Attributed to R Yisrael Salanter:
"People say: If you cannot pass, you must return. We say: If you cannot pass, you must pass."
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"Write down all your inner struggles, your setbacks and successes, and grant them eternal life. This way your very essence, the personality of your soul, your spiritual attainments, your life's inner treasures, will live on forever in the lives of your spiritual heirs as generations come and go." - Rav Kalonoymus Kalman Sharpira zt"l, the Piaseczno Rebbe from Tzav V'Ziruz (The Rebbe's personal diary)
Sunday, July 31, 2011
Tuesday, July 26, 2011
I have always looked for places to recharge, to think, to read, to relax. Not so much because my life is so chaotic, but because I value the middah of chillaxing (which falls somewhere between yeshuv hadaas and menucha). This is probably a leftover habit from my high school days. I loved hanging out in used book stores and pretty much anywhere that offered bottomless cups of coffee. After high school when I lived NYC, I also sought outdoors/nature type locations where I could just sit for a while and think/meditate/hisbodedus (of course that can be done anywhere). When trying to chillax, the constant was always coffee. I inherited from my father a’h a love of good coffee and the joy of searching for off-the-beaten-derech places. It’s the slacker in me that loves sitting with a cup of something caffeinated and a sefer.
Speaking of coffee, I know I’m in the minority among bloggers, but the cRc’s “Starbucks beverage guidelines” have only helped me in my search for a great place to chill-out with an iced beverage. For me, it only really means giving up iced coffee at some places and I’m fairly open to their recommendations.
When I lived in NYC I had a close friend and we would trek all over Manhattan checking out coffee joints. For me, places that we liked fell into one of two categories: spots I would recommend to others and those few places that I’d keep to myself and not even take a date to until I knew that I’d marry her (for fear that if we stopped dating she would tell her friends about the coffee bar and then it would become frequented by other frum people).
My most recent search in Chicago has brought me to a cross-roads that I often think about. Allegiance to the spirit of the independent coffee bar versus the consistency of a corporation. The inner post-punk in me loves the feel and look of an independent store. However, it only takes one bad drink to realize and appreciate the uniformity and reliability that is offered by a “chain” of big green Starbucks locations. I am all for non-chain places, but there’s a comfort and reassuring feeling of going to a big green. Sort of like when you enter a new shul and find a familiar siddur or chumash, you feel more at ease. Chicago happens to fit both bills. With some web-base hunting, I’ve found some interesting locations to grab an iced latte. That’s the good news. The bad news, is that a majority of the places with high reviews are not open past 8 pm. Granted, being married with kids, if I am out past 9PM it usually means I’m grocery shopping or at minyan, but late hours is key for a coffee bar. Chicago, being the first city outside of Seattle to have Starbucks locations, also has plenty of locations all over open until, at least, 9 PM.
The need to spend time alone and without seeing people that I know is something that I tend to value. Don’t get me wrong, I love people and can pretty much talk to anyone, but being by myself (with something to read) every once in a while is something that I appreciate it. I know many people who “veg out” in front of the TV or unwind by going online (I’m guilty of this, too), but I find more of a lasting value in sitting in the shade at a park, biking, or inside somewhere drinking an iced beverage and turning pages every few minutes.
Years ago, I dreamt of opening up a slick coffee bar (under an acceptable hechshar, of course). It would have various sefrei machshava available for the customers, offer a retreat from the hectic daily routine, be semi-family friendly, double as a performance space, be an acceptable location for high school aged kids to hang out, be “Jewish” enough for non-orthodox Jews, but not too “Jewish”, and offer informal learning in a laid back environment. The floor would be unfinished, there would be a minimum of one wall with exposed brick, the ceiling would have pipes and free hanging lighting, Reb Shomo playing softly over the sound system , and if you opened the front door for someone, you be paid with a “Thank you”.
Alas, I’m happy these days to find someplace with free parking and no annoying music.
The need to spend time alone and without seeing people that I know is something that I tend to value. Don’t get me wrong, I love people and can pretty much talk to anyone, but being by myself (with something to read) every once in a while is something that I appreciate it. I know many people who “veg out” in front of the TV or unwind by going online (I’m guilty of this, too), but I find more of a lasting value in sitting in the shade at a park, biking, or in this case, inside somewhere drinking an iced beverage and turning pages every few minutes. A throwback to my more carefree days, probably. I look at it like a retreat, like Shabbos or being in a Sukkah. A temporary recharge.
Monday, July 25, 2011
Friday, July 15, 2011
- Tracking- With Weight Watchers, all food/beverages have point values (now it’s called Point Plus). Having a written or digital record or what you eat helps you see your habits offers accountability. As a person who as practiced the technique of Cheshbon HaNefesh (making an accounting of your soul and daily activities, struggles, and successes) on and off for almost 20 years this isn’t new to me, which is why I don’t mind “tracking” (many in Weight Watchers can’t stand tracking). Seeing where you spend your points, what difficulties you have during the day, or even what food victories you’ve had helps give you a feeling of accomplishment. Being able to go back and look at what was difficult in previous weeks helps you learn and focus on future goals.
- Everything counts- Foods and beverages have values (as mentioned above). Water is zero points, so are pears, apples, cauliflower, carrots, etc. I am allocated a specific number of points per day. How I choose to gain those points, is my choice. This has allowed me to understand that there are trade-offs. For example, if I want to use four points, do I get more energy and nutrition from a 4 point shot of bourbon or a four point granola bar? I haven’t given up a l’chaim after kiddush on Shabbos morning, but I understand it’s spending points and there is a trade off. This got me thinking about mitzvos. We are taught not to ascribe a value/reward for a mitzvah against another mitzvah, because we don’t know its value. Conversely, when it comes to those actions that move us away from Kedusha (holiness) and our Creator we don’t know what the negative value is. Things are not always what they seem. A small piece of candy might have four points, while a large apples is still zero points. The apple is, by far, a healthier choice and give one more energy. A seemingly trivial mitzvah in our eyes might have a huge value to our creator, even it the “point value” is zero.
- Ratzon- I have found that being more watchful of what I eat and drink has helped me focus on what I want vs. what I need. Just this past Monday I was in a grocery store and went through a moral battle regarding if I really wanted a piece of fried chicken. I had already cheshboned the point value and I knew, based on what I was planning to eat for dinner, that I had the extra points available to “spend” on that perfectly crispy fried little chicken leg. I bought it. It sat in my car for the ride home and it’s currently in the fridge. I didn’t need it. I wanted it, but didn’t need it. Had I been the better man, I wouldn’t have spent the $1.29 for it. However, I’m realizing that it’s a choice. This is real free will. Rav Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler zt’l has a whole teaching about something called the “bechira-point”, which explains that there are specific challenges that allow us to truly exercise the God-given gift of free will. His example is in regard to observing Shabbos. If you have been keeping the laws of Shabbos for a number of years (or your whole life) then you really have no urge to flick on a light if it’s dark in a room. Your soul understands that this isn’t what Hashem wants you to do, so there’s really no showing of free will with this. You might have had to struggle with this in the past, but as time moved on your bechira (free will) moved from being a choice, to being a habit. As such, your bechira-point has moved. I knew that my habits were changing two weeks ago, when I opted to buy an apple for a snack instead of a Reese’s Peanut Butter cup (my all time favorite candy) because the candy was 6 points and I accepted that at the time I didn’t need it. In the sefer Da Es Nafshecha, Rabbi Itmar Shwartz has a whole chapter on ratzon and actually give the example of the desire to eat come chicken. As it turns out, I didn’t read this until two days my incident with the fried chicken.
Wednesday, July 13, 2011
This was posted on Ohel's website
Monday, July 11, 2011
Wednesday, July 06, 2011
Soon after it's publication, I received a copy of Artscroll's biography, Rav Gifter, by Rabbi Yechiel Spero. As a close friend pointed out to me, it's an "easy read". This is true, because Rav Gifter zt'l was a gadol that those from America (like myself) could relate to. Moving from Portsmouth, VA to Balitmore at the age of two, he attended public school until going to NY at age 13 to attend YU's high school. His life along with the interviews and accounts of Telz (both in Lithuania and Cleveland) are snapshots of both the destruction and rebirth of a great yeshiva.
I'm about half way through this sefer and I find myself thinking about the following prior to every bracha I make:
One student recalls Rav Gifter aksing them what seemed like a very simple question: What is the most important word in the blessing of "shehalok nihyeh b'dvaro- through Whose word everything came to be?"
Each of the young men gave their suggestions. One suggested that Name of Hashem; another thought that it might be Melech (King). But Rav Gifter's answer remained with this talmid some 65 years later.
"The word Atah [You] is the most important word. It shows us that we have a personal relationship with the Al-mighty."