The Baal HaTanya and the carriage

carriageI was in the process of transcribing the story below that Rav Moshe Weinberger gave on Shabbos Bereishis (and repeated here from a shiur at YU) and, Baruch Hashem, Dixie Yid posted the official drasha based on Rav Weinberger’s notes. I was zoche to be in Woodmere for Simchas Torah and heard the drasha on Shabbos. When I heard the story below, I immediately knew that it was something that was going to stay with me for a long, long time and be something that hovers over me. I am pleased to share the story, as posted by Dixie Yid, below. Please click on the story to read the entire drasha.

 There is a story of the Alter Rebbe, as told by Reb Mottel Slonimer, who is known as one of the most accurate transmitters of chassidic stories, as follows: The Alter Rebbe was at a crossroads early in his life. He was one of the most successful young scholars in Europe and had already mastered the Talmud and halachic authorities. At that point, he felt that he had two choices; to study with the Gaon of Vilna or the Magid of Mezrich. He first chose to study with the Magid of Mezrich.  Although this is not part of Reb Mottel Slonimer’s tradition, it is told that the Alter Rebbe explained his decision to study with the Magid rather than the Gaon of Vilna by saying, “I already know how to learn a little bit, but I haven’t yet learned how to daven.” 

The Alter Rebbe studied with the Magid for several weeks, but he felt that he had not found himself; that the Magid of Mezrich was not the right Rebbe for him. As was the custom at the time, the Alter Rebbe visited the Magid to bid him farewell and seek a blessing for his journey home. During the visit, the Magid accepted his decision, but told him that he should also say goodbye to “the Malach, the angel,” i.e., the Magid’s son Reb Avraham who was known as the Malach because of his great holiness. 

The Alter Rebbe agreed and bid farewell to the Malach, who would later become the Alter Rebbe’s chevrusa. He offered to walk the Alter Rebbe to his horse, wagon, and driver. Before the Alter Rebbe got onto the wagon, the Malach said, “When you get into the wagon, you will see that the driver will smack the horse and it will begin running in an attempt to distance itself from the smack. And then the driver will smack the horse again, and it will run even faster, trying to escape the one pain of the whip. And it will continue on this way throughout your journey. But an intelligent person [Baal Daas] is not a horse. When an intelligent person feels a smack, he does not simply run away from it. He looks back to see who is smacking him and why he is being smacked.”

Being a deep and contemplative person, the Alter Rebbe understood the Malach’s message and stayed in Mezrich, ultimately becoming one of the star students of the Magid. May we all merit to understand the message of the wagon (עגלה)  and look beyond the suffering of the world of strict justice to see G-d’s loving kindness, and thus merit the final redemption, quickly (בעגלא) in our days.

Yeah, this was it! This was what I needed to hear. When difficulties come up, when things don’t work out with parnassassah, when chinuch issues arise, I have do decide if I want to look back and see who’s “whipping” me and why or do I want to just be a horse and keep trying to run away?

I am my own worst enemy

 

drown quote-Cole

I don’t like having to accept or digest that truth that I am, at times, my own worst enemy. It’s uncomfortable for me to hear that truth. It’s even more difficult when I know it myself and don’t take steps to change. Were it not Elul (the month prior the Jewish High Holiday and my tradition sees the month as a time of introspection) I probably would have dismissed this truth. Had I not been actively working on specific middos (character traits) for the past 32 days and also been actively keeping a cheshbon hanefesh (a spiritual accounting) I would have blown off the notion that I am my own worst enemy when I hold myself back. I’m drowning and it’s my fault. I’ve been saying this for the past day, but seeing it typed sort of makes it official. The reality is that it is Elul and if there was ever a time for me to be receptive, then this is the time, baby.

It not easy. The person who carried this message to me is someone that wants what is best for me. Being presented with the opportunity to absorb this truth is sort of a “make it or break it” thing. It’s not a “flight or fight” thing because fleeing from knowing that I’m my own worst enemy means simply lying to myself. Accepting this means only one thing…action. No excuses, rationalizations, or verbal attempts to circumvent reality. Accepting that I am the only one that can take action to change myself (with Hashem’s help) mean also accepting that all isn’t great in Neilville. Using the term connotative dissonance or simply attributing this lack of action to not seeing enough Nike ads (“Just Do It.” doesn’t stop pain of realizing what I need to really change. It’s got nothing to do specific mitzvos (commandments) or middos or my yetzer hora (evil inclination). It’s about connecting both with who I really am and with my creator. I know this not because it was told to me or it was something that I read. I know, but of tears. When we cry it’s either because of joy and not having the proper words to express that joy or it’s because of sadness. A sadness that a person has when their heart is broken. Not broken my someone they love, but broken because they realize they need help and they realize that the path they took wasn’t the right one. The decisions they made only pushed them farther from their potential. Maybe this resonates with someone, I don’t know. What I know is that it’s from the heart.

“There is nothing as whole, or as perfect, as a broken heart.” – Menachem Mendel of Kotzk, the Kotzker Rebbe

If a heart is broken then how can it be whole? Because once we have a broken heart then we can see what is needed to mend it.  Like the tagline at the end of the old G.I. Joe cartoons, “…and knowing is half the battle.” When I know my deficiencies, my weak points, and the root of them (in this case, holding myself back from what needs to be done), then I’m able to see the actions that can repair things. This makes a broken heart whole. This gets you to swim so that you don’t drown.

Sometimes remaining silent just lets you refocus

speechIt’s been almost a year since I’ve actually written a post on Modern Uberdox. I wish I could say that it’s because I’ve been writing a book, spending free time learning ,spending time on family, spending time on my career, or spending time in the gym. It’s some of the above, but not enough of any of the above to really yield real results. I’ve been adrift, alone. Not physically alone, but simply floating my boat here and there. Why write right now? I was looking up something online and one of the hits happened to be Modern Uberdox, the old pre-WordPress version (with updated links to make you think). I was sort of taken back, because when I read the post that came up in the search it was solid. No fluff, no sensationalism, no references to taboo subjects within frum life.

So, here I go again. No daily posts, but no silence for weeks or months on end, either. There are things that I need to write (because if I said most of them, my kids wouldn’t get any play dates and my wife would be more embarrassed by me than usual). I have thought about disabling comments, since most of my posts rarely get much feedback, but I won’t. If you read something that I write (not this, but, like, in the future) then take it. Grab it, put it in your pocket, wallet, Coach bag, laptop bag, or padfolio. Chew on it and figure out how to make it into something that might help with your own Avodah. Bring it into the real world,. Use it when you deal with friends, family, or the creepy dude at Starbucks who always comes over to you (because you are Jewish) and says, “Shalom.” The quote below was the original quote that was the header when I started blogging. Right now, it seems more relevant than ever to me.

“I write not because I have the strength to write, but because I do not have the strength to remain silent.” -Rav Avraham Yitzchok Kook zt’l

Rav Weinberger on the churban

Rav Moshe Weinberger writes:

Only after the destruction of the Temple could the order of our daily prayers be established. In the horrifying desolation and loneliness the Jewish heart began to scream and tefillos were formed. The churban meant the removal of the religious ritual with which we had become comfortable, and we found ourselves alone with G-d. – Prayer: Neglected Paths and Forgotten Longings – Jewish Action, Fall 1990

Rav Moshe Weinberger is the Rav of Cong Aish Kodesh in Woodmere, NY and the Mashpiah at Yeshiva University

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I need YOU to join me in helping Chai Lifeline

Bike pic1Hi, I know that I haven’t written anything fresh in a while. Thanks because I’ve been trying to spend more time with my family after work. When they are asleep I’ve been biking, since I will be biking on Lake Shore Drive this Sunday, May 25th more than 50 miles. This is my 7th year joining Chai Lifeline’s Bike The Drive. I’m please to say that, so far, I have raised more than $1200, but I want to do more. This is where YOU come in. If you have ever liked something that I have posted, hated something that I wrote, or just come to my blog for 3 seconds and leave then I’m addressing YOU.

If possible, please sponsor me by going here. All donations are tax deductible and the website will accept sponsors until Monday, May 26th. Plus there’s a link on the top of that page to my embarrassing YouTube video I posted. Thanks!!!!!

 

THE PURSUIT OF UNCOOL

 

JUF NEWS PICNEWS: LOCAL

May 9, 2014

The pursuit of uncool

By NEIL HARRIS

If you ask my wife and three kids (a boy, 14 and two girls, 11 and 7) if I am a good father, I’m not sure what they would answer. If you ask them if they think I’m a cool abba, they’ll tell you that I used to be cool. Being cool is a choice. I spent, what seems like months, saying to my own children. “Kids, I really am cool.”

I tried explaining to them about the glory of the 80s and how music was much better back then, especially the stuff that fell into the categories of college radio and punk. I tried showing them how a bunch of my friends all dressed differently than everyone else (we all mostly wore black…very original). I told my daughters that I had crazy hairspray and hair dryer skills that they couldn’t even dream about. It was never a conscious choice, but during high school and the beginning of college I was seen as being “cool.”

I know plenty of parents that go out of their way to appear cool to their kids. They might try to friend their kids and their kids’ friends on Facebook, be up on the latest music, novels, and texting abbreviations. If that works for you and the relationship you want to have with our kids, more power to you. I eventually gave up and just accepted the fact that I was no longer cool. I stopped trying to be cool in their eyes.

It was much easier than I thought it would be. However, I found that the choice of not being cool opened up a whole new avenue of going out of my way to be uncool. I had thoughts of calling my kids’ friends by nicknames that only I would understand. I had visions of interrupting play dates my kids had by doing the robot dance. To my family’s delight, I rarely acted upon these examples.

What I did implement was a conscious choice to show my kids that I wasn’t cool. Again, I am far from a model parent, but this mindset has fostered a more positive relationship with my kids. This was much easier than I thought in some aspects. My wife and I have always stressed to our children that there are things our family does and it might be a little different than other what other families do. There are TV shows, music, and movies that we feel are appropriate and others that are not. These decisions to be uncool, at times, are not easy, but my kids have learned that my wife and I are willing to listen to their points of view and if we are swayed to their side it is solely because they have valid reasons and not because we are looking to be “those parents,” the ones that propel the parent/child relationship with the fuel of coolness.

Rabbi Joseph Hurwitz (1847-1919), known as the Elder of Novardok (a city in Belarus) taught that, “When the world means nothing, life means everything.” I have always looked at this quote as a message that we have to stand our ground sometimes. We shouldn’t always do things that the masses are doing, especially if it goes against our value system. When we stop worrying about what others think is when we can have opportunities to do what we know is the right thing in life. This is something that we can’t lecture our kids about; it is something that we have to show by example. I am no poster child for leading by example all the time. I am, however, blessed with three great kids who are learning the importance of doing the right thing, which is a foundation of Judaism.

Neil Harris and his family live in West Rogers Park and, aside from being uncool, he works in commercial finance and writes monthly for Oy! Chicago.

Originally posted in JUF NEWS-May 9th, 2014

Best minyan EVER!!

Aerial - US Cell-Chicago-No Border

Once in a while, I merit to have a good idea come down to me from Hashem. I admit, it is pretty rare, but when it does happen I am pretty darn grateful.

Prior to Pesach I had made plans with 4 other families to go to a White Sox game with my kids on Thursday of Chol HaMoed. I knew that within our group we would have 7 adult males (4 fathers and 3 post Bar Mitzvah boys). I decided to put the word out on Facebook, Twitter, and emailed a bunch of fellow residents of the Chicago area to see if we could get a Maariv minyan at the beginning of the 7th inning. Quickly I got a response from a friend that he would be there and also 2 other guys. Then another guy (didn’t know him prior to the game, but I’m glad I’m friends with him now) and his son said they would join in, too. As we got to the stadium and parked, my son noticed a car of 3 other guys parking right next to us and I quickly told them about the minyan, as well.

When it came time to daven we had just over 17 people, including someone saying Kaddish and someone who had a Yahrzeit. The Sox lost, but I don’t think it was related to our minyan.

Here’s the important part, really. I’m not posting this because I’m looking to blow my own shofar, I’m posting this because each of us has a way we that we can help others and add to the “quality” of our community (or a community of baseball fans). I often go through periods when I know I should be doing more with myself on a communal level. I know there’s, like, volumes more what I’m meant to be doing for Klal Yisrael beyond my role within my family and immediate friends, but I just don’t (for a number of reasons). I know that I am not alone in feeling this way. I’m, again, grateful that I was open to receiving an opportunity this time and acting upon it…this time.

JUF’s Annual Jewish Day School Night

This Tuesday, April 1, 2014 the day school community of Chicago has an opportunity to hear from on the experts on Bullying, Dr. Rona Novick.* Not only is she a nationwide expert on this subject, but she an amazing and engaging speaker.

Day School Parents, Educators & Board Members
are cordially invited to attend a Dessert Reception
on behalf of the Jewish United Fund

Bully, Bullied or Bystander: The Roles Children Play
Featuring nationally acclaimed guest speaker
Dr. Rona Novick

Tuesday, April 1, 2014
Desert reception – 7:15 PM – 8:30 PM
Holiday Inn North Shore
5300 West Touhy Avenue, Skokie

Reservations required, Dietary laws observed, Valet parking available

A meaningful gift to the 2014 Jewish United Fund Annual Campaign is strongly encouraged.

For more information, please contact Mindy Bass at 312-444-2839 or mindybass@juf.org.

Reservations are required

* Rona Novick, PhD is the director of the Fanya Gottesfeld Heller Doctoral Program at the Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and Administration at Yeshiva University and Associate Clinical Professor of Child Psychology at North Shore-Long Island Jewish Medical Center. Dr. Novick also serves as Co-Educational Director of the Hidden Sparks program, providing consultation to day schools and Yeshivas. Dr. Novick received her PHD from Rutgers University and completed her doctoral internship at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York. She developed the Alliance for School Mental Health at North-Shore Long Island Jewish Medical Center and served as its director for eight years, authoring the BRAVE bully prevention program for schools. She is recognized for her expertise in behavior management and child behavior therapy and has published scholarly articles on school applications of behavior management, children and trauma and bully prevention in schools. She has delivered numerous presentations at national and international conferences, focusing on her research interests in parenting and parent-school partnerships, child anxiety disorders, social-emotional learning and the behavior and development of young children. She is the author of a book for parents: Helping Your Child Make Friends, and editor of the book series Kids Don’t Come With Instruction Manuals

My 7th year of helping terminally ill children and their families

biking
Chai Cyclist
Hey,
It’s Neil and I need your help.
 
Sometimes, we are privileged to see when we can make a difference in the world and in the lives of those you need help. As I write this, I humbly and gratefully thank those of you that have committed to sponsor me for the past 6 years as I have raised money for Chai Lifeline by Biking the Drive (Lake Shore Drive). In edition to be the top fundraiser for Chai Lifeline’s Bike the Drive for multiple years, by sponsoring me we have raised over $12,000.00. I am extremely proud to say that I will be hitting the pavement again on May 25, 2014.
 
Chai Lifeline is a unique and amazing organization. They help children and their families cope with the diagnosis, treatment and aftermath of serious pediatric illness. They provide year-round emotional, social, and financial support to families every day. Families in the Midwest turn to Chai Lifeline for access to more than two-dozen, year-round, programs and services, all free of charge and delivered with love and respect.
 
Since my father, of blessed memory, lost his quick battle with Leukemia in 2009 I have always dedicated my bike ride and funds raised in his memory. It is always bittersweet when the ride is over, since I have such great memories of calling him after my my first event telling him that I had biked a total of 30 miles (I had planned on biking only 15) and how proud he was that I was able to help such a worthy cause.
 
Not only do I bike in memory of my dad, but I bike in memory of my in-laws, Dan and Rita Huth, of blessed memory. I bike in merit for a speedy recovery for children who are sick in our community. I bike in honor of friends who are going through difficult times. I bike because Joanie, Eli Meir, Rena Sara, and Mimi believe in me. I bike because I want my family to know that when something is important to you and you can help others, then you give 101% and don’t give up.
 
I have increased the miles I have biked every year, even in the rain. What started out as 30 miles has now become 55 miles. I have also set the sponsorship bar higher every year. This year my objective is to raise at least $3,000.00 by May 25th. I know that sounds like a lot, but really it can happen, with your help. I hope you will help me reach this goal. All donations are 100% tax deductible. If your company has a matching gift program, your gift may be doubled or tripled.
So, if you have ever enjoyed a post of mine in the past 8 years, then please think about sponsoring me (for any amount). Also, for what it’s worth, when training and on the day of the ride I listen to about 3 hours of shiurim. I am happy to so in zechus of a refuah shelayma of in memory of someone. Just give me the name.

I am grateful to all of my previous sponsors and I know that you will, once again, help me reach my goal. All you need to do is to make any donation that you can! If interested, please feel free to forward email to anyone you feel might be open to this opportunity to help. Feel free to spread the word via social media, as well (don’t worry, I will also be using Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to get the word out). To sponsor me all you need to do is to go to:
 
 
Warmly,
Neil