Monday, June 30, 2008

Mapping Out the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh Seforim - Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

Building a Sanctuary in My Heart -- Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

We know his name by now, but he doesn’t cite it in his many books (nor does he include a copyright). And the phone number listed on the inside-cover of all the works for more information isn’t his, but rather a student’s. But those are just a few of the captivating things about the author of the now voluminous series of seforim that (almost) all go by the name of Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh.

To my mind among the many other wonderful things that the author has done was to “introduce” the Ribbono Shel Olam into contemporary Jewish conversation and to re-introduce Him to more advanced learners, as we’ll explain below.

For while the second Rebbe of Lubavitch (R’ Dov Baer) once said quite off-handedly that all Jews are just naturally moved to the core when certain things about G-d’s presence in the cosmos are presented to them (Kuntres HaHispa’alus) … that doesn’t seem to be true today. In fact, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov’s dire prediction that there would come a time when a simple person of faith would be considered on par with the Baal Shem Tov has come true. But I contend that the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh series is doing all it can to change that.

Let’s start off with some facts, though, like the Bilvavi’s published works and their contents.

The most popular of his works is the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh series, numbers 1 through 10. These are the works that introduce the Ribbono Shel Olam into the conversation that I spoke of above. The first of the series details how to draw His Presence into your day-to-day life; and the others expand upon that idea and introduce us to notions that, while familiar to enthusiasts of Mussar and Chassidic works, are often unexplored by otherwise fine and fully-observant Jews, like loving and revering Hashem, serving Him wholeheartedly, humbling yourself in His presence, and more.

The tenth in the series is actually a republishing of an earlier work known as Kol Demamah Dakah. It’s very erudite and concentrates on some astounding gematrios, allusions to things in pasukim that we wouldn’t have thought of, the significance of certain contemporary phenomenon, and then some.

It was actually the first of his works that I came across. I live in the Monsey area, so as you might imagine, I have the luxury of browsing several excellent seforim stores, as I often do. I was struck by Kol Demamah Dakah the first time I came across it, but for one reason or another I just decided not to buy it. I came upon it again a couple of weeks later, perhaps at another store, picked it up again to look it over, and did the same -- though I was captivated. When I came upon it a third time and delved into it I was hooked. It’s utterly original -- which is true of everything written by the author -- and as soon as I sat down with it at home I was convinced I wanted to follow this author. I came upon numbers 1 and 2 and was delighted with them, and etcetera.

Then I was privileged and delighted to discover the Bilvavi’s more esoteric works including Lahav Aish (Baal Shem Tov v’Talmidav), Sefer HaEmunah (which is largely unknown), his comments on Sefer Baal Shem Tov, on the Parshios and the Moadim, and his Toras Remez.

As if that wasn’t enough, the Rav has also begun series of works that serve as comments to the Ari’s Eitz Chaim, on Hakdamas Rechovos HaNahar (an exceedingly recondite work by the Rashas), on Ramchal’s Klach Pischei Chochma and his Derech Hashem, and on Rav Yitzchak Ayzik Chaver’s Pischei Shaarim. And He has also started a phenomenal series of works termed Da Es Atzmecha (translated as “Know Thyself”, as the expression goes) which is touted as being “For the Thinking Person” right on the cover, which it certainly is.

As I said, these more advanced works manage to re-introduce the Ribbono Shel Olam to advanced learners. For while they may delve into Kabbalah seforim for the best of reasons, they may have forgotten Him in the process, since it’s easy to get lost in the minutia of the glorious details of Kabbalah and to forget the Source of it all. But let’s put it another way.

I am most struck by the Bilava’s Ohr Makif perspective. As many know, Kabbalah seforim speak of Ohr Makif and Ohr Penimi -- “Surrounding Light” and “Inner Light”, or to my way of thinking, better put as the difference between “The Big Picture” and “The Details”, “The Forest” and “The Trees”. Many students of Kabbalah get lost in the thicket. A slew of sefiros, olamos, etc. come upon him which he then tries to integrate into his being, and he gets lost in it all. He becomes enticed with the way the cosmic elements work with and against each other; how close one is to the other and yet how far apart and separate they are; the quick and radical way they each carry out their separate mission on the one hand and the subtle ways they make room for each other; and far much more.

The over-arching point, though, is that they’re all in partnership. For while like separate and unique shevatim with flags and colors of their own, each element of the olamos help comprise one Nation, if you will: a huge Union. And if one concentrates upon the “Trees” without catching sight of “The Forest” he forgets that -- he forgets The Ribbono Shel Olam, who stands as the Great Backdrop of them all, of the Grand All.

The Bilvavi gets that. And he’s sure to set his readers back on course again and again throughout his comments upon the Kabbalistic minutia, which I very much admire.

Now, as anyone who has ever seen his videos at can see, the Bilvavi is only in his mid-thirties, which is both frustrating to us older folks who are frankly envious of his genius at such a young age, and is exceedingly encouraging for the Jewish future. His relative youth has been noted in an earlier haskama from Rav Deblitzky of Bnei Brak. In fact, many may wonder how so young a person could have such a deep and wide view of some of the greatest secrets of the Torah, but I believe the Rav himself explained it in his comments to Derech Hashem.

He wrote there (on p. 29 of the first volume) that the great Sfas Emes had been made a Rebbe at age 26, and was asked how he managed to garner such great wisdom and insight at such a young age. He replied with a mashal. “It would be as if a mountain-climber who worked for years to gather a team together, to get in shape for the awesome ordeal, and to do everything he had to do for so long, then reached the mountaintop -- and came upon a kid there. ‘How did you ever get here at your age?’ asked the mountain-climber. ‘It’s simple,’ said the child. ‘While some have to expend the effort to reach the mountaintop, others are born and raised on it’.”

We don’t know much about the Bilvavi’s background (though it’s clear from the progression of his works and citations that he started off with a Yeshivish background and only later came upon Chassidus and Kabbalah), we nonetheless know that he came from extraordinary roots and was born to do his holy work. At bottom I’d say that everything that the author touches turns to wisdom, and he’s always original and very, very deep!

May the Ribbono Shel Olam grant him a long and productive life, and may we be zoche to draw from his Torah for many years!

Rabbi Yaakov Feldman has authored a number of books and has been offering weekly e-mail classes for for years that are subscribed to by thousands of readers. They include “Spiritual Excellence” and “Ramchal.”

-Dixie Yid

Update 7/3/08: With his permission, I submitted this article, which I had solicited from Rabbi Yaakov Feldman, to the The Five Towns Jewish Times. They have published it and it can be accessed HERE!

(Picture courtesy of creative mapping)

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Friday, June 27, 2008

Achieving a Harmonious Shabbos Table - Part 5 - Guest Post



Part 5

by Rabbi Chaim Morgenstern

Reprinted from the booklet with permission by the author.

Maintaining a Shabbos Atmosphere

Here are some of the vital areas that parents should focus on to preserve a Shabbos atmosphere during the meal. First and foremost, parents must role model these ideals for them to take effect.


Zemiros play a vital role in enhancing, beautifying and adding kedusha to the Shabbos seuda. When conducted properly, Shabbos zemiros give children something to anticipate each week, and their pleasant memories will remain with them for a lifetime.

The minhag of singing zemiros at the Shabbos table is sourced in Chazal: “Rava said, on Shabbos, the Jews eat, drink and say Torah and praises [to Hashem] (Mesechta Megilla, 12b).

The Sefer Chasidim(#271) adds that it is a mitzva to sing zemiros at the Shabbos table, as it is written, “מזמור שיר ליום השבת, טוב להודות לה' ולזמר לשמך עליון” (A song for the Shabbos Day. It is good to thank Hashem and sing praise to Your name. Tehillim 92:1-2).

Rav Yaakov Emden gives another profound insight to zemiros. He writes that the words of the zemiros are taken from psukim in Tanach, halachos and aggados of Shas, the Zohar and Midrash that speak about Shabbos. When we sing zemiros, Hashem listens to them and benefits the world with His goodness (Siddur Bais Yaakov, introduction to zemiros Shabbos).

Unfortunately, there are homes where zemiros are hardly sung, and once the family finally does start to sing, there is such a lack of harmony that the children lose interest in them. Rav Yissacher Frand was once on the way to give a shiur to a group of married men when an elderly European Jew approached him and said, “Zug der yungerleit, az a mohl hoben mir gezungen zemiros oif der Shabbos tish” (Tell these young men that we used to sing zemiros at the Shabbos table).

There’s a popular story about a famous rosh yeshiva who, after his wife died, arranged for a chasid come to his house each Shabbos to assist him during the meal. Once, the chasid brought one of his young sons to help him. Upon noticing the boy’s midos tovos and yiras shamayim, the rosh yeshiva remarked to the father, “You are probably wondering why your son became what he is, as opposed to mine who did not turn out to be what I expected of him. The answer is, when you were singing zemiros, I was learning the Rambam!”


Parental supervision of the family conversation during the meal is necessary to maintain a proper Shabbos atmosphere. Parents should avoid speaking about a child’s school, teacher or friend, as these subjects often lead to lashon hara. If a child has a particular problem in any of these areas, parents should encourage him to discuss it privately with them. Children should also be taught not to ask their siblings, “How do you like your rebbi, teacher or school?” Questions like this only invite trouble because any derogatory answer is lashon hara. Similary, speaking about family relatives can evoke a deragatory remark such as, “He/she is always grouchy, nervous, selfish, etc.”

Parents must also be on guard if someone asks, “How was the rabbi’s drasha?” The answer should always be positive. Any negative comment, whether about the content or the presentation, constitutes lashon hara. Examples include, “Today, the drasha was boring,” “You can tell that he wasn’t prepared,” or “It was so-so.”

Certainly, the Shabbos table should not be a forum to express individual opinions about yeshivos, roshei yeshivos or other religious circles or groups, such as Litvish, Chasidic or Sephardic. These useless discussions lead to one of the most severe types of lashon hara—speaking about a multitude of people (rabim) or a talmid chacham.

Another type of forbidden conversation that often enters the Shabbos table discussion is speaking about business or other things prohibited to do on Shabbos. (The halachos of prohibited speech on Shabbos are discussed in Shulchan Aruch O.C. #306-7). The severity of this halacha is clearly indicated by the Pele Yoetz, who writes that speaking divrei chol—weekday subjects—on Shabbos is also chilul Shabbos—desecrating the Shabbos. Some examples are:
• “That’s a nice suit (or shaitel)you have. Where did you get it?”
• “How much did you pay for that shirt?”
• “My watch stopped again. Where can I get it repaired?”
• “I have to get a haircut this week.”
• “I have to call my friend tonight.”


Secular newspapers, magazines and novels have no place in a Jewish home. (This subject is discussed in my CD, “Motivation—Key to a Successful Chinuch.”) In the event that they somehow find their way into the home, parents should not allow them to come to the holy Shabbos table. Rav E. Shach once remarked that secular newspapers are “muktza machmas miyus”—muktza because they are disgusting.


Chazal describe oneg Shabbos—the pleasure of Shabbos—as “mayain olam haba,” a resemblance of the pleasure in the afterlife (Mesechta Brachos, 57b).
Parents should reflect this feeling, which comes from enjoying eating, drinking and sleeping, throughout Shabbos.

The table should be adorned with delicious foods, salads and drinks within each family’s financial means. Through words and gestures, parents should express the feeling that the food is mayain olam haba. There is also a minhag to say, “Lekavod Shabbos Kodesh,” before eating to honor the Shabbos meal.

Parents cannot express oneg Shabbos properly if they overeat and show signs of indigestion or heartburn. The Shelah Hakadosh explains that the mitzva of oneg Shabbos is specifically to enjoy Shabbos and not oneself. Therefore, he writes, overeating, feeling ill from the excess food and then falling asleep from exhaustion is self-gratification (oneg atzmo) and not oneg Shabbos (Commentary to Mesechta Shabbos s.v. “Vekarasa).

(Picture courtesy of Yitzchak ben Yehuda)

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Thursday, June 26, 2008

Follow Up to Responses on "The Moon's Lost Light" by Rebb. Devorah Heshelis

(DY: This post is a portion of Rebbetzin Devorah Heshelis' responses to HER ORIGINAL GUEST POST about her book, The Moon's Lost Light. - For those who would like to read more of her responses, you can DO SO HERE. As explained by Rebbetzin Heshelis in this post, I have decided to disable comments. After reading the book, those who wish to discuss the important issues being discussed here with her directly may do so at the e-mail address she indicates below.)

Well, I’m finally getting around to answering the comments made about half a year ago in relation to the post on my book, The Moon’s Lost Light. As I explained before Pesach, those comments only recently became known to me since I don’t have an internet connection and couldn’t read the blog directly. It was only when a neighbor discovered the dialogue on Dixie Yid’s blog and gave it to me, that I become aware of everything that had been said.

There were some points which raised questions that many people might be asking, and they deserve good answers. I put a great deal of time into trying to clarify these matters - so much, in fact, that I ran into a problem. My responses, which run for over 20 pages, were simply too long to put on a blog.

I doubt that the readers would be interested in wading through so many pages of responses to comments which appeared nearly half a year ago. I therefore decided to put only one response on the current post, and the other responses are being placed HERE. Those responses deal with many comments, including the comments of Ariella and Chaim B. that I hadn’t seen, and I also replied to Jacob’s comment, which I think is important..

It will not be possible to place more comments on the post, because I simply cannot go on answering comments and counter comments indefinitely. A question that takes three minutes to ask, can take over three hours to answer. Furthermore, I found that many of the questions were superfluous as the points were explained in the book. If, after seriously reading the book someone has a question they are very welcome to write to me at targum(at)

Now for some of the replies:

Dear Jacob,

Firstly, your problem is very understandable. I’m sure that there are many other women who feel as you do. Secondly, what you read on the post must of necessity be short and does not include many points in the book which you might find helpful.

As Dixie Yid told you, this book was written not as a practical guide, but rather to give women understanding. Nevertheless, I wish to relate to your points one by one.

You cited the gemmara in Maseches Brachos where Yeshayahu told King Chizkiyahu “Bahade kavsha diRachmana lama lach; mah di’alecho likapdi, Asei” which you translated as “Don’t worry about the greater scheme and how Hashem runs the world, just do what you have to.” So first I wish to answer this point.

When Yeshayahu told Chizkiyahu not to meddle in Hashem’s affairs and just to do as he should, he was speaking about a very different type of situation. Chizkiyahu knew that he would father a son who would be a rasha, so he did not want to marry and have children. But the law of the Torah is that a man must marry and have children. Because Chizkiyahu wanted to go against the Torah, Yehsayahu answered him as he did. This book, however, is saying that one must be careful to always keep the laws of the Torah. Once that is established, then there is nothing wrong with asking for understanding, as indeed we do in the tfila of ahava rabba (or ahavas olam) which is said before the Shma.

Is understanding alone, without practical advice, of any value?

After tisha b’av there are seven weeks where we read in the haftara about the wonderful good that will come with the ge’ula (redemption). Those seven weeks are called “shiv’a dinechamasa” the seven weeks of consolation. Why is this consolation? Has anything changed on the practical level? We’re still in the same galus (exile). Reading about the ge’ula doesn’t take away the problems of the exile. The answer is that just reading and thinking about the eventual ge’ula and all the good that will come with it, gives us the strength and joy we need to go on. If it hadn’t been for the prophecies of the ge’ula the Jews never would have survived the galus.

This same principle holds true for women today. Knowing that whatever bothers you is not forever, that there is a wonderful future awaiting you, is very encouraging, not only because of how we will benefit from this, (although that is certainly important) but also because it shows that Hashem didn’t relegate women to a secondary position because He thinks that this is good, or because He doesn’t care, cholila, but rather because it was necessary, and as soon as it is not necessary He will change this. I brought this out in the book, because for many women it influences their relationship with Hashem.

Furthermore, feeling virtuous or feeling subdued both have to do with feelings. So what my book is about is not giving practical advice, but rather about changing our feelings through understanding. I’m not saying that this will definitely solve all your problems, but it might help.

You ask, “Do I follow modern trends which are very appealing to me and in some sense make me feel more fulfilled, or do I do as I’m told and stick to the role of Jewish women that seems to be painted all over Jewish literature which seems in some way to be virtuous but makes me feel subdued? ....Does it imply that I should ignore the Torah sources because they were talking to a different point in history?"

You aren’t specific and I don’t know exactly what issues are bothering you, but I’ll try to give a general picture. Halacha is halacha, and it must be followed exactly. This really is being virtuous. Women today have more intellectual and financial opportunities than in the past. So long as these do not interfere in any way with the letter or spirit of Torah (such as tznius, or being a good mother) then go ahead and take advantage of them. In fact the book strongly stresses that women should develop their intellectual abilities. But if there is any contradiction between halacha, or even the spirit of halacha, then we must watch out, because this is the yetzer hara trying to destroy us. We still have to work at making a good Jewish home, it doesn’t just happen on its own, and a good Jewish home is no less important in our period than it was in previous ones. Those Torah sources were talking to a different point in history in some ways, but definitely not in others. As I wrote in the introduction to The Moon’s Lost Light, “Some people reading this book have described it as speaking of women’s changing roles, but I wouldn’t put it that way. Women were meant to be the bayis, the life and spirit of the Jewish home, and that is just as true today as it ever was. What the book speaks of is women’s enriched role” (The Moon’s Lost Light P.xxii).

Yes, you should develop yourself in a way that will make you feel fulfilled, but it you have to find the proper balance. This can’t be done through a book. Sometimes what is right for one person is wrong for another. For this you must speak to an understanding and reliable rav or rebitzen about your own particular issues. The mentor must be both well versed in halacha and hashkafa, and also very understanding of human nature and your particular needs. What is painted all over Jewish literature, as you put it, might be right for most women, while you might need to follow, or partially follow, the role model of a more unusual great woman in Jewish history. Every soul has its own tikun.

There is one more very important point that we all need to think about, both men and women. How many of us would be willing today to die for kiddush Hashem? In times gone by, how much did Jews sacrifice in their loyalty to Torah? Even a few years ago, what did Jews who kept Torah in the U.S.S.R. have to go through? There is such a thing as sacrificing al kiddush Hashem, and different people have to do it in different ways.

Nevertheless, people are also meant to be happy and fulfilled, and its important to find a way that combines loyalty to Torah with making you feel happy and fulfilled. This can’t be done merely through a book, it needs lots of personal guidance, and a general strong Torah hashkafa. If you want

to be in touch with me, you can do so by writing to me at targum(at)


(Picture courtesy of Ami & Eliana's Chasuna)

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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Article on Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh from Yated - R' Baruch Leff

A beautiful article has been written by Rabbi Baruch Leff, in Yated Neeman. In it, he gives a well-written, great recommendation of why learning Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh is so important for any Jew who really wants to accomplish growth in Avodas Hashem. It's definitely worth the read. I have to thank Yoni Henner for pointing out and e-mailing me this article. Big yasher koach!

DOWNLOAD the PDF of the file HERE. (Right click and select "Save Target As")

-Dixie Yid

(Picture courtesy of Nehora)

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Machlokes Does Not Truly Exist

The following is a translation of Maamar 41 of Pirkei Avodah U'Machshava in the 5th Volume of Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh, beginning on page 208. It is a fundamental yesod which sheds light on all machlokes'n whether it be Rambam/Baal Shem Tov, Rav Yosef Chaim Sonenfeld/Rav Kook, Eipschutz/Emden, Baal HaTanya/GR"A, Rebbe Nachman/Shpoler Zeidi, etc. etc. etc. It is so fundamental that I wanted to translate the whole Maamar directly (only 4 pages):

Hashgacha (Providence) - General and Specific

The machlokes (dispute) of the Rishonim and Acharonim (medieval & later scholars) with regard to Hashem's specific Providence is well known. Some hold that there is specific providence for every created and formed thing and over every single detail, even the most minute. In contrast, there are those that hold that specific providence only exists for mankind. However, other created things do not have specific providence, only general providence, i.e. only toward the perpetuation of the species. For example, if there are 1,000 donkeys in the world and it is decreed that two hundred of them shall die, it makes no differnce which ones die. It will be two hundred without any calculation (unless they have owners, in which case it would make a difference to a human being).

It is Clear That There is Total Hashgacha Pratis

First, one must understand that it is impossible for there to be an opinion that there not be Hashgacha Pratis on any created thing, because if were the case, these would not be in the hands of Hakadosh Baruch Hu, but only in the hands of "nature." But who created this "nature" that we speak of? Hashem! It comes out, then that nature is Elokim (As is known from the Kuzari [that the gematria of "Hateva," nature, is Elokim]). It comes out then, that whether we define this as Hashgacha Pratis by Hashem or whether we define it as left to the designs of nature, the bottom line is that everything is Hakadosh Baruch Hu, and that nature is also Hakadosh Baruch Hu. Everything is directed by Hashem. Not only this, but if we would assume that, in truth, there is no cause at all as to which donkey should die, then why, in truth, does one donkey die and not another? If there is no reason, why couldn't it just as easily be the opposite? We must say that there is a cause because nothing happens in creation without some cause. Therefore, we must understand those Rishonim and Acharonim who hold that all non-people are supervised by Hashgacha Klalis (General Providence).

Truth, its Borders and Limits

Before we explain the topic of Hashgacha, we must first explain a general Yesod (foundation) in our general way of understanding things; an extremely vital one for anyone who wants to understand kedusha (holiness). Everyone knows that 1+2=3. Who set this? By external apearances, we would immediately say that this is reality! However, from a deeper perspective we must understand that this reality that 1+2=3 is indeed reality, but it is a reality that Hashem created. Hakadosh Baruch Hu could have also created it that 1+2 would equal 4! This appears to us to be lacking in any logic. However, this is because we were created within the confines of Creation, and we can only perceive a reality that fits the truth of our Creation. However, Hakadosh Baruch Hu is infinite, and in the infinite, there are no limitations. It is possible that 1+2 would equal 3, 4, 5, 6, etc. etc. There is no end to the possibilities. We learn from here that whenever we speak [of reality or truth], we are not speaking of absolute truth, of infinite truth. Rather, we are speaking of a truth that we can comprehend.

Another Example to Assist in Understanding the Matter

Let us give another example of how the truth that we live with is a relative truth for created beings, and not infinite, absolute truth.

Moshe Rabbeinu said to Hakadosh Baruch Hu, "שְׁלַח-נָא, בְּיַד-תִּשְׁלָח," "Send the one whom You usually send" (Shmos 4:13). The Ramban explains that Moshe thought that he was the worst of all people. How could it be that Moshe Rabbeinu thought that he was the worst of all? The answer s very simple. We define everything by our definitions. It appears to us that two meters is greater than one meter. However,, in truth, according to infinite truth, it could be the opposite, that one meter is greater. Therefore, when a person comes to calculate whether he is greater than his friend, even if according to true human measures he is a greater Tzadik and more of a Talmid Chacham, etc. etc., thevertheless, it could be that he could be on a lower level than his friend.

The Deeper Reality of Purim

This is the secret of Purim's "לא ידע בין ארור המן לברוך מרדכי," "not knowing the difference between 'cursed is Haman' and 'blessed is Mordechai." (Megillah 7b) In truth, they are both the same, but only on the level of "לא ידע," "not knowing," since on the level of "knowing," we cannot understand this. (This is not carried out on a practical level however, since according to halacha one must conduct himself according to Shulchan Aruch, since that is Hashem's will, v'dai l'maivin.)

We have given two examples, but the person of understanding will see that everything that we "understand" could also be the opposite. We do not discuss the true reality according to the perspective of The Infinite. Rather, we always talk about a perception of the truth according to our own limitations, according to our own bounded comprehension. If Chazal said that "such and such does not exist," this does not mean that it, in true reality, does not exist. Rather, [it means] that in our limited world, no such thing exists. All of their [Chazal's] words were only said according to our understanding, and not according to reality according to the perspective of The Infinite.

The Explanation of Those Rishonim Who Say That There is No Hashgacha Pratis

Now we can understand and comprehend the opinion of those Rishonim and Acharonim who hold that there is only Hashgacha Pratis on mankind. Their words can be understood in the following way: Certainly, there is hashgacha pratis on every created thing. However, we cannot ever comprehend this. With regard to human beings, we can understand a little of why one specific person dies and not another. This could be because of his sins in this gilgul (incarnation) or another one, or the like. But with regard to animals and other created things, we cannot understand at all why this specific animal should die and not another. We cannot recognize any essential, inner difference between one animal and another. And therefore, we we cannot understand why this one needs to live and this one needs to die. This is what they mean by asserting that there is no Hashgacha Pratis. Meaning: We cannot comprehend Hashgacha Pratis (according to what we said earlier that Chazal spoke about a level which we understand and not from the perspective of the true methods of Hashem).

Much Wisdom is Required in Order to Understand the Place and Limits of Every Statement of Chazal

We clarified earlier that Chazal spoke according to the level of human understanding. Let us define this more clearly.

"Reuven's" perception of reality is different from that of "Shimon." So too by other people, Neshamos are destinct from one another. In general, they are divide into 4 parts. There are those whose neshamos are rooted in the world of Atzilus (the highest world)," [some originate from] Briah, [others from] Yetzira and [others from] Asiya [our world, the lowest]. Therefore, sometimes [Chazal] speak according to the aspect of Atzilus, sometimes from Briah, etc. etc. And once in a long while, they speak according to the asepect of The Infinite. Great wisdom is required in order to understand each statement of Chazal according to the aspect to which ist is relevant. Mistakes in distinguishing create contradictions bvetween statements of Chazal. All contradictions are rooted in this, since every statement [of Chazal] is speaking about a different level and aspect. This is the secret of "אלו ואלו דברי אלהים חיים," "these and these are the words of the Living G-d." (Eiruvin 13b) Every opinion is correct. However, each one is true according to its level and the aspect about which it is speaking, and no more. The root of dispute is based in the lack of understanding that all of their words are true on their level alone. However, no more than this. The tikun for dispute is through clarifying everything's place and limits. They are all true in their place.

-Dixie Yid

(Picture courtesy of Eichlers)

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Refa'einu - What is Tefillah, in Essence, Really About - Part 6 - Audio Shiur

I'm proud to present Part 6 of the Refa'einu section of the Baltimore Community Kollel Tefillah Chaburah shiurim by Reb Yerachmiel.

In this 6th shiur on berchas Refa'ainu, Reb Yerachmiel explained the words "Ki Sehilasainu Atah" through the eyes of the Nefesh Ha'Chayim, the Rabeinu Yonah, the Ramchal, Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh, the Sifse Chaim, the Malbim and, of course, Rav Shimshon Dovid Pincus zt"l. This is an expansive shiur that also addresses the issue of what is Tefillah, at its deepest core, really all about?!

You may CLICK HERE to either left click and listen to the shiur right away or "right click" and select "Save Target As" to download the wav file.

-Dixie Yid

(Picture courtesy of adultschool)

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Rav Shlomo Freifeld on the Unsullied Pure Neshoma - Guest Post

Guest Posting by Reb Yosef Hakohen:

The nigun in this recording was composed by Rav Yitzchak Hutner, a leading sage who headed the Chaim Berlin Yeshiva. He composed this nigun in honor of the wedding of his disciple, Rav Shlomo Freifeld. The nigun and the words of this song are on an old record produced by the Chaim Berlin Yeshiva, titled, “Torah Lives and Sings!”

The nigun is to the opening words of the ancient Hebrew prayer about the neshamah – soul – that we chant each morning. The following is an English translation:

“My God, the soul You placed within me is pure. You created it; You fashioned it; You breathed it into me. You safeguard it within me, and eventually You will take it from me and restore it to me in the future that is to come.”

Rav Shlomo Freifeld was the founder of Yeshiva Sh'or Yoshuv in Far Rockaway, New York. He once shared with his students the following message of his rebbe, Rav Hutner:

I recall vividly my rebbe Rav Yitzchak Hutner zatsal before Yom Kippur screaming to us, “The neshamah is pure. It cannot be sullied. It cannot be stained no matter what you do, no matter how we fail, no matter what mistakes we make or rebellious acts we commit. The neshamah cannot be stained. It is always pure.”
That is what we are. We are neshamos, pure incorruptible neshamos. We're not just people. We're not IQs. We're not test results. We're not measured by material standards. We're pure and holy neshamos.

The above quote is from the book, “Rabbi Freifeld Speaks” (Mesorah Publications, ltd.) It was adapted for print by Rabbi Yaakov Yosef Reinman. For information, CLICK HERE.

The nigun can be downloaded if you CLICK HERE.

-Yosef Hakohen

(Dixie Yid: The message here is also very apropos to the vort I posted a few days ago.)

(Picture courtesy of Shor Yoshuv)

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This Baby's Not Getting Any Younger - Funny Video

HT to Gruntig!

-Dixie Yid

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Monday, June 23, 2008

Being Happy When Bad Things Happen to You - Q&A at ASJ

A Simple Jew has posted an answer that I wrote to the question that I'm quoting below. I discussed a personal experience that's relevant to the question and a couple of insights that I was thinking about into some relevant gemaras. Here's his question:

A Simple Jew asks:

It has been taught that sincerely thanking Hashem for the obstacles and the daily problems we encounter helps to sweeten the harsh judgements against us.
Has there ever been an occasion in your life where you felt as if you were caught in the middle of a storm and instead of despairing you stopped and thanked Hashem for that very storm?

Dixie Yid Answers...

-Dixie Yid

(Picture courtesy of abstractica)

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New Blog on Rav Shimshon Refael Hirsch

Our holy friend Neil Harris from Modern Uberdox has done it again!

He has come out with a new blog based on the teachings of Rav Shimshon Refael Hirsch called Mensch Israel.

Check it out!

-Dixie Yid

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Friday, June 20, 2008

Clarifying How/Why the Rambam Does Not Truly Deny Individual Providence Overy Every Detail of Creation

From the Comment Section of THIS POST from two days ago:

Here's the/a resolution, to understanding the Rambam and other Rishonim who stated there's Hashgacha Pratis (HP) only on humans in general, limited HP on some humans, and no HP, only Hashgacha Klalis (General Providence - "HK") or HM (Hashgacha Minis, species-wide Providence - "HM") on tzomeich, chai and domem (plants, animals and inanimate objects). This is different (though not conflicting) with the two resolutions I brought in the main post.

General Principal: Rishonim & earlier Acharonim almost always spoke about the level which human beings can have some understanding of, and not necessarily what exists as true reality. However, they were not speaking on the level of those things which we have no understanding of.

Application: They denied hashagacha pratis on every detail of creation when speaking on a level that people can understand. That is because hashgacha on leaves falling or animals dying is something that we can have no understanding of. For example, we may be able to have some understanding of why one person dies and why another person lives. We can understand the concept that, for example, that because of something from a previous gilgul, this person had to die, while that person, for another reason, had to live. However, we have no context in which to put why Hashem causes one animal to live but another to die at a particular time. Al achas kama v'kama with regard to tzomeich and domem. Since HP on these things is beyond the capacity of human beings to even partially understand, they denied its existance in their writings because they were only speaking about the level about which people can understand.

However, the Baal Shem Tov, who came much later, and those subsequent to him blazed a new derech in teaching. Which was to speak about what exists in reality, even even about those concepts that people can have no real hasaga of, like HP on chai, tzomeiach and domem.

This would explain why the Lubavitcher Rebbe, zt"l, stated that the Baal Shem Tov was a Chiddush. He was indeed a huge chidush in that he began expressing true reality, while earlier Rishonim and Acharonim had b'shita, only addressed asepcts of reality which people could have *some* understanding of. This would also show why he was not contradicting himself when he distinguished between the Rambam and the Baal Shem Tov's opinion to show why they were not contradictory. If you were correct about the LR's opinion, then his statemetns that the Besht was a chidush and his statement that he was *not* in conflict with the Rambam would have been self contradictory in the same Sicha.

When comenting on the Rambam's statement that everything happens with Hashem's will You have really said all that I am trying to say as well because pointed out that whether it's HP or HM/HK, everything does happen through Hashem's will. Why? Because Hashem "knows" everything and if he created HP or HM or HK, He created the whole world and every individual plant, animal, rock and person knowing where in that "automatic system" he would put them, and thus created them lechatchila knowing every detail that would happen to them through the system. Thus he decreed that all of these details happen to them, and that could indeed be what he means when he says that *everything* happens with Hashem's will. Thus whether Hashem decreed each detail of creation to take place via HP, or HM/HK, it's really only a minor semantic difference in reality since in either case, every detail is decreed about everything that happens in the Briah.

Thus there really is no machlokes between the Rambam & the Baal Shem Tov. The Rambam, with all of his strongly worded denials of the "every leaf" theory and its applications by Mohammedan Ashariyah (that Reb Jonathan Baker quoted), was speaking about a certain level of reality. i.e. that level of reality which we can have some hasaga of.

Besides all of this, it's a logical imposibility for hashgacha pratis over every detail not to be true. Hashem is infinite. If Hashem were to literally not control at all certain aspects in the universe, then his Presence would be absent from that "place" in creation. (And if He controls every specific detail "directly" through HP or "indirectly" through HK/HM, his control is still there.) Therefore, Hashem's infinite nature precludes the absence of HP over every detail in actual reality.

Also, Chazal say "oseh b'chol yom ma'aseh breishis." If the universe could exist independently on any level, Hashem wouldn't need to recreate the world at every moment. Since Hashem is infinite, there can be no independent existance to any part of creation and therefore it can only continue to exist because Hashem continues to will it to exist at every moment, thus recreating every detail of creation at every moment. Therefore, his contorl over all of creation exists at eveyr moment since He is constantly recreating it in its present state at all times. It is seen from this that He is recreating everything in the way that He wants it at all times. While a skeptic might ta'anah that He only re-creates it in the way that it would exist according to a natural system that He set up "earlier," this would only beg the question. Since he knows the system lechatchila, choose what to create when, and recreates the system at every moment, He's essentially decreeing every detail at every moment, regardless of the means (HP or HM/HK).

Gut Shabbos!

-Dixie Yid

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Achieving a Harmonious Shabbos Table Part 4 - Guest Post



Part 4

by Rabbi Chaim Morgenstern

Reprinted from the booklet with permission by the author.

Opportunities in Chinuch


One of the highlights of the Shabbos table is the father’s dvar Torah, which provides a tremendous opportunity to instill the children with hashkafa and yiras shamayim beyond what they learn in school. Children may learn from their rebbi about emuna, bitachon and the severity of violating Shabbos or speaking lashon hara, but hearing their father speak about these subjects with enthusiasm and seeing him modeling these ideas will make a lifelong impression on them. In addition, there may be important details about various halachos that are not taught in school, such as what is or isn’t lashon hara, how to honor Shabbos and parents properly, etc., which a child only learns in his home.

As Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky once remarked, “The home is a kingdom for teaching proper midos. Even after a child begins school, the family remains the prime source of values.” In Rav Kaminetsky’s opinion, proper chinuch depends, above all, on the home. Until age 18, a boy still needs his family, and a girl continues to benefit from being near her mother. For this reason, he opposed sending children away from home to yeshiva unless circumstances make it necessary (Reb Yaakov, Artscroll, p. 322).

Clearly, children need chinuch both outside and inside the home, and it is up to the parents to make the home a stimulating educational environment. For example, in order for children to receive maximum benefit from the father’s dvar Torah, it must be interesting. A boring dvar Torah will not only result in the children not listening and absorbing what is said, it will also make them restless.
To keep children attentive, parents must speak on their intellectual level by making the dvar Torah as simple as possible. Deep and involved discussions, especially with guests, will cause younger children to lose their interest. In addition, unless the dvar Torah includes an interesting story, it should be short and to the point. Children have short attention spans, so giving a long drasha will only cause them to daydream and become bored.

Since the entire family should gain from a dvar Torah, parents should not use the mealtime for testing a child or for chazara –review. Testing a child may make him nervous, and individual learning can make the other children restless.
I was once at a Shabbos table where the father has a custom of learning Mishnayos with one of the sons. I thought this was a nice idea until I heard them learning an entire perek of Mesechta Eiruvin! The other children, who had no clue what was going on, simply left the table, and the other guests became bored.
Stories are excellent ways to keep a child’s interest and convey Torah ideals. (This is because people remember stories better than information.) Parents can share true and inspiring biographical stories of Torah sages, or other stories with a Torah theme. Long stories can be divided into weekly portions so that the child will look forward to the next part the following Shabbos.


The Shabbos table provides parents with golden opportunities to train their children in certain vital areas of chinuch. First and foremost is the mitzva kibud u’morah av v’eim (honoring and revering parents). The children should learn and feel that serving their parents and tending to their needs is a privilege, not a burden. When asking a child to bring them something, parents should ask, “Who wants a mitzva?” The parents should be the first to be served and to take from the central plate (followed by the oldest children).
In the same pleasant manner, parents can also instill mora—reverence—in their children. Some examples include:
• If a child sits in the parent’s place, he should be told gently the halacha of not sitting there.
• A child should not interrupt or talk when a parent is speaking, singing zemiros or saying a dvar Torah.
• When requesting something, he should say, “please” and “thank you” without sounding demanding.
• If one of the children asks his parent a question, another child should not jump to answer it before the parent.
Parents should also teach children that this mitzva benefits them greatly in both this world and the next. (This subject is discussed at length in my booklet “Honoring Parents—The Privilege and the Challenge.”)


Role modeling exerts a subtle yet very powerful influence on children, as they learn more from what they see than from what they hear. Parents and teachers can speak much about the severity of lying or speaking lashon hara, but if they are living examples of it, these concepts will make lifelong impressions on the children (This subject is discussed on my CD, “Your Influence as a Role Model”). The Shabbos table provides an excellent setting for parents to role model many areas of derech eretz and chinuch for their children. The following are some examples:

• Eating with derech eretz. As with many midos, children learn how to eat with derech eretz from their parents. Therefore, during the meal, the parents should role model eating with derech eretz, e.g., taking moderate portions from a center plate, refraining from overeating and using proper table etiquette. Likewise, at a simcha such as a shalom zachor or Kiddush, the parents should train their children in proper etiquette, such as not grabbing food, waiting their turn in line, placing food on their plates neatly, using a napkin, etc.

• Appreciating and complimenting. Another essential mida in chinich provided by the Shabbos table atmosphere is training children to thank and express appreciation to another person who has benefited them. This mida is especially important in today’s times, when many children are brought up spoiled by their parents and are always on the receiving side (some term this an “es kumpt mir” generation—meaning, “it’s coming to me”). This is best accomplished when parents role model appreciation by verbally thanking a child who helps set the table, serves food, cleans up nicely, sings zemiros or says a dvar Torah.

Parents should also do the same for each other. The husband should thank, appreciate and compliment his wife on the preparation and tasty Shabbos food, and the wife should do the same about her husband’s dvar Torah.

Rav Yisroel Salanter aptly captured this concept by stating, “To compliment a woman’s cooking is like complimenting a rosh yeshiva on his shiur.” If this is true regarding adults, even moreso it applies to children.

• Brachos and benching. Children learn how to say brachos and bentch properly from their parents. When Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky was asked how and when he trained his children to brachos, he replied, “We never taught them. They saw us making brachos before and after eating, and because children naturally imitate their parents, they started saying brachos too” (Reb Yaakov, Artscroll, p. 324).

Therefore, it is vital for the father to say kiddush and hamotzi slowly and clearly. Fathers who run through brachos and kiddush will subconsciously train their children to do the same.
When benching parents should bench from a siddur and avoid making gestures to other family members. They should impress upon their children that bentching is a mitzvah d’orysa and should be treated as important as Shemoneh Esrei.

(Picture courtesy of lightgap)

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Thursday, June 19, 2008

A Modern American Assimilated Jew Making the Ultimate Choice

I work full-time as a Law Clerk in a Law Firm while I attend law school at night. The other day, the partner in my firm told me a story that illustrated a recent example of how even a modern Jew in America can be given the choice to deny his Judaism in order to safeguard his life and health.

The partner told me the story of his friend, who is a partner in a major Manhattan law firm. This man originally was born as an Egyptian Jews. He was not observant and moved to the United States. Here, he became a successful lawyer, but thanks to his upbringing and schooling in Egypt, he spoke fluent Arabic and French. Partly due to this fact, and due to the fact that he was just a very good lawyer, he got a Saudi princess who controled hundreds of millions of dollars as a client for all sorts of business arrangements. He also got many of her Arab associates as clients for various deals and his Arabic and French lanuage skills held him in good stead. He was always very careful never to give any hint that he was Jewish.

One one occassion (before Saudi Arabia had to say they would let Jews into the country in February 2004) his client invited him to Saudi Arabia for a meeting in relation to a major deal. With all of the millions in legal work he had done for her, he could not refuse, as uncomfortable as he felt, not knowing what would happen to him if it was discovered that he was really Jewish. He went on the trip, which was at the very end of the calendar year.

On the afternoon of December 24th, the princess asked him which church (probably in a private home) that he would need directions to? Now, if he said that he just doesn't go to church or if he just accepted the directions and them just didn't go to the church, it would look like he was affirming that he was a Xian. So, despite the fact that he found himself in a hostile country with a barbaric Shariah based legal system, he turned to her and said, "There is something that I have to tell you that I haven't mentioned before..."

At that point, I think he deserves all of the credit for disregarding whatever potential harm he might have faced for being a Jew in Saudi Arabia who's not on an American Army base. However, the story doesn't end there.

Before he gets to tell her that he's Jewish, she says "Don't worry you don't have to tell me. I already know. I've always known."

Flabergasted, he asks "What? Then why have you and all of your Arab colleagues accepted the services of a Jewish lawyer all of this time?!"

She just answerd "We know what we want..."

I guess even Saudi Princesses and Arabic businessmen know that Jewish lawyers are the way to go!

I usually don't think of the possiblity of having to make the choice between affimatively denying my Jewishness as a practical problem these days. But it is nice to see that the nekuda tova in that Jew would not let him even impliedly deny his Jewishness, even to save himself from potential danger. Wow.

-Dixie Yid

(Picture courtesy of familycourtchronicles)

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Rambam Holds of Hashgacha Pratis on Every Detail of Creation.

Now before you academics get into a tizzy based on my title, pointing out the different levels of Hashgacha Pratis (Divine Providence) from Moreh Nevuchim and the idea of Hashgacha Klalis (general providence, as opposed to specific providence) in seforim like the Sefer HaChinuch & Shomer Emunim (cited here), you must know that there are different levels of Hashgacha. But before understanding how the Rambam agreed with the Baal Shem Tov that Hashem's hashgacha is on every individual detail of creation, we must first see the first side of the Stira in the Rambam.

The Rambam writes in Moreh Nevuchim, Vol. III, ch. 17 the following (translation by

The approach of our Torah is that… Divine Providence focuses on the individual only in regard to the human species… With regard to animals and how much more so, with regard to plants… [His] Providence governs the species as a whole, but not its individual components.

(And in ch. 18:) Divine Providence does not rest upon all men equally…. As to the fools who rebel [against Him],… their interests will be loathed and will be controlled by the [natural] order as are those of the animals. To them can be applied the verse:7 "He (a sinner) is comparable to the animals who cannot speak."
It might appear for this and similar statements that the Rambam is making a blanket statement that there is no hashacha pratis (specific Divine Providence) of any kind on every detail of the world, including animals and inanimate objects.

However, this cannot be true.

The Yerushalmi in Shvi'is 9:1 tells the story of what happened when Rebbi Shimon Bar Yochai and his son Reb Elazar left the cave after 13 years of hiding. "נפיק ויתיב ליה על פומא דמערתא חמא חד צייר צייד ציפרין פרס מצודתי' שמע ברת קלא אמרה דימוס ואישתיזב' ציפור אמר ציפור מבלעדי שמיא לא יבדא כ"ש בר נשא ." "[Rebbi Shimon and his son] went out by the mouth of the cave and they saw a man trapping birds with a net. They heard a Bas Kol [heavenly voice] call out "Free!" and the bird got away. He [Rashbi] said: A bird will not be saved without the help of Heaven, how much the more so human beings." We see from this that Rebbi Shimon Bar Yochai and his son Reb Elazar viewed whether or not a bird is captured in a net as being the will of Hashem, and not only part of some automatic mechanistic system called "nature."

Also, The the Baal HaTanya points out that the Gemara in Chulin 63a, says, "ר' יוחנן כי הוה חזי שלך אמר (תהילים לו) משפטיך תהום רבה." "When Rav Yochanan would see a heron, he would say 'Your judgments are in the lowly depths [since You judge that this particular heron should kill this particular fish].'" The Rambam would not be able to simply ignore this Gemara.

Actually, the Rambam himself implies in many places that he agrees with the approach to Hashgacha Pratis that was later articulated by the Baal Shem Tov. He says in Hilchos Teshuva 6:2 , "בזמן שאדם אחד, או אנשי מדינה חוטאים, ועושה החוטא חטא שעשה מדעתו וברצונו, כמו שהודענו--ראוי להיפרע ממנו; והקדוש ברוך הוא יודע היאך ייפרע." "When one person or the people of a nation sin, the sinner sins of his own will, and as I have said, it is appropriate for him to be punished. And Hashem knows how to punish [him]." The Rambam here is speaking of sinners, both Jews and non-Jews. He does not limit the scope of his statement to intellectually accomplished Jews or even Jews in general. He says that Hashem is mashgiach over them (supervises them) both in the fact of the punishment and in the specific method of punishment that is appropriate to each individual. This would clearly fall outside the scope of the superficial meaning of what he said in Moreh Nevuchim.

The Rambam also says in Hilchos Teshuva 6:5 that "לפי שחטא מעצמו תחילה והרע לישראל ... נתן הדין למנוע ממנו התשובה." "Since [Par'oh] sinned on his own first and harmed the Jewish people... Hashem judged him by withholding Teshuva from him." You see from this also that even Par'oh, who is certainly not the kind of elevated person being referred to in Moreh Nevuchim, has hashgacha pratis that defines what happens to him in this world according to the Rambam, and he isn't merely subject to some automatic and mechanistic system of natural law. (While the Rambam in M.N. merely asserts a greater level of "Hashgacha Pratis" over elevated people, he does not differentiate here between how this principal would apply to Paroh vs. a regular gentile vs. a Jew.)

Actually, Rambam himself openly states that Hashgacha Pratis (Divine Providence) applies to every detail of creation! In laying out the contradiction between Divine knowledge and the existance of free will, the Rambam says " דע שהכול בחפצו ייעשה, ואף על פי שמעשינו מסורין לנו." "You should know that everything is done according to [Hashem's] will, and nevertheless our actions are in our hands." (Rambam Hilchos Teshuva 5:7) The Rambam identifies the source of the apparant Knowledge/Choice contradiction in terms of nothing happening except through His will one one hand, and our free choice on the other hand.

Furthermore, one can also see that same shita (holding) from the continuation of that Ramabam. He goes on to say that in reality, Hashem's knowledge [of our future choices for example] is beyond our comprehension since He and His "knowledge" are One with His Essence. He then says that due to this fact, "אין בנו כוח לידע היאך ידע הקדוש ברוך הוא כל הברואים ומעשיהם." "We do not have the ability to know how the Holy One knows all creatures and their actions" (Hilchos Teshuva 5:12). But how could the Rambam say that it is impossible to understand this? The Rambam could have just answered very simply. Hashem knows what people will do in the future, in the same way that people are aware of what they themselves did in the past. But just as a person's knowledge of what he did in the past does not alter the free choice with which he acted, so too Hashem's awareness of what we "will" choose does not imply any control over that choice; merely knowledge of it!

So why doesn't the Rambam give this answer? It seems that, as I brought from the Rambam above, "שהכול בחפצו ייעשה," nothing happens without Hashem desiring it. If nothing happens without Hashem desiring it, and this is all implied by Hashem's knowledge as the Rambam said, which is One with His Essence (k'vayachol), then this would indeed be a major contradiction to the very existance of free will. It is not so much Hashem's knowledge of what we "choose" that is the yediah/bechira problem, then, but rather the fact that Hashem's hashgacha controls every molecule of creation that creates the problem. If this were not the case, then the Rambam wouldn't have had to leave the free will issue as an איבעיא דלא אפשטא, an unanswered question. The reason must be that the Rambam recognizes Hashem's direct control over every part of creation.

It would seem that at least the Mei Hashiloach, clearly a talmid of the Derech HaBaal Shem Tov, thought that it was obvious that there is no stira, contradiction, between the Rambam's shita and the Baal Shem Tov's approach because he essentially advocates the Rambam's shita without even bothering to explain why there is no stira. He says at at the bottom of the first column in Parshas Bamidbar that while Hashem is "mashgiach al kol nefesh b'frat," "supervises every soul specifically" by the Jewish people, with regard to the nations of the world, he is only "[mashgiach] al kulam b'chlal l'kiyum hamin," "supervises them all in a general way for the perpetuation of the [human] race." This is essentially the Rambam's shita, yet it seems that it is obvious to him that this does not contradict the general approach of the Baal Shem Tov! But for us, who may not know how to resolve the apparant stira within the Rambam himself and the apparant stira some see between the Rambam and the Baal Shem Tov's approach, what is the resolution?

There are several approaches to understanding why the Rambam is not a stira either with himself of the explanation of the Baal Shem Tov.

One reason why the Rambam's statement about no hashgacha on every creature and inanimate object in creation is not in conflict with the Baal Shem Tov's approach is that the type of Divine Providence that the Rambam was talking about was was one that went hand-in-hand with the concept of reward and punishment. Since animals, inaniment objects and molecules don't get reward & punishment, they can't be subject to the type of hashgacha pratis (Divine Providence) that the Rambam was discussing. Whereas, in terms of Hashem decreeing every detail of creation, of course the Rambam would not deny that this is the reality. This is the approach taken by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, zt"l, here.

One of my rebbeim has a different approach. He says that the different approaches to Hashgacha Pratis are talking about the following two types of what may both be called "Hashgacha Pratis." #1) The notion that Hashem controls and decrees every aspect of creation is the "type" of Hashgacha Pratis that virtually everyone, including the Rambam, agree with, as is evident from what he wrote in Hilchos Teshuva above and from the fact that the Gemara says this as well. #2) The notion that there is an interactive Providence whereby the actions, midos and tefillos of a person will "affect" the way that Hashem relates to that person is the "type" of Hashgacha Pratis which is unique to human beings, and especially to those who have elevated themselves.

The Rambam, the Shomer Emunim, the Sefer Hachinuch and the Mei Hashiloach quoted above were rejecting the notion that the second type of Hashgacha Pratis applies to all humans equally, or to animal, plant life or to inanimate objects. They are teaching us that it is foolish to think that if your cat Mittens is merciful on the next mouse that enters the house, that Hashem will mida-keneged-mida, measure-for-measure exhibit commensurate kindness to Mittens. However, they would not deny the fact that the infinite G-d is present and in control of every detail of Creation. Were this not the case, those details would represent an absence of Hashem, Chalila, which would contradit the fact of His infiniteness.

Regardless of which approach to understanding the coexistance of these two general statements about Hashgacha Pratis, an ancillary question, though, would be: Why do academics and academically oriented Orthodox Jews as well, feel so married to this idea that Hashem is not be involved and close in every aspect of our lives? Naturally, they would answer that it is brave, intellectual honesty that motivates them! I have my own ideas about this but I'm curious to hear what others think as well. Let the sparks fly!

-Dixie Yid

Update: See my new clarifying post HERE)

(Picture courtesy of

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Shlomo Katz - Eliyahu HaNavi - At Aish Kodesh Woodmere

HT to the Jewish Music Blog for finding this video!

When was this video taken?

-Dixie Yid

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Who is Honored? One Who Cleanses Others.

Over Shabbos, I was in another community for a family Bar Mitzvah and I was zoche, by Shalosh Sheudos, to meet a gevaldigeh Yid and a Talmid Chacham named Rabbi Ronen Shaharabani, who shared some interesting insights with me. One of those that I wanted to share was an insight into the meaning of the Mishna in Avos 4:1, " איזה הוא מכובד? המכבד את הברייות." "Who is honored [by Hashem]? One who is 'מכבד,' honors others."

Rabbi Shaharabani heard from a friend of his the following vort, which he expanded greatly upon: His friend pointed out that the word "מכבד," honors is the same as the word that is used to mean "cleans" or "sweeps," as in when one cleans the house, as the Gemara in Shabbos 95a says, "תנו רבנן ... המכבד ... בשבת חייב חטאת." "One who sweeps (is 'מכבד') [his house] on Shabbos must bring a sin offering [when it's a dirt floor and he did so negligently]." His friend suggested that this could mean that a pshat, explanation for the Mishna in Avos is the following: "Who is honored by Hashem? One who cleans another Jew (i.e. is a kli [vessel] to be mekarev him to Hashem)"

Then Rabbi Shaharabani suggested that you could take this vort a step further. When one sweeps his house, what does he sweep? Is it the stains that are insepperable from the floor its self? No. Rather, it's the dirt and dust that rests on the floor but it not attached to it. We don't bother sweeping things that are attached to that which we are cleaning. Similarly, this would mean that when a Jew is mechabed, helps clean another Jew, it is only with the recognition that all of the aveiros that this Jew has done are only dust upon their neshoma, but that underneath them, that Jew is still a pristine Neshoma. It is like that which the Tanya said in the second perek; "עמי הארץ ופחותי הערך ועם כל זה עודינה קשורות ומיוחדות ביחוד נפלא ועצום במהותן ועצמותן הראשון שהיא המשכת חכמה עילאה." "Ignorant Jews and those of the lowest level are nevertheless still tied and unified with a wonderous and awesome unity with their original existance and essence, which is a drawing down of the Supernal Chochma [of Hashem, k'vayachol]."

He further suggested that the fact that Hashem honors one who cleanses other Jews is mida keneged mida, measure for measure. He is helping sweep off the shmutz from the other Jew because he recognizes that underneath the shmutz, he is still a chelek Eloka Mima'al, a portion of the Living G-d, kevayachol, as it were, so he's really honoring Hashem by believing that the "portion of Hashem" within the other Jew is not pagum, blemished. So by sweeping the other Jew because of a recognition of the unblemished G-dliness within him, he is really honoring Hashem. So Hashem therefore decrees that the reward for that is that Hashem honors him, which is measure for measure reward for his honoring of Hashem.

May we be zocheh to recognize the nekuda within our and others' neshamos that will always remain pure. Haneshoma she'nasata bi tehora hi!" "The neshoma that you have placed within me is pure!" Let this recognition give us chizuk never to give up hope on ourselves or others, no matter what we have done. There will always be a pure neshoma that we can work to access and uncover!

-Dixie Yid

(Picture courtesy of

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Berchas "Refa'ainu": The Nefesh Ha'Chaim on Praying for Chaim - Audio Shiur

It is with great joy and pleasure that I present the latest installment in Reb Yerachmiel's series of shiurim from the Baltimore Community Kollel Tefillah Chaburah.

This past Sunday night, the Baltimore Community Kollel was was zocheh to its 5th shiur on the topic of berchas "Refa'ainu" in Shemoneh Esrei. Quoting from a maamar of the "Sifse Chaim" who brings a truly thought-provoking and challenging yesod from the "Nefesh Ha'Chaim", the Chaburah learned Reb Chaim M'Volozhin's yesod of how we can best daven for a long, healthy and productive "chaim" filled with Torah, Mitzvos and Kirvas Hashem.

You can CLICK HERE to get the shiur. Left click to listen right away or right click and select "Save Target As" to download the wav file. Enjoy!

-Dixie Yid

(Picture courtesy of healthypr)

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Monday, June 16, 2008

The Gaps That Bring One Closer - R' Binyomin's Drasha From Shavuos

On the second night of Shavuos, between Mincha and Ma'ariv, Kehillas Aish Kodesh was zoche to have Rabbi Binyomin Tepfer, a Rebbe at HAFTR and a son-in-law of Rav Weinberger, give the Drasha. It was a great message that is relevant to how each of us approaches the challenges and obstacles to growth in ruchnius that we face on a day-to-day basis. IY"H, I hope to briefly summarize what he said here, though obviously I can't capture the delivery or all of the detail in a one hour Drasha. I also want to thank Rabbi Tepfer for clarifying a few points from the drasha as well.

The Setup

Rabbi Tepfer introduced three sugyos where one finds the concept of a "Retzuah," a strip of some sort, which separates between the holy and the mundane, to which Chazal have an ambivalent relationship.

#1 The Gemara in Chagiga 25a teaches the din that if one brings wine or oil for the Beis Hamikdash from Yehuda (Judea), it is Tahor. But that if it is brought from the Galil, it is Tamei. "ביהודה אין ובגליל לא מ"ט אמר ריש לקיש מפני שרצועה של כותים מפסקת ביניהן." The Gemara asks, "In Yehuda, yes [it's tahor (pure)]. But in the Galil, no [it's not pure]. Reish Lakish says that this is because there is a strip (Retzuah) of gentiles which separates between them." Rashi there explains that since Kusim live in that strip of land, it has the din (status) of Chutz La'Aretz (being outside of Israel). He further explains that the Chachamim instituted a Tuma D'rabanan (rabbinically insituted impurity) on any wine or oil passing through Chutz La'Aretz. Therefore, wine or oil that will be brought through that strip from the Galil will be Tamei. However, Rebbeinu Chananel said that the Retzuah actually was part of Eretz Yisroel, but that because mostly gentiles lived their, the Chachamim were gozer (insituted) the Tuma status because graves and the like were not clearly marked there.

However, Tosafos ask another question. How were the people from the Galil who had to pass through this Retzuah/strip able to be oleh l'regel (make the pilgrimige to the Beis Hamikdash) three times a year? To offer the Korbanos, they would have to go through a 7 day purification process, which would add a week to their trip every single time! This seems so impractical. Why would Hashem set up this michshol, stumbling block, before people, by creating this disincentive to be oleh l'regel? R' Tepfer also asked what the meaning of the machlokes is, wherein Rashi holds that this Retzuah, cutting right accross Eretz Yisroel from East to West does not even have the status of E"Y, but that Rabeinu Chananel holds that it is indeed considered part of E"Y...

#2 We are told the following by the Gemara in Zevachim 53b-54a: "וקרן מזרחית דרומית לא היה לה יסוד מ"ט? ... אמר רבי חמא ברבי חנינא רצועה היתה יוצאה מחלקו של יהודה ונכנסה בחלקו של בנימין והיה בנימין הצדיק מצטער עליה בכל יום לנוטלה שנאמר(דברים לג) חופף עליו כל היום לפיכך זכה בנימין הצדיק ונעשה אושפיזכן להקב"ה שנאמר (דברים לג) ובין כתפיו שכן." "The south-eastern corner [of the Mizbeach/Alter] had no foundation (Yesod). Why? ... Rabi Chama, in the name of Rabi Chanina, taught: There was a Retzuah/strip [of land] coming out of the portion of Yehuda['s land] and entering the portion of [the tribe of] Binyamin. And the Tzadik Binyamin was pained by this every day, that it had been taken, as it says [in Devarim 33:12) 'He hovered over it all day.' Therefore, the Tzadik Binyamin merited to become the host for the Holy One, as it is written (Id.), "And between his [Binyamin's] shoulders it [the Kodesh Hakodoshim] will rest."

We see here another example of a "pesky" strip which gets in the way of the Tzadik Binyamin's feeling of wholeness in his portion in the Eretz Hakodesh, the holy land. First, we had the Retzuah of land creating Tuma/impurity problems for the residents of the Galil who wanted to be oleh l'regel, and now we find a tiny strip of land from Shevet Yehuda taking away what should have been part of Binyamin's portion, to the point where it prevents part of the Mizbeach from having a "Yesod," a foundation!

#3 With regard to whether or not the the Retzuos (strips) of the tefillin are truly part of the tefillin or not, there is a machlokes between the Mechaber and the Rama in the Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 33:4 (page 59 in the linked pdf file). The Mechaber holds that the Retzuos do not need to be colored lishmah (for the sake of the mitzva of tefillin) and they are kosher bidieved if colored by an Eino Yehudi, a gentile. This is the same din as the actual teffilin themselves. Therefore, the Mechaber holds that the Retzuos are of the same status as the actual tefillin. Whereas the Rema holds that the Retzuos, the straps, must be colored lishma, unlike the actual tefillin themselves. This implies that they are not part of the tefillin themselves and that is why they have a different din than the actual teffilin.

Finding the Common Denominator

Rabbi Tepfer suggested the following common denominator in all of these sugyos relating to Retzuos: In all three cases, there is some interrupting separation between one's desire to connect to kedusha. In all three cases, that sepperator appears outwardly to be a lowly and mundane obstacle to holiness. But in each case, that obstacle was eventually shown to be the instigator for greater holiness.

#1 The Retzuah of Tuma that separated the residents of the Gailil from the Beis Hamikdash seemed outwardly like it wasn't even part of Eretz Yisroel (Rashi). But Rebeinu Chananel showed how even though it appeared unholy because of the kind of people living there, b'pnimius, deep inside, it really was still Eretz Yisroel. Also, that Retzuah which sepperated them from Yerushalayim and aliya l'regel ended up causing them to spend an extra week in Yerushalayim three times a year in preperation for Pesach, Shavuos and Sukkos. In all liklihood, this probably caused them to be even more influenced by holiness than people from other parts of E"Y who came to Yerushalayim only a very short time before the Chag. Also, he suggested that Hashem caused this challenge/opportunity to fall in the lap of the Galil residents because they (who live in Tzfas, Meiron, Tiveria, etc.) were more attuned to how Hashem causes aliyos (growth) to come to people through yeridos (problems).

#2 Binyamin felt that that this little Retzuah of land from Yehuda was taking away from the completeness of his kinyan, his ownership and connection to the holy land. Also, Binyamin was the brother of Yosef, the Tzadik Yesod Olam, the foundation of the world. But since he did not have the portion of E"Y at the point of the south-eastern corner of the Mizbeach/Alter, that point lacked a Yesod, foundation since it lacked that connection to the Tzadik Yesod Olam. However, it was davka (specifically) because he was so bothered by wanting to have an even more complete portion in Eretz Yisroel that Hashem responded by decreeing that he would be zocheh to have the Kodesh Hakodoshim, the Holy of Holies, housed on his territory. Through his feeling of the incompleteness of his avodah, he was zoche to have so much more than he would have had, had he felt complete in his avodas Hashem, without that Retzuah standing in the way.

#3 According to the Shulchan Aruch, who holds that Retzuos (tefillin straps) do not need to be colored lishmah, just like the Batim, the Retzuos are part of the Tefillin. According to the Yam HaChochma on that se'if in Shulchan Aruch (33:4, year 5767), the Mechaber holds that the Retzuos are the essence of Bina, just as the Batim are, and therefore neither require coloring for the sake of the mitvah. They are already the essence of Bina and don't require coloring lishma. Therefore, the Retzuos are part of the tefillin. However, the Rema holds that the Retzuos are not the essence of Bina, unlike the Batim, and therefore must be colored lishma. The Mechaber, however, who shows the influence of Kabbalah throughout Shulchan Aruch, is more in tune with the side of Bina, and therefore he is more inclined to see how the outwardly non-tefilin status of the Retzuos hide within it a deeper reality, wherein the Retzuos have the same kedusha status as the tefillin themselves. He doesn't view them as a sepperation between the person and the kedusha of the tefillin. rather, they are just as holy in that they are the medium through which one can access kedusha.

The common denominator in all of these cases, which is the same one that we can see in our daily lives, is that the things which stand in our way of achieving the levels in holiness that we know we should reach, are there just to make us want it more. That feeling of incompleteness, of wanting more but not getting it, is the source for so much more growth in Avodas Hashem than immediate success in avodas Hashem would have accomplished.

-Dixie Yid

(Picture courtesy of Yitzi Mayer)

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Friday, June 13, 2008

Acheiving a Harmonious Shabbos Table Part 3 - Rabbi Chaim Morgenstern



Part 3

by Rabbi Chaim Morgenstern

Reprinted from the booklet with permission by the author.


The Shabbos table is among the best settings for providing one of the most important needs of children: receiving proper attention from their parents.

Every week young children look forward to their family’s Shabbos meal waiting their turn to give over what they have learned in school about the weekly parsha or an interesting story. Therefore, it is of utmost importance for parents to not only give young children their undivided attention, but to also ensure that the other children do not disrupt.

Parents also should be careful not to doze or fall asleep while their child is speaking. Imagine how you would feel if your spouse started to doze while you were eagerly trying to share your feelings with him or her. Your child would feel the same way. Commonly occurring during summer Friday night meals, after serving the gefilte fish, parents may suddenly start to feel the end-of-the-week exhaustion and slowly drift into dreamland, while their young child is giving over his D’var Torah. When this occurs, it is a tremendous disappointment for the child.

The following story illustrates the damaging effects of parents’ inattention to their children’s Divrei Torah. A cheder rebbi once asked his class, “What is the most important thing in your lives?” One student answered, “Saying brachos and bentching slowly with kavanah.” Another said, “Cleaning up after you brush your teeth after each meal.” A third boy said, “Wiping your shoes from rain and mud before entering the home, and being careful to remove soiled shoes before sitting on the couch.” (Note how each child repeated what his parents taught him—consciously or subconsciously—about what’s important and meaningful in life.)

Suddenly, Yossi, who was seated in the corner, shouted out, “Cholent!” causing the entire class to burst into laughter. The rebbi turned to Yossi and asked, “Did I hear you correctly? Did you say cholent?”

“Yes,” replied Yossi, with a straight face.

Once the rebbi realized that the boy was serious and not looking for attention, he decided to wait until the break before speaking to him, so as not to disrupt the lesson.

When the rebbi approached Yossi, he asked him, “Tell me, Yossi, where did you pick up this wild idea that cholent is the most important thing in one’s life?” The boy shrugged his shoulders and refused to answer. But the rebbi persisted, and finally, with a bitter look in his eyes, Yossi blurted out, “My father!” The rebbi couldn’t believe his ears. “What!” he exclaimed. “Do you mean that your father taught you that? I have known your father for years, and I can’t believe that he would ever say such a thing.”

Still, Yossi sat in silence, and again the rebbi persisted to get a proper explanation. Finally, Yossi opened up and started to talk. “Even though my father never openly said so, it’s the truth and I’ll prove it to you. Each Shabbos, we take turns saying what we learned about the parsha at the Shabbos meal. My turn is during the daytime cholent meal, after the entrée is served.

Sometimes when I have much to say and my father is anxious to eat the cholent, he screams to my mother, ‘Cholent, nu, where is the cholent!’ Even when he eats the cholent, he shows no interest in what I’m saying. He just nods his head and says, ‘Yes, yes,’ to all I say. He’s not even bothered by the fact that no one else is paying attention to what I’m saying. If my father can interrupt my D’var Torah for the sake of his cholent, then it is quite obvious that cholent is more important than the Torah. Therefore, anything that is more important than the Torah must be the most important thing in the world.”

The rebbi was taken aback by Yossi’s story, and after a moment’s thought he retorted, “Now, Yossi, you know that can’t be true. Do you mean to say that if your father had a choice between learning with his chavrusa or eating cholent, he would eat a bowl of cholent?”
Yossi thought a moment and replied, “I’m sorry rebbi, but you must be referring to his Torah. That is more important than cholent, not my Torah!”

This story teaches us how important it is to listen to a child’s D’var Torah at the Shabbos table. Another important lesson that we can derive from this story is how much children learn from their parents’ behavior. This incident caused the child to have a major misconception that there is something more important than Torah, chas veshalom.

When Yossi’s father learned of what happened in school, he immediately changed the whole atmosphere at the Shabbos table. Now, whenever any of the children say a D’var Torah, he stops the meal and requires everyone to listen intently. Afterward, he briefly summarizes the D’var Torah to ensure that the entire family understood it, and finally, warmly thanks the child for teaching the family something new. Eventually, Yossi’s attitude changed toward his father, and he came to realize that Torah was indeed more important than cholent.

In addition to making time for the children’s Divrei Torah, parents should also praise, compliment and show appreciation to each child’s individual participation and assistance during the meal, whether they helped to serve or clear, washed the dishes, prepared the food, sang zemiros nicely or gave a good D’var Torah. This positive attention will automatically build the child’s self-esteem and confidence, and will help create emotional stability. Because compliments and displays of appreciation are enjoyable, they also naturally motivate and give the child an incentive to do a better job the next time.

-Dixie Yid

(Picture courtesy of Alexander Gallery)

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