Category Archives: lessons

Two realities

In an emailed newsletter from Beis Hamussar that I received today was the following:

If we were asked to encapsulate all of Rav Wolbe’s teachings in one sentence, the task would seem impossible. He wrote numerous seforim and gave thousands of discourses over the course of his life. How could one possibly summarize so much in one single sentence? However, Rav Wolbe himself did just that when he sat with a group of former talmidim.He asked them to relay what they understood to be the focal point of all the discourses that they had heard during the years they had studied in his Yeshiva. Each student offered an opinion, but Rav Wolbe was not satisfied. “The message I was trying to convey in all my discourses” he said, “is that we should realize that ruchnius (spirituality) is no less a reality than gashmius (physicality).”

For example, we must believe that just as eating something dangerous is detrimental to one’s body, transgressing a commandment is at least as detrimental to one’s soul. Conversely, performing a mitzvah does more for us (and the world around us) than the food we eat.

This yesod of acknowledging the reality of ruchnius might have been the basis for this idea found in the introduction to Da Es Atzmecha by Rav Itamar Shwartz (the mechaber of the Bilvavi seforim):

I have come to write this sefer  because of an inner mission – an awareness of a particular world that exists, which in reality, is more real than the world we sense, but is very hidden from people. The inner world is enchanting, it is a world of pleasure and connection, but it is not a world of delusions.  It is a world more real than the table.  It is clearer than the familiar world of the table, the chair, and the  lamp.  Sometimes, when we try to enter the inner world, there is a feeling that since it is unfamiliar, maybe it is just our imagination, maybe it is just delusions of people who want to experience all kinds of things, and so they create a whole structure out of all their fantasies.  But you must know that the inner world is more realistic than the world we live in.  However, just as a blind person doesn’t see what’s in front of him, and he might ask, “Are you certain this exists?” 

Both Rav Wolbe zt’l and R Shwartz are teaching us that there are two realities. Most of us want to see the results, peiros (fruits), or the carrot at the end of the stick (even if the carrot is imaginary) in our spiritual efforts. It doesn’t work like that. This idea, the reality that is referenced above, is something that isn’t on my mind enough. Try as I might to be passionate about living a life of Simchas HaChaim, I find it easy to be focused on the reality that is only preceived by my five senses.

I have no idea if the spiritual reality is something that my kids have been taught about.  I know that they understand that each mitzvah we perform perfectly creates a malach that is our advocate in Shamayim.   It seems to me that our acknowledgment of the reality of ruchnius has to be as strong as our acknowledgement of the neshama.  We have a body and a soul, both are real.  This sort of gives a new spin to the phrase, “Keeping it real”.

The one time of the year it’s ok to be "the Jews with the crumbs"

From here

This phrase, “the Jews with the crumbs” is one that I use in a semi-joking way with my family and close friends. It’s sort of my version of the speech that kids get when they go on a school field trip or their camp goes off-site for an activity.  You know the speech, it always starts off, “Now kids, we’re going to a place where they don’t usually see a group of Jews like you. Jews who love Hashem and follow his Torah.”
As a general rule, I dislike going to recreational places on a Sunday (or during Chol HaMoed) where there are tons of other observant Jews, because, more often than not, we all bring our own snacks with us.  That’s all find and dandy, but often I, sadly, find that many of my brothers and sisters will not pick up their trash and leave a huge mess of litter, heimishe food wrappers and juice boxes…thus giving those of us who accept Torah mi’Sinai a bad name.  So, I tell my family that I don’t want us to be known as, “the Jews with the crumbs.”
Call me extreme, fanatical, and over-sensitive. I don’t mind. I think that every time we are at home or in public we have an opportunity m’kadesh Hashem.
That being written, I sat at my desk today during work and ate my shmura matza with jelly, carefull not to let too many crumbs escape the plate.  I had flashbacks to my favorite lunches when I was in public school from K-12.  Hands down, the best lunches of the year were my kosher for Passover lunches.  Corned beef on matza, lox on matza, brisket on matza, margarine and jelly on matza, a hard boiled egg, a fruit, and usually some type of small chocolate or the every popular jelly fruit slices.  Not only were those lunches yummy, but they also were a very visable way to seperate myself from everyone else eating lunch.  There was no way to hid the fact that I was Jewish.
I am not a fan of leaving messes around.  However, for all of the children and famlies that have always gone to school within the day school and yeshiva system, I think Pesach outings allow us to really remember that we are different than everyone else.  Eating your matza sandwich in a park, designated eating area at a museum, or a zoo means that you’re out in public and other see that we are different.  As the tile of this post indicates, this might be only time in the year when it’s ok to be “the Jews with the crumbs.”

There’s nothing wrong with being different, looking different, or eating different, just try not to make a mess.

"The Pesach Plan"- by R Avi Shafran

The story below is being posted with direct permission for Rabbi Shafran. His father’s memoir, Fire Ice Air: A Polish Jew’s Memoir of Yeshiva, Siberia, America is available for purchase here and was also just released for purchase as an e-book (only $3.99) at Jewish e-Books, here.

I bought this book last year before Pesach and found it to be a fascinating story of survival, determination, and family.  There are amazing first-hand accounts of yeshiva life prior to the Shoah and how much impact one person can have on family, friends, and a community.

Rabbi Avi Shafran
The group of Novardhoker yeshiva bochurim and their rebbe (and his rebbetzin)—along with a number of families—were packed into the train’s stock cars in the summer of 1941. Since Rav Yehudah Leib Nekritz, zt”l, and his talmidim, then in Soviet-conquered Lithuania, had declined the offer of Russian citizenship, the Soviets were providing them an all-expense-paid trip to Siberia. Occasional pieces of bread and cups of water were also offered at no charge during the weeks of travel. Not to mention the cruise across a lake on a barge to the work camp where my father, may he be well, the youngest of the yeshiva group, and his rebbe and friends, would spend the years of the Second World War.
The Siberian summer is oppressive; insects left the exiles at times unrecognizable for their swollen faces. Winter in the taiga, of course, brought challenges of its own, including 40 degree below zero temperatures.
In his short memoir, “Fire Ice Air,” my father recalls that even as the yeshiva exiles arrived in the East, Pesach was already on their minds.
And so, as they worked in the fields, some of the boys squirreled away a few kernels of wheat here and there, carefully placing them in their pockets—something that was “entirely against the rules, and very dangerous.”
“The Communist credo, though,” he writes, “was ‘from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs’ and so we were really only being good Marxists. Our spiritual needs, after all, included kosher for Pesach matzo.”
They put the kernels in a special bag, which they carefully hid where no one could find it.
The winter was brutal but the Novardhokers all survived it, as did the bag of grain. When the end of the cold season was rumored to be near, they ground the kernels into flour with a small hand grinder intended for coffee beans. My father remembers that the flour was coarse and dark, but resplendent all the same.
The next part of the Pesach plan was to arrange for the actual matzo-baking. Although the yeshiva boys were barracked with non-Jewish locals, there was one hut in the area that was occupied solely by a Jewish family, the Beckers, who had come from Kovno. Arrangements were made for some of the boys to come to their house in the middle of the night, when all the town’s residents were asleep, and fire up their oven on full blast for two hours to make it kosher. Then they would bake matzos for the family and themselves.
Since matzo dough is traditionally perforated in rows to ensure that it is “baked through,” the young men improvised a special tool for the purpose by whittling a piece of wood so that it could be fitted with gear-wheels borrowed from a clock. The apparatus was rolled over each matzo-dough quickly before the baking. 
“When Pesach came,” he recalls, “we all gathered at the hut and all of us—the Nekritzes, we yeshiva boys, and the Beckers—were able to fulfill the mitzvah of eating matzo on the first night of Pesach, in remembrance of our ancestors’ release from the outsized prison that was ancient Egypt. Understandably, it was a mitzvah that resonated strongly for us.”  The four kosos could not so easily be addressed; there was no wine and there were no grapes to be found in Siberia. But, to at least undertake some semblance of that mitzvah, the exiles managed to obtain milk—an expensive delicacy in its own right—and used it instead. To them, my father writes, “it tasted of the finest wine.”
The group even bartered some of their possessions for a few eggs, traditionally eaten at the Pesach Seder. Some of the eggs were frozen, he recalls, “but that was nothing that a bit of roasting couldn’t cure.”
As we all prepare for Pesach this year, cleaning our homes and polishing our silver and shopping for our personal plethoras of pesachdikeh products, accounts like my father’s—whether from Siberian exiles, concentration camp inmates, or Jews in hiding—should be required reading, and required pondering, for our children and for ourselves.
They provide something priceless: perspective.
The above essay may be reproduced or republished, with the above copyright appended.

Shout-out to Mordechai HaYehudi

I was recently visiting a friend whose mother was sitting shiva and we were talking about the fact that we didn’t have each other’s cell numbers in our phones. Now, our family has been to him for Shabbos lunch and we have davened together every Shabbos Kodesh for the past six years. So, the question comes up why didn’t I have his cell number? Because, we daven together ever Shabbos Kodesh, so why would I need to call him. I do have his email address and we’re friends on Facebook, so if I needed to I could get ahold of him. However, despite the term “social”, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter are really not so social.

Being social means that when you see a guy in shul and don’t know his name, you find it out and say, “Hi”. Being social doesn’t mean (and I admit, I am a shtickel guilty of this) that because we have 223 friends in common that we should become friends or linked into a professional network.
On Purim I got up to daven at 5:30am with my son, heard megillah at 6 and then worked 4 hours, so I could rush home. I gathered my kids and our shaloch manos and drove around two different neighborhoods double parking and finding creative parking spots to be social. My kids went up to people that they don’t exactly know and gave out our very creative (thanks to my wife) parcels. We gave to friends, teachers, acquaintances, and some classmates of our uber-kinderlach. Since giving is the precuror to love, as taught by Rav Dessler zt’l, I have to give a shout-out to Mordechai HaYehudi for having the chachmah to creat a real social network for Klal Yisrael.

An inspiring evening

Art found here

Monday evening I attended an informal dinner meeting hosted by Chai Lifeline to hear about a proposal for bike riders from Chicago to join in the amazing BIKE4CHAI 150 mile ride in NJ that ends at Camp Simcha. It’s an interesting idea that I’m really considering, since this year’s Bike the Drive event is on Shavuos.

That night I met two very inspiring people.  The first person was also attending our meeting.  He’s a 75 year old businessman who has joined the ALYN ride six years in a row.  ALYN’s ride is an intense 5 day ride in Eretz Yisrael along some serious routes. His biking chevrusa (and gemara chevrusa) also was at the meeting and related that this 75 year old man doesn’t get off his bike to walk up any of the inclines on the ALYN ride…amazing!  To be 75 years old and have that much koach is something to admire.

After our meeting, a man at the next table in the restaurant came over and asked the Chai Lifeline representatives, Rabbi Sruli Fried (director of Chai Lifeline NJ) and Rabbi Shlomo Crandall (director of Chai Lifeline Midwest) about their program.  As introductions were being made, it turns out that this fellow (a medical doctor visiting Chicago for a meeting) is, in fact, the founder of  He started the website in the mid 1990’s and doesn’t solicit donations or have advertisements on the site to help offset the maintenace costs.  He is one of the most l’shaim shamayim people I’ve ever met.

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)


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.