Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Emes-Torah Interface - Insights from Rav Shmuel Rozovsky zt"l

Rav Shmuel Rozovsky (English) zt"l, who served as Rosh Yeshiva in Ponevezh Yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel after moving there from Lita, was one of the leading Litvishe gedolim of recent times. Since he passed away at a relatively young age (in his sixties) over thirty five years ago, he is not as well known, especially among the younger generation in the diaspora, as he might have otherwise been. But people in the know, and mevinim, recognize a gem when they see one.

A fine, illustrated biographical work on Rav Shmuel was published within the last year, which I looked at a bit in recent months. One chapter in it that drew my attention in particular, was the one (chapter twenty eight, bigematria koach, strength) on midas ha'emes, truthfulness. The fact that it was such an important and central part of his life, as to merit a chapter of its own, is itself telling and beautiful.

I would like to share some gems from that part of the book about this great gaon and tzaddik.

Rav Shmuel cited a verse from Tehillim 119:163 שקר שנאתי ואתעבה תורתך אהבתי (loose translation - I hated falsehood, and loathed it, your Torah I loved), expounding upon it that there is a connection between hating sheker-falsehood, and loving Torah. For Ahavas HaTorah, one first must hate falsehood, sheker.

Rav Shmuel took it further as well, observing from the double expression of the posuk that hating falsehood was not enough, but rather it should also be loathed, seen as something disgusting, something that a person can't stand.

Rav Shmuel remarked that a mouth that speaks sheker (ר"ל) is not mesugal (not favorably inclined) to being a talmid chacham amiti (an authentic high level talmid chacham) (my understanding and elaboration - of course such people could repeat teachings which others have already brought to this world, and even add to or expound on them, in olam hazeh where sheker is strong, Hashem yeracheim, however shortcomings in emes hamper true advancement at higher levels).

He connected emes with behirus - truth with clarity. If something (e.g. a piece of Torah teaching) is true, correct, it is naturally clear. It is no coincidence then, that he was renowned for his great clarity.

In an instance when a particular presentation didn't make him happy, he held back from accepting it. He remarked zeh lo misameach osi - it doesn't make me happy. That to him was an indication that it was not emes, since Torah, which is emes, goes together with happiness (see e.g. Tehillim 19:9, פקודי ה' ישרים משמחי לב).

He also saw lack of precision and exaggeration as forms of sheker, and stood strongly against them as well, in addition to more obvious and blatant falsehood.

Naturally, there are also some fine stories about his being modeh al ha'emes in public, even when it could reflect negatively on his scholarship, such as stopping his shiur upon worthwhile objection to it from a talmid, as well as other, more unique examples.

Since time is limited, and I don't have the sefer with me at the moment either, I will stop here now, confident that the brief tidbits above are sufficient to give over the basic flavor of the chapter, and whet the appetite for further study.

May we be zoche to follow in the way of Rav Shmuel zt"l, a true Litvishe gadol, who displayed the authentic beauty of the derech ha'emes, and become outstanding in truthfulness and Torah as he was.

A freilichen Chanukah.

P.S. It seems quite clear that Rav Shmuel would be strongly against those who take liberties and are less than truthful in relating allegedly inspirational stories and so on, with the excuse that they are doing so to inspire people in their Yiddishkeit. One does not build Toras Emes of Hakadosh Boruch Hu by entering into a joint venture with the 'other side'.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Slonimer Sensation, or Overactive Imagination?

A few days ago, I read with interest a piece at a new high level Jewish website about an alleged "Slonimer sensation".

Someone reading the piece, about a past leader of one of the factions of Slonimer Chasidim, referred to as the Nesivos Shalom, by the name of his written work, could emerge from it thinking that Nesivos Shalom has surpassed the Mesilas Yeshorim in popularity, ר"ל, and that it is the greatest thing to hit the Orthodox world since sliced bread and daf yomi.

It is so overdone, that a reality check is sorely needed, which hopefully will be accomplished here, since I don't see others addressing it.

While it is true that the Nesivos Shalom has gained in popularity in recent years, the piece, however, is compromised by hyperbole. It conjures up images of people in suburban America, worlds apart from, and limited in knowledge of contemporary Chasidic life, nevertheless viewing themselves as experts on it. Though they may be quite knowledgable in some aspects of it, they may be lacking in other areas, such as context.

Let me address some of the arguments of the writer now, in some detail.

A) The writer posits the existence of a "Slonimer sensation", taking the Jewish world by storm with a 'stunning degree' of popularity.

Based on what? Numbers of google results. Ahhh. Rebbe Google, the posek hador, strikes again. Google paskened that Nesivos Shalom > Mesilas Yeshorim > Alei Shur. The problem is that Rebbe Google is a sheigetz. And an am haaretz gamur. And not only in limudei kodesh, in limudei chol as well!

If you follow that same yardstick, you could also conclude that Donald Trump > George Washington > Thomas Jefferson > Abraham Lincoln  (google Donald Trump = around 482,000,000 results, George Washington = 346,000,000, Thomas Jefferson = 87,2000,000, Abraham Lincoln = 54,500,000), something I haven't heard from even his most ardent supporters.

Additionally, many of the results for Netivot Shalom in google are not for the Slonimer work, but rather for left leaning congregations, and other irrelevant for this discussion entries.

B) The writer claims that since some people allegedly refer to the Nesivos Shalom simply as "The Slonimer", that shows a special degree of affinity that exists for him. I, however, suspect that they call him that because they know of no other Slonimer. They don't know about the Litvishe history of Slonim. But even on the Chasidic side, they don't know that Slonimer Chasidus has been divided for many years, and that multitudes of Slonimer Chasidim did not accept the Nesivos Shalom as their Rebbe. To these people, however, Slonim = Nesivos Shalom, hence the Nesivos Shalom is "The Slonimer", as if he were the only Slonimer Rebbe ever, rather than one of many over the years. However, the truth is that even when he was serving as Rebbe for his faction, he was not the only Slonimer Rebbe. He was only the leader of one part of a divided sect.

To refer to him then, as "The Slonimer", unqualified, is like calling The Rebbe of Satmar in Kiryas Joel "The Satmarer". Is it absolutely wrong? No. But it is only part of the truth. Satmar is divided into two (main, there are other smaller ones as well) factions. Bobov is divided into two. Vizhnitz has two Rebbes. Other groups have more than two Rebbes.

For more about the divisions in Slonim, see this Hebrew Wikipedia entry.

The parallel English Wikipedia entry, although it has much less information about the split in Slonimer Chasidus, at least mentions it.

However, the Nesivos Shalom English editions (this recent volume, for example), seem to contain no mention of the fact that Slonim has more than one Rebbe. Which leads people to assume that all Slonimers are united as followers of R. Berezovsky. I think that at least it should allude to it, and not give people the impression that the Nesivos Shalom was the undisputed Slonimer Rebbe.

C) The writer posits that R. Berezosky was unique, as he came from a background which combined both Chasidic and non-Chasidic influences, as well as other non-Slonimer Chasidic ones, due to his teaching at a Lubavitcher Yeshiva in adulthood.

As to the first point, other Yeshivos - Chasidic, Misnagdic, and other) also had varied influences and faculty, perhaps more than Slonim as well.

Re the second point, his teaching in a Lubavitcher Yeshiva for a time, I am afraid that that is not as unique as it is made out to be as well. For example, Maran HaRav Schach, זצוקללה"ה זי"ע, taught in a Chasidic Yeshiva too, for a number of years, of Karliner Chasidim, upon the invitation of their Rebbe. Rav Yisroel Gustman זצ"ל taught at a Lubavitcher Yeshiva for a while as well.

The view from here

The reality as I see it, is that, yes, of course, the Nesivos Shalom has attained a degree of popularity beyond his home community (thanks to articulate fans in places like California and Minnesota promoting him to the English speaking world, in their language, in part), but much less so than a casual reader of the Lehrhaus piece might think. Some individuals who are eclectic in their tastes may enjoy him. Some of those types otherwise affiliate with the Litvishe-Yeshivishe world, but, maybe to inject some variety into their lives (perhaps they are on a too narrow contemporary Litvishe spiritual diet, as opposed to the more broad based, balanced, and holistic diet advocated by gedolei Lita such as Gaon of Vilna) occasionally look to the Chasidic world for something different. In the past (and perhaps present too), some such types looked to Reb Tzadok of Lublin, or the Sefas Emes, in the way they look at the Nesivos Shalom now. Some may think it is 'cool' to throw in some Chasidic sources at times (I am reminded of a time when I heard a prominent Litvishe type speaker addressing a crowd, citing 'the heilige Slonimer Rebbe, the Nesivas Shalom' ['the holy Slonimer Rebbe, the Nesivas Shalom']. He was such a big Slonimer Chasid, בלשון סגי נהור, that he didn't even get the name of the sefer right), or do it as an attempt to show that they are more broadminded than they may seem. But overall, I don't believe the Litvishe-Yeshivishe World as a whole has flocked to the Nesivos Shalom en masse (for example, is there any standard Litvishe yeshiva that has a regular seder in it?).

In conclusion, while I have taken issue with some of the piece about the Nesivos Shalom, particularly the former part of it, I think that the analysis and ruminations in the latter segment on spiritual leadership are valuable and worthy of consideration. Litvaks (Misnagdim, or non Chasdidim) should consider why some who generally affiliate with their world, nevertheless, sometimes look elsewhere for inspiration, and ponder if that indicates an imbalance in some of their institutions, which should be addressed with wisdom, if necessary.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Stealth Messianism at Chabad-Lubavitch Shluchim Conference Banquet (?)

Earlier this week, as the 'mainstream' Lubavitcher shluchim conference wound down (many people do not realize that their rival, the overtly messianic wing of Lubavitch, had their own shluchim conference at the same time, a parallel shadow government to the R. Krinsky wing, which can be followed at overtly messianic websites, such as this one), their annual banquet was held. Unlike other parts of the conference, which are not open to the public, it was broadcast for all to see. As a large part of the Lubavitcher PR campaign, much effort is put into the event, an elaborate theater production, which is intended to project an image of Lubavitch as being a cosmopolitan vanguard of traditional Judaism, ubiquitous, and unstoppable. A cavernous hall, giant video screens, big sound, and elaborate lighting effects, are used to those ends. At the end of the event a "rollcall" is held, to much fanfare, calling shluchim of different countries to stand when their locales are named, to give the impression that Lubavitch is everywhere. At the conclusion of it, an additional call is made, asking those sent out before the late Rebbe passed away to stand, with their number displayed in screen, followed by those who went out after his passing, whose larger tally is shown as well. The message is clear. Those who said that Lubavitch would fall apart after the Rebbe's death were very, very, wrong. Just look at the statistics.

As part of this sophisticated PR effort, messianism is hidden at the event, as the idea is to promote an image of Lubavitch as mainstream orthodoxy. Yechis, yechi yarmulkas, and moshiach flags are not seen or heard. On the other hand, however, the Rebbe is not referred to with זצ"ל or נ"ע either, which is definitely noteworthy. He is referred to in the manner of someone who is alive.

I noticed one interesting thing related to this, which probably eluded most non Lubavitch attendees. Just after seven minutes into the video, Tehillim was said. But what part of Tehillim? "The Rebbe's kapital" (#115), followed by "the Rebbetzin's kapital" (#116). But what is the connection of those chapters specifically with the late Lubavitcher Rebbe and Rebbetzin? The answer is, that Lubavitchers have a custom that the kapital of Tehillim corresponding to the year of a person's life they are in, has a special meaning for them. So if someone is seventy two years old, meaning that they are now in the seventy third year of their life, kapital #73 is their kapital that year. In the last days of the last Rebbe, who passed away at age ninety two, twenty two years ago, his kapital was kapital 93. That is how it works with a living person. What if someone has passed away? I assume the practice is then ended. However, the Lubavitchers were treating the Rebbe (b. 1902)  as if he was still alive, and therefore in the 115th year of his life. The same for the Rebbetzin, who was a bit older, who was treated as she was in her 116th year.

The question is, if they are saying kapitlach for the deceased, according to their years, why didn't they say kapital 137 for the Rebbe R. Yosef Yitchak (b.1880), the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, then as well?

Something to think about.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Charedi paparazzi - A Rare Inside Look

Interesting short video (Hebrew, with Hebrew subtitles), with accompanying text, exploring the phenomenon of Charedi paparazzi, as well as looking at the related Gedolim photo magazines, Gedolim cards, stickers, and albums.

Among those shown are Maran Rav Chaim Kanievsky shlit"a, a photographer who specializes in Sephardi gedolim, Gerrer and Vizhnitzer Rebbes, along with an analysis of the levush of Chasidic Rebbes, with a commenter comparing different bekeshes for home and away from home of the Vizhnitzer Rebbe to different football (USA soccer) uniforms for home and away games.

In this coverage, the proliferation of, and explosion in the amount of such photos, is viewed quite positively. According to the video, children who now play with gedolim stickers and cards, previously would play with cards of football/soccer stars or movie stars, with their accompanying negative sights and influences. So it was seen as being much better for them to play with gedolim cards instead, even if the photos end up on the floor sometimes.

That logic seems sound. So even if I might have reservations about some aspects of it, and it wasn't exactly that way in the alte heim, I am not going to blast the phenomenon at large at this time. Kids need things to do, and we have to consider the alternatives.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Mishlei Gender Gap and Its Consequences

Shlomo Hamelech, the חכם מכל אדם (wisest of men), wrote a sefer commonly referred to as "Mishlei".

A kinnui classically used for ספר משלי is ספר החכמה (the book of wisdom).

The book of wisdom, authored by the wisest of men. Seems like quite a piece of work. Who would pass on such a great read?

Unfortunately, however, it does not get as much attention as it should, especially among some portions of the tzibbur of male lomdei Torah (of course, the men have many others things they need to learn, such as major areas of gemara, and halacha, which take up much time and energy). On the other hand, on the female side, it gets a lot of attention. The result is a major gender gap when it comes to knowledge of Mishlei among אחינו בני ישראל.

The situation has gotten so bad that some people think of Mishlei as ווייבישע תורה, something like Tzena Urena, a portion of Torah designated for women, like an ezras nashim of תורה שבכתב. Of course, why some of the greatest gedolim, such as the Vilna Gaon, and Rabbeinu Yonah, wrote extensive peirushim on Mishlei, if it was just for talmidos of Beis Yaakov and seminaries, might be somewhat of a mystery then.

In addition to a general deficit in Torah knowledge, that a lack of any cheilek in Torah would mean, Mishlei is a treasure trove of practical wisdom for living life, of various hashkafos and eitzos. Now women have already had an advantage of over men in the area of בינה, due to their innate bina yeseira. But, that is balanced by an advantage in the area of חכמה on the male side, especially חכמת התורה. However, if women will be the only ones learning Mishlei, the sefer hachochmoh, that could create a serious imbalance in gender relations, which could negatively affect things like שלום בית and שידוכים, in addition to life in general.

Therefore I was happy to recently see a report of a grand siyum on sefer Mishlei in Lakewood. According to it, a Shul there was learning the sefer slowly, בעיון, בציבור, for fifteen (!) years, before reaching its conclusion. ברוך שזכינו.

If we could correct a skewed playing field so simply, by having more men learn משלי (and quicker than in fifteen years), wouldn't it be a great thing? Besides, Mishlei is such an enjoyable limud anyway, it is a win-win-win idea.

As the old expression goes, if only the עם חכם ונבון would have א ביסעלע שכל (a little seichel). With more people, especially men, learning and internalizing Mishlei, that could be attained in greater measure. May we merit a closing, and ultimately a disappearing, of the Mishlei gap soon.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Narrowness in scope of Torah study is one of the great tzaros of our time - Rav Avraham Pam זצ"ל

Such narrowness is a צרה not only because that Hebrew word comes from the root צר, meaning narrow (as in מקום צר, a narrow place).  It is a צרה because eagerly awaiting visit and exploration are a land mass of twenty four sacred books, כ"ד ספרים, of תורה שבכתב,  as well as a sea of talmud (ים התלמוד), positioned around six Mishnaic orders (ששה סדרי משנה), with thousands of pages for the Jewish man to traverse, along with many more treasures and adventures (such as deep sea Talmudic diving, inspecting sunken ships of the past, and prospecting for hidden valuables) beyond. And if some stay in a safe harbor of a selected few pages, rather than visiting the great expanses beyond, they will miss out on worlds, and not be able to ascend to the higher ranks of captains and commanders in the Torah realm.

Correcting a serious misconception

Some people mistakenly believe that the Litvishe tradition of Torah study does not esteem or demand broad based Torah knowledge (aka בקיאות). That notion, however, is emphatically not correct, and needs to be strongly refuted, which ב"ה it was recently, in a featured excerpt of a sefer in a widely distributed newspaper (the Flatbush Jewish Journal, a publication out of NY), citing the leading Litvak sages Rav Avraham Pam zt"l, and Rav Elazar Menachem Man Schach zt"l.

The greatly revered and loved Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Torah Vodaas, Rav Avraham Pam zt"l, was known as a mild mannered man, and a great baal middos (of exemplary character and conduct). He was not a person who was seeking to criticize others, particularly students of Torah, who were so beloved to him. But he did, nevertheless, feel compelled to speak out strongly (in his soft-spoken way) against the problem (among some) of narrowness in scope of Torah study, echoing the great Rav Elazar Menachem Man Schach zt"l.

Both of those towering Litvishe Torah authorities, by the way, were old school Litvaks, the real McCoy, so to speak, not some synthetic modern hybrid versions. Rav Pam, despite his American citizenship, was a genuine Litvak, born in the Eastern European homeland of Litvishe Yidden, who studied Torah in Kovno, Lithuania, as well as being a close talmid of Rav Dovid Leibowitz, great-nephew of the Chofetz Chaim, and founder of ישיבת רבינו ישראל מאיר הכהן, after migrating to the USA. Rav Schach as well, despite his many decades in Eretz Yisroel, was at his root, also a Litvak from Jewish Lithuania.

  The relevant segment can be seen in the feature "A Vort from Rav Pam" (from the great sefer by that name) starting on P.4 of the FJJ issue of this past parshas Vayeilech, and continuing and concluding on p. 82 there.

May we merit Torah broadness in the path of our great gedolim.

P.S. The Sukkos edition of Yated Ne'eman of NY, has a precious interview with Maran Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky shlit"a (by Avrohom Birnbaum), in which this topic is touched upon. It says there that in the early days of Lakewood, the (BMG) Rosh Yeshiva went away to Eretz Yisroel during the winter one year, and came back after after Purim, whereupon he gave a shiur on daf nun zayin (דף נז) of the מסכת. They had learned - and during first seder yet (so I asssumed - but perhaps lav davka) - from the beginning of the mesechta until daf 57. רב שמואל שליט"א is then asked, what happened, why yeshivos cover less ground now? The response given is twofold. One, that when Mirrer talmidim came from Shanghai, things slowed down, as they were used to learning slower than than the Kletzker Rosh Yeshiva, and two, that there were very few seforim (on gemara) in Lakewood in those days to distract them, so they were able to plow ahead and proceed veiter.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Litvishe spirituality - The role of the yeshiva mashgiach, as seen by Rav Shlomo Wolbe zt"l

The Yated Neeman newspaper from New York, in its current Rosh Hashanah issue, contains an important feature, based on an interview with famed משגיח and מחנך Rav Shlomo Wolbe zt"l approximately thirty years ago. In the piece, crafted masterfully by senior writer Avrohom Birnbaum, we get valuable insight into the role of the mashgiach (director of spiritual guidance), in Litvishe yeshivos, in the glory days of yore.

Nowadays, when the role of mashgiach is often diminished, if it exists at all (in some places it carries on, but in others it has totally disappeared, while in yet other places, Chasidim have been appointed to it, a move not in accordance with the mesorah of Litvishe yeshivos), it is quite worthwhile to gain new understanding and appreciation of the role of the mashgiach, at its highest level. Unfortunately, some people think of a mashgiach as a type of policeman checking with his watch if a student was late for seder or davening, for example, and accordingly dispensing fines, discipline, and so on. And perhaps in an institution for minors there is a place for that. But a classical mashgiach in the ישיבה גדולה sense, is really a source of vital, life-giving spiritual guidance, meaning, and counseling, via public and private activity, even up to the level of spiritual resuscitation, rather than being a petty enforcer of minor institutional rules and regulations.

Here are a few important points, in brief, from the feature.

1) Rav Wolbe strongly lamented the dearth of mashgichim today (thirty years ago, קל וחומר now). It greatly pained him. He wondered how the lack is excused. They claim that there is no Rav Yerucham (Levovitz), or Rav Chatzkel (Levenstein) (legendary mashgichim of yesteryear) today, he said. But there is no Rav Boruch Ber or Rav Shimon Shkop either now. Yet they still have Roshei Yeshiva. So why not mashgichim as well? יפתח בדורו כשמואל בדורו.

2) When asked why Roshei Yeshiva are being produced now, but not Mashgichim, he replied, simple - it is much easier to be a Rosh Yeshiva than a Mashgiach.

3) Rav Yerucham Levovitz on the respective roles of Rosh Yeshiva and Mashgiach - the Rosh Yeshiva straightens out the mind, but the mashgiach straightens out the heart.

4) When queried about his tremendous deference to his own mashgiach, he stated that Rav Yerucham brought him back to life, a kind of spirtual resuscitation, techiyas hameisim, and he did that to many others as well.

5) The purpose of a mashgiach is to elevate people, to create Torah personalities, to teach bochurim how to think independently, to form their world outlook. In that regard, Rav Wolbe cited the directive of Rav Yisroel Salanter זצ"ל to the Alter of Slabodka, that his task in a yeshiva should be להחיות רוח שפלים ולהחיות לב נדכאים (to breathe life into the spirit of the lowly, and into the heart of the shattered).

6) Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz zt"l, a Rosh Yeshiva, who acted as a mashgiach in terms of giving mussar type talks as well (showing the possibility of a Rosh Yeshiva having characteristics of a mashgiach too), was not self-made in that role. Rather, he was a talmid of Rav Yerucham.

For those interested in more, see p.52-56 in the Yated Neeman.

May we be zoche that the crown of elevated השגחה of the Litvishe tradition be maintained (where it still survives), as well as restored to its former glory (where it has perhaps been lost).

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Cast Down the Viduy Booklets? Response to a Leading Neo-Hasidic Leader and Mashpia

What are וידוי booklets, you may ask?

Well, some years ago, some people who are מדקדק במצות (scrupulous in their observance of Hashem's commandments), in order to be mezakeh the rabbim (merit the public), to enhance the seasonal prayers and עבודה (Divine service) of the ימי תשובה, the season of repentance, published some small booklets, expounding on different forms of viduy recited in the season (an integral component of the teshuvah process), which are focused on in this time of the year, to make it more meaningful and relevant for those who seek such things.

An updated version of one that has been around for many years, is shown here. Another one, from Artscroll, can be seen here.

Fine and dandy you say, huh? Who could have a problem with that? However, to a prominent neo-Hasidic leader, for some reason, they are viewed not as a welcome enhancement, but as a serious problem. Rabbi Moshe Weinberger, Mashpia at Yeshiva University, Rabbi of Congregation Aish Kodesh in Woodmere, NY, and leader of the neo Hasidic movement, just came out with a scathing attack on such publications. In a gathering at his congregation a few days ago, he ridiculed them (relevant segments being at 69:40 mainly, as well as at 81:20). According to Weinberger they are problematic, because a person should not dwell too much on sin, rather they should concentrate on positive things, citing certain Hasidic teachings to that effect, particularly on the pasuk לב חכם לימינו ולב כסיל לשמאלו.

Now, there is some logic to that. Standard (non Hasidic) Jewish sources also warn against dwelling excessively on sins of the past. However, as part of the teshuvah (repentance) process we also have mitzvos of viduy which are intensified and focused on around the beginning of a new year. And Rabbi Weinberger himself mentions that in his talk. But then, he goes on to bash viduy booklets, which are useful aides for some people, adjuncts to do the mitzvos in a meaningful manner, going so far as to relate approvingly that when he got one as a youngster his father objected to it and threw it to the floor! He ridicules them to the delighted laughter of his Modern Orthodox audience.

To lash out at such legitimate and honorable works that are utilized by sincere Jews, ehrliche Yidden, is not appropriate in general, and certainly not for someone who (allegedly) is a big leader, and merits a signficant מחאה.

Ironically, it is the Hasidic nusach Sfard order of prayer, which is the nusach of Rabbi Weinberger and his congregation, which says viduy much more often than regular non-Hasidic Jews, having viduy as part of its daily weekday services through most of the year, while the nusach Ashkenaz used by non Hasidim, conversely, does not generally say it year round, but rather only at special times like תענתים and  עשרת ימי תשובה. The Vilna Gaon, the great Misnaged, limits it even further. According to the גר"א, viduy (the short אשמנו version, as well as the longer על חטא version) is only said once during daily selichos (as opposed to three times, as others commonly do), as well as only once per tefillah of Yom Kippur (e.g. once during maariv, once during shacharis, once during musaf, once during mincha). As opposed to others who say it an additional time per tefillah with the shliach tzibbur.

Sadly, this is not the first time that inappropriate rhetoric emanated from this personality. A previous case, discussed at this website in the past, was related to his speaking approvingly about dancing on Tisha Be'Av. Other cases, discussed elsewhere, include his wholesale bashing of kollelim. Even before that, he made other extreme statements that generated much controversy, and elicited criticism.

ב"ה it is never too late to repent, as long as people are alive. And for institutions who employ unworthy spiritual leaders, there is also room for rectifying past mistakes, and turning over a new leaf with new appropriate leadership. With the Richard Joel era winding down at YU, questionable initiatives and hires of his tenure should be reexamined as well.

May we all merit true teshuvah speedily.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Shabbos with Steven Hill (Reb Shlomo Hill) z"l

The news spread quickly. The famous Reb Shlomo (Steven) Hill was niftar the other day. Interesting posts appeared about his life and character on various websites.

I did not know him personally, nor from television or movie gazing.

But for me, Reb Shlomo Hill was still special.

I have fond memories of him, from a great recording released over twenty years ago, "A Taste of Shabbos", with Dov Levine, which he narrated beautifully, faithfully transmitting the taste of that special day.

If you have never heard it, you might want to take a listen now. Or listen once again, to savor the experience. I don't know if Reb Hill composed the lyrics, or just delivered them. Either way, he shone with a great performance. Seemingly simple words, but depth is there too.

A while back, Charie Bernhaut featured the album on his music broadcast. You can hear extensive clips there (scroll down to show #284, in the first hour) via the archived version, and get a taste of the magnificence of Reb Shlomo Hill.

תנצב"ה

(previously entitled The Jewish Majesty of Reb Shlomo (Steven) Hill z"l, and Hill Shines For Shabbos - "A Taste of Shabbos" with Reb Shlomo (Steven) Hill z"l )

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Gematria Abuse

Gematria is an ancient art, which features in Jewish tradition at times (Wikipedia has quite an interesting, elaborate entry on it). That does not mean, however, that any and all such calculations conjured up are particularly significant. Not all gematriyaos are equal. Some can be laughable or repulsive. Others can be part of Torah.

Recently, with excitement, someone stated to me, that Donald Trump is be-gematria משיח בן דוד, while his opponent was equivalent to a Biblical villain in calculation. I guess a partisan somewhere put it together to pitch their favored candidate.

I responded that I can't go along with it, and that if we went according to (such) gematriaos, 770 (Eastern Parkway) is בית משיח.  :)

Note: this is not an endorsement or non endorsement of any candidate.

(Of course, the thing is laughable. How can someone from non-Davidic stock be Moshiach ben David, after all? And someone not of a nationality the Torah condemns is not that either.)

Sometimes these gematria abuses seem like cases of people painting a target around an arrow, after it was shot. In other cases it just seems like play and humor. Perhaps this case is a combination of the above.

May all our calculations be accurate and on target.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Makom Shelibo Chafeitz - Restoring a Forgotten Fundamental of Torah Study

לכבוד זמן מתן תורתנו

The תורה הקדושה is our main connection to Hashem. It is available to everyone. However, to tap into it on a higher level, one needs to develop a personal connection with it, to gain ownership of it, so to speak. As Chazal tell us (commenting on Tehillim 1:2) regarding a pious man, first it is called תורת השם, Hashem's Torah, and later, after he contemplates in it day and night, it is called תורתו, his Torah, as if he made a kinyan (act of acquisition) and acquired it as his own.

The teaching of Chazal that we just mentioned is from the gemara in מסכת עבודה זרה דף יט עמוד א.

That same daf, shortly afterward, also contains a very important principle, that can help one connect to the Torah in a more personal way, that unfortunately is not so well known today it seems. Namely that a person should learn Torah in a place his heart desires, במקום שלבו חפץ. That means that if he desires to learn מסכת גיטין, he should learn that, מסכת בבא קמא, let him learn that, חומש, let him learn that, מדרש, let him learn that, הלכה let him learn that, אגדה, let him learn that, and so on.

This important principle was taught by none other than the great רבי.

In the modern era, the great Chofetz Chaim reaffirmed the validity and importance of it.

The Torah has so many aspects and so many spiritual flavors and delights, so to speak. Sometimes one's soul is in need of a certain type of spiritual nourishment found in a part of the Torah, that may not be so commonly studied by the masses, or is somewhat off the beaten path, so to speak. One should, in such a case, not ignore one's personal desire for that part of Torah, as it may indicate a need of his specific neshama (soul) and circumstances. Rather, one should turn their attention and effort to it.

Perhaps this principle (ללמוד במקום שלבו חפץ) is seemingly not spoken about so much in public today, as it can at times conflict with institutional frameworks. Also, many people are learning in formats such as Daf Yomi, in which flexibility is limited. Be that as it may, the principle is an important one, which needs to be remembered and practiced.

In the merit of us following this ancient teaching of Chazal, may we be zoche to have the Toras Hashem truly become our Torah.

A gutten Yom tov.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

The posuk that can explain Trump

There is a posuk that is helpful in understanding Mr. Trump.

Mishlei 18:23 - תחנונים ידבר רש ועשיר יענה עזות.

A wealthy person speaks strong words.

There are different levels of wealth as well. If someone worth ten million dollars speaks with a certain strength, someone worth one hundred times that amount might hold forth in a correspondingly stronger manner.

Unfortunately, not enough people, especially on the male side, learn sefer Mishlei seriously. A sefer called by kadmonim ספר החכמה is a quite fitting study for an עם חכם ונבון actually though, even for men.

(There is also a related idea brought in שמות יח:כא on the words אנשי חיל, where Rashi says עשירים שאין צריכין להחניף ולהכיר פנים.)

Let us connect to the חכמה עליונה of the תורה הקדושה to help us through these turbulent times, בעזרת השי"ת.




Saturday, March 26, 2016

The Missing Havdalah of Purim

Why is there no havdalah after Purim?

There is a vertel (short vort) that I have seen that goes like this -

Why is there no Havdalah after Purim? Because there should be no end to it, we should take it with us through the year.

I saw it in the name of a Rosh Yeshiva who is already in the next world, but I think it originally is from Polish Chasidus.

Sounds nice, but does it add up?

1) If there is no kiddush on Purim, how could there be havdalah? Usually the two go together.

2) We have kiddush and havdalah as part of yamim tovim that are mideoryasa, from the (chamisha chumshei) Torah, aka Biblical in origin (e.g. Shabbos, Pesach, Sukkos, Shavuos). Purim is from a later time period, and not in that category.

3) Is there havdalah after Chanukah? Is there havdalah after Tisha BeAv?

4) Rav Hutner, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivas Rabbeinu Chaim Berlin, taught (with a Yiddish expression) that after Yamim tovim in general, our attitude should be that we do not say that a Yom tov has gone, passed us by, but rather that a Yom tov, with its spiritual gains, has come to us, has become part of us, brought us to a higher level, and we should take along spiritual gains acquired then. So the idea of taking the yom tov spirit along even after Yom tov ends is not just for Purim, but is for our holidays in general.

Purim havdalah that we could use more of

There is a different type of havdalah that we need more of. We need havdalah, discernment and distinguishing, among our own people, about what Purim is, and what it isn't. It is not (Chas veshalom) a Jewish version of St. Patrick's Day, Carnival, Halloween, or Independence day. It is not a wild free for all (G-d forbid). It is a day where we act in a holy manner, as opposed to throwing off all restraints.

We need havdalah between solid Torah teachings, and cute quips, or inspirational sayings, which may not have a firm basis, or withstand scrutiny.

May we merit to have the havdalah we need, not just around Purim, but year round.