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Power User
Posts: 42556

« Reply #500 on: September 21, 2011, 10:51:32 AM »

Good one  smiley
Power User
Posts: 42556

« Reply #501 on: September 22, 2011, 07:41:28 AM »

Why Young Americans Can't Think Morally
Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Last week, David Brooks of The New York Times wrote a column on an academic study concerning the nearly complete lack of a moral vocabulary among most American young people. Below are some excerpts from Brooks' summary of the study of Americans aged 18 to 23. (It was led by "the eminent Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith.")

"Smith and company asked about the young people's moral lives, and the results are depressing ...

"When asked to describe a moral dilemma they had faced, two-thirds of the young people either couldn't answer the question or described problems that are not moral at all ...

"Moral thinking didn't enter the picture, even when considering things like drunken driving, cheating in school or cheating on a partner ...

"The default position, which most of them came back to again and again, is that moral choices are just a matter of individual taste ...

"As one put it, 'I mean, I guess what makes something right is how I feel about it. But different people feel different ways, so I couldn't speak on behalf of anyone else as to what's right and wrong ...

"Morality was once revealed, inherited and shared, but now it's thought of as something that emerges in the privacy of your own heart."

Ever since I attended college, I have been convinced that either "studies" confirm what common sense suggests or that they are mistaken. I realized this when I was presented with study after study showing that boys and girls were not inherently different from one another, and they acted differently only because of sexist upbringings.

This latest study cited by David Brooks confirms what conservatives have known for a generation: Moral standards have been replaced by feelings. Of course, those on the left believe this only when a writer at a major liberal newspaper cites an "eminent sociologist."

What is disconcerting about Brooks' piece is that nowhere in what is an important column does he mention the reason for this disturbing trend -- namely, secularism.

The intellectual class and the left still believe that secularism is an unalloyed blessing. They are wrong. Secularism is good for government. But it is terrible for society (though still preferable to bad religion) and for the individual.

One key reason is what secularism does to moral standards. If moral standards are not rooted in God, they do not objectively exist. Good and evil are no more real than "yummy" and "yucky." They are simply a matter of personal preference. One of the foremost liberal philosophers, Richard Rorty, an atheist, acknowledged that for the secular liberal, "There is no answer to the question, 'Why not be cruel?'"

With the death of Judeo-Christian-God-based standards, people have simply substituted feelings for those standards. Millions of American young people have been raised by parents and schools with "How do you feel about it?" as the only guide to what they ought to do. The heart has replaced God and the Bible as a moral guide.

And now, as Brooks points out, we see the results. A vast number of American young people do not even ask whether an action is right or wrong. The question would strike them as foreign. Why? Because the question suggests that there is a right and wrong outside of themselves. And just as there is no God higher than them, there is no morality higher than them, either.

Forty years ago, I began writing and lecturing about this problem. It was then that I began asking students if they would save their dog or a stranger first if both were drowning. The majority always voted against the stranger -- because, they explained, they loved their dog and they didn't love the stranger.

They followed their feelings.

Without God and Judeo-Christian religions, what else is there?
Power User
Posts: 42556

« Reply #502 on: September 22, 2011, 07:49:57 AM »

second post of morning:

We are not passive observers of this universe, but rather partners in its creation. We are the ones who assign each thing its meaning, who bring definition and resolution to an otherwise ambiguous world.

In fact, we are legal witnesses who determine a matter of life or death: For each thing we hold, each event that enters our life, our word declares whether it breathes with G‑dly life or simply idles itself into oblivion.

Power User
Posts: 245

« Reply #503 on: September 25, 2011, 10:11:56 AM »

I'm glad you enjoyed the post.
Identifying Your Life’s Mission
by Sara Yoheved Rigler
This Rosh Hashanah, electrify your life with purpose.

After six months of working for the company, it’s time for your evaluation. You walk into the boardroom, where three designer-suit-clad personnel managers are sitting behind a mahogany desk. The one on the left scans your file, looks up at you accusingly, and says, “I see here that you did not report for work at 9 am one time during this entire period.”

The woman in the middle shakes her head and remarks, “This is a Fortune 500 Company. Instead of a jacket and tie, you report for work wearing jeans.”

The man on the right stares at the papers in his hand and says grimly, “Our surveillance cameras show that you spend less than 10% of your working hours at your desk. The rest of the time you’re walking around the building.”

The first evaluator shoots the question: “Do you have anything to say for yourself?”

“Yes," you reply with confidence, "I was hired as the night watchman.”

Rosh Hashanah is a time of evaluation. But to accurately assess your performance this year, you have to know your job description. Judaism asserts that every soul comes into this world charged with a unique, positive purpose.

According to the great 16th century Kabalistic master known as the Arizal, no one has ever or will ever come into this world with the exact same mission as yours. The light you are meant to shine into the world is yours alone, as individual as your fingerprint, as personal as your voiceprint.

Your mission can be interpersonal, such as counseling couples with troubled marriages, or scholarly, such as researching ancient Chinese culture, or an expression of your talent, such as painting landscapes or playing the violin. It can be concrete, such as establishing a home for Alzheimer’s patients, or abstract, such as manifesting in the world the Divine attribute of truth or patience. It can be on a large scale, such as inaugurating the recycling system in your city, or on a small scale, such as caring for your handicapped child with joy. You may have two, or at most, three different missions, which can be consecutive (after finishing one job you start another) or simultaneous. Yet, even if there are 500 marriage counselors in your city, your particular approach and way of helping people is unique. Not one of us can be replaced—ever.

Related Article: 20 Questions for the New Year

Identifying Your Mission

Imagine you are an undercover agent sent into Iran. You’ve had years of training, have two vital contacts in Tehran, and are equipped with the latest hi-tech spy gadgetry. Only one thing is lacking: You have no idea what your mission is.

Many of us go through life like that: We follow the route laid out by society: going to college, finding a job, getting married, raising a family, but with no clear sense of the unique mission entrusted to us. We are pulled in many different directions, feeling compromised in what we do and guilty for what we don’t do. Identifying our mission is, according to Rabbi Aryeh Nivin, the first step in leading a life of vibrancy and joy. “When you intersect with your life’s purpose,” he explains, “you feel excitement.”

Knowing your personal mission is essential preparation for Rosh Hashanah. On Rosh Hashanah God apportions to each of us life, health, livelihood, and everything else. What is your plan for how you propose to use the life God gives you? The CEO is not going to dole out a million-dollar budget to an employee who doesn’t have a carefully worked out proposal.

We are used to praying for life, health, and livelihood as ends in themselves. In the Divine accounting, however, life, health, and livelihood are simply the tools – the hi-tech spy gadgetry – that will enable you to accomplish your mission.

Rabbi Nivin offers two methods for discovering your mission:

Ask yourself (and write down): What were the five or ten most pleasurable moments in my life?
Ask yourself: If I inherited a billion dollars and had six hours a day of discretionary time, what would I do with the time and money?
When answering the first question, eliminate the universal transcendent moments, such as witnessing the beauty of nature or listening to music. Your mission, of course, may have to do with nature or music, but on a much more individual level than the high all people feel when they see the Grand Canyon. Although your mission may require hard work or genuine sacrifice, when you are engaged in your life’s mission you experience, as Rabbi Nivin puts it, “This feels so good that I could do it all day long.”

When I did the first exercise, these are the answers I came up with:

When someone in my Johannesburg audience came up after I spoke and told my son, “Your mother’s words changed my life.”
When someone tells me, “Your book changed my life.”
When reading the comments to my articles, I see, “This was exactly what I needed to read today.” When I see that the reader’s way of thinking or acting is impacted by what I wrote.
When someone passing through Israel (often on the way to India) comes to talk to me about Judaism, and two or five or ten years later I find out that they stayed in Jerusalem, starting learning Torah, and are observing the mitzvot.
When my children mention that they talked to God about something bothering them and I realize that their relationship with God is strong.
The common theme that emerged for me was that my mission is: “To inspire people, through writing and speaking, to move forward in their spiritual/personal development and relationship with God.” That’s what excites and energizes me. That’s why, to my friends’ amazement, when I am lecture touring, I can speak in five different cities in five days, waking up at dawn every day to make an early flight and giving a three-hour workshop twice a day, and, at 63 years old, never feel tired. Knowing my mission is like installing an energy pack in my life.

Barbara Silverstein is a wife, mother, and hospice nurse. When talking to me recently about her “life’s mission,” she shrugged. Although her personal and professional lives are fraught with difficulties, she soldiers on with dedication and integrity. I asked her what she would do if she had loads of money and six hours a day of discretionary time. Barbara thought for a few minutes, then replied with passion: “I would set up a Jewish outreach center for the elderly. In my work with the terminally ill, I’m always facing men or women who are about to lose their spouse and they say to me, ‘I don’t know what I’ll do about the funeral. I don’t have a rabbi.’ They want a spiritual connection with their Jewish roots, but they’re clueless about how to do it.” The more that Barbara talked, the more fervent she became.

“So that’s your mission,” I told her, “to establish a Jewish outreach center for the elderly. That’s real pioneering work. No one else has done it.”

“Are you kidding?” Barbara replied. “Between my family and my work, I don’t have time for anything else.”

Remembering Rabbi Nivin’s advice, I suggested: “Take a half hour twice a week, and sit down with a pen and paper, and just start brainstorming. Write down whatever comes to your mind, what the first steps would be, and what you want it to look like in the end. And ask the Almighty for help in making it happen. He can give you whatever He deems you should have. And then see if the opportunity to take the next step emerges.”

Two weeks later, Barbara phoned me, brimming with excitement. “This has really gotten my imagination going,” she effused. “Everything I’ve learned throughout my life is coming in handy with this plan. I don’t know if it’ll ever amount to anything, but just thinking about it is like an electrical charge in my whole day. My husband and kids ask me why I’m smiling so much.”

The Creator has outfitted you with a unique set of aptitudes, talents, and interests perfectly suited to what you are charged with accomplishing. By following your inclinations and abilities, you may already have found your mission. Sometimes your mission is deposited in your lap, such as the birth of a special needs child. The National Tay-Sachs Association, for example, was founded by the parents of children suffering from Tay-Sachs; the parents’ daunting challenge metamorphosed into their life’s mission.

If your mission is not yet clear to you, take a half hour between now and Rosh Hashanah and reflect on, “What do I really want to do with my life?” Perhaps you work full time developing software for Microsoft, but you’ve always felt a tug to write a book about internet addiction. Perhaps your greatest pleasure is tending your vegetable garden in suburban Detroit, but you’ve always dreamed of living on an agricultural settlement in Israel. Such inner urges may be whisperings from God, the secret message from Headquarters disclosing your true mission.

Guilt, Respect, Validation

Clarity about your mission dissipates guilt for all the worthy endeavors you’re NOT engaged in. Once you realize that you’re in this world to develop a new healing modality for autism, you won’t feel guilty that you’re not volunteering for the local soup kitchen or marching on the U.N. to protest anti-Israel discrimination.

Once I identified my mission, I stopped feeling guilty that I really don’t like to cook for myriads of Shabbat guests. I also understood why I love writing for and its spiritually upwardly mobile readers, while I resigned from writing for a women’s magazine that features how to fold napkins and sculpt vegetables.

The concept of each person having an individual life’s mission is a key to respecting other people. Otherwise, you may feel that what’s important to you should be important to everyone. You’re an environmental activist? You may blame your sister for being oblivious to the environment without appreciating that her mission is to fight Holocaust denial. You belong to a group that feeds the homeless? You may find it reprehensible that that other group is apparently heedless to the homeless and spends all their time in pro-Israel activism on campus. Being able to say, “This is my mission and that is theirs,” is the gateway to true tolerance and respect.

Knowing your individual mission validates your life and releases you from the pernicious habit of comparing yourself to others. Jonah Salk’s mark on the world may seem as deep as a crater while your taking care of your handicapped brother may seem like a fingernail impression, but from a spiritual perspective the light you are shining into the world is unique and is exactly the light you came here to radiate.

One more point: Fulfilling your individual life’s mission does not exempt you from your global missions, such as supporting your family or raising your children. Starting an outreach center for the elderly may have to wait until your children are grown. Writing that book on internet addiction may have to be tucked into your few spare hours after your full-time job. Don’t worry. The God who assigned you your mission will make sure you have everything you need—including time now or later—to fulfill it.

So when the shofar sounds this Rosh Hashanah and you stand for your annual evaluation, be prepared to declare, “This is my job, and I’m working on it.”

This article can also be read at:
Power User
Posts: 245

« Reply #504 on: September 28, 2011, 08:01:33 AM »

Torah Daily
As the Jewish New Year begins, may we all be blessed with health, happiness, prosperity and peace. May it be a good and sweet New Year!
Power User
Posts: 245

« Reply #505 on: October 03, 2011, 07:51:41 AM »

Does God really care about the nuances of my life?
Power User
Posts: 245

« Reply #506 on: October 07, 2011, 07:27:52 AM »

Yom Kippur is a special time in Israel; everything is silent and cars don't drive on the roads. It's a time for forgiveness and when we look back at the past year and reflect on how we can be better people in the year to come. It's also a time when we remember the fallen of the Yom Kippur War when Arab armies led by Egypt and Syria interrupted the most solemn day in the Jewish calendar and invaded Israel in 1973. We wish our Jewish friends an easy and meaningful fast from all our team in Jerusalem.

Rabbi Wolpe
From Maimonides (1135-1204), the greatest Jewish philosopher and legal scholar: "One must not be cruel by refusing an apology; he should be easily pacified, and provoked with difficulty. When an offender asks his forgiveness, he should forgive wholeheartedly and with a willing spirit. Even if he has caused him much trouble wrongfully, he must not avenge himself, or bear a grudge. This is the way of Israel and their upright hearts." An ideal to aspire to on these ten days of repentance.

Rabbi Wolpe
The Kotzker Rebbe taught that God fashioned a great ladder and on this ladder people climb down from heaven to earth. When we reach this world the ladder is drawn up and we are told to get back to heaven. Most give up because there is no ladder. Some leap but quickly become discouraged. Others leap and leap, knowing that if God sees their effort, God will reach down in mercy and lift them up to the presence of the Divine. So what is our task, asked the Kotzker? We must be leaping souls.
Power User
Posts: 245

« Reply #507 on: October 07, 2011, 07:37:03 AM »

Repentance Is a Trap
The real way to do Yom Kippur

By Tzvi Freeman

There was a time when people would spend every evening of the days before Yom Kippur (and especially just before Yom Kippur) pondering their sins, their faults, and just everything wrong, bad and crummy about themselves. They would cry and sob from their hearts, fall asleep weeping, and then they would get up the next morning with a pure soul to serve their Maker. They often did this on other days of the year, and it worked pretty good then too.

Nowadays, when someone ponders his failures, it almost inevitably leads to depression. When pondering a past sin, a person starts asking himself why he did such a stupid thing, remembers what a geshmak1 it was, and ends up doing more.

So what happened? Quite simply, the darkness got thicker. When you’re surrounded by light, it’s okay to stick your nose into a few dark corners—maybe you’ll find something valuable you lost in there. But when you live in a world with the lights dimmed and all the blinds pulled down, dark corners become black holes with relentless gravitational pull.
Pondering your sins, you may just come to the conclusion that you actually enjoyed them.

That’s why repentance is so darn dangerous nowadays. When someone calls me up and says, “Rabbi, I messed up! How do I repent?” I tell them, “Repentance? Stay away from that stuff! It’s hazardous!”

So they say, “But rabbi, what am I gonna do about this sin messup deal in my life?”

And I tell ’em, “Just start running towards the light.”

“But then I’ll never do the repentance thing, like it says in all those books, about deep remorse and weeping over your sins.”

“Right now, forget the remorse and the weeping. Just get past it! It’s a trap. It’s your nasty, self-destructive snake inside trying to take you for lunch. And you’re the lunch.”

“No, rabbi, no! I gotta repent!”

“You don’t want to repent. You want a replay!”

“A what?”

“A replay. Okay, I’ll explain: When your mind experiences something pleasurable, it’s programmed to go replay it again and again, until it rewires all its neurons, readies the limbic system and has the entire endocrine system on board. That way, when the associated stimuli turn up again, by sight, smell, sound or whatever, your entire visceral person is primed to lunge for it like a hawk.

“But you won’t let your mind replay this particular messup, because you know it was real immoral, bad and crummy. So your mind, being just as smart as you are—since it is your mind after all—comes up with a solution: It says, ‘I don’t want a replay. I want to repent.’ Well, you don’t. You want a replay. Nothing to do with repenting.”

And you say: “But when will I rip away all the ugly stuff clinging to me because of this lousy thing I did?”
The brain will do anything to get its replay. Even convince you to repent.

And I answer: “So don’t repent. Do teshuvah instead.”

“That’s what I said I want to do!”

“No, you said you wanted to do repentance. I’m telling you to do teshuvah. That means “return.” Return towards the light from which your soul originally came. When you are running towards the light, filling your life with more wisdom, more understanding, more mitzvahs; more joy, love and beauty; and the light is getting brighter and brighter, and you want to reach out and talk directly, sincerely with your G‑d . . .

“. . . that’s when it hits you that the crummy messup from the past is holding you back, like a useless backpack weighing you down, like a lump of clay in your heart, like a wall between you and the true place of your soul. That’s when a genuine, aching remorse overcomes you, just swelling up all on its own from the bottom of your heart. That’s when you scream, ‘Get off my back!’

“You look behind for a sec, throw that junk away, and fly ahead. That’s when you repent. But not until then.”

During the ten days from Rosh Hashanah until Yom Kippur, there’s a lot of light. Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the year. Don’t go wasting that away. Especially, don’t go spending the holiest time of the year dwelling on stupid things you did.
Why waste the holiest day of the year dwelling on everything you messed up?

Instead, reach towards the light. Feel the presence of an Infinite G‑d, Creator of all things, who awaits your return to Him, with love.

And as you return, let that messy, gunky stuff just fall away, never to come back again. ’Cause you’ll never want it back again, once you’ve felt the embrace of His light.

Today, only the children of light can rise.
Power User
Posts: 245

« Reply #508 on: October 09, 2011, 08:37:14 PM »

A Backpack Full of Kisses

By Rivka Zahava
“Don’t make me go! I don’t want to go to school!”

My son’s little pudgy hands pulled on my skirt, and his huge teary eyes pulled on my heart. It was the fourth day of preschool, but he still was scared to be there without me.

These moments are so hard for a mother. Of course I knew that I was doing what was good for him, but seeing him so tormented tied my stomach up in doubt.

“I want to be with yoooooooooooooou!” he pleaded.

An idea sparked.

There are moments that are ultimately for our good, but are excruciatingly hard to go throughI kneeled down in front of him and asked me to hand me his backpack. Sniffling, he shrugged it off and shoved it into my hand. Unzipping the bag a few inches, I created a small hole.

“Look,” I said softly, “This morning I put a sandwich and carrot sticks in your bag, so that you won’t be hungry. Do you know what I am going to put in now? Kisses! And hugs! And smiles! Lots and lots of them! When you begin to feel sad in school, then you just open up the bag a little bit and put your cheek on the hole, and kisses and hugs will fly at you!”

His eyes brightened, and he couldn’t help but smile, revealing the tiniest little teeth that always remind me of little square soup nuts.

I kissed and kissed into the opening while he giggled. Then I smiled into the bag, hugged it tight, and zipped it up. My son, looking much braver, took my hand and we began to walk together.

As we walked, I listened to the morning songs of the birds, and felt the early sun caress my skin, and it occurred to me that we all essentially have a backpack on our backs. Ours have been packed by G‑d.

G‑d sends us out into this earthly world, where we can’t see Him or hear Him. There are moments that are ultimately for our good, but are excruciatingly hard to go through. Whether it is the stress of waiting a week for an emergency MRI appointment, or the pain of saying goodbye to a loved one forever, sometimes it feels as if He has abandoned us, and we shrivel up in fear. Even in those bleak moments, if we look around us, we will find millions of His “kisses” in every moment of every day. Sometimes it is a helpful neighbor who saves the day, sometimes it is a child’s laugh. Maybe it is a starry sky, or the smell of an overflowing jasmine plant. Whatever the kiss may look or feel like, it is a moment when we are comforted and encouraged, when we feel that the world is perfectly wonderful and that we have so much to be happy for.

Maimonides gave us a guaranteed way to arouse the affection between ourselves and our Creator. It’s called nature. Examining an autumn leaf or the structure of a banana is enough to instill awareness of the Creator’s greatness. A moss-covered rock, a line of marching ants—we are surrounded by boundless miracles. Read about one day in life of a human embryo, and you will find your mouth hanging open in awe. Allowing ourselves to see nature’s wonders will open us up to feeling grateful and loved by the One who is behind it all.

Examining an autumn leaf or the structure of a banana is enough to instill awareness of the Creator’s greatnessOne hiker testified that his first time feeling G‑d in his life was when he stood at the top of a mountain overlooking Doubtful Sound, a fjord in New Zealand. At that moment he realized that the Creator of this spectacular place created him too, and he owed it to himself to find out why.

Sukkot. We leave the wallpapered concrete and ceramic tiles of our home, and move out to nature. Outside, we can hear the leaves dancing in the wind, and see the stars sparkling between the branches of the sechach that covers our sukkah. The crickets sing a lullaby to those falling asleep on a mattress in the sukkah, and the dew kisses them awake at sunrise. Out in the world that G‑d created for the pleasure of mankind, mankind can shake away the indifference to His love and begin to reciprocate.

“I am for my Beloved and my Beloved is for me, the Shepherd of roses.” Why “the Shepherd of roses”? Since when do roses need shepherding? Do they stray away like sheep or goats? King Solomon’s hidden message to us is that when we make ourselves into roses, He is our Shepherd. A rose is a symbol of freshness, of love that is alive and thriving. If a rose is not fresh, it is not beautiful; when the relationship between man and his Creator is not fresh and alive, then it is like a withered rose. We, the Jewish people, are forever in the stage of newly opened buds: always questioning, learning and thinking, to deepen our lives and connection to what is real.
Power User
Posts: 245

« Reply #509 on: October 16, 2011, 08:48:01 PM »

My Son the Doctor-Murderer
by Sara Yoheved Rigler
Unconditional love and the holiday of Sukkot.

Nava’s doctor killed a woman. Not by malpractice. The woman was claiming that her baby was Dr. X’s child. He got fed up with her, went with a loaded gun to her apartment, and murdered her. Dr. X is now serving a life sentence in an Israeli jail for first degree murder.

Nava knew that people could make dramatic turn-arounds because in her own life she had transformed herself from non-religious Israeli to observant Jew. So she visited her former doctor in prison in order to encourage him to do teshuva [repent]. Dr. X was totally uninterested. All he wanted to talk about was how angry he was at his mother because she refused to visit him in prison.

Nava related this story at our family Shabbat table. It led to a lively discussion. I took the mother’s side. A human being is, I contended, the aggregate of his actions. A person who does good is good, while a person who commits evil deeds is evil. Why should his mother, who had given him a high level of education and every opportunity to become a mensch and an asset to society, visit a son who had willfully chosen to murder someone in cold blood?

Other guests at the Shabbos table disagreed. “What about unconditional love?”

I never got the concept of “unconditional love.” It’s not true that “you are what you eat.” Rather, “you are what you do.” How can you love your son the murderer? Your son the rapist? What exactly are you loving in the miscreant?


I have only one son, who was born when I was 46 years old after five years of intensive fertility treatments. Of course, I adore him and lavish on him love and attention. Many months after the discussion about the doctor convicted for murder, my son, then 14 years old, got into trouble in school. We got a phone call from the rabbi in charge recounting my son’s offense. With my volatile nature, I ordinarily would have let into my son, but my husband calmed me down and coached me on what to say when he came home from school.

“I thoroughly disapprove of what you did,” I told him, “but I still love you.”

My son’s impassioned response almost knocked me off my chair: “But you wouldn’t visit me in prison!”

Apparently he had taken in more of that long-ago conversation than I had realized. Now he was saying loud and clear: Your love has its limits. If I really misbehaved, if I did something terrible, you wouldn’t love me. Your conditional love for me isn’t good enough.

Since honesty had always characterized our relationship, I could offer no soothing platitudes. I shook my head and admitted, “No, if you murdered someone, I wouldn’t visit you in prison.”

This “wouldn’t visit you in prison” touchstone became a pebble in the shoe of our relationship. At regular intervals he threw it up to me. I realized that my profuse love for my son was like being allowed to live in a gorgeous home — complete with swimming pool and gym — but with the insecurity of knowing you could be evicted at any time. I would have to learn to love my child unconditionally, but how?


Rabbi Efim Svirsky once gave a class-cum-meditation in my home. He guided the assembled women to induce a meditative state, then asked us to experience “God is here now.” Check. I did it easily.

Next, he asked us to experience, “God loves you.” Check. I feel it all the time.

Lastly, he asked us to experience, “God loves you unconditionally.” Gulp. I ran into a stone wall.

My problem, I realized, is that I had no experience of unconditional love. My mother no doubt loved me unconditionally, but my father always loomed larger in my life. He was 44 years old when I, his only daughter, was born. He adored me and showered me with love. And I gave him good reason to. I brought home straight-A report cards, won a prestigious essay contest, got into the National Honor Society, was President of my synagogue youth group, was accepted at several top colleges, and graduated Phi Beta Kappa, magna cum laude. My father was always, as my mother put it, “bursting his buttons” with pride at my accomplishments.

But what if I had no accomplishments? Would he still love me as much? I never dared think about that frightening “what if.”

When Rabbi Svirsky asked us to experience God’s unconditional love, however, I realized that I had to go deeper. Does God love me because of my accomplishments? No, God loves me because my soul is a spark of God’s own luminous Divinity. Just as a mother loves her newborn, sans accomplishments, because the baby is part of her, so God loves us because our soul essence is part of God. I was wrong in my contention that a person is the aggregate of his actions, like an onion that has no core. A person is, in essence, his core, his Divine soul. One’s actions are the layers of curtains that surround the soul, sometimes becoming so opaque and dark that they obscure the soul’s light entirely. But God made a covenant with our forefather Jacob that He would never allow a Jewish soul to fall below the point of irredeemability. That spiritual essence, what we call the pintele Yid, is always worthy of unconditional love.

After working to make this concept real in my mind and heart, one day I sat my son down and announced, “I would visit you in prison even if you committed murder. I’m there.”

He smiled broadly. Our relationship made a quantum leap up.


By fulfilling the mitzvah of dwelling in a sukkah during the holiday of Sukkot, a Jew is literally surrounded by the Shechina, the feminine Presence of God. This is generally conceived as the “reward” for the repentance the person undertook during the Rosh Hashana-Yom Kippur period. Now that the soul is cleansed of its dross, the person can dwell in God’s presence in the sukkah.

But what if a person fails to repent? We are taught that for a person to attain atonement on Yom Kippur, the person must have passed through the stages of teshuvah: admitting, regretting, and resolving to change (plus, if he hurt another person, seeking that person’s forgiveness). What if a person did teshuvah on some misdeeds, but not others? Or didn’t do teshuvah at all? Then he enters the sukkah with his misdeeds still clinging to his soul, as if dressed in filthy, stinking rags. Is such a soul still visited by the Shechina when sitting in the sukkah?

The answer is “Yes!” There are no admission criteria to the sukkah. You don’t have to have an “I-did -teshuvah ticket” to get in. The feminine Divine Presence descends and hovers over and around the sukkah, whether it is inhabited by saints or sinners. And since this gross physical dimension is often in Jewish parables considered a prison for the soul, that means that during Sukkot God’s “Mother aspect” visits Her child the sinner in prison.

As you sit in the sukkah this week, think about that and feel God’s unconditional love.

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« Reply #510 on: October 17, 2011, 06:59:35 PM »

I  have posted this before but we read it every Yom Kippur and  I always find it very moving/

 Prayer of an Unknown Confederate Soldier
I asked God for strength, that I might achieve;
I was made weak, that I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked for health, that I might do greater things;
I was given infirmity, that I might do better things.
I asked for riches, that I might be happy;
I was given poverty, that I might be wise.
I asked for power, that I might have the praise of men;
I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life;
I was given life, that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing that I asked for, but everything I hoped for.
Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.
I am among all men most richly blessed.
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« Reply #511 on: October 25, 2011, 09:58:49 AM »

Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

Anger at your faults is arrogance, and of a very self-destructive form. Every failure becomes pain, every pain becomes a gruesome punishment. An objective person is able to look at his faults and what needs to change and say, "This is what G–d gave me to work with." He accepts stormy weather as part of the course and slowly and patiently steers his ship to port.
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« Reply #512 on: November 01, 2011, 12:31:32 PM »

Unleashing the Soul in Your Child   Cheshvan 4, 5772 • November 1, 2011
By Rochel Pritsker

I was speaking with a ten-year-old about her birthday and why it is important. From her perspective, the best part of a birthday was getting older and enjoying cake and presents. I smiled. I have heard this answer many times before, from most children, whether they are preschoolers or preteens. I told her that what makes her birthday important is that it is a reminder of the day she was created by G d with a special and unique mission. No one else has her mission. She holds the one piece of the puzzle that no one else can fill, to help bring a good, positive change to the world. Like all of us, she was created because she was needed.

The young girl shook her head and replied simply, “That’s not true. The world can continue with or without me, it wouldn’t make any difference. It doesn’t need me for anything.” I told her she is partially right—the world could continue without her, but it could never benefit from what she in particular has to offer, in what she was created to accomplish in life.

The young girl replied simply, “The world can continue with or without me"

It is obvious that much of our society is achievement-driven, as opposed to purpose-driven. This is the reason why grownups often love to ask children, “So what do you want to be when you grow up?” And sometimes, if the child happens to give a response that doesn’t meet the adult’s expectations, the child is talked out of it: “Why not become a governor instead? Or a scientist? You can become a great doctor—you know, you can be anything that you want to be!”

But can a child truly become anything he wants? To be raised with that mindset neglects one main fact—he already is someone. And that someone is not dependent on a “thing” to become. Rather, he is brought to life with a soul that has a unique mission. And what is that mission? To effectively utilize what G d brings his way, while revealing the truth of good in every situation; and what will come his way will be unique to him, and him alone.

For this reason, it is false to tell a child that he can become anything he wants to be. The truth is that a child can become the best he can be—not anything or anyone else other than whom he is meant to be.

Imagine the kind of freedom and joy a child lives with when the focus is not on climbing a ladder that takes him on pursuits that belong to someone else, but instead this ladder takes him to his own great heights—the best he has to offer to the world. And he doesn’t need to wait until he is a grownup to believe that he has purpose—he is needed today.

I remember when my son first switched from homeschooling to a traditional school setting. It was the first time my son was in a classroom of children, with a teacher who wasn’t me. Understandably, he felt nervous and unsure about starting this new experience. But throughout his first week at school, I noticed a few of the kids in the higher grades high-fiving my son every day as I picked him up from school. I could see on my son’s face how he felt accepted and included. Those kids lived up to the purpose that existed for them at that particular moment—making a new child feel welcomed. That moment belonged to them, and they didn’t waste it, they claimed it.

Can a child truly become anything he wants?

Learning to unleash your child’s soul means responding to him with the intent that your role as a parent is to guide his soul every day, and uncover his purpose for fulfilling good things in the world. When you interact with your child with this mindset, you start to see him not through your own eyes, but through G d’s eyes. Your response is no longer about you—who you are, your fears, your past failures, your dreams and hopes. Your response is about him, who he is, and all the good he has to offer.

A young child can, and should, be told that he has a soul; that he was created in this world not to simply exist for the sake of achievement, but to live for the sake of his unique, G d-given purpose. This is the secret to lasting motivation and living with passion. And this is where true self-worth is created, knowing that you have something significant to contribute. When we realize that our child can answer a need in this world, we then behave in a way that inspires his soul to shine, to make the difference it was intended to make.

I remember one Shabbat morning we were late to synagogue. I left the house in a rush, with my two boys trailing behind me. My five-year-old son, who is happy-go-lucky and appreciates simplicity, sensed my negative mood and tried to lighten things up several times. Finally, he said, “I know! Why don’t we play ‘I Spy’?!” It’s a game he loves, and one that we usually play every Shabbat morning on our thirty-minute walk to synagogue. This time, I didn’t even turn around to look at him. I quickened my pace and replied, “No, we’re late! We can’t play that game now! Hurry up!”

As soon as I said the words, I felt guilty. Sure, maybe my son needed to understand that sometimes we do need to hurry. But at that moment, this lesson would save me only ten additional minutes. Whereas it would shut him out of thirty minutes of feeling Shabbat in a positive light, while also keeping him from the opportunity to contribute what he could offer to Shabbat.

It is not the adult who constantly waits for the child. It is the child who waits for the adult

I turned around to him. The sun was beaming on him. He looked disappointed. He was no longer skipping as he usually does. So I came up to him and whispered in his ear, “I am ready to be nice. I would love to play ‘I Spy’ with you! You have such a way of making our Shabbat so happy!” He beamed when he heard my words, and instantly he came alive again. He was no longer separated from Shabbat, but an important part of it.

As adults, it seems that we are endlessly waiting for our child to listen, to behave, to get things done. But if we are completely honest, it is not the adult who constantly waits for the child. It is the child who waits for the adult—waits to be understood, waits to be discovered, waits for proper limits to be set, and waits until he is seen and guided towards what he has to offer to life—shining the light of his soul upon the world.
« Last Edit: November 01, 2011, 01:28:56 PM by Crafty_Dog » Logged
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« Reply #513 on: November 01, 2011, 01:32:50 PM »

second post

Why Aren’t Men Born Circumcised?   Cheshvan 4, 5772 • November 1, 2011
By Tzvi Freeman
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You keep touting mitzvahs as things G d wants us to do. But if that were true, why didn’t He create the universe that way in the first place? If He doesn’t want us eating pork, why did He make it edible? If he wants men circumcised, why aren’t they born that way? Why are we messing around with the way He made things—and claiming that we’re doing His will?


Funny thing, I get that circumcision question a lot—but no one ever asks about ear-piercing, shaving or hair removal. Seems it’s an oldie, because Rabbi Judah the Prince, the famous redactor of the Mishnah, also had it posed to him by some Roman philosopher.1 In typical Jewish fashion, he responded that the same question could be asked of haircuts—why not let it grow? Or of grain growing in the field—why don’t bread loaves grow instead? Similarly, I could ask why G d makes earthquakes and then require that we go and pull the people out. Why make illness and then require that we develop medicines? And if we were supposed to wear clothes, I suppose He would make us furry, right?

Rabbi Judah’s answer was that everything G d made in His world requires some sort of fixing. That’s how the creation story in Genesis sums it up: “. . . all His work that G d created to do.” To do, the sages say, means to fix.

The question remains, why? If He wants it fixed, why not fix it Himself? Or better, don’t make it broken to begin with.

The answer takes more than one fascinating form:

1. To make us partners
Providing us mitzvahs to do is the ultimate act of generosity. If He had made a perfect world and beamed us down to enjoy it, He would effectively be rendering us parasites. By leaving some things incomplete and instructing us to fill them in, He promotes us to a full partnership in His creative work. And what aspect of His creative work? That which fulfills its true inner purpose, His innermost desire.

2. To render us real
Taking that a little further: Imagine a world conjured out of G d’s imagination, instantly behaving exactly the way He wished it should behave. What is there that is real or significant about this creation? What makes it any more than a whimsical fantasy?

Imagine you just made Pinocchio. Imagine you wanted Pinocchio to be your little boy. But imagine that Pinocchio has no free will, and even if he did, had everything laid out for him with no options in which to express that free will. Pinocchio is not your little boy, he’s just a nicely carved hunk of wood with suspenders.

By turning to us, the conscious characters within that creation, and saying, “Please do this . . . ,” G d provides us free will, along with the areas in which to express that free will. Mitzvahs, then, are the elements that render us real, to become “a significant other.” Or, in Torah language, kadosh—which we translate as holy.

Not only we, but also all the objects and activities that are implicated in the mitzvah, are rendered significant and kadosh.
Which, by the way, solves an enigma in the life story of the patriarch Abraham. At one hundred years of age, Abraham underwent circumcision. But didn’t he know earlier that circumcision was a desirable act for spiritual hikers, like himself, trying to get close to G d? The question is especially acute according to the Talmud’s statement that Abraham fulfilled the entire Torah although it was not yet given.2 So why did he leave out this not-such-a-detail mitzvah until he had to be told?

Our answer, however, solves the puzzle. If Abraham had performed the circumcision before being commanded, he would be doing it just like any other created being doing something nice. Once G d declares that it is now His official will that Abraham and his household be circumcised, the act of circumcision becomes a mitzvah, rendering the body of the circumcised significant and kadosh. Since circumcision, unlike other mitzvot, is a one-time-only opportunity, Abraham waited for G d’s command before opting in.

3. That’s just the way innermost desires work

Plunging yet deeper for the intrepid intellect, this is an inherent distinction between secondary and primary desires. Feeling intrepid? Hang in there.

Let’s start with a parallel from the human being. We also have intrinsic, primary desires rumbling beneath the surface of our consciousness—for example, the desire for territory, for love, for confirmation of our existence—whatever they are and however you wish to express them. These desires surface in the form of secondary desires: to earn money, to look good, to compete—all the mad races of human beings upon this planet.

Now take a look at how these two sorts of desires manifest. The secondary desires jump out immediately and spontaneously. The inner, primary desires, on the other hand, unfold gradually, sometimes after many years—in some cases, never achieving fruition. We run through our entire lives rarely, if ever, understanding why we do all the things we do.
Why is it this way, that inner desires do not manifest spontaneously, but unfold? Rabbi Shalom DovBer of Lubavitch explained: If a desire has any outward expression, it is already not the real you. As soon as you can know of it and feel it and act upon it, it is already a movement away from the innermost core.

Ironically, by this paradigm, the deepest expressions of the divine will are those acts which He did not expressly tell us to do, but which Jewish communities derived through study and celebration of His Torah. Examples are the rabbinical enactments and safeguards, customs and embellishments known as hiddur mitzvah. We, as a community, decided to send gifts of food to one another on Purim, to eat fruits on Tu B’Shvat, to dance with the Torah on the day we conclude the cycle of its readings. These are the most exquisite expression of desire closest to the core—that which cannot be commanded or told, sometimes not even alluded to in a nuance of the text, but sensed only by those who are immersed with their entire souls in His Torah with love.

It seems more than slightly absurd to apply human psychology to the One who came up with their design to begin with. In truth, the idea applies to Him in its most absolute sense. We are but the cheap imitation, created this way, “in His image,” so that we can come to some understanding of His workings with this world by more deeply examining ourselves.
You see, our innermost desires are innate: since we are human beings, we desire territory, love, etc. Our desires are really needs. The Creator has no needs; He is entirely free in every respect to choose whatever He wishes to desire. Once He has so chosen, however, then certain needs spring into place. Since those needs are conceived by necessity, they are born into existence by necessity. But since the inner desires are chosen by His free will, they are manifest in our world through our free will.

Let’s take an example: G d decides to desire that the seventh day will be a day of rest, so that Creator and created can commune in a state of un-movement. That’s an inner desire—nothing preceded it, demanding that it must be so. But once that desire is in place, there is now a need for a world that is created in six days, so that on the seventh, G d will rest, and His created beings will rest along with Him.

The second desire appeared spontaneously, and therefore is manifest in the same way: G d never asks the creation to create itself in six days, or forbids it to be created in five or seven or any other way. He dictates and so it occurs. The primary desire, however, that we should rest together, appears as a mitzvah: Just as G d chose it of His free will, so the human being must choose of his free will to observe the Shabbat.

Another example: G d chose of His free will that there will be conscious beings inside His creation that will declare His oneness every morning and night—a.k.a. “Shema Yisrael.” Accordingly, there must be morning and there must be night. That implies us creatures living upon a planet where darkness and light alternate, which in turn is fulfilled by a simple relationship between the movements of our planet and that of a fiery globe beyond us. Again, the patterns of nature are set in firmware, while the underlying desire that gave rise to those patterns is left as a user event.

And one more: G d chose to desire that physical beings make a covenant with Him through their physical bodies—and by implication there must be physicality, bodies, and a certain place on the body for circumcision. That which exists by implication becomes the natural order, occurring spontaneously within our natural world. The innermost desire is left up to us to choose, and to carry out.

Along with our choice to rescue survivors, heal the sick, and wherever we can, otherwise fix the world.


Genesis Rabbah 11:6
Talmud, Yoma 28b; Leviticus Rabbah 2:9. See How Did the Torah Exist Before It Happened?

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« Reply #514 on: November 02, 2011, 03:06:42 PM »

Wealth & the Occupy Wall Street Movement
by Rabbi Benjamin Blech

Rich people are not the enemy.

I wish the Occupy Wall Street movement would be a little clearer about what they're protesting.

Even as it continues to grow and gain followers outside of New York, with satellite protests in more than 60 American cities as it threatens to go global, the demonstrators still haven't directly identified their enemy.

And before I can make up my mind whether or not I support them, I think they need to tell us whether this is more about money or morality.

Related Article: Holy Money

What troubles me is that much of the anger of the protesters seems to be fueled by a sentiment about wealth that Judaism long ago rejected. There have always been people who believed that spirituality demands that we forsake materialism. Rich people are wicked by definition. Accumulating a great deal of money is a sin.

But from a Jewish perspective, wealth is not ignoble; it presents us with precious opportunities. When Abraham first discovered God and gave the gift of monotheism to the world, we're told that he was divinely rewarded with prosperity. The philosopher Philo had it right when he summed up the Jewish sentiment in these words: "Money is the cause of good things to a good man, of evil things to a bad man."

From time immemorial Jews have recognized that their mission in life is to improve the world. They were also realistic enough to realize that a great deal of good they were required to perform on this Earth can only be fulfilled with adequate financial resources. Helping the poor, assisting the community and its needs, building synagogues and houses of study, and supporting friends, family, neighbors – all these mitzvahs require money in order to properly perform them.

In a beautiful Midrash, we’re told that when Moses was commanded to count the Jews by means of their contributing a half Shekel, Moses was baffled. He didn't understand. Then God showed him “a coin of fire" and his mind was put at rest.

What was so difficult to grasp that caused Moses to be confused? Did Moses need to be shown an actual coin before he could understand the meaning of half a Shekel? And what was the point of showing him a coin of fire?

The rabbinic commentary is profound and beautiful. The reason Moses was perplexed was because he couldn't believe that for counting Jews something so seemingly non-spiritual and materialistic would be used. How could money play a role in defining Jews and holiness?

The answer was to show him a coin of fire. Fire has two seemingly contradictory properties. Fire destroys, but it also creates. Fire may burn, but it can also cook, warm, and serve the most beneficial purposes. Money and fire are related. Wealth may destroy those who possess it but it can also be the source of the greatest blessing. Precisely because it has this quality, it becomes doubly holy. When we choose to use a potentially destructive object in a positive and productive manner, we have learned the secret of true holiness.

Twice a day Jews recite the line that defines our faith. "Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” The words that follow define how we are supposed to express that belief through our actions. The original Hebrew from the Torah is often mistranslated, "with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might." The more correct reading for the last phrase is "and with all your wealth."

Having a great deal of money isn't a problem. Not knowing what to do with it is what causes almost all of our difficulties. And spending it correctly is the challenge we face throughout our lifetimes that will best determine whether we can face our final judgment with confidence.

“Show me your checkbook stubs,” said the noted psychologist, Erich Fromm, “and I’ll tell you everything about yourself.” Self-indulgence or selflessness? Wine, women, and song or charitable works? Hedonism or helping others? Forsaking God because you no longer need Him or feeling more spiritually connected out of gratitude for your good fortune?

For those whose crusade against Wall Street is synonymous with a vendetta against all those with wealth, there needs to be recognition of the great good accomplished by many of those who've been blessed with prosperity. Just because someone has "made it" doesn't make him a villain. To add the adjective "filthy" to the word rich in signs hoisted by Occupy Wall Street protesters is to unfairly castigate those who God may have rewarded because they're wise enough to work on His behalf in creating a better world.

We could all learn much from Michael Bloomberg, the self-made billionaire founder of the Bloomberg financial information firm and New York Mayor, who for two years in a row was the leading individual living donor in the United States, according to The Chronicle of Philanthropy. He recently said he intends to give away most of his fortune, because “the best measure of a philanthropist is that the check he leaves to the undertaker bounces.” And that will insure that he dies a very happy man.

Capitalism isn't only about accumulating more and more money. Just a few years ago TIME named Bill and Melinda Gates as its “Persons of the Year.” Gates, a Wall Street superstar, was acknowledged as one of the most influential people in the country – not because of how much money he has but because of how much of it he is willing to give away. He came to the conclusion that greed isn’t meant to be our goal in life.

Having made more money than he will ever need, he has one more vision that drives him. He would love to convince world business leaders that being socially responsible isn’t just altruism but sound business practice. Gates says he has learned that greed is self-defeating. It destroys the very people who make it their god.

Today Gates is spearheading a drive to get the super wealthy to publicly commit themselves to giving away most of their fortunes for charitable purposes – and Warren Buffett, chairman of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. and one of the world’s wealthiest men, among others has signed on to this noble endeavor.

When the Occupy Wall Street crowd talks about cleaning up corruption, when it points a finger at all those whose financial recklessness plunged the country into the Great Recession, when it gives voice to the anger we all feel at the perpetrators of highly immoral business practices that hurt millions of innocent victims – for all of these righteous causes they deserve our unqualified thanks.

It's only when they confuse anyone who is wealthy with the enemy that I think we need to remind them that just as much as the poor don't deserve to be despised for their poverty, the rich don't deserve to be hated simply because they have money.

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« Reply #515 on: November 02, 2011, 04:52:50 PM »

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« Reply #516 on: November 10, 2011, 05:44:17 PM »

Weekly Sermonette
A Jew's Gotta Do
By Yossy Goldman

Is it a sin to argue with G-d? Is it sacrilegious to question the Divine? Well, Abraham did it. Not for himself, but on behalf of the people of Sodom, whom G-d had decided to destroy because of their wickedness. Abraham was the paragon of chesed, the personification of kindness and compassion. He grappled with the Almighty, attempting to negotiate a stay of execution for the inhabitants of the notorious cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.

"Will you destroy the righteous with the wicked?" he asks G-d. "Will the judge of all the earth not do justice?" "If there are 50 righteous men, will you spare them? 45? 40... 30... 20... 10?" In the end, Abraham cannot find even a minyan of righteous men in the cities and he gives up. And then the verse reads, V'Avraham shov l'mkomo -- "And Abraham went back to his place." Having failed in his valiant attempt, he acknowledges defeat and retreats to his corner.

But there is also an alternative interpretation to those last words. And Abraham went back to his place can also be understood to mean that he went back to his ways, to his custom. And what custom is that? To defend the underdog, to look out for the needy and to help those in trouble, even if they are not the most righteous of people. Abraham refused to become disillusioned in defeat. He went right back to his ways, even though this particular attempt did not meet with success.

What happens when we lose? We hurt, we sulk, and we give up. It didn't work, it's no use. It's futile, why bother? Just throw in the towel.

Not Abraham. Abraham stuck to his principles. He may have experienced a setback, but he would still champion the cause of justice. He would still speak out for those in peril. And he would still take his case to the highest authority in the universe, G-d Almighty Himself.

Abraham teaches us not to lose faith, not to deviate from our chosen path or our sincerely held convictions. If we believe it is the right thing to do, then it is right even if there is no reward in sight. If it is right, then stick to it, no matter the outcome.

One of my favorite cartoon characters is good old Charlie Brown in Peanuts. In one strip that sticks in my memory there is a storm raging outside and Charlie Brown is determined to go out to fly his kite. His friends tell him he must be crazy to attempt flying a kite in this weather, it'll be destroyed by the wind in no time. But in the last frame we see Charlie, resolutely marching out the door, his kite firmly tucked under his arm, and the caption reads, "A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do."

Do we believe in our principles of faith because of expediency? Are we virtuous because we believe it is the way to the good life? Are we waiting for the big payoff for our good behavior? What happens when we don't see it? Do we become frustrated, disillusioned and angry at G-d?

Some people become religious for the wrong reasons. They are looking for some magical solution to their problems in life. And when the problems don't disappear as quickly or as magically as they expected, they give up their religious lifestyle. It didn't work; I'm outta here.

Virtue is its own reward. Sleeping better at night because our conscience is clear is also part of the deal. Or, in the words of the Sages, "the reward for a mitzvah is the mitzvah."

Our founding father reminds us that a Jew's gotta do what a Jew's gotta do, regardless of the outcome. Whether we see the fruits of our labors or not, if it's the right thing to do, then carry on doing it.

May we all be true children of Abraham.
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« Reply #517 on: November 14, 2011, 10:49:47 AM »

100 Blessings
Why should I be grateful?

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« Reply #518 on: November 14, 2011, 02:37:40 PM »

Take Wall Street, Please!
Rethinking capitalism, OWS and 7B
Thursday, November 10, 2011
By Tzvi Freeman

This is not about solidarity with the campers off Wall Street, Bay Street or any other street. It’s not about their manifestos, their motives, their methods, whether it’s the cool thing to do or the Woodstock of this generation. It’s about one thing only: Is there a problem with capitalism today?

And I think there is.

But before I explain why, first let me say this:

From where I’m looking right now, capitalism is good. Very good.

Look at the historical facts: Before commerce, industry and finance began to blossom, children were lucky to live past six years, the average life span was between 25–30 years, all but a small minority lived at bare subsistence levels or less, education was for the elite, and violent death, torture and barbarity was not something you watched on television, but witnessed firsthand on a frequent basis—whether in the name of warfare, crime, justice or entertainment.

Capitalism has been a—if not the—major force in diminishing war between nations and creating tolerance between peoples. It has allowed literally billions more people to share the planet and—percentage-wise—at a much greater standard of living. Today, thanks to capitalism, each year 70 million people leave hand-to-mouth living to become consumers-by-choice—and poverty rates are expected to continue their sharp decline.1 Without capitalism, democracy would never have proven successful, medicine could never have advanced, worldwide humanitarian efforts would be absurd and I would never have been able to compose this editorial and get it out to you so fast.

I’ll go further: Capitalism is not just “the best we got.” Capitalism is inherently good. Because capitalism, at its essence, is saying, “just as the earth can produce value and share that value with others, so too the human being.” Capitalism empowers each one of us.

And therein lies the problem with capitalism today. Because we’re grabbing the husk and leaving the fruit behind.

What went wrong?

Quite simply, we never let go of the crippling idea that equates making business with demonic greed.

And people act according to the role you give them.

There are those professions that society considers noble callings, such as doctors, judges and professors. Society respects them for what they do. Then there are business people. Society respects them, too—but are they respected for what they do, or for what they get? Do we respect their occupation, or do we see them as doing a worthless job—making money out of money?

Where is business respected? Take a look in the Talmud.

In the Talmud you’ll find spiritual and earthly duties lumped together in ways that sends the modern mind spinning:

Rava said, “When a soul stands before the heavenly court, it is asked, ‘Did you buy and sell fairly? Did you fix times for Torah study? Did you attempt to be fruitful and multiply? Did you look forward to the messianic redemption? Did you debate matters of wisdom? Did you understand one thing from another?’”2

Do you see that? Marrying, procreating and making an honest living are good and wonderful occupations—in the same breath as Torah study, gaining wisdom and keeping the faith.

Why? Because they benefit the world. As in the common talmudic term for making a living, that dignified and ennobled phrase, “settling of the world”3 —for, as the prophet states, “G‑d did not create emptiness; He formed a world to be settled upon.”4

Maimonides sums up the Jewish position with strong words:

Anyone who comes to the conclusion that he should involve himself in Torah study without doing work and derive his livelihood from charity, desecrates G‑d's name, dishonors the Torah, extinguishes the light of faith, brings evil upon himself, and forfeits the life of the world to come, for it is forbidden to derive benefit from the words of Torah in this world.

Our Sages declared: "Whoever benefits from the words of Torah forfeits his life in the world." Also, they commanded and declared: "Do not make them a crown to magnify oneself, nor an axe to chop with." Also, they commanded and declared: "Love work and despise Rabbinic positions." All Torah that is not accompanied by work will eventually be negated and lead to sin. Ultimately, such a person will steal from others.5

And so, the laws concerning earning an honest living and thereby making the world a more settled and civil place also belong in the holy books.

The medieval Augustinian view, on the other hand, saw all these as curses of the snake, the product of original sin—since they were directed by man’s evil impulse.6 Such, as well, was the view of the ancient Romans and Greeks, who looked askance at craftsmen, merchants and others who lived by toil.

And so, whereas the Jew saw work as good for the soul and moneymaking as of benefit to everyone involved, the society which enveloped them saw it as a tolerable sin. Not lending money alone, but almost every form of business was labelled “usury”—using someone else for one’s own benefit.7

Life began to change radically when European society adopted the Jewish attitude—that which Weber prudently coined “the Protestant ethic.” The Jews, wrote Montesquieu, “set the stage for the rebirth of European commerce, and with it the beginning of the decline of prejudice and the rise of a more gentle, less ferocious way of life.”8

How It Should Be

And yet, the ancient notion that making business is dirty business lives on.

If I would ask a class of medical students why they chose medicine, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear, “I think I would be fulfilled by a life of healing people.” Not just in 1967, but even today.

If I would ask a class in law school why they chose law, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear “I’m outraged at injustice in the world.” Yes, they are there, bless their souls.

What do I want to hear from the students in business school? I want to hear, “I’m going into commerce and finance because I want to fix the world.”

Because they can—in ways that no one else can. Capitalism brought us to this glorious world where (yes, there are problems, but the fact is) seven billion human lives can share the planet together, and capitalism is the solution to all the problems that come along with that 7b. Yes, we need doctors, we need social activists, we need political leaders dedicated to the welfare of their people. But more than any of those, it’s the manufacturers, the traders, the sellers and the financiers in whose hands the future of our planet rests.

Why? Because capitalism demands consumers, and the impoverished can’t afford to consume. Because capitalism demands an educated workforce, and that education has to start at an early age. Because capitalism demands renewable resources, which unsustainable practices cannot provide. Because capitalism, when done at its very best, benefits not only its shareholders, but all its stakeholders—which is every last one of us sharing this planet.

The highest form of charity, writes Maimonides, is when you give a person a partnership or find him work “…so that his hand will be fortified and he will not have to ask others.”9

Who does that? The entrepreneurs, the financiers, the people out there making business. They are blessed with the capacity to stand a human being on his own two feet, fishing rod and all—billions of human beings—and say, “Your life is in your hands.”

I can’t think of anything the world needs today more than a generation of idealist, foresighted, noble capitalists.10

Getting back to the garden

So have the tent-dwellers in Zuccotti Park got it right or wrong? As in most cases, probably both. You see, the change that’s needed is not the change that most imagine. It’s not the demise of capitalism we need, but its redemption. We need to stop equating finance with greed and start seeing it as a noble calling. And, as consumers, we need to demand it from our industries.

We need to teach that in our schools—and not just business school: Children in pre-school have to learn that firemen put out fires, doctors heal boo-boos, and people do business so they can share good things with others.

We need to give them that role, and learn to expect it from them.

One of the sitters, a 53-year-old carpenter by the name of Thomas Fox, seems to have gotten it right. As he explained to a journalist:

It's a Jeffersonian based political party uniting the youth of the world together. The key phrase is this, which Thomas Jefferson wrote to Madison, ‘the earth belongs in usufruct to the living.’ What usufruct means is stewardship. It means the older generation has a duty to turn over the earth and the financial system in a better situation than they got it.

Somewhat reminiscent of that line in Genesis, where the CEO of this universe places us in His garden “to serve it and to protect it.” In other words, to make His world even better.

At Woodstock we sang that we “have to get ourselves back to the garden.” Whether or not the occupiers of Wall Street have the same thing in mind, the garden is here now and waiting.

Goldman Sachs, Global Economics Paper No:170, page 5.
Talmud Shabbat 31a
See Sanhedrin 24b; Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Sefer Mishpatim, Edut, 10:4, and the Kesef Mishnah ad loc: A person who is not occupied in “settling the world” is most likely engaged in thievery and cannot be trusted.
Isaiah 45:18
Mishneh Torah, Sefer Madah, Hilchot Talmud Torah, 3:10
The Jewish sages, on the other hand, cite the verse from Psalms (128:2), “If you eat by the toil of your hands, you are praiseworthy, and it is good for you.” From this they understand that the reward for working for a living supercedes even the merit of “fear of heaven.” He who fears heaven has a reward in the world to come, but he who eats by the toil of his hands receives a reward in this world as well (Talmud Berachot 8a). The curse that resulted from original sin added the element of toil to that work, but the work itself is not a curse, but part of the human being’s original purpose on earth—as mentioned at the end of this essay.
On this topic, see Jerry Muller, Capitalism and the Jews, Princeton University Press.
Montesque, Spirit of the Laws (1748), part 4, book 20, chapter 1.
Mishneh Torah, Sefer Zeraim, Hilchot Matnot Aniyim, 10:7
If you think I’m the only one saying this, see Michael Porter and Mark Kramer, “The Big Idea—Creating Shared Value,” subtitled “How to reinvent capitalism and unleash a wave of innovation and growth” in Harvard Business Review, January, 2011. Also, a timely book by Joseph Bower, Herman Leonard and Lynn Paine, “Capitalism at Risk: Rethinking the Role of Business.” My idea that business should be seen as a “noble profession” is taken straight out of Cavico and Mujitaba, “The state of business schools, business education and business ethics” in the Journal of Academic and Business Ethics, vol. 2, July 2009.
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« Reply #519 on: November 15, 2011, 12:00:13 PM »

I like this post of Rachel's very much.  Working hard, creating value, providing well for your family and putting yourself in a position where you can be voluntarily helping others instead of needing help, these are strong, positive, moral, religious qualities.  I wish they were more widely accepted and practiced.

Legitimate commercial activities of hard work, save and invest should never be confused with cheating, buying favors or trying to change the rules to advance your position. 
Quoting the piece: "Capitalism has been a—if not the—major force in diminishing war between nations and creating tolerance between peoples. It has allowed literally billions more people to share the planet and—percentage-wise—at a much greater standard of living. Today, thanks to capitalism, each year 70 million people leave hand-to-mouth living to become consumers-by-choice—and poverty rates are expected to continue their sharp decline. Without capitalism, democracy would never have proven successful, medicine could never have advanced, worldwide humanitarian efforts would be absurd and I would never have been able to compose this editorial and get it out to you so fast."
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« Reply #520 on: November 18, 2011, 09:04:27 AM »

Our blessing #101:  Rachel  grin
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« Reply #521 on: November 21, 2011, 08:11:25 PM »

Thank you for your kinds works!

Living through the Parshah
The Positive Power of Negative Thoughts
By Rochel Holzkenner

What would you pay for a cognition detector, a mechanism that could read thoughts? What would you pay to stop your friends from having one? Socializing just wouldn't be the same if our thoughts became transparent.

Think about that time your colleague congratulated you on an impressive presentation you made. "Naw, I don't think it was any better than the job you did last week," you responded. "Finally he acknowledges that my work is superior to his..." you think. Or about the time your neighbors stops by unexpectedly. "How great of you to come by, we were just talking about you!" you say with a hug. "How rude of you to drop in without calling," you think. "And what are you thinking about my housekeeping?"

It's uncomfortable to be plagued by an ugly thought. It can erode our self-respectThere is often a significant disparity between the words we speak and the thoughts that run through our mind. Like a shiny apple with a rotten core, we often project an image of humility, graciousness and loyalty, while our inner thoughts look surprisingly ugly.

It's uncomfortable to be plagued by an ugly thought. It can erode our self-respect. What kind of person would have thoughts like these? What kind of friend am I to be so jealous? What moral integrity do I have if I scheme sinful thoughts? What kind of self-progress have I made if I'm still plagued by the same demons? Even if we choose not to act upon them, just listening to our dysfunctional thoughts can be severely demoralizing. Who am I fooling with my charade of piety when the real me is still quite crude and pleasure driven?

In the Tanya, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (1745-1812, founder of Chabad chassidism) sheds some optimistic light on dark thoughts. He exposes a conspiracy played out by our yetzer hara (evil inclination). The yetzer hara drops us a thought or an urge that makes us very uncomfortable. Even if we'd never act on the impulse, just sensing its presence is embarrassing and even depressing. And that's exactly where the yetzer hara wants us to be: embarrassed and depressed. Once our spirits are down and our self-confidence is deflated, we're nice and vulnerable for the real attack.

This understanding the yetzer hara's strategy makes it clear that it's always counter-productive to inspect a shameful thought and be disappointed because of it. The key is to simply let it go.

In fact we can actually feel pleased by its arrival.


Rabbi Schneur Zalman takes us to the Zohar, and we listen to a mystical understanding of a conversation that takes place between Isaac and Esau (as recorded in Genesis 27:4). Isaac asks his favorite son to prepare him a meal before he would bless him. "And make me delicacies such as I love," he instructs Esau.

"These words," says the Zohar, "is the message of the Shechinah [Divine Presence] to her children, the Jewish people."

What is the meaning of this Zohar? Why would G‑d ask His people to prepare delicacies? And since "delicacies" is written in plural form, what are the multiple kinds of delicacies that G‑d enjoys?

Rabbi Schneur Zalman explains: There are two types of delectable foods; the first type is naturally sweet and mellow, while the second type is naturally bitter or sour. Take onions—when raw they are painfully sharp to the palate, but sauté them and they'll enhance every dish. Lemons, garlic, ginger, horseradish—they are culinary necessities and add an irreplaceable edge to an entrée.

And G‑d says: Two things give Me pleasure: holy thoughts, and also unholy thoughts—that are ignoredSo, Isaac says, "Make me delicacies"; some sweet, some edgy. And G‑d says to His people: Two things give Me pleasure: holy thoughts, and also unholy thoughts—that are ignored. In fact, when an unholy thought is ignored, says the Zohar, "G‑d's glory rises… more than by any other praise."

Just like G‑d loves perfection, He loves imperfection. He watches in delight as the humiliating thought penetrates our consciousness and we chose to reject it. Not inviting the thought in and not judging ourselves for it, but just simply dropping it and thinking about something else. Apparently this sends G‑d soaring.

Our evil inclination will attack us at our weakest point and make us feel thoroughly dysfunctional before luring us into its world. But with a little meta-cognition we can reverse attack by viewing an ugly impulse as an opportunity to serve G‑d a well-prepared delicacy.

Based on Tanya Chapters 26-27.
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« Reply #522 on: November 22, 2011, 11:07:47 AM »

This idea of the "yetzer hara" reminds me a bit of Carl Jung's concept of "The Shadow"-- i.e. those parts of our self which we do our best to keep hidden from the light of day- and the view of others.  Indeed Jung's words open the first video/DVD we ever did "The idea is not to imagine figures of light, but to make the darkness conscious."
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« Reply #523 on: November 23, 2011, 05:48:58 PM »

What Do You Really Believe?

By Rabbi David Wolpe
On Thanksgiving we are grateful for what we have and mindful of what others lack. It is a good time to ask — what do we really believe?
Some people believe in a God who grants good to the one who prays most or behaves best. Such people might wish to read the book of Job, or look out the window; they will discover that ease and anguish are unevenly distributed in this world and follow no discernible pattern of reward.
Others think God is completely arbitrary or absent. Such people might be mindful of the abundance of blessing that exists and how much we human beings are responsible for its poor distribution or unfair allotment.
Then there are those who find themselves in the third camp — the bewildered believers. They are like Rabbi Nahman, who said he was a 'moon man,' that his faith waxed and waned. Surely Rabbi Nahman would have understood Miguel De Unamuno, the great Spanish philosopher and man of letters: "Those who believe that they believe in God, but without passion in their hearts, without anguish in mind, without uncertainty, without doubt, without an element of despair even in their consolation, believe only in the God idea, not God Himself." Happy Thanksgiving.
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« Reply #524 on: November 23, 2011, 05:49:30 PM »

A Serving of Gratitude May Save the Day
The most psychologically correct holiday of the year is upon us.

Thanksgiving may be the holiday from hell for nutritionists, and it produces plenty of war stories for psychiatrists dealing with drunken family meltdowns. But it has recently become the favorite feast of psychologists studying the consequences of giving thanks. Cultivating an “attitude of gratitude” has been linked to better health, sounder sleep, less anxiety and depression, higher long-term satisfaction with life and kinder behavior toward others, including romantic partners. A new study shows that feeling grateful makes people less likely to turn aggressive when provoked, which helps explain why so many brothers-in-law survive Thanksgiving without serious injury.

But what if you’re not the grateful sort? I sought guidance from the psychologists who have made gratitude a hot research topic. Here’s their advice for getting into the holiday spirit — or at least getting through dinner Thursday:

Start with “gratitude lite.” That’s the term used by Robert A. Emmons, of the University of California, Davis, for the technique used in his pioneering experiments he conducted along with Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami. They instructed people to keep a journal listing five things for which they felt grateful, like a friend’s generosity, something they’d learned, a sunset they’d enjoyed.

The gratitude journal was brief — just one sentence for each of the five things — and done only once a week, but after two months there were significant effects. Compared with a control group, the people keeping the gratitude journal were more optimistic and felt happier. They reported fewer physical problems and spent more time working out.

Further benefits were observed in a study of polio survivors and other people with neuromuscular problems. The ones who kept a gratitude journal reported feeling happier and more optimistic than those in a control group, and these reports were corroborated by observations from their spouses. These grateful people also fell asleep more quickly at night, slept longer and woke up feeling more refreshed.

“If you want to sleep more soundly, count blessings, not sheep,” Dr. Emmons advises in “Thanks!” his book on gratitude research.

Don’t confuse gratitude with indebtedness. Sure, you may feel obliged to return a favor, but that’s not gratitude, at least not the way psychologists define it. Indebtedness is more of a negative feeling and doesn’t yield the same benefits as gratitude, which inclines you to be nice to anyone, not just a benefactor.

In an experiment at Northeastern University, Monica Bartlett and David DeSteno sabotaged each participant’s computer and arranged for another student to fix it. Afterward, the students who had been helped were likelier to volunteer to help someone else — a complete stranger — with an unrelated task. Gratitude promoted good karma. And if it works with strangers ....

Try it on your family. No matter how dysfunctional your family, gratitude can still work, says Sonja Lyubomirsky of the University of California, Riverside.

“Do one small and unobtrusive thoughtful or generous thing for each member of your family on Thanksgiving,” she advises. “Say thank you for every thoughtful or kind gesture. Express your admiration for someone’s skills or talents — wielding that kitchen knife so masterfully, for example. And truly listen, even when your grandfather is boring you again with the same World War II story.”

Don’t counterattack. If you’re bracing for insults on Thursday, consider a recent experiment at the University of Kentucky. After turning in a piece of writing, some students received praise for it while others got a scathing evaluation: “This is one of the worst essays I’ve ever read!”

Then each student played a computer game against the person who’d done the evaluation. The winner of the game could administer a blast of white noise to the loser. Not surprisingly, the insulted essayists retaliated against their critics by subjecting them to especially loud blasts — much louder than the noise administered by the students who’d gotten positive evaluations.

But there was an exception to this trend among a subgroup of the students: the ones who had been instructed to write essays about things for which they were grateful. After that exercise in counting their blessings, they weren’t bothered by the nasty criticism — or at least they didn’t feel compelled to amp up the noise against their critics.

“Gratitude is more than just feeling good,” says Nathan DeWall, who led the study at Kentucky. “It helps people become less aggressive by enhancing their empathy. “It’s an equal-opportunity emotion. Anyone can experience it and benefit from it, even the most crotchety uncle at the Thanksgiving dinner table.”

Share the feeling. Why does gratitude do so much good? “More than other emotion, gratitude is the emotion of friendship,” Dr. McCullough says. “It is part of a psychological system that causes people to raise their estimates of how much value they hold in the eyes of another person. Gratitude is what happens when someone does something that causes you to realize that you matter more to that person than you thought you did.”

Try a gratitude visit. This exercise, recommended by Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania, begins with writing a 300-word letter to someone who changed your life for the better. Be specific about what the person did and how it affected you. Deliver it in person, preferably without telling the person in advance what the visit is about. When you get there, read the whole thing slowly to your benefactor. “You will be happier and less depressed one month from now,” Dr. Seligman guarantees in his book “Flourish.”

Contemplate a higher power. Religious individuals don’t necessarily act with more gratitude in a specific situation, but thinking about religion can cause people to feel and act more gratefully, as demonstrated in experiments by Jo-Ann Tsang and colleagues at Baylor University. Other research shows that praying can increase gratitude.

Go for deep gratitude. Once you’ve learned to count your blessings, Dr. Emmons says, you can think bigger.

“As a culture, we have lost a deep sense of gratefulness about the freedoms we enjoy, a lack of gratitude toward those who lost their lives in the fight for freedom, a lack of gratitude for all the material advantages we have,” he says. “The focus of Thanksgiving should be a reflection of how our lives have been made so much more comfortable by the sacrifices of those who have come before us.”

And if that seems too daunting, you can least tell yourself —

Hey, it could always be worse. When your relatives force you to look at photos on their phones, be thankful they no longer have access to a slide projector. When your aunt expounds on politics, rejoice inwardly that she does not hold elected office. Instead of focusing on the dry, tasteless turkey on your plate, be grateful the six-hour roasting process killed any toxic bacteria.

Is that too much of a stretch? When all else fails, remember the Monty Python mantra of the Black Plague victim: “I’m not dead.” It’s all a matter of perspective.
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« Reply #525 on: November 23, 2011, 05:53:50 PM »

“As a culture, we have lost a deep sense of gratefulness about the freedoms we enjoy, a lack of gratitude toward those who lost their lives in the fight for freedom, a lack of gratitude for all the material advantages we have,” he says. “The focus of Thanksgiving should be a reflection of how our lives have been made so much more comfortable by the sacrifices of those who have come before us.”

Very, very true.
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« Reply #526 on: November 28, 2011, 02:00:12 AM »

A couple of years ago I had dealings with two individuals that I came to regret, yet today things really seem to have come together with someone whom I met through them.


Sneaky Blessings

Due to the limitations of your reality, some of your best friends can only enter

 In fact, the really big ones sometimes sneak through disguised as ugly monsters and
vicious enemies. Otherwise, the guards at the gate would never let them in.

These are the events optimists call "blessings in disguise."

Here's how to fire the guards: Expand your mind, expand your world and sincerely
rejoice in whatever G-d sends you. Then the blessings will feel free to enter in all
their glory.

A Daily Dose of Wisdom from the Rebbe
-words and condensation by Tzvi Freeman
Kislev 1, 5772 * November 27, 2011

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« Reply #527 on: December 01, 2011, 09:26:23 PM »

The secret to a Jewish marriage is hidden in the wine.
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« Reply #528 on: December 06, 2011, 12:01:29 PM »

Visiting the Sick
Healing with a Smile

Want to play G‑d? It’s simple, says the Talmud—and it’s a mitzvah, too: just visit the sick. G‑d visited Abraham when he was sick, so when you visit the sick, you’re playing G‑d.

In Hebrew, the game’s called bikkur cholim. Here are the rules:

Giving a Lift
No frowns, no tears, no gloomy faces. None of that is going to heal anybody. Your job is to provide a little smile, some hope, and maybe even a few laughs. Learn a few good lines, like, “What’s a spring chicken like you doing in a place like this?” or, “How’s the room service in this place?” Extra points for every smile you elicit.

Of course, you have to know when you’re overstaying your welcome. At that point, tell the patient the chassidic adage, “Think good and things will be good”—and quietly slip out.

Lending a Hand
Your presence itself is therapeutic, but the patient has other needs too. Find out how you can be of help. Grocery shopping? A ride to the doctor? Or maybe the house needs some tidying?

Time your visit with care. If the patient is in middle of a medical procedure, or in the immediate aftermath of one, it is likely that he or she won’t be in the mood for visitors.

Sometimes the situation doesn’t allow for visits. You can still do bikkur cholim by visiting the family, offering a helping hand, and . . .

Saying a Prayer
The patient’s room is a holy place. While there, say a short prayer for a speedy recovery, such as, “May G‑d care for you amongst all the patients of Israel.” Or, on Shabbat, “On Shabbat it is forbidden to plead, but healing is soon to come.” When you leave, say a psalm or other prayer.
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« Reply #529 on: December 07, 2011, 09:01:11 AM »

Ten Things Men Wish Women Knew
I think things are both lists are applicable to both men and women. I am very grateful that my husband is very supportive of my career.

Ladies, it's not complicated. And guys feel free to add your additional points in the comment sections below.
1) Just like women, we need love. Even though women have the reputation of being more emotionally needy, we find ourselves longing for those words. Please say them often.
2) Additionally we crave respect and approval. Show us admiration and your wish will be our command. Nag us or attack us and we will retreat to our caves.

3) We are not mind readers. We can’t anticipate your needs and desires. Tell us what you want. Help us out. We want to give to you but you need to tell us how. Don’t be coy; be straight. The proof of our love is not in our clairvoyance but in our response to your clearly expressed wishes.
4) We respect what a good mother you are and how much you do for the community, but we do not want to be at the bottom of your to-do list. We want to feel like we are the most important person in your life. (Would you mind getting off the phone when we walk in the door?)
5) Our desire for physical intimacy is not some trivial biological need that we should just suppress until the kids are older. It is an expression of our desire for a deep and profound connection with you. When you rebuff it, it is hurtful and we feel rejected. Imagine if we are always too tired to talk to you…
6) Our jobs are important to us – for our self-worth, for a feeling of accomplishment, and because we want to provide for our families. Please try to understand that we work hard and are actually not on the golf course all day.
7) You seem to think we’re incompetent but we are actually capable of watching our children – and even doing a good job of it! If you want to have a break and get out of the house, please go – and trust us.
Cool We are not another one of your children. Please don’t speak of us that way (we don’t think it’s cute) when talking with your friends, and please don’t treat us that way. It diminishes us and you.
9) We really wish we could give you all the material possessions your heart desires. It is painful to us that we can’t. Please don’t increase the pressure by constantly criticizing us about it.
10) We are simple creatures with simple needs. We don’t require elaborate dinners on fancy china. We just want the comfort of a warm home and the love of a good woman.

Ten Things Women Wish Men Knew
What, you say: Only 10?! Yes there are more. This is just a starting point. Add your additional points in the comment section below.
1) We want you to tell us you love us. Yes, we need to hear the actual words. We do not want to be like poor Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, begging his wife of 25 years to answer the question, “Do you love me?” We want you to tell us. Frequently.
2) And we want you to match your actions to your words. (Yes, we’re very demanding!) If you tell us you love us and then proceed to ignore all of our requests, needs and desires, your declaration will ring false. Not sure how? Ask us. We have a list.  grin

3) We want to be more important than your job. We appreciate your (our) need for the fulfillment of your career ambitions but we want to feel like we are your first priority. This is usually manifested by calling during the day to check in, taking our calls and sounding like you are really interested in speaking to us, and treating us (at least) as nicely and with as much respect and sense of importance as you do your top client.
4) Time with you is much more valuable to us than more money. Yes, we appreciate the nice possessions but we’d rather go for a walk with you or spend a quiet evening together than receive a gift. Material goods do not and cannot compensate for not seeing you.
5) A few words of appreciation go a long way. “Thanks for dinner. It was delicious. I really liked the flavor” is certainly encouraging. Everyone wants to feel that their efforts are noticed and not taken for granted. Or: “I know you are also busy; thanks for going to the cleaners.” You get the picture.
6) Although you never get pregnant, our children are a shared responsibility. It is not “no big deal” (your words) when I take care of them, nor is it “an extraordinary act of kindness” (your implied words) when you do. (Along these same lines, I’ve noticed that when I go out of town you are flooded with meals and offers of help; yet when you go out of town, no one offers anything….) We are on this journey together and we are both responsible for our family.
7) We do not grow and change through criticism (do you?). You may have convinced yourself that you are only telling us for our own good but 1) you’re wrong because and it’s hurtful and ineffective and 2) you’re probably doing it to make your life easier. Like children (and plants) we grow best when nourished, nurtured and loved.
Cool Just because we are capable doesn’t mean we want to do everything ourselves. Changing a light bulb or taking out the garbage are not uniquely male pursuits or skills. I am certainly capable of both (this is not a source of great pride) and frequently engage in these activities. But we want you to relieve our burden, to take care of us – in all respects. We feel emotionally tended to when you take over some of these responsibilities, mundane and otherwise.
9) Clothing costs a lot more than you realize! I’m only partially being tongue-in-cheek here. Especially for newly married men who have never walked through the women’s section of a department store, the prices of basic shoes, dresses and skirts may seem absurd. They probably are. But you need to be sensitive to our needs and to what a realistic (considering many factors) expenditure will be. This experience will stand you in good stead should you ever be the parent of teenage girls!
10) Do not ever comment on our weight except to say how thin and beautiful we look.
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« Reply #530 on: December 09, 2011, 12:31:39 PM »

More than Double

By Rabbi David Wolpe
There is a large literature of 'doubleness' — Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Poe's William Wilson, Dostoevsky's The Double, James Hogg's Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, among many others. The idea that we are all split is an attractive explanation of our conflicting impulses.
The Rabbis speak about a good and an evil inclination, but they do not propose any sort of simple minded split. "Were it not for the evil inclination, man would not care to build, would not marry and beget children or attend to the affairs of human existence." One Talmudic legend tells of the evil inclination being captured. As a result no house was built and no egg was laid. In other words, our drives are inextricable; our energies pour out in ways that are sometimes harmful, sometimes helpful, and usually a bit of both.
In Kaddish Leon Wieseltier wrote, "But goodness and badness are almost never unmixed, since the heart is hungry and the will is free." We are less split than swirled, our characters marbled with drives. Nudging ourselves a bit closer to goodness, an effort requiring both humility and wisdom, is the deeper, daily nobility of we commingled creatures.

The Maccabeats - Miracle - Matisyahu - Hanukkah
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« Reply #531 on: December 09, 2011, 02:47:16 PM »

Carl Jung spoke of "the shadow" being those parts of our personality that we did not want others to see (often having to do with sex, aggression, jealousy, envy, etc.).  He also spoke of it containing some of our most powerful and most creative stuff.

As he said in the quote with which we began the RCSFg series "The idea is not to imagine figures of light.  The idea is to make the darkness conscious."

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« Reply #532 on: December 12, 2011, 09:52:56 PM »

It's My Fault
by Slovie Jungreis-Wolff
Three words that changed everything.

If you could have seen me Wednesday morning, September 28th, you would have found me with clothing and luggage sprawled all over my room. My family and I were trying to head to New York City in good time before Rosh Hashana would begin. We would be having our Hineni High Holiday prayer services in the Essex House together with Jews from every part of the world. Rosh Hashana would go straight into Shabbos so we had to pack ourselves up for the next three days. That may not sound like a lot but when you are a family trying to get out on time, tensions rise and nerves are frayed. I was trying to remember everything we would need.

“Everyone collect your luggage into my room!” I called out. “I am running downstairs to put together some stuff in the kitchen. Then please take all the suit bags and hanging things along with all the suitcases to the car. We need to leave in 15 minutes.”

I heard footsteps rushing back and forth on the floor above me.

Great, I thought. They’re listening.

Then I heard the bumping sound of luggage being dragged down the steps.

“Wow, we might really make this with time to spare!”

The car was loaded with all our gear. We piled in and made our way to the city. Traffic was heavy but we finally pulled up to the hotel. I ran out of the car to wait at the reception desk and check us all in while my husband settled the car. The bellhop sped ahead with the luggage.

Finally I was able to take a breath. Not bad, I thought. I even have a little time before Rosh Hashana begins to contemplate and put my thoughts in order. The time flew by and there were just 40 minutes left till candle lighting. My children began getting ready. You could hear the noisy blow dryers as doors slammed open and shut.

I looked around the room and tried to see where my luggage was put. I didn’t find it anywhere. I looked under the beds, in the closet, in the bathroom. Nowhere.

I stepped out into the hall. Could it have been left there? Nope, nothing there.

I ran into my children’s room and turned everything upside down. Still no luggage.

My heart began beating hard. I had this sinking feeling in my stomach. I ran back to my room.

“Okay everyone!” I called out. “I don’t see my suitcase anywhere. Does anyone know where my luggage is?”

My family began searching the room, looking under the beds, behind the curtains, in the closet. They came up with nothing, just as I had. Uh oh. This doesn't look good.

“What color was your suitcase?”

“Were your hanging things in it too, Mommy?”

I took a breath. "Does anyone remember bringing a blue suitcase into the hotel?" All I got were blank stares.

“Does anyone remember loading my blue luggage into the car?”


“Well, I took the suit bags and hat boxes.”

“And I had to take the heavy suitcase that no one wanted to shlep.”

Everyone began to tell me what they did take – everything except my luggage.

I began to feel angry. Why does everyone remember their stuff and my stuff gets left behind? What am I going to do for the next three days? This isn’t right!

And then a thought popped into my head that totally changed my perspective. Not for just that moment, but the way I have seen things ever since.

It’s about time that I take responsibility and not blame others if there’s a mess-up, I thought to myself. Yes, I asked everyone to take my luggage and it would’ve been perfect if they did. But the bottom line is: it’s my luggage! I was supposed to check and make sure my suitcase made it to the car. I am accountable for my things. The buck stops here.

Sure, it’s great to have people help me but bottom line is it’s up to me to be sure that my suitcase makes it out the door. I have no one else to blame but myself.

My family looked at me, wondering what I would say. I could see that they felt terrible.

“Listen,” I said. “It’s my luggage! This is no one’s fault. I don’t blame anyone. It would’ve been nice if someone had put it in the car but it was really my job to be sure that it was there. And besides, it’s now 15 minutes before Rosh Hashana. How can I fail my first test of the year?”

P.S. If you are wondering what I did for the next three days, here’s the epilogue:

My husband suggested that I call a friend who lives down the block and ask her to find my luggage in our home and send it to me via taxi. At first I resisted. How could I trouble someone with all this 15 minutes before candle lighting? But my husband encouraged me, very strongly, to make the call. And my dear friend who I know wishes to remain anonymous began her year with a great mitzvah.
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« Reply #533 on: December 13, 2011, 11:05:36 AM »

Does the manner of our dying count in the final reckoning of how we have lived our lives? Nearly my first assignment at the University of Chicago was to read the Platonic dialogues on the trial and death of Socrates. "Then, holding the cup to his lips, quite readily and cheerfully he drank off the poison." It is the supreme moment in the Western philosophical tradition, when wisdom and courage, resignation and defiance, combine to overcome injustice and, in a sense, death itself.

Would that we could all die as Socrates did. Generally we don't. "The good death has increasingly become a myth," wrote the Yale surgeon and bioethicist Sherwin Nuland in his 1993 prize-winning book "How We Die." Dying, in Dr. Nuland's eloquent telling, amounts to "a series of destructive events that involve by their very nature the disintegration of the dying person's humanity." Who can—who would dare—judge a man's worth when his mind and body are being picked bare by disease?

I've been thinking about all this for over a year now as I watched a brain tumor, along with the associated medical interventions, pick away at my father bit by bit. First, an operation to remove the tumor, which erased his right field of vision and took away his ability to read and drive. Next came debilitating bouts of chemo and radiation, along with an agonizing case of shingles. Then avascular necrosis set in, leaving him unable to walk. Later, as the tumor returned, his memory began to slip. Near the end he was almost totally blind, couldn't utter a sentence, couldn't swallow a pill, couldn't hold his food down. Cancer is a heist culminating in murder.

I suppose Dr. Nuland's book should have prepared me for this. I suppose, too, that I should have known what was coming after visiting my aunt as she was dying of brain cancer. My father had been with me on that trip to wish his sister a final happy birthday. His own tumor was diagnosed three weeks later.

Enlarge Image

CloseBret Stephens
Charles J. Stephens at Gibraltar.
.But I wasn't prepared. My father, always in excellent shape, had a way of projecting an air of indestructibility. When he phoned to tell me about the diagnosis, it was in a tone suggesting it was only slightly more serious than a fender-bender. The five-year survival rate for his kind of cancer is 4%. I looked that up on the Internet, then persuaded myself that he was surely in the 4%.

"The body has 1,000 lines of ingenious defense," I remember my father telling me as a child, in what must have been one of our first talks about death. And I had believed him, because to me he was the living proof.

To grow up is to understand that the confidence a parent radiates around his children is rarely the confidence the parent feels. I knew my father well enough to know his various fears and insecurities. I knew he had seen his own father die of brain cancer and was intimately familiar with the course of the disease. I knew that, born optimist though he was, he had no faith in an afterlife. My father loved the life he had, lived it fully and well, had no desire to leave it.

All this meant that the diagnosis should have been devastating to him. Yet he never betrayed the slightest sign of fear. Except when his shingles were at their most excruciating, he remained his cheerful, interested, encouraging self. For a while I put this down to his belief that he would somehow beat the cancer, a belief I was eager to share.

Yet my father maintained his usual sangfroid even when it became clear that there would be no getting well. There were no five stages of grief, no bouts of denial, anger, bargaining and depression. About six weeks before the end, when we had brought him to a hospice, I asked if he wouldn't rather be at home. "Given where I am," he replied with a cocked eyebrow, "I am where I am." I was astonished he could even speak. We brought him home anyway.

How did my father maintain his composure in the face of his progressive deterioration? We never spoke about it. I sometimes chalked it up to being born in the 1930s, before the baby boom and the cult of self. He was not a complainer. To bemoan his illness after a life in which the good breaks outnumbered the bad ones would have seemed to him ungrateful. The worst he ever said to me about his cancer was that it was "a bummer."

Yet there was something else at work. The sicker my father got, the more dependent he became on his family, the less he had to give back. What could he offer, except not to sink us into the terror he surely must have felt? So he maintained his usual active and joyful interest in our lives and the lives of his friends and in politics and the movies we watched together. Sticking to the mundane and the lighthearted was his way of being protective with the people he loved. For as long as he could muster his wits, death was not allowed to enter the room.

Throughout his life my father taught me many lessons: about language, history and philosophy; about ethics, loyalty and love. In the end, he taught me that death cannot destroy the dignity of a dignified man.

Charles J. Stephens, 1937-2011. May his memory be for a blessing.
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« Reply #534 on: December 14, 2011, 04:30:27 PM »

“How Are You Today?”

By Yossy Goldman

Would you think that “how are you today?” can be a religious question? And that it plays an important role in a major Biblical narrative?

In this week’s Parshah, Vayeishev (Genesis 37–40), we read the dramatic story of Joseph—the technicolor dream coat, the sibling rivalry in Jacob’s family, and Joseph’s descent to Egypt, sold into slavery. After being framed by his master’s wife for scorning her attempts at seduction, young Joseph finds himself incarcerated in an Egyptian jail. There he meets the Pharaoh’s butler and baker, and correctly interprets their respective dreams. Later, when Pharaoh himself will be perturbed by his own dreams, the butler will remember Joseph, and Joseph will be brought from the dungeon to the royal court. His dream analysis will satisfy the monarch, and the young Hebrew slave boy will be catapulted to prominence and named viceroy of Egypt.

How did Joseph’s salvation begin? It began with the imprisoned Joseph noticing that the butler and baker were looking somewhat depressed. “And Joseph came to them in the morning and he saw them, and behold, they were troubled. He asked Pharaoh’s officials . . . ‘Why do you look so bad today?’” (Genesis 40:6–7). They tell him about their disturbing dreams, he interprets the dreams correctly, and the rest is history.

But why did Joseph have to ask them anything at all? Why was it so strange to see people in prison looking sad? Surely depression is quite the norm in dungeons. Wouldn’t we expect most people in jail to look miserable?

According to the Lubavitcher Rebbe, the answer is that Joseph was exhibiting a higher sense of care and concern for his fellow human beings. Torn away from his father and home life, imprisoned in a foreign land, he could have been forgiven for wallowing in his own miseries. Yet, upon seeing his fellow prisoners looking particularly unsettled, he was sensitive enough to take the time to inquire about their well-being. In the end, not only did he help them, but his own salvation came about through that fateful encounter. Had he thought to himself, “Hey, I’ve got my own problems, why worry about them?” he might have languished in prison indefinitely.

Sometimes, says the Rebbe, a simple “how are you today?” can prove historic.

It’s a lesson to all of us to be a little friendlier. To greet people, perhaps even to smile more often.

Some years ago, after studying in the Talmud how one of the great sages declared that he had never allowed anyone else to greet him first but always made a point of initiating the greeting, I made a personal resolution to try and put this approach into practice. Every Shabbat I walk quite a few kilometers to and from our shul here in Johannesburg. I pass by many fellow pedestrians, mostly local black residents. Rarely had any of them greeted me, but now I am the one to say “good morning” to them. They always respond, though I must confess that some do look rather surprised. In a country where for many years they were not acknowledged as full-fledged citizens, a simple “hello” can become a very humanizing experience. Conversely, I am sometimes unpleasantly surprised when, ironically, a fellow Jew will walk right by me without even so much as a nod.

When we meet someone we know and ask, “Hey, how are you doing?” do we wait for the answer? Try this experiment. Next time you are asked how you are doing, answer “Lousy!” See if the other person is listening and responds, or just carries on his merry way, oblivious to your response.

Aside from Joseph’s many outstanding qualities which we ought to try and emulate, in this rather simple passage Joseph reminds us to be genuinely interested in other people’s well-being. And that it should not be beneath our dignity, nor should we be inhibited, to make an honest and sincere inquiry as to their condition. Who knows? It may not only change their lives, but ours.
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« Reply #535 on: December 16, 2011, 06:52:04 AM »

Image and Influence

By Yossy Goldman

How much do our parents and grandparents influence us? Of course, the genes we inherit from them determine lots of important things about us – from our cholesterol levels to when we will go grey. But what about emotionally or spiritually?

I'd like to suggest that they influence us more than we might care to admit. We also tend to underestimate the potential they have in molding the value systems of the next generation.

A powerful case in point is the story in this week's Parshah. Joseph is sold into slavery down in Egypt and winds up in the house of Potiphar. His master's wife casts her lustful gaze on the handsome young man and repeatedly attempts to seduce him. Joseph is consistent in his refusal to even consider her advances. Then one day, the entire household goes to the temple for a special occasion. She feigns illness in order to be home alone with Joseph. He comes to the house "to do his work" (Genesis 39:11). Rashi offers two interpretations: the simple--that he came to work; and another, that he actually came to do his work with her!

Determined as he was, on this occasion Joseph was beginning to falter. Morale and morality were weakening and it seemed as if he was about to succumb to the temptress' entreaties.

Then suddenly something happened to help Joseph regain his senses and self-control. What was it--did they come home early? Did the postman ring the bell? Says Rashi, there appeared before Joseph an vision, an vision so potent that it restored his composure there and then. What was that image? Quoting the Talmud, Rashi says it was "the image of the visage of his father." Joseph suddenly saw his father Jacob's face, and with that his moral resolve was restored.

Was this a telepathic message transmitted from the Holy Land? According to the simple reading, at that stage Jacob didn't even know that Joseph was alive. He had been missing and presumed dead, devoured by a wild animal. The straightforward understanding of this Talmudic passage is that Joseph remembered his father and envisioned his patriarchal face, the classical image of the sage with the long, white beard. And with that image in his mind, Joseph found renewed spiritual stamina to resist temptation.

Some might understand this episode as Joseph not wanting to disappoint his aged father. Others might see the image as a catalyst evoking in Joseph his own latent spiritual resources. Either way, with Jacob's visage in his mind, Joseph wasn't prepared to lose the moral high ground. He couldn't and wouldn't do it to his dad. And, through his father; Joseph remembered who he was--a proud son of Jacob and grandson of Isaac and Abraham.

Such was the effect Jacob had on Joseph and such is the effect every father and mother, grandfather and grandfather, can potentially bring to bear on their offspring. Of course, they would have to be respected by their children as men and women of stature for their image to represent any kind of moral symbolism. If the image of a parent or grandparent would send a signal to the young person to, say, "go for it, my boy!" then clearly the system will fail. I can safely say that if not for the image of my own father and grandfather and their subtle influence on me, I would never have become a rabbi. They didn't push me at all but their influence was profound. Just their image, their character and very being, was enough to guide me in the right direction during my own wavering moments of youthful indecision.

Joseph was nearly lost way down in Egypt land but that one image of his father saved him from sin and helped him go on to achieve greatness. May we all be good role models and may our own images help inspire our children and grandchildren.
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« Reply #536 on: December 16, 2011, 07:54:33 AM »

The eight-day festival of Hanukkah, which Jews world-wide will begin celebrating Tuesday night, is one of the better known of the Jewish holidays but also one of the less important.

The emphasis placed on it now is mostly due to timing: Hanukkah offers Jews an opportunity for celebration and commercialization comparable to what their Christian neighbors experience at Christmas, and it gives Christians the opportunity to include Jews in their holiday greetings and parties. What's more, the observances associated with Hanukkah are few, relatively undemanding, and even appealing to children.

The story of Hanukkah also fits the political culture of the United States. Its underlying narrative recalls that of the Pilgrims: A persecuted religious minority, at great cost, breaks free of their oppressors. It wasn't separatist Protestants seeking freedom from the Church of England in 1620, but Jews in the land of Israel triumphing over their Hellenistic overlord in 167–164 B.C., reclaiming and purifying their holiest site, the Jerusalem Temple.

Examined too casually, the stories of Plymouth Colony and Hanukkah seem to show heroes fighting for universal religious freedom. But the heroes of the Jewish story fought not only against a foreign persecutor. They also fought against fellow Jews who—perhaps more attracted to the cosmopolitan and sophisticated Greek culture than to the ways of their ancestors—cooperated with their rulers.

The revolt begins, in fact, when the patriarch of the Maccabees (as the family that led the campaign came to be known) kills a fellow Jew who was in the act of obeying the king's decree to perform a sacrifice forbidden in the Torah. The Maccabean hero also kills the king's officer and tears down the illicit altar. These were blows struck for Jewish traditionalism, and arguably for Jewish survival and authenticity, but not for religious freedom.

Over time, the stories of the persecutions that led to this war came to serve as models of Jewish faithfulness under excruciating persecution. In the most memorable instance, seven brothers and their mother all choose, successively, to die at the hands of their torturers rather than to yield to the demand to eat pork as a public disavowal of the God of Israel and his commandments.

To the martyrs, breaking faith with God is worse than death. In one version, their deaths are interpreted as "an atoning sacrifice" through which God sustained the Jewish people in their travail.

The tone here isn't the lightheartedness of the Christmas season. The Christian parallels lie, instead, with Good Friday and the story of Jesus's acceptance of his suffering and sacrificial death. In both the Jewish and the Christian stories, the death of the heroes, grievous though it is, is not the end: It is the prelude to a miraculous vindication and a glorious restoration.

The Roman Catholic tradition honors these Jewish martyrs as saints, and the Eastern Orthodox Church still celebrates Aug. 1 as the Feast of the Holy Maccabees. By contrast, in the literature of the Rabbis of the first several centuries of the common era, the story lost its connection to the Maccabean uprising, instead becoming associated with later persecutions by the Romans, which the Rabbis experienced. If the change seems odd, recall that the compositions that first told of these events (the books of Maccabees) were not part of the scriptural canon of rabbinic Judaism. But they were canonical in the Church (and remain so in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox communions).

And so we encounter another oddity of Hanukkah: Jews know the fuller history of the holiday because Christians preserved the books that the Jews themselves lost. In a further twist, Jews in the Middle Ages encountered the story of the martyred mother and her seven sons anew in Christian literature and once again placed it in the time of the Maccabees.

"Hanukkah" means "dedication." Originally, the term referred to the rededication of the purified Temple after the Maccabees' stunning military victory. But as the story of the martyrs shows, the victory was also associated with the heroic dedication of the Jewish traditionalists of the time to their God and his Torah. If Hanukkah celebrates freedom, it is a freedom to be bound to something higher than freedom itself.

Mr. Levenson, a professor of Jewish studies at Harvard Divinity School, is co-author with Kevin J. Madigan of "Resurrection: The Power of God for Christians and Jews" (Yale University Press, 2008).

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« Reply #537 on: December 20, 2011, 06:22:43 AM »

Chanukah starts at sundown tonight. Happy Chanukah!

Chanukah in Bergen Belsen
by Libi Astaire

The rabbi was desperately looking for a small light in the sea of dark despair.

“In their very essence a Jew and despair are contradictory. They simply cannot co-exist together.” Rabbi Shraga Shmuel Schnitzler, who went by the more familiar name of Rabbi Shmelke, looked around the barracks to make sure that the others had understood his point. Amidst the crowd of weary faces that stared back at him, there were a few who were nodding their heads in agreement. Perhaps they, too, had been chassidim in another life — the life that existed before the war — and so they could appreciate the tales that Rabbi Shmelke told about chassidic Rebbes of former days.

Rabbi Shmelke didn’t tell his stories just to pass the time. His job, as he saw it, was to keep up the spirits of the Jews who were imprisoned in the Bergen Belsen concentration camp. That job would have been much easier if they were prophets, since the end of the war was just a few months away. But during that Kislev of 1944, the situation seemed as hopeless as ever. Even the thought of Chanukah, which was fast approaching, couldn’t dispel the gloom for most of them.

For Rabbi Shmelke, it was a different story. Since the beginning of the month he had been busy preparing for the holiday. He asked the same question to everyone he met: “Can you get us a little oil? Do you someone who works in the kitchen?”

The answer was always the same: No.

With dismay, he realized that Chanukah was only a few days away. He knew only too well what would happen if he couldn’t find any oil. Many of his fellow prisoners were clinging to life only by a slender thread of hope. Once that thread was snapped, they would succumb to the deep sea of dark despair that threatened to drown them. So he had to find some oil. Even if he found only enough oil to kindle the first Chanukah for a few seconds that would be enough. But no Chanukah lights? That wasn’t an option.

The day before Chanukah Rabbi Shmelke was at work — his “other” job in the camp was to remove dead bodies from the barracks — when he received an order to go to the last barrack, where some people had died during the previous night. While he walked across a field his foot got caught in a small hole in the frozen earth and he almost fell. He removed his foot from the hole and noticed that there was something buried inside. After making sure that no guards were watching him, he knelt down to see what it was.

He pulled out a small jar from the ground. Inside was some congealed liquid. Oil, he whispered. Oil for Chanukah!

Rabbi Shmelke then reached his hand inside the hole a second time. To his delight he discovered that the hiding place contained more surprises. He pulled out a carefully wrapped package and quickly undid the paper wrapping. Inside were eight little cups and eight thin strands of cotton.

It was obvious that some Jewish prisoner had buried this little menorah and the oil. But who was he? And where was he? Had he been transported to another camp? Had he died?

Although Rabbi Shmelke desperately wanted oil for his own barracks, he sincerely hoped that the Jew who had buried these things was still alive. Perhaps he was still in the camp and he would come back the next day and search for the treasure that he had so carefully hidden. So Rabbi Shmelke carefully reburied everything. But for the rest of the day and night, he asked every Jew that he met the same question: “I found some oil and a menorah. Maybe you were the one who hid them?”

The other prisoners looked at him with sad eyes, certain that at last the horrors of the Rabbi’s work had destroyed his mind. “No, Rabbi,” they said, one after another. “I didn’t hide any oil. I didn’t hide a menorah.”

Related Article: Chanukah in the Soviet Gulag

The next night, however, they discovered that Rabbi Shmelke hadn’t gone mad. When they returned to their barracks after the evening roll call they saw, to their amazement, a little menorah standing on one of the bunks. To their even greater surprise, one of the cups was filled with oil!

Rabbi Shmelke recited the blessings and then kindled the light for the first night. The group watched in silence while the tiny flame fought its eternal battle against the surrounding darkness. Some smiled, others cried. All felt a sweet spark of hope revive inside their embattled and embittered hearts.

Their own personal miracle was repeated on each night of the holiday. And then a few months later, in April 1945, an even greater miracle occurred. Germany surrendered. The war was over.

Rabbi Shmelke was one of the fortunate few who survived the war. After Bergen Belsen was liberated he returned to Hungary, where he served as a spiritual leader for other survivors and became known as the Tachaber Rav.

Several years later he made a trip to the United States, and while he was there he paid a visit to an acquaintance from the “old country” — Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum, the Satmar Rebbe. While they reminisced, the Satmar Rebbe mentioned that he had also been a prisoner in Bergen Belsen.

“I was there a year before you,” said the Satmar Rebbe. “I was rescued on the 21st of Kislev, four days before Chanukah. Before I found out about the rescue plan, I made provisions for the holiday. I bribed several camp officials and put together a package of oil, cups, and wicks, which I then buried in a field. I always felt badly that my little menorah was never put to use.”

Rabbi Shmelke smiled. “Your menorah was used. It dispelled the darkness for hundreds of Jews and helped at least one of them survive the war.”
This article can also be read at:

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« Reply #538 on: December 21, 2011, 09:20:03 AM »

The Talmud teaches that "A small amount of light cancels much darkness." We begin tonight with a single candle for Hanukkah, along with the shamash, the flame that ignites the others. Place the hanukkiah in the window; dispel the darkness, one candle at a time. Celebrate the miracle of creating light.

A two minute teaching: A cruse of oil that should have lasted only one day lasted eight. But if so, the miracle was only for seven days -- it would have lasted one day in any case. So why do we light for eight days? Because the first night was the greatest Hanukkah miracle -- the courage to renew the tradition, hope in the future, to keep faith with God's promise and the steadfast human heart.

The Maccabeats - Miracle - Matisyahu - Hanukkah

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« Reply #539 on: December 22, 2011, 08:05:31 PM »

Wake Up Calls
By Yossy Goldman

Not everyone is lucky enough to get a wake-up call in life. Some people get theirs
just in time. Others get it but don't hear it. Still others hear it loud and clear but
refuse to take any notice. Pharaoh got his in this week's Parshah (Torah reading) when Joseph interpreted
his dreams and advised him to appoint "a wise and discerning man" who would
oversee a macro economic plan for the country. Joseph explained to the King of
Egypt that because he experienced two dreams and woke up in between it was a
sign from heaven to wake up and act immediately as the matter was of the utmost
urgency. Pharaoh took the message to heart and the rest is history.
On the health and well-being level, a little cholesterol, climbing blood pressure or
recurring bronchitis might be the not-so-subtle signs that it's time for a change of
lifestyle. These are the medical wake up calls we receive in life. Do we really have
to wait for a heart attack, G-d forbid, to stop smoking, or start eating less and
exercising more? That's what wake-up calls are for, to help us get the message
before it's too late.
Then there are the spiritual signs. I will never forget a friend who shared with me
the story of his own red lights flashing and how a changed spiritual lifestyle
literally saved his life. He was a workaholic driving himself to the brink. Had he
carried on indefinitely he simply would not have survived. Then he decided to give Shabbat a try. What he had never
previously appreciated about Shabbat was that it is a spiritually invigorating day of rest and spiritual serenity. And in
discovering Shabbat, he rediscovered his humanity. (He also discovered he could play golf on Sundays instead of
A short trigger film I once used at a Shabbaton weekend program depicted a series of professionals and artisans at work. As
they became engrossed and immersed in their respective roles they each became so identified with their work that they lost
their own identities. Monday through Friday, the carpenter's face dissolved into a hammer, the doctor took on the face of a
stethoscope and the accountant's head started looking exactly like a calculator. Then on Shabbat they closed their offices
and came home to celebrate the day of rest with their families; slowly but surely, their faces were remolded from their
professions to their personalities. Total immersion in their work had dehumanized them. They had become machines. Now,
thanks to Shabbat, they were human again. That short video left a lasting impression.
It's not easy to change ingrained habits. But Chanukah, which usually falls during this week's Parshah, carries with it a
relevant message in this regard. Take one day at a time. One doesn't have to do it all at once. One light at a time is all it
takes. On the first night we kindle a single Chanukah light, on the second night we kindle two lights, and on the third night
three. We add a little light each day, and before long the menorah is complete and all eight Chanukah lights are burning
It's ok to take one day at a time. It's not ok to go back to sleep after you get a wake up call. Whether it's your medical well
being or your spiritual health, the occasional wake up call is a valuable sign from Above that it may be time to adjust our
attitudes, lifestyles or priorities. Please G-d, each of us in our own lives will hear the call and act on the alarm bells with
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« Reply #540 on: December 27, 2011, 07:30:27 PM »

Beauty and the Greeks
by Rabbi Doniel Baron
What was the underlying conflict between Jewish and Greek philosophy?

The ancient Greeks were obsessed with aesthetics and held beauty above all. The Greeks also championed the potential of the mind, and the works of their philosophers remain required reading at universities to this day. Far from keeping this idea to themselves, the Greeks spread their value system to every culture they conquered. In an astounding military campaign in which Alexander the Great conquered large swathes of the world and remained undefeated, the Greeks created a vast empire through which they broadcast their message.

Yet when Greek culture and its way of life reached the land of Israel, it met with incredible resistance from the rabbinic establishment. For the two centuries leading up to the story of Chanukah, years during which the Jews were exposed to Greek culture, the rabbis maintained their relentless opposition to the Greek way of life.

Things came to a head when Antiochus the Greek finally outlawed the most essential practices of Judaism. The rabbis refused to back down, and were willing to risk everything to preserve the Jewish way. The resulting conflict became the miraculous story of Chanukah, the Jewish triumph over the Greeks, and the establishment of an independent Jewish government in Judea.

Is Beauty Bad?

The underlying conflict between Jewish and Greek philosophy begs explanation. What was so bad about the beauty that the Greeks extolled? Are aesthetics dangerous? Why were they so vehemently against Greek culture even before it outlawed the practice of Judaism?

In a similar vein, what bothered the Greeks? They had political control and what appeared to be clear military superiority. Their culture dominated the world. What was it about the stubborn band of Jews in Judea that so irked them? What pushed them to go so far as banning another people's religion?

The answer cannot be that Judaism frowns on beauty. The Beit Hamikdash, the Holy Temple, was replete with gold and silver. Designed and built according to prophetic instructions, it was known as one of the most beautiful structures in the world, and the remnant of the complex that survives to our day hints to its grandeur. Jerusalem itself is called the epitome of beauty in the Book of Lamentations. The Torah commands us to beautify our fulfillment of commandments with physical beauty, and have a beautiful sukkah, shofar, and more. The Torah itself emphasizes how some of our holiest ancestors, Sarah, Rivka, Rachel and Yosef were extraordinarily beautiful people -- physical beauty noticed by the most powerful monarchs of the time.

What, then, was wrong with the Greeks? Why didn't the rabbis embrace a thinking culture that appreciated physical beauty?

What is Beauty?

The answer lies in the core definition of beauty. Classical beauty, the conception of aesthetic that survived the millennia, stems from harmony. Without harmony, we tend to find visual stimuli either boring and bland or chaotic and overly busy. One example of harmony is found in symmetry; an image which is perfectly balanced is appealing. The Greeks were obsessed with the human physique, itself a marvel of perfect symmetry. We also find harmony in sharp contrasts such as in the sight of a deep valley against the backdrop of a tall mountain.

Even for the less artistic among us, perception of color illustrates this idea. We see beauty in the use of analogous colors, colors which are adjacent to each other on the tertiary color wheel, a progressive arrangement of 12 colors ordered according to their wavelengths. Yet we also see beauty from contrasts, particularly from complementary colors which are directly opposite each other on a color wheel. Both reflect harmony that unites the colors of the medium, either through contrast or complement, and presents one with a balanced visual medium.

With this background, we can understand the real war between the Greeks and the Jews. While the Greeks understood the harmony in physical beauty, they missed the point. The ultimate harmony is the union of the spiritual and physical worlds. It creates a beauty like no other, an effect so powerful that any attempt to imitate it is an insult to the notion of beauty.

There is no greater harmony than the connection between material things and their spiritual source. Jerusalem is the essence of beauty in Judaism; it is the point where heaven and earth kiss, a bridge between two realms, one side of a symmetrical phenomenon. According to Jewish tradition, the physical energy that sustains every part of the world flows from Jerusalem. King Solomon understood how Jerusalem connects every corner of the earth to its spiritual source, and was even able to plant in Jerusalem things indigenous to other parts of the world because he understood where each channel of energy stemmed from Jerusalem and extended across the globe. Jerusalem below is the physical counterpart of the spiritual energy that flows to the world, creating the perfect harmony between physical and spiritual.

The beautiful people in the Torah were living reflections of harmony between the physical world and the spiritual. Joseph, for example, was so handsome that the local women would climb the walls just to get a glimpse of him. Instead of letting physical pleasure dominate him, Joseph stood up to the test when tempted by Potiphar's wife, and did not let his physical beauty sever him from the real harmony of living a spiritual life. Our ancestors described as beautiful were individuals whose physical attractiveness lived in perfect harmony with their spiritual essence.

The Greeks traded real harmony between heaven and earth for the cheap harmony between different aspects of the physical world. In fact, it is often physical beauty and temptation that stands in the way of one's access to real harmony. The Greeks abused beauty because they flaunted something that was only externally beautiful and ignored the pursuit of genuine harmony. From their perspective, only things that man can perceive and understand exist, and harmony with something transcendental would be impossible.

The rabbis immediately spotted the threat in Greek culture, and fought against replacing real beauty with a superficial imposter. In turn, the Greeks eventually realized the threat that the Jews posed to their own philosophy and how our idea of beauty makes theirs meaningless. They therefore went on the offensive.

We won the battle on Chanukah over 2,000 years ago, but the war continues. Our opponents brandish all that which is pleasing to see and which seems beautiful. Yet nothing they offer comes close to the harmony between body and soul. It's up to us to decide whether to settle for phony beauty that provides nothing more than harmony between physical things, or whether we are true to our legacy of striving for the ultimate harmony between the physical and spiritual, between body and soul.

The temptation prevails to this day, and the lure of all that appears pleasing, especially during the commercial "holiday season," is overwhelming. Chanukah calls to us, asking us to seek real beauty, the harmony that can only come from connection to a higher realm.

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Light One Candle

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« Reply #541 on: December 28, 2011, 01:01:22 PM »

"Science vs. Religion: Mayim Bialik and the OTHER Big Bang Theory" Ep. 4, Season 2

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« Reply #542 on: January 02, 2012, 09:16:40 AM »

Top Five Regrets of the Dying
by Bronnie Ware
It's not too late to avoid these common regrets in life.

For many years I worked in palliative care. My patients were those who had gone home to die. Some incredibly special times were shared. I was with them for the last three to twelve weeks of their lives.

People grow a lot when they are faced with their own mortality. I learned never to underestimate someone’s capacity for growth. Some changes were phenomenal. Each experienced a variety of emotions, as expected: denial, fear, anger, remorse, more denial and eventually acceptance. Every single patient found their peace before they departed though, every one of them.

When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently, common themes surfaced again and again. Here are the most common five:

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

2. I wish I didn’t work so hard.

This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship.

Women also spoke of this regret. But as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.

By simplifying your lifestyle and making conscious choices along the way, it is possible to not need the income that you think you do. And by creating more space in your life, you become happier and more open to new opportunities, ones more suited to your new lifestyle.

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings. Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.

As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming.

We cannot control the reactions of others. However, although people may initially react when you change the way you are by speaking honestly, in the end it raises the relationship to a whole new and healthier level. Either that or it releases the unhealthy relationship from your life. Either way, you win.

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

Often they would not truly realize the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.

It is common for anyone in a busy lifestyle to let friendships slip. But when you are faced with your approaching death, the physical details of life fall away. People do want to get their financial affairs in order if possible. But it is not money or status that holds the true importance for them. They want to get things in order more for the benefit of those they love. Usually though, they are too ill and weary to ever manage this task. It is all comes down to love and relationships in the end. That is all that remains in the final weeks, love and relationships.

Related Article: Torah With Morrie #4: Live Like You're Dying

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

This is a surprisingly common one.

Many did not realize until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content. When deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.

When you are on your deathbed, what others think of you is a long way from your mind. How wonderful to be able to let go and smile again, long before you are dying.

Life is a choice. It is your life. Choose consciously, choose wisely, choose honestly. Choose happiness.

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« Reply #543 on: January 02, 2012, 12:29:44 PM »

Nice post.

Some of us can learn, can change.   Some cannot.
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« Reply #544 on: January 17, 2012, 04:01:24 PM »

So Why Read Anymore?

Posted By Victor Davis Hanson On January 16, 2012 @ 9:51 am In Uncategorized | 149 Comments

Is Reading Good Books Over?

There is great “truth and beauty” in Homer’s Iliad [1], but I would not try to make his sale on such platitudes. Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire [2] remains a classic. But I confess it can be hard to get through. Conrad’s Victory [3] or Knut Hamsun’s Growth of the Soil [4], if authored by writer X this year, would be trashed on Amazon.

So what are the reasons, in this age of the iPhone, Xbox, and PlayStation — or Fox News blondes and HBO — to sit down and read old stuff for an hour or two each week?

Here are a few reasons other than the usual defense of the “classics,” the “canon,” and the glories of “Western civilization.”

Mental Exercise

The mind is a muscle. Without exercise, it reverts to mush. Watching most TV or using the normal electronic gadgetry does not tax us much — indeed that is by design the very purpose: to eliminate effort, worry, unease, and afterthought. None of us thinks back a year ago to a great video game session. Few off-hand can recall the Super Bowl winner of 2001. I remember the scenes in a Shane [5]or Casablanca [6], but not many others in the other thousand of movies that I have watched.

By nature, our ways of expression and even thinking always fossilize and are withering away with age and monotony — a process accelerated by the modern electronic age and the neglect of replenishment through reading. The actual vocabulary of our present youth seems to me reduced to about 1,000 words or so. “Like,” “whatever,” “you know,” “cool,” and other pop culture fillers now substitute for entire phrases, a sort of modern porcine grunting. The Greeks used particles to accentuate vocabulary and guide syntax; we used them instead of vocabulary. Our syntax, both written and oral, is reverting to “Spot is a dog”: noun, verb, predicate — period. How did incomprehensible slang, spiced with vulgarity, become an object of emulation? I used to listen to farmers without college degrees speak wonderful English; now to listen to a member of Congress almost requires a translator.

Reading alone enriches our vocabulary; it teaches us that good writing requires a sense of melody as well as a command of grammar. Soon those well-read become the well-spoken.

A Master of Words

Think for a minute: why did the Right often ignore the contradictions of Christopher Hitchens [7], and the Left mostly give up most of its anger at him? He was not necessarily a classically beautiful stylist, and could be needlessly cruel. He wrote no great history, no great novel, no great single essay that we can instantly recall in the manner of an Orwell or Chesterton. But Mr. Hitchens surely was a rare and gifted writer, polemicist, and savant. To read 800 words was to learn something new in passing. Even in his most ridiculous rant, a nugget of wisdom could be uncovered. A reference to an obscure Eastern European politician might appear side-by-side a line from Wordsworth — and would make a better illustration of his argument than just showcasing his erudition. He mastered the odd, even perverse turn of phrase, the ability to juxtapose the colloquialism next to Latinate pomposity, or to write a ridiculous 10-line long sentence, stuffed with semi-cola, dashes, cola, and commas, followed by a two-word noun-verb sentence that a five-year old could produce. In short, Hitchens was a voracious consumer of texts, and the result was that he achieved what the Roman student of rhetoric, Quintilian, once called variatio, the ability to mix up words and sentences and not bore. He could hold, even shock, the reader or listener from sentence to sentence, moment to moment.

But We Are So Much More to the Point

But you object that at least our current economy of expression cuts out wasted words and clauses, a sort of slimmed-down, electronic communication? Perhaps, but it also turns almost everything into instant bland hot cereal, as if we should gulp down oatmeal at every meal and survive well enough without the bother of salad, main course, and dessert. Each day our vocabulary shrinks, our thought patterns stagnate — if they are not renewed through fresh literature or intelligent conversation. Unfortunately these days, those who read are few and silent; those who don’t, numerous and heard. In this drought, Dante’s Inferno [8] and William Prescott’s History of the Conquest of Mexico [9] provide needed storms of new words, complex syntax, and fresh ideas.


Technology has deluded the modern West. We equate widespread knowledge of how to use an iPad with collective wisdom. Because a rare, brilliantly inventive mind from Caltech or MIT can craft a device undreamed of in the age of Einstein, we assume that we all warrant a share in his genius, as if our generation has trumped Einstein’s. We deserve no such kudos — unless animals at the zoo that find delight in their rote enjoyment of their hoops and bars can be credited with the architect’s sophisticated zoological design.

Pumps Are Not Water

Technological progress is no guarantee of collective wisdom — other than an acknowledgement that there is a brilliant scientific elite that we foster and don’t kill off in exchange for the good stuff that they give us. Our California public schools rate about 48th or 49th these days in nationwide testing, while most of the state seems to have their heads permanently transfixed to iPhones. Do we believe then that the population is smarter because we know “apps” or because there is an Apple or Google headquarters full of engineers living in the cocoon of Silicon Valley?

There is an arrogance of an age that comes with access to always better stuff. New technology prompts an assumption that there are always better things to come. Not true. Life was far better in Rome in AD 25 than in AD 425. Would you like to buy a house in Detroit today or in 1940? Me? I would rather drive down the central section of 101 in 1970 than tomorrow. Regress — material, intellectual, and moral — can be as common as progress, if each new generation proves a poor custodian of the laws, behavior, knowledge, and learning inherited from those now gone.

We Are Not Alone

No one in my town ripped out copper wire from the street lights in 1963 as they commonly do now; my grandfather contended with swarms of vine-hoppers and spider mites, not, as I do, with thieves who destroy pumps to scavenge conduit wire. I know that this will not be a problem in 2080 — either because such crime that threatens society must cease, or society as we know it will cease. Can we see these as symptoms, as something also beyond our present anguish, as challenges shared by Athenians, Romans, and Byzantines? We can — if we have some guide that turns the nonsense of today into the sense of the ages.

Not a poet in America today could match Virgil. Few, if any, of us historians could write with the flair and judgment of a Tacitus. But how would we know that — or care — if we did not read?

Without some awareness that ideas are old and somewhat finite, and that we are young and ignorant, we assume that each new adventure must be novel because we alone — right now! — are experiencing it. If Barack Obama would read Procopius [10], he would learn the wages of his huge inefficient bureaucracy. Jerry Brown, the self-described Jesuit sage, should return to his St. Jerome [11], because the latter’s descriptions of an eroding Rome could just as well describe a drive down California’s 99. (Before a crumbling society can borrow billions for a high-speed rail to nowhere it might better bring out the dusty maps and charts of a dead generation of engineers that once bequeathed to us plans about how to finish a three-lane freeway without cross traffic.)

Ourselves and Our Archetypes

Reading literature endows us not just with a model of expression and thought, but also with a body of ideas — and the names, facts, and dates that we can draw on to elucidate them. When I used to follow the career of the brilliantly destructive Bill Clinton, he seemed to be Alcibiades reborn — and thus was surely bound to share the same fate of those with enormous talent who are consumed by their own huge and unrepressed appetites.

Richard Nixon jumped out of the pages Sophocles, another gifted Oedipus whose innate and unaddressed flaws were waiting dormant — for just the right occasion to explode him, for Nemesis to take him from the King of Thebes to itinerant blind beggar.

Obama? He came on the scene as arrogant and self-righteous as young Pentheus or Hippolytus and he is now learning firsthand the effects of his Euripidean smugness on others. Nothing that we experience has not happened before; the truly ignorant miss that, hypnotized by sophisticated technology into believing that human nature has been reinvented in their own image.


We all wish to live beyond the confines of our pathetic flesh and the limitations of the material world. I am here not just talking of religion, but rather of how shared ideas and learning trump age, race, class, gender, all the supposed barriers that only government alone can trample down.

At Fresno I used to teach works like Xenophon’s Hellenica or Aeschylus’s Prometheus Bound in advanced Greek classes, usually to about 10 students. Some were 60 years old and retired. Some were physically disabled and rolled in on wheel chairs. Some were Mexican-American; some women; some Asian. Often an epileptic retiree, who took every Greek course offered, would have a seizure in class. Most were poor or of middle means; but I recall there were one or two millionaires as well.

The Point of Such “Diversity”?

There was no diversity.

When they translated or sounded off about Prometheus’s pontifications or nearly wept at poor Theramenes (who perhaps deserved his fate for his triangulation) being dragged off to his death, all “difference” disappeared. What we had in common vastly outweighed our class, gender, and racial distinctions. Thucydides could belong to an immigrant from Oaxaca as much as it did to me — or even more so.

It was almost as if the mind lived without a body or perhaps despite it. In his treatise on old age and again in the Pro Archia, Cicero made the argument that learning gives us a common bond. (omnes arts quae ad humanities pertinent habent quoddam commune vinclum et quasi cognatione quadam inter se continentur.)

Old? Hardly

Literature and history become bulwarks from the cruel assaults of old age. I used to hike in the Attic hills with a group led by the septuagenarian, the legendary classical Greek scholar and topographer Eugene Vanderpool. He was to the eye almost decrepit — with few teeth (from the effects of malnourishment after internment in a German prisoner of war camp during the Nazi occupation of Athens) and recovering from a stroke. He reminded me of David’s 18th-century painting of an elderly Belisarius asking for alms outside the Hippodrome.

But as we hiked each Saturday he quietly pointed out the pass where Mardonius retreated back to Boeotia in spring 479 B.C. before being obliterated with his Persians at the subsequent battle of Plataea. “Hanson,” he once whispered, “did you realize you just stepped on the Attic Orchid; can I tell you a little about this vanishing flower that you crushed?” Someone kicked up a clay loom weight. He smiled shyly at it, and in muffled voice muttered, “Hmmm, about 400 B.C.; there must be a classical farmhouse about here somewhere.” We walked right by blank rocks; he asked, “Did anyone see back there that horos inscription? It was a boundary marker, Hellenistic I imagine.”

Ageless Man

When we got to the mountains overlooking the coast, he would rattle off the various armadas — Persian to nineteenth-century European — that had once docked below us. At 24, I felt like he was Napoleon addressing the Grand Army before the Pyramids. The result was that Mr. Vanderpool magically turned into 20-something like the rest of us, as if material existence were a bothersome afterthought. Our initial shock at his withered body vanished. He became almost an Apollo. I expected him to show up back at Athens at a Saturday night midnight disco bash to discourse on the Bee Gees as he had on the origins of ostracism.

Certificates of What?

We don’t need more technocrats who fool us that their Ivy League law degrees are synonymous with wisdom. They can be, but now are more likely not much more than tickets that allow an Eric Holder or Timothy Geithner into the first-class seating. I am not calling for us to be academics or scholastics with our noses in books or our heads up our posteriors; but to match physicality and pragmatism with occasional abstraction and reflection from the voices of the past — just a little, now and then, to remind us that Twitter or Facebook speed up communication, but can slow down thought.

Literature and history belong to us all. The recollection of ideas and thoughts can turn drudgery into something at least a little better. I once read Les Miserables and the memoirs of U.S. Grant simultaneously each night, and by day sprayed pre-emergent herbicide (in those pre-green days, per acre: ½ pound of Simazine, ½ pound of Karmex, washed down with spreader and some Parquat) all day long. Gradually the leaks, the toxicity, and the monotony of one sprayed row after another vanished. My head had gone underground into 1832 Paris and then came out again to the tricky siege of Vicksburg. That trance could mean the herbicide might once or twice miss the berm (and we would not recommend that 757 pilots dip into their Tolstoy during autopilot sessions), but for a time I was no longer cold and wet.

Links in the Chain

Somehow we must convince this new wired generation that speaking and writing well are not just the DSL lines of modern civilization, but also the keys to self-mastery, a sort of code that one takes on — in addition to others, moral and legal — to uphold standards of culture itself, to keep the work and ideas alive of our long gone betters for one more generation — as if to say, “I did my part according to my time and station.”Nothing more, nothing less.
(Thumbnail on PJM homepage by [12].)

Article printed from Works and Days:

URL to article:

URLs in this post:

[1] Iliad:

[2] The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire:

[3] Victory:

[4] Growth of the Soil:

[5] Shane :

[6] Casablanca:

[7] the contradictions of Christopher Hitchens:

[8] Inferno:

[9] History of the Conquest of Mexico:

[10] Procopius:

[11] St. Jerome:

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« Reply #545 on: January 17, 2012, 05:36:08 PM »


I liked that.  A lot.

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« Reply #546 on: January 19, 2012, 09:53:07 PM »

Not exactly words, but the punctuation marks discussed in this article are interesting:
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« Reply #547 on: January 20, 2012, 02:55:27 PM »

Not exactly words, but the punctuation marks discussed in this article are interesting:

I love the interrobang, and especially the snark.
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« Reply #548 on: January 25, 2012, 09:47:13 PM »

by Rabbi Yaakov Salomon

Three keys to catapulting from paralysis to action.

What is the most frightening six-letter word in the English language?

No, it's not, "D-A-T-I-N-G." And it's not, "S-K-I-I-N-G." And it's not, "P-A-S-T-R-Y" either.

How about, "C-H-A-N-G-E"?

If you're like most people (and don't fool yourself -- you are), C-H-A-N-G-E pretty much scares the dickens out of you. All of us try to make changes in our daily lives, but how many of us are really successful?

You try to quit smoking, or lose weight, or speak Hebrew, or visit your grandmother, or surf the Internet a bit less, or spend more time with your kids, and chances are you may make a bold and decent start, but it peters out after a few days. Or, more likely, you never really get started at all, you just talk about it all the time.

Welcome to the club. Everyone finds change difficult. But some people do seem to be better at it than others. What is their secret? How do they manage to move forward? Why do some people view life's hurdles as challenges to embrace while others perceive every new transition as a 50-ton barrier on the road in front of them?

The answer is not nearly as simple as this article appears to make it, but it is within reach.

Here are three keys that may not sound especially potent or very new, but still have the potential to catapult you from paralysis to action.


A fundamental requirement for embarking on anything new is that you must believe in yourself. All of us have succeeded in certain areas and have failed in others. Unfortunately, the failures often seem to overshadow the achievements. We tend to magnify our deficiencies and downplay our accomplishments.

This must stop. You'll never muster enough energy to make difficult changes without compelling evidence that you are a capable human being. The only way to do this is by remembering, listing, and savoring the successes in your life. Five minutes a day should be sufficient. After a while, you WILL start believing that you can.

How do we know this is true? Because the wisest of all men, King Solomon, said so.

"The heart of the wise man looks to the right; the heart of the fool looks left" (Proverbs).

The Hebrew language has the unique distinction of being written and read from right to left. This means that every holy book is opened and every subsequent page is turned to the right side. So many of us open these books with the best of intentions. We want to study, we want to teach, we want to finish etc. But, all too often, reality sets in. We get bogged down, we slow down, we lose our interest and our resolve. We want to quit and we often do.

A great part of our bent to surrender comes from the enormity of the task. "Look at how many pages there are in this book. I'll never finish anyway. I might as well quit now."

Stop, says King Solomon. You are looking at the wrong side of the book. Only a fool looks to the left. That shows you how many pages you haven't yet studied. Look to the right. There you will see what you have already learned. That will encourage you to continue your task and complete your mission. That is the formula for becoming wise.


Everyone has bad habits. They range from the terribly serious kind -- drugs, gambling, over-eating, to the milder variety -- nail-biting, interrupting, and being a 'neat freak'.

One of the most potent stumbling blocks to success is the notion that the only way to quit is to do so all at once. Not true. I have found that most people make changes gradually. There are times and situations where only radical methods can be effective, but, by and large, throw a large hamburger on a high-chair tray in front of little Joey and chances are it will end up on the floor. But cut it into small, manageable, bite-size pieces and he might eat two burgers

Big Joey is a lot like little Joey. By definition, habits (and certainly addictions) are things we have done for long periods of time. The swift and sudden removal of them may produce swift and sudden change. But that is not what you are looking for. You want lasting change.

Identify a firm and specific goal. I want to stop coming late to meetings, dinners, work, synagogue, and medical appointments, whatever.
Do not attempt any alteration in your schedule for two weeks. Simply jot down every time you come late and by how many minutes.
Create an objective for the following week to reduce that late-coming by just five minutes in just two or three places.
Chart your results. Do not overreach your goal. Even if it seems easy, just stick to the plan.
Add five minutes and two more places each week.
If you fail, just extend the same projection for an additional week.
Take pleasure in your accomplishment. Reward yourself.

One of the side effects of this incredible Age of Communication is that everyone knows everything about everybody. Or, at least they think they do.

"Boy, Stan sure looks like he's making the big bucks."
"Debbie lives such a carefree life. Not a worry in the world."
"Well isn't Miriam just Miss Popular. No wonder she's always smiling."


The fact is that we actually know very little about Stan, Debbie, or Miriam. All we know is what we see. And the reality may be very far from the discernible.

But that doesn't stop us from making constant and damaging comparisons.

"I'll just never be as popular as Miriam. So why even bother trying to make friends with __________."
"I'll always be a worrier. That's just the way I am wired. I wish I could be more like Debbie.

"So what if I'm unemployed. Stan's making high six figures and I should start at 60K?"

 We use our mistaken impressions to formulate damaging comparisons about people around us, and then conclude that we can never "match up" to our peers.

How soon we forget that God made each of us with our own unique personality, DNA, fingerprints, and purpose. No two people contain the same potential or mission on this planet. So, besides the fact that things are NEVER the way they seem, our goals must singularly be our own. What someone else, no matter how similar he may seem to you, has accomplished is completely irrelevant to your life objectives.

Focus on what is within your reach. Never forget that your capacity to change is not in any way associated with anyone else's achievements or failures. Be your own man or woman. Change is hard enough without having to compare yourself to anyone else.

In sum, focus on your successes, cut the new steps into bite-size pieces, and never ever compare yourself to anyone else. That's the simple formula to get you started on the road to change. No, the road is not perfectly paved, free of traffic, or easy to navigate. But it does not have to be nearly as daunting as we think it is.

You have the keys. Now get in the car and drive.

You'll get there.

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« Reply #549 on: January 30, 2012, 07:58:02 AM »

Who would have expected that in a Republican primary campaign the single biggest complaint among candidates would be that the front-runner has taken capitalism too far? As if his success and achievement were evidence of something unethical and immoral? President Obama and other redistributionists must be rejoicing that their assumptions about rugged capitalism and the 1% have been given such legitimacy.

More than any other nation, the United States was founded on broad themes of morality rooted in a specific religious perspective. We call this the Judeo-Christian ethos, and within it resides a ringing endorsement of capitalism as a moral endeavor.

Regarding mankind, no theme is more salient in the Bible than the morality of personal responsibility, for it is through this that man cultivates the inner development leading to his own growth, good citizenship and happiness. The entitlement/welfare state is a paradigm that undermines that noble goal.

The Bible's proclamation that "Six days shall ye work" is its recognition that on a day-to-day basis work is the engine that brings about man's inner state of personal responsibility. Work develops the qualities of accountability and urgency, including the need for comity with others as a means for the accomplishment of tasks. With work, he becomes imbued with the knowledge that he is to be productive and that his well-being is not an entitlement. And work keeps him away from the idleness that Proverbs warns leads inevitably to actions and attitudes injurious to himself and those around him.

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 .Yet capitalism is not content with people only being laborers and holders of jobs, indistinguishable members of the masses punching in and out of mammoth factories or functioning as service employees in government agencies. Nor is the Bible. Unlike socialism, mired as it is in the static reproduction of things already invented, capitalism is dynamic and energetic. It cheerfully fosters and encourages creativity, unspoken possibilities, and dreams of the individual. Because the Hebrew Bible sees us not simply as "workers" and members of the masses but, rather, as individuals, it heralds that characteristic which endows us with individuality: our creativity.

At the opening bell, Genesis announces: "Man is created in the image of God"—in other words, like Him, with individuality and creative intelligence. Unlike animals, the human being is not only a hunter and gatherer but a creative dreamer with the potential of unlocking all the hidden treasures implanted by God in our universe. The mechanism of capitalism, as manifest through investment and reasoned speculation, helps facilitate our partnership with God by bringing to the surface that which the Almighty embedded in nature for our eventual extraction and activation.

Capitalism makes possible entrepreneurship, which is the realization of an idea birthed in human creativity. Whereas statism demands that citizens think small and bow to a top-down conformity, capitalism, as has been practiced in the U.S., maximizes human potential. It provides a home for aspiration, referred to in the Bible as "the spirit of life."

The Bible speaks positively of payment and profit: "For why else should a man so labor but to receive reward?" Thus do laborers get paid wages for their hours of work and investors receive profit for their investment and risk.

The Bible is not a business-school manual. While it is comfortable with wealth creation and the need for speculation in economic markets, it has nothing to say about financial instruments and models such as private equity, hedge funds or other forms of monetary capitalization. What it does demand is honesty, fair weights and measures, respect for a borrower's collateral, timely payments of wages, resisting usury, and empathy for those injured by life's misfortunes and charity.

It also demands transparency and honesty regarding one's intentions. The command, "Thou shalt not place a stumbling block in front of the blind man" also means that you should not act deceitfully or obscure the truth from those whose choice depends upon the information you give them. There's nothing to indicate that Mitt Romney breached this biblical code of ethics, and his wealth and success should not be seen as automatic causes for suspicion.

No country has achieved such broad-based prosperity as has America, or invented as many useful things, or seen as many people achieve personal promise. This is not an accident. It is the direct result of centuries lived by the free-market ethos embodied in the Judeo-Christian outlook.

Furthermore, only a prosperous nation can protect itself from outside threats, for without prosperity the funds to support a robust military are unavailable. Having radically enlarged the welfare state and hoping to further expand it, President Obama is attempting to justify his cuts to our military by asserting that defense needs must give way to domestic programs.

Both history and the Bible show the way that leads. Countries that were once economic powerhouses atrophied and declined, like England after World War II, once they began adopting socialism. Even King Solomon's thriving kingdom crashed once his son decided to impose onerous taxes.

At the end of Genesis, we hear how after years of famine the people in Egypt gave all their property to the government in return for the promise of food. The architect of this plan was Joseph, son of Jacob, who had risen to become the pharaoh's top official, thus: "Joseph exchanged all the land of Egypt for pharaoh and the land became pharaoh's." The result was that Egyptians became indentured to the ruler and state, and Joseph's descendants ended up enslaved to the state.

Many on the religious left criticize capitalism because all do not end up monetarily equal—or, as Churchill quipped, "all equally miserable." But the Bible's prescription of equality means equality under the law, as in Deuteronomy's saying that "Judges and officers . . . shall judge the people with a just judgment: Do not . . . favor one over the other." Nowhere does the Bible refer to a utopian equality that is contrary to human nature and has never been achieved.

The motive of capitalism's detractors is a quest for their own power and an envy of those who have more money. But envy is a cardinal sin and something that ought not to be.

God begins the Ten Commandments with "I am the Lord your God" and concludes with "Thou shalt not envy your neighbor, not for his wife, nor his house, nor for any of his holdings." Envy is corrosive to the individual and to those societies that embrace it. Nations that throw over capitalism for socialism have made an immoral choice.

Rabbi Spero has led congregations in Ohio and New York and is president of Caucus for America.

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