"Where does it say that you have a contract with G-d to have an easy life?"

the Lubavitcher Rebbe

"Failure is not the enemy of success; it is its prerequisite."

Rabbi Nosson Scherman

30 Apr 2009

Hope and the makeshift prayer book

The other day, I met a woman who lives down the block. I told her about an informal violin concert that I had attended at a hotel over Chol Hamoed Pesach. The performers were a mother and daughter. The mother must have been close to eighty. While they were playing, it was obvious that the daughter was more talented.
"She got all of the lessons", the mother told the audience.
"Her lessons were interrupted due to the war", the daughter explained.
I remarked to the woman that it was heartwarming to see this survivor of the war, who, instead of being bitter and mired in the past, had successfully rebuilt her life, and had seen her childhood ambitions realized through her daughter.
The woman told me that it was unfathomable to her as to how those who had been in the camps had survived with their faith intact, ready to build their lives anew. She related to me a story about her father.

While he was in one of the concentrations camps, a German officer had taken an inexplicable liking to him. One day, her father and a few inmates decided to write a siddur, surreptitiously, putting to print the words of the prayers recalled from the recesses of their minds. The woman's father was busy at the task, when the officer approached him.
"What are you doing?" the officer shouted. "Don't you know what will happen to you for undertaking such an activity?"
Her father responded.
"You took away everything. You took away my home, my family and my livelihood. But the one thing you didn't take away is hope. And that hope is written in here", he said, as he pointed to his makeshift prayer book.
"Get away from me", the officer commanded. "I didn't see anything."

The following video link shows Itzchak Perlman playing the theme from Schindler's list. Those of you who don't listen to any music during the sefira should wait till Lag Baomer to listen to his performance.

All in the boat together

The Torah states in Kedoshim (19:18) "Love your neighbor as yourself." Rabbi Akiva explained "this is a major tenet in the Torah."
In a midrash we find the following parable of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. Several people were sailing in a ship. One takes out a drill and begins drilling into the floor of the ship. "What are you doing?" the others ask excitedly. "Why should you care?" was the reply. "Aren't I drilling only under my place?"
To access full article click here.

During the "sefira" observant Jews commemorate the loss of thousands of the students of Rabbi Akiva. The Talmud relates that due to lack of respect for each other, Rabbi Akiva's students were struck with a terrible plague. On the 33rd day of the Omer, the plague ended, but 24,000
students perished.

We are all in the boat together. Especially during the mourning period of sefira, let us follow the moral directive of this week's Parsha. "Love thy neighbor as yourself." With unity, love and respect, for one another, we can prevent tragedies and even a plague or a pandemic.

29 Apr 2009

Kedoshim Teheyu

If any words capsulize the attitude the Jew must have toward life, they are the words, "Kedoshim Teheyu," you shall be holy. Being holy is a mitzvah like all the other mitzvos, but with a difference. Most of the other mitzvos, such as kashrus, or tefillin, etc., have relatively obvious parameters. All of these types of mitzvos have clearly defined rules to let us know when meat can no longer be considered kosher, or when tefillin stops being tefillin, or when the time for the mitzvah passes. However, what are parameters for being holy?
The concept of holiness is one that many nations have tried to grasp, with limited success and often with disastrous results. How many crusades and pogroms have been launched in the name of "holiness"?
Perhaps the problem lies in the difference between the English translation and the actual Hebrew word. The English word for holy comes from the word "halo," like those associated with angels and those the non-Jews believed were "saints." The Hebrew word "kadosh" comes from the word that means "to separate," which is why kiddush, which separates Shabbos from the six working days, occurs at the onset of Shabbos.
This in itself indicates that the type of separation being referred to is more than just a physical separation of a person from what might be considered non-holy, which is what the monks of other religious have done. The first level of separation must begin in the mind- kedusha emanates from the distinguishing of ideas.
For example, most people know that the Torah values modesty; modest dress is often associated with religious circles. Thus, if a person merely considers himself or herself not to be religious, or wishes to make an "anti-religious" statement, they have little or no difficulty in dressing immodestly.
However, the truth is, modesty has more to do with a sense of human dignity than it does with religion. It has become a religious "symbol" because Torah is concerned with human dignity as defined by G-d Himself, who created us in the "image of G-d" (human dignity means to live in the image of G-d). Thus in this week's parsha, G-d tells us that we must be holy, because He Himself is holy.
Hence, if one truly understands the essence of man, and the true definition of human dignity, and how central such dignity is to the fulfillment of mankind, then he or she automatically will choose to live on a higher level of modesty. The dress code of any society can actually be a "thermometer" of sorts indicating how well that particular society understands and relates to man's Divine image and human dignity.
Nowhere is this clearer than with Jews who, after years of living a less-than-modest lifestyle (at least by Torah standards), change their course in life and choose a more modest wardrobe. It was not an overnight decision to be sure. In fact, often there is a rebellion against this aspect of Torah observance at first, sometimes even a passionate one. Yet, a year or so later, the hemlines drop to more modest levels, and men who spent their summers in tennis shirts and shorts now wear suits. Were they simply worn down by the struggle?
No. The process was simple: they happened to have attended a class on the ABC's of Judaism which they found to be intellectually stimulating. One class led to another class, which, over time, sensitized the student to new levels of spiritual achievement and the pleasure that comes from spiritual growth. A deeper awareness of the purpose of life emerged, and through it, the person learned to grasp the universal importance of living up to the standards of Torah. A whole new image of man and his potential emerged, and this inner change prompted the need for external ones that were consistent with the inner ones. Modesty is just one such manifestation.
Thus, the directive to be holy, or kadosh, can be understood as a directive to become a deep thinker, and to look into the concepts of daily life to see them for what they really are. Being kadosh means looking past our emotions and attractions when making decisions, especially those that can dramatically affect the direction of society. If history teaches us anything at all, it is that ideas look different in hindsight than they did in the present. This is why the Talmud teaches: Who is the wise man? He who can see what will eventually result from that which occurred today. This could also be the definition of the holy person as well.
Perhaps this is why the "Kedushah" prayer in Shemonah Esrai is placed prior to the blessing of understanding and intelligence, as opposed to at the end of the Shemonah Esrai. Wouldn't it be logical to assume that holiness is the result of the process, as opposed to the cause of it? Putting Kedushah first is tantamount to saying that IT is the necessary prelude to all else that follows.
However, instead, it comes at the beginning of the section of requests. Why? Because what we want is clearly a function of our priorities in life, which are the result of what we understand to be important to G-d, and one cannot know this without seeing what He has to say about creation and our role within the grand scheme of things. Modest dress and a modest lifestyle is bound to result from knowing this.
Another example of this is the mitzvah of shatnez, also in this week's parsha.
Shatnez is a mitzvah to not wear clothing made from a blend of wool and linen. Though this mitzvah is typically a "chok," that is, a mitzvah whose logic is beyond human reason, the midrash tells us that a reason for this mitzvah goes back to Kayin (Cain) and Hevel (Abel).
As the story goes, Kayin brought a sacrifice to G-d, but of poor quality. Hevel saw his brother's action, and decided to do the same, but instead, he brought from the best of his flock. G-d accepted Hevel's offering and rejected Kayin's, for obvious reasons. However, Kayin didn't accept G-d's rejection very well, and instead he turned his anger toward Hevel. G-d warned Kayin that his growing hatred of his brother would lead him down the wrong path, but he ignored G-d's warning, and ended up committing the first murder in the history of mankind.
But what does shatnez have to do with any of this?
What did Kayin bring, and what did Hevel bring? Kayin brought from the least of his produce, which, being a farmer, was flax; Hevel, being a shepherd, brought from the best of his flock, which, as you can now guess, was wool. In the end, it was the "owner of the flax" who killed the "owner of the wool." Therefore, every time a person buys a new garment and delays wearing it until after it goes in for shatnez-testing (most cities with a significant orthodox population have a Shatnez Laboratory that can confirm the presence or lack of shatnez in clothing), they are reminded of what goes wrong in life, and how to keep on the straight and narrow.
For, murder was just an outer manifestation of something that was wrong on the inside of Kayin. And like Kayin, we are all capable of camaflouging negative qualities, at least until a situation presses us so much that we lose perspective and carry out acts that, for us previously, was unthinkable. And what better place is there to make this point than in clothing. After clothing is to the body what the body is to the soul-an outer manifestation of what is spiritually going on in the person. (I heard from Rabbi Yissachar Frand that this is why the mitzvah of "Love your neighbor as yourself" follows the command of Shatnez in this week's parsha. When G-d asked Kayin if he knew the whereabouts of his brother, Kayin answered, "Am I my brother's keeper"? This statement is answered directly and succinctly with the words, "Love your neighbor as yourself" as if to say, "Yes. You are expected to care for your brother at least as much as for yourself.")
All of Torah works the same way. Each level of understanding reveals more about how the Torah approach to life increases human dignity, and in doing so, brings about the fulfillment of mankind within the purpose of creation.
Kedoshim Teheyu means live in the image of G-d; don't be satisfied with what "feels" good at the moment, but go beyond the surface of issues and things to determine their true essence, their essential meaning (if they in fact have any). Increase your appreciation of what matters most to G-d, what is considered dignified, and what is not. Your behavior patterns will follow in time, until you resemble on the outside what you have created intellectually and spiritually on the inside.
There is no better time to do this than during the counting of the omer, which we began to do the second night of Pesach, and which we will continue to do until the night before the holiday of Shavuos. Fifty days of counting correspond to the famous "Fifty Gates of Understanding," to emphasize the intellectual and spiritual refinement process we are supposed to be going through each day of the omer, on the way to the day on which we received the Ten Commandments.
The drive to do so must come from within, for it rarely comes from without. And from my recent stay in America, I can say that the forces of society work against such a process. Life has become very distracting, and in some ways, even absurd. The priorities in life are not what they used to be, and this is not a positive sign for it has resulted in a live-for-today attitude, and, in my opinion, a reduction in human dignity.
Kedoshim Teheyu: Be intellectual, be smart, be a wise person.
Kedoshim Teheyu: Be like G-d, be dignified.


Make Time To Live

Kinyan 20 Mi'ut Derech Eretz - Rav Avigdor Miller, Make Time To Live

A friend of mine once shared with me the following insight. After about a month in law school he figured out the following revelation. If he puts in long hours studying and worked very hard in law school he would be rewarded by receiving a high paying job that would require him to work even harder and put in even more hours. If he succeeded in that task over many years, he would be rewarded by being made partner receiving even more money and working even harder. At some point he'd be making so much money that they'd throw him out and he'd spend the rest of his life working even harder to prove that he is better than they are.

The Maharal MiPrague explains Mi'ut Derech Eretz to mean limiting your working hours. There are only so many hours in the day and if you spend all of them working with little time for learning, don't be surprised if you don't become a big talmid chochom, no matter how smart you are or how many degrees you have.

Isn't this the same as Mi'ut S'chora, limiting your business activity? Derech Eretz is actual work. While less stressful if you work for others, nevertheless the hours are long since you are being paid for services, and the boss wants you to work hard. S'chorah, is the businessman that need not put in long hours. Nevertheless his head is consumed with his businesses. If he is involved in too many things he may have the time to learn, but he won't have the head for it.

Rav Avigdor Miller once said, "Learning mussar teaches you how to live, but learning Bava Kama is living". We need to earn a "living" somehow either as employee or an entrepreneur. But either way, if its a full time thing, what is the point if you will have no time to actually "live".

Il-Makiage to observe Shabbat

Ynet news published an article this week entitled "Il-Makiage to observe Shabbat ."

"Cosmetics company's 25 stores across Israel to be closed on Shabbat, Jewish holidays starting this weekend
by Amit Schneider
Another major company going kosher: Cosmetics company Il-Makiage announced Sunday that it plans to begin observing the Shabbat as of this Friday – for the benefit of its store workers and customers from the religious and ultra-Orthodox sectors.
Il-Makiage owns a make-up college and 25 stores across Israel. Its branches all over the country will now be closed on Shabbat and on Jewish holidays, enabling the religious and haredi public to enjoy the brand's products without hurting their religious sensitivities. "
Full article can be accessed here.

The other day, I discovered a video of the Munkatch Rebbe, speaking in Munkatch in the 1930's, exhorting American Jewry to observe the Sabbath. One of the comments posted about the video contains the English translation of what the Rebbe said.

"The Midrash states: Shabbat is unique. Nothing compares to it! So, I urge you, my brothers in America: observe Shabbat & things will go well for you! It's not enough to go to shul on Shabbat. Do not desecrate Shabbat afterwards by driving or working. You CAN observe Shabbat!"

27 Apr 2009

Speak to Hashem

Associated Press headlines read "Spain confirms 1st swine flu case in Europe". Click here to read an excellent article about swine flu - what it is, the symptoms and a definition of a pandemic. Among the steps the blogger advises to take, besides, drinking plenty of fluids, is to say Tehilim and speak to Hashem.
Let's not wait for a sign from Above to become aware of the power of talking to Hashem. If a doctor tells someone that a loved one, chas veshalom, is hours away from death, I would venture to guess that the person would turn to G-d in his hour of distress. So, why not turn to Him when things are going well, and thank Him for the good bestowed upon us?
Incidentally, Israeli Deputy health minister Litzman has urged reporters to refer to the virus as 'Mexican flu' rather than 'swine flu.' Something doesn't sound kosher to me.

Initiate a greeting of peace

"The Talmud states that no man ....ever preceded Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai in extending a greeting of peace (Berachos 17a).
Our Sages taught: “Initiate a greeting of peace to every person” (Avos 4:20). What is meant by “every person”? Even if you know that someone bears you ill will, nevertheless, initiate a greeting of peace toward him. This will awaken a feeling of love for you within him. And even if he will not humble himself to make peace with you, God will humble him before you [so that he will not cause you any harm]. An allusion to this is found in Scripture, “But if he does not make peace with you ... HASHEM shall deliver him into your hand” (Devarim 20:12-13).
Illustrative of the above is the story of David and Shaul. David sought peace with Shaul, while Shaul, far from being appeased, pursued David with the intent of harming him. Thus did David say, “I am peace —but when I speak, they are for war” (Tehillim 120:7). In two separate episodes, Hashem gave Shaul over into David’s hands [and David could have easily killed him]. Yet, it did not enter David’s mind to cause Shaul any harm, for man must love peace and pursue it."

The above was part of the daily halacha I received from the Chofetz Chaim heritage foundation.To sign up for a daily email, click here.
As a child, we used to play the game, "I got you last", trying to be the one to get in the last slap on our sibling before our mother would stop the fighting. As an adult, I intend to play, "I got you first", being the first one to greet someone. And if that person doesn't respond, I won't call her a snob. Rather, I will judge her favorably. In all probability, she didn't see me or she didn't hear me.

The shark and the fish

Ynet news is reporting that Noam Shalit, father of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit, is heading to the United States on Monday to meet with officials from President Barack Obama's administration and representatives from the Jewish community. I wish him success on his efforts to bring about his son's release after nearly three years in captivity. Furthermore, when reciting the brocho of Matir Asurim (Who frees the imprisoned) tomorrow morning, I will have the name "Gilad ben Aviva" in mind.

26 Apr 2009

A happy countenance

In Pirkei Avot 3:12, Rabbi Yishmael advises us to greet every person besimcha - joyfully. Rabbi Moshe Perl wrote an article in this week's Hamodia magazine entitled, "Finding your Inner Smile." He begins with an anecdote "about a student, who, upon entering the beis medrash, is asked by his rebbi why he looks so gloomy. The student begins to list a long litany of complaints about everything that is going wrong in his life. The rebbi quickly cuts him short and responds; "You didn't understand my question. I didn't ask you why you're so gloomy. I asked you why you look so gloomy." He further writes that "some even say that one who walks around displaying his bad behavior has violated a part of his obligation to treat others properly."

In the book, "Holy Woman", by Sara Yocheved Rigler, the author writes about Chaya Sara Kramer, a woman who lived through the holocaust and remained barren all her life. Despite her travails, Chaya Sara was always happy. "When I once asked her how she had maintained such an elevated level of joy, despite her not having the children she so craved, she replied indignantly: 'What! I should have been both barren and sad?'
Happiness is a choice, not the result of getting everything - or anything - one wants in life. Like kindness and patience, joy is a quality one must actively cultivate." (pg. 31)

This afternoon, I had the occasion to speak to some friends who had attended a three day seminar on the power of positive thinking and they told me how much the lecturer's words had influenced and changed their lives for the better.
The next time someone greets me on the street and asks me how I am, I hope to be able to answer them with a smiling countenance, "Baruch Hashem, couldn't be better."

Roll with the punches

While those are some of the obvious steps you can take to age well, researchers have discovered that centenarians tend to share certain traits in how they eat, move about, and deal with stress—the sorts of things we can emulate to improve our own aging process.

7. Be less neurotic. It may work for Woody Allen, who infuses his worries with a healthy dose of humor, but the rest of us neurotics may want to find a new way to deal with stress. "We have a new study coming out that shows that centenarians tend not to internalize things or dwell on their troubles," says Perls. "They are great at rolling with the punches."

Senior Couple EngagementJacob, age 92, and Rebecca, age 89, are living in Florida. Are allexcited about their decision to get married, they go for a stroll todiscuss the wedding, and on the way they pass a Drugstore. Jacobsuggests they go in. Jacob addresses the man behind the counter: "Areyou the owner?"The pharmacist answers, "Yes."Jacob: "We're about to get married. Do you sell heart Medication?"Pharmacist: "Of course we do."Jacob: "How about medicine for circulation?"Pharmacist: "All kinds."Jacob: "Medicine for rheumatism?"Pharmacist: "Definitely." &n bsp;Jacob: "How about suppositories?"Pharmacist: "You bet!"Jacob: "Medicine for memory problems, arthritis and Alzheimer's?"Pharmacist: "Yes, a large variety; the works."Jacob: "What about vitamins, sleeping pills, Geritol, antidotes forParkinson's disease?"Pharmacist: "Absolutely."Jacob: "Everything for heartburn and indigestion?"Pharmacist: "We sure do."Jacob: "You sell wheelchairs and walkers and canes?"Pharmacist: "All speeds and Sizes."Jacob: "Adult diapers?"Pharmacist: "Sure."Jacob: "Great, we'd like to use this store as our Bridal Registry."

The Road not Taken

Shirat Devorah recently published a post entitled "Rectifying the Past"। The image above her post contained the following words.

"Footfalls echo in the memory

Down the passage which we did not take

Towards the door we never opened"।

The words reminded me of the poem "The Road not Taken" by Robert Frost which we all had to read in high school.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

The other day, a close friend asked me the question, "Do you ever regret choices you made in the past?" I responded by telling her about an article I read in the Jewish Press by Cheryl Kupfer over a year ago entitled There is No 'Road not Taken'. To read the full article, click here.

Through the years, I have made various decisions that have affected my life and sometimes, I become mired in thoughts of "what if and if only". Cheryl Kupfer's insights helped me accept that it is useless to get bogged down in recriminations over past choices.

She writes about the choices we make in life, "Whatever our choices - no matter how satisfied, successful or accepting we are of the outcome and the actuality of our lives - from time to time we wonder "What if," "Why did/didn't I," "If only" etc. This is particularly true for those who regret their choices, those who spend their waking hours (including their sleepless nights) grieving, those whose conscious moments are burdened with the heavy weight of sorrow, anger, frustration and bitterness, beset with the relentless belief that they were cheated. They go through their days mired in the quicksand of regret, unable to move forward, and bogged down by useless self-recrimination for the choices they ultimately made.
But they needlessly chastise themselves or those who influenced their choices, for the poem's premise that we had another choice - the road not taken - is not a Torahdik one.
This is because the path a person ultimately finds him/herself on wasn't chosen; it was the one they were meant to be on - as decreed by Hashem.
Everything is bashert. It is Hashem's will that decides our fate. It is a will that we must accept - no matter how difficult or unfair we feel our lot is."
".....With acknowledgment that Hashem is behind the steering wheel of our journey and that the content of the days of our lives are min haShamayim comes sweet relief that we are not to be blamed for our situation - for our individual pekel was tailored for each of us. "

24 Apr 2009

The joy in doing a mitzvah

On Erev Pesach, Jews around the world performed the mitzvah of the blessing of the sun, reciting the brocho "Oseh Maaseh Bereishis - Who makes the work of creation. As Rabbi Tennenbaum wrote in the Hamodia newspaper, the words "encapsulate our pure faith and immutable conviction that Hashem is the master of all creations. He and no other - not nature -not science - brought the world into being and He, with His infinite compassion, continues to maintain it, minute by minute, nanosecond by nanosecond."
For those of you who missed this news clip, it pays to watch, just to see the joy yidden experience when performing a mitzvah.
Haaretz reporter Gideon Levy recently wrote an article entitled "Purim games / Only the Haredim are really joyful". To read the full article, click here.

From right to left

A disappointed salesman of Coca Cola returns from his assignment in Israel . A friend asked, "Why weren't you successful with the Israeli's?" The salesman explained, "When I got posted in the Middle East , I was very confident that I would make a good sales pitch in rural areas. But, I had a problem I didn't know how to speak Hebrew. So, I planned to convey the message through three posters...
First poster- A man lying in the hot desert sand...totally exhausted and fainting. Second poster - man is drinking our Cola. Third poster- Our man is now totally refreshed. Then these posters were pasted all over the place "That should have worked," said the friend. The salesman replied "I didn´t realize that the Jews read from right to left"
I received the above joke through an email - author unknown

23 Apr 2009

Hishtadel Liheyot Ish - Tribute to Rabbi Noah Weinberg

As I watched the two minute video presentation, I couldn't help but be astounded by what one person can do, when he sets his mind to it. Click here to see what an individual can accomplish.


"Once upon a time, there was a girl called Ella. She was very poor and miserable because she was scared that nobody would marry her. She was too poor to own a bed, so she spent a lot of time crying in her fireplace, so everyone called her Cinder-Ella. One day there was a big chagigah in town and Cinder-Ella davened that she should meet her Chosen there. Her biggest problem (a rachmanus) was that she didn't have anything to wear. In the end, she went to the local gemach and borrowed a beautiful gown and went to the chagigah. Indeed, her soon-to-be-Chosen was there, he noticed her and sought her out via matchmakers, who in turn contacted Cinder-Ella, who agreed to go out with him and they liked each other and got married. He was the richest boy in town and after that she never had reason to cry in the fireplace anymore and started a gemach of her own.

Moral of the story: If you don't get up and do something about your sad situation, then nothing will change."
published in Mishpacha magazine

Being a realist(actually a pessimist), I have another ending to the story. The glass slipper didn't fit, so poor Cinder-Ella returned to her fireplace. As the years flew by, and her single status hadn't changed, she continually said, "I don't know why I am still single. But, what I do know is that all is according to G-d's master plan and gam zu letova, everything is for the best. I thank you, Hashem for giving me this nisayon, as it is an opportunity for spiritual grwoth."

22 Apr 2009

A quarter too much

The following is an anecdote I received through email - author unknown.
"Several years ago, a rabbi from out-of-state accepted a call to a community in Houston , Texas . Some weeks after he arrived, he had an occasion to ride the bus from his home to the downtown area. When he sat down, he discovered that the driver had accidentally given him a quarter too much change.
As he considered what to do, he thought to himself, 'You'd better give the quarter back. It would be wrong to keep it'.
Then he thought, 'Oh, forget it, it's only a quarter. Who would worry about this little amount? Anyway, the bus company gets too much fare; they will never miss it. Accept it as a 'gift from G-d' and keep quiet'.
When his stop came, he paused momentarily at the door, and then he handed the quarter to the driver and said, 'Here, you gave me too much change'.
The driver, with a smile, replied, 'Aren't you the new rabbi in town?'
'Yes' he replied.
'Well, I have been thinking a lot lately about going somewhere to worship. I just wanted to see what you would do if I gave you too much change. I'll see you in Shul on Shabbos'.
When the rabbi stepped off of the bus, he literally grabbed the nearest light pole, held on, and said, 'Oh Rebono Shel Olam, I almost sold a Yid for a quarter.'

Our lives are the only thing some people will ever read.
This is a really scary example of how much people watch us as JEW, and will put us to the test! Always be on guard -- and remember -- You carry the name of HaShem on your shoulders when you call yourself a 'JEW'.
Watch your thoughts; they become words.
Watch your words; they become actions.
Watch your actions; they become habits.
Watch your habits; they become character.
Watch your character; it becomes your destiny."

“If relativity is proved right, the Germans will call me a German, the Swiss will call me Swiss and the French will call me a world citizen. If relativity is proved wrong, the French will call me Swiss, the Swiss will call me German and the Germans will call me a Jew.”
Albert Einstein

Shtreimlich and tztitzit, must have fashion accessories

"The next day’s most compelling collection came from Il Galantuomo, a men's label by Korean-born Gunhyo Kim, a graduate of Antwerp’s Royal Academy of Arts and a design assistant of Dries Van Noten. Inspired by Antwerp's Hasidic Jews community, Gunhyo sent out chic, tailored ensembles of suit jackets, v-neck T-shirts, long tunics and loose pants—something of a continuation of Jean Paul Gaultier’s Hasidic take a couple decades ago, yet Gunhyo’s riff was all his own... "

Wear tzitzit, not because it is a fashion accessory, but because it is a mitzvah.

21 Apr 2009

Conquering your inclination

“Eizehu gibor hakovesh es yitzro – Who is strong? He who conquers his personal inclination”
R’ Naftoli Ropshitz (1760-1827), the first Ropshitzer Rebbe, asks: Why does the mishnah refer to “his” inclination, rather than simply saying, “the yetzer hora”?
He explains that each person has his particular yetzer hora. Each person has a weakness for a different vice. Some may have an addiction, i.e. alcohol, smoking or drugs, which makes them vulnerable to sin. Therefore, that which tempts one individual to transgress may not have any impact on the other person. Hence, each person must make the effort to keep his weakness in check.
Moreover, explains the Ropshitzer, people often tend to note and correct others and their faults. The mishnah tells us “hakovesh es yitzro” – worry about your own yetzer hora and your own flaws.

http://www.inspirationalmoment.com/Chapter_Four_Mishnah_1_Day_One by Rabbi David Gol

"The Vilna Gaon in his peirush on Mishlei says that the reason why a person is put on this world is to break his middos. Life is granted to a person in order to perform the mitzvos he is least inclined to do. He is given a personality and told not to dare come back home to Shamayim with that same personality. He must break his habits and rectify his negative character traits. This is a lifetime struggle.
The Gemara in Bava Metzia (32b) says that if you have a choice between helping an enemy load packages onto his donkey or help your friend unload his donkey that is suffering under its load you should help your enemy even though causing an animal pain may be an aveira di'oraisa. Why the Gemara asks? Because it is better to conquer your inclination and overcome your disdain for your enemy even at the expense of causing Tzaar Baalei Chaim."
To read full article click here.

As the days between Pesach and the holiday of Shevuos are marked by the counting of the sefira, I am significantly aware of the passing of each day. Particularly during this time approaching the holiday of Shavous which marks the giving of the Torah and our acceptance of the concomitant responsibility, I will strive to be a better person. This involves working on negative character traits and breaking harmful habits, built up over a lifetime.
On April 10, in the dead of night, Vrba and Wetzler emerged from the woodpile and began an 11-day, 80-mile trek to Slovakia. There they met with Jewish leaders and dictated a 30-page report that came to be known as the "Auschwitz Protocols." It included details of the mass-murder process, maps pinpointing the gas chambers and crematoria and warnings of the impending slaughter of Hungary's Jews.

"One million Hungarian [Jews] are going to die," Vrba told them. "Auschwitz is ready for them. But if you tell them now, they will rebel. They will never go to the ovens."
A COPY of the report was given to Rudolf Kastner, a Budapest Jewish leader. Instead of publicizing the information, Kastner negotiated a deal that involved bribing the Germans to permit a train with 1,684 of his relatives, friends and Hungarian Jewish leaders to leave the country. Kastner's action became the centerpiece of a controversial trial in Israel after the war.

To read the full article, click here.

An apple for the teacher or a compliment

I walked into class the first day of seventh grade and was introduced to my Hebrew teacher from Israel. She took an instant dislike to me and I was miserable in class. Until my mother had a great idea. She telephoned the woman and invited her for a cup of coffee. I don't know what she said to her, but, from that day on, the teacher's attitude towards me changed drastically.

Recently, my niece had a problem with her teacher. My sister-in-law called her up to resolve the problem. First, she complimented her and spoke about the great mesirut nefesh the teacher had displayed with the extracurricular activity she was busy doing with her class. The teacher warmed up immediately and told my sister-in-law that many parents call up to complain and yell at her.

The next day, the teacher called my niece in front of the class and told her what a nice mother she had.

I had been teaching for a couple of weeks, this year, when a mother called me up to say how pleased her daughter was with me. Then she went on to make a specific request. To this day, I have a positive attitude towards her daughter. When I am in doubt as to what her grade should be, I always resolve my doubt by giving her the higher grade.

So, why don't you try to give your child's teacher a compliment today? They are human and would sure appreciate a compliment as opposed to the litany of complaints they receive. And, if you bump into them in a store, it is not the time to conduct a mini parents-teachers meeting. They are only human beings who also would like their private moments to shop without being innundated with questions that can be addressed during school hours.

20 Apr 2009

The secret of Jewish continuity

Recently, I heard a talk by Rabbi A. entitled, "The secret of Jewish continuity and Jewish vitality." Rabbi A began his lecture by reciting the first blessing in the Shemoneh Esrei, "Blessed are you, Lord, our G-d and the G-d of our forefathers."

Rabbi A. then went on to quote the first Passuk in Tehilim which reads, "Happy is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scorners."

The Rabbi explained that the first passuk uses verbs of movement while subsequently, in Tehilim 92, Passuk 13, the tzadik is compared to a palm tree; he grows like a cedar in Lebanon." The Hebrew word used for happy is "Ashrei". Rabbi A. stated that the word "Ashrei" has the same root as the word, Ashurai which is found in Tehilim, Chapter 17, Passuk 5. "Tamoch ahsurai - My steps have held fast." The word "Ashurai" also has the same root as the word, "Asherah" which is found in Devarim, Chapter 16, Passuk 21. "You shall not plant you an Ashera of any tree near the altar of the Lord your G-d, which you shall make.

The secret to Jewish continuity, Rabbi A. went on to explain, is to chart your own steps, while being firmly rooted in the ways of our forefathers. G-d is our G-d, and we have to make our way in our generation and face the challenges unique to us, while remembering that G-d is also the G-d of our forefathers, making it incumbent upon us to follow their traditions and teachings. Finally, Rabbi A. quoted from Rambam regarding the halachos of writing a sefer Torah. "It is a positive commandment foe each and every Jew to write a Torah scroll for himself.... Even if a person's ancestors left him a Torah scroll, it is a Mitzvah to write one himself."

"Why is there a need to write a sefer torah for himself?" asked Rabbi A. He answered that an individual is charged with writing a sefer Torah for the generation in which he lives. The new generation presents challenges not faced by the previous generation and a competent halachic authority must be consulted in how to face the challenges.

Years ago, when I went to seminary in Jerusalem, one of the professors asked us to raise our hands if we were descendants from the Chatam Sofer. A number of girls raised their hands. He then asked us to raise our hands if we were descendants from Moses Mendelssohn. Not one girl raised her hand.

Moses Mendelssohn, who embraced enlightenment and modernity, had grandchildren who left the faith. On the other hand, the Chatam Sofer, whose motto was "Chadash Assur min HaTorah", - That which is new is forbidden - succeeded in having generations following in his path.

Is a choice that you make, not
Something that you find.
It's up to you to control
The thoughts that are
Going through your mind.

Here are the key words
That you need
To open up the door;
In every situation think;
"What can I be thankful for?"

No matter what, no matter whom
There's something to appreciate.
Master this upbeat attitude
And you'll make your day be great.

The Chofetz Chaim Heritage foundation

Shema Yisrael - our most powerful weapon

"Rashi tells us in his commentary on the Torah that even if a person has no other mitzva than reciting the Shema Yisrael prayer, Hashem will save him from danger:
Shema Yisrael, Adonoi Elohenu, Adonoi Echad
Hear O Israel, The Lord is our God, The Lord is One!"


19 Apr 2009

Hidden treasures

" Let us address the contention that it is virtually impossible to faithfully observe the laws of shmiras haloshon for more than a day or two:
Even if this were correct, is it reason enough to ignore this mitzvah? Imagine a person walking along the seashore, who sees that the sea has washed ashore precious gems. Would such a person — even if he were wealthy — refrain from picking up any gems because he knows it will be impossible to gather them all?
It is exactly the same regarding shmiras haloshon. It is well known that the Vilna Gaon (in his famous letter) quotes the Midrash which says that for each moment in which a person refrains from speaking the forbidden, he merits a hidden light that no angel can fathom. Note that the Midrash does not speak of refraining from forbidden speech for a month, a week, or an hour — but for only a moment!
Scripture states: “If you will seek it like silver and hunt for it like hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of Hashem, and knowledge of God you will find” (Mishlei 2:4-5). One must strive to attain spiritual goals in the way that he would seek the greatest valuables that this world has to offer. This is the intent of the statement, “Do not distance yourself from a quality that is without limit.” Avoiding forbidden speech brings infinite merit; if we will only pursue this quality, and not tell ourselves that it is out of our reach, then we will have achieved that which no angel can fathom. "
from the daily halacha sent by the Chofetz Chaim Heritage foundation. To register, click here.

17 Apr 2009

Suffering-it's good for the soul

Baruch Twerky wrote an article in Mishpacha about why suffering befalls man. He began with an anecdote about a man who had suffered terribly in his life. He travelled to his Rebbe to find out the reason for his suffering. He reached his destination, only to be told by the Rebbetzin that he would have to wait to see the Rebbe. She invited him to the waiting room where he took a seat.
"Exhausted from the journey, the man fell asleep. He dreamed he was walking alone on a deserted toad. He saw horse-drawn chariots pasing by, filled with angels. Some of the angels were beautiful and white as snow. Others were black and terrifying to behold. Wondering what this was all about, he followed them, and found them gathering around an enormous scale. The white angels were climbing onto one pan of the scale, and the black angels onto the other.
"What's happening?" the man asked one of the angels.
The angels answered, "This is the Heavenly Court, and someone is being judged. The beautiful, white angels were created by the mitvos the person did. The ugly, dark angels were created by his sins. The angels are climbing onto the opposite sides of the scale. Whichever side is heavier will determine this person's judgment."
"Whom are they judging?" the man asked.
Anxiously, the man looked and saw that the sins outweighed the mitzvos.
The angels presiding over the case asked, "Are there any more white angels?"
"No!" came the reply.
"Then maybe there are sufferings?" asked the presiding angel. "Maybe this person suffered during his lifetime? The suffering will nullify his sins."
This man had indeed suffered greatly in his lifetime, and the court began to weigh his suffering, removing dark angels from the scale accordingly.
Slowly, the scale tilted in his favor. But not enough. He hadn't suffered quite enough to nullify all his sins.
"Only a little more suffering!" the man screamed. "Please! Please! I need just a little more suffering!"
The rebbetzin heard his screams. She ran over to him and he told her he didn't have to see the Rebbe anymore. He had received his answer.

13 Apr 2009

Grab those apples

"A Torah scholar once posed the following question: If one has failed to concentrate while reciting the Shemoneh Esrei prayer and finds himself near its conclusion, with what approach can he inspire himself to pray the remainder of the prayer with proper concentration? The scholar offered a solution by way of a parable:

A young girl was standing in the marketplace with a large basket of apples for sale. Suddenly, a thief approached and began to snatch apples out of the basket. The girl became confused and stood helplessly, not knowing what to do. Someone who was watching from a distance called out to her, “Why are you standing still? What are you waiting for —that he should grab everything? Just as he is grabbing, so should you grab- whatever you can get will still be yours!”

And so it is regarding prayer. If one was overcome by lethargy and mindless daydreaming at the start of the Shemoneh Esrei, and suddenly finds himself near the prayer’s end without having “grabbed any apples,” this does not mean that he should give up and leave himself with nothing. Rather, he should strive with all his inner strength to concentrate on the remaining blessings.

And so it is, exactly, with shmiras haloshon. You stumbled this morning and spoke the forbidden? Then stand ready this afternoon to overcome your evil inclination and refrain from forbidden talk. And if you fail in the afternoon, nevertheless, strengthen yourself to do battle once more tomorrow. Surely Hashem will help you to succeed, for “one who seeks to purify himself is granted Heavenly assistance” (Shabbos 104a)."

from the daily halacha sent by the Chofetz Chaim Heritage foundation. To register, click here.

12 Apr 2009

Parking tickets and dates

In an article entitled "Reflections after 30 years of marriage", Jonathan Rosenblum poses the question, "If marriage is so great, why do so many fail?"
He answers the question by stating, "For one thing, many people choose stupidly. They confuse the qualities that make for a fun date with those that make for a good marriage. Attraction is undoubtedly an important element in marriage, and the momentum it provides a good start for the long haul ahead. But respect for one's spouse is even more essential. My wife earned mine on our first date, when she slowly ate her meal without taking note of my hungry looks after I had typically gobbled down my portion."

He also says, "If one's choice of spouse is based on impressing one's friends or the fulfillment of some fantasy rather than on the desire to give to another and share with her, the future is bleak."
I remember many years ago, a young man told my parents, "I'm looking for someone who not only I think is a ten, but my friends will also think she is a ten." The guy wisened up in his fifties and recently got married.

Another time, my friend's father sat down and had a long took with me before proposing a shidduch for me. He told me that his wife knew after the first date that she was going to marry him. What impressed her so much that she knew, with certainty, after such a relatively short time span? He told me that after emerging from the hotel where they had met for drinks, he found a parking ticket on the windshield of the car. His future wife knew that he didn't have extra money to spend and, therefore, she was very impressed with his calm demeanor upon discovering the ticket. She knew this man would not blow his top and get angry aboout something as inconsequential as a parking ticket.

So, when searching for the right one, don't forget to look at the inner qualities and as long as you think she's beautiful (inside and out), that's all that matters.

May we hear about many simchos bekarov.

11 Apr 2009

The counting of the Omer

"You shall count for yourselves -- from the day after the Shabbat, from the day when you bring the Omer of the waving -- seven Shabbats, they shall be complete. Until the day after the seventh sabbath you shall count, fifty days..". -Leviticus 23:15-16
"You shall count for yourselves seven weeks, from when the sickle is first put to the standing crop shall you begin counting seven weeks. Then you will observe the Festival of Shavu'ot for the L-RD, your G-d "-Deuteronomy 16:9-10

Every night, from the second night of Passover to the night before Shavuot, we recite a blessing and state the count of the omer in both weeks and days. For example, on the 17th day, you would say "Today is seventeen days, which is two weeks and three days of the Omer."

A number of years ago, my friend's father, a Torah scholar and all around mentsch, was niftar. I remember feeling awkward at the shiva, searching for the right words to say, knowing how close she was with her father. My friend came from a large family, and she had five brothers. I began by telling her that my husband's father was also niftar during the time of sefira. I told her, "You don't know how careful my husband is with counting sefira. On the yarzheit day, my husband realizes he will have to daven maariv before the amud and he would be so embarrassed if he had to step aside and let someone else say the beracha of sefira, because he had lost count and couldn't say the beracha anymore. I told her, "Your father is mezakeh all your brothers to be makpid (be stringent) in the beracha of sefira."

"You have consoled me", she said.

7 Apr 2009

Senora Ivonne Michan, a"h, the Sarah Imeinu of Mexico City

Mishpacha magazine published an article about Senora Ivonne Michan, a"h, who was called the Sarah Imeinu of Mexico City. She was machnis orchim to thousands of people. She also helped kasher hundreds of kitchens.

One amazing anecdote that stands out is when a Chacham's house burned down. Most of the burnt items were taken to a dump, but she went to the dump to search for parts of sefarim that she collected and brought for genizah.

When she became ill, a rav advised her to sell a valuable item and to use the money to buy challah and wine for Shabbos for a poor family in Israel. She told her daughter, "Go under my bed. There's a small box of my jewelry." Her daughter found a thick gold bracelet but her mother told her she couldn't sell that item. When her daughter asked her why, she answered, "Because that bracelet is already hekdesh. I put it aside for when Mashiach comes and the Beit Hamikdash is rebuilt. Don't you have a jewel put aside as well?"

Additionally, over the years she had sold other items of jewelry to pay for someone's wedding, a bris, and much more.

After reading about such an outstanding woman, I truly believe that the accolade, the Sarah Imeinu of Mexico City is her due.

P.S. Did you put aside a jewel?

Vehi Sheamda

UN General Assembly president, Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann, a Roman Catholic priest with his arms around Iranian President Ahmadinejad.

Asked whether he approves of Ahmadinejad saying he wants to wipe Israel off the map, Miguel d'Escoto says, 'Words as such don't kill'.

"And it is this [covenant] that has stood for our Forefathers and us. For not just one enemy has stood against us to wipe us out. But in every generation there have been those who have stood against us to wipe us out, and the Holy One Blessed Be He saves us from their hands."
"Today, the Jewish people has in it still those elements of strength and of endurance which enabled it to surmount all the crises of its past, surviving thus the most powerful empires of antiquity.
From a reading of Jewish history, one factor emerges which may perhaps help us in our decision. The preservation of the Jew was certainly not casual. He has endured through the power of a certain ideal, based upon the recognition of the influence of a Higher Power in human affairs. Time after time in his history, moreover, he has been saved from disaster in a manner which cannot be described excepting as "providential."
"The History of the Jews" by Cecil Roth [Schocken 1961, pp. 423-424]

6 Apr 2009

Earthquakes - a sign from Hashem

As I heard about the earthquake in Italy this morning, I recalled a letter attributed to the Chofetz Chaim written in 1925 in which the gadol speaks about the subject. The letter was translated to English and printed in the Hamodia.

"Several weeks ago I publicized an essay concerning the great earthquake that happened in our land. In that essay I encouraged Kelal Yisrael to do teshuva and that the earthquake was a warning to the entire world that they should repent of their evil ways and believe in Hashem Who controls all. Not for naught did all these terrifying and frightening things of this year come upon us. And now, we hear new and terrifying information about the great flood that took place in our land and the great earthquake that took place in Russia in which were killed and injured thousands of men, women and children and many livestock; many of them were buried alive. Even in our land we experienced some tremors of this earthquake. Certainly any thinking person should be gripped by fear and trembling as to what Hashem has done to us. The One who is good and does good to all and is merciful on all of His creations, and does not even desire the death of the wicked, as it says 'By My life, says Hashem, I do not desire the death of the wicked one, but rather that he repent and live'(Yechezkel 33).The understanding person will realize that Hashem is urging us to do teshuva and is showing us all that He has the power to as He pleases, and none of His creations of above or below can tell Him what to do. And it is clear to me that if we had prophets sent from Hashem, they would without doubt be standing guard to urge Jews to do teshuva to our Father in heaven. Because, with our evil deeds we have no prophets or divine messengers in our times, He is urging us through other messengers to do teshuva, as it says 'He makes winds-his messengers; burning fire-his servants."'


Passover symbols

Pesach 1941

"Pesach 1941" by Lady Amelie Jacobovits is the poignant story of how a child experienced her most memorable Passover, bereft of family, and all the accoutrements accompanying a normal family seder. Lady Jacobovits is the widow of the late Rav Lord Immanuel Jacobovits, Chief Rabbi Emeritus of the British Commonwealth. I had the privelege to hear her speak, as she described her experiences during the war years and the incredible faith she had which enabled her to survive and endure.

“Occasionally, one memory escapes from the vault that holds the terror of those years. One Passover, my three-year old grandchild looked up at me from his chair at the Seder table. I don’t even know what he said, because the rush of Passover 1941 blocked everything else. I was a young girl hidden in a dark cellar in central France. I was without other family - alone with four other children, all of us strangers. Today and in recent years, as I celebrate Passover surrounded by the comforts and luxury of our London flat and the security of more than a dozen relatives and friends, I realize that for all of their splendor, these holidays cannot compare in my heart to that unique event 62 years ago. 1941 was the most extraordinary Passover of my life."

To continue reading the story, click here. After reading her story, I am sure we will have an extra appreciation of being able to share a seder table with our extended family, something that is taken for granted, in this day and age.

Order of priorities

Reading the news today, I was struck by two items concerning the allocation of Israeli government spending.
Israeli newspapers have reported that "Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's government allotted NIS 43 million ($10.3 million) to the security of Pope Benedict XVI and the upgrading of infrastructure in the areas he is slated to visit. However the Finance Ministry has not yet agreed to implement this ruling."
The yeshivaworld website reported "Minister of Welfare & Social Services Yitzchak Herzog is concerned with the alarming fact that 1.5 million Israelis are in the social services database, receiving assistance of some kind.
Herzog stated 250,000 Israelis need assistance to meet the basic Pesach needs, explaining no one can get by on a minimum wage salary.
Speaking with the prime minister on Shabbos, Herzog called for tripling the pre-Pesach assistance to non-profit organizations assisting the poor from NIS 3 million to NIS 9 million to permit getting the basic to the so many who will not receive assistance ahead of yomtov.......
Due to firings and debts, Herzog explains the unemployment services in the southern area are collapsing, unable to meet the overwhelming increase in requests for assistance. He adds the alarming trend also is reflected in increase demand for assistance as well as domestic stress and even a noticeable increase in divorce."
The laws of tzedakah dictate the order of priorities as to whom to give charity.
1.Family and close relatives
2.Local Jewish community
I would respectfully ask the Pope to cancel his visit to Israel, asking instead that the money allocated for his security should instead be used to feed the nation's poor, to alleviate economic distress, so that there will be fewer incidences of marital discord, divorce and starving children.

5 Apr 2009

Orthodoxy then and now

In a speech proclaiming April 5 as education and sharing day, President Obama stated, "Yet knowledge alone will not bring the future our children deserve. Our schools and community institutions must also help each child develop a moral compass. Education must blend basic American values such as honesty, personal responsibility, and service. These indispensable elements will not only help children succeed in challenging work environments, they will also help our youth engage in and contribute to their communities.
Few have better understood or more successfully promoted these ideas than Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, who emphasized the importance of education and good character. Through the establishment of educational and social service institutions across the country and the world, Rabbi Schneerson sought to empower young people and inspire individuals of all ages. On this day, we raise his call anew."
My dream is to institute a class in every school, be it public or private, where manners are to be taught, along with respect for elderly people. Nowadays, when traveling on a bus or train, it is not often that one sees a youngster getting up to give his seat to an elderly person.
I think, however, that the basic precepts on how to behave in a courteous fashion should be taught at home, rather than during school hours. So, parents, inculcate in your children respect for the older generation and teach them common courtesy.
Allow me to quote an excerpt from an excellent article by Dr. Yitzchok Levine, published in the Jewish Press.
"Respect for one's elders seems to have become a thing of the past for many young people. One even encounters so-called frum adults who appear to have never learned that derech eretz toward one's fellow man and woman should be part and parcel of one's dealings with others.
The Torah commands us to honor our parents, our older siblings and older people in general. Indeed, Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch pointed out that honoring parents is one of the foundation stones of Yahadus, because our basis for accepting the truth of the Torah is something that is passed on from one generation to the next.
When I was growing up (I was born in 1941), it was made very clear to me that you never called an adult by his or her first name. It was always "Mr." or "Mrs." or "Miss" or "Aunt" or "Uncle." Calling an older person by his or her first name would instantly result in a rebuke from my parents.
Today I often hear children call their adult aunts or uncles by their first names. Some years ago one of my sons had a classmate over for Shabbos. (The boys were 10 years old at the time.) After Shabbos I asked our guest what he was going to do now, since his parents had gone away. He replied, "I am going to call Shloime. He will pick me up." I asked, "Who is Shloime?" The boy replied, "My uncle." I was taken aback at how this young man thought nothing of calling his uncle, who was, of course, an adult, by his first name.
I have asked people in their twenties and thirties and even older why they let themselves be called by their first names. They reply, "Being called 'Uncle' (or 'Aunt') makes me feel old." They do not seem to realize that they are doing a disservice to their nieces and nephews. Allowing them to address older people by their first names fosters the idea that everyone is on an equal level. This is not true. The Torah tells us that age deserves respect, and children have to be made aware of this as often as possible.
And then there are the youngsters who push ahead of me when I am about to leave shul. Often I put my hand on the shoulder of such a fellow and say to him, somewhat facetiously, "Sir! I believe that I am a bit older than you are!" More often than not the young man has no idea what I am talking about.
I was taught that you always let an older person go through a door before you. It was just one more part of practicing derech eretz, but it seems to have been lost in many circles today."

Click here to read the entire article, which I highly recommend.

3 Apr 2009

Why steal the afikoman?

5 Reasons Why Children Steal the Afikoman

"One of the children's favorite parts of the Seder is the stealing of the Afikoman, hiding it, and subsequently asking for a gift before returning it to their father. Where does this minhag come from? The Hagadah Otzar Divrei HaMeforshim brings some reasons for stealing the Afikoman.
1. To show how much they love the mitzva. (Mekor Chaim - Chavos Yair)
2. Based on the Mishna in Pesachim that says the children grab the Matza so they shouldn't fall asleep. (Chasam Sofer)
3. Dogs watch the house from burglars. On the night of Pesach the dogs did not bark therefore they were vulnerable to thieves. As a Zecher to this we steal the Afikoman. (Michtav Sofer - Rav Shimon Sofer of Krakow)
4. Matza represents parnassa. The Ba'al HaBayis breaks it in half. He leaves half on the table representing Olam HaZeh and the other half he hides for Olam Haba. The little children who only know from Olam Hazeh try to grab the hidden half. The Ba'al HaBayis must watch it and make sure they don't steal it. (Ach Pri Tevua - Rav Tzvi Hirsch MiLiska)
5. When Eisav went in to get the brachos from Yitzchok, Yitzchok said "Ba Achicha BiMirma" you brother came with trickery. The Medrash Plia adds "and he took out the Afikoman." The brachos were given on Pesach. Therefore the children grab the afikoman to get the brachos. The brachos are the present that they ask their fathers to buy for them." (Rav Menashe Klein)

For those of you who won't have a chance to visit a matza baking facility, you can get a quick overview by clicking here. Just remember not to get too close to the oven. It's hot.

2 Apr 2009

Letter from Mom

Exactly a year after Avraham David Moses was murdered in a terrorist attack in the Mercaz Harav yeshiva, Rivkah Moriah, his mother, wrote "Letter from Mom". I was shaken while reading the letter and moved by Mrs. Moriah's courage and enduring faith, particularly after the tragedy of losing her first born son. She ends the letter with words of gratitude to Hashem.
"P.S. I want to thank Hashem, again, for letting me be your mother. There is no gift greater than the privilege of motherhood. I thank Him, too, for all the precious souls He spared, both those who were in the library and escaped with their lives, and those who were not quite so close, but whose presence I can no longer take for granted. Each and every one is a tremendous consolation for me."
Mrs. Moriah, you are truly a noble spirit. May you have nachas from your other children and may you raise them leTorah leChupah uleMaasim tovim.

Click here to read the entire letter.

Update: As I was about to post the above paragraphs, I heard reports of a 13 year old who was killed in a terror attack in the West Bank. Today, let's take time from our busy schedules to feel the pain of a family who is burying their young child. And let's daven with special kavanah as we recite Shemoneh Esrei. "hashivah shofteinu kivarishona viyoatzeinu kivatchila vehasir mimenu yagon vaanacha umloch aleinu miheira atah HaShem livadcho bichesed uvirachamim, restore our judges as in earliest times and our counselors as at first; remove from us sorrow and groan; and speedily reign over us – You, HaShem, alone – with kindness and compassion. "

OFFB - Yes we can!!!!!!!

The other day, I began my diatribe about Facebook. Soon after, I came across an article by Rabbi Shmully Boteach. Permit me to quote the salient portion regarding the subject of Facebook.
"Every day I receive tens of emails from complete strangers in the religious community asking me if I can suggest a shidduch for them. But the increasing superficiality in the frum dating scene has me often feeling despair, like the story a year ago when I was going to introduce a young yeshiva scholar with a razor-sharp intellect to a brilliant frum intellectual woman who seemed perfect for him. The day before they were meant to go out he called me to tell me he was cancelling the date. He had seen her picture on FaceBook and decided he was not attracted to her. I was shocked. First, even by the most objective standards the girl is highly attractive. Second, the bochur did not even feel any shame in telling me that with the glance of a single picture he had dismissed the entire idea."

If the above anecdote is not reason enough to get off Facebook, here's another more sinister reason. Last week, it was reported in a New York newspaper that a 16-year-old confessed to the slaying of a radio newsman, who was stabbed multiple times. A source told the newspaper that the radio broadcaster and the teen had met on Craigslist and had been e-mailing one another. So, another reason to sign out of Facebook is because you don't know with whom you are chatting.
Girls, I grew up with the terms FFB (frum from birth) and BT (baalei teshuva). Let's start a new term for our generation. OFFB (off from Facebook). Afraid that if you leave Facebook, you won't belong to a group anymore? Start a new group of OFFBs. Anyone willing to print buttons with the new group's name for these intrepid girls?
OFFB Yes we can!!!!!!
(No, we can't.
Yes we can. Would you stop being so negative?)

1 Apr 2009

Florida court sets atheist holy day!

I received the following joke through email - author unknown
"In Florida, an atheist created a case against the upcoming Easter and Passover holy days. He hired an attorney to bring a discrimination case against Christians, Jews and observances of their holy days. The argument was that it was unfair that atheists had no such recognized days. The case was brought before a judge. After listening to the passionate presentation by the lawyer, the judge banged his gavel declaring, "Case dismissed!"
The lawyer immediately stood objecting to the ruling saying, "Your honor, how can you possibly dismiss this case? The Christians have Christmas, Easter and others. The Jews have Passover, Yom Kippur and Hanukkah, yet my client and all other atheists have no such holidays." The judge leaned forward in his chair saying, "But you do. Your client, counsel, is woefully ignorant." The lawyer said, "Your Honor, we are unaware of any special observance or holiday for atheists." The judge said, "The calendar says April 1st is April Fools Day. Psalm 14:1 states, 'The fool says in his heart, there is no G-d." Thus, it is the opinion of this court, that if your client says there is no G-d, then he is a fool. Therefore, April 1st is his day. Court is adjourned."

Shidduchim Purim spoof

The Shidduch crisis - a reader's suggestion

In a previous post, I discussed the shidduch crisis and invited readers to submit suggestions on how to alleviate the problem. The following is one reader's response, who asked that his letter be posted anonymously.

"It can not be denied that finding an appropriate shidduch is very difficult. The difficulty has been characterized as a "crisis" and this is not a hysterical exaggeration articulated by weary and exasperated parents, singles and Orthodox Jewish leaders. Indeed, if the crisis is not immediately attended to and solved, it will lead to real disastrous consequences and has, most likely, already produced such results.

The problem is multi-faceted and is caused by many reasons. Some of the reasons have to do with money problems, unreasonable expectations, character defects and other factors, but there is no question that one reason is the extreme isolation and separation of marriage candidates from suitable prospects. Undoubtedly, the integrity of those seeking an appropriate shidduch must be carefully guarded. After all we are speaking about Orthodox Jews who bear the responsibility of acting according to strict Jewish law and time honored customs of our forefathers. But there are perhaps legitimate mechanisms that can be adapted to permit contact between the marriage candidates. Why not allow for carefully supervised gatherings? After all, even parades of eligible women were allowed in Talmudic times on various occasions.

The proposal here is to allow candidates, who are carefully vetted, to meet at a relaxed, but chaperoned, mixed-gender social event. I personally recommend that the chaperones only be mature married women of sterling reputation and unquestionable ethical standing. Leading Rabbinical authorities would set the standards for such gatherings. Events such as these will allow a broader opportunity for Orthodox singles to meet, interact and find their basherte. "