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« Reply #400 on: December 20, 2010, 10:06:15 PM »

My Mother’s Candle for Me

By Abraham J. Twerski

Paiting by Zalman Kleinman
One Friday evening the conversation at the table turned to the Shabbat candles, whose kindling is in itself a beautiful way of ushering in the sacred day of rest. Lighting a candle is rich in symbolism.

There are acts which we do totally for ourselves, and others which may be completely altruistic. Generating light, however, defies such limitations. I may light the candle for myself, but I cannot contain the light, because of necessity it illuminates the room for others. If I create light for the benefit of another, I too can see better.

What better way to begin the Shabbat, the final step in creation of the universe and its ultimate goal, than by lighting the candles, an act which symbolically binds the inhabitants of the world together. None of us can be an island; what I do affects you, and what you do must have bearing upon me. If we could only realize this, we would well understand why the candle lighting is referred to by our sages as an essential for peace in the household. Dissension can occur only when individuals believe they are separate and distinct and can each go their own particular way, untouched by one another.

Our Shabbat guest asked why there were six candles burning on our table rather than the usual two.

One of the lights Mother kindled each Friday night was for me. I told him it was traditional in many families to begin lighting two candles after marriage, and to add an additional candle for each child. One of the lights Mother kindled each Friday night was for me. I recall how much this had meant to me as a child, when I used to watch the flames flicker and realize that the house, nay, the world, was a brighter place because of my existence.

The full impact of this message did not occur until many years later, when it became evident to me in my psychiatric practice that countless people have emotional problems and varying psychological symptoms because of deep-seated feelings of inadequacy.

There are numerous reasons why people have unwarranted feelings of inferiority, and this is not the place to elaborate on these. Suffice it to say that anything that can be done to counteract these influences contributes to a person's sense of adequacy and wholesomeness, and allows a more satisfactory adjustment to life.

Non-verbal communications are frequently more impressive than verbal. The weekly message to a child, delivered at the initiation of Shabbat, that his being has brought additional brightness into the home can be a powerful ingredient in one's personality development.
« Reply #401 on: December 21, 2010, 09:40:49 PM »

A Transformed Identity
Parshat Shemot

By Chana Kroll

Determining right from wrong is something that we are constantly challenged with throughout our lives. Yet nothing is harder to face and acknowledge than when the "wrong" is happening in our own homes and the "right" is something that we were raised to believe is completely foreign, and if anything, evil.

She is a prime example of someone who faced this challenge
In the Torah portion, Shemot, we are introduced to a woman known as Bat Pharaoh, simply, the daughter of Pharaoh. She is a prime example of someone who faced this challenge and taught us that we all have the strength to overcome it. And once she does, she is then referred to by her true name, Batya.

She gets up while it is still night, sustaining her household and giving a portion to her maidens. – A Woman of Valor, Proverbs 31:15.

According to one interpretation of our Sages, each verse of A Woman of Valor, composed by King Solomon, refers to a uniquely outstanding Biblical or historic woman. Two of these women, Batya and Rachav, were women who converted to Judaism as adults. Both came from cultures - indeed, from families - steeped in idolatry and licentiousness, yet each managed to see past the lives they were born into, recognize holiness and embrace it.

What makes Batya's story all the more compelling is that, as her corresponding verse states, "She gets up while it is still night." Night is always a symbol for exile, for during the night we are surrounded by darkness, unable to see what is real, even if it is right in front of us. In the dark, everything loses its proper form, its proper place. It is easy to get lost and confused. And yet, when we know that following the night will come the day, that right after the dark there will be light, we are not only not scared of it, but able to face it and work through it, confident that in time the truth will show itself.

Growing up as the daughter of Pharaoh, she saw firsthand her father's immense cruelty and abuse of power, while hearing every decree uttered against the Jewish people. When Pharaoh contracted a severe type of leprosy, his "healers" told him that the only cure would be to bathe in the blood of Jewish infants every day, and without hesitation he ordered hundreds of babies to be killed. In order to save the lives of the babies, G-d healed his disease, yet Pharaoh soon issued another decree, this time that all male Jewish infants be killed and all females kidnapped and raised in Egyptian idolatry.

Perhaps there were others in the world who heard what was happening and felt pity for the Jewish people. If there were, however, they didn't act on their feelings and they are never mentioned. Regarding Batya, not only were genuine feelings of compassion aroused, feelings she would soon act on, but something else was awakened. When she looked at the environment she was growing up in and contrasted it with the nobility of the Jewish people even in the darkest part of Egyptian exile, there was no doubt in her mind who possessed true royalty or where G-d could be found. She chose to join the very people her father had set out to destroy.

She chose to join the very people her father had set out to destroy
The Talmud relates that Batya set out one morning to immerse herself in the Nile in order to convert to Judaism. She heard the distinctive cry of an infant, and finding a small ark floating in the water, she stretched out her arm to reach it.

Seeing a baby boy inside, she immediately recognized that he was a Jewish baby, set adrift in an effort to escape her father's murderous decree. Already, her Jewish soul had begun to guide her although her conversion was not yet complete, and she dared to not only save the baby, but take him into Pharaoh's own palace to raise him, despite the fact that his Jewish identity would be obvious.

She named him Moses which means, "For I drew him from the water."

Though Moses had seven names, it is by the name that he received from Batya that he is remembered. More significantly, it is only by this name that G-d Himself addresses Moses. So extraordinary was Batya's act of kindness that she was willing to risk death at the hands of Pharaoh in order to save the child. It was specifically this action that became the basis for the name of the greatest prophet who has ever lived.

As one contemporary Chassidic Rebbe pointed out, it is significant that the name given to Moses by Batya, is a word based on the act of saving his life, and not on the feelings of mercy that Batya experienced. This detail conveys one of the Torah's central lessons quite beautifully: we can claim to feel a variety of things, but it is our actions in this world that have lasting impact.

A person's Hebrew name is intimately connected with the person's soul, both its source and its mission in this world. Not only is Moses's name homage to the woman who raised him, but also reflects the way he led his life. When G-d threatened to destroy the Jewish people after the sin of the Golden Calf, Moses demanded "Erase me from Your Book." In fact all his actions were based on self-sacrifice for his fellow Jews—a trait that he acquired from Batya's daring rescue of him as an infant.

All his actions were based on self-sacrifice for his fellow Jews
Moses’ parents were righteous leaders of their generation. They risked their lives countless times on behalf of their brethren. Yet our Sages credit a great deal of what Moses became to Batya, the daughter of Pharaoh.

When Moses was born, the room became filled with light. This is the unique spiritual power he received as the son as of Yocheved and Amram. Yet it was Batya who nurtured that light and helped him to internalize it and manifest it to the degree that he reached an even higher level, a level where his face radiated G-dly light. The colleagues of Mar Ukva (a Sage of the Talmud) referred to him as "He whose countenance shines like the son of Batya." In other words, they accredited this achievement of Moses to Batya's influence.

Moses is known for his extreme humility and his intense compassion - not only for people but even for the sheep entrusted to his care. As great as were the spiritual gifts he was born with, it was only through disciplined efforts that he was able to transform himself into a man of such refinement. It was Batya's own act of incredible self-transformation that the Sages say influenced Moses, inspiring in him the conviction that significant change is possible.

Without a doubt, the positive influence was mutual. Jewish mysticism speaks of the symbiotic relationship between converts (primarily during the conversion process) and Balei Teshuvah (a reference to anyone in a process of spiritual growth, in its broadest sense). Both are aiming to transform themselves, yet each is approaching this challenge from a different direction and drawing on his or her own unique resources. At every moment, this relationship is tugging at all of us on a subconscious level, and each of us helps the other towards achieving their goal. The advantage of the Balei Teshuvah is in their inheritance, a set of spiritual riches they carry inside but may not always be aware of. The advantage of converts is in their vision of, and almost explosive desire to be a part of, the Jewish people.

She nurtured and raised the child who would eventually lead us out of Egypt
In Batya, we can perhaps see what this relationship looks like when brought into consciousness. She arose while it was still night, when the Jews had no allies in the world other than a G-d who had not yet redeemed them. She recognized the beauty and power of Jews and of Judaism, and she risked her own life to shield what she knew to be sacred. She nurtured and raised the child who would eventually lead us out of Egypt, while no doubt learning and growing as a result of what she saw in her interactions with Moses and, in isolated instances, his family.

It was Batya’s ability to act on the truth that she recognized which elevated her from being Bat Pharaoh, the daughter of Pharaoh, to being truly Batya, the daughter of G-d.

By Chana Kroll   More articles...  |   
Chana Kroll is an alumna of Machon Chana Yeshiva for Women in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Prior to moving to New York, she taught at a boarding school/shelter for runaways and young people whose families were homeless.
« Reply #402 on: December 24, 2010, 10:29:23 AM »

Weekly Sermonette
Great Expectations

By Yossy Goldman

We never really know why things happen. Do we always deserve everything life throws at us, good or bad? Allow me to share a message from this week's Parshah which may shed a little light on the mysteries of life and our higher destinies.

This is the Parshah that describes the beginning of bondage for the Jewish people in Egypt. Moses experiences his first official Divine revelation at the Burning Bush. There he is charged with the formidable mission to confront the Pharaoh and demand that he "Let My people go." Moses is full of questions and repeatedly seeks G-d's reassurances.

It was not necessarily for what they had done in the past that G-d would redeem the Jewish people, but for what He anticipated for them in the future... In one exchange at the Bush, Moses asks, Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and that I should take the Children of Israel out of Egypt? Rashi interprets the first part of the question as Moses doubting his own qualifications to suddenly become a player in the king's court. In his typical humble way Moses didn't see himself worthy of challenging the mighty monarch of Egypt. The second part of the verse is explained by Rashi to be questioning the worthiness of the Jewish People. What have they actually done to deserve such a miraculous redemption?

To which the Almighty answers, firstly, have no fear and have no doubts, I will be with you. And secondly, this is your sign that I have sent you: when you take the people out of Egypt, you will serve G-d on this mountain.

Now it's very nice to know that this mountain was, in fact, Mount Sinai and that the Burning Bush encounter occurred on that very same mountain. But wherein lies G-d's answer to Moses' second question? He asked "who am I?" so G-d replied to the point and said don't worry "I will be with you." But to the question of by what merit did Israel deserve redemption we don't see any answer. That they "will serve G-d on this mountain" doesn't seem relevant to the discussion at all.

Here it is that we find a fascinating insight into the intriguingly infinite ways of Providence. G-d was saying that it was not necessarily for what they had done in the past that he was ready to redeem the Jewish people, but for what He anticipated for them in the future. On this very mountain they would receive His Torah; they would become His chosen messengers to be a light unto the nations; they would be the moral standard bearers for the entire world. Never mind what they did or didn't do in the past. G-d had big plans for this nation and it would all begin with the impending Exodus.

What a powerful message for all of us. Sometimes, the kindness G-d does for us is not because of what we've been but rather what it would enable us to become. It's not for what we have already done but for what we still will do.

I know a man who in mid-life experienced a near fatal coronary. Fortunately, his life was saved by the prompt medical intervention of paramedics and surgeons. When I visited him in hospital he was overwhelmed by one idea: his indebtedness to G-d, the Healer of all flesh. "Rabbi," he said, "I was a goner. What did I do to deserve this gift of life?"

So I shared with him the Rashi mentioned above and told him it might not be something he had done in the past but something he would still do in the future. Perhaps G-d gave him a new lease on life for a reason. Not only to enjoy more years with his family but to do something significant for G-d, for His people, for the world.

The Almighty's confidence proved justified. The man went on to deepen his personal spiritual commitments and also made a meaningful contribution to Jewish communal life.

So should any of us be the beneficiaries of a special blessing from Above, instead of patting ourselves on the back and concluding that we must have done something wonderful to be thus rewarded, let us rather ask ourselves what G-d might be expecting us to do with this particular blessing in the future. How can we use it to further His work on earth? Special blessings carry with them special responsibilities.

May each of us successfully develop all the potential G-d sees in us and use it for our own moral development and to somehow better the world around us.
« Reply #403 on: January 09, 2011, 08:02:42 PM »

The Quill of the Soul
The Power of Music
By Samantha Barnett

We sat in a circle, eyes closed. All was dark except for the glow of the small candle burning on the desk in the middle of the room.

Our teacher began to sing, "Yahy dai dai dai dai dai." Slowly but surely the group of students picked up the tune. At first, I felt a bit uncomfortable. I let out a small giggle intended for my friend sitting next to me. After some muffled laughter, we both silently decided to concentrate on the singing.

Soon no one was there but the music and me. I felt carried away in song. I heard my voice aloneI closed my eyes more tightly and listened. The music became more familiar, the repetition of the melody got stuck in my head. I knew where the song was headed next. I anticipated the low notes at the beginning and the high notes in the middle. Soon no one was there but the music and me. I felt carried away in song. I heard my voice alone. Then I heard it surrounded by everyone else. We were in unison. Individual voices sang the same melody. No real words backed up our song. There were no words that could. I wanted to sing forever.

It was over too soon. We opened our eyes. No one said anything.

"How do you feel?" she asked.

"I feel relaxed," said one student.

"Everything feels more in focus," said another.

It was true. My eyes highlighted the soft glow of the candlelight on the faces around me. I heard the steady hum of the room and the murmured sounds of people walking outside. I felt the comfortable cushion beneath me. My senses took in the moment in slow motion.

Our teacher smiled. She told us the song was called a "niggun". A niggun, she continued, is a song without words. It was a powerful form of Jewish meditation.

Even now, years later, the tune of that melody is still in my head. I access it when I need to unwind. I connect to it like the words of a lover's poem. Yet it went beyond what words could express. It was as if the rhythm of my soul could be found in between the notes.

What was it about the niggun that drew me in? I wondered. What is it about music that is so alluring?

The more I thought about it, the more I realized the importance of music. When someone likes the same music I do, I bond with them. When "my" song is playing, I want to dance. When a song has good lyrics, I often quote it.

Movies utilize music all the time. Reexamining the emotionally gripping scenes that have made me cry, I discovered that it wasn't so much the action of the movie but the tearful music in the background that dictated my reaction. I realized, even when I'm not cognizant that there is music around me, it affects me nevertheless.

Music is everywhere. The owl hooting in the silence of the night, the tip tap tap of my keyboard, and the whooshing of flowing water are life's music.

Music connects me to my past, present and futureI don't just hear music. I use it. At the gym, the upbeat songs I play on my iPod get me moving. If it was not for the rhythm of the beat, I would not be able to run as fast. My friends feel the same way. They are always looking for new workout playlists.

Music connects me to my past, present and future. I'll hear a song and suddenly I'm back in my friend's car singing uninhibitedly on our way to school. Sometimes I'll be in a certain mood and crank up a song that echoes my emotions. Other times I will listen to a song and hope that I will one day feel the way the singer does.

Music transcends language. Perhaps that is why mothers sing to their babies. The sound of their mother's voice soothes their cries when nothing else will. Sometimes the baby will even smile. Why does a song bring joy when we fail to comprehend the words behind it?

Miriam, Moses's sister, illustrates the answer to these questions. She brought along a tambourine when the Jews escaped Egypt. Why would anyone pack an instrument in their bag, something that isn't necessary for survival in the desert, when she could have packed something a little more substantial? I would have chosen to pack more matzah!

Miriam had faith that G‑d would save her people from Egyptian slavery. Music conveys emotion too difficult for even our conscious minds to comprehend. It is beyond the rational. It is something more--and that is how it can connect us to something beyond ourselves.

When the Jews crossed the Sea of Reeds and the Egyptians did not, Miriam whipped out her tambourine. She played, sang, and danced with the other women. The music they played symbolized their faith and their joy more than words could ever express. Perhaps only music can adequately convey the feelings of shock and the utter excitement we felt from being freed from slavery. There were no words for our mixed emotions and so, we sang. In song, our individual experiences get expressed in a unified way. We understand that the song that is the human experience connects us even when our stories may be somewhat different.

An even stronger reason for Miriam's song was the connection she must have felt at this moment. G‑d was now keeping His promise that He would create the Jewish nation. We had just gone from slavery to freedom. Singing represents movement and newness. This is essentially, the power of creation.

Sound is not finite. It can't be written down and thus, can never dieSound is not finite. It can't be written down and thus, can never die. Written words are stagnant whereas spoken words are moving. Sound is a link to the eternal. It connects us to G‑d.

According to Torah, the earth was created in seven days. There are also seven notes on the musical scale. Seven is a very special number in Judaism. It represents completion. Seven symbolizes the spiritual reality of the physical world.

Maybe that is the reason for music's power to make us happy, relax us, and add meaning to our lives. When we listen to music, we connect to something beyond ourselves. We feel united with other human beings and to our deepest selves as souls. Judaism teaches that the mouth, the instrument of our bodies, connects the heart with the soul. When we join body with soul, we are complete. The music creates a state where we are in tune with our essential spiritual selves and can feel united with our Creator.

At its essence, music can be an expression of prayer. Perhaps this is why the Hebrew word for prayer, tefilla, and the word for song, shira have the same numerical equivalent. Through song we can access the true yearnings of our soul, our prayers.

The most famous musical prayers are King David's psalms. Interestingly enough, the last psalm tells us to praise G‑d with music. Jewish prayers are set to music because it is impossible to put into words what we truly are praying for. Sometimes, when praying, I don't know what to say to G‑d. All I can muster is "please help me". Music expresses that longing to say what is in my heart.

Music is the language of the heart and soulMusic is the part of myself I may not comprehend but when I connect to it, I feel whole. It's not the words that matter. Words can limit our understanding. Music is deeper than words. Music is the language of the heart and soul. Music brings us to an entirely new and deeper dimension of our connection with our Maker.

Although music is always there, sometimes we need to remind ourselves to listen. When we tune into our hearts, we lift our spirits and feel empowered. Suddenly, like when I experienced that power of the niggun, we elevate ourselves to higher frequencies than our limited understanding of the world. We move to a new beat.
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« Reply #404 on: January 12, 2011, 06:20:37 PM »
« Reply #405 on: January 13, 2011, 08:26:21 PM »

The Exodus, Part II

By Yanki Tauber

Some people experience freedom canoeing across a pristine lake in the unspoiled wilderness. I feel free when my excuses run out.

There's something I very much want to do. But I also don't want to do it. So I blame my wife, my kids, my age, my youth, my childhood, my landlord and my employer. It works for a while -- a day, a month, a year -- but finally, inevitably, there comes the point at which there are no excuses left.

What a relief! I take a deep, exhilarating breath. I feel fifty pounds lighter. Now it's just me and me in the ring -- my inner self and my outer self, my motivated self and my inert self -- and let the better man win.

This week's Torah reading, Beshalach (Exodus 13:17-17:16), can be termed "The Exodus, Part II." In last week's reading, Bo, we read how the last of the Ten Plagues finally broke the spirit of the Egyptians and, after four generations of slavery, the Children of Israel marched triumphantly out of Egypt, matzahs baking in the sun.

Time for the credits to start scrolling up the screen? Not quite. Instead we get a frame reading "Seven Days Later" and the opening scene of Beshalach. The Israelites are walking serenely through the desert, when they look over their shoulders to see the Egyptians chasing after them. Seems that marching out of Egypt is not going to do the trick. We're going to have to split a sea first before we can proceed on to Sinai.

What's going on? Haven't the Egyptians been decisively defeated, their gods shown to be worthless, their proud Pharaoh utterly humiliated? Hasn't he come running in his pajamas in the middle of the night, literally begging Moses and Aaron to take their people out of his land as quickly as possible? Who, then, is this mighty Pharaoh materializing like a mirage in the desert, hot on our heels with an army of war chariots and horsemen?

Chassidic teaching explains that there are, indeed, two distinct stages to the human quest for freedom. That's why we have Bo and Beshalach. That's why we have the first and latter days of Passover. That's why we have the Exodus from Egypt and the Splitting of the Sea.

There are two types of slavery. There's a kind of slavery in which the chains that shackle our souls are externally imposed -- like when your boss fires you, your landlord raises your rent and your mother-in-law invites herself for the weekend. Then there's the internal slavery that comes from our own, self-imposed shackles -- our anger, our vanity, our laziness, our greed.

It's easy to think ourselves free when we overcome an externally-imposed limitation. We're shocked and surprised to discover Pharaoh pursuing us after we've escaped his Egypt. But the Pharaoh we see closing in on us in the desert is a Pharaoh that we took out of Egypt with us. We've been freed from the Egypt that closed us in from without, but we have yet to transcend the Egypt in ourselves.

To do that, we have to split open our sea, penetrating the depths of who and what we are to uncover our truest self.
« Reply #406 on: January 13, 2011, 08:27:28 PM »

Murky Depths
Why G-d gave us a subconscious
By Yanki Tauber

"If only I'd have known!" Scarcely a day goes by in which we do not bewail the limitations of our understanding. "If only I'd known why she said the things she said... If only I'd known why he acted the way he did... If only I knew why I'm behaving the way I am..."

Of course, there's a lot to be said for the boundaries of human knowledge. The fact that we don't know everything gives us the space and the freedom to make decisions in our lives. Poets and prosaists alike would agree that it is the ambiguities of life that make it worth living.

But not knowing also limits us. Isn't there some way to know and not to know at the same time?

Indeed there is. That's why G-d gave us a subconscious.

"Everything that exists on land," says the Talmud, "also exists in the sea." The Kabbalists apply this law in a broader sense as well, explaining that the whole of reality can be divided into two realms: "the revealed worlds" and "the hidden worlds."

The sea is the mystical twin of land. The sea has mountains and canyons, rivers and weather systems, and living organisms of every type and form imaginable; but everything is submerged within its watery depths, almost completely hidden from inquisitive eyes (we know more about the surface of the moon than we do about the ocean-floors of our own planet). By the same token, the physical world is mirrored by a hidden spiritual universe, and our conscious mind is but a reflection of the hidden, sub-conscious chambers of our souls.

"Everything that exists on land also exists in the sea." Every element in the revealed worlds has its corresponding reality in the hidden worlds. The two may be as externally different as horses and sea-horses, yet they are nevertheless linked in some mysterious way. Thus, when we negotiate our lives with the "terrestrial" part of our psyche, we are also drawing on the vast reservoir of knowledge and intuition stored in its oceans.

What joins these two worlds? An old, old memory: a memory of the day when the sea split open to reveal what lay within.

Our sages tell us that when the Red Sea split for the Children of Israel, all the waters of the world split as well. The waters of the Amazon split and the waters of the Mississippi split, as did the waters in all the swimming pools in the Hamptons and all the hot tubs in California, all the water coolers in Manhattan and all the tea-kettles in China, The great murky sea of heaven split open to reveal its secrets to all. And the deep, deep sea of the human soul split in two, and for a brief moment, all its contents were exposed to the light of day.

Then the waters of creation returned to engulf their sea-worlds, and life reverted to the glorious ambiguity which it is. But the memory of that day lingers on, forming a tenuous bridge between the hidden and the revealed.
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« Reply #407 on: January 15, 2011, 10:33:04 AM »

This sounds like a wonderful program.

Helping Jewish kids learn about their religious, cultural identity

Each month the PJ Library sends Jewish-themed bedtime stories to 65,000 families across the United States and Canada.

By Raja Abdulrahim, Los Angeles Times

January 15, 2011

At a Passover Seder years ago, Harold Grinspoon noticed with surprise that the younger attendees were absorbed in holiday children's books.

A dinner that's as much about reading as eating, Passover can sometimes be a bit tedious for young children. But instead of being listless, these children, Grinspoon saw, were deeply engaged in books given to them by the hostess and asking their parents to read aloud parts of the story about the liberation of the Israelites from slavery.

The scene inspired Grinspoon, an 81-year-old real estate developer turned philanthropist, to begin a literacy program modeled after the Imagination Library, the program started by singer Dolly Parton, but through a Jewish prism. The books help Jewish children learn about their religious and cultural identity.

The program, called the PJ Library, (a reference to the pajamas young participants may wear while perusing their books) began by sending 500 books to families in western Massachusetts. Five years later, the program each month sends Jewish-themed bedtime stories, targeted at children ages 6 months to 8 years, to 65,000 families across the United States and Canada. Next month, the number of member families is expected to reach almost 70,000.

The PJ Library is a partnership between the Harold Grinspoon Foundation and local Jewish centers. They share the cost of sending the books, which are free to families.

"I asked myself … are the Jewish people in America in trouble? Are the Jewish people in America being demographically challenged?" Grinspoon said during a recent visit to Los Angeles. "I see a crisis in the Jewish world, the Jewish American world."

At a time when many Jews marry outside the faith and a significant percentage choose not to raise their children Jewish, Grinspoon said he felt the Jewish identity was being diluted. He saw a way to reach children at a young age through Jewish-themed stories and positive memories of bedtime reading.

Sharon Litwak, a Tarzana mother, has enrolled her three children in the program, which she said exposes them to books they couldn't find in the local library or neighborhood bookstore.

"We're in a Jewish school and we keep our Jewish faith, but it definitely helps to bring new ideas into the house, like new ideas of what you can do during Shabbat," said Litwak, whose kids range in age from 2 to 7.

Children enrolled in the program receive 11 books and one CD a year. And although the monthly packages come addressed to the child, which those involved in the program say gives them pride and ownership over the books, they are intended to engage the whole family. The packages include reading guides, conversation starters and activity suggestions.

"What the PJ Library does is turn those special moments into Jewish moments," said Marcie Greenfield Simons, the program's executive director.

Involvement in the program may, or may not, lead families to become interested in attending weekly services at a synagogue, Greenfield Simons said. For some, the Jewish-themed books may inspire an interest in baking challah, an egg bread traditionally eaten on the Sabbath, or lighting menorah candles at sundown Friday, when the Sabbath begins.

"This program is absolutely a family engagement program," she said. "This is really bringing Judaism into the home in a very significant way."

The books are not all overtly religious. They may be about a religious holiday or ritual or about such broader values as being kind to someone or why helping out is good, she said.

Often, the parents themselves may not be very knowledgeable about Judaism and its various rituals, Greenfield Simons said, and the books can be a way for them to learn, along with their children, in the privacy of their own homes. A survey commissioned by the PJ Library last year found that more than half the families had fewer than 10 Jewish books in their homes before joining the program.

The program was introduced in 2008 to the Los Angeles area, although it was initially limited to the San Fernando and Conejo valleys, and has enrolled 2,800 children. In September, it expanded further into Los Angeles and has already signed up an additional 1,000 children, said Carol Koransky, executive vice president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

Koransky said more than 70% of the participating families were not known to the federation and not active in the Jewish community, before they enrolled.

Copyright © 2011, Los Angeles Times
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« Reply #408 on: January 15, 2011, 01:14:32 PM »

Good find JDN.  I've emailed the reporter asking for contact info for these folks.
« Reply #409 on: January 17, 2011, 09:31:02 PM »

Beneath A Mountain of Love

By Mendel Kalmenson

A young man who was befriended by Lubavitcher yeshivah students in France was quite taken with Chassidic teachings and ways, with one exception. He was uncomfortable with the level of reverence some of his new friends showed towards the Rebbe. The young man's friends proposed that he travel to New York and pose his concerns to the Rebbe himself. He did so, and asked the Rebbe, "Why is it that the chassidim adore you so much?"

"I love every Jew debordement," The Rebbe answered, using a French word for "overflowing." "Perhaps their love for me is a reflection of my love for them."

When love overflows its vessel,
It fills other vessels to overflowing.

Mountain Overhead
It was a wedding to remember; a union of Biblical proportions.

G‑d and Israel were to be married.

The wedding procession was about to begin. "The Shechina [Divine presence] went out towards them [the Israelites] like a bridegroom who goes out to greet his bride…1"

And what a wedding procession it was:

"It came to pass on the third day when it was morning that there were thunder claps and lightning flashes, and a thick cloud was upon the mountain, and a very powerful blast of a shofar sounded, and the entire nation that was in the camp shuddered [bridal jitters?]."

The bride set out to meet her beloved.

"Moses brought the people out toward G‑d from the camp, and they stood at the bottom of the mountain."

The Sages of the Talmud take the words "at the bottom of the mountain" literally.

R. Abdimi ben Hama ben Hasa said: "This teaches that the Holy One, blessed be He, overturned the mountain upon them like an [inverted] cask, and said to them, 'If you accept the Torah, good; if not, here shall be your burial.'"


Not exactly what you'd expect to hear from a groom to his beloved bride on the way to their chupah…

Besides, forced marriage just doesn't seem like the Divine thing to do.

Trepidation or Trapidation?
The courtship had been brief but intense. So much had happened, and so fast. Like Cinderella, overnight the Israelites had been lifted from servitude to freedom, from rags to riches, from obscurity to renown.

Overcome by excitement, the charming maiden-of-a-nation Israel accepted G‑d's marriage proposal. "And the people answered together and said, 'Everything that G‑d has spoken we shall do!'"

And then, not surprisingly, she developed cold feet.

The commitment was huge, very long-term, and all-encompassing. Part of her marital responsibilities included being the moral compass and conscience of the world. She was to be the crier of truth, the beacon of ethical light and right, the shining star of faith to direct the ship of history though its dark and turbulent voyage across many stormy seas.

There would be periods of concealment from her Beloved; she would be exiled from their home and blissful life together. She would be beaten, humiliated, and ravaged by the jealous beasts of mankind, intolerant of her unwavering fidelity to G‑dliness and goodness. Persecution and then freedom would eat away at her national innards. She would be humbled and hardly recognizable at journey's end.

Is this what she really wanted?

No wonder she balked.

But was that a reason to hold a mountain to her head?2

A Shot of Love
Here we come to a charming and illuminating Chassidic insight.

In Chassidic lore, the mountain is a symbol of love. Like a mountain which stands tall and protrudes above the ground, one who loves experiences an expansion of spirit and a broadening of self.

Conversely, fear is represented by a valley. Like a space carved out in the ground, fear carves out a space in the ego. When one is afraid of a person or animal, for example, his or her own sense of self is replaced or invaded by a deep sense of the other.

Fear and dread tend to dry and diminish our feelings of desire, ambition, and drive; love is often credited with the reverse.

On the physical level, fright actually causes the blood vessels in many parts of the body to constrict.

Related is the contrast between Gladness and Sadness, respective cousins of Love and Fear. Happiness can actually cause physical growth and enlargement, while sadness or irritation can initiate contraction and reduction.

Consider the following anecdote, related in the Talmud, about a meeting between Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakai and Vespatian:

"At one point a messenger came to Vespatian from Rome, saying: The Emperor is dead, and the notables of Rome have decided to make you head [of the State]. He had just finished putting on one boot. When he tried to put on the other, he could not. He tried to take off the first, but it would not come off. He said: What is the meaning of this? R. Yochanan said to him: Do not worry: the good news has done it, as it says, 'Good tidings make the bone fat.' What is the remedy? Let someone whom you dislike come and pass before you, as it is written, 'A broken spirit dries up the bones.' He did so, and the boot went on."

Thus, according to the mystical take of a mountain, our brush with G‑d at Sinai takes on new meaning: we tangoed, not tangled, at the foot of that mountain. G‑d didn't scare us into a relationship, he loved us into one. He dispelled our doubts and fears through an abundance of affection.

The Talmud's choice of "an inverted cask" as a metaphor for G‑d's mountain dangling is precise and telling. At that delicate and critical moment, in the midst of a crisis of identity, mission, and even faith, the Jewish people found themselves embraced by, and ensconced within, a virtual edifice of unconditional warmth and acceptance. Like the airtight space beneath an inverted cask, the space G‑d created for Israel at that fragile point in their relationship was vacuum packed with tenderness and devotion.

So declare the mystics: At (or under) Sinai, G‑d injected His cherished people with an extra dose of love.

Is it any wonder then that, reciprocally, His loving bride continued on her epic walk down the aisle?

What's in It for Me?
Recent generations have unfortunately seen an increase in those not just ready for the march to Sinai. Jewish illiteracy and lack of experience have greatly contributed to that hesitancy or lack of interest.

One way of dealing with those who are going through moments, phases, or lifetimes of religious doubt or denunciation - in the throes, woes, or no's of religious bridal jitters - is to wave a mountain over their heads. "If you accept the Torah, good; if not, here shall be your burial." Burial by excommunication or disownment is still practiced by some.

More common today is the replacement of Mt. Exclusion by Mt. Guilt. The "you're-breaking-a-link-in-the-chain-of-our-people" argument is just one common agent of guilt.

But then there's another way. The Chasidic way, as taught by the Holy Baal Shem Tov. Embrace and shower with love those who aren't quite ready to commit themselves to a life of faith and observance. Create a space tightly packed with acceptance and laced with nonjudgmental regard.

To quote the Lubavitcher Rebbe, one of the inaugurators of Mt. Love, and the creator of the Chabad House, "They should specifically be called Chabad houses, not centers, for at home one is welcome and provided for without any strings attached…"

And in the broader sense, if/when those we hold dear don't live up to our expectations for them, if/when they depart from the principles and value system we worked so hard to instill in them, and even if/when they come to ridicule the things we hold sacred, in those instances, more, not less, of our love is called for. And then, as the Sages say3, "As in water, face answers to face, so is the heart of a man to a man."
« Reply #410 on: January 19, 2011, 09:42:16 PM »

You’re Covered: God’s Presence is Closer Than You Think

With four kids, ages seven and under, my husband and I have been exhausted for basically seven years straight. We've found that the best way to manage our sleep deprivation is by taking shifts and fortunately, the division of labor comes naturally in our house.

When darkness falls on nights that he has nothing in particular to do, the moment my husband stops moving - and this can literally be while he's standing - the man will fall asleep. If left alone - and I must confess, I have a hard time leaving him alone if it's before, say, 9pm - he will fall deeper and deeper asleep until he reaches a land that's far, far away.

In other words, I take the night shift. This works out well, since the sound of a door opening or a kid coughing is enough to stir me. My nighttime duties these days involve nursing a newborn every couple hours, but also sometimes include rocking a toddler back to sleep, getting medicine for a sick five year old, and comforting a seven year old with a bad dream.

By the time morning comes, I dread wakefulness, so my dear husband takes over. The morning shift can sart as early as 5AM at times. Nowadays it often begins something like this: "Daddy, Mommy, I need yaw help...Mommy, Daddy, I'm stuck." My husband will then stumble down the hall and open our two year old son's door at which point he'll declare, "I wanna watch Dora."

During the periods that I'm nursing a baby, my morning sleep is almost always pierced by the distant sound of crying. At that point I'll call out to my husband to let him know that I'm awake and that he can bring me the baby.

Many times when this happens the baby is cold to the touch, and there's nothing I love more than taking my cold, crying baby under my covers and enveloping him in the warmth and the comfort that is his mommy.

While nursing him in bed like this the other day, I started thinking about God's feminine traits. In Judaism,we believe that God is gender neutral, but has attributes that we can relate to from both genders.

We talk about God as a King when we try to conjure up images of power and majesty in our relationship with Him. But God has a feminine side as well which we refer to as the Shechinah. The Shechinah is the mother-like presence of God that is said to dwell upon us.

The wording used in conjunction with the Shechinah is usually resting "upon us" or being "spread over us," which I used to picture as having God's presence be above us like a ceiling. And to tell you the truth, such imagery has always been a bit disappointing to me.

Don't get me wrong, to merit having God's presence as close as my ceiling would be a huge deal, but having God's presence rest only above me seems to lack the nuturing aspect that I assumed would come along with the maternal side of God.

When I brought my baby into bed the other day, though, I realized that my blankets were "spread over" him and "rested upon" him. Suddenly, my ceiling imagery came crashing down and turned into a warm, enveloping blanket.

The next time we are crying out from one of life's challenges, may we feel God's comfort and embrace, like a baby snuggling up close to his mother. And the next time a baby snuggles up close to his mother, may that baby let his mother sleep.
« Reply #411 on: January 21, 2011, 03:34:08 PM »

When All Excuses Fail...

By Mendy Wolf

A recovering alcoholic described the catalyst to his rehabilitation and recovery. “I thought alcohol could drown my sorrows,” he said, “until I realized that sorrows float.”

Human tendency is to blame our problems, mistakes and failures on everyone but ourselves: “If only I had grown up with more loving parents, I would have more self-esteem...” “If my teacher hadn’t embarrassed me in second grade, I would have never ended up like this...” “If I hadn’t been surrounded by such bad friends, I would be different...”

The giving of the Torah at Sinai was a monumental event. It was a moment in time that radically changed the world and left its mark on every human being. G-d had revealed Himself! G-d Himself appeared to millions of people and declared, “I am the L-rd your G-d.”

No room for doubts or ambiguity: it was the “If only G-d would tell me He exists...” moment we all wish for.

But the continuation of the dream we all have – “...then I would never do anything wrong!” – did not materialize. Mere days after this awesome experience, the Jews succumbed. Afraid that Moses had abandoned them, they created a golden calf and began worshiping it. Never mind the “You shall not serve any other gods” they had just heard from the A-lmighty’s voice. Forget the certainty and intense belief with which they had been filled. They were the same fallible human beings with doubts and temptations as always—and they failed.

For ultimately, no one can change our lives but we. Just as alcohol can not solve one’s emotional challenges, inspiration can not take the place of effort. Just as the giving of the Torah could not prevent the Jews from sinning, neither can better parents, teachers, friends or financial conditions. We, and we alone, are the creators of our destiny. We have been granted free choice.

As a child, a famous Jewish sage watched as his home went up in flames. As he stood beside his mother, watching the last remnants of their house reduced to ash, he saw that she was crying inconsolably. “The family tree!” she exclaimed over and over. “The book that records our beautiful lineage! It is lost forever.” The little boy comforted his mother, declaring, “Don’t worry about that book. I will create a new family tree. I will establish a new lineage that you can be proud of."

Let us abandon the “if only I had...” and begin replacing it with “I will establish a new lineage.” Let us not look past at what could have been, but rather forward at what must be. What could have been would not have changed things anyway. What will be is in our hands.
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Posts: 42462

« Reply #412 on: January 21, 2011, 05:21:24 PM »

It Don't Cost Nuthin'

At a Touchdown Club meeting many years ago, Coach Paul "Bear" Bryant told the following story:

I had just been named the new head coach at Alabama and was off in my old car down in South Alabama recruiting a prospect who was supposed to have been a pretty good player, and I was having trouble finding the place.

Getting hungry, I spied an old cinderblock building with a small sign out front that simply said "Restaurant." I pull up, go in, and every head in the place turns to stare at me. Seems I'm the only white fella in the place. But the food smelled good, so I skip a table and go up to a cement bar and sit. A big ole man in a tee shirt and cap comes over and says, "What do you need?"

I told him I needed lunch and what did they have today?

He says, "You probably won't like it here. Today we're having chitlins, collard greens and black-eyed peas with cornbread. I'll bet you don't even know what chitlins are, do you?"(small intestines of hogs prepared as food in the deep South)

I looked him square in the eye and said, "I'm from Arkansas , and I've probably eaten a mile of them. Sounds like I'm in the right place."

They all smiled as he left to serve me up a big plate. When he comes back he says, "You ain't from around here then?"

I explain I'm the new football coach up in Tuscaloosa at the University and I'm here to find whatever that boy's name was, and he says, "Yeah I've heard of him, he's supposed to be pretty good." And he gives me directions to the school so I can meet him and his coach.

As I'm paying up to leave, I remember my manners and leave a tip, not too big to be flashy, but a good one, and he told me lunch was on him, but I told him for a lunch that good, I felt I should pay. The big man asked me if I had a photograph or something he could hang up to show I'd been there. I was so new that I didn't have any yet. It really wasn't that big a thing back then to be asked for, but I took a napkin and wrote his name and address on it and told him I'd get him one.

I met the kid I was looking for later that afternoon and I don't remember his name, but do remember I didn't think much of him when I met him.

I had wasted a day, or so I thought. When I got back to Tuscaloosa late that night, I took that napkin from my shirt pocket and put it under my keys so I wouldn't forget it. Back then I was excited that anybody would want a picture of me. The next day we found a picture and I wrote on it, "Thanks for the best lunch I've ever had."

Now let's go a whole buncha years down the road. Now we have black players at Alabama and I'm back down in that part of the country scouting an offensive lineman we sure needed. Y'all remember, (and I forget the name, but it's not important to the story), well anyway, he's got two friends going to Auburn and he tells me he's got his heart set on Auburn too, so I leave empty handed and go on to see some others while I'm down there.

Two days later, I'm in my office in Tuscaloosa and the phone rings and it's this kid who just turned me down, and he says, "Coach, do you still want me at Alabama ?"

And I said, "Yes I sure do." And he says OK, he'll come.

And I say, "Well son, what changed your mind?"

And he said, "When my grandpa found out that I had a chance to play for you and said no, he pitched a fit and told me I wasn't going nowhere but Alabama, and wasn't playing for nobody but you. He thinks a lot of you and has ever since y'all met."

Well, I didn't know his granddad from Adam's housecat so I asked him who his granddaddy was and he said, "You probably don't remember him, but you ate in his restaurant your first year at Alabama and you sent him a picture that he's had hung in that place ever since. That picture's his pride and joy and he still tells everybody about the day that Bear Bryant came in and had chitlins with him..."

"My grandpa said that when you left there, he never expected you to remember him or to send him that picture, but you kept your word to him and to Grandpa, that's everything. He said you could teach me more than football and I had to play for a man like you, so I guess I'm going to."

I was floored. But I learned that the lessons my mama taught me were always right. It don't cost nuthin' to be nice. It don't cost nuthin' to do the right thing most of the time, and it costs a lot to lose your good name by breaking your word to someone.

When I went back to sign that boy, I looked up his Grandpa and he's still running that place, but it looks a lot better now. And he didn't have chitlins that day, but he had some ribs that would make Dreamland proud. I made sure I posed for a lot of pictures; and don't think I didn't leave some new ones for him, too, along with a signed football.

I made it clear to all my assistants to keep this story and these lessons in mind when they're out on the road. If you remember anything else from me, remember this. It really doesn't cost anything to be nice, and the rewards can be unimaginable.

Coach Paul "Bear" Bryant
« Reply #413 on: January 23, 2011, 08:14:02 PM »

My Escape from Child Abuse
by Leah Kravitz
Setting boundaries with abusive (or difficult) parents.

My parents announced they were coming to stay with us for an extended visit. That would be fine except that I'm barely speaking to them. My father is abusive both verbally and physically. He took every opportunity, privately and publicly, to insult me and humiliate me. If I fled to my room, he would grab me and pull me around the house, continuing to rant at me. He had to have the last word, and he had to make sure I was listening. My mother is a passive abuser, an enabler. She made empty threats to my father whenever she reached the limits of what her own psyche could tolerate. She never once took action to defend me. I lived in constant terror. When I finally went away to college, the thought of going home for the summer gave me six weeks of migraines and bouts of vomiting. I moved far away from my dysfunctional childhood home to build a new, healthy, Jewish-oriented life (I am now happily married with three wonderful children).

I moved to escape my parents, but now they were making demands. It felt like an invasion.

At first, I tried to convince them not to come, and tried my best to be respectful. "We're sorry, but it's not such a good time for us." That didn't work, so I tried to persuade them at least to shorten their trip. But they were unstoppable. I felt like I was being steamrolled. I sought advice from a Torah coach who is an expert on abuse. She made everything sound ridiculously simple:

"They respect no boundaries. As a child, you were unable to set boundaries and enforce them. So now you need to work on this. State your limits and boundaries very clearly: 'Due to the circumstances, we are unable to visit with you in our home.' And for yourself, decide what to do if those boundaries are violated.'"

With my husband's help, we sent them a letter that clearly stated our limitations: "Due to our circumstances, you will have to find other sleeping accommodations during your visit. We will only be able to meet with you a few times, and only for a few hours each time, only outdoors in public places. We are not willing to discuss money, politics, religion, or the details of our private situation."

Yes, their feelings were hurt. But with people who are overtly controlling and abusive, our only healthy choice (short of shutting them out completely, which we hope never to do), is to place our own safety, and especially our children's safety, first.

I thought their reaction might crush me, but instead I felt empowered. I couldn't make them be more reasonable; they are free to make their own decisions. But I don't have to passively stand by and be victimized. Instead, I can set up my boundaries and defend myself. I never realized this before. Also, I don't have to waste my time and energy worrying, "What will I say if they say this..." My answer can be simply, "I can't discuss this right now. If you continue, I'm going to hang up the phone." This was a new level of freedom for me, a new level of emotional health.

Guilt-Free Daughter

In doing all this, however, am I being disrespectful to my parents? Do I still have to honor them? Abusive parents know this part of the Ten Commandments: "You must listen to me because God says so! Ha ha ha!" Hard to argue with that, isn't it? Especially if you're a child; you really want to do what's right, to do what God says.

I have now learned that this (and every) mitzvah is much more sophisticated than I thought as a child. From the moment of infancy and beyond, the way a parent acts toward their child forms in the child's consciousness a paradigm for how God relates to us. The primary role of a parent, therefore, is to communicate to the child: You are loved and cherished. You are unique and special, creative and talented. You are cared for and protected. You are never alone.

If a parent is untrustworthy and uncaring, it subconsciously sets into the child's mind that God must somehow be the same. This is an emotional handicap that can be difficult to overcome later in life.

I don't have to reimburse or compensate my parents for raising me, I don't need their permission to follow my dreams, and I certainly don't have to put myself or my children in danger, physically or emotionally, because of their insensitivities. To the contrary, I need to protect myself and others. In short, I could be guilt-free for the first time in my life.

As a child, I felt trapped by the abuse and insensitivity. As an adult, I can learn to cope differently. I yearn to have a relationship with my parents on adult terms, on healthy terms. Someday, with God's help, this will be possible.

This article was prepared in collaboration with Yaffah daCosta-Sacks, a director of a Jerusalem high-tech firm who has been a business coach and management consultant for 30+ years, and more recently has been involved with Torah Life Coaching and Torah Transition Coaching (for the terminally ill).

The author is writing under a pseudonym.
« Reply #414 on: January 23, 2011, 08:21:50 PM »

Are Chinese Parents Superior?
by Slovie Jungreis-Wolff
A Jewish response to Amy Chua's extreme parenting.

When Amy Chua was a little girl, she was extremely disrespectful to her mother. Her father angrily called her “garbage” in their native dialect.

Today, Amy is a mother herself. When her daughter, Sophia, acted extremely disrespectfully, Amy called her “garbage” in English. One evening at a dinner party, Amy mentioned what she had done. She felt immediately ostracized. A guest even broke down, cried, and had to leave early. The host and guests who remained tried in vain to convince Amy to change her ways.

Amy is a Yale Law professor and advocate of Chinese parenting methods. A recent piece she authored in the Wall Street Journal (1/8/11 Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior) explained how Chinese parents raise such stereotypically successful children.

Here are some things that Sophia and Lulu, her now tween daughters, have never been allowed to do:

attend a sleepover
have a playdate
be in a school play
complain about not being in a school play
watch tv or play computer games
get any grade less than an A
not be the number 1 student in any subject except gym or drama
play any instrument other than piano or violin
not play the piano or violin.

Not only that, but Amy writes that Chinese mothers can say to their daughters, “Hey fatty – lose some weight.” She bemoans the fact that Western parents veil the weight issue by speaking about ‘health’; never mentioning “the f-word.’ And still their children end up with eating disorders that require years of therapy to combat negative body images.

When it comes to school, Amy again feels that Western parents fall short.

An A- brings praise, a B may bring praise or disapproval but never will a child be made to feel insecure by being called “stupid”, “worthless” or “a disgrace.”

Even if parents worry about their child’s skills, they will do so privately and may eventually speak to the principal about the teacher’s methods and the school’s curriculum.

What would Chinese parents do?

Chinese mothers would be horrified by an A-. Chinese children never get a B. But if they would, there would be a “screaming, hair-tearing explosion.” Then, the mother who feels devastated by her child’s failure would get hundreds of practice worksheets until the child moved up to an A.

There is no such thing as a child not doing well. If perfection is not achieved it must be that the child is not working hard enough. The solution is always punishing or shaming the child. Children are believed to be strong enough to take the shame and be better for it.

Amy concludes her article with proof of her parenting methods.

She tells a story that she believes reinforces her belief in Chinese-style coercion.

Lulu was about 7 and working on an incredibly difficult piano piece.

After one week of trying, Lulu announced that she was giving up. She stomped off and refused to return to the piano. Forced to return, she not only punched, thrashed and kicked, she also tore up the score. Amy pasted it back together and protected it in a plastic sheath. Lulu was threatened with “no lunch, no dinner, no Christmas, no Hannukkah (her father is Jewish), no birthday parties for 2, 3, 4, years.” She was called lazy, cowardly, self- indulgent and pathetic.

Lulu’s dad decided to get involved. He told his wife that he didn’t think the threats were helpful and maybe she just couldn’t do it.

Amy replied that Lulu’s sister Sophia was able to play the piece at this age.

When told that they were two different people, Amy rolled her eyes.

“Oh no, not this,” I said. “Everyone is special in their special own way,” I mimicked sarcastically. “Even losers are special in their own special way. Well don’t worry, you don’t have to lift a finger. I’m willing to put in as long as it takes, and I’m happy to be the one hated. And you can be the one they adore because you make them pancakes and take them to Yankee games.”

They worked at it all night, no permission granted even for a bathroom or water break. There was so much yelling, Amy lost her voice.

Amy concludes her piece triumphantly with the news that Lulu finally mastered the piece. She felt confident and played beautifully at her recital.

End of story.

But not in my book.

Sure there are too many times that we allow our children to give up. Of course we sometimes let our kids off too easily and try to shield their self-esteem. Anyone who has ever read my articles or attended my classes knows that I often speak about our raising a generation of entitled kids who are raised with an inflated sense of self. Parents who applaud and praise their children’s every act and do not hold them accountable teach kids to rely on egos instead of effort.

But in this entire article there has been no mention of character.

How do we define a successful child?

What are the values that I am trying to transmit to my children about who they are and who I hope they will one day grow up to be?

Can I call myself an accomplished parent if my child masters a piano piece while at the same time I have conveyed to my child that it’s okay to stomp on the heart of another?

Calling a child “garbage” or “fatty” is mean. Shaming a child may bring immediate results but what about the effects on one’s soul? Embarrassing another human being goes against the dictates of our holy Torah. We believe that every person is created in the image of God, Himself. When you shame someone you are actually disrespecting the holiness that God placed within each one of us.

And what kind of parent will this child grow up to be? How will she speak to her own spouse and children?

At what price do we feel triumphant?

If I would have a conversation with Amy, I would share my own story about raising children successfully.

When my daughter, Shaindy, was in kindergarten, we were new to the neighborhood. I wanted my daughter to make friends with her classmates, so I asked her teacher for a class list. After going over the various names, we set up a play-date with Sora Leah.

The next day the little mini bus pulled up after school. The bus counselor wished me luck as both girls stepped down. The next three hours were a puzzle to me. Sora Leah said not one word. She sucked her thumb and had difficulty walking. She held onto Shaindy’s dress.

After Sora Leah was picked up, I called Shaindy into the kitchen.

“Is Sora Leah your friend, sweetie?” I asked.

“No, Mommy, Sora Leah doesn’t really have any friends,”

“Well, do you play together in school?” I wondered.

“No, Mommy, Sora Leah doesn’t play”.

I could not understand.

“Oh, Mommy,” Shaindy said sadly. “Every day the teacher calls out names of who is going to who after school. And every day Sora Leah cries because the teacher never calls her name. I just didn’t want her to cry anymore, Mommy.”

This little child looked up at me and I felt as if I had been touched by something indescribable; something pure and holy. Call it soul, spirit or heart of hearts. It really does not matter. Isn’t this the essence of who we strive to be – adult or child?

Today, Shaindy is a mother herself. She lives in Jerusalem and continues to reach out to fellow Jews and touching hungry souls.

We are here as parents to teach compassion, kindness and goodness. We are the greatest examples, our homes are our classrooms. Our goal is for each child to reach her potential. Not by calling her garbage nor through shame. But rather, through raising a child with soul.

This article can also be read at:
« Reply #415 on: January 24, 2011, 09:43:58 PM »

Knowing What’s Important

By Elana Mizrahi

Ten, eleven, twelve. I get to the top of the staircase, say a short prayer and brace myself for the greeting that I am about to receive as I open the door. Every morning it's the same as I arrive at the Eating Disorder clinic where I work. "Elana, either you conquer them, or they will conquer you." I call my work "kodesh" holy as I muster all the strength I have to greet my students with a smile and cheerful, "Good morning".

Either you conquer them, or they will conquer youWhy does it take so much energy? Well, one reason is because I know that when I walk in, I will meet blank faces, laptop screens, and cell phones that form barriers between me and my students. A life-less crowd can be more than just a little bit discouraging. Second, it's hard work, to be a teacher, to teach women going through so many struggles and who live in a time of so much confusion. And yet, day after day I continue as I try to shift the distorted focus of these women from their bodies to their beautiful souls. Either I conquer them, or they conquer me. No matter what happened yesterday I remind myself, "today is a new day, walk in with a positive attitude and a smile."

It's eight o'clock at night, my children are asleep. I am sitting down after a long day to work on the computer. I'm in the middle of an important e-mail. I hear the soft knock, the key in the door. I know it's my husband. I force myself to peel my fingers away from the keyboard and stand-up. I turn as he enters and find the smile, the cheerful voice, "Hi!" Ten years of marriage and I make an effort to greet my husband the same way as I did the first month we were married. Why? Because I call my marriage "kadosh" holy. That means that for five minutes I can put my work, or the phone call, etc. on hold. Those things can wait, the opportunity for my husband to come home, can't. Either I conquer them, or they conquer me.

There is a section in the Shulchan Aruch, the main codification of Jewish law compiled by the 16th-century rabbi, Rav Joseph Caro, entitled Orach Chaim (The Direction of Life). The Orach Chaim deals with everyday matters of Jewish law. The very first halacha (law) tells us that one should arise in the morning like a mighty lion to serve one's Creator and that one should wake up the early dawn. I always thought that the wording of the end of this law was a little bit funny and then my husband elucidated it for me, "You wake up the morning, don't let the morning wake you up!" That's right, here we go again, either I conquer the morning, or it conquers me. Either I wake up like a mighty lion ready to serve my Creator and do holy acts; or the lion of despair, discouragement, routine, or lack of appreciation will be the one to wake me up.

I can't begin to count how many times I put this idea into practice throughout my day. It always seems to throw everyone a bit off balance-in my favor. The checkout lady at the cashier who I smile to and greet before I start handing over my groceries, the repair man who comes to fix the faucet, for the 3rd time this month, and of course my children, as they walk through the door or as I pick them up from school. I am able to conquer all these people, bad moods, bills, tantrums, you name it before they conquer me with a smile, a cheerful voice, and with a vision that says that by doing this, what I am doing is kadosh, holy.

Ten years of marriage and I make an effort to greet my husband the same way as I did the first month we were marriedThis is also why my favorite prayer of the day is the mincha prayer. There are three times in the day set for formalized prayer-morning, afternoon, and evening (The beauty of prayer in general is that you don't need any intermediary between you and G‑d, no Skype, no chat, no cell phone, no leader; just you and Him. A Jew can speak and pour his heart out to G‑d at any time of the day or night in an informal manner.)

The prayer that is considered the most significant is that afternoon prayer, mincha. Mincha is also the shortest of the three; it's in the middle of the day when you are being asked to drop what you are doing to take a few minutes of your time to reconnect and remember what is most important, most holy.

I'll never forget as I was sitting in the barber shop waiting as Asher, the barber, cut my son's hair. The hour was 3:05 pm. A customer walked in the door. Asher told him, I can't help you now. After I finish with the boy I'm going to mincha. If you want, you can come back at 3:45 pm. The man was furious and walked out the door. Asher just shrugged his shoulders and looked at his reflection in the mirror. "What does he think? I'm going to miss mincha?" At that moment I knew without a doubt that my son's barber was a holy man cutting hair with a holy purpose. Either you conquer them, or they conquer you….
« Reply #416 on: January 26, 2011, 02:44:28 PM »

Why must human beings leave the Garden of Eden? Because the garden is a perfect, static world. There is no pain, therefore there is no growth. There is no failure, therefore there is no insight. Outside waits the wilderness and the Torah; sin, struggle, stories -- puzzlement, luck and wonder. There can be joy. So the journey begins.

What does not happen haunts and changes us, as in Garth Brooks' stirring song "Unanswered Prayers." In the movie "Lost in Translation" unconsummated romance is volcanic and transforming. Absences more powerful than presences; arrested beginnings. In mysticism, "halal panui," the creative emptiness; we live in spaces, too

One Jewish prayer begins "Bless the multitude of souls and their deficiencies." Why bless deficiencies? What we lack spurs us to create, to reach beyond deficits to dreams. "Not to have is the beginning of desire" wrote the poet Stevens. Begin the week thanking God for our needs -- especially the need for one another.
« Reply #417 on: January 28, 2011, 09:44:49 AM »

No Deposit, No Return
By Yossy Goldman

Once upon a time, Yiddish speaking Jews coined the phrase luftmentsh to describe that incurable dreamer type who is always building castles in the sky. Luft means air and someone who lives in the air with pie-in-the-sky fantasies qualifies for this title of dubious distinction. "If only this deal comes off, I'll be set for life!" "When I win the lottery..." etc., etc. The money has been spent before he has even bought the ticket. He's always anticipating the big breakthrough and then, in the end, explaining why it didn't quite happen. This is the life story of our luftmentsh.

There is a line in the beginning of this week's parshah concerning the Jewish bondsman which sums up this phenomenon. Im b'gapo yavo, b'gapo yeitzei – if he came in alone, he goes out alone. Simply speaking, this tells us that if he entered his period of service unmarried, he must leave unmarried and his master may not exploit him to father children who would be born into servitude. But this Torah phrase has become a traditional way of expressing one of life's basic home truths, i.e. no deposit, no return. No effort, no reward. No risk, no profit.

Whether in business, relationships, the social intercourse of communities and nations, or in raising our children, the principle holds true. "The only place success comes before work is in the dictionary." Or, in the words of the Psalmist, "Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy."

There is the old story told of Shmerel, a poor man who once walked by the home of the richest man in the shtetl. There was an aroma wafting out of the dining room where the wealthy man was enjoying his favorite dish, cheese blintzes. Shmerel took one whiff and was overcome with temptation. He just had to taste those blintzes. As soon as he comes home, he begs his good wife, Chasha, to make him some of those blintzes. Chasha says, "I'd love to make you blintzes, Shmerel, but I have no cheese." "Nu, my dear, so make it without the cheese." "But we’ve got no eggs either." "Chasha," says Shmerel, "you are a woman of great ingenuity. I'm sure you can make a plan." So Chasha sets out to do the very best she can under the circumstances. Her work done, she sets the plate of blintzes in front of her dear husband. Shmerel takes one taste, crooks his nose and says, "You know Chasha, for the life of me, I cannot understand what those rich people see in blintzes."

Clearly, you cannot make good blintzes without using the right ingredients. Just as clearly, we cannot have nachas from our children without putting in the necessary ingredients of a good Jewish education, a solid upbringing at home, quality family time, and above all, by setting a good example.

Too many parents assume that nachas is a democratic right, almost a genetic certainty. If parents are good, successful people and committed Jews, then surely their children will turn out the same. But there are no such guarantees. Especially in today's complex, confusing and very troubled society.

A hundred years ago Rabbi Sholom Ber of Lubavitch said, "Just as it is a Biblical commandment to put on tefillin every day, so is it obligatory to spend a half hour daily thinking about our children and to do whatever possible to ensure that they follow the path in which they are being guided."

So don't be a luftmentsh. Put in the effort, and please G-d, you will see the rewards. Whether it’s our work or our children, may we enjoy the fruit of our labors.
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« Reply #418 on: February 15, 2011, 10:14:50 AM »

The Lost Cause Scenario Adar I 11, 5771 · February 15, 2011
By Yanki Tauber Print this Page

Much is made of Abraham's valiant efforts to save the wicked city of Sodom. We read how Abraham virtually went to battle with G-d on behalf of these very sinful people, contesting the divine decree that Sodom (and its four sister cities, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim and Zoar) be destroyed. "It behooves You not to do such," Abraham challenged, "to kill the righteous together with the wicked . . . Shall the Judge of the entire world not do justice?!" "If there be found fifty righteous people in the city," Abraham bargained, "would You not spare the place because of the fifty righteous ones who are in it?" "What if there be five less than fifty?" Abraham persisted. "What if there be forty? . . . Thirty?"

But something about the story doesn't add up. Why should the wicked people be spared "because of the righteous"? If there are some righteous people left in Sodom, G-d obviously doesn't have to "kill the righteous together with the wicked"-He can airlift them outta there before He wrecks the place. Indeed, G-d sent two angels to rescue Lot and his family, the only righteous people in Sodom, before overturning the city. So where's the injustice? What's the logic in Abraham's argument?

Also: every good salesman has more than one pitch up his sleeve; when one line of reasoning fails to elicit the desired response, the seasoned marketer will quickly shift to another tack. Yet Abraham (a pretty good salesman, actually) seems to have only this one argument to make. When it turns out that there's not even ten righteous folk in any of the cities, Abraham drops the case.

One of the explanations offered by the commentaries is that as long as there are righteous people in a place, there remains the possibility and hope that they will have a positive influence on their community. So it makes sense to spare the entire city because of the righteous people in it-it's not a lost cause yet. When Abraham learns, however, that there are no righteous people remaining in Sodom (or not enough righteous people to make a difference), he has nothing further to say on their behalf.

This suggests a deeper meaning to Abraham's argument. When Abraham says to G-d, "Do not destroy the city because of the righteous who are in it," he's not just speaking about Sodom as a city, but also about its individual sinners. The chassidic masters refer to the human being as a "city in miniature": each of us is a virtual metropolis populated by numerous organs and limbs, traits and faculties, drives and desires, thoughts and actions. Even a thoroughly wicked "city" is bound to have a few righteous "inhabitants"-a few remaining enclaves of purity, a few pinpoints of goodness. To destroy a person-even a most wicked person-is also to destroy the latent tzaddik within him, to reject not only his negative actuality but also his positive potential.

The question, however, is: does there remain enough potential goodness to exert a positive influence on the "city" and perhaps effect a transformation? If this were the case, it would indeed be a grave injustice, unbehooving the Judge of the entire world, to "kill the righteous together with the wicked." But what if we are dealing with a "lost cause"? What if we have before us a person or community in which the "tzaddik within" is so completely overwhelmed that one can see no possibility of it ever asserting itself? When there is no salvageable goodness remaining in the person, what can be said to protest the Divine decree?

Abraham, who in the course of his lifetime had converted many thousands to the ethos and morals of monotheism, was quite the expert at identifying and activating the "hidden tzaddik" in the most corrupt environments. But when confronted with an evil as impregnable as Sodom's, even Abraham fell silent.


But Moses did not.

Four hundred years after Abraham approached G-d to plead on behalf of the wicked of Sodom, Moses had a "lost cause scenario" of his own on his hands, when the Children of Israel sinned by worshipping a Golden Calf. What can be said in defense of a people who succumb to idolatry a mere forty days after experiencing the greatest Divine revelation of all time-a revelation bearing the message "I am the L-rd your G-d . . . you shall have no other gods before Me"?

The Divine anger seethed. Like his great-great-great-great-grandfather before him, Moses stepped in to stave off a decree of annihilation.

But Moses took a different approach. He didn't say, "But there are many who didn't sin." He didn't say, "Spare the wicked because of the righteous," or "spare the wicked because of the potential for righteousness within then." Instead he said: "Forgive them, G-d. If you won't, blot me out of your Torah."

Moses demanded an unconditional forgiveness, a forgiveness without a "because." If you are a G-d who forgives without cause, Moses said, I'm prepared to be part of your Story. If not, edit me out; I'll have no part in it.

Abraham was a great lover of humanity. He loved his fellow man because he saw the potential for goodness in him or her, even when the rest of the person didn't look that great. But Moses' love was greater: Moses loved his people regardless of whether he could or could not discern the hidden tzaddik in their city.

And the amazing thing was, in the end Moses did turn his errant people around. In the end, their supposedly irredeemable potential came to glorious light.

For such is the paradox of love. If you care for someone because you see in him a potential for improvement and wish to have a positive influence on him, that's really great of you, but there will be times when you'll find that potential inaccessible and your positive influence rebuffed. But if you care for him irrespective of whether you can see anything good in him, and regardless of whether you can reasonably hope to influence him in any way-if you love him even if he is a "lost cause"-then you will end up having a profound influence on his life.

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« Reply #419 on: March 30, 2011, 08:22:56 PM »

Reflections on the Parshah
Healthy Selfishness
By Zalman Posner

In this week's Torah reading we have the description of afflictions which may beset man, the examinations by the Kohen, and the laws of the quarantine, if necessary. The Talmud teaches that "All afflictions one sees, except his own." No man examines his own afflictions; another must do this. The Torah describes physical disease, but the physical meaning does not exhaust the implications of these laws. The Mishna is especially apt.

Afflictions, moral shortcomings, are obvious and readily condemned in another. We are sensitive to the grossness of another's poor manners, repelled by arrogance, shocked by niggardliness, dismayed by that No fault escapes detection and forthright denunciation. "All afflictions man sees..." fellow's insufferable complacency. We are struck with the full force of the repulsiveness of his poor character traits and moral deficiencies. Our clarity of vision, our objectivity, our courage and candor in denouncing shortcomings "right to his face" is a source of considerable pride to many of us. No fault escapes detection and forthright denunciation. "All afflictions man sees..."

But must we carry the burden of constantly correcting everyone's failings on our shoulders? Will we be forgiven if we ignore others' afflictions for a while as we examine our own? May our spiritual ministrations be directed toward ourselves, just for a while? This selfishness may be exercised with impunity. Let's be selfless, if we must, in more mundane affairs.
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« Reply #420 on: March 30, 2011, 08:26:16 PM »

What does it mean to "rest" on Shabbat? And what exactly do you do on a day of rest? Watch this video to find ou
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« Reply #421 on: April 01, 2011, 06:53:59 AM »

Woof Rachel:

I like her energy a lot.


Roles Adar II 22, 5771 · March 28, 2011
By Tzvi Freeman Print this Page

A metaphor of the Talmud:

A man works in the field and brings home wheat --but shall he then eat wheat? Of what use is his toil?

His wife grinds the wheat into flour and makes bread.

So too, the tasks of life: A man's spiritual accomplishments only become realized in the material world due to his wife.

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« Reply #422 on: April 03, 2011, 10:32:12 PM »

Torah for Now
Healing Hubris

By Shlomo Yaffe

Tzara'at, the skin discoloration mistranslated for millennia as "leprosy," is a curious disease. It is not contagious—it was only acquired by virtue of speaking badly of other people. It was a physical skin discoloration caused by a spiritual defect. The "metzora," the sufferer with tzara'at, had to stay outside the city and inform all that he or she was spiritually impure.

The Talmud tells us that the penalty of the metzora is imposed "measure for measure": his gossip and slander build walls of mistrust and bad feeling between people and isolated them from each other, so he, too, is isolated from society.

The cedar reminds that arrogance brought us to tzara'at in the first placeThe Talmud also discusses the reason why the purification ritual for the healed metzora includes a wand of cedar wood, the tallest species of tree, by far, in the Levant: The cedar wood reminds us that arrogance brought us to tzara'at in the first place.

This statement does not contradict the idea of slander as the cause of tzara'at, but adds texture and depth to the theme.

It teaches us that the root cause of tzara'at is arrogance, a sense of being superior to other people. This causes one to look down on others as inferior and therefore to pass judgment on them. Once those judgments fill the mind, the person then shares them with others.

It seems to me that the isolation aspect of the metzora's "sentence" is not just to sense the distance from other people caused by the gossip, but also to see how foolish a sense of superiority is. When alone you discover that all the abilities you pride yourself on as making you superior are meaningless.

Are you wise? Who learns from you if you are alone?

Are you articulate and persuasive? Whom do you persuade if you are alone?

Are you a leader? Whom do you lead if you are alone?

Are you an artist? Who will be inspired by your vision if you are alone?

In isolation, the metzora learns that all his superiority really comes from those whom he hitherto looked down upon because they received from him.

It is the need in others that we fill that makes our abilities significant. We all are givers and we all are receivers and together we form a stable living community.

We are never greater than another; we are made greater by each otherWe are never greater than another; we are made greater by each other.

In Torah, all taharah, purity, is related to life. All tum'ah, impurity, is related to death. Arrogance tears us from our garden of life; a system that we give life into and receive life from, and turns us into a dry dead specimen that only dully hints of what it was when it was green and alive.

Fortunately, this death is reversible through honest introspection; the metzora is then cleansed and welcomed back to his/her community.

   By Shlomo Yaffe   More articles...  |   
Rabbi Shlomo Yaffe, a frequent contributor of articles and media to, is Permanent Scholar-in-Residence to Chabad at Harvard, and Dean of the Institute of American and Talmudic Law in New York, NY. Rabbi Yaffe has lectured and led seminars throughout North America, as well as in Europe and South Africa.
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« Reply #423 on: April 12, 2011, 09:13:45 AM »

Does the Torah contain factual inaccuracies? Filmmaker Warner Herzog was once accused of not being a true "documentary filmmaker" because he took liberties. "There's a book for people like you" he answered, "it's called the phone book. Everything in it is accurate." Truth is deeper than fact. The Torah is true.

Hitpallel, the Hebrew word for prayer, means to reflect on or judge oneself. Our quarrel with others, taught the poet Yeats, makes rhetoric; our quarrel with ourselves makes poetry. Real prayer is a struggle with oneself. It is soul-wrestling, seeking to be better, hoping for wholeness, yearning for God. It is poetry.

Google Exodus
What if Moses had Facebook?

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« Reply #424 on: April 12, 2011, 10:23:51 AM »

 cheesy cheesy cheesy
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« Reply #425 on: April 18, 2011, 09:44:39 PM »
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« Reply #426 on: April 19, 2011, 10:25:30 AM »

It"s a beautiful day : made a knot in my throat, that was very nice smiley
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« Reply #427 on: April 20, 2011, 10:40:28 AM »

In each one of us there is an Egypt and a Pharaoh and a Moses and Freedom in a Promised Land. And every point in time is an opportunity for another Exodus.

Egypt is a place that chains you to who you are, constraining you from growth and change. And Pharaoh is that voice inside that mocks your gambit to escape, saying, "How could you attempt being today something you were not yesterday? Aren't you good enough just as you are? Don't you know who you are?"

Moses is the liberator, the infinite force deep within, an impetuous and all-powerful drive to break out from any bondage, to always transcend, to connect with that which has no bounds.

But Freedom and the Promised Land are not static elements that lie in wait. They are your own achievements which you may create at any moment, in any thing that you do, simply by breaking free from whoever you were the day before.

Last Passover you may not have yet begun to light a candle. Or some other mitzvah still waits for you to fulfill its full potential. This year, defy Pharaoh and light up your world. With unbounded light.

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« Reply #428 on: April 22, 2011, 03:56:37 PM »

Love Thy Shrek as Thyself
By Yossy Goldman

The most famous golden rule of life is found in the second of this week's Torah readings. Love thy fellow as thyself (Leviticus 19:18), is not only famous, it also sounds like an injunction that is virtually impossible to fulfill. Can one ever hope to reach such an exalted level of saintliness to love anyone else as much as we love ourselves? Is the Torah not being naďve and utterly unrealistic?

Indeed, the classical commentaries grapple with this issue. Some suggest that we are being taught to act as if we love the other fellow. If we behave in such a way, the actual emotion may well follow in time.

The Chassidic classic Tanya (Chapter 32) teaches that if one is able to put physical considerations aside and focus on the spiritual, it may actually be within the realm of the possible to achieve true love of another. Indeed, our petty likes and dislikes are all based on physical preferences. We either approve or disapprove of the way others look, talk, dress, behave etc. But those are all material concerns. If we would only remember that these are but superficial, external, and of little consequence, we wouldn't take them at all seriously.

What matters most is the spiritual. The real person is not the body but the soul. The essence of every individual is not his nose but his neshama. So what if he's ugly and his mother dresses him funny? His soul is pure and untainted. Who knows if the other fellow's soul is not greater, holier and more pristine than mine? No one can say his soul is better than the next person's.

By focusing on the inner identity of a person we can avoid getting irritated by their outer idiosyncrasies. We might think someone weird but would we ever accuse him or her of having a weird soul? So if we can rise above the superficial and concentrate on the spirit rather than the body, on the essence rather than on the external we do have a chance of observing this fundamental mitzvah in the literal sense.

How easy it is to fall into the trap of labeling people, of categorizing them and writing them off. Him? A meshuggener! Her? Rotten to the core! That family? They are impossible!

Many years ago I was trying to help a man organize a get (Jewish religious divorce) for his estranged and already civilly divorced wife. The problem was that she refused to cooperate. (Usually, the problem is the reverse.) So I engaged an attorney friend of mine to help with the case. The next day he called me to say it was all sorted out. I couldn't believe my ears. "How did you do it?" I asked incredulously. He answered with such genuine directness that I was completely taken aback. "I called her up and said, 'I believe you are not an ogre.' Immediately, I received a favorable response and the deal was done."

Nobody is really an ogre. (Even Shrek was a nice ogre.) If we can learn to give people the benefit of the doubt we might be surprised at how friendly and cooperative they really can be. Individuals with the most notorious reputations aren't half as bad as they are made out to be when we get to know them. Human monsters are rare indeed. The spark of humanity needs but to be aroused and the G‑dly soul is stirred and revealed.

So let's try and be more generous, a little more patient and forgiving. We may well be surprised at how lovable some people can be
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« Reply #429 on: April 22, 2011, 04:03:11 PM »

The Feast
By Tuvia Bolton

Editor's note: This is an old Jewish story/joke/metaphor. Versions abound. My favorite is Tuvia Bolton's rendition:

There were once two beggars who used to go around begging together. One was Jewish and the other a gentile. As the night of Passover approached, the Jewish beggar offered to help his non-Jewish friend get invited to a seder (the festive Passover meal accompanied by many commandments and rituals) and get a good meal. "Just put on some Jewish clothes and come with me to the synagogue. Everyone brings home poor guests for the seder. It's easy, you'll see."

The non-Jewish beggar happily agreed. On the first night of Passover they went to the synagogue, and sure enough, both got invited to different homes for the festive ceremony.

Hours later they met in a predetermined place in the local park. But to the amazement of the Jewish beggar, his friend was blazing mad.

"What did you do to me?" He shouted. "You call that a meal? It was torture!! It was hell! I'll pay you back for this--you'll see..."

"What do you mean? What happened?" the Jew asked.

"What happened? As if you didn't know! You Jews are crazy--that's what happened! First we drank a glass of wine. I like wine, but on an empty stomach... My head started spinning a bit but I figured that any second we would begin the meal. The smell of the food from the kitchen was great. Then we ate a bit of parsley. Then they started talking, and talking, and talking. In Hebrew. All the time I'm smiling and nodding my head as if I understand what they're saying--like you told me to--but my head is really swimming and hurting from the wine and I'm dying of hunger.

"The smell of the food from the kitchen is making me insane, but they don't bring it out. For two hours they don't bring anything out! Just talking, and more talking. Then, just what I needed.... another cup of wine! Then we get up, wash hands, sit back down and eat this big wafer called matzah that tastes like newspaper, leaning to the left (don't ask me why...). I started choking, almost threw up. And then finally they give me this lettuce, I took a big bite and wham! My mouth was on fire. My throat! There was horseradish inside! Nothing to eat but horseradish! You guys are crazy....

"Well, I just got up and left. Enough is enough!"

"Ah, I should have told you." replied the Jew. "What a shame! After the bitter herbs is a glorious meal. You suffered so long; you should have just held out for a few more minutes...!"

The editor again: Jewish history is a seder. We've had our appetite teased with small moments of triumph. But mostly we've had "bread of faith" that our palates can't really appreciate. And generous helpings of bitter herbs.

The lesson? Two thoughts come to mind. You need patience to be a Jew. And since we've swallowed the maror already, we might as well hold out one minute longer and get the feast...
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« Reply #430 on: April 24, 2011, 09:50:47 PM »

The Second Exodus
by Avigail Sharer
We had just seven days to get out of Egypt.

Egypt: land of the sphinx, the pyramids, the Nile, and – until their sudden expulsion – the home of my mother-in-law and her family.

In the early 20th century, 175,000 Jews lived in Egypt; most had been there for generations, serving as lawyers, doctors, and businessman. They lived in affluence undreamed of by their Eastern European brethren. 

With her olive complexion and cream silk scarf draped over her shoulder, my mother-in-law Bella Sharer is a beautiful picture of an Egyptian Jew. Her family lived in Cairo for generations; her grandparents are buried there. 

"We lived in a huge apartment," she recalls. “Father was the breadwinner – he was involved in commerce, which sometimes involved him being away for months on end, as he traveled across the Sahara Desert. Once he went on a business trip to what was then called Palestine. He returned with a handcrafted etrog box, fashioned from olive wood, carved with a picture of Rachel’s Tomb. To me, these places were more of a dream than the Sphinx and the Pyramids, both of which were regular Sunday afternoon destinations.

"Going to synagogue on Shabbos was a magical affair: I would stare at the ornate ceiling and marble pillars of the Ben Ezra synagogue. My father would bid for the honor of placing the silver pomegranates on top of the Torah scroll before it was returned to the Holy Ark. 

“My dearest childhood memories center on Passover – the fragrance of the crates of dates mingling with that of the freshly-painted walls; the hustle and bustle as the extended family moved in for the holiday.”

It was an idyllic childhood spent in an affluent and influential society, under the benign rulership of King Farouk II. Farouk was a hedonist, and to the large Arab population, a travesty, a betrayal to the people. A military coup dethroned Farouk in 1952, followed by a stormy transition period, after which Gamal Abdel Nasser became president of Egypt. The country paused for breath, as Nasser's domestic and foreign policies increasingly clashed with the French and British colonial interests. When Nasser announced his plan to nationalize, and thereby control the Suez Canal – which, as the only land bridge between Africa and Asia was strategically and economically vital to Britain and France – a crisis ensued.

Door Wide Open

"One afternoon came a knock at the door. Three soldiers stood there, and ordered us to follow them to the police station. Their swarthy faces and black eyes frightened me. I clutched my mother's hand tight as we wordlessly followed them to a huge, imposing building. At the station, the chief brusquely informed us that my father's business had been appropriated by the government, that our bank account and all assets had been frozen, and that we had seven days to leave the country. We were allowed to take clothes and $40 dollars cash. 

"Our world was shattered in an instant, as if one of the exquisite crystal glasses that graced our Seder table splintered on the stone floor.

“The Egyptian Jews had been of the highest echelons of society, established, prominent, prosperous. In the blink of an eye, they were reduced to beggars.

"My father visited all his contacts: members of the royal family, political figures, the wealthiest businessmen. No one could help. The decree came directly from Nasser. As for our assets, people threw up their arms helplessly. 'Be grateful that you have your family,' they said. 

"What followed was a paralysis of sorts. My mother would walk around our home, touching the furniture, stroking her candlesticks, as if to etch it into her mind. In the meantime, our Arab neighbors, with whom we had always lived side-by-side in peace, were greedily despoiling our home. They would walk in, look around, and point to whatever item they wanted, whether a painting on the wall or my mother's huge diamond engagement ring. 

"As we were allowed to take clothes along, my mother took us to a department store and bought a plentiful supply of skirts, tops, trousers and undershirts. In the confusion, she forgot that we would soon grow out of our present sizes. For years we wore clothing that was too small. Then we sold it to buy food.

"My father booked us passage on a ship leaving from Alexandria. Then we stepped over the threshold for the last time: me and my brother, my parents, my aunt, uncle and cousins. We left the front door wide open behind us."

Freedom of the Spirit

In 1957, when she was 10 years old, my mother-in-law and her family boarded a boat to Marseilles, France. There, they were taken to a concentration-cum-DP camp, handed threadbare blankets, and assigned beds.

"We arrived in France in the middle of winter, and the cold penetrated my bones. In the blazing heat of Egypt, we had siesta every afternoon between one and three o’clock, because the heat was so intense. Now, the cold settled on me and I couldn't shake it away. My father, by that time well into his 50s, would go to a nearby forest and chop firewood so that at least we could huddle around the ovens.

"I would go into the shower room and stare and stare. The shower heads, which now gushed with hot water, just a few years before had delivered Zyklon B. I was washing myself in a room where thousands of my fellow Jews had met their deaths. If anything gave us perspective on our loss, it was that shower room."

My mother-in-law plays with a long string of pearls and sits, contemplating. "Even after I married and had a family, and lived in a nice house in Stamford Hill, England, experiences like that don't go away. I fear change, and have a deep sense of insecurity. On the positive side, having suffered myself, I am able to empathize with others who have suffered. It's also much easier for me to keep my priorities straight: We lost everything, but retained our lives and our health. 

“I watch people running after the good life, and I know that in a flash, everything can be taken away. Wealth can disappear, status can dissolve. All that's left is who you are and what you make of what's left. That's what true freedom – freedom of the spirit – is all about."

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« Reply #431 on: May 01, 2011, 02:06:12 PM »

The Case of the Floating Skull
Ethics 2:6
By Yosef Marcus

A man had gone for a stroll along the river when he noticed an unusual and ghoulish sight: a skull floating on the surface of the water. His reaction was unusual. He reached neither for his cellphone nor for his digital camera.

Instead, he turned to the skull and uttered the following six Aramaic words: Ahl d'ateift aftfuch, v'sof mitofayich yitufun. Had he spoken to it in English, he might have said this: "You were drowned because you drowned others. And ultimately, those who drowned you will also drown." Less poetic in English, yet essentially the same point.

The reason he used Aramaic was because at the time the incident occurred -- some time toward the end of the Second Temple era -- Aramaic was not yet a deceased language. In fact, it was very much alive, especially among Jews who lived in Babylonia.

The man walking along the river had lived in Babylonia until the age of forty. He then migrated to the holy city of Jerusalem to study at the feet of Shma'ayah and Avtalyon, two brothers of Greek extraction, who had converted to Judaism and rose to become the leading Judaic scholars of their day.

The man was Hillel, the author of better known statements, such as "If I am not for myself who is for me", "What is hateful to you do not do unto your friend" and others. He was known for his profound knowledge and extraordinary patience. Like Moses, he was known for his humility; and, like Moses, he lived for one hundred and twenty years. According to kabbalistic tradition he and Moses shared the same soul.

Maimonides and the Skull

Another man by the name of Moses, Moses Maimonides, who lived some 1,000 years after the skull story, wrote the following in his commentary on Tractate Avot ("Ethics of the Fathers") where the skull story is recorded (paraphrased):

There are consequences to our actions -- consequences that reflect those actions. If you commit murder and drown others in a river to hide your crime, you will receive your punishment in the form of your crime. If you invent an unjust thing to benefit yourself at the expense of others, that unjust thing will ultimately be used against you. On the positive side, if you introduce something that benefits others, that thing will ultimately come to benefit you as well. In Hebrew it is called: midah k'neged midah -- measure for measure.

This is how Maimonides and other commentators explain Hillel's message.

Pharaoh vs. Moses round II

Maimonides' grandson, Rabbi David Hanagid, cites a tradition handed down by "the early ones" that the floating skull belonged to none other than Pharaoh himself. Hillel therefore told him: "Because you commanded that Jewish children be drowned in the Nile, you were drowned." It was specifically Hillel who confronted Pharaoh's skull, since as a reincarnation of Moses he was fit to confront Pharaoh.

According to this interpretation, says Rabbi Isaac Luria , the renowned 16th century Safed mystic known as "the Holy Ari", the second half of Hillel's statement is addressed not to Pharaoh but to the Jewish people: "Just as Pharaoh was drowned, so all persecutors of Israel will ultimately be drowned."

The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson of blessed memory, saw in the Ari's comment words of comfort to the tired soul of the exiled Jew, to the soul of one who feels that he or she is up against an insurmountable challenge, an impenetrable cloud of darkness. Hillel, the great leader of Israel, turns to this person and says: "If Pharaoh, the embodiment of evil, the man who cast fear even into the heart of Moses, so much so that G-d had to reassure him and say, 'Come to Pharaoh -- I will accompany you,' ended up drowned in a river, certainly all the Pharaohs of history, all the great serpents that tried and will try to drown you through physical and spiritual persecution --they will be drowned as well. For evil has no leg to stand on. Like smoke it obscures our vision for a time but must ultimately disappear."

Mocking the Poor

If that were all we could learn from Hillel's statement, it would be enough. But there's more. Here's another beautiful thought:

It seems strange that Hillel, the man of kindness, humility and impossible patience, would rebuke a dead man! According to Jewish tradition, one ought not perform any mitzvah in a graveyard. Doing so is considered "mocking the poor" (loeg la'rash), since those that dwell in the earth are no longer capable of performing mitzvot. Just as you would not partake of a gourmet dinner in the face of one unable to afford a slice of bread, so one should not show one's tzizit, for example, in the presence of those who can no longer fulfill that commandment.

Why, then, did Hillel, the man of kindness and humility, rebuke this poor dead person, who could do nothing with this rebuke?

The answer, says the Rebbe, is that when Hillel came across the skull of Pharaoh, he though to himself: "Why has G-d arranged for me to see this sight?" He then came to the conclusion that the time had finally come for the soul of Pharaoh to find peace. And by using Pharaoh as an example with which to teach a meaningful message, Hillel uplifted Pharaoh's soul and granted it the ability to find peace.

In summation

So what starts out as an innocent stroll along the river turns out to be a passage filled with meaningful lessons:

● What goes around comes around.

● Even the most formidable evil is transient.

● Everything that comes your way has a purpose and you should fulfill that purpose. Not always is that purpose apparent but we should at least take advantage of those situations when the purpose is apparent.

● Even a Pharaoh can ultimately be redeemed and should be redeemed when that time arrives.

And that's the story of the floating skull.
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« Reply #432 on: May 02, 2011, 06:34:15 PM »

Is It Okay to Celebrate Bin Laden’s Death?
By Tzvi Freeman


Is it inappropriate to be celebrating the death of Osama Bin Laden? Is that a Jewish value?


You’ve asked what I could only call a very Jewish question. For one thing, it’s so typically Jewish to feel guilty about rejoicing. Aside from that, the wisdom of our sages on this topic runs deep and thick. When do you know a wisdom is deep? When at first glance it seems full of contradiction.

Let’s start with Solomon the Wise, who writes, “When the wicked perish, there is joyful song.”1

Sounds pretty unequivocal. Until you find another statement of the same author, in the same book: “When your enemy falls, do not rejoice, and when he stumbles, let your heart not exult, lest the L‑rd see and be displeased, and turn His wrath away from him.”2

The Talmud mirrors the tension. We find: “When the wicked perish from the world, good comes to the world, as the verse states, ‘When the wicked perish, there is joyful song.’”3

. . . while in the same volume, the Talmud has already told us, “When the Egyptians were drowning in the Sea of Reeds, the angels wanted to sing. G‑d said to them, ‘The work of My hands is drowning in the sea, and you want to sing?’”4

We aren’t the first to note these paradoxes and more. Now is not the time to list every resolution suggested. Instead, let’s get straight to the heart of the matter:

What is so terrible, after all, about celebrating the death of a wicked evildoer? Why would you even think it decrepit to rejoice that a man who himself rejoiced over the demise of thousands of others, and connived ingeniously to bring destruction and terror across the globe, should now be removed from it? Is it so horrible to feel happy that the world has just become a better, safer and happier place?

No, it’s not. That’s perfectly legit. On the contrary, someone who is not celebrating at this time is apparently not so concerned by the presence of evil upon our lovely planet. Those who are outraged by evil are carrying now smiles upon their face. The apathetic don’t give a hoot.

If so, when Pharaoh and his henchmen, who had enslaved our people for generations—mistreating them with the utmost cruelty, drowning our babies and beating workers to death—when they were finally being drowned in the sea, why would not G‑d Himself rejoice?

Simple: Because they are “the work of My hands.” For this, they are magnificent. And a terrible loss.

As another prophet put it, “As I live, says the L‑rd G‑d, I do not wish for the death of the wicked, but for the wicked to repent of his way so that he may live.”5

For the same reason, Solomon tells you not to rejoice over the fall of your enemy. If that’s the reason you are celebrating—because he is your enemy, that you have been vindicated in a personal battle—then how are you better than him? His wickedness was self-serving, as is your joy.

But to rejoice over the diminishment of evil in the world, that we have done something of our part to clean up the mess, that there has been justice—what could be more noble?

That, after all, was the sin of Bin Laden: He recognized G‑d. He was a deeply religious man—those who knew him call him “saintly.” He prayed to G‑d five times a day and thanked Him for each of his nefarious achievements. The sin of Bin Laden was to refuse to recognize the divine image within every human being, to deny the value G‑d Himself places upon “the work of My hands.” To Bin Laden, this world was an ugly, dark place, constructed only so that it could be obliterated in some final apocalypse, and he was ready to help it on its way. With that sin, all his worship and religiosity was rendered decrepit evil.

So there’s the irony of it all, the depth and beauty that lies in the tension of our Torah: If we celebrate that Bin Laden was shot and killed, we are stooping to his realm of depravation. Yet if we don’t celebrate the elimination of evil, we demonstrate that we simply don’t care.

We are not angels. An angel, when it sings, is filled with nothing but song. An angel, when it cries, is drowned in its own tears. We are human beings. We can sing joyfully and mourn both at once. We can hate the evil of a person, while appreciating that he is still the work of G‑d’s hands. In this way, the human being, not the angel, is the perfect vessel for the wisdom of Torah.
See Maharsha on Sanhedrin 39b; Midrash Shmuel 4:22.

Rabbi Wolpe
Yesterday, Yom Hashoah, Bin Laden was killed. The proper reaction is sobriety, not revelry. This is a time to remember those who died, pray for those who fight, meditate anew on wickedness and redouble our dedication to justice. "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil," taught Burke, "is for good men to do nothing." Do something.

edited to add one of his comments
Yes, there is certainly a grim satisfaction and a temptation to joy when someone so wicked is killed. But this is attendant with so much loss, death, war and sorrow, that I really think even such a long desired goal should not evoke jubilance. God bless the extraordinary Navy SEALS.
« Last Edit: May 02, 2011, 06:38:18 PM by Rachel » Logged
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« Reply #433 on: May 08, 2011, 01:13:11 PM »

Mother’s Day

Answered by Sara Esther Crispe

Dear Rachel,
I have a very strained relationship with my mother and I always have. Perhaps it is that we are so different, or maybe that we are so similar, but we are rarely able to spend time together without us both blowing up. I do love my mother but I have a hard time being around her. For Mother's Day I wanted to do something special, but I am worried if we spend the day together as she requested, that instead we will end up fighting. I certainly don't want to ruin the day for her by fighting, but if I cancel she will also be upset. What do you suggest?

Worried Daughter

Dear Worried Daughter,

Sometimes the closer you are to someone the harder it can be to get along I don't think a mother/daughter relationship exists which doesn't have some kind of strain or challenge. If we are fortunate, we have a loving and warm relationship with our mothers. Yet even then, sometimes the closer you are to someone the harder it can be to get along. You write that you have always had a strained relationship, which makes things even more difficult.

So now your dilemma: if you keep your plans and spend the day together you are worried that you will end up fighting. If you cancel your plans, you are worried that you will hurt her feelings. I think that canceling will definitely cause a tremendous amount of pain to her. If you hadn't made plans to start with, that would be one thing, but being that you have already made plans to spend the day together, we need to figure out a way you can do so and not fight.

For starters, two people can only fight if both people allow themselves to do so. Here is a great opportunity for you to exercise incredible self control and work with yourself not to get upset. Chassidic philosophy teaches us that the mind is able to rule over the heart (moach shalet al halev). There is no question that emotions can run high and you may want to scream or cry, but your mind knows better. Intellectually, rationally, you know that you love your mother. You know that you are spending the day with her to honor her and to thank her for being your mother and for the life that she has given you. That is a pretty tremendous gift, and one that you should be grateful for. Focus on that. Focus on your love for her and how fortunate you are to have your mother in your life. And let your mind run the show. When you feel that you are getting annoyed or upset or that you are losing patience, tell your heart to cool off and let your head lead the way. For one day, you can keep yourself collected regardless of how frustrating the circumstances may be.

Emotions can run high and you may want to scream or cry, but your mind knows better And secondly, plan your day in a way that will minimize stress. You know what makes you tick and you know what makes your mother tick. Plan the day around what she will enjoy but try to eliminate things that you know will drive you crazy. If your mother loves shopping, but you want to pull out your hairs because she is indecisive and tries on a million things, don't go shopping! Or maybe give her a gift certificate to a store that she can use at another time. Come up with plans that you both enjoy, and maybe include things that you can do together which don't require you to always be speaking. Perhaps find a museum that you would both enjoy walking around, or take a drive to the beach where you can sit and relax and each read a book. Do not pick her favorite restaurant if it will be mobbed on Mother's Day and you know your mom gets anxious when the service is bad. Think through the places and situations that would be enjoyable to you both, and the least stressful. And perhaps start the day with a bouquet of flowers or her favorite chocolate. Everyone loves gifts and having one delivered that morning would be a nice surprise, and a great way to start off the day.

So before your day with your mom, do some soul searching to keep your emotions in check, and do some planning to come up with the best way of spending your time together. And remember the most important things: she is your mother. You love her, and no matter how frustrated you might get, you must respect her. Enjoy your day together!

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« Reply #434 on: May 15, 2011, 09:04:54 AM »

Living through the Parshah
Disguised Blessings

By Rochel Holzkenner

The author with her daughter, Chaya Mushka of blessed memory.

My friend Aviva came to visit Chaya Mushka and me in the hospital. Just four weeks earlier my daughter was diagnosed with Trisomy 18, a chromosomal disorder. Only five to ten percent of babies with this condition survive their first year.

“I just don’t understand why this would happen to you,” she said to me. We sat facing one another in the NICU. I held Chaya Mushka and kicked the rocking chair into motion. “You and Sholom Meir seem to be such good people . . .”

“But what if we were chosen to host her? What if her soul selected us as her parents for its short mission on earth, then to return ‘home,’ unscathed and pristine?” The words slipped from my lips, still unprocessed: “What if she’s our blessing?”

“But if you don’t listen to Me,” says G‑d, “I will direct upon you panic, inflammation, fever, disease and anguish. You will sow your seed in vain, and [if it does sprout,] your enemies will eat it . . .” (Leviticus 26:14,16).


And that’s not it. The Torah continues with close to another thirty verses filled with promises of retribution—they’re actually difficult to read.

Surprisingly, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi makes the following comment about the Torah’s harsh words: “In truth, they are nothing but blessings!”


Rabbi Schneur Zalman uncovers the hidden blessings hidden behind the guise of misfortuneHe then proceeds to explain many of the verses as blessings. For example, “Ten women will bake bread in one oven” (ibid. verse 26). In its simplest sense, this verse is referring to the extreme poverty that will afflict us if we abandon G‑d’s ways. But Rabbi Schneur Zalman interprets the verse as follows: We will meditate on the oneness of G‑d (the oven of “one”) with such intensity, that all our ten soul-powers will be consumed with a fiery love for Him. Then our Torah study (Torah is often referred to in the Scriptures as “bread”) will “bake” and marinate in this love.

Rabbi Schneur Zalman uncovers the hidden blessings hidden behind the guise of misfortune. To him, it was obvious and apparent that the curses must be taken beyond face value.

Interestingly, Rabbi Schneur Zalman wasn’t the first person to see through apparently unkind wording. The Talmud (Moed Katan 9a) tells us the story of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, famed Mishnaic sage and author of the Zohar, who sent his son Elazar to receive blessings from two of his students, Rabbi Yonatan and Rabbi Yehudah. But instead of hearing from them blessings, he heard curses. “May it be G‑d’s will that you will sow and not reap!” they proclaimed, and then continued with a litany of unpleasant wishes.

An astonished Elazar repeated to his father the rabbis’ curses.

“Curses?” responded Rabbi Shimon. “Those were all blessings!

“‘You will sow and not reap’ means that you will have children and they will not die . . .” And Rabbi Shimon proceeded to decode all the “curses,” patiently explaining to his son the blessings inherent within them.

It was certainly quite clever for Rabbi Shimon to decode the riddles and expose the blessings. But why did the sages speak in such a roundabout way? Why didn’t they bless him in language that he could understand?

Rabbi Schneur Zalman’s grandson, Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch, asks just this question. He concludes that the sages’ blessings were of such a lofty and sublime nature that they couldn’t be expressed directly. They had to go through the medium of “bad” before they could be exposed as good.

Resilient people don’t let frustration and disappointment erode their belief If G‑d is good and He orchestrates our lives with purpose and meaning, then there can be only two types of experiences that He generates: a) good things that we perceive as good; b) good things that we perceive as bad.

And here’s the part that seems completely counterintuitive (or maybe not): the good that’s perceived as bad is in fact a more potent good.1

Compare your personal journal to your published autobiography. The autobiography probably makes a lot more sense to an audience of readers. But your journal is so raw and genuine, so you.

When G‑d communicates with us from a place closer to His essence, we don’t understand Him clearly. Was that a hug? ’Cause it felt like a slap in the face . . .

In fact, the Talmud (Yoma 23a) tells us that people who are able to remain happy despite their suffering will merit to see G‑d in His full glory during the Messianic Era. These resilient people don’t let frustration and disappointment erode their belief that everything that comes from G‑d is good. Since they embrace all of G‑d—the part they understand, and the part they so don’t—they eventually experience the totality of G‑d’s light. They’ve proven that they can embrace even the most raw and intense parts of G‑d.

So how do we expose the sweet good that’s entangled in a bad wrap? The chassidic masters teach that by merely trusting that there is a potent kernel of good hidden in the pain, we begin to disassemble the screen that veils it.

“Why did this happen to me?” There are two ways to ask this same question. One is rhetorical, a proclamation: “This is wrong and shouldn’t have happened to me.” The second is authentic: “I wonder why this is happening to me. How can this be good for me?” And just exploring the possibility of good draws it to the surface.

To ask the second type of question, we need to train ourselves to look through the external trappings of an experience and capture its depth.

What we perceive as bad is in truth the higher expression of G‑d’s kindnessRabbi Shimon bar Yochai was clearly a man of unparalleled depth. He authored the Zohar, the primary book of Jewish mysticism. That’s why it was so natural for him to see the curse as a blessing. He didn’t need to reconcile the shell of the words with their inner meaning—to him the shell was completely transparent.

Rabbi Schneur Zalman authored the Tanya, the primary work of chassidic philosophy. Like Rabbi Shimon, he saw everything with profundity, plumbing the depths of any notion. That’s why Rabbi Schneur Zalman read the verses of admonition and immediately entered into their innermost understanding, where all is good, and where what we perceive as bad is in truth the higher expression of G‑d’s kindness. Like Rabbi Shimon, he didn’t have to train himself to see bad as good; to him it was as clear as the sun is bright.

Studying chassidic teachings, the depth of the Torah’s wisdom, trains our eyes with incredible depth perception, and sensitizes us to see the good even when we’re disappointed.2

And nevertheless, let’s bless each other that we all be recipients of only good—and good that we perceive as good!

In kabbalistic language, the good that feels bad comes from the loftier first two letters of G‑d’s name (the Tetragrammaton), the yud and the hei, while the good that feels good comes from the second two letters of His name; the vav and the (second) hei (see Tanya, part 1, chapter 26).

Based on a talk by the Rebbe, recorded in Likkutei Sichot, end of vol. 1.
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« Reply #435 on: May 20, 2011, 07:17:42 PM »

Whispering Flames: The Fire of Lag B'Omer
by Rabbi Doniel Baron
Tapping into the fiery, spiritual energy that is embedded in every iota of creation.

Fire. With dancing, leaping, flashing tongues of flame, fire lights up the Lag B'Omer night sky. Jews light bonfires to commemorate the holiday, continuing a tradition that dates back hundreds of years. Lag B'Omer is the day on which Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai revealed the chief mystical work, the Zohar, through an explosion of fire, and it is the day on which he died.

The tongues of flame whisper a message. What is the mysterious, inner meaning of all the fire?

To unravel the mystery, we need to go 3,500 years back in time to young Abraham in Mesopotamia, left to mind his father's idol shop. He looked at the sun, the moon, the stars and heavenly bodies and concluded that it would be ridiculous to think that inanimate, man-made idols had control over these things. As he contemplated more and more evidence of design in the world, he concluded that there must be a Creator who controls all.

The world around him thought otherwise, and even united to build a tower to "fight" their conception of God. But the more Abraham saw in the world, the more he realized that everything is guided by the hand of the Creator.

Abraham's discovery is expressed through a metaphor that sheds light on the deeper meaning of fire. Abraham coming to recognize God is compared to a wanderer who sees a mansion engulfed in flames and subsequently concludes that the mansion must have an owner. The master of the house then sees the wanderer and introduces himself. Abraham similarly looked at the world and concluded that it must have a Master, and merited the Master's acknowledgement (Bereishit Rabba 39:1).

This is a difficult parable to understand. A burning mansion is more a sign of neglect than of ownership. What did Abraham, the wanderer of the parable, see that pointed to a Master?

The Hebrew language, the language of creation according to Jewish tradition, provides us with the key to unlocking the metaphor.

The Hebrew word for 'thing,' the generic word that captures all physical objects, is 'davar.' Davar derives from the Hebrew root 'dibur' which means 'to speak.' This is no coincidence. It teaches us that every davar expresses a dibur -- a spoken message. Every physical object or phenomenon, in addition to its physical reality, conveys a spiritual comment on existence.

For example, a rose, on the surface level, is aesthetically pleasing and fragrant. But the rose also conveys a deeper message: intricacy and symmetry that points to intelligent design and a Designer. The external message is readily apparent. However, the inner meaning of an object can be elusive, and sometimes one needs to develop a sensitivity before one can understand the dibur - the message, that lies hidden within every davar - thing.

The fire of the mansion was an allusion to the dibur in every object in the world. Abraham saw the mansion - the world - on fire. Fire is a unique phenomenon. It has the power to transform anything that comes into contact with it into fire itself. The release of the latent energy in the object cast into the flames gives rise to a more powerful fire. Fire reveals that within everything, in addition to the practical function of a davar - a thing, there lies hidden energy that, when tapped, gives off light that was not apparent to one looking only at the practical function of the object. That energy is the metaphor for the dibur - the message embedded in everything in the world.

Abraham was able to look at the world and see the fire burning. As a child, he contemplated the sun, the moon and the stars and concluded that they were too sophisticated to be the product of chance. There had to have been a Creator, a Designer who fashioned everything in the world, and continues to control it all. For Abraham, the sun served more than its practical external functions of giving off warmth and light. It broadcasted the message that something so awesome could not have come about by itself.

Physics teaches the laws of entropy. Left alone, things in nature move from a state of higher order to lower order, marching toward chaos. Abraham realized that it is impossible to understand the world as the product of chance. To Abraham, everything in the world expressed a deeper meaning, intelligent design and a Designer who continues to guide his creation.

Abraham saw the mansion burning. The flames, however, were not the fire of destruction. Instead, they represented the hidden energy in the mansion of the world, the inner message, the dibur, that points to the greatness of the Creator who could form such a place. The figurative flames whisper that in addition to the simple function of every davar in the word, there lies a deeper meaning that points to God for those like Abraham who had the eyes to see it.

It is no wonder that we commemorate Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai with fire. Rabbi Shimon lived in both realms at the same time; in the world of the physical as we know it, and in the realm where the spirituality in everything physical, the dibur in everything, was apparent. To Rabbi Shimon, the world was ablaze with spiritual energy, abounding with tongues of fire whispering messages about the Creator. Not surprisingly, Rabbi Shimon gave us the Zohar, the book of the mystical inner meaning that belies everything.

The ancient, the mystical and the spiritual have applications in modern times. The practical challenge of Lag B'Omer is to see the potential energy in every object and every person, instead of being fooled by the facade of the external.

Spirituality and providence are everywhere, even for those of us who are not Rabbi Shimon. However, we can easily smother the flames of inner meaning by covering over any sparks of life and attributing everything to chance.

Lag B'Omer invites us to look deeper and to hear the ever-present broadcast throughout creation. The flames of Lag B'Omer call to us and whisper that there is more to every person and every object than meets the eye, that one should never give up even if a situation looks hopeless. Look beyond the superficial and acknowledge deeper realms of existence; embrace worlds that we cannot see or touch, but which are every bit as real as the one in which we live.

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« Reply #436 on: May 22, 2011, 08:24:04 AM »

An Angel in the Supermarket
By Anonymous

It was Friday, on a balmy spring morning, and I was standing in line at the checkout counter in Rockland Kosher Supermarket. My cart was overflowing with groceries which would add up to a pretty penny. I was, however, the grateful recipient of food stamp benefits, and one swipe of my precious plastic card would cover the cost of my bimonthly food shopping trip. Nonetheless, I had chosen carefully, scanning the sale aisle for bargains, wanting to make the most of the government’s assistance. I loaded my items onto the counter and waited patiently for the cashier to add them up.

“Your food stamp balance is zero dollars and zero cents,” read the receipt“Delivery, please,” I said. One hundred and fifteen dollars and sixty-three cents was my total. I confidently handed the cashier my food stamp benefit card. “Your food stamp balance is zero dollars and zero cents,” read the receipt. I stood there for a moment, not knowing what to do. “Please step aside while I put your order on hold and ring up the next customer,” said the cashier. I obediently stepped aside, racking my brain for a solution as to how to pay this bill. Please, G‑d, I thought, help me put food on my table.

Out of nowhere a well-dressed, kind-looking woman appeared. She smiled and said, “I can lend you the money, and you can pay me back at your convenience.” Thinking of my family’s wellbeing, I put my dignity in my pocket for later retrieval and nodded my assent. She handed her credit card to the cashier and waited while the transaction went through. I provided the delivery boy with my address and turned back to my benefactress to obtain her name and telephone number. Not seeing her, I scanned the store and the parking lot outside. She was nowhere to be found.

I walked out of the supermarket with a lump in my throat. Her kindness had opened up a torrent of emotions that for the past twelve months had been held in check. I quickened my pace as the tears began to flow, heading toward a quiet side street where I could cry in peace.

Exactly one year before, my husband had walked out on me, leaving me to care for my three children. He left me a note, saying that he no longer wanted to be tied down. From one day to the next I was thrust into a world of uncertainty. I had three beautiful daughters, ages three, six and nine, who were left fatherless and confused.

The years preceding this event had not been ideal. Soon after my marriage, I noticed that a large sum of money was missing from our joint bank account. When I asked my husband about it, he was evasive. That incident was the first hint that something was wrong. It took another few years to realize that I was married to a man who was addicted to gambling. He was slowly destroying his finances, himself and his family.

I consulted experts, did research and pleaded with him to go for help. But it was to no avail. When all our resources were depleted, he picked himself up and left.

I turned to government funds to help me stay above water and provide for my children. I turned to social services and became acquainted with Medicaid, food stamps and welfare. I enrolled in a part-time college program, and the kids—though saddened by the loss of their daddy, who wanted nothing to do with them—slowly began to heal. Slowly, my life returned to something resembling normalcy.

Although on the outside it appeared as if I was doing well, deep inside me there was an unbelievable rage which did not abate as the weeks and months rolled on. The abandonment of my husband meant the abandonment of my Father in Heaven. The losses of my childhood resurfaced and threatened to engulf me.

During the lonely silence of the nights, I would relive my childhood memories, picturing the day my parents were killed. I, an only child, was left an orphan. I was sent to be raised by an aunt. Although my aunt and uncle were well-meaning people, they were rigid and controlling. At the age of thirteen, my bedtime was still 8:00 PM. A sleepover was absolutely out of the question, and many of the privileges my friends enjoyed were foreign to me. My aunt would monitor my phone conversations and all my extracurricular activities. As I had an independent personality, this created friction, and I yearned for the moment when I would be set free.

When I first discovered that “Leiby” was addicted to gambling, I naively thought that we would work through this problem togetherAs I moved through my teenage years, I secretly dreamed of the day when I would have a place I could truly call home. At the age of twenty-one, I was introduced to Leib. Leib was gentle and kind. He was loyal and principled, and we shared the same vision of building a fine Jewish home together. I was genuinely happy and looked forward with great anticipation to our future together. Nothing prepared me for the pain ahead.

When I first discovered that “Leiby” was addicted to gambling, I naively thought that we would work through this problem together. Little did I know that Leiby was not going to allow himself to be helped, and that he would fall into a depression and eventually leave me.

During those years of trial, I fervently prayed to my Father in Heaven to save our marriage. I desperately wanted my precious little girls to have a solid, stable home. The day Leiby left us, I began to function on two levels. While I marched forward, taking care of business and reconstructing our lives, my inner world was in turmoil and my faith was slowly eroding.

That Friday morning, in Rockland Kosher, an angel appeared out of nowhere, bringing not only a box full of groceries but a message full of love. It was that Friday that I renewed my relationship with G‑d, feeling strongly the sense of caring and security that accompanies the knowledge that He continues to hold me and my children in His arms.

I felt ready, at last, to move forward and reconnect with society. I accepted a longstanding invitation to the local rabbi’s house for the Sabbath meals. Friday, before sunset, I prepared the candles for lighting. The Sabbath table was covered in white, and my children were dressed in their Sabbath best. The candles shone bright, lighting up their innocent glowing faces and warming my soul. And as I stood there, I contemplated the day’s events.

A food stamp card that didn’t work, and a fellow human being who reached out to give without a second thought, combined to open my heart and reunite me with my Maker. G‑d has many ways of reminding his children of His loving presence. For me it happened at Rockland Kosher.
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« Reply #437 on: May 31, 2011, 05:11:32 PM »

Self-Made Man?
By Yossy Goldman

"He is a self-made man who worships his creator." Who said it? About whom? It doesn't really matter as long as we make sure the description doesn't fit us.

This week's parshah details the offerings of the princes (nessi'im) of the twelve tribes at the time the Mishkan, the portable Sanctuary in the wilderness, was completed. Previously, towards the end of the Book of Exodus, we had read that Moses blessed the people when they finished their work. What blessing did he give them? Our sages relate that he blessed them: May it be G-d's will that the Shechinah, the Divine Presence, should come to rest upon the work of your hands. He also blessed them with the phrase that would become part of Psalm 90, May the pleasantness of my L-rd, our G-d, be upon us…May He establish for us the work of our hands.

Why pray now? Surely the time for prayer was before the sanctuary was built. Then it might have been needed to inspire the people to bring in their offerings and contributions, to execute the huge amount of work that was required to create this new sacred structure. But now the work is done, everything is in place. Why pray now?

The answer is that Moses understood that building G-d's sanctuary is not in our hands alone. Sure, we can erect a structure. That's the easy part. The question is: will G-d see fit to live there, to make it His home? For this, a special prayer was called for. We needed a blessing upon the work our hands.

How often people imagine that they do it themselves -- all by themselves? How many boast that they are "self-made men"? So anyone who didn't have a rich father before him is a self-made man? Do you really believe that your success is all your own doing? Your hard work, your business acumen, your clever trading technique--these are the secrets of your success?

And where did all that wisdom and ability come from? The skills and talents we possess are G-d-given gifts we should acknowledge and be grateful for. And that's not humility. It's reality. You were born with that natural talent and flair. Give credit to your Creator.

A friend was once laid up with a bad back. What happened? He picked up a little bicycle for his 5-year old. A tiny nonsense but it left him flat on his back for weeks.

I remember some years ago catching some kind of "bug" and losing my voice for quite a while. There I was, the rabbi, the preacher, the speaker and the radio personality -- the man of words whose entire profession is built around his ability to say the right thing for every occasion -- and suddenly I'm rendered absolutely speechless. Overnight, I was made useless and unproductive -- all by a tiny germ.

To get sick takes a minute, to get well can take weeks and months. We all need to remember our frailties and limitations. No matter how strong, clever or talented we may be, we are all subject to higher forces. Nobody can do it alone. There is no such thing as a self-made man.

And so Moses reminds us all that even when our work is done, we still need that blessing from Above. Even when we work hard, concoct the most intricate business schemes, or present the most wonderful proposals, ultimately our success needs a prayer. We need to recognize the hand of G-d in our lives and, hopefully, in our success. Let us do our work as best as we can and then let us not forget to ask Him to bless the work of our hands.
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« Reply #438 on: June 07, 2011, 12:01:25 PM »

Home Iyar 29, 5771 · June 2, 2011
By Tzvi Freeman

A home is more than a house,
it is a state of being.

A home provides space and shelter,
not just for bodies, but for the human spirit.

Who creates this space?
Mainly the woman.

As it says, "A woman's wisdom builds her home."

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« Reply #439 on: June 13, 2011, 09:30:35 AM »

Skeleton Key
by Sara Yoheved Rigler
Gratitude opens every door.

One of the most moving scenes I ever witnessed took place at Gate B2 of the Baltimore airport. In a chair-studded corridor leading from Security to the departure gates, I had set down my carry-on and taken out my prayer book in hopes of reciting my morning prayers. A denizen of dozens of world airports, I suddenly heard a sound I had never before heard in any airport: applause.

Are people greeting a rock star? I wondered. Don’t rock stars fly in private jets? The applause subsided, and I continued with my prayers. Two minutes later, however, I again heard clapping, accompanied by cheers and ululations. I suppressed my curiosity and tried to concentrate on my prayers. The noise died down, but a couple minutes later another wave of applause and cheers picked me up and carried me to Gate B2.

A crowd of about 30 people was gathered at the gate, facing the entrance to the jet way. Some were waving American flags. Lined up against the wall leading from the jet way were five uniformed sailors and several sundry civilians, including a black T.S.A. official. A new round of applause and cheers rose up. I weaved my way through the crowd to glimpse the object of all this adulation. At the entrance to the jet way I spotted him: an old man in a wheelchair.

The fellow pushing the wheelchair stopped to let the old man absorb his rousing welcome. The man smiled and weakly lifted his right hand to acknowledge the crowd. As the wheelchair slowly moved past the receiving line, the sailors saluted, the others nodded, and the T.S.A. official stepped forward, shook the old man’s hand, and said in a heartfelt voice, “Thank you for your service.”

The wheelchair moved past, a quiet lull ensued, and then another round of applause for the next deplaning passenger: another old man, standing wobbly on his own legs, leaning on a cane. He paused, looked up in surprise at his hero’s welcome, as if not quite understanding all the hullabaloo, and then continued his limping gait, past the saluting sailors and the waving flags. He stopped only when the T.S.A. official stepped forward, grasped his hand, and said, “Thank you for your service.”

“What’s going on here?" I asked the young woman beside me. "Who are these men?”

“They’re World War II veterans. They’ve come to see their monument in Washington, D.C. “

Sixty-six years had passed since these men, then mere boys, had come home from the war, having seen their buddies die, perhaps being wounded themselves. Sixty-six years, and here at Baltimore airport, a few dozen cheering Americans, most born long after the war, were still grateful for their service.

I joined the crowd, clapping loudly as each old man, most of them in wheelchairs, paused at the jet way entrance for his moment of glory. My eyes filled with tears. Something profound was taking place here at Gate B2.

When the last wheelchair rolled off toward baggage claim, I approached the T.S.A. official. “I want you to know that I was very moved at how you thanked each and every veteran,” I told him. “We all clapped, but you were the only one who put the gratitude into words. And words are very important.”

He appreciated my appreciation. “Well,” he said humbly, “I myself served, so I know what they’ve been through.”

Opening Doors with Gratitude

Gratitude is the skeleton key that opens every door: faith, love, joy, even success in marriage. Gratitude is what distinguishes a mensch from a wretch.

Madelyn Weiss, a Miami lawyer specializing in divorce mediation, took a post-graduate seminar on the subject of divorce. At the first session, the professor went around the room and asked each student, “What is the main cause of divorce?” Some students answered, “Finances.” Others answered, “Infidelity.” Finally, the professor shook his head and declared, “The main cause of divorce is ingratitude.”

“When the husband isn’t grateful for all that the wife does for him," Madelyn explained to me, "or when the wife isn’t grateful for whatever the husband does, despite his faults, the marriage just spirals down into criticism and back-biting.”

In Jewish thought, gratitude is so essential that the Torah records that in Egypt at the time of the Ten Plagues, God instructed Moses to tell Aaron to strike the earth with his staff in order to initiate the plague of lice. Our sages explain that it would have been wrong of Moses himself to strike the earth because decades before the earth had benefited him when he used it to bury the body of the Egyptian taskmaster he had killed. The sages infer that if Moses had to show gratitude to the earth, an inanimate object that had helped him involuntarily one time decades before, how much more so must we all show gratitude to every human being who helps us voluntarily, even once, even long ago.

“Yehudi,” the Hebrew word for “Jew” is derived from the root word meaning, “to thank.” The essence of every Jew is the ability to be grateful.

But that ability exists only in potential. Gratitude, like gymnastics, is an acquired skill. Even if you’re agile, if you don’t work hard at it, you’ll never be a gymnast. Even if your mother told you a million times, “Say, ‘thank you,’“ you’ll never be a grateful adult unless you develop your gratitude muscle. The aerobic exercises for developing gratitude are:

Recognizing the good
Perceiving everything as a gift
Expressing gratitude
Related Article: Mastering The Gratitude Attitude

Recognizing Good

The Hebrew term for “gratitude” is “hakarat hatov,” which literally means, “recognizing the good.” With many people and situations, it’s as hard to find the good as to find Waldo amid 200 tiny figures. Gratitude requires:

Entering the three-star hotel room your spouse reserved for your anniversary and focusing on the beautiful view instead of the garish furnishings.
Noticing all the toys that your child did pick up rather than the five Duplo pieces that he didn’t.
Focusing on how well your housecleaner cleans the floors and windows even if she’s a little lax with the dusting.
For those who object that noticing the good while ignoring the bad is a Pollyanna-ish failure to see the whole picture, let’s be humble enough to admit: No one ever sees the whole picture. Human beings are complex. Even if you have lived with a person for decades, you cannot see all of his depths or all the secrets of his past (let alone his past lives). As I learned in Perceptual Psychology 101: Human beings see what they want to see. Choosing to see the good—recognizing the good—may be the best choice you’ll ever make.

The Entitlement Poison

Nothing kills gratitude like a sense of entitlement. If I’m entitled to quiet neighbors, then I’ll never be grateful for the tranquility in our building until the noisy new neighbors move in —and then I’ll be irate at their loudness. If I’m entitled to good health, then I’ll never be grateful to God for the flawless functioning of my myriad cells and systems until I get a bad diagnosis —and then I’ll ask, “Why me?”

The antidote to a sense of entitlement is a sense of gift. The person to whom every sunset, every wonder of the body, every bag of groceries packed up by the supermarket bagger is experienced as an unearned gift will always be happy.

Developing a sense of gift requires:

Being grateful to the taxi driver for getting you to your destination even though you paid for the ride.
Being grateful to your spouse for doing the laundry or dishes, even though you agreed that that was his/her job.
Being grateful to God that you can see to read this article, even though you’ve always had the gift of sight.
Related Article:Path of the Soul #3: Gratitude

Expressing Gratitude

Unexpressed gratitude is like a gift purchased and wrapped, but never given. Once we’ve noticed the good and experienced it as undeserved, we have to express it in words.

Recently I asked my teenage son to put away two cans of spray paint he had used in a project. Five minutes later I walked by and saw that the cans were indeed put away. I called out to my son, “Thank you for doing what I asked the first time I asked you.”

He replied, “Thank you for saying that.”

With a jolt I realized how rarely I thank my children for doing “what they’re supposed to do.” His gratitude for my gratitude woke me up and made me want to express my appreciation much more often.

That’s why I expressed appreciation to the T.S.A. official for his saying, “Thank you for your service” to each veteran. As I ran off to catch my flight at Gate B9, I passed two soldiers in grey camouflage fatigues. I stopped and said to them, “Thank you for your service.”

Why should they have to wait 66 years?

To bring Sara Yoheved Rigler’s Gratitude Workshop to your community, contact
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« Reply #440 on: June 13, 2011, 09:54:51 AM »

Rachel, I enjoy your posts very much.  So, thank you for your most recent post.

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« Reply #441 on: June 13, 2011, 04:40:12 PM »

You are welcome. Thank you for your kind words.
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« Reply #442 on: June 14, 2011, 07:17:11 AM »

The following excerpt appeared in an article linked here:  The article itself is about Anthony Weiner and his past, present and future.

And where are our female elected officials when it comes to sex scandals? There are 17 women in the Senate and 75 women in the House, and when it comes to carnal wrongdoing, you never hear a peep out of them.

This is odd when you consider the English language has so many ugly terms for wayward women (slut, tramp, bimbo and so forth) and so few to describe wayward men (lothario? womanizer? playboy? dude? None seem to quite do it.).

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« Reply #443 on: June 14, 2011, 07:55:07 AM »

Well BD, in every heterosexual scandal, there are obviously female actors involved who must know that the powerful man they are having a relationship with is married.

Is power of word the place for this topic?  shocked
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« Reply #444 on: June 14, 2011, 08:13:42 AM »

It added context to this: This is odd when you consider the English language has so many ugly terms for wayward women (slut, tramp, bimbo and so forth) and so few to describe wayward men (lothario? womanizer? playboy? dude? None seem to quite do it.).

And that seems like powerful wording (or perhaps the lack there of) to me.

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« Reply #445 on: June 14, 2011, 05:40:29 PM »

Guest Columnists
Upon a Timeless Tel

By Sara Hecht

Twenty-five miles south of Jerusalem, an impressive tel rises above the plains of Judea. A city built upon hundreds of previously destroyed cities, Tel Lachish marks the terrain between Jerusalem and Hebron, whispering ancient legends of its proud inhabitants across the sweeping foothills.

Common to the Middle Eastern landscape, a "tel" is literally a mound, formed by layers of occupation over thousands of years. As each society builds its city upon the ruins of a previous period, the site rises, permanently altering the topography of the land.

Tel Lachish carries their love and their pain; their joys and their sorrowsThe town of Lachish bears great historical significance, resting on ancient metropolises where valiant men and women from the times of Joshua through the Maccabean era once resided. Marked with a tumultuous history of battle and conquest, Tel Lachish carries their love and their pain; their joys and their sorrows; their victories and their defeats.

The tourists come to see Lachish not just because it imposingly juts out of the Judean lowland, but because they want to hear the story of this unusual tel; they want to breathe the air of a city that has experienced endless destruction and rebuilding, but never lost anything along the way.

G‑d could have made us perfect architects. If He wanted, He could have exclusively endowed us with tools to build palatial structures that last for eternity. Instead, He foresaw the beauty of a tel. It was with this vision, in the early summer of 1312 BCE, that G‑d quietly entered a unique potential for human failure into our universe.

They were a newborn nation, standing on the threshold of entering the Promised Land. Hesitant about their future, the Jewish people ask Moses for permission to survey the unknown territory soon to be their home. And so, Moses, the humble servant of G‑d, turns to his Master for consent. But astonishingly - for the first time in history - G‑d tells Moses to do as he pleases.

We all know how the story ends – the spies return with negative reports, the Jews become fearful, and tragically, the generation of the great Exodus never enters the Land of Israel.

It's a classic question of Torah commentators: If G‑d said, "do what you want," didn't Moses sense that He didn't really approve of the Jews' request? Why did Moses persist in sending them?

Indeed, Moses was well aware of the risks involved in dispatching spies – yes, he sensed the possibility for catastrophe in G‑d's noncommittal answer. But he was also conscious of the fact that G‑d was giving humankind an opportunity for growth that can only come about through failure.

Do as you wish, G‑d said, effectively opening a new and empowering dimension in man's choice.

I know that when you fall, you will rebuild – grander, stronger, and more beautiful edificesI'll leave you room to err, says G‑d, because I know you won't leave your shattered city in ruins; I know that when you fall, you will rebuild – grander, stronger, and more beautiful edifices than ever before. I know that when you stray, what you really want is to be nearer to Me. I know you're going to build a tel. So I'll let you make mistakes.

And we do.

I reckon G‑d made us better-than-perfect architects. In fact, He imbued us with such a genuine and passionate desire to create, with such a thirst for growth, that sometimes we find ourselves razing down the old only to give way to the new that is aching to emerge.

We crave rebirth. Status quo never feels right; the old is simply never sufficient. We have an instinctive urge to build anew. Is that why we keep falling?

When we let our id knock down the walls of our personal city, on the surface, it looks like everything we've worked towards is suddenly gone. But don't let the vacuum of ground zero dishearten you, because that subsoil can't be bought anywhere in the universe. Indeed, like the tel, when we reconstruct our own little broken worlds, it is on terra firma that carries all the resilience and fortitude of our previous journeys.

Sometimes we build our tel painfully, slowly, trudging through the remains with a broken sort of hope – can we possibly restore our city this time? At other times we labor with a fury, catapulting through the wreckage with a surety, with a swiftness, so that we don't set our eyes on what has crumbled lest we break from regret. We throw ourselves into the building, we lay brick upon brick, glancing away from the debris, and only looking upwards at what we've already constructed in our mind's eye.

But regardless of how we build, we never leave the city in ruins - after all, it's a tel. And with every breakdown comes an even greater restoration, the earth, begging to be tilled again.

When you stand on the pinnacle of Tel Lachish, you can see for miles. It's a breathtaking panorama, extending from Bet Guvrin in the North, all the way to the Hebron hills in the East. They say you can't get that view from anywhere else in the area.

What a gift G‑d gave when he granted us the ability to fall. For now, you can stand at the top of your tel and see the world like you've never seen it before. Life suddenly has new meaning, new depth. Indeed, from the summit you can see what always surrounded you, but this time, oh so differently.

The monumental tels in our homeland and our souls continue to rise above the landscapeOn the 15th day of Av, 1274 BCE, the Jews of Moses' generation stopped dying in the desert – a tragedy that had been a consequence of the spies' failed mission. This day marked the end of their temporary decline, and more importantly, the beginning of subsequent rebuilding and growth as their children prepared to enter the Land of Israel.

And though our holy cities – both in spirit and of stone – endured relentless destruction in the centuries that followed, the monumental tels in our homeland and our souls continue to rise above the landscape, a tribute to our battered but unbeaten faith and an intrinsic longing to heighten the bond with our Creator.

As we plow the wounded earth yet again, let us look towards the ultimate rebuilding of all time, recalling the promising words of the prophet Jeremiah, "Venivneta Ha'Ir al Tilah – and the city shall be rebuilt on its former tel."
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« Reply #446 on: June 15, 2011, 08:47:32 AM »

From a letter by the Rebbe:

I do not accept your assertion that you do not believe.

For if you truly had no concept of a Supernal Being Who created the world with purpose, then what is all this outrage of yours against the injustice of life?

The substance of the universe is not moral, nor are plants and animals. Why should it surprise you that whoever is bigger and more powerful swallows his fellow alive?

It is only due to an inner conviction in our hearts, shared by every human being, that there is a Judge, that there is right and there is wrong. And so, when we see a wrong, we demand an explanation: Why is this not the way it is supposed to be?

That itself is belief in G-d.

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« Reply #447 on: June 20, 2011, 07:59:47 PM »

Don't be afraid to ask.
by Rabbi Benjamin Blech
It’s that time of year again – academia is sending forth another generation of graduates.

In time-honored tradition, prominent guest speakers launch them out into the world with words of wisdom meant to inspire the young men and women ready to begin their careers.

I love to read synopses of these contemporary guides to the perplexed. Many of them are merely clichés dressed up in fancy clothes. But some are truly profound messages that bear listening to, not only by the graduates starting out in life but all of us as well.

And this year I struck gold. One of the guest speakers, addressing those getting their degrees at the College of William and Mary, illustrated an idea that long-ago changed my life. Speaking from the perspective of an extremely successful businessman, he echoed a concept that my teacher shared with me many years ago.

I was a very young boy and I didn't understand something we learned about Moses. The Torah tells us Moses was "heavy of speech and heavy of tongue;" he had a speech defect. Here was the man destined to be the greatest leader of the Jewish people, the Rabbi par excellence, whose stuttering should have made him as unsuitable for his role as the English monarch in the recent Oscar winning movie, The King's Speech. King George VI had to be helped in order to properly serve as monarch. Yet Moses remained with his disability.

"Since God can do anything," I asked my teacher, "why didn't He heal Moses?"

As all good teachers do, my rabbi first complimented me on raising a very interesting difficulty. He told me that many commentators address the issue, with a host of different answers, and as I get older I would be able to choose from among these various replies. He shared with me the answer that he personally preferred, and told me to always keep it in mind in how I relate to God with my problems in the future.

Yes, Moses would have been far better off had he had the gift of eloquence in addition to all of his other virtues. His stuttering was a disability and of course God could have easily removed this stigma. So why didn't He?

Because Moses never asked.

In all his humility, Moses didn't feel worthy of making the request. And God wanted to show us by way of His dealings with the greatest Jew in history that the prerequisite for His answering our prayers is for us to verbalize them.

Never be afraid to ask anything of God, my teacher concluded. If you're withholding a request because you think it's too much to ask for, that's an insult to the Almighty, almost as if you're implying it's too hard for Him to accomplish. If God wants to say no, that's up to Him. Your role is to make clear you believe in His power to accomplish anything, no matter how difficult.

Learn to ask is the message I internalized.

Think Big

Which is why I found the graduation address given by Joseph J. Plumeri, the chief executive of Willis Group Holdings, so fascinating.

He began by asking the students whether they heard of this big building in Chicago called the Sears Tower. Of course they all had. He reminded them that it's the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere. And then he shared with them how some years ago he told people that he was going to rename it the Willis Tower.

People laughed at him, telling him it's impossible. The name Sears had been there since 1973. "Who are you to come along and change the name?" they said to him,

He told them that Sears hadn't been in the building since 1993. He then met with the owner of the building which was 20% vacant and said, "I need 2% of the space." He negotiated the price and when the owner asked, "Do we have a deal?" he told him, "Almost, except for one small thing. Your name is a jinx. You need a new name, a vibrant name, a name that signifies the future, not the past. I want to change it."

"When we dedicated that building," Joseph Plumeri said, concluding his speech, "I was on the evening news with Brian Williams and he said to me, 'How, Joe, after so many years it was called the Sears Tower, how did you get them to change the name to Willis?' And I looked into the camera and I said, 'I asked.'"

    When I had the wisdom to ask, God showed me He had the will to answer.

One of the classic Yiddish folk tales by Isaac Leib Peretz is the story of Bontsha the Silent. Heartbreaking in its depiction of a truly saintly soul who is unaware of his goodness, it describes the scene in heaven when Bontsha appears for his final judgment. The angel speaking on his behalf records all of his pious deeds. Bontsha has always suffered in silence. Mistreated throughout his lifetime, Bontsha never complained or questioned God's ways. The heavenly court could find no fault with him. The prosecutor is speechless, he too unable to find a single blemish in Bontsha’s life.

The heavenly court comes to a unanimous decision: "Everything in paradise is yours. Choose. Take what you want, whatever you desire. You will only take what is yours by right."

The story closes:

“Well then,” - and Bontsha smiles for the first time – “well then, what I would like, your Excellency, is to have for breakfast every morning a hot roll with fresh butter."

As great as Bontsha was, life had beaten him down so he no longer knew how to dream. His tragedy was a tragedy that many of us replicate in our own lives when our aspirations become so diminished that we don't dare to hope for more than hot rolls and butter.

We are all children of God. We have Someone in heaven Who cares for us deeply. Our mistake all too often is not that we seek too much from the Almighty but that we don't have the sense to ask Him for enough.

When we are troubled and our difficulties seem insurmountable, we should ask Him to intervene.

When we need help in a situation that seems humanly impossible to be resolved, we should ask Him to get involved.

When we suffer and feel helpless, we should seek out the One who promised to come to the aid of all those who have no one else to turn to and ask for His assistance.

I have learned this lesson well from my own personal experience: When I had the wisdom to ask, God showed me He had the will to answer.

* Everyone I know still refers to as the Sears Tower.
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« Reply #448 on: July 05, 2011, 08:18:20 AM »

6 Keys to Outsmart Stress
by Slovie Jungreis-Wolff

Simple steps to reclaim your life.

Stress is part of everyday life. But when the pressure starts to grind us down and cause health and personal problems it’s time to make a change. We all know that stress can bring on heart disease, stomach issues, ulcers, depression, and relationship issues. Just reading that sentence can stress us out!

Sometimes we think about something worrisome and get that sick-to-the-stomach feeling. We don’t think clearly. Stress keeps us up at night.

So what can we do?

Instead of allowing the stress to control us, let’s try to take back control and live life better. We can then eliminate unnecessary tensions and deal with those pressures we must face more effectively.


We are in an endless state of mental congestion. We cannot hear ourselves think. We go to a wedding, graduation, family dinner, or vacation in a beautiful place, but we are only half there. Our minds are somewhere else; longing to check the blackberry or iPhone just one more time. When we are constantly distracted, it becomes impossible to function well. We parent with half an eye, work with half an ear, and live with half a heart. The pressure of being perpetually on call takes its toll and does not allow us space to breath.

In Ethics of the Fathers it is written: “All my days I have found nothing better than silence.” Let’s begin by finding some moments to regain peace and quiet in our day. Take the plunge and unplug.


A lot of stress has to do with the way we see ourselves. When we give ourselves negative messages and put ourselves down we lower our sense of self and destroy our own self esteem. We can become our own worst enemy.

“I can’t believe I’m such an idiot.”

“What was I thinking? I’ll never be able to do this!”

“That’s it; I really messed up this time. I’m finished.”

Remove the negative eye – it will only stress you out. Stop demeaning yourself. Replace detrimental self-statements with positive ones. Start believing in yourself.

And if you do happen to make a mistake and fall, pick yourself up and start anew. This is true strength.

Related Article: Confessions of a Worrywart


Sometimes we have a problem that feels so overwhelming, we just can’t deal with it. So we push it off. We leave it for tomorrow. And then tomorrow comes but we push it off again. Putting off a problem only causes us to worry more.  We toss and turn all night imagining the ‘what ifs’, and everything seems so much more troublesome. The night feels suffocating.

Falling behind can make the situation worse. Most problems are not as awful as you think. And even if you believe the situation is insurmountable, at least you can attempt to take some small steps in the right direction and feel empowered as you try. When you make an effort to confront your fear, you will not feel as overwhelmed. And you may even be surprised to find a solution within reach with those you thought you could not approach.


It is a mitzvah in the Torah to watch over and take care of our God–given bodies. Stress depletes us of our energy. We turn to carbs and high fat foods to refuel. (Read standing in front of an open freezer with a pint of Hagen Daaz Caramel Cone Explosion in hand). But the quicker we refill, the quicker we crash. Instead of loading up at night and waking up with extra pounds and regrets, get your body moving. Take the stairs and not the elevator.  Go for a walk or a quick jog. Our bodies produce endorphins when we exercise. They are natural mood boosters that can help reduce stress levels. Even dance around the living room. Any little bit of activity can help.

Make time for the activities you enjoy. Do something fun. Listen to music, ride a bike, attend the class you’ve always wanted to join. Be sure to set aside moments each day for prayer and reflection.


Come on, it’s not all bad all the time. Of course it’s easier to see the dark side and fall into despair. But you do have some good going on, you just need to open your eyes and stop complaining.

“My in-laws are coming for the weekend, I can’t take it.”

“These Sunday carpools with the kids are driving me crazy. I am so stressed out from them.”

“My baby was up crying the whole night. I’m ready to explode.”

Well, at least you have family to share your life with!

“My boss is nuts! He is a pressure cooker.”

Thank God you have a job!

It’s all how you see the situation. Will you focus on the good or just always be a complainer?

The more we complain, the more stressed we feel.

Happiness and a ‘feel good‘ mentality is in our hands.


It is a mistake to cut yourself off from those who care about you. You may be overwhelmed, even ashamed of your situation, but those who love you want to stand by your side. Don’t be an island onto yourself. You will wake up one day and wonder what happened. Where did all the people in my life go and why does my phone never ring? I am not speaking about those thousand friends on facebook. I am talking about that one friend or family member, who would cross oceans for you, who feels your pain as if it’s his own, who sheds a tear for your sorrow. You will experience joy again but what a pity to have lost those who love you on the way.

When we focus on our problems 24/7, we allow stress to control our lives. No one is perfect and none of us will have perfect lives. Set reasonable expectations and know that this is all part of living. Take charge of those challenges that you can control. Let go of that which is beyond you.

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« Reply #449 on: July 08, 2011, 07:48:51 PM »

Weekly Sermonette
Keeping Up with the Cohens

By Yossy Goldman

“That’s some new kitchen Sandra just had done. State of the art!” “Psst . . . did you see the new car Mark just took delivery of? It’s got every gadget in the book!” Common conversation. Rather routine, everyday talk.

They tell of a rep on the road who had broken all records for sales in his company. When asked the secret of his success, he explained that the first thing he said when someone opened the door was, “Did you see what your neighbor Mrs. Jones just got?” That trick never failed him.

This was never the Jewish ethic, however. We were taught differently, and our ancient value system is as relevant as ever in contemporary life. Privacy, modesty and discretion are all characteristics our people have cherished since we became a nation.

“Balaam raised his eyes, and saw Israel dwelling according to its tribes” (Numbers 24:3).

What was so special about the Israelites’ dwelling? Rashi offers one interpretation of the verse, that the doorways of the Israelites’ tents in the wilderness were arranged so that they did not face each other. That way, one person was not able to see into his neighbor’s tent, and their privacy was protected. In fact, this is one of the explanations of Balaam’s famous praise of the Jews, Mah tovu ohalecha Yaakov—“How goodly are your tents, O Jacob.” The heathen prophet was extolling the Jews’ virtues in their town planning, whereby they took precautions in safeguarding their modesty and protecting their personal family lives from would-be busybodies and peeping Toms, otherwise known as yentas and nudniks.

Another possible interpretation of “not looking into your neighbor’s tent” might be this: Do not look into your neighbor’s tent to help you decide what you should be doing. Your decisions in life should not be based on what other people are, or are not, doing. Certainly not on what your neighbors have or do not have.

Social workers today will painfully testify that family breakdowns are often a result of financial difficulties and the stress that these put on marriages. Many of those stresses are self-imposed. Their clients confessed that they didn’t really need the new kitchen or the new car, but once their friends were moving up in the status stakes, they felt under pressure to maintain their social standing.

Whether it is the kitchen, car, vacation, or the latest digital technology, if we allow ourselves to be judged by other people’s criteria, we lay ourselves open to a lot of unnecessary stress. Even a simchah—a wedding or bar mitzvah—can get us into “keeping up with the Cohens” mode, from the seven-layered designer invitation hand-delivered to every guest, down to the posh dinner dance replete with chopped-liver sculptures.

Why? All because we are busy looking over our shoulders or peering into the next-door neighbor’s place.

The principle even applies to tzedakah. There is an appeal for the shul or a Jewish charity, and how do we respond? “Well, if so-and-so, who is a multimillionaire, only gave $10,000, then all I should give is $10!” What difference does it make what someone else gave or didn’t give? You should give what you can, irrespective of what others gave.

How much resentment, bitterness and disappointment we would avoid if we didn’t try to measure ourselves by other people’s standards! We would be much happier people if we looked into ourselves and achieved what we could and should, without drawing comparisons with others.

If you want to enjoy the blessing of “goodly tents,” or even just good housekeeping, keep your eyes and your nose in your own tent. Then you will be content, too.
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