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Tuesday, October 31, 2006


A Niggun Made from a Golden Mitzva

as told by Rebbe Kalman Menachem Shapira (below right), the Piaseczno Rebbe Shlita, on Motzaei Shabbos Parshas Noach, 5767
(freely translated from the Hebrew by yitz)

This story comes from Reb Mottel Slonimer. Reb Mottel Slonimer once passed by a house, from where he heard a very powerful but sad niggun, which touched the heart. He wondered, “This feels like a very heilige [holy] niggun.” Upon entering the house, he asked the baal habayis [master of the house] to explain what this niggun is all about. And here our heartfelt story begins.

He mentioned that he was born in Tiveria [Tiberius], and was orphaned from both of his parents at a young age. He supported himself as a fisherman, who worked through the night, sleeping during the daytime. After several years, he eventually got married, and shortly thereafter, they had a son. Not long after the Pidyon HaBen [redemption of the first-born son], his wife passed away. He was left alone with the young child. Fortunately, he had good neighbors in Tiveria, who helped bring up his son, as he needed to go out to fish every night. Baruch Hashem, they were quite successful.

When his father would come home from work each morning, his young son would serve him a hot cup of tea, help him get undressed, bring him his slippers and a towel to refresh himself with. Despite their impoverished living conditions, the father and son developed a very deep bond with one another.

The boy grew up, got married, and moved to a town in the southern part of Israel, far away from Tiveria. In those days, a journey from Tiveria to the south of Israel could take several hours, even the good part of a day. The son was financially successful, and from time to time he would send his father a golden Napoleon coin, which was worth a lot of money. His father asked him in a letter, “Why do you do this, why are you sending me these coins?”

His reply: “Abba, you gave so much of yourself for me, you did so much for me, and we were so close. I want you to save these golden Napoleon coins, and when you have enough, you’ll be able to purchase a decent house in which to live.” And so it was – he eventually had enough golden coins with which to buy a proper dwelling in Tiveria.

Later on, he received an urgent telegram message from his daughter-in-law: “Come quickly, your son is very ill!”

The father made the long journey to the south of Israel. Arriving at his son’s home, he stood by the sick man’s bedside, praying for him, as only a father can. (The Rebbe then told of the Chafetz Chaim, that when his son was very ill, no one told him about it, and the son passed away. He then scolded them, “Why didn’t you tell me? Don’t you know that the tears of a father can resurrect the dead?”) And indeed here, the father stood and prayed and cried for his son, and the young man recovered.

The father returned to Tiveria, and once more, the son began to send him the golden Napoleon coins. And again, the father wrote his son, “Why do you do this, why are you sending me these coins?”

This time, the son replied, “Abba, I want you to save this coins so that you can have a ‘pension fund’ for your old age, when you cannot work any more.” So again, the father saved these coins. As they accumulated, they indeed became a viable source of ‘pension’ funding.

Sure enough, he again received an urgent letter from his daughter-in-law: “Come quickly, your son is very ill!”

And once more, he made the long journey to the south. This time, however, by the time he arrived, it was too late – his son had passed away. All he could do was to cry at his bedside.

After the Shiva [seven-day mourning period], he returned home to Tiveria – to an empty house. He was back to “square one” – an orphan with no one and nothing in this world. He was so depressed that he wanted to die. One night, he had a dream, in which he saw his son in Gan Eden, lying in a golden bed. He began to run towards his son, but his son withdrew – he didn’t want his father to touch him, to come into the Olam HaEmes [the next world, the “world of truth” after death].

“I want to be with you again, next to you,” the father told his son.

“No, you need to stay in this world, and do mitzvos!” was the son’s reply. “Do you see this golden bed I’m in? This is made from the golden Napoleon coins that I sent you, from the mitzva of Kibud Av v’Em [honoring one’s parents].”

“But I just want to be with you!”

Then, in the dream, the son began to sing a niggun. And he continued to sing it, as his father joined in. They sang it together for a long time, until eventually the father learned to sing it by himself, alone. And then, the son disappeared and the dream was over.

“Then I awoke,” said the father to Reb Mottel Slonimer. “And whenever I’m sad, I sing this niggun. This is the niggun my son taught me.”

Said R. Mottel Slonimer: “This is the niggun of Kibud Av v’Em.” What is the niggun? This is the niggun that connected the father to his son, and to the next world... [Adds yitz:] A niggun made from the Golden Mitzva of Kibud Av v’Em.


The Piaseczno Rebbe Shlita then explained how many of the words of his great-uncle, the first Piaseczno Rebbe ZTvK"L, that are written in his sefarim are like niggunim: they sing to us and connect us to him.

Zechuso Yagein Aleinu, may the Rebbe zt"l's merits protect us!

Monday, October 30, 2006



"Rebbe Nachman of Breslev teaches that music originates from the upper portals of Heaven. He also teaches that one can't attain true joy in life without holiness. Joy is holiness and holiness is joy. In that music has such a lofty source, it has the power of elevating a person to phenominal spiritual heights, especially music played by a joyful and upright musician. Music, joy, and holiness together create an upward spiritual spiral that is capable of uplifting a person from depression and despair, especially when reinforced with extensive personal prayer.
"I often incorporate music into my personal prayers. Oftentimes, when I'm at a loss for words, I sing to Hashem or hum a niggun, a melody."
READ the whole thing here, which includes two links to videos of Chaim Dovid, including his famous "Ya-ma-mai" niggun.

Thursday, October 26, 2006


The Piaseczno Rebbe: Suggestology

Today, 4 MarCheshvan, is the 63rd yahrzeit of Rebbe Klonymus Kalman Shapira of Piaseczno (1889-1943), who perished in the Holocaust. Rabbi Shapira was born in Grodzisk, Poland. He was named Klonymus Kalmish after his maternal grandfather, the renowned Ma'or VaShemesh. He was the scion of a distinguished family, which included the Rebbe Reb Elimelech of Lizhensk, the Chozeh of Lublin and the Maggid of Kozhnitz. In 1905, he married Rachel Chaya Miriam, the daughter of Rabbi Yerachmiel Moshe of Kozhnitz. She helped him prepare his lectures and books, even adding pertinent insights of her own. In 1909 [at the ripe old age of 20!], he was appointed Rabbi of Piaseczno, near Warsaw. There, he attracted many Chassidim. The Rebbe Ztvk"l authored several sefarim, including Chovos HaTalmidim, Hachsharas HaAvreichim, Derech HaMelech, and Aish Kodesh. The latter was written in the Warsaw Ghetto, where the Rebbe was a source of inspiration, encouragement and hope for the Jews there.
After the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising was crushed in 1943, Rabbi Shapira was taken to the Trevaniki work camp near Lublin. Prisoners who were completely worked out by exhaustion and starvation were removed and sent to Treblinka. Rabbi Shapira spent his last few months in Treblinka, where he was murdered by the Nazis [y'mach shmam, may their names be erased] in 1943.
The Rebbe's writings are filled with deep insights into the Jewish soul. In fact, he could be called a "doctor of the soul" as the following story indicates.


the following story is excerpted from Yehoshua Starrett’s book, “To Heal the Soul”:
Rebbe Klonymus' curiosity eventually led him to acquire knowledge from outside traditional Torah sources. It is known that he read these books in the bathroom. One major subject that he studied was medicine, to help the ailing. Together with a blessing that he gave to the countless ill who came to him as Rebbe, he also gave a pharmaceutical prescription that he wrote in Latin. Expert doctors respected and used his suggestions, though they wondered where such a formally uneducated person got all his knowledge. Almost no Jew underwent surgery in Warsaw without first consulting Rebbe Klonymus. There were even cases where the doctors feared the operation was too dangerous, but Rebbe Klonymus took responsibility for it, and it was successful.
Here is a very revealing and instructive anecdote that also shows he knew more than just practical medicine:
The Rebbe used to say that it is not the medicine that heals, but faith in G-d's loving-kindness. Once, a Chassid came in to him complaining: "Rebbe! Ever since the medicine got erased from the prescription you wrote, I am suffering again from my headaches." Those followers of the Rebbe present in the room wondered what he meant by "the medicine got erased" - a medicine is either a cream, an ointment, or a liquid. But then, the Rebbe took out a fresh piece of paper and wrote him up once again the prescription. The Chassid took the piece of paper, picked up his hat, put the prescription in the lining of his undercap, and put both head coverings back on his head. All of a sudden the Chassid shouted in excitement: "Rebbe! The headache has already subsided! Thank G-d, I feel again better like before - the letters on this new prescription are clear."
All the Chassidim in the room began to chuckle, but the Rebbe explained in all sincerity: "What you have just witnessed is called 'suggestology.' One convinces oneself of a certain thing, such as that a certain medicine will help him, though in truth it is totally ineffective. But we who believe in G-d as the Creator of all cures can understand this phenomenon very simply - it is our faith in G-d as the Faithful Healer that opens our souls to His healing powers. Nevertheless, I enclothed this abstract medicine in something physical that he could relate to. That's why I wrote out a new prescription.
This Chassid was sure that G-d's will for him is that his healing [should] come through this written prescription. So as long as the letters on the paper were clear, this supported his faith and his healing. But when the letters became faded, his headache returned, because according to his understanding, he could not receive G-d's blessing. So I rewrote the prescription and now he feels better again. The ultimate healing, though, is when one has absolute faith that G-d can and will heal him without any physical medicines or doctors."

In last year's post, we mentioned:
While we don't have any official recording of the Piaseczno Rebbe's niggunim, the Rebbe's younger brother, Reb Yeshayaleh, came to Eretz Yisrael in 1914. Known as "Admor-Chalutz" or the Pioneer Rebbe, he also composed niggunim, some of which were recorded as "Shirei HaRav Yeshayahu Shapira." In addition, in a sefer called "Admor-Chalutz," notes to some 35 niggunim appear. Most of these were composed by Reb Yeshayaleh, but others are from Grodzisk, Lizhensk, Kozhnitz, and perhaps Piaseczno as well. And finally, Reb Yeshayaleh's son, Reb Elimelech, was the Piaseczno Rebbe for many years in Tel-Aviv. At the yearly yahrzeit seudos, the Rebbe's niggunim were sung, and some were recorded privately.

This year I found the following quote, although I don't know its source:
Rebbe Klonymus Kalman Shapira of Piaseczno said: "Song is one of the degrees of enlightenment (ruach hakodesh); prayer occupies a lower rung on the same continuum. When you are on the rung of prayer and have not yet reached that of song, you need to exert yourself greatly to begin to sing. Then you will begin to see with spiritual vision and become enflamed with the passion for G-d."


The current Rebbe of Piaseczno is Rabbi Kalman Menachem Shapira Shlita who is the great-nephew of [and named after] the first Rebbe, Klonymus Kalman. Rabbi Kalman Menachem resides in Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel and leads Congregation Aish Kodesh, a shul [synagogue] as well as the worldwide headquarters for spreading the teachings of his great-uncle. I hope to join the Rebbe Shlita and dozens of others at the yahrzeit Seuda this coming Motzaei Shabbos in Ramat Beit Shemesh, im yirtzeh Hashem [G-d willing].

Zechuso yagein Aleinu, may the Piaseczno Rebbe's merits protect us all!

R. Neil Harris has blogged today on the Rebbe as well, here.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006


A Simple Jew: "There Is Hope"

A Simple Jew: "There Is Hope"
Based on my comment on ASJ's blog, this is a ringing endorsement of Modzitz negina, with a strong second and third place for Carlebach and Twerski niggunim as well. Thanks, ASJ!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006



The Shul in Sadigora where Rebbe Yisrael of Rizhin davened.

Picture courtesy of Diaspora Museum - Beit HaTefutzot

Tonight and tomorrow, Gimmel MarCheshvan, is the 156th yahrzeit of Rebbe Yisrael of Rizhin [or Ruzhin], a great-grandson of the Maggid of Mezritch. Besides Rizhin, the dynasties of Sadigur [Sadiger], Boyan, Chortkov, Husyatin, Bohush, Kapishnitz, Vasloi and Stefanesht all come from him. Last year's posting on the Rizhiner can be found here.

When only 15 years old he succeeded his father as Chassidic Rebbe of Prohovitch (near Kiev). With his phenominal talent for organization, the young Rebbe built the community into a Chassidic center. In Rizhin, he conducted his "court" in a palace with all the trappings of royalty: maintaining a staff of servants, an orchestra of musicians, and a splendid horse-drawn coach. Thousands of Chassidim, attracted by the glitter and the opulence, rallied around to the Rizhner. The Rebbe's motive for the ostentatious display of wealth was to raise the standards of Torah and Chassidus. He derived no personal enjoyment from it. He was said to walk on hard peas that he placed inside his elegant leather shoes. He often fasted, and he slept only three hours each night.


excerpted from The Golden Dynasty:

From a small village deep in the Russian countryside, a blazing light has spread across the world; a light that has shone through the deepest gloom and darkness, a light which infused a radiance into the most dull and dreary places. The light which the Rebbe of Rizhin kindled still burns as brightly as ever, his message even more important in these dark and confusing times.
At a time when Yiddish [Jewish] pride was at its lowest, the Jewish people persecuted daily with new evil decrees, the Rizhiner sought to uplift their spirits, to rekindle the glow in their neshamos [souls]. Through his quiet aristocratic way of speech and his humane manner he succeeded in infusing new values into the lives of his Chassidim, filling them with joy and purpose.

One of the Rizhiner's greatest admirers was the Sanzer Rav, Rebbe Chaim Halberstam. When his followers expressed surprise that he should also feel it necessary to make the long and difficult journey to visit the Rizhiner, he told them, "Why was the Beis HaMikdash (the Holy Temple), built on Mount Moriah, where the Akeidas Yitzchak (the Binding of Isaac) took place, and not on Mount Sinai where the Torah was given to Klal Yisrael (the Jewish people)? Because the place where a Jew was willing to be moser nefesh (self-sacrificing) for Hashem's name is more important than the place where the Torah was given. The Rizhiner is ready at all times to be moser nefesh for Hashem's Name."

The mere mention of the word "Rizhin" is enough to conjure up stories of fabulous wealth and undreamed of treasures. Indeed, the Rebbe of Rizhin was already a legend in his own lifetime. All of his personal belongings, even his everyday cutlery, were made of the most expensive materials. The buttons on his bekeshes [Chassidic frock coats] were made of solid gold, studded with diamonds, and his pillowcase was woven from pure gold thread. Even though the reasons for the Rebbe's conduct were not understood by most people, he was regarded as one of the greatest tzaddikim of his time.

Although from the outside it appeared that the Rebbe enjoyed all the comforts of this world, nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, the Rebbe afflicted himself terribly, denying his body even the basic necessities. This point is illustrated by the famous story of the Rebbe's boots. The Rebbe used to wear a magnificent pair of boots. It was rumored that even the Czar of Russia was jealous of these boots. Made of solid gold and studded with diamonds and other precious stones, they were the envy of all who beheld them. Once on a bitterly cold night the Rebbe went out in his boots to sanctify the New Moon. The Rebbe stood for a long time in the snow davening. When he left, the Chassidim noticed blood where he had been standing.
An investigation of the Rebbe's boots revealed that they had no soles. Every time the Rebbe wore them, he was really walking barefoot; and when he stood on the snow his feet became stuck to the icy ground, causing them to bleed when he left. When this story became known, even those people who had until then been opposed to his extravagant life style, bowed their heads in deference, acknowledging that the Rebbe's every action was only for the sake of Heaven and not for his own pleasure.


The Greatness of Stories

House of Love and Prayer, San Francisco, 5732 – Reprinted from the Holy Beggars' Gazette – Transcription by Donna Anderson Maimes
Reb Shlomo Carlebach speaking:
Two people came to Rebbe Yisrael Rizhiner: One, a storyteller who had a book of stories, and the other, a great scholar who had written great treatises on Halacha. So the shammes asked the Rizhiner who he would see first.
The Rebbe says, "I want to see the storyteller first."
The secretary was really astounded that he would call in this uneducated storyteller in preference to this great scholar, but he doesn't say anything. So he ushers in the little storyteller and the Rebbe looks at his book and says, "Oh this is such a beautiful story, it's the greatest story I ever read. The story is really holy."
Then he asks to see the scholar and his great treatise on Halacha. He is looking at the book, and he says. "Oh this is so deep, it is really from Mt. Sinai."
Then they both leave and the secretary comes in and says, "I don't understand it. Here is a great scholar who has studied many years, who is one of the greatest men, and you ask him to come in second. First you hear the storyteller."
"So." the Rebbe says. "I'm just doing it the way Hashem did it in the Torah. First Hashem was telling stories -- He told the story of Creation, the story of the flood, the stories of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov; the story of slavery, the story of redemption, and then He led us before Sinai. After he told us all these stories he gave us the laws."
Rebbe Nachman [of Breslov] said G-d created man because He loves stories. The whole world is G-d telling a story. G-d is telling us stories, creating the world, creating people, telling long stories.
There is such a thing as prayer, which is very deep, but, Rebbe Nachman says, prayer is not the deepest depths of closeness to G-d. The deepest depths of closeness to G-d is when you can tell G-d a story. The Tree of Knowledge is theories and the Tree of Life is stories. Everything we understand comes from our consciousness.
Where do stories originate? Imagination. The truth is, the story comes from beyond my consciousness, but it flows into my consciousness. The story itself is really beyond.
Rebbe Nachman says when you dream, you always dream stories, not theories. When your imagination is completely free, then you dream stories. When people sit and tell each other stories, they really become friends.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
You know we are living in a world where there is hardly anything that children do not know. But, you know what they are missing: stories. Stories are so real that they are both old and new. They are so holy and so deep. They touch something in the soul.


Some brief vignettes about the Rizhiner, from around the Web:

Rebbe Yisrael of Rizhin was once sitting with a few of his mekuravim [close confidants] and they began speaking about the news. The locomotive had just been invented, shaking up the world. One of the Chassidim remarked that the train would make it easier to gather all the Jews from all four corners of the world to bring them to Eretz Yisrael.
The tzaddik took one of the cups on the table and said, “We don’t need trains for kibbutz galuyos, because gathering the exiles will take place in manner resembling how I move the cup from one side of the table to the other. The purpose of trains will be so that the gentiles will be able to come and see the Jewish people’s glory.”
(Ner Yisrael vol. 2 p. 188)

R. Shaul Brook lived in the Ukraine where there were Polish Chassidim. There were grandchildren of the tzaddik Rebbe Yisrael of Rizhin, and the way they did things at the Tish was that the tzaddik sat in silence and everybody else sat silently as well. They did not sing. The tzaddik would look at each Chassid and this changed the Chassid’s essence. Then they all got up.
Once, an old gentile walked in. When he left, he was asked what he saw and he said, “I saw one who was silent and they were all listening.”


Why do many Chassidim pray so late?
Chassidus demands that prayer be preceded by strenuous preparation: Immersion in the mikva, studying Chassidus, meditating into the greatness of G-d, etc. This is especially true on Shabbat, a day which is supposed to be devoted to spirituality and our connection with G-d. Therefore, it was often the accepted practice by Chassidim to start praying late.
Chassidim consider the preparations for prayer as part of prayer (because it is impossible for a Chassid to pray without it), and therefore, if the preparations started on time, there is no problem.
A Chassidic master (I think it was Rebbe Meir of Premishlan) once said: There is no such thing as tefilla b'zmana (timely prayer). The Misnagdim (non-Chassidim) have b'zmana (timeliness), but no tefilla (prayer - because they do not prepare properly), and Chassidim have tefilla but not b'zmana!
This, obviously, applies only to someone who is actually involved in preparing for prayer from the early hours in the morning...
Rebbe Yisrael of Rizhin once gave the following parable: There was once a peasant who would come home from work every day at five-thirty in the afternoon. At six o'clock, every day, the door to the kitchen would swing open and his wife would walk in with a plate of boiled potatoes and black bread.
One day the peasant comes home, as usual he sits down by the table and waits for the standard meal to come, but six o'clock comes and goes and his wife does not appear. At first he is slightly annoyed, but then he realizes that the reason for the delay is because his wife is most probably preparing a special meal tonight. Nu, it's worth it to wait a little extra!
It's seven o'clock, eight o'clock, nine o'clock... By now the peasant is envisioning a scrumptious meal with tender meat and fine wine followed by a delicious dessert. At nine-thirty the door swings open and the wife appears with a plate of… boiled potatoes and black bread!
When the peasant sees this he starts screaming: "This is what I was waiting for all this time?!"
Similarly, if we make G-d wait for our prayer it better be a good one. Otherwise G-d asks, "This is what I was waiting for?!
Chassidus occasionally stresses values that are downplayed in the more general Halachic process. This phenomenon is manifest most famously in the area of zmanei tefilla - the time frames for prayer. Chassidus tolerated minor deviations in the pursuit of greater dveykus. Misnagdus is completely intolerant of such liberties. The pursuit of perfection demands meticulous attention to Halachic parameters.
As with all neat and simple definitions, this is an over-generalization. Many great Rebbes observed zmanei tefilla meticulously. Rebbe Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev warned not to delay the fulfillment of mitzvos because one feels a lack of fervor (hislahavus), lest the time frame of the mitzva pass.
Yet other outstanding Rebbes justified their not abiding by the clock. Rebbe Yisrael of Rizhin said that time frames for mitzvos are a result of the sins of Adam, Chava and the golden calf. Tzaddikim were not involved in those sins, and are therefore not restricted by time.
(Ta'amei HaMinhagim U'Mekorei haDinim p. 519 (see also p. 27 there). R. Leibele Eiger of Lublin asked R. Tzadok HaKohen if he was justified in forsaking the hiddur Mitzva of zrizin makdimin l'Mitzvos (those who are meticulous perform a Mitzva as soon as possible) in order to muster greater kavana and tahara. R. Tzadok (end of Levushei Tzedaka and the Yad Eliyahu Kitov ed. of Tzidkat HaTzaddik p. 16) was firm in stating that this is indeed the case. Many Misnagdic sources agree, although others disagree. See Encyclopedia Talmudit vol.12 pp. 416-421.)


Al Naharos Bavel, niggun Rizhin

Zechuso Yagein Aleinu v'al Kol Yisrael - May Rebbe Yisrael's merit protect us all!

Wednesday, October 18, 2006



This week, on Sunday, Isru Chag [Simchas Torah in Chutz L’aretz, the Diaspora], was the 25th yahrzeit of Rebbe Ben Zion Chaim Shlomo Meshulam Zusia Twerski, ztz”l, Admor of Hornosteipel and Rav of Denver, one of the foremost Rebbes, in my opinion, of the 20th Century. The Rebbe’s words reverberate in our hearts, and continue to inspire us till this very day. [See also last year's posting, here.]
I am proud to present some of them below, a dvar Torah of his that was put into writing – something that was done only rarely. But first, I would like to present a short glimpse into some aspects of his personality, which I have excerpted from an article written by someone who was privileged to live in his home. I strongly suggest reading the entire article, which is linked below. I addition, I will discuss a bit more about the Rebbe ZT”L’s negina.


the following is excerpted from “Missing the Rabbi,” an article in memory of Rabbi Shlomo Twerski, by Varda Branfman:

The Rabbi was incorruptible. I knew it when I sat across from him during one of our private talks, and I knew it as I watched him speak in front of a group. He spoke slowly, and everything outside of his very presence went on hold. Even a person without much discernment or taste for truth might know that they were hearing something out of the ordinary. It was a rare exposure to truth. But that wasn’t all. I had known people who called a spade a spade. In the past, I had gravitated to poets and artists who were busy trying to unearth it. But this was different. His truth was inseparable from himself. He was truth…
He didn’t talk about “easy” things. If we wanted the truth, we knew it wouldn’t be easy… His answers were never predictable, hardly ever black and white. I remember him saying that truth is an area rather than only one point. With his guidance, we found places in ourselves that we never knew existed – reservoirs of strength that gave us greater clarity…
In the Rabbi’s presence, we felt connected to eternal truths. Elsewhere, there might be ready answers to our questions, but here we glimpsed the light of eternity clarifying the issues that troubled us… With the Rabbi, we felt that we stood in the presence of a whole person, a totally “real” person who never, for a moment, took his finger from the pulse of reality…
The Rabbi didn’t make baalei teshuva, he made people. He didn’t have to sell the Torah, because he trusted that it was compelling enough to sell itself. What the Jewish world needed was real people who were fulfilling their individual potential instead of being the shadow of what they could be by simply taking on the roles and uniforms of Jews committed to Torah observance…
and finally:
A friend from that time in the Rabbi’s house came to visit us in Jerusalem recently, and he told us a story that reminded me what it was like to encounter the Rabbi.
My friend had met the Rabbi when he flew out to Denver for my wedding. A few weeks later he was faced with a vitally important life decision. He had asked various people for advice, and he had heard a lot of opinions supporting one or the other choice. It seemed to him that his whole life depended on making the right decision.
He was unable to decide by himself, and he felt so strongly that the Rabbi would be able to help him that he flew out to Denver again, just a month after he’d been there for my wedding.
They sat face to face at the Rabbi’s dining room table, and my friend presented the pros and cons of choosing one or the other. It took him about a quarter of an hour to lay the whole thing out, and the Rabbi sat silently and listened. Until that moment the Rabbi hadn’t said anything, but then he stood up and slapped my friend on the back, “Well, take a shot at one or the other.” And then he left the room.
At first, my friend was stymied. He wasn’t sure if the Rabbi had really understood his dilemma, but then he reflected on the confrontation he had just experienced and realized that the Rabbi was telling him something he hadn’t expected to hear. The Rabbi was telling him that the choice between one or the other was not the crux of the matter. His own personal growth might not depend so much on the environment he found himself in, but rather on the way he, himself, chose to respond. The Rabbi had swerved him away from obsessing about the external factors and had changed the emphasis to the quality of his inner life and depth of commitment.
At another time, the Rabbi told one of his closest students, who also came to him with a difficult life-decision question: “Listen, my friend. I wish I could tell you what to do, but you have to know that the place of a decision is the loneliest place in the world.”


Which brings us to the Rabbi’s, or Rebbe’s own words and inspiration for this week, Parshas Breishis. Although they were intended for Rosh Hashana, they have to do with the creation of Man and his purpose in this world; and are thus certainly appropriate to this week. Please note how the last sentence quoted above aligns with the end of the Rebbe’s piece below.


A Daring Beginning
Rosh Hashana, from a published pamphlet by Rabbi BZ Shloime Twerski ZTUK"L

We confront and experience the Days of Awe every year and as a consequence, take them for granted. Rarely do we feel that these days have a lasting effect on us. I am sure that the greater impression is made on our hidden personality, and that our Neshamos (inner life spark) are enriched by the sanctity of these days. Is there a way to tap this huge potential?
Torah has told us long ago, and it has recently been reaffirmed by our accumulating knowledge about the human mentality, that the soul and the subconscious are great absorbers of experience. Then what stands in the way between this inner expanding and the outer awareness? When the first man ate from the Tree of Knowledge, what perverse turn did Man's ability to know take? Perhaps the answer lies in the words to ''know'' good and evil. Another way of saying it might be that we ''know'' before we learn.
Education, especially self-education, should be with some kind of open mind. If there is no freedom of thinking, all new knowledge merely becomes an adjunct to previous prejudices. If we cannot question our premises, we use all experiences only to reinforce what we already know. Instead of growing, we stagnate and become rigid. The mechanism that we use is “control”. Before we enter any experience, we project ahead of time what it is that we will learn and what we expect to be as an end result of the experience.
The emotional background for this is blind, overwhelming fear. We are terrorized by the idea of change and of a new experience. No matter how deeply we hurt, no matter how impossible our present state may be, the fear of the unknown, of what might happen if we are open to change, is even more painful.
If we look at our society, at our government, at our institutions, we will see that they are all aimed at one and the same goal: preserving the status quo. All efforts are concentrated on making the world more predictable. The constant spread of government into all areas of life, the increase of regulation, the stereotyping of education, the stifling growth of organized living, all reflect the terror we have of change and taking chances.
If we know what we're going into before we grow, how free and expanded can growth be?
The Shofar of Rosh Hashana is the voice of freedom, but do we truly realize the content of the shofar?
The first shofar comes from the ram that substituted for the attempted sacrifice of Yitzchak by Avraham. We don't see what tremendous chances Avraham was taking. Besides his own parental feeling, he was putting his whole ideology into question; he was putting his entire posterity in doubt. What happened in this cosmic gamble is the prerequisite that is unavoidable. Fear and control are the arch-enemies of self-discovery.
The only strength that can serve as a basis to overcome fear is trust.
Trust in G-d and thereby trust in that which He created in His own image: us. The inner person can be the source of new life only if we believe in the existence of this hidden energy.
Rosh Hashana is the day of the creation of mankind. It must be realized that the man the story of creation tells us about is a human being capable of free choice.
If we accept man as the victim of his heredity and environment, we are rejecting the man of creation.
To accept man of creation, of a being created by G-d with an inner energy capable of constant growth and modification, takes courage and daring.
Has modern life and technological society strapped us of our courage and willingness to dare?
Every individual must confront this question in painful loneliness.


As mentioned last year, the Rebbe composed a stirring niggun for “Pis’chu Li” in Hallel; actually, it begins from the words, “Lo Amus.” In addition, he composed “Hishbati” [from Shir HaShirim], "Yodu LaShem" [Tehillim 107]; and collaborated with his son, Rebbe Mordechai Dov Ber Shlita, on the "Denver March" and “B’Rosh Hashana” [from Unsaneh Tokef]. All of these can be found on an 1987 recording called “Heart Work” by Rabbi Mordechai Twerski and Klezmer V’od, which is currently out of circulation. However, “Hishbati” also appears on “Rabbi Israel Sings: Mi Kamocha” by Yisrael Rabinovich [may be available only in Israel]. And finally, Rabbi Menachem Goldberger has a song on his L’cha Dodi recording dedicated to the Rebbe called, “Simchas Torah.”

Zechuso Yagein Aleinu - May the Rebbe's merit indeed protect us all!

Varda Branfman's husband Yaakov, has an article on Rabbi Twerski that can be found here.

Monday, October 09, 2006


Rav Shlomo Freifeld, Maker of Souls

Today is the 17th of Tishrei, and the 16th yahrzeit of HaRav Shlomo Freifeld, founder and Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivas Shor Yoshuv in Far Rockaway, NY, which was one of the first yeshivos to have a program for Baalei Teshuva [‘returnees’ to Judaism]. Many years ago I was privileged to have learned in Shor Yoshuv, and I am very appreciative of my years there. It would be impossible to give a full appreciation of the Rosh Yeshiva in the space here; a wonderful eight-page article about him appears in this week’s English Mispacha Magazine, (Sukkos 5767 issue). Entitled “Wings with which to Fly – the Gifts of Rav Shlomo Freifeld ztz”l,” it is well worth reading. There is also a book of his teachings entitled, Rabbi Freifeld Speaks published by ArtScroll. Some excerpts from the Mishpacha article appear below, along with material found on the internet.


One of my favorite stories about Rav Freifeld Zt”l is this one, which shows the great care he took to connect with each and every one of his talmidim.

Ben Richards (name has been changed) grew up in the 1960s in Brooklyn hating every minute of city life. He dreamed of living with nature, planting, farming and connecting with the outdoors. The fact that his parents were Orthodox Jews did not really bother him. He needed his freedom. So at 17 he packed up and traveled thousands of miles to the Blackfeet Indian reservation in Montana. While there, he majored in wildlife biology at a local college and learned from teachers on the reservation. Later he joined another reservation in South Dakota. For years he plowed the soil, ate his own produce and lived on the land.
Continuing his quest for more knowledge, he heard about a woman living in Ogallala, South Dakota, the matriarch of the Sioux Indian Society, who possessed legendary insight. He decided that despite the trip – which would be across prairies and hills without road signs or even roads – he would make the journey.
After two days of traveling alone, unsure if he was even heading in the right direction, he finally arrived. But when he approached the woman, she would not help him. “You are not one of us,” she said. “You can never be like us, you don’t belong here.”
“But I have lived on reservations for years. I know your culture, I know your language, and I practice your customs. I feel part of…”
She interrupted him. “If you were Christian, I could understand. But you are a student of the Holy White Rock Man (which Ben later understood as a reference to “When My Glory passes by, I shall put you (Moshe) in the cleft of the rock” - Shemot 33:22). You are not one of us. Go back to your roots. That’s where you belong.”
Confused and dejected, Ben didn’t know what to do. After all his travels, he was being told to go back to the same world he ran away from! He decided to listen to her and within days was back in New York. He asked around for anyone who could give him guidance.
The name Rav Shlomo Freifeld, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Shor Yashuv in Far Rockaway, NY came up. Ben drove out to the Yeshiva, tucked his ponytail under his shirt and made his way in. He was led to an office and began talking with Rabbi Freifeld. Rabbi Freifeld immediately began asking Ben about catching deer, identifying elk tracks and other mechanics of hunting. Though the conversation only lasted twenty minutes, the topics ranged from the Hungarian Navy to South Dakota Indian reservations.
The next morning when he returned, a large crowd was gathered in the Beit Midrash for a Bris Mila. Ben stood in back until Rabbi Freifeld noticed him and asked his son-in-law, Rabbi Avraham Halpern, to bring Ben to the front. Ben was touched that Rabbi Freifeld even recognized him, but wished he hadn’t watched the actual procedure.
Over the next few weeks, they talked for hours on end. One time while they were sitting in the office, Rabbi Freifeld was called out for something. Left alone, Ben got up and began looking at all of the sefarim (Torah books). Then he noticed something unusual. There seemed to be some sefarim lying on the floor! These were holy books and surely didn’t belong on the floor! He picked them up and saw that they were in fact not sefarim, but rather books about Indian culture and reservation! “It was then,” Ben says, “that I realized how much my rebbe really loved me.”
Ben went on to study at Shor Yoshuv for years, where he saw first hand that Jews don’t have to look anywhere else for the salvation and life we are all looking for.


The Shach (Y.D. 81:26), quoting the Hagaos Ashiri, tells us that the ingestion of non-kosher food items has two effects: (a) It changes one’s character traits, and (b) it causes damage to people in their old age. What type of damage in old age is not clear, but in all probability it refers to the mental infirmities that we often associate with old age.
But let us explore a bit the change in character traits that the Shach discusses. Could there be any association with the current problems of struggling teens and youth and non-kosher meat consumption? Or, conversely, is there an association between remarkable spiritual growth and the cessation of eating non-kosher food?
Rav Shlomo Freifeld, zt’l, once asked someone, “Do you know why the 1960s produced a plethora of baalei teshuva? Because in the 1960s a number of people became vegetarians. When this happened, they stopped consuming non-kosher foods, the timtum ha’lev [blockage of the heart] stopped, and they were open to true spiritual growth.”


From an interview with R. Pesach Krohn:

“Then there's a shul in Frankfurt, you have to see it to believe it, it's the most magnificent shul you could possibly imagine. It has been restored and the only reason it had been saved is because the German lieutenants and generals lived on that block and they didn't bomb that block so the outside of that shul was preserved. When you come in, again R. Ephraim Tenenbaum pointed it out to me, he said, "Look at the Aron Kodesh [holy ark]" and I saw something that I've never seen on an Aron Kodesh before, and I'm positive that it doesn't exist anywhere else in the world. The pasuk [verse] - instead of saying, "Ma Tovu Ohalecha Yaakov [How goodly are your tents, O Jacob]," or "B’veis HaElokim Nahaleich B’ragesh [into the House of G-d we will go with feeling]," or these types of pasukim that talk about a shul - it says "Lo Amus Ki Echyeh," – I will not die, but I will survive. I told over a vort [short saying] that [someone] told me from Rav Shlomo Freifeld. He says, "Lo amus," I will not live a life of death, "ki echyeh," while I am alive. In other words, I am going to accomplish every day. I told over that vort right there in that Beis Medrash as soon as I saw that pasuk on that Aron Kodesh. I was so happy I was able to take something from Rav Shlomo Freifeld, it was tremendous.”


The remainder is from the [English] Mispacha Magazine, Sukkos 5767 issue

It’s the way they utter the word, “Rebbe.” It’s like a bittersweet song, one of longing mixed with delight. The intonation of the word, the reverence and passion with which they say it, hints at the emotion expressed by Chazal that ‘tov ata l’Yisrael mei’av v’eim,’ you, Rebbe are more precious to us than a father and a mother. Indeed, for the talmidim of Rav Shlomo Freifeld, he was all that and much more: a father, a mother, and a best friend. He was Rebbe.


But he did far more for these boys than merely teach them how to read, or to daven; he taught them how to live, how a Yid thinks. He had an early morning seder with a talmid, simply to shmooze [chat]. “I would come to his house at five-thirty in the morning, and we would have a coffee together, chatting about various events in the news. He didn't preach, he just shared his perspective on these issues.''
Similarly, a talmid recalled how through these mundane conversations, Rebbe connected him with life, and ultimately with the Source of all Life. “Sometimes, on a 'slow day,' he would tell one of us, or a group of us, to jump into the car. We would drive, often to Biegeleisen's sefarim store on the Lower East Side, sometimes up into the mountains, enjoying his company. Rav Shmuel Brazil, who eventually taught an entire generation the sound of songs permeated with neshama [soul], recalls the spirited singing on those trips, as Rebbe would teach them old niggunim. Rebbe would also simply chat with them, but ''his entire conversation was layered with meaning and depth, and he knew how to slip his message in to these conversations, changing us through the slower, subtler process. It made us into Yidden.”


They [his talmidim] will never forget that Rosh Hashana, when at the completion of the tefillos, as a wave of joy and optimism washed over the crowd, he asked them to sing. The melody that burst forth from the assemblage was like no other, an ode of gratitude and prayer. The Rebbe pulled his tallis over his face, and with superhuman strength, rose from the confines of his wheelchair to a place above time and space. He began to dance alone, as hundreds of talmidim, children that he created, fostered and raised to greatness, were spurred on to sing louder. He was parting from them amid joy. Not long after, he was niftar [passed away].
They will never forget his lofty optimism on Yom Kippur, when he would sit, surrounded by his talmidim, singing and dancing until to the early morning, exulting in the atmosphere of purity that only a newly cleansed neshama can sense. He would sing all sorts of songs, among them a song that one of the bachurim had brought from Eretz Yisrael, with the words “od tireh kama tov yihiyeh bashana haba.” When he would sing those words, expressing the promise for a better year, tears would flow down his cheeks, for that was his mission; next year will be better, we will grow, we will never look back.
Another experience that will forever be seared on the hearts of his talmidim is Simchas Torah morning, the one time a year that he would daven before the amud. Then, the wellsprings of gratitude within him would burst forth, and he would cry out the words of Hallel, weeping profusely.

Yehi Zichro Baruch - May the Rosh Yeshiva's memory be for a blessing!

Wednesday, October 04, 2006


Lechatchila Ariber - the Rebbe Maharash

Tonight and tomorrow, Tishrei 13, is the yahrzeit of the fourth Rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch, Rebbe Shmuel Schneersohn, known as "Maharash". He was born in the town of Lubavitch (White Russia) in the year 5594 (1884). His father was the third Chabad Rebbe, Rebbe Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch, the Tzemach Tzedek (1789-1866).
Although Rebbe Shmuel was the youngest of Rebbe Menachem Mendel's seven sons, he was chosen to succeed his father as Rebbe and leader of Chabad in the movement's capital, Lubavitch (five of his brothers established branches of Chabad Chassidism in other towns in White Russia and Ukraine). In addition to leading his Chassidim, guiding and advising their spiritual and material lives and authoring and delivering more than 1,000 ma'amarim (discourses of Chassidic teaching), Rebbe Shmuel traveled extensively to throughout Europe, meeting with government and business leaders to exert pressure on the Czarist regime to halt its instigation of pogroms against the Jews of Russia. Rebbe Shmuel passed away at the age of 48 on the 13th of Tishrei, 5643 (1882).

From the Sefer HaToldos Admur Maharash, Translator's Introduction to the English Edition by Shimon Neubort:
One of the things that caught my attention during the first farbrengens I attended was the awe and respect with which the Rebbe would refer to the Rebbeim who were his predecessors. In my earlier years, I noticed this especially with respect to his father-in-law, the Rebbe Rayatz. In later years, I was struck by the Rebbe's evident emotion whenever he mentioned the Rebbe Maharash, or referred to the Rebbe Rayatz's remarkable physical resemblance to him.
Who can forget the singing of the Rebbe Maharash's Niggun near the conclusion of many of the Rebbe's farbrengens! The Rebbe's eyes would be tightly shut, and he would lead the singing by nodding his head slowly to the rhythm of the solemn melody - especially one stanza, which he would signal (by silent gesture of his head) to be repeated again and again, often ten times or more.
The Rebbe often referred to this niggun - and indeed, to the Rebbe Maharash himself - by the name Lechatchilah Ariber. He explained this by quoting a characteristic motto of the Rebbe Maharash:
Di velt zogt: az men ken nisht arunter muz men gehen ariber; un ich zog az men darf gehen lechatchilah ariber. People say that if one can't go underneath, one has to go over the top; but I say that one must go lechatchilah ariber. That is, one must go over the top to begin with, as the first choice. I.e., ordinary people expect to encounter obstacles, and they look for ways to get around them. But the Rebbe Maharash acted as if obstacles did not exist in the first place.
Lechatchilah Ariber! This concept is so typical of the Rebbe Maharash's approach to all things, that the Rebbe would often use the phrase as a substitute name when referring to the Rebbe Maharash. And yet, in Sefer HaToldos Admur Maharash - one of the Rebbe's earliest published works, first printed in 5707 [1947] - this phrase is not quoted even once. But, as the reader will quickly discover, the whole biography of the Rebbe Maharash features example after example of lechatchilah ariber. Indeed, the very date of his bris, Netzach ShebiNetzach signifies the ideal of lechatchilah ariber. And the fact that he - the youngest son - was evidently favored by his father over his elder sons, and succeeded his father the Tzemach Tzedek as Rebbe, bypassing his elder brothers who were themselves all great and learned tzaddikim, manifests the idea of lechatchilah ariber.
Another example that comes to my mind is the manner in which he disarmed a would-be assassin simply by reminding him that he was a Jew: "A Jew must not have the 'hands of Esav.' Give me what you have with you." The young man then took a revolver out of his pocket and gave it to [...the Rebbe Maharash], who threw it out the window.


Besides his genius and his great knowledge of all areas of Torah - both revealed and hidden - he possessed outstanding talents and an excellent memory. A few examples follow:
At the end of the sefer Hon Ashir [Lit., "The wealth of the wealthy," containing commentaries on the text of the Mishna and other subjects, including a poem on Shabbos, mila and tefillin, with accompanying musical notes. Printed in Amsterdam, 5491] by the same author as Mishnas Chassidim [R. Emanuel Chai Reiki (1688-1743), rabbi, kabbalist and poet], there is a song marked with its musical notes. A facsimile of this page is reproduced at the end of Sefer HaNiggunim. The Rebbe Maharash read them and then remarked that the song written there inspired him to sing a certain melody. He then sang the niggun long known among Chassidim by the name "One Two Three Four," or the "Ein Sof Niggun." This is the niggun of the Rebbe Maharash, which was regularly sung at the Rebbe's farbrengens; the Rebbe called it the "Lechatchilah Ariber Niggun."


The Rebbe Maharash's Niggunim:
L'Chatchila Ariber - Rebbe Maharash
Shuvu Shuva - Rebbe Maharash
Niggun of the Chassidim of the Rebbe Maharash

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