Monthly Archives: November 2008

Revealing contents

A peek into a refrigerator can tell a lot about a person.  If you look the fridge in a kitchen in someones’ home and it’s empty it usually means that either they haven’t had time to go shopping or that they simply don’t have enough money to stock the fridge.

A peek into a fridge at the workplace reveals something else. For the past few months the fridge at my workplace has been full of lunches that people are bringing from home. It wasn’t always like that. Except for a few drinks and some Heinz Ketchup, the fridge was usually empty. Those who formally ate out daily have changed their habits, due to the economy, and started bringing lunch from home.

A fridge that is empty might symbolize economic problems. A fridge that is full might, also, symbolize economic problems. Often time, the real back story changes our preception. As most things in life, its not always what is containted inside that matters, but also why those contents are inside.

Opening my heart

Towards the end of the Amidah we say:
פְּתַח לִבִּי בְּתורָתֶךָ. וּבְמִצְותֶיךָ תִּרְדּף נַפְשִׁי
May my heart be open to your Torah.  May my soul pursue your Mitzvos.

I’m on round two of going through the second volume of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh.  A few nights ago I came across this:

If the Torah he has learned and the prayers he has prayed until today have not brought him to the state of feeling in his heart that Hashem is a real perceptible entity Whom it is pleasant to live with and cleave to, his Torah and mitzvos were only in the mind, but the heart was not functioning properly. (chapter three)

Yeah, this one brought me to a screeching halt.  This is the real deal.  If I’m don’t feel like davening, washing negel vasser, making a bracha, lighting neiros, learning, dressing tzenuah or doing chessed, it’s a problem.  What if I do those things and still feel nothing?  It must be that my heart isn’t open. 

Each generation has their own specific Yetzer Hara.  Not putting enough heart into Yiddishkeit just might be ours.  There’s a cure, though.  It might not be for everyone, but it’s worth a try and has helped me over the past year and a half.  
The gemara in Kiddushin 30b says: Hashem has told Yisrael, “My children, I have created the Evil Inclination, and I have created the Torah as an antidote against it.”  Again, each generation has their own specific Yetzer Hara.  With that in mind, I think it’s safe to type that each generation is given specific seforim and teachers that are vessels of Torah containing the antidote we need against the Evil Inclination of our times. 

Much as been written about the gadlus of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh seforim and their author, Rav Itamar Schwartz.  I am, by no means, a talmud of his or his seforim.  I’m simply more of an armchair or between-aliyos reader.  I’m constantly amazed, even in the English, how clearly he gives over important concepts that I have seemed to have forgotten over the years and brings to light new mind-blowing ideas with such tangible everyday life examples.  Even more importantly that opening my mind, my heart has begun be be opened again, as well.  It’s been a slow process, but when I put in the effort, I’m a better Jew.

Building A Sancuary in the Heart isn’t overly intellectual, hippy-trippy, or feel-good-and-feel-frummer writing.  Its’ success is due to the fact that the seforim speak to each person differently.  In fact, the whole approach to Rav Schwartz’s teaching is very different that that of other Rabbeim.  His Torah has been made available to everyone via the web.  The seforim, mp3s and videos are all there, just waiting for you.  If you don’t feel like the Jew you were several years ago, when Mitzvos and the idea of being close to Hashem seemed to be something you yearned for, then this might be the antidote you need

Feeling burned out…

Burn-out, Off the derech, Timtum HaLev, observabots, general lack of feeling while performing mitzvos.  Call it what you will, but recently it’s been a topic among many bloggers.  Why?  I’d venture to say that it is because most people are worried about someone they know or even themselves.  To be on fire, excited, and passionate about anything all the time isn’t easy.

If inclined, I’m listing a few links for online reading as well as two mp3 shiurim that might help anyone.  I’ve, personally, found them useful.

Adults at Risk:  by R Mordechai Becher and Rabbi Chanan (Antony) Gordon-  A well written article that address this issues and offers suggestions

Burn-Out:  by The Ner LeElef Institute-  This document was written for the “kiruv profession”, but don’t let that stop you from reading…with an open mind and heart

Inspiration and Disappointment:  from LIVING INSPIRED by Rabbi Akiva Tatz-  If you haven’t read this, he explains why we need to go through a period of excitement and then hit the bumpy roadListening

Getting High, Staying High:  Rabbi Akiva Tatz (fourth shiur on the list)- This is the mp3 shiur of the same concepts found in the above link
Loving Yiddishkeit:  by Rabbi Shaya Cohen (third shiur on the list)-  While geared toward parents, the information, insights, and advice are hands-on and can be applied for anyone

To be continued…

Sunday’s Spark of Mussar

Rav Naftali Amsterdam

Two thinks are necessary for man’s self-perfection.  One is to arouse and inspire himself.  The other, by far the harder, is to carry out his good resolutions and retain the inspiration when it comes down to action.

From Sparks of Mussar by R Chaim Ephraim Zaitchik

Who wrote this….

Whenever I control my yetzer hora and whenever I guard my tongue from evil for Hashem’s sake, I know that He loves me.  At those moments when I subdue my anger from flaring up or push back an unclean thought, Hashem loves me like a father loves his child.

At this moment, it would be good to be mispallel, each in his or her own language:  “Ribono Shel Olam, I am your child.  Have rachmanus on me, allow me to love You, and show me that your love me too.  In turn, I promise I won’t do anything to anger you anymore.  I am doing teshuvah will all my heart because I am your child.”

I’ll post the answer Wednesday afternoon.  Hatzlacha!

Rav Simcha Zissel Ziv, the Alter of Kelm

This world is like an expensive hotel.  And my rebbe, R’ Yisrael Salanter, said it was like an exspensive drink.

From Sparks of Mussar by R Chaim Ephraim Zaitchik

Noach and Avraham- as heard from the Novominsker

Last year, on Shabbos Lech Lecha a friend and I went to a tisch bei Rav Yaakov Perlow, the Novominsker Rebbe, while he was visiting Chicago (the tish was in Lincolnwood).  The Novominsker said over the following regarding the debate over the status of Noach if he had lived in the generation of Avraham.

He said that, while he was holding up a shot glass, that for 2000 years before Avraham the world was empty. He then filled the shot glass half way with wiskey and said that in Noach’s zechus the world was saved.  Noach’s level of Torah was not as great as that of Avraham, but Noach helped fill the world with his understanding of Hashem and his Torah.

The Novominsker went on to say that in life we can look at a glass as either half empty or half full.  He said, we should look at it as half full.  Because of Noach we are alive today.  Noach was able to recognize that the glass was half full.  He had a relationship with the one who poured the drink.  Then came Avraham.   His job was to m’kadesh the world around him. That’s why the Chumash says that he and his children walked w/ Hashem in Tzedek (charity) and Mishpat (justice).  These ideas are known to the non-Jewish world, too.  The difference is that Avraham was able to m’kadesh these concepts.  That was his gadlus.  Avraham took the half filled glass and made a bracha over it, using it for kedusha. That was Avraham’s avodah…to m’kadesh everything in his world.  This is also our avodah today.  Noach stated the work, Avraham continued, and now it’s our turn.