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.

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.