Monthly Archives: April 2008

Rav Soloveitchik zt"l on Kavod HaBriyos

The 18th of Nissan marked the 15th yartzeit of The Rav. I, like countless others, never learned directly from him, but was told d’vrai Torah and stories in his name by various rabbeim I have known. This oral tradition, if you will, along with the published works (both before and after he was nifter) help to give those who are interested a small understanding of who he was. I have always found the following passage from his essay Community (available in a summary form as part one and part two) to be very meaningful to me:
Quite often a man find himself in a crowd among strangers. He feels loney. No one knows him…suddenly someone taps him on the shoulder and says, “Aren’t you Mr. So and So? I have heard so much about you.” An alien turned into a fellow member of an existenial community. What brought about the change? The recoginition by someone, the word!

To recognize a person is not just to identify him physically. It is more than that: it is an act of identifying him existencially as a person who has a job to do that only he can do properly. To recognize a person means to affirm that he is irreplaceable. To hurt a person means to tell him that he is expendable, that there is no need for him.

The Halakhah equated the act of publicly embarrasing a person with murder? Why? Because humiliation is tantamount to destroying an existential community and driving the individual into solitude.
It’s this ability to look at relationships within the framework of Halacha (yes, spelled differently than above) that amazes me. For all the “Halachikness” that is associated with the Rav, it was his written words that first opened my eyes to a living, breathing image of Halacha. It was his written words that first exposed me to concept that the shoresh of Halacha (halach) means “to walk”. Halacha isn’t just about laws that govern our actions, or what we can or cannot do, it is a whole path of existence that touches on all aspects of life that we navigate through.

HaMakir es Mekomo, Pesach, and blogging

Hamakir es Mekomo, knowing or recognizing one’s place is listed in Pirkei Avos (chapter 6 mishna 6) as one of the 48 ways to “acquire the Torah”.

When I first started learning, I always defined this trait as knowing when to speak up and when to keep my mouth closed. I really only thought of this concept in regard to my relationships with people. In the most simple terms, there is a time “climb into the driver’s seat” and a time to sit in the back seat, if you will. As I’ve grown in age, learned a bit more, experience things in life, and matured (well, gotten married, worked, had three kids-“matured” is really a subjective term) my working definition of Hamakir es Mekomo has changed.

My defintion of Hamakir es Mekomo is now more based on one’s location in life (including hashkafa-based, situational, and geographic). Each of us is truly where we need to be, as I’ve come to accept. The trick is to understand why were are in a given situation, relationship, or location. There have been, for sure, places where I have lived that were good for a certain time frame, and then I was directed elsewhere. The idea of “recognizing one’s place” can mean that I have an achrai’us (responsibility) to reach my potential in any given situation. While the “grass may be more haimesh” in another shul or community, Hashem really does put us where we need to be. This is not always an easy cup of coffee to drink, I admit.

Accepting a given situation as Hashgach Patis is probably the first step in recognizing that Hashem has put us in our particular ‘hakom”. This doesn’t mean that we can’t try to change our station in life (via danening or extra effort), but where we are, who we are married to, the children we have, all part of Hashem’s ultimate plan for us.

With this in mind, I have been thinking lately about the role we play at our Seder table. We are, on hand, told to feel like we are “free”. We recline, as royalty. We eat like royalty, wash like royalty, and drink like royalty. While all the foods of the seder are important, the Haggadah itself seems to center around the Arba Kosos. The mizvah of the four cups is singular in the sense that while we are required to drink them, we shouldn’t pour for ourselves. We go back and forth, like Tony Hawk on a half-pipe, between being the free person and the servant. I think that Hamakir es Mekomo, knowing one’s place fits in nicely. Each of us are, indeed free…free to chose to be an Eved Hashem.

It’s interesting to note that in the Mishna, right after Hamakir es Mekomo comes Sameach b’Chelko” – one who is happy with his portion. It seems, IMHO, that If you can’t accept that you are where you need to be and what you have been given, how can you be happy?

A few days ago was my 2nd blogaversary. Tonight I went for my pre-Pesach haircut, which was were my first posting idea started. Although my barber didn’t wax the mussar with me, he did say that I “looked better than when I came in”. He had a point.

I’ve always tried to be myself and be happy with who I am. It doesn’t matter if I’m learning the Bilvavi between alyios in my minyan on Shabbos, or cleaning for Pesach listening to Rav Weinberger’s Shabbos HaGadol drasha and then cranking up the Carelbach, Karduner, and Husker Du on iTunes, I am who I am. This blog didn’t really start out being as personal as it has become, but that’s what happened. Nor did I plan of becoming part of a “community” and actually connecting with people whom I have become friends with, that also just happened. For now, this is where Hashem whats me to be. I am thankful for having the ability to take time to actually write out ideas and things that I think about from time to time. While my posting hasn’t been as frequent as I would like recently, I thank all of you how have, for whatever reason, taken time out to read every so often.

May we have a Pesach this year that will help us discover who we are and where our priorities should be.

The waxless candle

Recently while shopping I saw this item, a wickless candle. It sort of threw me for a loop. The box stated that it was safe for pet and children (which I guess is nice) and that it was made out of real wax. Still, it’s an imitation of the original. The whole concept of the wickless candle brought be back to my post about Obervabots and Deceptijews.

I know that I, at times, give the impression of being a real candle, with a real wick and real fire. There are days when I feel like I’m wickless, days when I’m an imitation of what I can be.

A flame should be real. Our soul is like a flame and we need to keep it lit. Oddly, I first learned this from Greg Graffin in the fall of 1989 when I heard these words on a Bad Religion album:
How fragile is the flame that burns within us all, to light each passing day?” (two points if you can name the album w/o searching the web).
R Simon Jacobson says it like this, in Towards A Meaningful Life, “Look closely at a candle, and you will see an approximation of your soul-the flame licking the air, reaching upward, as if towards G-d. And yet the wick pulls it back to earth. Similarly, your soul is constantly reaching upward, while your body holds you back with its insistent demands for physical sustenance or gratification. The question for each of us is, Do we chose to be the flame that rises upward or the wick that holds us down?”

“The spirit of man is the lamp of Hashem, searching all the innermost parts.” -Mishley 20:27
Batteries in a wickless candle eventually run out. A true candle’s flame can pass from one wick to another.

My son’s one-liner

With the stress and pressure of Pesach upon everyone my son found a way to bring a smile and loud laugh to his Abba. Shabbos night after dinner my 8 yr old uberson and I were looking at his library book, Guiness World Records To The Extreme. It had some pretty wild things in it like the person with the longest nose, longest fingernails, longest toenails, longest beard, longest ear-hair, etc. In my own way of trying to show him that most things in the our world can be seen through the eye of the Torah, I mentioned to him that there is a bracha that one says when they see “strange and unusual people”.

He, in his most serious 2nd grader voice, looked me in the eyes and said, “I’ve heard of that bracha, Abba. I think it’s “sh’lo a’sanni freak!” And then he fell off the sofa laughing! My wife and were cracking up, too.

While we do try into instill the idea of kavod habrius in our kids, I was pretty impressed with his quick wit.

Sunday’s Spark of Mussar

Rabbi Yisrael Lipkin of Salant
Before Pesach, R’ Yisrael was once unable to be present during the baking of his shmurah matzah, in which he was extremely meticulous.  His disciples, who has undertaken to watch over the baking in his place, asked him for directions.  R’ Yisrael instructed them to be extremely careful not to upset the woman who kneaded the dough and not to rush her for she was a widow, and to upset her would be a violation of the prohibition against oppressing widows and orphans.  “The kashrus of the matzos is not complete,” added R’ Yisrael, “with hidurim in the laws of Pesach alone, but with the meticulous observance of the laws of behavior towards other people as well.”
From Sparks of Mussar by R Chaim Ephraim Zaitchik

The Salant Foundation’s new website

Just over a month ago, the Salant Foundation updated and totally revised their website. From being mostly informational, it is now a mussar destination on the web. What simply used to be eMussar email postings has matured into a mussar workshop. The free membership offers you limited access to the forums and a Gratitude Journal. Here’s some information about the gratitude journal from their website:

The Sages of the Mussar tradition designed a wonderful spiritual practice to help us recognize and appreciate the kindness that Hashem bestows on each one of us. This enlightening exercise has us reflect our lives and write down five things that we are grateful for each day. They can be items of Hashgachah Prati (Divine Providence), for instance, “Just as I pulled into a crowded parking lot, a car pulled out giving be an immediate parking space.” Or you can write down blessings that you are grateful for, like, “I have a wonderful spouse,” or more specifically, “My spouse called me at work today to see how I was feeling.”

For some time now I’ve been keeping a list of things I’ve been grateful for, but the concept of an online journal that only you can access is pretty cool. I’ve put in several entries that are more thought out than the stale list of one or two items that pop into my head.
For example: After spending a great Shabbos afternoon in the park, I am so thankful that my children are living in a vibrant Torah community. A community where they can play with dozens of kids on Shabbos that fall across the wide spectrum of Torah Judaism. Hopefully as they grow these feeling of “Shabbos park achdus” will be something they will hold on to.

With the Forward’s article, “The Path Of the Just: Is Mussar the ‘New Kabbalah’?” it seems that this derech in Yiddishkeit is getting a wider viewing ( I’ve chosen not to blogging about the Forward article). It’s a site like The Salant Foundation’s that offers a fresh approach for a generation of web users.

Sunday’s Spark of Mussar

Rabbi Yisrael Lipkin of Salant
In Koenigsberg, after R’ Yisrael had ascertained that he could not influence the storekeepers to close their stores on Shabbos, he made up with them that at least they would not bring their keys from the house to the store on Shabbos; but would hide the keys close to the store instead.

From Sparks of Mussar by R Chaim Ephraim Zaitchik


In line during a very hectic, draining, and busy week for me. I didn’t even read much on anything online, including email. Part of my week took me to the post office. While waiting in line I saw the follow quote from Benjamin Franklin (who’s writings, BTW, influenced this sefer):

Energy and persistence conquer all things.
This happened to be one of several things that I needed to read and think about this week. These also hit home:

Never despair. It is forbidden to give up hope! -Reb Nachman
There is no greater illness than discouragement.- Rabbi Yisrael Lipkin of Salant
Impossible Is Nothing!- Current ad campaign for Adidas

Have a great Shabbos Kodesh!