Nov 29, 2009

Chinuch for Doing Mitzvos

I found it interesting to read that Rabbi Matisyahu Salomon, mashgiach in Lakewood, says that if a parent speaks to children about the advantages and rewards of doing mitzvos, rather than the joy of living with mitzvos, this is not a good idea (I found it interesting because so often you hear that the goal is Olam Haba).

He says that if you tell children, "Do this mitzva because if you do it, you will get a reward" or if the parent says excitedly that he himself is doing a mitzva in order to get Olam Haba, this is not good chinuch.

He explains that this only teaches children to do a mitzva because it is worth your while.  The child might think that for his parents, Olam Haba is wonderful, but he has other ideas about what makes something worthwhile.  He can think: Let my parents go after the reward that interests them and I will go after the reward that interests me.  He will have learned that mitzvos are done for the rewards and he can apply his own standards of rewards.

If, however, the child sees the joy that a parent has when doing a mitzva, if that joy is the foundation of the home in which he grows up, then, says R' Salomon, he will inevitably be affected by the spirit and the mood and the atmosphere and he himself will feel that joy when he does the mitzvos.  This kind of chinuch will reach him no matter what he thinks constitutes a worthwhile reward.

What about being mechanech children to do mitzvos to bring Moshiach, to "make a brick for the Beis Ha'Mikdash?" Is that something that can motivate children and is it good chinuch?

If it's done as a "formula," something said by rote, then you shouldn't count on it motivating them.  But if you are able to convey to children, whether aged 3 or 6 or 10, how Moshiach's coming is something they personally want and it's immediate and real, then yes, it's good chinuch.

Don't despair!

I read the following on

As told by Rav Refoel Salzer of Gateshead  of Gateshead

Approximately 17 years ago, I taught a class of 12-year old boys for Chumash-Rashi. One particular boy in the class (we’ll call him “Reuven”) gave me cause for concern. I knew him to be a serious, hard working boy with excellent ability, and I expected him to be at least among the top of the class. It alarmed me therefore to note that he was scoring around the 40% mark, week after week. His Gemara Rebbi confirmed that in his class, Reuven was at the head of the class.

I took Reuven aside and questioned him. I was even more astounded by his explanation. “Rebbi,” he said in all honesty and sincerity, “ this has been going on for years! I have just never been able to ‘get my teeth’ into Chumash Rashi. There’s just something about it that does not let us get on!” He then went on to assure me that it had nothing to do with the Rebbi – it had been the same with all his past Rebbeim. When I tried telling him how fundamental Chumash Rashi was to his Yiras Shomayim and the success of all his learning, he replied that he was fully aware of all this, - but he simply could not get to grips with this crucial Limud.

This left me absolutely dumbfounded – I could not understand why such a solid, ‘tachshit’ of a boy should have such difficulty. He was clearly talking from the heart, and I found myself helpless in a inexplicable situation.

That night I attended a wedding which was graced by Harav Matisyohu Salomon. He had just returned from a visit to the then Soviet Union, and he related a ‘vort’ he was told there by an ‘elterre Yid’ who had heard it from the Chofetz Chaim!

In Parshas Vayera, when Hagar took the ailing Yishmael through the desert where she ran out of water, Chazal tell us that the well of water she discovered later, was actually there all the time. Hagar however was prevented from being able to see the water until after her encounter with the Malach.

Why, asks the Chafetz Chaim, did Hashem hide the water from her in the first place? If nature would have been allowed to run as normal, there would have been no crisis to begin with. Furthermore, if we examine the pesukim, we see (פרק כ"א פסוק י"ז) that Hashem had decided that Yishmael should be allowed to live כי שמע א...ם את קול הנער באשר הוא שם (Hashem has heard the voice of the boy where he is at now).  It is only in פסוק י"ט that Hagar is able to ‘discover’ the well of water. In between these two pesukim is an entire possuk קומי שאי את הנער והחזיקי את ידך בו כי לגוי גדול אשימנו (get up and lift the boy and support him for I will make him into a great nation).  It appears that Hagar needed to go through this process of lifting and grasping her son before she was to be released from her torment. What is the meaning behind all of this?

The words of Harav Salomon almost knocked me off my seat. The Chafetz Chaim explains that the reason why Hagar lost the ability to locate the natural supply of water – was a result of her having despaired and having “written off” Yishmael’s chances of survival. In fact, we are being taught here that when a person despairs and does not believe in his own ability, his attitude becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and Hashem removes the ability that he actually had!

Even after the Divine ‘psak’ that Yishmael should live, Hagar was still deprived of the water supply. The only way to change the situation was for her to change her attitude! She had to lift the child, hold him tight and have faith in him that he will indeed grow into a great nation. Once this was done, Hashem reversed the situation to its original natural state, and Hagar could partake of the resource that was waiting for her all along.

Suddenly everything made sense! Reuven’s success was being withheld from him because of his misguided perception of his ability. If only he would lift himself up and take a firm grip of himself, he would be allowed to grow as he so badly desired.

The following day, I decided to share this vort with the entire class I did not even make eye-contact with Reuven when I said this over but I fervently hoped that he would get the message.

To this day I cannot be certain whether this made a difference, but I do know that from that week onward, Reuven (who is now a Magid Shiur) began to achieve increasingly better grades at Chumash Rashi.

Nov 25, 2009

Chinuch for Kabbolas Ol - Obedience

Obedience isn't a popular term these days.  How many parents have obedience as a child-rearing goal?

How many parents tell their child to do something and then qualify it by saying, "okay?" Yes, I know, it's a way of eliciting a response to make sure the child heard but parents of previous generations didn't find it necessary to say, "okay?" when they told their children to do something. 

The Jewish people were highly praised for first saying "naaseh" (we will do), and then "nishma" (we will hear).  Our relationship with our parents mirrors our relationship with G-d.

How's that for a chinuch principle - our kids have to know that regardless as to whether they hear a reason from us, or like the reason (if they get one), they have to do it! The home is not a democracy.  Instructions are not up for negotiations.

Finding your passion

I find it fascinating to read about people and their passions.  Sometimes, the way they found their passion in life is very interesting too.  For example, there is a woman named Evelyn Hayes who has a passion for Kever Rochel. Her heart and soul are devoted to Eretz Yisrael, particularly to Kever Rochel.  She bought property right there, does fundraisers for Kever Rochel, writes poetry about it, etc. I wonder where this comes from! Who was she in a previous gilgul!

Former president Kim of South Korea asked Covey (of the 7 Habits), "Do you really believe the things you teach?"

Covey: I was taken aback by this question and sobered by it. After a short pause I said, "Yes, I do."

He then asked me, "How do you know you do?"

Covey: I answered, "I try to live by these teachings. I know I fall short, falter a lot, but I keep coming back to them. I believe in them and am inspired by them and I keep returning to them."

Kim said, "That's not good enough for me. Are you prepared to die for them?"

Kim went on to tell his story of many, many years of banishment, of being exiled, of being imprisoned, of several assasination attempts, pressure to cooperate, threats that he'd be killed if he didn't cooperate. He told them, "Then kill me, because if you kill me I'll only die once, but if I cooperate with you, I will die 100 times every day for the rest of my life."

Now THAT'S passion!

And reminds me of Chana and her seven sons. The enticements and the threats and the willingness to die for their beliefs.

What are we willing to die for?
Does every person have a passion, whether they know about it or not?
How do you find your passion or calling?
How can you help others, like children, find their passion?

Two Approaches

You are presented with an opportunity to get involved with a project.

Approach #1:
You consider whether you have the time, talent, brains, money, wherewithal to get involved.

Approach #2:
If the project is worthwhile you jump right in because who you are and what you have don't matter.

Approach #1 is a rational approach.  It's calculated to see whether it makes sense for you to be a part of it.  Approach #2 is l'maala min ha'sechel, above rational calculations.  If the thing needs to get done, hineini, I am here, count me in.

Approach #1 makes a lot of sense.  Approach #2 does not.  But many amazing things have been done with Approach #2.  This approach often entails mesirus nefesh which is also l'maala min ha'sechel.  Those, in our history, who chose to be moser nefesh usually did not consult the Shulchan Aruch or their rabbi.  Their decision came from a part of the neshama that is sometimes called the Pintele Yid, sometimes Atzmus.  It's what motivated the 12 Chashmonaim and Elozor (see Rashi V'Zos Ha'Bracha 33:11) to fight the myriads of Greeks.

Even today there are people who make decisions based on Approach #2.  Boruch Hashem, the decisions are usually not life-threatening.  The results are remarkable.

Nov 21, 2009

Topsy-Turvy World

I've been noticing an ad in a frum publication for a seminary with a line which says:

"Parnossah Program prepares our talmidos to share in the responsibility of building a Bayis Neeman.  Areas of study include Graphic Design, Interior Design, Shaitel Machering, and Culinary Arts."

I find this disturbing because at the wedding, the husband hands the wife the kesuba in which he commits to supporting her. It is his responsibility to pay the bills, not hers. She is under no obligation to "share" that responsibility and I sure hope that the seminary doesn't tell the students that it is! A Parnossah Program is not a term that belongs in a girls' seminary program or ad. Let's stop turning our girls into boys, our wives and mothers into men.

Furthermore, since when does building a Bayis Neeman consist of working at graphic design, sheitl machering etc.? In the good old days, when people said, "Mazal Tov! May you be zocha to build a bayis neeman b'Yisrael," they weren't euphemistically saying,"We hope you get a good job with good pay!"

Why not say it straight: We provide courses such as Graphic Design etc.? I don't appreciate the disguising of the message which is actually, "Want to work? We provide courses."

I think it is up to our girls' mechanchim and mechanchos to convey the message that a girl's ambition should be to be a Yiddishe Mama, devoted to her home, her children, to creating a Yiddishe atmosphere.

Nov 19, 2009

A Solution We Don't Hear About

Despite the endless articles and speeches about the "shidduch crisis" and "economic crisis," we have yet to hear the Chofetz Chaim's solution: grow a beard! 

Here is what the Chofetz Chaim says:
(published in his sefer Kuntres Tiferes Adom ch. 1)

“If one lets his beard can certainly expect that Hashem will provide him with a fitting marriage partner, an intelligent and G-d-fearing woman, who will be a helpmate during his life (as our Sages say: ‘If one has merit, she will help him’), and they will be privileged to raise a generation of upright children in whom he can rejoice as they sit around his table...his marriage should be pleasant, that Hashem should provide them with their livelihood, that they should be privileged to have upright children, and that he should experience a good life with the wife whom Hashem has designated for him...

“On the other hand, if one does not place his trust in Hashem and he turns from the path of the commandment, surely Hashem will not desire to treat him well.

“Instead of the love and favor he hopes to gain by trimming his beard, eventually it will turn, G-d forbid, to bitterness and poison through lack of livelihood and other prevalent causes, because Hashem’s blessing will not rest between them.

“Sometimes it will come to the point where he has to wander far away to find his livelihood, and then, what benefit does one have from this [temporary] joy?

“In fact, all this is explained in the holy Torah sources, that by standing firm to fulfill Hashem’s commandment, one is privileged to raise a generation of upright children”.

Meilitz Yosher

It's the 200th yartzeit of Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev (1740-1809), talmid of the Maggid of Mezritch and "Defender of Israel."  It occurred to me that all the stories we have about his defending the Jewish people to Hashem and putting them in a good light have to do with "bein adam la'Makom" kind of things like the story of illegal goods being available but not chometz, smoking on Shabbos, eating on a fast day, greasing the wheels while davening. 

Not one story about how someone wronged another person and R' Levi Yitzchok defending him.  Significant, I think.

Nov 18, 2009


What kind of conversations do we have with friends, relatives, acquaintances? Superficial ones with comments about the weather? Mundane shopping talk?

At a class the other day, the speaker urged us to avoid banal conversation and to conduct meaningful conversations leaving people uplifted, with a worthwhile thought or story.

Not that chit-chat should be entired eschewed.  The story is told of the shul where the people resolved not to speak about the ordinary daily grind and they soon realized that without their light shmoozing they no longer knew whose cow had died and needed a replacement, who needed a shidduch, a job etc. So there is good reason to network and to discuss what's going on with yourself and others (avoiding lashon hara, of course).  At the same time, we can make an effort to impart an inspiring story or an enlightening vort or thought.

Is there anything private anymore?

The "let it all hang out" mentality has finally reached the frum world.  Articles with people's personal life stories abound.  I will admit, some of these accounts are fascinating to me but I'd like to differentiate between an inspirational life story of how someone became a baal teshuva, for example, and sharing details about one's divorce. 

A book published by a Jewish publisher last year had me cringing.  The author describes her feelings as her divorce was finalized.  Her situation is heartbreaking but as I read it I thought: Why are you telling the world these intensely private feelings and thoughts?

Some will say that people in her situation will feel comforted to know that they are not alone in their sorrow.  This may be true, but at what price? Where is the tznius in speech?

It's worse when the author signs their name but even anonymous tell-all articles are questionable.  They feed our voyeuristic inclinations.  They put us on a par with those who sit glued to their televisions as the host of the program urges the guest to tell the audience the juicy details of their sensational and/or sordid story . 

Frum readers are frequently presented with stories about how someone's marriage failed, how a person could not stop eating, about why they went off the derech, about how their parents mistreated them, how they were sexually molested, how they descended into depression, about their panic attacks, their obsessions, their husband's drinking, their discovery of their husband's gambling or pornography.

I have registered my protest more than once to a publication that allowed a writer to describe how their mothers did terrible things to them.  Was a rabbi consulted about the halachic permissibility of publicizing this information? Even if the halacha would allow it (which I doubt), why is there no shame in telling the world about the failings of one's closest relatives?

I am getting the message that keeping things to yourself and telling only the few people who can be helpful to you is selfish! If you cared about others, you would share your pain so others can be comforted by your story!

Are there times and places when a personal story can be told? Definitely.  Can a personal story about failing and rehabilitation be helpful to others? Yes.

When is the line between appropriateness and crassness crossed? Let's see if we can come up with guidelines.

Nov 17, 2009

The Goal: Having a Blast!

I think it's time to revisit and rethink the role of crafts, activities, performances - in other words, the non-text based learning, that we do both at home and in school.

Let's take crafts for starters - what is the purpose of the arts and crafts a 2-3-4 year old makes for the parsha or yomtov? I've wondered, when seeing an outline of a chicken with feathers pasted on, for a Kapporos craft for nursery, whether the child can relate this craft to an actual chicken (which they may never have seen) and the kapporos ritual. I don't think they can! Ditto for most parsha-yomim tovim crafts. 
So I think that step one ought to be answering the question - what is the purpose of this activity?

I strongly suspect that with the youngest children, 4 and under, the goal is to keep them occupied, and chinuch plays a minimal role in the choice of activity.  Since these tiny tots are being sent out of the home for large chunks of the day and just having them do "free play" all day doesn't seem right, the time has to be filled and one way to fill that time is with what is billed as "experiential" or "hands-on" activity.  The activity is connected to the parsha or Yom Tov and that makes parents think they paid for more than babysitting.

A graduation from pre-1A, a Chanuka or Purim play, a Purim carnival, acting out the makkos, color-war - what are the educational goals? Is it to have fun because you can't learn out of a book all day, day in and day out? Is it to impress Torah ideas on the children?

In days gone by, (I bet the arts-and-craft idea in the sense we're talking about it has been around not much more than 50 years in frum schools) whether in Eastern Europe or North African countries, children did not do arts and crafts projects for the parsha and yomim tovim, they listened to stories! If hands-on activities impress a lesson on children, why is it a recent innovation in our schools? Were the teachers of yesteryear unable to come up with activities that reinforced their lessons?

 Many years ago, I asked "Uncle Yossi" (Rabbi Yossi Goldstein, principal of Bais Yaakov of Boro Park) about early childhood education and he said that the educational goal for preschoolers is to instill middos tovos and to tell them a lot of stories. 

I wonder whether many educators no longer think about what the educational goal is and merely do what teachers before them have done.  In discussing this with a longtime morah, she had this to say:

"A lot of these activities don't really give the kids a real perception of what it was all about.  I remember how I perceived the parsha stories as a kid and wouldn't want unreal images to ruin that for me.  When teaching parsha I sometimes draw things on an experience chart (wells and camels etc.).  More often I don't draw anything.

"My students often ask me 'draw pictures, draw pictures.'  I tell them that I won't because I want them to imagine their own image in their mind's eye. It's scary how many of them tell me they don't know how to imagine!  Sometimes I practice with them, telling them to think of a tree, their mother, etc. and many of them can't.  I know different people are more or less visual than others, but I also think that overindulging kids with images sometimes takes away from the serene perceptions they get from just hearing a story."

So too, regarding camp activities. There are things that are done because that's what you do in camp. Maybe they were useful forty years ago, maybe not, but isn't it time to re-examine every aspect of camp life and school life to see what might be done out of habit and is really pointless or worse? Like is "Lazy Day" a good chinuch message for kids in camp? What is the purpose of "Topsy Turvy Day"? What is the goal in "Hat Day"?  Is "having a blast" a legitimate goal for frum children?

I am certainly not opposed to crafts, and certain activities are nice like taking a pre-bar mitzva boy to see how his tefillin are made, but wonder what the purpose of a "Shabbos party" in a frum school is when the children will have a real Shabbos that night at home.

Nov 15, 2009

Where are the Mommies?

Rabbi Yakov Horowitz is to be commended for raising many important issues about parenting and chinuch.  Close to three years ago, he wrote an article about many of the issues he intended on discussing in forthcoming articles.  I responded to him as follows:

Towards the end of your article you list many topics that need to be discussed. Seems to me there's a glaring omission. I am wondering whether you, and we in the frum world, are brave enough to discuss our children and various problems but are afraid to address one of the major issues that affects them. 

Back in the 60's and 70's we did not have a crisis with our youth. Yes, there were children who went off, but I think - correct me if I'm wrong, that by and large, frum parents raised frum children who remained frum, many even becoming frumer than their parents.

I can't give you the precise figures, but back in the 60's and 70's, most frum, American mommies were home raising their family. [I remember Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss saying that he did a poll among his seminary students. Perhaps you could ask him the precise results but I seem to remember it was something like 80% of mothers were home and 20% at work at one point and then the reverse, 80% at work and 20% at home at a later point!]

Some worked in family businesses or other jobs but most mommies were home when their children came home from school. Back in the 60’s and 70’s, mommies did not drop off infants at babysitters. They didn’t drop off toddlers at daycare centers. Some children (gasp) were home till age 3. When a 2 and a half year old went to a playgroup, it was for a few hours, not 8-2, 3 or 4 or beyond.

When a 3 and 4 year old went to school, it was for a few hours a day. As recently as the early 90’s, a 4 year old’s day in school was from 9:30-2:30 – 5 hours. How many programs will you find for a 4 year old these days with such short hours these days?

Rabbi Manis Mandel a’h believed little children should be home with their mothers and he resisted having a preschool for a long time until, inevitably, Y.O.B. opened one.

Mommies are told that babies need to socialize, that they are depriving their toddlers of stimulation if they don’t send them out. Mommies of two year olds are asked by other mommies where they’re sending their toddlers to playgroup and are looked at askance if they have no intentions of sending them anywhere. Mommies who want to get together with other mommies and their children don’t have many options since most people have bought into the daycare system. Mommies are told they have a life too and if they’re happier sending their toddlers out, that’s good for the toddler. These and other lies are rarely, if ever, addressed in our frum circles.

I think we need to discuss what messages we are giving our daughters. That they have to pick a career (preferably one they can get either online or through some frum, accelerated program) so they can either support their husbands or help pay tuition while others raise their children? Should we expect our children to grow up emotionally stable and bonded with their parents if they are being raised by others from infanthood? Should we be surprised when children abandon the religiosity of their parents and express resentment, hurt, and grievances about them when they never fully bonded with them? Should we expect our children to give us nachas when lectures, workshops, articles and books for the frum oilem regurgitate current psychological ideas on parenting which are not Torah-based? Psychology was called avoda zara decades ago. Has it gotten any better since then or do we now have more and frum therapists espousing secular ideas to us?

I think that without addressing the hot topics of mother’s role and what a real yiddishe mama is all about, discussing whether girls in school are being groomed to be yiddishe mamas or working women, and where psychology is leading (or misleading) us, you are missing crucial components in this discussion.

Nov 13, 2009

Do you think you're too old to try?

Rav Dovid Kviat zl, who passed away this week, was one of the last of the Alter Mirrers - those who were in the Mirrer Yeshiva and travelled to China to remain throughout the war. He was a maggid shiur in the Mirrer Yeshiva in Brooklyn. He was the rov of the Agudah of 18th Avenue in Boro Park.

Rabbi Yair Hoffman wrote:

"Rav Kviat wrote under enormous difficulty. Since the 1960s, his hands would shake, and yet he overcame this physical impediment and continued to write his chiddushim. Soon, very few were able to decipher his handwriting. The galleys could no longer be typed by those who normally did them. Undeterred, Rav Kviat was able to locate someone in Yerushalayim who could still read his writing.

"And then, a few years ago, Rav Kviat’s handwriting deteriorated further. Now, no one could decipher the handwriting - not even Rav Kviat himself. Undaunted, he continued to write, because writing helped him crystallize his Torah thoughts. True, now no one would be able to read it, but because it helped him further his understanding of the sugya, he continued to write.

"And then someone suggested that he learn how to type on a computer. His initial reaction was that he was too old to learn a skill. He was almost eighty and the shaking in his hands was significant. His eyesight was poor. Nonetheless, he “jumped in.” In a matter of days, he was typing a few thousand words a day. His cheishek (desire) for Torah propelled him to nearly do the impossible, and in the process, inspire others to learn new skills at an advanced age. How many of us decided we are too old to learn something new? How many of us embarked on it anyway solely on account of our love for Torah.

"The computer had to be adjusted to accommodate his special needs.  He could not use a mouse, but he would be able to use a touchpad. Rebbi mastered the melacha. Whenever he encountered the person who taught him to type, he would jokingly say, “Mein Alef-Bais rebbi!”

"A few months and a few seforim later, he called the person who taught him to type and said, “Ich vill a leptop!” (I want a laptop).  He wanted to purchase a laptop to afford him greater mobility, so that he could learn outside and also travel with his “limudo b'yado” in hand."

What a refreshing, inspirational approach! It beats those who resignedly refer to their "senior moments," those who seem ready to retire to their rocking chairs (in their 40's!). We ask Hashem in Tehillim 71:9 "Do not cast me off in time of old age, when my strength fails me, do not forsake me."  Let us not forsake ourselves!

Nov 12, 2009

Promoting the Positive in Chinuch

In an article entitled, "Speaking About the Unspeakable," Abraham J. Twerski maintains, "Our children know that treif foods are forbidden because they see us checking food packages for a hechsher and discussing what is kosher and what is not. When they see us refraining from doing certain activities on Shabbos, they learn about shemiras Shabbos. When they see us prepare the house for Pesach, they understand the seriousness of the prohibition against eating chametz. But how will our children learn about the evils of drug use if we don’t talk to them about it?"

This article bothered me when I read it. Then I read a dvar Torah which explains why Dr. Twerski’s approach is wrong, counter-productive, and not the Torah view:

LiShichno Sidrishu U’vasa Shama” - seek His Presence and come there (Re’eh 12:5). The Ponevezher Rov asked why is it that when the Torah tells us to build a Bais HaMikdash, the location is not clearly stated?

He contrasts this to the Arei Miklat (Cities of Refuge) where the Torah tells us “Tachin Licha HaDerech”, and Chazal explain that the roads should have signs at every junction pointing in the direction of the Arei Miklat. The reason for this, he explains, is that the murderer, in his flight to safety, should not need to stop and ask directions because we don’t want everyone to know that a murder took place since it will desensitize the people to murder.

On the other hand when a person is going to the Bais HaMikdash we want him to stop everyone along the way to ask for directions to awaken in them the desire to also go to the Bais HaMikdash.

The Chinuch Malchusi says that we learn from here that you should not teach your children through negative examples. Do not point out the wrongdoings and teach them its evils and how they must avoid it. In a sense this will open up their thoughts and teach them all sorts of bad things that they would have surely avoided had they come upon it themselves.

The person presenting this dvar Torah said that a mechanech once told him that when he was a young boy many years ago (before drugs were a huge problem) in school in the Bronx, they brought in an officer from the Drug Enforcement Agency who brought in many kinds of drugs and gave them a lecture about avoiding each one. This mechanech said that it was very educational to the bulk of his class who ended up on drugs!

Good education means monopolizing the mind with positive lessons, examples, and stories. Just like with the questions on the way to the Bais HaMikdash, this attitude will help the children find the Shechina after a longer but very successful journey.

Nov 11, 2009

Parnassa Boosters and Detractors

This is a list of 20 factors affecting parnassa compiled from "Sefer HaMidos" by Rabbi Nachman of Breslev:

1. Lack of trust in Hashem vs. Trust in Hashem

2. Cruel to others vs. Compassionate

3. Lewdness vs. Shmiras HaBris

4. Alcohol vs. Spiritual Awareness

5. Disdain of Torah vs. Respect of Torah

6. Foul Speech vs. Clean speech

7. Desecrating the Shabbos vs. Honoring the Shabbos

8. Failing to repent for old sins vs. Teshuva

9. Sadness and depression vs. Happiness

10. Ingratitude, especially to Hashem vs. Gratitude and Prayer

11. Stinginess vs. Charity, especially a full tithe

12. Idol worship, blasphemy vs. Strengthening faith in Hashem

13. Immodesty vs. Modesty

14. Anger vs. Patience

15. Judging others severely vs. Judging others fairly

16. Dishonesty vs. Integrity

17. Arrogance vs. Humility

18. Infidelity vs. Honoring one's wife

19. Domestic strife vs. Peace in the home

20. Instigating hate vs. Making peace between people

The Power of Visualization

In 1990, the psychiatrist Viktor Frankl delivered the keynote address at a conference held in Anaheim, California. As 7,000 people listened, Frankl told the compelling story of his life. He described the terrible things that happened to him while he was imprisoned in a Nazi death camp, and how he had nearly died many times. He was physically and psychologically abused and tortured. During his talk, Frankl described one day in particular that seemed to be etched deeply within him.

On a wintry day in Poland he was being marched through a field with a group of prisoners. He was dressed in thin clothing, with no socks, and he had holes in his shoes. Very ill from malnutrition and mistreatment, he began to cough. The cough was so severe that he fell to his knees. A guard came over and told him to get up and keep walking, but his cough was so intense and debilitating that he could not even answer. The guard began to beat him with a club and told him that he would be left to die if he did not get up. Frankl - who had witnessed this being done to other prisoners - knew the guard was deadly serious. Sick, in pain, and being hit, he thought, "This is it for me." He didn't have the wherewithal to get up.

There he was on the ground, in no condition to go on, and all of a sudden he was no longer in Poland. Instead, he found himself imagining himself standing at a lectern in postwar Vienna giving a lecture on "The Psychology of Death Camps." He had an audience of two hundred rapt with attention. The lecture was one that he had been working out the whole time he had been in the death camp. He spoke about how some people seem to survive the experience better than others, psychologically and emotionally. It was a brilliant lecture, all taking place in his mind's eye and ear. He was no longer half dead in the field but living in the lecture. During the lecture, Frankl told the imaginary audience about the day he was in that field being beaten and was certain he didn't have the strength to get up and keep walking.

Then, wonder of wonders, he told his imagined audience, he was able to stand up. The guard stopped beating him and he began, haltingly at first, then with more strength, to walk. As he was imagining describing this to his audience, his body got up and began to walk. He continued to imagine this lecture all the while he was doing the work detail and through the cold march back to the death camp. He collapsed into his bunk, imagining ending this brilliantly clear speech and receiving a standing ovation.

Many years later and thousands of miles away - in 1990 in Anaheim, California - he received a standing ovation from 7000 people after this speech.

(taken from "Do One Thing Different" by O'Hanlon)
What if we imagined living in Yemos Ha'Moshiach?


Our most important asset, said a lecturer, is our power of influence.  Whether we intend it or not, we are always influencing those around us, for better or  ...

When you enter the room, you bring an energy.  What kind of energy do you bring -an uplifting mood? a tension?

There are people who walk into a room and make people smile just because they're there.  When others walk in, people shift uncomfortably in their seats.  Some people's influence is more subtle and you may not even remember whether they were there or not, but their presence made a difference.

When you walk down the street, like it or not, your appearance influences others.  How you dress, how you comport yourself.  Saying, "mind your own business" or "it's your choice whether you look or not" are bogus lines because unless you are invisible, you have an influence on others!

What would I have thought if I had been presented with this idea when a teenager: Why do you dress as you do? What sort of message are you trying to convey? Who are you trying to influence?

Powerful questions to ask ourselves even now, as adults.

Nov 9, 2009

Have you read "Outliers"?

Outliers is another wildly popular book by Malcolm Gladwell.  The gist of his book is:

“Superstar lawyers and math whizzes and software entrepreneurs appear at first blush to lie outside ordinary experience. But they don’t. They are products of history and community, of opportunity and legacy. Their success is not exceptional or mysterious. It is grounded in a web of advantages and inheritances, some deserved, some not, some earned, some just plain lucky – but all critical to making them who they are. The outlier, in the end, is not an outlier at all.”

There is something about this book that I find disturbing but I can't quite pinpoint it.  It's an interesting read with some fascinating examples but is he telling us something we didn't know before? Is he trying to downplay specialness? Isn't it obvious that extraordinary achievement doesn't happen in a vacuum? At the same time though, haven't there been people who had the same or similar opportunities but did not necessarily rise to the top? How does he explain why some do and some don't?

As for something specific that I found annoying - on p. 153 in the footnote he says "the conventional explanation for Jewish success, of course, is that Jews come from a literate, intellectual culture. They are famously “the people of the book.’ There is surely something to that. But it wasn’t just the children of rabbis who went to law school. It was the children of garment workers. And their critical advantage in climbing the professional ladder wasn’t the intellectual rigor you get from studying the Talmud. It was the practical intelligence and savvy you get from watching your father sell aprons on Hester St."

He doesn't get it.  He doesn't understand that even the children of garment workers, shoemakers and watercarriers were sent to the cheder because education is a Torah value.

He says, "The Jews were not like the other immigrants who came to America in the 19th and 20th centuries. The Irish and Italians were peasants, tenant farmers from the impoverished countryside of Europe. Not so the Jews. For centuries in Europe, they had been forbidden to own land ..."

Basically, he's saying that thanks to the "opportunity" of anti-Semitism, Jews made it good.  As though all the Irish and Italian peasants who were not persecuted somehow did not have an opportunity to excel like the Jews did!

There is something krum (crooked) running through his thesis.  If you look at the Amazon ratings he gets many 5 and 4 stars but also lots of 1 and 2 stars.  How many stars do you give the book and why?

Nov 8, 2009

To be a Yiddishe Mama (part 3)

6-The woman said that she has bitachon. How about if Bubby suggested that she and her husband learn Shaar Ha’Bitachon in Chovos Ha’Levavos together or that he learn it and other Bitachon-related material on his own or with a chavrusa. It’s available in English, Yiddish, Hebrew on tape, online by so many writers and speakers. County Yossi is a publication for frum people and I expect to read guidance that sounds like it’s coming from a frum person and not out of a secular publication.

7-At the very least, Bubby should have presented a balanced choice of options rather than urge the woman to go to work without even knowing all the details of her life. The woman made it clear that she wants to be home with her children and yet Bubby did nothing to validate this normal, G-d given feeling and commend her for her devotion in a day and age when so many mothers put themselves before their children; she undermined it instead.

8-Where is the suggestion that the couple go to their rav to present their views. The rav could have been the one to tell the husband that he has no right to browbeat her into leaving home and working. In the Eishes Chayil of Mishlei it doesn’t say that she left her children at the babysitter, that her children were raised by Juanita, and that her children got a glimpse of her in the morning as they were rushed out to their daycare center and school (sick or not) and in the evening when she came in exhausted and uptight and couldn’t wait to get them into bed.

The rav could have been the one to tell him that his bitachon is sorely lacking and that, as the Chovos Ha’Levavos explains, your hishtadlus (efforts) have nothing to do with the outcome. Hashem designates what you will earn on Rosh Hashana and you have to make some effort in a job that appeals to you and that you are suited for, but the job is not what brings in the money. Hashem sends the money.

A rav could have helped them examine their lifestyle and see what could be trimmed from their budget so he’s not a nervous wreck and she doesn’t have to abandon her children and home. Is the husband willing to cut things out or is the truth of the matter that he wants his wife to support their upper middle class habits that are unbefitting for a man of his income? A rav could tell the husband how to cherish a wife who wants to raise their children and to consider himself a rich man “who is happy with his lot.”

Tragically, we have a generation today of lebedige yesomim (living orphans), children with parents who are barely being raised by their parents. This is wreaking havoc on our families and the repercussions extend far into the future.

To be a Yiddishe Mama (part 2)

3-Bubby promotes the feminist agenda when she says, “Children are very resilient and so long as their needs are being met and they are loved and safe, they are happy.” Who on earth is she kidding?

Children are resilient, yes, and they will adjust if given no choice, yes, but at what cost to them? I bet Bubby would advocate letting the children cry when abandoned at school because hey, within days or a week or so they’ll get over it. Sure they will, because they have given up on Mommy. How healthy is that? Not!

“So long as their needs are being met” – oh, so the underpaid morah or babysitter really loves the kids in her care like her own? Unlikely!

4-More feminist garbage, “Hired help cannot replace you .. you are and will always be their most important person. However hiring someone who comes highly qualified and who can provide your children with a warm and loving environment is most definitely a desirable option.” Bubby tries to have it both ways, saying that hired help can’t replace Mommy but then saying replacement is a desirable option. Why does Bubby think the mother will remain the most important person to them if they don’t see her for most of their waking hours in their formative years?

5-Bubby tries to entice the mother by saying, hey, you never know, you may like being out of the house. Sounds to me like the nachash talking … Then there’s even more feminist junk when Bubby says that Mommy might discover an outlet she never knew she needed. Bubby uses every means at her disposal to get Mommy out of the house, telling her how accomplished she will feel (really, as though all working people are feeling oh-so-accomplished by the end of the day and wouldn’t give up their jobs if you paid them, yeah right) and playing on Mommy’s emotions when she says how great it will feel to help pay the bills (we have no idea whether Mommy will be earning more than a saleslady or secretary and whether it will cover the babysitter, cleaning help now that she’s not home, and take-out food) and alleviate her husband’s burden.

In fact, according to Bubby, Mommy would be a loser and a creep if she didn’t work even if hubbie didn’t bully her into doing so. What a loser, she doesn’t want the stimulation of working with adults and what a creep for not wanting to help her husband.

To be a Yiddishe Mama (part 1)

In the November ’09 issue of Country Yossi Magazine, in the "Dear Bubby" column, Bubby advises a woman who wants to stay home with her children and who has bitachon about her future, to accede to her husband’s wishes and get a job to ease their financial burden. I found Bubby’s response reprehensible for a number of reasons, as follows:

1-In response to the mother asking whether her husband is right for urging her to leave their children and go to work, Bubby offers the trendy morally relative response, “in situations such as these, there is no right or wrong … there is never one absolute correct method … both husband and wife need to do what they feel is best.”

The correct response is the husband is wrong. Flat out wrong because when he got married he gave his wife a contract called a kesuba in which he says that he will provide. I remember listening to a shiur by Rabbi Y. Zweig of Florida who said his grandfather gave his grandmother money for the expenses of the week, the same amount each week, and she never knew whether business was good or bad because he didn’t tell her. That wasn’t her concern. Her home and children were her concern.

Now this could have been diplomatically presented by Bubby who could have said that unfortunately, due to the husband’s feeling frustrated and worried he is saying things that are inappropriate. He is not permitted to “constantly pressure” her to find a job fast.

2-Why wasn’t it even suggested that the couple examine their lifestyle and expenses and see whether cutting down and out would be a tremendous help.

Perhaps the wife can be guided to respond to her husband, “Dear husband, I understand that you are worried but I have faith that all will be well. Let us examine our expenses and see where we can cut down. Since raising our children is my top priority and is in their best interest, I am willing to cut out …”

And let them see what they can eliminate, whether it’s no eating out, no buying take-out or prepared food, shopping for the children at the end of the season, not replenishing her wardrobe but making do with what she has, his not buying a suit and hat that often, eliminating cell phones or getting a much more limited plan, getting rid of their car if he can use public transportation to get to work, getting rid of other gadgetry that costs them money, staying home in the summer, no vacations if they can’t afford it etc. Many things that are taken for granted today are luxuries and unnecessary. Better to sacrifice the toys and perks than the kids!

And perhaps, if she is home, they can eliminate some tuition by not sending their children to school before the age of 4. Just because it has become the norm to send babies out to school doesn’t mean all have to follow that trend.

Why wasn’t it even suggested that they closely examine what income she would be bringing in if she got a job and how much that income would cost them in babysitting, household help and buying take-out? Why wasn’t it even suggested that she could bring in money by working at home or part-time?

Greatest Threat to Yiddishkeit - Your Opinion

Back in May of 2008, on Rabbi Horowitz's blog, he asked his readership what we think the greatest threat to Yiddishkeit is. 

I posted:

1) demoralizing chinuch articles that constantly harp on what's wrong

2) absentee mothers, and mothers who don't know what it means to be a "Yiddishe Mama" or don't view that as an ideal

3) giving credence to and incorporating the psychobabble out there into our world; psychologists, social workers and other secularly educated individuals who have warped our thinking and yet, are given honor and allowed to address us and guide us

4) the encroachment and overpowering lure of the secular world

What's your opinion?