Monday, October 16, 2017

Wisdom from the Gentiles: John Steinbeck

I always come back to Steinbeck who was of German, English, and Irish decent.

“And now that you don't have to be perfect, you can be good.”
John Steinbeck, East of Eden

“But the Hebrew word, the word timshel—‘Thou mayest’— that gives a choice. It might be the most important word in the world. That says the way is open. That throws it right back on a man. For if ‘Thou mayest’—it is also true that ‘Thou mayest not.”
John Steinbeck, East of Eden

“All war is a symptom of man's failure as a thinking animal.”
John Steinbeck

“To be alive at all is to have scars. ”
John Steinbeck, The Winter of Our Discontent

“A sad soul can kill you quicker, far quicker, than a germ.”
John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: In Search of America

“I believe a strong woman may be stronger than a man, particularly if she happens to have love in her heart. I guess a loving woman is indestructible.”
John Steinbeck, East of Eden

Wednesday, October 11, 2017


You might think that fear of Heaven nullifies the self. We say each morning, what is my power, what is my knowledge? Compared to that of Hashem, our power is nothing. But that's not all there is to self. As we strip away the identity of our power, we reveal a different self, a religious self. And we reveal this as well when we recognize the greatness of G-d. After all, we are created in His image. So as He grows in our awareness, our creation in His image grows. Fear of Heaven is accompanied by self-respect.

We need this self-respect to avoid sin. If a person sees himself as garbage, what's to stop him from acting like that? But if he is aware of his own dignity, then he has good reason not sin so as not to offend his own dignity. Dignity matters in halacha. If one spots a lost object in the sewer, he is not obligated to crawl into the sludge to get it. Dignity is not ego. Everyone is entitled to dignity. We say each morning, Who crowns man with tiferes. Rav Hirsch translates this as honor. One must keep this in mind as he engages musar teachings, as he hears of concepts like mesiras nefesh. All of it must be done with dignity. This is not the same as pursuing honor. A dignified person looks dignified even when dishonored. The mitzvos should give a man dignity and he'll need that dignity to pursue the mitzvos.

Along these lines we recognize that the physical always follows the spiritual and dignity is a kind of physicality. The Rambam says that a mitzvah pushes off Torah study. This is not a random requirement and not one to bemoan. As R' Avigdor Miller notes, mitzvos implant the message of Torah within us. This is why kiddush is accompanied by wine, to give the words of kiddush importance in our hearts. R' Yaakov Emden says that Torah not studied in order to be acted upon is not Torah study. We need mitzvos to give life to our Torah. Torah needs mitzvos just as mitzvos need Torah. So too, fear of Heaven is followed by dignity. 

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Yekke YK

I davened in the Ashkenaz shul in Beitar this Yom Kippur. I hadn't experienced a Yekke YK before and found some refreshing characteristics. First of all, the nigunim are cheerier. As someone put it, there's a bounciness to the Yekke davening. It's much less sad. Now maybe you like sad. That's fine. I prefer this. Along those lines, the Chazan never weeps, something I always found to be a bit too personal for the prayer leader to be doing. And the best surprise of all was the shamos at the end. Rather than shout, Hashem hu El-okim, the Chazan sings it, first quietly and then gradually louder, but never shouting. As my host said to me, a Yekke rav never shouts. It's undignified. Look there are different styles. Many people today crave emotional davening. It's the Carlebach generation. The Yekke davening seems to strive more for dignity and respect. I find it to be saner and a more productive religious experience.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Linked Article: Rabbi Shimon Schwab: Values and Views - Dr. Yitzchok Levine

"Several months ago – in the columns of December, January, February, and March – we dealt with the early life of Rav Shimon Schwab, zt”l, his studies in Telshe and Mir, his serving as a rabbi in Bavaria, his leaving Germany due to threats on his life by the Nazis, his escape to America, and his serving as rabbi of Congregation Shearith Israel in Baltimore from 1936 to 1958.

"In 1958 Rabbi Schwab was invited to join Rabbi Dr. Yoseph Breuer, zt”l, as associate rav of the German-Jewish community in Manhattan’s Washington Heights, Khal Adath Jeshurun. This community is widely regarded as the spiritual “continuation” of the pre-war Frankfurt kehilla."

continue reading Rabbi Shimon Schwab: Values and Views - Dr. Yitzchok Levine