"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 Sept 2009

The promise

During the week of Sukkot, in the Grace after Meals, a special prayer is added which says: "May the Compassionate One erect for us David's fallen booth ["Sukkat David" in Heb.]." What exactly is this "Sukkat David"? The term itself is taken from the Book of Amos (9:11), where G-d says, "On that day, I will raise up the fallen booth of David ["Sukkat David"], and I will close up their breaches and I will raise up its ruins, and build it up as in the days of yore." The Talmud in Tractate Sanhedrin (96b-97a) understands the phrase "Sukkat David" as referring to the Davidic monarchy, which will be restored when the Messiah comes. Thus, even when the Jew is living in his Sukka of Exile, he is thinking ahead to a time when the sukka will come to mean something far greater and more permanent -- the Final Redemption.
Read more:

28 Sept 2009

WIlliam Safire 1929-2009

News of William Safire's demise on Erev Yom Kippur saddened me as I recalled anticipating the Sunday New York Times delivery with bated breath, first turning to William Safire's column "On Language." I so enjoyed his column which provided the definitive rules on grammar. Even when I posted on my blog, in the back of my mind was the question whether my writing would pass muster with the famed journalist.
The following is an excerpt from Mishegoss by William Safire, published in the New York Times over four years ago.

Every few months a query comes in about in-laws: ''What do I call my father-in-law's brother?'' The English lexicon does have that unfilled semantic space. Yiddish comes to the rescue by naming all one's relatives by marriage as machetunim, mokh-eh-TOO-nim, plural of the Hebrew mechutan, mokh-HOO-ten, which could signify your spouse's mother's second cousin. The most inclusive word is mishpocheh (mish-PAW-kheh), literally ''family,'' which lumps together just about everybody invited to the wedding.
Read more:

John Podhoretz wrote the following about Mr. Safire.
It is ironic that he leaves us on the eve of Yom Kippur, because he was for a very long time the host of Washington’s most exclusive annual Jewish ticket—a catered party to break the Yom Kippur fast.

Thanking Hashem

A friend and I agreed to meet at a neighborhood park this past Shabbos. There, we met her sister and her children. After spending a couple of hours enjoying each other's company, my friend and I started walking home. My friend started talking about her niece and she told me that her development in the past couple of years was a miracle. The girl, as well as her siblings, were born with developmental problems. This girl was in a special needs school for a number of years, but had fully integrated into a regular school this past year. She was functioning at a very high level, both scholastically as well as socially. My friend told me that she attributed the remarkable development of her niece as being due to the special attitude of her sister who thanked Hashem for everything, every step of the way. She told me that her sister, having three special needs children, had every right to complain but she had never heard a word of complaint emanating from her sister's lips. Every little step of improvement was followed by the utterance of praise and thanks to Hashem that the child was able to master a certain skill. My friend stressed how important it was to give thanks to G-d constantly. She related to me how her son had been invited at two different households in Israel for Shavuot meals. He arranged to send flowers to both hosts, before the holiday began. When he arrived at the first household of a poor family, he saw how the flowers occupied a place of prominence and when he returned a week later, the leaves were still in the vase because the hosts couldn't bear to throw the gift away. In the second household, he was dismayed to find the flowers were left unopened, still wrapped and unattended to during the holiday. Needless to say, he bought flowers many times over for the first family. The second family did not receive any more presents from him, because of their initial ingratitude. Let's thank Hashem for all that He does for us. When Hashem sees our gratitude, He will bestow upon us more and more.

27 Sept 2009

Asking forgiveness

The following is part of an email I received by Rabbi Eli Mansour.
The Shulhan Aruch (Orah Haim 606:1) writes that one does not earn atonement on Yom Kippur for offenses committed against other people unless he receives their forgiveness. Therefore, it is imperative for a person to approach those people whom he has wronged during the year to ask them forgiveness before Yom Kippur. This applies to both financial and verbal offenses. In the case of a financial offense, of course, one must also return the funds in question.The Shulhan Aruch writes that if the victim does not grant forgiveness when the offender first approaches him, the offender should return to him, as many as three times. He then earns atonement even if the victim still refuses to forgive....
...... Finally, the Sages also emphasize the importance of granting forgiveness to others. The Rabbis teach that one should not be "cruel" by refusing to grant forgiveness to somebody who offended him. A person who willingly grants forgiveness to others will earn God's forgiveness for whatever sins he may have committed.

The following is an excerpt from a CNN article about the death of Clifton Maloney, the husband of U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, during a mountain-climbing trip in Tibet.
"He summited the mountain at 27,000 feet," spokesman George Arzt said. "He went down to a base camp at 23,000 [feet]. He slept and never awakened."
...Arzt said that, before he fell asleep, Maloney told a traveling companion, "I'm the happiest man in the world -- I just summitted a beautiful mountain."
Read more:

As we enter Yom Kippur, let's resolve to climb our individual summits, whether it is conquering overeating, anger, etc. so that we can achieve true joy.
Wishing you a gemar chatima tova. May you be sealed in the Book of Life for a year of prosperity, health, happiness and spiritual growth.

Sincere regret

Yesterday, I read a story in the Hamodia about repentance. It involved an elderly chassid who approached the Belzer Rebbe, Rav Yissachar Dov, saying that he was an old man and his time was nearly up. He wanted to know how he could repent for the sins of his youth.
"If you truly regret your sins, you will be forgiven," the Rebbe replied.
"How can I tell if I've reached the proper level of regret?" the chassid asked.
The rebbe proceeded to tell him a story about a merchant named Yankel who was on his way to a fair, having a large number of wagons with goods to be sold which were in high demand. When he arrived at the fair, it began to rain and other merchants carrying the same goods were unable to reach the city.
"Seeing the huge demands for his goods, Yankel thought he saw a way to make a handsome profit. He put off his would-be customers, refusing to sell them the goods, in the hope that this would drive the price even higher. That way, when he finally did sell, he'd make a fortune.
Yankel continued refusing to sell his goods for a number of days. The weather remained inclement and the price of his goods did skyrocket. One evening, however, the rain suddenly stopped. The following morning, the fair was filled with merchants who had arrived with their goods. Overnight, the price dropped drastically.
"When you regret your sins as much as Yankel regretted not having sold his merchandise the day before the price plummeted, the tzaddik concluded, "you may rest assured you'll be forgiven."

26 Sept 2009

Hidden messages

Reading the news this evening, I found many hidden messages in the articles.
"In Belgium, two robbers have been killed after attempting to blow up an ATM in the town of Dinant with dynamite. Police say the men, working at night, used far too much explosive. Part of the bank building collapsed and the robbers were buried under the rubble. The ATM remained intact despite the explosion."
The message I took with me is that a person can plan, but it is up to G-d as to whether the plan will come to fruition.

A front page New York Times article entitled Helping the Blind to See had me thinking that in addition to helping us with our physical sight, perhaps a device can be implanted which will help us with our spiritual sight.
"Blindness first began creeping up on Barbara Campbell when she was a teenager, and by her late 30s, her eye disease had stolen what was left of her sight.
Reliant on a talking computer for reading and a cane for navigating New York City, where she lives and works, Ms. Campbell, now 56, would have been thrilled to see something. Anything.
Now, as part of a striking experiment, she can. So far, she can detect burners on her stove when making a grilled cheese, her mirror frame, and whether her computer monitor is on."

Read more:

This evening, I read about the death of Alicia de Laroccha, a famed Spanish pianist at the age of 86. Reading about her life, I realized there was much to learn from this woman. Although of diminutive size, with short hands, she persevered and was able to tackle the hand width needed
to play some of the great masters' musical compositions. She also showed great perseverance in continuing to play, when her stature shrunk in her declining years.
The New York Times reported that her aunt had locked the piano, after receiving advice that she was too young to begin piano lessons. But, she continued knocking her head on the floor until her aunt relented.
Alicia de Laroccha - a woman of diminutive size who achieved great stature in a career that spanned decades, overcoming any obstacles sent her way.

Scary stuff

Close to a year ago, I bumped into an acquaintance on the street. We got to talking and she told me that she had watched a video about a near death experience and it was amazing. I asked her to send me the link. She agreed, but cautioned me not to watch it at night, because after watching the video, she was unable to fall asleep. Later that week, I watched the video and also found it mind boggling. To watch, click here.

A little while later, I came across a post about a near death experience.
"My name is Moshe Levy and I used to live in Paris, France. I used to go to lots of discotheques but not only that, I also gave dancing lessons. I used to ride my bike a lot and one day as I was riding my bike, I felt very hot and sweaty. When I finally got to my parent's house, I collapsed into bed, and my whole body was dripping with water like a faucet and that's when I died.
My neshama left my body and from above I saw my family yelling in fear because I died. Suddenly something like a vacuum sucked my Neshama and I flew upwards and while flying, I heard beautiful music and felt happiness. The further I went upwards, the smaller the lower world looked. I was flying like a rocket upwards.
I was placed in a very dark place, in total darkness and quietness and was all alone. The darkness was very very thick and if I had a knife, I'd have been able to slice the darkness. The darkness was very heavy and choking and I was able to even hold the darkness. It was a form of a punishment I never dreamed about. I was choking and yelled with all my strength, 'where am I? What is going on? Take me out of here.' A voice answered, "This is your punishment for being an egoist. You liked everything for yourself, never considering other people; therefore, this is your punishment. Here you can be an egoist, everything is only for you. Measure for measure."
To continue reading, click on the link below.

25 Sept 2009

Venishmartem lenafshotechem - obesity

This morning, I came across two articles about overeating.

The leading cause of cancer these days is obesity, according to The Associated Press, with about 1 in 12 new cases of the disease due to excess weight.
In the findings in Europe, colorectal cancer, breast cancer in menopausal women and uterine cancer accounted for 65% of all the cancers because of being overweight, according to the AP.
Though scientists don’t know why being obese increases cancer risk, they think it may be linked to hormones, according to the AP. Chubbier people produce more hormones, such as estrogen, that help tumors thrive. And big-bellied people have more stomach acid, which can lead to stomach and intestinal cancers.
The take-away message from the National Cancer Institute? Get moving! Lack of activity is the big culprit for why so many Americans are too fat, says the institute.
Sedentary pastimes like TV watching are to blame.
Read more:

So what does the world's oldest man eat? The answer is not much, at least not too much. Walter Breuning, who turned 113 on Monday, eats just two meals a day and has done so for the past 35 years.
"I think you should push back from the table when you're still hungry," Breuning said.
At 5 foot 8, ("I shrunk a little," he admitted) and 125 pounds, Breuning limits himself to a big breakfast and lunch every day and no supper.
"I have weighed the same for about 35 years," Breuning said. "Well, that's the way it should be."
"You get in the habit of not eating at night, and you realize how good you feel. If you could just tell people not to eat so darn much."

With Yom Kippur fast approaching, here's your chance for a headstart on that diet you have been meaning to follow. But wait till after Shabbos to begin.
Have a good Shabbos.

Hashem Yivarech et Amo Bashalom

I read the full text of Prime Minister Netanyahu's speech and I then listened to his speech, which is currently on YouTube, divided into four parts. As I was listening, I got more and more dismayed, waiting for the Jewish prime minister, representing the Jewish people to bring G-d into the equation.
To me, the most important words of the prime minister's speech came at the tail end. It was not translated in the full text that was provided to news organizations. But is should have been.
Full credit goes to Prime Minister Netanyahu for ending his speech with the following words, which are traditionally recited at the end of the Grace after Meals.

"Hashem Oz LeAmo Yiten, Hashem Yivarech et Amo Bashalom."
May G-d give strength to his people, may G-d bless his people with peace.

The Jewish people will ultimately achieve peace with Hashem's blessing. May we pour out our hearts on Yom Kippur beseeching the Almighty to reach this, so far, elusive goal. And may G-d bless Prime Minister Netanyahu for helping us recognize that it is G-d who runs the world.


Rabbonim in Beitar Illit announced all residents must sign an agreement not to be connected to unfiltered Internet, according to a report on Hebrew-language website Haredim.
At a central gathering held in the city this week it was also decided that “all Torah and education institutions and school principals must see to it that every student at their institutions comes from a home free of [unfiltered] Internet.”
HaRav Dovid Tzvi Ordentlich said, “This is a thousand times more dangerous than the threats Am Yisroel faces from without and from within. The Internet is like a tidal wave threatening to swallow up and endanger the entire edifice of charedi Jewry that has been built in this generation through so much hard work. The issue must not be taken off the agenda. The warning must be sounded all the time and everywhere.”


The following is a poem I received via email - author unknown.

Cleaning Poem
I asked the Lord to tell me
Why my house is such a mess.
He asked if I'd been 'computering',
And I had to answer 'yes.'
He told me to get off my fanny,
And tidy up the house.
And so I started cleaning up...
The smudges off my mouse.
I wiped and shined the topside.
That really did the trick....
I was just admiring my good work.
I didn't mean to 'click.'
But click, I did, and oops - I found
A real absorbing site
That I got SO way into it - I was into it all night.
Nothing's changed except my mouse.
It's very, very shiny.
I guess my house will stay a mess.....
While I sit here on my hiney.

22 Sept 2009

Write for yourselves this song

And now write for yourselves this song..." [Devorim 31:19]. The Torah refers to itself as a "Song" (Shirah). Why is Torah called Shirah?
Rav Herzog once gave the following explanation: In virtually all fields of study, a person who is uninitiated in that discipline does not derive any pleasure from hearing a theory or an insight concerning that field of study. Take physics, for example: A physicist will derive great pleasure from hearing a "chiddush" [novel interpretation or insight] in his field of expertise. However someone who has never studied and never been interested in physics will be totally unmoved by the very same insight. The same applies to many, many other disciplines. However, this is not the case with music.
When Beethoven's Fifth Symphony is played -- regardless of whether one is a concertmaster or a plain simple person -- there is something one can get out of it. Music is something that everyone on his or her own level can enjoy. Everyone can relate to music.
Rav Herzog says that this is why the Torah is called "Shirah". On one hand, someone can be a great Talmid Chochom [Torah Scholar] and learn "Bereishis Barah Elokim..." [the first three words of the Torah] and see great wisdom therein. On the other hand, one can be a five-year-old child, just beginning to read, and learn "Bereishis Barah Elokim..." and also gain something from it. Every person, on his own level can have an appreciation for Torah. Therefore, the pasuk aptly refers to Torah when it says "And now, write for yourselves this 'song'..."

Thinking outside the box

While this post is entitled Thinking outside the box, during the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur let's concentrate on thinking about a special box- namely the tzedakkah box. As we say in our prayers, "repentance, prayer and charity" avert the evil decree.

The following story about an innovative young man and his quest to find a job caught my eye. I wish him success in his endeavors and hope that the coming year will bring good fortune and success to all.

In a pinstripe suit, silk tie and polished shoes, David Rowe has all the trappings of a successful London city worker, except for one stark difference -- he is wearing a sandwich board that says "JOB WANTED."
As he walked down Fleet Street, home to legal firms and investment banks, the 24-year-old history graduate showed the human face behind the "lay-offs" and "recession" headlines.
"The first 20 paces are the hardest, you feel very conspicuous, but you just steel yourself to get on with it," he said, starting a slow trudge toward the Law Courts before turning toward St Paul's Cathedral.

......Rowe is one jobseeker who is not downhearted. Just hours after he started wearing the sandwich board that offered his services free for a month with the option to then "hire or fire me" he struck lucky.
Gavin Walker of international recruitment firm Parkhouse Bell liked Rowe's initiative and decided to interview him.
"I liked the fact he had thought out of the box. I was impressed by that. I was even more impressed after the interview. He's very employable, so much so I offered him a job to work with me."
Rowe, who has amassed a growing collection of business cards, says he will think carefully about the job offer.
"I told myself I'd do the sandwich board for five days and I will follow through on that."

To read full article click on the link below.

Spurious conclusions

The other night, I drove my son to a doctor's appointment. Being a bit pressed for time, I quickly maneuvered out of the garage, adjusted my seatbelt and we were on our way. As I turned the corner, a number of men were exiting a social hall. They seemed a bit unruly and I became nervous when one of them stepped into the road and began gesticulating to me.
"Did he make a rude gesture at you?" my son asked incredulously. "No," I replied. "He was just gesturing to me that I had forgotten to put on my headlights."
How quick we are to jump to conclusions and ready to judge people in a bad light, when, actually, things might not always be according to what they seem.
Yesterday I got an email with a video link about someone who has been the subject of a spurious email which has been making its way through the net for a number of years. In the link below, the man categorically denies what he is being accused of.
So, let's not jump to wrong conclusions and listen to the other side's explanation. A lot of misunderstandings might be cleared up.

21 Sept 2009

No Smoking

The second day of Rosh Hashana, I passed by a shul where a few men had congregated outside to have a smoke. I was surprised by the young ages of these men. My parents' generation, I could understand, was unaware of the dangers and therefore can't be faulted for smoking. But, nowadays, the dangers of smoking are well known to all.
This morning, I came across an article The Battle Against Smoking by Rav Dov Ettinger which provides halachic references on the issue. Below is an excerpt from the article.

Before examining specific halachic pronouncements it should be noted that all of the poskim, including those who have avoided making pointed declarations, are opposed to smoking in principle. In Michtav MeEliahu (Part I, pp. 79 and 111) Rav Dessler maintains that smoking is merely a form of tayvah, so strongly fixed in habitual smokers that it distances them from the obvious truth and causes them to cling to delusions and sheker. In Imrei Binah (p. 228) Rav Y. Weinstein also recalls the story of Rav Eliyahu Boruch Kamai, av beis din and ram at Yeshivas Mir. One year when Rosh Hashonoh fell on a Thursday and Friday, on motzei Shabbos he declared that if it was possible to survive three days without smoking it was a sign that he had no real need for cigarettes, and therefore he stopped smoking entirely.
HaRav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt'l, in his approbation for Pe'er Tachas Efer (a short book written against smoking), writes, "The drive to smoke is destructive." HaRav Moshe Feinstein zt'l (Igros Moshe, Yoreh De'ah, Part II, Siman 49; ibid., Choshen Mishpot, Part II, Siman 76) casts smoking in a very negative light both from a moral perspective -- noting that tayvah is the only impetus behind smoking -- and from a halachic perspective -- saying one should definitely try to adopt chumros regarding smoking rather than seeking heteirim, since a clear case of tayvah cannot be considered she'as hadechak.
HaRav Eliashiv shlita, also writing an approbation for the above sefer, adds, "Expert medical opinions warn against the high risk to which smokers expose themselves and those surrounding them."

To read full article, click on the link below.

To see a video of Rav Shmuel Kamenetzky cautioning people on the dangers of smoking, click here.

What do we believe in?

Rabbi Steve Wernick, the newly appointed head of the United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism, has apologized for remarks that he made about Conservative Judaism.

“We don’t have that missionary zeal,” he said in an interview at the Forward’s offices on September 10, days before the board’s vote. Comparing his movement’s outreach efforts to Orthodox Judaism’s success in that area, Wernick said, “They’re missionaries! We want to get paid. We don’t believe. What do we believe in? That is the problem of progressive Judaism.”
.......“How can we make our prayer experience sacred, an experience spiritually uplifting?” Wernick asked. “My crass comment on this is that you very often walk into a Conservative synagogue and it’s very often, ‘Mumble, mumble, mumble, Hallelujah, page 91.’”

Another article in the Forward discusses the Conservative movement's efforts to reach new ethical standards to be coupled with traditional kashrut laws.

"In releasing ambitious guidelines to marry new ethical standards with the traditional laws of kashrut, the leaders of the Conservative movement are taking a bold step to align it with a Judaism that cares as much about social justice as it does about ritual practice. But the success of this endeavor depends on whether rank-and-file Conservative Jews will care as much about ritual practice as they do about social justice."

The question is then raised, "But do Conservative Jews care enough about ritual and practice to make a difference? Only about one-quarter of them keep a kosher home." http://www.forward.com/articles/114199/

Judaism is not only about ethics but also about ritual. If we disregard the ritual, then anyone practicing social justice can be a Jew. Thus, Bill and Melinda Gates, can be classified as Jewish. Ditto for the President and his wife. After all, they particpated in handing out food at a soup kitchen. Where G-d figures into the equation is a puzzle to me, but what's the difference? It's all about ethics, isn't it? - Sorry, but I just don't agree.

Fishing for dollars

"Rosh literally means "head of the year." Just as our head (brain) directs us, Rosh HaShana directs the ensuing year. On this day, we stock up on sustenance for the year to come. In addition, it is our hope to be the head (leader) of other nations through our righteous acts. For these reasons, it has become a tradition to eat the head of a fish during the holiday meal. Fish is also eaten on this holiday because it is symbolic of fertility and abundance."

The day after partaking of the head of a fish as part of the traditional custom on Rosh Hashanah, I came across the following article. Next time, instead of going to the fish store, I'm going to have to catch my own fish. - Preferably in Australia.

"Two Australian teenagers who found almost 100,000 Australian dollars ($87,000) in cash during a fishing trip have handed it over to police after spending some time thinking about it.
The pair discovered the money earlier this month near the New South Wales town of Nimbin... The teenagers contacted police on Friday, after revealing the find to an unidentified adult they know and getting some legal advice, police said in a statement."
A police inspector said that the youngsters may be able to claim the money if there is noone who comes forward with a legitimate claim.

The fast of Gedaliah

Tzom Gedaliah (Fast of Gedaliah) is an annual fast day instituted by the Jewish Sages to commemorate the assassination of Gedaliah Ben Achikam, the Governor of Israel during the days of Nebuchadnetzar King of Babylonia. As a result of Gedaliah's death the final vestiges of Judean autonomy after the Babylonian conquest were destroyed, many thousands of Jews were slain, and the remaining Jews were driven into final exile.
The fast is observed on the day immediately following Rosh Hashanah, the third of Tishrei. In the Prophetic Writings this fast is called 'The Fast of the Seventh' in allusion to Tishrei, the seventh month.
When Nebuchadnetzar King of Babylonia, destroyed the Temple's Sanctuary in Jerusalem and exiled the Jewish people to Babylonia, he allowed an impoverished remnant to remain in the land and appointed Gedaliah Ben Achikam as their Governor. Many Jews who had fled to Moab, Ammon, Edom, and other neighboring lands returned to the land of Yehudah, tended the vineyards given to them by the king of Babylonia and enjoyed a new respite after their earlier oppression.
The King of Ammon however - hostile and envious of the Judean remnant sent a loyal Jew, Yishmael Ben Netaniah, to assassinate Gedaliah. In the seventh month (Tishrei) Yishmael came to Gedaliah in the town of Mitzpa, and was received cordially. Gedaliah had been warned of his guests murderous intent, but refused to believe his informants in the belief that their report was mere slander. Yishmael murdered Gedaliah, together with most of the Jews who had joined him and numbers of Babylonians whom the Babylonian King had left with Gedaliah The remaining Jews feared the vengeance of the Babylonian King and fled to Egypt.
The surviving remnant of Jews was thus dispersed and the land remained desolate. In remembrance of these tribulations, our Sages instituted the 'Fast of the Seventh' on the day of Gedaliah's assassination in the seventh month.
There is an opinion that Gedaliah was slain on the first day of Tishrei, but the fast was postponed till after Rosh HaShanah, since fasting is prohibited during a festival. Concerning this fast day, the Rabbis have said that its aim is to establish that the death of the righteous is likened to the burning of the house of our God. Just as they ordained a fast upon the destruction of the Sanctuary, likewise did they ordain a fast upon the death of Gedaliah....
Click on the link below to read full article.

20 Sept 2009


The following paragraphs are excerpts from an article It's time to apologize by Dave Gordon.

"Apologies are so important in Judaism that not only is there a holy day dedicated to teshuvah (repentance), but there are three different words that mean "I'm sorry" in Hebrew: slicha, mechila and kapara.
Amazingly, the formula for a kosher apology is embedded within the word "slicha." Each letter in the word is a different step in the process of atonement, and G-d spelled out the prescription for beginning one's teshuvah using the letters' actual character meanings.
The letters in the Hebrew alphabet are not only letters, but they also represent ideas. Each letter's name is a concept. The letters of slicha are as follows: samech, lamed, yud, het and hey. Samech in Hebrew means "trust," and it's the very thing that has to be rebuilt in the process of an apology....

...Lamed means "learning" in Hebrew. Our mistakes are the things that we hope to turn into learning experiences. In making a kosher apology, we express to the people that we hurt that we have learned from our mistake and will try hard to not let it happen again.
...Yud is similar to the word yad, which means "hand." What we do to re-establish our bond with someone is shake their hand, or offer a metaphorical outstretched hand in reconciliation....
...The het is exactly the same word for "sin" in Hebrew. Judaism requires us to take responsibility for our actions, hold ourselves accountable for our mistakes and apologize when we've hurt someone. The het is there to remind us that we need to own up to what we've done, and that it is a sin against G-d to hurt our fellow human beings.....
...The het means you recognize the sin, and own up to the mistake or the hurt caused.
...Finally, the hey. Jewish tradition tells us that the letter hey is the symbol for Hashem. Just as surely as we must ask the people in our lives for forgiveness, it is also essential to ask Hashem for forgiveness, and seek from Him strength to not repeat the hurtful action. As well, this reminds us that G-d is watching, and is aware of, the relationships we have with others, and knows if we've hurt someone and if we've atoned properly."
To read full article, click on the link blow.

16 Sept 2009

Make that change

This afternoon, I came across an article by Rabbi David Orlofsky entitled The Secret of Tashlich. He offers some good advice as to how a person can bring about a positive change in his life with Rosh Hashana fast approaching.

When a person goes into the High Holidays, it's really easy to feel a strong sense of despair. The odds are that you are not going to change into the perfect person over the next ten days. Some will even express it in Miltonian terms - "I'm going to burn anyway, I might as well have a good time before I go." As long as people see themselves as bad, there is no hope that they will ever change. But if instead we view our sins as something external, something that's not us, but rather a terrible burden that we are carrying through our lives, then we can think of ways to rid ourselves of them. To undo the wrong that we've done, to break unhealthy habits and to focus on how to become the people we really are....
....I'm often asked by people going into the High Holidays how they can possibly face Almighty G-d and tell Him they're really sorry and will never do it again. They know they're not ready yet to do everything perfectly. Frankly, I don't know too many people who are. So instead I suggest they try the following: At some point in the service, talk to G-d. Tell Him the truth. Say "G-d, You know me better than I know myself. I mean, after all, You created me. And You know that I fail more often than I succeed. But I can tell You this much, G-d. I'm a better person this year than I was last year. And if You give me the chance, I'll be a better person next year than I was this year."

To read full article click on the link below.

The righteous shall live by his faith

Went to a shiur last night aimed at providing spiritual guidance before Rosh Hashana. Rabbi F. spoke about emunah, belief in G-d. He began by stating that the Gemara in Makkot 24 related that Moshe Rabbenu received the Torah from Sinai with 613 commandments. The prophet Chabakkuk (2:4) summarized the entire Torah into one commandment, “tzadik be’emunato yichyeh” (the righteous will live by his faith).
Rabbi F. further went on to explain. In the passuk "Torah tziva lanu Moshe (Moshe commanded us the Law) found in Devarim 33:4 the gematria for the word Torah is 611. Thus, 611 commandments "tziva lanu Moshe" were commanded by Moshe, while the first two were uttered by G-d.
Chabakkuk was able to reduce the essence of the commandments into one area - that of emunah in the Creator. I recall reading an article about how belief in G-d encompasses all the other commandments. If an individual believes in G-d and believes that G-d is just, then he has faith that whatever occurs in his life is destined and that G-d has given him the tools tailor made to the individual to live his life. The wife that he was given, the house he lives in, the amount of money he earns is what G-d has determined that is suited for a particular individual. Therefore, a person will not steal or commit adultery or be jealous of someone else because he has utter faith that there is a reason Hashem bestowed certain things to one individual and others to another.
There is no reason to be angry with someone for causing you grief because, for some reason, you were meant to go through this period of sadness. Just as you wouldn't shoot a postman for being the bearer of bad news, so, too, you shouldn't shoot the individual who G-d determined should cross your path that day, for the good, or for what we, in our limited human understanding, believe is bad.
Rabbi F. summed up his speech with a Yiddish phrase. "A Yid uun emunah is nisht a Yid.' A Jew without faith is not a Jew. Those words are a mantra playing in my head today, and hopefully, the words will continue to inspire me as I experience feelings of jealousy or bitterness or encounter travails in my life.

15 Sept 2009

Judging people favorably

Two incidents which occurred over the past two days have taught me the lesson of judging people favorably. Without going into shameful detail, suffice it to say, I have learned that there are always two sides to a story.

I must judge people favorably.
I must judge people favorably.
I must judge people favorably.
I must judge people favorably.

As we near Rosh Hashanah, let's give people the benefit of the doubt. Let's look for the positive and not focus on negative character traits. Let's judge people the way that we would like to be judged. Let's judge people favorably. And may we merit being judged favorably by Hashem.

The following has no bearing with the theme of this post but I received this poem through email today - author unknown - Thought it was cute and decided to pass it along.

Subject: Spell Checkers - a little Poem.
A Little Poem Regarding Computer Spell Checkers...

Eye halve a spelling chequer
It came with my pea sea
It plainly marques four my revue
Miss steaks eye kin knot sea.

Eye strike a key and type a word
And weight four it two say
Weather eye am wrong oar write
It shows me strait a weigh.

As soon as a mist ache is maid
It nose bee fore two long
And eye can put the error rite
Its rare lea ever wrong.

Eye have run this poem threw it
I am shore your pleased two no
Its letter perfect awl the weigh
My chequer tolled me sew.

Profit and loss

IsraelNationalNews is reporting that boys learning in a yeshiva near the crash-site where Assaf Ramon's plane came down, photographed his plane burning but "then refused to sell the exclusive photos so as not to desecrate the dead or offend the family."
When the news got out that the boys had exclusive pictures, news agencies offered the boys thousands of shekels.
"When the boys realized that an Air Force pilot had been killed, they consulted with their Rosh Yeshiva (rabbinical dean), Rabbi Amichai Chazan. He explained to them the importance of behaving ethically in such a situation.
The boys understood his message, and refused to sell. "I don't want to profit from this type of situation in which a soldier dies," said one student, Nehorai Hadad. Instead of selling the pictures, the boys gave the photos to the army personnel investigating the crash – and dedicated their evening's Torah study in memory of Assaf ben [son of] Ilan and Rona Ramon."
To read full story, click on the link below.

14 Sept 2009

Subjugating your ego

Yesterday, I read an article published in the JPost by Eliezer Whartman in which he states that one doesn't have to choose between Orthodoxy and secularism because he provides a middle ground alternative, namely Reconstructionism. He states that all Orthodox factions have the common denominator of intolerance while Reconstructionism is enlightened Judaism. He recommends that Reform and Conservative rabbis be given the same rights as Orthodox rabbis.

Later in the day, I came across an article entitled The Jigsaw Puzzle of Creation : A Jewish View Against Proposition 8 by Rabbi Laura Geller.
As Rabbi Brad Artson has written: "We have reviewed a range of rabbinic reasons given for opposing same-sex acts. We have concluded that homosexuality is not intrinsically unnatural, sick, disgusting, destructive of family life, devoid of the possibility of children, or hedonistic. We are dealing, therefore, not with a previously considered and previously outlawed phenomena, but with a situation never before encountered in Jewish law. Modern homosexual love and stable homosexual couples are different in significant respects from anything known in Torah or Rabbinic Judaism."
In other words, what the Torah prohibits has nothing to do with contemporary gay or lesbian relationships and therefore has no bearing on the discussion. What does matter are core values that emerge out of Jewish tradition, including the fundamental notion that all human beings are created in the image of God and mishpat ehat yihe'eh lachem – that law should be applied equally to all, citizen and stranger alike.

The author of the above article has decided that she is the arbiter of what
G-d means. If a law is not rational, according to limited human intelligence, or outmoded, it can be abolished. It would seem that repentance and guilt would be unnecessary because any action one wishes to take can be justified. The words of the Torah can be twisted so that whatever one wants to do is sanctioned by the Creator. G-d's commandments were not given for eternity, but rather, until a Reconstructionist rabbi deems otherwise. A human being's rationalization is paramount and supercedes the words
of G-d.

This past weekend, Hamodia published an article by Moshe Gutman about Harav Ika Yisraeli, a Tel Aviv artist who gave up a successful career to embrace Torah Judaism.
The journalist describes how Ika went to learn at the Diaspora Yeshiva, headed by Rabbi Moshe Goldstein. When he read in a sefer about the mitzvah of eating korbon Pesach, he was taken aback as he was a vegetarian and wondered how he could be obligated to eat meat.
Rabbi Goldstein answered him with wise words that can apply to each and every Jew.
"...If so, you'll learn something new - to eat meat because the Torah says so, not because you think it's right or isn't right. There is Someone Who has decided for you, rendering your own decisions insignificant when He deems otherwise. From now on you will accept Hashem's authority and cancel out what you used to think. This is the turning point in teshuvah: subjugating your ego."

Subjugating your ego is part and parcel of true Judaism. There are those, however, who wish to decide for themselves whether G-d's law is just. If it is not to their liking, their healthy sense of egoism allows them to do away with Jewish tradition that has been passed down from father to son for generations.
In Shemoneh Esrei, we say "our G-d and the G-d of our fathers." Apparently the G-d of our fathers doesn't exist for those who wish to reconstruct a religion.

To have good values

Recently I discovered a year old video about Emily Bear, a young piano prodigy. I was particularly impressed with Emily's mother's response to the question, "What is your hope for her?"
I expected her to wish that her daughter would be a wealthy world renowned concert pianist but instead she surprised me with the following words:
"To be happy. Seriously, to have good values - to be at peace in her heart – to be a really good grownup."

13 Sept 2009

Psychologically Speaking: Let's start the day over again By DR. BATYA L. LUDMAN

Many years ago when my children were younger, if the day got off to a bad start, I'd tell them that they must have gotten up on the wrong side of the bed. I'd make them go upstairs, wait a few minutes, come back downstairs and start the day all over again with a wonderful, "Good morning mommy." In retrospect, I can't believe how well it worked every time; I was shocked. The day began anew and their mood was much improved. They were grateful for the second chance and, more importantly, they got to save face and do it right. Ah, if only life could always be this easy and we could simply erase that part of our past that we weren't so happy with.
Would we be grateful to be given the opportunity to try it again so we could get it right? Could we really see the first time as a dress rehearsal, and then maximize the next go-round as the second and final opportunity to do or say just what we really need to? It's Elul again, and for me it is a reminder that it is a perfect time to once again focus on forgiveness - of others and ourselves - and this time to "get it right." Many people have angered and upset me over the years - be they family, friends or even strangers. I also have many loved ones who are nearing the end of their lives. I want to make sure that when all is said and done, I too leave with a clean slate. Given that I may never know just when that may be, I've tried to make sure that at the end of each day, I'm in a positive balance with those I care about.

Who shall live and who shall die

On September 11, 2009, Pamela Geller of Atlas Shrugs devoted her postings to links, articles and videos that showed the true extent of the horror that befell America eight years earlier. She didn't turn the day into a day of interfaith prayer of peace and friendship, but, rather, detailed the horror of what some individuals belonging to the religion of peace wrought on innocent people and the surviving family members of the victims.
The first link below shows the crashing of the planes into the Twin Towers and the horrible scenes of people jumping to their deaths. The second link is about surviving family member stories and the last phone calls that were made by the victims. We hear about a man who met his death as he went to clear his office on September 11, 2001, because he had just received a promotion and would be moving to new quarters shortly thereafter. We hear about a woman who had flown into New York for one day to complete merger talks on one of the higher floors of the Twin Towers. We hear a loyal friend talking to a man requesting instructions as to how to proceed.
When I listened to the stories of the victims, the words of the High Holiday prayer U'Netaneh Tokef took an an extra added urgency.

On Rosh Hashanah it is inscribed,
And on Yom Kippur it is sealed.
How many shall pass away and how many shall be born,
Who shall live and who shall die,
Who shall reach the end of his days and who shall not,
Who shall perish by water and who by fire...
But repentance, prayer and righteousness avert the severe decree.

During the ten days of repentance, we recite various extra prayers in the Shemoneh Esrei. We ask G-d to remember us for life and to inscribe us in the book of life. After watching and listening to the videos, I know that my prayers will be more fervent as I recite these words, knowing that it could all be over, in the blink of an eye or in the seconds of a plane crash.

Asaf Ramon, the son of Ilan Ramon, died in a plane crash today. Baruch Dayan Emet.



Religion makes us stronger

Click here to see a video of young men at a Jewish seminary in the West Bank talking about the connection between the Israeli army and G-d.
At the end of the video, one young man states, "But I'm sure religion makes us stronger."

Click on the link below to read an article by Morton Klein, the national president of the Zionist Organization of America who asks the following questions.

Is J Street a pro-Israel group? The lobbying organization never tires of claiming it is.
Yet what pro-Israel group would invite a man to speak at its forthcoming conference who has called for Israel’s destruction, stating that “the establishment by force, violence and terrorism of a Jewish state in Palestine in 1948” was “unjust” and “a crime,” and vowed to “work to overturn the injustice"?

11 Sept 2009

You are standing today

I received the following email about Parshat Nitzavim from Rabbi Eli Mansour, this morning.

"In the opening verse of Parashat Nisavim, Moshe announces to Beneh Yisrael, "You are standing today, all of you, before Hashem your God!"
Moshe's proclamation conveys a critical lesson about religious life generally, and about repentance, in particular. Namely, a person must "stand before God" with his focus directed onto "today," the present. We must not focus too heavily on the future, or on the past.
In treating an alcoholic, for example, it would be unreasonable to simply demand of him that he never drink wine ever again for the rest of his life. A person struggling with an addiction cannot possibly be expected to make a permanent commitment to abstain. Rather, he should be told to recover one day at a time, endeavoring to avoid wine today, without worrying too much what will happen tomorrow.
Translating this concept into the realm of Torah observance, it would be unreasonable and ineffective to tell oneself that he will not speak any Lashon Ha'ra (negative speech about other people) as long as he lives. This is not the proper approach to self-improvement. A person should instead tell himself that "today" he will "stand before Hashem," he will fulfill his religious responsibilities. He should worry about tomorrow when tomorrow comes. In the meantime, he should concentrate on today's challenges and commit himself to doing what is expected of him today.
By the same token, one must not allow the baggage of the past to divert his attention to the present. Just as one shouldn't worry excessively about tomorrow's challenges, similarly, he must avoid preoccupation with the past. Often, the biggest impediment to Teshuba and spiritual growth is the awareness of one's tainted record. When a person contemplates repentance, the Yeser Ha'ra (evil inclination) will often thwart his attempts by saying, "Do you think God wants your Misvot? After all you've done, is there any chance of earning God's favor? It's too late; you've always been a sinner, and you'll always be a sinner!"
Moshe therefore reminds us in this verse that we must stand before God "today," regardless of what we had done in the past. No sin committed in the past should hinder our efforts to serve God in the present. What counts is the commitment we make today, not what we did yesterday.
As we prepare for the High Holiday season and contemplate Teshuba, it is easy to become intimidated and discouraged. Perhaps our greatest source of encouragement is this critical message of "today" - the importance to focus our attention on today's challenges and responsibilities, rather than worrying about the challenges of tomorrow or about yesterday's mistakes."

10 Sept 2009

No man is an island

My students had been studying a particularly boring text about the Isle of Sark for the past two days and I was looking for something to relieve the monotony. From the recesses of my mind, I recalled a poem and a song that had been composed about an island. Since we were learning about an isle, I thought I could teach the students the words to "No Man is an Island."

No man is an island, no man stands alone
Each man's joy is joy to me
Each man's grief is my own
We need one another, so I will defend
Each man as my brother
Each man as my friend
No man is an island far out in the blue
We all look to One above
Who our strength doth renew
When I help my brother
Then I know that I plant the seeds
Of friendship that will never die
I saw the people gather
I heard the music start
The song that they were singing
Is ringing in my heart
No man is an island, no man stands alone
Each man's joy is joy to me
Each man's grief is my own
We need one another, so I will defend
Each man as my brother
Each man as my friend

As I read the lyrics, "No man stands alone", I was reminded of the words of Pirkei Avot, "And if I am only for myself, what am I?"
When I focused on the words, "Each man's joy is my own", I recalled a conversation I had with a friend about a mutual acquaintance, Mrs. B, who had a 30 year old single daughter. My friend related to me how much she admires Mrs. B. as to how she wholeheartedly rejoices when she hears somone gets engaged. Her daughter's single status does not hamper her from participating fully in the joy of another. And I resolved to emulate her.
The lesson went well. As the class drew to an end, one girl raised her hand and said, "Thank you. The words of the song are beautiful."
I was left with a warm feeling.

9 Sept 2009

Interesting articles

This morning, I came across a fascinating article on the INN website entitled "UK Must Repent for Anti-Semitism."

"Members of "Love Never Fails" -- an alliance of pro-Israel Christian ministries in the United Kingdom -- this week called on the UK to repent for its anti-Semitic ways while attending a ceremony to mark the 1929 Hevron pogrom in which 67 Jews were slaughtered by their Arab neighbors 80 years ago...."
To read full article, click on the link below. It is definitely worthwhile watching the four minute accompanying video.

Later on, I read about four migrants that were killed by Egypt as they tried to enter Israel. Curious as to whether the BBC would report this newsworthy item, I checked the BBC website to find nary a word about the Egyptians killing civilians. Instead I found an article about Israel understating Gaza deaths and how more civilians were killed than Israel had reported, according to information gathered by B'tselem.

Additionally, there was an article about a rescue of a Nato rescue of a kidnapped New York Times reporter that left four people dead, including three civilians. Last week, a NATO airstrike on two oil tankers in Afghanistan left many people dead, including many civilians. But, of course, if NATO or Egypt is involved in killing civilians, talks of war crimes are not mentioned and coverage of the events doesn't garner the same attention as when Israel is involved.

Another newsworthy item which surely will not garner any coverage in the mainstream media has been reported by WorldNetDaily.

A California judge today tentatively scheduled a trial for Jan. 26, 2010, for a case that challenges Barack Obama's eligibility to be president based on questions over his qualifications under the requirements of the U.S. Constitution.

Click here to read full article.

Berosh Hashana

Subject: The Interactive Teshuvah Hotline.Thank you for calling the Interactive Teshuvah Hotline here in Heaven. Due to the approaching High Holidays, which is our busiest season, all of our telephone lines are temporarily busy. Please wait patiently as your call will be answered in sequence - and remember, patience is a virtue. You will no doubt enjoy our musical selection of Yeshiva Rock and the Best of Shlomo Carlebach, while you wait. Please note that these telephone lines will not be available on the two days of Rosh Hashana, and on Yom Kippur. For a voice recording in Ashkenazic English dialect, press 1, for Sephardic, press 2, for New York, press 3. If you are uncertain, press 4. This line is also available in other languages. For Hebrew, press 5, for Yiddish, press 6, for Russian, press 7, for others, press 8. Please note that our service is not available in Arabic or French. If you have never used the Interactive Teshuva Hotline before, you will need to listen carefully to our simple sequenced instructions. This service is available for touch-tone telephone users as a supplement to your davening (praying) at shul over the Ten Days of Awe. It is not a substitute. Let us now begin. To access your personalized account of all your known aveiros (transgressions), including dates and affected parties, please press 1 now. If you have not already apologized to the affected parties, please hang up now and call back when this has been done. For a personalized list of aveiros towards HaKadosh Baruch Hu, (Him) please press 2. Please note that in order to provide timely service to all callers, there is now a limit of 20 aveiros per person at one time. Politicians and Reform Party supporters will require several visits to complete their inventory. Humor columnists who frequently exceed their word counts or use big words should hang up now and try calling later, say, after the Millenium. Please select the aveiros you have committed this past year. In case you have forgotten, we offer a list of the most popular aveirot. To activate this function, please press the pound (#) key. Once you have chosen the proper aveirah, enter the code and press the pound key to enter it. As you enter your aveirah, our service will prompt you for your Explanation. If you committed the aveirah because he/she did it, press 1. If you did so by accident, but did not mean to, press 2. If you have a good reason, but won't tell anyone what it is, press 3. If you did so knowing you were wrong, but didn't think you would get caught, press 3. If you blame your legal counsel for the aveirah, press 4. If you blame the influence of Freud or television, press 5. If you blame it on Rock n' Roll, Rap and/or drugs, press 6. If you want to blame someone else for the aveirah but can't think of anyone in particular, press 7. At the conclusion of your aveiros, enter the star (*) key. For those of you with 7 aveiros or less, we offer a Tzadik Express Line. Please press 1 to access this Express line now. This is only for real tzadikim: if you think you are a tzadik or tzadeket, you are probably not. Remember, no sneaking in with 8 or more aveirot. Please note that the same aveirah committed against two individuals counts as two items. Now that you have entered your personal aveirot, you may access the Selichot component of our service. As our computer reads out each aveirah you have indicated, please enter the contrition code. For example, a "1" means you are only mildly sorry for your action, "2" means you are somewhat sorry, but have mitigating circumstances and a good lawyer, "3" means you are very sorry but will likely repeat it and have a great lawyer, "4" means you are very very sorry, and will not repeat it unless there are mitigating circumstances and you have Dershowitz on retainer, and "5" means you are extremely sorry and will not repeat the aveirah under any circumstances, since you have only your second cousin's son-in law who failed the bar twice. Please proceed with your Selichos sequence now.... Our computer has now processed your request for Kaparah (atonement). Before we reveal the decision results, you may increase your score by pledging additional tzedakah to your favourite charity. All major credit cards are accepted. Please enter your pledge amount (in US dollars), followed by your credit card number and expiry date. Thank you. Based on your Aveirah Score, Selichos Score and Tzedakah Score, you have been granted conditional atonement. This offer expires within one calendar year. Thank you for visiting the Teshuva Hotline today, and remember, we know everything.

8 Sept 2009

What a wonderful world

An Associated Press article by John Christofferson states that Yale University has removed cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad from an upcoming book.
Reactions to the removal included the following comments.
"I think it's horrifying that the campus of Nathan Hale has become the first place where America surrenders to this kind of fear because of what extremists might possibly do," said Michael Steinberg, an attorney and Yale graduate.

Cary Nelson, president of the American Association of University Professors, wrote in a recent letter that Yale's decision effectively means: "We do not negotiate with terrorists. We just accede to their anticipated demands."
Yale's response was the following.
"The decision rested solely on the experts' assessment that there existed a substantial likelihood of violence that might take the lives of innocent victims," the statement said.

In other news, various news agencies reported yesterday that three men were found guilty in a plot to blow up planes.
"Three men have been found guilty of plotting to kill thousands of people by blowing up planes flying from London to America with home-made liquid bombs."

Nowhere in the BBC article or in a CNN article is the religion of the perpetrators mentioned.
By contrast, a New York Times article entitled "44 Charged by U.S. in New Jersey Corruption Sweep ", the word "Jewish" is mentioned five times.

And finally, for those who read Dutch, I turn your attention to a local Antwerp newspaper article which has reported about a couple who is on the officially recognized list of foster families for the organization 'Kind en Gezin" (Child and Family). They have a picture of Adolph H. hanging on a wall in their house as well as bookshelves stocked with books about Nazis. The woman stated that her home is her castle and she can have what she wants there. She also called A.H. an intelligent man.

All I can say is "What a wonderful world" we're living in.

True Repentance

Teshuvá is the key concept in the rabbinic view of sin, repentance, and forgiveness. The tradition is not of one mind on the steps one must take to repent of one's sins. However, almost all agree that repentance requires five elements: recognition of one's sins as sins (hakarát ha-chét'), remorse (charatá), desisting from sin (azivát ha-chét'), restitution where possible (peira'ón), and confession (vidúi).

A New York Times op-ed column by Roger Cohen discusses the candidacy of Egyptian Farouk Hosny to head to head the United Nations cultural agency Unesco, and his past talk of burning Israeli books.
But there are shadows over Hosny. Questioned in Parliament last year about the presence of Israeli books in the Alexandria Library, the minister replied: “Let’s burn these books. If there are any, I will burn them myself before you.”
....Hosny responded with an apology. He “solemnly” regretted his words. The book-burning phrase was “the opposite of what I believe and what I am.” It was uttered “without intention or premeditation.”

A white supremacist who killed a postal worker and wounded five people at a Los Angeles area Jewish community center in a 1999 shooting spree says he has renounced his racist views.
In a letter to a Los Angeles Daily News reporter, Buford O. Furrow Jr. says he regrets the pain he has caused.


Whether the two individuals who are the subjects of the articles above are true repentants, it is up to G-d to decide. But, for us, in the month of Elul, let us genuinely regret past transgressions and resolve to desist from the behavior in the future.

7 Sept 2009

An impossible dream

A Ynet opinion article by Moshe Dann entitled "What prevent peace?" is worthwhile reading.
For Arabs, Israel's "occupation" of Judea, Samaria (the West Bank) and Gaza in 1967 and subsequent settlement is only part of the problem.
The real issue is Zionism and the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 as a Jewish state. No "peace plan" - even the most extreme which requires Israel to withdraw from all territory conquered in 1967 - will solve the Arab-Muslim problem of allowing a nominally Jewish state to exist in any form.
From the Arab perspective, therefore, there are two overlapping "occupations:" one in 1948 and the other in 1967. Resolving one while legitimizing the other is (for them) unacceptable. Jewish sovereignty and self-determination – Zionism - are anathema.
That's why President Obama's "peace plan" won't work; it assumes that Arabs are interested in accommodation. No matter what concessions Israel makes, however, they will not be enough as long as Israel itself remains in any form.

To read the article in its entirety, click on the link below.

To President Obama, I say, if the issue of one captive soldier couldn't be resolved in over three years, it would seem that your dream to reach a comprehensive peace plan involving refugees, status of Jerusalem, recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, final borders, airspace etc. is an impossible dream.

All Israel are guarantors for each other

You stand upright this day, all of you, before the L-rd your G-d: your heads, your tribes, your elders, and your officers, and all the men of Israel; your little ones, your wives, and your stranger that is in your camp, from the hewer of your wood to the drawer of your water (Deuteronomy 29:9-10)
Our sages have said: "All Israel are guarantors for each other" (Talmud, Shevuot 39a). But a person cannot serve as a guarantor unless he is more resourceful in some way than the one he is guaranteeing. For example, a poor man obviously would not be accepted as a guarantor for a rich man's loan. So if the Talmud says that all Jews serve as guarantors to each other, this means that in every Jew there is a quality in which he or she is superior to all others.

For those who read Hebrew, I heard the following devar torah about Elul this past week and thought I would pass it on.
מר"ח אלול מרבים בצדקה וחסד. וזה רמוז בפסוק במגילת אסתר: "וּמִשְׁלֹחַ מָנוֹת אִישׁ לְרֵעֵהוּ, וּמַתָּנוֹת לָאֶבְיֹנִים". ומשתדלים לפייס איש את רעיהו, כדי שיכנסו לשנה החדשה נקיים וטהורים וללא הקפדה של אף אחד מישראל.
כך אנו עושים: תשובה, תפילה, וצדקה שהם בטחונות להעביר את רוע הגזירה. וזה רמוז בסוד המזמור"לְדָוִד, ה' אוֹרִי וְיִשְׁעִי מִמִּי אִירָא. ה' מָעוֹז חַיַּי, מִמִּי אֶפְחָד". ובהמשך כתוב: "אִם-תָּקוּם עָלַי, מִלְחָמָה, בְּזֹאת, אֲנִי בוֹטֵחַ". סוד מילת 'זאת': זאת = 408
תשובה, היא: צום = 136 שאדם העושה תשובה, מראה זאת על ידי קבלת צום ותענית
תפילה, היא: קול = 136 שהתפילה מקורה בפה של האדם ובהשמעת קולו
צדקה, היא: ממון = 136 שהצדקה מקורה בנתינת כסף לעניים ונזקקים
3 * 136 = 408
הוא שאמר דוד המלך ע"ה, כשיבוא המקטרג לדבר רע על עם ישראל, מיד יקומו כנגדו הביטחונות: תשובה, תפילה וצדקה, ויעבירו את רוע הגזירה

6 Sept 2009

Should we throw in the towel?

The above image was sent to me by email with the claim that President Obama has directed the United States Postal Service to remember and honor the Eid holiday season with a new commemorative 42 Cent First Class Holiday Postage Stamp.

On the other side of the Atlantic.....
The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, has recommended that non-Muslims take the opportunity of the month of Ramadan to fast, along with their Muslim neighbors, in order to promote "understanding between cultures."
Johnson told members of a London mosque that with Muslims so much a part of London life, it would be befitting for non-Muslims to get to know their fellow Londoners' customs and religion better....

....There was no word on whether London Mayor Johnson was planning to suggest that Muslims and Christians fast on Yom Kippur in order to better understand their Jewish neighbors.

Should we throw in the towel?

4 Sept 2009

Why we need prayer

In a Ynet article entitled "In praise of ‘social Judaism’", Ariana Melamed suggests that "instead of learning prayers, secular students should practice Jewish values."
In response to education Minister Gideon Sa’ar’s promise that future generations will know what a Shemoneh Esrei Prayer is and the importance of Pirkei Avot, Ms. Melamed writes that the memorization of texts will be an exercise in futility. She asks whether children should be taught "prayer texts, or fundamental values that can become part of their lives even without these prayers?"
She proposes that students should be taught "Social Judaism."
A secular child does not need to be able to recite some prayer in order to perform an act of mercy and understand the value it’s premised on. This child and his or her classmates can recycle bottles and donate to charity. Their class can volunteer to pack food packages for the needy and learn that “all the Jewish people are responsible for each other” or that “your city’s poor take priority.”
In this fashion, the students will "encounter the old-new values of social justice, tolerance, and the supreme duty to be better people."

But, it is precisely prayer which teaches us how to be better people.
When we recite the Modeh Ani prayer, first thing when we wake up in the morning, we are acknowledging the gift of life and showing our gratitude to the Creator for restoring our souls. The gratitude we have towards Hashem spills over to our relationships with human beings. Furthermore, we realize that we are not the be all and end all and we develop a sense of humility as we are aware that we can't even move one small finger unless G-d wills it.
As far as Pirkei Avot, the words of the Sages therein provide us with attitudes and actions that we should pursue in order to achieve social justice, tolerance and self-improvement. Without the guiding texts written by our Sages, social justice can be confused with releasing murderers on compassionate grounds, tolerance can be confused for making allowances for everyone's behavior, no matter how aberrant.
So, tomorrow, let's wake up with the words of the Modeh Ani prayer on our lips. It is precisely with the words of prayer that we will become better human beings.

Modeh Ani Lefanecha Melech Chai Vekayam Shehechezarta Be Nishmati Bechemla; Rabba Emunatecha.
I offer thanks to You, living and eternal King, for You have mercifully restored my soul within me; Your faithfulness is great.

The following are excerpts taken from two articles about prayer. To read the full articles, click on the links.
B) The sefer Sichos Elul (by Rav Chazkel Levenstein zt"l, pg 64-68) writes about another aspect of Tefillah.
Rav Chazkel points out how we are submerged in a society that constantly preaches "kochi v'otzem yadi", (everything we attain is through Our might and Our great intelligence and not through Hashem). This influences us very much. (I saw an article in the "Reader's Digest" about the tremendous ship - the Titanic. The people praised their great might that created such a powerful ship, calling it "unsinkable". It reached the point that one crewman said, "Not even G-D could sink this ship.") Consequently, we need constant reminders that Hashem runs the world. That is what Tefillah and Brachos on food teach us. They are "sichot" on Emunah and Hashgacha. We constantly repeat, "You give us Knowledge..., You Heal us...,". Sh'hakol nihyah bi'dvaro - to believe in simplicity that "all is made only through His words". He concludes, "... likewise all prayer, has one goal, to ingrain the following principle in a person's heart "A person doesn't support himself in any way, all he needs is help from Hashem"." This will help us counter the constant barrage of "kochi v'otzem yadi" that we are submerged in.

Many people today do not see the need for regular, formal prayer. "I pray when I feel inspired to, when it is meaningful to me," they say. This attitude overlooks two important things: the purpose of prayer, and the need for practice.
One purpose of prayer is to increase your awareness of G-d in your life and the role that G-d plays in your life. If you only pray when you feel inspired (that is, when you are already aware of G-d), then you will not increase your awareness of G-d.
In addition, if you want to do something well, you have to practice it continually, even when you don't feel like doing it. This is as true of prayer as it is of playing a sport, playing a musical instrument, or writing. The sense of humility and awe of G-d that is essential to proper prayer does not come easily to modern man, and will not simply come to you when you feel the need to pray. If you wait until inspiration strikes, you will not have the skills you need to pray effectively. Before I started praying regularly, I found that when I wanted to pray, I didn't know how. I didn't know what to say, or how to say it, or how to establish the proper frame of mind. If you pray regularly, you will learn how to express yourself in prayer.

3 Sept 2009

Wasting time

A friend of mine sent me a cartoon via email where a Mom tells her son that she was looking through his Facebook page. The son interrupts his mom to ask her why. He explains to her that Facebook is for social networking. He further goes on to elucidate.
"We live in the same house. If you have something to say, just text me."

A couple of months ago, I wrote a post called "Off with your Facebook." The other day I came across two articles regarding the social networking site.

Article 1.
A New York Times article by Virginia Heffernan entitled "Facebook Exodus" describes the exodus of many users from the social networking site for myriad reasons.
“I primarily left Facebook because I was wasting so much time on it,” my friend Caroline Harting told me by e-mail. “I felt fairly detached from my Facebook buddies because I rarely directly contacted them.” Instead, she felt as if she stalked them, spending hours a day looking at their pages without actually saying hello.

Article 2.
Man killed wife 'because she spent too much time on Facebook'
"A man killed his girlfriend after becoming resentful of the time she spent on Facebook, a court has heard...."
Click here to read full story.

Yesterday, I wrote about articles printed on the internet which are presented as fact but turn out to be untrue. This morning I read Israeli writer David Stavrou's comments regarding the Aftonbladet article on organ harvesting.

"This is post modern anti-Semitism. It's all about ratings and it's business orientated. It sells newspapers. Nobody cares about the truth because it's subjective anyway, nobody has time for research and you can definitely count on it that no one will take responsibility. The writer gets his 15 minutes of fame; the paper makes millions. And damn the consequences.”

Important recall notice

I received the following email last night - author unknown.

Regardless of make or year, all units known as "human beings" are being recalled by the Manufacturer. This is due to a malfunction in the original prototype units code named "Adam" and "Eve" resulting in the reproduction of the same defect in all subsequent units. This defect is technically termed, "Serious Internal Non-morality," but more commonly known as "SIN."

Some of the symptoms of the SIN defect:
[a] Loss of direction
[b] Lack of peace and joy
[c] Depression
[d] Foul vocal emissions
[e] Selfishness
[f] Ingratitude
[g] Fearfulness
[h] Rebellion
[i] Jealousy

The Manufacturer is providing factory authorized repair service free of charge to correct the SIN defect.

The Repair Technician, Hashem, has most generously offered to bear the entire burden of the staggering cost of these repairs. To repeat, there is no fee required.

The number to call in for repair in all areas is: PRAYER.

Once connected, please upload the burden of SIN through the REPENTANCE procedure. Next, download ATONEMENT from the Repair Technician, Hashem, into the heart component of the human unit.. No matter how big or small the SIN defect is, Hashem will replace it with:

[a] Love
[b] Joy
[c] Peace
[d] Kindness
[e] Goodness
[f] Faithfulness
[g] Gentleness
[h] Patience
[I] Self-control

Please see the operating manual, TORAH, for further details on the use of these fixes. As an added upgrade, the Manufacturer has made available to all repaired units a facility enabling direct monitoring and assistance from the resident Maintenance Technician, Hashem. Repaired units need only make Him welcome and He will take up residence on the premises.

WARNING: Continuing to operate a human being unit without corrections voids the Manufacturer's warranty, exposes the unit to dangers and problems too numerous to list, and will ultimately result in the human unit being incinerated.

Thank you for your immediate attention.

2 Sept 2009

Let's stick with the facts

This morning, a Ynet article reported the following.
"EU source implies Israel behind July hijacking of Russian ship
Admiral Tarmo Kouts, who heads European Union's piracy watch, tells Time Magazine Israel was most likely responsible for hijacking of Arctic Sea in an attempt to intercept Mideast bound missile delivery."

This afternoon a Ynet article reported the following.
"According to a Ynet investigation, Russia staged the hijacking of its own "Arctic sea" vessel which disappeared two weeks ago. The ship was found following an anonymous tip."

Is it only me, or are you getting the feeling that most reports on the internet are based on conjectures and what is fact one day becomes fallacy the next?
England behind the Lockerbie bomber release. - England not behind the Lockerbie bomber release.

In "A Real Fairy-Tale Wedding" by Peter Baker, the journalist writes about the erroneous headlines that have been published lately regarding suppositions about Chelsea Clinton's imminent marriage.

Here’s a newsflash: Chelsea Clinton did not get married last month in a swank, celebrity-laden wedding on Martha’s Vineyard attended by the president of the United States.
For four months, the Clintons have told anyone who would listen that there was no August wedding in the works, but the rumors raced from Massachusetts to Manhattan to Washington and back again, producing one unsubstantiated headline after another around the world about the nuptials that never were.

I think I'll stick with reading the Torah. The facts don't change.

Why worry about tomorrow

The other day, I came across a Rosh Hashana Speech given by Rabbi Robert H. Loewy close to two years ago in which he discusses how to achieve happiness. It is worthwhile reading in its entirety and you can access the PDF file by clicking on the link below. The following three paragraphs are taken from the speech.

"Real wealth according to our tradition comes to those who are happy with their portion in life. It is a matter of attitude. One man who brought laughter and happiness to millions had this philosophy: “Each morning when I open my eyes, I say to myself: ‘I, not events, have the power to make me happy or unhappy. I can choose which it will be. Yesterday is dead, tomorrow hasn’t arrived yet. I have just one day, today, and I’m going to be happy in it’.” Along with the wit, we now have the wisdom of Groucho Marx and you can bet your life on it.
The problem is that we tend to put up barriers to our own happiness. Some of us are worriers. “Yes, I’m healthy now, but you can never tell about tomorrow.” “Yes, there are more restaurants and life is pretty much normal, but all it takes is one more storm.” “Yes, the kids are doing well right now, but will it last?”
To all of the worriers among us, the Talmud teaches: “Do not worry about tomorrow’s trouble, for you do not know what the day may bring. Tomorrow may come and you will be no more, and so you will have worried about a world that is not yours.” (Yevamot 63b) In other words, deal with life’s challenges when they come. Don’t allow them to diminish the happiness and contentment of the moment."


There is a wonderful poem by Jery Ham that I discovered the other day which deals with the ideas above. I printed it out and have a copy attached to my fridge. It is definitely worth a read.

Why worry about tomorrow, shall I stew about it now?
Shall I say, It is no use, give it up, throw in the towel?
Why worry about tomorrow, will it bring me health and gain?
Or shall I wake up in the morning, in poverty and pain?

To access the full poem, click here.

1 Sept 2009

Kol Nidre and baseball

Major League Baseball and ESPN must be atone deaf. The Yankees' Sept. 27 home game against the Boston Red Sox has been rescheduled from 1 to 8 p.m. -- putting the first pitch well after the sundown start of Yom Kippur. The move forces observant Jewish fans to miss the game or risk having a lot more to atone for next Yom Kippur......

The following is an old joke that I was reminded of as I read the New York Post article about the Yankees.

Gottlieb called his Rabbi and said, "Rabbi, I know tonight is Kol Nidre, but tonight the Yankees start the playoffs. Rabbi, I'm a life-long Yankee fan. I've GOT to watch the Yankee game on TV."
The Rabbi responds, "Gottlieb, that's what VCR's are for."
Gottlieb is surprised. "You mean I can tape Kol Nidre?"

A clash of religious traditions

The following are the words of Rabbi Brian Walt taken from an article entitled "Maybe we can all just get along" by Tom Krattenmaker.
Rabbi Walt, a coordinator of Ta'anit Tzedek — the Jewish Fast for Gaza — flatly rejects the notion that his Jewish faith obliges him to fall in line with the Jews-vs.-Islam construct. "I don't believe in the 'clash of civilizations' " Walt says. "I believe there's a clash, but it's within each of the religious traditions. ... I have much more in common with a progressive Muslim than I do with a right-wing Jewish fundamentalist settler on the West Bank."

(Incidentally, David Forman recently wrote an article entitled "Counterpoint: American rabbis "Fast for Gaza" which you might like to read by clicking here.)
When I first read Rabbi Walt's words, it was unfathomable to me as to how he could state that he had more in common with a progressive Muslim than with a West Bank settler. After all, the rabbi and settler share a strong bond based upon religious culture, tradition and language such as the words, Elul, Rosh Hashana, Yom Kipper, Teshuvah, Shofar and so on. But then I came across a comment posted on the rabbi's blog. If you click on the above image, you will see that the rabbi posted a comment on June 27th, at 4:04 PM, which was on a Saturday. It was then that I understood why, in one sense, the rabbi could state that he had more in common with a progressive Muslim. Because I doubt that one could find a settler who turns on his computer on Shabbos, much less posts a comment on his blog on Shabbos.
With that said, my previous post was about Ahavat Yisrael. All those born to a Jewish mother share the heritage of being a Jew and should be united in compassion for our fellow co-religionists, whether they are labeled haredis, Satmer, Conservative, irreligious or settler. We are all part of the same body and should suffer when one of us is in pain and rejoice in each other's happy occasions. With unity and love for one another, we can merit the redemption and the bringing of Mashiach. And, in the meantime, let us treat all human beings, Jew or Gentile, with the respect they deserve, as we share the most common ground in that we are all G-d's creations.