Dec 30, 2015

More on Judging

In a letter to Mishpacha magazine, a person writes the following about young people who are off the derech:

"It is important for each one of us that encounters or has a connection to these children that we do not become judgmental or look down at their current way of life."

Why - is a life off the derech equivalent to a life on the derech?

" ... Each one of them has a story that reads: 'My Rebbi looked down at me and didn't want me in shiur.  My parents wouldn't allow me to sit at the Shabbos table as they thought I was a bad influence.  The people in shul stare at me with my long hair and non-Shabbosdig clothing.'"

And these individuals never stare at something unusual? Would they visit the White House wearing jeans and a T-shirt or would they dress for the occasion? Why then do they attend shul with long hair and non-Shabbosdig clothing? Is it a test they've devised - let's see how rude we can be and see if people will react or not?

"I am in no way an expert to understand the psychological issues and needs of off the derech children.  I do know, however, that we need to support, accept, and welcome all these children that are labeled off the derech and are searching for a way to be accepted back in.

" ... If we want these children to be chozer b'teshuva, we need to stop being judgmental and open our hearts and our minds to them."

Welcoming, yes.  But I hope it's clear to them that we think the derech of Torah and mitzvos are superior and the only true way.  If that's being judgmental, and of course it is, so be it.

Dec 29, 2015

Judging Well

Hamodia's Inyan magazine had an article about a judge, a Chief Judge of Oregon's Court of Appeals, to be exact. 
In a sidebar there were the judge's, "Principles that Should Guide Us All" which included the following:
"We are all judges ... We all act as judges, observing, evaluating, and responding to our fellow man's acts and words, assessing his or her motivations.  Our challenge, and our charge, is to live each judiciously in the best sense, with integrity, humility, insight and compassion."
How refreshing to hear the truth for a change.  We all are judges.  We all act as judges. 
see previous posts about judging here

Dec 28, 2015

My Children, Myself

In Zecharia 3:7, the angel says to Yehoshua the High Priest, "So says Hashem, if you go in My path ..."

The commentary Metzudas Dovid says this means, "If your children go in My path, and he [the angel] said it about him [Yehoshua] because a person's children are considered like himself."

Over the years, in numerous articles, I've seen how parents separate themselves from their children.  This is in the sad situations in which the child is not going in the ways of their parents and the parents agonize over this.  One way they have of dealing with it is to say things like: children are entrusted to us but they are not ours, we do the best we can and they have free choice, we can teach them and show them but ultimately the decision is theirs in how to live their lives. 

These lines are true but when the parent adds a "disconnect" to their perspective, this flies in the face of how we were created.  As Metzudas Dovid writes, our children are like ourselves.  This is why it is so devastating when they don't carry on our ways.  With a disconnect we don't feel as invested and we don't try as hard. 

To deny that our children are like ourselves might temporarily make someone feel better, but since it is not the reality, it is a false assurance.

May all parents derive yiddishe nachas from all their children.

Dec 27, 2015

Our Thoughts Create Our Feelings

There was a "Lifelines" article in a recent Mishpacha magazine about a kalla, aged 30, whose wedding was scheduled for the blizzard-that-never-happened a year ago in New York.  The kalla writes about how miserable she was about the weather forecast, about her grandmother crying nonstop, how people told them to postpone the wedding by two days, and how the rav said no, you get married with a minyan if that's all you've got, and you don't postpone a wedding because of the weather.

The kalla, who was finally getting married after years of shidduchim, even expressed the thought that the situation with the forecasted blizzard was harder, in a way, to deal with than her years of singlehood.  It was at that point that she really lost me.  I can sympathize with someone whose planned-for event is ruined, or looks like it will be ruined, but when she makes that comparison and explains how it was harder (which didn't make much sense to me), I'm not impressed.

Interestingly, she writes that her chasan didn't care one way or the other.  If the wedding would be with a minyan of people, that didn't bother him.

Which goes to show that this, and many other events in life, are not objectively bad or good.  If the kalla and her grandmother would have had the same attitude as the chasan, they wouldn't have suffered.  The suffering was caused by their "awfulizing" the hall's cancellation of the wedding if there would be a blizzard. 

And the end of the story was, the forecasters were wrong (as they often are, no matter how authoritative they sounds) and the amount of snow that fell was nowhere close to what they predicted and the hall was open.

Dec 25, 2015

Thought Beaming

I began learning with a new Partner in Torah.  We discussed Shabbos observance, and how one can keep Shabbos 100% even when not in walking distance of a shul.

This was on my mind after we spoke, and I thought of asking whether there is a light in their fridge.  I figured that's a simple thing to suggest, that the light be shut off for Shabbos, and maybe other lights in the house could be either on or off for Shabbos.  I considered emailing this, but I suppose I preferred bringing it up in conversation.

The next time we spoke, at the end of the conversation I said, I have a strange question to ask you.  Do you have a light in your fridge? I assumed I would have to explain about why it's important to unscrew the bulb or tape the switch so the light won't go on every time the fridge door is opened.

Before I could launch into an explanation, do you know what the answer was? Oh, yes, I noticed there is a "Sabbath mode" and we tried to set it before Shabbos but there wasn't enough time so we just taped it.

Wow! Were my thoughts that potent? There are Torah sources about the power of thought but I can't say I've experienced it as directly as this.

Dec 14, 2015

It's Not Over Yet!

Today (the 8th day of Chanuka) someone said, Chanuka is over.

I said, it isn't over yet!

The person insisted it was.  Proof? Are you having any Chanuka party today, I was asked.

I said, what difference does that make? It's still Chanuka!

The person said, but there is no menorah lighting tonight.  I asked, do you say on Shabbos day that it is no longer Shabbos because at night it won't be Shabbos anymore?

Was I really having this conversation?!

I said, today is Chanuka! I said "V'Al Ha'Nissim" twice this morning.  The person said, yeah, but that's all.

I said, I will be saying V'Al Ha'Nissim again in mincha! It is Chanuka until 4:29!

Not only that, but it's Zos Chanuka which we are told has special significance and is the chasima of the din of the Yomim Noraim.

Another person commented that a speaker said the Chanuka parties are bittul Torah.  Oh really? I said.  Killjoy.  Chashuve Roshei Yeshiva, Admorim, and rabbonim take part in Chanuka parties, so apparently this is a good use of the time. 

These days are yimei simcha v'hallel says the Rambam and some Rishonim hold that we are obligated to eat a seuda, while others hold that there is no obligation. The Rema in Hilchos Chanuka writes that if zemiros and shvachos (songs and praise) are said at a Chanuka seuda (party) it becomes a seudas mitzva (without this, it only has in it "katzas mitzvah" according to the Rema).

Why we have people who want to reduce the simcha in Klal Yisrael, I don't know.  Considering the numerous articles about depression and anxiety in our midst, I would expect us to be eager to partake in as many yiddishe simcha opportunities we can get.

Dec 11, 2015

Chanuka Musings part 2

continued from previous post
So I thought about it a lot on Shabbos, the day before erev Chanuka, and concluded as follows.  When we say V'Al Ha'Nissim, the section ends with the words, "and they established these eight days of Chanuka to thank and praise Your great name."
There are many themes to Chanuka, many important ideas, but the reason we have this yom tov is "to thank and praise" Hashem.
So I decided that I must focus directly on thanking and praising Hashem.  How would I go about it?
I wrote about gratitude here and here.  Over Chanuka I've been reviewing my list, adding some more, keeping my focus on gratitude.  As for praise, I've been paying special attention to the pesukei d'zimra, which are all about praise of Hashem, particularly Ashrei.  There is a book in English which explains Ashrei according Malbim's explanation and at the end of the book it summarizes it all.  I've been looking at the summary when I daven Ashrei in the morning.
So far, so good.

Dec 7, 2015

Chanuka Musings

The same thing happens with every yom tov.
I read about the yom tov. I listen to shiurim about the yom tov.
And then there's the yom tov and I don't feel cheirus on Pesach or extra joy on Purim.
Chanuka - I plan and make special Chanuka foods, we light the menorah, and often get together with family members. And the days of Chanuka pass and it's nothing special except for the actual lighting.  I can list dozens of themes and ideas about Chanuka but this does not go past the brain and into my heart so that I feel the yom tov. 
Sad to say, the menorah lighting itself can be a "pain" because of the timing, having to get home to light so it breaks up a gathering earlier in the day, it keeps us looking at the clock because we have to get home, or keeps us at home and we can't leave until we're finished sitting with the lights, which is pathetic because if the lighting is a pain then I've really missed the boat!
Chanuka is certainly more exciting with young children around because you take enjoyment from their excitement, but that can't be what Chanuka hinges upon.
So, my thinking went this year, if I keep on doing the same thing every year (read-listen-cook-visit-host) I can expect the same results.  What should I do differently?
to be continued

Dec 1, 2015

Popular Narrative Non-Fiction

I recently read of a woman's aha moment when she discovered, as a girl, that the pictures she saw in her head while asleep are called "dreams." That made her want to learn more and more words for the things she experienced in life.

Today I stumbled on a phrase that describes many of the books I've been reading lately.  I've tried describing the genre to people but only now do I have an "official" phrase for it: popular narrative non-fiction or just narrative non-fiction. 

It describes books that are true but the term non-fiction is too general and does not convey what these books are.  The word "narrative" lets you know that the book reads like a story.  There are characters and dialogue.  Sometimes, the topics are not what you would expect to be interesting, but in the hands of a master of this genre, these books are page-turners, books like The Boys in the Boat, The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Unbroken, In the Garden of Beasts.

Nov 30, 2015

On Forgiveness

I don't know if Simon Wiesenthal's The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness (1976) is the first book to explore the possibilities and limits of forgiveness, but it is probably the most famous. 

Wiesenthal describes a dying Nazi soldier asking him for forgiveness for murdering Jews, which he does not grant.  He then has fifty-three distinguished people tell us how they would respond to such a request.

Three other, more recent books, come to mind which have understanding the enemy and/or forgiveness as its theme.  One is, Revenge: A Story of Hope (2003) by Laura Blumenfeld.  Her father was shot by the PLO and survived and she sought revenge. 

Not by the Sword: How the Love of a Cantor and His Family Transformed a Klansman (2012) by Watterson, is about how a Jewish cantor changes the life of a white supremacist by offering him friendship.

And a book I recently read is called The True American: Murder and Mercy in Texas (2015) by Giridharadas.  It's about white trash shooting what he thinks are Arabs after the WTC attack on 9/11 and the one victim who survives, a Bangladeshi, forgiving him and working hard to prevent his execution.

Lots of food for thought here about who has the right to forgive and whether forgiveness and understanding are always positive qualities.  Is there a G-dly standard for forgiveness?



Nov 25, 2015

No Such Thing as Being in Limbo

There was a sad write-up about the fifth person to die in the Har Nof shul massacre, Chaim Rothman, who lingered for almost a year after the attack last November.  Mishpacha interviewed his wife who said a most remarkable thing.

Someone commented to her, "Risa, poor thing, you're in limbo." And she could have remained in this situation for years, with her husband comatose, terribly injured, and she raising her large family, the youngest is five, on her own. 

But Mrs. Rothman said, "That comment didn't sit well with me, and the next day I realized why.  I realized, no, I'm not in limbo.  There's no such thing.  This 'limbo' place is exactly the place where I'm supposed to do my avodas Hashem, not waiting for the time when it will be better.  Someone who's waiting for a shidduch or a baby or any other yeshua, this is where you have to do your avoda - in the waiting, not when it gets better.  Limbo is now, limbo is here, where I have to develop myself, not this happy picture of where I would like to see myself."

Nov 23, 2015

Pain and What It is Telling Us

Dr. Oliver Sacks tells a remarkable story of seeing a patient who had headaches every Sunday.  From his description of the symptoms, the diagnosis was migraines.  Dr. Sacks prescribed medication for him to take as soon as he felt the onset of symptoms.

A week later, the patient called, all excited, to tell him that the medicine worked and he had no headache.

A week later, he called the patient to hear how he was doing.  Interestingly, the patient said the medicine worked but now he was bored.  "Every Sunday for the previous fifteen years had been devoted to migraines, his family would come, he was the center of attention, and now he missed all of that."

A week later, he got an emergency phone call from the man's sister about her brother having a severe asthma attack.  When he visited his patient, the man told him that he had had asthma attacks as a child but that they had been "replaced" by migraines.

When the doctor suggested giving him something for the asthma, the man wisely said, "No, I'll just get something else.  Do you think I need to be ill on Sundays?"

The doctor and patient spent two months discussing this and as they did, the man's migraines became fewer and fewer and disappeared.

This is a perfect illustration of Dr. Sarno's approach to a lot of pain symptoms.  Look him up online and you'll see his books and what people have to say about him.  His approach is that in the overwhelming majority of cases, "back pain is a symptom created by the unconscious mind as a distraction to aid in the repression of strong unconscious emotional issues." That means, the physical pain serves an emotional need.  If you confront the emotional need directly, the physical pain vanishes.  This works with other pain too like shoulder pain, etc. It should be noted that Dr. Sarno will physically examine a patient to determine that there is no real, physical problem.

It should be noted that last I heard, there is a R' Elya Katz in Boro Park who presents Dr. Sarno's approach for free, 718-232-2741, at certain times.

Nov 22, 2015

When Talk is Dangerous

Tehillim 73:15 אם אמרתי אספרה כמו הנה דור בניך בגדתי
"If I said, "I shall tell it as it is," behold I have made the generation of Your children into traitors."

Rashi: Said Asaph, “If I said in my heart to tell everything as it is, all that His people say about this, I would make them into traitors and wicked men."

Metzudas Dovid: If I say it the way it is, i.e. whatever it is that I think, then the talking will incite even those who are your children, i.e. those who believe in You, for when they hear what is thought, I will make them into traitors which is why I won't talk much.

I heard someone say, based on this verse, that the trend to discuss all our frum society's ills out in the open is the modern day version of "es iz shver tzu zayn a Yid" - it's hard to be a Jew.  How many Jews are being turned off to frum life when they hear about all the crises and social ills we are suffering from?

Back in the early 1900's, when shomer Shabbos Jews sighed over the hardships of being religious, they lost their children who were not interested in living a hard, religious life.  These days, why would someone want to belong to a society which has a shidduch crisis, tuition crisis, parnassa crisis, housing crisis, drop-outs, those who keep "half Shabbos," Kiddush clubs and alcoholism, drug addiction, mental illness, shalom bayis problems and molestation problems? Sounds quite unappealing!

Some editors and askanim pat themselves on the back for "breaking taboos" and (supposedly) dispelling stigmas by airing issues that used to be kept quiet.  Are we gaining or losing thereby, that is the question.  What would they say if they knew that just one person was turned off to Yiddishkeit because of this openness?

a related post

Nov 21, 2015

Power of a Song

The other day I heard a remarkable story.  A woman who taught preschool 37 years ago, met a man who told her that he still remembers the song, "Hashem is here, Hashem is there, Hashem is truly everywhere," that she taught the class.

He said this song guided him in life.

What a zechus for Uncle Yossi (Goldstein) a'h who composed the song!

Nov 20, 2015

Some Invitation That Is ...

The pattern repeats.  Massacres in France, calls for Jews to "come home" to Israel, panicked French Jews leave in droves.

Ironic it is that on the same Friday that the butchery ensued in Paris, a Jewish father and son were murdered in Israel to be followed by the murders of another five Jews later that week.  So what exactly is the claim of the "come home" proponents - come home so at least you can get killed on holy ground?

Nov 9, 2015

Feeding the Hungry

Today, before leaving the house, I prepared a snack of cashews in a baggie to take along.  I was sitting on the subway and, as happens periodically, someone announced that he was homeless and diabetic and hungry.  Did we have anything to give him?

I don't give money because you don't know what they'll do with it.  And I usually don't have anything else to offer.  But this time, I had nuts.  So I took out the baggie and when he came by, I asked - would you like these?

He gave a big "yeah!" and grinned and moved on.  I was hoping everybody else saw whitey give him food, and if they were discerning, Jewish whitey, while most of his kinsmen gave him nothing.  I feel that if someone says he's hungry, and you can feed him, then you do.  I should have thought, but forgot, that I am emulating Hashem by providing the man with food.

I hope it made a Kiddush Hashem.  I really missed my snack later in the day.

Nov 1, 2015

Recreation in the Library

The children's section of the public library is noisy.  Aren't libraries supposed to be quiet places?

Well, the children are playing computer games.

Computer games? In the library?

I thought libraries are for reading.

I commented to a librarian and she said libraries provide recreation.

Recreation?! Like ball playing and Scrabble?

She pointed out the chess games.

I said, libraries have changed drastically since I was a kid.  Used to be, libraries were for reading books.

I don't think this is a change for the better.

Oct 31, 2015

Volunteer or Patient

Someone in a shiur quoted a hospital volunteer as saying that in heaven it is decreed how much time we will spend in hospitals.  Either we can be in hospitals as a patient or as a visitor.

This is like what it says (Gemara Bava Basra 10):  Rabbi Yehudah b'Rabbi Shalom says, Hashem's judgment on Rosh Hashanah decides losses as well as gains.

The story is told of Raban Yochanan ben Zakai, who dreamt one Motza'ei Rosh Hashanah that his nephews would lose seven hundred Zuz during the coming year. Throughout the year, he persuaded them to keep giving tzedaka (so as to fulfill the dream in the finest possible way). When, on the following Erev Yom-Kipur, they were still seventeen Zuzim short - the king's tax men came and claimed from them seventeen Zuz.

When Raban Yochanan ben Zakai reassured them that they were not destined to lose any more, and told them about his dream, they asked him why he did not inform them about the dream earlier, in which case they would have given all the money of their own free will. He told them he wanted them to give the money purely for the sake of the Mitzvah, and not for the least ulterior motive.

So we see this idea that we have a destiny that will be fulfilled in some form or another and we have a choice of how it will be done.  See this post here for other examples.

Oct 30, 2015

Prioritize Preemptive Prayer

The other day I heard about a woman who tripped where construction was being done and sustained a fracture where her arm meets the shoulder.  Her life changed in an instant with doctors, surgery, pain, rehabilitation, incapacity, etc. Her story is not unique; it happens all the time.

It just made me think that just as we say yeshuas Hashem k'heref ayin, that the salvation of Hashem is like the blinking of an eye, i.e. it can happen so fast, so too with negative occurrences.  They too are from Hashem and can happen in the blinking of an eye. 

A negative thought? Sobering, yes.  We have to keep praying and preemptive prayer is best.

Oct 29, 2015

Indulging in Food

The owner of an upscale kosher supermarket in Brooklyn is quoted as explaining the explosion of kosher food as follows, "There are very few places we Yidden can indulge, and food is one of them."

He goes on to say, "Food is like music.  It builds memories.  Food can take us from where we are to where we want to be.  That's how powerful food is."

Now that latter thought is true and intriguing, but what does indulging have to do with it?

The dictionary says that to indulge is to yield to an inclination or desire.  Is that what Halacha and Sifrei Mussar tell us is allowed or something to eradicate?

Oct 28, 2015

A Tzadekes in Our Time

This article here was published in 2002 about Mrs. Henny Machlis a'h and this one here in 2009.  I read them back then, and was amazed.

To my dismay, I read of her tragic passing at the young age of 58 on October 16 - 3 Cheshvan, after a horrible illness here.

I'm seeing new articles about her, here and there.  They tell about her remarkable outlook on life, how she truly believed and did not merely say that Hashem is in charge, how she loved children so that nine out of her fourteen children were born via C-section, how she excelled bein adam la'Makom and bein adam la'chaveiro.  And she was born in Brooklyn, to kind parents to be sure, but it wasn't like she came from an exotic locale, born to a kabbalist, and raised in unusual circumstances.  That's what make her accomplishments that much more incredible as well as doable. 

Oct 27, 2015

Real Mesirus Nefesh

In case you've heard that we can learn mesirus nefesh from the Arabs, a speaker I heard today said, no!


Because mesirus nefesh is selfless, it transcends reason.  What Arab terrorists do is to gain Paradise.  This is what they are promised and this is what motivates them.

No comparison.

Oct 14, 2015

'We'll Treat Terrorists First if They're More Severely Wounded'

From Israel National News:
Magen David Adom (MDA) volunteers have been busy in recent days providing immediate treatment to the victims of Arab terror, but according to MDA general director Eli Bein, the organization may put the attackers before their victims.
Speaking to the haredi radio station Kol Barama, Bein answered a question that has been posed constantly on social media, asking whether MDA medics would first treat an Arab terrorist who is shot while conducting an attack before treating his or her Jewish victims.
"I don't have instruction like that about who to treat first, the moment you see a wounded person you treat them, we don't check who the victims are," said Bein.
"Unfortunately the terrorists are doing awful things to innocent people. At the same time, I don't have the privilege to come and sort out the wounded - the rule of Magen David Adom is to treat the most seriously wounded person who is in life threatening danger."
No comment necessary.
See here

Sep 30, 2015

And the Reason is ...

For years, I heard that the yeshiva in Volozhin was the prototype of a yeshiva, that it is referred to as the "Mother of All Yeshivos," even though yeshivos go back all the way to the yeshiva of Shem and Eiver.  The reason given was that it was set up differently, with the bachurim not having to eat meals with local people, but in the yeshiva.  The yeshiva was not dependent on the locals.  As though that is a reason to dismiss the numerous yeshivos that existed.  To mention a few, there were renowned yeshivos in Lublin in the time of the Maharsha (1555-1631) and the Maharam (1558-1616). The latter headed yeshivos in Lublin, Cracow, and Lvov, and had hundreds of talmidim.  The Maharshal (1510-1573) headed a great yeshiva in Lublin

Then, recently, I heard a shiur in which the speaker said that the reason the Volozhiner yeshiva was unique was because there was a structure and you had to conform to the seder and show up and learn at set times.  It wasn't a free-for all, i.e. learn what you want, when you want.  Oh.

Most recently, I was reading an article by R' Moshe Taub in Ami (#231) in which he says the Volozhiner yeshiva is referred to as the first modern-day yeshiva, even though there were many other yeshivos at that time and hundreds that preceded it (I am glad he wrote that, since I had been left with the impression for years that no yeshivos existed before Volozhin for hundreds of years going back to Sura and Pumbedisa!)

What made it unique? No, not the elimination of essen teg, and not the establishment of a curriculum and times for learning.  He says it is because R' Chaim Volozhiner recognized the need for a yeshiva to remain aloof from local politics.  Until his time, the local rav was also the rosh yeshiva and he was chosen by the balabatim.  Now, the rosh yeshiva was independent.  Oh.

Live and learn.

Sep 29, 2015

Tzipisa L'Yeshua

Rabbi Dovid Kaplan tells a great story in his Shabbos Table Impact about someone he knows who told him that he was leaving the Kosel when a non-Jewish woman approached him.  She asked, "Are you a rabbi?"

When he said he is, she asked, "I was wondering whether there are going to be any sacrifices here today."

Now before you hear what he answered, what would you have answered? Just, "Uh, no?"

What he said was, "Well, as of now, no, but there may be some later in the day."

I love it.

Sep 27, 2015

A Consistent Approach

There are those who dismiss the idea of celebrating birthdays because the only example we have in Torah of someone celebrating a birthday is Pharaoh, and he is not exactly a role model for us.

It would seem reasonable then, for those who hold that way, to feel the same way about goodbye parties or what is known in the yeshiva world as a seudas praida.  The Torah source for a goodbye party is when Lavan the rasha says that if he had known that Yaakov and his family were leaving, he would have sent them off with "joy, song, drum, and harp."

Although Lavan is not a role model for us, the fact that the Torah mentions this, without any negative comments from the pesukim or Chazal, shows that a seudas praida is something sanctioned by Torah (says R' Boruch Leff in his book, A New Shabbos Soul). 

So no birthday celebrations? Then no seudos praida.  Although I personally have not heard anything negative about goodbye parties but have heard aspersions cast on birthday parties.

Sep 25, 2015

Yes Scare Tactics

follow-up to previous post

According to R' Avigdor Miller z'l:

"We have to know that there's a dread of Hashem.  This includes the fear of facing Him in the World to Come, coming face-to-face with Him, the greatest dread of all.  One of the functions of this dread is to think of Gehinom. Every Jew must train himself to put into his thoughts as a permanent addition that there is a fearsome Gehinom going on all the time.  There is nothing as bad as Gehinom.  Whatever people have suffered in this world, even the crematoriums, the concentration camps, the gas chambers, is nothing compared to Gehinom.  There are some denizens of Gehinom who have always been there, reshaim of the nations who caused the Jewish people to suffer, and are there right now screaming in eternal, terrible pain.  Being aware of that is part of our emuna; just like we believe in Hashem, we have to believe in Gehinom.

"Of course we have to be convinced there is a Gan Eden too, but when we talk about pachad (as we do in the Rosh Hashana davening), part of our fear is directed at Gehinom."

Sep 18, 2015

No Scare Tactics

R' Yaakov Bender says (Chinuch with Chessed), "Gehinnom is not something to be discussed with 8 year olds, and perhaps not even with mesivta aged boys.  You may discuss reward and punishment but the gory details of Gehinnom will not create healthy teenagers.  There is a time and place for everything.  At the very sensitive age of 13 or 14, we are not trying to scare our children into being good."

Threat of punishment is scary.  So it's not clear how he proposes to discuss the punishment aspect without scaring the children.

And while only scaring children into being good is not a good approach, why should true, scary aspects of how Hashem runs the world be off limits?

I wonder how R' Bender thinks teachers should handle the more gory stories of our history, stories like Akeidas Yitzchok, Chana and her Seven Sons, the death of Rabbi Akiva, the curses in the Torah which are delineated in great, gory detail, etc. And I wonder how he thinks the Holocaust should be taught. Or maybe he is only opposed to gory details when it's Gehinnom, but when it entails what people do to people, he thinks differently.

I don't know, but this thought of his made me stop to think. I'm not convinced.

Sep 16, 2015

Loving Shabbos

The test to know whether you love Shabbos, says R' Boruch Leff in his third Shabbos book, A New Shabbos Soul, is how do we feel when Shabbos leaves.  Do we wait with bated breath for Shabbos to be over? If we do, we don't really love Shabbos.  Do we feel like we want Shabbos to be finished so we can get back to a project we were working on? Then we don't really love Shabbos, he says.

I disagree.  If you look forward to seeing your family and after spending many happy hours with them, you are ready to go, does that mean you don't love your family?

There is loving spending time with people, there is loving doing an activity, and then there is having enough and wanting to do something else.  I don't see how that demonstrates lack of love.  According to his reasoning, if I don't want to spend all my time, always, with my family, then I don't love them and of course, that is not true.

I think the same is true for Shabbos.  I look forward to Shabbos.  I am happy when it begins.  I like Shabbos morning.  I like Shabbos afternoon.  And then, when it is time for Shabbos to be over, I am not pining for more and more.  Now that's a chisaron, I know, based on many sources, for example, Shabbos being a taste of Olam Haba which is for eternity.  If I appreciated Shabbos even more than I do, I would want to extend it.  But to say that it means I don't love it? No.

Sep 11, 2015

Try Again, Maybe

On Rosh Hashana there is a new cheshbon, completely unrelated to last year's cheshbon, see this post.

I read this analogy long ago, not sure whose it is.  It goes like this.  There is a fly that is buzzing against a window, wanting to get outside.  The fly keeps hitting the glass in a futile attempt for freedom.  There is a  window without a screen that the fly could easily fly through, but the fly doesn’t see it. It doesn’t even look for it! It only sees one way to accomplish its goal as it repeatedly bangs against the glass.

The fly is motivated, but without help to see it from a new angle or perspective, the fly is doomed to repeating the only behavior it knows.

How do we know whether something we've tried, without success, needs to be tried again and we will finally succeed, or whether it is futile, no matter how many times we try, it just won't work?

I've read of people who tried, unsuccessfully, to learn Torah, who were determined and who davened, and who finally succeeded.  They could have said, learning is just not for me.

I've read of people who tried various ways of making money, unsuccessfully, until finally they succeeded.  They could have said, I'm just not the kind of person who succeeds financially.

Sometimes it's the method that needs changing, sometimes the method is fine but it will take time and repeated efforts to see change.  Davening is a must and asking an objective person is helpful.

Sep 10, 2015

Sharing the Burden

I read: Rav Chaim Shmulevitz had a son born in Eretz Yisroel in the middle of the War of Independence and the bris was held in the hospital. Since bombs and debris were falling every few moments, one had to run from building to building in the short moments between bombs. As Rav Chaim was running with a relative, he spotted an injured child who was almost completely bandaged. The great rosh yeshiva  stopped running to look at the child and cry over his injuries. His relative begged the rosh yeshiva to run for cover, to no avail.

The rosh yeshiva later explained: “Foolish people think that being nosei b’ol im chaveiro (sharing your friend's burden) only means offering practical help when you can. No, the essence of this middah is to share his pain.

In case you wonder of what use is this sharing, you must know that sharing the pain diminishes it for the one who is injured” (Sefer Moach Veleiv).

The discussion comes up now and then, whether it's a war in Israel or some other distressing circumstance, does it help anyone if I forgo dessert because other people somewhere are suffering?

I recently read that Rabbi Weitzman of Brownsville, Brooklyn issued a psak during World War II which said, if a couple wanted to marry, there was a chuppa at his house, some cake and soda, and nothing more.  No celebration, no dancing, because Jews were dying.  Rabbi Teitz of Elizabeth, NJ had a similar rule at his shul at that time.

As for this sharing the pain diminishing it for the victim, I would like to hear more about that.  How does that work? What's the source for that?


Sep 2, 2015

Taking Responsibility

I listened to a recent talk given by R' Dovid Orlofsky in which he says, today no one is a baal gaava, meaning, nobody thinks they are superior to others.

Rather, today's mindset is - I am the center of my world.

I thought that was an interesting differentiation.  He went on to give many examples of today's generation's lack of maturity, things like frivolous law suits (some of which are won).  He told the following personal story:
When he was a mashgiach in a yeshiva for boys coming straight out of high school, one boy kept saying he was more mature than the rest of the guys since he was a year older, having had a year of college before going to Israel. 

R' Orlofsky finally said, maturity means responsibility, and davening is at 7:15, and you don't get up till after 11, sometimes 12, so how are you defining maturity?
The boy said, maybe you should be asking yourself why you can't motivate me to get up in the morning, because ultimately this is your failure, rabbi!

Did your jaw drop upon reading that?
His point? Maturity is taking responsibility for your actions.

see here

Aug 31, 2015

No Title

A girl a year out of seminary gets married.  She is in the middle of pursuing an education for a profession, so she can support her husband's Torah study, and has two years of schooling to go. 

Mazal Tov.  She has a baby ten months later.

Ten days after the birth, she is back in school.  Five days a week.  All day. With travel time.

It's bein ha'zemanim, husband can help with the baby.  Grandma can help out.

Two months after the birth, the baby is at a babysitter all day.  First at the morning babysitter, then at the afternoon babysitter.  The father takes his baby from one sitter to the other.

I will restrain myself.  I think the facts speak for themselves.

related posts:





Aug 30, 2015

Fat Exercise Instructor

If an exercise instructor gives a good class, would their appearance, i.e. weight matter to you? Would you be turned off if you hired a personal trainer and an overweight person showed up but they did their job well?

There was a situation in which an instructor was laid off because of weight.  People are not motivated by fat instructors, thinking - if that's how the instructor looks WITH exercise, well ...

I'm undecided.  If I really liked the class, then of course, I would be sorry to see the instructor leave, but I can see that people would be perturbed by a heavy exercise instructor.

Aug 26, 2015

Spaced Repetition

In the same book, Brain Rules, that I referred to a few posts ago, I found the section on how to successfully memorize something interesting.  What's needed is "spaced repetition."

It is better to space your review of the material than to squeeze all the repetitions together.  As he puts it, "Learning occurs best when new information is incorporated gradually into the memory store."

It has been shown that we forget so much in the first hour or two after being exposed to something.  The way to lessen this loss is by deliberate repetitions.

There is more information about this, if you are interested.  It is something that ought to be taught in school so students know that cramming doesn't work well and so that they can best retain the information they work hard to memorize.

Aug 25, 2015

A Painful Consolation

A woman described a shiva call that was paid to her mother who had lost a child.  The visitor attempted to console the mourner by noting the rest of her large family.  The bereaved mother did not appreciate this nechama which seemed to say she could manage without her child because she had other children.

I pointed out that what the woman said was correct.  The bereaved mother did not like hearing it because it seemed to imply that her other children could make up for her loss when she felt that her child was irreplaceable.  But, I said, consider Mrs. Shoshana Greenbaum of the Sbarro bombing.

Shoshana got married late in life and was expecting her first child when she was murdered in Sbarro's.  She was an only child.  Unlike the mother described at the beginning of this post, Shoshana's mother had lost her one and only child who was carrying her first and only grandchild.  With Shoshana's death, she was left with nothing.  No children, no continuity.  It was truly a nechama to the woman with other children that she had other children.

Aug 24, 2015

Words for Food

I may have heard this idea in a shiur many years ago.  It's been so long, I don't remember.  Here is a list of roots and words related both to food as well as to war and destruction:

1) ochel - food אוכֶל 
 consume "והסנה איננה אֻכָּל" - and the burning bush was not consumed

2) milchama - war, bread מלחמה, לחם

3) טרף - sustenance and tearing
Tehillim: "טרף נתן ליראיו"
"טרף טרף יוסף" - like an animal that is treif

4) mazon - sustenance מזון
klei zayin - weapons כּלי זַייִן

5) shever - שבר referring to food and breaking
food: Yaakov said, "יש שבר במצרים"

6) michyeh - food, for it  provides life chai מחיה
and to eradicate, as in the mitzvah of destroying Amalek: מחיית עמלק

So why do eating and destruction share roots? We do consume our food and we are called consumers, so the concept exists in English too.  But how come in Lashon Ha'Kodesh, there are many roots that mean both food and destruction?

Aug 23, 2015

Succos in China!

A full page ad in a frum magazine lets us know that if you find Eretz Yisrael boring, and don't want to go to some ho-hum location for Succos, and if staying at home is not even something you would consider, then China might just be the place for you.*

You will definitely have unique Chol Ha'Moed excursions.  Tired of the aquarium and the zoo? Don't want to go to another amusement park or apple picking? Not interested in a concert, slide show or the newest frum movie production? Think just hanging out in your succa (fulfilling a mitzvah thereby) is not exciting enough?

Well, the Great Wall of China with BBQ dinner is something different.

*for the sake of accuracy, it's not the ad said that outright; the ad just advertised Succos in China

Aug 21, 2015

The Ten Minute Rule

In the book Brain Rules, there is a section on attention.  The author states, contrary to popular belief, we cannot successfully multi-task.  Yes, we can do things like walk and talk at the same time, because neither activity requires much of our attention, or just the talking does.  And yes, a pianist can play different notes with their right and left hands simultaneously; they are trained to do that.

But we cannot successfully work on a writing assignment while playing a computer game and listening to music and talking/texting.  This is because we cannot do those thing simultaneously and so we keep going from one activity to the next, each time having to refocus our attention.  More mistakes are made and it takes much longer to complete a task this way.

Even more interesting to me is his 10 minute rule. The most common mistake made by teachers-professors-lecturers is conveying too much information with not enough time to digest the material. Medina, the author, asks every college class he teaches: When do you start looking at the clock in a class of medium interest.  The answer is 10 minutes.  Medina developed a model for giving a lecture which goes like this:

Every lecture consists of 10 minute segments. Each segment covers a single core concept which is explainable in 1 minute.  A 50 minute class would teach 5 large concepts.  The other 9 minutes of each segment is used to discuss the core concept in detail.  Each detail needs to be easily related back to the core concept, and the teacher needs to spell this out because you don't want the audience to have to multi-task.

When 10 minutes are up, the speaker needs to do something to gain another 10 minutes of the audience's attention.  He calls them "hooks."  Hooks need to trigger an emotion: fear, happiness, nostalgia, incredulity.  They need to be relevant, not just a random joke. Hooks need to either relate to the previous material or introduce the next 10 minute segment.

Next time you listen to a shiur-lecture-class, notice how you react.  Does your interest start waning after ten minutes? How do your favorite speakers (the ones who teach, not tell stories) hold your attention?

Aug 20, 2015


A girl's shidduch resume was sent to a mother of a boy.  The girl seemed to be what the mother of the boy was looking for, for her son, and the girl was in town!

Within hours of sending off the resume, the mother of the boy said no to the idea.  Why? She was out of town and would let me know the following week.

The following week she explained that since the parents of the girl were divorced, and it would have required extra research, and it was complicated, she declined.

Divorced!? They are not divorced!

What?! But it says in the resume that the father is in Miami and the mother is in Detroit!

No it doesn't! The fact that it says "Miami" in parentheses after the father's name is to indicate that that is where he is from, not that he is currently living there! In fact, the very next line says where he works and it's in Detroit, where he lives with the mother in an intact home!

Oh! But the resume does not say (from Miami).  It says (Miami).  Can you see why I thought they were no longer married?

Yes, but ... I would have said if they were divorced! And I had looked at that resume and did not think anything untoward by (Miami).

Divine providence strikes again.  For some reason, she was meant to misread the resume and say no at that time.  She can still revisit the idea, but the suggestion at that time was definitely off.

Aug 16, 2015

What's the Difference?

The parallels are obvious.

In this treaty the US wants to make with Iran, we are dealing with:
people we can't trust
people known to sponsor terrorism
people who say we are evil.

No different than when Israel makes treaties with:
people they can't trust
people who have tried killing them again and again
people who say Israel is evil and needs to be eradicated.

So why does Netanyahu scream about the treaty the US wants with Iran when he and Israeli prime minister after prime minister, do the very same thing he screams about?

Aug 4, 2015

Ha, ha

At the end of a talk given by R' Benzion Shafier of "The Shmuz," he said:

"All the shmuzin are available on  Don't go on the Internet.  If you do, go  Don't get a Smartphone.  Don't do it! It's not smart, it's dumb.  But if you do, get theshmuz app.  It's available for the iphone and the android."

The audience laughed.

No comment necessary.

Jul 31, 2015

When the Speaker is the Hero of His Story

I have listened to numerous speakers over the years of widely different backgrounds, levels of knowledge and personality.  Some often include material about themselves in their talks, some rarely or never do. 

As for those who do, there are different categories of personal information.  There is background information, where they came from, where they grew up, how their parents raised them, an anecdote that took place in their childhood, what their rosh yeshiva or teacher told them, sometimes a self-deprecating account, etc.

Then there are personal encounters that occurred, whether on an airplane, in shul, in a store, and what the person said and how the speaker responded.

There are hashgacha pratis stories, seeing the Yad Hashem intervene in their lives and direct them.

There are incidents that are related in which the speaker wants to illustrate a midda or good practice and they tell the audience how they do that which they are telling the audience to do. 

And then there are stories in which the speaker is the hero.

I like hearing personal accounts.  They are usually interesting.  What I find off-putting is when the speaker, who is the hero of his own story, comes across (to me) as tooting his own horn.  It's fine to tell an audience to do as he or she does, because it's encouraging to hear that the person telling us to do something, does it himself.  It's when the speaker comes across sounding very pleased with himself that he's crossed the line.  Some acknowledgment of Hashem providing them with the right words or the right approach, some expressions of humility, make a difference.

Jul 30, 2015

So Much for Feelings

I read an article recently by Yael Mermelstein.  She was doing renovations and was told that Mohammed, the second in command to the Jewish contractor, is actually Jewish himself.  His mother and her sisters all married Arabs. 

YM was told not to bother with outreach efforts since Mohammed grew up as a Muslim, married an Arab and has Arab children and is not interested in anything Jewish.

The author then tells us about Carrie who loves the Jewish people, married a Jew, feels Jewish, celebrates Jewish holidays, made bar mitzvas, and is very interested in Judaism, but ... her mother wasn't Jewish.  Carrie says, "I know you don't consider me Jewish but I know that I'm Jewish.  My husband considers me Jewish (after a Reform ceremony) and I feel Jewish.  I feel it all the way down to my bones and I love being Jewish."

Mohammed doesn't feel Jewish, but he is.
Carrie feels Jewish, but she isn't.

So much for feelings.

Jul 29, 2015

I Glow, You Glow

Hashem instructed Gavriel to write in ink the letter tav on the foreheads of the righteous so that the divinely appointed forces of destruction should not touch them.

The foreheads of the wicked people, however, were to be marked with the same letter written in blood, so that they would fall victim to the forces of destruction.
This Gemara, plus the Chanuka animated video called "Lights," probably explain where my Moshiach fantasy comes from.
When Moshiach comes, I'm hoping all Jews will have a glowing, golden letter yud on their foreheads while Amalekim will have a black ayin.  Considering the numerous Jews raised as Christians in Poland or in countries south of the border, who are unaware of their Jewishness, there are going to be a lot of surprised people with gold yuds on their foreheads.

You know that good feeling you have when you notice a fellow Jew when you're someplace not that Jewish like the subway or when you travel somewhere? And how sometimes you look at someone and wonder, is he/she Jewish?

Well, with glowing yuds, you need not wonder any longer!

Jul 23, 2015

The Pleasure Principle

In an article on parshas Pinchas that I read, an explanation was given about the Baal Peor idol and how it was worshipped.  It said that every constructive physical act is pleasurable.  Physical acts have a purpose, such as eating to sustain life.  In order to ensure that man does these important things, they come along with pleasure.

Pleasure just for its own sake is a corruption.  If we do something just for pleasure alone, it is devoid of anything good or holy.

In reading this, I was reminded of the frum world's obsession with food as seen in kosher food magazines, numerous cookbooks, articles about surgery for obesity, etc. It is claimed that the preoccupation with food is a good thing: here but I'm not convinced.  The shockingly crass ads I've posted about have not convinced me that the eating is l'sheim shomayim or just plain neutral.

I'm not claiming to eat every mouthful for the sake of heaven, and yet, pride in being a foodie, the eagerness to have yet another culinary experience, the weird combinations of ingredients for the sake of something new, is just too much.

Jul 17, 2015

Decorating Tips

In between trying or making the latest food craze, I thought it would be helpful to share with you "decorating tips from the pros" as published in a frum publication.  These tips are provided by frum decorators.

You need to know what is trendy and what is out of date - wallpaper is trendy (depending on the room and how it's used) and sconces and moldings are out of date

You need to know which colors are in and which are out.

Carpets are out, wooden floors are in.

I hope you held on to your area rugs because they were out, but now they're "making a comeback."

White bathroom fixtures are trendy.

Square spotlights are trendy now.

Don't use a bedroom or living set where everything is the same.  Mix and match pieces of furniture.  Each piece should look handpicked and make a statement.

Since the saying goes, "sarcasm doesn't work on the web," let me assure you that I this advice is nonsensical.  It's simply a way to keep people decorating and redecorating, and the winners are the interior decorators, those who sell furniture, those who sell flooring, painters, those who sell household accessories.  And yet, this is presented to frum readers in all seriousness.  For shame!

Jul 14, 2015

Live and Learn

The Yiddish expression, "nisht geshtoygen, nisht gefloygen" - literally: did not go up, did not fly, is used to dismiss a report as totally without foundation, like when we say "baloney!"
It occurred to me to google it and I discovered that the origin seems to be a reference to Yoshke, that he neither rose up from the grave (alternatively, he neither ascended the cross) nor did he fly to heaven.  Live and learn!

Jul 12, 2015

R' David Forhman's Animated Torah Videos

I've mentioned R' David Fohrman's lectures before in connection with Tisha B'Av here.  Now I'd like to tell you about his intriguing parsha animated videos and his website.

I first saw his parsha videos on Aish here.  I had watched many of them last year but occasionally ran into difficulties if the video, rather than being shown on Aish, was shown on his website  On the website, you can only watch for a limited amount of time per month unless you subscribe.

So before Pesach this year, I subscribed and I've been keeping up with the parsha, whatever I missed from last year, and this year's, as well as holiday videos.  I paid $9 a month, a total of $90 and got a year's subscription. 

R' Fohrman looks for patterns in the Torah, parallels, and comes up with interesting theories based on a close reading of the text.  This is presented in cute, animation form.  I like the way he also shows the pesuskim that he is talking about so you can see the words in the text.  Give the free ones a try and see for yourself.

Jul 8, 2015

Heavenly Accounts

From an article by Mrs. Krohn:

An elderly man who had kept Shabbos in the early 20th century was interviewed by his grandchildren about the challenges he faced.

"Zeidy, it must have been so hard for you to keep Shabbos in those years," said a grandson.

The grandfather smiled and said, "It wasn't difficult to keep Shabbos; it was difficult to earn a parnassa."

Since the grandfather did not view Shabbos as a hardship, this enabled him to merit to raise generations of frum descendents, for as R' Moshe Feinstein would say, the reason earlier generations lost their children even though they were shomer Shabbos was because the parents would complain, "It's hard to be a Jew," when they lost their jobs yet again in order to keep Shabbos.

Interestingly, in the same article, R' Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg z'l is quoted as saying that the money a person spends on any mitzvah will not be deducted from the amount that is granted to him for his yearly expenses (source: Ritva, Shita Mekubetzes Beitza 16a).

Jul 7, 2015

More Lies

It was widely reported that Rachelle Fraenkel, mother of one of the three murdered teenagers last year, told a group of teenaged girls at the Kosel, after the kidnappings that “God is not our servant,” and “Prayer is worthy, no matter what the outcome.”

It turns out that she was preparing them for what she already knew to be true, that her son was dead.  It has been reported that "the parents knew with near certainty from the start of their ordeal last year, that their sons had been murdered, and yet they held themselves together and presented faces of hope, as if to strengthen the rest of us, until their sons were found," writes Jonathan Rosenblum.

Last year, I wrote here about being lied to, but now there is the additional point that the parents themselves knew the truth.  I feel even more used than before, when I thought the IDF was hiding the information, even from the parents.

All the prayers and mitzvah commitments were misdirected toward finding the boys alive, and the parents were part of the deception.  Mrs. Fraenkel's statement to the girls was based on knowledge that she had, and the girls did not.  The Washington Post quoted her as saying, "“We believe the children are alive, that they will be brought back to us.  We believe they’re hiding them someplace. I don’t like to think about that, where they’re hiding them. I like to think about them coming home.”  But according to Rosenblum this was not true.

Jul 3, 2015

The Sin of Worrying

Here is a vort that I heard in the name of R' Boruch of Mezhibuzh on the words in the pasuk in Tehillim 38:19 "כי עוני אגיד, אדאג מחטאתי" -

The simple meaning of the pasuk is, "For I relate my iniquity, I worry about my sin." The vort reads the pasuk like this: "For I relate my iniquity, worry is one of my sins."

Why? Because worrying is useless.  Action is where it's at.  It has been noted that the word for worry in Hebrew, דאגה, has four out of the first five letters of the alef-beis.  It is missing the letter ב which stands for bitachon, because that is what worry is about, a lack of bitachon.

Jul 2, 2015

Do We Care About Jewish Life?

One year ago, on June 30th, the bodies of the three teenaged boys abducted in Israel were found.  This has been mentioned in the news, of course, the past week or two.

Question: What about the tens of thousands (that's tens of thousands) of abortions that take place in Israel every year?

Numerous articles have been written about the three boys, and rightly so.  But where are the numerous articles about Jewish babies killed day after day, month after month, year after year in the State of Israel?

Jun 29, 2015

Asking for Tzedaka

I received an email with a link to a fundraising effort of a seminary girl.  She was finishing a year of seminary and wanted to remain for a second year, which is known as Shana Bet.

The link brought me to a personal fundraising website that people use to raise money for things that are important to them.  So the girl writes how she scraped the money together for the first year of seminary and how important she thinks a second year will be for her.

Let me say at the outset, she sounded sincere and serious about making the most of another year of seminary.  However, without even getting into the issue as to whether a second year of seminary is something anybody should be funding, what bothers me about the appeal for money is just that - it's a hand held out for tzedaka. 

How is it different than sitting on a street frequented by religious Jews with a cup and asking for tzedaka? Or going around in shul and collecting money?

I think that the fact that the Internet puts a distance between people; after all, you are not seeing them face to face, makes the collectors forget the implications of what they are doing.  The same could be said for an appeal written and mailed, but the Internet is even more conducive because there is a website set up just for this, and you can easily email the link to numerous people.  There is no need to stuff envelopes, address them, and put stamps on them.      

Some years ago, a person introduced an Israeli girl to a crowd at a shiur and explained that she was here to raise money for her wedding.  I was so taken aback by this.  Did nobody care to protect her dignity?

Likewise, years ago, a woman came from Israel collecting money for her family.  I guess it was supposed to impress us that she came, rather than her husband.  After all, he was learning.  Again, I was appalled.  In the stories that I've read about beggars collecting money, they were men.  Money was raised for hachnosas kalla and widows but, as far as I know, the kallos and widows were not traveling about and knocking on doors with their hand out. 

In desperate situations, may none of us know from it, women might have to collect for themselves, but otherwise?

As to how I would feel if a yeshiva bachur made an Internet appeal for money to enable him to remain in yeshiva or someone in kollel made an appeal asking for money, again, I would wonder whether they would also hold out a cup on a busy corner of a religious neighborhood or collect money in shul. 

So it's two issues: 1) males or females collecting tzedaka from the public  2) a woman collecting tzedaka for herself.

Jun 26, 2015

Original Source of Snakes for Healing

The picture is the "Star of Life," which is the emblem used on ambulances.  What does the symbol represent? A search online says the staff and the snake comes from one of the Greek gods, a god of healing.

Isn't it more likely that the symbol originates with this week's parsha of Chukas? The Jewish people complained, and snakes came and bit them and they died.  Moshe prayed on behalf of the people and Hashem told him to fashion a snake and put it on a pole and whoever was bitten was supposed to look at the snake on the pole.  Chazal say, "Does a snake cause death or life? However, when Yisrael looked heavenward and subjected their hearts to their Father in heaven, they would be healed, but if not, they would waste away."

Jun 22, 2015

A New Career

Azriela Jaffe wrote an article in Ami about a man in her community, Steve, who was working as an accountant and hated it.  His wife told him to find something that would make him happy.  He eventually spoke with an appliance repairman, George, who was friendly with his in-laws, who invited Steve to join him and be shown the ropes.

George did not ask for any money as he trained him for six months.  Steve went out with him every day and watched how George did his job.

Steve says George loved what he did and loved the idea of setting someone else up (the highest level of tzedaka according to the Rambam) in business.

Steve opened his own business and has been doing what he enjoys for 29 years.  In addition to training Steve, George also trained his son, and son-in-law, both appliance repairmen, as well as eight non-Jews.

Steve in turn has trained a young man in Lakewood and is helping someone else.  "Like George, I don't want any money from them.  I get nachas out of seeing my pupils become successful.  George was very proud of me, and I am very proud of them."

-- That George was so bighearted as to train others so they could support themselves honorably, is inspiring.

-- What I find just as moving is that many people consider a white collar job like accounting to be superior to a blue collar job like appliance repair.  In shidduchim, a girl or woman are far more likely to be interested in an accountant that an appliance repairman.  I give great credit to Steve's wife for encouraging him to do what makes him happy, rather than insisting that he remain in a more "honorable" profession, sitting in an office.

-- I'd like to know whether Steve always loved working with his hands, fixing things.  Why did he choose to spend years on a college degree and studying for the CPA? The Chovos HaLevavos says work in a field you are drawn to and are good at.

-- Common wisdom is that you need not only an undergraduate degree but a graduate degree in order to make a decent parnassa. Steve spent six months and no money learning a profession he loves which apparently supports his family and supports many others in this line of work.

Jun 21, 2015

Inside Their Homes

I just finished reading "Inside Their Homes".  It was fabulous! I wrote the author to tell him so. The book is about Binyamin and his active seeking of relationships with special people.  The book is actually as much about Binyamin as it is about the people he tells about.  He is quite an impressive young man.
He describes how since he was a teenager, he has sought to connect with roshei yeshiva and other great men, some well known and others not known at all.  He tells the reader how to do it.  One of his pieces of advice is, don't just be a taker; see what you can do for the gadol.  He says how he came up with ideas of what he could do to benefit those he sought as his mentors.

The book is well-written and in the author's response to me he wrote, "This has been my most popular book so far. I have received an incredible amount of feedback from readers."

Jun 19, 2015

Guilt Revisited

Long ago here, I wrote that "guilt" is considered negative and not Jewish and I wondered about how that fits with the idea of charata (remorse), a component of the teshuva process.

Once again, this time in R' Yaakov Bender's book on chinuch, it's down with guilt and up with regret. He says "there is nothing wrong with busha (shame) and regret," for this is part of teshuva.  He says, "This allows us to move on and to become great individuals without an iota of guilt. Guilt is what you want to avoid.  We don't want guilt.  We don't want negativity."

More from R' Bender: "Are regret, remorse, and embarrassment necessary? Yes, of course, with the proper teshuva.  Guilt? Absolutely not."

Maybe someone can explain to me the difference between regret and guilt, since the dictionary says they are synonyms.

Jun 18, 2015


When we describe a child, a young person, or anyone as "mature," what do we mean by that? Some characteristics are:

the ability to delay gratification
the ability to see the bigger picture
being responsible, taking responsibility
working/living for something higher than yourself
seeing beyond yourself, feeling other's pain

How do you become mature?

Maturity has more to do with what types of experiences you've had and what you do with them,
and what you've learned from them, and less to do with how many birthdays you've celebrated.

A speaker said that when he was a bachur in yeshiva, there would be a basketball game motzoei Shabbos, not for the bachurim, but for men in the neighborhood.  One of the players was a guy who years earlier, had been the basketball star in the mountains in camp.  At this point, he was older and not in fine form.

The game began and a foul was called against him and he was so upset that he took the ball and said, "It's my ball and I'm leaving."  Those who remained were stunned.  He sounded like a five year old and yet, he had children of his own!

As the speaker noted, just because you aged, doesn't mean you changed and matured.  There are adults who have married and live adult lives but are as immature emotionally as they were when they were children.  We need to actively seek change or we are likely to remain the same.

Jun 17, 2015

Good Chinuch

Tsirel attended Gateshead seminary.  One Lag B'Omer, the school went on an outing and a boat trip.  She knew that her parents were opposed to boat trips and told the hanhala she could not go.  She remained in the school alone (the principal and family were on the premises).

As she sat there reviewing her notes, there was a knock.  Who had shown up at the seminary? Her father and uncle! In her two years in seminary, they came just this one time, only because they were somewhat nearby and decided to drive to see her.

Her father asked where is everyone? Why are you here alone? She told him that the school had gone on a boating trip and she did not go because she knew he did not like the idea.  He was moved to tears.

Here was a popular, lively, fun-loving girl who did not attend a school sponsored trip because she knew her parents did not approve.  They would not have known if she went and the trip was really fine! But since she knew it was something they would not want, she stayed back.  How many parents wonder whether the lessons they've taught their children follow them, even when the children are not under the parents' watchful eyes? How many children are faithful to their parents' wishes when unsupervised by their parents?

Jun 14, 2015

What are My Clothing Saying about Me?

In a write-up about a ger who is a Chassid and dresses as one, he says that when he first saw Chassidim, he did not relate to their clothes but then:

"I had a shift in thinking when my father came to visit me in Israel.  We rented a car and when my father asked to speak with the manager, he came out in a button-up shirt as opposed to the polo shirts of the regular employees.  My father commented how the manager has to dress better because he has responsibility.

"I thought a lot about it.  Doctors have a lab coat, accountants and attorneys wear dark suits, athletes have team uniforms.  In business school, when I spent a month at Domus Academy in Milan, I learned how designers sell people on the idea of dressing as an identity - 'I'm a person who wears brand X because it's an identity statement.'

"Everyone, from the president to a drug dealer, wears clothes that send a message about who they are and how they want to be seen in society.  When I realized all this, I thought: This is the team I want to be a part of, so I should wear the team colors."

What a good question to ask when trying on clothes: What message does this convey about me?

I want to look like this because ______________.

This applies to men, women, boys and girls.  Why are you buying that for camp? Why do you wear that length, that style, that color?

The answers might surprise us.

Jun 2, 2015

Seeds and Sprouts

The cover of the book gives no hint as to the contents.  Under the title it says, "True stories of inner work, inner growth and inner joy."  It turns out, the book is a publication of Bnos Melachim, an organization that promotes tznius in numerous ways.

I was impressed when I read in the introduction that each story was well researched and the facts verified with each protagonist, and that certain stories were omitted because they could not authenticate the information.

Each story highlights a different aspect of tznius under one of six themes: long life and protection, children, health, parnassa, shidduchim-shalom bayis, spiritual success.  In each case, when the person undertook a commitment of an upgrade in tznius, they experienced bracha in their life, whether a miracle or a yeshua. 

They openly address the fact that there are people who have done the same thing and did not see a heavenly response, and people who have always been modest and yet have difficulties or tragedies in their lives.

They say the book is meant to inspire and not to promise miracles, and in any case, it is not our place to draw direct correlations between our actions and events (though the Gemara tells us to examine our deeds when we experience suffering).  Though I think it's somewhat disingenuous to say that when most stories have an amazing connection between an upgrade in tznius (it is usually not a commitment to the basic halacha) and a distressing life situation.

They conclude by cautioning the reader that these stories do not guarantee that any particular commitment will result in a yeshua.

All in all, an inspirational book, though it would be improved with some editing.

May 31, 2015

We are Confused

I was reading an old Binah magazine which has an extensive tznius section, highlighting various tznius initiatives.

They interviewed a woman who started a tznius hospital gown gemach in memory of her daughter.  The typical hospital gown is immodest, while the gowns she provides are simultaneously modest while allowing hospital personnel to do their work (like insert an IV).

What struck me about the article is where the woman says she is always looking for ways to expand the gemach and since there is an overwhelming demand for these gowns, they need more money for fabric, and they want to set up a website.

A website? Hmmm.  But if the conservative, quite frum readership of Binah follows the tznius guidelines promoted in the magazine, they won't have Internet in their homes! Who would the website be for?

I know that with filters and other measures and guidance from their rabbis, upstanding people have Internet, but the official line is: no Internet.  The tznius stories promoted lately (see next post) include the message of not even using filtered Internet, and as far as business needs are concerned, some stories will tell how they use it under rabbinic guidance while other stories will convey the message that Hashem can send you parnassa without your using the Internet.

So it seems ironic and downright confusing that a tznius initiative wants a website!

May 30, 2015

Investing Our Energy

We often read or hear about fulfilling our tafkid, our life's mission.  Aside from learning Torah and doing mitzvos, which is incumbent on us all, we might wonder: what is my particular life's mission?

Ideas for direction include 1) that which you are drawn to and 2) that which you find difficult.  True, if you are drawn to something, it could be because that is where your tafkid lies.  At the same time, if some area of mitzvos is difficult for you, that could very well be where your tafkid lies, although there is something contradictory about that, isn't there ...

I came across this line which I liked, which relates to figuring out where to put one's energies.  It goes like this: "It is not something that I believe I should do; it's something that I cannot help but do."

May 29, 2015

Two Views on Family Time

Rabbi Bender, rosh yeshiva of Darchei Torah in Far Rockaway, and renowned mechanech, strongly promotes spending time with family.  He writes, "Keeping a close kesher with relatives is very important.  Chazal emphasize to us how we should value our relationships even with distant relatives.  Hashem found fault with Avrohom Avinu for abandoning Lot."

Regarding children attending family simchos, for example, a son coming from yeshiva in Eretz Yisrael and parents wondering whether he should stay through the Shabbos sheva brachos or immediately return to yeshiva [note, the question is not whether he should fly in for the wedding; that's a given], R' Bender wrote, "It is my feeling and very strongly so, that parents are entitled to have all their children at each and every family simcha.  All members of a family belong at the simcha of an immediate member of the family.  It is simply the right thing. 

"Boruch Hashem, we are living in a time when we have grandparents and great-grandparents.  Why shouldn't your son from Eretz Yisrael spend time with them, be meshamesh them, gain from their elder wisdom, hear about past simchos, and just be in the atmosphere of mishpacha? ... There is so much to be gained from interacting with all parts of the family, even distant cousins.  I am forever grateful to my mother for teaching us the importance of keeping a very close connection with all our relatives.  I will never forget how she was determined to travel very long distances when she was elderly and frail, to attend family simchos."

Rabbi Avigdor Miller z'l, on the other hand, thinks spending time with family is mostly a waste of time and takes away from Torah study.  Here's a quote:

"Motzoai Shabbos is an opportunity, don't just run around visiting relatives; forget about relatives. You have one relative you have to visit, that's yourself. It's not selfish, because life is only for the purpose of making something out of yourself. So you have Friday night, all day Shabbos; remember Shabbos morning before davening should be utilized. Shabbos afternoon, Motzoai Shabbos. If you don't work on Sundays, be a kollel man on Sundays. "Oh!" your wife will say, "at least one day a week you have to be home!" Answer is, say, "My dear, I am not in the yeshiva now, yeshiva people are going full speed ahead every day of the week, I have one day and that one day I should waste?" So Sunday morning say good bye to your family, take along lunch and you spend the day someplace else, don't go home until nighttime."

Rabbi Miller certainly did not "waste time" attending simchas and rarely attended them.

May 28, 2015

Not Doing the Best He Can!

Years ago, when I read the line, "S/he's doing the best s/he can with the tools s/he has," to put a positive spin on a negative situation, I didn't buy it.  Who said he's doing his best? I know I'm not doing my best, so why would I think others are?

I recently read an article by R' Fishel Schachter in which he describes preparing a shiur on a daf of Gemara with a Rashi that contains a lengthy mathematical calculation.  He wanted to avoid it altogether but was forced to tackle it.  He spent days on it until he finally mastered it.

He asks, what if he did not have to prepare the shiur? If he had been learning that Rashi with a chavrusa, he would have read it through superficially and moved on.  His thinking would have been, these mathematical calculations are not for me.  He would have believed that he could never understand it and forget about teaching it to others.

So he asks, what do we mean when we say we can't do something? He answers:

"Perhaps we mean: Given my current level of motivation, I can't.
Or, given the amount of resources and time I am willing to invest in whatever it is, I can't.
Or, given my existing level of emuna as to whether the success at the end will justify the effort, I can't.
Or, I am so concerned with failing that I am not willing to really apply myself properly.
Or, I don't fully understand that for all practical purposes I can't do anything without siyata dishmaya."

He concludes, "Let's stop thinking whether we can or can't.  Let's just engage and wait for help to come from Above.  The next time you hear yourself saying, 'I just can't do it,' take a moment to reflect on what you really mean.  The greatest opportunity of your life may be at hand.  Don't miss the call."

May 26, 2015

Statistics and Us

Rabbi L. of Flatbush has a granddaughter in a coma (may she have a refuah shleima).  He reported that the doctor was asked what her prognosis is. 

The answer wasn't positive but the doctor added: You never know, with you people things are different.

It's one thing for us to hear that in a shiur or read it, and another thing when someone in the field, apparently not Jewish, says it!

May 11, 2015

A Thought-Provoking Letter

The following letter was printed in Binah magazine in March 2015:

"I live in a community where boxes are getting smaller and smaller, and the only way to get the contents to stay in the box is to sit on the cover and squash it so it fits.

I have been forced to send my daughter to an out-of-town high school because no school in town could accommodate her. She is a girl who is tzniusdik, respectful, and bright.  She is also very talented and creative, and would love to have a career as an artist or fashion designer.  She voiced that once in a personal essay at school and it set off a flurry of conferences as to where this heimishe girl was getting such aspirations from.

Once that red flag was raised, it all went downhill.  She was called in and asked pointed questions such as, "Do you read fashion magazines?" When she answered in the negative, they asked her, "So how will you be a fashion designer? Do you understand why it's the wrong career choice?" And then, I kid you not, she was asked to re-write the essay with a more preferable career choice for a frum girl.

She came home broken and confused.  "Why is it okay for Mrs. X (a parent on the PTA committee) and Rebbetzin L to design tzniusdik fashionable robes and children's clothes, but I can't? Why do I need to write an essay that is a lie?"

She is respectful, my daughter, so she wrote a beautiful essay on why she would shift careers and become an accountant instead.  She called my neighbor, a mechaneches, and told her the story and asked her to read it to ensure that not a hint of cynicism was in there.  My neighbor read it, praised her, and then called me, insisting, "You must talk to your rav.  This girl is going to learn a new habit: lie about who she is and say everything right to satisfy those around her.  She must get out of the school and learn that it's not a way of life."

She scared me (this is my oldest child and I would not have stepped out of the box and made a fuss had she not pushed me) and I did call our rav, who advised us.  He explained it all, in person, to our daughter, and encouraged her to become the best frum fashion designer there is and raise the kedusha level of Klal Yisrael with her creations. He encouraged us to find a high school that would nurture her passion for art and allow more self-expression.

Prior to this, I too was a very "in the box" type.  Now, I worry about its far-reaching effects."

May 4, 2015

How Are We Different 3

As a follow-up to previous posts on the topic of "Mi K'Amcha Yisrael"

here and here

I read (Mishpacha magazine) that a Cleveland benefactor came up with a fantastic chesed idea for families traveling on the afternoon and evening of bedikas chometz, when their car is chometz-free and everyone is hungry.  He, together with others, picked a location between Lakewood and Cleveland on the side of the highway and set up a huge roadside barbeque where travelers going in either direction could stop for a hot meal.

There was no cost for the meals; rather, donations were made to Cleveland's Matan B'Sayser fund.  This year, there was also a food stop located on the route between Toronto and Detroit.

The news item says 1100 people enjoyed hot meals between 1 and 10 pm, there were minyanim for mincha and then maariv, and when rain threatened, two bachurim hurried to the nearest Walmart and bought tents.

Quite impressive!