Beyond BT

Spiritual Growth for Jews

The Practical Spiritual Growth Project

Posted on | August 26, 2014 | By Administrator | Add Your Comments

Introduction
The goal of mitzvos is to develop a deeper connection to Hashem.
If we perform mitzvos and say brachos with more Kavanna, they will have a bigger impact on our connection to Hashem.

Good places to start are with mitzvos and brachos that we perform every day. Here are four daily mitzvos/brachos:
1. Birchos HaMitzvot like Birchos HaTorah, Netilas Yedayim, Tzitzis or Tefillin
2. Birchos Hanehenin before food or drink
3. The first posuk of Shema
4. The start of Shomoneh Esrai

Process
When doing the above mitzvos, try to do them with the Kavanna described below.
After doing this for a few weeks, see whether you feel more connected to Hashem.

1. Say one Birchos HaMitzvot with Kavanna before Birchos HaTorah, Netilas Yedayim, Tzitzis or Tefillin. Have in mind:
a) Hashem is the One who commanded this mitzvah
b) You are the one who was commanded
c) With this act that you are about to perform you are fulfilling this command

Simple explanation of Birchos HaMitzvot
Baruch Atah Hashem – Hashem, the Master of all (who always was, is, and will be), is the Ultimate Source of all blessing
Elokeinu Melech HaOlam – Hashem is the source of all powers in this world, and He is the Ultimate Authority of the World
Asher Kid’shanu B’mitzvosav – Hashem separated, elevated and sanctified us by obligating us with His commandments
V’tzivanu Al – And He particularly commanded us with the mitzvos I am about to perform regarding…

2. Say one Birchos HaNehenin, before food or drink with Kavanna. Have in mind:
a) Hashem is the creator of what you are about to eat
b) You are thankful to Him for creating and providing this food for you

Simple explanation of sample Birchos HaNehenin
Baruch Atah Hashem – Hashem, the Master of all (who always was, is, and will be), is the Ultimate Source of all blessing
Elokeinu Melech HaOlam – Hashem is the source of all powers in this world, and He is the Ultimate Authority of the World
Shehakol Nihyah Bidvaro – everything was created through His word and power

3. Say the first pasuk of Shema in the morning or evening with Kavanna. Have in mind:
a) You are going to perform the Mitzvos of reciting the Shema
b) You are going to perform the Mitzvos of accepting Hashem as the Ultimate Authority over you
c) Think about the first 2 commandments of “I am Hashem your G-d,” and “You shall have no other gods.”

Simple explanation of the first pasuk of Shema:
Sh’ma Yisrael – listen, hear and understand, individual Jews and the Jewish People
Hashem – Master of all (who always was, is, and will be), upon Wwhom all existence is dependent
Elokeinu – Is the source of all powers and the Ultimate Authority of the world
Hashem – Master of all, guides the world to its ultimate purpose
Echad – Everything comes from Hashem, and some day this will be recognized by all and we will reach our ultimate purpose

4. Start one Shomoneh Esrai with Kavanna. Have in mind:
a) You are standing before Hashem and are about to begin your prayer to Him
b) Hashem is the Source and Authority over everything in the world
c) You are small in comparison to Hashem

Track your progress in the following chart
Enter the number of times you did that mitzvah/brocha on that day with Kavanna
_________________________Day 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14
1. Say Birchos HaMitzvot with Kavanna
2. Say Birchos Hanehenin with Kavanna
3. Say Shema with Kavanna
4. Start Shomoneh Esrai with Kavanna

Practical spiritual growth is possible if we just follow the prescription that the Torah provides.

The Season of the Spiritual Growth Mindset

Posted on | August 25, 2014 | By Administrator | Add Your Comments

The secular world has recently “discovered” the growth mindset:

Mindset is a simple idea discovered by world-renowned Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck in decades of research on achievement and success—a simple idea that makes all the difference. In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. Virtually all great people have had these qualities.

The growth mindset is fundamental to a Torah Observant Jew. Every BT and FFB will tell you, that where you are headed in terms of growth, is much more important than where you came from.

One advantage we have in Jewish Spiritual Growth is that the calendar orients us towards times with increased opportunities. Shabbos provides more potential than week days. Yom Tovim provide additional growth opportunities. And the Yomin Noraim provide the greatest opportunities. In Judaism the 40 days from Rosh Chodesh Elul to Yom Kippur is the definitive spiritual growth season.

But as we know, growth takes effort, and Hashem made us a bit lazy, so we are advised to use the entire Elul runway as we approach Rosh Hoshana, the Ten Days of Teshuva, and Yom Kippur.

In the Practical Guide to Teshuva, Rabbi S. Wagschal writes that the process of teshuvah may be successfully achieved if it is performed in a gradual manner. He suggests that we should begin with improving things we are already doing, like tefillah and brachos.

Tomorrow we will provide some practical ways to leverage the enhanced spiritual growth mindset which we have in these days of Elul.

Education Beyond Parnassah; Colors of Your Tzibbur; Continuing Jewish Ed for QC Women; Mazal Tov to David & Sandy on Rina’s Wedding

Posted on | August 21, 2014 | By Administrator | Add Your Comments

Appreciating the Colors of Your Tzibbur

Education Goes Beyond Parnassah

Continuing Jewish Education for Queens College Women

Mazal Tov to David and Sandy Linn on the marriage of their daughter Rina to Binyamin Kanowitz of Kew Gardens Hills.

Beat the Rosh Chodesh Elul Rush – Start Thinking About Teshuva Today

Posted on | August 20, 2014 | By Administrator | 3 Comments

Rosh Chodesh Elul is coming which means that the Teshuva season is about to begin. If we want to have a successful Rosh Hoshana and Yom Kippur, seforim strongly advise us to start early in the month. It’s a tremendous opportunity for growth and we’d be foolish not to take advantage of it.

Most of the current day Rebbeim advise us to pick something small. Maybe saying Asher Yotzar with Kavanna, or pausing before we speak on occasion or perhaps starting an extra 10 minute seder in Mussar, Mishnah or Tanach. The sky is truly the limit, but we have to start reaching for it when Elul begins.

Being that our goal is to get closer to Hashem and we’re doing mitzvos to accomplish that goal, it might make sense to try to do the mitzvos with a little more Kavanna. There are three simple thoughts we can have before doing any mitzvah:

1) Hashem commanded us to do the mitzvah
2) We are the ones being commanded
3) And the specific mitzvah, whose commandment we are fullfilling is …. (whatever mitzvah you are doing)

It’s really pretty simple and it will help us get so much more mileage out of the mitzvos we already do.

Here’s a few resources for extra motivation:

Stepping Stones to Repentance: A thirty-day program based on Ohr Yisrael the classic writings of Rav Yisrael Salanter By: Rabbi Zvi Miller here’s an excerpt

DAY ONE: “BOUNDLESS BLESSINGS”
“There is no enterprise that yields profit like preparation for the Day of Atonement. Through studying Mussar and reflecting on how to improve one’s ways, a person is inspired on Yom Kippur to make resolutions for the future. Even the smallest, most minute preparation to enhance one’s Yom Kippur experience is invaluable, bringing boundless blessings of success. It saves one from many troubles — and there is no greater profit than this.” (Ohr Yisrael, Letter Seven, p. 193)

Rebbetzin Tzipora Heller – Three Steps to Genuine Change. An excerpt:

In the course of our lives, we close doors to higher and deeper selves and sometimes forget that we, too, are more than earners, spenders, and travelers through life. Our thoughtless enslavement to mindless routine can leave us without much of a relationship to our souls. In a materialistic society, it is all too easy to view others as competitors. As toddlers we observed that when you have three cookies and give one away, all you have left are two. From that point onward we are afraid to give.

R’ Dovid Schwartz – Rabbi Yonah of Gerona – Guilt is Good – mp3

R’ Daniel Stein – Hilchos Teshuva Introduction – mp3

R’ Moshe Schwerd – Din V’Cheshbon – mp3

R’ Yakov Haber on Rosh Hoshana and Hirhur Teshuva according to Rav Soloveitchik can be downloaded here.

R’ Yakov Haber on Rosh Hoshana davening can be downloaded here.

Teaching an Older BT New Davening Tricks

Posted on | August 19, 2014 | By Mark Frankel | Add Your Comments

It’s amazing what we remember from our youth. I went to Hebrew School at the Clearview Jewish Center in Whitestone, NY, which was recently sold to a Montessori School, with some rights retained to a small chapel. I still remember my second grade class close to 50 years ago. We were learning how to read the Shemoneh Esrai and we had progress charts on the wall, based on the speed and accuracy of our reading. I still remember Shelley L. and how fast she read, and how fast she got through the Shomoneh Esrai. I should have emulated Shelley.

Although I went to Junior Congregation, I never was the Chazzan. After my Bar Mitzvah, I followed the path of many Conservative Jews of the time and placed my siddur, tallis and tefillin secure and safe in my closet, as I would not be needing them any time soon. When I did return to Torah and mitzvos, it was through Rabbis in Queens and Long Island, so I never spent time away at Yeshiva, and missed any opportunities to acquire public davening skills.

Fast forward to this year and I still had never davened from the Amud. In fact the first time I ever davened from the Amud was in the cemetery parking lot after my father’s levaya in April of this year. The first few weeks were rough as there is a big difference between davening privately and davening publicly.

Over the past four months, many people have commented on how much I’ve improved and I hope to improve even more. When I feel I’m in a supportive environment among friends, I do pretty well because I feel at license to daven, rather than read. In other places, where I feel a read-as-fast-as-possible pressure, I’ll fumfer over a word or two or three or four.

There are many growth opportunities in this world. Some of them require us to put ourselves out there and maybe face a little embarrassment. But if your willing to learn you can acquire new skills, and you’ll probably find that the effort was worth it.

We are ‘Jewish’ Stardust

Posted on | August 18, 2014 | By Guest Contributor | 4 Comments

By Avraham Rosenblum of the Diaspora Band

On January 4th, 1971, I disembarked from the EL AL Boeing 707 at Lod Airport, suitcase and guitar in hand, in need of a change of scene. What I didn’t expect was the total change of direction I would take from following my dreams as an up-and-coming teen-aged rocker on the Philadelphia (my home town) and New York music scenes. But I need to back-track a little, to mid-August, 1969.

I was driving up the New York Thruway in my little brown Austen-America, heading to Montreal to drop in on some friends. I was running away from two heartaches; breaking up with my high school sweetheart, and my band, Valentine, falling apart. It was a great band. Philadelphia loved us. My girlfriend didn’t ‘get’ me anymore and so we broke up. Missing her gave me some good songs, though.

Somewhere around Yonkers I picked up a hitch-hiker whom I almost immediately poured my heart out to because, well, he dressed like me, had long hair, and had the same goofy sense of humor. As we got ‘goofier’ he asked me if I might want to distract myself at the Woodstock Music and Arts Festival, starting the next day near Monticello, NY. I had heard about it but had not planned to go. “Hey, dynamite idea!” I said.

‘By the time we got to Woodstock’

It was still pretty early on that Thursday, the day before the concerts started, when I parked near the festival site, somewhere just below Happy Avenue, one of the roads leading to the sloping, expansive meadow of Max Yasgur’s Farm. Along the upper ridge were the campers, tents, artisans and vendors, where it felt like a medieval village populated mostly by jesters. At the bottom of the meadow stood the huge hand-built stage, and the speaker towers. You could hear a band jamming in a closed rehearsal area. My passenger soon drifted away never to be seen again, and as I waded into the growing sea of happy people who also dressed and talked a lot like me, I got an epiphany that this was going to be a life changing event. “Far out, man!”.. I thought.

I was elated to be part of this new social order. I belonged in it. I had worked hard to forget my origins as a First Generation Yiddish speaking Holocaust Survivors kid from Northeast Philadelphia. My music and this culture were my way out and into the melting pot of America. My band-mates and friends were mostly children or grandchildren of Italian, Irish, and Scottish immigrants. Few were Jews. We were all looking for the same thing. And, me being me, I interpreted my Woodstock experience as spiritual, in the sense that our generation was in search of peace, love, harmony, anti the Vietnam War, and I was very impressed by the well-known turban clad swami who gave the opening benediction. For those few days we all partied, heard some great musicians and bands, and sang, “Come on people now / smile on your brother!/ everybody get together / try to love one another right now!” Peace brother! The swirls of images of ‘Woodstock’ that remain in my mind are proof- to myself – that I was there. Years later I even caught a glimpse of me in an early scene of the movie. See – I really was there!

One thing led to another quickly; the crowd got larger (500,000!), the music more intense, the weather rainier, and my sense of direction- which normally was quite acute – limited to ‘up or down’ mode. On Saturday night, after some hours of searching, I found my car. Six very helpful hippies helped me roll it out of the mud. I clearly remember feeling grateful to ‘someone’ that my guitars and belongings were still there. I was wet, chilled, and hungry, and stupidly determined to continue northward to Quebec even though the hour was getting late. But a few miles up the road I realized that the snaking center line was not a good sign as my head began to hurt and I started to feel feverish. I turned around and ‘somehow’ found Monticello General Hospital where, after a cursory look by a staffer, I was very kindly shown to a chair in the waiting room, in which I fell asleep.

‘My Yiddish Kite’

I awoke as people began to enter the room at 9 AM. I noticed a number of them were “frum” (although in those days I had no clue about Chassidim vs Misnagdim or Sefardic vs Ashkenazic. But I knew my family was from Vilna and that that made me a Litvak). So there I was – my unwashed shoulder length hair, love beads, well-worn denims, and muddy shoes on display, when I caught the glance of one young ‘yeshiva bochur’ whom I instantly greeted:

“Shalom! Vos machts du?” (Peace! How are you?)
“Vos tust’DE doh?”, (What are YOU doing here?) he asked with surprise.
“Ich hob kekumen tzu Woodstock!” (I attended Woodstock!) I answered forthrightly, as if to impress him.
“Un vus host’du gezucht bei Woodstock?” (And what were you looking for at Woodstock?) he asked with some genuine interest.
Switching to English, I said something about finding G-d in the big experience of unity, and not being limited to a synagogue. Unfazed, but needing to fulfill his mission of visiting a sick friend, the yeshiva bochur apologized for not having the time to continue our conversation and wrote down a phone number and address on a piece of notepaper which he handed to me while recommending “If you’re really looking for G-d and spirituality check this out. Shalom. Zei Gezundt!” (Be well!)

I did continue looking for G-d for the next year – in a small Jewish-Buddhist-Christian cult and through the Timothy Leary – ‘Doors of Perception’ method, while writing and performing songs written in that vein. But by September of 1970, when my last American band, Freehand, was getting good reviews in New York at the most notable Village Gate, in Greenwich Village, I was a mess and felt lost. I quit the band and within a month I reluctantly went home to my family back in Northeast Philadelphia. They were actually quite glad to see me. But the family dog, Dolly, was not happy to meet my cat, Thumb, who disappeared soon after.

I had one last encounter with possible fame that December, when a show business contact personally introduced me to legendary songwriters Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil (“On Broadway” and more) who took an interest in me for their new record label.

‘A Greener in a Green Land’

Well, I actually took that trip to Israel in 1971 with my mother, Edith, Aleha Ha’Shalom, and my Aunt Helene, Aleha Ha’Shalom. The family thought it would be good for me to get away from ‘everything’ and I decided that taking a break to see some of the world couldn’t hurt before I resumed my career. I called Barry and Cynthia to postpone my test sessions in New York for few weeks, which they were OK with.

When we landed all I could think was how green and fresh everything looked. It was in fact a brand new country – only 23 years old! I was 20. Something began to stir. I was excited to be there. Why? I wasn’t observant. I hadn’t gone to synagogue in years. What could it mean? I did try to volunteer to go to Israel in 1967, during the Six Day War. I was only 16 so the consulate rejected me. That was it. I also went to my Godmother’s funeral around that time too. That was Jewish, but.. Yes, I was feeling all kinds of feelings, seeing things I didn’t expect to see, asking all kinds of questions, and hearing the sounds of bubbles frequently bursting.

One afternoon as I walked along Rehov Allenby near our hotel, I noticed another guy carrying a guitar case. He looked American, the case looked like it might be carrying a quality instrument, and so I flagged him down. I was right on both counts, and soon Sam from Chicago and Allen (my English name) were jamming our way across Israel on buses, at Hebrew University Campus, and one cloudy but enlightening afternoon in the back of an Old City Arab smoke-shop, where we got “hookahed up” and played some good ole boy country music for the un-country-like, loose garbed patrons – and they loved it! From there, Sam led me to my first encounter with The Wailing Wall (which of course I now only know as The Kotel HaMaaravi) and a rabbi who had me put on Tefillin for the first time since my Bar Mitzvah. The sounds of Hebrew prayer all around me woke something up, and as the rabbi attempted to coach me in reading the blessings, my mouth had already formed the words – that flowed sweetly out across my tongue: “Shema Yisrael / Ado-Shem Elokeinu /Ado-Shem Echad…”

Just like that. What a long, strange trip it had been.

End of Part 1.

Naitz Waits for No Man; The Three Processes of our Limitless Mind; Did Anyone Win the War?

Posted on | August 14, 2014 | By Administrator | Add Your Comments

Naitz Waits for No Man

The Three Processes of our Limitless Mind

Did Anyone Win the War?

Understanding Gods Plan as Best We Can

Posted on | August 13, 2014 | By Katrin | 58 Comments

Admin’s note: the referer’s log is a great source for reposts. This post was first posted in January, 2007. Somebody from the MGM Mirage in Vegas was searching for Hashem Runs the World and came to this post. After rereading it and the comments, it is clear that it’s well worth reposting.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve started, and failed to finish, about 5 different posts for Beyond BT. While all were different, all had the same theme: why aren’t people seeing the same ‘truths’ that I see in the Torah?

I started all of these posts trying to engender a spirit of honest debate and questioning, but stopped before I’d completed them. Why? Firstly, because like everyone, I have my own baggage, and however ‘objective’ I wish I was, I know that my own slanted viewpoint creeps in here and there, and warps the real essence of what I’m trying to write.

Secondly, because many of the subjects I was trying to write about – and which are exercising me at the moment – are ‘biggies’. Let me share some examples: We moved to Israel from the UK, about a year and a half ago. While many people, thank G-d, have had an easy aliya, we have had quite a challenging aliya, with things going ‘wrong’ on many different levels.

Without belaboring the point, within a week of moving here, we lost all of our savings (thanks to an ‘unexpected development’ back in chutz); had a falling out with a close family member ostensibly upset about our move; and a firm offer of a job (again, with a firm in chutz) retracted.

From that point, we went on to have our credit card stolen, our house broken into, business difficulties which in turn lead to financial difficulties, and the dawning realization that socially, we just weren’t fitting in all that well.

Yet despite all this – or maybe, because of all of it – I haven’t stopped thanking Hashem that we made the move. In the UK, we were both workaholics; in Israel, we have had the time and space to really appreciate the blessings that are our children. In the UK, I was too busy making and spending money to really do much in the way of learning or chesed. Here, I can’t give tzedeka as freely as I’d like to. But boy, am I making an effort to have Shabbat guests and to find ‘free’ ways of doing nice things for people.

In Israel, thanks to many of our difficulties, I am now inordinately grateful for everything I do have, like my health, my husband, my family more generally. In chutz, I would get down if even the tiniest thing didn’t go my way. In Israel, I am meeting so many great people, who are really on an upward path in terms of their yiddishkeit. People who are really living their Judaism, and for whom Hashem permeates every minute, every moment, every decision and action. In chutz, I really wasn’t.

As one of the other posters here commented, all the arguments about moving to Israel etc, have been very well rehearsed. But when you live here – and you really struggle to live here – you understand how a Jew who doesn’t live here is missing out on a very fundamental part of their yiddishkeit. That’s controversial, I know. But it’s what I truly believe.

Here’s another ‘controversial’ thing that the last few months here have shown me: Having a lot of material wealth is an enormous obstacle to getting close to Hashem. Yes, the dream house, luxury car, gourmet meal and designer outfit is nice, on one level. But that level is incredibly superficial. I had nice things in London and lots of money. And I realize now just how complacent I’d become in my yiddishkeit as a result.

Here, I have prayed like I have never prayed before. It’s not always been a comfortable experience. But I’ve had to ask myself ‘what are we here for?’ and I’ve had to realize that the answer is ‘to work on ourselves and get closer to our creator’. And you don’t do that by shopping.

The last thing I’ve realized, again controversially, is that ‘feminism’ and Judaism really don’t go together. To the point that now, I try to steer clear of any self-styled ‘orthodox feminists’. Why? Because anyone who is putting gender politics into Torah really doesn’t grasp the basic principles underlying creation: G-d made the world. G-d is perfect. G-d knew exactly what he was doing, and if you have a problem with it, you are essentially saying that you know better than G-d.

I know others will differ, but for me, that is a fundamentally problematic position to take; it’s a circle that simply can’t be squared.

Every issue / problem / challenge has G-d at its root. From the small niggles, to the larger frustrations and the enormous tragedies, G-d is running the world, and knows better than we do what is for our best, and ultimately, what is for our ultimate ‘good’.

It sounds strange, even to me, to write these words and be that much closer to genuinely believing them. But coming to Israel, with all the ups and downs it has entailed, has helped me to realize that if I am to have a meaningful relationship with G-d, and also to my Judaism, I have to accept that I can only ever see a very small part of Gods plan – and that his ability to run the world is far beyond what I can comprehend.

Leveraging the Spiritual Drip Method

Posted on | August 12, 2014 | By Mark Frankel | Add Your Comments

In a recent shiur, Rabbi Akiva Grunblatt, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim discussed how continued spiritual growth is the purpose of a Jew’s life. (You can listen or download the shiur here.) Rabbi Grunblatt brought down the story about Rabbi Akiva, the water and the stone. Here is the relevant passage from the Avot D’Rebbi Natan, 6:

What were R. Akiva’s beginnings? It is said, up to the age of forty, he had not studied a thing. One time, while standing by the mouth of a well in Lydda, he inquired, “Who hollowed out this stone?” and was told, “It was water falling upon it constantly, day after day.” They said, “Akiva, haven’t you read that ‘water wears away stone’ (Job 14:19)?” At that, R. Akiva asked himself all the more so, “Is my mind harder than this stone?” He immediately returned to study Torah, and he and his son sat with a children’s teacher…. The teacher wrote down alef and bet for him… he went on learning until he had learned all five Books of Moses.

Rabbi Grunblatt pointed out that if you saw one drop of water fall on a stone, you would certainly think it had no effect. It is only after many, many years of dropping does the water have an effect. So to with spiritual growth, our connection to Hashem through our learning Torah and performance of mitzvos occurs drop by drop over many years.

I want to bring out a related lesson from this story. If the water came out in more volume, or with more force, then it would have a much greater effect on the stone. So to, if we learn more or do our mitzvos with more intensity, they will have a greater effect in creating the connection between us and Hashem.

One practical application of this is Berachos. Through our three daily Shomoneh Esrais and other Berachos, we are told (Mishna Brurah 46:14) to make 100 Berachos a day.

Recognizing Hashem 100 times a day in Berachos is like 100 drops of water. However, if we say the Berachos with more attention, intention and mindfulness, they will have a much stronger effect on our spiritual connection. Since we are saying them anyway, it seems like a no-brainer to try and increase their intended effect.

Start small. Pick one or two Berachos where you can make the time to think about Hashem and the contents of the Beracha. Do it for one day. And then the next. One day at a time. Increase the spiritual drip. You won’t be sorry.

How Do You Stop a Baal Teshuva Back Slide?

Posted on | August 11, 2014 | By Guest Contributor | 45 Comments

The comments are where the meat and potatoes of this post are. – admin

By Michael

For a few months now I been having doubts, and I don’t know why, I think one of the main things that has really been bothering me is seeing so many orthodox sects, not get along with each other, like Satmar, Chabad, non-Chassidus. And so on.

I always thought we were one family, but when i see so much negativity from one group to another, it really bothers me and makes me upset that sometimes I doubt am I really doing the right thing?

So what do you do as a baal teshuva when for 2 years you were going in right direction and then things happen that creep up and you sort of back slide, but not intentionally?

Thanks

Originally Published 11/27/2007

Addressing the Shiur Gender Gap; Modern Orthodox Culture Wars; Is One a Number?

Posted on | August 7, 2014 | By Administrator | 2 Comments

Addressing the Shiur Gender Gap

Culture Wars within Modern Orthodoxy

Rabbi Ari Kahn – Is One a Number

Tisha B’Av, the Holocaust and The Power of Speech

Posted on | August 6, 2014 | By Mark Frankel | 1 Comment

In our Shul, we try to include some programming on the Holocaust on Tisha B’Av. This year in addition to the CCHF videos, we had a survivor tell his story, and we showed a number of videos about the Holocaust. Although the turnout for the CCHF videos and the survivor’s story were very good, the Holocaust videos did not draw big audiences. I think the low video turnout is because many people, who’s parents were not survivors, want to move past the Holocaust and it’s extremely painful images.

I think there are two important messages of the Holocaust. The first one is from the Haggadah:

“And it is this [covenant] that has stood for our Forefathers and us. For not just one enemy has stood against us to wipe us out. But in every generation there have been those who have stood against us to wipe us out, and the Holy One Blessed Be He saves us from their hands.”

We need to remember this and realize that until the coming of Moshiach, we always have to be pray and do our hishtadlus to try to mitigate the effects of those who wish to do us harm.

The second message gives us insight on why it makes sense to remember the Holocaust on Tisha B’Av itself. Rabbi Noson Weisz points out that

“God never retaliates hastily against public sins committed by the Jewish people. Before He initiates concrete corrective measures He sends us messages of ‘tochacha.’ The destruction only arrives if we fail to react to the words of ‘tochacha’ and make no move to institute changes in our lives to mend the spiritual flaws that caused us to sin.

Sin alone never brings on destruction. God is just; it is He who made us mortal and fallible and gave us free will. If He were to destroy us for the sins we commit, the destruction could be laid at His own doorstep.”

In the days of the Moshe through the destruction of the Second Beis HaMikdashes, the tochacha was through prophecy, and much of the Tisha B’Av liturgy is focused on our shunning their words. In our post prophecy the tochacha comes through harmful events, like the Holocaust, making the exact improvements needed difficult to discern, but the often quote Talmud in Yoma (9b) gives us some general direction: “Why was the Second Temple destroyed? Because of sinat chinam, senseless hatred of one Jew for another.”.

This year the Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundations videos, titled the “Last Tisha B’Av”, focused on working on the sin of Loshon Hara. In his “practical steps” presentation, Charlie Harary pointed out that this is only the third time in 16+ years that this was the topic, although most of us would have initially thought otherwise.

As part of his presentation, Charlie informed us of a new internet project called PowerOfSpeech.org. It gives us social media tools to help us work on our speech collectively.

Please take a look at Power of Speech, so we can make some personal efforts towards making this the Last Tisha B’Av.

Kinah – Woe for all the heads without Tefillin – We have what to cry about!

Posted on | August 4, 2014 | By Rabbi Label Lam | Add Your Comments

1
Woe to us on this bitter day!
We have what to cry about!
Woe for all the heads without Tefillin
After 3700 years from Avraham Avinu
After having survived Holocausts and Inquisitions…
Jewish boys and girls blunder
In the darkness that plagues our generation
And go lost by the millions
With visions of isms and instant pleasures
Rapt in utter ignorance
Bathed in a blue light they may never escape
And generations and giant whole families
Holy congregations have disappeared
For nothing!
And their names dead ended
Now only grace lonely stones
In forgotten cemeteries
Bearing words their children
Those that had- Could never read
Woe to us on this bitter day!
We have what to cry about!
2
The pervasive angst of isolation!
Microwaves our very beings!
We feel beaten from within.
The continuous waves of psychological pain.
We suffer with a wry smile and a diet coke.
The gnawing insecurity and emptiness.
It brings us to search for things that do not exist.
The sublime is substituted with the virtual.
Pictures and fantasies tickle n’ dissolve like
Cotton candy for the eyes…in a world of lies
Fire works for lonely hearts that only grow lonelier
Noshing on empty calories for an endless soul
And as for the big itch…the really big itch…
That small thin voice is starved…
Portrait of a Holocaust victim!
So we turn up the tempo
Tapping like a blind man
Louder and more frantically
We are lost as never before.
Woe to us on this bitter day!
We have what to cry about!
3
The Chutzpah around us and within.
The skirts…the so called “styles”…
the pressure to conform
The lewdness …the angry language
Rap -rap -rap….bark -bark –bark!
Bitter and desperate…is the new normal
The almost total loss of respect
Nothing and no one is Holy
The good ones are ridiculed-
The object of derision
For framing a G-dly Image
And dressing as humans do
For keeping the Shabbos Holy
Watching our eyes and tongues!
While pictures of the unthinkable
The pop-ups of our lives
Invade constantly
On every bus that passes by
Our brothers and sisters
Drop like fall leaves
Fewer and fewer hang strong
Woe to us on this bitter day!
We have what to cry about!
4
The inmates are running the asylum.
Clouds of chaos gather all around
Bombs are fashioned for our final solution
And we are lost in the mirror again.
Wondering if we are loved or looking good
70 wolves salivate with teeth like daggers
Aimed to devour our tiny flock!
Where are we?
Busy with our cell phones
Texting our way to oblivion
Dealing with emergencies of little import
Consumed by crumb size concerns
Like Chometz…And the size of our noses
Woe to us on this bitter day!
We have what to cry about!
5
The Chillul HASHEM
We have lost our luster
Suspicion surrounds us
The Nation of HASHEM
The people of truth
Are ridiculed and considered low
While every sports team and slick politician
Has their stadium…Their edifice their complex
Where their glory is on open display
Where is the place of HASHEM in this world?
Billions speak falsely in His name
Identity theft on the grandest scale
Religion is a rejected and dirty word
We are tagged zealots and bigots
For preserving four cubit of Halacha
This is our crime
And so we owe the world an apology
HASHEM and we His People
Share all time low approval ratings
For this we truly owe a broken heart
Woe to us on this bitter day!
We have what to cry about!
6
What can be done when what’s done is done?
Who can rebuild such a wall torn down?
Our Holy Temple is destroyed!
Echoing in the cosmos
Is a muffled scream!
Of unspeakable abuse
A silent crime!
Against our most beautiful daughters
Made to suffer alone
Scarred in a way
No one can say
With more than broken hearts
Shattered Tablets
And bitter memories
Bleed bad blood
And families crumble
With no happy choices
But to seek greatness
And avoid the pit of insanity
There I said it! Without saying it!
Woe to us on this bitter day!
We have what to cry about!
7
Where are our boys
Our three boys
The cry of a nation
How can we go up to our father
and the youth are not with us?
How can we go up to our Father in Heaven
and youthful innocence is no longer with us?
HASHEM wants the heart!
Where’s the heart?
A frantic cry and persistent search!
The pain of parents…all parents
Amplified and Magnified
The frustration of a nation
Turned sudden victims
Imprisoned by the worst news
Too little…too late
Savages have ravaged us
In our most sacred home
Three sweet faces of joy
Plucked from our midst
For the sake of pure cruelty
Our hearts… are shattered
Our minds are raging and
We are painfully aware
They are all our children
A piece of each of us is torn away
On this day of brutal truth!
We have what to cry about!
8
How did it happen? Where are you?
Unanswerable questions!
Persist in their asking!
Where a person’s mind is…
Says the Ba’al Shem Tov
That is where he is entirely!
So with a single Holy thought!
One of 60,000 a day!
An apple…a golden apple
Is rescued from the thieves
And goodness is restored
When opening our inner eyes
We begin to realize
The ground we are standing upon
Is not less than the Holy of Holies
The shoes are easily removed
A Burning bush…is revealed
We survived! We survived!
Till this historic moment!
You and I together
With a song …the wail of a longing heart…
Brought history and destiny to meet and embrace
As tearful friends reunited!
After thousands of years!
Moshiach is born!
On this special day!
We have what to cry about!

Is NuNu a Four Letter Word?; Why Hamas is Still Holding Out; Tisha B’Av To Go

Posted on | July 31, 2014 | By Administrator | Add Your Comments

Is NuNu a Four Letter Word?

Why Hamas is Still Holding Out

Tisha B’Av To Go

Jewish Fundamentals – The Focus of Life is Continued Growth

Posted on | July 30, 2014 | By Guest Contributor | Add Your Comments

Rabbi Akiva Grunblatt, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim gave an important shiur focusing on understanding what life for a Jew is about. The short answer is that life is about growing in our mitzvos and service of G-d on a day to day basis.

He discusses the origins of Rav Yisroel Salant’s thirteen attributes and points out that the thoughtful author of the attributes, Ben Franklin did not understand the need for a lifelong approach towards self-protection. Only Torah gives us the tools to pursue this perfection.

There are a number of other important foundation points and we hope you will download and listen to this mp3.

Shabbos Nachamu Retreat with Shaya Ostrov, Rabbi Label Lam, Mrs. Azriela Jaffe

Posted on | July 29, 2014 | By Administrator | Add Your Comments

This coming Shabbos Nachamu, August 8th – 10th, Ora V’Simcha, the family division of Ohr Somayach. will be hosting another of their highly acclaimed weekend retreats at the Beit Shvidler Conference Center.

This retreat will afford participants with an extremely inspiring and rewarding program.

Ora V’Simchas weekend retreats are famous for the way in which all their guests are pampered in their 5-star beautiful facility. Catering will be provided by Greenfelds Caterers who have developed an exceptional reputation for their high class gourmet cuisine. Child care program will be led by Rabbi Ari and Mrs. Sari Weber and all of the centers exceptional hospitality will dazzle the guests until the programs conclusion on Sunday afternoon.

Shaya Ostrov, Lcsw author of “The Menuchah Principle” in Marriage and noted relationship therapist will present together with Rabbi Naftali Reich, the director of Ora V’Simcha. The central theme of the Shabbos will be gaining internal Menuchas HaNefesh and recognizing the essential and critical role it plays in our spiritual growth and the emotional health of our family. The focus of all presentations will be to secure the underpinnings of our homes, ensuring that our home environment is suffused with joy and contentment thereby enabling and empowering our children to blossom and realize their fullest potential.

The noted lecturer and author Mrs. Azriela Jaffe is also a key presenter. Her illuminating and engaging presentations have dazzled audiences across the globe. The program will also hear from Rabbi Label Lam whose inspirational addresses always bring the participants to laughter and tears as he describes some of the more hilarious aspects of family life in his imitable way while imparting an important message along the way. Motzai Shabbos entertainment includes a special program for the children. For more details regarding this program or any other Ora V’simcha retreat, please contact Mrs. Kirshner at 845-216-3970 or SK@Oravsimcha.org.

For more details please visit http://www.os.edu/oravsimcha/nachamu

Preparing for the Mourning of Tisha Bav

Posted on | July 28, 2014 | By Administrator | 1 Comment

The laws of mourning on Tisha B’av are modeled after the laws of mourning when a relative passes away. One significant difference is, that by a relative the stringency of the halachos decreases as time passes, while at of Tisha B’av increase as we pass from the three weeks, to the nine days, to Tisha Bav itself.

One explanation is that for a relative we feel the loss immediately and most strongly when they pass away, and the pain of that loss decreases as time goes on. Whereas for Tisha B’av it is difficult for us to mourn for a loss that we never experienced, so we need to work on increasing the feeling of that loss throughout the Three Weeks.

With that said here are some direct downloads and links to other sites to help prepare for the mourning of Tisha B’Av:

Torah Anytime on Tisha B’Av

YU Torah shiurm on Tisha B’Av

Torah Downloads on Tisha B’Av

Rabbi Akiva Tatz on Tisha B’av – Destruction of The Mind

Rabbi Herschel Welcher on Tisha B’Av (2006)

Rabbi Herschel Welcher on Tisha B’Av (2007)

Rabbi Herschel Welcher on Tisha B’Av (2009)

Rabbi Herschel Welcher on Tisha B’Av (2011)

Rabbi Herschel Welcher on “Lessons from the Pain of Bar Kamtza”

Rabbi Herschel Welcher on Tisha B’av Directions

R’ Moshe Schwerd on Bringing Korbanos With Our Lips

R’ Moshe Schwerd on How Mourning Brings the Dawn of Moshiach

R’ Moshe Schwerd on “The Morning after the Mourning”

R’ Moshe Schwerd on “Tisha B’AV Mourning and Consolation”

R’ Moshe Schwerd on Tisha B’Av – Past, Present & Future

Judging Fast Daveners Favorably; If The Iron Kippah Fits, Wear It; Cities of Refuge

Posted on | July 24, 2014 | By Administrator | Add Your Comments

Judging Fast Daveners Favorably

If The Iron Kippah Fits, Wear It

Cities of Refuge

Unity, Diversity, the 9th of Av

Posted on | July 23, 2014 | By Rabbi Mordechai Scher | 27 Comments

During the summer months we tragically have to contend with the period of the Three Weeks and ט באב, the Ninth of Av. Our mourning centers around the physical and spiritual destruction of the holy Temple in Jerusalem and of Jewish national life in the Land of Israel. Indeed, we have many customs that mark this throughout the year. It is our custom in the beit midrash to learn about those customs on the afternoon of the Tisha B’av, the Ninth of Av. An additional important focus of our thoughts at this time is, ‘what is the remedy?’

To consider a cure, we must consider the root cause of a malady. The g’mara (יומא ט) discusses why our holy places were destroyed, comparing Shiloh and the first and second Temples in Jerusalem. Our particular concern is the destruction of the second Temple in Jerusalem, since this is the beginning of the exile that we yet struggle with and suffer from today, thousands of years later. Our g’mara tells us, “the second Temple period was a time of occupation with Torah and the commandments, and acts of kindness.

Why was it destroyed? Because of unwarranted enmity.” How are we to understand this?

How is it possible that large numbers of people are occupied with Hashem’s holy Torah, and acts of kindness; and are concurrently characterized by שנאת חינם – unexcused enmity?

This should scare us to the core! Isn’t this the very opposite of what we believe and expect of a Torah society? The very idea, the very possibility that Jews could be engaged in Torah study, in careful observance of the commandments, in acts of חסד/kindness to each other – and still hate each other at the same time? Yet this is precisely what our sages tell us characterized that period, and what we must still address and remedy.

It may be that the Netziv answered our perplexity in a famous responsum in Meshiv Davar (משיב דבר א סימן מד). A prominent Torah journal had published an editorial advocating the complete separation of observant Jews from other Jews in Europe. The Netziv wrote a lengthy response decrying this idea; analyzing and rejecting it as “like swords to the body and existence of the nation.” There the Netziv writes that during the second Temple period our nation was exiled and the Temple destroyed and the land cut off due to the ongoing public struggle between the P’rushim and the Tzadukim (Pharisees and Sadducees). This, he wrote, also brought about unjustified bloodshed because of the unwarranted enmity. When a Parush would see someone act leniently in a matter of Torah, he would judge him to be a Tzaduki (and therefore the enemy), even when this was simply an average Jew who happened to do wrong. But unwarranted enmity would make him judge this person to be an enemy in the great religious and social struggle, and violence would ensue.

The Netziv continues and says that such could certainly occur today, that one of the observant Jews would perceive that another Jew doesn’t behave the same as he in serving God and would judge him to therefore be a heretic and separate from him and they would end up persecuting each other.

We could, indeed, be occupied with Torah and acts of kindness; but still look down or askance at those very people we are helping or learning or davening with. The key to the cure is to first realize and deeply appreciate that the Torah does not require uniformity of us.

Yes, we all have to keep Shabbat and kashrut and give tzedakah. Yes, we all have to work to create individual and societal lives expressive of God’s will as revealed in His Torah. Yet time and again the Torah teaches us how that comes about through elements of diversity and individuality. Not free-for-all, make-it-up-as-we-go-along diversity; but a real diversity within Torah and tradition that comes about because of personality, character, style, and unique insights that result from real investment in Torah.

Consider that the holy menorah, the symbol and channel of Divine wisdom, had seven branches. Not one. Even though all the six peripheral lamps turned towards the center, they remained distinct. Each lamp had to burn on its own. Rav Avigdor Nevenzahl points out how this is a model for how each student eventually has to stand on his own, continuing but independent of what his rav has imparted to him.

Consider that even though we received one Torah as one people at Sinai (‘like one person of one heart’, Rashi to Ex. 19:2); the Torah rigorously preserves the identities (and therefore cultures) of the 12 tribes. Each tribe had its own flag and its own camp in the wilderness – though all centered around the mishkan/Tabernacle. In the Land of Israel each tribe retained its own territory, and through that some of its own customs and halachic behaviors. To create the Torah’s vision of a Torah society, we must maintain individual and distinct contributions that then work together synergistically. But we must realize and believe that the differences indeed lead to synergy. Only then will we not only tolerate differences; but we will value them and make good use of them.

Even with all our common obligations within the Torah, we must each find the particular path and style upon which we will make our particular contribution. What’s more, we must support each other and encourage each other to do so; and to rise ever higher in the heights of Torah. Then, Hashem will bless us to finally remedy the שנאת חינם, the unnecessary enmity which brought about our mourning and exile. Then we will be blessed to create a society in Israel that will be a blessing for all the nations.

כי ביתי בית תפלה יקרא לכל העמים – ‘for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.’ (ישעיה נו:ז/Isaiah 56:7).

It begins with us.

Originally posted August, 2011

When Silence Means No

Posted on | July 22, 2014 | By Guest Contributor | Add Your Comments

By Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller

“Even when you do what you know to be right…, you should feel humility and shame before Hashem.”

(Chouos Halevauos, Gate of Submission to Hashem, ch. 4)

I dumped my pocketbook out on the living room table, sure that the keys would come out of their hiding place, but they didn’t. It’s never good when you forget AMEN (Hebrew acronym for arnak, mafteichos and nayad — wallet, keys and mobile) before you leave the house.

This time it was more than unpleasant. Looking for the keys meant missing the last bus to the community where I was expected to speak. The women who arranged the evening were just beginning their journey toward greater observance, and coming late would potentially enforce some of their hoary old stereotypical images of chareidim.

I looked upward and said, “Hashem, You know where the keys are. If it’s Your will, open my eyes and let me find them.” I then put some money aside for tzedakah, re-examined the table, and found the keys where I must have looked but just not seen them. Hashem literally opened my eyes. I knew that my next response would be crucial.

How are you supposed to respond to an answered prayer?

There are several models. One is to react like an athlete who just broke a record: “Yes, folks, it was a lot of hard work, but I just kept going till I made it to the finish line.” In spiritual terms it might sound like: “I knew that davening would help. It works for me. I really had kavanah. It’s been so much easier since I learned through the sources. It’s just a skill like any other skill; since I mastered it everything is different.”

There are about four unnecessary references to self in this model, and no references to G-d. The subtle transformation of tefillah into what the Gemara calls “iyun tefillah” (Rosh Hashanah 16b) in the negative sense begins with subconsciously removing Hashem from the picture and substituting for it a curious form of self-empowerment. If you ever fall into this trap, try to recall the words spoken at Nachshon Wachsman’s funeral.

Nachshon was nineteen when he was abducted by Arabs on October 11, 1994. From the moment he was kidnapped his parents recognized that their son’s fate was determined by Heaven. Tens of thousands davened for him, including nonreligious mothers who lit Shabbos candles on his behalf.

No one will forget his father’s words to all those who had davened for his safe return: “G-d did listen to your prayers. Sometimes, just as a father would like to always say yes to all his children’s requests, sometimes he must say no, though the child may not understand why. So too our Father in Heaven heard our prayers, and His answer was no.” This response embodied absolute reliance on Hashem as was echoed by the mothers of the three kidnapped boys who unified the entire Jewish people in prayer. The words “regardless of the outcome, I will always have emunah” will never be forgotten.

This mindset leaves you open to make more and more supplications to the only One Who can really help. This is also called iyun tefillah, but it is of course seen as holy rather than at best a first step toward what tefillah is meant to be, or at worst a pathetic capitulation to your ego.

What are the mechanics of tefillah? Why even formulate words when the consequences are determined by Hashem, Who is fully aware of what we need the most?

Ramchal tells us (Derech Hashem, section 4, para. 5) that “In His infinite wisdom, Hashem created the world with rules and with order. One of His rules is that the created beings receive the flow of His goodness by being awakened to draw close to Him. The flow from Above, which descends, is in proportion to the awakening. The L-rd wants to give His creations daily all the goodness that they can receive. It is for this reason that prayer is the way that we draw down His blessing, which is given in accordance with what [His creatures] need, and what their position is in this world.”

Prayer is meant to draw you closer to Hashem. Ego can only take you further away from Him in every sense. When Hashem appeared to Avraham and asked him to leave everything and follow Him to the Land, He made promises. One of them was that He would empower Avraham to be a source of blessing. Avraham was humble enough to receive this gift. You can see this from the way he responded when his own prayers were not answered. He had beseeched Hashem to save at least one of the five metropolises that comprised the territory of Sedom. When his pleas were denied, his response was not anger toward Him, but the words,”I am dust and ashes” (Bereishis 18:32).

Avraham was unique in his humility because there is no doubt that had his request been fulfilled, he would have felt the very same way.

Reprinted with permission – Hamodia 18 Tammuz 5774/ July 16, 2014

Visit Rebbetzin Heller’s site at www.tziporahheller.com

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