Monthly Archives: March 2007

As we get closer to tax day…

It’s everywhere! Constant reminders that my taxes are due soon.

This time of year I often think of a great story from EYES TO SEE by Rav Yom Tov Schwartz:

In my youth [not long before the Holocaust], I heard of an incident involving a young man from the city of Krakow, who wanted to travel to Belz for Rosh HaShanah, as is customary amongst Chassidim who travel to their Rebbes for Rosh HaShanah. This young man was poor and did not have the money for his travel expenses. So he hid underneath one of the iron benches in the train car, and traveled in this manner from Krakow to Belz, so that he would not have to pay the fair when it was collected. When the holy gaon, R. Yissachar Dov zt”l, the Belzer Rav, heard about this, he told his Chassidim to raise a sum of money in the amount of a train ticket from Krakow to Belz. He then instructed them to purchase postage stamps with this money, and to shred them in his presence, so that the government would not forfeit the cost of this fare. (Page 279)

Just like our own private tefillos are treasured by Hashem, the positive actions we do in private (as well as in public) are also treasured by Hashem.

Am I lonely?

Well, I’m not sure. Based on the titles of what I’ve been reading lately the answer could be ‘yes’.

I recently finished an essay titled Alienation and Faith.
I am currently reading The Lonely Man of Faith.
While looking for something in my basement I started flipping through a book I haven’t looked at in over 14 years called Lonesome Traveler.
It all started when I decided to learn something by Rav Soloveitchik and finish by his yartzeit (the 18th of Nissan). I recently bought a copy of The Lonely Man of Faith, by the Rav and thought it would be good choice. I admit, I first read the book when I was 19, while in Eretz Yisroel and mostly read it because my Rabbeim were all students of Rav Soloveitchik. I figured that my perspective on life is different now and I might get more out of reading it again. The book starts out like this:
The nature of the dilimma can be stated in a three-word sentence. I am lonely. Let me emphasize, however, that by stating “I am lonely” I do not inted to covey to you the impression that I am alone. I, thank God, do enjoy the love and friendship of many.

Two weeks ago I finished an essay called Alienation and Faith, by Rabbi Jonathan Sack, chief rabbi of Great Britian . It is a great introduction to The Lonely Man of Faith, but stands alone as a great read if you have the time. His puts a very chassidic twist on loneliness. Here are a few lines:
Not only is the Jew an intrinsically divided self, but also ineluctably, a lonely one. For each unquiescent element of his being defeats the attempted consummation of the other…This internal rift is given added poignancy in our time which is an age primarily of technological achievement. Faced with a community of Majestic men the man of faith is bound either to betray himself or be misunderstood; and all that faces him is a retreat into solitude.

As I wrote before, I was looking for Purim costumes in our basement and found a box of my old books. Included were several books by Jack Kerouac including Lonesome Traveler. After finding the book I was instantly remined that once upon a time I actually enjoyed reading for the sake of reading. I decided to read a bit here and there. I found this passage very interesting:
I came to a point where I needed solitude and just stop the machine of “thinking” and “enjoying” what they call “living”. I just wanted to lie in the grass and look at the clouds-
They say, too, in ancient scripture: -“Wisdom can only be obtained from the viewpoint of solitude.”

Am I lonely? No, I just like to read.

Q & A with A Simple Jew: Bringing out the best in your kids

Neil asks: What character or personality traits do you see in your kids that you feel are worth developing and makes them unique?

A Simple Jew answers:
Thank you for asking me and giving me the chance to attempt to put my answer down on paper since every day I daven, “Ribbono shel Olam, may we be matzliach to raise our children with middos tovos and yiras Shamayim.”

Back in June 2005, I wrote, “While some people may put their primary efforts into ensuring that their children excel academically, I am more concerned about raising my children to have middos tovos.”

As for the unique personality traits in each of my children, this is how I believe they are unique and how I seek to develop their unique characters:

Oldest Daughter (four and a half years-old):
Out of all my children, my oldest daughter is unlike my wife and I in her temperament. We have decided that she most closely resembles my father who is extremely strong-willed and amazingly energetic. These traits are not necessarily negative, despite the opinions of those who might read “extremely strong-willed” to mean “stubborn”, and “amazingly energetic” to mean “hyper-active”.

I view these traits almost as being primordial energy that is waiting to be directed. “Extremely strong-willed” if properly directed can become what Rebbe Nachman of Breslov referred to in
Likutey Moharan #22 as “azus d’kedusha” – a holy brazenness to overcome the arguments of the yetzer hara. “Amazing energetic” if properly directed can become what the sefer Mesillas Yesharim
refers to as “zerizus” – alacrity to do mitzvos. Both of these traits are extremely important in a person’s avodas Hashem. Directed properly and coupled with my daughter’s keen intelligence and caring nature, these traits may just prove to be an amazing combination; a combination that I daven to see one day.

Son (almost three years-old):
Unlike his older sister, my son is extremely laid back. When confronted with a sister who wants to fight, he often backs down rather than to pummel her back. An excellent example of his nature can be seen in this story:

One day his older sister was in an angry and agitated mood and started hitting him unprovoked. She then tackled him and started dragging him across the floor like she was a bouncer removing n disorderly drunk from a bar. My son was screaming during this whole episode and my wife ran down the steps to see what had happened. Once it became apparent what was going on, she instructed my daughter to stop, apologize, and go over and give him a hug. My daughter was unrepentant and adamantly refused. Hearing the word “hug”, my son immediately went over and gave his sister a hug despite her aggression just moments before.

This story, along with the story at the deli when he was 15 months-old, captures my son’s innate compassionate nature that I daven continues throughout his life. Compassion, however, is not an entirely good trait. Without direction Koheles Rabbah 7:17 teaches us, “Whoever shows compassion when cruelty is warranted will ultimately become cruel when compassion is warranted.” For this reason, I also seek to instill in him a firmness or toughness that I never had and have always regretted.

Youngest daughter (almost 10 months-old):
If I had only one word to describe my youngest daughter, that word would be “happiness”. My youngest daughter has the brightest smile. Coupled with her twinkling eyes, her smile can instantly shake anyone who sees her out of a sad or angry mood. While others may have to struggle for a lifetime to attain the Chassidic ideal of being b’simcha, this is something that comes entirely natural and easily for my daughter. She is rarely in a bad mood and often wakes up from her nap with a smile on her face. I used to think my son was generally a happy kid until she was born.

What do I want her to develop? I want her to further develop this happiness into what Pirkei Avos terms “sameach b’chelko” – happiness with one’s lot in life. I want her Yiddishkeit to be encompassed with this happiness, and perhaps even using her infectious smile as tool to uplift those who are depressed or in troubled situations.

Ribbono shel Olam, may I live to see my children grow into such people, and may they be able to raise their children to follow in these footsteps!

Humble thoughts on parenting

As I look at almost all gedolim of the past generation and today, they share an intersting trait that I admire. They are individuals. Granted, they lived (and live) lives based on the same Shulchan Aruch, yet each is unique, as is the Torah they taught. Their teachings and collected stories serve as an example to me and help remind me that that I must let my children be themsleves.

When it comes to chinuch, the line from Mishlei / Proverbs 22:6 is often quoted:
Chanoch L’naar al pi Darko, which means that we should educate the child according to his way . Rav Hirsch states that one must teach a child according to the way he learns best, because no two children are alike.

We are all unique (one only need to look as far as any given blogroll to see that almost no two blogs are alike). Sadly most children are taught to be copies of each other, even in the best of day school/yeshiva systems. For the child, as well as the adult (I’m really speaking about myself) the challenge is always to allow one’s personality (or unique talents) to be directed towards Avodas Hashem, in the true derech of Torah observant Judaism.

I can think of three different couples whom I admire as parents. IMHO, their gadlus as parents stems from the fact that they have let their children be themselves. Their children have learned by the example yet by their parents. Be yourself. Your Avodas Hashem should be based on your unique talents.

I recently heard a bubbie tell her grandson on the occasion of his Bar Mitzvah some awesome advice, that I took to heart. She said, “Don’t go through life ‘looking to find yourself’, go through life creating yourself.”

Parshas Ki Sisa

The Sfas Emes asks a question about the second set of luchos. His answer is even better than the question, IMHO. I read this over ten years ago and still come back to it several times during any given year. Have a great Shabbos Kodesh!

Why did Hashem require Moshe to spend a second forty-day period on Mount Sinai simply to receive the Second Tablets, when he had surely mastered the entire Torah during his first stay?

During Moshe’s first stay on the mountain, he was given preparation to teach the Torah to a nation of tzaddikim, as befitted the nation’s status at that time. Now that the people had sinned and struggled to repent, he had to be equipped iwht an entirely different methodology suitable to their changed condition as pentitents. The special needs of the baal teshuvah in attaining Torah knowledge are alluded to in Berachos 34b, In the place [i.e. the apprach to learning Torah] where the baalei teshuva stand, even the completely righteous are unable to stand.

Let us consider further the permanent impact left by the Second Tablets on our people. Hashem sealed His relationship with us in the form of a covenant, as the Torah states (Shemos 34:10): Behold! I seal a covenant before your entire people. The Second Tablets, which were made of stone hewn by Moshe, typified covenants in which both parties commit themselves to contribute to the common good.

Although human involvement in the Second Tablet might seem to detract form their importance, actually they speak to the condition of the contemporary Jew far better than the First Tablets, even though they were made entirely by Hashem. So removed is our generation from the experience of Mount Sinai that we cannot possibly aspire to reach the lofty levels proffered by the First Tablets. The Second Tablets, however, precisely because they embody human participation, continue to act as the backbone of our national existence until this very day. (From DAYS OF AWE: SFAS EMES pages 26-27)

Building a child

Every building has a foundation. The bigger the structure the deeper the foundation.The architect and construction manager survey the land before any work is started.
It is decided how many workers were needed, where to start digging and how much material should be used…all prior to building the foundation.

A few years ago I saw some plans for an addition my brother-in-law was adding on to his home. Most amazing to me was that the plans even showed where each builder would stand as the foundation was built. Every detail counts.
I once heard that a father asked the Chofetz Chaim at what age does chinuch for a child begin? His answer was to that chinuch starts when the child is born.

Chinch lesson from Purim and links

My kids and I decided that our first Shaloch Manos should be given to the principal of their day school (he lives around the corner from us). As my son and daughter (the baby stayed at home) were walking, my daughter said, “I can’t wait to see to Rabbi (name withheld). I want to pick a prize”.

The principal happens to be a very speical person. Not only does he give the kids money to put into a pushka in his home, but he also takes a picture with each kid that comes to see him, and lets them pick a small prize. My 4 1/2 yr old daughter remembered getting a prize last year.

As my daughter said the above sentence to me, I reminded her that the mitzvah is to give Shaloch Manos, not to get Shaloch Manos or prizes from others.

The ikar is to give.

Several links I enjoyed:
LIfe in Israel: Video of the Hazon Ish
A Simple Jew: Disturbing Rabbi Yisrael Salanter During Hisbodedus
Cross-Currents: Wiki-Orthodoxy and the Undervaluing of Torah