Category Archives: breslov

The power in your hands

I was recently reading a chapter in Anatomy of the Soul by Rabbi Chaim Kramer and this passage jumped out at me:
Now recall that the hand is called yad because of the fourteen bones it contains. The number of Hebrew letters found in the first verse of the Torah is twenty-eight. The Hebrew word for strength is ko’ach, also numerically equal to twenty-eight. Since each hand has fourteen bones, both hands together contain “twenty-eight bones,” representing the ko’ach of God. Based on this, Rebbe Nachman teaches that every person has within himself the ability to arouse the power of Creation with his hands (i.e., his prayers). -Page 364
While Reb Nachman was speaking about the power of tefillah, I believe it could also refer to using our hands to write or type. A quick email, IM, or even (gasp) a blog post is an aspect of revealing ourselves and our neshama. It’s an act of creation and there is tremendous potential within the words we create.
Gut Shabbos Kodesh!
Mazel Tov to Dixie Yid!

It was 30 years ago today

Orginially planned for posting on 5/25/07

I could really pen multiple posts about Star Wars: A New Hope, but in truth, it was hard to pinpoint what to write about. There are many lessons to be learned from Star Wars. Almost as hard as it was for George Lucas to actually find a movie studio for the film.

Two different rejection letters from different studios are online. Here are some quotes…

“There is no metaphysical message that 2001 contained, no salvation offered for the youths of today in the future.”

“I do not see how this picture can be inexpensively made. Essentially, there are no starring roles for important action.”

“The decision has to be if you have enough faith in the director making an expensive family adventure film. I would not go with the project.”

“A risky project — one I would not do.”
“The question, in the end, is how much faith we have in Mr Lucas’s ability to pull it all off.”
As I start projects or set goals for myself I think about the fact Star Wars might never have been made if not for persistance and vision. Fairly good lessions.
Of course, Reb Nachman did teach us never to give up!
Also check this post by PsychoToddler.
The United Artists rejection letter is available here.
The Universal rejection letter is available

My Breslov Moment

Recently I moved in my office. It wasn’t a big move, just across my department from one desk to another. It did require me unplugging my computer and moving it, as well.

As I was underneath my new desk and hooking up all the plugs back into my computer tower I looked up and saw the underside of my desk. It was a perspective that I had not viewed things from before. It looked pretty much like the underside of a table, no big suprise.

I recalled playing under our dining room table when I was young and I have a destinctive memory of being 2 1/2 or 3 yrs old and eating pizza crust (I called them “pizza bones” under our dining room table in Baldwin, NY.

I, of course, remembered the classic Reb Nachman story, The Turkey Prince. If you are not familiar with it, please follow the link and then return to this posting.
After spending some time under my desk I realized that it’s easy to get caught up in having a limited perspective on things, especially if you’re under a table with a long tablecloth. I forget about things beyond my sight all too often.

When one only views things from their own vantage point (under a table) it’s easy to think that the sky ends at the top of the table. It’s easy to think that one is tall enough to touch the sky (top of the table) and one’s ego gets inflated with arrogance.

The truth is that the world beyond the underside of a table is what’s important. Whether it’s family or work. Plugging USB cords in a computer is only preparation to dealing with the work on top of my desk.

I now have a much better understanding of the wisdom of Reb Nachman.

For a deeper analysis of The Turkey Prince, I recommend reading Under the Table by Avraham Greenbaum.

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!

Back to Echo Base

(Screenshot from Star Wars: Battlefront for PC)
I’ve always enjoyed snow. The blanket of tranquility that comes from looking out your window and watching it fall onto the trees is something that I love. It remind me of playing in the snow as a kid and sledding with my own kids.
We’ve got tons here in Chicago. It takes forever to drive anywhere. I spent about an hour cleaning my driveway when I came from from work the other day. I took a look an hour later and we had another inch. All this snow, cold weather and me dressed in earmuffs, gloves, and a hat reminds me of being in third grade and seeing the planet Hoth from The Emipre Strikes Back for the first time.
I couldn’t resist playing Star Wars Star Wars: Battlefront on my computer the other night. It’s awesome! I hadn’t sat down to play in over a year, but it was great. I, of course, went straight to Hoth. The feeling of flying a snowspeeder and taking down an AT-AT is great. Like a childhood dream come true. A little fun never hurts!
Rebbe Nachman teaches: It is a great mitzvah to be happy always. Strengthen yourself to push aside all depression and sadness. Everyone has lots of problems and the nature of man is to be attracted to sadness. To escape these difficulties, constantly bring joy into your life – even if you have to resort to silliness” (Likutei Moharan 2, 24).

The typically pretentious blog posting that most people won’t read, but I’ve been wanting to write for quite some time

OK, I know, it’s a long title. The truth is that this posting has been brewing in my press pot of a long time. I hope that my few readers will allow me to go in a slightly different direction just for one posting. Rav Yisrael Salanter’s final two midos are coming very soon.

Fact: Whenever I post a comment on my own blog, the following message appears in my Hotmail inbox:

The sender of this message,, could not be verified by Sender ID. Learn more about Sender ID.
From: Neil Harris
Sent : Monday, August 21, 2006 9:57 PM
To : neilsharris @>

Subject : [Modern Uberdox] 8/21/2006 09:57:46 PM

Could not be verified by Sender ID?!? What’s this all about?

Hotmail doesn’t recognize my email address when I post a comment to my blog. You’ve got to be kidding.
During Elul, it seems that introspection is about as commonplace as the ads for a new Sukkah in any great Jewish newspaper.
Not recognizing yourself is usually a bad thing, right? I’m not so sure about that. If one approaches the Teshuva process and is successful, then we change who we are. If we change ourselves, then not recognizing who we once were is a great thing.

As I reflect on the the past year (along with everyone else) I can divide the year into two different sections.
1) Life before moving to Chicago vs. Now living in Chicago
2) Life before blogging vs. Life as a blogger

Both sections share very common elements. In the moving to Chicago arena, I’ve been given an opportunity to start fresh in terms of who I am, and what identity I make for myself and my family. While we moved here knowing a few people, it’s really an open book.

The blogging arena is also much the same. By posting on a blog you reinforce your own identity. Or create a new one.
Plenty of people have very solid and legitimate reasons for blogging Anonymous. I greatly respect that.

I chose the other path. I use my name. I’ll be honest, one reason is that I want to be heard. I don’t mind saying this, only because I could have just as easily written this posting in a journal and kept it on a shelf (I’ve, in fact, kept journals for years). As a result of blogging I’ve been able to write more in the past four and a half months than I’ve written in the past four and a half years. This is a major accomplishment for me. Another reason is that using my own name helps keep me in check so I write as truthfully as I can and I don’t use my blog to slam others or go off on them for whatever reason sounds good at the time.
I do wonder if people who read my blog have some image of me that isn’t quite who I really am?

Cute quote time….
“I am not who I think I am; I am not who you think I am; I am who I think you think I am.” (I heard that it was written by Goethe)

I’ve thought about this line many times since I started my blog. It totally applies to the blogosphere. Bloggers blog about different things. Each blog reveals a little about someone. Some blog about personal issues, others about d’vrai Torah, others about their family, others about social issues. We all have something to say.
One blogger, who I respect and admire for their quality of writing, Torah knowledge, and overall menshlikeit mentioned to me “that what we blog is not who we are, but what is at our essence”.
Just think about that statement for a second…

Let’s take my blogs’ name. It’s is really a humorous label. It’s a phrase that I hadn’t seen used before and I thought it was catchy, in light of the fact that we live in a generation of people trying to Uber-Frum themselves in the eyes of others. In the 12th chapter of EYES TO SEE, (thanks to my friend in Atlanta for turning me on to the book when it came out) Rabbi Yom Tov Schwartz writes about the “Selectively Pious” Jews out there who pick and choose different aspects of Bein Adam L’chavero and Bein Adam L’makom to observe. Both types of Mitzvos are of equal importance. I try to bring that out in what I write about.

Remember when you first created you blog? I do. I debated about what to write for the blog description in the “settings” section. I finally settled on “ideas about Kehillah, Hashkafa, and Avodas Hashem”. Pretty general and not too creative. What I didn’t realize then was that Kehillah would end up referring to the online community and bond that bloggers create.
So back to my problem with Hotmail…Why won’t it verify who I am? I think the answer is that neilsharris at doesn’t refer to the real me. It’s just an address. And not even a physical address. You can’t Maquest an email address. It doesn’t reference where I am or where I live. While devarim or words (written or spoken) reveal one’s machshavos or thoughts, an email address reveals nothing. It’s just something on a screen that can be deleted. I find this lesson to be great mussar for myself. What I think of as my identity isn’t really an identity at all.
It’s Elul, and I need to figure out who I am and where I am.
Reb Nachman writes in Likutey Moharan that “You are wherever your thoughts are. Make sure your thought are where you what to be.”

If interested in buying a copy of EYES TO SEE, it’s available at most seforim stores or online here.

Rav Yisrael Salanter’s 13 Midos- #11

Righteousness: In the normal sense of justice; and also as the sages interpret the term- give up what is yours even when not required to do so

Earlier this morning in shul I (along with anyone else who went to shul) heard:
“Justice, justice shall you pursue, that you may live and possess the land the Lord, your God, is giving you.” Devarim 16:20

As I enter Elul, I wonder what is the true meaning of “Righteousness”, justice, or Tzedek?
There are mitzvos that seem to make since based on how things run in a society that is governed by basic human rights (Rav Hirsch dedicates a great deal to this concept in his commentary on Chumash and several chapters specifically in Horeb and in the Nineteen Letters, but a discussion about his views will be for another time). Maybe this is what Rav Yisrael means by “in the normal sense of justice”?
I think it means that we all have certain thing that we are entitled to. When I say that we are entitled to certain things, I really mean that Hashem gives me what I need at a certain time. Ultimately, Hashem deals with me in a way that my needs are fulfilled based on my merits. There are exceptions to every rule, and some people do seem to get more in life than we may think that they merit. Reb Nachman has a whole teaching about this (the Treasury of Unearned Gifts).

Rav Yisrael goes on to give us a better definition of Tzedek, “give up what is yours even when not required to do so”. To me, it doesn’t get more practical that this. Just because something is “yours” you can still give it up.
A few examples come to mind: giving up your parking spot, giving up your seat in shul (putting aside the concept of “makom kevuah” for a minute), your kids giving up their room for a guest, not taking the last brownie, , giving up a smile or a kind work, or (and this just happened to me) giving up on taking the credit for a great one-liner during kiddush after shul (I’m only using this as an example. When my line was used by someone after they heard me say it I was, truthfully, kind of upset, but then decided that it really wasn’t worth it only because the goal of what I said was to bring a little humor and levity to the kiddush, and not to show how witty I could be).

I find it interesting that Rav Yisrael’s great- grandson, Rav Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler took this concept of giving and taught the Torah observant world that it is giving that leads us to love, not love that leads us to giving. Rav Dessler, in fact, devided the world into two types of people: Givers and Takers. To quote from Rabbi Aryeh Carmell’s translation of Michtav Me-Eliyahu, “Man has been granted this sublime power of giving, enabling him too be merciful, to bestow happiness, to give of himself.” (Strive For Truth! Volume I, page 119)

As each day brings me closer to Rosh Hashanah, I hope I can be a giver, and not a taker.

If anyone is interested in viewing what Elul was like back in the day, please feel free to read Elul in Slabodka.

I’m sorry for not posting too much last week, but I decided to greatly reduce my online time and blog reading/commenting. Last week was a difficult exercise in self-control, but I managed. I’m still reading/commenting, but I’ve set aside certain time at night to do so (and not every night). Going online and checking email throughout the day is something of a habit for most of us. I found it, in some ways, conciously controling my urges to check email/blogs much more difficult that some of the things I stopped doing when I became frum.

On a more serious note, please, if you can, continue to daven for Reuven ben Tova Chaya. The health of any child is a true Bracha from Hashem.