Monthly Archives: November 2011

Tomer Devorah shiur #1 now online

Rabbi Etan Ehrenfeld

The first shiur from the YU Torah Mitzion Kollel of Chicago’s Tomer Devorah chabura was just posted online, here.  The shiur, “V’halachta B’drachav”, is based on the the Ramak’s intoduction to the sefer and Rabbi Etan Ehrenfeld brings in an article from the Rav and Sefer HaMitzvos in helping to understand the how we can be similar to our Creator.  It’s worth a listen and is a great way to prepare for this Sunday’s class at Congregation KINS from 8pm-9pm!

In memory of my father-in-law’s 4th yahrtzeit

Tonight, the 12th of Mar Cheshvon is the 4th yahrtzeit of Dan ben Aharon HaLevi, my father-in-law.

I can’t help but think tonight that he would have been thrilled to see how my oldest daughter uses internet-based educational websites to work on spelling, math and reading.  He would get a kick out of how my son will use my wife’s iPhone and use the Kotel Kam app to see a live feed from Yerushalyim.  I know he would laugh till there were tears in his eyes if he saw how my 5 yr old little girl will use my smartphone and check the weather so she knows what shoes to wear in the morning.

When people were not sure what to make of the internet in the early 1990’s, he was downloading parsha summaries from, sending emails, and printing out Torah material for his shul’s newletter.

My kid’s Zaidy loved technology, because it kept him young.  He was always up on the lastest trends and technologies.  It was something I always found impressive.  For sure, he’d appreciate the fact that this post was written on my Blackberry, while sitting in a parking lot.

HaRav Nosson Tzvi Finkel zt"l, Howard Schultz and the Holocaust

In memory of the the Rosh Yeshiva, a great-grandson of the Alter of Slabodka, I’m reposting a “famous” story involving HaRav Nosson Tzvi Finkel z”tl and Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks and a lesson from the Shoah.

The story below, from Am Echad Resources, was written by Howard Schultz (CEO of Starbucks). This article is excerpted from a speech he delivered, and is reprinted courtesy of Hermes Magazine, Fall 2001, a publication of Columbia Business School.

When I was in Israel, I went to Mea Shearim, the ultra-Orthodox area within Jerusalem. Along with a group of businessmen I was with, I had the opportunity to have an audience with Rabbi Noson Tzvi Finkel, the head of a yeshiva there [Mir Yeshiva]. I had never heard of him and didn’t know anything about him. We went into his study and waited 10 to 15 minutes for him. Finally, the doors opened.
What we did not know was that Rabbi Finkel was severely afflicted with Parkinson’s disease. He sat down at the head of the table, and, naturally, our inclination was to look away. We didn’t want to embarrass him.
We were all looking away, and we heard this big bang on the table: “Gentlemen, look at me, and look at me right now.” Now his speech affliction was worse than his physical shaking. It was really hard to listen to him and watch him. He said, “I have only a few minutes for you because I know you’re all busy American businessmen.” You know, just a little dig there.
Then he asked, “Who can tell me what the lesson of the Holocaust is?” He called on one guy, who didn’t know what to do — it was like being called on in the fifth grade without the answer. And the guy says something benign like, “We will never, ever forget?” And the rabbi completely dismisses him. I felt terrible for the guy until I realized the rabbi was getting ready to call on someone else. All of us were sort of under the table, looking away — you know, please, not me. He did not call me. I was sweating. He called on another guy, who had such a fantastic answer: “We will never, ever again be a victim or bystander.”
The rabbi said, “You guys just don’t get it. Okay, gentlemen, let me tell you the essence of the human spirit.
“As you know, during the Holocaust, the people were transported in the worst possible, inhumane way by railcar. They thought they were going to a work camp. We all know they were going to a death camp.
“After hours and hours in this inhumane corral with no light, no bathroom, cold, they arrived at the camps. The doors were swung wide open, and they were blinded by the light. Men were separated from women, mothers from daughters, fathers from sons. They went off to the bunkers to sleep.
“As they went into the area to sleep, only one person was given a blanket for every six. The person who received the blanket, when he went to bed, had to decide, ‘Am I going to push the blanket to the five other people who did not get one, or am I going to pull it toward myself to stay warm?'”
And Rabbi Finkel says, “It was during this defining moment that we learned the power of the human spirit, because we pushed the blanket to five others.”
And with that, he stood up and said, “Take your blanket. Take it back to America and push it to five other people.”

Am I a shadow?

האדם ראוי שיתדמה לקונו ואז יהיה בםוד הצורה העליונה צלם

It is proper for man to imitate his Creator, resembling Him in both likeness and image according to the secret of the Supernal Form.

I believe this is not an accurate translation of the words, and is not a Jewish translation on a conceptual level. The root of the word “tzelem” is “tzeil,” which means shadow. A shadow reveals the contours of an object in an indirect way,

Over 700 postings now labeled

Photo from here

I’ve added labels to almost all of my posts.  The process has reminded me of those MasterCard ads:

Number of posts labeled “mussar”- 220
Number of posts labeled “personal”- 196
Number of posts labeled “lessons”- 115
Realizing what you mostly write about…

Palm Trees in Chicago

Erev Rosh Hashana many shuls in the Chicagoland area received wonderful bookmarks from the YU Torah Mitzion Kollel of Chicago.  One side of the book mark stated:

Yom Kippur
13 Attributes of Devine Mercy
How can I emulate these Devine
attributes in my life?
Based on Tomer Devorah of
Rabbi Moshe Cordovero, 16th c.

Well, the YU Kollel has an answer to, “How can I emulate these Devine attributes in my life?”
Starting this Sunday, November 6th from 8pm-9pm at Congregation KINS you can join Kollel Fellow Rabbi Etan Ehrenfeld and start learning Tomer Devorah.  This sefer was first published in 1588 and one of the seminal muusar works.

Personally, I’ve had a copy of it for years and looked at it from time to time, but never really got into it.  I’m very excited about being able to learn ideas from it in an informal setting, such as this chaburah.  I hope you’ll join me!

Too cool for shul

This is legit.  Found here.

Come on, at one point we’re all too cool for shul.  I’m uber-guily of this, big time!
I use to like being a wandering Jew.  A weekday minyan nomad, traveling along in a Jack Keroauc-like way, never really staying anywhere too long.  Basing my destination on convenience and ease of parking.
I was wrong.  Part of my wandering was really just because I could wander.   After spending almost 8 years in a one shul city (we lived in Indianapolis from 1998-2006), moving to Chicago was, well like, shul overload.  Sort of like getting a shopping spree at Saint Mark’s Sounds (an excellent used cd store in NYC).  I am not, Chas v’Shalom, downplaying the importance, stability, or value of the “one shul town”, but it’s refreshing to have an option (at times).  Living in a city with one shul helps add a strength of community and lets you really get to know everyone, this cannot be understated (and I somewhat miss that).

So, parshas Bereishis, I found myself in the social hall/basement of Rav Moshe Weinberger’s shul, Congregation Aish Kodesh, during a moving an uplifting shalosh seudos (I’ve previous blogged about the first time I was there for the holy third meal of Shabbos here[insert link]).  I listened, as I heard a message that seemed tailor made for me (if you’ve heard R Weinberger in person, you often think that he’s speaking directly to you) about the importance of making an effort to daven in “our shul”, as he said.  He mentioned that he knows there are many faces that he and the shul only see on Shabbos Kodesh.  Not that people are not going to minyanim during the week, but it’s seems that they tend to davening elsewhere.  Rav Weinberger said that he understands that people have schedules and trains to catch, but if you can figure out a way to go a minyan that not an “18 minute shacharis”, it’s better.  He also said that when you make a commitment to daven in your shul you add to the kedusha of the shul.  This was a very powerful idea.

At that point, I decide, b’li neder, to stop being a wanderer.  I have successfully made it to my shul in the mornings (except when I’ve had carpool responsibilities) and so far, for mincha or maariv.  No more drifting upon the sea of shuls, I’m attempting to anchor myself, finally. 

The occasional value of chitzoniyus

Image from here

Despite the pretentious title of this post (and this blog), I tend to be more into p’nemiyus (internal) than chitzoniyus (external).  Of course, ideally the chitzoniyus should really reflect what’s going on behind the scenes.  That being written, I’ve been debating for a while about switching over from blogger to WordPress.  The vibe on the web is that those who write as a hobby use blogger and those who are serious about writing use WordPress.  They also have really cool layouts for their blogs.  Another “advantage” (I use the term loosely) that WordPress has over blogger is that they have an excellent Blackberry application that allows you to do all sorts of nifty things like post, edit, use italics, etc all from your phone.  Blogger allows you to post by sending an email.

So, I transferred over an old dormant blog from blogger to WordPress and played around a bit.  It was fun and I was totally read to take Modern Uberdox and make the jump.  As a user of most things Google (gmail, reader, google doc, google music), I decided to look at blogger’s templates one last time, since I really haven’t looked at them since starting this blog back in 2006.  I was impressed.  For sure, not as diverse or stylish as WordPress  but it was refreshing.  So I jumped, within blogger and now we are rocking a newer design.

I really try to have simplistic/minimalist views on things.  I’m more interested in how Cherry Coke tastes, than the fact that the company has changed the graphics on their cans a total of 4 times since the late 80s.  However, I understand the need to look presentable and the need to change things up from time to time (except with your spouse’s recipes).  If you use the trapping of chitzoniyus to grow and be a better Jew, then more power to you.

Oh, by the way, I’m attempting to apply labels to all of my posts, starting with the most recent and working backwards.

In memory of Yosef ben Shlomo HaKohen a"h

I just read the article below (posted with permission from the author) by Rabbi Shafran about Reb Yosef, author of THE UNIVERSAL JEW, entering the Olam HaEmes. I am stunned. His sefer is a favorite of mine and I constantly find myself picking it up (after hearing about the sefer from R Gershon Seif years ago).


Rabbi Avi Shafran
The first notice, shortly before Rosh Hashana, came from “Tehilla.” The subject box of the e-mail read: “Baruch Dayan HaEmet/URGENT, YOSEF PASSED AWAY!” and the message began: “I can’t believe this rabbi. I can’t believe he has left us. He was so concerned for me and my family….”
Tehilla is not her real name. She is a non-Jewish resident of a Muslim country, and is married to a Hindu man. But she is a “Noahide,” a person who has accepted the Torah’s universal “Seven Commandments” for humankind. In fact, she studies the works of, among others, the Chofetz Chaim, and pines for the day for when her adult sons, who are following in her path, will find wives ready to do the same. And for Moshiach’s arrival.
Yosef was Yosef ben Shlomo Hakohen, an American-born Jewish returnee to Judaism (his original family name was Oboler) who lived in Bayit Vegan, Jerusalem, and who made it his life’s work to bring Jews closer to their heritage and to be a source of encouragement and direction to non-Jews who have found their way to realizing the Torah’s truth.
And so the anguish at Yosef’s unexpected passing was felt not only by Tehilla but by countless people around the world, in the strangest of places, who had benefitted from his writing—and, in many cases, his personal interaction with them.
I never had the honor of meeting Yosef in person but knew him from numerous electronic conversations we had. He was a remarkable man. In fact, I had begun asking him about his background and work, hoping one day to make him the subject of an Ami interview. Now, sadly, I can share only the few facts I came to garner; and, incomparably sadder still, not in an interview but an obituary.
Yosef, the child of leftist social activists, discovered Torah in his youth and was captivated by a deep desire to reach out to Jews who shared his parents’ convictions, to help them better understand the true raison d’etre of the Jewish nation. “I wanted,” he wrote me, “to help them to understand that it is through the study and fulfillment of the Torah that we make our contribution towards a better world.”

In 1995, Feldheim published Yosef’s “The Universal Jew: Letters To a Progressive Father From His Orthodox Son,” telling the tale of his parents’ dedication to the poor and underprivileged, and about his own personal journey, which led him to dedicate his own life to outreach. The following year, in a Jewish Observer article entitled “And He shall turn the Hearts of the Fathers to the Sons,” Yosef reprised some of that story. And he established “Hazon—Renewing Our Universal Vision,” a study program/Internet resource that touched untold numbers of hearts and minds.
In one of his many communications to his followers, Yosef quoted Rav Avrohom Yoffen, zt”l, the Rosh Yeshiva of Bais Yosef-Novardok, as noting the significance of the fact that our forefather Avrohom is the archetype of both kindness toward others and intolerance for idolatry. The latter, he explains, is based on a belief that various forces in nature are in competition with one another. That antagonism, he continued, is paralleled in, and connected to, human beings’ alienation from one another. Avrohom Avinu embraced lovingkindness to counter that disaffection, and he fought idolatry to undermine its root cause.
That well describes Yosef’s life-mission itself.
On Yom Kippur, “Tehilla” lit a yahrzeit candle for Yosef, who left no blood-relatives.

I remember how she expressed her feelings about meeting and corresponding with Yosef and other Jews who have offered her encouragement and guidance. “With all the sufferings [the world has] inflicted on you all,” she once wrote, “I still cannot fathom how magnanimous you all are in being a light to all nations.
“After meeting your people [by e-mail], I cannot understand how such a warm, compassionate and humane people can be so persecuted and so misunderstood.
“All I can pray is when Hashem decides it’s time for all your sufferings to be over, He will show us Gentiles the compassion we failed to show you all.”
“Soon G-d is going to say ‘enough’ to your tears…”
And to hers as well, may the day come soon.

[Rabbi Shafran is an editor at large and columnist for Ami Magazine]
The above essay may be reproduced or republished, with the above copyright appended.

To receive essays like the one above when they first appear, as well as other columns I write, like”Gleanings” (a synopsis of some unusual media articles from the previous week with poignant comments appended) and “News and Analysis” (a detailed treatment of a recent news story) – not to mention a wealth of other interesting reading – subscribe to Ami at .