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The Somewhat Litvshe Yid

Friday, June 24, 2005

These are times that try men's spirits.

I just spent the last couple hours writing up my weekly Parsha post. This included a bit about my feeling towards Eretz Yisroel and how I find it a bit upsetting that all Torah Jews don't feel the same way. It took a lot of effort and time. And blogger ate up. Gone.
I have now been given an opportunity to work on my middos. Just in time too. I'm of the opinion that the best way to teach your children good middos is to work on those traits yourself.
My eldest son got a reward in Talmud Torah today. He was one of 4 children in his class to go to school every day of Chol HaMoed Pesach. He got a new basketball and was very happy with it. An hour ago he went up to his room to read and left the ball downstair. Of course one of his younger brothers picked it up and started playing with it. He took it outside and it got a puncture. Needless to say my oldest was somewhat upset. But just as I managed to keep myself in check and not get angry that my work was lost in a moment, so too my son stopped, took stock and laughed it off. We managed to fix the puncture, find an appropriate place for the ball out reach of younger siblings and let it be known that taking the ball without permission is not allowed.
Every middah that we do not fix in ourselves is one that our children will have to fix. Therefore it behooves us to work on ourselves, not only for our own sake, but for the sake of our children.

If I have time I will try to reconstruct the Parshas Shalach post, but Shabbos is approaching and there is still things that need to be prepared. So, if I don't get around to it, Gut Sabbos to all.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Book 'em Dano.

Well, it's Book Week here in Israel. So I went and got some books. Here's the list of my שלל רב:

Even HaEzel - R' Isser Zalman Meltzer
Har Tzvi - R' Tzvi Pesach Frank (Chiddushim, not Shut)
Chidushei HaRav Zelig Reuven Bengis
Cheshbona Shel Mitzvah - The Aderet (R' Eliyah David Rabinowitz Teumim) on the Sefer HaChinuch
(yes...it was Yerushalmi geonim week...)

I also picked up R' Moshe Tzuriel's latest -
Otzeros HaMussar and Niflaim Ma'asecha.

I have a lot of learning to do...

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Da'as Torah...shocking

It seems Reb Chaim wasn't a big fan of Da'as Torah either. He had a great mashal...
Da'as Torah is like electricity. Before electricity people used kerosene to light their houses. When one person ran out, he went to his neighbor or the Beis HaMedrash and kept learning. Now with electricity, if there's a power outage, no one has any.
That is to say, when every one had their own Rav and a mistake was made, then it only effected a few people, but with Da'as Torah, one mistake and everyone's in the dark.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Rav Kook and the Briskers

I mentioned a bit earlier a how I was a somewhat peeved about how Rav Kook is portrayed in certain right-wing circles. One of the commenters pointed out the comments over on this post on Hirhurim. I must say, I was shocked.

Anyway...this comment showed up in the list:
In any case, here's today's Rav Kook quote/story from a Brisker heard from RAY Soloveitchik.
"RE Wasserman asked RC Soloveitchik how is it that Rav Kook (who he knew) could go so far off the derech when everyone knows that he Davens with such Kavana & fasts most of the week! RCS answered him "Dayge Nisht, Der Chabadske Apikoyrus is a Baal Gayve, Un Er Est Gants Gut!"

I was...to put it mildly...shocked, as well as a bit incredulous. So, I figured I'd do a bit of research. There is a book called Iggros L'Rayah (איגרות לראי"ה) which is a collection of letters to Rav Kook that were found in his possesions after he passed away. There are letters from R' Chaim, R' Velvel, R' Shimon Shkop, R' Yerucham, The Chafetz Chaim, as well as the Rabbonim in Israel such as R' Isser Zalman, R' Moshe Mordechai Epstein and many others. Just so the people who declare things are fake just because they don't agree with them, facsimiles of some of the letters are also included in the sefer.

I'm going to make an assumption here. If R' Chaim had a problem with R' Kook, I don't think he'd refer to him in such glowing terms, nor write to him to request help for someone.
Letter 35 - Dated תרס"ח
כבוד הרה הגאון המפורסם, סוע"ה, צדיק בדרכיו, כק"ש מו"ה אברהם יצחק הכהן קוק שליט"א, אב"ד דק"ק יפו יצ"ו
Letter written in conjuction with the Chafetz Chaim.

Letter 45 dated תרס"ט
ברכה מרובה לכבוד הרב הגאון המפורסם, מ' ר' אברהם יצחק הכהן נ"י קוק הגאבד"ק יפו תובב"א, וכ"ט לכ"ג הרמה שי
The body of the letter also includes more comments of respect for R' Kook.

I'm also working under the assumption that if R' Chaim had any animosity towards R' Kook, R' Velvel would be aware of it and would also not be to positively inclined towards R' Kook.

There are 5 letters from R' Velvel (some reproduced in facsimile). In one he says:
ואחתום בברכת כל טוב להדר"ג הרמה, הנני מוקירו ומכבדו
This from תרצ"ה which, if I'm not mistaken is the year R' Kook was niftar. So, it can't be that R' Velvel changed his mind. R' Velvel actually finishes of several letters to R' Kook in the same vein. Some more so then this, by the way.

So, since there is an actual paper trail that the Soleveitchiks respected Rav Kook and held he was at the very least a kosher yid, if not a gaon adir and tzaddik, so I'd have to go with that.

This doesn't include the letters where R' Avraham Dov Ber Kahana Shapira (Rav of Kovno) refers to Rav Kook as ידיד ד' ידיד כל בני ישראל וידיד נפשי. Or where the Sridei Aish, in a matter of p'sak, where he already got an opinion backing up his stance from R' Chaim Ozer, says what ever R' Kook holds, he'll accept as the final word.
Etc. Etc.
Also not mentioned is how the various Chassidic Rebbes held of him. R' Shaul Yedidyah Taub of Modjitz, The Imrei Emes, R' Menachum Nachum Twersky of Rachmestroika/Chernobyl and on and on.

So, please. There were a few hot headed youths in Jerusalem who put up signs against Rav Kook with forged signatures* of R' Zonnenfeld and R' Diskin (both of whom had great love and respect for R' Kook). It spiraled from there. I stand by my statement, that with perhaps the exception of certain Hungarishe Rebbes, who called everyone else Apikorsim as well, Rav Kook was roundly loved and respected by ever Gadol B'Torah in his generation.

*Yes, forged signatures. Why am I claiming this after I went out at some lengths to naysay people who make such claims about the Tzionim? I'm not making the claim. Take a look in Malki B'Kodesh Chelek Dalet, Chilufai Michtavim. There is a letter from R' Tzvi Pesach Frank to the author, his mechutan, where he(RTPF) states categorically that R' Zonnenfeld and R' Diskin's signatures were used without their permission and they didn't hold of what was written in the various signs against R' Kook.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Parshas Behalos'cha

The Gemara in Shabbos (115b-116a) brings down a machlokes about the p'sukim of ויהי בנוסוע הארון and their strange placement, with the backwards nuns and all. According to Rebbe the structure shows that there are actual seven books in the Torah and that these two p'sukim are a book in and of themselves, seperating between two other books. That is to say, Sefer Bamidbar is actually 3 s'forim. This all being based on a pasuk in Mishlei(9:1). R' Shimon Ben Gamilel says that in the future this portion will be removed and returned to its rightful place. Then why is it here? To seperate between the first and second punishments(פורענות).
The Gemara then asks what these punishments are. In our version of the Gemara it starts with the second Puranus and then the first. Which struck me as somewhat strange, but Rabbeinu Chananel has it the other way around, first first, second second. This way also appears in the Munich manuscript of the talmud. So I'm going to stick with that version and not ask on the switch up in order.
In any event, the Gemara explains what the first and second punishments were. The first: And they traveled from Har HaShem a distance of three days (ויסעו מהר ד' דרך שלושת ימים). R' Chama b' R' Chanina explains that they ran from before HaShem ('שסרו מפני ד) The second: The people began to complain (ויהי העם כמתאוננים).
In any event, a couple questions jumped out at me from the text. The most obvious being the use of the word punishments(פורענות). What are the punishments here? These are aveiros, not punishiments. The second, granted, in the case of the complaining, there is a punishment -- the fire that consumed the edge of the camp. But in the first case, there doesn't seem to be an actual punishment. I saw both these questions asked in Chasam Sofer on the Gemara and he adds another one. Why use these specific p'sukim to seperate? In any event, Baruch Sh'kevanti l'da'as g'dolim.
He answers based on how Tosefos explains R' Chama b' R' Chanina. The fact that they ran from Har Sinai was a form of throwing of the Yoke of Torah. (Tosefos brings the Midrash that B'nei Yisrael were like children running from the schoolhouse to escape learning). He goes on to explain two types of punishment. There are sins that engender a specific punishment in the future and there are sins which the sin itself is the punishment. This is the case here. The removal of the Yoke of Torah is itself true Bitul Torah, that in and of itself is a punishment. As the mishneh in Avos says one who removes the Yoke of Torah is burdened with other yokes. This answer then paves the way to answer the other questions.
The first being that the two punishments are clear. The first is the Bitul Torah itself. The second, with the removal of the Yoke of Torah, the Yoke of Desire (תאוה) takes its place and because of that desire the people complained.
When Moshe saw that the people had shed the Yoke of Torah he saw that the Yoke of Nations (מלכויות) would fall upon them and that they would be come servents to another ruler. He then inserted the p'sukim of Arise HaShem and disperse your enemies(קומה ד' ויפוצו אויבר) which averted this.

I will add in another thought that came to mind when I looked at the Gemara. The Maharsha mentions that the nation began complaining when they were three days from Har Sinai. He says that three days without Torah is what caused them to stumble. This, in my view, is a second reason for Moshe insituting the reading of the Torah on Mondays, Thursdays, and Shabbos. Since then there never comes to pass three days without Torah.

Gut Sabbos!

Friday, June 10, 2005

Another joke...

Top Ten Signs Your Lubavitcher Teen Is In Trouble.
10. Sometimes gets out of bed on shabbos before 9 a.m.
9. In his sock drawer, you find pictures of women without sheitels or snoods.
8. Shows up at farbrangens in full "KISS" makeup.
7. When you criticize him, he yells, "Thou sucketh."
6. His name is Menachem Mendel, but he goes by "M Square Daddy"
5. Defiantly says, "If I had a radio, I'd listen to rap."
4. You come upon his secret stash of colored socks.
3. Uses slang expression, "Talk to the hand, 'cause the beard ain't listening."
2. Was recently pulled over for driving under the influence of cottage cheese -- OU, but not cholov yisroel.
1. He's wearing his black hat backwards.

Not that any Lubavitchers read this website...

Parshas Naso

On the topic of Birkas Cohanim, the gemara in Brachos records a conversation between The Aibishter and the Malachim. Brachos 20b
So expounded Rav Avira, occasionally it was said in the name of Rav Ami and other tmes it was said in the name of Rav Asi.

The Ministering Angels said before The Holy One, Blessed Be He: "Master of the Universe, it is written in your Torah ' He (HaShem) does not give special consideration (לא ישא פנים) or take bribes'(D'varim 10:17). But, do you not give special consideration (נושא פנים) to Israel? As it is written 'May G-d direct His providence(ישא ד' פניו) toward you'(Bamidbar 6:26)."
He said to them: "And how can I not give Israel special consideration (וכי לא אשא פנים לישראל)? I wrote for them in My Torah 'When you eat and are satisfied, you must therefore bless G-d your Lord'(D'varim 8:10), and they are exacting upon themselves (מדקדקים על עצמם) to the measure of an olive (כזית) and of an egg(כביצה).

The Gr"A is perplexed by this gemara and asks several questions.
1. Why start with the smaller shi'ur of k'zayis, as that is more exacting then the shi'ur of k'beitzah.
2. This is a statement of HaShem, for whom there is no doubtful case. (This based on the arguement between R' Meir and R' Yehuda at what point you become obligated in Birkas HaMazon (Brachos 45a, brought down in the Rashi on 20b))
3. Why did HaShem answer with this specific chumra, there are a myriad of other cases where B'nei Yisrael are stringent upon themselves, like טפת דם כחרדל.

He explains it all as follows:
According to the Rif (Eruvin 82b) the size of two full meals is 18 dates (גרוגרות) which is 6 beitzim. It is brought down in the Zohar that 3 beitzim is the equivelent of 10 zeisim which is 9 grogoros, that is to say a zayis is 1/10th less then a grogeres. Therefore it makes sense, a meal is 3 beitzim, which is 10 zeisim and this obligates him to bentsch D'oraissa if he eats this amount by himself. But Am Yisrael searched out how to uplift and increase their blessings to HaShem using the same amount of food. Therefore when one has 10 zeisim he can split it 10 ways and each person, having eaten a k'zayis, would be obligated m'd'rabanan to bentsch. If he can't find 10 then it enough to split it 3 ways, because then he would have a zimun, and each would have a k'beitzah.
And now the p'sukim in the gemara are no longer contradictory. When Yisrael apply themselves to Torah (נושאים פנים לתורה) and are exacting in it, so too will I give them special consideration (נושא להם פנים). And when they don't apply themselves in such a fashion, as said in Malachi(2:9) : Since you have not kept my ways, but have been partial in the ways of the Torah (אשר אינכם שומרים את דרכי ונושאים פנים לתורה).
And this explains the pasuk in Mishlei(22:9), He that has a generous eye shall be blessed, as he gives of his bread to the poor(טוב עין מבורך, כי נתן מלחמו לדל). When he gets others together for his meal so that they can bentsch with a minyan or make a zimun with three and turns himself to Torah (נושא פניו לתורה) and so shall Hashem give him special consideration(ישא ד' פניו).

Based on the Pirush HaGr"A L'Sefer Mishlei

Gut Sabbos.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

And what do you think...

Wonder what FrumTeens would say about this.

I can just imagine the apoplexy.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Ha ha, very funny.

Ok, before getting back to learnen, I figured I'd post a nice lomdishe joke.

There was a couple, the husband learned and the wife ran a small store. Everyday a little bit afternoon the husband would come to the store and watch the place so the wife could go home for lunch. She would come back an hour later and he would return to the beis medrash. So, one day he's deep in a sugyia when he realizes what time it is, runs to the store arriving a few minutes late. His wife gives him a look and goes off to get lunch. He's sitting there in the quiet store still going through the gemara and rishonim and suddenly he understands the sugyia, jumps up and runs back to the beis medrash to double check the sources and tell his chevrusa.
The unsuspecting wife comes back from lunch and finds the store open and unlocked and her husband nowhere to be found. Needless to say, she is less then pleased. She locks the door and runs to the beis medrash, stopping to pick up a stick on her way.
When she arrives at the beis medrash, she lays into her husband, wailing away at him with the club and yelling how horrid he is, doesn't think, almost caused them to lose everything. The man is in shock, trying to fend of the blows raining down on his head. Finally the two are seperated and brought before the Rov of the town.
The wife goes into the story about how she came back and the door was left open and how theives could have come and taken everything from the store. The husband responds that he was quietly learning and along came the wife and began to beat him with the stick.
The Rov sat there for a moment and then shook his head. Then he said, "this is the first time I've ever heard the woman claim, pesach pasuach matsasi and the man claimed mukas aitz ani."


Sunday, June 05, 2005


Ok. I'm a bit annoyed. Why am I annoyed? Because people don't know Jewish history. Poltical correctness has engulfed the Yeshivish world. Not that this is anything new, but every time I run up against it I get annoyed. Anyway, I've made some comments over on this post by Rav Gil Student. I'm just amazed how people have now clue about what went on in Israel in the years Rav Kook was here. Everyone accepted him as the final word, as the greatest lamdan in the Yishuv. Whether or not they agreed with his approach to the non-religious and Zionism. How Rav Zonnenfeld respected Rav Kook. Rav Isser Zalman? Rav Zvi Pesach Frank? His father-in-law, the Aderet, Rav of Mir, Rav l'kol Kehilos Ashkenaz b'Ir HaKodesh, head of the kollel prushim? Every emminent gaon and talmid chacham in Israel held of Rav Kook's genius, that he was a tzaddik and that every thing he did was l'shem Shamayim. Just look how the famous tzaddik, Rav Aryeh Levin, was m'shamesh him.

I'll end this with a quick story. Rav Shlomo Zalman Aurbach was chevrusas with R' Aryeh's son, R' Refael. As one would expect they were great masmidim and would spend endless hours learning, but as happens to young men, occasionally their dedication lagged. R' Shlomo Zalman once related how they would go about getting back into it. They would walk over to Rav Kook's house and peek through the key hole into the room where he was learning and watch for a moment or two. That was enough to bring them back to the spiritual level they needed to return to their shteigen.

Please, I'm not asking for an open debate on Zionism here. While I certainly have an opinion on this, this isn't the topic I'm dealing with here, rather historical revisionism. I am working on a post about Zionism, specifically the Oaths and how the Vilna Goan demonstrably didn't hold they had any halachic meaning what so ever. You can bash me there.

A quick story...

We go to my Rav for Shalosh Seudos every week. It's something we've been doing for a while and the whole family really enjoys it. Anyway, we sat down and before we started his wife remebers that she needed to say some T'hilim for something and shkiya was approaching and that the family would split it up. So she goes through the list of which kapitilach needed to be said and my Rav started handing them out the kids. There was a moment of argument over who would say what since no one wanted to have to say too much. And my Rav, without a sefer T'hilim in front of him stopped the discussion and went through the list of 10-15 prakim and said how many psukim each one had and split it up so everyone had more or less the same amount.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Gut Sabbos!

Just wanted to get one last word in before it's time for Shir HaShirim. Thanks to everyone who has come to visit A Litvshe Yid in its inaugural week. Especially to all those who left comments. I hope this is the beginning of a fruitful relationship where we all grow in Torah and Yiras Shamoyim.

As promised...L'same yichud

Or, as most people say it...L'shem yichud - לשם יחוד.

I'm quoting from the Nodeh B'Yehuda, Madora Kama, Yoreh Da'eh 93...
(The translation is mine, so if you think I'm off, look it up yourself)

And on the fourth who asked about the nusach for L'shem yichud, that in recent times has spread and been printed in siddurim. On this I will respond, you've come to ask me about the correct nusach, when it would be better if you asked me if saying it was a good thing at all. In my opinion this is an evil sickness in our generation and what about the previous generations that did not know from this nusach and didn't say it. They toiled all their days in Torah and Mitzvos all according to the Torah and according to the poskim whose words spring forth from the source of the living waters (ממקור מים חיים) the sea of the Talmud, about them it is said חומת ישרים תנחם. And they are the ones that brought forth fruit above and beyond and their lovingkindness is great in heaven. But those in our generation who have left Toras HaShem and the sourse of living waters, the two Talmudim, Bavli and Yerushalmi to dig for themselves broken pits and they do, with arrogant hearts, each one says I am the visionary and for me the gats of heaven have opened and for me the world exists. These are the destoryers of the generation. And for this orphaned generation I say, the ways of HaShem are straight and tzadikim will walk them and Chassidim will fail upon them. I have much to say on this topic, but just as it is a mitzva to say that which will be heeded it is a mitzvah not to say that which will not be heeded. And may HaShem have mercy upon us.
(Two and a half paragraphs of pilpulim in the nusach)
But I have already given my opinion that silence is better in this case and it should be forgotten. And even in one's thoughts one should concentrate only on the פירוש המלות and in this way one will go surely and not fail in any way. And it is better that I do not expound further and from overwhelming responsibilities I need be brief.

And not to be one to bring things in a one sided manner...to get the other side see the Tshuvah of Rav Chaim MiTchernovitz. I own two books (that is, שתים שהם ארבעה) of Chassidus. One being the Nesivos Shalom and the other Sidduro Shel Shabbos by R' Chaim MiTchernovitz, also known for his pirush on Parsha, Be'er Mayim Chaim.
In any event, at the back of the first volume of the two volume set (Published by Machon Be'er Mayim, תשנ"ה) is a response of Rav Chaim to the Nodah B'Yehuda. It was only pointed out to me this evening and I haven't had a chance to go through it. I will look through it over Shabbos, bli neder and if I see something worth posting will do so. In any event, I'm firmly on the Nodeh B'Yehuda's side on this one. I do realize, as I think did he, that it's a losing battle. That still does not remove the need to fight it, L'Same Samayim.

Are you happy Kvetcher?

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Parshas Bamidbar

וידבר ד' אל משה במדבר סיני
The Midrash (Bamidbar Rabah סימן ז) gives an insight into the greatness of Torah.

From here the Chachamim learned: The Torah was given in three things (בשלושה דברים) :In fire, in water and in the desert. In fire, from where? “והר סיני, עשן כלוֹ”(Shmos 19:18) And Mount Sinai was all smoke. And in water, from where? “גם-שמים נטפו גּם-עבים, נטפו מים”(Shoftim 5:4) The heavens dropped and the clouds dripped water. And in the desert, from where? “וידבר ד' אל משה במדבר סיני” And Hashem spoke to Moses in the Sinai Desert.
And why was the Torah given with these three things? Just as these are for free for all in the world, so are the words of Torah for free. As it says: הוי כל צמא לכו למים (Yishayah 45:1).

A person needs nothing to learn Torah, except the will to do so. You don’t have to be wealthy to become a Talmid Chocham; it may even be detrimental. You can come from nothing and achieve greatness. The Rambam goes at great length in the introduction to the Mishneh Torah to mention that both R’ Meir and R’ Akiva came from converts. You don’t need yichus to become a lamdan, a Gadol b’Torah. You only need one thing, the desire to be Moser Nefesh, to give your life, for the study of Torah. That is the only perquisite to greatness in learning. You don’t even need to be born with an over whelming intellect. It said about the Chazon Ish that he was a mediocre student at best, but he wanted more then anything else in the world to excel in learning. Every time he reached the bracha of Chonayn HaDas in davening, he would burst into tears. He would sit b’hasmada (unswerving dedication) to learn and absorb Torah, until one day it clicked and he began to grow and grow, becoming the Gadol he was. Lo BaShamyim Hi. As the Rambam says in Hilchos Tshuva (5:2) - אלא כל אדם ואדם ראוי להיות צדיק כמשה רבנו Everyone has it in him to be as righteous as Moshe Rabbeinu. And as great in learning as the greatest G’dolim.

For free.

Women in the work force

I saw a link to this article over here. It talks about the place of Chareidi women in the work place. I have two comments to make on the article. The first is the overall gist of the piece.
Bais Yaakov educators invest years of hard work in fashioning the hearts of their students to protect the tohoroh in their neshomos. These girls are shielded within the chareidi society, a sort of teivas Noach, to be saved from the rampant flood outside. When working together with secular employees, one sentence or joke can sometimes penetrate like poison and destroy all of their chinuch. This is surely so when these women must work daily in such places. When this woman returns home, what type of new character envelopes her? What will be her attitude to her husband's yiras Shomayim? How will she educate her children? The answers are evident to any sensitive person.

I am absolutely astounded by this. What the author is essentially saying is that women can't be trusted out of the strict confines of their communities. I think this a serious attack on the level of frumkeit of chareidi women. Man can handle it...but women can't. This, if true, shows a serious lack in the education of women in Chareidi circles. If they were properly educated and had with where to turn for serious answers if a hashkafic question came up, then this would be a total non-issue. So the points made are an indictment of their own system.

That said, I'm not sure why women should be going out to work in the first place. I don't know about all the other men out there, but I signed a contract right before I got married. It said, if I recall the language written therin...אפלח ואפרנס. I (the husband) will work and support my wife. I think the whole Kollel mentallity has had a detrimental effect on the Chareidi community and is against the spirit of Torah and how it was practiced for generations. The Yeshivish community is want to idealize the days in Europe where you couldn't walk out your door without tripping over a half dozen people fluent in Shas and Poskim. What they forget is 99.99% of them worked and only a very very few, a couple thousand out of millions learned full time. And even some of them worked (the Alter of Kelem and all the students to come out of Kelem/Grubin and others).
I think it's sad that women are expected, now, to run the house, raise the children and support the family. I hope the husbands are at least taking out the garbage on the way to Kollel.

A bleg...

I think the technical term is bleg, where one uses one's blog to request something. So, here goes.
When the sefer Oros by Rav Kook came out there was a great deal of controversy and the frum community in Eretz Yisrael broke into two camps, those in support of Rav Kook and those opposed. At some point the Gerrer Rebbe, Rav Avraham Mordechai Alter (The Imrei Emes) was asked to come and sort things out. After investingating the matter he wrote a letter extolling the greatness of Rav Kook. If anyone has a copy or translation of the letter, I would love to get my hands on it.

Me and my Rav

I am very lucky. No...scratch that, I don't think it's a very Jewish perspective to consider oneself lucky. It smacks of being over on Lo Seylech Iti B'keri, that things just happen. I've been truely blessed in that I've been able to fulfil the dictum of Chazal, Aseh Lecha Rav. Thank G-d, down the street from me, lives a walking Sefer Torah.
He's a young man, about 7-8 years older then me. A man who, as of yet, has not acheived reknown in the Torah world. Though I hope that will change someday in the not so distant future, since he is without a doubt an Otzar Balum.
In any event he is a man who has all of Shas and Poskim at his finger tips. Everything. No joke. No exaggeration. I have never come across a sugiya that he isn't holding in. I've never seen a Rishon, or Achron, for that matter the he isn't intimatly familar with.
I'll give you a startling example from a week ago. A certain halacha caught my eye, (the requirement to have a completed kesuba before the chupa, if you're interested) and I was looking at the Rambam and nosei keilim. I looked in the index in the Frankel to see which Achronim discuss the matter and I was happy to see that the Yad David deals with it. I was fortunate enough to find a copy of the Yad David in the back of a sforim store in Meah Shearim a year ago, but hadn't really had time to look at it.
As an aside, the Yad David is three volumes on Hilchos Ishus of the Rambam (only Hilchos Ishus, there's about 2-3 lines of Rambam on a page and the rest very small Rashi script expounding on it). It was written by HaRav Dovid Friedman ZT'L, known as Rav Dovid'l Karliner, as he was the Rav of Karlin in Lithuania for many decades. If you've read Making of a Godol, you'll know that he was considered to be on the same level as Rav Chaim in learning and chidush.
Now, I know my Rav isn't currently learning the sugiya, we talk often and I have a good idea what topics he's learning at any given time. Additionally, as great as Rav Dovid'l was, he's not commonly learned in Yeshivas, at least not the Yad David. The Sheilas David is more common.
So I read through Rav Dovid's comment and how he disagrees with the Magid Mishneh and I don't grasp his answer. I figure I'll take the sefer over to my Rav and ask him to look it over with me. I run into him at shul after maariv and start walking him home. I mention that I didn't understand a certain point in the Yad David and he asks which one. I mention the Rambam and he tells me where on the page it is in the Yad David and that he knows what I'm talking about and he'll learn the sugiya through with me.
I was, to put it mildly, flabbergasted. We're not talking a Reb Akiva Eiger here, that any serious lamdan might know. We're talking a less well known Achron on a somewhat esoteric topic. And he knew it.
This happens almost every week. He's holding in sforim he learned when he was in high school and hasn't seen since. I drive him to his Yeshiva a few days a week, which is the highlight of my week mind you, where we can learn through whatever sugiya is on his mind. We don't always have the necessary gemara's or Rambams or whatever. It never matters. He knows it all, by heart. Gemara, Rambam, Rif, Rosh, Rashi, Tosefos. Word by word. Including variant manuscripts.
Now, one might say, this is someone who spends all his time in limudei kodesh. Except, he knows philosophy. Can quote Aristotle, Kant, Spinoza. You should here when someone mentions Hobbes, he has nothing nice to say about the Leviathan. He's also holding in Phyics and doctorate level mathematics.
If he would care to comment, Rav YH can back me up on this, since he knows my Rav as well.

I am, truely, amongst the blessed.

Fix number one...

Obviously fixing oneself is the most important part of Judaism. This comes before fixing others, based on loving one's neighbor as oneself, there is an obligation to love oneself. That means before being m'zakeh others one should be m'zakeh himself. Since I'm only starting here on this blog I'll still occasionally be tossing up some introductary posts. One of the things I'd like to do here is mention the various points that I'd like to work on myself and get reader's opinions and experiences on the topic.

I'll start with what, at first blush at least, is an easy one: better davening. It really isn't all that easy and it's something I've been working on for a while with mixed results. When I'm davening with a minyan and I'm not completely exhausted I don't have a problem davening slowly and being careful to pronounce all the words. I do still have a problem paying attention to everything I'm saying, especially during Shmona Esrai. Actually, even more so when I'm doing it slowly. I'll find my mind wandering and that I've gone through 3-4 brochas without even realizing it.

I'm not, at this point, aiming at having all the correct kavonas and such, just to keep my mind on the fact that I'm standing before HaShem. At the very least, if my mind is going to wander, let it wander to topics of Kedushah or even not topics of Tumah. That is to say, I don't need to be thinking about last night's episode of CSI while I'm trying to daven. Maybe it's not horrid that I'm going over some chiddush I heard from my Rav, though that to isn't a best case scenario. So, anyone have any ideas for being able to concentrate on Shmona Esrai?

(I'm starting with something mostly parve...don't worry once I get into the swing of it I'll branch into more...ahem...touchy topics)

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Half and Half

Part of what I want to do here is להחזיר עטרה ליושנה (to return the crown to its original glory). That is to say to try and reinstate certain practices that are more firmly based in Halacha then the current minhag. The first is something that I have been doing for the last 5-6 years, with thanks to my friend Rav YH who gave a shiur on it one year and impelled me to organize it in my community. That is the requirement on Yom Tov to spend half the day in learning and half the day enjoying the holiday. The phrase that is used in the Gemara is חציו לד' וחציו לכם (half for HaShem and half for you).
Since this is the first time I’m doing a post like this I’ll give a short overview of how I intend to organize this time of thing.

Pretty straight forward I think. The only time I will stray is when I’m looking at a specific Achron, in which case I will try to add some biographical information if I have it. On with the show!

The requirement of a person to spend Yom Tov half in learning Torah and half in eating and drinking.
I’m choosing this topic because it is specifically germane to the approaching Chag of Shavuos for several reasons. The minhag that has spread throughout Jewish communities is to spend the night in learning until sunrise. While it is a wonderful thing that more Yiddin are busying themselves with learning Torah unfortunately this minhag has supplanted a halacha psukah. The Gemara brings down the requirement of a person to dedicate the Chag, half to HaShem and half to oneself. This opinion shows up in the major Rishonim without any emendations and is brought down l’halachah in the Shulchan Aruch as well as the Aruch HaShulchan and Mishnah Brura.
מראי מקומות
Maseches Psachim 68b – דתניא ר' אליעזר אומר
Parallel sugiya – Beitzah 15b (Rif and Rosh ad. Loc. Also note Korban Nesanel on the Rosh)
Rambam Hilchos Yom Tov 6:19
Tur Orach Chaim 529
Shulchan Aruch ibid. (Mishnah Brurah and Aruch HaShulchan ad. Loc.)
Magen Avraham Orach Chaim 494 (איתא בזוהר)

The Talmud both in Psachim and Beitzah discusses an argument between R’ Eliezer and Rav Yehoshua on how to understand the apparent contradiction between two psukim. The first is D’varim 16:8 – עצרת לד' אלקיך. The second Bamidbar 29:35 – עצרת תהיה לכם. How does one reconcile the difference between l’HaShem and Lachem, For HaShem and For You. R’ Eliezer says that a person can spend the day either totally for HaShem or totally for You. That is to say, the day should be spent either only learning or only eating and drinking. Rav Yehoshua disagrees and says the day should be split, half for HaShem and half for you. The Gemara in Psachim adds on that according to R’ Elazar that everyone agrees (הכל מודים) that on Shavuos that also “לכם” is required since it is the day that the Torah was given and therefore one needs to be happy. (I believe this statement is based on a prior machlokes between R’ Eliezar and R’ Yehoshua if Simchas Yom Tov is a Mitzvah (R’ Yehoshua) or R’shus (R’ Eliezar), coming to say that on Shavuos even according to R’ Eliezar simcha is required and therefore the day should include not only learning but eating as well).
The Rif and the Rosh pretty much copy the Gemara word for word. The Kitzur Piskay HaRosh brings down the side of R’ Yehoshua (Perek 2 Siman B) saying the mitzvah of Yom Tov is to split it half in eating and drinking and half for HaShem. The Tur uses this same language in the opening line of Siman 529 in O.H.
The Rambam expands and gives a clear picture of what the day should be like and uses a very interesting expression. אלא כך היא הדת (Rather this is the law) an expression that doesn’t show up often in the Rambam. Meaning, if I understand correctly, that what he has to say, even though it may not be a mitzvah certainly is an obligation on everyone. He says people, in the morning, should arise (משכימין) and go daven, read from the Torah and go home, eat and return to the Beis Medrash to learn until Chatzos (half the day), at which point they should go back home and engage in the Yom Tov meal, eating and drinking until nightfall. As a side point to what is meant by arising in the morning, it is clear that this refers to davening with the Netz (with the sunrise), that way it will be a full half day l’Hashem.
The Mechaber brings down in the Shulchan Aruch the language of the Tur, l’halacha.
The Mishnah Brura adds (based on a Gemara in Chulin also quoted in the Korban Nesanel on the Rosh in Beitzh quoted above see all the Sha’ar Tzion where he quotes in the name of the Marshal that chazanus is considered neither L’HaShem or Lechem, V’Kal LaHavin) that it is correct to reprimand the Chazonim who extend the tfiloh inordinately, causing people to miss out on learning. The MB does say like the Rambam that one should rise early and pray and then learn until half the day, going on to enjoy his festive meal.
The Aruch HaShulchan brings down the language of the Rambam word for word. His take on the issue of chazanus is a bit different then the Mishneh Brurah’s though he does say that G’dolei Yisrael were upset about the issue of chazanim drawing out the davening. He does leave an opening for those who find it enjoyable, that there maybe a side of Oneg Yom Tov in it.
It’s very clear from all the above sources that it is incumbent on every Jew to spend their Yom Tov in this split fashion. Rising early, going home for a quick Kiddush and then returning to the Beis Medrash to learn until chatzos, at which point he should daven Mincha then go home and enjoy his festive meal until the night time. There really isn’t even a place for doubt. No posek that I was able to find holds any differently. It’s a very cut and dry Din. This applies to every Yom Tov, by the way, not only Shavuos, though as we saw, there is a special Din in Shavuos to do it.
That said, the other side of the coin is the minhag that has spread throughout Am Yisrael to stay up all night learning and then as soon as davening is finished to go to bed. The basis for this minhag is brought down in the Magen Avraham (I also understand that it is brought down in the Shlah, though I haven’t had a chance to look it up). The MA says in the name of the Zohar that the original Chasidim (and we’re not talking those who walk in the path of the Ba’al Shem Tov…) would remain awake all night in learning and that most people who learn do that nowadays. He brings the well known reason that it is a tikkun since HaShem had to awaken Bnei Yisrael for Ma’amad Har Sinai. It should be clear that the Chasidim Rishonim weren’t your average Joes. I think then, it wouldn’t be far fetched to say that when they were finished davening in the morning, they didn’t head off for a chavrusa with their pillows, rather they went on fulfil the mitzvah of the day (yes, that is the language of the Rosh, the Tur and the Shulchan Aruch…mitzvah) which is to say they learned until chatzos and then proceeded to have their Yom Tov meal.
As a side point, I was told that Rav Moshe Feinstein was makpid on this point on Shavuos. When the Yeshiva would go off for the meal after davening and then to sleep, he would remain in the Beis Medrash learning. He said that it doesn’t make sense, you’re up all night as a tikkun for Bnei Yisrael being asleep at when it came time for the giving of the Torah. So, you’re up all night. And when the Torah is actually given (in the day) you go to sleep.So, now you know what the halacha actually is. If you’re up to it, great learn all night and then learn until Chatzos. If not, don’t feel bad about going to sleep. You can still fulfill the Mitzva of the day according to all the opinions. Just get up early, daven and then learn until chatzos.

Who am I?

Just to give a bit of history of myself. Though in doing so, I'll probably pasul myself from having an opinion in these matters, since I'm an outsider.
I grew up in a Conservative family out west. I came to Israel at the age of 18 without ever having had contact with real frum Jews. Not to say we were completely distant. We were right wing Conservative. Went to shul on Shabbos and Yomim Noraim. My mother lit candles on Shabbos and my father said Kiddush. Going to ball games after Friday night dinner was always a big fight, though I generally won. Bacon was forbidden but pepperoni pizza wasn't. We ate matza on Pessach and my father would collect all the chamatz and sell it. Though we didn't use specifically Kosher L'Pesach products. Anyway...it was somewhat confusing. So when I came to Israel and started seeing what Conservative Judaism was and what Orthydox Judiasm was I figured, it's all or nothing and after finishing the year program stayed another year and went to Yeshiva. I chose a somewhat known Yeshiva that catered to ba'alei tshuvah and spent a year learning. I then returned to the US and spent a year at YU. I enjoyed YU very much, the learning was great and the secular courses where enough of a joke that I could spend time learning. I hated New York though, still do. I can't understand how Jews live there. I woke up one morning with bullet holes in my window. First chance I got, that is, the year ended, I came back to Israel. I spent the summer learning in a modern chareidi Yeshiva in Meah Shearim (yes, it sounds like a contradiction...but the Rabbonim and half the students were chareidi and the other half were more modern) and taking ulpan. I got engaged (a story in and of itself, I'll get to it one day) and then went back to college at Bar-Ilan University. At Bar-Ilan I learned in the Machon Gavoh L'Torah (the Bar-Ilan Kollel) and continued studying biology. Again, the learning was excellent, but Bar-Ilan, I felt, wasn't the place for a frum boy. Oh yeah, I got married at some point during the year. At the end of the year I left Bar-Ilan without a degree and went to go learn full time in Kollel. I chose a well known Dati Leumi yeshiva with connection to Mercaz HaRav and a reputation for being very politcally right wing. I went to the shiur of one Reb Chaim's great grandsons, who is a gaon adir. The learning was, as I had become accustomed, in the Brisker derech and I enjoyed it very much. After several years and three children the parental support began to run out and I went out to work.
We had also moved to a yishuv at the same time as I started Kollel. We chose one that had a reputation for being Torani (more frum then your average Dati settlement). We still live there 12 years later and are just as happy. The majority of the men are kove'ah itim. The minyanim are always full. The women dress in a tsniusdig manner and the kids as a whole are a good bunch. I'm not saying there are no problems, but in the overall scheme of things, they're few. The community as a whole has a love for Torah and several years ago built a yeshiva/kollel, most of which is supported by the community itself. Which is pretty impressive, considering you have 250 family supporting 20 kollelniks, 20 bachurim and 3 Rebbeim.
After going to work I started to drift away from being serious about frumkeit for awhile. Which isn't to say I didn't enjoy learning and talking Torah or having strong opinions about hashkafic subjects. Just in my day to day avodas Hashem, I wasn't all that into it. Thanks to the patience of my wife and her willingness to put up with me, I returned to the proper path and became close with the man who is now my Rav. I'll talk about him a bit in a later post.
So with a renewed neshamah I got back to learning and davening and trying to be a better yid all around.
I'll be the first to admit, I don't always succeed. I know I have a lot to work on, something I hope to address here on occasion.

Which leads me to my final point. Who am I to criticize the chareidi, more specifically the Litvshe chareidi, world? Well, I'm a Litvshe yid. A talmid of Litvshe yidden, who themselves learned Torah by G'dolei G'dolim of Lithuainia. I, in my limited capacity to grasp these things, see what a wonderful world Litvshe Torah was in Europe, in America and Israel in the 40s, 50s and 60s. What sort of men Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer, Rav Reuven Katz, Rav Avraham Yitzhak HaKohen Kook were. What sort of men Rav Yosef Dov HaLevi Soloveitchik, Rav Yaakov Kamanetsky and Rav Moshe Feinstein were. And I'm saddened that so few in the Litvshe/Yeshivshe world follow in their footsteps.


So, why should I start blogging? What's the point? What can I add to the blogosphere in general and the Jewish, or more correctly, the frum Jewish blogosphere in particular?

I don't really have an answer to tell you the truth. I will say what I would like to do here.
1. Fight a losing battle or two.
2. Teach some Torah
3. Learn some Torah
4. Get various issues off my shoulders and into the public domain.

As a clarification about the losing battles...I'm referring to two things. One, the Chassidification of Judaism. Please, don't get me wrong. I'm not going to hold anything against Chassidishe Jews for being Chassidishe. More power to them. My problem is when Litvshe Jews start acting like Chassidishe Jews. The Rosh Yeshiva is now a Rebbe in all but name in most Yeshive circles. This is a very new development and goes against the traditions of Lithuainian Jews. Allow me bring illustrate this point with a true story.
When Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer ZT"L passed away, his son-in-law, Rav Ahron Kotler ZT"L was asked to come be the titular head of Yeshivas Aitz Chaim in Jerusalem, to take the place of his shver, as he did in Slutsk/Kletzk. So for several years R' Ahron came to Israel in the summers to give shiur in the Yeshiva. When he gave his first shiur the talmidim behaved in their usual fashion, arguing and yelling back and forth with the maggid shiur. One specific talmid set there with his feet up on the table listening to the shiur. R' Ahron started yelling at him about his lack of Kavod HaTorah. The talmid looked R' Ahron in the face and said "when the Kletzker Rosh Yeshivah is worthy of Kavod HaTorah, he'll get Kavod HaTorah". The talmid then proceeded to take R' Ahron's shiur apart. On the spot R' Ahron arranged a shidduch with his daughter.
That was a Litvshe gadol. That was a Litvshe talmid. You can't prove your svara all the way through? I don't have to accept a word you say. Just because you're the Rosh Yeshiva doesn't me you're holier. You're only holier if you can out learn me and there is no Chazakah. You have to prove it, all the time.
Today the frum world has become kol kulo Chassidishe. You can't disagree with the Rosh Yeshiva...when he speaks it's Da'as Torah and you're just a simple yid. It doesn't matter if what is being said is illogical.
The other issue is the monochromatic bent of the Yeshivshe crowd. Once more we'll take a look at Lakewood in the 50s. The only people wearing black hats and suits were the Rosh Yeshiva and top Rebbeim. Otherwise no two people were dressed alike. Look at the pictures of Mir from the Shanghai days. Maybe 3-4 black suits out there. Granted, all the pictures are in black and white, but you can see the gradiations of color amongst the dress of the talmidim. Everyone dressing alike is another in road of Chassidus into the Litvshe world. While this may seem like an issue of chitzonius, it's not. It's the willingness of the people to supress their individuality. From my point of view this is a complete negation of the Tzelem Elokim. To quote Brian..."You're all individuals!".

So those are my battles, trying to bring some sanity back into the frum world.