Apr 30, 2012

Mitzva Appreciation

When people blithely agree to do a mitzva in someone's zechus, do they realize the significance?

The late Rabbi Scheinberg's nephew said that when his father (husband of Racoma Shain of "All For the Boss" fame) passed away, his mother went to her brother-in-law, Rabbi Scheinberg and asked him to please learn 15 minutes a day in the merit of her husband.  Rabbi Scheinberg refused.  He finally compromised and said he would learn five minutes a day for seven days.

His explanation was, "If you had come and offered me a million dollars for five minutes, I would have refused.  I only did it for you."

In other words, he was loathe to part with the merit of his Torah study.

This reminds me of the story that is told of when Rabbi Naftoli Tropp, the rosh yeshiva in Radin, was very sick.  The bachurim donated years of their lives to save the Rosh Yeshiva. One person was sent to ask the Chofetz Chaim how much he'd be willing to donate. The Chofetz Chaim said he would need to think about it. Later he said he was willing to donate five minutes! Every minute was precious to him and it was no small matter to donate five minutes of his life.

So when people make an announcement that a shiur is being learned in someone's merit, what does that mean for the people sitting in the shiur? Does it mean that they willingly forego the zechus of their learning for someone else? Who says they agree to that? Ditto for doing mitzvos in someone's zechus - are you sure you want to give the zechus away? Do you truly appreciate the value of a mitzva?

see also: this

Apr 29, 2012

Apt Analogy

I read in an Ami magazine article about the recently departed Vizhnitzer Rebbe z'l, that he when someone came to him with a kvittel, no matter his background, and he saw someone older than 18 on the kvittel, he would question why the person wasn't married and ask what was being done to pursue a shidduch.

Someone had written down several bachurim in their earlier twenties in the kvittel and he asked, "Why aren't they married yet?"

The man answered that they hadn't found their shidduch yet, to which the Rebbe said:

"Have you ever seen someone come to shul on the first day of Succos with a nice lulav but no esrog because he could not find a nice esrog? Of course not.  The same Torah which says you need to take an esrog on Succos is the same Torah which says (in the mishna) to be married by 18.  You must pursue a shidduch the same way you make sure to have an esrog for Succos for both are the ratzon ha'Borei!"

For a change, I have no comment :)

Apr 28, 2012

It's All In the Presentation

This is a response to Rosie's comment to the previous post.

I don't see a problem in presenting mitzvos in an appealing way.  The problem is when the purpose of the mitzva is distorted such as when side benefits are highlighted, or when promises are made or implied and cannot be guaranteed. 

So although Shabbos is usually "family time" and a time to disengage from the electronic stimuli and tools around us, that is not what Shabbos is about.  A presentation about Shabbos without mentioning or emphasizing G-d's creation of the universe and His taking us out of Egypt, is sorely lacking.

How about "Do a mitzva for the _____" (fill in the name of the sports team)?

Vulgar, is it not?

How about "Do a mitzva in memory of/in honor of the Holtzbergs?"

Trying to guilt-trip me into doing mitzvos?

Do we look at the bottom line which is it gets people to do mitzvos, or do we say that is not the proper way to encourage people to do mitzvos?

I found it perplexing when we were asked "to do a mitzva for Leiby."  Why does Leiby Kletzky need my mitzvos? And what does that mean anyway - to do it for him? I don't get the zechus, but he does?

Too bad I don't just accept these lines as they are.  Life is complicated when you question what everybody else accepts!

Apr 27, 2012

All About Me

Aish is running a series on the Six Constant Mitzvos again.  This is the second year that one can subscribe to it during sefira.  It's a great idea to bring these mitzvos to people's attention and I read the emails and watch the videos. 

However, I am finding the angle they are using this year jarring.  In the desire to make this topic interesting and relevant and different than last year, these mitzvos are presented from the perspective of "how can I use them every single day to be more successful in everything that I do in my life."  In other words, they are taking the mitzvos that focus our attention on G-d, and twisting them into a focus on self!

Apr 26, 2012

Raw Materials

As I observed long ago, those who count their pennies and seek to live materially simple lives may be just as immersed in gashmius as those who are well off financially.  Why? Because it takes a lot of attention to gashmius to seek bargains and to see where one can cut expenses.

I was reminded of this when I read a letter to a magazine in which the writer extolled an article which was an interview with a woman who makes everything herself for Pesach and is severely limited in what items she will use (no oil, for example).  The letter-writer said she found it refreshing and meaningful - "It was a glimpse into what Pesach is genuinely supposed to be: a time to free ourselves from the shackles of materialism."

Is she for real?! How long does it take to buy bottles of oil versus how long does it take to make schmaltz? How long does it take to buy containers of juice versus how long does it take to squeeze your own juice?

Those who make everything themselves are just as much or more involved in materialism than those who use purchased products! I agree with the letter-writer that we need not be slaves to gourmet cuisine but she is mistakenly associating simple foods with freedom from materialism. 

Apr 25, 2012

Emotional Ties

R' Grylak of Mishpacha magazine tells the story about how, after the Holocaust, a community of survivors including his father-in-law formed in Milan.  There was a Polish survivor from a chassidishe family who had given up religion after being in Auschwitz.  One day, he announced that he was going to marry an Italian non-Jewish woman.  The religious members of the community were appalled but none of their arguments were effective to dissuade him.

Then someone said, "How can you do such a thing?! Have you forgotten that you are the only living descendent of a beautiful family of Gerer Chassidim from Lodz?"

Now, what kind of reasoning was that when the man had dropped Yiddishkeit? And yet, this is what convinced him and he cancelled his marriage plans.  It's like all those Jews who are not religious who are proud to let you know about their rabbinic ancestors.  Why are they proud when they themselves aren't religious? Apparently there is something in their neshama that lets them know that this is worthy of admiration.

The lesson R' Grylak learns from this is that a person is kept from sin (and I would add - is inspired) only by what is relevant to him personally, what he is tied to emotionally.  It's hard to capitalize on this insight because what is meaningful to one person is not to another.  There are many ways people have been convinced not to marry out, and what worked for one is not a guaranteed approach for someone else.  Likewise, for religious people, some love the structure of halacha, others love the mystical approach.  There is a way to speak to every child and adult.  One needs wisdom and siyata dishmaya to find it.

Apr 20, 2012

Marital Advice from R' Manis Friedman

It's a crazy idea, he says, to think that once a couple is married they can be on their worst behavior because he/she loves you anyway.  No, he says.  Not true.  When you marry someone you have to be on your best behavior for the rest of your life!

There are people who are so nice and respectful for outsiders in their dress and speech, but to their own spouse they're not.  Why is there less respect for your spouse than for the repairman? It's a very mistaken notion, he says.

Marriage means you are going to put yourself into a situation in which you have to be the best you can be every single day.  If you don't get married, you don't have to be that good.

Once you decide you're marrying the person, decide what to tell him/her that will help him love you, not things that will make it hard for him to love you.

Being completely honest is not a good idea because sometimes being honest is cruel and thoughtless and with your spouse, you don't say things that will hurt him/her just because you want to be honest.  Say things that are helpful and supportive of the marriage.

In general, the rule is: the husband is there to make his wife's life easier, he won't do anything to burden her, and the same is true for the wife.  Any bad news, negative stuff, keep it to yourself.  If together you can work on a plan, if you want advice, for something practical, that's one thing; but just to unburden, no.

An example he gave is, R' Friedman's father was held up in his store and he never told his wife! Most husbands would tell.  R' Friedman asks, what is the wife supposed to do if he tells? She'll just worry.  She will suffer with him.  Out of consideration you can withhold information.

Apr 19, 2012

The Famous Apple Video

In honor of Rabbi Avigdor Miller z'l's eleventh yartzeit, here are a classic few minutes of his teachings: Apple Video

Apr 17, 2012

Which Is It?

Am I the only one who notices the contradiction?

The is what AA and numerous others who follow their guidelines say:

1) The alcoholic (or addict) is described as having no control over whether he drinks.
2) The only way the addict can be helped is when he understands that only he can control his behavior.

Do they have control or don't they?

Apr 16, 2012

Unlicensed Therapists

There was an interesting article in "Ami Living" (issue #62) about unlicensed advice-givers, whether they call themselves counselors, therapists, marital counselors, etc.  The author interviewed three men who have no degrees and yet offer advice.  To sum up:

pro licensing/anti unregulated counselors:
1) public protection - people have been hurt by self-declared practioners
2) the material studied for a degree plus the supervised training is invaluable
3) formal schooling plus a natural aptitude are a winning combination
4) the shtetl rav knew his limits

pro unregulated counselors:

1) there are awful licensed therapists, a degree is no guarantee of competence
2) a chush (instinct, talent) for advice giving cannot be learned in school; those who are professionally trained often lack common sense and a listening and sensitive heart and go "by the book".  Being able to give good eitzos (advice) is not something you learn in school.
3) formal schooling in which you must study ideas that are contrary to Torah is not an asset but a liability
4) they can be fine for most human relationship and personal problems
5) good for those who don't want to get involved in anything medical because of the stigma (even though psychologists and social workers are not in the medical profession)

What did people do before the field of mental health developed and became regulated? Of course there were always rabbis, rebbetzins, mashgichim, pastors, chaplains, and friends to turn to for advice.

The frum psychologist Dr Sorotzkin's answer to the question of what people did before psychology is the same as for antibiotics, "Some lived and some died."  I think that is true now too, though not in the way he means it, with many people "dying" with the lack of help or outright harm perpetrated by some professionals.

He believes that all things being equal, the chances are higher that a trained and licensed therapist will be better than one who isn't.  He thinks that licensed people are more likely to be effective and quicker to know what they can and cannot do.  Sounds reasonable but until it's proven (and how can it be proven?) it's an opinion.

A frum psychologist quoted in the article said that the rav and rebbe of yesteryear "were guided by a strong sense of morality, spirituality and plain old common sense."  He thinks that many of those trying to give advice today are lacking in all three.  He also thinks that the advisors of yesteryear were focused on the person who needed help as opposed to today where many are as interested in being advice-givers as they in helping.  "There is much less listening, much more advice-giving."

The professionals feel threatened by those who get referrals even though they did not  put in years and money into a degree.  When a social worker is quoted as saying, "A person should never do anything he is not qualified to do.  A dermatologist would not promote himself as a brain surgeon," I am not impressed.  What's the comparison? How is an counselor who gives advice comparable to one type of doctor who promotes himself as having another specialty?

This same individual is annoyed by congregational rabbis who counsel.  What bothers him is the case, for example, of a couple going to their rabbi for marriage counseling and not getting the desired result and concluding that counseling doesn't work without realizing it was the unqualified rabbi who was the problem.  This social worker apparently believes that anyone with a degree or license will give only excellent advice, which is wishful thinking. 

If only a study could be done in the frum world about the efficacy of frum unprofessional counseling versus professional counseling, but that seems impossible

As for money, it didn't come up in the interviews in the article.  A sidebar said that the mental health advisor (i.e. non-professional) rarely charges, volunteering the bulk of his work for the mitzva.

Apr 10, 2012


The society I live in would have me think that labeling people is bad.  Well, from the Haggada we see that labeling people is not only acceptable; it's desirable. 

If not for the Haggada's categorizations, I would think that labeling children or adults as wise, wicked, simple and unable to ask is unhelpful or even harmful.  Yet, we learn that it's important to categorize people so that we know how to respond appropriately to them.  We don't do ourselves a favor when we make believe that we are all equal.  It doesn't mean that we need to address them using the words wise, wicked etc. but it does mean that in order to properly teach someone, we need to know who he is. 

Apr 4, 2012

Problem Fixation

When did people start using the phrase "no problem" instead of "you're welcome?" When you were little, weren't you taught to say "you're welcome" when someone said "thank you?" Even better is when someone says, "my pleasure" when you thank then. 

The expression "no problem" is not one that I use in that manner.  In the vast majority of cases, there wasn't a  problem to begin with.  People seemed to be fixated on problems (or so-called "issues") so they view the world in terms of problems.  They divide what happens into the "problem" category or the "no problem" category.  Their default question is, "What's the problem?" when there was no problem and no reason to think there was.  What a sad way to live.  Let's bring some positivity into our lives!

Apr 3, 2012

Find Someone Capable and Pay!

I was listening to lecture #300 of R' Avigdor Miller's famous Thursday night classes in the course of which he denounced psychiatrists and psychologists.  In the question and answer session, someone asked who to turn to when that sort of help is needed and his answer was, go to someone capable.  He went on to say that in his experience, shlimazals become the psychiatrists and psychologists.  They are people with the same problems they purport to address.

He said people are foolish when they pay a lot of money for professional sessions but don't offer a single dollar to someone capable who is willing to give of his time when he is not a professional.  He said it's not so easy to find proper counselors but stay away from those with diplomas!

Well, R' Miller was not known for mincing words.  His bluntness was quite refreshing though sometimes hard to hear.  This lecture was probably said back in the 70's.  Would he feel any differently today? I don't know.  It's possible he responded to a similar question much later on on a tape I did not hear.

His main point is well taken - go to someone capable! Why does such an obvious thing need to be stated? Because many people think that a diploma means you're capable.  Counselors can be incompetent and give bad advice.  A degree does not confer wisdom on anyone.  Furthermore, a degree means the professional had to master material that goes contrary to Torah ideas. 

Are there capable, frum professionals today? Yes, I believe so.  Nevertheless, I think it's good to be reminded that competence is the key.

Apr 1, 2012

Two Questions to Ask Yourself

Rabbi Nivin is a life coach who runs chabura conference calls for women who are interested in personal growth.  He presents a Torah-based system of self-improvement based on classic Torah sources.  There was an article about him in Hamodia's magazine in which he talks about everyone having a unique life purpose.  How do you know what your life's purpose is?

R' Niven offers two thought provoking questions we can ask ourselves:

1) What would you do with your life if money was not an issue?

2) What were the most fulfilling moments of your life? About what can you say, "I can do this all day"?

Interesting questions! Do you have answers?