Monthly Archives: August 2006

The typically pretentious blog posting that most people won’t read, but I’ve been wanting to write for quite some time

OK, I know, it’s a long title. The truth is that this posting has been brewing in my press pot of a long time. I hope that my few readers will allow me to go in a slightly different direction just for one posting. Rav Yisrael Salanter’s final two midos are coming very soon.

Fact: Whenever I post a comment on my own blog, the following message appears in my Hotmail inbox:

The sender of this message,, could not be verified by Sender ID. Learn more about Sender ID.
From: Neil Harris
Sent : Monday, August 21, 2006 9:57 PM
To : neilsharris @>

Subject : [Modern Uberdox] 8/21/2006 09:57:46 PM

Could not be verified by Sender ID?!? What’s this all about?

Hotmail doesn’t recognize my email address when I post a comment to my blog. You’ve got to be kidding.
During Elul, it seems that introspection is about as commonplace as the ads for a new Sukkah in any great Jewish newspaper.
Not recognizing yourself is usually a bad thing, right? I’m not so sure about that. If one approaches the Teshuva process and is successful, then we change who we are. If we change ourselves, then not recognizing who we once were is a great thing.

As I reflect on the the past year (along with everyone else) I can divide the year into two different sections.
1) Life before moving to Chicago vs. Now living in Chicago
2) Life before blogging vs. Life as a blogger

Both sections share very common elements. In the moving to Chicago arena, I’ve been given an opportunity to start fresh in terms of who I am, and what identity I make for myself and my family. While we moved here knowing a few people, it’s really an open book.

The blogging arena is also much the same. By posting on a blog you reinforce your own identity. Or create a new one.
Plenty of people have very solid and legitimate reasons for blogging Anonymous. I greatly respect that.

I chose the other path. I use my name. I’ll be honest, one reason is that I want to be heard. I don’t mind saying this, only because I could have just as easily written this posting in a journal and kept it on a shelf (I’ve, in fact, kept journals for years). As a result of blogging I’ve been able to write more in the past four and a half months than I’ve written in the past four and a half years. This is a major accomplishment for me. Another reason is that using my own name helps keep me in check so I write as truthfully as I can and I don’t use my blog to slam others or go off on them for whatever reason sounds good at the time.
I do wonder if people who read my blog have some image of me that isn’t quite who I really am?

Cute quote time….
“I am not who I think I am; I am not who you think I am; I am who I think you think I am.” (I heard that it was written by Goethe)

I’ve thought about this line many times since I started my blog. It totally applies to the blogosphere. Bloggers blog about different things. Each blog reveals a little about someone. Some blog about personal issues, others about d’vrai Torah, others about their family, others about social issues. We all have something to say.
One blogger, who I respect and admire for their quality of writing, Torah knowledge, and overall menshlikeit mentioned to me “that what we blog is not who we are, but what is at our essence”.
Just think about that statement for a second…

Let’s take my blogs’ name. It’s is really a humorous label. It’s a phrase that I hadn’t seen used before and I thought it was catchy, in light of the fact that we live in a generation of people trying to Uber-Frum themselves in the eyes of others. In the 12th chapter of EYES TO SEE, (thanks to my friend in Atlanta for turning me on to the book when it came out) Rabbi Yom Tov Schwartz writes about the “Selectively Pious” Jews out there who pick and choose different aspects of Bein Adam L’chavero and Bein Adam L’makom to observe. Both types of Mitzvos are of equal importance. I try to bring that out in what I write about.

Remember when you first created you blog? I do. I debated about what to write for the blog description in the “settings” section. I finally settled on “ideas about Kehillah, Hashkafa, and Avodas Hashem”. Pretty general and not too creative. What I didn’t realize then was that Kehillah would end up referring to the online community and bond that bloggers create.
So back to my problem with Hotmail…Why won’t it verify who I am? I think the answer is that neilsharris at doesn’t refer to the real me. It’s just an address. And not even a physical address. You can’t Maquest an email address. It doesn’t reference where I am or where I live. While devarim or words (written or spoken) reveal one’s machshavos or thoughts, an email address reveals nothing. It’s just something on a screen that can be deleted. I find this lesson to be great mussar for myself. What I think of as my identity isn’t really an identity at all.
It’s Elul, and I need to figure out who I am and where I am.
Reb Nachman writes in Likutey Moharan that “You are wherever your thoughts are. Make sure your thought are where you what to be.”

If interested in buying a copy of EYES TO SEE, it’s available at most seforim stores or online here.

Possibly the best $1.99 you may spend

I love coffee. For me, an extra $1.99 can be best used for a tall cup of bean at Starbucks (my coffee of choice would either be Sumatra or Gold Coast Blend). But that’s all changed. Why feed my guf when my neshama thirsts for nourishment…

This just announced from Cong. Aish Kodesh:
Early Bird Special — Over 20 of Rav Weinberger’s Yamim Nora’im shiurim are now discounted to $1.99/shiur until the 1st night of Slichos 5766. Click
here for more info.

Rav Yisrael Salanter’s 13 Midos- #11

Righteousness: In the normal sense of justice; and also as the sages interpret the term- give up what is yours even when not required to do so

Earlier this morning in shul I (along with anyone else who went to shul) heard:
“Justice, justice shall you pursue, that you may live and possess the land the Lord, your God, is giving you.” Devarim 16:20

As I enter Elul, I wonder what is the true meaning of “Righteousness”, justice, or Tzedek?
There are mitzvos that seem to make since based on how things run in a society that is governed by basic human rights (Rav Hirsch dedicates a great deal to this concept in his commentary on Chumash and several chapters specifically in Horeb and in the Nineteen Letters, but a discussion about his views will be for another time). Maybe this is what Rav Yisrael means by “in the normal sense of justice”?
I think it means that we all have certain thing that we are entitled to. When I say that we are entitled to certain things, I really mean that Hashem gives me what I need at a certain time. Ultimately, Hashem deals with me in a way that my needs are fulfilled based on my merits. There are exceptions to every rule, and some people do seem to get more in life than we may think that they merit. Reb Nachman has a whole teaching about this (the Treasury of Unearned Gifts).

Rav Yisrael goes on to give us a better definition of Tzedek, “give up what is yours even when not required to do so”. To me, it doesn’t get more practical that this. Just because something is “yours” you can still give it up.
A few examples come to mind: giving up your parking spot, giving up your seat in shul (putting aside the concept of “makom kevuah” for a minute), your kids giving up their room for a guest, not taking the last brownie, , giving up a smile or a kind work, or (and this just happened to me) giving up on taking the credit for a great one-liner during kiddush after shul (I’m only using this as an example. When my line was used by someone after they heard me say it I was, truthfully, kind of upset, but then decided that it really wasn’t worth it only because the goal of what I said was to bring a little humor and levity to the kiddush, and not to show how witty I could be).

I find it interesting that Rav Yisrael’s great- grandson, Rav Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler took this concept of giving and taught the Torah observant world that it is giving that leads us to love, not love that leads us to giving. Rav Dessler, in fact, devided the world into two types of people: Givers and Takers. To quote from Rabbi Aryeh Carmell’s translation of Michtav Me-Eliyahu, “Man has been granted this sublime power of giving, enabling him too be merciful, to bestow happiness, to give of himself.” (Strive For Truth! Volume I, page 119)

As each day brings me closer to Rosh Hashanah, I hope I can be a giver, and not a taker.

If anyone is interested in viewing what Elul was like back in the day, please feel free to read Elul in Slabodka.

I’m sorry for not posting too much last week, but I decided to greatly reduce my online time and blog reading/commenting. Last week was a difficult exercise in self-control, but I managed. I’m still reading/commenting, but I’ve set aside certain time at night to do so (and not every night). Going online and checking email throughout the day is something of a habit for most of us. I found it, in some ways, conciously controling my urges to check email/blogs much more difficult that some of the things I stopped doing when I became frum.

On a more serious note, please, if you can, continue to daven for Reuven ben Tova Chaya. The health of any child is a true Bracha from Hashem.

What I think about when I’m feeling down…

Posted by Picasa
The picture to the left will be explained soon…

First, this posting is really an expansion of something I wrote here about things not working out the way you want them to. I’m, B”H, in a great mood. But, I’ll be honest, there are times when I’m not. This happens to all of us at one time or another. It’s sad, but true. Sadness, or atzvus, at times gets the best of us. We fall into a funk, or get depressed. That’s the worst. Rabbi Akiva Tatz once defined depression as “the despair of falling into an inability to act.”

To fall into the pit of thinking that we have no choices left is a terrible yeter hara. In a way, it’s the opposite of having free will. The truth is we can control how we choose to react to any given situation. It’s just, sometimes, we forget the we have a choice. Of the road in front of us seems too long and dark.

When I do feel down, I look that the picture that you see on your screen. I did the design and layout several years ago. I keep a framed copy of this picture on the bookshelf. Most people don’t look at it twice. Occasionally, a curious guest will ask me about it. It’s actually based on something I heard during my high school years, said in the name of Rav Yitzchok Hutner z”tl.

Rav Hutner, based on the Maharal, took a look at the words “adam” meaning man and “meod” mean very or more. Rav Hutner explains that after man was created on the sixth day, it says in Beraishis 1:31: And God saw all that He had made, and behold it was very good, and it was evening and it was morning, the sixth day.
Not just “good” but “very good.” The word “meod” seem to imply that something is beyond measurement. For example, most cars can only go to a predetermined top speed. The size of a house is based on the number of square feet in a lot and also how much money one uses to build the house. A computer is capable of holding only have so much memory (although that seems to change every other week). Rav Hutner said that people are not like this. We can grow beyond what we even imagine. When it comes to a person, our potential for greatness is limitless. It’s “meod“.
When I’m feeling down this is what I think about. My potential is beyond measurement. I just need to push myself.
Once, while taking the subway to Brooklyn on an erev Shabbos I stood in front of someone wearing a T-shirt made by “Champion” (the company is really know for their sweatshirts). The back of the T-Shirt had the following printed on it: IT TAKES A LITTLE MORE EFFORT TO MAKE A CHAMPION. What mussar!!! I think of this T-shirt at times, as well.

Music also cheers me up. Especially the Moshe Skier Band’s treatment on the classic Hafachta.
Speaking of Jewish music, blogger buddy, A SIMPLE JEW, had a great posting up yesterday. Take a few minutes and check it out, here.
Have a happy day and a great Shabbos Kodesh!!

Rav Yisrael Salanter’s 13 Midos- #10

Humility: Recognize your own shortcomings and disregard those of your fellow man

Ahh, the time-honored debate between anavah and ga’avah…well not really according to Rav Yisrael. He takes a different spin on what everyone from the Ramchal to Rabbi Dr. Twerski says about humility, in my humble opinion (no pun intended).

Recognize your own shortcomings and disregard those of your fellow man.” This is a classic example of how bein adam l’atzmo (how we relate to ourselves) can flow into bein adam l’chavero (interpersonal relations). The first step in true humility or anavah is to know where we are lacking.
I think that I need to be very aware of where I fall short. I know, since I started blogging about the 13 Midos, I’m much more sensitive to what my own shortcomings are. It’s important to know what my accomplishments are, but even more important for me to know what areas I need to work on.

An idea attributed to the Baal Shem Tov comes to mind. It’s said in his name that when we see negative midos in others it’s really a reflection on those same midos that are lacking in ourselves. For example, let’s say you look in your spouse’s van and notice that it’s not so clean. And you happen to say something to your spouse about it (hypothetically, of course). The odds are that your car isn’t too clean either! It’s easier to say or think something negative about someone, but that’s exactly why we shouldn’t (more on this idea in a future posting). It’s just bad manners (which is different than bad midos) to point the finger at the other guy. It’s also hypocritical.

“…disregard those of your fellow man” is the tricky part. There’s a great line by Rav Kook that I love. He said that he would rather be guilty of baseless love, than of baseless hatred. Most people have some quality that we can admire, even beyond the “Yiddishe Neshama” factor. It’s really a sensitivity training issue. On the most basic level, there’s always something that someone else can do better than we can. Looking at that one thing instead of what someone is lacking is a good start. Each time I deal with someone, I need to stop looking at their shortcomings. There’s so much to gain by finding traits in others that I can grow from. That helps me come to grips with my own shortcomings.

But what about the person who took my parking space on the street? Or the person who is always interrupting me? Or the obnoxiously loud family at the park on Shabbos? Or the person who shoved me just get that last copy of Orchos Tzadikim that was on sale? Those people only have “shortcomings”.

Alright, sometimes when dealing with others we need a little creativity in the “dan l’kof zechus” department. I constantly tell myself enough that how I treat others is directly connected to my active relationship with Hashem.

By not focusing on others’ shortcomings I’m fulfilling the mitzvah of Ahavas Yisrael, which is a pretty good thing, in my opinion.

Geting Organized…

Here’s an excerpt from an e-list newletter I subscribe to by written by Maria Gracia, from Get Organized Now!

Set a Time Budget

When it comes to making purchases, most people have an idea in their minds of what they’re willing to spend. You probably wouldn’t walk into a shoe store and say, ‘I will buy that pair of shoes no matter how much they cost.’ If the salesperson says the shoes cost $400, most people would not buy them. That’s because when it comes to making purchases, people set a budget in their minds of how much those shoes are really worth to them.
But what about when it comes to how you spend your time? Do you sometimes spend more time on certain tasks than they’re really worth? For instance, when it comes to cleaning your home do you spend an hour a day doing so? Two hours? Three hours? More than three hours? Is dusting really worth that much of your time? What about your other projects and appointments? How much is that time worth to you?

We all get the same amount of time each day–24 hours. At least 8 of those hours are allocated to sleeping. So, we all have approximately 16 hours when we’re awake.

By setting a time budget for certain activities, you will always ensure your time is being spent on what is most important to you, your family and your future.How much time are you willing to invest with a spouse or loved one? How many hours will you allocate to working, cleaning, exercising, eating or watching television?

Before doing anything, ask yourself how much time you’re willing to invest. Write those time investments down so you’re able to reference them regularly. Then, stick to your time budget.

Time isn’t an unlimited currency, so be sure to spend it wisely.

End of article.

For more ideas, feel free to check out the Get Organized Now! website. The monthly newsletters and blog are interesting.

My thoughts:
I’ve found that reading blogs and writing my content can take up a lot of time. With Elul around the corner and I know that I need to start craking down. Time is an element that we can mekadesh, or make holy. In fact, from what I’ve read and been told, Rav Soloveitchik was very into this concept of people being able to mikadesh certain days and physical objects. As I’ve posted on a few other blogs and, at least two emails to fellow readers, a close friend of mine and someone whom I look up to, mentioned to his son, on the occasion of his sons’ Bar Mitzvah, that “how we spend our free time defines who we are”. As I’ve been posting on my blog over the past 4 months, I find myself constantly thinking about that quote, if not every time I go online. So far the only thing I’ve figured out is that I need certain times set aside for online use at home. When time is up… I need to walk away. Time budgeting might be an answer. Any thoughts…

By the way, my name is Neil Harris, and I’m a Bloggaholic.

Tagged…I’m it!

Post # 40-Wow!
(Preface)Lakewood Venter tagged me. I at first I wasn’t to thrilled about being tagged, I admit (although as I emailed to Lakewood Venter, it’s an easy positing topic). I’ve seen these tags and unless one’s blog is based primarily on what goes on in ones’ life (an online diary format), I really feel that being tagged isn’t too interesting. I thought that most readers (who don’t personally know me) could care less about the person behind the blog.
On the other hand, after looking though Parsha Eikev (with my kids in the Parsha Reader and then more carefully with several meforshim), I changed my mind:
(Actual Post)
A land of wheat, barley, grapes, figs and pomegranates; a land of oil-yielding olive and [date] honey. Devarim 8:8

I started thinking about the Sheva Minim and their nature. In their original form, as created by Hashem, they have a function in the world, they serve a purpose. Yet, if crushed, squeezed, dried, or processed in other ways they have other uses as well. Each of us has a purpose in this world and like the Sheva Minim, we all have potential for other purposes.
At times I too need to be crushed, squeezed, dried, or processed in other ways . There is more to me than my outer appearance, like the Sheva Minim. And at times there’s benefit to showing more that what’s on the surface.For those who know me personally, what I write is pretty much what I think about, what I say, and how I see things. For the casual reader that looks this blog, for whatever reason, and wants to see something beneath the surface of “another frum blogger”, I submit the following:

Things I want to do before dying:Go back to Eretz Yisrael
Be zoche to see grandchildren and great grandchildren
Have enough income so I don’t have worry about tuition payments, bills, etc.
Publish, edit, or write for a frum version of the “New Yorker” magazine
Take up golf
Lose 10 pounds

Things I can not do:
Speak Yiddish
Eat Yogurt
Lein Torah
Two things at once
Quote pasukim al peh
Go without coffee for more than one day
Go quickly through a grocery store

Things I can do:
Listen to my kids’ infectious laughs for hours on end
Pull a decent shot of espresso and froth milk
Dishes (not always as clean as someone would like them to be)

Make Sushi
What attracted me to my spouse:Her high regard for Emes
A few other things I’d rather not post

Things I say most often:
Please and Thank you
So, where do you daven?
Gevalt Yidden!
That’s so Shtetl-fabulous!
What should we make for dinner?
I was reading a blog and saw…

Books that I am currently reading:

Eyes To See-Rabbi Yom Tov Schwatz (re-reading, as it’s one of the most influential books I own)
Horeb-Rav Samson Rafael Hirsch (thanks to Zev for giving me a copy)
Praying With Fire- Rabbi Heshy Kleinman
The Road Back- Rabbi Meyer Schiller (just finished it again, I read it every summer)
Up In The Old Hotel- Joseph Mitchell
Magic Tree House series-with my son (thanks to my neighbors)

Movies that I love:
All the Star Wars flicks (except for Episode III, I’ve known the ending since 1983)
Logan’s Run
What Dreams May Come
Say Anything
The Shawshank Redemption
Well, that does it. I guess you know all about me now. I now tag Rafi G, the first blogger to ever link anything I posted. FYI- I asked Rafi for reshus before I tagged him… I feel that derech eretz has a place in the blogosphere.
Comments and questions are welcome (although I might not reply right away). Have a great Shabbos Kodesh!