Category Archives: Uncategorized

JUF’s Annual Jewish Day School Night

This Tuesday, April 1, 2014 the day school community of Chicago has an opportunity to hear from on the experts on Bullying, Dr. Rona Novick.* Not only is she a nationwide expert on this subject, but she an amazing and engaging speaker.

Day School Parents, Educators & Board Members
are cordially invited to attend a Dessert Reception
on behalf of the Jewish United Fund

Bully, Bullied or Bystander: The Roles Children Play
Featuring nationally acclaimed guest speaker
Dr. Rona Novick

Tuesday, April 1, 2014
Desert reception – 7:15 PM – 8:30 PM
Holiday Inn North Shore
5300 West Touhy Avenue, Skokie

Reservations required, Dietary laws observed, Valet parking available

A meaningful gift to the 2014 Jewish United Fund Annual Campaign is strongly encouraged.

For more information, please contact Mindy Bass at 312-444-2839 or

Reservations are required

* Rona Novick, PhD is the director of the Fanya Gottesfeld Heller Doctoral Program at the Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and Administration at Yeshiva University and Associate Clinical Professor of Child Psychology at North Shore-Long Island Jewish Medical Center. Dr. Novick also serves as Co-Educational Director of the Hidden Sparks program, providing consultation to day schools and Yeshivas. Dr. Novick received her PHD from Rutgers University and completed her doctoral internship at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York. She developed the Alliance for School Mental Health at North-Shore Long Island Jewish Medical Center and served as its director for eight years, authoring the BRAVE bully prevention program for schools. She is recognized for her expertise in behavior management and child behavior therapy and has published scholarly articles on school applications of behavior management, children and trauma and bully prevention in schools. She has delivered numerous presentations at national and international conferences, focusing on her research interests in parenting and parent-school partnerships, child anxiety disorders, social-emotional learning and the behavior and development of young children. She is the author of a book for parents: Helping Your Child Make Friends, and editor of the book series Kids Don’t Come With Instruction Manuals

In memory of R Yisrael Salanter zt’l

While in the past I have attempted to post something close to the 25th of Shevat, when Rabbi Yisrael Salanter zt’l was niftar. I am opting to repost the text of a little pamphlet I put together. Rabbi Micha Berger also has a great post, here.

If interested there is also a biography of R Yisrael Salanter zt’l from 1899 that I posted a while back, here.


13 Middos of Rabbi Yisrael Salanter



זריזות Alacrity

חריצות Diligence

כבוד Honor

מנוחת  Tranquility

נחת Gentleness

נקיון Cleanliness

סבלנות Patience

סדר Order

ענוה Humility

צדק Justice

קמוץ Thrift

שתיקה Silence

אמת – שלא להוציא מן הפה דבר שאין הלב מעיד על אמיתותו.

Truth– Never speak a word unless your heart can testify to its truth.

Do the words we speak to others clearly reflect the feelings in our heart?  It is vital that when we talk with our friends or family members we open up ourselves and show them who we really are.   Our heart serves as a witness to what we say and who we are.  The gemara in Yoma 69b states that Hashem’s “seal” is אמת, truth.  By committing to speak the truth in all matters, we are connecting to Hashem in a very powerful way.

-שלא לבטל רגע לבטלה. כן לעשות מה שדרוש לעשות.זריזות

Alacrity– Never waste a single moment; do what has to be done.

Do you grab moments in life or do they slip away?  This middah is about grabbing the opportunities that Hashem puts in front of us when they come our way.  When it comes to doing what has to be done, it’s all about priorities.  Some things are clearly not as important to do as others.  The sefer Orchos Tzaddikim says that we learn alacrity from Avraham. Before the Akeida, he “woke up early in the morning” (Bereishis 22:3).  We are not just talking about mitzvos, though.  We have to approach daily tasks with this same energy.  It can be emails in your inbox, dishes in the sink, an assignment in school, or laundry.  Things need to be accomplished in a timely fashion.

חריצותלעשות מה שהוחלט לעשות בשקידה וברגש.

Diligence– Do what you have determined to do and do it with feeling.

How long is your “to do” list?  If you are like most people, just when you take one thing off your list, two more are written down.  While the previous middah dealt with doing what has to be done in a timely manner, this is different. This middah is more about actualizing your decisions by following through.  We can make plans to exercise, start dieting, or even to learn more Torah, but for many these are just “plans”.  Making up my mind is only step one.  Step two is to make it happen.  Rabbi Yisrael teaches us the secret to following step two.  He says, “Do it with feeling.”   To take an idea or make a decision and bring it into this world is a powerful thing.  When we are passionate about what we try to do, we are that much closer to success.

כבוד – להיזהר בכבוד כל אדם ואפילו של זה שאין אנו תמימי דעה עמו.

Honor: Be careful to treat all people with honor, even those with whom you have little in common.

Do you treat everyone you know with honor?  The idea behind this middah is that everyone is created in the image of Hashem, even if we don’t like them.  This means that we have to recognize that their neshama (soul) is connected to Hashem.  We all know sometimes it’s easier to be nice to strangers in a store than it is with those that we live with.  To be known as a nice person on the street isn’t a big deal.  Being a nice person when we enter the front door of our homes is much more difficult.  There are people you meet in life that you simply find it difficult to connect with or even get along with.  They might be more or less observant than you, daven somewhere else, or have totally different values than you do.  We can’t forget that they are also created by Hashem.


מנוחה – מנוחת הנפש, לבלי היות מבוהל ולעשות כל דבר במנוחה.

Tranquility: Find an inner calmness; do not be overwhelmed; always act with deliberation.
Do you find time to relax and chill out?  The middah of menucha, or tranquility, is an important and overlooked trait.  We are all so concerned about staying connected and running from place to place that it’s easy to forget that we need to have a feeling of calmness within us.  Rabbi Salanter urges us not to get overwhelmed with life, especially with problems that arise.  If I start out with a sense of balance within me, then it’s easier not get overwhelmed and panic stricken.  When we feel the pressure of having too much to do, we find it difficult to make decisions.  This is why it’s suggested to “always act with deliberation.”


נחת – דברי חכמים בנחת נשמעים, ולכן השתדל לדבר כן.

Gentleness: The wise speak in a gentle manner; always try to speak softly.

When do find yourself shouting?  The Ramban, in his famous letter, instructs his son to, “Get into the habit of always speaking calmly to everyone.”  Speaking to others gently allows you to not only be heard, but to listen to another person.  When we get aggravated and raise our voice, usually someone will do the same.  We end up yelling so loud that we can’t even hear the other person or their side of the story.  Rabbi Yisrael Salanter is teaching us that that our words are powerful.  Everyone has been hurt by something that someone has said to them. While physical abuse is outwardly more apparent, verbal abuse hurts us on the inside. Sharp words hurt.  Softly spoken words can hurt too, but might be better received.


ניקיון – ניקיון וטהרה בגופו ובבגדיו.

Cleanliness: Attain cleanliness and purity in body and clothing.

How do you appear to other people?  This isn’t a lesson in my hygiene and appearance.  It’s about how the outside world views me.  If I recognize that my neshama was given to me my Hashem, then that needs to be reflected in how I present myself in the world.  If we look in the mirror and are happy with what we see, it means something.  Our outer appearance needs to reflect our inner appearance.  The type of Jew we are at home should also be the type of Jew we are when we are not at home.  If we really are children of the King of Kings, then how we carry ourselves and dress should reflect that honor.


סבלנות – לסבול במנוחה כל מקרה וכל פגע בחיים.

Patience: Calmly confront every situation and absorb each occurrence in life.

Is there someone that eats away your patience?  The root of the Hebrew word for patience means load or burden (based on Alei Shur by Rabbi Shlomo Volbe zt’l).  Being a patience person means seeing the whole picture, the parts we like and parts we don’t like.  We might not like the person we are dealing with or a specific situation, but we carry that with us.  Sometimes I’ll notice myself getting impatient and just stop what I’m doing and count backwards from 30 to 1. That usually helps me.  We have to remember that challenges and difficulties are like a computer virus.  If you stop them early, you can save your operating system.

 סדר – לעשות כל מעשה ועניין בסדר ובמשטר.

Orderliness: Carry out your responsibilities in all aspects in an orderly fashion.

What happens when you don’t follow your GPS directions in order?  We all know it is important to follow the correct directions or we’ll get lost.  No matter if it’s a school report, project for work, a recipe for dinner, or the way to perform a mitzvah, there’s an order that has to be followed.  It’s easy to get frazzled quickly when responsibilities stack up. This is why we have to have to know what needs to be done first.  Pirkei Avos (5:7) states that one of the seven characteristics of a wise person is that, “He responds to first things first and to latter things later.”  This is a simple, yet practical application of the middah of orderliness.


ענוה – להכיר חסרונות עצמו ולהסיח דעת ממומי חברו.

Humility: Recognize your own shortcomings and disregard those of your fellow man.

Do you know anyone that thinks they are always right?  According to Rabbi Salanter, the first step in attaining humility is realizing our own strengths and weaknesses.  We all excel in certain things and there are other areas that we need to work on.  It’s important to remember this when dealing with others.  We all need to learn to see the positive things in others.  Each time we deal with someone, we need to stop looking at their shortcomings and see the positive things that we can learn from others. By doing this we can grow into the person we are meant to be.



צדק – כפשוטו וכדרשתו: ‘וותר משלך’.

Righteousness: In its most basic form; and also to be to “forgo your own interests”.

Are justice and righteousness the same thing?  Both can only be measured by a set standard.  In our lives, that standard is Hashem’s Torah.  Doing the right thing isn’t always easy.  Rabbi Yisrael Salanter says that we have to be willing to even give up things that can benefit us.  This could include:  a parking spot, your seat in shul, the last delicious brownie, giving a smile or a kind work to another person.   Rabbi Salanter’s great-grandson, Rabbi Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler zt’l, took this concept of giving and taught that there are two types of people in the world, givers and takers.  Being a giver is truly a righteous thing.


קמוץשלא להוציא פרוטה שלא לצורך.

Thrift: Do not spend even a penny unnecessarily

Do we purchase what we need or what we want?  This is a very different middah than the previous ones, because it directly related to so something material.  How we spend our money gives us is an indication of what we value.  We need to realize that every dollar and every penny is ultimately given to us by Hashem and we should be careful about how we spend it.  There is nothing wrong with working hard and owning things that you feel you deserve.  However, affluence isn’t everything.  It’s what we do with our money that demonstrates the quality of who we are.  As it states in Eruvin 65b:  A person is recognized through three things – his Kos (how he acts after drinking), his Ka’as (anger), and his Kis (wallet or how he spends).

שתיקה – יחשוב את התועלת שבדבריו קודם שידבר.

Silence: Think about the benefit of your words before you say them.

How often do you say something without really thinking about it?  Words reveal our thoughts and allow us to connect with others.  We talk, text, email, constantly, connecting with others.  We need to think about what we say and how those words can help another person.  A kind word or show of thanks is an extremely powerful force.  When praying, we also are using the power of speech.  Rabbi Yisrael Salanter’s final middah challenges each of us to think about the gift of speech.  When we communicate with someone, we need to realize that we are revealing part of our neshama, that which is connected to Hashem, the source of all truth.



This publication was written in conjunction with the yahrzeit of Rabbi Yisrael Salanter zt’l (25th of Shevat)

The Hebrew text for the 13 middos is based on written accounts about Rabbi Yisrael Salanter printed in the sefer Mikor Baruch by Rabbi Baruch Epstein zt”l, page 1111.

My thanks to Rabbi Micha Berger for his essay and chart regarding the 13 middos.  Available here:

For additional copies or a pdf file, please send an email to

© 2012 Neil Harris

Not a Spectator Sport (link)


My buddy Shmuel did the world the biggest favor by transcribing a story that Rav Moshe Weinberger has recently been saying over (at YU and at a DRS Yeshiva High School for Boys). The story involves the Lubavitcher Rebbe zt’l and a young boy in the 1950s. IT IS ONE OF THE BEST STORIES I HAVE HEARD IN THE PAST 3 YEARS, no kidding. It’s a must read for parents, teens, teachers, students…everyone.

I initially was going to post the whole thing here, but I’d rather give to the respect to the man who transcribed it. Run, don’t walk here. Seriously, go now!

Thanks, Oy! Chicago, for letting me join the team

Oy ChicagoI am uber-happy to announce that I will have an original post (read-won’t take a post from this blog and recycle it) about once a month on Oy! Chicago, “Oy!Chicago is for the socially conscious, intellectually curious, community-minded. Oy! is home to articles, blog posts, event listings and ongoing discussions about Jewish life.”

My first post, “The Dreidel of Life”, is right here. So, please do me a favor and take a look and tell a friend. A freilichen Chanukah and a gut Chodesh!

Chassidus and Mussar (audio links)

pathsThis week I have been re-listening to some old (Sept 2005) shiruim from Rav Moshe Weinberger, Hachsharas Avreichim shiurim:

These 3 shiruim were commended to me right when they were recorded at Aish Kodesh (thanks, Dixie Yid). Originally, I listened to them as stand alone shiurim, but this time around I have been listening to them as part of Rav Weinberger’s series on the sefer Hachsharas Avreichim, by the Piaczena, Rav Kalonymous Kalman Shapiro.

I happen to love Hashem. Once in a while, I am zoche to little things here and there that remind me that Hashem loves me, too. Today I opened an email (sent on 10/22)  with an update of new shiurm from Rav Weinberger that were recorded at Yeshiva University, where Rav Weinberger is “Mashpia” for the Yeshiva.

The mp3 was titled “Torah’s Ha Ba’al Shem Tov #6-Difference Between Chassidus & Mussar“. I kid you not. Go check it and listen…I’m going to.

The Future of Orthodox Judaism

Letter to the Editor, from the Jewish Press, Oct 16, 2013


The Future Of Orthodox Judaism

I have seen the future of Orthodox Judaism. It is a future not fueled or defined by either a stringent or a lackadaisical approach to halacha or by the type of shul where one davens. Those are, of course, important aspects of our Yiddishkeit, but I see something different that paves the way for our future.

The future of Orthodoxy lies in the hands of the parents and families who make conscious choices and exhibit mesiras nefesh, self-sacrifice, on behalf of their children.

It is often said that today’s generation has it much easier than previous generations with regard to maintaining an observant lifestyle. We have kosher restaurants, plenty of food with kosher certification, many choices for fashionable yet modest clothing, easy availability of sefarim, online divrei Torah – even Daf Yomi on an iPad.

I admit that we do have it easier, but there are also different challenges that today’s parents face. As this generation’s teens and young adults grow up and eventually become parents themselves, I think it is key that they understand some of the lengths to which their parents went to for them.

For example, there are many parents who choose free or low budget “staycation” options for their family not because they can’t afford something better but because they feel any “extra” money should be earmarked for tzedakah. This is a powerful life lesson for all of us.

What about the parents who look past social stigma and put their teenagers in substance abuse rehabilitation programs? These programs can put an additional strain on an already tight budget. Somehow, though, such parents figure out a way to make it happen because the alternative is unthinkable.

Recently I met a mother who canceled subscriptions to several magazines she had read for years because she realized the articles, pictures, and advertisements were not what she wanted her children exposed to. This has made a clear, tangible, and positive impression on those she is close with.

I know a mother and father who, instead of putting their children in a local public school, both walked away from successful and established careers and moved their family halfway across America to a community that offered yeshiva high school options. How many of us would be willing to do that?

I will never forget the parent who had a limited budget for a bar mitzvah and sold some of her jewelry in order to help pay for her son’s simcha. To part with sentimental and irreplaceable keepsakes must not have been easy, but when it comes to one’s kids, one does whatever it takes.

None of this is done for accolades or to be singled out at a shul tribute dinner. Acts of mesiras nefesh need not be grandiose and life altering. Every little thing we do has an impact. The parents who make sacrifices for their children are investing in and raising the future of Orthodox Judaism.

Neil Harris Chicago, IL

Editor’s Note: The writer maintains a blog called Modern Uberdox at

Novardok in Paris


Just read an awesome article on the Novardok community that was established after the Shoah.
It’s in the Sukkos edition of AMI MAGAZINE.
If anyone has a PDF of the article, I’d love it, as don’t have access to a scanner right now.

Possible regrets


Photo from here

Photo found on

My friend, A Simple Jew, emailed me a story about a bochur’s encounter with the Lubavitcher Rebbe zt’l. The story is from this website.

Reb Chaim Sholom Deitsch relates:

“There was a very serious bochur with whom I was in close contact. He would daven be’arichus, learn diligently, and make a regular cheshbon hanefesh.

“This bochur was a very deep thinker and was also very self-aware. Being very honest and naturally critical on himself, he was always working on different parts of his character which he believed needed improvement.

“Before he went in to yechidus, he prepared many pages of self evaluation, of his past and his present, providing detailed descriptions. It was a masterpiece of a cheshbon hanefesh.

“When he went in to the Rebbe’s room, the Rebbe lifted the stack of papers and said, ‘A shod! In der tzait volstu gikent shraiben a chibbur in Torah…‘  (What a shame! In the time [you spent on the cheshbon hanefesh] you could have written on Torah matters…)

“The bochur was shocked. It took him time to realize that he had been overly engrossed in himself to the point of obsession. In one minute, the Rebbe pulled him out of self-absorption, and saved him from himself. Indeed, today he devotes his time to studying Torah rather than studying himself.”

I’ve been digesting this for a few days and letting it absorb into my heart and mind. Why? Because I try to be open to change. I’ll admit, there are minutes spent, words spoken, and characters typed that have I’ve used for many years as part of my own person cheshboning (I tried to submit the word to, but it was rejected). Were they wasted? Not at all. Could that time have been spent engaging with people instead of with myself? Difficult to say (this answer is sponsored by my “Magic 8 ball”).

What I take from the above story is that, and this is going to sound uber-Brisker of me, through learning and writing d’vrai Torah one could possibly come to a similar end point as one who properly makes a consistent cheshbon hanefesh. The end point being tikun hamiddos. 

A chiddush, a new idea, that one comes up with in learning is a very deep expression of the neshama. The ability to bring a new Torah idea into the world is, I think, an aspect of creation. “Hashem looked into the Torah and created the World,” say the Zohar (can’t tell you where, but it’s definitely a Zohar). So something like a chiddush or writing d’vrai Torah is connected to creation.

We also know that each person is like a whole world. “Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world,” from Sanhedrin 37a. The concept of a person being like an entire world takes on a whole new meaning now, because the Vilna Gaon teaches that the mitzvos were given to us as ways to engage in tikun hamiddos. Tikun hamiddos and making a chesbon hanefesh is, in fact, tied to mitzvah observance. So working on yourself is an aspect of creation, as well.

So, it could be that a little less cheshboning and a little more learning and writing on Torah matters might be a revised approach.