Aug 30, 2013

Women and Tefilla

A question I've long had goes like this:

Women are exempt from the same tefilla requirements as men because they are exempt from mitzvos asei she'hazman grama (positive, time-bound mitzvos).  Women have household obligations, specifically, children to care for, and they cannot be obligated to daven as a man does. 

But if a woman takes a job which requires her to be at a certain place for set hours, then that would seem to demonstrate that she can do time-bound activities.  If so, why should she be exempt from tefilla like a man?

I was reminded of this question when I read an article in which a woman says davening used to be the focus of her day.  Even when she had a baby, she davened three times a day.  When she had a second baby, the demands of the newborn and the toddler did not allow her to daven much at all.  The way she put it, "Every weekday morning, I faced a marathon consisting of nurse-the-baby-feed-the-toddler-throw-on-some-clothes-change-and-dress-two-children-pack-up-the-diaper-bags-daven-fly-out-the-door ... all by 8:10."

She said she couldn't do everything and so, she gave up on davening.  She goes on to say how she learned that she could daven an abbreviated davening. 

So I don't get it.  She can work six hours a day, a time-bound activity, despite her childcare and household obligations which she delegates to others, and this exempts her from davening, a time-bound activity.  Why?

Aug 29, 2013

City of Refuge versus Yerushalayim

In a related idea to the previous post, the mishna says that the roads to the arei miklat (cities of refuge) had to be smooth and wide and there had to be signs directing the inadvertent murderer where he had to go.

In contrast, there are no such instructions regarding the roads leading to Yerushalayim for the pilgrims making aliya l'regel.  Why are we helpful to the inadvertent murderer and not to the good Jews going to the Beis Ha'Mikdash?

The answer that's given is, when Jews ask for directions to Yerushalayim, it publicizes the mitzvah and gets other people to join them.  As for the murderer, the Torah wants him in the ir miklat as soon as possible, with the least exposure to other Jews.  The less contact with negativity the better.

Aug 28, 2013

Lesson from the Sefer Ha'Chinuch

In the Sefer Ha'Chinuch on parshas Ki Seitzei, mitzvah 534 (or 537) is to bury the person who was hung after being stoned to death for serving idols or for blasphemy.  The "Key Concept," as written in "The Concise Sefer HaChinuch" in English says, "When people see the executed person's corpse hanging on the post, they will say that such is the punishment for having cursed the Holy One's name.  When they utter these words, however, they remind themselves that such a sin is possible, and simply by speaking of the sin, they do damage to their souls."  This is why the person's body is taken down and buried on the same day that he was executed.  "As a result, there is less opportunity for people to do self-inflicted damage to their souls."

Reading this triggered the thought that I wrote about here, questioning what effect being regularly exposed to negativity has on us.  I won't repeat myself, go take a look :)

Aug 27, 2013

Different Reactions

Someone I know had a dream about the Arizal, in which she was told to say Nishmas and the Pitum Ha'Ketores until Ana B'Koach, and then to say it backward.  When I heard this being discussed and whether a rav should be consulted about others saying it too, my reaction was: She had the dream, so she can say it.  What does it have to do with anyone else?

I have enough to say without someone sharing dream instructions with additional things to say! It struck me though, when I heard someone else's completely different reaction.  As this person said, "My gut feeling ..." in my mind I finished the thought, "In my gut feeling, the dream was for her," but the thought was ended quite differently.  "My gut feeling is, if someone asks that verses be said, if I had the discipline and time to do it, of course I would like to help."

Well! How jarring and illuminating to encounter a response that was entirely different than my own.  Although I think my reaction is valid, I am still impressed by the willingness to make this commitment, even if it is only wishful.

Aug 26, 2013

Voices in the Silence

Voices in the Silence (Feldheim) was published in 1992.  It is one of those "must reads" about extraordinary people living excruciatingly difficult lives with mesirus nefesh in the Soviet Union.

One place where the flame of eternal Judaism still burned brightly was in a tiny basement apartment on Yaroslayskaya Street in Kiev, the capital of the Ukraine. Behind closed shutters, one remarkable family continued to devote themselves to an authentic, Torah-true life, performing numerous acts of chesed on a daily basis. This was the home of the Meisliks, a family that was not afraid to risk life or limb for the sake of a mitzvah. Voices in the Silence is the memoir of Basyah Meislik and her parents, Reb Yehudah Leib and Alteh Beileh, Jews caught in a life-and-death struggle against the forces of darkness. Their incredible self-sacrifice and boundless devotion to Yiddishkeit make this a very special and truly inspiring story.
Rebbetzin Basyah Barg speaks to women all over the world as she travels to raise money for her chesed project.  What she did to avoid attending school on Shabbos, from ages 9-16, is just unbelievable.  Then again, her parents were unbelievable and they instilled her with their pure emuna and bitachon. 
It is absolutely heartbreaking that out of 17 pregnancies, her mother lost nine babies and then seven of her children were killed in the war.  She lived till 91 with just this one daughter Basyah left, and tragically, Basyah has no children! This hasn't stopped Basyah though, from remaining devoted to serving Hashem and inspiring others with her example.

Aug 25, 2013

More on Mothering

A frum female doctor living in Israel, who is the mother of 13 children (7 of whom are married now), wrote a book about the tough choices she had to make between her family and her career.  While training to be a doctor, she gave birth to six children.  During her residency she had three more children.  She says she could not have done it without her husband and quite honestly says, "I am not a role model for anyone.  It was a terrible life.  It meant splitting myself into pieces, missing all the siyumim and siddur parties and so many milestones in my children's lives. 

In a Binah interview she goes on to say, "The most important thing a woman with children can do with her life is to be a mother ... Your children only have one mother, your husband has only one wife.  Had I known what this choice entailed, if I could it all over again, I would choose differently."

During the six years of her residency she would light candles by herself in the hospital, away from her family's Shabbos table.  She would leave her house at 6:35 a.m. and be gone for 30-40 hours. 
Her 3 1/2 year old son once said to her, "No mother does this to her children, no mother!"

While in medical school, she and her husband consulted with R' Shlomo Zalman Auerbach z'l to ask him whether she should continue or quit.  He told her to continue since he felt she could perform a real service for the frum community where there were hardly any frum, female doctors.

She says that her children definitely suffered.  They wanted her at their school events.  Every mother was there, but her.  "I lost out on happy times with them.  Those precious years are gone forever."

The interviewer asked her what her adult children think of her, are they proud of her and feel pride in her work.  She said, "No, I don't think so.  I think what's most important is to have a real mother who is physically present.  But at the same time, they know that I do what I do l'sheim shomayim." 

As to a previous comment, "It is not "at his wife's expense" if she is willingly and eagerly supporting him to learn because she truly yearns for her husband to become a great talmid chacham, and is fully ready to sacrifice for that worthy goal" - when a husband goes off to learn, knowing that his wife who just gave birth will be traveling over an hour each way with two babies in order to interview for a job, whether she is fully behind that decision or does it because she feels it is expected of her, does not change the fact that his learning is at his wife and children's expense.  How he is able to learn with a clear head, knowing that his kimpeturin, nursing wife is spending the day in this way, in preparation for leaving her babies to be raised by others, is beyond me.

When it is only the adults affected by the decision, that is quite different than a decision that drastically affects the children who are brought into the world and are made to suffer for Torah study.  When in our history were mothers separated from their babies for the sake of Torah? Husbands have separated from their wives, like Rochel and Akiva for the sake of Torah, but not mothers and their young children.

Aug 23, 2013

The Power of Expectations

Sara Rigler wrote an intriguing article in the May issue of Ami magazine.  She said that Rebbetzin Kramer, the subject of a book that she wrote, see here, would call newly religious women who visited her "tzadekes."  At first, she thought her na├»ve but as she got to know her, she saw that Reb. Kramer could not be fooled.

She concluded that the rebbetzin's motivation was to convince people that they could actually become a tzadekes.  She saw it in them. 

Sara Rigler goes on to relate a story about how she realized her 15 year old son was in the wrong yeshiva when his rebbi did not see him in a good light.  If his rebbi did not view him favorably, he could not guide her son to becoming great.  She concludes, "The lesson the rebbetzin taught me [is] that the people in your life become the vision you hold of them ..."

She then tells two marriage stories.  She met two women who had married serious learning boys and had been kollel wives until their husbands announced they were no longer believers.

One wife divorced.  Ten years later, her anti-religious husband is a terrible influence on their children.

The other wife considered divorce but then read something that convinced her that it wasn't a good idea.  She decided that she would make it the best marriage she could and that this entailed respecting her husband.  This wife believed in her husband, thanked him for what he did, complimented him in front of the children for how he cared for his father and ignored what he did wrong.  Ten years later, he did not return to what he once was but he was going to shul daily and learning Torah every day.  Remarkable woman!

Aug 22, 2013

No Career!

Continued from previous post

The only public speaker that I can recall saying it the way it is, is Rabbi Zecharia Wallerstein.  He quoted the pasuk about Sarah being in the tent, in response to the angels asking Avraham where she is.  Then he went on to say, "I can’t say it at Ohr Naava or I’ll lose nearly everyone, but the man should be out working and the woman home taking care of the house. No career! No guy should say he wants five or whatever years of support from his wife. What is his Torah learning worth if it’s at his wife’s expense?"

And the children's expense. 

I remember the shocked look on someone's face when someone suggested (facetiously, but to make the point) that mothers who opt not to raise their kids because they're busy working should give them up.  There are women out there willing to raise them ...

We used to hear the story of a gadol (it's hard to know who it really happened with) who was consulted about the chinuch of a person's young child, say a two year old.  The rabbi said, you are two years too late.  Chinuch begins at birth and before.  Maybe they don't tell this story anymore.

Aug 21, 2013

An Upside-Down World

A kimpeturin of Lakewood has a baby less than 5 weeks old.  She also has a 22 month old toddler.  She goes to New York to interview for a job in her field.  Why? Is she a new immigrant in dire need of supporting herself? Is she a single mother? No. It is because her husband is learning. 

She is not the first, not the last.  Plenty others do the same.  So what else is new ...

A woman writes to Binah magazine about being a kollel wife with three children and a full-time job out of the house.  She has a nightly walk with a neighbor and tries to get to sleep early.  I read this several times and wondered where her husband and children fit into her life. 

She thanks her husband for being Mr. Mom (not her phrase).  He gets the children ready in the morning, takes them to school, packs lunches and snacks, often cooks supper, shops for groceries, bakes and braids challa, and has cooked for Shabbos several times.

To borrow a term from R' Yosef, the son of R Yehoshua (Bava Basra 10), "Olam hafuch ra'isi" - I saw an upside-down world.

Yes, women have worked throughout the generations. The Eishis Chayil of Mishlei works.  Yet, it was a rare situation in which husband and wife switched roles and the mother traveled to support the family while the father raised the children and ran the home. 

A mother wrote that she received a note from her seven year old daughter:

"Dear Mommy, if it's not too hard and if you're not working, could you listen to me read for five minutes? We get points for this in school, and I only have one stamp.  Everyone else has a whole card already. Love ..."

And we will keep on reading "courageous" articles about post-partum depression, sad articles about the rise in divorces in the frum world, and disconcerting articles about children and their myriad of problems. 

Aug 19, 2013

Avoiding the "Whatchamacallit Syndrome"

Rabbi Pam z"l was very particular about using lashon nekiya (clean language).  He once addressed the talmidim in beis medrash and said I don't understand how someone can use the words "stupid" and "crazy."

He also said, I don't understand how someone can say whatchamacallit.  A talmid went over to him after the schmooze and asked, what's wrong with whatchamacallit? R' Pam said, if you are saying whatchamacallit, it means you didn't think before you spoke.

The person delivering the talk I was listening to, this talmid of R' Pam, said: Let's not fall into the "Whatchamacallit Syndrome," whether it's our brachos or how we talk to one another.  In every aspect of our lives, if it's a whatchamacallit life, it means we didn't think before we did it, and that's dangerous.

We can guess what R' Pam would think about the usage of "whatever," and "you know" and the other fillers we use.

Aug 16, 2013

Hashem as our Father

I read a moving article in which the author, a counselor in a Russian camp, described visiting day.  How saddened she was to see the family members, "estranged Yiddish parents, some of whom were descendents of chassidishe rabbonim and chashuve gedolim, others were children of simple erliche Yidden.  These neshamos were so cut off, so unfamiliar with their people's customs ..

"I suddenly felt the terrible feeling of a parent whose beloved child is off the derech.  The pain, the hurt, the broken heart.  It is almost unbearable.  I contemplated the immense suffering Hashem must feel, having so many wayward children ..."

What immediately comes to my mind is - what is the comparison? Do parents rip Yiddishkeit away from their children and then mourn their going off the derech? Or do they try to raise them in a wholesome, Jewish environment and, for whatever reasons, their chinuch efforts do not bear the expected results?

Hashem is the one who had the shuls, yeshivos and mikvaos close in Russia.  Hashem is the one who made life so miserable in Eastern Europe that poverty-stricken and persecuted Jews left for America in their millions.  Hashem made Hitler rise to power and annihilate most of European Jewry.  That most Jews today have not had a proper chinuch is not, for the most part, because parents withhold it from their children, but because Hashem set things up in such a way that most of His children are estranged. 

Why He chose to do this is inexplicable to us.  Maybe, contrary to Hashem feeling grief over His handiwork, He feels joy at every single mitzvah estranged Jews keep.  Because unlike a parent whose children has left the path, Hashem's children who never had the path, still feel a warmth toward Yiddishkeit.  The neshama still flickers.

Aug 12, 2013

What Message Are We Conveying?

Continuation of previous post:

If R' Aisenstark is talking about demonstrable love, I tend to agree with him.  Why would someone who departed from a frum background change their way of life, their lack of tznius, their non-observance of Shabbos, if the people around them treat them just as they would if they were strictly observant? If they are showered with love regardless as to what they do, that sends the message: Whatever you do is fine.

Would we smile, praise and hug a preschooler if he emptied out the fridge and all the cabinets, creating chaos in the kitchen just as we would if he helped clean up all the toys? If we did, would that be good chinuch because we would be conveying that no matter what he does, we love him? Or would that be abysmal chinuch because it does not convey right and wrong to the child?

Do those communities that put up with public lack of tznius get more or less tznius from its members than communities with high standards of tznius which no one would think of breaching? According to R' Bender, acceptance and love will ultimately lead to the desired results.  I don't see that happening on a public level.  It might be effective with certain individuals. 

Back to rebellious children, I think that the love for the child is always there, regardless as to what they do, though it can be covered over with immense pain and resentment.  So I wouldn't use the word "rekindled" as R' Aisenstark does.  I'd like to see a combination of the two, in which the child knows that his parents love him always, but they must stand up for Torah in their home.

Aug 9, 2013

Unconditional Love - Yes or No

In the article by R' Aisenstark that I referred to previously here, there was a paragraph that I read and agreed with and didn't think to comment on.  It was where he wrote about unconditional love and said, "I think that our Torah teaches us to take responsibility for our actions and that does not include loving unconditionally no matter what a child does.  Yes, the door to teshuva is always open, and love will most certainly be rekindled to its former state when a child returns.  But a child cannot live in two worlds ... a rebellious child does not belong in our home until he at least tries to conform and change his actions."

Two issues (of Mishpacha) later, R' Yaakov Bender responded to his dear friend's remarks with the latter's permission.  It is most interesting to see the difference of opinion between these two veteran mechanchim.  R' Bender acknowledges that R' Aisenstark's point is correct but suggests that when it comes to chinuch, adjustments need to be made for each generation and what works for one generation might be disastrous for another time.

In R' Bender's opinion, there is no logic as to why children go off the derech when others in the family are doing fine and the parents tried to meet the wayward child's needs.  He thinks that a rebellious child should be showered with love and be minimally criticized.  In most cases, he does not think that having a rebellious child at home will negatively impact other children in the home because the other children know he is going through a difficult phase.

He thinks that implying that any child is a rasha is unfair and to imply that the parents are to blame is even more unfair.  He concludes by pleading that parents love their children "to pieces" and keep them at home.  "Ultimately, you will see great nachas from them," he says.