Friday, January 05, 2024

A Vayigash Thought - Our Father Is Still Alive - Le'Ilui Nishmat Binyamin Ben Mordechai Dov / Werner Fleischmann

 Everyone talks about why when Yosef finally reveals himself to his brothers he asks, "Is my father still alive?" There are many answers. But I'm thinking that whatever we want to say about that specific question in that moment there's a broader context to consider. In the big picture Yaakov is always split between being Yosef's father and being the father of his other sons. This is true in terms of how they saw him as their father and how he related to them as his children.

Yaakov clearly treated Yosef in one way (special clothing, spending time just with him, sending him to check on the brothers/others) and the brothers another way. I don't think that Yosef ever refers to Yosef as "our father" or that the brothers ever refer to his as father of all of them, they just speak of father of them ("we are 10 sons") and also - by the way - of a brother who's now gone.

So when Yosef asks - if just his father is still alive, it's not such big news. They were talking about their father, and it's true that he was just one living body and soul, but in essence Yosef's father and the brother's father were quite different, like two fathers. So it makes sense to stress this point, putting it out there that his father is special to him, that through this whole story Yaakov as a split father is key (spiritually keeping Yosef strong, sensing spiritually - if not consciously - that Yosef was still alive, and on the other hand being deceived by the brothers and having tension with them over the fact that Yosef died under their watch.) (It's ironic that Yosef died under the brothers' watch, even though he was sent to watch them).

I always thought it odd that we speak only of the story of Yosef and his brothers, why not speak of the story of Yosef's sons. I think calling these brothers sons would highlight their unity, that they were born to the same father. Speaking of Yosef and his brothers highlights the division between them, the fact that as independent humans these sons split into groups of brothers, a group of 10 and a group of one (plus his dad). (This fits with the brothers' saying we are ten sons, and then there's one who is not here. He was never with them, in their group.

In hard times we sing Am Yisrael Chai + Od Avinu Chai. I think this harkens back to Yosef asking, "Is my father still alive?" We say that Our Father in Heaven is still alive and connected to us. What helps this to be so? The fact that are sing TOGETHER and say OUR father, rather than singing alone about MY father. When is it true that Am Yisrael Chai? When we embrace each other - correcting the mistakes made by all involved in dividing sons and brothers in this story.

May we be blessed to be living embodiments of Hineh mah tov u'mah na'im shevet achim gam yachad. May our Father in Heaven be proud of each one of us, and also of all of us together. And may our father - the father of Barry and Neil - be proud of each of us and of both of us, his two sons, two dear brothers, together.

Friday, November 24, 2023

Thanksgiving Thoughts

While Tehillim 100 would see the most salient for Thanksgiving (as it starts with "A Song of Todah - Thanks) I'd like to look at Psalm 95. This one is immediately associated with Shabbos, as it's the first one of Kabbalat Shabbat. For many years it was not part of our Shabbos prayers, as that is a relatively new, though completely accepted part of our traditional prayers.
Tehillim 95 starts with the words, "Let's go sing to Hashem our G-d and call out to The Rock of Our Salvation. Let's greet his Presence in Thanks and call out to him with songs."
It goes on to speak of recognizing G-d as Creator and of seeing his hand in our personal lives. These are two tracks which can be separate, or one can lead to and connect with the other. These are two elements of what we focus on on Shabbos.
The last lines of this psalm take an unusual turn as Dovid HaMelech channels the voice of G-d. He complains of quarreling with The Desert Generation for 40 years. Eventually the second Desert Generation do enter enter Israel, after their parents' generation erred in their hearts and were banned. Rabbi SR Hirsch infers from this that every Galus generation is a redoing of the desert scenario. If we would listen today to G-d's voice with whole hearts - starting, perhaps, with gratitude - then our exile would end and we would enter the land.
My own little song of thanks:
Every day is Thanksgiving
In G-d's world, in my mind
Every day is Thanksgiving
If we thank him all the time
Every day is Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Nesivos Shalom Yahrtzeit

 Today is 7 Av, the Yahrtzeit of the Nesivos Shalom, previous Rebbe of Slonim.  His work, somehow overflowed fro his branch of Chasidus into the entirety of the Jewish world.  I have no words for my feelings that include gratefulness and go beyond it in response to having his Torah in my life.

Instead of sharing his Torah exclusively here, now, I will share something that I'm thinking about that started with a Torah thought of his (that's a Slonimer tradition, as so much of his teachings are).

The Torah says that G-d said "Let there be light" and there was light.  As he does from time to time, in the Chasidic tradition, the Nesivos Shalom brings out new meaning of a verse by using something other than the conventional punctuation.  In the case, if you put a comma after the first Hebrew word in this verse it can mean that a person says.  Then if you put in quote marks, the statement is "G-d, let there be light," followed by the words, "and then there will be light." So, now, the pasuk is telling us that when we cry out to G-d and tell him we need light in our lives and we can only get it from Him, that is when we will find light enter our lives.

Besides putting the idea in my head of making this verse a mantra, this Torah insight also got me thinking about the Jewish view of spiritual light.  I was recently at a class which discussed what the number one pasuk, so to speak, in the Torah is.  (It comes from a Medrash shared in the introduction to the sefer Ein Yaakov, and the author himself says that he could not find the Medrash.) The presenter suggested we each think about what pasuk we could make an argument for being the most important in the Torah.  Taking a bit of poetic license in re-interpreting the question I want to say that this is a verse that is very important to me and which I think has more depth than people realize.  (This could be said about any pasuk. In fact, in this shiur I attended, we were each instructed to open a Chumash to a seemingly random page and line and then argue for the verse we found being The Line of the Torah!)

It's of interest that light was created on day 1 of the creation we read of in Breishit. The sun was only created on day 4.  So where did this original light emanate from, what was it's nature and purpose?

Rav Kook wrote the book of Orot, Lights and many other books with light in their title and theme.

We praise G-d daily for creating light.  Might this be a spiritual light? 

The Nesivos Shalom points out the the time of the three weeks is a dark time of year spiritually and physically, as reflected by the days getting shorter and the nights longer. (This is the reverse of Chanukah time , which is considered the light time of year becaus ethe very short days start to get longer that that time.)

Some people light one more Shabbos candle for each child born representing the light that person brought into the world.

May the light the Nesivos Shalom's light continue to enlighten us all.

Tuesday, July 11, 2023

Spine Poems, An Eclectic Collection of Found Verse, For Book Lovers

I recently bought  a book as an impulse by at the cash register of the Upper West Side's Shakespeare and Co.

Spine Poems, An Eclectic Collection of Found Verse, For Book Lovers, by Annette Dauphin Simon is rare in many ways, including that it is everything it claims to be in its title. I was ready to settle for another cute, short book of quick poems where I find one or two that I like, or another light book for bathroom reading. This is on a vastly higher level.

This is an elegant book, in which there is actually something I like on most every page. There's an accurate drawing of the spines of books on top of eachother, and the titles on the spine make a poem. On the facing page is the poem typed out. And then comes the great surprise. there are detailed notes that vary from page to page in what thy cover, including great historical details (like how far back Humpty Dumpty's words actually date) and things about the theme being dealt with, and more.

I keep being called back to this book, which just feels so sincere and generous in how it was written and published. I am so grateful for this book that is truly special for me and bringing me uplift and even joy.

Sunday, June 25, 2023

 If you see see a young child wearing a coat that's way to big for him you'd be wise to conclude the coat for made for someone bigger than him (probably his father). Similarly, we see our depth of emotional, intellectual and spiritual is enormous to such an extent that it would be wise to conclude that it was made for something bigger than simply getting through our physical existence on this plane (which is what lower forms of life do, instinctually, with smaller coats).

An analogy of The Steipler, cited by Rabbi Abraham Twerski in Living Each Day (1988), pg. 276

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Dovid VeShaul

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

A Facebook Post From April 29, 2018


Ten Albums That Are Meaningful to Me
My brother tagged me in favorite album challenge. The rule is that you're supposed to share one a day for ten days and tag someone each time you share and then they have to do the same thing. Me being (INFP) me, I'll do this my own way.
My favorites can change from moment to moment. (One of the more beautiful things I ever heard was at a funeral. A mourner said that she couldn't easily tell you her favorite of anything without modifying and explaining it - ut if you asked her who her favorite person in the world was she wouldn't hesitate. She would just tell you that it was her mom.) Favorites are hard. So these won't be my favorites. These are contenders, albums (does anyone remember albums?) that come to mind as meaningful for me.
1. Keep It Together, Guster - This is a relatively new album and group for someone in my age bracket. For me and my contemporaries the seventies doesn't feel like forty plus years ago. So the nineties doesn't feel like twenty years ago. I discovered Guster through The LeeVees, who are a duo that made a fantastic Chanukah album (and half of that duo is in Guster.) Guster's styles vary, and I like pretty much all of their albums and sounds. This one was their most recent when I discovered them and it has a lot of their big songs on it. But like many of these album choices will be, it's a bit random - and it's followed closely by others of theirs including their many live collections, particularly the ones with the classical accompaniment.
2. Time To Dance 2 - I bought this at Schaller's book store as a gift for my mom, circa 1982. It features well done instrumental Jewish music that does not have the kind of Las Vegas-ey sound of so much of the most popular Jewish music. It's a class act. It has many beautiful Chasidish tunes, such as an achingly gorgeous rendition of the Baruch Kel Elyon that people call the dirge. There's one part of the album in particular that I carry with me because it so blew me away. The have a long piece of Jewish songs that sound similar to classical pieces like Scheherazade. Haraman Hu Yizakeinu is paired with a classical piece it resembles. I remember the piece but don't know its name. That album brought me a lot of joy. For a long time I owned the cassette of it, which I played over and over.
3. Quadrophenia, The Who - I don't remember exactly, for sure, how I found The Who, I think from the radio. I went back and bought an earlier album that I had heard was their best, Quadrophenia. I remember my youth leader and friend telling me that the refrain from the album was "Can You See The real me?" I didn't experience that as the refrain, but it's a great song, like so many others on the album. It's more of a masterpiece than Tommy. They have so much good stuff, but this is their best. And it's meaningful for me because they were one of the first and only rock groups of my childhood that I chose as mine, and not just a group i liked after discovering them through my older brother.
4. Gifts from Heaven, Shoshannah - I've said, and stand by it, that if I had to pick one desert island album this would be it. So beautiful. Sounds like so many people performing, when it's the piano playing of one person. It's all instrumental, channeling Reb Shlomo and other classics, while interpreting them as well. When I met Shoshanah I asked if she was THE Shoshannah, and I started humming my favorite (opening) tune from the album. She was flattered. I've listened to this myriad times. Listening to it is, for me, an experience of elevation. I am glad that this album is there as background music for my life. And I'm grateful that I was able to tell the artist how much her music meant to me. May her neshama go ever higher.
5. Bursting Out, Jethro Tull - I discovered them through Songs From the Wood, which was followed by the album of outtakes from that album, Heavy Horses. Then I saw them at "The Garden" twice. All this happened while I was in high school. My first big rock concerts. Bursting Out came out during these same few years and I brought it with me to Israel, post HS. i remember one of my 3 roommates begging me to turn off the long drum solo at bed time. It's a live album of greatest hits up till that point, masterfully done.
6. Shlomo Carlebach Album I Don't Know Name Of - It has the story of him performing at a Catholic School and being approached by a Jewish girl wearing a Jewish star... I may be conflating more than one album. I think it has Pe'er VeKavod on it, and Samcheim. It's an Israeli concert at which he speaks in Hebrew. There are so many recordings of his that have been meaningful to me in my llife. this one reminds me of the 5 and a half years I lived in Israel as a yeshiva student. And it reminds me of some dear friends who shared my love of this music at that time.
7. Storyteller, Ray Davies - This was the inspiration for the VHS show. And it was an album. It has great renditions of old songs with patter that goes a long way. And I like the title song. This choice is emblematic of the many albums and songs of The Kinks that I really like. The depth of feeling, getting greyness, nostalgia, beautiful lyrics. amazing sound. Maybe I should have picked an actual Kinks album, but this will do.
8. THE YESS LEGACY, A TRIBUTE TO THE MUSIC OF MOSHE YESS - I could and maybe should have gone with "G-d Is Alive And Well In Jerusalem," or another Megama Duo album. But Moshe Yess was the genius behind it all, and this includes 30 songs sung by others paying respect to (and raising money for) his legacy. One of my favorites, Sukkos In Jerusalem, which he played live for just me and my dad, is not on this album - like many of his songs, it's hard to find. but these songs remind me of that one and others that aren't here. His originals are hard to find. They're better than this (not always, but usually - because his sincerity shined through) but this does a good job of keeping his music alive in my life.
9. Pink Pearl, Jill Sobule - One of the first times I listened to Idiot's Delight I was taken by Vin Scelsa's conversation with Jill about how I Will Survive had become a campfire song. Her newest album was Pink Pearl. I got it and was moved by Rock Me To Sleep and others. She's one of a kind. She did Kickstarter before there was Kickstarter. There are other albums of hers that are great, but this one is the one that started it all for me, and has so many of the slow and beautiful ones that really affect me.
10. Dveykus 1 (Though I think of 1,2,3 as a unit) - Before this I didn't know that there was music on such a different end of the spectrum from Mordechai ben David. In yeshiva I listened to this over and obver again. it was like I'd discovered oxygen. They lose me on their fast songs. but their slow ones are beyond this world. (I like all their albums and I consider the Journeys series
a close cousin that I also love.)
There's much more to say. I want to just add that today I don't listen to albums so much. I listen to Spotify and Pandora and they have introduced me to many groups and songs that are similar to ones I already knew and liked. I am pleased that I don't only listen to the music of my youth (even though the more recent music I like, I like because it sounds like the music of my youth).

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Two Poems By Yehoshua Josh November


Sunday, December 04, 2022

Kids have so much on their minds
sometimes studies get left behind
If teachers try they will find
things go better when they are kind.

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Building A Bayit Ne'eman


Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Small talk makes me feel small.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

On Rod Serling's In The Presence of Mine Enemies, and Patterns

I'm in this episode and the one before it (and the one before that).

Thursday, September 08, 2022

The Projectionist's Guest Has Semicha

Here I am, talking about A Tree Grows In Brooklyn!

Here's a previous post where I wrote about the book/movie.

And this, from this rich post, in which I write about the King in the field in Ellul:

Beauty Is Truth
In B&N the other day I saw a new unabridged audio version of A Tree Grows In Brooklyn. The reader, Carrington MacDuffie does a remarkable job, getting voices and nuances perfectly. Something about that book.
At one point Francie talks about how Saturday is her favorite day. This is my adaptation of her words:

Glad for Saturday
A day which is without fault
Monday far away

This, from this post, about the Lech Lechas of our lives: 

I chose to write about Francie Nolan from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn Brooklyn (Betty Smith, Harper and Brothers 1943). What jumped out at me from the book was the depiction of different worlds. Francie has many worlds, all of them real: one world in the library, another on her porch, one in school, another at home. Within her home various relationships stand alone for FrancieFrancie’s father Johnny lives in different worlds too. The reality of these worlds is driven home after Johnny dies. When Francie goes to his barbershop to pick up his shaving cup, the barber tells her that her father was a good man. At this moment, Johnny’s worlds of friends and family touch for the first time.

And, see here, for a nice post where I think I am more articulate in talking about Francie and her dad and her entering his barbershop world.

Here, I write about five of my favorite films ever, and include A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

Here, I include A Tree Grows In Brooklyn in a list of seven films I could watch over and over again.  I recommend reading all the lists of seven in this post, including seven good things to say to me.

Thursday, September 01, 2022

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

 “It is difficult

to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
for lack
of what is found there.”
William Carlos Williams, Asphodel, That Greeny Flower & Other Love Poems

Just now I wish to say
in a meaningful way,
I think of all I've got
and all that I am not,
I'm tired and awake
comfortable, and I ache
And then G-d sends me news
His angels bring me cues

Wednesday, August 03, 2022

 I always say that the things you remember in life are the things that happen right after you had the butterflies, so you should never avoid the butterflies because they are memory makers. 

- Brian Regan on Comedians In Cars...

Monday, August 01, 2022


Monday, July 11, 2022

 "He preached the gospel at all times; when necessary he used words."

- St. Francis of Assisi

Thursday, July 07, 2022

 Happy Birthday Jim Gaffigan, one of my favorite comedians ever.

Thursday, June 23, 2022

 Sick w ear infection, taking comfort from The Cheap Detective.

Found this tidbit on Wikipedia:

Ed Mintz founded CinemaScore in 1979 after disliking The Cheap Detective despite being a fan of Neil Simon, and hearing another disappointed attendee wanting to hear the opinions of ordinary people instead of critics. A Yom Kippur donation card with tabs inspired the survey cards given to audience members.

Friday, June 10, 2022

Four Thoughts On That Came to Me While Davening

 We thank G-d for spreading the land out on top of the water.  Things are often not what they seem. We approach the world as if it is dry land with places that are water.  Really it is water that G-d, miraculously, in some parts keeps covered by land.

We ask to be seen with kindness and mercy through the eyes of G-d and all who see us.  Maybe what we're saying is that we should all be blessed to see each-other with G-d eyes.

We praise G-d for having saved us in order that "kavod" can sing praise to him.  Some say that kavod, here, refers to our soul.  Perhaps, what we are actually saying is that all honor should be a praise to G-d, by being traced back to G-d as honor's source.

In Modim DeRabanan we daily say a form of the brachach of Shechechiyanu, thanking G-d for keeping us alive and sustaining us till this moment - al shehechiyitanu vekiyamtanu.

Thursday, June 09, 2022

June 9, 2012

 Today was the first day of finals. This note at the end of one of paper caught my eye and touched by heart. This is an introverted person who went deep and then shared this in writing. I am grateful beyond grateful.

"Dear Rabbi Fleischmann,
I have had an amazing year in your class. I enjoyed every minute of it and I learned so much.
Aside from regular class I also want to thank you for all the time you spent answering life questions and listening to and editing my poetry.
I am going to miss having you as a teacher so much.
I also wanted to say that I have actually enjoyed taking your tests. I never thought I would say that but it's true. Your tests were interesting and really connected everything we learned.
I really appreciate everything that I learned this year with you/from you.
You are an amazing teacher.
Thanks again,

Wednesday, June 08, 2022

I don't blog daily
Such foolish consistency
Says "I have no life"

- Siobhan Adcock

Monday, May 23, 2022

 I never know what or where to write.  Once I wrote na lot here, more recently on Facebook, always in various diaries and loose pages...

may we all be blessed to share in ways that help us.

Friday, May 20, 2022

My haiku, adapted from this excerpt from Zelda's poem:

Slowly Shabbos comes:
A rose in her hand, she plucks
the descending sun.


Softly the Sabbath has plucked
the sinking sun.

Slowly the Sabbath descends,
the rose of heaven in her hand.

Friday, May 13, 2022

At The Ohel - Written May, 2021

I stood in front of
the wall of lit tea lights.
Feeling the combined heat
of their tiny flames.
Breathing in their smoke.
Taking in the scene
behind the door,
before the grave.
A young fellow was
re-shelving Tehillim
next to the candles.
Exuding the vibe
of a shop keeper:
"What are you looking for?"
"Nothing, " I said
meaning, everything.

Saturday, May 07, 2022

Another Pirkei Avot Post

Why does Pirkei Avot start with the chain of tradition back to Moshe and G-d at Sinai?
The answer I've stuck with for years (of R Ovddia of Bartenura and others) is this:
The lesson is that these sayings about ethics and life are not just nice quotes. They are as much a part of Torah from Sinai as any other part of our tradition. (And I just realized that this is probably the inspiration meaning behind the title of my favorite work on Avot, "Ethics From Sinai."
I recently thought of another, related- but I think different, answer:
Perhaps we are reminded of the giving of the whole Torah, here, at the start of Avot for this reason:
To be a person who truly adheres to the Torah it is not peripheral but fundamental that one be a ba'al midot, an ethical mentsch. The directions of this tractate are the undercurrent that flows under all the other tractates. Avot is the subtext of every Toah text and the other texts and Avot all must be learned with this connection kept in mind.


The saying - "be patient in judgment" may mean something other than the conventional explanation that you should be slow and thoughtful in judging others.
Maybe it also means that when you are experiencing a time of din, of judgment, of difficulty, be patient as you go through it.


He'emidu talmidim harbei. This is generally traslated to mean to teach many students. The word used is not the normal word for teaching. The word used means ro cause to stand up. We are told here to influence our students to have a strong and straight spine, and to walk tall. We are to teach and to model Torah in such a way that it accompanies an appropriate sense of confidence.
The implicit message is that we ourselves are to stand upright and unafraid.
This is something I plan and pray to bring in to the classroom and the world tomorrow and everyday.


The mishna in Avot says to stick to the dust of the feet of the rabbis (I have 3 possible meanings for this and would love to hear more) and then it advises us to drink their words with thirst. A student suggested that the image of drinking comes after the image of dust as a purposeful contrast. Studying can be dry, just the nature of it. And it's up to the student sometimes to make things ripe and fresh and wet!


Rabbi Dr. Dovid Katz contends that every saying in Avot is about something specific.
He says that, “Who is a warrior? He who conquers his negative inclinations” is about Alexander The Great. He conquered the world and word has it that he died from a three day celebratory drinking binge.


Tuesday, April 19, 2022

The Four Sons - A Close Reading

The Verse They Use to Ask


Devarim 6:20  - When, in time to come, your children ask you, ‘What mean the decrees, laws, and rules that our God יהוה has enjoined upon you?’


Shemot 12:26 - “And when your children ask you, ‘What do you mean by this rite?”


Shemot:13:14 - “And when, in time to come, a child of yours asks you, saying, ‘What does this mean?’ you shall reply, ‘It was with a mighty hand that יהוה brought us out from Egypt, the house of bondage’.”

—----               - She’Eino Yodeiah Lish’ol

The Verse The Hagaddah Tells Us To Cite In Reaction/Response




(Shemot 13:7 quoted here to give context “Throughout the seven days unleavened bread shall be eaten; no leavened bread shall be found with you, and no leaven shall be found in all your territory.”)

Shemot 13:8 - “And you shall explain to your child on that day, ‘It is because of what G-d did for me when I went free from Egypt.’” Stage direction: Said with attitude.



Shemot 13:14 - “And when, in time to come, a child of yours asks you, saying, ‘What does this mean?’ you shall reply, ‘It was with a mighty hand that יהוה brought us out from Egypt, the house of bondage’.”

Sh”Y”L    -      Shemot 13:8 - “And you shall explain to your child on that day, ‘It is because of what G-d did for me when I went free from Egypt.’” Stage direction: Said without attitude.



What the Verse Says We Should Say To Them 


Devarim 6:21-25 - You shall say to your children, “We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt and יהוה freed us from Egypt with a mighty hand.G-d wrought before our eyes marvelous and destructive signs and portents in Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his household; G-d freed us from there, in order to take us and give us the land promised on oath to our fathers.Then G-d commanded us to observe all these laws, to revere our G-d, for our lasting good and for our survival, as is now the case.It will be therefore to our merit before our G-d to observe faithfully this whole Instruction, as G-d has commanded us.”


 Shemot 12:27  - “You shall say, ‘It is the passover sacrifice to G-d, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt when smiting the Egyptians, but saved our houses.’ (Those assembled then bowed low in homage.)”