I’m Not on That Level

There are five words that really hamper our Avodas Hashem and they are: “I’m not on that level”. The first problem with that statement is that it’s true. We’re not on that level!

We’re certainly not on the level of Chassidus (Saintliness), always looking to go beyond what the halacha requires because we have an always present deep love and connection to Hashem. We’re not on the level of Nekiyus (Cleanliness), which involves meticulous observance of all mitzvos, all the time, including such tough ones as wasting time, getting angry and being careful in all our speech. We’re probably not even at the lower level of Zehirus (Watchfulness), being careful not to sin, since we’re probably not in the habit of always thinking before we act, nor reviewing our actions on a daily basis. If we were to honestly rate our overall performance, “I’m not on that level” is quite accurate.

The major problem with “I’m not on the level” is that it can be used as a justification to remain at our current level. Hashem wants us to continually advance in our observance. The Mesillas Yesharim makes it quite clear in the introduction that low levels of service are not acceptable. We need to continually up our game. That’s why we were created and it is a doable achievement.

Improving our Service of Hashem goes much further than obligation. A life driven by spirituality is the most fulfilling life possible because: 1) we are controlling and leveraging our bodily drives like eating and using them to stay healthy and have God commanded pleasure on Shabbos and Yom Tov, 2) we have the opportunity to connect to people in every interaction, 3) we can connect to God in all that we do and thereby fulfill our purpose in this world with our every action.

Yes, we’re not on that level. But whatever level we are on, we can take it to the next level and continually strive to live a life of more purpose, meaning, happiness and purposeful pleasure. We are quite fortunate that the Mesillas Yesharim speaks out everything mentioned here and he gives us an extremely practical playbook on how to keep on increasing our level.

Yaakov Never Died: Memory vs. Mortality

What are we to make of the teaching of our sages that “Yaakov our Patriarch never died,” in light of his remains being embalmed and interred?

Yisrael is the name usually associated with this person’s most exalted state.  Why is  immortality attributed to Yaakov rather than Yisrael?

… and Yaakov lived in the land of Egypt for seventeen years … and the days grew near for Yisrael to die ….

Bereishis 47:28,29

Yaakov completed his directives to his sons, he withdrew his feet onto the bed, breathed his last and was gathered in to his nation.

Bereishis 49:33

… the physicians embalmed Yisrael … Egypt wept over him for seventy days

Bereishis 50:2,3

They came to Goren Ha’Atad on the east bank of the Jordan. There they conducted a eulogy of exceeding vastness and gravitas and [Yoseph] observed a seven-day mourning for his father … His sons carried him to Canaan and buried him in the cave of Machpeilah field bordering Mamre …     

Bereishis 50:10,13

“And you My slave Yaakov, do not fear” Says HaShem; “neither panic, O Yisrael; for, I will Redeem you from afar, and your offspring from the land of their captivity … “

— Yirmiyahui 30:10

 … Thus said Rav Yochanan, “Yaakov our patriarch never died.” Rav Nachman objected: “Did those who eulogized him, embalm him and inter him do so for naught?” — Rav Yochanan replied: “I derive this from a scriptural verse, as it is said, ‘And you My slave Yaakov, do not fear’ says HaShem; ‘neither panic, O Yisrael; for, I will Redeem you from afar, and your offspring from the land of their captivity.’ The verse connects him [Yaakov] to his offspring [Yisrael]; as his offspring will then be alive so he too will be alive.”
Rav Yitzchak said, “Whoever repeats [the name] Rachav, Rachav, immediately becomes a baal keri-one who is impure due to an emission.” Rav Nachman said to him: “I have repeated it and was not affected in any way.” Rav Yitzchak replied: “I speak only of one who knew her and was familiar with her likeness.”

— Taanis 5B

“Today” [the here-and-now world] is for doing them [the mitzvos] while tomorrow [the world to come] is for reaping the rewards [of their fulfillment.]

                       — Eruvin 22A

אָז יִבָּקַע -Then your light will burst forth as the Morningstar, and your cure will spring forth swiftly; and your righteousness will precede you, the glory of HaShem will gather you in.

— Yeshaya 58:8

Your dead will live, my remains will stand up. Awake and sing, you that dwell in the dust—for your dew is as the dew of light …  

— Yeshaya 26:19

The very name of our weekly sidra can be translated as “and Yaakov lived” and seems to echo the incredible contention of our sages that Yaakov never died. Another of the sages expressed his skepticism and incredulity over this, alluding to the various pesukim-verses; quoted in the gray oval above indicating that Yaakov was embalmed, bewailed, eulogized, mourned and interred; hardly the way to relate to a person still very much alive. Rashi ad locum explains that the embalmers et al merely imagined that Yaakov had died but he was in truth, still living. The Izhbitzer School offers several approaches to understand the non-death of Yaakov.

It is essential to remember that the soul is eternal … that it never dies.  The Mei HaShiloach explains that as such, what we refer to as “death” is not so much a termination of life as it is a radical, jarring — even harrowing — transition. In death, man must emigrate from olam hazeh-the temporal world of “this;” to olam haba-the world to come or the world that is continually “coming.” Even when one can transfer all of their assets, relocating to a faraway country can be a very intimidating change.  With a foreign language, new currency, radically dissimilar climate, a different form of government and unfamiliar art, social mores and architecture the new country may require years, if not decades or generations, of assimilation and acclimation before the new immigrant achieves a true sense of comfort, integration and belonging.  If most of the assets must be left behind in a forced expulsion or in fleeing from war or persecution the challenges of emigration become even more daunting.

These scenarios of emigration are poor allegories for the unimaginable yisurei kelitah– agonies of acclimation; that the soul must undergo when emigrating from olam hazeh to olam haba. A large portion of the first perek-chapter; of Mesilas Yesharim is preoccupied with the numerous metaphors of Chazal that describe the qualitative differences between the two worlds and their respective organizations of reality.

The Mei HaShiloach teaches that death, far from being the end of life, is instead the souls “transoceanic” voyage. Dying becomes the Ellis Island, the quarantining, the issuing-of-the-green-card, the ulpan, the immigrant absorption center, the blue-collar-to-Ivy-League-educated-professional and the tenement-to-suburbia upward social mobility; all rolled into one. Add to that the element that unlike immigrants, the soul, once adjusted to olam haba, has not one wit of nostalgia for the “old Country” and it is no wonder that we associate the emigration that is death with the idea of the past being dead, buried and forgotten.

Read more Yaakov Never Died: Memory vs. Mortality

Musical Chairs – Chapter 4c – The Frustrating Dating Dry Spell

Chapter 4c

When she heard Bella’s voice on the phone they both burst into tears. At times like these that Molly wished she’d lived in an era when communications weren’t quite so instantaneous. Why couldn’t she spend the waiting time idly paging through food and shelter magazines blithely ignorant of her daughters woes? Why did Bella break the rules by going to school? And the polish? Ugh. Not even a subtle delicate pink but garish dark red! As Bella was classified as repeat offender the principle ordered her to remove it ASAP or find another school.

“The principal hates me,” Bella wailed into the phone “Naama and everyone else does gel but I’m the only who takes the rap,”

“I can’t deal with this, “Molly handed the phone to Nahum.

“Okay honey, it will be fine.” he cooed. And then he solved the problem with a quid pro quo. A month’s worth of horseback riding lessons—Bella’s longtime dream —in exchange for a fingernail cleanup.

“So it pays to break the rules, “said Molly

“Shh.. She’s agreeing”

Bribery had long been an important part of their parenting arsenal? When the kids were tiny both Molly and Nahum traded lollipops and bisli for momentary quiet. They didn’t know better—Molly had been an only child. Nahum had one sister. Neither of them knew the first thing about parenting especially in a family in which the kids outnumbered the parents and bribes worked, at least in the short run.

When the plane landed there was more bad news– a call from Elazar. “I’m kicked out. the dorm counsellor, a jerk came in to my room and found my iphone”

“You have a phone.”

“Mom, you didn’t know. I bought one during the summer and I took it to yeshiva and put it in my mattress and the jerk comes in at dawn wakes me up and confiscates it and now I’m kicked out.”

“Oy.” Molly was suddenly struck speechless. What could she say. In exactly one month , Elazar would turn eighteen. If he was not registered in a yeshiva he’d be drafted.

“Nahum,” She clutched his hand reaching for comfort in his warm grip.

“What are we going to do about this?”

“He’s not doing much in that yeshiva. Maybe the army will make a man out of him.”
Read more Musical Chairs – Chapter 4c – The Frustrating Dating Dry Spell

Musical Chairs – Chapter 4b – Asher Goes Out With Elisheva

Chapter 4b
All through the long plane ride, Molly thought about Asher’s date. Maybe it had to happen with her off the stage. She daydreamed about coming home to a celebration and it excited her; it distracted her from her other preeminent emotion; fear. . How could her father the former Partisan who’d battled the Nazis in the Polish forests have turned into a wobbly old man? As a child he’d been her hero; she spent hours retelling his stories to her dolls.

Religion that drove a wedge between them. Years ago when she was making her initial steps into religion she made the mistake of visiting him on a fast day. Oblivious to the significance of the date he offered her a coke.

“It’s Tisha B’Av Dad. I’m fasting over the destruction of the Temple”

Molly thought he might be pleased to know that she was doing something Jewish; for years he’d been terrified that she’d leave the fold completely, even marry out, but instead he went ballistic.

“You don’t’ need to bother. I already fasted for both of us. ”

After that Molly shared little of her spiritual journey. In fact she shared little of herself at all. Once she moved to Israel they spoke only at birthdays or before holidays, inquiring after each other’s health as if they were casual acquaintances. Ironically that mirrored the relationship she now had with her own kids. Bella and Elazar for sure. Moshe was still young enough to be friendly. Until recently she’d felt close to Asher but ever since he’d started dating he’d also grown distant. But maybe. Maybe he’d meet the girl of his dreams and then he’d be happier and he’d go back to being the sweet son she missed so much. Right now her Dad needed her. Maybe this trip could draw them closer. She still missed the days when she loved her Dad more than anyone in the world Now he needed her—how long would he be here, in this world anyway? Maybe this would be their chance.

She had a plan. She’d go to an agency, hire an aide. Make her father safe.

From behind a window framing the skyline of Third Avenue her father stared into his computer. His skin tone matched the cigarette ashes cooling at the bottom of his cardboard coffee cup. His brow was with an elaborate lattice of intersecting of band aids.

“Why did you come maydaleh,You shouldn’t have left the kinderlach. Mrs. Goodman exagerates I’m fine.”

But he wasn’t fine. As he moved about he cupped his palms to the wall to steady himself.

The apartment was so cramped that she couldn’t find a place to sit. Every inch was full of tools and documents, thousands of them crammed into folders; an archive of her father’s life. He even kept them inside of the fridge which he’d disconnnected. He used a tiny office fridge for his, milk and cottage cheese.

From a nearby Starbucks she picked up her email including a message from Nahum. “Shadchan called. The date is scheduled for Saturday night.” Her heart fluttered a bit. She got a vicarious thrill from this, as if it was she and no her son who had the date. Five more days and then please G-d she’d hear some really good news.

She shifted back to her father phoning an adult care agency recommended by a Jerusalem friend. “yes I think we can help but you’d do best letting your father help to select his aide,” said the agency rep.

Molly agreed but how? Whenever she introduced the matter, her father refused to continue the conversation. The following day she interviewed potential helpers, men and women of various ages and colors from all corners of the globe; a dizzying veritable UN, all of them ready to care for her father. She was afraid to hire anyone. Afraid that her father would throw the aide out. In a way the process reminded her of shidduchim; how she could make dozens of phone calls , lose sleep agonizing and then have the girls parents or Asher give her a thumbs down..
Read more Musical Chairs – Chapter 4b – Asher Goes Out With Elisheva

Chanukah Then and Now

By Azriela Jaffe

The Judaism of my youth was defined by what I was not able to do. Is that not what characterizes any observant Jew? I may not eat non-kosher food, as G-d commanded. I may not work on Shabbat, as G-d commanded. I may not eat on Yom Kippur – as G-d commanded. I may not eat chometz on Passover – as G-d commanded.

True, but these Jewish ideals were alien to me as a child. We didn’t know from kosher, I had no awareness of even the concept of Shabbat, and although as dutiful – and perhaps superstitious- secular Jews, we always attended synagogue on Yom Kippur morning, we ate lunch that day, too. Our Passover celebration did include a rather abbreviated seder, but I had no understanding of chometz, or the avoidance of it – we bought a singular box of matzohs for the seder table, and enjoyed our bagels the next morning, (with no guilt, mind-you, as my uneducated family had no idea that this was a problem).

So what then, do I mean by this notion that my Jewish identity formed around what I could not do – when in fact, our family was so assimilated, it would have been difficult to differentiate us in any way from our goyish neighbors, and there were seemingly no restrictions on our life?

You knew our Judaism in December. Although my parents worked extremely hard to assimilate our family in every way imaginable – and they succeeded – there was only one time a year when they took a firm stand, and we children knew that we were Jewish, and different from non-Jews. Our family did not have Xmas trees and wreaths of holly on the door. Our family did not go to church on X-mas day, we went to the local Chinese restaurant and to the movies afterwards, where the parking lot was littered with hundreds of other Jewish-owned vehicles. We were Jewish, and therefore, we didn’t celebrate X-mas.

As a child, I saw this as a problem. The rest of the world got to have fun, and we were deprived. When we lit the menorah and eagerly awaited our presents, the complete absence of spirituality around the holiday made it only a competition we were sure to lose – which kids got the most presents – the Jews, or the non-Jews? We would comfort ourselves with the thought: Our holiday lasts 8 days, and the Christians only get one day, so we’re actually luckier. But I distinctly remember as a child that lucky is not how I felt. I was a Jew and therefore, I was not allowed to do the holiday that the rest of the world celebrated. We were different, and deprived.

With the perspective of adulthood, I now see my Chanukah “celebrations” with gratitude. It was my parents’ last hold-out, and through it, they formed my identity, albeit uneducated, as a Jew, different from my Christian neighbors. They had given up all other semblance of separation between us and the non-Jewish world, yet somehow, they hung on to this one. Thankfully, as an Orthodox Jew of many years now, I do not have memories as a child of singing Xmas carols, even if M ’aoz Tzur was not in our family’s vocabulary.

The Judaism of my children’s youth is also defined in part by what they cannot do, according to Jewish law, but now, their heads, hearts, and souls are filled with so much they can, and do, look forward to about Chanukah, there isn’t a glimmer of deprivation. The excitement of Chanukah starts early in school with Chanukah chagigas, lessons from their Morahs and Rebbeim about the true spiritual meaning behind Chanukah, and the exciting story of the Macabees, and of course – what would Chanukah be without homemade menorahs brought out of their storage bags year after year? The house smells of latkes, Tatty comes home early from work so he can light the menorah with us, and as we sing M ’aoz Tzur by the window, we thank G-d not only for the miracles that the Macabbees experienced so long ago, but also, the miracle that we are frum, and despite our secular lineage, we have returned.

The Macabees waged a war against assimilation, and with Hashem’s help, they won. We waged our own fight, and also, with plenty of help from Hashem, we’ve won, too. Thank you, G-d.

Syndicated newspaper advice columnist and author of twelve books, Azriela Jaffe is an international expert on entrepreneurial couples, business partnerships, handling rejection and criticism, balancing work and family, breadwinner wife and dual career issues, creating more luck and prosperity in your life, and resolving marital conflict. Her mission: “To be a catalyst for spiritual growth and comfort. Visit her web site here.

First published Dec 22, 2008

Chanukah – G-d Fights Our Wars

By Rabbi B. Shafier

Gemara Shabbos 21b: The miracle of the oil

Why do we celebrate Chanukah?
The Gemara tells us the reason that we celebrate Chanukah is that when the Yivanim entered the Bais HaMikdash, they defiled all the oil set aside for lighting the Menorah. When the Chashmonoim were victorious, they searched and were able to find only one small jug of oil with the Cohain Gadol’s seal intact. It had sufficient oil to last only one day, but miraculously it lasted eight days. In honor of the miracle of the oil lasting eight days, Chazal inaugurated these days for Hallel and thanksgiving.

Al Ha’Nisim: the miracle of the battle

The Maharal states that this Gemarah seems to contradict what we say in Al Ha’Nisim, a Tefilah written by Taanim hundreds of years before. In the Al Ha’Nisim, we proclaim thanks to HASHEM for the miracle of the war. We thank HASHEM for delivering the Yivanim armies into our hands: “You fought their battles, judged their judgments, took their revenge. You put the mighty into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few…” According to the Al Ha’Nisim, the miracle of Chanukah was that HASHEM delivered us from the armies of the Yivanim. Yet the Gemara in Shabbos says that we celebrate Chanukah because of the miracle of the oil lasting eight days. The Maharal asks, “Which one is correct?”

The miracle of the oil revealed the miracle of the war.

The Maharal answers that both are true, and both are consistent. The actual event for which we give thanksgiving and sing Hallel is the salvation of the Jewish people. We won a war against all odds. However, it wasn’t clear that the victory was a miracle. To people living in those times, military success seemed to be natural. It was attributed to Jewish resilience and bravery. It didn’t appear that HASHEM had delivered us from the hands of the Yivanim; rather, it appeared as “their might, and the strength of their arms.” It was only through the miracle of the oil that they came to understand the miracle of the battle. Once people saw the oil last eight days – an overt miracle from HASHEM — they then came to see that their success on the battlefield was from HASHEM as well. The miracle of the oil revealed to them the miracle of the war.

Israel didn’t have a standing army

This Maharal becomes difficult to understand when we take into account a basic historical overview.

The events of Chanukah take place around the middle of the era of the Second Bais Hamikdash. From the time that Bavel destroyed the first Bais Hamikdash until that point; the Jewish People lived under the reign of gentile monarchies. Our right to exist and our form of government was decided by the ruling parties. We were a vassal state under foreign rule, and when the Yivanim entered Yerushalayim, the Jewish people did not even have a standing army.

This wasn’t a war of a stronger army against a weaker opponent. It was a war in which the most powerful empire in the world was pitted against a band of unorganized, unarmed, private citizens.

While the war itself lasted 3 years, during the entire first year of fighting, there were no formal battles. Two armies were not squaring off against each other; there was no Jewish army. The fighting consisted of guerrilla skirmishes. Some Jews would sneak up on a lone detail of Yivamim soldiers, kill them and take their arms. Bit by bit, more Jews would join Yehudah Ha’Macabi, but at every point during the wars, the Jews were far outnumbered, outgunned and preposterously less battle-ready than their enemies.

The leaders of the rebellion were Kohanim

Even more startling is that almost all of the original fighters had no battle experience. The leaders of the rebellion were Kohanim. A Kohain is a Torah teacher, one who serves in the Bais Hamikdash, one who guides the Klal Yisroel in Ruchnius. He isn’t a soldier. So this was a war led and fought not by soldiers, but by Roshei Yeshiva. It was akin to Reb Shmuel Kaminetsky leading the Lakewood Yeshiva in battle against the US Marine Corps.

How could anyone not see the miracle of the war?

No intelligent assessment of the situation would have predicted a Jewish victory. How then is it possible that the Jews at the time saw these events as anything other than the miracles that they clearly were?

This seems to be natural to the human

The answer to this question seems to be that when one is many years away and far removed, he gains a historical vantage point. He is able to see an event in context and can easily recognize it as a miracle. But to those living in the day-to-day heat of the battle, it is much more difficult to see the event from that perspective.

To those involved, it seemed to be a natural course of events. Granted the odds were slim, but the Jews won. Skirmish after skirmish, battle after battle, the Macabis came out victorious. There is no question that they did well, which is why it seemed that it was their skill, their cunning, our wisdom in battle that won those wars. And as such, to people living in those times, the miracle was hidden. And then a single event focused their sight.

When the Kohanim returned to the Bais Ha’Mikdash and took out that little bit of oil that couldn’t possibly last for eight days, and saw it remain aglow night after night, everyone knew this was miraculous. When they experienced the miracle of the oil, it reshaped the previous three years in their minds, and they then saw the battles themselves as the miracles that they were.

We see the same phenomena in our times

In our own times we witness an eerie parallel to these events and to the same mistaken interpretation.

For almost 2,000 years we have existed as a lone sheep amongst 70 wolves. Universally hated and oppressed, the Jewish People have survived. And now, after almost 1900 years of wandering, we find ourselves back in our own land.

Since 1948, the Jewish Nation has witnessed profound miracles in the repopulation and development of the land of Israel. But it is the survival of our people that is the greatest miracle.

In 1948, the population in the Middle East numbered roughly 650,000 Jews, surrounded by some 50 million Arabs. On May 15th, 1948, one day after the State of Israel was declared, five nations attacked, each with well-trained armies and air forces, each alone capable of annihilating the small band of Holocaust survivors. At the time there was no Jewish Army, Navy or Air force. Yet, against all odds, we won that war, and against all odds we continued to win war after war – until now, ironically, the Jews are considered the super power in the region.

To most people, Jew and Gentile alike, it seems that this is just the way of the world. To the average witness to these events, it isn’t a demonstration of the hand of HASHEM — It is just the ebb and flow of history.

The lesson of Chanukah is to see behind the veil of nature – to tune our sight into the true cause of events, and to see that it is HASHEM who runs the world, and HASHEM Who fights our wars– then as now.

For more on this topic please listen to Shmuz #15 – G-d Fights Our Wars
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Doing a Better Hallel On Chanukah

Chanukah is a time of L’hodos U’l’hallel, To give thanks and praise to Hashem and we fulfill that obligation with the saying of the Full Hallel on Chanukah for all eight days. Here are some notes from Maharal: Emerging Patterns by Yaakov Rosenblatt on Hallel.

Give Praise Servants of Hashem from this time forth and forever more
Despite Hashem’s loftiness, He is still intimately involved with the life of man and continually bestows goodness through kindness, judgment or mercy.
He raise the needy from the dust is through judgment because the poor should be provided for.
To seat them with the nobles, nobles of His people is through kindness because although raising the poor out of poverty is just, elevating them to sit with nobles is an act of kindness.
He transforms the barren women into a joyful mother of children is an act of mercy since this women is not capable and therefore is not in the realm of judgment, nor is it kindness since children are not above and beyond human needs, rather it is mercy because even though this woman is unable to have children naturally, Hashem still allows her to conceive and bear children.

When Yisroel Went of out of Egypt, the House of Yaakov from a people of a Strange Language
After praising Hashem for His kindness through normal realms, we now praise Hashem for the miracles that transcend nature.
The sea saw and fled, the mountains skipped like rams, the hills like young sheep – water takes the shape of its container and the Earth is shaped by man. When Hashem acts and gives form and definition to all creation it is natural that the sea fled and the mountains skipped.
Hashem turned the rock into a pool of water, the flint into a fountain of waters – when Hashem is the force, even a rock is shaped effortlessly.

Not to us Hashem, but to Your Name Give Glory
This Psalm says the reason that Hashem performs miracles for the Jews is to give recognition to His name, His love and His truth. Only Hashem deserves this recognition and not things like idols which clearly have no power and are weaker than man. Man’s powers are listed in decreasing importance: speech, sight, hearing, smell, feeling, walking, and making sounds.

Hashem will Bless our Remembrance: He will Bless the House of Yisrael
Hashem will Bless our Remembrance requests that the lasting impact we will have on others and the world will be a blessing.
The Dead cannot praise Hashem, nor can any who go down into silence shows that only when the human body and the world are functioning properly can they “sing” the praises of Hashem. King David says allow us to live, allow us to thrive, so our very existence can proclaim your glory.

I love Hashem Who Hears my Voice and my Supplications
You have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling. King David thanks Hashem for saving his soul which represents the spiritual, the eyes which are the connection between the spiritual and the physical because they do not actively enter the world, but monitor it for the mind/soul to process, and the feet which represent the physical. Tears represent a loss of part of the soul.

How can I repay Hashem for all His kindness to me?
I will carry the cup that You have filled with salvation, and call upon the name of Hashem – A cup that is filled represents ones meaningful accomplishments and we think Hashem for the ability to act in meaningful ways.
I will carry …in my arms to show the cup that you filled precedes me and proclaims your greatness
I will pay my vows to Hashem in the Presence of all His People to use every opportunity to proclaim the greatness of Hashem and to publicly honor Hashem’s glory

Give Thanks to Hashem for He is Good
Thanks also mean to concede, so to the extent that a person recognizes and acknowledges the Hashem has given him everything is the extent to which he will thank Him. Different groups: humanity, Jews, Kohanim and G-d fearing people, have experienced different benefits and will therefore thank Hashem differently.

Out of My Distress I called upon Hashem
There are three levels of hatred, basic dislike (all the nations) because of economic, cultural or military threats, dislike due to differences in values which only the Jews hold (they surrounded me) and deep seated hatred (they surrounded me like bees) due to the subconscious understanding that the success of the nations is dependent on the Jew’s failure. If we act according to our spiritual potential the world’s event will be centralized around us for our benefit. If we do not, we are punished and the the nations are successful.

O praise Hashem all you Nations
Hallelukah combines a word of praise with Hashem’s name and is used to praise the miraculous because the only the one who created the worlds (Heh – this world, Yud – the next) can suspend the rules to perform miracles when he sees fit.

A Member of the Tribe

By Rabbi Shmuel Simenowitz

Before my family moved to Baltimore, I spent a great deal of time traveling internationally as a scholar in residence, speaking primarily on the topic of sustainability as refracted through the prism of a Torah-true lifestyle. My venues typically included shuls, Hillel and Chabad houses, JCC’s, Pesach programs and various environmental conferences. This week marks the anniversary of one of my most memorable teaching – and learning – experiences.

Several years ago, I was asked to participate in the Tribal Lands Climate Conference jointly hosted by the Cocopah Nation and the National Wildlife Federation. The conference, which that year was held on the Cocopah reservation on the outskirts of Yuma, AZ, highlighted the debilitating challenges facing the Native American population and their fight for survival in the face of crippling poverty, disease, rampant alcoholism and drug abuse all set against the backdrop of the tragic loss of tribal traditions which for a variety of reasons are not being transmitted to the next generation. I felt simultaneously honored and humbled that I was being asked to present a Torah perspective in an effort to help address their existential threats.

To be sure, despite the serious nature of the conference, there were lighthearted moments. A question on the registration form asked “What is your tribal affiliation?” Naturally, I responded in kind – “10 lost tribes – not sure which one”. Similarly, several of the media figures asked me to pose for photos with several of the tribal elders. One of the elders quipped, “Back in the day, we used to get 50¢ to pose for photos” to which I responded “Surely then a photo of a rabbi out here has to be worth at least a dollar!” He began asking me questions about shrouds and sitting shiva – it turns out he had done a stint with the Chevra Kadisha in California! Truth is often stranger than fiction!

So there we were – 155 Native Americans, including tribal elders from a score of tribes together with members of the AYEA (Alaskan Youth for Environmental Action – sort of an NCSY for Native American youth) and one bearded Orthodox Rabbi. One by one the speakers approached the podium each greeting the audience in their native tongue. Each tribal elder articulated their tribe’s historic but now tenuous relationship to the natural world. One of the elders lamented that his people were the People of the Salmon. Now that the (Colorado) River had been diverted, the salmon were disappearing and “once the salmon disappear, the People of the Salmon disappear”. Similarly, a tribal elder from Alaska (who lived more than 200 miles from the nearest road!) added that his people were the People of the Bear. Now that the bear were disappearing, it spelled certain death for the Bear People.

When it came my turn to speak, I greeted the crowd with a “shalom aleichem” to which the attendees joyfully responded “shalom” and “peace”. I explained that in my world there were no coincidences – that this conference could have been held anywhere in the universe but instead it was being held here in Yuma which in my sacred tongue meant “judgment day”. Further, I pointed out that 364 days a year, my people were people of the moon but on one day a year – December 5 – that very day – we were considered the people of the sun as we shifted the language of our prayers using the autumnal equinox as a baseline.

After my presentation, in a ceremonial gift exchange, one of the tribal elders presented me with a vial of what he called “living waters” from the pristine Navajo aquifer which his tribe (the Hopi) safeguards. The aquifer is reputed to be one of the purest water sources in the world. As the author of an article entitled “Water Conservation and Halacha – An Unorthodox Approach”, the gift was especially meaningful to me. I explained that in our culture as well the waters were similarly designated as “mayim chayim – living waters”. According to chassidic tradition, the well of Miriam – which sustained B’nai Yisrael through the desert until Miriam’s passing -courses through the veins of the earth and ascends every motzaei shabbos through all water sources the world over – even running up and down the maple trees on our farm as sap. I then closed the circle by presenting him with a bottle of maple syrup that we had produced on our farm in Vermont, ostensibly including the waters from his aquifer.

On the flight home from Phoenix, I contemplated why Hashem had sent me to this remote corner of the earth to speak. What was I doing there? Was I sent to “give over” or to receive or both?

Several months later, I was invited to conduct a “maple tisch” at a Jewish food conference where the sweetness of Torah, chassidishe stories, zemiros, niggunim and maple syrup flowed freely. I was sharing my experiences out in Yuma and then touched upon my unsettledness – as of then still unresolved – as to why I had been sent. I began to narrate the famous passage in Rashi’s Torah commentary wherein he describes the ephod worn by the high priest as an apron worn by noblewomen while they ride horseback. I explained the celebrated back story of Rashi seeing a noblewoman riding one day. Characteristically modest, he was bothered by the sight and he wondered why he had had to experience it. It was only years later when he sat down to compose his immortal commentary on the Torah and needed to describe the ephod, that he realized that in retrospect, his seeing the noblewoman afforded him an insight as to what the ephod probably looked like as well as what function it served.

I shut my eyes during a soulful niggun and began to hear the words of the Native American tribal elders in my head – “When the salmon disappear, the Salmon People disappear – when the bear disappear, the People of the Bear also disappear.” Suddenly it became clear why I had been sent. When we concluded singing, I continued to the mostly not yet frum audience, “So too, we are the people of the Shabbos – the Shabbos People. When Shabbos disappears, the Shabbos People also disappear. We are the People of Kashrus – the Kosher People, if you will. If kashrus disappears, then the Kosher People also disappear. Heads nodded knowingly, smiles all around, glasses raised, throaty “l’chayims” offered and the niggunim continued to echo over the frozen lake into the small hours of the wintry Shabbos night.

Working Smarter — After Working Hardest

VaYetzai

From the Waters of the Shiloah: Plumbing the Depths of the Izhbitzer School

For series introduction CLICK

By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz-Mara D’Asra Cong Sfard of Midwood

She (Leah) was pregnant once again, and bore a son. She said: “This time let me express gratitude to HaShem.” She named the child Yehudah. Then, she stopped having children.

-Bereshis 29:35

Rachel saw that she bore Yaakov no children. Rachel was jealous of her sister (Leah) and she said to Yaakov: “Give me children, or else I will die.”  Yaakov became furious with Rachel: “Shall I take HaShem’s place?” he said “It is He who is holding back the fruit of the womb”.

-Bereshis 30:1,2

 There are teachings of Chaza”l that, when measured in the crucible of reality, challenge our emunas chachamim– faith in the Torah sages.  Perhaps none so regularly and personally as this one: “If one were to tell you ‘I have toiled but I have not found- tried hard but have not succeeded’ do not believe him.  ‘I have not toiled but I have found- have not tried but have succeeded’ (again) do not believe him” (Megillah 6B).

How many of us have been frustrated by failure in our personal lives, our academic efforts and/or our careers despite having put forth our very best efforts? Conversely, how many times has unanticipated success come our (or our competitors) way, relatively effortlessly?

The Izhbitzer teaches that our two matriarchs Rachel and Leah, are, to all appearances, the exemplars of these two claims, equally lacking in credibility.   Rachel, after years of heartfelt prayer and buying a “fertility drug” (the mandrakes) was still childless. To that point, her life story had been one that veritably shouted: “I have toiled but I have not found”.   On the other hand, Leah named her fourth son Yehuda as a way of thanking HaShem for having “taken more than my fair share” (Rashi ibid). Taking more than ones fair share is another way of saying “I have not toiled… but I have found”.

But the Izhbitzer tweaks the claims of the sisters and, in so doing, answers our questions. For now, we’ll concentrate on Rachel’s claim that “I have toiled but I have not found”.

Imagine a person wanting to enter a home, banging loudly and repeatedly on one of the homes windowless and doorless solid exterior walls the livelong day, but, tenaciously maintaining his position at the solid wall and refusing to move towards the door.  While expending great efforts and burning many calories to achieve the goal of entry, he’s banging in the wrong place, his enormous efforts are misdirected. He may be working hard but he is not working smart. Were he to move a few feet and just rap on the door ever so lightly, it would immediately swing open and he would gain entry.

HaShem provides every individual soul with a unique makeup and an incomparable defining middah– characteristic, a leitmotif that colors all their perceptions, impacts all their decisions, tests them at every juncture and motivates all of their thoughts, words and deeds. The Divine Will desires that one’s leitmotif  be both their greatest strength, their supreme source of good and their worst weakness, their most horrible enabler for evil.

Rachel was toiling mightily in prayer but where she really needed to concentrate her efforts was on the birur-the purification of her particular defining middah.   Rachel’s soul was endowed with a matchless capacity for jealousy. But jealousy can be a stingy, malcontent green-eyed-monster or the engine that drives self-improvement and self-actualization.

Unholy, evil jealousy begins with an attitude of “It’s not fair. You don’t deserve that. I hope that you lose it. Only then will justice be served!”  But jealousy can be sublimated into something good and holy, into the proverbial kinas sofrim –the academic envy of the wise students that spurs them to greater scholarship. The anthem of kinas sofrim is: “Hmmm…that looks good.  You’re certainly entitled to what you’ve gained but I’d like some too.  Some is good so more must be better. There’s plenty to go around and I won’t rest until I’ve gotten it, and more, too.” Kinas sofrim observes a good mousetrap and the boons that it brings  to the mousetrap builder and to society. It then goes out and builds a better one.

The Ramba”n fails to understand Yaakov’s vehemence.  What did Rachel do wrong?  After all, the Gemara advises those suffering from illnesses, in her case infertility, to approach sages and ask them to daven on their behalf (Bava Basra 116A).  Yaakov grew testy over Rachels misplaced yegiah-efforts and exertions. All her prayers, or any that Yaakov might have added, were like knocking on a brick wall instead of on a door.  He recognized that she was jealous, that this was her defining characteristic. But he realized that she had yet to be mevarer– to clarify and purify her middah.  Was her jealousy of the run-of-the-mill, catty, begrudging variety, or, was it the high-minded kinas sofrim that utilizes the irritants of envy to produce the pearls of ever-greater effort, innovation and achievement?

Rachel said: ‘Here is my handmaid Bilhah. Come to her and let her give birth on my lap.  Through her I will then also have a son.’

-Bereshis 30:3

“Isn’t it enough that you’ve taken my husband away?” snapped Leah “Now you’d even take my sons mandrakes? “All right” Rachel responded “Yaakov will lie with you tonight in exchange for your son’s mandrakes.”

-Bereshis 30:15

 Rachel offered Yaakov Bilhah, and negotiated a deal resulting in yet another pregnancy for Leah. These concessions brought more “competitors” into the marriage. By doing so she had rid her jealousy of any elements of pettiness and malice and distilled pristine kinas sofrim from her defining middah. With this small, yet significant step, she had stopped working hard and started working smart. She’d stopped pounding the brick wall and began lightly rapping on the door. Unsurprisingly, the door then swung open and she soon conceived Yoseph.

Essentially Yaakov bellowed at Rachel “I’m skeptical when you claim ‘I have toiled but I have not found’ because you’ve toiled, but in the wrong way, at the wrong spot. To unlock the doors of fertility you don’t need to pray anymore.  Purify your jealousy and you’ll be knocking on the doors.  You have not “toiled” smartly and that’s why you have not yet “found”. Work smart and those doors will swing open “

The second Izhbitzer adds that the efforts Rachel expended at working hard were not wasted.  The Gemara teaches that if one sees that their prayers were not answered they should pray again (Berachos 32B). The Divine Will decrees precisely how long we must work our hardest before we attain salvation by working smart. There is no free lunch and there is no free epiphany that allows a person the sudden intuitive leap of understanding to correctly identify precisely which middah is their own leitmotif . Once discovered, one may begin the “working smart” of distilling the goodness of, i.e. being mevarer, their middah.

To carry the allegory further, there is something about banging on walls that eventually, cumulatively points us towards the door. And so, even while working hard and, apparently, ineffectively; claiming “I have toiled but I have not found” is a lie. All the banging on te wall eventually culminates in allowing the wall-banger to see the door that he must knock on. We toil, then we find. We work smarter, davka after working our hardest.

Adapted from Mei HaShiloach I VaYetzai D”H vaTomer haPa’am

Bais Yaakov VaYetzai Inyan 66 (page261) 

The Biggest Problem in Judaism

What’s the biggest problem in Judaism. A lot of things come to mind, the Yeshiva System, the Shidduch System, the Chinuch System, the Left, the Right, the Middle, the Open, the Closed, the Leadership, the lack of Leadership, etc.

However, I think the biggest problem in Judaism is clearly stated in the pasuk in Devarim:
And now, Israel, what does Hashem ask of you, that you
1) fear Him, 2) walk in His ways, 3) love Him, 4) serve Him with all your heart and all your soul and 5) observe all the mitzvos.

That’s what’s expected of us!

On top of that we have an animal soul that’s impulsive, loves physical pleasure, and detests exertion. We have a yetzer hara that makes us ego-centric leading to selfishness, anger, envy and honor seeking. And we live in a world loaded with intellectual, emotional and physical distractions like politics, business, sports, shopping, gadgets, social media, and entertainment.

And even when we are able to overcome the physical, emotional and intellectual deterrents and create some connection to Hashem through fear, middos development, love, wholehearted service, and meticulous mitzvos observance – the majority of the payoff will not even be received in this world, but in the world to come.

This challenge is a tall order and it’s not really emphasized to FFB/BT children or BT adults, because it would just discourage them. So Yeshivos focus on the information and thought development of Torah study, and Kiruv and non-Yeshivish environments offers Torah as the best of all possible lifestyles. So it should be no surprise that many people want to move to a town where they can sit back a little and enjoy the Torah lifestyle.

That is the Biggest Problem in Judaism – a lot is expected of us and it’s really hard given our nature and environment. However, this is a problem that Hashem created. And if He created this problem, we know that He created a solution. We’ll take a look at the solution in a week or so.

Blinded by the Light

Toldos

From the Waters of the Shiloah: Plumbing the Depths of the Izhbitzer School

For series introduction CLICK

By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz-Mara D’Asra Cong Sfard of Midwood

Yitzchak had grown old and his eyes grew dim, so that he could not see.  He summoned Esav his older son.

-Bereshis 27:1

“so that he could not see” alternatively;  “(his eyes grew dim ) on account of seeing”.  When Avraham bound him upon the altar, Yitzchak gazed at the Shechinah-Divine Indwelling…at that time G-d decreed that his eyes be dimmed.

-Midrash Bereshis Rabbah  65:5

 HaShem appeared to [Yitzchak] and said: “Do not go down to Egypt; dwell in the land which I shall assign for you.

Remain an immigrant in this land, and I will be with you, and bless you…

-Bereshis 26:2-3

“Do not go down to Egypt.” You are [as] a perfect burnt offering, and being outside the Holy Land is not fitting for you.

-Rashi Ibid

 [Moshe]…Climb to the top of the cliff, and gaze westward, northward, southward and eastward. See it [the Land of Israel/ Cana’an] with your eyes [only]; since you will not cross the Jordan.

-Devarim 3:27

“See it with your eyes”: You requested of Me “Let me… see the good land” (Pasuk 25). I am showing you all of it, as it says: “And HaShem showed him all the Land” (Devarim 34:1).

-Rashi Ibid

And Moshe was a hundred and twenty years old when he died: but his eyes had not dimmed, nor had his natural powers faded away.

-Devarim 34:7

The Izhbitzer observed that Moshe and Yitzchak were polar opposites. While Yitzchak was forbidden to ever leave the Land of Israel he was, ultimately, unable to see it.  Whereas Moshe was denied permission to set foot in the Land of Israel but was allowed to look at the Land in its entirety!

His son, the second Izhbitzer adds an enigmatic wrinkle to his father’s thought-provoking observation: Moshe Rabenu is the Talmid Chacham-Torah scholar par excellence of the Jewish People. Talmidei Chachamim are, by definition, beings driven by keen perception and intellectual clarity. They channel the Divine will through precise, acute consciousness.

In contradistinction Yitzchak was, to use the contemporary parlance, “unconscious”.  Even when completely oblivious to his surroundings and what he was actually doing he channeled the Divine will.  Without consciously intending to do so he blessed Yaakov and this was, unknowingly, dare we say-blindly, consistent with HaShems will.

Imagine two archers both hitting one bulls eye after another. One was endowed with 20/10 vision and peerless hand-to-eye coordination while the other was myopic and all thumbs, but every arrow in his quiver had been fitted with a GPS  device guiding it to its target, his arrows were mini “smart bombs”. Yitzchak was like the latter archer. HaShem had granted him the ability to see without seeing, to know without knowing.

While not contrasting Moshe and Yitzchak, Rav Tzadok, the Lubliner Kohen, offers a deeper understanding of Yitzchaks blindness stemming from his binding upon the altar.

The problem with gazing at the Divine Indwelling is that it is fatal. “HaShem said: ‘You cannot have a vision of My Presence, for no man can have a vision of My Presence and live.’”(Shemos 33:20).  This begs the question; we know that the Akedah-the Binding of Yitzchak, was a near-death experience. But if Yitzchak beheld the Divine Indwelling at the Akedah why did it not result in his actual death?

A darkness exists that can become more visible than light “He made darkness His hiding-place, His Sukkah surrounding Him; the darkness of waters, the thick clouds of the heavens” (Tehilim 18:12). The blind can “see” as well in a pitch-black room as in a brilliantly illuminated one. This may be among the meanings of teaching of our Sages OBM that “one who is blind is considered dead” It is the tzimtzum of Yitzchak, his powerful personal restraint/constraint and self-abnegation, his trait of יראה –Awe of HaShem that allowed him a ראיה-a vision, of the invisible. (The two terms, יראה and ראיה, in Lashon Kodesh-Biblical Hebrew, are word jumbles of one another.) Yitzchak’s eventual blindness of the material world was a direct result of his visual perception of the spiritual world. To enter and perceive that supernal World is to cross the threshold of the surrounding darkness.

This metamorphosis of Yitzchak’s vision not only allowed him to see HaShem but to see kiv’yachol as Hashem does. “for it is not as men see: for a  man gazes at the outward appearance, but HaShem sees into the heart.’” (Shmuel I 16:7).  Although he saw into Esavs heart and understood his hypocrisy he still summoned Esav and intended to bless him, and not his younger brother. He knew that Esavs pretense of piety was the homage his vice was paying to virtue and imagined that the blessings could redeem Esav, while Yaakov did not need them.  Yet through his unconsciousness and blindness to the material world he marched in lockstep with the Divine will.

Adapted from Mei HaShiloach I Toldos D”H Vehee

Bais Yaakov Toldos Inyan 35 (pp 223224)

Yisrael Kedoshim page 86 D”H  V’Noda & V’heenei

 

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow – What a Supportive Community Looked Like in 2006

Ed. note: This posts and the comments show what a supportive community looked like in 2006. It was all hugs and kisses, but it was a good discussion with many people looking to give support.

I recently started growing my payis. They have gotten long enough so that when I tuck them behind my ears you can see a little bit of them peeking out from the bottom of my ear.

When one of my coworkers, an FFB, noticed that I had started growing my payis he said, “Don’t be such a ba’al t’shuvah.” Even though he didn’t say it, what he meant was if I wanted to be more frum, growing my payis was not the way to go about doing it. Instead, I should focus more on torah learning and middos development.

I like having them, but at the same time I am definitely very self-conscious of them and find myself often hiding them behind my ears especially in the presence of teachers and mentors for fear of feeling foolish because I know they would disapprove.

I always wanted to grow my payis but now that I have them I need to ask myself if my decision to grow them is truly serving G-d, or is it serving myself by helping me to feel more like someone I would like to be instead of who I truly am.

Musical Chairs – Chapter 4a – Asher’s Chavrusa Suggests a Shidduch

Chapter 4a

Aliza Kleinbaum had a surprising effect on Asher. Until he met her, he knew he’d marry — but spending time with her, listening to her stories, laughing at her jokes made him realize how lovely it would be to have a wife now.

For the first time, he found the dorm with its dirty whitewashed walls, stained foam mattresses sometimes . He liked his newest roommate Shmuelli Refaeli but poor guy, when he peeled off his socks Asher almost puked. He would have spoken up, told the guy to deal with his stink but then Refaeli smeared his feet with some white gook.. Clearly, the poor guy was dealing with it but that only made Asher realize how much he wanted to be married to a wife who would smell like the roses on his mother’s Shabbos table, a wife who would make the beds and hang up curtains and do the laundry and cook real food, muffins and soups and salads, not the greasy chicken and gummy pasta the yeshiva served up.

Still yeshiva life hadn’t lost all of it’s charms. This semester Asher became study partners with Ephraim Klapper. Klapper was an illui, an outstanding genius , probably the smartest guy at Hadar. It was in his DNA; Klapper was Rabbinical royalty descended from the Bach the Taz and the SchaCh, possibly all three but it wasn’t just that; a pedigree could be like an onion, the best part stuck underground but Klapper seemed to embody his ancestors’ spirits. People called him a gilgul a reincarnation.

Klapper also had been born with CP, the result of oxygen deprivation at his premature birth His legs were shriveled up, his thighs like two carrot sticks. He clutched two canes when he walked but he dazzled in his ability to pin point the flaws in Asher’s carefully constructed logical structures..

Asher lived for nightly study session so that one cool fall night when Klapper didn’t show Asher went to look for him. He found Klapper in bed writhing in pain.

“My back. “Klapper rubbed his hand against his sacrum.

“The doctor told me to sit in the sauna. ….”

“Hmm, too bad, “Asher mumbled. “What if I joined you.” He didn’t really want to go but he felt wrong leaving Klapper alone.
In the taxi, Klapper was silent; Asher didn’t attempt conversation, but as soon as they entered the sauna Klapper lightened up; ; the warm dry air draining away his pain.

“You know the last time I was in this hotel was on a date. The girl was wearing sackcloth and ashes and reading the psalms. I guess people don’t think I’m human.
Read more Musical Chairs – Chapter 4a – Asher’s Chavrusa Suggests a Shidduch

Dealing With Children and Non-Observant Parents

A home hitting post and extensive comments from 2007 – Good prep for Thanksgiving.

Here are some highlights from the comment thread:

– Almost every BT has to resolve conflicts with their parents, it is a normal process.

– Obviously every parent and every situation is different, but it does need to be pointed out.

– There is an emotional factor of rejection that the parent often feels when the BT chooses a (radically) different lifestyle.

– There is also an implicit (and sometimes explicit) statement that what I’m doing is right and what you’re doing is wrong.

– One general approach is to be as accommodating and accepting as possible and over the long term expose the relatives to the depth and beauty of Torah.

– Another approach is to encourage mitzvos observance (positive and negative) whenever possible in a reasonable manner.

– We generally should set the rules in on our own houses, but we should consider which rules to set and how to gently enforce them.

– When our children are negatively effected by non-Torah behaviors we have to weigh that factor in heavily.

– We need to internalize the truth that our non observant relatives are good people and impart that understanding to our children. Non-observance is generally due to a lack of knowledge in our generation.

– BT conflicts with parents can be shalom bayis issues and a Rav should be consulted.

By “Nancy”

I have been lurking around on beyond bt for a little while, and am amazed by the amount of information and support that is provided. I am having an issue right now, and would like some advice from someone who has been doing this longer than I.

My parents and sister came to visit us from out of town. Right now, my father, mother, sister and young children are sitting around the dining room table enjoying dinner. (it is the 17th of tammuz) I am sitting on the couch, starving and trying to find some meaning. This situation just feels so wrong. I cannot explain why. I am not angry at my family for eating, growing up I did not know this fast day even existed, why would I expect them to fast?

I feel angry trying to explain to my 5 year old why mommy and daddy are not eating and everyone else is. It is easy to tell him he is a child, so he can eat… It was even easy to explain that when mommy was really sick on other fast days, I ate. But how can I explain why 3 healthy adults are sitting around enjoying their dinner? Why will my kids chose to fast when they are old enough, when they see that people they love and respect do not? Should I have forbidden people to eat in my house? Am I freaking out over nothing? Any advice would be appreciated.

Nothing is Perfect Until it’s Incomplete

Why did Avram seek advice before proceeding with milah-circumcision?
Why did some of his closest friends and disciples oppose his undergoing milah?

HaShem appeared to him [Avram] in the Plains of Mamre while he was sitting at the opening of the tent as the day[‘s heat] blazed.

— Bereishis 18:1

Why did HaShem appear to him in the Plains of Mamre?  [He appeared there] as a reward Mamre for his offering Avram positive advice and encouragement concerning circumcision.

— Rashi ibid

… And He said to him [Avram] “I Am Keil Shakai. Walk yourself before Me and become perfect. And I will tender My covenant between me and you …

— Bereishis 17:1,2

This is My covenant between Me, and between you and your offspring that you must observe: you must circumcise every male. You shall excise the flesh of your foreskin and this will be the mark of the covenant between Me and you.

— Bereishis 17:10,11

The refugee came bringing intelligence to Avram the Hebrew who was living serenely in the Plains of Mamre the Amorite, brother of Eshkol, and brother of Aner; they were the masters of Avram’s covenant.

— Bereishis 14:13

Why was Kiryas Arba-the Town of the Four; so called? Because of the four saintly people living there; Aner, Eshkol, Mamre and Avram

— Bereishis Rabbah 58:4

When the Holy Blessed One told Avram that he should circumcise himself, Avram sought the advice of his three beloved friends; Aner, Eshkol and Mamre. He first went to Aner and said “HaShem commanded me to do such and such.” Aner responded “He wants to make you a baal mum– someone defective/ an amputee?! The relatives of the Kings that you slew will seize this opportunity to kill you in reprisal as you will not be able to flee.” He left him and then proceeded to Eshkol. “HaShem commanded me to do such and such.” Eshkol responded “You’re old. If you circumcise yourself you’ll hemorrhage and lose too much blood. You won’t be able to endure it and you’ll die.” He left him and then proceeded to Mamre. “HaShem commanded me to do such and such. What is your advice?” Mamre responded “You ask me about this? Wasn’t it HaShem who saved you from the fiery furnace and wrought all the miracles for you?  Wasn’t it HaShem who saved from the kings? If not for His Might and Power the kings would have slain you in battle. HaShem has saved all 248 of your limbs and organs [numerous times] and you’re asking my advice about the small appendage to a single organ?  Do as He commands.

— Midrash Tanchuma Vayera 3

הקנאה, התאווה והכבוד – מוציאים את האדם מן העולם
Jealousy, lust and the pursuit of honor eradicate a person from the world

— Pirkei Avos 4:28

The Izhbitzer School addresses various questions that arise from a superficial reading of the Tanchuma. How could Avram, greatest of the believers in HaShem, who had already withstood many Divine trials, grant Aner and Eshkol and Mamre “veto power” over a direct command from HaShem? Had all three advised against circumcision would he have actually complied with their advice instead of obeying HaShem? Why did Aner and Eshkol, described as “the masters of Avrams covenant” and as tzadikim-righteous ones; advise against circumcision? In Avrams previous and subsequent trials he did not seek anyone’s advice. Why did he seek advice regarding circumcision?

Rav Shmuel Dov Asher-the Biskovitzer, understands the dialogues between Avram and his consultants as not being a question of “yes or no?” but of “how”?  What’s the best way to go about this? He wanted to decide whether to undergo circumcision inconspicuously or publicly.

The fact was that 20 generations had passed since Adam without anyone undergoing circumcision and that people have a strong predilection for resisting change and having a skeptical attitude towards innovation. Avram considered the possibility that publicizing this groundbreaking development in Man’s relationship with G-d would evoke enough opposition of others to try and prevent him from going through with it or, at minimum, mocking and scorning this bizarre operation, after all circumcision affects a most sensitive area. This societal ridicule and scorn would diminish the gravity and appeal of the Monotheism that Avram had devoted his life to teaching and preaching. Avram did not want HaShem to become cholilah-Heaven Forefend; a laughing-stock.

Additionally, Aner opposed publicizing the covenant of circumcision because of the personal danger it would expose Avram to. Opportunistic relatives of the 4 kings bent on vendetta killings would consider a circumcision-weakened Avram an easy target. Aner reasoned that one shouldn’t rely on miracles when natural means to avoid danger, in this case keeping the circumcisions secret, were available. While clear-headed and cautious, this advice did not appeal to Avram. HaShem had Chosen to Grant him victory over the kings in the most transparent, prominent and famous way. How then could fulfilling HaShem’s command publicly and openly lead to his downfall?

Eshkol thought that the threat of Avram dying as a result of post-operative complications was very real and that, perhaps, the trial of circumcision was a kind of auto-Akeidah; would Avram be willing to kill himself at G-d’s behest? But Eshkol fretted over the disastrous PR consequences of “passing” such a test. How many potential new monotheists would be discouraged and dissuaded? How many of Avrams proselytes would drop out of a religion demanding such supreme human self-sacrifice? How many people would condemn the G-d of Avram as a wrathful and capricious Deity?  If the circumcision-related causes of Avrams death were to become widely known an epic chilul HaShem-desecration of G-d’s name; would result.  On the other hand if the circumcision was a well-kept secret and, worst-case scenario, Avram did not survive it, the cause of death could reasonably be attributed to Avram’s “old-age” or any number of causes. Avram rejected this as well. He thought it inconceivable that HaShem would command him to do something that would result in his death.

Mamre’s recommendation and encouragement resonated with Avram for all the reasons that the suggestions of Aner and Eshkol did not.  Avram followed the advice of his consultant Mamre and “B’etzem hayom hazeh-In the very core of that day; Avram and his son Yishmael were circumcised. All the men of the household both homeborn and bought for cash from a stranger were circumcised with him.” (Bereishis 17:26,27).  Elsewhere Chazal have taught that the phrase “B’etzem hayom hazeh” connotes an in-your-face challenge to would-be opponents, scoffers, skeptics or those who would stop it outright.  As if to say “I/We did it out in the open at high-noon … stop us if you can!”

As he often does, the Biskovitzer concludes with a take-away lesson that we can apply to contemporary Avodas HaShem. He maintains that each of us have an internal Aner, Eshkol, Mamre. When we exercise our free-will to do good and perform mitzvos there are still “voices” within us that will try dissuading us from performing HaShem’s Will in the best and most fulsome way, more often than not by voicing some iteration of the fear of ridicule and public misunderstanding.

Read more Nothing is Perfect Until it’s Incomplete

Musical Chairs – Chapter 3f – Nachum Recounts his Rediscovery of a Higher Power at AA

Chapter 3f

In the morning , Nahum joined Asher for prayers . It was the final day of vacation and the tiny synagogue was packed with yeshiva students, their tefillin strapped over their foreheads and forearms. Later on, they would return their yeshivas and wouldn’t be seen until Passover. Nahum loved praying with them—such nice kids, clean cut, polite; they even smelled good, as if they’d all just come out of the shower.

Not like he was at their age. Back then he was a scruffy faced party guy who frequently began his day with a massive hang over. Then his Mom got sick with stomach cancer. The doctors gave her two months, possibly less. He left Tufts, where he’d been flunking out anyway and went back home to Minneapolis. His mom looked scary; deathly white , skinny as an alley cat except for the big hard bump in her middle; her tumor.

A hospice rabbi visited the house—a young guy with a goatee beard , fresh out of Rabbinical school . He and Nahum , back then he called himself Noel talked a lot. Nahum liked the guy. He was the only person Nahum talk to about his fear, his anger and how G-d figured in this picture. He was mad at G-d. for giving his mother this awful sickness, his mother who was always so nice.

Then one day the lump vanished. Like a fairy tale with a happy ended. He was in the den watching football when she called him to her room to show him. She put his hand on her stomach and all he could feel was flab. The mass was gone.

Her doctors didn’t believe her but when the tumor didn’t show up on the scans they agreed.. It was a miracle. After that his Mom returned to Judaism. .It wasn’t entirely new to her. She’d been raised with it and then dumped it to marry his Dad

She also changed her name back from O’Connor, which was his Dad’s name to her maiden name Tumim and so did his sister Glenda. Nahum was reluctant, He liked the goyish sound of his name but when he transferred to the University of Minnesota, he changed his too.. Tumim made him think of his grandpa Asher Tumim, his son’s namesake, , A great guy and also a religious Jew.

His Mom’s religion was nice—Friday night home made challah and freshly roasted chicken. She even invited his girlfriend Stef even though she was Lutheran. You need an extra beat here. His mom’s religion was nice, but he wasn’t ready to change yet. He still liked partying too much.

It took Nahum another half decade to get religion. It happened the summer after he graduated from law school. He was living in New York, studying for the bar and going on job interviews. On his way home from a party in the Hamptons he got breathalyzed. His blood alcohol level was .10, two points over the legal limit. It was his second offense. He could have ended up in jail but one of his law school professors intervened and the judge let him off easy. He was sentenced to AA– ninety meetings in ninety days..

He showed up to his first meeting wearing a Walkman loaded with James Taylor cassettes – but he felt a special energy in that old church basement. All those people, slick New Yorkers, street people and regular folks sitting in a dingy room on old folding chairs their hearts so open you could almost reach inside and feel around. A really old guy got up to talk. He told a story about waking up in a strange place in the afternoon. ‘The clock said two and I didn’t know where I was and then I threw up all over someone’s Persian carpet. And then for the first time a voice came into my head. It said. Do you really want the rest of your life to look like this.” Nahum scooted to the edge of his seat. That was him,. That stranger described a scene out of his life, “That day I walked into my first meeting. For the first time I felt like I’d come home.”

With all the “Higher Power” talk the meetings go him thinking about G-d so that when Rav Muti got him he was already a believer. He met Rav Muti as he was walking down West End Avenue at dusk on his way to buy a quart of milk. “Hey are you Jewish?” The questioned startled him. “Yeah so what”.

“I need you for a few minutes. Nothing heavy to lift. By the way, I’m Rav Muti,” The man smiled at him and shook his hand. His handshake was solid, firm but not hard. Nahum followed him down a side street and up a set of rickety steps into the musty shul He sat down on one of the broken benches and took a tattered prayer books . The other worshipers looked like the people at AA—rich, poor, young, old even a black man who came over and hugged him. “Hey man, thanks . Because of you we can daven.”

And Nahum was overcome with the same rush of feeling he experienced at AA; he’d discovered where G-d lived.
And now in the small shul Nahum looked out at Asher and the other young men standing in deep prayerful silence now, finishing the amida. Such good guys. He wished Molly could see how good they really were.

Walking back home, Nahum tried to talk to Asher.. It wasn’t yet nine and the day was already too warm, the Israeli summer extending into what should have been autumn.

“It’s about the date right?” Asher pulled away.

“Son, isn’t it worth another try? ”

Asher kicked a crushed soda can into the gutter. “Mom put you up to this.”

“Kinda” Nahum smirked
“I know she’s not it and I don’t want to waste my time or hers. ”

What could he say? He agreed. Nahum clasped his hand . They walked home together in silence the way they had walked home from shul when Asher was still small.

When they got home Nahum threw his hat onto the kitchen table and declared defeat. “Molly, there’s no point,”.

“But Nahum, We can’t just let her go….”

“She’s not his… ” He turned to fix himself a cup of coffee.

“Molly a guy needs to feel something..”

“But you’re his father. He’s supposed to listen to you, This girl could be really good for him. What does he know anyway about life, about marriage? Isn’t it our job to direct him?” She had an edge to her voice.

“He’s not a robot. He’s got his own feelings just like you do. If this girl doesn’t feel right to him, we have to respect that.”

“So who is going to tell Simi?”

“I’ll do it but I’m going to put you on speaker in case you’ve got something to say. ” Nahum picked up the phone and dialed

“Was it her look?” Simi wanted to know

“How did you know?”said Nahum.

“I had a feeling. You know that Hashem gives the girl a special chein, a mixture of grace and beauty. If the chein isn’t there it just isn’t right.”

“But don’t you think that couples can grow into loving each other?” said Molly.

“Yes… but there needs to be a feeling..”

Molly didn’t want to hear any more. She went to her bedroom opened up her diary and wrote..
Dear G-d. What is wrong with the world? Hollywood has screwed everyone up, including your chosen people. My yeshiva bochur son wants to be shot by one of cupids arrows. He wants Hollywood love and the shadchan who should know better agrees!!! Can you believe that? I thought that marriage was work and the work was fixing yourself but my son begs to differ and my idiot of a husband agrees with him. I think they are all nuts. Oh G-d help fix them all. Their brains are out of order. Love Molly (Malka).

Musical Chairs is a novel about a Jerusalem American BT family’s struggle to find a bride for their FFB yeshiva bochur son.
You can read Chapter 1 here,
Chapter 2a here,
Chapter 2b here,
Chapter 3a here,
Chapter 3b here
Chapter 3c here
Chapter 3d here
Chapter 3e here

Making Judaism Great Again

If I had to describe the presidential election in one word it would be “disillusioned”, which means to be disappointed in something that one discovers to be less good than one had believed. Many Americans are disillusioned with America. Diminishing economic opportunities coupled with an increasingly unstable world turned the “American Dream” into a fantasy for many. Donald Trump was a vote against the status quo and most people underestimated how disillusioned the America people actually are.

Many Jews are disillusioned with Judaism. The non-Orthodox are moving out in droves as they intermarry and retain little or no connection with Judaism. The Baalei Teshuva are disillusioned with the unfulfilled promises and second class citizenry in which they find themselves. The greater Orthodox community is disillusioned with the tuition-induced economic pressures, the under-performance of our Yeshivos, and the great difficulty in finding shidduchim for our children.

The solution to our disillusionment is much different then the American Electorate in that we don’t need a change in leadership – we need a change in mindset. We need to internalize the fact that the goal of Judaism is to create a deep connection to Hashem by learning Torah, performing mitzvos, improving our character traits, praying, and doing acts of kindness. Committing to this path with our friends and relatives will truly make Judaism Great Again for all of us.

Noach was a good man

Noach was a good man
a good man, a good man
Noach was a good man
….In his time
– A Cheder Song

Noach is described as a Tzaddik, but the first Rashi on the Parsha casts a shadow on his righteousness.

The major points against Noach are
– Rashi brings down the Chazal that says that perhaps only “in his generation” was he righteous, but in Avraham’s generation he wouldn’t have been righteous. The other opinion in the Chazal says that he was unquestioningly righteous
– There are suggestions that he didn’t rebuke others sufficiently
– There is an indication that he lacked emunah on whether the Flood actually would happen and only entered the Ark when the waters began

So what are we to make of Noach, why such contradictory messages?

Perhaps the Ramban gives us a clue when he describes Noach as completely righteous in judgment, meaning that he did not get involved in any of the negative acts of his generation. He did not violate any negative commands and we can assume he did the appropriate positive commands, which technically classifies Noach as a Tzaddik.

But there is much more to accomplish. A person has an obligation to positively influence those that he can. He must try to increase his levels of chesed. He needs to constantly strengthen his Emunah. A person has to increase the positive acts he does.

Perhaps that is the lesson of Noach. Yes, it’s extremely important not to damage by transgressing negative commandments, but it is also extremely import to build yourself and the world through the positive acts of chesed and increasing emunah. If you fail on those grounds you might technically be a tzaddik, but you are slightly deficient.

Rabbi Dessler in Michtav M’Eliyahu says the Noach was a complete Tzaddik but didn’t reach the level of Chassid (the Mesillas Yesharim type of Chassid).

I spoke to a local Rav and he said that Noach was an unqualified righteous person:
– For the “in his generation” question, he learns like the Chasam Sofer that if Noach was only at the same level in Avraham’s generation then he would have been not been considered righteous
– The Medrash is clear that Noach did give his generation rebuke
– The lack of emunah when he only went into the Ark when it started to rain, was that he didn’t believe totally that Hashem would not have mercy on world and forestall the flood.

Rabbi Nebenzhal has a good analysis of the above issue here.

As mentioned previously, Rabbi Rietti was kind enough to allow us to post the outline here, but you can purchase the entire outline of the Chumash for the low price of $11.95 for yourself and your family.

Noach
#6 Building Noach’s Ark
#7 The Flood
#8 Mt. Ararat
#9 Rainbow – Noach Drunk
#10 The Descendants of Shem, Cham & Yafet
#11 Tower of Bavel – 10 Generations of Noach

#6 Building Noach’s Ark
* Praise of Noach
* The Three Sons of Noach
* World corruption
* “Behold! I will destroy them utterly!”
* Build an ark
* Compartments
* 300 X 50 X 30 cubits
* Skylight – Slanted Roof – 3 Stories
* 1 Male – 1 Female of every animal – Store Food

#7 The Flood
* 7 pairs of kosher animals
* 2 pairs of non-kosher animals
* 7 pairs of birds
* Noach 600 years old when flood began (2nd month, 17th day)
* 40 days & 40 nights – 15 cubits above the highest mountain
* Total destruction
* 150 days

#8 Mt. Ararat
* 150 days till water receded
* 7th Month, 17th day, the Ark rested on Mt. Ararat
* 10th Month, 1st day mountain tops become visible
* Raven
* Dove #1, #2, #3
* 1st Tishrei Noach opened gate of Ark
* 2nd Month, 27th day, land was totally dry (exactly 365 days after the flood began).
* ‘Leave the Ark!’
Noach built an Altar
* G-d appeased & promises never to flood the earth again
* Four seasons

#9 Rainbow – Noach Drunk
* Blessing to Noach “Be fruitful and Multiply!”
* All living creatures will fear you
* You can eat meat but not flesh from living animal
* Violation of suicide
* Death penalty for murder
* Command to be fruitful and multiply
* G-d promises never to flood entire world again
* Rainbow is sign of this promise
* Noach planted a vineyard
* Drunk
* Canaan cursed: slave of slaves to his brothers
* Blessed Shem and Yafet
* Noach died 950

#10 The Descendants of Noach
* Descendants of Yafet and Cham (Nimrod grandson of Cham & 1st world despot)
* Descendents of Canaan
* Descendants of Shem

#11 Tower of Bavel – 10 Generations of Shem
* One Language
* The Tower
* HaShem scattered them
* 10 Generations of Shem
* 11th Gen. Shem 600
* 12th Gen. Arpachshad 438
* 13th Gen. Shelach 433
* 14th Gen. Ever 464
* 15th Gen. Peleg 239
* 16th Gen. Re’oo 239
* 17th Gen. Serug 230
* 18th Gen. Nachor 248
* 19th Gen. Terach 205 – Avram-Nachor-Haran
* Haran – Lot – Milka & Yiska (Sarai). Haran dies in Ur Kasdim
* Avram marries Sarai
* Nachor marries Milka
* 20th Gen. Avram
* Terach leaves Ur Kasdim with Avram, grandson Lot & Sarai
* Terach dies in Charan

Musical Chairs – Chapter 3e – The First Date

Chapter 3e

Then out of the corner of his eye he saw a plump red head tottering on stilettos flanked by her parents a plump man in a black fedora and an even plumper woman in a red wig walking in behind him.

Pity the poor guy who would have to meet her but then he heard the fat father calling his name. Was she his date? He wanted to bolt, to run away but before he could the father extended his hand .

“You must be the famous Asher Tumim I’m Moish Klein Pleased to meet you. ”

Asher’s stomach began to bounce again as . Moish quizzed him on the Talmudical tractate he was studying. That sort of questioning was standard. Rav Benzi had even mentioned it in his class. Asher couldn’t answer. It was as if all the Talmud he ever knew had been deleted from his brain.

What a great scene. “Sorry, “He averted Moish’s glace, certain that his date’s father thought him a dolt.

Instead, Moish winked and rubbed Asher’s shoulder.

“Don’t worry. I’ll faher you later. ”

Then Moish kissed Aliza on her forehead, and waved goodbye his wife following behind him.. Now Asher and Aliza were alone and Asher could have a good look at her. She was very round;, her stomach ,limbs even her hair were puffy and plump. Her face was pleasant, even pretty but she’d covered it with a thick coating of makeup, way and she’d circled her eyes with thick black eyeliner which extended outward as if she were Cleopatra. Ugh.

She wore a dark red circle skirt emphasizing her already huge hips and a black blouse studded with fake diamonds –he hated glittery clothes. And she stank, not in the way that a yeshiva guy stinks during nine days when you aren’t allowed to shower but like one of those potpourri sachets his mother left in the bathroom.

He took her to the farthest reaches of the lobby, each of them occupying a couch with a an oversized coffee table in between. The Arab waiter who took their orders seemed to snicker at them. It appeared that he was used to these nervous and overdressed youngsters, who never ordered more than a coke.

“I’ll have bottled water, “said Aliza. “I’m on a diet. “She giggled.

A smile played on Asher’s lips but no words came out.

She smiled back at him. It was his turn to talk he couldn’t think of anything to say so she jumped in.

” My cousin Ruvy Brecher is at your yeshiva” .” Asher frowned. It was an instinctive reaction.

“He was my chavrusa.” Asher actually disliked the guy. Ruvy was challenging, combative to the point of obnoxiousness, never willing to admit that anyone else could be right.

“Wow. How did you survive that? .”Aliza giggled and Asher laughed and from then on the conversation flowed. Aliza was a great talker and he found himself smiling at her, laughing at her jokes and enjoying her little insights. By the time Asher glanced at his watch it was nearly eleven. They had been together for three hours, more than twice the length of time that Rav Benzi said that one should spent on a first date.

Aliza was nice, really nice….if only she had another body.

As she got up to leave he snuck a look at her rear end just to make sure he was right. It was really large and it jiggled as she moved. What a shame. If she were fifty pounds lighter, he might have even proposed. It wasn’t as if he was prejudiced against all fat people. Some of his best friends were fat—Ezi for example, but a girl, a wife was different. He had to be attracted to his wife, even Rav Benzi conceded that. To see her as beautiful, so beautiful that no other woman could ever tempt him, not even in his thoughts.

As he walked through the dark streets to the light rail station his feelings turned to anger. Why hadn’t his mother figured this out? He had explicitly told her that he didn’t want a fat girl but his Mom was clueless. That’s how American parents were. His mind flashed back to the time in fourth grade when his rebbe actually read one his mother’s notes out loud.

“Dear Rav Kaplan may you be blessed with length of days….
We are so thankful that you are bringing our son may his light be illuminated to the Holy Torah. Please know that he wanted to go to school yesterday but he was incapacitated with a stomach virus. He’s better now and ready again to learn the Holy Writ.”
With Torah greetings and gratitude
…Malka Tumim

His Rebbe thought the note was sweet but the entire class roared with laughter. After that Asher refused to take a note his mother wrote until he read and approved it. He knew that was obnoxious, even disrespectful but he had no choice. And now she was messing his life up again. The fact that she meant well but that didn’t change reality. She was still messing him up and now she was messing up someone else too.

Poor Aliza.. He could see that she was thrilled to be out with him, a normal guy, from a good yeshiva, not bad looking, not a nerd or a dork and now he’d have to let her down.

Molly stared at the kitchen clock. “Asher been gone for more than two hours . Do you think he really likes her?”

Nahum picked his head up from the open volume of the Talmud. “Maybe?’

“Oh my goodness,” Molly clasped her hands together against her neck. “Do you think this is really it. I mean it could happen?”

“Well maybe… but then again did you marry the first guy you ever dated.”

“Oh heavens no. I was only twelve. There were a bunch of us. We went skating but everyone quickly paired up except Mindy Roth, she the odd person so she swooped down and stole my date away..”

“Ugh” Nahum feigned a frown.’

“Yup. I was devastated. When my father came to pick me up I was in tears. He bought me a hot chocolate with whipped cream but it didn’t cheer me up. Thank G-d Asher doesn’t have to go through that. Just think, he’s twenty two . He missed out on all that drama.”

“Good “Nahum nodded.

“I didn’t even know that this kind of dating existed until I was in seminary. then Rebetzin Rosengarten gave a talk about it. She described it as a developd form of dating for civilized people, that is dating platonically without any messing around. I couldn’t believe that anyone dated this way until my roommates got engaged to a really nice guy whom she never held hands with . She told me that she’d never connected so deeply with anyone else before. She felt like she really knew her fiance on a soul level.”
“Are they still together?”

“Yeah. I think they live in LA and last I heard they had nine kids.”

Just then Asher walked in . He was smiling.

“So you liked her?”

“Yeah. She’s cute . She’s fun.”

“Great I’m so happy.” Molly and Asher started to hum the Jewish wedding song..

“Hey Mom and Dad not so fast.”

“Of course not You take your time. This is a huge step. Go out as much as many times as you need to “said Nahum. He patted Asher on the back….”

“Do you want the next date to be this week or after Shabbos,” asked Molly

“Mom, Dad, wait a minute. There’s not going to be a next date.”

“But didn’t you say you liked the girl,” said Nahum.

“Mom, Dad, She’s a nice girl but she’s not for me.”

“Why not? asked Molly.

Asher blushed . “Well for one thing , she’s a gootzeit.”

“A what?” Both parents stared at eachother their faces registering the immigrant’s puzzlement at the unfamiliar slang.
‘She’s chunky..”

“”You know that looks come and go. Aliza could lose the weight . On the other hand you could end up with a skinny girl and then she could get fat. What would you do then? I don’t think weight is a criterion.”

“But Mom, I didn’t find her attractive”.

“Molly lay off, ” said Nahum. He had put his arm around Asher’s shoulder as Asher looked off into the distance.
.”
“Please….give it one more chance. Her look may grow on you. You can’t rule her out after just one date, especially after you said you liked her personality.You know there are things she can wear to hold her in, to make her look thinner . I’ll tell the shadchan.”

“No, Mom Please don’t.” Asher’s voice was deep and firm. He turned around and went to his room leaving his parents alone.

“So this was it. The culmination of hours of phone calls, reams of notes”

“I guess we aren’t meant to become , Miriam Ehrman’s relatives” said Nahum.

“It’s my fault. ” Molly hung her head down like a rag doll.

“What? How could that be?”

“I’m weight obsessed. You know how I’m always watching my calories, weighing myself. He picked it up from me.”

“So you’re going to get fat now?”

Molly shook her head. “No but I’m just saying that maybe if I werent so insane with my weight he wouldn’t be running away from Aliza.”

“I don’t think so.”

“Nahum, Please speak to him. Tell him to give it one more try, Just one?”

“Okay, tomorrow” said Nahum. ”

Musical Chairs is a novel about a Jerusalem American BT family’s struggle to find a bride for their FFB yeshiva bochur son.
You can read Chapter 1 here,
Chapter 2a here,
Chapter 2b here,
Chapter 3a here,
Chapter 3b here
Chapter 3c here
Chapter 3d here

A Sukkale a Kleine – Meaningful Succos Music

By Gershon Seif

When I was in elementary school back in the 60’s, Jewish music was a bit different than the kind of stuff that you hear nowadays.

On an album called The Rabbi’s Sons, there was a an old Yiddish song about a Jew who built himself a simple little Sukkah that can barely stand. His daughter comes in to serve the first course and tells her father that she’s afraid the Sukkah is about to collapse. He tells her not to worry. Their Sukkah is similar to the Jewish people living through their long and bitter exile. The sukkah will endure just as the Jewish people have endured.

There is something that gets me every time I sing this song. Powerful stuff from another world.

Here are the lyrics with their translation:

Ah sukkale ah kleine
Fun bretelech gemeine
Hob ich mir ah sukkale gemacht
Tzugedekt dem dach
Mit ah bissele schach
Zitz ich mir in sukkale banacht.

A sukkale, a little one,
Of meager boards
I made myself a sukkale
Covered the roof
With a bit of schach
I sit myself down in the sukkale at night.

Ah vint ah kalten
Blozt durch di shpalten
Un di lichtelech
Zei leshen zich fil
Es iz mir ah chiddush
Vi ich mach mir kiddush
Un di lichtelech zei brenen gantz shtil.

A wind, a cold one,
Blows through the cracks
And the little candles
They flicker so much
It’s a chiddush to me
How I make me kiddush
And the candles burn so still!

Tzum ershten gericht
Mit ah blasen gezicht
Brengt mir mein techterel arein
Zi shtelt zich avek
Un zugt mit shrek
Tatele di sukka falt bald ein.

For the first course
With a pale face
My little daughter brings in
She stands there
And says with fright
Tatale, the sukka is about to fall in!

Zai nisht kein nar
Hob nisht kein tzar
Di sukkaleh vet nisht ainfaln;
Di vintn vos brumn
Mir veln farkumn
Di sukkaleh shteit shoin gantz lang.

Don’t be a fool
Don’t have any tzaar
The sukkale won’t fall in
The winds that are howling
We will overcome
The sukkale, has already stood quite a long time!

Zie nisht kein nar
Hob nit kein tzar
Zol dir di sukka nit tun bang
Es iz shoin gor
Bald tzvei toizent yor
Un de sukkale zi shteit noch ganz lang.

Don’t be a fool
Don’t have any tzaar
Don’t let the sukka give you any grief
It is already
Almost two thousand years
And the sukkale, she is still standing all this time!

First Posted on Oct 12, 2006