Monday, June 27, 2011

HoChiMinh, Hagiography, Humor, Heroics

The new Artscroll biography on Rav Mordechai Gifter is now available and I am impressed. Whereas most other biographies unfortunately are similar in nature, this book is refreshingly different. Many Gedolim knew Chumash by heart when they were five years old, knew Seder Nezikin before their Bar Mitzvah and finished Shas by the time they were 16. Yet what is so remarkable about Rav Gifter is that he knew only one Blatt Gemoro by the time of his Bar Mitzvah.

Yet through hard work, dedication and perseverance, Rav Gifter was able to make something of himself. He further decided that the prime location for persuing a Talmudic education lay across the ocean, and that is where he journeyed to. Ultimately he married into the family of the Telzer Rosh Yeshiva and went on to become Rosh Yeshiva himself.

Yet Rav Gifter did not lose sight of his humble origins. He understood that American Bochurim need to play ball; Americans needed the Artscroll Shas. Rav Gifter was not afraid to support his views, even when they opposed those of some of the leading rabbis of his generation.

Another Artscroll biography of note is that of Reb Shlomo Freifeld. Reb Shlomo also did not fit the mold of most AS biographies, also strongly advocated for his Bochurim and did not cower in the face of opposition.

I recently heard a vignette that Reb Shlomo was present at a meeting of the Yeshiva when they were discussing who to honor at their forthcoming dinner. Reb Shlomo puzzlingly suggested Ho Chi Minh. When asked why he responded something to the effect of ... "He has done more than anyone else in this generation to get Bochurim to come to Yeshiva!" [This blog even has visitors from Ho Chi Minh City.]

This reminds me of the difficult Vietnam War era when Rabbi Avigdor Miller scolded latecomers to the Yeshiva "You'll wear Tefillin at 8 AM here, or Khaki's at 6 AM at Fort Dix!"

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Gainful Gathering Galvanizes Graduates

It is not my habit to attend High School graduations, but familial obligations found me last night in the heart of Midwood, at Yeshiva Chaim Berlin to attend commencement exercises for my nephew.

I was in for somewhat of a surprise. There were no rows of chairs, no organ playing Pomp and Circumstance, and no processional of the graduates. Rather, there were tables set up Chasunah style, and participants were treated to a complementary full course dinner. The entire festive occasion was re-titled Siyum HaChaburah, as many of the boys completed the Masechta Baba Metzia during the course of the year.

The Yeshiva building is worthy of a post of its own. No longer is the stereotypical picture of dilapidated quarters a true picture of the modern day Yeshiva. The beautiful, spacious and immaculate edifice is truly worthy of accolade. If I had to relive my Yeshiva career, this would be my choice. Now I understand why Artscroll mentions Yeshiva’s president Avrohom Fruchthandler for placing learning on a higher plateau.

The Menahel spoke about Gadlus HaAdam. This is a legacy that the former Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Yitzchak Hutner ZTL learned from the Alter of Slabodka, and instilled in his students. The Menahel explained that out of the sixty plus graduates, some will be attending Beis HaMedrash in institutions other than Chaim Berlin. As long as they go for the correct reason, that is fine. Yet if they are going to another Yeshiva just to conform, to be like everyone else – in “cookie-cutter” fashion, that would be incorrect. Rav Hutner was a master in finding the unique qualities of each person, and nurturing their potential to the fullest. This helped me understand why so many graduates of this Yeshiva have gone on to become famous in their own right.

The highlight of the evening was when Avrohom Fruchthandler, who had been invited up to the stage to bestow the awards (several of his relatives were graduating), gave a brief, off-the-cuff, highly inspiring speech. He championed the time that one spends in Yeshiva. He mentioned that he spends “seven days a week” in Yeshiva. He cautioned the graduates not to leave the hallowed halls of the Yeshiva until they are absolutely forced to. I find this very notable. Imagine Donald Trump telling graduates to pursue higher education rather that jump into the business world.

I imagine this is why Chaim Berlin is so successful, where the lay leadership is so strongly subservient to the Roshei Yeshiva. AF described himself as a “Junior Partner” in the Yeshiva. I am proud of my nephew, proud of his choice of Yeshiva and proud as a member of the People of the Book.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Idyllic Innocence Is "IN"

Serendipity led me to, a now defunct blog that so eloquently describes the day to day vignettes of living life as an American Yeshiva Bochur, learning in Eretz Yisroel.

It is the rare occasion when one encounters a heretofore little known blog that has merit, and one begins to engorge the mind on reams and realms of precious thought. It is as if one had discovered a new vein of gold that can’t be mined fast enough. I hope you don’t mind if I indulge in some mined treasures therein.

One particular post that caught my attention was titled Seclusion and discussed the innate beauty of children who grow up in a secluded environment. Although one can argue that these children will never receive the life-tools they need to navigate the world as adults, there is much to be appreciated in those who can prolong the age of innocence as long as possible. I recall the first time I set eyes on Boro Park. I was amazed to find hundreds of children, peyos flying playing on stoops with Spaldine balls, playing tag and other street games, noshing on some new-fangled Kosher treats. The cherubic faces made me yearn for such an idyllic childhood. A vision of seclusion and beauty and innocence. In the eloquent words of the Baal HaBlog…

Beautifully so, I think. Have you ever taken a walk in peaceful Meah Shearim on a Friday night? Watched the boys and girls of eight or nine play in the streets? The poetic innocence on the faces of the Yerushalmi kids twinkles in the twilit alleyways. Freshly scrubbed and bathed, they play with joyful, carefree abandon. Abandoning the yokes of a society gone insane on them, they are, in a word,
children. When was the last time you met up with a nine year old who was only
nine years old? We say, “oh, what a smart child you are”, chap a knip, and move
on, subconsciously silencing the screams of our own childhood… itself so much
more innocent. Children are meant to be children, not adults. In frightening
irony, however, adults behave childishly and attempt to shortcut their
children’s most vital experience- their youth. They nuke their progenies’ time
growing up, and nuclear is nothing short of the result.

This came to mind recently as I was disturbed by news coming out of New Square. Of course there are problems with insulation, as so vividly depicted by the must-read article by Rabbi AHARON HERSH FRIED. But one must not throw out the baby with the bath water. One must try to find the middle ground in all of life’s challenges. As Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky said...

I’ll tell you. I’m often asked here in Monsey and especially
regarding girls, “How much should we or can we shut
them off to protect them from the culture at large?” I
always tell them, “You can’t! Unless, that is, you live in
Squaretown.” Now especially; I understand they have their
own hospital and their own cemetery, one can be born
there, live ones life there, and be buried there. To those
who can do that, ‘Tavo aleihem brachah’ (may they be
blessed). Most of us, however, do not live in Squaretown
and cannot live in Squaretown. So what will you do? Not
tell a young boy about evolution and then wait until at age
16 or 17 he reads in the New York Times, which he ‘knows’
prints only ‘verified facts,’ that the bones of a person 2 or
3 million years old were found!?? And the Times will print
this without any mention of detracting opinions or
controversy. What will this young man do? He’ll be
completely lost! This would not happen if he had been
taught at an earlier time in school by his rabbei’im and
teachers that there are people who believe such and such,
what their mistaken beliefs are based on, where their error is, what it is we believe about such events, and how we believers deal with these

Monday, June 13, 2011

Popular Personalities Publish Posthumously

One of the advantages of the Internet Age is the capacity to be Mechaye Meisim. I've written about it before how the web allows one to view events of the past decades. Another aspect of this new age is the proliferation of posthumous publishing. Whereas years ago publishing was a difficult proposition, push-button publishing of the modern era makes it as simple as pie.

With regard to Seforim, the computers and online research capabilities allow one to easily find new manuscripts that were heretofore hidden away in the recesses of obscure libraries, and bring them to print. Word processing also greatly frees one from the burden of typing by hand and correcting mistakes (no longer does one need to mind their p's and q's). Copy and Paste is another feature that eases the birth of new Seforim. Computers further aid in the deciphering of ancient manuscripts.

One of the first Rabbis to harness technology to aid and distribute his Torah discourses was Rabbi Avigdor Miller. Thousand of his tapes have been circulating around the globe for half a century. Recent advertisements advise that his tapes have been migrated digitally, and can be accessed now on one's Ipod.

But the real proliferation seems to be in the written word. Although Rabbi Miller published many books in his lifetime, many new books are being published nowadays based on his discourses.

It seems that many people do not publish during their lifetimes for a variety of reasons. Most probable is the lack of time. Important people are so busy helping others, that they have no time left for personal needs. Reb Chaim Brisker is famous for stating that the orphans and widows he cares for will be his legacy. However, the current trend has ensured that Reb Chaim's Shiurim be available to the public.

This is perhaps the meaning of the Talmudic dictum: Chullin 7B

גדולים צדיקים במיתתן יותר מבחייהן

Tzadikim are more proliferate in death than in life.

I am reminded of several witticism's of Rabbi Miller. He once was asked by a man of color: "Why do you people wear black shoes, a black hat, a black coat and black pants?" To which Rabbi Miller replied: "Because black is beautiful!". Another time he was accosted by an irate individual who hurled insults at the rabbi and finally uttered "Drop dead!". To which Rabbi Miller casually replied "God willing, that will be the last thing I ever do!".

Monday, June 6, 2011

Living Torah Museum

Much has been written about the concept that men steeped in Torah knowledge should be referred to as "Living Torahs". If one gives honor to letters on parchment, certainly one should extend the same courtesy to those who embody the essence of Torah, by studying it night and day and living by it's precepts.

At one time, the masthead of this blog read: "Blogging about ideas - not people". A LH free blog can easily fall short of it's goal by blogging about individuals. Everyone has detractors, and the CC cautions about giving praise, which invariably leads others to find fault with your subject.

In any event, as discussed on this blog previously, some people are in reality institutions. Some people, do so much good in their brief sojourn on this earth, that it behooves us to broadcast their message so that others are prodded to do likewise. Creating Migdal Ohr and and The Living Torah Museum, certainly inspires me to make the world a better place for others. Hopefully this blog is at least an minimal attempt in that endeavor.

This past week, Mishpacha magazine featured an article about Rabbi Shimon Shaul Deutch, the founder and curator of The Living Torah Museum. The museum, housed in a residential area of Boro Park, contains countless artifacts from Biblical times. Many of the relics may be touched by the visitors, and RSSD gives fascinating tours which explain in detail the relevance each piece has on Tanach and Chazal.

What fascinates me is that he was able to learn ancient languages, including Egyptian hieroglyphics, Phoenician, Persian Cuneiform and Assyrian. In addition to mastering 11 languages, he is an accomplished author, heads 2 Chessed organizations, worked in Corporate America for many years, yet still finds the time to fundraise for his museum and lead the tours.

In addition to the relics of the past, other parts of the museum house a menagerie of taxidermy, as the fully stuffed animals allow one to view close up the animals of the Torah, particularly what constitutes Mafris Parsah and what does not.

Another section hosts relics from Europe, correspondence and other documents from the pre-war era. Chasam Sofer, Rabbi Akiva Eiger, Malbim and others have their works grace this exhibit.

Yet RSSD is not one to rest on his accomplishments. He is looking to create an almost full size replica of the Mishkan. He is also building a replica of an ancient marketplace to depict how ancient commerce was performed. He is also planning on building another museum in Lakewood, NJ, in addition to the flagship Boro Park site and the satellite site open in the summer time in South Fallsburg, NY.

Personally, I was awed by the museum in South Fallsburg, and I hope to one day visit the Boro Park location. As RSSD says "You have to cover a lot of ground before the ground covers you."

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Disco Rabbi

What really boggles the mind is how certain insignificant videos go viral, while the inspirational variety are relegated to flail in Kansas-land as mere Dust in the Wind.

Recently, HaMavdil posted a video of a modern day miracle performed by Rabbi Yitzchak Dovid Grossman, or as more popularly known, The Disco Rabbi.

I was privileged to meet him once, and I can testify to the fact that he is the real Mccoy. His love for all people shines through, as one need not subscribe to his brand or level of religiosity to be on the receiving end of his kindness.

Seven Hundred Paratroopers came under his spell in 2006 en-route to battle in Lebanon. All 700 returned home, complete. Not one casualty. Remarkable.

There is a famous story where he was engaging a wayward youth in conversation and he asked him what it would take to get him to become religious. The young man replied "a porsche". Indeed, The rabbi showed up at his house several days later with the car! See more stories here.

One thing that disturbs me is that when a person of importance passes on, the eulogies praise them to such an extent that one begins to wonder - If there are such amazing people on this earth, why do we only find out about them after they are gone? So please take the opportunity to watch the embedded video, and when in Israel, make it your business to visit Migdal HaEmek.
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