Category Archives: Salanter

R Yisrael Salanter’s insight and patience with others


“Before I started learning Torah, I thought the whole world was deficient except me. After I started learning, I saw that the whole world consisted of sinners including me. Now that I’ve learned some more, I realize I’m a sinner and I must judge the rest of the world favorably.”

“When I first started learning Mussar, I wanted to change the world, but found it was hard to do that, so I tried to change my town.  I couldn’t change my town, so I tried to change my family. I wasn’t able to change my family and finally I realized that I could only change myself.”

These quotes are both attributed to R Yisrael Salanter.  I know there are other variations out there, as well.

I found myself thinking of these quotes in shul this past Shabbos morning.  Why?  Because I found myself losing my patience and getting frustrated.  It was good thing that this week, thanks to the Tomer Devorah chabura I’m involved with, I’ve been working on patience/tolerance.  We learned that even when a person uses free will and make the choice not to serve Hashem and commit an aveira, Hashem never stops being patient.

My take on both of the “quotes” of R Yisrael Salanter is that it all starts and stops with me.  RYS starts off by saying that when he started learning and ends off with how he must judge others and/or change himself.

People will do what they will do and it may go against halacha or what I view as common-sense derech eretz and it stinks, but patience is key.  By exercising that middah we emulate Hashem and attach ourselves to him.  I know there are many areas that I fall short in, but Hashem’s patience with me is everlasting.

That being written, it’s not always easy to look the other way, hoping that someone will eventually get a clue.  While not a fan of confrontation, I am a fan of finding a proactive way to fix problems that doesn’t involve complaining to myself.  Sometime, like, now, the only fix is to attempt to set an example, even if I am the only one who notices the effort I put forth in regard to being patient.

Learn one of seforim that inspired R Yisrael Salanter starting Nov 6th in Chicago

New chaburah/group learning starting Nov 6th. Come learn the sefer Tomer Devorah with Rabbi Etan Ehrenfeld (from the YU Torah Mitzion Kollel) and discover how to emulate the traits of Hashem!
First published in 1588, Tomer Devorah is a classic kabbalistic and mussar sefer. In 1858 R Yisrael Salanter republished it to include the first appearance of his, now famous, Iggeres HaMussar.
Starting next Sunday, Nov 6, 8PM-9PM at Congregation KINS in West Rogers Park, Chicago. Please feel free to email me for details:

Isn’t "half-Shabbos" only half bad?

This is probably not a surprise, but I’m not in favor of “half-Shabbos”.  In fact, I strongly suggest that if you haven’t read Rabbi Maryles’ post on the subject from last week, then you should.

Of course, it’s not just high school age teens.  I know of twenty-somethings that do this, too.  Like germs, technology trends, fad diets, and a funny clip on YouTube… it’s everwhere.

If I found out that my own son or daughter was texting on Shabbos, I’m not sure what I would do (it would probably involved some screaming, sadly).  Most likely, I’d start playing the blame game.  It’s pretty easy to blame the school and the parents for not teaching our youth to appreciate the beauty of Shabbos.  It’s even easier to look at our shuls, Rabbanim, and community leaders and think that if there was more real leadership or a feeling of passion about Yiddishkeit then these kids would feel some busha about texting in parks or behind closed doors.  I’ve read about this in blogs for almost a year.  I’ve seen the comments, schmoozed with a few friends about this and there’s one question that I haven’t heard.

What were these people doing on Shabbos before they started texting and using their phone on Shabbos Kodesh?  Probably tearing toilet-paper, picking out the bad jelly-beans from the good ones, watching movies on Shabbos with their iPhones on Netflix (with headphones), chewing treif gum or even something worse.  The odds are that someone who is keeping “half-Shabbos” by texting has been involved in other less-headline grabbing aspects of chillul Shabbos for some time.  I know, you’re thinking, “You are right, Neil.  I’ve read countless articles in the Jewish Week, Jewish Press, Chicago Jewish News, and the Baltimore Jewish Times about so many high school age teens that are being rebellious by double-knotting their shoes on Shabbos.”  In fact, if we assur’ed lace-up shoes, then we could stem the tide of kids at-risk.

If we want to really isolate the blame as to why “half-Shabbos” has become a trend then we have to swallow the hechshared or other-the-counter-approved pill and look at the person reading this (I’ll take care of looking at the person writing this).  It’s us.

We are to blame.

If you choose to blame the schools or the shuls, then stop.  If you think the schools and shuls should be more involved in promoting the concept of Ahavas Hashem and the importance of building a relationship with Hashem then you have to be the one to discuss it with those people in charge.  If you think that parents who try to be friends with their kids instead of being parents are to blame for not being more aware of what their kids are doing, then learn how to approach the parents.  Now, it could be that parents and educators don’t have the tools needed to approach those that keep “half-Shabbos”.  Then we need to pull together Rabbis, educators, Kiruv-types, and adolescent psychologists to figure out a game plan.

I’m an optimist by default.  This “glitch in the matrix” is just that, a glitch.  This is just a trend.  We, as an observant community, have dealt with both youth and adults not keeping “full Shabbos” in the past.  In fact, Rabbi Yisrael Salanter encountered it when he moved to the port city of Memel of Lithuania, a community that wasn’t so into keeping Shabbos:

Reb Yisroel did not take a harsh, uncompromising stance against Sabbath desecration in that setting. Instead, he resorted to a soft, graduated approach. In his first sermon he explained the concept of Shabbos to the people on their level, concluding that chillul Shabbos at the port was intolerable because of the writing involved – the major Sabbath desecration of running a business. He did not discuss the actual portering of goods. Many agreed that they could postpone their writing until the weekdays, while the loading and unloading continued.

Some weeks later he suggested that without too much sacrifice, it should be possible not to send shipments, even if goods did arrive. Slowly this approach too became acceptable to the merchants. After a period of time, he convinced them that even the unloading was not vital – and the Jewish merchants of the city ceased all their port activities on the Shabbos. A revolutionized Memel emerged.  (From Tnuas Hamussar vol 1, page 186)

One of the many things to learn from the above story is that you can’t always have an “all or nothing” approach.  That doesn’t work all the time.  In fact, we don’t even need to look to a story about Jewish life in 1860, I can look to our times.  There’s a group called Reboot who started a campaign a few years ago called the Sabbath Manifesto.

It wasn’t started by a kiruv organization, an outreach yeshiva, or an umbrella organization that represents Torah Jews.  It was started by diverse group of non-Orthodox Jews.  They try to and have been successful in getting people to reduce using communication devices on Shabbos.  They even sell a cool sleeping bag to put your cell phone into.  The had a national day of unplugging in March and had thousands of people unplug from their phones for a Shabbos.

Most social trends like inter-marriage, assimilation, and substance abuse tend to start outside of our own dalet amos and eventually filter into our heimishe velt. Maybe trend of unplugging will reach those choosing to keep “half-Shabbos” and filter into our own heileigah homes and schools.

In the meantime, if you’re one of those who keeps a “half-Shabbos” then remember, you’re still half-way closer to “full Shabbos”.

* A special thanks to R Yitzchok Lowenbraun and AJOP for featuring this post in their weekly newsletter.

Drasha in honor of Chicago Hatzalah

Drasha for Hatzalah Chicago – by Rabbi Leonard A. Matanky, Ph.D.
by Hatzalah Chicago on Monday, May 9, 2011 at 8:37pm
On April 3, 2011, Hatzalah Chicago had a beautiful dinner to congratulate its first EMT-B graduating class and to honor the wives of Hatzalah graduates for their unyielding support.

Rabbi Matanky graced us with his presence and delivered a most moving drasha for Hatzalah Chicago:

I was thinking of beginning my brief remarks this evening with a story from Hatzola – one of the amazing but absolutely true accounts that have appeared in the press or on the internet – those selfless acts of compassion, daring deeds of rescue and split-second decisions that have saved countless lives.

I really was thinking of beginning that way… but then I realized that knowing so many of you – the best Hatazola stories are yet to be told – because Hatzalah of Chicago is yet to begin saving lives and creating those stories.
And so this evening – instead – I’ve decided to share with you a story that is more than 150 years old – a story of the terrible cholera epidemic which claimed the lives of hundreds of Jews in Vilna and the response of one of our greatest Torah luminaries – someone that Reb Chaim described as having the stature of a ראשון – the great Reb Yisrael Lipkin, or as we know him – Reb Yisrael Salanter, זצ”ל

The year was 1848, and not unlike our modern day organizers of Hatzalah, when Reb Yisrael saw the medical emergency of his time, he jumped into action, renting a hospital with hundreds of beds, enlisting the aid of volunteer doctors and organizing dozens of “yeshiva yungerleit” to serve the needs of those afflicted with that terrible disease.

Under his direction, people worked day and night – the doctors administering medical care, and the “yungerleit” supporting all of the other needs of the patients – whether chopping wood for fuel, lighting fires, or anything else, regardless if it was a weekday or Shabbos.

One Friday night, among those stricken was the grandson of one of the “g’virim” of Vilna, Reb Yosef Chalfan. And… as these “yungerleit” had done for so many others – they cared for him, doing melacha on Shabbos – until he was out of mortal danger.

Soon afterwards, the grandfather appeared before Reb Yisrael, grateful for saving his grandson’s life – but humbly and respectfully suggesting that perhaps… the “yungerleit” did a little too much, that maybe others – who weren’t the creme de la creme of the yeshiva community – should have been called upon to work on Shabbos.

Hearing this, and fearing that such an attitude could jeopardize his entire life-saving campaign, Reb Yisrael uncharacteristically attacked this “g’vir” – accusing him in the strongest of language of challenging his halachic knowledge, his judgement and his ability to lead.

In fact, Reb Yisrael’s verbal attack was so powerful –  that R’ Yosef Chalfan immediately removed his shoes, sat on the ground as if he was sitting shiva, and begged Reb Yisrael for forgiveness.

Tonight, nearly 162 years later we have gathered to honor and to celebrate – the very same mitzvah that Reb Yisrael defended so fiercely – a mitzvah that according to the חתם סופר is greater than שבת and greater than building even the Beit HaMikdash – or in his words –  עדיף מן ?הכל – greater than everything; and therefore it’s a mitzvah that WE – the frum members of our community should be proud to fulfill with our best and brightest…

Tonight we have the זכות to honor and celebrate the מצוה of SAVING LIVES – NOT when it’s convenient, but when it’s needed – 24/7 – on weekdays and on שבת and on יום טוב.

And on behalf of the rabbonim of the community I want each and every one of you to know – that when in a few months from now, Hatzalah actively begins it’s efforts – we are behind you every step of the way.

And therefore, while I pray that no one is ever sticken ill – if they are, and if I have the zechus to see one of you driving to respond to an emergency ON Shabbos – I and all of the rest of the רבני העיר will be cheering you on, proud that we have frum people who understand what הקב”ה truly wants from us.

Which is to be “partners” in His world, to recognize that true and lasting kedusha emanates, not from passive acquiesence – but active involvement.

For as Rav Soloveitchik, זצ”ל taught, Har Sinai, the site of the most sacred and exalted event of all time, is today bereft of any קדושה. While the most sacred site in the world is הר הבית. Why? Because at Sinai, G-d reached out us. While at Har HaBayit, WE reached out to הקב”ה – we because partners with the Divine.

And that’s the reason your work on behalf of Hatzalah is a true מלאכת הקודש, because you are partnering with הקב”ה.

Which is something that Reb Matisyahu Solomon, once taught – a lesson about the prayer of אבינו מלכינו.

Asked the mashgiach of Lakewood, what are we really asking for when we say – Avinu Malkeinu – our father our king, זכרינו לזכויות – remember us for merit?

Are we asking Him to give us credit for things we didn’t do – to give us merit that is undeserved!?

Obviously not. Rather, what זכרינו לזכויות means is that we are asking הקב”ה to give us the ability to DO great things – to give us the opportunity that not everyone has… to achieve זכויות.

And that’s what we are celebrating tonight – we are celebrating the MEN who will be given the זכות to save lives – and thereby are partnering with God. And we are celebrating their wives, who have not only stepped in so that their husbands could study, but are now ready to allow their husbands to sometimes leave them – on a moments notice – leave them and their families – for the sake of others and thereby THEY are partnering with God; and we are celebrating all those who have taught these men and who have organized this sacred effort – all the while creating זכויות –  – and thereby partnering with God and building the merit of our community – לשם ולתפארת – according to halacha and with the support and the gratitude of our community.

And so, on behalf of an entire community, and in the name of the rabbonim who have the honor to offer some assistance, I thank all of you – and I look forward to those stories of miracles and wonders, of lives that will be saved and lives that will be rescued.

May הקב”ה bless you with limitless זכויות, with boundless commitment and with the guidance to lead, serve and save.

Sent via Blackberry by AT&T