Category Archives: Yom Tovim

The one time of the year it’s ok to be "the Jews with the crumbs"

From here

This phrase, “the Jews with the crumbs” is one that I use in a semi-joking way with my family and close friends. It’s sort of my version of the speech that kids get when they go on a school field trip or their camp goes off-site for an activity.  You know the speech, it always starts off, “Now kids, we’re going to a place where they don’t usually see a group of Jews like you. Jews who love Hashem and follow his Torah.”
As a general rule, I dislike going to recreational places on a Sunday (or during Chol HaMoed) where there are tons of other observant Jews, because, more often than not, we all bring our own snacks with us.  That’s all find and dandy, but often I, sadly, find that many of my brothers and sisters will not pick up their trash and leave a huge mess of litter, heimishe food wrappers and juice boxes…thus giving those of us who accept Torah mi’Sinai a bad name.  So, I tell my family that I don’t want us to be known as, “the Jews with the crumbs.”
Call me extreme, fanatical, and over-sensitive. I don’t mind. I think that every time we are at home or in public we have an opportunity m’kadesh Hashem.
That being written, I sat at my desk today during work and ate my shmura matza with jelly, carefull not to let too many crumbs escape the plate.  I had flashbacks to my favorite lunches when I was in public school from K-12.  Hands down, the best lunches of the year were my kosher for Passover lunches.  Corned beef on matza, lox on matza, brisket on matza, margarine and jelly on matza, a hard boiled egg, a fruit, and usually some type of small chocolate or the every popular jelly fruit slices.  Not only were those lunches yummy, but they also were a very visable way to seperate myself from everyone else eating lunch.  There was no way to hid the fact that I was Jewish.
I am not a fan of leaving messes around.  However, for all of the children and famlies that have always gone to school within the day school and yeshiva system, I think Pesach outings allow us to really remember that we are different than everyone else.  Eating your matza sandwich in a park, designated eating area at a museum, or a zoo means that you’re out in public and other see that we are different.  As the tile of this post indicates, this might be only time in the year when it’s ok to be “the Jews with the crumbs.”

There’s nothing wrong with being different, looking different, or eating different, just try not to make a mess.

"How long did your Seder last?"

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 zt’l from Rav Schwab on Prayer (pg 541)

May you have a liberating and freilichen Pesach!

Link to a write-up of Rav Moshe Weinberger’s Shabbos HaGadol drasha

Dixie Yid has done the almost impossible (again).  He posted the official write-up of Rav Weinberger’s Shabbos HaGadol drasha, here.  Seems the drasha was on Shabbos this year.  In the past it has been Motzei Shabbos and the mp3 has been available the next day.

While I have yet to read it (it’s printed and sitting in my car), I know that Dixie Yid takes great care in writing up the Torah of his Rebbe.  I know that this must have taken a huge chunk of time and you have to go to Dixie Yid’s blog and check it out.

A Pesach lesson from my son

Photo from here.  Personally this reminds me of
the Scooby Doo Mystery Machine.

Last week during carpool my 12 yr old son shared the following revelation with me:

Abba, did you know that a Mitzvah Tank is just an RV that they Na Nach up Lubavitch style?

I smiled at his his observation, but it also initially bothered me. I have always found it somewhat troublesome when someone copies something from someone else and then they (those who copy) get credit for being creative and original.  I cringed when people would tell me how Blue Fringe had this “awesome new song” called “Hafachta” (originally written and performed by Diaspora Yeshiva Band).  I smirked when teens would tell me that “they came out with another Willy Wonka movie, but that guy just isn’t as weird as Johnny Depp”.  Some remakes of movies and cover songs are not all bad.  I just don’t like it when the originals get overlooked for, simply, being original.

Now, I don’t blame my son.  He’s seen Mitzvah Tanks in Chicago.  He has also seen videos of Na Nachs dancing in Tel Aviv, photos of their Na Nach’ed up vehicles, and even seen some guys selling their swag Motzei Shabbos on Central Ave (in Cedarhurst, NY).  In his mind, the Chabad that copied the Na Nachs, not the other way around.  It’s his frame of reference only because he saw the Na Nachs do it first.

I have been thinking about this for over a week. At first, as I described above, I was bothered. Then, after some hisbonenus  I gained a better perspective on things.  A number of years ago I heard an amazing vort on the chatzatzros, trumpets, used in the Mishkan.  R David Orlofsky quotes Rav Moshe Shapiro, who brings up the point that after Moshe was niftar, the trumpets he used were put away and hidden. Yehoshua had to fashion his own. Rav Shapiro says the reason is that each generation doesn’t aways respond to the clarion call of the previous generation. While the message is the same, the mode for communiting it has to be different.

R Micha Berger puts it like this on his blog:

The call of the shofar is eternal, and thus a shofar is not invalidated by age. However, in contrast to the raw, natural, shofar, the silver chatzotzros are man-made. Their message changes as people do. The call of the chatzotzros is distinct for the generation.

If each generation has to be approached differently then, kal v’chomer (even more so) for each person.
We know that, ” A person is obligated to see himself as if he were leaving Egypt.” (Pesachim 116b)
The way that I might perceive my own freedom from Mitzrayim is, in fact, totally different than how anyone else sees it.  This obligation totally makes sense based on my son’s observation about the Mitzvah Tank.  My son has no choice but to see things from his perspective.  Hopefully he will experience Pesach in a very personal and meaningful way.  Hopefully I will, too.

"The Pesach Plan"- by R Avi Shafran

The story below is being posted with direct permission for Rabbi Shafran. His father’s memoir, Fire Ice Air: A Polish Jew’s Memoir of Yeshiva, Siberia, America is available for purchase here and was also just released for purchase as an e-book (only $3.99) at Jewish e-Books, here.

I bought this book last year before Pesach and found it to be a fascinating story of survival, determination, and family.  There are amazing first-hand accounts of yeshiva life prior to the Shoah and how much impact one person can have on family, friends, and a community.

Rabbi Avi Shafran
The group of Novardhoker yeshiva bochurim and their rebbe (and his rebbetzin)—along with a number of families—were packed into the train’s stock cars in the summer of 1941. Since Rav Yehudah Leib Nekritz, zt”l, and his talmidim, then in Soviet-conquered Lithuania, had declined the offer of Russian citizenship, the Soviets were providing them an all-expense-paid trip to Siberia. Occasional pieces of bread and cups of water were also offered at no charge during the weeks of travel. Not to mention the cruise across a lake on a barge to the work camp where my father, may he be well, the youngest of the yeshiva group, and his rebbe and friends, would spend the years of the Second World War.
The Siberian summer is oppressive; insects left the exiles at times unrecognizable for their swollen faces. Winter in the taiga, of course, brought challenges of its own, including 40 degree below zero temperatures.
In his short memoir, “Fire Ice Air,” my father recalls that even as the yeshiva exiles arrived in the East, Pesach was already on their minds.
And so, as they worked in the fields, some of the boys squirreled away a few kernels of wheat here and there, carefully placing them in their pockets—something that was “entirely against the rules, and very dangerous.”
“The Communist credo, though,” he writes, “was ‘from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs’ and so we were really only being good Marxists. Our spiritual needs, after all, included kosher for Pesach matzo.”
They put the kernels in a special bag, which they carefully hid where no one could find it.
The winter was brutal but the Novardhokers all survived it, as did the bag of grain. When the end of the cold season was rumored to be near, they ground the kernels into flour with a small hand grinder intended for coffee beans. My father remembers that the flour was coarse and dark, but resplendent all the same.
The next part of the Pesach plan was to arrange for the actual matzo-baking. Although the yeshiva boys were barracked with non-Jewish locals, there was one hut in the area that was occupied solely by a Jewish family, the Beckers, who had come from Kovno. Arrangements were made for some of the boys to come to their house in the middle of the night, when all the town’s residents were asleep, and fire up their oven on full blast for two hours to make it kosher. Then they would bake matzos for the family and themselves.
Since matzo dough is traditionally perforated in rows to ensure that it is “baked through,” the young men improvised a special tool for the purpose by whittling a piece of wood so that it could be fitted with gear-wheels borrowed from a clock. The apparatus was rolled over each matzo-dough quickly before the baking. 
“When Pesach came,” he recalls, “we all gathered at the hut and all of us—the Nekritzes, we yeshiva boys, and the Beckers—were able to fulfill the mitzvah of eating matzo on the first night of Pesach, in remembrance of our ancestors’ release from the outsized prison that was ancient Egypt. Understandably, it was a mitzvah that resonated strongly for us.”  The four kosos could not so easily be addressed; there was no wine and there were no grapes to be found in Siberia. But, to at least undertake some semblance of that mitzvah, the exiles managed to obtain milk—an expensive delicacy in its own right—and used it instead. To them, my father writes, “it tasted of the finest wine.”
The group even bartered some of their possessions for a few eggs, traditionally eaten at the Pesach Seder. Some of the eggs were frozen, he recalls, “but that was nothing that a bit of roasting couldn’t cure.”
As we all prepare for Pesach this year, cleaning our homes and polishing our silver and shopping for our personal plethoras of pesachdikeh products, accounts like my father’s—whether from Siberian exiles, concentration camp inmates, or Jews in hiding—should be required reading, and required pondering, for our children and for ourselves.
They provide something priceless: perspective.
The above essay may be reproduced or republished, with the above copyright appended.

Goldfish and good times

Photo from here
Growing up as a “traditional” Jew, Purim was always fun. Mostly because of the potential to win a goldfish and see how long they would live. My congregation’s Purim carnival was not only fun (even when I had to help run it as an NCSYer), but brought our members out of the sanctuary and the social hall and down into the basement. Aside from throwing ping pong balls into cups filled with goldfish, we played musical chairs, the fishing for a prize game, and if you had enough tickets you could put someone in “jail”. There were other games too, but these come to mind. The whole “Shaloch Manos” thing was pretty much confined to Sunday and Hebrew School.  It, for sure, wasn’t on our family’s radar.  All in all, it was a fun holiday when I was growing up.  Good time…good times.
I wax nostalgic and remember being surrounded by the people my family was close with as we celebrated what I understood as a victory for the Jews.  The feeling of being part of a community was overpowering.  Looking back now, it was a feeling of achdus.  Maybe because we were a massive minority in Wichita, KS, but we had such pride (especially on Purim) about being Jewish.    
I think about this now, as an adult, because the value of having fun in Judaism is something that I that I feel is important.  The mitzvos ha yom all involve connecting with others and giving, but we have to make it fun. It’s often easy to focus on our costumes, d’vrai Torah, and rushing around assemble and then deliver Shaloch Manos.  I know that sometimes I’m running around so much that I forget the simcha shel mitzvah and the simchas ha chaim.  Those are two things are worth giving over to others on Purim.

A short Chanukkah note

Revised (thanks to an insightful and friendly email from R Micha Berger)

Tonight after lighting, take a few minutes to think about the bracha of being able to serve our Creator, the neis (miracle) of preserving our innate holiness, and the power we have to spread it within ourselves and outward to those we are close with.  Chanukah was the last Yom Tov given to us* and its’ light will bring us back to Geulah (Redemption).

Have a Frelichin Chanukah!!!

*As decided upon by Chazal

Rav Frand on the how to disagree and the paradigm of unity

In Rav Frand’s Teshuva drasha for this year (recorded live in Los Angeles on the first night of Selichos and available for purchase here), he discussed the need for unity on Yom Kippur and gave over an amazing story about Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld 

and Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kookwho both had very different ways of viewing both the state of Israel (at the time called Palestine), the Jews who lived there, and secular education.

Rav Frand said:

When Rav Kook and Rav Sonnenfeld went to the little communities, the little kubutzim up in the north, where they [the residents] ate chazair treif, they went together to bring people back to Yiddishkeit.  Baalei Machloches- they held each other were wrong, but they worked together.  They disagreed without being disagreeable and we have not learned to do that.  When we disagree, you’re invalid, not entitled to your opinion.  Their vehement machloches never devolved in animosity.


You know, Rav Kook and Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld were once invited to a bris.  Rav Yosef Chaim was to be the mohel and Rav Kook was supposed to be the zandek and they got to the shul at the same time.  Rav Yosef Chaim insisted that Rav Kook go in first, because he was a cohen.  Rav Kook insisted that Rav Yosef Chaim should go in, because he was a bigger person.  And they stood at the door frozen, they wouldn’t go until Rav Kook noticed that it was a double door and the left portion of the door was locked.  He reached in beside and pulled down the thing and they opened both doors simultaneously and they went in together.  That’s the paradigm [to how we should behave].

The entire shiur, Teshuva 2011 – Conflict Resolution: Within Our Community and Within Ourselves, is available for purchase and downloading on the Yad Yechiel website.

Any inaccuracies in this transcription are mine.  This is posted in zechus of a refuah shelayma for Reuven ben Tova Chaya and Miriam Orit bas Devorah.