"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

29 Dec 2009

Shiva-Day 5

The past few posts have been dedicated to Rabbi Meir Avshalom Chai HY”D during the week that his family members are sitting shiva.
The other day I overheard a conversation between a client in store and the woman behind the counter.
"How are you?" the client asked.
"Things are going okay, as normal. Hodu lashem ki tov. You gotta thank
G-d when life is going on as usual."
Later that week I came across a video where Rabbi Krohn discusses Hakarat Hatov(appreciation).
The Rabbi asked why we are called yehudim. He answered that the seforno says because the word yehudi comes from hodeh to give thanks. Rabbi Krohn said that we have to say Hodu Lashem ki tov for the goodness Hashem bestows on each and every one of us. He asked when was the last time someone went on a vacation and thanked G-d that he could afford one? When did he last offer thanks for his family, his spouse, his job...?
Rabbi Krohn went on to elucidate that Rav Chazkel Levenstein wrote about the blessings we recite after the meals. He wrote that we after we eat, we recite the beracha hazan et haolam kulo betuvo. (Who sustains the world with kindness and compassion) We say it but we are not really thinking when we are bentsching that we’re thanking G-d for the beautiful watermelon, etc.…
We bentsch because we are frumme mentschen so we have to bentsch, instead of realizing that we are reciting the Grace after meals to say thank you for the taste, the beauty and the nutrition of the food.

Rabbi Meir Avshalom Chai HY”D's son said that the way to memorialize his father is through Torah study, prayer and the mitzvot. Today, I will recite the Grace after Meals with an extra intensity, in the merit of the niftar.
And may we find opportunities to say Hodu Lashem ki tov (Let's give thanks to G-d for He is good) in our daly lives.

28 Dec 2009

Shiva-Day 4

The past two posts have been about Rabbi Meir Avshalom Chai HY”D, who was killed in a terrorist attack on Friday. According to my calculations, it is day 4 of the 7 day mourning period. I wrote, "This week, new orphans and their mother are sitting shiva for their father and husband. I will not be posting during the week of the shiva." I wanted to demonstrate sympathy with the family and show them that I feel for their loss, the loss of our Jewish brother. Why was I so affected by this particular individual? I suppose because of his senseless death, the amount of young orphans he left behind and the goodness of the man.
I also quoted from an INN article,

"Eliyahu, the Rabbi's son, said: “I want to say to the youth – continue in my father's path. Father wanted faith, he wanted Torah study, he wanted prayers. He could not stand to see that there are no tefillin. He had to see all of the mitzvot (commandments). If you want to memorialize my father these are the things you should do."

After coming across a beautiful devar Torah about communication, I decided to post the video. May we study Torah in the merit of the deceased. And may we remember, that when we communicate, we may understand what we want, but our spouse, friends and relatives are not mind readers. So let's try to minimize arguments by communicating effectively, so that no misunderstanding should result.

27 Dec 2009

One of the best

As an update to the previous post, I am posting the opening paragraphs of an INN article written by Shmuel Neumann about his encounter with Rabbi Meir Avshalom Chai, Hy"d. The world has lost an incredible human being. As Mr. Neumann writes, "They killed one of the best of us. But like his name, Chai (which means life), he will live forever in the afterlife, while those who attacked him are damned."

One balmy Thursday evening several years ago, on a clear night, the kind of night that makes you feel great to be alive, I stood enjoying the clean air of Samaria. I was approached by a young man who asked if I could help him deliver food. As I had just moved to Israel, and had nothing but time on my hands, I unhesitatingly said yes. It was then that he explained to me that in order not to embarrass people we would meet at 2:00 a.m. to deliver the food. I slept a few hours and when I met him his old, beat up car was His old, beat up car was filled with cartons. filled with cartons.
Thinking that there were only about 100 families in the small community which anti-Semites like to call a “settlement” and in which I lived, I thought that this wouldn’t be too hard – how many people could be in need of food for the Sabbath? I was shocked that our first stop was somewhere else, in a Jewish village named Chomesh. (Chomesh was destroyed later in the Disengagement along with Gaza). This was in the middle of the intifada and I was terrified and asked my driver if he wasn’t afraid to be on the roads at this hour. He told me he was in the Golani Brigade and that nothing would happen to us while doing a mitzvah (good deed). He drove up to each house and I brought the box of food to the door and ran back. We went to Einav and Avnei Chefetz and other Jewish communities in Samaria coming back only to fill up his car again with more food cartons. We returned after 5:00 a.m."

25 Dec 2009

Rabbi Meir Avshalom Chai HY”D - In memoriam

א לַמְנַצֵּחַ, מִזְמוֹר לְדָוִד.
1 For the Leader. A Psalm of David.
ב יַעַנְךָ יְהוָה, בְּיוֹם צָרָה; יְשַׂגֶּבְךָ, שֵׁם אֱלֹהֵי יַעֲקֹב.
2 The LORD answer thee in the day of trouble; the name of the God of Jacob set thee up on high;
ג יִשְׁלַח-עֶזְרְךָ מִקֹּדֶשׁ; וּמִצִּיּוֹן, יִסְעָדֶךָּ.
3 Send forth thy help from the sanctuary, and support thee out of Zion;
ד יִזְכֹּר כָּל-מִנְחֹתֶךָ; וְעוֹלָתְךָ יְדַשְּׁנֶה סֶלָה.
4 Receive the memorial of all thy meal-offerings, and accept the fat of thy burnt-sacrifice; Selah
ה יִתֶּן-לְךָ כִלְבָבֶךָ; וְכָל-עֲצָתְךָ יְמַלֵּא.
5 Grant thee according to thine own heart, and fulfil all thy counsel.
ו נְרַנְּנָה, בִּישׁוּעָתֶךָ-- וּבְשֵׁם-אֱלֹהֵינוּ נִדְגֹּל;יְמַלֵּא יְהוָה, כָּל-מִשְׁאֲלוֹתֶיךָ.
6 We will shout for joy in thy victory, and in the name of our God we will set up our standards; {N}the LORD fulfil all thy petitions.
ז עַתָּה יָדַעְתִּי-- כִּי הוֹשִׁיעַ יְהוָה, מְשִׁיחוֹ:יַעֲנֵהוּ, מִשְּׁמֵי קָדְשׁוֹ-- בִּגְבֻרוֹת, יֵשַׁע יְמִינוֹ.
7 Now know I that the LORD saveth His anointed; {N}He will answer him from His holy heaven with the mighty acts of His saving right hand.
ח אֵלֶּה בָרֶכֶב, וְאֵלֶּה בַסּוּסִים;וַאֲנַחְנוּ, בְּשֵׁם-יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ נַזְכִּיר.
8 Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; {N}but we will make mention of the name of the LORD our God.
ט הֵמָּה, כָּרְעוּ וְנָפָלוּ; וַאֲנַחְנוּ קַּמְנוּ, וַנִּתְעוֹדָד.
9 They are bowed down and fallen; but we are risen, and stand upright.
י יְהוָה הוֹשִׁיעָה: הַמֶּלֶךְ, יַעֲנֵנוּ בְיוֹם-קָרְאֵנוּ.
10 Save, LORD; let the King answer us in the day that we call.

In a previous post, I wrote about an article I read entitled Doers and Bloggers. The author contended that we needed more doers and less bloggers.
As I read the tragic news of a shooting attack in the Shomron which left a widow and seven young orphans to deal with the aftermath, I perused various sites to see how the news was reported, I came across comments like "BD"E", "heartbreaking", "Thank you Bibi for kissing up to Obama and removing checkpoints!"
Right now, the time is to stop writing comments and start doing something for the family - to donate to a fund for the orphans, to learn more Torah in the merit of the niftar, to say an extra chapter of Psalms....
This week, new orphans and their mother are sitting shiva for their father and husband. I will not be posting during the week of the shiva. It is not a week of business as usual. May they find comfort betoch shaar aveilei tziyon viyerushalyim.

"I call on you, (Prime Minister) Benjamen Netanyahu and (Defense Minister) Ehud Barak: Face the orphans and ask for their forgiveness. You cannot say, 'Our hands did not spill this blood.' Your desire to please the enemy puts our life at risk..."
Gershon Mesika, head of the Shomron Regional Council

"This is what you were like since I knew you at the yeshiva and throughout the years: Completely perfect – in your faith, fear of God, your good traits and lifestyle… Your dedication and your work at the Talmud Torah school....
We lost an entire world. There is a private loss here, but a general loss as well. It's a national mourning. The murderers did not target you because they had a score to settle with you. The bullet which hit you was directed at all of us. They want to destroy the people of Israel. The people of Israel is a stubborn people. We shall overcome them, both the harassments from the outside and the weaknesses on the inside."

Rabbi Haim Drukman

"Eliyahu, the Rabbi's son, said: “I want to say to the youth – continue in my father's path. Father wanted faith, he wanted Torah study, he wanted prayers. He could not stand to see that there are no tefillin. He had to see all of the mitzvot (commandments). If you want to memorialize my father these are the things you should do."

Giving to others

A Free Press article details how the life of Melissa Cristodero has turned around due to the generosity of strangers.
A front page story described the financial plight of the single mother who didn't have the money to pay rent and utility expenses.
Readers responded to her situation by sending presents for her children and money for her to pay her bills. Dentists offered their services and she also received offers for job interviews.

"I have enough," she said, stunned by the generosity. "I want to say thank you, maybe by helping other people out like that one movie, 'Pay It Forward.'
"If somebody helps me, I can help somebody, and they can help somebody, and it just keeps going."


May Melissa be an inspiration to us all - to know when to say, "I have enough - Now is the time to give back and help others."

24 Dec 2009

A salute to the doers

In an article entitled Doers Vs. Bloggers, Rav Aryeh Zev Ginzberg discusses the minority of people who are the doers in the community as opposed to the observers. He claim that these days there is a third category of people, namely the bloggers.

K’lal Yisrael has a myriad of problems, and we have enough non-doers. What we desperately need are more doers. One thing we definitely do not need is more bloggers in our community. May HaKadosh Baruch Hu protect us from ourselves.
Read full article: http://www.5tjt.com/news/read.asp?Id=5401

Last night I received a phone call from the head of the bikur cholim organization in my neighborhood, asking if I could visit an elderly woman on Shabbos morning. After finishing the conversation, I remarked to my husband how impressed I was with this woman. It is not an easy task to phone people on a daily basis, asking them to do a favor, and she is not being remunerated for her activities. She accepted the position of head of the organization, concomitant with all the headaches and responsibilities it entails, solely for the purpose of doing a mitzvah. When I had to take over for two weeks the job of soliciting car rides for elderly women to reach a shiur, my stomach was in knots as I made the phone calls.
Last week, I was at a Chanukah party when the lights suddenly went off. Chaverim were called and, within minutes, the electricity was restored.
Below is a post of Chaverim members helping someone dig out of the snow.
So this post is a salute to the doers, may there be more of them. We owe them all a tremendous sense of appreciation. Hopefully, more of us will join the doers category, accepting upon ourselves what we are capable of.
And now, I am off to visit a woman in the old age home. Enough blogging for today.

Awaiting Mashiach

Waiting for Mashiach, anticipating his coming, is not simply a virtue but a religious obligation.
...Rambam thus rules that whoever does not believe in and whoever does not await (eagerly looking forward to) the coming of Mashiach, in effect denies the whole Torah, all the prophets beginning with Moses. In the popular formulation of his thirteen Principles of the Faith (the hymn of Ani Ma’amin) this is put as follows:
“I believe with complete faith in the coming of Mashiach. Though he tarry, nonetheless I await him every day, that he will come.”

..In view of this legal obligation to await Mashiach, therefore, one of the first questions an individual is asked on the Day of Divine Judgment is “Tzipita liyeshu’ah did you look forward to salvation?”

Yesterday morning I walked into a kosher supermarket in my neighborhood and felt an immediate lift when I heard a lively tune playing in the background. Listening to the words, I realized the lyrics were about the Mashiach - behold he comes. It gave me a moment's pause in the midst of my mundane activities to concentrate on the words and actually think about Mashiach's arrival.
Later in the day, I found the song on YouTube and resolved to post it. Why not listen to it and take a moment to anticipate the auspicious day? May we be zochech to the redemption bimhera beyamenu.

Kol dodi kol dodi hine ze bo
ze melech hamashiach
kol dodi hine ze bo ze melech hamashiach
kol dodi hine ze bo ze melech hamashiach
Kol dodi hine ze bo ze melech hamashiach
kol dodi hine ze bokol hator nishma beartseinu
ze kolo shel melech hamashiah
kol hator nishma beartseinu
ze kolo shel melech hamashiah

23 Dec 2009

Crying with each other

Both Rabbi Glasman (in the video below) and Yaakov Hibbert ask the same question about an episode in this week's parsha, albeit with slightly different answers.
After Yosef reveals himself to his brothers, he meets his brother Binyamin and they cry together. Rashi states that Yosef cried because he saw that in the future, the Beis Hamikdash, which was in Binyamin's portion of the land, would be destroyed. Binyamin cried because he saw that the Mishkan in Shiloh, which was in the territory of Yosef, would be destroyed.

Why asks R’ Mordechai HaCohen ZaTZaL did each one not also cry on the destruction that would happen in their own portion? He answers with a tremendous Yesod. Each one realized that “everything Hashem does is ultimately for the good” [Gemora Brochos 60b]. On their extremely high level they understood that the destruction that would take place would be what was needed, and would be for the good of the Yidden. But this sort of reckoning can only be used on oneself. When relating to another person then you can’t take this approach, to someone else you have to sympathize over the destruction. You can’t speak to him as if he is you on your level. So each one cried and showed compassion over the destruction that would take place in the others portion.
Read full devar torah: http://www.shortvort.com/vayigash-parasha/11612-vayigash-dont-treat-others-as-you-treat-yourself

Separation is good

One college freshman in Vermont is taking her issues from the bathroom to the courtroom.
Jennifer Weiler, a student at Green Mountain College, is suing the school for not providing separate bathrooms for men and women...
....Conservative pundit Wendy Shalit has written at length about the importance of modesty in college dorms, including her own experiences as a student at Williams College.

Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/lifestyle/2009/12/22/2009-12-22_college_student_sues_green_mountain_college_in_vermont_over_coed_bathrooms_in_do.html#ixzz0aUlS8HS0

In a Ynet article, Women of the Wall member, Haviva Ner-David, writes, "We have a synagogue that is the center of our communal life, but it has no partition and women participate fully in the services that are held there."

My view? Sometimes, separation is necessary, be it in the synagogue, or to ensure modesty in public facilities. The bottom line is that men and women are different. As much as Serena Williams demands equal pay for her tennis performances, she is still willing to play women's matches where one has to play the best of three sets, whereas a man must play the best of five sets. In a marathon, the best of the women reaches the finish line minutes after many of the best men. So, in not demanding equal performance for men and women, we are acknowledging the differences.

21 Dec 2009

Lives based on mistruths

The Medrash says, "Oy Lanu MiYom HaDin, Oy Lanu Miyom HaTochacha", woe is to us from the day of judgement, woe is to us from the day of Mussar from Hashem. The medrash makes this statement based on the incredible embarrassment that the Shevatim felt when Yosef revealed himself to them and gave them mussar.
Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz asks (Sichos Mussar Maamar 22), where do we see that Yosef gave the brothers mussar? All he did was reveal himself to them. On the contrary he made a great effort to tell them it was the will of Hashem and not their own doing that caused all the event of the past 20 odd years to transpire.
Rav Chaim answers that our view of mussar is not completely accurate. Mussar does not mean to tell someone off. Mussar means to reveal the truth to someone who sees things through a distorted view. Because all the persons actions are based on untruths, when he realizes his mistake and everything he did based on it, he will be very embarrassed.
The Shevatim thought they had it all figured out. Yosef was the bad guy and they saved the future of Am Yisroel by getting rid of him for once and for all. Life after that took many strange turns but they never second guessed their righteousness in dealing with him. Now Yosef, in a literal moment of truth, removes the veil and brings all their mistakes to light. All he has to do is say, "I am Yosef" and this causes them terrible embarrassment as their lifelong "Shitta" unravels in an instant.
If this is how the Shevatim HaKedoshim felt before Yosef, certainly when we live our whole lives based on mistruths that we sell ourselves, when we get to Shamayim the embarrassment will be beyond comprehension, especially since it will be too late to make amends.

20 Dec 2009



Showing appreciation

Just came across a heartwarming story on CNN about a woman who makes quilts for injured soldiers to show her appreciation for their service. One quilt made by Christina Powell found its way to injured soldier Jonathan Winker.
On the back edge of Winker's quilt is a patch sewn in by Powell that reads: "Thank you for your service to our country. This is a small token of appreciation for all that you have been through. My prayers for you are contained in this quilt."
To view video and read accompanying story, click on the link below.

And next time our paths cross with an American soldier, or an IDF soldier, or a soldier protecting the country in which you live, why not offer him/her a smile and a sincere thanks?

The true tragedy of death

The following paragraphs are excerpted from an article by Rabbi Benjamin Blech entitled Life after Death.
"A very wealthy man not known for his piety stood in a long line of those waiting to have their lives assessed by the heavenly court. He listened attentively as those who were being judged before him recounted both their spiritual failings and achievements. A number of them seemed to have the scales weighted against them until they suddenly remembered acts of charity they had performed, which dramatically tipped the scales in their favor. The rich man took it all in and smiled to himself.
When it was his turn, he confidently said, “I may have committed many sins during my lifetime, but I realize now what has the power to override them. I am a very wealthy man and I will be happy to write out a very large check to whatever charity you recommend.”
To which the court replied, “We are truly sorry, but here we do not accept checks -- only receipts.”
The true tragedy of death is that it represents the closing curtain on our ability to do anymore mitzvot. We no longer have the free will to do good (or evil). It is only what we bring to that moment that can earn us entry into a state of eternal bliss. It's what we do here and now that truly matters. The choices we make today create our portion in the Next World. For eternity."
Read full article: http://www.aish.com/sp/ph/69742282.html

19 Dec 2009

Seeing the positive

אדרבה, תן בלבנו שנראה כל אחד מעלת חברינו ולא חסרונם, ושנדבר כל אחד את חברו בדרך הישר והרצוי לפניך, ואל יעלה בליבנו שום שנאה מאחד על חברו, חלילה, ותחזק אותנו באהבה אליך, כאשר גלוי וידוע לפניך, שיהא הכול נחת רוח אליך... אמן כן יהי רצון.
This week Hamodia published an article about a 114-year-old man. When asked about the secret to his longevity, he responded by saying, "I always lived in peace with everyone...The important thing is not to hate anyone."
He also offered the following advice.
"The source of blessing and longevity is giving tzedakah, helping others, and being happy. Serve Hashem with joy, and trust in Hashem and you'll never know illness or misery. Whatever Hakadosh Baruch Hu does, He does for the good."
This week, my friend and I attended a Chanukah party. Part of the evening's entertainment was a woman who sang songs and the lyrics flashed on a screen so that we could accompany her. One of the songs was from the prayer of Adaraba, written in Hebrew above.
As my friend concentrated on the words in which we beseech G-d to be able to see the positive points in our friends and that we shouldn't feel any hatred towards them, my friend told me that the song's lyrics epitomized her daughter. When her daughter celebrated her bat mitzvah, she received a siddur with the Adaraba prayer attached to the front page. For eight years, the young woman faithfully recited those words. My friend told me that her daughter had worked on herself to the extent that she doesn't view anyone in an unfavorable light.
A couple of months ago, she and her daughter had attended a wedding. The parents of the groom approached my friend and thanked her profusely. They told her that it was because her daughter had spoken so glowingly about the bride and her family, that they had decided to go ahead with the shidduch.

18 Dec 2009

Vibrant, relevant and meaningful

Contrary to the misguided notions of the uneducated and uninformed, Judaism is not a mere preservation of outdated traditions and nostalgia of yesteryear; it is as vibrant, relevant, and meaningful today as it was thousands of years ago. Chanukah is not just a child's celebration because the good army of the few righteous defeated the evil army of the masses some 2,200 years ago. The struggle of Chanukah continues to this very day.
The Hellenists were "benevolent" in that they didn't kill Jews unconditionally. If a Jew was willing to sacrifice his Judaism and bend to the winds of heresy, the Hellenists would accept him into their schools, their social circles, and their homes. Such assimilation was worse than a physical death; for assimilation and capitulation to the Hellenists meant death to the soul. Since the soul transcends time and space, its death is a much greater tragedy than physical death. After all, the body eventually disintegrates while the soul is eternal.


Reading Rabbi Lazer Brody's words about how Judaism is as vibrant and relevant today as it was thousands of years ago brought back the painful words that I had seen on a "rabbi's'" blog last week. The person wrote on his blog, that he is rejecting the Torah’s answer to the question it poses because that answer is not applicable to our day. He further goes on to day that it is up to us to find a compelling and relevant answer.
He rejects the Torah's words. He rejects the Torah's words.
However, if he finds words in the Torah that substantiates his opinion, then, of course, he quotes the words of the Torah. I don't think he can have it both ways.
I wrote him a comment which was inoffensive but specifically addressed his points, and he rejected my comment.
After this experience, I have decided not to go on his blog again. It was a mistake, in the first place. There can be no honest discusion as he and I are deeply rooted to our views and opening a dialogue serves no purpose. For instance, I can say good morning, and one of his adherents will say, "do I take your good morning to signify that you condone burning down Palestinian mosques?"
So, before I sign off for Shabbos, let me leave you with a devar Torah which is just as relevant today as it was thousands of years ago. Have a good Shabbos and a Chanukah Sameach.

After getting a very unfriendly welcome from Yosef, the pasuk says (Mikeitz 42:21), "Vayomru Ish El Achiv Aval Asheimim Anachnu". The brothers said indeed we are guilty as we saw the pain of our brother Yosef, and ignored his pleas.
The Shnayim Mikra brings from the Megaleh Amukos that six consecutive words starting with Ish, begin with the letter Aleph. These six Alephs each represent one millennium of the world's six thousand years of existence. The Torah is telling us that the mistake of selling Yosef will haunt us throughout the entire history.

Heeding the Rabbis' words

Last week, it was reported that some Charedi newspapers carried announcements signed by leading Rabbis against various Charedi internet sites.

"For people who stumble into their trap and cooperate with them, we warn you with the strictest of warnings not to look at those stations," said a group of leading rabbis in a statement that has been published over the past week in the three haredi dailies.
"Nor should anyone - individuals, companies or organizations - advertise there. And all of the prohibitions set by rabbis regarding TV apply to Internet stations as well."
The statement was signed by Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, Rabbi Haim Kanyevsky, Rabbi Aharon Yehudah Leib Steinman, Rabbi Israel Hager, the son of the Viznitz Rebbe, and Rabbi Nissim Karelitz.

Reading the Jerusalem Post this morning made me aware of the sacrifice of two individuals to heed the words of the Rabbis. May G-d grant them blessings and success in their future endeavors and I am awed by their actions.

As a result of the announcement Dov Fobrafsky and David Rotenberg, the founders of B'Haderei Haredim, the first haredi Internet site, resigned.
Fobrafsky told The Jerusalem Post that as a Jew faithful to rabbinic leadership he had no other choice.
"Whether or not I understand or agree with their ruling I have to accept it," Fobrafsky said, adding that he was looking to sell his shares in B'Haderei Haredim.


Read the YeshivaWorld article More Reaction to Kol Korei Against Chareidi Websites.

17 Dec 2009

Lost moments

The captain of the Northwest Airlines plane that overshot its destination by 150 miles in October told investigators four days later that he was “blown away” by how long he and his first officer had been distracted from their duties....
... The crew was out of radio contact with air traffic controllers for 77 minutes. The problem was that the captain, Timothy Cheney, and the first officer, Richard I. Cole, in the isolation of a hijack-proof cockpit, were glued to their laptops, puzzling over a new scheduling system.
“This was only supposed to take 10 minutes,” Mr. Cheney told investigators.
“I was wrong,” he told them, to have “let another force come from outside and distract me.”
Read full article: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/17/us/17pilot.html?_r=1&hp

How many of us turn on the computer just for 10 minutes to check our emails, financial data, the headlines and find that over an hour has passed since the initial 10 minutes?
And, when all is said and done, was the hour spent productively? Could it have been spent in better fashion by picking up a sefer, communicating with members of the family or doing a chesed?
The consequences of the pilot's actions may lead to disastrous results, including the loss of his job.
Yesterday, it was reported that Cameron Pettigrew, an employee at Fidelity Investments, along with three others, were fired for playing fantasy football.
Pettigrew, though, said he never sent any fantasy football e-mails at work or using his work e-mail address. But the investigators found two instant messages that had fantasy-football-related material.

The pilot's words send a clear message. A force from outside came and distracted him.
Let's defeat the outside force and say "enough." My time can be spent more productively. When family members walk into the house, I will try to greet them at the door with good cheer, rather than with a shout, "I'm on the computer."
And, may I be able to make a reckoning at the end of the day for time well spent and leave no moments unaccounted for.

Not for public consumption

This evening, I spent over twenty minutes writing a post regarding an article I had just seen. In an amusing fashion, I wanted to share with you my thoughts, imparting a moral message in the process. After scheduling the post to be automatically published the next morning, I started to have second thoughts. I thought the post was quite good, rating an A- (Hey, I learned from the President that it's okay to grade oneself.)
However, I was unsure as to whether what I wrote should be for public consumption. So, I have saved it as a draft. In the meantime, please indulge me for a few hours so that I can post the same thoughts in a more serious fashion. Thanks for your understanding.

14 Dec 2009

The power of giving

This morning I came across a CNN article entitled The proven power of giving, not getting by Jessica Ravitz. It is a fascinating look at how the act of giving helps people struggling with illness, recovering from alcohol addiction, etc.
One study looked at preteens who'd first been surveyed in the 1920s in Berkeley, California. Those who displayed generosity and a giving attitude grew up to have lower rates of heart disease and depression, said Post, a professor of preventive medicine and director of the Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care, and Bioethics at Stony Brook University in New York.

To read full article, click on the link below.


A 76-year-old Staten Island man died a hero. John Anstett rescued his elderly wife from a fast-moving fire at their apartment in New Brighton Saturday, but suffered a fatal heart attack during the escape.
Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/ny_local/2009/12/13/2009-12-13_si_hubby_saves_wife_from_blaze_then_dies.html

A few years ago, I heard a story about a woman who was frying something in her kitchen, when she received a phone call. She answered the telephone and a while later, she discovered that a full fledged fire had broken out, completely destroying her kitchen.
Since then, whenever I am in the middle of frying and the telephone rings, I first turn off the burner before answering the phone. Hence, a word of caution during the holiday season, when we are especially busy in the kitchen making latkes and sufganyot.

13 Dec 2009

Bitachon and Hishtadlut

The video below talks about the balance between bitachon(trust in G-d) and hishtadlut(human initiative.)
It reminds me of an anecdote about a young woman who came home from a lecture and told her mother, “That’s it! No more phone calls. Rabbi X. said that the only necessary effort in finding a shidduch is to daven."
The mother responded, "Fine. Good idea. You daven and I will make the phone calls."

Matityahu and his sons knew that Hashem would never destroy Klal Yisrael. With that understanding, they could have stayed in the Beit Midrash and had bitachon in Hashem. Why should they fight the Syrian-Greeks and the mityavnim (Hellenist Jews)? They were few in number and non-professional soldiers. Yet, Matityahu defined bitachon as active. This is the story of Chanukah - people were moser nefesh to take upon themselves something seemingly impossible, and thereby released tremendous forces of siyata dishmaya.
To read full article, click on the link below:

Chabad Rabbi bitten

A Muslim man attacked a Chabad rabbi Saturday night as he was conducting the annual ceremony to light the public Chanukah menorah in Stefenfaltz Square in the city of Vienna, Austria.
The attacker hurled himself at Rabbi Dov Gruzman, principal of the city’s Jewish school run by the Chabad-Lubavitch Chassidic movement, and began punching him, a local resident told Arutz Sheva.
Read more: http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/134958

Eating yourself to death

After starting a new diet, I altered my drive to work to avoid passing my favorite bakery.
I accidentally drove by the bakery this morning and as I approached, there in the window were a host of goodies.
I felt this was no accident, so I prayed, "Lord, it's up to you, if you want me to have any of those delicious goodies, create a parking place for me directly in front of the bakery."
And sure enough, on the eighth time around the block, there it was!
God is good!

After an overweight man in the neighborhood suffered a stroke with devastating consequences, I resolved to post about the importance of losing weight.
To offer some encouragement, read about a man who is walking from NY to the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia to encourage the community to keep fit.
....Shraga weighed 323 pounds 13 years ago, and he says he was barely able to get out of a chair. He started losing weight, and then suffered a massive heart attack 3 years ago - while weighing 260 pounds. His doctor said he would never walk again, and was diagnosed with diabetes, heart problems, and high cholesterol.
He was determined to change his body for good, and defy what the doctors had predicted.
He started walking, and now walks approximately 40-60 miles each week and currently weighs 175-180.
He has no sugar problems, his cholesterol is perfect, and miraculously, he has no cardiac problems whatsoever.


To really scare you into action, click on the link below for an article by Lionel Shriver entitled My brother is eating himself to death. Unfortunately, soon after the column was filed, the journalist's brother did indeed die.

12 Dec 2009

Selective condemnation

"The United States condemns the attack on the mosque in Yasuf in the strongest terms and calls for the perpetrators to be brought to justice."

The above statement was issued by the U.S. State Department in reaction to the attack on a mosque. Certainly, the attack on a religious place of worship was wrong.
However, could someone point me to the statement issued after the torching of a church in New York this week?

A former Bronx synagogue that was turned into a church was torched by assailants who smeared Satanic graffiti on its walls.
...More than 100 firefighters were called to the scene at about 4 a.m. Wednesday, just before morning prayers at 5:30 a.m.
...The arsonists painted upside-down crosses and a pentagram – a five-point star surrounded by a "666," which the pastor said were meant to represent Satanic evil.
Elsewhere, they scrawled "Crip Kill" – referring to the name of the street gang, the Crips – and "We hate Jews and Christians."
...The congregation had a clothing outreach and a soup kitchen set up with a donation from the late Yankees broadcaster Bobby Murcer. It also had prepared Christmas gifts for children in the Parkchester area, and medicines to send to Africa.

hadrei haredim


Tearing at the moral fabric

One of the FBI's top agents warned yesterday that corruption in the US was increasing and tearing at the fabric of society.
Special agent John Gillies, who has led major anti-corruption drives during his 27-year career with the bureau, focused his words primarily on crooked financiers and unscrupulous officials.
However, he added that sporting heroes such as Tiger Woods were also to blame, letting down children who saw them as role models.

...For anyone tempted by easy money or looking for a way out of a dead-end job, he offered this advice: "The worst day at work is still better than the best day in jail."

Leading rabbis have published a harsh letter in Chareidi newspapers against Chareidi websites, in an attempt to keep their public off the internet.
About a week ago, I heard a rabbi speaking about how the internet ensnares a person who wouldn't go on it for personal use. The individual says to himself that he is only going to go on the kosher sites. Once he is on the internet, one click leads to another, with sometimes disastrous results.
This week I read comments from the director of the newest Harry Potter film which will be released sometime in the coming year.
The first Harry Potter film came out and a parent says to himself why not let my child see the film? It is wholesome family entertainment - rated PG. A little while down the line, other HP films rate a PG-13. And, as for the seventh film? Just a word of caution, based upon what the director had to say.

11 Dec 2009

Light one candle

I found a pdf file containing several interesting devar torah for Chanukah Parshat Vayeshev. Click on the link to access full file.

One thought expressed by Rabbi Yaakov Haber concerns the menorah.

As several Rishonim point out, the seven branches of the Menora represent the seven true wisdoms (e.g. see Rabbeinu B'chaye, Avot, end of Chapter 3) that were studied by humanity. All of the branches, i.e. all of the wisdoms, "must face the middle branch" (Shmot 25:37), which symbolizes Torah wisdom. All of intellectual endeavors must be utilized in the service of Torah and 'Avodat Hashem in order for them to be meaningful. Hashem thus placed his stamp of approval on the victory of the Chasmonaim, which represented the idea that wisdom must be utilized for Divine service and not merely to satisfy curiosity, by bringing about a miracle through the medium of the Menora which symbolizes these ideas.

Wishing you a Chanukah Sameach and a good Shabbos.

A simple belief

I came across a moving account of a holocaust survivor's experience in a Jewish Press article entitled On Account Of An Apple: Chanukah in Buchenwald by Judy Tydor Baumel-Schwartz.

Decades later he explained how he remained a believer. To do so, he said, one has to learn the true meaning of Psalm 73, which he recited in camp at moments of despair. Verse 22 states: "Then foolish I am and ignorant, I am as a beast before thee."
"We often could not understand the evil surrounding us," my father said. "We almost lost our minds, like animals, looking for self-preservation at any price. And yet, only when we reached such despair could we truly understand the simple belief of the next verses - 'But I shall be continually with thee, Thou hast held me by my right hand.'
"So it was with me. I hoped and prayed we would survive, but only when I reached the depths of despair after hearing my family had been killed did I stop thinking, knowing I could only continue from day to day if I believed I felt God's hand holding mine. No intellectual explanations of faith could comfort me. Only a simple belief that if God intends for me to live, I shall live, and so I must continue helping and making sure that I would never lose my humanity."

Read full moving article:

10 Dec 2009

Can you find the man?

I came across a video about a painter who is hard to spot as he hides himself in his own work. It reminded me of the picture I received above, where you have to find the man in the beans. If it takes you more than three minutes, start practicing more exercises to make your brain stronger.

A tale of two prisons

This morning I came across an article entitled Israeli prisons as revolutionary universities written by Khaled al-Azraq.

"I was first imprisoned in 1982 at the age of 16. In prison I found what I was not expecting to find: I found inside the prison what I could not find outside of it. In prison I found Palestine's political, national, revolutionary university.....In prison, and through a long and arduous struggle, the prisoners' movement has been able to win and maintain the right to a library. Members of the prisoners' movement came up with ingenious ways of smuggling books into Israeli prisons, methods that Israeli prison guards were never able to discover.
.....Through the will and perseverance of the prisoners, prison was transformed into a school, a veritable university offering education in literature, languages, politics, philosophy, history and more. The graduates of this university excelled in various fields. I still remember the words of Bader al-Qawasmah, one of my compatriots who I met in the old Nablus prison in 1984, who said to me, "before prison I was a porter who could neither read nor write. Now, after 14 years in prison, I write in Arabic, I teach Hebrew, and I translate from English." I remember the words of Saleh Abu Tayi (a Palestinian refugee in Syria who was a political prisoner in Israeli jails for 17 years before being released in the prisoner exchange of 1985) who told me vivid stories of prisoners' adventures smuggling books, pieces of paper and even the ink-housing tubes of pens.

The following is an excerpt from an email I received the other day.
Terrance David Sheard - Released from a Japanese Prison On Wednesday, 21 September 2005,
Foreign Prisoner Support Services was contacted by US Citizen, Terrance David Sheard, recently released from a Japanese prison. Terrance has kindly written the following account of his ordeal in the hope that he may highlight the suffering of those he left behind. “I want to tell my story because I promised my mates back in the Fuchu hellhole [Japan Prison] that I would try to expose the abuses and cruel treatment experienced daily by all Fuchu inmates. Can you [FPSS] please help me? I owe it to all those who are suffering under the draconian prison system in Japan to tell my story!” Terrance wrote. My name is Terrance. I've just been released from prison in Japan. I was arrested in June 2002 in the Narita International Airport by Japanese customs officials as I tried to enter Japan. I had 1 kilo of hashish in my possession and I was convicted for violating the cannabis control laws of Japan. For my crime I was sentenced to 5 years forced labor and sent to Fuchu prison in Tokyo. I had no idea how hard and lonely the next few years of my life were going to be. Life in Japanese prison is very hard. Like the Nazi prison camps of WWII. Work is the main focus. The prison population is used as slave labor. The food you receive is barely enough to keep you alive. It consists of rice and soup. There is very little exercise except in the summer only twice a week for 30 minutes. During the winter they allow exercise for 3 times a week but they cut one of the 3 x 15 minute bathing periods. So during the winter there are only 2 x 15 minute baths. There is no heating or air conditioning in the prison. There are many cases of frostbite in the winter, heatstroke, and heat exhaustion in the summer. God forbid if you get sick and need medical attention. In order to see a doctor, or receive medicine a prisoner must fill out a form and wait for days. Generally, you will not be allowed to see the doctor unless you have a dire emergency. Tuberculosis is prevalent and there are many skin diseases due to the poor sanitation in the shower facilities. These are everyday realities in a Japanese prison.
Day One
On the first day of my arrival I was thrown into a filthy solitary cell and given a rulebook to read. The rulebook consisted of hundreds of rules for living in the prison. I was kept in this cell for three weeks and forced to perform menial labour, consisting of smoothing out the wrinkles in hundreds of aluminium cupcake doilies. Once I had finished smoothing out the entire carton the guard came to inspect my work. He reached into the box containing all the smoothed out doilies and crushed them all up again. I was told that I would have to do them over. After 3 weeks of solitary I was told that I would be starting to work in a training factory. During this training period you are shown how you will do everything in the correct manner. It was like a boot camp for Nazis. They have rules for how to walk, how to use the toilet, how to sit, how to place things in your cell, etc. etc. We were being systematically turned into automatons. Everything was drilled repeatedly into our heads. If we made mistakes during the training we were pushed around and screamed at. On two occasions I witnessed prisoners who were beaten for their failure to cooperate. I personally experienced a physical beating and strangulation to the point of unconsciousness at the hands of no less than eight guards after only being in the prison for three months. The reason for this beating was because I was not marching properly. I was singled out by the Factory boss for my offence and told to stand in the corner with my nose to the wall. After I refused this order the boss pushed his secret panic button, and the goon squad rushed into the factory and smashed me to the ground, beating and kicking me for extra measure. One of the goons grabbed my collar from behind and twisted it until my air supply was effectively cut off. Upon regaining consciousness, I found myself in the presence of the foreign prisoner's chief. He informed me that I would be placed in solitary confinement for a while until the prison authorities could decide what to do with me. Back to solitary Japanese style. The cell I was placed in this time had the window blocked and wreaked of piss. The walls were mouldy and the floor surrounding the toilet was too. There were lots of bugs to keep me company. Everything was taken out of the cell except for a filthy mattress. It was explained to me that I would have to sit in the middle of my cell and face my door all day long [from 7:30am-5:00pm]. I was told to keep my hands on my lap and not to move. That was my existence for an entire month! The little bit of rice and soup I had previously received, my daily allotment, was cut in half. If I wanted to use the toilet, I had to wait until the guard gave the signal twice daily. No exercise and 1 x 15minute shower every ten days! I was caught on several occasions exercising in my cell and time was added to my solitary confinement. After about 40 days, I was taken out of solitary and placed back in a factory to work. After my stint in solitary I figured that I wouldn’t have anymore trouble. Boy, was I WRONG! You see, I had been labelled a troublemaker by the guards, and I was continually being singled out for crazy infractions in the factory and in my cell. Not marching properly, improper sitting position while working, looking out the window, not bowing properly, washing my face in my cell...the list goes on and on. The rules are so numerous that you cannot possibly remember them all. But when you are labelled a "troublemaker", like I was, the rules don't matter anymore. The guards and factory bosses can use their discretion to bend and break the rules as they see fit. Well, it wasn’t long before I'd had enough of the harassment. One guard in particular, named Chiba, was trying to make my life a living hell. Everyday he would come into the factory and do his best to break me down. It wasn’t long before I was back in solitary for another month. At least I didn’t have to take any more crap from Chiba for awhile. During my second stay in solitary, someone down the hall from my cell tried to commit suicide by punching the glass in his window and using a piece to slash his throat. The guards tried to prevent everyone from looking out the cell door window, but I managed to see them carrying the poor fellow bleeding profusely from his neck before one of the guards began shouting at me to get back into my position on the floor. I still don’t know if that guy died. So many thoughts ran through my head while sitting motionless for hours on end. Never before in my life had I been caged and cut off from the world. I wondered what my wife and son were doing. My boy was only 6 months old when I was arrested and he was growing up without his father. While in solitary your monthly 15-minute visit behind a glass partition is not allowed, so I was not able to see my wife and son during the months that I was punished. I was not allowed to write my one monthly 7-page letter either. No communication with anyone whatsoever! As I gazed at the stains on the wall, I thought about my travels in the past and surfing adventures, the feeling of the ocean. I always wondered what all of my family and friends were doing. So many times I would think of real food; a bar of chocolate, a cup of coffee. It is so strange all of the fleeting thoughts and visions that popped into my head. Many times, I wondered if I was strong enough to make it through the shit I was now facing. I made a vow to myself that I would get through this, and that suicide would never be an option for me. Prior to being in prison, I had lived in a Buddhist Monastery in Thailand for a few weeks. I learned many things from the monks during my stay. The knowledge I gained there was instrumental in my being able to deal with the suffering I experienced in prison. I practiced meditation daily. In this prison, I learned much about survival in the face of adversity. I was determined not to give up hope. I ended up being thrown into solitary confinement five times during my stay in Fuchu. On March 25th 2005, I was lucky enough to be transferred to an American Federal Prison to finish serving my sentence. I am only the 2nd American to be transferred out of Japan. Apparently, the Japanese prison authorities know that we will receive better treatment in American prisons, so they are making foreigners serve at least 50% of our sentences in Japan before they will agree to let us transfer.

My question. Anyone have the data on the recividism rates of criminals who spend time in these prisons?

No answer

"Seventy years ago the steamship St. Louis idled at anchor within sight of the Miami Beach coastline in June 1939 with more than 900 Jewish refugees onboard who were who were fleeing persecution and seeking a safe haven in the United States, refuge was denied…and the world was changed forever.
Sunday, December 13, 2009 – Eden Roc Hotel, Miami, Florida
10:30 a.m. Registration and Debut and Tours of a special United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Archival Exhibition on the SS St. Louis Voyage
11:30 a.m. Brunch and Program Begins, Introductions of SS St. Louis Passengers and Dignitaries. Preview of Passenger J film.
Premiere of The Trial of Franklin D. Roosevelt, an original play by Robert Krakow (trustee of the passenger-signed U.S. Senate Resolution 111 documents) for which you, the audience, serves as the jury.
Official Passenger Resolution Signing and Presentation to United States National Archives “Legislative Treasures Vault”, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Oskar Schindler Family Archives, and other significant institutions around the world for preservation and public display.
Menorah Lighting With SS St. Louis Passengers and Beachfront SS St. Louis Commemoration Ceremony........"

Read full program at http://thestlouisproject.com/?p=208.

"Gisela Knepel was just 15 when she boarded the SS St Louis as a refugee fleeing the Nazis for asylum in Cuba. Seventy years on, now Gisela Feldman and living in Manchester, she recalls how a voyage of hope turned into a nightmare..."
Read the full article:

9 Dec 2009

The Rabbi's advice

This morning I heard a shiur in which the speaker said that now that there are no more prophets, we should turn to our rabbis for advice since they have help from the One Above to instruct the person to make the right decision.
She related a story about a rabbi who instructed a man not to enter into a no fail golden business deal. A number of months later, the company went bankrupt.
A woman told me that her son was unsure whether to get engaged to a certain woman. He asked advice from his rabbi who told him that she was the one for him. The day after the engagement, the woman called the rabbi to thank him. The rebbetzin answered the phone and said that her husband hadn't slept the whole night, overwhelmed with the responsibility of offering the man advice.
A little while ago I found an article on the Haredim website about a man seeking advice from a Rav.
An Orthodox resident of Bnei Brak, married for ten years, had not merited having children. He went to Rav Chaim Kanievsky a number of times for advice. The Rav wished him "beracha vehatzlacha" (blessing and success) and then instructed him to inspect what needs to be checked. Since the Rav didn't expressly explain his statement, the man was perplexed as to how to carry out the instruction.
This week, the man returned to Rav Kanievsky and received the same instruction. This time, he asked the Rav what should he check. The Rav said, what does one have to inspect? Check your mezuzot.
The man removed his mezuzot and had them checked. All were kosher except for the one affixed to the bedroom door. The words "ושיננתם לבניך" (and you shall teach your children) were connected without any spacing or separation between them. He then replaced the mezuzah with a kosher one.
Here's hoping for good news. To read the article in Hebrew, click here.

Finding your soul mate

29:26 And Laban said: 'It is not so done in our place, to give the younger before the first-born.
ויאמר לבן לא יעשה כן במקומנו לתת הצעירה לפני הבכירה

I visited a friend the other day and, as she was talking on the phone, I started reading an article from the Yated about shidduchim and how one can let a good shidduch slip away. The author told a story about a boy who asked a Rav to propose a shidduch. When the Rav suggested someone, the boy asked to see a picture. The Rav's wife heard the request and responded with the Passuk from Bereishit above. But she pronounced the word "tzeirah" (younger) as tzurah (image) and the word bechorah (older) as bochurah (young woman). The Rebbetzin was telling the young man that it was not appropriate to ask for a picture before meeting the young woman.
My friend had recently suggested a shidduch. The mother of the girl made all sorts of enquiries about how smart he was, about his looks, and so on. It took my friend's son to point out to the woman that she had never asked about his middot.

8 Dec 2009

Chanukah in the White House

The Forward has an interesting article entitled How Hanukkah Came to the White House by Jonathan D. Sarna where the author poses the question, "How did the president of the United States come to hold an official White House Hanukkah party in the first place?"
Click on the link below to read the full article.

One people - one city for all

UPDATE: Yeshivaworld.com has reported that Micha ben Roza has been given a second name and his family requests that people should daven for Micha Refael ben Roza.
Click here to read OU denunciation of the European statement adopted today which calls for Jerusalem to serve as the capital of two states.

In response to the Swedish proposal currently being debated by European Union foreign ministers in Belgium that would declare east Jerusalem the capital of a future Palestinian state, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat on Monday sent an official letter to the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Catherine Ashton, in which he insisted that Jerusalem remain united "as the eternal capital of the State of Israel."
"Throughout the history of the world, there is not one important city that was divided that functioned successfully," Barkat wrote. "They either reunited or ceased to function properly. The lesson is too clear. Jerusalem must stay united."
Barkat added that "division focuses on differences rather than the common denominator that unites people of all faiths," and identified Jerusalem as "the heart and soul of the Jewish people."


Those of you who have read that the issue of a divided Jerusalem is being debated today in Brussels, did you read the article and cointinue to your next web page, business as usual?
I didn't. This morning, I resolved to pay extra attention to the blessing in the Amidah "Return to Your city Jerusalem in mercy, and establish Yourself there as you promised…Blessed are you Lord, builder of Jerusalem."
As I said these words in Hebrew with an extra intensity, I resolved to do something to show G-d that we deserve a united Jerusalem because we are a united people.
And so, when I read this morning about a man who is devoted to community affairs who is in serious condition after an accident on the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway, I said a chapter of Tehilim for מיכה בן רוזה (Micha ben Roza), hoping that he will have a complete recovery.
This past week, I read a disturbing quote from a former Israeli politician in reaction to Prime Minister Netanyahhu saying, "The settlers are our brothers."
The politician said, "But let me make it clear: They are not my brothers."
Mr. Politician, you are my brother, and we are all a family responsible for one another.
So, on this day, when the division of Jerusalem is at stake, let's focus on unity and seeing the positive aspects of one another. Let's remove from our websites the videos and articles focusing on divisiveness and let's do something to show G-d that we care about one another, be it saying a prayer for a recovery for Micha ben Roza, joining davenforme.org , buying a raffle to help fund ohrnaava (time's running out - only one day left), donating to a soup kitchen, visiting a person in the hospital or an old age home, etc..
And by all means, pray with extra intensity as you recite, "Return to Your city Jerusalem in mercy."

Tiger Woods in the news

A Catholic priest is called away by a family emergency one day, while on duty attending confession. Not wanting to leave the confessional unattended, he asks his friend, a rabbi from the synagogue across the street, if he can fill in for him.
The rabbi says he wouldn't know what to do, so the priest agrees to stay with him for a few minutes and show him the ropes.
They enter their half of the confessional together and soon enough, a woman enters and says, "Father forgive me, for I have sinned."
"What did you do?" asks the priest."I have committed adultery." she replies."How many times?" continues the priest.
"Three times."
"Do three Hail Marys, put $5 in the poor-box, and sin no more." finishes the priest.
The woman leaves and not long after a man enters and says, "Father forgive me, for I have sinned."
"What did you do?"
"I have committed adultery."
"How many times?""Three times."
"Do three Hail Marys, put $5 in the poor-box, and sin no more."
The man leaves.
The rabbi tells the priest he thinks he's got it figured out now, so the priest leaves, and the rabbi waits until another woman enters the confessional, who says, "Father forgive me, for I have sinned."
"What did you do," asks the rabbi.
"I have committed adultery," she replies.
"How many times?"
"I tell you what," says the rabbi.
"Go do it one more time and come back. We got a special this week, three for $5!"


For those of you who haven't seen Rabbi Benjamin Blech's article regarding Tiger Woods and Chanukah, click here for an interesting read.

7 Dec 2009

So, sue me

Today, I came across a number of lawsuits in the news.
Comedian Sacha Baron Cohen is being sued for £70m after a Palestinian activist claimed his film, Bruno, “ruined his life”.

Sasha J. Blair-Goldensohn, a computer scientist who was employed at Google, is involved in a lawsuit, as well.
A 33-year-old man who suffered brain and spinal injuries in July when a heavy limb fell from a tree in Central Park and struck him has sued the city and the Central Park Conservancy for negligence.http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/12/04/man-hurt-by-falling-tree-limb-in-central-park-files-suit/

A daughter is suing a cell phone company after her mother died in a car accident.
Jennifer Smith's 61-year-old mother was killed last year in Oklahoma City by a driver talking on a cell phone. Now, the New York Times reports Smith is suing both the company that provided the driver's phone and his wireless service.

Finally, I came across a lawsuit which was filed a number of months ago by a Jewish couple.
An Orthodox Jewish couple are suing neighbours at their holiday flat in Dorset because new motion sensors installed in the flat’s communal hallway force them to break the laws of the Sabbath.

Mel Brooks and Jewish humor

President Obama Sunday night honored this year’s five Kennedy Center Honorees -- comedian Mel Brooks, singer Bruce Springstein, actor Robert De Niro, jazz pianist and composer Dave Brubeck, and opera singer Grace Bumbrynd -- with a star-studded White House reception and some good natured kidding.
Read full article:

“You have a lot of shtoch, or jab, humor, which is usually meant to deflate pomposity or ego, and to deflate people who consider themselves high and mighty,” explains Rabbi Moshe Waldoks, coauthor of “The Big Book of Jewish Humor.” “But Jewish humor was also a device for self-criticism within the community, and I think that’s where it really was the most powerful. The humorist, like the prophet, would basically take people to task for their failings...."

Sickness and masterpieces

The video below reminded me of the short story, "The Last Leaf" by O'Henry.
Last week I was asked by the coordinator of the bikur cholim organization to visit an old woman in the hospital. I went to visit her later that afternoon. Unfortunately, she was in a lot of pain, and I could barely make out what she wanted. I called one nurse into her room to see if her pain could be alleviated. Before I left, I asked another nurse to check on her.
As I left, I felt like I hadn't accomplished anything, not knowing if she was even physically aware of my presence. But, in the end, I told myself that my visit had accomplished something. At least the nurses were aware of the fact that someone had cared enough about the old woman to come and visit her. They knew that their activities were being monitored and I assume that her level of care will rise.

5 Dec 2009

Be a mensch

An article on CNN caught my attention regarding author A.J. Jacobs who is challenging people "to live as the most polite people on Earth for one day. Brush up on your Emily Post and Miss Manners, and bring a bit of dignity and etiquette to everything you do."
Click on the link below to read more about his challenge and to view a video with suggestions.

Soon after, I read in the Hamodia about Moshe Kaplan launching a "Be a mensch" foundation.
"Whoever internalizes the asset of being a mensch will be happier, wealthier and healthier," Kaplan guarantees.

Yesterday, I met a young woman who moved not far from me a couple of months ago. After seeing her on the street a number of times, I decided to introduce myself.
"Hello, I'm ....", I said, fully expecting her to introduce herself as well.
To my consternation, there was no reciprocity.
I remember I was in a shul a number of years ago where the Rabbi spoke about teaching your children manners. He said that he frequently called up, got a teenager on the line, and when he asked if his mother or father was at home, the youth would answer, "no," and hang up the phone.
He admonished the congregation that they must educate their children in basic phone manners.
My friend trains her children from a young age to answer the phone, "Family G., to whom am I speaking?"
In an article about overcrowding on the London metro, a woman posted the following comment.
"I'm 7 months pregnant and rarely get offered a seat.....
I know every one pays for their seats, and I know lots of people are tired after a long days work but try and find it in your heart to stand up. At the end of the day it's just basic manners anyway."
So let's try to live up to basic standards of menschlichkeit. Be polite (not only for a day) and let's teach our kids basic standards of decency. Let's start by getting them to answer the phone with, "Family X...., to whom am I speaking?"

4 Dec 2009

Rumors and compassion

Two stories about not believing everything you read in newspapers.

Throughout this week, excitement has been building over the news that former France international soccer star Zinedine Zidane will visit Gaza in March on a UNICEF humanitarian mission.
....However, Zidane, The Last Word discovered, not only has no connection with UNICEF, but never made any commitment to visit Gaza or made any of the comments attributed to him.
The story was apparently complete fabrication which someone created and used to dupe thousands of people across the globe.


Hamas representative in Lebanon Osama Hamdan denied reports according to which captive soldier Gilad Shalit had been transferred to Egypt several days ago.
.....The Kuwait daily al-Jarida reported that Shalit had been moved to Egypt....


Two stories about compassion.
In a CNN article, Ruben Navarrette Jr. writes about the movie, The Blind Side, which tells the story of a family who took a homeless inner-city high school student into their home.
"He had a much greater impact on our lives than we did on his life," Leigh Anne said in a recent interview. "You have this child, and you bring him in, and you realize how fortunate you are, how you're blessed to have family, you're blessed to have your health. So much in life you take for granted."
There's the message: So much in life you take for granted. We've forgotten how lucky we are, because we're busy cursing fate. We've stopped being grateful for what we have, because we somehow find it more satisfying to complain about what we don't. Until we meet someone who has much less than we do.


Six months ago, a Long Island convenience store owner turned a would-be robbery into an act of compassion. On Wednesday, the shoplifter made amends with a $50 bill and a thank you letter for saving him from a life of crime.

Complete faith

The short vort below in Parsha Ponderables (love that appropriate alliteration) discusses faith in the One Above.

3 Dec 2009

Comments and calls to genocide

Has anyone seen the comments that are allowed on http://www.presstv.ir/?
In an article entitled Israel Oks new settlement plan despite moratorium, one comment offered the advice to "Slam Sderot with 30 Qassam rockets..."
Another comment began with the words, "i have seen the footage of a palestinian being run over by a settler in occupied palestine. I have no doubt that the jewish nation has to be wiped out including their children or else they will only bring more death and destruction."
The comment is referring to a settler, who, reacted in the heat of the moment after seeing his wife stabbed by the aforementioned Palestinian.
The comment continues, " it is greatest act to kill the jews and their supporters, let no muslim be in illusion, God will forgive those who act to bring about a greater good."
In case you didn't get the message the first time, the comment is posted thrice. Check it out: http://www.presstv.ir/detail.aspx?id=112720&sectionid=351020202

No fasting on Chanukkah

שולחן ערוך אורח חיים תרע
בכ"ה בכסליו (מתחילין) שמונה ימי חנוכה, ואסורים בהספד ותענית
670:1 On the 25th of Kislev (start) the eight days of Hanukkah. On them, lamenting and fasting is forbidden...

Dear "rabbis" who are organizing a fast for Gaza,
I am not sure if you are acquainted with the Jewish codes of law, namely the Shulchan Aruch and the Mishnah Berurah. But allow me to introduce you to the halachah which states that fasting is forbidden on Chanukkah. You have organized your fast for the sixth day of Chanukkah. Perhaps you can explain your logic in disregarding the law.

2 Dec 2009

Jerusalem - the Jewish heart

Israel's foreign ministry said Tuesday that a Swedish-led push for the European Union to call for the division of Jerusalem and the recognition of East Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state would trip up Europe's own efforts to play a role in Middle East peacemaking.

As I read reports about the Swedish plan and the EU draft to divide Jerusalem, I was reminded of the story of King Solomon where he is asked to judge who is the real mother of the baby that two women claimed as their own.

"He declares that there is only one fair solution: the live son must be split in two, each woman receiving half of the child. Upon hearing this terrible verdict, the boy's true mother cries out, "Please, My Lord, give her the live child—do not kill him!" However, the liar, in her bitter jealousy, exclaims, "It shall be neither mine nor yours—divide it!" Solomon instantly gives the live baby to the real mother, realizing that the true mother's instincts were to protect her child, while the liar revealed that she did not truly love the child."

With most countries prepared to accept a two state solution, Israel and its people stand out in the cry for a unified Jerusalem, the mother who refuses to cut up the baby in two. Isn't that the true indicator to whom the city belongs?

Yerushalayim - ir shalem, the city of peace, a city of completeness.
The Psalmist in chapter 122 verse 3 states, "The built-up Jerusalem is like a city that is united together."
"Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel and it must remain undivided."
President Obama
(Just watch the first 12 seconds of the video below, again and again.)

Eisav is coming with 400 men

"Vayira Yaakov Vayeitzer Lo", Yaakov was frightened and distressed (Vayishlach 32:8). Rashi says that Yaakov was frightened that Eisav would kill him and he was distressed that he may ultimately kill Eisav or anyone else. Rav Moshe Feinstein asks, why was Yaakov concerned about killing a Rasha? ..... when someone tries to kill you, you must kill him first.
Rav Moshe says that there are many ways for Hashem to bring about a person's salvation. Hashem could have easily helped Yaakov avoid Eisav altogether and their paths needn't cross, or at the very least Eisav did not need to gear up for war. The fact that Hashem put him in a dangerous situation and needed a Nes to extricate him was distressing for Yaakov. This signaled to Yaakov that he did aveiros that were deserving of a punishment, but fortunately had enough Zechuyos to come out unscathed.


1 Dec 2009

A feel good story

I came across an amazing story about charitable giving this morning. It is about a woman, Lucy Crutchfield, who called her daughter to tell her that she would send her money for groceries, although she would have to miss a mortgage payment. But she dialed the wrong number and left her message for Virginia Saenz, a complete stranger.
"I know right now we are all struggling," Saenz said. "Lisa on the phone, she sounded so desperate for her daughter, it broke my heart."
Saenz did the only thing she could think of -- she called Crutchfield back and said not to worry. Crutchfield would pay the mortgage, and Saenz would handle the groceries.

Read full article:

An article by Roger Cohen in the New York Times discusses the antisemitism he encountered growing up in England. Click here to read.

Looks to die for

I recall being shocked when I read about famous author, Olivia Goldsmith, dying as a result of complications from cosmetic surgery about five years ago. She gave up her life for a face-lift -what a tragic waste, I thought.
Today, news about another senseless death is being reported.

A 38-year-old former Miss Argentina has died from complications after undergoing cosmetic surgery on her buttocks.
Read more:

The following is an excerpt from an article entitled Jewish Beauty and the Beauty of Jewishness by Rabbi Joshua Shmidman.

What, then, is distinct and singular about the Jewish concept of beauty? To answer this, one looks to the Torah to find the sources of the Jewish idea of beauty. Like all abstract theories in Judaism which ultimately find their expression in concrete mitzvot, the idea of beauty, as well, finds a tangible realization in the central mitzvot of the holiday of Sukkot. The Torah requires: "And you shall take unto yourselves on the first day (of Sukkot) a fruit of a beautiful tree -- pri etz hadar." The Talmud (Sukkot 35a) wishes to define what constitutes a beautiful tree by analyzing the Hebrew word for beautiful, hadar. The sages conclude that it is the etrog tree, because the word "hadar" is interpreted to be a fruit which "dwells continuously all year on the tree" (ha-dar, literally, "that which dwells"). Thus, they understand the word "dar" to mean the opposite of temporary or intermittent residence; rather, it implies permanence, a continuous process through time (similar to the French "duree" or the English "endure"). The etrog tree fulfils this requirement of constant dwelling, for most other fruits are seasonal, but the etrog grows, blossoms and produces fruit throughout all the seasons: in the heat and the cold, in the wind and in storm -- it stubbornly persists! It endures! And in the Jewish view, that is why it is beautiful.
Beauty, then, in classical Jewish sources, means the indomitable power of life, the determination to live on despite all difficulties, the affirmation of the victory of life over death, the drive for eternity.

Read full article:

Consequences of obesity

I recently came across two articles about obesity describing the penalties facing those who don't trim down.
Packed on a few too many pounds recently? Be thankful you don’t live in Japan, where it’s downright criminal to be pudgy.
New government regulations mandate that anyone over 40 whose waist size is above a certain circumference must attend counseling. Meanwhile, employers face financial penalties if they can't reduce the number of overweight employees at their company.
Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/lifestyle/health/2009/11/18/2009-11-18_living_large_in_japan_can_be_considered_against_the_law_and_result_in_mandatory_.html#ixzz0XKbHbkid

Most college students expect to receive their diplomas on the basis of grades, but at a Pennsylvania school, physical fitness matters too.
Students at Lincoln University with a body mass index of 30 or above, reflective of obesity, must take a fitness course that meets three hours per week. Those who are assigned to the class but do not complete it cannot graduate.

Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2009/HEALTH/11/30/lincoln.fitness.overweight/index.html

I've heard of more and more people who are undergoing gastric bypass operations and the like in an effort to lose weight. Before one gets to that point, we should remember the words of the Rambam in Hilchot Deot (4:15).

"Overeating is like poison to anyone’s body. It is the main source of all illness. Most illnesses which afflict a person are caused by harmful foods or by filling his belly and overeating, even of healthful foods. This was implied by Shlomo in his wisdom: "Whoever guards his mouth and his tongue, guards his soul from distress" (Mishlei 21:23).”