Monthly Archives: September 2007

Rav Ahron Soloveichik z’tl

Six years ago, on the second day of Chol Hamoed Sukkos Rav Ahron Soloveichik was nifter. I was never a studen of his, but was influenced by several of his talmidim in very informal settings throughout my Torah observant life. I did have an opporutunity to hear him speak when I was a freshman at YU in the fall of 1989.

I admit, sadly, I do not really recall the content of the shiur. I was fresh out of public school, and had hear the name Soloveichik (usually refering to Rav Ahron’s brother, Rav Soloveitchik) before and figured that this would be an opportunity not to miss.

It was a week before Rosh Hashana and Rav Ahron was delivering a shiur on Hilchos Teshuva.

The Adventure of the Observant Jew

I spent alot of time (mostly Shabbos afternoons in high school) reading Sherlock Holmes (especially the Annotated Sherlock Holmes (two volume set). Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had a way of writing and letting us see most of what Holmes saw, but not quite the whole picture until it was explained by Holmes. Sherlock’s keen sense of deduction and obervation are legendary.
A classic example would be from the beginning of A Scandel in Bohemia:

“You see, but you do not observe. The distinction is clear. For example, you have frequently seen the steps which lead up from the hall to this room.”
“Frequently.”
“How often?”
“Well, some hundreds of times.”
“Then how many are there?”
“How many? I don’t know.”
“Quite so! You have not observed. And yet you have seen. That is just my point. Now, I know that there are seventeen steps, because I have both seen and observed.

We are often referred to as ‘observant Jews’. ‘Observant’ is defined as:
paying close attention especially to details
quick to notice; showing quick and keen perception
law-abiding: (of individuals) adhering strictly to laws and rules and customs; “law-abiding citizens”; “observant of the speed limit”
wordnet.princeton.edu/perl/webwn

I guess, it’s true. Compared to other groups of Jews, we, ‘Torah observant’ would fall into the above definition. I’d like to focus on the “quick to notice; showing quick and keen perception” aspect of being ‘observant’. The leaders of previous generations were not only Gadolim in terms of their Torah knowledge, but were extremely sensitive to the world and people around them. I admit, sensitivity to the individual within Yiddishkeit was one of the things that constanly blows me away. I humbly offer three examples for you to think about and maybe even discuss at your Yom Tov table:

In the last years of the great 19th-century thinker Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch, he asked his grandchildren to take him to see the Alps. When questioned why at such a late age he wants to go sightseeing, he answered: “I am worried that after my life I will go up to heaven and Hashem will ask me, “Samson, warum hattest du nicht gesehen mein schonen Alpen?” Samson, why did you not see my beautiful Alps?” (Based on the Artscoll biography of RSRH).

Once, Rabbi Dov Ber, the Alter Rebbe’s son, was studying late at night, his infant son in a cradle nearby. Rabbi Dov Ber was so immersed in his studies that when the baby fell out of the cradle he did not hear the child cry. The Alter Rebbe was also studying in another part of the house. But he heard his grandson’s cry and quickly went to pick him up. “You must always hear the cry of a child,” the Alter Rebbe rebuked his son.
Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, the Bais Halevi, was once asked the following question: Can a person fulfill the mitzvah of drinking for cups at the Pesach seder with milk, instead of wine? The Bais Halevi answered no and then gave the individual who asked him the shi’lah a large sum of money. Later Rav Soloveitchik was asked why give so much money, if all the person needed to buy was some wine for the seder. The Bais Halevi replied, “Because he asked about using milk for the seder, that must have meant that he didn’t have enough funds for any meat, as well.”

We do observe. Hopefully it’s the right things. The beauty of Hashem’s world, a child in need, an opportunity not to embarrass someone is dire straights.

I was recently asked, what I found to be a difficult question. “What excites you?”
I was caught of guard and really didn’t have an answer at the time. It bothered me. I have a lot to be excited about. It’s stories like the ones above that excite me. It’s hearing good news about my kids being sensitive to others in school that excites me. It’s Lightning McQueen realizing that sometime you win even though you don’t come in first place that excites me. It’s the way I feel when my neshama know that I’m doing the right thing that excites me. It’s the smell of fresh ground coffee on a Sunday morning that excites me. I realized that it was difficult for me to initally answer that question because I really don’t take as much time as I should to be observant of my surroundings. This is something (along with several other things) that I am working on during this new year.

Sukkos excites me. After spending time in shul of a beis midresh davening we are commanded to leave our homes and venture outside into the world. We take our all of the feelings from Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur and bring our families outside the safety of our homes. The message of the above three stories is simply: Look around. See and listen to what is around you and show koved to all that Hashem as created. I wish you an inspiring Sukkos.

Rosh Hashanah in review

This year I am trying to remember the chessed and Tov that Hashem is constantly showing me. Here are a few highlights of my Rosh Hashanah…

  • Erev R”H my family got a call from the Chicago Center for Torah and Chessed, as part of calling post, to remind us to make an erev tavshulin.
  • Our neighbor brought us some amazing fried chicken from this place.
  • A good family friend gave us a new challah knife as a “segulah” for parnasah in the upcoming year
  • We shared the majority of our meals with very close friends
  • My son joined me under my tallis for duchenning both days
  • Our baalei tefillah used excellent niggunim on both days
  • My shul’s Rav used a Reb Nachman story (the king’s wheat supply makes everyone insane, so he and his advisor mark their heads so they know they remember they are insane) on his first day drasha and based his second day drasha totally on an idea from Rav Soloveitchik.
  • The following items made by Mrs. Uberdox: Challah, soup, stuffed chicken, Caesar salad w/ steak (better than Dougie’s), and the Chocolate Trifle
  • Number of Kohanim in my minyan-6; number of Kohanim sporting velvet kippot-2; number of Kohanim sporting knitted kippot-3; number of Kohanim sporting a seude kippah-1; Number of Kohaim rocking a kittel-1; Being blessed by representatives from Klal Yisrael-PRICELESS
  • Shabbos Mussaf also was way beyond what I expected with a great kiddusah. And I got to make a l’chaim with this.
  • Motzei Shabbos my wife found that we had a flat tire in the Ubervan. I took it, along with my copy of Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh, to Sam’s Club to get a new tire on Sunday. So, I admit, I had a Bilvavi moment when I started telling myself, “Ribbono shel olam, I know clearly that when I buy this new tire, I do not have control at all as to which tire I will end up buying, but it is all by Your decree.” In then end I ended up with a “Goodyear“. Hopefully this will be a “siman” as well.

My favorite/least favorite Chofetz Chaim moshel

The Chofetz Chaim said over the following moshel:
A successful business owner once ran into a friend who had, also, been succcessful, but recently his business had gone under. The fellow who’s business had suffered asked his friend, “Would you be able to lend me a thousand rubles?”
The wealthy man said, “That is an extremely large amount of money to lend out.”
The now poor man said, “I know, I know. It’s just that I heard about an amazing business investment and I know that if I can get in at the bottom floor I can regain my lost fortune.”
Well, after some more discussion the one thousand rubles were loaned out. They agreed that after one year the money would be repaid. The former business tycoon took the money home and put it away in a drawer and left it alone.
One year later, a knock on the door brings these two men together again. Our wealthy business owner comes by to collect is thousand rubles. His friend opens up the drawer and gives back the money.
The wealthy examines the money he is given and is strartled. He notices that it’s the exact same money, down to the order it was given in. He exclaims, “What kind of joke is this? You begged me to help you invest in a business that would yeld a great fortune. You just took the money and put it away. You blew an unbelievable opportunity.”
We are all given an opporutnity to make an investment for a given amount of time in this world. We have countless investments that we can make with our neshamos. Imagine how Hashem feels when we do not use the gives he has given us…so says the Chofetz Chaim.
I love this moshel and, yet, it is my least favorite moshel to read or think about. In truth, I’ve been thinking about it all month. It speaks to my neshama and, yet, I can’t stand it. It hits way to close to home, and that’s the problem. It’s like that friend you really don’t want to see because he sees through your schtick and excuses for not tapping into your potential.
As I look back I see certain ways that I have grown. I also, more clearly, see opportunities missed, chances not taken. My wife and I spoke last night about the idea of regrets and choices we’ve made. There are always “what ifs” about certain decisions we make. What’s more difficult to face is when you are in a situation and the question is “what now”?
I know that I am truly blessed to be exactly were I am in life, right now. Yet, I wonder if I have used the ‘rubles’ given to me wisely? This kind of thinking can get one down, I know. Then I look at this this Norman Rockwell print (my father actually gave me a lithograph of this print back in 1988) titled “BLANK CANVAS”.
For me, it’s great mussar. All the tools are there: the paint and the paper. There’s even a stack of sketches for possible illustrations. The choice is up to the artist. The choice is up to me. What do I want to create this year for the King of Kings? What is my mindset or my attitude?
Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude.Thomas Jefferson
I thank you for reading and I wish you and your family a K’siva V’Chasima Tova. May we all have a year of inspiration, simcha, and Geulah!