Category Archives: Soloveitchik

Rav Ahron Soloveichik z’tl

Six years ago, on the second day of Chol Hamoed Sukkos Rav Ahron Soloveichik was nifter. I was never a studen of his, but was influenced by several of his talmidim in very informal settings throughout my Torah observant life. I did have an opporutunity to hear him speak when I was a freshman at YU in the fall of 1989.

I admit, sadly, I do not really recall the content of the shiur. I was fresh out of public school, and had hear the name Soloveichik (usually refering to Rav Ahron’s brother, Rav Soloveitchik) before and figured that this would be an opportunity not to miss.

It was a week before Rosh Hashana and Rav Ahron was delivering a shiur on Hilchos Teshuva.

The Adventure of the Observant Jew

I spent alot of time (mostly Shabbos afternoons in high school) reading Sherlock Holmes (especially the Annotated Sherlock Holmes (two volume set). Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had a way of writing and letting us see most of what Holmes saw, but not quite the whole picture until it was explained by Holmes. Sherlock’s keen sense of deduction and obervation are legendary.
A classic example would be from the beginning of A Scandel in Bohemia:

“You see, but you do not observe. The distinction is clear. For example, you have frequently seen the steps which lead up from the hall to this room.”
“How often?”
“Well, some hundreds of times.”
“Then how many are there?”
“How many? I don’t know.”
“Quite so! You have not observed. And yet you have seen. That is just my point. Now, I know that there are seventeen steps, because I have both seen and observed.

We are often referred to as ‘observant Jews’. ‘Observant’ is defined as:
paying close attention especially to details
quick to notice; showing quick and keen perception
law-abiding: (of individuals) adhering strictly to laws and rules and customs; “law-abiding citizens”; “observant of the speed limit”

I guess, it’s true. Compared to other groups of Jews, we, ‘Torah observant’ would fall into the above definition. I’d like to focus on the “quick to notice; showing quick and keen perception” aspect of being ‘observant’. The leaders of previous generations were not only Gadolim in terms of their Torah knowledge, but were extremely sensitive to the world and people around them. I admit, sensitivity to the individual within Yiddishkeit was one of the things that constanly blows me away. I humbly offer three examples for you to think about and maybe even discuss at your Yom Tov table:

In the last years of the great 19th-century thinker Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch, he asked his grandchildren to take him to see the Alps. When questioned why at such a late age he wants to go sightseeing, he answered: “I am worried that after my life I will go up to heaven and Hashem will ask me, “Samson, warum hattest du nicht gesehen mein schonen Alpen?” Samson, why did you not see my beautiful Alps?” (Based on the Artscoll biography of RSRH).

Once, Rabbi Dov Ber, the Alter Rebbe’s son, was studying late at night, his infant son in a cradle nearby. Rabbi Dov Ber was so immersed in his studies that when the baby fell out of the cradle he did not hear the child cry. The Alter Rebbe was also studying in another part of the house. But he heard his grandson’s cry and quickly went to pick him up. “You must always hear the cry of a child,” the Alter Rebbe rebuked his son.
Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, the Bais Halevi, was once asked the following question: Can a person fulfill the mitzvah of drinking for cups at the Pesach seder with milk, instead of wine? The Bais Halevi answered no and then gave the individual who asked him the shi’lah a large sum of money. Later Rav Soloveitchik was asked why give so much money, if all the person needed to buy was some wine for the seder. The Bais Halevi replied, “Because he asked about using milk for the seder, that must have meant that he didn’t have enough funds for any meat, as well.”

We do observe. Hopefully it’s the right things. The beauty of Hashem’s world, a child in need, an opportunity not to embarrass someone is dire straights.

I was recently asked, what I found to be a difficult question. “What excites you?”
I was caught of guard and really didn’t have an answer at the time. It bothered me. I have a lot to be excited about. It’s stories like the ones above that excite me. It’s hearing good news about my kids being sensitive to others in school that excites me. It’s Lightning McQueen realizing that sometime you win even though you don’t come in first place that excites me. It’s the way I feel when my neshama know that I’m doing the right thing that excites me. It’s the smell of fresh ground coffee on a Sunday morning that excites me. I realized that it was difficult for me to initally answer that question because I really don’t take as much time as I should to be observant of my surroundings. This is something (along with several other things) that I am working on during this new year.

Sukkos excites me. After spending time in shul of a beis midresh davening we are commanded to leave our homes and venture outside into the world. We take our all of the feelings from Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur and bring our families outside the safety of our homes. The message of the above three stories is simply: Look around. See and listen to what is around you and show koved to all that Hashem as created. I wish you an inspiring Sukkos.

Rosh Hashanah in review

This year I am trying to remember the chessed and Tov that Hashem is constantly showing me. Here are a few highlights of my Rosh Hashanah…

  • Erev R”H my family got a call from the Chicago Center for Torah and Chessed, as part of calling post, to remind us to make an erev tavshulin.
  • Our neighbor brought us some amazing fried chicken from this place.
  • A good family friend gave us a new challah knife as a “segulah” for parnasah in the upcoming year
  • We shared the majority of our meals with very close friends
  • My son joined me under my tallis for duchenning both days
  • Our baalei tefillah used excellent niggunim on both days
  • My shul’s Rav used a Reb Nachman story (the king’s wheat supply makes everyone insane, so he and his advisor mark their heads so they know they remember they are insane) on his first day drasha and based his second day drasha totally on an idea from Rav Soloveitchik.
  • The following items made by Mrs. Uberdox: Challah, soup, stuffed chicken, Caesar salad w/ steak (better than Dougie’s), and the Chocolate Trifle
  • Number of Kohanim in my minyan-6; number of Kohanim sporting velvet kippot-2; number of Kohanim sporting knitted kippot-3; number of Kohanim sporting a seude kippah-1; Number of Kohaim rocking a kittel-1; Being blessed by representatives from Klal Yisrael-PRICELESS
  • Shabbos Mussaf also was way beyond what I expected with a great kiddusah. And I got to make a l’chaim with this.
  • Motzei Shabbos my wife found that we had a flat tire in the Ubervan. I took it, along with my copy of Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh, to Sam’s Club to get a new tire on Sunday. So, I admit, I had a Bilvavi moment when I started telling myself, “Ribbono shel olam, I know clearly that when I buy this new tire, I do not have control at all as to which tire I will end up buying, but it is all by Your decree.” In then end I ended up with a “Goodyear“. Hopefully this will be a “siman” as well.

The Lonely Blogger of Faith

As I wrote previously, I had intended to, and did, finish The Lonely Man of Faith during Chol Hamoed, in time for Rav Soloveitchik’s yarteitz. I wasn’t planning on blogging about it, but the one year anniversary of this blog just passed last week (April 12th) and I got to thinking and reflecting on things.

I first read LMoF during several afternoons in Gilo Park. It was a quite open space to read and think about if I really got it or not. That was 17 years ago. I really didn’t get the whole essay, I admit. The two Adams, community, lack of connection to a greater whole…if you’ve read it you know what I’m talking about.

So there I was this past Pesach reading it again. This time I was in a friends’ home, with my six month old on my lap, my 4 yr. old daughter singing some song she made up about “matzah, butterflies, and Polly Pockets” and my 7 yr. old son and two friends engaged in a high intensity game of Celebrity Kugelach Yom Tov Showdown! A far cry from Gilo Park. And a far cry from being lonely.

My Blogoversary came and went and I still hadn’t posted. Something I had read in LMoF kept creeping back in my mind. It was the last two sentences of chapter four. The Rav write about Adam’s (the second) need for a community.

His quest is for a new kind of fellowship, which one finds in the existential community. There, not only are hands joined, but experiences as well; there, one hears not only the rhythmic sound of the production line, but also the rhythmic beats of hearts starved for existenial companionship and all-embracing sympathy and experiencing the grandeur of the faith commitment; there, one lonely soul finds another soul tormented by loneliness and solitued yet unqalifiedly committed.

I started this blog a year ago for several reasons. The main on was to get back into the regular habit of writing. Another reason was to try express some thoughts and ideas in a format that would be readable and maybe interesting to others.

Along the way I’ve learned a lot about myself and my relationship with those I care for and for Hashem. I’ve also learned that the posts I’m most proud of are the ones I’ve written (most of which get few if any comments). I also learned that the one time I wrote a post for the ‘people’, it wasn’t in the spirit of what I’m all about.

Interstingly, I found other out there who have very important, deep, and humorous things to say. The JBlogosphere is a community very similar, IMHO, to what is described by the Rav in the quote above. I suppose that on some level, I was in a way lonely and was looking for a ‘community’, abeit a virutal one when I started blogging.

The truth is that I really own a tremendous thanks to my Uberwife, who not only has listened to me talk about ‘blog related things’, but as has encourage me to continue writing.

I would like to thank one blogger that I reguarly exchange emails, links, and ideas with. If he is reading this, he knows who he is.

Deepest thanks to those who link my blog and to Ezzie and Rafi G, who were the first people to actually link one of my posts.

I’d like to also think a rather popular Chicago Blogger who was kind enough to reply to an email sent by a newcomer in Chicago. His kindness to answer an email from a stranger is indicative of the truth that most Jbloggers out there are nice people.

Thanks for reading and commenting.

Am I lonely?

Well, I’m not sure. Based on the titles of what I’ve been reading lately the answer could be ‘yes’.

I recently finished an essay titled Alienation and Faith.
I am currently reading The Lonely Man of Faith.
While looking for something in my basement I started flipping through a book I haven’t looked at in over 14 years called Lonesome Traveler.
It all started when I decided to learn something by Rav Soloveitchik and finish by his yartzeit (the 18th of Nissan). I recently bought a copy of The Lonely Man of Faith, by the Rav and thought it would be good choice. I admit, I first read the book when I was 19, while in Eretz Yisroel and mostly read it because my Rabbeim were all students of Rav Soloveitchik. I figured that my perspective on life is different now and I might get more out of reading it again. The book starts out like this:
The nature of the dilimma can be stated in a three-word sentence. I am lonely. Let me emphasize, however, that by stating “I am lonely” I do not inted to covey to you the impression that I am alone. I, thank God, do enjoy the love and friendship of many.

Two weeks ago I finished an essay called Alienation and Faith, by Rabbi Jonathan Sack, chief rabbi of Great Britian . It is a great introduction to The Lonely Man of Faith, but stands alone as a great read if you have the time. His puts a very chassidic twist on loneliness. Here are a few lines:
Not only is the Jew an intrinsically divided self, but also ineluctably, a lonely one. For each unquiescent element of his being defeats the attempted consummation of the other…This internal rift is given added poignancy in our time which is an age primarily of technological achievement. Faced with a community of Majestic men the man of faith is bound either to betray himself or be misunderstood; and all that faces him is a retreat into solitude.

As I wrote before, I was looking for Purim costumes in our basement and found a box of my old books. Included were several books by Jack Kerouac including Lonesome Traveler. After finding the book I was instantly remined that once upon a time I actually enjoyed reading for the sake of reading. I decided to read a bit here and there. I found this passage very interesting:
I came to a point where I needed solitude and just stop the machine of “thinking” and “enjoying” what they call “living”. I just wanted to lie in the grass and look at the clouds-
They say, too, in ancient scripture: -“Wisdom can only be obtained from the viewpoint of solitude.”

Am I lonely? No, I just like to read.

Geting Organized…

Here’s an excerpt from an e-list newletter I subscribe to by written by Maria Gracia, from Get Organized Now!

Set a Time Budget

When it comes to making purchases, most people have an idea in their minds of what they’re willing to spend. You probably wouldn’t walk into a shoe store and say, ‘I will buy that pair of shoes no matter how much they cost.’ If the salesperson says the shoes cost $400, most people would not buy them. That’s because when it comes to making purchases, people set a budget in their minds of how much those shoes are really worth to them.
But what about when it comes to how you spend your time? Do you sometimes spend more time on certain tasks than they’re really worth? For instance, when it comes to cleaning your home do you spend an hour a day doing so? Two hours? Three hours? More than three hours? Is dusting really worth that much of your time? What about your other projects and appointments? How much is that time worth to you?

We all get the same amount of time each day–24 hours. At least 8 of those hours are allocated to sleeping. So, we all have approximately 16 hours when we’re awake.

By setting a time budget for certain activities, you will always ensure your time is being spent on what is most important to you, your family and your future.How much time are you willing to invest with a spouse or loved one? How many hours will you allocate to working, cleaning, exercising, eating or watching television?

Before doing anything, ask yourself how much time you’re willing to invest. Write those time investments down so you’re able to reference them regularly. Then, stick to your time budget.

Time isn’t an unlimited currency, so be sure to spend it wisely.

End of article.

For more ideas, feel free to check out the Get Organized Now! website. The monthly newsletters and blog are interesting.

My thoughts:
I’ve found that reading blogs and writing my content can take up a lot of time. With Elul around the corner and I know that I need to start craking down. Time is an element that we can mekadesh, or make holy. In fact, from what I’ve read and been told, Rav Soloveitchik was very into this concept of people being able to mikadesh certain days and physical objects. As I’ve posted on a few other blogs and, at least two emails to fellow readers, a close friend of mine and someone whom I look up to, mentioned to his son, on the occasion of his sons’ Bar Mitzvah, that “how we spend our free time defines who we are”. As I’ve been posting on my blog over the past 4 months, I find myself constantly thinking about that quote, if not every time I go online. So far the only thing I’ve figured out is that I need certain times set aside for online use at home. When time is up… I need to walk away. Time budgeting might be an answer. Any thoughts…

By the way, my name is Neil Harris, and I’m a Bloggaholic.

Am I Less Deviant Now That I’m Older?

My wife and I had the pleasure of spending an amazing Shabbos with a very close friend of mine (and his brother) from my shanna bet year in Eretz Yisroel and college days. Shabbos afternoon my friend asked me a pretty simple question:
Am I less deviant (read punk, individualistic, free-thinking, non-iconoclast, etc) than I use to be? Good question. Although, I would have expected nothing less from him.

I have often wondered the same question myself. From the time I was in high school and became frum until now, how much have I changed? In terms of how I look, its a radical change. It’s rather easy to externally blend into a frum lifestyle. I pretty much look like most people on any given weekday or Shabbos. Years ago, I stopped trying to show my individuality by what I wore on the outside. If you met me, you’d think I’m a pretty normal guy. That’s because I am.His question did get me thinking, though. Have I changed or mellowed out over the years? Probably a bit of both. The conversation with my friend reminded me of two great quotes. Both of them are from an interview with Sonic Youth in SPIN magazine that I read back in September of 1992.

“If you’re not growing, then you’re not living.”
“At times, the most conservative people or ideas are really quite radical.”

We are defined by our thoughts, speech, and actions. I’m told that the Baal HaTanya wrote about this quite a lot. We should not be stagnate. Just as we are inclined to attach ourselves to Hashem through Mitzvah observance, our natural inclination is to grow. I believe the above quotes are a more modern day versions of this:
There is no blade of grass below that does not have a malach on high that smites it and says to it: Grow! (Bereishis Rabbah 10:6-7)
Something as seemingly simple like grass has an urge to grow. Something so basic, knows that there is more to life if you reach upward.

I gave this entry a lot of thought over the past few days. I think that there us much more room for individuality when you set parameters for measurable behavior. If one “marches to their own beat” then you don’t have any way to judge just how different you are than anyone else.

As I was writing this, I thought about Parshas Korach. I must admit, I really wasn’t thinking, but remembering Rav Soloveitchik’s view of Korach, as found in REFLECTIONS OF THE RAV . The Rav states that “Korach was committed to the doctrine of religious subjectivism, which regards one’s personal feelings as primary in the religious experience. The value of the mitzvah is to be found not in its performance, but in its subjective impact upon the person.” This was how Korach thought. Rav Soloveitchik felt that “there are two levels in religious observance, the objective outer mitzvah and the subjective inner experience that accompanies it. Both the deed and the feeling constitute the total religious experience; the former without the latter is an incomplete act, an imperfect gesture. The objective act of performing the mitzvah is our starting point. The mitzvah does not depend on the emotion; rather, it induces the emotion. One’s religious inspiration and fervor are generated and guided by the mitzvah, not the reverse.”

A few months ago felt compelled to actually submit something to in reference to a list I had seen a while back. I received the following response to my submission:This message was created automatically by mail delivery software.
A message that you sent could not be delivered to one or more of its
recipients. This is a permanent error. The following address(es) failed:
mailbox is full: retry timeout exceeded

Not good news for the Jews. I was pretty bummed. So I sent the email again. Same response.
In an attempt to answer the question that became the title of this posting, I submit the following:

My additions to “Top 10 ways you know you are a JEWISH HIPSTER”:
Your Itunes Library includes: Shlomo Carlebach, Shalsheles, Husker Du, C Lanzbom, Chaim Dovid, The Yitzhak Halevi Band, Rabbis Akiva Tatz and Moshe Weinberger, Bad Religion, and the Yeshiva Boys Choir
You turn “I Wanna Be Sedated” into a niggun
You quote the Kuzari and Kerouac in the same breath

You cancel your Rolling Stone subscription and start getting the JEWISH PRESS
Your cell phone ringer is a version of “Ki Va Moed” with killer electric guitar
On Sunday afternoons you Skateboard to Mincha, because the shul parking lot is good for shreddin’
Your wife’s mini-van’s radio is preset to both news-radio and the local alternative station
Your Shabbos Hat Box is covered with band stickers

When you hear the term “hardcore” you think of Black Flag and Novorodock
Your kids share your love of all things Piamenta

If you’re reading this (and you know who you are, because you went by a different name when you were younger) thanks. It was great seeing you again.