Dec 29, 2010

This is ADHD?!

A woman in an article on describes her 5 year old as violent and aggressive.  He bites, throws things, chokes her, and he does this with a smile or a kiss.  Not surprisingly in today's world of psychiatry, the child is medicated for ADHD.  Mind you, these are NOT symptoms of ADHD but who cares? If you can control him with mind-altering drugs, why not? After all, the alternative would be to actually see what on earth is motivating a 5 year old to act like a vilde chaya.  Was he abandoned in childcare since babyhood? Is there no discipline at home? There is not a single mention of how the parents respond to his terrible behavior! Only how she tried dietary methods and then moved on to drugs.  She says she is waiting for him "to grow up, and to grow into an understanding of greater self-regulation." Heaven help us ...

Dr. John Rosemond the parenting expert would laugh at her description and her medical solution.  He would say make a list of the objectionable behaviors: throwing things, biting, deliberately breaking anything, hurting anyone, and tell her son that the doctor said that this behavior indicates he is not getting enough sleep and that he should be put to bed right after supper, but no later than 6:30 p.m., until these behaviors cease completely for three weeks. If, during the three weeks, the child did a single one of these behaviors, the three weeks have to start over the next day.  In one case, said Rosemond, it took six weeks, during which time the three-week cure started over seven times, mostly in weeks one and two.  Rosemond is a no-nonsense kind of guy, as you can see. He believes in setting down the rules and enforcing them like parents used to do once upon a time.

I would add to Rosemond's "prescription" because his approach only addresses the behaviors with the goal of eliminating them. I would recommend that the parents figure out (perhaps with the help of an outsider) why their child is acting in this way. What message is he trying to convey? How can his needs be satisfied without his having to resort to ugly behavior?

But medicating him? Seems reprehensible to me.

Dec 27, 2010

The Hospital Under the Bridge Syndrome

In a recent issue of Mishpacha magazine there was an Amitz story called "Advance Notice" which irked me because the message was the wrong message.  In short, a woman is left to handle 5 children under the age of six, the youngest of whom is a newborn.  She had no help whatsoever and had to care for the children (including the toddler who became ill), do the cooking, cleaning, and laundry, and all shopping herself.  Then, rather than reading that she finally got the help she needed, we read that she got a medical diagnosis instead and the subsequent treatment. 

This is reminiscent of the Chelm story in which the wise people of the town build a hospital under the bridge because of the many accidents that take place there rather than fixing the bridge.  This woman did not need a doctor, a diagnosis, or treatment.  She needed help in the house! We are fed article after article to convince us that PPD is nothing to be embarrassed about and urging people to be aware of the symptoms and to seek help.  Are we in Chelm?! It is obvious that if a woman has to deal with everything this woman had to deal with, that she is more likely than not to break! Rather than work on teaching us to "recognize the signs" and convincing us to get medical help, how about urging women to get the physical household help they need! If a woman is having her fifth child under age six, she and her husband must be urged to get household help.  The articles should be directed at women to insist they not be martyrs and at men to insist that they do not allow their wives to be martyrs.  No more hospitals under the bridge!

a related post:

Dec 26, 2010


Back in April I wrote about healing in connection with Rachel Naomi Remen's book "Kitchen Table Wisdom" which I was rereading at the time.

Well, now I'm rereading her other book, "My Grandfather's Blessings: Stories of Strength, Refuge, and Belonging" which is as beautiful as her previous book.  Ms. Remen had a frum grandfather who had no frum children but he was there to teach the author until he died when she was seven years old.  He lovingly called her Neshuma-le and her encounters with him and his teachings are so poignant.  She grows up to lovingly transmit the kindness and compassion and wisdom she received, to others.  The theme is - recognizing the blessings in your life.  Sometimes we are blessed and don't know it.  It's something like being given a check and not cashing it.  It's about opening our eyes, seeing what really matters, what is true.

caveat: not every selection is 100% kosher

Dec 14, 2010

In Control Or Not?

Here is a line from an article that I read:

"We live in a society of personal control and achievement.  We are led to believe that if we flex our muscles hard enough and are diligent and persevering enough, we can control the outcome of our lives and those of our children."

Are we living in a society in which we are led to believe we are in control? I think we get mixed messages.

- We are told time and again that eating properly (the right amounts, nutritious food) and exercising are up to us and we are enjoined to take care of our health. 

the message is, we are responsible for our health and it's up to us to maintain it, in other words - it is within our control (despite the fact that we all know that illness strikes seemingly at random and kills children and young people)

- Many support the idea of bachurim having a plan for the future that includes what they will do to support a family.

the message is, we can plan for our financial future and carry out that plan (despite the fact that we know that some businesses surprisingly take off and do well while many fail and that many people who prepared for a particular career are doing something else either willingly or because they cannot find work in their fields)

- When it comes to our behavior and moods, it's our genes, it's our "chemical make-up," it's our upbringing, that make us the way we are.

the message is, we are victims
it's not our fault that we fly off the handle, that we can't sit quietly and pay attention, that we feel sad; it's a disorder, a condition, something that doctors diagnose
this is a phenomenon that has been observed in articles and entire books are devoted to our victimhood (some promoting it while others repudiate it).

So which is it - overall, do we feel in control or not?

Dec 11, 2010

What Is a School's Function?

I read a "letter to the editor" which says:

"While it is true that they [our  yeshiva system] do focus on middos, there is still too much emphasis on grades and intellectual aptitude.  There is a lot of pressure put on the children (especially adolescents) to score hundreds.  I am hoping  ... that our beloved yeshiva system can be improved."

I find this view peculiar.  Isn't school a place that you go to, primarily, to learn information and skills? How to read, how to write, to cover material, to understand it, to be able to answer questions, do reports? Even if we are only talking about the Jewish studies, isn't the material the focus of the curriculum and through the curriculum you also learn hashkafa, middos and love for mitzvos and Torah?

Would we all be better off if the day was spent on story telling and craft projects, plays and sing-alongs?

Looking back at the history of the cheder and yeshiva, and later girls' schools - what did the students do in school? They learned! They were tested! They were expected to know! And good teachers conveyed Torah values along with the material.  But our schools were never about "feel good" Judaism only.

Dec 10, 2010

You Are My Life

I listened to a powerful Chanuka shiur given by Rabbi Moshe Weinberger (Cong. Aish Kodesh of Woodmere) in which he focused on the Greeks' aim to "make them forget Your Torah." He said we don't forget that which is nogei'a (pertain, affects) our essence.

The Torah says, and it's one of the Six Remembrances, “shmor nefshecha me'od” (guard your soul very much) lest you forget the Torah - if Torah would be your soul, you wouldn't forget it.

How is it possible for there to be learned people who, when they go out to do business, steal? Don't they know the laws of stealing, gezel akum? The answer he gave is, it is because the learning is forgotten, i.e. it's not relevant to them, Torah is a subject, not lessons for life.

He told the story of a yeshiva bachur who borrowed a tape recorder and then broke it. The owner of the tape recorder wanted to be reimbursed but he said it was an accident and so he didn't have to pay. They asked their rebbi who brought them to the rosh yeshiva, R' Reuven Feinstein, who was appalled because they had been learning this topic in Gemara all zeman that if someone lends you something you are obligated to pay if something accidentally happens to it! He went to R' Moshe his father who said, you have to realize it has no relevance to them.

In our generation, he said, there is more learning than ever before and yet there is so little connection to what is learned. That's what Yavan is about, disconnecting us from the G-dly aspect of Torah and mitzvos.

The most touching part of his talk was when he gave an example of those things which affect your essence which you don't forget and he said that he and his sister felt every minute that they were the essence of their parents' lives, they weren't a “sideshow,” something that gets in the way of their parents' activities. His father said he could call any time, and one time he called because he was upset about something that happened at school. Unbeknownst to him at the time of his call, his father sent the customers out of the store and locked the store in the middle of the day and spoke to him for over an hour. His mother later said, couldn't you wait until 6:00? He apologized and his father said - What are you talking about (i.e. no apology is necessary)? Customers? Business? My leben is you.

Dec 9, 2010

"Just Say Yes" part 2

One year ago, I put up a post called "Just Say Yes" :

to which this is a follow-up.  The prevalent view is that if we keep on giving we will become depleted, even burned out.  That seems like common wisdom indeed.  But is it true?

In the Artscroll biography of Rabbi Pam he was asked how to avoid burnout in chinuch.  Rabbi Pam did not relate to the question.  He so enjoyed teaching and derived tremendous satisfaction from it.  He regarded each student as a treasure.  He taught for decades and said this was the most enjoyable time of his life.  With that attitude, how could he grow tired of it?

So too with chesed, said the person I quoted in that other post.  If you do it for the right reasons, you gain in strength and don't lose out.

Dec 8, 2010

cont. from previous post

The third section is about schizophrenia and why people diagnosed with this illness in developing nations (i.e. third world countries) have a better prognosis than those living in the most industrialized countries of the world.

What I found fascinating in this chapter is the following - it is believed by Westerners that if the people view mental illness like any other disease (and I've seen this line repeated time and again in frum articles and comments to articles) this will remove the stigma. After all, if mental illness is not the choice of the sufferer and does not come from supernatural forces, the sufferer is not to blame. It's simply a matter of faulty genes or some "imbalance" in the brain.

"Unfortunately, as mental health professionals and advocates for the mentally ill have been winning this rhetorical and conceptual battle, they've been simultaneously losing the war against stigma. Studies of attitudes in the US between the 1950's and 1996 have demonstrated that the perception of dangerousness surrounding the mentally ill has steadily increased over this time. It turns out that those who adopted the biomedical and genetic beliefs about mental illness were most often those who wanted less contact with the mentally ill or thought of them as dangerous and unpredictable."

Why is this so? "The problem, it appears, is that the biomedical or genetic narrative about an illness such as schizophrenia carries with it the subtle assumption that a brain made ill through biomedical or genetic abnormalities is more thoroughly broken and permanently abnormal compared to one made ill through life events."

The final section is called "The Mega-Marketing of Depression in Japan," which is about a huge drug company wanting to develop a new market for its products and how a marketing campaign was carefully planned and executed which introduced the Japanese to this illness and most importantly, to drugs to treat it.

It's pretty scary to read that this and other illnesses and the drugs to treat it are not coming from doctors without a monetary incentive but from a company whose only goal is to increase profits. The Ritalin producers are doing soooo very well, aren't they ... It's equally as scary to read how we are manipulated, and how our ideas about very important things are shaped by people hired to shape our ideas! And then we see these ideas regurgitated in our frum publications as though they are Torah Mi'Sinai ...

Crazy Like Us

I recently finished a very interesting book called "The Globalization of the American Psyche - Crazy Like Us" by Ethan Watters.  It tells how Americans have exported their understanding of mental illness and have imposed it on cultures with very different ways of relating to those illnesses.

The first section is about how anorexia was marketed in Hong Kong, yes, marketed.  To explain what this means - in late 1995, Princess Diana gave her famous interview confirming the rumors that she had suffered from bulimia for more than four years.  The newspapers covered this widely, of course, and bulimic behaviors spread like wildfire among adolescents.  Patients themselves often said that they tried vomiting etc. because they read or heard about it.  The chapter shows how similarly, anorexia barely existed and when it manifested, it was different than the American version, i.e. they weren't on a diet and were not interested in losing weight.

The problem is, the American DSM and Western medicine in general are highly respected in other parts of the world and so even when their patients do not fit American norms, they ignore that.

One of the important points that is made is that those who argue that increased incidence of a condition is due to its previously going unrecognized or underreported do not balance their assertion with the fact that when the media promotes a new disorder/condition/illness, people latch on to it and "discover" that they too are sick.  He has a fascinating part about the hysteria diagnosis in the late 19th century.  Do you know of anyone diagnosed with hysteria nowadays? No, because that condition with all its symptoms is no longer trendy.

The second section is about bringing PTSD to Sri Lanka after the tsunami.  Lots of well-meaning Westerners went there to help the natives avoid PTSD, completing ignoring the natives' culture and ways of dealing with traumatic events while foisting their mental illness ideas on them.  Amazingly, study after study published during the 1990's showed that early interventions were either ineffective or actually harmful!  "Early interventions sometimes appeared to be priming victims to experience certain symptoms."

Nov 18, 2010

Who We Look At

I am reading a book of "wisdom, stories and inspiration" on the parsha which is a translation of an extremely popular book in Hebrew which is based on the writings, shiurim and conversations with a certain popular rav in Eretz Yisrael.  I won't say the name of the book because of a story that I just read that I want to discuss here.

The story is that when secular Jews (as the book refers to them) would come to visit this rav, his rebbetzin would not welcome them personally.  She would remain in her room saying, "You, the rav, are compelled by your position to meet and talk with them.  I, on the other hand, am not obligated.  In that case, I do not even wish to see their faces!"

What a shocker! Obviously this was included in the book to reflect well on the rebbetzin and to serve as a lesson for us.  But the anecdote doesn't say they were evil people, just that they were irreligious.  It is true, we should not look at evil people and it's disturbing when frum publications include pictures of evil people.  But these visitors were presumably men who did not have the benefit of a religious education, not wilfull sinners!

What a contrast to the book I am presently rereading, "Holy Woman" about Rebbetzin Chaya Sara Kramer and her husband a'h.  He was a Satmar chassid and yet he loved all the Jews he encountered (and didn't encounter).  He sought out irreligious Jews in order to have a positive influence on them and he and his wife welcomed anybody who came to their home, no matter their level of religiosity or manner of dress.

Will the real Judaism please stand up!

Nov 11, 2010

Dirty Laundry part 2

The author responded with:

Where does the Torah NOT say to hang out our dirty laundry? Have you ever read Sefer Devarim? Even Parashas Bereishis? There is never any attempt in Judaism to hide ourselves from the truth of our condition and, if we are in need of repair, to change.

Yes, I have, baruch Hashem, seen payoffs from the issues that my stories have raised. Read this week's ... for a very poignant letter from a reader about how healing it is for her to read ...[name of book] 

...[name of book] brought about actual social change, which is very gratifying. If you are, indeed, sincerely arguing in favor of NOT hanging out dirty laundry, how do you propose change? How do you suggest introducing healing and developing new paths?

And I'm sorry that you find the line, "If it helps just one person, it's worth it," tiring. Firstly, there's no such thing. People are so interconnected that if one person is helped, the effects can spread to thousands. Secondly, since we are so very much the same it is nearly impossible for something to resonate within one single person.

To which I said:

Let me get this straight - you are comparing a fictionalized serial to our G-d given Torah?! (insert shocked face emoticon)

You have learned from Torah that it is a worthy activity to point out our flaws. Hmmm. Yeshaya said, "And in the midst of an unclean nation I dwell," and he was punished. As the tzaddik and prophet he was, surely he wasn't ch'v gratuitously badmouthing the Jewish people, and still, he was punished.

A new chamber of zechus was created by Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev for seeking the good in the Jewish people and highlighting it. As the tzaddik he was, he was well aware of the mitzva of rebuke and surely fulfilled the mitzva, and yet, he teaches us to look with a "good eye" and be sure to speak well of our fellow Jews.

The focus of many laws associated with Shemiras Ha'Lashon is to avoid any derogatory remarks about one another. So indeed, not only is it not recommended that we "air our dirty laundry in public" (defined as publicly discussing personal affairs that could cause embarrassment or distress), we are enjoined to do the opposite.

In today's climate, society finds it laudable when people "tell all." This immodest attitude has crept into frum society so that people address audiences and write articles telling quite personal stories about themselves, their marriages, their lives. It's extremely popular because we find it fascinating to hear about other people and their adventures, especially when they share (too) personal details. And some people become so immersed in even the made-up stories that incredibly, a woman wrote to Mishpacha saying that a particular installment ruined her Shabbos because she was so distressed by the conduct of fictional characters!

The exception to all the above is l'toeles (for positive benefit) as defined by the Torah: to fulfill the mitzva of rebuke, for example.

I have noticed that people seem to think that discussing a problem is practically synonymous with having done something concrete to solve it. Reading about a problem, whether in a fictional or non-fictional article might make people feel good if they are grappling with that problem. Is that a valid t'oeles? I can hear where it would be valid if this person went to consult with someone and part of what they are told is that they are not alone. But I'm not convinced that presenting our foibles (and worse) to a general audience is beneficial. What consideration, if any, is given to the possibility that it will pull people down, that it will expose them to ways of life that they never considered?

There is the chilul Hashem aspect too. Do we need the "outside world" hearing how we "beat our chests" and admit our sins?

I am disappointed that you delegitimize another point of view by denigrating it as "burying heads in the sand" rather than being open to hearing that this view has some merit even if you don't think the merits are sufficiently weighty. It sounds like you think that R' Levi Yitzchok was ch'v a Pollyana.

As to how to make positive changes in our society, what did we see done in the past, over the millenia? We saw great people addressing audiences, in person or in writing, and exhorting them to observe mitzvos and avoid sin, inspiring them to love and fear of G-d. We see movements like Daf Yomi and Shemiras Ha'Lashon promoted by individuals who had the siyata dishmaya to succeed, changing frum society. I know of no positive social change that has resulted from frum fictional serial stories. I'm sure you're convinced they have been the catalyst for change but until I hear what those changes are and am convinced that nothing negative resulted, I view fictional serials for what I think they are: entertainment, diversions and/or kosher soap operas. Some frum writers insert some Torah messages but I believe that the ikar is the story. When the ikar is the Torah message, the writing is usually not particularly entertaining like in the "older mentor-young seeker" literary technique which has been used a number of times, because the writer is focused on the Torah message and not as much (or at all) on developing the story and characters.

P.S. As for non-fictional articles about sensitive issues that are purportedly written for the public welfare, there is reason to be exceedingly cautious. There is evidence that bringing certain issues (anorexia, depression) to the fore has increased harmful behavior, not minimized it.

See a previous post of mine on this subject called "Increase the Light" from Dec. 6

Nov 8, 2010

About "Hanging Dirty Laundry" in Public

I had an interaction with someone who writes popular novels in installments for a frum publication.  She decries what she calls burying heads in the sand rather than facing reality and coming up with solutions and sees nothing wrong with public discussion of frum society's ills.  On the contrary, she thinks that fictional writing is a good way to call attention to problems that ought to be addressed and that it deals with these problems.

My initial response to that was:

My question is, what evidence do you have that writing about our flaws will help remove them? Do you truly think that people with the flaws you write about will read your story and say, "Hey, I better fix that problem in myself!" Have you gotten any feedback over the years from readers who did that? Or have you gotten feedback from readers who told you that after reading about a certain problem (not in themselves) they decided to take action to correct it?

You ask, "Is it scandalous to admit that there are problems in our communities?" My question is, is there virtue in talking about our flaws? Does it say anywhere in our Torah literature that vidui of our collective sins should be broadcast to the public? Or, is it rather, as I have learned, talking about the negative strengthens it and focusing on "light" and the positive, strengthens that.

By calling attention to these issues, are you aware of specific steps that were taken to rectify them that can be credited to fiction? How about that can be credited to non-fictional articles?

If writing about abuse in a fictional story "deals with it" by actually helping anyone I'd like to know about that.

And I hope I'm not going to hear the tired line, "If it helps just one person, it's worth it," because I'm not convinced that's true.

It's One Year!

It's one year since I began posting here.  Happy anniversary to me :)

Thank you to those who have posted comments and thank you everybody else for visiting.

Nov 1, 2010

Unhinged: The Trouble With Psychiatry - A Doctor's Revelations about a Profession in Crisis

I read a fascinating book about psychiatry written by a practicing psychiatrist who, as the book flap says, exposes deeply disturbing problems plaguing his profession.  He writes about how psychiatry is mostly about prescribing drugs these days, with all the troubling consequences that entails, and has largely forsaken talk therapy.  This is because they will earn far less doing therapy than by prescribing drugs.  He says if he did therapy, he could see one patient an hour and he would earn about $70/hour.  He typically saw three patients an hour, for years, and he made $180 an hour (factor in expenses and he made closer to $130 an hour).

He writes about how they treat symptoms after determining that the patient exhibits an arbitrary number of signs that match a supposed disorder.  They spend fifteen minutes on a patient and don't bother finding out about the patient's life.  He shows how DSM diagnoses are not particulary scientific, and tells us that the number of possible diagnoses has increased from 182 to 263.  Unbelievably, a committee votes on deleting what is considered old-fashioned disorders and voting in newfangled disorders.

What he says backs up many things I have believed about the profession but I am no authority; he is! So when I read that a practicing psychiatrist says there is no proof to the chemical imbalance theory of depression, I say wow! I have read numerous articles over the years in frum and not Jewish media that speak about a chemical imbalance with the same confidence we reserve for the sun rising in the morning!

He says the scientific literature contains thousands of papers proposing neurobiological theories to explain PTSD, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and other psychiatric disorders but these theories remain unproven! He says, "the shocking truth is that psychiatry has yet to develop a convincing explanation for the pathophysiology of any illness at all."

Even as I was amazed by the honesty of the author in showing the major flaws of his profession, I was shocked that he still goes through the motions.  How pathetic to drug someone when their problem is clearly loneliness or unhappiness with their job.  As a colleague of his put it, "Most of the people I see have misery and unhappiness rather than major depression.  They are miserable because of problems in relationships or difficulties coping with their life's circumstances."  She doesn't drug them.  She makes half of what a full-time psychiatrist in private practice makes because she does talk therapy instead.

There is a chapter on how drug companies market their drugs to psychiatrists.  Oh boy ... it's so crooked that the author, who started out innocently working as a paid drug endorser for one of these drug companies, stopped working for them despite the great pay ($30,000 - and this is aside from his private practice) and perks because he realized he was selling his soul and was no longer willing to do so.

It's a readable book for the layman and I highly recommend it.  Time that more people realized that "the emperor has no clothes."  Our health, mental and otherwise, is at stake!

Oct 28, 2010

The Marshmallow Experiment

"A Bird In The Hand Is Worth Two In The Bush" is an idiom which means keep what you have and don't be greedy for more or it's better to have a small real advantage than the possibility of a greater one.

There is a well-known experiment which was conducted in the 1960's in which four year old children were offered a marshmallow and were told that they may eat it now.  But if they wait 15 minutes until the person returns, they can have two marshmallows.  Some ate the marshmallow right away while others waited and got two.  The researchers then followed the progress of each child into adolescence and demonstrated that those with the ability to wait were better adjusted and more dependable (determined via surveys of their parents and teachers), and scored significantly higher on the Scholastic Aptitude Test years later.  This showed that early self-discipline boded well for the future.

You can watch a recent reenactment here:
It is very amusing!

If you were watching a child you loved being tested in this way, what would you want them to do?

Self-discipline is a vital trait indeed, but how about being content with what one has - is that not also a vital attitude in life, the source of happiness? Isn't waiting for two greedy? And maybe they don't like marshmallows enough to wait for a second one.  Though the girl who ate it and left didn't seem to even consider the matter and that did not bode well for her future.

I noticed that not a single child turned their back on the marshmallow to avoid temptation.  And they also listen and sit in the chair and don't get up!

What if they were allowed to do whatever they wanted in the room? What if there was a clock in the room and they were told she would be back when the big hand is on the 3 or if there was a timer they could watch.  She didn't tell them when she would be back!  And how informative is this test when they are told to sit inches away from it?

Comments anyone?

Oct 27, 2010

Magical Thinking

Magical thinking is a term that means the idea of "I can make things happen by wanting them." It is used to describe causal reasoning that looks for correlation between acts or utterances and certain events like the (non-Jewish) idea of wearing a "lucky shirt" when you go play ball. 

Those who study child development observe that in a young child's (preschooler's) view, it is very possible that it rains because the sky is sad. If your baby brother gets sick and goes to the hospital, it could be your fault if you were mad at him the day before and wished he would go away. If you want something very, very badly and it happens, then your wanting caused it to happen.

They are also examples of egocentric thinking--not that the young child is selfish. It's just that he cannot take anyone else's perspective, so that everything in the world revolves around him. When he's sad, he cries. So, it must be that the sky does, too.  And if he had a bad thought about his brother then that must be the reason he went to the hospital.

Okay.  So the questions are as follows: Can we make things happen by wanting them? Are there correlations between certain things we think or say or do and events that happen that are not as obviously connected as letting go of something and seeing it fall to the floor because of gravity? Do our thoughts affect anything outside of us? Does the world revolve around us?

The secular world would have us believe that the answer is the same to all these question: No.  But as religious Jews, don't we know we can make things happen by wanting them and praying for them? Haven't we read numerous stories in which the unlikely connection between events and a thought, utterance, or action that precipitated them was the point of the story? Isn't that what a segula is? Haven't we learned that thinking positively leads to positive outcomes? That "as waters reflect a face" - our attitudes about others affect their feelings towards us? That bringing someone to mind has the effect of arousing that person's innermost powers? That being jealous of someone or otherwise looking at them negatively with an ayin ra (evil eye), can make bad things happen? That bitachon, the feeling of trust in Hashem, can bring about what we desire? That "the world was created for my sake"?

I'm bringing this up because despite my disagreement with R' AJ Twerski on many important issues, I decided to read one of his books on relationships, a book written for the frum reader.  Early on in the book he refers to magical thinking and speaks about it in purely secular terms, i.e. that it's childish thinking.  And it stopped me short in my reading.  Whoa! One minute here! Surely he believes in prayer and bitachon and all the rest.  How does he reconcile the psychological/child developmental term with his religious beliefs?

I don't know, but it reinforced for me yet again that secularly educated frum people are confused.  Secularly well-read frum people are confused.  Ideas out in the world that are accepted as givens, do not necessarily reflect our Torah beliefs.  Beware - Be aware.

Oct 26, 2010

New Terminology

These are terms that we did not use thirty years ago, even twenty:

take it to the next level

paradigm shift


get in touch with

tap into

breaking the cycle

get with the program

give someone space

open lines of communication

to be on the same page

issues ("he has issues" instead of saying "problems")


self esteem

at the end of the day

let's not go there

I'm good (for I'm all right, doing fine)

be proactive

bottom line (as in the final result)

freak out


get over it

get a life

good to go

my bad

in your face

like (I was like, so happy)

chill (relax)

wicked (excellent)


hot (not in the sense of temperature)

24/7 (exaggerated way to refer to all the time)

he's the man

I googled it.

to put it out there

These aren't new but are used over and over and over ...

spiral downward or downward spiral

vicious circle/cycle (even when the thing they are talking about is not a circle or cycle)

Got any to add to either category? Any observations about these new ways of expressing oneself?

Oct 24, 2010

Three Places They Cannot Contest (but win anyway)

The Medrash says, "There are three places about which the nations of the world cannot taunt the Jews and say, 'You stole them.'  They are: Meoras Ha'Machpela, the site of the Beis Ha'Mikdash, and the burial place of Yosef in Sh'chem."

Avrohom paid Efron for the Cave of Machpela.  Dovid paid for the Har Ha'Bayis.  Yaakov paid for Sh'chem.

So what have we Jews done to ourselves?

We gave back the Temple Mt. to our enemies after we won it during the miraculous Six Day War. 

We handed over Sh'chem to the Palestinian Authority and the kever of Yosef Ha'Tzaddik became a target for violent protests by Arabs against the Israeli government. Several Israeli soldiers were killed at the site and in 2000 the complex was ransacked by an Arab mob. Subsequently, the glorified State of Israel prohibited Jewish visits to the site (!) and the site gradually fell into disrepair.  When Hillel Lieberman heard that the Arabs had trashed the kever, he went there to see if he could salvage the Sifrei Torah and siddurim and was murdered.

Netanyahu turned over 80 percent of Hebron in 1997 to the Palestinian Authority.

Yeshaya 49:17 "your destroyers and those who laid you waste go out from you" - what we do to ourselves is even more painful than what others do to us.

If you've got a positive note to end on - please share it with us!

                                                             Cave of Machpela

Oct 22, 2010

Wisdom of Our Fathers

I am reading a heartwarming book called Wisdom of Our Fathers - lessons and letters from daughters and sons by Tim Russert.

The author had written a best-selling book about his father and received thousands of responses from people who wanted to tell him about their own fathers, most of whom were people you've never heard of, ordinary people, but who in their special way made a profound positive difference in their children's lives.  The book I'm reading now is a compilation of these letters.  It's really special!

Oct 21, 2010

Proud to be an American

The Gemara says that a person's place of residence "finds favor" in his eyes, even if the area is not salubrious or otherwise wonderful.  Even as Jews who daven for Moshiach and a return to Eretz Yisrael, our places of residence while in galus appeal to us.

I welcome those from other countries to tell us what you find special about your country.  As for me, I am an American.  Americans are known for various traits, some more positive than others.  What makes me proud to be an American are two aspects that have been pointed out by various rabbis.  One is that America is a "malchus shel chesed," a nation of kindness.  America has provided enormous sums of aid to countries around the world and it is not necessarily done to receive some benefit in return.  Americans are a generous bunch.  Americans also do "chesed b'gufo" such as the Peace Corps volunteers who offer their help in areas such as education and health.

A second wonderful thing is that Americans are a deeply religious bunch.  58% believe that the strength of American society is predicated on the religious faith of its people.  6 out of 10 Americans say that their faith is involved in every aspect of their lives.  Americans pray a lot, on a daily, weekly and monthly basis.  45% of Americans believe that G-d created human beings in their present form at one time within the past 10,000 years.  82% of Americans say that G-d is very important to them.  And so on.

Chesed and Emuna - reasons to be proud indeed!

Oct 20, 2010

How do they know?

I've read and heard statements like:

Sholom, Jonathan, and Gilad are in jail for our sins, not for theirs.

They are our korbon.

and I wonder, how do the people who say this know this? What's their source?

If G-d didn't personally tell them, by what right do they make these pronouncements?

Oct 19, 2010

The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science

I am close to finishing a remarkable book called "The Brain That Changes Itself" by Norman Doidge.  I will quote from a description of the book:

It demonstrates the various ways the plasticity of the brain can produce significant recovery of patients suffering from the most debilitating ailments, including paralysis from stroke, and autism. Prior to the acceptance of the idea that the human brain is surprisingly flexible and adaptable (plastic), most neuroscientists were of the belief that different sections of the brain specialized in specific tasks (localization), and these specialized areas became rigid and solidified early on in life in such a way that sufficient damage to each section would forever deprive the victim of its functionality.

There is a chapter on the remarkable recovery of a stroke victim, the amazing development of the Arrowsmith program and much more.

One caveat - there is one chapter that is X-rated in which he explains how people get addicted to pornography which you can skip.

Oct 18, 2010

The Contrast

It seems to me that although there were always fragile people, still and all, people who are older than 65, especially those who were born in Europe (perhaps North Africa as well), handle losses with far greater resilience than younger people.  When you read about the Holocaust and think about how people who witnessed the worst and lost everything or close to it, went on to establish families and in many if not most cases they raised normal children, as well adjusted as anybody else, it's nothing but remarkable. 

In contrast, today's young people don't seem able to cope with adversities far less traumatic than seeing one's family betrayed, wasting away and murdered.  We are inundated with articles in the frum press about people amongst us who are suffering from a multitude of problems and who are not coping with them.  The numbers of frum people on medication to help mitigate anxieties and other such ills is staggering, so it is said.  And anxieties (aka lack of bitachon) are of our own making (I am as guilty as the next one).

As I observed an elderly person the other day, who recently loss her spouse, I thought about this and what I came up with is that the seniors amongst us did not grow up with a feeling of entitlement.  Their parents worked hard and they expected to work hard.  Life wasn't easy and that was life.  Young people in Europe did not negotiate allowances, they didn't expect to be entertained by their parents on Chol Ha'Moed or any other time.  Fun wasn't their supreme value.  They were children and their parents were parents, not their pals.  Americans  too, used to know their place when they were children.  They helped work in the family business and sometimes pitched in to support their families.

It's hard though, to recreate the mentality of yesteryear when our lives, in so many ways, are simply not the same.  Mental health professionals, including religious ones in our communities, are doing their best to inculcate us with the belief that we are suffering from one "disorder" or "syndrome" or another if not outright "illness," and frum publications vie to "undo the stigma". 

I look forward to the swing of the pendulum when we will leave the psychobabble behind and focus on core values once again.

Oct 17, 2010

Here Today, There Tomorrow

The Baal Shem Tov taught: everything we see or hear is a lesson to us in our service of Hashem.  What lesson is there in the miraculous extrication of the miners from their living grave?

I was reading a brief Holocaust account in which a woman, incarcerated in a concentration camp, describes the day she was liberated.  She writes: the day began as every other day.

The day began with the same misery she had been experiencing for the longest time.  Cold, hunger, terror.  It had been that way the month before, the week before, the day before, and that day too.  And then ... and then the Allied forces entered the camp and they were liberated.

As I read this I thought - that's how the Geula will happen.  It will start as a day like any other day.  Like yesterday, last week, last month, last year.  But then Moshiach will come.  Just like that.  Yeshuas Hashem k'heref ayin - the salvation of Hashem is like the blink of an eye.

Sep 28, 2010

It's a Mitzva, Not a Fruit

Some people think it's crazy to spend $35, $75, $150 ... on an esrog. The problem is they are thinking it's a fruit when it's actually a mitzva and of course it's crazy to spend that kind of money on a fruit like a peach, apple, pear.  But this isn't a fruit.  It's an esrog.

I just read an anecdote that illustrates this difference in mindset:

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Last year, a friend was flying to New York from Israel for Sukkos. Like so many other passengers on the packed plane, he was bringing esrogim with him. Six of them to be exact. When he arrived at customs control, he handed in the requisite form, which he had filled out to the best of his ability. The customs agent looked at the form and asked him, “Do you have any fruit with you?”

“No,” he answered.

“Do you have an esrog?” the agent asked.

“Yes. In fact, I have six of them,” my friend said.

“So why,” asked the agent, “when I asked if you were carrying fruit, did you say no?”

“I never thought of an esrog as a fruit,” my friend responded in all honesty. “An esrog is an esrog!”

The agent, recognizing the man’s sincerity, proceeded to examine one of the esrogim. Upon ascertaining that it was clean of fruit flies, he allowed the gentleman through with his esrogim.

Sep 27, 2010

The Power of Chinuch

I was reading an account of a baalas teshuva and the woman said that she was amazed when a little Jewish child checked with his father regarding the kashrus of some treat before eating it.  She couldn't get over the child's will power.

When I read this I thought - she doesn't understand chinuch.  To a child who is raised not being allowed to do certain things on Shabbos and to wait between meat and milk, these mitzvos become second nature.  Passing a McDonalds is no temptation to me.  Domino's Pizza is a non-issue. 

As R' AJ Twerski puts it, "Every person has things which are essentially alien to him, which he would never do.  For example, I do not have to struggle with the issue of whether or not I will have a cheeseburger.  My commitment to eating kosher is such that the very thought is an absurdity, and if I were to pass by a treife food stand, even if I was extremely hungry, it would never occur to me to eat treife.  It is simply not within the realm of possibility that I would do so."

That's not to say that every religious child will avoid items of questionable kashrus.  I think what it does tell us is that if chinuch is done right there will be numerous areas of halacha and hashkafa that will be treated as a "given" such as not putting food into one's mouth without a bracha, not going to sleep without saying Shema.  Something to aim for in chinuch.

Aug 20, 2010

Where are you drawing the line?

I heard a story the other day whose message is echoed in an article I read a few minutes ago.  The story is about a rabbi who moved to Baltimore in the early part of the 20th century.  Someone questioned him about his yarmulke which he wore sticking out of the back of his hat which was not the rabbi's practice all the years and was not the practice of the group to which he belonged.

The rabbi answered - when I came to America I knew that I'd face struggles with my yetzer hara over matters of religious observance.  So now, even if the yetzer hara should win, what would he accomplish? That I would move my yarmulke back under my hat ...

In other words, getting back to the topic of the three previous posts, what issues in chinuch do we want to deal with? To a great extent, we can choose which ones.  As an example, if children attend schools with peers who have lavish parties for their bar (or bas) mitzva or peers who include sports activities in their bar mitzva celebration, their parents will have to contend with issues such as: will we do the same as the others? is it right to make our son different than his peers? should we compromise on how we would like to celebrate a bar mitzva? and so on.  But if the children attend schools where the schools set the rules on where a bar mitzva can be held and what is acceptable, and that is the school you choose, then how to celebrate is a non-issue.

As Emuna Braverman wrote in her Aish article called "The Makeup Wars": "Once we choose a school whose values we embrace then we have to allow our children to be in step with their peers – obviously within reason. At the same time that we were having this struggle with our daughter [about make-up], a friend of ours (whose daughter was clearly at a different school) was struggling with her over whether she could sleep out in the woods with her boyfriend. Suddenly makeup didn’t seem like such a big deal! We have to choose an environment that matches our values and then work within its parameters."

Which is why I think R' Twerski's unqualified call to warn our children about drugs because "drugs are everywhere, even in our Torah institutions" and "we live in a society that is awash in drug use" is misplaced.  Would he also say we should tell all teenagers in frum schools and yeshivos about what can happen if a boyfriend-girlfriend relationship goes too far? About out-of-wedlock babies? After all, by his reasoning in every school "there are marginal youngsters" ... Or would he agree that talks about sexual relationships are out of place in yeshivos?

Aug 18, 2010

Another follow-up post

I'd like to know how far is R' Twerski willing to go with this line: "The greatest danger is not being aware that one exists."  There are all sorts of dangers out there and is it really necessary for us to know about them all? I am not convinced.  I think we ought to protect children and even ourselves from unnecessary exposure to the seamier sides of life. 

And more important, I think, than informing children of lurking dangers is to inform young marrieds that they must devote themselves to raising their children, heart and soul.  Both parents need to give their children quality and quantity time.  Nothing can replace sitting around with kids on Shabbos or any other time and just shmoozing, sharing ideas, stories.  Singing together.  Going on outings together.  Nothing.  I don't care how many speeches kids get about drugs - predators - eating disorders - smoking - moods and depresssion - it's worth hardly anything at all if they don't have a loving and respectful relationship with their parents.  When children want to emulate their parents and don't want to hurt them, then self-destructive and secretive behavior is rendered unnecessary.  We need to work to increase family loyalty and decrease the kind of peer pressure that makes parents bystanders in kids' lives.

Recommended reading: Hold On to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers
by Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate M.D.

Follow-up to previous post

What issues must we deal with or do we choose to deal with? It depends on where we are raising our children and what kind of school and camp they attend.  If they live in a mostly sheltered environment and attend a school with children coming from a similar background, in which drug use is quite remote, not only would I think raising the issue would be pointless I think it would be harmful.  However, if smoking is something they see, that might warrant a talk from an authority figure like a doctor who tells them of the dangers, followed up by a talk by the rebbi or mashgiach about the halachic reasons not to smoke.

"How do you teach a child not to touch fire without telling them it's hot?"

Items that are hot naturally come up in a toddler's life.  There is hot food, a hot oven not to touch, hot water in a tub or sink and a parent will comment about waiting until it cools off, about being careful not to touch it, ouch.  It's part of life.  Just as we teach children how to cross the street and warn them to look around carefully.  Or have a fire drill.

"Would you say the same in regards to talking to them about child predators?"

It is appropriate and advisable to tell a child about the importance of never going anywhere with anyone without permission from home, even with someone he/she knows well.  No need to inform them of molesters and what they do.  Little talks with a parent about tznius, about not going off with a counselor or someone alone is fine.  The emphasis could and should be on 1) permission from parents  2) modesty  3) impressing on them that if anyone ever tells them to keep a secret from their parents the first thing they should do is tell their parents. 

Aug 17, 2010

Imprinting the Positive

R' Abraham J. Twerski wrote an article called "Speaking about the Unspeakable" in which he says we should talk to our children about drugs.  He asks, "how will our children learn about the evils of drug use if we don’t talk to them about it?" As for those whose children are sheltered he says, "The greatest danger is not being aware that one exists." 

Li'Shichno 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, i.e. the pasuk never refers to Yerushalayim?

He contrasts this to the Arei Miklat (Cities of Refuge) where the Torah tells us “tachin lecha ha'derech”, 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 accidental 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.  Sins, even unintentional ones, should not be discussed.   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 go to the Bais HaMikdash too.

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.

A distinguished mechanech once related 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 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.

As a community, online or otherwise, we should speak about all the good that Jews do and there is so much good!  It is very demoralizing and a spiritual downer to read and hear, time and again, about sins and crimes that are committed.  Highlight the positive!

Aug 16, 2010

What Life Should Be

The following is a happy parent's assessment of his son's summer camp - Yeshivas Kayitz experience:

"My son is having a BLAST!!! Learning and having FUN!!! That's what summer and life, for that matter should be!"

Hmmm.  That got me thinking. 

I take note of which words are in capital letters followed by exclamation marks: BLAST and FUN, and which is not in capital letters: learning.

I observe a parent's understanding of what not only a summer vacation but what life should be.

I wonder, did I miss a critical lesson (or two or three) when we were taught what life is about? I simply do not recall learning, reading or hearing that life is about having a BLAST and FUN.

I thought it's about Love and Fear of G-d.  About Torah, Avoda, Gemilus Chasadim.  About Ahavas Yisrael, Olam Haba, Yemos Ha'Moshiach.

What kind of students and children do we produce when we think that life should be about fun as opposed to Serving G-d?

Now I'll take the other side.  What the parent meant is that a Jewish life should be full of exuberance and simcha.  That is true!

But in the statement, learning and fun are separate.  It's not that the learning is geshmak (though perhaps it is).  It sounds like they do their learning (get it over with?) and then move on to what they're really interested in: having A BLAST and FUN.

E-mail Notification

Sorry for the long delay in responding to your query about e-mail notification.  To the right of the screen you should see where you can now subscribe to e-mail notification.

This is an experiment and I hope it works!

Jul 28, 2010

I've got to stop speculating!

When am I going to learn?

Not to speculate.  Definition: To engage in a course of reasoning often based on inconclusive evidence.

What a waste of time.  But it's easy to get drawn in:

- Maybe he/she meant ...
- Probably what happened was ...
- I think it means ...

We (I) do it when someone doesn't return our call, when we wonder about some news item and come up with theories about this and that, when we assume motives.

I'm not talking here about "dan l'chaf zechus" (judging favorably).  It's more about coming up with explanations for things we read and hear about.  It's usually a waste of energy because a) we don't have all the information and b) we simply can't read other people's minds.

In some cases, just by waiting things become clear.  In other cases, we can take the initiative and ask questions.  Otherwise, no speculating!

Jul 21, 2010

The State of Israel Acts as our Stepmother

I am reading Eretz Yisrael in the Parashah by Rabbi Litchtman which contains divrei Torah that highlight the centrality of Eretz Yisrael in the Torah.  The author, a modern Orthodox rabbi, made aliya in 1991 and urges all Jews to do the same.

I have no argument with his divrei Torah (at least the ones I've read so far) for he quotes from reputable sources.  However, his conclusions are another story.

What particularly aroused my ire this week is a section called "Foreign Labor" that begins on p. 326.  He refers to the Chazal which says, "Jews [who live] outside the Land worship avoda zara in purity."  Elsewhere in the Gemara it says that the term "avoda zara" can mean "work that is foreign to him."  Based on this idea, R' Shalom of Belz explains, "Jews who live outside Eretz Yisrael do foreign work in purity."  Meaning, they work for the sake of others.  All the effort they put into building up the lands of galus is foreign to them because whatever they build or produce there eventually falls into the hands of others.

The Zionist author of the book learns a lesson from this that we should leave the diaspora for Eretz Yisrael.  He quotes Eim Ha'Banim Semeichah where the author urges us to return to our "true mother," Eretz Yisrael.  He bemoans the money we invested in other lands which he calls our "stepmother."  How did our stepmother treat us? "She took a staff and hit us cruelly and mercilessly .. She also banished us completely and took our money from us.  We were forced to leave her house ... Now should we put our faith in her for the future and return to her once again? How can we be so sure that after a few decades she will not do this to us again?"

The author of Eim Ha'Banim Semeichah was murdered in 1945.  Not in his wildest dreams would he have imagined what took place during the summer of 2005.  Five years ago, the State of Israel destroyed Gush Katif and settlements in Northern Shomron.  1700 families were forced to leave their homes where some had been living for 30 years.  Jews bulldozed homes, 33 kindergartens, 6 elementary schools, 3 high schools, 6 yeshivos, 3 kollelim and 21 settlements.  They abandoned hothouses that were estimated to be worth over $80 million.  The agricultural produce of Gush Katif represented some 10% of all agricultural produce raised in Israel.  They dismanted 38 shuls which were later desecrated by the Arabs.  47 bodies were exhumed from the cemetery.

And yet R' Lichtman urges us to make aliya! My questions to him are:

If our "true mother" [his beloved State of Israel] acts like a "stepmother," why should we go to her? How did Jews in Israel treat us? "She [Jews in Israel] took a staff and hit us cruelly and mercilessly .. She also banished us completely and took our money from us. We were forced to leave her house ..."  The chilul Hashem picture of Jews in riot gear throwing the Jews in Amona out of their homes, won the Pulitzer Prize. 

I quote R' Teichtel and ask R' Lichtman: Should we put our faith in her [the State of Israel] for the future and return to her once again? How can we be so sure that after a few decades she will not do this to us again?" when this calamity was not even the first of its kind.  Israel gave the Sinai and its oil fields to Egypt and destroyed the settlement of Yamit.  In fact, some residents of destroyed Yamit resettled in Gush Katif only to have their homes destroyed yet again, by Jews who act as our "stepmother."

When will the religious-Zionists open their eyes?

Jul 11, 2010

Campers' Expectations

In an article about summer camps in the Catskills, the director of Camp Aguda-Bnos and the director of Camp Hedvah both said that they must adjust to new expectations from their campers.  Meir Frischman said, "Our learning groups have been held in these gazebos for decades.  Nowadays, the campers expect air conditioning in their gazebos.  Each of the past three years we've enclosed a few gazebos; this year, we're enclosing three more."

I would like to know where these expectations came from. Surely it was hot in camp for all those decades.  Presumably some campers moaned about the heat all along.  So what made him decide to accede to the campers' wishes for air conditioning? Was it the campers who exerted the pressure or their parents? Did parents say, "We are paying plenty of money and we would like our children to be able to learn comfortably"? What would happen if he said, "We have never had air conditioning and what worked in the past will continue to work"? Would he lose many campers to other camps?

R' Levi: "Comfortable accomodations and standard on-site activities just don't do it anymore.  Girls expect many more trips and special days.  My wife and the head counselor hold weekly meetings beginning in December to organize a fun schedule."

Going away to camp is not good enough.  You have to go off camp grounds in order to have fun.  Having activities on camp grounds is booooring.  The change of scenery from city to camp is not enough.  Why do the girls expect many more trips and special days? Is this about spoiled kids or is it about competition between camps - if one camp puts in a go-kart track, then other camps do the same.  If one camp takes its campers to Hershey Park, ice skating, bowling etc. then other camps follow because otherwise their camp won't be patronized.

Day camps are joining the manic activity frenzy. Someone told me she wanted to keep her 7 yr. old home from a day camp trip, a full day trip to a big amusement park followed by a BBQ.  There was an extra charge involved though this wasn't the main or only reason to be opposed to it.  If this is what is provided a 7 year old, what will you give a jaded 10 year old who has been everywhere and done everything? And how should parents handle it when they are opposed to these extravagant outings for chinuch and other reasons? Should they complain to the director (who will tell them they have the option of not sending their child on the trip)? How should they explain their views to their child?

According to an article in Mishpacha's Family First women's section about sending nosh to kids in camp, "Today's campers aren't as easily impressed as we were when we were kids." The article goes on to describe just how to overcome this challenge with package themes etc. rather than DECRY the situation and offer suggestions on how to properly mechanech children.

Seems to me like a topic that ought to be discussed at conventions and addressed by mechanchim.  Perhaps we need to put forth our chinuch expectations so that there is another message being heard by camp directors.

Jul 8, 2010

Jews are Great

I read a Chizuk message that said:

We are far from perfect. We sin, we fall, we fail.
And we come to Hashem with requests for life, health, zivugim, etc. and when we are ready to show what we are giving in exchange, we open our palm and discover - nothing!
What do we have to 'pay' for these gifts?
Our palm lies open, and empty.
We lower our eyes in embarrassment. We are asking for a free handout.
Not only do I not deserve the kings good, but quite the opposite; I deserve to be punished for all the times I accidentally failed you! Yet you treat me with kindness anyway. I have no way to ever repay you for all you give me, king. But I can promise to always try."

We can't ever deserve Hakadosh Baruch Hu's chesed.

Hashem doesn't expect us to, as He knows it's impossible.

It's probably because I have fallen prey to the Entitlement Generation's sentiments but I don't relate very well to the ideas presented above.  I find it amazing that after all G-d put us through we, the Jewish people, are still hanging in there, doing mitzvos. 

Over the past 250 years or so, Hashem inflicted us with pogroms, government persecution such as unfair debilitating taxes, abduction of Jewish children to serve in the Czar's army, abduction of Jewish children in Moslem countries when they were orphaned or unmarried, socialism, communism, the development of modern scientific thought, World Wars, the Blue Laws in America and on and on.  And when it comes Pesach and I think of all the Jews, all over the world, with and without a Jewish education, who are celebrating a seder, and come September, all the Jews who attend shul, who fast on Yom Kippur.  Those who light Chanuka Menorahs, who support Jewish education when they themselves are not even religious. The newly religious who may be the first in their family for several generations to be shomer Shabbos.  Those who kasher their kitchens.  The Jews who have received a proper Jewish education who stick proudly to Jewish observance despite the fact that the outside world is very tempting and they are a tiny minority within the Jewish people.

Hilchos Shabbos.  Hilchos Shemiras Ha'Lashon.  Hilchos Talmud Torah.  Love and Fear of Hashem.  Do not stray after your hearts and eyes.  Eliminate anger.  Be exceedingly humble.  Fargin others.  The chesed that is done.  Opening up homes, hearts, wallets.  Attending shiurim.  Listening to shiurim in cars, on phones, on mp3 players.  All the obligations.  The exhortations to grow spiritually.  To cultivate good middos.  To be grateful.  To make good use of our time.  To love every Jew.  It's a very, very tall order.

I like Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev's approach.  He addressed G-d and said: If You placed Olam Haba and Gan Eden and (l'havdil) Gehinnom right in front of us, and You put the enticements of the world into a sefer, then surely no Jew would sin.  But now that You put all the enticements of the world right in front of us and You put Gan Eden etc. in a sefer, well, it's not surprising ....

Jul 7, 2010

Feeling Good

Fox News reported:

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in a recent interview that his "foremost" mission as the head of America's space exploration agency is to improve relations with the Muslim world. Please tell me he isn't serious!

Though international diplomacy would seem well outside NASA's orbit, Bolden said in an interview with Al Jazeera that strengthening those ties was among the top tasks President Obama assigned him. He said better interaction with the Muslim world would ultimately advance space travel. No explanations as to how this will happen when Moslems get zero credit for any advances in space travel made to date.

"When I became the NASA administrator -- or before I became the NASA administrator -- he charged me with three things. One was he wanted me to help re-inspire children to want to get into science and math, he wanted me to expand our international relationships, and third, and perhaps foremost, he wanted me to find a way to reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with dominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science ... and math and engineering ," Bolden said in the interview. Now this is post-worthy!

Never mind that Moslem contributions in recent centuries are negligible and the claims made about inventions associated with Moslem countries are so far in the past that many of them have no reliable confirmation.  Let's put aside, for the moment, the extremely alarming attitude our president has towards the nations of the world and his groveling before our enemies and focus on just how far the self esteem movement has gone.

All those books, articles, and speeches on self-esteem that we have been subjected to, in and out of the frum world, are not just about positivity and confidence. It goes much, much further than that. It's all about "feeling good about yourself" just l'sheim feeling good.  Can you imagine people in the shtetl or wherever Jews lived throughout the ages, being asked: Tell me, do you feel good about yourself? For that matter, l'havdil, any non-Jew past a certain age finds this sort of talk odd for this is very, very new talk.

In days gone by though not so long ago (1973-1983), heading the list of qualities that American parents said they most valued in children were:

obeys parents well
has good sense and judgment

followed by being responsible, considerate and other similar values.

My guess as to what today's American parents would say as their #1 priority for their children is a toss-up between "their being happy" and "having self esteem."  And how are children faring today as compared to a few decades ago? In the frum world we seem to be suffering from a multitude of problems that no, I don't think were merely hidden before and were there along to the extent we have them today.  I think we are experiencing an explosion of destructive, counter-productive, undisciplined, un-Jewish behavior.  I don't attribute all our problems to the promotion of self-esteem as opposed to G-d-esteem, but it definitely ranks up there as a major contributor to our lack of well-being

The focus in Avodas Hashem is, or ought to be, Hashem, not self. It's not about feeling good about yourself, but about whether Hashem is happy with you.  Time to get back to basics.

Jul 6, 2010

Follow-up post about Judging

Previously, I wrote (see here) about the tension between the injunction to judge others favorably while not fudging on what's right and wrong and rebuking others when the halacha says to do so.  Note - When it says in Pirkei Avos to judge others favorably it is telling us: Yes, judge them! How? Favorably.

I am astonished and amused time and again when in conversation, someone piously repeats the popular mantra of our times, "I'm not judging anyone ..." while proceeding to do just that! See for yourself.  The next time someone tells you, "Far be it for me to judge," or "Who am I to judge?" see if they actually do judge nevertheless. 

I don't think it's because they mean to be hypocritical, espousing a standard but not living up to it.  I think it's because they are mindlessly repeating a line without acknowledging that our human intellect is constantly observing and sorting the information it takes in.  It is dishonest (and they don't seem to realize it) to eschew judging when our critical faculties judge as automatically as we breathe and quite silly to disdain judging while judging! Aren't they judging others negatively when they say, "You are being judgmental"? They might say, no, I am simply observing that you are judging, but where does that get us ... Anybody can claim they were just making an observation and not, G-d forbid, judging anyone.

Bottom line:

The human condition is that we are discerning and this is good as it says, "Im ein daas, havdala minayin?" (If there is no daas-understanding, how can you differentiate between things?). 

Actions can and should be judged as right or wrong, according to halacha.

There are times to judge favorably, times we can be neutral, times to judge negatively (see previous post on the subject).  There are times to rebuke others.

As for the statement, "Do not judge your fellow until you reach his place," that means we can never fully understand another person since they grew up differently than us (even within the same family) and were given a unique set of genes, drives, Yetzer Hara, understanding and circumstances and therefore we cannot come to conclusions about their motivations.   Hashem can.

Jul 5, 2010

Most Often Repeated Stories

Here is my list of most often repeated Jewish stories (post Gemara era) told in books and lectures.  If you have additional suggestions, please let me know!

1) R’ Aryeh Levine and his wife at the doctor: “Our foot hurts us.”

2) R’ S.Z. Auerbach at wife’s funeral, nothing to ask mechila for

3) R’ Zushe – they won’t ask me why I wasn’t like Moshe Rabeinu

4) Told about the Maggid of Mezritch and the Chofetz Chaim – “Where is your furniture?”

5) Maggid sends poor man to R’ Zushe to find out how to deal with troubles. R’ Zushe said, “I don't know why he sent you to me. I haven't had troubles in my life."

6) In the time of the Baal Shem Tov a community was threatened with severe Divine punishment. Aware of this, the Baal Shem Tov davened unusually long that Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. A Jewish shepherd boy, illiterate, expert at imitating animal sounds and seeing the excitement in the shul and the hearing the weeping loudly cried out, “Cock-a-doodle-do, Hashem have rachmanus!” The Baal Shem Tov later said that it was this boy’s sincere prayer that cancelled the heavenly decree.

7) Wife of R’ Michel of Zlotchov smashes his esrog's pitem, upset that he sold the precious tefillin, he keeps quiet, he lost the esrog, should he also lose his shalom bayis?

8) R’ Yisrael Salanter – learns lesson from the shoemaker: “As long as the candle burns, it is still possible to repair”

9) R’ Akiva Eiger, man spills wine at the seder, R’ Akiva shakes the table to spill wine too and says the table seems to be shaky

10) Man who escorts R’ S.Z. Auerbach home notices him straightening his clothes at the entrance to the house and asks whether he is expecting an important guest. He says yes, the Shechina. When husband and wife live together in peace, the Shechina dwells there.

11) Man complains to the Steipler that his wife is disorganized erev Shabbos. The Steipler yelled, “Nem a bezzem” – take a broom! Help her out!

12) R’ Moshe – ink spills over his new Gemara and rather than be upset he says it looks better that way

13) R’ Moshe – someone who drove him accidentally slammed the door on his fingers but he didn’t utter a sound. Later, those who observed it asked him why he restrained himself and R’ Moshe said, he was kind enough to drive me. Did I have to make him feel bad?

14) The Chofetz Chaim once testified in a Polish court as a character witness on behalf of a student who was accused of a crime. After he did so, the student’s lawyer told the judge, “I would like to tell the court the greatness of this rabbi. A thief once stole something from him and he pursued him shouting, “I forgive you! It’s yours!” so that the thief wouldn’t be guilt of sinning because of him. Skeptical, the judge said, “You believe that?” Said the lawyer, “I didn’t personally witness it but people aren’t relating these stories about you and me!”

15) The Satmar Rebbe gives a tzedaka donation to someone who asks for one and afterwards is told the man is a phony to which he says, “Boruch Hashem, I’m glad to hear he’s not in need.

16) R’ Aharon Kotler would say to use the manned toll booth because it’s not kavod ha’briyos to pass up a man for a machine

17) Story about nasty neighbor in Yerushalayim who cut down the woman’s laundry and yet she kept quiet. The nasty neighbor’s child became sick and she came running to her to ask for forgiveness. The woman forgave her and she merited giving birth to a special child who grew up to be a tzaddik. (Story erroneously attributed to the mother of R’ Elyashiv but he was born in Europe and came to Israel when he was 12)

Jul 4, 2010

Language and Us

 He was a typical macho Israeli who did not even want to sit down next to a religious man, he so despised what he stood for.  Nevertheless, when he eventually sat down and began speaking in Yiddish, to the astonishment of the rabbi, his persona was transformed.  When asked how he knew Yiddish, the Israeli said, "Ich shtam fun Vizhnitz" (I originate in Vizhnitz) - a Chassidic town in the Ukraine. 

I found the idea fascinating, that the language we speak has an effect on our demeanor.  Does the melodic tone or harshness of our primary language shape our outlook? Or perhaps it is because Yiddish speaking people have been closely associated with religious observance that by reverting to Yiddish, the man was also slipping into a more traditional mindset ...

As for Yiddish in our schools where the children don't speak Yiddish at home, I am familiar with the arguments against it and they are reasonable and yet, I think it's such a pity that so many of today's children are deprived of it.  Children are adept at learning new languages, the younger they are the easier it is.  If they had Yiddish immersion at a young age, the arguments about the burden of another language the children don't otherwise use would fall away for it wouldn't be a burden. 

I am seeing the products of the no-Yiddish approach and it seems to me that they are lacking in a way that maybe I cannot express in words.  A language goes along with a culture and mentality and otherwise fine and frum children are missing out because their Yiddish expressions are limited to "nebach" and "gezuntheit" and they cannot follow a Yom Tov Ehrlich song.  These songs and the Yiddish language are saturated with gefil that does not carry over in translation.

The solution: Go beyond Yinglish (yeshivish-English like geshmak and gevaldig sprinkled in English language sentences) and learn Yiddish!

Jul 2, 2010

Not So Beautiful

I have enjoyed Hanoch Teller's books in the past but his new book, written after a ten year hiatus, has me disappointed with the very first story.

Why was this story told with pseudonyms when the story was written up years ago with the real names of the people involved?

1) He says the woman was blind from birth when she became blind in her 40's.

2) In his rendition, the woman knew she would be able to see if she could be operated on when in reality, the woman had been told her blindness was genetic and nothing could be done.  A remote possibility that laser surgery could help her was something she planned on exploring.

3) He has the heroine of the story attending a Bais Yaakov school when she actually attended Beis Rifka.  Why not give the girl and her community the credit due them?

4) In his rendition, the idea of seeing an eye doctor is that of the young girl when what really happened was this was a response of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.  Why not give the proper credit?

5) He has them dropping out of the blue on the the local ophthamologist when in reality, they got a recommendation to a specialist.

6) He says the young girl's mother dreaded confronting the doctor about the cost of the surgery when in reality the doctor waived the fee (beyond what the government would cover) immediately.

7) The newly sighted woman made a Seudas Hoda'a to thank the community of Crown Heights who stood by her.  In Teller's inaccurate recounting of the story the many people who played a part in helping out are set aside.

R' Paysach Krohn is to be commended for verifying the details of the stories he tells.  Unfortunately, Teller and another popular story writer don't bother.  They hear a story or read a story and write it as they please, with embellishments and no interest in verifying it for accuracy.

When the talmidim of R' Dov Ber, the Maggid of Mezritch, delivered a Torah discourse, they viewed it as the Oral Law and when they heard a story from him, this was considered the Written Torah.

In the Written Torah, every detail matters.