Category Archives: Chofetz Chaim

Real Ahavas Yisrael

Most agree that it’s a good idea.  There are plenty of people we meet, however, that  we just don’t like.  That’s OK.  The mitzvah is to love them as Jews, not like them as people.  Recently I experienced true Ahavas Yisrael from almost complete strangers.  They helped me because it was a mitzvah, looking beyond my background or my hashkafa.

Real Ahavas Yisrael, not the kind that end up as a short story in a gloss weekly Jewish magazine or as a chapter in children’s Gadolim biography.  Real Ahavas Yisrael that wakes you up that the cup of coffee that you psychologically know you need in order to function.  Real Ahavas Yisrael, I’m talking about the kind that reminds you that we have to help others because Hashem is constantly helping us.  Real Ahavas Yisrael, the kind you daven that your kids will practice when they become older.  

Originally I was going to fill the post with several quotes on the importance of loving our fellow Jews from the likes of the Rambam, Rav Hirsch, and the Chofetz Chaim.  I decided against this.  Often in life we tend to meet people and try to figure out “what their angle” is.  It seems that society has programmed us, well me, to think that most people I encounter have a hidden agenda.  An act of kindness, a true Chessed, has an agenda as well, the most pure agenda, the will of Hashem.  I am humbled that my creator has allowed me to meet a few people in my life that remind me of the kind of Jew I want to be.

Sunday’s Spark of Mussar

Rav Yisrael Meir Kagen, the Chofetz Chaim
R’ Yisrael Salanter once spoke in Vilna about the severity of the sin of loshon hora, and proclaimed, “Would that some chochom would write a sefer about the laws of loshon hora.”  R’ Yisrael Meir heard the words and undertook the task of writing the book, which he called Chofetz Chaim.
From Sparks of Mussar by R Chaim Ephraim Zaitchik

Rav Aharon Feldman Shlita on Mesiras Nefesh

Monday night I had the honor of hearing the Rosh Yeshiva of Ner Israel, Rav Aharon Feldman speak in Chicago on behalf of Toldos Yeshurun.  The Rosh Yeshiva said over the following ideas regarding Mesiras Nefesh (self sacrifice):
 Mesiras Nefesh is the key to the Geulah. Shemos is full of Mesiras Nefesh. Being Mosair Nefesh means going against the grain of society. To be great you have to be Mosair Nefesh for Torah.

We build Torah institutions by being Mosair Nefesh. The Chofetz Chaim asked the question, “Why did we fast on Purim, but go to battle for Chanukah?”

His answer is that Purim was an attack on our physical beings, our Gatchmeus, so we had to counter it by fasting. Chanukah was an attack on Ruchnius, on Torah, so we had no choice but to go to battle. Mesiras Nefesh is the key to aquiring Torah. All Torah in America was built on Mesiras Nefesh.

When I was growing up in Baltimore, a very popular Conservative Rabbi said that in 40 years Orthodox Judaism won’t exist. Well, Orthodoxy is still alive and well.

We learned last week that you can only take Trumah from anyone who will donate money from their heart. For the Mishkan you can’t force someone to give, the Shechinah will only be in a place where B’nai Yisrael gives from their hearts.

The success of Jewish life is based on us going against the grain. We have to know that we can grow, elevate, and rise above all of our circumstances. The key is Mesiras Nefesh.

Sunday’s Spark of Mussar

Rav Nosson Finkel, the Alter of Slabodka

The Chofetz Chaim was amazed by the way R’ Nosson Zvi transformed people.  “This craft can be practiced by R’ Nosson Zvi along.  We accept talmidim who are faithful and raise them to Torah and fear of G-d; but R’ Nosson Zvi accepts unworthy talmidim and turns them into G-d fearing scholars.  I create books; R’ Nosson Zvi creates people.”

From Sparks of Mussar by R Chaim Ephraim Zaitchik

When Sinas Chinam rears its ugly head…

Our Sages, of blessed memory, state (Yoma 9b): “Why was the First Temple destroyed? Because of the follow three sins that occurred there: idol worship, immorality, and murder. Yet, in the period of the Second Temple, they were involved in Torah study, mitzvos, and acts of kindness-so why was it destroyed? As a result of the baseless hatred that was there. Rebbi Yochanan and Rebbi Eliezer both said, ‘Since concerning the First Temple, their trangressions were revealed-their time of redemption was revealed. In the Second Temple, where their sins were not revealed-their time of redemption was not revealed.’

If I was to do a study of the greatest problems facing our generation, I’d probably start by looking at the Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation.

Yes, I’m serious.  If you were not aware, the Chofetz Chaim writes that when the Gemara says sinas chinam (baseless hatred) it also includes lashon hara (hurtful speech), which is a product of sinas chinam.  So by causually looking at the Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation (CCHF) and it’s programs, one can easily get an idea of some problems within our people as a Nation.

Some of the previous video topics have been (and this list in no real order, as I dug out my cassettes and cds tonight):
WHO WILL PUT OUT THE FIRE– Maximizing the power of Shmiros Haloshon and Ahavas Yisrael
A TIME TO HEAL– Realizing that each Jew is someone who is a precious as each of us is
CHANGING GOLUS TO GEULAH– Shimiros Haloshon as the path to Geulah
SHAPING A WORLD OF KINDNESS– How acts of Ahavas Yisrael can shape a world that reflects Hashem
IF YOU DON’T CRY WHO WILL?- Sharing the yoke of a fellow Jew
WORD BY WORD– Understanding the destructiveness of Ona’as Devorim

It seems that every year, the board of directors of the CCHF seem to turn on the proverbial Bat-Signal alerting us to an important aspect of tikun haMiddos.  I applaud them.  This year the topic is LETTING GO OF ENVY.  Again, this is a major problem on fronts such as: finances, shidduchim, success in chinuch, relationships, number of comments on blog posts (just joking), vacations, etc.

So these are the problems that have come up over the past few years.  They all center around words.  Words are the main vehicle that we use when dealing with others.  Things we shouldn’t say and things we probably should say.  I admit, this is all mostly fluff.  It’s all easier said (or written) than done.

I’m sure had this been an alternate world, we’d be viewing videos from the CCHF titled:
DON’T BE A HATER– Learning that “baseless” means there’s no foundation in reality
KEEP YOUR MOUTH QUIET– How not speaking at times is even more important than speaking
LOVING YOUR FELLOW JEW IS A MITZVAH…BECOMING FRIENDS WITH EVERYONE ON FACEBOOK ISN’T– Truly understanding the importance and vaule of real friendship
GIVE IT UP– Applying Rav Dessler’s teachings about giving vs taking
EMES RULES AND SHEKER DROOLS– Alligning yourself with the truth is alligning yourself with Hashem

Dissagrements and misunderstanding happen, I know all too well.  Resolving such issues doen’t happen overnight.  Sometimes it takes almost 2000 years.   In fact, some issues cannot be resolved, so we just step back.  Eventually Hashem steps in.  That’s probably why there is a classic machloches about if we, mankind, will rebuild the Beis HaMikdash or will Hashem bring it down from shamayim.  In the end the result is the same…we will be dancing in the Beis HaMikdash.

At a shopping mall near you: The Mussar Kisok

A few weeks ago I went to a big shopping mall in a suburb of Chicago with my family. Among the many kiosks there I found a “Kabbalah Kiosk”. Like any given kiosk you see in a mall these days, this one was run by several citizens from Israel who had come to America to attempt to make some money.
This one has lots of charms, mezzuzah covers, earrings, necklesses, rings, pictures, ect depicting things like the Ten Sefirot, several Hebrew phrases, and other such Kabbalah items (although they didn’t sell these albums). The young adults selling the items were from Tel Aviv and Yerushalyim, both of them seemed nice. After walking away I thought of that article in the Forward, titled “The Path of the Just: Is Mussar the new Kabbalah?”.
Would there ever be such a thing as a “Mussar Kiosk” in a shopping mall? I doubt it, but if there was, then the kiosk would probably be very hard to find in the mall, as most Baalei Mussar tended to stay away from the spot-light and not reveal themselves. It would be in a place that you might have to walk past once or twice before noticing it.
They would most likely sell all of the products from the Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation, such as bookmarks, posters, tapes and cds.
You would be able to by cool things like micro-sized copies of Mesillas Yesharim and Orchos Tzadikim with keychains attached to them. Or even MP3s and ebooks of Mussar seforim.
You could buy jewlery with silver blades of grass attached to them to remind your wifes and daughters of this: There is no blade of grass below that does not have a malach on high that smites it and says to it: Grow! (Bereishis Rabbah 10:6-7)
They might have small “Tefillin mirrors” with the words “Mussar starts here” printed on them.
Paperweights that look like buckets of water to remind people the story about when the Chofetz Chaim was a boy and while other kids thought it would be funny to freeze the water in the buckets for the local water carrier, young Yisrael Meir would empty the buckets as chessed to the water carrier.
Hot coffee and latkes would be available to remind visitors that when Rav Dessler was little boy he use to get up early on Shabbos to learn with his Rebbe before davening. His mother would have hot coffee and tasty latkes (probably small cakes) waiting for him when he got out of bed. While the ikar of getting up was to learn, he himself writes that because of what his mother had waiting for he, he “got out of bed quicker”. This was an example of “Sh’lo lishma, bo lishma”.
They would, for sure, sell the trash can that I have dreamed about, based on the awesome trash cans they had in the Alter of Kelm’s Talmud Torah. These trash cans were designed to be very narrow at the bottom and wide at the top (sort of like an inverted cone). If you were not careful in how you put your trash into it, it would tip over. They were designed to teach the talmidim that each action, even throwing garbage away, has an effect.
You could buy bumperstickers that would say: “I break for Midos Tovos”, “Bein Adom L’Chavero on board”, “If I’m driving to slow, then you might want to work on your Savlanut”, “My other car is a Beis HaMussar”, “Honk if you did Teshuva”, and “If I’m driving too fast, it’s becuase I’m working on the midah of Zerizus”.
Again, I doubt if items a kiosk like this would ever end up in a mall, but I’d love to work there and I’d be smiling big time if someone came over to ask if we sold hammers, as a reference to this Mussar exercise.

Sunday’s Spark of Mussar

The Chofetz Chaim once asked R’ Yisroel’s advice about a well know problem of yeshiva students. When they begin a new tractrate, they are enthusiastic, but when they reach the middle, they lose their patience and their desire to continue learning it to the end.

R’ Yisroel replied, “Let them learn a tractrate as long as they wish. After that, they can turn to a different tractrate, and on another, until they have satisfied their thirst for different tractrates. Then they can return to the first one and eventually complete all the tractrates they have begun.”

From Sparks of Mussar by R Chaim Ephraim Zaitchik

Old Navy, Home Depot, and Novardok?

Commenting on the Novardok mussar exercises (see Moment 2 here) designed to work on humility, Rafi G wrote:

I can see how it would humble a person, but isn’t it some sort of chillul Hashem (maybe that category is extreme for this case) or something that Jews are looking so foolish and stupid walking into a hardware store and asking to buy clothes? Doesn’t it make Jews look foolish? I have a hard time believing there is really such an important benefit of humility gained that can justify the overall bad light in which it portrays Jews, and specifically yeshiva students.

This chillul Hashem factor seems to be a big one, I admit. This quote might clear things up about the Alter of Novardok’s methods:
Rav Yosef Yoizel also formulated a special program aimed at helping students break their negative character traits and acquire new ones. This program consisted of various exercises designed to provide students with “spiritual courage”, a courage that would imbue them with the confidence to do whatever was needed to promote Yiddishkeit despite any deterrents that would arise. One such exercise called for them to act strangely in public, so that people would ridicule them. For this exercise, bochurim from the Novardok yeshiva would enter a shop and ask for a product not sold there, such as watermelons in a drugstore or screws in a bakery. (Originally found in the Yated, posted online here)

In essence, we see that the plan was to instill a feeling that no matter what an individual or society might think, if I can act in a way that doesn’t make me feel embarrassed, the better off I am.

I don’t think we had a situation where a yeshiva student would go into Old Navy asking where the power drills are, and then insisting that the store really does carry them in stock. I have always thought it was more like a student or two going into store or shack “A” that sold hardware and asking if they carried any fresh bread. After being told, “No”, the yeshiva student would say, “Oh, my mistake. I must be confused. Have a nice day.”

There is a great book titled BEYOND THE SUN (long out of print) by R David Zaritzky (who studied in Novardok and also with the Chofetz Chaim in Radin). I had heard about the book in 1991 and found a copy 15 years later. Sadly, I loaned it out and somehow didn’t get it back. The book itself is viewed as a fictional account of the the Novardok system and has several profiles of the Alter and other key figures in the Novardok movement. As I recall, it discusses this same issue, focusing on this idea that a student in Novardok was trained not to be embarrassed by serving Hashem and doing what was right against the various anti-Torah movements of the time.

This whole exercise could have been viewed as a chillul Hashem, as Rafi suggests. At the time, though, most yeshiva students were getting a bad rap from the Maskillim. That’s part of the reason that in Slabdoka there was an emphasis on one’s clothes looking fit and proper (it might also have been a reaction to Novardok’s emphasis on most things non-materialistic).

Either way, today, I think most of us fall somewhere in the middle. We want to be Avdai Hashem and have the strength to be a Torah Jew in all situations, yet also want to give Klal Yisrael a “good name”. I try to stay away from chillul Hashem as much as I can, to the point recently, when we went on a family outing I was against bringing saltine cracker because of the crumbs that are left when the kids eat them. Maybe, I’m taking it a little too far?

My favorite/least favorite Chofetz Chaim moshel

The Chofetz Chaim said over the following moshel:
A successful business owner once ran into a friend who had, also, been succcessful, but recently his business had gone under. The fellow who’s business had suffered asked his friend, “Would you be able to lend me a thousand rubles?”
The wealthy man said, “That is an extremely large amount of money to lend out.”
The now poor man said, “I know, I know. It’s just that I heard about an amazing business investment and I know that if I can get in at the bottom floor I can regain my lost fortune.”
Well, after some more discussion the one thousand rubles were loaned out. They agreed that after one year the money would be repaid. The former business tycoon took the money home and put it away in a drawer and left it alone.
One year later, a knock on the door brings these two men together again. Our wealthy business owner comes by to collect is thousand rubles. His friend opens up the drawer and gives back the money.
The wealthy examines the money he is given and is strartled. He notices that it’s the exact same money, down to the order it was given in. He exclaims, “What kind of joke is this? You begged me to help you invest in a business that would yeld a great fortune. You just took the money and put it away. You blew an unbelievable opportunity.”
We are all given an opporutnity to make an investment for a given amount of time in this world. We have countless investments that we can make with our neshamos. Imagine how Hashem feels when we do not use the gives he has given us…so says the Chofetz Chaim.
I love this moshel and, yet, it is my least favorite moshel to read or think about. In truth, I’ve been thinking about it all month. It speaks to my neshama and, yet, I can’t stand it. It hits way to close to home, and that’s the problem. It’s like that friend you really don’t want to see because he sees through your schtick and excuses for not tapping into your potential.
As I look back I see certain ways that I have grown. I also, more clearly, see opportunities missed, chances not taken. My wife and I spoke last night about the idea of regrets and choices we’ve made. There are always “what ifs” about certain decisions we make. What’s more difficult to face is when you are in a situation and the question is “what now”?
I know that I am truly blessed to be exactly were I am in life, right now. Yet, I wonder if I have used the ‘rubles’ given to me wisely? This kind of thinking can get one down, I know. Then I look at this this Norman Rockwell print (my father actually gave me a lithograph of this print back in 1988) titled “BLANK CANVAS”.
For me, it’s great mussar. All the tools are there: the paint and the paper. There’s even a stack of sketches for possible illustrations. The choice is up to the artist. The choice is up to me. What do I want to create this year for the King of Kings? What is my mindset or my attitude?
Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude.Thomas Jefferson
I thank you for reading and I wish you and your family a K’siva V’Chasima Tova. May we all have a year of inspiration, simcha, and Geulah!