Saturday, December 31, 2016

Linked Article from -- The unholy balk at the idea of self-discipline

"2-6  Seven cows… seven ears of grain: Although, as we have seen, Pharaoh's dreaming stemmed from Joseph, the content of his dreams differed profoundly from that of Joseph's. Pharaoh dreamed only of produce and animals but not of work. Joseph's dreams, in contrast, began from the start with the image of work—the brothers gathering sheaves in the field.

"This aptly reflects the difference between how holy individuals and unholy individuals receive sustenance from on high. The holy receive sustenance through the work of aligning themselves with God's will. When they do so, Divine sustenance flows to them naturally. The unholy balk at the idea of self-discipline and work and therefore refuse to conform to God's will; they are therefore sustained by God in a backhanded fashion."


7th Lubavitcher Rebbe

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Wisdom from a Marxist

I don't know what they have to say,
It makes no difference anyway,
Whatever it is, I'm against it.
No matter what it is or who commenced it,
I'm against it.

Your proposition may be good,
But let's have one thing understood,
Whatever it is, I'm against it.
And even when you've changed it or condensed it,
I'm against it.

From the Marx Bros. film Horse Feathers (1932), as sung by Groucho Marx
(Harry Ruby / Bert Kalmar)


The attitude reminds me of more than a few people that I have met that are what Rabbi Soloveitchik used to call againstniks. "Don't be an againstnik," he once told a student.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Simmy Lerner Presents Rav Hirsch on Parshas Noach

Parshas Noach

The message is basically that the state is supposed to serve the person, not the reverse. When the person serves the state, then you get real problems. Think of highly conformist communities where fitting in to the crowd in every detail seems to be the highest avodah.

I also think of this quote:

“Everything for the State, nothing outside the State, nothing against the State.” Benito Mussolini

Monday, December 26, 2016

Herculean efforts

Even after the Herculean efforts of Rabbi S. R. Hirsch, whose influence caused a tremendous improvement, Rabbi Isaac Halevi (author of Doros Rishonim) wrote in 1901: "In Germany, the Neologues [the reform and semi-Reform] are by far the majority, and they have gone so far that there is no longer any hope of retrieving them." 

[R' Avigdor Miller, A Divine Madness, pp. 77-8. Rabbi Miller was discussing the falling away from Torah observance in 19th century Europe]

Friday, December 23, 2016

Linked Post - More On The Importance of Honoring One's Nature -

"Every individual is required to serve G-d according to his nature and spiritual level. A person who can pierce pearls or polish gems, yet occupies himself with baking bread, is considered to have sinned, even though this too is a much needed task. The parallels to this in our Divine service are obvious." Igros Kodesh of the 6th Lubavitcher Rebbe, the Rebbe Rayatz, letter #1022, Heb. Vol. 4, p. 340.

"~ A Story with an Echo ~

The Alter Rebbe would tell the following story." One Friday afternoon, a wagon driver drove his wealthy and pampered employer to the mikveh, and then led his horses to the stable where they would be housed over Shabbos. As he was leaving, he saw a squad of soldiers dragging a Jewish family away in chains. He sprang up and with a few powerful blows felled several of the soldiers. Before a major struggle erupted, their commanding officer approached him calmly."


Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Fields of Athenry

I have posted some classical music here but no other gentile music. That isn't to say there isn't non-classical that can be ennobling. Here's an example of a song that is:

The Fields of Athenry

(Note, when the audience sings you can hear faintly some women singing along with the men.)

This is a big song in Ireland. You can see that here.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Rav Scheinberg on Bitul Torah and Reading about the Holocaust

Q. Is it bitul Torah to read about the Holocaust.

Rav Scheinberg: "If it will make you more religious, then you may read it and it is not bitul Torah."

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Linked Post: Jews in Wonderland - Seforim Blog

Jews in Wonderland by John M. Efron

This article discusses the interest German Jewry had in Sephardic Jewry. Key paragraph:

"One aspect of the great cultural transformation of German Jewry was the special place of honor it accorded medieval Spanish Jewry during its so-called Golden Age.  For the entire German-Jewish elite, the Sephardim were a cultural nobility and over the span of about 120 years, from approximately 1780 to 1900, what first began among community leaders as an appreciation of Sephardic Jewry blossomed into a rhapsodic and full-blown infatuation with the Jews of Sepharad.  In fact, the adulation shown towards Sephardic culture had a deep impact on German-Jewish self-perception, for the celebration of Sephardic Jewry led simultaneously to a self-critique, often a very harsh one, of Ashkenazic culture.  German-Jewish elites portrayed the Jews of Germany and Poland as insular, unattractive and primitive and in response, they felt that the time had come to rectify this and become like they imagined the Jews of Spain to have once been—worldly, alluring, and cosmopolitan."

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Linked Post from Beis Vaad L'Chachamim: Rav Schwab on Maishiv HaRuch

"Rav Schwab is quoted (in his son's sefer) as asking, why do you have to repeat shmoneh esrei if you skip Mashiv haru'ach umorid hageshem? Not every word in shmoneh esrei is essential, as shown in havineinu, and here, we're not even asking for rain, it's just a mention of the gevura of rain. He answers with the Gemara in Chulin brought by Rashi in Breishis 2:5. The passuk says "Now no tree of the field was yet on the earth, neither did any herb of the field yet grow, because the Lord God had not brought rain upon the earth, and there was no man to work the soil."  Rashi says..."

cont.  Beis Vaad L'Chachamim

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Saint-Saëns conducts, plays and speaks

Saint-Saëns conducts, plays and speaks, 1914 and 1904

Take me back. I always want a taste of that era.

Charles-Camille Saint-Saëns (French: [ʃaʁl kamij sɛ̃sɑ̃s], traditionally pronounced [sɛ̃sɑ̃] in French;[n 1] 9 October 1835 – 16 December 1921) was a French composer, organist, conductor and pianist of the Romantic era. His best-known works include Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso (1863), the Second Piano Concerto (1868), the First Cello Concerto (1872), Danse macabre (1874), the opera Samson and Delilah (1877), the Third Violin Concerto (1880), the Third ("Organ") Symphony (1886) and The Carnival of the Animals(1886).  Wiki

And his second Piano Concerto.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Even More on the Imperative to Study Grammar

"The study of grammar is a cornerstone of Torah and when studying a lesson in Gemara, one should also have grammar books in front of him." The Pri Megaden, Introduction, 16.

The Rambam considered the study of Hebrew a mitzvah in its own right." Yitzchok Frank, Grammar for Gemara, p. 1, referring to the Rambam on Avos II:1. See also Hilchos Talmud Torah 3:3 and Tosfos Yom Tov on Avos 3:8, d'h: takufos.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Being a Jew is only a higher stage of being a man

"Twenty six generations did דרך ארץ precede the תורה, for it says, cherubim and sword were established to keep the way to the tree of life; but the way is culture, and only then can one reach to the tree of life, to the Torah". Culture starts the work of educating the generations of mankind and the Torah completes it; for the Torah is the most finished education of Man. The fig-leaf and apron, those first gifts which Man possessed on his way to education, were the first appurtenances of culture, and culture in the service of morality is the first stage of Man's return to God. For us Jews, דרך ארץ and תורה are one. The most perfect gentleman and the most perfect Jew, to the Jewish teaching, are identical. But in the general development of mankind culture comes earlier. The "Sword and the Cherubim", the exigencies of life and the intuition of Something Higher in life lead the generation of mankind to the path of culture which ultimately opens onto the tree of life. That is why the Jew rejoices whenever and wherever culture elevates people to a perception of true values and to nurture goodness. But of course where culture and civilisation are used in the service of sensuality the degeneration only gets all the greater. But still such misuse of culture does not do away with the intrinsic value and blessing of דרך ארץ, for אם אין דרך ארץ אין תורה. Therefore Jews, too, are to attach themselves to, and love all good and true culture and by the ways and manner of their behaviour and demeanour appear as educated people, and show that being a Jew is only a higher stage of being a man. And of course, on the other side too, אם אין תורה אין  דרך ארץ, if culture and education instead of leading to תורה, take the place of it, then it is not the way that leads to the Tree of Life, but is the way that leads to degeneration.

Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch, Commentary on Pentateuch, Genesis 3:24.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

A Hungarian Playing the Hungarian Rhapsody

Adam Gyorgy Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2

To me any version of Liszts Hungarian Rhapsody #2 where all the notes are played is impressive. However, I very much like this one by the nice clean cut Hungarian pianist Adam Gyorgy. So many classical performers today are either immodestly dressed or pretentiously stylish in dress, as if wild hair makes you a genius. 

Monday, December 5, 2016

R' Moshe Brody - Parshas Toldos: in praise of Torah true, ehrliche Balle batim

Posted with permission


Parshas Toldos: in praise of Torah true, ehrliche Balle batim

1.       And this week’s parsha, the Torah tells us how Yitzchok loved Esav while Rivka loved Yakov. The Torah tells us that therefore Yitzchok wanted to give the berchos to Esav but that Rivka was able to get the berachos for her son Yaakov. Rav Belsky zatzal asked-why did Yitzchok want to give the berachos to Esav and not Yaakov when Yaakov was a greater person? He answered, as many others have done as well, that Yitzchok originally thought that perhaps being that Esav was a man of the field, that he would more suited to support the physical means of Yaakov while Yaakov dedicated his full to Torah and spiritual pursuits. Thus he would give the blessings of material bounty to Esav, while keeping the spiritual blessings for Yaakov.
2.       However Rivka understood the true nature of Esav and that Esav would never partner successfully with Yaakov. Therefore, she decided to do otherwise and get the berachos to Yaakov instead. What, we can take out from this is the need to have both financial and spiritual independence. We cannot rely on those who are uncommitted to our values to help us in this sphere. We need to have both the spiritual and financial abilities to make what we need for the creation of spheres of spiritual enclaves.
3.       But in truth, this thought leads me to more. Last week we discussed the question that many privately ask: why does my yiddishkeit matter. This question is not felt that much by the spiritual elites but more by the plain (shrinking class of) ball habus in our society. In particular, why the middle of the road, average baal habus matters to yiddishkeit. Why the simple ball habus is needed to stand strong, in face of the onslaught of the yetzer hara who entices them every moment of the day. Besides for all the ideas of chiyvim and the rest that we all know well, what is it that balle batim can inspire themselves and stave off the yetzer hara with. This question is not so much faced by the much praised and needed rich and wealthy ball habus, and not by the ones who learn a whole day and are on the top of the spiritual totem pole-but those who are oisak biparnasah and are kovea iteim everyday-what is their role in yiddishkeit?
4.       While, I will ihy”h address this question in much greater depth a different week, and in fact there is a much greater conceptual answer to this burning question, there is in fact a very practical and incredibly important role that balle batishe people play in supporting klal yisroel’s spirituality. And here I don’t just mean in financial terms, which is also the case, but in fact in spiritual terms.
5.       As we mentioned before, Rivkah understood the outcome of such a shidduch between Esav and Yaakov, perhaps even better than her sublime and holy husband understood it. She understood, that while it’s true that it is that the Esav could be saddled to this holy task of supporting his brother in his spiritual pursuits, the reality won’t be like that. Why not? Why wouldn’t it work for an Esav to fulfill the role of the “supporter of Torah” while Yaakov be completely devoted to spiritual pursuits?
6.       The answer I believe is as follows. While it may work for the first generation-it would be a disaster for the next. For the nature of human beings is: people look up to rich people, to successful, self-supporting individuals. People respect people that can bring home sustenance. If Esav were to be the breadwinner and Yaakov dependent upon him, it is very likely that the next generation of people would begin to look up to such a figure in respect. And as their respect for him grows, his influence will grow as well. And as his influence grows, so will the respect for his evil ways, his lust for pleasure, his drive for power and all the other negatives associated with Esav, to the next generation. And this is what Rivka was possibly afraid of. She was afraid of those with means being a negative spiritual influence upon the next generations. And so thus, in order to spare her children from almost certain influence, the money and support needed to come from internal sources-not to be beholden to treife outside sources.
7.       And this is why ehrliche, sincere balle batim matter. All types of levels of sincere ehrliche balle batim. For they provide a powerful spiritual example to those growing up that yes-you could be a member of this world and still be a completely ehrliche Yid. And more importantly, the presence of Torah true balle batim diminish the power and persuasive effect that “fake Jews” have on the klal. When people who have been cloistered and peer pressured into being frum come into the world to “escape”, and see strong bnai Torah working, people who keep to the gdirai hatznius even in office environments, away from the frowns of Rabbaanim, it makes a deep impression. (Maybe even more than a Rav in all his lectures can have).
8.       Moreover, the mere presence of such kinds of balle batim, strengthens weak yidden. For when such people see a person learning during his lunch break, when they see one who has his own business and schedule, starts his day after learning a few hours in bais Medrash each and every morning, it makes a strong roshem. When such weak yidden, see one who travels on the train with his eyes glued to a sefer or tehillim and not to the pritzus of the outside[1], where they see someone who goes out regularly and excitedly to meet his master for mincha no matter what the deal is that he may be missing, or when they see that no matter how much money they could make, they keep halacha and are nosai vinosai bemunah, those little signs have a tremendous impact. They inspire those who have weaker spiritual constitutions, and weaker feelings towards Torah to remain in the fold, and may make these “fake Jews” inspired (or lichol hapachus just embarrassed to show outwardly their laxity regarding halacha) to keep halacha when they see their balle batishe friends who are real and inspired Torah true yidden.
9.       And how sad it is that these types of ehrliche Jews are, and have become, a relative rarity in the workforce. As society has become more and more polarized between the “earners and learners”, away has slipped these ehrliche balle batim. And away has slid the weak Jew and R”L has dropped everything. Now, in our polarized world, instead of having positive erhliche role models “in the trenches”, being the true foot soldiers of Hashem, we have throngs of  weak Yidden becoming ever more disenfranchised from the spirit of Klal Yisroel.
10.   And so chazak viematz to those that wage the holy battle of becoming ehrliche balle batim. You matter because of the power you spill over to others to remain Torah frum Jews in challenging spiritual environments. You matter because you inspire the next generation of children who can’t see themselves in full time learning that they too can be a somebody who counts on this world. You, by your example, inspire young children who won’t remain in the koslai beth medrash literally all their lives, to become erhliche balle batim and to see a future for themselves as well in a yididshkeit that balances Torah im derech eretz.  It’s true, most glossy magazines won’t put you on the cover because you haven’t done anything spectacular in the eyes of masses, but Hashem knows and that’s who really cares. Hashem knows the literal mesiras nefesh it takes you to remain strong to your ideals, values and Torah practices in the world today and it is to that which you will be rewarded justly. And in the end, people know and are influenced by your actions. Your actions will have an everlasting impact on amcha-on those around you who are influenced by your Torah true ways. Ashraichem.
Chazak viematz and ah gut Shabbos to all.  

[1] I remember more than a few times how Rav Belsky would sing the praises of the ehrliche yid sitting amongst the 49 shaare tumah on the train, his hat slouched down low over his eyes to shield his purity of his eyes from seeing evil and instead glued to the sefer on his lap. Rebbe’s eyes would glaze over, would tear up as he remembered this scene. The thought of this great act of gevura, not recorded anywhere expect in heaven, not praised on any magazine cover, but sincere ehrlichkeit as he shut out the world from his eyes and ears and eased away from the tumas haaretz into the purity of a sefer.
And how much can people accomplish on the train! My father shilit”a finished shisha sidrai Mishna with the bartenura and other meforshim and other such monumental feats just while going back and forth on the train daily from work. Ashrecha! And ashraiechem to all those who have completed daf yomi on the LIRR and all those others like them. You are an inspiration to all!

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Linked Post - Balancing Prayer and Torah

“One should always study that which one’s heart desires” (Avodah Zarah 19a).

The Sages taught an important axiom regarding Torah study: “One should always study that which one’s heart desires” (Avodah Zarah 19a). The rabbis recognized that our inner inclination will lead us to the proper path. If we are drawn to a particular area of Torah, this is a sign that the state of our soul currently requires spiritual sustenance from this aspect of Torah.

This principle is also valid when seeking the correct balance between Torah and prayer. The intellect is not fully capable of judging how much we should nourish ourselves from the wellsprings of Torah wisdom, and how much we need to add the ’spices’ of emotion and feeling. Here, too, our inner inclination will guide us appropriately.

When we are drawn to Torah study, then this is “the time for Torah” - the staple for spiritual advance for the individual and society as a whole. But if we feel from within a hunger for the holy experience of authentic prayer, a yearning to pour out our soul before God, then this is a sign that our soul currently requires this form of spiritual service.

(Rav Kook List <>
Adapted from Ein Eyah vol. III, p. 3; Olat Re’iyah vol. I, preface p. 20) 

Posted with permission

Thursday, December 1, 2016


"I sent to Rav Mazooz something from Rav Henkin's [Rav Yosef Eliyahu Henkin] newest volume in which He says that the Sephardim have something over us. They study dikduk and we all should study dikduk. And it's a problem and in the Ashkenaz world none of us study dikduk and we don't know dikduk and he has a whole piece there how important it is. Again showing Rav Henkin broke from the common way of thinking."

"Isser Zalman Meltzer, part 1," Great Rabbinic Figures, 17:08