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!

May 3, 2015

Feeling Content

A 9th grade class of frum girls was asked to complete the sentence: "I am happy when ..."

Here are some of the answers:

I am not worried about anything.
I am in the company of people I enjoy.
I find something that was missing.
I do a job well.
I overcome a challenge.
I am able to help someone.
I do something satisfyingly creative.
I do something meaningful.

What is the difference between happiness and contentment? One writer (B Myndi) posits that happiness is a single state of pleasure, a momentary feeling which is dependent on externals.  An example would be, getting a phone call with exciting mazal tov news or finding just the thing we need when shopping or getting a compliment.  The joy wears off after a while

While contentment is a long-term state of being that comes from our attitudes and values, not from something outside of us.  It's about acceptance and finding the good in what exists right now.  Babies are great at this.

R' Zushe of Anipoli said you can learn three things from a baby:

 1) always be busy

2) when you need something, cry out for it

3) when your needs are satisfied, be content