Friday, November 30, 2007

Birthday Tikunim and Ta'avos

Parshas Vayeshev, Shishi - Part II at A Simple Jew

The Rebbe then told me that the Arizal said this taiva is something that every person struggles with since it is THE nisayon of our generation.

-Dixie Yid

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Why You Can't Give Up On Your Big Hopes and Dreams

Rav Kook, in Oros Hateshuva 14:38, talks about not giving up on one's big machshavos, his big plans and dreams.

The nature of a person is that when he or she has big thoughts and dreams at one point in life, and then those dreams face challenges, are difficult to attain, or are simply not attained for a certain period of time, the person gives up on those "big" dreams and thoughts. The pain of not living a life where your practical life is in sync with your big machshavos is too difficult to take (cognative dissonance). Since those dreams seem either to difficult or impossible to attain, the easier option is to stop thinking about big things almost completely. It is easier to think only about little things, and made them seem big.

Rav Kook says that we must not do that! In our view, our big thoughts only have any value if they move from the world of thought into the world of action. However, this is a distorted view of reality. In reality, one's big thoughts about what he can be and accomplish in life are important and chashuv in and of themselves. The Zohar says that holy thoughts, by themselves, are more precious before Hashem than Korbanos and Elevation Offerings. If you don't value the simple fact of having big dreams and aspirations in and of themselves, then you will give up on those dreams.

My rebbe says that the gemara says that olives themselves cause one to have the mida of forgetfulness. However, the olive oil inside the olives is very good for the memory. That means that the part of the olive which is inside and hidden, like one's thoughts, are very good for the mind and the thoughts and improve the memory. And keeping Jewish thoughts high and pure was the avodah of the Chashmona'im against the Greeks and Hellenistic Jews (misyavnim). We say in Maoz Tzur that the Greeks tried to be "metamei kol hashemanim." They tried to defile all of the Jewish oil that was used in the Bais Hamikdash. They didn't mind if the Jews had a Beis hamikdash or that they used oil, i.e. had high and elevated thoughts.

However, what they could not tolerate was that we should think about G-dliness, Hashem, Kedusha, Shleimus, holiness and perfection. We could only have thoughts about kleinekeit'n, small things (like philosophy, science, sports, movies...). They had to defile all of the oils, all of the deeper thoughts and big plans for Avodas Hashem. However, the Chashmona'im were able to find one pach shemen, one little flask of oil. That means that they Yevanim were not successful in completely obliterating our holy thoughts. But that there was still one little place in our Jewish minds that were able to hold on to big and holy thoughts. And that place of big and holy thoughts that they held onto took them through the eight days until they could start cleaning house and making a life where more of those good and holy thoughts could be devloped.

May Hashem help that we should not give up on our big thoughts and big dreams for ourselves. We shouldn't get caught up in making a big deal out of "smallness." May we be zocheh to have and keep and hold onto our big dreams and big plans for who we can become until we can bring those dreams into reality (even though it may tarry)!

-Dixie Yid

(See my post from almost 1 year ago [my 4th post ever] on this topic)

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Should one be mafsik his tefillah or Face Bomb Sniffing Dogs?

I was talking with A Simple Jew about this article about a man who was wearing Tefillin on a Chicago train. The other passengers thought it was a bomb and his teffilin straps were wires. When the conductor tried to speak to him, he didn't answer because it would have been a hefsek in his teffilah. This raised the alarms even more and they stopped the train and brought on bomb sniffing dogs. It was a major disruption.

What's the halacha on this? Can't one be mafsik his Shemoneh Esreh or his Birchos Krias Shema to prevent others from thinking that he is about to commit mass murder against them? Another angle: Isn't it less of a hefsek to interupt davening for a moment to explain than to try to daven while other passengers are screaming that he's a terrorist and being chased by bomb sniffing dogs? Anyone who has knowledge about the halacha in this field?

-Dixie Yid

(Picture of a young man putting on teffilin on a plane courtesy of WebShots)

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Thursday, November 29, 2007

Guest Posting - Seforim Recommendations You Might Not Have Considered

I began learning Divrei Yoel (by the Satmar Rebbe, Rav Yoel Teitelbaum, zt"l) before I got totally involved in Chabad. On the other hand, I learn it now, if anything, more than before.

The basic outline of any piece out of Divrei Yoel is like this: 1. First, the Rov asks a bunch of questions, normally starting with a question on an actual passuk, or a Rashi. Sometimes, he will go straight to Midrash after quoting the possuk, and ask a question on the Midrash. Then, he'll ask a number of other questions on the parashah(sometimes related to the first question, but more often not). Sometimes, one of the questions will be based on a Yismach Moshe, or a Kedushas Yom Tov. Sometimes one of the questions will be based on a Zohar.

Then he answers the questions. Usually, in order to answer the questions, he has to go into some Gemarra. Standard themes are: qualities of a Tzaddik, the importance of strict and loving observance of the mitzvos, etc. Then he'll use the Gemarra to frame the way you look at the possuk. In so doing, he usually answers the secondary
questions. Finally, with the new perspective that he has employed (based on the Gemara, and developed through answering the other questions) he tackles the original question.

He rarely has an uplifting "yehi ratzon" and almost never comes out and says "the practical lesson for us is" or "as far as our Avodah is concerned" etc. The message is usually clear from the drosho. If you give it over and feel the need to explain the "message," you're sort of like explaining the punch line of a a good joke... the explanation is never as good as the punch line.

You see him employ this style in his seforim about Zionism. Whatever points he wants to make, he seems more comfortable making them through making droshos on midrashim, Gemarros, possukim, etc. He brings everything together, but the real strength of his words are in the droshos.

One of the things I really like about his droshos is that they really are a workout on the mind. You have to juggle a number of topics all at the same time (because there are so many loose ends at the beginning, and he deals with all of them)

I have 2 other favorites that might surprise you. One is the Tosher Rebbe. His seforim (all called by the name Avodas Avoda) are amazing (There is a set of 2 that is on the Parashah in Loshon Kodesh; there is a set of 2 on the Parashah in Yiddish, and one sefer that goes according he the parashah, but is really a book of addresses that the Tosher Rebbe gave on or around Yartzheits of various tzaddikim, usually Motzei Shabbos). He usually asks one or two questions on the parashah, and then gives a very geshmake answerwithin a few pages. In the meantime, he usually explains some oranother concept in Chassidus, calling on traditional Chassidus seforim. Then, he'll go for a few more pages giving over some practical mussar based on whatever point dominated the drosho. He aims straight for the heart, and has a real power. He has a real following. Many Admorim visit the Tosher Rebbe. The Kosover Rebbe spends Shabbos Chazon by the Tosher Rebbe, and brings many of his Chassidim with him.

The other is the Shomer Emunim, R' Aharon Roth. His main sefer iscalled Shomer Emunim. I don't know how to describe it other than tosay that he has a very powerful approach to Yiddishkeit. He doesn't mince words. And he has very high expectations. Amazing! He neverwrote anything on the parashah, though some students put together somevertlach that came from a variety of sources and arranged themaccording to the parashah. I find that sefer hard to follow, because Idon't think his teachings were intended to be turned into sound-bytes like that.

-Anonymous Friend

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"Ben Avraham's" Follow-Up Comment on His Post re Difficult Ideas re Umos HaOlam

In response to a question by Yitz on his Guest Posting about wrestling with some of the issues involved in being a Ger and a Chassid, Ben Avraham made the following follow-up comment:

In response to Yitz.. he was correct in noting a difference between the main text and the final paragraph. As you already know it was a bit of an afterthought and my attempt at not opening up other issues explicitly I left some ambiguity.My point in the final paragraph was that while the examples we have discussed were particularly "chasidic" it would be mistaken to think these challenges are exclusively in the domain of Chassidus.

The fact is that there are a handful of issues we run into in the Chumash itself regarding our interaction with other nations that do not mesh well with how we like to think the world should work.It is in this context that I say our faith is not tied to actions bizman hazeh. The best example our battle with Amalek. There is much to say on this issue but we are told to do things that are not pleasant to even think about. Today we do not fight this battle on a level of gashmius but there was a time when we did. But at that time the "practical" situation was different, Amalek was a physical threat and an aggressor, and the spiritual situation was different, we were lead by Nevi'im and perceived open nissim.

Chazal teach, I'm afraid I don't know the reference, that when the first Beis HaMikdash stood and there where open miracles, people had a yetzer for avodah zarah that was comparable to the yetzer for physical desires. When the miracles ceased the yetzer disapated. Free will needs a certain equilibrium. Nowadays we do perform these actions physically, just concede that it would be right to do so because we are commanded by Hashem. Our emunah is based on mental acceptance of Torah's truth not on observation of Hashem's open activity in the world, so our avodah [in this respect] is one of mental acceptance.

While the average Yid had to battle Amalek in those days, I'm inclined to think it is perfectly appropriate for a Yid today to have difficulty relating to that avodah. The war against Amalek on the physical plain required actions that cause great hesitation, and for good reason. I believe it is with regard to destroying an idolatrous city we are taught that Hashem will give a certain siyata d'Shamaya to prevent us from being damaged spiritually. These actions are normally very detrimental.

Our emunah requires a lot of us in our actions, even misiras nefesh. But while we may be expected to give our lives (hopefully in the positive sense, today we are not expected to take someone else's. I hope this clarifies my intent in that final paragraph.

-Ben Avraham

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Free Online course on Basic Judaism- Free Sample

FYI, has a new section with online courses called Jewish Pathways, Taking the Next Step. One of those is being offered free, for the time being. It's called Deed and Creed, based on Rabbi Benjamin Blech's book, Understanding Judaism; The Basics of Deed and Creed. You can sign up for this online class here. The class consists of 18 units, each of which includes a reading from the Understanding Judaism book, a 15 minute video lecture (click here for sample) by Rabbi Blech, and sheets with questions and answers to solidify the material in that unit.

-Dixie Yid

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Yud Tes Kislev - Background Info on the Baal Hatanya & the Magid

The 19th of Kislev is the yartzeit of the Magid of Mezrich and is the date the Baal Hatanya was released from prison. Heichal Hanegina has a great post with information and background on the meaning of this date in Chassidus. A good read!

-Dixie Yid
(Picture courtesy of

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Out of the Mouths of Babes- A Couple of Cute Dixie Kid Stories

My kids are so cute and awesome that it is sometimes hard to take it sometimes. I have to share with you some of those "Out of the mouths of babes" stories from the kinderlach.

Story #1: Though it is not completely in line with the teachings on parenting by Rav Wolbe, the policy in our house is that we do, on rare occasions, use corporal punishment, in the form of a literal "slap on the wrist." That is usually upsetting enough to serve as a deterrent whenever it's needed. (For you legal beagles out there, that's utilitarian, not retributivist.) The other night, my 5 year old daughter (who sleeps in the lower bunk under our 8 year old) was making a lot of noise for a long period of time after bedtime, kicking the bottom of her sister's bed above her, etc. and generally preventing my "bechorah" from being able to fall asleep till well after 9 PM. Finally, after many warnings, my wife told her that if she didn't stop keeping her sister up, she was going to get a patch (slap on the wrist) when Daddy got home. She continued and so the sentence was sealed.

When I got home around 9:30, her older sister asked for some water. But she (the 5 year old) called out to me, "First give me my patch and then get her water!" I didn't know that I was supposed to give a patch, so after getting the water, I first went up to talk about what happened with my wife. While I was speaking to her, my 5 year old again called out to me with the most simultaneously amazing and sad statement. "If you wait too much longer to give me the patch, the yetzer hara (the evil inclination) will try to make you not give me the patch!!!"

I sometimes can't believe my heilig children. She was right too. I don't like giving patches and they know that I don't like it and would look for an excuse not to do it. When I gave her the patch, she willingly held out her hand. And even though she did cry afterwards, we ended with a big hug and a kiss. They know we only do that because we feel it is right and out of love, and not out of anger.

Story #2: Last Shabbos, my five year old was at the Shabbos table and she was saying, "Hashem is everywhere. He's upstairs. He's downstairs. He's even in the basement. He's even inside of me! Hashem is in my feet. He is in my arms. Hashem is in my legs. Hashem is in my tummy..." And then her 8 year old sister chimed in, "Yeah, and He is even in the Reshaim (wicked people). I called out in amazement that she was more right than she even knew! My kabbalistic children! My kids already understand the meaning of the Yeshayahu 45:7, "יוֹצֵר אוֹר וּבוֹרֵא חֹשֶׁךְ, עֹשֶׂה שָׁלוֹם וּבוֹרֵא רָע; אֲנִי יְהוָה, עֹשֶׂה כָל-אֵלֶּה." "He forms light and creates darkness, He makes peace and creates evil. I am Hashem, I make all of these."

-Dixie Yid

(Picture courtesy of SmugMug)

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Tefillah Chaburah - Dovid Hamelech in Birkas Avos - Audio Shiur

In this widely attended shiur given every Sunday at 8:30PM at the Baltimore Community Kollel, Reb Yerachmiel Goldman concludes a journey through the first beracha of Shemoneh Esrei by explaining the words "Melech Ozer" through "Magen Avraham" and provides fresh insights into the hidden role of Dovid Ha'Melech in Berchas "Avos", suggesting how the formulators of our Shemoneh Esrei sought to unite the 4th of the "Arba'ah Raglei Ha'Merkavah" with Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov.

You can listen to the shiur online here or download it in wav format here.

-Dixie Yid

(Picture courtesy of Dovid Hamelech's kever courtesy of WikiCommons)

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Interesting and Illustrative Conversation on Openmindedness Between Mesorahs

I wanted to point out an interesting but somewhat frustrating conversation that has been going on under the radar. A fellow who identifies himself as "Noahidelaws," started a discussion thread at ChabadTalk, criticizing a post I put up a couple of months ago on the topic of exposing one's self to the teachings of different Tzaddikim, not only the ones from one's own minhag/group.

The majority modern Chabad opinion seems to be that one is supposed to only study the teachings of the Chabad Rebbes, (correct me if I'm misunderstanding this). This is based, in part at least, on the first sicha in Toras Sholom from the Rebbe Rashab. They won't say that one can't learn teachings from other Tzaddikim, but there is no active reason to do so. See the comment thread over there for a more substantive discussion on that by Noahidelaws (who identifies himself as "Netzach" here at Dixie Yid).

There seems to be a feeling over there that if one is Chabad and he feels that he can be enriched by studying Mei Hashiloach, Meor Einayim, Sfas Emes, Michtav Mei'Eliyahu, or Pachad Yitzchak, that this somehow implies that there is something lacking in Chabad Chassidus. Nothing could be further from the truth. Also, there seems to be a fear that if you believe that there is an inner unity between the ostensibly divergent teachings of Chabad and other types of Chassidus, that this will cause confusion and bilbul in one's avodas Hashem. Perhaps if one studies too much from non-Chabad Tzaddikim, he will stop keeping Chabad minhagim!

To give a mashal, one can be a musician who connects very deeply to the artistic and emotional side of music. However, it will not detract from his artistic and emotional music appreciation if he also studies the mathematics behind music, or the history and development of music. One can specialize in his special part of the world of music, and that is not lessened by enriching himself with an understanding of other aspects of music.

Similarly, if one is Chabad and thereby develops an intense connection to the Chochma of Divine understanding and avodah, that is his area of practice and specialty. For more on that, see my translation of Rav Itchie Mayer Morgenstern's section on the roots of Chabad and Breslov. If one practices his avoda in the world of Chabad, for example (although the same would apply to others in their own mesorahs as well), then that should be his primary focus in learning and avodah and there is nothing lacking per se in that avodah. However, that person only stands to gain by understanding the teachings of other Tzaddikim, who can illuminate the aspects of Bina, Chaga"s, or Nahi"m that they specialize in.

No one is suggesting that anyone mix and match their practical minhagim or derech avodah, like some sort of salad bar. The depiction of the approach of openness and enrichment as a "cholent" or bilbul of different ideas is a straw man and a red herring.

I encourage anyone here to register at ChabadTalk and put in your two cents. It's an interesting discussion though any way you slice it.

-Dixie Yid

(Picture of the Freidiker Lubavitcher Rebbe wearing a Shtreimel courtesy of ChabadLibrary)

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Monday, November 26, 2007

Free "Oh! Nuts" Desert Platter for Dixie Yid Reader!

An Oh Nuts! marketing guy contacted me and offered a 10% discount off nut platters to Dixie Yid readers. If you want to get this discount, go to their website and enter their coupon code "HBW1116" at their website to get that discount.

And they also offered a $20 gift certificate for their website. I'm going to take all of the Feedblitz subsribers that are getting Dixie Yid and pick one at random to receive this gift certificate. If you want to be in the running, just click here to subscribe to get Dixie Yid in your e-mail box once a day. To be eligible for the "drawing," subscribe by next Monday night (no need to do anything if you're already subscribed), December 3rd, at 11:59 PM. I'll let you know by e-mail who wins and I'll give the "winner" the gift code at that time. and I'll probably make a post too to let you know who gets it. All in good fun!

-Dixie Yid

(FYI, I'm not getting any financial or advertising beneit of any kind from this. It's simply a show of good will to readers. Enjoy!)

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Guest Posting - Wrestling With Being a Ger and a Chassid

I just perused your post at A Simple Jew and the link to your blogs about the Meor Einyaim.

Similar to you, I began my conversion at age 18. Shortly after conversion a couple years later I became familiar with the teachings of a particular Chassidus which resonated with me. I am not the most aggressive type so getting my hands on the necessary information to try to make a kesher, along with my own hesitancies, meant it took me several years to make any real progress. B'H,recently I've made progress with the help of a very dear friend and last winter I met with the Admor shlita.

I have amassed a nice collection of seforim from this Chassidus which deal halachah, minhagim, and of course chassidus.

My Loshon Kodesh isn't the greatest, but I can read large sections when I find the right one.

In one of the works,I was very taken aback by a couple sections dealing with Gentiles in very strong terms. Historically it was completely understandable and the Mechaber was actually somewhat apologetic for taking such a forceful stance but it was still a tough read.

Of course I was attracted to teachings of this Chassidus because it balanced different tendencies in Yiddishkeit in a way that felt right to me. But, by then I had also read enough to know that this balance wasn't always obvious in any given discussion.

I have since been told that it was not unusual for the mechaber of this sefer to describe things under discussion in absolute terms. There was generally a practical point to be learned and it was not to be left in doubt. The nuance that I appreciated so much was to be noticed in the big picture.

I have another friend who is a convert and a chasid. He said that the first time he picked up a particular sefer he soon read a comment about the Umos haOlam's which was difficult to take....and put the sefer down for several years in protest. Only later did he learn context which helped him assimilate the concept. I guess I should be grateful that I had a little more background first.

There are well known things in the Torah sh'biksav itself that are difficult for us to assimilate. Emunah Peshuta, in my opinion, means that since we are justified in believing in Hashem and His Torah we are justified using His Torah to guide our hashkafa. Most of the difficulties we face are only in theory, the time when they where practical was a time when Hashem gave us open nissim and mamash nevuah existed. I suspect that was part of the equilibrium of free will. There emunah was supported with more actual observation so their avodah was that of actual actions, while our emunah is dependent on our mental acceptance so our avodah in this respect is essentially limited to our mental outlook.

-Ben Avraham

(This picture of a "natural mikvah" is courtesy of Rabbi Lazer Brody's post, Mikvah- Ritual Immersion.)

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Chabakuk Elisha on Minhag Shtus & Gentile Relations

I very much recommend seeing Chabakuk Elisha's guest post at A Simple Jew which touches on some related issues that our guest poster above was talking about. He touches on the concept of minhag shtus and our relationships with the non-Jewish world. Click on over!

-Dixie Yid

(Picture courtesy of

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Sunday, November 25, 2007

Great Maasim about R' Shaul Modjitzer at Heichal Hanegina

In Public by Heichal Hanegina

"From that day on, the man never smoked on Shabbos. "

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Rav Itchie Mayer Morgenstern Weekly shiur Live or by Teleconference

I received the following flyer by e-mail with information on either attending or listening by live teleconference to Wednesday night shiurim in Kabbalah with Rav Itchie Mayer Morgenstern:

For those who are interested in dedicatingh a shiur in the
zechus of a loved one, please contact us at
In addition, Rav Morgenstern, shlit"a, gives a regular lesson
in Eitz Chaim in English, Wednesday evenings at 8:00 PM (1 PM Eastern), in the
Beis Medrash of Toras Chochom. The yeshiva is located at
Ohalei Yosef #4, near the corner of Bar Ilan St.
It's possible to listen to the Shiur through the telephone any
time at 718-906-6401 in the USA, at 208-099-7330 in England
(access number 1-4-50) and in Eretz Yisroel at 03-617-1002
(access numbers 2-4-9)

-Dixie Yid

Please feel free to send comments and questions.

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Learning the Torah that Speaks to *You*

Rabbi Shteinzaltz, in his peirush on Tanya, commenting on the Baal Hatanya's introduction, told over a story with Rav Yosef Karo, the author of the Shulchan Aruch. He was learning kabbalah from the Ramak. But when the Ramak was niftar, he went to learn kabbalah from the Ar"i z"l. However, whenever he was listening to the Ar"i z"l was speaking, Rav Yosef Karo could not stay awake. He always fell asleep. At one point, the Ar"i z"l finally told him that he should not learn kabbalah by him because that type of Torah was not *his* personal chelek in Torah and it was therefore not shiach to him. This is probably why we say "v'sein chelkeinu b'sorasecha." This does not only mean that one should be zoche to be given our portion of the Torah. But it also is a tefilla that we are zoche to figure out what "our" chelek in Torah is.

Another point related to this is how the Baal Hatanya starts his Hakdama to the sefer Tanya. He says that the Tanya is intended for "kol anshei shelomeinu of our region and those close to it." It's interesting that he doesn't direct it at all of Klal Yisroel, but rather rather at those Yiddin who are from the same region, and share the same experience and related shorshei neshamos.

I heard from my rebbe that the most recent Lubavitcher Rebbe, z"l, would command the baal hamenagein, the song leader, by saying, "Zogt ah nigun!" "Say a nigun!" Why did he say to "say" a nigun? And not to "sing" a nigun, which would obviously make more sense grammatically. He explained that perhaps the reason is because a song, a nigun, is not just supposed to be something that one sings or listens to. It is supposed to "speak" to you. If a nigun doesn't "say" something that applies to you, it isn't doing its job. Perhaps this is why we have a minhag to say Torah to a "tune." It's because just like a nigun is supposed to speak to you, the Torah one learns is supposed to speak to you personally.

May Hashem merit that we all find those parts of the Torah that speaks to us personally!

-Dixie Yid

(Picture of the Ar"i z"l's mikva courtesy of Reb Moshe)

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Friday, November 23, 2007

What Do Baalei Teshuva Do for Us?

I received this article from Mr. Uberdox and had to share it! Enjoy!

-Dixie Yid

What the Ba’alei Teshuva Do for Us

The theme of this year’s annual convention of Agudath Israel of America is the necessity to “Wake the Sleeping Giant” by involving all members of the Torah community in efforts to reach out to non-Orthodox and unaffiliated Jews. We are fast approaching the point where intermarriage and assimilation will have so reduced the general American Jewish population that there will be little left to rescue.

The relatively short window of opportunity remaining and the untapped potential of all Torah Jews – and not just kiruv professionals – will be the focus of most of the speakers. But I would like to address another aspect of the ba’al teshuva phenomenon that is too frequently overlooked: the positive impact that ba’alei teshuva have had on American Orthodoxy over the past 25 years.

As one who travels frequently to communities on the other side of the Hudson River, I am frequently struck by the extent to which many out-of-town communities are primarily made up of ba’alei teshuva and geirei tzedek. Nor is this phenomenon limited to out-of-town communities.

At a recent Shabbos meal, we entertained four or five English-speaking bochurim currently learning in Eretz Yisrael. True, they were not learning at Brisk (or one of its satellites). But their yeshiva is for boys who come to Eretz Yisrael already serious about their Torah learning. Each of these bochurim came from a family where one or both of the parents are ba’alei teshuva, and they told me that the same is true for well over half the boys in the yeshiva. In sum, the American Orthodox world is experiencing something of a population transfer.

But numbers is only one contribution that the ba’alei teshuva have made to the American Torah world – and likely not the most important. For one thing, they have deepened the level of Torah being taught publicly to the benefit of the entire Torah world. Most ba’alei teshuva enter the Torah world after having obtained a sophisticated secular education. Their questions are different than those who enter the Torah educational system at age six, and the level of the answers given them must be correspondingly higher as well.

Ba’alei teshuva by definition must make a positive choice to become mitzvah observant. Something must attract them and convince them to dramatically change their lives and all their expectations for the future. Most often that attraction involves both intellectual and emotional elements. And among those intellectual elements, the exposure to the depth of Torah thought is crucial. (Some of that depth can be tasted even before the ba’al teshuva develops the technical skills to fully experience the excitement of Gemara learning.)

It is no accident, I believe, that the Thursday night shiur of HaRav HaGaon Rav Moshe Shapiro, which attracts several hundred listeners every week and is disseminated around the world, was for many years given in the beis medrash of Ohr Somayach, one of the flagship institutions of the ba’al teshuva movement, or that many of those in attendance are ba’alei teshuva. In short, ba’alei teshuva helped to create the audience for some of the most penetrating Torah thinkers of our time.

Again, because the decision of ba’alei teshuva must be a positive one, they were in many cases attracted by some of the finest individuals the Torah world has to offer – some well-known and some not. They did not grow up in the Torah community, and were attracted to the community – in some cases perhaps a bit naively – by its highest ideals and their exemplars. Part of their acculturation process requires learning to live with the fact that neither all Torah Jews nor the community are perfect in every respect.

Nevertheless, there will always be some tension for the ba’al teshuva between the ideals that attracted him or her in the first place and the reality that they discover over a period of years. And because of that tension ba’alei teshuva are perhaps more inclined to demand that the Torah world live up to its own highest ideals and not just accept things as “the way it is.”

Ba’alei teshuva are acutely sensitive to issues of Kiddush Hashem and Chilul Hashem. In part that is a function of the fact that they continue to live in two worlds. Even after they have entered the Torah world, most of their family and lifelong friends are not religiously observant. There remains a part of them that continues to view the Torah world through the eyes of those family members and friends. Because they constantly find themselves having to justify their decision to leave their former lives they are perpetually alert to whatever places frum Jews or the frum community in a bad light.

There is a positive side to this tendency to view the Torah world through one eye that retains the perspective of the outside world. And that is a heightened concern to avoid any trace of Chilul Hashem and the constant search for opportunities for Kiddush Hashem. Those traits link the ba’alei teshuva, incidentally, to all the gedolei Yisrael about whom I have written, and who, without exception, made Kiddush Hashem one of the centerpieces of their avodas Hashem.

Finally, ba’alei teshuva have played a disproportionate role in kiruv work. That is not to say that only ba’alei teshuva can be effective working with non-frum Jews – something which is demonstrably not the case. Effective kiruv professionals come from the ranks of both the frum from birth and the ba’alei teshuva. The key is caring about one’s fellow Jews and possessing the Torah knowledge necessary to show non-religious Jews an entirely new world (which is not to deny an important role in kiruv for all committed frum Jews, whether they are very learned or not).

It is only natural, however, that the passion for drawing other Jews close to Torah is most frequently found among ba’alei teshuva, who have experienced both life without the guidance of the Torah and a life with Torah and know the chasm between the two.

Much of the discussion of ba’alei teshuva has typically centered on our religious duty to draw our fellow Jews close or how we should be nice to them because they are nebechim, cut off from their families and lacking ready role models to emulate as parents. But it is also good to keep in mind how much the ba’alei teshuva have brought to our community.

This article appeared in the Yated Ne'eman on November 22 2007.

(Picture courtesy of Rabbi Lazer Brody)

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Thursday, November 22, 2007

Rav Itchie Mayer Morgenstern - Kabbalah Lecture #3 in English

You may download Part III of Rav Itchie Mayer Morgenstern's new series of Shiurim in English, explaining the basics of Kabbalah. You can download it here or here. Or you can listen to it in the embeded player below. Learn well!

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-Dixie Yid

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Neil Harris on Awkward Thanksgiving Greetings

Check out this thoughtful post by Neil Harris on the awkwardness of different people preferring different greetings for Thanksgiving. Enjoy!

-Dixie Yid

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Advice for Baalei Teshuva - What do you think?

A friend of mine, also from back in Dixie, shared with me the following story that happened to him when he was becoming religious:

When he started going to Shacharis regularly at his local Shul, he heard someone bang on the Bima right as everyone was beginning to say Shemoneh Esreh. (This is done on Rosh Chodesh to remind people to say "Ya'aleh V'yavo," for Rosh Chodesh) He thought, "Wow, that's nice. They're banging to make sure everyone is quiet and to remind them that this was the time to begin Shemoneh Esreh."

The next day (the second day of Rosh Chodesh), they did it again. However on the third day, no one banged on the Bima. My friend figured that someone was just slacking off. So the day after that, as Shemoneh Esreh was beginning, he banged on the Bima. And again the day after that, and the day after that. So for about two weeks, he was banging on the Bima every day at the beginning of Shemoneh Esreh till he found out that this was only done on Rosh Chodesh as a Ya'aleh V'yavo reminder!

Apropos to this story, he shared with me the following advice, for Baalei Teshuva:

"Never be the first to do anything.

Never be the last to do anything.

Never be the only one to do anything.

Never be the loudest to do anything."

What do you think?

-Dixie Yid

(Picture courtesy of Yeshiva Derech Eitz Chaim)

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Connecting to the Avos and the Av Harachaman - Audio Shiur

In this latest shiur (part 6) by Reb Yerachmiel, at the Baltimore Community Kollel's Rav Pincus Chaburah, on Sunday (11-18-07), Reb Yerachmiel spoke about the first beracha of Shemoneh Esrei. He analyzes and talks about internalizing the words "Kail Elyon" through L'ma'an Sh'mo B'Ahavah" in an effort to connect and reconnect to not only the Avos hakedoshim, Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, but also to our Avinu Av Ha'Rachaman, Hashem Himself.

You can download the WAV file HERE or HERE.

-Dixie Yid

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New Bilvavi Sefer Coming Out - Introduction to Knowing One's Self

There is a new sefer out, "Da Es Atzmecha", which summarizes Rav Shwartz's, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh seforim, shiurim given in the Shorashim Center's Tel Aviv location. There is also a new web site that has been created to go with the book. You can call the number on the picture to the left, which is also on the web site to order a copy of the sefer. IY"H, it will be available in the United States soon.

Thanks go to Ran from for letting us know about this new sefer!

-Dixie Yid

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Monday, November 19, 2007

New Video on the Future of Yerushalayim

This is a video which uses pictures and music to teach about the history of Yerushalayim and is quite relevant to the future of Yerushalayim, which is quite relevant to what is going on now with Yerushalayim.

HT to Ran at and Da Es Atzmecha.

-Dixie Yid

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Why Does All Rabbinical Authority Come from One Little Pasuk?

Several years ago, my wife and I had a very intelligent Baal Teshuva at our home many times, who had become observant through one of the Baalei Teshuva yeshivos in Israel. Over time, as he learned that things in Yiddishkeit are a little bit more complex than he had originally believed, he started to get bothered more and more. This was probably exacerbated by his chosen profession and passion, which involved some activities which are not permitted according to halacha, which may have created some cognitive dissonance for him. He is no longer observant, as far as I know right now, and this has bothered me.

One kasha that bothered him and he asked me, and about which I could not adequately answer him at the time, was the following; With the large number of halachos d'rabannan (Rabbinical Laws) that we keep, and the idea of Daas Torah and Emunas Chachamim (faith in the Sages), and the mitzva we have of "לֹא תָסוּר," not to dissobey the sages in every generation, it seems like the idea of rabbinical authority is almost a foundation of everything orthodox Jews believe in. But the truth of that authority seems so weak when there is only one little pasuk that backs it up; Devarim 17:11, "לֹא תָסוּר, מִן-הַדָּבָר אֲשֶׁר-יַגִּידוּ לְךָ--יָמִין וּשְׂמֹאל." "Do not stray from the thing which they tell you, to the right or to the left." How can such a brief and unclear pasuk be the source for such all-pervasive power and authority over the whole Jewish people?!

Recently, I was speaking with a local Rav who turned most people's initial understanding of the relationship between the Oral and Written Torahs on its head. We were talking about how to learn a certain halacha out of a pasuk in the Torah ("בנך הבא מישראלית קרוי בנך ואין בנך הבא מן <העובדת כוכבים> {הגויה} קרוי בנך ,אלא בנה", Kiddushin 68b). He told me that according to the opinion of Rebbe Akiva, all of the principals, details, and minutiae of halacha were given on Har Sinai to Moshe Rebbeinu. However, the actual parshios, the text of the Torah, was not fully given, according to whatever method, until the end of the 40 years in the desert.

If that is so, then what is the gemara always doing when it figures out how to derive all of the halachos of the mishna from psukim in the Torah? All of those halachos were known anyway from the time of Ma'amad Har Sinai! Why do they bother "learning out" those halachos from the Chumash, when they were known independently of the text of the Torah anyway?

He explains that part of our mitzva of Talmud Torah, learning Torah, is that Hashem gave us all of the halachos, and he also gave us his "notes," or "shorthand," for what is written in the Torah. One of our jobs in learning Torah is that Hashem wants us to find all of the hints to all of the halachos that we received orally on Har Sinai in His "notes," the Written Torah. This means that we are not so much "learning out" halachos from the Chumash, but are rather "learning in" halachos into the Torah! That is how we are zoche to find all of the places where Hashem "hinted" at the halachos in the Written Torah. (The fact that there is machlokes about many halachos and which pasuk to "learn them from" is also Hashem's will, and is due to human forgetting, and is a separate issue from what I am talking about here.)

One major ramification of this new understanding of the relationship between Torah She'bechsav (Written Torah) and Torah She'ba'al Peh (Oral Torah), is that it totally changes what we would expect to find in the Oral Torah. Those aspects of Halacha which are most obvious and known to the masses of the people, need to be hinted at in the Written "notes" Torah the least!

For example, the halachos of having a lunar calendar tremendously affects our lives, in determining what date our Yomim Tovim, Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Rosh Chodesh, and Sefiras HaOmer fall out. However, all of that is hinted at in one half of one pasuk in Shmos 12:2, "הַחֹדֶשׁ הַזֶּה לָכֶם, רֹאשׁ חֳדָשִׁים!" Whereas the halachos of Tuma and Tzara'as (Vayikra 12-15), which hardly ever affect anyone and only the kohanim need to fully understand how to pasken, take up perakim in sefer Vayikra! This can now be understood. The purpose of the psukim in Torah for, for purposes of halacha, is not to be the primary source for how we know these halachos. Rather, they are the notes that hint to those halachos. So just like one needs less notes for things that they understand better already, the Torah needs to say less when it comes to important things that are already well known and part of society. So there is little need for reminders about the halachos of the calendar, something people live with every day, while there is a greater need for hints (more detailed "notes") to remember the halachos of Tuma and Tahara and Tzara'as, which are not well known and understood on the whole.

Similarly, with our problem regarding "לֹא תָסוּר," rabbinical authority granted in the Torah, we can now understand that the written Torah is not, its self, granting this rabbinic role and rabbinic power, in which case one could understand why that would seem like a terse and oblique granting of that "power." Rather, the rabbinical role of protecting and guiding the Jewish people in all generations is an integral part of our lives, and Hashem vested them with that responsibility and the necessary authority to exercise it along with all of the other halachos on Har Sinai. Since it is such an integral part of our Yiddishkeit and our society, like many other well-understood parts of halcha, little "reminding" was needed in Hashem's "notes", the written Torah. That is why the reference is so brief.

At least next time this issue comes up with someone, I'll have a better understanding for myself, so that I will be able to understand the inyan better and be better able to explain it to others next time!

-Dixie Yid

(Picture of the Steipler Gaon courtesy of Rabbi Sedley's Blog)

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Friday, November 16, 2007

Article on the Shteibelization of America

In an e-mail coorespondence with a reader out there whose guest posting I will be putting up early next week, I was reminded of an article from back in July by Rabbi Ilan Feldman, the rabbi of Congregation Beth Jacob, in Atlanta, GA. It's called the "Parking Lot Minyan," and it touches on ideas of community, anava, and the concept of bitul, nullifying one's personal ideas/desires to a greater good. Happy reading!

-Dixie Yid

(Picture courtesy of

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Shiur #2 in Kabbalah in English- Rav Itchie Mayer Morgenstern

You may download Rav Itchie Mayer Morgenstern's second shiur in this series, in English, on Kabbalah, given Wednesday, November, 14, 2007. It focuses on explaining the concept of the Ohr Ein Sof, the Infinite Light. Once again, I have to thank our anonymous friend from Yerushalayim who recorded the shiur and is sharing it with us. You can download it here or here or listen to it online on the embeded player right here:

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-Dixie Yid

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

Rav Itchie Mayer Morgenstern on Parshas Vayeitze - Downloadable Text

You can download Rav Itchie Mayer Morgenstern's Yam Hachochma for this week, Parshas Vayetzei, 22 pages, in Hebrew here or here. It's in pdf format.

-Dixie Yid

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Rav Pincus Chaburah on Tefilla: Elokei Yaakov- Part 5 - Audio Shiur

I am happy to present this past Sunday night's Baltimore Community Kollel Rav Pincus chabura given over by Reb Yerachmiel. It is on Rav Shimshon Pincus' approach to the words "Elokei Avraham, Elokei Yitzchak and Elokei Yaakov". Particularly relevant to the current Parshios Ha'Shavuah as well as to our Shemoneh Esrei, we honed-in on the middah of "Elokei Yaakov"- the concepts of Emes, Torah, Tiferes and Norah that Hashem Himself represents and that Yaakov Avinu helped reveal in this world. At the very least, you'll be inspired to taste the sweetness of a lollipop after you listen (inside joke for those that attended/are zoche to listen).

You can listen to the wav file online/download it at THIS LINK (Remember, possible inappropriate ads at that site) or download it directly at THIS LINK.

-Dixie Yid

(picture courtesy of A-Train's Page)

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Uplifting Fallen Ahava/Love - Meor Einayim on Toldos

The Meor Einayim, Rav Nachum from Chernobyl, has a beautiful pshat which sheds a light on the deeper meaning of the pasuk at the beginning of Parshas Toldos, "וְאֵלֶּה תּוֹלְדֹת יִצְחָק, בֶּן-אַבְרָהָם: אַבְרָהָם, הוֹלִיד אֶת-יִצְחָק." (Breishis 25:19) He says that the gemara says that whenever the pasuk says "אֵלֶּה," it is separating that pasuk from the ones before, and whenever it says "וְאֵלֶּה," it is embrassing what came before and adding something new (Quoted by Rashi at the beginning of Parshas Mishpatim).

On this, he asks: It should have said "אֵלֶּה!" The psukim before were about the progeny of Yishmael. Rather than embrassing and adding onto that idea by saying "וְאֵלֶּה," the Torah should have said "אֵלֶּה," to separate the Avos from Yishmael!

But he goes on to explain that Yishmael is "Ahava Nafula," "fallen/misdirected love." Avraham was the pinnacle of the mida of Ahava, love, and Chesed, kindness. He had two children. Yitzchak was the good side, and Yishmael was the bad side/misdirected application of Avrhaham's mida of love and chesed. He was the "psoles," undesirable byproduct, of Avraham's trait of lovingkindness.

In what way does Ahava nafula (fallen/misdirected love) manifest its self? The Gemara says that when Hashem offered the Torah to the nation of Yishmael, they asked what was in it. When Hashem told them that it contained the prohibition against adultery (i.e. the general concept of sexual morality), they said that they could just not handle that. This seems strange in our eyes. We see the people of Yishmael as more focused on killing people and covering up their wives to sublimate any sense of sexual immorality. So how can the Gemara say that their whole livlihood is sexual immorality? Well why do they keep all of their Sharia laws and engage in mass-murder in the name of Jihad? It's all so they can indulge in their basest desires with their 72 virgins after 120. Sexual immorality is their desire behind everything. And this type of immorality is the expression of fallen Chesed/Ahava (kindness/love).

This is seen from the fact that the Torah says about one of the kinds of forbidden sexual relationships, "Chesed hu." This demonstrates that sexual immorality is the expresssion of misplaced chesed/love/kindness.

Rashi brings down on the pasuk quoted above that the scoffers of the generation were saying "Me'AviMelech Nisabra Sara," (that Sara was made pregnant by AviMelech during her "stay" with the Plishtim, and therefore, to prove them wrong, Hashem made Yitzchak look just like Avraham.

The Meor Einayim says an amazing thing: The deeper meaning of the Midrash Rashi quoted was to say that the people were saying that it was Hashem (Avi Melech = My Father [the] King) who planted the Ahava Nafula, the misplaced/fallen love, into the human body (Sara = the Guf- Zohar Chadash). Therefore, they said, "What can we do? Hashem placed these all-too-human desires into the human body, and therefore, how can we fight it? There's nothing we can do!"

The Meor Einayim says that in order to counteract that spurious claim of the scoffers, the Midrash means that Hashem made Yitzchak, the real progeny of Sara and Avraham, look just like Avraham. This means that indeed we are infused with combinations of the true Ahava, Ahavas Hashem, and fallen Ahava, the desire for sexual immorality. We are not supposed to just accept and follow the Ahava nafula within us. Rather, Hashem made Yitzchak, the child of Avraham, look just like him to teach that the things that we love should be made to look like their true source above, Ahavas Hashem (like Avraham, in the mashal). We must elevate our natural loves, not only the obviously good kinds, but also the destructive, negative kinds and direct those desires towards Ahavas Hashem, the true object of our love, before the mida was perverted and misdirected to other places.

This is why the pasuk says "וְאֵלֶּה," rather than "אֵלֶּה." We are not supposed to dismiss the progeny of Yishmael, the Ahava nafula. Rather, we are supposed to build upon it and correct it by directing our Ahava toward Hashem, and not let the Ahava Nafula placed within our bodies misdirect the Ahava within us toward bad places.

May Hashem help us embrace the midos and Ahava and Chesed within ourselves and direct them toward their true source, Hashem Himself.

-Dixie Yid

(Picture courtesy of Gordaen's Blog)

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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

A Simple Jew's First Meeting With His Rebbe!

Please read this great first post by A Simple Jew, reflecting on his whirlwind trip to Boro Park, NY to meet with his Rebbe, the Sudilkover Rebbe, in person for the first time. It sounds like it was a great meeting and I'm sure the follow-up posts going into more detail will be well worth reading. So click on over!

-Dixie Yid

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Story Behind Why Meor Einayim is My Favorite Sefer

Pleae CLICK OVER to read my response to a Q and A with A Simple Jew. I'm pasting his question here below. My answer goes into what my favorite sefer is and the reason why.

A Simple Jew asks:

More than a year before I returned to my family's shtetl, I called a seforim store in Brooklyn and ordered a copy of the sefer. The sefer sat on my bookshelf untouched for a long period of time until one day I sat down with a local rabbi and we began to learn it a little bit here and a little bit there. Later, at the tzaddik's kever, I left a kvittel requesting assistance learning this sefer.

I tried to learn it by myself when I came home and unfortunately was quickly discouraged. The sefer returned to my shelf once again until one day I decided that I would go through every page. And that is exactly what I did; never letting a day go by without learning from it. Day after day, month after month, year after year, I return to it and bring a copy of it along with me wherever I go.

With the determination of a miner who is convinced that he will discover gold, I seek to deepen my understanding of this sefer. I continually search for locksmiths who can teach me how to unlock this tzaddik's teachings.

Sometimes a locksmith may become discouraged at the daunting task and suggest we work on a lock he has previously picked. However, I have no interest in the locks that he is overly familiar with. They are his locks and not mine.

Do you have a sefer that you consider to be your sefer? If so, which sefer is it and why do feel such a personal attachment to it?

Dixie Yid Answers:

-Dixie Yid

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Monday, November 12, 2007

A Home Run for Shaya - Video has an animated video based on the "Home Run for Shaya" story, based on the story from Rabbi Pesach Krohn's Echos of the Magid book, that took place at Yeshivas Darchei Torah in Far Rockaway, NY, and told to Rabbi Krohn by the father of the boy.

-Dixie Yid

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Tehillim Needed for Ner Yisroel Kiuv Rabbi

Received by e-mail:

Please be mispallel for Refael Moshe ben Miriam (Filler). With much dedication, he has run extensive kiruv programs and camps out of Ner Yisrael for the Spanish community for around 15 years. Having gotten married later, his kids are very young (five and under), he's been ill for a while, and is currently hooked up to a respirator.

-Dixie Yid

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Olam Ha'Yedidus - Audio Shiur - Baltimore Lev Shlomo Chaburah

Reb Yerachmiel has begun a new shiur in Baltimore through the Baltimore Community Kollel. It is called the Lev Shlomo Chaburah. In this, his second shiur, he speaks about "Olam Ha'Yedidus", a subset of Devaikus Ba'Hashem that Rav Pincus, Rav Wolbe, the Bilvavi have been working on developing. The mehalech might very well be "The Second Biggest Chiddush That Very Few People Know" (notice the girsa change) and actually is the perfect remedy for "The First Chiddush That Nobody Knows".

You may download the shiur in WAV format either HERE or HERE.

-Dixie Yid

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Sunday, November 11, 2007

Audio Shiurim - Birkas HaTorah; Learning With Your Mind and Heart & Elokai Neshama

I am grateful to Rabbi Reuven Boshnack for sharing these shiurim with us and allowing me to post them.

Here is a three part shiur on Birkas Hatorah, Learning with Your Mind and Heart, by Rabbi Boshnack. You can and ought to get the maareh mekomos that were used during this three part shiur. You can download them in Word format here or here.

You can download PART ONE here or here or listen to the embeded player here:
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You can download part 2 of Birkas Hatorah, Learning with your Mind and Heart here or here or listen to the embeded player here:
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You may download to Part Three of Birkas Hatorah, Learning with your Mind and Heart here or here, or listen to the embed player on that shiur here:
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ALSO, He has given a shiur in the tefillah of Elokai Neshama, based on a teaching from Rav Kook. You can download the maareh mekomos in pdf format here or here. You can download that one here or here or listen to the embed player here:
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-Dixie Yid

(Picture courtesy of Beth El Jacob Synagogue in Des Moines, IA)

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Friday, November 9, 2007

Unbelievable Erev Shabbos Ma'aseh From Reb Elimelch of Lizhensk

Here's another amazing ma'aseh regarding the holiness of how one must prepare for Shabbos on Erev Shabbos, and do teshuva like it was Erev Yom Kippur. I heard this from my rebbe.

The Noam Elimelech, Rav Elimelech from Lizhensk had an erev Shabbos in his home and court like no one else. It was revealed to Tzaddikim in this world that the Chesed L'Avraham, Rav Avraham Azulai, the grandfather of the ChID"A, asked Rav Elimelech from Lizhensk, the Noam Elimelech, after both of them had passed from this world, the following question: "My seforim are so great and so beloved in Shamayim, that the Malachim up here are learning them personally. Yet when anyone mentions you're name, Reb Elimelech from Lizhensk, there is a huge noise and tumult. Why is that?"

The Noam Elimelch answered him that, "It is not that I am greater than you. That, of course is not the reason. Rather, it is because every Erev Shabbos in my house, it was like Erev Yom Kippur."

There is another story that comes from the Rebbe from Djikov. He was once in a certain city and heard that there was an old man there that worked as a young boy in the house of R' Elimelech. This man was very sick, and barely conscious and always layed down in bed. However, when he heard the Rebbe from Djikov say the name of Reb Elimelech and asked him what he remembered from the house, the man actually sat up in bed, trembling with fear. Tears poured down his face and he said:

"When I worked there, I remember that there were miracles happening from morning until evening every single day. But because I am old I do not remember any of these. What I do remember is that every Erev Shabbos, the Rebbe would come home from the Mikvah, and roll up his sleeves. He then proceeded, every single week, to place both of his arms into the fire and into the coals of the fire up to the elbow, sifting through the fiery coals. There were sparks and flames flying to the right and to the left. Yet he would not be burnt at all. And he would scream and cry at the top of his lungs so that everyone in the house and in the courtyard could hear, 'Meilech! Meilech! You're such a Rasha, even the flames run away from you! They want to stay so far away from you, they don't want to even burn you, Rasha!'

(Aparantly, as a young boy, he had once struck his mother and ever since then he dipped into the mikva of fire and the mikva of water, trying to cleanse himself of that and other aveiros.)

Watching and experiencing this sight every Erev Shabbos, the whole house was filled with fear and trembling and everyone did Teshuva. They all, from the simplest Jewish housekeeper in the house, begged and pleaded with each other to be forgiven for anything that they had done. But the minute that the Rebbetzin lit the Shabbos candles, the whole house was filled with joy from the beginning until the end of Shabbos."

Now, none of us will be placing our hands in fire or performing miracles. However, instead of just running around taking care of the errands of Erev Shabbos, we can make an effort to have a little bit more fear and eager anticipation that Shabbos is coming, and we can do teshuva, lest we come into the holy Shabbos with unclean hands. IY"H by us!

-Dixie Yid

(Picture courtesy of

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