Monthly Archives: June 2012

Reflection on Rejection

Picture from here
There are times when we put ourselves out there and the result is rejection.  I am not a big fan of being rejected or, while I’m at it, constructive feedback (which is now what people previously referred to as criticism).  I understand the whole, “message is really from Hashem” thing that we commonly associate with negative things that happen or are said to us.  Seeing how I gravitate towards mussar and self growth, you’d think that I’d be all about constructive feedback and, even, rejection. I’m not.  I’m sensitive and don’t like like it. I listen, process, accept and attempt to change course, but my natural reaction is usually one of resistance.  As an armchair analysis, this is probably, davka, why I like mussar, since growth sometimes comes after uncomfortable criticism.
My wife, in her infinite wisdom, thinks this is due to not being involved in organized sports when I was growing up (sadly rag-tag soccer games and skateboarding doesn’t really as “organized sports”).  Had I played baseball when I was growing up I would have dealt with the reality of striking out, missing catches, and losing games.  I grew up playing video games on Atari and a Franklin Ace 1000 (a clone of the Apple II+).  If you lost a game then you simply restarted or moved on to something else.  There isn’t any personal connection or a blow to the ego if you lose at a video game.  Your future success isn’t impeded by being defeated in Defender, Dig Dug, or any of the Zork adventure games.
A number of weeks ago I wrote something that I thought was worth sharing beyond this blog.  I contacted a national Jewish newspaper, a Jewish website, and an online Jewish journal.  Respectively, the feedback was:
  • A very well written piece, but it might be misinterpreted by more right wing elements
  • While we liked the essay, the writing on our website is focused on the not-yet-observant Jew
  • No reply
I got the message.  What I wrote either wasn’t meant for those platforms, or, simply, should just remain on this blog.  I am not sure what will become of this essay, but the whole rejection process reminded me of the snippets that I posted once from two rejection letters that Georger Lucas received after pitching Star Wars to different movie studios.  Sadly there is neither a a chapter on rejection in Orchos Tzaddikim nor a series of mp3 from Rav Weinberger that I can draw strength from.
Rejection, failure, or reassessing a situation is part of life.  In a panel discussion with Dr. David Pelcovitz and Mr. Moishe Bane there is a great lesson given.  Reb Moishe Bane mentions that one of the key life lessons he feels it’s important for people to learn is the “glory of failure” as he calls it.  He mentions that there have been countless times that a CEO or yeshiva administrator has had to deal with the reality of not being able to make payroll and has had to chose to find funds via unethical means or simply swallow their pride and admit failure. The latter choice is where the “glory of failure” come in. We learn from our mistakes and grow from the experience.
Thinking about this, I came up with a few examples that might be of comfort for anyone who feels beaten down, rejected, or is simply pushed up against the the wall.  Over course, were I to go through the many inspirational stories penned by R Paysach Krohn, R Yechiel Spero, or the “Small Miracles” books, we would be here forever.  I won’t even mention any of the amazing stories from Hassidic Tales of the Holocaust. 
Parshas Va’eschanan– Moshe’s plea to enter Eretz Yisrael and Hashem telling him that it wouldn’t happen.
Interestingly, in Likutei Moharan II, lesson 78, Reb Nachman taught: “Gevalt! Never give up. There is never a reason to give up.” This was said toward the end of Reb Nachman’s life on a Shabbos and is connected to the parsha listed above, actually. See Reb Nachman’s Wisdom #153 (pages 302-306 of this pdf).*
Reb Jonathan Rosenblum writes about the struggle of starting the Gatehead Kollel:

THE LATE SUMMER OF 1941 found Rabbi Dessler in Chesham in Buckinghamshire along with other Jewish refugees from the constant German bombing of London. He was once again separated from his entire family. His son Nachum Velvel was learning in Telshe Yeshiva in the United States; his wife Bluma and daughter Hennie were trapped in Kelm at the outbreak of the War and were fortunate to be able to wend their way to Australia for the duration.
Rabbi Dessler was then in his fifty-first year, and had but 12 years left to live. Though many of his classic essays had already been formulated, not one word had been published except in stencils for his talmidim. Had Rabbi Dessler passed away then his name and thought would have been lost to posterity.

That summer a letter arrived at his lodgings from Rabbi Dovid Dryan, the mohel of Gateshead and founder of the fledgling Gateshead Yeshiva. Reb Dovid proposed the establishment of a kollel of outstanding young kollel scholars in Gateshead. Unbeknownst to Rabbi Dessler, Reb Dovid had sent the same letter to 21 other rabbis. Also unbeknownst to him, every other rabbi responded negatively to Reb Dovid’s suggestion: 18 did not bother to answer at all; another 3 commended the idea but decided it was impracticable under the wartime circumstances. The naysayers might have added that the number of those who appreciated the importance of Torah learning, much less the concept of Torah lishma, in England in those days in were few indeed. The few yeshivos that existed were small in size, and the idea of Kollel learning was unknown.
Rabbi Dessler alone replied positively to Reb Dovid’s letter: “My heart sees a great light in the matter which Your Honor suggested – your merit is very great.” He replied as he did not because he saw success as guaranteed, but because he viewed the matter as too important not to try.With Rabbi Dessler’s encouraging response to Reb Dovid Dryan’s letter, the face of English and all European Jewry was changed forever. By early 1942, the first group of young scholars was already in place.

If R Dovid Dryan had not written 22 letters initially we would ever have had what became Gatehead.
Learning in yeshiva I often heard a story about the Rav zt’l that I sort of thought was an urban legend. However, it was told over by Dr. Norman Lamm at a hesped he gave for the Rav.

It was my second year in his sheur, and I was intimidated and in awe of him as was every other talmid-that is, almost everyone else. There was one student, the youngest and one of the brightest, who was clearly the least frightened or awed. The Rav had been developing one line of thought for two or three weeks, when this talmid casually said, “But Rebbe, the Hiddushei Ha-Ran says such-and-such which contradicts your whole argument.” The Rav was stunned, held his head in his hands for three agonizingly long minutes while all of us were silent, then pulled out a sheaf of papers from his breast pocket, crossed out page after page, said that we should forget everything he had said, and announced that the sheur was over and he would see us the next day.
I Iearned two things from this remarkable episode. First, we were overwhelmed by his astounding intellectual honesty. With his mind, he could easily have wormed his way out of the dilemma, manipulated a text here and an argument there, maybe insulted an obstreperous student, and rescued his theory and his ego. But the Rav did nothingof the sort! He taught, by example, the overarching goal of all Torah study as the search for Truth. That search for Truth was of the essence of his activity in Torah, and we witnessed it in action. He encouraged independent thinking by his pupils as a way to ensure his own search for the truth of Torah. The Rav was authoritative, but not authoritarian. No “musar shmuess” no lecture in ethics-could have so successfully inculcated in us respect for the truth at all costs.

The second lesson came with the anti-climax to the story. The very next day, it was a Wednesday, the Rav walked into class with a broad, happy grin on his face, held out his copy of the Hiddushei Ha-Ran, and said to the talmid, “Here-now read it correctly? The Rav had been right all along…. 

That willingness to change course is also a source of inspiration.  The Alter of Slabodka totally switched his own derech ha mussar and the result was a focus on the greatness of man and not on the weakness of humanity, as posted here.
I have heard and read stories of both Chassidim, especially Lubavitchers, and Novardok yeshiva students and the terrible conditions in Sibera that they went through.  Many fought long and hard and survived, while others didn’t.  The end result is that we have to keep plugging.  For me, this means that while my first official attempt at getting an essay published didn’t quite work out how I wanted it to, I haven’t given up.

* Thanks to A Simple Jew for pointing me to the lesson of Prostuk

Niggun Hashkata of the Aish Kodesh zt’l

On my commute this morning I re-listened to a shiur about the life of the Rav Kalonymus Kalman Shapira zt’l, the Rebbe of Piaseczna.  The shiur (#2 of a series), given by Rabbi Zvi Engel of Cong. Or Torah (Skokie, IL) is great, but what I realized is that he mentions that Herzog College published a biography of the Rebbe written by Dr. Ron Wacks (Wax).  They also had a yom iyun about the Rebbe and part of the event included Rabbi Dr. Tamir Granot singing of a niggun Hashkata (silencing the mind), composed by the Rebbe.  I believe the niggun was tracked down by Rabbi Dr. Zvi Leshem, as he teaches it in shiurim available here (thanks to Shmuel).  Allegedly there is a video online (somewhere) of Rav Granot singing the niggun.

After much searching, I did find this gem online.  The niggun can be downloaded here.

The lyrics come from Tehillim 86:11
הוֹרֵנִי יְהֹוָה דַּרְכֶּךָ אֲהַלֵּךְ בַּֽאֲמִתֶּךָ יַחֵד לְבָבִי לְיִרְאָה שְׁמֶֽךָ
Teach me Your way, O Lord; I shall walk in Your truth. Unify my heart to fear Your name.

For a great post and video about the Aish Kodesh’s technique of quieting the mind, check out this.

Sunday’s Salanter selection-Father’s day edition

From T’nuas HaMussar (The Mussar Movement)

“…he employed every means at his disposal to guard his son [Yom Tov Lipman Lipkin] against straying from Judaism.  He journeyed specially to St. Petersburg to extract a three-fold promise:  that his son should observe Shabbat, refrain from eating trefah food, and not shave.  He would say that were he able to disguise himself as a woman, he would go to work in the restaurant patronized by his son, so as to supervise the kashurt.  He also requested R. Isacc Blazer, then rabbi in St. Petersburg, by mail, to keep an eye on the son.  In this way, he said, the son remained a loyal Jew.”

While it obviously pained Rav Yisrael that this child (one of four sons and a daughter) strayed from the traditional path, the founder of the Mussar movement made great attempts to not only help his son while he was in university and afterwards, but that he never stopped loving Yom Tov.  I have only been a father for 12 years and I know that my children don’t always see eye-to-eye with me, just like I didn’t always see things eye-to-eye with my father a”h, but the bond of love never is severed.

New site exploring the teachings of Rav Hirsch

Recently a new website was started to relate and explain various teachings and concepts found in the writings of Rav Shimon Raphael Hirsch z’tl. The site reflects years of study, thought, and teachings of Rabbi Gershon Seif.

Rabbi Seif is a friend of mine and I have been privileged to hear him give shiurim on the teachings of Rav Hirach for a number of years every Shavuos night. He is a true Talmid Chacham who is keenly aware of the challenges facing the Torah observant Jew today.

He is site can be found here,


Best quote ever about internet filters

Rav Moshe Weinberger in this shiur, available for free, said the following:

“People would like to install Yiras Shamayim.  You can’t do that, you can’t install Yiras Shamyaim, that’s the only problem.  You can install a filter, but the person is the same person sitting down to the computer.”

He then expands this idea about the filter fixing the internet, not he person. Someone who has a teiyvas beheima (physical desire) for something isn’t going to be stopped by a filter. Rav Weinberger believes that we have to address the person, the pnemius of the person, Kedusha of a Jew and expose the greatness with each of us. Gevaldik!!

The entire shiur is available here.

Free shiur from Rav Moshe Weinberger has is offering a free shiur for a limited time.  I have heard half of it alreay and it’s amazing and, even more than usual, Rav Weinberger cuts to the heart of the matter on several topics in a clear and emesdik way.  The following was sent in an email:

Rav Weinberger – Almost Completely “Unfiltered!”

If you are ready to hear the truth, read on. And if you never, ever get another shiur (Heaven forbid!) or have never downloaded a shiur from this site, then this is the one to get – and it’s FREE!

The sparks were flying (literally, if you consider the nitzotzos of our neshamos) this past erev Shabbos during the Rav Kook shiur The Short Long Way and The Long Short Way, Especially In A Filtered World. Rav Weinberger used a Rav Kook essay that was not included in Oros HaTorah, to teach that there is a “short long” way and a “long short” way to reach a goal.

The “short long” way consists of shortcuts and superficial methodologies to quickly deal with the issue at hand. For example – I have been diagnosed with tennis elbow. It hurts and prevents me from lifting heavy objects due to the pain. The “short long” path (which I have taken for the past two months) is to take pain killers. This reduces the pain and allows my arm to function almost completely normally. However, the pain killers, while addressing the symptom, don’t solve the underlying problem.

The “long short” way (started last week) means adjusting the way I grip my power tools and bicycle handle bars, wearing an arm strap, some physical therapy and icing the muscle and elbow area frequently. While this path will likely take longer, it addresses the cause of the symptom.  

Back to the shiur…after a only a few minutes Rebbi began talking (“talking” is really much too tame a term, but I was not able to find a nice synonym for “yelling”) about filtering the Internet, filtering girls, in fact, filtering out the entire world; he mentioned the events of a few months ago in Ramat Beit Shemesh, addressed teenager inter-gender relationships and trying to maintain shalom bayis by merely buying your spouse some flowers on erev Shabbos.

This is not how we become Jews who “know” Hashem and each other. We will not become closer to Him if our teachers, parents [and leaders] intimidate us and threaten us with gehinnom. Rebbi advocates that we must teach our children, beginning with first grade in the right, loving way and connect them by example to the Ribbonoh shel Olam. That is the path.

A very close friend commented about the shiur: “I love Rebbi the way he is now, but this is the Rebbi I fell in love with.”

OK. I got it off my chest – but really… this is a MUST HEAR shiur. Tell your friends, and family members… remember, it’s free!

Have a good Shabbos.

Moshe C.

P.S. You do know about our $6.99 for FIFTY shiurim monthly plan, right?

Fifty shades of Frum

Really low-tech graphic by me

For the past two months I have been trying to figure out a way to write this post without it seeming like I am: ranting, being hypocritical, ignorant, preachy, or being non-tzenu’ah (immodest).

There’s a line that we all have an option of crossing.  What and where that line is is usually based on our upbringing, education, spouse, acceptable standard within the community, Rabbonim, media (even Jewish newspapers/websites), and friends.  The term “fifty shades” refers to, from what filter-based-internet research I have done, the complexities and layers of a person.  No, I haven’t read any of the books, but I’ve heard about them.  They are in the news, on the radio and in the hands of people who are reading them, for a multitude of reasons.  That isn’t the point of this post, however.

Judaism may seems to be black and white, but grey does exist (although “grey” usually means that there are several opinions about something, thus giving you other options besides “A” and “B”).  Most people, well, at least this person, love being in the grey area.  Not because it exists in the form of a reshus, (something that isn’t an outright mitzvah, yet isn’t assur), but because I pick and define my own grey area.  I feel a sense of ownership of my self-defined grey areas.  Something a person may grey as reading a secular newspaper, listening or watching sports, listening to music of their youth, watching a movie with language that we would be shocked to hear from our children’s mouths, reading a magazine with articles that we would never let our daughters read, or spending our free time with friends doing things that we wouldn’t want to share on Facebook.  Grey may be the words we say, the things we smoke, the books we read, the liquids drink, things we wear, or the websites we go to when we fool ourselves into thinking that no is watching.  Grey is what we make it.

Grey is the new pareve, or so we chesbonize.  We wouldn’t ever think of mixing meat and milk, yet we all are big fans of pareve soy milk, creamer, margarine, dark chocolate, and pareve ice cream.  Pareve has as the luxury of not being milchig or fleishig.  I, all too often ascribe my grey areas the distinction of pareve.  Sometimes, though, they are not.  Heck, just this past Sunday on my bike ride I listened to three secular songs that are as clean as my kittel, yet they lacked the kedusha of that garment (on the level of why my kittel was manufactured and also in how my kittel has been used).  Grey is totally how we see it.

Many years ago I sold over 80 CDs and cassettes (when people still bought them).  I did this for mostly two reasons.  I wanted to “m’kadesh them, by selling them and using the money to buy seforim and also because I didn’t want them in my home, due to some of the lyrics (not necessarily profanity, but more based on the sub-culture of hardcore punk music).  Don’t fret, we still have a big handful of secular stuff sandwiched between Uncle Moishy CD, HASC Concerts, and Piamenta.  Most of it is grey music, of course (written with a smile).

Well over 20 years ago, I once joked with someone and said, “I’m a baal teshuva.  There isn’t any grey with me, only black and white.”  Relax, it’s not as harsh as it sounds.  What I then explained was that my view on things was simply either something is kosher (acceptable) or it isn’t.  Either it has value/k’dusha or it doesn’t.  Rabbi Yosef Yozel Hurwitz, the Alter of Novardok said it like this:  A utensil can be either michlig, fleishig, or pareve.  A person can’t be pareve, he must be one or the other.

I can try to make things as grey as I want them to be, but it is me who is making them grey and the world doesn’t really run based on the biased meanings and values that I give things.  Sometimes, I find myself taking what is clearly dark-dark grey and slowly rationalizing it.  With each thought, action, excuse or indulgence slowly dark-dark grey becomes, dark grey, then not-so dark grey, which becomes grey, which then becomes light-grey, which become light-light grey, which is really almost white.  Grey exists, and I’m cool with that.  Either what I may view as grey can be used to get me closer to Hashem and my mission as a Jew in this world or it simply diverts me from that goal.

Well, I biked the forest…

I have to thank all of my sponsors who donated over $2,000.00 for Chai Lifeline.  Seriously, you’re amazing!  What, feeling guilty that you didn’t sponsor me?  Don’t fret, you still have time by clicking here.

I have read that a common motto in exercise is, “Feel the pain”.  After Sunday’s bike ride with Chai Lifeline, I totally understand what this means.  “Biking the forest” pushed me to the limit.  Biking 54 miles last year on Lake Shore Drive was a piece of fat-free cake compared with Sunday’s 34 mile bike ride at Linne Woods.  I found the hills to be much more challenging than I expected and to say that I pushed myself, is not an exaggeration.  Of course, it was for a great cause and if I am a little sore and sunburned, then so be it.  It was TOTALLY worth it!

Our ride started at a picnic grove where Chai Lifeline had fruit, Granola Bars, and water waiting for us.  The trail we took went north for 10 miles to the beautiful Chicago Botanical Gardens, at which point, people could turn around and return to the picnic grove.  However, I wanted to get in my 34 miles, so once I got the the Botanical Gardens, I then went back 7 miles and returned to Gardens.  All along the way Chai Lifeline had volunteers stationed with nice cold bottles of water for everyone.  After refilling my water and catching my breath, I biked back to join the group.  For those that wanted, a nice brunch was served, sponsored by Bagel Country after the event.  I was simply happy to drink some water in the shade. 

When I got home I was greeted with hugs, high-fives, and a cold drink and something to eat.  Seeing how proud my wife and kids were of what I accomplished in memory of my father a”h, made it all worth it.  As I wrote above, this was quite a challenge, but it was also a opportunity to really push myself and see the effort pay off!  I am pleased that I not only biked the furthest of anyone on Sunday, but I also brought in the second highest amount of sponsorship this year.  To know that I was able to help Chai Lifeline with your support and encouragement is a great feeling and I am so glad you were able to help me.

For the first 3 hours of my 3.5 hour bike ride I listened to some amazing shiurim from Rav Reuven Leuchter, who is a very close student of Rav Shlomo Wolbe zt’l.  Two of the shiurim were about “Chinuch on Gadlus Ha’Adom” and the third was about the first few lines of Rabbi Yisrael Salanter’s Iggeres HaMussar (totally blew my mind how he he explains R Yisrael Salanter’s view of imagination/dimyon).  His understanding of Gadlus Ha’Adom (as being conscious that we are involved in a higher madrega of avodah than just mitzvah observance, but serving Hashem) fits so nicely with the concept of D’veykus (attachment to God) as brought down in the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh seforim.  The 30 minutes of my ride was spent listening to Yosef Karduner, Piamaneta, Diaspora, Yitzhak HaLevi, Even Sh’shiya, Bob Mould, and a Russian band called Selo N Ludy and their cover of Bon Jovi’s “It’s my life” (funniest thing ever).

Chai Lifeline is still excepting your sponsorship of my ride.  That’s right, you have until Thursday morning to still make a donation.  Any amount would be great.  I’ll be honest, for the past three years I have raised more for Chai Lifeline’s bike event in Chicago than anyone else.  This year I am only short $591.00 of keeping that record.

Please feel free to forward this page to anyone that can help.  Every little bit helps.
You can sponsor me by going here.  Seriously, this is for Chai Lifeline, they do great work.  Thanks!!!

Book release- Bnei Avraham Ahuvecha: Gerim in Chassidic Thought

On Wednesday, September 30th, 2009 blogger, and a person that I am privileged to call a friend, posted that he would greatly reduce his blogging to start something that, in his own humble words, was, “the whole purpose of my “A Simple Jew” blog was to develop my knowledge, writing skills, and contact network to the point where I could take on this new project. In a sense, my last five years of blogging has served as a springboard for this project.”
Yesterday, A Simple Jew, revealed the fruits of his labor. His book project, Bnei Avraham Ahuvecha: Gerim in Chassidic Thought is a labor of love, insight and Torah. From the description:

This book will enthusiastically be sought after by Jews who were not born Jewish, and those on the path to becoming Jewish. It has received glowing approbations from the Sudilkover Rebbe, Bostoner Rebbe, Hornsteipler Rebbe, Rabbi Yitzchok Meir Morgenstern, Rabbi Dovid Meisels, and Rabbi Lazer Brody.

Unlike numerous books already published in English on conversion to Judaism, this book is not a personal narrative, how-to manual, digest of relevant laws, or academic historical overview. This book presents the story behind the story – the mystical teachings found within Chassidic literature that illuminate the hidden inner world of the ger.

Until now, these teachings were scattered in an unorganized manner throughout countless volumes and inaccessible to those unfamiliar with the Hebrew language. With this book, “Bnei Avraham Ahuvecha: Gerim in Chassidic Thought”, relevant Chassidic teachings are collected, translated from Hebrew into English, organized topically, and further elucidated, when needed. Interspersed with these translated teachings, stories- both old and new – are included to help bring them to life. In addition, this book includes supplementary essays written by Rabbi Chaim Kramer, Rabbi Ozer Bergman, Rabbi Dovid Sears, Rabbi Avraham Chaim Bloomenstiel, and Mrs. Talya Lipshutz (based on conversations with Rav Elazar Mordechai Kenig of Tsfat).

The book can be ordered here and also at Amazon, here.  It is amazing chizuk for me to see that someone who has a full-time job and a family to take care of can make the conscious decision to use his free time and talents to work on such an important sefer. I am ordering the book after my next paycheck and can’t wait to dive into it.