Category Archives: Archives 5760


Adar I 5760 – Rabbi Leib Keleman: Letter to a Student in Medical School, Part 4 of 4

1 Adar I 5760

***JemSem SPECIAL!***
This is Part 4 in a series of letters written by Rabbi Leib Keleman to a student in medical school.

Dear Rena,

Human Divinity exists mostly in potential. The average person often allows his short-sighted, pleasure-oriented body to dictate decisions. He befriends those who meet his personal needs, works at a job that maximally benefits himself, and spends his money for his own satisfaction.

Hoe much mankind has realized its overall Divine potential could probably be charted in a bell curve that looks something like this:

There are a handful of individuals who genuinely act like animals; most people alternate giving and taking; and a minority have achieved most of their Divine potential and spend most of their waking moments immersed in altruism, consciously and effectively making the world a better place.

How much Divine potential we have realized can be measured with a single index: Altruism. People who spend a higher percentage of their lives thinking about and taking care of others score high on this single-index measurement, and usually they indeed have realized more of their Divine potential. The single-index measurement is valuable for getting a general reading of one’s spiritual health.

However, the single-index reading is not that valuable when we are trying to come up with a practical prescription for taking the next step in our spritual growth. People have a hard time working on something as vague as “Try to be more altruistic.”

Therefore, God provides thousands of more precise indices by which human development can be measured. These indices are called middos (in the plural). Each middah (in the singular) is an internalized pattern of thought, speech or behavior – a behavioral subroutine. For example, orderliness is a middah, as is patience, concentration, and appreciation. An addiction to cigarettes is also a middah, as is the habit of shoplifting. Stuttering and over-eating are also middos.

A middah can be likened to an internal videotape. The Torah teaches that each time we confront a situation we consult our internal video library to determine how we should react. These are not necessarily videos of things we’ve actually experienced. These videos are imaginative portrayals of situations and how we might react. Let’s illustrate. Say that someone punches me in the nose and I scream. A layman might think that I screamed because it hurt. A Talmud scholar has a different perspective. He will explain that this is what happened:

As the fist was moving towards my nose, I realized that it was going to impact at 25 miles per hour. My lightning-fast internal system then searched for the appropriate video:

“Hmmm, here’s the video of someone kicking me. No. Hmmm, here’s the video of someone pinching me. No. Oh, over here are the videos of someone punching me. Here’s 10 MPH. No, that’s not it. Here’s 20 MPH. No. Here it is! Someone punching me at 25 MPH. Okay, I’ll just fast-forward. There’s someone punching my arm. No. There’s someone punching my back. No, that’s not it yet. Here it is! Someone punching my nose at 25 MPH. Heh! Look at that! There I am, walking along innocently and… Heh! Look! There’s a guy walking right up to me! He’s about to punch me! He hit me! Look at that! I’m screaming. Okay, now I know how to react. I’ll just turn off this videotape and go back to real life…”

And then I scream when he punches me. I screamed, not because it hurt, but because I saw on my internal video that screaming was the appropriate response. If the internal video would have been different, I would have reacted differently.

Internal videos have three sources:

(a) We are born with a full array of habits and addictions which manifest themselves as we mature.

(b) We take video-movies of individuals we admire, copying their patterns of thoght, speech and behavior. It is very common that people copy middos in this way from their parents, teachers, and favorite television characters. Children also copy the middos of their closest friends or those they perceived to be heroic or “cool” at school or extracurricular events.

(c) We may show ourselves commercials for patterns of thought, speech or behavior that we wish to internalize. This is where the mitzvah system comes in to play. Mitzvahs are commercials which cultivate appropriate internal videos. Eah mitzvah develops a different aspect of human behavior. Mitzvahs create appropriate internal videos even if we aren’t aware of the proces, although being aware of the process accelerates it and permits us precise control over exactly how we want the final video to look.

Item C above is thrilling, for it accurately implies that human character is malleable. By editing our internal videos (or, in the language of the Talmud, by “working on our middos”), we can eliminate any addiction or bad habit – be it a pattern of thought, speech or behavior. We can also plant, deeply in our personality, any positive pattern of thought, speech or behavior.

There is even more to be thrilled about, however.

While secular psychologists say that a variety of therapies succeed in changing people superficially, authorities agree that these changes exist only in the most exterior layers of human personality, and under stress the patient will likely revert to his deeply rooted habits and addictions. Thus, a participant in an Alcoholics Anonymous or Overeathres Anonymous meeting will introduce himself by saying, “Hello, my name is Fred, and I am a recoverng alcoholic [or overeater].” He will refer to himself as “recovering” even if he has not touched alcohol or overeaten for fifteen years, for there is a sober realization among psychologists taht they can never rip the addiction or bad habit out by its roots. The best they can do is erase it from the surface of human behavior and protect the individual from the sorts of stresses that might reveal the lingering roots.

Using Torah, we can accomplish much more. The mitzvah system, when handled by an expert, can entirely root out unwanted middos and replace them with desired middos. I don’t refer to myself as a “recovering secularist.” In the few areas where I have worked on my middos, I am a religious Jew… to the core. Moreover, because Torah works on the human being at such a deep level, the results are absolutely permanent. A person who, for example, overcomes anger and develops patience using the Torah system is really like someone who was born patient. There is no trace whatsoever of the former, inappropriate middah.

In the next note I hope to write a little about seven bsic middos that exist in spiritually healthy people. Until then, continue practicing the exercise of leaving a little food and drink over.

Leib Keleman


Adar I 5760 – The Purpose of Life

1 Adar I 5760

Dear Rabbi Orlofsky:

I’m a frum Bais Yaakov girl from a frum family and please don’t misinterpret my letter as one of Chas V’shalom “apikorsus” or anything like that….i’m just a little..well, confused and need some questions answered.

I’m a senior in high school and I’ve heard you speak before and heard a couple of your tapes and I can honestly say that you are the best speaker I’ve heard. The charismatic and witty way in which you deliver your shiurim is both captivating and inspirational and that is why I am writing to you for some help answering some questions I’ve had for a little while.

In one of your shiurim you said that you had been speaking to a group of teenagers and said to them, “If I put two buttons in front of you and if you push the one on the left, you’ll become any religion you want and if you push the button on the right, you’ll remain Jewish – many of them said they’d push the button on the left. Why? Because being Jewish doesn’t mean that much to them”… I was thinking about what you said… a lot. I know deep inside that all I’ve been brought up to know about Hashem and Torah – I know it’s all Emes… deep inside. But I don’t feel like I’m living all that as a constant reality. I don’t feel “I’m so proud to be a Jew and be Oved Hashem each and every day”….. probably because I don’t feel like I have that strong of a kesher to Hashem. How do I strengthen that kesher? How do I begin to live and breath and love Torah with all my heart? How do I become someone who is on the road to laying a rock-solid foundation for the family I will IY”H build in the near future? What can I do to gain the maximum from my limudei kodesh classes and feel a true love for Torah? I love to learn and B”H am a strong student and a determined one. But I feel like I’m wasting my time when I just take notes on the material being taught but don’t gain a whole lot from it. What good is 100% on a test when I know that only 25% of the information made its way into my heart and I was only able to pull out a small amount from what we learned, to apply to my personal, everyday life?

Please try to answer my questions at your convenience. Thank you so much for your time.

[Name withheld to protect privacy]


Thank you so much for your beautiful letter and your kind words. I’m always amazed when I have the opportunity to have an impact on someone’s life when I speak. You sound like an intelligent and deep young lady and I will do the best I can to address your question.

First of all, forget the apikorus stuff. How can a person address any issues in their life if they’re terrified to ask anything? I was once speaking in a Bais Yaakov seminary here in Eretz Yisroel on the subject of how to answer basic questions. A number of girls said that you shouldn’t answer questions because it shows a lack of Emunah. I told them that if that is the case, then they should give up now. If Emunah means believing anything without questioning, then we will never have the level of Emunah that the Christians have, never mind the Mormons! Those people have real Emunah because, compared to us they believe some of the most amazing things. At the seder we do all kinds of things to encourage the children to ask questions, so the more you ask, the better.

Girls like you don’t worry me. What worries me are the people who don’t bother to ask the questions that should be asked. I was once speaking about this subject in a Bais Yaakov seminary (a different one) and the girls were confronted by the points you have just raised. They’re basically doing Avodas Hashem because they have to. So I asked them to tell me what they did with their spare time, you know after they had davened and said Tehillim and helped the old lady across the street and read to the blind. They said then they did the things they wanted to do – shop, read novels talk to their friends. Torah and Mitzvot were things they had to do, not things they wanted to do.

So having closed this meeting of the Mutual Admiration Society, what do we do? Let’s start at the beginning – and it is the question that the Ramchal in Mesillas Yesharim says is the first step to shelaymus. Why are we alive? What are we doing in this world? And his answer is – to get the greatest pleasure and delight in the world! We were created to have the best time. The only challenge we have as frum Jews (and all people have, by the way) is to figure out what’s the best time. Answers the Mesillas Yesharim, the best time is getting close to Hashem because it is the Infinite pleasure. We are here to have the best time, and the goal of Torah and Mitzvos are to help us get the best time.

Now one of the biggest mistakes people make when learning the Mesillas Yesharim is they think the only place to have this unbelievable pleasure is in the next world! Wrong! The purpose is to have the most unbelievable pleasure IN THIS WORLD! NOW! If you don’t believe me, get a copy of “Lekut Sichos Mussar” vol. 2 by Rav Yitzchok Izaak Sher. He has a peirush on Mesillas Yesharim where he says this clearly. Also see the last perek of Mesillas Yesharim where he also says you can have the pleasure of Olam Habah in this world “mamash”.

So if you ask me, the reason to be a frum Jew is to have the greatest time IN THIS WORLD. Now, to go any deeper into this subject, you will either have to attend my shiur in Mesillas Yesharim in Darchei Binah or get my tapes on Mesillas Yesharim which are available through Long Island NCSY: 516-371-0500.

In the meantime, you should plan to go to a great seminary in Eretz Yisroel where you can get answers and a feeling about what it means to live a life in love with Hashem and to learn how to feel that infinite pleasure. Until then, although it sounds a little crazy, try talking to Hashem. Not just davening – talking. If you let Hashem into your life, you can begin to get this feeling right away. When the Chidushei HaRim was little, someone asked him playfully “Where is Hashem?’ He answered “Anyplace you let Him in.”

Keep strong and keep asking questions. The only way we Jews live is through questions. Why? I’ll give you that one as a gift.

Dovid Orlofsky


Shevat 5760 – Rabbi Leib Keleman: Letter to a Student in Medical School, Part 3 of 4

1 Shevat 5760

***JemSem SPECIAL!***
This is Part III in a series of letters written by Rabbi Leib Keleman to a student in medical school.

Dear Rena,

In the Torah (Genesis 1:26), God writes that He created man in His own image. Why create us in His image? In His effort to do the greatest kindness, God opted to give His creation the opportunity to experience the ultimate good: being like God Himself. God cannot create an exact copy of Himself, since logic precludes the existence of two omnipotent, omnipresent Beings. However, God could create a creature virtually like Himself… and that is who we are. A human being soars spirtually over all creations (including angels).

At birth a human being is only God-like in potential. In reality, we are selfish, dominated by bodily concerns about our own survival and pleasure. Altruism develops slowly over time and with lots of hard work. The purpose of life is to draw our potential into reality; and the process of drawing our potential into reality is the process of the soul training the body to be loving and giving.

What is the relationship of body and soul? Parent and child. Before a soul is sent down into this world, it is given a little child to love and care for… the body. My body is my child and I am privileged and obligated to spend my life loving and caring for my precious child. A human being is thus really two creatures woven into a single fabric: We are a spiritual soul more holy than the highest angelic creatures, separated from God Himself by only a hairsbreadth; and a physical body not too dissimilar from an animal (although considerably more intelligent). We are a parent and a child locked in an eternal embrace.

All parents have two sorts of obligations towards their children: Physical and Spiritual:

Physically, I must provide my child with proper sleep, food, clothing and exercise, etc. If I deprive my child in any of these areas, I am guilty of child abuse. I have the same sort of physical obligations toward my body. Sleeping too little, eating garbage, going out improperly dressed, or not exercising constitute abuse of my own personal child. Those who give their personal child – their body – proper personal care are good parents.

Spiritually, I must provide my child with a Torah education, ethical guidance, and proper manners. Just as I should not deprive my child of proper physical care, so too I should not deprive him of spiritual care. All of this also applies to my body. I, the soul, must help my body learn about Torah, mitzvos, and manners.

Many people don’t realize they have a soul, often because their soul is a silent, passive partner who rarely exerts itself to develop a relationship with the body. The soul is carried from experience to experience, watching indifferently as the body does whatever it wants – even if the body’s behavior is sometimes hurtful, inappropriate or self-destructive.

The first step in personal development – the first step in refining the body’s character – is to awaken our soul and give it full responsibility for the body’s welfare and education. To this end, consider trying the following exercise:

For one month, every time your body eats or drinks, ask it to please leave unconsumed a small amount of food or liquid. For example, if you are served a hamburger, fries, and a Coke, eat and drink normally, even taking second and third helpings if you wish, but leave over a small piece of hamburger the size of the last joint in your index finger and enough liqud to take one last sip. Explain to your body that it can eat as much as it wants, but it may not consume the last piece of food or drop of liquid. Missing such a small amount of food and drink will not add to the body’s hunger at all, so comfort is not really the issue here. The issue is control: Who is in charge in life? The body or the soul?

The exercise sounds easy, but it probably won’t be, especially if you sit at the table for a while after you finish eating. You will find that your bady will try “forgetting” to leave over food and drink anytime it can. Keep a written record of your progress, writing down at the end of each day what percentage of times you consumed a meal or snack and successfully left over food and/or drink.

This is a basic exercise in passing control back to the soul. Over the next several months we will modify it several times, and eventually you will graduate to more advanced exercises. Like all the exercises you will have an opportunity to practice, this exercise appears in Shulchan Aruch (the Code of Jewish Law) and it has been practiced by observant Jewry for more than three millenia.

As you develop yourself using these sorts of exercises, you will also develop a loving relationship between body and soul. They will learn about each other, noting each other’s strengths, weaknesses and idiosyncrasies. They will disagree at times, but disagreeing is also part of building a thriving, healthy, loving relationship. Most importantly, they will get to know each other; and, hopefully, they will begin to celebrate working together.

I’ll leave you with a true story about Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, a leader of world Jewry who passed away in 1985. Towards the end of R’ Moshe’s life, he left the yeshiva every day for lunch. A different student was honored each day with walking R’ Moshe to a waiting car at the bottom of the stairs outside the yeshiva. The car would take R’ Moshe home and pick him up again later in the afternoon to return him to the yeshiva. One day, an honored student was helping the elderly R’ Moshe into the car. The student didn’t realize that R’ Moshe was not completely settled in the car seat yet and was still holding on to the roof of the car, and the student slammed the car door on R’ Moshe’s hand. R’ Moshe thought, “If I scream, the driver will turn and see what happened, and this student will go down in history as the one who slammed the car door on R’ Moshe’s hand.” R’ Moshe considered the problem and the severity of embarrassing another, and chose to remain silent. The car took off with R’ Moshe’s hand caught in the door. R’ Moshe sat quietly, afraid that opening the door would alert the driver and give away the student’s misdeed. When the car reached R’ Moshe’s house, R’ Moshe quickly got out, hiding his bleeding hand until he entered his home and his wife tended to the injury. word of the story got out years later when R’ Moshe’s wife felt that no one would possible guess which student it was who slammed th car door on R’ Moshe’s fingers. When aquestioned, R’ Moshe explained that he had trained his body always to check with his soul first before reacting. After decades of brilliant childraising, R’ Moshe’s body loe and trusted R’ Moshe’s soul and was een willing to listen under such exruciating circumstances. Because R’ Moshe’s soul built this special relationship with his body, whne the need unexpectedly arose, the two were able to perform together ehroicly. These are the heights of sensitivity and control God will help us achieve too through our study of Torah and practice of its exercises.

Leib Keleman


Shevat 5760 – The Perils of College Literature Clases

1 Shevat 5760

Dear Rabbi Orlofsky:

We all know that everything we read affects us, and that certain things are not just inappropriate but downright assur to read because they contain apikorsus or other problems. But the boundaries seem so unclear – in a typical first-year college literature class, how am I supposed to know what I can read and what I can’t? For example, our first assignment is the Odyssey – is it OK to read Greek mythology? Any help would me much apppreciated!

Shana Frankel
Michlalah 5759

You are touching on a very serious problem, and one that perhaps is more appropriate for the “Ask The Posek” column than mine, since I deal with what to tell other people rather than what to tell ourselves. But since most of the time when we speak to other people we are talking to ourselves, I figure I might as well take a stab at it anyway.

To begin with let us never forget what the goal of the game is – to achieve shelaymus. Anything that helps us achieve that is worthwhile, anything that we suspect will take us away from that, then in the words of the Mesillas Yesharim “flee from it like you would run away from a fire”. This obviously doesn’t apply to Israelis who for some strange reason run towards a “chafetz chashud” instead of from away from it. Nonetheless, that is our yardstick. Ask ourselves if what we are doing is going to help us or hinder us.

Having said that, let’s examine the issue at hand. You are correct when you say that what you read affects you in a very real and powerful way. As such we must be careful what we read (and listen to and look at). Mythology is one of the less troublesome issues. I once heard a tape from HaRav Dovid Cohen Shlita who was speaking at an AJOP convention and was asked this question. He answered by explaining that the names of our months are the names of Babylonian gods. Once they became discredited, he postulates, using them became a form of laitzanus. Likewise, learning mythology (which most people realize is not true) is not a problem.

The area that is more difficult is pornography that masquerades as literature. Unfortunately, what is considered artistic freedom from Western civilization is often considered debauchery by Torah standards. In that instance if you are being asked to read something of an objectionable nature, such as “Lady Chatterly’s Lover” then I would tell the professor that my religion forbids me to read this work. If he gives you a hard time, contact COLPA and make a national incident out of it. I don’t know if it will help your situation, but it will make a great article in the “Jewish Observer”. Seriously, when my wife went to Queens College, she would explain to the professor if something was objectionable and they were quite understanding. They failed her. I’m kidding!

Apikorses is another problem. I highly recommend undergraduate students NOT to take Philosophy. Philosophy professors have a tendency to be one sided in presentations and quite unsympathetic to religious points of view. I’m generalizing and there are exceptions, but this is just an online service, for crying out loud. In literature as well. Be wary. The most important thing is to keep an ongoing relationship with a Rav and present ideas and conclusions to him, even if they appear innocuous. When I took Psychology everything was presented in such an absolute way that I bought it hook, line and sinker. Luckily I had a chavrusa with an older guy in Yeshiva who counterbalanced the information I was receiving.

So good luck and remember that if we are going into a makom sakana we should do so with our eyes wide open and prepared to do battle for what we believe. We only have one soul, let’s not lose it.

Good Luck.

Dovid Orlofsky


Teves 5760 – Y2K

15 Teves 5760

Dear Rabbi Orlofsky:

I recently got into a discussion with my cousin who claims to be an atheist. She basically just asked me if I believe in the end of time, or “Armageddon”, if you will. I answered that I do believe that the world will come to a change at a given unknown time. To my surprise, at that point she said “so you believe that the world will come to an end as of midnight of December 31, 1999?” Now apparently I do not believe in the whole Y2K Meshugas thing which society has blown out of proportion about the chaos that will reign amongst the people of the world (not to mention certain unfixed computer glitches). Neither do I believe the Christian calendar to be an accurate measurement of time. However, upon repeating the conversation to a friend, I found myself voicing out loud some thoughts that really bothered me, and I hope don’t deem me as being an Apirkores, Chalila.

Based upon my limited knowledge on Milchemes Gog U’Mogog and the coming of Moshiach, I managed to construe an entire scenario which, to be quite honest, has freaked me out. First of all, according to little bits of information I’ve gleaned throughout my mere existence, no one is 100% quite certain as to what and how exactly Milchemes Gog U’Mogog will occur and as to exactly what will occur. Additionally, we have no idea as to how long the “process” will be and who indeed will be affected by it. With all of the above in mind, and with all of the media broadcasts that shower our heads and are brain-cell-consuming, its no wonder that I’m suddenly wondering about the realistic damage that may indeed occur on the eve of December 31st, 1999. Which leads me to my real question.

Is it at all possible that the ultimate “who is who in Judaism” test will occur on that evening, a Makas Bechoros-like plague from which only those of us protected by Shabbos will be able to escape? By plague, I don’t mean some Y2K bugs taking over the computer world and creating chaos as is assumed by most others. I’m referring to Y2K cults threatening to emerge and wreak havoc and the latest terrorist threats which have been the most recent cries for attention. In other words, if we indeed don’t know how Milchemes Gog U’Magog will unravel itself, can it be assumed that there is a chance that the Kochos and Mazalos of this day, deemed by the rest of the world as a day of chaos and evil may indeed be true to its preconceived notions; thus wreaking havoc amongst the entire universe, except for those of us that are above Mazal and have the ability to change what was originally to have been?

Perhaps I am looking too deeply into a matter that should not concern me as it has or that is not within my league to tackle and mess around with. However, my curiosity has led me to compose this letter and why not send a copy of what is on my mind? I’d appreciate it if you could clarify any misconstrued issues that have developed within my mind and thoughts, thus eliminating the terrible idea that, aside for being the Frum Jew that I am, I also double as an Apirkores.

Rivka Lichtenstein
Bnos Rochel 5756

Dear Rivka,

There’s a pretty good chance that by the time you get this letter, it will be after the first of January, in which case it will be a pretty moot point if the world ends because there won’t be too much you can do about it.

I agree with your basic approach – no one knows what’s going to happen. As someone close to Reb Eliyashuv is fond of saying, “those who talk don’t know, and those who know, don’t talk”.

Is it worthwhile to improve various aspects of our Avodas Hashem during this time? Undoubtably. But you need to hear from someone pretty big before you have to start to panic.

Hang in there and let’s hope that Moshiach gets here before December 31.

Dovid Orlofsky