Sunday, July 29, 2007

13th Av - R' Noson Nota Shapira

Yesterday (Shabbat) was the yarzheit of the 'Megaleh Amukos' - R' Noson Nota Shapira (all of those words have alternate spellings - figure it out for yourself). He was one of the more famous kabalists, who wrote on many different areas of Torah. He is probably best known for his commentary on Chumash.

This is what Nehura has to say about him.

Rabbi Natan Neta Shapira - 'Megale Amukot'

Born: Poland, 1585

Died: Cracow, Poland, 1633

Kabbalist, and chief rabbi of Cracow.

Rabbi Natan Neta is better known as 'Megale Amukot' - revealer of the depths, the title of his main work. In 'Megale Amukot' he writes 252 commentaries on Moses's pleading before G-d to be allowed to enter the land of Israel.

Rabbi Natan Neta disseminated the kabbalistic teachings of the Ari in Poland. Thousands of people followed him as a teacher.

On the tomb stone of Rabbi Natan Neta, it says that "Eliyahu HaNavie (Elijah the Prophet) spoke to him face to face."

Rabbi Chaim of Tzanz said about Rabbi Natan Neta, that his powers were so great, that when someone would just mention before him the name of a sick person, that person was immediately healed.

Deah v'Dibur (aka Yated Neeman) have a long article on him, which may contain some facts. Here are the first few paragraphs. You decide whether it is worth reading more:

Rebbe Nosson Neta Shapira zt'l, the author of Megaleh Amukos

370 years from his petiroh -- 13 Av, 5393

Cracow, in southern Poland southwest of Warsaw, was a leading Torah city in learning and observance for many generations. It was the home of Torah giants who were pillars of Torah and halochoh. Among these was the gaon, kodosh and mekubol HaRav Nosson Neta Shapira zt'l, who was world famous as the author of the Megaleh Amukos.

R' Nosson Neta was blessed with rare talents. His diligence and labor in Torah study were limitless, and his phenomenal memory astounded everyone.

When he was twenty years old his father-in-law, the gvir R' Moshe Eberless, introduced him to a Polish noble who wanted for himself to see the young illui's recall of what he heard. The aristocrat read him an entire book written in French, a language totally unknown to R' Nosson Neta. In the middle of the reading, which took a very long time, R' Nosson Neta rested his head on his arm. The noble thought R' Nosson Neta had fallen asleep, and he asked him in Polish: "Have you fallen asleep?" Rabbeinu nodded his head from side to side to signal that he had not. The noble continued reading the book until its very end.

Then he asked R' Nosson Neta to retell by heart the whole book. This apparently illogical demand didn't bother Rabbeinu at all. He repeated the whole book, word for word, and he even repeated the question, "Have you fallen asleep?" in exactly the place where the noble originally asked him that question.

At the age of thirty, Rabbenu became rosh yeshiva of the Cracow Yeshiva, one of the most famed yeshivos of the day. This yeshiva was founded by HaRav Yaakov Pollack, the father of the pilpul method of Torah study, which had proven its tremendous usefulness in better understanding the Torah.

The way R' Nosson Neta studied amazed everyone. His son R' Shlomoh writes: "Hashem gave him a heart of deep understanding and capability to relate to others what he had read in seforim and what he was taught by others. Within his extensive memory, which is incomparable to that of anyone living today, one can find all the works of the Rishonim and Acharonim besides the Talmud Bavli and Yerushalmi. He would repeat verbatim to his cherished talmidim excerpts from gemoras with the commentaries, the Rif and the Tur, teshuvos and other poskim. No reference existed that he was not proficient in . . . and when he would study with his attentive talmidim flames of fire would burst from him. He transformed these talmidim into Torah giants."

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Funding the Enemy - another reason for teshuva!

Yet another reason to mourn. We destroyed the Beis Hamikdosh, and since we still await its rebuilding, according to the Yerushalmi it is as if we are responsible for its destruction. However today's news tell us that our tax money, apart from funding the histadrut strike (how can a country function when there is a strike literally every summer?), is also being used to pay the salaries of those who even the government considers to be terrorists.

From YNet

Israel pays Haniyeh's salary

Funds transferred by Jewish state to Palestinian Authority used by Prime Minister Fayyad to pay wages of government workers, including dismissed Hamas ministers

Ronny Shaked
Published: 07.24.07, 09:04 / Israel Money

When Israel decided to unfreeze $600 million it owed the Palestinian Authority, it did not intend for the money to be used to fill the bank account of former Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh.

After receiving the funds from Israel and additional aid from the United States and European countries, the Palestinian Finance Ministry decided to pay the monthly salaries of government members, including dismissed Hamas ministers and the group's representatives in the Legislative Council.

Each of these officials received on Monday NIS 12,000 (about $2,836) from Palestinian Prime Minister and Finance Minister Salam Fayyad's treasury. One of the people to receive this sum was former Palestinian Foreign Minister Mahmoud al-Zahar, one of Hamas' most radical members.

I realised just before the fast how it is possible for Israel's leaders to consistently make such bad decisions:

Even in the midst of all the tragedy we must realise how closely G-d is with us, removing free choice and sensibility from our politicians so that we, the people, take responsibility for our actions. Blaming the government and the histadrut and anyone else, only deflects the blame from ourselves.

I know that it is now 'summer holidays' for many people. But it is also the beginning of the seven weeks leading up to Rosh Hashana. Now is the chance to work on ourselves and prepare for the day of judgement. We can see with our own eyes where we have got to so far!

Death by Caffeine

Also posted on

This Tisha B'Av was different for me than any other year. Sadder, more meaningful, and I managed to stay in Shul right through to the end of Kinot! And the reason? A caffeine pill!!! One little yellow pill, the equivalent of 4 cups of coffee, made all the difference.

I didn't realise how dependent I was on coffee until yesterday. Although I sometimes have headaches if I don't drink enough coffee, I can usually manage without, and I don't seem to see any noticeable improvement or difference before and after I have my morning java. But now that I know how good it is for me, and how it improves my davening and thinking and makes everything more meaningful, I'm going to have to make sure I am fully dosed at all times. Woo hoo!

Of course all of the above is meant tongue in cheek. Mood altering drugs are not the way to get closer to G-d, or to make life more meaningful. But still...

There is an interesting website here which will tell you how many cups of coffee you may drink before it kills you (I'm not sure that you could really manage that many without spending the rest of the day in the bathroom, but you get the idea.)

(If you would rather death by chocolate try the following website:

Newsweek has an article on the fact that we now need more caffeine in our products. You can get double caffeinated coffee, which gets you going without making you go (if you know what I mean).

- anyone for caffeinated soap??

So this is what fuels the fires of Torhalab, and it is good to know that it is keeping the rest of America and the free world going as well. Any complaints to the major coffee brands please.

Keep on Buzzing.

Rabbi Sedley

Post Tisha B'Av Post

It is amazing how deprivation makes the desire grow stronger. For 24 hours, the whole of Tisha B'Av, we are not allowed to learn Torah, because it makes us happy. For 24 hours I sit and stare at all the seforim on the shelf and wish I was allowed to learn them. They look so enticing and exciting - row upon row of Torah that I need to learn!
I even start fantasizing about what to learn first, and how long it will take and how happy I will be when I am learning it!

Then Tisha b'Av is over, and so are the fantasies. All of a sudden they are just shelves of books, and even though I want to learn them all, and even though I spend several hours a day working my way through them, it is not with the same desire.

How can I retain that strong desire to learn? How can I recapture that intense desire for Torah?

I find that I learn best (by far) when I have an obligation to a chevruta. Not only do I learn better by speaking things through with someone else (of course), but the fact that someone is depending on me, or waiting for me, forces me to get out of the house and learn (or stay in the house and bring the chevruta over). BUT - having an obligation to learn with a chevruta also means that I am learning because I have to, not because I want to or desire to.

OK, for some people it is now bein hazmanim. Even though I am still working, my kids are on holiday and I will try and take some time off to spend with them. And my afternoons are free at the moment because my kollel and teaching aren't operating for the next three weeks. So (bli neder) now is my chance to learn just for fun. Purely for the enjoyment of it.

I have so many things I want to learn. I'll just have to try and remember what I felt like yesterday, and how much I really want to learn it - even if it is the middle of the night and I am exhausted from having taken the kids out somewhere (or just chasing them around the house - good thing it isn't a very big house!)

On with the summer and free Torah!

Hope your fast was as meaningful as mine!

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Tisha B'Av Quotes

These two quotes speak for themselves. They were written many decades ago, but apparently we have not learnt from them.

The Netziv writes in Ha'amek Davar in the introduction to Bereishis:

The praise ‘straight’ (yashar) is said about the justice of G-d’s judgment in the destruction of the Second Beis Hamikdosh because the generation were perverse and twisted. We have explained that even though they were tzadikim and chasidim and toiled in Torah, nevertheless they were not straight in their dealings with the world. Because of their hatred for each other, anyone who didn’t serve G-d according to their opinion was suspected of being a Saducee or an apikoros. Through this they came to murder through their arguments, which led to all the bad things in the world, until the Beis Hamikdosh was destroyed.

In other words, baseless hatred means invalidating someone else's worldview or hashkafa! Let's both be right, and agree that there is more than one correct Jewish path to serving G-d!

This is what the Chofetz Chaim writes about posting flyers and letters against others with whom we disagree (it is letter number 31 in his 'Letters' in the complete works of the Chofetz Chaim)

I must speak out my heart about the manner of conflict taking place among the Jewish people. One camp publicizes its view in the newspapers with the signatures of all of its backers. The other side does the same. One of them wrote 'the one with the most signatures wins', and I say the one with the most signatures is creating unnecessary conflict in Israel. All of Israel is burning like a fire as each side places more and more ads condemning their opposition. Even the holy land of Israel is becoming a subject of controversy. I don't know who permitted all of these terrible sins. Everyone is sure that he is saying the truth and it is the other opinion that is creating the argument. This is a grave error, because even if both are right, they have no right to violate the Torah. So many mitzvos are being violated. No good can possibly come out of this. Right or wrong, they are creating a chilul Hashem desecration of G-d's Name. Twenty-four thousand students of Rabbi Akiva died in one month, not because they argued, but because they argued improperly and caused a chilul Hashem. Certainly each one of these giants felt that he was right.

Everyone is going to hear divrei Torah about the evils of lashon hara at this time. The Chofetz Chaim is being quoted by everyone - but I don't remember ever hearing this letter quoted. (If you look at the original you will see he is even harsher than the extract translated here!)

For more sources on Tisha B'Av you can go to and download a free source sheet and teachers' guide.

May we merit to greet Mashiach very soon, and let us learn from the gedolim of the past generations.

Peres was right!

I must congratulate our new president on his foresight. Martin Sherman has written an excellent essay for ynet showing how Shimon Peres got it exactly right in 1978 with his dire predictions of what would happen if the Palestinians ever got their own state. The only question is why he changed his mind, to declare last week that Israel must get rid of the territories (and thus showed exactly what he meant when he said that he would be an unbiased impartial president!). Is this a sign of senility in an 84 year old man? Or has the world changed as much as his mind?

This is another clear sign that Mashiach is on his way!!

The establishment of such (a Palestinian) state means the inflow of combat-ready Palestinian forces (more than 25,000 men under arms)

into Judea and Samaria; this force, together with the local youth, will double itself in a short time. It will not be short of weapons or other (military) equipment, and in a short space of time, an infrastructure for waging war will be set up in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip. Israel will have problems in preserving day-to-day security, which may drive the country into war, or undermine the morale of its citizens. In time of war, the frontiers of the Palestinian state will constitute an excellent staging point for mobile forces to mount attacks on infrastructure installations vital for Israel’s existence, to impede the freedom of action of the Israeli Air Force in the skies over Israel, and to cause bloodshed among the areas adjacent to the frontier-line."

Shimon Peres, Tomorrow is Now, p. 232.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

9 Av Message from R' Yaakov Kaminetsky

This extract is from Emes L'Yaakov (R' Yaakov Kaminetsky) on Shulchan Aruch in the section of the Three Weeks and Tisha B'Av. It seems to me to be a very important and relevant message for today.

Emet L’Ya’akov on Shulchan Aruch OC 551 s.v. Sham

This is what the Torah means when it says “You shall teach them, and guard them to keep them”. In other words a person is obligated to learn the Mitzvot and to know well which are Torah prohibitions, which are Rabbinic, which are fences and which are customs. In other words the ‘guarding to keep’ is only possible through ‘teaching them’. It is not sufficient for a person to watch and copy every action and movement that his father does, even if his father is completely righteous. In such a case a person will not know whether his father is doing the action because it is a Halacha, or just a custom. Through this he will then come to transgress Torah prohibitions, such as causeless hatred and machloket. For this person sees others who are not doing exactly the same things as his father did, he will consider that they are transgressing the Halacha, even though they are also following the minhagim of their fathers. Through this a person will come to transgress ‘You shall love your fellow as yourself’ and ‘Do not hate your brother in your heart’ and ‘Do not make different groups’ which is the prohibition of making machloket according to the Rambam.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Good Shabbos Kiwi

This clip - Goodnight Kiwi - reminds me of my childhood. In the olden days TVNZ (the New Zealand broadcasting corporation) used to close down (both chanels) at about midnight (occasionally at motzei shabbat they would go a little bit later).

For little kids it was very exciting to stay up late enough to see 'Goodnight Kiwi'. It was a sign of manhood to stay up that late.

I remember once on an afternoon children's TV show they broadcast this clip, just so the little kids could see what it was. That was very exciting.

Nowadays when there are 30 billion channels and the TV never sleeps this is just a meaningless piece of history. There is no more excitement left in TV because everything is available to everyone at every time. Even though TV was dangerous even in the 70s and 80s (and I dare say I lost many braincells from staring at the 'box'), the dangers and threats were of an altogether different order. The most salacious thing on TV was Coronation Street (and we couldn't understand what they were saying because they spoke with Mancunian accents. I was so disappointed to arrive in England and find that some people actually spoke normally). The most violent programme was 'The Professionals' and the most scary (by a long shot) 'Dr Who'!

Alas for those that have gone and are no more.

Good Shabbos Kiwi (and cat)

5th Av - Arizal

Today is also the Yarzheit of the AriZal, R' Yitzchak Luria, who literally changed the world with his Torah. All of the kabbalah that we have today is through him, and the only real understanding of the Zohar is based on his teachings. There have been changes to halachah, minhagim, Torah learning, and even the siddur, based on the teachings and ideas of the Ari.

He said that any kabbalah before his time was from tohu (chaos). He introduced concepts and terminology that changed the way kabbalah was understood.

It is amazing how little is known of him as a person. He only lived to the age of 38, and only in the last couple of years of his life did he move to Tzfat and begin to teach kabbalah. Everything we have from him is based on the transcriptions and books written by his main student R' Chaim Vital.

He was a younger contemporary of the Shulchan Aruch, who also changed the world, yet in very different ways.

Rabbi Isaac Luria (1534 – July 25, 1572) was a Jewish mystic in Safed. His name today is attached to all of the mystic thought in Safed: while his literary contribution to the Kabbalistic school of Safed was extremely minute (he only wrote a few poems), his fame led to the school and all its works being named after him. The main popularizer of his ideas was Hayim Vital, though Vital's claim to be the official interpreter of the Lurianic system was not undisputed.

Lurianic Kabbalah lost a certain amount of credit owing to its association with the false Messiah Shabbetai Tzvi: however it remained the leading school of mysticism in Judaism, and is an important influence on Hasidism. A minority of today's Jewish mystics belong to other branches of thought in Zoharic mysticism.

In Hebrew he is called Yitzhak Lurya יִצְחַק לוּרְיָא, Yitzhak Ben Shlomo Ashkenazi, and Yitzhak Ashkenazi. He is also known as Ari אֲרִי and He-Ari ("The Lion") from the acronym for Adoneinu Rabbeinu Itzhak ("Our Master Our Rabbi Yitzhak"), thus Arizal with "ZaL" being the acronym for Zikhrono Livrakha ("of blessed memory" or literally "let the memory of him be for a blessing"), a common Jewish honorific for the deceased, and known as Ari Ha-Kadosh ("Ari the Holy").

He was born at Jerusalem in 1534 to an Ashkenazi father and a Sephardic mother; died at Safed, Israel July 25, 1572 (5 Av 5332). While still a child he lost his father, and was brought up by his rich uncle Mordecai Francis, tax-farmer at Cairo, Egypt, who placed him under the best Jewish teachers. Luria showed himself a diligent student of rabbinical literature; and, under the guidance of Rabbi Bezalel Ashkenazi (best known as the author of Shittah Mekubetzet), he, while quite young, became proficient in that branch of Jewish learning.

At the age of fifteen he married his cousin, and, being amply provided for financially, was able to continue his studies. Though he initially may have pursued a career in business, he soon turned to asceticism and mysticism. About the age of twenty-two years old, he became engrossed in the study of the Zohar, a major work of the Kabbalah which had recently been printed for the first time, and adopted the life of a recluse. He retreated to the banks of the Nile, and for seven years secluded himself in an isolated cottage, giving himself up entirely to meditation. He visited his family only on the Shabbat, speaking very seldom, and always in Hebrew. Hassidim attribute to him that he had frequent interviews with the prophet Elijah through this ascetic life, by whom he was initiated into sublime doctrines.

[edit] Disciples

In 1569 Arizal moved to the Palestine; and after a short sojourn at Jerusalem, where his new kabalistic system seems to have met with little success, he settled in Safed. There he formed a circle of kabbalists to whom he imparted the doctrines by means of which he hoped to establish a new basis for the moral system of the world. To this circle belonged Rabbi Moses ben Jacob Cordovero, Rabbi Shlomo Alkabetz, Rabbi Joseph Caro, Rabbi Moses Alshech, Rabbi Eliyahu de Vidas, Rabbi Joseph Hagiz, Rabbi Elisha Galadoa, and Rabbi Moses Bassola. They met every Friday, and each confessed to another his sins. Soon Arizal had two classes of disciples: (1) novices, to whom he expounded the elementary Kabbalah, and (2) initiates, who became the depositaries of his secret teachings and his formulas of invocation and conjuration. The most renowned of the initiates was Rabbi Chaim Vital of Calabria, who, according to his master, possessed a soul which had not been soiled by Adam's sin. In his company Luria visited the grave of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and of other eminent teachers, it is said that these graves were unmarked -- the identity of each grave was unknown -- and through Elijah each grave was recognized. Arizal's kabbalistic circle gradually widened and became a separate congregation, in which his mystic doctrines were supreme, influencing all the religious ceremonies.

May His Soul Be Bound in the Bonds of Eternal Life

R' Chaim Ozer - 5th Av

Today is the yarzheit of one of the greatest European Rabbis of the last century - Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzinski.

R' Chaim Ozer was known not only for his leadership skills, and his brilliance in Torah, but most famously for having a compartmentalised brain. He was able to do several things at the same time (how many things at once depends on which version of the stories you hear). He could write two separate letters using both hands simultaneously, while at the same time answering a halachic sheila and speaking to his secretary (and perhaps also speaking on the phone).

They say about him that when he would daven the veins on his temples would pop out from the exertion of concentrating on one one thing!

His Achiezer responsa is well known for allowing the use of gelatin, but his halachic expertise was in all areas of contemporary life. They say that the Chofetz Chaim would always discuss political issues with R' Chaim Ozer before making a decision.

Chaim Ozer Grodzinski
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzinski (1863-1940) was a world renowned pre-war Dayan, Posek and Talmudic scholar in Vilna.

* 1 Early years
* 2 Leadership
* 3 Agudath Israel
* 4 Works and responsa
* 5 External links

Early years

Rabbi Grodzinski was born in 1863 in Iuje, Belarus, a small town near Vilna where his father served as Rabbi for forty years, preceded by his grandfather who had also been a Rabbi there for a similar length of time. Rabbi Chaim Ozer was gifted with an infallible memory - never experiencing "forgetting", as he himself remarked, until his old age.

At fifteen, he went to the world-renowned Yeshiva of Volozhin. In spite of his tender age, he was immediately accepted into Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik's select group. By the age of twenty, when he passed through Vilna, his fame preceded him. He followed the suggestion of his father, a pupil of Rabbi Yisrael Salanter, who advised him to marry the daughter of Rabbi Lazer (Eliezer Eliyahu) Grodzinski, son-in-law of Rabbi Salanter and a the Dayan in Vilna.


Rabbi Grodzinski had expected to engage full-time in Torah study in his father-in-law's house, but after two years Rabbi Lazer died, and the community of Vilna requested him to take his father-in-law's place. Since the time of the Vilna Gaon, Vilna never had an official rabbi. Instead, a group of Dayanim (rabbinical judges) formed the rabbinate, all of whom were elderly and great scholars and Poskim. Now the twenty-two year old Rabbi Grodzinski joined their ranks and over the following fifty-five years emerged as the unofficial Rabbi of Vilna, for it was apparent from the start that his vast Torah knowledge was complemented by great wisdom.

While Rabbi Chaim Ozer did have a yeshiva, it was not a yeshiva in the usual sense, for he could not give the students much of his time. The group studied independently, and only on Shabbos would the boys gather in his home for discussions. In spite of the limited hours he spent with his pupils, he had vast influence over them and a number of great men emerged from his Kibbutz - among others, Rabbi Moshe Shatzkes, Rabbi Eliezer Silver, Rabbi Avigdor Amiel (Tel Aviv), Rabbi Yechezkel Abramsky and Dayan Michoel Fisher. Rabbi Grodzinski was also the uncle of Rabbi Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler.

Agudath Israel

Rabbi Chaim Ozer was one of the founders of Agudath Israel and the pillar of the movement throughout his life, participating in every Knessia Gedolah (great convention) as long as his health permitted. He was also honorary president of the movement. When the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah was established, he was the first chairman and remained so throughout his life.

When his pupil Rabbi Eliezer Silver became the founding president of Agudath Israel of America, he sent personal greetings. Moreover, he instructed Rabbi Shlomo Heiman, revered Rosh Yeshiva of Mesivta Torah Vodaath, to participate in the first American Agudath Israel Convention in Far Rockaway in 1937, and to accept the vice-presidency of the budding organization. Rabbi Heiman customarily shied away from public affairs, but Rabbi Grodzinski urged him to make an exception.

Rabbi Grodzinski was a founding member and administrator of the Vaad HaYeshivos in Lithuania. He also established a network of Jewish schools that provided traditional Jewish education and the Agudas HaRabbanim of Poland.

The Chofetz Chaim would not initiate any public action, or sign any public document, until he consulted with Rabbi Grodzinski, considering him to be a living embodiment of Torah. Rabbi Grodzinski died in 1940 after a protracted illness, thought to be cancer. His death prompted massive grief and a huge funeral was held, attended by most of Lithuanian Jewry and many war refugees from Poland, led by the most eminent rabbis of the time.

Works and responsa

Rabbi Grodzinski's brilliance as well as the scope of his leadership are reflected both in the sha'alos (halachic queries) that were sent to him from all parts of the world and in the responsa he sent in return. He would write each responsum personally, not entrusting this to a secretary. His mind was so disciplined, that he would simultaneously write a responsum in halachah, give orders to two secretaries, and speak on the telephone. Rabbi Grodzinski was known to use an electric bulb in place of a havdalah candle, in line with his opinion that in Halachic terms, electricity constitutes a fire. Rabbi Grodzinski authored:

* She'elot uT'shuvot Achiezer, a three-volumed collection of responsa

May His Soul Be Bound in the Bonds of Eternal Life

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Tisha B'Av song

To put you in the mood for Tisha B'Av (and while I was waiting for the scanner to scan)

With thanks to Billy Joel:

When we left Egypt, we were triumphant
But out of Israel, we were despondent
We'd got the law
On Mount Sinai
But we were quick to give it up for sinning and lies

We saw the Shechina, and built the Temple
We had korbanos, it was all so simple
But then they burned
Our holy home
And they killed thousands and thousands of folk

Old Jeremiah, said we were mistaken
We never thought that, we'd be forsaken
We cried so hard
That ninth of Av
And prayed for G-d to once more show us His love

We lost our homeland, we made an error
We went to Bavel, with Nebuchadnezzar
And we were blind
We lost our minds
But we never stopped praying
and hoping and saying
That we'd come back home to Israel once more

We said we'll all return together
Yes we will all return together
Oh we will all return together

Remember David, Remember Shlomo
He built the city, He built the Temple
But we were wrong
We lost our way
For no reason at all, we had to hate

We used to live, every day miraculous
But we forgot, Who was above us
Exile's the price
We have to pay
But it's so long, and gets harder each day

We'll all do teshuva, and love each other
We'll once more love You, our King and Father
But its so dark
In exile's night
We hope and pray once more to see your bright light

When we can all return together
We pray we'll all return together
When can we all return together

Menahem Azariah me-Pano - 4th Av

Today is the yarzheit of R' Menachem Azariah me-Pano (the Rema me-Pano) who was a great 16th century kabbalist and halachicist (or in other words, a Rabbi who knew all areas of Torah).

Apart from his brilliance, and authority in halacha for later generations, one of the interesting things about the Rema me-Pano is that he learned his kabbala from R' Yisrael Serug, who himself was a talmid of the Arizal. (I know it says that R' Menachem Azariah learned from R' Moshe Cordovero, but I'm not convinced that he learned from him directly). Virtually all of the Arizal's writings that we have come from R' Chaim Vital, and this has become the standard in studying kabbalah. However, R' Yisrael Serug also learned directly from the Arizal, then came to Europe and taught there. His understanding of what the Arizal said, and his description of spiritual worlds, (and the well known statement that in the time of Mashiach the halacha will be like Beit Shammai) are different than that found in kitvei Ari.

R' Menachem Azariah spread and publicised R'Yisrael Serug's Torah, and gave us a different view of the world and the kabbalah.

This is the entry from the jewish encyclopedia

Italian rabbi, Talmudist, and cabalist; born 1548; died at Mantua 1620. He was a disciple of Moses Cordovero, to whose widow he offered 1,000 sequins for her husband's manuscripts. Even as a youth Fano had some reputation for learning, as is shown by the fact that Moses Cordovero (d. 1570) sent him a copy of his "Pardes Rimmonim." One of Fano's teachers was Ishmael Ḥanina b. Mordecai of Valmontone. Fano was a patron of learning. When Joseph Caro, shortly before his death (1575), sent "Kesef Mishneh," his commentary on Maimonides' Yad ha-Ḥazaḳah, to Mantua for publication, Fano, at the suggestion of Dei Rossi, assumed part of the expense and took charge of the edition. According to a report of Immanuel Aboab, Fano lived for some time in Reggio. Numerous pupils flocked tohim from Italy and Germany, and he was held in general respect for his learning and character.

Fano's authority as a Talmudist is evident in a collection of responsa ("She'elot Teshubot me-Rabbi Menaḥem 'Azaryah," Dyhernfurth, 1788) containing 130 chapters on various subjects connected with religious law and ritual questions. They are distinguished by precision of style as well as by the author's independence of the later authorities. He even decides sometimes in opposition to Joseph Caro (e.g., No. 32), and holds changes in the ritual to be justifiable in certain cases (see, e.g., No. 25). In his love for precision and brevity Fano compiled a book of extracts from Alfasi's code, which itself is only a compendium of the Talmud. This book is preserved in manuscript. Azulai enumerates twenty-four cabalistic treatises by Fano, part being in manuscript. Ten of these are comprised in the work "'Asarah Ma'amarot"; five of them, under the title "Amarot Ṭehorot," were printed together with "Ḳol Yehudah," a philosophical commentary by Judah b. Simon (Frankfort-on-the-Main, 1698; Mohilev, 1810).

These treatises originated partly in addresses delivered by the author on feast-days, especially on Rosh ha-Shanah. In spite of Fano's decided tendency toward scholastic and allegoric interpretation, his works are not quite devoid of original remarks. For example, in connection with the cabalistic interpretation of Num. xxxiii. 2, "And Moses wrote their goings out according to their journeys," he says: "The Torah speaks always of ideas when it seems to be describing concrete things: the higher meaning is the principal thing; the lower, material meaning holds the second place. Moses b. Naḥman, indeed, follows another opinion in his commentary on Genesis in holding to the principle that 'the Torah speaks according to the manner of men'; but we can justly say that men speak according to the manner of the Torah" ("Ḥiḳḳur Din," iii. 22). "The prohibitions of the Torah never appear in the imperative, but in the form of the future: 'Thou shalt have no other gods'; 'Thou shalt not bow down thyself to other gods'; 'Thou shalt not swear falsely'; etc. This means, 'I know thou wilt not be guilty of these things, since human nature does not tolerate such crimes, and if sin occurs in this life it can be only a passing episode.' On the other hand, the commandments are in the imperative: 'Kabbed,' 'zakor'; that is, 'I command thee nothing new; the good instincts in thee have always been there; they need only to be awakened and developed'" (ib. iv. 9). This last sentence is characteristic of the author's optimism as well as of his mild nature, which attracted the sympathy of all.

In 1581 Jedidiah (Amadeo) Recanati dedicated to Fano his Italian translation ("Erudizione dei Confusi") of Maimonides' "Moreh Nebukim." Isaiah Hurwitz especially mentions Fano's treatise "Yonat Elem" as a theological work the teaching of which comes very near to the truth (Joseph Solomon Delmedigo, introduction to "Nobelot Ḥokmah"). Fano's pupil Samuel Portaleone composed an elegy on the occasion of his death (Oxford MS. No. 988c). One of Fano's sons was Isaac Berechiah; and the same name was borne also by Fano's son-in-law and pupil (mentioned in a letter of Israel Sforno to his son Obadiah).

May His Soul be Bound in the Bonds of Eternal Life

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Addicted to Blog

(With thanks to Robert Palmer)

Computer's on, 'coz I'm at home
My mind is not, its turned to stone
My friends don't want, to talk to me
I used to have a family

I can't sleep, I can't sit
I need to get, another hit
My blog has had, 10,000 views
I'll post once more, before I snoo-oooze

I used to think that I was immune to adsense
oh Yeah

But now I've made, another 29 cents!

I Know I'm
Gonna have to face it, I'm addicted to blog

I've got the widgets, h-t-m-l
I've got the ads, for stuff to sell
I've got paypal, for you to pay
All I need, is stuff to say

Another post and I'll be fine, a one track mind

Its 3 AM, I'm nearly done
I'll stop quite soon, I'm having fun
The world can read, what's in my head
The problem is, my brain is dead

I used to think that I was immune to adsense
oh Yeah

But now I've made, another 29 cents!

I Know I'm
Gonna have to face it, I'm addicted to blog

Might as well face it, I'm addicted to blog
Might as well face it, I'm addicted to blog
Might as well face it, I'm addicted to blog
Might as well face it, I'm addicted to blog
Might as well face it, I'm addicted to blog

Guitar solo (once around)

Computer's on, 'coz I'm at home
My mind is not, its turned to stone
My friends don't want, to talk to me
I used to have a family

I used to think that I was immune to adsense
oh Yeah

But now I've made, another 29 cents!

I know I'm
Gonna have to face it, I'm addicted to blog

Might as well face it, I'm addicted to blog
Might as well face it, I'm addicted to blog
Might as well face it, I'm addicted to blog
Might as well face it, I'm addicted to blog
Might as well face it, I'm addicted to blog

Babel Fish

Nimrod would have loved it. Most of the world can now speak the same language - and the language is the internet (thanks to google). The next Tower of Babel has google at its heart.

Apparently I can speak Spanish! I didn't realise how brilliant google actually is. (I also have no idea whether this makes any sense in translation).

I was looking at my 'recent came from' links, and found this:

which is me speaking Spanish. I say:

Soy seguro que todo sabes quiénes es el Torah Temimah, y lo que escribieron otros libros maravillosos R Baruch HaLevi Epstein. Qué no puedes saber es que él escribió un comentario en los 5 Gishmei llamado Megillas Bracha (o más adelante, Torah Temimah en 5 Megillahs). Soy un ventilador grande del Torah Temimah, y he estado intentando traducir otros de sus comentarios en el chumash - Tosefet Bracha en mi Web site. Puedes ver algunos pedazos en la mayor parte de los parshas allí.

De todas formas, aquí está la cucharada. Torahlab está vendiendo una versión clasificada bolsillo (con la impresión clara) de la versión hebrea original de su comentario en Megillat Eicha para un precio tonto. Pero no es para esta semana solamente. Chascar encendido el acoplamiento y conseguirte una copia para hacer tu b'av del tisha más significativo.

Which made me want to try it myself (just to make my High School French teacher proud - here you go Mrs Gibbs):

Je suis sûr que vous tout savez qui le Torah Temimah est, et ce que d'autres livres merveilleux R Baruch HaLevi Epstein ont écrit. Ce que vous ne pouvez pas savoir est qu'il a écrit un commentaire sur les 5 Gishmei appelé par Megillas Bracha (ou plus tard, Torah Temimah sur 5 Megillahs). Je suis un grand ventilateur du Torah Temimah, et avais essayé de traduire des autres de ses commentaires sur le chumash - Tosefet Bracha sur mon site Web. Vous pouvez voir quelques morceaux sur la plupart des parshas là.

Quoi qu'il en soit, voici le godet. Torahlab vendent une version de poche (avec la copie claire) de la version hébreue originale de son commentaire sur Megillat Eicha pour un prix idiot. Mais il n'a lieu que durant cette semaine seulement. Cliquer sur le lien et s'obtenir une copie pour rendre votre b'av de tisha plus signicatif.

It is from google's translation page:

They are brilliant! Unfortunately you cannot translate a page into Elmer Fudd, but you can change the settings on google so that your search results are in that language. Keeps me amused anyway!

Monday, July 16, 2007

Top Ten Reasons

Two posts that really changed my day yesterday (well, what I mean is that I quoted them several times during the course of the day).

Juggling Frogs has written probably the best blog article I have ever read about how to sell vacuum cleaners and how (not) to do kiruv. She writes so well and has an extremely important message. Judaism doesn't need to be sold. Torah and Judaism can speak for themselves. Experiencing, seeing, learning about Judaism are all great ways for someone to become more interested. But please don't try to 'sell' Judaism, or 'mekarev' people to a Torah lifestyle. Just try to be the right person at the right time in the right place. Let G-d do the rest. (sorry, that is my rant - juggling frogs writes much better than me, and has a better message - read what she wrote!!!!)

And then for some light relief in these 9 sad days -

From Jewish Humor

Top Ten Reasons Why the Nine Days were Made for Hippies

10. No haircuts/shaving - We started that look, dude.

9. No Meat - We're already vegetarians

8. No Laundry - 1 tie-dyed Dead tee can last your for weeks

7. No Wine - You can't smoke it

6. No Live Music - No need when Pink Floyd is always playing inside your head

5. No Swimming -Might lead to laundering

4. No Airflight - Makes hitchhiking the only way to ride

3. No Court cases - Anything to stick it to the man

2. No New Clothing - We only buy Vintage

1. No Weddings - Free love

Ezra's return

Cross-post from

1st of Av

Today, the 1st of Av, is the day that Ezra arrived in Yerushalayim from Bavel. The Israelites had been exiled in Babylon for many decades, had seen the Temple destroyed and lost many of their family members. The kingdom of Israel had been destroyed and Yehuda was in tatters. The few remaining Jews in Israel were leaderless, directionless and scattered across the country.

There had already been at least two attempts to rebuild the Temple, and by the time Ezra arrived Nechemiah had managed to complete the building (with the support of the Persian kings). However they lacked the charismatic leader who would be the focal point for world Jewry.

Ezra refused to leave Babylon as long has his teacher, Baruch ben Neriah, was alive. After Baruch passed away, Ezra realized where he was needed and organized the first ‘nefesh b’nefesh’ trip to Israel.

1,496 men chose to come with him (this was in the days before subsidies), and Ezra had to persuade 38 Levi’im with their 200 servants (the Levi’im didn’t want to come, and it was only because they were essential for the Temple service that Ezra managed to get them to join him. The Levi’im as a whole were penalized for their lack of support for Israel). – Getting people to make Aliya was as difficult back then as it is today!

Ezra and his group arrived in Yerushalayim 4 months after they set out, on the 1st of Av:

“This Ezra went up from Babylon; and he was a ready scribe in the law of Moshe, which the L-RD G-d of Israel had given: and the king granted him all his request, according to the hand of the L-RD his G-d upon him.
And there went up some of the children of Israel, and of the priests, and the Levites, and the singers, and the porters, and the Nesinim, unto Yerushalayim, in the seventh year of Daryavesh the king.
And he came to Yerushalayim in the fifth month, which was in the seventh year of the king.
For upon the first day of the first month began he to go up from Babylon, and on the first day of the fifth month came he to Yerushalayim, according to the good hand of his G-d upon him.
For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the L-RD, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments.” (Ezra 7: 6-10)

In Israel Ezra found a group of people who were impoverished both financially and spiritually. They had forgotten many of the mitzvot, intermarried, and lacked any kind of spiritual leadership.

Ezra managed to re-establish a system of Halacha and learning, with the Sanhedrin at the center of Jewish life. He persuaded the people to divorce their non-Jewish wives (and made them take an oath not to intermarry, which is still binding today), and to follow the Torah. The Gemara (Sanhedrin 21b) goes so far as to say that if the Torah hadn’t been given to Moshe, Ezra would have been worthy of giving the Torah to Israel.

Ezra revitalized a dying nation and a religion on the verge of collapse. He brought the central authority of Judaism back from Babylon to Israel and Yerushalayim.

Today, as we begin the stricter mourning practices leading up to Tisha B’Av and the destruction of the Temple, we can also remember the founding and rebuilding of the Second Temple and the strengthening and growth of Torah Judaism. We know that G-d always brings the cure before the punishment. May we merit this year to see the rebuilding of the Temple and the strengthening and unity of Klal Yisrael with Yerushalayim once again as the central focus of the world.

“From Tzion shall go forth Torah and the word of G-d from Yerushalayim”

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Rambam Yomi

Another one of the 'yomi' cycles was started by the late Lubavitcher Rebbe - Rambam Yomi. There are three cycles, learning one mitzvah daily, learning one chapter of Mishna Torah daily, and learning three chapters of Mishna Torah daily.

The latest cycle of three chapters began on Friday with the introduction.

I went through the Rambam once, many years ago, using this schedule. At this pace it is hard to really learn anything well, or in depth, but it was a great overview of both the world of halacha and the Rambam. Since Mishna Torah includes many sections of halacha which are not in the Shulchan Aruch (things that don't apply nowadays, mostly connected to the Temple) it is a much broader work, giving an understanding of more of the Torah.

If you have a spare half an hour a day (and who does) I would definitely recommend it (if you have more time to do it more in depth that would be even better).

This is the schedule in Hebrew

For the written texts and/ or audio shiur click here:
Audio and texts

(Both from

This is an English translation of the first few books of Mishna Torah starting with

Hilchot Yesodei Hatorah (Fundamentals of Torah) which is tomorrow's halachot.

Good luck!

Yarzhreit - R' Shlomo Yitzchaki (Rashi)

Today (28th Tamuz) is the yarzheit of probably the most famous and most influential of all Ashkenazi Rabbis - Rashi. Arguably he is still the most influential Jewish author since the time of the Talmud. It is virtually impossible to move in the world of Chumash (and Nach) or Talmud without Rashi's commentary.

He wrote on almost all areas of Torah, and was one of the first to write a linear commentary on the Torah and Talmud.

This is a small part of the wikipedia entry for Rashi (there is much more there which is recommended reading:

Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaqi (Hebrew: רבי שלמה יצחקי), better known by the acronym Rashi (Hebrew: ‏רש"י‎), (February 22, 1040 – July 13, 1105), was a rabbi from France, famed as the author of the first comprehensive commentaries on the Talmud, Torah and Tanakh. Acclaimed for his ability to present the basic meaning of the text in a concise yet lucid fashion, Rashi appeals to both learned scholars and beginning students, and his works remain a centerpiece of contemporary Jewish study. His commentaries, which appear in many printed editions of the Talmud and Torah (notably the Chumash), are an indispensable companion to both casual and serious students of Judaism's primary texts.

Born in Troyes, Rashi departed while in his teens to study at the Yeshivot of Mainz and Worms. He returned to Troyes and founded his own yeshiva in 1067. Scholars believe that Rashi's commentary on the Torah grew out of the lectures he gave to his students in his yeshiva, and evolved with the questions and answers they raised. Rashi completed this commentary in the last years of his life. It was immediately accepted as authoritative by all Jewish communities, Ashkenazi and Sephardi alike. His commentary, which covers nearly all of the Babylonian Talmud (a total of 30 tractates), has been included in every version of the Talmud since its first printing in Italy in the fifteenth century.

Rashi's surname as Yitzhaki, derives from his father's name, Yitzhak. The acronym is sometimes also fancifully expanded as Rabban Shel Israel (רבן של ישראל), Teacher of Israel [i.e. the Jewish People]), or as Rabbenu SheYichyeh" (רבינו שיחיה), our Rabbi, may he live.

May His Soul be Bound in the Bonds of Eternal Life

Yarzhreit - R' Shlomo Ganzfried

Yesterday (Shabbat, 27th Tamuz) was the Yarzheit of the author of the kitzur shulchan Aruch - Rabbi Shlomo Ganzfried.

He was born in Uzhhorod (Ungvar) in the Carpathian region of the Habsburg Empire (now Ukraine). His father Joseph died when he was eight. Rabbi Ganzfried was considered to be a child prodigy and Ungvar's chief rabbi and Rosh yeshiva, Rabbi Zvi Hirsh Heller assumed legal guardianship; Heller was known as "Hershele the Sharp-witted" for his piercing insights into the Talmud. Heller later moved to the city of Bonyhád, and Ganzfried, then fifteen, followed him. He remained in Heller's yeshiva for almost a decade until his ordination and marriage. After his marriage he worked briefly as a wine-merchant.

In 1843 he abandoned commerce and accepted the position of rabbi of Brezevitz. In 1849, he returned to Ungvar as a dayan, a judge in the religious court.

Rabbi Ganzfried realised that in order to remain committed to Orthodoxy, "the average Jew required an underpinning of a knowledge of practical halakha (Jewish law)". It was to this end that Ganzfried composed the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch.

There is a cute article here:
Rabbi Ganzfried's two million Kitzurs

This is what wikipedia writes about his most famous sefer@

Kitzur Shulchan Aruch

The Kitzur Shulchan Aruch in effect summarises the Shulchan Aruch of Joseph Karo with reference to all subsequent commentaries and incorporating Jewish Hungarian customs up to the 19th century. The title page of the first edition is instructive, "[the book] is written for God-fearing Jews who are not in a position to study and comprehend the (original full) Shulchan Aruch and its commentaries, and is composed in a Hebrew that can be easily understood." The Kitzur states what is permitted and what forbidden without ambiguity.

To determine a ruling, Ganzfried based his decisions on three halakhic authorities: Rabbi Jacob of Lissa; Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the first rebbe of Chabad Lubavitch, author of the Shulchan Aruch HaRav; and Rabbi Abraham Danzig, author of Chayei Adam and Chochmat Adam. In cases of disagreement he adopted the majority view. This closely mirrors the method Karo used in composing his Shulchan Aruch; his three main decisors were Rabbi Isaac Alfasi, Maimonides and Rabbi Asher ben Jehiel.

This work was explicitly written as a popular text and as such does not include all the details of the Shulchan Aruch itself, while generally following its structure. It became immensely popular after its publication due to its simplicity. It is still popular within Orthodox Judaism, as a framework for study, if not always for practice. Today, thousands participate in the Kitzur Yomi ("daily Kitzur") study program.

Because of this popularity it is often printed with cross-references to other works of halakha, especially the Shulchan Aruch HaRav and the Mishnah Berurah; one popular edition also contains notes by former Chief Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu cross-referring to leading Sephardi authorities. Many editions include as an appendix the laws pertaining to the Land of Israel by the Chazon Ish (Rabbi Avraham Yeshaya Karelitz). A recent commentary is Shearim Metzuyanim be-Halakhah, by Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Braun, which examines contemporary problems in the light of the work. Ganzfried himself, however, stated that there should be no commentaries on his work, since its point, as indicated by its title, was that it should remain short - and that such commentaries should be appended to the Shulchan Arukh itself, rather than to the Kitzur.

He aslo wrote several other books, including:

* Kesses HaSofer, a halachic primer for scribes published in 1835. Ganzfried composed this while he was still engaged in business.
* Pnei Shlomo, an elucidation of portions of the Talmud.
* Toras Zevach, a halakhic handbook for practitioners of shechita, ritual slaughter.

May His Soul Be Bound in the Bonds of Eternal Life

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Power (and danger) of the blog

This is an excellent article that someone just sent me, which reminds me of the benefits and dangers of writing on a blog.

Has anyone read the book that this article is based on? How: Why How We Do Anything Means Business (and in Life) Please give me your thoughts on it.

OP-ED COLUMNIST; The Whole World Is Watching

Thomas Friedman -- Commentary

Three years ago, I was catching a plane at Boston’s Logan airport and went to buy some magazines for the flight. As I approached the cash register, a woman coming from another direction got there just behind me — I thought. But when I put my money down to pay, the woman said in a very loud voice: “Excuse me, I was here first!” And then she fixed me with a piercing stare that said: “I know who you are.” I said I was very sorry, but I was clearly there first.

If that happened today, I would have had a very different reaction. I would have said: “Miss, I’m so sorry. I am entirely in the wrong. Please, go ahead. And can I buy your magazines for you? May I buy your lunch? Can I shine your shoes?”

Why? Because I’d be thinking there is some chance this woman has a blog or a camera in her cell phone and could, if she so chose, tell the whole world about our encounter — entirely from her perspective — and my utterly rude, boorish, arrogant, thinks-he-can-butt-in-line behavior. Yikes!

When everyone has a blog, a MySpace page or Facebook entry, everyone is a publisher. When everyone has a cell phone with a camera in it, everyone is a paparazzo. When everyone can upload video on YouTube, everyone is a filmmaker. When everyone is a publisher, paparazzo or filmmaker, everyone else is a public figure. We’re all public figures now. T he blogosphere has made the global discussion so much richer — and each of us so much more transparent.

The implications of all this are the subject of a new book by Dov Seidman, founder and CEO of LRN, a business ethics company. His book is simply called “How.” Seidman’s thesis is that in this transparent world, “how” you live your life and “how” you conduct your business matter more than ever, because so many people can now see into what you do and tell so many other people about it on their own without any editor. To win now, he argues, you have to turn these new conditions to your advantage.

For young people, writes Seidman, this means understanding that your reputation in life is going to get set in stone so much earlier. More and more of what you say or do or write will end up as a digital fingerprint that never gets erased. Our generation got to screw up and none of those screw-ups appeared on our first job resumes, which we got to write. For this generation, much of what they say, do or write will be preserved online forever. Before employers even read their resumes, they’ll Google them.

“The persistence of memory in electronic form makes second chances harder to come by,” writes Seidman . “In the information age, life has no chapters or closets; you can leave nothing behind, and you have nowhere to hide your skeletons. Your past is your present.” So the only way to get ahead in life will be by getting your “hows” right.

Ditto in business. Companies that get their hows wrong won’t be able to just hire a PR firm to clean up the mess by taking a couple of reporters to lunch — not when everyone is a reporter and can talk back and be heard globally.

But this also creates opportunities. Today “what” you make is quickly copied and sold by everyone. But “how” you engage your customers, “how” you keep your promises, and “how” you collaborate with partners — that’s not so easy to copy, and that is where companies can now really differentiate themselves.

“When it comes to human conduct there is tremendous variation, and where a broad spectrum of variation exists, opportunity exists,” writes Seidman. “The tapestry of human behavior is so varied, so rich and so global that it presents a rare opportunity, the opportunity to outbehave the competition.”

How can you outbehave your competition? In Michigan, Seidman writes, one hospital taught its doctors to apologize when they make mistakes, and dramatically cut their malpractice claims. In Texas, a large auto dealership allowed every mechanic to spend freely whatever company money was necessary to do the job right, and saw their costs actually decline while customer satisfaction improved. A New York street doughnut-seller trusted his customers to make their own change and found he could serve more people faster and build the loyalty that keeps them coming back.

“We do not live in glass houses (houses have walls); we live on glass microscope slides . . . visible and exposed to all,” he writes. So whether you’re selling cars or newspapers (or just buying one at the newsstand), get your hows right — how you build trust, how you collaborate, how you lead and how you say you’re sorry. More people than ever will know about it when you do — or don’t

Monday, July 09, 2007

R' Moshe Cordovero Yarzheit

Today is the anniversary of the death of one of the greatest kabbalists before the Arizal. R' Moshe Cordovero (RaMaK) wrote extensively on the Zohar attempting to resolve apparent contradictions in this text.

After the Arizal brought his new methodology and kabbalistic insights, the RaMaK's writings became less popular (apparently the Arizal said of his writings that they were 'olam he tohu' - 'world of confusion'). However Tomer Devorah (Palm Tree of Devorah) is still learnt today, as one of the basic mussar seforim, and the pardes is still studied by those trying to come to a deeper understanding of the Zohar and kabbalistic worlds.

This biography is from

Among the great luminaries of Kabbalah, Rabbi Moshe Cordovero holds a particularly important place as one of the most prolific and systematic exponents of the teachings of the Zohar as well as the writings of almost all the early Kabbalists.
Moshe Cordovero - or Ramak (an acronym taken from the first letters of his title and name - Rabbi Moshe Cordovero), as he is commonly known - was born in (the precise year of his birth is not known) 5282 (1522 CE) to a distinguished family of Spanish descent, apparently originally from the town of Cordova. Although it is not certain that Ramak himself was born in Safed, he spent most of his life in that holy city, the home of Kabbala.

In the revealed aspects of Torah - the Talmud and associated works - Ramak was a student of the renowned Rabbi Yosef Caro (circa 4258-5335 / 1488-1575), author of Shulchan Aruch. The latter highly praised the acumen and vast knowledge of his young student. His greatness in Talmudic law is further confirmed by the fact that at the tender age of eighteen, Ramak was ordained by Rabbi Yaakov BeRav. Of the four men accorded semichah (rabbinic ordination) by Rabbi Yaakov - the others were Rabbi Yosef Caro, Rabbi Moshe of Trani, and Rabbi Moshe Galanti - Ramak was by far the youngest. According to the testimony of Rabbi Menachem Azariah deFano, Ramak served in Safed as a Talmud teacher and legal authority.

At age twenty, Ramak became a student of his brother-in-law, Rabbi Shlomo HaLevi Alkabetz (author of the Lecha Dodi hymn), in the esoteric aspect of Torah - the Kabbala. Despite Ramak's formidable achievements in Talmud, he states that until he began learning Kabbala, he was as if asleep and pursuing idle thoughts (Pardes Rimonim, Intro.)

Ramak became one of the leading Kabbalists in Safed. He acted as spokesman for the group of Kabbalists headed by Rabbi Alkabetz, and he wrote several treatises explaining the fallacies of philosophy. In addition, he exhorted Torah students everywhere to study Kabbala.

Ramak led an ascetic life, part of it in self-imposed exile. These exiles are detailed in his Sefer Gerushin (Venice, 1543). Through such self-purification and penances, Ramak became worthy of the revelation of Eliyahu (Shem HaGedolim).

Among Ramak's most famous students were Rabbi Eliyahu DaVidas, author of Reishit Chochma; Rabbi Chaim Vital, later a student of the renowned Rabbi Yitzchak Luria (the Arizal); Rabbi Avraham Galanti, author of Yerech Yakar on the Zohar; Rabbi Eliezer Azikri, author of Sefer Chareidim; and Rabbi Menachem Azariah DeFano (Maharam MiPano), author of many works including Asarah Maamarot, Kanfei Yonah, and Responsa of Maharam MiPano. Rabbi Menachem Azaria DeFano was one of Europe's leading Kabbalists, and he taught from Ramak's Pardes Rimonim regularly. Similarly, Rabbi Yeshayahu Hurwitz, author of Shnei Luchot HaBrit (Shelah), considered himself a student of Ramak and quoted extensively form his works. In the last year of Ramak's life, the Arizal came to Safed. He too studies under Ramak, whom he refers to as "our teacher."

At the young age of forty-eight, Rabbi Moshe Cordovero passed away in Safed on 23rd of Tammuz, 5330 (1570). In his eulogy, the Arizal declared that Rabbi Moshe was so pure and saintly that his death could only be attributed to the sin of Adam. According to the Arizal's testimony, the bier bearing Ramak to his burial place in Safed was preceded by a pillar of fire.
His Works

Ramak wrote prolifically. Among his works are:

Pardes Rimonim: The most renowned of Ramak's writings, the Pardes systematizes and expounds the entire spectrum of Kabbalistic thought until his time, resolving many apparent contradictions and hundreds of long-unanswered questions.

Or Yakar: A monumental commentary on the Zohar, this work explains numerous passages from Zohar, Tikunei Zohar; Zohar Chadash and other kabbalistic classics.

Or Ne'erav: An introduction to Kabbala.

Shiur Komah: A treatise dealing with the structure of the worlds and the sefirot.

Eilima Rabbati: A systematic and highly explanatory approach to the Or Ein Sof and the sefirot as well as other kabbalistic themes. The book begins with a polemic against those "who distance themselves from learning Kabbala."

Tomer Devorah: A treatise integrating ethical exhortation with kabbalistic teachings concerning the thirteen attributes of mercy found in Micah, and a kabbalistic explication of the concept of Imitatio Dei.

This video may be the first time that the RaMaK is referred to with an analogy of a basketball player!

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Torah Temima bargain

I'm sure you all know who the Torah Temimah is, and what other wonderful books R' Baruch HaLevi Epstein wrote. What you may not know is that he wrote a commentary on the 5 Megillas called Gishmei Bracha (or later, Torah Temimah on 5 Megillahs). I am a big fan of the Torah Temimah, and have been trying to translate another of his commentaries on chumash - Tosefet Bracha on my website. You can see a few pieces on most of the parshas there.

Anyway, here's the scoop. Torahlab are selling a pocket sized version (with clear print) of the original Hebrew version of his commentary on Megillat Eicha for a silly price. But it is for this week only. Click on the link and get yourself a copy to make your tisha b'av more meaningful.

(This is what they write about the book:)
Rabbi Boruch HaLevi Epstien (1860-1941) cites Talmudic and Midrashic souces verbatim, merging the Written and Oral Torah. In addition, his unique style of commentary allows us to understand Eichah through the lens of Chazal.
This volume also contains an 86 page compilation of the Laws of Tisha B’Av by the Rokeach, Or Zarua, Sefer HaManhig, Shibolei HaLeket, Kol Bo, Abudraham and Tashbatz.
All this in a pocket sized edition (measurement) available only through Torahlab at the remarkable price of $3.95 with free shipping!

Price: $3.95

(PS Even though I work for Torahlab, this is not an advertisement paid for or sponsored by them. I genuinely think this is a great sefer and want as many people as possible to learn it and spread Torah. And at this price there really isn't any excuse not to get it)

Friday, July 06, 2007

Guns 'n' Portfolios

There are several pieces of Talmud that talk about people turning their lives around, earning olam haba in an instant, or other inspiring teshuva messages. This story caught my eye because it is kind of the same message, but instead of 'an instant' it was 'a exploded pancreas' and instead of 'olam haba' is is 'olam hazeh'. But still.

I don't know if any of you still remember Guns 'n' Roses (I feel so old writing those words), and if you have never heard of them - I'm not recommending that you start now. It is hard for me to listen to their offensive language, even if their music is still fantastic.

Anyway, their bass player has transformed himself from a tattooed long haired drug addict, to a tattooed, long haired investment advisor. There is something very charming about the thought of Mr and Mrs Duff sitting and playing monopoly with the two little Duffettes.

This article is from the New Zealand news site 'stuff'

With his ragged mane and heavily tattooed wiry frame, former Guns N' Roses bass player Duff McKagan looks every bit the rock star.

But the 43-year-old musician doubles as a savvy investor, overseeing a diverse portfolio ranging from property and stocks to vintage guitars.

While he draws the line at donning a suit and tie, McKagan also runs the business affairs for his new band, Velvet Revolver, which just released its second album, Libertad.

"I do everything I can do so this band doesn't get ripped off," said McKagan, who subscribes to the online edition of The Wall Street Journal, and constantly checks his BlackBerry for the latest financial headlines.

"We're the last ones to get paid. We work pretty hard for the money we make."

With the recorded-music business in a tailspin, due largely to Internet piracy, bands have to be financially creative, McKagan said in a recent interview.

Velvet Revolver's first release, Contraband, debuted at No. 1 in the United States and sold 3 million copies worldwide. That is equivalent to 10 million copies in the late '80s, when Guns N' Roses burst on the scene, he estimated.

That's a lot of lost revenue, but the situation is not hopeless. Licensing deals for commercials, movies, ringtones and videogames can help make up the shortfall.


McKagan got involved in business after leaving Guns N' Roses in 1994. He was frustrated by the behavior of singer Axl Rose, and then his pancreas exploded following years of alcohol and drug abuse.

Freshly rehabilitated, the high-school dropout studied finance at Seattle University, enrolling under his real name, Michael McKagan.

He occasionally had to sign autographs for some alert kids, but his cover remained largely intact. He is 15 credits shy of graduating.

Unlike his classmates, McKagan already had plenty of real-world experience. Guns N' Roses' 1987 debut, Appetite for Destruction, is one of the biggest-selling albums of all time, with worldwide sales of more than 20 million copies.

The 28-month world tour for the two Use Your Illusion albums released in 1991 played for seven million fans.

McKagan, who co-wrote such tunes as Paradise City and Civil War, stashed his money in low-risk Treasury bills.

"We didn't know what money was," he recalled. "I didn't know how to invest in stocks or anything back then. So I just didn't."

These days, his strategy is diversification.

"I have mutual funds. I have a lot of individual stocks. I'm across the board, really well diversified. And then real estate has been a thing for me."

But rather than "flipping" properties for quick profits, McKagan holds on. He has interests in Los Angeles, Seattle, Hawaii - "wherever I see fit."

He says he was also an early investor in Google Inc, whose stock has quintupled in three years. But he avoided speculative tech stocks, and certainly did not "freak out and sell everything after the dot-com crash" of 2000-02.

Closer to his heart is the "massive" market for musical instruments. He noted that a 1959 Les Paul Sunburst guitar in good condition is worth $400,000.

He declined to detail his holdings or estimate his net worth. But he's not shy about sharing his expertise with his wife, Susan, and their two preteen daughters.

"We all played Monopoly last night. Great. Nothing better than that that, the four of us sitting around playing Monopoly."

Monday, July 02, 2007

15th Tamuz - Shaagas Aryeh

Yesterday (15th Tamuz) was also the yarzheit of the Shaagas Aryeh, one of the most fiery and brilliant Rabbis of his time. He was also fiery in his temperament. Unfortunately I couldn't find very much about him using google, and don't have time just now to do the proper research.

I seem to remember a story about him putting a curse on Prague, and the city being destroyed by fire. (But I may have got it confused with another city and another Rabbi). If anyone can add details about his life I would appreciate it.

Here are the wikipedia article and a couple of stories I found on the web.

Rabbi Aryeh Leib ben Asher Gunzberg (aka Shaagat Aryeh) (Hebrew: אריה ליב גינסבורג) was born in Lithuania, c. 1700, and died at Metz, France June 23, 1785. He was a Rabbinical casuist often referred to by the name of his most famous book, Shaagat Aryeh (Hebrew, שאגת אריה, for 'Roar of the Lion').

At one time Gunzberg was Rabbi in Pinsk, and then later founded a yeshivah in Minsk. Here however he engaged in hostile dispute with the Gaon Yechiel Halpern, whose supporters eventually drove Gunzberg from the city.

His book ‘Shaagat Aryeh’ was first published in Frankfurt-am-Main in 1755 and is still frequently quoted in rabbinical debate, as are many of his responsa.

He became Rabbi in Metz in 1765, but an early argument with his congregation led to him refusing to enter the synagogue except to give four sermons a year. Despite this he retained his post until his demise.

Rabbi Aryeh Leib (The author of “Shaagat Aryeh”) lectured in the Beis Midrash of Minsk. He expounded deep thoughts, and uprooted mountains with his sharp reasoning. The scholars of the city who were present could not understand the depth of his rhetoric. When he finished his lecture, the heads of the community and scholars approached him to wish him “Yasher Koach” [2].

He told them, “What is said of the wise men of Minsk is greater than what is said about the angels of Heaven”.

The listeners were surprised.

Rabbi Aryeh Leib told them: “Is it not said about the angels of Heaven (Ezekiel 1, 7), and their feet are like the feet of a calf, but as for you, your heads are also the heads of calves…”

The Sha’agas Aryeh (R’ Aryeh Leib Ginsberg) was seventy years old when he was appointed Rav of Metz. Upon arriving in Metz, he heard that there were members of the community grumbling over the selection of such an elderly rabbi. “We should have appointed a younger Rabbi, one who will remain at the helm of our community for many years,” they said.
That Shabbat, the Sha’agas Aryeh gave his first drasha to the people. The Sidra that week was Vayigash and he quoted the verse above where Pharaoh asked Yaakov how old he was when he arrived in Egypt.
To this Yaakov answered, “The span of the years of my sojourning have been one hundred and thirty years, [but] the years of my lifetime have been short and harsh, and have not approached the years of my fathers lifetimes.”
There are a few questions we may ask about this exchange. First, why did Pharaoh want to know how old Yaakov was? Second, why did Yaakov feel the need to add “the years of my lifetime have been short and harsh?” Pharaoh did not ask for a description of his lifetime; why did Yaakov deem it necessary to provide him with one?
The Sha’agas Aryeh offered the following answer. “Pharaoh saw that the land of Egypt was blessed and that the famine ended as soon as Yaakov arrived. He realised that the new prosperity was thanks to Yaakov’s presence but he was concerned that it would not last, as Yaakov was apparently already old. This is why Pharaoh asked Yaakov, how old he was. Yaakov, however, understood why Pharaoh asked him that question, so he responded – ‘the years of my lifetime have been short and harsh’ – it may seem that I am very old and at he end of my life, but my years have actually been “short” compared to “my fathers lifetimes,” as they lived for one hundred and eighty years.’
“So why do I look so old?” asked Yaakov rhetorically to Pharaoh. “It is due to the fact that ‘the years of my lifetime have been short and harsh’ – ‘The stress of a difficult life,’ said Yaakov, ‘has made me appear older than I actually am.’
“The same applies to me,” continued the Sha’agas Aryeh. “The reason I may look well on in years is actually only because of the hardship and persecution that I have faced throughout my life. But I assure you, he concluded, that with Hashem’s help, I will serve as your Rabbi for more than twenty years.” The words of this great sage were fulfilled, as the Sha’agas Aryeh served as the Rabbi of Metz for over twenty years!

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Kiddush for Girls

My neighbours made a kiddush for their newborn daughter this past Shabbos (mazel tov) and also for their older daughter for whom they never made a kiddush. This led to a discussion about the need for making a kiddush at the birth of a daughter. It seems that this 'mitzvah' comes from an apocryphal statement my the Steipler, Rav Yisrael Yaakov Kanievski. People were taking this obligation very seriously. However, being the skeptic that I am, I wanted to check the authenticity of the statement and the importance of the minhag.

It seems that there is very little evidence that the Steipler ever said this. However, the incident is quoted (from an unnamed source) in a Rabbi Frand d'var Torah.

Someone quoted an amazing story from the Steipler Gaon, related to this exact point. A person came to the Steipler and told him that he needed a blessing for his daughter. She was 27 years old and in need of a shidduch [marriage partner].

The Steipler asked him if it was his first daughter. The man replied that it was actually his third daughter. The Steipler then asked if when this daughter was born, her father made a Kiddush to celebrate her birth. The man admitted that although he had made celebrations when his first two daughters were born, by the third daughter, he, in fact, did not make a Kiddush to celebrate her birth.

The Steipler then advised him to go make a Kiddush for this 27 year old daughter. He said, "When you make a Kiddush, people come and give you brachos [blessings] for you and your daughter. They wish you Mazal Tov. They express all sorts of good wishes. Today, it is appropriate to wish fathers of newborn daughters a blessing that the father should find a shidduch easily for his daughter. People express such sentiments on such occasions. Twenty-seven years ago, you prevented your daughter from receiving those good wishes from the well-wishers you could have invited to your Kiddush. You never know from whence comes the bracha that will be heard in Heaven. The Almighty has all sorts of conduits for His blessing to take effect."

The Steipler continued, "Who knows, there might have been some neighbor or someone you met in shul who you could have invited by saying 'come, I'm making a Kiddush, I had a new daughter born this week'. He would have come in and taken a piece of cake and a little kuggle. He would have made a 'lechayim' and taken a shot of whiskey and then wished you: 'you should have an easy upbringing for her and you should find a good shidduch and be able to marry her off to a fine Talmid Chochom'. You could have responded "AMEN!" But you did not let that happen. You prevented your daughter from receiving all those blessings. Go now at age 27 and make a Kiddush for your daughter."

The end of the story is that the father did make the belated Kiddush and she soon thereafter became a Kallah.

This minhag is in direct opposition to quoted statements from the Steipler's son from reliable sources:

YGB - יג"ב: More Interesanter
Shticklach from R' Chaim Kanievski II

Rav Chaim Kanievski (son of the Steipler) says the famous legend about the fellow who had a hard time finding his daughter a shidduch, came to the Steipler, who asked him if he made a kiddush when the daughter was born, etc. is "sheker." And that he himself did not make kiddushim for most of his daughters.

My Belzer chevrusa (we learn "Sidduro shel Shabbos" together) told me, however, that they say over the same ma'aseh concerning the previous Belzer Rebbe. More tzugepast.

Does anyone have a better source for this? Is there any justification for the minhag (apart from being a nice thing to do - I have no problem, but is it a requirement?)

I have first hand evidence of women who did get married despite never having a kiddush made for them (which does not disprove anything, but makes it less serious).

Shlomo Pick is quite explicit on the subject:

From: Shlomo Pick
Date: Sun, 02 Jul 2000 13:31:18 +0200
Subject: Kiddush for Girls

shalom, Sorry to be late with this, but I have been involved in the simcha of marrying off my daughter and so this is a bit late. Recently I wrote concerning a kiddush for a daughter:


to that the following reply was sent:
I heard the story from Rabbi Elchonon Halpern Shlita from London, who heard it first hand from the person who had the story with the Steipler!! How can one say that it NEVER happened just because HE didn't think it did! Does he know for a SURE? It doesn't matter if he is the Steipler's nephew!

i took up the challenge and and went back to the nephew, who re-reported that he had personally asked the steipler's son - rav chayim kanyevski - about the story. Rav Chayim dismissed it as "narishkeit" - foolishness. not to be taken lightly, i then went to Rav Chayim's son, Rav Shlomo Kanyevski, Rosh Yeshiva of Tiferet Zion in Bnei Brak. He confirmed that there was no family tradition to this. moreover, he reminded that he had not made a single kiddush for any daughter who had been born - afilu
pa'am achat! again he dismissed the story as narishkeit and suggested that his family tradition is the emesdic (truthful) one!

respectively yours
shlomo pick

Anyone have anything else to add to this? I would love a more reliable source.

Women and Hair Covering

I have been asked by someone about the sources for women's hair covering. Why do they have to cover their hair? Who has to cover her hair? When does the hair need to be covered? How much? and where does it say so in the Torah.

The truth is that there is no simple verse in the Torah to point to with all the answers. Like all the laws of Judaism, we don't learn the halachot from the verses in the Torah (there are very few verses that actually give us laws, and even those are limited or expanded (or both) by the Oral tradition. In other words, it is always an unfair question to ask 'where does it say so in the Torah' because almost all of the Torah laws (and absoutely all of the Rabbinic laws) are from the Mishna, Talmud, Tosefta, Gaonim, Rishonim or Acharonim.

There are explicit rules in the Shulchan Aruch, but for a proper overview and understanding of the laws (from the sources) the best book (by far) on the topic is: The Modest Way (Women and Mitzvot Series)

He brings all the relevant sources, without commentary, allowing you to learn for yourself the whats, whys and hows of this (and other) serious subjects.

It is also available in Hebrew under the title 'Hatznea Lechet' (which is a quote from the end of yesterday's haftorah)

Empower the people with knowledge!

15th Tamuz - Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh

Today is the Yarzheit of the Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh, best known for his commentary on Chumash.

This is what Wikipedia has to say about the Ohr ha-Chaim

Chaim ben Moses ibn Attar was a Talmudist and kabbalist; born at Mequenez, Morocco, in 1696; died in Jerusalem July 31, 1743. He was one of the most prominent rabbis in Morocco.

In 1733 he decided to leave his native country and settle in Palestine. En route he was detained in Livorno by the rich members of the Jewish community who established a yeshiva for him. Many of his pupils later became prominent and furnished him with funds to print his Ohr ha-Chaim.

He was received with great honour wherever he travelled. This was due to his extensive knowledge, keen intellect and extraordinary piety. In the middle of 1742 he arrived in Jerusalem where he presided at the Beit Midrash Keneset Yisrael.

One of his disciples there was Chaim Joseph David Azulai, who seems to have been completely overwhelmed by the excellence of his master. He wrote of him: "Attar's heart pulsated with Talmud; he uprooted mountains like a resistless torrent; his holiness was that of an angel of the Lord, . . . having severed all connection with the affairs of this world."

He published:

* (1) Hefetz Hashem (God's Desire), Amsterdam, 1732—dissertations on the four Talmudic treatises Berakot, Shabbat, Horayot, and Chullin.

* (2) Ohr ha-Chaim (The Light of Life), Venice, 1742—a commentary on the Pentateuch after the four methods known collectively as Pardes; it was reprinted several times. His renown is based chiefly on this work, which became popular also with the Hasidim.

* (3) Peri Toar (Beautiful Fruit), novellae on the Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De'ah, dealing especially with Hiskiah de Silva's commentary Peri Hadash, Amsterdam, 1742; Vienna and Lemberg, 1810.

* (4) Rishon le-Zion, Constantinople, 1750—consisting of novellae to several Talmudic treatises, on certain portions of the Shulchan Aruch, on the terminology of Maimonides, on the five Megillot, on the Prophets and on Proverbs.

* (5) Under the same title were published at Polna, 1804, his notes on Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Isaiah.

He is buried on the Mount of Olives, Jerusalem.

BBC on Hamas TV

The BBC happily write about Hamas's very own version of Mickey Mouse as though there is nothing wrong with it. No comment on the fact that the character was killed off by being beaten to death by an Israeli agent! No discussion about what kind of programmes they are making way for! The only thing discussed is that they managed to find one politician (Barghouti) who wanted the show stopped (and he has become "some Palestinian ministers")

We don't expect any better from either the Hamas or the BBC, but it also isn't surprising that the other lead story today on the BBC is that UK terror threat now 'critical'.

G-d save the Queen (as Johnny Rotten once said!)

Hamas 'Mickey Mouse' killed off

A Palestinian TV station has killed off a controversial Mickey Mouse lookalike that critics said was spreading anti-US and anti-Israeli messages to children.

The Hamas-affiliated al-Aqsa channel aired the last episode on Friday, showing the character, Farfur, being beaten to death by an "Israeli agent".

"Farfur was martyred defending his land," said the show's presenter Saraa.

Israeli critics had said the show was outrageous and some Palestinian ministers tried to get it shelved.

In the final broadcast an actor said to be an Israeli agent tries to buy the land of the squeaky-voiced Mickey Mouse lookalike.

Farfur brands the Israeli a "terrorist" and is beaten to death.

He was killed "by the killers of children", Saraa says.

Al-Aqsa television told the Associated Press news agency the show, Tomorrow's Pioneers, was making way for new programmes.


The channel had ignored demands from Information Minister Mustafa Barghouti for the show to be stopped.

Mr Barghouti said it "was wrong to use a programme directed at children to convey political messages".

In an earlier show, Farfur had said: "You and I are laying the foundation for a world led by Islamists.

"We will return the Islamic community to its former greatness, and liberate Jerusalem, God willing, liberate Iraq, God willing, and liberate all the countries of the Muslims invaded by the murderers."

The Israeli organisation, Palestinian Media Watch, said Farfur took "every opportunity to indoctrinate young viewers with teachings of Islamic supremacy".

I'm a 2000 man

Six weeks ago I wrote that it had taken me almost exactly 6 months to get 1000 clicks on my website.
rabbisedley: England trip

Today I looked at my counter - it is exactly 2000 (though my the time you read this it will be more), which means that I have increased my readership 4 fold (I think - there are 4 weeks in a month - is that right?).

I know there is still a long way to go before I make the big time, and my technocrati rating is still only 12, which means that not many people have linked to me (but thank you to those who have). But 2000 reads is still a lot of people.

Thanks to Jacob da Jew for telling me that the best way to get hits is to leave comments on other people's blogs. You are right.

Thank you to jblog
thank you for reading.and for providing both hits and very interesting reading material.

And most of all thank you to you for reading.

(and thank you to the Rolling Stones for a great song that provided the title of this post and which was about the future once upon a time, and thanks to Kiss for covering that song on Dynasty, which was the first time i heard it (or was it Unmasked? it was a long time ago))