came. “The best ambassador is a satisfied customer,” says Rabbi Serebrowski. “One host would lead to another.”

As his following grew, so did the demand for his becoming a full-time community rabbi. “I was content living in Lakewood and traveling to Cherry Hill three or four times a week,” says Rabbi Serebrowski, who was part of a commuter kollel established by BMG. “I never thought we would have a shul or that I would wind up moving to Cherry Hill.” Since the 1970s, BMG has been sending young rabbinical students to establish kollels, with the goal of strengthening Jewish communities across the country. In the late 1990s, BMG began establishing “commuter kollels” in areas commutable from Lakewood.

This arrangement worked well for Rabbi Serebrowski, until one of his students—who lived five miles away from Rabbi Mangel’s established shul—made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. “He told me, ‘Rabbi, I’m all ready to keep Shabbos. If you start a minyan, I’ll never go back to work on Shabbos.’”

Rabbi Serebrowski consulted with his mentor, Rabbi Matisyahu Salomon, BMG’s mashgiach, and Rabbi Shmuel Kamenetsky, founder and rosh yeshivah of the Talmudical Yeshiva of Philadelphia. They both said, “You have no choice. You must move.”

He did. Rabbi Serebrowski looked for a house in a centrally located area in Cherry Hill. He started a minyan in his basement, initially recruiting friends from Lakewood to ensure he would have ten men. People said, “Host a minyan Friday night only, or just Shabbos morning; don’t overdo it.” But his determination won out. “If I’m moving because of Shabbos, there is going to be a Shabbos. And there’s going to be every minyan, every week.” Rabbi Serebrowski still recalls his excitement the first time twenty people from the community showed up at the minyan. Then twenty people began showing up every Shabbat and he no longer had to make “minyan phone calls.” It had become a solid minyan. Today, on a typical Shabbat, the shul attracts between sixty-five and one hundred participants.

Susan Lipson, fifty, grew up Jewishly unaffiliated in Cherry Hill. Today she’s an integral part of the growing Orthodox community in her hometown, which—religiously speaking—barely resembles the town she knew as a child. “I feel absolutely part of the community. I’ve met so many people on so many different religious levels, and we all get along. We have this amazing shul and don’t have enough room for people; it’s a great problem to have.”

“We have everything here that anyone could possibly need—a self-contained community where people can grow at all levels.”

Genna Landa, forty-six, is a software developer and one of Rabbi Serebrowski’s “regulars” who faithfully showed up for davening and Torah classes from the outset. “Rabbi Serebrowski exudes warmth, and that’s what attracts people. He’s a scholar, a savvy businessman and a warm, caring mensch. [In terms of doing mitzvot,] he doesn’t say, ‘You should do this,’ but [rather] ‘this is what should be done.’”

In 2010, the community purchased a two-acre property, now referred to as the Torah Links Center, or TLC, which currently houses the shul, Hebrew school and adult learning and social programs. TLC’s Hebrew school has more than thirty students and is growing. In the past year, TLC’s programs have touched over 1,000 individuals with varying levels of religious observance.

Cherry Hill’s spiritual infrastructure grows more solid each year. In 2009, Rabbi Mangel opened a community mikvah, which services fifty-five women each month. The community is also in the process of constructing an eruv, which was due to be completed by December 2013. “I see it as a tremendous catalyst for frum families from outside the area to move in,” says Rabbi Serebrowski, who was also instrumental in getting the local ShopRite to open a “kosher experience” section.

“I want to create a situation that when a family becomes frum, they don’t have to leave for a more established Orthodox community,” says Rabbi Serebrowski. Rabbi Mangel concurs. “Our goal is to build Yiddishkeit. We’re bringing a love for Judaism where, no matter what their level, people are growing.”

Pirkei Avos Week 2

This week is the second Perek for Pirkei Avos. Here is the link for an English Translation of all six Perakim culled from Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld’s translation and commentary at Torah.org. The full text of Pirkei Avos in Hebrew can be found here.

Torah.org also has some of the Maharal’s commentary for Pirkei Avos and you can purchase the Art Scroll adaptation of the Maharal’s commentary here.

Here is Chapter 2 of Pirkei Avos

1. “Rabbi said, What is the proper path that one should choose for himself? Whatever is glorious / praiseworthy for himself, and honors him before others. Be careful with a minor mitzvah (commandment) like a severe one, for you do not know the reward for the mitzvos. Consider the loss incurred for performing a mitzvah compared to its reward, and the pleasure received for sinning compared to the punishment. Consider three things and you will not come to sin. Know what is above you – an eye that sees, an ear that hears, and all your deeds are written in a book.”
2. “Rabban Gamliel the son of Rabbi Yehuda the Prince said, Torah study is good with a worldly occupation, because the exertion put into both of them makes one forget sin. All Torah without work will in the end result in waste and will cause sinfulness. All who work for the community should work for the sake of Heaven, for the merit of the community’s forefathers will help them, and their righteousness endures forever. And as for you, God will reward you greatly as if you accomplished it on your own.”
3. “Be careful with authorities, for they do not befriend a person except for their own sake. They appear as friends when they benefit from it, but they do not stand by a person in his time of need.”
4. “He used to say, make His will your will, so that He will make your will His will. Annul your will before His will, so that He will annul the will of others before your will.”
5. “Hillel said, do not separate from the community, do not trust yourself until the day you die, do not judge your friend until you reach his place, do not make a statement which cannot be understood which will (only) later be understood, and do not say when I have free time I will learn, lest you do not have free time.”
6. “He (Hillel) used to say, a boor cannot fear sin, nor can an unlearned person be pious. A bashful person cannot learn, nor can an impatient one teach. Those who are involved excessively in business will not become a scholar. In a place where there are no men, endeavor to be a man.”
7. “He (Hillel) also saw a skull floating on the water. He said to it: ‘Because you drowned you were drowned, and in the end those who drowned you will be drowned.'”
8. “He (Hillel) used to say, the more flesh the more worms, the more property the more worry, the more wives the more witchcraft, the more maidservants the more lewdness, the more slaves the more thievery. The more Torah the more life, the more study the more wisdom, the more advice the more understanding, the more charity the more peace. One who acquires a good name acquires it for himself; one who acquires words of Torah acquires a share in the World to Come.”
9. “Rabban Yochanan ben (the son of) Zakkai received [the transmission] from Hillel and Shammai. He used to say, if you have studied much Torah do not take credit for yourself because you were created for this.”
10. “Rabban Yochanan ben (the son of) Zakkai had five [primary] students. They were: Rabbi Eliezer ben Hurkenos, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananya, Rabbi Yossi the Priest, Rabbi Shimon ben Nesanel, and Rabbi Elazar ben Arach.”
11. “He (Rabban Yochanan ben (son of) Zakkai) used to list their praises (the praises of his five primary students). Rabbi Eliezer ben Hurkenos is a cemented pit which never loses a drop; Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananya fortunate is she who bore him; Rabbi Yossi the Priest is pious; Rabbi Shimon ben Nesanel fears sin; and Rabbi Elazar ben Arach is as an increasing river.”
12. “He used to say, if all the sages of Israel would be on one side of a scale and Eliezer ben Hurkenos on the second side, he would outweigh them all. Abba Shaul said in his name, if all the Sages of Israel would be on one side of a scale with even Rabbi Eliezer ben Hurkenos among them, and Rabbi Elazar ben Arach on the second side, he would outweigh them all.”
13. “He (Rabban Yochanan) said to them (his students) go out and see which is a good way to which someone should cleave. Rabbi Eliezer said a good eye; Rabbi Yehoshua said a good friend; Rabbi Yossi said a good neighbor; Rabbi Shimon said one who considers consequences. Rabbi Elazar said a good heart. He said to them, I prefer the words of Elazar ben Arach over your words, for included in his words are your words.”
14. “He (Rabban Yochanan) said to them (his students) go out and see which is a bad way which a person should avoid. Rabbi Eliezer said a bad eye. Rabbi Yehoshua said a bad friend. Rabbi Yossi said a bad neighbor. Rabbi Shimon said one who borrows and does not pay back. One who borrows from a person is as one who borrows from G-d, as it says, “A wicked person borrows and does not repay, but the Righteous One is gracious and gives” (Psalms 37:21). Rabbi Elazar said a bad heart. He said to them, I prefer the words of Elazar ben Arach over your words, for included in his words are your words.”
15. “They (the five students of Rabban Yochanan – see above Mishna 10) each said three things. Rabbi Eliezer said: The honor of your fellow should be as dear to you as your own. Do not get angry easily. Repent one day before you die. Warm yourself before the fire of the Sages. But be wary with their coals that you do not get burnt, for their bite is the bite of a fox, their sting is the sting of a scorpion, their hiss is the hiss of a serpent, and all their words are like fiery coals.”
16. “Rabbi Yehoshua said, an evil eye, the evil inclination, and hatred of another person remove a person from this world.”
17. “Rabbi Yossi said, let your fellow’s property be as dear to you as your own, prepare yourself to study Torah because it is not an inheritance to you, and all of your deeds should be for the sake of heaven.”
18. “Rabbi Shimon said, be careful in reading the Shema and the prayers. When you pray, do not regard your prayers as a fixed obligation, rather they should be [the asking for] mercy and supplication before G-d, as the verse says, “For gracious and merciful is He, slow to anger, great in kindness, and relenting of the evil decree” (Joel 2:13). Do not consider yourself a wicked person.”
19. “Rabbi Elazar said, be diligent in the study of Torah. Know what to answer a heretic. Know before Whom you toil. And faithful is your Employer that He will pay you the reward for your labor.”
20. “Rabbi Tarfon said, the day is short, the work is great, the workers are lazy, the reward is great, and the Master of the house presses.”
21. “He (Rabbi Tarfon) used to say, it is not upon you to complete the task, but you are not free to idle from it. If you have learned much Torah, you will be given much reward, and faithful is your Employer that He will reward you for your labor. And know that the reward of the righteous will be given in the World to Come.”

Get Ready for Pesach with These Great MP3s and PDFs

Here is the Beyond BT Guide to the Seder which goes through the basic halachos of each step of the seder.

Rabbi Welcher’s Preparing Your Home for Pesach a listen.

Cleaning for Pesach; from Rav Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg – z”tl

Rav Itamar Schwartz the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh with a number of Drashos on Pesach

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The Haggadah relates that:
In every generation a person is obligated to regard himself as if he had come out of Mitzrayim, as it is says: “You shall tell your child on that day, it is because of this that The Haggadah relates that:

In every generation a person is obligated to regard himself as if he had come out of Mitzrayim, as it is says: “You shall tell your child on that day, it is because of this that Hashem did for me when I left Mitzrayim.”

In this mp3, Rabbi Moshe Gordon explores some of the classical approaches to understanding and fulfilling this Mitzvah.

Download Rabbi Moshe Gordon on Leaving Mitzrayim.

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And here is an amazing series of Shiurim by Rabbi Gordon on the Seder and the Haggadah which covers the major Rishonim, Achronim and Poskim on the mitzvos of Pesach night and the Hagaddah.

Seder
Kadesh and Arba Kosos
Urchatz Karpas Yachatz
Hallel Rachtza Matza Heseiba
Maror Korech Shulchan Orech
Afikomen Barech End of Hallel Nirtza after Seder

Haggadagh
Intro to Sippur Yetzias Mitzrayim
HaLachma Anya Akiras HaShulchan Intro to Ma Nishtana
Ma Nishtana
Avadim Hayeinu Arami Oved Avi
Arami Oved Avi 2
Makos End of Magid

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YU Torah on Pesach

Torah Anytime on Pesach

Rabbi Uziel Milevsky zt”l on Pesach

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TEN WAYS to help you and YOUR CHILDREN have a more Meaningful and Inspiring PESACH SEDER

Use these suggestions to infuse new meaning and excitement into your seder and create a lasting experience for you and your family.

1.Make the most of your Seder and best fulfill the mitzvah of V’higadita L’vincha by staying focused on telling the actual story of Yetzias Mitzrayim; concentrate on the events and their lessons.

2. Transform Yetzias Mitzrayim from a story into a reality by celebrating the Seder like you celebrate a Simcha in your own family. Speak about it vividly, personally and enthusiastically…you’ll inspire yourself and your children.

3. Prepare for the Seder! Spend time studying books and Midrashim that elaborate specifically on the details of each miracle to help your children appreciate the extent of Hashem’s kindness.

4. Make Pesach personal and relevant to your children. Use your discussion about the amazing miracles of Yetzias Mitzrayim as a means of opening their eyes to the miracles Hashem performs for us every day.

5. Show your children how so much of the Pesach Seder revolves around them, demonstrating how much Hashem cares about every child and values each one as an essential member of Klal Yisroel.

6. Involve your children in the Pesach Seder. Prepare stimulating and challenging questions that will guide them to understand the lessons of the Haggadah and be an active participant in the Seder.

7. Practice the lesson of the Four Sons during your Seder by making a particular effort to involve each child (and adult!) in a way that best suits his or her unique personality, style and level.

8. Take the time to patiently answer your children’s questions. If you don’t know the answer, create a powerful Chinuch experience by asking a rabbi and exploring the issue… together with your child.

9. Reinforce their Emunah through the Pesach Seder by explaining that the miracles of Yetzias Mitzrayim irrefutably demonstrated Hashem’s complete control over the world to millions of eyewitnesses. We attest to this truth every year on the Seder night.

10. Inspire yourself by remembering that tonight Jewish parents around the world are passing on a glorious 3,320 year old legacy to their children as their parents and ancestors have done before them. Realize that the Seder that you create for your children will inspire them for the rest of their lives and shape the future Seder that they will make for their children.

The Pesach Seder:
A Unique Opportunity to Instill Emunah in Our Children

The Mitvah of telling the story of Yetzias Mitzrayim is primarily focused on our children and family. Its main purpose is to instill in their hearts the full knowledge of Hashem’s sovereignty and the magnitude of His strength and miracles. One should explain the story to them in the language that they understand to make them aware of the extent of the wonders that Hashem performs. It is not sufficient to explain just the main points of Yetzias Mitzrayim written in the Haggadah. Instead, we should describe all of the miracles vividly as they are depicted in the Gemara, Midrashim and other Seforim. (Based on Yesod V’Shoresh Ha’avoda 9:6)

COURTESY OF THE COMMUNITY TRAINING INITIATIVE OF PRIORITY-1
Under the auspices of Harav Reuven Feinstein, Shlita

Ten Greatest Songs of All Time

This Shabbos is called Shabbos Shirah because of the song sung at the splitting of the Red Sea. Another song is read in the haftorah, the Song of Devora. The Medrash says there will be 10 great songs for Hashem. Nine have already been sung and the tenth in the the times of Moshiach.

Here’s a list of the 10 Songs from Revach.net
1) Shiras Adam – The song Adam sang after Creation was completed: Mizmor shir l’yom hashabbos. To this day, it is part of our Friday night davening.
2) Shiras HaYam – The song at Yam Suf (Beshalach)
3) Shiras Ha’Be’er – Song of the Well in the desert (Bamidbar 21:17) when the Emorim were killed after plotting an ambush and the mountains crushed them. Their blood came up through the Be’er revealing the Nes to Bnei Yisroel.
4) Shiras Haazinu
5) Shiras Ha’Givon in Sefer Yehoshua when the sun remained up through the night to help Yehoshua in his battle.
6) Shiras Devorah in Sefer Shoftim – When Bnei Yisroel defeated the mighty Sisra’s and Yael killed Sisra himself.
7) Shiras Chana in Sefer Shmuel
8) Shiras Dovid – Tehilim 18 when Dovid was saved from Shaul
9) Shir Ha’Shirim of Shlomo Ha’Melech
10) Shir HaGeulah – This song hasn’t been sung yet; the song that will be sung in the times of Moshiach, as it says in the Book of Yeshayahu: “On that day there will be sung this song in the land of Yehuda…. (26:1)”

There are different versions of this list and other Medrashim bring
1. Shiras Mitzrayim
2. Shiras Yehoshafat

Hishtadlus and Parshas HaMon

We are taught that although Hashem runs the world we have to do our Hishtadlus (our own efforts). What that is in any situation differs for each person and is dependent on a person’s bitachon (trust) and his or her personality type. It’s hard to get the hishtadlus factor exactly right, no too much and not too little. The key for us believing Jews is to remember that even after our hishtadlus, everything is in Hashem’s hands. This is something we have to continually work on to internalize.

The halachic works suggest that we read Parshas Hamon everyday to internalize this message. (Tur 1; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 1:5; Aruch Hashulchan 1:22; Shulchan Aruch HaRav 1:9). The Mishna Berurah says “And the parsha of the Manna is such that he will believe that all his livelihood comes through special Divine direction (hashgacha pratis)”.

From my observations, most people are lucky to get through all the davening, let alone recite extras, like Parshas HaMon. However, it just so happens that Rebbe Mendel of Riminov said that saying Parshas HaMon on Tuesday of Parshas B’Shalach is a Segulah for Parnossa. And guest what – today is that Tuesday.

Here’s a link to the Art Scroll Interlinear translation of Parshas Hamon.

The Most Famous Ramban in Chumash – The End of Parshas Bo

The Ramban at the end of Bo is a classic work on Jewish philosophy and probably the most quoted Ramban in Chumash. It’s well worth seeing inside. Art Scroll has published the Ramban on Torah, so if you won’t (or can’t) read it in Hebrew, consider picking up the English translation.

Here is a summary:

Reason for the Plagues

The Ramban says that from the time of Enosh there were three types of heretics: 1) Those that didn’t believe in G-d at all; 2) Those that believed in a G-d, but didn’t believe He knew what was happening in the world; 3) Those that believed in G-d’s knowledge, but didn’t believe that He oversees the world or that there is reward and punishments.

By favoring the Jews and altering nature through the plagues, the falsity of the heretical views became clear to all. The supernatural wonders indicate the world has a G-d who created it, knows all, oversees all and is all powerful. And when that wonder is publicly declared beforehand through a prophet, the truth of prophecy is made clear as well, namely that G-d will speak to a person and reveal His secrets to His servants, the prophets, and with acknowledgement of this principle the entire Torah is sustained. (The Ramban brings down a number of pesukim supporting this.)

Reason for so many Mitzvos regarding the Exodus

Now, because G-d does not perform a sign or wonder in every generation in sight of every evil person and disbeliever, He commanded that we should have constant reminders and signs of what we saw in Egypt and we should transmit it to our children thoughout the generations. G-d was stringent in this matter as we see from the strict penalties regarding eating Chometz on Pesach and neglecting the Pesach offering. Other mitzvos regarding the Exodus are tefillin, mezuzos, remembering the Exodus in the morning and evening, Succos.

There are also many other commandments that serve as a reminder of the Exodus (Shabbos, the festivals, redemption of the firstborn,…). And all these commandments serve as a testimony for us through the generations regarding the wonders performed in Egypt, that they not be forgotten and there will be no argument for a heretic to deny faith in G-d.

The Reason behind Mitzvos in General

When one does a simple mitzvah like mezuzah and thinks about its importance, he has already acknowledged G-d’s creation of the world, G-d’s knowledge and supervision of the world’s affairs, the truth of prophecy and all the foundations of Torah. In addition he has acknowledged G-d’s kindness towards those that perform His will, for He took us from bondage to freedom in great honor in the merit of our forefathers.

That is why Chazal say, be careful in performing a minor commandment as a major one, for all of them are major and beloved since through them a person is constantly acknowledging his G-d. For the objective of all the commandments is that we should believe in G-d and acknowledge to Him that He created us.

Purpose of Creation

In fact this is the purpose of creation itself, for we have no other explanation of creation. And G-d has no desire, except that man should know and acknowledge the G-d that created him. And the purpose of raising our voices in prayer and the purpose of Shuls and the merit of communal prayer is that people should have a place where they can gather and acknowledge that G-d created them and caused them to be and they can publicize this and declare before Him, “We are your creations”.

This is what the sages meant when they explained “And they shall call out mightily to G-d” as from here you learn that prayer requires a loud voice for boldness can overcome evil.

Everything is a Sign of Hashem

Through recalling the great revealed signs of Hashem of the Exodus, a person acknowledges the hidden signs of everyday life which are the foundation of the entire Torah. For a person has no share in the Torah of Moshe unless he believes that all our affairs and experiences are signs from Hashem, that there is no independent force of nature regarding either the community or the individual.

Reward and Punishment

Rather if one observes the commandments his reward will bring him success and if he transgresses them his punishment will destroy him. Hidden signs of Hashem can be more clearly recognized as regards the affairs of a community as in the predictions in the Torah in the matter of the blessings and the curses as it says – And the nations will say, “For what reason did Hashem do so to this land…?” And they will say, “Because they forsook the covenant of Hashem, the G-d of their forefathers”. This matter will become known to the nations, that this is from G-d as their (the Jews) punishment. And it is stated regarding the fulfillment of the commandments, “Then all the people of the earth will see that the Name of Hashem is proclaimed over you, and they will revere you.”

First published in January, 2008. Last 2 paragraphs updated January 2012

Tenth of Teves Reading and Listening

Rebbetzin Heller on Lost in Translation: The Month of Tevet

What’s the difference between the Septuagint (the 70-man translation) and ArtScroll?

Ptolemy wanted to Hellenize the Torah. He wanted it in his library along with the other classics of his time. To him it was inconceivable that a God-given document and one written by man should be treated differently.

The goal of Torah is to present us with a way of life; one that will change us and take us to parts unknown — Gods infinity. The purpose of other works is to give us greater insight into ourselves and into the world. One deals with human beings and their world, while the other deals with a world far beyond the limitations of human observation. The authors of today’s translations want to let everyone experience Torah by making them bigger. Ptolemy wanted to give everyone access to Torah by dwarfing its scope to fit the limitations of the human mind.

Rabbi Berel Wein on the Tenth of Teves:

The Tenth of Tevet is one of the four fast days that commemorate dark times in Jewish history. The others are Tisha B’Av (the day of the destruction of both Temples in Jerusalem), the 17th of Tammuz (the day of the breaching of the defensive wall of Jerusalem by Titus and the Roman legions in 70 CE), and the third of Tishrei (the day that marks the assassination of the Babylonian-appointed Jewish governor of Judah, Gedaliah ben Achikam. He was actually killed on Rosh Hashana but the fast day was advanced to the day after Rosh Hashana because of the holiday).

Rabbi Noach Weinberg on the Seige of Jerusalem:

On the Tenth of Tevet, 2,500 years ago, Nebuchadnezzar began his siege of Jerusalem. Actually, there was little damage on that first day and no Jews were killed. So why is this day so tragic? Because the siege was a message, to get the Jewish people to wake up and fix their problems. They failed, and the siege led to the destruction of the King Solomon’s Temple.

Today we are also under siege. Much of the Jewish world is ignorant of our precious heritage. Children whose Jewish education ended at age 13 now carry that perception through adulthood. The results are catastrophic: assimilation in the diaspora, and a blurring of our national goals in Israel.

Rabbi Yehudah Prero on The Fast of the Tenth of Teves, “Asara B’Teves”

The Aruch HaShulchan concludes that we fast on this day because it marks the beginning of our sorrows – the first event in a chain which resulted in the eventual destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, and the exile of the nation of Israel. In the event that it were possible for this day to fall out on Shabbos (which it can not, because of our calendar system), there are authorities which said that we would still fast, although fasting on the Shabbos day is forbidden. Why would we nevertheless fast? We would fast because the words used by G-d to describe the events to the prophet Yechezkel were the same words used in conjunction with the description of Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year, on which we fast even if the day falls out on the Shabbos: the words “On this very day” “B’etzem hayom hazeh.”

If you haven’t yet listened to Rabbi Schiller’s tape on Orthodox Achdus, which gives a sophisticated and realistic approach to dealing with differences within Orthodoxy, please take the time today to give it a listen. You can download or listen to Orthodox Achdus here.

Doing a Better Hallel On Chanukah

Chanukah is a time of L’hodos U’l’hallel, To give thanks and praise to Hashem and we fulfill that obligation with the saying of the Full Hallel on Chanukah for all eight days. Here are some notes from Maharal: Emerging Patterns by Yaakov Rosenblatt on Hallel.

Give Praise Servants of Hashem from this time forth and forever more
Despite Hashem’s loftiness, He is still intimately involved with the life of man and continually bestows goodness through kindness, judgment or mercy.
He raise the needy from the dust is through judgment because the poor should be provided for.
To seat them with the nobles, nobles of His people is through kindness because although raising the poor out of poverty is just, elevating them to sit with nobles is an act of kindness.
He transforms the barren women into a joyful mother of children is an act of mercy since this women is not capable and therefore is not in the realm of judgment, nor is it kindness since children are not above and beyond human needs, rather it is mercy because even though this woman is unable to have children naturally, Hashem still allows her to conceive and bear children.

When Yisroel Went of out of Egypt, the House of Yaakov from a people of a Strange Language
After praising Hashem for His kindness through normal realms, we now praise Hashem for the miracles that transcend nature.
The sea saw and fled, the mountains skipped like rams, the hills like young sheep – water takes the shape of its container and the Earth is shaped by man. When Hashem acts and gives form and definition to all creation it is natural that the sea fled and the mountains skipped.
Hashem turned the rock into a pool of water, the flint into a fountain of waters – when Hashem is the force, even a rock is shaped effortlessly.

Not to us Hashem, but to Your Name Give Glory
This Psalm says the reason that Hashem performs miracles for the Jews is to give recognition to His name, His love and His truth. Only Hashem deserves this recognition and not things like idols which clearly have no power and are weaker than man. Man’s powers are listed in decreasing importance: speech, sight, hearing, smell, feeling, walking, and making sounds.

Hashem will Bless our Remembrance: He will Bless the House of Yisrael
Hashem will Bless our Remembrance requests that the lasting impact we will have on others and the world will be a blessing.
The Dead cannot praise Hashem, nor can any who go down into silence shows that only when the human body and the world are functioning properly can they “sing” the praises of Hashem. King David says allow us to live, allow us to thrive, so our very existence can proclaim your glory.

I love Hashem Who Hears my Voice and my Supplications
You have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling. King David thanks Hashem for saving his soul which represents the spiritual, the eyes which are the connection between the spiritual and the physical because they do not actively enter the world, but monitor it for the mind/soul to process, and the feet which represent the physical. Tears represent a loss of part of the soul.

How can I repay Hashem for all His kindness to me?
I will carry the cup that You have filled with salvation, and call upon the name of Hashem – A cup that is filled represents ones meaningful accomplishments and we think Hashem for the ability to act in meaningful ways.
I will carry …in my arms to show the cup that you filled precedes me and proclaims your greatness
I will pay my vows to Hashem in the Presence of all His People to use every opportunity to proclaim the greatness of Hashem and to publicly honor Hashem’s glory

Give Thanks to Hashem for He is Good
Thanks also mean to concede, so to the extent that a person recognizes and acknowledges the Hashem has given him everything is the extent to which he will thank Him. Different groups: humanity, Jews, Kohanim and G-d fearing people, have experienced different benefits and will therefore thank Hashem differently.

Out of My Distress I called upon Hashem
There are three levels of hatred, basic dislike (all the nations) because of economic, cultural or military threats, dislike due to differences in values which only the Jews hold (they surrounded me) and deep seated hatred (they surrounded me like bees) due to the subconscious understanding that the success of the nations is dependent on the Jew’s failure. If we act according to our spiritual potential the world’s event will be centralized around us for our benefit. If we do not, we are punished and the the nations are successful.

O praise Hashem all you Nations
Hallelukah combines a word of praise with Hashem’s name and is used to praise the miraculous because the only the one who created the worlds (Heh – this world, Yud – the next) can suspend the rules to perform miracles when he sees fit.

Beat the Rosh Chodesh Elul Rush – Start Thinking About Teshuva Today

Rosh Chodesh Elul is coming which means that the Teshuva season is about to begin. If we want to have a successful Rosh Hoshana and Yom Kippur, seforim strongly advise us to start early in the month. It’s a tremendous opportunity for growth and we’d be foolish not to take advantage of it.

Most of the current day Rebbeim advise us to pick something small. Maybe saying Asher Yotzar with Kavanna, or pausing before we speak on occasion or perhaps starting an extra 10 minute seder in Mussar, Mishnah or Tanach. The sky is truly the limit, but we have to start reaching for it when Elul begins.

Being that our goal is to get closer to Hashem and we’re doing mitzvos to accomplish that goal, it might make sense to try to do the mitzvos with a little more Kavanna. There are three simple thoughts we can have before doing any mitzvah:

1) Hashem commanded us to do the mitzvah
2) We are the ones being commanded
3) And the specific mitzvah, whose commandment we are fullfilling is …. (whatever mitzvah you are doing)

It’s really pretty simple and it will help us get so much more mileage out of the mitzvos we already do.

Here’s a few resources for extra motivation:

Stepping Stones to Repentance: A thirty-day program based on Ohr Yisrael the classic writings of Rav Yisrael Salanter By: Rabbi Zvi Miller here’s an excerpt

DAY ONE: “BOUNDLESS BLESSINGS”
“There is no enterprise that yields profit like preparation for the Day of Atonement. Through studying Mussar and reflecting on how to improve one’s ways, a person is inspired on Yom Kippur to make resolutions for the future. Even the smallest, most minute preparation to enhance one’s Yom Kippur experience is invaluable, bringing boundless blessings of success. It saves one from many troubles — and there is no greater profit than this.” (Ohr Yisrael, Letter Seven, p. 193)

Rebbetzin Tzipora Heller – Three Steps to Genuine Change. An excerpt:

In the course of our lives, we close doors to higher and deeper selves and sometimes forget that we, too, are more than earners, spenders, and travelers through life. Our thoughtless enslavement to mindless routine can leave us without much of a relationship to our souls. In a materialistic society, it is all too easy to view others as competitors. As toddlers we observed that when you have three cookies and give one away, all you have left are two. From that point onward we are afraid to give.

R’ Dovid Schwartz zt”l- Rabbi Yonah of Gerona – Guilt is Good – mp3

R’ Daniel Stein – Hilchos Teshuva Introduction – mp3

R’ Moshe Schwerd – Din V’Cheshbon – mp3

R’ Yakov Haber on Rosh Hoshana and Hirhur Teshuva according to Rav Soloveitchik can be downloaded here.

R’ Yakov Haber on Rosh Hoshana davening can be downloaded here.

A Yeshivish Fourth of July to All

Gettysburg Address – English Version
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war.

We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live.

It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this…The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.

It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here for the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.

It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us–that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of their devotion– that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain–that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom–and that the government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Gettysburg Address – Yeshivish Translation
Be’erech a yoivel and a half ago, the meyasdim shtelled avek on this makom a naiya malchus with the kavana that no one should have bailus over their chaver, and on this yesoid that everyone has the zelba zchusim.

We’re holding by a geferliche machloikes being machria if this medina, or an andere medina made in the same oifen and with the same machshovos, can have a kiyum.

We are all mitztaref on the daled amos where a chalois of that machloikes happened in order to be mechabed the soldiers who dinged zich with each other.

We are here to be koiveia chotsh a chelek of that karka as a kever for the bekavodike soldiers who were moiser nefesh and were niftar to give a chiyus to our nation.

Yashrus is mechayev us to do this… Lemaise, hagam the velt won’t be goires or machshiv what we speak out here, it’s zicher not shayach for them to forget what they tued uf here.

We are mechuyav to be meshabed ourselves to the melocha in which these soldiers made a haschala–that vibalt they were moiser nefesh for this eisek, we must be mamash torud in it–that we are all mekabel on ourselves to be moisif on their peula so that their maisim should not be a bracha levatulla– that Hashem should give the gantze oilam a naiya bren for cheirus– that a nation that shtams by the oilam, by the oilam, by the oilam, will blaib fest ahd oilam.

Weiser, Chaim M. 1995. The First Dictionary of Yeshivish. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, P. xxxiii.

Pirkei Avos from the Top

It’s week one again for Pirkei Avos and you can download an English translation here (Translation by Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld from his commentary at http://torah.org/learning/pirkei-avos). For those who don’t like to download PDFs, here is Chapter One:

Chapter 1
1. “Moses received the Torah from Sinai and transmitted it Joshua. Joshua transmitted it to the Elders, the Elders to the Prophets, and the Prophets transmitted it to the Men of the Great Assembly. They [the Men of the Great Assembly] said three things: Be deliberate in judgment, raise many students, and make a protective fence for the Torah.”
2. “Shimon the Righteous was of the last survivors of the Men of the Great Assembly. He used to say, the world is based upon three things: on Torah, on service [of G-d], and on acts of kindness.”
3. “Antignos of Socho received the transmission from Shimon the Righteous. He used to say, do not be as servants who serve the Master to receive reward. Rather, be as servants who serve the Master not to receive reward. And let the fear of heaven be upon you.”
4. “Yossi ben (son of) Yo’ezer of Ts’raidah and Yossi ben Yochanan of Jerusalem received the transmission from them. Yossi ben Yo’ezer used to say, let your house be a meeting place for the sages, cleave to the dust of their feet, and drink thirstily their words.”
5. “Yossi the son of Yochanan of Jerusalem said: Let your house be open wide, and let the poor be members of your household, and do not talk excessively with women. This was said regarding one’s own wife, certainly with another’s wife. Based on this the Sages have said, one who talks excessively with women causes evil to himself, wastes time from Torah study, and will eventually inherit Gehinnom (Hell).”
6. “Yehoshua the son of Perachia and Nittai of Arbel received the transmission from them (the Rabbis mentioned in Mishna 4). Yehoshua the son of Perachia said, make for yourself a Rabbi, acquire for yourself a friend, and judge everyone favorably.”
7. “Nittai of Arbel said, distance yourself from a bad neighbor, do not befriend a wicked person, and do not despair of punishment.”
8. “Yehuda the son of Tabbai and Shimon the son of Shatach received the transmission from them (the scholars mentioned in Mishna 6). Yehuda the son of Tabbai said, do not act as an adviser to judges. When the litigants are standing before you they should be in your eyes as guilty. When they are dismissed from before you they should be in your eyes as innocent, provided they have accepted the judgment.”
9. “Shimon the son of Shatach said, examine witnesses thoroughly, and be careful with your words, lest through them they learn to lie.”
10. “Shemaya and Avtalyon received the tradition from them (the scholars mentioned in mishna 8). Shemaya said, love work, despise high position, and do not become too close to the authorities.”
11. “Avtalyon said: ‘Sages, be careful with your words lest you deserve to be exiled and are exiled to a place of bad waters. The students who come after you will drink of these waters and die and God’s Name will be desecrated.’ “
12. “Hillel and Shammai received the transmission from them (the scholars mentioned in Mishna 10). Hillel said, be of the students of Aharon, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving people and bringing them closer to Torah.”
13. “He (Hillel) used to say, one who seeks a name loses his name, one who does not increase decreases, one who does not learn deserves death, and one who makes use of the crown [of Torah] will pass away.”
14. “He (Hillel) used to say, if I am not for me who is for me, if I am for myself what am I, and if not now when.”
15. “Shammai said, make your Torah study fixed, say little and do much, and receive everyone with a cheerful countenance.”
16. “Rabban Gamliel said, make for yourself a Rabbi, remove yourself from doubt, and do not give extra tithes due to estimation.”
17. “Shimon his [Rabban Gamliel’s] son said, all my life I have been raised among the Sages, and I have not found anything better for oneself than silence. Study is not the main thing but action. All who talk excessively bring about sin.”
18. “Rabbi Shimon the son of Gamliel said, on three things does the world endure – justice, truth and peace, as the verse says (Zechariah 8:16), ‘Truth and judgments of peace judge in your gates.’ ”

For Erev Rosh Chodesh Sivan – A Translation of The Shelah’s Prayer for Parents on Behalf of their Children

The Shelah HaKadosh says that Erev Rosh Chodesh Sivan is a special day to daven for your children’s spiritual and material needs. Here is an English Translation of the Shelah’s prayer he composed for this day. You can say the Hebrew version here.

You have been the Eternal, our G-d, before You created the world, and You are the Eternal, our G-d, since you created the world, and You are G-d forever. You created Your world so that Your Divinity should become revealed thorugh Your holy Torah, as our Sages expounded on the first word therein, and for Israel, for they are Your people and Your inheritance whom You have chosen from among all nations. You have given them Your holy Torah and drawn them toward Your great Name. These two commandments are, “Be fruitful and Multiply” and “You shall teach them to your children.” Their purpose is that You did not create the world to be empty, but to be inhabited, and that it is for Your glory that You created, fashioned, and perfected it, so that we, our offspring, and all the descendants of your people Israel will know Your Name and study Your Torah.

Thus I entreat You, O Eternal, supreme King of kings. My eyes are fixed on You until You favor me, and hear my prayer, and provide me with sons and daughters who will also be fruitful and multiply, they and their descendents unto all generations, in order that they and we might all engage in the study of Your holy Torah, to learn and to teach, to observe and to do, and to fulfill with love all the words of Your Torah’s teaching. Enlighten our eyes in Your Torah and attach our heart to Your commandments to love and revere Your Name.

Our Father, compassionate Father, grant us all a long and blessed life. Who is like You, compassionate Father, Who in compassion remembers His creatures for life! Remember us for eternal life, as our Forefather Avraham prayed, “If only Yishmael would live before You,” which the Sages interpreted as “…live in reverence of You.”

For this I have come to appeal and plead before You, that my offspring and their descendants be proper, and that You find no imperfection or disrepute in me or them forever. May they be people of peace, truth, goodness and integrity in the eyes of G-d and man. Help them to become practiced in Torah, accomplished in Scriptures, Mishnah, Talmud, Kabbalah, mitzvos, kindness, and good attributes, and to serve you with an inner love and reverence, not merely outwardly. Provide every one of them with their needs with honor, and give them health, honor and strength, good bearing and appearance, grace and loving-kindness. May love and brotherhood reign among them. Provide them with suitable marriage partners of scholarly and righteous parentage who will also be blessed with all that I have asked for my own descendants, since they will share the same fate.

You, the Eternal, know everything that is concealed, and to You all my heart’s secrets are revealed. For all my intention concerning the above is for the sake of Your great and holy Name and Torah. Therefore, answer me, O Eternal, answer me in the merit of our holy Forefathers Avraham, Yitzchak, and Ya’akov. For the sake of the fathers save the children, so the branches will be like the roots. For the sake of Your servant, David, who is the fourth part of Your Chariot, who sings with Divine inspiration.

A song of ascents. Fortunate is everyone who fears the Eternal, who walks in His ways. When you eat of the toil of your hands, you are fortunate, and good will be yours. Your wife is like a fruitful vine in the inner chambers of your home; your children are like olive shoots around your table. Look! So is blessed the man who fears the Eternal. May the Eternal bless you from Zion, and may you see the good of Jerusalem all the days of your life. May you see your children’s children, peace upon Israel.

Please, O Eternal, Who listens to prayer: May the following verse be fulfilled in me: “‘As for Me,’ says the Eternal, “this My covenant shall remain their very being; My spirit, which rests upon you, and My words which I have put in your mouth, shall not depart from your mouth nor from the mouths of your children, nor from the mouths of your children’s children,” said the Eternal, “from now to all Eternity.” May the words of my mouth and the thoughts of my heart be pleasing before You, Eternal, my Rock and my Redeemer.

What’s Up With the Hardcore Jewish People?

A friend sent us a link to a book called What’s Up With The Hard Core Jewish People? The excerpts help us understand a little better what some parents of Baalei Teshuva are going through:

“When our son, Carter, decided to blow off law school and stay in Jerusalem studying to be an Orthodox Rabbi, we were in cognitive dissonance. In our wildest dreams, we would have never expected such a thing. We needed to know what the hell just happened, why it happened, and what I needed to do to keep Carter’s desire to be an Observant Jew from breaking up our family. We had no one to turn to but the Hard Core Jewish People, and they’re no help. They thought what Carter was doing is the ‘bomb’. They lauded him for his courage — the consequences be damned. What about living 7,000 miles away from home on a different continent? What about the U.S. Department of State Travel Warning urging U.S. citizens to carefully weigh the necessity of their travel to Israel in light of the suicide bombings that were taking place on a regular basis? What about the divisiveness such a drastic lifestyle change can cause in a family? None of that matters because Torah rules! By learning Torah and teaching it to his children, Carter will be a part of the unbroken chain of Jewish tradition that has been carried from generation to generation for over 3,500 years. Oy!”

“The transformation from Secular to Observant Jew is rather shocking to those of us on the ‘dark side’. Why would anyone want to trade hedonism and materialism for Jewish spirituality and living up to God’s expectations of us?”

“We knew Carter was a goner when he told us he was shomer negiah. This means that other than a mother, grandmother, or sister (of which he has none), Carter can’t touch or be touched by a woman to whom he is not married. Even shaking hands is out of the question and pre-marital sex is definitely a no-no.”

“When we finally realized that Carter’s commitment to Judaism was for real and that he hadn’t been brainwashed, our job was to go into what I refer to as ‘Xanax-mode’ (staying calm no matter how preposterous something sounds) and my new favorite word became ‘whatever’.”

Originally Posted May 2006

Embracing Bais Yaakov Dress Standards – Differences Between Mother and Daughter

Bais Yaakov school dress standards often include duty length skirts (to the calf and not to the floor), loose fitting, legs fully covered with knee socks or stocking, past the elbow, staying away from fashion trends, etc..

Some FFBs and BTs did not embrace all these standards in their own dress, so they are faced with a contradiction between what they do and what they’re children are expected to do from their schools.

How have parents dealt with this issue?

Originally Published August, 2010.
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From the comments:

Belle says:

Tznius is a very hard mitzva for some girls to keep to. There is a lot of peer pressure to look cool, thin and pretty, and unfortunately many would say wearing an adorable mini skirt and tee shirt is more cool and pretty than a long pleated skirt and button down blouse. Having said that, then, when a parent herself “is not there yet” then the child will take that, consciously or unconsciously, as permission herself to be “not so strict.”

I think that a parent should choose which school best suits their family’s hashkafa and educational priorities. Then if the dress code is not in line with the parents’, it is incumbent on the parents to get it in line by the time the child is old enough to notice. Otherwise the child will detect hypocrisy (they are very very sensitive to that) and possibly reject the school’s teaching. The only exception I can think of is if the parent and child can honestly communicate about a single issue – let’s say wearing stockings – and the mother can say, “You know, I never grew up wearing stockings all the time and I still find it so hard to wear them in the summer. I wish I had the strength to do it because I think it is important, and I am going to try. But please know that I support that level of tznius and that is why I think that you need to wear them, you are still young and I want you to form good habits and have higher standards than I have.” If a child has maturity she will then see this not as hypocrisy but as a human struggle.

The real test, of course, like Judy Resnick says, is when the girl grows up and makes her own choices. Nothing that we do guarantees that someone else will choose to do mitzvos at the highest level, despite how they were raised. Sending them to a school with high standards is a good start, since that is what they get used to HOWEVER not if the school is too restrictive. Then it’s just a turn-off.

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From the comments:

Judy Resnick says:

At home, my husband and I were strict about Hilchos Tznius for me and my girls, and we sent our daughters to schools that were also strict in their dress codes. The girls were OK with this because it was accepted as the norm within their peer group and their friends and their community. Girls on the block where they grew up, even if they attended different schools, held by these standards. In addition, the girls in our shul and in other shuls in the community, and the girls they met at the playground or in summer camp, also held by these standards. Because they fit in comfortably and felt “normal” rather than “odd” or “weird” our daughters did not have a problem with Hilchos Tznius while growing up.

I did have a problem when the schools enforced rules that I thought went beyond Hilchos Tznius into some bizarre desire for ultra conformity. For example, the high school which my youngest daughter attended did not permit girls to wear their hair long and down over their shoulders: they had to tie up their long hair into a pony tail. They also did not permit dangling earrings: girls could only wear small stones in their ears. I also took issue with the ugly plaid skirts that were required for uniforms for high school girls. They were totally unattractive, making the girls look less mature, less smart and less thin all at the same time. However, I did not protest as I wanted my daughter to attend that school.

While I do my best to adhere to Hilchos Tznius in my own clothing, I do have personal issues with the limited color palette for frum women’s wear. If you go to an organization dinner, it looks Gd forbid just like a levaya, because all the women are wearing black. I’m not talking about looking garish or attracting attention, but why can’t we women wear some brighter colors sometimes, such as a tasteful dark red or a peach and aqua ensemble?

My four daughters are grown women now between the ages of 27 and 34. They are all wives and mothers and living independently. Three of them have chosen to continue observing Hilchos Tznius; the second girl has made choices and has decided not to do so, although she still keeps kosher, Shabbos and mikveh. I think you could describe this daughter as LWMO, not meaning anything negative toward LWMO or my daughter’s personal choice of her own observance level.