Monthly Archives: September 2006

Before I write about Rav Yisrael’s final Midah…

The following was recently posted on the “Daily Salanter” by Prof. Yitzchok Levine:

Rabbi Israel used to say that both the hasid and mitnagid ought to be reproved: the hasid for saying “Why do I need a book for religious study, when I have a rebbe?” The mitnagid for saying, “If I have a book for religious study, why do I need a rebbe?”

There are things that we do that we shouldn’t. There are thing that I do that I shouldn’t. There are also things that I don’t do that I should. Things that would help my neshama and my family. That is what Rav Yisrael is saying. Everyone has room for improvement, and not just during the month of Elul.

I know, for myself, that I am far from where I need to be. This was, as I’ve written previously, the impetus in blogging about Rav Yisrael’s 13 Midos. It’s my online Chesbon Hanefesh. I reread all of twelve of my midos postings tonight. The look great on my monitor. They sound great when I read them to myself. When it comes to real life application of the 13 Midos…I feel that I’m further away from where I should be after blogging about them. This isn’t a statement of false-humility. It’s just much easier to read about how I want to act, than it is to put it all into action at times. That’s probably why Rav Yisrael listed them as 13 different midos, so people could work on them one at a time instead of taking on an “all-or-nothing” attitude.

The last Midah #13 is SILENCE. If all goes well, it will be the topic of my next posting. I recently chose not exercise this midah during a conversation and ended up not looking like a mensh. I probably should have blogged about our next midah a lot sooner. The lesson I learned is that I always need to keep myself in ‘check’. I made a mistake.

I could rationalize that “we all make mistakes”, but a quick read of the second chapter of Mesillas Yesharim kills that rationalization in an instant:

THE IDEA OF WATCHFULNESS is for a man to exercise caution in his actions and his undertakings; that is, to deliberate and watch over his actions and his accustomed ways to determine whether or not they are good, so as not to abandon his soul to the danger of destruction, God forbid, and not to walk according to the promptings of habit as a blind man in pitch darkness. This is demanded by one’s intelligence…One who walks this world without considering whether his way of life is good or bad is like a blind man walking along the seashore, who is in very great danger, and whose chances of being lost are far greater than those of his being saved. For there is no difference between natural blindness and self-inflicted blindness, the shutting of one’s eyes as an act of will and desire.

The RAMCHAL says it all. For there is no difference between natural blindness and self-inflicted blindness, the shutting of one’s eyes as an act of will and desire. I am quick to close my own eyes to the worst aspects of my own personality. I close my eyes to the inconsistencies that creep up every once in a while. While I try to be constistant with what I blog about and how I act, there are times when I mess up. There are times when I get hot-headed, stressed out, or just forget that we are all created b’tzelem Elokim. Either I notice it myself or, more often than not, Hashem sends a sheliach (messenger) to let me know.

Rav Moshe Weinberger mentions on his “Inspired Parenting” shirum that the ikar nachas (the essence of happiness) for a parent is to see their child fall and get up again. The comfort in knowing that I can bring nachas to Hashem, my father, gives me strength to get up again after I fall.

To be concluded…

Anarchy in the Pre-K

It’s funny how certain items symbolize completely different things during different times in your life. Hashem (God) creates everything for a purpose.

In my youth the safety pin was the symbol of all things punk. All of us “hardercore than thou” teens wore safety pins everywhere. My trademark from 1985-1990 was a chain of 18 pins (chai) pinned to my black overcoat or my band-logo infested jean jacket. I wore my safety pin chain everywhere. It even made it through my freshman year at Yeshiva University, until I put it away before going to learn in Israel.
Why a safety pin? Good question. Perhaps the inner meaning of the safety pin was a symbol of the government? A citizen-friendly society could be held together with a government acting like a safety pin. Hmmm. Maybe a safety pin has the potential to be helpful or cause harm if used incorrectly. Hmmm. The answer isn’t so deep.

From Wikipedia:
Richard Hell (born October 2, 1949) is the stage name of Richard Meyers, an American singer, songwriter and writer, probably best-known as frontman for the early punk band The Voidoids. Hell was an originator of the punk fashion look, the first to spike his hair and wear torn, cut and drawn-on shirts, often held together with safety pins

The early punk rockers didn’t have enough money to sew their clothes, so they kept them together with safety pins. No hidden meaning. No big universal statement. They were just too cheap to get their clothes fixed.

Fast-forward from “nostalgia for an age yet to come” to September 2006. Specifically a few days before my daughter started, what they call in Chicago, Nursery. To me, nursery is where the baby goes after being born in the hospital. I prefer to all her class “Pre-K”, as she’ll be in kindergarten next year. We got a letter from the Morah telling us that each child is expected to bring tzedakka, charity, to school each day. The parents can either tape it to the child’s clothing or attach a bag with the coins to their child’s’ clothing with a…safety pin!

I smiled when I read this. The ultimate symbol of my oh-so-secular former lifestyle of individualism and rebellion is now an instrument used in helping my daughter learn about the mitzvah of tzedakka. How great is that?
For the record, the title of this posting was inspired by a T-shirt I saw.

September 11th…

I took this picture while on the Staten Island Ferry back in the spring of 1997. It was a great day. Little did I know that I’d never be able to go back and walk around the Trade Center or the Winter Garden. We all remember where we were and how we felt on 9/11.
Tragedies happen. National tragedies that have an impact us and also personal tragedies. Relationships don’t work out. People or children get sick. Our brothers and sisters in Eretz Yisrael still live with the fear of being attached. These days we need not look to hard to see something that hurts us.
Several years before September 11th, I heard a d’var Torah from Rabbi Baruch Klein (Far Rockaway) during a Shalosh Seudos. What he said changed the way I approach any nisiyon (test) that comes my way. While, I know that I most certainly do not always deal with my tests the way Hashem would want me to, I make an attempt. Rav Klein said that during our trek to Eretz Yisrael, our ancestors were commanded to build the Mishkan when we made camp. Sometimes we would stay for days, sometimes weeks, sometimes longer. Then we’d take down the Mishkan and travel again, only to once again build. Hashem was teaching us a lession. Building and taking down. Building and taking down. Building and taking down. Building and taking down. Building and taking down.
That was the pattern. It’s still our pattern. Things happen in life that hit us hard. Our choice is one of two options…
We build, take down, and build again
We take down and stop building

Rav Yisrael Salanter’s 13 Midos- #12

Thrift: Do not spend even a penny unnecessarily

This is a very different midah that all of the previous ones I’ve written about. Take a look back and you’ll see that each of the other midos are character traits concepts that don’t involve material items. This midah directly discusses something very materialistic, money.
The following might shed some light on why Rav Yisrael thought that the concept of “thrift” was so important in midos development:

A person is recognized through three things – his Kos (how he acts after drinking), his Ka’as (anger), and his Kis (wallet or how he spends).- Eruvin 65B

How we spend what Hashem give us is an indication of what we value. I remember my parents always telling me not to spend my money on foolish things. As l think about the things that I still own from when I was growing up I really only have a few books (literature) that belonged to me while I was in high school and maybe half a dozen cassette tapes (yes I still have them). All the other things that I bought when I was much younger are long gone.

Rav Yisrael says, “Do not spend even a penny unnecessarily.” If we realize that every dollar and every penny is ultimately given to us by Hashem, then shouldn’t we be careful how we spend it? Our salaries at work, what money we make selling things on Ebay, what (if anything) we get back after taxes are all decided for us by Hashem. There have been times in my life when I went to Starbucks every day of the work week. There have been times when I’d be happy to have enough money for (I dread to even write the next two words) instant coffee.

We also need to cheshbon out how we spend our money. Until this past week gas prices were out of control. I constantly heard on the radio that Americans were drastically changing their spending habit due to high prices at the gas pumps. Every cent we spend is important, especially towards Shabbos Kodesh.

The truth behind this midah is that Hashem provides exactly what we need (I can’t write this enough). Part of the draw of the Haskallah was that you could be cultured, intelligent, affluent, and accepted into non-Jewish society even if you were Jewish. Have thing changed all that much?
Rav Yisrael, I believe, wanted to remind Jews that affluence wasn’t everything. It’s what you do with your pennies that counts.

There’s a story in Holy Brother that come to mind. It’s about how we spend money…
The summer before Reb Shlomo Carlebach zt’l was nifter he was in a coffeeshop in Liberty, NY. He had ordered a soda to go. He was told that the price was only $.50. He gave the cashier $2.00 and told her to keep the change. The person Reb Shlomo was with whispered to him, “Shlomo, when you order to go, you don’t give a tip, and certainly you don’t give a $1.50 tip for a $.50 soda.”
He smiled at the person he was with, Yitta Halberstam Mandelbaum (from the Small Miracles series of books), and said, “Holy sister, Yitta, I know, I know. But I’m trying to make up for unzer tierla yiddalach (our sweet Jews) who don’t give tips, and consequently make a chillul Hashem (defame God’s name).”

It’s truly amazing how we can use everything that Hashem give us. Good Shabbos Kodesh!

Two of my favorite stories

Story number one:

A regular preppie teenager walks up to a punk rock teenager with a Mohawk and asks him ‘What’s Punk?’.
So the hardcore-punk teen kicks over a garbage can and say ‘That’s punk!’. The preppie teen proceeds to kick over another garbage can and says ‘That’s Punk?’ The punk kids looks at him, smiles, and says ‘No that’s trendy!” (Overheard during a late night high school party way back in 1988)

I love this story because it shows that it’s not only our actions that define us, but our attitude when we perform those actions.
We, Baruch Hashem, can give meaning and emotion to what we do. Mitzvah performance or our level of external frumkeit isn’t meant to be something ‘trendy’. To follow the crowd without thinking about what or why you’re doing something isn’t always the best plan. Plenty of people, myself included, fall into the trap of doing mitvah-related actions by rote or as another trend once in a while.
To put on Tefillin, make a bracha, hug your kid, learn a pasuk, say a kind word, clean for Shabbos, or braid a challah can be an empty action…or a meaning experience. It’s all about what you do and how you doing. By “how you do it”, I mean what kavanah you ascribe to your actions. Do do something with a sense of simcha is a wonderful thing. It’s actually pretty punk these days.

Story number two:
When Rav Dessler came to America in 1948, he met up with his son, Nachum Velvel in New York. Rav Dessler asked his son who had help him during his years alone in America? His son mentioned several people in New York along with Rabbi Eliezer Silver, the head of Agudah Israel and the rav of Cincinnati. Rav Dessler said, “We must thank him.”
His son offered to place a telephone call to Rabbi Silver, but Rav Dessler wanted to show personal hakaros hatov to Rabbi Silver. Nachum Velvel and his father then took a nine hour train ride to Ohio, arriving at 5:00 am in Cincinnati. Then went to Rabbi Silver’s home and waited on the porch to meet Rabbi Silver as he left his house for davening.
Rabbi Silver met his two guests when he woke up and they all went to shul and then back to the Silver’s for breakfast. After a bite to eat, Rabbi Silver said, “So, Rav Dessler, what brings you to Cincinnati?” Rav Dessler said that he had only come to show appreciation to Rabbi Silver for all he had done for his son.
Rabbi Silver thought about this and again asked, “So, Rav Dessler, what really brings you to Cincinnati?”
Rav Dessler said that he had no other purpose that to show hakaros hatov. Rabbi Silver asked, “Rav Dessler, what can I do for you?”
Rav Dessler, for a third time, repeated that he only wished to show gratitude to Rabbi Silver in person.
Rabbi Silver finally gave up and muttered, “This must be mussar.”
(Paraphrased from the Artscroll biography of Rav Dessler, by Yonoson Rosenbloom)

This is one of my favorite Rav Dessler stories. It embodies, what I think is the best of the mussar movement. I’m not even on the same radar screen as Rav Dessler, but I can relate to this story. My actions need to be in sync with how I live my life. This is what Rav Dessler (or any Adam Gadol) is all about. A simple “thank you” isn’t enough sometimes. We need to go out of our way (in Rav Dessler’s case he went nine hours out of his way) to do the right thing and put your money where your mouth is.
To show gratitude or do a chesed to a spouse, parent, teacher, or even a child who needs to be acknowledged is the right thing. For Rav Dessler, he felt he had no choice but to travel to Cincinnati. For me, walking across the street or just to the livingroom can make a big difference to someone. We have know idea what effect our actions can have on others. Have a great day!

Quick thought on Ki Teitzei

It says in Devarim 22:3 “…and so shall you do with any lost article of your brother that may become lost from him and you find it; you shall not hide yourself.” Rashi says that you can’t cover your eyes and pretend that it’s not there.

We have a halachic obligation to return something that a fellow Jew has lost. That’s pretty easy to understand. The end of this pasuk say that we have a separate mitzvah not to “turn a blind eye to a lost object” (to use the words of the Sefer haChinuch, Mitzvah # 539).

During the entire year, and of course, during Elul, we are given an uncountable number of mitzvah opportunities. I wonder if I really see these mitzvah opportunities as gifts from Hashem or do I pretend they are not there?

The best I can do is keep my glasses clean and look for what Hashem, in his infinite Chessed, has given me.