Friday, November 30, 2007

Guest Posting By Rabbi Yakov Horowitz - Pictures From My Photo Album [Part III]

Parshas Vayeshev, Shishi - Part II

(Painting by Pieter Bruegel)

Before my meeting with the Sudilkover Rebbe, I asked him about the a teaching supposedly attributed to the Arizal and the Vilna Gaon in which it says that a person can uncover the purpose of why there neshoma was sent down to this world by looking into the parsha and section corresponding for the day they were born. He told me in a phone conversation that the issue of one's tikkun and its connection to the parsha is an extremely complex issue and he said he wanted to speak with me in depth before he could give me his opinion.

I told the Rebbe that I was born on Friday, 25 Kislev 5733 and that this corresponded to the shishi section of Parshas Vayeshev. When I took a look in a Chumash at this section, I found that it dealt with the temptation of Yosef HaTzaddik by Potiphar's wife. For me, it appeared that there is certainly a connection between my suggested tikkun in Parshas Vayeshev, shishi and what I perceived one of my greatest taivas to be.

While I never outright slip in this area, in the area of shmiras einayim sometimes I let my eyes linger one second too long or let a thought linger too long before pushing it out of my mind. I know that for me this taiva continues to be a challenge that is difficult to uproot for me.

When we broached this topic in our three hour conversation, the Sudilkover Rebbe asked me how my relationship was with my wife. I replied that it was fantastic and that I was blessed to have such a wonderful wife. The Rebbe then asked me if my wife knew that I felt this way and asked whether I ever expressed these feelings to my wife. I replied in the affirmative; that I told her every day. The Rebbe told me that he had asked me this question, because if indeed my tikkun was bound up with this taiva, I would have answered that indeed there were problems between my wife and myself.

The Rebbe then told me that the Arizal said this taiva is something that every person struggles with since it is THE nisayon of our generation. The Rebbe related that the Arizal taught that the neshomas of our generation are actually gilgulim of neshomas from the Dor HaMabul (generation of the flood) and Dor Haflaga (generation of dispersion after the tower of Bavel). These generations were characterized by the depravity they exhibited with matters between men and women and it thus no wonder why our generation struggles so greatly with these issues.

He said that while I might interpret Parshas Vayeshev, shishi as applying specifically to my life, that it was not so simple since it applies to everyone; that what I interpreted as a suggested tikkun was not necessarily the case based upon the fact that I had a healthy and loving relationship with my wife.

Our conversation on this topic ended and never got around to identifying the tikkun. Instead we returned to speaking about the necessity of finding only the good points in everything.

Using Serrated vs. Non-Serrated Knives At The Shabbos Table

(Picture courtesy of

Yirmeyahu commenting on An Interesting Discussion On Minhagim Continues:

The following is an excerpt from a sefer on the teachings and minhagim of the Tzanz-Klausenberger Rebbe zy:a. I include the original and my own rough translation (which excludes the Kabbalistic middle section which was tough and perhaps best left untranslated anyways).

ספר הליכות חיים (שבת קודש): הלכות והליכות ממרן הגה"ק מצאנז-קלויזנבורג זצוק"ל

עמוד פא-פב

רבינו היה נזהר מאוד שלא לבצוע בסכין שאינו חלק ועשוי עם פגימות. (סד)
סד: כתב בספר קרבן שבת פרק א' סי' ז', כתב ב"י בסי' הנ"ל [רנ"א] בשם הכלבו שישחיזו הסכין בכל ע"ש וכו', ודע מ"ש בתיקונים ישנים והביאו ג"כ בעל טוב הארץ ובעל חסד לאברהם שיש סכין מצד הקדושה בלי שום פגימה וכו' ויש סכין פגום מצד סמאל הרשע וכו' ולכן נ"ל שאיו מהרוי לאכול אכילה בשבת בסכין פגים כי הם סתרי אהדדי שאכילות שבת יורה על אור עה"ב שאין אז שליטת חיצוניםת וסכין פגום יורה על שליטת ס"מ וחייליו החיצונים [ז"ל התיקוני זוהר תיקון כ"א דף נ"ט ע"את מאי סכין פגום דא סמא"ל וכו"ת עיי"ש], עיי"ש. יכ"ה בספר חסד לאלפים סי' רנ"א ס"ד, בשם המקובלים שטוב להשחיזו עד שלא ישאר פגם, אשרי מי שיוכל לעשות. ובדרכי הישר והטוב המחובר לספר הישר והטוב, להרה"ק רבי צבי מליסקא זי"ע ,דף ל', כתב,סיפר לי השו"ב הנ"ל ז"ל שפ"א נתן לו אא"ז [מליסקא] זצ"ל הסכין של שבת לחדדו, וכאשר נביאו לו בחזרה, הי" בודקו בציפרנו כמו סכין של שחיטה, אבל לא היה מחודד עד"ז, ופעם השנית שנתן לו הסכין לחדדו הי' מעמידו על חד וחלק, וכאשר הביאו לפניו בחזרה הי' שש"ז זצ"ל בודק אותו ומצאו טוב בעיניו, וכן היה אח"ז תמיד שהי' נותנו לחדדו.

Halichos Chaim (Tzanz Klausenberg) pages 81-82:

Our Rebbe was extremely particular not to slice with a knife that wasn’t smooth or that was made serrated.

It is written in the Sefer Korban Shabbos, Chapter 1, Seif 7, “The Beis Yosef writes in the chapter cited in the name of the Kol Bo that one should sharpen the knife on every Erev Shabbos, etc. And know what is written in the Tikkunim Yeshanim and is also brought by the author of Tov HaAretz and the author of Chesed l”Avraham that there is a knife from the side of holiness without any defect etc, and there is a defective knife from the side of the wicked סמאל etc. And therefore it appears to me that it isn’t appropriate to eat food on Shabbos with a defective knife because there are secret……………. In the sefer Chesed l’Alafim 351:4, in the name of the Kabbalists, that it is good to sharpen until there does not remain a defect, and fortunate is the one who is able to do so. And in the Darchei HaYashar v’haTov relating to the Sefer HaYashar v’haTov, by Rebbeinu HaKodesh Tzvi M’lysqa zy”a, page 30, he writes “It was related to me by the aforementioned shochet that one time my father gave to him the knife for Shabbos to sharpen, and when he brought it back to him he checked it with his finger nail like a slaughtering knife, however it was not sharpened that much, and the second time he gave it to him he continued until it was sharp and smooth, and when he brought it back before him he checked it and found it good in his eyes, and so it was afterwards every time he brought it to him for sharpening.

20 Kislev Links

(Picture courtesy of Christine Ody)

Jewish Lights: Wondrous New Things

Modern Uberdox: Missionaries and the Jedi Mind Trick

Bahaltener: Нельзя отчаиваться

Dixie Yid: Should one be mafsik his tefillah for Bomb Sniffing Dogs?

Hirhurim: How Big of a Yarmulka

Erev Shabbos

The sweat one exudes in the process of preparing for Shabbos has the same quality as tears of remorse; the sweat, like tears, wipes away all sins one committed during the week. The harder one works on Shabbos preparations, the more he gains.

(Shaarei Teshuva 250:2)

Thursday, November 29, 2007

“Taanug Olam Haba”

(Picture by Jack Klein)

A Yid commenting on Bizyonos:

Reb Luzer Kenig once said amazing, that one should feel “taanug olam haba” in bizyonos. He said they can come from someone else, even from your family (a spouse for example). The first reaction of a person is to dismiss it altogether, regarding the abuser as nothing, thus reducing the “blow” as a protective psychic reaction. However, Reb Luzer said this is not a correct approach. The Rebbe says that the bizayon cleans the person's yetzer hora. Therefore one must feel it, and not just dismiss it thereby missing the point. This can be done by giving some value to the mevaze (abuser). One shouldn't necessarily agree to mevaze (who can be very wrong really), but giving it some value causes the needed effect.

Now one can ask, very good, but how can this possibly be “taanug olam haba”? In the most, it can be considered as a bitter medicine, which has to be tolerated. But being enjoyed? But if one thinks more into it, what is happening in the process? One becomes more pure, and is coming closer to Hashem. That is really “tanug olam haba” in a sense. What we can lack here is daas – the perception of it, and on this we must work to get it.

Shnayim Mikra V'Echad Targum - Part II

Although this section of the Zohar is discussing Kaddish, nevertheless it contains a teaching that provides an insight into my question about shnayim mikra v'echad targum. The Zohar 2:129b states,

"The Aramaic language is certain to subjugate the Sitra Achra and break its strength, elevating the glory of the Blessed Holy One. It breaks powerful locks, fetters, chains, and all klippos. Hashem then remembers His name and His children."

With better understanding of its importance, I now have a renewed appreciation for what I am doing each week by reciting the Targum in this language that I don't understand.

In The Place Of A Television

A new aquarium in the place where our television once sat.

An Interesting Discussion On Minhagim Continues


Question & Answer With Rabbi Micha Golshevsky - Bizyonos

A Simple Jew asks:

There appears to be a dichotomy when it comes to the topic of bizyonos (insults/disgraces) in Jewish thought. We are taught that suffering bizyonos in silence helps a person attain his soul correction. On the other hand, our siddur contains a request that we not suffer from bizyonos - ולא ל'ד' בז'ון . We ask this of Hashem in the morning and again during Krias Shema al Hamita every single day.

Pirkei Avos 3:13 tells us that another person's displeasure with us is a sign that Hashem is also not pleased with us. Rebbe Nachman of Breslov expresses this idea with a bit stronger language, "If there are those who hate you here below, you can be sure that there are those who hate you On High as well."

In a sense, receiving bizyonos can be likened to a Heavenly pressure release valve which does not allow our aveiros to accumulate beyond a certain point. I can thus appreciate why we should attempt to view them with the proper perspective and not necessarily as a negative thing. Yet, they are still Hashem's sign that we are not doing what we should be; they are a sign that He is upset with us.

If they are ultimately good for us, why do we say ולא ל'ד' בז'ון ?

Actually Rebbe Nachman commented on that very line in davening. The line is let us not fall to a spiritual test or a embarrassment. Rebbe Nachman said, "Either a nisayon or an embarrassment." This is taken to mean, "Either one successfully stands up to a spiritual test or one receives a shaming."

Rav Nosson of Breslov taught that the main way to repent is by remaining silent despite embarrassment. He goes so far as to say that if one is not embarrassed one should feel terrible embarrassment of the bad he has done. This is indicated in the Gemara, "One who does a sin and is embarrassed by it is forgiven." The embarrassment leads to true regret and galvanizes one to really change. So it is possible to answer quite simply. We ask that we need not experience the embarrassment that comes from falling in a nisayon by not advancing spiritually. (Someone who is feels the shame himself will not have to experience a shaming from outside, while someone less sensitive to his own flaws will need a shaming from an external source.)

Embarrassment can bring even a person who tends to chase honor to the highest place, absolute anavah (then he starts pursuing Hashem instead of honor!) True humility is the key to all spiritual elevation. The more anavah, the higher one can ascend. Rav Chaim Vital brings down an amazing story in reference to the power of embarrassment to release one from all sorts of delusions of grandeur. There was a man who fasted most days and did many charitable deeds and married off many orphans but wished for honor. Not far from him were some Misbodedim, who had reached the level of nevuah. He asked their leader a question, "After all the good things I have done, why have I not achieved the towering spiritual heights you have attained. Why was I not worthy to your great levels?" Their leader replied, "Take a bag filled with nuts and figs and go to a street so that you are in front of the notables of the town and call the children to you. Tell them, 'Whoever wants to have a treat should give me a couple of slaps!' If you do this many times return to me." The man was horrified, "But sir, how can a respectable man like myself do such a thing?" It is possible that the man would not have had to really undergo such embarrassment. Perhaps being willing would have been enough. In any case, the man was so full of himself that he was literally chasing Hashem away but still didn't get it! To put it in the words of Rav Avraham Grodzensky, zt"l, "An arrogant man in essence wants to replace Hashem on the throne of dominion." Although this story is extreme, the problem is common to us all. As Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz put it, "Everyone knows that one of the seminal figures of deep learning is Rav Chaim Brisker, Yet when I walk through the Mirrer Yeshivah and hear the students say, 'Rav Chaim says…' something in the back of my mind tells me they are talking about me!" We all have that little voice telling us that we are better than another human being because…the list is literally endless. The truth is that we are no better than anyone else. We each have a unique job to do on this world and no else can do ours and we can't do anyone else's.

Bizyonos can shock one out of the worst character defects but of course they are no picnic. One who is embarrassed dies in a sense. As a matter of fact, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zt"l, was very troubled since the exact rationale of the prohibition to violate the Shabbos to avoid embarrassing another is unclear. Why isn't this treated like saving one's life? Because of this fact sometimes embarrassment can lead to a great spiritual fall.

Once there was a man who went in the way of the students of the Baal Shem Tov. He would fast from Shabbos to Shabbos in order to come closer to Hashem. (Many students of the Baal Shem Tov did so as did Rebbe Nachman of Breslov but don't try this at home!) Once, during such a fast he was suddenly struck with a great hunger. He was literally about to collapse from malnourishment. The only food available was the community matzos left in shul to enable the community eiruv. He was caught consuming them and was terribly embarrassed. He became the laughing stock of the entire town. It's easy to imagine the jokes this poor man was the brunt of. In any event, he unfortunately could not withstand the embarrassment and left the Jewish faith altogether.

On a deeper level then, the reason why we request that we be spared embarrassment is because of the great pain and potential for difficulty embarrassment involves, despite its potential benefits.

19 Kislev Links

A Simple Jew: Yud Tes Kislev

Treppenwitz: My cab ride to Beirut קבוצת רקדנים (pictures)

Dixie Yid: Seforim Recommendations You Might Not Have Considered

A Religious Man

A religious man is a person who holds God and man in one thought at one time, at all times, who suffers no harm done to others, whose greatest passion is compassion, whose greatest strength is love and defiance of despair.

(Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel)

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Guest Posting By Rabbi Yakov Horowitz - Pictures From My Photo Album [Part II]

Question & Answer With Rabbi Zvi Leshem - The Emuna Of Yosef HaTzaddik

(Picture courtesy of

A Simple Jew asks:

If we are not supposed to rely on miracles, what did Yosef do wrong by asking the chief wine steward to help him get out of prison? While keeping in mind that Hashem is exacting with tzaddikim and that a tzaddik must have rock-solid emuna and bitachon, how was Yosef to know that the chief wine steward was not the rope Hashem was throwing to him to rescue him? Should Yosef have waited for a bas kol or relied on his ruach hakodesh to determine when he would be released?

Rabbi Zvi Leshem answers:

At the end of our parsha (40:23) Yosef asks the butler to remember him to Pharaoh. For the “sin” of trusting in man instead of G-d, Rashi informs us, Yosef was punished with an additional two years in prison. Rashi is based upon Midrash Bereshit Raba 69:3: Happy is the man who trusts in HaShem. This is Yosef, and who doesn’t turn to the haughty. [But] because Yosef spoke to the butler two years were added on. [1] The Netivot Shalom points out that the Midrash seems to contradict itself. Yosef is described as both the one who places his faith in HaShem, and the one who was punished for turning to a human for salvation. [2] His answer is clear. Whereas for the average person, one must use every human means possible (hishtadlut) to save oneself from a difficult situation, for a tzaddik such as Yosef this is considered as a lacking in his reliance upon HaShem (bitachon). [3]

This question, of course, is not only a matter of Biblical commentary; it is a major issue in all of our lives. How do we balance the conflicting values of bitachon and hishtadlut in our daily lives, in issues such as parnasa (vs. learning), shidduchim, medicine [4] and a host of others? [5] The Netivot Shalom continues, when [a Jew] trusts in HaShem all the gates are open to him…if he reaches the highest level of bitachon he requires no hishtadlut, if not, he still requires some hishtadlut, it is all according to the level of each individual.

A short but systematic treatment of the topic of bitachon and its balance with hishtadlut is found in the Chazon Ish’s Emuna u’Bitachon. [6] Firstly the Chazon Ish distinguishes between emuna (belief) and bitachon (faith). While both are dependent upon the belief that everything that happens in the world is absolutely in G-d’s hands and that nothing is coincidental, the former is a general (and theoretical) belief. However, when one finds himself in a situation of uncertainty, testing his belief, at that point, his bitachon must come to fore, to guide him in this particular, practical test. [7] If his belief that all is in G-d’s hands is powerful enough to remove his fear (since he knows that all options are equally open to HaShem) he has passed the test of bitachon. [8] Here the Chazon Ish also admits of a range of levels, with the master of bitachon turning to teshuva, whereas one of lesser faith will seek out natural means of salvation.

But how are we to navigate this unclear path? Even the Chazon Ish admits that some acts constitute permissible hishtadlut, whereas others are prohibited according to bitachon. Before engaging in any activity we need to judge if it is in accordance with bitachon. This of course brings us back to the story of Yosef. The Chazon Ish explains the Midrash as teaching us that Yosef’s act constituted zilzul, making light, of bitachon. But how could such a tzaddik have fallen into this trap? The answer is that Yosef knew that his salvation was not dependent upon hishtadlut, but that all was from HaShem. However, since one is enjoined to act and not to rely upon miracles, Yosef forced himself to ask the butler. If so, what was inappropriate about his behavior? Yosef knew that the butler was a haughty individual, and therefore could not realistically be expected to help him. Thus his turning to the butler was not a serious act of hishtadlut, but rather an act of despair, in which one grabs at any ridiculous option for salvation instead of relying upon HaShem’s exclusive powers of salvation. This type of “hishtadlut”, according to the Chazon Ish, is prohibited. [9] Hishtadlut is required; we are not supposed to rely upon miracles. However, certain acts are so far-fetched that they are disqualified from the category of true hishtadlut.

There are no simple answers here. This remains a very individual issue. While we must strive to be baaley bitachon, people of faith, we must also be honest regarding our true level. We must certainly be careful not to fall into what the Chazon Ish calls bitachon hamizuyaf, false bitachon. [10] For most of us, honest and reasonable hishtadlut, combined with an acute awareness that the results are ultimately in the hands of Heaven [11], would seem to be most viable path.


[1] See the comment of the Maharzu, who points out that Yosef always relied exclusively upon HaShem. Just this once he relied on a human and was punished. While it is beyond the scope of this drasha to elaborate, I wish to point out that seemingly conflicting opinions are found within the Talmud and Midrashim.

[2] Rav Tzaddok HaKohen preceded him with this idea in Pri Tzaddik, Vaera 4. The Meor v’Shemesh goes further and states that in the Biblical narrative it seems as though Yosef relied exclusively upon the butler, not turning to HaShem at all!

[3] A similar answer is given by Rav Yitzchak Ginsburgh in Maayan Ganim, who also sees this as a paradigm for the various scenarios for Am Yisrael’s future deliverance. For other Chassidic comments upon this Midrash see Sfat Emet in several places, and the Piaseczner in Derech HaMelech, Miketz (1). See also Rebbe Nachman’s short story Maaseh M’Bitachon.

[4] On the issue of hishtadlut in medical issues, see the Rambam, Commentary to the Mishna: Pesachim 4:9, who absolutely insists upon the use of medicine. See also the Ramban, in his comment to Vayikra 26:11, who views medical practices as a bidieved, showing a of lack of bitachon See also the Rambam: Guide 3:51 on the interface of devaikut and hashgacha pratit.

[5] See the fascinating Halachic discussions of Rav Moshe Feinstein regarding insurance in Igrot Moshe O.H. 2: 111, 4: 48. For Rav Moshe insurance is in the same category as other business activities that he sees as not only permissible, but also obligatory. It is not only prohibited to rely upon miracles, it is also prohibited to pray to HaShem for a miracle for parnasa. While one must believe that ultimately his parnasa comes from HaShem, not from his hishtadlut, he is absolutely required to work for a living through natural means. In relation to insurance, his bitachon is expressed in that he has faith that he will be able to keep up with the payments!

[6] This slim volume is the only published work of the Chazon Ish that deals with philosophical topics. Chapter two is on Bitachon. For a detailed Mussar treatment, see Madregat HaAdam of the Nevordeker, Maamar Darchei HaBitachon. Chapter Four deals with the story of Yosef. Incidentally, Chapter Six discusses the issue of bitachon in relation to the Shmita Year.

[7] See the [attributed to] Ramban, Sefer HaEmuna v’haBitachon, chapter one, anyone who has bitachon is called maamin, but not all who believe are called botaach. Emuna is like a tree and bitachon is like the fruit.

[8] Just a few days before my teacher Rav Shagar zt”l died of cancer last spring, he remarked that the possibility of a miracle was still a completely realistic option.

[9] Shortly before looking in the Chazon Ish, I heard an almost identical explanation from my cousin, Reb Shaya Britz.

[10] This Bitachon hamizuyaf is, in his opinion, much worse than no bitachon, and often leads to a chilul HaShem, whereas true bitachon is a Kiddush HaShem. “Real” bitachon, according to his words, is often revealed to be false when tested in situations of competition between people. The phony will plot the downfall of his rival (in spite of his “bitachon” that all is from HaShem), whereas the true man of faith will help his competitor. It is also worthy of note that whereas the Chazon Ish is often credited with the revolutionary approach that encourages all men to study in kollel for as long as possible after marriage, he also encouraged them to send their wives out to work to support their families. For all that can be stated regarding this approach, it clearly recognizes the fact that someone has to work!

[11] We are therefore enjoined while engaging in hishtadlut, to constantly augment it with sincere and intensive prayer as well. May HaShem guide us to serve Him in truth. May we merit receiving all of our spiritual and physical needs and clarity regarding what is happening in our lives. I would like thank Rav Yaacov Moshe Poupko and Rav Meir Munitz for fruitful discussions and sources on this topic.

18 Kislev Links

(Picture courtesy of

Beyond Teshuva: Minhag BT

Zchus Avos Yogen Aleinu: Segula from Reb Boruch of Mezhibuz Prayer vigil in Annapolis


Jealousy can cause so much harm that one must be very careful to avoid it.

(Rabbi Yaakov Culi)

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

"And One From The Side Of Gevurah"

Botzina Dinehora - Pietrokov, 1889

Reb Boruch'l of Mezhibuz - Blessed Above and Below

Guest Posting By Rabbi Yakov Horowitz - Pictures From My Photo Album [Part I]

I had the great zechus to daven in the vasikin minyan with Reb Levi Yitzchak Bender z'tl each day for 5 months during the spring/summer of 1979. Many of those days, I would accompany him to the Kosel on the #1 bus following davening.

At that time, Reb Levi Yitzchok z'tl was fully independent -- his eyesight had not failed yet -- and vigorously rejected any trappings of 'rebbishkeit'. He shopped, rode the bus, walked himself, etc.

One day, I decided to photograph him during davening so that I could record it for posterity. Reb Levi Yitzchok never made a fuss when he was photographed, but having spent time with him, I knew that he was pained by the process. I was also reluctant to disturb the davening.

So, I borrowed a camera with a telephoto lens from a British chaver in the Mir and took this series of pictures from the (empty:)) ladies section of the shul. You can see from the pictures that the quality improves as davening progresses. this is due to the improved lighting conditions as sunrise approached.

Reb Levi Yitzchok never saw the camera -- although a few of the mispallilim did!!!

"Everything Written"

(Picture courtesy of

Rabbi Avraham Chaim Bloomenstiel commenting on Another Kind Of "Blood Libel":

There is a tale told of two fellows locked in a machlokes. Eventually, they agreed to go to the Rabbi for resolution. The first party carefully outlined his side of the argument. The rabbi listened intently and concluded, “My son, you are right.” The other party then outlined his appraisal of things, to which the Rabbi replied: “You are right, too.” The rabbi’s wife, who had overheard the conversations with both men, said to her husband, “Rabbi, you told them both that they were right. They can’t both be right!” To which the rabbi replied, “Hmmm… you are right too!”

Everything written in Chabakuk Elisha’s post is 100% correct and is emes. But, everything in the article upon which Chabakuk Elisa has come to comment is true as well.

The article that touched a nerve for Chabakuk Elishsa is from an online repository of summaries of shailos and teshuvos. Its points are basically two:

1. The article brings an interpretation from Rav Chaim Kanievsky explaining why there is a custom/chumra of some not to accept blood transfused from a non-Jew.


2. Rav Kanievsky was apparently cautious to note that this minhag should not be treated as a minhag shel shtus.

Chabakuk Elisha, if I am reading him correctly, believes that:

1. The source for the custom/chumra at issue is not really valid.


2. The real source is bias and bigotry against non-Jews.

The operative assumption of R’ Kanievsky’s interpretation is that there may be, note “may be,” inherent physiological differences between Jews and non-Jews that may, again “may,” have ramifications in the halachic sphere. This point is not without basis. However, these differences are more tied to the dietary metzius (reality) of non-Jews rather than to some inherent bio-structural difference.

Niddah 34b and Shabbos 86b bring a discussion regarding the zera of a Yisroel that is within the body of a Nochris and whether or not it is tuma if poleit within 3 days. One proposed answer hinges on the idea that the body temperature of Jews differs from that of non-Jews. While the original question is unresolved, the possibility that there may be physiological differences between Jews and non-Jews is left open. Note one of the main reasons proposed for possibly variant body temperatures is the difference in diet; non-Jews eat things that Jews do not eat.

These Gemoras combined with others in Shas (i.e. Avoda Zara 31b) strengthened the possibility of differing biologies enough for the Chasam Sofer to base a ruling upon it. In his Teshuvos Y.D. 175 the Chasam Sofer rules that medical statistics or findings based on a non-Jewish majority should not be considered definite for Jews because the possibility may exist that the physiologies are incomparable. However, in a case of life and death the Chasam Sofer says that we may rely on these findings and consider them definite because of the leniencies associated with pikuach nefesh and the principle of lo halchu be-pikuach nefesh achar ha-rov, “in matters of life and death, statistical majorities/minorities are not always relied upon as they would be in a normal situation.” Parenthetically, we should note that there are many contemporary poskim who doubt the applicability of the Chasam Sofer’s ruling in the modern medical world. [1]

Another place where this possible difference bears halachic import is in the case of a non-Jewish wet nurse. It is interesting that, again, the diet of the non-Jew seems to be a big part of the issue.

YD 81:7 the Mechaber paskens that, while a Non-Jewish wet nurse may nurse a Jewish baby, the practice should be discouraged because her (the wet nurse’s) diet is not kosher. In a similar vein, the Rama adds that a Jewish woman who must eat non-kosher food for health reasons should not nurse her child because the non-kosher food will harm the baby. The source for this idea that the diet of the non-Jew is the main issue, not the nature of the non-Jew herself, is the Rashba on Yevamos 114. The Rashba holds that a woman’s milk is not inherently treif; rather, its status depends upon her diet. The Vilna Gaon proposes a source for this Rashba from the well-known Medrash in Parshas Shemos. The Torah states that the Egyptians brought a wet nurse from the Jews to feed Moshe. Rashi explains that Moshe refused nursing from an Egyptian woman because he was going to be a navi and could not, therefore, eat non-kosher food. Based upon this proof, we see that the issue is not the non-Jew herself, rather the simple fact of circumstance that she ingests tarfus.

Either way, the possibility of Jewish biology differing from non-Jewish biology is not strong enough to bear weight as a psak, but it is enough to substantiate certain personal chumras, for example, not wanting a blood transfusion from a non-Jew.

Why is this not a minhag shel shtus?

While the technical and colloquial usages of “minhag shel shtus” have become very blurred, there is a workable definition. Basically, this is a custom which cannot be tied to a source in Shas Bavli, Yerushalmi, or any of the classic works of Kabbalo.

Under this definition, we find many accepted practices, particularly among the Ashkenazim, which could receive the label. In fact, some did. In the original edition of the Shulchan Aruch , Simon 605 [2] was bluntly entitled: Minhag Kapparos be-Erev Yom Kippur Minhag Shel Shtus Hu, “The Custom of Kapporos on the Eve of the Day of Atonement is a Foolish Custom.” [3]

The title was changed to its modern form sometime in the 1570’s when the Ashkenazi editions incorporating the Rama were first printed.

The reason for the Mechaber’s treatment was that the minhag of kapparos has no Talmudic source. [4] Rather, its earliest mention is a Rashi to Shabbos 81b.

Nevertheless, the custom has taken root due to the approvals of the Rosh [5], Tur [6] , and Mordechai. [7] Amongst Sephardim, the custom has gained popularity because the Ari was known to have embraced it. [8]

Another candidate is kitniyos. Rabbeinu Yerucham flatly called it a minhag shel shtus. [9] No less a sage than Rav Yaakov Emden concurred that the minhag was problematic and declared it a mitzvah to annul the whole thing. [10] We hold onto it today due to its wide acceptance and the Maharil’s passionate defense of the custom. [11]

In contrast, we have some customs which may appear foolish but are not. For example, see Orach Chayim 442:6 that records the minhag of some persons to scrape down walls and chairs that may have come in contact with chometz. The Mishneh Berurah warns that we should not think this is a minhag shel shtus. Why? Because it has a basis it can be tied to in the Yerushalmi.

In conclusion, those who want to be machmir about not receiving a blood transfusion from a non-Jew have what to rely upon. However, the sources may only be enough to warrant a personal custom/chumra and not a hanhaga for an entire community. Also, Rav Kanievsky’s defense of this custom as “not a minhag shel shtus” is warranted; we see that the possibility of differing biological traits does exist. Additionally, we know that it is not preferable for an infant to nurse from a non-Jew due to the fact that she eats tarfus. Perhaps this reasoning carries to blood transfusions as well? Again – not enough for a psak, but enough for someone to be machmir if they want to be.

I just don’t see anything in the original article that warrants the “annoyance, anger, and disgust” expressed by Chabakuk Elisha. While it is true that non-Jews and Jews are different (spiritually and, according to some, perhaps even physically), it is also true that we have a responsibility to uphold and exercise the tenets of basic human dignity. I just don’t see how the Revach article poses any contradiction to either of these two facts.

Anyone who wishes to comment on this post or Chabakuk Elisha’s post, please read (or re-read) the original article found here.


[1] Heard from Rav Ovadia Yosef, shlita. Rav Yosef also writes about this topic in his teshuvos, but I cannot lay my hands on the source at the moment.

[2] For an example, see edition published Venice, 1565.

[3] According to Sheilos u-Teshuvos Shemesh Tzedaka O. C. 23 the simon titles in early editions may not have been written by the Mechaber or, alternatively, the original titles were liberally edited. Nevertheless, R’ Karo still opposes kapparos strongly in his Beis Yosef.

[4] The Beis Yosef goes further bringing the Rashba who views this practice as darkei ha-emori.

[5] Yoma 8:23

[6] O.C. 605

[7] Introductory notes to Yoma.

[8] Magen Avraham 605:1. See Kaf ha-Chayim 605:8, Shu”t Yechave Da’as II:71, and Ben Ish Chai: Vayeilech 2 for more information about the Sephardic adoption of this custom.

[9] Toldos Adam ve-Chava IV:3.

[10] Mor u-Ketzia 453

[11] Maharil 187.

17 Kislev Links

(Picture courtesy of

Dixie Yid: Openmindedness Between Mesorahs

The Muqata: The Jerusalem Feint

Mystical Paths: Harav Amnon Itzchak Shlita

A Simple Jew: Three Months Later

Far Away

Those who study Torah literature on personal development and make a genuine effort to live up to Torah ideas are very likely to look at themselves and feel they are from where the Torah says they ought to be. Even after years of effort trying to improve oneself, one may scrutinize oneself and one's behavior carefully and feel that the Torah itself would condemn one.

It may be that one has done, and continues to do, much that is wrong. One's behavior and personality may be far from what the Torah asks. Nevertheless, it will not help to get depressed about it. Instead of dwelling on one's bad points and failures, one should try to find good points and mitigating factors.

(Rabbi Avraham Greenbaum)

Monday, November 26, 2007

Guest Posting By Chabakuk Elisha - Another Kind Of "Blood Libel"

(Picture courtesy of

Recently I was sent a link to an article on the Revach L'Neshama website discussing the "chumra" (stringency) about not taking a blood transfusion from a non-Jew, and Rav Chaim Kanievsky's defending it against the possible charge of being called a "minhag shtus" (a foolish or baseless practice).

My first reaction to this article was annoyance, anger, and disgust – but I'll get back to that. Let's start with the concept of "minhag shtus." I don't know what this really means, since any minhag practiced by respected Jewish leaders becomes legitimate by definition. Therefore, although we find the term used occasionally in Shulchan Arukh, the "minhag shtus" card is hard to play. Once we try to apply it, we are forced to qualify our words, saying that those who follow a particular custom do so "in a foolish manner," etc. I'd rather not take the bait. Rather, I try to avoid using the phrase (as much as I would like to sometimes).

The issue is not whether or not a source for such a chumra exists. (In fact, the source offered by the author of this article looks like a case of painting the target around the arrow. We have no idea if this Gemara had anything to do with the Rav's request.) The real issue comes down to an individual's hergesh, a subjective feeling – and this feeling is based on the concept of kedushah, separating between the sacred and the mundane. However, this concept, too, is not as easily understandable as it may seem at first glance, especially in this day and age.

Jews are called kadosh (translated "holy"), which actually means "removed," "distant," "separated." For whatever wondrous reason known only to G-d (Rabbi Nachman of Breslov calls it a "segula" – something that transcends human logic), the Jew was chosen, separated from all the nations, and given a specific role, as we say in davening on Yom Tov: "Atah vechartanu – You, O G-d, have chosen us / selected us from among all the nations." So, yes, we believe that we are the "chosen people" -- but what does this mean?

Rabbi Sears explains in his "Compassion for Humanity in the Jewish Tradition" (p.111): 1) The doctrine of the Divine election of Israel does not deny that any other individuals may establish a profound relationship with G-d. 2) It neither dehumanizes the "unchosen," nor does it set them up to be exploited (G-d forbid). 3) This doctrine in fact has its own universalistic implications.

It is not possible to go into these points at length here, so I will recommend the book to those who are interested, and proceed to the main point:

Judaism eschews any religion or path that rejects G-d, and takes a critical view of those who follow such doctrines. According to many authorities (among them, Rabbi Yaakov Emden), Christianity and Islam are included among the paths that accept G-d, and we therefore do not regard them in the same negative light as certain other religions. Paganism, polytheism, and atheism, on the other hand, deny the fundamentals of monotheistic faith and ARE considered illegitimate. Of course, much confusion has grown out of this general concept.

Despite all this, a moral non-Jew who believes in G-d is a respected and elevated being in the eyes of Judaism. He or she has a share in the World to Come (Tosefta, Sanhedrin 13:1, Rambam: Mishneh Torah, Hil. Teshuvah 3:5; Meiri on Sanhedrin 57A; et al.). Righteous gentiles are even called "priests" (Midrash: Yalkut, Kings II, 296) and "pious ones" (Tana D'vei Eliyahu Zuta 20:6); and according to some, they will return with the resurrection (Pirkei D'Rebbi Eliezer 34; according to the other view, they will remain in a state of bliss in the World of Souls and not return to this plane of existence). Righteous gentiles are rewarded for fulfilling G-d's commandments (Talmud Yerushalmi, Peah 1:1); G-d recalls their merits (Yalkut: Tehilim 643); they have a share in Gan Eden (Zohar, Pekudei); and all references to punishment of the nations does not apply to them (Midrash Shochar Tov , Psalm 9; a similar statement can be found in Rashi on Sanhedrin 105A).

Furthermore, the Talmud states that a non-Jew who studies Torah is comparable to the Kohen Gadol /High Priest (Avodah Zara 3A, Bava Kama 38A; this refers to the parts of Torah that apply to him, such as the Seven Noachide Laws and the basics of faith and theology). And, of course, all mankind is equally created "in the image of G-d" (Pirkei Avos 3:14), and Hashem is concerned about all people and all creation. "V'rachamav al kol ma'asav . . . His compassion is upon all of His works" (Tehillim 145:9). R' Yehoshua ben Levi (Bereishis Rabbah 26:2) states on the verse "G-d will wipe away the tears from all faces" (Isaiah 25:8): "This means from the faces of Jews and non-Jews alike."

There are countless quotes of this nature, and we could go on all day, but suffice it to say that the distinction between Jews and non-Jews is often oversimplified. Yes, a distinction exists – but how that distinction is defined often leads to negative consequences.

Generations upon generations – thousands of years! – of persecution, as well as the desire to avoid alien and undesirable influences has caused many Jews to lose track of the universalist side of Judaism. We are products of a galus-mentality that, combined with our inevitable human failings, can develop into subtle (or even overt) racism and disrespect for other human beings. Like many other religious Jews I know, I wish that this was not the case, but unfortunately, too often it is.

However, there always have been and still are many great leaders – for example, Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks of England in our generation – who "hear the music" and emphasize the universalistic message of Torah; while sadly, others are tone-deaf. This article on Revach L'Neshama (with no disrespect meant to the Gedolim it mentions) is actually a reflection of this problem.

The late R' Ahron Soloveichik wrote: "From the standpoint of Torah there can be no distinction between one human being or another on the basis of race or color. Any discrimination shown to another human being on account of the color of his or her skin constitutes loathsome barbarity. It must be conceded that the Torah recognizes a distinction between a Jew and Non-Jew. This distinction, however is not based upon race, origin, or color, but rather upon Kedushah, the holiness endowed by having been given and having accepted the Torah, Furthermore, the distinction between Jew and Non-Jew does not involve any concept of inferiority but is based primarily upon the unique and special burdens that are incumbent upon the Jews (Logic of the Heart, Logic of the Mind, Chapter 5, "Civil Rights and the Dignity of Man.") These ideas are stated repeatedly in the works of nineteenth century Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, as well.

I will end with a quote from a powerful section of R' Pinchos Eliyohu Horowitz of Vilna, Sefer HaBris (section II, discourse 13): "Our love of humanity should take no exception to any nation or individual. For man was not created for his own sake exclusively; rather, all men exist for the sake of one another. As a sage once said: "The world and all it contains was created for mankind, and within mankind itself, one person was created for the sake of the next, each to benefit the other." Therefore, not only does [love of one's fellow] apply to the Jewish people but to all mankind. We should love all nations and include all peoples in this universal principle, 'the stranger and native son' alike, all who inhabit the earth."

May we soon merit to see the day when all people will serve Hashem as one!

"I Was Very Taken Aback"

(Painting by David Avisar)

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

Dixie Yid: Wrestling With Being a Ger and a Chassid

Simply Tsfat - The Turkey King

16 Kislev Links

(Picture by Annalisa Ronzoni)

Avakesh: As the light ebbs away....

Alice Jonsson: A Siddur for Noahides

Crawling to Uman: Davening on High Places

Dixie Yid: Learning Torah that Speaks to *You*

Resolving Internal Conflicts

Each person must resolve any conflicts which exist between the different parts of his character. He must also develop a harmonious approach to his life experiences as a whole, so that it makes no difference to him whether things are seemingly good or bad: he will always find Hashem in everything.

(Rebbe Nachman of Breslov)

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Black & White Picture Of The Week - Winter's Approach

Candles vs. Olive Oil

(Picture courtest of

Excerpt from Shabbos Secrets:

A husband came to the Sanzer Rav, the Divrei Chaim, to ask his advice about their domestic squabble. "My wife refuses to use olive oil for the Shabbos lights because her mother never used olive oil," the husband complained.

After hearing them out, the Divrei Chaim said, "Our Sages instituted the kindling of the Shabbos lights in order to promote domestic peace. How can Shabbos lights be a source of bickering to the point of causing the break-up of a marriage?"

Then he ruled, "The Sages placed the duty of kindling the Shabbos lights primarily on the wife. Therefore, the wife's custom should be followed, and she is not required to kindle using olive oil."

Friday, November 23, 2007

יצחק בן נחום ז''ל

Grandpa and me - April 1973

"Not Really So Different Than Non-Religious Materialistic People"

(Picture courtesy of

Rabbi Dovid Sears commenting on "The Pot Of Gold At The End Of The Rainbow":

Chabakuk Elisha: You are absolutely right.

It seems that there are two "tracks" in Yiddishkeit when it comes to these issues in Yiddishkeit. For the person who is bogged down in the ego, he must be motivated to serve G-d by rewards and punishments -- like a child who doesn't know the dangers of playing in the street or the intrinsic reward of certain good behaviors. For the person who has attained a bit of da'as, there is what the Chovos HaLevavos calls "motivation from intellect (or enlightenment)."

Many years ago I asked Rav Eisenblatt, a"h, the Mashgiach of my yeshivah, how ostensibly frum people could be so detail-oriented about mitzvos but lack rachmonus and compassion for others. "Isn't rachmonus and sensitivity to other people what the Torah is all about?"

The Mashgiach agreed heartily.

Then he explained: "These people are not really so different than non-religious materialistic people. It is just that one day they suddenly realized that Hashem truly exists and they had better straighten out! So now they became a little smarter. But their basic self-centered motivation did not change.

"However, through the kedushas ha-Torah, they, too, will get beyond this and begin to serve Hashem and do mitzvos l'shmah (for the intrinsic worth of the mitzvos)..."

Question & Answer With Mottel Of Letters Of Thought - Advice After Gimmel Tammuz

A Simple Jew asks:

As a Lubavitcher, without a living Rebbe in command who do you go to now for personal guidance and direction?

Mottel of Letters of Thought answers:

The answer to your question is one of a very personal nature. Though I gladly answer it, my answer must be viewed in the light of an individual Lubavitcher's feelings and thoughts, based on the unique combination of events that have composed the story of his life -I can answer only for myself. What is more, my experience with the Rebbe is one who never merited to see him with physical eyes -I was both too young before the histalkus in nun daled, and in any event did not come to Chabad until I was older.

The connection between a Rebbe and chossid is one of the deepest love possible -the Frierdiker Rebbe once remarked that had Shlomo Hamelech been a chossid, he would have written Shir Hashirim about the love between a Rebbe and chossid, not a husband and wife. Before Yechidus, private audience with the Rebbe, chossidim would fast, say tehillim, and prepare themselves spiritually. R' Moshe Vilenker, a chossid of the Alter Rebbe, spent three years preparing himself for Yechidus, and then spent an additional seven years in Liozna bringing the Yechidus into practical application in his Divine service.

After the Rebbe's heart-attack, on Shemini Atzeres, 5738 (1977) the Rebbe insisted, despite the assumed risk to his health, that he keep up his correspondence personally in order to properly dispense advice. Even after the Rebbe stopped 'Yechidus', he made himself available for consultation in other ways -most notably by standing for hours while giving out dollars on Sundays.

All this being said, it is clear then that the bond between Rebbe and Chossid is one of great importance and power, and that going to a Rebbe for advice is something integral to Chassidus - both for the Rebbe and the Chossid.

Well before Gimmel Tammuz, the Rebbe made clear how Chassidim should seek advice . . .

The Rebbe commented at times that by listening to the Farbrengens, all of one's questions could be answered as if via Yechidus. Even more so, the Rebbe Spoke about 'Asei Lecha Rav', the obligation to make a Rav, a Mashpia, for oneself. It is related that after the Rebbe spoke of his desire for people to find personal mashpi'im, an elderly chossid found a chossid even older then him to be his mashpia.

This then is how I seek guidance, by consulting my mashpia - an individual who I trust for advice and seek consultation in all serious matters. As well, I gain inspiration and guidance from the Rebbe's own words, through his sichos, ma'amorim, and letters.

In truth, however, the bond between Rebbe and chossid is such that even in light of the current situation, the Rebbe is still accessible. In a recent post on my blog, I mentioned the recollections of a certain Chossid whose father was in Paris with the Rebbe during the outbreak of the Second World War. Though at the time Paris was relatively safe, dark clouds loomed on the horizon, and this Chossid was not sure if he should leave Europe and abandon the successful business he had, starting anew in America, or to remain behind. Seeing as how the Previous Rebbe was stuck in Nazi controlled Poland, he approached the Rebbe (at the time known chiefly as the PR's son in law) and asked him for advice.

"Shrieb a briev tzum Rebbe'n -Write to the Rebbe," was the reply.

The chossid was shocked, as all communications to Poland were seemingly cut off by the war, and the Previous Rebbe had gone into hiding in the Warsaw Ghetto.

The Rebbe saw his confusion and said,

"The Rebbe doesn't need a letter, telegraph or phone call. He can reach you without all of these thing."

The story ends with the Chossid sending a telegram, despite the scoffing of others, and the next morning waking up with a clear conviction to leave France as soon as possible.

The answer regardless, the point I wish to bring out is the that the bond between Rebbe and Chossid is one beyond the barriers of time and space.

The Alter Rebbe, the Ba'al Hatanya v'HaShulchan Aruch, writes in Igeres Hakodesh of Tanya about the saying of the Zohar, that a Tzadik is found in this world even more so after his histalkus. Until the hilulah, he is located within the bounds of a physical body; after, however, he is accessible beyond all limitations.

By visiting the places where the Rebbe was: his room, his shul, and his ohel, we reforge a connection -each in his own way. Stories are well known of the continued connection between the Rebbe and Chassidim. I can only relate what I have myself experienced -how during times of atzvus, when I have felt low, a sicha being played in yeshivah has been the answer to my problems, or letters that I have read upon coming to particularly difficult situations. My friend, when pondering if he wanted to go to Poland (which he ultimately did with me), came out of the Ohel to find a video playing about David Chases' conversation with the Rebbe about helping the Jews in Poland.

May we merit to see Yeshuos b'kerev ha'aretz, with Moshiach now!

"The Pot Of Gold At The End Of The Rainbow"

(Picture courtesy of

Is our focus supposed to be on the rewards package after checking out of here after 120 years? This entire premise just pushed all my buttons – am I a child that I must be tricked into being a good boy? Is Yiddishkeit some kind of a game all about collecting the most brownie points? I think that reward gets too much airplay. I can just see it, "Well maybe I should smile at this old woman and say hello after all, you know I will have more of a reward in Olam Haboh, so it really is in MY best interest to do it." I think that all this emphasis on Olam Haboh has become confused.

Chabakuk Elisha: Warped Judaism

Havdala - Rav Elazar Kenig

(Pictures by Jack Klein)

The Best Two Sentences In The Book

(Picture courtesy of

"Hard to say which came first, the spiritual void or capitalism's rush into it. Did the bar mitzvah party industry arise to warm up an event that had already gone spiritually cold, or did the party planners and souvenir merchants corrode what had been a simpler, more earnest affair?"

Mark Oppenheimer's book "Thirteen and a Day: The Bar and Bat Mitzvah Across America" provides insight into the observance of this ritual in 21st Century America. After reading it, however, I realized how out of touch I was with the majority of American Jewry.

My thought about bar mitzvahs today can be found here.

Chabakuk Elisha's reflections on his son's bar mitzvah can be found here.

For a pair of superior quality tefillin see Sofer of Tzfat's website here.


Here in America, Chassidus has changed. It has become a mitzvah to travel to one Rebbe, and the disparage another. I am not looking for that mitzvah.

(Rabbi Moshe Zvi Aryeh Bick)

Thursday, November 22, 2007

A Day To

(Picture courtesy of

"... to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection..."

George Washington, 1789