Category Archives: Elul

Holden Caulfield and the lack of observance

Note:  A few of the thoughts and ideas that make up this post have been sitting in my Blogger Dashboard since 08/09/06, after I sent an email to someone regarding banned seforim and authors.

I heard on CBS radio that J.D. Salinger had died.  As a former fan of fiction, avid reader of THE NEW YORKER, and someone who thought, once upon a time, of going into writing,  I had to pause and give some thought to Mr. Salinger and, of course, The Catcher in the Rye.  The primary thing that comes to mind whenever I think about The Catcher in the Rye is the fact that, sometimes, it takes just one written work to make an impact.  Culturally, this book was one of the first written works to speak to and about teenage life in post World War II America.  As often noted, while the book was intended for adults, many young adults felt that it spoke to them and reflected their feelings of alienation.  It was published in 1951 and banned very quickly due to language, adult situations, promotion of smoking and alcohol drinking, etc.   The book continues to be banned.

Even though I attended what was know as a “top” public school in Kansas, this book was never required reading.  In fact, it wasn’t until I was 22 (summer of 1992) that I first read it.  Holden Caulfield, the main character, was a mouthy teen who had been expelled from four schools and was rather discontent with society, adults, and especially people who were “phony”.  Holden saw the hypocrisy within his society and in many of the people he encountered.  In many ways, not so different from some individuals that would be labeled as “at-risk” or “in-risk”.

One of my favorite quotes (of all time) can be found in chapter two.  Holden says, “People never notice anything”.  I have always thought this to mean that Holden felt that people didn’t understand him and that they were not even willing to attempt to understand him.  It is that lack of observance (not the Torah u’Mitzvos kind), that feeling that we are not important and what we say doesn’t matter that can often lead to a lack of observance (yes, the Torah u’Mitzvos kind).  Most people want to be recognized and valued.  When parents, teachers, family members or the community give the impression that someone isn’t important or “worth the time” it can have a devastating effect on a person.  Of course, when a teen or adult gets to the point that they even contemplate the idea that Hashem forgets about them, then we get into a situation that might bring about that lack of observance.

“People never notice anything,” is a mindset that seems to go against many Jewish values.  Part of the reason I like the quote is because I see how it resonates with many people.  That’s I attempt to notice things.  I try the be first to wish others a “Good Shabbos Kodesh” or give a “Yashar Koach”.  I attempt to take an interest in what is going on in my life of those around me.   Lately I have become keenly aware of when people have a birthday coming up (mostly thanks to Facebook).  To simply ask someone how they are doing, but not push beyond the answer they give is really going only half the distance.

I know this personally, because friends will ask me how I’m doing, and my first reaction is to say, “everything is fine”.  Mostly I do this because R Yisrael Lipkin (Salanter) held that “one’s face is a Reshus HaRabim”, a public area (I believe the story goes that he saw someone looking obviously very serious during Elul and commented to this person, that showing distress might bring others down, as well).  I’m slowly realizing that if a good friend asks how I’m doing, the they do deserve a better answer than, “fine”.  This is sort of like R Dessler’s idea that even though we want to be givers and not takers, sometimes you can be a taker, like when someone really wants to give you a gift, and by taking you are giving to that over person.

“People never notice anything,” just isn’t true.  It’s easy to think that, in the big picture, our actions don’t really make a difference.  I fall into this mentality quite often as of late.  Usually, it’s really before I’m about to do something nice for someone or prior to actually making a difference.  If a novel, movie, song, or other aspect of what’s called “pop culture” speaks to our youth, I think, for myself, that it is important to find out why.  If you meet a teenager and they are into an author or a musical artist then there’s something (even if it’s completely off base) that “speaks” to that person.  This isn’t meant as an academic critique of Mr. Salinger’s book, but I’ve often wondered to myself, “What if Holden had felt that an adult understood him?”  Had that been the case, we would have had a very different story.

Feeling Elul’s pull

(Picture found here)

Am I feeling it?  Sort of.

For those who attempt to grow closer to Hashem and work on their Avodah these weeks of Elul, before Rosh Hashana have a momentum of their own.

Part of me doesn’t want to accept the responsiblity that it’s actually Elul.  It’s time to come to terms with all that I haven’t done during the past year, the wasted potential.  Still, part of me loves this time of year.  I remember phone calls and conversations with my mother-in-law a”h during this time of year.  She would always quote the Rav Shneur Zalman of Liadi (the first Lubavitcher Rebbe) and say, “The King is in the field”.

I often think of the words of the Alter of Slabodka:
We come now from the material vacation to the spiritual vacation: From the months of Tammuz and Av in the forests and the fields to the months of Elul and Tishrei in the house of the yeshiva. What distinguishes that vacation from this vacation? We know, of course, that just as that vacation is essential to fortify the body, so too this other one is necessary to heal the soul. Even more so, for all are sick vis a vis Elul…” as written in the diary of R Avrohom Eliyahu Kaplan z”tl (available here).

It’s the realization that I must come to terms with many things and the excitement of rebirth.  While people are planning out their Yom Tov meals, others are already looking out for the simanim, and still others are quietly jotting down their own Chesbon HaNefesh.  I’m somewhere in between “going from day to day” and “getting ready to face the King”.

It’s that gravitational pull of Elul.  It is inescapable and it calls me.  And like Shabbos, which I can’t imaging how I survived prior to keep it, I can’t image what my year would be like now, without an Elul.

What I gained from jury duty

I had jury duty a few weeks ago. While I’m all for doing my part to help our country’s legal system, I also figured it would be a good time to make some progress in a few things that I have been learning. As I was trying to decide what reading material to take with me I ended up with really two choices: Rambam’s Hilchos Teshuva or the second volume of Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh. I was already on the 6th chapter of Hilchos Teshuva (I usually start learning it a few days before Elul, and sadly, in 12 years I have only finished it 3 times) and was on the 3rd chapter of the Bilvavi.

As I was past the half-way mark with Hilchos Teshuva I opted to bring that sefer. Arriving in the jury room and 9:30 am and remaining there until past 4:00pm (no, I wasn’t picked to be a juror) gave me ample time to really jump into the Rambam in a way that was much more fullfilling than my past attempts. The time also allowed me to look around at my fellow civic-minded citizens of Chicago and see what they were doing.

Many were reading, watching movies on laptops or their smartphones, listening to music, taking naps, and taking naps. One “youth minister” seated close to me was working Sunday school lesson plans. He actually asked me about “Joseph’s relationship with his brothers”. All the while, the words of a very wise and close friend of mine, echoed in my mind, “How we use our free time really defines the type of person that we are”.

I was very glad that I had chosen to attempt to learn. That gladness was supercharged when I read the following from the 10th chapter (halacha 2) of Hilchos Teshuva:

Anyone who serves out of love and occupies himself with Torah and mitzvot and follows the ways of wisdom should not do so for any earthly reason[s] or out of fear of the curses or to receive the blessings, but should fulfil the truth because it is the truth. Out of this he will receive goodness. This level is a very high one, and not every wise person attains it. This is the level of Abraham the Patriarch, whom God called His `friend’, for the reason that he served God solely out of love. This is a level which God commanded, via Moses, us [to attain], as it is written, “And you shall love the Lord your God”. Once a person loves God appropriately, he will fulfil the commandments out of love.

While probably obvious to most, I was amazingly joyful to read the words of the Rambam.  As I had almost reached the intersection between Cheshbon HaNefesh and “will my Teshuva be enough this year”, I found was reminded by the words of the Rambam something that I had forgotten along the way.  Advodas Hashem m’Ahava is really the best path to take.  As I reflect on this, it makes perfect sense.  I know that I’m more touched when my own children listen and do what is expected of them because they love me, instead of because they fear what might happen to them if they don’t.  Again, it’s a simple thought, but one that I needed to be reminded of.

As I go into the Yom HaDin, I’ll attempt to put a lot more Ahava into my Avodah! 

Kesiva v’chasima tova!

The derech of the reverse Gingerbread Man mentality

“Run, run, run as fast you can!
You can’t catch me,
I’m The Gingerbread Man!”

Recently while returning a copy of the Gingerbread Man to the library I skimmed through the book. It had been years since I had heard/read the story. I, at first, felt bad for the the Gingerbread Man. He wants to live a life of freedom, like other human beings. He makes a great escape and after a furious chase he eventually ends up being eaten by a fox.

Maybe its just a feeling of being out of sorts lately or the excitement/responsibilty of Elul, but I can see myself (at times) as a Gingerbread Man…of sorts.  What I mean is that the Gingerbread Man makes the mistake of thinking that he is meant for something greater than his potential.  He tries to fight the natural outcome of being a Gingerbread Man.  Despite some couragous antics and thinking that a fox will save him, his destity or Divine Providence is to be eaten.  His nature, that of being a cookie to be enjoyed with a bracha before and after, is the sole purpose of his existance.

There are times that I’ve gotten trapped into the reverse mentality of the Gingerbread Man.  While he, in his crispy-on-the-outside-and-soft-on-the-inside-greatness doesn’t realize that to go beyond the limits of his potential is futile, I can count the times that I have limited my own potenial own based on what I think that I cannot achieve.  When I think about what I could have done at several key points in my life I know that the only thing that stopped me was…me.

As an aside, it’s interesting that the story of the Gingerbread Man, passed down from generation to generation is still the story of a Gingerbread Man.  Perhaps women have a better self view of their potenial and roles in life than we men do.  I know that my wife married me because she saw my potential, not the warped view of Gingerbread Man, who saw what he wasn’t instead of what he was.

Small Mussar Moments

Moment 1One morning, several weeks ago, I got a practical lesson in zerizus thanks to my 5 yr old daughter. She decided to read at the table instead of eating her cereal. When she “decided” to actually eat, her cereal was now soggy. She started crying because her “cereal was ruined for life, Abba, for life!”
I was taken back by the obvious mussar lesson. If something like cereal can be “ruined” by simply not choosing to eat it at the right time, then how much more can the opportunity to get close to Hashem be lost by not acting at the right time.

Moment 2
For some time now, my wife and I have been looking into purchasing
Nok Hockey for the family. I had found two different national sporting goods chains that advertised it online. Going into both chains on the way home from work, I asked several employees where I could find the item. In both stores, I was given blank stares. It seemed that no one had ever heard of Nok Hockey. I had to explain exactly what the item looked like and how it was used. Again, this didn’t ring a bell. In the end, I went to the manager of each store and was told that it must be an “online item only”.

This reminded me of the exercises that students of the Novardhok school of mussar would partake in. They would often go into hardware stores and ask to purchase clothes, or go into clothing store and ask to purchase bread. These exercises were used to work on negating any trace of guy’vah (haughtiness). After these frustrating attempts, we resorted to eBay.

Moment 3
In the Hirhurim Parashah Roundup: Vayechi 5768 by Steve Brizel there was a link to an idea based on a teaching of R Shlomo Woble z”tl. If found these passages to be most interesting, as I have been trying to isolate some of my better traits lately.
“The Mashgiach said in the name of his rebbi, Rav Yerucham Levovitz z”l, that every person possesses an underlying middah, and if he would be cognizant of that middah he would be able to perfect himself. He elaborated that every person is born with one complete character trait, and through utilizing this trait to its fullest potential, one is able to perfect his character.

What is the way that we can become familiar with our underlying character trait? When the Mashgiach was asked, he answered, “If one would keep a daily accounting of the traits that arise in every given situation, after a few weeks he will be able to tell which trait manifests itself most often.”
If we can make an effort to recognize our strengths and weakness, after just a short while we might be able to transform the way we relate to the situations that arise on a daily basis.

This idea of recording when those traits some up has really helped me. I have been keeping a record of several traits that pop up in my daily actions and have taken time to recall them during my nightly Cheshbon HaNefesh. Then I added some ideas that I read from A Simple Jew’s conversation with his Rebbe that has only clarified things for me.

Moment 4
This past Sunday we went to an indoor sportsfest. One of the many sponsors for this event happened to be Adidis. They had a massive booth with a lot of sports activities for kids. The center attraction was the massive truck and trailer with their new ad campaign plastered everywhere, “Impossible Is Nothing”. My wife spied it from across the room and said, “Neil, you have to go check that out.”

More an a witty play on words, “Impossible Is Nothing” instantly reminded me of one of my favorite quotes from the Alter of Novhardok, R Yosef Yozel Hurwitz:
I never thought about whether I could do something, but only about whether I had to do it. And if something must be done, then Hashem will give the means of doing it.
Often times I fell that the only limit to what I can accomplish is the limit that I personally set for myself. This same quote from the Alter of Novhardok was recently expanded on in a post by Dixie Yid here.

Moment 5
Last week while driving home I saw the following sign in front of a non-Kosher restaurant, “Before you make your resolution, make your reservation”. I found it almost humorous, but this really showed me the greatness of Yiddishkeit. Do you ever hear a Rav in a shul or a Rebbe in a yeshiva telling people to go ahead and commit all the aveiros you want to in Elul, because you can do Teshuva? The secular world tends to tell people that you should do what makes you feel happy and worry about tomorrow, well, tomorrow. Really, they are speaking to the guf.

Our style of communication should be different, we should, in theory, address the neshama first. Maybe the sign should have said, “Make a reservation to make a resolution”, putting thought into what you want to change is only the first step. Bring it into action is the second. Mussar to myself, as usual.


We all have them. Some of them are good, others are not so good. Some manifest themselves as traits, middos (tov v’ra), and personality quarks. Here are a couple of examples of habits that I’ve taken note of over the past few months:

1. We spent about a month before Rosh Hashana trying (with success in the end) to de-Crocify our son. He spent a fun filled summer wearing his Crocs almost every day. While we were happy to see him enjoying them, the downside is that once you start wearing Crocs your foot feels very confined in anything else (I will attest to this). Throughout Elul he had been wearing his new Shabbos/Yom Tov shoes around the house so that he can get use to them. At first there was great resistance. “They are not a comfortable as my Crocs”, was a common line from him. With patience and effort he successfully wore ‘regular’ shoes all Rosh Hashanah without too many complaints (only to relish in the fact that he could rock his Crocs on Yom Kippur). I realized during the month that were letting him get use to his Shabbos shoes, that some habits are easier to break with when attacking them in small doses (like slowly chiseling away at something bit by bit). This technique is used in popular Shemiras Ha’Lashon programs, where in individual makes a commitment not to speak Lashon Horah from a set amount of time.

2. Recently we stayed with my brother-in-law, his family, and their two dogs. My one year old Uberbaby daughter was not to hip to the dogs at all. For the first 5 days she could cry if a dog came near her. We debated about what to do to get her acclimated to the pets. At first we tried to get her to pet them and sit next to them. Well, she happens to be a pretty fast crawler and is becoming a confident walker, too. So we then opted to do nothing. We simply allowed her to get use to seeing us interact with the dogs and go about our business. Within, as I wrote, 5 days, her fear was gone. She would pet them and even give them her food. This approach of breaking a habit by watching others set an example happens to be one of the most effective middos management tools used both in chinuch and more importantly, in the home.

3. I do a lot of our grocery shopping. Usually, I’ll pick up non-food items at one store and then get actual food at one of several stores in the area. Because of time constraints prior to the Yom Tovim this year I found myself doing massive shopping at one store that has both non-food, food, and extensive kosher deli/bakery/take-out as well (if you live in Chicago, the name of the store happens to rhyme with the word cool) and it seemed to take forever. I was very frustrated by this. Mostly by the fact that I wasn’t so familiar with all the aisles and where certain products were. I was in the habit of not knowing my way around the store.

After Yom Kippur I was reading an article in Fast Company (one of my favorite websites and mags) about Design Thinking and I realized that I could use the concepts behind design thinking to help me with my grocery shopping issue. In brief, if you haven’t read the entire article yet, the ideas behind Design Thinking are:

  1. Define the problem
  2. Create and consider many options
  3. Refine selected directions
  4. Pick the winner, execute

Applying the steps of Design Thinking to spending less time in a particular grocery store might look like this:

  1. The problem is that I don’t know my way around
  2. My options might be that I could study a map of the store, do more shopping there, spend my lunch hour walking around the store to see where things are, or just not change a thing
  3. Doing more shopping there might help, but the learning curve will be slow. I like the idea of spending my lunch hour there. The extra exercise wouldn’t hurt me.
  4. I started walking around the store and I feel like I have a better grasp of which aisle I can find things like: plastic wrap, flour, rubbing alcohol, chullent beans, and toothpaste.

One cool thing about the first step (Define the problem) is that it really make you think. At first glance, it might seem like the problem was that grocery shopping took to long. That’s really not the problem. The problem was that I didn’t know my way around the store.
The Design Thinking approach can also help with things like anger. Why do we get angry? Usually it seems on the surface to be for different reasons. I’ll use the example that happens to me. I get upset or angry sometimes when my son doesn’t do something right away when I ask him (of course this is only a reflection of the same lacking on my own part). But that’s not the real reason I get angry. I was zoche to be in Woodmere, NY to hear Rav Moshe Weinberger’s 2005 Shabbos Shuva drasha at Aish Kodesh (totally rainy night, thunderstorms, and over 1000 people showed up). The following is based on my own notes:

Why do we scream and get angry? When we miss the train or when your wife burns the kugel. Why do you yell at your kid? You yell at your kid for not cleaning his room. For something like not looking in the zemiros book? That is what kids do. Rav Kook says the source of your anger is with yourself, because you can’t control yourself. It’s not due to the people that are trying to be good to you and love you.

In my case, the emes is that I get upset because I feel that what I ask to be done should be done right away. It’s guyvahdik, plain and simple. Rav Kook’s words seem to imply that it’s all about a lack of self control. Either we feel that we need to be in control or we simple have no control over our anger.

If anyone has any ideas about dealing with habits, I’d love to hear them. Thanks for reading.


I don’t really care for either, yet as I think about myself on Rosh Chodesh Elul, I can see times in the past year when I have acted both like an Observabot and a Deceptijew.

The Observabots tend to do things by rote. While mitzvah observance is a major aspect of their life, it usually is laking in Simcha shel Mitzvah.

The Deceptijews are really not much better. While on the surface they seem fairly observant, it’s really just chitzionius or an external show of Yiddishkeit.

It’s hard to pick the lesser of the two evils. Take your average Observabot. He/She might make brachos, daven, and be involved in learning (even by plugging into the mainframe). It can be done without feeling and introspection, yet the actions are taking place.

Now, with your average Deceptijew, it’s a little tricky. The actions are there, for show. What happens in public might not be the same in their own home. There is hope, that eventually the chitzionius will bring a level of internal grown.

As I wrote at the outset, I can recall times over the past year when I showed aspects of both of the Tranformations. I’m not please with this realization, but coming to terms with it is, I hope, a start.

The funny thing is that even beneath the Observabots and the Deceptijews is a neshama that wants to be an Eved Hashem. Regardless of the areas that I know I am lacking in my own Avodas Hashem, I have a desire to truly be an Eved. Parhaps there is “more that meets the eye”.
Gut Chodesh!

Frumkeit, Changes, and Rav Dessler

A recent article titled “Frum or Ehrlich” was written by Dr. Yitzchok Levine. I printed it before Rosh Hashana and over Yom Tov I probably read it four different times. I urge you to take a look at it and give it some thought. I hope to blog about it more in the future. It’s pdf-alicious (yes, this is a term that I use outside of the blogosphere). Here’s a sample:

The Difference Between Frum and Ehrlich
Years ago the highest compliment that one could give to a Jew was not that he or she is frum, but that he or she is ehrlich. The term frum is perhaps best translated as “religious.” More often than not it focuses on the external aspects of observance. It describes a person whose outward appearance and public actions apparently demonstrate a commitment to religious observance. The categorization of someone as being ehrlich, literally “honest,” implies that this person is not only committed to the externalities of
religious observance, but also is concerned about how his or her religious observance impacts upon others. Frumkeit is often primarily concerned only with the mitzvos bein odom laShem (between man and G-d), whereas ehrlichkeit, while certainly concerned with bein odom laShem, also focuses on bein odom l’odom (those mitzvos that govern inter-personal relationships.)

As I’ve read and re-read this article I’ve been thinking about my own behavior at times. During Aseres Yemei Teshuvah I’m pretty hardcore about changing a lot of things. In the end, I usually end up changing very little. What small things that I attempt to change usually end up happening after Yom Kippur. During the days before Yom Kippur and certainly afterwards we all try to be a little better. Some of us stay on target, others, like myself, fall short.

I attempt to: watch less TV, start attending a new shiur, stop staying up late for blogging-related-activites, be more productive at home, show my kids that what they have to say is of the upmost importance to me, listen to my wife more, let my kids be ‘kids’ and not prototypes for some sort of midos-management-utopian-ideal-Invasion of the Body Snatchers-chinuch manifesto that I have cooking in my head like a chulent gone bad. As I look back over the past week, I really didn’t get too far.
But with any change in myself I run the risk of appearing to some as ‘to frum’ at the possible expense of not being ‘ehrlich’. There will always be those that will point out behavioral inconstanties in our actions and say, “You think you’re frummer than everyone else” or “You didn’t act this way during Elul, why change now”. More often than not, it’s not people who say this to us, but what we tell ourselves or what our Yetzer Hara tells us.

Sefer Hachinuch says something amazing, that man is molded by his actions (found in Mitzvah #16). This means that if we chose to behave in a certain manner, even externally before internally, then we are molded into that manner or direction. This touches on the topic of metoch shelo lishmah bo lishmah (from doing something not for its own sake one comes to do the thing for its own sake)- Pesachim 50b.

Rabbi Aryeh Carmell zt’l was nifter a few days before Rosh Hashana. This hit me very hard. I never had an opportunity to meet him, but he opened my eyes, heart, mind, and neshama to the world and thought of Rav Dessler. The way he conveyed Rav Dessler’s writing was a major influence in my development and made me realize that following halacha is only one aspect of being a Torah Observant Jew. The English version of Michtav Me’Eliyahu actually discusses the topic I’m blogging about. I’ll quote directly from what Rabbi Carmell writes in Volume I page 97:
How does shelo lishmah lead to lishmah? This is by no mean obvious, nor is it always the case. Not every shelo lishmah leads to lishmah. One knows people who start learning for ulterior motives and remain with them for the rest of their lives.
Our illustrious forebear, the great and saintly Rabbi Simcha Zissel Sieff of blessed memory, used to say that the transformation can take place only if one intends right from the beginning that it shall lead to lishmah. If our main aim and ambition is to achieve a pure and unselfish mode of service to Hashem and we make use of the shelo lishmah to ease our struggle against the yetzer hara, then we stand a good chance of eventually arriving at the stage of lishmah. [But if we start off without a glimmer of lishmah, only desiring the shelo lishmah for its own sake, how can our shelo lishmah actions ever lead us to lishmah? In the spiritual life one arrive only at the destination one intended in the first place.]
It seems that what we and others might view as hypocracy or outwardly inconsistant behavior might not be so bad if we have actual goals towards avodah Hashem. Maybe changing isn’t so hard, with Hashem’s help.
POSTSCRIPT: I’ve realized after blogging for over six months that it’s unnervingly easy to share certain things about myself via my blog. Things that I would, pre-Blogger, only share with close friends. As I enter Yom Kippur I can only daven that I will be able to actualize the words of Tehillim (19:15) May the expressions of my mouth and the thoughts of my heart find favor before You, Hashem, my Rock and my Redeemer, as easily as I open up my web browser to the Blogger Dashboard.

Skateboarding, reflecting, and Rosh Hashanah

A few weeks ago, on Labor Day, my family met up with a few other families for a barbeque at a park in the northern suburbs of Chicago. This park has plenty of room to run, a baseball diamond, and great climbing equipment. If that wasn’t enough, this park also had, as an added bonus,a skateboard park. I couldn’t resist bring my old skateboard with me (along with my helmet, which is a must for chinuch purposes).
After eating, I decided to bring out my old skateboard. Now, I’m not a big-time skateboarder. In high school I skated a few pools, but mostly I sticked to parking lots and the street. I mastered the ollie and a few other basic moves, but now I’m happy just pushing myself around a bit. With all this said, I proceed to skate over to the park. It wasn’t too crowded. Only half a dozen real skaters. I was, for sure, the oldest one around. I was also the only guy who brought his kids. I pushed around a little and thought about going down a steep ramp. I was all hyped up to skate. I remembered the thrill, the rush, the adrenaline of going down a ramp. I use to find it exhilarating. As I stood atop a ramp, skateboard under my feet, I stopped. I also remembered seeing (and feeling) the battle wounds of skateboarding.
I got off the ramp. I couldn’t do it. I looked at the other skaters and jumped off. I choose a tiny ramp (more of a metal foothill) and went down, ending with a perfect 360 (balancing on the back wheels and spining in circle). The potenial injury from a big ramp seemed more important that recapturing my youth or looking cool to my children. What if something happened? My family couldn’t afford for me to get hurt. I have responsibilities. It just wasn’t shiach (germane or pertainent) for me. I realized that I had outgrown the thrill. I remembered the thrill of learning the first Rashi on Chumash when I was 18. Now, that was a real rush!
What was part of my youth held no real interest for me anymore. I had outgrown it. I had exercised my free will. The urge to skateboard really wasn’t a component in who I really am, or where I need to headed. I have more important responsibilites to my family, to myself, and to my creator. I was never such a great skater to begin with. I thought about what things excite me now, and how my children will model my behavior. I began to think about other behaviors and habits that have stuck with me over the years. Maybe, with Hashem’s help, I’ll be able to realize that it’s time to outgrow a few more things.
Shabbos night, later that week I attended a tish by Rabbi Michel Twerski (from Milwaukee). It was amazing! Rav Michel had beautiful things to say which helped clarify my thoughts about responsibilites and choices. I’ll share two ideas of the Rabbi’s:
1) He spoke about how important it is that we show true simcha shel mitzvah. Even if you can’t If not for for our own neshamas, then for the sake of our children. Memories of parents who loved performing mitzvos are images that will last a lifetime.
2) Rav Michel also spoke about Elul and Rosh Hashanah. Rav Michel said that usually we are concentrating on what we’ve been doing wrong all year and how to improve ourselves. The ikar (main point) might be that we need to look at all of the brachos that our creator has given us. He said that we each have talents (music, art, writing, etc.) and we need to remember that those talents are brachos from Hashem and should be regarded as such. In truth, we have a responsibiltiy to access those talents for Avodas Hashem. This is what we need to think about when we approach judgement on Rosh Hashanah.
Then I heard what Rabbi David Orlofsky said last week in Chicago, as part of an Ohr Somayach Yom Iyun (along with Rabbi Akiva Tatz and Rabbi Berel Wein). My wife was fortunate enought to attend. She came home with tapes of the event for me to listen to (thanks, Mrs. Uberdox). The following was something that Rabbi Orlofsky said that also tied into what Rav Michel had mentioned:
We often think of Rosh Hashanah as the Day of Judgement, when Hashem opens up the books of life and death. When Hashem, who knows everything will examine our deeds. There is only one reason that we have a day of judgement, because Hashem knows that we are capable of greatness. If we set the bar really low then we don’t expect that much from ourselves. Hashem says to us each Rosh Hashanah, “You are someone great. You are capable of greatness.”Tonight, thanks to the Chicago Community Kollel, I heard Rabbi Frand speak. Thanks to my wife for letting me go. The title of his drasha was “Painting your masterpiece.” His message was very similar to that of Rav Michel and Rabbi Orlofsky (do you see a theme here)…find your potential and mission in life. I took some notes and will post what he said very soon. One thing I’ll share now is that:
At Neilah the last thing we ask mehilah for is stealing? The Ger Rebbe says Hashem gave us assets and talents and if we don’t use them we’re stealing.
I hope that over the Yomin Noraim I am able to break free of my own limitations and attempt to walk a little closer to my potential using the talents that Hashem has given me.
Kesiva V’Chasima Tova and my we all have a year of bracha, shalom, and simcha!

How Not to Say Selichos

The following was emailed to me as part of the Rabbi Yisrael Salatner Daily e-list compiled by Prof. Yitzchok Levine, and is being posted with permission from Prof. Levine:

Given that Ashkenazim begin saying Selichos this Sunday, I think that the piece below is particularly apropo at this time of year.
From pages 215 to 216 of the Mussar Movement, Volume 1, Part 2.
He [Rabbi Salanter] would point to many such object lessons [where people harm others while doing a mitzvah] in every day life:

It is customary at the end of the month of Elul and during the Ten Days of Penitence to rise in the middle of the night or very early inthe morning for the Selichot services. In their eagerness to perform the mitzvah, people commitmany misdeeds.
It is not infrequent for an energetic individual to make so much noise in rising from bed that he wakes his entire household and even the neighbors.
Sometimes there are sick people or infants in the vicinity, and his behavior causes them pain and suffering.
One individual might even have the housemaid rise and make tea for him. In most cases, she is a widow or orphan, and so he transgresses the prohibition, “You shall notafflict any widow or fatherless child.”
In his haste he pours dirty water in a place where people pass by, and so he sets an obstacle in a public domain.
When he enters the synagogue; he might discover that his lectern has been moved from its place.
He reprimands the shamash, and in this instance he is guilty of slander and publicly shaming his neighbor.
Sometimes the one who has moved his lectern is a full-time student who has been awake all night engrossed in Torah study, and the owner now inflicts grief and humiliation upon a Talmid Chacham.

And so R. Israel enumerated seven grave transgressions one is liable to commit in this instance, yet remain sublimely unaware of having done anything wrong and derive smug self-satisfaction from his fervent prayerand sincere repentance, blissfully unconscious tha this loss outweighs his gain.
Earlier issues of The Daily Salanter are at