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.

Jun 22, 2014

My Father, My Mother and Me

Highly recommended reading is Rebbetzin Samet's, My Father, My Mother, and Me (Artscroll).  In the format she used in her first excellent book, on the topic of judging others favorably,
she intersperses the halachos with terrific, true stories on the subject.  Her second book, on the same subject of judging favorably, consisted entirely of true stories:

Jun 20, 2014

Nobody Can Help or Harm Me

I keep going back to the conundrum of hishtadlus as I wrote about: here.  The Chovos Ha'Levavos in the Shaar Ha'Bitachon says, nobody can do anything to help or harm you other than Hashem, who has complete control over everything.

With the three kidnapped boys on our minds, I thought -  nobody can do anything to harm them unless Hashem allows it.  At the same time, those running the country are obligated to take the necessary steps to defend the people.

The story of how Hatzoloh came to be has to do with a man named Weber seeing that the usual response time of an ambulance was 20 minutes, too long, sometimes, to help someone in distress.  Hatzoloh is a wonderful organization, and one that I've given money to many times, but my same question applies.  Hashem is in charge.  He decides how long someone will live.  Speedier response times don't change Hashem's plans.  We are not in control.  So what is gained with speedier response times?

There are medical referral organizations that guide people so they can pick the best doctor.  Judaism says a doctor has permission to heal, and some of our great people have been doctors, but if only Hashem can heal, then why do look for the best doctor? Why not look for a board certified, decent doctor? It seems to me that we can be much more sincere in our bitachon if we don't seek the best doctor but find someone adequate and truly rely on Hashem.

Jun 19, 2014

Maintaining Dignity

In today's day and age, maintaining dignity is not high on people's list of priorities.  People (out in the world) dress in undignified ways, talk in undignified ways, and share personal information that undermines their dignity. 

R' Avigdor Miller was known for his shoot from the hip style.  He famously said, don't tell your spouse about the C you got in chemistry! People tell derogatory information about themselves for no purpose, seemingly for the sake of "being honest" and "accept me as I am."  R' Miller saw no purpose in this; on the contrary, he considered it detrimental.

He also told his Beis Yaakov students, not to wash the floor when their husbands were around.  No doubt, this was to preserve their dignity, especially back in the day when floors were washed on hands and knees.

It is an act of Ahavas Yisrael when we protect a person's dignity, by not looking at things that shouldn't be stared at, by ignoring those things that people say or do that are silly, by enabling them to maintain a fa├žade and not "blowing their cover." 

Jun 17, 2014

Mitzva Intentions

The story is told about a Kotzker Chassid walking on the road, trudging along in the snow on his way to Kotzk, when a fancy carriage stopped nearby.  The man in the carriage offered the Chassid a ride.

The Chassid said, okay, if you pay me 200 zloty.

Huh? said the man on the wagon.  I am offering you a ride.

Uh huh.  So I want 200 zloty.

But why? I am doing you a favor!

Said the Chassid: You don't really care about me.  Just as you pay for an esrog and just as you pay for matza, so too, you should pay for this mitzva of giving me a ride!

Ahavas Yisrael means to genuinely care for another person.  That's the mitzva: V'ohavta l'rei'acha kamocha. 

Jun 16, 2014

Are they "Our Boys" or "Their Boys"?

Jews all over the world care about the three kidnapped boys.  I am sure of that.

That being said, I wonder how many people saw the headlines on Friday about "yeshiva boys kidnapped," and had a certain image in their minds which was dispelled when they saw what the boys look like. 

Oh.  Yeshiva boys don't necessarily wear black hats. 

I wondered: what if the boys' pictures showed them wearing black hats and white shirts? You know, "our kind" of yeshiva boys ... whether "yeshivish" or "chassidish." Would our personal reaction be any different? Would our community's reaction be any different?

I saw the photos of the mass tefilla at the Kosel.  I saw lots and lots of hatless people.  Knitted kippa wearing people.  Almost no black hats.  Where were the all "black hats" when this asifa took place? Why weren't they at the Kosel too? Because "their" black-hatted leaders did not tell them to go? Why not?

Even as we unite in praying for the safe return of the boys, I see disunity amongst us.  Unity and disunity.

Jun 10, 2014

Setting a Standard

I heard an interesting thought from Rabbi Aharon Dovid Gancz of Monsey.  Someone he was mekarev told him about a problem he had.  The mekurav's father kept kosher to a minimum standard and this son of his felt he could not trust his kashrus.  His father was upset.  How dare his son not trust him, and was his son holier than him, and why did his son have to keep a higher standard, wasn't his standard good enough?

R' Gancz asked him, would your father understand if I did not eat in his house? The man said sure, you are a rabbi.  So R' Gancz said, the problem then is, that you are not a rabbi.  Don't blame your father!

R' Gancz says he uses this concept often, in tznius for example.  We need to be so inculcated with the midda and mindset of tznius that nobody would dare behave or dress otherwise in our presence; they would feel uncomfortable to do so.  He calls for "raising the bar" in all areas.

It has been noted that the same people who seemingly have no qualms about dressing inappropriately among other religious Jews, would behave respectfully if they were invited to the home of Japanese who asked them to remove their shoes.  Why is this so? I think R' Gancz has the answer.  The Japanese set a tone which most people would be loathe to violate.  Also, as guests, they would not want to insult their hosts.  Amongst ourselves though, we feel like the brothers and sisters which we are, and "Don't tell me what to do!"

Jun 6, 2014

Even More Examples

continued from previous post

According to the Arizal, sweating in the preparation of matzos is a tikun for sin and sweating in the preparations for Shabbos is a source of kapara like tears.

The sweat and energy one expends in preparing for Pesach can destroy evil malachim and provide a person with tikun (Kav Ya'Yashar perek 90).

The Tzemch Tzedek declined his grandfather (the Baal Ha'Tanya)'s offer of a bracha for an understanding of Torah, reasoning initially that acquiring Torah needs to be through toiling.  He later regretted this, saying that since Torah is infinite, so no matter how much the bracha would do for him, there was still limitless room for growth.

Likewise, using the available anthologies, compilations, and encyclopedias doesn't mean that effort cannot be applied to learning on a deeper level.

This, and the examples in the previous posts, make me think of ready-made oil and wicks for the Chanuka menorah, ready-made ten pieces of chometz, ready-made salt water, pop-up succas and schach mats, roll-back roofs with no need to construct a succa. 

Should challos be homemade or bought?

Does it make a difference if Shabbos foods are homemade or bought? After all, it's not a "given" that homemade always equals a superior Shabbos experience. 

Sometimes family and guests don't even know the difference if you've made something or bought it! In that case, for the person who made it, making it was significant, it was part of their Shabbos preparations, but for the others? It may make little or no impact (for another angle see: this post )

Then again, if Mommy's special culinary efforts delight her family and guests and they know it can't be bought in a store, it greatly adds to oneg Shabbos and appreciation for her work.

Jun 5, 2014

More Examples of Exertion

continued from two posts ago about Exertion

1) In "Once Upon a Chassid" on parshas Naso, there is the story of an old Chassid who refused to drive to Lubavitch but walked despite the difficulty, figuring this is the only zechus he will have, and he doesn't want to share it with a horse. He brings the story on the pasuk which describes Kehas carrying the keilim for the Mishkan on his shoulder rather than on wagons like Gershon and Merari, as Rashi says - because they were carrying holy things, it had to be carried on their shoulder.

2) Rashi parshas Bo 12:34 – they put the remaining pieces of matza and maror on their shoulders even though they had many animals, because they cherished the mitzva.

3) R' Ben-tzion Yadler, a well-known maggid in Yerushalayim, told this story:

I once went with the Rav [Kook] to pay a sick call to one of the founders of the Mussar movement, the brilliant and righteous R' Yitzchok Blazer of Petersburg who lived in Yerushalayim at the end of his life.

Since it was a long walk, I offered to take him by coach.  He refused, saying, "To perform the mitzva of bikur cholim for the sake of a great Torah scholar, I want to go by foot."

4) R' Moshe Alshich comments on the pasuk that tells us to wear tzitzis and assures us that by doing so, we will, "See it and recall all the mitzvos of G-d and perform them." He points out that the reality would appear to be otherwise. Many people wear tzitzis and yet ignore mitzvos on a regular basis?

The Alshich explains that, indeed, merely donning a four-cornered garment that happens to have strings hanging from its corners, will do little to prevent against sin. After all, what special power does such a garment possess to enable us to fend off the overtures of the yetzer hara? Rather, what the Torah intended is for a person to first recognize that he is in the midst of a fierce battle with his yetzer hara and that he needs all the weapons he can muster in this battle. He then must decide that one of the weapons he'll employ in the battle will be a garment that will serve as constant reminder of the need to be vigilant and fight off the yetzer harrah. He then must set about creating such a garment by tying tassels to the four corners of his garment and then, each time he wears the garment and sees the tassels, he'll be reminded of his objective. One who approaches the mitzvah of tzitzis in this manner, will certainly be reminded constantly of the mitzvos and find it a very effective tool against the persistent onslaught of the yetzer hara.

In this comment, Alshich teaches us an important rule about mitzvos and their intended effect. In order to fully experience the benefits of a mitzvah, one must fully engage himself in the performance of the mitzvah. Merely "fulfilling" the mitzvah through an expedited process utilizing off-the-shelf components that have little personal meaning to the individual, will fail to inspire the person or elevate him spiritually. Creating a pair of tzitzis from scratch with the understanding that it is meant to achieve a specific goal, is the only way to reap the benefits from the tzitzis; not by donning a manufactured garment that happens to meet the halachic specifications.

Jun 3, 2014

The Soul of a Yid

Chaim Grade (1910-1982) was a famous European writer who wrote in Yiddish.  He grew up religious but later left religious practice.

However, it was interesting to see how a lapsed Yid thinks when I read these two anecdotes in an old Ami magazine from 2011 which were taken from the winter 2011 Jewish Review of Books:

1) Grade was overheard talking on the phone about his Pesach seder.  When someone expressed surprise that he celebrated with a seder he said, "Avadeh! Vos meinstu, ich bin a goy?!" (Of course! what do you think I am, a goy?!)

Even more intriguing is this one:

2) Grade said, "I can pick up a Chumash and study it without wearing a yarmulke, but when I look into Rashi, in Chumash or Gemara, heibt mir on der kup tzu brennen" (my head begins to burn).