Wednesday nights - Rav Benzion's Tanya shiur..........Please continue to daven for the good health of the Rebbe (Yechiel Michel ben Devorah Leah) and Rebbetzin (Feiga bas Sarah).

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Yahrtzeit of the Divrei Chaim (Nisan 25)

The Rebbe related the following story in relation to the yahrtzeit of the Divrei Chaim (25th of Nisan):

View of the Dnieper River from Cherkass
A particular chasid came from Cherkass to be with the Rebbe Reb Motele for Pesach. After Yom Tov, he asked if the Rebbe might have something for him to bring to "the Zeide" (Rebbe Yaakov Yisroel of Cherkass, Reb Motele's grandfather).

Reb Motele responded, “My foot is in pain, my daughter isn't well and you should mention Chaim ben Miriam.”

The chasid took the boat down the Dnieper River and upon arriving in Cherkass immediately relayed the message to the Cherkasser. The Rebbe became all fahrmoached, lost in thought. Finally, he said, "My grandson's leg will get better and his daughter will be fine.”

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Mispacha Article (2008)

I was doing a little organizing of the blog so I'm posting this again to make it a little easier to find.
This outstanding article about Milwaukee and the Rebbe, shlit"a, by Reb Sruli Besser, is available in its entirety as a PDF (15MB) by clicking here. The article appeared as the cover story of Issue 196 in 2008. Thanks to Reb Eli Singer for bringing this to my attention.

A Mission in Milwaukee

By D. Klein (From

Milwaukee, located on the shores of Lake Michigan, is the largest city in the state of Wisconsin. It has gained a reputation in Jewish America as a growing kehillah, under the vibrant leadership of Rabbi Michel Twerski and his wife, Rebbetzin Feige Twerski. Rabbi and Rebbetzin Twerski have not only led Congregation Beth Yehudah faithfully since 1963, they have spearheaded the development of Milwaukee into a well developed, full fledged, Torah community with their sincerity, devotion to Yiddishkeit, and deep, authentic ahavas Yisrael.

Roots of a Dynasty
The story of Congregation Beth Yehudah began in 1927, when Harav Yaakov Yisrael Twerski, zt”l, of Hornosteipel, a small town in Ukraine near Kiev, arrived in Milwaukee with his renowned Rebbetzin, Devorah Leah, the oldest daughter of Harav Benzion Halberstam, Rebbe of Bobov, zy”a. Having emigrated from Europe, Harav Twerski settled first in New York, but he could not tolerate the large, busy metropolis. He heard that Chicago was home to many Russian immigrants, and he decided to establish a kehillah there for those who would recognize the illustrious name of the Twerski dynasty.

However, as he was preparing to settle in Chicago, Harav Yaakov Yisrael heard that a distant relative had settled there and was trying to establish a kehillah. Not wanting to compete, he moved to nearby Milwaukee and became Rav of Congregation Anshe Sfard.

Twelve years later, Harav Yaakov Yisrael opened his own shtiebel, Congregation Beth Yehudah, and won the admiration of the residents there. Religious, not-yet-religious, Jew, and non-Jew alike had tremendous reverence for the rabbi from Europe, and secular judges even brought cases to him for review. He became a legend in Milwaukee history. In 1952, the shul relocated to the Sherman Park section of Milwaukee, where it is still located today.

The Challenge
Harav Yaakov Yisrael sent his five sons - Harav Shloime, z”l, Reb Mottel, z”l, and, ybl”c, Rabbi Dr. Shea (Avrohom Yehoshua), Rabbi Aaron, and Harav Michel - to learn in various Litvish yeshivos. Harav Michel learned in Beis Hamidrash LaTorah in Chicago, Yeshivas Ner Yisrael, and Beis Medrash Govoha, where he studied under Harav Aharon Kotler, zt”l. In 1963 he returned to Milwaukee, where he found an aging  kehillah totally devoted to his beloved and revered father.

Rabbi Twerski wanted to do more. There  was  little chinuch for the children. Many parents were shomrei Shabbos, but they were incapable of transmitting the mesorah to the next generation or protecting them from the “American experience.” The shul was overflowing on Yom Tov but was not very well attended on Shabbos.

Seeking Solutions
Harav Michel Twerski and his dedicated Rebbetzin, the daughter of the Faltichaner Rav of Bensonhurst, zt”l, realized that there would be no renaissance unless they led it. Building on the foundation his father had laid for over thirty years, the Twerskis took a first step:  establishing chinuch for the children. In 1968, together with Rabbi Dovid Shapiro, another Rav in Milwaukee at the time, they established the Hillel Academy of Milwaukee to provide chinuch for Milwaukee’s Jewish children. The day school began to grow, and its pupils influenced their families to come closer to Yiddishkeit.

Subsequently, in the late 1960s, Harav Twerski founded The Orthodox Perspective, a group dedicated to publicizing Torah viewpoints and espousing proper hashkafos. With this group, Harav Michel planted the seeds for a wave of baalei teshuvah; he became a pioneer in out-of-town kiruv when this concept barely existed. The combined effects of the day school and the Twerskis’ outreach efforts resulted in the slow growth of the community. By the late 1970s, a wave of young people had begun to abandon their beautiful suburban homes and were moving to Sherman Park to be closer to Rabbi Twerski and Congregation Beth Yehudah.

By 1987, as the community’s size and level of commitment continued to grow, Rabbi Twerski saw the need for more advanced institutions and tried to prepare the way to import a kollel.

However, he soon realized that in order to bring a kollel to Milwaukee, he would first have to establish a yeshivah-preparatory elementary school. With great mesirus nefesh, Rabbi Twerski traveled around the country to raise funds to establish both a kollel and an elementary school to maintain the Milwaukee kehillah. During his travels, Rabbi Twerski became known across America as a prominent figure.

With siyatta diShmaya, the Yeshivah Elementary School of Milwaukee and the Milwaukee Kollel were founded simultaneously in 1989. The presence of the kollel and school, followed by the Wisconsin Institute for Torah Study, a yeshivah high school located in a different part of the city, and the Torah Academy, a Bais Yaakov-type high school that was established a few years later, transformed Milwaukee into a full-service Jewish community.

A Developing Kehillah
In the late 1990s, the shul received a grant from the Daniel and Linda Bader Foundation to develop the community. The Sherman Park Jewish Initiative was formed, and a national advertising campaign, “Begin Thinking Milwaukee,” was launched. In addition, the Yeshivah Elementary School became the first Jewish elementary school in the United States to accept tuition vouchers. These factors, combined with the fine reputation of the kehillah, encouraged many families to move to Milwaukee, and the community has grown exponentially since then.

According to Rabbi Aaron Gross, director of development at Yeshivah Elementary School, a recent survey shows that eighty percent of families living in Sherman Park have moved there since 1989. In addition to the core group of Rabbi Twerski’s baalei teshuvah, the 130 families in the community now include many families from other cities who have moved to Milwaukee in order to grow under the influence of Rabbi and Rebbetzin Twerski and to benefit from Milwaukee’s job market and low housing costs.

A Home to All
Rabbi Twerski represents the legacy of generations of Chassidic Rebbes combined with yeshivish learning and exposure to Litvish Gedolim. People with varied backgrounds feel comfortable in the shul because it combines the best elements of a yeshivah, a shtiebel and a shul. A Chassidic lifestyle is not imposed on anyone; most of Rabbi Twerski’s baalei teshuvah did not take on chassidishe minhagim and send their children to Litvish yeshivos.

However, Rabbi Twerski’s chassidishe hislahavus spills over into everything he does, influencing the kehillah in many ways. This enthusiasm for Yiddishkeit is especially evident on Yamim Tovim and special occasions, such as the beautiful hachnasas sefer Torah that took place last spring.

Rabbi Benzion Twerski, Harav Michel’s son and assistant Rav, commented, “The common denominator here is the tremendous emphasis on growth. If you are not looking to grow, you will not be comfortable here. My father constantly speaks about being a mevakesh, looking to grow from wherever you are now and avoiding complacency. And people find his message attractive because he does not stand on a pedestal and dictate orders. Rather, he is growing right along with everyone else.”

Sefiras HaOmer: Real Listening

Rebbe Elazar ben Azarya said, "I am like a man of seventy and I have not been able to persuade any of my colleagues that the mitzvah of recounting the Exodus from Egypt applies a night until Ben Zoma came along and inferred from the pasuk that kol y'mei chayecha refers to the nights."

The Sages argue that kol y'mei chayecha refers to the World to Come.

The Gemara asks, why does the psak halacha go in accordance with Hillel's view? The students of Shammai were considered very analytical, charifim, sharp. The school of Hillel, while they may not have had the depth of Shammai, had many more students so the majority prevailed. But the Gemara make a point of telling us that since the school of Hillel would never say their own opinion without quoted the dissenting one as well.

Video: Rebbe Yaakov Yisroel Twerski 1963

Thanks again to Stuart Rojstaczer for graciously sharing this very rare clip from his home collection. In the video, the Rebbe Reb Yaakov Yisroel, ztz"l, is shaking hands with Stu's grandfather, Tevyah Erlich (d. 1992). Also visible is Mr. Richt, the shamash of the Rebbe's beis medrash at that time.

If anyone has any other video or audio of Reb Yaakov Yisroel, ztz"l, please email me so I can add it to the archives.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Sefiras HaOmer: Collective Kavod

We know that during the days of Sefira, 24,000 of Rebbe Akiva's talmidim passed away. We are told that it is because "shelo nahagu kavod zeh b'zeh", they did not deal carefully with each others honor.

The Rebbe interpreted this to mean that they did not feel their own kavod--their own worth--enough to be more careful. They failed to understand that the way they deal with themselves affects the entire kehila.

"How scrupulous one is about his own kashrus, about coming to minyanim, making sure to learn as much as he possibly can, what one allows into his home..."

If we don't care enough to be careful about our own kavod and well-being, then we are being hurting the kavod of everyone. "Zeh b'zeh" means that they did not act as though their own actions and integrity effected the next person.

Nobody is an island, and how we behave even in our most private moments ripples throughout a given kehilla or chevra and Klal Yisroel at large. If we don't value our own growth and connection to Hashem, we will never relate to others properly.

Shabbos Chol Hamoed Pesach

A gitten moed and a gitten Erev Shabbos,

I would like to bring your attention to two pieces that appeared earlier this year for Shabbos Ki Sisa: When To Use Holy Pride and Trust In Hashem's Cheshbon. The pesukim that these two pieces are based on appear in the laining from Shabbos Chol Hamoed as well.

The following was heard from the Rebbe at Shalosh Seudos on Shabbos Chol Hamoed Pesach 5767 (2007) in Lakewood:

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Meeting of Rabbis 1956

1956: Early Meeting of the Council of Rabbis at Welfare Fund Office. Rabbis: Paul Greenman, David Shapiro, Harry Pastor, David Becker, Louis Swichkow, Israel Feldman, Jay Brickman and Jacob Twerski. Standing: Larry Katz, Bernie Sampson, Harry Plous, Morris Weingrod and Melvin Zaret.

Thank you Tzvi Werther for sending me this picture and the accompanying caption.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Minhagim: Pesach (Part 3)

Bedikas Chometz: Before the start of the search, as is brought in the name of the Ari Hakadosh, ten small (less than a k'zayis) pieces of bread are placed around the house. One must be careful to wrap them well so as not to spread crumbs around the house.
The Rebbe uses a (beeswax) candle to search for the chometz. Any chometz that is found is placed in a paper bag with the aid of a feather and a wooden spoon. Upon conclusion of the bedika, the spoon, feather and candle are all placed together with the chometz in the paper bag. The Rebbe often places the paper bag in an additional plastic bag and then wraps the entire thing in a shmatte (old shirt or other material). Sometimes the Rebbe then ties a string around the whole package.

Biur Chometz by the Rebbe, shlit"a

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Equanimity of Matzah

When it comes to matzah there is an apparent incongruence. On the one hand we eat matzah as לחם עוני—the bread of affliction that Klal Yisroel ate while in slavery. On the other, we see that it represents freedom, for the very first thing we eat as a free people is matzah. If you would have asked Klal Yisroel what will be the first thing they eat once freed, they would have probably answered that they were going to make some real food and eat like a mensch. But Hashem tells them that now that you are free, you are going to eat freeman’s bread: matzah. The message is that if they would have eaten bread and other delicacies right away -- true, they would no longer be enslaved by Egypt, but they would have become enslaved by the next thing that came along: their conveniences, comforts, appetite. If it matters to you what you have then you are a slave. It doesn’t matter if it’s a Lexus or a Chevy. If I have less gashmiyus than I wanted, it doesn’t matter. If I have more gashmiyus than I wanted, it doesn’t matter. I can taste the matzah in everything because I am not interested in my self, only the will of the Creator. The more we get out of the way, the more in touch with the infinite we are. The most formidable impediment to kedusha is self. The goal isn’t putting down the world as much as it is getting self-interest out of the way.

And so אין מפטירין אחר הפסח אפיקומן. We need to keep the taste of matzah in our mouths as long as we can.

(Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Shemini 5767/2007)

Metzora: It's Not How It Appears

"And he shall tell it to the kohen saying, 'like a negah appears to me'." (Vayikra 35:15)

Rashi comments that even a talmid chacham who knows the laws of tzaraas and knows that this is definitely a negah should not rule on it like a clear matter and say "I saw a negah". Rather, he too should tell the kohen, "I saw something that looks like a negah."

The Rebbe said that many times something bad will happen and we are tempted to immediately call it for what it is -- bad. But we know that everything is ultimately good. We may learn something, we may become stronger, it may be an atonement, it may lead to something clearly good. If you pasken on something that is apparently bad and label it as assuredly evil, you are denying the inherent good in everything and you are denying Hashem's love and care and intimate involvement in every detail of life. Although it may be a negah, there is always a treasure trove buried beneath it (as the previous Rashi mentions). You can't call something that leads you to vast riches an affliction. It is certainly "like an affliction", but clearly or inherently bad it is not.

When we experience something painful or uncomfortable, we must never declare it to be evil. We must remember that the underlying essence at hand is Hashem's profound and boundless love, His exquisite intervention and His ultimate, overall agenda on our behalf.

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Everyone is a "One"

                In the Haggadah we mention the four sons. We say אחד חכם, ואחד רשע, אחד תם, ואחד שאינו יודע לשאול. "One is the wise son, one is the wicked, one is"…and so on. Why don’t we count the sons "the first is the wise son, the second is the wicked…"?

                It is incumbent upon every one of us to remember that each son, each person, no matter who he is, is an “echad”, a one in and of himself, and must be treated and spoken to according to his neshama, personality and his individual strengths and weaknesses.

Chometz B'Mashehu

While most forbidden substances are בטל בששים, nullifiable as one in sixty (or some other ratio), there is an extra stringency attached to chometz that it is forbidden even במשהו, the smallest amount, and cannot be nullified. Whatever chometz represents—haughtiness, desire, other bad middos, however you want it—is something so contrary to the essence of a Jew and holiness that it becomes absolutely intolerable even by the smallest amount.

The Rebbe once quoted Chazal that chometz is assur b'mashehu and explained: Thinking that one is mashehu (something) makes him "chometzdik" and hence restrained (the word assur means both restrained and forbidden) from attaching himself to kedusha. As it says regarding haughtiness that Hashem says, "He and I cannot both dwell together."

The Seder is a Seder

On Erev Pesach 5766 (2006), the Rebbe said the following:
The critical underlying cog in the story of human freedom is the concept of seder. Without it, you live as a “responder”; life becomes just a series of demands on your time, energy and gifts. As such, you are never really free. You are enslaved to whatever might be the demand of the moment, be it the demands of the physical body, our fears and ego, or demands made by society and culture. We are so busy doing things just as they come up that we have no sense of where we are going. One needs to be able to pinpoint where they want to go and what steps they need to take in order to get there.
The avodah of the Seder starts with Kadesh. Kadesh means sanctification, consecrating oneself, saying, “I am holy. I am for Hashem.” Divine service starts with a kabolas ol of kedusha, the conviction to say, "I am going toward holiness and I want to get to the ultimate result of Nirtza, that I should be מרוצה to Hashem, that I should be pleasing to Him." We would like, at the end of our service in this world, for Hashem to pronounce over our lives the word Nirtza.
The question is, how do we get there? What are all the steps in between?
During the Seder, one needs to reflect on how this particular step is useful to me in my avodas Hashem in general. What can I learn from Urchatz, Karpas, and all the other steps of the Seder Night and how can I apply it to serve Hashem? You can use information from seforim or you can invent your own original insight, but the goal is to use each one of the simanim of the Seder as a stepping stone to reach the ultimate goal of Nirtza.
(from memory, not a recording)

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Lyrics for the Rebbe's Karev Yom

Below are the Yiddish lyrics for the Rebbe's Karev Yom. For a recording of the music, go to the NIGUNNIM page. [UPDATE: Thanks to BerliozViolist, we now have an English translation. See the comments below.]

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Rebbe, shlit"a, at a Hachnosas Torah

These photos were taken at a recent Hachnosas Sefer Torah in Lakewood. Thank you to Reb Yitzchok Ort for sending them.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Tazria: The Dark is Darker But the Light is Lighter

In earlier times, the appearance of tzaraas on one’s person, home or belongings was an indication that something was wrong with the person’s avodah. The question is, why is there no more tzaraas today? When tzaraas was visible was it more of a berachah or a curse?