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« Reply #300 on: July 14, 2010, 10:03:19 PM »

Greater than Angels: Interview with Pearl Benisch
by Daisy Benchimol
A tribute to 10 brave Jewish women who stood up to the Nazis.

There is an old Polish legend about a dragon named Smok who was in the habit of roaming the streets of Krakow in search of young maidens to eat, while spreading terror and destroying everything in its path. In her stirring Holocaust memoir, To Vanquish the Dragon, Pearl Benisch describes the encounter of the Jewish community of Poland with the Nazi dragon of the 20th Century; and the victory of the maidens who dared to fight the beast.

Mrs. Benisch, who was born and raised in Krakow, describes the extraordinary faith and self-sacrifice shown by her family and other members of her Jewish community during the Holocaust. Her memoir is a rare tribute to the heroism of some of the victims themselves, including the unimaginable courage and strength shown by a group of ten female friends, nicknamed the Zehnerschaft, who supported each other through the tortures of the ghettos, deportations and death camps.

The Zehnerschaft was made up of young women between the ages of 16 and 26, including Mrs. Benisch herself, who were all colleagues and teachers from Beth Yaakov schools for girls in Krakow and surrounding areas. Mrs. Benisch gives detailed accounts of the inspiring way these brave women repeatedly risked their lives to help others and uphold their commitment to Torah and Jewish observance. Armed with the Jewish values and ideals that had been transmitted to them, they managed to become models of courage and altruism even in the bowels of hell.

In Man’s Search for Meaning Viktor Frankl observed that “…most men in a concentration camp believed the real opportunities of life had passed. Yet, in reality, there was an opportunity and a challenge. One could make a victory of those experiences turning life into an inner triumph…” The women of the Zehnerschaft became living proof that the type of spiritual victory Frankl was describing is possible in the nightmare of the death camps.

During a recent interview at her home in Brooklyn, Mrs. Benisch spoke about her friends in the Zehnerschaft and some of the lessons she learned from her experiences in the Holocaust.

Can you give an example of the courage shown by the women of the Zehnershaft?

At Plashow one of our jobs was to clean the kitchen. So sometimes we managed to get hold of a little bit of flour. We would mix it with water and bake matza biscuits on top of the stove. We were not permitted to go into the men’s camp but we had to deliver the biscuits to the men who were working in what was called the “library.” There were many important rabbis in the camp and some of them had been assigned to sorting books and manuscripts; believe it or not the Germans wanted to have the Hebrew books. So late at night we would sneak down to bring them those biscuits and sometimes a few turnips, a piece of bread, or whatever we could get our hands on. It was a dangerous trip because we had to sneak past the trigger-happy soldiers in the watchtower. Every day another girl would risk her life to bring them this food so they wouldn’t starve to death.

One night we were spotted by Willie who was the most dreaded SS man in the camp, known for his habit of gouging out his victim’s eyes. We ran in terror. We were past caring about being shot – we just didn’t want him to catch us alive. He chased after us but, thank God, we managed to lose him. We reached our barrack and jumped into our bunks. The monster didn’t give up. He ran from barrack to barrack looking for us, but miraculously, he didn’t find us.

What do you think made you and your friends in the Zehnerschaft act with so much courage?

I will tell you a story. We arrived in Auschwitz and they took us to a crematorium with brown wooden doors on which was written the word sauna (shower). It was Friday afternoon and we had just come from Plashow. There were 2,000 girls and we all knew what was coming. There was an electric fence and some of the girls went over to the fence. They said, “Why should we wait to go to the gas chambers? Let’s end it all now.” So I said to them, “The Torah tells us, 'u’bacharta b’chaim' – choose life [Deut. 30:19]. Girls, we have to choose life! No matter what life will do to us, we have to choose life.” And that’s what we did – we chose life. We waited for those doors to open. They never opened for us – we don’t know why. In the morning, Saturday, they marched us to the women’s camp.

In your book you describe many extraordinary incidents involving your friend Rivkah Horowitz who was with you through most of the war. Can you tell me a bit about her?

There has never been a hero like Rivkah Horowitz-Pinkusewitz. She was a teacher and a leader in Beth Yaakov. She was smart and brave. One day in Plashow we were sewing uniforms for the Germans. Next to my sewing machine was Erma’s machine. Erma was depressed and we were trying to cheer her up. Suddenly the door opened and in walked the dreaded Oberscharfuhrer John with two SS men. We all stood at attention, but Erma just sat there; she wasn’t all there any more. So I tried to alert her with a kick. Snap out of it Erma I prayed, but she didn’t get up.

There must have been a thousand women there but he noticed her right away. He walked straight up to her and pointed his gun at her temple – we were all familiar with the joy he found in shooting people. All of a sudden, Rivkah, who was sitting next to us, gets up quickly and faces him and says, “Herr Oberscharfuhrer, this is not her fault, she is meshuge.” She couldn’t remember the German word for crazy so she said meshuge. Now he didn’t know the meaning of meshuge but he couldn’t get over the fact that a girl had the guts to talk to him and to ask him not to shoot her friend. But he didn’t shoot her. He put his gun back and walked away. That was Rivkah.

You also write about the time Rivkah Horowitz tried to save your life during one of the selections at Birkenau. What stands out for you about that incident?

I was dressed already but they gave me a big jacket of a man’s suit and I must have looked terrible because when I came to Hoess, he pointed to the left which meant death – the crematorium. Rivkah was sent to the right, but she snuck around to the left to join me. I begged her to go back but she refused. “I won’t leave you,” she said. “I’m not giving up. We have to keep fighting.”

After us came Ruchka Schanzer: right. Then Sarah Blaugrund: left. Ruchka ran after Sarah to the left. The rest of our Zehnerschaft passed safely, but the four of us were on the left. Then Rivkah took us back to the middle of the line. I was afraid that Hoess would recognize us but Rivkah didn’t care. When we reached Hoess again the same thing happened: he sent Sarah and me to the left and Rivkah and Ruchka to the right. But the two of them followed us again to the left.

I screamed in frustration, “Why follow us to death?! It’s not just your life you’re forfeiting, but also the lives of future generations. You have no right to do it. Go back to the other side where you belong!” Sarah and I shouted, cried and pleaded with them, but they had made up their minds. Rivkah dragged us to the back of the line but when we reached Hoess the third time, the same scenario repeated itself and, once more, Rivkah and Ruchka followed us. By now the selection was over. The girls who had been chosen to live were taken out of the barrack and the four of us stayed behind in the death block with all the other condemned women.

What happened after that?

That same evening…it was Shabbos…someone knocked on the door of our barrack. The Blockalteste opened it and in walked our friend Tillie Rinder, known by all as the White Angel of Auschwitz, and Toni Katz, another angel. They said to us: “Girls, hurry up. Follow us and stay in the shadows. May God watch over us.” The Blockalteste opened the door and allowed us to step out with our rescuers. We followed them, hugging the walls to avoid the floodlights. Then we had to cross the vast Appelplatz which was flooded with light from all the watchtowers. The watchmen had orders to shoot anyone who was seen walking there.

We were terrified – not for ourselves anymore since we were doomed anyway, but for our rescuers. I prayed for their lives. Thank God we made it across and stood in front of the barracks of the living. Nobody said a word. Everything had been prearranged. The Blockalteste assigned us to our bunks, and we were joyfully reunited with the other girls of our Zehnerschaft.

You write about the heroism of Tzila Orlean who was a teacher at Beth Yaakov before the war and who “constantly walked the tightrope between life and death” in order to help others. What stands out most in your mind about Tzila?

I don’t even know where to begin talking about Tzila. If I had the strength left I would write a book about her. In Auschwitz, the Germans called her “Orlean” – Tzila was the only inmate called by name. Everyone who knew her respected her. One Friday she lit the Shabbos candle and said the blessing. All the women in the barrack were watching her, and this gave them hope and the will to continue living. They were all standing there and suddenly they heard the footsteps of an SS guard nearing the barrack. Everyone panicked. “Tzila, Tzila! Put out the candle!”

And Tzila said calmly, “This is my Shabbos candle, I wouldn’t dream of blowing it out.”

Everybody ran out of the barrack. He came in and looked at her and then at the candle. She kept looking at her candle. He stood there looking and then he left.

Can you talk about the time Tzila saved the 20 women who had been selected by Mengele?

When we arrived in Auschwitz there were 2,000 of us but Mengele selected 20 women, including my Aunt Sabina, and they were taken away. I asked Tzila if she could help them. “If Mengele selected them, they’re doomed,” she said. “But if he put them in block 25 there might still be a chance for a miracle. Let’s pray and hope.”

The next day Tzila looked out the window of the infirmary where she was working and saw Dr. Klein, the German doctor in charge of block 25. She ran out and said to him, “Yesterday they took a couple of my nurses to block 25 by mistake. Please give me written permission to take them out.”

“I’m new here," he said. "Please leave me alone.”

Tzila kept insisting but he refused. On the way back to the infirmary she ran into SS Aufseherin, the head doctor. Tzila said to her, “I just spoke to Dr. Klein and asked him to release a few of my nurses who were taken to Block 25 by mistake. Could you please arrange for their release?"

“Yes, I saw you speaking to him just now," the doctor said to her. "Go to my secretary Bronka and give her the names of the women.” So Tzila went to Bronka and gave her the names of all 20 women. Miraculously, they were all released and brought back to our barrack! When I think about it now, I can’t imagine how, in the bowels of Auschwitz, Tzila had the guts to do that.

Can you talk about how you and Rivkah Horowitz managed to get your friend Balka Grossfeld out of prison?

There was a Gestapo chief named Handke who had become the terror of Krakow. He would drag Jewish men from their homes and arrest them for no reason. Anyone who tried to intervene on their behalf was considered an accomplice and arrested. One day Handke’s thugs stormed into the home of my friend Balka Grossfeld looking for her father. He was not at home so they took Balka instead and put her in prison where she was interrogated. She was there for several months and even her uncle, who was very influential, couldn’t get her out. It got to the point where we couldn’t stand it any more, so Rivkah and I decided to try to get her out by going to speak to Handke ourselves.

One morning we went to the Gestapo building. Once there we saw a sign: “Entry Forbidden to Jews and Dogs.” We entered anyway and the angry guard shouted, “Jews! You don’t see this sign?”

“Yes we see it," I replied, "but Handke needs the information that we’re bringing him.” I don’t know why I said it; God put those words in my mouth. They were always looking for information on people, so this was a good reason to let us in.

They took us to Handke’s office and the secretary took our names then put us in a big safe and locked the door. It was so dark in there and we didn't know what was going to happen. Was she going to take us to Handke or were they going to take us to prison together with Balka?

We waited and waited and finally the steel door opened and they took us to Handke. Rivkah didn’t speak German so I had to address him, but how should I address him? Oberscharfuhrer? Maybe he’s Unterscharfuhrer. But if I call him Unterscharfuhrer and he’s Oberscharfuhrer he might get angry. So I said “Herr Doctor.” That got him. I don’t know what made me say it but he liked the title. He told us to sit down, which was very unusual, and asked me why we’ve come. I began to speak about Balka and he said, “She’s stubborn and refuses to tell me where her father is.”

Once again God put words in my mouth and I made up a story. “She doesn’t know where he is and doesn’t want to know," I told him. "Her father is a drunk. He never comes home. She supports her family with her sewing. She’s so innocent. Please let her go home." Then he asked us a few more questions and told us to go home. Two weeks later Balka was back at the ghetto.

What motivated you and your friends of the Zehnerschaft to act in such a self- sacrificing way at the risk of torture and death?

This is the upbringing and education we had. We were taught to help people no matter what price we had to pay for it. We are here to give. We live to give. As long as you give, you live. You stop giving, you stop living; you’re just existing.

Do you think that your religious convictions had anything to do with your survival?

Yes, I was brought up to believe in God and that whatever He does is for our well being. We pray during difficult times and you know…I don’t have to tell you that sometimes we pray and we don’t get an answer right away. It’s very hard to get through a period like that. But we got through it. There is a verse in Psalms, Chapter 30 which I used to recite at the camps: “Though at night we may lie down crying, in the morning we will awake with song!” We lived through many nights, but we believed that morning would come. We believed that God wanted us to survive; to be witnesses; to tell the world how great our people were during the war. And I did tell the world.

What is your message to young people today?

I often speak to Jewish teenagers and I tell them about those girls and boys who risked their lives to save others; to give someone a piece of bread; or to give away their own piece of bread to someone who was hungrier than they were. I speak to those teenagers and I tell them what greatness they possess; how much goodness, beauty and love they have in them; how much of a will to help others and to bring goodness and justice into the world. I tell them they are just as great as the girls of the Zehnerschaft. I just pray that God won’t test them the way He tested us.

How do you think you were tested?

Those Tillies, Tzilas, Rivkahs, those great, great women and men who risked their lives to save others. They were greater than angels. They passed all those tortures and didn’t become beasts like their tormentors. They lived through it and started a new life. They wanted to give, to live, to build a future for the Jewish people. They bore children and grandchildren. Isn’t that great? Aren’t they greater than angels? The angels did not see their parents being tortured. They did not see little children crying for their mothers. They did not see mothers running after the trucks taking their children to the gas chambers. The angels were not tortured…those people were! Those people lived through the tortures and they still believed. They were greater than angels.

What happened to your family?

My family had moved to Slomniki. A Polish neighbor informed the Gestapo that there was a Jewish family living in my house and they came and took my family one Friday while I was working in Krakow. They murdered my parents, my brother Shimshon and his wife Feiga, my brother Berish, my brother Avrum Chaim, my brother Asher, and my only sister Baila Malka. Their lives were brutally cut off in the death camp of Belzec in June 1942. Only my brother Mendek and I survived.

How do you manage to stay happy despite all the pain that you’ve experienced?

I stay happy by making other people happy. I believe that we were put here to make each other happy. Also, I went to a beautiful graduation here in Boro Park at the Beth Yaacov high school. I look and I see all those Jewish children, and I remember that after the war I could hardly walk, but I went from one barrack to another looking for one child. I did not find one child. Thank God, now we see so many wonderful Jewish children graduating, such great dorot (generations). That makes me very happy.

If you could erase all the traumatic memories of the Holocaust from your mind, would you do it?

No I wouldn’t because even in that university of torture I learned a lot. I grew from it. I don’t want to forget it. I want to teach my children about it. I want to tell my children and all the generations to come what is a man – how man can fall deep down into the pit of evil, and how man can raise himself to the loftiest heights and become greater than an angel. I want to tell the children what the “cultured” German nation did to us. I want to teach the children that they should be proud to be Jewish.

Thank you to Dina Reis for introducing me to Pearl Benisch and arranging our interview.

This article can also be read at:
« Reply #301 on: July 15, 2010, 07:56:47 PM »

This  year Tisha B'Av begins at sunset on Monday July 19, 2010.
What happened on the Ninth of Av?
A Historical Overview

The 9th of Av, Tisha b'Av, commemorates a list of catastrophes so severe it's clearly a day specially cursed by G‑d.

Picture this: The year is 1313 BCE. The Israelites are in the desert, recently having experienced the miraculous Exodus, and are now poised to enter the Promised Land. But first they dispatch a reconnaissance mission to assist in formulating a prudent battle strategy. The spies return on the eighth day of Av and report that the land is unconquerable. That night, the 9th of Av, the people cry. They insist that they'd rather go backThe Jews were shocked to realize that their Second Temple was destroyed the same day as the first to Egypt than be slaughtered by the Canaanites. G‑d is highly displeased by this public demonstration of distrust in His power, and consequently that generation of Israelites never enters the Holy Land. Only their children have that privilege, after wandering in the desert for another 38 years.

The First Temple was also destroyed on the 9th of Av (423 BCE). Five centuries later (in 69 CE), as the Romans drew closer to the Second Temple, ready to torch it, the Jews were shocked to realize that their Second Temple was destroyed the same day as the first.

When the Jews rebelled against Roman rule, they believed that their leader, Simon bar Kochba, would fulfill their messianic longings. But their hopes were cruelly dashed in 133 CE as the Jewish rebels were brutally butchered in the final battle at Betar. The date of the massacre? Of course—the 9th of Av!

One year after their conquest of Betar, the Romans plowed over the Temple Mount, our nation's holiest site.

The Jews were expelled from England in 1290 CE on, you guessed it, Tisha b'Av. In 1492, the Golden Age of Spain came to a close when Queen Isabella and her husband Ferdinand ordered that the Jews be banished from the land. The edict of expulsion was signed on March 31, 1492, and the Jews were given exactly four months to put their affairs in order and leave the country. The Hebrew date on which no Jew was allowed any longer to remain in the land where he had enjoyed welcome and prosperity? Oh, by now you know it—the 9th of Av.

The Jews were expelled from England in 1290 CE on, you guessed it, Tisha b'AvReady for just one more? World War II and the Holocaust, historians conclude, was actually the long drawn-out conclusion of World War I that began in 1914. And yes, amazingly enough, the First World War also began, on the Hebrew calendar, on the 9th of Av, Tisha b'Av.

What do you make of all this? Jews see this as another confirmation of the deeply held conviction that history isn't haphazard; events – even terrible ones – are part of a Divine plan and have spiritual meaning. The message of time is that everything has a rational purpose, even though we don't understand it.
« Reply #302 on: July 16, 2010, 09:53:21 AM »

JULY 1ST, 2010
Pour Out Your Kindness Like Water
I’ll call her Lindsay in order to protect the innocent; the only one really guilty of anything was me. You see, I found Lindsay to be annoying -- like really, really annoying. The very sight of her drinking water made my skin crawl. Well, it wasn’t just the way she drank the water, it was also the way she poured it. She always poured it into the same orange plastic cup inside which she always placed a straw. As I’d watch that straw bob up and down with the water’s glub, glub, I’d scream in my head, “why aren’t you drinking straight out of the bottle like the rest of us?”

And then she’d begin to sip it. Oh, the way she sipped that water drove me nuts. Though she was very careful to part her bright red lipstuck-lips just so in order to ensure minimal lipstick loss, a ring of redness always stained that straw which - you guessed it - irrationally irked me too.

I know I should have been paying attention to whatever college class I was taking instead of obsessing over Lindsay’s water drinking habits from across the room, but I was young and immature and couldn't pull myself away. What was worse, the more I watched her the more I disliked her. I never did anything mean to her - you know, I'm not a mean person - but I avoided Lindsay, her orange cup, and straw at all costs.

And then, in a Jewish class I was taking, we started learning about kindness. The rabbi challenged us to do something kind for someone we didn’t like. It’s easy to be nice to people you feel positively about, he explained. It’s even a pleasure. But doing true chesed which comes from the word chasid and means "going beyond oneself," requires us to show kindness in ways we'd normally try to avoid.

So in the dining hall later that day, as I watched Lindsay aimlessly carrying her tray, I took a deep breath, called out her name and invited her to join me at my table. She happily accepted, and though our meal together required me to watch her drink, by the time lunch was over, my senseless hatred of her had vanished.

Though Lindsay and I never became great friends, from that day on, her water drinking habits never bothered me again. What I realized after doing my chesed experiment was that although the nicest thoughts don't always come naturally to me, I can go beyond my nature and make sure my actions overflow with kindness like the water did in Linday's cup.

This article was originally published on

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« Reply #303 on: July 18, 2010, 09:51:54 PM »

What Do You Think?
You Can(’t) Help Yourself!

By Levi Avtzon

If you look around, I am sure you could spot the life-coach who can't get his own life together; the marriage counselor whose marriage is either history or well on the way; and the parent who preaches to her children to "stop scratching and biting over blocks of Lego" while she is constantly brawling over pride and money.

It is quite obvious that many of us can help anyone but ourselves.

We have advice for our children on how to handle stress. We advise our co-workers on how to manage their time. We teach our students the value of study. And of course we educate our parents how to be parents...

It is quite obvious that many of us can help anyone but ourselves...Yet in our own lives, we are enrolled in an anger management club. Our time management is in serious need of a new CEO. An article longer than 300 words is avoided like the plague. And our own parenthood is a non-issue because we just celebrated our sixteenth birthday.

There are many junctures in our lives when we need objectivity and clarity in order to see our strengths and weaknesses for what they are. Dating, career seeking, child rearing and relationship struggles are just but a sample of stages in our lives when an unbiased view can serve as a potential lifesaver, and where we can be our own worst enemy.

That is why the sages of old have advised and instructed to "Appoint a mentor for yourself!"1 Find yourself someone who can be your guide, your objective compass—pushing, advising and instructing you on how you can be the real you.

Therapists are nice (and expensive) and there are times when they are needed. But not every issue calls for therapy. There are the times when all we need is someone who knows us, who cares for us, a wise person with a little life experience who can save us from ourselves—by seeing the reality for what it is, rather than what we perceive it to be.

And dedicated. The mentor must be dedicated.

Let me share an insight. Shortly before his passing, Moses established "Cities of Refuge." What is a City of Refuge? If a person was guilty of manslaughter, and a family member of the victim was chasing after him to kill him to avenge his next of kin's death, these cities served as a safe zone where the killer could stay and – in the words of the Torah (Deuteronomy 4:42) – "live."

From the fact that Torah says that he should "live" in them, and it's a given that one cannot live without Torah, our Sages ruled that the killer's Torah teacher must accompany his pupil to his city of refuge!2

A real mentor is there for you even when you don't think you need himA real mentor follows you to exile. A real mentor is there for you even when you don't think you need him. A real mentor will pull you by the bootstraps out of any rut you fall in.

My dear friends, may we all find such mentors, and may we serve as such mentors to others.

Oh, what a world it will be…

Ethics 1:6.

Maimonides, Laws of the Murderer and Preservation of Life 7:1.
« Reply #304 on: July 18, 2010, 09:54:34 PM »

Rebuilding After the Holocaust

By Tzippora Price

"For everything, there is a season. A time to destroy. A Time to Build" (Ecclesiastes 3:1)

It all happened in a moment.

The moment my grandmother received the knock in the middle of the night, a fierce pounding that shook the door of her sleeping home and threatened to knock it from its hinges. The moment she was escorted from her home dressed in her nightgown and winter coat, hurried by a Nazi soldier who wouldn't allow her the time to put on her stockings. The moment her history was stripped to its barest essentials, pared down to the contents of a single overnight bag – a change of clothes, her hairbrush, and the prayer book she received on her wedding day.

Our common history of our family's exiles unites usFrom that moment my family has been uprooted.

Two generations, and two continents later, we are still rebuilding.

My grandmother was marched through the streets of her once familiar village until the town square where a thousand lost souls waited. Stripped of their names and identities, the entire Jewish community in her town vanished that night.

By the end of the war, my grandmother had no use for Europe. She began again in Coney Island, as a bathing suit designer with no time to swim. For her, it was just work, shaping spandex into waterproof outfits for people untouched by war.

My mother was touched by the war. Yiddish speaking ghosts haunted her nursery, whispering the names of the missing and unaccounted for. Years later, as a mother herself, those same ghosts haunted my nursery. For years, I never knew that anyone living spoke Yiddish. I thought it was the language of ghosts.

I learned about the technicality of the Holocaust in school. I learned about the sheer numbers that defied comprehension. I learned about the terminology of mass genocide. From my mother, I learned the personal side of the devastation. My mother was an English teacher, who specialized in Holocaust literature. So I read all her books, and sat crying by her side through endless Holocaust films at the local theater. We talked about the books we read, and analyzed the films we had seen.

But I never spoke to my mother about what happened in our home. How each time before we left the house, I watched my mother at the gas stove, checking the burners over and over. Surely there were other mothers who also couldn't leave the house without standing before the oven in a trance. Besides, what did this have to do with the war? My mother chanted as she counted the knobs. "Silver, one, two, three, off." She always used these same words, while my father paced and gritted his teeth, jangling the car keys and quietly cursing that we would once again be late. Still he couldn't disturb her or she would start from the beginning.

My mother knew that you had to be careful with gas and germs. You had to check again that the oven was off, and wash the floor every night with bleach. You had to do these things in order to stay alive. You had to do these things to make sure it didn't all disappear before you returned.

My mother's behavior was not unique. To be a child of a survivor means being hyper-vigilant, as though this act of vigilance could keep the wolves from their prey. My husband is also the grandchild of survivors. His grandparents escaped Germany on the eve of the war, and everything they left behind was consumed in the inferno. Our common history of our family's exiles unites us.

Rebuilding is also how my husband and I have chosen to honor our families’ storiesIt would be easy to focus on the losses of the past, especially when their trauma is still being felt. Yet my husband and I have chosen to build our lives in Israel, where we both came as students. In our apartment building, we have neighbors from Canada and New Zealand, from Belgium and South Africa. We are surrounded by those who consciously chose to make Israel their home, despite the challenges of learning a new language and absorbing a new culture that this entails. We are grateful to be part of this community of builders.

On Tisha B'av, the day that is designated nationally for mourning the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash, the Holy Temple, we also remember the more immediate tragedies that our families experienced during the war. Yet even on Tisha B'av, a day designed for mourning, the focus is not exclusively on the past. By mid-day, it is time to turn our focus once again to the future, to the task of building, and rebuilding, a task at which the Jewish people excel.

The amazing thing about the Jewish people is our ability to focus on the future, and to never forget our responsibility to future generations. When Jews come to a new place, they are commanded to build a mikvah - a ritual bath - before any other community structure. This commandment forces us to focus on the task of rebuilding.

Rebuilding is also how my husband and I have chosen to honor our families' stories. It has been sixteen years since I first came to Israel, on the equivalent of my collegiate "junior year abroad." I was drawn here, searching for something I didn't quite understand. Yet looking back, I understand what drew me here was this search for a way to honor the past by focusing on building the future.
« Reply #305 on: July 19, 2010, 07:22:02 PM »
« Reply #306 on: July 23, 2010, 11:25:10 AM »

I don't know where else to file this. The Westboro Baptist Lunatic Fringe is out at Comic-Con, so Comic-Con attendees decided to hold a counter protest. This set of incidents has inspired a series of blogs/article/pics, some of which are shown below:

More here:

Interesting argument here:

A Defense of 'God Hates Fags' & Lady Gaga: Westboro Baptist as Cultural Vaccine

Jeffrey Weiss

There surely aren't many more famous religious institutions in America than Westboro Baptist Church or many more famous church leaders than its founder, Fred Phelps. Even if you don't immediately recognize the names, I bet you'll immediately recognize a three-word clue: "God hates fags."

Yup. It's the folks who carry their hate in the name of Jesus across the nation, to synagogues and churches, Holocaust museums and public schools, community centers and state capitals. Most notoriously, they picket the funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan with signs reading "Thank God for Dead Soldiers" -- because they believe that as long as America countenances sin, American soldiers deserve to die.

I'd like to offer a limited but real defense for the Phelpsists: They're an attenuated virus vaccine for the American body politic.

Such a vaccine takes a live disease virus and weakens it in some way. For the vast majority of people, the vaccine causes no serious side effects, and instead provokes an immune response that creates a long-term protection against the deadlier form of the ailment.

This kind of vaccine is used to fight such diseases as measles, mumps, rubella, chicken pox and influenza. If I'm right, the "Phelpsist vaccine" provokes an immune response against racism, anti-Semitism, anti-gay violence and hubris in the name of the Almighty.

In case you don't know, Westboro is a small church in Kansas, affiliated with no Baptist denomination or even another Baptist church. According to news reports, almost all of its members -- fewer than 100 -- are related to founder Fred Phelps either by blood or marriage.

Their theology is, to put it mildly, extreme. They assert that God hates all manner of people who disobey what the Phelpsists consider to be God's will. I went looking in the King James Version (the translation used by the Phelpsists) for evidence to support their assertion. I found plenty of verses where God takes out some serious wrath on one people or another. Lots of talk about love and repentance. And plenty of verses that include the word "hate." But almost all of those verses were about people who hate God or God's laws or God's prophets.

And yet, I did find a few verses where it says God hates somebody:

Psalms 5:5 -- "Thou hatest all workers of iniquity." Hosea 9:15 -- "All their wickedness is in Gilgal: for there I hated them." Malachi 1:3 -- "yet I loved Jacob, And I hated Esau."

Most biblical scholars -- even those who agree with the Phelpsists about the sinfulness of abortion, homosexuality and fornication -- say that their "gospel of hate" is faulty exegesis. (But I'll grant that much larger denominations than the Phelpsist sect erect large scaffoldings of ritual and practice based on fewer verses.)

The theology, however, is not why Westboro is infamous. It's famous because its members hit upon the perfect road to fame in a media-rich era. They carry their intentionally provocative signs from city to city, alighting at places they know will attract the most attention. They maintain a sophisticated website with a constantly updated calendar showing where and when they will strike next. And they create a visual tableau irresistible to TV cameras.

Word of a planned Westboro protest at pop star Lady Gaga's concert in St. Louis on Saturday prompted Gaga to urge fans in a Facebook message before the show: "pay these hate criminals no mind. Do not interact with them, or try to fight. Do not respond to any of their provocation." The Westboro group targeted Lady Gaga earlier this year with fliers that said, "God hates 'Lady' Gaga." Her art and fashion are euphemisms for teaching "rebellion against God," the Westboro flier said. (My Politics Daily colleague Suzi Parker has more details abut the Gaga-Westboro confrontation here.)

Last weekend, they were in North Texas. Next stops on their itinerary included California, Kansas, Nebraska and Missouri. I've noticed for a while that wherever they go, people in those towns come up with some kind of reaction. Almost always, any counterprotest vastly outnumbers the Phelpsists, who generally show up with a dozen or so people, plus a few children.

In some places, the reaction is mano-a-mano -- people with signs and slogans to overwhelm the signs and slogans of the Phelpsists. In some places, the reaction is songs and psalms, voices raised in harmony to cover the shouts. In some places, the reaction is a fundraising Phelps-a-thon, which works a lot like any number of cause-related walk-a-thons. Except in this case, donors are asked to contribute so many dollars for every minute the Phelpsists engage their protest.

Some places engage in a sort of dada protest-by-ridicule. Counter-protesters hold up Westboro-style signs reading, "I have a sign!" or "God hates pie!" or something else absurd.

One of my favorite reactions to Westboro is the Patriot Guard Riders, a loose national confederation with chapters in many states. The riders, created by motorcyclists outraged by the pickets at military funerals, bring their choppers and an American flag to a military funeral and station themselves as an honor guard between the mourners and the Phelpsists. The rumble and growl of motorcycle engines drowns out the Westboro slogans.

In other cases, as with Lady Gaga, people choose not to react in any public fashion, the goal being to deprive the Phelpsists of any additional publicity.

But in every case, in every city, Westboro's targets are forced to confront the issues raised by the protests. How does this community feel about hating homosexuals? Or Jews? What are the appropriate ways to respond to the pickets? How certain are we that we know the will of God as expressed in our sacred texts? What is the best and most effective way to recruit opponents to Westboro? (Not surprisingly, "Facebook and Twitter" have become an important answer to that last question.)

What I've yet to find is anything more than a few isolated voices raised in support of the Phelpsists. They gain no converts to their cause, no support for their hatreds. Even those churches where members agree with some of the theology are so repulsed by the way the Phelpsists make their case that they distance themselves.

So Westboro provokes a beneficial response, while causing little or no lasting harm. Just like the vaccine.

For my theory to hold water, though, I needed to find some long-term effect. Did the introduction of the Phelpsists into a community create a reaction that hangs on after they move along? I decided to contact several people in the cities where Westboro had been over the past few months.

Kathy Kniep is the executive director of the YWCA in Clark County, Washington. In early June, she was part of a counterprotest organized when the Phelpsists came to town. The Westboro folks chose to picket a school. While the educators asked that there be no public reaction at their school, several organizations decided to hold an event at another location.

"We made a conscious decision to hold a rally as a positive event to promote what we think is good as opposed to reacting against what we think is bad," Kniep said.

Their event pulled together elected officials, activists and religious leaders from across a spectrum of beliefs and politics, she said. And that could have a long-term effect as they work together on other causes.

"It was not just the lefty liberal social service staff and volunteers," she said.

Isaac Bailey is a columnist for The Sun News in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Back in May, he wrote about the reaction to a visit there from the Phelpsists. I asked him whether there were residual effects.

"A lot of folks who are usually on opposite sides of the aisle actually protested together against all those things you mentioned -- anti-gay sentiments, religious intolerance, etc.," he said. "I also got word from a few non-profits who received several $100 checks -- including one which is solely designed to help HIV patients and families -- in the name of Westboro Baptist Church -- money they desperately needed and would not have otherwise gotten if Westboro didn't show up."

In April, the Phelpsists visited Charleston, West Virginia. Amy Weintraub, executive director of Charleston Covenant House, organized "flashmobs" to respond. Like the folks in Clark County, these events were intentionally not held near the Westboro pickets. Weintraub said she feared that the pickets could provoke violence, and she wanted to prevent that from happening.

The flashmob consisted of a rehearsed street dance to a disco mix of the old John Denver song "Country Roads." ("It's kind of our state song," Weintraub said.)

At a particular time, on a particular street, the music fired up, people did a little dance, and then melted back into the crowd. Whether it was effective as protest, it was fun. As many as 150 people participated in four performances organized through Facebook.

"It brought together people of all ages and walks of society in ways they never would have, otherwise," she said. And it identified her organization as a potential agent of social change.

Westboro Baptist Church may create a far more permanent legacy than anything to be found in the cities it visits. A federal court case is on its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, testing whether restrictions on the group's military funeral pickets violate the First Amendment to the Constitution.

The court will hear an appeal from the father of a Marine killed in Iraq. Albert Snyder's case has been bouncing up through the lower courts since the Phelpsists showed up at his son's funeral in 2006. A jury awarded him a $5 million verdict. But the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the signs contained "imaginative and hyperbolic rhetoric" protected by the First Amendment.

The high court will hear the case this fall.

Extreme cases like these clarify boundaries in the law. And I would not be at all surprised if the court holds its nose and rules that public free speech is public free speech, even at soldiers' funerals. Which would be powerful protection for the rest of us, whose exercise of public free speech is not likely to be nearly as offensive as the Phelpsists.

To push my metaphor a little more, I admit that Westboro is not harmless. Just as that attenuated virus vaccine sometimes makes people sick, some of Westboro's protests are, no doubt, horribly painful for their targets. And the protests do offer some reinforcement for people who hate in silence or in ways less obvious than horrible signs and slogans. Is the risk worth the benefit?

The folks I contacted disagree.

"I don't wish that group on anybody," Kniep said of the Clark County visit. "There was television coverage of the event here. The quotes from the people from Westboro Baptist Church were just heinous. No good came come of that."

Weintraub took the other side. Was the Westboro visit to Charleston, on balance, a good thing?

"As weird as it sounds," she said, "I would say yes."

Worth it or not? Similar sentiments can be found in other theologies, and I know the danger of getting into a proof-text war, but I'm reminded of a passage that I don't see cited on the Westboro website from the King James translation of the New Testament. Romans 8:28:

"And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God . . ."
« Reply #307 on: July 27, 2010, 09:34:38 PM »

I enjoyed the westbro article.

Born on Top of the Mountain

By Mendy Wolf

The story is told of a group of mountain climbers who had their hearts set on reaching the peak of a very tall mountain. They trained for years, practicing in harsh climates, scaling smaller mountains. One day, they thought they were finally ready. Supplied with essentials and filled with excitement, they set out for the long climb.

After many difficult days, the group finally reached the summit. Their satisfaction was complete - they had achieved their great goal, realizing a dream of years. Suddenly, to their shock, they sighted a young boy sitting comfortably on a rock. Here they had trained for years to scale the mountain; how had he gotten there?

In response to their questions, the lad stated simply, "I was born here."

Every one of us is born at the top of some mountainImagine you were that child, fortunate to be given what others needed to labor arduously to accomplish. How would you feel? Would you be grateful? Would you take it for granted? Would you feel superior to others?

Now stop imagining. You are that boy. Yes, we are each born with unique talents and capabilities which enable us to reach heights that remain out of reach for others. Every one of us is born at the top of some mountain, be it intellect, physical strength, creativity or anything else.

It is easy to feel that we own our achievements. We pride ourselves on a job well done. We consider ourselves deserving of the profits of our labor. Charity? It's my money! Gratitude? For what? This is all my work!

In Deuteronomy (8:17-18), Moses exhorts us not to fall into that trap of entitlement. When we start thinking, "My strength and the might of my hand made me all this wealth," we are to remember that our strength was, after all, given to us by G-d.

Yes, we may work hard, and for that we deserve recognition. But let us not forget that we received a head start. We may have cut a great deal, but it was only because we received a "lead." We were born at the top of a mountain: Our efforts, however laudable, really build upon the talents and capabilities we were given, grati
« Reply #308 on: August 01, 2010, 09:09:47 AM »

The Snake in the Wall

Talmud, Shabbat 156b

Rabbi Akiva had a daughter. But astrologers said to him, "On the day she enters the bridal chamber, a snake will bite her and she will die."

On the night of her marriage, she removed a brooch and stuck it into the wall. When she pulled it out the following morning, a poisonous snake came trailing after it; the pin had penetrated into the eye of the serpent.

"Was there anything special that you did yesterday?" her father asked her.

"A poor man came to our door in the evening," she replied. "Everybody was busy at the banquet, and there was none to attend to him. So I took the portion which was given to me and gave it to him."

Thereupon Rabbi Akiva went out and declared: "Charity delivers from death."1 And not just from an unnatural death, but from death itself.
« Reply #309 on: August 01, 2010, 07:27:54 PM »

The Jewish View of Marriage
by Dan Silverman
Three ingredients of a successful marriage.

Most of us, if we aren't already, will end up getting married at some point in our lives.

How many of us plan on getting divorced? If statistics are right, there's a good chance half of us will.

The relationships in our lives largely determine the amount of happiness we have in life. Who we choose to marry is arguably the most important decision we will make in determining our happiness and our children's happiness (and even your parents' happiness).

We train and license people for almost every conceivable activity. Doctors, lawyers, plumbers, chefs, interior designers – they all have to prove their competence before we would dare use them.

But for the big issues in life, for the things that really matter, there really is no training – no degrees in parenting, schools for happiness, PhD's in relationships.

For most of us we approach the issues in love and marriage as orphans, without learning from the cumulative experience and wisdom of past generations. We approach the key questions – What is marriage? How do I find the right person? How do I ensure a happy, fulfilling marriage? – alone, making all sorts of mistakes as we try to figure it out and get it right. That method would work – if no one got hurt along the way.

Today, marriage seems to be a kind of evolutionary accident. After a period of getting acquainted, dating and becoming romantically involved comes the stage of restlessness. The couple confronts the terrifying question of: What next? The default answer puts them on the altar of marriage, vowing to live happily ever after. Hopefully.

Jews believe that God created the world for man to have a life of meaning and pleasure. He wants us to have it all. And He gave us an instruction book telling us how to get it. The Torah is Torat Chaim – literally, the instructions for living.

How do you think the Torah describes the state of being married? Eternal bliss? Chained?

"A man should therefore leave his father and mother and be united with his wife, and they shall become one flesh" (Genesis 2:24). Marriage is the process of becoming one flesh. Marriage is not two people coming together to form a partnership, nor an agreement to be roommates permanently. It’s not a method to get a tax break, or a way to share household chores. The Jewish idea of marriage is two halves becoming one, completing each other.

What does the couple need in order to accomplish this sense of unification? Imagine marriage as a journey down the path of life. Car, gas, food – we're ready to go. What is necessary for the two travelers in this car to “unite” for this trip?

Destination: They have to know where they're going in order to commit to go together. If one wants to go skiing, he can't get there with someone who wants to go to the beach.
Commitment: Two people won't arrive at their destination if one can back out at a second's notice.
Affinity: If they can't stand each other, it’s going to be an intolerable ride.
Life Goals

The essence of marriage is the commitment to pursue life goals together.

Marriage needs to have clear goals shared by husband and wife. It's so obvious, but so often ignored. I know a couple who almost ended up divorced because after a few years of marriage he wanted children and she didn't want the burden of raising them. They dated for five years – yet never discussed if they wanted to have children!

Don't think this a far-out example. Couples break up over many issues: How to raise their kids, where to live, how much a part religion will play in their lives, giving priority to a career or family, whose career will come first if they're in conflict.

Shared values and priorities provide a structure which unites the couple and allows them to work on becoming "one flesh.”

Some of us think that marriage itself is enough of a life goal. We are fed the illusion that you don't need any goals outside of one another. “All you need is love.”

Not true. Marriage itself is not a life goal. It puts an unbearable strain on a relationship if the partners expect the relationship will satisfy all their needs.

Love is not all you need. Marriage is a powerful tool to help us pursue the things we care about in life with added energy, with an added sense of self. If you’re depressed, aimless and single, you'll be depressed, aimless and married.

Life goals are the things in life that mean everything to you, the values that you stand for, that you're willing to sacrifice for. If they're so easy to change, then chances are they're not so important to you.

What do we mean by values?

Honesty, integrity, loyalty, kindness. If she’s not nice to her own family, there’s a good chance she’s not going to be nice to yours, either.

This person is going to be the parent of your children. How will they shape your kids?

You can't delay discussing life goals, hoping you'll come to an agreement once you're married, expecting the other person to change. Ideas and tastes change, but character is something very hard to change. Don't expect her to change. You have to be ruthlessly honest.

For many people, the problem is the lack of clear life goals. We spend years going to college, learning how to make a decent living, but we are rarely challenged to confront the issues of what priorities supersede our financial goals.

Sure, we all have a vague sense of what we want in life: to be good, raise a family, make the world a better place. These are lovely sentiments, but in the words of Gloria Steinem, "We best know our values when we look at our check stubs." Our true values are most revealed – not by what we say, but by the way we spend our time and money.

If we aren't clearly defining our life goals, then they are being defined for us. We tend to adopt society's values, and today society's main value is wealth and success. People magazine is filled with the lives of the rich and famous, not the wise and happy. There once was an advertisement that showed the sun setting behind a luxury automobile. The caption read: "You are looking at 3,500 pounds of life goal fulfillment."

We spend so much time and energy on becoming rich and successful, yet we all know that that is not what it's all about. We will never hear a eulogy of how he “was a very classy dresser, he always drove this year's model, and his house was enormous."

Besides this, success and career as life goals are not necessarily conducive to a good marriage. Success requires a lot of time and energy, and that often comes at the expense of one’s spouse and family.

Before you can contemplate marriage, you need to know your life goals: What do I want to do with my life? What are the things that mean everything to me? And why?

Here are two exercises that might help clarify things:

a) Life goals are those things you’d regret not having done if you died tomorrow. Rabbi Noah Weinberg zt”l said: “You don't know what you're living for, unless you know what you're ready to die for. Articulate the essential things that make life constantly purposeful. Go further and ask, "Why? Why am I ready to die for this?" Be clear. And then: If you're ready to die for it, live for it. What else could be more meaningful?

b) List three people you respect most in the world. Identify what you respect. Why do you value this?

Couples may argue over a stray toothpaste cap or whose turn it is to get up with the baby, but no matter how heated these run-ins become, they should never destroy a marriage.

Know your own goals in life. Then you can talk about whether or not the person you’re dating is moving in the same direction.


When it comes to the topic of marriage, many people wonder: Why bother? I'll just have the relationship without the marriage.

Let’s understand the Jewish idea of marriage.

In describing Adam, the first human, the Torah says, "Male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:27). We learn from here that originally Man was created as male and female in one complete entity. They were then separated, and brought together again as a couple. Marriage is the unification of two halves into one complete entity, described as "one flesh.”

It's not just poetics.

What is my commitment to my hand?

I am not committed to my hand. I am my hand. My commitment to my hand is one I'd reconsider if it became gangrenous, and I was left with no choice but amputation.

But I wouldn't reconsider my commitment to my hand if it were broken, or ugly, or if I met someone with a nicer hand. If your hand is killing you – then you get rid of it. The commitment of marriage is until it's killing you.

Divorce is appropriate when the marriage has become an abusive, destructive relationship that can't be cured. Amputation is never casual. Often people get divorced because they simply get bored with each other. The marriage goes stale and flat. "We don’t laugh like we used to anymore."

If someone told you that he was amputating his hand because "The fun went out of it" you'd say he's nuts. Marriage is exactly the same.

If that sounds a bit extreme, it’s because we have a faulty definition of comfort and pleasure.

Comfort is not pleasure. Comfort is the absence of pain. Lying on the beach, a cold drink, falling asleep – this is nice and comfortable.

Pleasure, on the other hand, requires effort and work. In fact, all meaningful accomplishments and deeper pleasures necessitate the struggle to achieve them: Raising kids, mastering a sport or an instrument, getting ahead in your career. If it doesn’t require pain, if it comes easily without challenge, then it's not as pleasurable. It doesn't mean as much to you.

Make no mistake about it: Marriage is not comfortable. Marriage demands a lot of work and pain. You can't continue avoiding your weaknesses, living in your tailor-made world of illusions. Marriage requires confronting yourself and that is hard.

Marriage doesn't decrease demands and responsibilities – it adds to them in heaps and bounds. There isn't only “me” to think about anymore – there is a whole other person, who is surprisingly different than you. Marriage forces you to get out of your self-centeredness. It demands an emotional intimacy that for many of us is new and frightening.

Squeezing two people together to form one flesh is bound to create some tension. And there will come a point in the middle of a fight when you're ready to throw up your arms, thinking "This person is nuts – I can't take it any longer!” At that point the future of your marriage hangs in the balance. Take a deep breath and resolve to work it out. Then you're on the road to building a great marriage. If you feel like taking the easy way out, then it’s only a matter of time – maybe six months or six years – but eventually things will get too tough and the relationship will crumble.

Marriage requires work and the commitment to make it work. Without that commitment, do not get married! It's only a matter of time before it gets too difficult, and you'll be out the door.

So maybe you’ll ask (and many people are asking today): Why bother getting married? What makes the effort worth it?

Marriage makes a person into a full human being.

By oneself, a person is destined to remain a self-centered egocentric being, his main concerns in life being the fulfillment of his need for power, prestige and gratification. Marriage gives him the chance to overcome all that and become, instead, a giver – one who is concerned about another person's needs.

Marriage is the way to build a family and a home, share your life with someone you love, deepen your emotional capacities, and open yourself up to another like you never have before.

Those who ask, "Can't I have all this without marriage?" are really saying: "Do I really have to make the level of commitment that requires me to stick it out when the going gets tough?"

Without that commitment, you're roommates. It's not the same as marriage. Whatever you build together is built on quicksand. Because as long as there’s an exit, that exit, at some point in the relationship, will be taken.

Commitment is the backbone of marriage. Of course, if you want the other person’s total commitment, you have to make the same level of commitment yourself.

Love and Infatuation

So where does love fit into all this? How can we talk about marriage without talking about love?

When we talk about love we have to make a distinction between “love” and “infatuation.” Infatuation is: We met on the beach, I was struck by her beauty, it was so wonderful being with her, with the sunset shimmering through her golden hair. I knew this was forever."

Do you think this relationship is going to last?

Because it stems from desire, infatuation rarely lasts. Love, on the other hand, comes from a genuine appreciation of who the other person is. Infatuation is blind, love is a magnifying glass. If you think she's perfect, then chances are you're head over heels in infatuation. If you can't stand the way she says hello, then you're in love.

Love comes from really knowing a person and seeing his/her beauty, strength of character and what he/she is really made of. You can't love someone until you know them. It's like saying you love a book you haven't read. All you got to know was the outer jacket.

Which brings us to a shocker: True love comes after marriage. The Torah says that Isaac took Rebecca into his tent and he loved her (Genesis 24:67). Love should grow continuously as your appreciation of your spouse grows.

A friend of mine was sitting with his father and said to him, "Dad, after five years of marriage, I think I finally understand what love is."

The father said, "Wait till you're married 25 years, then you'll understand what love is."

The grandfather was also in the room and overheard this exchange. He told them: "Wait till you're married 50 years. Then you'll really understand what love is."

Putting It All Together

Of course, you need to be attracted. Intimacy is a foundation of marriage, the true “binding of one flesh” described in genesis. You can't develop a loving relationship with someone who repulses you. But the goal is not to win a beauty contest. What is important is that you have a basic attraction. This will grow as your appreciation of their inner beauty grows. The intimacy becomes an expression of the emotional closeness that you’ve built.

Of course, if you're seriously looking for a lifelong partner, it’s important to get to know the person while remaining as objective as possible. Now is not the time to get swept off your feet; now is the time to take a really honest look at who this person truly is. It's not enough that she's nice and attractive.

So remember: Look for a marriage partner with:

Same destination – life goals
Shared commitment
Affinity and attraction
Define your goals, and then commit to marriage as the vehicle to get you there together. It is life’s most precious journey.

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« Reply #310 on: August 03, 2010, 09:19:08 PM »

 MP3s and the Good Enough Revolution

By Arnie Gotfryd

A person is obligated to give to another, for the money is not his own. G‑d has given the money to him on trust, for the purpose of giving it to others. – The Rebbe (Likutei Sichos, Vol.2, p. 411)

Asian trappers have a neat trick for catching monkeys. They hollow out a coconut through a small hole, fill it with chickpeas, and wedge it firmly between rocks or fasten it to a tree. Smelling the chickpeas, the monkey gingerly sidles over to the treasure trove, surreptitiously slips his hand into the hole, grasps a fistful of goodies, and... oops... he's stuck – stuck between two options… either drop the peas and slip his hand out, our hang onto them and get caught himself. The monkeys are smart but the peas win out.

The art of letting go is much more than a self-help toolWe've all got our chickpea traps – obsessions big or small that cost us our freedom – be it businesses that devour our families, inboxes that gobble up our days, diversions that distract us from our greater goals. The lesson is obvious. Sometimes you just have to let go.

The art of letting go is much more than a self-help tool. It's also integral to a pervasive megatrend sweeping world culture and world markets. Analysts call it the Good Enough Revolution and it stands on a tripod of three factors –simplicity, convenience and low cost. Until recently, technology has been driving product offerings to greater and greater heights of quality, with more and more features. But all that is changing now.

Take, for example, the MP3. These highly compressed audio files have quickly become the industry standard even though, sound-wise, they are of low quality. The explanation is that they are also simple to use, convenient to store and share, and very inexpensive.

The same thing happened in the video recording market. Pure Digital owners Jonathan Kaplan and Ariel Braunstein launched the $150 Flip video camera in a world where a mid-priced Sony was running $800. Like the MP3, they slipped in at the bottom of the market and two years later are the best-selling video cameras in the US. True, the images are grainier, the viewing screen is tiny, there's no color adjustment and no optical zoom. But it takes 10 seconds to figure out how to use it, fits in your shirt pocket, and costs very little.

The list of good-enoughers goes on: we get facts from Wikipedia, breaking news from blogs, telecommunications from Skype, and ads from Google. The US military today relies on the new unmanned MQ-1 Predator that cannot fly as fast, as high or as heavily armed as most craft. But it's simple, portable and relatively cheap – the MP3 Effect.

A good-enough guy works to live, he doesn't live to workWhat about the perfectionists of this world? A perfectionist will certainly care that Wikipedia isn't quite as reliable as the Encyclopedia Britannica, that bloggers don't use fact checkers, that Skype drops calls, and that Google ads don't grab attention. But when it comes to most things, do we really need perfection? Are you investing your life savings based on wikinformation? Are you treating a fatal condition based on a health blog you found? Are you calling a once-in-a-lifetime business contact on a VOIP line? Surely these are the times to raise the bar – to pay more for quality – but those times are rare. Most of the time, good enough is just great.

A good-enough guy works to live, he doesn't live to work. Good enough means sometimes letting a loved one be right even when wrong. Good enough earnings let you take more meaningful jobs. Depending on the day, good-enough parents might drop the dishes to play ball or drop the ball to do the dishes. A good enough attitude lets you know when to drop the chickpeas for things that matter more.

But how do we know how much is good enough? Is there a way to quantify our priorities? Analysts and managers have a tool to do just that. It's called the Pareto Principle or the 80/20 Rule and it's named after a turn-of-the-century Italian economist who noticed that 20% of his countrymen owned 80% of the nation's wealth. Since then, a flood of observations of all kinds have supported the general idea.

Business analyst John Reh says that: "Project managers know that 20 percent of the work (the first 10 percent and the last 10 percent) consumes 80 percent of your time and resources. You can apply the 80/20 Rule to almost anything, from the science of management to the physical world. You know 20 percent of your stock takes up 80 percent of your warehouse space and that 80 percent of your stock comes from 20 percent of your suppliers. Also 80 percent of your sales will come from 20 percent of your sales staff. Twenty percent of your staff will cause 80 percent of your problems, but another 20 percent of your staff will provide 80 percent of your production. It works both ways.

Ever since Sinai, Jews have been tithing their produce and their income "The value of the Pareto Principle for a manager is that it reminds you to focus on the 20 percent that matters. Of the things you do during your day, only 20 percent really matter. Those 20 percent produce 80 percent of your results. Identify and focus on those things. When the fire drills of the day begin to sap your time, remind yourself of the 20 percent you need to focus on. If something in the schedule has to slip, if something isn't going to get done, make sure it's not part of that 20 percent."

In the 80/20 Rule, good-enough marketers of good-enough products see a way to turn good-enough profits. Practicing Jews see a way to spend those profits – on tzedakah, or charity.

Ever since Sinai, Jews have been tithing their produce and their income and giving it away. In Temple times, ten percent went to the Levite (hence the term to levy a tax), and another ten percent went to holiday celebrations and gifts to the poor – about 20% altogether. Today, Jews are obliged to give at least a tenth of their earnings to charity and the virtuous still give a fifth. According to the Tanya, the fifth we give brings purpose and elevated significance to the rest.

Perhaps the two 80/20 rules are related intrinsically, embedded in nature and society like the divine proportions of the golden rectangle. Be that as it may, there is something more to the charity rule. While clever businessmen trade off their 20's against their 80's to maximizing their gains, the simple Jew has it all – the 20% he gives away is a mitzvah and that's his forever, while the 80% he keeps becomes exalted along the way.

That way you get to have your chickpeas and eat them, too.

And since tzedakah brings Moshiach, there will be enough chickpeas to go around for everybody, monkeys and trappers included. And on that day the whole world will know that letting go of 20% really was the way to make a good enough world truly great.

By Arnie Gotfryd   More articles...  |   
Dr. Arnie Gotfryd, PhD, is a chassidic Jew and environmental scientist, having earned Canada’s first doctorate in Applied Ecology. He designed and taught an accredited, award-winning undergraduate course called Faith and Science which has been the most popular offering at University of Toronto’s New College for many years.
He writes and speaks extensively on the interplay of science and faith, and what it all means for the individual and the world at large. You can visit his website for more.

The content on this page is copyrighted by the author, publisher and/or
« Reply #311 on: August 08, 2010, 09:02:03 PM »

What You Obviously Don't Know

By Yanki Tauber

The incident I'm going to tell you about occurred more than ten years ago, but hardly a week goes by in which I don't think about it.

I had popped into a Jerusalem synagogue for minchah (afternoon prayers). A few rows in front of me there was this man, sitting with his four kids. The fellow in front of him had his arm over the back of the bench, and the fellow behind him was also disturbing him in some way. He kept snapping at his kids. What a jerk, I thought to myself. Ok, you're nervous, you're rude, that's fine, there are lots of nervous and rude people in these stress-ridden times, but does the whole world have to know it?

I'm really a live-and-let-live kind of guy, but this fellow was impossible to ignore. His ill-will and discontent filled the room. Yes, I thought, your kids are a rowdy bunch, but do you have to yell at them all the time? Why don't you leave them home if they get on your nerves so much?

At the conclusion of the service, his four kids--the twelve-year old, the nine-year old, the eight-year old and the six-year old--stood in a row and recited the mourner's kaddish. What a jerk, I muttered--meaning myself of course--my face hot with shame.

Since there's so much that we'll never know about another person, any attempt to pass judgement on him or her seems doomed to failure. In the words of the Talmud, "Do not judge your fellow until you have reached his place." What the Talmud is really saying, I suspect, is, "Don't judge your fellow, ever," since "his place" is a place where you can never truly be.

The problem, however, is that there are times and circumstances in which we have to judge others, or at least appoint people to do the job for us. We call these people "judges," and without them, no society could function.

Indeed the Torah instructs, "Judges and officers you shall appoint in all your [city] gates." But the Torah also sets down numerous rules and regulations which delimit the judge's power to judge, and ensure that when he does judge, he does so with utmost caution and sensitivity.

A case in point is the law of the "indefensible criminal." This is how it works:

Under Torah law, capital crimes are tried by a tribunal of 23 judges called a "Minor Sanhedrin." After hearing the testimony of the witnesses, the judges themselves would split into two groups: those inclined to argue for the acquittal of the accused would serve as his "defense team" and seek to convince their colleagues of his innocence; those inclined to convict would make the case for his guilt. Then the judges would vote. A majority of one was sufficient to exonerate, while a majority of two was necessary to convict.

But what if all twenty-three judges form an initial opinion of guilt? What if the evidence is so compelling and the crime so heinous that not a single member of the tribunal chooses to argue in the accused's favor? In such a case, says Torah law, the accused cannot be convicted and must be exonerated by the court.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains the rationale behind this law as follows: No man is so utterly evil that there is nothing to be said in his defense. There is always some explanation, some justification, some perspective from which the underlying goodness of his soul can be glimpsed. This does not mean that he is going to be found innocent, in the legal sense, by a court of law: at times the "mitigating circumstances" result in a verdict of acquittal; at times, they do not. But if not a single member of the court perceives the "innocent side" of the person standing accused before them, this a court that obviously has very little understanding of who he is and what has done. Such a court has disqualified itself from passing judgement on him.

But that's a lesson for judges. The rest of us have neither need or cause to pass judgement on anyone. Which is fortunate, because there's so much that we don't know.
« Reply #312 on: August 10, 2010, 06:12:22 PM »


August 10 - September 8, 2010
Inventory Season

Elul, the last month of the Jewish year, is a time to review the past and look at where you've come in life. It's a preparation for the upcoming "Days of Awe" – Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur – when we resolve to do better this year than last.

The theme of Elul is return to your essential self – a.k.a. teshuvah – helped along by prayer and charity. "The king is in the field," they say, meaning that the G‑dly spark within you is much more accessible, as long as you search for it.

Some key customs for the month of Elul:

The shofar is a wake-up call to spiritually prepare for Rosh HashanahEach day (excepting Shabbat), a ram's horn (called a shofar) is blown after the morning services. It's a wake-up call to spiritually prepare for Rosh Hashanah.
When writing a letter, we sign off, "May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year."
We add Chapter 27 of Psalms to the morning and afternoon daily prayers.
The Baal Shem Tov began a custom of saying three additional chapters of Psalms, sequentially, each day, from the 1st of Elul until Yom Kippur—when the remainder of Psalms is completed.
This is a good time to have your tefillin and mezuzot inspected by a scribe to ensure that they are still in good condition.

Selichot are prayers to G‑d that ask forgiveness. Sephardic Jews recite special selichot early every morning of Elul. Ashkenazi Jews begin these selichot shortly after midnight on the Sunday morning before Rosh Hashanah—unless this start date doesn't allow for a minimum of four days of selichot, in which case, they start selichot on the Sunday morning before that. Selichot are then recited daily before the morning prayers until Rosh Hashanah. Many continue reciting selichot until Yom Kippur.

Try to attend synagogue for selichot, since many of the prayers can only be said in a group.

Click here for more on Elul and Selichot.
« Reply #313 on: August 10, 2010, 06:14:09 PM »

Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Courtesy of

I am to my beloved, and my beloved is to me

Song of Songs 6:3

In every relationship, there are times when the "male" or giving partner takes the initiative, and times when the "female" or receiving partner is the first to express her feelings and thereby stimulate the feelings of her partner.

The question of who takes the initiative has a profound effect on the nature of the relationship. For though the end result is that both of them express their love for each other, the initiating partner determines the nature of the other's response. When initiated by the giving partner, the response stimulated in the recipient will likewise be a "masculine" response; when initiated by the recipient, the giver's response will also be of a "feminine" nature, for it will be influenced and shaped by the source of its arousal.

In Song of Songs, which explores the relationship between G-d and Israel through the metaphor of the love between a bride and her groom, we find expressions of both male-initiated and female-initiated love. In one verse, the narratress proclaims, "My beloved is to me, and I am to him" (Song of Songs 2:16). In another, she says, "I am to my beloved, and my beloved is to me" (ibid. 6:3).

There are times when the Almighty showers us with love and kindness, arousing in us a response in kind ("My beloved is to me, and I am to him"). But there are also times in which we take the initiative, expressing our love and devotion to Him despite His apparent distance from us, thereby awakening in Him His love for us ("I am to my beloved, and my beloved is to me").

It may be argued that the divinely-initiated love produces a higher and loftier love than the love which is initiated by ourselves. When the initial arousal comes from G-d, it is a show of love that is as infinite and sublime as its source, arousing in us feelings that we could never have produced ourselves. Nevertheless, such a love cannot be said to be truly our own. We have been overwhelmed by something that is infinitely greater than ourselves, and our own response is likewise "larger than life," bearing little relation to who and what we are in our natural state.

On the other hand, the love we generate ourselves may be less magnificent and glorious, but it is a deeper and truer love. It is an integral love -- a love that comes from within and expresses our deepest yearnings. And when we awaken such a love in ourselves, G-d responds in kind, showing us an integral, intimate love -- a love that embraces us as we are, rather than transporting us to sublime yet alien peaks of spirituality and transcendence.

The Acronym

The month of Elul is a time of special closeness between the Divine Groom and His bride Israel. This is alluded to by the fact that, in Hebrew, the first letters of the verse "I am to my beloved and my beloved is to me" (ani ledodi v'dodi li) spell the word Elul.

It is significant that the acronym for Elul comes from the verse that describes a love that is initiated by the bride, rather than the verse in which the initial show of love comes from the groom. For despite its designation as a time for special closeness between G-d and man, Elul is a most "ordinary" month, conspicuously devoid of festivals and holy days. In other words, Elul is not a time in which we are "lifted up" from our daily routine to the more spiritual state of a festival day; rather, it is a time in which we remain in our natural environment as material beings inhabiting a material life.

For the month of Elul, whose astral sign is the sign of betulah ("virgin"), is the month of the bride. Elul is a time when the initiative comes from our side of the relationship, and the divine response to our love is one that relates to us as finite, material beings and embraces our natural self and personality.
« Reply #314 on: August 11, 2010, 12:33:22 PM »

A Tiny Fix and a Little Snip
Two Elul Parables
By Nissan Mindel

The Hole In The Boat

A man was called to the beach to paint a boat. He brought his paint and brushes and began to paint the boat a bright, new red, as he was hired to do. As he painted the boat, he noticed that the paint was seeping through the bottom of the boat. He realized that there was a leak, and he decided to mend it. When the painting was done, he collected his money for the job and went away.

The following day the owner of the boat came to the painter and presented him with a large check. The painter was surprised. "You have already paid me for painting the boat," he said.

"But this is not for the paint job. It is for mending the leak in the boat."

"That was so small a thing that I even did not want to charge you for it. Surely you are not paying me this huge amount for so small a thing?"

"My dear friend, you do not understand. Let me tell you what happened.”

"When I asked you to paint the boat I had forgotten to mention to you about the leak. When the boat was nice and dry, my children took the boat and went fishing. When I found that they had gone out in the boat, I was frantic for I remembered that the boat had a leak! Imagine my relief and happiness when I saw them coming back safe and sound. I examined the boat and saw that you had repaired the leak. Now you see what you have done? You have saved the lives of my children! I haven't enough money to repay you for your 'little' good deed...”

A Piece of String

A wealthy merchant bought a wonderful candelabra for his home. It was a masterpiece, made of pure crystal and studded with precious stones. It cost a real fortune.

Because of the candelabra's massive size, the ceiling in the merchant's dining room could not support its weight. In order to hang this beautiful candelabrum, a hole was bored in the ceiling, through which a rope was run and fastened to a beam in the attic.

Everybody who came to the house admired the wonderful candelabra, and the merchant and his family were very proud of it.

One day a poor boy came begging for old clothes. He was told to go up to the attic, where their old clothes were stored, and to help himself to some. He went up to the attic, and collected a neat bundle of clothes. After packing them into his bag, he searched for a piece of string with which to tie it. He saw a rope wound around a nail and decided to help himself to a piece. So he took out his pocketknife and cut the rope.

Crash! There was a terrific smash, and the next moment the whole family rushed to the attic crying: "You idiot! Look what you have done! You have ruined us!"

The poor boy could not understand what all the excitement was about. He said: "What do you mean, ruined you? All I did was to take a small piece of rope. Surely this did not ruin you?"

"You poor fish," replied the merchant. "Yes, all you did was to take a piece of rope. But it so happened that my precious candelabra hung by it. Now you have broken it beyond repair!"

These two stories, my friends, have one moral: Very often, by doing what seems to us a "small" good deed we never know what wonderful thing we have really done. And conversely, in committing what seems to us a "small" transgression, we are causing a terrible catastrophe. Both good deeds and bad deeds cause a "chain reaction." One good deed brings another good deed in its succession, and one transgression brings another. Each of them, no matter how seemingly small, may create or destroy worlds. Don't you think these two stories are worth remembering?
« Reply #315 on: August 12, 2010, 10:25:26 PM »'s+Blog)

The places you go
from Seth's Blog by Seth Godin

Over the weekend I visited one of my favorite places. It didn't matter that I hadn't been there in a while, or didn't know most of the people I encountered. The second I walked in, heard the noise, saw the walls... even the way it smelled... I was transported.

It’s incredible to think about--a room could magically change the way I felt. A physical room with the right memories can do this in just a heartbeat. So can a metaphorical one, even a brand.

The states of your emotions (your moods and passions) are like rooms in a house.

Anxiety, flow, joy, fear, exhaustion, connection, contemplation, emotional labor... each one can be visited at will if we choose. Sometimes by entering a real room, but more often in metaphor...

Do you have a friend you can have an intimate, tearful conversation with anytime you pick up the phone? Is there a topic that if you bring it up with your boss, it will quickly lead to contention? Is there a place or a memory that never fails to bring melancholy along with it?

Occasionally we encounter emotions at random. More often, we have no choice, because there’s something that needs to be done, or an event that impinges itself on us. But most often, we seek emotions out, find refuge in them, just as we walk into the living room or the den.

Stop for a second and reread that sentence, because it’s certainly controversial. I’m arguing that more often than not, we encounter fear or aggravation or delight because we seek it out, not because it’s thrust on us.

Why check your email every twenty minutes? It’s not because it needs checking. It’s because the checking puts us into a state we seek out. Why yell at the parking attendant with such gusto? Teaching him a lesson isn’t the point--no, in that moment, it’s what we want to do, it’s a room we choose to hang out in. It could be something as prosaic as getting involved in a flame war online every day, or checking your feeds at midnight or taking a shot or two before dinner. It’s not something you have to do, it’s something you choose to do, because going there takes your emotions to a place you’ve gotten used to, a place where you feel comfortable, even if it makes you unhappy.

There’s a metaphorical room I can go to where I’m likely to experience flow--a sense of being in the moment and getting an enormous amount done. Down the hall is the room where there’s a lot of anxiety about something I can’t change. I can visit that room if I choose, but I don’t. And yes, it’s a choice.

Great brands figure out how to supply a ‘room’ to anyone who chooses to visit. Soap opera fans, for example, can count on being put into a certain state anytime they tune in. The Apple store is carefully calibrated as an architectural and retail room that will change how you feel when you enter it. Chiat Day built offices in New York and LA that triggered huge waves of creativity. And there's nothing like the face of a kid eating a Hershey's bar...

YouTube isn't just video. It's a room. Not everyone uses it the same way, but most people use it the same way every time they use it. If it's the site people go to see stupid pet tricks and write stupider comments, then they know why they're going and it's going to be hard for it to become something else...

Is your brand providing the right room to the right people at the right time? Most products, most services--they provide a thing, a list of features, but not a room for my emotions.

This insight about our moods and your brand is all well and good, but it becomes essential once you realize that there are some rooms you’re spending way too much time in, that these choices are taking away from your productivity or your happiness.

Why are you going there again?

Every time you go to that room, you get unhappy, and so do we. Every time you go that room, you spend more time than you expected, and it stresses out the rest of your day. Every time you go to that room you short-circuit the gifts you give to the rest of the team.

Once your habit becomes an addiction, it’s time to question why you get up from a room that was productive and happy, a place you were engaged, and walk down the hall to a room that does no one any good (least of all, you). Tracking your day and your emotions is a first step, but it takes more than that. It takes the guts to break some ingrained habits, ones that the people around you might even be depending o
« Reply #316 on: August 13, 2010, 03:00:37 PM »

The Judge and the Refugee
Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe

In the Torah-section of Shoftim (Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9) we read of the cities of refuge, to which a man who had killed accidentally could flee, find sanctuary and atone. The Chassidic masters note that Shoftim is always read in the month of Elul; for Elul is, in time, what the cities of refuge were in space. It is a month of sanctuary and repentance, a protected time in which a person can turn from the shortcomings of his past and dedicate himself to a new and sanctified future.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe analyzes an important feature of the cities: they were only to be found in the land of Israel, even though the judges and officers who executed Torah law were to be appointed wherever Jews live. Why does the law extend everywhere, while refuge belongs to the Holy Land? And what does this imply for the month of Elul, our place of spiritual refuge in the calendar of the Jewish year?

A Paradox

The Midrash Sifri interprets the opening verse of our Parshah, "You shall set judges and officers in all your gates" to apply to "all your dwelling-places," even those outside Israel. It then continues: One might think that cities of refuge were also to exist outside the land of Israel. Therefore the Torah uses the restrictive term "these are the cities of refuge" to indicate that they were to be provided only within Israel.

Nonetheless, the Sifri says that someone who committed accidental homicide outside the land of Israel and who fled to one of the cities of refuge would be granted sanctuary there. It was the cities themselves, not the people they protected, that were confined to the land of Israel.

The fact that the Sifri initiates a comparison between the "judges and officers" and the cities of refuge, indicates that they have a relationship to one another. It is this: The judges who applied the law and the officers who executed the sentences, did not aim at retribution, but at the refinement of the guilty. And the aim of the cities of refuge was to impose on the fugitive an atoning exile--atonement in the sense of a remorse which effaces the crime until he regains his original closeness to G-d's will.

We might then have thought that if this safeguard, this place of atonement, was available in the holy environment of the land of Israel, it would be all the more necessary outside its borders where it was easier to fall into wrongdoing. And yet only judges and officers were to be provided beyond the land of Israel's borders--only the agents of the law, not its refuge.

Transcendence or Empathy

There are two phases in teshuvah, or repentance. There is remorse over what has been done, and commitment to act differently in the future. These are inextricably connected. For the only test of sincere remorse is the subsequent commitment to a better way of life. To be contrite about the past without changing one's behavior is a hollow gesture.

This the deeper significance of the law that the city of refuge is found only in the land of Israel. For a man could not atone while clinging to the environment which led him to sin. He might feel remorse. But he would not have taken the decisive step away from his past. For this, he had to escape to the "land of Israel," i.e., to holiness. There, on its sanctified earth, his commitment to a better future could have substance.

Judges, however, could be appointed outside the land of Israel. For it is written in the Ethics of the Fathers, "Do not judge your fellow-man until you come to his place." A court which sits in the land of Israel cannot know the trials and temptations which exist outside, or the difficulties of being loyal to one's faith in a place of exile. The land of Israel is a land where "the eyes of the L-rd your G-d are always upon it, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year." It is a land of Divine grace. One cannot judge a man by its standards if that man lives outside its protection.

So judges had to be drawn from the same environment as their defendants. They had not only to know what he had done; they had to experience for themselves the environment which brought him to it.

Rabbi DovBer of Lubavitch (the second Chabad Rebbe) was once giving private audiences, when he interrupted for some time before continuing. It transpired that a man who had had an audience wanted the Rebbe's help in setting right a particularly degrading act he had done. The Rebbe later said to one of his close disciples that one must discover some analogous quality in oneself--on however refined a level--before one can help someone to remedy his sin. His interruption of the audiences had been to attempt to find in himself this point from which he could identify with the sinner.

It was this principle that lay behind G-d's command to Moses when the Israelites had made the golden calf: "Go, get thee down, for your people have dealt corruptly." For at that moment, Moses was inhabiting the spiritual heights of Mt. Sinai, neither eating nor drinking, divorced from the world. The Israelites were degraded through their sin. But by telling him to "go down" to "your people" G-d created a bond between Moses and the people, on the basis of which Moses was able to plead on their behalf.

Three Degrees of Refuge

Although all the cities of refuge were to be in the land of Israel, they were not all in the same territory. There were the three in the land of Israel proper--the Holy Land. Three were in the territories east of the Jordan, where "manslaughter was common" (Talmud, Makkot 9b). And, in the Time to Come "the L-rd your G-d will enlarge your borders" three more will be provided, in the newly occupied land.

This means that every level of spirituality has its own refuge, from the relatively lawless eastern territories to the Holy Land, and even in the Time to Come. And this is true spiritually as well as geographically. At every stage of a man's religious life there is the possibility of some shortcoming for which there must be refuge and atonement. Even if he never disobeys G-d's will, he may still not have done all within his power to draw close to G-d.

This is the task of the month of Elul. It is a time of self-examination when each person must ask himself whether what he has achieved was all he could have achieved. And if not, he must repent, and strive towards a more fulfilled future. Businessman and scholar--he who has lived in the world and he who has spent his days under the canopy of the Torah--both must make Elul a time of self-reckoning and refuge.

It is the way of the Western world to make Elul--the month of high summer--a time for vacation from study. The opposite should be the case. It is above all the time for self-examination, a time to change one's life. And the place for this is the city of refuge in the "Holy Land", which, in the geography of the soul, is a place of Torah.

Each Jew should set aside Elul, or at least from the 18th onwards (the last 12 days, a day for each month of the year), or at any rate the days when Selichot are said, and make his refuge in a place of Torah.

A refuge is a place to which one flees: That is, where one lays aside one's past and makes a new home. Elul is the sublimation of the past for the sake of a better future. And it is the necessary preparation for the blessings of Rosh Hashanah, the promise of plenty and fulfillment in the year to come.
« Reply #317 on: August 13, 2010, 03:01:25 PM »

The Parshah in a Nutshell
Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9
Moses instructs the people of Israel to appoint judges and law-enforcement officers in every city; "Justice, justice shall you pursue," he commands them, and you must administer it without corruption or favoritism. Crimes must be meticulously investigated and evidence thoroughly examined -- a minimum of two credible witnesses is required for conviction and punishment.

In every generation, says Moses, there will be those entrusted with the task of interpreting and applying the laws of the Torah. "According to the law that they will teach you, and the judgement they will instruct you, you shall do; you shall not turn away from the thing that they say to you, to the right nor to the left."

Shoftim also includes the prohibitions against idolatry and sorcery; laws governing the appointment and behavior of a king; and guidelines for the creation of "cities of refuge" for the inadvertent murderer. Also set forth are many of the rules of war: the exemption from battle for one who has just built a home, planted a vineyard, married, or is "afraid and soft-hearted"; the requirement to offer terms of peace before attacking a city; the prohibition against wanton destruction of something of value, exemplified by the law that forbids to cut down a fruit tree when laying siege (in this context the Torah makes the famous statement "For man is a tree of the field").

The Parshah concludes with the law of Eglah Arufah - the special procedure to be followed when a person is killed by an unknown murderer and his body is found in a field - which underscores the responsibility of the community and its leaders not only for what they do but also for what they might have prevented from being done.
« Reply #318 on: August 16, 2010, 08:16:50 AM »

What's a Father For?
by Slovie Jungreis-Wolff
The definition of being a father.
It’s hard being a father today. The difficult economy has reduced many men’s ability to provide for their families. Dad’s who have often measured their self worth through their financial success are now grappling with the fear of unemployment or reduced paychecks. Families are struggling. Many fathers are feeling down and unsure about the future.

It’s time for us to reexamine a father’s role in the family. What is the definition of being a father?

Is his self worth simply based upon his financial income and type of car that he drives? Or is he here to provide more, to endow his children with both a spiritual and emotional income?

Is it his role to be a physical protector and tangible presence in their lives, or is it possible for him to live his life with an even greater purpose? Is there a way that he, as a father, can build his children’s essence through teaching them how to deal with moments of success, good fortune, anger, worry, disappointments, and life’s many searing challenges?

In addition to his financial portfolio, has he thought about the spiritual portfolio that his children will come to inherit one day?

I read the papers with all their gloomy news and statistics bringing us frightening words like The Great Depression and double dipped recession. I hear the commercials with serious voices asking us to think about overcoming deep debt and foreclosures in these tough economic times. I ponder the challenges facing families today. And though I know that it is both husbands and wives who are working long hours and worrying about the bills, I also know that this recession has somehow hurt the men and hit them hard. Men who had always felt safe and secure as they provided for their families.

And then my mind wanders to memories of my father.

No, we did not have much ‘stuff’ growing up. We never took exotic vacations or had the latest gadgets and toys. But my parents provided us with so much more to carry us through our days; endless love and faith that have anchored us throughout life’s ups and downs.

Though many stories pop into my mind, there is one in particular that imprinted within me the sense of ‘what’s a father for.’

It had been a long hot summer. My husband had undergone delicate surgery for a dislocated shoulder and was warned to watch the movements of his arm. He was wearing a sling while dealing with a lot of pain. I was in my later months of pregnancy, and you know that scorching days and expectant mothers are a difficult combination.

I took my children outside to play and my five-year-old daughter fell off her swing. Her hand lay limply at her side.

I drove to the pediatrician hoping that he’d tell me this was just a bruise or sprain. He gave me the news that my daughter’s hand seemed broken and I would need to see an orthopedist. My child would need an adult to lift her, accompany her into the x-ray room and calm her fears. I also had a toddler who needed someone to watch over him in the office as my daughter was being examined and casted.

Being that I was expecting, that ‘someone’ in the x-ray room could not be me. My husband was completely incapacitated. I drove home, thinking of my various options. My mother was lecturing and I knew that my father had left that morning to visit my sister and spend a week with her family in their Catskill bungalow.

As I entered the house, my phone rang. I picked up the receiver and heard my father’s voice.

“Sheyfalah, how are you?”

I could not speak. I just started to cry.

“What is it, Slovelah? Why are you crying?”

I sobbed a bit more and then relayed my story to my father. I described my husband immobile in his sling, my daughter wailing and needing to have x-rays taken of her arm, my seven-year-old just getting off the day camp bus and my two-year-old doing what two-year-olds did. The orthopedist’s office was an hour away. I didn’t know how to manage. I felt overwhelmed.

“Don’t worry, my shefelah, I’m coming to help you.”

“Abba, what do you mean?” I asked. “You just arrived this morning, you spent three hours on a bus getting there, you’re staying for a week. How will you help me?”

“I am going to take the next bus home, don’t worry. I didn’t even unpack yet, so it’s fine”.

“Are you sure, Abba?” I asked incredulously.

I was astonished. I knew how my father had waited for this week. My parents never took a vacation. This was to be my father’s ‘big getaway’; a week in my sister’s bungalow. His greatest pleasure was spending time with his children and grandchildren, taking walks on the country roads and breathing in the natural beauty of God’s world. He had shlepped up by bus and I learned later from my sister that my father had arrived drenched in sweat from the heat of the trip.

But he made no mention of any of this to me. It was clear that he would just turn around and come home. I was overwhelmed with his kindness. I decided to ask one more time.

“Are you sure, Abba?”

I heard my father’s wonderful laugh over the phone. And then he said something that I will never forget.

“Slovelah, of course I’m sure. What’s a father for?”

As we grapple with uncertainties and a topsy-turvy world, let us at least hold onto this one unshakable truth. Father’s exist in the lives of their children with a role that goes way beyond paying the credit card bills. Father’s are here to lead, to provide spiritual and emotional nourishment to both sons and daughters. Father’s can be the moral compass that steer children through their life’s journey. And then when we grow up and wonder if we are doing the right thing or how we will possibly make it, we can hear our father’s voice and see our father’s image in our mind. We can look back on the small kindnesses, the little talks when we seemed troubled, and the reassuring arm around our shoulders that let us know that we are loved and never stand alone.

And if right now you are feeling hurt and lacking such memories, know that today is your opportunity to create this legacy with your own children.

After all, what’s a father for?
« Reply #319 on: August 16, 2010, 08:23:33 AM »

2nd Post
Noam's Choice
A Life of Giving

By Deena Yellin

Noam Apter, of blessed memory
Noam Apter lived to be a good friend. And he died saving them.

A rabbinical student at an Israeli hesder yeshiva, where students combine army service with Torah study, he volunteered with disabled children and wrote poetry about the holiness inside of every being and the potential for spiritual greatness.

But the 23-year-old's life was cut short when terrorists burst into his yeshiva in Otniel and sprayed the room with gunfire. Noam thwarted the terrorists by locking and then blocking the door to the next room, leaving himself in the room with the terrorists, saving more than 100 young men on the other side but sacrificing himself.

Noam's parents, Yossi and Pirchia Apter of the Israeli town of Shilo, say they consider their son's heroic death "a natural extension of the way he lived."

Noam was following a path that reflected a love of giving to his fellow man, explained his father, Yossi Apter.

Under fire, Noam was faced with an agonizing split-second decision, his father said: Armed with a gun in his pocket, he could either try to shoot the terrorists or run to lock the door.

Under fire, Noam was faced with an agonizing split-second decisionNoam's decision to die saving his fellow students "wasn't a random, spontaneous action. It was an accumulation of a lifetime of giving to others," Apter said. "Noam was always busy with volunteer projects and helping the needy."

He opted for saving lives over killing.

On the night of December 27, 2002, the students at Yeshivat Otniel, in the Hebron Hills, were enjoying a Shabbat meal. They sang "Shalom Aleichem" and other songs welcoming the Sabbath. Four students had volunteered to be the evening's waiters and were busy in the kitchen dishing out the food. Noam Apter was among them.

The others were Yehudah Bamberger, 20, Zvi Ziman, 18, and Gabriel Hoter, 17.

When the terrorists burst into the kitchen, Noam could have run from the room and saved his own life. But he didn't. Instead he sprinted to the connecting door and locked himself in the room with the terrorists. He hid the key where they wouldn't find it.

The terrorists shot him in the back. Fatally wounded, Apter fell to the ground — but not before blocking the door with his body.

After they shot everyone in the kitchen – Yehudah, Zvi, Gabriel and Noam – the terrorists tried to open the door to the dining room but failed. Next, they attempted to shoot into the room through a small glass window, but that didn't work either.

Finally, they fled. Later, they were hunted down and killed by the Israeli army.

Noam was hailed a hero by students and rabbis at the yeshiva for his actions. Had he not locked that connecting door during his final moments, they said in news reports on the incident, many more people would have been killed that night.

After Noam's death, his family discovered a trove of poems in his desk.

"Everybody has within him his own temple," Noam wrote in poetic Hebrew. "In some, it's in ruins. Some don't realize that it even exists. But this temple is in every being. It's our soul. Someday, all the private temples within us will stand upright and then we will be prepared to bring the Divine, the Shechina, into the world...."

They also found writings about the importance of giving and love. "Love is the tool through which one person can reach another," he wrote.

Noam, who regularly volunteered with disabled youth and enjoyed spending his free time on outings with them, also gave talks to their counselors about the nature of giving and loving.

"Love is the tool through which one person can reach another," he wroteHe once printed up fliers, which he paid for himself, in order to explain the significance of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, so that those unfamiliar with what the Holy Temple was would understand why Jews mourned its loss on the 9th of Av, Tisha B'Av. He distributed the fliers himself at bus stations throughout Israel.

The Apters periodically visit schools and synagogues throughout the world to speak about their son's life. "I want to teach about Noam's life as a giver, his belief in kindness and mission of helping other people," Apter said.

The presentation, which includes a movie documentary about Noam's life and death, is always well received. "We get a lot of hugs and many warm wishes," said Apter, who has launched a scholarship fund in his son's name. "A lot of people who heard our story told us they were very inspired."

Among them was David Sheffey, an attorney from Teaneck. When he and his wife, Debby, learned several years ago of Noam's courageous act, they were so moved that they decided to name their son after him.

"When we heard the story of Noam Apter – about his bravery, his selflessness – it was a story that resonated with us on many levels," said David Sheffey, who has since introduced his 3.5-year-old son, Noam, to the Apters.

"As we learned more about this exceptional personality and have come to know him through his family, we have come to understand that this act was reflective of a whole life of giving."

Yossi Apter said that even now he continues to meet people who recount the stories of Noam and how he impacted their lives.

"Five months ago I gave a ride to a young fellow. After a few minutes of looking at my face he asked if I'm Noam's father."

The young man revealed that he had served with Noam in the same army unit. He was a new immigrant from Asia whose knowledge of Hebrew at the time was very poor. Noam immediately recognized his difficulties and took it upon himself to help him from the very first day.

Once they were serving in the Harmon Mountains together in the same bunker and the young man got a terrible toothache during his guard duty. Noam appeared out of nowhere and told him he was taking over. He used his little free time so that the young man could rest. "It was a real act of kindness, of chessed," said Yossi.

Noam was following a path that reflected a love of giving to his fellow manRabbi Yakov Nagen of Otniel said that he uses Noam's life to convey lessons to teens he encounters in and out of yeshiva. "One of the teachings I try to give over is that it may have been easier had we never been born, but it is not better," says Rabbi Nagen. "There's what's easy and what's good. What life is really all about is choosing between the easy path or choosing to do what's good."
To exemplify this lesson, Rabbi Nagen recounts the story of Noam's death. Noam was next to the dining room door and could have fled through it to safety. But, he perceived what the terrorists were planning, and locked himself in the kitchen with the terrorists to prevent them from reaching the scores of students. "So that last moment choice not to run out," says Nagen, "but rather to lock the doors and be sealed inside, I think, is the best example of the choice between what's easy and what's good."
« Reply #320 on: August 17, 2010, 09:47:19 PM »

Growing Up

By Shana Guzick

Something happened. Something so startling, so awkward, and so unexpected, that I still, 218 hours later (roughly), am musing nonstop about its meaning, sporadic breathing and heart palpitations galore.

Backing up. I am currently, to my surprise and to the surprise of everyone else I know, a full-blown yeshiva student. Let me paint you a picture of my daily routine.

Lipstick marks are supposed to be the way you can tell which cup is yours, and which cup is Bubbie’s7:00 am, I wake up, throw some egg whites onto the plug-in hotplate, and burn my throat with every hurried bite as I hope to make it on time to my first class at 7:45 am. Class is until 4:00 pm, with a short break for a lunch consisting of something dairy on top of something carby with a side of something with sliced beef tomatoes. 4:00 to 6:30 pm is homework/errand time. Dinner is some kind of indistinguishable meat with something carby and more sliced beef tomatoes. More class until 10 pm. If we get out on time. And somewhere after that, after homework, calling home, putting the laundry in the dryer a third time, and hoping to become immune to other people's noise, is sleep.

Don't misunderstand me; being in yeshiva is nothing short of amazing, and to say that I absolutely thrive on my studies here would be a gross understatement, but the predictability of it all can become tiring. At any given hour on any given day, what I am doing at any specific time is exactly the same as it was the day before and as it will be on the day after.

So, you can imagine my excitement when I was offered an opportunity to jazz up my 7:30 one evening. I was invited to an engagement party for the daughter of the friend of my friend's father. Don't worry. I'll give you a moment to process that.

In pre-yeshiva life, you couldn't have bribed me with all the jewelry or all the expensive French bleu cheese in the world to get me to go a party for someone I didn't know. But such is no longer the case for a yeshiva girl like me. Opportunities to vary the agenda are coveted and highly rare. And yes. I jumped at the chance to go celebrate with this stranger.

I put on nice clothes, did my makeup, carefully arranged my grandmother's pearls around my neck, and felt like a real person for the first time in a long time. And for as much as I'd thought I hated small talk, I actually enjoyed schmoozing and making connections. I savored gourmet hors d'oeuvres, miniature delicate desserts, and other things that were not served with a side of sliced beef tomatoes.

I was sitting contently at one of the many elegantly laid tables when I glanced to see if my tea needed a refill. That's when I saw it. It was staring me right in the face, flagrant and unapologetic. It was dark. It was red. And worst of all, it was mine.

There, on my pristine white mug, was an undeniable lipstick mark. Each colored, jagged line was so perfectly printed, it could have been hand-drawn. I'm sorry, but lipstick marks are supposed to be the way you can tell which cup is yours, and which cup is Bubbie's. How did a little girl like me ever manage to get old enough to leave a mark like that? Is it actually possible that I've turned into…a woman?

I couldn't move. It didn't seem right that something like this could happen so suddenly. No one hesitates to notify you when your books are overdue or when it's time to get your teeth checked; how could this have been left off the list? Had I missed the signs?

When I was a kid, I figured that I'd know I was grown up when I could make my own bed time, when I could simply choose not to buy green beans instead of having to surreptitiously wrap them in a napkin and shove them down my pocket at the table while figuring out how to sneak them into the toilet without getting caught.

Being a woman meant making my own choices. Well, here I am, making them. I attended the university of my choice. I studied the field of my choice. I eat the food of my choice in the apartment of my choice off of the dishes of my choice (paid for out of the wallet of my choice with the credit card of my choice). And yet, choices galore, as I sat staring at the red print before me, I still didn't feel like a woman yet.

How can I possibly feel fulfilled if I don’t have what I want?I suppose this is due to the fact that, as I've grown up, my definition of what it means to be a woman has changed without my knowledge. Now, when I think of what it takes to be a woman, I imagine the women I look up to. The women who work at a rewarding job during the day and then come home to their (adorable, preferably) children with enough time to play with them and cook a delicious meal that's ready just before Dad gets home with his customary, but always genuine, hug and smile for the whole family.

Now, let's turn that into a checklist and see what I've accomplished. Rewarding job? No. House? No. Wonderful husband? Adorable kids? Kitchen adequate to feed nonexistent husband and kids? No. No. No. Aha, so this was why I didn't feel like a woman yet.

The question is, should a woman be satisfied when she doesn't feel she's living up to the definition of what a woman is? When Lipstick-On-Mug Day arrives and all the other woman around you seem to be light-years ahead of you, how do you stay motivated?

I decided to call in the special forces on this question. By special forces, I mean very special: my rabbi and rebbetzin. Tending to be more open (and impatient) than is sometimes prudent, I decided to throw caution to the wind and open up this question to them and the other guests at their Shabbat table. I asked, how can I possibly feel fulfilled if I don't have what I want? Shaking his head, my rabbi inserted a very pregnant pause into the conversation as I waited anxiously to hear what he had to say. After much thought, he finally answered, "I hate to tell you this, but I'm afraid you've missed the point." Great. Another problem to add to the list.

He continued, "Right now, you say that if you can just get a good job, then you'll be happy. Then what happens? When you get the job, then that's not good enough anymore, so you'll decide that as soon as you get married, you can be happy. After you're married, you can only be happy once you've got children. Once you have kids, you can finally achieve happiness once they get into prestigious colleges. And this cycle will just keep going and going." Well…duh, I thought. That's exactly my point! How can you be happy without those things? He continued, "Of course you need goals, but you can't wait for those things to happen in order to be happy. The fact that you exist is reason enough."

I waited for him to continue, to say something that would bring it all together, but that was it. Surprise surprise, I was not anywhere near satisfied with that. Existing is enough in itself? So, no matter if I'm dirt poor, if I stay single for the rest of my life, if I gain so much weight that a crane has to lift me out of my house to get to the grocery store, G‑d forbid, I should just say, "Hey, I exist, and that means everything's fantastic!" I don't think so.

I gave up for the duration of that meal. I was too annoyed and too exhausted. We moved onto other topics, but my mind didn't budge. My whole life, I'd been told by my teachers, the movies, the economy, and pretty much every situation I'd ever encountered, that a woman's value is based on her achievements. I'd been told endless cautionary tales of girls who'd never turned into women, who everyone smiled at when she walked by and whispered about when she left, "When is she going to get a life? Is she ever going to grow up? Her parents must be so embarrassed."

The message becomes very clear that if you don’t make something of yourself now, you might as well have never been bornWe live in a society where babies who haven't even learned how to talk yet are hooked up to machines to see what career will be the best fit for them, where if you don't start saving your birthday money once you turn five, you'll never be able to buy a house, where if you don't have a boyfriend by the time you're thirteen, you might as well buy a bunch of cats and an ugly housecoat because nobody will ever want to marry you. The message becomes very clear at an early age that if you don't make something of yourself now, you might as well have never been born.

The more I thought about this, the more distraught I became. What ever happened to enjoying the moment? Of course it's good to have aspirations, but if a woman spends her entire life looking at what she doesn't have and what she hasn't done, how can she possibly be happy? There will always be something new to achieve, but happiness comes from appreciating what you already have now, not from mourning your deficiencies. For my birthday, my friend gave me a card that said, "Today is the day that G‑d decided the world couldn't go on without you." If that holds true for a birthday, why not for every other day? If I'm here on this earth, I must be fulfilling some purpose, even if I don't know what it is.

I thought back to what my rabbi said, that existing in itself is not just a reason, but the reason, to be happy. Finally, it started to make more sense. I might not always have the things I want. I might not always achieve my goals. But I exist, which means I have value right now. I'm not in G‑d's head, and I don't see His master plan, but at least I can hold onto the trust that if G‑d deems me worthy of being on this earth, who am I to disagree? He will put me where I need to be, and He will give me what I need. And if what I need right now is lots and lots of sliced beef tomatoes instead of my own kitchen, so be it.

"Make known to me the path of life, that I may be satiated with the joy of Your presence, with the bliss of Your right hand forever." – Psalms 16:11
« Reply #321 on: August 18, 2010, 05:01:51 PM »

The Jewish Heart
The Secret of Elul

By Sara Esther Crispe

Love. It is the most powerful of the human emotions. We all crave it. We cannot live without it. And yet, it is so overwhelming, so all encompassing, that there is no way to measure it, prove it, define it or even describe it.

When we speak of the intellect, it is represented by the mind. And when we speak of the emotions, specifically of love, they are represented by the heart. But why?

When our back is turned, we have no idea of the state of the otherThe symbol of the heart is probably one of the most well known symbols. Spanning continents, cultures, religions, languages, that little red heart means love. It is used to sign letters, to represent the word “love” itself, and has inundated the buyers’ market by being plastered on cards, t-shirts, necklaces, balloons and just about everything else.

How is the image of the heart as we most commonly know it, the symbol for this passionate experience of love?

The month that we are now in, Elul, is the key to unlocking the inner and most potent meaning of the heart. As is well known, the Hebrew letters that make the word “Elul,” an aleph, lamed, vav and lamed, are an acronym for the phrase (from the biblical Song of Songs): Ani L’dodi V’dodi Li, which means, “I am to my beloved and my beloved is to me.”

This beautiful and romantic phrase is that which represents our relationship with our Creator, which is often paralleled to that of a husband and wife, a bride and groom, in our individual lives.

The Zohar explains that at the beginning of Elul we are achor el achor meaning “back to back” and by the end of Elul we are panim el panim meaning “face to face.” But how can it be that we are back to back? Wouldn’t that imply that G-d has His back turned to us as well? How can we say such a thing when this is the month in which--as Chassidic master Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi teaches us-- "the King is in the field"? Is it not the month when G-d is more accessible than ever, when He is waiting for us to greet Him, when He is there for us in the "field" of our everyday lives?

The fact that we are described as back to back and then face to face is an incredible lesson. Often, when we feel angry, hurt, abandoned, whatever the root of our pain may be, we turn our back. When our back is turned, we have no idea of the state of the other. And it is often easier to believe that we are not the only one with a turned back. It is easier to think the other also turned around, that the other isn’t facing us at all, because if that is the case, then even if we turn around it won’t help, so why bother. Why make that first move only to turn around and see the back of the other?

But this rationalization is the cause of many unsettled arguments, hurt feelings, and broken relationships. How classic is the scene, played out endlessly in movies, of the couple who walk away from one another. At some point the man turns around, wanting to call her name, ask for another chance, beg for forgiveness. He is about to speak, but realizes that her back is turned. She is walking away. He tells himself that it is too late, she just doesn’t care. So he turns back around. Seconds later, she turns to look at him. She doesn’t want this to end. She wants to say something but can’t garner the courage, doesn’t have the strength. And why, why should she when his back is turned? The month of Elul teaches us the necessity of being willing to turn aroundShe looks at him longingly but it just doesn’t matter, she assumes he couldn’t care less as he continues to walk away from her. And we, the viewers, sit on the edge of our seats, hoping that maybe they will both turn around at the same second, that they will finally realize that the other does care, that even though they appear to be back to back they really want to be face to face. Sometimes that fairytale ending does happen, other times they simply continue to walk in opposite directions right out of each other’s lives.

It is the month of Elul that teaches us the necessity of being willing to turn around. The King is in the field, our Creator is there, and no matter how we may feel, He has never had His back turned. All we need to do is turn ourselves around to realize that He is there and waiting for us. The “back to back” that we experience in the beginning of the month is based on our misperceptions, our fears, our assumptions. Only when we turn around do we realize the truth, the inner essence, and then we are “face to face” which does not only mean that we can finally look at each other, but more so, that we can look in each other, for the root of the word for face, panim, is the same as pnimiyut, which means “innerness.”

So now the question is how this lesson is taught to us, not only in the month of Elul, but through the name “Elul” itself. A Hebrew name is not a mere way of referring to something, but actually represents its soul. Chassidut teaches that every parent is gifted with Divine Inspiration is when he or she names a child. It is the name that represents the deepest aspects of this person. Kabbalah and Chassidut teach us that to uncover the essential meaning of a Hebrew word we need to analyze the letters that comprise it, their numerical value, their form and their meaning.

As we said above, the word Elul is comprised of an aleph followed by a lamed followed by a vav followed by the final letter, another lamed. The first letter in Elul is also the first letter in the Hebrew alphabet. The letter aleph is numerically equivalent to one, which represents the idea of G-d’s total unity.

So now we must answer how all of this is related to the heart. Here is where our lameds are once again defined. At this point it is important to think again about the symbol of the heart and to question its origin. And so it should come as no surprise that the meaning of this symbol will once again be found in the word for heart itself.

In Hebrew, the word for heart is lev which is spelled lamed-beit. Rabbi Abraham Abulafia, in the year 1291, wrote a manuscript by the name, Imrei Shefer, in which he defines the meaning of the heart.

Rabbi Abulafia teaches that the word heart, lev, lamed – beit, needs to be understood as two lameds. This is because the letter beit is the second letter in the alphabet, and is numerically equivalent to two. So he explains that the word needs to be read and understood as two lameds.

But it is not enough to have two lameds. As Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh explains, in order for their to be a relationship, the two lameds need to be connected. They need to be face to face. When we turn around the second lamed to face the first, we form the image of the Jewish Heart (as seen in the picture at the beginning of this article). While the heart, as we are used to seeing it, is quite clear in this form, an entirely new part of the heart is also revealed.

The heart and the love it represents, can only thrive, can only flourish, when there is a totality in connection.This is because the letter lamed is the tallest of all the letters in the Hebrew alphabet. The reason is because the lamed represents the concept of breaking out of boundaries, of going beyond your potential, of entering the superconscious from the conscious.

The lamed also means two things simultaneously. It means both “to learn” and “to teach” which shows us that the two are intertwined and both are essential. In a relationship, I must be willing to learn from the other, thereby making myself a receiver. Yet the other person also must be able to learn from me, which then makes me the teacher, the giver.

Furthermore, the image of the lamed can be broken down into three other letters. The top part of the letter is that of a yud, the smallest of the Hebrew letters, and the letter that represents the head. The head contains the mind, the intellect, but also the face.

The next letter in Elul is a vav. In Hebrew, the vav  serves as a conjuctive "and." As a word vav means “hook” and in its form it looks like a hook. So in this case the vav is the hook which is connecting the yud, the mind, with the bottom letter, the chaf,  which represents the body. Physically speaking it symbolizes the neck which transports the flow of blood from the brain to the heart.

This teaches us that the heart, that the love that it represents, can only thrive, can only flourish, when there is a totality in connection. The Jewish heart, true love, represents a mind to mind, face to face, eye to eye, body to body, soul to soul connection. The vav, the connection between the head and the heart must always stay healthy with a clear flow. If anything cuts it off, the relationship cannot continue. As we all know, one of the quickest ways to kill a person is a slit right across the neck. The neck is our lifeline. It ensures that our head, our intellect, rules above our emotions and that there is a healthy interchange between the mind and the heart.

The heart that we are all familiar with, the symbol that represents love throughout the world, lacks the yud and the vav, it is missing the mind and the neck. The popular symbol represents only the physical connection between bodies.

So this is why and how Elul is the month that begins back to back and ends face to face. At the beginning of the month we are unaware of the reality that “I am to my beloved and my beloved is to me.” However, by working on ourselves during this month, by being willing to turn around and make changes, we come to realize that our Creator has never had His back turned. He has always been facing us and just waiting for us to turn around. And once we do, we are then like two lameds that are face to face, which form the Jewish heart and is the essence of the month of Elul.

Elul then must be understood as an aleph representing G-d, followed by a lamed, vav, lamed, a lamed that is connected (vav) to the other lamed.

And the Jewish heart, this idea of love as a totality of connection, is not merely the work for the month of Elul but is the entire purpose of our creation. This Jewish heart is a symbol for why we were created and what we are meant to accomplish. For the Torah is the blueprint of creation and the guidebook of how we connect to the Divine. And it is not a book that has a beginning, middle and end, but rather a scroll, since we are taught that the “end is endwedged in the beginning, and the beginning in the end.”

So what do we find when the Torah scroll’s end rolls into the beginning? How does the Torah end and begin? The last word of the Torah is "Yisrael," Israel, which ends with the letter lamed and the first word is "bereishit," meaning “in the beginning” which begins with a beit. When we join the first and last letters of the Torah, we have lev, the Hebrew word for heart.

May we be blessed with the ability to tap into the powers of the month of Elul, recognize and reveal our ability to both learn and teach, and through that, come face to face within ourselves, with our loved ones, and with our Creator, as we are taught through the Jewish heart.

The Jewish Heart design and jewelry is patented and copyrighted by Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh.
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« Reply #322 on: August 19, 2010, 09:37:41 AM »

By Tzvi Freeman
Depression, anxiety and pessimism damage the channels of blessing from Above.

The Zohar explains that there is a lower world -- our world -- and there is a higher world. Our world is meant to continuously receive from that higher world, but always according to our personal state of mind.

If we are glowing with joy and vitality, then that world shines upon us in its full glory.

But if it we wallow in depression and anxiety, then we can only receive the metered trickle that squeezes through a constricted channel.

That is why King David said, “Serve G-d with joy!” Because your joy here draws upon you another joy from above.
« Reply #323 on: August 19, 2010, 03:15:26 PM »

Correcting Our Vision
Correcting Our Vision
by Rabbi Boruch Leff
Why did God create so many of us with faulty vision?

I’ve been thinking a lot about eyeglasses lately.

I was sitting at the steering wheel ready for my three hour drive home after spending the day out of town with friends.

One of my friends saw a defect in my eyeglasses and asked if he could fiddle around with them. He has lots of experience fixing glasses. I appreciated his offer, let him tinker with them and didn’t think twice.

Minutes later he returned with a very apologetic face. One of the lenses was split into two, and the frames were unusable. "In all my years, this has never happened to me," he said. I was speechless.

I tried my best to make him feel that I was not angry, and my wife, who loathes driving long distances at night, took over.

Within days, my friend quickly made amends and everything is back to normal now. But I'm still thinking about eyeglasses. I have very poor eyesight and prior to that mishap, I don’t remember the last time I had to see blurry for such a long time.

Eyeglasses first appeared in Pisa, Italy, around the year 1286 and only in the late 14th and 15th centuries did they begin to be mass-produced on some level. What did people with poor eyesight do before eyeglasses were invented? How did they live?

Thank God I live in a world where my problematic eyesight is so easily fixable. But what’s with God? Since He’s perfect and all-powerful, why did He create so many of us with faulty vision?

He didn’t give us fingers that would only work if we attached a metal or glass mechanism to them. Yet according to the Vision Council of America, approximately 75% of adults use some sort of vision correction. Why did God make a world where the vast majority of people need corrective lenses in order to see properly?

There is very powerful lesson here. We have eyes but we cannot see. We are incapable of clearly seeing anything without help.

We look at everything in the world and we think we are seeing it unmistakably. We think we see exactly what is there in front of us in plain sight.

But in reality, we are always seeing blurry.

We judge other people. We condemn situations and circumstances. Yet, we actually possess very poor eyesight. We need to attach the ‘proper lenses’ to give us the right perspective and vision in order to look at the world appropriately. Do we look for the good in people or for their faults? Do we look at situations as random occurrences or do we try to see the underlying message guided by Divine providence?

An unkempt man was touring the Louvre with a group of tourists. As they were scanning Rembrandt's works the man yelled, "Yogurt!" Everyone thought he was nuts. But he said it again, "It looks like yogurt to me."

Then they passed by the Mona Lisa. Again he exclaimed, "Yogurt!" A wise man on the tour looked at the fellow. "Let me see your glasses."

He gave him his glasses. "What did you have for breakfast today?" he asked.

"Some cereal and yogurt," he answered.

The wise man cackled. “Look at your glasses! They are dotted with yogurt! No wonder everything you look at appears as yogurt!” (Parable of Rav Mordechai Pogramanski, pre-WW2 European scholar)

Everything we look at depends upon the lenses we are looking through.

A person with the quality of a good eye and a clean, positive lens, does not hate others, nor does he get angry with them. He does not covet what others have, because he sees everything positively without any ‘yogurt.’ If he is lacking something it is because God is telling him that he doesn’t need it, and he is happy for his friend who does have it.

We have eyes but we need to correct our vision and work on seeing people in a positive light. These are the eyeglasses we must wear at all times.

The Sages tell us that the 2nd Temple was destroyed as a result of baseless hatred, sinat chinam. During this period of the Three Weeks leading to the mournful day of Tisha B'Av when the Temple was destroyed, we are all trying to improve ourselves and our relationships with others.

One key way to better our relationships with others is to judge them favorably, looking at them in an positive way. When we live with this attitude in the courtrooms of our minds, we avoid the roots of negative vibes which often lead to hatred.

Now's the time to get your eyes examined and check your glasses, and wipe away any remaining yogurt.

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« Reply #324 on: August 20, 2010, 03:35:27 PM »

You Complete The Circle
The Power of Lighting Shabbat Candles

By Shula Bryski

Two rabbinical students were sent under the direction of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, to the faraway Aleutian Islands, with the sole purpose of bringing the joy and light of Judaism to any Jews that lived there.

After a week of searching, they found not one Jew. Despondent, they made one last attempt at the local elementary school. They went to each classroom and asked if there were any Jewish children in the class, and each teacher told them that there were no Jewish children. They entered the very last classroom, and asked the teacher if there were any Jewish children there. She immediately answered no.

A girl in the back raised her hand. "Mommy, so we're not the only Jews in the world?!" little Stacy exclaimed to her mother/teacher.

The embarrassed mother quietly and quickly told the rabbinical students that she'd talk to them after class.

The now-revealed mother and daughter sat with the two rabbinical students that afternoon. The mother confessed that she was not very comfortable with her Judaism, or expressing it with her daughter, as they were the only Jews on this island, and it seemed easier to just put it aside. They all talked for a while, the boys offering words of warm encouragement to explore their Jewish identity. The mother bought some Jewish books and Mezuzahs. She then asked the boys to offer some words of encouragement to her daughter, as they had to her.

We're not the only Jews in the world?The rabbinical students left the little girl with this thought: "All around the world, women and girls bring in Shabbat by lighting candles on Friday afternoon, eighteen minutes before sunset. But when they are lighting eighteen minutes before sunset, bringing in Shabbat in Australia, it is not yet Shabbat in Israel, until eight hours later, when the women there light the candles. And then seven hours later, New York lights and brings in Shabbat, and eventually California, and the entire world lights, and brings in Shabbat at different times."

"The very last time zone is at the furthest point on earth, which is the Aleutian Islands. And the Aleutian Islands is the very last place in the world every Friday to have the opportunity to light Shabbat candles! You and your mother have this opportunity-to usher in the light of Shabbat for the entire Aleutian Islands."

"You will also be the very last Jewish girl in the world each Friday, little Stacy, to usher in Shabbat with your Shabbat candles, completing this unifying circle."

And with these words, the boys bid farewell to their new Jewish friends on the island.

This story got me thinking-at first almost wistfully: Wow, talk about people making a difference! This mother and her daughter, two lone Jews, on this lone island, have a powerful opportunity-to be the last two Jewish women in the entire world to light the Shabbat candles, completing the circle!

But in truth, we all have the opportunity to complete the circle.

We are each, independently, an entire world Like a child who might occasionally ask her father if he loves her as much as her sister, we might wonder at times how much G‑d loves and values us, as individuals, amongst millions of others. And what is the reply a loving father gives his child? He does not assure her of equality, but rather replies, "My love for you is different than my love for your sister. She is my only she in the whole wide world, and you are my only you in the whole wide world- there is no one with your uniqueness."

We are one big, beautiful world of millions of Jewish women, united in our sameness- bringing light to the world with our candle-lighting, always on Friday evenings, always with a blessing.

And yet, we are each, independently, an entire world-comprised of our unique emotions, talents, and ways of thinking; serving G‑d with our unique flavors; connecting, doing, feeling and experiencing with our own unique ways.

Some light white candles, others light colored candles.

Some meditate during the blessing, some meditate in the precious moments that follow.

Some talk from a place of gratitude, others from sorrow.

Some with their minds, some with their hearts- and some with both.

G‑d is yearning for you, the precious world that is you, dear reader, to invite Him into your home. To talk to Him about your gratitude, perhaps your confusion, even disappointment in Him.

This Friday afternoon as the sun sets, He is yearning and waiting for little Stacy, for me...for you, to light the Shabbat candles on Friday night, completing the unique weekly time cycle of you, your world, in your unique way.

The circle is not complete without you.

Shabbat Shalom.
« Reply #325 on: August 20, 2010, 03:38:17 PM »

Repentance...the true work of repentance...

No excuses can replace that.

You can make excuses or you can start the real work of personal growth.

Which one will it be for you this year?
« Reply #326 on: August 22, 2010, 05:06:21 PM »


The Bat Mitzvah My Daughter Never Had
By Shari Shizgal

Emunah Shira, of blessed memory
I can hardly believe that it has been twelve years since our beautiful daughter Emunah Shira, of blessed memory, came into and left this world.

As we approached her Bat Mitzvah year - what would have been a milestone in her life (and ours) - I tried to hone in on how I wanted to commemorate it, if at all. Each year on her yortzeit, the date of her passing, I do something that is meaningful for me. It is usually small and personal (a walk in nature, learning with my husband or a friend; one year I gave a class for a group of women). This year, perhaps because of the significance of it being her would be Bat Mitzvah year, I felt that I wanted to do something bigger. I decided to invite a group of women over for a special meal to commemorate the event.

The message of her short life made such a profound impact on so many peopleWhen Emunah Shira was born, twelve years ago, it was the most challenging thing we had ever dealt with. And yet she changed our lives forever and the message of her short life made such a profound impact on so many people.

She stengthened our faith. She taught us not to ask "why?" (lama in Hebrew) but rather "to what" (le-ma which is the same word pronounced differently). Understanding the "why" is not in our job description. There is Someone much greater than us in charge of that. Our job is to find the potential in every situation and grow. I felt that sharing time together with a group of women would be a way of keeping Emunah Shira's messages alive.

Twelve years ago we had two healthy children in our lives, and one miscarriage behind us. I was pregnant and had experienced a pretty wonderful full term pregnancy with absolutely no complications. All of the tests were perfectly fine. The birth itself was also really wonderful. I was thrilled. Emunah Shira was born.

As soon as she was born, the midwife saw that she was having some trouble breathing and her color was off. They whisked her to the nursery to examine her. My husband went with them. The nurses heated her up, made sure she was fine, and brought her back to me all wrapped up to keep her warm. I was so happy to have my baby back.

As I nursed her, I noticed that she was purple. I asked my labor coach to call the midwife. She came immediately, took one look, and whisked her off again. This whole scene is a bit of a blur. My husband went with them again and this time they did a number of tests, called in the top neonatal cardiologist in the country and within four hours we had a full diagnosis.

The cardiologist was wonderful and explained in detail our baby's condition. She had two different problems with her heart; each complicated the other and her situation was far from simple. He suggested that she stay where she was to get the care that she needed and we would wait until she grew to a weight that would make treatment easier. There was a specialist in Boston who had experience with this type of condition, but he had never treated a baby so small. The goal was for her to grow to a weight that he felt he could handle and we would be off to Boston.

Talk about having your life turned upside down in a moment.

Everyone said that the problem should have shown up on the twenty-one week ultrasound but the truth is that it was a blessing that it didn't as there was nothing we could have done at that point. Further, at the time we were coordinators of an educational program called Livnot U'Lehibanot in Tzfat.

The few months prior to the birth were filled with tremendous challenges including major medical issues of some of the students. I can't imagine dealing with intense prenatal issues on top of everything else we were facing. For us the lack of knowledge was truly a blessing. Looking back afterwards, we really felt that the challenges of those months helped us develop the tools to deal with this sudden and huge change in our lives.

For us the lack of knowledge was truly a blessingThe three month Livnot program in Tzfat always spends a week or so in Jerusalem. We had successfully planned that week around my due date so we were not only in Jerusalem, but a few blocks away from the hospital when I went into labor. As soon as we realized that Emunh Shira had a serious health problem, we were instantly relieved of all of our duties at Livnot. It just so happened that this was our last program and the couple who was switching us as program coordinators had been using this program as a learning program. Well, now they were in charge and we were in coping mode.

Having watched my pregnancy develop, and having anticipated the birth, the group was seriously affected by the news.

After much deliberation and consultation about whether we should name our baby right away or wait until her condition was more stable, we decided to name her with the group. Having shared the months of my pregnancy together, it was important to them and to us to share this moment. We all needed a name to pray for. We called her Shira after my grandmother, and Emunah which means "faith" because we were in a place in life where our faith was growing and it was a focus of our lives.

They say that one of the only contexts where prophecy still exists is when parents name a child. We had experienced this very strongly with our two older boys (who were almost five and two and a half at the time) but this time it ended up being even more remarkable. The experience of her life was the biggest faith booster we could have ever imagined.

We had a very intense and meaningful baby naming with the group. They were a group of young adults who were trying to find a connection with their Judaism. It was clear to us that each and every one of them needed to be at this place at this time to go through this with us. We all were supposed to experience this together and grow from it together and we really did just that.

Being in a very public position at a time like this (a call had been put out to all past participants to pray for our daughter...) meant that the calls and emails of love and support kept pouring in. There was a line up of people offering to take care of our other kids and the flow of food was continuous. We were clearly not in this alone! That gave us much needed strength.

I had been blessed with the opportunity of nursing Emunah Shira after the birth which was very important to me. I then pumped for her and she was fed by a tube because the exertion of nursing would be too hard on her heart. She was in the NICU and the staff there was absolutely amazing. I couldn't have asked for kinder more dedicated staff.

One time when I walked in, I saw a nurse holding our baby while treating another, because ours had been crying and the exertion wasn't good for her heart. I was moved to tears by this expression of caring and dedication. Our baby was not lacking love.

My husband had brought our other children to the hospital so see her a couple of times. They had drawn pictures for me to put up on the wall in my room. I decided to take one of them and turn it into a name sign for Emunah Shira's bedside. I went with my two-year-old to the NICU to put it on her bassinet.

I asked the staff if I could bring her to the door of the NICU so that my son could see her from up close. Until then they had only been able to see her from through the window. I was granted permission. It was a very intense moment for my son (and of course for me as well.) He was so young but that moment created a very strong connection for him towards his sister. He was able to see her up close, talk to her and touch her. It was very emotional and moving.

I had not really considered the option of her dyingEmunah Shira was born on a Monday. On Friday morning I went in to see her. While I had of course spent much time with her touching and stroking her since her birth, now I gathered the courage to ask the nurses if I could nurse her again. It was so important to me and I was thrilled when they let me nurse her for a few minutes. During that visit I also decided to take a picture of her. In all the tumult of the birth we hadn't taken any pictures. I wished her a Shabbat Shalom and went back to Livnot with every intention of coming back on Shabbat to spend some time with her.

That picture remains the only picture we have of her.

We had given the hospital staff all of the possible phone numbers to call if they needed to reach us on Shabbat and with a bit of trepidation off we went. We had a beautiful Shabbat dinner with our kids. At some point while we were joyfully singing Shabbat songs we noticed the sound of phone ringing, from the office, from our cell... We realized that maybe the hospital was trying to reach us.

We walked over to the hospital and on the door there was a sign that indicated that someone had passed away. I was so sad and wondered who it was but I didn't give much thought to it. I just wanted to see how my baby was doing.

When we walked into the NICU and saw the look on the nurses' faces it all of a sudden hit me that the sign was because of our baby. I couldn't believe it. That wasn't part of the plan. She was supposed to grow bigger and we were going to fly to Boston. I had not really considered the option of her dying.

I don't think I have every cried so hard in my life.

We went to see the Livnot group on Sunday morning so that whomever wanted to see/speak with us could. After we spoke with them one of the participants came up to me and shared with me that a similar thing had happened to his parents before he was born. Talking to him was really important to me and I was so grateful that he had shared that with me. To me he represented my future children and that filled me with hope.

The weeks and months that followed were truly hard. One of my strongest memories was dealing with the "why?" question and so completely coming to the conclusion that understanding why is not in our job description. As soon as I was able to let go of that, it was much easier to find the good and grow. And that is exactly what we did. We allowed ourselves to hurt and cry and be loved and supported by those around us. We became so clear as to why we had named her Emunah, meaning faith as that was what we needed more than anything.There was no question that Someone higher that us had guided each and every step along the way. From not knowing about her condition in advance, to sending the couple to switch us at Livnot right at that time, we knew that everything had happened for a reason.

Our lives since then have been a series of events and circumstances that continue to strengthen our faith in our Creator, our search for meaning in life, and our ability to see the good in things and grow from challenges.

So when it came to the yortzeit of our daughter's Bat Mitzvah year, I really felt moved to invite a group of women over to a semi pot luck breakfast of sharing and thought and song. I asked everyone to bring something to share on the subjects of Emunah (faith), Shira (song), or Bat mitzvah. I spoke some and answered questions. Those who were moved to speak did.

One friend brought a guitar. She had been through an extremely challenging birth and post birth of twins just over two years ago, and her guitar had helped her through it in a very meaningful way. Since one of the themes was song, she played and sang a song that had helped her through her tough time.

His note asked G‑d that Emunah Shira smile up in heavenThe women were visibly moved by what we shared. I felt very blessed!And I was taken by how much the women whom I invited (including those who didn't make it) wanted to be there. It felt important. It felt like it made an impact. As women we spend a lot of energy doing for and giving to others. It is a huge blessing to be able to do that. The reality is that we can benefit from any opportunity to be together and help charge each others' batteries.

Once everyone left - the house was already mostly clean thanks to some helpful friends - the rest of the morning passed fairly regularly. On my way to pick up my son from kindergarten, I utilized the time to have a private chat with G‑d. In the group atmosphere of the meal, the one thing that was lacking was my own personal reflective moment. Thankfully the walk gave me that.

When my seven-year-old came home from school, he handed me a piece of paper. It was something that they had done at school that day. They had prepared a note to put in the Western Wall. His note asked G‑d that Emunah Shira smile up in heaven. Tears came to my eyes. It was such a sweet, pure thought.

Later in the afternoon my cellphone rang. One of my son's names appeared on the screen. His maturity was beyond his years from a very young age. As such her short life affected him very much and he always felt very connected to her. In general our policy with our kids was to be very open and talk about the whole story. We didn't hide anything and encouraged them to talk about it in any way they wanted. Over the years this particular son had wanted to light a memorial candle for her in his classroom. He had made a plaque with her name on it in day camp, and it still hangs on the door of his closet until this day.

On this day his class was on a trip to Jerusalem. Unbeknown to me, he had arranged to leave the group to take care of something personal and rejoin them later. That was when I got the call. He asked me where I thought he was calling from and after a couple of guesses, he revealed to me that he had gone to be by his sister's graveside. After I thought about it, I realized that it totally suited him to do this. My first reaction though was still to be moved to tears, firstly that he did this at all, and in many ways even more significantly, that he called me. Although he is a deep, feeling and caring person, he keeps a lot of it to himself. Yet something moved him to share this moment with me. I thanked him so much. It meant so much to me.

So that was how we commemorated our Emunah Shira's yortzeit. May Emunah Shira's memory be blessed! And may we all grow through our challenges, remembering to ask "Le'ma" (to what) and not "Lama" (why?) when challenges do come our way.
« Reply #327 on: August 23, 2010, 10:23:47 PM »

Sounds of Silence

By Arnie Gotfryd

Praying with simple faith joins the essence of the soul with the essence of the Infinite, so that the Essence of the Ein Sof will be the Healer of the ill, and He Who blesses the years.

The Rebbe, HaYom Yom, 11 Tishrei.

Musicians manipulate it. Comedians play it up. Actors, politicians, kids and their parents all have some intuitive sense of how to convey deep and powerful messages using this one simple technique - Silence. Whether it's a pregnant pause, an upbeat syncopation, a raised eyebrow or a baby's silent scream, a well-placed silence speaks volumes.

We enter into the realm of divine where we can actually create a new will within G‑d HimselfBut for those who aren't so good at reading between the lines, there's a new invention out of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology that can decode a lot of that quietude for you. It's a lip-reading telephone that can pick up bioelectricity from your face muscles and send the encoded signal through a cell phone to be reassembled as a speaking voice at the other end of the call.1 Move lips at point A, hear speech at point B. Cool.

That may or may not put a stop to those annoying people who yammer and holler into their cell phones as if they were plastic cups connected by string. But what it will do is help patients with speech problems, workers in noisy environments, friends with secrets, and astronauts with their hands-free flight controls. There's even a translation function that allows the listener to hear your mouthed words in their language.

Like so many things these days, this remote lip-reading innovation has been presaged by an ancient Jewish ritual. No, I'm not referring to the guilt trip. Nor the silent auction (right, that's Chinese). I'm actually talking about prayer. True, not all Jewish prayers are silent - just the most important one - the Amida, a.k.a. standing silent prayer.2

A Jew's morning prayer cycles through stages - the Verses of Praise often said aloud or sung; the blessings of the Shema which includes a lot of vocal responsive reading; and the Declaration of Unity itself - which in some congregations, Yemenite for example, is a deafening shout that can literally shake the walls. But when we get to the climax of the prayer service, the top rung of the ladder, the Amida, what do we hear? Nothing. Just lips moving.

But why? Why, after all the hub-bub, when we get to the heart of our personal conversation with G‑d, do we finally go silent? One answer is that the lead-up prayers are about us talking. The Amida is about G‑d listening.

In general prayer serves two functions. The verb "to pray" - l'hitpalel - is actually reflexive, meaning to judge oneself. At this level, we are working on ourselves, our appreciation, our emotions, our consciousness. For this we need voice, we need to resonate, to feel the prayer. But the word "prayer" itself - tefillah - is beyond that, it's about selflessness.3 In fact it is so selfless, we enter into the realm of divine where we can actually create a new will within G‑d Himself, to heal the sick, feed the hungry, salvage broken relationships.

We learn about silent prayer from the Biblical Chana who invested her heart and soul in a tearful, silent prayer to be blessed with a child. The son she bore, the prophet Samuel, went on to anoint Saul and later David, the forerunner of Moshiach, may he come speedily in our days. Then we will see all our prayers answered in a world where all communication barriers will be broken, a world awash with silent waves of knowledge, a world immersed in the knowledge of G‑d as waters cover the sea.
« Reply #328 on: August 24, 2010, 05:19:00 PM »

Fit for a King
by Rebbetzin Tzipporah Heller
God never gives up on us.

Once there was a king. The king had a servant to whom he entrusted a precious vessel. The vessel was somehow damaged. The servant's awe of the king was so great that he did not know what to do, where to turn. He found a wise man and sought his counsel. The wise man told him that he should not bring the shattered vessel before the king; it was not befitting. The servant decided it would be better to seek advice from one of the king's closest friends. The servant thought a person such as that would be more likely to have a deep knowledge of how the king would respond and would also know what course of action the king would take.

When he appeared before the king's trusted companion, he asked his advice and received the following reply: "I know the king's greatness and exaltation. A vessel such as this may not be placed before him. You must destroy the vessel completely."

The servant still did not know what to do and finally decided to go to an expert craftsman, hoping that perhaps he would be able to repair the broken vessel. He went to the craftsman, who told him that even if he succeeded in repairing it, it would still look damaged. Its appearance would remain marred; it would never be appropriate to take to the king.

The servant said to himself, I cannot act as though nothing has happened; I cannot absolve myself from responsibility. I will go before the king. Let him do to me as he sees fit.

The king said, "I will use the broken vessel. Those with whom you consulted responded as they did for the sake of my glory. I, however, choose to use the vessel as it is."


God unveils His presence to those who are able to see. The awesome splendor of nature, the intimacy of Divine Providence, are visible to anyone who has not blocked his vision.

When we seek to go beyond the blinders of ego, materialism, and escapism, we are still at times blocked. At times it's not what we don't see that causes our blindness; it's what we do see. When we let ourselves hear our deepest selves, the voices of inner wisdom of spiritual yearning, we are sometimes overwhelmed. We feel that "the vessel cannot be placed before the King." These feelings of spiritual inadequacy can be so overwhelming that we don't know what to do. We see our brokenness, and in sharp contrast we perceive the power and goodness of God. At moments of stark revelation, we tend to retreat. How can we possibly live with what we have become? The more honest we are, the less accessible teshuvah, repentance, feels.

Teshuvah, repentance, is a statement of God's very nature: His never-ending compassion.

The ultimate insult one person can give another is lowering one's expectations of him. The attitude "I would never expect any better from you" is not one of compassion. It is the most profound form of disdain. God does not give up on us. His exacting judgment, which we must face on Rosh Hashana, is real. We must not allow ourselves to be defeated by the dread this knowledge inspires.

God judges us, not because He wishes to punish us and see us get what we deserve, but because He believes in our ability to transcend our blockages. Even the most severe punishments ever meted out to humanity, such as Adam's expulsion from the Garden of Eden, were given to enable personal rebuilding of that which was broken in Adam and in the world.

Teshuvah is the key to our rebuilding ourselves. We must trust God's compassion and not be afraid to approach Him honestly. The month of Elul is the time of year when the spiritual nature of the season moves us toward Him and Him toward us.


Examining where our lives have taken us is the first step. The purpose of this is not to generate self-hatred or despair, but to seek correction and ways of moving beyond our present situations. We must be willing to look, not only at the specific actions that may be less than perfect, but at the character traits that motivated errors in moral judgment. When we content ourselves with superficial self-examination, our efforts are doomed.

I am a fairly unsuccessful gardener. The verdant plants I bring home from the nursery live very uneventful (and unusually short) lives. Part of the reason is that my own urban childhood brought me to maturity without the ability to look at two green shoots and know which one is a weed. When the shoots grow tall enough to make it clear (even to me) which is which, I tend to cut the weed rather than uproot it. The re-germination of aggressive and unwanted weeds is an eternal, unpleasant surprise.

Similarly, when searching for the "real" self, one must ask the basic question: why? Why do I do this? Why do I want this? Which basic trait is somehow contorted? Until these questions are honestly answered, the root of the weed is left untouched. There is still little awareness of which middah, character trait, needs to be corrected. The "plant," therefore, is very likely to flourish again. The same deed (or its very similar first cousin) is likely to be a prominent part of one's soul-searching next year.


Character traits don't disappear. One of the most irrational decisions that can be made is the rejection of one's essential personality. Finding new and appropriate channels for the traits that are the least desirable is a challenge. Denying their existence, or attempting to eliminate them, is escaping the challenge that is part of one's very being, for finding a positive outlet for them often has the effect of uprooting the negative aspect of the trait.

To understand the mechanics of change, let us look for a moment at one of the most striking examples of self-change I have ever seen.

Irene's parents never wanted a child. Perhaps they wanted a trophy to show others, very much as they collect art and hang it on the walls of their exquisite home. Irene never felt wanted. This was not a matter of unrealistic expectations; it was a realistic acceptance of her status. When her parents' marriage dissolved, the custody battle revolved around who would be "stuck" with the child. She was raised from the age of eight by various hired women.

By the time Irene was an adult, her insecurity was a very strong component of her personality. We all know the forms insecurity takes. No friend was loyal enough, and therefore she constantly "tested" them until they almost always failed to meet her expectations. No situation was stable enough, and she moved from lifestyle to lifestyle.

I, too, was a member of the society of failed friends. I liked her and admired her enormously; she is a woman of rare brilliance and refinement. However, I was unable to give her the kind of unconditional support she needed and therefore demanded.

We drifted apart. I heard of her occasionally. She is an artist, and her works are displayed periodically in various galleries. One Elul, I wrote her a letter in which I asked forgiveness for having allowed our friendship to disintegrate.

As God would have it, I met her on the bus the very day I put the letter in my purse. As I handed her the letter, I did not know what her response would be. Would she trust my sincerity or would she see this as a sort of cushion upon which I could lean to alleviate any guilt I might be feeling before the High Holidays arrive? She smiled at me warmly, gave me her address and phone number, and invited me to her home.

In the course of my visit to her somewhat isolated house on a remote Israeli settlement, I found myself feeling as though the body of the person to whom I was speaking was Irene, but the person inside the body must be someone entirely different. The warmth, security, and genuine interest she showed in me and my life were completely out of character.

As the sun began to set over the desert, I felt comfortable enough to ask her how she had accomplished such a major achievement. She knew exactly what I meant. She had decided to uproot the negative side of her insecurity completely. In order to do this, she wrote a brief account of everything good she experienced every day. She opened her closet and showed me a collection of tens of school notebooks. Each one was full, and each one was a statement of its owner's longing to free herself from the limitations that enveloped her. This changed her view of the Creator and His world.

Simultaneously, she decided to use her insight to zero in on other people's fears and insecurities and make herself a friend to many people who would never approach someone less sensitive to their fears. I felt that I was in the presence of one of the authentic heroines of our generation.


The Maharal speaks about the difference between positive commandments, in which the Torah tells us how to direct our energies, and negative commandments, various actions the Torah tells us to refrain from in order not to diminish ourselves. Both are necessary for us to retain the integrity of our characters. Therefore, when one notices that a certain trait is the root of behavior that is self?destructive, reestablishing a commitment to the commandments that are most difficult is a first step. When performed with the consciousness that what is at stake is not just a specific mitzvah, but also a redefinition of how one's traits can be used, there is a world of difference.

We must use every day that is left to see ourselves as we are. We must see our histories, our choices, our potential, our habits and hereditary tendencies. We must not be afraid to see the flaws; rather, we must take our broken vessels to the King and let ourselves be healed.

From "This Way Up: Torah Essays on Spiritual Growth" by Rebbetzin Tzipporah Heller, Feldheim publications.

This article can also be read at:
« Reply #329 on: August 25, 2010, 09:15:38 AM »

Advice for Life from Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov
as recorded by Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn

G‑d sends a soul down to live on this world for seventy-eighty years, just to do a material favor for another—and certainly a spiritual one.

Providence I
Not only is every movement of every creation ordained from Above, but the every movement of every individual creation is part of the grand plan for the entirety of creation. Let's use, for example, a blade of grass in a deep forest, in a place where no person has ever traversed. Its every movement – forward and backward, to the right and to the left – for as long as it exists, is all directed by divine providence; for G‑d has determined that this blade of grass should live for this amount of months, days and hours, and during this time it should sway this amount of times. And furthermore, the movements of this blade of grass have an implication on the all-encompassing master plan which governs creation. I.e., only through the cumulative movements and actions of the myriad creations – human, animal, plant life and the inanimate – can the master plan of creation be fulfilled.

Providence II
G‑d causes many events and occurrences in order to effect His divine providence on the smallest of creations. So a tremendous wind will sweep in on a bright summer day so that a leaf that has fallen off its tree a year beforehand, or a straw that was dislodged from a thatched roof, should be moved from one place to another—the place it now has to be by divine ordinance.

Providence III
When two people meet, it is by reason of divine providence—and the purpose of the encounter lies in its being utilized for good matters. G‑d orchestrated the meeting as a "hint" to both people. Each one needs to a) learn a lesson from the other, and b) positively impact the other in the area of charity and kindness, and also with regards to Torah study and mitzvah observance.

Providence VI
Everything that a person sees and hears contains a lesson for the person to utilize in his service of G‑d. It is required, however, to properly understand that which we see and hear, and not to misinterpret the experiences. Proper understanding is a quality that emanates from the soul, as it illuminates the mind. How does one achieve such soul illumination? a) Through saying Psalms with warmth and passion; b) through doing a favor for another—not just a monetary favor, but one that requires personal effort and inconvenience; c) loving one's fellow, to the point of self sacrifice.

The Other I
When someone issues a "verdict" on another, he is actually pronouncing his own verdict. For example, if one asserts that because of a certain misdeed another committed he is deserving of such-and-such punishment, he is actually issuing that verdict on himself. And conversely, if one says that because of a good deed or word that another has done he is deserving that G‑d should help him in the areas where he is needing, that blessing, too, is fulfilled on him himself.

The Other II
The blessing of a good friend is considered in heaven with great significance, and is more powerful than the advocacy and prayers of Angel Michael.

The Other III
Just like when a person looks into a mirror and sees dirt on his face, it is only because his face is dirty, so too when someone sees a fault in another, it is a sign that the fault exist within himself.

The Other IV
Upon hearing a negative report about another Jew, one should be greatly pained. For something bad has certainly occurred: If the report is true, then that individual is in an unhealthy situation; and if the report is untrue, then it is the one who is slandering is in a poor place.

The Simpleton
The greatest of the great needs to learn from the simplest of the simple—for in the simple one sees the essence of simple sincerity.

The Ladder
A cardinal point of chassidism: The rungs of life's ladder are refining one's character traits and cherishing and valuing the simpleton. In order to climb these rungs, in an orderly fashion, one needs the assistance of an elder.

The chassidic way to correct one's character traits is transforming the faults into strengths.

The Will
The place where one's will is—there he is.

Bringing Closer
If you wish to steer a coarse and boorish individual to the correct path, do so by showing him love—until he recognizes his own faults.

G‑d's Children
The simpleton and the greatest scholar share the same lofty essence: they both are G‑d's children. Just like a child's countenance is similar to his father's, so too G‑d's children are merciful, bashful and kind—a reflection of their merciful, giving and forgiving Father.

Adapted from the Hebrew by Dovid Zaklikowski.

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« Reply #330 on: August 26, 2010, 05:16:18 PM »

Living through the Parshah
How the Chassidic Revolution Shook Society
By Rochel Holzkenner

Every so often the plates of society shift so fiercely that a volcanic transformation takes place. Take, for example, the Industrial Revolution in the 18th and 19th centuries. The changes to agriculture and manufacturing were so profound that eventually every aspect of life was influenced in some way. Around the same time another great revolution was unfolding: the 18th century "Chassidic Revolution." The very fabric of Jewish society was forever altered by its powerful impression.

A culture of emotional comatoseness and lethargy plagued Jewish livingOne man is responsible for this revolution, Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov (1698-1760). He was supported by a group of fellow clandestine Kabbalists who carried down a tradition from the great Kabbalist, the Arizal. The group urged the Baal Shem Tov to go public as a global mentor.

Unlike other revolutions, the Chassidic Revolution did not introduce new beliefs. It only re-emphasized some basic tenets of Jewish faith and philosophy that had taken a back burner due to extreme suffering and anti-Semitism. A culture of emotional comatoseness and lethargy plagued Jewish living until the Baal Shem Tov inspired a mass "re-Jew-venation."

Of the basic tenets that he reintroduced, the most well know perhaps is the emphasis on joy. Later, one of the Baal Shem Tov's disciples expressed his master's sentiment by saying, "although depression is not a sin per se, it leads to the worst of sins." Sing, dance, smile—do what it takes to put yourself in a place of joy!

Many of Rabbi Israel's contemporaries were taken aback by his radical emphasis on happiness. They felt joy to be appropriate only after spiritual accomplishments. But if one was lacking – and aren't we all lacking? – then joy might breed complacency. Nonetheless Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov maintained his commitment to its importance and it's Jewishness.

In the latter part of the Book of Deuteronomy G‑d rebukes His people, saying as follows:

Because you did not serve G‑d, your G‑d, with joy and gladness of heart when you had an abundance of everything—you will serve your enemies whom G‑d will send against you… —Deuteronomy 28:37-38

What is G‑d's critique? Not that He wasn't being served, but that He wasn't served with joy. It was a somber and listless service. Evidently G‑d did not only expect the joy that is an outgrowth of accomplishment, but the joy that is the beginning, the end, and very backbone of our contribution to G‑d's world.

One fallacy that breeds depression is the sense that we need an external reason to be happyIn a country where almost 20 million of us suffer from depressive disorders, where the joke is that we'd all benefit from a little Prozac diluted in our city waters, happiness is a serious problem. Like any serious problem, its roots are incredibly complex, but perhaps one fallacy that breeds depression is the sense that we need an external reason to be happy. And even when we have a good reason to be happy, it too can quickly melt away into status quo and no longer give us that euphoric high.

Chassidic masters say that it's imperative to have self-generated happiness. It's our only shot at overcoming the constant struggles that we face in life. Personally, if I'm to have any chance of dealing with my children proactively and patiently, I need to feel upbeat. If I'm down, it's a lost cause. Joy is the only emotional environment that is conducive for growth.

There have been many recent studies about the affect of positivity on the brain. Positive people were shown to have a broader scope of visual attention and were more creative. Scientists at Cornell University experimented with physicians and found that when patients gave their physicians a small gift they were better at integrating case information and less likely to become fixated on their initial ideas.

The commitment to live life with joy was given great emphasis during the Chassidic Revolution. And, like any of G‑d's directives, it often times takes tremendous commitment and self-discipline.

In 1988, the Rebbe said that the way to bring about the final global transformation and redemption is to increase in joy with the intent of bringing the complete redemption. Just by being happy we have power to break through our personal barriers and the barriers of exile.

Simply put—be happy. It will benefit you. It will benefit the world.

Based on Tanya chapter 26 and the Rebbe's talk Parshat Ki Teitzei 5748
« Reply #331 on: August 30, 2010, 08:46:47 PM »

While We're in Exile, Where's G‑d?

By Naftali Silberberg

In our Parshah, Moses prophesies regarding our nation's exile as well as our ultimate redemption, regarding which he says, "G‑d will return your exiles and He will have mercy upon you. He will once again gather you from all the nations, where G‑d, your G‑d, had dispersed you" (Deuteronomy 30:3).

Though galut (exile), by definition, is a time when G‑d's presence in our lives isn't manifest and palpable as it was – and will soon again be – during the Holy Temple glory days, it by no means signals a hiatus in our relationship with Him. This idea was expressed by Joseph prior to the first time that our nation was dispatched into exile, when he informed his brothers that they would spend many years exiled in Egypt, but "G‑d will be with you" (Genesis 48:21).

G‑d is omnipresent, He's with everyone at all times, so Joseph's special assurance that G‑d would be with the Jews was referring to G‑d's overt presence and protection. Indeed, though our exiles have been times of great national difficulty, persecution, and worse, it is these very travails that testify to the fact that G‑d is still "with us." For is there any other explanation for the fact that a small, displaced, and defenseless nation outlives all the superpowers that endeavor mightily to annihilate her?

Is G‑d a master conductor who keeps a watchful eye over us while remaining serenely unaffected?But lest we think that G‑d is a master conductor who keeps a watchful eye over us while He Himself remains serenely unaffected by our suffering, the verse (Psalms 91:15) quotes G‑d as saying, "I am with him [Israel] in distress." This was the message that G‑d conveyed by choosing to appear to Moses in a thorn bush when the Jews were being oppressed by the Egyptians. When we suffer, it's as if He is being pricked by thorns. After all, is there a father that is not distressed when his child is in pain?

The verse cited above, from this week's Parshah, takes this idea a step further. The Hebrew wording employed in this verse is rather unusual. Rather than the standard וְהֵשִׁיב, which translates as "He [G‑d] will cause you to return," the word וְשָׁב, which translates literally as "He will return," is used. On this our Sages comment: "From here we learn that the Divine Presence resides among Israel, as it were, in all the misery of their exile. And when they are redeemed, G‑d writes [here in the Scriptures], redemption for Himself—for He, too, will return with them!"

This is not simply a father who is commiserating with his son. This is a father who accompanies his son into exile. A king who voluntarily joins his son in captivity.

And when the time of the redemption arrives, He will return together with each and every one of us, as Isaiah prophesies (27:12)., "And you will be gathered up, one by one, O children of Israel."
« Reply #332 on: August 30, 2010, 08:56:30 PM »

Bridging the Gap
by Rabbi Adam Jacobs
Living up to your ideals this new year.

I could get 99 out of 100 people to agree that speaking gossip about another person is wrong. I also know that if I polled those folks, 98 out of the 99 will still routinely speak gossip.

You can get the vast majority of humanity to agree up and down about the great value of altruism and selflessness, but at the end of the day, in the absence of extreme persistence, dedication and stalwartness in the face of failure, most of us will not fully live our ideals. That’s why we meet dating coaches who can’t seem to maintain a relationship, therapists whose personal lives are a train wreck and even the occasional spiritual leader whose day to day existence is anything but transcendental.

They may be fully committed to these concepts…but only intellectually, and there is a huge chasm between the head and the heart.

Historian Paul Johnson wrote a fantastic book that deals with this phenomenon called Intellectuals. In it, he outlines the philosophies of several major intellectual figures from Western culture (Russo, Marx, Tolstoy, etc) and then demonstrates through primary sources what their lives were actually like. Needless to say, they don’t match up too impressively. Marx, for instance, was actually not very into seeing actual proletariat (just writing about them). He spent most of his days in a pub in London racking up personal debt and treating people amazingly poorly. Russo wrote beautifully about the “Brotherhood of Man” yet had many illegitimate children whom he refused to assist, gambling debts and a host of other interpersonal issues. Did they believe what they were writing? Absolutely. But living what they wrote was another story.

Judaism has long maintained that the root of self esteem is for our insides to match our outsides. When we behave in a manner that is consistent with what we hold dear, we feel good about ourselves and the idea settles more deeply within us. When we behave in ways that oppose what we know to be right and good we feel hypocritical and unhappy.

One of the 48 ways to achieve wisdom listed in Ethics of the Fathers is to teach. One reason is that it forces you to learn an idea very well in order to articulate it effectively to others. Another is that is compels you to practice what you preach…literally. Last year I started teaching a series called “Master Your Emotions” that instructs people how to effectively understand and control their negative emotions. I started to feel like a fraud telling others how to behave when I wasn’t really doing it myself. Suddenly I found the motivation to really work on controlling my emotions. And the more consistent I was, the better I felt about my self as a person and a teacher.

Rosh Hashana is just around the corner. As the leaves change and the world turns towards Monday Night Football, the Torah teaches that it’s time to start looking within. Now is the time to start making a plan for your new year, one that maximizes our integrity and authenticity. Here are some practical suggestions:

Get Clear: Spend one hour doing a comprehensive diagnostic of where you’re being inconsistent. In one column list the behaviors and values that you hold dear. In the other, rank yourself on a scale of 1-10 how closely your outer behavior matches your inner values.

Narrow it down: Pick one area to focus on and keep a daily journal of your progress. Half the battle is just coming to the awareness (in the moment) that you’re doing the thing you don’t want to be doing. Then, like getting better at tennis, you need to relearn your serve. Part of you doesn’t want to do it and it needs a lot of practice to be retrained. This is where exercising your free will muscles comes in. Consciously resist the temptation to react as you always have and then chart your progress

Ask for help: Rosh Hashana is the day when we ask the Almighty to “renew our contract” for another year. It’s the day to commit to a new business plan. Showing Him how serious we are leading up to our “interview” is a great and rewarding way to kick off the new year in high gear.
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« Reply #333 on: August 31, 2010, 08:45:37 AM »

The Parshah in a Nutshell
Ki Tavo
Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8

Moses instructs the people of Israel: When you enter the land that G-d is giving to you as your eternal heritage, and you settle it and cultivate it, bring the first-ripened fruits (bikkurim) of your orchard to the Holy Temple, and declare your gratitude for all that G-d has done for you.

Our Parshah also includes the laws of the tithes given to the Levites and to the poor, and detailed instructions on how to proclaim the blessings and the curses on Mount Grizzim and Mount Ebal -- as discussed in the beginning of the Parshah of Re'ei. Moses reminds the people that they are G-d's chosen people, and that they, in turn, have chosen G-d.

The latter part of Ki Tavo consists of the Tochachah ("Rebuke"). After listing the blessings with which G-d will reward the people when they follow the laws of the Torah, Moses gives a long, harsh account of the bad things -- illness, famine, poverty and exile -- that shall befall them if they abandon G-d's commandments.

Moses concludes by telling the people that only today, forty years after their birth as a people, have they attained "a heart to know, eyes to see, and ears to hear."

The Parshah in a Nutshell
Deut. 29:9-31:30

The Parshah of Nitzavim includes some of the most fundamental principles of the Jewish faith:

The unity of Israel: "You stand today, all of you, before the L-rd your G-d: your heads, your tribes, your elders, your officers, and every Israelite man; your young ones, your wives, the stranger in your gate; from your wood hewer to your water drawer."

The future redemption: Moses warns of the exile and desolation of the Land that will result if Israel abandons G-d's laws, but then he prophesies that, in the end, "You will return to the L-rd your G-d... If your outcasts shall be at the ends of the heavens, from there will the L-rd your G-d gather you... and bring you into the Land which your fathers have possessed."

The practicality of Torah: "For the Mitzvah which I command you this day, it is not beyond you nor is it remote from you. It is not in heaven... It is not across the sea.... Rather, it is very close to you, in your mouth, in your heart, that you may do it."

Freedom of choice: "I have set before you life and goodness, and death and evil; in that I command you this day to love G-d, to walk in His ways and to keep His commandments... Life and death I have set before you, blessing and curse. And you shall choose life."

The Parshah of Vayelech ("And He Went") recounts the events on Moses' last day of earthly life. "I am one hundred and twenty years old today," he says to the people, "and I can no longer go forth and come in." He transfers the leadership to Joshua, and writes (or concludes writing) the Torah in a scroll which he entrusts to the Levites for safekeeping in the Ark of the Covenant.

The mitzvah of Hak'hel ("Gather") is given: every seven years, during the festival of Sukkot of the first year of the shemittah cycle, the entire people of Israel -- men, women and children -- should gather at the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, where the king should read to them from the Torah.

Vayelech concludes with the prediction that the people of Israel will turn away from their covenant with G-d causing Him to hide His face from them, but also with the promise that the words of the Torah "shall not be forgotten out of the mouths of their descendants."
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« Reply #334 on: August 31, 2010, 01:18:30 PM »

History or Memory?
By Mendel Kalmenson
It has been said that there is no word for history in the Hebrew language.

(The modern-Hebrew equivalent, "historia," is a word-lift from the English "history," which was pinched from the Greek "historia." What goes around comes around…)

The absence of a word as central to any nation as "history" is striking. It's probably because there's no such thing as history in Judaism.

Zikaron (memory), however, a distant cousin of history, features prominently in biblical language and thought.

It goes far beyond semantics, cutting straight to the core of Judaism's perception of the past.

You see, "history" is his-story, not mine. The first two letters of "memory," however, spell me.

Memory is a part of me, and history, apart from meWithout me there is no memory. Memory is a part of me, and history, apart from me.

Put differently: History is made up of objective facts and memory of subjective experience.

As you might have guessed, Judaism is less interested in dry facts than in breathing experiences.

It is for this reason that much of Jewish tradition and ritual draws on reenactment. We don't just commemorate, we remember. We don't just recount someone else's story, we relive our own.

A few examples:

Much of the Seder curriculum aims to stimulate feelings of slavery and bitterness (e.g., the salt water, bitter herbs, poor man's bread a.k.a. matzah, and so on) as well as royalty and liberty (four cups of wine, leaning on cushions, and the like).

In fact, in certain Jewish communities, the seventh night of Passover (the night the sea split for the Jews) finds many walking through pails of water to recreate that event.

On Shavuot we stay up the entire night in anticipation of the giving of the Torah on the morrow, and children are brought to synagogue to hear the Ten Commandments from G‑d.

He's not just the G‑d we heard about, but the G‑d we heard fromIn fact, Judaism teaches that, in soul, we were all present at Sinai;1 each one of us personally encountered G‑d. Consequently, G‑d is not just the G‑d of our ancestors; He is our G‑d. He's not just the G‑d we heard about, but the G‑d we heard from.

The divine revelation at Sinai thus distinguishes itself from any other revelation described in other religious traditions. Central to other religions is the belief that G‑d never shows Himself to the masses, to a community of commoners. He speaks only to the prophet, who alone is worthy of divine communion. It's for the flock to trust implicitly in their shepherd's account of revelation. Not so in Judaism, which maintains that, indeed, the greatest divine revelation of all time was made accessible to maidservant and Moses alike.

Moreover, even as He spoke to a nation of millions, G‑d addressed each one of them personally. As our sages teach, in His opening words at Sinai, "I am G‑d, your G‑d," G‑d chose to use the singular form of "your" (elokecha) – the "thy" of vintage English – over the plural form of "your" (elokeichem).

This was one of the greatest gifts that G‑d bequeathed our people, to include all of us in the Sinaic display, for it turned our nation's most seminal event into a living memory, as opposed to a lifeless lesson in history.

Moving along to the Ninth of Av, the day the Holy Temple was destroyed thousands of years ago and a national day of mourning – its customs include eating eggs dipped in ash (just prior to the fast), sitting on low stools, wearing slippers, fasting, and lamenting like it happened only yesterday.

The sukkah transports us to that distant and formative road-tripCome Sukkot, and we move into huts for a week to recall the booths we lived in throughout our desert trek. Like a figurative time machine, the sukkah transports us to that distant and formative road-trip.

And the list goes on.

The point is, remembering is big in our tradition.

The following discussion seeks to highlight just how big.

The Finale
"Today I am one hundred and twenty years old," begins Moses' last homily. "I am no longer able to lead you…"

The end is near, or here.

"Be strong and courageous… Do not be afraid… for G‑d is going with you…"2

These moving snippets, and the time in which they were spoken, help set the scene and mood of the last public address given by a selfless leader to his (less than selfless) congregation.

And these are the words with which he leaves them:

At the end of seven years…during the festival on the holiday of Sukkot, when all Israel comes to appear before G‑d, in the place that He will choose, the king should read the Torah before all of Israel. Assemble the people, the men, the women, and the minors, and the convert in your cities, in order that they will hear and in order that they will learn and they shall fear G‑d…3

Moses' final remarks to his people outlined the mitzvah of Hakhel, the commandment obliging all Jews to septennially gather in the Holy Temple to hear selections of the Torah being read by the Jewish king.

Then, following Moses' talk with the people, G‑d has a final talk4 with him:

You are soon to lie with your fathers. This nation will rise up and desire to follow the gods of the people of the land into which they are coming. They will forsake Me and violate the covenant which I made with them…

Now, write for yourselves this song…

Which song, we wonder; and how might a song stop Jews from assimilating?

Maimonides explains:

It is a positive command for every Jewish man to write a Torah scroll for himself, as the verse states, "Now write for yourselves this song," meaning to say, "write for yourselves a Torah which contains this song…"5

This mitzvah, for every individual to write his own Torah scroll, is the 613th and final mitzvah to be recorded in the Torah.6 It is the subject of the last conversation between G‑d and Moses that pertained to the people. It must somehow contain a recipe for Jewish survival, an antidote for assimilation.

But what might that be?

If Judaism were taught as a living experience, it would experience long lifeThe single concern on Moses' mind that day, and later echoed by G‑d in their conversation, was the future of this fragile nation – a future that would become less rosy with time, offering terrible persecution as well as progressive religious challenges.

The solution suggested by both G‑d and Moses was the same:

If Judaism were taught as a living experience, it would experience long life; if it were taught as a dead subject, however, it would, G‑d forbid, be subject to death.

Both the mitzvah of Hakhel and writing a Torah scroll were established to turn the former prospect into reality.

Hakhel was the reenactment of Sinai. Here's how Maimonides describes it:

They would prepare their hearts and alert their ears to listen with dread and awe and with trembling joy, like the day [the Torah] was given at Sinai …as though the Torah was being commanded to him now, and he was hearing it from the mouth of the Almighty...7

Might this explain why of all Biblical commands, Hakhel stands alone in obligating (parents to bring their) children,8 including those too young to walk and too underdeveloped to understand, feel, or appreciate what was going on around them?

But the Hakhel experience was not just about the mind, it was about the soul; it triggered the subconscious, not just the conscious. As such, children, who possess as much soul as adults, were present. Somewhere inside their psyche they re-experienced Sinai.

This also explains why even the greatest sages were present when the king read the Torah, even though they were fluent in what would be read. For this was not a lecture or a refresher course, it was a trip.

Hakhel was the communal reenactment of Sinai; it made things real againFor a similar reason it wasn't the scholar most proficient in Torah who read from it, but the king, "for the king is an agent to make the words of G‑d heard."9

A class is best taught by an expert teacher. The awe of Sinai is best reenacted through the presence and word of a mighty king.

In sum, Hakhel was the communal reenactment of Sinai; it made things real again.

But while that worked in Jerusalem, in the Holy Temple, once in seven years, how would the other six years, outside Jerusalem, and the day when our nation would be bereft of a Temple, be charged with living Judaism?

For this reason G‑d gave us the mitzvah of writing a Torah scroll, to be written and stored inside one's home wherever and whenever they may live, and whose purpose it is to recreate the personal Divine encounter we each experienced at Sinai.

Maimonides could not have put it better when he said that when "a person writes a Torah with his own hand, it is as if he received it from Mount Sinai…"

Thus, Moses' punch line could not have been more appropriate and helpful at that historic moment. Both the mitzvot he conveyed and the ideas they represented were his last and best words of advice to a people facing great odds.

Do more than study Torah and perform mitzvot. Live them, ingest and digest them, experience them—and they will live on.10

What's in It for Me?
We're losing numbers, and fast.

Currently, 72% of (non-observant) American Jews intermarry.11

Most of those unfortunately never received a Jewish education. That's problem number one.

Some of them did, however, which is problem number two.

If we want to get through to the youth of today, we must shift our educational focus from Jewish knowledge to Jewish experience – Judaism as a lifestyle not (just) a topic for discussion or a paper.

How often have I heard someone who recently experienced Shabbat, a Jewish holiday, or passionate study saying, "I love it, it talks to me, I can't live without it!"

Perhaps that's because for the first time in their lives they engaged in living Judaism, not laboratory Judaism.

Or perhaps it was the first time that they felt that Judaism wasn't someone else's story, but was their own.

1.  See Pirkei d'Rabbi Elazar ch. 41; Midrash Rabbah, Exodus 28:6.
2.  Deuteronomy 31:2, 6.
3.  Ibid. 31:10-12. According to the biblical commentator Abarbenel, verse 31:30 describes an address given by Moses to the representatives of Israel, but the people weren't present.
4.  Ibid. 31:16, 19. Their conversations later on (e.g., 32:48 and further) were logistical and contained some final remarks, but didn't pertain to his leadership of the people.
5.  Laws of a Torah Scroll 7:1.
6.  For more on this mitzvah, and the reason why it isn't commonly practiced nowadays, see Writing a Personal Torah Scroll.
7.  Laws of Festival Offerings 3:6.
8.  See Talmud, Kiddushin 34b: "Children are obligated in the mitzvah of Hakhel."
9.  Laws of Festival Offerings 3:6.
10.  Based on the Rebbe's teachings, recorded in Likutei Sichot vol. 34.
See also
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« Reply #335 on: September 01, 2010, 08:12:44 AM »

Be within.

But stay above.
« Reply #336 on: September 01, 2010, 08:44:50 PM »

What is Tashlich?

By Dinka Kumer
Tashlich comes from the Hebrew word meaning "to cast," referring to the intent to cast away our sins via this meaningful and ancient Jewish custom common to both Ashkenazi and Sephardic communities.

Tashlich is usually performed on the first day of Rosh Hashanah. If the first day of Rosh Hashanah falls on Shabbat, Tashlich is done on the second day of Rosh Hashanah. It may be performed up until Hoshanah Rabba (the last day of Sukkot), as some communities are anyway accustomed, except on Shabbat.

Special verses are recited next to a body of water, such as a sea, river, stream, lake or pond, preferably one that has fish (though when no such body of water was available, some rabbis were known to do Tashlich next to a well, even one that dried up, or next to a bucket of water). Upon concluding the verses, the corners of one's clothes are shaken out; for males, this is usually done with the corners of the tallit katan (tzitzit garment).

Though Tashlich is not mentioned in the Talmud, its earliest reference appears to be in the book of the Prophet Nehemiah (8:1) which states, "All the Jews gathered as one in the street that is in front of the gate of water." This gathering is known to have taken place on Rosh Hashanah.

Many reasons are given for this custom:

One reason for saying Tashlich next to water goes back to Abraham's trip to sacrifice his son, Isaac, which took place on Rosh Hashanah. On the way to the designated location, the Satan tried several times to undermine Abraham's progress. One of the Satan's tricks was to have a river materialize and block Abraham's path. Undeterred, Abraham forged on straight into the river followed by his small entourage. Upon reaching the middle of the river when the water reached his neck, Abraham prayed to G‑d and the river dried up. We commemorate the self-sacrifice of Abraham by going to a river bank.
Another reason for saying Tashlich next to a river is because Rosh Hashanah is the day when we coronate G‑d as King of the Universe. Jewish kings are anointed next to rivers, and so it is appropriate that we crown G‑d as our King next to a river, as well.
Going to a river bank or sea shore is also awe inspiring as we contemplate G‑d's mercy in preventing the waters from flooding the dry land. The realization of G‑d's omnipotence inspires us to repent.
Though we do Tashlich beside an earthly river or sea, this watery entity actually represents its Heavenly counterpart. Jewish mysticism teaches that water corresponds to the attribute of kindness. On Rosh Hashanah, we beseech G‑d to treat us with kindness during the new year.
Water with fish is optimal since fish are not subject to the "evil eye" and are also known to have many offspring. Fish do not have eyelids, so their eyes are always open. This is likened to G‑d's constant supervision over us, and we pray that He mercifully care for us. Also, just as fish may be caught in a fisherman's net, so, too, we are caught in the net of judgment. This awareness helps awaken us to repent.
Just as fish may be caught in a fisherman's net, so, too, we are caught in the net of judgmentWhile there are different versions and verses of the Tashlich liturgy depending upon community, what are common to all are the verses from the book of Micah (7:18-19) "Who is a G‑d like You..." These words correspond to G‑d's thirteen attributes of mercy which we seek to arouse on Rosh Hashanah as we are being judged; the allusion to these thirteen attributes is known to always be beneficial.

The goal of Tashlich is to cast both our sins and the Heavenly prosecutor (a.k.a. the Satan) into the Heavenly sea. And when we shake our clothes after the Tashlich prayer, this is a tangible act to achieve the spiritual goal of shaking sins from our soul.

Needless to say, the physical motions near the water and fish of Tashlich are not what grant us atonement. But if we pay attention to the symbolism and apply the sincere desire to heal our relationship with G‑d as portrayed in the physical demonstrations of Tashlich, then it serves as a crucial part in the process of repenting and returning to G‑d in purity.

May we all shake ourselves from sin and be signed and sealed in the Book of Life for a good and sweet new year!
« Reply #337 on: September 02, 2010, 09:47:52 PM »

Anti-Social Daughter

Answered by Beryl Tritel

Dear Rachel,

My husband and I are active community members. We have always valued being the ones that help shape a community, rather than just being one of the followers. For example, I serve as the President of the Sisterhood, and my husband coaches our twins' softball team, as well as being the Treasurer of our synagogue. My husband and I have worked very hard to instill this philosophy of community activism into our children.

However, our eldest daughter, (fourteen years old), is just way too shy. She doesn't like to get involved with anything. When we need kids to help run events, she stays home, when we ask her to call some of her friends to help in a synagogue activity, she refuses. When she was offered the coveted position of Youth Group President she stormed off in a huff! She would prefer to stay home and read or paint.

This is very hard for us as we are beginning to wonder what is wrong with her! It's not like we are fighting, it's just she avoids us when she hears that we are getting involved in another project. What can I do to help her realize that this is an important part of life?

Frustrated Mother

Dear Frustrated Mother,

You must be extremely busy with your children and all of your activities! I am always impressed by people that value being active members of a community. It is far more admirable to be an agent of change, rather than complaining when things are not the way they should be.

For a parent that feels so strongly about a certain value, it can be very frustrating and disappointing when one of your children does not appreciate the same values as much as you would like.

It is very normal for parents to fantasize what they want their child to be like, and what interests they will develop. Often times, parents begin this process when their child is in utero, if not before! One of the biggest challenges parents face is realizing that our children may not become exactly the people that we want them to become. Our task is to help nurture their talents and strengths, this is the way that they will develop into the best person they can be.

The first thing that you need to do, is be more cognizant of the fact that your daughter is growing up, and she is at the age where she is able to make decisions for herself. And, as part of that maturation and decision making process, she needs to start exploring who she is, and figure out who she wants to be. Many, many times, children do not share the same interests and strengths that their parents have, nor are they interested in trying to develop them.

It is obvious that you and your husband are both social and energetic people. These are amazing qualities, and I am glad to see you channeling them in such a productive way. Remember, as you have these amazing qualities, there are other amazing qualities out there, and you have to open your minds to discover the ones your daughter possesses.

The first step to help you see her amazing qualities, is to reframe them in your mind. While you value being "out there," your daughter does not. There are many benefits to being more quiet, and watching things from the side. Instead of shy, try thinking of her as reserved. People that are like this also accomplish many things, and they have a lot to add to a community. Not everyone can be the facilitator, and that may not be her strength.

You wrote that she likes to paint, so think of her as a budding artist. As a painter, she is most likely also creative, another great quality that you can readily appreciate. Being a reader, she is also probably very intelligent, and she may have some insightful ideas if you are able to give her the space and the time to share them.

Also, a teenage girl of fourteen is at an age where kids tend to pull away from their parents. She needs this space as she grows up. For teenagers, this is a very difficult time. Their bodies are changing, their sleep cycle is off, and hormones are causing emotions to run amok. This is not the time to try and engage her in things that she is just not interested in. From her perspective, she feels as though you don't understand her. Even if you don't, you should act as though you do, and hold back from forcing her to be part of these activities.

Spend time getting to know her. Make a point of walking in when she painting, and watch her. Ask her about her creative process. Find out what book she is reading, read it too, then ask her out for breakfast so the two of you can talk about it. Stay away from pressuring her to do things that she doesn't want, and engage her on her level.

It sounds like your daughter is trying to get you to see her for who she is and what she needs as opposed to how you want her to be. This is specifically why we have the Torah directive in educating our children, Chanoch Lenaar al pi darko (Proverbs 22:6)meaning "educate your child according to his way" as each child will need a different approach focused on his or her specific abilities.

As you get to know her better, you will begin to see the beauty of what she has to offer, and how it really compliments your values beautifully. As an added bonus, as you get to know her on her terms, you may find that she is more willing, and even eager to participate in some of the things that you value. Enjoy your daughter, and all of your children. May you have much joy from all of them.

« Reply #338 on: September 03, 2010, 06:36:00 PM »

The Truth About “an Eye for an Eye and a Tooth for a Tooth” (Is it Meant to be Taken Literally Within Jewish Law?)

Ask your average Jew the name of Jesus's mother and you'll most likely get a "Mary." Ask him the name of Moses mother and you'll most likely get a blank stare. Despite the fact that we Jews are the people of the book, for many of us in the last couple generations, the books we know do not include our own.

What that amounts to is a very educated people which is very ignorant about its own heritage. And being that we're a small group, often living amongst many different types of people, it's not so uncommon for Jews to confuse their beliefs with those from other religions.

So, for example, despite the fact that both birth control and abortions are allowed at times within Jewish law, many Jews nowadays confuse Judaism with Catholicism and believe that Orthodox law prohibits both in all circumstances.

When it comes to "an eye for an eye," many Jews also misunderstand the Jewish view here and believe that this Torah verse is meant to be taken literally, much like it is within certain branches of Islam.

Which brings me to a case going on right now in Saudi Arabia where the Islamic court has sentenced a man to paralysis. The defendant was convicted of assaulting and paralyzing another man during a fight, and the court is searching for a sugreon who will agree to cut the defandant's spinal cord in retribution for his crime.

Such a scenario never has, nor ever would take place within the Jewish court system because according to the Talmud, if someone damages or destroys another person's eye, tooth, or any other bodily part, the punishment is not corporeal but rather monetary.

So if the Talmud rules that the punishment only involves money, why would the Torah use the language of one body part being equivalent for another? Because the Torah is trying to teach us that on some level an eye should be for an eye.

If a human being's eye is only worth dollars and cents, a person with a lot of dollars and cents could just go around gouging out eyes one moment and handing out money the next.

In practice we only sentence with a monetary retribution because a bodily punishment would be too barbaric according to Jewish thought. However, the deeper lesson here is that a monetary retribution is only sufficient if the perpetrator internalizes the severity of his crime - something that no one should be ignorant about.

« Reply #339 on: September 03, 2010, 06:36:49 PM »

The Master Key
By Rabbi S.Y. Zevin

One year, Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov said to Rabbi Ze'ev Kitzes, one of his senior disciples: "You will blow the shofar for us this Rosh Hashanah. I want you to study all the kavanot (kabbalistic meditations) that pertain to the shofar, so that you should meditate upon them when you do the blowing."

Rabbi Ze'ev applied himself to the task with joy and trepidation: joy over the great privilege that had been accorded him and trepidation over the immensity of the responsibility. He studied the Kabbalistic writings that discuss the multifaceted significance of the shofar and what its sounds achieve on the various levels of reality and in the various chambers of the soul. He also prepared a sheet of paper on which he noted the main points of each kavanah, so that he could refer to them when he blew the shofar.

Finally, the great moment arrived. It was the morning of Rosh Hashanah, and Rabbi Ze'ev stood on the reading platform in the center of the Baal Shem Tov's synagogue amidst the Torah scrolls, surrounded by a sea of tallit-draped bodies. At his table in the southeast corner of the room stood his master, the Baal Shem Tov, his face aflame. An awed silence filled the room in anticipation of the climax of the day -- the piercing blasts and sobs of the shofar.

Rabbi Ze'ev reached into his pocket and his heart froze: the paper had disappeared! He distinctly remembered placing it there that morning, but now it was gone. Furiously, he searched his memory for what he had learned, but his distress over the lost notes seemed to have incapacitated his brain: his mind was a total blank. Tears of frustration filled his eyes. He had disappointed his master, who had entrusted him with this most sacred task. Now he must blow the shofar like a simple horn, without any kavanot. With a despairing heart, Rabbi Ze'ev blew the litany of sounds required by law and, avoiding his master's eye, resumed his place.

At the conclusion of the day's prayers, the Baal Shem Tov made his way to the corner where Rabbi Ze'ev sat sobbing under his tallit. "Gut Yom Tov, Reb Ze'ev!" he called, "That was a most extraordinary shofar-blowing we heard today!"

"But Rebbe ... I ..."

"In the king's palace," said the Baal Shem Tovl, "there are many gates and doors, leading to many halls and chambers. The palace-keepers have great rings holding many keys, each of which opens a different door. But there is one key that fits all the locks, a master key that opens all the doors.

"The kavanot are keys, each unlocking another door in our souls, each accessing another chamber in the supernal worlds. But there is one key that unlocks all doors, that opens up for us the innermost chambers of the divine palace. That master key is a broken heart."
« Reply #340 on: September 05, 2010, 07:54:42 PM »


Finding Ourselves Through Others
The Meaning of Community

By Sara Esther Crispe

There is a story of a teenage boy who was suffering from typical teenage angst and went to the Rebbe for advice. He was having a difficult time and kept slipping back into situations that he knew were not right for him. He asked the Rebbe: How come G‑d didn't just create us as angels? If He had, we would be perfect and we wouldn't make such mistakes and create such problems.

G-d wants us to be unique individuals The Rebbe explained to him that G‑d doesn't want us to be perfect, He wants us to be unique individuals who grow and learn from our experiences and mistakes. He asked the boy if he understood the difference between a photograph and a portrait.

When you want to capture a perfect replica of something you see, you take a picture. The picture can be beautiful and is exact to what you witnessed with your eye. Yet the typical photograph costs pennies to reproduce. A portrait on the other hand is something that is always filled with inaccuracies. It can never be a perfect reproduction of something like a photograph can. If anything, the better the portrait, the more creative license that went into it to bring out the meaning and color and beauty that does not always exist in the surface look.

Unlike a photograph, the portrait can sell for millions. People pay for the portrait because it is a reflection not only of the subject, but of the artist as well. That person's creativity is part and parcel with the portrait. The Rebbe explained that the angels are G‑d's photographs. We, however, are G‑d's portraits.

The Torah portion that we read on the Shabbat before Rosh Hashanah, Nitzavim, begins: Atem Nitzavim Hayom Kulchem Lifnei Hashem Aleichem… "You are all standing this day before the L‑rd, your G‑d, the leaders of your tribes, your elders and your officers-- every person of Israel"

The idea is that before we head into Rosh Hashanah, we gather together as a group, as a community. When we talk about a community, the word used in the written Torah for this is kehilla. But the term used in the Oral Torah is tzibur (spelled Tzadik, Beit, Vav, Reish).

We head into Rosh Hashanah as a community Interestingly enough, the meaning of tzibur, when used in the Written Torah, (in Genesis 41:49) (Vayitzbor Yosef) refers to piling and amassing diverse objects, assembling together very different things.

There is a beautiful quote from Elias Canetti, a Jewish writer who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1981, who says: "Jews are different from other people, but, in reality, they are most different from each other." (Crowds and Power)

So this idea of a community is the throwing together, the assembling, of a lot of different and diverse parts.

The 17th century Kabbalist, Nathan Nata Shapiro, from Krakow, explains in his work, the Megaleh Amukos, that the word for community should be understood as an acronym:

Tzadik: Tzaddikim: Righteous

Beit: Beinoni: Intermediary

Vov: AND

Reish: Rasha: Not so Righteous

What is interesting here is that all of these categories exist together, and they are bound by the letter vov. The vov means "hook" and hooks together, binds together, what comes before it with what comes after it. So it is not distinguishing between the righteous, the intermediary, and then, down there, the rasha, the wicked one. But rather, it shows that they all must co-exist to be considered a tzibur, a community.

It is easy to want to forget those that we don't feel are worthy of our respect, that we don't feel deserve to be included. Yet this is our reminder that everyone is part of our community and no one can be left out or forgotten about.

No one can be left outThe numerical equivalent of the word tzibur, community, is equal to that for the word rachamim = 298. Rachamim is the term for empathy and this shows us that empathy is required in order to connect to others. What does it mean to have empathy, as opposed to sympathy? Empathy is the ability to truly relate to and understand the other person as if what they are experiencing is also happening to you. It is the ability to connect on an internal level, not just external.

This is why the root of rachamim is rechem, a womb. Only when we feel that the other is truly a part of ourselves do we have compassion and empathy. And when we feel that the other is a part of ourselves, then we are able to deal with the differences--and the things that need help. If you are told that the baby within your womb has a problem, it is not the baby's problem, it is your problem and you love your baby and will do whatever you need to do to solve that problem.

So to have a community, there needs to be a feeling of interinclusion, and to truly feel like we are one united group, we need to have empathy and feel that we are all a part of one another.

But this is not as simple as deciding that I just need to work on connecting to my neighbor who is really obnoxious. Or that I need to reach out to that woman who is always so rude to me. It is far from that easy.

Nor can we look at the levels of the community in the acronym, that of the righteous, the intermediary and the not-so-righteous, and start deciding where we or others belong. Perhaps I think that I am kind of in-between, vacillating between being righteous and not being so great, and you are really pretty perfect and that guy over there is just not so great. So the three of us should get together and go golfing and we will have formed a nice little rectified community.

It goes much deeper. It is not that you are righteous, you are the intermediary and I am the wicked one. But rather, you are all three, he is all three and I am all three.

We are all righteous, intermediate and wicked, all in different ways and at different times, and what forms a community is when all of our different ways join together, with empathy for the other, and unify.

We are all righteous, intermediate, and wickedWhen we can recognize this about ourselves and about others, then we can start to understand how we are all here to teach one another and it is only through learning from others and teaching others that we can start to develop and grow.

This is why we read this statement, of how we all stand together before our Creator, right before Rosh Hashanah. And He knows we are not angels, because He didn't create us to be perfect. But He did create us with the ability to connect with others and become better people. For, after all, a community is comprised of a diverse group of individuals, each with his or her own unique talents and abilities, and each an essential part of the whole.

May we be blessed to enter this New Year with the ability to reveal our potential and help others reveal their's. May it be sweet, healthy and productive!
« Reply #341 on: September 06, 2010, 10:02:05 PM »

Inner Stream
The Rainmaker

By Lazer Gurkow

When on vacation I like to rise early and enjoy the crisp ambiance of an early summer morning. Some mornings I awake to the patter of rainfall, as a soft drizzle sprinkles the ground and cools the air. Other mornings I awake to glorious and bright sunshine, the grass covered by a shimmering dew that glistens like a million stars.

Both mornings are wet, one with rain and the other with dew, yet they evoke very different responses. One is soft and soothing; the other is cheery and invigorating. The difference is usually attributed to the sunlight or lack thereof, but according to the Chassidic masters the difference is also reflected in the moisture itself, in the rain and the dew.

Before his passing, Moses gave his final testament. In introduction, he composed a song of praise, a beautiful composition of lilting poetry. "May the heavens listen as I speak / And may the earth hearken to my words / May my teaching flow like rain / And may my words drip like dew."1

Noting two metaphors that Moses employed, rain and dew, the Midrash offers the following homily: "Israel requested that their inspiration flow like rain, to which G-d replied, 'No, not like rain. Better that it should drip like dew.'" Israel wanted rain and G-d wanted dew. What is the difference? Both consist of condensed vapor, both are moist and both can be seen on the ground.

The difference is in the origin. Rain is formed when moisture from below evaporates and rises into the atmosphere where it condenses, forms clouds and precipitates as rain. Dew does not require rising vapors; rather, dew is formed here on earth, when the temperature drops and the warmer vapors come in contact with cooler surfaces.

The cycle of rain begins with an ascent from below, while the cycle of dew requires no ascent.

To understand the importance of this distinction and its relevance to the dichotomy between Moses' request and the divine response, we must first understand its spiritual parallel.

Oscillating Souls

Just as evaporated waters rise from the earth's surface below to the skies above, so do souls. Souls oscillate between the lower spiritual planes, which are further from G-d, and the higher spiritual planes, which are closer to G-d.

Like the waters upon the surface of earth, we are often content with life here below where we are spiritually distant from G-d. Tossed about upon waves of whim, we often focus on the body rather than the soul, on matter rather than form, on the physical rather than the spiritual. But like the surface waters, our contentment cannot last for ever; eventually we too feel the need to ascend.

It is then that our minds turn to G-d and we remember our spiritual void. We realize that we live in a morally bankrupt society where conceit and arrogance, selfishness and rage, permissiveness and corruption are common. We pine for a more meaningful existence.

With this realization, our material lifestyle loses its allure. Our enthusiasm for it evaporates and, like evaporated moisture over the oceans, we rise to a higher, more spiritual plane. From this vantage point we look back with dismay and form clouds of remorse in the higher atmosphere.

These clouds obstruct the light and replace our cheer with shame. But these clouds must not be permitted to linger. Beads of inspiration must soon form within our heart that will precipitate a torrential outpouring of love for G-d and inspire us to study the Torah and observe its mitzvot.

Spontaneous Desires, Conscious Response

Understanding the fickle nature of man, Moses knew that few can maintain a constant level of devotion. Moses therefore asked that G-d make our inspiration flow like rain.

Like rain drops that form from evaporated waters below, so did Moses ask G-d to accept our penitence from the lower plane, which would in turn raise us to a higher plane and precipitate within us an outpouring of love for G-d.

G-d replied that inspiration would instead drip like dew.

Dew forms on the surface below and does not require its vapors to rise. G-d was saying that He would work to inspire our souls "down below"--independently of the choices we make. When G-d sees that we stray from the path of Torah, He does not wait for our vapors to rise, He does not wait for us to repent. He proactively plants a bead of inspiration within our soul and stimulates within us the desire for a mitzvah.

There are times that we inexplicably feel a desire to get closer to G-d. We suddenly experience a need to attend a service at a synagogue or to join a Torah class, to light Shabbat candles or to donate to charity. These desires appear spontaneously; they are not stimulated by anything we see or hear. They are dew-like inspirations that are stimulated by G-d, not by our ascent from below.

G-d stimulates the desire but leaves the implementation to us. We have two choices: we can either confine ourselves to a single inspiration, or we can utilize this inspiration to stimulate further inspiration for additional mitzvot.

In other words, we can either make rain or wait for the next dew.

Let's choose to make rain.2
« Reply #342 on: September 08, 2010, 01:22:18 PM »

Chassidic Masters
Chana's Prayer

By Tzvi Freeman

Some people see the human being as a lonely creature in an indifferent and even hostile universe. They need to look deeper, for the two are essentially one: The soul of man is G-dly and the soul of the universe is G-d. Only in their outward expression does a conflict appear -- or even that which may resemble indifference. But within is a love affair, an eternal, inseparable embrace. It is a drama King Solomon entitled "The Song of Songs," for it is what lies at the core of every song, every human expression and all the cosmos: The longing to reunite, to be one, to create a harmony in the outer world that matches the perfect union that lies beneath.

This, too, is the work of prayer: We have our concerns. G-d seems so distant from them. There is a vast chasm between our world and His. But then He says, "Speak to me about what bothers you. Tell me with all your heart what you desire and I will listen. For what is important to you is important to me. Speak to me. I wish to dwell within your world."

The chasm merges and seals. Outer and inner, higher and lower, spiritual and physical, holy and mundane, heaven and earth kiss and become one.

There is a condition, however, to this healing of lovers' hearts: That first we must find the inner sanctity that lies behind our own desires and strife. For there is nothing of this world that does not contain a Divine spark, no movement of the soul without G-dly purpose.

Only once we have made this peace within ourselves, between our inner souls and our outer desires, between the sanctuary of our hearts and the words of our lips, only then can we create this cosmic peace between the Essence of All Being and our busy, material world.

This is why prayer is called throughout the Psalms "an outpouring of the soul." That which lies within pours outward, with no dam to obstruct it, no mud to taint it, nothing to change it along the way. The entire world may be ripping apart at the seams, but the beseecher's heart and mouth are at peace as one. And then that peace spreads outward into all things.

There are many things we learn from the prayer of Chana (recounted in Samuel I, Chapter 1 and read as the Haftorah for the 1st day of Rosh Hashanah). We learn that our lips must move in prayer, that we must be able to hear our own prayer but no one else should. We learn that prayer is to be said standing. But most important, we learn how to pour out our soul.

Eli thought Chana was drunk with wine. He was the High Priest, the holiest of the Jewish nation. The Divine Spirit rested upon him and he was able to see within the hearts of men and women. Yet, he saw Chana as a drunkard -- drunk with a worldly desire, a desire for a child so she would no longer suffer the shame and ridicule afforded her by Penina.

But Chana answered, "No, it is not wine but my soul that pours out to G-d. For my desire for a child has purpose and meaning beyond the pursuits and follies of man. My child, the precious jewel of my heart's desire, I have already given him to G-d."

So it is with our prayers: We pray for material things, but it is not the material, but the spiritual within them that our soul desires.

The mission of every human being is to bring the many things of this chaotic world into harmony with their inner purpose and the oneness that underlies them. To do this, each of us must have those things related to our mission: our family, our health, our homes, our income. We pray for these things from the innermost of our hearts; our soul pours out for them -- because our soul knows that without them she cannot fulfill her mission in this world.

And G-d listens. Because He wishes to dwell within our mundane world.
« Reply #343 on: September 08, 2010, 01:25:47 PM »

I wish everyone a Sweet Happy Meaningful New Year! Shana Tova

Preparing for Rosh Hashana
by Rabbi Yaakov Salomon

The secret to an inspiring new year.

I have always felt Rosh Hashana to be somewhat confusing. Solemn, yet celebratory. Stirring, yet scary. Inspiring, but rather intimidating.

But there is one facet of this holy day that is as clear as the clarion call of the shofar itself - it is a day of opportunity for closeness to God. Some find it through introspection, others through meditation. For some, prayer is the medium of choice, while for others it is the shofar blasts that pierce through the curtains of the mundane. But for many of us, the closeness never really comes and the disappointment is palpable.

The key to getting the most out of any experience is preparation before the event. You cannot expect to leap from the shower to the shul and instantly feel holy. It just doesn’t work that way.

    You can't expect to leap from the shower to the shul and instantly feel holy.

With that in mind, this year I decided to do something practical to get “in the mood.” Mere reflection and contemplation were just not cutting it.

Being a native of the asphalt jungle called “Manhattan,” I always felt that I was perhaps too easily impressed by anything that grew and was any shade of green. Show me an impressive patch of artificial turf and you just might catch me extolling some kind of sacred blessing. I needed to raise the bar.

So I made plans to visit the picturesque Pocono Mountains in Eastern Pennsylvania. I had been there before and always appreciated the incredible scenery and Heavenly wonders. Perhaps that would do the trick. Maybe by witnessing God's wonders of nature, that special closeness would be within reach.

It was thankfully a glorious Tuesday when my wife and I embarked on our VTBI (Voyage to be Inspired), otherwise known as Bushkill Falls. The Chamber of Commerce of this fine State has seen it fit to describe this attraction as The Niagara of Pennsylvania. Hmm…

We parked, searched for the camera that my wife (not me... never me) forgot, purchased two bottles of water for about $150, and prepared to get “connected.”

Our first task was choosing which trail to traverse. They ranged from Blue (the shortest walk), to Red (the longest). We chose yellow and began. This not being a travelogue, I'll spare you the unnecessary details. Bushkill actually contains eight different “falls.” Most of them are small, so we concentrated on the main one. It is actually quite pretty. You see the falls from a distance early on the trail, and you walk down a series of winding stairs and bridges, getting closer and closer to the falls.

Temperature in the area of the gorge is quite cool and the whooshing sound of the rushing water adds a soothing element to the serene ambiance.

“Isn't this…er… nice?” I said to Temmy.

“I guess,” she said.

When we reached the bottom and were at the closest possible distance to the falling water, I thought I detected a faint spray in the air. Maid of the Mist it wasn’t.

“Well...” I commented.

There was no reply.

We lingered there about as long as we could and began our ascent toward the eventual exit. I didn't need to be genius to figure out what Temmy was thinking, because I was thinking the same thing. After all, this was a VTBI.

“This is a very nice place, but THE NIAGARA OF PENNSYLVANIA??”

I wasn't sure if the ad exec who created that line should be fired or promoted, but I sure did want to meet him. Scenic? Yes. Calming? I guess. But inspiring? Not exactly.

We climbed our way back toward the top of the falls and spoke about various topics. Needless to say, the words Rosh Hashana were not mentioned.

The trail ends at the top of the Falls. I had already written off the experience as something between disappointing and okay. The exit sign with the customary arrow beckoned to my left. But my eye caught something. It was small. It was subtle. But it was profound.

We were standing above the Falls. We were able to see where the water originated from. The water was just moving slowly through the woodland. It was, I guess, what you call a creek. The stones caused the water to disperse into scores of different channels, all moving ever so slowly towards the edge of the cliff. Without purpose; without direction. But then, the channels all kind of narrowed at that edge. And when the waters hit the edge they simultaneously came cascading over the natural rock formations in a rushing torrent.

    You want to create a waterfall, but you have to start small.

We stood there… fixated. Seeing just the Falls, we weren’t particularly impressed. After all, we were expecting a Niagara-like experience. But watching the source and seeing how this Falls came to be was quite another story.

We sat down on a bench and peered out at our little creek. We said nothing. It was so simple and peaceful and unassuming. And then we spoke about Rosh Hashana… finally.

People always talk about making big changes – New Year resolutions.

“I want to lose 50 pounds.”

“I want to finish the entire Talmud.”

“I’m going to spend 90 minutes of quality time with my daughter every night.”

It doesn’t work. It never does. And if it does, it peters out. You have no choice. You must start small. You want to create a waterfall…maybe a Niagara, or even a Bushkill. It doesn’t just happen.

You need a creek and a few stones. The water has to crawl and meander and slowly reach its destination. And then…when the time is right…it can crash and splash and whoosh and become something.

We almost missed it, but we had our Voyage to be Inspired.

And I hope you have too.

Take it slow and have a wonderful, inspiring New Year.

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« Reply #344 on: September 12, 2010, 06:09:59 PM »

Forgiveness Begins at Home

By Levi Avtzon

Back in elementary school, I thought that forgiveness was a game. Every year we would review the laws of the holidays, and when it came to the laws of Yom Kippur, the teacher would tell us that we must ask forgiveness of our friends before we ask G‑d to forgive us.

So I would dutifully walk over to Shimmy and say, "Do you forgive me?" And he would smile and say, "Sure I forgive you! Do you forgive me?" I would hastily answer "Sure!" and run over to David and do the spiel all over again. You forgive; I forgive. As meaningless as a handshake between diplomats.

As I grew older, my emotional intelligence grew, my self-awareness developed, and I came to realize that forgiveness is not child's play, but serious business, a real ego-dynamite, and that "Sorry" is not (just) a board game.

I learned that sometimes it takes more courage to ask for forgiveness than to be the one to grant it.

And I also learned that as hard as forgiveness can be between acquaintances, it's still child's play compared to the guts and humility it takes to drive the two-way street (asking for and granting forgiveness) between ourselves and those closest to us: our parents, our siblings, our spouse.

It hurts to walk over to the person whom you love so much, and inevitably hurt, and ask for forgivenessIt hurts to walk over to the person whom you love so much, and inevitably hurt, and ask for forgiveness. Many will say that asking forgiveness from a loved one ranks as the most awkward encounter in a person's life.

But it is the most important act of forgiveness we can ever do. It is the most challenging, and as a consequence, the most rewarding. Forgiving those you love makes your life happier and healthier, and initiates tremendous self-growth. Forgiveness benefits the forgiver as much as it benefits the forgiven. It brings closure.

There is nothing more healing in a relationship than the balm of forgiveness. "I am sorry, Mom and Dad!" "I accept your apology, honey, and I want you to know that I love you regardless. I will always love you and accept you."

In case we hurt our loved ones in any way throughout the past year, now is the time to bring the relationship full circle. Not as diplomats, but with self-awareness, honesty, and with our whole heart.

In summary: Heroes are those who treat the people in their homes with at least the same courtesy as the nameless gas station owner on a lonely highway.
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« Reply #345 on: September 13, 2010, 10:11:03 AM »

Posted in the context of the important issues of the day facing our society, including forced redistribution and the idea of raising taxes punitively only on the rich:

THE 10th COMMANDMENT  (Exodus 20:17)

Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbor's.


A very strong argument (Commandment) in support of private property rights.  I am very interested in arguments of how that could be interpreted otherwise.
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« Reply #346 on: September 14, 2010, 11:30:54 AM »

prentice crawford
« Reply #347 on: September 14, 2010, 06:48:06 PM »

 And now we know where the ancient roots of the saying "Get off my ass!" comes from. cheesy

THE 10th COMMANDMENT  (Exodus 20:17)

Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbor's.

« Last Edit: September 14, 2010, 06:53:31 PM by prentice crawford » Logged
« Reply #348 on: September 14, 2010, 07:52:44 PM »

Talking to the ladies
Nearly every year during the Rosh Hashanah holiday I see or hear something that becomes the memorable thing that stays with me for the rest of the year.

This year it happened as I was passing my friend Shmuel's seat on my way out of services. As I passed, I noticed that, rather than using one of the many popular Israeli machzorim (holiday prayer books), or a prayerbook from one of the many modern American Jewish publishing houses, he had a tattered copy of the old Birnbaum machzor sitting in front of him.

It caught my eye because during my early years of becoming observant, the Birnbaum weekday, Shabbat and holiday prayer books were all I had known. I had been given a well used set by the navy chaplain in my home port of Pearl Harbor, and they had sailed with me around the Pacific and Indian oceans for many years before going into semi-retirement amid my growing collection of Jewish books.

There was absolutely nothing wrong with the venerable Birnbaum prayer books. They were workmanlike, clear, and contained everything one needed to get from beginning to end of any service of the year.

But they lacked the faux leather binding and preachy philosophy of the Artscroll books that would come along later, and at some point, orthodox congregations became too sophisticated for the old cloth-covered stand-by.

When I asked Shmuel why he was still using the Birnbaum when there were so many other choices out there, he just smiled and began flipping through the threadbare volume in front of him. Every few pages he stopped and showed me a page with a faint lipstick smudge near the top.

I didn't understand what he was trying to show me and watched as he thumbed past several more pages similarly marked with crimson smudges.

After a few moments of enjoying the obvious puzzlement on my face, he explained that this was a machzor from the synagogue in New Jersey where he had grown up. He told me that as a kid in that shul, he had watched the old ladies - many of them survivors of Hitler's Europe - praying with their own brand of devotion... and occasionally giving the pages a kiss before setting them down in their ample laps.

He explained that he still used the tattered old Birnbaum machzor instead of one of the many modern choices available in the Jewish bookstores, because it allowed him to spend a few moments of each Rosh Hashanah talking with the long-departed old ladies of his childhood memories.

How could he not gain strength from this machzor, he asked me, when any page turn might reveal some smudged token of old-world reverence for this threadbare volume and the words it contained?

Of all the things I saw and heard this year during Rosh Hashanah, this is the one that will stay with me this year.
« Reply #349 on: September 17, 2010, 04:59:41 PM »

The Story of Your Life
By Shais Taub

The Book of Jonah, read in its entirety during the Yom Kippur afternoon services, is the story of your life. This is what the Kabbalah says.1

I know what you're thinking. "This has got to be a metaphor because I have never boarded a sea-faring vessel for Tarshish to escape prophecy, gotten caught in a storm, had the crew throw me overboard and been swallowed by a fish."

You're right. Those things haven't happened to you. And they probably won't happen to very many of us. But, still, the Zohar says that this is the real story of your life.

You are Jonah. The real you, for "Jonah" -- in kabalistic parlance -- is another name for the soul. Hence, the story of Jonah is the story of a soul's journey here on earth. Thus, on Yom Kippur, as we examine our lives and consider our purpose in this world, we remember the historical Jonah whose real life narrative symbolizes our spiritual odyssey.

Your story begins at birth. A soul from on high is plunged into an earthly body. Before its descent, the soul lived an angel-like existence, basking in a glow of pirituality, intimately bound to its Creator. But the soul must leave its home. It is confined to a material vessel, its senses overwhelmed by the brash stimuli of this world. "Jonah" -- the soul -- "boards the ship" -- the body. And where does this ship take its passenger? "Away from the presence of G-d." Indeed, the very name of Jonah -- closely related to the Hebrew word meaning "aggrieved" -- alludes to the unique frustration of the soul confined to the body.

The soul, Jonah, the hapless passenger, has traveled far away from G-d. Yet, where can one go and be far from the One? Where is it that the Omnipresent cannot be found? Has the soul -- upon entering this coarse, physical realm -- really left G-d behind? Just as G-d was with Jonah at the moment of his first prophecy in the Holy Land, so too was G-d with Jonah as he languished on the high seas.

And yet, we, like Jonah, delude ourselves into thinking that our journey to this earth has somehow taken us "out of range" from our relationship with G-d. Like Jonah, we take this perceived distance as an indication that we have somehow been dismissed from our mission. The soul does not escape G-d by coming down to this earth. To the contrary, it is an agent of G-d, a representative of G-d's will charged with imbuing sanctity into the mundane and perfecting an imperfect world.

But sooner or later, the false lure of material satisfaction comes to its inevitable conclusion and the physical life to which the soul had resigned itself grows unruly and fierce. "The Almighty rouses a furious tempest." Not to punish, heaven forbid, but to shake the soul from its complacency, for "Jonah had gone down to the inner part of the ship... and slept." The soul is numb.

"So the captain came and said to him, 'What do you mean, you sleeper? Arise, call upon your god!'" A voice of conscience stirs from within. "What is your occupation?" What have you done with your life? Why are you here? Why were you sent?

The moment of truth. The soul must acquiesce. G-d is here too, I am none other than His very messenger. My life has a purpose. "I am a Hebrew and I revere the G-d of Israel!"

1.   Zohar II, 199a.
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