Monthly Archives: January 2007

Carpool Conversation

The following conversation occurred a few days ago as I drove my 4 yrs old daughters’ carpool home from school. We had just dropped off our first passenger and were in route to drop off the second one when my daughter said…

Uberdaughter: Abba, (name withheld) left something in the car. We have to give it to her, it’s a mitzvah.
Me: That’s right, Uberdaughter. It’s the mitzvah of Hashovas Avedah, giving something back to someone who lost something. We’ll have to write you a ‘mitzvah note’ for school.
2nd Child/Passenger (soon to be dropped off): I get a ‘mitzvah note’, too.
Me: O.K., you can tell your mom when I take you home.
Uberdaughter: Oh no!! I get the mitzvah note, because I saw that (name withheld) left something. The person who sees a mitzvah and yells about it is the one who did the mitzvah for real-life and gets the mitzvah. Hashem says so.

All right, while my daughter did use some ‘hashkafic literary license’, what she said holds some truth. It actually reminded me of a great story published in the book Gut Voch, by Avrohom Barash.
The story, from page 68, titled “Everything Counts” follows:

The sister of the Vilna Gaon would often collect tzedakah for various charitable causes together with a friend. At one point the two agreed that whichever one of them would pass away first would come to the other one in a dream and relate her experiences.

When one of them left this world, she kept her word and appeared to her friend. “Tell me,” she asked, “what is it like in Gan Eden?”

“I am not prepared to tell you everything,” she replied. “But one thing I can say: everything is calculated minutely. Do you remember that one day when we were collecting for an important cause and you saw a woman across the road whom we could approach? You raised your hand and pointed her out, and I crossed the road and spoke to her. You will receeive reward for lifting your finger to point her out, while I was rewarded for having taken the trouble to cross the road and go over to her.”
My daughter was on target.

Thoughts on the Superbowl

The drawing above of a Bears helmet was done by an outsanding 7 year old boy currently in first grade, my son.

If I were a sports fan, in theory, I would be torn about the upcoming game between the Colts and the Bears. I dedicated almost eight years of my life to the Jewish community of Indianapolis. I, now, currently reside in Chicago. For me, it really doesn’t matter who wins… I’ve never been too into sports.

For my son, well, it’s a different story altogether. His love of the Bears has grown over the past year. He has ‘subliminally’ been showing his team pride over the past few weeks with his drawings and colorings of the weekly parsha. First it was Yosef’s me’il that was colored blue and orange. Then it was a Bears blanket that covered Paro as he slept and dreamed. Most recently it was a picture of two Jewish slaves working in Egypt, wearing Bears jerseys.

As I said, I’ve never been too into sports. But I keep up with the scores, watch some of the games with him (and let him explain things to me) and try to bond with him. It’s important to show interest in what our kids are interested in. My neighbor is a huge Chicago sports fan (Sox not Cubs). I have observed the special bond he has with his oldest child when it comes to sports. I know that I cannot make myself into a sports fanatic, but I try to use things like “da Bears” as a way of bonding with my son. My son is wise to me. He knows that I’m not as into it as other dads, but he’s cool with it. He sees that I make the effort and I hope there is something to be said for that.

An observation: In a city devided by baseball like Chicago it’s nice to see people rally behind one common goal…the Bears. There is a lot that I take away from such unity, even on a gachmius level.

Note: I do enjoy watching the XGames!

A moment of reflection

There was a time when I couldn’t imagine not posting for over two weeks. It’s not that my life is so exciting or that I have so much to say, it’s just that I had a lack of free will when it came to blogs. Things have changed for the better.

I didn’t start out planning not to post, but things came up like family, rubber bands, work, and freezing cold temps in our playroom/computer room.

During my ‘break’ from posting two things transpired. Firstly, as of the beginning of January, I have posted more than 100 times on blogger. For me, as someone who enjoys writing, but hadn’t kept up with it in years, this is a milestone. I look at it as over 100 journal entries!

The second thing that happened was much more humbling. My sitemeter went over 10000. I am blow away that my little blog has been viewed more that 10000 times. I was floored when my first posting even got any comments.
Thanks to all of those who take time from their day to read and comment. It means something to me. On with the postings…

Expanding Rubber Bands

(Picture taken at the Museum of Science
and Industry in Chicago on 12/24/06)
In my previous post, , A Simple Jew commented: Have you found a positive action to replace the “negative” action of checking your e-mail so often?
The most obvious result of “Rubber Band Mussar”, in my case, is a more focused day in the workplace, more quality time with my family, more time to open a sefer, and an understanding of the difference between what I want and what I need. These, in and of themselves, are positive actions, however they are secondary.

The most obvious positive action is ….Awareness.
I’ve quoted this
before, but in second chapter of Mesillas Yesharim it states that:
THE IDEA OF WATCHFULNESS is for a man to exercise caution in his actions and his undertakings; that is, to deliberate and watch over his actions and his accustomed ways to determine whether or not they are good, so as not to abandon his soul to the danger of destruction, God forbid, and not to walk according to the promptings of habit as a blind man in pitch darkness.
No one wants to be a robot (although the life size Robbie the Robot pictured above was pretty cool), or a slave to habit. I sure don’t! The awareness of my addiction to checking email has, ironically, helped to stop me from acting robotic and doing things simply by rote. However, it’s more that just being aware of the choice I make to go or not go online. It’s a learning process and I am becoming much more aware of my behavior in general. It’s not so easy.
Last week my wife asked me to go bring in some milk from the car. I “stopped for a second” to check my email on the way and found myself sitting at the computer for 15 minutes. It was 32 degrees outside and the milk was fine, but that’s not the point. My wife asked me to do a simple thing and I let myself get distracted. That’s the point. I should not have touched the computer when I had something else to do. I could have used a rubber band then (of course now everyone at home is ready to shoot rubber bands at me thanks to my new mussar exercise). Things that so natural are the things that I often don’t make conscious decisions about.
With that being said, after being Torah observant for 19 years, I find myself doing some things by rote and it bothers me. I try to keep myself in check most of the time, but an automated Shemona Esray here, the conditioned response of an “amen” there, a half-hearted “Gut Shabbos” to a stranger just to be yotzai for saying “Gut Shabbos”, well…it adds up. It’s something I’m not true happy with, but at least I’m aware of it. I find myself these days being much more careful before I speak and aware of how best to use my time.
Like I wrote, no one wants to be robot. Not when I come to email (and the urge to read email is totally in full force after a posting goes up) and certainly not when it come to my Avodas Hashem.
Mediocrity is my enemy. Becoming comfortable with my Yiddishkeit not only pushes me away from Hashem, but from a chinuch aspect, it’s like the black plauge. Our children pick up on everything we do (I’ll write more about this in a future post). I remember listening to the lady at the post office say that her mother mumbled the blessings on Chanukah, and thinking that this is not how I want my children to remember their childhood and our Torah observant way of life.
As mentioned before, I have found myself become much more aware of everything I do. I find myself questioning if it’s “what I really need to do right now” and thinking about my actions. I recall certain thoughts and feelling I had when I decided start wearing a yarmulka in public. How careful I was about my manner of speech and behavior. Sometimes I feel that I have become too comfortable with who I am and my yiddishkeit, and it worries me.
When I wrote my previous post I really didn’t think that this rubberband thing would end up making me really examine my actions so much. I’m happy that I’m able to grow from my blogging, and in this case, with the help of several comments.
Last night I heard something that really made me angry. Well, at least I was aware that I could have become angry. Without missing a beat, I stuck my hand in my pocket and felt my trusty rubber band. Later my wife commented that she was actually surprised that I wasn’t more upset. Awareness of my actions saved me from losing my cool, this time.
Yet again, later that night, I went to check my email and realized that I stayed online longer that I needed to. Each opportunity is a challenge and a battle, but that’s alright. I fight, fall, and get up again.
Over the past few months (especially in the summer) I’ve felt that my ‘hobbie’ of blogging and reading other blogs has taken up a major amount of my time. I can say now, since I’ve become more mindful of the little things I do, I feel a new found sense of freedom about my hobbie. It’s important to realize what I am a slave to.

Stretching my own Bechira Point


I have a tendancy (read urge) to check my email constantly. This is a major problem for me because it takes away time from other things I should be doing. I’ve tried only checking it at designated time, but I often slip up. It’s been driving me crazy, because I have no problem not eating any dairy for several hours after I’ve eaten meat. I have no urge to turn on light during Shabbos. Yet, I’ve struggled to not go online and check email for periods of a few hours. My Yetzer gets the bets of me.

Over the past few weeks, though, I’ve been slowly working on this. It has resulted in less time spent online (which is not a bad thing) and has been a good exercise in adjusting my own bechira point. At age 36, I have found myself, again, changing aspects of my behavior, I’m proud to write (it should be chizuk to anyone who needs it to change even the most mudane aspect of their personality).

For me things like going online (and other actions that are potenial unproductive and suck away my time from right under my nose) are really ‘pareve’ issues that I often fool myself into thinking don’t matter much and don’t require that much bechira to begin with. This is not the right way to think. I admit that I need to work on this.

The method I’ve been using was based on something I read a few years ago in Alan Morinis’ book Climbing Jacob’s Ladder. The book tells the true story of a man who grew up non-observant and his journey towards self-discovery that takes him to Rabbi Yechiel Yitzchok Perr, Rosh Yehsiva of Yeshiva of Far Rockaway, the tradition of mussar, and towards a Torah observant life.

Mr. Morinis writes (page 47) that after his initial meeting with Rav Perr he asked the Rosh Yeshiva for a mussar practice to work on. Rabbi Perr said “Well, what you can do is get a rubber band that’s big enough to fit around the palm of your hand. Keep it in your pocket, and when you feel impatient or angry, slip it on. No need to do anything more, just put it on.”
I decided to use this technique to me more aware of when I felt the urge to go check my email. It hasn’t been easy. It has help me become much more conscious of the choices I make. Not just checking email, but how I speak to others and being patient.
I’ve been keeping a chart of my progress and tracking the times that I’ve wanted to check email. Here’s last weeks:
Monday: No work
Tuesday: 9.:25, 10:04, 3:28
Wednesday: 11:36, 2:31
Thursday: 10:18 (no rubberband, 3:47 (no rubberband)
Friday: 11:45 (no rubber band)

On Tuesday and Wednesday last week I put on the rubber band. As you can see, by Thursday, I felt that I didn’t need it. It just sat in my pocket. It’s a great feeling knowing that I can change.

Pareve Coke Blak à la Uberdox

I admit, I like Coke Blak (or as I call it among my friends ‘Coke BlakHat’). I tried it right when I got the “ok” from the cRc and the OU. I actually was the first to ask the cRc about it. One problem…it’s dairy.

This make it difficult for someone who eats/drinks Cholov Yisroel to enjoy this great drink.
This wasn’t an issue for me Shavuos night, as we ate dairy. The extra jolt really helped during my night of learning.

But I’ve often thought how much I’d enjoy Coke Blak with my chulent on Shabbos (or even in the chulent for a turbo charged treat).

I’ve found that taking a 12 oz can of Coke and adding an 1-2oz of black coffee give you about the same taste. And you can enjoy it with fleishigs!