Mar 20, 2017

Then and Now

Mrs. Grama, whose sensible view I've quoted before here, wrote another sensible piece in Inyan magazine that began with her relating three incidents.

In the first incident, a father takes his three year old to the Steipler Gaon and says, "He still doesn't talk."

The Steipler asked him, "Can he say at least one word?"

The father said yes, he says Abba.

The Steipler said, then don't worry, with Hashem's help he will talk.

In the second incident, a young father asked Rabbi Nissim Karelitz what to do about his four and six year olds who constantly fought.

R' Karelitz said, Tell them stories [that emphasize good middos]."

Third incident - an 11 year old boy's principal asked the mother to come down to the school where he told her that her son was brazenly breaking the rules and was having trouble concentrating in class.

The mother consulted with an experienced and successful mother of a large family who knew her and her son well and was told she must do a better job protecting her son from being bullied by his older brother, a child needs to feel safe in his own home, and told her how.

Mrs. Grama says the three stories ended well. She points out that nowadays, with these situations, most people would have consulted with a speech pathologist, a behavioral psychologist and a psychiatrist who would likely have:

asked the parents why they hadn't started intervention earlier and advised immediate speech therapy

discussed sibling rivalry and appropriate parental intervention followed by behavioral therapy

prescribed medication to calm the child followed by therapy.

She asks, are we made differently nowadays? Or is it our way of thinking that has become corrupted?

Mar 10, 2017

We Can Daven for Anything

Rabbi Dovid Kaplan, in an Inyan magazine article, wrote that he heard that Rabbi Tzvi Meir Zilberberg said in a shiur that over Chanuka he slept a total of 17 hours. This is because he wanted to absorb as much of the spiritual energy of Chanuka as he could.

Someone went over to him after the shiur and asked how it was possible to go for eight days on a little more than two hours of sleep a night.

R' Zilberberg responded, "Do you know how many years I've been davening to need less sleep?"

R' Kaplan said his embarrassed reaction to that was, "Oh, I didn't realize you can daven to need less sleep." He had thought that davening was just for parnassa and health and things like that.

I had a teacher who, if I'm not mistaken, said not to ask Hashem for the petty things. This is wrong. We can and should daven to make the bus or train, to find parking quickly, to get a seat or a good seat, to find what we're looking for, for the dish to come out good, to get a quick response, and everything else! Not that R' Zilberberg's tefilla was for something petty. The point is, Hashem is the address for everything, and we shouldn't limit our requests to the standard ones.

Mar 4, 2017

Women Are Absent

I find it interesting how we never hear a story about the beis din shel maala (Heavenly Court) that has a woman involved. If you know of any, please tell us ...

All those stories, about arriving in the next world and having one's deeds scrutinized, and piles of mitzvos and sins, and angels or tzaddikim getting involved in the judgment, and what it is like in the place of reward or punishment, never have a female as the protagonist! Why is this so? For that matter, I don't think I've read any stories about Jewish women who are nearly dead or apparently died, who come back to life to tell what they've seen in the next world.

I'm not talking about women who are no longer living coming to someone alive in a dream; there are stories like that.

For that matter, some of the questions that the Gemara (Shabbos 31a) says a soul will be asked do not apply to women. The questions are:

אמר רבא בשעה שמכניסין אדם לדין אומרים לו נשאת ונתת באמונה קבעת עתים לתורה עסקת בפו"ר צפית לישועה פלפלת בחכמה הבנת דבר מתוך דבר ואפ"ה אי יראת ה' היא אוצרו אין אי לא לא. Rava said: After departing from this world, when a person is brought to judgment for the life he lived in this world, they say to him ... Did you conduct business faithfully? Did you designate times for Torah study? Did you engage in procreation? Did you await salvation? Did you engage in the dialectics of wisdom or understand one matter from another? And, nevertheless, beyond all these, if the fear of the Lord is his treasure, yes, he is worthy, and if not, no, none of these accomplishments have any value. 

Did you conduct business honestly? (some women are in business; many aren't).
Did you set fixed times to study Torah? (not for women)
Were you involved in being fruitful and multiplying? (a man's mitzva)
Did you look forward expectantly for the redemption?
Did you engage in the pursuit of wisdom?
Above all else, does the person have fear of heaven?

Mar 3, 2017

The Pious Ones

I read The Pious Ones and thought it was quite good. The author, a writer for The New York Times, describes himself as "a fairly assimilated Jew who nevertheless attends synagogue and observes many biblical traditions," and yet he looks very favorably upon Chassidim. He puts a positive spin even on things that don't seem so positive.

His first chapter, about Yitta Schwartz, refers to a NY Times article he wrote about her: here . He said that the less than prominently placed article ended up at the top of that day's list of most emailed stories and stayed on the list for many more days.

Feb 26, 2017

Update on Modern Forms of Communication

As a follow-up post to this one here about communication nowadays, there was an article in Binah by someone who says she was as anti-cellphone as they come.  Whatever advantages owning one had, they were outweighed by the disadvantages, as far as she was concerned.

But there was a price to pay, she says and she finally bought a cellphone. Why? Because the lack of communication was disturbing.  Her friends and people she knows all text, and she missed out on more and more things that were important to her like meetings she attends that are arranged by text. By not texting, the organizer had to remember to call her (which is a bother) which she did not always do and not having a cell phone was putting the organizer out each month.

There were mazal tov texts that she never received, bris information she didn't get, and carpooling texts in which she wasn't included. "Not having a cellphone, I was separating myself from the klal, a klal that embraced texting as an easy mode of communication. Because like it or not, cellphone ownership (including texting) is a societal expectation."

She has since seen other advantages to owning a cellphone, though she says they are side benefits and not reason enough to own one.  She now owns one "in order to stay connected with my family, friends and community. In my opinion, cellphone ownership and close relationships are only mutually exclusive if you allow them to be."

This supported what I wrote years ago, that I communicate more with people with modern technology. It may still be true that for young people, it stifles their communication. I'm not even sure that is true.

Interestingly, kosher phones in the US are filtered phones which may allow some Internet connection and texting, while kosher phones in Israel do not allow any Internet or texting. So what in America is called "kosher," in Israel is called "treif."

Feb 20, 2017

No Sandwich

So this is what I learn from Yisro.

That when it comes to fathers-in-law and sons-in-law, 1) a father-in-law can criticize his son-in-law as it says: Yisro saw everything Moshe was doing to the people and he said, what is this that you are doing? ... What you are doing isn't good!

2) That you can give unsolicited advice (maybe this applies only to fathers-in-law to sons-in-law).

3) That the advice does not have to be done with the "sandwich method," in which criticism is "sandwiched" between two positive comments.

Feb 18, 2017

Hard to Relate

There is a famous Ibn Ezra on the dibra of lo sachmod - "Do not covet your neighbor's house. Do not covet your neighbor's wife, his manservant, his maidservant, his ox, his donkey, or whatever belongs to your neighbor." He says, a commoner does not think he will marry the princess because he knows the princess is out of his league. We only desire things we can relate to. If something is completely beyond us, we don't consider having it.

The Ibn Ezra says that if we consider that people have the things they have because Hashem wants them to, then we will not covet things that other people have.

Can Americans relate to the Ibn Ezra's analogy? I don't think so. American kids are raised with the message: You can be whatever you want to be.  You can be an astronaut. You can be the one to find the cure for cancer. You can be president of the United States. There is nothing you can't have or be if you want it enough.

This message has been internalized in the frum mindset.  You can grow up to be a gadol who will be on people's walls here . And why can't a middle class - lower middle class - or poor family have a fancy wedding like a rich person who can afford it? Back in the shtetl you can be sure that the cobbler never dreamed of making a wedding like the town parnas, but nowadays, with everyone equal and supposedly deserving of the same things as everyone else, why shouldn't the poor do and have what the rich do and have? The Ibn Ezra's understanding of lo sachmod is much harder for us to grasp.

Feb 17, 2017

The Wrong Address

I have been reading a diary that is printed weekly in Ami Living. A mother tells about her wonderful son who did beautifully in school through high school. Then he inexplicably began acting strangely. She says it is ten years now that she has been experiencing horrible situations with her son, his drug use, stealing, suicide attempts, outbursts, lack of religiosity.  For a while it was a mystery, until her son confided in her husband that he had watched inappropriate things (no further details about this). This is a letter that I wrote to the magazine which they have not published:

I have been following the tragic story of a woman's son's deterioration over the past many installments of Up the Down Escalator and I am perplexed.  What set the young man off was seeing inappropriate things. This led to consultations with psychologists, a social worker, and even medication and hospitalization.

But seeing inappropriate things is a spiritual problem! Out in the 'velt," seeing such things is not viewed as a problem! It would seem that the right person to consult about this would have been a rabbinic guide who could have provided a Torah perspective, direction in teshuva, and guidance in how to get back on track, spiritually.  

Wishing all of us yeshuos,

To me, it sounds like asking for a loaf of bread in a hardware store, shoes in a grocery story.  They may as well consult with a podiatrist; why a psychologist? These professionals were of no use and worse, the young man deteriorated under their care. It is painful to read how misdirected he was. They focused exclusively on his depression and other psychological symptoms and not on what got him in the mess in the first place.

Feb 16, 2017

Neither of Them Understood

I read two stories this week having to do with Rabbi Moshe Feinstein z"l and I thought they go well together.

One story, told by R' Simcha Bunim Cohen, who was a bachur at the time, took place in 1979 on a Shabbos afternoon at MTJ.  When R' Moshe, who usually said a dvar Torah shalosh seudos time, felt weak and unable to speak, someone volunteered to speak but said he did not Yiddish and could only say it in English. R' Moshe said he should say it in English.

As the man spoke, R' Moshe sat on the edge of his chair, fully focused, not taking his eyes off the speaker, smiling and nodding the entire time. But R' Cohen knew that R' Moshe barely understood English!

After Shabbos, in the car going home, R' Cohen asked R' Moshe whether he understood the dvar Torah. R' Moshe said: Only two words.  When R' Cohen asked why R' Moshe had looked so intently at the speaker, R' Moshe said, Chazal say: derech eretz kadma l'Torah (good manners precede Torah). If a person speaks publicly and I don't look at him and show that I'm listening, how will I be able to pasken and say shiurim?

The other story (in Torah Tavlin Tefilla and Haftorah) was about a man who came from out of town, every year, for the Aguda Convention, just so that he could hear Rabbi Moshe Feinstein speak. Then he would leave.  What most people, who saw him year after year, did not know was that the man did not speak Yiddish and yet, he sat through R' Moshe's speech which was delivered in Yiddish!

Someone who knew him finally asked him, "Why do you come here especially to hear R' Moshe when you don't even understand what he is saying?"

He answered, "Do you think I need to understand what R' Moshe is saying? And he cited Moshe Rabeinu at Har Sinai, "Moshe yidaber," that Moshe spoke but only Hashem could hear him. I just need to look at him and my neshama understands everything he says."

Feb 15, 2017

Mature Eleven Year Old

An 11 year old commented that she is not looking forward to being bas mitzva because then she will have the ol mitzvos (yoke-responsibility of mitzvos).  And she is not looking forward to age 20 because then she will be chayav b'dinei shomayim (obligated by heavenly judgement).

This was presented as something quite negative, that there is no joy in her observance of Yiddishkeit. I countered with - she sounds mature, like a yirei shomayim, not someone fixated on her bas mitzva party and presents.

True, she should be told that Yiddishkeit is about serving Hashem with joy, and this should be emphasized in various ways, with halacha and stories. But how wonderful it is to hear that a child that age takes mitzva observance seriously.

The other extreme is a focus entirely on Hashem loves us no matter what. Although that is true, it seems to be producing people who think they can dress as they please, go where they want, and do what they want, because regardless of their actions, Hashem loves them.

We need to meet in the middle and teach both yiras shomayim which includes yiras cheit, and simcha shel mitzva.

Feb 10, 2017

Idealistic Women

At the Agudah Midwest Convention, R' Dishon read a letter that he received.  The letter, from a woman in Lakewood, told him off (his words). He felt the tears and pain in the letter.  It said:

What do you want from me? You say to spend quality time with your children. Can you tell me when? I get up at 6:00 in the morning and have to hurry and get ready.  I can't afford a babysitter [to come to the house], so at 7:00 on the icy road, I run to bring my son to a babysitter.  

Then she goes to a town near Lakewood to teach. She comes home 2:00 and has to rush and prepare lunch because her husband has to get ready for 2nd seder. When he leaves, she cleans up the house. Her boys comes home from cheder at 4:00. In the evening she's falling apart and she has to prepare for teaching the next day.  Where is the quality time for my kids? she asks.

Unfortunately, the lecture ended with R' Dishon extolling these ladies who live such a life, who are so idealistic, and he does not respond to her question.  Nor does he, in any way, say: This is a crazy life you are living, in which you sacrifice your children for your husband's learning.

A woman told me about her daughter who has eight month old twins (not her oldests) and a business.  She is falling apart because of the tremendous amount of work she needs to do at the business and her nursing the babies at night because she feels bad about not nursing them during the day.  And this is so her husband can learn.

The madness continues.  And so do the articles about the myriad problems that children today have, and the mothers with PPD and numerous emotional/mental problems.

Feb 3, 2017

Shabbos Reminders

Someone told me that she woke up in the middle of the night, Friday night.  She was more asleep than awake and not realizing it was Shabbos, shut two lights and unplugged the crock pot.

To me, this was a very sad story.  I asked, were there no visual signs that it was Shabbos? No tablecloth on the kitchen table?

There is no table in her kitchen so no, no tablecloth there.

If I walked out the door of my bedroom, I would immediately see it is Shabbos because of the layout of my house and the visible signs of Shabbos, but it led me to thinking, what physical indications are there, that it is Shabbos, in every room?

Well, every light switch has a cover. So every room has a physical sign that it is Shabbos.  And the dining room and kitchen have Shabbos tablecloths and the kitchen has a blech on the stove.  Apparently, a crock pot, which is often used on weekdays too, was not an indication to her that it was Shabbos.

Seems to me that since we are not on the level of the Ruzhiner tzaddik as a little boy, who knew it was Shabbos from the change in the appearance of the sky, that every room should have a physical indication that it is Shabbos.  Light switch covers and, if necessary, a Shabbos sign.

Jan 31, 2017

Timely Vort

This vort catches my fancy. I do not guarantee that the people cited as saying them are the correct sources. I would love if someone could verify it for me.

A thought from the Chozeh of Lublin:

The parshiyos of Bo, Beshalach, Yisro, Mishpatim, Terumah, Tetzave and Ki Sisa, all contain within them different Yomim Tovim. If you make the effort, you can experience the aura and inspiration of that particular yom tov during these coming weeks.

Parsha Bo has the story of the Exodus from Egypt which corresponds to Pesach. 
Parshas Beshalach has the Splitting of the Sea which happened on Shvii shel Pesach (the 7th of Pesach).
Parshas Yisro, has the Ten Commandments, corresponding to Shavuos.
Parshas Mishpatim, which has numerous laws, dinim, corresponds to the Yom HaDin and Yimei HaDin, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur   
Parshas Terumah has instructions for the building of the Mishkan and with it came the cloud that hovered above it, which corresponds to Succos.
Parshas Tetzave has the lighting of the menorah which corresponds to Chanukah. 
Parshas Ki Sisa which has the mitzva of giving the machatzis ha'shekel corresponds to the month of Adar when the half shekels began to be collected.

Another version or point to the vort, cited in the name of the Spinka Rebbe, is that the weeks of these parshiyos with yetzias Mitzrayim, kerias Yam Suf, and Mattan Torah, are more spiritually potent than the actual yomim tovim of Pesach, Shevii shel Pesach, and Shavuos! 

This is because the parshiyos contain the the koach (power, spiritual strength) of Torah while the yomim tovim are the koach of zeman (the time of year that they fall).

Jan 29, 2017

Mentch Before Ruchnius?

I have read the idea "emotional health comes before spiritual growth" several times and have wondered about it.  Sometimes it's couched as "first he needs to become a mentch, then we can work on his ruchnius." It is in the context of those off the derech or those having personal problems.

I can see that if someone is an emotional mess, they are in no position to listen to a shiur.  But they could very well be encouraged to do a mitzvah!

In the book Incredible, the story is told of Yossi Gevili, an inmate in an Israeli prison who showed up at an Arachim seminar.  He was on furlough, only his second one in seven years because after he was allowed out the first time and got into a fight, they were hesitant about letting him out again.  This time, he figured the safest place for him was at an Arachim seminar.

Yossi Gevili had been one of the worst prisoners at the prison.  He did not get along with anyone, he argued constantly, was mean, and broke all the rules.  When he returned to the prison after the seminar, he was a different person, polite, and he started using a siddur.  Four days at the Arachim seminar made him into a baal teshuva and model citizen.

Arachim personnel found him a job when he was released and gave him the support he needed to stay on track. He married and settled down and gave his mother nachas.

So here was a man who was difficult inmate in a prison who did not first undergo therapy or any sort of program to address his emotional state of being, his obnoxious behavior, and his anger.  He was exposed to Torah lectures and this changed his life.

Jan 28, 2017


On Shabbos, I was talking about the kal v'chomer that Rashi notes appears in this parsha, saying it is one of ten that appear in Torah (Tanach).  I commented, I wonder why Rashi first comments about this here, the second time a kal v'chomer appears, when the first one is in parshas Mikeitz.

Then I looked up the first one in Mikeitz and saw that Rashi actually does comment there, the first time a kal v'chomer appears.  That led me to thinking how absurd and embarrassing it is that after decades of reading Rashi, I still don't know the basics, i.e. what Rashi said.  That is amaratzus (being an am ha'aretz, ignoramus).  L'havdil, a medical student has to know far more information than what is contained in Rashi on Chumash, and he studies it and knows it because it's important to get good grades.  What I (we?) do is passively read it without committing it to memory (beyond what we had to study for school decades ago).  So yes, I know many Rashis, but it still surprises me what I don't know.