Category Archives: Soloveitchik

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!”

The Rav and the Rebbe

Published in Song of Teshuva,  a commentary on Rav Kook’s Oros HaTeshuvah by Rav Moshe Weinberger and adapted by Yaacov Dovid Shulman.

Rav Weinberger tells over the following story (pages 134-135):

When Rav Yosef Ber Soloveitchik went to a farbregen (a Chassidic gathering) on the occasion of the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s eightieth birthday, he was very impressed by the Rebbe’s brilliance and erudition.  But on the the way home, Rav Soloveitchik said that there was one thing with which he did not agreee.  When he offered the Rebbe a l’chaim (a toast), the Rebbe said, “Now the descendants of R. Chaim Volozhiner and the family of the Baal HaTanya have come together.”  Rav Soloveitch said that this was not true.  They had come together earlier, when Hitler had put the Chassid and the misnaged (the opponent of Chassidism) together in the same oven.  That was when we realized that there is no difference between one Jew and another.

It should not take someone who hates and persecutes the Jewish people to remind us that there is no difference between Jews on the level of the soul.  We must appreciate that the sould of every Jew is inseparable from the Congregation of Israel.”>Follow my blog with Bloglovin

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

Availing myself during aveilus

Rav Hirsch brings down the idea that the root of aveilus is the Hebrew word aval, which means “but”.  This is because while one is mourning someone, there’s always this feeling of “…but, I should have spent more time with the departed” or “…I’m doing ok, but, I still miss the person”.  There’s always a “but”.

My father a”h has been niftar for just over two months and I’m hoping that this post will be somewhat cathartic for me.  It’s been hard to actually sit down and write lately.  This is mostly due to the fact that my father, while in the hospital, mentioned to me that he has always enjoyed reading my blog (I had only become aware that he even knew about it at the end of the summer).  While I’m glad that he was able to let me know this, thinking about a post or even writing something reminds me of the fact that he’s not around.  It’s the same way with Sugar-Free Grape Kool Aid.  My dad, it seems loved the stuff.  It was about the only thing I drank, besides coffee, when I was in Wichita.  I’ve thought about buying it for home, but I can’t bring myself to do it.  Hazelnut coffee is also one of those things my dad loved.  He would mix Columbian ground coffee with hazelnut flavored coffee and that was his brew.  At work we have hazelnut flavored creamer.  I try not to even look at it.

Making sure that I don’t miss a Kaddish is constantly on my mind.  There’s a very strong sense of being alone, since I’m the only one (in Chicago) saying Kaddish for my father, but there’s also sort of an unspoken connection that I have to others who are also saying Kaddish in any given minyan.

The “no music” thing has begun to drive me batty.  I constantly have tons of music-mixes going through my head.  Mixes that, in a way, reflect different aspects of who I am.  I’ve got Carlebach songs that flow into a Husker Du/Bob Mould track that will then ease into Diaspora Yeshiva Band song which will blend into early REM tracks that slide into a Rabbis Sons song and finally ending (most recently) with something from the soundtrack to Blade Runner.  It’s the ultimate mega-mix in an odd way.  I catch myself humming niggunim around my office and in the car.  I was never into sports, so I’m stuck listening to news radio (which I don’t mind) in the car.  But (there’s that but again), there’s really only so many time I can hear “traffic and weather together on the 8s”.  

I’ve felt pretty detached from things at home.  Even though my wife is great about it, it bothers me.  On the flip side, though, I’m trying to become much more “communal” in terms of my thinking about what I can offer my own community, as well as getting more involved in things.

My drive home from work is tough.  I’m lucky that I have a commute that is under 20 minutes, but I use to call my dad (almost daily) on the way home from work.  I’m fortunate that I can call my brother and shmooze with him, but it’s not the same.

Two friends (and bloggers) sent me a copy of Out of the Whirlwind by Rav Soloveitchik zt”ll.  I’ve found the sefer to be very insightful.  I’ll end with a quote from the last chapter, titled “A Theory of Emotions”:

Avelut denotes the critical stage of mourning, the grief awareness, and at this level, we will notice at once that avelut contains its own proper negation-solace and hope.  Avelut in Halakhah is interwoven with nehamah, consolation.  They are inseparable.  The latter is not a frame of mind which displaces grief; there is rather an inter-penetration of grief and solace, of forelornness and hope, of mourning and faith.  Immediately upon closing the grave, the line is formed and comfort is offerend to the mourners.  What is the Kaddish pronounced at the grave if not an ostentatious negation of despair?

I’m thankful that I live in a community with so many friends who helped me during shiva and continue to do so.  I attempt to remember that I’m loved by my creator and that this current situation is a really springboard for growth on many different levels.  But…

The Koach of Torah

Today marks the 8th Yartzeit of Rav Ahron Soloveichik z”tl.
In the fall of 1989, I was a freshmen at YU.  As I recall classes had been barely going on for even a week and I saw a flyer in my dorm about a shiur on Lecture about “Hilchos Teshuva”.

I was fresh out of public school and had been observant for just over two years, at the time. Through my high school involvement with NCSY I had heard the name “Soloveichik” (although usually in reference to the Rav, who spelled it “Soloveitchik) quite a bit and had even read an article written by Rav Ahron regarding a Jew’s place in non-Jewish socieity. I was curious what this “Rabbi Ahron Soloveichk” was like and figured it would be cool thing to hear him lecture (the term “shiur” wasn’t in my vocabulary back then).

I showed up a few minutes early, which was easy since the lecture took place in the “shul” in my dorm building, and took a front row seat. Slowly the chairs filled up. I recall seeing a lot of older YU guys, probably semicha students. Slowly, I heard mumbling and some commotion from the back of the room, as two gentlemen escorted an elderly man who was using a walker, the Rav Ahron Soloveichik.

To me he looked frail and I remember being inpressed that he was able to use a walker, despite having had a stroke in 1983. Slowly he made his way to the table in the front of ths shul. The two men who accompanied him helped Rav Ahron transition from the walker to the seat at the table. Again, the one word that came mind was “frail”.

It is commonly know that even if one doesn’t understand a language, it is very possible that you can get an idea of what a speaker is talking about by emotions that come through in the spoken word. Rav Ahron’s shiur on “Hilchos Teshuva” was given in English, my native language, but I really didn’t understand much of it, I sadly admit. Based on my background at the time, most of the quotes from the Rambam and, what must have been, the brilliant analysis on the part of Rav Ahron were really lost on me. I did, however, take away something just as meaningful and memorable.

When Rav Ahron Soloveichik sat down at that table to begin his shiur, he was hunched down with head just about at the height of the table. As he started speaking his voice was soft, but as he continued his voice got stronger. Almost in sync with the strength of his voice, with each word of Torah that came from his lips, he seemed to start sitting more and more upright. He started moving his arms as he spoke and became animated. By the middle of the shiur his voice was booming and he seem to be sitting fully erect. It was almost like a different person was speaking. As I’ve looked back over the years at this incident, I realized that what I had witnessed was the true Koach of Torah.

Learning Torah and being able to teach Torah changes a person. For Rav Ahron Soloveichik Torah was a lifeline, I saw that with my own eyes! It connected him and gave him incredible strength. I was zoche to see that evening that the Torah wasn’t simply something that we took out three times a week from the Aron Kodesh, nor was a collection of stories, teachings, or laws. The term, “Toras Chaim” comes to mind. The Torah is a living Torah and Rav Ahron both received strength from it and used that strength to give over the Torah to future generations.

May his neshma have an aliyah.

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!

Rav Soloveitchik zt"l on Kavod HaBriyos

The 18th of Nissan marked the 15th yartzeit of The Rav. I, like countless others, never learned directly from him, but was told d’vrai Torah and stories in his name by various rabbeim I have known. This oral tradition, if you will, along with the published works (both before and after he was nifter) help to give those who are interested a small understanding of who he was. I have always found the following passage from his essay Community (available in a summary form as part one and part two) to be very meaningful to me:
Quite often a man find himself in a crowd among strangers. He feels loney. No one knows him…suddenly someone taps him on the shoulder and says, “Aren’t you Mr. So and So? I have heard so much about you.” An alien turned into a fellow member of an existenial community. What brought about the change? The recoginition by someone, the word!

To recognize a person is not just to identify him physically. It is more than that: it is an act of identifying him existencially as a person who has a job to do that only he can do properly. To recognize a person means to affirm that he is irreplaceable. To hurt a person means to tell him that he is expendable, that there is no need for him.

The Halakhah equated the act of publicly embarrasing a person with murder? Why? Because humiliation is tantamount to destroying an existential community and driving the individual into solitude.
It’s this ability to look at relationships within the framework of Halacha (yes, spelled differently than above) that amazes me. For all the “Halachikness” that is associated with the Rav, it was his written words that first opened my eyes to a living, breathing image of Halacha. It was his written words that first exposed me to concept that the shoresh of Halacha (halach) means “to walk”. Halacha isn’t just about laws that govern our actions, or what we can or cannot do, it is a whole path of existence that touches on all aspects of life that we navigate through.

Lonely Man of Faith: Free viewing in Chicago

The life and legacy of
Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik

Tuesday, April 1, 2008 at 7:00 p.m.
Congregation K.I.N.S, 2800 W. North Shore Ave.
Open to public. No charge. Separate seating available.
A panel with producer, Ethan Isenberg, and
Rabbi Gedalia Dov Schwartz, Av Beit Din of the cRc, will follow.
For more information, call ICJA at (773) 973-1450 or
the cRc at (773) 465-3900

From the movie’s webisite:
Lonely Man of Faith is a new documentary film on the life and legacy of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, the intellectual leader of Modern Orthodox Judaism in 20th Century America. Throughout his life, in Europe, New York and Boston, he struggled to forge a path between Jewish tradition and the modern age, an ordeal that frequently resulted in loneliness. His impact was tremendous but his legacy was complicated.

Vayeira’s message to former Kiruv Professionals

This was originally posted as a comment I made on Rabbi Without A Cause’s blog, here.

My shul’s Rav based his second day Rosh Hashana on something taught by the Rav Soloveitchik, who asks what happened to Avraham after the Akeidah?

All we know is that he went to Ber Sheva and settled there. After Akedas Yitzchak, the Torah doesn’t record that Hashem speaks again with Avraham. What was he doing? Rav Soloveitchik answered this question as follows. After a lifetime of serving Hashem, teaching Torah, and converting hundreds to monotheism, it seems that the Torah tells us that Avraham ends up he living in Ber Shevah among is his family, his nephews/ nieces and their children. Avraham mostly spent time with his family and helping to strengthen their yiddishkeit.

For me this really hit home. I spent 12 yrs involved in kiruv and communal work. Like many of my former friends and former colleagues, eventually I chose to leave that velt for the ‘private sector’. The people I’ve known who have left outreach are amazing people. The kind of people that organizations really can’t replace. I think that what Rav Soloveitchik is telling us is that while working for klal Yisrael and for a kehillah is very important, when you stop, life goes on. Family is what matters. You can be a shiach for Hashem and m’karev tens if not hundreds of individuals, but if you are not successful with your own family, then how successful are you?

To take 15 minutes and sit and bentch word by word with an unaffiliated teenager is a great thing to do. To take time and do Chumash homework with your own kids is just as chashuv. Gut Shabbos Kodesh.

This d’var Torah is being given over Zecher Nishmas Dan Haleiv ben Aharon.