Monthly Archives: August 2012

Have you found your purpose?

Pic found here

Last week I read a post from A Simple Jew based on a pasuk in Tehillim. He writes:

חיים שאל ממך נתתה לוLife he requested of You, You gave it to him. (Tehillim 21:5)
Hashem, You have given me life, but You keep the tachlis of why you sent my neshamah down into this world hidden from me!  How can you expect me to fulfill my mission if you don’t even tell me what that mission is?  What will I be accountable for once I return my neshamah to You?  What is my true potential that You want me to live up to?
Hashem, I am asking for life from You – but not the life of an animal who merely exists to fulfill its bodily desires.  I am asking for a life in which each day I can work to fulfill the tachlis of why You put me here in this world.

I posted the following comment:
When I was first married I spent “hisbodedus time” focused on this question.  It wasn’t until I heard a shiur on B’nai Machshava Tova (given by R Weinberger) that I, sort of, gave up this path of thinking. R Weinbeger mentioned the importance of realizing when to cheshbon and think about things.  The example he gave, I believe, was about greeting someone after minyan in the morning.  You can think to yourself, “I wonder how this person is?  I want to wish him a good day, but what if he had a bad morning or has a presentation at work in 2 two hours and is stressing out about.” The other option is just to say, “I hope you have a great day!”

Sometimes, we over think too many things.  I am often guilty of this.

I remember specifcally the Simchas Torah of 2001 and thinking about this.  The shul I was in was singing a song that I really didn’t like and not many people were dancing.  I started to chesbon that I wasn’t such a lebedik song to begin with and if I danced, I’d end up only being the 6th person in the circle.  I caught myself and realized that I was wasting an opportunity to show my love for the Torah and just jumped in and danced.

I have found, that if I am really plugged into my observant life as a Jew with davening, learning, doing what I am obligated to do on a daily basis, then eventually I get an idea for something or opportunities come up that I find ruchnius-rooted fullfilment in doing.

I think that we all are trying to figure out how we can fit our piece into the larger puzzle that makes up Hashem’s plan for us in this world.  We all want a purpose, a mission statement, or a compass that directs us.  Micha Berger found his mission statement, based on the introduction to the sefer Shaarei Yosher (you can read about this and his excellent plan of actualizing that statement here).

In an off-blog discussion with A Simple Jew we shared some ideas about the different ways of focusing on this mystery of tachlis, purpose.   I had tried the deep contemplation method and, for me, it didn’t work.  As I commented above, I find that when I’m following the path of the “regular” things an observant Jew is meant to do, there are time when “purpose” comes my way.  Sometimes not thinking too much about something yields results.  This is based on chapter 4 of Jewish Meditation by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan zt’l, he describes the difference between being “locked on” a specific problem and another way to solve an issue.  He writes:

The appears to be, however another type of problem-solving consciousness.  The first time I became aware of this was when, in the course of Kabbalistic research, I was trying to figure out the properties of a five-dimentional hypercube.   The problem was extremely difficult, since it involved trying to visualize what would happen when the hypercube was rotated through five-dimensional space.  I had spent several afternoons sweating over the problem, without even coming close to a solution.

Then, one evening, I was relaxing in the bathtub, and mymind wandered to the problem, almost offandedly. Suddenly, every aspect of the problem seemed peferectly clear, and the relationships that had been impossibly complex were now easy to visualze and understand.  By the time I got out of the tub, I had worked out the problem completely.

Eventually, I began to realized that this was happening to me often.  Sitting in the tub was an excellent time to solve the most difficult problems.  But the expereince was very different from being locked on to problem. Quite to the contrary, the mind was free to wander wherever it watned, but it seemed tohit upon the right answers with surprising clarity. 

This method might not work for everyone, but focusing on the question of tachlis mostly directs me to the proverbial brick wall.  If you want to talk tachlis, then we all know that our neshama is happy when we are doing what we are supposed to be doing…following a life of Torah u’Mitzvos.   I know, on a very deep level, that there are certain actions and avodas Hashem that I can engage in where I feel energized (for years it was when I was involved in kiruv and informal education).  The reality is that, I currently spend the majority of my day working in my profession (which has opportunities for me to be m’kadesh Hashem).  However, I know that my identity isn’t based on my job, there’s more to who I am.  Since am I not learning full-time (ok, I haven’t really learned full-time since my 2 years in E”Y) and working, it is hard to find that real ruchniyus-type purpose while replying to work emails, dealing with traffic, taking phone calls, and attending meetings.

I have heard, read, and told myself that having a job and getting that set amount of money every two weeks is really for the purpose of supporting my family, paying tuition, buying food to enhance Shabbos Kodesh, and so forth.  This mindset is something that has to be a constant reminder and, I admit, I don’t think about it enough.   The popularity of Daf Yomi might, in fact, be due to the masses of those, like me, who are working and attempting to find a higher purpose in things.  Learning a daf or anything on a daily basis gives one a sense of direction, accomplishment, and purpose.  It’s the same thing if you have committed to attending a weekly shiur.  You know that for a specific amount of time you are accomplishing something in the realm of learning Torah.

However, and don’t hit me because I’m wearing glasses. just because one is learning on a regular basis, that doesn’t mean that you are exempt from finding a greater purpose.  I don’t think, and I can say this because I started the new daf yomi cycle, that the daf is all that Hashem wants me to do.  So find a mission statement, or dedicate 20 minutes a day to asking Hashem to give you insight into your purpose, or just take a bath.  If these ideas don’t work, then ask a close friend or people at a kiddush if they have found their purpose.  I can let you in on a little secret, when I ask myself this question, I can safely stay that it probably involves:

  • Being able to get up in the morning (I am not a morning person)
  • Trying to do things to help my wife and children (hard because, by nature, I am selfish)

I am sure there are more things that encompass big ideas like making observance more meaningful, breaking down stereotypes of observant Judaism, and teaching others why they are important to Judaism.  I suppose that just realizing we have a purpose is a good start, too.

Join YU Torah Mitzion Kollel of Chicago for a great night

On September 9, 2012, the YU Torah Mitzion Kollel of Chicago will be having their Summer event.  Last year’s program was completely sold out.  This upcoming event at the NAVY PIER Rooftop Terrace promises to be fabulous.

In January of 2004 a study showed the placement of alumni from one of the first kollelim in Chicago. The numbers  are very impressive, since this specific kollel had only been established for less than 25 years. They had 6 alumni serving as congregational rabbis, 19 alumni involved in education, 2 in full-time community outreach, and 9 in business and professional life.

Having lived in Chicago for 6 years, it’s obvious the tremendous and positive impact that the kollel momevent, in general, has had on the Chicago community.  I am proud to say that our community and Toronto are the only cities in North America (outside of NYC) that boasts a YU Torah Mitzion Kollel with Fellows learning full-time.  Yeshiva University currently has six other kollel programs that are exclusivity in Yeshiva High Schools in the Greater New York area.     

Even as the YU Torah Mitzion Kollel of Chicago enters its 4th year, the impact it has had on the greater Chicago community continues to spread.  The impact is more than just having former Kollel couples working in congregations, schools within the Associated Talmud Torah, and pursuing careers  It’s a show of growth within our Torah community.  It’s positive male and female role models who we and our children can look towards and think, this is the type of person I want to be.  As an out-of-towner, I personally know that moving away from family and friends isn’t an easy decision and the fact that the Kollel families have chosen this path speaks volumes about their commitment to Klal Yisrael.

Obviously, I’d love for you to consider attending the fantastic and relaxed evening that the YUTMK has planned on September 9th.  It’s a great opportunity to meet the members of the kollel that are impacting our community on a daily basis.

In closing, I’d like to share three examples of how my family has personally been affected by the YU Torah Mitzion Kollel.

Enrich – On any given Shabbos at the KINS 7:30 minyan you can find a fellow from the Kollel davening in our minyan.  Very often he will be the person giving the d’var halacha after davening, too.  The Kollel members cam be seen talking in learning with others and spending time connecting with many, both young and old, during kiddush.
Engage – My son is part of a group that attends the, ever popular, Middle-School Mishmar program at KINS on Wednesday nights.  Not only has Rabbi Ehrenfeld (and other Fellows who have facilitated the group), given over a love of Torah, but he and Rabbi Brand have specifically picked topics of interest that are not always taught or discussed within a the context of the day school experience.

Inspire – Personally, I have been part of a small group that has been learning this past year with Rabbi Etan Ehrenfeld.  He has challenged me and amazed me with his research into given topics and ability to interface with people of various backgrounds.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact the Kollel office or myself.

Help a fellow Jew

My fellow blogger, and friend, Shmuel has a “sticky note” request on his blog. He asked for some help getting the word out, so here is the “sticky note” he wrote:
The family who graciously opened their home and hearts to me and several other American boys are making a wedding soon, God willing.
Unfortunately, they lack sufficient funds, not only for the wedding itself, but for beyond the wedding to help the young couple establish themselves.
As such, a few of us have gotten together in an effort to raise some desperately needed money for this wonderful family who epitomize hachnassat orchim and other acts of chesed on a daily basis.
Thankfully, we have found an American based charity organization who is willing to field donations and checks made out to the family. Anyone interested in taking part in the mitzva ofhachnassat Kallah can make a (tax-deductible) check out to:

Nissim VNiflaot (write in the memo line: “Keren Boruch” so we know what it is for!)
Donations can be sent either to

7 Evian Court
Lakewood, NJ 08701
134 Boulevard #10
Passaic, NJ 07055

UPDATE: Deadline is the last week of August.

Please help us express our gratitude to this family by helping them out!
And for those who have sent me e-mail: this can be considered ma’aser…

Any help you can get, I know, would be appreciated.

Summer issue of Klal Perspectives now available

The new Summer 2012 issue of Klal Perspectives is now available to read or download here:

This issue address the problem of divorce within the early years of marriage within the Orthdox community.  In edition, the letters section contains a number of suggestions based on the articles published in their Spring issue.  Included is an excellent description about Mussar Vaadim written by Rabbi Micha Berger.

My summer of mainstreaming

Image by me

It was pointed out very clearly to me in the beginning of the summer that I am not so “mainstream”.  What this really means, I still am trying to figure out, but I took it to imply that even though I might go to minyan, learn some, dress in a way that doesn’t draw too much attention to myself, look enough like everyone else on Shabbos Kodesh, I am, never the less, not so mainstream.  

So, I decided that this would be my summer of mainstreaming.  I tried, really, I did.  Away went the printouts that I would bring to shul in my tallis bag on Shabbos Kodesh.  I only learned seforim that could be bought on Amazon (BH, A Simple Jew’s sefer is available there), I stopped quoting sources that are not available in Artscroll translations, I only listened to music that Nahum Segal would play, I only ate foods from recipes in the “Kosher By Design” series, I didn’t eat salmon (because they swim upstream), and I only attempted to only use references that most people would get.

It has been, and still is, a challenge to be “mainstream’.  I’m just not a “top 40” type of guy.  I never was.  It has nothing to do with being b’davka counter-culture or anti-establishment.  I tried.  Even at the Siyum HaShas in Chicago, I found myself sitting next to a yid I didn’t know and I really tried to be just like everyone else and not get sucked into “stranger danger”, but I couldn’t hold out.  I had to say, “Hi, my name is Neil.  I wouldn’t be able to sleep tonight if I didn’t find out your name. There’s no achdus in this whole event if I leave not knowing who I was sitting next to.”

Truth be told, most of those that I admire were not mainstream.  They went against the grain of their times:  Reb Nachman of Breslov, Rav Yisrael Salanter (and his talmidim), Rav Hirsch, Rav Dessler, Rav Shimon Schwab, Rav Moshe Weinberger.  Each gadol b’Torah has his own derech and machshavos that set him apart from those within his generation.  That’s just the Torah way.

In my contemplation about the importance of being mainstream, I kept on thinking of this teaching, related by Rav Shlomo Friefeld zt’l,  as printed in the book In Search of Greatness, (on page 14) quoting the Midrash, that “explains why Avraham was called Avraham the Ivri.  What is an Ivri?  The Midrash says that the term Ivri come from the word ever, which means a side.  It is often used for a riverbank.  Every river has two sides, this riverbank and the opposite one.  Avraham was called Avraham the Ivri, the “sider,” or one who stood on the side.  What does that mean?  The Gemara says that Avraham stood on one side and the entire world stood on the other.  He had his beliefs, and the entire world was opposed to them.

I know, in my heart of hearts that the kuntz of being mainstream is that you are able to have a voice of individuality that is accepted by the majority of the kehillah.  That being written, I will end with two quotes to ponder.  One, from my copy of the Hirsch Siddur and the other from my very non-mainstream print-out of an article in Tradition. 

“Hillel would say: Do not separate yourself from the community.” 
Rav Hirsch zt’l: It is not to the individual, but to the community, Morasha Kellios Yaakov, that God entrusted His Torah as an inheritance for all the generations to come. For this reason every individual is duty bound to join forces with his community in thought, in word and in deed and loyally to share in its tasks and obligations, so long as that community proves to be a faithful guardian and supporter of the Torah. Indeed, it is essential in the discharge of his own life’s task that the individual be part of a larger community. For whatever he may be able to do on his own is inadequate and short-lived; it is only in conjunction with the achievements of others that his own actions can have importance.  Moreover, his good principles and convictions will gain considerable strength and support from the fact that he hold them in common with the whole of a genuinely Jewish community.

Rav Soloveitchik zt’l from “The Community”
The presonalistic unity and reality of a community, such as Knesset Israel, is due to the philosophy of existential complementary of individuals belonging to Knesset Israel.  The individuals belonging to the community compliment one another existentially.  Each individual possesses something unique, rare, which is unknown to the others; each individual has a unique message to communicate, a special color to add to the communal spectrum.  Hence, when lonely man joins the community, he adds a new dimension to the community awareness.  He contributes something which no one else could have contributed.  He enriches the community existentially; he is irreplaceable.  Judaism has always looked upon the individual as if he were a little world (microcosm); with the death of the individual, this little world come to an end.  A vacuum which other individuals cannot fill is left.

After the Chicago Siyum HaShas

Location of the Chicago Siyum HaShas

It’s been almost a week since the Chicago Siyum HaShas event. I held off on posting right way, because I was curious if the excitement of the celebration that I felt, along with my 12 yr old son, was just just a flash of light or something more lasting. Just that fact that the theater, which holds 4,400 people was pretty much sold out still blows my mind.
Looking back, there were a few things that I viewed as highlights.
Organization: The fact that months of planning and coordinating went into making the event run smoothly was evident. The Agudath Israel did an amazing job from start to finish. Emails were sent describing in detail where to park, which entrances to use, information about snacks for purchase prior to the event, etc. Countless committee chairs, volunteers and staff spent countless hours helping. It was also planned that there was one unified mincha and maariv.
Hakoras HaTov: The speakers at the Chicago event included HaRav Shmuel Fuerst (who gave Dvrei Praicha), a video of HaRav Shmuel Kamentsky (which was broadcasted life from MetLife), HaRav Uren Reich (who gave Dvrei Chizuk), HaRosh Yeshiva Avrohom Chaim Levin (who made the Siyum), Rav Gedaliah Dov Shwartz (who made Hascholas HaShas), and Rav Yissocher Frand (whose address was broadcasted live, as well). Each of the Rabbonim made specific mention of the Hakoras HaTov that must be given to the wife and children of those who are involved in Daf Yomi.
Enertainment: After the Siyum we were treated to a men’s choir made up of people from across the community, truly representing Klal Yisrael. Their voices blending together making harmony gave all who listened a sample of what true achdus is all about. They were accompanied by HaTav Orchastra. Many of us broke into dancing and, I admit, it was very cool dancing with people I didn’t even know celebrating the greatness of Torah. I will also say that the two videos we say, “Daf through the Decades” and “Heroes of the Daf” were very moving.
A physical connection to Daf Yomi: A touching moment, for me, in Chicago was when HaRav Gedalia Dov Schwartz (Av Beis Din for the RCA and the cRc) was given the kavod of saying the beginning of Gemara Berachos. He held up and used a gemara he received for his Bar Mitzvah. It was printed in Petrakov, where Rav Meir Shapiro was Rav in 1931, the year of the first Siyum HaShas…I got chills. That is totally amazing, because it’s something physical that make the connection real for all of us.
Rabbi Frand: As always, he was wonderful. It was nice, for the Chicago people. that he spoke so much about Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel zt’l. That line at then of his address, “Beyond your reach is really within your grasp” was golden. Rav Frand’s address was a live feed. I happened to tweet that line after he said it and saw that a friend at the NY Siyum tweeted the same thing 14 seconds before me. I was so inspired, that I created (thanks to a google search and a little background in graphic design from the mid-1990s) the image below. I use it as a lock-screen for my phone. Every time I use my phone it reminds me to keep on going a little further than I think I can. Great mussar for me.
My wife mentioned to me a week and a half before the Siyum that we have been married for 15 years and had I been “doing” Daf Yomi this could have been my second Siyum HaShas. She only meant it as a comment, but I took it to heart and, bli neder, I have committed to learning Daf Yomi in a shiur (so far I have hit both morning and evening shiurim every day) in hope of being a participant and not just an observer at the next Siyum HaShas.
In the short time that I’ve been learning Daf Yomi I have noticed two very interesting things about myself. Firstly, I am constantly thinking ahead about my schedule for the upcoming days and what shiur I will attend (BH we have a multitude of shiuim and I am still trying to find a good time and magid shiur to attach myself with). Secondly, I have felt much more creative and energized that I have in years. I won’t chalk it up completely to the koach of limud Torah, but it is probably more due to the residual wave of excitement of starting something new.
Current lock-screen, optimized for Android and iPhone.  Please feel free to use it.

The Netziv on gardening

Garfield Park Conservatory, Chicago

Rabbi Mordechai Torczyner posted an amazing translation of a beautiful poem by Rav Kook zt’l a few weeks ago.  The poem was part of great shiur titled, “A groundbreaking approach to Geulah”, available to stream or download here

One of the sources Rabbi Torczyner shared in the shiur is a Netziv that I found quite meaningful.  It appearss below, courtesy of the source sheet (available at the link above):

R’ Naftali Zvi Yehudah Berlin to Bamidbar 24
That which grows in a garden is not like that which grows in a field; a field is planted with only one or two varieties, as opposed to gardens which have many kinds of seeds. Still, each garden has one central variety, and it’s only that small quantities of other varieties are planted around it. So, too, each Jew is filled with the mitzvot of Gd, but each has one special mitzvah in which he is extra careful, as is seen in the Mechilta, “One who performs a single mitzvah, faithfully, is worthy of Divine inspiration.” Regarding the mishnah that states, ”One who performs a single mitzvah receives goodness,” the Talmud Yerushalmi explains, “This refers to performing a mitzvah with exceptional care.”

We can spend years searching within ourselves to find that one mitzvah, but as explained in both Chassidus and Mussar, the mitzvah that is usually the most difficult for you, is the one that is the “centeral variety” within your garden.

R Jonathan Rosenblum on tolerance

Rabbi Jonathan Rosenblum, who spoke in Chicago a few weeks ago, recently wrote an article that was published in Mishpacha magazine.   The article not only highlights examples of tolerance for those of different observant levels, but he tells over part of his talk at the Chai Lifeline event in memory of Miriam Isenberg a’h, who was instrumental in opening the doors of Torah observance for the entire Rosenbulm family.

Black Hat tip to Rabbi Harry Maryles.