It took forty-two stages for the Jews to get from Egypt to Israel, over a period of forty years. Each stage of the journey was determined exclusively by divine decree—the cloud which hovered over the Jewish camp began to move on when they were required to relocate. The entire camp then packed up their belongings and moved on, following the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night. Whenever the cloud was stationary, they were stationary, and when the cloud moved again, they followed the cloud. This is what happened through forty-two stops and starts to get to Israel.
The Torah states, “These are the journeys of the Children of Israel, who went forth from the land of Egypt . . .” (Numbers 33:1). The question is asked why the verse states, “These are the journeys,” in the plural. They weren’t going out of Egypt on all of the 42 journeys. Surely after the first stage of the journey, after they had arrived in Rameses, they were no longer leaving Egypt but Rameses, and so on? After the first stage of the journey, weren’t the other 41 stages going to Israel, but not from Egypt? The simple answer is that until a person arrives at the ultimate goal, Israel (in a spiritual sense as well as a physical one), he is always in the process of leaving Egypt.
However, the verse has an even deeper meaning—it refers to the journeys through life of every individual. Moreover, every person’s life may be analyzed in terms of these 42 journeys of the Jews from Egypt to Israel. In other words, it is possible to identify each person’s journey through life with the 42 stages of the journey described in the Torah.
The word “Egypt” in Hebrew, Mitzrayim, can also be derived from the word meaning “constricted” or “limiting place.” In Hebrew, a meitzar is a strait. It comes from the word tzar, “narrow.”
Every person, in his or her life, has situations which the Torah describes as a limitation and constriction, where the person feels that something is obstructing him from behaving in the right way. In order to get out of this constricted area, a person has to exert energy. And when he manages to escape the constriction, it is as if he has left that place and gone to a place that is a wide-open place. When you’re finished with that problem, you breathe a sigh of relief: “I’ve gotten out of that tight spot.”
The verse therefore means that the life of the Jew, which begins at his birth, is a succession of tight spots followed by relief and expansion. It means that at every given time in our life, in every given stage in our life, we are given certain obstacles and certain tests. These are the tight spots. Of course, these situations are not meant to stifle us or to make us surrender. On the contrary, through overcoming these difficulties, we become strengthened and our awareness of G‑d is expanded.
This can be compared to an army. When you go for basic training, they make you run ten miles, they make you carry packs, they make you go through difficult situations. Why? Because only after you have undergone the difficulties they put you through do you become a good soldier. If you had never done that, you wouldn’t even have known you were capable of doing it. When you undergo difficulties, you build up your strength. Just as this is true of physical situations, it is true also in spiritual situations.
In this context, “Egypt” doesn’t mean a geographical land, a country called Egypt; rather, it refers to the stages of constriction and development that we all go through on our journey to spiritual perfection—signified by the Land of Israel.
This is life. What may be difficult at the age of five is a joke at the age of ten, and what’s difficult at the age of ten is a joke at the age of twenty. A person who just got married is struggling with the first year of marriage and getting used to marriage. That’s a big struggle. But when people are married for twenty-five years and are marrying off their children, there’s a whole different set of difficulties and problems. Then there are the problems that come with older age and being grandparents. Every stage in life has its own qualities. G‑d is constantly placing us in new situations, and we have to deal with them and grow through them. Then we go to another stage, and then we come to a third stage and a fourth stage. This is a succession of constrictions.
When does it end? It ends at the end of a person’s life. In other words, the beginning is Egypt—the birth; coming into Israel at the end of the 42nd journey is when a person completes his journey in this world and comes into the land of the World to Come. Until then, a person’s life is a series of journeys, each one being a strait in comparison to the one after it, and the tests change and get more difficult as you pass through them. This is on an individual basis.
This also happens every single day. There are, of course, different levels. The nation goes on its journeys, the individual on his. On any given day, the person goes through these journeys from the time he wakes up until he goes to sleep at night.
This condition of being on a continual journey can have two possible reactions. One reaction is that the person can become very arrogant and say, “Look how far I’ve come. I remember, years ago, I was on this level and now I’ve really struggled and worked hard, and now I’m on a much higher level.” To the arrogant person, the Torah says, “Don’t be so arrogant. You may have gone through 22 journeys. That’s fantastic, but you still have another 20 to go. As long as you are alive, you can never become complacent about the number of journeys you’ve traveled.”
Then there’s a person who can get depressed. He’s saying, “My goodness, this is terrible. I’m on such a low level. How can I ever get to the level of this other person? Look at her. She’s so much higher than me, and what’s the point of even starting?” For that person there is also a word of encouragement. Depending on who you are and on how you’re relating, the Torah has a reaction for each situation. The reaction to that person is: Do not despair, because G‑d never intended that a person go from Egypt to Israel in one move. The Torah told us from the very beginning that it’s going to take 42 small journeys. No one should ever get depressed, because as long as you’re involved in the journeying, as long as you didn’t give up and stop running, you’re still in the race. G‑d is the One who can read everybody’s heart. He is the One who gives points. You cannot ever compare yourself to anybody else, because you don’t know where the other person started from and what their handicaps are. The important thing is to know that you have to keep going. Just keep going from one journey to the next, and let G‑d do the grading.
To a person who says despairingly, “Look how far I have to go,” the Torah says, “Do not give up. After all, look how far you’ve come. A little further; a little more effort, and you will reach the next stage. Don’t take on the whole journey at once. Go one step, one stage at a time. Set your goals on the next stop.”
Eventually, all of us will get to the Land of Israel. Each of us will experience our own individual redemption, and the Jewish people as a whole will also achieve redemption. May it be speedily in our days!
David Beckham's Baby Girl by Jeff Jacoby The Beckhams gave birth to their fourth child. Are they bad role models?
David and Victoria Beckham were overjoyed by the birth last week of their fourth child, a baby girl they named Harper. "We all feel so blessed and the boys love their baby sister so much!!!" the former Spice Girl exulted to her vast following on Twitter. A few days later she posted a picture of her husband cradling his new daughter, with the tender comment: "Daddy's little girl!"
What heart wouldn't be warmed by the Beckhams' delight in their newborn?
The Observer's wouldn't.
In a remarkably churlish article on Sunday, Britain's influential left-leaning newspaper (The Observer is The Guardian's sister Sunday paper) pronounced Harper's parents "environmentally irresponsible" for choosing to bring her into the world. Headlined "Beckhams a 'bad example' for families," the piece was a sour blast at parents who raise good-sized families. "One or two children are fine but three or four are just being selfish," Simon Ross, executive director of the Optimum Population Trust, told reporter Tracy McVeigh. "The Beckhams... are very bad role models with their large famil[y]."
McVeigh also quoted natural-history broadcaster David Attenborough, who recently "made a passionate speech about how the world's baby-making was damaging the planet." Fifty years ago there were 3 billion human beings, Attenborough had lamented. "Now there are almost 7 billion... and every one of them needing space. There cannot be more people on this Earth than can be fed."
Has there ever been a more persistent and popular superstition than the idea that having more kids is a bad thing, or that "overpopulation" causes hunger, misery, and hopelessness? In the 18th century, Thomas Malthus warned that human population growth must inevitably outstrip the food supply; to prevent mass starvation, he suggested, "we should sedulously encourage the other forms of destruction," such as encouraging the spread of disease among the poor. In the 20th century, Paul Ehrlich wrote bestsellers with titles like The Population Bomb, in which he described the surging number of people in the world as a "cancer" that would have to be excised through "many apparently brutal and heartless decisions." (His list included sterilization, abortion, and steep tax rates on families with children.)
Just last month, Thomas Friedman avowed in his New York Times column that "The Earth Is Full," and that "we are currently growing at a rate that is using up the Earth's resources far faster than they can be sustainably replenished."
For more than 200 years the population alarmists have been predicting the worst, and for more than 200 years their predictions have failed to come true. As the number of men, women, and children in the world has skyrocketed -- from fewer than 1 billion when Malthus lived to nearly 7 billion today -- so has the average person's standard of living. Poverty, disease, and hunger have not been eradicated, of course, and there are many people in dire need of help. But by and large human beings are living longer, healthier, cleaner, richer, better-educated, more productive, and more comfortable lives than ever before.
The Malthusians are wrong. When human beings proliferate, the result isn't less of everything to go around. The planet doesn't run out of food and fuel, minerals and metals. On the contrary, most resources have grown cheaper and more abundant over the past couple centuries -- in tandem with rising population.
The explanation is no mystery. Yes, more babies mean more mouths and therefore more consumption. But more babies also mean more minds and arms and spines -- and therefore more new ideas, more energy, more ingenuity, more initiative, more enterprise. "Human beings do not just consume, they also produce," writes George Mason University economist Bryan Caplan in a new book. "The world economy is not like a party where everyone splits a birthday cake; it is more like a potluck where everyone brings a dish."
It is a beautiful and uplifting insight, but the population misanthropes never seem to grasp it: Human beings, on the whole and over time, usually create more than they destroy. With more people tend to come more progress and more prosperity. That's why the birth of virtually any baby is cause to rejoice, and why parents who decide to raise another child bestow a gift on all of us. To be fruitful and multiply, says Genesis, is to be blessed. The parents of Harper Beckham know that, even if The Observer doesn't.
This article originally appeared in The Boston Globe.
Talkbacks (39) When news emerged that “Freedom Flotilla 2” was tied up in Greece for weeks and unable to carry out its plan to breach Israel’s blockade of Hamas-controlled Gaza, a song from Camelot came to mind. Queen Guinevere asks, “What do the simple folk do... when they are blue?” and King Arthur tries to explain.
You have to ask the same question about the Flotilla Folk. Who are they, what do they do and why do they do it? Almost 1,500 of them from around the world planned to fly to Greece, board ships and sail across the Mediterranean to the Gaza Strip in July.
The Flotilla Folk say they are just ordinary folk committed to human rights. But how do ordinary folk have time for the complicated preparations necessary for such an adventure, and for spending weeks in Greece and Gaza? Don’t they have jobs? Or do they get their summers off? And how do ordinary folk have the funds to buy ships, fly to Greece, and spend weeks in hotels waiting to launch the latest publicity stunt they have concocted to smear Israel?
How do they pay for their expensive human rights hobby? Apparently they don’t have to do much preparing. Established radical groups affiliated with Hamas take care of all the details, like the Union of Good (UoG), a coalition of European charities affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, and the International Solidarity Movement (ISM). The ISM has praised Palestinian suicide bombing as “noble,” spent the last 10 years training international volunteers to sabotage Israel’s security, and received official invitations from Hamas to come to Gaza.
These groups raise the money through their various affiliated “charities,” which sometimes generate funds through mainstream businesses. Or they raise money by misinforming well-meaning people about their purposes, as the US delegation to Gaza did by having the audacity to name its boat after President Barack Obama’s book, The Audacity of Hope.
But why would Flotilla Folk spend their vacations trying to violate Israel’s legal naval blockade of Gaza in order to visit and embrace Hamas, the terrorist organization that controls the territory? Flotilla Folk leaders like UoG and ISM support Hamas and its battle against Israel’s existence. Others, like Medea Benjamin, Col.
Ann Wright and Hedy Epstein have turned activism against Israel into full-time careers. Some Flotilla Folk are well-meaning people who simply accept, uncritically, the distorted facts used to demonize the country. Still others were once on the front lines of the battle for civil rights and against Apartheid.
BUT WHAT do such idealistic folk do when the problems they once fought have been resolved? Many, like Alice Walker, try to recapture those idealistic, heady times and camaraderie by seeing the same injustices even where they don’t exist, and ignoring them where they do exist. They gullibly accept the misinformation propagated by the UoG and ISM, and superimpose the lens of the civil rights or anti-Apartheid movements on the Arab-Israeli conflict. They are entirely unaware that the multicultural Jewish state is among the most progressive in the world and has sought peace with its Arab neighbors since it was reestablished in 1948.
Many are journalists just looking for another great story about Israeli brutality. It always sells.
But Flotilla Folk want to be human rights heroes without really putting themselves in harm’s way. So they don’t go to help the victims of the brutal regimes in Syria, Iran, the Congo or Darfur.
Instead, they choose to fight Israel because they know it strictly follows Western humanitarian standards and the rule of law. They get to pretend they are brave warriors, when in fact, they are only play-acting on a safe stage.
Whatever they do in their private lives and whatever lens they use, Flotilla Folk share a basic philosophy. They believe that the way to bring peace to the Middle East is through acts of civil disobedience that will get media attention, not through encouraging negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.
They aren’t like ordinary people. They think it is okay to ignore terrorism against Israelis, to overlook the 8,000 rockets Hamas has fired from Gaza into Israeli communities over the past five years, turning everyday life into a lethal game of Russian roulette. They think it is okay to ignore the fact that Hamas is an Iranian proxy, and that Hamas’s founding document calls for the murder of Jews, the “obliteration” of Israel and its replacement with a fundamentalist theocracy that opposes all the freedoms and social justice values for which the Flotilla Folk claim to stand. And they think it’s okay to embrace Hamas, even though its founding document cites the anti-Semitic Czarist forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion – a racist tract that was once called a “warrant for the genocide” of Jews.
They think it is okay to ignore terrorism from the West Bank – even the murder of the Fogel family, including a three-month-old infant, and the fact that the murderers showed no remorse for their savage act. And they act as though it is okay to ignore the hate-filled incitement that saturates Palestinian society and creates people like the Fogels’ murderers.
The Flotilla Folk are not like other people. They use repressive methods and manipulate information. Dutch journalists who had been part of the flotilla abandoned it in disgust after seeing these methods used. The one small boat that did finally attempt to sail to Gaza didn’t have any humanitarian goods on board – only Israel-haters. These flotilla folk spread hate, not hope. They support repressive forces in the Middle East, like Hamas, not the moderates seeking peaceful coexistence. They abuse and pervert human rights values instead of upholding them. They are enemies, not friends, of Palestinians and Israelis, and of the brave demonstrators in Syria, Iran and elsewhere, whom they ignore.
Fortunately international leaders, especially those in Greece, exposed the hypocrisy of the Flotilla Folk and their false pretenses, and stopped them. But Flotilla Folk don’t give up. With their zealotry, they will try to devise other media ops to destroy Israel’s international image. It is time to denounce these destructive campaigns and get serious about promoting peace. Anyone who truly yearns to see Israelis and Palestinians living in peaceful coexistence should stop indulging in disingenuous stunts and urge Palestinians to return to the negotiating table.
Roz Rothstein is the co-founder and CEO of StandWithUs, and Roberta Seid, PhD, is the director of education and research for StandWithUs. Download JPost's iPhone application
A fellow was boasting about what a good citizen he was and what a refined, disciplined lifestyle he led. "I don't smoke, I don't drink, I don't gamble, I don't cheat on my wife, I am early to bed and early to rise, and I work hard all day and attend religious services faithfully." Very impressive, right? Then he added, "I've been like this for the last five years, but just you wait until they let me out of this place!"
Although prisons were not really part of the Jewish judicial system, there were occasions when individuals would have their freedom of movement curtailed. One such example was the City of Refuge. If a person was guilty of manslaughter (i.e., unintentional murder) the perpetrator would flee to one of the specially designated Cities of Refuge throughout Biblical Israel where he was given safe haven from the wrath of a would-be avenging relative of the victim.
The Torah tells us that his term of exile would end with the death of the Kohen Gadol, the High Priest. The Talmud tells of an interesting practice that developed. The mother of the Kohen Gadol at the time would make a point of bringing gifts of food to those exiled so that they should not pray for the early demise of her son, to which their own freedom was linked.
Now this is very strange. Here is a man who, though not a murderer, is not entirely innocent of any negligence either. The rabbis teach that G-d does not allow misfortune to befall the righteous. If this person caused a loss of life, we can safely assume that he is less than righteous. Opposite him stands the High Priest of Israel, noble, aristocratic and, arguably, the holiest Jew alive. Of the entire nation, he alone had the awesome responsibility and privilege of entering the inner sanctum of the Holy Temple, the "Holy of Holies," on the holy day of Yom Kippur. Do we really have reason to fear that the prayers of this morally tainted prisoner will have such a negative effect on the revered and exalted High Priest, to the extent that the Kohen Gadol may die? And his poor mother has to go and shlep food parcels to distant cities to soften up the prisoner so he should go easy in his prayers so that her holy son may live? Does this make sense?
But such is the power of prayer--the prayer of any individual, noble or ordinary, righteous or even sinful.
Of course, there are no guarantees. Otherwise, I suppose, Shuls around the world would be overflowing daily. But we do believe fervently in the power of prayer. And though, ideally, we pray in Hebrew and with a congregation, the most important ingredient for our prayers to be successful is sincerity. "G-d wants the heart," we are taught. The language and the setting are secondary to the genuineness of our prayers. Nothing can be more genuine than a tear shed in prayer.
By all means, learn the language of our Siddur, the prayer book. Improve your Hebrew reading so you can follow the services and daven with fluency. But remember, most important of all is our sincerity. May all our prayers be answered.
An Arab woman from Qatar taught me how to mourn the Norwegian children.
I didn’t even hear about the massacre in Norway until Sunday night. When it occurred on Friday, I was too busy with my Shabbos preparations to check the news on the internet. Saturday night, I didn’t even turn on my computer, and I don't have a television. Sunday night, one of the women who attends a class in my home mentioned that a right-wing terrorist had gone on a shooting spree in Norway and many people were dead, but after the class I was too tired to look at the news.
Finally, on Monday night, I went online. First, I looked up the latest developments in the Leiby Kletzky murder case. I read the statement issued by Leiby’s parents after the shiva. It was followed by a sampling of the thousands of condolence messages received by the Kletzkys. One in particular caught my eye, and then my heart. It was from an Arab woman in Qatar. It read:
“My deepest condolences to the parents, especially Leiby’s mother. As a mother of 2 boys, I know what a long, long journey it is for a mother to bring up her baby to be 9 years old. To carry a baby for 9 months, give birth, struggle with sleepless nights, ailments, aches and pains, the first step, first smile, first fall, going from milestone to milestone, cheering with them, crying with them, worrying with them, wearing your heart on your sleeve every moment of the day. These are precious moments etched in our hearts forever. And then, suddenly, cruelly and horribly, your child is snatched from you, and in one second your life is completely and utterly destroyed. I pray that God help you find inner strength to cope with this immense tragedy, for the sake of your daughters, your husband and all the others who need you in their lives. I cried for your son, and I cried for your heart that will forever have a piece missing. With deepest sympathy, Carmen Ali from Qatar.”
Then I googled the Norway massacre. I read about the bombing in Oslo and then the shooting spree on Utoya Island, where youth from Norway’s Labor Party were holding a summer camp. I read that 92 people were dead, most of them teenagers. I read that the terrorist was a right-wing extremist who hated Muslims (and apparently a lot of other people). I shook my head, muttered, “How horrible!” and went to bed.
This morning, however, when I was doing my heshbon hanefesh (review of yesterday’s spiritual failures and victories), I realized that there was something terribly wrong with my reaction to Norway’s tragedy. For two weeks, ever since the death of Leiby Kletzky, I have been crying over the death of one Jewish child, and I didn’t shed a single tear over the death of dozens of Norwegian children?
With a chill, I realized that this is how people all over the world must have reacted every time we in Israel suffered a massive terror attack. While we were crying and burying our dead, they were shaking their heads, clicking their tongues, and going on to the next news item. What is wrong with them? What is wrong with me? What is wrong with us?
I realized that I was not devastated by Norway’s tragedy because I do not identify with the dozens of mothers who are burying their children this week. After all, what do I have in common with these blond-haired, blue-eyed women with Nordic features who are on the other end of the religious and political spectrum from me?
That’s when I remembered the letter to the Kletzkys from the woman in Qatar. How could she, a Muslim Arab, identify with a Jewish Hasidic woman in Brooklyn? She wrote: “As a mother of 2 boys, I know what a long, long journey it is for a mother to bring up her baby to be 9 years old.” She recounted the common experiences they shared: the pregnancy and birth, the sleepless nights, the ailments.... She stood in Itta Kletsky’s shoes, and she cried with her.
Related Article: Learning from Leiby
I, too, am a mother. Like Itta Kletsky. Like Carmen Ali. Like the scores of blond-haired Norwegian mothers who will never again embrace their murdered children. Learning from the example of my Muslim sister, I sat there and visualized all we have in common: the jubilation over the child’s first smile, the worry over his first fever, the anxiety over his first day at school. I sat there until I wept for the slain children of Norway.
In some ways, these parents are in a worse situation than Leiby Kletzky’s parents. The Kletzkys had a whole community focused on their personal loss. In Norway there are so many dead that each child gets no more than a photo and a short paragraph in the news. Thousands of mourners crowded into the Kletskys’ apartment every day of the seven-day shiva period. In Norway, thousands mourn in the center of Oslo, but how many beat a trail to each victim’s home? Judaism mandates a week of shiva, in which the parents are forbidden to work, bathe, or do anything other than grieve, while people visit them to fulfill the mitzvah of “comforting the mourners.” What did the Norwegian parents do the day after they buried their children? What framework do they have to ease them through the mourning process?
In their public statement, Leiby Kletzky’s parents addressed “all of God’s children around the world who held our dear Leiby in their thoughts and prayers. We pray that none of you should ever have to live through what we did. But if any tragedy is to ever befall any of you, God forbid, you should be blessed with a community and public as supportive as ours. We feel that through Leiby we’ve become family with you all.”
Last Friday, tragedy did befall scores of Norwegian parents, and few of them were “blessed with a community and public as supportive as ours.” Let us, the Jewish People, unite again in a message to these stricken parents: We are crying for your children—and for you.
I was 226 meters beneath the earth's surface at the outskirts of Johannesburg, South Africa, touring what had been one of the most lucrative gold mines in the world. Felicia, our guide, explained that while the defunct mine still contained gold, it was too little to be worth mining. "You see," she said, waving her hand toward the wall of the tunnel we were walking through, "There is still gold here."
I pointed my flashlight at the rocky wall, where I indeed saw glittering specks of gold. "Yes, I see the gold," I announced, running my finger along the specks.
Felicia laughed. "That's not the gold. That's what they call 'fool's gold.' It's only 20% gold. People are fooled by its gold-like appearance."
"Then where's the real gold?" I queried.
Felicia pointed to a shiny black spot of rock, as big as my fingernail. "This is real gold, 99% gold."
"But it doesn't look like gold at all," I protested. "It's black."
"That's right," Felicia agreed. "To make it look like gold, you have to go through a complicated process. First you crush the rock. Then you pulverize it, until it's like powder. Then you have to add cyanide, a deadly poison."
"And then the color turns to gold?"
"Not yet. At that stage, it looks like thick polish." Felicia went on to explain additional stages of the process until, finally, the gold looks like gold.
I stared at the shiny black spot on the wall, irked. How could something look so different than what it really is?
Related Article: Transcendence and Oneness
Physical Appearance vs. Scientific Truth
Appearances deceive. We seem to be stationary, but we are really sitting on a giant ball that is spinning at the speed of 1000 mph. Our planet itself is moving around the sun at 67,000 mph. Yet our perception swears that we are not moving.
The chair you are sitting on appears to be solid, but it is composed of spinning atoms, where the proportion of solid matter to empty space is much less than a fraction of 1%. The proportion of matter to space in the average atom is akin to a single baseball in the middle of a giant baseball stadium. In fact, scientists tell us that all the matter in the world would theoretically fit into a teaspoon. What you think of as solid matter is almost all empty space. But it appears, even to the trained physicist, to be so solid.
The final scientific death-blow to the world of appearances is quantum physics, with its mystifying, illogical, mind-boggling realities. Once thought to apply only to the micro-world of atoms and subatomic particles, quantum mechanics during the last decade has replaced classical physics (including Einstein's Theory of Relativity) as applying to the macro-world as well. As Dr. Vlatko Vedral, a physics professor at the University of Oxford, wrote in the June, 2011 issue of Scientific American: "Few modern physicists think that classical physics has equal status with quantum mechanics; it is but a useful approximation of a world that is quantum at all scales."
Thus the most advanced science substantiates the claim: We live in a world where appearances mask reality.
Physical Appearance vs. Spiritual Truth
From a Torah perspective, the most pernicious of all false appearances is the illusion of Divine absence, a world devoid of God. The Hebrew word for "world" is olam, derived from the root word meaning "hidden." God is deliberately hidden in our world.
Yet, in truth, God is not only the source of all that exists, but, as the Torah proclaims, Ein od milvado – nothing exists except God. This means that everything, including this phantasmagoric physical world, exists within God. Denying the existence of God is like a fish denying the existence of water.
This is not an abstract point. All the substantive choices we make are based on which world we believe in: the apparent physical world or its underlying spiritual reality. Yet, to penetrate beneath the mask of physical appearance requires a mental process more arduous than turning black rock into gold jewelry.
A world disconnected from its Divine source is a fool's gold world, which leads to choosing falsity over truth:
In a fool's gold world, if you steal money, you're richer.
In reality, if you steal money, you're diminished and poorer.
In a fool's gold world, if you deride and embarrass someone with a clever put-down, you come out on top.
In reality, if you deride and embarrass someone with a clever put-down, you damage yourself even more than you damage your victim.
In a fool's gold world, if you win an argument with your spouse, you've won.
In reality, every time you argue with your spouse, you've lost.
In a fool's gold world, cheating helps you pass your test.
In reality, if you cheat, you've failed your real test.
In a fool's gold world, if you give a large sum of money to charity, you have less.
In reality, if you give a large sum of money to charity, you have more. (As a wise woman said at the end of her life: "All I really have is what I gave away.")
In a fool's gold world, others in the same line of business are your competitors, and the more your competitor succeeds, the worse it is for you.
In reality, all of us are part of the whole, and the more the other succeeds, the better it is for the whole, which includes you.
In a fool's gold world, the worst eventuality is death.
In reality, the worst eventuality is a life devoid of meaning and purpose.
In a fool's gold world, your essential identity appears to be your body, so you invest your time, attention, and money in beautifying/strengthening/preserving the body.
In reality, your essential identity is your soul, so (while fulfilling the mitzvah to take care of the body) you invest most of your time, attention, and money in enhancing your awareness of and acting according to your soul.
Unearthing the real gold may require going deep below the surface and undergoing an intricate process of refinement, but is investing in counterfeit ever worth it?
Saris, Camels and Tofu Ingredients to Retain My Identity
by Chava’le Mishulovin
I watch, fascinated, as Raj deftly wraps, twists, and tucks the long red-and-gold sari around my friend. Raj hands her the material, directing how to adjust it. One final tug, and the transition from “tourist” to “local” is complete. With her dark skin, my friend Ruti really does look like an authentic sari-clad Indian.
She puts her hands together in the classic “namaste” fashion and grins coyly, waiting for me to snap a photo of her—the very reason we entered the shop. I’m mesmerized to witness how, in just a matter of moments, my fellow foreigner was suddenly transformed to appear identical to the thousands of local Indian women teeming around us. I take the photo, and she nudges me to dress up as well. I feel guilty misleading the shop owner into thinking we were sure about purchasing the saris, but she reminds me that Raj had invited us numerous times as we passed his shop in town. “Come to take pictures with my beautiful saris,” he would wave to us cheerfully. “All the Israelis and guests are doing it. It’s not problem.”
I turn to the mirror, eager to be faced with another newly born IndianIf that’s the case, I’m ready! I long to coalesce into my surroundings, and bedecking myself in their glamorous and flowy garments is definitely a prerequisite.
I giggle throughout the whole process, and when Raj proclaims me done, I turn to the mirror, eager to be faced with another newly born Indian. What I see, instead, is a tall, fair-skinned young woman with short hair, draped in an orange-and-burgundy sari, a bright green sweatshirt hood sticking out from the neck, and gray sneakers peeking out from the bottom. In short, I see an American pretending to be an Indian . . . and failing miserably.
I sigh, disappointed. Truthfully, I’m not shocked (my face doesn’t know the sun!), but I had been hoping to appear slightly more Indian and less American. Nu. Maybe my upcoming three-day camel trek in the Rajasthan desert will do it. I mean, it’s not very American to travel on camelback through a desert, equipped with only a small rucksack and a smattering of Hindi. Surely then I will feel properly assimilated.
But riding through the desert I meet up with other groups of foreigners, mostly Europeans, and boisterous greetings—in English—are exchanged. Our respective Indian guides know the desert better than we know the palms of our hands, and each leads his group on a separate trail, meeting for dinner. The guides cook food for everyone, and I pull out my kosher tuna and chips. We sit around the bonfire. We sleep under the stars, shivering, even under three layers. The guides walk barefoot. We yelp when we brush against the thorns. The guides smirk.
The camel-riding experience was exhilarating, but I felt no more Indian than before setting out. “Whaddaya mean?” my friends back home exclaim, incredulously. “You were in the middle of nowhere, with no outside communication, relying solely on the savviness of some Indian shepherd, and living the desert life day after day!” Eh, could be, but with the guides everything went so smoothly that even with the absence of toilets and running water, warm clothing at night and cool clothing in the day, proper food and a map, I still didn’t quite feel that I was “roughing it” like the Indians do. Specifically, I couldn’t train myself to think like the native Indians, to operate according to their rhythm.
It’s so frustrating! Try as I may, I simply cannot be, cannot feel, Indian! Why?! Why is it so hard for me to embrace the Indian lifestyle not merely from the outside, but from within as well?! I’m following all the steps—I’m wearing the saris, traveling on the camels, dousing my food in cumin, even getting “adopted” by Indian families, but it’s not changing my inner core. I still don’t feel like a real Indian! Where am I going wrong?!
I’m wondering what I am doing wrong. Yet, perhaps I am not doing anything wrong. Perhaps I am actually doing everything right.
Isn’t it a wonderful gift, as well as a powerful tool, to be able to be submerged in another culture, yet not drift away with it? To absorb their language, clothing, music, traditions, yet not get absorbed by them. To see, to hear, to taste, to appreciate, yet remain apart. Different.
After all, I am differentAfter all, I am different. I’m not Indian.
A co-therapist once explained a typical behavior where kids without sufficient self-esteem constantly change themselves to adapt to their surroundings. “Think of tofu,” he said to me. “It’s got no substance of its own. You stick it in meat, it becomes meat. You cook it with cheese, it becomes cheese. The flavor and smell is only a result of what it’s been hanging around. It’s nothing on its own.”
The imagery bounced around my head for days.
Am I a chunk of tofu sometimes? Does it ever happen that my essence is ignored as a means to take on the face of my peers? Am I able to withstand what’s cooking around me and stay true to myself, even in the intense heat of my environment?
I resolved to stay far away from the fragile and ever-evolving lifestyle of the tofu.
Shortly afterwards, my friend Naamah mentioned how her father opened up a yeshivah in Tel Aviv in order to spread light and Torah to the people there. Unfortunately, many of the teachers who had moved from their mitzvah-observant communities to Tel Aviv got influenced by their new atmosphere, and were no longer fitting to be role models in this school.
“You see,” Naamah concluded sadly, “it’s just much too hard to be a good influence in such a place. You’re definitely going to get affected.”
Instantly, the tofu image came to mind; but this time, something was nagging at me. Something in the tofu comparison didn’t seem so appropriate anymore. I recalled a conversation regarding this very topic of moving out to spiritually desolate communities at the risk of your own spiritual health.
“Sure, you can be a learned and pious individual, but moving away from your source of life, the Torah, is bound to make you stumble,” stated one individual. “No matter how energetically the water is bubbling, moving the pot off the stove will cool it down eventually.”
“Aha,” responded the other. “That’s if you take it off the stove. But if you make sure to continuously stay connected, if you never pull out the kettle’s plug from the outlet, you can go as far away for as long as desired, and you will remain boiling hot. The danger arises only when you sever your soul’s connection with its Source.”
“Naamah,” I comforted my friend, “It’s not impossible. If you continuously and actively remind yourself who you are and where you come from, you will stay true to yourself. If you keep up your learning and make regular accountings of where you are spiritually, you will stay on the right path.”
That turned the tofu analogy upside down. Tofu leaves its simple comfort zone and enters into a realm of flavors and smells it has never encountered before. It’s definitely overwhelming for our little white tofu, as he’s steamed and broiled, frozen and crumbled, chopped and blended, all in a dizzying medley of colors and textures.
Thus it appears to be, as the therapist believed, that tofu abandons its essence when it associates with outsiders.
However, in fact the opposite stands true.
When questioning the identity of an unfamiliar dish whose main ingredient is tofu, you will never hear “meat” or “cheesecake” as a response. You will hear “tofu.” It may look and taste and feel just like the chicken or fish in front of you, but the cook will not deny that it is, in reality, tofu.
The trick is to be yourself in someone else’s living roomHence we see that tofu does not, in fact, desert its essence. Regardless of what it’s being presented as, tofu remains tofu.
And that is our ideal.
To be true to yourself while sitting in your living room is no big feat. That’s what the angels do in heaven, and they get absolutely no credit for that.
The trick is to be yourself in someone else’s living room. To remain who you are no matter where you are.
So now, when I travel about the world, whether it’s to India, the Caribbean islands, or Portland, Oregon, rubbing shoulders with the locals and with fellow tourists, I always keep in mind where my journey started. In order to make sure the changes in climate, language and culture do not effect essential changes in my heart and in my convictions, I pause often to reflect upon my roots, my direction and my growth.
I’ll wear that sari; but I won’t enter that temple.
I’ll ride that camel; but I won’t stray from the path of the Torah.
I will be the tofu that can mesh with anything, but at the end of the day, stands up proudly and declares, “This is who I am—and nowhere that I go, and nothing that you do, will ever change that.”
Uploaded by DannyAyalon on Jul 12, 2011 Israel's Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Danny Ayalon explains the historical facts relating to the Israeli Palestinian conflict. The video explains where the terms "West Bank", "occupied territories" and "67 Borders" originated and how they are incorrectly used and applied. Also follow on Twitter: http://twitter.com/DannyAyalon and http://facebook.com/DannyAyalon
When she was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in 2007, Deborah Masel’s life collapsed. Two and a half years later, her struggle to find meaning in the shadowy world of terminal disease induced her to write not only of her cancer experience, but of threads from the past that were woven into the fabric of this “final curtain.” In her search for comfort and meaning, Deborah found that the world of cancer was dominated by stories of physical survival, which was assumed to constitute “victory.” Yet her most treasured teacher, a Torah scholar who perished in the Holocaust, had awakened her, through the text he left behind, to the meaning of spiritual victory. If he could keep his disciples focused on God while the Nazis brutalized and dehumanized them, surely she could stay focused and not panic even when the cancer threatened to devour her.
Who among us can forget the day we discover that we are mortal, truly and irrevocably mortal. That we are going to die. It would be like forgetting the day the Twin Towers collapsed, or, if we are old enough, the day that President Kennedy was assassinated.
I was on the phone with my teacher Rabbi Hoffman in Denver for our weekly study session. For years, every Friday morning Melbourne time, we’d studied Sacred Fire, the text we’d been learning as a group in Safed the previous year, before we were interrupted by the Second Lebanon War.
There’s nothing in the world quite like this text. Before the Second World War its author, the Rebbe of Piacezna, had spent years contemplating the principle of God’s ubiquity, theoretically and experientially. In a diary he kept before the war, he wrote of his desire to know that he was always in God’s presence, even in the valley of the shadow of death.
The Rebbe of Piacezna, Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Shapira
“My soul takes courage,” he wrote. “Even in the depths of hell I shall not fear, for You are with me!” His early theoretical writings explore the concept of darkness as a source of light, of God’s hiddenness as the source of human enlightenment and revelation. Darkness, he argued, the sense of exile and separation gives rise to a longing in the human heart, a yearning to connect, which we call spirituality. It is the very sense of separation that is the basis of revelation. These beliefs made him particularly well equipped to confront the great darkness of the Holocaust. The deeper the darkness became, the greater his spiritual response.
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I can’t remember which particular teaching from the Sacred Fire Rabbi Hoffman and I were studying the day I discovered my mortality, but I do remember hearing my mobile phone ring in the kitchen, and I remember hearing my son David answer it. I was trying to read the passage we were studying aloud over the phone, and I remember asking Rabbi Hoffman to take over because I was out of breath.
The call my son had answered had been from the breast scan clinic. Could I come next Tuesday for further tests? Something turned in the pit of my stomach, like some kind of sleeping monster awakening. My bowels turned to water. I had to run to the bathroom. I knew. In the pit of my stomach, I knew everything. I knew what wouldn’t be verified for another four weeks. I knew with a knowing I’d never known before. I knew with all my trembling being.
In the months and years that followed, as my advanced metastatic breast cancer spread to my lungs and my bones and my brain, my years of study of the Warsaw Ghetto writings of the Rebbe of Piacezna served me well. The year before my diagnosis, when katyusha rockets fell on the sleepy town of Safed, I panicked and fled. If I could flee from cancer now, I would. But I can’t. Those first weeks after the final, terrible diagnosis I begged, I prayed real, tearful prayers from the heart, the broken, desperate heart. I was groping in the dark, staring at the abyss, when my rebbe, the holy Rebbe of Piacezna who was murdered by the Nazis in November 1943, reached out, all the way from the Garden of Eden, and saved me.
It’s written in the Talmud that if anyone recites the words of a dead scholar, the lips of that scholar mutter in the grave. The Rebbe of Piacezna quoted this Talmudic teaching in the Sacred Fire, his text from the Warsaw Ghetto, and whenever I read these words, I hear him speak directly to me.
It must have been shortly after my initial diagnosis, when I was struggling to come to terms with the words “incurable” and “terminal.” Rabbi Hoffman called. We’d continued to have brief telephone conversations, but we hadn’t studied together since the session during which the breast scan clinic had called to ask me back for more tests.
I was alone in my room. The door was closed and I felt free to pour out my heart.
“What’s happening to me?” I asked him tearily.
The “why’s” wouldn’t arise until much later. Those first weeks, I struggled desperately with the “what.” I just couldn’t fathom what had happened to my world.
Rabbi Hoffman responded with what I thought were platitudes. He assured me that despite everything, despite the grim biopsy results…who knows? Who knows what could happen?
I felt angry and unheard. Then he cajoled me into studying some Sacred Fire with him. It was the week we read in the Torah about Moshe sending out spies to scout the Promised Land. They return with fearful tales of cruel giants and highly fortified cities. The place was impossible to conquer, they said. They tried to persuade the Israelites to return to Egypt, for surely slavery would be preferable to what awaited them in this ‘Promised Land.’
Two of the 12 spies, Joshua and Caleb, dissented and urged the people to have faith and keep going. Neither Rabbi Hoffman nor I could recall what the Piacezna Rebbe had written about this episode. We looked it up, Rabbi Hoffman in his home in Denver I in my Melbourne sickbed, 67 years after it was originally written in unimaginable, overwhelming and hopeless conditions. It was a very short piece, just three paragraphs. We found that in the Warsaw Ghetto in June, 1940, the Rebbe had noted that Caleb did not try to persuade the people to keep going by demolishing the arguments of the others. He didn’t dispute their reports of fearsome giants and the great likelihood of defeat. He simply said, “We must go forth.”
Rabbi Hoffman asked if I had the strength to read. I wasn’t sure, but I knew that back then, in the Warsaw Ghetto in June, 1940, the Rebbe hadn’t had the strength to write.
“Yes,” I said, and I read aloud, as best I could, over the phone. And as I read, we both gasped. The rebbe’s lips were moving! He was speaking to me! He was answering me.
I read: “Not only when we see reasonable openings and paths for our salvation to occur within the laws of nature must we have faith that God will save us, and take heart, but also, when we see no way for salvation to come through natural means, we must still believe…A person needs to say, ‘Yes, all the logic and facts may indeed be true. The people who inhabit the land may be very strong, and their cities well fortified, and so forth, but I still believe in God, who is beyond any boundaries, and above all nature. I believe that He will save us.’”
It was a straightforward statement of faith, and it was what I needed to hear. Later, by 1942, when his world was buried in a darkness hitherto unexperienced, the Rebbe’s revelations were profoundly subtle and incredibly beautiful. But on that day, at that moment, I needed to hear a proclamation of faith in a power that transcends diagnosis, prognosis, statistics. I needed to be reminded of the power of possibility, and that truly, anything could happen. By the time I finished reading, I was weeping cool tears of purest joy.
The Rebbe stayed with me. Some weeks later, I was on the phone with my psychiatrist, Dr. Birch, still struggling to come to terms with my situation. He was trying to convince me that metastatic cancer is not necessarily a sudden death sentence, that in some cases it is managed for years, like a chronic disease.
“Will I have a normal lifespan?” I asked, pathetically, as if he had the power to grant me one.
“Well,” he gently replied, “it’s not probable, but it’s possible.”
Those words struck a very deep chord. The Piacezna Rebbe was still working his holy magic. My teacher Avivah Zornberg taught me a powerful lesson. At the burning bush, when Moses asked God to describe Himself, God replied, “I am what I am and I will be what I will be.” Avivah interpreted this to mean, “I am the very principle of becoming, of allowing the possible to happen.”
Finally, some kind of peace, some sense of hope and faith fluttered within me. Nan, my meditation teacher, had instructed me to find a phrase, a sentence that could serve me as my mantra. I’d been searching for weeks, and now I had it. The Piacezna Rebbe had given it to me, through his writings, through Rabbi Hoffman, through Dr. Birch, through Avivah. Every day, for over a year, I sat quietly, alone, eyes closed, and whispered my mantra, instilling it into me, into my belief system.
“I believe with perfect faith in the principle of becoming, of allowing the possible to happen.”
That’s how it goes in this shadowy world. The longer I last, the more I see it. A mysterious world, full of suffering and injustice, sprinkled with little moments of light. The longer I last, the less important I feel, the more I see myself as a little wriggle, a pleasant but miniscule warp in a huge unfathomable scenario, whose years are significant, equally significant, be they fifty or a hundred and fifty,
The more I fade from my own sight, the more I believe. I believe in something greater than myself, greater even than this great spinning world. I believe in words of Torah that open up worlds of infinite possibility and I believe in that great love that was, that is, and that always will be.
Adapted from the author's latest book Soul to Soul: Writings from Dark Places, published by Gefen Publishing House
Is it the money or the man, the cash or the kids? Of course, no one would ever admit to putting money ahead of their children; but is it not an all too common phenomenon? Aren't most parents, even good parents, guilty of making that mistake now and then?
In this week's Parshah the Jewish People are preparing for the conquest of Canaan and the allotment of the Promised Land amongst the twelve tribes of Israel, when the tribes of Reuben and Gad make a special request of Moses.
They had abundant herds of livestock and the land east of the Jordan River was especially suitable for grazing. They asked Moses if they could receive this land rather than land west of the Jordan. In making this request they expressed themselves thus: "Pens for the flock we shall build here for our livestock, and cities for our small children."
Immediately, Moses chastises them and corrects their mistake. "Build for yourselves cities for your small children and pens for your flock." Moses turns around their sequence, putting the children ahead of the animals.
Rashi observes that these tribes were more concerned about their money, i.e. livestock, than they were about their sons and daughters. Moses needed to give them a lesson in values and priorities. Put family first. Possessions come later.
The veteran American spiritual leader, Rabbi David Hollander, once told me the story of a fellow who somehow managed to get himself locked in inside a big department store after they closed up for the day. To compound the problem, it was over a holiday weekend. When all his attempts to get out proved futile, he decided to give vent to his frustrations by taking revenge on the store management. He spent the time of his incarceration swapping price tags on the merchandise. The result? A mink coat was now priced at $29.99, a necktie at $999.00. Furniture was going for the price of peanuts, the latest hi-fi for a song, and a set of underwear was absolutely unaffordable! Imagine the chaos when the store reopened.
The question is, are our own price tags correctly marked? Do we value the things in our own lives correctly? Are our priorities in order? Or do we too put the cattle and the sheep -- the car and the office -- ahead of our children?
How many workaholic husbands have told their wives, "Honey, I'm doing it all for you and the kids." But the businesses we are busy building for them actually take us away from them in the most important and formative years of their lives. Rightly has it been said, "the best thing you can spend on your kids is not money but time."
I've seen many people become "successes" over the years. They achieve professional success, career success, business success, growing their fame and fortunes. Too many in the process have become family failures. At the end of the day, our deepest satisfaction in life comes not from our professional achievements but from our family -- the growth, stability and togetherness that we have nurtured over the years -- what our Jewish parents and grandparents simply called nachas.
To paraphrase the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, "Jewish wealth is not measured in property portfolios or stocks and bonds; true Jewish wealth is being blessed with children who walk in the ways of G-d." For that, we need to be there for them and with them.
A congregant of mine once walked up to me and proclaimed, "Rabbi, I am a millionaire!" I knew the man to be of modest financial means but he immediately explained, "I'm a millionaire in nachas!"
Today I read the horrifying news of the young boy brutally murdered in Borough Park. I know there are plenty of horrors in this world, but this one won’t let me rest or think of anything else.
Do you rabbis have answers?
I have no answer to calm your soul and let you rest. But I can share the thoughts I have written to myself this day.
We believe that G‑d is good. And yet He has created beings that commit horrific evil, acts He Himself despises in the most ultimate sense of the word. Things about which we can only recoil in horror while turning to the heavens in indignant outrage, screaming, “Why did You allow this? How could You?!”
And all we receive from heaven is a silent tear.
Of all the questions we ask, why does this one never receive a satisfactory answer? We believe our Torah is a Torah of truth, of divine wisdom, yet of all the questions it answers, why on this one does it fail us?
We are told that good cannot come without evil, just as darkness cannot come without light.
But, G‑d, dear beneficent and all-powerful G‑d, could You not do whatever You please? Could you not create light without darkness, good without evil? At the very least, did You have to create an evil so hideous?
We are told that commensurate to the darkness will be the light, commensurate to the pain will be the reward. Looking at this world and the pain we have suffered, the reward must be beyond any measure.
But, my G‑d, you are good! Does everything have to be measured so precisely? Can a G‑d who is good allow such horror, even if ultimately it will become good?
We are told that human beings must be given free choice. That this is the ultimate kindness of G‑d to humankind, that He grants us the space to fail, and the opportunity to achieve greatness on our own.
But if this is kindness, then what is cruelty? Are there no limits? Even the most liberal parents, if they care, they will have limits on the freedoms they grant their children. And here, in our world, we see ugliness without bound.
My G‑d, each day I am surrounded by Your wonders. Each day, I see Your miracles, one after the other, Your unending goodness to me and to each of us. I will not lose faith, I will not stop praying to You. But if I will not stand up and demand, “Does the Judge of all the earth not do justice?” if I will not declare, “Why have you done evil to your people?”—then what kind of a creature am I? And in what sort of a G‑d do I believe?
One day, we will understand. Until then, we must be outraged. We must recoil with horror, we must reach deep inside ourselves, we must protest to G‑d Himself. For only the righteously indignant can heal this world.
That is our answer for now: That we cannot be allowed to understand. For if we would understand, we would not be outraged. And if we were not outraged, then why would we ever stand up and do all that is in our power that such horrors could never happen again? And then there would be no one to heal G‑d’s world.
And so the answer is only a silent tear, falling from heaven, into our hearts.
More on the above topic in our Knowledge Base at Pain, Suffering & Tragedy
An eight-year-old boy, Leiby Kletzky, was on his way home from day camp in Brooklyn when he mysteriously disappeared. A frantic search, spearheaded by the FBI and aided by the entire community, failed to find him for two full days. And then his mother and father had to endure every parent's worst nightmare. Leiby was found dismembered.
Words fail to convey the immensity of this tragedy.
Apart from its ghoulish aspects, it is simply too much to imagine what it means to send off a smiling child for a summer’s day of fun only to learn that all that is left of him is a memory.
It's been said that the cruelest word in the English language is "never".
Never will Leiby’s parents ever again be able to hold him, to hug him, to prepare him for life with words of advice and of Torah. Never will his family be able to share in the milestones of his growth to maturity. Never will there be a bar mitzvah to celebrate, graduations to attend, a wedding canopy to stand under with him and his bride as he prepares to embark on his own journey to family and future.
Never will all those who knew Leiby as a child be able to find out what his unique talents might have enabled him to accomplish.
Never will the Jewish community discover the contributions Leiby might have made to it and to the larger world.
Ever since the beginning of mankind the Torah reminded us that a single death leaves none of us untouched. In the aftermath of the first murder, God turned to Cain in anger and admonished him with the words “The sounds of the bloods of your brother cry out to Me from the ground." Not blood, but bloods, in the plural. The commentators explain that when Cain killed his brother he effectively destroyed all of Abel’s future progeny as well.
In the words of the Talmud, he who murders one person is as if he destroys an entire world.
The loss of one person diminishes every one of us. It affects our collective future. It alters what might have been. It prevents us from ever receiving all the precious benefits every single life has to offer.
And when murder snuffs out the life of a child, the enormity of the word never - that we will never truly know what that child might have become - staggers us beyond comfort.
This is not the time for us to attempt any glib rationalizations or theological efforts to explain away the horror. Jewish law, in its profound wisdom, teaches us that we are not permitted to offer consolation "while the body is still before us." The time for comfort can come only after the necessary tears.
I remember very well a somewhat similar moment in the community I served as spiritual leader. There was a tragedy that involved a young child. No one could think of any words that might alleviate the suffering of the parents. We tried but found ourselves wanting.
The scene is indelibly etched in my mind. A small group of us went to the parents, hugged them, tried to say something, choked up and simply cried.
Days later, the parents told me the only thing that helped them get through their tragedy was what we did for them. Not our words, but our tears.
"You showed us that the pain wasn't ours alone. Your sharing our grief made it somewhat bearable."
And that is what we must do now for Leiby and his family.
We must let them know that we cry with them.
Our tears are the words our hearts don't know how to express.
The fact that we shed them proves that evil has not fully triumphed.
And most important of all, the Midrash assures us that the tears of the righteous summon the Almighty to hasten the day when wickedness and its practitioners will be eradicated from Earth.
From sunglasses, saxophones, and a press release consisting of a chocolate chip cookie recipe, to Supreme Court decisions and the war in Iraq—it’s interesting, amusing, and occasionally gripping to watch the “parade” known as the American presidential elections. This time around (this article was written in 2007—ed.), with a war raging in Iraq, global terrorism still posing an all-too-real threat, and the unfortunate realization of some of the social and environmental problems we were warned about growing up, there is certainly no shortage of issues to address as the race gains momentum.
Perhaps the most crucial issue, one which we try to touch on but which can not be captured on news cameras or in speeches, is whether any candidate really possesses what we can call true leadership.
A real leader is actually the greatest servant. It’s a tricky issue because, like modesty, leadership is one of those qualities that, as soon as a person begins describing his or her own mastery of it, you can’t help but feel that in fact they don’t have it. Rather, they have its exact opposite.
Real leaders tend to be those who run away from any type of position of power, and they rarely speak about themselves, because that just isn’t where their thoughts are. A real leader is actually the greatest servant. He doesn’t have a personal agenda at hand, but rather is there solely for the needs of the people he is leading.
In this week’s Torah portion, Parshat Pinchas, we witness the ordination of Joshua bin Nun as the successor to our first national leader, Moses. Like Moses himself, Joshua never wanted to be a leader. Each, instead, wanted from an early age to serve. Moses: by going out into the fields where the Jews were working as slaves, and seeking ways to ease their suffering. Joshua: by devoting himself to Moses. Even as a young man, he was constantly present in the tent that served as a Torah study hall. As an adult, he remained Moses’s loyal student and aide. Both had to be persuaded to accept the role of leader.
Yet the deepest insights into what makes a real leader are revealed only when the responsibilities are about to change hands from Moses to Joshua.
Having just been told by G‑d that he is about to pass away, it would have been logical and human for Moses to turn his attention to settling his own affairs and giving last instructions to his family and followers. After all, what leader isn’t concerned with what his mark will be on history? What parent isn’t concerned with how well their wishes will be followed after they pass on?
The generals of the Jewish army always went first Moses wasn’t. He was concerned only about two things—that G‑d’s will be realized, and that the Jewish people not be left alone, without someone to understand them, protect them, inspire them, and when need be, comfort them. The words of his plea have forever encapsulated the meaning of what it means to be a Jewish leader: “G‑d of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the assembly, who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall take them out and who shall bring them in.” (Numbers 27:15–17)
Why is G‑d being addressed at this point as “G‑d of the spirits of all flesh”? According to our Sages, Moses is acknowledging a basic truth—that the personality of each individual is unique and known to G‑d—and he is beseeching G‑d to appoint a leader who can deal with each of these personalities. He is seeking a leader for the Jewish people who will be able to understand and empathize with each person. G‑d answers him by promising that the man He is appointing as Moses’s successor is indeed one “in whom there is spirit,” i.e. that he will be able to act in a way befitting the personality of each individual.
Joshua was just such a person, establishing a rapport with each person based on genuine empathy, not on attempts to curry favor. And true to the second part of Moses’s request, he “went before them and came in before them.” In other words, he didn’t send the nation out to war to fight battles. He went first, and he inspired in them the confidence to be successful and thus come back (“and come in before them”). For centuries, these were the defining characteristics of the army of the Jewish people; unlike other armies, where generals stay comfortably behind the line of fire, the generals of the Jewish army always went first, and with their good deeds, empathy and trust, were able to inspire confidence in their soldiers. Victory was the result.
Of course, this was true not only of physical battles, but of our internal spiritual battles as well. Each of us has to find the inspiration in Moses’ words to become true leaders in our own sphere of influence. By caring about and genuinely connecting to the souls of people we must influence—for starters, our families—and by relating to their individual personalities. By leading through example, even if it means stretching ourselves to the breaking point, and by strengthening our own trust in the One who is guiding us, whether we see His hand in things or not.
It’s a kind of leadership that tends to create not followers, but people who are genuine leaders in their own right. And that’s something this world could use a little more of.
Experts call Israel a ‘laboratory’ for eco-innovation http://www.jpost.com/Sci-Tech/Article.aspx?id=229096 By SHARON UDASIN 13/07/2011 Statements come at UN Economics Commission conference in TA; "Israel good at doing more with less," says chief economic adviser to PM.
Strategists from around the world agreed that “Israel is a laboratory” for eco-innovation and can serve as a platform for larger countries looking to harness sustainable technology during a special conference held by the United Nations Economics Commission in Tel Aviv on Tuesday.
The meeting, called “Promoting Eco-Innovation: Policies and Opportunities, United Nations Economic Commission for Europe,” included members of the commission, Israeli contributors and other experts from across the globe, who strategized about how to generate policies and achieve cooperation to further the spread and efficiency of green technology tools.
“Israel is a laboratory of innovative policies and practices in many areas, including technologies, financing and project management,” said Jan Kubis, UN under-secretary general and executive secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Europe.
“Perhaps such a laboratory could serve as a training center that could share its experiences gained here and help other countries.”
Eugene Kandel, head of the Israel Economic Council and chief economic adviser to the prime minister, agreed with Kubis, adding, “We see Israel as a global lab.”
“We’re pretty good at inventing innovative solutions that are applicable and can be put together pretty quickly,” Kandel said.
As a culture of immigrants who have historically tackled difficult issues, said Kandel, Israel is particularly suited to battle global sustainability challenges, such as food, water and energy.
“What characterizes [immigrants] is that they can’t do things the way their ancestors did,” he said, noting that even when he came to Israel in 1977, it was an entirely different country.
But by the 1980s, solar water heaters were a regular on Israeli residences, and today the country has become a major exporter of eco-technologies, he added.
“We are able to not only feed the population but export,” Kandel said. “We are leaders in the world of reusage of water and are probably the leaders in desalination as well. Within three years, Israel won’t be dependent on nature for its water needs.”
In addition to water desalination tools, Kandel mentioned agricultural technology, irrigation and livestock farming as some of Israel’s exportable strengths.
“We are looking to develop these ideas in Israel, try them out here and then globally expand them,” Kandel said.
Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan said that the challenge after inventing such solutions, however, is the responsibility “to translate the success in areas such as information technology, agricultural production and medical breakthroughs into workable ecological and environmental innovations.”
Such solutions are crucial across the globe, Erdan said, stressing that economist Thomas Malthus’s prediction that a population explosion would wipe out the food supply was wrong.
“He could not foresee the technological development of the 20th century,” Erdan said. “Technological development of the 20th century will need to be superseded by eco-innovation of the 21st century, all of this to prevent and minimize environmental contamination and halt natural resource degradation.”
In order to really push forward eco-innovation, citizens everywhere must aim to “reduce environmental impact of any activity,” agreed Salvatore Zecchini, vicechair of UN Economic Commission for Europe Committee on Economic Cooperation and Integration and chair of OECD Working Party on Small to Medium Enterprises and Entrepreneurship. According to Zecchini, environmental advances can rarely occur successfully without the cooperation of neighboring states.
“Eco-innovation is doing more with less,” Kandel added.
“The only reason that Malthus is being proven wrong again and again [is] because people are learning to do much more with much less. And I think Israel is a great example of this.”
On the plane back to America, I was sitting next to a psychologist who mentioned to me how important it is for them never to psychoanalyze family members. One of the reasons: it’s not fair. Of course, Jews were psychoanalyzing way before Sigmund invited people to lie on his couch—we just had no name for it.
For the non-professional, a greater danger is pseudo-analysis. “Oh, she always does that, she’s so compulsive.” “There he goes again with his bipolar.” Worse: “The reason she always helps is because she’s eager to please—it’s her low self-esteem.” “You know why he gives so much tzedakah? He needs to see his name on a building. Typical megalomaniac!”
Says who? Is it that simple to know everything going on in someone else’s head? Are you always that accurate with what’s happening in your own head? Secondly, what difference does it make? A good act with bad intentions beats a bad act with good intentions—and the pavement is a lot smoother.
Granted, giving it your best and things not succeeding the way you like is aggravating and unrewarding. We know that. And all G‑d asks is that you do your best; the results are in His hands, we accept that. And that no action is ever wasted, good always accumulates, and whether results are immediately recognized or not is immaterial in the long run—and, from a G‑dly, timeless (beyond quantum physics) perspective, redundant. We believe that. But that is not what we’re talking about.
Look at it this way: Guy A helps old lady cross street because: the TV crew is filming, she has a big will, she has a wealthy nephew, etc. Guy B doesn’t help old lady cross street because: the TV crew is filming, she has a big will, she has a wealthy nephew, and how dare you think he’s so shallow! See, bottom line is, the lady needs help; your yin-yang harmony don’t do much. As the Kabbalah puts it: Love and awe are what make a mitzvah soar. A mitzvah without love and awe is a bird without wings. Love and awe without a mitzvah is wings without a bird.
Okay, so action is it. But can intentions be improved, sublimated, sanctified? Well, now you’re getting serious. But if you’re not just doing it, then you’re seriously not getting it.
The Parshah? When Pinchas acted decisively, he was ridiculed because his grandfather, a pantheistic priest, had done similarly: a plus-c’est-change chip off the old block in different circumstance.
No, G‑d announced at the beginning of the Parshah, he did good; I alone know the inner workings of man. Judge him primarily by what he does. And unless you’re in the business, your couch is for people to sit on—and if you’re blessed with it, for overflow company to sleep on.
Rebirth by Rabbi Ephraim Shore Our son nearly died in a car accident. Today we are witnessing the miracle of his recovery.
Six weeks ago, our son, Yaakov, 21, was hit by a car while rollerblading in Jerusalem. After two emergency head surgeries, he lay unconscious in the ICU of Hadassah Hospital, growing thinner and paler, with tubes coming in and out of just about every part of his body, for two weeks.
We didn't know if he'd make it out of the hospital. The terror of those days was thick and black and forever. The unrelenting beeps of the countless machines attached to him were all we had to remind us of the passing hours and days as we sat by his side, praying, reading him Torah, holding his hands.
Finally, Yaakov's brain pressure went down to levels the doctors felt were safe to begin the process of allowing him to wake up. It took four days to slowly wean him off all the heavy drugs. With trepidation, we waited for him to hopefully awake. Would he recognize us? Would he know how to talk, or had the brain been damaged in that area, as the doctors feared? Would he remember anything of his past? Would he have the same personality? Would he ever again be able to walk, taste, read or do other basic things? Life was one giant question mark. The doctors could not reassure us.
All we could do was pray with all our hearts to the master of the universe: "Please bring us back our Yaakov!"
With the Shavuot holiday coming, some of Yaakov’s army buddies offered to stay with him those 24 hours so my wife and I could be at home with our other children – to gain some rest, some perspective, and to experience the full impact of the holiday.
When God revealed himself to the Jewish People on Mount Sinai and gave us the Torah 3,800 years ago, tradition tells us that all the sick people were healed: the lame walked, the blind could see. On each Shavuot, the anniversary of that event, the same power of healing returns.
Yaakov with his parents and brother
As the holiday finished, we received a call from Yaakov's army buddies who had sat at his side for 24 hours. "Come quick! He's awake! He recognizes us and he understands."
With tears in our eyes, we rushed to the hospital. On the surface, it looked like a repeat of that same awful route two weeks before, driving and crying to the hospital. But this was so different: our tears were primal expressions of relief, of joy and of thanks. When we stood at Yaakov's side and saw him smile at us, his eyes glassy but shining with recognition and life, we once again had trouble standing.
He couldn't talk, and he could hardly even open his eyes, but when my wife bent over to kiss him, he somehow found the strength to reach out his hand to caress her cheek to say, "I love you." It was heaven opening up. When his friend said goodbye, he slowly took his hand and drew it to his mouth to kiss it, and then he winked. With those small movements he was able to let us know that our Yaakov was back.
We have witnessed something few people have the opportunity to see: a miracle.
But actually, we've seen lots of miracles. Almost daily. Rabbi Dessler explains that the only real difference between a miracle and "nature" is its frequency. Is manna appearing with the dew each morning for 40 years in the desert any more miraculous than rotting seeds transforming into stalks of wheat or mango trees? But since we see it all the time, we lose touch with the marvel of it. The same goes with every aspect of our body's wondrous functions.
Now I know, "Everything is a miracle!" just sounds trite. But when you see creation appearing before your eyes, trite is not trite anymore. It is profound.
We have beheld what can only be described as a rebirth of a human being. At first he was an immobile blob of flesh. Then his eyes opened and he began to recognize things. Over the next days, he started to breathe by himself again, and slowly to move his hands, his legs. Later, our joy knew no end when he was able to sip a popsicle, and soon after, to drink by himself. It took a while, but soon he could even hold a water bottle himself!
A few days later, he painfully forced out his first words and our ecstasy was beyond expression. Then he began to eat solids, and to tell us what he needed. Like a baby's umbilical cord, they gradually removed him from the myriad pipes which had supported every aspect of his bodily functions.
Each morning upon waking, we say a beautiful prayer of thanks before we even climb out of bed: "I thank you, living God, for returning my soul into me in kindness…" Judaism describes sleep as "one-sixtieth of death." Our Yaakov was in a state that was more like 59 sixtieths of death, but God returned his soul. Almost every day we see more of him coming back home from somewhere far, far away.
Each day we fought the lurking, awesome fear of "What if this is as far as he's going to go? Maybe it will stop here!" We drew upon every drop of optimism and forced ourselves to be "convinced" that he was going to move further along. We found ourselves (and still do) torn between an immense sense of gratitude for how far he has come, and our uncompromising yearning for Yaakov to regain all his abilities, memories and self.
Positive thinking has a potent impact on the outcome of things. In fact, Judaism demands optimism. We have a loving God who has infinite power to help us. He's got a great track record: just as He's helped us in a million ways until now, we can surely count on Him to help us going forward. We should be shocked and amazed when things don't go the way we want them too. Shocked enough to ask what lesson he is trying to teach us in His love.
After one more week in the ICU, Yaakov was moved to the neurological ward of the hospital, and a few days later, still with his tracheotomy pipe sticking out of his throat, he was transferred to a rehab hospital.
As we were leaving, saying good bye to our new friends, the staff of the ICU, a social worker shared with us that everyone who leaves this place leaves with two very special gifts. First, they have a newfound perspective on what really counts in life. Petty problems are just that, petty problems. Secondly, a realistic appreciation of the incredible miracle that is life. Every one of the hundreds of things we do each day is simply amazing. When you see your child without that ability, and you imagine what life will be like for him without it (eating by himself, talking, going to the bathroom, reading, walking, holding, understanding, remembering things), you know how appreciative we all must be. "These gifts are for you, the family. Your son won't remember what he went through, but you will."
On one of those first days of reawakening, Yaakov was in tremendous bodily pain, shaking all over, suffering terrible headaches and enveloped in a huge fog. He got a glimpse in a mirror of his shaved head, huge scar, pale, thin face, and he began to cry. I hugged him hard and cried with him, but I told him, "Yaakov, you might be crying from pain, and I'm really sorry that I'm not more sympathetic. But I am crying tears of joy. I don't expect you to understand yet, but seeing you alive, feeling and aware, is so huge that all I can do is cry." He understood, and he was calmed.
At first he didn't know his name or age, where he lives, or how many kids in our family. Today, Yaakov is out of most of his pain and he's communicating (in both Hebrew and English) beautifully. He still has a long way to go in a lot of areas, like a painful leg, broken jaw, more surgery, and holes in his memory, but we see more and more faculties returning almost daily.
He's returned to many of his wonderful traits, like not blaming and not complaining. Despite his present disabilities, he's almost always happy and he lights up when his next visitor shows up. Yesterday, we found more glass embedded in his arm, but he didn't complain or blame.
We've encouraged ourselves and people all over the world to work on these two important traits – not blaming and not complaining – and we've heard from hundreds of people about how they are working at it, just how difficult it is to change our negative habits, and the huge difference a little bit of awareness has made in their lives. (Click here to watch related video.)
One of my rabbis, a young father who was diagnosed with life-threatening cancer, was treated and then went into remission, shared with me something I've never forgotten. "If someone had offered me $10 million to go through this experience, I would never have taken it. But now that I've gone through it, if someone offered me $10 million to take it away from me, I would never give it up."
Now I understand what he meant. The agony, the deep, unimaginable fear and heartache of these last few weeks are something I would not wish on anyone. But the lessons my wife and many of our friends and family have learned from this are so precious; it's hard to imagine going back and living life without them. My appreciation for the beauty and the miracle of life, my understanding of the power of kindness, love and friendship; the life-altering impact of small (and large) caring gestures; the intimacy with God that comes with tears and heartfelt prayer; the strength and comfort of community; and for an earth-shattering lesson in unconditional love for a child, with no expectations or judgments.
For all of these treasures, and for Yaakov's return to us, I will be forever grateful.
Click here to read Ephraim's first article about his son.
Click here to watch "Where's the Salt!" A video on the Don't Blame, Don't Complain campaign.
“That’s some new kitchen Sandra just had done. State of the art!” “Psst . . . did you see the new car Mark just took delivery of? It’s got every gadget in the book!” Common conversation. Rather routine, everyday talk.
They tell of a rep on the road who had broken all records for sales in his company. When asked the secret of his success, he explained that the first thing he said when someone opened the door was, “Did you see what your neighbor Mrs. Jones just got?” That trick never failed him.
This was never the Jewish ethic, however. We were taught differently, and our ancient value system is as relevant as ever in contemporary life. Privacy, modesty and discretion are all characteristics our people have cherished since we became a nation.
“Balaam raised his eyes, and saw Israel dwelling according to its tribes” (Numbers 24:3).
What was so special about the Israelites’ dwelling? Rashi offers one interpretation of the verse, that the doorways of the Israelites’ tents in the wilderness were arranged so that they did not face each other. That way, one person was not able to see into his neighbor’s tent, and their privacy was protected. In fact, this is one of the explanations of Balaam’s famous praise of the Jews, Mah tovu ohalecha Yaakov—“How goodly are your tents, O Jacob.” The heathen prophet was extolling the Jews’ virtues in their town planning, whereby they took precautions in safeguarding their modesty and protecting their personal family lives from would-be busybodies and peeping Toms, otherwise known as yentas and nudniks.
Another possible interpretation of “not looking into your neighbor’s tent” might be this: Do not look into your neighbor’s tent to help you decide what you should be doing. Your decisions in life should not be based on what other people are, or are not, doing. Certainly not on what your neighbors have or do not have.
Social workers today will painfully testify that family breakdowns are often a result of financial difficulties and the stress that these put on marriages. Many of those stresses are self-imposed. Their clients confessed that they didn’t really need the new kitchen or the new car, but once their friends were moving up in the status stakes, they felt under pressure to maintain their social standing.
Whether it is the kitchen, car, vacation, or the latest digital technology, if we allow ourselves to be judged by other people’s criteria, we lay ourselves open to a lot of unnecessary stress. Even a simchah—a wedding or bar mitzvah—can get us into “keeping up with the Cohens” mode, from the seven-layered designer invitation hand-delivered to every guest, down to the posh dinner dance replete with chopped-liver sculptures.
Why? All because we are busy looking over our shoulders or peering into the next-door neighbor’s place.
The principle even applies to tzedakah. There is an appeal for the shul or a Jewish charity, and how do we respond? “Well, if so-and-so, who is a multimillionaire, only gave $10,000, then all I should give is $10!” What difference does it make what someone else gave or didn’t give? You should give what you can, irrespective of what others gave.
How much resentment, bitterness and disappointment we would avoid if we didn’t try to measure ourselves by other people’s standards! We would be much happier people if we looked into ourselves and achieved what we could and should, without drawing comparisons with others.
If you want to enjoy the blessing of “goodly tents,” or even just good housekeeping, keep your eyes and your nose in your own tent. Then you will be content, too.
6 Keys to Outsmart Stress by Slovie Jungreis-Wolff
Simple steps to reclaim your life.
Stress is part of everyday life. But when the pressure starts to grind us down and cause health and personal problems it’s time to make a change. We all know that stress can bring on heart disease, stomach issues, ulcers, depression, and relationship issues. Just reading that sentence can stress us out!
Sometimes we think about something worrisome and get that sick-to-the-stomach feeling. We don’t think clearly. Stress keeps us up at night.
So what can we do?
Instead of allowing the stress to control us, let’s try to take back control and live life better. We can then eliminate unnecessary tensions and deal with those pressures we must face more effectively.
We are in an endless state of mental congestion. We cannot hear ourselves think. We go to a wedding, graduation, family dinner, or vacation in a beautiful place, but we are only half there. Our minds are somewhere else; longing to check the blackberry or iPhone just one more time. When we are constantly distracted, it becomes impossible to function well. We parent with half an eye, work with half an ear, and live with half a heart. The pressure of being perpetually on call takes its toll and does not allow us space to breath.
In Ethics of the Fathers it is written: “All my days I have found nothing better than silence.” Let’s begin by finding some moments to regain peace and quiet in our day. Take the plunge and unplug.
RID YOURSELF OF PUTDOWNS
A lot of stress has to do with the way we see ourselves. When we give ourselves negative messages and put ourselves down we lower our sense of self and destroy our own self esteem. We can become our own worst enemy.
“I can’t believe I’m such an idiot.”
“What was I thinking? I’ll never be able to do this!”
“That’s it; I really messed up this time. I’m finished.”
Remove the negative eye – it will only stress you out. Stop demeaning yourself. Replace detrimental self-statements with positive ones. Start believing in yourself.
And if you do happen to make a mistake and fall, pick yourself up and start anew. This is true strength.
Related Article: Confessions of a Worrywart
Sometimes we have a problem that feels so overwhelming, we just can’t deal with it. So we push it off. We leave it for tomorrow. And then tomorrow comes but we push it off again. Putting off a problem only causes us to worry more. We toss and turn all night imagining the ‘what ifs’, and everything seems so much more troublesome. The night feels suffocating.
Falling behind can make the situation worse. Most problems are not as awful as you think. And even if you believe the situation is insurmountable, at least you can attempt to take some small steps in the right direction and feel empowered as you try. When you make an effort to confront your fear, you will not feel as overwhelmed. And you may even be surprised to find a solution within reach with those you thought you could not approach.
GUARD YOUR HEALTH
It is a mitzvah in the Torah to watch over and take care of our God–given bodies. Stress depletes us of our energy. We turn to carbs and high fat foods to refuel. (Read standing in front of an open freezer with a pint of Hagen Daaz Caramel Cone Explosion in hand). But the quicker we refill, the quicker we crash. Instead of loading up at night and waking up with extra pounds and regrets, get your body moving. Take the stairs and not the elevator. Go for a walk or a quick jog. Our bodies produce endorphins when we exercise. They are natural mood boosters that can help reduce stress levels. Even dance around the living room. Any little bit of activity can help.
Make time for the activities you enjoy. Do something fun. Listen to music, ride a bike, attend the class you’ve always wanted to join. Be sure to set aside moments each day for prayer and reflection.
SEE THE GOOD
Come on, it’s not all bad all the time. Of course it’s easier to see the dark side and fall into despair. But you do have some good going on, you just need to open your eyes and stop complaining.
“My in-laws are coming for the weekend, I can’t take it.”
“These Sunday carpools with the kids are driving me crazy. I am so stressed out from them.”
“My baby was up crying the whole night. I’m ready to explode.”
Well, at least you have family to share your life with!
“My boss is nuts! He is a pressure cooker.”
Thank God you have a job!
It’s all how you see the situation. Will you focus on the good or just always be a complainer?
The more we complain, the more stressed we feel.
Happiness and a ‘feel good‘ mentality is in our hands.
ALLOW PEOPLE IN
It is a mistake to cut yourself off from those who care about you. You may be overwhelmed, even ashamed of your situation, but those who love you want to stand by your side. Don’t be an island onto yourself. You will wake up one day and wonder what happened. Where did all the people in my life go and why does my phone never ring? I am not speaking about those thousand friends on facebook. I am talking about that one friend or family member, who would cross oceans for you, who feels your pain as if it’s his own, who sheds a tear for your sorrow. You will experience joy again but what a pity to have lost those who love you on the way.
When we focus on our problems 24/7, we allow stress to control our lives. No one is perfect and none of us will have perfect lives. Set reasonable expectations and know that this is all part of living. Take charge of those challenges that you can control. Let go of that which is beyond you.
In time-honored tradition, prominent guest speakers launch them out into the world with words of wisdom meant to inspire the young men and women ready to begin their careers.
I love to read synopses of these contemporary guides to the perplexed. Many of them are merely clichés dressed up in fancy clothes. But some are truly profound messages that bear listening to, not only by the graduates starting out in life but all of us as well.
And this year I struck gold. One of the guest speakers, addressing those getting their degrees at the College of William and Mary, illustrated an idea that long-ago changed my life. Speaking from the perspective of an extremely successful businessman, he echoed a concept that my teacher shared with me many years ago.
I was a very young boy and I didn't understand something we learned about Moses. The Torah tells us Moses was "heavy of speech and heavy of tongue;" he had a speech defect. Here was the man destined to be the greatest leader of the Jewish people, the Rabbi par excellence, whose stuttering should have made him as unsuitable for his role as the English monarch in the recent Oscar winning movie, The King's Speech. King George VI had to be helped in order to properly serve as monarch. Yet Moses remained with his disability.
"Since God can do anything," I asked my teacher, "why didn't He heal Moses?"
As all good teachers do, my rabbi first complimented me on raising a very interesting difficulty. He told me that many commentators address the issue, with a host of different answers, and as I get older I would be able to choose from among these various replies. He shared with me the answer that he personally preferred, and told me to always keep it in mind in how I relate to God with my problems in the future.
Yes, Moses would have been far better off had he had the gift of eloquence in addition to all of his other virtues. His stuttering was a disability and of course God could have easily removed this stigma. So why didn't He?
Because Moses never asked.
In all his humility, Moses didn't feel worthy of making the request. And God wanted to show us by way of His dealings with the greatest Jew in history that the prerequisite for His answering our prayers is for us to verbalize them.
Never be afraid to ask anything of God, my teacher concluded. If you're withholding a request because you think it's too much to ask for, that's an insult to the Almighty, almost as if you're implying it's too hard for Him to accomplish. If God wants to say no, that's up to Him. Your role is to make clear you believe in His power to accomplish anything, no matter how difficult.
Learn to ask is the message I internalized.
Which is why I found the graduation address given by Joseph J. Plumeri, the chief executive of Willis Group Holdings, so fascinating.
He began by asking the students whether they heard of this big building in Chicago called the Sears Tower. Of course they all had. He reminded them that it's the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere. And then he shared with them how some years ago he told people that he was going to rename it the Willis Tower.
People laughed at him, telling him it's impossible. The name Sears had been there since 1973. "Who are you to come along and change the name?" they said to him,
He told them that Sears hadn't been in the building since 1993. He then met with the owner of the building which was 20% vacant and said, "I need 2% of the space." He negotiated the price and when the owner asked, "Do we have a deal?" he told him, "Almost, except for one small thing. Your name is a jinx. You need a new name, a vibrant name, a name that signifies the future, not the past. I want to change it."
"When we dedicated that building," Joseph Plumeri said, concluding his speech, "I was on the evening news with Brian Williams and he said to me, 'How, Joe, after so many years it was called the Sears Tower, how did you get them to change the name to Willis?' And I looked into the camera and I said, 'I asked.'"
When I had the wisdom to ask, God showed me He had the will to answer.
One of the classic Yiddish folk tales by Isaac Leib Peretz is the story of Bontsha the Silent. Heartbreaking in its depiction of a truly saintly soul who is unaware of his goodness, it describes the scene in heaven when Bontsha appears for his final judgment. The angel speaking on his behalf records all of his pious deeds. Bontsha has always suffered in silence. Mistreated throughout his lifetime, Bontsha never complained or questioned God's ways. The heavenly court could find no fault with him. The prosecutor is speechless, he too unable to find a single blemish in Bontsha’s life.
The heavenly court comes to a unanimous decision: "Everything in paradise is yours. Choose. Take what you want, whatever you desire. You will only take what is yours by right."
The story closes:
“Well then,” - and Bontsha smiles for the first time – “well then, what I would like, your Excellency, is to have for breakfast every morning a hot roll with fresh butter."
As great as Bontsha was, life had beaten him down so he no longer knew how to dream. His tragedy was a tragedy that many of us replicate in our own lives when our aspirations become so diminished that we don't dare to hope for more than hot rolls and butter.
We are all children of God. We have Someone in heaven Who cares for us deeply. Our mistake all too often is not that we seek too much from the Almighty but that we don't have the sense to ask Him for enough.
When we are troubled and our difficulties seem insurmountable, we should ask Him to intervene.
When we need help in a situation that seems humanly impossible to be resolved, we should ask Him to get involved.
When we suffer and feel helpless, we should seek out the One who promised to come to the aid of all those who have no one else to turn to and ask for His assistance.
I have learned this lesson well from my own personal experience: When I had the wisdom to ask, God showed me He had the will to answer.
* Everyone I know still refers to as the Sears Tower.
What a month, indeed. Someday, when they ask me to re-calibrate the calendar (which, by the way, will definitely happen), I'm going to lop off a good 8-10 days from each of December, January, and February and add them to June. No reason in the world why the greatest month of the year shouldn't have 60 or 70 days, at least!
Until then, 30 will just have to do. Oh well.
But for me, June always had an additional significance. It contained my father's birthday. Not that he ever made much of it (and, in typical European fashion we never knew how old he was, of course), but it did add a dash of supplementary luster to an already celebratory time of year.
Come to think of it, Daddy never really made very much of Father's Day either. And since the birthday and Father's Day inevitably fell so close to each other, my brother and me usually cheated and rolled the festivities into one. Daddy just kind of smiled approvingly at our annual shortcut, perhaps gladdened that less of a fuss would be made over him. In fact, if I didn't know better, and if he hadn't been born in Poland, I'd have suspected that he orchestrated his own birth to land in the vicinity of Father's Day, precisely to escape some additional rays of limelight. He was reticent and unassuming. In short, nothing like his son.
I wonder if he was always unassuming. Who knows? Was he indeed born, or brought up that way, or did he become inconspicuous later in life – either in response to his war experiences or perhaps as a desperate or feeble survival tool. Maybe unobtrusive inmates had a better chance of "hiding" in the Nazi death camps. I just don't know; he never really spoke to us about his six years of hell on earth.
As Father's Day (and his birthday) approach once more, I think about this delicate and understated father of mine and I search for glimpses into his humble, yet loving soul. And I am repeatedly haunted by one most vivid and moving scene from my childhood. But first some contrast.
Several years ago, on a particularly warm Tuesday morning in very late June (yes, June), I found myself walking past a school building in my neighborhood. Lined up in the adjacent street were six idling "coach" busses, brimming with jubilant and frenzied kids. A momentary chill trickled through me. Instantly, one of my fondest childhood memories appeared. Camp departure day had arrived.
Starting at age nine, for 13 years, I had lived and breathed my camping experience, not for 2 months a year, but for practically every single day of the year. I was obsessed with everything about camp. Various scenes from camp routinely visited my dreams all year. (Some still do!) So camp departure day was by far the number one day of the year for this kid. To say that the anticipation bordered on the euphoric would probably be an understatement.
So watching those busses revving up and listening to those kids howling with glee was a gripping moment for me. But then it struck me. Something was wrong; very wrong. I felt like I was confronting one of those magazine puzzles – "What's wrong with this picture?"
It didn't take me long to figure it out. There was something missing from the scene. The parents. Where were they?
"HEY!" I shouted internally. "YOUR CHILDREN ARE LEAVING FOR CAMP! WHY AREN'T YOU HERE? CAN'T YOU WAIT FOR THE BUSSES TO PULL OUT???"
An inappropriate sweat saturated my collar. I had to find out. I ran to a burly chap with a whistle. He would know.
"Excuse me," I blurted, "I see you're going off to camp."
"Leaving any minute," he offered, crushing a torn duffle bag into the final empty corner of the luggage bin.
"Can I ask you a question?"
"WHERE ARE THE PARENTS?"
"Oh, a lot of them were here before, but they left. Work, I guess. Who knows? No big deal – these kids are in good hands."
My heart sank. "A lot of them were here," did he say? "No big deal?" Of course it's a big deal. IT'S THE BIGGEST DEAL OF THE WHOLE DARN YEAR!!!
I was clearly losing it.
It took me a minute or two to fully grasp the reality of the episode before me. I guess the parents did have places to go. Work, appointments or otherwise. A lot of the kids do have older siblings with them. Why should the parents have to wait for the busses to pull out? Suitable goodbyes, including kisses, nosh, and money, are presumably permitted even prior to the busses leaving. And maybe the kids actually prefer to get those mushy goodbyes over with early etc. etc. What got into me?
Which brings me to that one vivid and moving experience from my past that I mentioned to you. It happened on camp departure day. And it happened every single year, for many years.
My folks woke me early and the three of us made the 80-minute subway trek to the camp bus. Little Jackie (me) didn't get much sleep the night before, dreaming of extra-inning baseball games and stirring Friday night melodies to come. But rest was the last thing on my mind. "THE DAY" had arrived!
Freshly laundered socks, a chocolate-sprinkle sandwich and my trusted black baseball mitt filled the "Korvette's" shopping bag I usually carried, and no matter how old I was, Mommy and Daddy had a tough time keeping pace with my determined stride to the "Stairway to Heaven," otherwise known as the camp bus.
Creased loose-leaf papers posed as official bunk signs, directing us to the appropriate lines where we received pre-boarding instructions, obligatory bunkmate introductions, and the usual warnings about throwing stuff out of the bus windows and maintaining proper decorum. But when those big bus doors flew open, we all charged full steam ahead like a herd of police dogs on a manhunt. It's a miracle that other than a lot of crushed Devil Dogs and an exploding Pepsi or two, there were no serious casualties in the mad surge of exuberant youth. I would then make my annual pilgrimage to the "back of the bus" and settle in comfortably at a vacant window seat. Seatmates changed from year to year, but it really didn't matter who was sitting with me. My focus was elsewhere.
Long forgotten by that time, were my forlorn father and mother who, missing me already, remained obediently on the now nearly evacuated sidewalk, chatting with other similarly abandoned parents. I peered out the window and watched them. Sending me to camp was not easy for them. Not financially and not emotionally. Such is the reality for survivors of the Holocaust. Separations cut deep. I was pretty young, and I didn't understand it very well, but I knew it was a real sacrifice.
Before very long, the counselors performed the ritual roll call and head count and I knew any minute we'd be on our way. I looked once more through the open window and felt that wistful pang of exhilaration and yearning. It was a strange combination of feelings and my stomach knew it. Mommy always wore a look that said, "Everything will be fine," but Daddy looked lost. His lips seemed to quiver and his soft eyes were no longer dry.
The engines revved up. By now all the windows were crammed with waving arms and blown kisses.
"Bye-bye!" "See you on Visiting Day!" "Don't forget to write!"
The wheels began their tiresome thrust. The bus lurched forward. A couple of drops of already opened soda probably spilled somewhere. And then I heard it. It was a tap on the windowpane. Strong. Determined. No...maybe frightened is a better word. It was Daddy.
One final good-bye. I saw his hands fumbling in his pockets. When they emerged, they were filled with candy, gum, salted peanuts, and some loose change. He shoved them through the window, half of them spilling to the gutter below. One final chance to feed me, nurture me, hold on to me... love me.
I whipped my neck around to steal a glance at those around me. I guess I was embarrassed, but it didn't matter much. By now Daddy was running to keep up with the departing bus. It was the only time all year he ever ran.
Our eyes met one last time. We were both crying now. His arms flailed in surrender mode as we picked up speed. He knew the separation was inevitable and imminent. It was a race he would surely lose. I stuck my head out for one last look...and stared at the peanuts on my lap. Somehow the bus seemed very quiet.
And so went the annual scene. As I grew older, the candy matured somewhat and the change became dollars, but the loving, tearful face in the window remained the same. It was the happiest sadness I could ever feel.
The irony of the situation was that we both knew that Visiting Day would arrive in less than two weeks! It's not like I was going on some yearlong voyage to ‘Never-never Land.' But separations do cut deep.
What really triggered this most reserved man to unabashedly display his most shielded emotions? I don't really know. We never spoke about it. Could it have been a morbid association to the trains he boarded en route to five different concentration camps? Or a menacing reminder of separations – final ones- that he experienced with loved ones? Or was it some overwhelmingly painful image of the bizarre disparity between the camps he went to, and the "camp" I loved so much?
I will never know. But I think I now understand why I demanded to know where those parents were, when the busses left without them that hot Tuesday morning. And I think I know why I love June so much.
Happy Father's Day, Daddy... and Happy Birthday too... I miss you.
Twenty-five miles south of Jerusalem, an impressive tel rises above the plains of Judea. A city built upon hundreds of previously destroyed cities, Tel Lachish marks the terrain between Jerusalem and Hebron, whispering ancient legends of its proud inhabitants across the sweeping foothills.
Common to the Middle Eastern landscape, a "tel" is literally a mound, formed by layers of occupation over thousands of years. As each society builds its city upon the ruins of a previous period, the site rises, permanently altering the topography of the land.
Tel Lachish carries their love and their pain; their joys and their sorrowsThe town of Lachish bears great historical significance, resting on ancient metropolises where valiant men and women from the times of Joshua through the Maccabean era once resided. Marked with a tumultuous history of battle and conquest, Tel Lachish carries their love and their pain; their joys and their sorrows; their victories and their defeats.
The tourists come to see Lachish not just because it imposingly juts out of the Judean lowland, but because they want to hear the story of this unusual tel; they want to breathe the air of a city that has experienced endless destruction and rebuilding, but never lost anything along the way.
G‑d could have made us perfect architects. If He wanted, He could have exclusively endowed us with tools to build palatial structures that last for eternity. Instead, He foresaw the beauty of a tel. It was with this vision, in the early summer of 1312 BCE, that G‑d quietly entered a unique potential for human failure into our universe.
They were a newborn nation, standing on the threshold of entering the Promised Land. Hesitant about their future, the Jewish people ask Moses for permission to survey the unknown territory soon to be their home. And so, Moses, the humble servant of G‑d, turns to his Master for consent. But astonishingly - for the first time in history - G‑d tells Moses to do as he pleases.
We all know how the story ends – the spies return with negative reports, the Jews become fearful, and tragically, the generation of the great Exodus never enters the Land of Israel.
It's a classic question of Torah commentators: If G‑d said, "do what you want," didn't Moses sense that He didn't really approve of the Jews' request? Why did Moses persist in sending them?
Indeed, Moses was well aware of the risks involved in dispatching spies – yes, he sensed the possibility for catastrophe in G‑d's noncommittal answer. But he was also conscious of the fact that G‑d was giving humankind an opportunity for growth that can only come about through failure.
Do as you wish, G‑d said, effectively opening a new and empowering dimension in man's choice.
I know that when you fall, you will rebuild – grander, stronger, and more beautiful edificesI'll leave you room to err, says G‑d, because I know you won't leave your shattered city in ruins; I know that when you fall, you will rebuild – grander, stronger, and more beautiful edifices than ever before. I know that when you stray, what you really want is to be nearer to Me. I know you're going to build a tel. So I'll let you make mistakes.
And we do.
I reckon G‑d made us better-than-perfect architects. In fact, He imbued us with such a genuine and passionate desire to create, with such a thirst for growth, that sometimes we find ourselves razing down the old only to give way to the new that is aching to emerge.
We crave rebirth. Status quo never feels right; the old is simply never sufficient. We have an instinctive urge to build anew. Is that why we keep falling?
When we let our id knock down the walls of our personal city, on the surface, it looks like everything we've worked towards is suddenly gone. But don't let the vacuum of ground zero dishearten you, because that subsoil can't be bought anywhere in the universe. Indeed, like the tel, when we reconstruct our own little broken worlds, it is on terra firma that carries all the resilience and fortitude of our previous journeys.
Sometimes we build our tel painfully, slowly, trudging through the remains with a broken sort of hope – can we possibly restore our city this time? At other times we labor with a fury, catapulting through the wreckage with a surety, with a swiftness, so that we don't set our eyes on what has crumbled lest we break from regret. We throw ourselves into the building, we lay brick upon brick, glancing away from the debris, and only looking upwards at what we've already constructed in our mind's eye.
But regardless of how we build, we never leave the city in ruins - after all, it's a tel. And with every breakdown comes an even greater restoration, the earth, begging to be tilled again.
When you stand on the pinnacle of Tel Lachish, you can see for miles. It's a breathtaking panorama, extending from Bet Guvrin in the North, all the way to the Hebron hills in the East. They say you can't get that view from anywhere else in the area.
What a gift G‑d gave when he granted us the ability to fall. For now, you can stand at the top of your tel and see the world like you've never seen it before. Life suddenly has new meaning, new depth. Indeed, from the summit you can see what always surrounded you, but this time, oh so differently.
The monumental tels in our homeland and our souls continue to rise above the landscapeOn the 15th day of Av, 1274 BCE, the Jews of Moses' generation stopped dying in the desert – a tragedy that had been a consequence of the spies' failed mission. This day marked the end of their temporary decline, and more importantly, the beginning of subsequent rebuilding and growth as their children prepared to enter the Land of Israel.
And though our holy cities – both in spirit and of stone – endured relentless destruction in the centuries that followed, the monumental tels in our homeland and our souls continue to rise above the landscape, a tribute to our battered but unbeaten faith and an intrinsic longing to heighten the bond with our Creator.
As we plow the wounded earth yet again, let us look towards the ultimate rebuilding of all time, recalling the promising words of the prophet Jeremiah, "Venivneta Ha'Ir al Tilah – and the city shall be rebuilt on its former tel."
One of the most moving scenes I ever witnessed took place at Gate B2 of the Baltimore airport. In a chair-studded corridor leading from Security to the departure gates, I had set down my carry-on and taken out my prayer book in hopes of reciting my morning prayers. A denizen of dozens of world airports, I suddenly heard a sound I had never before heard in any airport: applause.
Are people greeting a rock star? I wondered. Don’t rock stars fly in private jets? The applause subsided, and I continued with my prayers. Two minutes later, however, I again heard clapping, accompanied by cheers and ululations. I suppressed my curiosity and tried to concentrate on my prayers. The noise died down, but a couple minutes later another wave of applause and cheers picked me up and carried me to Gate B2.
A crowd of about 30 people was gathered at the gate, facing the entrance to the jet way. Some were waving American flags. Lined up against the wall leading from the jet way were five uniformed sailors and several sundry civilians, including a black T.S.A. official. A new round of applause and cheers rose up. I weaved my way through the crowd to glimpse the object of all this adulation. At the entrance to the jet way I spotted him: an old man in a wheelchair.
The fellow pushing the wheelchair stopped to let the old man absorb his rousing welcome. The man smiled and weakly lifted his right hand to acknowledge the crowd. As the wheelchair slowly moved past the receiving line, the sailors saluted, the others nodded, and the T.S.A. official stepped forward, shook the old man’s hand, and said in a heartfelt voice, “Thank you for your service.”
The wheelchair moved past, a quiet lull ensued, and then another round of applause for the next deplaning passenger: another old man, standing wobbly on his own legs, leaning on a cane. He paused, looked up in surprise at his hero’s welcome, as if not quite understanding all the hullabaloo, and then continued his limping gait, past the saluting sailors and the waving flags. He stopped only when the T.S.A. official stepped forward, grasped his hand, and said, “Thank you for your service.”
“What’s going on here?" I asked the young woman beside me. "Who are these men?”
“They’re World War II veterans. They’ve come to see their monument in Washington, D.C. “
Sixty-six years had passed since these men, then mere boys, had come home from the war, having seen their buddies die, perhaps being wounded themselves. Sixty-six years, and here at Baltimore airport, a few dozen cheering Americans, most born long after the war, were still grateful for their service.
I joined the crowd, clapping loudly as each old man, most of them in wheelchairs, paused at the jet way entrance for his moment of glory. My eyes filled with tears. Something profound was taking place here at Gate B2.
When the last wheelchair rolled off toward baggage claim, I approached the T.S.A. official. “I want you to know that I was very moved at how you thanked each and every veteran,” I told him. “We all clapped, but you were the only one who put the gratitude into words. And words are very important.”
He appreciated my appreciation. “Well,” he said humbly, “I myself served, so I know what they’ve been through.”
Opening Doors with Gratitude
Gratitude is the skeleton key that opens every door: faith, love, joy, even success in marriage. Gratitude is what distinguishes a mensch from a wretch.
Madelyn Weiss, a Miami lawyer specializing in divorce mediation, took a post-graduate seminar on the subject of divorce. At the first session, the professor went around the room and asked each student, “What is the main cause of divorce?” Some students answered, “Finances.” Others answered, “Infidelity.” Finally, the professor shook his head and declared, “The main cause of divorce is ingratitude.”
“When the husband isn’t grateful for all that the wife does for him," Madelyn explained to me, "or when the wife isn’t grateful for whatever the husband does, despite his faults, the marriage just spirals down into criticism and back-biting.”
In Jewish thought, gratitude is so essential that the Torah records that in Egypt at the time of the Ten Plagues, God instructed Moses to tell Aaron to strike the earth with his staff in order to initiate the plague of lice. Our sages explain that it would have been wrong of Moses himself to strike the earth because decades before the earth had benefited him when he used it to bury the body of the Egyptian taskmaster he had killed. The sages infer that if Moses had to show gratitude to the earth, an inanimate object that had helped him involuntarily one time decades before, how much more so must we all show gratitude to every human being who helps us voluntarily, even once, even long ago.
“Yehudi,” the Hebrew word for “Jew” is derived from the root word meaning, “to thank.” The essence of every Jew is the ability to be grateful.
But that ability exists only in potential. Gratitude, like gymnastics, is an acquired skill. Even if you’re agile, if you don’t work hard at it, you’ll never be a gymnast. Even if your mother told you a million times, “Say, ‘thank you,’“ you’ll never be a grateful adult unless you develop your gratitude muscle. The aerobic exercises for developing gratitude are:
Recognizing the good Perceiving everything as a gift Expressing gratitude Related Article: Mastering The Gratitude Attitude
The Hebrew term for “gratitude” is “hakarat hatov,” which literally means, “recognizing the good.” With many people and situations, it’s as hard to find the good as to find Waldo amid 200 tiny figures. Gratitude requires:
Entering the three-star hotel room your spouse reserved for your anniversary and focusing on the beautiful view instead of the garish furnishings. Noticing all the toys that your child did pick up rather than the five Duplo pieces that he didn’t. Focusing on how well your housecleaner cleans the floors and windows even if she’s a little lax with the dusting. For those who object that noticing the good while ignoring the bad is a Pollyanna-ish failure to see the whole picture, let’s be humble enough to admit: No one ever sees the whole picture. Human beings are complex. Even if you have lived with a person for decades, you cannot see all of his depths or all the secrets of his past (let alone his past lives). As I learned in Perceptual Psychology 101: Human beings see what they want to see. Choosing to see the good—recognizing the good—may be the best choice you’ll ever make.
The Entitlement Poison
Nothing kills gratitude like a sense of entitlement. If I’m entitled to quiet neighbors, then I’ll never be grateful for the tranquility in our building until the noisy new neighbors move in —and then I’ll be irate at their loudness. If I’m entitled to good health, then I’ll never be grateful to God for the flawless functioning of my myriad cells and systems until I get a bad diagnosis —and then I’ll ask, “Why me?”
The antidote to a sense of entitlement is a sense of gift. The person to whom every sunset, every wonder of the body, every bag of groceries packed up by the supermarket bagger is experienced as an unearned gift will always be happy.
Developing a sense of gift requires:
Being grateful to the taxi driver for getting you to your destination even though you paid for the ride. Being grateful to your spouse for doing the laundry or dishes, even though you agreed that that was his/her job. Being grateful to God that you can see to read this article, even though you’ve always had the gift of sight. Related Article:Path of the Soul #3: Gratitude
Unexpressed gratitude is like a gift purchased and wrapped, but never given. Once we’ve noticed the good and experienced it as undeserved, we have to express it in words.
Recently I asked my teenage son to put away two cans of spray paint he had used in a project. Five minutes later I walked by and saw that the cans were indeed put away. I called out to my son, “Thank you for doing what I asked the first time I asked you.”
He replied, “Thank you for saying that.”
With a jolt I realized how rarely I thank my children for doing “what they’re supposed to do.” His gratitude for my gratitude woke me up and made me want to express my appreciation much more often.
That’s why I expressed appreciation to the T.S.A. official for his saying, “Thank you for your service” to each veteran. As I ran off to catch my flight at Gate B9, I passed two soldiers in grey camouflage fatigues. I stopped and said to them, “Thank you for your service.”
Why should they have to wait 66 years?
To bring Sara Yoheved Rigler’s Gratitude Workshop to your community, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
"He is a self-made man who worships his creator." Who said it? About whom? It doesn't really matter as long as we make sure the description doesn't fit us.
This week's parshah details the offerings of the princes (nessi'im) of the twelve tribes at the time the Mishkan, the portable Sanctuary in the wilderness, was completed. Previously, towards the end of the Book of Exodus, we had read that Moses blessed the people when they finished their work. What blessing did he give them? Our sages relate that he blessed them: May it be G-d's will that the Shechinah, the Divine Presence, should come to rest upon the work of your hands. He also blessed them with the phrase that would become part of Psalm 90, May the pleasantness of my L-rd, our G-d, be upon us…May He establish for us the work of our hands.
Why pray now? Surely the time for prayer was before the sanctuary was built. Then it might have been needed to inspire the people to bring in their offerings and contributions, to execute the huge amount of work that was required to create this new sacred structure. But now the work is done, everything is in place. Why pray now?
The answer is that Moses understood that building G-d's sanctuary is not in our hands alone. Sure, we can erect a structure. That's the easy part. The question is: will G-d see fit to live there, to make it His home? For this, a special prayer was called for. We needed a blessing upon the work our hands.
How often people imagine that they do it themselves -- all by themselves? How many boast that they are "self-made men"? So anyone who didn't have a rich father before him is a self-made man? Do you really believe that your success is all your own doing? Your hard work, your business acumen, your clever trading technique--these are the secrets of your success?
And where did all that wisdom and ability come from? The skills and talents we possess are G-d-given gifts we should acknowledge and be grateful for. And that's not humility. It's reality. You were born with that natural talent and flair. Give credit to your Creator.
A friend was once laid up with a bad back. What happened? He picked up a little bicycle for his 5-year old. A tiny nonsense but it left him flat on his back for weeks.
I remember some years ago catching some kind of "bug" and losing my voice for quite a while. There I was, the rabbi, the preacher, the speaker and the radio personality -- the man of words whose entire profession is built around his ability to say the right thing for every occasion -- and suddenly I'm rendered absolutely speechless. Overnight, I was made useless and unproductive -- all by a tiny germ.
To get sick takes a minute, to get well can take weeks and months. We all need to remember our frailties and limitations. No matter how strong, clever or talented we may be, we are all subject to higher forces. Nobody can do it alone. There is no such thing as a self-made man.
And so Moses reminds us all that even when our work is done, we still need that blessing from Above. Even when we work hard, concoct the most intricate business schemes, or present the most wonderful proposals, ultimately our success needs a prayer. We need to recognize the hand of G-d in our lives and, hopefully, in our success. Let us do our work as best as we can and then let us not forget to ask Him to bless the work of our hands.
It was Friday, on a balmy spring morning, and I was standing in line at the checkout counter in Rockland Kosher Supermarket. My cart was overflowing with groceries which would add up to a pretty penny. I was, however, the grateful recipient of food stamp benefits, and one swipe of my precious plastic card would cover the cost of my bimonthly food shopping trip. Nonetheless, I had chosen carefully, scanning the sale aisle for bargains, wanting to make the most of the government’s assistance. I loaded my items onto the counter and waited patiently for the cashier to add them up.
“Your food stamp balance is zero dollars and zero cents,” read the receipt“Delivery, please,” I said. One hundred and fifteen dollars and sixty-three cents was my total. I confidently handed the cashier my food stamp benefit card. “Your food stamp balance is zero dollars and zero cents,” read the receipt. I stood there for a moment, not knowing what to do. “Please step aside while I put your order on hold and ring up the next customer,” said the cashier. I obediently stepped aside, racking my brain for a solution as to how to pay this bill. Please, G‑d, I thought, help me put food on my table.
Out of nowhere a well-dressed, kind-looking woman appeared. She smiled and said, “I can lend you the money, and you can pay me back at your convenience.” Thinking of my family’s wellbeing, I put my dignity in my pocket for later retrieval and nodded my assent. She handed her credit card to the cashier and waited while the transaction went through. I provided the delivery boy with my address and turned back to my benefactress to obtain her name and telephone number. Not seeing her, I scanned the store and the parking lot outside. She was nowhere to be found.
I walked out of the supermarket with a lump in my throat. Her kindness had opened up a torrent of emotions that for the past twelve months had been held in check. I quickened my pace as the tears began to flow, heading toward a quiet side street where I could cry in peace.
Exactly one year before, my husband had walked out on me, leaving me to care for my three children. He left me a note, saying that he no longer wanted to be tied down. From one day to the next I was thrust into a world of uncertainty. I had three beautiful daughters, ages three, six and nine, who were left fatherless and confused.
The years preceding this event had not been ideal. Soon after my marriage, I noticed that a large sum of money was missing from our joint bank account. When I asked my husband about it, he was evasive. That incident was the first hint that something was wrong. It took another few years to realize that I was married to a man who was addicted to gambling. He was slowly destroying his finances, himself and his family.
I consulted experts, did research and pleaded with him to go for help. But it was to no avail. When all our resources were depleted, he picked himself up and left.
I turned to government funds to help me stay above water and provide for my children. I turned to social services and became acquainted with Medicaid, food stamps and welfare. I enrolled in a part-time college program, and the kids—though saddened by the loss of their daddy, who wanted nothing to do with them—slowly began to heal. Slowly, my life returned to something resembling normalcy.
Although on the outside it appeared as if I was doing well, deep inside me there was an unbelievable rage which did not abate as the weeks and months rolled on. The abandonment of my husband meant the abandonment of my Father in Heaven. The losses of my childhood resurfaced and threatened to engulf me.
During the lonely silence of the nights, I would relive my childhood memories, picturing the day my parents were killed. I, an only child, was left an orphan. I was sent to be raised by an aunt. Although my aunt and uncle were well-meaning people, they were rigid and controlling. At the age of thirteen, my bedtime was still 8:00 PM. A sleepover was absolutely out of the question, and many of the privileges my friends enjoyed were foreign to me. My aunt would monitor my phone conversations and all my extracurricular activities. As I had an independent personality, this created friction, and I yearned for the moment when I would be set free.
When I first discovered that “Leiby” was addicted to gambling, I naively thought that we would work through this problem togetherAs I moved through my teenage years, I secretly dreamed of the day when I would have a place I could truly call home. At the age of twenty-one, I was introduced to Leib. Leib was gentle and kind. He was loyal and principled, and we shared the same vision of building a fine Jewish home together. I was genuinely happy and looked forward with great anticipation to our future together. Nothing prepared me for the pain ahead.
When I first discovered that “Leiby” was addicted to gambling, I naively thought that we would work through this problem together. Little did I know that Leiby was not going to allow himself to be helped, and that he would fall into a depression and eventually leave me.
During those years of trial, I fervently prayed to my Father in Heaven to save our marriage. I desperately wanted my precious little girls to have a solid, stable home. The day Leiby left us, I began to function on two levels. While I marched forward, taking care of business and reconstructing our lives, my inner world was in turmoil and my faith was slowly eroding.
That Friday morning, in Rockland Kosher, an angel appeared out of nowhere, bringing not only a box full of groceries but a message full of love. It was that Friday that I renewed my relationship with G‑d, feeling strongly the sense of caring and security that accompanies the knowledge that He continues to hold me and my children in His arms.
I felt ready, at last, to move forward and reconnect with society. I accepted a longstanding invitation to the local rabbi’s house for the Sabbath meals. Friday, before sunset, I prepared the candles for lighting. The Sabbath table was covered in white, and my children were dressed in their Sabbath best. The candles shone bright, lighting up their innocent glowing faces and warming my soul. And as I stood there, I contemplated the day’s events.
A food stamp card that didn’t work, and a fellow human being who reached out to give without a second thought, combined to open my heart and reunite me with my Maker. G‑d has many ways of reminding his children of His loving presence. For me it happened at Rockland Kosher.
Last Sunday, the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Palestinian Arabs who had left Israel while the Arab world tried to murder our state at birth, attempted a symbolic “return,” with varying degrees of success, across the Syrian, Lebanese, Jordanian and Egyptian borders, and from the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
They were warmly praised in this effort by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, the ostensibly moderate successor to Yasser Arafat with whom Israel has been trying for almost eight years to make peace. Abbas -- who later in the week, in a New York Times op-ed, rewrote the history of Israel’s reestablishment to air-brush out the Arabs’ rejection of what would have been their independent state alongside ours -- movingly praised those who had died in Sunday’s “Nakba Day” assault on Israel’s borders (most of them killed by Lebanese Army forces) as the latest “martyrs” to the Palestinian cause.
RELATED: 'Obama says Netanyahu unable to make peace' Analysis: What rankled Netanyahu in the Obama speech Netanyahu rejects any Israeli return to the 1967 lines
Sunday’s Nakba onslaught against sovereign Israel, and its moving endorsement by Israel’s putative Palestinian partner, was the latest bleak demonstration of the Palestinians’ insistent refusal, for close to two-thirds of a century, to internalize the fact that the Jews have a historic claim to this sliver of land, and that their demands for statehood cannot be realized at the cost of ours.
Amid all the “differences” that Binyamin Netanyahu and Barack Obama on Friday acknowledged in their visions for the way forward to Israeli-Palestinian peace, it is the president’s evident incapacity to appreciate the uncompromising Palestinian refusal to countenance Israel’s legitimacy that is most damaging the vital American-Israeli relationship and most dooming his approach to peacemaking.
An indication of his failure to internalize that Israel, in any borders, is regarded as fundamentally illegitimate by much of the Palestinian leadership and public was evident in Obama’s 2009 Muslim world outreach speech in Cairo. He failed, before that most vital of audiences, to mention Israel’s historic tie to this land – the fact that this is the only place where the Jews have ever been sovereign, the only place where the Jews have ever sought sovereignty, a place we never willingly left and one to which we always prayed to return.
No Palestinian leader will advocate viable compromise with Israel until this sovereign Jewish connection is accepted, and yet the president opted not to utilize that extraordinary opportunity to emphasize our sovereign rights here, and thus to encourage the necessary compromise.
Two years on, the president all too obviously has not changed. There were positives for Israel in his Thursday speech on the Middle East – including the insistence that a Palestinian state be demilitarized, and the criticism of Palestinian moves to seek UN support for statehood without negotiating peace with Israel. These were outweighed by the negatives, however. And common to those negative formulations -- from a president who may well truly believe that he is being fair to Israel, and that we are hamstrung by a prime minister incapable of taking the decisions necessary to ensure Israel’s Jewish and democratic future – is the refusal to acknowledge Palestinian intolerance for Jewish sovereignty, and press urgently for the measures needed to reduce and eventually eliminate that intolerance.
It is immensely troubling for many Israelis to recognize that our most important strategic partner is now publicly advocating, before any significant sign of Palestinian compromise on final status issues has been detected, that we withdraw, more or less, to the pre-1967 lines – the so-called “Auschwitz borders” -- from which we were relentlessly attacked in our first two fragile decades of statehood. But only a president who ignores or underestimates Palestinian hostility to Israel could propose a formula for reviving negotiations in which he set out those parameters for high-risk territorial compromise without simultaneously making crystal clear that there will be no “right of return” for Palestinian refugees.
Obama is urging Israel – several of whose leaders have offered dramatic territorial concessions in the cause of peace, and proven their honest intentions by leaving southern Lebanon, Gaza and major West Bank cities, only to be rewarded with new bouts of violence – to give up its key disputed asset, the biblically resonant territory of Judea and Samaria, as stage one of a “peace” process. But he is not demanding that the Palestinians – whose leaders have consistently failed to embrace far-reaching peace offers, most notably Ehud Olmert’s 2008 offer of a withdrawal to adjusted ’67 lines and the dividing of Jerusalem – give up their key disputed asset, the unconscionable demand for a Jewish-state-destroying “right of return” for millions, until some vague subsequent stage, if at all. He merely suggests that the refugee issue, along with Jerusalem, be addressed later on.
Our prime minister and the president of the United States may not get on terribly well. They may mistrust each other. Each may well think that the other is unrealistic, naïve, arrogant or worse. But the common interest and values shared by our two countries ought to dwarf any such antipathies, and bilateral communications should be coherent enough for vital messages and concerns to be effectively conveyed and addressed.
Yet the president’s new formula for Israeli-Palestinian peace is so unworkable and so counter-productive as to indicate a complete breakdown in such communication. No international player, and certainly no Palestinian negotiator, is now going to defy the Obama framework and declare that the Israelis cannot possibly be required to sanction a dangerous pullback toward the ’67 lines unless or until the Palestinians formally relinquish the demand for a “right of return.” And so we can look ahead to another period of diplomatic deadlock, of an Israel appearing recalcitrant in not meeting the publicly stated expectations of its key ally, of the Palestinians garnering ever-greater international legitimacy even as they are freed of the requirement to acknowledge the legitimacy of Israel by withdrawing their demand to destroy it by weight of refugee numbers.
Some commentators are suggesting that, in his public remarks alongside Netanyahu at the White House on Friday, Obama was trying to show greater empathy for Israel, attempting to reduce some of the frictions caused by his Thursday speech. The president did move just a little on the matter of the Fatah-Hamas unity deal by invoking the Quartet principles in connection with Hamas’s viability as a partner.
For the most part, however, Obama returned to the parameters he had set out on Thursday, coming back to some of what he’d said using very similar wording, and declining to introduce elements that he had chosen not to include a day before.
Most gallingly, as on Thursday and now again at this most obvious of opportunities, he chose not to state clearly and firmly – as there can be no doubt predecessors like George W Bush and Bill Clinton would have done in such a context – that the Palestinian refugee problem will have to be solved independently of Israel. He did not make clear that just as Israel built a vibrant state absorbing the hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees from the Middle East and North Africa six decades ago, a new “Palestine” would finally have to resolve its assiduously perpetuated refugee crisis and abandon the dream of a “return.” The repeated omission will have delighted all of Israel’s uncompromising enemies. The dream lives on.
Netanyahu, of course, filled the breach. Netanyahu spoke about the impossibility of a “right of return.” “It’s not going to happen,” he said, as the president sat impassive alongside him. “Everybody knows it’s not going to happen. And I think it’s time to tell the Palestinians forthrightly it’s not going to happen.”
But Obama did no such thing. For the second day in succession the president, in the same week as the Nakba assault on Israel’s borders, when it came to this central demand by the Palestinians that simply cannot be accepted because it would spell the demographic demise of our state, was dismayingly, insistently, resonantly silent.
Whispering Flames: The Fire of Lag B'Omer by Rabbi Doniel Baron Tapping into the fiery, spiritual energy that is embedded in every iota of creation.
Fire. With dancing, leaping, flashing tongues of flame, fire lights up the Lag B'Omer night sky. Jews light bonfires to commemorate the holiday, continuing a tradition that dates back hundreds of years. Lag B'Omer is the day on which Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai revealed the chief mystical work, the Zohar, through an explosion of fire, and it is the day on which he died.
The tongues of flame whisper a message. What is the mysterious, inner meaning of all the fire?
To unravel the mystery, we need to go 3,500 years back in time to young Abraham in Mesopotamia, left to mind his father's idol shop. He looked at the sun, the moon, the stars and heavenly bodies and concluded that it would be ridiculous to think that inanimate, man-made idols had control over these things. As he contemplated more and more evidence of design in the world, he concluded that there must be a Creator who controls all.
The world around him thought otherwise, and even united to build a tower to "fight" their conception of God. But the more Abraham saw in the world, the more he realized that everything is guided by the hand of the Creator.
Abraham's discovery is expressed through a metaphor that sheds light on the deeper meaning of fire. Abraham coming to recognize God is compared to a wanderer who sees a mansion engulfed in flames and subsequently concludes that the mansion must have an owner. The master of the house then sees the wanderer and introduces himself. Abraham similarly looked at the world and concluded that it must have a Master, and merited the Master's acknowledgement (Bereishit Rabba 39:1).
This is a difficult parable to understand. A burning mansion is more a sign of neglect than of ownership. What did Abraham, the wanderer of the parable, see that pointed to a Master?
The Hebrew language, the language of creation according to Jewish tradition, provides us with the key to unlocking the metaphor.
The Hebrew word for 'thing,' the generic word that captures all physical objects, is 'davar.' Davar derives from the Hebrew root 'dibur' which means 'to speak.' This is no coincidence. It teaches us that every davar expresses a dibur -- a spoken message. Every physical object or phenomenon, in addition to its physical reality, conveys a spiritual comment on existence.
For example, a rose, on the surface level, is aesthetically pleasing and fragrant. But the rose also conveys a deeper message: intricacy and symmetry that points to intelligent design and a Designer. The external message is readily apparent. However, the inner meaning of an object can be elusive, and sometimes one needs to develop a sensitivity before one can understand the dibur - the message, that lies hidden within every davar - thing.
The fire of the mansion was an allusion to the dibur in every object in the world. Abraham saw the mansion - the world - on fire. Fire is a unique phenomenon. It has the power to transform anything that comes into contact with it into fire itself. The release of the latent energy in the object cast into the flames gives rise to a more powerful fire. Fire reveals that within everything, in addition to the practical function of a davar - a thing, there lies hidden energy that, when tapped, gives off light that was not apparent to one looking only at the practical function of the object. That energy is the metaphor for the dibur - the message embedded in everything in the world.
Abraham was able to look at the world and see the fire burning. As a child, he contemplated the sun, the moon and the stars and concluded that they were too sophisticated to be the product of chance. There had to have been a Creator, a Designer who fashioned everything in the world, and continues to control it all. For Abraham, the sun served more than its practical external functions of giving off warmth and light. It broadcasted the message that something so awesome could not have come about by itself.
Physics teaches the laws of entropy. Left alone, things in nature move from a state of higher order to lower order, marching toward chaos. Abraham realized that it is impossible to understand the world as the product of chance. To Abraham, everything in the world expressed a deeper meaning, intelligent design and a Designer who continues to guide his creation.
Abraham saw the mansion burning. The flames, however, were not the fire of destruction. Instead, they represented the hidden energy in the mansion of the world, the inner message, the dibur, that points to the greatness of the Creator who could form such a place. The figurative flames whisper that in addition to the simple function of every davar in the word, there lies a deeper meaning that points to God for those like Abraham who had the eyes to see it.
It is no wonder that we commemorate Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai with fire. Rabbi Shimon lived in both realms at the same time; in the world of the physical as we know it, and in the realm where the spirituality in everything physical, the dibur in everything, was apparent. To Rabbi Shimon, the world was ablaze with spiritual energy, abounding with tongues of fire whispering messages about the Creator. Not surprisingly, Rabbi Shimon gave us the Zohar, the book of the mystical inner meaning that belies everything.
The ancient, the mystical and the spiritual have applications in modern times. The practical challenge of Lag B'Omer is to see the potential energy in every object and every person, instead of being fooled by the facade of the external.
Spirituality and providence are everywhere, even for those of us who are not Rabbi Shimon. However, we can easily smother the flames of inner meaning by covering over any sparks of life and attributing everything to chance.
Lag B'Omer invites us to look deeper and to hear the ever-present broadcast throughout creation. The flames of Lag B'Omer call to us and whisper that there is more to every person and every object than meets the eye, that one should never give up even if a situation looks hopeless. Look beyond the superficial and acknowledge deeper realms of existence; embrace worlds that we cannot see or touch, but which are every bit as real as the one in which we live.
The author with her daughter, Chaya Mushka of blessed memory.
My friend Aviva came to visit Chaya Mushka and me in the hospital. Just four weeks earlier my daughter was diagnosed with Trisomy 18, a chromosomal disorder. Only five to ten percent of babies with this condition survive their first year.
“I just don’t understand why this would happen to you,” she said to me. We sat facing one another in the NICU. I held Chaya Mushka and kicked the rocking chair into motion. “You and Sholom Meir seem to be such good people . . .”
“But what if we were chosen to host her? What if her soul selected us as her parents for its short mission on earth, then to return ‘home,’ unscathed and pristine?” The words slipped from my lips, still unprocessed: “What if she’s our blessing?”
“But if you don’t listen to Me,” says G‑d, “I will direct upon you panic, inflammation, fever, disease and anguish. You will sow your seed in vain, and [if it does sprout,] your enemies will eat it . . .” (Leviticus 26:14,16).
And that’s not it. The Torah continues with close to another thirty verses filled with promises of retribution—they’re actually difficult to read.
Surprisingly, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi makes the following comment about the Torah’s harsh words: “In truth, they are nothing but blessings!”
Rabbi Schneur Zalman uncovers the hidden blessings hidden behind the guise of misfortuneHe then proceeds to explain many of the verses as blessings. For example, “Ten women will bake bread in one oven” (ibid. verse 26). In its simplest sense, this verse is referring to the extreme poverty that will afflict us if we abandon G‑d’s ways. But Rabbi Schneur Zalman interprets the verse as follows: We will meditate on the oneness of G‑d (the oven of “one”) with such intensity, that all our ten soul-powers will be consumed with a fiery love for Him. Then our Torah study (Torah is often referred to in the Scriptures as “bread”) will “bake” and marinate in this love.
Rabbi Schneur Zalman uncovers the hidden blessings hidden behind the guise of misfortune. To him, it was obvious and apparent that the curses must be taken beyond face value.
Interestingly, Rabbi Schneur Zalman wasn’t the first person to see through apparently unkind wording. The Talmud (Moed Katan 9a) tells us the story of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, famed Mishnaic sage and author of the Zohar, who sent his son Elazar to receive blessings from two of his students, Rabbi Yonatan and Rabbi Yehudah. But instead of hearing from them blessings, he heard curses. “May it be G‑d’s will that you will sow and not reap!” they proclaimed, and then continued with a litany of unpleasant wishes.
An astonished Elazar repeated to his father the rabbis’ curses.
“Curses?” responded Rabbi Shimon. “Those were all blessings!
“‘You will sow and not reap’ means that you will have children and they will not die . . .” And Rabbi Shimon proceeded to decode all the “curses,” patiently explaining to his son the blessings inherent within them.
It was certainly quite clever for Rabbi Shimon to decode the riddles and expose the blessings. But why did the sages speak in such a roundabout way? Why didn’t they bless him in language that he could understand?
Rabbi Schneur Zalman’s grandson, Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch, asks just this question. He concludes that the sages’ blessings were of such a lofty and sublime nature that they couldn’t be expressed directly. They had to go through the medium of “bad” before they could be exposed as good.
Resilient people don’t let frustration and disappointment erode their belief If G‑d is good and He orchestrates our lives with purpose and meaning, then there can be only two types of experiences that He generates: a) good things that we perceive as good; b) good things that we perceive as bad.
And here’s the part that seems completely counterintuitive (or maybe not): the good that’s perceived as bad is in fact a more potent good.1
Compare your personal journal to your published autobiography. The autobiography probably makes a lot more sense to an audience of readers. But your journal is so raw and genuine, so you.
When G‑d communicates with us from a place closer to His essence, we don’t understand Him clearly. Was that a hug? ’Cause it felt like a slap in the face . . .
In fact, the Talmud (Yoma 23a) tells us that people who are able to remain happy despite their suffering will merit to see G‑d in His full glory during the Messianic Era. These resilient people don’t let frustration and disappointment erode their belief that everything that comes from G‑d is good. Since they embrace all of G‑d—the part they understand, and the part they so don’t—they eventually experience the totality of G‑d’s light. They’ve proven that they can embrace even the most raw and intense parts of G‑d.
So how do we expose the sweet good that’s entangled in a bad wrap? The chassidic masters teach that by merely trusting that there is a potent kernel of good hidden in the pain, we begin to disassemble the screen that veils it.
“Why did this happen to me?” There are two ways to ask this same question. One is rhetorical, a proclamation: “This is wrong and shouldn’t have happened to me.” The second is authentic: “I wonder why this is happening to me. How can this be good for me?” And just exploring the possibility of good draws it to the surface.
To ask the second type of question, we need to train ourselves to look through the external trappings of an experience and capture its depth.
What we perceive as bad is in truth the higher expression of G‑d’s kindnessRabbi Shimon bar Yochai was clearly a man of unparalleled depth. He authored the Zohar, the primary book of Jewish mysticism. That’s why it was so natural for him to see the curse as a blessing. He didn’t need to reconcile the shell of the words with their inner meaning—to him the shell was completely transparent.
Rabbi Schneur Zalman authored the Tanya, the primary work of chassidic philosophy. Like Rabbi Shimon, he saw everything with profundity, plumbing the depths of any notion. That’s why Rabbi Schneur Zalman read the verses of admonition and immediately entered into their innermost understanding, where all is good, and where what we perceive as bad is in truth the higher expression of G‑d’s kindness. Like Rabbi Shimon, he didn’t have to train himself to see bad as good; to him it was as clear as the sun is bright.
Studying chassidic teachings, the depth of the Torah’s wisdom, trains our eyes with incredible depth perception, and sensitizes us to see the good even when we’re disappointed.2
And nevertheless, let’s bless each other that we all be recipients of only good—and good that we perceive as good!
FOOTNOTES 1. In kabbalistic language, the good that feels bad comes from the loftier first two letters of G‑d’s name (the Tetragrammaton), the yud and the hei, while the good that feels good comes from the second two letters of His name; the vav and the (second) hei (see Tanya, part 1, chapter 26).
2. Based on a talk by the Rebbe, recorded in Likkutei Sichot, end of vol. 1.
Yesterday was Israel's memorial day. Today is its independence day. Israel's founders came from totalitarian countries, surrounded by hostility and sharing no common language. They built a modern, accomplished, imperfect but thriving democracy. As Ben-Gurion said, any Jew who does not believe in miracles isn't a realist. Rabbi Wolpe
http://www.chabad.org/theJewishWoman/article_cdo/aid/881486/jewish/Mothers-Day.htm I have a very strained relationship with my mother and I always have. Perhaps it is that we are so different, or maybe that we are so similar, but we are rarely able to spend time together without us both blowing up. I do love my mother but I have a hard time being around her. For Mother's Day I wanted to do something special, but I am worried if we spend the day together as she requested, that instead we will end up fighting. I certainly don't want to ruin the day for her by fighting, but if I cancel she will also be upset. What do you suggest?
Dear Worried Daughter,
Sometimes the closer you are to someone the harder it can be to get along I don't think a mother/daughter relationship exists which doesn't have some kind of strain or challenge. If we are fortunate, we have a loving and warm relationship with our mothers. Yet even then, sometimes the closer you are to someone the harder it can be to get along. You write that you have always had a strained relationship, which makes things even more difficult.
So now your dilemma: if you keep your plans and spend the day together you are worried that you will end up fighting. If you cancel your plans, you are worried that you will hurt her feelings. I think that canceling will definitely cause a tremendous amount of pain to her. If you hadn't made plans to start with, that would be one thing, but being that you have already made plans to spend the day together, we need to figure out a way you can do so and not fight.
For starters, two people can only fight if both people allow themselves to do so. Here is a great opportunity for you to exercise incredible self control and work with yourself not to get upset. Chassidic philosophy teaches us that the mind is able to rule over the heart (moach shalet al halev). There is no question that emotions can run high and you may want to scream or cry, but your mind knows better. Intellectually, rationally, you know that you love your mother. You know that you are spending the day with her to honor her and to thank her for being your mother and for the life that she has given you. That is a pretty tremendous gift, and one that you should be grateful for. Focus on that. Focus on your love for her and how fortunate you are to have your mother in your life. And let your mind run the show. When you feel that you are getting annoyed or upset or that you are losing patience, tell your heart to cool off and let your head lead the way. For one day, you can keep yourself collected regardless of how frustrating the circumstances may be.
Emotions can run high and you may want to scream or cry, but your mind knows better And secondly, plan your day in a way that will minimize stress. You know what makes you tick and you know what makes your mother tick. Plan the day around what she will enjoy but try to eliminate things that you know will drive you crazy. If your mother loves shopping, but you want to pull out your hairs because she is indecisive and tries on a million things, don't go shopping! Or maybe give her a gift certificate to a store that she can use at another time. Come up with plans that you both enjoy, and maybe include things that you can do together which don't require you to always be speaking. Perhaps find a museum that you would both enjoy walking around, or take a drive to the beach where you can sit and relax and each read a book. Do not pick her favorite restaurant if it will be mobbed on Mother's Day and you know your mom gets anxious when the service is bad. Think through the places and situations that would be enjoyable to you both, and the least stressful. And perhaps start the day with a bouquet of flowers or her favorite chocolate. Everyone loves gifts and having one delivered that morning would be a nice surprise, and a great way to start off the day.
So before your day with your mom, do some soul searching to keep your emotions in check, and do some planning to come up with the best way of spending your time together. And remember the most important things: she is your mother. You love her, and no matter how frustrated you might get, you must respect her. Enjoy your day together!
Is it inappropriate to be celebrating the death of Osama Bin Laden? Is that a Jewish value?
You’ve asked what I could only call a very Jewish question. For one thing, it’s so typically Jewish to feel guilty about rejoicing. Aside from that, the wisdom of our sages on this topic runs deep and thick. When do you know a wisdom is deep? When at first glance it seems full of contradiction.
Let’s start with Solomon the Wise, who writes, “When the wicked perish, there is joyful song.”1
Sounds pretty unequivocal. Until you find another statement of the same author, in the same book: “When your enemy falls, do not rejoice, and when he stumbles, let your heart not exult, lest the L‑rd see and be displeased, and turn His wrath away from him.”2
The Talmud mirrors the tension. We find: “When the wicked perish from the world, good comes to the world, as the verse states, ‘When the wicked perish, there is joyful song.’”3
. . . while in the same volume, the Talmud has already told us, “When the Egyptians were drowning in the Sea of Reeds, the angels wanted to sing. G‑d said to them, ‘The work of My hands is drowning in the sea, and you want to sing?’”4
We aren’t the first to note these paradoxes and more. Now is not the time to list every resolution suggested. Instead, let’s get straight to the heart of the matter:
What is so terrible, after all, about celebrating the death of a wicked evildoer? Why would you even think it decrepit to rejoice that a man who himself rejoiced over the demise of thousands of others, and connived ingeniously to bring destruction and terror across the globe, should now be removed from it? Is it so horrible to feel happy that the world has just become a better, safer and happier place?
No, it’s not. That’s perfectly legit. On the contrary, someone who is not celebrating at this time is apparently not so concerned by the presence of evil upon our lovely planet. Those who are outraged by evil are carrying now smiles upon their face. The apathetic don’t give a hoot.
If so, when Pharaoh and his henchmen, who had enslaved our people for generations—mistreating them with the utmost cruelty, drowning our babies and beating workers to death—when they were finally being drowned in the sea, why would not G‑d Himself rejoice?
Simple: Because they are “the work of My hands.” For this, they are magnificent. And a terrible loss.
As another prophet put it, “As I live, says the L‑rd G‑d, I do not wish for the death of the wicked, but for the wicked to repent of his way so that he may live.”5
For the same reason, Solomon tells you not to rejoice over the fall of your enemy. If that’s the reason you are celebrating—because he is your enemy, that you have been vindicated in a personal battle—then how are you better than him? His wickedness was self-serving, as is your joy.
But to rejoice over the diminishment of evil in the world, that we have done something of our part to clean up the mess, that there has been justice—what could be more noble?
That, after all, was the sin of Bin Laden: He recognized G‑d. He was a deeply religious man—those who knew him call him “saintly.” He prayed to G‑d five times a day and thanked Him for each of his nefarious achievements. The sin of Bin Laden was to refuse to recognize the divine image within every human being, to deny the value G‑d Himself places upon “the work of My hands.” To Bin Laden, this world was an ugly, dark place, constructed only so that it could be obliterated in some final apocalypse, and he was ready to help it on its way. With that sin, all his worship and religiosity was rendered decrepit evil.
So there’s the irony of it all, the depth and beauty that lies in the tension of our Torah: If we celebrate that Bin Laden was shot and killed, we are stooping to his realm of depravation. Yet if we don’t celebrate the elimination of evil, we demonstrate that we simply don’t care.
We are not angels. An angel, when it sings, is filled with nothing but song. An angel, when it cries, is drowned in its own tears. We are human beings. We can sing joyfully and mourn both at once. We can hate the evil of a person, while appreciating that he is still the work of G‑d’s hands. In this way, the human being, not the angel, is the perfect vessel for the wisdom of Torah. Sources See Maharsha on Sanhedrin 39b; Midrash Shmuel 4:22. Rabbi Wolpe Yesterday, Yom Hashoah, Bin Laden was killed. The proper reaction is sobriety, not revelry. This is a time to remember those who died, pray for those who fight, meditate anew on wickedness and redouble our dedication to justice. "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil," taught Burke, "is for good men to do nothing." Do something.
edited to add one of his comments Yes, there is certainly a grim satisfaction and a temptation to joy when someone so wicked is killed. But this is attendant with so much loss, death, war and sorrow, that I really think even such a long desired goal should not evoke jubilance. God bless the extraordinary Navy SEALS.
In May 1960, Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi officer in charge of orchestrating the Final Solution – the mass deportation of Jews to ghettos and extermination camps – was captured by Israeli agents near Buenos Aires. Eichmann was given a choice between instant death or trial in Israel. He chose to stand trial, which began in Jerusalem on April 11, 1961.
During the trial, the Israeli public was exposed to the details of the Holocaust nightmare for the first time, as well as to the heroism and ingenuity of those who survived.
In his defense, Eichmann insisted that he was only "following orders." Yet scores of witnesses contradicted that contention – testifying to Eichmann's "fanatical zeal and unquenchable blood thirst." Throughout, Eichmann listened impassively to a translation of the entire trial from a specially-designed glass cubicle in the crowded Jerusalem courtroom.
One year later, after all the evidence was in and all appeals exhausted, the cold-eyed Nazi monster was hanged at a prison in the Israeli town of Ramla.
Former Supreme Judge Gavriel Bach – at the time an up-and-coming lawyer and deputy state attorney – was asked to join the team of prosecutors. Fluent in German, he conducted most of the interrogations of Eichmann. At a recent talk in Jerusalem, with the 50th anniversary of the Eichmann Trial approaching, Bach described the unforgettable influence that the trial left on him.
"We were three prosecutors. We gathered millions of pages of documentation and read a great deal of background sources. I don't think I slept more than three hours every night throughout the trial," Bach recalls. “The German government was very cooperative and sent us a great deal of material.” Despite that, chief prosecutor Gideon Hausner preferred to call up as many witnesses as possible rather than presenting his case via historical documents, because "it would be more shocking and have more impetus."
"Some of us thought that Eichmann may have experienced regret at the terrible things done to the Jews in Europe," says Bach. While in custody, Eichmann was shown part of a film that portrayed the horrible conditions of the camps and the crematoria. “We all waited to see how he would react to the emotional film,” says Bach. But when a German-speaking guard asked Eichmann for his reaction, he simply changed the subject and complained about not being allowed to appear at the trial in a Nazi uniform.
Instigator of the Crimes
Among the many documents that Bach found was an interview which Eichmann gave to a fascist Dutch journalist in 1956 while hiding in Argentina. Eichmann expressed satisfaction over the sight of continuous railroads cars arriving in Auschwitz. "It was a glorious sight," he said.
"Did you have any regrets at any time?" asked the journalist.
"Yes", answered Eichmann, "I'm sorry that I wasn't stricter in carrying out our goal. Look what happened," he declared angrily in 1956. "The State of Israel now exists and that cursed race continues."
A book written by the commandant of Auschwitz, Rudolf Hoes, describes how up to a thousand Jewish children were gassed daily. "Occasionally a youngster would beg for his life on bended knees in front of me, and I have to admit, I sometimes felt weak myself. I have children of my own. But then I was embarrassed at my frailty. The Oberfuhrer (Eichmann) strengthened my resolve by explaining that we had to kill the accursed Jewish children above all; they represented the future, and the Jewish future had to be erased from the face of the world."
Prosecutors found several examples of Eichmann’s steadfast, even stubborn resistance to any show of lenience. One of the Nazi leaders in Poland sent a request to delay the deportation of a certain Dr. Weiss and his wife. Dr. Weiss was a world famous expert on radar, and the officer thought it would be useful for the Reich to obtain key information before annihilating him. Eichmann wouldn't hear of it "as a matter of principle," and the doctor and his family perished along with their entire community.
At one point during the war, Hitler himself, for political reasons, asked Eichmann not to touch 8,000 Jews left in Budapest. Yet despite his loyalty to the Fuhrer, Eichmann planned otherwise. (Only the war's progression prevented him from deporting this group.) These examples counter Eichmann's claim throughout the trial that he was merely a cog in the machine, carrying out orders.
"There were many dramatic incidents during the trial," says Bach, some which never came to the floor of the courtroom. "We received an important document from an anonymous source which detailed the number of arrivals at Auschwitz, the dates, and the numbers given to each Jew. We tried to verify the details and find the person who had sent us the valuable material, but couldn't make headway. We called in experts from the police department to examine the document and help us find its author. Then I had a brainstorm. Let's find survivors with the numbers mentioned in the document and ask them when they arrived at the camp. That will give us the proof we need to present the document at the trial.
"One of the policeman in the room, after some hesitation, rolled up his sleeve and showed us a number engraved on his arm. 'This number appears on the report; and indeed I arrived in Auschwitz on the date mentioned,' he said quietly. There was complete silence in the room. None of his police colleagues even knew that he'd been in the Holocaust. Like so many, he had hidden his past. We had our proof on the spot. But none of us could speak for several minutes."
The Eichmann trial had the effect of creating huge public awareness about the Holocaust in Israel and worldwide.
"Nobody wanted to talk about their Holocaust experiences," says Yosef Kleinman, a survivor who arrived in Palestine in 1945 during the days when the tiny Jewish community was struggling to survive and prepare for statehood. There was neither energy, time nor patience to hear the newcomers out. “No one was interested in hearing our stories,” says Kleinman.
"They called us 'sabonim' (soapers),” he says. “They couldn't fathom why we hadn't stood up to the Nazis in the camps and fought back. In those days Israelis were taken up with the macho image of the ‘new Jew.’ They didn't understand what we were up against in Europe, and we ourselves didn't want to be reminded. We just wanted to get on with our lives and put that all behind us."
Indeed, the main drama of the Eichmann trial was the Holocaust survivors who appeared as witnesses. As first it was difficult to even locate witnesses, since they had gotten so used to not talking about that period in their lives. "I had a hard time convincing some people to come forth and tell their story," Bach recalls. “One man told me, ‘If I start talking, you won't be able to stop me for four or five days.’"
The prosecution team argued among themselves how much time to give each witness. "I was adamant that at least one witness should appear from every country that had been under Nazi rule," says Bach.
Kleinman, one of the youngest witnesses, described the selection process he endured as a 14-year-old. "First we were put into a ghetto, and several weeks later we were sent in cattle cars to the camp. For three days we had nothing to drink or eat.”
At Auschwitz, there was a selection table where the infamous Angel of Death, Dr. Josef Mengele, sent the most able-bodied to the right for slave labor, and the weaker ones to the left for extermination. “My 13-year-old brother was held up for inspection,“ Kleinman recalls, “but in the end they told him to run along and join our parents to the left, which he did happily, not knowing what that meant. That was the last time I saw any of them.
”In the barracks, the old timers quickly filled us in and callously pointed to the smoking chimneys we could see through the window. 'That's where your parents are. They're all dead by now.' That's how we learned the terrible truth.”
At the Eichmann trial, Kleinman testified about an incident where Auschwitz guards called the prisoners out to see one young boy getting punished. Kleinman describes:
“Usually they'd give 25 lashes. This boy withstood the punishment and didn't let out a sound. That made the tormentor angry and he continued beating him – 30, 35, 40 lashes. And still the boy didn't cry out. We ourselves couldn't take it anymore. But the soldier continued hitting him all over – on his legs, face, stomach, wherever the whip landed.
“When he got to 50, and the boy was already on the ground, he threw away his whip and left in disgust. We ran over to the hero, picked him up and washed him off. 'What did you do to get this punishment?' we asked him. He could barely talk, but he said, “I brought siddurim (prayer books) to the barracks. It was worth it. I'm glad I did it.'"
This story had a deep influence in the courtroom. The court-appointed defense attorney wept openly, and the judges called for a break in the procedures.
Little Red Coat
At the trial, another witness who had been inside the gas chamber lived to tell about it. As a youngster, he arrived in Auschwitz together with 200 other children, after a horrendous three-day train trip. After the selection, he was pushed into a large dark room with shower piping, and the door was shut behind them. At first the children began to sing, to lift their spirits, but that soon gave way to wailing and screaming. Suddenly the heavy metal door swung open and a guard pulled out 20 of them into the bright sunlight. The Nazis needed workers to unload bags of potatoes and there weren't enough soldiers for the job. That's how this man was able to give a first-hand description of the insides of the crematorium.
At the trial, Dr. Martin Foldi, related how he and his family arrived at Auschwitz in the winter of 1944. As the bewildered Jews stumbled out of the cattle cars, they were hounded by dogs and Nazi soldiers with whips. He described being sent to the right with his 11-year-old son. His wife and two-year-old daughter were taken to the left. The little girl was wearing a little red coat. At the last minute, a guard sent Foldi's son with the crowd to the left. Dr. Foldi panicked thinking, how could this young boy find his mother and sister among the thousands there at the station. But then he knew... he could find his sister because she was wearing the red coat. It would be "like a beacon" for the boy. Then he states, "I never saw them again."
This testimony is likely to have formed the inspiration for the iconic red coat in Steve Spielberg’s classic film, Schindler’s List.
The horrible story shook the courtroom. But for prosecuting attorney Gavriel Bach, it was by far the most upsetting moment of the 16-week trial. Bach had just bought a red coat for his own daughter.
In the courtroom, Bach played with his papers and kept the whole court waiting for his next question while he conquered his emotions.
The Eichmann trial made headlines all over the world, but in Israel the subject was the center of everyone's attention. The long-term effects of the trial were dramatic and many. The Israeli public understood at last what the survivors had undergone, and became much more empathetic. The enormity of the Holocaust was suddenly brought to the fore, through the witnesses who gave a personal voice and face to the 6 million victims.
Today, far from the days of Israelis “not wanting to acknowledge the tragedy,” there is a whole different attitude. Israeli universities have professors of Holocaust Studies; thousands of Hebrew books have been printed on the subject; government agencies grant special privileges to survivors; and every year on Yom HaShoah the media devotes an entire day to interviews with the nearly-extinct generation of survivors.
Half a century later, the Eichmann trial is not merely a historic event. It represents the turning point in Israel’s understanding of the Holocaust.
A man had gone for a stroll along the river when he noticed an unusual and ghoulish sight: a skull floating on the surface of the water. His reaction was unusual. He reached neither for his cellphone nor for his digital camera.
Instead, he turned to the skull and uttered the following six Aramaic words: Ahl d'ateift aftfuch, v'sof mitofayich yitufun. Had he spoken to it in English, he might have said this: "You were drowned because you drowned others. And ultimately, those who drowned you will also drown." Less poetic in English, yet essentially the same point.
The reason he used Aramaic was because at the time the incident occurred -- some time toward the end of the Second Temple era -- Aramaic was not yet a deceased language. In fact, it was very much alive, especially among Jews who lived in Babylonia.
The man walking along the river had lived in Babylonia until the age of forty. He then migrated to the holy city of Jerusalem to study at the feet of Shma'ayah and Avtalyon, two brothers of Greek extraction, who had converted to Judaism and rose to become the leading Judaic scholars of their day.
The man was Hillel, the author of better known statements, such as "If I am not for myself who is for me", "What is hateful to you do not do unto your friend" and others. He was known for his profound knowledge and extraordinary patience. Like Moses, he was known for his humility; and, like Moses, he lived for one hundred and twenty years. According to kabbalistic tradition he and Moses shared the same soul.
Maimonides and the Skull
Another man by the name of Moses, Moses Maimonides, who lived some 1,000 years after the skull story, wrote the following in his commentary on Tractate Avot ("Ethics of the Fathers") where the skull story is recorded (paraphrased):
There are consequences to our actions -- consequences that reflect those actions. If you commit murder and drown others in a river to hide your crime, you will receive your punishment in the form of your crime. If you invent an unjust thing to benefit yourself at the expense of others, that unjust thing will ultimately be used against you. On the positive side, if you introduce something that benefits others, that thing will ultimately come to benefit you as well. In Hebrew it is called: midah k'neged midah -- measure for measure.
This is how Maimonides and other commentators explain Hillel's message.
Pharaoh vs. Moses round II
Maimonides' grandson, Rabbi David Hanagid, cites a tradition handed down by "the early ones" that the floating skull belonged to none other than Pharaoh himself. Hillel therefore told him: "Because you commanded that Jewish children be drowned in the Nile, you were drowned." It was specifically Hillel who confronted Pharaoh's skull, since as a reincarnation of Moses he was fit to confront Pharaoh.
According to this interpretation, says Rabbi Isaac Luria , the renowned 16th century Safed mystic known as "the Holy Ari", the second half of Hillel's statement is addressed not to Pharaoh but to the Jewish people: "Just as Pharaoh was drowned, so all persecutors of Israel will ultimately be drowned."
The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson of blessed memory, saw in the Ari's comment words of comfort to the tired soul of the exiled Jew, to the soul of one who feels that he or she is up against an insurmountable challenge, an impenetrable cloud of darkness. Hillel, the great leader of Israel, turns to this person and says: "If Pharaoh, the embodiment of evil, the man who cast fear even into the heart of Moses, so much so that G-d had to reassure him and say, 'Come to Pharaoh -- I will accompany you,' ended up drowned in a river, certainly all the Pharaohs of history, all the great serpents that tried and will try to drown you through physical and spiritual persecution --they will be drowned as well. For evil has no leg to stand on. Like smoke it obscures our vision for a time but must ultimately disappear."
Mocking the Poor
If that were all we could learn from Hillel's statement, it would be enough. But there's more. Here's another beautiful thought:
It seems strange that Hillel, the man of kindness, humility and impossible patience, would rebuke a dead man! According to Jewish tradition, one ought not perform any mitzvah in a graveyard. Doing so is considered "mocking the poor" (loeg la'rash), since those that dwell in the earth are no longer capable of performing mitzvot. Just as you would not partake of a gourmet dinner in the face of one unable to afford a slice of bread, so one should not show one's tzizit, for example, in the presence of those who can no longer fulfill that commandment.
Why, then, did Hillel, the man of kindness and humility, rebuke this poor dead person, who could do nothing with this rebuke?
The answer, says the Rebbe, is that when Hillel came across the skull of Pharaoh, he though to himself: "Why has G-d arranged for me to see this sight?" He then came to the conclusion that the time had finally come for the soul of Pharaoh to find peace. And by using Pharaoh as an example with which to teach a meaningful message, Hillel uplifted Pharaoh's soul and granted it the ability to find peace.
So what starts out as an innocent stroll along the river turns out to be a passage filled with meaningful lessons:
● What goes around comes around.
● Even the most formidable evil is transient.
● Everything that comes your way has a purpose and you should fulfill that purpose. Not always is that purpose apparent but we should at least take advantage of those situations when the purpose is apparent.
● Even a Pharaoh can ultimately be redeemed and should be redeemed when that time arrives.
The Second Exodus by Avigail Sharer We had just seven days to get out of Egypt.
Egypt: land of the sphinx, the pyramids, the Nile, and – until their sudden expulsion – the home of my mother-in-law and her family.
In the early 20th century, 175,000 Jews lived in Egypt; most had been there for generations, serving as lawyers, doctors, and businessman. They lived in affluence undreamed of by their Eastern European brethren.
With her olive complexion and cream silk scarf draped over her shoulder, my mother-in-law Bella Sharer is a beautiful picture of an Egyptian Jew. Her family lived in Cairo for generations; her grandparents are buried there.
"We lived in a huge apartment," she recalls. “Father was the breadwinner – he was involved in commerce, which sometimes involved him being away for months on end, as he traveled across the Sahara Desert. Once he went on a business trip to what was then called Palestine. He returned with a handcrafted etrog box, fashioned from olive wood, carved with a picture of Rachel’s Tomb. To me, these places were more of a dream than the Sphinx and the Pyramids, both of which were regular Sunday afternoon destinations.
"Going to synagogue on Shabbos was a magical affair: I would stare at the ornate ceiling and marble pillars of the Ben Ezra synagogue. My father would bid for the honor of placing the silver pomegranates on top of the Torah scroll before it was returned to the Holy Ark.
“My dearest childhood memories center on Passover – the fragrance of the crates of dates mingling with that of the freshly-painted walls; the hustle and bustle as the extended family moved in for the holiday.”
It was an idyllic childhood spent in an affluent and influential society, under the benign rulership of King Farouk II. Farouk was a hedonist, and to the large Arab population, a travesty, a betrayal to the people. A military coup dethroned Farouk in 1952, followed by a stormy transition period, after which Gamal Abdel Nasser became president of Egypt. The country paused for breath, as Nasser's domestic and foreign policies increasingly clashed with the French and British colonial interests. When Nasser announced his plan to nationalize, and thereby control the Suez Canal – which, as the only land bridge between Africa and Asia was strategically and economically vital to Britain and France – a crisis ensued.
Door Wide Open
"One afternoon came a knock at the door. Three soldiers stood there, and ordered us to follow them to the police station. Their swarthy faces and black eyes frightened me. I clutched my mother's hand tight as we wordlessly followed them to a huge, imposing building. At the station, the chief brusquely informed us that my father's business had been appropriated by the government, that our bank account and all assets had been frozen, and that we had seven days to leave the country. We were allowed to take clothes and $40 dollars cash.
"Our world was shattered in an instant, as if one of the exquisite crystal glasses that graced our Seder table splintered on the stone floor.
“The Egyptian Jews had been of the highest echelons of society, established, prominent, prosperous. In the blink of an eye, they were reduced to beggars.
"My father visited all his contacts: members of the royal family, political figures, the wealthiest businessmen. No one could help. The decree came directly from Nasser. As for our assets, people threw up their arms helplessly. 'Be grateful that you have your family,' they said.
"What followed was a paralysis of sorts. My mother would walk around our home, touching the furniture, stroking her candlesticks, as if to etch it into her mind. In the meantime, our Arab neighbors, with whom we had always lived side-by-side in peace, were greedily despoiling our home. They would walk in, look around, and point to whatever item they wanted, whether a painting on the wall or my mother's huge diamond engagement ring.
"As we were allowed to take clothes along, my mother took us to a department store and bought a plentiful supply of skirts, tops, trousers and undershirts. In the confusion, she forgot that we would soon grow out of our present sizes. For years we wore clothing that was too small. Then we sold it to buy food.
"My father booked us passage on a ship leaving from Alexandria. Then we stepped over the threshold for the last time: me and my brother, my parents, my aunt, uncle and cousins. We left the front door wide open behind us."
Freedom of the Spirit
In 1957, when she was 10 years old, my mother-in-law and her family boarded a boat to Marseilles, France. There, they were taken to a concentration-cum-DP camp, handed threadbare blankets, and assigned beds.
"We arrived in France in the middle of winter, and the cold penetrated my bones. In the blazing heat of Egypt, we had siesta every afternoon between one and three o’clock, because the heat was so intense. Now, the cold settled on me and I couldn't shake it away. My father, by that time well into his 50s, would go to a nearby forest and chop firewood so that at least we could huddle around the ovens.
"I would go into the shower room and stare and stare. The shower heads, which now gushed with hot water, just a few years before had delivered Zyklon B. I was washing myself in a room where thousands of my fellow Jews had met their deaths. If anything gave us perspective on our loss, it was that shower room."
My mother-in-law plays with a long string of pearls and sits, contemplating. "Even after I married and had a family, and lived in a nice house in Stamford Hill, England, experiences like that don't go away. I fear change, and have a deep sense of insecurity. On the positive side, having suffered myself, I am able to empathize with others who have suffered. It's also much easier for me to keep my priorities straight: We lost everything, but retained our lives and our health.
“I watch people running after the good life, and I know that in a flash, everything can be taken away. Wealth can disappear, status can dissolve. All that's left is who you are and what you make of what's left. That's what true freedom – freedom of the spirit – is all about."
Editor's note: This is an old Jewish story/joke/metaphor. Versions abound. My favorite is Tuvia Bolton's rendition:
There were once two beggars who used to go around begging together. One was Jewish and the other a gentile. As the night of Passover approached, the Jewish beggar offered to help his non-Jewish friend get invited to a seder (the festive Passover meal accompanied by many commandments and rituals) and get a good meal. "Just put on some Jewish clothes and come with me to the synagogue. Everyone brings home poor guests for the seder. It's easy, you'll see."
The non-Jewish beggar happily agreed. On the first night of Passover they went to the synagogue, and sure enough, both got invited to different homes for the festive ceremony.
Hours later they met in a predetermined place in the local park. But to the amazement of the Jewish beggar, his friend was blazing mad.
"What did you do to me?" He shouted. "You call that a meal? It was torture!! It was hell! I'll pay you back for this--you'll see..."
"What do you mean? What happened?" the Jew asked.
"What happened? As if you didn't know! You Jews are crazy--that's what happened! First we drank a glass of wine. I like wine, but on an empty stomach... My head started spinning a bit but I figured that any second we would begin the meal. The smell of the food from the kitchen was great. Then we ate a bit of parsley. Then they started talking, and talking, and talking. In Hebrew. All the time I'm smiling and nodding my head as if I understand what they're saying--like you told me to--but my head is really swimming and hurting from the wine and I'm dying of hunger.
"The smell of the food from the kitchen is making me insane, but they don't bring it out. For two hours they don't bring anything out! Just talking, and more talking. Then, just what I needed.... another cup of wine! Then we get up, wash hands, sit back down and eat this big wafer called matzah that tastes like newspaper, leaning to the left (don't ask me why...). I started choking, almost threw up. And then finally they give me this lettuce, I took a big bite and wham! My mouth was on fire. My throat! There was horseradish inside! Nothing to eat but horseradish! You guys are crazy....
"Well, I just got up and left. Enough is enough!"
"Ah, I should have told you." replied the Jew. "What a shame! After the bitter herbs is a glorious meal. You suffered so long; you should have just held out for a few more minutes...!"
The editor again: Jewish history is a seder. We've had our appetite teased with small moments of triumph. But mostly we've had "bread of faith" that our palates can't really appreciate. And generous helpings of bitter herbs.
The lesson? Two thoughts come to mind. You need patience to be a Jew. And since we've swallowed the maror already, we might as well hold out one minute longer and get the feast...
The most famous golden rule of life is found in the second of this week's Torah readings. Love thy fellow as thyself (Leviticus 19:18), is not only famous, it also sounds like an injunction that is virtually impossible to fulfill. Can one ever hope to reach such an exalted level of saintliness to love anyone else as much as we love ourselves? Is the Torah not being naïve and utterly unrealistic?
Indeed, the classical commentaries grapple with this issue. Some suggest that we are being taught to act as if we love the other fellow. If we behave in such a way, the actual emotion may well follow in time.
The Chassidic classic Tanya (Chapter 32) teaches that if one is able to put physical considerations aside and focus on the spiritual, it may actually be within the realm of the possible to achieve true love of another. Indeed, our petty likes and dislikes are all based on physical preferences. We either approve or disapprove of the way others look, talk, dress, behave etc. But those are all material concerns. If we would only remember that these are but superficial, external, and of little consequence, we wouldn't take them at all seriously.
What matters most is the spiritual. The real person is not the body but the soul. The essence of every individual is not his nose but his neshama. So what if he's ugly and his mother dresses him funny? His soul is pure and untainted. Who knows if the other fellow's soul is not greater, holier and more pristine than mine? No one can say his soul is better than the next person's.
By focusing on the inner identity of a person we can avoid getting irritated by their outer idiosyncrasies. We might think someone weird but would we ever accuse him or her of having a weird soul? So if we can rise above the superficial and concentrate on the spirit rather than the body, on the essence rather than on the external we do have a chance of observing this fundamental mitzvah in the literal sense.
How easy it is to fall into the trap of labeling people, of categorizing them and writing them off. Him? A meshuggener! Her? Rotten to the core! That family? They are impossible!
Many years ago I was trying to help a man organize a get (Jewish religious divorce) for his estranged and already civilly divorced wife. The problem was that she refused to cooperate. (Usually, the problem is the reverse.) So I engaged an attorney friend of mine to help with the case. The next day he called me to say it was all sorted out. I couldn't believe my ears. "How did you do it?" I asked incredulously. He answered with such genuine directness that I was completely taken aback. "I called her up and said, 'I believe you are not an ogre.' Immediately, I received a favorable response and the deal was done."
Nobody is really an ogre. (Even Shrek was a nice ogre.) If we can learn to give people the benefit of the doubt we might be surprised at how friendly and cooperative they really can be. Individuals with the most notorious reputations aren't half as bad as they are made out to be when we get to know them. Human monsters are rare indeed. The spark of humanity needs but to be aroused and the G‑dly soul is stirred and revealed.
So let's try and be more generous, a little more patient and forgiving. We may well be surprised at how lovable some people can be
Does the Torah contain factual inaccuracies? Filmmaker Warner Herzog was once accused of not being a true "documentary filmmaker" because he took liberties. "There's a book for people like you" he answered, "it's called the phone book. Everything in it is accurate." Truth is deeper than fact. The Torah is true.
Hitpallel, the Hebrew word for prayer, means to reflect on or judge oneself. Our quarrel with others, taught the poet Yeats, makes rhetoric; our quarrel with ourselves makes poetry. Real prayer is a struggle with oneself. It is soul-wrestling, seeking to be better, hoping for wholeness, yearning for God. It is poetry. http://www.facebook.com/RabbiWolpe?sk=wall
Tzara'at, the skin discoloration mistranslated for millennia as "leprosy," is a curious disease. It is not contagious—it was only acquired by virtue of speaking badly of other people. It was a physical skin discoloration caused by a spiritual defect. The "metzora," the sufferer with tzara'at, had to stay outside the city and inform all that he or she was spiritually impure.
The Talmud tells us that the penalty of the metzora is imposed "measure for measure": his gossip and slander build walls of mistrust and bad feeling between people and isolated them from each other, so he, too, is isolated from society.
The cedar reminds that arrogance brought us to tzara'at in the first placeThe Talmud also discusses the reason why the purification ritual for the healed metzora includes a wand of cedar wood, the tallest species of tree, by far, in the Levant: The cedar wood reminds us that arrogance brought us to tzara'at in the first place.
This statement does not contradict the idea of slander as the cause of tzara'at, but adds texture and depth to the theme.
It teaches us that the root cause of tzara'at is arrogance, a sense of being superior to other people. This causes one to look down on others as inferior and therefore to pass judgment on them. Once those judgments fill the mind, the person then shares them with others.
It seems to me that the isolation aspect of the metzora's "sentence" is not just to sense the distance from other people caused by the gossip, but also to see how foolish a sense of superiority is. When alone you discover that all the abilities you pride yourself on as making you superior are meaningless.
Are you wise? Who learns from you if you are alone?
Are you articulate and persuasive? Whom do you persuade if you are alone?
Are you a leader? Whom do you lead if you are alone?
Are you an artist? Who will be inspired by your vision if you are alone?
In isolation, the metzora learns that all his superiority really comes from those whom he hitherto looked down upon because they received from him.
It is the need in others that we fill that makes our abilities significant. We all are givers and we all are receivers and together we form a stable living community.
We are never greater than another; we are made greater by each otherWe are never greater than another; we are made greater by each other.
In Torah, all taharah, purity, is related to life. All tum'ah, impurity, is related to death. Arrogance tears us from our garden of life; a system that we give life into and receive life from, and turns us into a dry dead specimen that only dully hints of what it was when it was green and alive.
Fortunately, this death is reversible through honest introspection; the metzora is then cleansed and welcomed back to his/her community.
By Shlomo Yaffe More articles... | Rabbi Shlomo Yaffe, a frequent contributor of articles and media to chabad.org, is Permanent Scholar-in-Residence to Chabad at Harvard, and Dean of the Institute of American and Talmudic Law in New York, NY. Rabbi Yaffe has lectured and led seminars throughout North America, as well as in Europe and South Africa.
I appreciate my time on this forum I received exponetionally more from it than I gave. I am sort of returning to the board but I will probably only be posting interesting articles mos in the power of the word thread. I apologize in advance but I probably won't be posting much my own writing. This is because of my time constraints not because I am angry or upset. Even if I became Glenn Beck's Number One Fan I won't have a lot of time to post on the forum. I have a new job (again) that is keeping me very busy.
I m not going pretend that I didn't get upset and leave because that is what happened. However, I had been thinking about quitting the board for a while because of the time commitment.
I want to clarify a few things ---I'm sorry I am not particularly interested in discussing it further. If you believe that is because I am incapable of defending my thoughts--- the evidence certainly fits. Please feel free to have the last word.
I don't like either Glenn Beck or George Soros. I think Glenn Beck has a better record on Israel than George Soros. I don't think Glenn Beck is an anti-Semite. However I found Glenn Beck's comment on George Soros's Holocaust activities very upsetting and insulting to all Holocaust victims. I can see that not making any sense to some and I am lacking the ability to explain it.
I have no tolerance at all for Democrats or Republicans who use Holocaust analogies to make other unrelated political points or those who criticize those who were murdered and therefore are unable to defend themselves. To be clear I generally think any Holocaust analogy is an insult to Holocaust victims because it trivializes their suffering. My thinking it obviously doesn't make it true and not all Jews agree with me but don't expect me to respond well if you make a Holocaust analogy.
In this week's Torah reading we have the description of afflictions which may beset man, the examinations by the Kohen, and the laws of the quarantine, if necessary. The Talmud teaches that "All afflictions one sees, except his own." No man examines his own afflictions; another must do this. The Torah describes physical disease, but the physical meaning does not exhaust the implications of these laws. The Mishna is especially apt.
Afflictions, moral shortcomings, are obvious and readily condemned in another. We are sensitive to the grossness of another's poor manners, repelled by arrogance, shocked by niggardliness, dismayed by that No fault escapes detection and forthright denunciation. "All afflictions man sees..." fellow's insufferable complacency. We are struck with the full force of the repulsiveness of his poor character traits and moral deficiencies. Our clarity of vision, our objectivity, our courage and candor in denouncing shortcomings "right to his face" is a source of considerable pride to many of us. No fault escapes detection and forthright denunciation. "All afflictions man sees..."
But must we carry the burden of constantly correcting everyone's failings on our shoulders? Will we be forgiven if we ignore others' afflictions for a while as we examine our own? May our spiritual ministrations be directed toward ourselves, just for a while? This selfishness may be exercised with impunity. Let's be selfless, if we must, in more mundane affairs.