Monthly Archives: March 2010

Sunday’s Spark of Mussar

 Before Pesach Rabbi Yisrael Salanter was once unable to be present during the baking of this shmurah matzah, in which he was extremely meticulous. His disciples, who had 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 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

Chicagoland Fruit Tree list for BIRKAS HA ILONOS‏

From the Chicago Center for Torah and Chessed
Below is an updated list of trees available to say Birchas Hailonos on. We are also enclosing a summary of the halachos pertaining to this special once- a – year bracha, prepared by Horav Doniel Neustadt.

Peterson Park

6040 N. Lawndale- Cherrick backyard. Blueberry bushes.

6137 N. Lawndale in backyard

6319 N. Central Park- 2 cherry trees, 2 pear trees, apple tree in backyard

Northeast corner of Monticello and Rosemont

6019 North St. Louis – blueberry bushes-can be seen from alley

West Rogers Park

2725 W. Birchwood in yard. Pear tree-can be seen from alley

2754 W. Estes pear tree and wild pear tree in yard

2841 W. Greenleaf- Schaffel backyard- apple tree

2848 Fargo cherry tree in yard. Blooms late May/early June

6630 N. Francisco in front yard

6704 N. Francisco apple tree in yard

6737 N. Francisco-cherry tree in yard

6742 N. Mozart. Liberman backyard. Pear tree, can be seen from alley.

6509 N. Whipple St. grapevine in backyard

6521 N. Sacramento- Friedman backyard. 3 apricot trees.

6534 N. Sacramento- apple tree in backyard.

6551 N. Mozart- pear tree in backyard

Next to Sephardic Center on Touhy. Pear tree.

2907 w morse – pear tree in back yard by the fence


One house south of Pratt, east side of Kimball at the alley. An apple tree is on privately owned property but large branches hang over the alley. Usually blooms late April to early May, with apples visible in June.

6649 N. St. Louis. Dauber frontyard. Edible berry tree. Flowers come at the end of Chodesh Nissan.


Northwest corner (on parkway of Crain St.) of Crain and Hamlin- Greenberg

Southeast corner of Monticello and Crain. A few fruit trees.

Chicago Botanical Gardens

By Rabbi Doniel Neustadt


Rosh Chodesh Nissan marks the beginning of the season for Birkas ha-Ilanos – the blessing we recite upon seeing fruit trees in bloom. Since this blessing, which extols Hashem’s ongoing renewal of creation, is recited only once a year, its halachos are difficult to remember. Women, too, may recite this blessing since it is not considered a “time-related mitzvah” from which women are exempt.


The text of the blessing, as quoted in all of the early sources, is as follows: Boruch ata Hashem Elokeinu melech haolam shelo chisar baolamo klum uvara vo beriyos tovos vilanos tovim lehanos bahem beni adam.

In several siddurim the word davar appears instead of the word klum. But since all of the early sources indicate that the original text had the word klum, not the word davar, and the reason for the change is unsubstantiated, it is, therefore, proper to follow the early sources and recite the word klum and not the word davar.


The l’chatchilah, preferred time to recite this blessing is immediately upon seeing a fruit tree in bloom during the month of Nissan. Most poskim agree that the halachah mentions Nissan since generally, that is the month in which trees begin to bloom. Accordingly, in an area where they start blooming in Adar, or where they do not bloom until Iyar or Sivan, the blessing should be recited in those months. In the countries where fruit trees blossom in Tishrei or Cheshvan, the blessing should be said at that time.

If a tree bloomed in Nissan, but one did not see it until later, he may recite the blessing the first time he sees the tree as long as the fruit of the tree has not yet ripened. Once the fruit has ripened, the blessing may no longer be said.

One who saw the trees in bloom during Nissan, but forgot or neglected to recite the blessing, may recite the blessing at a later date but only until the time that the fruit of the tree has begun to grow.

The blessing is said upon seeing the actual blooming (flowering) of the tree. The growth of leaves alone is not sufficient to allow one to recite the blessing.

Some poskim hold that this blessing should not be said on Shabbos and Yom Tov, since we are concerned that it may lead to shaking or breaking a branch off the tree. All other poskim who do not mention this concern, apparently do not forbid reciting this blessing on Shabbos and Yom Tov. It is customary, though, to recite the blessing only during the week, unless the last day of Nissan falls on Shabbos.

The blessing may be said at night.


Birkas ha-Ilanos is said only on fruit-bearing trees. If one mistakenly said the blessing on a barren tree, he need not repeat the blessing on a fruit-bearing tree.

The poskim debate whether one is allowed to say the blessing on a tree which has been grafted from two species, since the halachah does not permit such grafting. It is preferable not to make the blessing on such a tree.

Some acharonim prohibit the recitation of the blessing on an orlah tree. A tree is considered orlah for the first three years after it is planted. Many other poskim, however, permit reciting the blessing on an orlah tree.

During the year of shemittah in Eretz Yisrael, it is permitted to recite the blessing even on a tree which – in violation of the halachah – has been cultivated.


There are several hiddurim mentioned in the poskim concerning this once-a-year mitzvah. According to the kabbalah, especially, this blessing has special significance. Among the hiddurim are:

The blessing should be recited on two or more trees. No blessing is said on a single tree. Although the two trees do not have to be from two different species, several poskim mention that the more trees the better. Indeed, l’chatchilah the blessing should be said on trees in an orchard that is planted outside the city limits.

The blessing should be recited in the presence of a minyan followed by Kaddish. Before the blessing is recited, V’yehi noam followed by Hallelukah hallelu Keil min ha-shamayim is said.

The blessing should be recited at the earliest possible time, which is on Rosh Chodesh Nissan, unless it falls on Shabbos or it is raining.

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Help this blogger raise money for Chai Lifeline

Dear Readers,

On Sunday, May 30, 2010 I will, for the third year year, join dozens of Chai Cyclists in Chicago’s Bike the Drive, a thirty-mile rally on Lake Shore Drive, to raise money for Chai Lifeline, a wonderful organization dedicated to helping very sick children and their families.

Last year was amazing. While I had only planned on biking 30 miles, I ended up biking all 45. This year I’m aiming for an even further distance. The experience of biking with friends and strangers for an important cause like Chai Lifeline was very rewarding. The weather was great and my family was so proud of me.  You can read the details here.

Many of you helped me raise money over the last two year and I was told that I actually brought in the second largest amount of sponsorship for 2009’s Bike the Drive program. Thanks to you, we made a difference.

Years ago, we purchased a car and got a “gift certificate” for a sporting goods store. Aside from skateboarding, I’m really not much of an athlete.  So, I ended up buying a bike (and one for my wife). While I do like to bike with my family around the neighborhood, I’ve very glad that I’m able to help Chai Lifeline.  To use my bike and get sponsors that can help Chai Lifeline is an amazing mitzvah opportunity.

Chai Lifeline provides year-round emotional, social, and financial support to more than 3,000 children and their families every year. In our area, Chai Lifeline Midwest offers access to two-dozen free programs and services that touch each member of the family, helping them to live full and happy lives despite the presence of illness.  I have seen how much they do for families, especially when the outcome is devistating.

My objective is to raise at least $2,500.00 by race day and I hope you will help me reach this goal. All donations are 100% tax deductible. If your company has a matching gift program, your gift may be doubled or tripled.

I know that time are tough, believe me. But your help in donating any amount can make a difference. Thank you for supporting me, and in doing so, helping children and their families cope with the diagnosis, treatment and aftermath of serious pediatric illness. Please feel free to forward this to anyone who might be interested in supporting Chai Lifeline.

When I train and ride this year I will be listening to lectures about Jewish thought and personal growth. In past rides I have been able to dedicate my biking as a merit for several sick children who personally get help directly from Chai Lifeline and also in memory of departed loved ones and others close to me.  So even if you don’t donate, please let me know if you would like me to have someone in mind when I’m listening to a shiur.

This year my ride will be much more personal, since my father, of blessed memory, passed away in early November of 2009. I’ve mentioned it a bit on my blog, but not the details.  He had very quickly gotten diagnosed with leukemia and while in the hospital he had contracted pneumonia. Sadly, it was too much for his body to handle. I’m fortunate that I was able to fly out to Wichita, KS to see him and be with him for his last 48 hours.  My father, Albert Lyon Harris, Avraham ben Zorach, was always supportive of me helping Chai Lifeline. He and his wife not only give financial support to my endeavor, but were very proud that they could help an important organization like Chai Lifeline. I remember calling my dad after last year’s ride and he was so thrilled to hear how far I had biked. So this year, I’ll be dedicating my ride to my dad.

If interested in helping me please feel free to click here or please send me an email. I would also be thrilled if you could forward this post to others (or even link). Thanks again for all of your help.

Neil Harris

Amazing post about Reb Aryeh Levin zt"l

(Photo from here)

Micha Berger wrote an amazing post about Reb Aryeh Levin on his blog, Aspaqlaria.  It’s worth the visit and is worth printing out.
Here’s a passage that I loved:

Rav Aryeh Levin’s “job” was as a mashgiach at a children’s school, Etz Chaim. That meant not only his formal duties. It meant sharing his food with the boys who couldn’t afford regular lunches. It meant bringing food for his own home for the boys who weren’t eating lunch regularly because they simply didn’t like the fare the school could afford to serve.

There’s also three other posts about Reb Aryeh here

No rhyme or reason

I’ve been thinking about counting, because it’s almost Sefiros HaOmer.
I’ve also been thinking about Sitemeter and traffic.
I’ve decided there really is no rhyme or reason as to why people come to read this blog.

Sunday’s Salanter Selection

Rabbi Yisrael Salanter once witnessed someone running swiftly into the synagogue to say kedusha with the congregation.  In his haste, the man stepped on someone’s newly polished shoes.  After prayers, Rabbi Salanter told the man that he had a financial responsibility to pay for the shoes to be re-polished.  Rabbi Salanter added, “The entire merit of reciting kedusha is lost if its recital causes someone a loss.”

(From Tenuas HaMussar, cited in Love Your Neighbor by R Zelig Pliskin)

Building towered foresight isn’t anything at all*

Photo of the Price Tower from Wikipedia

Nisan (aside from being my Hebrew name) is the month of that Hashem revealed himself.   From a mussar point of view, there’s the whole chametz = Yetzer Hara, soul-searching thing that some of us might undergo.  It’s also spring cleaning, when we go though closets, boxes, and even old posts that have been sitting in Blogger Dashboard’s as drafts.  This is not one of them.

If I was a sports fan, I would write about how working on bettering yourself isn’t really for a Monday morning quarterback.  I, however, did spend way too much time in high school listening to what use to be called “college radio”.  The phrase “Building towered foresight isn’t anything at all” has been buzzing in my head for weeks.   Mostly because while working on several middos (derech eretz and emes) that involve interactions with others, I’ve come to see that it’s really easy after the fact to say, “I really should have handled the situation better”.

Navigating how to approach people requires being able to have the creativity to come up with multiple outcomes of possible reactions.  To only have a perspective to see one outcome or “Building towered foresight” might make you feel that you have achieved the right goal of your avodah on a middah, but I think only seeing one outcome limits you.  When speaking with family members, co-workers, or teachers it’s important to try to see several possible outcomes and adapt as needed.

This is also true when dealing with one Yetzer Hara.  No chiddush here, I just happen to be re-reading The Juggler and the King for the first time in about 17 years.

* The title of this post is from the song “Fall on Me” by R.E.M.

Guest post from Yosef Hakhen- Stories about Stories about Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach‏

Sage Stories from the Radical Neighborhood:


Maimonides writes that one form of beloved speech is “to praise those who are great and to speak of their positive attributes so that their manner of behavior will find favor with human beings, and they will follow in their ways.” (Commentary on Mishnah Pirkei Avos 1:17)

Dear Friends,

In the previous letter – “A Radical New Neighborhood” – I mentioned that the chareidi neighborhood of Shaarei Chesed has also served as the home of leading sages of the 20th century. In this letter, I will share with you some stories about one of these sages, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, whose yahrtzeit – the 20th of Adar – was on the Shabbos that we just experienced. Some of our leading sages, including Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, were called by the intimate and respectful title “Reb”; thus, he was often referred to as Reb Shlomo Zalman.

He was born on the 23rd of Tamuz 5670 (1910) to Rav Chaim Yehudah Leib and Tzivya Auerbach. Both his father and his mother were descended from well-established and learned Jerusalem families. His father, Rav Chaim Yehudah Leib, was considered one of the luminaries of his era in the secrets of the Torah; moreover, he was the founder and head of Yeshiva Sha’ar HaShamayim, where Kabbalah was studied.

The Jerusalem of Rav Shlomo Zalman’s youth was characterized by poverty and deprivation, especially during World War I. Food was so scarce that he seldom had any lunch, and he would occasionally eat a slice of stale bread and a bit of halvah for dinner. His solitary meal of the day consisted of a bowl of watery soup; hunger was his constant companion.

He became a leading authority on the “halacha” – the requirements of the Torah path, and he also became the head of Yeshiva Kol Torah, a noted chareidi yeshiva. Once, when giving a shiur (lesson/lecture) at Kol Torah, he noticed that a particular student was absent. The boy’s study partner reported that the young man was a bit under the weather. Rav Shlomo Zalman then remarked:
“When I was young, if I had closed my Gemara (book of the Talmud) every time I felt slightly ill, I never would have learned at all.”

Rev Shlomo Zalman was a warm and loving person; moreover, he was very calm and patient. He once told someone, however, that as a boy, he was quick to anger and became irritated easily; thus, he worked on himself to become a calm and patient person. These good qualities increased his ability to guide and help others.

In 5690 (1930), he married Chaya Rivkah Ruchamkin, whose father was a rav who was a well-known Jerusalem educator. After the wedding, Rav Shlomo Zalman and his wife lived in the house of her parents, and the entire family ate their meals together. Although Rav Shlomo Zalman became a leading sage, he did not sit at the head of the table – even after Rav Ruchamkin’s passing. He maintained that the seat at the head of the table was reserved for the person who now led the family, his elderly mother-in-law. She, however, was very weak due to her advanced years, and she was not able to take her meals with the family in the dining room; nevertheless, out of respect for her, Rav Shlomo Zalman still refused to sit at the head of the table. In general, he was very devoted to his mother-in-law, and he showed her great honor.

Rav Shlomo Zalman used his Torah wisdom to wisely and warmly guide people during periods of sorrow and crisis. The following story can serve as an example:
When a young married student of his passed away, the student’s family had to make a quick decision about where he should be buried. They had the option of selecting a single plot that was available in an area of the cemetery where some of their distinguished ancestors were interred, or alternatively, they could purchase a double plot in a different area, so that his widow, after her “one hundred and twenty years,” could be laid to rest in the vacant site adjacent to his. They consulted Rav Shlomo Zalman, and he ruled that the student should be buried in the single plot near his ancestors and relatives. As he later explained, his rationale for the decision in this particular case was that buying the double lot would place an unfair emotional burden on the young widow. The woman had every right to remarry; however, if there was a burial plot waiting for her alongside her deceased husband, she would always be plagued with the thought that perhaps it was inappropriate for her to remarry, as she would feel that she had a commitment to her husband – to lie at his side after she passed away.

Although Rav Shlomo Zalman was a leading sage and a head of Yeshiva Kol Torah, he insisted on riding the city bus like anyone else. This was despite the protests of the yeshiva administration and others who wanted him to have a driver. On one of his bus rides, a woman who was dressed very immodestly suddenly sat down in the seat next to him. He then rang the bell and got off at the next stop, even though his destination was several stops away. Someone later asked him why he didn’t simply stand in the aisle until he arrived at his stop. He explained that had he had gotten up and stood in the aisle right after the woman sat down, she might have felt hurt or embarrassed that he did not continue to sit next to her, and he did not want to cause any distress to this “daughter of Israel.”

In his older years, he allowed himself to go by taxi or to have others drive him to and from the yeshiva. Yeshiva Kol Torah became established in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Bayit Vegan, and he often traveled with the drivers of Hapisgah cab service in Bayit Vegan. One driver at Hapisgah noted that Rav Shlomo Zalman always sat up front, alongside the driver, instead of in the back seat. The driver said:
“I sensed that he didn’t want me to feel like his servant or his chauffeur, you know? And he’d talk to me about my family and like that.”
The dispatcher at Hapisgah had this to add:
“One day I was taking my turn behind the wheel, and I picked up Reb Shlomo Zalman over at Kol Torah. As usual, he climbed into the front seat and greeted me, calling me his manhig (leader). I tried to explain to him that in Hebrew the word for ‘driver’ is nahag and that although the two words have the same root, manhig means ‘leader.’ I figured he was more accustomed to speaking Yiddish, so he wasn’t aware of the subtleties of Hebrew grammar. But no – Reb Shlomo Zalman insisted that I was his manhig because I would ‘lead’ him to his destination. It was such a small thing, and yet it made me feel great. This important Rav considered me his manhig!” (The driver was unaware that Rav Shlomo Zalman and all the teachers at Yeshiva Kol Torah taught in Hebrew.)

Rav Yehohsua Neuwirth, a famous Torah scholar who lives in Bayit Vegan, explained that Rav Shlomo Zalman believed that money was not adequate compensation for services rendered; it was essential to also treat the providers of such services with extreme courtesy and to show a genuine interest in their work and in them as individuals.

Rav Shomo Zalman was known for his many acts of loving-kindness, including his visits to hospitals and homes for the elderly, and he was also known for his great devotion to “tzedakah” – the sharing of our resources with those in need; in fact, many people gave him tzedekah money to distribute as he saw fit.

He was especially known for his devotion to the needs of widows and orphans, and there were cases where he acted as a surrogate father for orphans. The following story can serve as an example:
A Torah-committed man whose wife was about to give birth called the ambulance, but when the ambulance arrived, the man suddenly died. The ambulance staff tried to revive him, and they brought him to the hospital, but all the efforts to revive him did not succeed. His wife was also brought to the hospital where she gave birth to a baby boy. She sent a messenger to Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach to ask whether she could name the baby after his father. Instead of replying through the messenger, Rav Shlomo Zalman went immediately to the hospital to speak with the bereaved woman. He arrived at the maternity ward, and his comforting presence and sensitive words helped to raise her spirits. After hearing the details of her husband’s passing, he told her she could name the boy after her husband. In addition, he told the mother, who also had other children at home, that he intended to serve as a ‘father” to her children, and he requested that she inform him of any problem that might arise. As the children were growing up, Rav Shlomo Zalman was attentive to their spiritual and physical needs, and he also helped the mother to remarry and begin a new life.

Rav Shlomo Zalman had a deep and abiding love for Eretz Yisrael and especially for Yerushalayim – Jerusalem. He was a true Yerushalmi with passionate and enduring ties to the city where he was born and raised, and where he lived his entire life.

According to his view, one should not react at a wedding with an immediate “Mazel Tov” upon the breaking of the glass under the chuppah (wedding canopy), for this custom commemorates the destruction of Jerusalem’s Holy Temple. He maintained that we should first pause and reflect on the destruction. After the pause, the wishing of “Mazel Tov” would then be appropriate, for it would encourage the couple and not allow them to dwell upon sadness at their moment of joy. At wedding ceremonies, when the glass was broken under the chuppah, Rav Shlomo Zalman would recite the following verse from the Book of Psalms:
“If I forget you O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill. Let my tongue adhere to my palate, if I fail to remember you, if I fail to elevate Jerusalem above my foremost joy.” (Psalm 137:5.6)

Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach was loved and respected by people in all the Torah-committed communities. For example, many people in the National Religious communities consulted with this chareidi sage, and he had a warm relationship with them. When Rav Shlomo Zalman passed away on 20 Adar, 5755, the local police estimated that at least 300,000 people attended the levaya (funeral). Other sources reported a turnout of nearly 500,000.
Many secular-oriented Jews, who had never heard his name, wanted to know why Rav Shlomo Zalman merited such respect. Newspaper reporters searched through their secular encyclopedias and computerized archives for information about him; however, the encyclopedias did not mention him at all, while his name appeared in the archives of the Ha’aretz newspaper a few times, but merely incidentally.
This oversight stunned the reporters, who were ashamed of their ignorance. Candidly, Tom Segev of Ha’aretz admitted:
“The thoughts of the great halachic authorities of the Torah world are not included in the curricula of secular Israeli schools. But those thoughts are one facet of Israeli identity that I prefer not to forego.”

As the Prophets of Israel taught us, it is the Torah – the Divine Teaching – that defines our national identity. May all of our brethren rediscover this spiritual identity, and may we soon experience the complete fulfillment of the following prophecy: “For from Zion will go forth Torah and the Word of Hashem from Jerusalem” (Isaiah 2:3).

Be Well, and Shalom,

Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen

In this letter, I cited a ruling of Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach regarding a burial plot. This ruling was for this particular case with its particular circumstances; thus, it should not automatically be applied to other situations which “seem” siimilar, but which may differ in certain ways. This is why all such questions need to be brought to a competent halachic authority.

Additional Stories and Comments:

1. Reb Michel Gutfarb served as Rav Shlomo Zalman’s main assistant for his tzedekah activities. When Reb Michel Gutfarb was hospitalized for treatment of a serious condition, Rav Shlomo Zalman not only become involved with helping his assistant; the Rav would also call his assistant’s home every other night to find out how Mrs. Gutfarb was doing.
The strain she was under was taking its toll, but the voice on the line announcing, “This is Shlomo Zalman Auerbach,” always lifted her spirits.

2. On his way home from the synagogue one brisk morning, Rav Shlomo Zalman encountered a jogger clad in “sweats” and running shoes, pounding the pavement of Shaarei Chesed, a sheen of perspiration glistening on his face in the Jerusalem sunlight. The jogger was Rav Berel Wein, a well-known rabbi and historian from the United States. The visiting rabbi was somewhat abashed at meeting this leading Torah sage while wearing his jogging clothes. He silently hoped to retain his anonymity, but he of course greeted Rav Shlomo Zalman with appropriate deference. Rav Shlomo Zalman, however, recognized him and returned his greeting. In order to alleviate the jogging rabbi’s embarrassment, Rav Shlomo Zalman remarked with a smile: “Nu, nu, one’s health is also important!”
(Rav Berel Wein now lives in Jerusalem.)

3. Most of the information in the above letter is from the moving biography of Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach by Hanoch Teller. The title is, “And from Jerusalem, HIS WORD.” The book has been distributed by Feldheim, and it is available from the author: . When you visit this website, press down on “books” and scroll down for information about this biography. The information includes the cover of the book which has a beautiful picture of Reb Shlomo Zalman with his warm smile.

4. I also took some information from an essay about Rav Shlomo Zalman which appears in Volume 2 of “In Their Shadow” – a Hebrew work by Rav Shlomo Lorincz, a leading and respected community activist who also served as a member of Israel’s Knesset.
In this work, Rav Lorincz writes about the leading Torah sages who guided or influenced him. Volume 1 has been translated into English by Feldheim, and an English translation of Volume 2 is scheduled to appear. For further information on this inspiring work, visit: .

5. In my research for this article, I came across an informative article about the life of Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach which appears on the following site: . This article also mentions the occasions when Rav Shlomo Zalman felt a Torah obligation to take a strong public stand on certain issues.

Hazon – Our Universal Vision: