Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Doing Physical Mitzovs or the Intent in Doing Them: Which is the Main Thing?

The author of Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh, in Vol. 5, in Ma'amar 10 in the section called "Pirkei Avodah U'Machshava" brings down a fundamental dispute about whether simply doing the physical mitzvos is the main thing or whether the kavannah, the intent and thought one has while performing during the mitzvah is the main thing. In that context he says (paraphrasing):

One must first understand that one can call both the basic physical act of doing a mitzvah as well as the intent, the "main thing." Let's explain. And through this explanation, we can understand the Nefesh Hachaim's statement that the physical act of doing a mitzvah is the main thing.

If you give someone a cup of water, what is the "main thing?" Certainly it is the water. However, if you give someone water without a cup, it is worth nothing since the water will merely spill out. In short, if you give someone a cup without water, the "main thing" is missing. Nevertheless, it is possible to get some water from another place. It comes out that even though the "main thing" is the water, nevertheless, water without a cup is nothing, but if you give someone a cup without water, you have still given him at least something.

It is the same thing exactly with Mitzvos. "A mitzvah without intent is like a body without a soul." This statement is not a mere aphorism. Rather, it is a very deep statement. The act of the mitzvah is the vessel and the intent is the light, the water. Therefore, a mitzva's intent alone is nothing because it has no vessel to contain it. But a vessel without light, a mitzvah without intent still can fulfill one's obligation because it is possible to fill up the vessel from elsewhere. (i.e. through others' mitzvos or through one's own mitzvah on another occasion) V'dai l'maivin. This is a deep idea for which one needs a basic understanding of "chochmas ha'emes." Without a basic grasp of this field, one will have a difficult time understanding this. It will appear as mere philosophy, but the truth remains the truth.

It is important to point out here that a ben Torah can sit and judge whether physical mitzvos or intent are more important. He can bring proofs from sugyos in Shas this way and that. But there is a basic problem with his approach. There are certain topics that a person must understand that he doesn't have the required knowledge, the tools with which to judge. It's not enough to know the Gemara. One must have a fundamental understanding of things, and where each thing in the world is derived from Above. One without a correct knowledge of this is unable to affix an importance to anything. With halacha, it is understood that that which takes precedence is not necessarily more important... (like the din of "tadir v'she'eino tadir, tadir kodem" which speaks to sequential order, not to inherent importance).
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Monday, March 30, 2009

The Depth of the Mitzvah of Maos Chitin - And a Great Way to Fulfill It

An friend of mine in Baltimore, who would prefer to remain anonymous, has shared a short, 20 minute shiur that Rav Moshe Shapiro gave in someone's home there, on the deeper meanings in the mitzvah of Maos Chitin, giving tzedakah to ani'im before Pesach. You can CLICK HERE

I also wanted to share the following resource through which you can fulfill the mitzvah of Maos Chitin, the organization Kimcha D'Pischa. My community is zocheh to have two long-time friends of my rebbe visit at least once a year. Yesterday, I was also zocheh to have these two great Karlin-Stoliner chassidim, Rabbis Asher Klitnick and Moshe Shapoff, in my home for a few minutes. Rabbi Shapoff was even a talmid of Rav Moshe Weinberger in high school about 25 years ago and they have remained close ever since. Rav Weinberger speaks publicly once a year in Shul on Shabbos morning about what a great work Kimcha D'Pischa does. And he does not do that for any other mosad that I am aware of. Their overhead is covered and so all of the donations go directly to the Ani'im that they support.

In order to donate (tax deductibe), send a check to:

Beth Aaron V'Israel Chesed Fund (Checks: "BAVI Chesed Fund")
606 Est. 2nd St.
Brooklyn, NY 11218

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Rebbetzin Yehudis Golshekvsy - Breslov Chassidus on Pesach III - 10 Sefiros & the Seder Plate

Rebbetzin Yehudis Golshevsky has been mezakeh us with her latest shiur in Breslov Chassidus. In this shiur, Part 3 in her Pesach series, she covers the 10 sefiros and the Seder Plate. I wrote a post with a diagram on this topic last year as where, which can be accessed HERE. Rebbetzin Golshevsky's shiur is for women only.

CLICK HERE to get the shiur by either left clicking to listen right away or right clicking and selecting "Save Target As" to download.

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Friday, March 27, 2009

Kedushas Levi on Pesach - Shiurim by Rabbi Tal Zwecker

Rabbi Tal Zwecker has shared two of his shiurim from this past week at his Shul in Ramat Beit Shemesh.

Kedushas Levi Stories: Chabad Chassunah
Kedushas Levi on the Pesach Hagaddah

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Kol Brisk on Parshas Vayikra - Korbanos/Sacrifices

לעלוי נשמת הגאון הר"ר אהרן בן הר"ר משה הלוי סאלאווייציק זצ"ל

Parashas Vayikra
With this week's parasha, we open a new sefer, Sefer Vayikra, Toras Kohanim. Sefer Vayikra deals with the laws concerning korbanos, sacrifices, tum'ah v'tahara, and laws concerning Kohanim.

Today, we have no Bais Hamikdash. We have no mizbai'ach. We cannot bring korbanos. Chazal teach: Unishalmah parim s'fasaynu, Our lips have the power to replace the oxen.

The mefarshim give us some interesting glimpses into the experience of bringing a korban in the time of the Bais Hamikdash:

The Mai Ha'shiloach gives the case of a person who got an idea to do something new. For example, he desired to build for himself a large new home. However, he had certain hesitations and fears. Where was this desire coming from? Was it a real need of his? People would be surprised and would talk etc. These thoughts caused him to be not completely at ease with his plans. Perhaps his misgivings were a sign that this was not a right thing to do. Perhaps this was a sign that this was not the Ratzon Hashem, the Divine Will?

This person would then bring a korban olah and mincha.

The purpose of his olah was in order to submit his ENTIRE ratzon, desires and intellect to Hashem Yisbarach, in order that Hashem would direct the person in the direction He willed. The olah is ENTIREly sacrificed on the mizbai'ach. If the project was truly Hashem's Will, the korban would effectively subdue and clear away all the hesitations.

Once the proper direction, for or against the plan, became clear, the mincha would assume its function. If this person was to build his new house, the mincha would give him great motivation, confidence, energy and enthusiasm to proceed with his plans. If it was not the Ratzon Hashem for the person to embark on the project, then, by bringing the olah, he would lose his motivation and interest. Then, however, the person could be beset with afterthoughts; why was this plan not right for him? By bringing the mincha, the person would become Divinely enlightened as to how such a home would have had a damaging effect on a certain aspect of his character. The mincha would put the person's mind at REST.
Mincha - its root connotes REST.

Two people could jointly bring the olah, for submission before G-d is something in which everyone is equal. The mincha, however, could only be brought by one person alone. This is because peace of mind is very individual, and translates differently for every nefesh miYisrael, every Jewish soul with its own needs.

A shlamim was brought by a person experiencing any sort of anxiety or unsettled feelings. The shlamim would restore wholesomeness, peace within the person, peace with his environment, and with his Creator.

Unishalmah parim s'fasaynu.
All of the above functions of the olah, mincha and shlamim can be achieved today through proper tefillah.

I personally know someone who, through tefillah, by saying tehillim, clarified strong misgivings in the realm of shidduchim. Interest in shidduchim that were all wrong for him faded out; and eventually, for the shidduch that was very right for him, about which he was not so sure, he acquired interest and motivation. Today, he is Baruch Hashem, very happily married to a wonderful and devoted wife, and has b'ayin"h beautiful children.

Also, someone had a complex question of how to conduct himself in a certain situation. For a long difficult period he carried the doubt with him. Unable to continue to bear the strain, he sat down one night, recited the entire Sefer Tehillim without interuption, concentrating from the depths of his heart specifically on this question. Within two days, the situation became much more clarified.


V'nefesh ki sakriv korban mincha laHashem
The Netziv miVolozhin explains that the mincha was brought to atone for hashchasas hanefesh b'midos, that is deterioration of character. The example in Tanach that he brings is Shaul HaMelech. David suggested to him to bring a Mincha, for he was suffering from ruach ra'ah, resulting from, what was on his level, depression and anger. There are four types of mincha, corresponding to the four humours or four elements. Each person has his unique combination of these four. Extremities in any direction are the cause of midos ra'os.

The Ba'al haTanya teaches us that Am Yisrael starts out in the first place with a relatively speaking refined nefesh habehemis, vital soul. This is because of our ancestry. We all inherited in our genes compassion, modesty and generosity! So on first glance, on a superficial level it is difficult to discern our weaknesses.
Here they are:

  1. Yesod ha'aish, marah adumah- element of fire- in extreme causes anger and arrogance

  2. Yesod hamayim, marah levana-element of water- indulgence in pleasure and desire

  3. Yesod haruach, marah tzehubah-element of air- giddiness, frivolity, boasting and idle talk

  4. Yesod he'afar, marah shechorah-element of earth- depression and laziness

In the time of the Bais Hamikdash, one could bring a mincha to straighten out his midos.
Today, we have no mincha, we have no mizbai'ach and we have no Bais Hamikdash. But we still have tefillah.

And Hashem waits to hear from us. And He listens. And He answers.

Harchev picha va'amaleihu.
Just open your mouth (in tefillah) and I will fill it up, urges G-d.

May the service of korbanos be restored speedily in our days.

A gutten Erev Shabbos
from Yerushalayim Ir HaKodesh

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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Breslov Chassidus on Pesach - Rebbetzin Yehudis Golshevsky

Rebbetzin Yehudis Golshevsky has B"H shared the 2nd shiur in her series on Breslov Chassidus on Pesach. For Women Only. Some of the topics in the shiur include:

  1. Merit of the righteous women
  2. Bitachon and Hishtadlus/Matzah and Chometz
  3. Seder as Segulah
CLICK HERE to get the shiur by either left clicking to listen right away or right clicking and selecting "Save Target As" to download.

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The Atheist, the Bear & My Four Year Old Comedian

I want to share the following funny story that I received from Rabbi Tal Zwecker followed by some great antics by my four-year-old son:

The Diehard

An atheist was walking through the woods. "What majestic trees! What powerful rivers! What beautiful animals!" He said to himself.

As he was walking alongside the river, he heard a rustling in the bushes behind him. He turned to look. He saw a 7-foot grizzly bear charge towards him. He ran as fast as he could up the path. He looked over his shoulder & saw that the bear was closing in on him.

He looked over his shoulder again, and the bear was even closer. He tripped and fell on the ground. He rolled over to pick himself up but saw that the bear was right on top of him, reaching for him with his left paw and raising his right paw to strike him.

At that instant the Atheist cried out, "Oh my G-d!" Time Stopped. The bear froze. The forest was silent.

As a bright light shone upon the man, a voice came out of the sky: "You deny My existence for all these years, teach others I don't exist and even credit creation to cosmic accident... do you expect Me to help you out of this predicament? Am I to count you as a believer?"

The atheist looked directly into the light, "It would be hypocritical of me to suddenly ask You to treat me as a believer now, but perhaps You could make the BEAR a believer"?

"Very Well," said the voice. The light went out. The sounds of the forest resumed. And the bear dropped his right paw, closed his eyes and recited - in perfect Hebrew -the blessing one says before eating meat: "Boruch Atoh Hashem Elokeinu melech ha'olam shehakol nih'yeh bi'dvaro."

Let's not be stubborn diehards. Sooner or later, everybody will be calling Hashem's Name. Now's a good time to start.

I told my four year old son this story on Sunday, making sure that he understood that it didn't really happen, but that it was a joke. He found it very amusing and a few minutes later, his 19 month old younger sister walked by and dropped a costume bear head from her Purim costume. My son put on the bear head and then said "Baruch Atah Hashem Elokeinu Melech Ha'Olam She'hakol Nihiyeh Bidvaro!!! Yum yum!" My four year old comedian!

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

“To Be a Free People in Our Land”: A Passover Commentary by Yosef Hakohen

Dear Friends,

“Hatikvah” – the national anthem of the State of Israel – concludes with the following message:

“Our hope is not yet lost,
The hope of two thousand years,
To be a free people in our land,
The land of Zion and Jerusalem.”

From the perspective of our spiritual tradition, what does it mean “to be a free people in our land”? Our discussion on the meaning of this freedom will begin with the Passover story, for we refer to Passover in our prayers as zman cherusanu – the season of our freedom. For example, when we are ready to begin the Passover Seder, we chant the following words of thanksgiving to Hashem, the Compassionate and Life-Giving One:

“And You have lovingly given us, Hashem, our God, festivals of assembly for rejoicing, feasts and seasons for joy, this Festival of Matzos, the season of our freedom” (from the Kiddush – Blessing of Sanctification).

This freedom is to lead us to our own land, as the Torah records that Hashem told Moshe the following message before the Exodus, when Moshe stood at the burning bush on “the Mountain of God” (Mount Sinai): “I shall descend to rescue them from the hand of Egypt and to bring them up from that land to a good and spacious land, to a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:8).

Hashem also reveals to Moshe at the burning bush another goal of the journey to freedom – a goal which will precede the entry into the Promised Land: “When you take the people out of Egypt, you will serve God on this mountain” (Exodus 3:12).

Later, Moshe was told by Hashem to give Pharaoh the following Divine message: “My firstborn child is Israel; so I say you, send out My child that he may serve Me” (Exodus 4:22.23).

A similar message was repeated later when Hashem told Moshe to tell Pharaoh: “Let My people go that they may serve Me (Exodus 7:26).

Why does the journey to freedom in our own land first lead to serving Hashem? The beginning of the answer to this question can be found in the following verse which reveals that the human being was created to serve the Divine purpose:

“Hashem God took the human being and placed him in the Garden of Eden to serve it and to guard it.” (Genesis 2:15)

To serve Hashem is to serve the Divine purpose for which we were created: to serve and to guard the Divine creation. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, a noted sage and biblical commentator of the 19th century, elaborates on this idea in the following excerpt from his book, “The Nineteen Letters”:

“Your own inner awareness tells you, and the Torah states, that the human being’s purpose is to be a tzelem Elokim – a likeness of God. You are to be more than everything else; you are to exist for everything else. You can know God only through His acts of love and justice; and in turn, you too are called upon to act with justice and love, and not merely to indulge or endure. Everything bestowed upon you – mind, body, fellowman, material goods, other creatures, every talent and every power – all are merely means to action – l'avdah u’l’shamrah – to further and to safeguard everything.” (Letter Four)

The responsibility to further and safeguard everything expresses the purpose of all the mitzvos – Divine mandates – in the Torah. This idea is expressed in the following ancient teaching:

The Divine mandate to “serve” the Garden is a prototype of mitzvos aseh – the mitzvos of the Torah which call upon us to engage in actions which nurture and elevate the world, including ourselves. And the Divine mandate to “guard” the Garden is a prototype of mitzvos lo sa’asay – the mitzvos of the Torah which prohibit actions which damage and degrade the world, including ourselves. (“Tikunei Zohar” 55)

When we serve Hashem through the mitzvos of the Torah, we gain the freedom to become the human beings we are meant to be. Irving Bunim, a noted Torah educator of the previous generation, elaborates on this idea in his comments on the following words of King David to Hashem:

“I am Your servant, son of Your handmaid; You have released my fetters” (Psalm 116:16).

Irving Bunim explains that when we become the servants of Hashem, we are released from the “fetters” – restraining shackles – which enslave us. He writes:

“The fetters that bind us to ourselves are untied; we will not be mastered by our addictions, emotions, habits. Gaining inner freedom, we are released from psychological bondage to our fellowman, and ultimately from bondage to despotic governments. With the Torah, we become the Almighty’s personal servants, and are thus liberated from the inner, subtle chains of fear or the threat of meaninglessness in our lives. On many levels, we move freely to the goals of our faith.

“Whether mankind likes it or not, the realization grows that an uncommitted life, free of any higher goals or responsibilities, brings a bondage worse than slavery. The Eastern poet, Rabindranath Tagore, moved intuitively toward this conclusion when he wrote: “I have on my table a violin string. It is free...But it is not free to do what a violin string is supposed to do – to produce music. So I take it, fix it in my violin, and tighten it until it is taut. Only then is it free to be a violin string.’ ” (Ethics from Sinai by Irving Bunim, 6:2)

The spiritual discipline of the Torah channels all our energies into serving the Divine purpose; thus, it gives us the freedom to become the human beings we are meant to be. When we, the People of the Torah, are living in our own land, we can become a social model of this freedom and become “a light to the nations” (Isaiah 42:6). The liberating message of the Torah will then go forth from our free people to all the nations, and the following prophecy will be fulfilled:

“For from Zion will go forth Torah and the Word of Hashem from Jerusalem” (Isaiah 2:3).

On Passover, our people began the journey to ultimate freedom, and the conclusion of this journey will be in the land of Zion and Jerusalem. In this spirit, we open the Seder with the following words from the Passover Haggadah which express the yearning of our exiled people for the ultimate freedom:

“Now, we are here; next year may we be in the Land of Israel! Now, we are slaves; next year may we be free people!”

And in this spirit, we conclude the Seder with the following proclamation:

“Next year in Jerusalem!”

The month of Nissan begins on Wednesday evening March 25th. May we be blessed with a good and liberating month.

Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen
Jerusalem (See below)

Related Teachings and Comments:

1. The words to Hatikvah were written in 1886 by Naphtali Herz Imber, and this poem became the anthem of the new Zionist movement. (An abridged edition later became the anthem of the State of Israel.) This poem refers to our yearning to return to the Land of Zion, but it does not refer to our spiritual raison d’etre in the Land of Zion. This was why Rabbi Abraham Isaac HaKohen Kook, a leading sage of the early 20th century, wrote an alternative poem entitled Ha'Emunah – The Faith – which he hoped would become the anthem of those returning to Zion. The poem opens with this proclamation: “Eternally there lives in our hearts, the steadfast faith to return to our holy land.” The following stanzas from this poem refer to our spiritual raison d’etre in Zion, and they are in the spirit of the above Passover teachings about freedom:

There we shall serve our God
With joy, happiness and song,
There we shall pilgrimage
Three times each year.

Torah of life is our desire,
Given from heavenly mouth,
Forever it is our heritage,
A gift from the desert.

2. In his book, The Nineteen Letters, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch discusses the universal significance of the Torah and its path of mitzvos, as well as the universal role of the People of Israel. Here is a link to my review of this book.

The Nineteen Letters is published by Feldheim.

3. In his book, Ethics from Sinai, Irving Bunim offers various commentaries on Pirkei Avos, the tractate from the Mishnah which discusses Torah ethics. The above excerpts were from the book’s commentary on the following teaching:

“The only free person is one who engages in Torah study” (6:2).

Ethics from Sinai is published by Feldheim.

Hazon – Our Universal Vision

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Is There One Type of Learning That is Right For Everyone?

In yeshiva, we are often taught that this way or that is "the best way to learn." Whether it is bekius, b'iyun, pipul, it is presented that there is one optimal way of learning that the Talmidim should engage in. In the frum world in general, there is a perception that this or that is "the right way" to do things. many people do not realize that different things are right for different people and that "chanoch l'na'ar al pi darko" applies to not only children, but also to adults, bachurim/bachuros and to adults. I thought that it would be appropriate to translate the 2nd half of "ma'amar 9" in the section of Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh Vol. 5 called "Pirkei Avodah U'Machshava" on Mesilas Yesharim:

Every Individual Has an Individual Derech to Get Close to Kudsha Brich Hu

Now we will explain another mistake... People's nefashos (souls) are not the same as one another. For some, their primary involvement (in learning Torah) is with pilpul. There are others whose main involvement is with bekius, etc. etc. One might ask which one of them is correct? Which one has the true path? The answer is clear. They are all holy, pure and true. But each person learns according to the root (of his neshoma). But it is possible that one will learn not according to his root. In a situation like this, he destroys his world and he is involved in a world that is not his.

It takes a long time to merit to recognize what one's specific portion in Torah is. It requires toil, much effort, and tefillah. A person is obligated to try many paths until he clarifies to himself which is his portion. (Perhaps there are some lofty people who find there path right away...)

Just as it is clear to us that when it comes to learning Torah, there are many paths and a person must clarify to himself which is his individual portion, so too when it comes one's portion in serving Hashem, all souls are not the same. Some should focus more on Ahava and some on Yirah. Some are more inclined to hisbonenus, meditation, and some focus more on breaking their desires, etc. etc. The portion for some is learning Torah without doing anything else. But one should remember that this is only a small portion of people. A person cannot immediately decide which is his portion, and thereby exempt himself from all of the other paths. Each person is obligated to clarify to himself, with an internal, deep and very fundamental clarification, where the root of his soul is and what its portion is.

It is impossible to do this through mere meditation for a few hours. This is something which requires the work of months and sometimes years of experimentation with many paths until the person feels where his nefesh is inclinded. (But one much be extremely careful. Because often, it will appear to a person that his nefesh is inclinded in a certain way, but that in truth, it is nothing but laziness.)

The vast majority of souls are unable to be satisfied with learning Torah alone. Rather, they requires other medications, like learning Musar or Chassidus (in addition to their primary involvement with learning). Each person, according to his root, should pour out his prayers before Hashem Yisborach and shed a river of tears until he merits to clarify his individual portion in this world.

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"Ve'Lerushalayim Ircha:" Awakening Mercy Everlasting - Audio Shiur

Reb Yerachmiel has come through with his second shiur on the topic of berchas "Ve'Lerushalayim Ircha" in Shmoneh Esrei this past Sunday night at the Baltimore Community Kollel.

In this shiur book-ended by beautiful niggunim, Reb Yerachmiel discusses the opening phrase "Ve'Lerushalayim ircha b'rachamim tashuv" and focuses on a yesod from the Vilna Gaon who taught that the magnitude of Rachamei Shamayim that one can awaken from Heaven above, particularly in the context of bringing the Ultimate Geula, is only commensurate with the magnitude of the feelings of loss and brokenness one feels in response to the damage and destruction of Hashem's Holy City, Hashem's Holy House and Hashem's Holy Name.

CLICK HERE to listen to the shiur by either left clikcing to listen right away or right clicking and selecting "Save Target As" to download.

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Monday, March 23, 2009

Three Types of Chiddushim, Novel Ideas - Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh

I think that different people evaluate seforim or speeches, either personally or when speaking to others, according to whether the sefer or drasha that was "novel enough." But people don't differentiate between the different kinds of "chidushim," novel ideas. So I think that, for future reference, it would be helpful for me to translate "ma'amar 3" in the section of Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh Vol. 5 called "Pirkei Avodah U'Machshava" on Mesilas Yesharim, which provides a fundamental explanation of the three different types of "chiddushim" that he identifies:
The Mesilas Yesharim wrotes in the introduction that "I have not written this
sefer to teach people things that they didn't already know..."

It is the nature of man to love new things. As Chazal say, "Old things are harder [to
endure] than new things."

Three Types of Chidushim

However, one must know that there are three types of "chidushim." First, something that is intellectually novel. i.e., the
knowledge of something that one did not know until now (the aspect of

Second, The clarification of something that one already know, but which was, until now, not fully clear and has now become clear to him. [This could be in terms of the organization of his knowledge or in terms the aspect of understanding the depths of something which creates an inner clarity.

Third is something which is novel emotionally. Meaning: There is no new intellectual knowledge and the person doesn't know anything he did not know before. But the person has a new internalization of the idea. His heart is opened up emotionally to feel that which he already knew. Suddenly, the matter becomes illuminated to him with the light of the idea's value. In short, the matter has been transformed from intellectual knowledge to a living part of his heart (the aspect of "Daas"). Meaning, the matter is a "chiddush" in his heart and not his mind.

Now let us return to the words of the Mesilas Yesharim, where he continued "It is possible that the reader will find very little which is intellectually novel to him, after
reading this sefer, that he did not know before reading it."


The primary work of mussar is in the third type that we have written about, which is an emotional chiddush. Observe that the Ramchal was very specific in his choice of words. He wrote "the reader will find very little which is intellectually novel to him." He specified that one will not find very much that is "Intellectually new" to him. But in the depths of his heart, if he fulfills the words of the pasuk "You shall know today and return it to your heart," i.e. that he places every piece of intellectual knowledge into his heart and makes it a part of himself, then in this form of self-work, every single point becomes a "chiddush!" Not an intellectual chiddush, but a chiddush to the
heart! This is the primary purpose of man. That all of his intellectual knowledge should be in his heart in the aspect of "libi ro'ah harbeh Chochma." "My heart has known much wisdom." Specifically the heart.

But it should be known that there is a difference in how one acquires an intellectual chiddush versus how one acquires an emotional chidush. Anyone who is intelligent, and straight-minded, if he devotes enough time, can understand something properly... However, with a chiddush of the heart, it takes much time until the heart feels something. There is no way to make an instant acquisition. It takes a long time!
Therefore, the form of acquisition does not take place all at once, but rather drop by drop...
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Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Athiest Convention in LA - With Moishe Mendlewitz from Shul!

Now Moishe Mendlewitz from Shul is in the full version of the Athiest Convention LA by Journeys. Video by Oorah for their auction.

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Friday, March 20, 2009

Kedushas Levi on Pikudei & Stories- Audio Shiurim

Rabbi Tal Zwecker has been mezakeh us with his weekly Kedushas Levi shiurim from his Shul in Ramat Beit Shemesh!

Kedushas Levi on Parshas Vayakhel-Pikudei
Kedushas Levi Stories Part 9

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Shiur on Parshas Pikudei - Rebbetzin Yehudis Golshevsky

Rebbetzin Yehudis Golshevsky gave a shiur on Parshas Vayakhel-Pikudei. The shiur was given at a "Chessed Bridal Shower" for a Kallah whose Chosson is an orphan and a great-grandson of Rav Binyomin Zilber zt"l. So she speaks about their situation a bit as well. If I can find out donation information later, I will update this post.

You can CLICK HERE to listen to the shiur by either left clicking to listen right away or right clicking and selecting "Save Target As" to download. For Women Only.

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Kol Brisk on Parshas Vayakhel-Pikudei

לעלוי נשמת הגאון הר"ר אהרן בן הר"ר משה הלוי סאלאווייציק זצ"ל

Parashas Vayak'hel-Pikudei

This week's Parasha closes Sefer Sh'mos, Sefer Hageulah, the Book of Redemption. Am Yisrael were redeemed physically from the bondage in Egypt, received the Torah and built the Mishkan, the dwelling place for the Shechinah.

In Parashas Pikudei, we find the conclusion of the process. Moshe Rabbeinu accounts for all the materials donated. Hashem commands Moshe to put everything in its place; this directive is carried out. Finally comes the greatest moment, the culmination of the entire redemption process, found in the last psukkim of the Sefer:

"Va'ychas he'anan es Ohel Mo'ed uchevod Hashem maleh es haMishkan."
And the cloud covered the Ohel Mo'ed, and the Glory of Hashem filled the Mishkan.

The Shechinah now dwelled in the midst of Klal Yisrael.

* * *

Let us examine an important point::

Why were all the materials of the Mishkan counted and weighed? Is there not a rule taught by our sages, "ain habrachah shorah b'davar hasafur vehashakul", blessing does not rest on an object that is counted and weighed??

R' Levi Yitzchak miBarditchev explains the reason why bracha does not rest on counted objects. Counting can chas veshalom bring ayin ra'ah upon the object. Instinctively, when a person gazes upon an person or object, he sizes it up, passes some sort of judgement, negative or positive, or gives it some type of label. Let us call this a relative or comparative value. Any judgment and comparison immediately arouses Heavenly comparison and judgement. Thus, ayin harah. The archetype of the ba'al ayin ra'ah is Bil'am harasha. Bil'am, consumed with jealousy, would bring calamity with his gaze.

By the Mishkan, however, it was Moshe Rabbeinu who did the counting and weighing. Moshe Rabbainu's gaze was very different. When he looked upon anyone or anything or any situation, he would see the G-dliness in that very object. By doing this, he would connect it to its Source and thus bring blessing and abundance upon it.
"Aileh pikudei hamishkan asher pukad AL PI MOSHE"
These are the accounts of the mishkan that were counted by MOSHE'. The reason why there was bracha and Shechina dwelling on what was counted was because it was counted BY MOSHE.
We go about our lives constantly judging and sizing up and counting. Chazal caution us against this instinctive tendency. Our vision and understanding is ultimately limited. When there is misjudgement, there is a danger of negative consequences, which chazal term "Ayin Harah". HaRav Aharon Soloveichik zt"l explains "ayin Harah" in contemporary terminology as "boring a whole in the psyche". When a judgement or relative value is passed concerning a person, this enters the person's subconscious. This negativity latches onto and affects the person's self-image and corrodes his self-confidence. It significantly limits his ability to function.

Rather, the Torah guides us to only judge or count "al pi Moshe". There is an aspect of Moshe Rabbainu in every single Jew (sefer HaTanya). This is the quality of Daas, knowledge-connection. Through this quality, we are able to see through the outer covering of a subject or situation upon which we gaze. It enables us to view the root of the subsistence of the subject. Rather than only attribute a superficial and relative value to the scene, we see that HaKadosh Baruch Hu is its Root and Source. This realization, this awareness, this reaching out to the Absolute value contained in everyone and everything IS WHAT BRINGS BRACHA.

You might say that this sounds like positive reinforcement. It is just that, and much more. When applied for example in chinuch- education, it means broadcasting an unspoken message of tolerance and acceptance of the person. It means communicating respect for the person and belief in their capabilities. It is the silent declaration of a person's absolute value. He possesses a Neshama Elokis. His G-dly soul was sent into this world with its own specialized job. He is equipped with a specialized and unique situation. This is a package deal. It includes personality, talents, tendencies, strengths and weaknesses. It also encompasses family situation and position in the community, all custom-tailored for this unique tafkid. Perhaps it can be said, that when a person senses authentic recognition of his absolute value, this is a fantastic reservoir for motivation.

Practically speaking, this is implemented by not comparing people with one another. Never insult or denigrate people for their weaknesses or mistakes. Never criticize out of anger or impatience or intolerance, but only with love and respect.

Also, let us be open and not stingy with our compliments! Let us give credit where credit is due. It makes people so happy when we take notice and take out the extra moment to express our sincere appreciation and acknowledgement. The stingy and self-absorbed jealous one is Bil'am harasha. Wholly immersed in himself, Bil’am compares everything that comes his way to his own situation and how he can take it and use it for his own glory.

Remember, the more we toil to view and to judge with Da'as, al pi Moshe, be'ayin tovah, the more opportunity we allow for bracha, for Shechinah.

Our relationships blossom and deepen,

and the Divine Presence resides in our midst.

Chazak chazak venischazaik,

A gutten Erev Shabbos
from Yerushalayim Ir HaKodesh

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

New Site, Frequently Updated, on Hisbodedus/Hisbonenus/Solitude

I wanted to (belatedly) announce that A Simple Jew and Rabbi Dovid Sears have started a new blog called "Solitude - Hisbodedus." ASJ and Rabbi Sears frequently update this site with sources and guidance on the practices of hisbonenus and hisbonenus. One maincommon denominator is achieving an inner quiet, and separating from all of the noise of the world.

See, for instance, this post on the Rambam on secluded meditation, according to R' Areye Kaplan...

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Shabbos in Nashville - Jewish Bluegrass Zmiros

Jerry Wicentowski, of Wilwaukee, WI, is a great bluegrass musician. I found about him and his music through Rav Ozer Bergman. As a sample, you can hear clips from two of their songs from Shabbos:

Ki Eshmera Shabbos
L'chu Neranena

I asked Jerry about his background and whether he brought his love of Zmiros into his interest in Bluegrass music, or whether his love for Bluegrass was later joined with a newfound love of Zmiros.

He answered that the processes coincided to a certain extent. Jerry grew up in a traditional home, but one in which he said that there were mixed messages. He said that his father, A"H had great hopes for me in Yiddishkeit but that this wasn't communicated and that his mother came from a more secular background. He attended Crown Heights Yeshiva for grade school and Yeshiva of Flatbush for high school, during which time he rebelled religiously and got interested in Bluegrass music. He said that most of his friends were secular Jews outside of school.

He was re-introduced to Judaism by his good friend R. Yoseph Samuels, a Chabad Shaliach in Milwaukee about 25 years ago. He said that working on the Zemiros allowed him to retain the sound he loved and integrate it with lyrics that elevated the sound.

You can book Jerry Wicentowski's Jewish Bluegrass band, Lucky Break, or just get a promotional package or music sampler by contacting him at(414)273-1880 or jerry@luckybreak.us.

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Rav Ephraim Wachsman Video Shiur on Pesach & Birkas HaChama

A commenter yesterday pointed out a video shiur by Rabbi Ephraim Wachsman that he gave on Pesach last year, where he discussed Pesach, Birkas HaChama, and other inyanei avodah relative to this time of the year. CLICK HERE to watch.

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Family Sues Hospital For Allegedly "Killing" Son For Organ Donation Purposes

Although we may not know the facts of the situation yet, a story has come out which may strengthen the fears of those who oppose organ donation because they suspect that doctors may take organs before halachic death has occurred. There is an impressive list of Rebbeim who advocate "halachic organ donation" through the Halachic Organ Donation Society and it will be interesting to note whether such stories will have any effect on the issue in the frum community.

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Rebbetzin Yehudis Golshevsky - Breslov Chassidus on Pesach - Part 1

Rebetzin Yehudis Golshevsky has shared with us the first shiur in her series on teachings of Breslov Chassidus regarding Pesach. Some of the topics included in this shiur are:

  • The negative force of Pharaoh
  • The nature of chometz
  • The Da'as in matzah.
    • Click on the following links to download. Either left click to listen right away or right click and select "Save Target As" to download. It's in two parts because of an interruption early in the shiur. For women only.

      Part 1
      Part 2

      Picture of burning Chometz in Yerushalayim in 1955 courtesy of
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      V'Lirushalayim Ircha - Reb Yerachmiel's Tefillah Shiur - Starting New Bracha!

      Reb Yerachmiel has been mezakeh us with his latest shiur from the Baltimore Community Kollel Tefillah Chaburah. He's starting a new bracha of Shemonah Esreh so don't miss this first shiur on the topic of berchas "Ve'Lerushalayim Ircha" in Shmoneh Esrei given by Reb Yerachmiel this past Sunday night at the Baltimore Community Kollel.

      New Listeners: Now is a great time to start listening to Reb Yerachmiel's shiurim.

      CLICK HERE to get the shiur by either left clicking to listen right away or right clicking and selecting "Save Target As" to download.

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      Monday, March 16, 2009

      Rabbi Kelemen Live Shiur Next Monday on Chinuch/Parenting

      I received the following e-mail about a live class that you can participate in with Rabbi Lawrence Kelleman next Monday at 1 PM Eastern.
      Dear chaver,

      I'm writing to inform you of a very exciting development in the world of Jewish education in general, and the area of Chinuch in specific. A new web site, ProjectSinai.org, now allows for the opportunity of live, interactive, online learning, without the necessity of any unique hardware or software. All you need is a high speed internet connection and a web browser. There is a wide array of shiurim and events for every level of knowledge and area of interest. Participants are able to interact with the instructor live via web cam or microphone, or via text chat. And best of all, there's no charge!

      As a talmid of Rabbi Kelemen like you, I am thrilled to inform you that Rabbi Kelemen will be hosting a class online via Project Sinai on Chinuch/Education on Monday, March 23, at 1pm EDT. There is no limit to how many people can participate in the class simultaneously, and Rabbi Kelemen, in addition to discussing fundamental issues in education, will also be available to answer as many questions as possible during his time online.

      To participate in this incredible opportunity, and to see the many other offerings available on Project Sinai, go to the home page at http://www.projectsinai.org and enjoy. If you'd like to go directly to Rabbi Kelemen's shiuir, just click here.

      You will need to register with Project Sinai to participate, and then you can sign up for the class at any time. The system will automatically send you a reminder as the day of the class draws closer.

      Again, there is no limit to the number of people that can participate in this event. Please distribute this note to the members of the va'ad and anyone else you feel might be interested.

      B'birkas kol tuv,
      Yehoshua Kohl
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      The Story of How the Kedushas Levi Became Rav of Berditchev- Pre Pesach

      (By Rabbi Tal Zwecker, as heard today from my Rebbe, the Clevelander Rebbe Shlit"a of Ra'anana, Israel)

      When the Rav Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev became the Rav of Berditchev he was
      approached by Chaim and Baruch for a Din Torah. Baruch claims that Chaim
      owes him a thousand coins and Chaim denies the loan. The Rav heard both
      sides of the argument and ruled that Chaim must in fact pay Baruch, which he
      promptly did and the litigants left.

      The next day Chaim approached the Rav Levi Yitzchak with a question. "Rebbe I
      accept your judgment and your decision. However although I understand that
      the judgement is based on the Torah, how could a true judgement
      based on Torah be untrue? Because Rebbe, I know that I truly am innocent! I do
      not owe Baruch any money at all!" "That is a good question" answered Rav Levi
      Yitzchak. "Give me please three days to give you an answer."

      The Holy Berditchiver fasted and prayed that they should answer him from
      heaven. Whereupon it was then revealed to him that in fact Chaim's grandfather
      had once borrowed the exact sum from baruch's grandfather and failed to pay
      back the loan!

      When three days had passed and Chaim re-entered the Rebbe's study, the
      Berditchever explained to him how the debt had occured. In the heavenly
      court it was ruled that you must pay off your grandfather's debt and return
      the money owed to the grandson of your grandfather's lender. The sign that
      what I am telling you is in fact true is that if you go home and look at
      your volume of Shulchan Aruch which you inherited from your grandfather, in
      such and such a place you will find the missing note that proves the loan.
      Chaim went home, opened the Shulchan Aruch and as the Rebbe predicted there
      was the document.

      Afterwards the Rebbe called in the leaders of the community and announced to
      them that he wished to relinquish his newly acquired post as Rabbi of
      Berditchev. The Rebbe explained that a town in which the cases brought
      before him, required him to fast for three days in order to get heavenly aid
      in order to decide matters of law was too much for him to handle. The
      leaders of Berditchev answered that while they understood, it was unfair to
      leave them just like that on the spot without a replacement. Perhaps the Rav
      would kindly wait until they found a suitable replacement? The rebbe agreed.

      Meanwhile Pesach came, and the custom was that after the prayers in shul the
      poor guests who had lodgings or meals were divided up among the men of
      means in the community. One such householder who had a guest assigned to
      him, hurried home and forget about his guest. When he arrived, his wife
      begain to ask him where their guest for the seder was? The householder
      quickly realized his mistake and hurried back only to find the shul cold,
      dark and empty. Upset but without any other choice he returned home and
      explained to his sad wife that they were to conduct the seder that year
      without any guests.

      The next morning after services he spotted his would be guest and the
      householder approached the poor man. "Where were you last night, I came to
      the shul looking for you?" he asked. "Why when I saw myself alone and
      without knowing anyone I didn't know what to do." "So why didn't you stay,"
      the householder asked. "Well," continued the poor man "as I said I didn't know
      anyone but its Pesach and I needed a place to stay and eat, I didn't want to
      stay here by myself in shul so I left and found a place with another
      householder," he answered pointing at a different person.

      The first householder approached his fellow and began berating him for
      stealing his Pesach seder guest. "You left him and didnt take him, so I took
      him fair and square," was the second man's retort. Soon their discussion had
      blown into a full fledged argument. After YomTov they took their argument to
      the Rav. The Berditchever heard both sides and ruled that the "thief" who
      stole the guest from his fellow householder had to repay him a sum of money
      for his loss.

      Afterwards the the Rebbe called in the leaders of the community and
      announced to them that he wished to stay on as the Rav of the community.
      "Any community whose householder fight like that over the precious mitzvah
      of Hachnasa Orchim and Guests is a place where I wish to serve as the Rabbi."

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      Sunday, March 15, 2009

      Kedushas Levi on Ki Sisi & Shabbos Stories - Audio Shiur

      Rabbi Tal Zwecker has been mezakeh us with a shiur on the Kedushas Levi, Parshas Ki Sisa, Machtzis Hashekel and Shabbos stories. Unfortunately, I didn't get this shiur close enough to Shabbos to post it before Shabbos. Have a good week!

      CLICK HERE to listen to the (43 mb mp3) shiur by either left clicking to listen now or right clicking and selecting "Save Target As" to download.

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      Friday, March 13, 2009

      Wow, Moishe Mendlewitz from my Shul is in Oorah's DVD video promoting their auction, the Shmorg!

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      Why Does Purim Precede Parshas Para?

      Why is it that Purim preceeds Parshas Para this year? Perhaps one reason is that Parshas Para speaks about the Para Aduma, the mitzvah of the Red Heiffer, the paradigmatic "chok," mitzvah whose reasons remain a mystery to us. One can only fully embrace this mitzvah if one is prepared to let go of his own da'as, likfotz me'al hasechel, if he can trust Hashem and let go of his own need to intellectually understand everything.

      That's why it has to be preceeded by Purim, where one mitzvas hayom, one mitzvah of the day is to reach a level of "lo yada bein arur haman l'baruch Mordechai," to a level where knowledge of the truths of this world are left behind. Only on that level, where one has abandoned the illusion that we can understand everything in the universe, can he embrase the mitzvah of Para Aduma, the decree whose reason is beyond our understanding.

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      Thursday, March 12, 2009

      The Emergence of Shevet Levi - Guest Post by Kol Brisk

      לעלוי נשמת הגאון הר"ר אהרן בן הר"ר משה הלוי סאלאווייציק זצ"ל

      כי תשא

      ויעמד משה בשער המחנה ויאמר מי לה' אלי, ויאספו אליו כל בני לוי.
      רש"י: כל בני לוי - מכאן שכל השבט כשר.

      In this week's parsha, we learn about the great tragedy of the chet ha'egel. Am Yisrael miscalculated the time of the pending return of Moshe Rabbeinu. They were goaded on by a frightening spectre of Moshe Rabbeinu deceased, contrived by the Satan. In a short moment of acute panic and frenzy, they veered recklessly off the special and chosen course paved for them by Hakadosh Baruch Hu. סרו מהר מו הדרך אשר צויתם.


      Moshe Rabbeinu descended the mountain and called out,

      מי לה' אלי!

      All of shevet Levi immediately mobilized to his side. They courageously armed themselves and carried out justice, killing off all the idol-worshippers, regardless of who the sinners were and how they were related to them. Shevet Levi thus saved Am Yisrael from annihilation.

      Where was everyone else? If we examine the psukim, it is apparent that only a small fraction of the people actually had sinned. Only three thousand men, out of a nation that numbered over half a million men, were killed off. Why did no one except for Shevet Levi come forward and respond??

      In order to answer this question, and the question of what is leadership in the larger sense, we must look back.

      Levi's course was not a smooth one. He had been strongly reprimanded by his father Yaakov Avinu on his deathbed. Yaakov rebuked him for selling his brother Yosef and for the impulsive way he handled the Shechem scandal. While Yaakov Avinu did not address Levi's motivation, he certainly severely renounced the means of implementation. The the direction of Levi's passionate headstrong nature was yet unclear.

      However, in Mitzrayim, Levi emerged.

      Instead of intermingling with the society, in cultural exchange, Shevet Levi spent their time immersed in Torah study and Avodas Hashem. When Pharoh approached the Jewish people with his sweet talk, cajoling them into slave labor, Shevet Levi was immune to the overtures. They had no interest in pandering to Pharoh. They were immersed in a world far away from status and position and careers and money-making. By resisting enrollment in Pharoh's public work forces, they gave up their rights to food allowances. They survived Galus Mitzrayim without perishing of hunger only through the generosity of their fellow-Jews. Am Yisrael understood how important it was that one part of the nation remain completely devoted to Avodas Hashem, untouched by the whole Egyptian scene.

      מי לה' אלי!

      The Netziv explains Moshe Rabbainu's question: Who can vouch for themselves that they are consumed with and motivated only by אהבת ה' and not by some self-serving ulterior motive. Who is ready to undertake a most precarious task, while being greatly outnumbered, to fearlessly uproot the spiritually infected from their midst?

      Only pure love could have empowered Shevet Levi. Only a great and passionate, unadulterated love for Hashem and His People could have given Shevet Levi the koach to stand up to their closest family members and fearlessly defy their most basic instincts, in order to protect the eternity of Klal Yisrael. This love for Hashem had been tended throughout the long difficult years in Mitzrayim by an on-going quest and commitment to study His Torah and to emulate His Ways.

      Indeed, Levi = Love.

      It would not be a surprise to discover that the word "love" is rooted in the name Levi. Leah Imeinu exclaimed upon the birth of her third son, "Hapaam yiloveh ishi aili."

      But as we see with Shevet Levi, this deep intense love is not there by itself. Its is a result of an ongoing process of commitment and investment.

      This is what stands up for our people in face of chaos, panic and breakdown.

      A gutten Shabbos from Yerushalayim Ir HaKodesh.

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      Wednesday, March 11, 2009

      Da Es Beisecha - Building a Jewish Home - By Bilvavi Author

      By the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh seforim, Da Es Beisecha is now available.

      HT A Simple Jew.Click here to get Dixie Yid in your e-mail Inbox or here to subscribe in Google Reader.

      Learning Torah From Angels - 1st Hand Accounts - Ramchal & Beis Yosef

      R' Micha Berger shared the following very interesting quotes about the Torah that the Beis Yosef, the author of the Shulchan Aruch, and Rav Moshe Chaim Luzzato, the Ramchal, learned from Melachim, angels. This was originally shared on an earlier post sharing a shiur by Rav Aharon Kahn from YU.
      When R Yosef Caro (Maran Bet Yosef / author of the Shulchan Arukh) was visited by the angelic embodiment of the Mishnah (the Beis Yoseif's description), he recorded what he was taught in Magid Meisharim.

      Second, here are a few lines of description of the Ramchal's experience from his letter R' Binyamin haKohen (whose son-in-law, R' Yeshayah Bassan was the Ramchal's rebbe), as translated by R' Yaakov Feldman:

      "On the first of Sivan in the year 5487 (1727), as I was reciting a certain Yichud, I fell into a trance. When I awoke, I heard a voice saying: 'I have descended in order to reveal the hidden secrets of the Holy King'. For a while I stood there trembling, but I soon took hold of myself. The voice kept on speaking and revealed a particular secret to me.

      "At the same time on the second day I made sure to be alone in the room, and the voice reappeared to reveal another secret to me. One day he revealed to me that he was a Maggid sent from Heaven and he gave me certain Yichuddim that I was to recite in order for him to appear again.

      "I never saw him but I did hear his voice as it spoke though my own mouth. He then allowed me to ask him questions. After about 3 months he revealed to me the Yichuddim I would have to recite to be worthy of having Elijah reveal himself to me. He then charged me to compose a work on Ecclesiastes on the basis of the mystical meaning of its verses that he had revealed to me, and Elijah came and imparted his own secrets to me. (The Maggid) said that Metatron, the great prince, would be coming to me and that I would know that it is he because of what Elijah had said. From then on I came to recognize each of my visitors. Souls whose identity I know are also revealed to me. Each day I write down the new ideas each of them imparts to me. All these things happen while I lie prostrate, with my face to the ground, and I see the holy souls in human form as in a dream."
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      Tuesday, March 10, 2009

      Rav Shlomo Carlebach Teachings on Purim

      A commenter on this post shared this video. He teaches many beautiful things about Purim, and how we see from each part of the story how the Ribono Shel Olam takes care of us and pays back our enemies for exactly what they did to us. Ah Freilichen Purim!

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      Learn a Letter of Torah a Day for 834 Years With the OU!!!

      If the video doesn't display, try downloading the Adobe Flash Player.
      Above, R' Weintraub at the OU introduces the OU's new Os Yomis program. It's a schedule of studying the Torah one letter at a time so that in only 834 years, a person can finish the whole Torah. They have schedules to keep track of where you are up to and everything. Below, watch the first shiur in this new limud!

      HT ASJ & Reb Yerachmiel. Click here to get Dixie Yid in your e-mail Inbox or here to subscribe in Google Reader.

      The Connection Between Mordechai Ha'Tzaddik and Berchos "Al Ha'Tzaddikim" and "Ve'Lerushlayim Ircha" in Shmoneh Esrei

      Reb Yerachmiel is here with his Purim shiur for the Baltimore Community Kollel Tefillah Chaburah. In it, he discusses the Connection between Mordechai Ha'Tzaddik and berchos "Al Ha'Tzaddikim" and "Ve'Lerushlayim Ircha" in Shmoneh Esrei.

      CLICK HERE to listen to the shiur by either left clicking to download right away or right clicking and selecting "Save Target As" to download. Ah freilichen Purim!

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      Monday, March 9, 2009

      3 Shiurim on Purim by Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh Author

      With thanks to Tuvia for pointing out these shiurim, listen to these in preperation for and on Purim for a completely different Purim!

      Go to THIS PAGE at Bilvavi.net and scroll down to the 4th shiur from the bottom, and the two shiurim above that. You won't regret it!

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      Breslov Torah on Purim - Part III - For Women - Rebb. Yehudis Golshevsky

      Rebbetzin Yehudis Golshevsky has been good enough to share Part III in her series of shiurim for women, on the teachings of Breslov Chassidus on Purim. This time, the shiur is in two parts, but the same methods apply. Left click on the links to listen right away and right click and select "Save Target As" to download. Ah freilichen Purim!!!

      Part 1
      Part 2

      Update 3/9/09 9:35 PM Freilichen Purim Night: The links should be fixed now. Sorry for the inconvenience!

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      A Temple Full of Blood - Torah Portion: Vayikra - R' Boroch Leff

      B'nogeah to our recent conversation on whether the true "I" is the body or the soul, I wanted to share the following selection from Rabbi Boroch Leff's book, "Forever His Students," of teachings of Rav Yaakov Weinberg.
      For many weeks now, we have been reading in Sefer Shemos of the Tabernacle's construction. And what a beautiful Tabernacle it was! We have studied its majestic beauty and wondrous architecture in great detail.

      Yet, much to our surprise and initial dismay, we learn this week as we begin Sefer VaYikra, that the main function of this Tabernacle was to spill blood and to sacrifice animals. Our modern minds have great difficulty with this seeming primitive practice. How are we to relate to blood and sacrifices without dismissing it as archaic? After all, it is quite a significant portion of G-d's Torah, His Instructions for Living. And we can't simply write it off as something that is no longer relevant to us because all of Torah is eternal. So, what's behind the emphasis on blood?

      In addition to the Torah's general fascination with the blood of the sacrifices in this week's Torah portion, we also see its central importance to a close relationship with G-d. The very first Rashi comments on "VaYikra -- And He called":

      "Calling (Moshe by name) preceded every statement or command (that G-d said to Moshe). The use of 'vayikra-calling' shows affection."

      The obvious question is: If indeed G-d called Moshe by name every time He spoke to him throughout the Torah, why is it only mentioned in the beginning of VaYikra?

      The compelling answer must be that whatever is about to be discussed in VaYikra is most appropriate for this concept of affection. That is why calling Moshe by name, a sign of endearment, is only discussed here because somehow the subject of blood and sacrifices is most endearing to G-d.

      So we must not only explain why the Torah is preoccupied with blood, but also why the service of blood is most endearing to G-d. This will also elucidate an age-old custom[1] to begin a child's Torah education with VaYikra. Somehow we sense that the concept of sacrifices and blood is such an integral a part of Judaism that we build the foundation of our children's education upon it. Why[2]?

      The answer is all about having a realistic view of who we are as human beings.

      Some religions and spiritual philosophies preach that in order to become holy you must transcend the physical world. The human body with its base desires is just a distraction from pure and intelligent, sophisticated growth. Therefore, it is not important to involve oneself in regulating physical activity. Rather, you should expend effort honing your thoughts, emotions, and feelings. Deal with the mind and not with the body.

      These philosophies poke fun at the Torah with its emphasis on the minutia of what foods you can and can't eat, and when you can or can't turn on lights(on Shabbos), etc. They say that the Torah is a "kitchen religion" and not appropriate for an educated, moral individual.

      History has shown, however, that such an "intellect-only" approach does not produce morality. In fact, by repressing the body and disallowing the body to become sanctified through spiritual regulation, those who claim to be moral can end up performing ultimate evil.

      Ian Kershaw's book, "Hitler 1889-1936 Hubris" describes how much Hitler, may his memory be erased, loved the symphonies of Wagner as a spiritual, sophisticated and cultured person. Kershaw also shows a picture of Hitler carefully feeding deer as a moral and concerned animal lover. Yet, this so-called moral sophisticate perpetrated genocide of mammoth proportions.

      This is what the blood in the Temple represents. We could be under the impression that when coming close to G-d in His Temple we should only think lofty, spiritual, and other-worldly thoughts while ignoring the physical body. Therefore, the Torah deals with blood.

      We must recognize that the blood, the life force of the physical body, must also be used as part of one's spirituality. The soul is not trapped in the evil body. We don't castigate the body or its drives. The Torah tells us that the body is a necessary component in coming close to G-d and gives us directives, through the commandments, as to how to utilize the body's spirituality.

      G-d does not say that we should never engage in sexual activity. Rather, He informs us of the holy and proper basis of such activity called marriage. (The very word for marriage, kiddushin, means holiness.) G-d does not tell us that we can never indulge in eating meat, that we must be a vegetarian in order to be holy, as some philosophies do. Rather, He regulates our "meat intake" with the types of meat we should eat- and so on and so forth for all of Torah. We do not run away from our bodies. We sanctify them.

      These ideas also explain why we believe in the reward of the resurrection of the soul with the body, to take place at the end of days. After death, the soul ascends heavenward while the body is buried in earth. At the end of time, we believe that body and soul will be reunited to receive eternal reward. This clearly demonstrates that we value the body as part of our spirituality. G-d wouldn't send the soul to return to prison in the body as an eternal reward, if the body was viewed negatively!

      As the Talmud (Sanhedrin 91b) describes, the relationship of body and soul can be compared to a relationship between a blind man and a lame man who are partners in crime.. An orchard owner hired them to watch his orchard but forbade then from eating any fruit. Shortly thereafter, the watchmen couldn't resist. The blind man put the lame man on his shoulders and together they were able to take some fruit. The owner returned furious that they had taken his fruit.

      The blind man said, "It couldn't have been me. I can't see!"

      The lame man said, "It couldn't have been me. I can't walk!"

      Whereupon the smart orchard owner placed the lame man on the blind man's shoulders and punished them together.

      A soul cannot sin alone. A body cannot be kind alone. Reward and punishment can only apply to an entity that is the entire person, the body and soul together. Only the body and soul united has free will and is an image of G-d.

      We ignore the spirituality of the body at our own peril. If we repress the body and not actualize its holiness, we may distort what true morality is and end up like other so-called "holy," cultured men.

      So our focus on blood in VaYikra is not savage or primitive. It's simply the way to get in touch with who we truly are as physical, holy, bodily human beings.


      [1] See Klei Yakar (1:1) who connects this custom to why there is a small letter aleph in the word ‘vayikra’.

      [2] It is important to point out that whenever we attempt to offer a "reason" for a commandment, we are never actually giving the reason. Since G-d is infinite, He has infinite reasons for His commandments. Rather, offering reasons for commandments is merely a method through which we can derive practical benefits from the mitzvah. The Hebrew word for reason is "ta'am" which also means taste. We get a "taste" for the mitzvah by offering reasons, realizing at the same time that our reasons are not reasons in the true sense of the word. A commandment from G-d is applicable at all times and for all generations. Therefore if a "reason" offered for a mitzvah no longer applies, the mitzvah applies nonetheless due to G-d's infinite reasons for observing it, which will always apply.
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