Category Archives: seforim

Sweet deal on the "must have" parenting sefer

The English translation of Zeriah u’Binyan beChinnuch, Planting and Building by Rav Shlomo Wolbe z’tl (translated by Rabbi Leib Keleman) is currently on sale for $11.69 if you use this online coupon code: FLD10.

From the Feldheim website:

An English translation of the acclaimed Hebrew best-seller, Zeriah u’Binyan beChinnuch. The author, an acknowledged Torah authority, is one of the foremost spiritual leaders of our time. This book has been prepared from several of his lectures, and presents basic guidelines for parenting and education. The wisdom in this important book fills a great need for our generation and Rabbi Wolbe’s vital teachings should be read and re-read by every Jewish parent and educator.

Now, here’s the nitty gritty about this sefer, if you have kids or are in a formalized chinuch position, then it’s in your best interest to read this sefer. If you live in Chicago, email me and I’ll let you borrow my copy. Last February in Chicago I heard both Rabbi Yakov Horowitz and Rabbi Paysach Krohn quote and base discussions around this sefer at two totally separate events. Rabbi Wolbe z’tl completely “got it” about how to use sechel in the way we educate our children. I often catch myself using techniques and teachings from this sefer. I also catch myself not following some of the ideas in the sefer and pay for it. I don’t get any kickbacks from Feldheim (but wish I did), I just happen to feel very passionately about Planting and Building and it is truly 88 pages of knowledge. Don’t forget to use the code “FLD10” to save 10% when you order it.

Like iron to a magnet

Photo used with permission & text added by me

Last Shabbos Kodesh I is was learning Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh (vol 2, chapter 6) and Rav Shwartz explains a person who likes a particular food will eat it over and over again, never getting bored of it.  Likewise, he says, we might listen to the same song many times, because our neshama “connects to the song.” He brings up the question of why many people don’t experience this when it comes to Avodas Hashem? The answer can be found by checking out the link above to chapter 6, but the idea is that we need open ourselves up to “tasting” the goodness of Hashem. After the initial difficulty of working on this a person will be drawn after this “taste” of Hashem “like iron to a magnet.”

The phrase comes from the second to the last paragraph at the end of the first chapter of Mesillas Yesharim (found in Hebrew or English).  The Ramchal says that your every inclination be directed singularly towards our Creator and that all we do be for only one purpose- to draw close to Him and remove all the barriers that block you from your Maker, “until you are actually drawn after Him (may He be Blessed), like iron to a magnet.”  You really need to click the link(s) above and see what the Ramchal says inside. My few typed words really don’t give it over properly.

Rabbi Yaakov Feldman beautifully explains the idea of “iron to a magnet” follows in his own translation and commentary on The Path of the Just:

When metal is drawn to a magnet it becomes magnetized; when something is drawn to fire it is destroyed. In both cases, the object drawn in is nullified and changed.  But the metal nullified by the magnet benefits from the nullification, while the object nullified by the flame loses all.

So too, when one is drawn towards God, the become Godly. In fact, the faster he holds onto the “magnet,” the better, and the sooner the separation the sooner the loss. But the more one avoids contact with the “flame” (those things that separate us from God) the better off he is. (page 20)

The forgotten "Erev-Shabbath" Jews

Rav Soloveitchik zt’l from Dr. Peli’s On Repentance:

“Please allow me to make a ‘private confession’ concerning a matter that has caused me much loss of sleep… I still remember- it was not so long ago- when Jews were still close to God and lived in an atmosphere pervaded with holiness. But today, what do we see? The profane and the secular are in control everywhere we turn.
Even in those neighborhoods made up predominantly of religious Jews, one can no longer talk of the ‘sanctity of Shabbat.’ True, there are Jews in America who observe Shabbath. The label ‘Sabbath obverver” has come to be used as a title of honor in our circles just like HaRav HaGaon neither really indicate anything and both testify to the lowly state of our generation. But it is not for Shabbath that my heart aches; it is for the forgotten ‘erev Shabbath’ . There are Shabbat-observing Jews in America, but there are no ‘erev Shabbath’ Jews who go out to greet Shabbat with beating hearts and pulsating souls. There are many who observe the precepts with their hands, with their feet, and/or with their mouths – but there are few indeed who truly know the meaning of the service of the heart!” (pp. 97-98)

I will copy/paste the last sentence again, because it’s hits home to me.

There are many who observe the precepts with their hands, with their feet, and/or with their mouths – but there are few indeed who truly know the meaning of the service of the heart!”

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”.

"Building a Sanctuary in the Heart" vols 1 & 2

Photo from here

The English adaptation of Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh volumes 1 and 2 was recently republished in English as parts 1 and 2 now in one complete volume.  It’s available here for online purchase and is currently available in Chicago at Kesher Stam.

From the website:

“Building A Sanctuary In The Heart” is the first in a series detailing practical steps on how to attain deveikus to Hashem at all times. The Hebrew title – Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh sums up the three elements of the method. The goal is to create in oneself a sanctuary within which the Divine Presence will rest. The method is “building” step by step in a concrete way that is both simple and profound. The tool is “my heart”. The author presents an outline of the way to achieve this deveikus, one step at a time in short paragraphs, so that each point can be absorbed independently, at a comfortable pace.

The author has associated himself with the tzadikim in our generation, from who he has received haskamos to his Hebrew sefarim. Using an eclectic approach, he has developed a method that speaks to the hearts of Jews from all walks of life. As a bookstore owner in Yerushalayim put it: “His sefarim are lapped up by the entire spectrum, from Modern Orthodox youths to Meah She’arim Chassidim!” His audiences on a lecture tour in the States last summer included Y.U. graduates, secular Israeli college students, yeshivaleit, Sephardim, seminary students and Chassidim.

The translation is presented in readable English, while being faithful to the style of the source text. It also includes additional paragraphs not included in either the original Hebrew or the Yiddish, Spanish or Russian editions. These were taken (with the author’s permission) from cassette recordings of the shiurim on which this sefer is based.

Nesivos Shalom on middos

Rav  Shalom Noach Berezovsky zt’l, the Slonimer Rebbe 

In is series of seforim, Nesivos Shalom, the Slonimer Rebbe zt’l writes (in one of the many sections on Tikun HaMiddos):

One needs to feel the joy of acquiring positive traits and realize how miserable he is as long as he is mired in negativity. A person of positive traits is happy—at peace with others, at peace with God, at peace with himself. The opposite is true of one whose traits are negative—he is irritable, not at peace with others, God, or himself. It is contention within your gates—within your own personal gates there is contention: He fumes with anger at himself; he is depressed and lethargic; he is full of jealousy and animosity toward others; he doesn’t like to be around people and they don’t like to be around him; he is full of bitterness at the Almighty concerning his lot. Once a person comes to the clear realization that his happiness actually depends on the rectification of his character, he will spare no effort in pursuit of his own happiness. The whole of a person’s life and times hinges on his character. (Translation by R Jonathan Glass)

Sunday’s mussar morsel

Photo of R E Lopian from here
Rabbi Eliyahu Lopian zt’l:
The verse says, “And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell within them” (Shemos/Exodus 25:8), upon which our rabbis comment that since it does not state “within it”, but “within them”, it means within the heart of every single Israelite.  Thus the heart is the site wherein dwells the sacred divine presence, i.e., one must feel Godliness in the heart; the source of faith is the heart, i.e., one must feel faith in one’s heart. (From the sefer Lev Eliyahu)

New Shiur starting in Chicago: Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh on Messilas Yesharim

Starting the Wednesday, December 14 at Ohel Shalom, 2949 West Touhy Ave, Chicago (SE corner of Touhy and Sacramento) at 8:30 is a new shiur given by Rabbi Daniel Raccah that I am very excited about.

Rabbi Raccah will be teaching Messilas Yesharim with the commentary of Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh.  I’ve heard some shiurim from Rav Weinberger based on this sefer, but I am uber-happy to have an opportunity to actually learn it inside with a tremendous Rav like Rabbi Raccah.  I have been hearing about him since I came to Chicago and was zoche to hear him speak this past Shavuos.  This blurb was emailed to me:

Rabbi Daniel Raccah’s Wednesday Night Shiur has B”H completed the Maharal’s
Ner Mitzvah. The Shiur will BE”H begin the classic Misilat Yisharim viewed
primarily through the unique  and very practical lenses of the Bilvavi
Mishkan Evneh on Wed. Dec. 14th with an earlier start time of 8:30PM at Ohel
Shalom, 2949 W. Touhy. Please join us.