Apr 30, 2014

One Family

On Chol Ha'Moed, we were in a car service on our way to a bris.  In the pocket of the seat in front of me, I saw a book.  I pulled it out and saw it was a sefer and it had a name written in it, in Hebrew.  Of all topics, the sefer was about bris mila!

We asked the driver about it and he said it was there for a week and nobody had called.  I told him I would take the book and see if I could return it.

The person had four names plus a last name.  Two of the names were Efraim Fishel.  When I took out a local phone book to see how many people there were with that last name, I saw there weren't too many. One name that stood out was Fishel.  Although that was only one of the four names and the last one, I decided to call that one.

The wife answered and she said, yes, her brother-in-law had borrowed the sefer.  I was glad to have hit upon the owner on my first try and we concluded that someone would pick it up.

Since I had access to a car yesterday, one of my stops was to return the sefer.  It was a good feeling to have completed the mitzva of hashovas aveida - I didn't want to wait for someone to get around to calling me and picking it up.  It's also a good feeling that it's a "small world," and I can easily find a fellow Jew and return his sefer.

Apr 28, 2014

Get a Learning Partner!

Minutes after I finished learning with my Partners in Torah, I got a call from the organization, Partners in Torah.  The caller wanted to know if we've been learning.  We just learned! I said.

I asked whether we have a record for longest, consistent learning, since 2000.  The woman said there is a pair learning for 18 years, since Partners in Torah came into existence.  So we are runners-up.

I bring this up to urge you - get a partner in Torah, whether from this organization or something comparable or just on your own.  The idea is to teach someone once a week on a topic of their choice for up to an hour at a time. 

You think you don't know enough? You do! For the right person.  They will match you with someone suitable.  There are people out there who know very little.  Compared to them, you are a scholar! You can check out Partners in Torah at their website. 

Apr 27, 2014

A Project?

Are children a chesed project to their parents? Although parents do vast amounts of chesed for their children, they are still not viewed or referred to as a "project."  What is a project? I looked it up and found this definition: a planned piece of work that has a specific purpose (such as to find information or to make something new) and that usually requires a lot of time.  More simply, it's a planned undertaking.

Raising children is certainly a project, by that definition.  It's a job, the details are planned, there is a purpose, i.e. to raise a G-d fearing mentch, and it sure does take a lot of time.  It is usually a collaborative effort on the part of parents and the school.  And still, we don't refer to child rearing as a project.  Why is that?

I think it's because in business and science, a project is defined as a collaborative enterprise.  A school project might be a book report or historical research.  Projects are often or usually associated with work, school or volunteering. 
I suppose that is why I am surprised when people use the term "project" for taking care of an elderly family member, even those who do so lovingly.  Any thoughts about this?

Apr 26, 2014

13th Yartzeit of Rabbi Avigdor Miller z"l

Rabbi Avigdor Miller z'l passed away on 27 Nissan 5761/2001.  I listened to many of his Thursday night lectures which were on a myriad of topics in hashkafa, Navi, Shabbos, Yomim Tovim, marriage, avodas Hashem.  I remember once attending the lecture in person.  What people particularly enjoyed was the Q and A session at the end of the shiur.  People passed their questions forward and R' Miller read them and responded. 

I learned a lot from his talks and his books.  This is what characterized him:

1) He was disciplined.  Every moment was accounted for.  He did not attend conventions and meetings and rarely attended simchas.

2) His favorite topic was Shaar Ha'Bechina of the Chovos Ha'Levavos.  I posted a classic example here, 

3) his bitachon, being a sonei matanos (one who hates gifts)

4) his humor

5) his talk about love for Hashem

6) outreach - through his tapes and lectures he reached thousands of Jews all over the world

7) innovation - writing books on hashkafa and having his lectures recorded forty years ago

8) speaking Yiddish in the home

9) although he was American born, he was attended Yeshiva Slabodka in Europe

10) he promoted "asei lecha rav" and living in a makom Torah

11) He had a program for every goal, exercises, breaking things down into steps, leading his kehilla and listeners step by step

12) he promoted the supremacy of Torah learning

13) Taking care of his health was a mitzvah he observed regularly.  He took a half hour walk daily.

14) He was fearless and could be blunt, yet diplomatic when required.

15) He was a non-conformist.  He was one of a kind, who belonged to no party.

You can subscribe to quotes from him here

Apr 25, 2014

Is Wearing Black Our Problem?

I'm constantly reading news items about studies that were done, some of them silly, some of them interesting.  I'd like a study to be done in the frum world about the possible correlation or cause-effect relationship between the preponderance of wearing black and the seemingly astronomical rate of anxiety and depression, panic attacks and OCD behavior.

According to our frum publications that are doing their best to "remove the stigma from mental illness," as futile as that might be, just about everyone and their neighbor is on anti-anxiety or anti-depression meds or should be, and we are urged not to be ashamed but to seek help and get our meds so we can live happy lives. 

If you look at pictures taken many decades ago, even at the black and white pictures, you will see that men who were bnei Torah wore suits, shirts and hats of various colors.  In wedding pictures of today, there isn't much point in printing in color since both the men and women's side consist mainly of black anyway.  Toddlers on up are also dressed in black.  Goyim have noticed this recent phenomenon and are heard to ask whether wearing black is part of our religion.

Since we are affected by what we do, says the Sefer Ha'Chinuch, and we know we are affected by what we wear (ex. how we dress to do messy projects or exercise and how we dress for Shabbos or a simcha), the premise of my suggested study is that our society's move toward wearing black has a negative effect on our mental health.  Perhaps the first thing a therapist should suggest to a client is that they minimize wearing black.

It's not like this study can ever happen because we don't know the rates of mental illness and medication of frum people of previous decades.  And how could the hypothesis about color be proven?

On a positive note, I've been noticing more colors lately.  Still plenty of black, but colors are making a modest comeback.

Apr 24, 2014

Weekly Frum Publications: Are We Better Off Now? part 2

continued from previous post

One of the editors of Mishpacha wrote a short piece called "What they want," about what readers want to read about.  Her list included:

role models, show me greatness
make me laugh
inform me, about health, finances and psychology that I can apply to my life
make me cry with heartwarming stories
inspire me
let me face the prejudices I didn't know I had

I think Mishpacha comes up with terrific people to interview and they have tremendous resources so they can cover people and topics all around the world.  I like the overall tone and look of the magazine which is upbeat, even if I sometimes disagree with specific points or even an approach.  I feel I "belong" more with Mishpacha than the other frum magazines. 

I wonder what impact it (and the other magazines) have on frum society.  Are they really changing the way people think about societal issues? Could be, though how could we measure it?

Naturally (to those who have been reading this blog), I am not thrilled with their coverage of mental health issues.  Here and there, some good perspectives have been presented but there has been too much mainstream thinking, i.e. the importance of "mental health professionals" and taking medication.  Additionally, there have been an abundance of articles about nuts of all kinds which makes me wonder how nutty are we (frum people)? Is every other person on medication? Must we continue to focus on our mishugasin? I'd like to see an emphasis on healthy, normal, balanced thinking.

Apr 23, 2014

Weekly Frum Publications: Are We Better Off Now?

Mishpacha magazine recently published their 500th issue.  This led to thoughts and comments about what life was like, not that long ago, without all these weekly frum newspapers and magazines.  Like cell phone usage, it's hard to remember life prior to this burst of frum literary output. 

What did people read? What did I read?

People read the Jewish Press and there was the Jewish Observer which was published 10 times a year.  Not much else in frum media.  The Jewish Homemaker from the OK, Jewish Action from the OU four times a year.  No weekly magazines.

Now we are flooded (if we choose to read them) by articles with biographies, profiles of interesting Jews from all walks of life, stories of baalei teshuva and kiruv, news from a frum perspective, and lots and lots and lots of articles and first person accounts about poor mental health, about our foibles and worse.

A strong reaction from someone, to a comment about Mishpacha's 500th issue, was we were better off without it (and all the other publications).  Yet this person reads and enjoys Mishpacha magazine! I don't think they mind all the beautiful articles about special people; it's the relentless focus on what ails us, all the kookiness among us, the aim to be "honest" and "courageous" and the insistence that the mental health profession has the answers.

Am I more uplifted when I read it?
Am I more frustrated?

to be continued

Apr 9, 2014

Keeping it Simple

As I once heard someone say, never travel first class unless you will always travel first class!
Why? Because it is so marvelous in first class, that going back to no-frills class will be especially miserable.

R' Orloweck, in a talk about achieving peace of mind, referred to a "pleasure meter."  If a person hits a 10 with a gourmet meal served on fine china, while another person is happy with toast, butter and hot cocoa, who is more fortunate? The second fellow, because he is much more likely to experience lots of pleasure in life.

We, frum society, have been upping the standards.  Day camp activities used to be dodge ball, swimming, and popsicle sticks arts-and-crafts.  These days, the camping experience is so much more sophisticated.  Little children, who would be happy with simple activities, are introduced to fancy projects so that they can't go back to simple.  That would be boring.

The reason may be competition for campers but the campers end up losing out because they don't learn the pleasures or the reality of plain and normal.  Like the kids who get ices (or fill in the blank) on a regular weekday and are not trained that special treats are for Shabbos.

In an article by Miriam Gitlin about pashtus-living a simple life, being satisfied with basics without needing more, she told about a chinuch dilemma she had.  She had never given her children ices.  Then, one year, they started bringing them home from school parties and other occasions.  They asked if she would buy them.  She wasn't sure.  She liked the idea of making them happy but something bothered her about it.

When she discussed it with her husband, he verbalized what she was thinking.  Buying the ices wouldn't make the children happier in the long run.  It would make them unhappier.  Why? Because it would turn into something her children needed, and when they didn't have it, they would feel they were missing out.

But maybe not.  Maybe her kids would get tired of them. 

She adds the point that kids need to fit in and can't be made to feel inferior to their peers, so instilling your values has to be done with a degree of caution and good sense.

Even striving for simplicity isn't simple.

Apr 8, 2014

Being a Value-Added Person

Avi Shulman wrote an article about  a "value-added" person.  He is someone who, whatever he does, where he is, and whatever situation he is in, adds value.

This reminds me of something a mentor of mine often says, that we have influence.  We must contribute.  It has to make a difference that we are here.  Personal growth is not enough.

Back to Avi Shulman for how to apply this concept:

"It begins with an attitude that says, "Where I go, with whomever I speak, I want to add value to the discussion, to the relationship.  I want my family, my block, my shul, my learning group, my place of work ... to be better because of me.

"Added value is a mindset.  It says when you speak to a person, you want him to feel better about himself and his world because of the added value your conversation or your presence brings."

I don't know that I agree with his example of the young girl hired to babysit who also washes the dishes and cleans the kitchen.  Would he say that a painter who comes to your paint your house should also wash the dishes and clean the kitchen? How about the washing machine repair man?

I can see it applying to showing up at a simcha not just to be yotzei but to make the baalei simcha happy and, possibly adding something positive to the people you encounter there.  It's something we can do just about anytime and anywhere. 

Apr 1, 2014

Hi, I’m Pharaoh and I’m an Addict

I sent this Pesach link by Tzvi Freeman to several people and got some very positive feedback, so I'll share it with you too: