"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

31 Aug 2010

Guarding one's life

The Torah commands us to be careful of our physical well being (ushmartem meod le’nafshotechem). A BBC article advises us how to lead healthier lives.

About 10,000 cases of breast and bowel cancer could be prevented each year in the UK if people did more brisk walking, claim experts.
The World Cancer Research Fund scientists say any moderate activity that makes the heart beat faster should achieve the same.
For example, data suggest 45 minutes a day of moderate exercise could prevent about 5,500 cases of breast cancer.
Physical exercise helps prevent obesity, which is a cancer risk factor.

Read more: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-11137074

I'm getting off the computer right now and I will take a brisk walk. Maybe it will help me clear my mind from the terrible tragedy that occurred today on an Israeli road. Which serves as a reminder that removing roadblocks may be hazardous to one's health.

From Satmar to Chabad

This morning I was listening to part of a live World Jewish Congress conference taking place in Jerusalem. One speaker focused on the verse that is displayed at the top of the WJC website. Kol Yisrael Arevim Zeh Lazeh (all Jews are responsible for one another.)
From Satmar to Chabad, from charedi to chiloni, we are brothers. May we merit to be a united people.

A large new sign greets visitors as they cross over Route 17 on Forest Avenue and enter a world where the skirts and shirt sleeves are always long, regardless of the season.
"Welcome to Kiryas Joel," it reads. "In keeping with our traditions and religious customs, we kindly ask that you dress and behave in a modest way while visiting our community."
The main congregation in this community of 22,000 Satmar Hasidim recently posted identical notices near two village entrances to ask outsiders to respect their ways while visiting...

On marriage

This morning I came across two articles about marriage.
Emuna Braverman discusses a marriage questionnaire in a magazine.

I was particularly struck by a questionnaire I saw recently. It began: Please list 10 things that your partner does that please you.
I knew we were off to a bad start. If the relationship is viewed from the perspective of what my partner does for me, it will never be enough. The judges will never hold up that magical 10. This is a distorted and backwards way to look at relationships.
The first directive should have been: Please list 10 things you do that please your partner. That would be the more appropriate focus, the more productive angle.

She concludes with the following advice.
So ask yourself this morning: What can I do today for my spouse that will give him or her pleasure? Ask yourself tonight: did I succeed? How can I do better tomorrow?

Hillel Fendel reviews I Only Want to Get Married Once by Chana Levitan.
As a public service for readers who might be undergoing a blurring of these states of mind at this very moment, here are some sample questions the book asks:
* Are you relating to the person you are dating - or to an image?
* Does your relationship have healthy boundaries?
* What do people you are close to say about the person you are dating?
Perhaps most telling of all is the last question:
If the person you are dating never changes, would you still want to get married?


Sound advice for those in a marital relationship and those who are trying to find their prospective spouses.

30 Aug 2010

The human spirit

Watching the video of the trapped Chilean miners gives us pause to reflect on the triumph of the human spirit. One miner commented, "I know that outside the situation looks difficult. But that doesn't matter to us. We are trying to survive down here in our own way."
My prayers will take on an extra feeling of gratitude to G-d for all that I take for granted including breathing fresh air and not being sequestered in one location.
The miners remind us to focus on what's important, on our family relationships.
And the message which we should take from the miners in the month of Elul is not to despair. Even if the situation looks difficult, there are steps to take to survive.
May they be rescued and be reuinted with their families speedily.

The Shofar (and Marvin Hamlisch)

The Torah gives no specific reason why we blow the shofar on Rosh Hashana. According to the great Jewish scholar, Rambam (Maimondies), we blow the shofar on Rosh Hashana to say, "Wake up! Wake up, everyone who is asleep! Remember your Creator! Instead of going around doing things that are not important or worthwhile, take some time to think about what you can do to make yourself into a better person. Give up doing bad things!"
Rav Saadia Gaon gave many reasons for blowing the shofar, here are some:
Rosh Hashana is the birthday of the world.
The shofar reminds us of Akeidat Yitzchak, (the Binding of Isaac) where Abraham sacrificed a ram in the place of his son.
At Har (Mount) Sinai, when Hashem gave us the Torah, Bnei Yisroel heard the sound of a shofar. The shofar reminds us that Hashem gave us laws and rules to obey.
The shofar is the call of redemption. The shofar reminds us that Hashem will redeem the Jewish people.
The shofar is not blown if Rosh Hashana falls on a Shabbat.


The lyrics in the first song of the video below are about G-d's command to Abraham to take Isaac, his son, to Mount Moriah. (the area in which Isaac was to be bound)

29 Aug 2010

The Torah accords

Parshas NITZAVIM is always read on the last Shabbos before Rosh HaShanah (New Year) and is often (though not always) coupled with its sister parshah of VAYELECH...
...Immediately following this comes what is known as PARSHAS HA-TESHUVAH, the "Chapter on Repentance" (Deut. 30:1-10), which some people have the custom of reciting daily in order to keep it constantly in mind. Lest we be disheartened by the harsh words and dire threats contained in the preceding and following sections, Moses here emphasizes G-d's unstinting compassion and kindness as he calls on us to return to Him with all our hearts. Moses promises us that G-d will definitely turn around the captivity and exile and gather in the exiles from all the nations, even those outcast to the furthest reaches of the heavens. Moses promises that "G-d will bring you to the land of your fathers and you will inherit it, and He will benefit you and multiply you even more than your fathers! And G-d will circumcise your heart and the heart of your seed to love HaShem your G-d with all your heart and all your soul in order that you should have life!" (Deut. 30:5-6). The initial letters of the four Hebrew words for "your heart and the heart of your seed" (ES LEVOVCHO V-ES LEVAV) spell out the name of the present month, ELUL (Baal HaTurim). For this self-circumcision of our hearts is the essence of the work we must do this month.


As Prime Minister Netanyahu prepares to leave for Washington for another round of peace talks, perhaps he should look at the last sentences in Parshat Nitzavim in how to achieve the ultimate guarantee for living in the land of our forefathers.

יט הַעִדֹתִי בָכֶם הַיּוֹם, אֶת-הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֶת-הָאָרֶץ--הַחַיִּים וְהַמָּוֶת נָתַתִּי לְפָנֶיךָ, הַבְּרָכָה וְהַקְּלָלָה; וּבָחַרְתָּ, בַּחַיִּים--לְמַעַן תִּחְיֶה, אַתָּה וְזַרְעֶךָ. 19 I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before thee life and death, the blessing and the curse; therefore choose life, that thou mayest live, thou and thy seed;
כ לְאַהֲבָה אֶת-יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, לִשְׁמֹעַ בְּקֹלוֹ וּלְדָבְקָה-בוֹ: כִּי הוּא חַיֶּיךָ, וְאֹרֶךְ יָמֶיךָ--לָשֶׁבֶת עַל-הָאֲדָמָה אֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּע יְהוָה לַאֲבֹתֶיךָ לְאַבְרָהָם לְיִצְחָק וּלְיַעֲקֹב, לָתֵת לָהֶם. {פ} 20 to love the LORD thy God, to hearken to His voice, and to cleave unto Him; for that is thy life, and the length of thy days; that thou mayest dwell in the land which the LORD swore unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.

A moment in history

The New York Times reported on the death of Martin Dannenberg, 94, who found the Nuremberg Laws Document in a bank vault.

These laws stripped Jews of their German citizenship...
“I had the most peculiar feeling when I had this in my hand, that I should be the one who should uncover this,” Mr. Dannenberg said in an interview with The Baltimore Sun in 1999. “Because here is this thing that begins the persecution of the Jews. And a Jewish person has found it.”
....He dropped out of law school when his boss pointed out the window at men selling fruit. “Each one of them used to be a lawyer before the Depression,” he said.

At the onset of the Second World War, Mr. Dannenberg enlisted in the army. The rest is history.

Nitzavim VaYeilech

The Rishonim give a Siman to know when we read Parshas Nitzavim - VaYelech as 2 separate Parshios and when it is read together as one. "Bag HaMelech Pas VaYelech" (Daniel 1:5) - When Rosh Hashanah (which is known as HaMelech - because we start saying HaMelech HaKadosh in Shmoneh Esreh) falls on Bag - Bais or Gimmel - Monday or Tuesday, then Pas VaYelech - VaYelech is broken off in to a separate Parsha. Pas comes from the words "Pasos Oso Pisim" - that a Korban Mincha must be broken in to pieces. When Rosh Hashanah starts on Monday or Tuesday, there are 2 Shabbosos (where we Lain a regular Sedra) between Rosh Hashanah and Sukkos. The Shabbos between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur we read Parshas VaYelech, and on the Shabbos between Yom Kippur and Sukkos we read Haazinu.

Since this year Rosh Hashanah begins on Thursday, we will be reading a double parsha this coming Shabbos.

28 Aug 2010

The mystery donor

Many lottery winners choose to splash their prize money on fast cars or swanky vacations. But one anonymous Kansas Lottery player recently decided they'd spend their $10,000 winnings on a far worthier cause: funding their local hospital.
Susan Concannon, executive director of the Mitchell County Regional Medical Foundation in Beloit (pop. 4,000), discovered the surprise gift when she was opening her mail late last month.

Read more: http://www.aolnews.com/nation/article/mystery-lottery-player-donates-winning-ticket-to-hospital/19603347

I was quite impressed with the mystery donor's actions. May G-d repay him/her for a selfless act.

27 Aug 2010

Prophetic words

יח לֹא-יִשָּׁמַע עוֹד חָמָס בְּאַרְצֵךְ
כב הַקָּטֹן יִהְיֶה לָאֶלֶף וְהַצָּעִיר לְגוֹי עָצוּם אֲנִי יְהֹוָה בְּעִתָּהּ אֲחִישֶׁנָּה

In this week's haftorah, Isaiah tells us that the redemption will be brought about "beita achishena" - "in its time I will hasten it." (Yeshayahu 60:22)
Let us merit that the prophetic words should come to fruition by heeding the words of the parsha, fulfilling Hahem's commands, being grateful for what we have and performing the mitzvot with joy.

20 Aug 2010

The measure of success

A former hip-hop record exec who converted to Orthodox Judaism was killed last night during a robbery at the Flatbush kosher-wine store where he worked, police and witnesses said.
"He was a good guy. Rock solid," Rabbi Ezra Max said of Jamaican-born Yoseph Robinson.
Read more: http://www.nypost.com/p/news/local/brooklyn/brooklyn_liquor_store_slaying_br6zXe60rOzPKPrdt1Lx6K#ixzz0xA9ujkD8

A Jewish Press interview with Mr. Robinson stated the following:
At the height of his musical success and while indulging in all the material abundance Hollywood had to offer, Yoseph chanced upon a Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch edition of the Chumash. Yoseph's life was transformed. He decided to reject the emptiness and egotism of the Hollywood lifestyle and embrace Yiddishkeit.

A New York Times article titled Young Lawyers Turn to Public Service relates how the economic downturn has led young lawyers to accept deferrals from high paying law firms and work in the public service sector.
With the deferral year ending, some of these newly minted lawyers are surprised to find themselves reconsidering their career goals and thinking about staying with public interest law.

These lawyers are considering accepting "lower salaries in favor of helping clients at a basic level."
While these lawyers won't be able to afford six figure fish tanks, perhaps they are trading material abundance for a life of values and helping others.

Prayers for a friend

Yesterday I read a news story about S., a ninety-three year old man who had found his faith anew after cutting himself off from religious practices upon losing his family and friends during the Holocaust.
Growing up in Hungary, he was considered to be a child prodigy and people expected him to become a great Torah scholar. For a number of years, his Torah learning partner was a young man named E., who had arrived in Europe from Israel.
After the war, S. migrated to Russia where he worked as an interpreter, cutting himself off from Judaism.
Later on he moved to Israel. His friend, E., visited him and begged him to return to his faith, to no avail. But that did not stop E. from praying for his friend day after day. For years, E. begged his Rebbe to pray for S. At one point, his Rebbe assured him that S. would not leave this world without repenting.
A few years ago, a Rabbi Weiss got in contact with S., due to research he was conducting about the city of Belz before the war. S. shared his memories and stories with the rabbi. One day, S. telephoned Rabbi Weiss, requesting Talit and Tefilin. He said he had not worn tefilin since the bombing of the concentration camp and would like to start wearing them again before he died. He also requested a Talmud which he learns from assiduously, trying to make up for lost time.
Yesterday he participated in a Shacharit minyan and drank "lechayim" with the Chasidim after prayers.
E. never witnessed his friend's return to Jewish practice. But he never gave up, praying for him every day. From this incident I learned the value of prayer and not to give up, even if we don't see our prayers being answered. Sometimes it takes a bit more time.
Pictures and article in Hebrew can be accessed here.

What's in a name?

by Rabbi Dr. Raymond Apple
The law of yibbum requires the childless widow of an Israelite to marry her husband’s brother in order to prevent her first husband’s name from being “blotted out from Israel” (Deut. 25:6). For a name to be lost is a tragedy (Judaism cannot concur with Shakespeare’s light-hearted “What’s in a name?”). This is the motivation behind the careful recording of the names of Holocaust victims.
The opposite applies to an enemy, who may be referred to with the words, “May his name be blotted out” (yimmach sh’mo). The final verses of the parashah actually command us to “wipe out the memory of Amalek from under the heavens” (Deut.25:19). It is bad enough that we have to remember the evil deeds of Amalek, but there is no reason for us to accord his name a place of honour.
In the light of these circumstances, let us relate the story of a pious man who came to Rabbi Yitzchak Me’ir, the Chiddushei Harim, with a report about a certain Jewish sinner, and added the phrase, yimmach sh’mo. The rabbi got annoyed and said, “The Torah does not wish any member of our people to have his name blotted out. Who are you to know better than the Torah?”


19 Aug 2010

Plague by plague

A while ago I wrote a post titled It's raining frogs about the first two plagues in Egypt. The ten plagues demonstrated G-d's superiority.
Yesterday, Tomer Devorah posted a question corresponding to the third plague - Is this the equivalent of the 'kinim'?

For reasons still unknown, bedbugs really seem to like the state of Ohio. The problem is so dire in Cincinnati that some people with infested apartments have resorted to sleeping on the streets.

Even the city's top lawyer can't defend against bedbugs.
Inspectors fumigated the Brooklyn offices of the city's corporation counsel Tuesday night after a bedbug-sniffing dog discovered the nasty pests among some files.
Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/ny_local/2010/08/18/2010-08-18_lawyers_battling_bedbugs_in_bklyn.html#ixzz0wzhU4TSZ

NOAA's National Climate Extremes Committee, the agency responsible for validating national weather records, has declared a hailstone found last week in Vivian, South Dakota, to be the largest in diameter and heaviest ever recovered in the United States. The hailstone is 8.0 inches in diameter and weighs 1.9375 pounds (1 pound, 15 ounces) with a circumference of 18.62 inches.

ברדThe seventh plague of Egypt was a destructive storm. The storm was a powerful shower of hail, combined with fire burning onto the ground. The storm heavily damaged Egyptian shrubbery and crops, as well as men and livestock.
Read full list of ten plagues: http://www.milechai.com/judaism/ten-plagues.html

18 Aug 2010

New charges

An AP article describes the latest fee to be charged by American Airlines.

The Fort Worth, Texas, airline said Wednesday it's now charging between $19 and $39 for "Express Seats" — those spots in the first few rows of coach that include bulkhead seats.
American said the price of the seats includes getting on the plane in the first "general boarding" group of passengers. The seats that will cost extra are in the first two or three rows of the coach cabin, depending on the size of the plane.


I do hope that families with babies will still get priority for the coveted seats.


Teens are losing their hearing at an alarming rate, according to a recent study by the American Medical Association.
Nearly 20% of U.S. adolescents – about 6.5 million teens – have some form of hearing loss.
"Teenagers really underestimate how much noise they are exposed to," Dr. Josef Shargorodsky, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, the study’s lead researcher, told the Associated Press.
The researchers compared hearing loss in nearly 3,000 adolescents tested between 1988 and 1994 to nearly 1,800 kids tested between 2005 and 2006, and found that the prevalence of hearing loss rose from roughly 15% to 19.5% between the first and second surveys – a 31% increase, according to RedOrbit.com.

Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/lifestyle/health/2010/08/18/2010-08-18_deaf_jams_20_of_us_teens_are_losing_their_hearing.html

Medical experts say that prolonged exposure to noise levels over 90 decibels damages hearing and general health. The noise problem can be solved, bezras Hashem if every wedding hall will be required by law to install a noise meter that will disconnect the electricity when the noise exceeds this limit. The noise level should be measured from the place where the people dancing come closest to the speakers. Where it is not possible to measure the sound level, the band should be told that they are to fix the volume according to the judgment of the baal hasimchah, and they should be warned that if they do not listen when told to reduce the volume, they will not be paid.
Read full article: http://chareidi.shemayisrael.com/archives5764/VYR64features.htm


I caught Roko Belic, who is working on a documentary titled Happy, being interviewed on CNN last night. He spoke about psychologist Ed Diener, who is an expert on human happiness.
"Having a life of meaning and purpose is the most lasting and significant contributor to happiness. "
Read more: http://www.purposefulgrowth.com/2010/06/27/happiness-expert-ed-diener/
Roko Belic said that people having values and strong relationships tend to be happier. He also stated that if you raise your dopamine levels by partaking in an aerobic exercise session, you will elevate your mood.
So, let's build a life around good values, cultivating relationships and exercise. Why? Because as Ed Diener has observed, "happy people are healthier, live longer, are more productive, have stronger relationships, and are more helpful to others."

Click here to read an article titled, "But will it make you happy?"

17 Aug 2010

A beautiful paradigm

Muslims in Spain are campaigning to be allowed to worship alongside Christians in Cordoba Cathedral -- formerly the Great Mosque of Cordoba.
...Mansur Escudero, a Spanish convert to Islam, is leading the movement that is pushing for the right of Muslims to pray at the Cordoba Cathedral.
"I don't think it's important for Muslims. I think it's important for humankind," Escudero says. "We think this is a beautiful paradigm of tolerance, knowledge, culture. People of different religions living together."

Read full article: http://edition.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/europe/08/17/cordoba.mosque.spain/index.html?hpt=C2#fbid=ThRqDiTFrbI&wom=false

Arabs are fighting plans for an elevator to allow disabled Jews to reach the Western Wall, claiming the project is a threat to the Al Aqsa mosque on the Temple Mount.
More Israel news: http://www.vosizneias.com/62317/2010/08/17/jerusalem-6

Mr. Escudero, perhaps after your Cordoba campaign, you can fly over to Israel and promote the tolerance that you espouse.

To Life and Mazal Tov!

כִּי אֺרֶךְ יָמִים וּשְׁנוֹת חַיִים וְשָׁלוֹם יוֹסִיפוּ לָךְ
Ki orech yamim u'shnos chaim ve'shalom yosifu luch
"For they add to you length of days and years of life and peace." (Mishlei 3:2)

I read the following story on a Charedi website which I very loosely translated.

Two weeks ago, Rabbi Eliyahu Itzkovitz almost drowned in the Dead Sea. He was rescued, but had swallowed a lot of sea water. He remained in a coma at a hospital in Beer Sheva.
When family members approached Rabbi David Abuhatzeira to ask him for a blessing, the Rabbi's response was that Rabbi Itzkovitz would still dance at his daughter's wedding, which was scheduled to take place yesterday.
A day before the wedding, the bride's father regained consciousness. He was transported by ambulance to a hospital in Bnei Brak, and a chuppah was set up in the courtyard.
The link below is to the article to which I referred in writing the story above. For those of you who don't understand Hebrew, it still pays to click on the video to see a heartwarming clip of the bride's father participating in a wheelchair at the wedding. The lyrics in the song that is being sung when the groom is dancing with the father is "Chayim veshalom." Life and peace. As the High Holidays fast approach when we pray to the Almighty for life, the story above shows how precarious it can be. Let us merit to be inscribed in the book of Life and may we be granted peace. And a hearty mazal tov to the Choson and Kallah.

Click on link to watch video.

Missing centenarians

Vayikra (19:32), “Before a saivah you should rise, and you shall honor the face of an old man, and you shall fear your G-d; I am the L-rd.”

Japan prides itself on the world's longest life expectancy but is struggling with a disturbing footnote to that statistic revelations that hundreds of people listed as its oldest citizens are either long dead or haven't been heard from for decades.
The mystery of the missing centenarians has captured the attention of this rapidly graying nation with reports of scamming relatives and overworked social workers and sad tales of old people, isolated and forgotten, simply slipping out of touch with society.
The story unfolded in late July when police discovered that Sogen Kato, who would have been 111 and was thought to be Tokyo's oldest man, had actually been dead for 32years, his decayed and partially mummified body still in his home.
Read full article: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/38678356/ns/world_news-asiapacific

16 Aug 2010

What happened to the other five?

Below is an excerpt from an interview with Adam Shapiro, American co-founder of the International Solidarity Movement regarding the Gaza flotilla.
Adam Shapiro: We now know that at least 14 people have been confirmed killed, and perhaps as many as 20 killed, with over 60 injured, and currently all the ships are being brought into the Israeli port of Haifa.
...not one image from this entire footage shows any of the passengers holding any kind of object that could be construed as a weapon.


Since news media reported that nine activists were killed, what happened to the other five that Mr. Shapiro mentioned?

In the video below, Mr. Shapiro states that Emily Henochowicz was deliberately shot at with tear gas cannisters by Israeli soldiers.
But, looking at the CCTV footage posted by Israel Matzav, can someone point out where she was deliberately targeted?

A direction in life

by Rabbi Dr. Raymond Apple

This week and next, the parashah begins Ki – “When”. There is a Ki in the Book of Sh’mot – Ki Tissa. This week’s Ki is Ki Tetzei – “When you go out”. Next week it is Ki Tavo – “When you come in”. Ki Tissa is “When you count” (literally, “When you lift up”).
The three “Keys” may or may not have any intrinsic link, but homiletically we may posit one. In life you have to know when to go out – when to leave your comfort zone, when to venture forward, when to move ahead. It is tempting to say, “I am bored, I am restless, I can’t sit still”, and to get up and move – anywhere, no matter where, so long as you are in action.
The next key is a warning: know where you are headed – not just anywhere, but a destination or at least a general direction. You might not reach the place you planned to get to, but being on the right road and making a degree of progress is important. External events may get in the way and something quite unexpected might frustrate your plans, but even taking these things into consideration a person must have what I have called “a general direction”. You might ask, quite legitimately, how to decide upon a general direction in life, and that is where the third key comes into play. If you “lift up” a set of values so that you know what you believe in and aspire towards, you have a ready-made yardstick and standard. From the Jewish point of view that yardstick and standard is enshrined in the Torah.


15 Aug 2010

Chaim Grade's legacy

The papers of a legendary Yiddish author are in the hands of Bronx bureaucrats, and scholars fear the ex-cops and clerks going through them may trash a treasure trove.
Chaim Grade's widow, Inna, hoarded her husband's work from scholars after he died in 1982, and she left no will when she passed away in May.

Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/ny_local/bronx/2010/08/15/2010-08-15_dead_writers_papers_could_end_up_trashed.html#ixzz0wiGkLdGt

Grade was born in Vilna, Lithuania, in 1910. After his father, a Hebrew teacher, died when Grade was a young boy, his mother worked at a fruit stand to provide her son with a traditional education. Grade attended several yeshivot and studied under Rabbi Avraham-Shaye Karelitz, a proponent of the mussar movement.
Read full article: http://www.novelguide.com/a/discover/rghl_01/rghl_01_00090.html

13 Aug 2010

Separation of church and state

An atheist is suing to force the administrators of a towering cross in southern Illinois to return a $20,000 state grant toward its restoration, saying Thursday it was "blatantly unconstitutional" to spend taxpayer money on a Christian symbol.
Read full article: http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20100812/ap_on_re_us/us_bald_knob_cross_atheist

Favorable judgments

In the video below, Rabbi Krebs discusses the concept of judging people based upon personal bias.
We are in the month of Elul. Let's not be judges. Let's not post unfavorable comments on websites about people, all the more so when we are not in possession of all the facts.
May we all merit a favorable judgment in the month of Tishrei.

12 Aug 2010

Questions anyone?

In an August 11th UN press briefing by the office of the spokesperson for the Secretary-General , Martin Nesirky discussed the "urgent humanitarian needs of millions of people affected by the floods in Pakistan." He stated that it was estimated that over 14 million people had been affected. He then went on to discuss the situation in Darfur and asked if there were any questions.
Anyone seeing the images of the devastation in Pakistan with an estimated 20% of the country under water could not help but be affected by the extent of human misery. So, of course, the bulk of the questions would be about how to help the suffering people and how to best provide emergency supplies to those in need.
But as you read the text of the briefing, you will note that most questions dealt with the greatest catastrophe facing the world today. No, not the global food crisis, rising wheat prices, China flooding, Darfur, or Pakistan.
I'll leave you in suspense. Click here to find out. By the way, who is Khaled?

Hishtadlut and parnassah

Interesting reader's letter and discussion on Matzav about how much hishtadlut (effort) has to be made to attain one's parnassah (livelihood).
This morning I was engaged in conversation with a young man who is currently enrolled in a two year's plumber course. He told me that he knew someone who had invested years in learning law and is now making a very decent income in the plumbing business.
With the financial crisis, people are more aware about how little control we have regarding our income.
May we merit earning our livelihood in a respectable manner and with a job that leaves us time to learn Torah and spend quality time with our family.
I would write more, but I'm off to convince my husband to go back to yeshiva.

Spelling errors

A number of years ago a cousin presented me with Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation, a book written by Lynne Truss. I enjoyed reading it immensely.
I must admit I have a zero tolerance for spelling errors. So, I gasped in horror as I saw a photo of a huge spelling error on Yahoo.

Well, here's something to make your old English teacher gasp in horror: A road contractor hired to paint the word "school" on a freshly paved stretch of road near Southern Guilford High School in North Carolina rendered the traffic area in question a "shcool" zone.

The following comment posted caught my attention.

In case you have not read or seen this mind-blowing paragraph, have a look....
Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a total mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Amzanig huh?

After reading the above paragraph quite easily, I have resolved to be less picky about mistakes in spelling.

11 Aug 2010

G-d's mysterious ways

Mary Kay Stratis lost her husband in December 1988, when he became a victim of the bombing on Pan Am flight 103.
But, out of the depths of despair, a story about the continuation of life has emerged.

After a horrible tragedy comes a story of hope: A daughter and son-in-law of Pan Am Flight 103 passengers will be married next week.
...Mary Kay Stratis, who has remained single since Elia’s death, said the wedding “means so much, there are so many layers. We’ll never know what God’s plan is for us. He does work in mysterious ways. But seeing how these two young people are getting together, and there will be many Pan Am 103 families attending the wedding—and this will be the first such wedding in our little history of 21 years—we are all amazed at the joy that has come out of something so horrendous.”
Read full article: http://news.yahoo.com/s/dailybeast/20100811/ts_dailybeast/9388_lockerbielovestorychildrenofvictimstomarry

The press briefing

I was planning to write a fictitious post about a United Nations press briefing - where the UN would announce the humanitarian disaster in Pakistan, how many millions of people were affected and the amount of homes that were damaged and destoyed. I was going to continue with an imaginary question and answer session where, even though a mega disaster had just been announced, the questions would mostly be about the Gaza flotilla. But, when I read Tuesday's text of the actual UN press briefing, I realized I didn't have to make up anything. The script was there for me, ready for the taking.
Click here for the press briefing which I didn't have to make up.

Repentance and remembrance

It is customary on the second day of Rosh Chodesh Elul, to blow the shofar after Shacharit (excluding Shabbat) until, but not including, the day preceding Rosh Hashanah, as well as to recite Chapter 27 of Tehilim until and including Hoshannah Rabbah.

When Moshe went up the Second Time to receive the "Aseret HaDibrot," the "Ten Commandments," the Jewish People blew the Shofar in the Camp. They did this to impress upon themselves that Moshe had once again gone up the mountain of Sinai, so that they would not again make the tragic mistake in judging the time of Moshe's return, and fall again into Idol Worship.
Therefore, the Jewish People in later generations accepted upon themselves the custom of blowing the Shofar, beginning with Rosh Chodesh Elul to remind themselves that the people of Israel in the desert had sinned with the Egel, had repented, had been forgiven by G-d and restored to their former level of holiness. This would arouse in their hearts and minds the importance and the effectiveness of doing "Teshuvah."


Last night I posted a link to a song by Gad Elbaz. In a JPost article titled A Mission from Gad, the singer discusses his mission in life.
"There's so many communities that won't accept another, instead of realizing they're all just one piece of the big puzzle. Instead of preparing for the time of the messiah, they go ahead and fight and argue and refuse to live next to each other. I just don't get it," says Elbaz.
"My greatest fear, when I finally embraced religion, was that I was going to end up like that, that I wouldn't treat people, both religious and non-religious the way they should be treated - with love and respect. My ambition is to bring a non-religious audience closer to spirituality."

In the video below, Benny Elbaz, Gad's father, recalls how the family became observant when Gad was seven. He describes how Gad had fallen one day and how he had tried to revive him for a number of agonizing minutes. As Gad remained unresponsive, Mr. Elbaz cried to G-d that he would return to Hashem and become observant. He then asked G-d to return his son to him.
The video ends with a song in which Benny Elbaz thanks Hashem for giving him such a son.

10 Aug 2010

Just a prayer away

Yesterday Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon spoke at a UN daily press briefing. His topics included, a conference on disarmament, the flooding in Pakistan and the humanitarian consequences, the flotilla incident, Lebanon, Darfur, Myanmar and Afghanistan.
After his briefing, he opened the floor to questions. The first question asked concerned the inquiry of the flotilla incident with follow up questions.
Another question began with, "Mr. Secretary-General, going back to the flotilla inquiry...."
And another question - "Mr. Secretary-General, please, I’d like for the last question to go back to the issue of the panel of Gaza...."

Having some time on my hands, I went back to the press briefings of last week, given by a UN spokesperson.
August 6th
Based upon the transcript, Martin Nesirky did not discuss the flotilla inquiry, but when he asked if anyone had questions, someone brought up, "Did they discuss the flotilla, the Panel...?"


On August 5th, the UN spokesperson briefed the audience about Lebanon, among other items.
Question: I’m confused about this flotilla incident inquiry.

August 4th
No briefings or questions about Israel. Falling asleep on the job?

August 3rd briefing
Brieifing about Lebanon - no mention of the flotilla, yet one of the questions raised began with, "Concerning the panel of inquiry on the flotilla."

August 2nd press briefing
The Secretary-General, as you heard, announced this morning that he has set up a Panel of Inquiry on the flotilla incident of 31 May. He called the launch of the Panel “an unprecedented development”.

With all the natural and man made disasters in the world, why the disproportionate focus on one incident?

Somehow, I doubt Israel can turn to the UN to get justice. Let's turn to G-d, who is just a prayer away.
For those of you who missed the song, "Just a prayer away," which I caught on the CoolJew website, click here to listen to something special.

For all times

Chodesh Tov to all.

Last night I came across a Torah thought on Revach.net which I would like to use to convey a message to a reconstructionist rabbi and a reform rabbi who wrote that certain rules in the Torah weren't etched in stone forever and that halacha is not strictly binding and is not equipped to deal with the complexities of modern concerns.

The Skulener Rebbe, Rav Eliezer Zusya Portugal said that the Apikursim say the Torah is outdated. It was written for a time that has long gone by. The world has progressed and the Torah was only appropriate in the olden days. The truth is that the Torah was given by Hashem who not only knew the future, but shaped and sculpted history from the beginning to the end of time. His blueprint? The Torah!
Torah is made for every generation and each generation has it own challenge. The Torah was never in vogue in any generation, and has been so-called outdated since the day it was given. It is our job to find the relevancy of Torah in our lives, and not for us to measure the Torah's compatibility within today's society. We shape our lives from the Torah's point of view and then build the rest around it.
When we come to Shamayim they will ask us Kavata Itim LaTorah (Shabbos 31a). Simply this means did you set aside time for the Torah? The Skulener Rebbe says that we can interpret this B'Derech Drush to mean that they will ask us, did you set your time and your lifestyle to be compatible and relevant for Torah even in your modern sophisticated society. The Torah is a Torah for all Itim for all times, but did you not get it?


9 Aug 2010

Playing Russian Roulette

Once, while feeling ill, Rabbi Benzion Halberstam, a previous Bobover Rebbe, consulted a doctor in Vienna. As he sat in the waiting room he smoked a Havana cigar. His followers regularly provided them for him, knowing that the Rebbe enjoyed them. When the doctor entered the room and saw the Rebbe smoking, he told him, "Herr Rabbiner, smoking is not healthy for you!"
The Rebbe put his cigar into a nearby ashtray and followed the professor inside. When the examination was finished, he put on his coat and was about to leave. The doctor hurried after him, calling, " Herr Rabbiner! Your cigar!"
The Rebbe turned to him and asked, "What do you mean?"
"Your cigar -- you have forgotten to take it."
"Not really," the Rebbe replied. "I don't smoke."
The professor was dumbfounded. The Rebbe explained that the moment the doctor told him that smoking was unhealthy -- a fact which he had not known -- he put the cigar down and would never touch one again. He was surprised at the doctor's incredulity.
"How is it possible to smoke after hearing it is not healthy?" he asked.
For his part, the doctor was amazed that a person who had smoked for so long could quit so abruptly, without any difficulty. The Rebbe did not understand the doctor's surprise.
"The Torah," he explained, "commands us, 'Venishmartem meod lenafshotechem' ['You shall take care exceedingly of your lives' -- Deut. 4:15). I must obey this command to guard my health, just as I must obey any other command in the Torah."

[Adapted by Yerachmiel Tilles from "Gut Woch " (Mesorah) by Avrohom Barash]

The excerpts from the articles below point to people who were not as wise as the Rebbe.
Recent studies have shown that, despite the surgeon general’s warnings, and despite billions of dollars in ad campaigns, young teens and adults are lighting up in large numbers, especially in the Orthodox Jewish community.
As a result of a recent Cancer Awareness Project initiated by volunteers of RCCS, calls have been coming in to the RCCS office begging for help in getting children and spouses to quit… before it is too late.
Read full story: http://www.crownheights.info/index.php?itemid=28091

A bridegroom in Turkey has accidentally killed three relatives while firing an AK-47 in celebration at his own wedding, Turkish media reported.
The groom lost control of the weapon as he tried to fire in traditional celebration in the air at the ceremony in the village of Akcagoze in south-eastern Gaziantep province.
The guests were sprayed with bullets and the groom's father and two aunts were killed.

The annual World Sauna Championships in Finland have ended in tragedy with the death of one of the finalists.
Russian Vladimir Ladyzhensky and his Finnish rival, Timo Kaukonen, collapsed after suffering severe burns. Mr Ladyzhensky later died in hospital.

In a JPost article, Frimet Roth, whose daughter was killed in the Sbarro pizza store bombing exactly nine years ago, provides cold statistics for those clamoring for the release of terrorists in exchange for Gilad SHalit.
The statistics are chilling. According to government numbers, some 45 percent of released terrorists return to terrorism, while the rate of recidivism among Hamas members is 63%.

Smoking? I'll play Russian Roulette with my life.
Firing into a wedding party? So what if it sometimes results in deaths?
Competing in a sauna at 110° Celsius. Are you nuts?
Releasing terrorists? I'll take my chances.

Let's heed the words of Devarim 4:15 when making decisions which can result in life threatening situations.

Check out the kashrut

This weekend someone told me about a hotel which had been advertised under the kashrut supervision of a certain rabbi. Many guests checked into the hotel becuase they trusted the hashgacha of the rabbi. During their stay, however, people learned that the rabbi had not given his hashgacha to the hotel's owner. Upon hearing the news, people checked out of the hotel, having to cut their vacations short.
A friend told me that she had experienced something similar one Pesach. A family had checked into a hotel, certain that the hashgacha was being given by a trustworthy organization. The hotel had not advertised, as such, but the family operated under the mistaken belief that hashgacha was being provided by the organization. At some point, the wife discovered that this was not the case. My friend, who trusted the proprietors, opted to stay for the duration of Pesach. The wife cautioned my friend not to tell her husband about the new developments because it would have been difficult to check out of the hotel in the middle of Pesach.
I don't believe the two hotel organizers served anything other than kosher food. They probably didn't want to pay the high kashrut supervision fees.
But, if you are going on vacation based upon an assumption that so an so is providing the hashgacha, do yourself a favor and make a simple phone call to corroborate your belief.

8 Aug 2010

The rush to judgment

Hamodia published a letter from a reader in which she described an incident that she had experienced at a grocery store.
Ms. Steinberger wrote that while she was walking down the aisles of the store, an elderly man in a scooter asked a man who was reaching for something on a top shelf if he could get him an item, as well.
The woman was shocked to hear the man's retort.
"What's the matter - are you crippled?"
She resolved to help the elderly gentleman, but the other man had already retrieved the item and had given it to the old man.
Thinking very negative thoughts, the woman decided to ask the man why he had acted in such a rude manner.
The man explained that the elderly gentleman was his neighbor and that the doctor had told him that if he didn't make an effort to walk, he would soon be unable to walk.
Chastized, the woman realized the man had only good intentions in mind and she learned a valuable lesson of not jumping to conclusions.
She ended the letter by writing that she had learned something about the ways of G-d from that incident.
"How many times have I felt that Hashem was making my life difficult, and why couldn't He just....
Yet all along He was helping me."

We, too, can learn lessons from the above story. We should not be quick to judge a person's actions as we can never know the whole story.
This week Israeli media was rife with reports about a car accident in which seven people from one family were killed. How many of us rushed to judge the driver? And, how many of us thought of the possible extenuating circumstances that could exonerate him. Even the police posited that he might have been blinded by the sun.

Yom Kippur, the day of Judgment, is fast approaching. How would we like G-d to judge us?

Judges and officers shall you appoint

by Rabbi Dr. Raymond Apple
“Judges and officers shall you appoint for yourself in all your gates,” says the Torah (Deut. 16:18). Why “for yourself?” To teach that the first and best judge over human conduct is oneself. Why “in all your gates”? To teach that the “gateways” in the body need to be especially guarded and watched – according to the Sefer Yetzirah, the seven “gateways” are one’s two ears, two eyes, two nostrils and mouth. None of these must be allowed to lead us astray – the ears by hearing what should not be heeded, the eyes by seeing what should not be observed, the nostrils by sensing what should not be noticed, and the mouth by saying what is best left unsaid. A pertinent thought for Ellul, the month to prepare for the Divine scrutiny during the Days of Awe.

7 Aug 2010

Learning from G-d's creations

Lech el nemala atzel, re’ay deracheha vachacham” (Mishlei, 6:6)
This means that a lazy person should go to an ant and see her ways and smartness.
Malbim says that whatever Hashem created in ma’ase bereishit (creation of the world) is a strength that can be found in a human being. All the character traits found in animals can be found in a person’s soul, too.

A farmer in China has spared the life of a two-legged lamb after being inspired by its struggle to survive.
"He may only have two legs but he gets around very quickly and is pretty steady on his feet. He follows me everywhere and I haven't got the heart to slaughter him."
..."He has such a friendly personality and I don't think he even realises he's disabled."

Read full article: http://news.uk.msn.com/odd-news/features/articles.aspx?cp-documentid=154324739

6 Aug 2010

Jerusalem and the Bais Hamikdash

"LiShichno Sidrishu Uvasa Shama; Seek His Presence and come there (Re'eh 12:5)." Moshe gave over the commandment to build a Bais HaMikdash but did not reveal the location. The Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim (3:45) says that after Avrohom Avinu went to Har HaMoriah for the Akeidah he called it Har Yeira'eh and this holy ground was revealed as the place for the Bais HaMikdash. Moshe surely knew this, so why did he purposely hide its location and not reveal it? The Rambam gives three reasons why.

One of the reasons given is the following:

"The most important and true reason," says the Rambam, "is that Moshe did not want the Shevatim to know where the Bais HaMikdash would be because he was scared the Shevatim in whose territory it wasn't, would wage war on the Shevet that received that territory. Moshe wanted to avert a civil war. Therefore, only after there was a King with firm control over Am Yisrael, did Hashem reveal the location to Dovid HaMelech."
Read full article: http://www.revach.net/parshas-hashavua/quick-vort/Parshas-Re039eh-Rambam-Moreh-Nevuchim-The-Secret-Location-Of-The-Bais-HaMikdash/4004

Death and revival

The Talmud asks, "What is the Biblical source for "Techiyat HaMetim?" And the somewhat enigmatic answer given is "Kal VaChomer MiChitah;" namely, that it follows by an "a fortiori" - type act of logic (that is, reasoning from a minor premise to a major premise) from the observable fact, assumed by the Bible when it refers to wheat, that wheat reproduces every year. One basis of this idea seems to be that just as the seed needs to disintegrate and decompose in order to produce new life, so does the human body. The reasoning seems to be, "if wheat can do it, certainly so can a human being!?"

Authorities in Mexico say a newborn baby girl declared dead by doctors revived inside her coffin during her wake.
Read full story: http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20100805/ap_on_re_la_am_ca/lt_mexico_revived_baby

Two research reports published Friday offer novel approaches to the age-old dream of regenerating the body from its own cells.
...In the first of the two new approaches, a research group at Stanford University led by Helen M. Blau, Jason H. Pomerantz and Kostandin V. Pajcini has taken a possible first step toward unlocking the human ability to regenerate. By inactivating two genes that work to suppress tumors, they got mouse muscle cells to revert to a younger state, start dividing and help repair tissue.

5 Aug 2010

A family in need

This morning's earlier post was about charity, how it features in this week's parsha and how it is particularly apt that this mitzvah is mentioned around the time of Chodesh Elul.
I received an email requesting me to post the following incident which occurred at the end of June:

Leizer Galperin from Kiryat Malachi was severely injured when a fire broke out in his home. Leizer is a little chassid – the son, grandson, and great-grandson of prominent chassidim – hospitalized in very critical condition, while the family home was seriously damaged.
The story and updates and how you can help:http://en.kerentzdaka.org/

Yesterday, a website detailed the boy's connection to Rabbi Shimon Rosenberg.

Just under two years after his daughter and son-in-law were murdered by terrorists as they served as Chabad emissaries in Mumbai, tragedy has again struck the family of Rabbi Shimon Rosenberg. According to a report in Yediot Aharonot, Chaim Eliezer Galperin, the six-year-old son of Rosenberg’s daughter Dvori was severely burned in a recent fire that broke out in the child’s home in Kiryat Malachi.

Please daven for Chaim Eiezer Lipman ben Devorah Leah and help the family. May they be spared any more sorrow.


Breaking news tragedy about a collision between a mini bus and a train near Kiryat Gat in which at least seven people have been killed.
Read more: http://www.theyeshivaworld.com/news/General+News/67141/JUST-IN%3A-At-Least-7-Killed-In-Israel-When-Train-Collides-With-Mini-Bus-%5BUPDATED-12%3A58PM-EST%5D.html

Let's earn merit for ourselves by giving tzedakah, praying and following the words of this week's Parsha.
Devarim 11:27
The blessing will come if you obey the commandments of G-d, your G-d, which I command you today.

Charity in the parsha and in the news

"If there shall be a needy person among you, any of your brethren in any of your cities, in the Land that Hashem, your God, gives you, you shall not harden your heart or close your hand against your destitute brother.
Rather, you shall open your hand to him; you shall lend him his requirement, whatever is lacking to him."
Devarim (Deuteronomy) 15:7-8

"The commandment to give tzedakah (charity) is included in the Torah portion of Re'eh...
The section of Re'eh is invariably read on the Shabbos on which we bless the new month of Elul, or on Rosh Chodesh Elul itself. Since all Torah portions are related to the timeframe in which they are read, it follows that it is especially appropriate to give tzedakah during the month of Elul."

In an anecdotal remark to a community that was not sufficiently giving, the Maggid (Preacher) of Kelm once said, "Hashem assures us that "Ki lo yechdal evyon mikerev ha'aretz", - "For destitute people will not cease to exist within the Land;" (Devarim 15:11)
"In other words, there will always be poor people. If we do not see to the needs of the poor, they will unfortunately not survive. Someone will have to replace them. It quite possibly might be you."

Read full article which contains anecdotes of individuals who were spared death by giving charity.

In the same week that the mitzvah of charity is discussed in the parsha, the act of giving charity has made headlines in the media.

America's ultra-rich are queuing to join in a grand gesture of generosity. Forty US billionaires have signed up to pledge at least half of their fortunes to charity under a philanthropic campaign kicked off by Warren Buffett and Bill Gates.
In an unprecedented mass commitment, top figures including New York's mayor Michael Bloomberg, the hotel heir Barron Hilton, CNN media mogul Ted Turner, and the Star Wars director George Lucas have lent their names to the "giving pledge", an initiative founded six weeks ago to encourage America's richest families to commit money to society's most pressing problems.

....."If you really care about your family, it's best to do something to make the world a better place for your children and grandchildren, rather than just giving them money," said Bloomberg, whose charitable interests include anti-smoking campaigns and road safety.
Read full article: http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2010/aug/04/us-billionaires-half-fortune-gates

4 Aug 2010

Every step I take

This afternoon I visited a woman who had undergone knee replacement surgery. My friends and I were amazed how she was able to maneuver out of her bed and walk across the room just a week after surgery.
"I am grateful to Hashem for all His chasadim (kindnesses)," she told us. "I see progress in every step I take each day."
One woman asked, "aren't you in pain?"
In true Jewish fashion, she answered a question with a question. "And what good would it do to complain?"
A few weeks ago I wrote about a lecture I had attended given by Rabbi Paysach Krohn in which he spoke about focusing on the good. During the lecture, the air conditioner in the room wasn't working and it was extremely hot. Rabbi Krohn said that when we would get home from the lecture, the first thing we would do is to complain about how hot it was.
His message hit home and, over the past few weeks, I have resolved to try to keep quiet instead of complaining. And, I find the less I complain, the less I have to complain about, if that makes any sense.
There are speeches one hears where the words go in one ear and out the other. Sometimes, however, the message the speaker imparts stays with someone forever. Thanks, Rabbi.
And thank you, Mrs. F., for showing me how grateful I should be to G-d for every step I take. May you have a speedy recovery.

Faith and gratitude - Part 2

Speaking about faith, Gary Gutting, who teaches philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, wrote an article titled Philosophy and Faith.

One of my jobs as a teacher of bright, mostly Catholic undergraduates is to get them thinking about why they hold their religious beliefs.
I myself, the product of a dozen years of intellectually self-confident Jesuit education, have little sympathy with the “it’s just faith” response. “How can you say that?” I reply. “You wouldn’t buy a used car just because you had faith in what the salesperson told you. Why would you take on faith far more important claims about your eternal salvation?”


I would love to listen to an intellectual discussion between Professor Gutting and Maimonides, erudite Torah scholar, court physician and compiler of the 13 principles of Jewish faith.
Alas, that won't come about until the resurrection of the dead (13th principle.) In the meantime, Professor Gutting, how do I know that you are who you say you are? Or should I take that as a matter of faith?
(And I am grateful that my blog title reflects the 12th principle of faith.)

3 Aug 2010

Faith and gratitude - Part 1

A CNN article describes Ray Bradbury's feelings about G-d. The famous science fiction writer has authored books including "Fahrenheit 451" and "The Martian Chronicles."

Bradbury, who turns 90 this month, says he will sometimes open one of his books late at night and cry out thanks to God.
"I sit there and cry because I haven't done any of this," he told Sam Weller, his biographer and friend. "It's a God-given thing, and I'm so grateful, so, so grateful.

Mr. Weller stated that "He says faith is necessary but that we should accept the fact that when it comes to God, none of us know anything."