Mar 28, 2011

Creating Angels

The Gemara (Makkos 10b) says that a person is led on the way he wants to go.  I read an explanation from the Maharsha who says that the person is led by the angels that were created from his actions.  He says, a person's every thought, word, and deed - good or bad - results in the creation of an angel.  Since everything is in the hands of Heaven except yiras shomayim-fear of Heaven, and since the person's desire is to go in a certain way, the angels created from that desire will lead him.  That's quite a thought to keep in mind!

Shortly after reading that, I read a Medrash (Vayikra Rabba) that tells a story about a man who spent so much on his drinking habit that his children were afraid they would be penniless.  When he was drunk, they tied him up and took him out to a cemetery.  They hoped that when he sobered up he would be shocked to find himself in the cemetery and would become aware of the dangers of his heavy drinking.

That day, a caravan carrying wine passed near the cemetery and was attacked.  One of the barrels fell off and landed right next to the drunken man.  When he woke up he was surprised to find the spigot of the barrel right next to his face and he took a drink of wine there in the cemetery.

What a powerful illustration of the principle that a person is led in the way he wants to go! Now if only I remembered that part about creating angels with every thought, word, action!

Mar 24, 2011

No Outcry

So Netanyahu will respond "aggressively" to the Jerusalem bombing, hmmm.  He didn't say that after the Fogels were murdered.  At that time, what was his response? It was so unbelievably inane that the lack of any public reaction to it is equally unbelievable.  When 5 members of a family were murdered he said - we will build.  Yup.  Your family members were butchered and our response will be to put up buildings that should be going up regardless of a massacre.  Tamar was brave enough to speak up.  She said (not the exact words): gee, great, and then you'll throw the people out like you did to us in Gush Katif!

Did anyone else have the guts to tell Netanyahu that construction is a lame response to murder?

How come, after the bombing yesterday, he didn't say, "Okay, that's another 500 buildings"? Seems clear that it's because the Fogels' blood is not worth as much to him and the State of Israel as that of the people in Jerusalem.  And there is no outcry.

Mar 18, 2011

Love for Eretz Yisrael

Long ago, I wrote about my fascination with people's passions: post on passion
This week, I took note of what the grandmother, sitting shiva following the massacre in Itamar, said to PM Netanyahu who paid them a shiva call.  With tremendous emotion she said to him, "Pay attention to how much this nation loves the land. We came from overseas for this land. This is eretz chayeinu (the land of our lives). We cannot separate from it. It's impossible, impossible, to separate from it."

One of the most famous lines of poetry from Rabbi Yehuda Ha'Levi (of Kuzari fame) says:

'My heart is in the east, and I in the uttermost west."

We - people I know - care about Eretz Yisrael, feel a bond with it, but I don't often hear the passion as expressed in the grandmother's words.  Although it says there are three loves, not four, love for G-d, love for our fellow Jews, and love for Torah, our Torah leaders throughout the generations, as well as the "ordinary folk," felt and expressed great love for Eretz Yisrael. 

If I -we don't feel that great love, perhaps we need to think about why this is so.

Mar 17, 2011

Our Blood Boils

I was glad to see a frum website with these words on the top of their home page: 
Our hearts break for our Brothers and Sisters in Itamar and our blood boils with a desire for justice.
Too often, I read articles about people who suffered tremendous loss due to terrorist attacks who do not express any feelings of anger and the desire for revenge.  For example, in an interview with a bereaved husband and father, when asked whether he is angry about what happened, he said, "Chas v'shalom! Anger? At whom?"  He said he knows it is all from Hashem and the people who perpetrate these crimes will pay for it."
Now, of course that is true, that these evil people are Hashem's messengers and they will ultimately pay the price, but as the expression goes, "Ven es tut vay, shrait men" - when it hurts, you cry out.  
We read parshas Zachor this Shabbos in which we recall what Amalek did to us and the mitzva to annihilate them. We should hate Amalek and be furious about what they did and still do to our people. We should be outraged by "those who destroy you who emerge from you" - sadly, those Jews who actively contribute towards the endangerment of Jewish lives and the arousal of hatred on the part of the world.
It says that whoever has compassion when they should be cruel, will be cruel when they are supposed to have compassion. The classic example of this is this week's Haftora, when King Shaul had mercy on the Amalekim. Because of his mercy, Haman eventually threatened to annihilate the Jewish people. What did Shmuel Ha'Navi do? He cut Agag, King of Amalek in two! No misplaced sympathies there! And later on, Shaul had the priestly city of Nov killed.

In perek 79 of Tehillim, sadly, so apt these days, it says, "Nations have entered into Your inheritance ... they have made Jerusalem into heaps of ruins. They have given the corpse of Your servants as food to the birds of the heavens ... they have shed their blood like water round about Jerusalem ...We were a humiliation to our neighbors, an object of scorn and derision ... How long Hashem, will you be angry? ... Pour Your wrath upon the nations that know You not ... let it be known among the nations before our eyes, the avenging of the spilt blood of Your servants ..."

We say some of this at the Pesach seder too. "Pour Your wrath upon the nations ..."

Revenge IS Jewish, and we want to see it NOW! Building is NOT enough!

It's All According to Plan

There was a Gerrer Chassid named R' Leibel Kutner who lived in Bnei Brak.  He had gone through the horrors of the Holocaust and had suffered for many years.  And yet, he always encouraged his friends and relatives.

Once, when some people saw that he was suffering great pain, they asked him how he managed to cope.  He answered with three words, "Ha'kol lefi ha'tochnit" - It's all according to plan.

What gave him the strength to carry on despite his suffering and remain grateful even during hard times was the knowledge that Hashem is in charge, He is kind, and everything happens for the best.

I read this in "Aleinu L'Shabeiach" and was very taken by it.  Although it's nothing new since we are familiar with the idea of "gam zu l'tova" and we believe Hashem firt der velt (runs the world), I like that phrase, "Ha'kol lefi ha'tochnit."  Can we be resentful, annoyed, upset ... if we believe that it's all according to the plan and it's Hashem's plan and it's all great?

Mar 15, 2011

A Gantz Yohr Freilich

I read that although of course we are enjoined to be happy and to serve G-d with joy all year, all the time, nevertheless, there is a month and a special day in that month that are devoted to joy.  That month is Adar and the day is Purim.

This made me think - why are Mother's Day and Father's Day disparaged by many, as I'm sure you've all heard at some time or another, for the reason that we don't designate one day a year to honor and give thanks to our parents.  We have the mitzva of Kibud Av V'Eim all year round.

Seems to me that just as we know that "ivdu es Hashem b'simcha" applies all year but there is a month and a day to be especially joyous, we can relate to the idea of singling out a time for parents.  Of course, we have the Torah to guide us and we don't have to acknowledge a secular holiday.  My point is that the reason some give to disparage it is inconsistent with what we ourselves hold about Adar and Purim.

Mar 14, 2011

What's Amazing - Am I a Crook?!

Rabbi Orlofsky tells about the day he took his kids to Central Park and had no choice but to park his car in a lot at $18 an hour.  Then the attendant said, "You've got a van, and the price for a van is $36 an hour!"

When he came back to retrieve his car, the new attendant asked him for $18.  After an inner struggle and clenching his teeth, Rabbi Orlofsky asked him, "Is it the same price for a van?"

The attendant said, "Oh right, it's $36 for a van, thank you very much."

Rabbi O's former student who was there with him and amazed that he had volunteered the information said, "What a tzaddik you are," to which Rabbi O said, "It's easy to be a tzaddik for $18.  Can you be a tzaddik for $18,000?"

"What do you mean?" asked his talmid.

R' O explained that three people in Har Nof, where he lives, had their cars stolen.  And each of the three was asked by the insurance company, "Did you have your alarm on?"

There is no way the insurance company would know if they did or did not have their alarm on and the result of a "no" meant they would receive no money and yet all three said, "no."  When Rabbi O. said to one of them, "That's amazing," the man said, "What's amazing about it? Am I crook? A liar? I have a chavrusa who was telling me, maybe there's a heter because it's a corporation and this and that, and I said, 'You love me so much that you want to lie and steal for me? I didn't know you were such a friend! But I'm not so good.  I don't want to lie and steal.'"

Some people, sad to say, boast about the "shtick" (read: geneiva) they pull off.

Chazal (Eiruvin 65) say A person's character can be recognized in three ways:

B'kiso - lit. his pocket, i.e. his spending, when he has money, does he apportion it correctly? is he generous? stingy? How far will he go for a "buck?" How far will he go for many bucks?

B'ka'aso - his anger, can he control himself, even when angry?

B'koso - lit. his cup, i.e. his drinking - how does he behave when inebriated?

How refreshing to read about people who do the right thing because it's the right thing to do. People who absolutely recoil at the idea of being a thief and a liar.

Mar 10, 2011

Iron Faith

Mrs. Ada Aidel Zoren was a Holocaust survivor.  She would say that the one thing that gave her strength to go on, even during the most difficult times, was the knowledge that there is a G-d, the one and only Ruler of the world. 

How sad, and ironic, that the very thing that gave this woman the fortitude to carry on is the very same point that is challenged by so many people.  Whether it's "Where was G-d in the Holocaust?" or simply, "How do we know there is a G-d and that He cares about what I do?" Whether the questions come from people who did not have a Jewish education or those who had quite a good one, they are sad questions.

A practical question that educators need to ask is: What kind of chinuch produces people who not only remain strong in their faith, but faith is the one thing that keeps them going?

The Holocaust population is disappearing rapidly.  The war was over 65 years ago.  Many survivors are being interviewed about their story.  The critical question to ask religious survivors is what sort of chinuch did you have? To what do you attribute your iron faith?

Mar 4, 2011

But that's how I feeeeel ....

Can we get some perspective? I know that people are very possessive of their feelings - "I feel, therefore I am" - but let's get a grip!

I know this might come as a revelation to many people these days but not being the most popular child in the class, not having the nicest car on the block, having our child defy our wishes and not having someone greet us is not on a par with seeing family murdered in the Holocaust or in a terrorist attack! Shocking disclosure, I know ...

I think it's time the pendulum swung back and rather than "validate" our feelings and those of others, we pause, and judge (that "dirty" word) whether this feeling  A) is appropriate to the situation  B) is a feeling worthy of an oveid Hashem. 

To elaborate on A:

On a scale of 1-10, if having one's family murdered in the Holocaust is a 10, how do you rate what just happened to you?

to elaborate on B:

Sefarim talk about good middos: being patient, not standing on one's honor, having a "good eye," having bitachon, simcha.  Where does my feeling of being slighted, ignored, jealous, resentful fit in with the good middos we are working to acquire?

I think it's time to hear lectures and read articles telling us to dismiss unworthy and otherwise negative feelings, rather than entertain and focus on them.

And it's time that parents and teachers let children know that feelings are useful, up to a point.  Feeling guilty about something might be a good indication that we are doing something wrong.  Feeling insulted is probably not that useful.

I read such a sad story in which a man did not daven with a minyan in 70 years.  The story was that when he was a boy and very poor and he had yartzeit for his mother, he went to shul to say Kaddish for her, and after shacharis, an older man in shul asked him where the cake was.  When the old man saw there was none he said, "Phooee, you call that a yartzeit?"

The boy ran home, devasted and told his father he would never set foot in shul again, and he didn't.  For 70 years.

Now in a case like this, and yes, we can say that this was close to a 10 on the scale of 1-10 because the boy was shamed, wouldn't it have made all the difference if someone were to tell the boy they understand his pain but his reaction - not to step into a shul again - hurt no one but himself? That not attending shul did not punish the man who insulted him? That he could attend another shul?

Let us make the effort to step back and assess the situation rationally.  We are likely to be much happier with the results.

Mar 3, 2011

Coming Home?

When I read articles and see ads etc. urging people to make aliya and they use the phrase, "coming home" for people who haven't lived in Israel before, it annoys me.

I've been thinking about why it annoys me and I've come up with the following.  It's not home.  Yet.  If the person is moving to Eretz Yisrael, they obviously live elsewhere.  They are leaving their home and going to Eretz Yisrael!

When Hashem told Avrohom, "Lech lecha" - He said, leave your land, your birthplace, and your father's home.  He didn't tell Avrohom, "Lech lecha, you're going home."  His leaving home was very much emphasized, with lessons we derive from the use of those particular words.

I am not aware of any Jewish sources from the Written or Oral Torahs or Rishonim that speak of moving to Eretz Yisrael as "going home."  That doesn't mean they don't exist - if anyone has sources, please do tell.  I am inclined to believe it's a modern-day Zionist term, maybe something an ad agency came up with, to put those not yet living in Eretz Yisrael on a guilt trip (it sounds like Mother asking you to come home - how could you decline?) and to romanticize moving to Eretz Yisrael and associate the major move with warm fuzzy feelings (for those for whom "home" still has that connotation ...).

I think the phrase "going" or "coming home" in reference to Eretz Yisrael actually undermines aliya because it fails to acknowledge (forget about validate) that uprooting oneself from "your land, your birthplace and your father's home" is extremely difficult.  After all, how hard can "going home" be? What's the matter with you that you don't want to "go home"? So people either dismiss that slogan with, "What are they talking about? I am home," or they are convinced that they are "going home" when they make aliya and when they end up in a situation where the language, mentality, culture etc. feel nothing like home, they are disillusioned.  Seems to me that it would be much more practical and helpful if the possibility (even likelihood) of feeling out of place (definitely not at home) is mentioned up-front (though it needs to be done wisely so as not to turn people off from the idea of aliya).

I find that many calls for aliya are manipulative, whether it's the "come home" approach, the scare 'em into going approach, or the guilt trip them into going approach.  The articles that most inspire me are the ones where a person truly loves Eretz Yisrael and expresses it in positive ways.