Dec 28, 2014

Warding Off Disaster

It's no wonder that we read of the high use of anxiety medication in the US and particularly among the frum population.  I say the following without having done any actual research on this; this is just the sense that I have about changing times.

Although there were always sad stories and troubling world events, the frequency of tragedies and how close to home they reach, seems unprecedented in the past 50 years.  For example, when I was a young adult, I probably heard of Lou Gehrig's disease (ALS) but that's as far as it went.  At this point, I've been menachem avel someone's whose brother died of it, the rebbetzin of my former shul is suffering from it, my friend's father died of it, and I have heard and read of several more in the frum world.

Another example, up until ten years ago, I don't think I heard of any child (not talking about an infant) dying in their sleep.  Now I can think of three.

The feeling that something can drastically change for the bad, out of the blue, is reasonable since it has been happening with seemingly greater frequency and to people we know or to people close to those we know.  The Twin Towers coming down, the Har Nof shul massacre, the frequent ads from Chai Lifeline and RCCS reinforce the possibility of a disaster about to happen.

What to do about it? One idea - Rabbi David Ashear is quite popular now.  He does a 4 minute daily emuna message which can be heard on the phone: (605) 475-4799 access code 840886# or received by email:

Dec 25, 2014

Down with Yenting

I've reached a point where I am less tolerant of yenting.  I am not talking about lashon hara.  It might even be positive remarks.   But it's about other people.

Note, I say "less tolerant."  That doesn't mean I eschew it altogether.  It means that it often makes me uncomfortable and wanting to change the subject. 

I am all for relating good stories that are inspiring, uplifting, or otherwise edifying, about other people.  I am also in favor of taking an interest in relatives and what they're up to in life.

I am talking more about ... yenting.  What other people said, did, looked like, without much purpose.

Yes, I know, there's the story about the takana made in shul, no more talking (of course, the talking was not during davening but before and after) about mundane matters.  And as a result, nobody knew who needed a job or a shidduch or a place to live.  So they rescinded the takana.  Because repeating information that can help someone is a chesed. 

Maybe it's an idea to think before speaking - is this useful? encouraging? otherwise worthwhile?

Dec 24, 2014

12 Years a Slave

I read a remarkable book called 12 Years a Slave.  It was written in 1853 by a black man who had been a free man living up North, who was kidnapped and sold down South.  He was separated from his wife and children for twelve excruciating years and then freed.
He writes what comes across as an authentic account of his experiences as a slave.  The writing is beautiful and poignant.  How human beings were able to treat their fellow human beings so cruelly, particularly in America which was created to be the home of the free, is alarming.  The culture of the south, its mentality, was such that one could be an otherwise good, kind person but sanction barbarity.

Dec 23, 2014

Big and Little Things

There are two guidelines I've encountered on the topic of prayer, both of which are good and true and worth remembering.

One is, don't be reticent to ask Hashem for big things.  Don't limit Him.  Don't think, "That's too much to ask for."  A memorable example is an article by Jay Litvin in which he wrote about his son needing surgery and in the Israeli socialist state, he could only schedule an operation months in the future.  He davened for an earlier date and then it struck him.  Why was he davening for an earlier date for surgery rather than no need for an operation at all?

Two, to ask Him for the little things.  You're not bothering Him when you daven for the little things in your life, that the store will have what you're looking for, that you find a parking space, that there's an available exercise bike at the gym.

Big and little, available for the asking.

Dec 22, 2014

Life Must Go On

A woman described her grandmother, a Holocaust survivor who was the only survivor of a very large family.  She had one child who died at age 40:

"My grandmother is very bitter about losing her entire family in the Holocaust and then her only child dying.  She often talks about her father who was a great talmid chacham.  She is very angry at Hashem.  She keeps Shabbos and a strictly kosher home.  She goes to shul every Shabbos but does not daven.  She says, 'I can't get myself to praise Hashem after what happened to me, so I say nothing.'  She says, 'I don't bentch.  If I were to thank Hashem for the food, I also must scold Him for what He did.'"

What an amazing approach to life! It's like what they teach kallos, that even when upset with your husband, the routine of life must go on.  There is supper and mikva.  This woman has a genuine relationship with Hashem and she is mad at Him.  She stills keeps Shabbos and kosher and even goes to shul, but to praise Him? That's going too far. 

I'd love for her to speak to disenfranchised teens and adults and tell them about her life and her attitude toward serving Hashem.  Perhaps all those who walk away from Shabbos and kashrus will be touched by her story and ashamed when they compare their grievances to the life this woman has led, and hear how she still maintains the routine of Jewish life, because - just because you're upset, doesn't mean you walk away from it all.

Dec 14, 2014

If Just One Person ...

Have you ever heard the argument,"If just one person will gain ... it's worth it?" Or, "If just one person will be hurt ... it's not worth it?"

It makes for a compelling argument but only emotionally.  Logically, it doesn't make sense.  For example, I recently read a news item about an Israeli umpire dying after being hit by a ball.  Does anybody think we should outlaw all ball playing in which a ball is thrown, because "if just one person will be hurt, it's not worth it?" Of course not.  People play ball.

Does anyone think we should ban all cars because, "If one person is killed by a car, the minuses outweigh the benefits?" Certainly not.

There needs to be a cost analysis, i.e. benefits versus the minuses, plus knowing how many people will be affected, before a decision can be made.  In some cases, it might very well be the right thing to do even if only a few people will stand to gain or lose; in other cases, not at all.

Dec 13, 2014

Food Memories

With Chanuka coming up and thoughts of latkes, doughnuts, and dairy delights, I thought this quote from nationally known Jewish storyteller, author, lecturer, and recording artist Roslyn Bresnick-Perry was helpful:
""Food is more than eating," my grandfather used to say.  "Food is for remembering who you are, what you are, and where you came from.  And what is more important, with food you follow G-d's Commandments and celebrate in His name.""
Food plays an enormous role in our lives and it's not just to keep body and soul together.  I've been reading about the origin of bialys.  Apparently, they originate in Bialystok.  When old Bialystoker Jews were interviewed about it, they were nostalgic about it and described bialys in great detail. 
With food experiences so firmly stored in our memories, we see why their association with "G-d's Commandments" is a good move on the part of parents and educators.  The "Rosh Chodesh treat," the Shabbos party with treats only had on Shabbos, special Yom Tov foods and treats.  The memories remain with us.

Nov 29, 2014

Reb Leizer

I just finished reading a book about a remarkable man, R' Leizer Geldzahler a'h.  He was an incredible talmid chacham and an incredible personality who died at the age of 46 after an accident.  He was a rosh yeshiva of a chassidishe yeshiva who inspired the bachurim to learn on the highest of levels and infused them with his bren and geshmak for life and Yiddishkeit which were one thing to him.  He was funny and brilliant and sensitive to others, a one of a kind chevraman to whom Torah learning was of supreme importance.  If every yeshiva had a Reb Leizer at the helm, our bachurim would be fortunate indeed.
This is an article that his mother-in-law, the well-known Reb. Feige Twersky of Milwaukee, wrote about him: here

Nov 27, 2014

Soaking in Cool Water

Just as a public service, not so much a "proper" blog post - do you know what to do if someone should get a serious burn, ch'v?

No, don't remove the item of clothing.

Immerse in cool (not cold) water for a LONG time, like two hours.

Hatzala must take a burn patient to the hospital.  This is not in the patient's best interests.  The best thing is long immersion in cool water.

I've read first hand accounts several times in which this mitigated the burn to such an extent that it seemed miraculous, with barely a mark.

Hashem yishmor.

Nov 26, 2014

Then and Now 2

continued from previous post

When the frum world talks about the tremendous changes in our society, technology is usually the focus.  And cell phones and the Internet have certainly drastically changed our lives.  But the shift in life at home is not often discussed.  It is deemed too sensitive a subject.  Working mothers will feel bad. 
And yet, the reality hasn't changed from R' Weiss' description back in 2000 of unavailable mothers.    The yiras shomayim and emotional well-being of children being raised in frum homes today haven't improved since 2000.  As someone who attends Lakewood yeshiva said, there is an off the derech child in most homes in Lakewood.  Is this true? An exaggeration? I can't tell you.  But even if it's not accurate, it's prevalent enough to seem that way.
There was an impressive article a while ago in Mishpacha in which a woman related that she and her husband decided that one of them will always be available to their children.  It's a priority for them and they do what it takes to make it work.  Most people can't or won't live this way.

The word that is commonly used to describe today's mother is "juggling."  They juggle home and work and community commitments.  It is hard to see how we can go back to women's primary focus being the home, but then I read an article (Binah Jan. 2014) about a courageous woman who did just that. 

Financial security was important to her since she was a child.  She worked as a preschool teacher and supported the family.  Then her family grew and her husband left kollel to open a photography business.  It was a hard field to break into but between her steady income and his occasional jobs, they managed.  Financially.

But she faced the reality that although she was a superb teacher, she was a mediocre mother since she did not have the energy for own children after taking care of other people's children.  She just did the basics but no longer sang with them, read them books, or did craft projects with them.

This bothered her and she thought of quitting her job.  But she knew they needed her paycheck and could not manage on what her husband earned.  She asked other preschool teachers how they managed and found that some had more energy than she did, some had different parenting goals, and some confessed that they also felt guilty.

She ultimately decided to quit.  She knew they could always hire another teacher but her children had just one mother.  It was tremendously scary for her to let go of the financial security of her job but she was convinced she was doing the right thing. 

One week before school started, her husband received a terrific job offer from one of the most prestigious photographers in town with a salary that equaled their previous combined income.

It seems to illustrate the principle ( Gemara Makos 10b), ‘B’derech sh’adam rotzeh leilech buh, molichin oso’; the path that a person chooses to follow they bring him (and allow him) to go down that road. 

Nov 25, 2014

Then and Now

R' M.M. Weiss, a rav in Staten Island and teacher at Machon BY seminary, wrote an article in the year 2000 discussing why he thought the previous fifteen years (1985-2000) saw an unprecedented crisis among frum youth.

When he started teaching in 1985, he said that 80% of the mothers of the girls he taught were full-time homemakers. In 2000, he says, it's the other way around, with 80% of mothers working full time.

He understands that some have no choice, that was always the case. Whether for valid reasons or not (that was not the issue here), he was observing that parents, particularly mothers, are not available for their children as they used to be, not physically available (like not being home when their children come home from school, or even when home, not having time for their children), and not emotionally available because of having to juggle so many responsibilities.
Recently, Hamodia magazine presented the following numbers to compare a young family in Brooklyn in the 1970's versus 2014:

Salary for a professional in the 1970's: $15,000
Median starting salary for professional in 2014: $45,000

Rent for a two bedroom apartment in the 1970's: $200 a month
Average rent for a two bedroom apartment in 2014: $2000 a month

Tuition in the 1970's: $125 a month for one child
Average tuition in 2014: $425 a month for one child

Rent+Tuition in 1970 = approximately 25% of income
Rent+Tuition in 2014 = approximately 65% of income
to be continued

Nov 24, 2014

Precision in Torah

R' Dovid Kaplan of Ohr Somayach relates (Major Impact p. 22) that as the representative of the chemical company that supplied Colgate with one of the important chemicals used in their toothpaste, Mr. Adelman sat in on board meetings with the heads of Colgate and Procter and Gamble.

He told Kaplan that they would debate the use or non-use of one word in a label or advertisement for two or three weeks at a time.  Two or three weeks for one word!

They once printed up thousands of boxes and labels. One of the big guys at Colgate didn't like one word so they destroyed the entire supply, costing the company millions of dollars!

Kaplan says that as a teacher of Gemara he often hears people questioning the precision of the wording that those who learn Torah argue about.  He tells them that if boardroom meetings can focus on precise wording, then all the more so can we be sure that the wording of Torah is precise.

Nov 23, 2014

What Does it Mean to Serve Hashem?

R' Manis Friedman, a popular Lubavitcher public speaker, likes to tell of his night-long dialogue with a non-Chassidic kollel guy about whether Hashem needs us, whether we need to have rachmanus on Him for making Himself vulnerable to our freedom of choice. The kollel guy says Hashem is perfect, how He can need anything?!

MF says, needing a mitzva is not an imperfection. But let's say it is. What would you prefer that Hashem is perfect or that Hashem needs you?

Kollel guy said, that He's perfect.

MF asks, why do you need Him to be perfect?

Kollel guy says, because if He's not perfect, I won't serve him.

MF says, if you're right that Hashem doesn't need anything, what does it mean ivdu es Hashem – what kind of service can you do?

Kollel guy said that's the one thing I never understood ...  By telling me that Hashem needs my mitzva, you're turning me off. If He needs it, let Him do it!

Mf: If you did not need anything, you wouldn't be a human being. To say that Hashem needs, makes people uncomfortable because our needs are seen as weaknesses.

Yes, there are needs that are weaknesses like eating and sleeping, but a need like friendship makes us human. If Hashem needs something, that makes Him a living G-d.
Just because the Kollel guy never came up with an answer for what it means to serve Hashem, doesn't mean there isn't an answer that doesn't require G-d needing something.  In Chovos Ha'Levavos, written by a Rishon, there is an entire section on the Service of G-d - Shaar Avodas Ha'Elokim. 

In it (in the edition with R' Avigdor Miller's commentary, p. 66, 72), it says the definition of avoda is the feeling of humility of someone who receives a benefit. 

What can we do for Hashem? Nothing, because Hashem does not need anything.  But one thing we can do for Him is make something out of ourselves.  How do we do this? By working to show our gratitude for what He does for us. Avoda is the service of Hashem that comes from a feeling of gratitude.

We contemplate His greatness, His wisdom, and everything He has done for us.  It includes thinking of all the things He does in the world that reveal His presence.  All the mitzvos of the Torah are only an introduction to this career of avoda.

Nov 22, 2014

In His Final Moments

We now mark six years since the murders of four Jewish men and two Jewish women, including the shliach and shlucha, in the Chabad house in Bombay.

The shliach's Gavriel Noach's father said that ZAKA told him that they can now tell him what they saw in the video from the Chabad house.

After Gavriel Noach was shot and was bleeding profusely, he crawled to where the talleisim were and placed them over the bodies of the others who had been killed. That was an act of chesed that he did, for kavod ha'meis, in his final moments.

R' Holtzberg also related how in India they cremate bodies and give a very hard time about releasing bodies, even to be buried out of the country. An Israeli had died in prison and Gavriel wanted to send the body back to Israel, but the Indian government refused.  Gavriel stood at the bed and said he is not moving until the body is released.

Yehi zichro baruch along with the other kedoshim.

Nov 19, 2014

That numerous religious Jews attended the funeral of the Druze policeman is admirable and understandable.  He lost his life while trying to defend Jews and attending his funeral expressed appreciation.

What I don't understand as readily is when people pay shiva calls when they have no personal connection to the mourners and don't have a life story that is similar so that they can say, "We went through that and you'll see, you will be able to survive this and move on."

I could have easily gone to pay a shiva call to the Kletzkys following the tragic, grisly murder of their little boy, but I passed their building and didn't go in.  I could not fathom why my presence, as a stranger, would provide any comfort to the mourners.  I understand the feeling that we are all brothers and sisters, that we are truly one, but I think we need to do what's best, most comforting, for the people involved. 

I've read touching accounts of strangers visiting injured soldiers in the hospital and in most cases, it sounds like they really appreciate it.  So that's a great mitzvah of bikur cholim.  But unless a person knows that mourners are happy with strangers visiting them, it might be a good idea to be wary about doing so.  The mitzvah is to console them, not to rack up mitzvah points at someone else's expense.

Nov 11, 2014

Mean What You Say and Say What You Mean

No sooner did I finish listening to a shiur in which the speaker said this is an alma d'shikra (world of falsehood) in which words do not retain their true meaning, than I heard the following.  Someone with a son in shidduchim said her son told her that in the yeshiva world, when they refer to someone having "lots of yiras shomayim," those are code words for "lots of money!"

Ironically, this came up on the Shabbos of parshas Vayeira in which Avrohom said to Avimelech, "there is no yiras Elokim here!"

It's not the only code for money.  People say "balabatish" or "comfortable," but to use a term like "yiras shomayim" for money? Unacceptable!

Nov 2, 2014

Lucky 10 Cheshvan

I have been informed that, right now, Yud Cheshvan, is the birthday of Gad ben Yaakov Avinu.  When this child was born, Leah said, “Ba gad,” ‘a good sign has come,’ and therefore gave him the name ‘Gad.’ Rashi gives three interpretations of ba gad, one of which is good mazal.

Therefore, 10 Cheshvan is an auspicious day and a mazal'dige time to undertake anything, material or spiritual.

Good luck!

Oct 30, 2014

Most Influential Pasuk

Earlier this year, I came across a book called "28 Verses that can Change your Life," which presented pesukim that can change your life.  In the introduction to the book, the author asks the reader what pasuk has been most influential in your life.

The question piqued my interest and I thought about it and asked numerous other people this same question along with "why this pasuk."  The answers I received were varied, interesting and sometimes beautiful and often touching.

Shortly after that, Aish did a piece on "Favorite Jewish Quotes" and asked readers to submit theirs.  And then Mishpacha's Family First had an article in which they asked women which pasuk in Tehillim is most significant to them.

How about trying it yourself.  Come up with your own and ask others.  It is enlightening!

Oct 29, 2014

Male Teachers in Girls' Schools

Beis Yaakov, from its inception, had female and male staff members.  Over the years it has always had male teachers in addition to the female staff.  Various high schools and seminaries have become associated with their male principals such as R' Mordechai Miller a"h of Gateshead, R' Binyamin Steinberg a"h of BY of Baltimore, Rabbis Teichman and Greenberg of BYA, Rabbi Aisenstark of BY in Montreal, etc.

With two recent seminary (in Israel) scandals that I know of, I've been wondering about this policy of male staff members having such a great involvement with female students.  Chassidishe girls' schools do not have male teachers.  They may have a male guest lecturer for a special occasion; otherwise, men are not interacting with the girls on a regular basis in the classroom, learning their names, marking their papers, answering their questions, etc.

Why are male teachers and principals deemed necessary in BY types of schools while Chassidishe girls' schools do not hire them? Are the Chassidishe girls losing out by not having male teachers and hashpa'ah? If not, why do BY schools have them, and if they are, is there a way to have male teachers while ensuring the utmost decorum and distance?

I'd like to hear what R' Wallerstein, founder of Ohr Naava and related girls' institutions, has to say about this!

Oct 27, 2014

Total Commitment to Torah

I read the following:

"And Avram took his wife, Sarai…and the souls they made in Charan." (12:5)

"Targum Onkelos explains v'es ha'nefesh asher asu b'Charan, "and the souls they made in Charan" as, v'yas nafshasa di shabidu l'Oraisa, "and the souls which they committed to Torah." This teaches us, notes Horav Baruch Mordechai Ezrachi, Shlita, that the only commitment of substance, the only obligation that has value and endurance, is a commitment to Torah.
"Turning someone on," getting them to enjoy mitzvah observance, attending services in shul, are all wonderful beginnings, but the nefesh has not yet been made, success has not been achieved, until there is a shibud, obligation and commitment, to Torah study. Only then is there hope that the individual who has been "turned on" will not turn around and become "turned off." Torah protects and ensures the success of the transformation. Torah catalyzes the transformation and sustains the momentum.
Furthermore, adds Rav Ezrachi, one cannot have a shibuda l'Oraisa unless it is accompanied with a lech lecha, go for yourself, me'artzecha, from your land, etc. One must leave his original environment; break his ties with the past. He is committed to one thing and one thing only: Torah. When the separation is unequivocal, as it was with Avraham and Sarah, when there is a total severance from the commitments of the past, there can be a total commitment to Torah."
This leaves me wondering about the guidance given to those who are new to Torah observance.  I thought the current approach on the part of people involved in kiruv from various backgrounds is not to convince the newbie to throw his or her past away, but to encourage them to build on it.  Their schooling, their profession, their life experience, are often used to reach out to others.  How then, would this approach fit with the directive to Avrohom, which is also the directive to all of us, to leave everything behind?

Oct 23, 2014

As of now, Thursday night, I have no guest for the this week's "Shabbos Project."  I wrote here about last year's magnificent Shabbos Project in South Africa.  This year it is global and you can read about it here and see a heartwarming video about it here.
I tried inviting guests through and got nowhere.  I hope you have more success.

Oct 19, 2014

Sensitivity to Subject Material

I met someone who expressed her dismay over frum publications referring to such sensitive matters as miscarriage.  Another person chimed in, saying today it's all out in the open and how years ago, we only had Marcus Lehmann to read and weren't exposed to these sorts of subjects, and do you remember how one magazine created a fervor with its article about sonograms ...

I said, what about what 10 year olds learn in Mishnayos Shabbos, for example.  That exposes them to plenty of "interesting" material.  The response was that from Torah they relate to it differently, it just passes them by.

Hmmm, guess it depends on the kid. 

Shortly after this discussion, I noticed "miscarriage" mentioned in one of the most conservative publications.  I remain unsure what the fuss is about when it concerns sonograms and miscarriages.  I suppose it's a big deal for those who do not tell their children that a baby is on the way and the children find out only when there is a mazal tov.  For the rest of us though, who don't consider an impending birth a great secret, I don't see what the problem is.  I suspect that if we discussed it further, we would discover that at the root of it is the fear that children will ask how babies are made.

Oct 5, 2014

Vidui Mitzvos

R' Kook, "... therefore, just as there is great benefit for rectifying the soul in confessing sins ... so too, in confessing mitzvos, so that he will rejoice with them in his heart and strengthen the pathways of his life in the way of Hashem."

Oct 2, 2014

Pouring Fuel on the Fire part 3

continued from previous post

 I had a long talk with one of the women responsible for the brochure. Her number was on it and I conveyed to her the negative comments I'd heard and she welcomed that.

She said 35,000 copies of this issue were sent primarily to schools all over the U.S. and the world. Some shuls got them too.

I brought up 4 negative comments:

1) It blames women and women resent that - she agreed that she would not want to be singled out for blame either, and she asked me whether I had seen flyers around directed at the men (I hadn't).

2) What about other issues like stealing etc. - she said anybody can work on improving any area they like. They focused on this because the rabbis they consulted with, when asked what the women should focus on, told them tznius.

When I said that in addition, tznius is a public transgression, unlike certain other aveiros, she added that breaches in tznius directly cause others to sin which is not the case with most other aveiros.

3) People take exception to the cause and effect message - she said that until she saw it in the sources, the Chofetz Chaim for one, she would have agreed, but what can you say when the sources directly attribute tzaros to lack of tznius?

4) About people thinking it's a negative message - she said two things: A) we need a wake-up call B) if you read all the material you see many positive things too

She sounded like a sincere woman who was truly troubled by the tzaros of Klal Yisrael and who, upon the guidance of rabbonim, chose to work on upgrading our tznius as a volunteer.  

It's 12 years later.  I think we can all agree that what we want are RESULTS, not to be yotzei "hochei'ach tochi'ach," and not to make people "feel good about themselves." Has tznius improved since then?

 If a softer, gentler approach is what people, they need to demonstrate that it's working.  We see that the communities which are tougher on tznius have women and girls who actually dress according to halacha. In the communities that try the gentler approach, the results are not obvious.

Oct 1, 2014

Pouring Fuel on the Fire part 2

continued from previous post

A response I've heard is, aveiros don't cancel mitzvos.  A mitzvah habo'oh be'aveiroh (a mitzva done in a sinful way) is a problem, but a mitzvah that is not related to the aveirah is another story. Tovel v'sheretz b'yado (immersing while holding an impure creature) is not a good example here because the purity upon immersion never took hold.  But if someone prays and then goes outside and eats treif, although eating treif is a sin, it does not cancel his prayer.  So perhaps the lack of tznius, as bad and terrible as it may be, does not mean that our prayers are a waste.

True, one should not refrain from davening even while violating the laws of tznius.   However, if we want our prayers to be accepted, and we all do, then it makes sense to find favor in Hashem's eyes while asking Him for something.  Children act on their best behavior before asking their parents for something.

And yet, Chazal say, even a burglar prays for G-d's help as he prepares to enter the home of his victim (Talmud, Tractate Berachos 63b in Ein Yaakov).  How odd that as he is about to commit a sin that may result in violence, even murder, the thief asks for the help of the One Who commands him not to do what he's doing!

Sep 30, 2014

Pouring Fuel on the Fire

This picture is the title of a brochure called "aWEARness," from 2002.  aWEARness was an organization that produced brochures pamphlets etc. to promote tznius among frum people.  In case it's not large enough to make out: It shows a bus in Israel destroyed by a suicide bomber with a Tehillim above the flames and it asks whether we can extinguish the fire of destruction with the tears of our Tehillim while simultaneously pouring the gasoline of immodesty on the flames.  I found the four page flyer in shul. That's just the front cover. It contained divrei Torah and stories.

It is a very blunt, provocative message, inspired by those who say that calamities are predominantly caused by extensive loshon hara and lack of tzinus.  This is supported by the fact that where the Torah discusses tumah, the Torah says: ‘I, Hashem, will be dwell among them in the midst of their uncleanness.’ Meaning that even when the Jewish people are not worthy, Hashem is with them. The only place where it says Hashem does not dwell with them is when there is ervah (nakedness). The Torah says, if there is immodesty, ervah, Hashem says I leave.” This (immodesty) is the only issue upon which Hashem’s presence being with us or not depends.  

טו. כִּי יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ מִתְהַלֵּךְ | בְּקֶרֶב מַחֲנֶךָ לְהַצִּילְךָ וְלָתֵת אֹיְבֶיךָ לְפָנֶיךָ וְהָיָה מַחֲנֶיךָ קָדוֹשׁ וְלֹא יִרְאֶה בְךָ עֶרְוַת דָּבָר וְשָׁב מֵאַחֲרֶיךָ: For the Lord, your God, goes along in the midst of your camp, to rescue you and to deliver your enemies before you. [Therefore,] your camp shall be holy, so that He should not see anything unseemly among you and would turn away from you. (Devarim 23:15)

What angers people greatly is the presumption that we can declare which sins cause tragedies.  After all, there are also the serious sins of bittul Torah, stealing, talking in shul during davening and chilul Shabbos.  But the point here is not to say immodesty causes tragedies.  There's a concept known as "tovel v'sheretz b'yado" - immersing (for purity) while holding a creeping creature (which confers impurity). The cover of this 4 sided brochure conveys this point. It notes the incongruity of praying for Hashem's mercy while simultaneously transgressing His will. It is not aimed at tinokim sh'nishbu. It is aimed at those who have learned the halachos. So the question for those who vehemently disagree with this method of promoting tznius is: Do you disagree with the premise? Do you think you can extinguish the fire while fueling the flames?

If yes, what is your reasoning? Is it that you compartmentalize and say that Hashem accepts your Tehillim while ignoring lack of tznius?

What if you wanted something from your boss or had an important meeting arranged with the mayor on behalf of the Jewish community. Do you think your boss would be receptive to your request if you didn't get around to completing the work he assigned you, although he had told you about the deadline? Do you think the mayor would be amenable to your request if you had just made the headlines for being caught doing something illegal?

to be continued

Sep 29, 2014

"180 Rechov Yaffo"

I just finished reading this book, "180 Rechov Yaffo" by Meir Wikler (Menucha Publishers) and it was a delight.  He writes stories about the man on the cover, R' Nachum Cohen, a Sadigerer chassid who lives in Geula.

R' Cohen, the father of 19 children, personifies simcha and bitachon and has incredible siyata dishmaya.  The stories told about his ruach ha'kodesh and advice are remarkable.  He is not a rebbe but people (including women) line up twice a week, when he has visiting hours, to speak to him and receive brachos and advice.  There is no charge.  The title of the book is the address of his office.  He is very warm and strikes up friendships with all kinds of people. 

Sep 28, 2014

Me Too!

A guest of ours related the following story.  She was close to Rebbetzin Bessie Scheinberg (daughter of Mr. Herman of "All for the Boss" fame, and wife of R' Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg, Torah Ohr, of the many pairs of tzitzis). 

One day, a woman and her daughter came into the wig establishment where she worked.  Our guest was inspired by the Lubavitcher Rebbe's call to women and girls to light Shabbos candles and she brought this up.  The frum woman made it clear she was not interested and did so in a less than polite manner.  Rebbetzin Scheinberg, who was there to have her wig done, interjected:

When my sisters and I were growing up, my father had us light a candle for Shabbos!

Sep 27, 2014

"Who will Live and Who will Die"

As I perused the headlines one day last week, I saw the following news items:

Woman killed by bee stings.

Man killed by bear.

Woman died after being hit by a cyclist.

Bee, Bear, Bike.  Bizarre deaths.

All decreed a year ago on Rosh Hashana.

I've read and heard the following suggestion.  Make a list of all the positive and negative things that happened last year that had an impact on you.  It should include personal events in your life as well as national and global events.  Then ponder the idea that all these events were decreed a year ago on Rosh Hashana. 

Now, during the Aseres Yimei Teshuva, we have a unique opportunity to affect the course of history for the coming year.  Carpe diem.

Sep 21, 2014

Don't Limit Him

In a pre-Rosh Hashana call to someone, I made reference to the idea that although I daven for certain things, Hashem knows better than me what to give me.  I have limited ideas and if I limit my prayers to just those items, I will be shortchanging myself. 

The person agreed and responded with two stories.  In the first story, a young man began coughing and when he had it checked out, was told the devastating news that there was a mass on his lungs.  They could not even biopsy it because of the fear that this would cause cancer cells to spread.

He went in for surgery and before long, the doctor came out beaming.  He said, you'll never believe this.  There is a gland called the thymus gland which is right underneath the breastbone.  At the onset of puberty it begins shrinking.  For some reason, in this 25 year old man it had not shrunk and that was the mass that they saw.  No threat to life whatsoever.

In the second story, a mammogram showed a lump.  Another mammogram was ordered.  It still looked problematic.  There is the prayer that it be benign.

Another test was ordered, a rather uncomfortable one.  As it was being done, the technician or doctor seemed to be experiencing difficulties.  What's the problem? Well, there is no lump there at all.

So we daven for surgery to go well instead of praying for no surgery; we daven that the lump be benign instead of no lump; we have kleine kep and we circumscribe G-d in a tiny box and ask for petty results.  G-d has no restrictions; let's not project our restrictions on Him.

Sep 20, 2014

Who are You Really?

R' Aharon Weinberg, a Slonimer Chassid and speaker, told a story about R' Godel Eisner, Gerrer mashgiach in Chidushei Ha'Rim.  He kept the bachurim going during the worst of the war years, and was always demanding things of them while giving them hope for the future.

Then he was mechazek people after the war.  There was one bachur who dropped Yiddishkeit but R' Godel did not say a word to him about his behavior.  This bachur had a 'pass' and this was regarded with much astonishment.

Half a year after the war, he told R' Godel that he's getting married. To who? A goyta. R' Godel thought for a moment and said a goyta? I don't think it posses (suits) a chassidishe bachur.

Who me, a Chassidishe bachur, the fellow asked?

Said R' Godel, of course you're a chassidishe bachur! The war affected all of us, and some are quicker and some slower [to come back to Yiddishkeit].  I, for example, am quick, and right after the war I went to mincha.  Remember Yankel? He came back the first Shabbos.  Others took a few months.

The bachur burst out crying and asked for a Chassidishe hat.

What a brilliant mashgiach!

Sep 16, 2014

On the Meaning of Integrity (part 2)

It's also interesting that integrity is related to the word "integrated," a wholeness and consistency where we are not fragmented; the opposite of hypocrisy.
Here is another example of integrity which has nothing to do with money:
A couple who were not particularly religious nevertheless had a kosher home because the wife, coming from a traditional background, wanted it.  She told me that her husband (from not even a traditional background) went on a business trip.  His partner suggested they eat in a certain non-kosher restaurant.  Her husband said, he eats kosher.  The partner said, that's at home, now you're away.  To her husband it made no difference.  He and his wife had committed to kosher and whether at home or away, that's what he kept.  That's integrity!
Another definition: Doing what is right, even when it's difficult.
A great example of moral integrity can be seen in the faithfulness of Jonathan towards David. Even though Jonathan was the natural heir to the throne of Israel because he was Saul's son, yet he supported David and protected him against the hatred of Saul, who sought to kill him.

Any additional examples?

Sep 15, 2014

On the Meaning of Integrity (part 1)

A friend and I tried to come up with a definition for "integrity."

I looked it up and the first definition I saw for integrity was:
the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness. 
But honesty is honesty.  I think integrity is something different, deeper.  More about strong moral principles.  More about going lifnim mi'shuras ha'din, beyond the letter of the law.

The second definition I saw was:
the state of being whole and undivided.
but it is used like this: "upholding territorial integrity and national sovereignty"
Another definition:
Integrity is a concept of consistency of actions, values, methods, measures, principles, expectations, and outcomes. 
Another definition: The choice of what is right rather than what is convenient; choosing your thoughts and actions based on values rather than on personal gain.
How about this story:
Someone came to Rav Safra (of the Talmud) when he was saying Krias Shema, wanting to buy something from him. He offered to buy it for a certain amount of money and Rav Safra didn't answer (since he was in the middle of Krias Shema).  The person thought that he wanted more money for it, so he offered to buy it at a higher price. When Rav Safra finished Krias Shema he told the person to buy it at the price he said originally since that is the price that he had in mind to sell it.

I think that would illustrate integrity.  He could have taken the higher price.  It wasn't exactly about honesty, but there was an element of honesty here.  In his mind the initial offer was fine and therefore, just because he couldn't say so and the man upped the price, was not a reason for him to accept the higher price.  It was a moral issue for him.  Being a man of principle he stuck to the first offer.

Sep 5, 2014

One of the Least Known Halachos of Shabbos

Since it's erev Shabbos, I will post some halachos which I read in Torah Tavlin (Israel Bookshop) p. 402, 410, and 418.  The topic is introduced like this, "One of the least known halachos of Shabbos, one that many often transgress unwittingly, is the rabbinic prohibition against reading unwarranted material on Shabbos." 
Among the things listed (and I do not include them all) are, we may not read:
1) about activities which we are not allowed to do on Shabbos like cooking - recipes and crafts
2) advertisements and business type articles
3) news (unless it is to become aware of potential danger which does not apply nowadays)
4) editorials of world events
5) distressing information
6) household hints
7) shopping tips
8) dedications and mazal tovs
The popular frum magazines and newspapers contain news, editorials, recipes, ads, business related articles, household hints, and sometimes material of a tragic nature.  What responsibility do these publications have to publish well in advance of Shabbos? What responsibility, if any, do the publishers have to make it known to their readers, many of whom save their reading for Shabbos, that ads and recipes etc. are forbidden to be read on Shabbos?
What about dvar Torah papers that are left in shuls which have dedications and mazal tovs on them.  Aren't they a michshol? Are people expected to read the divrei Torah and save reading the dedications and simchas for after Shabbos? Would people donate money for these announcements if they knew that people are not allowed to read them on Shabbos?

Aug 31, 2014

Timing is Everything

I found out yesterday that someone I know is sitting shiva.  I looked on the Misaskim page today and saw that she gets up from shiva tomorrow.  So today is the only day to be menachem avel.  But it's hot and humid and it's not pleasant walking in this heat.  Should I go now when it's not as hot or wait until later when it's even hotter but I could combine it with something else?

I called a neighbor to ask if she knows about the shiva and would be interested in going.  She was in a rush because she and another person were about to go be menachem avel these very same people, did I want a ride? Yes! When she confirmed the address with me, it turned out she had the wrong address.  I provided the correct one.  So I got a ride and they got to go to the right address and she provided a ride (air conditioned) back home and boruch Hashem, a mitzva was done by the three of us.

Aug 27, 2014

A Tip for Optimal Growth


In a lecture I heard, the speaker told about being in a fish store and seeing a huge goldfish.  Upon expressing surprise at its size, the proprietor told him that it grows as big as its tank.  The speaker found this remarkable and wondered how this works, how does the fish know (see below *). 

Regardless as to the explanation, the speaker derived the following interesting lesson from the phenomenon:

You grow as big as your vessel, like the clothes growing with the people in the desert. What is a person's spiritual vessel? If a person does a lot of mitzvos, attends a lot of classes, etc. he has created a vessel around him.  If he never exposes himself to anything he can only go so far, which is not far at all.  As much as you expose yourself to things, the broader your horizons, and the larger you can grow. 

* Upon doing some research on the subject I read: When properly cared for, goldfish will not stop growing. Most fish are in fact what are known as indeterminate growers. This means that, unlike humans, they grow until they die. What really stunts a fish’s growth is poor water quality and improper care. In smaller aquariums or bowls, water quality is typically very poor. With little or no filtration and infrequent water changes, goldfish suffer. The stunting that results is not a good thing. Rather, it is a sign of ill health.  It is important to know what size your fish will attain before purchase and to make sure you can provide it with the proper care it requires.

Aug 26, 2014

We Need Hashem Watching Over Us

A 4 year old in Ashkelon was killed by a mortar shot from Gaza on Friday, Aug. 22.
Two days later, a 5-6 year old was killed in the Catskills after being hit by a car.
Two days later, a 5 year old was killed today in Bnei Brak after being hit by a car.

After the child was killed on Sunday, the thought went through my mind: Even when not in the line of fire in Ashkelon, even when vacationing in the Catskills, a child was killed.  Not that we are allowed to put ourselves in danger, but we shouldn't think we are in control, that if we go to the right places and do the right things, nothing can happen to us.  But I didn't think I should write that here.

Then I saw the news item today that a child was killed in Bnei Brak.  Apparently the Steipler Gaon promised that rockets and missiles will never fall in Bnei Brak because they are protected by Torah.  And the thought went through my mind, people feel safe in Bnei Brak because of their emunas chachamim and their belief in the Steipler's promise.  Here again, if there is a feeling of being in a safe zone, Hashem sent a reminder that just like a child can be killed in Ashkelon, nebech, a child can also be killed in Bnei Brak.

It's not just their problem, those who live over there, within reach of missiles, mortars and rockets, and we, who live in normal places, are safe.  We need Hashem watching over us wherever we are.  We need to take care of ourselves because that's a mitzva, but we are not in control.  And I thought it was worth writing.

Aug 25, 2014

Where are my Glasses?

I woke up this morning and felt for my glasses on the night table in the usual spot.  They weren't there.  I felt around on the floor in case they fell.  They weren't there.  Did they fall under the bed? No.  Did they fall into a bag near the bed? No.  Where are they?

At some point, as I looked at the clock on the night table, I realized ......... I had never taken out my contact lenses the night before! I had slept in them but was focused on looking for my glasses since that is what I always do. 

It's astonishing to me that something that I do every single night, i.e. take our my lenses, wasn't even a thought last night.  Nor did I notice that I hadn't taken off my glasses.  And it took me quite some time to realize I was wearing the lenses.  What does that say about supposed engrained habits?

Is there a nimshal here? Something about our thinking we can't see (we don't understand, we don't know what to do) and because we think we can't see, we act accordingly (confused, unsure, do the wrong things).  But we really can see.  It takes awareness to know this.  "Ata chonein l'adam daas."

Aug 22, 2014

Daycare Postscript

One of Rebbetzin Feige's daughters, a working mother, wrote an article about the ins and outs of daycare and concluded by reassuring parents that their children will turn out fine despite being sent to daycare.  She wrote that her parents traveled for speaking engagements and she turned out just fine.

Someone wrote a letter to the editor asking whether mother and daughter disagreed on this topic.  The daughter responded and said she wasn't actually in daycare.  When her parents were away, which was not on a daily basis, she was under the care of a dear family friend who was like a surrogate grandmother.

She said, "My mother has counseled scores of women who, as a result of being a breadwinner, have no energy for homemaking and mothering and are struggling to be functioning wives.  I can personally attest to the struggle and strain caused by attempting to simultaneously balance one's career and motherhood.  None of us [Rebbetzin Twerski or her daughter] believes that sending your children to daycare will turn them into dysfunctional adults, but it is inarguable that children who are raised by other people, in conjunction with a mother who is distracted, barely there, and stressed out, are likely to reflect those limitations.

"My mother's article was about the ideal and mine was an exploration of the daycare system for when the ideal is not an option."

I wonder how "likely to reflect those limitations" manifests.  She and her mother don't think the daycare kids will become dysfunctional adults, but ... but what? Something is "inarguable" but she does not spell it out.  What limitations will these children have and why is she afraid to spell it out? Also, living in Israel, the daughter is in a society where daycare is considered the norm.  Children are sent to the metapelet and to the ma'on from infancy and then to gan.  Raising your own children is not considered the ideal.

Aug 21, 2014

More from Rebbetzin Feige

In the previous post, Rebbetzin Feige Twerski quoted roshei yeshiva about the importance of chinuch taking place at home, and mothers and extended family raising children.  In a more recent article from last month, I was pleasantly surprised to see her begin her weekly column in Ami with:

"My daughters know that I am a big advocate of mothers staying home and personally raising their children."

Rebbetzin Twerski is a rebbetzin, a public speaker, a writer, a counselor, all in addition to her being the mother of 11 children and numerous grandchildren.  When someone as bright and accomplished as she advocates mothers raising their children, it makes an impact. 

Of her seven daughters, not all of them are homemakers, she says.  She describes one of her daughters as multi-talented and exceedingly bright who stays at home to raise her children with great mesirus nefesh.  She doesn't describe what the mesirus nefesh entails.  I assume financial gain as well as the forgoing the utilization of her brains and talents in more challenging ways than changing diapers, toilet training, cooking meals and running her home.  Many women feel that hired help can do the work just as well if not better. 

Aug 20, 2014

The Reason for Yeridas Ha'Doros

In the Pesach 2014 issue of Binah, Rebbetzin Feige Twerski writes:

"At a Torah Umesorah convention some years ago, R' Aharon Feldman, rosh yeshiva of Ner Israel, observed that children of our generation are not of the same caliber as those of his generation.  The reason for that, he asserted, is that children today are not being raised by their mothers.  They are, for the most part, consigned to a variety of daycare situations.  He quickly added that economic reasons necessitated this phenomenon that has affected the quality of offspring who, by right, should be in the loving environment provided by parents, grandparents, and extended family."

She goes on to say that in an address to mechanchim, R' Hutner spoke about Rabbi Yehoshua ben Gamla who instituted formal education.  Up until that time, Torah was transmitted directly from father to son while daughters learned from their mothers.  It came to a point where many children were uneducated which is why R' Yehoshua instituted a yeshiva system where children were taught outside the home.

R' Hutner pointed out that although R' Yehoshua is praised in the Gemara for doing what he did and he saved the day, it was nonetheless a tragedy for Klal Yisrael.  Why? Because ideally the Torah, "the art of living should flow from the same source as physical life.  The same parents who brought the children into the world, the parents, should be the ones who provide the Torah path in life."

R' Hutner gave an analogy to a country where, because the air was polluted, all babies had to be put in incubators if they were to survive.  This is not the ideal situation, of course, but if children can't breathe the natural air, we have to be grateful for incubators.

"Relegating our children to others to educate, shape, and form them is akin to placing them in incubators.  This is not the ideal, but we have no choice.  The Gemara praises R' Yehoshua ben Gamla.  Given the change in times, his was a heroic act."

Rebbetzin Twerski pointed out that Hashem puts us in a situation for the good, and the point is not to pine for yesteryear.  It's to acknowledge the reality of our situation and figure out how best to deal with it.

Aug 18, 2014

In Gantzen Nisht Nohrmal

In the Pesach 2014 issue of Mishpacha magazine, R' Henoch Plotnik, a rav and maggid shiur in Chicago, tells the following story:

"Before we decided to move from Lakewood to Chicago, over 25 years ago, I had the opportunity to visit with R' Elya Svei and chart out our plans.  What he said shook me to the core, and I have shared it with my own children and anyone else willing to hear it.  At the time, we were anticipating the birth of our bechor, and my wife was traveling from Lakewood to New York to work every day. 'What you are doing is in gantzen nisht nohrmal!" (completely abnormal) R' Elya admonished me.  He encouraged us to retain a semblance of normalcy in our respective roles and consequently our priorities."

What I find astonishing about the story is that this was before they had any children.  It wasn't even about abandoning one's babies with strangers.  It was the commuting pregnant wife that R' Svei considered crazy.

to be continued

Aug 17, 2014

Lecture Roundup II

Charlie Harary on achdus -

He says we think unity is smiling at others and doing acts of kindness which are great, but not achdus. Achdus is when the name on the front, “G-d”, is more important than the name on the back.  This is a sports reference to the jerseys that hockey (and other sports) players wear with their personal name on the back and the team they're playing for, on the front. 

He told the story of Herb Brooks, the US Olympic hockey coach  of 1980 whose team won the gold.  Brooks worked hard to take a bunch of guys from different places and meld them into a team whose focus was on winning for the USA. 

Every day we put on a jersey called G-d, says Harary, and the only question we ask all day is whether the name on the front is more important than the name on the back. Is it all about me or all about Hashem?

When G-d becomes more important, then I don't have to like you or accept you, because I recognize that we need every single Jew to represent Hashem in this world!  Acceptance of others is not what it's about. There is a reason why we're here and we are being used by G-d to represent Him to the world.
No matter who we are, no matter the name on the back, we all have the same thing on the front.  G-d.

Aug 16, 2014

Lecture Roundup

Since, as of this writing, we still don't have the third Beis Ha'Mikdash, it's still timely to post a summary of some of the points various lecturers made recently about sinas chinam and unity.

R' Akiva Rutenberg - He said sinas chinam is apathy; I don't think so.

R' David Fohrman did an excellent 5 part video presentation here in which he maintains, based on the Kamtza-Bar Kamtza story, that sinas chinam is disproportionate anger.  Not convinced that's what sinas chinam is.

R' Benzion Klatzko - He spoke bluntly about our lack of unity.  Unlike many other speakers who extolled the unity of the Jewish people over the past two months, he says he doesn't see that the Sefardic-Ashkenazic, religious-secular, Chassidic-non-Chassidic divide has been bridged.  He highlighted and praised the dozens of chesed organizations that we have but said he didn't see unity at the Siyum Ha'Shas, i.e. he did not see it bringing together all kinds of Jews. 

I agree with him.  So much chesed is done and it crosses lines, i.e. we don't only do chesed for our "own kind," but there still is very much that feeling of "us" and them."  Who is us? Whatever group you affiliate with.  And who is them? The other people out there.  I wrote about it here

to be continued

Aug 15, 2014

Brownie Bar Ad

"Take one for the road! Wherever the craving hits, treat yourself to our delicious snacks and taste the quality in every bite."

Whenever the craving hits? Vos far a lashon iz dos?! (What kind of language is that?)

And people have been noticing and commenting about the grubbe, full page, steak ads with close-ups of slabs of raw meat.  And the close-ups of scoops of ice cream, cones and bars.

For that matter, I have been noticing my adverse reaction to many close-ups of food, whether it's an article about an event or simcha online or a recipe.  There is something about these photos that I find unappealing, maybe not even for religious reasons.  After all, in real life we do not look at food in that magnified way.  Maybe more distance between us and the food is necessary in more ways than one.

Aug 12, 2014

"Food Glorious Food"

It's just what we need (sarcasm), another upscale store which will work hard to entice frum people to upgrade their gashmius.

Some quotes from their promotion:

"The sandwich bar itself is a new concept; high-end sandwiches have thus far been available exclusively at upscale restaurants." (High-end sandwiches - live and learn)

"Artisanal bread was something we took very seriously; it's something really lacking for the kosher consumer.  We want to be able to provide that experience." (G-d bless him, we were so lacking without it)

"Made to order specialty Italian coffees, too, had yet to be available in the kosher market." (How did we manage?)

"New offerings in general are a big concept." (because yesterday's offerings are boring)

"A big element [at this store] is education.  There's so much depth to food - different cuisines, different techniques - there's always more to learn and we're excited to offer those flavors, those tastes, those lessons." (Would that be before or after I learn the daf/the parsha ...?)

Aug 10, 2014

Old News

It can be edifying to read old news.  I was reading an old issue of Ami in which Dichter, the former Shin Bet director was interviewed by the editor about the search for the three kidnapped boys.  He was asked whether he has reason to hope the boys are alive.

Dichter's response was, when you're trying to get the kids back, the assumption is that they are alive.  He said nobody is allowed to think differently unless he has detailed and accurate information and "that's why I think everyone from the prime minister, etc. and the people in the field all have to work under the assumption that the three kids are alive.  As long as we don't have any contrary information, those kids are alive."

And yet it turns out that those in the know knew almost immediately, that the boys were murdered. 

I was told a story about a woman in Ashkelon who reported hearing voices and was put on psychiatric medication for two years.  Then the tunnels were discovered and her claim of hearing voices was justified.

Problem with this story is, there are no tunnels to Ashkelon, it's too far from Gaza.  So perhaps the story is true but the location is wrong.  But the story sounds peculiar anyway.  Couldn't the woman have other people hear the voices when she heard them?

Aug 7, 2014

Ramifications of the Disengagement-Expulsion

Regarding the previous post, the military rabbis declared Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, dead, apparently with DNA and perhaps other evidence.  A big funeral was held for Goldin but not for Shaul.

There was a news item which said Netanyahu asked the President of the International Committee of the Red Cross for help in recovering the bodies of the two slain soldiers.  What does that mean? Another situation in which soldiers' bodies were snatched by the enemies? Then how were they declared dead? Apparently by what was left behind, see this.  But if the enemy has the bodies, why aren't we making a big deal about retrieving them? Because then the enemy uses them as bargaining chips?

Some of the soldiers who fought in this war and some of those who were killed were of the age to have been drafted back in 2005.  Someone made the chilling observation to me - were any of those who fought now responsible for demolishing Gush Katif nine years ago, thus necessitating their fighting this war now?

Jul 30, 2014



I am surprised that we are not hearing anything further about the missing soldier, Oron Shaul.  He was killed when terrorists fired an anti-tank missile at the armored personnel carrier (APC) he was riding in. Six other soldiers were also killed in that incident.

But while the bodies of the other six were identified, Shaul went missing. Hamas claimed to have kidnapped him but so far, they have yet to provide proof to their claims.  The horror for the parents - no body but they are told he was killed.

For that matter, Israel has yet to locate the murderers of the three kidnapped boys.

Certain things are kept in the forefront of the public's awareness and other things just quietly fade away.

Jul 29, 2014

Two Horrifying Events on the Same Day

On Friday, June 13, I read two shocking news items.  One was the kidnapping of the three teenagers the night before, Thursday night.  The other was that the Tel Aviv Gay Parade, the culmination of a week long series of events that celebrate to'eiva in the Holy Land, took place that day, Friday.  Both events took place on 15 Sivan.

Since I saw the two news items almost simultaneously, it occurred to me that they are linked.  We make a huge commotion, and rightly so, over the kidnapping of Jews, with prayers at the Kosel and all over the world. 

Where was the commotion, the outrage, and the prayers worldwide over the 1) public 2) celebration of 3) sin by 4) Jews in the 5) Holy Land? The Torah says that for this and other sexual sins, the land will vomit out its inhabitants.

Over the decades, religious Jews in Eretz Yisrael have protested the drafting of girls and yeshiva students into the army, unwarranted and unauthorized (by the families) autopsies, and Shabbos desecration.  But when it comes to to'eiva, "the heads of Sephardi and Lithuanian yeshivas in Jerusalem have instructed their students to stay away from the protests. Their decision is not due to support for the gay parade, but because the general ultra-Orthodox population is no longer willing to expose its children to the existence of a strict sexual taboo." So the parades, whether in Tel Aviv or Yerushalayim are mostly ignored. 

Jul 28, 2014

Mickey Zivan, Roommate Of Ayal Yifrach

This is a touching tribute to Ayal Yifrach, one of the kidnapped and murdered boys, by a 20 year old roommate of his:


We Don't Know Anything

Because the boys were kidnapped, 
raids were conducted.
Because raids were conducted and terrorists arrested,
more rockets and mortars than usual were launched at Israel.
Israel puts up with only a certain amount of missiles landing in its country;
if the enemy sends too many, they finally react with bombing missions.
That led to more rockets being sent from Gaza,
which led to more Israeli bombing missions,
which led to the current war.

If not for the current war and the destruction of terrorists' tunnels,
supposedly there would have been enormous, multiple terrorist attacks Rosh Hashana time.  This according to "anonymous sources in the Israeli security services."

At this point though, I am skeptical.  I find it hard to believe that with Israel's intelligence they had no knowledge of the tunnels leading into Israel.  Anonymous sources cited in a news item do not inspire confidence.  Then again, even named sources do not inspire confidence.

Because they lie to the public, I find myself believing indisputable facts such as the burial of the three boys.  But if the media tells me what the authorities believe, that might only be what they want us to believe. 

After terrors attacks occur, there is no arguing that they happened.  But before terror attacks are perpetrated, I am not convinced that they would have been carried out.  Maybe yes, maybe not.

This applies not only to Israel.  As someone summed up the news to me, we only know that something is going on somewhere, for example, Ukraine, Syria.  But what exactly is going on and what is going on behind the scenes, we have no idea.

Jul 27, 2014

They Lied to Us

Before the bodies of the three boys were found, the news was, "While senior IDF officials have announced that in the army's estimation, the three yeshiva students kidnapped last Thursday night are still alive and being kept somewhere in the Judean Hills ..."

After the bodies of the three boys were found, the news was, "With the horrific news that the bodies .. had been found, came details of their abduction that had been withheld from the public during the 18 days search for them.  The IDF knew almost from the start that there was little hope that the three yeshiva students were alive."

As reported in Y Rosenblum's column, they knew this because of the recording of the boy's phone call to the police in which gunfire could be heard, and cries of pain afterward, and voices speaking in Arabic congratulating one another.  The next day, the IDF found the kidnappers' bloodstained burned-out car which contained bullet casings.  All this information and the IDF's assessment that the boys had been murdered was shared with their families.

They weren't honest with the public.  The public prayed and prayed and made many mitzva commitments for the sake of bringing the boys home alive and well, while the authorities knew they were dead. 

Why did they mislead the public? Well, it gave them 18 days to raid thousands of buildings and arrest hundreds of terrorists.  Apparently, it is only when there is an excuse of missing boys that the government allows itself to protect the nation by cleaning out the nests of terrorists in our midst.  The longer they could keep their secret, the more raids and arrests they could make under the guise of looking for missing, live, boys. 

Jul 26, 2014

Fraternizing with the Enemy

Some Jews take pride in photos and news items of Jews helping Arabs, whether in hospitals or even in Gaza itself.  There is a term for that.  It's called fraternizing with the enemy.  Usually outlawed by a country's military.  But not us.  We admire it.  It goes so far that in other frustrating news from Arutz Sheva:
IAF pilots in Gaza say they sometimes refrain from helping IDF soldiers facing terrorists on the ground because of 'moral' limitations.

Reports in Israeli media cite IAF pilots who bitterly complain that due to the strict limitations placed on their use of fire, they sometimes have to refrain from helping comrades facing terrorist fire on the ground.

“Testimony that is reaching us from fighter pilots who provide close air assistance to the combat soldiers who are currently fighting in the field,”Channel 2's military correspondent Nir Dvori reported, “about growing frustration over the fact that they hear the forces below them on the ground asking for cover and close air support when they see the terrorists drawing near from short range, firing at them, and there is no approval, because of various limitations, so as not to hit innocent civilians, and out of concern not to hit uninvolved people, and for this reason they cannot always give covering fire, cannot always fire, and so the frustration is that to some extent, they are leaving the fighters on their own to fight on the ground...”

Jul 24, 2014


Try this for an interesting lecture on the halachic status of Gaza.

Jul 20, 2014

It May Have Helped?!

News item:
18 is the total number of soldiers killed since the army began a major ground operation in Gaza late on Thursday.
About 63 soldiers were wounded in the heavy fighting in Gaza since Sunday night.
The residents of Shejaiya, a known hotbed of terrorists, were notified ahead of time by the IDF to leave the area because the IDF intends to enter it. Hamas had filled the neighborhood with booby traps well ahead of time, and the advance warning given by the IDF may have helped the terrorists there prepare for the IDF to enter.


In the midst of war with those who seek to annihilate us:

The IDF will create a field hospital outside Gaza in order to treat injured Palestinians, army sources announced Sunday. Chief of Staff Benny Gantz has approved the measure.
The hospital will be located near the Erez crossing in northern Gaza, near the site of recent heavy battles. It is expected to be active by 8 p.m. Sunday.
It will be available to treat ill as well as injured patients, and will include a delivery room.
On Sunday morning, a soldier reported that he and other IDF medical staff had saved the life of a Gaza terrorist. Soldier Daniel Albo told Yediot Aharonot, “My team and I saved the life of a terrorist who tried to kill us because we are IDF soldiers and citizens of Israel. We saved him because we are human."
“I’m proud to serve in the IDF,” he concluded.

news item here

No comment necessary.

Jul 15, 2014

Praying for IDF soldiers

Once again, I'm seeing requests that we join the program that pairs up Israeli soldiers with Jews around the world who do acts of chesed, tefilla and study Torah in the merit of "their" soldier.  They say:

Any mitzvah that you do, be it once or on a daily basis, on behalf of a soldier truly makes a difference - to the soldier and to Jewish unity. Pick a mitzvah that can easily be a part of your life and dedicate it to 'your' soldier. Be realistic. Write your soldier's name out and post it where you'll see it: near the Shabbos candles; on the refrigerator; in your car; in your phone. Then, when you are going to do something positive in the world - stop and think of  'your' soldier and include him or her in your mitzvah.
I think the idea has merit since it personalizes the war for us.  It's like those who go on the March of the Living and are given the identity card of someone their age who perished in the Holocaust.  It enables the person to see the Holocaust in a personal way.  We don't relate to the number six million, but we can relate to the life of a person just like us who lived at that time. 
However, I was surprised to see a very strong reaction to this idea.  A person wrote a comment in which he wondered why these gimmicks are needed and why we can't just pray like our Bubbies and Zeides did "and shed an honest earnest tear for the better health and safety of our fellow bretheren in Eretz Yisroel. No fanfare or organizations needed."

Jul 14, 2014

Answering the Questioner

R' Dovid Orlofsky gives an excellent talk here on the topic of how to respond to questions about Yiddishkeit.  He makes some excellent points about communication and does so with his trademark humor which can be the laugh-out-loud type at times and excellent examples. 

You should really watch the talk but in case you don't, or you want a summary of his points even if you do, here are some notes I took:

You don't teach subjects, you teach people.
You need the right answer for that person.
Some people have dedicated their lives to a question, they are so invested in the question that there is no answer for them like a Holocaust survivor who wants an explanation for the Holocaust.
Others, only a few, are truly interested in hearing an answer.
The rest, 95%, don't want to know the answer to questions they ask!
Ask "what do you mean" to clarify matters because people don't even know what they're asking!
We love to share information but s'yag l'chochma shtika, the less you say the better.
The hardest question to answer is the question you haven't answered for yourself.
People make statements, acknowledge it; they are not questions and there is no point in arguing with statements.

Jul 10, 2014

Who We Heal

 219,464 Palestinian patients received medical treatment in Israeli hospitals during 2012 – 21,270 of them children.

News item:

While Hamas terrorists continued to hurl rockets and missiles at Israel, including the city of Haifa, Rambam Medical Center is now treating 20 Palestinians, including eight children from Gaza.

I don't recall reading that the Allies in World War II regularly treated Germans, Italians, and Japanese in their hospitals, children or otherwise, but Israel does treat those who seek to annihilate us.

News item:

"One of Israel’s top pediatric surgeons says he may have had enough. “…the situation has really become intolerable,” admits Dr. David Mishali, who heads the International Congenital Heart Center at Israel’s Sheba Medical Center in Tel Aviv.  And his role operating on, among others, ailing Palestinians, while his son is a schoolmate of one of those abducted, only highlights and exacerbates the tragic complexity of life in the Jewish state.

“This morning, I’m depressed. I’m really depressed to have to go in to work,” he replies, quietly.
“I’m fed up with it,” he says. “I’ve had it with being a ‘bleeding heart’ that always aids the needy,” he reveals.

Depressing indeed, to heal our enemies.  Chazal say, "Those who have mercy when they should be cruel, will be cruel when they should have mercy."  We see this in Israel time and again.

Jul 2, 2014

Making a Mentch

I've heard of giving a child's teacher a gift for Chanuka and/or for Purim but today I heard something that goes way beyond that.  A mother of a 6th grade boy said she sends money (she did not specify how much) and a specially worded card every rosh chodesh!

I referred to it as a bribe and she unabashedly agreed, it is definitely a bribe.  She thinks the rebbi deserves it and needs it to handle her not so easy child.  She also said that her father-in-law used to do this and although it's not the "mesorah" on her side of the family, with only one son, she can afford to do it.

On a related note, she said that this child's English teacher is not frum, although Jewish.  He is a retired public school teacher.  Surprisingly, after so many years of experience, he asked in the beginning of the year whether her child is normal! Now, her child can be silly as 12 year old boys can be, but other than that, he is quite a normal and bright child.  She worked hard with her son over the school year and that, together with the fact that the teacher was really quite good and taught interesting things, made the child into quite a good student.

She had her son write this teacher a thank you note at the end of the year, in which he wrote about all he learned and how he became a mentch.  This was given to the teacher with a gift.  The teacher called and asked the mother, did you put your child on medication?

She said, not on your life! She would be the last person to do so, being quite opposed to even more ordinary medical practices.  He asked her several times, because he could not believe that the change in her son was due to parental involvement, hard work, his good teaching, and the child maturing.  I was surprised that a teacher with so much experience could not recognize a normal child from one who is not normal and couldn't believe that improvements can be made without drugs.  When I said so, the mother explained it by saying he is coming from the public school system so his frame of reference is different.

Jun 28, 2014

Chinuch for Table Manners

Shabbos morning.  In many homes, adults and children, or just children, eat cake.  I happened to be in someone's home where little children, perhaps ages 3-6, were walking around the house holding cake (messy, chocolatey cake, no less).

It was harmless and the adults obviously don't have my squeamishness about food and crumbs all over and dirty hands and Pesach awareness.  However, even allowing for variances in how to handle messes, I thought this was a chinuch problem.  And this is probably not because I am in the middle of reading a book describing a frum home Czechoslovakia and the great emphasis on discipline and manners (along with plenty of love). 

What's the chinuch problem? Not instilling and cultivating discipline in children from the youngest ages.  Allowing them to go where they please with food in their hands.  Not teaching them that we eat at the table.   Sitting down. Then we finish eating and we wipe or wash our hands.  And (if the child is old enough) we say a bracha achrona. 

Our society's lack of discipline is at odds with a life of Torah and mitzvos; at odds with kabbolas ol malchus shomayim.  Allowing children to do what they want, where they want, whenever they want or too often, cripples them later in life.  It's the easier route for parents but it's not chinuch.

Jun 27, 2014


Hashem puts ideas into our minds.  Or He doesn't.  I saw that today.

I needed to get some items for a Kiddush to a certain shul before Shabbos.  I was told the shul is always open, but I was skeptical.   I was offered the text number of the gabbai and I took it, thinking I might need it to be in touch with him.

This morning (Friday), I traveled to a different neighborhood, which is rare for me to do on a Friday.  As I walked down the street, I unexpectedly encountered the wife of the gabbai who was giving out Shabbos candles to Russian women and any Jews who wanted them.  I said hello and walked on.

Then, it occurred to me - I should go back to her and give her the items I have for the Kiddush! As the gabbai's wife, that would work out perfectly.  And that's what I did, just as she was getting ready to leave.  I was happy with how that worked out and how Hashem had given me that idea.

A while later, as I sat waiting for a bus to go home, I thought - hey, when I gave her the items, she was packing up to go home.  To the same neighborhood as me.  Why didn't I ask her if she had room for me to join her in the car? Why am I sitting here waiting for bus #1 which will take me to where I get bus #2, when I could have been home already?

The answer: because Hashem did not give me that idea until it was too late. 

Now, it is possible that for whatever reason, a ride with her would not have worked, but I could have asked and found out.  Why do we sometimes have a brainstorm just in time and other times, we think of something and it's too late? I don't know.  But I do know that when ideas "pop" into our minds, the source is Hashem.

Jun 25, 2014

Just Being There

We are very much results oriented people, which is often quite good and useful.  Then there are times that results are not necessary and just being there is perfect. 

I read an example of this in an old Binah article.  The author said she discovered the value in being there when her eight and a half year old son told her that all his friends' mothers picked them up from school and he was the only one who had a babysitter pick him up.

She was happy to be able to rearrange her schedule to be able to pick up her son.  The day she showed up, all the children were running around in the front of the school building while the mothers stood and talked.  Her son saw her and instead of coming up to her, he continued playing with his friends.

He then started walking down the street with his friends in the direction of home while she trailed behind.  When they arrived home, she asked him why he had wanted her to pick him up when he had ignored her the entire time.  She had expected him to run over to her and walk home with her as he told her about his day.

He said, "That's what supposed to happen.  You're supposed to talk to the other mothers and I'm supposed to play with my friends and then run home ahead with you following me."

I found this fascinating.  It is possible that if other boys were picked up by babysitters too, her son would not have cared if his babysitter came to get him, and this was only about being like the other boys.  But perhaps it went beyond that.  Perhaps it was about the wonderful feeling of security he felt, knowing his mother was there.  He did not need to interact with her at that point because his friends were there and he wanted to play with them and walk with them.  But even as he did that, his mother was there, within sight.

Parents underestimate how valuable their mere presence is.  Some think, he or she is just a baby.  What real difference does it make who diapers them or holds them, as long as they are changed and held.  They're wrong.  Even babies need their mother, their father, close family members, not hired help.  As a Russian woman said to me, Russian parents went to work while the grandmother took care of their child(ren), and no outsider cares as much as her.  And the child knows the difference.