Category Archives: Novardok

Sunday’s Spark of Mussar

Rav Yosef Yozel Hurwitz, the Alter of Novhardok

A person who uses his mental ability solely for worldly pursuits instead of for understanding the true Heavenly light is like a villager who finds a magniicent sculpture and uses it as a scarecrow.

From Sparks of Mussar by R Chaim Ephraim Zaitchik

Note:  The Alter was a very successful businessman, as well as the founder of Novhardok network of yeshivos.

Old Navy, Home Depot, and Novardok?

Commenting on the Novardok mussar exercises (see Moment 2 here) designed to work on humility, Rafi G wrote:

I can see how it would humble a person, but isn’t it some sort of chillul Hashem (maybe that category is extreme for this case) or something that Jews are looking so foolish and stupid walking into a hardware store and asking to buy clothes? Doesn’t it make Jews look foolish? I have a hard time believing there is really such an important benefit of humility gained that can justify the overall bad light in which it portrays Jews, and specifically yeshiva students.

This chillul Hashem factor seems to be a big one, I admit. This quote might clear things up about the Alter of Novardok’s methods:
Rav Yosef Yoizel also formulated a special program aimed at helping students break their negative character traits and acquire new ones. This program consisted of various exercises designed to provide students with “spiritual courage”, a courage that would imbue them with the confidence to do whatever was needed to promote Yiddishkeit despite any deterrents that would arise. One such exercise called for them to act strangely in public, so that people would ridicule them. For this exercise, bochurim from the Novardok yeshiva would enter a shop and ask for a product not sold there, such as watermelons in a drugstore or screws in a bakery. (Originally found in the Yated, posted online here)

In essence, we see that the plan was to instill a feeling that no matter what an individual or society might think, if I can act in a way that doesn’t make me feel embarrassed, the better off I am.

I don’t think we had a situation where a yeshiva student would go into Old Navy asking where the power drills are, and then insisting that the store really does carry them in stock. I have always thought it was more like a student or two going into store or shack “A” that sold hardware and asking if they carried any fresh bread. After being told, “No”, the yeshiva student would say, “Oh, my mistake. I must be confused. Have a nice day.”

There is a great book titled BEYOND THE SUN (long out of print) by R David Zaritzky (who studied in Novardok and also with the Chofetz Chaim in Radin). I had heard about the book in 1991 and found a copy 15 years later. Sadly, I loaned it out and somehow didn’t get it back. The book itself is viewed as a fictional account of the the Novardok system and has several profiles of the Alter and other key figures in the Novardok movement. As I recall, it discusses this same issue, focusing on this idea that a student in Novardok was trained not to be embarrassed by serving Hashem and doing what was right against the various anti-Torah movements of the time.

This whole exercise could have been viewed as a chillul Hashem, as Rafi suggests. At the time, though, most yeshiva students were getting a bad rap from the Maskillim. That’s part of the reason that in Slabdoka there was an emphasis on one’s clothes looking fit and proper (it might also have been a reaction to Novardok’s emphasis on most things non-materialistic).

Either way, today, I think most of us fall somewhere in the middle. We want to be Avdai Hashem and have the strength to be a Torah Jew in all situations, yet also want to give Klal Yisrael a “good name”. I try to stay away from chillul Hashem as much as I can, to the point recently, when we went on a family outing I was against bringing saltine cracker because of the crumbs that are left when the kids eat them. Maybe, I’m taking it a little too far?

Small Mussar Moments

Moment 1One morning, several weeks ago, I got a practical lesson in zerizus thanks to my 5 yr old daughter. She decided to read at the table instead of eating her cereal. When she “decided” to actually eat, her cereal was now soggy. She started crying because her “cereal was ruined for life, Abba, for life!”
I was taken back by the obvious mussar lesson. If something like cereal can be “ruined” by simply not choosing to eat it at the right time, then how much more can the opportunity to get close to Hashem be lost by not acting at the right time.

Moment 2
For some time now, my wife and I have been looking into purchasing
Nok Hockey for the family. I had found two different national sporting goods chains that advertised it online. Going into both chains on the way home from work, I asked several employees where I could find the item. In both stores, I was given blank stares. It seemed that no one had ever heard of Nok Hockey. I had to explain exactly what the item looked like and how it was used. Again, this didn’t ring a bell. In the end, I went to the manager of each store and was told that it must be an “online item only”.

This reminded me of the exercises that students of the Novardhok school of mussar would partake in. They would often go into hardware stores and ask to purchase clothes, or go into clothing store and ask to purchase bread. These exercises were used to work on negating any trace of guy’vah (haughtiness). After these frustrating attempts, we resorted to eBay.

Moment 3
In the Hirhurim Parashah Roundup: Vayechi 5768 by Steve Brizel there was a link to an idea based on a teaching of R Shlomo Woble z”tl. If found these passages to be most interesting, as I have been trying to isolate some of my better traits lately.
“The Mashgiach said in the name of his rebbi, Rav Yerucham Levovitz z”l, that every person possesses an underlying middah, and if he would be cognizant of that middah he would be able to perfect himself. He elaborated that every person is born with one complete character trait, and through utilizing this trait to its fullest potential, one is able to perfect his character.

What is the way that we can become familiar with our underlying character trait? When the Mashgiach was asked, he answered, “If one would keep a daily accounting of the traits that arise in every given situation, after a few weeks he will be able to tell which trait manifests itself most often.”
If we can make an effort to recognize our strengths and weakness, after just a short while we might be able to transform the way we relate to the situations that arise on a daily basis.

This idea of recording when those traits some up has really helped me. I have been keeping a record of several traits that pop up in my daily actions and have taken time to recall them during my nightly Cheshbon HaNefesh. Then I added some ideas that I read from A Simple Jew’s conversation with his Rebbe that has only clarified things for me.

Moment 4
This past Sunday we went to an indoor sportsfest. One of the many sponsors for this event happened to be Adidis. They had a massive booth with a lot of sports activities for kids. The center attraction was the massive truck and trailer with their new ad campaign plastered everywhere, “Impossible Is Nothing”. My wife spied it from across the room and said, “Neil, you have to go check that out.”

More an a witty play on words, “Impossible Is Nothing” instantly reminded me of one of my favorite quotes from the Alter of Novhardok, R Yosef Yozel Hurwitz:
I never thought about whether I could do something, but only about whether I had to do it. And if something must be done, then Hashem will give the means of doing it.
Often times I fell that the only limit to what I can accomplish is the limit that I personally set for myself. This same quote from the Alter of Novhardok was recently expanded on in a post by Dixie Yid here.

Moment 5
Last week while driving home I saw the following sign in front of a non-Kosher restaurant, “Before you make your resolution, make your reservation”. I found it almost humorous, but this really showed me the greatness of Yiddishkeit. Do you ever hear a Rav in a shul or a Rebbe in a yeshiva telling people to go ahead and commit all the aveiros you want to in Elul, because you can do Teshuva? The secular world tends to tell people that you should do what makes you feel happy and worry about tomorrow, well, tomorrow. Really, they are speaking to the guf.

Our style of communication should be different, we should, in theory, address the neshama first. Maybe the sign should have said, “Make a reservation to make a resolution”, putting thought into what you want to change is only the first step. Bring it into action is the second. Mussar to myself, as usual.