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?