Tuesday, April 4, 2017

The Man Who Was So Busy Learning That He Had No Time To Become A Talmid Chochom

The story goes that back in the old country there was a Yid that was always learning Torah, yet remained in the realm of ignorance, not becoming a talmid chacham.

R. Chaim Brisker was asked to explain the phenomenon. He explained that 'he is so busy learning, he has no time to become a talmid chacham' (source - Kerem Yehoshua: Bring Clarity To Your Learning And Master Shas, By Rabbi Yehoshua Cohen).

What does that mean? It means that the idea of learning Torah is to become knowledgable in it. One needs to learn with seichel, with a method, to grow in Torah knowledge and understanding. Just 'learning' alone, without proper digestion and absorption of the Torah studied, can leave a person in (relatively) ignorant state, despite numerous hours spent 'learning'. Just like someone eating profusely, but not allowing his body to digest and absorb his intake properly, will not be healthy.

A related teaching from Chazal is brought in Rashi on the first pasuk of parshas Vayikra, which we just read. It tells us that Moshe Rabbeinu had hafsakos, breaks, between one parsha and the next, to have space/time to think. To digest and absorb the Torah he learned. And afortiori, all the more so, for people on a lower level, with lesser teachers, that such breaks are needed for proper Torah learning.

A related Litvishe teaching is that there is an inyan of bittul Torah be'eichus. Bittul Torah in terms of the quality, the level of the Torah study. If someone can learn on a higher level, with deep understanding, and instead remains on a simplistic level, he has fallen short. Bittul Torah is not just a matter of quantity.

We need to keep in mind that the goal of Torah learning is to truly understand Torah, and not be like the pious fool that was always learning, but remained ignorant.

May we merit becoming true תלמיד חכמים.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Chareidi Garb Tutorial - Humorous Video

Cute and entertaining, brief, partial look at male Chareidi attire, in Hebrew.

(h/t Gruntig)

The Religious Imperative of Giving Yourself a Pat On The Back - A Little Known Genesis Gem From R. Yoshe Ber Soloveitchik (aka "The Rav")

Some are of the belief that in the Litvishe hashkafah, people are expected to always put down, or minimize their accomplishments (as part of religious mandated humility presumably). Is that correct however?

Recently, through the magic of technology, I heard a fine vort from Rav Yosef Dov (aka R. Yoshe Ber) Soloveitchik, renowned Bostoner Rav, and R"M at ישיבת רבינו יצחק אלחנן, addressing and illuminating this important issue.

In the words of his dedicated talmid, R. Yehudah (Julius) Berman shlit"a -

"In his inimitable fashion, the Rav started off by referring to the creation of the world, as reflected in the Torah in the beginning of Bereishis. The Rav pointed out that the Torah repeatedly states in the course of creation that וירא אלקים כי טוב, and G-d saw that it was good. And then finally, in noting the conclusion of creation, after six days, the Torah states וירא אלקים את כל אשר עשה והנה טוב מאוד, And G-d saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.

The Rav asked a simple question.

Is it really necessary for Hashem to look back to his creation and conclude that "it was good"? Could it really have been otherwise? Is there a suggestion here that G-d may have, of his own free will, created something and then turned around and said that he had, if one could be so bold as to use the phrase, 'goofed'?

The Rav went on to answer his own question.

Obviously, there is no real issue as to whether what G-d  had created was good in his eyes. In his eyes it could not have been otherwise. But G-d was teaching us a lesson, as to how we, as simple human beings, should relate to our own past activities during life. Normally, when we look back at our actions during the year, there is a tendency to focus upon the defects or deficiencies, in our performance, with the hope that we can correct them, by resolving to do better in the future. However, pointed out the Rav, there are times in one's life when one should, upon reflection, focus upon the positive aspects of one's past activities. Not only Hashem, but every human being, has the right, and indeed the duty, והלכת בדרכיו (imitatio Dei), to reflect upon one's past activities, and acknowledge achievements and accomplishments. And that is what G-d taught us when he bothered to look back at his own creation and judge its merits."

Source - address (app. 1:08:50-1:11:33) of R. Berman at recent חג הסמיכה of ישיבת רבינו יצחק אלחנן)

So even a Litvak can enjoy their own pat on the back sometimes.


A gutten chodesh Nissan.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Rav & The Rebbe - The Rest of the Story - Vital Information & Missing Context

A few months ago a book called Rav and Rebbe (Amazon link), by the prolific Lubavitcher author Rabbi Chaim Dalfin, was published.

I have found a very interesting, and detailed review of the book online, from Australia, which (along with other posts by the author, such as this one, about a hidden letter from the Lubavitcher Rebbe) contains important information, which should be required reading for anyone interested in the subject. The author is a very knowledgable person, who studied and davens in Lubavitch (as well as non Lubavitch) institutions and has close family members that are Lubavitchers

To whet your appetite, here are some brief passages from the detailed and forthright review -

"I see the book as a pseudo-academic work designed to also function as a soft and diplomatic/disguised approach to convince the non Chabad students of Toras Rav, that:
  1. the distance between Chabad and the Rav’s Mesora is closer than they think;
  2. since the Rav was exposed to Chassidus as a child it not only affected his vista of Yahadus, but the Rav’s Talmidim should do likewise; and
  3. the Rav continued being an avid reader of Chassidus." 
On the other hand, another interesting passage, referring to Rabbi Meir Fund, a well known scholar with an extensive background with both the Rav, as well as Chasidism, well placed to address the topic, is this -

"Rabbi (Meir) Fund states that“His [the Rav’s] exposure to Chassidus was limited"

As I was researching this topic, I also found a video online of the author, Rabbi Dalfin, speaking about the book a few months ago at a Shul in New Jersey.

One can get a much better understanding of the matter through the links above, a more balanced and accurate picture than through some other unbalanced and biased sources out there.

May we be merit reaching the Emes, in this as well as other matters.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Headlines Radio Program Advocates and Spins for Lubavitch Acceptance, Rabbis Wary

Dovid Lichtenstein is an intelligent man, a fine talmid chacham and philanthropist, who has come to some prominence in recent years. A number of years ago, he authored an interesting work entitled Headlines: Halachic Debates of Current Events. Sometime afterward, he started a weekly radio broadcast, along similar lines. The program can be quite engrossing, and even riveting, with prominent Torah scholars regularly featured as guests.

In a recent episode, for close to half an hour in the beginning of the program (approximately 2:00-29:35), the featured topic was 'Revisiting our relationship with Lubavitch'.

Below is a synopsis of the program, with some comments and analysis. It is not a full transcript of the program, nor the full story.

The Question

The host's question to his panel of prominent rabbis, allegedly from a listener's letter, basically was that 'given all the favors that Chabad does for Klal Yisroel, that travelers and anyone with a sick family member in a far away place will attest to, and given that dire predictions that they would leave our religion, or even commit suicide, after the death of their Rebbe, did not materialize, should we revisit our attitude to Chabad?'

Lichtenstein was very open about his sympathies to Lubavitch, relating episodes where he was helped by their shluchim in Mexico and Italy in difficult circumstances, during his travels, and that definitely produced a significant tilt in the program in favor of Lubavitch.

Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky

The first Rav who the host turned to in the program is Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky shlit"a, Rosh Yeshivas Philadelphia, from whom he played a short, enigmatic snippet proclaiming that Lubavitch are our brothers ("We should surely consider them our brothers.").

The host describes that as "an amazing opinion". Obviously, he wants us to view it answer as a full-throated endorsement of Lubavitch, with the Philadelphia Rosh Yeshiva going along with his advocacy of general acceptance of present-day Lubavitch. Of course, that would be a giant departure from the longstanding Litvish Yeshiva world position. But is it indeed so?

Analysis & Reality Check - Despite what the host might wish, that is not what the Rosh Yeshiva said. Someone can be viewed as a brother, but still as a person with a different way of life, whom you differ with in important ways, and keep some distance from. We did not hear exactly what query was proposed to Rav Kamenetsky either (at other times, both the host's queries as well as answers of guests are aired, in contrast), nor what else he may have said beyond the short snippet aired. It is clear that editing is involved in the program, which is almost always prerecorded. In view of the above, a giant question mark hangs over Lichtenstein's interpretation that Rav Shmuel shlit"a has suddenly departed from the longtime Litvishe Yeshiva world consensus to embrace Lubavitch unconditionally. Large questions about editing, spin, and interpretation loom in the background.

Just to be sure, I contacted a very highly placed source in Philadelphia who confirmed to me that Rav Shmuel does not give a total, blanket hechsher on Lubavitch.

 If the host would ask the Rosh Yeshiva about our attitude to non-Orthodox Jews, he would also agree that they are our brothers. But does that mean that we accept them totally, with everything they stand for? Of course not.

Similarly, in another Headlines program just one week after the one under discussion (http://podcast.headlinesbook.com/e/2417-do-we-still-love-a-child-that-has-become-an-apikorus-secular-studies-in-mesivta-chiyuv-or-bitul-torah/), at just after 15:00, when the Rosh Yeshiva was asked about dealing with a child 'who is seriously off the derech', the Rosh Yeshiva said 'we should accept them, and love them, and tell them that we hope they change their mind.' So we see that to the Rosh Yeshiva, acceptance of someone as a relative does not preclude serious disagreement.

Rav David Cohen, Congregation Gevul Yaavetz

Following Rav Shmuel, the host presented the well known mechaber Rabbi David Cohen of Congregation Gevul Yaavetz of NY, who commented 'I don't even know why you need my comment. Of course they should be embraced - they are our brothers. The fact that many of them believe that the Rebbe was moshiach, in no way excludes them from Klal Yisrael. Throughout the ages there have been people who had this kind of hashkafah and it's not a psul. The only people who deserve richuk are people who are apikorsim and it is very difficult to be mekareiv them. There are unfortunately those who believe in the 'Elokai milimatah' (not clearly elaborated upon, but referring to certain belief with regard to the last Rebbe) Those individuals need richuk. But Lubavitch as a whole? The fact that some people resented that they believe the Rebbe is moshiach, has nothing to do with richuk.'

Analysis - a) Rabbi Cohen says that many believe the Rebbe was (past tense) moshiach. He does not address the belief of at least some, perhaps many, in Lubavitch, that he still is moshiach now, b) he does mention an undefined group that does need richuk (distancing), but doesn't define what they believe exactly.

Nevertheless, despite those two very important caveats, the host gushes about how pro-Lubavitch the response allegedly was. Which is not telling the entire story.

Rav Hershel Schachter, Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan

Rav Schachter said that he thinks the Yeshiva world is worried about people davening to the Rebbe, and those that believe the Rebbe is moshiach, which can lead to avoda zara, as it did in history. Overemphasis on moshiach can lead to avoda zara.

Rav Menachem Mendel Shafran, Chasidishe Dayan in Eretz Yisroel

Nobody hates them, everybody who really travels is mechabed Chabad for good they do, whatever they are doing good is very good, but what they are doing no good is no good.

We don't have to be machshir problematic things due to good things done. They can't be toveia (demand) that we have to accept their hashkafos, a hechsher on everything, because they are doing tovos for Klal Yisroel.

Rav David Yosef, Rav, Rosh Kollel, member Moetzet Chachmei HaTorah (Shas)

Opened by saying 'it's a very difficult question'.

He starts with high praise for Lubavitch and the late Rebbe, talking about shluchim he met, and their work in distant places.

From the other side, he believes that they are not allowed to say that the Rebbe is still alive. He wishes they will open their eyes. That he could convince them that they are wrong, it's a very bad idea, against Judaism, against Torah.

Reb Dovid Lichtenstein, the host, speaks

Says that he grew up in 'a Litvishe environment', went to great Litvishe yeshivos. He never saw the  Rebbe (Ramash), and never was in 770 E.P. (Lubavitch HQ). Says 'I'm a Litvak' (I believe he means in terms of institutions studied at - family roots can be a different matter).

He repeats old Lubavitcher arguments claiming that it is not problematic to believe the late Rebbe is moshiach, both before as well as after his passing, claiming that is okay based on gemaras. Of course, interpetation is key. How the passages are interpreted.

Rav Nisson Kaplan

Rav Nisson Kaplan of Yeshivas Mir in Jerusalem, refrained from giving an opinion, as he stated that his mother told him not to get involved in such a matter, due to her personal history during the WWII era.

Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky of Lubavitch

At the end, the host brings on Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky of Lubavitch, who works with Lubavitcher shluchim and chairs their annual conference. Lichtenstein asks him about people davening to the Rebbe, to which he says the Rebbe was a Shulchan Aruch Yid, and that if anyone does that he is not a real Lubavitcher (the no true Scotsman response).

The  host says that we have to take him at his word, he's certainly an עד כשר (kosher witness) (but isn't the category of נוגע בדבר relevant?).

Closing thoughts

There are longstanding differences of opinion, חילוקי דעות, in the Jewish world about certain inyanim. The fact that Lubavitchers do chesed, and did not convert, or commit suicide, after the passing of their Rebbe, is a red herring. The differences still exist. Those that agreed with Lubavitch in the past, likely still agree with them, while those that didn't, likely still retain reservations. Everyone can/will believe as they wish, but we should be honest about things.

The bottom line here is that the host was advocating for Lubavitch and spinning things for them to the point of distortion and misrepresentation. People should be aware of this and not be misled. It also raises questions about the program in general, e.g. how reliable is it? In this program, as well as in a later follow up segment with Rabbi Dr. David Berger, the program is seriously compromised by the host's obvious feelings about the matter. It leads one to wonder if that has happened in other instances as well.

As our holy Torah tells us, כי השחד יעור עיני חכמים.

In a way, it is sad, but it is also good that it brings this issue to light, that we need to be wary of conclusions based on programs that can be edited and manipulated.

May Hashem lead us in the path of truth, and may we merit שלום על ישראל במהרה בימינו.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Oh My, How the Shtreimels Have Grown - Purim in Williamsburg 5731 (1971) vs. Forty Years Later

Note the size (and type) of the shtreimels in this Purim video from Williamsburg Brooklyn in 5731/1971 (h/t), as opposed to in this Purim one forty years later. Extra credit for noticing other changes in the scenes.

Hopefully the growth was not just external.

A gutten chodesh Adar.