Feb 28, 2014

Two Points for Being Consistent

Re this post: does-it-work-both-ways and this one: east-and-west , it's not often that I come across someone who is consistent in their parenting outlook.  Author Yael Mermelstein writes that she went to a shiur where the lecturer told the following story:

"Her friend had gone to a rav, bitterly bemoaning the sense of deep failure and disappointment that she felt as her son was no longer keeping Torah and mitzvos. 

"The rav asked her, 'How many other children do you have?'

"She answered, 'I have eight others.'

"And how are they doing?' asked the rav.

"The woman looked at him proudly and said, 'Boruch Hashem, they are all very matzliach (successful).'

"The rav shook his head slowly and then said, 'Your son is no longer walking the derech ha'yashar (straight path) - that is not due to you, just as the hatzlacha the other eight are experiencing is not due to you either.'"

I wonder how this rav defines the term "nachas."

Feb 27, 2014

Why Am I Hearing This?

Someone told me the following:

Her son will be bar mitzvah next year and he started working with a teacher to prepare his haftora.  One day in shul, her husband heard someone relate a story.  The story had to do with a man whose son was not very bright.  He went to R' Shlomo Zalman Auerbach z'l and asked what to do.  He just couldn't see his son laining the haftora like the other boys.

R' Shlomo Zalman said, don't wait until it's six months before his bar mitzvah.  Start a year in advance.  So the boy began studying and preparing to lain the haftora.

Months went by and the boy's father got to talking with someone whose son was also going to be bar mitzvah.  They realized that their sons' bar mitzvah would be on the same Shabbos.  The other man referred to the haftora his son was preparing, "Machar Chodesh," because the Shabbos of the bar mitzvah it would be Shabbos Mevorchim with Rosh Chodesh on Sunday.  When this happens, the usual haftora is waived for the special reading of erev Rosh Chodesh.

The father of the weak boy was in shock.  He hadn't realized that the bar mitzvah Shabbos was Shabbos Mevorchim with the "Machar Chodesh" haftorah.  His son was preparing the wrong haftora!

He went back to R' Shlomo Zalman and asked him what to do, as his son would certainly not be able to start preparing a different haftora at that point.  R' Shlomo Zalman told him to have his son continue preparing the haftora he was working on and that would be fine.

The Shabbos of the bar mitzvah, in walked R' Shlomo Zalman to the shul where the weak boy would be laining.  After the davening, the father went over to him to ask why he had gone out of his way to come to that shul.

R' Shlomo Zalman said, if I would not have come, your son would have started laining and people would have said: No! It's "Machar Chodesh!" Then you would have told them that I said that what he is laining is fine ...

In order to preempt any opposition, R' Shlomo Zalman bothered to show up himself, davening not in his usual shul, so all would go smoothly.

A very nice story indeed.  But it doesn't end there.  The father of the bar mitzvah boy who heard this story in shul wondered: Why did I hear this story?

He went home and checked and ... yup, his son was preparing the wrong haftora.  It will be Shabbos Mevorchim that Shabbos, and the proper haftora for that particular Shabbos is "Machar Chodesh." His son is bright enough so switching haftoras is not a problem.

Without the premise that everything is b'hashgacha pratis, the question, Why did I hear this story? is not relevant.  Whenever we wonder why we met someone, why that person called when they did, why we had to see, hear, encounter something, the underlying thought is, Hashem is running the show.  And that's a good thought to have.

Feb 24, 2014

"Eat, Move, Sleep"


I liked this book, Eat, Move, Sleep  - Why Small Choices Make a Big Difference.  In an easy to read format, the author presents research on what and how we should eat, the importance of exercise, and the significance of plenty of sleep.  Each chapter presents a different angle of these three areas and ends with a brief summary of the points that were made.

It can be gratifying to read about the many things you are doing right.  More importantly, it would be great if you picked up a few ideas that you would be willing to incorporate in your daily routine to improve your health. 

Although some reviewers complain that the author is not saying anything new, I found a mix of new and not-new ideas and liked the presentation enough that it didn't bother me.  Another complaint is the source for some of his recommendations.  He has a website where anyone can read the research and decide for themselves. 

These complaints seem picayune to me.  Take what is worthwhile to you, and move on. 

The main thing I took from the book is the importance of moving around, that even if you do regular exercise throughout the week, sitting for hours on end is no good.  Get up and move!

Feb 23, 2014

The Remarkable Story of Clara Hammer 1910-2010

I just finished reading this wonderful book, The Chicken Lady of Jerusalem: A Life of Giving -
The Remarkable Story of Clara Hammer 1910-2010.  I met her, but did not really get to know her.  Now, through the book, I got to know her.  What a lady!

Her idealism, her remaining frum when most of those around her did not, her passion, her strength of character, her love for Jews, for Eretz Yisrael, and for life, her exuberance.  A teacher and a doer.  She wasn't one to sigh over an unfortunate situation; she did something about it.

A short video interview of her: here

Feb 22, 2014

The Answers Lie Within

continued from previous post

"Achieving happiness isn't a negotiable option; it is an integral and fundamental part of avodas Hashem."

A young man who had many difficulties to contend with, told R' Heschel that he repeatedly looked for help from mentors, experts and close friends.  Nothing helped.  Then one day, his mentor, a wise and compassionate person, told him, "You must realize that ultimately it all depends on you.  There is no magic wand that I can wave; there are no shortcuts.  You must stop relying solely on others to change your mood and boost your morale.  With siyata dishmaya you will succeed, but you must do your own hishtadlus.  Force yourself to eat properly, make sure to sleep enough, and work on yourself to internalize the fact that Hashem gave you, and you alone, the strength to deal with your personal tests."

At the first the man felt very hurt but once the message sank in, he was very grateful for the advice.  "Those words changed my life," he told R' Heschel.  "I still face many of the same obstacles, but I look at them differently.  I still turn to my mentor for words of chizuk and direction, but for the first time in years my mood is upbeat and optimistic most of the time."

Feb 21, 2014

Who Are We Really?

I read a poignant story in an October issue of Hamodia's Inyan magazine, written by R' Avraham Y. Heschel.  It begins with a story that the author tells of a man, we'll call him Shimon, who protested nearly every week in shul, complaining that he should get the second aliya. 

The problem was, the rav of the shul was a Levi, but Shimon felt that as a Levi too, he should have a chance at that aliya.  The rav even frequently told the gabbai to let Shimon have the aliya at least some of the time, but the gabbai refused, saying it was the rav's aliya and Shimon had to make do with occasionally getting maftir and only receiving Levi on the rare occasions that the rav was away.

This went on for years.  Shimon remained a member of the shul but was always bothered about not receiving the Levi aliya.

One day, Shimon came to shul all excited about his older brother, we'll call him Yaakov, having received permission to leave Russia and come to America.  The rav told the gabbai that he absolutely must give Shimon's brother the second aliya, Levi, on Shabbos, and the gabbai agreed, considering the special circumstances. 

When Yaakov was called up he seemed puzzled.  He asked why he had been given this aliya.  The gabbai said, well, your brother is a Levi, so I assumed you are too.

Yaakov chuckled and said, "He thought he was a Levi? Shimon was a little kid when he had to run away during the war.  He doesn't remember.  We are not Leviyim."

R' Heschel says the story is true and he heard it from the rav of that shul.  He goes on to write a powerful lesson from the story.  For years, Shimon was upset because he thought he should be getting the second aliya.  Actually, the second aliya was not his and he could have had any of the other aliyos.  "Shimon's problem was that he didn't know who he really was."

Many people are stuck deep in negative feelings, struggling with painful memories or a difficult life.  They are convinced, he says, that they are not capable of moving forward, that their problems are too great, their hurts too deep, their challenges too mighty for them to live a relaxed, happy life.  But, this is only because they really don't know themselves!

to be continued

Feb 20, 2014

Offering Unsolicited Advice

Common wisdom has it that parents should not interfere with their married children's lives.  Only if they are asked for advice, should they offer it.  Let them make their own mistakes.

A woman shared another perspective.  All her children are married and she boldly says: How ridiculous! Why would I watch while someone makes a mistake? If someone could tell me how to avoid a mistake, I would appreciate it!

She offers advice to her married children by saying: This is what I have to say and you can do what you like, I won't be upset.

I asked: Really? You won't be upset if they don't listen to your advice?

She said: I did what I could do, and that's it.

My commentary: It is hard to give advice which you think is correct and see it rejected and not be upset.  If she can do that, fine.  But for those who can't, it might not be a good idea to offer the unsolicited advice.

Feb 19, 2014

R' Meir Schuster z'l

R' Meir Schuster, who just passed away after a terrible illness, is a hero.  I admire him tremendously for his idealism and passion which overrode his innate introverted personality, enabling him to be mekarev tens of thousands of Jews to Yiddishkeit.  As one mekurav put it,

“I have never met anyone in my life with such a passion for something, such a love. I had to find out what this guy was so excited about.”

Since I cannot do him justice, I refer you to articles about him:


and lots of stories at the website: here

Feb 18, 2014


-Someone spends many hours preparing for a shiur and delivers it.  He finds out that someone else heard his shiur and delivered it without crediting him and is hurt. 

-Someone spends many hours preparing for a shiur and as soon as he gives it, he puts it up online so that others can use it for their own audiences.  He is happy to enable others to benefit from his work.

-Someone writes a poem.  Someone else submits it to a contest under their own name.

-Someone pays an architect a lot of money to design a house.  A wealthy person, who is building a house two houses over, calls and asks whether they can use the blueprints to build the identical house.  This is without offering to pay anything.  The person gives them the blueprints while thinking it was quite a chutzpa to have asked for it gratis.

-Someone buys a stunning accessory to wear with her dress.  A relative asks her where she bought it and she tells her.  The relative buys the identical accessory and they both regularly show up at the same simchas wearing the same thing.

-A kalla find a beautiful outfit, a sample piece, and has it customized to her specifications.  Someone in her circle sees it and copies it and shows it up wearing it, just like her.

-A person bakes delicious cookies and is asked for the recipe.  She declines to give it because if she does, then she won't be the only who knows how to make these cookies.  They are her specialty.

-A woman shows up at a wedding wearing the same gown as one of the wedding party and a member of the wedding party tells her, in no uncertain terms, to go home and change.

-A creative person designs unique shalach manos and others copy it.

-A new minyan is started that siphons off people from an existing shul.

-There is a shiur that takes place which is well attended.  Someone in the neighborhood decides to start another shiur and this takes away people from the first shiur.

When do you say, "zeh neheneh, v'zeh lo choser" (this one benefits and the other one does not lose out)?

How should copying clothes, decorations, etc. be regarded - as complimentary or a chutzpa?

When does geneivas daas apply? Must everything be credited to the originator?

There are halachos of hasagas gevul - of not being allowed to encroach by, for example, opening an identical type of store in an area which cannot support them both.  From what I've learned, this generally does not apply to Torah, though perhaps it depends on the circumstances.

In some of these cases, there may not be an outright right or wrong, but perhaps that is where the mitzvah "You shall do that which is right and proper (haYashar v'haTov)" [Devorim 6:18] comes in.

This is something to think about when we are the person who is being asked for something or copied, and it is something to think about when we want to ask for something or copy someone else.  Be forewarned, people have strong feelings on this subject!

Feb 17, 2014

You Don't Analyze Parents!

I was reading an interview of the daughter of R' Baruch Sorotzkin z'l about her father when a paragraph struck me.  The daughter was describing the parent-child relationship and said, "I could never utter a word that resembled 'no' to my father.  My parents commanded respect without saying anything.  It was the atmosphere in the house."

She said that along with the tremendous awe and respect there was also great love between parents and children.  However, this love manifested not in a palsy-walsy kind of way that many parents cultivate with their children nowadays.

Then the paragraph: "I remember once hearing someone I know claiming that she has a certain problem because of something having to do with the way her mother raised her.  I was taken aback.  Analyzing your mother? You're upset because your parents didn't do something right? In our upbringing, this was unheard of.  I once mentioned to my aunt that I think I have a certain midda from my mother.  My aunt responded with mussar, telling me, 'You don't analyze parents!'"

Feb 3, 2014

Taking Ideas to Heart

As a follow-up to the previous post, I heard the following in a shiur today.  We have much more knowledge than previous generations but lack the heart.

We take in a tremendous amount of information, but it doesn't obligate us; the knowledge is peripheral to us, not part of who we are. We run from idea to idea. In previous generations, people felt obligated by knowledge, they acquired what they learned.  Sara Schenirer comes to mind as an example.  She went to hear a speaker, Rabbi Flesch, who spoke about Yehudis of the Chanuka story and the power of Jewish women to continue her legacy.  She so took his message to heart that she changed the world with her Beis Yaakov movement.

Someone was giving an ongoing shiur on a certain midda and she asked a rav whether she should hone in on the midda again and again. The rav said we are living in a time that if you do that, with the intention of getting people to absorb it, the people won't come back because they'll say they heard it already.  They want variety. 

So we run from shiur to shiur and it's exciting, with new topics and each speaker with his or her style. Our challenge, said the person giving the lecture I heard today, is to take the “v'yodaata ha'yom” (and you shall know today) and make it “v'hasheivosa el levavecha” (and take it to heart), see how you can make the ideas part of your lives. We need to slow down and think about what we heard.  Even if we hear many ideas, we should take one idea and make it ours, make it practical and real to us.

Disclaimer: There are always those who take in ideas and change their lives as many baalei teshuva and converts can attest.