Category Archives: Shabbos Kodesh

The forgotten "Erev-Shabbath" Jews

Rav Soloveitchik zt’l from Dr. Peli’s On Repentance:

“Please allow me to make a ‘private confession’ concerning a matter that has caused me much loss of sleep… I still remember- it was not so long ago- when Jews were still close to God and lived in an atmosphere pervaded with holiness. But today, what do we see? The profane and the secular are in control everywhere we turn.
Even in those neighborhoods made up predominantly of religious Jews, one can no longer talk of the ‘sanctity of Shabbat.’ True, there are Jews in America who observe Shabbath. The label ‘Sabbath obverver” has come to be used as a title of honor in our circles just like HaRav HaGaon neither really indicate anything and both testify to the lowly state of our generation. But it is not for Shabbath that my heart aches; it is for the forgotten ‘erev Shabbath’ . There are Shabbat-observing Jews in America, but there are no ‘erev Shabbath’ Jews who go out to greet Shabbat with beating hearts and pulsating souls. There are many who observe the precepts with their hands, with their feet, and/or with their mouths – but there are few indeed who truly know the meaning of the service of the heart!” (pp. 97-98)

I will copy/paste the last sentence again, because it’s hits home to me.

There are many who observe the precepts with their hands, with their feet, and/or with their mouths – but there are few indeed who truly know the meaning of the service of the heart!”

Too cool for shul

This is legit.  Found here.

Come on, at one point we’re all too cool for shul.  I’m uber-guily of this, big time!
I use to like being a wandering Jew.  A weekday minyan nomad, traveling along in a Jack Keroauc-like way, never really staying anywhere too long.  Basing my destination on convenience and ease of parking.
I was wrong.  Part of my wandering was really just because I could wander.   After spending almost 8 years in a one shul city (we lived in Indianapolis from 1998-2006), moving to Chicago was, well like, shul overload.  Sort of like getting a shopping spree at Saint Mark’s Sounds (an excellent used cd store in NYC).  I am not, Chas v’Shalom, downplaying the importance, stability, or value of the “one shul town”, but it’s refreshing to have an option (at times).  Living in a city with one shul helps add a strength of community and lets you really get to know everyone, this cannot be understated (and I somewhat miss that).

So, parshas Bereishis, I found myself in the social hall/basement of Rav Moshe Weinberger’s shul, Congregation Aish Kodesh, during a moving an uplifting shalosh seudos (I’ve previous blogged about the first time I was there for the holy third meal of Shabbos here[insert link]).  I listened, as I heard a message that seemed tailor made for me (if you’ve heard R Weinberger in person, you often think that he’s speaking directly to you) about the importance of making an effort to daven in “our shul”, as he said.  He mentioned that he knows there are many faces that he and the shul only see on Shabbos Kodesh.  Not that people are not going to minyanim during the week, but it’s seems that they tend to davening elsewhere.  Rav Weinberger said that he understands that people have schedules and trains to catch, but if you can figure out a way to go a minyan that not an “18 minute shacharis”, it’s better.  He also said that when you make a commitment to daven in your shul you add to the kedusha of the shul.  This was a very powerful idea.

At that point, I decide, b’li neder, to stop being a wanderer.  I have successfully made it to my shul in the mornings (except when I’ve had carpool responsibilities) and so far, for mincha or maariv.  No more drifting upon the sea of shuls, I’m attempting to anchor myself, finally. 

Mussaf davening on cruise-control

Text from here

On Shabbos, I will often catch davening on cruise-control when it comes to these words.  It’s a habit that started when I was twelve and I was preparing for my Bar Mitzvah.  In fact, I use to pride myself on being able to say all of “Yekam Purkon” in under 23 seconds from the bimah.  Sadly, my that I was “the big cheese” being able to memorize this paragraph, without even knowing what it meant in English. 

Like I said, even now, I will have to stop myself during musaf and consciously take time to read the Hebrew carefully and also translate the tefillos.  As I creep closer to Elul, I can feel both the excitement and the yirah (in a good way) that being on cruise-control just won’t cut it!

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.

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.

My Skwere Shabbos in the Windy City

A week and a half ago I spent a very powerful Shabbos davening with in presence of the Skwere Rebbe of Boro Park, Grand Rebbe Yechiel Michel Twersky.

The Rebbe was on his annual visit to Chicago which included minyanim, a tish, Shalosh Seudos, and private appointments with many, many people. He has, as did his father z’tl, been coming to Chicago for over forty years, I’ve been told.

I admit, I felt a bit out of my element, but I had come with a friend (who has know the Rebbe for many years) and it was an opportunity that I (and my son) wanted to experience. Aside from the many Skwere chassidim that to Chicago with the Rebbe, there was a huge crowd of people, like myself, who had decided to daven with this minyan for Shabbos night. I was warmly welcomed, as was everyone, by the Rebbe’s Gabbai, who handled much of details of the Rebbe’s visit. Davening was full of warmth and energy. After davening everyone lined up to have the honor of giving the Skwere Rebbe “Shalom”.

The tish that night was gelvaldik! The zemiros and niggunim were beautiful. There was a large crowd of men (and women on the women’s side of the mechizah)  of all ages. The group that came to the tish represented all types of Yidden, some walked over a mile in the snow to come. We all sat around a very large rectangle table. The Rebbe first made kiddush over wine and then was brought a silver bowl and washing cup to him, so that he could wash at the table. In from of the Rebbe were two of the largest challos I had ever seen. Around the challos were twelve little braided challos, as well.  After making Hamozei, the Rebbe was served fish, onion kugel (which is awesome), and chicken. The Rebbe was also served soup in a silver bowl and dipped onion kugel in it. It’s the Rebbe’s minhag to dip all of his food in salt, as well.

 As is customary, after the Rebbe was served each dish his gabbiem passed out ‘shirayim’ to all that attended. Several people attending the tish were asked to lead certain zemios and the Rebbe himself started singing “Kol MeKadesh”. After a beautiful bentching, each of us were directed to go up and personally receive fruit from the Rebbe directly, as well as wish the Rebbe a “Gut Shabbos”. Then, before leaving,  we all stood up and danced around the table. What a way to end a Shabbos night. I was singing the niggunim with my son as we walked home in the snow.
 Shabbos morning, as well as Mincha was just as nice. Mincha has a large crowd of ‘locals’ and the Rebbe and his Gabbai gave me the kibud of gelilah to the Rebbe’s hagbah. I was honored and was also handed a gartel to wear for my kibud.

Shalosh Seudos bei the Rebbe was very intimate. Aside from his chassidim, there was a very nice crowd that attended. Again, he washed and had the large challos, some fish from Friday night (as is his minhag), white fish, and herring, and applesauce. Each of us attending went over to the Rebbe to receive a small piece of challah with herring on it. Shirayim were also give out at this meal. Special zemiros booklets were on the table and we started singing. I found it interesting that they sang “Baruch Keil Elyon” at Shalosh Seudos, as I’ve only sung it during Shabbos lunch. After Shalosh Seudos the Rebbe’s Gabbai handed my friend and I each one of the special little braided challos that had surrounded the Rebbe’s Lechem Mishna on Shabbos. We were told that that the Rebbe’s challos are given out as as segulah and should be used with our own Lechem Minsha on Shabbos until erev Pesach, when it should be burned. I was touched.

After davening Maariv we went outside for Kiddush Levanah and then we made Havdalah and went home.

Fast forward to Wednesday night, last week. The friend who had brought me to daven by the Rebbe had gotten a call to come see the Rebbe. We arrived at the home were he was staying at 11:45pm. The living room was filled with people who had wanted to have an audience with the Rebbe, too. The Rebbe had been seeing many people every night during his visit in Chicago from after Maariv at 6:30pm until the very late hours of the night. We waited, while the Rebbe saw other people that had appointments before us and then I was called to come have my audience with the Skwere Rebbe at 1:20 am.

I was very nervous, as I had never done anything like this before. The Rebbe put me at ease right away with only a look into his eyes. His presence was calming and welcoming. He was genuine, inquisitive, thoughtful, and assuring. After speaking for almost twenty minutes, I felt honored and privileged that the Rebbe took time to see me. As I left I saw that there were people waiting to see the Rebbe. It was only days later that I found out the Rebbe had been receiving people until 4:30 am that morning.

I am very much looking forward to the Skwere Rebbe’s next visit to Chicago.

Erev Shabbos

The Rabbi of my shul gave an amazing drasha before Yizkor urging us to return to a more simpler time of Yiddishkeit.  He quoted (as he often does) Rav Soloveitchik from R Peli’s On Repentance:

“Please allow me to make a ‘private confession’ concerning a matter that has caused me much loss of sleep… I still remember- it was not so long ago- when Jews were still close to God and lived in an atmosphere pervaded with holiness.  But today, what do we see?  The profane and the secular are in control everywhere we turn.  
Even in those neighborhoods made up predominantly of religious Jews, one can no longer talk of the ‘sanctity of Shabbat.’ True, there are Jews in America who observe Shabbath.  The label ‘Sabbath obverver” has come to be used as a title of honor in our circles just like HaRav HaGaon neither really indicate anything and both testify to the lowly state of our generation.  But it is not for Shabbath that my heart aches; it is for the forgotten ‘erev Shabbath’ .  There are Shabbat-observing Jews in America, but there are no ‘erev Shabbath’ Jews who go out to greet Shabbat with beating hearts and pulsating souls. There are many who observe the precepts with their hands, with their feet, and/or with their mouths – but there are few indeed who truly know the meaning of the service of the heart!” (On Repentance, pp. 97-98)

I know that we try to, at least, put the Shabbos table cloth on Thursday night (sometimes).  My kids know that when we  go shopping during the week I’ll say that we’re buying things “L’kavod Erev Shabbos Kodesh”.  We know that Shabbos “is coming”, but I’m not sure if I’m ready, on any given week, to actually greet Shabbos.  I need to do more.  As the Rav explains, we need to yearn for erev Shabbos and “truly know the meaning of the service of the heart”.  Simchas HaChaim and Toras Chaim need to be more that buzzwords in my on vocabulary,they need to be lived.  Lately I’m not so sure that has been the case.  Today is a new day, though.  I just davened all day to be sealed in the “Book of Life”, a life full of Torah, Avodah, and Ge’limus Chassidim and that excites me!

A good Erev Shabbos Kodesh!

Why I recommend saying "Good Shabbos"

I lead, what I think of, as a pretty regular life. So when something singular happens, it’s pretty exciting for me. As common in most communities and with groups of friends, when someone has a baby people start offering to make meals for that family (in this case, my family).

Last motzei Shabbos we got a call from our friend who was coordinating meals for us. It seems that a couple wanted to do a chessed and give us a meal. The problem was that we had no clue who they were. We didn’t recognize their names nor did our kids have anyone with the same list name in their classses. Later that night we found out the wife’s maiden name, and she claimed that we were her former NCSY advisors. I still wasn’t sure who it could be. For four days I was trying to figure out who these people were. I did know someone by the wife’s maiden name, but different first name. Last night, the mystery was solved. My wife opened the door when our guest came (I was still at work) and it was all revealed…

I try to be a friendly person, so as I walk to/from shul Shabbos morning I always say “Good Shabbos” to people I see. It makes no difference if I know them or not. As it happens, in Chicago, people say “Good Shabbos” back, too.

Apparently last Shabbos I said “Good Shabbos” to this “former NCSYer” and as she told my wife, when she got down the block she realized who I was. She figured that I was in town for a chassuna. Then she was speaking to a friend and our name came up also. Then she saw a birth announcement in one of the community emails. All of this happened over Shabbos.

It turns out that she was the NCSYer I was thinking of (it’s been almost 10 years since I’ve heard her name), but she’s going by a slightly different name these days. She and her husband moved here two years ago. What a way to reconnect with someone and all from saying, “Good Shabbos”. Try saying it, you, too, might end up with a great story of hashgacha pratis.