Category Archives: Avodas Hashem

When the needle hits E

Monday morning my car wouldn’t start. I know, great way to start my week, right?

There was power in the battery, but the engine just wouldn’t turn over and rev. I called my good friends at AAA and they said that they would be out “as soon as possible”. In the meantime, a friend of mine came by to see if all I needed was a jump. The jump didn’t really do a thing.

After what seemed like forever, a nice new AAA flatbed tow truck pulled up onto my street in Chicago. I had been dreading this, because my thinking was that it was going to be the transmission, alternator, or starter…all fairly top dollar repairs. The driver asked for my keys and got into my vehicle to attempt to start it. After getting the same results that I got, he looked at the gas guage and asked it there was gas in the tank, since the needle was on E. I knew my car had two gallons of gas in it when I parked it. The AAA guy suggested that because my car was parked at the curb on a big slant, it might have been tilted just enough that the fuel pump wasn’t able to to actually pump gas into the engine. AAA had a gallon of gas on them, so they poured it into my tank and, Baruch Hashem, the car started.

This whole episode got me thinking about my Avodash Hashem. A person can have all of the right kavanah, the right seforim, daven every day, learn at set times during the day, fullfull many mitzvos both Bein Adam l’Makom and Bein Adam l”Chavero and still feel that they are not going anywhere. Why? Because just like my car, if everything isn’t balanced the right way, then you don’t get the proper fuel into your engine. This is why we need close friends and a Rabbi, or two, to give us the insight and information that we just don’t have. Sometimes, AAA can also help.

Putting it together

I’ve been thinking today. Thinking about this execllent guest post from R Motty Frankel on R Harry Maryles’ blog and about having a little passion about Yiddishkeit.

Like most of us, I feel that as it’s gets closer to Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, I find that I have a bit more clarity about thinks. I’m sure that saying Selichos has something to do with this. As it gets down to the wire, thing become pretty clear. I need to work on understanding the responsibility and privilege of true Malchiyus and giving over a sense of Menchas HaNefesh from within.

Are these the last piece of the puzzle? Probably not. When it some to my own avodah, I know that my goals are constantly shifting. I have never been one to attempt to be out of step with the rest of the crowd, nor have I ever consciously pulled a Rober Frost and b’davka taken “the road less travelled by”. I am simply who I am. A Jew trying to push himself to be his best. I know that when I think that things seem to be going well, that puzzle piece, more often than not, will not exactly fit. So, like a fallen Jenga set, I try again. The thing is, even if you think that you’ve figured it all it, there’s that posibilty that your completed puzzle (like the one above) is blank.

Therefore, I daven and ask the King of the World that we should all have a year of inspiration, success in all we do, simcha for each member of our family, and a peek into what our potential is within each of our communities. I’d write more, but I have to drawn a picture on my completed blank puzzle.

Hot of the press: "Da Es Nafshecha" just released in English

The English translation of Rav Itamar Shwartz’s Da Es Nafshecha, Getting to Know Your Soul, was just released.  It’s a follow up to Getting to Know Yourself.

From the description:

The writings of our Sages, which reveal various faculties of the soul, help us to take a deeper look into ourselves. We can align our personalities with the will of Hashem through in-depth study and understanding of these faculties, which are common to all people. This sefer has two sections. The first explains the elements of fire, wind, water and earth which correspond to the four fundamental traits in the personality. The second section explains the 13 basic faculties of the soul.

The book is currently available online at Eichler’s.  In fact, my wife just bought a copy for me today in Brooklyn.  🙂

R Hillel Goldberg on the true meaning of Shavuos

The Intermountain Jewish News has a great essay by R Hillel Goldberg, titled “Shauvuot-Something Real, But Not Concrete” available here.

An excerpt:

Shavuot celebrates the giving of the Torah. If one does not delve into the Torah, its meaning is meaningless. One may approach many Jewish holidays at the last minute. Not Shavuot. One must live with the Torah, breathe it, find joy in it, be troubled by its sometimes seemingly inaccessible teachings. One must occupy oneself with the Torah, struggle with it, let it color one’s mind and soul, in order to grasp it.

I give up

Photo from flickr
Every month or so I am completely speechless when it somes to my children’s chinuch. I find myself left without words, not because my children’s education as been ruined by “the system”, but because I’m astounded by how fortunate they are to be learning so many important things that are not always found in a textbook.

A few weeks ago my daughter in second grade told me after shul on Shabbos that she was “mevater (gave up) her lollypop to her older brother”. I was speechless. Not because she gave up a lollypop (althought that was impressive), but because she rocked the term “mevater”.  It isn’t a word that gets used a lot in conversation.  In fact, I think I’ve only used the term maybe 3 times in my entire adult life.  I’m not against the concept of being mevater, however despite the book, Let’s Learn Middos 4: Being Mevater (which we don’t own), I don’t often think of it as a middah.  Maybe I should.

For a child (or this blogger) it’s important to understand that “giving up” something can be a good thing.  Selflessness, chessed, and understanding what we need vs. what we want are part of growing up.  For me, it might also be prudent to be mevater certain inhibitions and notions I have about my own abilities.  Can one be mevater the things that hold one back from their Avodas Hashem?  Probably, but you have to know yourself and what why you are not doing what you should be doing.  Of course, a true student of Reb Nachman of Breslov will comment that one should “never give up hope”, but you could give up what’s blocking you from hope.

For a second grader to understand that all isn’t lost when you give up some candy is an important lesson and one that her Morah has successfully taught.   I know the lesson was a success because everyone in my family is on the “mevatar-bandwagon”.

Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh on Novardok

One of the things that constantly amazes me about R Itamar Schwartz and his Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh seform is that he is willing to pull and blend Torah from a variety of sources and derechim.  Again, this is a major reason I humbly think his seforim speak to our generation.

For example, in the second volume (both in chapter 1 and 2) he brings down an important educational concept from the Alter of Novardok, Rav Yosef Yozel Hurwitz.  In the Alter’s sefer Madregos haAdom he explains that there is a difference between understanding and acknowledging something on an intellectual level and actually experiencing it.  The best example of this that comes to mind would be the difference between reading about the beauty of a traditional Shabbos meal and actually being part of an enjoying a Shabbos meal.

Rav Schwarz applies this teaching of the Alter of Novardok in regard to Emunah and D’vekus (faith and attachment) in relation to Hashem.  Later, in the same volume (chapter 18) the author writes this:

“…rare individuals would roll naked in the snow or break the ice to immerse in the ice cold water of a lake or pond.  Still others practiced a strong form of self-criticism…They might fall into constant bitterness.  This will damage their avodah, because without joy, there is nothing!”

The ikar, the main point, is that unless the end result (or the journey) is, in fact, simcha, joy, then you are not getting the whole picture…!כי כשאין שמחה – אין כלום   The question I often have is, “How do I get there”?  It’s the ability to extract different strengths from a particular derech that really the gadlus of Bilvavi.  In an information age, when many Torah observant Jews can have access to many different seforim, multiple shuls and schools in a community, different types of Jewish newspapers and weekly publications (I’m not even getting into what’s available onilne), it’s hard to distinguish between what might be substance and what might be filler.

While some argue that Novardok was a type of Mussar that was only applicable for a particular time in the world’s history, I’m glad that the Bilvavi is exposing aspects of it to a new generation.  Don’t worry, I’m jsut as happy when I see a quote from the Baal haTanya as well.  One way that I know I am listening to a true talmidei chachamim or a tzaddik (and I don’t throw around that term) is that when they quote sources it will be from a variety of sources.
“Ben (the son of) Zoma said: Who is wise? He who learns from all people, as it is said: ‘From all those who taught me I gained understanding’ (Psalms 119:99). -Pirkei Avos chapter 4 mishna 1

For other posts dealing with the Novardok Yeshiva and school of Mussar click here.

Food for thought

Before Rav Shimon Schwab left Europe he went spent Shabbos with the Chofetz Chaim in Radin. Shabbos night a group of students came over to the home of the Chofetz Chaim and he said:
We know the mun had the ability to take on whatever taste we wanted it to. What happened when the person eating the mun didn’t think about what he wanted it to taste like?
The Chofetz Chaim answered his own question: Then it simply has no taste.

This gets me every time. It’s one of my favorite d’vrei Torah. If I don’t think about my Avodas Hashem, then it has no taste. If I don’t appreciate the people my family, it’s like they don’t exist. How often does my learning or mitzvah performance seem like tasteless mun?

I know that I go through the motions quite often.  I’m aware of it and I attempt to work on it.  I’m sure that Rav Schwab heard the words of the Chofetz Chaim and it also gave him food for thought.

I often, especially lately, will see or read something and it hits me in the face.  Most recently, it was comic in the Forward that has become a bit of a bee in people’s bonnets.  I chose to contact the artist and got his side of the story.  If perception is everything, then we as a Torah observant community have our work cut out for us.  To eat the mun and not taste it, is up there with feeding the mun to someone else and they only tasting something bitter.

(The beginning of this post was originally posted here)

Some great shiurim from R Efraim Twerski and other Chicagoland Gems

Here’s a new website that I recently found out about called It includes shiurim from Rabbi Efraim Twerksi, R Moshe Schechter, Dr. Julian Unger, and other true gems within the Chicago area.
I have been listening to R Twerksi’s shiurim on Netivos Shalom and have been loving them.  Kol HaKavod to Sender Baruch ben Nesanel HaCohen for this project which is truly l’Shaim Shamayim.

Finding your direction via your computer

There are three links I recently saw I hope to be using for my personal Jewish growth in Avodas Hashem.

The first one was suggested to me in an email exchange with R Micha Berger.  It’s an online growth-based community called, created by Modya Silver.  This online community allows on to work on specific middos within a two week period.  I’ve been on for less than a week and have found it very helpful on a number of levels.

The second link, is actually to something that R Micha Berger posted on his blog regarding a new AishDas eVaad sponsored by the Aish Das Society.  For details about this new venture please click here.

Third is The Mussar Institute, run by Alan Morinis.  You can subscribe to their monthly mussar newletter here.
There are great interviews with Mr. Morinis as well as information about their distance learning programs.

Speeding for thrills

The photo above was taken with the camera on my cell phone.  It’s actually the rollercoaster cars of the Vertical Velocity (V2) ride at Six Flags Great America zipping past me at 70 miles per hour (from 0-70 in four seconds).

Growing up, I was wasn’t a big rollercoaster fan.  I wasn’t scared of them, but there was always that thought in my head (especially with wooden coasters, which are the best to ride on) that if I was on a ride and the car flew off the track, oh man, that would probably hurt.  As I got older I began to be less worried about this.  It’s not because my Bitachon was so great, but I realized that the odds were pretty good that nothing so horrific would happen to me.  I remember in high school reading an old interview with Abraham Maslow and he was asked what things he was sure of in life.  His answer was great.  He said that he was fairly sure that when he sat down in a chair that the chair wouldn’t break.  He based this on the fact that he has never fallen on the floor from sitting on a broken chair.  I think the same is true for most amusement park rides.

So, a week ago last Sunday I found myself in line for the V2 with my friend’s 5th grader son.  This kid loves coasters.  I happened to be the only one out of three adults willing to go with him on the ride- ok, I really wanted to go on the ride, too.  As I stood in line I was talking with a few people and found out that most of them were repeat customers for the V2.  They loved the speed and the felling of the straight 185-foot vertical freefall drop.  I stood in line, watched the cars race past me and thought about saying some Tehillim.  I got on and kept telling myself that as long as we stay on the tracks we’ll be fine.  I admit the freefall drop is pretty scary, but cool.  I got off the ride and it was over for me.  Of course, my companion wanted to again, but I said once was enough for me.

I get it, it’s fun.  But why go on any it again?   The best answer I can come up with is that people want to relive that initial thrill.  I can sympathize.  I remember my first real Shabbos.  I recall an awesome Shalosh Seudos with great niggunim.  I will never forget my first date with my wife.  We all want to go back, somehow.  The problem I have in attempting to use this real-life analogy is that it seems like you are going no where fast if you settle to go back on the same ride again and again.  Essentially you are choosing a thrill of comfort.

There are other rides based on the same principles of physics and speed in the amusement park of Yiddishkeit.  Life shouldn’t always be the same.  As I get closer to Rosh Hashana I feel more and more like I don’t really want to reach a level of ruchnius like I had on my “best Rosh Hashana ever”.  That isn’t creating something chadash, new.  That simply is going on the same ride again and somehow I don’t believe that is what Hashem wants from me this time.