Dec 31, 2012

Misplaced Compassion

Two news items:

The top official in Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh, sends rockets into civilian centers in Israel and is dedicated to the Jewish state’s destruction. But this month, his brother-in-law, accompanied by Haniyeh’s sister, traveled to Israel to undergo emergency treatment for a heart condition in Beilinson Hospital in Petach Tikva.

Israeli soldiers gave emergency first-aid and saved the life of a 10-day-old Palestinian baby, whose panicked mother rushed her to the nearest army base. The IDF reported this was the third time in recent weeks that local Palestinians turned to the nearest army base for acute medical care.

And we help them because ....?

Would we do the same for an Amaleki with a heart condition? For an Amaleki baby?

Why do we have compassion on those who seek to destroy us while allowing our brothers and sisters in Sderot to live under attack, on a regular basis, for years on end?

Why are we proud of having Jews and Arabs sharing rooms in our hospitals?

Why is the country's popularity at an all-time low internationally if we are so incredibly kind to our enemies?

Chazal tell us, when you have compassion when you are supposed to be cruel, you will be cruel when you are supposed to be compassionate.  Sadly, we see this in action on a regular basis.

Dec 30, 2012

Children - Seen but not Heard

In a previous post: here I quoted Dennis Prager who said we should not be giving children equal status to adults.  I have since heard a story related by Rabbi Manis Friedman about a 14 yr old boy who was thrown out of yeshiva for chutzpa.

MF asked the boy what he was going to do about this. The boy said he would be going back to yeshiva.

MF asked how?! The boy said he wouldn't do it again.

MF asked: "How will you convince the hanhala and why won't you be chutzpadik again? If you think the teacher is stupid, you'll say it again!"

So the boy asked, "What should I do?"

MF wasn't sure this was remotely possible but he said, "You have to be convinced that you are not entitled to an opinion. You are 14 years old and not entitled. Not that you shouldn't voice an opinion, but you are not entitled to one.

The boy asked in astonishment, "I can't have an opinion?!"

MF: "You can have one, but nobody has to hear it, consider it, or obey it. You're not entitled to it. You're just practicing. When a teacher asks you for your opinion, he's helping you practice. And you have to convince your friends of this too."
Surprisingly, the boy did.
A 14 yr old attends a lecture and says, "It was good, although I didn't agree with everything the speaker said."
Parents today are likely to be proud of their intelligent child who expresses such a mature critique.  However, asks MF, what are the chances they did not understand what was said rather than disagreed? Probably 98% of the time they didn't understand, but they already have an opinion and they feel entitled to agree/disagree. It's very dangerous. The relationship between student and teacher is terrible.

A high school teacher recently told me that the hanhala asks the students to tell them what they "feel" about each teacher.  If I didn't hear it directly from a teacher, I'd find it hard to believe this is going on in a frum school.  Hashem yirachem!


Dec 28, 2012

Shulchan Aruch versus Psychology

Rabbi Binyomin Ginsberg from Minnesota, a longtime teacher and principal was speaking to parents and someone asked "How can we get our children to behave?"

His response: "When you walk into the room, do your children stand up for you?

The parent said no.

R' Ginsberg concluded, "So, what do you want?!"

Can you imagine a child psychologist saying that?

Dec 27, 2012

Cultural Shift

I found the following description of the evolution of American culture in a book called Quiet.  The author quotes cultural historian Susman as saying that at the turn of the 20th century, America shifted from a Culture of Character to a Culture of Personality.

"In the Culture of Character," she writes, "the ideal self was serious, disciplined, and honorable.  What counted was not so much the impression one made in public as how one behaved in private.  The word 'personality' did not exist in English until the 18th century and the idea of 'having a good personality' was not widespread until the 20th.

"But when they embraced the Culture of Personality, Americans started to focus on how others perceived them.  They became captivated by people who were bold and entertaining."

"The advice manuals of the 19th century were less religious than previously, but still preached the value of a noble character.  By 1920, popular self-help guides had changed their focus from inner virtue to outer charm - 'to know what to say and how to say it.' 

"The earlier guides emphasized attributes that anyone could work on improving, described by words like:

Golden Deeds

"The new guides celebrated qualities like:


In an earlier post here, I posted a list of secular values that we are exposed to and influenced by.  If we look at the list of traits emphasized in the earlier guides, we see that every one of them reflects our Torah guidelines: dina d'malchusa dina, achrayus, gedola melacha ..., maasim tovim, kavod shomayim-kavod ha'briyos, sheim tov, yiras shomayim, derech eretz, yashrus-emes.  As for the second list ... 

Dec 26, 2012

Say "May I" (part 2)

As a follow-up to the post here about children asking permission before taking food at home, here's a story:
R' Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk said that his stepmother saved him. When he was young and was orphaned of his mother, his father remarried a woman who had children. She was more concerned about her own children than about R' Menachem Mendel and she discriminated against him. At mealtime, she would give R' Mendel her children's leftovers. R' Mendel got used to this and accepted this resignedly.

One time, R' Mendel went home and was very hungry and he took food on his own. He made sure to take only those parts he would usually get, those items that would be left over in any case.

When his stepmother came home and saw that he had taken food without permission, she beat him. When he complained, saying but I took what I usually get, she said: Even if you'll get it anyway, you don't take it on your own.

This message got through to him. Years later, when he was sitting and learning in the beis medrash, a man appeared and suggested they learn together. Remembering the lesson he had learned about not taking on his own, he told the man he had to consult with his rav.

When he consulted with his rav (either the Baal Shem Tov or the Maggid), his rebbi told him: Don't
allow him near you because he is the sitra achra and he wants to ensnare you.

And thus, the lesson of - don't take on your own - paid off.

Dec 25, 2012

Where Have All the Sefarim Gone

I grew up surrounded by bookcases full of sefarim.  We are in a transitional stage, in which technology keeps on evolving and some of us have one foot in the old world and one foot in the new. 

A lecturer was addressing a class and he referred to a fax machine.  Seeing blank stares he realized what the problem was.  He said, "When I was your age, fax machines were a new item and we hadn't heard of them yet.  Now they are obsolete and you haven't heard of them ..."

Many people have e-readers and many don't.  Many have advanced gadgets and many don't.  Among frum people especially, with all the warnings about the Internet, there are many who have fancy phones but no computers.  And yet, I wonder.  How much longer will we feel a need to have many sefarim? If it reaches a point where we access all our reading material on a computer, and only need sefarim on Shabbos and Yom Tov, how much will people want to invest in a library of actual sefarim? Why would I want to spend thousands of dollars on an extensive library of sefarim to be used a few days a year?

This is a troubling thought since as wonderful as it is to have tens of thousands of sefarim at one's fingertips with the clicks of some keys, we will lose out tremendously if we forgo the atmosphere provided by bookcases full of sefarim. 

Dec 16, 2012

Fat and Happy

There was an interesting letter to the editor of Ami Living this past October.  The letter-writer was outraged by a line in a dieting article which said, " ... in the morning, you actually will look forward to getting dressed!" 

Why? Because she is an overweight woman who has no interest in losing weight.  She assures us that she does her best to lead a reasonably healthy life in which the drink of choice in her home is water and every supper is served with salad and vegetables.  She tries to exercise regularly (though she doesn't always get around to it).  She has regular checkups and her numbers are all fine.

She is interested in being healthy, not in achieving a certain weight.  She says she is happy, successful and confident and her husband thinks she is beautiful.  She is perfectly happy when she gets dressed in the morning.

She wants to dispel the myth that overweight people are all unhappy and want to be thin.  She concludes by saying, "Please stop telling me that in order to be happy with the way I look, I need to be thin.  You are doing a disservice to women everywhere.  Instead, adopt a Torah-true outlook that encourages women to make healthy choices and feel good about themselves no matter what size skirt they put on in the morning."

Yes, I'd like to get a look at this person who attempts to live a healthy lifestyle, whose numbers at the doctor are good and who is overweight nonetheless.  She does not say how overweight she is. Is it 15 pounds? 50? For it is possible for lean people to have poor numbers and heavy people to have good numbers.

She is right that our society's obsession with the scale and size is not a Torah-true outlook.  What's true is that if you look at pictures of Jewish women and men of previous generations, you see they are not as thin as people want to be today.  In fact, if those of yesteryear saw how thin people strive to be today, they would be appalled.  Years ago, this was considered unattractive and cause for immediate action, i.e. eating. So apparently, our outlook has changed and it is not because we've learned more Torah!

Dec 9, 2012

Who's a Gadol Ha'Dor?

The term "gadol ha'dor" is used freely, but what does it mean? Literally, it means great one of the generation, or the greatest of the generation.  How does one earn this title? It seems rather arbitrary.

Some people are referred to as a gadol ha'dor due to their knowledge, but then there are others who have the same or greater knowledge, but are not referred to as a gadol or gadol ha'dor.  There are some people who are referred to as a gadol ha'dor due to their position, but then there are others who have no official position who are also referred to as the gadol ha'dor.  And there are those with official positions who are not referred to as the gadol ha'dor! So if it's not knowledge nor position, what is it? Nobody is voted as gadol ha'dor.  It seems to happen by consensus by a certain number of people, although that does not mean that A's gadol is necessarily B's gadol.  That's why it seems random.

While listening to a lecture, I heard the following definition for a different term, that of "Nasi Ha'Dor."  The speaker said a Nasi of the generation takes responsibility for every Jew.  Well, that makes it very easy to see who is not a Nasi.  Not even ardent followers of those individuals called gedolei ha'dor would claim that their gadol takes responsibility for every Jew.  But that's if they're pressed against the wall. When not pressed against the wall, and when making grandiose claims that nobody is going to dispute, they say things like Rabbi X was/is the leader of all Klal Yisrael.  It makes me want to pipe up and ask: You mean even those Jews in America and Amsterdam and Finland and Bolivia and ... who never heard of him? In what way was this Rabbi X the leader of these Jews?

But I never get to ask, so I can't tell you what their answer might be.

Dec 8, 2012

I'm Grateful for My Gratitude List

I did it.  For an entire year.  Yay me.

One year ago, on December 8, 2011, I started writing down two things every day for which I feel grateful.

see my post here

726 entries later I've covered many sorts of things including childhood, schooling, family, modern conveniences, kindnesses, opportunities.

I did not repeat entries, so even though there were numerous gorgeous weather days, for which I was grateful, I only included that one time. 

Some days' entries were easy to write, they were obvious.  Other days, I had to struggle to come up with something new.

Some entries are items to be grateful for all the time, while other entries pertained to that day only like being grateful I caught the bus. 

I'm thinking of printing out the list and reviewing it, maybe two a day again.  Because I found that although the exercise of writing down two things a day was excellent, now I think I will benefit from going over the list and giving more thought to the items I wrote down. 

Dec 7, 2012

Personal Choices

Back to the topic I wrote about here about wanting to do something that demonstrates our caring about Eretz Yisrael.  I read an interesting article by Tali Simon in which she writes about meeting a girl who did not eat chocolate because she wanted a personal, constant reminder of the churban.  The idea was that each time she missed a piece of chocolate cake or chocolate bar, she'd be reminded of a a more important thing that we are missing.  Isn't this extraordinary?!

The author thought she was crazy at first, it seemed too extreme, but then she grew to like the idea and adapted it for herself.  She had committed, at age 16 to settle in Eretz Yisrael but knew she had to finish her schooling first in America and would then be involved in shidduchim.  She was afraid she would lose her resolve and end up living elsewhere.  So she decided that she would not ice cream out of Eretz Yisrael.  She kept her commitment for six years (which included 10 months in an Israeli seminary).

Two things impress me about this.  One, that a person cared enough about something to come up with a practical and personal way of handling it, and two, the follow-through, the discipline to stick with it.  We may often be inspired and have good intentions, but how often do we follow through?

Dec 1, 2012

The Best Imaginable Mussar Teacher


Yet another Orthodox student has been named a recipient of the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship award.  Ela Naegele, who is a German citizen, said, “Baruch Hashem, I have amazing parents and it is to them that I owe everything. There are three things for which I am particularly grateful towards my parents: that my siblings and I grew up without any television, that my parents read to us every night before going to bed and that they encouraged us to learn to play musical instruments.

"Playing an instrument has shaped my character like nothing else: it is the best imaginable Mussar teacher. It teaches you to win and to lose, to find a balance between body and mind, between individuality and team-work, between creativity and discipline, and between charisma and perseverance.”

Well! If anyone can explain what she means about playing an instrument, please do.  I can pick out a tune on a keyboard but did not study music and formally learn to play an instrument, so I have no idea what she means.