Helping Klal Yisroel with Torah, Avodah and Gemillas Chassadim

Agudath Israel of America, recently shared a Kol Korei from the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of America:

Jewish blood viciously spilled like water in the Holy Land; precious b’nei Tziyon killed sanctifying Hashem’s Name; interlopers coming into Hashem’s land.
We are cloaked in misery because of the pain to our nation.

In light of this, we call out to Klal Yisroel to strengthen ourselves in the foundations of our people, the pillars of the world: Torah, Avodah, and Gemillas Chassadim.
Let us gather in multitudes to pour our hearts out in prayer and to beseech our Father in Heaven, and to fervently recite chapters 83, 130, and 142 of Tehillim each day.
Women, too, should recite these chapters.

Hashem accepts the prayers of the broken and humble – may our words find favor before Him. May Hashem hear our cry and accept with mercy our prayers and speedily send Moshiach.

Now is a great time to start Shnayim Mikra V’Echod Targum, which is reading the weekly Torah portion twice in Hebrew and its translation once.

The Shulchan Aruch and Mishna Berurah describe different levels of performing Shanyim Mikra, but here’s the easiest way which will enable you to perform it and achieve its spiritual growth benefits:
1) Read out load the Parsha in Hebrew during the week to fulfill the first Hebrew reading.
2) Learn he Art Scroll translation in English during the week (It’s best to verbalize what you read). This fulfills the translation component.
3) On Shabbos, during the public leining read along out loud quietly to fulfill the second Hebrew reading.

Each week counts as a separate mitzvah so don’t fret if you miss a week.

Check out

Rabbi Jonathan Rietti was kind enough to allow us to post the outline here, but you can purchase the entire outline of the Chumash for the low price of $11.95 for yourself and your family.

#1 Creation of the Universe
#2 Creation of Man
#3 The Snake
#4 Cain Kills Hevel
#5 Ten Generations of Adam
#6 Warning of Global Destruction

#1 Creation of the Universe
1st Day: Heaven-Earth – Light-Darkness
2nd Day: Rakia is split
3rd Day: Land-Sea & Vegetation
4th Day: Sun-Moon & Stars
5th Day: Fish-Birds-Creepies – Blessing to Multiply
6th Day: Animals – Man-Dominate-Tzelem-Blessing to Multiply. 

#2 Creation of Man
* Shabbat – Heavens and Earth complete 
* Rain-Man
* Creation of Adam & Chava
* Located in Gan Eden
* Tree of Life & Tree of Knowledge of Good and Negative
* Four Rivers: 1) Pishon; 2) Gihon; 3) Hidekel (Tigris); 4) Euphrates
* One Command: “Don’t eat from Tree of Knowledge or you will die!”
* Not Good To Be Alone
* No Companion – Adam Names all the animals
* Sleep
* Chava Created
* Naked

#3 The Snake
* Snake was Cunning
* Chava Ate
* Adam Ate
* Eyes opened-Clothes
* “Where Are You?”
* Adam blames Wife – G-d
* Chava blames snake
* The Snake’s Curse: Most cursed, Legless, Eat dust, Hated, Slide.
* Woman’s Curse: Pain in Pregnancy, Childbirth, Child-Raising, Husband will Dominate.
* Man’s Curse: Ground is cursed, Sweat from toil, Death-return to dust
* Man names his wife ‘Chava’
* Expulsion from Gan Eden

#4 Cain Kills Hevel
* Hevel’s offering
* HaShem rejects Cain’s offering
* “Why are you depressed? Pick yourself up and start again!”
* Cain kills Hevel
* Cain is cursed – Wanderer
* Cain’s children: Chanoch & Lemech-City named Chanoch
* Chanoch – Irad – M’huyael – Metusha’el – Lamech marries Adda & Tzilah.
* Adda mothers Yaval & Yuval (Yaval is first nomad, Yuval makes musical instruments).
* Tzilah mothers Tuval Cain – (he invents weapons and metal works)
* Tzilah mothers Naama
* Adam reunites with Chava – Shet

#5 Ten Generations of Adam
1st Gen. Adam 930
2nd Gen. Shet 912
3rd Gen. Enosh 905
4th Gen. Keinan 910
5th Gen. Mehalalel 895
6th Gen. Yered 962
7th Gen. Chanoch 365
8th Gen. Metushelach 969
9th Gen. Lemech 777
10th Gen. Noach-Shem-Cham-Yafet

#6 Warning of Global Destruction
* Population explosion
* Fallen Angels take women
* 120 year life limit
* Titans
* Man’s entire agenda was wickedness all day!
* Decree to destroy entire world except Noach

Shavuos – Not Just Another Uber Driver

The Talmud relates [Pesachim 68b] that Rav Yosef would make a tremendous party on Shavuos. He would say, “If not for this special day (on which the Torah was given), look how many Yosefs there are in the market place”. Rabbi Frand explains “If not for the fact that I as a Jew have that precious gift of Torah, I would literally be ‘just another Joe'”.

On an Uber drive a few years ago, one of my kids got into a discussion with the driver about Judaism. The driver was amazed that a Torah Observant Jew can’t eat whatever they want, can’t wear whatever they want, can’t say whatever they want and can’t do whatever they want. The driver remarked that he does basically anything that he wants.

What the driver missed, and what we often take for granted, is that basic Torah observance, Shabbos, kashrus, etc, makes us great. Chazal teach that Hashem created man with a yetzer hara for desire, egocentricity and laziness and only by following the antidote of Torah and its commandments, can we rise above our base nature and become great human beings, with the possibility of connecting to people and connecting to Hashem with all our actions. When we heed the directives and follow the mitzvos of the Torah we unify the world and create a reality in which “Hashem will be One and His Name will be One”.

The Mesillas Yesharim is structured around the beraisa of R. Pinchas ben Yair which states:
“Torah leads to Watchfulness; Zeal; Cleanliness; Separation; Purity; Saintliness; Humility; Fear of Sin; Holiness; Divine Inspiration; the Revival of the Dead.” It starts with Torah and every step is infused with different aspects of the Torah: the warnings of the Torah, the mitzvos of the Torah, the learning of the Torah, the middos of the Torah and more.

Shavuos is the time for us to raise our commitment to Torah and to growing well beyond an Uber driver in the marketplace. Chag Someach!

The Shul Zoom Boom

It’s been a long haul for us Shul lovers. But we’re making the best out of difficult situation, thanks in part to technology, and particularly Zoom.

Our first use of Zoom was for online Kiddushim. A small group of us joins a Zoom meeting before Shabbos and we share a L’chaim, some words of Torah, and a discussion of the issues of the day. It’s usually about 20 minutes long. It’s not the same as a Shabbos Kiddush, but we look forward to it and it keeps us connected on a weekly basis.

We’ve also had a few Zoom life cycle events. We’ve had a vort, a wedding, and unfortunately there have been levayas and shiva visits. Of course it’s not the same as the in-person equivalents, but it does enable a degree of connect to the baal simcha or aveilah.

Another use of Zoom is for our daily Shacharis minyan. Someone davens, saying every brocha and the beginning and ending of every paragraph out loud. There are no Devarim Shel Kedusha as it is not a halachic minyan. We pace it consistently and many people have found it very helpful for their Kavana.

This cycle of the Daf Yomi has seen two major changes. More people in our Shul are learning the Daf and the OU Daf app ( has been a tremendous additional asset. All of our Shul Daf Yomi shiurim are functioning on Zoom. Despite the availability of the OU Daf resources, people like their shiur leaders and their chaburas, and continue to attend them on Zoom. We’ve also continued all our weekly shiurim, given by members of our shul via Zoom.

Perhaps the most impactful use of Zoom has been our Rav’s online Zoom shiurim. He gives shiurim from Sunday to Thursday at 7:30 p.m. for about 30 minutes. We get very nice attendance and it’s a real chizuk to see many fellow members on a regular basis. At the end of the shiur we unmute everybody and we shmoose for a few minutes with the Rav greeting everybody in attendance. It’s a great experience and I wonder how we’ll use Zoom to supplement the live shiurim when we return.

We anxiously await returning to Shul, but we’re thankful that Hashem has provided us with the Zoom refuah in the face of our quarantine machala.

Cross Posted from

The Internet, The Smartphone and my Deepening Connection to Rabbi Uziel Milevsky zt”l

The first time I heard Rabbi Uziel Milevsky zt”l speak was at a Rosh Hoshana program close to 30 years ago. Over the years I have read his two published works: “The Ohr Someach Haggadah” and “Ner Uziel – Perspectives on the Parsha”, a number of times. Rabbi Milevsky received smicha from Ner Yisrael, served as Chief Rabbi of Mexico and taught Torah at Ohr Somayach in Yerushalayim and Toronto. Unfortunately he passed away at the young age of 50 on December 31, 1992.

These days I feel fortune to feel more connected to Rabbi Milevsky due to the following set of circumstances:
1) Ohr Somayach taped his lectures from his Chumash classes over 30 years ago,
2) Ohr Somayach converted the tapes to mp3 and offered them for sale on the Internet.
3) Ohr Somayach made its entire audio library available for free.
4) I now download his available Chumash classes every week and since my phone is also a mp3 player, I have Rabbi Milevsky teaching me Torah where ever I go.

What I appreciate the most about Rabbi Milevsky’s parsha classes is that he is looking to say pshat on a posuk, a Rashi, a Ramban or other commentator. He will often say a chiddush but it is always based on sources and is well grounded. Give him a listen to at .

I want to also thank Ohr Somayach for freeing up their library which was a source of revenue at some point.

In 1984, at the first Hackers Conference, Stewart Brand told Apple co-founder, Steve Wozniak: “On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it’s so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. So you have these two fighting against each other.”

If this is true of secular knowledge, how much more so for Torah, which has can changed so many of our lives. There really is no reason we can’t be listening to Torah an hour or two a day thanks to our Smartphones, the Internet, and the proliferation of free Torah sites.

So please make your way to or or or or or
and load up your phone. It’s also appropriate to donate to the sites from which you benefit.

PSSD: Post Shavuos Stress Disorder

After spending an inspiring Shavuos, I often find myself a little overwhelmed. While most of us get stressed out about getting home on time for Shabbos, or all the preparation that goes into Pesach, I find the days after Shavuos to be stressful. Cheesecake aside, the magnitude of spending an entire evening engaged in Torah study and celebrating our acceptance of that Torah, is awesome.

I find the “high” I get after spending a night learning Torah or listening to a lecture is something I want to hold on to, forever. I want to take it, bottle it, and hide it away for the times when I feel challenged with my learning or my davening. For me, I find it stressful. As I walked home, Shavuos morning, from a night of intellectual and emotional stimulation I had questions running in my mind: What should I learn and where do I start? Who am I to even attempt to get “into learning”? When will I find time?

For some reason my mind wondered back to something I had heard from Rabbi Baruch Klein (Far Rockaway). He said, in the name of the Chofetz Chaim, that the secret to staying inspired is found in the Shema. The Torah says in Devarim (Deuteronomy 6:6): “And these matters that I command you today shall be upon your heart.” All of my answers, according to the Chofetz Chaim, are in this one verse.

What should I learn and where do I start? “And these matters” refers to words of Torah. It really doesn’t matter if you are starting out with Alef-Beis, Chumash, or the laws of Shabbos. Any way that you can increase your Jewish knowledge and grow closer to Hashem is fantastic!! Don’t fall into the trap of there being “too much” to learn. Just pick up a book, go to a class, or go online to any link featured at BeyondBT.

Who am I to even attempt to get “into learning”? It’s easy to look at FFBs or even BTs who have years of Torah learning behind them and think, “There’s no way I can ever catch up to everyone else. I feel like I’m so far behind.” “That I command you” the verse says. Who commands me? Hashem is commanding us. Learning Torah, davening, grown in mitzvah observance all about having a relationship with Hashem. It really doesn’t matter what everyone else is doing or what their background is. By definition, a Baal Teshuva is one who goes against the way they were raised or against lifestyle they grew up in. We start off so headstrong and sure of ourselves, yet as we “settle into” yiddishkeit, it’s easy to get caught up the status quo.

When will I find time? “Today” is as good a time as any. Don’t tell yourself you don’t have any time. Remember the Nike commercials: JUST DO IT.

“Shall be upon your heart” means that then entire verse should be constantly in our thoughts throughout the day. Torah is meant to become part of us. Torah Judaism is more that just a lifestyle or a set of laws. It is something that is entwined within the fabric of our being. The opportunities to get close to Hashem are not confined to a night of Shavuos. It’s everyday. It every bracha we choose to make, every kind word we say about another person, and every time we remember that we are connected to Hashem.

Thanks to Rabbi Klein and the Chofetz Chaim, I’m feeling less stressed.

Originally Posted June, 2006

Sefiras Ha’Omer- Why We Count, What We Count

Rabbi Ben Tzion Shafier

Sefiras Ha’Omer- Why We Count, What We Count – Parshas Emor

“And you shall count for yourselves from the day after the rest day, from the day when you bring the Omer of the waving — seven weeks, they shall be complete.” — Vayikra 23:15

Sefer HaChinuch: The Torah commands us to count the Omer so we can relive the Exodus from Mitzrayim. Just as the Jews back then anxiously anticipated the great day when they were to receive the Torah, so too we count the days till Shavuos, the Yom Tov that commemorates the giving of the Torah. To the Jews then, accepting the Torah on Har Sinai was even greater than their redemption from slavery. So we count each day to bring ourselves to that sense of great enthusiasm, as if to say, “When will that day come?”

With these words the Sefer HaChinuch defines the mitzvah of Sefiras HaOmer. The difficulty with this is the statement that “to the Jews then, receiving of the Torah was even greater than being freed from slavery.” It seems hard to imagine that anything would be greater to a slave than being freed. This concept is even more perplexing when we envision what it was like to be a slave in Mitzrayim.

A life of suffering and bloodshed

The life of a Jew in Mitzrayim was one of misery and suffering. They had no rights. They had no life. They couldn’t own property, choose their own destiny, or protect their own children. They didn’t even have the right to their own time. A Mitzri could at any moment demand a Jew’s utter and complete compliance to do his bidding. If a Jew walked in the streets, it was every Mitzri’s right to whisk him away, without question and without recourse, and force him into slave labor for whatever he saw fit.

Waking in the early morning to the crack of the Mitzri’s whip, the Jews were pushed to the limit of human endurance till late at night when they fell asleep in the fields. Without rest, without breaks, the Jews lugged heavy loads and lifted huge rocks. Sweat, tears, and bloodshed were their lot. In the heat of the sweltering sun and in the cold of the desert night, at the risk of life and limb, the Jew was oppressed with a demon-like fury. A beast of burden is treated wisely to ensure its well-being, but not the Jew. He was pushed beyond all limits. Finally, when Pharaoh was asked to let the Jewish people go, he increased their load, taking it from the impossible to the unimaginable.

How could anything in the world be more desirable to the Jews than freedom? How could it be that anything, even something as great as receiving the Torah, could mean more to them than being redeemed from slavery?

What the Jews experienced by living through the makkos

The answer to this question lies in understanding the great level of clarity that the Jews reached by living through the makkos and the splitting of the sea.

For ten months, each Jew saw with ever-increasing clarity that HASHEM created, maintains, and orchestrates this world. With absolute certainty, they experienced HASHEM’s presence in their lives. This understanding brought to them to recognize certain core cognitions.

Every human has inborn understandings. Often times they are masked and subdued. Whether by environment or by desire, the human spends much of his life running from the truths that he deeply knows. When the Jews in Mitzrayim experienced HASHEM’s power and goodness, they understood the purpose of Creation. They knew that we are creations, put on this planet for a reason. We were given a great opportunity to grow, to accomplish, to mold ourselves into who we will be for eternity. We have a few short, precious years here, and then forever we will enjoy that which we have accomplished. Because they so clearly experienced HASHEM, their view of existence was changed. They “got it.”

Because of this, the currency with which they measured all good changed. They recognized that the greatest good ever bestowed upon man is the ability to change, to mold himself into something different so that he will merit to cling to HASHEM. They recognized that everything that we humans value as important pales in comparison to the opportunity to grow close to HASHEM. Because they understood this point so vividly, to them the greatest good possible was the receiving of the Torah — G-d’s word, the ultimate spiritual experience.

And so, while they anxiously anticipated the redemption from slavery as a great good that would free them from physical oppression, they valued the reason they were being freed even more. They were to receive the Torah.

Davening is me talking to HASHEM; learning is HASHEM talking to me

This concept has great relevance in our lives, as we have the ability to tap into this instinctive knowledge of the importance of learning. When a person gets caught up in the temporal nature of this world, the currency with which he rates things changes. The value system now becomes honor, power, career, or creature comforts. That is what he views as good, and that is what he desires. The more a person involves himself in these, the more important they become, and the less precious the Torah becomes. Our natural appreciation of Torah becomes clouded over by other desires and an ever-changing value system.

However, the more a person focuses on his purpose in the world, the more he values the Torah. He recognizes it as the formula for human perfection. He now sees the Torah as the ultimate gift given to man because it is both the guide and the fuel to propel his growth. With this changed perspective, the very value system with which he measures things changes, and now his appreciation, love, and desire to learn increase until finally he becomes aligned with that which HASHEM created him for — perfection and closeness to HASHEM .

For more on this topic please listen to Shmuz #166 – Sefiras HaOmer –

Rabbi Shafier is the founder of the – The Shmuz is an engaging, motivating shiur that deals with real life issues.

All of the Shmuzin are available free of charge at or on the Shmuz App for iphone or Android. Simply text the word “TheShmuz” to the number 313131 and a link will be sent to your phone to download the App.

The Torah Teaches Us How to Think

From – The Path of the BT by Rav Itamar Shwartz.

As we mentioned, a person is divided in general, into three parts: actions, feelings, and thoughts. Often a person’s feelings seem very positive to him, even as his outward actions tell a different story. How many secular Jews say, “In my heart, I serve the Creator. I am a good Jew.” He helps everybody, even thieves. In his heart a person thinks that if he has good feelings, everything is fine.

Chazal said,[7] “Anyone who is compassionate to those who are cruel, will end up being cruel to those who are compassionate.” But what can I do if I feel in my heart that it’s good to be kind to those who are cruel as well? Is that a good feeling, or not? According to my logic, is it good to have mercy on a cruel person? Sure. Such a person is the most miserable person around. He is cruel! He is terribly unfortunate.

But Chazal teach us that a person should not always go where his natural instincts may lead him. The emotions need another source of direction. How do I know which feelings are positive and which are negative? According to how it seems to me? Not at all. If there is no brain, then the heart is not a true heart either. The emotions, too, are not the proper emotions. In order to know whether our feelings are correct, we need to learn, and if we learn, we will know what our feelings should be. In that case, let us begin with the learning.

An average person living in our world, whose place is not in the beis medrash, who is not part of the Torah world, barely uses his mind. A majority of people, obviously, think about what to do, what not to do, when to get up, when to buy things and what to buy, but the brain is barely put to use. A small percentage of people study in various institutions of learning, and their brains are also at work. But how long do they “stay in” learning? Two or three years, maybe even four or five? During the course of a lifetime, are they constantly learning? It is very rare to find, in the outside world, people whose brains are working at learning during their entire lifetimes. In the best case scenario, they may be learning for several years.

On the other hand, a person who sits in the beis medrash, his brain must continue to toil until his dying day. There is never a time when he is exempt from studying Torah. Whether he is young or old, whether he is healthy or ill, as the Rambam[8] says, he must learn Torah until the day he dies.

In order to understand this, we first need to understand the power of Torah learning. So long as a person is on the outside of the Torah world, he has no inkling that to become part of that world involves building a world of the intellect.

He thinks that to become a baal teshuvah means to do whatever must be done. Whatever the Rav tells him to do, he’ll do. It would be wonderful if everyone did that! But that’s only a small part of becoming a baal teshuvah. You cannot remain bound to the Rav like a child tied to his mother’s apron strings; obeying everything he says. In the beginning he will tell you what to do, but little by little, you must build and begin to think yourself.

When you enter the world of Torah, it’s not only a change in what to do and what not to do, as we mentioned earlier. An additional, basic change (that must be made) is to understand that “Yisroel were His first thoughts to be created.”[9] Chazal said, “Who did Hashem, so to speak, think of to create first? The Jewish Nation.”

In other words, the power of the Jewish nation is that they are ‘the first of the thought.’ They are the true power of thought that exists in Creation! That is the secret of the holy Torah; that it is the wisdom of the Creator, given specifically to the Jewish nation.

The Torah is made up of three parts. One part of Torah is the commandments that a Jew must fulfill. That is the aspect of fulfilling the Torah in action. The second part of Torah is to study it. The Torah is wisdom, it is a body of knowledge. The third part of Torah is to build the emotions based on true thought patterns.

Entrance into the world of Torah is, on the one hand, entrance into a world of action. What must I do, and what is forbidden to me? That is true. But another part of the world into which he has entered, which is often unclear at the beginning of the path, and is also often unclear in the middle of the way, and even sometimes until the end, is that he has entered a world that builds the power of thought in a person.

It is clear that entrance to the world of Torah means building something new in the brain. This is similar to building a new home. Everyone, upon entering the world of Torah, whether he is a young child growing up, or someone who has led a superficial existence, and then enters into it, must understand one principle. On the one hand, we must build up our active fulfillment of the laws– what is permitted, what is forbidden, what are we obligated to do. On the other hand, he is building a new home! In the words of the passuk,[10] “Through wisdom is a house built.” In a deep sense, building the mind of a person is like building a home inside of him.

To build a brain means that a person understands, first of all, that the business of Torah is not only to learn in order to do, although it is the main thing. In addition, however, he understands that he learns in order to build his intellect.

Introduction to Learning Gemora

In July 2009, my Partners in Torah chavrusa wanted to learn Gemora. We started learning the second perek of Bava Metzia about returning lost objects. We used Art Scroll for the basic flow and translation and then we discussed in depth on each step of the Gemora. It caused a good deal of brain pain and he enjoyed it.

Here is the outline I prepared when we got started.

1) Purpose of Torah Study
– Understand the practical law and the commandments
– Seeking the essence, relationships and connections of all things, in every area of life, in this world and beyond.

2) Components (See Appendix)
– Written Torah – 24 Books – Torah (5), Prophets (8), Writings (11)
– Oral Torah – Mishna, Talmud
– Commentaries, Halachic Works

3) Chain of Transmission
– Moshe, Joshua, Elders, Prophets (Described in the 24 books of the Written Torah)
– Great Assembly, (transition from Written to Oral Torah)
– Tannaim (literally the “repeaters”) are the sages of the Mishnah (70–200)
– Amoraim (literally the “sayers”) are the sages of the Gemara (200–500)
– Savoraim (literally the “reasoners”) are the classical Persian rabbis (500–600)
– Geonim (literally the “prides” or “geniuses”) are the rabbis of Sura and Pumbeditha, in Babylonia (650–1050)
– Rishonim (literally the “firsts”) are the rabbis of the early medieval period (1050–1550) preceding the Shulchan Aruch
– Acharonim (literally the “lasts”) are the rabbis of 1550 to the present.

4) Two Elements of Talmudic Study
– Understanding the steps of the discussion as described in the Elements
– Trying to discern new insights and a deeper understanding of the principles (Havana)

5) Seven Elements in the Steps of Talmudic Discussions
– Statement – an idea is expressed
– Question – requesting for information
– Answer – responding to a question
– Contradiction – disproving a statement or idea and totally refuting it
– Proof – presenting evidence from which the truth of a statement or idea is apparent
– Difficulty – pointing out something untrue or unpleasing about a statement or idea
– Resolution – turning aside a difficulty against a statement or idea

6) Understanding the Steps
– A Gemora statement consists of a subject and a predicate, which is information about the subject. For example, Women are obligated in the mitzvah of kiddush. Women is the subject and “obligated in the mitzvah of kiddush” is the predicate”.
– The Gemora often chooses unusual cases to highlight the boundaries of the subjects and predicates and the principles involved.
– Rashi’s commentary helps us understand the cases and the steps.

7) Deeper Understanding
– Torah learning often involves reconciling contradictions within the Gemora.
– Tosfos’ commentary points out additional contradictions from other Gemoras and reconciles contradictions.
– This process of reconciling contradictions gives us a deeper understanding of the principles.

Originally published July, 2009

Appendix (Mostly from Wikipedia)
Read more Introduction to Learning Gemora

The Power of Great Torah Teaching in Great Neck

When my wife and were becoming observant, more that 25 years ago, we lived in Manhasset Hills on the North Shore of Long Island. However much of our initial Torah growth occurred in Great Neck under the tutelage of Rabbi Yaakov Lerner and Rebbetzin Abby Lerner of the Young Israel of Great Neck. I would drive about 10 minutes every morning to attend Rabbi Lerner’s weekday 6:00 AM Gemora shiur, followed by Shacharis. It was too far to walk, so on Shabbos I davened in a minyan in the basement of the Shelter Rock Jewish Center in Searingtown.

I still remember to this day Rabbi Lerner’s amazing ability to teach a Tosfos in a way that a beginner like myself at the time, could understand. In addition to his teaching and Rabbinic responsibility at the YIGN, Rabbi Lerner has been running Project Identity since 1981, which provides beginners classes in Torah, Reading Hebrew and Prayer. Our initial connection to Rabbi Lerner was through Project Identity.

I saw Rabbi and Rebbetzin Lerner at the Chupah of a Manahasset Hills friend’s daughter this past Sunday. We do run in to each other on occasion, but we spent some extra time talking, and he updated me on the amazing growth of YIGN and some of the amazing Baalei Teshuva that have joined the Shul. Many are extremely successful professionals who have directed their talents and passions to Torah and Communal Service.

One of the most amazing thing about Rabbi Lerner and Project Identity, is there is no active Kiruv, just the teaching of Torah and the sharing of our wonderful heritage with Jews who have not had that opportunity. Of course many people, like my wife and myself, become more observant and are helped in that journey, but the connection is established through the teaching and learning of Torah.

With the “search for truth” kiruv of the 60s, 70s. 80s, and the more self-centered “happiness kiruv” of the 90s, 00s. 10s waning, perhaps it’s time to focus on the pure unadulterated teaching of Torah. The one small wrinkle is that Rabbi Lerner’s love, and passion and skill at teaching Torah, are is difficult to match. It would be useful for the community to model the teaching skills of our great communal Rabbis so we can try to teach it to others.

The Mystical Magic of “When The Ox Gores the Cow”

The following story appeared in Rabbi Frand’s parsha archives:

I will tell you over a story that I heard from a prominent individual who works in Jewish Outreach.

When he was he was newly married, and studying at a Rabbinic seminary in Israel, he couldn’t afford an apartment in the desirable sections of Jerusalem. Therefore he bought one in what was then an outlying section, in a building where he was the only observant, religious Jews. All of the other residents were Israelis who were not religious. He went over to them and started building relationships. He invited every one of them to come once a week to his apartment to learn. After trying, he finally got several to come to learn, but he had not picked a topic.

What would he learn with non-religious Israelis? In a certain sense non-religious Israelis are even more removed from Judaism, and have more negative attitudes towards Jewish learning, than unaffiliated Jews in America. So he deliberated his options: something philosophical, like Maimonides’ Guide to the Perplexed, or a work which discusses the Jewish faith in comparison to others, like the Kuzari… he didn’t know what he was going to learn.

He went to morning prayers and there, as Hashgocha (Divine Providence) would have it, he met the famous Uri Zohar. Uri Zohar was Israel’s foremost entertainer: comedian, television game-show and radio talk-show host, social satirist, movie star, and film producer, and an icon of modern Israeli secular society. Then, in the midst of his career, he turned towards religion, eventually becoming fully observant. [For more information, read Waking Up Jewish by Uri Zohar, which is available through Genesis Judaica.]

He asked Uri Zohar what he should learn with these neighbors. R’ Uri asked him, “What are you learning in Yeshiva?” The Rabbi responded that he was learning Bava Kamma. Uri Zohar told him “Learn with them tractate Bava Kamma”.

The Rabbi looked at him incredulously and said “Bava Kamma? The ox that gores a cow; The Pit; The Ox; Fire that damages?… This will turn people on to Judaism?”

To which Uri Zohar responded “My dear friend, you don’t believe in Torah! If you can question and doubt that learning with them tractate Bava Kamma is going to bring them back — then you don’t fully believe and appreciate the power of Torah.”

Learn pure, unadulterated, “the Four Major Types of Damages” (Arba avos nezikin). You do not need to learn philosophical works such as Kuzari and Moreh Nevuchim. Learn about the Ox that gores the cow. It does something to the soul. It is mystical. It is magical. It is the nourishment that the soul thirsts for, and a teacher needs nothing more.

To this day, what does the Rabbi learn with beginning adult students? Tractate Bava Kamma.

That is what this Medrash says about Aharon. He returned sinners to Torah study. The power of Torah will prevail.

Ad kann l’shono (end of his story).

I am afraid that I share the same doubts with the Rabbi in this story. Having grown up on the Talmud since grade school, I don’t have the perspective of being exposed to it for the first time as a thinking, questioning adult, and it does surprise me to hear that learning “Arba Avos Nezikin” as someone’s first exposure to learning Torah would stir their soul. This represents a significant paradigm shift for me. So I would love to hear corroboration, comments or otherwise from those coming from a different perspective than me.

Originally published on Feb 19, 2009

Enhance Your Talmud Learning Skills With a Free App, Free Videos and a Three in One Translation

In Derech Hashem, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato (Ramchal) explains that the most powerful positive spiritual influences are brought into this world through the learning of Torah. The deeper one understands Torah, the more powerful the spiritual influence brought down. One of the primary ways to get a deeper understanding of Torah is the learning of Gemora.

If you would like to enhance your Gemora Learning Skills there are some new tools to help you. The first one is the release of the Way of Torah, which contains new translations of three of the Ramchal’s works on learning, thinking and speaking in one volume:
The Way of Reason
The Book of Logic
The Book of Words

The book was translated and annotated by Rabbi David Sackton and Rabbi Chaim Tscholkowksy and contains many colored charts and an extensive glossary to help you learn these invaluable works. At a 1ist price of $39.00 the sefer is a must have and you can purchase it from Feldheim directly for $35.99 or from Amazon at list price.
Rabbi Tscholkowsky has just release a free new Android and Apple app aimed at making Talmud study fun. It teaches the 350 main Aramaic terms used in the Talmud and can be played in four languages: English, French, Spanish and Hebrew. Here is the link for the Android App. For the iPhone you can search the App Store for Talmud Quest.

Please leave a favorable comment on the app site. If you know anyone who would be interested in the app please forward them the links below. The app was designed to play on any screen resolution from 800×480 and above. Rabbi Tscholkowsky would enjoy hearing your comments about the app at
Rabbi Tscholkowsky also has a site called where there are tens and tens of free videos on
Introduction to Talmud
Ways of Reason
Book of Logic
Book of Rhetoric
Ways of Talmud

Thanks to Rabbi David Sackton and Rabbi Chaim Tscholkowksy for these wonderful works to enhance our Talmud learning.

Life is Too Short – So Why Waste Precious Time

It’s week 2 for Pirkei Avos and in Mishnah 20, Rabbi Tarfon said, “the day is short, the work is great, the workers are lazy, the reward is great, and the Master of the house presses.”

The Maharal explains that this Mishna refers to learning Torah and since life is too short we cannot afford to waste time given the magnitude of Torah, our limited ability and Hashem’s expectations. The Mishnah does not demand the impossible since a human cannot be expected to be an angel, devoid of physical limitation. However, we are expected to emulate spiritual beings in terms of energy and dedication. The Maharal points out that to waste the limited resources that we do have is a sin. Rather we must be diligent and focused in our studies as if we intend to finish the Torah.

Most of us are far from this level and we have to grow step by step, so a reasonable commitment to learn 5-10 minutes more a day or perhaps spend some time on Pirkei Avos this week. As the Mishnah points out, the reward is great, so it’s well worth the effort.

Here is the rest of the Pirkei Avos for Chapter 2:

1. “Rabbi said, What is the proper path that one should choose for himself? Whatever is glorious / praiseworthy for himself, and honors him before others. Be careful with a minor mitzvah (commandment) like a severe one, for you do not know the reward for the mitzvos. Consider the loss incurred for performing a mitzvah compared to its reward, and the pleasure received for sinning compared to the punishment. Consider three things and you will not come to sin. Know what is above you – an eye that sees, an ear that hears, and all your deeds are written in a book.”

2. “Rabban Gamliel the son of Rabbi Yehuda the Prince said, Torah study is good with a worldly occupation, because the exertion put into both of them makes one forget sin. All Torah without work will in the end result in waste and will cause sinfulness. All who work for the community should work for the sake of Heaven, for the merit of the community’s forefathers will help them, and their righteousness endures forever. And as for you, God will reward you greatly as if you accomplished it on your own.”

3. “Be careful with authorities, for they do not befriend a person except for their own sake. They appear as friends when they benefit from it, but they do not stand by a person in his time of need.”

4. “He used to say, make His will your will, so that He will make your will His will. Annul your will before His will, so that He will annul the will of others before your will.”
Read more Life is Too Short – So Why Waste Precious Time

Must You Blog Thirty Days Before Pesach about Pesach?

Rabbi Welcher gave a shiur last week about “Thirty Days Before the Chag” and three ways that Gemora is understood. Go download it and give it a listen when you have the chance.

Pesach is the holiday which requires the most preparation, has the most mitzvos, and affords us the opportunity to make significant spiritual strides. Like most valuable things in life it requires preparation and right now we’re at the 21 days mark and counting.

Spiritual growth requires effort, but if we put in the effort, the connection and growth will come. The main thing that prevents us from making smart efforts is the world of distraction that we live in. Even if we can’t overcome all the distractions, we can choose to gather some moments and invest them in learning and preparing for Pesach.

Amazon has a great selection of Haggadahs, that can be delivered to your door this week. Why not pick one up and start your Pesach spiritual preparation today.

The Tefilla Gathering and Going Beyond Ultra

I went to the Tefilla Gathering on Sunday in the Wall Street area. It was a tremendous Kiddush Hashem as 40,000 Jews gathered peacefully to pray. The next day a friend emailed me this Voz Iz Neias link with my picture and the following caption:
Ultra Orthodox men in downtown Manhattan protesting the plan to require the ultra-Orthodox to serve in the army. The Atzeres Tefillah was attended by thousands form across the tri-state region.

There were a few problems with the caption:
1) There’s a misspelling in it.
2) I wasn’t there to protest, but rather because I understood this as a prayer gathering for a better resolution of the problems facing the Jewish people in Israel, specifically in regard to the draft issue. That’s how my Rav framed it.
3) Coming from an Orthodox publication, I probably did not fit in to their understanding of the word Ultra.

But then I thought a little more about the definition of Ultra. If it means people who believe in the primacy of Torah as the guiding force in our lives and our communities, then I’m definitely Ultra. And the Ultra (primacy of Torah) label also fits a lot of Rebbeim I have had the pleasure to learn from and grow with, who were educated in Yeshiva University and other Modern Orthodox yeshivos.

In todays parlance Ultra is a dividing word, but just beyond the term is the uniting concept of Torah defining and driving our collective lives. We certainly need to discuss potential solutions to problems that exist in our communities, but when we are Torah centered we can remain united in our search for solutions.

Why Not Get Yourself an Internet Parsha Rebbe

Many observant Jews believe in the primacy of Torah and the necessity to never stop learning and growing. However, it’s often hard to find the right class at the right time by the right teacher. If you’re looking to learn the Parsha, your problem is solved. You can find yourself an Internet Parsha Rebbe.

I’ve been listening to Rabbi Ari Kahn for over a year. I love his breadth of sources, his choice of topics, his development of the shiur and the fact that his New York sense of humor is still intact many years after leaving the American shores for Eretz Yisroel. I also really appreciate that he makes his shiurim easily accessible for free on his web site.

Even though I don’t commute to work, I get to listen to 2-3 of Rabbi Kahn’s shiurim a week on the way to and from Shul and while stretching and getting dressed in the morning and evening. I’ve also added Rabbi Daniel Feldman and Rabbi Herschel Schacter who have many free shiurim available on that treasure house, known as There are 10s of speakers there, each with their own style, delivery and approach to teaching parsha.

If you like a fast paced, Chassidish sourced shiur, you might want to try Rabbi Sitorsky. Another good free source with a variety of speakers is Torah Anytime. Google will direct you to many other free Torah mp3 sites, as well as sites that still charge.

Hearing a parsha shiur from a teacher is a fantastic way to learn and with the great availability and affordability of audio on phones and other portable devices, why not sample a few shiurim to find your personal Parsha Rebbe.

Should Jews be Paid to Study Torah?

I signed up this year to participate in a Bet Midrash program for international students studying abroad at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. The program pairs local English speakers with students to study in a one-on-one chevruta. I had participated in a similar program as a young professional back in Washington, D.C. and got so much out of it that I committed to studying full-time for a year in Israel. Feeling like I also want to share Torah with others, I was excited for this opportunity. Plus, I’ve been looking for a weekly chevruta anyways.

It turns out that there is another program that also sets up students with a chevruta, but it pays them and their partners to learn. I’m familiar with this arrangement. I recall being approached as a college student to participate in a weekly learning program, at the end of which I would receive $800. Not bad money, especially for something I was interested in. But, the money offer turned me away. I’m suspicious of a product that can’t sell itself!

In encouraging fellow Jews to come closer to Torah, why do we feel we have to provide a financial incentive? I’ve heard two basic arguments:

1-Busy people need to choose wisely how to spend their time, and if you offer a financial incentive, it allows them to dedicate time to Torah instead of a part-time (or full-time, but I’ll get to that later) job.
2-Paying a stipend for someone to learn is widely accepted in the secular world (academic scholarships and stipends), so why should it be so for religious studies?

I haven’t had an answer for a while, though my gut instinct still wouldn’t accept it. Here is what I think makes offering money for Torah study problematic:

1- While it’s true that we need to be judicious in how our time is spent, $800 really wouldn’t offset the income from a small part-time job, and there are a lot of things one can learn from working, especially when studying already all day long.
2- Torah study in and of itself is free. There is no cost to going to a local synagogue, private or public library, and sitting down with a sefer, or reading many Torah articles online or listening to shiurim. In fact paid shiurim are a pretty modern phenomenon (I’m not against those by the way).
3- Paying someone to learn full-time requires its own discussion, but I believe that the kollel lifestyle of learning all-day long, for protracted periods of time, especially at the expense of serving in the army in Israel, is against what the Torah explicitly says. (Let the barrage of comments begin!)
4- Paying someone to study Torah is different than an academic stipend, because academic stipends are conditional – you need to be receiving certain grades, produce a thesis (which then becomes property of the university), etc. Paying someone to study and expecting nothing in return than to listen to the material provided, is different.
5- When you’re paid, you’re beholden. There are 70 faces to the Torah, and when one explores freely, they have access to 70. When you’re paid to come to shiurim, you’re going to be fed a certain outlook, and it’s more difficult to challenge someone when he is holding a check.

Not everyone is going to buy, but I believe that the Torah sells itself. By being a mensch, a good person whose ways are influenced by the Torah’s teachings, and by opening up our hearts and our homes to fellow Jews, many will be attracted in a much more authentic way.

The Challenge of Learning Time Allocation

By Ilene Rosenblum

Compared with 2009, in 2010 I was a total Torah study slacker. On the one hand, I know that I need to, well, cut myself slack. I’m a working woman, and a kallah at that! It would seem though, that now, more than ever, would I need some structure and guidance that I’ve found in the past from the wisdom of tradition.

Part of it is also burnout. At the end of a long day in front of a computer screen, I don’t want to stress my brain more by pulling apart some text, or listen to a shiur. In fact, even when reading an interesting novel or non-fiction book in English, I find myself dozing off, usually after no more than 10 minutes. Blame it on insufficient sleep or an inability to sit in front of a book and concentrate on that one task, in the age of internet interactivity, but it’s my reality.

There’s another issue at stake too. Given the time crunch and lack of focus/sleepiness, what do I do with my limited resource for printed media consumption in my spare time. Part of me feels that I should study some more Torah, as part of my wanting to become more knowledgeable about Jewish practice and being able to make educated decisions about what I do or don’t do. Another part of me says די כבר, enough already. You went and made some pretty drastic lifestyle changes and live in an environment with mostly observant Jews. Shouldn’t you learn about something else?

The question is “why?” My secular, liberal arts education would tell me that it’s important to understand and appreciate people of different cultures, who live differently than you do, and to have a working knowledge of politics, literature and science. But, day-to-day, it doesn’t matter to me much whether I can tell you about the British government or have read One Hundred Years of Solitude (I tried, but boy was it difficult keeping track of multiple characters with the same name!)

If I want to study Torah, and only Torah, why not? In fact, there are those who claim that the knowledge and wisdom imparted in the Torah is so vast that it is all-encompassing. That is in part why ultra-Orthodox men will sometimes not learn more than a rudimentary level of mathematics, science, foreign languages, and so on (Women are not obligated to learn Torah and some need to learn secular work skills in order to find jobs to support the family.) Learning something else would be bittul Torah, wasting time better spent in Torah study.

To what extent do we learn something new from reading the Torah through each year and bring something new to it ourselves? And to what extent should we be spending time spreading our reading wings to texts never encountered before?

Our sages teach that there is endless wisdom in the Torah. A section of the Talmud, Pirkei Avot, Ethics of Our Fathers, says that you can find countless chiddushim in the Torah.

בן בג בג אומר הפוך בה והפוך בה דכולה בה (פרק ה משנה כב)א

It’s true that many of the laws and stories encompassed in the Torah’s teachings, particularly in the Gemara, seem to impart a much more advanced level of knowledge about human biology, psychology, and even hard science than contemporary documents and that they might be considered even “progressive” by the standards of non-Jewish cultures at the time they were penned. But are we not supposed to explore God’s creation for ourselves?

There is so much Torah I wish to study. I haven’t even gone through what I consider to be the very basics of studying the books of the Tanach. But at the same time, delving into minutiae of halachic debate or reading ancient stories doesn’t always seem like the most valuable use of my time. Were I to only study Torah, I would be ignorant of a lot of the world around me. Some would find that to be a good thing.

I’ve wondered quite a bit how much the experience of growing up in Israel is different than growing up in the United States. For one thing, how is it that all of your schoolmates and neighbors are Jewish? If you study Judaism all day long, are around Jews all day long, and you’re hardly exposed to other types of people, or at least people of other races and religions, what happens when you go abroad? What happens to your intellectual development and decision making? Is your religious faith and observance strengthened or weakened?

I’m really grateful to be living in a country and a more specifically a city where I can easily meet friends for a kosher lunch and the buses wish you a Purim Sameach during the month of Adar. It’s hard to ignore the Jewish cycle here. But I’m also thankful for having the experience of having to make a real sacrifice in order to find kosher food, go store-to-store hunting down candles, and to incorporate Judaism into my life when the world around me doesn’t stand still on Friday night.

Ilene writes at

Mishnayos Yomi – It’s a Great Idea

The new Mishanayos Yomi cycle start on Sunday July 4th with Masechta Berachos.

You learn 2 mishnayos a day and you can finish all of Shas in 5 1/2 years.

It’s not hard and it’s a great accomplishment.

There are audio files here which take only 5 minutes per day.

Rav Grossman also has audio files of the entire Mishna.

And here’s the schedule for the remainder of 5770.

The site also has some good resources.

You can download the entire Blackman translation of the Mishnayos at

Here’s the entire Mishna online in Hebrew.

Why not start now, you won’t regret it.

Rabbi Shimon Green on Loving to Learn Torah

Rabbi Shimon Green gave a unique shiur on loving Torah and helping our children love Torah. You can download it here.

True Torah is pleasant to learn. Locking our children into Torah is not a true path. Torah is sweet and pleasant when properly taught and understood.

Humility is the starting point of learning. When somebody disagrees with our ideas, our starting must be to try and understand that person’s point of view. A true ben Torah is always interested in what the other person has to say.

Torah has the ability to connect us with that which is greater than us, namely Hashem. Torah can constantly expand us.

Please listen to the entire shiur.