Dec 28, 2016

Don't Mess with Blessings

True story as heard from the person it happened to:

Mesila here, the Baltimore based organization that coaches struggling families with the financial skills and encouragement to get them out of crisis, poverty and dependence, was available for consultation in a certain neighborhood.  This person went to speak to them.

He showed the rep his papers with information about his and his wife's income and their expenses and at a certain point the Mesila rep said: Stop right there.  "Blessing is found in that which is concealed from the eye," says the Gemara.  I do not understand how you are not in debt.  According to what you showed me thus far, it makes no sense.  So let us not delve any further.

***
I'm impressed! Here's an organization that is all about budgeting, making rational decisions, and not relying on miracles.  But when encountering someone whose financial situation does not make rational sense, i.e. considering his income and expenses it makes no sense that he is not in debt, the Mesila person was willing to bow out.  Sometimes, you need to leave things alone.

a previous post about Mesila here

Dec 27, 2016

Housekeeper Needed

A grateful husband wrote to Family First thanking them for his wife's recovery.  He says they have four children, the last three born one after another.  After the last one, his wife could not get back to herself for a long time and constantly had a feeling of drowning, everything was too much for her.  She spent a lot of time crying and it was hard for everyone.      (sorry, I can't fix the size of this paragraph)

Then his wife read the magazine's article on postpartum depression and found that it described her feelings and symptoms.  The article described Nitza, an organization that helps women with PPD and it was wonderful for her.  "Now, as my wife has finished her medication and is, baruch Hashem, completely back to herself," he wanted to thank the publication.

With four children, and three born one after another, it's no wonder that she felt that it was too much for her.  The husband doesn't tell us whether she was working too. 

My question is, what if she had full-time help, would she feel like she was drowning? What if she had part-time help? Whether the help was to clean and do laundry and food preparation, and/or help with the babies, would she then need medication? I think it's highly unlikely.  Why is there a psychiatric diagnosis and medical treatment for women who need physical help?

see previous post here and here

Another thought, more controversial -
When we're feeling down, we often look to the future and dread what may happen.  The woman who had three children, one after another, could very well have thought - and what if I have another child again soon? If I'm not managing now, yet another child will put me over the edge!

Perhaps this is why getting a medical diagnosis was helpful to her.  It enabled her to tell a rav that she is on medication and cannot have another child again soon.  Do women have to be desperate, spend a lot of time crying, and end up at a psychiatrist, in order to prove their inability to have another child?
I'm not saying that she was playacting or that her behavior was premeditated.  I think her feeling overwhelmed was normal and justified. But that third child's birth wasn't a surprise.  It took nine months for it to be born.  Was she thinking she'll just go back to work after three months (maternity leave in Israel) and life would go on as before with the addition of a newborn? Was she looking around her and seeing other women with even more children who work and thinking she should be able to manage just like them? The only way for her to "prove" that she is different than "everybody else," was to become "sick," get a diagnosis and medication. 

There has to be a better way.

Dec 23, 2016

Another Book Come to life!

What an interesting week this has been!

Two posts and three days ago, I wrote about meeting Yossi Wallis, the subject of the book I had just finished reading.

Yesterday, I met Ruth Lichtenstein, who is the heroine of the book I wrote about last month here.  Her husband was there too and I sat there and thought, wow, here are the people out of the book I read! I would have loved to have been able to tell her how special her daughter made her out to be, but did not think she would appreciate a mention of that book.  Especially when her identity is disguised in the book.  So I kept quiet.

Dec 21, 2016

You are Invited to the Internet

There is a full page ad from the Agudah, thanking the 2000 attendees of their convention and over 100,000 viewers.  The ad says, "Experience the Agudah Convention - videos, audios, pictures at www.agudahconvention.org."

I recently heard a lecture, online, by R' Frand, rosh yeshiva of Ner Israel in Baltimore, whose topic was the constant connection to our phones/Internet, in which he said he has a Smartphone. This is the very device that would supposedly prohibit him from entering R' Chaim Kanievsky's home and would pasul him (make him ineligible) from giving eidus (testimony) according to R' Shteinman and R' Wosner.  And yet, with this ad from the Agudah, we are thanked for watching sessions of the Convention online and are encouraged to go to their website! Sounds like very different "daas Torah" views ...

 

Dec 20, 2016

Postscript

The eeriness continues.
 
I went to be menachem avel by the children of R' Pinchus Gross.  No sooner did I tell them what I wrote in my previous post, how I had been reading about their father in the book about Yossi Wallis and Arachim, and a few hours later, heard about his passing, then ... Yossi Wallis walked into the room, to be menachem avel! There was the subject of the book I had been reading over the past two weeks, in real life!
 
Here are some interesting points that I heard at the shiva house that relate to us all:
 
Wallis said that R' Pinchus always wanted to hear details about the people who attended the Arachim seminars.  To him, it wasn't about numbers, but about the individuals.  Some organizations have to prove themselves with numbers.  Their donors want to know how many people attended their events.  They want to know that their monetary support is worthwhile.  R' Pinchus wanted to know how people were affected by the seminars - who committed to shemiras Shabbos, kashrus etc. Wallis said this attitude has affected his staff.
 
From the book I gathered that R' Pinchus and Chaim Gross were wealthy people.  After all, they donated a million dollars a year to Arachim! I was surprised to hear that R' Pinchus went around to bungalow colonies, yeshivas and shul and made appeals for Arachim.  Someone said that in the Shomrei Shabbos shul, he made an appeal in minyan after minyan in this "minyan factory," and it was a different speech each time!
 
So in addition to their own money that they gave to Arachim, R' Pinchus fundraised for this cause that he believed in.  This was not a new interest to him since back in Europe he had started Beis Yaakov schools and worked to convince people to send their daughters there.
 
One last incident - R' Pinchus was in the mountains, staying with his daughter.  She noticed that his bekeshe in the closet needed to be cleaned so she brought it to the cleaners.  The next day, he asked where his bekeshe was and she told him - the cleaners.  Oy, he had put money that he had collected for Arachim into a pocket of the bekeshe.  The money was not retrieved and although he had no halachic obligation to replace it, he calculated the amount, about $900 and replaced it.

Dec 18, 2016

Incredible!

 
I just finished reading Incredible! by Nachman Seltzer.  Despite the ridiculous title (will his next book be called Wow! or Extraordinary!), it truly is an incredible story about Yossi Wallis, the CEO of Arachim.
 
I knew quite a few of the major stories of the book because they had been written up previously, about what sparked Wallis' return to Judaism, about his grandfather dying al Kiddush Hashem at the end of the war, about his father being moser nefesh for tefillin in Auschwitz, about his early Spanish roots, about the Nazi-Jew who saved his father and even the parrot story (previously printed in Einei Hashem). 
 
I had an odd hashgacha pratis happen yesterday.  Toward the end I read about his biggest donors, Pinchus and Chaim Gross.  I recognized the names as close relatives of a relative of mine.  Then last night, I was informed of the passing of Pinchus Gross, at the age of 104. That was eerie, hearing about his passing when I had just been talking about him a few hours earlier, a rare occurrence.

Dec 8, 2016

Annoyingly Wonderful

When it's before Yom Tov, especially a "3 day Yom Tov," and there is so much food prepared, so many bottles of drinks, so much challa, so many containers to store away, and it looks impossible to fit everything into the fridge and freezer, I've said - this is good! True, it's hard to arrange it all, but that's because there is so much food and that's good!

I read an article in which the author gives this type of scenario a good descriptive phrase.  Peshie Needleman calls it, "annoyingly wonderful." The examples she gives are of her toddler who is up way too late, just not falling asleep, and she is frustrated until she thinks about how he recently had a virus and was lethargic and napping a lot.  When he was better and full of energy too late in the evening, it was annoying but wonderful too.

She says "annoyingly wonderful" are those things that are annoying, frustrating but come from brachos like having children and a spouse and a house and an abundance of food, so they are wonderful.  "Blessing-based annoyances should not be taken too seriously," she says, and she's right.

Dec 4, 2016

Rebbe's Message Re-Packaged

 
I listened to Rabbi Yitzchak Sorotzkin's address at the Aguda Convention and it was quite astonishing.  His two main points were: 1) we cannot be satisfied with our personal growth, it needs to bother us that Yidden out there are not aware of Torah and mitzvos, we need to follow Avrohom Avinu and reach out, Avrohom was loved by Hashem because he increased kvod shomayim in the world, he did not just look out for himself, when we know how many children don't know what a Gemara is how can we be complacent? Did we do everything we could to get them to recognize there is a G-d and bring them closer to Him? and 2) the chilul Hashem in the world should bother us, we should be asking for the Geula wholeheartedly and if we did, it would come already.
 
If not for the Litvishe world's jargon and way of putting things, I would have thought he was a representative of Chabad, conveying the Lubavitcher Rebbe's message!
 
 

Nov 30, 2016

Cultivating Emuna

In a discussion, someone said about emuna that knowing that we are maaminim doesn't help him.  It's a concept, not a reality to him.

Which led to the question - do we cultivate emuna or generate emuna?

Cultivate would mean to develop what is already there.  To generate would mean to produce it when it wasn't there before.

I was surprised he said what he said.  I think we think differently about emuna if we know it's inherent, and not something external that we have to acquire.  If I had some way of knowing about a latent talent that I have, for music or art or anything else, I would try to cultivate it! If I had some way of knowing that I had no ability in a certain area, I wouldn't put my efforts in that direction.

We are told that we are "believers, children of believers." That's who we are.  Emuna is not extraneous to us.  It's right here.

Nov 29, 2016

Kiddush Hashem

This post is for links to two recent Kiddush Hashem news items.  The first one you may have seen, since it has been posted many places.  The second is not as well known.
 
 
 
What I like about the first one is that it wasn't even an extraordinary act that made the Kiddush Hashem.  It was Jews doing what Jews do, in daily life.  Numerous Jews live this way.  We don't always realize how our Jewish routines make an impact, not only in the spiritual realms, but right here.
 
What's nice about the second one is the breaking of stereotypes.
 
Sometimes, a Kiddush Hashem is made when Jews return money that does not belong to them.  True, it's a Kiddush Hashem, but non-Jews also return money that does not belong to them.  These two stories are special because it is the very Jewishness of the protagonists that make it a Kiddush Hashem. 
 
 

Nov 28, 2016

OTD in Yerushalayim


In a Binah magazine interview with Rebbetzin Chana Weinberg, of the Slonimer family, a 7th generation Yerushalmi, a descendent of the Boruch Taam, a Baharan* einikel, I read a shocking thing.

She said that after World War II, when she was in fifth grade, she went to the first Bais Yaakov school in Yerushalayim.  One of the teachers was Chava Landsberg, a student of Sarah Schenirer.  They were approximately forty girls and only three girls remained frum.  "If I tell you their names, you will tremble ... daughters of roshei yeshiva, daughters of Rebbes, all went off the derech completely.  All of my friends and neighbors joined the movements of the Haganah, Etzel, Brit Chashmonaim and Beitar, singing patriotic songs and going to meetings.  The bachurim too joined the Haganah.  I would see boys in the streets, without hats, with guns, and then I would recognize them as bachurim from Yeshiva Eitz Chaim.

"Some of the youth left because of the extreme poverty, but many left because of their chinuch.  In some of these homes, the parents had come from Poland already influenced by the Bund.  Their homes were not whole and the children went searching for what was missing. They wanted excitement, they wanted enthusiasm!

"My friends laughed at me and said that I was na├»ve, that I didn't know what was going on.  I knew very well what was going on but I didn't ever want to go with them.  I wasn't interested at all.  There were many times I have asked myself why, why didn't I go?

"The only thing I can think of is that I had so much more at home.  I was fulfilled; I wasn't missing anything."


*Baharan stands for Ben HaRav Nachum.  Each of the five sons of Rav Nachum Shadiker (1810-1865) had a dream that they should move to Eretz Yisrael. Without knowing that the others had the same dream, each one packed to leave Poland.  They all met at the boat and traveled together to Eretz Yisrael.  They were known as the Baharan.

Nov 26, 2016

And Another Moshiach Fantasy

 
Another Moshiach fantasy I have (see here for the first one) is that all Jews will have a glowing yud on their foreheads and all Amalekites will have a black ayin.  Lots of people with that yud will be surprised, sad to say, since so many Jews do not know they are Jews.  This could be because they were never told and had no reason to think so, because they were raised by non-Jews, because they did not know that having a Jewish maternal great-grandmother, grandmother, mother makes them Jewish.
 
A smaller group of people, those who thought they were Jewish but aren't, and who won't have a yud, will be surprised too.
 
The precedent for my Moshiach fantasy is Bereishis 4:15 where Hashem engraves a letter of His name on Kayin's forehead.  But I think this idea came to me from the Lights video here that I first saw 23 years ago on Chanuka.  It tells the Chanuka story and uses flying, golden letters of the alef-beis to represent Torah-true Judaism and Greek letters that drop with a clang to represent the Hellenist philosophy.
 
Identity, who we are, who we belong to.  That's the first step.  Once we know who we are, then we find out what we need to do.

Nov 25, 2016

Sign of the Times?

 
My, oh my.  An item in a Chinese auction booklet goes as follows:
 
It is called "Glow of a Gadol" and says:
 
"Thousands have basked in his light, and thousands more would pay anything to gain access to his wisdom and blessing.  Choose one night of Chanukah to see Rav Chaim Kanievsky up close and personal for a transcendent experience of a lifetime.  Touch the holiness and awe as you watch the Gadol Ha'dor light the Chanukah lecht with otherworldly kavanos and leave a changed man.  Includes 2 round trip tickets."
 
Why is it that I cannot imagine a similar auction booklet entry for Rabbi Moshe Feinstein or Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetzky thirty years ago? Because it would have been unthinkable at the time.  For one thing, Litvishe greats were not treated like celebrities or Admorim.  For another thing ... do I really have to explain?
 

Nov 20, 2016

Gam Zu L'Tova

 
When you learn with someone who did not have a Jewish education, everything is new to them.  All the stories you heard a hundred times are new for them. 
 
One night, I told my learning partner the story of Nachum Ish Gamzu as related in the Gemara, how the jewels he was bringing to the emperor were exchanged for dirt by the thief of an innkeeper, and how it miraculously worked out for the best, gam zu l'tova.
 
The next day, I left the house and was a block away when I remembered that I left something important at home.  I said, "This is not good." I continued on my way, hoping I'd manage without it.
 
It later occurred to me that saying, "This is not good" is the antithesis of "gam zu l'tova." Not only do I know about gam zu l'tova, I had taught about it the night before! So I told the person I had said it to, "I need to make a correction.  I said, "This is not good, when I should have said gam zu l'tova."
 
We know lots of things but when it comes to integration, internalization, and what is instinctive to us, that's another story!

Oct 30, 2016

Taking a Tough Stance 2


 
Follow-up to this post: here
 
In the entertaining book, Ne Siyata D'Shmaya, the second to last story is about the author davening in a shul where bachurim were talking during kerias ha'Torah.  He went over to them and gently told them it's forbidden to talk during kerias ha'Torah.  They were silent for less than five minutes.  He got up again and asked them to stop talking.  They stopped for less than two minutes before resuming talking.
 
During the next Aliya he told them, the next time I hear you talking, I'm going to throw you out of shul.  They looked at him scornfully, were quiet for a minute, then resumed talking.
 
He went behind them and grabbed the biggest bachur and shoved him out of shul. 
 
Ten years later, he was back in that area and davened in that shul.  He noticed a tall yungerman pacing the shul during kerias ha'Torah, ensuring there was no talking.
 
Unexpectedly, the man came over to him and shook his hand and hugged him.  The author had no idea who he was.  When davening was over, the young man said, "Ten years ago you threw a kid out of shul and he fell on a table and broke it.  That kid was me and since then, I've been extremely careful never to speak a word during kerias ha'Torah.  Plus, I make sure that no one in shul talks either."
 
So how long are parents, educators, and rabbis going to try the nicey-nice approach about derech eretz, tznius, decorum in shul, etc. without results before resorting to forcefully enforcing Shulchan Aruch and community standards?
 

Oct 25, 2016

The Real Deal

I was reading about a renowned artist and art forger who was arrested.  At his trial, he asked, "I don't understand.  Yesterday, this picture was worth millions of guilders, and experts and art lovers would come from all over the world and pay money to see it.  Today, it is worth nothing and nobody would cross the street to see it for free.  But the picture has not changed! So what's the difference?"
A witness at the trial said, "The magic has gone out of the picture.  Like the first edition of a book, an original painting is part of history, a history that contains all of our dreams, our fears and our loves.  A fake is ... a fake! No more, no less."

Do you understand this answer? I don't.  Is there a better answer to the forger's question?

One answer is, "Forgeries are also wrong because they falsify history. The characteristics of a forgery accrue to the original artist.  If we know that a painting is from the hand of Vermeer, we will see it in terms of what we know about the art of 17th century Netherlands; if we know that the work was by a forger working in 1936, we will be able to detect in it 20th century traces which were unnoticed before."

I can appreciate that.  It's when people ooh and ah over a painting that they think is from a master and then scorn it when they learn it's a forgery, that seems silly to me.

Oct 23, 2016

Unique Therapy

 
The following remarkable story was posted by Dr. Meir Wikler on matzav.com:
 
Every morning, in birchos hashachar, we thank Hashem for “preparing the footsteps of man” – hameichin mitzadei gaver. Every encounter we have throughout the day is preordained, and has a specific purpose and lesson. Often, we are oblivious to the Divine Plan and chalk these meetings up to simple happenstance.
Recently, however, I met someone who even I could see was dispatched from Above. In order to fully comprehend the import of our conversation, a bit of background information is necessary.
Approximately ten years ago, a well-respected mechanech who I had heard of but barely knew approached me in shul one day after davening.
 
“Dr. Wikler, may I speak with you in confidence?” he asked in an undertone.
 
“Of course,” I replied, feeling a bit flattered that someone of his stature would trust me with a personal matter.
 
He informed me that his wife had been suffering from chronic, debilitating depression for many years. They had tried psychotherapy, psychotropic medications, and even shock therapy – all to no avail. His wife was literally unable to function as a wife and mother, and he was at his wits’ end, searching for the tiniest ray of hope. Perhaps, he wondered, I might know of some alternative therapy that they had not yet tried.
 
Unfortunately, I was unable to suggest anything. All I could do was empathize with the man’s plight and wish his wife a refuah sheleimah. My feeling of helplessness lingered long after the conclusion of our brief exchange.
 
Recently, I learned about the impressive results of a new treatment for chronic depression called “TMS.” The next time I happened to see that mechanech, I was eager to approach him and inquire about his wife’s health, because now I did have a suggestion to offer.
 
“Shalom aleichem,” I began.How is your wife feeling these days?”
 
“Oh, thank you for asking,” he replied, sincerely appreciative that I had remembered his predicament. “Baruch Hashem, she is doing much better now. In fact, for the past two years she has been more of a mother and a wife than ever before.”
 
I was delighted to hear the good news. “That’s wonderful,” I said. “Please tell me what miraculous treatment you found.”
 
“You want to know the truth?” he whispered, leaning in closer to me to ensure that the conversation would not be overheard. “I was the therapy.”
 
Now my curiosity was really piqued. “What do you mean?”
 
He then went on to explain that since his marriage, he had not been a very good husband. He had been overbearing, short-tempered, and critical, and had routinely demeaned his wife. As he put it, “It was my way or the highway. I was the boss, and she had to do everything my way.”
 
Approximately two years ago, this mechanech did some serious soul searching, which, combined with a few heart-to-heart consultations with his personal rebbi, produced a dramatic turnaround. “A paradigm shift,” as he put it to me.
 
His behavioral changes had a gradual but profoundly positive impact on his wife’s chronic depression. She began to steadily improve in her functioning as both a wife and a mother. For instance, before the turnaround two years ago, she was resentful and even disparaging of her husband’s public shiurim. “Again you’re speaking?” she would ask disdainfully.
 
Last week, the husband was invited to deliver a shiur on Shabbos afternoon. His wife volunteered to accompany him on his walk to the shiur. And when he came home, she proudly and enthusiastically inquired how it went, how many men showed up, etc.
 
My clients would be legitimately horrified at the thought that I might publicize any private matter they shared with me in confidence, even if I didn’t use their name. To assuage their concerns, therefore, I will close with the final words this man shared with me before we parted.
 
“As you can imagine, it was not easy for me to acknowledge that I was the cause of my wife’s depression all of these years. And, quite honestly, I was uncomfortable sharing this with you. I did so, however, because I hope that someday you’ll write up my story and publish it. You see, I may not be the only husband who is mistreating his wife and causing her to be depressed. And if even one other person will learn from my example, it will go a long way toward mitigating some of the damage I caused.”
 
I left that brief encounter with deep admiration and respect for this courageous mechanech. It takes tremendous honesty and incredible strength of character to take charge of one’s middos the way he did. I was also left with a heightened awareness of the Hashgachah pratis involved in such “chance” encounters, and with a firm resolve to fulfill the man’s wish that I publicize his story.
 
Which I just did.
{Matzav.com}

Oct 22, 2016

Taking a Tough Stance

There is an extraordinary, first person, true story told here.  I don't want to retell it in my own words when you can hear it directly from a person who was there, so I hope you will watch it.  I will just say it has to do with a person telling someone off in blunt terms and how this had a positive outcome.
 
It occurred to me that if the approach would have been non-confrontational and tolerant, as other people handled it, then we wouldn't have much of a story.  In this case, being judgmental (gasp) had a marvelous outcome. 
 
I read an article about a kindly rabbi who spent hours counseling people and making calls on their behalf.  Most followed his advice but there were some who were nudniks who went to him time after time, sharing their woes, but never following up on his suggestions.  One time, a fellow in his 20's who had dropped out of college (although he received a scholarship), did not hold a job, and mostly spent his days in bed, despite repeated encouragement and advice from the rabbi, went to the rabbi yet again.  The rabbi snapped and told him off.  The fellow ran out.  The rabbi was devastated by what he did.  He tried contacting the young man without success and was told he left town.  The rabbi thought of worst case scenarios and castigated himself for losing his temper. 
 
Years later, the young man stopped him on the street and thanked him! The rabbi was bowled over by their chance encounter and how the young man looked marvelous and wondered why the man wasn't furious with him.  The rabbi apologized for his behavior and said he had been searching for him to ask forgiveness. 
 
The young man was shocked by this and said he made it in life because the rabbi had shaken him up.  Nobody had spoken to him that way before and this is what helped him, not all the kindness and sympathy for his nebech plight.  And he said that the rabbi had also said positive and encouraging things even as he yelled at him, and he realized that it was all true (albeit painful) and that the rabbi cared about him.  The young man had gone to yeshiva, opened a business, and married and was living a purposeful life. 
 
So when to be soft and when to be tough, that is the question!

Oct 19, 2016

Follow-Up Post

In connection with a recent post, here, it occurred to me as I was listening to his talk that he probably doesn't "go for" the 12 Step program.  He did not say anything about it, so this is just me surmising. 
 
As someone recently put it to me,  they like the 12 Step program but see that the people involved with it are perpetually focused on the same issue.  And that is precisely why I think Rabbi Weinberger wouldn't like it.  Because it keeps its practitioners perpetually in the basement, dealing with the same stuff forever.  B'shitta (on principle), 12 Steps does not allow you to "go up" to a different floor.
 
As Rabbi Wallerstein puts it, Judaism believes in teshuva.  You do teshuva and you move on.  You can't call yourself "a 30 years recovered addict."  If you stop drinking you are a new person.  The Zohar says if you do teshuva, you are a briya chadasha (new entity).  You're not a recovering treif-food-eater, or recovering mechalel Shabbos.

Oct 14, 2016

To Listen to Doctors or Not

There are health situations that impact on mitzvah observance, such as fasting.  The halacha is that what the doctor says, goes.  This is adhered to by all Torah observant Jews, whether Litvish or Chassidish.

For example, there's the famous story about an epidemic in Lithuania and doctors said that nobody was allowed to fast. Most people were inclined to ignore this, since how could one eat on Yom Kippur? Realizing this, Rabbi Yisrael Salanter (founder of the Mussar movement) ate in shul in public on Yom Kippur.  Seeing him eat on Yom Kippur, the masses went home to eat too.

As for a Chassidic proponent, the Lubavitcher Rebbe wrote to someone, "I object to your not meticulously obeying the doctor’s orders, as “Permission was granted the healer to heal.”
By granting this permission, healing becomes a mitzva on the part of the healer, as well as a notable and great mitzvah on the part of the individual being healed, [i.e.,] “You shall scrupulously guard your health”; “It is part of the service of G‑d to insure that one’s body is healthy and whole.”
 
With that introduction, I came across yet another example of a woman who disobeyed doctors' orders and went on to have a child or children.  In this case, the woman died and was regarded admirably in her circles for having mesirus nefesh to bring children into the world. 
 
I understand that sometimes, doctors tell a woman not to have more children only because, in their view, no women should have children after the age of 35.  This is because it puts her into what the medical world considers a "high risk" category.  If the woman has no health problems, then a medical directive like this is not one we would regard as a mitzvah to obey, and if there are any concerns, they are discussed with a rav. 
 
But in a case where there is a specific reason for the doctor to be concerned about the mother's health, and she goes on to have children regardless, then even if she doesn't die as a result, is she a role model of mesirus nefesh for us? Or is she an example of someone who has transgressed the mitzvah of guarding her health?

Oct 11, 2016

Moving Up, Out of the Basement


Rabbi Moshe Weinberger, of the Aish Kodesh shul in Woodmere, gave a different sort of Shabbos shuva drasha this year.  Actually, he gave it on motzoei Shabbos, and you can watch it here .
I am more accustomed to hearing a speaker or writer say to undertake something small and doable for the new year.  R' Moshe Weinberger, acknowledged the importance of positive changes, but urged people to go beyond that.  To go, as he put it, from the basement to a higher floor.  You can fix up a basement and live nicely there, but how much better to move up in the world.  By this he means, moving to a different level of living where previous shtusim (nonsense) are seen for what they are.

Oct 9, 2016

Modeh Ani is First!

 
Several times recently, I've read or heard people referring to negel vasser followed by Modeh Ani.  I don't get it.  We learned when we were little that you say Modeh Ani first thing in the morning!
 
Modeh Ani does not have any names of Hashem, so we can say it even before washing our hands. 
 
Back to basics - Modeh Ani first.  Then negel vasser.
 

Sep 29, 2016

Disturbing Ad

I saw an ad in the new Health Section of Mishpacha with R' Michel Twerski's picture in which he promotes [I was going to say the name of the System, but decided not to advertise it] for mental well being.  I wrote a letter to the magazine saying this is disturbing when LP, wife and business partner of GP, who teach and promote the System says, “No thoughts are true, no experiences are true, the principles [of their System] are the only things that are true.”

I asked, if that isn't kefira, what is?

This is the basis for the System which is sourced in Buddhist philosophy. The frum proponents of this System, like R' Michel Twersky etc. try to avoid the kefira aspect, but it's there.


Sep 26, 2016

The Mind-Body Connection

Ten months ago, I wrote about Dr Sarno here, about physical pain being a smokescreen that masks emotional issues; confront the emotional issue and the physical pain vanishes.
 
I have two recent examples of this.  I attended an exercise class and the instructor wasn't the usual one.  I didn't like the class and left shortly after it began.  Later that day I felt pain in my side and thought it might be from the unpleasant exercises the instructor had led.  I felt the pain for a week or two.  At some point I looked up sciatica online and thought that what I felt might be sciatica.  It did not stop me from doing my usual activities but I felt it.  When I mentioned sciatica to someone, he said, oh you know what Dr. Sarno thinks about that ... That set me thinking.
 
A week ago, I woke up Shabbos morning feeling dizzy, and that was before I even got out of bed.  No fever, just a disturbing feeling of dizziness.  Not a the room is spinning kind of feeling; I'm not sure how to describe it.  Anyway, I stayed home all day.  The next day I still felt it somewhat but decided to go about my day as usual, despite it.  By Monday it was mostly gone.
 
It occurred to me that in both cases there was something emotionally perturbing to me that I could link to the onset of the symptom.  I have no way of proving whether the symptoms would have gone away regardless, but I can't help but wonder whether consciously confronting the emotional disturbance is what made the physical symptoms go away.

Sep 21, 2016

Mistakes Abound

One of my Yemos Ha'Moshiach fantasies is that all incorrect information will disappear out of books.  All the stories told about various tzaddikim and gedolim will have only the correct names and the details will be accurate.  I assume there will be large swathes of empty white space in many books.

I am reminded of this because of a story I read in Torah Tavlin, a very nice series of books with divrei Torah and stories.  The story is one I knew previously and I know it as it is told accurately.  In this book however, the author has one main character dying instead of being away on a trip, and another character being the grandson when he was actually the son.  This is in addition to embellishing the story with a description that is probably not true and which is certainly not part of the original story.  The core point of the story remains though.

It sure does make me wonder about the other stories in the book! It's like when I read descriptions about Jewish life written by non-Jews or Jews who are not knowledgeable and I see inaccuracies and outright errors.  I would think they would have fact checkers who would verify things like Jewish law.  Makes me wonder about the accuracy of information I read on subjects that I'm not that familiar with.  It does not inspire confidence!

Sep 19, 2016

Everything is Up for Discussion

There was an interesting article by R' Dovid Hofstedter in Mishpacha magazine in which he questions whether the overabundance of negative information we are bombarded with is good for us. 

He brings Torah examples that demonstrate that exposure to negative things has an effect on us, even when those things are mitzvah related (like destroying an ir nidachas or seeing a sota in her disgrace). 

Furthermore, R' Hofstedter says, we become connected to what we see and if we are connected to it, we are disconnected from Hashem.  "Every connection to something extraneous from Torah and mitzvos, even something that is not prohibited, detaches us and disconnects us from Torah and mitzvos, our ultimate connection to Hashem."

It is interesting that Mishpacha printed his article which says "All kinds of topics that in the not-too-distant past were never found in our publications, now not only appear in print but also become conversation points at the Shabbos table and therefore, part of our lives.  They thus attain a measure of de facto acceptability." 

Not only that, but people say how "brave" the publication is for writing about what was formerly taboo! They think that somehow, magically, just by discussing it, we have accomplished something, even if all it amounts to is someone feeling better for having read it.  But what about the negative fallout for bringing it out into the open?
 
Related posts are here and here.
 

Sep 14, 2016

Disengagement Not Possible

In this week's parsha, Ki Seitzei 22:15, on the words, "the father of the girl and her mother," Rashi says that the ones who raised bad offspring should be put to shame because of her.

There are those who like to attempt disconnecting from their children.  Their line is, their children have bechira and it's their lives.  They don't take the blame if the children don't turn out well, and presumably, if they're consistent, they don't take any credit if the children turn out well.

The problem with this is, we can never disconnect from our children as our children are part of us in every way.  Children are a reflection of their parents, for better and for worse.  We have nachas and deserve credit when they turn out well, and as Rashi says, if G-d forbid they don't turn out well, it's to the parents' shame.

Sep 13, 2016

Who Says Children Need Parents Anyway ...

continued from previous post

This rosh yeshiva made it into my "bad book" when I read an interview with a woman who turned to him for advice.  The woman said with pride about her daycare center, “We introduced the option of starting earlier and ending later …” and this is for babies and toddlers! She did this after consulting with the rosh yeshiva who gave her his approval.  The longer hours make it unnecessary for the babies' fathers (the mothers are out working) to pick up the children.  Why should the parents take care of their own children when they have more important things to do?

The woman went on to describe a program she was excited about, which she wanted to study, but she was reluctant (surprisingly) to travel and leave her young children without her.  The same rosh yeshiva told her to go ahead, to do it while she was excited about it.

So with the latest thing I heard from this rosh yeshiva, that's three strikes.  He's out.

Sep 9, 2016

Rosh Yeshiva's Misguided Approach

I was listening to a shiur given by a talmid of a certain American rosh yeshiva and once again, I was peeved to hear a foolish idea from this rosh yeshiva. 

This time, it was about what to teach an 8-9 year old child from an irreligious home who attends a religious program.  Why teach him about kashrus and Shabbos, this rosh yeshiva asks.  Do you think he will be able to eat kosher on his own? Keep Shabbos on his own? Instead, teach him about tzedaka, chesed, Ahavas Hashem, Yiras Hashem, things the child can do on his own.

I have read numerous stories about young children being taught about kashrus and Shabbos who were the catalysts for their entire families becoming frum.  I read one just yesterday, a first person account in which her six year old, who attended a religious program, asked that the family keep kosher which he had learned about.  The mother refused but subsequently decided to do it, along with other mitzvos.

I remember a story of a little girl who learned about Shabbos and lighting Shabbos candles.  She asked her mother to buy candles and her mother refused.  So the little girl went to the store on her own and asked for candles and the person gave her yartzeit candles, thinking that was probably what her mother wanted.  The little girl lit two yartzeit candles in her room and when her mother discovered this and asked what was going on, she innocently replied that one candle was for her mother and one for her father.  That changed things in a hurry!

Numerous stories can be told by those who work in Talmud Torahs, Sunday schools, programs like Shuvu in Eretz Yisrael for Russian children, etc. about children who, in their sincerity, have followed through on their seemingly impossible commitments, and sometimes changed their entire families along the way.

Aug 31, 2016

Rabbi Glatstein's lectures

 
Rabbi Daniel Glatstein is a wonderful rabbi and teacher whose lectures constantly get posted on torahanytime.com.  There are over 1400 lectures here  You can get on his email list for source sheets.
 
He has a pleasant manner, he researches interesting topics, and he teaches clearly and enthusiastically.  I particularly admire his unassuming manner.  No ego comes across.  He does not talk about himself.

Aug 30, 2016

Full Time Working Foster Parents


There was an article about a frum couple whose children were grown, who decided to become foster parents.  Both husband and wife work full time.  That made me pause.

If they went on to foster school aged children, okay.  But their first fostering experience was a two year old.  What is the point in having a two year old placed in daycare all day in a fostering situation? Is it because there are not enough frum foster parents that this was done?

All two year olds need mothers to care for them and not work full time.  All the more so does this child, who was pulled from his home for reasons of neglect or abuse, need extra care! All day daycare is detrimental for two years olds from normal homes; for a foster child, who needs extra nurturing, it's even worse.

But since it's taboo to say that all daycare is bad, that is what the foster child will get.  Because that's what many (most?) two year olds are getting.

Aug 17, 2016

Pills are Easier

A letter writer once irately wrote to a frum magazine, saying that of course, no parents want their children on ADD/ADHD medication unless it's absolutely warranted and all other options are explored.  She was quite adamant about that, though one could wonder how she knows that and whether she might just have projected her feelings onto others.

Mrs. B Grama writes a column for Hamodia's Inyan magazine.  She repudiated this view.  She writes:

"It has become quite common nowadays for us to open our weekly community magazines and find as many as a dozen ads for different therapy centers for children and adults, each one with a full staff of therapists ... Should we ooh and aah about it, or should we wonder why we are raising (or have ourselves become) a helpless, crippled generation that cannot seem to 'swim' on our own? Never before has there been such vast numbers of children who need outside help just to grow up (and vast numbers of parents who need assistance to raise them)."

She goes on to describe a woman who was diagnosed as suffering from "social anxiety" and thinks the woman is simply shy by nature.  Then she wrote about a man who was diagnosed with depression following his father's illness and watching his father suffer and fade away.  She wonders, isn't it normal to feel dejected under those circumstances? He needed support and encouragement from family and friends, not a medical diagnosis.

Worst example of all is about "Shaya's" mother who had a baby and whose father got a promotion so he came home later at night.  Shaya greatly missed all the times he used to speak to his parents after school every day.  "He became restless and unfocused in class and his behavior became problematic.  A psychologist was consulted and Shaya was put on medication to help improve his concentration and behavior."

When Mrs. Grama was consulted she asked the mother, "Wouldn't it be much simpler if you'd just make talking to and spending time with Shaya for about a half an hour at night your first priority?" To her shock, the mother said, "I know, but it's too hard; pills are easier."

So much for parents medicating their kids only as a last resort.

Aug 14, 2016

Relative Sorrows

Writer Leah Gebber puts it this way:
 
"I have a moral objection to the game of one-upmanship some play when faced with difficulty.  I once covered a story about a woman who had three children and was unable to have more.  Her sorrow touched upon more than her dreams of having a large family; she questioned her role in life, the core of her femininity.  Some of the letters we received astounded me.  One such missive, I have no children - how can she complain when she has three? What gives her the right?
 
"I mentally played with many responses to this question.  That no one has a patent on suffering.  That sorrow, no matter the root, is sorrow ..."
 
Really?
 
So it's all the same - a teenager agonizing about a pimple and a teenager hearing bad news from her oncologist? I have a moral objection to that!
 
It's one of the many lessons children need to be taught that problems and suffering need to be viewed within a context, with a sense of proportion.  Breaking a toy and breaking's one back are not equal, no matter how beloved the toy was.   
 
It seems that just as the trend for some time now has been to futilely try to eradicate differences among children, telling them they are all winners when they are not, so too, even some adults refuse to acknowledge that there are matters of lesser and greater importance.  The old gauge, what is it on a scale of 1-10 is very helpful.  See here

Back to the example that Leah Gebber gives.  The woman with three children can be asked to contemplate where on the scale she is.  If she says she is a 10 in sorrow, she can be asked to think about where then, a woman with no children, would fit on the scale.  Her response might be, the woman with no children is a 10 of sorrow on her scale, and I'm a 10 on my scale.  Hmmm.  And would she say the same when asked, where would the Israeli, Mr Hatuel, whose pregnant wife and all four daughters were murdered in one day be on the scale? Then we, society, have a problem.

It's not to say that the feelings of the woman with three children who can't have more should be dismissed.  They can be acknowledged.  A child who is sad about his drawing that was ripped by the baby should also have his feelings validated.  Maturity is needed to regard the disappointments in life with the proper perspective.

Aug 12, 2016

Same Old

In the mid 1960's:
Race riots in Cleveland
The Vietnam conflict intensified
The president of Argentina deposed by a coup
The prime minister of South Africa assassinated
A sniper shooting at the University of Texas that killed 13 people and left 31 wounded
In Chicago a mass murderer killed eight student nurses
In an upscale Chicago suburb the daughter of a US senate candidate was murdered in her bedroom

When people say, look at the world around us, it's gone crazy. We haven't seen anything like this before, I say - really? Isn't that what is said every decade?

Aug 7, 2016

How Independent are You?

Someone in a shiur referred to a social experiment that sounded very interesting.  I looked it up and it is here.
 
After watching it, the question for you is, what would you have done?
 
I think I would have asked what they are doing, or gone over to the receptionist to ask.
 
The Rambam talks about the positive aspects of peer pressure and urges us to live among good people. 
 
There are many ways in which peer pressure is used in a good way in our frum society. 
 
Responses to appeals in shul are announced so that other people will be encouraged to make donations too.
 
When shemiras ha'lashon has become something we are all aware of, it is less likely that someone will feel comfortable sharing derogatory gossip.  In communities that dress a certain, tzniusdik way, it is less likely that people will go against the community norms.
 
Of course, we have our frum social pressures that are not that wonderful too.
 
I think this video should be seen by high school aged students, maybe even younger.  It provides a great introduction to a discussion about what we do because other people around us are doing it, for good and bad. 
 
 

Jul 31, 2016

Not Just Yearning for Moshiach

In Ami magazine, Rabbi Yoel Gold of LA wrote about his grandmother who recently passed away.  She was a woman who said the entire Tehillim every day and she greatly anticipated the coming of Moshiach:

"Not in the vaguely hopeful way many of us do.  No, she waited for Moshiach with the anticipation and purity of a young child waiting to be picked up by Mommy at the end of the a school day.  When we grandchildren called her in the morning, the conversation would inevitably begin with, 'By the end of today, we may all be in Yerushalayim!' If we called in the evening, she would sigh, 'Oy, Moshiach didn't come today. When is he finally going to arrive?'"

When his grandparents became engaged in 1947, his grandfather gave her a beautiful gold bracelet. It appeared in the engagement pictures but never again, because she never wore it.

When asked why she didn't wear it, she didn't respond, which made them wonder whether it had gotten lost or stolen.

After she died, her house was cleared out and one of his sisters found an embroidered bag with the bracelet inside in a box.  There was a note which said: Parshas Chayei Sara 5772 (the week she was diagnosed with her illness), I received this bracelet from my chasan when we got engaged and it means very much to me.  Because it is so precious, I decided to set it aside to donate to the Beis Ha'Mikdash when it is rebuilt, may it be soon.

The same thing was written in her will.  Nobody was to wear the bracelet.  She had put it aside for the Beis Ha'Mikdash.

Such a special woman.  I'd love to know more about her like where she was born, her family, her Jewish education.

So I hesitate to express my reservations. I feel bad for her husband. He gave her a gift and he wanted to see her wear it and enjoy it.  I wish her desire to donate to the Beis Ha'Mikdash was expressed differently.

Jul 30, 2016

The Dog Knew Better

I heard this remarkable story from an eye witness:

She grew up in Strasbourg and lived on a fancy avenue on the fourth floor with her family.  The next door neighbor was a virulent anti-Semite who yelled epithets whenever he saw her father with his beard and Chassidic garb.

One seder night, Leil Shimurim, her father led his sons and sons-in-law and grandchildren downstairs and out to the street to sing Chasal Siddur Pesach.  They sang and danced and the infuriated gentile neighbor ordered his huge German Shepherd to attack her father (who was oblivious to what was happening with the neighbor).

Instead of attacking, the dog just crouched there quietly.  The women on the balcony watched this.

From then on, the neighbor did not say another word.  He saw that G-d was with this man and feared messing with him.

Jul 27, 2016

Elie Wiesel's First Person Testimony

I was quite disappointed, actually horrified, when I discovered that Eli Wiesel's Night is listed as "fiction" in the my public library system.   The librarian checked to see how the book is listed in the neighboring library systems and found that it is as "non-fiction."
 
He gave me an email address where I could address my complaint to the person in charge of "collection management."  

I wrote a letter saying Night is a memoir, a Holocaust memoir that is assigned reading to many students. What a shame and, worse, what an undermining of Wiesel's work and life, to have students think the book is "made up." I hope you will rectify this categorization.
 
I received a speedy response which said:
 
I am the lead Hebrew and Yiddish cataloger for BPL.
Your question was forwarded to me. I am taking the liberty of letting you know that it is receiving much attention.

I have emailed a number of Jewish veteran librarians around the system to get their input. 

I appreciate the gravity of the impression that this could make on students, or provide an opening for a Holocaust denier. I don't think personally the great majority of people will get that idea, especially as there are so many other memoirs and history books in the collection.

In fairness to the original decision by someone to consider it fiction:
 
The book is a memoir but was written in novel form. There were changes in the ending from the Yiddish original to the French version which was subsequently translated into English.
Also there were sequels Dawn and Day (the Accident).
 
***
I subsequently found this interesting article: Amazon-recategorizes-Elie-Wiesel-s-Night

Jul 17, 2016

Artificial Communication?

In a chinuch article, the author responds to a question about cell phones for a high school student.  He makes reference to the dangers of technology but his main point is children need to be fully present to develop connections with others.  He says, "Cellphones are artificial connections.  A real connection is a face to face conversation between two people and includes their facial and body language and their full attention."

I wonder what he would say about letter writing, writing letters to grandparents, as I did when I was a child and teenager and even older.  What about penpals.  What about letters to and from camp.  Would he say that letter writing is an artificial connection?

I don't recall any condemnation of letter writing over the past decades, only praise.  Was something lacking because there were no facial or body language? Yes.  But did that make communication via letter artificial, i.e. fake?

What makes communication other than face to face talking artificial? It lacks what face to face conversations have, but that doesn't make it artificial.  It can even be argued that sometimes things can be expressed in writing that cannot be said face to face, which would make writing superior sometimes.

I don't find it helpful when people condemn today's means of communication without acknowledging its positive aspects and when their arguments aren't consistent.

Jul 13, 2016

What We Eat

In a health column in a frum publication, written by a "certified Health Coach," Rivka Segal, the author says when she was studying to become a health coach, the school curriculum intentionally taught them conflicting dietary theories.  One week they learned about a carb-free, high protein diet and the next week they'd learn about a high carb diet.  Each course was taught by an expert in the field, often the founder of that diet.

Each time, the presentation was so convincing, that is, until the next class.  She says, "The purpose .. was to teach us that with diet and nutrition, there are no absolutes, and there is no one right way to eat."

It's "eating relativity" in which everyone can be right, and it's whatever works for you.

I find this troubling and I'm not sure it's true.  Granted, there can be differences between people in what they can and should eat and avoid, but aren't there general principles that apply to the majority of people? The Rambam thought so.  He even included his dietary guidelines in his Mishna Torah!

I found this anecdote she related quite interesting.  She spoke with someone whose daughter has Crohn's disease.  The mother said that a top doctor told her daughter not to discuss her condition with anyone.  Why? Not because of secrecy but because every patient's experience with Crohn's is different and what is helpful to one is not to another.  He felt that talking to others about their approach would be confusing and overwhelming and he encouraged her to figure out what works for her body.

She concludes by saying there are some general guidelines like we should avoid sugar, caffeine and processed food, and that we can all benefit from regular exercise, reducing stress, and drinking more water, but what about salt, coffee, eggs, butter, margarine, meat, whole milk and on and on? We read conflicting information on these items.  Are there no definitive answers?

Jul 10, 2016

Confessions by Those in the Field of Mental Health

Psychotherapist, Shimon Russell, in an interview with Ami magazine said, "My first ten years out of college, I tried to do everything they taught me.  The next ten years, I tried to forget everything I'd been taught, to see if I could figure out what actually works.  My third decade of practice has been completely devoted to integrating all of it, both psychologically and spiritually."

In a Hamodia article, Rabbi Dr Abraham Twersky says, "When I was in my second year of medical school, my professor asked me what I was going for.  I told him psychiatry and he said, 'That's good.  Go to all the lectures, listen to what they say, ace your board exams, and then forget it all and use your head."

Is there any other field of medicine (or any other field) in which a student would find it beneficial to forget what was taught and figure things out for themselves? What does this tell us about the field of mental health, treatment and therapy?

I wonder why they think it's a good idea to share how useless their education was, other than providing them with official credentials which is not of any help to their clients. 

Jul 9, 2016

Watch What You Wish For

There is a frightening Metzudas Dovid in today's haftorah for parshas Korach. In Shmuel I, chapter 12, pasuk16, Shmuel rebukes the Jewish people for asking for a king.

Metzudas Dovid says, Shmuel says, "If you will say, if asking for a king was considered bad by Hashem, why did He agree" and give us a king, Shaul?
"To this I respond, even now, after He agreed, stand by and see this great thing [and Shmuel says, it's the wheat harvest now (not a time when it rains) and I will call to Hashem and He will give thunder and rain ...] and from this you will be able to understand the ways of Hashem.  Hashem fulfills the request of a petitioner even if it is bad in the eyes of Hashem, and even if to the petitioner it will not be considered beneficial."

Apparently, this is why we use the phrase: may all mishalos libeich l'tova be fulfilled - all requests of your heart for good, leaving it up to Hashem to determine what is good for us.

Jun 29, 2016

The Value of Intentions in Preparations

continued from previous post
also taken from the weekly Shabbos emails

This message underlies a famous story told in Maseches Bava Metzia (85b) of Rabbi Chiya, who described how he worked to ensure that Torah would not be forgotten from Israel. He brought flax, planted it, and used the produce to prepare nets, which he then used to catch deer. He fed the meat to the poor, and then used the skins to prepare parchment scrolls, upon which he wrote the Torah and Mishnah. He brought these scrolls to places where there were no teachers, and he taught children, thereby ensuring the continuity of Torah knowledge.

The commentators raised the question of why Rabbi Chiya went through this long process to prepare the scrolls. If Torah was on the verge of being forgotten, it would seem to have made more sense to expedite the process and to try to obtain scrolls that had already been prepared.

The answer is that preparation has an impact. Rabbi Chiya's pure intentions during the preliminary stages of planting the flax, catching the deer and preparing the parchment directly affected the quality of the Torah learning this process facilitated. If he had just obtained ready-made parchment, the learning would not have had the same impact. He injected sanctity into the scrolls through his intentions over the course of the process of preparing them.

Jun 28, 2016

Shuls, Shabbos and our Intentions

continued from previous post

I received the following in one of the weekly Shabbos emails I subscribe to:

The Vilna Gaon remarked (as cited by his brother) that if, when a shul is built, each and every nail is banged into place with the proper intentions, then one will not be able to pray in that synagogue without concentrating. The kedushah generated by the intentions with which it is built will have such an impact that people who pray in the building will automatically feel uplifted and inspired.
 
This applies to Shabbos preparation, as well. The purer our intentions when we prepare for Shabbos, the more of an impact Shabbos will have upon us. Whether it's the woman's preparation of food, or the work done by the husband to earn money with which to purchase food for Shabbos, if the preparations are done with sincere and pure thoughts, these thoughts will affect the spiritual impact of the Shabbos experience. Of course, Shabbos is inherently sacred and will thus have some impact regardless of the preparations, but the quality and force of that impact depends upon the preparation.

Jun 27, 2016

Do We Affect Inanimate Objects with our Moods and Intentions? part 4

I find the concept of koach ha'poel b'nifal intriguing and wrote about it here and here and here.
 
The Ramban refers to this and it means we don't just look at the item, but at the person who put something into it, so that, for example, a Sefer Torah written by a min must be burned.  We need to know who the sofer is.  The sefer Beis Yisrael says that if the sofer is a yirei shomayim and he writes l'sheim shomayim, he brings a ruach of kedusha (spirit of holiness) into that Torah. If the sofer is a heretic, he brings a ruach ha'tuma (spirit of impurity) into that Torah and whoever reads from it will be influenced by that ruach ha'tuma.
 
Since I last posted about this, I've come across some new examples.
 
A man went to R' Yerachmiel of Pshischa and said, I'm a tailor and have acquired a reputation for my expertise.  I received the most important commission of my life.  The prince asked that I sew him a suit. But when I brought it to him, he yelled, and said it was awful.  Rebbe, I am ruined. All my capital was invested in the cloth and my reputation is ruined too
 
R' Yerachmiel said, remove all the stitches and re-sew it and Hashem will help.
 
He did so and the prince loved it.
 
What was the difference between the first and second time when it resulted in the identical suit?
 
The first time, the stitches were sewn with arrogance which resulted in a repulsive suit, technically perfect but missing chein.  The second time, the stitches were sewn with humility which gave the suit its beauty. (from Week in Review, vol. 8, No 16).

Jun 26, 2016

Knee Surgery - Moral Issue

What should a doctor do when a patient complains of knee problems? What if the patient is obese or heavy enough that it is adversely affecting his knees?

Should a doctor say to an overweight patient - no elective knee surgery until you lose weight and seek other ways to help your knees?

Is it morally acceptable for a doctor to operate on someone, which entails anesthesia which has its dangers, various possible complications, and a recovery period, and of course, a hefty fee for the doctor, when the patient's weight is bearing down on his knees and causing the problem? Is that the build-a-hospital-under-the-bridge idea of Chelm in which they don't fix the bridge that is rickety and results in multiple accidents, but construct a hospital on site to deal with the injuries?

Jun 22, 2016

Rains of Blessing

The weather forecast yesterday was for a possible thunderstorm in the morning (which did not happen) and clear for the rest of the day.

It did not occur to me to check the forecast of the place I was going to, not far from where I live.  I traveled on a frum bus line and as we arrived at our destination it began to sprinkle.  Then drizzle. Then rain.  Then pour!

I was completely unprepared for this.  Although I had only a short distance to walk from the bus, it just wasn't possible without rain gear, which I did not have.  What should I do? I could not get off the bus at the last stop.  I said this to the bus driver, and the one person left on the bus said to me, "My daughter is coming to pick me up, do you want a ride?"

"Yes!"

Just getting in and out of the car was drenching but it was fantastic to have this chesed offered to me.  He had a younger daughter, not the driver of the car, dash out in the downpour (she had a hood, but still!) to check whether we were at the correct address.  Then he said I could use the umbrella in the car to get me the few feet to the door and his daughter came again in order to take the umbrella back from me.

A wonderful chesed, it was such a help, and I bless them.

Jun 20, 2016

You Are What You Eat

In Torah Tavlin I read, the Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim says that the foods that we are not allowed to eat are not only spiritually impure, but are harmful to the body.  The Rashbam brings a proof for this from the Gemara in Shabbos 86b that gentiles who eat these foods have a different physical makeup than Jews.

Very interestingly, the Chasam Sofer (YD 158) says, based on this Gemara, that while non-Jewish doctors have ne'emanus (you can rely on them), nevertheless all their research is based on the biology of non-Jews, which is not like ours because of their different dietary habits.  Therefore, their medical conclusions do not necessarily apply to Jews!
 

Jun 1, 2016

A Peek at Biblical Times

I just finished reading a book about a slum in India.  The extreme poverty in which millions of people live is quite awful.  However, what struck me about what I read, is how the people the author describes regularly transgress the sins of idol worship, sexual immorality, murder, theft, corrupt courts - that's five out of the seven Noahide Laws!

There is a scene in which a person is seen lying on the roadside, badly injured.  The author describes various people who pass by and do nothing to help, being busy with their own lives.  The hours pass.  More people see the weakening man whose cries become fainter.  By the end of the day his corpse is carted away and the wrong cause of death is deliberately written down in the records. 

That is when it struck me - this is what Avrohom Avinu had to contend with, a world of idolatry, murder, immorality, and corruption, the likes of Sedom, the people of Canaan, of Egypt.  Through India, we get to see the revolution Avrohom brought to the world.  Monotheism! Kindness! Loyalty!

And we can see the inroads that the message of Avrohom and subsequent generations of Jews has made in the world.  America, in particular, has championed the Bible and has promoted Torah morality and values.  It is known as a malchus of chesed which is unprecedented in the history of the world.  And where does this value of the sanctity of life and the desire to help others come from? From Avrohom and the Jewish people.

There are many Americans threatening these values today, those who equate the life of a gorilla and a human, those who seek to legalize immorality, those who support legalizing the murder of babies.  But although this is terribly harmful, the bedrock was laid and we won't be going backward to barbarian times.  Truth, justice, and the supremacy of one G-d will hold sway.

May 31, 2016

Seat Shadchan

I boarded a crowded train and saw an elderly frum woman get on too.  She held on to a pole near me. She looked too elderly and fragile for that.

I looked over the possibilities and picked a man sitting in front of her who was busy with his phone.  I said, "Sir ..."

No response.

"Excuse me ..."

He looked up.  I gestured to the woman and said, "Maybe you'd give her ..."

He leaped up and said, "Sorry, I wasn't paying attention!"

The elderly woman was thrilled and she thanked me and thanked the man and sat down and opened her siddur.

Would I have done that for a non-Jewish person who looked in need of a seat? I think so.

I am grateful for having been given the opportunity to be a seat shadchan this morning.

May 30, 2016

Saluting Servicemen who Died for their Country

Some Wikipedia information about Memorial Day and Jews in the military to remind us to feel grateful to our fellow Jews and all Americans who fought for our country:

Today is Memorial Day in the United States, a federal holiday for remembering those who died while serving the country's armed forces (not to be confused with Veterans Day.  Memorial Day is a day of remembering the men and women who died while serving, while Veterans Day celebrates the service of all U.S. military veterans).

Jewish Americans have served in the United States armed forces dating back to before the colonial era, when Jews had served in militias of the Thirteen Colonies. Jewish military personnel have served in all branches of the armed forces and in every major armed conflict to which the United States has been involved. The Jewish Chaplains Council estimated that there are currently 10,000 known Jewish servicemen and servicewomen on active duty.
 
A number of Jewish American servicemen have gained fame due to their military service, and many have received awards and decorations for distinguished service, valor, or heroism. More than 20 Jewish servicemen were awarded the military's highest award, the Medal of Honor.
 
Revolutionary War - American Jews served in numbers disproportionate to their small population of the period. Of an estimated population of 3,000, 160 Jews served on the Colonial side
 
Civil War - Jews were among the supporters of each side of the American Civil War. Some 150,000 Jews lived in the United States at the time of the American Civil War, about 0.5 percent of the population. One academic estimate was that at least 8,000 Jewish soldiers fought for the Union and Confederate during the Civil War. Another estimates that at least 10,000 Jews served, about 7,000 for the Union and 3,000 for the Confederacy, with some 600 Jewish soldiers killed in battle.
 
During World War II, approximately 500,000 American Jews, out of a total population of 4,770,000 American Jews, served in the various branches of the United States armed services. Roughly 52,000 of these received U.S. military awards.
 
Korean and Vietnam Wars - Over 150,000 Jewish Americans served in the Korean War. In Vietnam, 30,000 served.

May 29, 2016

Societal Realities

In a recent Family First article about kids at risk and grandparents, it says, "... Grandparents may feel entitled to an opinion; after all, their children didn't go off [the derech]! This thinking is flawed, rejoins the younger generation, because the absence of 1970s children-in-crisis probably had more to do with societal realities than exemplary parenting."

Case dismissed.

No explanation about what "societal realities" are being referred to.

No hard data to back up the statement.

Do the "societal realities" include the fact that babies weren't sent out to babysitters? That most mothers were home to send their children off to school and greet them when they came home and that most either worked part time or not at all?

Are there "societal realities" of the 1970's that we can reclaim in this decade?

I'd like an article on that subject.

May 25, 2016

A Time for Everything

R' Moshe Tuvia Lieff said the following in a shiur this week that both surprised and delighted me.  He said, the highlight of kids' life is Purim.
 
There are boys who are given an opportunity to have fun, vehicles are rented to take them around to collect money for tzedaka and visit their rebbis' homes.  However, recently there's been a trend by well meaning but misguided people who ask:
 
How much money do you raise with your group? $200 each? If you sit and learn for 10 hours on Purim, I'll give you $200!
 
Sounds good, kiymu v'kiblu, give up visiting the rebbi's house and raising money and learning Torah instead.

But, says R' Lieff, I think it's the most ludicrous thing we can do!

Why bother saying selichos on Yom Kippur? Just sit and learn! If learning is the most important thing in life.

Why do we bother saying Kinos till chatzos with explanations and hearing shiurim? Why not just daven the regular way and then sit and learn Kamtza and Bar Kamtza? Because we need to lament the churban!

Because we need to celebrate and dance with the Torah on Simchas Torah!
 
Learning for several hours on these days is commendable but it's Simchas Torah, it's Purim! This is sucking the marrow out of Yiddishkeit.