Category Archives: family

New program in Chicago helps families make their Shabbos tables more meaningful

Nourishing the tableA new initiative is starting on Shabbos between Chanukah and Pesach, as families throughout Chicagoland are committing to spend the next few months dedicated to adding renewed meaning to their Shabbos table.  Please click on this link (it takes less than one minute to sign up) to receive materials in the mail this week to start enhancing your Shabbat table experience! This program is being sponsored by the Menora family for sponsoring this initiative in memory of Rikki & Racheli Menora z”l.

Partner Organizations:
Congregation KINS
Congregation KJBS
Congregation Or Torah
Kehilat Chovevei Tzion
Ida Crown Jewish Academy
Midwest NCSY
YU Torah Mitzion Kollel


Dishing out opinions


Image found here

Image found here

The Alter of Novardok, Rabbi Yosef Yozel Hurwitz zt’l, taught that kosher utensils could be either meat, dairy, or parve, but a man cannot be pareve, he is only one way or the other. I have been thinking about this teaching for a good part of the summer (which is almost over since my kids started school this week).

Most of us have opinions. It’s part our personality. I, in my more colorful past, always had something to say about everything. Eventually as I got older, I curtailed my opinions on many social, political, religious, and community issues. In my more formative years of being frum I looked towards the middah of humility, anivus, as a crutch not to have such a strong opinion on things. This is completely the wrong way to behave. It was a mistake of my youth and one I regret. We all have opinions about things we are truly passionate about. It’s part of being created B’zelem Elokeim and emulating Hashem. Humility doesn’t mean you have to keep your mouth shut all of time.

“Man cannot be pareve,” say the Alter. We just can’t, because deep down inside us is a little voice giving an opinion. Those that claim to not have an opinion about things, really just don’t want to share their opinion with you or make it public. Not expressing your view is sometimes worse than voicing your opinion. Over the years I’ve seen relationships and friendships dissolve like sugar in a pot of boiling water because people try not to side with one party or the other. I have seen business deals destroyed, reputations soiled, and families torn asunder because people try not to take a side on an issue.

I am not advocating that we all need to make picket signs for every little cause we can think of, but it’s important to make known how you stand on an issue. This is especially true, I think, with your children. Children, as they grow up, need to understand the nuances of halacha, minhag, and hashkafa. They will only understand if they see us and the decisions we make. For example, if you don’t explain to your kids which hechsharim your family eats, then they might think that any hechshar is acceptable. I want my children to have opinions and know that it’s ok to speak up and defend someone. I want them to not be afraid to be in the minority about something they believe to be emes, the truth. I want them to follow the example of their parents, especially their mother. So, I guess that means that 5774 will be a year of finding a voice to express my opinion.

Loshon Hora in the age of social media

Exploding Pillow from istockphoto

Exploding Pillow from istockphoto

A common textbook example of Loshon Hora, the Torah prohibition about speaking despairingly about someone, is the visualization of someone cutting open a pillow and then trying to collect all of the feathers as they blow away. With the ease of distributing information thanks to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram this illustration of a pillow is almost outdated.

While it’s probably faster to use social media to “speak” Loshon Hora, the medium of choice is still talking to someone to old fashion way. It’s much more juicy  and enticing to simply pick up a phone or tell a friend some “news” while you are waiting to pick up your kids from camp or waiting in line for some kugel at a kiddush. Why? Because we still like to have actual conversations with other people.

You can PM (private message) your friend to tell them what you just heard about so-and-so, but typing the actual words isn’t a worthy substitute for speaking the words. It’s like the difference between reading about a great meal and actually smelling and tasting the meal. The object, be it a 5-course meal or insider news about someone in your community, can’t fully be replicated if it is transmitted by the written word. Go ahead try it. Go to Twitter or Facebook and write some Loshon Hora about someone. Don’t press SEND, please. Just look at the words and imagine saying them. It’s a different feeling.

Of course, I am not suggesting or advocating Loshon Hora is an acceptable thing to do. It isn’t. That being said, I am guessing that most people (not that they will ever read this) wouldn’t use social media to spread gossip about someone’s daughter, spouse, mother-in-law, school administrator, or doctor. The reason they would’t use Twitter or Facebook is because once it’s out there (unless you SEND and then DELETE right away) it can be traced back to the originator. With Loshon Hora of the spoken variety, as the originator you can always say, “I don’t remember who told me,” or, “I really can’t reveal my source, because it would be Loshon Hora.”

The bottom line is that talking about other people is hurtful, regardless of if it is the truth, half-truth, or completely untrue. Negative words about someone have the power to follow someone for years and also can reach someone’s ears before you even meet them.

Maybe the most imporant video/audio link posted this year

Last Monday, February 13th, the Rebbetzin’s Husband posted about an interesting panel discussion that Toronto’s YU Torah MiTzion Beit Midrash Zichron ran in conjuction with the Aish Thornhill Community Shul.  The program, titled, “On, of, and after the Derech”.  The event featured Dr. Rabbi Nosson Westreich, Rabbi Avram Rothman, and was moderated by Rabbi Morechai Torczyner.
The video can be seen here and the audio and is available here.

A thoughtful gift

In the sefer Da Es Atzmecha, the mechaber writes that the essence of giving is that you are aware of what a person really needs or is lacking.  To properly give someone a gift, you have to understand them.  You shouldn’t, for example, give someone a sweater because you think it looks good.  Since it was my birthday recently, my wife and son came up with an awesome gift for me.

Last year for my anniversary, my wife got me a digital photo frame and it’s been sitting in the box, unused.  Over the summer, while at someone’s home, I saw such a frame displaying family pictures and commented, “Wouldn’t it be cool to just load a frame with with photos of gedolim?”

Well, thanks to my wife and son, my living room is currently rockin’ a digital frame with photographs (culled from the web) of:

The Chofetz Chaim, Rav Dessler, Reb Moshe and Rav Hutner (talking together), Rav Gifter, Rav Hirsh (illustration), Rav Kalonymus Kalman Shapira (the Piaseczno Rebbe), Rav Freifeld, Rav Moshe Weinberger, Reb Yaakov and Rav Ruderman (walking), the Rav, Reb Aryeh Levin, Rav Kook, and the Alter of Slabodka

2nd yahrzeit of my father a"h

So, tonight marks the second yahrtzeit of my father Al Harris a”h, Avraham ben Zorach. While the picture on the the right might not be the clearest, it was taken on his last visit with us in Chicago, in July of 2009, only three and a half months before he was niftar. 

It’s funny how the mind works. A few months ago when R.E.M. broke up I had a flashback to my sophomore year in high school. It was a Thursday night in the fall of 1985 and my father was driving me from Wichita, KS to Kansas City- a three our drive. It must had been fairly late at night, because we were listening to Larry King’s talk show and he had Michael Stipe (lead singer from R.E.M) on as a guest and there were tons of calls to him about the state of college music.  My dad thought it was cool that “my music” was being talked about on the radio.  That wasn’t the cool part.  The really cool part was that my dad was driving me all the way to Kansas City, so that I could catch an Amtrack train to St. Louis to attend an NCSY shabbaton (youth group retreat weekend).  He drove me and then drove straight back home.

So, tonight marks the second yahrtzeit of my father Al Harris, Avraham ben Zorach.  While the picture on the the right might not be the clearest, it was taken on his last visit with us in Chicago, in July of 2009, only three and a half months before he was niftar. 

Rabbi Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler zt”l taught the world that it is giving that leads to love, not love that leads to giving.  Meaning, that the love we have for another is a natural outcome of our giving to another, of the deeds we perform.  Deeds that come from giving, like driving me three hours away to catch a train. 

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.