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.