Category Archives: stories

Straight from the Laugh Factory in Vilna…

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.

Reb Moshe and the broken tape recorder

Royalty free graphic from here

I recently listened to a shiur by Rav Weinberger that was given to a group of women in Waterbury, CT.  I think the content, messages, and stories (the “jukim” story, the “Lost Horse”, and the “I know the Shephard” story) are similar to a shiur from 2008 posted by Dixie Yid.  The shiur, titled “Chinuch & Chanukah: Chinuch with a Heart” actually starts about 50 seconds into the recording and is available here.  The shiur revolves around the difference between “teaching” and “giving over” Torah. 

Rav Weinberger tells mentions an important article on chinuch that was published in Hakirah, The Flatbush Journal of Jewish Law and Thought by Dr. Aharon Hersh Fried.  The article, titled, Is There a Disconnect between Torah Learning and Torah Living?  And If So, How Can We Connect Them? A Focus on Middos is available for reading or downloading here.

What follows in my transcription of Rav Weinberger telling over a story that was included in the above mentioned article.  Any mistakes in writing down Rav Weinberger’s words are mine.

Some years ago, in Rav Reuven Feinstein’s yeshiva, there were two boys who had an argument.  What happened?  Let’s call them Reuven and Shimon.  Revuen lent his tape recorder to Shimon and Shimon dropped the tape record and it broke.  And they were arguing.  Revuen said, “I lent you the tape recorder and you broke it.  You have to get me a new one.”

Shimon says, “It wasn’t my fault, it was an accident.”

And they were arguing and decided that they would go to the Rosh Yeshiva, which is a good thing.  They went to Reb Reuven Feinstein, they went to the Rosh Yeshiva to ask him what’s the halacha then.  This is what happened.  Rav Reuven Feinstein was absolutly astonished by the question.  Not with nachas, he was astonished.  He said, “You’re learning all year since September, your learning the gemara.  Everyday you have charts on the blackboard.   You’re learning the gemara “Bava Metzia” that teaches that when someone borrows something he’s responsible when it breaks.  If you borrow something you’re responsible.”  Rav Reuven was so distrubed by this.  He couldn’t understand how’s it possible that the boy, how could he not know that? That’s all they’re learning and they’re getting 100s on their tests. שואל חייב באונסין , it’s a gemara.  It’s all over the gemara.  If you borrow, you’re chai’ev (responsible).

So, he was so upset, Rav Reuven went to his father.  He went to Reb Moshe, Zecher Tzaddik V’Kodesh L’Vracha.  He went to Reb Moshe and he asked, “How can it be that the boys did not know that?”

So, Reb Moshe said, “Because what they’ve seen in their lives has no relationship to what they’re learning in yeshiva.  It’s completely irrelevant.  They do not see their parents living the lives that they learn in the seforim, nor do they see it so clearly in the yeshiva.”  That’s what Reb Moshe said.

They would never dream of making a connection between what they learned all year and how to practically live.  It might have been taught, but it wasn’t given over.

A signature story about Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel zt"l

The following story about Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel zt”l is from the hesped given at by Rabbi Aryeh Cohen at the Hebrew Academy of Long Beach.  Any mistakes in the transcription are my own.  The entire emotional and personal hesped is available at

I’ll never forget.  One day I walked in to speak to him in his house.  He was sitting at his table, where he often was, and he has a pile this high, probably five hundred pieces of paper.  And they were letters to thank those who came to the Mir Yeshiva dinner for coming and helping out, whatever tzedaka.  And he was sitting there signing every single one personally.  Every single one, “Nosson Tzvi Finkel”.  Every one personally.  And when I tell you that each one took anywhere between thirty seconds and a minute, it’s no exaggeration.  It was very hard for him with his Parkinson’s and his arms flying to just, it was the way he would write, so until he got his pen down, once he got his pen down he could start, so he would be able to slide and finish that particular line.  But, each line took a long time for him to start, sometimes ten, twenty, thirty seconds.  Never heard of computer images, of a stamp?  Your sending out a mass letter of five hundred letters, maybe more, that was one pile.  There might have been more piles.  But, the Rosh Yeshiva understood that the chizuk, the inspiration, that each individual gets to have a little bit of a signature of the Rosh Yeshiva, to feel that kesher to the Rosh Yeshiva.  I’ll tell you, if you talk to anyone who learned in the Mir, they will tell you what they loved most was that kesher to the Rosh Yeshiva.

Also, Dixie Yid transcribed Rav Weinberger’s Shabbos drasha this past week that also contained several beautiful stories about Rav Nosson Tzvi and also describes a brief meeting Rav Weinberger had with him…well worth reading.

HaRav Nosson Tzvi Finkel zt"l, Howard Schultz and the Holocaust

In memory of the the Rosh Yeshiva, a great-grandson of the Alter of Slabodka, I’m reposting a “famous” story involving HaRav Nosson Tzvi Finkel z”tl and Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks and a lesson from the Shoah.

The story below, from Am Echad Resources, was written by Howard Schultz (CEO of Starbucks). This article is excerpted from a speech he delivered, and is reprinted courtesy of Hermes Magazine, Fall 2001, a publication of Columbia Business School.

When I was in Israel, I went to Mea Shearim, the ultra-Orthodox area within Jerusalem. Along with a group of businessmen I was with, I had the opportunity to have an audience with Rabbi Noson Tzvi Finkel, the head of a yeshiva there [Mir Yeshiva]. I had never heard of him and didn’t know anything about him. We went into his study and waited 10 to 15 minutes for him. Finally, the doors opened.
What we did not know was that Rabbi Finkel was severely afflicted with Parkinson’s disease. He sat down at the head of the table, and, naturally, our inclination was to look away. We didn’t want to embarrass him.
We were all looking away, and we heard this big bang on the table: “Gentlemen, look at me, and look at me right now.” Now his speech affliction was worse than his physical shaking. It was really hard to listen to him and watch him. He said, “I have only a few minutes for you because I know you’re all busy American businessmen.” You know, just a little dig there.
Then he asked, “Who can tell me what the lesson of the Holocaust is?” He called on one guy, who didn’t know what to do — it was like being called on in the fifth grade without the answer. And the guy says something benign like, “We will never, ever forget?” And the rabbi completely dismisses him. I felt terrible for the guy until I realized the rabbi was getting ready to call on someone else. All of us were sort of under the table, looking away — you know, please, not me. He did not call me. I was sweating. He called on another guy, who had such a fantastic answer: “We will never, ever again be a victim or bystander.”
The rabbi said, “You guys just don’t get it. Okay, gentlemen, let me tell you the essence of the human spirit.
“As you know, during the Holocaust, the people were transported in the worst possible, inhumane way by railcar. They thought they were going to a work camp. We all know they were going to a death camp.
“After hours and hours in this inhumane corral with no light, no bathroom, cold, they arrived at the camps. The doors were swung wide open, and they were blinded by the light. Men were separated from women, mothers from daughters, fathers from sons. They went off to the bunkers to sleep.
“As they went into the area to sleep, only one person was given a blanket for every six. The person who received the blanket, when he went to bed, had to decide, ‘Am I going to push the blanket to the five other people who did not get one, or am I going to pull it toward myself to stay warm?'”
And Rabbi Finkel says, “It was during this defining moment that we learned the power of the human spirit, because we pushed the blanket to five others.”
And with that, he stood up and said, “Take your blanket. Take it back to America and push it to five other people.”

Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks on how to daven

On Wednesday, October 26th the Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks spoke in Chicago at Congregation K.I.N.S.  A link to the audio and a transcript can be found here.

Here’s an amazing story he told over (from the transcript): 

I don’t know if you know this, the Rebbe before he became the Lubavitcher Rebbe, ran the publishing house of Chabad, Kehot. He always used to typography and use signals that would tell the apprentice how to make a change.  Somebody had written him a letter, “I need the Rebbe’s help. I’m depressed, I’m miserable, I find life has no meaning.  I pray and it doesn’t affect me, I do mitzvos and I don’t feel change – I need the Rebbe’s help.”   And the Rebbe gave him the most brilliant reply and he did not use a single word.  You know what he did?  He just ringed the first word in every sentence.  What was the first word?  I.  If all that matters to you is the “I,” you will never find happiness.  And that, I discovered, is the secret of Kohelet’s unhappiness.  Remember what he says?  Asiti, kaniti, baniti li, asafti li.  Everything – I built for myself, I bought for myself, I gathered for myself.  There is no book in the whole of Tanach which uses the first person singular that often.  And if you use the first person singular, if all that matters is I, you will never be happy.  And what happened in our generation?  I really intend no disrespect to the memory of a wonderful man, Steve Jobs.  He was a wonderful man.  Be we are the 1—generation.  We have the iPad, the iPhone, the iTunes, the iPlayer, ich veis nisht, everything is I I I.  No  wonder  we’re miserable.   And the result is that we have to use davening, to thank Gd for what we have and to be aware of something bigger than ourselves.

This hit me hard.  Just this morning during “Shema Koleinu” I know that I threw in some “I’s” like, “I want to be closer to you, Hashem.”  Instead I should have said, “Please Hashem, let me be closer to you.”

For a personal post from someone who attended the event, see this.

Rav Frand on the how to disagree and the paradigm of unity

In Rav Frand’s Teshuva drasha for this year (recorded live in Los Angeles on the first night of Selichos and available for purchase here), he discussed the need for unity on Yom Kippur and gave over an amazing story about Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld 

and Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kookwho both had very different ways of viewing both the state of Israel (at the time called Palestine), the Jews who lived there, and secular education.

Rav Frand said:

When Rav Kook and Rav Sonnenfeld went to the little communities, the little kubutzim up in the north, where they [the residents] ate chazair treif, they went together to bring people back to Yiddishkeit.  Baalei Machloches- they held each other were wrong, but they worked together.  They disagreed without being disagreeable and we have not learned to do that.  When we disagree, you’re invalid, not entitled to your opinion.  Their vehement machloches never devolved in animosity.


You know, Rav Kook and Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld were once invited to a bris.  Rav Yosef Chaim was to be the mohel and Rav Kook was supposed to be the zandek and they got to the shul at the same time.  Rav Yosef Chaim insisted that Rav Kook go in first, because he was a cohen.  Rav Kook insisted that Rav Yosef Chaim should go in, because he was a bigger person.  And they stood at the door frozen, they wouldn’t go until Rav Kook noticed that it was a double door and the left portion of the door was locked.  He reached in beside and pulled down the thing and they opened both doors simultaneously and they went in together.  That’s the paradigm [to how we should behave].

The entire shiur, Teshuva 2011 – Conflict Resolution: Within Our Community and Within Ourselves, is available for purchase and downloading on the Yad Yechiel website.

Any inaccuracies in this transcription are mine.  This is posted in zechus of a refuah shelayma for Reuven ben Tova Chaya and Miriam Orit bas Devorah. 

The most important word of a bracha


Soon after it’s publication, I received a copy of Artscroll’s biography, Rav Gifter, by Rabbi Yechiel Spero.  As a close friend pointed out to me, it’s an “easy read”.  This is true, because Rav Gifter zt’l was a gadol that those from America (like myself) could relate to.  Moving from Portsmouth, VA to Balitmore at the age of two, he attended public school until going to NY at age 13 to attend YU’s high school.  His life along with the interviews and accounts of Telz (both in Lithuania and Cleveland) are snapshots of both the destruction and rebirth of a great yeshiva.

I’m about half way through this sefer and I find myself thinking about the following prior to every bracha I make:

One student recalls Rav Gifter aksing them what seemed like a very simple question:  What is the most important word in the blessing of “shehalok nihyeh b’dvaro– through Whose word everything came to be?”

Each of the young men gave their suggestions.  One suggested that Name of Hashem; another thought that it might be Melech (King).  But Rav Gifter’s answer remained with this talmid some 65 years later.

“The word Atah [You] is the most important word.  It shows us that we have a personal relationship with the Al-mighty.”
(page 84)