Category Archives: Dessler

55th Yartzeit of Rav Dessler

Tonight marks the 55th Yartzeit of Rav Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler.  I could write a lengthly post about Rav Dessler and the impact that Michtav Me’Eliyahu has had and continues to have on this blogger, but I won’t.

Firstly, at this point, I don’t feel that I can do justice to the memory of Rav Dessler.  Secondly, as important as the Torah was that was taught by Rav Dessler, the example he set by being a ba’al Mussar might even outflank the galdlus of his writings.  He lived in an era when teaching Torah wasn’t just confined to the walls of the yeshiva or classroom.  Torah was who he was.  There was no issues of guy’vah or kavod when it came to Rav Dessler, only anavah.  Maybe it had to do with his chinuch and his family history (he was a great-great-grandson of R Yisrael Salanter)?  I tend to think that back then kavod wasn’t what mattered.  What mattered was what you had learned and how you applied that learning.

This example is from the wonderful biography of Rav Dessler by R Yononson Rosenblum:

Sunday morning, the day of the levayah [for his wife], Rabbi Dessler was found polishing his shoes.  Rabbi Dessler explained, “She was always meticulous that my clothes shoudl be spotless before I left the house, and now I’m fulfilling her will.” (based on a page 340)

It wasn’t just that that was the way he and his wife were taught in Kelm.  It was the way his wife wanted him to be.  That the image you project on the outside is only a reflection of the inside.  Maybe that is the emes that Rav Dessler taught us to strive for.

Has anyone ever heard recordings of Rav Dessler?

In the Artscroll biography, Rav Dessler, R Yonason Rosenblums writes:

Rabbi Dessler even sought to tape his shiurim in Ponevezh Yeshiva and send the tapes back to England.  The idea of a tape recorder in the beis medresh, however, was still novel in those days, and he was advised not to do so. (Page 312)

I, however, am curious, if anyone out there has ever heard or even owns recordings of Rav Dessler?  I was once told that recordings were made at one point.  I’ve seen hand written letters and shiurim he has sent talmidim, but it would be amazing to actually hear a recording of Rav Dessler.

Ice cold chessed

At work we have fabulous ice trays in the freezer. They make really nice big ice cubes, perfect for iced coffee. I have noticed that some people use ice and others don’t. Some who use the ice will, sometimes, refill the ice cube trays, while others don’t seem to bother. One of the fundamental teachings of R Dessler was that people, at their essence, are either givers or takers.

Even with ice cubes.

Laugh if you want. It’s only ice, right? However, getting people, especially children, to realized this concept is extremely importantl in character development. I know that when I choose to give, I make everyone around me much happier. Since Purim (a yom tov that contains a mitzvah to give) I have been attempting to teach this concept to my kids. I realized that an easy act of giving was for my 8 yr old son to bring his 6 year old sister her breakfast or dinner from the kitchen to the dining room table and let his sister do the same for him. At first there was some resistance, but eventually both of them have started doing this on their own.

Ice, a smile, a kind word, or even a bowl of cereal makes a difference.

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.

The power of Ratzon…

… or the great escape.

Friday morning my wife and I woke up to our 21 month old uber-daughter yelling, “Out! Out!”. We then heard a thump, some crying and a door open. I got out of bed and when into the hallway to find our daughter out and about.
I found our two older children playing and asked them, “Did you take your sister out of the crib?”
They both answered in the negative.

I looked at our toddler and said, “Did (insert name of brother here) take you out of the crib?”

She said, “No.”

“Did (insert name of sister here) take you out of the crib?”

Again, “No.”

“Who took you out of the crib?”

She looked at me, raised her right hand up in the air, as if she was in a classroom, and answered, “Me.”

Rav Dessler teaches that ratzon, desire, is the root of all action and that Hashem will help fullfill ones’ ratzon. He gives the example of a a thief who wants to steal something will, with effort, acquire the desired object. Of course, our desire, as Rav Dessler write in Michtav M’ Eliyahu, to grow in closenss to Hashem or work on Middos perfection will also be assisted by Hashem.

In this case, my daughter simply wanted out of her crib. My wife’s desire, latter that morning was for me to lower the mattress in the crib. No more suprise escapes…for now!

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.

Purim: Rethinking Last Year

Last year I posted the following:
I’ve always found in interesting that one can fulfill the mitzvah of shaloch manos with two different types of food that fall under the same bracha (like a can of Coke and some prepared salmon). From a bracha point a view the foods are the same, yet have very different characteristics. Each person is also, on the surface, similar, yet we each have different personalities.

I think the other angle, that both foods can have the same bracha made over them is also worth thinking about. Rabbi Pinchas Stolper, in LIVING BEYOND TIME, quotes a beautiful idea by Rav Hutner z”tl. Rabbi Stolper write (based on Rav Hutner) that “the practice of gift giving and charity is unique to Purim, because it was on Purim that the Jewish people reaccepted the Torah. Unity is a prerequisite to the giving of the Torah. The Torah records that when the Jews prepared to receive the Torah, “Israel camped against Mt. Sinai.” The Hebrew word camped, vayichan, is written in deliberately written in the singular instead of the plural so as to inform us, as Rashi observes, that the Jews assembled at Mt. Sinai “as one man with one heart,” fully united.” (page 264)

Rabbi Stolper points out later that in Megillas Esther (9:23) we have the phrase, “ve’kubale haYehudim la’asos, And the Jews undertook to continue that which they had initally undertaken.” Again, the word ve’kibale is written in the singular. We were again an Am Echad when we reaccepted the Torah in the days of Purim.

This concept of being unified when being given the Torah is so important. IMHO, when it comes to Purim we want to emulate Hashem by giving, as this is one of the most direct ways to attach to Hashem (see Rav Dessler’s Kuntres HaChessed, or Discourse on Loving Kindness). “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). This idea of Rav Dessler’s has recently been “given over” and expanded by the author the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh in the translation of video seven, here (link thanks to Dixie Yid).

Ultimately, by giving to another (especially to someone we are not so close with) we are making a connection. We, in essence are looking past the differences that we have on the surface, no matter if those differences have to do with where we daven, if we daven, what we wear on our heads, or where we send our precious children to get their education. While it’s important to maintain one’s uniqueness within the collective whole, the bigger picture is that it doesn’t matter if it’s a Coke or some salmon we all fall into the same category, that being a Yiddishe Neshama.

A Freilichen Purim to you!

24 of Teves- Rav Dessler’s Yartzeit

Fifty-four years ago Rav Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler z”tl was nifter. I can pretty safely say that his Torah (both the Hebrew of Michtav M’Eliyahu and R Carmell’s translation Strive for Truth) has and continues to be a major influence in my life.

I remember once, while learning in E”Y, spending an afternoon (one of many) with R Moshe Orbach z”tl, one of his Talmidim from England. He showed me a letter of introduction that R Dessler had written him prior to his leaving England to come to America to teach Torah. He kept it in a plastic slip cover and gently hand it to me, like trophy or a fine sculpture. The Hebrew script was beautiful. It was the most artful writing I had ever seen, it seemed to reflect the sh’laymus of the writer.

One of Rav Dessler’s greatest contributions to Hashkafic thought was explaining to the Torah observant world that it is giving that leads us to love, not love that leads us to giving. Rav Dessler, in fact, divided the world into two types of people: Givers and Takers. I find myself constantly thinking about this, as it is a something I, at times, struggle with.

I’d like to share several selections from Jonathan Rosenblum’s biography of Rav Dessler. It is a remarkable work (simply worth the read for the introduction and the few chapters on the Kelm school of mussar):

Each middah with which a person is born, Rabbi Dessler showed, has both its positive and negative side. For instance, man’s innate sense of is own independence, which causes him to rebel against divine commandments and to attribute everything he achieves to his own abilities, also has its positive side. Without that sense of independence, man would lack awareness of his own free will. He could not exercise his bechira (free will)-the very purpose for which he was created. A person’s feeling of independence protects him from despairing of ever being able to change himself. (page 314)

He stressed repairing oneself and only then influencing others. A poem entitled “L’Atzmi- To Myself” expressed his attitude:
To myself I record
in order that I can review the truth I saw
I guard it and remember it…
Is this [guarding for myself] not the outgrowth of self-love?
That is what the superficial view claims. [But the true view is]:
If my heart does not learn, how will it teach?
Only that which goes out from the heart-a heart overflowing its banks-can enter the heart of another. (page 297)
One Friday night, shortly after their marriage, Rabbi Naftoli Friedler and his wife invited Rabbi Dessler for a meal. He noticed that they had only six very cheap knives that would rust easily. Rabbi Dessler came again for dinner, and this time he brought with him six new stainless steel knives. (page 226)

One time, while in New York, Rabbi Dessler when to visit Rabbi Avrohom Yaffen, the Novordhok Rosh Yeshiva, together with Rabbi Naftoli Friedler. As they went through the subway turnstile. Rabbi Friedler heard the subway pulling into the station below and started to run. Rabbi Dessler, however, held him fast. “If it’s not this train, it will be the next one,” he said. “Never do anything in this world with behillus (hurriedly).” (Page 223)

“Sometimes we see with clarity that someone of no great ability succeeds in achieving something of the greatest importance to the entire world,” he writes in one letter. “With what does he succeed to such a degree? Only because no one else understood the importance of that matter. And since he was the only one to come forward, all the joy [of success] falls to his lot.” (page 201)

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Make your own Uberdox Post

Pick a, b, or c and have fun!!

The other day I was ________ and I was reminded about very deep mussar concept that is usually overlooked.
a) thinking about Star Wars
b) listening to an old hardcore punk rock album
c) reading either R Hirsch or R Dessler

Interestingly enough this concept was manifested in something my kids _______ last night before bedtime.
a) did
b) said
c) ate

I was then reminded of a story about ________ that had a profound impact on me when I was becoming Torah observant.
a) R Yisrael Salanter
b) R Nachman of Breslov
c) coffee

The story has to do with how we use our ________ to the best of our abilities.
a) time
b) unique talents
c) free wireless connections

This lesson isn’t really focused on so much in ________, but really starts at home.
a) the yeshiva/day school system
b) most blogs
c) your average kehillah

I guess, in the end, getting to know yourself can be a pretty difficult job. Thanks for reading. An actually post will be popping up soon.