Rav Hirsch brings down the idea that the root of aveilus is the Hebrew word aval, which means “but”. This is because while one is mourning someone, there’s always this feeling of “…but, I should have spent more time with the departed” or “…I’m doing ok, but, I still miss the person”. There’s always a “but”.
My father a”h has been niftar for just over two months and I’m hoping that this post will be somewhat cathartic for me. It’s been hard to actually sit down and write lately. This is mostly due to the fact that my father, while in the hospital, mentioned to me that he has always enjoyed reading my blog (I had only become aware that he even knew about it at the end of the summer). While I’m glad that he was able to let me know this, thinking about a post or even writing something reminds me of the fact that he’s not around. It’s the same way with Sugar-Free Grape Kool Aid. My dad, it seems loved the stuff. It was about the only thing I drank, besides coffee, when I was in Wichita. I’ve thought about buying it for home, but I can’t bring myself to do it. Hazelnut coffee is also one of those things my dad loved. He would mix Columbian ground coffee with hazelnut flavored coffee and that was his brew. At work we have hazelnut flavored creamer. I try not to even look at it.
Making sure that I don’t miss a Kaddish is constantly on my mind. There’s a very strong sense of being alone, since I’m the only one (in Chicago) saying Kaddish for my father, but there’s also sort of an unspoken connection that I have to others who are also saying Kaddish in any given minyan.
The “no music” thing has begun to drive me batty. I constantly have tons of music-mixes going through my head. Mixes that, in a way, reflect different aspects of who I am. I’ve got Carlebach songs that flow into a Husker Du/Bob Mould track that will then ease into Diaspora Yeshiva Band song which will blend into early REM tracks that slide into a Rabbis Sons song and finally ending (most recently) with something from the soundtrack to Blade Runner. It’s the ultimate mega-mix in an odd way. I catch myself humming niggunim around my office and in the car. I was never into sports, so I’m stuck listening to news radio (which I don’t mind) in the car. But (there’s that but again), there’s really only so many time I can hear “traffic and weather together on the 8s”.
I’ve felt pretty detached from things at home. Even though my wife is great about it, it bothers me. On the flip side, though, I’m trying to become much more “communal” in terms of my thinking about what I can offer my own community, as well as getting more involved in things.
My drive home from work is tough. I’m lucky that I have a commute that is under 20 minutes, but I use to call my dad (almost daily) on the way home from work. I’m fortunate that I can call my brother and shmooze with him, but it’s not the same.
Two friends (and bloggers) sent me a copy of Out of the Whirlwind by Rav Soloveitchik zt”ll. I’ve found the sefer to be very insightful. I’ll end with a quote from the last chapter, titled “A Theory of Emotions”:
Avelut denotes the critical stage of mourning, the grief awareness, and at this level, we will notice at once that avelut contains its own proper negation-solace and hope. Avelut in Halakhah is interwoven with nehamah, consolation. They are inseparable. The latter is not a frame of mind which displaces grief; there is rather an inter-penetration of grief and solace, of forelornness and hope, of mourning and faith. Immediately upon closing the grave, the line is formed and comfort is offerend to the mourners. What is the Kaddish pronounced at the grave if not an ostentatious negation of despair?
I’m thankful that I live in a community with so many friends who helped me during shiva and continue to do so. I attempt to remember that I’m loved by my creator and that this current situation is a really springboard for growth on many different levels. But…
Most agree that it’s a good idea. There are plenty of people we meet, however, that we just don’t like. That’s OK. The mitzvah is to love them as Jews, not like them as people. Recently I experienced true Ahavas Yisrael from almost complete strangers. They helped me because it was a mitzvah, looking beyond my background or my hashkafa.
Real Ahavas Yisrael, not the kind that end up as a short story in a gloss weekly Jewish magazine or as a chapter in children’s Gadolim biography. Real Ahavas Yisrael that wakes you up that the cup of coffee that you psychologically know you need in order to function. Real Ahavas Yisrael, I’m talking about the kind that reminds you that we have to help others because Hashem is constantly helping us. Real Ahavas Yisrael, the kind you daven that your kids will practice when they become older.
Originally I was going to fill the post with several quotes on the importance of loving our fellow Jews from the likes of the Rambam, Rav Hirsch, and the Chofetz Chaim. I decided against this. Often in life we tend to meet people and try to figure out “what their angle” is. It seems that society has programmed us, well me, to think that most people I encounter have a hidden agenda. An act of kindness, a true Chessed, has an agenda as well, the most pure agenda, the will of Hashem. I am humbled that my creator has allowed me to meet a few people in my life that remind me of the kind of Jew I want to be.
At work we have fabulous ice trays in the freezer. They make really nice big ice cubes, perfect for iced coffee. I have noticed that some people use ice and others don’t. Some who use the ice will, sometimes, refill the ice cube trays, while others don’t seem to bother. One of the fundamental teachings of R Dessler was that people, at their essence, are either givers or takers.
Even with ice cubes.
Laugh if you want. It’s only ice, right? However, getting people, especially children, to realized this concept is extremely importantl in character development. I know that when I choose to give, I make everyone around me much happier. Since Purim (a yom tov that contains a mitzvah to give) I have been attempting to teach this concept to my kids. I realized that an easy act of giving was for my 8 yr old son to bring his 6 year old sister her breakfast or dinner from the kitchen to the dining room table and let his sister do the same for him. At first there was some resistance, but eventually both of them have started doing this on their own.
Ice, a smile, a kind word, or even a bowl of cereal makes a difference.
A few weeks ago I went to a big shopping mall in a suburb of Chicago with my family. Among the many kiosks there I found a “Kabbalah Kiosk”. Like any given kiosk you see in a mall these days, this one was run by several citizens from Israel who had come to America to attempt to make some money.
This one has lots of charms, mezzuzah covers, earrings, necklesses, rings, pictures, ect depicting things like the Ten Sefirot, several Hebrew phrases, and other such Kabbalah items (although they didn’t sell these albums). The young adults selling the items were from Tel Aviv and Yerushalyim, both of them seemed nice. After walking away I thought of that article in the Forward, titled “The Path of the Just: Is Mussar the new Kabbalah?”.
Would there ever be such a thing as a “Mussar Kiosk” in a shopping mall? I doubt it, but if there was, then the kiosk would probably be very hard to find in the mall, as most Baalei Mussar tended to stay away from the spot-light and not reveal themselves. It would be in a place that you might have to walk past once or twice before noticing it.
They would most likely sell all of the products from the Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation, such as bookmarks, posters, tapes and cds.
You would be able to by cool things like micro-sized copies of Mesillas Yesharim and Orchos Tzadikim with keychains attached to them. Or even MP3s and ebooks of Mussar seforim.
You could buy jewlery with silver blades of grass attached to them to remind your wifes and daughters of this: There is no blade of grass below that does not have a malach on high that smites it and says to it: Grow! (Bereishis Rabbah 10:6-7)
They might have small “Tefillin mirrors” with the words “Mussar starts here” printed on them.
Paperweights that look like buckets of water to remind people the story about when the Chofetz Chaim was a boy and while other kids thought it would be funny to freeze the water in the buckets for the local water carrier, young Yisrael Meir would empty the buckets as chessed to the water carrier.
Hot coffee and latkes would be available to remind visitors that when Rav Dessler was little boy he use to get up early on Shabbos to learn with his Rebbe before davening. His mother would have hot coffee and tasty latkes (probably small cakes) waiting for him when he got out of bed. While the ikar of getting up was to learn, he himself writes that because of what his mother had waiting for he, he “got out of bed quicker”. This was an example of “Sh’lo lishma, bo lishma”.
They would, for sure, sell the trash can that I have dreamed about, based on the awesome trash cans they had in the Alter of Kelm’s Talmud Torah. These trash cans were designed to be very narrow at the bottom and wide at the top (sort of like an inverted cone). If you were not careful in how you put your trash into it, it would tip over. They were designed to teach the talmidim that each action, even throwing garbage away, has an effect.
You could buy bumperstickers that would say: “I break for Midos Tovos”, “Bein Adom L’Chavero on board”, “If I’m driving to slow, then you might want to work on your Savlanut”, “My other car is a Beis HaMussar”, “Honk if you did Teshuva”, and “If I’m driving too fast, it’s becuase I’m working on the midah of Zerizus”.
Again, I doubt if items a kiosk like this would ever end up in a mall, but I’d love to work there and I’d be smiling big time if someone came over to ask if we sold hammers, as a reference to this Mussar exercise.
Hamakir es Mekomo, knowing or recognizing one’s place is listed in Pirkei Avos (chapter 6 mishna 6) as one of the 48 ways to “acquire the Torah”.
When I first started learning, I always defined this trait as knowing when to speak up and when to keep my mouth closed. I really only thought of this concept in regard to my relationships with people. In the most simple terms, there is a time “climb into the driver’s seat” and a time to sit in the back seat, if you will. As I’ve grown in age, learned a bit more, experience things in life, and matured (well, gotten married, worked, had three kids-“matured” is really a subjective term) my working definition of Hamakir es Mekomo has changed.
My defintion of Hamakir es Mekomo is now more based on one’s location in life (including hashkafa-based, situational, and geographic). Each of us is truly where we need to be, as I’ve come to accept. The trick is to understand why were are in a given situation, relationship, or location. There have been, for sure, places where I have lived that were good for a certain time frame, and then I was directed elsewhere. The idea of “recognizing one’s place” can mean that I have an achrai’us (responsibility) to reach my potential in any given situation. While the “grass may be more haimesh” in another shul or community, Hashem really does put us where we need to be. This is not always an easy cup of coffee to drink, I admit.
Accepting a given situation as Hashgach Patis is probably the first step in recognizing that Hashem has put us in our particular ‘hakom”. This doesn’t mean that we can’t try to change our station in life (via danening or extra effort), but where we are, who we are married to, the children we have, all part of Hashem’s ultimate plan for us.
With this in mind, I have been thinking lately about the role we play at our Seder table. We are, on hand, told to feel like we are “free”. We recline, as royalty. We eat like royalty, wash like royalty, and drink like royalty. While all the foods of the seder are important, the Haggadah itself seems to center around the Arba Kosos. The mizvah of the four cups is singular in the sense that while we are required to drink them, we shouldn’t pour for ourselves. We go back and forth, like Tony Hawk on a half-pipe, between being the free person and the servant. I think that Hamakir es Mekomo, knowing one’s place fits in nicely. Each of us are, indeed free…free to chose to be an Eved Hashem.
It’s interesting to note that in the Mishna, right after Hamakir es Mekomo comes Sameach b’Chelko” – one who is happy with his portion. It seems, IMHO, that If you can’t accept that you are where you need to be and what you have been given, how can you be happy?
A few days ago was my 2nd blogaversary. Tonight I went for my pre-Pesach haircut, which was were my first posting idea started. Although my barber didn’t wax the mussar with me, he did say that I “looked better than when I came in”. He had a point.
I’ve always tried to be myself and be happy with who I am. It doesn’t matter if I’m learning the Bilvavi between alyios in my minyan on Shabbos, or cleaning for Pesach listening to Rav Weinberger’s Shabbos HaGadol drasha and then cranking up the Carelbach, Karduner, and Husker Du on iTunes, I am who I am. This blog didn’t really start out being as personal as it has become, but that’s what happened. Nor did I plan of becoming part of a “community” and actually connecting with people whom I have become friends with, that also just happened. For now, this is where Hashem whats me to be. I am thankful for having the ability to take time to actually write out ideas and things that I think about from time to time. While my posting hasn’t been as frequent as I would like recently, I thank all of you how have, for whatever reason, taken time out to read every so often.
May we have a Pesach this year that will help us discover who we are and where our priorities should be.
… or why I don’t blog Anon
This is actually my second blog. My first blog was back November 2004 and I did not use my name. The blog was called “Out of town Yid” and constisted of only one posting. The blog was put to sleep after about two days. My ‘post’ was basically about how middos and basic ethical concepts in Yiddishkeit should, in theory, get passed on to one’s children, students, congregants, or receivers of ‘Jewish outreach attempts’. When this doesn’t happen, it’s a disaster. It was not what I would describe as as a “happy go lucky post full of sunshine”. After rereading it I, as mentioned, pulled the plug.
For some, the ability to blog anonymous works to their advantage. For me, it brought out a dark side, that gravitated towards the sarcastic, a place were I might be prone to use my “wit to abuse, not to amuse.”
I know, for myself, that blogging under my name helps to (hopefully) keep me in check and for lack of a better phrase, not do anything foolish. When one puts themselves out in the public, on the web, on You Tube, Facebook, at the grocery store, at work, in shul, or in line somewhere for coffee, we do not only represent ourselves. There is a bigger picture.
That picture, may include our family, spouse, children, or the general category of “Torah observant Judaism”. Chillul Hashem is never a good thing. Rav Yisrael (Lipkin) of Salant (I know it’s not Sunday) said:
When Lashon Hara is spoken in Vilna, the effect will be Chillul Shabbos in Paris.
If, chas v’Shalom, this is true, then the best way to counter such a thing would be for me to remember that the opportunities that I can use for a Kiddush Hashem, or the learning I do, or the davening I do, or the mitzvos I do can have a very global effect. Can a Jew davening in Yerushalyim have an impact on another Jew in Wichita, KS? I like to hope so.
I’m not so global of a thinker tonight, though. I’d rather think more locally, like about my kids sleeping several rooms away. I hope I can affect them positively.
While pouring coffee this afternoon, I got some on my shirt. As Hashgacha would have it, I was wearing this shirt. I instantly dabbed some water on the spot in question and recalled the previously referenced post.
Interestingly, on the way home from work last night, my hisbodedus included the following:
Hashem, may you help me in not allowing the middah of Shalom to waver in my dealings with others or with myself. May your assistance help me not compromise on those things that are important to me and may negative influences not affect me, or be absorbed like a stain on me. May I use every opportunity to grow in the proper direction.
I often find lately that certain things like patience and tranquility seem to get hijacked from my control. Understanding that these are simply tests may help.
Pick a, b, or c and have fun!!
The other day I was ________ and I was reminded about very deep mussar concept that is usually overlooked.
a) thinking about Star Wars
b) listening to an old hardcore punk rock album
c) reading either R Hirsch or R Dessler
Interestingly enough this concept was manifested in something my kids _______ last night before bedtime.
I was then reminded of a story about ________ that had a profound impact on me when I was becoming Torah observant.
a) R Yisrael Salanter
b) R Nachman of Breslov
The story has to do with how we use our ________ to the best of our abilities.
b) unique talents
c) free wireless connections
This lesson isn’t really focused on so much in ________, but really starts at home.
a) the yeshiva/day school system
b) most blogs
c) your average kehillah
I guess, in the end, getting to know yourself can be a pretty difficult job. Thanks for reading. An actually post will be popping up soon.