I took the two photographs above while walking on the “Bloomingdale Trail” in Chicago. This unused 2.7 miles of elevated railroad tracks and footpaths is slated to become a park and trail system connecting four neighborhoods by fall of 2014 (similar to the High Line in NYC).
I recently took my son and two close friends of his to walk the “Bloomingdale”. It was so cool to be walking 16 feet above street level and getting a very unique perspective of Chicago. We walked over and next to parks, streets, schools, old factory buildings, and residential areas for about 30 minutes. On a second trip there, last week, I walked the entire stretch of 2.8 miles from beginning to end and back again. It was on this excursion that found the two abandoned trains. They had been left there and over the years had become part of the urban landscape. I had wanted to walk the entire Bloomingdale Trail prior to it’s face-lift and reconstructive surgery.
These abandoned tracks and the footpaths made by joggers and bicyclists will loose some of their character when the city of Chicago transforms them into park area and trails. As I looked at and examined the these two sets of train cars I reflected on how they, at one time, served a purpose holding cargo of one type or another, but without an engine pulling them they were rendered non-functional. I thought about myself and how I can have big grand ideas and projects in my mind, but if they are not “attached” to an action plan or any measurable movement, then they are just plans, sitting abandoned on a railroad track.
Hislamdus, teaching oneself/learning from things, is key for those who try to invest time in working on themselves. This is what I was doing with the train cars. As I walked back to my entry point (which involved climbing through a cut out passageway in a fence) I was reminded of a something taught by Rav Yisrael Salanter. When he first observed the railroad system he was able to extract three important lessons: If you come late, you will miss the train; if the train jumps the rail, then all of the cars might overturn; a person without a ticket cannot board the train.
From T’nuas HaMussar (The Mussar Movement)
“…he employed every means at his disposal to guard his son [Yom Tov Lipman Lipkin] against straying from Judaism. He journeyed specially to St. Petersburg to extract a three-fold promise: that his son should observe Shabbat, refrain from eating trefah food, and not shave. He would say that were he able to disguise himself as a woman, he would go to work in the restaurant patronized by his son, so as to supervise the kashurt. He also requested R. Isacc Blazer, then rabbi in St. Petersburg, by mail, to keep an eye on the son. In this way, he said, the son remained a loyal Jew.”
While it obviously pained Rav Yisrael that this child (one of four sons and a daughter) strayed from the traditional path, the founder of the Mussar movement made great attempts to not only help his son while he was in university and afterwards, but that he never stopped loving Yom Tov. I have only been a father for 12 years and I know that my children don’t always see eye-to-eye with me, just like I didn’t always see things eye-to-eye with my father a”h, but the bond of love never is severed.
|Photo from here|
R Yisrael Salanter said:
The Maharal of Prague zt’l created a golem. It is a great wonder, but it is far more wondrous to transmute the nature of the materiality of Man and to make out of it a man [mentsh].*
* As sited on page 210 of Israel Salanter: Text, Structure, Idea by Rabbi Hillel Goldberg
|Photo from here|
Rabbi Yisrael Salanter said:
Mussar is like a microscope, revealing what parts of ourselves we need to perfect.
|From Mikor Baruch pg 1111 (hebrewbooks.org)|
This Shabbos Kodesh, the 25th of Shvat, is the yahrzeit of Rabbi Yisrael Salanter zt’l. This was prepared in zechus of a refuah shelayma for Reuven ben Tova Chaya and Miriam Orit bas Devorah.
A downloadable pdf version is available here.
Middos of Rabbi
Do you find time to relax and chill out? The middah of menucha, or tranquility, is an important and overlooked trait. We are all so concerned about staying connected and running from place to place that it’s easy to forget that we need to have a feeling of calmness within us. Rabbi Salanter urges us not to get overwhelmed with life, especially with problems that arise. If I start out with a sense of balance within me, then it’s easier not get overwhelmed and panic stricken. When we feel the pressure of having too much to do, we find it difficult to make decisions. This is why it’s suggested to “always act with deliberation.”
What happens when you don’t follow your GPS directions in order? We all know it is important to follow the correct directions or we’ll get lost. No matter if it’s a school report, project for work, a recipe for dinner, or the way to perform a mitzvah, there’s an order that has to be followed. It’s easy to get frazzled quickly when responsibilities stack up. This is why we have to have to know what needs to be done first. Pirkei Avos (5:7) states that one of the seven characteristics of a wise person is that, “He responds to first things first and to latter things later.” This is a simple, yet practical application of the middah of orderliness.
Do you know anyone that thinks they are always right? According to Rabbi Salanter, the first step in attaining humility is realizing our own strengths and weaknesses. We all excel in certain things and there are other areas that we need to work on. It’s important to remember this when dealing with others. We all need to learn to see the positive things in others. Each time we deal with someone, we need to stop looking at their shortcomings and see the positive things that we can learn from others. By doing this we can grow into the person we are meant to be.
Are justice and righteousness the same thing? Both can only be measured by a set standard. In our lives, that standard is Hashem’s Torah. Doing the right thing isn’t always easy. Rabbi Yisrael Salanter says that we have “to be willing to even give up things that can benefit us. This could include: a parking spot, your seat in shul, the last delicious brownie, giving a smile or a kind work to another person. Rabbi Salanter’s great-grandson, Rabbi Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler zt’l, took this concept of giving and taught that there are two types of people in the world, givers and takers. Being a giver is truly a righteous thing.
שתיקה – יחשוב את התועלת שבדבריו קודם שידבר.
|Photo from here|
Last Tuesday, January 31, 2012 the following story about Rabbi Yisrael Salanter was included in a letter to the editor of the Palm Beach Post (no, I don’t read this paper, but the link showed up in my Google Alert for “Salanter”).
I recall a story recounted in the name of Rabbi Yisrael Salanter, a founder of an ethical movement in Judaism. Rabbi Yisrael saw two boys squabbling over who was taller than the other. One boy took an aggressive action to sustain his view that he was taller by pushing the other into a hole. Rabbi Salanter went over and said, “If you wish to prove that you are taller, put a stone under you, don’t shove another into a hole.”
RABBI JACOB SIMCHA COHEN
So, I emailed to people, whom I consider to be fairly well versed in the teaching of R Yisrael Salanter to see if they had heard of this story. Both were not familar with it.
Now, there’s a quote from R Yisrael Salanter that states, “”Promote yourself, but do not demote another.” This idea behind this quote seems similar to the story above, however it’s not an exact fit.
Over Shabbos I happened to find the quote below on page 123 of R L Oschry’s translation of Tnuas HaMussar, “The Mussar Movement” by R Dov Katz. This seems like the missing piece of the puzzle.
To surpass someone else, one must not dig a pit for him, but build a higher platform for oneself.
Update: A message was sent me regarding the story printed in the Palm Beach Post and I’d like to clarify that the story is, most likely, apocryphal. Most probably it was created around the quote above.
Seeing a boy in shul yesterday run towards the aron kodesh to kiss the Torah and knock over a chair (almost into two people) reminded me of this saying by R Yisrael Salanter:
A person can rush to do a mitzvah and destroy the whole world in his path.
Rabbi Yisrael Salanter said:
Character is man’s only real possession.
One day in Vilna he [Rabbi Israel Salanter] was seen discussing trivialities with a Vilna resident, even trying to amuse him by telling jokes. Passers by were astonished. They knew very well that R. Israel weighed his words very carefully and would not utted a superfluous syllable. Yet here he was engaging in idle chatter and apparently joking without any restraint. At an opportune moment one of his disciples asked him the reason for his unusual behavior on that occasion. R. Israel answered that the person with whom he had been seen was in a depressed state of mind, and that there was no greater act of chessed [kindess] than to cheer up a downcast human being and revive his spirits.
He would also adopt this same attituted to his own family. Whenever anyone became downhearted, he would recall amusing episodes of his life to allay their anxieties and make them happy. (Told by his aged granddaughter, Chana Leah Rogovin) – From Tenuas Hamussar (The Mussar Movement) by R Dov Katz
Image created here.