Loshon Hora in the age of social media

Exploding Pillow from istockphoto

Exploding Pillow from istockphoto

A common textbook example of Loshon Hora, the Torah prohibition about speaking despairingly about someone, is the visualization of someone cutting open a pillow and then trying to collect all of the feathers as they blow away. With the ease of distributing information thanks to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram this illustration of a pillow is almost outdated.

While it’s probably faster to use social media to “speak” Loshon Hora, the medium of choice is still talking to someone to old fashion way. It’s much more juicy  and enticing to simply pick up a phone or tell a friend some “news” while you are waiting to pick up your kids from camp or waiting in line for some kugel at a kiddush. Why? Because we still like to have actual conversations with other people.

You can PM (private message) your friend to tell them what you just heard about so-and-so, but typing the actual words isn’t a worthy substitute for speaking the words. It’s like the difference between reading about a great meal and actually smelling and tasting the meal. The object, be it a 5-course meal or insider news about someone in your community, can’t fully be replicated if it is transmitted by the written word. Go ahead try it. Go to Twitter or Facebook and write some Loshon Hora about someone. Don’t press SEND, please. Just look at the words and imagine saying them. It’s a different feeling.

Of course, I am not suggesting or advocating Loshon Hora is an acceptable thing to do. It isn’t. That being said, I am guessing that most people (not that they will ever read this) wouldn’t use social media to spread gossip about someone’s daughter, spouse, mother-in-law, school administrator, or doctor. The reason they would’t use Twitter or Facebook is because once it’s out there (unless you SEND and then DELETE right away) it can be traced back to the originator. With Loshon Hora of the spoken variety, as the originator you can always say, “I don’t remember who told me,” or, “I really can’t reveal my source, because it would be Loshon Hora.”

The bottom line is that talking about other people is hurtful, regardless of if it is the truth, half-truth, or completely untrue. Negative words about someone have the power to follow someone for years and also can reach someone’s ears before you even meet them.

5 reasons you need to order foil pans from my son

Stock photo, similar to items being offered

Stock photo, similar to items being offered

My son is selling foil pans, plastic containers, and fancy paper and plastic plates. This is the fundraiser for his school’s 8th grade trip to Washington, D.C. in the spring. I’m reaching out to my blog readers to ask for your help. If you live within the Chicagoland area and are interested send me an email and I’ll reply with an order form and other details. I thank you, in advance for your help. Here are five reason Chicagoland residents need to order foil pans from my son:

  1. Foil pans are great percussion instruments if you put them upside down on a table.
  2. If you want to make brownies that have that crust on top (like on a brownie mix box) you have bake them in a foil pan.
  3. Foil pans are also “Snap Liof” backwards.
  4. You will be helping an a young adult visit our nation’s capital and see the cool sites from the “National Treasure” movie.
  5. They are great for cooking, baking, storing, and freezing food for upcoming holiday events.

You can email me at neilsharris@gmail.com and I’ll send you the forms. Your items will be delivered prior to or on September 3rd, 2013.

Initial review on the Jaffa Edition of Mesillas Yesharim

MY Jaffa

I received a copy of this new edition on 8/4/13. I currently own the classic Feldheim version, The Ofeq Institute’s Complete Mesillas Yesharim, and Rabbi Yakov Felman’s translation with commentary (highly recommended, if you can find it). I also have both “Lights Along the Way” by Dr. Rabbi Abraham J. Twerkski and “The Shmuz on Life- Stop Surviving and Start Living” by Rabbi Ben Tzion Shafier, which are based on various teachings from Mesillas Yesharim.

I have read 30 pages (well into Chapter 1) of this new edition that Artscroll unveiled and it’s simply a treat for the soul. The commentaries, pulled from many baalei Mussar and other rabbinic sources ranging from the Rambam to the late Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe are refreshing and the text is formatted using the phrase-by-phrase translation, which is very helpful. Over the past 275 years many publishers and authors have given birth to many translations and commentaries of this book, but Artscroll has invested time and talent into making this new edition very reader friendly.

Artscroll and the authors and editors involved in the Jaffa Edition of Mesillas Yesharim have repackaged a familiar book and that will totally redefine how people will understand and experience this classic mussar work. While there are many self-help books on the market, both secular and Judaic, Mesillas Yesharim for many people is a seminal work.  Just glancing through this book, both the scholar and the student will begin to see this work in a whole new light. On the practical side, I found that the book wasn’t too heavy and is only 9×6 inches (the Daf Yomi editions of the Artscroll Tamud are 10×7). It’s small enough to carry with you, yet big enough that you don’t strain your eyes reading it. In an age that is saturated with many traditional Jewish works that are growth-oriented, I think this edition of Mesillas Yesharim will be a game changer in reintroducing a classic to the hearts and minds of today.

(Originally posted on Amazon.com)

Rav Wolbe zt’l on the beginning of Mesillas Yesharim

Found on Flickr

Found on Flickr after a lot of searching


In Z’ria U’Binyan B’Chinnuch, Planting and Building, by Rav Shlomo Wolbe z’tl (English translation by Rabbi Leib Keleman) the beginning of Mesillas Yesharim is quoted, which states (pages14-15):

“The foundation of Chassidus (piety) and the root of perfect service of Hashem is understanding and appreciating one’s obligation in one’s personal world.” It is tempting to gloss over the apparently repetitive phraseology, “The foundation of Chassidus” and “the root of perfect service of Hashem,”…in this short phrase, Ramchal teaches us that there are two, parallel processes in serving Hahsem.

The first one, Chassidus, demands a foundation. Chassidus constitutes the top floor in the construction of a human being and construction always requires a foundation. The taller and loftier the building we wish to construct, the deeper the foundation we must dig. To reach the heights of Chassidus, we must first lay a strong foundation and then build on it.

The second one, Divine service, evolves organically from within, and such growth requires a root, Ramchal hints. Where there is no root, there can be no growth. In one terse sentence, Ramchal informs us that we must be involved in both construction (building ourselves through the acquisition of ma’alos– good qualities) and growth (sowing internal seed that will sprout during our lifetime). And with this understanding we should learn the remainder of the introduction to the Mesillas Yesharim

This is exactly why our there needs to be both building and construction in raising a child and in building ourselves. A sprinkle of piety here and a pinch of servicing Hashem there helps make things taste better. Of course, I’m referring to the ta’am (taste) of a mitzvah. Hey, I’ll admit that that as a man I can only do one thing at a time. If I’m being asked to work on constructing a edifice with a strong foundation, then how work on nourishing my ever growing roots?

My own interpretation of this is that since roots are under the surface, working on growth is something we keep to ourselves, like a smokeless fire (see this post). What our families, friends, and people we bump into will see is how those roots essentially help with the construct of the “building” in the form of those mitzvos that we perform out in the open, such as davening, learning, or a chessed.

Speaking of Mesillas Yesharim, A Simple Jew was kind enough to tell me about a new edition of Mesillas Yesharim coming out July 31, 2013 from Artscroll. with seriously useful commentary.

5 Reasons why TorahAnytime Beta is awesome

A number of months ago I was asked to beta test the all new reloaded TorahAnytime.com. Their amazing website recently went live and here are 5 reasons it’s awesome.

1. Incredibly easy on the eyes. The site was designed so that you can easily see newly added videos and also navigate to different pages from the toolbar.
2. Videos shown by category. Lets say you are looking for a video shiur on the parsha, halacha, or from a Seder, just scroll down and see rows of videos that are available.
3. Member login and donations. On the Right side of the page it’s really easy to login. Just under that is info about making a donation. This site is constantly updated and it needs our support.
4. It’s all about the partners. Toward the bottom of the homepage on the right you’ll see logos/links of organizations and institutions that have partnered with TorahAnytime.com. One of the signs of any organization is that they are willing to share the credit.
5. It’s a great use of the web. If you are reading this post then you know that we can use technology to better who we are. TorahAnyTime does exactly that.

Hislamdus from trains

West end of the Bloomingdale Trail July 2013

West end of the Bloomingdale Trail July 2013

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.

Free booklet- “Elul, Returning to Hashem” (link)



Hi, I was just told about this wonderful free booklet by a friend (he wrote the essay on page 13). As we move ourselves from mourning on Tisha B’Av and really look towards the Geulah (Redemption), our thoughts turn towards Elul and Tishrai. This exceptionally awesome booklet was compiled by someone living in Eretz Yisrael and this Breslov Research Institute has made it available to the public. It is very inspirational and helps keep us focused on the bigger picture of embracing our individual and national avodah of serving Hashem. Please take a look and tell your friends, too. The booklet is available here.

PS- Thanks for taking a look.



Must read post (really) at BeyondBT

Hi. My friend (I call him that because I actually have his phone number and called him once) wrote an excellent post on BeyondBT called, “The Mindsets of Not Frum, Being Frum, and Becoming Frummer“. The post references the book Mindset by Carol Dweck, phD.

This post explores some serious things and I think it’s worthwhile to read it and even comment.


Postings upon the 20 yahrzeit of Reb Dovid

The 9th of Tamuz is the yahrzeit of Rabbi Dovid Lifshitz, Z”TL, the Suvalker Rav.

Micha Berger has a great post about Reb Dovid, his rebbe on his blog:

There also is a nice article in the Jewish Press:

Also, there is a story about him in my first blog post:

May Reb Dovid’s neshama have an Aliyah.

Amazing pictures from Lithuania

Rabbi David Lapin, of iAwaken.org was recently in Lithuania and shared a number of really amazing photos on the iAwaken.org Facebook Page. I am only posting a few of the pictures.


Chofetz Chaim's Kever

Chofetz Chaim’s Kever

Chofetz Chaim's Kever

Chofetz Chaim’s Kever

Chofetz Chaim's Yeshiva in Radin

Chofetz Chaim’s Yeshiva in Radin

Chofetz Chaim's Yeshiva

Chofetz Chaim’s Yeshiva

R Shimon Shkop's kever

R Shimon Shkop’s kever

R Shimon Shkop's kever

R Yitzchak Elchanan Spektor’s kever

Reb Yisrael Salanter's Beis Medrash in Kovno

Reb Yisrael Salanter’s Beis Medrash in Kovno

Volozhin Yeshiva

Volozhin Yeshiva