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  So they rescinded the takana.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.