Thursday, September 22, 2016

Cast Down the Viduy Booklets? Response to a Leading Neo-Hasidic Leader and Mashpia

What are וידוי booklets, you may ask?

Well, some years ago, some people who are מדקדק במצות (scrupulous in their observance of Hashem's commandments), in order to be mezakeh the rabbim (merit the public), to enhance the seasonal prayers and עבודה (Divine service) of the ימי תשובה, the season of repentance, published some small booklets, expounding on different forms of viduy recited in the season (an integral component of the teshuvah process), which are focused on in this time of the year, to make it more meaningful and relevant for those who seek such things.

An updated version of one that has been around for many years, is shown here. Another one, from Artscroll, can be seen here.

Fine and dandy you say, huh? Who could have a problem with that? However, to a prominent neo-Hasidic leader, for some reason, they are viewed not as a welcome enhancement, but as a serious problem. Rabbi Moshe Weinberger, Mashpia at Yeshiva University, Rabbi of Congregation Aish Kodesh in Woodmere, NY, and leader of the neo Hasidic movement, just came out with a scathing attack on such publications. In a gathering at his congregation a few days ago, he ridiculed them (relevant segments being at 69:40 mainly, as well as at 81:20). According to Weinberger they are problematic, because a person should not dwell too much on sin, rather they should concentrate on positive things, citing certain Hasidic teachings to that effect, particularly on the pasuk לב חכם לימינו ולב כסיל לשמאלו.

Now, there is some logic to that. Standard (non Hasidic) Jewish sources also warn against dwelling excessively on sins of the past. However, as part of the teshuvah (repentance) process we also have mitzvos of viduy which are intensified and focused on around the beginning of a new year. And Rabbi Weinberger himself mentions that in his talk. But then, he goes on to bash viduy booklets, which are useful aides for some people, adjuncts to do the mitzvos in a meaningful manner, going so far as to relate approvingly that when he got one as a youngster his father objected to it and threw it to the floor! He ridicules them to the delighted laughter of his Modern Orthodox audience.

To lash out at such legitimate and honorable works that are utilized by sincere Jews, ehrliche Yidden, is not appropriate in general, and certainly not for someone who (allegedly) is a big leader, and merits a signficant מחאה.

Ironically, it is the Hasidic nusach Sfard order of prayer, which is the nusach of Rabbi Weinberger and his congregation, which says viduy much more often than regular non-Hasidic Jews, having viduy as part of its daily weekday services through most of the year, while the nusach Ashkenaz used by non Hasidim, conversely, does not generally say it year round, but rather only at special times like תענתים and  עשרת ימי תשובה. The Vilna Gaon, the great Misnaged, limits it even further. According to the גר"א, viduy (the short אשמנו version, as well as the longer על חטא version) is only said once during daily selichos (as opposed to three times, as others commonly do), as well as only once per tefillah of Yom Kippur (e.g. once during maariv, once during shacharis, once during musaf, once during mincha). As opposed to others who say it an additional time per tefillah with the shliach tzibbur.

Sadly, this is not the first time that inappropriate rhetoric emanated from this personality. A previous case, discussed at this website in the past, was related to his speaking approvingly about dancing on Tisha Be'Av. Other cases, discussed elsewhere, include his wholesale bashing of kollelim. Even before that, he made other extreme statements that generated much controversy.

ב"ה it is never too late to repent, as long as people are alive. And for institutions who employ unworthy spiritual leaders, there is also room for rectifying past mistakes, and turning over a new leaf with new appropriate leadership. With the Richard Joel era winding down at YU, questionable initiatives and hires of his tenure should be reexamined as well.

May we all merit true teshuvah speedily.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Shabbos with Steven Hill (Reb Shlomo Hill) z"l

The news spread quickly. The famous Reb Shlomo (Steven) Hill was niftar the other day. Interesting posts appeared about his life and character on various websites.

I did not know him personally, nor from television or movie gazing.

But for me, Reb Shlomo Hill was still special.

I have fond memories of him, from a great recording released over twenty years ago, "A Taste of Shabbos", with Dov Levine, which he narrated beautifully, faithfully transmitting the taste of that special day.

If you have never heard it, you might want to take a listen now. Or listen once again, to savor the experience. I don't know if Reb Hill composed the lyrics, or just delivered them. Either way, he shone with a great performance. Seemingly simple words, but depth is there too.

A while back, Charie Bernhaut featured the album on his music broadcast. You can hear extensive clips there (scroll down to show #284, in the first hour) via the archived version, and get a taste of the magnificence of Reb Shlomo Hill.


(previously entitled The Jewish Majesty of Reb Shlomo (Steven) Hill z"l, and Hill Shines For Shabbos - "A Taste of Shabbos" with Reb Shlomo (Steven) Hill z"l )

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Gematria Abuse

Gematria is an ancient art, which features in Jewish tradition at times (Wikipedia has quite an interesting, elaborate entry on it). That does not mean, however, that any and all such calculations conjured up are particularly significant. Not all gematriyaos are equal. Some can be laughable or repulsive. Others can be part of Torah.

Recently, with excitement, someone stated to me, that Donald Trump is be-gematria משיח בן דוד, while his opponent was equivalent to a Biblical villain in calculation. I guess a partisan somewhere put it together to pitch their favored candidate.

I responded that I can't go along with it, and that if we went according to (such) gematriaos, 770 (Eastern Parkway) is בית משיח.  :)

Note: this is not an endorsement or non endorsement of any candidate.

(Of course, the thing is laughable. How can someone from non-Davidic stock be Moshiach ben David, after all? And someone not of a nationality the Torah condemns is not that either.)

Sometimes these gematria abuses seem like cases of people painting a target around an arrow, after it was shot. In other cases it just seems like play and humor. Perhaps this case is a combination of the above.

May all our calculations be accurate and on target.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Makom Shelibo Chafeitz - Restoring a Forgotten Fundamental of Torah Study

לכבוד זמן מתן תורתנו

The תורה הקדושה is our main connection to Hashem. It is available to everyone. However, to tap into it on a higher level, one needs to develop a personal connection with it, to gain ownership of it, so to speak. As Chazal tell us (commenting on Tehillim 1:2) regarding a pious man, first it is called תורת השם, Hashem's Torah, and later, after he contemplates in it day and night, it is called תורתו, his Torah, as if he made a kinyan (act of acquisition) and acquired it as his own.

The teaching of Chazal that we just mentioned is from the gemara in מסכת עבודה זרה דף יט עמוד א.

That same daf, shortly afterward, also contains a very important principle, that can help one connect to the Torah in a more personal way, that unfortunately is not so well known today it seems. Namely that a person should learn Torah in a place his heart desires, במקום שלבו חפץ. That means that if he desires to learn מסכת גיטין, he should learn that, מסכת בבא קמא, let him learn that, חומש, let him learn that, מדרש, let him learn that, הלכה let him learn that, אגדה, let him learn that, and so on.

This important principle was taught by none other than the great רבי.

In the modern era, the great Chofetz Chaim reaffirmed the validity and importance of it.

The Torah has so many aspects and so many spiritual flavors and delights, so to speak. Sometimes one's soul is in need of a certain type of spiritual nourishment found in a part of the Torah, that may not be so commonly studied by the masses, or is somewhat off the beaten path, so to speak. One should, in such a case, not ignore one's personal desire for that part of Torah, as it may indicate a need of his specific neshama (soul) and circumstances. Rather, one should turn their attention and effort to it.

Perhaps this principle (ללמוד במקום שלבו חפץ) is seemingly not spoken about so much in public today, as it can at times conflict with institutional frameworks. Also, many people are learning in formats such as Daf Yomi, in which flexibility is limited. Be that as it may, the principle is an important one, which needs to be remembered and practiced.

In the merit of us following this ancient teaching of Chazal, may we be zoche to have the Toras Hashem truly become our Torah.

A gutten Yom tov.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

The posuk that can explain Trump

There is a posuk that is helpful in understanding Mr. Trump.

Mishlei 18:23 - תחנונים ידבר רש ועשיר יענה עזות.

A wealthy person speaks strong words.

There are different levels of wealth as well. If someone worth ten million dollars speaks with a certain strength, someone worth one hundred times that amount might hold forth in a correspondingly stronger manner.

Unfortunately, not enough people, especially on the male side, learn sefer Mishlei seriously. A sefer called by kadmonim ספר החכמה is a quite fitting study for an עם חכם ונבון actually though, even for men.

(There is also a related idea brought in שמות יח:כא on the words אנשי חיל, where Rashi says עשירים שאין צריכין להחניף ולהכיר פנים.)

Let us connect to the חכמה עליונה of the תורה הקדושה to help us through these turbulent times, בעזרת השי"ת.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

The Missing Havdalah of Purim

Why is there no havdalah after Purim?

There is a vertel (short vort) that I have seen that goes like this -

Why is there no Havdalah after Purim? Because there should be no end to it, we should take it with us through the year.

I saw it in the name of a Rosh Yeshiva who is already in the next world, but I think it originally is from Polish Chasidus.

Sounds nice, but does it add up?

1) If there is no kiddush on Purim, how could there be havdalah? Usually the two go together.

2) We have kiddush and havdalah as part of yamim tovim that are mideoryasa, from the (chamisha chumshei) Torah, aka Biblical in origin (e.g. Shabbos, Pesach, Sukkos, Shavuos). Purim is from a later time period, and not in that category.

3) Is there havdalah after Chanukah? Is there havdalah after Tisha BeAv?

4) Rav Hutner, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivas Rabbeinu Chaim Berlin, taught (with a Yiddish expression) that after Yamim tovim in general, our attitude should be that we do not say that a Yom tov has gone, passed us by, but rather that a Yom tov, with its spiritual gains, has come to us, has become part of us, brought us to a higher level, and we should take along spiritual gains acquired then. So the idea of taking the yom tov spirit along even after Yom tov ends is not just for Purim, but is for our holidays in general.

Purim havdalah that we could use more of

There is a different type of havdalah that we need more of. We need havdalah, discernment and distinguishing, among our own people, about what Purim is, and what it isn't. It is not (Chas veshalom) a Jewish version of St. Patrick's Day, Carnival, Halloween, or Independence day. It is not a wild free for all (G-d forbid). It is a day where we act in a holy manner, as opposed to throwing off all restraints.

We need havdalah between solid Torah teachings, and cute quips, or inspirational sayings, which may not have a firm basis, or withstand scrutiny.

May we merit to have the havdalah we need, not just around Purim, but year round.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Dati Leumi Debate Chassidic Ties

Just like among the Modern Orthodox in the United States, where some elements are trying to connect it to Chassidism, similarly, in the land of Israel, there are some who are trying to bring the Dati Leumi and Chassidus closer together. However, just as in the USA, there are others in the camp opposing and resisting such a major shift as well.

In Israel, this recently came into public view in a major way, the trigger being a debate about if it was appropriate for Dati Leumi people to join in celebrations of the Yud Tes Kislev holiday of Lubavitcher Chassidim. A popular Dati Leumi website ran two articles by הרב ברוך אפרתי  related to the subject, one opposing the celebration of Yud Tes Kislev, and the other citing Rav Tzvi Yehudah Kook, the great Dati Leumi Torah leader, as saying that the Vilna Gaon was their Rebbe, among other things.

Baruch Hashem there are people there that are standing up for their longstanding traditions. May we be zoche to a peaceful resolution of this matter soon.