"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 Oct 2010

A 5 minute degree

The author of a controversial bill that would grant the Chief Rabbinate sole authority over the conversion process in Israel said this week that he has little regard for non-Orthodox streams of Judaism.
"I am in favor of one Judaism. In my opinion, there's only one Judaism. There are no three Judaisms," MK David Rotem (Yisrael Beiteinu) said during a fierce debate Monday at the Jewish Agency's board of governors meeting in Jerusalem.


In the video below, the speaker makes a facetious suggestion about a five minute college. It got me thinking about Rav Elyashiv, Rav Kanievsky, Rabbis who are thoroughly versed in Torah and halacha, based upon their years of study. These rabbis don't waste their spare time writing blogs about DVDs they have seen. They don't spend Shabbos posting comments on their blogs. Every spare moment is devoted to futher pursuits of understanding the sacred texts.
When one has a question aboout religion, one would like to be answered by a competent authority. If someone has a question about Islam, he wouldn't approach Lauren Booth, who has admitted reaching page 60 of the Qur'an, to ask questions about all aspects of her religion.
So, when it comes to halacha, who should be the final arbiter? Personally, I would prefer to go to a surgeon who went to school for seven years, followed by a residency and who has years of experience rather than to someone who has taken shortcuts along the way.

I'll stop at 6 million

A rabbi spoke this week about a Jewish woman who had been having one child after another over the years. Finally, someone approached her and asked, "Haven't you had enough? When are you going to stop?"
"I'll stop at 6 million," she retorted.
I was reminded of the above anecdote when I read the following Ynet op-ed.

We need more Jews.
The two major centers of the world’s Jewish population, Israel and the United States, both have demographic challenges, though for different reasons and of different kinds. Both need to implement methods for demographic growth.

Read full article: http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3975720,00.html

30 Oct 2010


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

Two large gatherings with different messages. I like the first message better.

29 Oct 2010


This morning I was saddened to read the news that Rivka bat Yishaya, who wrote a blog called cofffee and chemo, passed away after a lengthy battle with cancer.
I had just discovered her blog this week and wrote a post about how inspiring she was in her determination to live.

A few days ago I received an email with a thought on the Parsha from Rabbi Eli Mansour in which he spoke about Sarah's 127 years and the importance of not squandering moments in vain pursuits. Click here to read the devar Torah.
Rivka bat Yishaya lived life to the fullest and inspired us with her not giving in to despair.
In this week's parsha, Isaac lost the most important woman in his life, namely his mother, but he was consoled upon marrying Rivka. In spite of setbacks, life goes on.
A woman who lost her husband in a car accident a number of years ago spoke this week about the words, in the mishna (Ta’anit 26b) "Mi-she-nichnas Av me-ma'atin be-simcha" - with the arrival of the month of Av, one minimizes joy.
She heard a different explanation of those words. One minimizes the mourning with simcha (happiness.) She said that her children taught her the meaning of that explanation.
When someone loses a loved one, he can say, woe is me, look what I had - what a terrible loss. Alternatively, one can say, look what I had - how fortunate I was to have what I had. By discussing their thoughts about their father, her children had shown her that one could look back with happiness and be thankful for having had such a great personality in their lives.
To the relatives of Rivka, may you find solace in the way she lived her life and may you be comforted comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.
Those of us who put off cancer screening tests, make an appointment to get checked soon. I will never forget sitting in a gynecologist's office and seeing an ashen faced woman emerge from the doctor's office. She had been given some bad news after being tested for some sort of cancer.
"I put off going to the doctor for ten years," she announced in a broken voice to the women in the waiting room. All of us were thinking, "if she had only scheduled an appointment sooner."

Hashem's list

And now, a word from our sponsors. A very brief word.
TV commercials are shrinking along with attention spans and advertising budgets. The 15-second ad is increasingly common, gradually supplanting the 30-second spot just as it knocked off the full-minute pitch decades ago.


I came upon a thought on the parsha, Eliezer's search for a wife for Isaac, and a beautiful story by Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffman about grabbing the opportunity to do a mitzvah. Even though reading the article will take longer than a 15 second ad, I think its well worth the time investment.

Often we think that when we do mitzvos we’re somehow doing Hashem a favour. Especially when we help others, we feel we’ve filled some void. Of course we realize that Hashem doesn’t need our mitzvos in any way, but still we feel smug for having done the right thing, and helped out when there was no one else to help.
... A mitzvah is an opportunity. Someone is going to chap (grab) it. Hashem doesn’t need you to do it; He has plenty of other ways to get things accomplished. But if you like, you can grab the chance and get your name on His list.

Read full article: http://www.torah.org/learning/olas-shabbos/5766/chayeisarah.html

Proverbs 31:26: "She opens her mouth with wisdom and on her tongue is a Torah of kindness." First and foremost, Eliezer searched for a woman who was kind.

28 Oct 2010

Omens and Turkeys

The test that Eliezer used for choosing a wife for Yitschak, as well as the successful conclusion have brought in their wake two important religious questions to the commentators of all the generations, questions that challenge basic tenets of Judaism.
Was Eliezer's test an example of divination, the discovering of omens from certain events, nichush, such as is forbidden by the Torah; "You shall not indulge in divination and you shall not believe in lucky times" (Vayikra 19:26)?
Read full article: http://www.ou.org/torah/tt/5766/terumah66/navi.htm

This week's parsha discusses Eliezer's search for a suitable wife for Isaac and the signs he sought to identify the right match. A NYdailynews article describes a new book by former President George W. Bush, "a man who relied heavily on his faith as commander in chief."

One anecdote in the new book is as follows:

The president details how he bonded with Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia -- and a magical bird!
Arriving angry at Bush's Texas ranch over the president's position on Israel and Ramallah, Abdullah quickly decided he wanted to leave.
But the prince spots a turkey on the road -- and takes it as a good omen, a sign from Allah!

It's a good thing the crown prince wasn't around at Thanksgiving. It's a bit early for the following video, but I couldn't resist the catchy tune.

The four keys

Yesterday, I heard a lecturer ask the question as to why weather forecasters can not predict the weather with 100% accuracy. She answered that Hashem held on to four keys, one of which is the key to rain. She also shared with us an easy way to remember the four keys which can be found an in excerpt from an article about the same subject.

“Rabbi Yochanan said: ‘There are three keys in the hand of the Holy One Blessed is He that are not entrusted to an agent and they are: the key of rain, the key of childbirth and the key of revival of the dead.
In the West they said: ‘Also, the key of sustenance is not entrusted to an agent.’ …
Why did Rabbi Yochanan not list this one as well? He would answer that the key of rain is the same as the key of sustenance, because the world’s sustenance is provided through rain.” (Gemara Taanit 2a)
The Hebrew word for “key” is MaPhTeiaCH and it is fascinating to note that its letters stand for the four keys mentioned in our Gemara:
• M corresponds to Matar (rain),
• P for Parnassah (sustenance),
• T for Techiyah (revival of the dead) and
• CH for CHayah (childbirth)
Interestingly, the second blessing of the Amidah prayer, which is the blessing of Gevurot (God’s might), appears to allude to these four keys:
• Mechayeh Meitim (God is the resuscitator of the dead) is revival of the dead,
• Mechalkel Chaim (God sustains the living) relates to sustenance,
• Mashiv HaRuach UMorid HaGashem (God causes the wind to blow and the rain to fall) refers to rain, and
• Matir Asurim (God loosens the bound) alludes to releasing the foetus
Read full article: http://www.facebook.com/topic.php?uid=2302287905&topic=3141

25 Oct 2010

Too perfect

After reading an interesting article by Gila Manolson titled Beauty Industry Vs Modesty, I came across two articles about beauty and modesty.

A seaside city in Italy is planning to ban miniskirts and other revealing clothing to improve what the mayor calls standards of public decency.

The article about beauty was unbelievable. It is shocking how many people follow the current standards of what defines beauty, willing to alter their appearance to achieve the ultimate perfection (or imperfection.)

Call it the flight from perfection. The gap-toothed smile flashed by some of today's top models is leading to a Stateside boom in quirky dental treatment in place of the perfect, straight white smiles for which young Americans have historically endured years of treatment.
...Last week the New York Times reported that demand is growing for customised imperfect veneers despite the cost of up to $2,500. Standard veneers cost around $700. "The white standard got too white," one Manhattan dentist told the paper. "The perfection standard got too perfect."

Never a bad word

Last week I wrote a post titled To see the good in which I described a rabbi's interpretation of the words lirot tov from Tehilim Perek 34 Pasuk 13, "Mi haish hechafetz chayim Ohev yamim lirot tov. (Who is the person who treasures life Who loves each day, to see the good.) He explained that we would not speak lashon hora if we don't criticize and we only see the good in other people. This past Shabbos, I was visiting a friend and I was about to say something about somebody, but stopped myself, after remembering the rabbi's words. At that point, I thought to myself that the rabbi will be rewarded not only for his good deeds, but also for his influence on preventing me from saying something derogatory about another individual.
Incidentally, while searching for the meaning of the above words, I found a Metzudat David which interpreted the verse. Who is the person who treasures life in this world by doing good deeds in this world so that he may merit to see the good in the next world.

This morning I came across a NYT obituary for Sol Steinmetz, a lexicographer. I was particularly moved by the closing paragraphs.

In newspaper obituaries, it was long customary to lavish praise on the subjects, noting laudable traits of character. In Mr. Steinmetz’s case, one such trait is worthy of mention even today.
“He never had a bad word to say about anyone,” said Jesse Sheidlower, the editor at large of the Oxford English Dictionary and a former protégé...

A person who was preoccupied with words throughout his years - how honorable that he used them for the good.

24 Oct 2010

A feigned sneeze

Reading a WND article titled No Pledge of Allegiance at debate? Crowd says otherwise, I was reminded of a special graduation ceremony that took place a number of years ago.

According to an Associated Press report from May 17, 2001, student-led prayer was going to be allowed at the graduation but a lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the senior valedictorian, Natasha Appenheimer. On virtually the eve of graduation, they won a court injunction that banned any prayer at the event. It was the first time in the school's 80 year history that a prayer would not be offered. Natasha was booed by the audience when she received her diploma. Another student, Ryan Brown, was one of the speakers. He paused during his speech to bow his head and pray silently. The Peoria Journal Star newspaper said that after the silent prayer, Ryan "feigned a sneeze" so the audience could respond with a "God bless you."

Who's gonna tell their story

Who's gonna tell their story?

23 Oct 2010

Moshe emet v'Torato emet

I find it fascinating when something in the parsha of the week is alluded to in an article in the media during the same week, as if lending credence to the veracity of the words written thousands of years ago.
This week, Parshat Vayera was read in synagogues throughout the world, describing the visit of the three angels to the patriarch, Abraham.

Yesterday, the New York Times published an article titled Abraham’s Progeny, and Their Texts which focused on a new exhibition at the New York Public Library.
So much is shared in these three faiths. But the distinctions are also important and tend to be too aggressively minimized. For example: the biblical story of Abraham welcoming the three messengers who announce that his aged wife will give birth is pictured here...

Speaking about the words of the holy Scripture, in a Vatican synod meeting, "the synod fathers also took issue with Jews who use the Bible to justify settlements in the West Bank."
Greek-Melchite Archbishop Cyrille Salim Bustros, said:
"We Christians cannot speak about the promised land for the Jewish people. There is no longer a chosen people. All men and women of all countries have become the chosen people.
"...The justification of Israel's occupation of the land of Palestine cannot be based on sacred scriptures."

22 Oct 2010

To see the good

Mi haish hechafetz chayim Ohev yamim lirot tov
Netzor leshoncha mera Us'fatecha midaber mirma
Sur mera va'aseh tov Bakesh shalom v'rodfehu

Who is the person who treasures life Who loves each day, to see the good
Guard your tongue from evil And your lips from speaking deceitfully
Turn away from bad, and do good Love peace, and seek it out

Last night I listened to a CD from a rabbi who spoke in my neighborhood approximately a month ago. He talked about not speaking badly about other people.

You will never speak lashon hora if you follow two words, "Don't criticize." You cannot say that every criticism is lashon hora but every lashon hora is criticism. So let's train ourselves lirot tov - Mi haish hechafetz chaim ohev yamim lirot tov -Let's decide that we are going to look at people with a good eye.
Can you imagine what it would be like if, for the next year, you don't voice your criticsm, not about the weather, you won't criticise your spouse, your children or grandchildren?

I will try to take his words to heart.

21 Oct 2010

Endowed by their Creator

A WND reporter asked White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs the following question.
"Twice in recent weeks, the president has quoted from the Declaration of Independence and has omitted the Declaration's reference to rights 'endowed by their Creator.' Why did he omit this part of the Declaration?"

A Newsmax article reports that it has happened for a third time.
Conservatives contend that Obama's inability to credit God for the rights reflects his belief that, if rights come from the government instead of a creator, the government can take them away, too.

When I attended elementary school, my class learned the words of the Declaration of Independence set to song. Ask any of my classmates to recite the Declaration and I can guarantee you that they can recite it word for word.

Faith and rituals

This morning I came across two articles about faith and rituals. Scott Sager describes his take on faith while Joe Sterling describes the loss of his teenaged son, the rituals of the shiva, and his attendance at the Yizkor sevices.

But I know what it did for me: my faith adds joys, but more — it sustained me when my father died, when the doctor tried to turn my oldest daughter around in utero and the numbers on the fetal heart monitor started dropping like crazy.
Everyone needs something to get them through the brake-ups, the college rejections, the lost wallets, the deaths. Ceremony and liturgy told me what to do at those times, but faith is my companion when facing what I feel.
....This is the place I want my daughters to find, to have, to help and sustain them and feed them when they have a hunger no amount of ice cream or cookies will satisfy. For me, that is faith.
Read full article: http://www.brooklynpaper.com/stories/33/43/bp_thedad.html

Joe Sterling Talks about losing his teenage son.
The aftermath of this horror helped us gain a profound respect for organized religious life, Jewish and otherwise. After the death knocked us numb and we couldn't reason or plan anything, a synagogue committee devoted to helping those who grieve leaped into action, and the labors of those on the committee impressed us greatly.
People who didn't know us personally were there to help us navigate through the shock of death: They prepared our house for the shivah, the Jewish mourning period, and prepared food for us and the scores of friends and relatives who showed up at our door.
Read more: http://www.philly.com/dailynews/opinion/20100915_Joe_Sterling__Navigating_the_land_of_grief_after_the_death_of_my_son.html#ixzz12jubtD00

20 Oct 2010

Kulo Zakkai

This evening I came across an article on Revach about Moshiach. Thought I'd pass it on.

Chazal tell us that Moshiach will only come in a generation that is Kulo Zakkai or Kulo Chayav completely innocent and worthy, or completely guilty with not a morsel of good. Under these criteria it is hard to see Moshiach coming. "Completely good" sounds like a fantasy and not something we can imagine in today's. Similarly we see so much good and so many wonderful people that it is equally incomprehensible to imagine a generation without a single good person. So what do Chazal mean?
Rav Elya Weintraub says that the Chofetz Chaim explains as follows. "All innocent" and "all guilty" does not mean that everyone is on the same side of the fence. It just means that everyone sits squarely on one side of the fence. In order for the Moshiach to come the world must be completely polarized. Everyone must choose where they belong, with Hashem or Chas V'Shalom the opposite.
Read full article: http://www.revach.net/galus-geula/moshiach/Chofetz-Chaim-When-Moshiach-Comes-No-One-Will-Be-Sitting-On-The-Fence/4792

Confused? Learn another language

Bilingual children are less easily confused and are less likely to develop Alzheimer's when they grow up.
These are just some of the claims to emerge from recent studies on bilingualism which the American scientist and author Jared Diamond has reviewed for an article in the journal Science.
Read full article: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-11534481

I heard Mr. Diamond giving an interview on BBC where he stated that children who are exposed to a second language can delay the onset of Alzheimer's for five years. He said that in America, people thought learning another language would not allow one to learn any language properly. But, he found that children who spoke one language developed a vocabulary of 3300 words in that language. Those who learned two languages developed a vocabulary of 3000 words in one language and 3000 words in the other one, as well.
After reading the article, I thought it would be a public service if I introduce another language on the blog. So, let's begin with a few words in Yiddish.

For those who are more advanced, here's a Yiddish joke. I'll loosely translate it in the comments section.

19 Oct 2010

An affliction of the soul

This morning I received a daily email from the Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation regarding loshon hora. Those who spoke loshon hora were afflicted with tzaraas.

One may wonder why in our day the affliction of tzaraas is not manifest upon those who habitually speak loshon hora. The Chidah offers the following explanation:
When God visits punishment upon an individual, He does it for the person’s benefit, to purify him of his sins and to stir him towards repentance. Now, it was only during the Temple era that a metzora could attain taharah (purification). Today, however, when due to our sins there is no Temple, no sacrifice, and no way for the Kohen to perform the other components of the purification process, if God were to afflict a person with tzaraas, he would remain in his impure state for the rest of his life, without any possibility of ridding himself of it. Therefore, in the absence of the Temple, the impurity of this affliction clings only to the soul, but is not manifest on the person’s body.

Nowadays, it behooves us to realize that when we sin or utter derogatory words about someone, even though there is no immediate visible marking that we have changed for the worse, our souls have become blemished. It is harder to get rid of a stain that is not visible to the naked eye than to one that is immediately apparent.

Appreciating the grandparents

Good morning. . . . At present we are not at home but, please leave your message after you hear the beep. beeeeeppp ...
If you are one of our children, dial 1 & then select the option from 1 to 8:
If you need us to stay with the children, press 1
If you want to borrow the car, press 2
If you want us to wash your clothes and ironing, press 3
If you want the grandchildren to sleep here tonight, press 4
If you want us to pick up the kids at school, press 5
If you want us to prepare a meal for Sunday or to have it delivered to your home, press 6
If you want to come to eat here, press 7
If you need money, press 8
If you are going to invite us to dinner, or, taking us to the theatre start talking we are listening !!!!!!!!!!!"

I sent the above email to my mother. The response I got was, "I pressed all the buttons and they all screamed, 'HELP'".
Let's appreciate our parents and grandparents. Give them a call, invite them out, just because you can and not because you need something from them.

18 Oct 2010

The grand opening

In a review about the opening of the Columbia Center for Palestine Studies, Danielle Reich writes the following:
Columbia’s Broadway gates and at the walkway leading up to the grand opening, members involved in the project were passing out anti-Israel magazines, making the false claims that Israel is an “apartheid” state focused on “ethnic cleansing”. Additionally, those attending the event were circulating signs that called for boycotts of Israeli products and funds for a U.S. boat to join the next Gaza “freedom” flotilla. As one of the few pro-Israel individuals attending the event, I personally felt very uncomfortable at the opening event of CCPS and afraid for the changes it can make to the narrative of Israel’s history.

After reading the words of Rashid Khalidi, the center's co-founder, I am also worried.

Before the presidential elections, a Jewish voter had questioned the then Senator Obama about his relationship with Mr. Khalidi.
“You mentioned Rashid Khalidi, who’s a professor at Columbia," Obama said. "I do know him because I taught at the University of Chicago. And he is Palestinian. And I do know him and I have had conversations. He is not one of my advisors; he’s not one of my foreign policy people. His kids went to the Lab school where my kids go as well. He is a respected scholar, although he vehemently disagrees with a lot of Israel’s policy.”

A New York Times article gave more details about President Obama's relationship with Mr. Khalidi.
For years, the Obamas had been regular dinner guests at the Hyde Park home of Rashid Khalidi, a Middle East scholar at the University of Chicago and an adviser to the Palestinian delegation to the 1990s peace talks. Mr. Khalidi said the talk would often turn to the Middle East, and he talked with Mr. Obama about issues like living conditions in the occupied territories. In 2000, the Khalidis held a fund-raiser for Mr. Obama during his Congressional campaign.

The happiness summit

Deborah Lipstadt, Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish History and Holocaust Studies, says happiness in this life is celebrated in Judaism. "The scripture says rejoice in your festivals, be REALLY happy. I think the Jewish view of happiness emanating from that is that the life you've been given in this world is a gift and it is very much this-world focused and you should take pleasure in all the things, the spiritual things, the familial relationships, material things, enjoy the life."
In an article titled The Role of Happiness in the World Religions, April Bogle discusses an interfaith summit about promoting happiness which began yesterday and will conclude today. Chief Rabbi Sacks is scheduled to speak this morning.
Read article for full details.

17 Oct 2010

It's never too late

Belva Plain, who became a best-selling author at age 59 and whose multigenerational family sagas of Jewish-American life won a loyal readership in the millions, died on Tuesday at her home in Short Hills, N.J. She was 95.

Reading about Belva Plain's passing, I was amazed that she became a best-selling author at the age of 59. At a time that most people are thinking about retirement and ready to give up on their dreams, she penned her first novel and continued a career which spanned three decades.

This evening I came across a Torah thought related to this week's parsha on Revach.net. It is a story about not giving up.

As told by Rav Refoel Salzer of Gateshead - Approximately 17 years ago, I took a class of 12-year old boys for Chumash-Rashi. One particular boy in the class (we’ll call him “Reuven”) gave me cause for concern. I knew him to be a serious, hard working boy with excellent ability, and I expected him to be at least among the top of the class. It alarmed me therefore to note that he was scoring around the 40% mark, week after week. His Gemoro Rebbe confirmed that in his class, Reuven was “bombing away” at the head of the class.
I took Reuven aside and queried this situation – and I was even more astounded by his explanation. “Rebbe,” he said in all honesty and sincerity “ this has been going on for years! I have just never been able to ‘get my teeth’ into Chumash Rashi. There’s just something about it that does not let us get on!” He then went on to assure me that it had nothing to do with the Rebbe – it had been the same with all his past Rebbeim. When I tried telling him how fundamental Chumash Rashi was to his Yiras Shomayim and the success of all his learning, he replied that he was fully aware of all this, - but he simply could not get to grips with this crucial Limmud.
Read full article: http://www.revach.net/article.php?id=4188

And speaking about love

They were just fellow alumni when they met at the 50th reunion of their class at Brooklyn Public School 119.
Friday, Paula Held and Howard Tietelbaum will attend the 60th reunion as husband and wife.
...Tietelbaum, 73, and Held, 74, grew up in Flatbush, attended the Gravesend school in the 1940s and graduated from Midwood High School in 1954.
Yet they had never met before a mutual friend drafted them to help organize PS 119's 50-year reunion in 2000, when grads raised $3,500 to buy the Avenue K school a new piano.

Read full story: http://www.nydailynews.com/ny_local/2010/10/15/2010-10-15_untitled__sixty15m.html

The following is part of an email I received. The list under woman stretched to 54 items but I shortened it.
It's not difficult to make a woman happy. A man only needs to be:
1. A friend
2. A companion
3. A lover
4. A brother
5. A father
6. A chef
7. A good listener
8. Athletic
9. Intelligent
10. Funny

11. Give her compliments regularly
12. Love shopping
13. Be honest


14. Give her lots of attention, but expect little yourself
15. Give her lots of time, especially time for herself

16. Never to forget:
* birthdays
* anniversaries

How to make a man happy
1. Leave him alone.

16 Oct 2010

Gratitude towards inanimate objects

Aaron, the older brother of Moses was the one to initiate the first three plagues.
"Our sages attribute Aaron's designation to the fact that both the river and the earth protected Moses.
...If Hashem insisted that Moses demonstrate his sense of gratitude, even to an inanimate object, how much more so must we show our appreciation to human beings. Furthermore, we must also think of the gratitude we owe Hashem, the source of all good. Our concern should not be from whom we have received a favor, or the value of that favor. Rather, our first and only consideration should be that we have benefited and we should show our gratitude."

Read full article: http://www.tfdixie.com/parshat/vaera/004.htm

This afternoon I was invited to a friend and conversation turned to her children who had a habit of not hanging their clothes back in the closet after wearing them. She told me and another friend that she always hung her clothes up properly to show a sense of appreciation to the items that had given her pleasure when she had worn them. If her daughter got a run in her stockings, she wouldn't let her daughter stretch the stocking to cause further damage telling her daughter that there was no need for further destruction. I was amazed by her feelings of gratitude towards an inanimate object and resolved to be better in emulating her actions.

15 Oct 2010

Back inside the cave

"Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai lived during the time of the Romans. When one of his colleagues praised the Romans for building up the Land of Israel, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai slandered them by stating that they did it for themselves and not for the Jews. When word reached the Roman governor, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai was forced to flee for his life. He and his son, Rabbi Eleazer, took refuge in a cave. In the cave, he and his son began studying the Torah, a miracle occurred for them, that a Carob tree sprouted and a water spring opened up providing them with sustenance. Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai and his son lived in the cave for twelve years, studying by themselves with out interruption and with out going outside.
After twelve years of seclusion, the Roman governor died and the decree of death was rescinded. Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai and his son emerged from the cave. They saw a man plowing and planting his field. They, who had lived for twelve years eating carobs and water and studying the Holy teachings, were surprised that man would resort to such folly as work! What ever they would look upon with displeasure, burnt from their stare. A voice from heaven commanded them to go back into the cave and not to bring destruction upon the world. "
Read full article: http://www.jewishmag.com/9mag/rashbi/rashbi.htm (Hint - they did emerge a year later.)

The world watched with bated breath as the 33 miners in Chile were rescued one by one. Thankfully, all emerged in relatively good health and weeks ahead of the expected schedule. I would like to express my admiration to the technicians, the miners and the rescuers who were lowered into the mine to provide assistance to the miners.
Many people were inspired by the words of Mario Sepulveda, the second miner to emerge.
"I buried 40 years of my life down there, and I'm going to live a lot longer to be a new person."
"I think I have learned a lot of wonderful lessons about taking the good path in life. For those of you able to call your wives or your husbands, do so."
"I was with God, and I was with the devil. They fought, and God won."
Noting the Chilean President's soaring approval ratings, the American President consulted with his staff about the feasibility of manufacturing a crisis that would end happily a few days before the November election. (only kidding)
The TV networks did the same, noting their soaring viewing audience numbers.
Clergy from all faiths were busy writing sermons for the weekend reflecting life lessons that can be learned from the story of the miners.
Rabbis were able to tie in the story to the parsha of the week, noting how Avram received a new name, Avraham, to reflect his new direction in life. Similarly, the miners had been reborn with a new purpose in life.
Websites were busy posting article after article about the same topic.
One miner, fed up with the bickering between the women in his life decided, "Enough already. I'm going back into the mine."
Noting the dark glasses the miners wore to protect their eyesight when they emerged from the mine, my morning prayers took on an added intensity as I uttered the words "....for giving the rooster understanding to distinguish between day and night," and "...Who gives sight to the blind," with extra appreciation.
May the miners have a speedy recovery and be able to successfully integrate into everyday life.

14 Oct 2010

And bestow dew and rain

A reminder for those in Israel to begin saying "V’ten Tal Umatar Livracha"
(And bestow dew and rain for blessing) this evening in the Maariv service.

This formal request for rain is inserted in the 9th blessing of the daily Amidah during the months that Israel is most in need of rain. In Israel this request is inserted commencing Cheshvan 7, following the opinion of Rabban Gamliel in the Mishnah1 "fifteen days after the festival [of Sukkot] so that the last Jew [returning home from the festival] could reach the River Euphrates". In the Diaspora, this request is not added until December 4th,(December 5th in Greogorian leap years) following the opinion of Chananiah in the Talmud. "In the Diaspora [we do not begin to pray] until the sixtieth day after the [Tishrei] cycle". We do not insert this request at the beginning of the rain season (Shmini Atzeret), because the need for rain is not yet urgent enough to officially request it.
Read full article: http://www.askmoses.com/en/article/577,2088957/What-is-the-Geshem-prayer.html#articlepage

13 Oct 2010

May our prayers be answered

One of the most important days in the month of Cheshvan is the 11th, which commemorates the day of passing of our matriarch Rachel. Rachel was Jacob's most beloved wife and was the principal of his household and thus the principal of the entire house of Israel.
From the first day of the year, the 1st day of Tishrei, the 11th day of Cheshvan is the 41st day. 41 is the numerical value of the Hebrew word "eim," which means "mother," thus the 11th of Cheshvan is truly the Jewish Mother's Day. Since the time of her burial- more than 3000 years
ago, the Tomb of Rachel has always been a special place for prayer.
To send a prayer for children shidduchim, etc. to be recited at kever Rachel on her Yahrtzeit, click here.

Speaking about shidduchim, here is an ideal place to meet. Too far to travel in search of a spouse? Read the following article titled "Whale travels a quarter of the way around the world to find a mate."

On being Jewish

Congratulations to Howard Jacobson upon being named the winner of the £50,000 Man Booker Prize for Fiction for The Finkler Question.

"The Finkler Question is a novel about love, loss and male friendship, and explores what it means to be Jewish today."
Read more: http://www.themanbookerprize.com/news/stories/1459

To read a 2007 article by Howard Jacobson titled "It's time to end the vilification of Israel" click here.

The video below features Howard Jacobson speaking against a boycott of Israel in 2007.

11 Oct 2010


The name and fame of Jerusalem go back to the very beginnings of history. The sidra calls Malchitzedek “king of Shalem” (Gen. 14:18). This name Shalem is said by the Midrash to have been chosen by Shem, whereas Abraham called the place “HaShem Yireh” (Gen. 22:14). God said, “If I call it Yireh as Abraham did, then Shem, a righteous man, will be slighted. If I call it Shalem as Shem did, then Abraham, a righteous man, will be slighted. Therefore I will call it Y’rushalem, as they both called it together Yireh-Shalem, Y’rushalem, Jerusalem” (Gen. Rabba 56:16).
This means there are two dimensions to Jerusalem, Abraham’s and Shem’s. Abraham’s introduction to Jerusalem comes when God commands him to go with Isaac to “one of the mountains which I will tell you” (Gen. 22:2). The unidentified mountain will become Jerusalem, but Abraham does not know this yet. Only when he sets off on his search does God lead the patriarch there. Rashi says that he knows he is on the right track when he sees a mountain with a cloud entwined around its peak. It is not a mountain lit up by a shaft of sunlight, but one where there are secrets shrouded in the mist, so Abraham has to keep on climbing the mountain, looking and longing for what he will find. That is why Abraham’s name for the mountain is Yireh, “looking, seeing”.
Shem, on the other hand, is not looking or searching. For him the place is Shalem, “completeness”. Who is Shem? One of the sons of No’ach. On the Ark, as tradition tells us, Shem tends the animals and ensures each one is fed. Later on, his thoughtfulness earns him the name Malchitzedek, “king of righteousness”. For him, Jerusalem is the place where there is community and understanding between people, where God’s gifts give human beings the sense of completeness.
Read full article: http://www.oztorah.com/2008/05/jerusalem-lech-lcha/

After coming across the above Torah thought by Rabbi Dr. Raymond Apple this morning, I found it ironic that factions are bent on dividing Jerusalem, the city of "completeness."

Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas delivered a vitriol-laden speech to the Arab League on Saturday in which he attacked Israel for "Judaizing" Jerusalem, according to the PA-based Wafa news service. Abbas called to involve the world in forcing Israel to split the city.
Read full article: http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/139993

Savvy on religion

In the wake of a Pew Research Center poll which found that many religious people were remarkably uninformed about religion, Nicholas D. Kristof presents a multiple chice quiz in the New York times testing people's savvy on religion.
Question number 2 is as follows:
2. Which holy text declares: “Let there be no compulsion in religion”?
a. Koran
b. Gospel of Matthew
c. Letter of Paul to the Romans

Scrolling further down the article, one is presented with the answer.
2. a. Koran, 2:256. But other sections of the Koran do describe coercion.

Mr. Kristof's conclusion is that, "And yes, the point of this little quiz is that religion is more complicated than it sometimes seems, and that we should be wary of rushing to inflammatory conclusions about any faith, especially based on cherry-picking texts."
Read more: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/10/opinion/10kristof.html?src=me&ref=homepage

Daniel Greenfield's latest post is about the case of the Times Square bomber.
He quotes Faisal Shahzad's words.
“This is but one life,” he said. “If I am given a thousand lives, I will sacrifice them all for the sake of Allah, fighting this cause, defending our lands, making the word of Allah supreme over any religion or system.”
The Judge did her usual liberal shtick, foolishly lecturing Shahzad on how moderate Islam is. She suggested that Shahzad should "spend some of the time in prison thinking carefully about whether the Koran wants you to kill lots of people".
But who knows better what Islam really represents, Faisal Shahzad or Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum?

Read full article: http://sultanknish.blogspot.com/2010/10/its-about-jihad-stupid.html

I would say to Mr. Kristof that just as you can't reach inflammatory conclusions about faith based upon cherry-picking texts, you can't reach benign conclusions about religious faiths based upon hand picking sentences that suit one's cause. I have come across Reform rabbis who hand pick a verse out of the Torah to justify their causes while ignoring just as salient verses which contradict their mindsets.
What scares me are those whose opinions are accepted as "moderate" simply because they know the right verse to quote when speaking to a particular audience. And the audience is too ignorant to be aware that there are other verses and opinions which are in direct opposition to what was said.
In Hebrew, the word "shalom" has three different meanings. It means "hello", "good bye" and "peace". I can tell someone I dislike, "shalom" and he can get insulted because I greeted him with "good bye." But, I can fool him and say that I didn't mean "good bye." I really meant to say "hello." Only I am the one who knows what went on in my mind when I used the word.
We have to become more savvy on religion to realize when a threat is impending or, conversely, when the consequences will be benign.

10 Oct 2010

Hitting a homerun

A high school student beamed with delight yesterday when he was awarded two tickets to today's Yankees playoff game - his prize in an essay contest launched by a Brooklyn English teacher.
"I feel so happy and great and blessed," said Hakeem Tait, 17, the son of a minister. "God answered my prayers."
Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/ny_local/bronx/2010/10/09/2010-10-09_essay_contest_was_write_way_for_students_to_get_game_tix.html#ixzz11wSyqmhm

Congratulations to the young student and kudos to the two brothers who found a way of motivating students to write.

Speaking of writing, is nobody incensed by this take of what happened in an incident involving stone throwing youths and an Israeli motorist?

9 Oct 2010

Noah in the news

On October 3 the New York Times published an article titled Cheap Debt for Corporations Fails to Spur Economy. The article discussed how big companies are stockpiling their cash until they see an improvement in the economy.

“They are still holding on to more cash in the same way that Noah built the ark,” said David Rosenberg, chief economist at Gluskin Sheff & Associates in Toronto. “It is very telling.”

Noah's ark? What has that got to do with the article? But, Noah's Ark did have a connection to the Torah portion of the week. The same week that Jews throughout the world were reading Parshat Noah in the synagogue and learning Divrei Torah associated with the portion of the week, the New York Times was there to remind us that the Parsha of the Torah is just as applicable today as when it was written thousands of years ago.

8 Oct 2010

Her deeds were pleasant

According to a view in Bereshit Rabbah Naama (the sister of Tubal-Cain) was Noah’s wife.
“And why did they call her Naamah? Because her deeds were lovely and pleasant.”

This past June a terrible tragedy occurred when a young girl named Naama passed away in Lawrence. Today I read an article in the fivetownsjewishtimes about a website (http://www.remembernaama.org/) that was launched in her memory.
Projects have been set up as a zechut for the young girl and I was amazed how quickly such an initiative had come to fruition. I have only admiration for the family members who are trying to turn something so tragic into a force for good.
The website contains links to audio recordings from her levaya and sheloshim. I listened to the words of Naama's father speaking at the funeral and I was flabbergasted. Such eloquence and such faith on the day of the levaya left me crying. The words were powerful and moving. He related a story from The Garden of Emunah about a young child who had died which he had been reading the very same day of the tragedy.
A number of months ago, I bumped into someone whose sister had lost a child. He said she had gone to psychologists, spoken to friend sand family but nothing helped her come to terms with her son's death. She was given a copy of The Garden of Emunah and the same story that was told at the levaya by Naama's father had helped her immeasurably.
Get some tissues and click here to listen to the speech. It is unbelievable. May the family know no more sorrow and may we do positive actions in the zechut of Naama.

Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan

Cheshvan, the month following Tishrei on the modern Jewish calendar is referred to in the Tanach as Yerach Bul (Kings I, Chapter 6:38). Bul refers to the idea that during this month the grass withers (baleh) and feed is mixed (bolelin) in the house for the animals (Rashi’s interpretation). Others think it may come from the word yevul (produce) for during this month plowing and planting begin in Israel. Still others see a reference to Mabul, flood, since according to the Midrash more rain falls in this month since it marks the beginning of the great Flood during the time of Noach.
In modern times, this month has become known as Cheshvan or Mar Cheshvan, which seems to have originated at the time that Jews came back to Israel after the Babylonian Exile. The prefix Mar (which means bitter) is a reference to this month having no festivals or rejoicing, but much suffering for Jews throughout the ages. Also during this month, God brought down the Flood and drowned the world (except for Noach and those with him on the ark.) Mar also means drop and refers to the first rains (the Yoreh), which fall in Cheshvan.
Read full article: http://www.ou.org/chagim/roshchodesh/marcheshvan/default.htm

A guten chodesh to all.

7 Oct 2010

Red river

Toxic red sludge that leaked from a reservoir in Hungary reached the Danube, Europe's second largest river, on Thursday as emergency officials worked to contain as much of the leak as possible.
"It is a huge tragedy for the whole country," said Anna Nagy, a Hungarian Disaster Management offical. "We love the Danube, we're very proud of the Danube and we tried to protect it."
"I hope we can save the life in the river," she said.
Read full article: http://edition.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/europe/10/07/hungary.toxic/index.html

How ironic!

Click here to see a photo of a "Moving memorial to Jews who were shot and thrown into the Danube."

Click here to read a poem about the Danube titled "Red River."

The second video posted below left me shivering.

An act of kindness

The following article demonstrates how an act of kindness can have far reaching consequences.

One of the victims of the recent terrorist shooting near Hevron was Kokhava Even-Chaim. Kokhava, 37, was a teacher in the city of Efrat. She was survived by a 10-year-old daughter and by her husband Maimon, a volunteer paramedic who was among the first at the scene of the attack that claimed his wife's life.
As Kokhava's family sat shiva, the seven-day mourning period, they were visited by neighbors and friends who came to give comfort and to share stories about Kokhava. One set of unexpected visitors shared a story about how Kokhava's kindness saved a young soldier.
Read full article: http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/139936

I received an email about making a donation "to help the family whose home burned down last week on Shemini Hag Aseret in Brooklyn.
The family was celebrating and eating their meal in the Succah, when the house caught fire. B'S'D, an 8 year old child was niftar, and 7 others are being hospitalized for burns.
This family has nothing left, and needs our support. Please click the link below to donate to the family through our tax deductible organization Torah Learning Resources."

6 Oct 2010

If I am here everyone is here

This evening a relative related an incident that occurred to him at an evening shiur he attends regularly. It was right after Sukkot and the shiur was poorly attended, as some people were still returning from their Sukkot vacations. The rabbi mentioned that he would like to start a new Gemara but would wait a couple of days until more people were in attendance. In the meantime, he would deliver a shiur on a different topic.
My relative told the rabbi "Im ani kan hakol kan - If I am here everyone is here." The rabbi looked at him for a moment, probably thinking about the display of arrogance this person was exhibiting. But then recognition dawned and he told my relative, "Oh, you are quoting Hillel's words."
Curious to understand in what context Hillel uttered those words, I googled the above phrase and came upon a beautiful Torah thought by Rabbi Norman Lamm. The devar Torah is about Sukkot but better late than never.
To access Rabbi Lamm's Indispensability: Myth and Fact, click here.

Second chance

This morning I came across two items which highlight people's resilience and a "never give up attitude."
Let's be inspired by these people and be encouraged not to throw in the towel when things don't go our way.

After off duty Police Officers of the LPD spent a day of their time cleaning graffiti around town, this Ridge Avenue fence – one of the fences cleaned by the Local PBA 71 during their first ever ‘Paint The Town’ cleanup – was vandalized again. But Local PBA’s President Gary Przewoznick tells TLS, they’re planning a second ‘Paint The Town’ cleanup sometime this month.
Read full article: http://www.thelakewoodscoop.com/news/2010/10/graffiti-vandals-strike-again-pba-president-says-second-paint-the-town-expected-this-month.html

5 Oct 2010

Radiating light

What's more important?

In late August, two events occurred.
A drunk man urinated inside/outside a mosque in Queens on prayer rugs/ not on prayer rugs, shouted anti-Muslim slurs/ no he didn't - get the picture? Depending on which report you read, a very different picture emerges as to what happened. A WPIX report which has the http address breaks-into mosque reports that a man urinated outside a mosque.
The accompanying video in the article is very elucidating.
Read full story: http://www.wpix.com/news/wpix-man-breaks-into-mosque,0,3976023.story

A FoxNews report quotes from a NYPost article stating that "A drunk man barged into a mosque in Queens, N.Y., and shouted anti-Muslim slurs before urinating on prayer rugs.."
Read full story: http://www.myfoxny.com/dpp/news/local_news/queens/drunk-man-screams-anti-muslim-slurs-urinates-in-mosque-newscore-20100826

However, if you read the NYPost article, the part about shouting anti-Muslim slurs is nowhere to be found.

Be that as it may, a woman rabbinic student decided to collect money for the prayer rugs that were either urinated upon or not and raised over 1000 dollars.
That same week, another event occurred.
Four Jewish civilians were murdered in a shooting attack at Bani Naim junction, including a husband and wife who left behind six orphans.

INN published an article titled Fund Created for New Terror Orphans

I meant to write a post about how the rabbinic student found it more important to raise funds for prayer rugs than to be concerned about funds for orphans but never got around to it. Yesterday, Daniel Greenfield wrote an article about the same subject.
"And so we are witness to the spectacle of an enlightened post-modern era, in which Jewish liberal clergy have decided that soiled rugs have more personhood than Jewish orphans."
Read full article: http://sultanknish.blogspot.com/2010/10/muslim-prayer-rugs-and-jewish-orphans.html

If you would like to donate to the fund to provide money for the Imes children, please contact Rabbi Richman at rabbirichman@gmail.com.

4 Oct 2010

News headlines

It was interesting to see the headlines and articles about an arson attack on a mosque in the West Bank. The perpetrators have not been caught, as yet, but that won't stop some from proclaiming the truth before all the facts have been established and proclaiming the religion of the alleged vandals.

Vandals set fire to West Bank mosque

Korans burnt in West Bank mosque attack

Al Jazeera
Settlers blamed for mosque blaze

Jewish settlers vandalize West Bank mosque

Tikun Olam
Settlers Torch Another West Bank Mosque

West Bank mosque 'set alight by Jewish settlers'

On a daily basis

I came across an interesting article by Rabbi Benjamin Blech titled When the Holdiays are Over. Rabbi Blech discusses a passage in Talmud where the rabbis debate "Which verse of the entire Bible is the most important? Which one succinctly summarizes its major message?
One rabbi suggested the famous verse in Leviticus, chapter 19:18, “And you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Clearly, for him, the purpose of Torah was to improve interpersonal relationships.
A second rabbi offered Deuteronomy 6:5, “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might.” His emphasis was man's relationship with the Almighty.
But the last rabbi quoted offered a seemingly incomprehensible suggestion. The single most important verse according to him is from the book of Exodus, chapter 29:39 that refers to the daily sacrifice: “And one lamb you shall bring up as the offering daily in the morning and the second lamb you shall bring in the evening.”
Commentators clarify this perplexing response. The last opinion did not mean to reject the importance of the verses stressing our need to love God as well as our fellow man. But those noble sentiments pale into insignificance if we fail to recognize the need to sacrifice for these ideals on a daily basis."
Read full article: http://www.aish.com/jl/m/pm/104232779.html

After reading the above article, I put my son to the test. Which is the most important verse in the Torah? He came up first with "Love your neighbor" followed by "And you shall love your G-d."
What about you?

3 Oct 2010

The bottle

My response to a Huffington Post article titled Why My Non-Jewish Fiancé and I Make the Best Jewish Match by Kate Fridkis is the video below.

The interceder

Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Barditchov (1740-1810) was one of the most popular rebbes in chassidic history. He was a close disciple of the Maggid of Mezritch. He is best known for his love for every Jew and his active efforts to intercede for them against adverse heavenly decrees. Many of his teachings are contained in the posthumously published Kedushat Levi.
...A well-known preacher once came to Barditchov before Rosh Hashanah and requested permission from the head of the Jewish community to preach. "I am a widely-acclaimed preacher," he said, "and consider myself worthy of preaching in the synagogue of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak."
"I would gladly allow you to preach in any other synagogue," the communal leader replied. "If, however, you wish to speak in Rabbi Levi Yitzchak's synagogue, obtain permission from him."
Continue reading article: http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/1007686/jewish/Prelude-to-a-Sermon.htm

This morning, I received an email about October 3rd (the 25th of Tishrei) being the Yahrzeit of the Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Berdychiv.
לוי יצחק בן שרה שאשה or לוי יצחק בן מאיר

May we be zocheh that we should follow in his footsteps, love every Jew and see them in a positive light.

2 Oct 2010

An extra effort

Just heard a dvar Torah this afternoon about making the extra effort in performing mitzvot. The rabbi spoke about people concerned with choosing the most beautiful etrog, the nicest lulav. And there are those who barely fulfill the requirements of a mitzvah.
There are those who hire workers to build their sukkahs and those who build them themselves.
There are those who bake challah for Shabbos and those who go to the bakery to buy challah.
Here the rabbi interjected that there are those who can't put in the effort, for various reasons such as physical health or marital harmony. But those who are able to do so, should make the extra effort.
The rabbi proceeded to give an example from this week's parsha.
After the flood, Noah became intoxicated and was uncovered. The Parsha relates that Shem and Yafet, two of Noah's sons took a garment and covered him.
Rashi states that "The verb 'took' is in the singular because Shem alone took the initiative in performing this meritorious deed, then Yafet came and joined him. Therefore, the descendants of Shem (i.e. the Jews) were rewarded with the precept of talit shel tzitzit, fringed garments (Num. 15:38); those of Yafet were rewarded with burial in Eretz Yisrael as it is written (Ez. 39:11): And it shall come to pass in that day that I will give unto Gog (a descendant of Yafet) a place fit for burial in Yisrael; and those of Ham, who degraded his father, were eventually 'led away by the King of Asshur...naked and barefoot (Isaiah 20:4) (Midrash and Rashi)"

The rabbi then asked why Shem merited a reward that has a connection to life while Yafet merited a reward that is connected to death. He answered that because Shem took the initiative and did it with zerizut, he merited talit shel tzitzit. Yafet, who just followed along after seeing what Shem was doing, merited a lesser reward.

May we do mitzvot with zerizut, with extra effort. May we impart our enthusiasm for mitzvot to our children.