Thursday, September 25, 2008

Fighting to be Rebbe

(courtesy of

When the Baal Shem Tov left the physical world, there was an uncertainty of who would take on the leadership of Chassidus. Should it be his son or his closest disciple. His son became Rebbe and on the first anniversary of the Besht's yaharziet, the Besht came to his son in a dream telling him to give leadership over to the Maggid Reb Dov Ber. Without hesitation he stood to speak to his Chasidim, and declared R' Dov Ber the new Rebbe and gave him the hat and coat of the Besht.

When the Chiddushe HaRim left the physical world, his grandson was asked to be Rebbe at age 18 and refused, claiming he was not worthy to lead the chasidim of his esteemed and holy Grandfather. The Alexander Rebbe at that time took charge and then later the Sfas Emes under pressure finally became the Rebbe of Ger.

So many stories of Chasidim asked to become the new Rebbe and being so reluctant. How could they do the mission as Rebbe even at half of the level of their Rebbe who was so dear to them. Sons, Brothers, Brother-in-Laws, it didnt matter who was asked, as far as they were concerned that was their Rebbe and there was no way they were worth to replace such a holy man.

What happened to the humbleness? What happened to to reluctance? Now Chasidim fight and tear families, and dynasties apart just so they can be "the man in charge" and "run the empire"

All of the new Rebbes of times of old had siblings and relatives. Why was there no cut throat fight then? Or was there and its something I am unaware of?

You have the brothers of Satmar ripping their group in half to the point that they can barely be civilized when they come together for their fathers yaharziet.

You have even small groups like Alexander and Biala where there are multiple Rebbes .

Now the latest news is that the Vizhnitzer Rebbe is ill and his sons are fighting over who will become Rebbe. How can this be? Their holy father is still alive, breathing, and learning Torah and they are already fighting over who gets to take his place?

I don't understand this in the least. Of course I'm not in these communities, so I don't know what and why this happens. This isn't a judgement on them, this is a blog full of questions. Questions I want answered to explain to me why there is such a thirst for power where there previously wasn't such a thirst.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Does the Sun Revolve Around the Earth?

(courtesy of

Over this past Shabbos I witnessed something a little disturbing. Someone asked 2 yeshiva bochurim if the Sun revolved around the Earth or the Earth revolved around the Sun. When the first boy was asked he said the Sun revolves around the Earth. Of course I took this as a joke that he was mocking such a silly and obvious answer to the question. It wasnt until the second bochur was asked that I couldnt believe what I was hearing. The second bochur said the same thing! Then he kind of toyed back and forth with each idea and then said, "No actually I think the Earth revolves around the sun.....right?"

Do yeshiva students not learn basic science, math, and english? Then again are these subjects really that important, or aid in the purpose of a Jew's mission in Olam Hazeh? I guess as a Baal Teshuva who just about has a BFA, I feel that anyone should know such a simple thing as 4th grade science. Learning Torah is of course the priority, but how to these bochurs go to Law School and get Masters later in life if they dont know the basics. Maybe these 2 cases do not represent the majority of frum children.

It seems that todays Torah Community rejects science because it is a tool that is perverted to Chashve Shalom "prove" Hashem doesnt exisit. Others would argue the total opposite and say that not only does science prove Hashems power over the universe, but it helps to explain his process. The Rambam himself " strove to reconcile Aristotelian philosophy and science with the teachings of the Torah."

Of course my future children, iy"H will attend a Haredi type school, but if they are deprived on such common knowledge, I will have to fill in the gaps.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Fifty Seven Sixty Eight

(courtesy of

After reading A Simple Jew's blog on Preparation of Elul, it got me thinking about my own preparations and my own year in general. This was a big year for me on so many levels and I thank G-d for all the blessings bestowed upon me even the ones I didn't see as blessings till months later.

My Gregorian Birthday is Labor Day, and except for a year where there is a second Adar, it falls right before Rosh Hashanah. This past year during a social gathering to celebrate the fact that even against my will I continue to grow, I was given a blessing by an engaged couple. Honestly I didn’t take it too seriously. The year before was a rocky one, struggling with my yiddishkite and adapting it to an ever changing social surrounding. The Kallah blessed me that I should find my zivug asap. That next Shabbos I met my future wife and now we have been married for almost six months Baruch Hashem!

To write a blog on my whole year of experiences would take hours and it would be much to long for anyone to enjoy reading, so I will just highlight some aspects but really focus on this years Elul which has been very special for me.

Going to Eretz Yisroel over the summer was a life changing experience that has benefited my ten-fold. Since I have returned to Chutzla Eretz everything has been different. My job has been Blessed, my art has been blessed, my davening and learning has blessed, and so is my relationship with my wife, family, and friends. Hashem has clicked on this dormant switch in my brain to help me think things out a little bit more.

There is less than a week until Rosh Hashanah, and I’m not sure if I am ready or not and my Yetzer Hara is doing its job perfectly. During the month of Elul, I began to wake up to get to shul 30-45 minutes before the minyan to really prepare myself for davening. Instead of rushing through morning blessings and Korbanos I really focused on them and read the 3 chapters of Tehillim each day during Elul. I have been doing Hisbodedus prior to davening as well, and if I have extra time I review the only Gemara I know fluently in Aramaic. Then we rip through davening at lightning speed that you must pray to G-d not to sneeze during Ashrei because you just might miss davening Shema with the minyan. Someone said today that "the reason he davens so fast is because he sacrifices his kavana to be at peace with the minyan." I guess it’s sad that the minyan really needs to daven Shachris in 30minutes flat, but better to daven with a minyan then without one. Instead of listening to the worthless radio on my way to work I also do Hisbodedus and feel more comfortable speaking with Hashem, even though the guy next to me thinks I’m either crazy speak to myself or that I’m on a Bluetooth headset.

The Shofar has been really special for me during Elul as well. I wrap myself in my tallis and close my eyes and if I concentrate in a specific manner, I can feel the blasts of the Shofar pierce my heart & soul and it awakens in me the knowledge of where I need to focus my teshuva.

This is all fine and dandy but does it make Hashem happy? I pray everyday that I perform my duties as a Jew for the Sake of Hashem's happiness, and not for the acceptance of man or for a nice spot in the Shuirim of Olam Habah, but if those also come with making Hashem Happy, then please make me humble. My greatest fear is that I would perform a Mitzvah so that someone will say "Wow this Yid is so religious look at how great he is." My mind is a very confusing thing, and the Yetzer Hara is so great at increasing the confusing.

Now, I don’t think I do a lot, and as I write this I am fearful that whoever reads this will thing that I’m bragging about what I do. Please don’t think this, but to my credit if I deserve any, I at least do something.

One of the blogs I read quoted a Chassidic Rebbe in saying that If we only started our Teshuva in Elul, Rosh Hashanah would be that much more beneficial. It’s like waiting the last minute to do anything, If you don’t give it your all it could result in a complete failure. So by doing a little bit each day it will build up to something great. Of course I have no clue if my tefillah or teshuva is being accepted in Elul, on Rosh Hashanah, or ever. Of course I read words of tzaddikim, and words of Torah that say Hashem forgives anyone who returns to him to make teshuva, but I still have this voice in the back of my head telling me that all the sins I committed before I became of Baal Teshuva (I’m not a master of anything) are not yet rectified. Therefore I’ve been giving more Tzedakah than usual. At least I know (or hope) that the joy I feel is for the mitzvah and not the reward for the mitzvah.

Selichos has also been intense and even more so because I’m reading it in English. I can read the Hebrew but I can’t understand it so that seems worthless to me. The words make such an impact, I wish I could get the true essence with the Hebrew. Still it makes my soul burn reading the words.

The quote of Reb Simcha Bunim still resonates inside me and I continue to ask Hashem to let me return home instead of begging for a raise, or to find an apartment that’s nicer, or other Gashmius things. I hope he blesses me with those based on the rest of the year when I ask for those things, but not for Slichos. Slichos, I want to return home. I want to be close to Hashem and I want to know that by doing what I am supposed to I make him proud.

There is so much to work on but I do feel I am putting some sort of effort forth and better to do something than nothing. For this I pray that Hashem judges my whole family and my wife's family in favor and blesses us the coming year and that our blessings spill over to everyone around us so that we can all have the revelation of what needs to be done to usher in Moshiach NOW! So that we can once again connect to Hashem on a direct level.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Wearing a Tallis during Selichos

(courtesy of

Last night, at 1am we started reciting Selichos which is a grouping of prayers to Hashem that Jews say from the Shabbos before Rosh Hashanah until Yom Kippur. There must be at least 4 days of Selichos before Rosh Hashanah, so when it falls on a Sunday, Monday, or Tuesday, then you start the Motzi Shabbos before that week. This year is an example of this. If my explanation is not simple to understand please go here, here, or here.

The nusachs of davening Selichos are not like that of normal davening, as they are based on region instead, which still follows closely to normal nusachim. In respect to European Jews, Chassidim of Poland use Nusach Polin, Russian Jews like Chabad use Nusach Ruzin, Litvaks use Nusach Litva, and I'm sure Jews of Germany, Hungary use their own respective Nusachs.

There is a great difference between Selichos of Polish Chasidim and Chabad as Chabad does not put their head down. I'm used to being the lone Chasid doing things different but this was awkward and confusing enough for me to not put my head down. This is a mistake on my part that I will not repeat again iy"H.

Another interesting maklokes involves wearing a Tallis during Selichos. This is something most Jews do not do, but I will do. (I wasn't married during last selichos so I didnt have this issue to worry about). My Rav and I learned about Selichos from Sefer
Nitei Gavriel, and he says explicitly that you must wear a Tallis if you recite Selichos at the earliest time (or later) to wear a Tallis, and if you are in the middle of reciting Selichos when that time arrives you must stop and put on your Tallis. I know I am going to get flack for this but I hold by how Rabbi Gavriel Zinner (author of Nitei Gavriel) poskins. He is a very respect Chassidishe Posek and if there is an issue the Lubavitch Shul I daven at owns his whole set. Generally Lubavitch Minhag and understanding of Halacha agree, but there are occasions when they don't, such as if one should not fast on his wedding day if it falls on Rosh Chodesh Nissan. This Maklokes in itself could have its own article, so I wont elaborate.

I will end with an amazing parable on Selichos given over by the Rebbe Reb Simcha Bunim of Peshischa. There once was a King who had a rebellious son, so he banished him from the kingdom. The prince came upon a rural village and soon he became more villager than prince. The king still loving his wayward son, would send out secret agents to check up on him and help him through difficult times without his knowledge. One day the king couldn't bare it and he sent a message to his son. The message said "Your father loves you and is ready to grant you anything you want. Make a wish." The son didn't have to think very long. "Tell my father how grateful I am for his concern. And them him that it is cold here and my coat is worn. Please ask him to send me a new, warm, fur-lined coat!"

Can one imagine the heartbreak of the father who wanted his son back in the Palace? The boy could have asked for a chance to visit his family. he could have asked for a reconciliation. He could have asked for the kingdom. But he had forgotten where he belonged. He had traded the palace for the corral, traded his destiny for a coat.
So too, R' Bunam said, "We come to the Days of Awe when G-d longs for us to say, 'Father, we want to come home to YOU!' And all we think about to ask for in our prayers is a bit more money, a nicer home, a warmer coat. Can we even begin to imagine the extent of our foolishness and the anguish we cause G-d?"

As i recited Selichos last night I was so overwhelmed at the words with this new thought in my head. It was one of the most intense moments of prayer I have experienced outside of Eretz Yisroel.

May we all be blessed to beg Hashem to let us come back home and become the princes and princesses that we as Children of Hashem are destined to be!!!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

No Tachnun

Today is a very special day for Chasidim. Today is Chai (18th of) Elul, and lots of amazing things happened to the Jewish people, especially the Chasidim. Today is the birthday of the Baal Shem Tov, Aka the Besht, Aka Rabbi Israel Ben Eliezer. It is also the day that Alter Rebbe of Chabad, Shneur Zalman of Liadi was born and also the day special Maamers and Chassidius given over through out their lives. Another notable event today, is the Yaharziet of the Heliga Maharal of Prauge, Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel. This is where the Tachnun comes in, or rather doesn’t come in. As a general Chassidic Minhag that I have taken from my Rav, Tachnun is not said on the Yaharziet of Tzaddikim. This is not a Minhag of Chabad, as they even say Tachnun on their Rebbe's Yaharziets, or so I thought. No, it is not a Minhag of Chabad, but like all groups, you always have a rouge. I don’t mean that in a negative way, but it does make me smirk when someone steps out of routine and gets a comment out of the head Rabbi of my Shul.

There is a Chasid at my shul that does things that conflict with what other Chabad Chasidim feel should be done. One of those things is random times when Tachnun should be said and isn’t. Today is one of those days. The last one happened on the date marking the release of the Frierdiker Rebbe from Russian Prison. He was Shliach Tzibur and didn’t say Tachnun and this started a quiet argument as to "What the Rebbe did". Still, Tachnun wasn’t said. Today the Head Rabbi made an announcement, that "Today is Chai Elul, which is a very important day for Chassidim (Went on to list the reasons) and because of this Rabbi So & So probably wont be saying Tachnun, even though there is no source for this."

Now as a non Chabad Chasid davening in a Chabad shul, there are a few things I do different, and one of those is trying to not make it obvious that I'm not saying Tachnun. I have a calendar that is in the process of being marked on which days not to say Tachnun, because sometimes I forget and then realize later. I usually insert some sort of voluntary prayer that is printed after Shachris in the Art Scroll Sefard Siddur instead. Now don’t think I’m one of those Chasidim that goes No Tachnun Buck Wild. I only omit Tachnun when it is the Yaharziet of a Tzaddik who I have learned some sort of Torah from, not if I have just "heard of him".

This brings me to another interesting event that occurred today. Is it only Chabad or do other Chassidim consider Birthday, Yaharziet, or something monumental involving their Rebbes as Yom Tovim? The same Chasid, who doesn’t say Tachnun on these random days, also wishes everyone a "Gut Yom Tov", and wears his Kaputa. I only find this weird because he is the only one and no one else, not even the Head Shliach of the shul wears his.

Today we should learn Chassidus from the Besht, and the Alter Rebbe, as well as Chumash with Gur Aryeh (Maharal of Prague's commentary on the Chumash). May the merit of these Tzaddikim bring forth Redemption and Moshiach and may their Torah inspire us to engage in Tefillah, Teshuva, and Tzeddakah and be judged in favor by Hashem this Rosh Hashanah.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Before the Baal Shem Tov

“Until the birth of the Baal Shem Tov, the Jewish people always looked backward: How many years has it been since the destruction of the Temple? From the birth of the Baal Shem Tov onward, the clock has been ticking toward the future. With each new year, we look forward, realizing how much closer we are to the Redemption”

(Rebbe Pinchas of Koretz)

Guest Post By Chabakuk Elisha - Shelo Asani Isha

I guess this is technically a "guest's guest post", but regardless its a great post to read, especially for someone who has been attacked for being apart of a male centered religion. This topic was discussed at a Malava Malka last Motzi Shabbos, and this post raised my understanding of this topic to a new level. I wish the post was posted before I had the discussion. At least I got the Pshat.
Check out the guest post on A Simple Jews Blog.

Mazel Tov to the reason for this post which is that Chabakuk Elisha has a baby girl.

Shabbos Tish in Bnei Brak

My wife and I spent our last Shabbos during our stay in Eretz Yisroel in Bnei Brak. I had spent Shabbos there two years ago with my friend's Sephardic cousins. We are talking serious Sephardim here. They speak Ladino and have Ladino siddurim and seforim that are hundreds of years old. It was my favorite Shabbos then as it was now with one theme in common, the language barrier. Whether it’s the Sephardim and their Ladino, Hebrew, No English or it’s the Aleksander Chasidim and their Yiddish, Hebrew, No English, I still had the most amazing experience not understanding 85% of what was being said.

Before we left, we asked our Rav if he knew anyone we could stay by for Shabbos in Israel. He asked if we wanted a really Chasidish place and we say yes with excitement. He gave us the number for a Rabbi in Bnei Brak who ran the Aleksander Shtiebel there. When we got to Israel, we called him and he was very confused. He didn’t speak very much English and he didn’t seem know who our Rabbi was either. Finally after his daughter got on the phone everything was made clear and we made plans to come. As everything happens for a reason, it’s of course not by chance we stayed in Bnei Brak our last Shabbos. We conditioned ourselves by spending Shabbos in places around Jerusalem, such as the Old City, Har Nof, Ramat Eshkol, and even made it out to Ramat Beit Shemesh, too.

Before we knew it, it was Friday morning and we were busy preparing. It wasn’t until Israel that I understood the saying "You make plans, and G-d laughs..." We got to the Bus Station 10 minutes before the last bus would leave for Bnei Brak, but this was just the beginning of our adventure. When I called the Rabbi that morning to get directions, I apparently didn’t understand anything he said and wrote the cross street and address totally wrong. I did get Rabbi Akiva St. down so we weren’t too far off the beaten path. We got off and walked right by the alley to the house. We kept walking, and walking, and walking and then finally after asking five different people who kept asking us confused "No Hebrew, No Yiddish?" we realized we were lost. We called the Rabbi and turned around and started walking back. I will tell you that walking in humid hot Bnei Brak five minutes before Shabbos in your Shabbos bekeshe pulling a suitcase is not a simple task.

We stopped right in front of the alley and these little chasidishe boys asked us if we American. To make this part of a long story short, it was the Rabbi's grandchildren and they took us to the house. When we got there we were greeted by the Rabbi and his family and much needed air conditioning, soda, and even a little cake. Once I was ready, it was off to shul. One of the most beautiful things I have ever send is a Polishe Chasid walking to shul with his eight grandchild running around him playing and grabbing hold to him. We got to his shtiebel and my stereotype that Haredi Jews aren’t welcoming of outsiders went out the door. At least in Bnei Brak, at least with Aleksander Chasidim it was "Shalom Alechem" this and "Good Shabbos" that. I felt more welcome in 30 seconds then some shuls I have davened at a dozen times. We davened so beautifully together, so slowly but with such fire something I began to take for granted in the Holy Land. The Aleksander Niggunim is so powerful and energetic which helped me begin to understand why Aleksander was the second largest Chasidic group before the War. The climax of my Kabblas Shabbos is Lecha Dodi. If sung right it can lift my soul to such heights. Usually it’s sung in an obscure tune that no one can follow and it ends up being a Shliach Tzibur on a soapbox singing while everyone else reads it. This past Shabbos in Los Angeles this happened to no surprise and when we tried to hijack the niggun the Shliach Tzibur raised his hands like "what are you doing cant you see I’m trying to sing this amazing niggun by myself so no one can follow and only I will enjoy the davening!" Aleksander just like Belz (the only two Chassidic Kabblas Shabbosim I experienced) was amazing. Knowing that it was composed by such a heilige Rebbe as the Yismach Yisroel makes my soul flutter. I was then told by the Rabbi that there would be a Rebbe visiting. He is the Bushtina Rebbe and the brother-in-law of his wife zt"l.

A lot of people trivialize Rebbes and say, "oh, who is this Rebbe" and that and its really sad. Before the war there were dozens of Rebbes and they were all holy tzaddikim and respected for that. I don’t listen to such lashon hara and was eager to spend the evening with this Tzaddik. The Rebbe was celebrating a simcha and there was a Tish planned to be at the Rabbi's house where I was staying. Baruch Hashem, the Rebbe spoke English because if not for him I would have understood even less than the 20% I could barely make out. He didn’t speak to me in English as much as I would like, but it’s not the job of a Rebbe to be a translator. I will just have to learn Yiddish or sit there and be in the clouds. At dinner the food was great but the seating situation was something I was not accustom to. Because of the Rebbe being there, the woman had to be totally separated, but the Rabbi's daughter explained that on a normal Shabbos dinner they would all eat together. I sat by the Rebbe and the Rabbi and the Rebbe gave me his leftovers. I must say the Fish Head was the best part, except I would have liked to have eaten the eyeball. After sinner the Tish began with lots of L'Chaims and songs. The niggunim were on fire. I was in such a daze of awe and excitement I couldn’t even remember the niggunim the next day. To this day I can only remember the chorus of one. The room filled up to around 60+ men and we were all clapping banging singing and finally climaxed dancing in a circle around the table. There was such energy in the room that my mind couldn’t function on any mode except Holy Mode, B"H. I think I passed out on the table for 30 minutes but then was back up singing and dancing, arm locked with other Chasidim, all different types together. Some with spodiks, some with shtreimels, some with flat hats, some with fedoras, all together in honor of the holy Shabbos and to be by a Tzaddik. This for me was a reality when Chazal says Shabbos is 1/60th of Olam Haba.

Shabbos day was nice as well and the same feel overwhelmed me. We left Motzi Shabbos and the Rabbi said we must come back to visit when we return to Eretz Yisroel. Only there can you become so close to people after knowing them only for a short time. Our experience all over was that of true connection to Yidden. It didn’t matter if we were eating by Chasidim, Non Chasidim, or even Non Haredi they all truly cared about being Messengers of Hashem and truly fulfilling the mitzvah of Ahavas Yisroel.

We can’t wait to go back to visit in Bnei Brak and after that Shabbos, it really made me want to wear a spodik! Take it slow, Michael Mordechai, take it slow.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Avoda For The Common Man - Part II

A really great article by A Simple Jew about different Chassidic views of how and if you can raise yourself to the level of a Tzaddik in your Avodas Hashem. Check it out.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Me'arat HaMachpela

(painting by Gustave Doré)

Hebron is a very special city for us as Jews, and just like anything truly special to the Jews it is truly special to someone else. Me'arat HaMachpela has always been on my list of places to visit, but something always seems to get in my way. In 2000 just before the intifada we were unable to go and in 2006 during the Lebanon War, I was also told to stay away. Its to dangerous of a place they tell me. The violence between the Arabs and the IDF will put you in grave danger they say. Its just not safe, period I'm told.

Have you ever driven the streets of Los Angeles or Chicago or New York? Let me tell you about the time my wife and I dropped the rent check off in Inglewood. There are cities in America, and the world that are 10 times more dangerous to be in than Hebron. However, because of the media and hearsay, American Jews are panic stricken to go to Hebron.

I sometimes believed the distortion about Hebron, and how the Jews live in fear of the Arabs surrounding them. That was until my parents spent Shabbos in Hebron in the beginning of 2008. In 2005 my parents were taken to Hebron with their community Rabbi. They must have forgot to compare their Jewish Muslim calendars because he took them on the first day of Ramadan. Well after their group was surrounded by a potential mob of hundreds of muslims, they IDF swooped in surrounded the Jews and escorted them to the bus. Not the best idea, but like going anywhere you need to know where you are going and whats going on there. Visiting before Shabbos earlier this year my mother took a taxi with that community Rebbitzen and somehow were dropped off in front of the Palestinian Authority Headquarters and had to walk to their friends home in Kiryat Arba. Not the best idea but they traveled comfortable without any fear evoked by the Arabs living there.

With all this in mind, I traveled with my wife and our friend to Hebron. The bus was bulletproof and the drive into the West Bank was interesting. The view consisted of more than lots of checkpoints, fences, and walls. There were beautiful fields and vineyards and lots of green hills. The Torah says that Hebron, the least fertile area of Israel is seven times more fertile than than the most fertile land of Mitzrayim (Egypt). The bus winded down the narrow rubble filled streets of Hebron up to the military checkpoint. We got off and observe an IDF soldier with his M-16 drawn aimed in the direction of a house behind us. He starts yelling and I wasn't sure If I should run back onto the bus, or run to the Cave. Then he lowered his weapon and we became our walk to the Cave HaMachpela.

I don't think Ive ever seen photos of Me'arat HaMachpela but I knew there was a mosque there. An acquaintance of mine said that its overrated to go there and you feel like you are praying in a mosque and there is no holiness there. His words to me weren't even worth a grain of salt, more like a grain of sand but nothing would prepare me for my first view of the Caves. The mosque is huge, like a fortress, and it was very intimidating as I walked towards it. Once we got inside and saw the tombs I was in awe. Unless you are able to read Arabic, you would never know it was a mosque as Arabic looks like fancy artistic decoration. The holiness was like a weight on me leaving me in awe and my yetzer hara powerless over me. I davened mincha in the kever of Avraham Avinu and Sarah Emanu and it was one of the most joyous times of prayer I have ever experienced. There was an absolute connection between my sour and HaKodesh Barachu in the merit of our Father and Mother. After davening i said the prayer for when you visit Me'arat HaMachpela which brought me to tears as I stared at the Stone Marker of Avraham.

The whole experience was overpowering and so fulfilling for my soul. This experience I recommend for any Jew, especially one who is searching to connect closer to HaKodesh Barachu. Ignore what anyone tells you about the danger because Hashem will keep you safe on your journey and anyone that has actually been there can attest to the experience out waying the apparent risk of coming to Hebron. Chazel and any Chacham for that matter can attest to the benefit of visiting the graves of Tzaddikim, not just spiritually, but also physically. Hebron is a special place that will forever resonate in my heart and mind. I look forward to the next opportunity to visit such a holy place as Me'arat HaMachpela.

Next blog: Tzfas and the Holiest Mikvah on Earth.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Shabbos with Belz

(Courtesy of

Shabbos in Belz was something unlike anything I have ever experienced. We began our walk to Kiryat Belz which would become a 10 mile walk on Friday night of Shabbos. Looking back on the experience, I think I could have walked 15 miles, but I cant speak for my wife. I had seen pictures and even a video of the Belz synagogue, also know as the Belz HaMikdash, but nothing could truely prepare me for the view with my own eyes. Before you even get to the Shul, you see it towering over the other buildings consuming the hill it sits on. In the distance you can see a replica of 770, but the Belz Hamikdash owns all eyes. Ive been to some very larges shuls but this shul has to be, if not the largest shul in the world, then at least in the top three or five. It sits six thousand men with two stories for woman and when we davened there, it was standing room only so there had to be at least seven thousand people inside daven together.

Everyone was trying to get to the front of the shul so they could sneak a look at the Rebbe and I was no different. In all my times davening in Eretz Yisroel I noticed a trend of davening slow that seems to be non existant in Chutzla Eretz. Still even where I have soaked up a 20 minute Shemoni Esreh, nothing could have prepared me for Belz. Belz walks a tight rope with grace and beauty between "This davening is to fast" and This davening is to slow" called "This davening is Juuust Right".

Now how do you suppose the Shliach Tzibur commands these thousands of Chasidim? He has an asistant on the bimah with a large wooden stick and a leather bag filled with sand. Every time they finish a section of the prayer "WHAP", and they continue onto the next section. The davening was beauitful, the niggunim were soulful and Lecha Dodi was the climax with a chorus of men and young boys singing.

I never felt rushed or that I needed to race through the davening just so I could keep up with the Minyan. I felt that, at least for Shabbos there was no rushing these Chasidim to finish their prayer. I felt comfortable and truly enjoyed my davening to the fullest which is something that is a rarety where I live.

*Note: Today's Rosh Chodesh Shachris was very enjoyable and I felt like I back in Eretz Yisroel for a few moments.

After the davening was done I decided I was going to meet the Rebbe no matter what. Well, I wasnt the only one with that Idea. Ive never been in the presense of a Rebbe with this large of a following and what I witnesed made me realize why Chasidic groups like Belz, Ger, Satmar, and Vizhnitz are so large.

The Rebbe proceeded to shake each and every hand that passed by. His Chasidim, others Chasidim, Non-Chasidim, Non-Religous even. It was a beauitful sight as I stepped in line. As I waited in line with my friend I realized I wanted to ask him for a bracha but realized I dont speak Hebrew OR Yiddish Oy! Luckily my friend is fluent in more than one language and gave me the tools I needed to ask the Rebbe for a bracha for children in Yiddish. As I neared the Rebbe reverence consumed me and my Yetzer Hara was weakening by the footstep. It was my turn and I scurried towards him. I looked at him and when our hands connected my whole mind wiped clean on any evil inclination. It also wipped clear of any thought period and I almost forgot how to speak my Yiddishe pharse. I got it out B"H and he looked at me and smiled and nodded his head. Im not sure if that means I got a bracha from the Belzer Rebbe, but it sure means I asked for one. After that moment I was on this spiritual high till I unlocked the door in Har Nof and passed out in my bed. It was such an experience to travel to a Tzaddik, daven in his presense, and meet with him even if for just a moment.

After that we walked to Ramat Eshkol by French Hill then to Kiryat Moshe to drop off our friends and then to Har Noff. Total must have been over 10 miles but when you are lifted up by a tzaddik, its like you arent even walking.