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Swim and Sway

Rabbi Yehoshua Alt

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Rabbi Alt merited to learn under the tutelage of R’ Mordechai Friedlander ztz”l for close to five years. He received Semicha from R’ Zalman Nechemia Goldberg ztz”l. Rabbi Alt has written on numerous topics for various websites and publications and is the author of the books, Fascinating Insights and Incredible Insights. His writings inspire people across the spectrum of Jewish observance to live with the vibrancy and beauty of Torah. He lives with his wife and family in a suburb of Yerushalayim where he studies, writes, and teaches. The author is passionate about teaching Jews of all levels of observance.

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Swim and Sway

The analogy is given of one who is drowning in the sea where as long as his head is above water, he will survive. The same is with פרנסה, livelihood, which is associated with the sea,[1] as the worries and burdens are comparable to the waves of the sea. We need to guard and lift our heads above water.


In this fashion, the Moditzer Rebbe explains כי תשא את ראש בני ישראל לפקדיהם as תשא also means to lift. It can therefore be understood that we need to raise our minds to the פקודי ה’, orders of Hashem, so that even if we are busy with פרנסה, our head isn’t. [2]That is, our thoughts are with Hashem. This is just as it says יגיע כפיך כי תאכל, the labor of your hands, as it doesn’t say ראש, the head.[3] Once we do this we can follow the dictum בתר רישא גופא אזיל, the body will follow the head.[4]


The Steipler[5] once interrupted his learning in order to fix an appliance although his grandson offered to fix it. The Steipler refused the offer since while he fixes it, he can think in learning whereas the Steipler was afraid if his grandson would interrupt his learning to fix it, he wouldn’t be able to think in learning while fixing.[6]


We are taught that one is obligated to teach his son a אומנות, craft and some say he is obligated even to teach him how to swim in water.[7] The Avnei Nazer[8] (1838-1910) explains that just as when one swims although his body is in the water his head isn’t, the same should be with פרנסה. We need to have proper Emuna that all our business dealings are from Hashem with exact precision.

[1] As it says (Pesachim 118a) קשין מזונותיו…סוף, man’s sustenance is as difficult as the splitting of the ים סוף.

[2] Divrei Yisrael, Shemos 30:12. See Tehillim 19:9. R’ Yechezkal of Kuzmir explained גדול הנהנה מיגיע כפו יותר מירא שמים (Brachos 8a)- one who works with his hands while his mind is with Hashem is greater than a ירא שמים.

[3] Tehillim 128:2. There are those that even when they work their mind is on spirituality while there are those that even when they are learning their mind is on work. We must realize that we are where our thoughts are!

[4] Eruvin 41a

[5] In 1965, Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twerski visited Bnei Brak and requested that he be permitted to take a picture of R’ Yaakov Yisrael Kanievsky, the Steipler Gaon. After sharing a story about how R’ Meir Shapiro of Lublin convinced R’ Yosef Rosen, the Rogatchover Gaon, to allow him to take a picture so that future generations would know what “a true Jew should look like,” the Steipler consented and let a picture be taken. Incidentally, the relationship that R’ Dr. Abraham Twerski had with the Steipler came about due to the following. R’ Twerski’s grandfather was the Rebbe in the city of Hornostaipil where the Steipler’s childless parents lived. The Rebbe gave them a bracha to have children, and the Steipler was born as a result of that bracha. This led to the forging of the relationship between these two great people.

[6] Although the following may not apply to us, it is still noteworthy. We know that if a father sees his son learning Torah, the father will do what he can to prevent any disturbance.  R’ Yitzchak Zev Soleveitchik, known as the Griz, would daven Mincha a different time every day, which as a result would also change his eating time. This disturbed his son, R’ Dovid Soleveitchik, who would serve his father food. R’ Dovid approached his father about this since it disturbed his learning every day due to the lack of a consistent schedule. The Griz told his son that his father, R’ Chaim Soleveitchik, would send him on all sorts of errands when he was young. He didn’t let him learn undisturbed. This was in in spite of the fact that it was errands that his father could easily send other people to do. Why did he do this? In order to train the young R’ Yitzchak Zev to learn Torah even while engaged in other activities.

[7] Kidushin 29a.

[8] He was a descendent of the Rema and the Shach. The Avnei Nazer’s health was weak and frail from his childhood and he especially suffered from lung problems. Once when he fell dangerously ill, the doctors forbade him from exerting his mind in Torah study. But the Kotzker Rebbe gave him a blessing for longevity, which was fulfilled as he lived until the age of 71. In his teens, he became a close student of the Kotzker Rebbe, who chose him as his son-in-law when he married in 1853. They resided in Kotzk for seven years, until the Kotzker Rebbe’s death. During that time, it was known that the Avnei Nazer slept only two hours each day and dedicated the rest of his waking hours to Torah learning. His only son (he also had one daughter)- the Shem Mishmuel-  was born in Kotzk in 1857. He later became a Chassid of the Chidushai Harim (his uncle) and R’ Chanoch of Alexander. The Avnei Nazer was a Rav, an Av Beis Din as well as founding a Yeshiva. In his introduction to his Sefer- Iglai Tal- he noted that he dedicated all his energies to teaching Torah to his students, leaving the publication of his Chidushim to his old age. When R’ Chanoch of Alexander died in 1870, the Avnei Nazer agreed to serve as a Rebbe on the condition that his regular Shiurim and learning schedule wouldn’t be interrupted. He was one of the era’s leading Poskim. While others relied on his ruling completely, in some cases he himself wrote that one shouldn’t rely on his ruling unless another Posek was found who ruled the same way. His שו”ת אבני נזר was published posthumously in 7 volumes by his son and grandson. The lectures he delivered on Shabbos were printed after the Holocaust in the Sefer Naos Deshe together with the Torah thoughts of his successors.

Author of the books Fascinating Insights and Incredible Insights

Listen to the short Fascinating Insights Podcast at

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