Tag Archive: Mussar

Of Curses, Seforim & Kareem Abdul-Jabaar!

A little over a month ago I wrote about a reported meeting between Chief Rabbi Lau and Lakers legend, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. This post went viral and was even cited in this article on ESPN.com. I have received emails from many readers around the globe who have responded to this story. One reader in particular shared the following story with me and was even so kind as to photocopy the following story that appears in a sefer entitled Birkas Abba Yaakov. This sefer was released in tribute to Rabbi Abba Yaakov Liff zt”l and shares many stories and vignettes about his life and passion for all things Torah. While he passed away now over 23 years ago, he will forever be remembered as one of the original students of Ner Israel Rabbinical College as well as the name behind the Yeshiva known as: Ner Yaakov.

On page 50 footnote 37 Birkas Abba Yaakov documents that the Rabbi was ill for several years before succumbing to his illness. On one occasion, the Rabbi had to fly to Cleveland to have an operation. And so, he took not one but two cases of seforim which were with him the entire stay. On his return flight back to Baltimore, passengers were up in arms that there was a famous basketball star on the airplane by the name of none other than Kareem Abdul-Jabaar! This name didn’t really register to Rabbi Liff until he returned home with all the suitcases and the two cartons of seforim; instead, there was a television and other electronics that belonged to none other than Kareem! The Rabbi quickly surmised that the airline must have mixed up the box with the seforim and this box (this was clearly in the days prior to the TSA!).

Indeed, when Rabbi Liff called the airline to alert them to the mix up he was told that Mr. Jabaar had already called requesting his electronics, but he denied that he had seen the seforim . In the interest of being the upstanding citizen that he was, Rabbi Liff sent him the box with the electronics but was visibly shaken by the loss of some of his favorite seforim.

A number of days passed and out of the blue an unaffiliated Jew called Rabbi Liff from of all places Washington. He told the Rabbi that he had found seforim with Rabbi Liff’s name and address inscribed in them in the middle of the highway between Baltimore and Washington! Rabbi Liff could only assume that the young basketball star threw the box out of his car window when he realized that it didn’t contain his electronics. Regardless of who actually treated his holy seforim this way, Rabbi Liff remarked then and there that whoever defiled his seforim in such a manner deserved to be cursed for having them be literally strewn onto the highway. After all, if not for a good Samaritan who happened to read some Hebrew—they would have been lost forever!

Within a few days, Kareem Abdul-Jabaar broke his right hand while playing a basketball game. It was such a hard hit that it broke the backboard as well as his hand. Reports of his injury were all over the media, and it took him months to recover. However, Rabbi Liff believed that the reason why his hand in particular was punished with this career altering injury was because it was this very hand that carelessly disgraced the Torah by throwing out the seforim of Rabbi Liff.

This is not the first report of a Rabbi cursing a public figure. There are alleged reports all across the Jewish world and perhaps even snopes.com as to which Rabbi supposedly cursed Joseph Kennedy, damning him and all his male offspring to tragic fates because of his resistance to help Jews flee the Holocaust. I am not here to debate the accuracy of either “The Kennedy Curse” or “The Jabaar Curse” that has only recently come to my attention. The take away that I believe we can all learn from these instances is that we never know who we may meet—even ever so casually—who will forever alter our life. We must treat every person, every human life, and the belongings of everyone with the greatest of respect! We never know what may come back to haunt us down the road or days later. By truly working this message into every aspect of our life (and not just from 9 to 5) we will show a great amount of honor to the Torah and the ways of Hashem.

UPDATE: I received the following from Rabbi Yechiel Liff (Rabbi Liff’s son). Despite the Sefer printing that Rabbi Liff was going to Cleveland, he son told me that he traveled to Milwaukee to have open heart by pass surgery. Indeed, this sits better with the overall story as the first city that Mr. Jabaar played basketball in was Milwaukee.

UPDATE 2: Kareem did not break a backboard. During the 1974 preseason, Abdul-Jabbar broke his hand after punching the basket support stanchion following a hard foul. On the play, Abdul-Jabbar scratched his eye and he would wear protective goggles for the rest of his playing career. The broken hand sidelined Abdul-Jabbar for the first 16 games of the 1974-75 season. With (Oscar) Robertson retired, the Bucks went 38-44 and missed the playoffs for the first time since Abdul-Jabbar was drafted (http://espn.go.com/nba/player/bio/_/id/4145/kareem-abdul-jabbar).

Torah Thoughts on Privacy & Technology Stalking!

In today’s day and age it seems like people use a screen to not simply get their work done. Rather, we use smartphones or computer monitors to “zone out” or “chill.” Doing so is certainly important—but it should be done in moderation. Unfortunately, we all know people who are consumed with updating their Facebook status or playing Angry Birds to the extent that they don’t learn or consume their time with all the wonderful things that life offers us. Indeed, if one took a moment to contemplate the greater things in life, a person may  realize that from the advanced technological world in which we live in, we can further see the wondrousness of Hashem.

Recently, the media (see here) has been up in arms about the fact that Apple and Google are intensifying privacy concerns by tracking where and when people use their mobile phones. However, while this concern is real and genuine (and I encourage everyone to at least follow this easy step to secure their information on their iPhone) we need to heed the words of Dr. Pentland, director of MIT’s Human Dynamics Laboratory, who helped pioneer research in this field. Pentland hit the nail on the head when he noted that, “people can get this god’s-eye view of human behavior.”

Here is the director of MIT’s Human Dynamics Laboratory admitting that this allows us to appreciate an insight into Hashem’s view of human behavior. As a child we are all told that Hashem is watching over us at all times and knows our very movements, thoughts, and actions (also see my earlier blog post on this topic Google and God). In contemporary times, I believe that Hashem is using technology to show us his greatness. For instance, through the invention of the telephone we witnessed that it is possible for one to talk to another person across continents; and from the smartphone we now see that it’s possible to know the thoughts, health and location of millions of individuals.

And so, we must realize that if companies are accessing this information, the Almighty sure can!!

Our task is to use this technologically advanced world that we live in as an impetus not for spiritual decline—but growth.

The next time we are yapping on our smartphone and are about to  speak about or watch something unbecoming for a Jew, we should remember that it’s not just Fortune 500 companies who will forever have this information on us—but the ultimate Creator as well!

For more on this topic, I encourage all to listen to Rav Mordechai Willig’s shuir titled, Privacy and Shared Information: The Torah Perspective.

Heartwarming Mussar from a Two-legged Turtle!

The following story recently took place in Brazil: A turtle had an unfortunate run-in with an electric fence. Ultimately, veterinarians were left with no choice but to amputate BOTH of the turtle’s front legs. Facing a life slower than even a normal pokey turtle pace, the team at Veterinary Hospital of Uberaba came up with a creative solution—wheels! With the help of two wheels typically used for office furniture, the hapless turtle was back on the move, wheeling around the hospital in no time.

I believe this story is something we all can learn from! Turtles are known to be incredibly slow.

This Brazilian turtle was seemingly doomed to live a life as: The Slowest Turtle Known to Mankind!

And yet, due to a healthy dose of effort and persistence on the account of the veterinarians to not give up on this hapless turtle—he will be able to carry on with life for many years to come. This episode reminds me of the famous quote from Denis Waitley who states, “the results you achieve will be in direct proportion to the effort you apply!” In this instance the veterinarians put a great amount of effort and thought into how they could restore a semblance of normalcy for this little turtle. In so doing, they accomplished their goal, and by extension, taught us all a lesson as well.

You see, if on a particular day you find yourself feeling a bit down—think of this cute turtle! After all, even if you feel like there is no hope…all you need is a bit of effort, persistence, and belief that the Ultimate Doctor—Hashem—is looking out for our best—and wallah there will be a new set of wheels right around the corner that will help us be back up and running!

Life Lessons from an iPhone App

I’ve enjoyed the ability to pull out my iPhone 4 and snap cute moments of my kids or an interesting scene as I’m out and about walking the holy streets of Jerusalem. That said, while there’s seemingly so many iPhone Apps out there that they are becoming hard to find (see this article by Hillel Fuld illustrating this point) the soon to launch iPhone App Lifelapse caught my eye. You see, I don’t view it as simply another iPhone App. Rather, I consider it a Mussar App. The reason for this is because while we all know that Hashem is watching and recording our actions, with the hectic daily schedules we lead it is hard to remember that we still must account for our every move and decision. Ultimately, we will have to account for  all of our interpersonal relationships. From the  the person we greet in the street to our loved ones at home…we must perform with proper Middos.

Enter: Lifelapse.

This App reminds us that every moment in our life counts and is recorded. And so, while I’m not encouraging you to buy or even try it (quite frankly I can’t see myself doing either of those two things :) ….), the fact that such an App will be available for the consumer, can serve as a perfect contemporary reminder to think before we simply respond to something with a knee-jerk reaction or a crude flippant remark.

Chachma from LeBron James & Coach John Wooden

Just last week, the nation turned in to hear where, the self proclaimed, “King James,” a.k.a. LeBron James would decide to play the game of basketball! Indeed, people are still wrapped up in all the hoopla of LeBron James leaving his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers, and joing the Miami Heat! However, I’d rather focus on a man who recently passed away, just a few months ago, on June 4th, at the age of 99: Coach John Wooden. Coach Wooden, was someone who in my opinion fulfilled the words of our Sages who teach, “yesh chachma bagoyim” there is wisdom among the nations! Indeed, Rashi also contends that he who truly values wisdom will seek it wherever it can be found. In fact, our Sages even institute a special blessing to be said upon meeting a great non-Jewish scholar. In short, Coach Wooden is the polar opposite of “King James.” For instance, despite receiving other offers throughout the years, he never left his beloved UCLA Basketball Team. Moreover, he was a man of great ethics and principals. However, as related in this Rick Reily ESPN.com Video below, his greatest love was not the game of basketball. Instead, it is and remained, even after she died – his wife. For years on end, he would still write her poetry and cry over his lose of his beloved life companion.

Additionally, being that we believe that Secular knowledge is not inherently negative (see here), I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that although his UCLA Bruins won a record 10 NCAA national championships and their 88-game winning streak is the longest in major collegiate basketball history, his favorite part of coaching was leading the practice sessions in which he taught the fundamentals that were the foundation of his success. He would teach his players everything from the proper way to put on their socks to lacing their shoes! After all, he used to say, “It’s the little things that make the big things happen.”

All in all, Coach Wooden was more than a basketball coach, he was arguably the first Life Coach and always more pleased by his players’ success in life than on the basketball court. There’s much we can learn from him. Here are some of his quotes that can relate to us in our daily lives:

  • “Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be.”
  • “Never mistake activity for achievement.”
  • “Winning takes talent; to repeat takes character.”
  • “I’d rather have a lot of talent and a little experience than a lot of experience and a little talent.”
  • “A coach is someone who can give correction without causing resentment.”
  • “If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not doing anything. I’m positive that a doer makes mistakes.”
  • “If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?”
  • It isn’t what you do, but how you do it.”
  • “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.”
  • “Success comes from knowing that you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.”
  • “Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.”

In the midst of the era of athletes and sports figures becoming so ego-centric that it’s news when an athlete makes a subtle quiet announcement (see here in regards to Keven Durant)  I hope Coach Wooden’s words will be an inspiration and remind us to keep our eyes on the real prize of life!

I highly recommend: Coach Wooden’s Pyramid of Success: Building Blocks For a Better Life.

I highly recommend: LeBronathon: How to Hype Up Your Life, by Rabbi Boruch Leff.


A Mussar Message from Steve Nash!

As a child, I was a resilient follower of my local sports teams. Frankly, that was an easy task as I grew up in Los Angeles, during an era in which the Dodgers won the World Series and the Lakers…have they ever been bad? Anyways, as time went on my interests began to wane. Nowadays, I would say that when I do tune in to sports I like to follow a different angle. Truth be told, YC noted my current interest in professional sports in this recent Tweet. That said, I’d be remiss to not mention how I’ve been inspired by the playing and preservance of the 36 year-old Steve Nash of the Phoenix Suns. Nash, a two time regular season MVP, (finally) led his team to the Western Conference Championships. However, from my prospective, win or loose, he has shown that he has a true love for the game, and by extension, a seemingly innate desire to act as a playmaker and win the NBA Title. In the previous round, in which his team defeated the San Antonio Spurs, Steve Nash was clobbered so badly that one of his eyes was swollen shut! Nonetheless, after withstanding a couple of stitches he quickly headed back out to the floor to resume his role as Point Guard and Captain of his team. Furthermore, as if he enjoyed these altercations, in the current series against the Lakers, he has already been besieged with a broken nose.

So let’s get this straight.

Standing at only a bit over 6 feet tall (see here) he may seem like a giant to us common-folk. However, in the National Basketball Association, he’s really a small guy, who because of his scrawniness, could get unintentionally bruised up, banged up, and so on and so forth. Additionally, he is playing in a league with speedy young men. And yet, despite his “old” age, the wear and tear on his body and his height, the guy is a hoops machine! He just keeps on shooting and winning regardless of what’s stitched or broken.

Likewise, hats off to Duncan Keith of the Chicago Blackhawks, who played after seven teeth got knocked out. Guess what? His team is now in the Stanley Cup Finals!

Reading about the stories of Steve Nash and Duncan Keith, reminds me that as human beings, we can live a life in which obstacles are placed in our way. Moreover, at times, things are broken one after another seemingly so frequently, that all we may want to do is curl up into the fetal position and cry! And frankly, if we did so, it wouldn’t be wrong. If Nash or Keith would have taken the rest of the night off they had every reason to not play. After all, it’s not within reason to compete at the highest level with one eye or several missing teeth! That said, they kept their “eye(s) on the prize” and didn’t let anything sway or distract them. The best thing to do in life is to remember the wise words of Bill Copeland who famously remarked, “The trouble with not having a goal is that you can spend your life running up and down the field and never score.”

As such, I implore everyone to have a goal in life. If you don’t yet know what your goal is, I suggest you take some time TODAY to define your goal. Define your goal for the next six months, for the next year, for the next five years, and certainly set a lifetime goal! In so doing, you will help ensure that despite any bumps or bruises in your personal road, you will know where the basket or net is to keep on shooting. It may take a bit longer to reach than you anticipated; or you may have to try a different method or approach to reach your goal.  That said, if you pick yourself up, instead of looking for self pity, and keep on entering and shooting in the game called life, you will constantly move in a positive direction.

For another perspective on sports see this recent article by Dr. William Kolbrenner.

Rabbi Yaakov Hillel—A Real Kabbalist

While I am not of Sephardic decent, I have a great amount of respect for their practices and heritage. Indeed, I even enjoy praying at the occasional Sephardic Minyan and listening to the Middle Eastern incantations and melodies. Recently, I was fortunate to meet with and speak to one of the most well respected Sephardic Sages of our time-the great Rabbi Yaakov Hillel. Accordingly, I thought it would be appropriate to enlighten my readership to some of his English and Hebrew books that exude the wisdom of Judaism.

In his first book to ever be translated into English, Faith and Folly: The Occult in Torah Perspective (Tamim Tehiyah) Rabbi Yaakov Hillel, the Dean of Yeshivat Chevrat Ahavat Shalom in Jerusalem and a authoritative figure on mystical subjects, tackles the issues of superstitions, astrology, palmistry, sorcery, and other esoteric practices. In this 119 page book, Rabbi Hillel guides us clearly and concisely through the practices, telling us what is sanctioned and what is forbidden today.

It is worth noting however, that he strongly does not approve of Practical Kabbalah:

“If a person uses Practical Kabbalah…the evil that adheres to the good will cling to him. His soul which he had hoped to purify, will be sullied with evil (Faith and Folly page 45).”

“No one should use Practical Kabbalah unless he has been informed by Eliyahu Ha-Navi or shown clear signs that God wills it and his soul is suited for it (ibid page 47).”

In fact, the holy Arizal not only forbade teaching this form of Kabbalah to his disciple Rabbi Chaim Vital, but he also prohibited the use of Practical Kabbalah (Sha’ar Ha-Mitzvot, Parashat Shemot)

While there is much more that can be discussed on this topic, it is worth surveying the sources that Rabbi Hillel provides us. Quickly, we will all be able to make an educated opinion as to both our study of Torah and spiritual focus.

Additionally, another work of his that has recently been made available to the English speaking public is titled, Roni Akarah: A Guide for the Childless Couple. Whether one is religious or unaffiliated, Jewish or non-Jewish, infertility afflicts thousands of couples every year. To that end, this book is written with wisdom and sensitivity and is a treasure house of knowledge and encouragement for a Jewish husband and wife.

Finally, arguably the most recognized work of Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto is Messillat Yesharim (The Path of the Just).  Nowadays however, some people feel that they can’t relate to the ebb and flow of this work. In light of the above, while many fine translations have been written for this work, the way in which Rabbi Yaakov Hillel presents and explains Luzzatto’s words in Ascending the Path, truly makes it once again relevant for our generation.

Amongst the many books that he has authored in Hebrew, I have most enjoyed the small but powerful Ad HaGal HaZeh. Rabbi Reuven Boshnack provides a nice summary of just some of the points that Rabbi Hillel discusses. Truthfully, what I benefited from the most was not just the Rabbi Hillel’s clear style of conveying esoteric concepts, but it was the organized Table of Contents that helped me navigate the work despite the complicated ideas written in Hebrew. Likewise, I enjoyed the fact that every quote was sourced and annotated to its fullest extent. Indeed, while I enjoyed the fact that the most recent English book from Rabbi Yaakov Hillel, Ascending Jacob’s Ladder, spoke to both the layperson and scholar alike, I felt that it was lacking his normal citations that apparently had been lost in translation

All in all, with thousands of Jews and non-Jews alike searching for knowledge of “Kabbalah,” but instead receiving a watered down version of pop-psychology mixed with a tea spoon of traditional Jewish mysticism, I would encourage any seeking soul to learn from the words of Rabbi Yaakov Hillel-A Real Kabbalist!


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