Category Archives: Schwab

Free Artscroll download of R Schwab on this week’s Haftarah

This week’s Haftarah (Isaiah 6:1-7:6, 9:5-6) is the prophet Isaiah’s vision of Maaseh HaMerkavah, which describes the Heavenly praises of the Angels. ArtScroll is pleased to offer you the download of Rabbi Shimon Schwab’s stirring commentary on this momentous event, excerpted from our recently published “Rav Schwab on Yeshayahu.”

For the download click here.

Food for thought

Before Rav Shimon Schwab left Europe he went spent Shabbos with the Chofetz Chaim in Radin. Shabbos night a group of students came over to the home of the Chofetz Chaim and he said:
We know the mun had the ability to take on whatever taste we wanted it to. What happened when the person eating the mun didn’t think about what he wanted it to taste like?
The Chofetz Chaim answered his own question: Then it simply has no taste.

This gets me every time. It’s one of my favorite d’vrei Torah. If I don’t think about my Avodas Hashem, then it has no taste. If I don’t appreciate the people my family, it’s like they don’t exist. How often does my learning or mitzvah performance seem like tasteless mun?

I know that I go through the motions quite often.  I’m aware of it and I attempt to work on it.  I’m sure that Rav Schwab heard the words of the Chofetz Chaim and it also gave him food for thought.

I often, especially lately, will see or read something and it hits me in the face.  Most recently, it was comic in the Forward that has become a bit of a bee in people’s bonnets.  I chose to contact the artist and got his side of the story.  If perception is everything, then we as a Torah observant community have our work cut out for us.  To eat the mun and not taste it, is up there with feeding the mun to someone else and they only tasting something bitter.

(The beginning of this post was originally posted here)

The social stigma of the poverty we don’t like to talk about

photo from here
There’s type of poverty that we don’t hear people talking about too much. I read about it, but rarely do I hear people I know actually discussing it (of course, I’m writing about it and not discussing it also). Baruch Hashem, many opportunies are available in bigger Jewish communites for assistance with food, tution, shul dues, medical care, debt consolidiation, rides, learning, and homework. Financial aid committees are in place in most schools and many g’machs have been created to help with many of our phsyical needs.
The type of poverty that I’m not sure how we hear about, and one that has touched me from time to time, is being poor in emunah. So poor that there is nothing either your emunah checking account or your emunah saving account. It’s something we don’t really talk with our friends about at the Shabbos park or at a kiddush. Why? Well, I think that there is a social stigma that’s associated with it. To admit to having a lack of faith shows that we are not “100% frum”. I have read on various blogs over the years that people, both those frum from birth and baalei teshiva, tend to feel burned out or lose their emunah to some degree. Again, bringing this up to people is, for some reason, a taboo subject, almost like telling someone, “I almost turned on a closet light on Shabbos because we couldn’t see” or “I was so hungry that I almost bought a packaged salad at the grocery story…without a hechshar”.  We might think about telling others, but we recoil from what their reaction might be and how they would view us. 

I’ve seen a trend recently in seforim being published that deal with issues of emunah. R Lazer Brody’s The Garden of Emunah happens to be an incredibly popular sefer. The translations of Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh, Building A Sanctuary in the Heart (vol 1 and 2) are amazing and, for me, changed the way I saw many things and my relationship with Hashem. A translation of the Chazon Ish’s Emunah v’Bitachon, Faith and Trust, was recently published as well.

Many times I’ve seen statements online such as, “Why don’t they have kiruv programs that can inspire those who are frum without feeling?” or “How come there are no programs to help strengthen emunah?”.

I wish I could announce a brand new program for those who find their “lack of faith disturbing” (to throw in a Star Wars quote). I think it is something that kiruv organizations should look into. If lectures, workshops, or guest speakers are organized and people start attending these events, this stigma and state of emunah-poverty might be helped. This would be an idea solution.

However, with the economy in the state that it is right now, every organization is just trying to keep their heads above water and to secure more funding for a new program might not be in the cards.

I offer the following suggestion to anyone reading this:  Make an emunah book club or informal chaburah/vaad. A book club that is based on the many writings about emunah currently available might be just the right fit for many people.

Note: Also see this post on Rav Schwab on Emunah and Bitachon.

Mishpacha article about Rav Hirsch

Dr. Yitzhok Levine has posted the Mishpacha Magazine article about Rav Hirsch’s 200th birthday. It was written by Rabbi Yitzchok Frankfuter and give a great history of Rav Hirsh’s life, struggles, and accompliments to Klal Yisrael (inlcuding a connection to both the beginning of the Agudath Israel and the Beis Yaakov movment). This was easily one of my favorite quotes for the article:

It is noteworthy that Rav Shimon Schwab related that the Imrei Emes once told him that “the Tzaddik of Frankfurt [Rav Hirsch] was a leibidege mussar sefer [a living morality text].”
The article is an easy read and is available here, thanks to Dr. Levine (who gave me permission to post the link).

Birkas Kohanim: A look inside

כד יְבָרֶכְךָ יְהוָה, וְיִשְׁמְרֶךָ. The LORD bless thee, and keep thee;כה יָאֵר יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ, וִיחֻנֶּךָּ. The LORD make His face to shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee; כו יִשָּׂא יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ, וְיָשֵׂם לְךָ שָׁלוֹם. The LORD lift up His countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.
(text from here)

This past Shabbos, in Parsha Naso, we find the Mitzvah of Birkas Kohanim. I admit that when I give my children these brachos every Shabbos night, I’m quite aware of the translation of what I’m saying, but until this week, while reading up on the fomulation of Birkas Kohanim, I really never gave the words too much thought. That, of course, has all changed.

My reseach included Rashi, Rav Hirsch’s commentary, and Rav Schwab on Prayer. I found it interesting that when the Kohanim bless B’nai Yisrael, they (the Priests) are not actually blessing “the people; rather, they are commanded to express their wish that HaKodesh Baruch Hu may bestow His blessings.” (straight out of Rav Schwab on Prayer pg 528)

This means that I’m also only wishing that Hashem blesses my own children when I say these same brachos every Shabbos night.

The first bracha, יְבָרֶכְךָ יְהוָה, וְיִשְׁמְרֶךָ is for protection and physical/material things. Food, clothing, a place to live, parnassah. All of the physical, maybe gashmius-type things that we need to live and function in this world.

The second bracha, יָאֵר יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ, וִיחֻנֶּךָּ is for one’s spiritual needs. Asking that Hashem’s face should shine towards us implies that we should see the hand of Hashem in what transpires in our own lives. Hashem is in direct control of everything. The whole “being gracious unto thee” is really a hard way to translate ” וִיחֻנֶּךָּ”, which come from the word “chain” meaning favor, gift, or pleasantness. Rav Hirsh (both in his commentary and quoted by Rav Schwab [no surprise there]) say that this refers to a “spiritual endowment”. Artscoll actually quotes the Degel Macheneh Ephraim) and he says that this bracha is about finding “favor in the eyes of others”. One must have a great relationship with other and be appreciated by others, as this builds mutual respect.

The third bracha, יִשָּׂא יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ, וְיָשֵׂם לְךָ שָׁלוֹם is about our relationship with Hashem. We ask for a bracha that Hashem should “lift His face” towards us. In the world of Mitzvos and Aviros, we either have opportunities to come closer to Hashem or we distance ourselves from our creator. This bracha reminds us that Hashem is never far from us. The last three words, וְיָשֵׂם לְךָ שָׁלוֹם “and give you peace”, descibe the peace and shalaimus (completeness) between the first two brachos, that Hashem should bless our phyiscal needs and our spiritual needs together as one.

These thoughts were said over in loving memory of my mother-in-law, Rivka bas Chaim Yosef a’h, on her first yahrzeit. A person who was protected and survived the Holocaust, had a stong attachment to Yiddishkeit, saw the chessed that Hashem did for her thoughout her life, and always knew that Hashem was with her.

Rav Schwab quote from "These and Those"

Over Shabbos I had an opportunity to re-read the essay know as “These and Those” aka “E’ilu v’Eilu”, published in SELECTED ESSAYS. Several sentences that made up paragraph blew me away and then after letting a close friend browse through the sefer, he also pointed out the quote to me (with me even bringing up the quote).

He who is strong in his conviction is even strengthened by the clear exposition of the opposite viewpoint. He who is strong in his conviction will welcome an open discussion based on mutual respect for the opponent’s opinion. Mutual intolerance betrays mutual weakness. Only he who is fully convinced can afford to be fully tolerant towards his opponent and yet remain adamant and stand his ground.

As I think about how easily we, as an Am Kodesh, can draw lines in the sand and fracture our Achdus it’s really a miracle that we, as one people, were able to receive the Torah.

Rav Schwab z"tl on Emunah and Bitachon

Almost 10 years ago I read a transcribed address that Rav Shimon Schwab z’tl gave on Emunah and Bitachon at the Torah Institute of America in Moodus, Connecticut, which was run by Rav Schwab’s son-in-law, Rabbi Yaacov Rosenberg z”tl.

This important drasha was once hosted online as part of the Golders Green Beth Hamidrash (London) website. As it was Rav Schwab’s yartzeit last week, I had looked to link the address to a blog posting, but sadly their site had been removed off of the internet. After several days of searching, I did find the original printout I had from 1999. There were many notes, most of which have been edited out of the pdf that I have now made available online.

This work not only show’s Rav Schwab’s humility and sensitivity in dealing with Baalei Teshuva, but also, as deals with important ideas of Hashem as our Master and our King. May this drasha be an Aliya for Rav Schwab’s neshama and also a zechus for all who need a Refuah. Please feel free to link this.
The pdf is available here.

Parshas Va’etchanan

Rav Schwab on Prayer discusses the idea that the large ד in echod is meant to remind us not to read the words as acher, as in the pasuk “For you shall not prostrate yourselves to an alien god (Shemos 34:14).

Rav Schwab then quotes Rav Hirsch from Devarim 6:4: “The ר of the polytheistic thought is accommodatingly rounded, while the ד of the Jewish truth is sharply angular. With the loss of a little sharpness, the אחד becomes אחר . The meaning is quite clear: Hashem Echod is a sharply defined concept, it is this way, and there are no other possibilites.
It’s when I try to cut corners that I see myself go off target in my Avodas Hashem. Halacha is th “sharply angular” clearly defined parameters that we need to work in between.

Pre-Pesach Post

A Story:
Five years ago on erev Pesach I came into our kitchen found my wife soakng the Romain lettuce before checking it for bugs.

I noticed that she was soaking the lettuce in the sink insert that we use for the ‘dairy’ side of our sink.

I, of course, over-reacted and freaked out on the spot!! I was in a complete panic.
Several questions exploded in my brain at once:
What are we going to do? What’s the status of our lettuce? Milchig or Fleishig? Could we use it? Would we be able to get more romaine in time? Should I even be worried?

I decided to call a well know posek (in Chicago) and ask about our lettuce.
B’H, he answered his phone. I explained what had happened and he asked, “When was the last time we used the Pesach sink bin?”

Not since last year, I answered.

The he calmly told me, “It’s not a mitzvah to make your wife crazy before Yom Tov. Your lettuce is fine and enjoy your Pesach.”

A Quote:
From my earliest youth, I remember that the children would ask each other on the first morning of Pesach, “How long did your Seder last?”
This was true in my youth, and it is still the case today. If the children were to ask me this now, I would answer them, “I made sure to eat the afikoman before chatzos (midnight).”
-Rav Shimon Schwab (from Rav Schwab on Prayer-page 541)

A Thought:
The word Pesach doesn’t only mean to “pass over”, it can also mean the “mouth speaks”. This, of course, fits nicely into the mitzvah of telling the story of our exodus from Mitzrayim. It is a verbal mitzvah. The whole evening we read, ask questions, sing, and discuss things pertaining to the Seder.

The minhaggim we have on Pesach have been passed down to us (either from our own families or we have taken upon the minhaggim ourselves over the years) in the oral tradition.

I find it interesting that most Jewish families have some sort of Seder on Pesach. While they may be unaffiliated or association themselves with camps outside of Torah Judasim, they connect on some level with the Pesach experience. An experience involving a Haggadah rooted in Torah sh’bechsav. A Haggadah that is based on Midrash, Mishna, and Gemorah- the main elements of our Oral Torah.

When we open our mouths at the Seder we are not only attaching ourselves to a powerful mitzvah, but we are connecting with previous generations and building memories for future generations, as well.

A Request:
My wife mentioned to me that I should blog about this issue of ona’as devarim (hurtful words) and Pesach. A seemingly casual question like, “Have you turned over yet?” might be a sore topic for some couples.
While one may be proud that they “turned over for Pesach” five days or even a week before yom tov, it only makes those who have yet to turn over or got a late start feel bad. The same could be said for telling friends what delicious food one ate at the Seder or what plans you have for Chol Hamoed.

A Link:
Run, don’t walk, to read A compass for a journey by Rafi G. In fact, if you have time take a look at some of this other postings.

Chag Kasher V’Sameach!

Our Sense of Taste

Parasha Beha’aloscha contains a passage about the mannah, or mun. I would like to share something I read from Rav Shimon Schwab’s writings.
Before Rav Schwab left Europe he went spent Shabbos with the Chofetz Chaim for Shabbos. Shabbos night a group of students came over to the home of the Chofetz Chaim and he said:
We know the mun had the ability to take on whatever taste we wanted it to. What happened when the person eating the mun didn’t think about what he wanted it to taste like?
The Chofetz Chaim answered his own question: Then it simply has no taste.

This gets me every time. It’s one of my favorite d’vrei Torah. If I don’t think about my Avodas Hashem, then it has no taste. If I don’t appreciate the people my family, it’s like they don’t exist. How often does my learning or mitzvah performance seem like tasteless mon?

I struggle to approach each day as a new one.I never want to be too comfortable with my Yiddishkeit.

Torah Judaism require that we think about what we do. We owe it to our creator.
My tefillah is that I hope I keep on tasting.