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August 31, 2015 / 16 Elul, 5775
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Posts Tagged ‘Rebbe’

Happy Thanksgiving – 2012

Sunday, November 25th, 2012

Well… once again it was turkey day. It had been a while since I regularly had a big Thanksgiving dinner. But back in the good old days when our children were young – one of our extended family members would host such a meal every year which we would all attend. I guess now that all of our kids have grown, that custom sort fell by the wayside.

But that doesn’t mean that I no longer support the idea of a Thanksgiving Day meal. I do. My Rebbe R’ Aharon used to have Thanksgiving Day turkey dinners with his family. One of my favorite stories is told about the Rav. He had scheduled his Shiur in YU early one Thanksgiving day in order to be on time at his family’s Thanksgiving dinner.

As I say every time there is a national holiday in this country, we ought to participate and show our appreciation for the privilege of living in America.

Some historians propose that the holiday of Thanksgiving was originally based on Sukkos. According to these historians the pilgrims lived together with Sephardic Jews in Holland for 10 years prior to coming here. Holland was considered a safe haven from religious persecution. Understanding that Sukkos represented deliverance from religious persecution in Egypt, they used that as a paradigm for their own celebration of deliverance from religious persecution.

Being “Old” Testament oriented, it seems natural for them to embrace this time of year for that celebration. There was also a desire to thank God after the Autumn harvest. This too is based on Sukkos which is called the Chag HaAsif – the ‘holiday of gathering’ when the fall crops would be harvested. (Israel was then much more of an agrarian society.)

It was George Washington who by proclamation in October of 1789 finally established Thanksgiving as a national holiday to be celebrated in November. The fourth Thursday in November was established by federal legislation in 1941 – for people of all religions to give thanks for what we have.

I see nothing wrong with our participating with all American citizens in observing Thanksgiving. And apparently neither did my Rebbe nor his illustrious brother, the Rav.

But there are some Poskim who do not like the idea at all and are opposed to it in spirit if not in strict Halacha. Rav Moshe Feinstein said that it is permissible to celebrate Thanksgiving by having a big dinner since it was not established as a religious holiday. But he felt it was not a proper custom.

I can’t say for sure, but my guess is he didn’t like the custom because by participating with non Jews in a national meal of thanksgiving – it was too close to being involved with them in a religious way. But that is just speculation on my part.

In any case I agree with his Psak that it is permissible but disagree with his view that it is best not to do so.

Unfortunate are the lengths his approach has been taken to by the right. Celebrating Thanksgiving is frowned upon and virtually ignored as anything more than a day off from work.

But I agree with my Rebbe. Thanksgiving is yet another way to express our Hakoras HaTov to this great nation of ours. And yes – to thank God for it. So, Happy Thanksgiving. For those of you who are going to have a big festive meal with family and friends – enjoy. And eat your Turkey guilt free. (Religiously speaking only.)

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Goodbye Dairy: Hello Tofutti!

Thursday, November 15th, 2012

Tofu.

For most of us, the word conjures up images of a spongy white unpalatable mass that is best left on the shelf of our local health food emporium.

But for New Jersey resident David Mintz, tofu is a magical substance that holds endless possibilities, particularly for the kosher consumer. For over thirty two years, Mintz’s Tofutti Brands has waved its magic wand, transforming soybean curd into numerous non-dairy delights, most notably, Tofutti, a non-dairy ice cream substitute available nationwide – and in thirty foreign countries.

There is no doubt that Mintz comes by his obsession for feeding people honestly. The son of a Williamsburg baker, he began his career in the food business in the mid 1960’s with a Catskills grocery store, quickly discovering that the real money was in selling prepared foods. He augmented his own recipe base by recruiting help from experienced cooks, by placing an ad in a local publication asking grandmothers to share their cooking secrets with him. Eventually, Mintz relocated to Brooklyn, opening two restaurants there, with a third on Manhattan’s East Side, in addition to a thriving catering business. While customer’s enjoyed Mintz’s menu, he was besieged with requests from those who wanted ice cream for dessert.

“Obviously I couldn’t serve ice cream after a meat based meal,” recalled Mintz. “I lost a lot of business that way. I even had people who would ask me to supply the food for an event and then they would bring in their own ice cream for dessert, but I couldn’t go along with that. I wondered what I could do to solve this problem and that was what spurred me on.”

Having read about tofu, which had long been used in China, Mintz ventured to Chinatown in order to conduct his own trials with the chameleon-like soybean curd. At first taste, tofu left a lot to be desired.

“It tasted like biting into a pillow,” reminisced Mintz.

Undaunted, Mintz began to experiment, discovering early on that while tofu made an impressive non-dairy sour cream substitute and incorporated it into numerous recipes, including quiches and dips. But turning tofu into ice cream was a much more difficult process, ultimately it took Mintz ten years.

“I would close my restaurant at nine and then would begin ‘Tofu Time’, when the ladies would work with me till two, three or even four in the morning, trying to create a passable ice cream product,” said Mintz. “There were so many disappointments and I can’t even begin to count how many times I nearly gave up.”

In fact, it was the Lubavticher Rebbe who provided Mintz with continuous encouragement during his ten-year odyssey.

“The whole block where my Manhattan restaurant was located was bought by Donald Trump in order to make way for Trump Plaza,” explained Mintz. “I kept asking for extensions, but they were razing the entire area and I had to leave. Rabbi Shlomo Riskin from the Upper West Side came into my restaurant and offered to help me out at a new location on 72nd and Broadway. I made all the arrangements and then I went to see the Rebbe for a bracha.”

The Rebbe categorically refused to give his blessing to the new restaurant.

B’shum oyfen nisht, (Absolutely not),” declared the Rebbe.

“Why not,” queried Mintz. “It is a golden opportunity.”

“It is not for you,” responded the Rebbe.

Instead, the Rebbe encouraged Mintz to continue with his tofu experiments, assuring him divine assistance and ultimately worldwide success.

“The Rebbe was my driving force,” recalled Mintz. “He told me I could do the impossible and he urged me to have bitachon, to believe that Hashem would help me. There were many times I was ready to throw in the towel and then I would remember the Rebbe’s words. The next day, I would pick the towel up again and get back to work.”

Mintz’s earliest test runs, at the Welsh Farms plant in Long Valley, New Jersey, were nothing short of disastrous, as the Tofutti prototypes were too viscous for the ice cream machines and literally blew out of the presses, spraying geysers of the ice cream substitute all over the ceiling.

A Kaliver Example for the Torah World

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

Most people who read this blog know that I am not a big fan of Chasidus as a Hashkafa. As a rationalist, I prefer the intellectual approach to Judaism over the emotional approach. Chasidus’s focus on Kabbalah and the spiritual world has little appeal to a rational mind like mine.

That said, I certainly do not have any issues with Chasidim who seem to gain a lot from their movement and their Rebbe. Although in some cases I have a problem with certain Chasidic movements and their Rebbes, it is for specific reasons based mostly on their overly negative attitude towards the outside world or for example in the case of Chabad with their Meshichism issues. But to be sure I do not have any personal animus with Chasidus as a whole.

Which brings up what to me is a significant event. One for which I applaud a Chasidic Rebbe. Specifically the Kaliver Rebbe. I know nothing about Kaliver Chasidus or its Rebbe. But when a Chasidic Rebbe goes to Yeshiva University and gives a Shiur there in the year 2012, that’s news. And as one can see by the picture above (reproduced from Hirshel Tzig’s blog) that is exactly what happened.

Of course this is not the first time that a great rabbinic figure from the world of Charedim has done this. Back in the pre Holocaust Bernard Revel era, many Gedolim from the Yeshiva world in Europe gave Shiurim there. Dr. Revel always invited them to do so when they visited these shores to raise funds for their Yeshivos. Rav Aharon Kotler who was the Rosh HaYeshiva at Kletzk being one of those.

In fact one such Gadol, R’ Shimon Shkop stayed on to become Rosh HaYeshiva at YU for about a year. I will never forget the picture Rabbi Nehemiah Katz had hanging on his office wall of his Chag Semicha from YU with Rav Shkop in the foreground. Rabbi Katz was R’ Moshe Feinstein’s brother in law (R’ Moshe’s wife was Rabbi Katz’s sister.) It was Rabbi Katz who was largely responsible for bringing R’Moshe to America.

The only European Gadol who refused to set foot into YU was Rav Elchonan Wasserman.

On the Chasidic side of the aisle, I don’t believe any Rebbe of stature ever gave a Shiur in YU. Certianly not the Satmar Rebbe, the Gerrer Rebbe, The Bobover Rebbe, the Vizhnitzer Rebbe, or the Lubavitcher Rebbe (…to name a few of the more prominent ones).

I may be wrong but I don’t think any Charedi Gadol, Rosh HaYeshiva, or Chasidic Rebbe of any kind has set foot in YU since Dr. Revel’s time. That fact is – in my view – one of the more divisive ones in Klal Yisroel – at a time now when Achdus is needed more than ever.

Along comes the Kaliver Rebbe and gives a Shiur to YU students. That tells me that to the Kalvire Rebbe Achdus trumps ideology. Not that this Rebbe has given up on his ideology. I’m sure he hasn’t. He is probably just as opposed to college as he ever was – assuming that his views are the typical Chasidic ones that considers college Assur.

But even though he probably does, he did not let that get in the way of going into YU and giving a Shiur to the students. That my friends is Achdus. He is embracing his fellow Jews. He realizes that there are other Hashkafos – some of which he opposes. But he respects those who have these Hashkafos as B’nei Torah.

Unlike Rav Wasserman he isn’t worried about sending the wrong message – that by going to YU and giving a Shiur there he is somehow endorsing the Hashkafa of Torah U’Mada. All that matters to him is that there are B’nei Torah that want to hear his Divrei Torah.

My hat (Shtreimal?) is off to the Kaliver Rebbe for doing this.

Now if we can get one of the other Chasidic Rebbes to do this (for example – I hear the Satmar Rebbe – R’ Aharon Teitelbaum is a huge Talmud Chacham) we may actually accomplish something big.

But an even bigger accomplishment would be if one of the mainline Roshei Yeshiva would do that. I’m sure that Yeshiva University would be honored to host Rav Matisyahu Salomon, Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky, or Rav Dovid Feinstein for example. I know that they do not agree with the Torah U’Mada Hashkafa. But neither is Yeshiva University an adherent of their Torah Only Hashkafa.

Who is Alex Clare? And Why Do I care?

Monday, November 12th, 2012

Who is Alex Clare? He is a British pop singer with a top ten single entitled Too Close. He is the ex-boyfriend of Amy Winehouse. And he is an observant Jew.
How – one might ask – does an Orthodox Jew hook up with someone like Amy Whitehouse, a mega popular Grammy award winning Jewish singer who was anything but observant? And who had a history of drug addiction and alcohol abuse that eventually caused her death?

He doesn’t talk about his relationship with her. But a Times of Israel article does reveal that he has only been observant for about 5 years. Which might explain how their relationship both began and ended.

The YouTube video of his hit song (below) has had over 32 million hits so far. How observant is he? From the Times article:

Raised in a secular home, Clare hooked up with Chabad after studying in Jerusalem.
While on tour, Clare relies on daily religious practice to navigate a music world that provides no end of temptation. He studies the Tanya, a work of Hasidic philosophy by the founder of the Chabad movement, and the Talmud tractate Brachot…

Clare said his team helps him keep certain religious laws: For example, his bodyguards help ward off the mobs of screaming teenage girls — and there are many — so that nobody touches him, since he adheres to religious laws of modesty which forbid touching women.

“I know clubs and concert halls are not the best place for a nice Jewish boy, but everyone has their life choices and this is mine,” he said. “It’d definitely be different if I was a Satmar Hasid. They’d probably disown me.”

Clare says that he did lose a record deal opportunity because he refused to play on Sukkot and tour over the holidays. But he says these are small prices to pay, and even with sacrifices made, a little faith can go a long way.

This is truly an amazing story. Just like going OTD fascinates me, so too does becoming observant. In both cases there is a radical departure from one’s past that involves sacrifices. Difficult ones albeit different ones.

I haven’t written about Chabad in quite some times. Things seemed to have quieted down. But those who have been reading this blog for awhile will know about my issues with them. Not the least of which is their belief that at the very least their now deceased Rebbe can in theory rise from the dead to become the Messiah.

That belief varies among various Lubavitchers between a mere possible but unlikely occurrence to an actual devout belief that this will indeed happen. Although these beliefs are being mostly kept in the closet by the mainstream, they are still there.

In fact there are still some pockets of Lubavitch that are not shy about proclaiming the Rebbe’s messiahship either. You may occasionally see one of their homes or vehicles displaying a yellow Rebbe/Moshiach flag. This is especially the case in Israel with signs saying the Rebbe is Moshiach being seen all over the place. But their mainstream leadership has been doing a good job of marginalizing them. At least in America.

Even with all these problems, they must be given a huge amount of credit for their outreach work. Their Messianic beliefs do not seem to affect that. No one does it like Lubavitch. And according to the Times article they seem to be the ones responsible for Clare becoming observant. My hat is off to them.

Why do I care? Because when a high profile entertainer becomes a practicing Jew, it makes an impression. Of those over 32 million mostly young eople who have listened to his YouTube video some of them are Jews. And some of those may very well be motivated to seek their own roots. And that is not a small thing.

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The Joy of Fulfilling A Mitzvah

Friday, October 5th, 2012

Rav Moshe Sofer (The Chasam Sofer), one of the greatest Gaonim in his generation, always preached and practiced charity and kindness towards his fellow man. His door was always open to the poor and to the needy for help and advice.

Once, on a cold wintry day, in the city of Pressburg, the Chasam Sofer was studying the Talmud with his two sons, when he heard an urgent knock on his door.

“It must be a poor man seeking alms,” he remarked as he opened the door. Imagine his surprise when he saw the leading member of his congregation standing at his door, looking like a beggar.

“Do not be surprised at my appearance, Rebbe,” he said, “I am in great trouble and I need your help. I would like to talk to you privately.”

Motioning to the man to enter, the Chasam Sofer told his children to leave the room while he made the merchant comfortable. “What happened to you? Why are you looking so sad?” he asked.

“A terrible misfortune has happened to me,” the man responded. “I was a very wealthy man and as you know I became a banker. But through a series of misfortunes, I lost all my money and now I am penniless. I have practically become a beggar.”

“Do not lose faith in G-d,” answered the Chasam Sofer, while pity welled up in his heart. “You still have your good name, people will remember all the charity you have given and they will surely give you a helping hand. G-d may have taken your money only temporarily to test you.

“It isn’t my money which I am worried about,” cried the banker, but about the money of others, the widows and orphans, who trusted me. It is also gone. I will have to sit in the debtor’s prison.”

“No! No!” cried the Chasam Sofer, “It will never happen that the most charitable man in the community, its leader and banker, will sit in prison.”

The Chasam Sofer began to think of ways and means to help this unfortunate man. Suddenly, his face brightened. He approached his closet, and removed a small bag of coins, which he had been saving for a dowry for his daughter.

“In this bag is a hundred gold coins,” he said. “I am giving this to you as a loan. Now, go immediately to the city of Leipzig, and the first piece of merchandise that you will see, purchase it with these gold coins. And may Hashem be with you and make you prosper.”

The banker was reluctant to accept the money. He knew that the Chasam Sofer was not a rich man and it must have taken him a long time to accumulate this money. “Rebbe,” he said, “I cannot take this money for I cannot promise to return it to you and if I lose this money too, then I will also cause you grief.”

“The help of G-d comes momentarily,” replied the Chasam Sofer, “Do you think I would give you this money if I was not certain that G-d will see to it that you make good and you will return it to me very soon. You must never lose faith and trust in G-d. Remember, go to Leipzig and the first merchandise you see be sure to purchase.”

Meets An Old Friend

The following morning the merchant banker traveled to Leipzig and entered the trading market. He wandered around until he suddenly heard a voice call him. It was a merchant friend whom he had not seen for many years.

“It must be a stroke of luck that made me meet you here,” the friend said. “Only today a boatload of coffee arrived and I haven’t the time to make arrangements to sell it. Will you take care of it for me? You can pay me in three months. Only give me a hundred coins as a binder. I know you for many years and I trust you. I’ll sell it to you for the amount it cost me as long as I don’t lose anything on the transaction.”

The banker remembered the admonition of the Chasam Sofer to enter into the first business deal he sees, so he agreed. He signed the necessary papers and have him the deposit.

Now, This Is a Lulav

Friday, October 5th, 2012

Here’s an image of the Lubavitcher Rebbe benching his lulav and etrog.

 

Nancy commented, when she saw this image, how his eyes always look directly at you in all his pictures.

The etrog is upside down, which I thought meant the Rebbe is about to make the blessing, but reader JK was quick to correct me (from his iPhone) that the Rebbe never turned the etrog upside down and didn’t bench in shul.  He also added: “Get things right before writing to thousands.”

I was impressed by the lavish assortment of hadassim and aravot in his lulav bunch. Why haven’t I thought about it before? All these years I’ve been carefully counting them out, three of this, two of that – when I could have this big, fluffy hedge of a lulav.

This morning I plan to take my spare branches and add them to the ones that have so far survived the daily benching, see what that looks like.

Chag Same’ach!

Rabi Akiva Clarifies

Friday, September 14th, 2012

The Strength Of Suffering

Man does not have it easy in this world. Sufferings are often visited upon him tempting him to curse his fate and ask why the Almighty punishes him so. But suffering has great value and serves a vital purpose. Rabi Akiva teaches this a clear and beautiful way.

Rabi Eliezer had been very ill and suffered a great deal. Fortunately, G-d had mercy upon the great sage and moved him from death’s door. As he improved, his devoted students came to visit him to voice their love and to give thanks that he had recovered.

“You are more important to us than the rain from heaven,” said Rabi Tarfon, “for rain is only important in this world but you, our Rebbe, are important both in this world and in the World to Come.”

“You are more important to us than the rays of the sun” declared Rabi Yehoshua, “for the sun is only vital to us in this world and not in the World to come.

“More,” said Rabi Elazar ben Azarya, “our Rebbe is more important to us than our own parents. They only bring us into this world but our Rebbe guides us in this world and leads us into the World to Come.”

When it was Rabi Akiva’s turn to comfort his master, he rose and said:

“Sweet are our sufferings.”

Everyone stared at Rabi Akiva, puzzled at the meaning of his words. Even Rabi Eliezer looked at his student and said to those around him:

“Let me sit up so that I may better hear and understand Akiva’s words.”

When he was propped up by his students, Rabi Eliezer asked:

“Tell me, my son, what did you mean when you said that our sufferings are sweet and dear to us. How do you know such a thing?”

“I have learned this from King Chizkiyahu,” Rabi Akiva replied. “Here was a great scholar and king who was able to teach Torah to all of Israel, but he was unable to teach his own son, Menashe, the ways of goodness and truth. His son walked on the path of wickedness and there was nothing the father could do.

“It was only when the Assyrian hordes captured him and tortured him and made his life bitter that he turned his eyes to Heaven and prayed to the Almighty.

“We see, therefore, that suffering, although apparently bitter, was the one thing that enabled a sinner to return unto G-d. Are we not justified then in saying that suffering is dear and sweet to man?”

The Right To Heal

There are certain misguided souls who believe that any nature which comes from G-d, must not be tampered with and should be allowed to take its course. Thus, when an illness strikes them or someone they love, they refuse to use the power of medicine, contending that this is going against the Will of G-d.

This is not the Jewish way as we can see from the following story:

One day, as Rabi Akiva and Rabi Yehoshua walked along the streets of Jerusalem engrossed in Torah conversation, a man looking weak and sickly approached them:

“Forgive me, Rebbe, for interrupting you but I am in need of assistance.”

“We will be glad to help you if we are able,” said the scholars.

“I am a very sick man and I suffer greatly. I have gone to many doctors who are unable to help me. Perhaps you can.”

The two sages, aside from being great Torah scholars, were also well versed in the science of medicine. They asked the man:

“What are your symptoms so that we may be able to diagnose your case?”

The man detailed his symptoms and they said:

“If you eat this specific food and drink this specific drink you will find yourself getting better.”

The man thanked them profusely and hurried away to do as they said.

One of the inhabitants of Jerusalem had watched the scene and heard the conversation. Walking over to Rabi Akiva and Rabi Yehoshua he asked:

“Tell me, who made this man ill?”

“Why, surely it was the Almighty,” replied the sages. “He is the One who moves all things in this world.”

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/kidz/midrash-stories/rabi-akiva-clarifies/2012/09/14/

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