Monday, July 12, 2021

Rethinking Nefesh Hachaim - A Contemporary Mashgiach Reexamines a Yeshivishe Classic

The sefer נפש החיים, by Rav Chaim Volozhiner זצ"ל, is a Litvishe Yeshivishe classic studied by many. In recent years it has been the subject of new attention, both from inside and outside the traditional circles that study it. But there is also at times confusion and disagreement about some points related to the major work.

A great article in the current issue of the English language Mishpacha magazine takes a new look at the sefer with the well-known mashgiach Rav Reuven Leuchter שליט"א.

Rav Leuchter is an interesting personality, who Mishpacha has featured in the past. In a video interview with them some months ago, for example, he responded to a question about neo-Mussar vs. neo-Chassidus, revealed that in his Kollel there is no mussar seder (he made a tenai there shouldn't be one, "בשום פנים ואופן"!, see interview for explanation), and commented on teachings of self-development gurus as opposed to mussar.

It is nice to see such התחדשות (renewal) and sincere interest in such things these days. As Rav Leuchter grasps well, mussar and מצות אנשים מלומדה don't go together. Rote mussar is sort of an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms.

May הקב"ה give him the strength to continue his important work, and go מחיל אל חיל.

Friday, June 25, 2021

Crying at the Rebbe's Ohel - Chabad-Lubavitch Grapples With Massive Dropout Problem

 While the massive Chabad-Lubavitch PR machine continues to pump out the propaganda, broadcasting the message that they are the saviors of Yiddishkeit and Judaism around the world, and have some success duping the naive and unknowing (even some leaders who should know better), behind the glitz and out of the spotlight they are dealing with massive problems, especially among their Lubavitch from birth segment.

A good look at it can be gleaned from a recent post by a Lubavitch insider, and follow-up comments at one of their most prominent websites.

Of course, other groups have challenges as well, but sometimes we need a reminder that the grass is not necessarily greener on the other side.

May we merit the fulfillment of our davening request וטהר לבנו לעבדך באמת.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

How Many Shtreimels Does a Chasid Need?

 Non-shtreimel wearers may not be aware of this, but there are different types and categories of shtreimlech (we have touched on this previously, but additional info is presented now). 

Chasidim often have multiple shtreimels.

1) Regular shtreimel for Shabbos, Yom tov, etc.

2) Regen (rain) shtreimel, for use during rainy weather (often an old shtreimel assumes this function when it is retired from regular use after a new one is acquired), and humid days, which are allegedly bad for shtreimel fur.

Now we are told that some people get 

3) Another shtreimel for travel to places like the Catskills, Florida, and China, to avoid the hassle of shlepping their regular shtreimel there.

4) Many in the younger generation prefer "fringe shtreimels".

5) Shtreimels will always have "minor imperfections".

ב"ה, those that don't wear them are relieved of such needs, and can save $750 US and up.

א גוטען חודש

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

A Tale of Two Hillulas - A Look at the Middle Eastern Hillula Culture, with Effy from Bardak

 A number of months ago we featured a humorous video from Bardak, a duo of young talented frum producers of audio-visual material in Eretz Yisroel. While they seemingly took a break from their joint productions recently, Effy has been producing some fine videos of his own of late, I discovered.

I want to focus on two of the productions in particular, to share a look into the "Hillulah culture" that exists in Eretz Yisroel and elsewhere. It will give us an idea of what what this Sephardic, or Edot Hamizrach phenomenon, later joined by Chasidim (to one degree or another, some more, some less) was and is like. Getting a good look at it will also give us a better understanding of, and insight into those גדולי ישראל and עדות הקדושות who decided that it was not in accordance with their Litvish or Ashkenazic way of Yiddishkeit (basically all non Chasidic Ashkenazim).

First, on י"ד אייר was the Hillulah of R. Meir Baal Hanes. Effy was there on that day, and gave us a good view of the scene. It seems that not many Ashkenazim partake in it, and that it is much smaller than the goings on in Meron a few days later, on ח"י אייר.

At Meron, Effy visited a few days before ל"ג בעומר, before massive crowds arrived, enabling a good look at the background of the large event, in a relaxed atmosphere.

One can easily discern how things like the camping out, eating, drinking, making merry, and the hawking of easy "ישועות", are foreign to a Litvishe or Ashkenaz type of mindset.

May הקב"ה help us serve him in truth, וטהר לבנו לעבדך באמת, and in safety and tranquility.

Friday, April 30, 2021

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Dispersing Distortion - On the Authentic Legacy of Reb Shaya ben R. Moshe Steiner of Kerestir

Not long ago, earlier this month, there was a flurry of media activity around the yahrzeit of Reb Shaya of Kerestir, a Chasidic Rebbe from Hungary who passed away close to a century ago. Reb Steiner, a folk hero in his time, whose image was preserved, disseminated, and displayed by some long afterward, due, in part, to a purported utility in combating vermin, in recent years has garnered new attention and constituents in various forms. Among them, a sizable English language book, increased visits to his resting place, new songs related to him, along with various charity and prayer initiatives, inducing contributors at times with miraculous tales and promises of salvation.

For those who look beyond the superficial, however, doubts arise if all of the related activity and hype is really in his spirit, and appropriate.

An excellent piece by the renowned writer Avrohom Birnbaum discussing this question was just published in the Yated Ne'eman (USA) newspaper.

Two points he makes in particular are 1) Reb Shaya fed the poor, particularly many in his time and place who were destitute. Making a fress-fest for the well-fed who might be better off with a strict diet is not what he was about. 2) His stress on the greatness and importance of "poshute Yidden" does not mean that those able to rise higher should suffice with such a level.

May Hashem grant us the wisdom to discern between appropriate imitation and faux veneration.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Chasidic vs. Non-Chasidic Davening - Myth vs. Reality - Moving Beyond Old Stereotypes

There is a notion that exists among some, that when it comes to davening, עבודה שבלב, Chasidic davening is, by default, superior than non-Chasidic davening. And not just slightly better, but greatly so, of a different nature and a different class almost.

But is that actually true?

Not long ago, I saw an article at a Lubavitch website, in which a Lubavitcher Rosh Yeshiva strongly chastised his fellow Chasidim for their dismal level of davening, their speeding in it, and lack of kavannah. And the truth is, one can see the same in more than a few other places, in other Chasidic groups as well.

In the old days, Chasidim used to claim that non-Chasidim daven without heart, and with rapidity. Now it seems that many of them are the ones that are leading in that. On the other hand, in many non-Chasidic minyanim, especially (but not limited to) yeshivos and yeshiva type minyanim, davening is often on a relatively exalted level, at a measured pace, with limited talking, and a serious atmosphere of כוונה.

Now of course, we are just generalizing here. There is a wide range of variety and level of Chasidic davening, as there is non-Chasidic davening. But I think it should be clear to honest observers, that the notion that Chasidic davening is automatically way above non-Chasidic davening is not true, sometimes is היפך האמת, and should find repose in the dustbin of history.

In fact, there are grounds to suspect that the longer davening of Chasidim (they have additional tefillos that נוסח אשכנז does not have), and their insistence, על פי קבלה, on not skipping things in the סידור, thereby limiting the application of the כלל of טוב מעט בכוונה מהרבות בלא כוונה, contributes especially to an excessive speeding while davening problem among them, as some people feel compelled to recite many pages in a limited time, which they can only accomplish by speed davening. This is even more acute of an issue in the modern era, when we grapple with an additional reported problem of short attention spans among many.

May Hashem help us merit the fulfillment of וטהר לבנו לעבדך (תרתי משמע - בכלל, וגם עבודה שבלב בפרט) באמת בקרוב.

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