Tziduq haDin

Tziduk Hadin
Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Yated Ne’eman
March 13, 2008

Yerushalayim in shock
Numb with grief
Frozen hearts

In the heart of Yerushalayim
A yeshiva under attack
Unarmed students
Shot in the back
Rifle blazing
No escape
Vicious death trap
Savage hate
Gunfire roaring
Young men falling
No escape

On Rosh Chodesh
Adar Sheini.
Yeshiva bochurim

Close to eighty
The murderer sought
To kill them all
600 bullets
Blasted forth.

Innocent souls
Pure young men
Will never speak
Or laugh again
Victims so young
Leave us behind
To ponder the tragedy
Of how they died

Complacency shattered
Does nonsense still matter?
People misguided, divided

The first report announced
Terror in a yeshiva
All across the world
Headlines screamed
A yeshiva, a yeshiva
Under siege

Jews gasped,
Immediately asked,
Which yeshiva?
Where is the yeshiva?

Is it the yeshiva
Where my son learns?
My brother?
My cousin?
My friend?

We are all sons
All brothers
All cousins
All friends

Can it be that yeshivos, too,
are no longer safe?

Our teivas noach
In stormy waves
The teivah was breached
Bochurim slain
Wounded, bleeding
Searing pain

The Jewish heart punctured
Jewish souls bereaved
Across the world
United in grief

Yerushalmi Yidden
Broke down and cried.
For the yeshiva was taken
To the war’s front lines

All over Eretz Yisroel
As they assembled for Maariv
They said Yaaleh Veyavoh
for Chodesh Adar
And when they finished davening,
A silence so bitter
All they could muster
A tearful whisper
Hashem yishmor

How were there no guns that
day in Merkaz Harav?
Young boys died armed only with
their seforim
Mosru nafshom al kiddush Hashem

Gemaros soaked with victims’ blood
Seforim shot up, survivors numb
Friends gone forever, innocent youth
To their final rest in the world of Truth

Fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers
Trying to comfort each other
Sitting shivah, hearts rent
Grief that keeps flowing without end

As vast as the ocean is Jewish pain
The cycle returns in every decade
Hate and persecution take their toll
On a nation with an eternal soul

Down the corridors of history
From the days of Harugei Beitar
The eight crusades
Gezeiros Tach V’Tat

Crisscrossing the globe
The pogroms in Russia
Poland… Chevron.


Kiryat Shemonah

The 12 bus
The 2 bus
Park Hotel
Pesach night

When will it end?

Rain the first night of Sukkos
Signals G-d’s displeasure
What about the innocent
Snatched on the first night of Adar

Do we feel the pain in our
deepest soul?
Do we feel the hurt or are our
hearts cold?

A yeshiva.
Any yeshiva,
Is no longer safe!

The mizbei’ach is mechapeir
for avonos
The bais medrash became a mizbei’ach

What happened to “ein
moridim m’hamizbei’ach
What happened to the
zechus haTorah?

Lechapeir al avonoseinu,
Chodesh nehepach misasson l’eivel

But the story will soon change
In the end of days
As love conquers hate
And comfort removes pain,
Truth will triumph over lies
Darkness will finally yield to light

Ohr chodosh al Tziyon ta’ir
The light of Moshiach will shine
Over Tzion
And Yerushalayim

When we learn to
Feel the pain
Of the exile

When at last we unite
As brothers and sisters
When love binds us close
Despite our differences
No one will defeat us
Armed with our oneness
No enemy can beat us

Amaleik’s power manifests in Adar.
Haman’s dice landed on Adar

Parshas Shekolim tells the secret
Of the machatzis hashekel
Its power to counteract our
eternal foes
Amaleik and Haman.

Machatzis — half.
Because without each other,
We aren’t whole

One half and another half
And another
And another
No longer separate
But part of each other.

Achdus brings us victory
It has no rival
The ‘magic bullet’
That ensures our survival.

Esther said to Mordechai,
Leich kenos es kol haYehudim.”
Bring the Jews together

Only if they are together,
Can I win the king over
Only if they are united
Can we triumph
Over Haman
And prevail over

Leich kenos es kol haYehudim.”
Only if we are together,
Can we defeat Yishmoel

When we are One
Without friction or fighting
No power can hurt us
No force is as mighty.

K’Ish Echad B’Laiv Echad
Under Hashem Echod.
May Hashem bring us safely
To that blessed day
Bayom hahu yehiyeh Hashem Echod
U’shmo Echod

Gender Differences

(I had more to say on the each of yesterday’s post’s two topics, so it is being replaced with this and the next post.)

In a post on parashas Chayei Sarah, I included R’ Aharon Soloveitchikzt”l‘s take on gender differences as reflected in halakhah. Men have an overly strong sense of qibbush, to conqure and subsue, women have a better balance with chazaqah, making and developing.

In this post, I would like to add Rav Hirsch’s (RSRH) take, which I believe dovetails quite well with Rav Aharon’s.

First, his translation of Tehillim 45:14 is “But the king’s daughter is all glorious within, more than the golden borders of her raiment.” As Michael Poppers pointed out, this better fits the hyphenation of “kol-kevudah” as well as the use of “kevudah” not “kevudas“. The commentary reads:

“But”, the singer adds with infinite tact and delicacy, “though the princess may appear glorious and splendid in public, she reveals her true glory in quiet, more private circles, and the splendid qualities she shows there are much greater than the exquisite beauty of the gold borders which shine at the hem of her garment.” Penimah “within,” is always used to designate an inner recess as opposed to the outer chambers.

What may better capture RSRH’s position is his comments on “peru urvu umil’u es ha’aretz vikvishuhah — be fruitful and multiply and fill the world and subdue it” in Judaism Eternal, ch 11 (The Jewish Woman).

Vikvshuha is read malei [full, ie with the vav], but written chaseir [deficient]. In other words, while it is read as though both should participate in conquering the world, it’s written “vikivshah“, that only one of them should.
… [T]he command to “subdue”, and with it to procure the means necessary for marriage and for founding a household, is addressed only to the male sex, to whose function it belongs to compel the earth through labour to serve the needs of man. Hence the command to marry and found a household has absolute force only for the male sex. Since, however, these commands are after all addressed to both sexes, it is obvious that for the performance of man’s task of building up the world the Law-giver reckoned on the harmonious and equal co-operation of both sexes. Further, by excusing the famale sex from the hard labour of subduing and mastering the earth, … [H]e left it free to be devoted to the higher and more humanistic task of employing the products of man’s labour for the ethical purposes of building up a house and family, that is to say, in the service of his true vocation and his welfare as a human being.

R SR Hirsch explains this verse as being about the Talmudic aphorism that “man brings in the grain, and woman makes it into bread”. Man conquers and acquires, woman develops the raw material into a finished product. Man builds a society, woman gives it a religious backbone. Ideally it would be man who produces technology, and women who make sure we don’t dehumanize ourselves in the process.

This is akin to an observation by “Dear Abby” (Pauline Phillips, born Pauline Esther Friedman). She wrote that men are goal oriented, while women are process oriented. This is an alleged gender difference from a totally unrelated source, albeit one probably based on anecdotal evidence, that would fit the roles assumed above.

Rav Hirsch speaks in terms of “inside” vs. “outside”, community in service of its members, vs the expansion of the community’s domain, reach, and standard of living. The similarity to Rav Aharon’s dichotomy of qibbush extending our reach vs. chazaqah developing what we have is quite strong, although not identical.

This is the reason Rav Hirsch gives for the difference between the seider, in which we say “women to were in the same miracle” and they share the obligations of the night, whereas they are exempt from most rituals caused by a particular time (mitzvos asei shehazman gerama), including sukkah and lulav. The sukkah is about going beyond the home, and is thus male in a sense that perpetuating the chain of tradition at the family table on Pesach is not.

Rav Hirsch writes that male is called zachar, memory, standard-bearer of history, while female is called nekeivah, that which receives — in this case, a vocation. Yirmiyahu writes, “Ki vara H’ chadashah ba’aretz, nekeivah tisoveiv gever — for Hashem created something new in the world, female surrounds man” (31:21). Ther prophet doesn’t contrast neqeivah with zakhar, female with male, but with gever. Gever is a term for man which focuses on the male tendency for qibush. As the mishnah says, “Who is a hero [gibor]? One who conqures [hakoveish] his inclination.”

It is in this sense of neqeivah along with that of gever as a figure of qibbush, that RSRH uses to explain Yirmiyahu. Man does nothing but provide a foundation, the means; woman’s job is to provide the ends. As, as Rav Kook writes, ends are inherently more holy than means. In fact, the entire concept of “secular” boils down to our inability to see Hashem’s ends while dealing with this universe’s means.

At the inception of creation it was intended that the tree have the same taste as the fruit. All the supportive actions that sustain any general worthwhile spiritual goal should by right be experienced in the soul with the same feeling of elation and delight as the goal itself is experienced when we envision it. But earthly existence, the instability of life, the weariness of the spirit when confined in a corporate frame brought it about that only the fruition of the final step, which embodies the primary ideal, is experienced in its pleasure and splendor. The trees that bear the fruit, with all their necessity for the growth of the fruit have, however, become coarse matter and have lost their taste. This is the failing of the “earth” because of which it was cursed when Adam was also cursed for his sin.

Orot haTeshuva 6:7
Translation by B. Z. Bokser, The Lights of Penitence in “Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook,” published by Paulist Press in the “Classics of Western Spirituality” series.

As Rav Hirsch writes, the masculine quest to go ever outward is frought with the possibility of losing sight of the goals for which he was created. Getting lost in the mode of thought, and losing sight of the bigger picture. “And there is a danger that he may completely lost himself in this struggle, that in striving to acquire his means he will lose sight of his real vocation… This is an error which can almost be regarded as the key to all the mistakes made in history. It is then the woman who leads him back to what is truly human in him.” “Neqeivah tesoveiv gever.”

The Chosen People

The Rav Yekusiel Yehudah Halberstam, the Klausenberger Rebbe, held firm during his imprisonment in Dachau. He somehow managed to smuggle tefillin into the camp, and continued wearing them regularly. One day, he saw a Jew crying: What’s it all for? What future do we as a people have? What will come from all this suffering? The rebbe consoled him, at some point using the words “chosen people”. It was just then that a Nazi guard overheard him. He beat the rebbe with the butt of his rifle, and once the rebbe had fallen to the ground, pressed his boot into his cheek, pushing the rebbe’s face down into the mud. The guard sneared, and mockingly asked, “Now, do you still think you are the chosen people?”

The Rebbe replied, “as long as you are up there, and I am down here, I know we are the chosen people.”

Yesterday, two boys came home, in boxes. All of Israel and the Jewish people morn.

Meanwhile, there are celebrations in Lebanon. Not only for the return of a man who murdered babies with his bare hands, but for the remains of “martyrs” who were also given a hero’s welcome.

The Klausenberger Rebbe’s response to the Holocaust was to build Kiryat Sanz, girls’ and boys’ schools, a community in Union City, NJ, and to answer Hitler’s murder of Jews with Laniado Hospital to save lives.

Our response to this misnamed “Prisoner Exchange” can’t begin and end in rage. While we celebrate life and our enemies celebrate death, we need to build.

The Klausenberger Rebbe also said, “When you come to a place of darkness, you don’t chase out the darkness with a broom. You light a candle.”

And as long as we continue doing so, I know we are the chosen people.

Ben Chamishim le’Aitzah

בן חמישים לעצה

– יהודה בן תימא, אבות ה:כא

וּמִבֶּן֙ חֲמִשִּׁ֣ים שָׁנָ֔ה יָשׁ֖וּב מִצְּבָ֣א הָעֲבֹדָ֑ה וְלֹ֥א יַעֲבֹ֖ד עֽוֹד׃

– במדבר ח:כה

שמייעץ את אחיו ומלמדם לשמור משמרתם

– רש”י שם

וְהִגִּישׁ֤וֹ אֲדֹנָיו֙ אֶל־הָ֣אֱלֹהִ֔ים וְהִגִּישׁוֹ֙ אֶל־הַדֶּ֔לֶת א֖וֹ אֶל־הַמְּזוּזָ֑ה וְרָצַ֨ע אֲדֹנָ֤יו אֶת־אָזְנוֹ֙ בַּמַּרְצֵ֔עַ וַעֲבָד֖וֹ לְעֹלָֽם׃

-שמות כא:ו

עד היובל או אינו אלא לעולם (קידושין טו) כמשמעו ת”ל (ויקרא כה) ואיש אל משפחתו תשובו מגיד שחמשים שנה קרויים עולם ולא שיהא עובדו כל חמשים שנה אלא עובדו עד היובל בין סמוך בין מופלג.

– רש”י שם

כִּֽי־אָמַ֗רְתִּי ע֭וֹלָם חֶ֣סֶד יִבָּנֶ֑ה שָׁמַ֓יִם׀ תָּכִ֖ן אֱמוּנָתְךָ֣ בָהֶֽם׃

-תהלים פט:ג

וְשֹׁמֵ֖עַ לְעֵצָ֣ה חָכָֽם׃

– משלי יב:טו

בֵּ֣ן חָ֭כָם מ֣וּסַר אָ֑ב

– משלי יג:א

שְׁמַ֣ע עֵ֭צָה וְקַבֵּ֣ל מוּסָ֑ר לְ֝מַ֗עַן תֶּחְכַּ֥ם

– משלי יט:כ

ודי לחכימא ברמיזה!

Happy anniversary to Aspaqlaria‘s two most loyal readers!


I was recently interviewed by Steve Savitsky, the president of the OU, for his radio show “Around the Dining Room Table“. Here is their description of the show:

Not excited about Jewish practice? Have trouble tolerating fellow Jews and their different practices? Steve Savitsky sits around the dining room table with Rabbis Benjamin Hecht and Micha Berger.

My goal in my interview was to explain what AishDas is, and to motivate people to contact us about programming. You can hear it here.

I saved my own interview on, just in case OURadio moves their archives at some point in the future. But you can hear the full show, including R’ Hecht’s interesting thoughts about what he’s trying to accomplish at Nishma at the OU’s original.

Last, here’s the review from the Audio Roundup on Hirhurim:

Beyond Tolerance, Above Rote – Steve Savitsky:

Rabbi Hecht’s formula for achdut – Learn other shitot and learn with those from other backgrounds (ok – that shouldn’t take much).

R’Berger quotes R’YBS on missing the erev Shabbat Jew (you know – the one who’s not jumping out of a shower 2 minutes before Shabbat) and discuss the aishdas program ( – changing the world one shul at a time).

Mr. Savitsky notes one shul where people are inspired and excited to come, he doesn’t note that this shul represents a self selecting audience (post hoc ergo propter hoc yada yada).

While on the topic of “what is AishDas?” we recently completed a new mission statement.

The AishDas Society


“Miymino AishDas lamo.” AishDas is read from the Torah as two words. Aish, the fire of faith, a soul aflame, striving for fulfillment, seeking its creator. Das, ritual, the precision of halachic law, understanding and grasping the details of the mission for which Hashem chose us. It is written as a single word, unique in Tanach, untranslatable. AishDas is the synthesis of the fire and the law, a whole that is greater than its parts.

If one is to reach this level, Torah must become the whole life. It is not enough to pursue the depths of the soul to reach the fire within. Das must not be limited to the synagogue or the tzedakah box, but must encompass define an entire lifestyle. Halachah defines all of our relationships – with Hashem, with our fellow man, and with ourselves. To build hislehavus we must reconnect our shemiras hamitzvos to the basic principles of Torah, Avodah, and Gemillus Chassadim.

To burn with AishDas means to learn from and grow with the mitzvos. To be observant not merely out of habit or upbringing, but to connect with every deed on an intellectual and emotional level.

Mission Statement:

The AishDas Society empowers Jews to
utilize their observance in a process for building
thoughtful and passionate relationships with
their Creator, other people and themselves.

To do so, we offer unique programs,
educational events and a supportive community,
and help other organizations develop programs and curricula.

Four principles underlie this vision:

First, “process”: Living a meaningful life requires developing the abilities and personality to live up to one’s ideals.  Mitzvos such as kedoshim tihyu – the pursuit of holiness, ve’asisa hayashar vehatov – to do the straight and the good, and vehalachta bidrachav – to go in His Ways, define what we must do by defining what kind of person we must be. Sadly, their lack of specific limits of actions and duties often leads us to relate to these mitzvos as mere platitudes, but in reality, they must be the very ideals that inform how we go about our avodah.

Second, “passionate”: Observance that does not grow into passion is perforce not a life led fully according to the Torah. One must have a passionate relationship with the Creator, one that isn’t an addition to the core shemiras hamitzvos and ameilus baTorah which comprise Judaism, but is rooted in it and flows from it.

Third, “thoughtful”: Jewish thought requires the same level of analysis that we bring to other areas of Torah study. Love requires knowing the beloved, and it motivates studying the beloved.  A life of striving to be an idealist requires an understanding of the ideals, which can only come through in-depth analysis.

Last, “relationships”: A Torah‑observant life touches what one is in all situations and in all spheres of life. It means paying as much attention to the ethics of Choshen Mishpat as to the rites of Orach Chaim or the guidelines of Yoreh Dei’ah and Even haEzer. In Dr. Nathan Birnbaum’s words, one must work toward da’as – an intimate knowledge of the Almighty; rachamim – an empathetic relationship toward others; and tif’eres – a mind totally shaped by and at harmony with the Torah’s way of thought and values.

Like one person, with one heart

For the past day and a half, all Jewish eyes were on Mumbai, formerly known to us in the west as Bombay, named for two Hindu godesses. Nine popular tourist sites were attacked, locations that attracted many American and British citizens. Nine tourist sites… and one Chabad House.

Jews around the world suddenly took an interest in IBN, CNN’s partner in India. Streaming audio or video available live, listening to the reporter telling the story from outside. Occasionally interrupting her reporting to duck down or tell her cameraman to shut off his lights as shots fire out.

Why the Jews?

Why again the Jews?

Once upon a time, all of humanity got along. We used that beautiful unity improperly, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in heaven, and we will make ourselves famous; lest we get scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.” And Hashem responds, “Yes, they are one nation and they have one language, and this is what they begin to do…” (Bereishis 11:4,6)

There were few families who did not participate. One of them was that of Avraham. (Others include Malkhitzedeq / Sheim, Eiver, and Ashur the forefather of Assyria, who thereby merited the Torah script, Ashuris.) Avraham refused a unity committed to evil.

And 502 years later his children stood at Mount Sinai. “וַיִּֽחַן־שָׁ֥ם יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל נֶ֥גֶד הָהָֽר – … and Israel camped there, under the mountain.” (Shemos 19:2) The Mekhilta (quoted by Rashi) notes the use of the singular for the verb, as though Israel were an individual, and writes, “כאיש אחד בלב אחד – Like one person, with one heart.” And with that moment of unity, we merited to be the recipients of the Torah.

Unlike the unity of the Egyptians six weeks earlier, at the Red Sea. “וְהִנֵּ֥ה מִצְרַ֣יִם׀ נֹסֵ֣עַ אַחֲרֵיהֶ֗ם — … and here, Egypt is chasing after them.” Also with a singular verb. And one of Rashi’s explanations is “בלב אחד כאיש אחד — with one heart, like one person.” In opposite order, first the heart, than the unity like a single person.

The Egyptians had no inherent unity. They had a single heart, a single desire and goal, and they unified behind that goal. Had they lived long enough for that goal to evaporate they would have once again been divided. The giving of the Torah, however, required unity as a precondition, not a consequence. As we say in the Hagaddah about the evil son’s use of the word you when asking “What is this work for you?” “Since he took himself out of the community, he denied the essence [of Judaism].” Our doxology is not only “Hashem is our G-d, Hashem is One”, it first begins “Hear Israel”.

The “ish echad“, the unity of the people, precedes the “leiv echad“, the common mission. Perhaps this is why Rabbi Aqiva’s students passed away in the period of Omer in particular, in the period of transition between conditional unity and love based on a common goal, and the inherent unity as a precondition to Sinai. A utilitarian unity is not the basis of respect, it’s unity so as to use the other. (In this case, as a tool for one’s own learning.) And so the students who died “because they did not show respect one for the other” were sentenced during that time in our calendar; they didn’t survive the transition from Pesach to Shavu’os.

לֹ֣א מֵֽרֻבְּכֶ֞ם מִכָּל־הָֽעַמִּ֗ים חָשַׁ֧ק יְ-הוָ֛ה בָּכֶ֖ם וַיִּבְחַ֣ר בָּכֶ֑ם כִּֽי־אַתֶּ֥ם הַמְעַ֖ט מִכָּל־הָעַמִּֽים׃ כִּי֩ מֵֽאַהֲבַ֨ת יְ-הוָ֜ה אֶתְכֶ֗ם וּמִשָּׁמְר֤וֹ אֶת־הַשְּׁבֻעָה֙…

It is not because you are more plentiful than other nations that Hashem holds you dear and chose you; for you are few from among the nations. Rather, from the love of G-d of you, and from His keeping the promise…

-Devarim 7:7-8

Cheisheq, holding someone dear, is described as something that can be conditional (in this case, on our size). Ahavah, true love, is inherent, without reason or cause. Ahavah without an adjective is ahavas chinam.

Terrorism is an echoing of the generation of the Tower of Babel’s call, “let us make ourselves a reputation”. When they rise up they are unified like the Eqyptians. Not inherently, but functionally, behind a common cause. In Babel as Pirqei deR’ Eliezer describes it, if a person fell off the tower, worked proceeded. If a brick fell, they mourned. R’ Hirsch describes this as the first Totalitarian government — humanity was subdued to the cause. In terrorism, this is expressed in a willingness to kill innocents, to die, even to raise one’s own children with dreams of becoming “shuhada“, martyrs for the cause.

Why again the Jews?

Because in Judaism, unity is inherent, love is to be unconditional, and the value of a cause defined by the value it brings to humanity.

Why again the Jews?

Because when there is a terror attack in some exotic city, and the fate of two people I never meet hangs in the balance, everything stops. Jews in every time zone track the news obsessively. We are Benei Yisrael, the Children of Israel, siblings. All our petty (and perhaps not so petty) squabbles forgotten. Little Moishe is out safely?! Thank G-d. His parents? “About these I cry; my eyes, my eyes, spill water.”

This Shabbos (which began already in Mumbai), Moishe turned two and became an orphan. May the Omnipresent comfort the family amongst all of us mourners of Tziyon and Yerushalayim.

Mi sheBeirach…

I was just sent the following list of names of wounded soldiers. These men were wounded late Monday evening, in street clashes with Hamas gunmeny”sh in northern Azza.

  • Dvir ben Laya – seriously injured
  • Noam ben Aliza – one leg amputated; doctors fighting to save the other
  • Li’el Hoshea ben Miriam – serious head injury
  • Neriya ben Rivka – serious head injury
  • Yitzchak ben Navah – moderate shoulder injury
  • Netanel ben Navah – moderate shrapnel wounds to a lower extremity
  • Maxim ben Olga – light lower extremity injury
  • Yisrael ben Ilana – light shrapnel injury to an ear
  • Yo’ad Ido ben Frieda Rivka – light shrapnel injuries
  • Idan ben Liora – light shrapnel injuries
  • Nadav ben Miriam – light shrapnel injuries

May the One Who blessed our ancestors Avraham Yitzchaq and Yaaqov,  bless and heal all of our wounded — our soldiers, residents of the south, anyone pained and suffering in body or mind. May HaQadosh barukh Hu overflow with compassion for them, restore them, heal them, strengthen them, and give them life.

May He send them, quickly, a complete healing — healing of the mind and healing of the body — along with all the ill, among the people of Israel and all humankind, soon, speedily, without delay.

Sheloshah Pish’ai Azah

(This pasuq is making the rounds on the web. I believe original credit for pointing it out goes to R’ Shmuel Rosenberg, a sofer in Tzefat.)

כֹּ֚ה אָמַ֣ר יְ-הוָ֔ה עַל־שְׁלֹשָׁה֙ פִּשְׁעֵ֣י עַזָּ֔ה וְעַל־אַרְבָּעָ֖ה לֹ֣א אֲשִׁיבֶ֑נּוּ עַל־הַגְלוֹתָ֛ם גָּל֥וּת שְׁלֵמָ֖ה לְהַסְגִּ֥יר לֶאֱדֽוֹם׃

וְשִׁלַּ֥חְתִּי אֵ֖שׁ בְּחוֹמַ֣ת עַזָּ֑ה וְאָכְלָ֖ה אַרְמְנֹתֶֽיהָ׃

וְהִכְרַתִּ֤י יוֹשֵׁב֙ מֵֽאַשְׁדּ֔וֹד וְתוֹמֵ֥ךְ שֵׁ֖בֶט מֵֽאַשְׁקְל֑וֹן וַהֲשִׁיב֨וֹתִי יָדִ֜י עַל־עֶקְר֗וֹן וְאָֽבְדוּ֙ שְׁאֵרִ֣ית פְּלִשְׁתִּ֔ים אָמַ֖ר אֲ-דֹנָ֥י יְ-הוִֽה׃

So says Hashem: “For three transgressions of Azza, even for four, I will not reverse it: because they exiled an entire exile, to turn them over to Edom.

So will I send a fire into the wall of Gaza, and it will devour its palaces.

And I will cut off the inhabitant from Ashdod, and the one who holds the scepter from Ashkelon; and I will turn My hand against Eqron, and the remnant of the Philistines shall be gone”, says Hashem, G-d.

– Amos 1:6-8

A reference to Hashem losing patience with Gaza after multiple offenses, sending fire into it, destroying its “palaces” and eliminating the Philistines has eerie and obvious parallels.

According to the Mezudas David, Amos is referring to the then-future exile by Titus. Many from Yerushalayim fled south, and the residents of Azza captured them and handed the refugees over  to the enemy. Thus “to turn them over to Edom”.

As for today’s galus sheleimah, the speed at which antisemitism has accelerated the world over is frightening. Deaths in France, beatings and shul burnings in London, a Molotov cocktail thrown at a Temple outside Chicago, a Chabad menorah and Jewish-owned shops sprayed with swastikas in Belgium, a banner at an Australian rally demanding “clean the earth from dirty Zionists!”, people in Fort Lauderdale shouting that we need ovens, echoed in the Netherlands where protesters chanted “Hamas, Hamas, Joden aan het gas — Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the gas!”…

המתרצה ברחמים ומתפיס בתחנונים, התרצה והתפיס לדור עני כי אין עוזר!

He Who desires mercy and is appeased with pleas,

please find desire and appeasement for this impoverished generation

for we have no other helper!

יְ-הוָ֣ה לָ֭נוּ לֹ֣א נֵירָ֑א מַה־יַּעֲשֶׂ֖ה לָ֭נוּ ֣אָדָֽם!

Hasיem is with us, we shall not be afraid! What can a person to do us?

– c.f. Tehillim 118:6

You only have 15 seconds…


January 6th, 2009 by Justin Oberman

As the conflict in the Middle East continues rockets fired by Hamas continue to fall into the Israeli city of Sederot where countless of innocent victims have 15 seconds to find shelter and or find their children and loved ones. Mobile Technology is now being used to rally people around the world during those 15 seconds.
The city is paralyzed as Terrorist Hamas groups target children’s schools and places of public gathering like supermarkets and stores. The economy is in ruins and besides worrying for their lives teh people of Sederot are beginning to worry about their economic stability and putting food on the table.

Jews all over the world are sending aid. But there is little that they can do (physically) to help anyone in Sederot during the 15 seconds after the sirens go off.

For this reason The National Council of Young Israel has set up a service called SMS SEDEROT or (Solidarity Message For Sederot). When the Tzeva Adom (Code Red) siren in sounded in Sederot (or any Israeli City) SMSSEDEROT will send you a text message that will read:

A Kassam Rocket has just been launched at Sderot. You have: 15 seconds to read Psalm 130. 15 seconds to give to charity 15 seconds to call the UN , the WHite House, your Senetors and Congressman 15 Seconds to pause and pray for the people of Sderot.

(When you sign up you get to choose which reminder you want)

Whether you are religious or not it is not hard to imagine the power of such a text message. Wherever I am I know that at that moment people in Sederot are fearing for their lives. And I can pray with them or feel solidarity with them. Either way, I am with them.

To hear an interview with SMSederots founder click here.
Click here to sign up.

I’m moving my earlier post of suggestions of how to respond here, so as to keep them all in one place. It was written on Jan 5th, 9 Teves.

Tomorrow is Asarah beTeiveis, commemorating the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem which led the end of the First Temple.

Since the initial fast was established (some time before the prophet Zechariah, see Zec 9:19), it also became a day for mourning the victims of the tragedies of our exiles who even had the knowledge of their yahrzeit taken from them. In many communities, that includes victims of the Holocaust, their yahrzeit is observed tomorrow. (Others use the day the Nazis took the town in question or Holocaust Memorial Day as the yahrzeit.)

A fast day is a time for repentance. Fasting is “only” a way to set the mood. Therefore, one isn’t required to put in the same effort to fast on Asarah beTeiveis as one would for Yom Kippur or Tish’ah beAv, all of us, in any medical condition, are capable of commemorating the essence day.

Jews seem most unified in times of trouble. And we’re in one now.

First it was Sderot. Without letting that end, Hashem added worry by shaking our financial foundations. Then Mumbai. And then had so many of our charities and their donors more specifically hit. Meanwhile, Sderot and Ashkelon were still being hit. Now, an out-and-out war. And the antisemitism we hear around the globe looking to blame the Jews for the financial crisis can also be seen in people who protest Israel’s straightforward desire to eliminate a threat to its own people.

So, Hashem is steadily increasing our feelings of being in trouble. Of being isolated. Of needing to turn to each other, and to Him. One can choose to read this as the Almighty steadily raising the volume on a message: This is a time of trouble, unite already!

And, as I said, tomorrow is a day for repentance. It’s also a day for remembering those who were killed for being Jews. As R’ JB Soloveitchik put it, “In the crematoria, the ashes of Hassidim and Anshei Ma’aseh (pious Jews) were mixed with the ashes of radicals and freethinkers and we must fight against the enemy who does not recognize the difference between one who worships and one who does not … ” (Di Tog Morgen Journal, November 19, 1954, tr. Louis Bernstein) Repentence in the field of unity seems particularly appropriate, even if it were not the call of current events.

Personally, I plan on putting all arguments on hold for the day. I do a lot of my dialogue by email, a medium notorious for bringing out contentiousness. I intend to spend the day developing awareness of how often I disagree with others, and more importantly, how I tend to handle that disagreement.

On another note, the portion of R’ Reisman’s shiur of last motza’ei Shabbos that deals with the war and how to respond to it is being circulated publicly. You can watch it here. He speaks of the appropriateness of adding a personal request to the birkhas Ge’ulah (“… Go’eil Yisrael) in the Amidah. The need for more learning, more tefillah (which only works if the prayers are meant). The need for hakaras hatov, recognizing the good, gratitude, if we expect Hashem to do good to us. Give something up, so as to share in the communal pain. Cry out, even if it doesn’t help pragmatically… can someone who is in pain remain silent? R’ Reisman, quoting R’ Chaim Smulevitz speaks of four examples:

  • Iyov heard of our problems in Egypt, and was silent.
  • Tzidqiyahu, who didn’t see he could be the hero of Israel.
  • Esther, who fasted so as to share in the communal pain.
  • Harugei Lud, who confessed to a crime they didn’t commit, so as to take the governor’s wrath off the rest of the town. They were killed, and the gemara says none can touch their place in heaven.

Again, listen to the recording, this is only a small selection of ideas intended to be a “teaser”.

Another way you can help: pair up with a specific soldier. See this letter by the Bostoner Rebbe (Har Nof) and R’ Simcha haKohein Kook:

מכתב גלוי לכל אחינו די בכל אתר ואתר

אחינו בית ישראל באיזורים רבים של ארץ הקודש מצוים בצרה ובשביה

ולעת כזאת חובתנו לחוש את אחדות כלל ישראל בלב ובנפש להרבות בתפילה ובכל הענינים, כי עת צרה היא ליעקב וכו’ ובעהי”ת ממנה יושע.

ובאנו לעורר, ולבקש, ולהוסיף ענין של זיכוי הרבים ביותר.

תוה”ק מעידה כי במלחמת מדין נצטוו להחלץ “אלף למטה” “אלף למטה”.ואיתא במד”ר ובילקוט שמעוני ד”וימסרו” היינו עוד אלף למטה, פירוש שהיו נמסרין זוגות זוגות, כדי שיהיו מתפללים איש על רעהו.

ואכן במלחמת מדין נאמר “ולא נפקד ממנו איש”. ובודאי העובדה שניצלו כולם היתה בגלל תפילת כלל ישראל

והבאנו דבר זה לפני מרן הגאון רבי חיים קניבסקי שליט”א, שמח בדבר, והוסיף ואמר כי גם כך נהג דוד המלך ע”ה שלכל אחד שיצא להילחם, הכינו יהודי נוסף, שתפקידו היה,להתפלל עבורהיוצא, וישא”כהסכמת דוד המלך ע”ה לתפילות אלו.

לזאת, אנו פונים בזה לכל חייל החפץ שיתפללו בעדו בעהי”ת להתקשר לטלפון 02 581 1911 ולמסור את שמו ושם אמו ואין צורך בשמות המשפחה.( אי מייל [email protected] או פקס 08-9450027) ונעביר בעהי”ת את שמו למתפלל שיכון בתוספות תורתו ותפילתו לזכותו ולשמרו.

וכן קוראים אנו לכל א’ המצוי ח”ו בגלל המלחמה במצוקה או בחרדה, במקלט ובכל אתר לפנות להנ”ל ובעהי”ת נעביר גם שמו למי שקיבל על עצמו להוסיף בתפילתו ובתלמוד תורה עבור המבקש.

ובעזהשי”ת נזכה מן השמים גם אנו לנאמר “ולא נפקד ממנו איש”.

ובזה אנו קוראים גם לכל מי שרוצה לקיים דברי חכמים ולהוסיף בתורה ותפילה, להצטרף ולהיכנס לפיתקא של תפילות , להתקשר למספ’ הנ”ל ולקבל שם של חייל או אחר לכוון את תוספות תורתו ותפלתו לזכות חבירו .

גם נשים צדקניות יכולות לקבל ע”ע להתפלל עבור חברה השרויה במצוקה עקב המלחמה.

Letter signature

An open letter to all Achenu Bene Yisroel

After learning about the heart rendering appeal of the Gedolay Torah to intensify our Tefilos and Torah learning during this very trying time for Klal Yisroel, we have undertaken to join and aid them in their prayers.

The Medrash Rabah and the Yalkut relate that during the war against Midyon, for every one that went out to battle there was a designated person whose task it was to pray and learn for him.

The Great Gaon and Sage Rebbe Chaim Kanievsky shlit”a when asked about this tradition pointed out that Dovid Hemelech, as well continued and instituted the practice, that for every individual who was in combat, there was another person selected for the specific task of praying and learning for him.

Therefore in order to continue and accomplish this Minhag, we ask soldiers and/or their relatives who would want a “partner” in Torah and Tefillah to email [email protected] or fax 011 9728 9450027 and give their Hebrew name and mothers Hebrew name without any other particulars such as family name or other identifying factors, so that we may disseminate them among those who heed the call to add Torah and Tefillah for the sake of those who find themselves in jeopardy ח”ו. Anyone who finds himself or herself ח”ו in danger or in shelters because of the war may also feel free to call or email to the above.

To bond with us and receive a name of your “partner” please email or fax the above.

May Klal Yisroel in the merit of joining together, speedily see a successful end to this trial and campaign as quoted in the Parsha “without loss of life”.

HaRav Simcha Hakohen Kook HaRav Levi Yitzchok Horowitz
Chief Rabbi of Rechovot Bostoner Rebbe

And from the Agudah of America’s Moe’etzes Gedolei haTorah:


לבני ישראל היקרים, הדואגים אל אחיהם בעת צרה.

לאור המצב כעת אשר אלפי יהודים יושבי ארץ הקודש נתונים בסכנה מפרעות אויב, ראינו לנכון להדגיש ביותר החובה המוטלת על כולנו להתעורר בתפלה ולבקש רחמים על אחינו היקרים ולהרבות בצדקה וזכיות על שארית ישראל שלא יאונה להם שוד ושבר, ויש לחזק הנהוג לומר פרקי תהלים פג קל קמב בכל יום, וגם לשפוך שיח בתחנונים של “והוא רחום” שאומרים בשני וחמישי, ובברכת “השכיבנו” בערבית שמבקשים ופרוש עלינו סכת שלומך וחותמים שומר עמו ישראל לעד.

והשי”ת ברוב רחמיו וחסדיו יגן על עמו ונחלתו ויחלצם ממיצר, ויוציאנו מאפלה לאורה ומשעבוד לגאולה אכי”ר.

ח’ טבת תשס”ט

מועצת גדולי התורה בארה”ב

* * *


To all dear Jews concerned about their fellow-Jews in this time of distress:

In light of the current situation, in which thousands of Jews in the Holy Land are in danger due to the attacks of the enemy, we regard it as proper to strongly emphasize the obligation on us all to awaken ourselves in prayer, to ask for Divine mercy for our dear brethren and to increase our charity and good deeds for the protection of the remnant of Yisroel from any and all harm. We should intensify the practice of reciting chapters 83, 130 and 142 of Tehillim each day, and fervently pour out our hearts in the prayer “V’hu Rachum” said on Monday and Thursday mornings and in the blessing of “Hashkiveinu” in Ma’ariv, where we ask Hashem to “spread upon us Your tent of peace” and conclude “the Guardian of His nation Yisroel forever.”

May Hashem in His abundant mercy and kindness shield His nation and heritage, release them from all straits, and take us from darkness to light and from subjugation to redemption. Amein, may it be His will.

8 Teves, 5769

Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of America

A question of tefillah is what to say.

R’ Eliyahu, the Rishon leTziyon (former Sepharadi Chief Rabbi), wrote a short “Yehi Ratzon“. I made a handout of it, available here. Perhaps that is an appropriate paragraph for birkhas Ge’ulah. For those who are uncomfortable with such things, feeling too much like a modern addition to the traditional siddur (although one can find examples in footnotes in our published siddurim that aren’t much older), there is still an obligation to add something to one’s tefillah. If one finds standardization problematic, then one’s own words, even one’s thoughts without moving one’s lips.

Among Tehillim, there are a few peraqim that deal with topics very related to this war. “LaMenatzei’ach, Mizmor leDavid” (ch. 20) is the one usually recited during wartime, being part of Shacharis and therefore known by many by heart and available in every siddur. “Hashem will answer you in the day of trouble… They with chariots, and they with horses, but we, with our mention of the name of Hashem…”

Another commonly used pereq in these too frequent times of trouble is 121, “Shir laMaalos, Esa Einai“. (Also found in most siddurim, after Shabbos Minchah.) “I lift my eyes to the mountains, from where will my help come? My help will come from Hashem, Maker of heaven and earth.” Note how in that verse, David merges the visions of G-d. The Grand Maker of everything is also the One Who I can turn to as a child to parent, looking expectantly for help. “May Hashem guard your leaving and coming, from now until forever.”

On Areivim, Moshe Yehudah Gluck noted the particular appropriateness of ch. 83. Professor Yitchak Levine placed R’ Hirsch’s translation and commentary on line at his site. I wish to leave with those thoughts:

1 A poem, a song of Asaph.

א שִׁ֖יר מִזְמ֣וֹר לְאָסָֽף׃

2 G‑d! do not keep You silence; do not hold Your peace, and do not be still, G‑d.

ב אֱ‑לֹהִ֥ים אַל־דֳּמִי־לָ֑ךְ אַל־תֶּֽחֱרַ֖שׁ וְאַל־תִּשְׁקֹ֣ט אֵֽ‑ל׃

3 For here -Your enemies are in an uproar; and those hate You have lifted their head.

ג כִּֽי־הִנֵּ֣ה אֽ֭וֹיְבֶיךָ יֶֽהֱמָי֑וּן וּ֝מְשַׂנְאֶ֗יךָ נָ֣שְׂאוּ רֹֽאשׁ׃

4 They hold crafty converse against Your people, and take counsel against Your treasured ones.

ד עַֽל־עַ֭מְּךָ יַֽעֲרִ֣ימוּ ס֑וֹד וְ֝יִתְיָֽעֲצ֗וּ עַל־צְפוּנֶֽיךָ׃

5 They have said: ‘Come, and let us cut them off from being a nation; that the name of Israel may be no more in remembrance.’

ה אָֽמְר֗וּ לְ֭כוּ וְנַכְחִידֵ֣ם מִגּ֑וֹי וְלֹֽא־יִזָּכֵ֖ר שֵֽׁם־יִשְׂרָאֵ֣ל עֽוֹד׃

6 For they have consulted together with one consent; against You do they make a covenant;

ו כִּ֤י נֽוֹעֲצ֣וּ לֵ֣ב יַחְדָּ֑ו עָ֝לֶ֗יךָ בְּרִ֣ית יִכְרֹֽתוּ׃

7 The tents of Edom and the Ishmaelites; Moab, and the Hagrites;

ז אָֽהֳלֵ֣י אֱ֭דוֹם וְיִשְׁמְעֵאלִ֗ים מוֹאָ֥ב וְהַגְרִֽים׃

8 Gebal, and Ammon, and Amalek; Palestine with the inhabitants of Tyre;

ח גְּבָ֣ל וְ֭עַמּוֹן וַֽעֲמָלֵ֑ק פְּ֝לֶ֗שֶׁת עִם־יֹ֥שְׁבֵי צֽוֹר׃

9 Assyria also is joined with them; they have been an arm to the children of Lot. Selah!

ט גַּם־אַ֭שּׁוּר נִלְוָ֣ה עִמָּ֑ם הָ֤יֽוּ זְר֖וֹעַ לִבְנֵי־ל֣וֹט סֶֽלָה׃

10 Do You unto them as unto Midian; as to Sisera, as to Jabin, at the brook Kishon;

י עֲשֵֽׂה־לָהֶ֥ם כְּמִדְיָ֑ן כְּֽסִיסְרָ֥א כְ֝יָבִ֗ין בְּנַ֣חַל קִישֽׁוֹן׃

11 Who were destroyed at En‑dor; they became as dung for the earth.

יא נִשְׁמְד֥וּ בְֽעֵין־דֹּ֑אר הָ֥יוּ דֹּ֗֝מֶן לָֽאֲדָמָֽה׃

12 Make their nobles like Oreb and Zeeb, and like Zebah and Zalmunna all their princes;

יב שִׁיתֵ֣מוֹ נְ֭דִיבֵימוֹ כְּעֹרֵ֣ב וְכִזְאֵ֑ב וּֽכְזֶ֥בַח וּ֝כְצַלְמֻנָּ֗ע כָּל־נְסִיכֵֽימוֹ׃

13 Who said: ‘Let us take to ourselves in possession the habitations of G‑d.’

יג אֲשֶׁ֣ר אָֽ֭מְרוּ נִ֣ירְשָׁה לָּ֑נוּ אֵ֗֝ת נְא֣וֹת אֱ‑לֹהִֽים׃

14 O my G‑d, make them like the whirling dust; as stubble before the wind.

יד אֱֽ‑לֹהַ֗י שִׁיתֵ֥מוֹ כַגַּלְגַּ֑ל כְּ֝קַ֗שׁ לִפְנֵי־רֽוּחַ׃

15 As the fire that burneth the forest, and as the flame that setteth the mountains ablaze;

טו כְּאֵ֥שׁ תִּבְעַר־יָ֑עַר וּ֝כְלֶֽהָבָ֗ה תְּלַהֵ֥ט הָרִֽים׃

16 So pursue them with Your tempest, and affright them with Your storm.

טז כֵּ֭ן תִּרְדְּפֵ֣ם בְּסַֽעֲרֶ֑ךָ וּבְסוּפָֽתְךָ֥ תְבַֽהֲלֵֽם׃

17 Fill their faces with shame; that they may seek Your name, Hashem.

יז מַלֵּ֣א פְנֵיהֶ֣ם קָל֑וֹן וִֽיבַקְשׁ֖וּ שִׁמְךָ֣ יְ‑הוָֽה׃

18 Let them be ashamed and affrighted for ever; let them be abashed and perish.

יח יֵבֹ֖שׁוּ וְיִבָּֽהֲל֥וּ עֲדֵי־עַ֗ד וְֽיַחְפְּר֥וּ וְיֹאבֵֽדוּ׃

19 So that they may know that it is You alone whose name is Hashem, {New line}

the Most High over the whole world.

יט וְֽיֵדְע֗וּ כִּֽי־אַתָּ֬ה שִׁמְךָ֣ יְ‑הוָ֣ה לְבַדֶּ֑ךָ

עֶ֝לְי֗וֹן עַל־כָּל־הָאָֽרֶץ׃

Eight Years…

This song tells the based-on-truth story of someone who was saved from the Sbarro’s bombing on August 9th 2001. Then, after his return to New York, he missed work a month later to stay with someone while their father underwent surgery — thereby missing work that Tuesday morning at Cantor Fitzgerald, in the World Trade Center, in One World Trade Center, somewhere between floors 101 and 105.

Composed by Yitzy Waldner, lyrics by Chanale, sung by Michoel Pruzansky.
Video created and produced by Yossi Green.

It has become a custom on scjm for me to repost, with comments, my first email after my experiences of that day. I thought I would share it here was well.


This post reminds me why I keep at with with Avodah/Areivim and scjm. People from around the globe were personally impacted by my fate, were scared over a rumor flying around that I was ill because of the attack.

Ironically, I may have been. Not then. The following year.

On Oct 15th, 2002, I was laid off from the job I had on 9/11.

The following Monday night, my daughter plunked herself down to watch TV. On my foot. An hour later the pain in my toe was still unbearable, so we went to the ER. The ER doctor, taped my toe (which it turns out broke easily because the bone in it was never fully formed), and then told me that that lump on the side of my neck should be seen by a doctor. Tomorrow. Well, with that kind of ominous warning, I went. A mere 6 days after losing my job I found out I had lymphoma. It was caught very early, stage 1.

They couldn’t diagnose right away which form of Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma it was. Both T and B cells were involved, and the B cells were both “large” and “small”. It took a while to decide on treatment. However, thank G-d and ba”H I marked 6 years of being in remission.

Notice that not only were the seeds for my recovery planted by my Maker before my birth (when He blessed me with that defective toe), He also arranged for me to be on a severance package rather than having to go to work during most of this period. The Almighty had the burden I was to carry exactly measured out.

This particular kind of lymphoma was since found in only two other people, both of whom word in “the pile” the weeks after 9/11. NYPD Sgt Michael Ryan, who was two years younger than me, died Nov 19th 2007. And Lt Brian Ellicott, two years older, died 10 days later. Hashem yiqom damam.

In December 2007, NYC started studying what might be this “third wave” of WTC related illnesses.

There but for having a malformed “pinky toe” that my daughter “just happened” to fall on and break…

Tir’u baTov!

Two apologies.

Because of recent events, my internet access is flakey. I may lose track of a number of conversations that I have been participating in.

Second, a number of you remembered that I work in downtown Manhattan. There was a rumor circulating in my neighborhood and around the AishDas email lists that I was G-d forbid in critical condition. So I got back to dozens of phone calls and hundreds of worried emails. I am simply unable to keep up with it. Particularly since I’m relying on an email connection that keeps on dropping out mid-email transmission.

I summed up my experiences in an email that I sent out to the email list that I run. Pardon my laziness in just reposting it here.

I really am touched by everyone’s concern, and feel quite badly at being unable to do better than this “form letter”.


[Someone wrote to that list:]

I just got off the phone with Mrs Micha (Siggy) Berger.

She told me that Micha, who works seven blocks from the WTC was evacuated immediately, but did suffer from some smoke inhalation and was treated briefly at Bellevue….

Actually, she said I went to Bellevue. But I went to give blood and help out. I wasn’t a patient there.

As for my smoke inhalation… I have a small cough. Because it started half a day after breathing smoke, concrete dust and asbestos for a couple hours, I went to a pulmenologist today. Otherwise it’d be the kind of cold none of us would think twice about. He put me on an over-the-counter expectorant to help me get rid of the shmutz. That’s it, folks. Don’t let your fears run away with you. (Although I found everyone’s concern quite touching.)

Since I ought to get the whole day off my chest (pun intended), here’s how it went:

The commute was as usual. I took the PATH into WTC, and walked Yoel Dukelsky to 2 WTC. (I was worried about HIM yesterday. B”H he left the 86th fl when 1 WTC was hit, and immediately headed down. He was on the 44th floor when 2 WTC was hit, B”H the flying glass missed him. When 2 WTC collapsed, he was already on Hudson St.)

I got to work, caught up on my email, and the building shook. Mind you we’re 1/4 mile to the south of the crash. And yet I felt the shock of the impact. I figured it was construction within the building, and kept on working. Siggy (my holier half) called about the 1st crash.

My co workers and I saw the 2nd crash, just when word came to evacuate the building. Our building is the southernmost one in Manhattan, barring the 1 floor Staten Island Ferry Terminal. It was therefore deemed an easy target. My brother, for example, was told to remain in his office until the air cleared.

My co workers and I milled around outside the building, trying to find people who brought radios. I said some tehillim. The flag at Battery Park was lowered to half-mast.

US Air Force planes flew overhead. We didn’t realize at first whose plane it was, so people started running. About this time, smoke and debris reached us.

I got separated from all but one co worker, a Chinese guy with a week command of English. I think he hung around me because he relied on my command of the language to understand what was going on.

We followed police instructions to go to the FDR. By this point, you had to walk watching the sky for falling metal. The air was thick, visibility was poor. I took off my yarmulka and breathed through it.

The FDR was a sea of humans walking north, and ambulances and police cars heading south. (Every Hatzolah group from Monsey to Boro Park passed by.) Busses that were taken out of service were filled with older people, people with asthma, emphysema and other breathing problems. We hung around to help people get on the buses until that quieted down.

Zhen and I made our way up the FDR. For the first part of the trip visibility was erratic. Sometimes the air was relatively clear off the water, other times (obviously when the buildings first fell) visibility was less than a block.

We took the FDR to to 23rd street, where we were finally allowed off. We found a public bath on 27th, where we went to the bathroom and washed off soot, and called our wives. (Even so, my hair and face were quite gray until the evening.) I decided to go to the Upper West Side, either to Lincoln Square Synagogue or if I could make it, to my brother’s apartment.

We headed up 1st to NYU Hospital – Bellevue. Zhen continued upbound, and I was on my own trying to figure out if I could do something productive since I had nowhere to go. I stopped by Bellevue, stopped by the blood bank and tried to volunteer. They wouldn’t take volunteers without screening them first.

However, this elderly woman with skin cancer needed to get to Queens, and she saw me heading north. So we teamed up: she, myself, her wheelchair and her parisol, and headed up to the 59th st bridge. Leaving NYU, there were hundreds of people on line in the lobby waiting to get to the bloodbank. The queue continued up the walk, down the sidewalk and around the corner.

Turns out the lady I was with wasn’t at NYU for chemo, she was at Bellevue for therapy for panic attacks. Now that was really easy — dealing with someone prone to panic while Manhattan was reduced to a sea of foot traffic. OTOH, it forced me to stay calm to have someone relying on me. At the 59th st bridge I was able to get her an ambulette.

I then meandered across town through Central Park to LSS. I made my way to their offices, where I just contacted my wife and my brother’s apartment and rested my burning feet.

Eventually the trains were running and I got to my brother. He had a friend who lent a friend of his a car to take to central Jersey. I got a lift with them home. That too hit a snag: The George Washington Bridge was open when we left, but was closed for a suspicious truck. We were stuck on the West Side highway for 2.5 hours.

But B”H I got home, that night. My kids were visibly relieved to see me. I threw some of my clothes in the laundry, others (including my yarmulka) were un-salvageable; asbestos removal was too difficult. I showered thoroughly.

To give you an idea how scared my children were — despite knowing in the abstract that I was safe — my son put up our Succah today without being asked. He got a friend to help. Just so that the job wouldn’t be left to me.

I have no idea when work will resume. Hopefully my charley horse will fade before then.


Mussar Kallah VII — Phoenix — October 25th (a reminder)


Mussar Kallah VII is less than three weeks away.

Registration is now much more convenient.
Click here to open the online registration page.

PHOENIX, AZ — SUNDAY OCTOBER 25 (9 am to 5:30 pm)

The Mussar Kallah is your unique opportunity to drink deeply from a stream of authentic Jewish spiritual wisdom. Learn from seasoned teachers who are ordinarily inaccessible and yet who are bearers of one of the finest traditions of spirituality in the Jewish world.

Breaking News! Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein added to the program!

  • Director of Interfaith Affairs for the Simon Wiesenthal Center
  • Sydney M. Irmas Adjunct Chair in Jewish Law and Ethics at Loyola Law School
  • Teacher at Yeshiva University High Schools in Los Angeles
  • Contributing editor to the quarterly Jewish Action,
  • WIdely published in Jewish and general printed and electronic media.

Rabbi Adlerstein received his ordination from the Chofetz Chaim yeshiva in New York. He is a summa cum laude graduate of Queens College, and a member of Phi Beta Kappa.

Breaking News! Alan Morinis in conversation with Rabbi Avi Fertig

“Jewish Spirituality in Uncertain Times”

Rabbi Avi Fertig, author of “Bridging the Gap” & Dr. Alan Morinis, author of “Climbing Jacob’s Ladder” and “Everyday Holiness— in conversation

Saturday, October 24, 2009 @ 7:30 pm
No charge
Co-sponsored by the Phoenix Jewish Book Month

See the full Kallah program


Never Studied Mussar?

The Kallah will introduce you to Mussar. Every speaker will focus on issues that affect ordinary people in everyday life, because that is what Mussar does. Session leaders will create bridges to give you access to these time-tested gifts and to show you how to apply them in your own life.

Sessions on key soul-traits (middot) will teach you about your own inner life, and will guide you to move closer to the goal of wholeness (shlemut):

  • Humility / Anavah
  • Trust / Bitahon
  • Gratitude / Hakarat Hatov
  • Anger / Ka’as
  • Envy / Kinah
  • Laziness / Atzlut

Give your soul the gift of experiencing this opportunity. Register now.

Learn more about Mussar

What’s In It For More Seasoned Students

Expand and grow your knowledge of Mussar. Enjoy sessions with Mussar luminaries focusing on:

  • “Mussar in Health Care” with Drs. Bev Spring, Cheri Forrester and Pauline Pariser
  • “Mussar in School” with Rebbetzin Rivy Kletenik
  • “Mussar in ___________” with Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein
  • Mussar Social Action in Historical Perspective” with Alan Morinis
  • Tikkun Olam and Tikkun HaMiddot” with Rabbi Avi Fertig

Reserve your space now. Register now.

The Closing Plenary

“Living Spiritually in Uncertain Times”
A panel discussion.

  • Rabbi Avi Fertig
  • Rebbetzin Rivy Kletenick
  • Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein
  • Dr. Alan Morinis

Click here for full Kallah program

Honor Alan Morinis for his pioneering work in reviving Mussar

Add your personal expression of thanks in the Journal that will be distributed to every participant at the Kallah.

Whether or not you will be with us in Phoenix, honor Alan and send greetings to the community by placing an ad in the Journal. To receive a form, send your ad copy and for more information, email [email protected]


If you are coming from out of town or you already are a student of Mussar, you are welcome to join us for Shabbat (October 23-24), which will be a rich time of learning, prayer, song and community-building. For more information on the Shabbaton (for which a separate fee applies) click here.

Venue Information

Sunday October 25, 2009
9:00am – 5:30pm (welcome desk opens 8:15 am)
Valley of the Sun JCC
12701 North Scottsdale Road
Scottsdale, AZ 85254
Directions and Map

Four Ways To Register

  1. ONLINE — simple and fast
  2. Download a registation form for the Kallah and/or Shabbaton – click here
  3. Call 480.483.7121 and ask for the “Welcome Desk”
  4. At the door


$90 USD pre-registration ($80 for VoS JCC members)
$100 USD at the door ($90 for VoS JCC members)

Registration and check-in 8:30 – 9:00am

Register Now – Download a registration form

Register Now


Home hospitality available or special rate at Fairfield Inn hotel of $65 per night. Email i[email protected] for details.


We look forward to exploring, learning and growing together with you in Phoenix.
Your friends at The Mussar Institute and Valley of the Sun JCC.

Email: [email protected]

E-lokai Neshmah, redux

In an earlier post, I extrapolated from a point made by R’ YG Bechhofer, contrasting Pinocchio with Adam haRishon to give a perspective on the yeitzer hara vs. the yeitzer hatov. I wrote:

Until Adam ate the fruit, he consisted of free will and internalized yeitzer hatov (inclination to do good). He had no yeitzer hara; the inclination to do evil was external to him. … Since the desire to do evil was external, taking the form of the snake, it would have to present its argument to Adam. Adam’s only desire was to do good, so the snake’s argument would have to be a lie, presenting what it was promoting as though it were the greater good. Adam faced two conflicting stories about which path is better, and had to choose which was the truth.

In contrast to Adam, in the story of Pinocchio the main character[,] … rather than [being given] a yeitzer hatov, the call to do good is externalized as a cricket. He is told to identify with the voice in his head suggesting wrong choices, but good choices are things someone else foisted on him. … Pinocchio was set up to fail.

Here I want to suggest a similar point, but rather than on the subject of yeitzer hatov vs. yeitzer hara, on a different plane of the spiritual model.

We say in the morning berakhos, E-lokai Neshamah: “אֱ-לֹהַי נְשָׁמָה שֶׁנָּתַתָּ בִּי טְהוֹרָה הִיא. My G-d, the soul which you placed within me is pure.” When I gave a shiur on the topic, I asked: Who is the “me” saying “the soul which You put within me”? Aren’t I my soul (and I live within a body) — how can it be placed within “me”?

At the time I answered by raising the topic of naran, and making a distinction between various aspects of the soul. The aspect which performs conscious thought, and thus which is the “I” who I see in my mind’s mirror is the ru’ach. The neshamah, which we describe in this berakhah as still being pure, is that of the soul which exists in heaven, which “hears” man’s higher calling.

Thus, the berakhah is being said from the perspective of the ru’ach; that is the “me” that the neshamah is placed within. And we thank G-d that no matter how much our actions create illness in the rest of the soul, or soil it, we can still reestablish contact with the neshamah which remains pure.

Note that the lowest element, the nefesh, is missing. The berakhah speaks of I the ruach having within me a neshamah. The nefesh is the mammalian aspects of being a human, the soul’s faculties designed to keep us alive and that are influenced by living in a brain and exposed to hormones and physical desires.

We can therefore see E-lokai Neshmah as an exercise. We take a position similar to Adam’s, but rather than being about good vs. evil, on the plane of identifying with our higher callings rather than our more animalistic aspects. My neshamah, my drive to live a meaningful life, is within me. I can say these words, “the soul which you placed within me is pure” spending a moment identifying my neshamah as part of myself that no matter what I do remains pure, and if I choose to be aware of it, could return the rest of me to purity.

My Mesorah

I thought it would be an interesting exercise to actually find my place on the chain from rebbe to talmid. I then thought it might be of general interest, just to demonstrate how we can actually trace a contemporary Jew’s exposure of the Torah to back to Moshe Rabbeinu.

This is just a chain, artificially restricting each student to only one teacher. So, for example, regardless of how much the thought of the Rambam or the Ramchal might have influenced later generations, they do not appear. A complete graph of the flow of the mesorah would probably take so much time, it would replace the study of the mesorah itself. Because of the winnowing effect of following only one track, you can see as the list progresses how we narrow down to Ashkenaz, then Lithuania, then particular streams within Lithuania that influenced my rebbe.

An extreme instance: There were two academies in Bavel, in the cities of Sura and Pumbedisa (modern day Falluja). Each had their own Rosh Yeshiva, thus there were two ge’onim in each generation. However, my own stream is via Ashkenaz, and thus Rabbeinu Gershom Me’or haGolah (#94). He studied under Rav Sherira and Rav Hai Gaon, and so the Ashkenazi chain runs through Pumbedisa more than Sura. Do not take the absence of the ge’onei Sura in this list to mean their Torah didn’t reach us!

Similarly, how can we talk of the Torah of R’ Chaim Brisker (#126a) without the Rambam? But the Rambam wasn’t part of the single line of primary rabbanim within Ashkenaz. And so he too isn’t on this list.

The chain of mesorah follows that of the Rambam for the 40 generations from Moshe Rabeinu to Rav Ashi, the compiler of the gemara.

Dates up to that of the zugos are according to the Seder Olam.


1. Moshe (1392-1272 BCE, Har Sinai – 1312 BCE)


2. Yehoshua (1354-1244 BCE)
3. Pinechus
4. Eli (929 BCE)
5. Shemu’el (889 BCE)
6. David haMelekh (876 BCE)
7. Achiah (800 BCE)
8. Eliyahu (870-726 BCE)
9. Elishah (717 BCE)
10. Yehoyada (695 BCE)
11. Zekhariah (680 BCE)
12. Hoshea (575 BCE)
13. Amos (560 BCE)
14. Yeshaiah (548 BCE)
15. Mikhah (560 BCE)
16. Yoel (510 BCE)
17. Nachum (510 BCE)
18. Chavaquq (510 BCE)
19. Tzefaniah (460 BCE)
20. Yirmiyahu (462 BCE)

Anshei Keneses haGedolah

21. Barukh (347 BCE)
22. Ezra (348 BCE)
23. Shim’on haTzadiq (400-300 BCE)
24. Antignus ish Socho (305 BCE)


25. Yosi ben Yoezer & Yosef ben Yochanon (280 BCE)
26. Yehoshua ben Prachya & Nitai haArbelli (243 BCE)
27. Yehuda ben Tabai & Shimon ben Shetach (198 BCE)
28. Shmaya & Avtalyon (140 BCE)
29. Hillel & Shammai (40 BCE)


30. Rabban Shim’on (10 BCE)
31. Rabban Gamliel haZaqein (20 CE)
32. Rav Shim’on ben Gamliel (50)
33. Rabban Gamliel (90)
34. Rabban Shim’on (140)
35. Rabbi Yehuda haNasi (Rebbe) (135-219)


36. Rav (160-248), Shemuel, & Rabbi Yochanon (230)
37. Rav Huna (270)
38. Rabbah (310)
39. Rava (270-350)
40. Rav Ashi (420)


41. Rafram (443)
42. Rav Sama berei deRava (476)
43. Rav Yosi (514)
44. Rav Simonia
45. Rav Ravoi miRov (589)
46. Mar Chanan miAshkaya (608)
47. Rav Mari

Gaonim (Pumbedisa)

We do not have much literature from the ge’onim. This list is therefore more dense, not just giving rebbe to talmid, which I could not yet establish, but listing each ga’on. It is unlikely that each gaon studied under their immediate predecessor and were not already established teachers in their own right before becoming head of the academy. Odds are many of these ge’onim studied under someone two or three links ahead of him on this list, and some of the ge’onim here do not actually represent distinct generations.

However, having too many connections doesn’t disturb the primary point, that of tracing one Orthodox Jew’s perception of the Torah back to Sinai.

48. Rav Chana Gaon, 49. Mar Rav Rava, 50. Rav Busai (689), 51. Mar Rav Huna Mari, 52. Mar Rav Chiyah miMishan, 53. Mar Ravyah, 54. Mar Rav Natronai, 55. Mar Rav Yebuda (739), 56. Mar Rav Yosef (748), 57. Mar Rav Shmuel, 58. Mar Rav Natroi Kahana, 59. Mar Rav Avrohom Kahana (761), 60. Mar Rav Dodai, 61. Rav Chananya (771), 62. Rav Malka (773), 63. Mar Rav Rava, 64. Mar Rav Shinoi (782), 65. Mar Rav Chaninah Gaon Kahana (785), 66. Mar Rav Huna Mar haLevi (788), 67. Mar Rav Menasheh (796), 68. Mar Rav Yeshaya haLevi (804), 69. Mar Rav Kahanah Gaon (797), 70. Mar Rav Yosef, 71. Mar Rav Ibomai Gaon (814), 72. Mar Rav Yosef, 73. Mar Rav Avrohom, 74. Mar Rav Yosef (834), 75. Mar Rav Yitzchak (839), 76. Mar Rav Yosef (841), 77. Mar Rav Poltoi (858), 78. Mar Rav Achai Kahana, 79. Mar Rav Menachem (860), 80. Mar Rav Matisyahu (869), 81. Rav Mar Abba, 82. Mar Rav Tzemach Gaon (891), 83. Mar Rav Hai Gaon (897), 84. Mar Rav Kimoi Gaon (905), 85. Mar Rav Yehuda (917), 86. Mar Rav Mevasser Kahana Gaon (926), 87. Rav Kohen Tzedek (935), 88. Mar Rav Tzemach Gaon (937), 89. Rav Chaninah Gaon (943), 90. Mar Rav Aharon haKohen (959), 91. Mar Rav Nechemiah (968), 92. Rav Sherirah Gaon (1006), 93. Rav Hai Gaon (939-1038)

Rishonim (Ashkenaz)

94. Rav Gershom (Rabbeinu Gershom Meor haGolah) (1040)
95. Rav Yaakov ben Yakar (Ri ben Yaqar) (1064)
96. Rav Shlomo Yitzchaki (Rashi) (1040-1105)
97. R’ Shmuel ben Meir (Rashbam) (1174)
98. R’ Yaakov ben Meir (Rabbenu Tam) (1171)
99. R’ Eliezer miMetz (Re’eim) (1175)
100. R’ Elazar Rokeach (1238)
101. R’ Yitzchak miVienna (Ohr Zaruah)
102. Rav Meir (Maharam miRutenberg) (1293)
103. R’ Yitzchak miDuren (Shaarei Durah)
104. R’ Alexander Zusiein haKohen (Agudah) (1348)
105. R’ Meir bar Baruch haLevi (1390)
106. R’ Sholom miNeustadt
107. R’ Yaakov Moelin (Maharil) (1427)
108. R’ Yisroel Isserlein (Terumas haDeshen) (1460)
109. R’ Tavoli
110. Rabbi Yaakov Margolies (1501)
111. Rabbi Yaakov Pollak (1530)

Early Achronim

112. Rabbi Sholom Shachna (1558)
113. Rabbi Moshe Isserles (Rama) (1530-1572)
114. Rabbi Yehoshua Falk Katz (1614)
115. Rabbi Naftoli Hirsch ben Pesachya (1650)
116. Rabbi Moshe Rivkas (Be’er Hagolah) (1671)
117. Rabbi Avraham Gombiner (1682)
118. Rabbi Moshe Kramer (1688)
119. Rabbi Eliyahu Chassid (1710)
120. Rabbi Yissachar Ber (1740)
121. Rabbi Shlomo Zalman (1765)

Late Achronim  (Litta)

122. Rabbi Eliyahu Kramer (Vilna Gaon) (1720-1797)
123. Rabbi Chaim Volozhiner (1749-1821)
At this point I want to trace both sides of a split. These strands are spun back together by Rav Shimon Shkop, but both sides represent “Ism”s that deeply shaped Rav Shimon Shkop’s derekh:
Volzhin – Brisk
124a. Rabbi Yitzchok Volozhiner (Reb Itzeleh Volozhiner (1848)
125a. Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik (Beis haLevi) (1820-1892)
126a. Rav Chaim Soloveitchik (Reb Chaim Brisker) (1853-1918)
Mussar – Telz
124b. Rav Yosef Zundel Salanter (Reb Zundel Salant) (1786-1866)
125b. Rav Yisrael Lipkin (Reb Yisrael Salanter) (1810-1883)
126b. Rav Eliezer Gordon (Reb Lazer Gordon) (1841-1910)
127. Rav Shimon Shkop (1860-1939)


128. Rav Dovid Lifshitz (Sulvaker Rav) (1906-1993)
129. Micha Berger

Yom haAtzmaut

A short but very appropriate quote from today’s Yerushalmi Daf Yomi:

ר הושעיא: רומס הייתי זיתים עם רבי חייא הגדול. ואמר לי, “כל זית שאת יכול לפשוט ידך וליטלו, אינו שכחה.”
א”ר יוחנן, “מכיון שעבר עליו ושכחו הרי הוא שכחה.”

Rabbi Hoshiah: Once I was picking olives with Rabbi Chiyya the Great. He said to me, “Any olive that you can reach back [while harvesting] and pick, is not [sufficiently forgotten to be required to be given to the poor as] shikhechah.”

Rabbi Yochanan said, “Since he passed it and forgot it, it is shikhechah.”

— Peah 6:4, Vilna ed. 30a

Heikhal haTorah - Yeshivat PonevezhYom haAtzmaut 5767

Rabbi Chiyya, the compiler of the Tosefta, was an oleh from the city near Sura in Bavel (Menachos 88b), who went to learn under Rabbi Yehudah haNasi. And he would pick olives in Israel. Mizrachi or Poalei Agudah would be proud to claim such a role model.

(By the way, why is he called “haGadol — the Great”? When he went to raise money, Rabbi Elazar ben Padas wrote the following to the communities where Rabbi Chiyya would arrive, “Behold, we are sending you a great man. His greatness is this — he is not ashamed to say ‘I don’t know’ “. [Y-mi Chagiga 7:1; Vilna ed. 7a])

Building Anew

65 years before was the holocaust — one third of our people killed.

When we left Egypt, we were led through the desert by a pillar of fire by day, and a pillar of smoke by night. When we made camp, the pillar moved to the Qodesh haQadashim in the Mishkan, the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle.

Now, a Divine statement, a very different pillar of smoke again arose from the Holy of Holies

The survivors, old and few, remembered a world long gone.

Many refused to eat meat or sing — how can we eat meat when G-d’s “table” goes empty? How can we sing after the levites and Chassidim were silenced?

Many were turned off, many couldn’t see how to be Jewish in the new world.
Others started building again.

But I’m not talking about now — I’m talking of 1875 years ago. The year was 135 CE – 65 years after the destruction of the Temple and the Sacking of Jerusalem. Aqiva lived through a Holocaust, and it cost him his faith. And then he met the right woman, saw the effects of water on the rock, and became one of the builders. As Rabbi Yehoshua (Bereishis Rabba 64:10) told the ascetics to return to their meat and their song  — life must go on.

It took him decades, but by now Rabbi Aqiva had students — 24,00 of them. An entire educational system.

Rabbi Akiva had twelve thousand chavrusos of students, from Gavat to Antiperes, and all of them died in one period because they did not demonstrate respect toward each other. The world was desolate until Rabbi Akiva came to our Rabbis in the south ([of Israel] and taught them: R. Meir; R. Yehuda; R. Yose; R. Shimon; and R. Elazar ben Shamoah; – and they reestablished Torah at that time. A Tanna taught: they [the 24,000 students] all died from Peisach to Atzeres (Shavuos).

Yevamos 62b

An entire movement, stretching the length of Israel. The best and the brightest of our people. The next generation of leaders. The foundation of a new world.

We can imagine how it happened: One day, a little before Pesach, one of these students develops a small caugh. Then another and another.

And by the 2nd day of Pesach, when the omer began, they started dying. One by one, then in twos and threes.

Until all 24,000 were gone.

In just 32 days.

As Bereishis Rabba tells us: Hashem boneh olamot umacharivan. And we imitate G-d; when the world is destroyed, we build again.

I found the following in R’ Aharon Rakeffet Rothkoff’s collection of talks by R’ JB Soloveitchik that reflect his view of life, Torah and the Jewish People titled “The Rav: The World of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik“:

12.04 Recreating the Destroyed World

Related by the Rav in his annual Yahrzeit Shiur in memory of his father, Rabbi Moshe Soloveichik, Yeshiva University, January 6, 1957. (Yiddish).

The Midrash relates that God created and destroyed many worlds before He allowed this world to remain in existence [Midrash Rab-bah to Genesis 3:9]. Some of the earlier worlds were even more beautiful than the present one, but the Creator eliminated them. He then went ahead and created this world, which has endured.

What are the rabbis teaching us? What does it mean that God created and destroyed worlds? After all, He could have made this world to begin with, so why did God experiment with the earlier creations?

This Midrash conveys a very important concept to us. A person must know how to continue building and creating in life, even if his previous efforts are demolished. He cannot lose hope and must not give up. He must go ahead and build again. Perhaps the new world created will not be as beautiful as the earlier one; nevertheless, he must continue to rebuild. God was able to say about His final world: “Behold, it was very good” [Genesis 1:31]. That is, that the final, permanent world is very good, even though some of the earlier ones may have been even more beautiful. They are gone, and we must maximize what we have now.

Today, we must judge the Torah world we are reconstructing after the Holocaust as “very good,” even though earlier ones may have been more beautiful. I am very proud of the Maimonides Day School in Boston. Many times I test the students on the Humash and Rashi that they are studying. I am impressed by their knowledge and inspired by their achievements. Then I ask myself why I am so excited by such small accomplishments. After all, I saw the giants of European Torah Jewry before the Holocaust. I discussed talmudic topics with my grandfather, Reb Chaim Soloveitchik of Brisk. I visited with Reb Chaim Ozer Grodzinski [1863-1940] in Vilna [Rabbi Grodzinski was the author of three volumes of responsa literature entitled Ahiezer]. I debated with Reb Shimon Shkop 11860-1940; Rabbi Shkop was the leading Lithuanian rosh ha-yeshiva in that period] concerning the explanation of certain talmudic passages. I spent entire nights with Reb Baruch Ber Leibowitz of Kaminetz [1866-1939; Rabbi Leibowitz was the closest student of Reb Chaim Soloveitchik] attempting to comprehend difficult rulings in the Code of Maimonides. Why am I so impressed that American youngsters can master a little Humash with Rashi, the rudiments of Torah study?

This is the message of the re-creation of destroyed worlds. A Jew has to know how to emulate God, and, like God, to continue to create even after his former world has been eradicated. True, what I have in Boston may not be as beautiful as the European Torah world before the Holocaust. Nevertheless, it is the world we now have. We have to continue to build it and not look back. We must not be cynical, and we should direct our attention and efforts to the future. We must look ahead!

G-d builds words and destroys them, and builds them anew. And we too must turn from the ashes and build anew.

Rabbi Aqiva headed south to find whom he could from the ruins. He found 5 new students: Rabbi Yehudah bar Ilai, Rabbi Yose Ben Chalafta, Rabbi Nechemiah, Rav Meir, and Rabbi Shim’on bar Yochai.

All of our tradition today comes from these 5 students. These are names we find throughout the mishnah, beraisa and Tosefta. Rav Meir wrote most of the mishnas, and the project was completed by R’ Yehudah haNasi, his student. “Stam mishnah keRav Meir a plain mishnah [with no attribution] follow Rabbi Meir”. And from Rabbi Shim’on bar Yochai we get the Zohar, the entire chain of mystical tradition.

What 24,000 could not do, 5 accomplished.

Why did the Beis haMiqdash, the Temple, fall? Sin’at Chinam, baseless — or perhaps better, “pointless” — hatred.

Rabbi Aqiva personally focused on this issue. “Amar Rabbi Aqiva: ‘Ve’ahava lerei’akha kamokha’ — zeh kelal gadol baTorah. Rabbi Aqiva said: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself — this is a great principle of the Torah.”

Why did Rabbi Aqiva’s students fall to an epidemic? As we saw in Yevamos, “shelo nahagu kavod zeh bazeh — they did not demonstrate respect toward each other.”

What? Did they miss their teacher’s “great principle of the Torah”?

They had respect for each other. Notice how the Talmud describes it — these were 24,000 students, they were 12,000 chavrusos; the unity was there. Notice also the gemara doesn’t speak of a lack of kavod, it says “lo nahagu — they didn’t practice” it. These are not throw-away words. The gemara is telling us that the respect was there, but there wasn’t a visible demonstration of the esteem they held for the other.

They had kavod. They didn’t express it.

A small element of the original mistake.

So tiny of a flaw over which to die.

Yet enough of a problem that they couldn’t serve as the foundation for the new.

I heard the following story from Rav Meir Levin:

Many years earlier in Shanghai. Reb Leib was engaged by the Amshinover Rebbe to teach one of his children…. the Rebbe discussed with Reb Leib the concept that in spiritual growth there are two approaches: one can take  Derech HaNamuch and Derech haGevoah. The first approach is to work from the bottom up, painstakingly one step at a time. The second allows a person to jump many levels a t a time.

After Shabbos, Reb Leib related this to the Mashgiach who, soon after, asked his young talmid to accompany him to the Sassoon Building. The Sassoon building was a beautiful edifice, a skyscraper that was built on one of the most prime pieces of real estate in downtown Shanghai. But the building was sinking into the ground! It seems that many years earlier this plot of land had been the garbage dump and someone has purchased it, covered it and as Shanghai grew in size, sold it a prime property. Mr. Sassoon bought the tract and -unsuspecting- built one of the most beautiful buildings in the city on it. The Mashgiach’s point was well understood: outwardly, one’s spiritual accomplishments can appear great and exalted, but if he doesn’t clean out the garbage – if a solid foundation is not developed one step at the time – then eventually it will collapse.

— Reb Chatzkel: Rabbi Yechezkel Levenstein, Guardian of Torah and Mussar, Artscroll, p. 338

The next generation of leaders could not have a flaw in how they related to each other. Without precision in the foundation, the building won’t stand.

Today again the survivors of the Holocaust who were born in the old world and could teach it to use are fewer and fewer. And yet we must have the audacity to try to revive part of that world. The Torah and passion in service of Hashem that we can’t seem to recapture in the new world. Observance and education, yes. In greater numbers than our pre-war ancestors. But (as R’ Soloveitchik would put it), the “erev Shabbos Jew” who spends his Friday in eager anticipation of Shabbos? That we are far less successful in producing.

What lessons can we take from the story of Rabbi Aqiva’s students?

1- “Every generation in which the Beis haMiqdash was not rebuilt, it is as though it was destroyed.” We must not only love each other latently, expressed in times of tragedy, but a daily practice of nahagu kavod zeh bazeh — demonstrating our respect for other Jews even when we’re in bitter disagreement with them. Respect, and stated respect.

Frankly, of the items in this list, I think this is not our biggest shortcoming.

2- Taharah – Purity. If we are to building something lasting, we must pay attention to the perfection of its foundations. A slight deviation from the vertical at the beginning will grow to a large error as the structure grows taller.

3- Simchah uBitachon – Happiness and Trust

Why, of all the tannaim of the era, it fell to Rabbi Aqiva to rebuild the world of Torah?

It happened that Rabban Gamliel, Rabbi Elazar Ben Azarya, Rabbi Yehoshua and Rabbi Akiva were walking along the road and heard the sound of the Roman masses from Pelitus, one hundred and twenty mil away. They began crying, but Rabbi Akiva laughed.

They asked him, “Why do you laugh?” He said to them, “And you, why do you cry?”

They said to him, “These pagans, who bow to images and bring offerings to idolatry, dwell in security and tranquility, whereas we — the house [that is] the footstool of our God has been burned by fire. Shall we not cry?”

He said to them, “It is for that reason that I laugh. If this is how it is for those who violate His will, then all the more so for those who perform His will!

One time, they were ascending to Jerusalem. When they reached Har HaTzofim [the first point from which one can see the Temple Mount] they rent their garments. When they reached the Har HaBayis, they saw a fox leaving the [site of] the qodesh ha-qodashim [the innermost sanctum of the Temple]. They began crying, but Rabbi Akiva laughed.

They said to him, “Why do you laugh?” He responded, “Why do you cry?”

They said to him, “The site about which it is written: ‘The foreigner who approaches shall be put to death’ (Bamidbar 1) — now foxes walk there, and we shall not cry?”

He said to them, “Therefore I laugh. For it is written, ‘I called upon reliable witnesses — Uriyah the Kohen, and Zechariah ben Yevarecheihu’ (Yishayahu 8:2). What does Uriyah have to do with

Zechariah — Uriyah [lived] during the First Temple [period], whereas Zechariah [lived] during the Second Temple [era]! Rather, the verse hinges the prophecy of Zechariah on the prophecy of Uriyah. In [a prophecy of] Uriyah it is written, ‘Therefore, because of you Zion shall be plowed as a field,’ (Mikhah 3) and in [a prophecy of] Zechariah it is written, ‘There shall yet be old men and women in the squares of Jerusalem.’ (Zechariah 7) So long as Uriyah’s prophecy was unfulfilled, I feared lest Zechariah’s prophecy will not be fulfilled. Now that Uriyah’s prophecy has been fulfilled, it is certain that Zechariah’s prophecy will be fulfilled.”

They said to him: “Akiva, you have consoled us; Akiva, you have consoled us.”

Makkos 24a-25b

When Rabbi Eliezer became ill, his students went to visit him. He said to them, “There is great anger in the world” [referring to Hashem’s giving power to the Romans]. They started to cry, except Rabbi Akiva who laughed. They said to him, “Why do you laugh?” He answered them, “And why do you cry?” They said to him, “Is it possible that one sees the scroll of the Torah in pain, and we do not weep?”

He responded, “It is for that reason that I laughed. As long as I saw my rebbe, that his wine did not turn sour, his flax did not get smitten, his oil did not spoil, and honey did not crystallize, I could say that perhaps ch”v rebbe had received his world [now, not in the world-to-come]. But now that I see that rebbe suffers, I am happy.” [Rabbi Eliezer] said to [Rabbi Akiva], “Did I neglect any matter of the Torah [for which I now suffer]?” [Rabbi Akiva] said to him, “Our rebbe, you taught us, ‘For there is no righteous man on earth who does good without sinning.’ (Koheles 7:20)”

Sanhedrin 101a

Rabbi Aqiva was able to see the seed of the new laying among the remains of the old. Where the others only saw tragedy, Rabbi Aqiva was able to find the hopeful beginnings of a new future.

As Rabbi Soloveitchik said, we must not get so busy mourning the past that we forget to look hopefully at the future.

4- Ometz – Persistance

When Moshe died, a world too ended. We are told 3,000 laws were forgotten, and had to be reestablished by Osniel ben Qenaz. But Hashem destroys worlds only to build new ones. Without Moshe, Hashem next appoints Yehoshua – to rebuild.

Hashem’s charge to Yehoshua at the beginning of the book:

ו: חֲזַ֖ק וֶֽאֱמָ֑ץ כִּ֣י אַתָּ֗ה תַּנְחִיל֙ אֶת־הָעָ֣ם הַזֶּ֔ה אֶת־הָאָ֕רֶץ אֲשֶׁר־נִשְׁבַּ֥עְתִּי לַֽאֲבוֹתָ֖ם לָתֵ֥ת לָהֶֽם׃

6 Be strong and of good courage; for you will cause this nation to inherit the land which I swore to their fathers to give them.

ז רַק֩ חֲזַ֨ק וֶֽאֱמַ֜ץ מְאֹ֗ד לִשְׁמֹ֤ר לַֽעֲשׂוֹת֙ כְּכָל־הַתּוֹרָ֔ה אֲשֶׁ֤ר צִוְּךָ֙ מֹשֶׁ֣ה עַבְדִּ֔י אַל־תָּס֥וּר מִמֶּ֖נּוּ יָמִ֣ין וּשְׂמֹ֑אול לְמַ֣עַן תַּשְׂכִּ֔יל בְּכֹ֖ל אֲשֶׁ֥ר תֵּלֵֽךְ׃

7 Only be strong and very courageous, to observe to do according to all of the Torah which Moshe My servant commanded you; do not veer from it to the right nor to the left, so that you would achieve wherever you go.

ח לֹֽא־יָמ֡וּשׁ סֵפֶר֩ הַתּוֹרָ֨ה הַזֶּ֜ה מִפִּ֗יךָ וְהָגִ֤יתָ בּוֹ֙ יוֹמָ֣ם וָלַ֔יְלָה לְמַ֨עַן֙ תִּשְׁמֹ֣ר לַֽעֲשׂ֔וֹת כְּכָל־הַכָּת֖וּב בּ֑וֹ כִּי־אָ֛ז תַּצְלִ֥יחַ אֶת־דְּרָכֶ֖ךָ וְאָ֥ז תַּשְׂכִּֽיל׃

8 This book of the Torah shall not depart from your mouth, but you will contemplate it day and night, so that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will succeed in your ways, and then you will achieve.

ט הֲל֤וֹא צִוִּיתִ֨יךָ֙ חֲזַ֣ק וֶֽאֱמָ֔ץ אַֽל־תַּעֲרֹ֖ץ וְאַל־תֵּחָ֑ת כִּ֤י עִמְּךָ֙ יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֔יךָ בְּכֹ֖ל אֲשֶׁ֥ר תֵּלֵֽךְ׃  {פ}

9 Have not I commanded you to be strong and of good courage? Do not be afraid and not not get discouraged; for Hashem your G-d is with you wherever you go. {P}

Chazaq ve’ematz” has a clear central role in Yehoshua’s success at his mission — Hashem uses the expression three times in His berakhah when Yehoshua takes leadership.

So, what do the words mean?

I think we can take a lead from the parallelism in pasuq 9: “חֲזַק וֶאֱמָץ, אַל-תַּעֲרֹץ וְאַל-תֵּחָת – be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid and not not get discouraged…” Fear is something we experience when dealing with the unknown, the new. Discouragement sets in after someone tries an activity, and success is evading them. The verse would therefore suggest that chizuq is the strength to get something started whereas ometz is the ability to stick with it after the newness and the initial excitement fade. (For more on this middah, and its identification with one of the Mesilas Yesharim’s subtypes of Zerizus, see here.)

Rabbi Aqiva did not give up with the loss of 24,000 students. He didn’t look hopelessly at the mere five who gathered around him. He did not get discouraged. Ometz.

Lag baOmer marks the end of mourning the tragic premature loss of 24,000 students, and the celebration of a complete and productive life of Rabbi Shim’on bar Yochai. Between Rabbi Aqiva’s failed attempt to rebuild the world; and his successful one. What can be accomplished with Kavod, Taharah, Bitachon and Ometz.

We can rebuild a world anew.

Two Ideals

(Split off from last week’s post “Shavuos Reading” because I thought of a number of points I wanted to add.)

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, in the Naso 5770 issue of his weekly Parashah Sheet “Covenant and Conversation” discusses what appears to be a contradiction in the Rambam. In Hilkhos Dei’os 3:1, the Rambam writes:

שֶׁמֶּא יֹאמַר אָדָם, הוֹאִיל וְהַתַּאֲוָה וְהַכָּבוֹד וְכַיּוֹצֶא בָּהֶן דֶּרֶךְ רָעָה הֶן וּמוֹצִיאִין אֶת הָאָדָם מִן הָעוֹלָם, אֶפְרֹשׁ מֵהֶן בְּיוֹתֵר וְאֶתְרַחַק לַצַּד הָאַחֲרוֹן, עַד שֶׁלֹּא יֹאכַל בָּשָׂר וְלֹא יִשְׁתֶּה יַיִן וְלֹא יִשָּׂא אִשָּׁה וְלֹא יֵשֵׁב בְּדִירָה נָאָה וְלֹא יִלְבֹּשׁ מַלְבּוּשׁ נָאֶה אֵלָא הַשָּׂק וְהַצֶּמֶר הַקָּשֶׁה וְכַיּוֹצֶא בָּהֶן, כְּגוֹן כּוּמָרֵי אֱדוֹם–גַּם זוֹ דֶּרֶךְ רָעָה הִיא, וְאָסוּר לֵילֵךְ בָּהּ.

Perhaps someone would say, “Since desire and honor and the like are the evil path, and take a person from the world, I shall separate from them a lot, and distance myself to the far extreme. So that I won’t eat meat, nor drink wine, nor marry, nor live in a nice home, nor wear nice clothing, just sack and rough wool and the like like the ecclesiatstical orders of Edom [ie the Catholics].” This too is an evil path, and one may not travel it.

And yet, in Nezirus 10:14 the Rambam writes:

הָאוֹמֵר הֲרֵינִי נָזִיר אִם אֶעֱשֶׂה כָּךְ וְכָּךְ, אוֹ אִם לֹא אֶעֱשֶׂה, וְכַיּוֹצֶא בְּזֶה–הֲרֵי זֶה רָשָׁע, וּנְזִירוּת כְּזוֹ מִנִּדְרֵי רְשָׁעִים הִיא; אֲבָל הַנּוֹדֵר לַה’ דֶּרֶךְ קְדֻשָּׁה–הֲרֵי זֶה נָאֶה וּמְשֻׁבָּח, וַהֲרֵי נֶאֱמָר בּוֹ “נֵזֶר אֱלֹהָיו, עַל-רֹאשׁוֹ . . . קָדֹשׁ הוּא, לַה'” (במדבר ו,ז-ח); וּשְׁקָלוֹ הַכָּתוּב בַּנָּבִיא, שֶׁנֶּאֱמָר “וָאָקִים מִבְּנֵיכֶם לִנְבִיאִים, וּמִבַּחוּרֵיכֶם לִנְזִרִים” (עמוס ב,יא).

Someone who says, “Behold I am a nazir if I do such-and-such”, or, “… if I do not do …”, or the like — this person is wicked, and his nezirus is like the oaths of the wicked. However, someone who makes an oath to Hashem in a holy manner, this is pleasant and praiseworthy. And about him it says “…the diadem of G-d is upon him. [All the days of his nezirus he is] holy to G-d.” And the scripture equates him to a prophet as it says, “And I will establish from your descendants prophets, and from your firstborn, nezirim.”

What distinguishes the asceticism of the nazarite that the Rambam praises him so much, in contrast to his general attitude toward asceticism as described in Hilkhos Dei’os? Contrast this to Tosafos (Taanis 11) who say that the nazir‘s sin offering that he brings at the end of his nezirus is for forgoing the pleasures G-d provided in this world. And the Meshekh Chokhmah who says that it’s for the mitzvos he couldn’t do without those pleasures. Chief Rabbi Sacks answers this question in light of another conflict in the Rambam. I also commented on the Rambam’s invoking two different ideals in Hilkhos Dei’os — the chakham, who always seeks the Golden Mean; and the chassid, who goes beyond the mean with respect to certain middos, in particular: avoiding haughtiness or anger. I wrote:

The Rambam appears to be contradicting himself. In [Hilkhos Dei’os] 1:4, he advises “one should not get angry except over a big matter about which it is fitting to get angry.” But in [2:3] , anger is comparable to idolatry, and to be avoided in all circumstances! … A possible resolution that seemed more straightforward to me [than those I mentioned in that post offered by the Lechem Mishnah and Rav Moshe Feinstein] is suggested by the Rambam’s words (also from 1:4). Obviously, advice about how to be a good Jew carries more weight when informed by the Lechem Mishnah’s knowledge or Rav Moshe’s, but this is how one person naively read the Rambam’s approach(es) to anger:

Any man whose temperaments are intermediate is called wise. One who is particular with himself and moves away from the middle ways to either extreme is called pious. What does this mean? One who distances himself from pride by moving to its complete opposite of meekness is called pious, for this is a characteristic of piety. But if he distances himself only half-way and becomes humble he is called wise, for this is a characteristic of wisdom.

Maimonides is defining two possible paths: the Chakham (Wise), and the Chassid (Pious). Both laudable ideals. In the majority of chapter 1, he addresses the path he himself took, that of the Chakham — finding the middle. In chapter 2, when he discusses modesty he clearly describes the Chassid approach. It would seem the same would be true of his discussion of anger in chapter 2.

R’ Sacks generalizes this idea:

These are not just two types of person but two ways of understanding the moral life itself. Is the aim of the moral life to achieve personal perfection? Or is it to create gracious relationships and a decent, just, compassionate society? The intuitive answer of most people would be to say: both. That is what makes Maimonides so acute a thinker on this subject. He realises that you can’t have both – that they are in fact different enterprises. A saint may give all his money away to the poor. But what about the members of the saint’s own family? A saint may refuse to fight in battle. But what about the saint’s own country? A saint may forgive all crimes committed against him. But what about the rule of law, and justice? Saints are supremely virtuous people, considered as individuals. Yet you cannot build a society out of saints alone. Indeed, saints are not really interested in society. They have chosen a different, lonely, self-segregating path. I know no one who makes this point as clearly as Maimonides – not Plato, not Aristotle, not Descartes, not Kant.

He notes that the same answer could be invoked to explain his contradictory attitude toward nezirim. Society must be based on wisdom, on chakhamim. A society of nazirim wouldn’t work. However, the nazir pursues the ideal of the chassid, which is a holy choice for those called to it. Since that earlier post, I found what may be Rambam’s source in Chazal that these two conflicting ideals exist:

תני תנא קמיה דרבא בר רב הונא: ההורג נחשים ועקרבים בשבת אין רוח חסידים נוחה הימנו. אמר לו: ואותן חסידים – אין רוח חכמים נוחה מהם.

A beraisa was repeated before Rava bar Rav Huna: Someone who kills snakes or scorpions on Shabbos, the spirit of chassidim are not content with him. He said to him: And those chassidim, the spirit of chakhamim are not content with them.

Shabbos 121b

Thus we see a concept of two different balances between conflicting priorities (here, between risk and shemiras Shabbos) — the chassid and the chakham. The Chassid hyperprotects Shabbos in ways the Chakham finds incorrect. You might recall that last Chanukah I was fascinated by the Chassidim haRishonim. The usage of chassidim in the gemara might be related to the Chassidim haRishonim and their initial refusal to fight with the Makabiim on Shabbos (Makkabiim I 2:39), although they did later join (v. 43). These chassidim too, placed Shabbos ahead of risk to life. I suggested then that perhaps at least on of the zugos, Yosi b Yoezer ish Tzereidah was a member, as he is called “chassid shebikehunah” (Chagiga 2:7) and is crucified about the same time as the slaughter of the Chassidim haRishonim discussed in the Seifer haMakkabiim. In other words, I’m suggesting that these Chassidim were not only applauded by Chazal for how they prayed, but even were considered chaveirim, members of the same community as the tannaim. The fact that the same term, chassid, is used for those who prayed 9 hours a day is consistent with assuming that many years later the Rambam identifies the asceticism of the nazir with Chassidus.

The Time of the Ivrim

Note this map of Israel, as it was divided into the territories for the various shevatim:

Map of Israel

The Tribes of Israel

There are two things odd about the south-west corner of the map. First, the Gaza Strip is not included, and second, the tribe of Shim’on lives in an island within Yehudah’s land.

These two are connected. Shim’on never succeeded in conquering its promised portion of Israel, and therefore settled within an empty part of the Judean desert.

This may be related to the story of Pinechas. The generation leaving the Sinai Desert encounter the people of Midian. The Midianim, realizing that the Jews were getting supernatural help, despair of attacking the Jews directly. Instead, they first try to employ Bil’am to curse us, and when that fails, they  insert a wedge between the Israelites and our G-d by promoting assimilation. They set up an idol of Baal Pe’or, a god of personal license, and the women of Midian went out to the Jewish camp and offered sex. Things got to the point where Zimri ben Salu, the head of one of Shim’on’s clans, went to bed with Kozbi vas Tzur, a Midianite princess. At that point Pinechas had to stop the downward trend and killed Zimri and Kozbi.

But we see that Shim’on entered Israel while still struggling with “ol malkhus Shamayim — the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven”. And this might explain their lack of success.

(This is likely also the basis of a Yiddishism. A luckless person who appears to be creating his own lack of success is a “shlemiel“. This is probably a reference to the nasi of Shim’on named in the beginning of Bamidbar, Shelumiel ben Tzurishadai. Shim’on being thought of as the luckless bumbler among the shevatim.)

However, the tribe of Shim’on was not alone. On this map, we see Dan just to the north of the Gaza strip up just until the area currently called “the Dan” — the environs of Tel Aviv. However, that’s not where they end up settling either!

We learn in Yehoshua pereq 19 that they instead headed north, and that is the land of Dan in biblical Hebrew. “From the Dan to Beer Sheva” is an idiom for the inhabited areas of Israel — Shofetim 20:1; Shemuel I 3:20, II 3:10; 17:11; 24:2, 15;

Shimshon haShofeit came from Dan (Shofetim 13:2) and is even called Bedan (Shemuel I 22:11, the identification of the two is in Rosh haShanah 25a). He leads the Jews who are living in the land of the Pelishtim (Shofetim 13:5) from Ashqelon (14:19) down through Azza.

The interesting part is the Shimshon’s downfall has related causes to those of the tribe of Shim’on. He intermarries when he weds Delilah, perhaps accidentally (not knowing her conversion was false, see Rambam Issurei Bi’ah 13:16), but still he lived with the influence of someone who didn’t buy into ol malkhus Shamayim. Sexuality also plays a role, as his first wife has an affair with one of the groomsmen shortly at the end of the wedding week (14:20) , and he too finds a zonah when he gets to the city of Azzah (16:1). The gemara (Sotah 9b) traces a pattern from this, to his love of Delilah, to his downfall.

Avraham is called an Ivri (Bereishis 14:13), literally referring to his descent from Eiver (R’ Nechemiah, Medrash Rabba 42:8) and/or his coming to Israel by “crossing” the Jordan (Rabbanan, ibid). Rabbi Yehudah (ibid) explains the connotation as his willingness even when the whole world is standing on the wrong side, to stand across from them on the side of Truth. We similarly find Yoseif called an Ivri when he resists the seduction of Potiphar’s wife (40:15). Ramban ad loc comments that Ivri is a term used for the Jewish People when we stand distinct.

The Jewish midwives in Egypt are the “meyaldos haIvrios” when they refuse Par’oh’s orders as are the women who refuse to give up their children (Shemos 1:15) — and the midwive’s resistance is attributed to their Yir’as Hashem (v. 17)

But the only time we as a people are called the Ivrim is…. in contrast to the Pelishtim, the people of Azza! “וַיֹּֽאמְרוּ֙ שָׂרֵ֣י פְלִשְׁתִּ֔ים מָ֖ה הָֽעִבְרִ֣ים הָאֵ֑לֶּה — And the leaders of the Pelishtim said, “Who are these Ivrim? …” (Shemuel I 29:3) A stark contrast to the assimilationism of Shim’on and Shimshon / BeDan, who failed to conquer and hold on to the area.

In short, the southern coastline of Israel has always been a problem. It isn’t current events; Hamasistan has deep metaphysical roots.

And from what it appears, the healing of this problem requires a transition in which, as Rabbi Yehudah put it, “כל העולם כולו מעבר אחד, והוא מעבר אחד — the whole world is on one side, and he” — Abraham and the Jewish People — “is on one side.”

What defines greatness

From R’ Gil Student’s blog “Hirhurim“, a sad quote about the underlying greatness of my rebbe:

When I was a bochur in yeshivah I had a scary experience. I had the zekhus of assisting a gadol ba-Torah in his last days. When R. Dovid Lifshitz got very sick, I was assigned the task of helping him out during davening. At the end of his life, I saw something incredible. He would come to the beis medrash and someone else would put tefillin on him. Then he would sit with a siddur and daven. I was waiting to see when he finished the page to turn it for him and I realized that he would keep davening the same page over and over if I let him. Sadly, the illness and the medication took away his memory and almost his ability to function. But one thing he knew, something that was in his very bones, was that he wanted to daven. When you strip away all of the learning, all of the accomplishments, what you end up with is a simple, kosher Jew. Deep down, that is what a gadol ba-Torah is – a kosher Jew.

“If I were to wake you up at 2 o’clock in the morning,” R’ YB Soloveitchik would often ask his students to get their instinctive responses, “how would you answer?”

The Holy Script and Speech

There is a beraisa quoted in mesechtos Megillah (3a) and Shabbos (104a) that R’ Chisda says, “the [final] mem and samech of the luchos stood miraculously.” Meaning: the letters were carved all the way through, so that  ם and ס, letters that are drawn as closed shapes had a piece in the middle unattached to rest the luchos. The miracle was that the unattached middle piece floated in place with the rest of the luchos.

Rav Chisda’s statement describes the current block script and kesav Ashuris (Assyrian script / praiseworthy script; see below) used in sifrei Torah, tefillin and mezuzos. Which would indicate that Rav Chisda kesav Ashuris is at least as old as Har Sinai, and the original script the Torah was given in.

Another argument in favor of the age of kesav Ashuris is Menachos 29b, the famous medrash of Moshe Rabbeinu’s visiting Rabbi Aqiva’s  class, and witnessing R’ Akiva proving “heaps of laws” from the crowns atop the letters. Ashuris is the script that has such crowns.

The halachic requirements also argue in its favor. Note that we require Ashuris down to the qutzo shel yud — the thorn on the yud (understood by most to be an extension of the bottom left corner). This law has a parallel in tefillah. You fulfill the Torah law of davening if you say “haKel haqadosh” at the end of the third berakhah of the Amidah during the 10 Yemei Teshuvah. After all, the Torah requirement doesn’t require any particular text. But the Great Assembly can require repetition of the Shemoneh Esrei over this mistake. The holiness of a seifer Torah requires many many laws specific to Ashuris. It is one thing to say that they require a more specific prayer than Hashem did, or even a more specifically written Torah than Hashem did, but do Rabbis have the power to abrogate holiness that HQBH gave? If the Torah was not originally given in Ashuris, there is no qutzo shel yud on Moshe Rabbeinu’s original manuscript!

But the Yerushalmi’s version of the gemara in Megillah (1:9), has R’ Levi quoting Mar Zutra and R’ Yosi that it was ayin and tes that had floating pieces. This would fit kesav Ivri (Hebrew script, see candidates below), although Ivri also has other letters that are closed shapes. Perhaps it refers to yet another script, but it’s certainly not Ashuris!










The core discussion of the script is really in Sanhedrin (21a-22b). It opens with Mar Zutra, one of the possible sources in the Y’lmi for ayin vetes, saying:

Bitechilah nitenah Torah leYisrael bikesav Ivri velashon haqodesh.Chazrah venitenah lahem biymei Ezra bekesav Ashuris velashon Aramis.

Originally the Torah was given to Israel in Ivri script and in the holy language. It was returned and given to them in the days of Ezra in Ashuri script and in Aramaic.

However, we chose Lashon haQodesh and Ashuris, leaving the other language and script for the hedyotos (usually: commoners).

Rav Chisda, our source for mem vesamech, explains Mar Zutrah — who until now I had assumed was the other side of the machloqes. He says that “hedyotos” here are the Kusiim (a heterodox group of uncertain Jewishness; probably a major component of today’s Samaritans — who do use Ivri script today), and kesav Ivri is “Libunah“. Rashi identifies Libunah as a script used in qemei’os and [the extra-halachic portions of] mezuzos.

The question as I see it is whether we can assume that if R’ Chisda explains a position we can conclude he holds like it. Beis Hillel, for example, was known for first explaining the shitah of Beis Shammai that they rejected. Alternatively, this could be a proof for the Radvaz, that there really is no dispute.

The amora’im in mesechtes Sanhedrin take three positions:

1- R’ Yosi holds that the use of Ashuris was a new institution in Ezra’s day. And Ashuris is so named because it was brought over from the land of Ashur (Assyria).

That view also seems to be the one of a medrash quoted by a number of rishonim on the beginning of Yonah. There the person Ashur is credited with not participating in the Tower of Bavel for which he received two gifts: His children were given a second chance in the days of Yonah (who was sent to Nineveh, the capital of Assyria), and kesav Ashuris.

The archeological problem is that the people of Assyria spoke Akkadian and Sumerian, both of which we have records of only in Cuneiform, not Ashuris.

2- Rebbe holds it’s a case of chazar veyasdum — the knowledge was lost, and the Anshei Keneses haGedolah (AKhG), reestablished it. The name of the script, Ashuris, is from the same root “ashrei“, praiseworthy. (This is also the etymology found in the Rambam.)

Perhaps this is the same chazar veyasdum mentioned in the same TB Megillah, in which AKhG restored the final forms of the letters (םןץף”ך). Which works even more smoothly if Kesav Ivri has no finals.

3- R’ Shim’on ben Elazar, and a mass of others, give the final opinion. The two factors, number and finality, leads a few rishonim to decide that this is the gemara‘s conclusion. The script was always used in sacred texts. Rather, it was only popularized for other writing in Ezra’s day.

The Ridvaz (Rabbi Yaakov Dovid Wilovsky; Rosh Yeshiva of Slutzk; b. Kobrin, Russia 1845 – d. Tzefas 1913), in his commentary on the Yerushalmi, suggests that there is no dispute between the two talmuds on this point. The first luchos were in Ashuris, and after the loss of holiness caused by the Golden Calf, the second pair were given in kesav Ivris. The Bavli cited a quote about the former, the Yerushalmi, about the latter.

The Ridvaz’s resolution would lead to the state described by Rav Shim’on ben Elazaer et al as well. It would mean that the sacred Ashuris was known to only a few. Only Moshe saw the first tablets unbroken — possibly Yehoshua caught a glimpse. But the masses were given the second set, the one in Ivris.

It would also explain the use of the words “nitenah Torah leYisrael” rather than simply “nitenah Torah“. Because Mar Zutra in Sanhedrin is discussing how it was given to the masses, to “Yisrael” as a whole rather than only the intelligentsia. If understood this way, then the reference to Aramaic is that the masses in the days of Ezra, speaking Aramaic and not Lashon haQodesh, were given a targum. However, no one proposed changing the language of the text itself. (What would happen to derashos, the derivation of halakhah through textual analysis, if that really were the proposal?)

Last, it would explain why Daniel would be able to read the writing on the wall, while most people could not — it was in Ashuris!

The Ninth of Av, 3830

The Destruction of Jerusalem, David Roberts (1850)

The second half of parashas Naso is quite repetitious. The head of each tribe brought a gift for the consecration of the Mishkan. Each gift was the same, but aside from some slight but intriguing grammatical differences, all twelve are recorded in the same words. Seemingly repeatedly.

The Ramban (on 7:1) explains that each korban was in fact unique. Even though the items offered were identical, the intent behind the korban was specific to that nasi’s tribe’s talents and history. To Nachshon, the leader of Yehudah, the silver platter was for its gematria (ke’aras kesef), 930, equaling the words “Adam haRishon”, and it weighed 130 shekel to equal the number of his children. But to Nesan’el ben Tzu’ar of Yissachar, the seemingly same offering was about Torah study. The platter refers to bread, the ke’aros that hold up the showbread on the table within the Mishkan. The bread, in turn, was a symbol for Torah in his eyes. Etc…

These gifts are then followed by Hashem’s instruction to Aharon to light the menorah, and how to do so. “When you make the lamps go up, toward the face of the menorah its lamps shall shine.” All the branches bore lamps, and the wicks of each lamp leaned toward the central trunk of the menorah. The branch comes from the central core and points back to the central core. That unity is the role given to Aharon, whose students “love peace and pursue peace, love people and bring them close to Torah.”

Similarly, we as a people come from a common source and work toward a common goal. Even though each has their own branch, their own community, their own perspective. As long as all 12 tribes are following the same Torah, we are enhanced by our diversity and our differing ways of looking at things.

A sword in a scabbard that belonged to a Roman soldier which was discovered by the Israel Antiquities Authority (AFP/HO/ISRAEL ANTIQUITIES AUTHORITY)

A healthy person is not one who doesn’t care about the difference between his lungs and his kidneys. But someone who understands the importance of each unique part of the whole, and works toward the health and survival of each organ operating in its own way.

We must realize that unity does not come from erasing our real differences. Not all diversity is divisive.

As we once again face Tish’ah beAv and the consequences of our infighting, we must learn to turn away from judging the other by how much their perspective “interferes” with their serving Hashem the same way we do, and value each of the many ways we developed to follow and observe his Torah and the beauty of those who pursue them.

Ten Reasons to Attend Kallah IX

Reasons to Attend
Mussar Institute Kallah IX

The Mussar Kallah will take place at beautiful and serene
Illinois Beach Resort,
located in Zion, Illinois,
amid 4,100 acres
of a protected state park,
right on the shore of Lake Michigan.The Illinois Beach Resort
One Lake Front Drive
Zion, IL 60099
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Friday November 11, 2011 at 4:00 PM CST
Monday November 14, 2011 at 12:00 PM CST
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The Kallah’s registration fee is $450 which includes all sessions and meals.

We look forward to seeing you in November.
Michael Burnham
The Mussar Institute
[email protected]

Dear Friend,

Ten reasons to attend The Mussar Institute’s Kallah IX:

1. Dr. Alan Morinis returns to the Kallah – need we say more? He will lead sessions on Hitbonenut: Mussar Meditation; Hitpa’alut: Mussar chanting to open the heart to the Other and more

2. Rabbi Yaacov Haber is our scholar in residence – we just said a whole lot more. He will lead sessions on Nosei b’ol im Chaveiro: middah and practice; Avodah: Serving the Other as Spiritual Practice and more

3. Rabbi Micha Berger discusses Holiness, Self and Other and leads a session on the middah rachamim (compassion)

4. Shirah Bell on chesed (loving-kindness)

5. Rabbi David Jaffe on savlanut (patience)

6. Rebbetzin Rivy Kletenik, R. Yaacov Haber and R. David Jaffe offer tales of lamed-vavniks, tzaddikim and others who show us how to help others bear their burden

7. R. Yaacov Haber, Shirah Bell, Dr. Alan Morinis and Rn. Rivy Kletenik discuss practices for Soft-hearted living

8. One night enjoy a Mussar Talent show; the next night a Mussar tish

9. Catch up with old friends and make new friends

10. Twice daily group meditation, morning stretches with a Mussar twist, chanting, guided walk in the forest, walks along Lake Michigan, breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks, and more.

Why wait until 2012 to expand your mind and nourish your soul? Register today.

Shaarei Yosher, sec. 4: Connecting – part 4

And there are more levels in this of a person who is whole, who can connect his soul to feel that all of the world and worlds are his “I”, and he himself is only one small limb in all of creation. Then, his self-love helps him love all of the Jewish people and [even] all of creation.
ועוד יש בזה מעלות של איש השלם ראוי להשריש בנפשו להרגיש שכל העולמות כולם הוא ה״אני״ שלו, והוא בעצמו רק כאבר קטן בתוך הבריאה כולה, ואז גם רגש אהבת עצמו עוזר לו לאהוב את כל עם ישראל, ואת כל הבריאה כולה.

We so far saw the level 0 individual, who sees himself as little more than an animal, more clever than others but driven by the same basic needs, the level 1 individual who is aware of his own spirituality and his connection to G-d, and the level 2.0 individual who includes in his notion of “ani” (“I”) his connection to and interdependency on others.

We started with the person who connects in this way to just one other, then one’s immediate family, one’s friends, and so on — level 2.0 to 2.1, 2.2, …. But this gradual progression doesn’t reach the next level until the person so realizes that they exist as part of the Jewish People, the human species and the universe as a whole.

Perhaps this is what was unique about Moshe Rabbeinu — he could understand the “Mind” of the Creator in a way the rest of us can’t because he fully saw himself as part of the totality of Creation, entirely a piece within His Great Plan. And thus, the one who was anav mikol adam (more modest than all other people) was the consummate eved Hashem (servant of G-d) and the conduit for the transmission of His Will, the Torah, to humanity.

Earlier (Ch 1 “Mission”, sec 2 in this series) we saw this quote:

(ויקרא יט) “ואהבת לרעך כמוך.”  רבי עקיבה אומר זהו כלל גדול בתורה.  בן עזאי אומר (בראשית ה) “זה ספר תולדות אדם” — זה כלל גדול מזה.

“And you shall love your friends as yourself [I am Hashem].” (Vayiqra 19). Rabbi Aqiva said, “This is a great principle in the Torah. Ben Azai said, “‘This is the book of the generations of Adam’ (Genesis 5) — this is a greater principle than that.”

-Yerushalmi Nedarim 9:4 (vilna 30b)

R’ Aqiva and Ben Azzai argue over which verse is the one foundation. Rabbi Aqiva suggests one that applies only to people who qualify as “friends” (perhaps Jews, perhaps only observant Jews, perhaps also non-Jews who observe the 7 laws of Noah). Ben Azzzai instead says the entire Torah is founded on a verse that emphasized the fraternal bonds of all humanity — we are all children of Adam and Eve.

To fully reach Rav Shimon’s notion of the purest soul, one needs to have a universalist attitude, to have an “ani” that includes all people. Particularlism and ahavas Yisrael (Love of Jews) becomes part of that — the Jewish people are part of my extension to the whole. Just as a big part of my bestowing good on humanity as a whole is through the role given to me as a Jew.

This concept of ever broader circles of connection that the person includes as “I” is not the same as Universal Love. There is still a ranking. “A poor person who is his relative has priority to other poor. And the poor of his city are ahead of the poor of another city.” When lending money, halakhah obligates lending to family first, then neighbors, then Jews, then non-Jews (Qitzur Shulchan Arukh [QSA] 179:1), and when selling land, while priority is given to adjacent neighbors who would gain by having a single large plot, second in priority is again relatives, then friends, then neighbors, than citizens of one’s city, etc… (QSA 62:18)

This interplay between universalism and particularism appears repeatedly in tefillah. The first berakhah before Shema is all about how Hashem is perpetually creating, He is the source of both light and dark, good and evil — a description of His relationship to all of creation. Then, we get more personal and in the second berakhah bless G-d “Who loves His nation Israel.” We open the core of our prayers by starting with the universal and narrowing focus.

Aleinu, at the conclusion of tefillah, we do the reverse: we start focused on the Jewish People, “It is upon us to praise the Master…” Then, in the second paragraph, we pray for when that work reaches all of humanity, “to repair the world as a Kingdom of Shakai… As it says in Your Torah, ‘Hashem will rule forever’.”

Generosity Week Started Monday!

The Curriculum at Volozhin

On the April 6, 1858, the government ordered the closure of the yeshiva in Volozhin. There is no record that anyone from the government tried to implement this order. But on the 22nd, R’ Gershon Amsterdam led a delegation to have the ruling repealed. Among the things presented to the government was the curriculum at the yeshiva. Here is my translation (original found in R’ Dr Shaul Shtampfer’s HaYeshiva haLita’it Behit-havatah, pg 213):

First Year:

  • Tanakh: chumash and nevi’im rishonim according to Rashi and [Mendelsohn’s] Biur
  • Mishnah: [the orders of] Zera’im, Moed and Nashim
  • Gemara: Mesechtos Berakhos, Shabbos, Pesachim and Eiruvin with the [commentary of the] Rosh
  • Laws: Shulchan Arukh Orach Chaim
  • Hebrew Grammar: the first two sections of Studies in the Hebrew Language by [Yehudah Leib] Ben Zev
  • Languages: Russian and German reading, and the beginning of grammar
  • Arithmetic: the four basic operators [addition, subtraction, multiplication division]

Second Year:

  • Tanakh: Nevi’im acharonim and Kesuvim according to Rashi and the Biur
  • Mishnah: Neziqim and Qodshim, with Biur
  • Gemara: Mesechtos Chulin, Niddah, Yevamos, Kesuvos, Gitin, Qiddushin with the Rosh
  • Laws: Shulchan Arukh Yoreh Dei’ah and Even haEizer
  • Hebrew Grammar: Completing Studies in the Hebrew Language”
  • Languages: Completion of Russian and German grammar, and writing
  • Arithmetic: fractions and decimals

A few things are striking.

First, contrary to legend, they did have secular studies in Volozhin. In fact, according to documents released after the fall of the Soviet Union, it appears the school was shut down when the arguments between those who supported R’ Chaim Brisker as the next Rosh Yeshiva and those who supported R’ Chaim Berlin grew into anarchy, with no mention of secular studies being an issue at all.

Rav Chaim Brisker did threaten to close the school rather than the 1892 edict, but it wasn’t over secular studies in particular. (Especially since they were already being taught.) According to R’ Barukh haLevi Epstein (the Torah Temimah) in Meqor Barukh (as translated in My Uncle the Netziv, pg 205-206), the edict required secular studies from 9am to 3pm, and closing the school at dark. This would leave no time at all for Torah study for much of the year, and very little during the rest.

As for the general attitude to secular studies in Volozhin, both in curriculum and in the students’ pursuit of ad hoc studies in their own time, the Torah Temimah writes (MUtN, pg 204):

…[T]he students of Volozhin were quite knowledgeable in secular studies: they took an interest in science, history and geography and knew many languages. In fact, those students who desired to pursue these disciplines succeeded in learning twice as much as any student at a state institution. In Volohzin, Torah and derech eretz walked hand in hand, neither one held captive by the other. It was the special achievement of the Volozhin student that when he left the yeshiva, he was able to converse with any man in any social setting on the highest intellectual plane. The Volohzin student was able to conquer both worlds — the world of Torah and the world at large. A well-known adage among parents who were trying to best educate their children was, “Do you want your child to develop into a complete Jew, dedicated to Torah and derech eretz? Do you want him to be able to mingle with people and get along in the world? Send him to Volozhin!

And in fact, R’ SR Hirsch wrote a letter to his community to aid the emissary sent from the Yeshiva to raise funds in Frankfurt. In it, he calls Volozhiner Yeshiva “fellow travelers on the path of Torah im Derekh Eretz“!

I am not talking about the Hebrew grammar, though. Given the age of the textbook (Talmud Leshon Ivri), published in Breslau in 1796, they were learning the diqduq necessary to really understand Tanakh and Chazal, not Hebrew as a living language. But both the local language (Russian) and the language that dominated international academia (German). Math wasn’t as impressive though, ending with material we learn in early grade school. On the other hand, I don’t know what the general population in Russia was learning. Clearly a liberal arts focus, though.

Second, they actually used Mendeslsohn’s Biur! (Their Hebrew textbook was also by a first generation Maskil, but it’s less surprising in a topic that is more religiously neutral than a commentary on Tanakh.)

Third, their Torah study focused on covering ground. All of Tanakh in two years? 5/6 of the mishnah, 10 mesechtos of gemara? 3/4 of the Shulchan Arukh? It seems that before R’ Chaim Brisker taught people his methods of analysis, there was no real attention on analysis altogether at Volozhin. It would seem they instead focused on deriving the halakhah from the gemara studied, as that is the focus of the Rosh’s commentary.

Pagans in Our Midst

נענה רבן גמליאל ואמר: “צְדָקָה תְרוֹמֵם גּוֹי…” (משלי יד:לד) — אלו ישראל. דכתיב (דברי הימים א יז:כא) “וּמִי כְּעַמְּךָ יִשְׂרָאֵל…” [וגו’] “…וְחֶסֶד לְאֻמִּים חַטָּאת”(משלי שם) — כל צדקה וחסד שעכו”ם עושין, חטא הוא להן. שאין עושין אלא להתיהר בו. וכל המתיהר נופל בגיהנם, שנאמר (משלי כא:כד), “זֵד יָהִיר לֵץ שְׁמוֹ עוֹשֶׂה בְּעֶבְרַת זָדוֹן.” ואין עברה אלא גיהנם שנאמר (צפניה א:טו), “יוֹם עֶבְרָה הַיּוֹם הַהוּא….”

Rabban Gamliel answered and said:

“Righteousness will uplift a nation…” — That is Israel. As it says, “And who is like Your nation, Israel….”

“…And the loving-kindness of the nations is sin” — All the righteousness and loving-kindness that idolaters do, it is a sin for them, because they only act in order to glorify themselves with it. And anyone who indulges in self-glorification falls into gehenom, as it says “A proud and egotistical man, ‘scorner’ is his name, he acts in sinful pride” and sin is nothing but gehenom, as it says, “That day is a day of sin[, a day of tragedy and distress, a day of holocaust and desolation]…”

Bava Basra 10b

The gemara defines the key attribute of paganism is that it subverts all spirituality and kindness into acts of self-glorification. All of worship is selfish, in service of the pagan’s own ends. Lightening is scary, so the Romans attributed it to Zeus and the Germanic peoples to Thor. War appears to run out of control once ignited; it must be the whim of the Canaanite Anat, or Ares (Greece) or Mars (Rome). Once the force is reduced from something more powerful than themselves to a person they can appease through worship, the pagan can feel more in control.

כָּל הָעוֹסֵק בַּתּוֹרָה כְּדֵי לְקַבַּל שָׂכָר, אוֹ כְּדֵי שֶׁלֹּא תַגִּיעַ עָדָיו פֻּרְעָנוּת, הֲרֵי זֶה עוֹסֵק בָּהּ שֶׁלֹּא לִשְׁמָהּ. וְכָל הָעוֹסֵק בָּהּ לֹא לְיִרְאָה, וְלֹא לְקַבַּל שָׂכָר, אֵלָא מִפְּנֵי אַהֲבַת אֲדוֹן כָּל הָאָרֶץ שֶׁצִּוָּה בָּהּ–הֲרֵי זֶה עוֹסֵק בָּהּ לִשְׁמָהּ. וְאָמְרוּ חֲכָמִים, “לְעוֹלָם יַעְסֹק אָדָם בַּתּוֹרָה [וּמִצְוֹת], אַפִלּוּ שֶׁלֹּא לִשְׁמָהּ. שֶׁמִּתּוֹךְ שֶׁלֹּא לִשְׁמָהּ, בָּא לִשְׁמָהּ.” (רב יהודה אמר רב, פסחים נ:) לְפִיכָּךְ כְּשֶׁמְּלַמְּדִין אֶת הַקְּטַנִּים וְאֶת הַנָּשִׁים וּכְלָל עַמֵּי הָאָרֶץ, אֵין מְלַמְּדִין אוֹתָן אֵלָא לַעֲבֹד מִיִּרְאָה וּכְדֵי לְקַבַּל שָׂכָר, עַד שֶׁתִּרְבֶּה דַּעְתָּן וְיִתְחַכְּמוּ חָכְמָה יְתֵרָה, מְגַּלִּין לָהֶן רָז זֶה מְעַט מְעַט; וּמַרְגִּילִין אוֹתָן לְעִנְיָן זֶה בְּנַחַת, עַד שֶׁיַּשִּׂיגוּהוּ וְיֵדָעוּהוּ וְיַעַבְדוּ מֵאַהֲבָה.

Whomever is busy in Torah in order to receive reward or in order that tribulations don’t reach him, he is busy in it “shelo lishmah — not for its [proper] sake”. And whomever is busy in [Torah] not because of yir’ah [of punishment] nor in order to receive reward, but because of love for the L-rd of the whole world Who commanded it, that one is busy with it “lishmah — for its [proper sake]. And our sages [Rav Yehudah, quoting Rav] said, “A person should always be busy in Torah [and mitzvos] even if shelo lishmah. Because through acting shelo lishmah, comes [being motivated] lishmah.” Therefore, when we teach children, women and the uninformed in general, we do not teach them anything but to serve from yir’ah and also to get a reward. Until their knowledge increases, and they gain greater wisdom. You reveal to them this secret little by little, and you pleasantly habituate them to this idea, until they grasp it, understand it, and act from love.

– Rambam, Hilkhos Teshuvah 10:5

According to the Rambam, ignorant people might need to be led to serving Torah through love of the Creator. However, this is just a stepping stone. All through the process they must understand that the ideal is different. Otherwise, we turn Judaism into a kind of paganism, ch”v. The Chovos haLvavos writes in Sha’ar Yichud haMaaseh ch. 4 that doing mitzvos out of this sort of self-worship is worse than idolatry in four ways:

  1. the self-worshiper knows Torah, and thus the warning against serving anyone but Hashem;
  2. he worships someone in rebellion against G-d, whereas the idolater worships something that isn’t;
  3. all his acts are tainted, whereas the idolater is only inappropriate in the worshiping of one thing; and
  4. the self-worshiper who goes through the motions of being an observant Jew will mislead others, the idolater is obvious.

Rav JB Soloveitchik gives an etiology for why this tendency might be on the increase in today’s society:

Let me spell out this passional experience of contemporary man of faith.   He looks upon himself as a stranger in modern society which is technically minded, self-centered, and self-loving, almost in a sickly narcissistic fashion, scoring honor upon honor, piling up victory upon victory, reaching for the distant galaxies, and seeing in the here-and-now sensible world the only manifestation of being. What can a man of faith like myself, living by a doctrine which has no technical potential, by a law which cannot be tested in the laboratory, steadfast in his loyalty to an eschatological vision whose fulfillment cannot be predicted with any degree of probability, let alone certainty, even by the most complex, advanced mathematical calculations — what can such a man say to a functional utilitarian society which is saeculum-oriented and whose practical reasons of the mind have long ago supplanted the sensitive reasons of the heart?

Tradition Magazine vol. 7 no. 2, The Lonely Man of Faith, pg 8

Adam the Second (Adam as described in Bereishis 2), who seeks redemption through relationships with others and with the Creator, the Man of Faith, seeks spirituality as an end in itself. As science and technology progress, the stance of Adam the First , who is charged (in ch. 1) to “subdue the world and master it” is a very successful strategy and popular self-image. But to him, religion gets reduced to a pragmatic tool. The “functional utilitarian society which is saeculum-oriented and whose practical reasons of the mind have long ago supplanted the sensitive reasons of the heart” has decided that the value of praying is that “A Family That Prays Together, Stays Together”. Not that prayer is of value in-and-of itself.

There are a number of phenomena in today’s observant community that make me nervous, because for many they may be symptoms of a pagan, functional, religion. This is not to say all of these elements of our worship are inherently evil or wrong. But the disproportionate interest they are getting might be.


The most blatant way Orthodox Jews today may be turning avodas Hashem into a means for getting their own ends is the increasing attention segulos have been getting. Five metal rings, or rings made at the graves of particular famous rabbis. Red strings from Qever Rachel. All of these could have originated tools for kavanah and either aiding prayer or turning to Hashem with one’s problems in an act of “prayer”. Siblings to dipping an apple in honey on Rosh haShanah to underscore our prayer that it be Hashem’s Will that we have a good and sweet year. But they do not seem to be “sold” that way in publications and conversation.

The loss of this distinction, between actions that add passion to a request from the Almighty to believe in the power of the action itself is frighteningly similar to the Rambam’s description of the birth of idolatry:

בִּימֵי אֱנוֹשׁ טָעוּ בְּנֵי הָאָדָם טְעוּת גְּדוֹלָה, וְנִבְעֲרָה עֲצַת חַכְמֵי אוֹתוֹ הַדּוֹר; וֶאֱנוֹשׁ עַצְמוֹ, מִן הַטּוֹעִים.  וְזוֹ הָיְתָה טְעוּתָם:  אָמְרוּ הוֹאִיל וְהָאֵל בָּרָא כּוֹכָבִים אֵלּוּ וְגַלְגַּלִּים אֵלּוּ לְהַנְהִיג אֶת הָעוֹלָם, וּנְתָנָם בַּמָּרוֹם, וְחָלַק לָהֶם כָּבוֹד, וְהֶם שַׁמָּשִׁים הַמְּשַׁמְּשִׁים לְפָנָיו רְאוּיִים הֶם לְשַׁבְּחָם וּלְפָאֲרָם, וְלַחְלֹק לָהֶם כָּבוֹד.  וְזֶה הוּא רְצוֹן הָאֵל בָּרוּךְ הוּא, לְגַדַּל וּלְכַבַּד מִי שֶׁגִּדְּלוֹ וְכִבְּדוֹ, כְּמוֹ שֶׁהַמֶּלֶךְ רוֹצֶה לְכַבַּד עֲבָדָיו וְהָעוֹמְדִים לְפָנָיו, וְזֶה הוּא כִּבּוּדוֹ שֶׁלַּמֶּלֶךְ.
כֵּיוָן שֶׁעָלָה דָּבָר זֶה עַל לִבָּם, הִתְחִילוּ לִבְנוֹת לַכּוֹכָבִים הֵיכָלוֹת, וּלְהַקְרִיב לָהֶם קָרְבָּנוֹת, וּלְשַׁבְּחָם וּלְפָאֲרָם בִּדְבָרִים, וּלְהִשְׁתַּחֲווֹת לְמוּלָן–כְּדֵי לְהַשִּׂיג רְצוֹן הַבּוֹרֵא, בְּדַעְתָּם הָרָעָה.  וְזֶה, הָיָה עִיקַר עֲבוֹדָה זָרָה.
וְכָּךְ הֶם אוֹמְרִים עוֹבְדֶיהָ הַיּוֹדְעִים עִיקָרָהּ, לֹא שְׁהֶם אוֹמְרִים שְׁאֵין שָׁם אֱלוֹהַּ אֵלָא כּוֹכָב זֶה.  הוּא שֶׁיִּרְמְיָהוּ אוֹמֵר “מִי לֹא יִרָאֲךָ מֶלֶךְ הַגּוֹיִם, כִּי לְךָ יָאָתָה…” (ירמיהו י,ז-ח) כְּלוֹמַר, הַכֹּל יוֹדְעִין שֶׁאַתָּה הוּא הָאֵל לְבַדָּךְ; אֲבָל טְעוּתָם וּכְסִילוּתָם, שֶׁמְּדַמִּין שֶׁזֶּה הַהֶבֶל רְצוֹנָךְ הוּא.

In the days of Enosh, mankind made a great mistake, and the wise men of that generation gave destructive advice. Enosh himself was one of those who erred. Their mistake was as follows: They said that since G-d created these stars and spheres with which to control the world, placed them on high and accorded to them honor, and they are servants who minister before Him. Therefore[, they said], it is fitting to praise and glorify them and to treat them with honor; that it the Will of G-d, blessed be He, that they magnify and honor those whom He magnified and honored, just as a king desires that the servants who stand before him be honored. Indeed, doing so is an expression of honor to the king.
Since this idea came upon their hearts, they began to construct temples to the stars and offer sacrifices to them. They would praise and glorify them with words, and prostrate themselves before them, because by doing so, they would – according to their false conception – be fulfilling the will of God. This was the essence of the worship of false gods.
And this was the rationale of those who worshiped them who knew the essence. They would not say that there is no other god except for this star. Which is what Yirmiyahu says (10:7-8): “Who will not fear You, King of the nations, for to You it is fitting….” I.e., all know that You alone are G-d. Their error and foolishness consists of conceiving of this emptiness as Your Will.

– Rambam, Laws of Idolatry 1:1

Idolatry began with confusing the means with the ends, looking at appeasing forces rather than remembering they are but things Hashem utilize, and everything depends on how He assesses us and our needs.

Qabbalistic Causality

Closely related to segulos is our increased focus on the segulah aspect of mitzvos. Not to put up a mezuzah as a reminder that protection comes from G-d, not our walls, or more purely putting it up because Hashem commanded us to. Instead, we increasingly view mezuzos as a means for obtaining protection. The ultimate object of worship is myself; my goal is my own safety. Similarly the belief that one should keep kosher in order to avoid the heartbreak of teen rebellion by eliminating timtum haleiv (the callusing of the heart associated with consuming non-kosher food). One who gives tzedaqah in order to have success in business, or gives to the tzedaqah that promises particular miracles or near miracles. And spend more spreading the word claiming credit for past “miracles” than explaining the nature and worthiness of their cause!

By the way, what started this post was a story in Bechadrei Chareidim by Yo’el Beitlman, dated 21-Nov-2012 titled “Mystery solved: Why dozens of children broke their arms“. Numerous children in a Satmar cheder in Borough Park broke in random events, falling and whatnot. Eventually, the school’s mezuzah was checked, and they found that the word “yadekha — your arm” was cracked. We are lead to believe that the mezuzah’s faulty state caused the injury to the boys — boys who were only left “unprotected” because they went to school to learn Torah!?

However, we can still understand this as a story of metaphysical causality without turning the mitzvah into something we observe for our own ends. Perhaps it’s common cause… Whatever higher force that was breaking the literal arms also broke the “al yadekha“. This spin calls on the community using this school to “yefashpeish/yemashmeish bemaasav“, rather than just replace the mezuzah and get on with life. And that defeats the motive of many of those focusing attention on such forces.

Miracle Stories

Which then impacts how we view hashqadah, and how we do kiruv. (Kiruv being one of the few remaining venues where hashqadah is discussed at length among adults.)

There is an entire genre of literature based on this premise that mitzvos are a means to get what you want. That if one only became a little more religious and had a little more bitachon (trust in the Almighty) the only airplanes they would miss were ones that would ch”v crash or be delayed, or would take them out of the country just when they instead get the phone call that saves their career. A world in which one mitzvah stands between who was in the World Trade Center that morning, and who was not.

Of course, we all know baalei teshuvah whose lives do not go as smoothly as their non-observant relatives. And we know stories of those who died on 9/11 in the midst of acts of selflessness. The whole thrust of the book of Iyov is to disspell this notion that religion is a means for understanding what happens to us.

וַיַּעַן-ה’ אֶת-אִיּוֹב, מנהסערה (מִן הַסְּעָרָה); וַיֹּאמַר:
מִי זֶה, מַחְשִׁיךְ עֵצָה בְמִלִּין בְּלִי-דָעַת.
אֱזָר-נָא כְגֶבֶר חֲלָצֶיךָ; וְאֶשְׁאָלְךָ, וְהוֹדִיעֵנִי.
אֵיפֹה הָיִיתָ, בְּיָסְדִי-אָרֶץ; הַגֵּד, אִם-יָדַעְתָּ בִינָה.
מִי-שָׂם מְמַדֶּיהָ, כִּי תֵדָע; אוֹ מִי-נָטָה עָלֶיהָ קָּו.

Hashem responded to Iyov from the whirlwind and said:
Who is this, who darkens advice with words that lack knowledge?
Gird you loins up like a hero; for I will make demands of you, and you will acknowledge Me.

Where were you when I established the world? Tell me, if you know reason!

Who set its measures, if you know? Or who set a line against it?


Job 31:1-5

Bitachon is trust that everything is within His Plan, not within ours!

But if religion is a means to feel in control of a scary and uncertain universe, the evidence of our lives and those around us is ignored in favor of security.

Torah-Based Self-Help

The typical sefarim store today has shelves of self-help books. But I am concerned with books that that conflate mussar with self-help. These books like this turn mussar from being a means of becoming the person Hashem made me to be into a tool for self-actualization, being able to be the person I wish I were. Observing the Torah as a means to be happy rather than simply because it’s the right thing to do.You want to write a self-help book, great. We need more happiness and self-fulfillment in this world. But don’t make the Torah “a spade to dig with”.

Much of kiruv is based around this notion — that we worship G-d in order to have a happy life. (Part of this is that too much kiruv is oriented at marketing traditional Judaism rather than teaching it.) Again, yes we need to start out adulterating our motives with self interest. That is different than defining self-interest as the primary motive of religion, as the goal of observance.

G-d of the Gaps

My final instance is more subtle. One way in which paganism is the harnessing of spirituality for self-worship is in the creation of gods to explain the unknown.  The pagans worshiped deities to drive out the fear of the unknown. Blaming lightning on Thor does give the person hopes to control lightning by appeasing its god. But logically prior to that, blaming it on Thor takes it out of the realm of the unknown.

And so the pagan associates the gods with things they don’t understand and can’t get a handle on. And thus the pagan stops seeing his gods in things they can explain philosophically or scientifically. This is the “God of the Gaps” — the god who lives only in the gaps in human knowledge.

And this mentality apparently motivates much of our internal science-and-Torah debates. On one side, we have people who feel that if we don’t accept every miraculous claim of every medrash in its maximal and most extreme sense, we reduce G-d. They see G-d in the gaps, and therefore are maximizing G-d by insisting on the greatest possible gaps. On the other side, we have people with a near deist conception of G-d, where only that which cannot be explained in natural terms are left as miracles. His Wisdom is seen as being within nature, and miracles a concession. But they too are obsessing on G-d in relation to the gaps. However, with pride and confidence in science and technology, they feel more in control by placing G-d within science.

Neither are focusing on religion in terms of ethics and ideals, making the entire issue of Torah and science minor to our understanding of either, and its questions unimportant. Our obsession with the issue speaks of our placing G-d in the realm of explaining the world around us and thus of filling our need for security.