May 29, 2013

Don't Talk in Shul During the Davening!

Some information I gleaned on the Internet about today's date, the 20th of Sivan:

In 1171, fifty-one Jews were burned at the stake in the French city of Blois. So Rabbeinu Tam declared a fast day on Chof Sivan. Observation of the fast gradually faded over the ensuing years as that tragedy was overshadowed by the 150 years of the Crusades.

20 Sivan was reinstituted as a fast day by certain communities, due to the tens, perhaps hundreds, of thousands of Jews, approximately one third of European Jewry, killed al kiddush Hashem in the Gezeiros Tach V'Tat (years 5408-5409, 1648-1649), the Chelminitzki massacres. Hundreds of Jewish communities in Poland and Ukraine were wiped out. There are special Selichos said and Vayichal is read. 

The massacres started in Nemirov, Ukraine, on 20 Sivan when the Cossacks slaughtered the entire Jewish community, including the Rov, a great tzadik named Reb Yechiel Michel ben Reb Elazar, author of Shivrei Luchos. The Berdichiver Siddur says that is why this date was picked as a fast day and points out that 20 Sivan never falls out on Shabbos. The massacres spread out to other parts. This happened during the life of the Shach, Tosefos Yom Tov and many other great tzadikim. Yesod Veshoresh Ha'avodah says one should think about the terrible torture and suffering these people went through and all the Torah that was not learnt because they were killed.
The Shach was the first rov to institute a fast day on the day Chof Sivan in commemoration of the Gezeiros Tach V’Tat. He made this fast day only for his family and descendants. Then in 1652 the Rabbonim established the fast for the public.

When learning through a Shailas Chalom (a dream query) that these murderous times and the destruction of hundreds of shuls and battei medrash were the result of a lack of respect in Shul, Rav Yom-Tov Lipmann Heller, known as the Tosafos Yom Tov composed a special Mi She'beirach that is said in some Shuls for the people who are quiet and do not speak during davening.
Bogdan Chmielnicki, the 17th-century butcher of Jews, is still regarded as a Ukrainian national hero. His image is displayed on Ukrainian money and his monument in the center of Kiev is the focal point of the Ukrainian capital. 

May 28, 2013

A Chance in the World

A Chance in the World is heartwarming book about a child who grows up in horrible foster care and makes a good life for himself nonetheless.  It is so nice to see that a Jewish woman had a big part in encouraging him and making his miserable life more bearable.

He met up with her again years later and their reunion was recorded for us to see: here

May 27, 2013

You are Holy, Chosen, Special, Beloved ...

In an article in the OU's spring 2013 Jewish Action, their executive vice president wrote an article about "The Chosen People" here.  He says:

"With the exception of the Kuzari, almost all Rishonim (medieval scholars) make it very clear that every human being, Jew and gentile alike, is created in the Divine image. The term tzelem Elokim is ascribed to all of humanity—not just Jews. Every human being is created in God’s image (i.e., we were all created with an abstract intellect that enables us to perceive the knowledge of God through the prisms of physics and metaphysics). No human being is inherently better than any other human being. If that is the case, then what does it mean that Jews are the Am Hanivchar, the Chosen Nation?

He goes on to say that being chosen means we have a mission to partner with Hashem, but I want to focus on the part where he says we are not inherently special.  I read this in astonishment. 

Devarim 14:2 (among other places) states, "You are a holy nation to Hashem your G-d, and Hashem picked you to be for Him His precious nation from all the nations on the face of the earth." This follows a pasuk which states we are Hashem's children. There is no mention here at all about our uniqueness being linked to an assignment.

We are called holy, we are chosen by G-d to be an "am segula" (treasured people) from all the nations and He chose us because of His love for us.  Nothing about missions.

And does Weil think that gentiles and Jews have the same neshama?! Does he think the concept of "pintele yid" is just a manner of speech? What does he think happens to a gentile who converts? He is the same as before and this is merely a technical matter, that he is now considered a Jew according to halacha? I guess so.  Nor does he have an explanation as to why we the Torah expects us to love our fellow Jews. 

I've encountered this reluctance on the part of Jews, religious Jews, to accept that we are inherently different, by virtue of our divine souls.  There is the inanimate, plant life, animal life, human life and a fifth category that incomparably different and greater than the previous four.  A Jew.

May 26, 2013

All for the Sake of Israel

An article about the devastation left in the wake of a tornado in Oklahoma speaks about the tears and our hearts going out to the people there.  Many (most) of us just go on with our lives. 

As mentioned in the previous post, there are just so many news items about death and bereavement and sorry states of affairs that we are exposed to.  In recent days we have had a Moslem hacking a person to death on the streets of London, a tornado, over 1000 people killed in Bangladesh, a bizarre conclusion to the case of missing women in Cleveland, a chilul Hashem trial concerning sordid matters in Lakewood, constant reports and updates about the travesty at the Wall and in the Israeli government.  It's overwhelming. 

So what tears for Oklahoma? How many of us cried over the destruction in Oklahoma? At the very least, we should be thinking that when we hear of a flood in a far-off land, or an epidemic, or war, or famine, the purpose is to bring us closer to G-d. "No misfortune comes into the world unless it is for the sake of Israel" (Yevamos 63A), "in order to cause them to fear G-d and to return in repentance" (Rashi, ibid.)

It helps if, as the article says, "We can stop for a moment and consider the enormity of the devastation." Perhaps to look at some pictures.  To think about how this relates to us.  It's hard to do. I know that in order for something to hit home for me, it usually has to be personalized.  When you read stories about individuals, it makes more of an impact.  And no question, when something happens to your family, i.e. to your fellow Jews, it affects us more.

May 22, 2013

Information Overload

From a blog called Susan's Musings:

... I have been deluged with reports of serious illnesses with requests to add the sick to my prayers, articles about the tragic death of a young girl in a pedestrian accident and links to introspective pieces about troubled marriages, mental illness and other challenging life experiences.

Relatively few years ago, I would not have known of much of this... While I knew of sad occurrences taking place in my local and intimate social circle, word of personal tragedies around the world didn’t intrude into my space....

Prior to the ubiquitous presence of the Internet in my life, the tragedies in the lives of those I know were offset by the joys. Yes, I heard of a friend’s stillborn infant or a relative who was diagnosed with cancer, but at least as frequently and usually more often, I heard of an engagement, a birth or other celebratory events. Now that everyone is connected to everyone else, I am asked to add my prayers to those of thousands of others around the world, pleading for a complete recovery for people I have never met or previously heard about...

The urgent emails notifying me of crises are not offset by joyous reports... I’m invited to share in the sorrows but never told of the celebrations or the normal, uneventful daily lives that pass without horrifying interruptions.

This is our reality. We can access news non-stop and disseminate information at the click of a mouse. Geographic distance is no barrier to communication. This is, in many ways, a wonderful advance. Yet, it carries with it the danger of being overwhelmed by gloom.  We can come to expect bad rather than good...

How true.  If you check in with each of the frum news websites, you will find out about frum people involved in car accidents, sudden deaths, fires, drownings, operations about to take place, disasters of all kinds.  It's relentless.  It's news.  It's not only that we are connected globally.  It's that we are updated constantly. 

Years ago, you may have gotten the Jewish newspaper which was published once a week.  You may have tuned in to a Jewish radio program that was broadcast once a week.  Now, in addition to frequent Internet updates and emails, we have many weekly (even daily) newspapers and magazines.  They've got to fill them up and we have been getting a surfeit of articles addressing all our frum societal problems as well as first person "sharing" of all kinds of tragic lives with details that we might be better off not knowing.

Nobody says you must visit news sites and nobody says you must read frum publications.  The alternative though, is to be disconnected from our Jewish brethren which is not an option.  How to do this while remaining positive is a challenge.

May 21, 2013

Missing Information

There was (yet another) sad article in one of the frum magazines, written by a suffering parent.  To quote her, "There are many levels of suffering we have endured as we watched our beautiful, talented, and loving child transform into a raging creature ... I couldn't believe that such a thing could happen to us, to people who had established such a pristine, Torah-filled home.

"We had given our daughter so much love and encouragement ... [she was] nurtured and supported in every way possible... A bright and gifted student, she excelled in school and exuded her talents in many areas.  What would prompt a most cherished child to choose such an alien lifestyle? ... It was inconceivable and incomprehensible.  I raged against the outside forces that had stolen my child ... I watched her spiral downwards ... We watched her morph into a different persona ..."

It's horrible.  But we don't get answers to the question: what happened to change this much loved, blessed girl into a monster? Instead, the rest of the article is about unconditional love, obliterating one's egotistical need for nachas, and about asking for help. 

I find that frustrating and unhelpful.  Is she implying that this is a spiritual battle taking place on a different plane of reality which has nothing to do with the mundane here and now of this world? Is that what she means when refers to "outside" and "evil forces" who enticed her baby from her cozy nest? What really happened to turn a 13 year old girl into a hard, tough personality who verbally assaults those who love her?

May 13, 2013

Counting Jews

We just read Parshas Bamidbar in which the Jewish people are counted.  Why were they counted? As Rashi says, because they were dear to Him, He counted them often.

The same week, there was a news item that said that Yad Vashem representatives "are going door-to-door in a race to record the memories of elderly survivors before their stories are lost forever."  They have 4.2 million names of those who were killed in the Holocaust and are trying to collect as many names as possible before the few remaining survivors die.

There's counting and there's counting.

May 8, 2013

History Repeating Itself

In a discussion about Shavuos, someone made the point that our holidays are not mere commemorations of events that occurred years ago.  On a Yom Tov, the same spiritual energy that was present the first time, is present again.

They noted that this week, according to the Hebrew date, marks 46 years since the miraculous victory of the Six Day War.  Likewise, this week, Israel bombed Syria for the second time in a few days, the date coinciding with the start of the Six Day War.  It was suggested that their success had to do with this being a spiritually propitious time to fight our enemies. 

May 7, 2013

Halacha and Women

As I finished the Artscroll book about Rebbetzin Kanievsky ( previous post ), I saw two pictures that caught my attention.  One shows her husband and sons sitting shiva.  The other shows her brothers sitting shiva.

So what struck me about the photos?

We recently read parshas Emor which says that a kohen hedyot must impurify himself for his parents, wife, siblings (including unmarried sisters), sons and daughters.

What struck me is how chashuva people, distinguished rabbis, men who don't waste time but spend it learning and teaching Torah, had to stop their learning (and avoda in the Mikdash) in order to mourn for ... a woman.  In Jewish law, men go through the identical mourning rites for their mother, sister, wife and daughter as women do for men. 

For those who question women's role in Judaism and how halacha regards women, this could be a powerful way to convey the Torah's respect for women.

May 6, 2013

Sensitivity to the Cries of a Baby

I was at the Jewish library and was faced with the following situation.  A frum, refined looking young mother was there with a few young children, including a baby.  At some point, the baby - about 4 months old - began to scream.  He screamed and screamed and only paused momentarily before he began screaming again.  The mother held him and looked at books and he screamed. 

One issue was, a screaming baby doesn't belong in a library.  Another issue was THE SCREAMING BABY who, I suppose, was starving.  She did not give him a bottle or pacifier which led me to think he was a nursing baby whom she was going to feed when she got home.  But she was in no hurry. 

I didn't want to say anything to embarrass her but felt that SOMETHING must be said.  I tried to say, "Is that a hungry baby?" but suppose I didn't say it loud enough since the mother kept looking at the book.  With a screaming baby next to her ears, how could she hear me?

I didn't say it louder and closer to her because I was not sure I wanted to say it at all, being afraid to 'start up' with her, but I felt it was wrong for me to keep ignoring the situation.  The librarian didn't say a word.

This went on for about twenty minutes.  The mother was checking out her books and had her little daughter sit and hold the baby, who was screaming.  On and on.  I was very upset at that point and finally said to the mother, "I don't want to say anything, but ... have rachmanus!" (on me, as much as the baby).

She went to her daughter and took the baby, finished checking out and left. 

If I had the opportunity to do it over again, I still don't know what I should have done.  I think the least offensive thing to do would be to say, "Excuse me, it's a library.  I'm sorry, but you'll have to take him out."  That doesn't cast aspersions on her mothering, it's just library etiquette.

Here is the odd postscript.  When I got home, I continued reading an old (2010) magazine that I had started months ago, and came across the following line in the first article I read in which a woman quotes her mother as saying, "A mother will have to give a din v'cheshbon for every minute that her infant cries from hunger."

Was the baby in the library hungry? Had he just been fed before they came to the library? Was he crying for some other reason like colic and this was his fussy time of the day? I don't know.  But this baby was screaming, and although he was being held, it seemed he wasn't being responded to.

May 5, 2013

Fake Medicine

Some tidbits from an article in The Atlantic called "The Real Problems With Psychiatry":

* Every doctor who knows anything, knows that there is no biochemical imbalance that causes depression.

* Our gut reaction is always "that was really sick. Those guys in Boston -- they were really sick." But how do we know? Unless you decide in advance that anybody who does anything heinous is sick. This society is very wary of using the term "evil."

* A depression diagnosis gives people an identity formed around having a disease that we know doesn't exist, and how that can divert resources from where they might be needed. Imagine how much less depression there would be if people weren't worried about tuition, health care, and retirement.

* The DSM is created by a group of committees. It's a bureaucratic process. In place of scientific findings, the DSM uses expert consensus to determine what mental disorders exist and how you can recognize them.

* You can't just ask for special services for a student who is awkward. You have to get special services for a student with autism. In court, mental illnesses come from the DSM. If you want insurance to pay for your therapy, you have to be diagnosed with a mental illness.

the article

May 3, 2013

Thoughts Affect the Items we Use or Make

continued from the previous two posts

The following are other examples I've come across:

* There's a story about an innkeeper who spilled out the vodka several times before serving it because he didn't want to serve it until his intentions were good (so that the drink wouldn't be adversely affected)

* We choose a sofer who is a yirei shomayim because the level of the sofer affects the spiritual quality of the tefillin etc. he writes.

* There's a story about the Baal Shem Tov in which he knew that the chazzan had distracting thoughts because the man who made the Shevisi sign was wicked and did not have holy thoughts when he made it but was playing with a dog.

* When the Baal Shem Tov saw a crafted object, he knew the thoughts behind it because the craftsman leaves the imprint of his intelligence, which is his life force, in the object he makes.

* Haman wanted timber from the teiva where the Shechina had dwelled.

May 1, 2013

Simcha, Simcha, Simcha

continued from previous post

I saved an article from Mishpacha magazine from 2005 about the special lady, Mrs. Taubenfeld of New Square, who was murdered in the #2 Kosel bus bombing in August of 2003.  The article is an interview with her husband.

He said about her, "Being b'simcha was my wife's way.  Smile, make others feel good.  She said, 'If a woman cooks food with simcha, the people who eat it will be b'simcha.  If a woman makes the bed, changes the linen, and she's b'simcha, then when people go to bed, they will be b'simcha."

"When she was young, she spent a lot of time with an elderly rebbetzin, the wife of Reb Moshe Gabbai, a famous Chassidishe Yid.  For years she would visit her and every time she came home she said things like that.  'If a person sews a piece of clothing and she was b'simcha, whoever wears that begged will be b'simcha.'  My wife said this over and over again."