Category Archives: Baalei Mussar

Yartzeit of R Naftoli Amsterdam, this Shabbos Kodesh

Tomorrow, the sixth of Adar, is the yahrzeit of HaRav Naftoli Amsterdam, Z’tl, one of the leading disciples of Rebbe Yisroel Salanter, Z’tl. HaRav Naftoli was a tzadik and talmid chacham of great stature (serving as a Rav in various cities in Europe), whose astounding humility brought him to become a “baker” in Yerushalayim. Below are but a few brief excerpts about his teachings from Sparks of Mussar by Rabbi Chaim Zaitchik, Shlita, which are brought both L’Ilui Nishmaso and for us, to once again, attempt to touch the Midos of the Tzadikim in our own way:

1. Two things are necessary for man’s self-perfection. One is to arouse and inspire himself. The other, by far the harder, is to carry out his good resolutions and retain the inspiration when it comes down to action.

2. A Jew once came before him asking for the “permission of a hundred rabbis” necessary to take a second wife without divorcing the first. In the course of talking, the man spoke badly of his wife. R’ Naftoli interrupted him and asked, “Have you already received the permission of a hundred rabbis to violate the prohibition of Loshon Hora?”

3. When serving as Rabbi, he never sat in the front rows of the Shul, but fixed his place among the common folk. When he served as Ray of Helsinki, he always entered the Shul with a Sefer under his arm. In that way when the congregation rose as he entered, it could be that they were honoring the holy Sefer rather than himself.

4. A resolution to bring all of Jewry back to the Torah was found in his satchel. When asked how he planned to carry out this resolution, he replied, “I have resolved to keep all the laws of the Shulchan Aruch strictly. In this way I will serve as a living Shulchan Aruch, and anyone who wants to keep the Torah will be able to see in me a living example of a complete Jew and learn from me how to return to the Torah.”

Sunday’s Spark of Mussar

Rav Yitzchok Blazer

R’ Chaim Volozhin once said, “The yetzer hora steals in and says, “Speak about me in the study of Mussar all you wish, as long as you don’t learn Torah the while.””  R’ Itzele added, “That was in those days.  In our time the yetzer hora says, “Learn Torah all you wish, as long as you don’t speak about me.” “

From Sparks of Mussar by R Chaim Ephraim Zaitchik

Sunday’s Spark of Mussar

Rav Naftali Amsterdam

A resolution to bring all of Jewry back to Torah was found in his satchel.  When asked how he planned to carry out this resolution, he replied, “I have resolved to keep all the laws of the Shulchan Oruch strictly.  In this way I will serve as a living Shulchan Oruch, and anyone who wants to keep the Torah will be able to see in me a living example of a complete Jew and learn from me how to return to the Torah.”

From Sparks of Mussar by R Chaim Ephraim Zaitchik

Sunday’s Spark of Mussar

Rav Yitzchok Blazer

Sometimes our sages use the expression “goes down to Gehinom”; other times they say “falls into Gehinom.”  R’ Itzele explained that the difference reflects the different kinds of sins.  Sometimes the descent into Gehinom is a gradual decay process.  But there are some sins that catapult a person into Gehinom in a flash.

From Sparks of Mussar by R Chaim Ephraim Zaitchik

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.

A Matter of Perspective

Menuchas HaNefesh, Yishuv HaDaas, Reframing… it really doesn’t matter what title we use… the bottom line is that at times we need to put thing into perspective.
I learned this lesson when I was in 6th grade. Not in school or on the playground, but from “Return of the Jedi”. Straight from George Lucas’ script…
“BEN: Luke, you’re going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.”

Later I learned that Rashi said it first in Parsha Shelach about the Meraglim viewing themselves as grasshoppers. Most recently on Father’s Day I forgot all that I learned from the above.

My wife planned the perfect father’s day for me. I got a photo cube to put on my desk at work (retro, but cool), a great breakfast, a trip with my family and brother (who was visiting us from NYC) to both a nature museum and a zoo, met up with some close friends who were in town, and then home for some pizza. I was aware the entire day that my family loves and appreciates me. I felt blessed that I didn’t work on Sundays. I was happy to be living somewhere with an excellent quality of life for myself and my family.
As we walked into our home, I noticed something that bothered me. I let it bother me too much, and my fantasitc day was totally wiped from my personal hard-drive. All the fun and good times were out the door.

How often do we get caught up on things that really don’t matter? I know for myself, even once, is one time too many. Someone doesn’t say hello to you in shul, you can’t find your car keys, a toy is left on the floor, the bakery sold the last chocolate cream pie, or you get a stain on your shirt while drinking something that’s not on your diet to begin with. Of couse, none of this is from personal experience. 🙂

I remember hearing in yeshiva, and then reading years later in the Rav Dessler biography about Rav Eliyahu Lopian. The story goes that he was once in Yerushayim waiting for a bus. As he sat with a sefer, he stopped learning for a second and looked up to see if the bus was coming. He told the bachur sitting with him that had he still been in Kelm, he would have gotten an hour long mussar shmooze. Why? Because looking to see if a bus is coming doesn’t make it come any faster! To get distracted from learning to look for a bus? What’s the point? You are in control of yourself, not in control of the bus.

Of course, I only remembered this story two days after Father’s Day. I was biking tonight, trying to clear my head and gather my thoughts. I was hoping, somehow, to gain a better perspective on things. Not the big things like family, work, tuition, summer camp, bills, shopping for Shabbos, or even what to wear tomorrow. I’m working on trying to gain a better perspective on the little things that shouldn’t bother me, but do. Zeh Lo Chashuv, right? What’s one thing that bothers you (that’s really not so important)?

I looked at my wife tonight, and thought, “Father’s Day, hah. What a joke. The real star is her. She puts up with me, deals with the kids, and navigates each of life’s ordeals with a calmness not seen by many.” I wish I could be more like her.

Oberserving the Mashgiach

(Pictured to the right: Rav Mattisyahu Salomon and Rabbi Pinchas Stolper, in a photo I took 3 feet away from them)

I had the incredible opportunity this past Sunday, May 7th, to join about 1200 other Jews to celebrate in the dedication of the new home of Congregation Adas Yeshurun Anshe Kanesses Israel (West Rogers Park, Chicago) and the Hachnassas Sefer Torah, of a Torah that has been in the family of the shul’s Rabbi, Rabbi Zev Cohen, for over 102 years. It seemed that for the Chicago Tribune this was the hightlight of the day, as evident here:,1,4753021.story
It was a beautful event that started with a five block procession full of music, dancing, and true simcha, and ended with words of chizuck from Rav Salomon. The Tribune, which did a great job covering the monumentous event, didn’t see what I saw. They did have a picture in paper of Rav Salomon (stating that he was venerated) but that was the only reference to him. The Tribune was kind enough to quote me, though. Sadly they opted not to print everything I said.

What they didn’t print was that as incredible as it was to see boys from Skokie Yeshiva dancing with boys from Telshe, as great as it was to see so many people come out to show unity for the one thing that unites all Jews, the Torah, it was just as great that Rav Salomon came to Chicago to attend the simcha.
My six year old and I were there right when he came outside to go under the chuppah and start the march up Sacramento towards Touhey. As Rav Mattisyah went under the chuppah, countless children, including my son, came up and gave him a Shalom Alechiem. He smiled at each child and extended his hand numerous times.

As the Mashgiach walked, flanked by Rabbi Cohen and Rabbi Stolper (Rabbi Cohen’s father-in-law), I could see true simcha in his face. I couldn’t help but think to myself, “How cool is this. I’m dancing literally 3-4 feet away from the Mashgiach of Lakewood. In his hands is a Torah that has survived our darkest hours in recent history. This Torah has been in America since 1906 and watched Torah Judaism blossom”. I watched how carefully he took each step, holding all that we all hold so dear in our hearts…the Torah. I watched him smile, shake hands, and speak of how important limud Torah is and how we must remember this day and what it mean to us and our children. A true Adam Gadol in every sense of the word.
To attend Sunday’s event was an honor. To have Rav Mattisyahu Salomon attend was a koved for the community. To attend it with by son, unforgetable.

A Special thanks to Blogger Rafi G, for linking my blog to his post on Sunday’s event.