Apr 29, 2013

Do We Affect Inanimate Objects with our Moods and Intentions?

Many years ago, I read the Chicken Soup for the Soul Cookbook which was a mix of warm stories about cooking and memories of family meals as well as recipes.  I remember being intrigued by the idea of one's emotions affecting the food one prepares.  Is this true? I wondered.

So if the food is equally delicious, the food that is prepared lovingly will have a different effect on the one who eats it than food prepared commercially? Really?

Is a Shabbos meal prepared at home qualitatively different than a Shabbos meal bought in a store.  Does it matter whether dough is kneaded by hand or by machine as far as its effect on the person who eats the finished product?

Over the years I read a number of stories that bring out this idea of כּח הפּועל בּנפעל which in this context I'll translate to mean the effect or impact that the one doing the action has on the material they work with.

For example, there is the well-known story of the clock belonging to the Chozeh of Lublin.  Most clocks that chime impart a certain melancholy to the listener because they are reminded of the inexorable passage of time.  The Chozeh's clock was a cheerful one as it reminded people that they were that much closer to the Geula.

In a lesser known story about the Chozeh, he found it difficult to sleep on another person's bed.  He would say it pricked him.  R' Yossel of Ostila hired a carpenter, a G-d fearing man, to build a bed.  The Chozeh felt the pricking in this bed too, but slept well in R' Yossele's bed. 

When asked what was wrong with the new bed, the Chozeh said it reeked of melancholy because it was constructed during the 9 Days and the carpenter was sad.

to be continued

Apr 27, 2013

Not in the Mood? So What!

Dennis Prager told about the time he was in fourth grade, when his rebbi said it was time to daven minchah and Prager said he was not in the mood.

The European born rebbi considered his feelings for a moment and then responded, “So what?”

These two words were pivotal in Prager's future attitudes.  He said he learned that behavior matters more than feeling.

"If you're going to act on mood, you're not going to be a good person."

Apr 19, 2013

The Theory of Absolute

Rabbi Zecharia Wallerstein gave a thought provoking post-Pesach talk.  He said this was the talk he gave at a hotel in Florida as the closing speech for the Pesach program there.  (He reassured his audience that he was home for the first days of Yom Tov, since he speaks about the importance of spending Yom Tov at home).

He pointed out that people managed without a phone and Internet for five days, for the first and last days of Yom Tov plus Shabbos Chol Ha'Moed.   His friends, who smoke two and a half packs of cigarettes a day, manage without a cigarette on Shabbos and don't have withdrawal symptoms.  How is this possible?

Regarding the phone and Internet, people say it's because nobody else is using it either and there is nobody to communicate with, so it's easy to refrain on Shabbos and Yom Tov.  However, that doesn't apply to those who smoke or those who tell him that they can't fall asleep without watching a movie.  The reason why Jews can refrain on Shabbos and Yom Tov, he says, and they don't even have physical withdrawal symptoms, is because they regard these prohibited activities as absolutely off-limits.   Just like his grandson stopped whining for chocolate when Zaidy said it wasn't kosher.  Frum children will not persist in asking for a food item if they are told it's not kosher.  Why? Because it's absolutely not acceptable and they know it.
R' Wallerstein went on to describe his gambling history and how caught up he was in it.  He said that praying to Hashem and swearing he'd stop gambling, if G-d replaced his money so he could pay off his debts, did not help. He went back to gambling. What stopped him was "happening" to come across the sefer Kav Ha'Yashar and seeing what he says about ill-gained money, how the good things done with it go to the “other side.”

Gambling was no longer a taava for him. It became absolutely off-limits.  He didn't need a 12 Step program or any kind of therapy.  Once that "clicked" in his mind, gambling became a non-issue for him. 

What are our absolutes, our red lines? It seems with R' Wallerstein to have been an "Act of G-d."  Hashem directed him to the particular sefer and the particular page that made a deep impression on him.  That wouldn't necessarily work for someone else.  How can we gain the Absolute mindset?

You can watch his talk here

Apr 16, 2013

The Truth of the Matter

After yesterday's bombing attacks at the Boston Marathon, one of the men who ran the race said he and a friend would try to see some of Boston, agreeing that they did not want the bombings to change their lives. “If you change your life, they win,” he said.

I've read some version of that sentiment in other contexts, usually following a terrorist attack in Israel, and it doesn't sit well with me.  Life should go on as usual when evil people seek to kill you?! It seems the epitome of irresponsibility and insensitivity to continue as though nothing happened.  If the attack was perpetrated by an enemy, it's an act of war and who can live life as normal in a war zone?

Maybe it would be more honest to say, my plans included touring Boston and although it's sad that people have been killed and maimed, canceling my plans won't help them.  Isn't it more about what I feel like doing today than about winning versus losing?

Apr 15, 2013

Rabbi Rubin Says: It's Unhappiness that's the Root Cause

From "A Rabbi's Journal 2" by Rabbi Rubin:

About children rebelling, becoming lost in the jaws of the newest source of moral destruction, the Internet - we must ask ourselves if it is the symptom or the cause.

Sefarim written before World War II cried out about the corrupting forces of those times. Let us not wax nostalgic about those days; before the war there was also terrible rebellion in the heimishe world. Yidden tell of whole households turning away from Torah in a matter of a few years. There were very few families that didn't have their own tragedies - girls leaving home, boys joining the Communists. Anti-Torah blasphemy was heard and read at every street corner.

What caused all this chaos? It wasn't the Internet, and it wasn't even television. It was unhappiness.

The young felt estranged from their family. Their parents were working all hours of the day just to have a bit of bread, and their children had no shared reality with them. At the end of the workday the father escaped to the shtiebel and the mother was left behind to weep alone while stark hunger walked the streets.

Outside, empty promises were being made of a better tomorrow. To the children of the poor these calls rang true. Their parents didn't understand them, they had no real teachers, and so they let themselves be drawn into the anarchy of the day.

Why were so many youngsters running to join the socialists with their anti-Torah stances? From where did the early Zionists get all their adherents?

The Torah home must be a place where a person can be at ease. Shabbos should be a light in a world grown cold and dark. Sing its songs and cherish the gifts Hashem has bestowed on you!

...The outside world must be kept away from the sensitive hearts of our maturing children and at the same time, the love from within the home must be preserved.

The point R' Rubin makes echoes what R' Weiss said (see post from March 13, 2013).  What he and R' Weiss and ... and ... and ... are saying is that when children are unhappy, when they don't find happiness in a Jewish home, they often leave.

As R' Moshe Feinstein z'l said, we lost a generation because parents said, "It's hard to be a Jew." It's hard? We aren't raised with the feeling of "ashreinu mah tov chelkeinu" (fortunate are we, how good is out lot)? Then who needs it? We're outta here.

Apr 10, 2013

Rabbi Yaakov Galinsky

It was gratifying to see that  R' Mordechai Kamenetzky, a regular columnist for Ami Magazine, is perplexed by the same thing I wrote about: here and here

In the Pesach issue, he describes seeing a sign at the matza bakery where the bracha for hafrashas challa is written, that said, "I am doing the mitzva of separating challa for the refuah of the child Shmuel Yaakov ben Esther."  He did not how to proceed.  He felt bad about the sick child but he was doing the mitzva because Hashem said so, not for any other reason.  Should he give away the mitzva as a zechus for a sick child? Did he have the right to do so?

His compromise decision was to do the mitzva of hafrashas challa for the sake of that mitzva and then to spend ten minutes saying Tehillim for the child, for he really did care about the sick child.

In the article, he went on to tell a story from the maggid, R' Yaakov Galinsky in which giving away the zechus of a mitzva turned out to have serious repercussions.  One Shabbos, he told the entire episode to his family.  One of his children seemed surprised by it all because in school, she said, almost every mitzva they did, they were told to give away, whether it was machsom l'fi, making a loud bracha acharona, giving tzedaka, etc.

It is something people do repeatedly and without thinking, as though it is normal to give mitzvos away

His daughter asked, "What does it mean? Should we just be giving our mitzvos away to others?

R' Kamenetzky did not know what to answer.  So I am not alone.

Apr 9, 2013

Heartwarming Tales of Chassidim

The sudden death of the Glaubers was shocking and tragic.  A ray of light within the darkness was how positively this Satmar family came across in the secular press.  The husband was described as calling his mother daily to see how she was (she had given birth two weeks before the accident).  And in later news items, a letter that he wrote to his parents on his wedding day was publicized.  It was beautifully written.

This probably did not fit the stereotype of Chassidic men.  It was heartwarming to see something favorable written about "ultra-Orthodox, Chassidic" Jews when, sadly, they are more typically written about in negative ways.

Around the time this happened, someone told me a beautiful story, also one that breaks the stereotype of the Chassidic Jew in Brooklyn.  Shortly before Shabbos, a man noticed a woman standing on the corner of a Boro Park street, looking bewildered.  Although he is the type of person not to notice his own daughter on the street, he went over to her and asked her what she was looking for.  The woman said she was looking for a locksmith in order to make a Shabbos key.

He explained that all stores were already closed as it was almost Shabbos and did she have a place for Shabbos? She said she did, but gave him her card and said she'd be very interested in coming for Shabbos.  She told him that she was a gentile studying to become a Jew.

The man actually followed up, which I find so impressive.  He called her rabbi who affirmed that she was sincere.  He emphasized that she needed to be among frum Jews and spend Shabbos, etc. with them.  The man invited her and she subsequently came numerous times for Shabbos and Yomim Tovim.  She eventually converted (this goes back ten years) and married a baal teshuva.  She lives in Brooklyn and has three children.  The girls attend one of the Beis Yaakovs and the boy is entering the Mirrer yeshiva.  And it was a Chassidic man, who generally doesn't look at women, who extended himself when he saw someone who needed help.

Apr 8, 2013

Kiruv - A Matter of Priorities

R' Dovid Ordman, a lecturer for Arachim was an avel for his father.  Due to the traveling he does for Arachim, being able to daven for the amud every day was very difficult.  He went to R' Chaim Kanievsky to ask him what he should do.  R' Chaim asked him what do you want to do? He said, maybe I should take off a year of traveling ....

"R' Chaim grabbed my sleeve and shouted ZIKUI HA'RABBIM (bringing merit to the masses) IS WORTH THOUSANDS OF KADEISHIM!"

Concluded R' Ordman, "Saying a shiur, being mekarev a Yid ... He woke me up to see the priorities."

It just leaves me wondering why R' Chaim is not urging all bnei Torah to be mezake the rabbim by being mekarev them.  If it's because he thinks that sitting and learning is zikui ha'rabbim, he could have approved of R' Ordman's taking off a year of traveling and learning instead ...

Apr 7, 2013

Spare Yourself

I'm almost finished reading the Artscroll book about Rebbetzin Kanievsky a'h.  It has been a very enjoyable and inspirational read about a very special woman.  Her outstanding midda was patience.  She had patience for nudniks and mentally unbalanced people, as well as the hundreds who came to see her daily.  Her heart overflowed with love and concern for others.

When her concerned family and friends wanted her to cut down on the number of visitors she received each day, her standard response was:

"Hashem has allotted each person a certain amount of agmas nefesh (aggravation) to suffer in this world.  Every time you feel someone else's pain, you are sparing yourself personal pain.  Hashem sees the anguish you are suffering with your friend, and if you undertake to actually help your friend, Hashem will most definitely minimize the personal pain you were slated to suffer."

This reminds me of this post.

Apr 5, 2013

Untapped Potential

Dr. Najjar is a celebrated neurologist from Syria.  He was not a good student and his parents and teachers considered him lazy.  When he was ten he failed his tests and the principal suggested that he learn a trade.  Education was very important to his father and so he sent his son to a different school. 

A teacher in the new school took an interest in him and praised him and he did extremely well in her class.  He eventually graduated top of his class in medical school and moved to the United States where he is presently an associate professor of neurology at the NYU Medical Center.  Here is an example of his winning diagnosis: medical-mystery solved

So much is left unsaid in this short account.  I wonder why a bright child would have done so abysmally in school when he was so smart and education was so important to his family.  How many other children have the capability of doing well in school but don't, while giving their teachers and principal the impression that they are not intelligent enough? Is this rare or common?

Apr 4, 2013

The Importance of the Home

* Dr. Meir Wikler, noted frum psychotherapist in Brooklyn, believes so strongly in the influence of the relationship between parent and child on religious observance that he says he had never seen, met, or heard of someone who grew up in an Orthodox home who became non-Orthodox and had warm, close intimate relationships with their parents.

* I heard Dov Brezak ("Chinuch For Turbulent Times") quote Rav Shteinman as saying that unlike other mitzvos, peru u'revu for example, where you are not responsible for outcome, when it comes to chinuch - outcome is what it's all about.  Quite an astonishing quote in a time when not taking responsibility is the norm.

* Rabbi Noach Orloweck noted that no single factor is as important to a child's development as the influence of his or her parents.