May 30, 2012

Fun Fact

This week's parsha, parshas Naso, is the longest parsha and contains 176 pesukim. 

The longest mesechta is Bava Basra and it contains 176 blatt. 

The longest perek in Tanach is perek 119 in Tehillim which has 176 pesukim.

Now wasn't that fun?

As to the connection between Naso-Bava Basra-and 119 of Tehillim? I have no idea.

May 25, 2012

Spiritual Growth - Where? I Don't See It

You can skip this post if you don't want to be pulled down into my negativity.  I've been thinking, on and off, over this Sefiras Ha'Omer period, about how these are meant to be 49 days of spiritual growth.   I've listened to a number of shiurim that discussed the sefiros and were about working on chesed, gevura etc. I own and have read two books that go into the 49 permutations of the sefiros and give examples of how to implement them. 

And with all that, the only thing I manage to accomplish is to count the omer (no small accomplishment, as every mitzva is great).  The weeks go by and the specific combination of sefiros just pass me by.  The examples in the books do not spark my interest.  It seems to me that with all the talk about 49 levels of spiritual growth, nothing actually happens. 

This is actually an old complaint of mine.  Did you feel cheirus on Pesach (to cite a recent example)? It seems to me that even for those who are serious about learning and changing, there is a lot of reading and a lot of attending or listening to shiurim, but no real results.  By "real" I mean something measurable, being able to look back and say - I was there before Pesach and I am here now.  I suppose I should just speak for myself.  For all I know, many people can look back with satisfaction at how they refined 49 middos, but I have a tiny suspicion that I am not alone. 

May 23, 2012

E-Books and E-Invitations

I've gotten so used to using Control-F to locate a word on a page that sometimes, when I read a book, I find myself wishing I can use that feature to find what I'm looking for. 

Now there are E-books, Jewish ones too, and boy, does the description sound tempting.  You can adjust the font and font size, you can do word and phrase searches, and you can mark important or favorite pages.  Sounds great, but you can't use it on Shabbos and of course you have to pay for every book instead of being able to read it for free from the library.

But this means that sometime soon, E-books and Jewish E-books will become part of our life just as our computers are a major source of our reading material now.  As someone in this transitional generation, between the Old Technology and the New, I find it all still most remarkable.

Another aspect of this transitional generation is the fact that we still snail mail invitations and even include a return envelope with a stamp when the percentage of people who mail them, don't justify their cost.  Why don't we email invitations to all friends and relatives who have an email address? Well, we feel that it's just not the same as receiving a "real" invitation in the mail.  That because all it entails is a click and no expense, that the recipients of e-invitations will be offended.  Give it a few more years and that will change too.

May 22, 2012

Internet Asifa Disappointment

The Internet snuck up on me.  The changes in my life over the past eleven years are so profound and yet, it didn't happen overnight.  It started with some emails and reading Torah content and Jewish human interest websites, as well as listening to some shiurim.

At this point, I often listen to and/or watch 5-10 shiurim a week.  I download many of them and put them on my mp3 player (another novelty) and listen when I'm on the street and exercising.

I use google throughout the day to look things up.  That does not begin to express how incredibly useful the Internet is for nearly everything I want to research whether it's a pasuk, a Chazal, a bio about someone, medical information, background information for an article I am working on, etc.

I write letters and click "Send" and hardly ever use envelopes and stamps anymore.

I use it for work.

For getting directions.

For reserving books at the public library.  For reading book reviews.

For shidduch information.

For watching live broadcasts of events.

I don't turn on the radio anymore for news and weather.  I use the Internet.

I've developed or renewed contact with people I fell out of touch with before email.

I've given tzedaka over the Internet, and used email to send reminders to people about a project that would not be happening without email.

I send (and receive) inspirational videos, articles and emails to people whom I think will appreciate them.  Would I go to the copy store and make copies of inspirational articles and then address an envelope and mail it? Nope.

I share photos with family.  Would I make copies and mail it to them? Nope.

 I write this blog.

I am disappointed about what I've read about the Internet Asifa.  I'm not even going to get into the fact that it was billed as a unifying event and wasn't quite the epitome of achdus.   I went to a local Internet event several  years ago which was more interesting and useful than what I've read about the Asifa.  From what I gather, not a single speaker at this Asifa had personal familiarity with the Internet.  That bothers me very much.  For me to respect what someone says about the Internet, I need to feel that they know what the Internet is, what it can do, how it is used in a myriad of useful ways, and how this is the technology of today. 

I realized years ago that denouncing the Internet and attempting to ban it were doomed to failure.  If I learned about's thousands of shiurim by seeing an ad for it in the very conservative Hamodia magazine, and if frum publications allow web addresses to appear in ads, then it is quite obvious that people do not use Internet only for work.  It is as much a part of our lives as the telephone.  Inspirational and practical speeches about how to cultivate our children's and our own yiras shomayim so we can use the Internet responsibly is what I would have wanted from this Asifa.  That did not happen.

May 21, 2012

Inspired by an American Gadol

I look forward to reading the books (there are two) about Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel z'l because the articles that I've read about him have been so inspirational. 

He suffered tremendously from Parkinson's and yet, when he was asked by someone who had suffered a number of tragedies how he learned mitoch yissurim (amidst suffering), R' Finkel answered, "I don't learn mitoch yissurim.  I learn mitoch simcha!"

The way he pushed himself, beyond what anybody in his physical condition would dream of doing, is just amazing.  And of course, he pushed himself for Torah, in order to give a shiur, to fundraise, to interact with the talmidim.  Also appealing is that he was an American gadol (albeit transplanted in Israel), someone who grew up as a regular American Jewish dayschool kid.  He sounds like someone we can relate to.

May 6, 2012

Beyond Segulos

In the book "Riding the Waves" by Tamar Ansh, there is an amazing story that the author heard directly from the girl's mother.  It's called "The Sister Project" and it's on page 156 and the story goes as follows:

Shoshi (pseudonym) was a senior in an Israeli Beis Yaakov and there were about 40 girls in her class.  Most girls were from large families and although parents wanted to marry off their children in order, this was sometimes hard to do when there were many eligible siblings.  Many girls in Shoshi's class were worried about how they would do a shidduch when they had one or several older single siblings.

Shoshi and her friends made a list of all the older siblings in their class alone and it amounted to 40 singles! They did every known segula such as hafrashas challa, saying Tehillim, saying Perek Shira and Shir Ha'Shirim, they gave tzedaka, etc. and nobody got engaged.

Shoshi had initiated the project (even though she did not need this yeshua herself) and she was very disappointed.  She wracked her brains for an idea and came up with this - maybe they needed to do something that required mesirus nefesh on their part.  It's not that doing segulos is easy.  They take time and effort, but they're formulaic and don't necessitate going out of your comfort zone.

Her class had a teacher that no one liked and the girls misbehaved in her class, talking, passing notes, etc.  It occurred to Shoshi that their mesirus nefesh project should be that the entire class behave like model students for ten hours of this teacher's class.  Her classmates did not exactly jump at the opportunity but Shoshi insisted and convinced them all. 

You'll have to read the story for all the details but suffice it to say, the girls behaved, the teacher was thrilled, and after ten hours of behaving properly, ten singles from their list got engaged!

The girls were overwhelmed by this obvious cause-and-effect connection and decided to do another ten hours.  Yes, another ten names were crossed off their list.

Shoshi wanted to do a third round of ten hours but many girls had had enough.  Shoshi must be an extraordinary young lady because she convinced them, and she had to convince them all, to do it again.  The teacher was ecstatic, they had behaved for thirty hours, and thirty singles from their list were either engaged or married, and some of them were over thirty years old!

The story ends with the girls working on their fourth set of ten hours.

May 1, 2012

Loyalty - Old Fashioned or Still Current?

I took part in a lively discussion today about loyalty.  One person, who seemed to equating loyalty with hakaras ha'tov (gratitude), maintained that although people will say it's a valuable trait, it is nevertheless, quite a rare commodity these days. 

Someone else said that loyalty is highly regarded in her family.  To illustrate, an aunt in Russia in her teens, without parents and having the opportunity to leave communist Russia, remained there for the next thirty years.  Why? Because her brother had been wounded and who would take care of him? If he couldn't walk, she needed to be there for him! This wasn't about hakaras ha'tov; it was about family sticks together and I stand by you, no matter what. 

Someone called that devotion and tossed in the idea that Rabbi Avigdor Miller z'l said that marriage is not about romance; it is about loyalty and devotion.

This led to a discussion about patronizing family members and friends when you need services that they provide.  Although supporting family and friends is an act of loyalty, it is also a potential minefield.  Stories abound about fallings-out, disappointments and unhappiness when doing business with friends and relatives.  Some maintain that business and friendship should remain separate.  The counter-argument presented today was, if you don't support a friend in business, then how are you a friend?

A related question, are we loyal customers or do we shop wherever it's cheaper? Do I have a halachic obligation to be a loyal customer? What about a halachic obligation to be loyal to family? The mitzva of "not ignoring your own flesh [and blood]" comes to mind.

And if loyalty is faithfulness, then an example in the Torah is Moshe whom Hashem describes as being faithful, ne'eman to Him.  Another Torah source for loyalty-devotion-faithfulness is the reason only certain kinds of birds (the tor and the bnei yona) are brought as sacrifices; because they exhibit loyalty and faithfulness.  Any other sources?