Category: Middos

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Materialism Addiction

I was asked the following question, and I was happy with how the reply came out. I just received permission to post the exchange, minus identifying information. Question: I learn in yeshiva kollel in Yerushalayim,  and I was bothered by something that I don’t find anyone speaks about or I can ask to help. Every Rosh haShana we want to...

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You too left Mitzrayim

The Mishnah (Pesachim 10:5, TB 115a-b), in a section quoted by the Hagadah, states: רבן גמליאל היה אומר, כל שלא אמר שלשה דברים אלו בפסח, לא יצא ידי חובתו. ואלו הן: פסח, מצה, ומרור…. בכל דור ודור חיב אדם לראות את עצמו כאלו הוא יצא ממצרים. שנאמר (שמות יג), “וְהִגַּדְתָּ֣ לְבִנְךָ֔ בַּיּ֥וֹם הַה֖וּא לֵאמֹ֑ר בַּעֲב֣וּר זֶ֗ה עָשָׂ֤ה ה֙׳ לִ֔י בְּצֵאתִ֖י מִמִּצְרָֽיִם:” לפיכך...

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Purim in the World of Affection

There are four mitzvos one must fulfill on Purim: reading the megillah, matanos le’evyonim (gifts to poor people), mishloach manos (“shalachmones”), and the Purim se’udah. The first, reading the megillah, relates directly to the story of the day – nothing can be more connected than a mitzvah to retell it! But what do the other three mitzvos have to do...

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Frogs and Orchestras

“And Aharon stretched out his hand over the water of Egypt, and the frog came up and covered the land of Egypt…. And Pare’oh called to Moshe and to Aharon and said, ‘Plea to Hashem, that He take away the frogs from me and my people….’”[1] Rashi on our parashah[2] notes the use of the singular, “hatzfardei’ah”, “the frog” when...

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The True Hero of Chanukah

No, the title of this post doesn’t refer to HQBH, although clearly it could. (Or can it: Can we define “heroism” with respect to One for Whom there are no risks to take?) Nor Yehudah haMakabi, nor Matisyahu, nor Chana or any of her sons, nor Yehudis… The Beis Yoseif famously asks why we celebrate the first day of Chanukah....

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My Life as a Pendulum

Usually, when we think of the pendulum as a metaphor, it’s of a process that goes too far in one direction, then too far in the other, until eventually it reaches equilibrium at the mean. I’m thinking of a different perspective.Think of the soul, not as some point within you, but as a line. The lowest region, the nefesh, is...

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What does Hashem ask of you?

We saw earlier in our discussion of yir’ah the following gemara (Berakhos 33b, Megillah 25a and Niddah 16b): ואמר רבי חנינא: הכל בידי שמים חוץ מיראת שמים. שנאמר (דברים י:יב) “עַתָּה֙ יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל מָ֚ה ה’ אֱ-לֹהֶ֔יךָ שֹׁאֵ֖ל מֵֽעִמָּ֑ךְ כִּ֣י אִם־לְ֠יִרְאָה…?” Rabbi Chanina said: Everything is in the hands of [the One in] heaven except for yir’as Shamayim, as it says: “And...

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Gratitude and Thankfulness

It takes two skills to thank someone: hakaras hatov, recognizing the good, being able to see the good in your life, and hoda’ah, being willing to attribute its presence to someone / Someone else. (Same thought, but with more rigor and detail, here.)

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The Question on the Quiz

During my second year of nursing school our professor gave us a quiz. I breezed through the questions until I read the last one: “What is the first name of the woman who cleans the school?” Surely this was a joke. I had seen the cleaning woman several times, but how would I know her name? I handed in my...

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Marbim beSimchah

Esther’s life was overall a very tragic one. The story ends, and we’re told about Mordechai’s rise to political power and the taxes and all. Meanwhile, she is still married to a non-Jewish drunkard who killed a previous wife on a whim. No happily ever after for her! And I think this is what Esther was thinking of when she said...

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Two Temidim a Day

One Purim at the se’udah, when people were feeling a little levity, Rav Chaim Volozhiner asked his Rebbe, the Vilna Gaon, for a berakahah. The Vilna Gaon blessed him that he would merit to bring two temidim daily. Rav Chaim was thrown — we do not bring the tamid, the twice-daily offering, today as there is no beis hamiqdash!1 The...

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The Baal Teshuvah and the Tzadiq

I commented on Gratitude: What does “todah” mean? As it stands, it means “thanks”. The same root conjugated as “vidui” means to “confess”. Last, when the mishnah wants to stress that something is outside of a dispute, “hakol modim” — “all agree”. What do thanks, confession and agreement have in common? When I thank someone, I acknowledge his actions had...

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Q&A: Whither Sarcasm?

The following is the inaugural article (October 2014 issue) in a new column in Yashar: the Newsletter of The Mussar Institute. (Unlike Rabbi Yaakov Feldman, I wrote most of my piece before being told of the space limit. I lament not knowing what else R’ Feldman would have said had he known they would carry something longer. On the other...

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A Mishpat for the G-d of Yaaqov

תִּקְעוּ בַחֹדֶשׁ שׁוֹפָר, בַּכֵּסֶה לְיוֹם חַגֵּנוּ. כִּי חֹק לְיִשְׂרָאֵל הוּא, מִשְׁפָּט לֵאלֹקֵי יַעֲקֹב. Blow the shofar at the new moon, at the fullness for our holiday. For it is a choq [a trans-rational statute] for Yisrael, a mishpat [just law] of the G-d of Yaaqov. – Tehillim 81:4-5 The Malbim (ad loc) writes (tr. Rabbi Mordechai Torczyner): We do not...

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The Magrefah and Yir’as Hashem

The gemara (Eirukhin 10b-11a) describes the magreifah, one of the musical instruments in the Beis haMiqdash, which in Biblical Hebrew is either the minnim or the ugav. Shemuel describes it as a box about 1 ammah square with a board extending from one side (for keys? to work bellows?), and 10 tubes coming out the top. Each pipe had 10...

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Esther’s Modesty – Adar’s Joy (Anavah and Anvanus)

Yoshiahu’s Downfall The only qinah, elegy, that we recite on Tish’ah beAv that dates back to the days of Tanakh (other than the Book of Eichah itself) is Yirmiyahu’s qinah for King Yoshiahu. Yoshiahu was raised by one of the more idolatrous of our kings, Menasheh. Menasheh managed to so suppress Torah that Yoshiahu was taken by the scroll he...

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What is Frumkeit?

The word “frum” has become a near-synonym for Orthodox. How this came to be is noteworthy. “Frum” descends from the German “fromm“, meaning pious or devout. In pre-war Yiddish, usage appears to have varied widely. On the one hand, those who named their daughters “Fruma” clearly thought being frum as complementary. On the other, there was an idiom, or as...

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The Value of Money

There is an often-cited dispute between Rabbi Yishma’el and Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. ת”ר ואספת דגנך (דברים יא:יד) מה ת”ל לפי שנא’ (יהושע א:ח) לא ימוש ספר התורה הזה מפיך יכול דברים ככתבן ת”ל ואספת דגנך הנהג בהן מנהג דרך ארץ דברי ר’. ישמעאל ר”ש בן יוחי אומר אפשר אדם חורש בשעת חרישה וזורע בשעת זריעה וקוצר בשעת קצירה ודש...

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Tools and Goals

Is observance the ends, the purpose, of our lives, or is it the means and the goal lies beyond it? And if they are the means, do we need to consciously frame the purpose of our lives, or should we just concern ourselves with following the halakhah, and rest assured that the goal will take care of itself?”


How would this play out communally?

One possible outcome is … that black letter halakhah — that which can be measured, laid out in clear obligated or prohibited terms — takes center seat without any attempt to become the kind of person more capable of fulfilling the full breadth of its commandments. There would be mixed reports of business ethics, scandals… yet others abusing their power over their students in other ways.

Another possible outcome is an idealistic community, but one whose ideals are not Torah derived. In such a community ideals would be taken from some segment of the surrounding culture, and halakhah would be reduced to a means of “blessing” goals that we assimilated from the outside…

A third possibility is particular to a community that teaches the need to engage the world around it…. Without a firm eye and a constant striving toward an ideal, the energy it takes to maintain this delicate balance too easily collapses into a life of compromise…..

Do these portraits sound familiar?

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Compassion for Our Enemies

Updated 1/8/2014. We have a minhag to pour out 16 drops of wine, once at each mention of a makah that befell the Egyptians. The earliest mention of this custom is in the Maharil (according to R’ Joseph Tabory, on Avodah), who says the reason is that we are promised “any distress which I placed upon the Egyptians I will...

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Hatred

The Netziv (Rav Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin 1816-1893, last Rosh Yeshiva at Volozhin) wrote a relatively famous piece in Meishiv Davar (1:44) that is quoted a lot this time of year. I thought I would translate a core section (pg 52, col 2, paragraph starting “Vehinei“). The context is that the Netziv just discussed the prohibition against going into business...

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Ways of Peace

In a comment on my recent post “Infinite Worth“, Raffi asked: Hey – would you elaborate on your intriguing definition of darkhei Shalom as “walking the path of He Who makes peace”? Vav — I’d be glad to. (Now aren’t you glad I don’t inject my sense of humor into this blog too often?) The factoid behind Raffi’s question is...

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A Retrospective Implication of Bitachon

Saying that I have bitachon, trust that Hashem sets up the world I experience to maximize my opportunity for success, implies that I believe that all of my failures are due to my own decisions. So, if I am not succeeding, there are really only two possibilities. Either I am not carrying my own side of the partnership. In which...

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No rest for the weary…

(This post is a different treatment of the same themes as “Mas’ei — the Journey as a Name of G-d“.) וַיֵּשֶׁב יַעֲקֹב בְּאֶרֶץ מְגוּרֵי אָבִיו בְּאֶרֶץ כְּנָעַן. And Yaaqov settled in the land of his fathers’ dwelling, in the land of Canaan. – Bereishis 37:1 (איוב ט) “אם שוט ימית פתאום…” אנטונינוס שאל את רבינו, אמר לו: מהו דכתיב: אם שוט...

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Yir’ah and its Middos

The story so far… Words are how we divide the space of ideas into more specific “countries”. Our choice of vocabulary therefore not only reflects our thoughts, but shape them. And more importantly, they change what parts of our experience we notice, remember, and reinforce in our memories. We can’t really work on our yir’as Shamayim if we continue dividing...