Oct 31, 2011

What would YOU do?

I was walking down the street this morning when I saw a 3 year old standing by himself.  He was on the corner of an avenue in front of an apartment house.  No adults in sight.  I figured he was waiting for his bus and hoped his mother was watching from the window (though she would be powerless from her window if someone decided to abduct her child). 

I asked him, "Where is your mommy?"


"Is she watching you from the window?"


"Are you waiting for your bus?"


Hmmm.  Should I just walk on? I couldn't leave him standing there by himself, so I waited.  A school bus came along and a mother put her child on the bus.  I wondered whether this was also the bus for the child standing alone.  A man came along who seemed to know the boy and put him on the bus.

I said, "WHERE IS HIS MOTHER? Haven't we learned anything from this summer? How could she leave him standing here alone?"

He said, "You're right ..."

End of story.

My strategy for the next time I pass that corner at that time is: 1) if the child is with his mother, I ask her where she was on Monday  2) if he is alone again, I call the Jewish auxiliary police patrol.

Even without the tragedy of this past summer, it is not acceptable to send a three year old to stand by himself in front of his house and certainly when it's not in front of his house! Parents beware!

Oct 29, 2011

Is It True?

"Fiction can often be the best vehicle for helping us see our behavior objectively and pinpoint our mistakes, especially when it's written with true-to-life characters that are easy to identify with."

This is why mashalim (parables, fables) have long been used by Torah sages.  The most famous are in the book of Mishlei by Shlomo Ha'Melech and many years later, the parables of the Dubna Maggid and the Chofetz Chaim. 

However, when contemporary Jewish authors think that their novels and short stories, works of fiction, will change the world, I think they're deluding themselves as to the importance of their work.  Frum novels, by and large, are for the purpose of kosher entertainment.

I was surprised when, in a discussion about fiction and non-fiction in frum publications, the person I was talking to did not particularly care whether the writing was true or not.  I maintain that just as I have no reason to empathize with make-believe characters, I have no reason to be inspired by characters that are the figment of an author's imagination.  When a real person does something heroic, that can be moving and inspiring.  Why would I want to read about fictional people in the Holocaust, for example? What impact can imaginary characters who do extraordinary acts of chesed or kiddush Hashem have on me? None. 

The parables used by maggidim were tools meant to highlight our foibles in a way that slips under our defensive radar.  The parable Nosson the Navi told Dovid Ha'Melech enabled Dovid to see his error when a direct confrontation would not have worked.  It's important to differentiate between the parable as a tool for improving middos as opposed to a work of fiction that is not primarily a teaching tool.

Oct 27, 2011

More Than Happy

I've been noticing superlatives lately.  Things like, "The bus is more than dependable."  Hmmm.  And if you merely said that it's dependable, why wouldn't that be enough to convey its reliability?

She said she's more than exhausted.  Is being exhausted not expressing her tired she feels?

"I'd be more than willing to help."  How much more than willing is that?

He said he's 1000% sure.  And if he said 100% would that somehow convey that he's a bit uncertain?

Why have words become meaningless so that we have to pump them up to express what we mean?

Oct 16, 2011

The Release of Our Murderers

I hope Israel has the sense to make Gilad’s return very low-key. Thousands in the street? I sure hope not. As happy as we will be at Gilad’s return, the release of the man who took part in the murder of Nachshon Wachsman and two of the people who took part in the Sbarro’s massacre is – I don’t have words strong enough to express this – reprehensible, immoral, sickening. These despicable individuals should have been executed long ago. Why does Israel hold on to them, feed them and care for them, if not for the purpose of giving them up when it caves in to terrorist demands?

Meir Schijvesschuuder, who lost his parents and three siblings in the Sbarro attack said said all five remaining members of the family would leave the country forever after the deal was completed.

“We feel betrayed and we are going back to Holland,” he said.


Thousands in the streets celebrating? No! Israel should be hiding its head in shame for not having forced Gilad’s return over 5 years ago. Kill a terrorist (or more) a day until his safe return; cut off all food, medicine, supplies of any kind to Gaza until his return; bomb Gaza nonstop until his return. The world will scream? They scream regardless, and since when does the world screaming take precedence over retrieving our soldier? Shame on Israel!

Oct 10, 2011

Beware the Yetzer Hara's Approval

Powerful thought heard at a shiur:

The Gemara says that the way the yetzer hara works is today it tells you kach (such), and tomorrow it says kach, and then finally it tells you to serve idols. It's not that the yetzer hara starts off by telling you to sin, because you wouldn't listen to that.  The problem begins when you do a mitzva and the yetzer hara approves.

There are things that are “off limits” that you don't even consider doing.  Aveiros should be in this category, not in the category of I could do it, or not do it, because I have bechira (free choice), but I won't.  Likewise, mitzvos should be in the category of “must do,” not “it would be a good idea to do.” It should be non-negotiable, not open to discussion.

The yetzer hara, by giving approval to a mitzva as a good thing to do, not as something that must be done, makes inroads and opens the possibility of not doing it.  The yetzer hara makes it about you and your decision, as opposed to being about Hashem and your obligation. 

Oct 6, 2011

Spiritual Spontaneity

I listened to an intriguing shiur by Rabbi Doniel Katz (a teacher at Neve) on the subject of zerizus - alacrity.  He said he had thought the chapter on zerizus in Mesillas Yesharim is for lazy people and he is the kind of person who is active.  However, zrizus is not so much about physical laziness (though Ramchal says it's one of the things that impede zrizus) as it is about not wanting to cause discomfort to oneself. Here are some points that he made:

We are drawn to pleasure and flee from pain, with pain including such things as getting out of a warm bed.  Pain is any subtle discomfort. Zrizus is about eliminating the obstacles in your way from A to B in avodas Hashem. The kveidus, heaviness, is coming from the nefesh ha'behamis, the animal soul within us, i.e. everything that gets in the way of my manifesting my spiritual potential.

Laziness is when we gravitate to the slightest pleasure and are repulsed by any discomfort.

Zrizus is to be morally/spiritually spontaneous, to be so identified with your soul that you take immediate action when it comes to mitzva opportunities.

Create a gap between the initial stimulus and the response.  For example, wait before you eat, before you check your email, before you speak.  Delay the gratification.

In an interesting paradoz, to foster zrizus, you need to delay physical responses. 

A Chassidic vort says everything spiritual should be done b'retzifus (continually) and everything physical should be disrupted. When you sit down to learn, commit to concentrate and not interrupt. When you sit down to eat, occasionally put down your fork and think about a dvar Torah.

We are not living in a time in which tolerating discomfort is seen as a value anymore.  Hence, the greater challenge.