Monthly Archives: January 2012

Glimpse of Greatness- Rav Dovid Lifshitz zt’l

The following was published CHICAGO TORAH, a monthly publication of Yeshiva University Torah Mitzion Kollel of Chicago.

Rabbi Dovid Lifshitz, zt”l
(1906-1993) was a distinguished Torah leader, who was renowned for his dedication to his countless students. At the age of 30, Rav Lifshitz became the community rabbi of Suvalk in Poland, which he maintained until its capture by the Nazis in 1940. Rav Lifshitz and some of his family escaped to the United States where he presided as the Rosh Yeshiva of the Hebrew Theological College (HTC) for a brief period.
Rav Lifshitz was presented with two opportunities in New York City: to serve as rosh yeshiva at two preeminent institutions, Torah Vodaath and Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary. Rav Lifshitz chose to accept the position at RIETS, where he served as teacher and mentor for nearly five decades.
Rav Lifshitz lived with his family on the campus of the Yeshiva and made himself constantly available to his students. He treated each of them with great care and respect.
One morning, a student came to his apartment unannounced. The student knocked on the apartment door, and the Rosh Yeshiva’s wife answered. She asked the student to wait in order to inform her husband of his guest.
The student was waiting patiently, when he noticed the kitchen door slightly ajar. Through the gap, he saw Rav Lifshitz sitting at the table, without a jacket or hat, eating his breakfast. When the Rebbetzin informed Rav Lifshitz about the student who was waiting, he immediately ran to the back and donned his jacket and hat.
After his conversation with Rav Lifshitz, the student left the apartment and understood the intentions of his Rebbe; without knowing, Rav Lifshitz taught the young man a lesson of respect- respect for Torah and respect for every person. The student understood that a teacher of Torah must present themselves with dignity and honor befitting the Torah that they represent. Rav Lifshitz taught that this honor was not only reserved for greeting distinguished guests or formal occasions. Every student, every visitor, deserved this same distinguished honor. It was with care and respect that he earned the devotion of his countless students.

(As told by Rabbi Yudin)


Staying in shul (and davening)

I have a found there a few factors involved when it comes to a getting a child to stay in shul and attempting to daven.  I am not a parenting, chinuch, or educational expert.  I am just a regular guy and these are my observations and what has, so far, worked for me.  Of course, if you child cannot behave in shul, then they really are too young to come to shul (regardless of age).  In no particular order the factors that I’ve observed are:

  • Seeing adults who take davening seriously:  This means no excessive talking and very little DADD (davening attention deficit disorder)
  • Understanding that coming to shul is a privilege:  It’s a special treat to get to come and daven to Hashem
  • Appreciating that shul is a mikdash me’at:  Instilling an idea of the kedushah of a shul is key (see this post)
  • Positive peer influence:  While we can offer direction, our children’s friends truly are influential
  • Having davening incentive programs in school:  A child needs to know that what he is doing is being observed and rewarded
  • Having slightly older role models:  Being able to look up to someone, even a grade older, can give a child someone to look up to
  • The candy man- As my son’s 4th grade rebbe told us a parent orientation, “You’d be amazed what your children will do for a gumball.”
Unless you started reading biographies of gedolim since infancy to your children, most of them are not so keen on staying in shul for all of davening.  I can’t blame them.  Most rabbis that I spoken with or parenting shiurim I’ve listened to suggest letting a child stay in for “as much as they can handle”.  My son has been going to shul on Shabbos morning with me since he was 3.  He has, for the most part, been sitting with me, davening what he is comfortable davening, and until he was 10, going to groups.

On Shabbos I daven in a very nice hashkama minyan that regularly has between 45-60 halachic adult males, of which 3 are between 13-17.  This minyan isn’t a heavily kid populated (mostly because it’s at 7:30), but the minyan is very kid friendly.  Currently including my son there are about 5 other boys in 4th-6th grade.  We have davened there for almost 6 years my son has always left the beis midrash right before haftorah and then, if I’m lucky, resurfaced by Adon Olam.  About 5 weeks ago I made the observation to him that of the 6 boys in 4th-6th grade, there are 3 that come back in for musaf.  I asked him if he’d be interested in coming in for musaf and staying until the end of davening for 3 weeks and as a reward we’d go out for pizza, just he and I.

He agreed and after the second week of going out for haftorah and then returning before Ashrei, he actually stayed in for the haftorah and didn’t even leave.  B’li ayin hora, he has been staying in and doesn’t seem to mind.  Now, my son and his father are far from perfect, but we are both aware of what’s expected of us.

Yahrtzeit of Rav Dessler zt’l

The 25th of Teves is the yahrtzeit of Rav Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler zt’l, one of the most influential post World War II baalei mussar.

I’d like to re-examine one of my favorite about him, originally posted here

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) 

I had originally thought about writing something regarding Rav Desslers view of perfecting middos and our own subjectivity or his view on the importance of tefillah (praying), but I am going with a more down to earth message.  

A common theme among mussar teaching is the need to emphasize the mitzvos bein adam l’chavero (between person and person), while keeping in mind that recognizing the “Godliness” within each person falls into the venue of bein adam l’makom (between a person and Hashem).

Those who are great people in the arena of character development are such because they think.  Most of the times we feel slighted, turned off, distance or conflicted about relationships with others is because one party simply didn’t think about the other person.  We don’t take time to really appreciate others or truly think about how someone else would feel when we give our opinion about something.

So, as we come to the end of a week and start another, I will try to think more about those I interact with and attempt to bring kiddusha (holiness) to my relationships.  The greatness of the story above, in my opinion, is that Rav Dessler gave thought to what he could do to show appreciation.

For other postings about Rav Dessler please click here.

Secret identities and blogging

T-Shirt found here
In my youth I collected and read comic books.  Part of my interest was rooted in dichotomy between the private life of the hero and the public life of his/her crime fighting (and usually masked) alter ego.

The freedom to do what you say and do what you want without it potentially affecting your private life must be someone liberating.  Because of my own self-imposed system of checks and balances I decided to post under my own name, instead of using a pseudonym.  For the most part this works for me and keeps me fairly true to myself and honest.  It does, however, mean that some of my thoughts (or rants) about things get pushed aside for more “lofty” writing (insert smile here).

In the past few weeks I was tempted to actually start another blog, under a fake name.  The idea would be that it would give me a platform (without anyone probably ever reading it) to get things off my chest and attempt to offer solutions to the many problems facing Jewish society today.  I know that I don’t have all or even a few of the answers, but I strongly loathe blogs where someone rants and raves about an issue, but even with dozens of comments, a resolution or real-world suggestion is never reached.

Hot Topic issues would be brought up like:  The trend of public blogging about the conversion process in America (within all camps of Judaism), what’s going on in RBS, self-perpetuating issues within the chinuch system, and the social pitfalls of making other feel you are “frummer than thou”.

I went so far as to make a real blog.  I even came up with an awesome blogging alias and a name for the blog.  But, there were two major problems. 
  1. The pseudonym was both revealing and also would have labeled me.
  2. I didn’t feel like having two separate identities, because maintaining this blog is hard enough.

Don’t get me wrong, please.  If you blog and don’t use your real name, it doesn’t bother me.  Some people have very sound reasons for doing this.  However, the secret identity thing just didn’t sit to well with me.  You see, this is personal blog.  I’m not Spider-Man, Superman, or even a pubic member of the Fantastic Four.  There might be some so-called mussar and a dvar Torah thrown in once in a while, but at the end of the day, it’s a personal blog and nothing more.  That being written, there are things in my life that I don’t write about and really don’t feel like sharing even if it’s in the form of a pseudonym, which is why I decided not to get past an “about me” for that other blog.   If you find the blog out there and the initial entry then great.

In the meantime, here is an edited and not so revealing version of the “about me”:

This isn’t isn’t my actual name, it’s fake.  I wasn’t born into an observant family and read a lot of the Raymond Carver, Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Ayn Rand, Jack Kerouac, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in high school.  I became frum in high school before CDs were sold in record stores and then, ten years afterwards, before getting married, I discovered something about myself that gave me food for thought about my own Torah observance and Knesses Yisrael.  So, without adding any more details, let’s just say that life goes on.  Back in public high school my hair was often streaked with peroxide and different lengths and shapes (thanks to Aqua Net).  By eventually I chopped it off so that I could look more clean cut for my interview at Yeshiva University (the things we do for Torah).  Back then, I spent my free time listening to hardcore punk and college radio.  Today, I have very little hair and when I do catch myself listening to Husker Du or Bad Religion on my iTouch my kids roll their eyes and call the music “complete chaos and a ruckus”.  They are somewhat correct, having been raised on Uncle Moishy, Piamenta, and YBC.  In the end, I am zoche to have a wife and children to love me and rock.  My children, fight a genetic dislike for cleaning their rooms and display a strength of self and independence that sets them apart from many of their peers.  There is nothing more hardcore than going against the grain and doing what Hashem wants each of us to do.

By the way, what is written above it a total rephrasing of what’s on the blog, so don’t bother googling any of the phrases or sentences.

Starubucks’ Blond Roast and kiruv

In 2007 I wrote a post titled Kiruv Models for  In it used Starbucks as a model and today I find myself doing the same.  At locations across North America Starubucks revealed their new “Blond Roast”, a light roasted coffee being introduced to attract those who are buying coffee at donut chains and fast food joints.  “We know we’re not serving those customers now. We’re going to bring in new customers,” Andrew Linnemann, director of coffee quality at Starbucks, said of Blonde, in an article today in the Chicago Tribune.

For the people like me, I love a dark roast.  That’s why I like Starbucks (at a cRc recommended kiosk).  I have never had McDonald’s coffee, but Dunkin always tasted watered down.  Over the years Starbucks has introduced “new” things into their stores that seem to grab customers like skim milk, soy milk, and blended frozen drinks.  Some have been more successful than others.

This trend of attracting those who are not part of your market share has always been important in kiruv.  In the past few years this has surfaced in the following ways:
  • The success of The Mussar Institute, popularity of Dr. Alan Morinis’ books, and the introduction of “Mussar” as a buzzword among non-Orthodox branches of Judaism prompted Aish’s Jewish Pathways (self-contained distance/online learning) to get Dr. Morinis to author a “Mussar Program” offering.
  • Popularity of the Maccabeats’ pop music parody vidoes have spawned (time and time again) private individuals and kiruv organizations to put out their own “Jewish” versions of music videos (of course Shlock Rock originally and skillfully did this eons ago).
  • NCSY, the most successful Orthodox youth group, has cornered the market of teen outreach since its’ inception.  In the two years Chabad has begun massive outreach in the form of CTeen,.  “CTeen is a social club where teens learn about themselves and their heritage through giving to others and participating in interactive, hands-on activites.  With over 85 chatpers, CT is the fastest growing network for Jewish teens.”  They even are hosting a massive shabbaton in NYC next month.

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then I guess those who serve light roasted coffee (a code word for watered down coffee) will be thrilled.  In regard to the bullets above, I’m not sure what the approach should be.  The Mussar Institute has made Mussar relevant for thousands of people (their Facebook group alone has almost 800 members).  More and more I read about Reform and Reconstructionist groups running Mussar programs.  I think that it’s about time adult kiruv groups serve up “Blond” mussar programs to the non-Orthodox community.  The Maccabeats had two very successful parodies and this Chanukah they went with a more traditional route by covering a song by Matisyahu.  NCSY continues to be on the cutting edge of programming, but Chabad has massive funding behind all of their programs.

Opening up your doors to a new market is always a risk.  As is changing the way you make your signature product.  We do, however, have an amazing an unique product to offer…Hashem’s Torah.