Four Dimensional Flourishing – Introduction

By Mark Frankel & David Linn

An Amazing Life

Two friends are watching a football game. One is a huge football fan and he gets excited about every aspect of the game: how the offense and defense lineup, the movement before and after the snap, clock management, perfect execution and the small miscues that make big differences. The entire three hours of the game are amazing for him. His friend likes football but is not a tremendous fan. He mostly cares about the big plays, the great catches and the bone-crushing hits. They’re both watching the exact same game, but their experience is completely different.

Life is like that as well. Some people live amazing lives–every moment infused with purpose, meaning and joy– and some people just can’t wait to get home for a quick supper, some web surfing and sleep. Then there’s the place where most of us probably live, somewhere in the middle. But we can all move towards amazing.

What does an amazing life look like? It’s a life where we experience physical pleasure without being controlled by it. A life where we reduce our anger and envy and develop happiness, and deep connections to others. It’s living in a way that finds significance and meaning even in seemingly mundane endeavors. It’s having a clear understanding of our purpose and living each day in accordance with that purpose. We can consistently move closer to an amazing life by creating four key habits and eliminating four key deterrents. Let’s dig deeper.

Four Dimensional Flourishing

In 1980, Dr. Martin Seligman developed Positive Psychology which focused on actively increasing happiness, rather than the traditional focus of psychology: treating mental illness. Dr. Seligman defined three types of happiness: The Pleasant Life, increasing positive emotion through pleasures, activities and attitudes; The Engaged Life, using your specific individual strengths in your work, love, friendships, leisure and parenting; and The Meaningful Life, using your strengths to serve something larger than the self. In 2010, Dr. Seligman expanded the focus of Positive Psychology by adding healthy relationships and accomplishments to the happiness mix. He called this expanded focus: flourishing.

We’ve been working on Four Dimensional Flourishing for a number of years in response to the fact that, despite positive psychology’s increased focus on life-satisfaction and well-being, the average person seems to be living an increasingly less amazing life. In this work, we have defined flourishing from a Torah perspective and have created a practical framework and process to increase flourishing.

The first step on the road to a flourishing life is understanding that all human experiences fall into four dimensions, physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. To flourish, we need to know the goals we are striving for in each dimension. In the physical, we are looking for pleasure. Emotionally, we are in pursuit of happiness. In the mental realm, we are searching for meaning. And in the spiritual dimension, we seek to fulfill our purpose.

In each dimension, there is a specific habit that is critical to flourishing and a major deterrent that can distance us from flourishing. In order to increase the degree of flourishing we experience in our lives, we need to develop these habits and address these deterrents.

We have enumerated a five step process to integrate flourishing into our lives. The process transforms this material from interesting information into life changing sustenance. When we use this process to integrate Four Dimensional Flourishing into our lives, we will be living amazing lives on a moment by moment basis.

To be continued.

Musical Chairs – Chapter 2b – A BT’s Shidduch Search for Her FFB Son

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.
You can read Chapter 2a here.

Chapter 2b

Rebbetzin Brill was a skinny woman with a pinched face she wore a dark formless dress and an old fashioned foam lined headscarf, which gave her head a Spongebob look Her thinness was really quite astounding because she was always cooking. Did she diet? Did she suffer from stomach problems. Her husband was a Chassidic Rebbe, the Rebbe of Hohok, Nahum called it Ho-Ho-Kus after the posh New Jersey suburb, which caused her to chuckle even though it wasn’t the funniest of jokes, was even thinner. But they were good people, sincere, kind, the real deal.

After her ectopic pregnancy, when her fallopian tube had exploded leaving her close to death, Molly went to see him. The doctor who had saved her life, declared her child bearing years over. ‘Just be happy with what you’ve got, “but Molly was unspeakably sad and weepy Nahum brought her to the Rabbi Brill, a feat which required no small amount of cajoling as Rabbi Brill didn’t usually see women. He sat the head of the dining table, a huge bookcase filled with Talmudic tomes behind him looking down at the stone matza patterned floor to avert her gaze. His voice was so soft that Molly strained to hear him but he promised that she’d have a baby within the year and the next month she fell pregnant with Elazar.

On the morning of Molly’s visit the Rebetzin and several of her daughters, were peeling potatoes and the apartment was redolent with the scent of potato kugel baking in the oven.

“We’re celebrating my grandson’s bar mitzvah tonight. Would you like a piece?” said the Rebbetzin.

“No thanks. I just wanted you opinion, about a girl for Asher.”

“Of course… “

Rebbetzin Brill titled her head upwards as if she were inviting G-d into the conversation and she smiled.. “Ah…..You couldn’t do better. Such a girl, such a family…,.”

“You’re very lucky to have such a good suggestion but then Asher is an excellent boy.” Molly looked around at the Brill’s apartment, the worn carpet, the sagging bookcase and broken furniture. How could she dare to ask about money? She didn’t want Rebbetzin Brill see her and Nahum and even Asher as gold-diggers.” It’s so hot today. I’ll get you a drink.” The Rebbetzin motioned for the smallest of her daughters who appeared with a tray and a large bottle of cold water. “No, no thanks.”

“You didn’t just come to smell the kugel. What else do you need to know. Money?”

Even though it was summer goosebumps appeared on Molly’s arms. Rabbi Brill had mystical powers but until now she hadn’t known that his wife had them too. “Yes,” her voice was so choked she could hardly speak.

“I can’t give you a figure but I can tell you that they live very nicely and I’m sure that they can help very nicely.”

Molly smiled. That sounded like enough.

“Call me to share the good news, “said the Rebbetzin as she waved goodbye. As soon as she left the apartment she texted Nahum with the good news and he gave the match his blessing.

How many dates would they need? Molly and Nahum had dated for six weeks before he proposed but with these couples things could move more quickly. It was July now. Tammuz. A month long courtship would bring them into the summer yeshiva vacation. Maybe they could have an outdoor ceremony in a garden? She imagined a chuppah covered with flowers, Asher and Ayelet tying the knot on a late summer evening the sun setting in the distance.

The next day the sky was a murky grey even though the temperatures were hot. Bella woke up with a headache and then vomited all over her bed linens and bedroom floor. Moshe complained of feeling sick too and Molly a bucket next to his bed.

The malaise extended to inanimate objects. The drier broke and the dud shemesh, the water storage tank which attached to a solar panel that sat on the roof of their building, to harvest the sun’s rays to heat their bathwater, malfunctioned.

Still Molly’s mood was bright. Soon all of the broken things would be fixed. Soon, the children would get better and soon Asher would meet a Ayelet Gold and marry her and she’d become a grandmother, an experience which everyone she knew insisted was the pinnacle of life.

In between calls to the various repair people and the doctor Esther phoned.

“Sorry to tell you this.. they said no”

Molly’ felt a thud in her chest. “Why?

“What can I say? They didn’t think it was right for them.”

“What does that mean?” What did the Gold’s find out about them? Was it Elazar’s yeshiva troubles, Bella’s rebelliousness or was it them. Nahum’s alcoholism, his years in AA or perhaps Molly herself. How much did anyone know about her past? She didn’t see herself as secretive. She wasn’t ashamed, after all once a person repents, his sins are transformed to merits but she did have experiences she wished she could have deleted from her life. Could it be that someone knew?

Sh*t she yelled. Sh*t Sh*t Sh*t.. She rarely used four letter words but then again she rarely, indeed had to deal with her son’s rejection by the girl who was surely his soulmate…She slammed the phone down hard against the table which caused the battery to pop out. She nudged it back in.

Just then Bella came into the kitchen. “Ima….”

Molly suddenly came to. ‘Did I hear you?”

Though she was generally careful with her speech Molly did use bad language, very rarely , in traffic or under situations of extreme stress of which this was one.

Molly didn’t’ respond hoping that would make the question go away but it didn’t’.

“It’s tough Mom,” said Bella putting her arm on Molly’s back. “Everyone knows that the Golds are super picky. They turn down almost everyone.”

“Huh?” Molly “How did everyone know except her.”

When she called Nahum he said the same thing. “I knew it wouldn’t work.

They are a line of Rabbis. Thirty five consecutive generations..”

“So our genes aren’t good enough? How could people be so prejudiced? They they want us to become like them and then they they refuse to let their kids marry kids. They probably wouldn’t have allowed their child to marry any of the patriarchs either, Okay maybe Jacob but certainly not Abraham and Isaac would have been iffy. How can they be such prigs!”

“Can you turn down the volume My ears are getting sore.”

“Calm down.” said Nahum “Remember rejection is G-d’s form of protection.”

Almost reflexively, Molly cracked a Gold smile. It amused her to hear her own bromide coming out of Nahum’s lips

***

Later after the day was finally over and everyone asleep Nahum and Molly sat alone on the porch.

“What do you really know about the…

“Plenty..”

“I could think of a few more questions I bet you never asked. “

“Such as……”

He dipped his head down as if reading from his cell phone but Molly noticed that he had a gleam in his eye.

“I want their complete financial, medical and genealogical records.”

“Come on….Where on earth to you expect me to get those.”

“I don’t know but get them and there’s something else I want to know. Do they chain their children to the bed at night?”

“Yes that is something we need to know—we don’t want Asher marrying a girl who was chained to her bed.”

“Do they belch at the table?”

Do they cover their faces when they sneeze? “

By now Molly laughed so hard she couldn’t speak.

“Molly, these people are crazy, If they don’t want Asher it’s their problem.”

Just then Molly stopped laughing. “I just thought of something.”

“What?” Nahum tilted his head toward hers.

“Something really remarkable just happened. We need to take note of this. Our son Asher had a romantic rejection and he didn’t even know about it. He got hurt without feeling any pain or having a bruise.”

Nahum nodded. “I had my first heartbreak in third grade. I still remember her Judy Katz. She was the prettiest girl in the school.”

Molly hated Nahum’s uncanny ability to recall old flames—why was his memory so perfect when it came to women as opposed to say grocery lists, but she knew what he meant..

“I’m so glad that Asher can learn in peace. That he’s never even heard the name Ayelet Gold.’

It was true. Asher had been away at yeshiva the whole time. He hadn’t heard one word about Ayelet.

Nahum smiled. He leaned over and kissed Molly

“What was that for?” Molly smiled.

“Hey honey this is a moment to celebrate. To Asher. Le’chaim. May he find his kallah his bride without pain.

Nahum nodded. Then he yawned and stretched his arm to turn out the light.

Tu B’Av – Completing the Circle

By Yossi from NJ

Tractate Ta’anis ends with a fascinating and somewhat enigmatic Mishna:

Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel said, Israel had no days as festive as The Fifteenth of Av and Yom Kippur; for on those days, the maidens of Jerusalem would go out dressed in borrowed white clothing – borrowed, in order not to embarrass those who had none. All the garments required ritual immersion.

The maidens of Jerusalem would go out and dance [in a circle] in the vineyards.

And what would they say?

“Young man, lift up your eyes and see what you choose for yourself. Do not consider physical beauty. Consider rather family. ‘For charm is false, and beauty is vanity. A woman who fears Hashem, she is the one to be praised..’ (Mishlei/Proverbs 31:30) “.

And it is further stated ‘Go forth and gaze, O daughters of Zion, upon the King Shlomo, adorned with the crown His nation made Him on the day of His wedding and on the day of the joy of His heart’ (Shir HaShirim 3:11) On the day of his wedding – this is the giving of the Torah; and on the day of the joy of His heart – this is the building of the Holy Temple, may it be rebuilt speedily in our days! Amen.

Chazal often use the metaphor of a wedding for the giving of the Torah; Hashem, the groom, joining in an intimate relationship with his people. In fact, the Alshich explains that Moshe broke the first luchos when he saw the chet ha’eigel as if to say, “the ring (the luchos) has not yet been given, so rather than being like a married woman who has commited adultery, the Jews were still not in the ‘betrothed’ stage”.

Yom Kippur was the day that Moshe brought the second luchos down; therefore the Mishna compares it to a wedding day. And Shlomo HaMelech consecrated the first Beis Hamikdash on Yom Kippur – that year they did not fast, but rather celebrated it as a festival.

The Gemara (Ta’anis 30b) raises the obvious question:

I can understand the Day of Atonement, because it is a day of forgiveness and pardon and on it the second Tablets of the Covenant were given, but what happened on the Fifteenth of Av?

At least six reasons are recounted, each, it seems to me, has the common denominator of a renewed relationship, and ultimately, hope for the future.

  • R’ Yehudah in the name of Shmuel said, it is the day on which the tribes were permitted to intermarry. While in the desert, each tribe would only marry within, so as not to complicate the division of the land (since a woman’s property would transfer to her husband upon her death), on Tu B’Av of the fortieth year, this ban was lifted.

  • R’ Yosef in the name of R’ Nachman said, it is the day on which the tribe of Binyamin was again permitted to marry into the congregation of Israel. The ban, due to the incident of the concubine at Givah (see Judges 19-20), only applied to that generation.
  • Rabah bar bar Chanah in the name of R’ Yochanan said, it is the day on which they realized that the decree of those destined to die in the desert had ended. Rashi explains, every year on Tisha B’Av, the men who were between the ages of 20 and 60 at the time of God’s decree, would dig graves and lay in them. In the morning, an announcement was made, “Let the living seperate from the dead”. In the fortieth year, no one died – the people thought they had erred in their calculation and repeated the procedure every night until the 15th of Av, at which point they realized that the decree had expired. Alternately, Tosafos (B”B 121a) raise the possibility that people did die in that year, but the mourners got up from Shiva on Tu B’Av, the seventh day (inclusive) after Tisha B’Av.

    The Gemara continues, only then did Hashem continue to speak to Moshe “face to face” – in the interim, Moshe received prophecy, but not in the intimate manner that he did before the “dying in the desert” began or after it ended.

  • Ulla says, it is the day on which Hoshea ben Eilah removed the guards that Yeravam had set up to prevent people going to Yerushalayim for Yom Tov.

    Yeravam ben Nevat was the first king of the divided kingdom of the ten tribes of Israel. In order to sever the people’s attachment to Jerusalem, and to prevent them from going up on the three festivals, he established and enforced the idolatry of the golden calves (see I Kings 12).

  • R’ Masna says, it is the day on which the slain Jews of Beitar were allowed to be buried. On that day, they established the Beracha of ha’tov v’ha’meitiv. ha’tov – that the bodies had (miraculously) not decomposed; v’ha’meitiv – that they were allowed to bury them).

    The destruction of Beitar was seemingly the end of hope for the kingdom of Judah. This had been the stronghold of Bar Kochba – the last hope for organized rebellion. The Gemara says that 2.1 million people were killed there by the sword. The Emperor Hadrian did not allow the bodies to be buried, rather, the corpses were used as “fences” around his vineyards. After his death, (12 years later) the new Caesar allowed their interment – on Tu B’Av.

  • Raba and R. Yosef both say – It was the day on which they stopped chopping wood for the pyre on the Mizbe’ach. As R’ Eliezer ha’Gadol taught, from the fifteenth of Av, the sun’s strength wanes, and they stopped cutting wood for the pyre as it wouldn’t dry properly. It was called the axe-breaking day. From this point on, whoever adds on to his night-time Torah study will have years added to his life.

    My Rav explains that this last reason is the primary one. Now that the men could go back to learning Torah full-time, this alone was cause for celebration.

The Gemara, as it often does, concludes the tractate with an Aggadic teaching:
Ulla Biraah said in the name of R’ Elazar: In the future, the Holy One, Blessed is He, will make a circle of all the righteous people, and He will sit among them [in the middle of the circle], and each one will point with his finger, as it says, And he shall say on that day, ‘Behold! This is our God; we hoped to Him and He saved us; this is Hashem to whom we hoped; let us exalt and be glad in His salvation” (Isaiah 25:9).

Ben Yehoyada explains that just as a bride circles her groom, so the righteous will form a circle, as it were, around God. Further, the “finger” suggests a bride’s ring finger.

The Yaavetz points out that the word used here for circle “Machol”, has the same root as mechila, forgiveness. The Gemara thus implies that in future God will forgive all the sins of Israel, enabling all of Israel the privilege of joining this circle.

The Apter Rebbe wrote,
The circle has no top and no bottom, no beginning or end. So too, in the future the righteous will experience no jealousy or dislike, for no one will be said to be on a higher level than another…

This itself is the “holiday for Israel” – when there is no jealousy, competition or envy between them. This is what our sages allude to: Israel had no holidays like Tu B’Av – as the 15th letter of the Aleph Bet is the letter Samech, which is a round circle, with no top or bottom. This is the concept of the dance, and this is the greatest holiday for Israel.
(Ohev Yisrael Likutim 113:B)

So perhaps the last verse quoted by our Mishna can also be refering to Tu B’Av – certainly, it is a day of weddings, of gladness of the heart, and of Torah. Further, the Pri Tzaddik wrote that the future Beis HaMikdash is destined to be built during the month of Av.

“May it be rebuilt speedily in our days! Amen.”
Originally Posted August 9. 2006

Musical Chairs – Chapter 2a – A BT’s Shidduch Search for Her FFB Son

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

Late Saturday night Shulamis Black’s son Ari took the family’s ancient Citroen for a spin and totaled it. Thankfully he’d come out unscathed but now Shulamis needed Molly to drive her to the “shops” her quaint English way of referring to the supermarket.The day broiling hot-that doesn’t change until well into the fall. The the sky bleached out and white, the sort of weather that middle eastern connoisseurs of heat called Sharavbut Molly’s mini van and the supermarket had good AC.

Physical opposites, Shulamis, was pale faced, round and frumpy to Molly’s slender elegance but the two women had been the best of friends since they both moved into the apartment building on the end of Kablan street in in early nineties, with newborn babies in tow. Shulamis was FFB frum from birth, that is born into the religion, the fourth daughter of Manchester’s best loved cantor whereas Molly was the only child of a businessman a wheeler dealer who’d made and lost fortunes in real estate, construction and the commodities market. Where Molly had four children, three sons and a daughter, Shulamis’s brood numbered fifteen, an eyebrow raiser even in Har Nof. Nine were married which meant that she’d earned her PHD in the shidduch process.

“I got my first shidduch offer. What’s the word they use red.”

As the two friends stood by side at the supermarket entrance admiring a colorful pyramid of imitation crocs for Tisha B’Av, the supermarkets even managed to commercialize the saddest day of the year the words slipping from Molly’s mouth like ice cream dripping from a popsicle on a hot day.

“Not red the color. Redt, It’s Yiddish. Welcome to the club, girl.” Shulamis laid a hand on Molly’s shoulder.

“I thought the shadchan took care of everything but Esther read me references.”

Shulamis chuckled.” Don’t you know that joke in Hebrew sheker dover, speaks lies, kesef noteil, takes money.”

Molly’s jaw went slack.” Does that mean I can’t trust Esther?”

“No, Of course not. Esther is a fine shadchan but you are in charge. You need to do your own investigation.”

“Huh…Do I really need to call strangers.” Molly’s voice trembled with nerves.

“It’s not rocket science girl. Just think of everything you’d want to know about the girl and her family, and then call anyone and everyone you think might be able to help you oh and the last bit.”

“Me? I can’t do this.” The impact of the Dena Maisels fiasco suddenly hit her like a punch in the stomach. Why couldn’t that have worked out? It seemed so simple so, perfect, so much better than this.’

“Listen to me, Get a notebook and write everything down.” Shulamis sounded like a general giving orders to a buck private.

“Any special kind?”

“I use a loose-leaf with a new tab for each girl but any notebook will do The main thing is to keep a record of your research.”

The two women returned to their shopping but then as they were filling bags of nectarines Molly tapped Shulamis on the back. Her voice was shaky, trembling and her eyes were trained to the floor like a small child who’d been sent to the principle’s office.” But you don’t understand I can’t call strangers. I once had a summer job cold calling and I got fired. I just couldn’t do it. Couldn’t I just hire someone, a private investigator, someone from the Mossad…”

“Nonsense.” Shulamis loaded her bag of nectarines into her cart. Then she looked Molly straight in the eye.” You’ll rise to the occasion. Everyone does.” I’ve got a list of questions.I’ll send it over. Just read it out to the the people the shadchan provided and anyone else you can find who really knows the girl and her family. Write down everything they say and read it over. You’ll figure it out.”

“Yeah, Easy for you to say.”

Shulamis put her hand on Molly’s shoulder.

“I’ve got a list of questions I use. I’ll send them to you and ring me whenever you like. I’m happy to help.”

It wasn’t almost midnight by the time Molly sat down to read the list. She was alone at the kitchen table, seated in one of the blonde wood Windsor chairs she and Nahum had imported from the US in their lift, an entire household stuffed into a freight container. In the nineties, they didn’t sell Windsor chairs in Israel. Her fingers were curled round a glass of water filled to the brim with ice cubes and lemon slices.

The list began a single word. “Smoke?” When Molly was a teenager, she had smoked. becoming expert in the art of blowing smoke rings, a talent which impressed children and increased her social currency She’d quit of course, when she took up yoga—the two were incompatible and she never picked up again.. In the circles she moved in today only men smoked in public. Molly remembered that Shulamis’s last child to get married was a daughter–many yeshiva students still smoked. That was probably why she asked.

As to Ayelet Gold, in the highly unlikely event that she did smoke, she’d probably keep it so quiet that no one would ever know. After that came basic questions, age, height and, build which was a coy way of asking if the girl carried excess poundage. She had yet to ascertain a precise definition of Asher’s type but she knew one thing—no fat girls need apply. “No semi trailer,” he said and the unfortunate and shocking vulgarism stuck in her mind.. She continued to read Shulamis’s questionnaire

“ Is he/she easy going/bossy,/demanding.” Select one.” Molly crossed it out and instead wrote.” Describe her temperament.” Open ended was surely better than multiple choice.

Then came a question that made Molly wince. “Did the family yell?”

When she’d returned home weighted down with dozens of pink cellophane bags full of groceries and hardly an ounce of strength to lift them from the car into the house Bella wouldn’t leave the computer to help until Molly let out a roar. Would that disqualify the Tumim’s.

There was a question about siblings, what they were doing. She thought of Bella’s many troubles and about Elazar who’d been had today been sent home to get a haircut. Molly didn’t mind long hair on men. When she’d first met Nahum his hair was longer than Elazar’s. Why did a slight lengthening of the tresses cause the rabbis to get all bent out of shape?

And then the final clincher. “Expecting money?”She neatly folded the questionnaire and slid it into her kitchen desk right next to the slip of paper containing the phone numbers of the references. When would she get to this? Tomorrow perhaps, once Nahum got home.

***

The morning was bright and sunny and only mildly hot. When she and Shulamis took their six AM walk Molly hugged her arms to her chest to warm herself.–a rare delight during the searing Israeli summer. As they strode back home from the forest Shulamis asked about the questions.” What did you think Were they helpful?.”

“Oh yes but I still don’t’ see myself doing this. But I’ll gladly pay you to do it for me. What do you say about that..,”said Molly.

“No,”said Shulamis. She walked as briskly as she spoke.” You’re not only listening to what people say but to how they say it. You’re the mother, You’ll be attuned to the nuances.”

Molly stopped freezing in place..” But I can’t.”

Shulamis stood next to her waiting for her.

“Come on. Didn’t you once told me that you used to act a bit.” In college Molly been played Big Nurse in”One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”

“Oh gosh, that was in another lifetime..”

“Well pretend that you’re on stage, saying your lines.”

When she got home she took out the questionnaire. Was she really ready. She stared at it again and returned it to the drawer. Then she took it out along with the list of references. Such long and complicated names Kopolovich, Genechovsky, Hasonvitch, Wildomirsky and Weiss. Such long and complicated names–would she mispronounce them. What if they only spoke Hebrew. She lifted the receiver. Which number should she dial. Weiss-. Weiss’s line was busy. She put down the receiver and poured herself a cup of coffee. No, she’d wait until Nahum would come home. Maybe he could do this. He was a great talker, but what if these people spoke only Hebrew. Then he’d be sunk. She looked at the calendar tacked above her desk. Today was Wednesday and tomorrow would be Thursday which was almost Shabbos and then Nahum would arrive and she’d need to get ready for Shabbos. She had Nahum had already invited a houseful of guests, mostly students who were visiting Israel on a birthright tour. The Tumim’s regularly had these guests. Molly loved being the one to introduce them to Shabbos for the first time. No , tomorrow she’d be too busy. Shulamis’s exhortation rang in her ears. Be an actor. She straightened her spine and took a deep cleansing breath just as she would before giving a class. Then she punched Mrs. Kopolovich’s numbers into the phone.

She answered and she spoke a perfect Brooklyn accented English.” Oh what a wonderful girl.” .She regaled Molly with tales of Ayelet ; how she had calmed her classmates down on the morning of a big test by treating them cookies she’d baked and decorated to look like accountant’s ledgers.

“You must have davened well.. This is a zechus.”

From Genechovich who turned out to be Genendy Genechovich, Ayelet’s best friend since childhood she learned Ayelet’s schedule. On Monday a Torah class. Every Tuesday she was off to the hospital to help care for a desperately ill infant. Every Wednesday she went to the gym and everything Thursday she mopped the floors for an elderly widow who lived down the block. On Friday she helped her own mother or married sisters.

Just hearing it made Molly dizzy. And from the other references she heard similar tales which she duly transcribed into a notebook. As to money, well, Molly didn’t quite get to that. It seemed a shame to interrupt all of those wonderful stories with such a base question.

***

Nahum came home on Friday morning, his eyes deeply ringed and his business suit rumped. Molly had gotten up early and prepared his favorite breakfast, freshly brewed coffee and blueberry pancakes but he barely picked at it.

“But can’t we talk just a little bit?”Molly asked.

“Can’t it wait… I’m just zonked.”

“What about just a short talk.” She’d tell Nahum all the wonderful things she’d heard– she’d already undated him through Whatsapp.

“Do this concern that girl, what’s her name”

“Yes, I think we should say yes.”

“I was guessing that.” Nahum got up from the table.

“So,”Molly stood next to him her arms rested at her waist her elbows pointing out.

“So what are they going to live on?”

“What do all couples do? She works. She’s got a job. He learns and we help.”

“Well, I don’t know how to tell you this, but Scott is cutting back on my hours.” Scott was Nahum’s brother in law and his employer.” His new daughter in law the one who just passed the bar. She’s getting my work.”

“How can he replace you like that, you’ve got so much experience.”

“It’s not that difficult and she’s a smart cookie ….so we really need to know the financials. You want the kids to have an apartment right? Not to sleep in a tent.”

“Well so. You don’t have to be sarcastic.”

“I told you I’m too tired now and I’m not being sarcastic. I’m being realistic. We need to know if we have partners.”

“So?” Molly raised her hands into the air.

“So. If you really want this thing to happen find out the financials.” Was her husband asking her to pry into the private financial affairs of strangers?

Alone in the kitchen Molly felt as if her heart had been edged out of her chest. She’d already allowed herself to design the invitations, select the gowns she and Bella would wear, even , imagine the future grandkids. How many girls like this would come around and how could she let a little thing like money blow the match?

She looked at her fridge, completely covered with wedding invitations. Until now she hadn’t appreciated what a miracle it was that anyone got married at all. Just before candle lighting Nahum brought Molly a bouquet of roses.” What is this for?”

“Well I was a bit hard on your, but I have an idea?”

“What?”

“Go to see Rebetzin Brill. Ask her. If she’s okay with this then so am I.”

Just then the air raid whistle blew announcing the arrival of Shabbos. As she covered her face with her hands to pray near the Shabbos candles, Molly felt an overwhelming feeling of peace. It would happen. Asher would marry a wonderful girl. Everything would be fine.

Antidote for Baseless Hatred – Part 2 – Loving Your Fellow Jew

Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller was kind enough to allow us to repost this article on Beyond BT during the 3 weeks. For more tapes and articles by Rebbetzin Heller please visit her site.

By Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller

Loving Your Fellow Jew

Now I want to share a completely different idea that relates to the issue of truth. The Torah tells us that in addition to loving truth, searching for truth, and promoting truth, we have to love each other. This should be no problem, of course, because everyone is pro-ahavat Yisrael (loving one’s fellow Jew). The problem is, being pro-ahavat Yisrael doesn’t necessarily mean you do ahavat Yisrael. This is because most of us don’t know the laws of how to love our fellow Jew. One big difference between Christianity and Judaism is that Judaism has halacha. “Halacha” comes from the verb lalechet, to go or walk. You want to reach a certain goal? Here are the steps you have to take.

There are three laws of ahavat Yisrael. The first is that you have to speak well of your fellow Jew—not just not speak ill of him. And what you say has to be true. This means you must choose to focus on what’s true and good in him. You don’t have to mention his name. But you have to have a reason to say what you’re saying. It may feel artificial at first. But when you speak well of someone, you subconsciously align yourself with him, so with time it will feel increasingly natural.

Obviously, you have to be intelligent about whom you speak well of and to whom. The following, for example, will not work: “How fortunate you are that your mother-in-law moved in with you! I’ve always found her to be a font of constructive advice and criticism…” You have to be smart enough to anticipate the reaction, and make sure your praise doesn’t do more harm than good.

The second law of ahavat Yisrael is that you have to be concerned with your fellow Jew’s physical needs. This doesn’t mean giving tzedakah (“charity”)—that’s a different mitzvah. It means that if you see she is hot, open the window. If you see an old lady struggling with her shopping bags, don’t say, “Boy, it’s a shame they don’t deliver after four.” Help her.

Being physically helpful reminds us that we all belong to one club: the club of the “mortals”. When you notice another’s needs, you become aware that she is not so different from you. You both get hot. You both need help carrying heavy things.

In Israel, when tragedy strikes, calls are put out on the emergency network for all volunteers to come to the hospitals. Most volunteers are young, religiously affiliated women ages 18 to 25. They often have nothing practical in common with the victims, many of whom are not religious, older, or younger. But they find themselves becoming part of the people whom they help.

In one terror attack, a whole family was injured, but the children recovered before the parents. Fortunately, neighbors were happy to take them for a while. The problem is, the neighbors were Ashkenazim and the children, who were Sefardim, didn’t like their food. Picture an 11-year-old Moroccan boy bursting into tears when he sees the gefilte fish. The next day a young American volunteer came to me asking, “Do you know anyone who knows how to make couscous?” As different as those children were from her, she became bonded to them through caring for their physical needs.

Speaking well of your fellow Jews and being concerned with their physical well-being are relatively easy. The third law of ahavat Yisrael is the hard one: You have to honor them. Here’s where the “truth” problem raises its head: How can I honor people I disagree with?
The answer is: You can honor them because they’re human. You can honor them because they’re real. You can honor them because of the good you see within them.

Reb Aryeh Levin

A person outstanding in this was Reb Aryeh Levin, who lived in Jerusalem during the British Mandate. He was well-known and loved for the honor he showed every individual. Despite this and his tremendous piety, some people in the community disagreed strongly with him. They felt his tolerance of and compromise with the secular Zionists would ultimately erode religious observance.
In the 1920s, Reb Aryeh became the self-appointed “rabbi of the prisons.” He visited and talked with all kinds of criminals. And they loved him. As time went on, the prisons became full of those the British had imprisoned for Zionist activities. They too loved him.

Why did they love him? There’s a phrase in Mishlei (Proverbs): “One face is the reflection of another face in the water.” You know how this works with babies. Smile at a baby of a few weeks old, and what does it do? It smiles back.

It’s not much different with adults. Once, Reb Aryeh daughter became ill. The diagnosis wasn’t clear and treatment was poor. Things didn’t look good. Reb Aryeh came to the prison on Shabbat as he always did to lead the religious service, and at kriyat haTorah (the Torah reading), he stopped as usual and asked, “Does anyone have anyone they want to pray for?” One of the prisoners said, “Yes—we want to pray for the rabbi’s daughter.” The prisoner began reciting the misheberach, a prayer ending with a pledge to donate tzedakah on behalf of the person one is praying for. The prisoner stopped. He said, “I don’t have money. None of us do. I want to donate time.” He offered a month of his life. The other prisoners followed suit. And they were real. They meant it. They loved him. And that’s because he loved them.

Another famous rabbi in Jerusalem was Rav Amram Blau, a leader of the old, religious yishuv (settlement) community and founder of the Neturei Karta, “Guardians of the Gates.” Rav Blau believed strongly that any inroads of secular Zionism would be the ruin of the yishuv. He would therefore go to extremes in protesting desecration of the Shabbat. He would lie down in the street in the ultra-religious neighborhoods of Geula and Me’ah She’arim and not let traffic go. (The policemen got to know him. They even came to his funeral, where they cried like children because they understood his sincerity.) For his activities, he was imprisoned.

And there was a problem: The prison food wasn’t kosher enough for him, so he wouldn’t eat it. The police wouldn’t let anyone from his community bring him food. The people didn’t know what to do. Finally, they approached Reb Aryeh and said, “You go to the prison every day. Bring him something.” So Reb Aryeh put some food in his jacket pockets and went.

When Reb Aryeh got to Rav Blau’s cell, Rav Blau, instead of gratefully taking the food and thanking him, turned his back. “I don’t want to look at you,” he told Reb Aryeh. “You sympathize with the Zionists.” 99 people out of 100 would have told Rav Blau what they thought of him, taken the food, and gone. But Reb Aryeh put the food down and quietly left.

Uncharacteristically, Reb Aryeh mentioned this to someone. The man was very indignant. “What is this? And he calls himself religious?” Reb Aryeh responded, “Don’t you understand? He wasn’t going to be friendly just because I brought him food. He’s so principled.”

If you want to see the good in another, you can see it, and bond. If you don’t want to see it, you won’t, and you won’t bond.

At one point the British sentenced some people to death. Reb Aryeh actually lay down in front of the British high commissioner’s car to protest. That he was pleading for the life of someone he didn’t necessarily agree with wasn’t relevant to him.

So if you want to love your fellow Jew, you have to learn to find what’s good in him, articulate it, and not be threatened by it.

This can be hard. We say, “Of course I like people. There are just some people I feel closer to than others. For instance, I like people from a cultural background similar to my own.” That eliminates 95% of the population. “And my own age group. I just don’t have what to say to teenagers or old people.” It finally comes down to, “I like people on the same level of religiosity as I and who share my interests…” Meaning, when I look at somebody else, who am I really looking for? Me. Why? Because I know the truth. Remember that problem?

Self-Expansion

Loving others forces you to become a little bit bigger.

Years ago, an American friend of mine made aliyah and moved into a rental apartment in Geula. I asked her how it was. She said, “Israel is great, but we’re going to have to find another place to live.” I asked, “What’s wrong with the apartment?” She said, “It’s not the apartment, it’s the neighbors.” So I asked her—you’re not supposed to do this, by the way, because it’s like an invitation to speak lashon hara (derogatory or potentially harmful speech)—“What’s so terrible about the neighbors?” She said, “Nothing. But I feel like I live alone in the building. They’re all over 70. They don’t read. I have nothing in common with them.”

Shortly thereafter she left and someone else I knew moved into the apartment. I asked her how she liked it. “I love it,” she said. “Really?” I asked. “The apartment’s so nice?” She replied, “The apartment’s okay—what’s wonderful is the neighbors!” I asked, “Oh, did new people move in?” “No,” she said. “They’re elderly Persians who’ve been living there forever.” I was curious to know why she liked them so much.

She told me that across the hall lives an elderly widow. One day she saw her heading down the stairs with a little grocery basket. She asked her, “You’re going to the grocery? What do you need?” The old lady said, “I’m just getting a bag of rice.” My friend said, “Why should you have to go down and up four flights for a bag of rice? I’ll get it for you and you can pay me back.”

Later that afternoon there was a knock on the door. The old lady was there with a plate of cooked rice. My friend looked at it and said, “You know, my rice doesn’t turn out like this.” In America, everybody buys Uncle Ben’s, and it takes effort to ruin Uncle Ben’s. But Israeli rice is real rice—you know, it grows in marshes, it’s real. So the lady said, “Come, I’ll show you how to make rice.” They went into her apartment, and she took out an ancient pot make of thick metal. She said, “First, you put a little oil on the bottom. Then you put in one noodle. When the noodle turns yellow, put in the cup of rice. Then you put in water that’s already boiling, and the salt. You cook it. When it’s done, you turn off the flame, and put a towel on it.” So my friend tried it. And lo and behold, it wasn’t one of those times when her husband would come home, look at the rice, and ask, “What’s for dinner?” Her rice looked like rice.

So she brought some of the rice to the old lady and said, “See, it came out good!” Which led to the old lady taking out her photograph album—and my friend got to see a whole other world: professional photographs taken in Persia, and then later in Israel in the ‘20s. It was the most interesting thing that had happened to her since she came. That led to them invite the old lady for kiddush on Shabbat morning. Which in turn led her to introduce them to her grandson when he was home from the army, which was their first experience talking to a real, live, native-born Israeli (since English speakers tend to form their own little ghettos). My friend concluded, “If I didn’t live in this building, I’d be in my own little world. This lady expanded my universe.”

That’s how we have to learn to feel about people who are different from us.
So let me review. We dislike each other for two reasons: One, we love truth and tend to not believe that other people could have it if their spark of truth is different from our own. Two, we are threatened by other people’s differences, and are often unwilling to expand ourselves. If you want to get past these two limitations, you must learn to speak well about, care materially for, and give honor to your fellow Jew.

Suppose you say to yourself, “Self, this is nice, but it’s too hard. Reb Aryeh Levin is a great guy to read about, but I’m not him. Personally, I like speaking ill of people I don’t like, devoting my time and efforts to my own physical well-being, and validating my own views. Why should I be different?”

I’ll give you some motivation. The most severe sin of all is idol worship. Remember how Avraham (Abraham) broke his father’s idols? (I have to say: As I get older, I feel more and more empathy for Avraham’s father. You know: “I leave the store for fifteen lousy minutes…” Or how other parents might see it: “There he goes, my ultra-religious son!”) The fact is, if you don’t expand yourself, you end up worshiping yourself—and that’s the most damaging form of all idol worship.

Musical Chairs – Chapter 1 – a Jerusalem American BT Family’s Struggle to Find a Bride for Their FFB Yeshiva Bochur Son.

Musical Chairs is a novel about a Jerusalem American BT family’s struggle to find a bride for their FFB yeshiva bochur son.

Chapter 1

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” Jane Austen

From as far back as she could remember, even before she reinvented herself as an orthodox Jew, Molly Tumim believed in synchronicity, and August 4, 2015 was one of those days when she believed in it most of all. On this particular morning she was on the bus returning to Har Nof from a women’s only gym where tried to teach a yoga class. Instead of demonstrating sun salutations, she spent forty five minutes in lotus position on the fake parquet floor until Reva, the supervisor, a perky twenty something redhead in a floral headscarf sent her home. “Sorry. I guess my ladies prefer Pilates.”

She didn’t sound sorry enough.

Molly exited quickly disappointed but not devastated— the job paid poorly and Molly didn’t believe that yoga should be taught in a gym. She was disappointed of course; rejection never feels good but she was pleased with herself too. While she waited she was able to think deeply about her first born son Asher now a twenty two year old yeshiva student in need of a bride. He was now old enough to date and to marry and she had the perfect girl — her upstairs neighbor Dena Maisels whose slender blonde green eyed form resembled a much younger Molly. Not that looks were the only criteria, far from it. Asher’s bride would need to have sterling character and come from a fine family. The daughter of a noted Torah scholar and herself a social worker in training Dena had the goods and there was chemistry, or there had been between her and Asher.

When they were still old enough to play together Dena and Asher had spent hours together constructing Lego metropolises.
It wasn’t unusual for a boy to marry the first girl he ever dated. It happened all the time. Even in her own family to two of the children of her husband’s brother and law partner Scott. What remained was the matter of logistics. Should she reach out to Dena’s Mom or would she require the services of a matchmaker?

The bus took a long time coming. When it pulled in it was packed . Molly stood until a moon faced Bais Yaakov girl offered up her seat. While she appreciated the gift and thanked the girl profusely it only increased her sense that she was washed up. Her career was clearly in the doldrums but at fifty three she wasn’t ready for retirement.

The soporific effect of the bus’s motion kicked in and Molly fell asleep. When she woke the bus had emptied out and the only remaining passengers were herself and an extremely tallwoman in black sunglasses a turquoise maxi dress and a dramatically cut black bob wig. When the woman spoke into her phone -loudly in bad Hebrew coated with a flat Midwestern accent, she was Ellen, now known as Esther Bernstein — a former neighbor who’d struck pay dirt as a matchmaker.

They had been neighbors when their children were small, Esther catching Molly’s ire by , leaving her children, sweet girl twins and a horrible hyperactive boy for hours of gratis babysitting but the years had bleached those memories away. Molly’s lips curled into a luminous smile What an amazing “coincidence,” finding herself alone on the bus with a matchmaker now! This was synchronicity at work.

Carefully balancing as the bus swerved through the hilly neighborhood Molly made her way to Esther. Still son her phone, Esther turned in her direction. “ Hey. You’re looking gorgeous as always.”

A slim woman in a fat world Molly heard those words a lot. Most of the time she shrugged them off, but after the mornings events she purposely allowed them to sink in.

“And what about your adorable son Asher? He’s at Hadar isn’t he… Great yeshiva! Is he dating?”

“Well actually,” Though she was usually fluent Esther’s uncanny ability to read her mind caused her to stammer. “What about De, De Dena Maisels.”

Esther winked. “Cute. I like that. A Mom who knows what she wants. I think I can help.”

Molly face glowed as if she was already standing under the huppah next to Asher and Dena. Just then the bus jolted to a stop and Esther rose to get off.

“We’ll be in touch,” she yelled as the bus rolled away.

As she walked home in the heat Molly hummed “Od Yishama,” the Jewish wedding march her feet treading lightly on the concrete. While she waited for the elevator she whatsapped her husband Nahum in New Jersey. He was away working again practicing law at his brother in law’s firm. Molly hated these trips; she missed him terribly but she couldn’t see how the family would survive without his American paycheck.

“Sounds good, I think he’s ready to go out and Dena seems like a nice girl.” But then he added something that shook Molly out of her reverie.

“Find out how much the Maisels are offering.”

Molly knew that in many families, financial arrangements went along with marriage but she never expected to be involved in such things. Her children would marry as she did—for compatibility, for shared values but also for love.

“Are we selling Asher to the highest bidder? “ Her voice dripped with irony.

“Do you want the kids to have an apartment or would you rather they live in a tent. Think about it. Having inlaws who can share costs is not a bad thing.”

When Molly got home she discovered Asher standing in the kitchen fixing himself sandwich.

Instead of greeting him with a smile or a kiss she grew tense. “Aren’t you supposed to be at yeshiva?”

“The air conditioner broke down so I came home until they can get it fixed.”

“Hmm,” Molly fought her natural tendency to react to remind Asher that a yeshiva student should be so thirsty for Torah that a malfunctioning AC wouldn’t matter to him but she held herself back.

“Asher,” Now she smiled, her eyes dancing with her secret.

“Remember you told me that you’d like to start dating.”

“Yeah so….. Asher looked at her queerly as if he sensed that she was up to something.

“Well I’ve got an idea.”

“With whom. I need to know.”

Asher was her best kid, a refreshing contrast from the rebellious younger brother and sister who came after him. He wore his black suit, white shirt and black fedora every day winter and summer. He stayed in the study hall most of the time, listened to Schweky on his MP3 instead of Beyoncé on his iPhone, didn’t even surf internet very much. She thought he’d be excited. Instead he sounded like he didn’t trust her.

“I’ve been thinking and I think that you can Dena Maisels…..”

Asher crossed his brow. “You mean that giggly girl from the seventh floor?”

“I think it’s worth one date. Remember how nicely used to play together?.”

“Mom, I don’t know if you noticed but I don’t’ play with Lego anymore and besides she’s got all that frizz and freckles. She’s not my type..”

Since when did Asher who wasn’t even supposed to look at girls have a type. What a morning. No job and now no bride either. Molly suddenly felt unsteady on her feet, the combined result of the morning’s disasters with a bit of dehydration added in. She escaped to her air-conditioned bedroom for a long nap and she was just getting up when Esther phoned her back.

“Sorry but I called the Maisels. It’s not happening. ”

“What? Any reason? “Molly’s voice was thick with emotion.

“They said she’s busy now.”

Molly leaned into the pillow. “Busy with what?”

“Trust me,. If the match is for you, it will go through and besides, I’ve got an even better idea. Between me you and the lamppost this girl is a bigger metziya, better looking, smarter and more gelt. I’ll give you the basics. Her name is Ayelet Gold. She’s a Beit Batya girl. Graduated last year. “Beit Batya , that named called to her.

Beit Batya was the best religious girls’ high school in Jerusalem famed for its blend of sincere piety, high level academics, a refreshing open-mindedness – each a week a rabbi wandered between the classrooms encouraging the girls to ask any question at all no matter how outrageous.

Molly dreamed of sending her only daughter Bella but Bella didn’t make the cut. She went to Beit Rina instead, which was far easier to get into and even there was she always in trouble. If Molly couldn’t have a Bait Batya girl for a daughter having one for a daughter in law was more than adequate consolation. Was there anything else Molly needed to know? Money? Nahum said to ask about money, but she’d leave that for now. Hmm. How did one go about having this conversation. Family.

“Who is the family?” Molly felt pleased that she’d asked the right question.

“Big yichus. Thirty generations of rabbis. They have a chart in their living room. You’ll be proud to have them as in-laws,”

The last rabbi the Tumim tree died over a century years ago. Then she had an anxious thought. What if this family, the Gold’s were Israelis? How would she cope with Israeli in-laws? After over a quarter century in Israel she spoke Hebrew well enough, but it wasn’t just that. It was the mentality. How would she cope with Israeli in-laws but then again Esther didn’t say that they were Israeli.

”Do they speak English?”

“Are you kidding? “Esther let out a loud guffaw. “The Mom’s from Cleveland , Dad is from Baltimore. Here, I’ll read out the references?”

The word with it’s harsh employment agency associations confused her. Why should one need references for love, for marriage?

Esther dictated a long list of phone numbers of Ayelet’s teachers, friends, rabbis.

“Call them. I’m sure you’ll be pleased.”

Now Molly felt a ripple of fear. “How can I call people I don’t know. Isn’t that like spying. “

“Trust me, “said Esther. “This is how it’s done.” Molly paused dumbstruck. It was as if she’d been hurled back in time to the beginning of her religious journey . How confused she’d been by the simplest details such as remembering how many times to pour water over your hands before after waking from sleep and how many times before eating bread.

“Is it really, “ she asked but by the time the words left her lips Esther had hung up. Hardly a day went by when the Tumim’s mailbox didn’t bulge with a wedding invitation and or a wedding or engagement party but the back story, that is how these couples actually came together together was a mystery. That was intentional . It was a Jewish belief that by talking too much one attracted the evil eye that quiet even to the point of secrecy invited blessing.

These days there were books with titles like “A Diamond for Your Daughter,” Molly had glanced at them but making a shidduch from a book was like trying out a recipe without tasting the food and yet she needed help, a flesh and blood mentor to guide her through.

The Power of Words

Rabbi Noson Weisz explains the power of words:

The Goan of Vilna explains how this spirit — man’s power of speech — is the locus of man’s essential being. For it is only in this area that man is conscious. Beneath this spirit are man’s physical urges which are all subconscious.

(We do not consciously move the blood through our veins, or command our lungs to draw breath or our stomachs to digest.) Above this spirit is man’s soul through which he is attached to God, the higher aspect of man’s being of which he is also consciously unaware. In the middle, between these two areas of sub-consciousness, is man’s spirit, where his thoughts that have been put into words and his emotions are located. This area is the only place where he is self-conscious.

Between the areas of sub-consciousness lies man’s spirit, where his thoughts transformed into words are located.
Thus, the battles of life and its conflicts are all located here.

Man’s soul attempts to pull him upwards so that the spiritual power in his words becomes entirely dedicated to the expression of his soul. In terms of the universe, this would amount to attaching man’s spirit to the upper side of the interface of God’s words, which hang suspended between the heavens and the earth.

The physical urges attempt to pull man down to their level so that the spiritual power of his words is entirely turned over to the satisfaction of physical desires. In terms of the universe this would amount to separating man’s words from the words of God, and pulling them downwards to become mired in the corporeal universe.

Read the whole thing.

Bar Mitzvah Planning Tips

Having made two bar mitzvah’s within one year (no twins either!) and another one several years ago, I have some experience which I would be happy to share with Beyond BT readers who have reached this point in their family lives.

Practical Points
The most important thing is to make a list of all required actions and put them on a schedule leading up to the date of the Bar Mitzvah.
A sample would be as follows:

-9 months to one year before:
–begin bar mitzvah lessons if son is going to lein the parsha
–reserve the date with the gabbai of your shul

-6 months before:
–order tefillin if ordering from Eretz Yisroel
–decide what to do re: seudas mitzvah, Kiddush, Shabbos meals
–examine venues and reserve one for each of the above if needed
–start your diet (just joking!)

-3 months before:
–order tefillin if ordering locally
–make inquiries into invitation businesses and order invitation package. Don’t forget some form of thank you cards.
–make inquiries for catering and reserve caterer. The actual reservation can be done at a later time but it should be started early.
–hire musician and photographer. If they are popular or you live in a large city this may have to be done earlier.
–call neighbors and arrange for sleep over arrangements for those friends and relatives staying over for Shabbos
–order new sheitel if needed
–if cooking for meals or Kiddush yourself, start freezing!! You should not have to cook for shabbos at the last minute

-2 months before:
–begin shopping for clothes for family, including YOU! (for bar mitzvah boy this includes new suit, new hat (or two), shoes, etc.), for both Shabbos and seudah evening. This could be done earlier if clothing for the season is available, but since children tend to change size, I don’t recommend shopping too early.
–edit and make final changes to invitation

-1 month before:
–confirm and pay for hall and establish table set-up.
TIP: don’t forget to check out where the speakers will stand and make sure there is an outlet nearby for the sound system!
–decide and confirm menu for seudah, Kiddush and shabbos meals
–send out invitations
–confirm with musician and photographer.
–prepare a list/spread sheet for invitation responses and who sent gifts for thank you cards
–order benchers.
–confirm neighbor’s guest arrangements
–buy small gifts for neighbors who will be hosting your family
–buy small welcome bags and fill with snacks, water, etc for your out of town guests
–if you are self-preparing the Kiddush, hire waiters to set it up while you are at shul.
–decide how to prepare centerpieces for seudah, and if necessary reserve at a gemach or florist. Gemachs can also be used for Kiddush serving pieces if doing it yourself.
–have hubby (HELP-ha ha) write the pshetel (bar mitzvah boy’s torah speech) and his own remarks.
–invite your Rabbi, rebbe, principal, etc. to speak at the seudah
–sheitel appointment
–haircuts

-Week of:
–last minute food shopping & Shabbos cooking
–last minute clothes shopping –don’t forget several pairs of new stockings
–give final guest count to the caterer
–make sure everyone’s siddur, other Shabbos needs are in one secure place. Especially their shabbos shoes!

-Day of (for Shabbos):
–Wake up early! Leave for shul early! Take a chumash to follow along with the leining (unless the shul has enough copies)!

-Day of (for the seudah):
–check out set up as early as possible. Many times things are not set up properly
–bring the centerpieces
–bring the benchers
–bring along a long, heavy duty extension cord (just in case)

-TIPS: For those seeking to scale down the celebration and/or save some money, there are several things that can be done yourself.

–The Kiddush can be in your home. This will save $1000 or more by itself. Yes, it will be messy and crowded, but it will last only an hour. We did ours in our back yard and it was amazing! We cooked, baked and froze, and were supplemented by many generous friends.

–The invitations can be done by someone who knows or is studying computer graphics, for a fraction of the cost. Buy the stationary yourself at Staples, and do the copying at a Kinkos.

–For the photography, find someone with a good digital camera and arrange a deal where he takes the shots and you just take the chip/card afterwards and you do the printing yourself. But this is not worth it if he is not good. The photos are your remaining memories of the event, so make sure he/she is good!

–We did the centerpieces ourselves: with vases from the gemach I made fresh flowers for each table in matching pieces of fresh fruit. You can cut the cost even more by putting flowers only on the women’s tables (men don’t notice or care anyways).

Emotional Points
–Obviously, this is a lot of work. It can get quite stressful, especially when there aren’t frum family involved helping you with the arrangements, or who want to do things differently than you. And especially when holidays like Pesach are near or on your son’s bar mitzvah date.

–Despite the joy the event heralds, many BT mothers have experienced bar mitzvah planning as lonely and stressful. If you don’t have a mother or sister to share the planning with, it would be a positive move to involve a good friend to help you out, shop with you, and help you make your decisions (along with your husband of course).

–Family milestones can also resurrect difficulties with non-frum family that you thought were resolved. For example, asking them to dress modestly, issues of driving to you on Shabbos, the separate dancing, the separate seating, the women behind the mechitza in shul, can all be flashpoints for vocal disagreements. Being prepared for this eventuality and discussing with your husband how to respond to various possible scenarios is the best way to prevent or diffuse any arguments.

–After all the planning, however, when the day arrives, it ushers in a powerful experience of simcha and yiddishe nachas, when you realize how far you’ve come as a family and how much your son has grown. In my experience, boys take their bar mitzvah very seriously and it is an opportune chinuch moment to emphasize how proud you are of him and how you love seeing him involved in his learning and davening. Im Yirtzeh Hashem he should go from this accomplishment to other Torah milestones!

Mazel Tov!

Thanks to bar mitzvah planner Laurie B from Passaic.

Approaches to Judging Favorably

We’re in the midst of the Three Week period leading up to Tisha B’Av and the Avodah (work) of this period is on Bein Adam L’Chaveiro (improving relations between man and his fellow). Here are some short thoughts on how to judge favorably.

Focus on the Overall Good
Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz in Sichos Mussar points out that the Pasuk in Koheles says “There is no Tzaddik who only does good and doesn’t sin”. He takes this a step further and points out that even a positive act has some bad in it, yet nonetheless we can judge the overall act as good. We should try to identify and focus on the positive aspects of the actions people perform and judge there overall acts as positive.

There’s a Part of You in Every Jew
Rabbi Moshe Cordervo in the Tomer Devora describes the level of soul conceptualized as the collective Jewish soul. Every person has a piece of that soul so in reality there is a spiritual piece of every Jew in every other Jew. The mitzvah to love your fellow Jew is really self-love, for one’s fellow Jew is oneself on the collective soul level. As each of us contains a piece of each other’s soul, when my fellow Jew is better off so am I. This framework can help us love our fellow Jew.

Other Peoples Mistakes are More Accidental
In his Iggeres, the Ramban writes “Consider everyone as greater than yourself. If he is wise or rich, you should give him respect. If he is poor and you are richer — or wiser — than he, consider yourself to be more guilty than he, and that he is more worthy than you, since when he sins it is through error, while yours is deliberate and you should know better!” Less observant Jews don’t understand the obligations of the Torah to the degree we do, so relatively, their sins/mistakes are by accident, while ours are done on purpose. Knowing this should help us humble ourselves and judge others more favorably.

The Essence of All People is Good
In the third Bilvavi sefer, the author book points out that our souls are pure and our bodies are just garments. Identifying with our pure souls as opposed to our stained garments is at the root of true self-esteem and enables us to work on removing our stains from a healthy perspective. In the same way we can view ourselves from this aspect of purity, so to we can view our fellow Jews from this perspective. At their root, every Jew has a pure good soul and that is their essence, even when their acts or personalities are negative.

Antidote for Baseless Hatred

We’re in the three weeks and Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller was kind enough to allow us to repost this article on Beyond BT. For more tapes and articles by Rebbetzin Heller please visit her site. To listen or download her mp3s (including a free one about the 17th of Tammuz) please visit the Aish Audio site.

By Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller

I’d like to talk about loving each other freely, and Jewish unity.

An interesting gemara (statement from the Talmud) tells us something we already know: Jews are the most quarrelsome of people. And the talmidei chachamim (Torah scholars) are the most quarrelsome of Jews.

Everyone knows the joke about the island where the man built two synagogues: the one he’ll go too, and the one he won’t set foot in. I’ve been to places like this, where there are several synagogues and none of them has a minyan (quorum). We do this to ourselves. In Israel, if there weren’t a law requiring that every political party have at least somebody voting for it, there’d be 5 billion political parties.

There’s a famous joke that dates from the beginning of the state. President Weissman visited President Truman, and Truman asked him, “So, isn’t it something, being a president?” Weissman replied, “It’s incredibly burdensome.” Truman said, “What do you mean? I’m the president of 186 million Americans. You’re the president of only one million Israelis.” To which Weissman replied, “No, I’m the president of one million presidents.” This is who we, the Jewish people, are.

The Fragmentation of Truth

The Maharal asks why Jews are so divided. He brings a gemara that lists many predictions about the world before Mashiach (the Messiah) comes. One is: “Truth will be absent from the world.” The word for absent is nehederet, which Rashi (the foremost medieval commentator) explains comes from the word eder, flock. Before Mashiach comes, truth will be such that every group is like a little flock. And within each flock will be sub-flocks. The fragmentation will be enormous.
The reason for this, the Maharal explains, is that to Jews, truth is very significant. We can’t be laid-back and say, “You have your truth; I have my truth; they’re both true.” It doesn’t sit right with us.
At the same time, we each have our own individual access to truth—and this is what divides us. What do I mean by “access to truth”?
There’s a gemara that says that when G-d created the world, He conferred with all His attributes. He asked Kindness, “Should I create the world?’” Kindness said go for it. Then He asked Justice. Justice was much more equivocal.
Then He asked Truth. If you were Truth, what would you say? “Forget it! There’s no place for me in Your world. I can’t exist there.” Why? Because the world is defined by time and space, which are subjective. And subjectivity means no truth.
So what did G-d do? He picked up Truth and smashed it to the earth so that it shattered. Concerning this, it says in Tehillim (Psalms): “Truth will sprout forth from the earth”—meaning there’s a little piece here and a little piece there.
But because we’re Jews, when we find our own little piece of truth, we see it as the whole picture. To give in and say “Maybe what you see as true is also true” is very painful—because how can I be tolerant of your view and still be a person of truth?
Because of this, the gemara says Torah scholars are the least accepting people, because for them truth is The issue. Either something is true, or it’s not.
In the era before Mashiach, the yearning for the whole picture, in which each fragment of truth joins with the others and forms something larger, becomes very great. But it’s presently beyond our grasp.

Different Kinds of Truth

This is one reason for our disunity. It’s not just ego. It’s not just limitation. It’s the fact that we care about truth, and we’re unwilling to move from our position. The question is: Is this something we should adapt to, or move beyond? And if we move beyond it, do we still retain truth?
We can get an idea by looking at the classical example of Beit Hillel (the house/school of Hillel) and Beit Shammai (the house/school of Shammai). They disagreed about a lot of things. And the Talmud’s conclusion, “These and these are words of the living God”—i.e. they both speak truth—doesn’t seem to work. How could they both speak truth while saying different things? It’s nice, but is it honest?
Let’s look at an illustration of their differences. In the times of the Mishnah, people would dance before the bride singing songs about her. The Mishnah asks: How do you dance before the bride?—i.e. what do you sing about her? Shammai’s school of thought was: Tell it like it is. “The bride is nasty, vindictive, selfish”—say the truth. Hillel, on the other hand, said that no matter what she’s like, say that she’s kind and nice (as the groom undoubtedly thinks).
The gemara explains that this dispute is really about the nature of truth. Is truth in the mouth of the speaker or in the ear of the hearer? Shammai would say it’s in the mouth of the speaker. If you believe in truth, make sure nothing false comes out of your mouth.
Hillel disagreed: Truth is in the ear of the hearer. What’s important is not so much what you say as how it’s received.
Let me give you an example. Suppose I said about my neighbor, “He isn’t going to be arrested.” If he’s done nothing criminal, that’s certainly true, but what image is created in the listener’s mind? Or how about, “He’s not being charged with wife-beating.” Again, this is true, but the image that he may be beating his wife is false. And that image is created because the listener is who she is.
Now, Beit Shammai would say that’s the listener’ problem—let her learn not to hear what isn’t said. Hillel would say you can’t expect her to do that—hearing what isn’t said is the human condition. The halacha (Jewish law) is according to Hillel. But both are equally valid interpretations of truth.
When Mashiach comes, we’ll rule according to Shammai, meaning that we’ll have to take responsibility for how we hear truth. If we yearn for messianic perfection, what does this mean? It means we have to learn to hear the truth, no matter what it sounds like or whom it’s coming from.

Dealing with Differences

We see truth differently because we have different personalities and experiences. Imagine a nice, empathetic person, the kind who could easily attach to anything—the kind who cries when she sees ads for Kodak moments. If you convince her that someone is persecuted, she’ll immediately side with him.
Now picture an entirely different person—one who loves reality. “I don’t want to know your feelings about the sunrise—I want to know how hot it is. The people in the Kodak moment are not real—they’re actors who don’t even know each other. Lassie will not come home.” Such a person won’t automatically empathize with someone portrayed as a victim. She’ll be concerned with truth and justice.
So the first problem in dealing with interpersonal differences is that we tend to see the world through our own eyes. The only person who rose above this was Moshe (Moses). The gemara says that Moshe saw through an “aspaklaria meira,” “clear glass.” The rest of us see things through the shadings of our personality and experience. So two people can see the same thing, but not see the same thing.
The other factor influencing our vision is experience—our circumstances and upbringing. Different people are raised to see the world in different ways, and can wind up with completely different frames of reference.
For example, a student of mine, before she was religious, had an abortion clinic. She’s an extraordinarily compassionate person who believes very strongly in life. But her education taught her to see only the mother’s life and needs. She therefore concluded that abortion equals compassion. As soon as she realized that compassion includes the unborn child, her perspective changed.
Unfortunately, none of us will ever see things as clearly as Moshe. Our middot (character traits) aren’t perfect, and neither is our education. So we see as far as we can, but it’s not far enough. The only truth we can rely is the Torah, because it comes from G-d and not us.
One rule, then, for getting beyond the issue of “your truth” versus “my truth” is to question whether or not your picture of truth fits G-d’s truth. If the answer is no, then you may have to accept the fact that your vision is limited.

Eating Cookies at the Kosel on the 17th of Tammuz

Before I became frum, I lit Channukah candles (I miss my purple and gold yarmulke), I didn’t eat bread on Pesach (I was stringent–it had to be bread davka) and I fasted on Yom Kippur. Even in college I fasted the whole day, and as soon as the sun finally went down (behind the administration building), the pepperoni pizza was mine. I deserved it after a day of affliction. Little did I know that other days of affliction dotted the Jewish calendar, too.

Just a few weeks after I joined my friend in his BT yeshiva, it was the 17th of Tammuz. I was given a briefing (very brief), and was told it was a fast day. Being natually respectful (and too shy to protest), I went along with it and during the early afternoon, I found myself sitting by my dirah window overlooking the Kosel while my friend was “praying Minkah” in the yeshiva. My stomach started to rumble. There was no one around, and I did have a stash of wafers under my blanket for emergencies. I glanced at the Wall, then at my cookies, then at the Wall. Do I miss what had been in the airspace above that wall? Ok, whatever, but mourning takes energy, doesn’t it? After all, when I used to go to a shiva in America, there was tons of food there. Wall vs. wafers [rumble!]…the wafers won.
I hid the evidence and dusted off the fingerprints…I still remember how amazed my friend was that I fasted so well.

Just three weeks later, another fast day. I didn’t eat, but I did manage to sneak into a chair every once in a while. I certainly didn’t greet anyone (my shyness came in handy again.) It was more than a little frustrating as it was so new, even though the very basics in yeshiva gave me a general idea. The fact is that as the first few years went by, I felt like I was lacking certain connections in all the holidays and fast days.

One year, I went to hear Rav Shlomo Brevda talk about the three weeks. Like so many others, he acknowledged that it’s very hard to mourn something that we never had. But unlike so many others, he spent much time going into great vivid detail (as he does so well) about what life was like when there was a Beis HaMikdash. (I heard that there are tapes for kids with this theme, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve learned quite a lot from children’s tapes in general!) Oh, really? So many miracles? This is what we lost? It was a step in the right direction, and another piece in the puzzle.

Nineteen years have gone by, and I’ve gained each year more pieces to the puzzle, about every holiday. As I look back, I see every holiday is a little different as I saw it before, (my impressions of Pesach are drastically different than even ten years ago!) and as every year more puzzle pieces are added, I get the sense of a whole picture coming together. Very slowly, but it’s coming. It takes a lifetime, but the satisfaction of looking back a few years and seeing some progress is tremendous chizuk. I’ve come a ways since munching on wafers in front of the Kosel on the 17th of Tammuz (really representative of the state of nonfrum Jewry as a whole). And believe it or not, the fasting even gets easier every year! I have never characterized myself as a spiritual fellow, but I see that the connections do come. What a great feeling!

So if you ever feel down about not growing, know it’s not true. It’s happening and it’s slow, but that’s the way it’s supposed to be–little steps, always little steps which are permanent. May we always continue to grow, and may your fast be even easier than last year.

Reposted from July 2009

Orthodoxy Is On the Rise

From Demand For Spiritual Leaders As Orthodoxy Is On The Rise

Dr. Chaim Waxman, Professor Emeritus of Sociology and Jewish Studies at Rutgers University and Chairman of Behavioral Science at Hadassah College, delivered an electrifying presentation at the Center for Kehillah Development in which he revealed new findings that Orthodox drop- out rates are falling and retention rates are rising. “Increasingly, Orthodox Jews are choosing to remain Orthodox,” he told the crowd of avreichim at the CKD. After a decade of dire alarms over Orthodox drop-outs, trends have changed and Orthodoxy now has the highest retention rate of any denomination, followed by the Reform and then the Conservative.

Dr. Waxman also shared data suggesting that the yeshivishe world is not just among the fastest growing, but also in some ways the most spiritually strong. When asked, “How important is religion in your life?”, 82.8 percent of th Ultra-Orthodox said “Very Important compared to 77.4 percent of Modern Orthodox 44.3 percent of the Conservative, and only 17.2 percent of the Reform. When asked “Ho certain are you about your belief in God?”, 91.9 percent of the Ultra-Orthodox answered “Absolutely Certain,” compared to 87.4 percent of the Modern Orthodox, 47.5 percent of the Conservative, and 39.6 percent of the Reform.

In an astounding projection, Dr. Waxman indicated that current data suggest the possibility that the majority of all Jews in the world will live in Israel within less than 20 years. If that were realized it would be the first time this has happened since the destruction of Bayis Sheni. He pointed out that this could have major repercussions in halachah.

Chukas in a Nutshell

Here’s Rabbi Rietti’s outline of Chukas. You can purchase the entire outline of the Chumash here.

Parah
# 19 The Parah Adumah – Red Heifer
# 20 Moshe hit the Rock
# 21 The Snakes
# 22 B”Y Encamped Across the Jordan Opposite Jericho

# 19 The Parah Adumah – Red Heifer
* The Parah Adumah – Red Heifer.
* The Ritual Purification of a Tameh Met.

# 20 Moshe Hit the Rock
* Beny Yisrael arrive at Kadesh in Midbar Tzin.
* Miriam Dies
* “No Water!”
* Beney Yisrael complain against Moshe & Aron.
* HaShem instructs Moshe to speak to the rock.
* Moshe speaks with anger
* Moshe hit the rock.
* HaShem decrees Moshe and Aron will not enter Eretz Yisrael.
* Moshe sent messengers to Edom to let Beney Yisrael pass through.
* Edom warns Beney Yisrael not to pass through.
* Aron dies on Hor Hahaar & entire Jewish People cried over Aron’s death.

# 21 The Snakes
* Canaan attack and take a captive
* B”Y swear to dedicate entire spoils if victorious & recapture the captive.
* Complaints about “No water and bread in the desert, just this Munn!”
* HaShem sent snakes to attack Beney Yisrael.
* Moshe makes a copper snake.
* Journeys: Ovot – Eye-Yay Ha’ivrim – Nachal Zered – Aver Arnon
* Shirat Yisrael: Miracle at ‘Aley Bear’ ‘Song of the Well’
* Journeys continue: Matana – Nachliel – Bamot.
* Messengers sent to King Sichon of Emor “Let us pass through your land”
* Emorites refuse entry and attack Beney Yisrael.
* Israel defeats the Emorites.
* Og, King of Bashan goes out to wage war against Beney Yisrael.
* Israel defeat Og and his people.

# 22 B”Y encamped across the Jordan opposite Jericho

Some BTs Lose It, Some FFBs Never Had It


Rabbi Menachem Zupnik
From Mishpacha Magazine BT Symposium – September 13, 2012

THE PROBLEMS IDENTIFIED here are very real and serious, and the answers are very personal and complex, and can’t be properly addressed in a short forum. I am also uncomfortable that perhaps classifying these courageous Jews and their problems separately in this way is shallow and disrespectful. I try to be understanding of each individual, weighing his strengths and limitations as we talk. I experience each one as just an Orthodox Jew trying his best to juggle the stress and difficulty of fidelity to Hashem and His Torah in today’s day and age.

I have been privileged to be inspired by many Jews who demonstrate incredible dedication and modesty in the face of great nisayon; but I have also encountered Jews who unfortunately do not seem concerned enough about compromising their Yiddishkeit. There is a spectrum of connection to Hashem and His Torah that exists equally among both the frum from birth and the baalei teshuvah. Indeed, some FFB people demonstrate weaknesses requiring compromises that dwarf any I have ever made for a person due to his secular past. In my experience, it is not a person’s upbringing that defines who he is; his past is something for consideration, but no more.

You wonder how to deal with a baal teshuvah’s “buyer’s remorse.” In response, I query: Is their problem of disenchantment essentially any different from that which so many of our young FFB adults are feeling, and is the answer to “their problem” any different from the answer to “ours”?

Regarding the sheer difficulty and expense of being frum, I again suggest that the problem is no different for the FFB individual. What would you say to a good, well-meaning Jew who, following his rebbeim, struggled to raise daughters who wish to marry only bnei Torah? His wonderful success in raising six exemplary daughters is greeted with the harsh reality that the really serious bnei Torah “cost” more than he can afford. His daughters, he is told, must settle for boys who are not such big learners but can support themselves. He regrets having thoughtlessly followed the course of our community, he is disil-lusioned by the system, and angry that it does not value his precious daughters and give them the chance they so very much deserve. How does one respond to his remorse and anger? The problem is not essentially any different from the one described here as a baal teshuvah problem. Indeed, in my experience, the latter problem arises more often than the former.

The issue of full integration into the community is also a personal question that depends on the individual and the community. I cannot overemphasize the importance of making the effort to belong to and be part of the larger Orthodox Jewish community. This is especially important for their children’s sake, since they are lacking the added support of an extended frum family.

But once again, this is not only an issue for baalei teshuvah. They are not the only ones who want to retain their own identity and are hesitant to conform entirely. This is a larger problem with frum behavior in general; we may eat similar foods and wear similar clothes, but we are far from conformists. Just listen to the attitudes expressed among FFBs: This rav is too stringent and that rav is too lenient, that rosh yeshivah is too rigid and the other one does not give the boys a clear direction. Tragically, this occurs regarding gedolei Yisrael as well, with too many FFBs assessing their wisdom and deciding at a whim whether to heed their guidance.

The sad reality is that most frum Jews are in actuality very — perhaps too — independent. People resist committing themselves to any one shul, or rav, or any particular derech. This is not spiritually healthy for the FFB any more than it is for the baal teshuvah. So, before we start pondering whether an intelligent, well-educated baal teshuvah has to give up his or her independence and perspective to join our derech, perhaps we should address our own deficiencies in this regard, and ask ourselves: Do I have a rav and a derech? Have I given up my ideas and issues in order to conform to a kehillah?

The term ben Torah, although part of our lexicon, lacks a clear definition. I use the term to describe a particular type of Jew who may not have ever even stepped into a yeshivah, but understands that being frum entails striving to be a better Jew and constantly growing in avodas Hashem. In general, the life of a ben Torah is less secular and more intensely Jewish. One might therefore expect that he would have the hardest time in accepting newcomers to Judaism, with their “strange and different ways.”

Yet, I have observed over many years that the very opposite is true. It is these very intensely Jewish individuals who have the least problem accepting the newcomers. And that is simply because they have the most in common with them; they both are seekers of the truth. They value substance over style, and appreciate each other’s mesirus nefesh to try and do what is correct. Others who accept mediocrity and stagnation in their Jewish lives do not share this common bond with the baal teshuvah. And, although their more liberal form of Jewish living and familiarity with secular culture might seem closer to the baal teshuvah’s own experience, in reality they find little in common with the baal teshuvah’s sincerity and quest for meaning in life.

There are many baalei teshuvah who, after a while, lose their initial vitality, and there are many FFBs who never had it. Yet we find in both of these groups dedicated Jews who maintain their enthusiasm for everything Jewish throughout their observant lives. This is the only meaningful distinction that exists within our community in an effort to deal with its problems; it is a mistake to continue grouping Jews by irrelevant superficialities.

The best thing we can do for our newly observant members is to continue to strive and grow to become better Jews. Most baalei te-shuvah will feel accepted and comfortable among such Jews. The worst thing we can do for them is to lose our own vitality and become more involved with style than substance. That is a tragedy for us as well as for them.

Rav Menachem Zupnik is the rav of Bais Torah U’tefillah in Passaic, New Jersey, a yeshivah community that is also a magnet for baalei teshuvah. His kehillah is noted for its ability to make the yeshivah worldview and experience accessible to newcomers.

Dealing With The World’s Inherent Conflicts

Korach is the parsha of Machlokes or conflict. The Gemora in Sanhedrin 110a says:
The Torah states: “Moshe rose and went to Dasan and Aviram” – Reish Lakish said: From here we learn that one should not persist in a quarrel. For Rav said: Whoever persists in a quarrel violates a prohibition as it is stated: “He should not be like Korach and his Assembly”.

Hashem created the world with conflict. The most fundamental conflict is between our physical side which includes our desires and ego, taiva and gaiva, and our spiritual side, our soul, composed of our nefesh, ruach, and neshama. Dr. Dovid Lieberman phrases this conflict as “the body wants to do what feels good, the ego wants to do what looks good, and the soul wants to do what is good”.

Torah is the antidote for the man vs himself conflict – as it teaches us how to properly integrate all our actions, emotions and thoughts with our soul.

When Hashem created us as Tzelem Elokim he gave us the ability to create our own spiritual reality and become a creator like He is a Creator. This creates a conflict between ourselves as creators and Hashem as Creator.

We address the man vs God conflict through prayer in which we regularly acknowledge that all our accomplishments are dependent on Hashem.

The third conflict is man vs man. In the Mesillas Yesharim Chapter 11 on Nekiyus, the Ramchal discusses the big four negative character traits of pride, anger, envy and honor – which are all rooted in gaiva. The Ramchal says “a person would be able to overcome his desire for wealth and the other pleasures and still be pressed by the desire for honor, for he cannot endure seeing himself as inferior to his friends”.

The antidote for the man vs man conflict is Gemilas Chasadim. When we give to another person we connect to them and we no longer view our relationship from the ego perspective of superiority and inferiority, which is at the root of the big bad four.

One final helpful piece of advice from Rabbi Itamar Schwartz author of the Bilvavi and the Da Es Atzmecha seforim. He says that we need to change our perspective from a body with a soul – to a soul clothed with a body – which takes mental work, given that we experience the world primarily through our bodies. The nature of spiritual souls is to connect whereas the body and ego cause desire, division and sadness.

We can’t eliminate the world’s inherent conflicts, but we can lessen their divisive effects and work on the connection generating properties of our spiritual soul-oriented world.

Turning the Tables on the Constant Test of Summertime Immodesty

By Rabbi Yonah Levant

The 1st Mishna is Pirkei Avos, Chapter 2 says:
Rabbi [Yehuda haNasi] said:…
Be careful with a minor mitzvah (commandment) as with a major one, for you do not know the reward for the mitzvos. Consider the loss incurred for performing a mitzvah compared to its reward, and the ‘reward’ received for sinning compared to the loss….

The two parts of the Mishnah, the encouragement to keep mitzvos, and the steeling oneself to avoid aveirah, seem to be distinct and can be fully understood independent of each other. It seems.

I saw a chiddush (novel insight) that manages to link the סוֹר מרע (turn away from bad) with the עשה טוב (do good) in a way that can have a very big impact on a person’s entire relationship to Hashem.

This is based on what we all intuitively know – that it is most worthwhile to daven to Hashem during an עת רצון (time of divine favor). “Worthwhile,” in terms of having one’s tefilos heard and accepted. The Ohr HaChaim on the pasuk ואתחנן אל ה’ בעת ההיא לאמר (and I davened to Hashem in that time saying) explains that the בעת ההיא (in that time) meant that it was an עת רצון (time of divine favor), and that is why Moshe davened then. Moshe knew when it was an עת רצון (time of divine favor) and he took full advantage to daven then.

Wouldn’t we love to know when there is an עת רצון (time of divine favor), or better yet, be able to create such a thing, by ourselves!

Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein shlita of Bnei Brak quotes the Ba’al Sefer Shomer Emunim who says that whenever one does a mitzvah, it is an עת רצון (time of divine favor). And especially when one sees inappropriate scenes, pritsus (immodesty), and one looks away with proper שמירת עיניים (guarding of one’s eyes) , that creates a עת רצון (time of divine favor) such that your tefillos will certainly be accepted by Hashem.

What does this mean to us? What does it mean to us who live in a very degraded generation in terms of tsnius (modesty), and what does it mean to us in terms of our lives as Jews, in the Big Picture.

Before this insight, a person might feel overwhelmed by a non-tsnius (immodest) world, especially in the summer, where one is put to the test all the time. A person might end up feeling aggravated endlessly, that the world is so antagonistic to Torah observance. You can’t look around and walk around like a normal person. You always have to be on edge, like in a battle.

And Shemiras Aynayim (guarding ones eyes) is a tricky business, since willpower doesn’t stop your optic nerve from working! The Ran in Nedarim says (I don’t have the source location) “אבל עיניו ואזניו של אדם אינם ברשותו, שהרי על כרחו יראח בעיניו ובאזניו ישמע.” – (but the eyes and ears of a man are not his possession, because one sees with his eyes and hears with his ears, even when he doesn’t want to). So, it’s a mitzvah where you practically start off on the wrong foot all the time! You see something inappropriate and only then do you look away.

If you need to be on the street, or driving, etc. you can’t prevent your eye from seeing something un-tsnius (immodest) if it (or her) steps right in front of you. The chiyuv (obligation) is obviously to look away immediately. So, it is a nisayon (test) of great proportions, considering that a healthy human being is not Parev (neutral) about these things. It pulls at a person’s very base nature. If the mitzvah of Shemiras Aynayim (guarding ones eyes) was to avoid looking at wool, it would be much easier to observe, even though wool is also everywhere! Nobody has a deep desire for looking at wool!

So, a person can be exhausted and aggravated from the ongoing nisayon (test) , even if he is successful! Or, chas v’shalom (G-d forbid), a person can give up the fight, and not keep the mitzvah, and abandon that level of kedushah (holiness) that Hashem wants of every single Yid.

With the insight of the Shomer Emunim, a person can change each nisayon (test) of Shemiras Aynayim (and any other aveirah nisayon (trangression test)) into an opportunity for tremendous dveykus (closeness) to Hashem. When one looks away, one can proclaim “Hashem, I am yours, I do not belong to the street! And since I am yours, and since I am overcoming my desires, for You, please help me with…” A person can become Davek to Hashem amidst the shmutz of our world. A person can grow, because of the opportunity hidden within the nisayon (test). “I am not looking Hashem, because I am yours! I am not theirs!”

Rav Zilberstein in his sefer טובך יביעו ח”ב עמ’סח quotes an unnamed Godol who said that a person who doesn’t practice Shemiras Aynayim sullies his davening and learning which require Kedushah. But it also robs him of his ability to get real pleasure and sweetness from learning, and davening, and the like.

You essentially end up switching the forbidden pleasure for the pleasure Hashem wanted you to have in dveykus (closeness) with Him through a geshmak (wonderful feeling) in learning, a heartfelt davening, etc.

I think it was the Steipler Gaon zatzal who was quoted (2008 Men’s tsnius asifah in Lakewood, Rav Wachsman drosho) as saying that when a person foregoes a forbidden pleasure, because of Hashem’s Will, then he will get a תשלומים, an equivalent, a replacement pleasure through Avodas Hashem. He will find real pleasure, real earthly pleasure in davening, or learning, or some other kosher venue. You will not lose out, says the Steipler Gaon.

Let us all try to turn this constant test into an opportunity to have our prayers answered, especially in this troubling time.

Why Doesn’t the Segulah of Tzitzis Work?

Why are so many segulos ineffective?
In particular why doesn’t fulfilling the Mitzvah of tzitzis transform us into spiritual supermen, as promised by the Torah?

These shall be your fringes and when you look at them, you’ll remember all the commandments of HaShem, and do them; and will not [continue to] go astray [following] after your own heart and your own eyes, which [have had the ability to this point of] leading you to immorality.  So that you will remember and do all My commandments, and be holy unto your Elokim.

—BeMidbar 15:39,40

 “So that you will may remember and do all My commandments.” This is comparable to one thrown into the raging waters to whom the ship’s captain flung a rope. The captain told [the man thrown overboard]  “grasp this rope in your hands and don’t let go for if you do  … you’re a goner.” Similarly, the Holy Blessed One told Israel: “as long as you hold fast to the mitzvos [you will live] [as it says] ‘And [only] you who cling to HaShem your Elokim are all alive today’ (Devarim4:4). And it says ‘Take fast hold of mussar-reprimands /moral instruction; don’t let go; guard her, for she is your life.’ (Mishlei 4:13)”

—Midrash Rabbah BeMidbar17:6

 In this allegory the life-preserving rope represent the strands of the tzitzis-fringes. Through them, we remember HaShem’s commandments and do not “drown” in the “raging waters” of malicious transgressions.

—Commentary of Rav Dovid Luria ibid

 Antigonus ish Socho received the tradition from Shimon the Righteous. He would say: “Do not be as slaves, who serve their master for the sake of receiving reward. Rather, be as slaves who serve their master not for the sake of receiving reward. And the awe of Heaven should be upon you.”

—Pirkei Avos 1:3

We live in an era when the ideal of serving HaShem with no ulterior motives has become almost passé.  As one wit put it “How did the Ahm Segulah become the Ahm Segulos?” It seems as though almost every worthy cause and endeavor is marketed as a “you scratch My Back and I’ll scratch yours” tradeoff kivyachol-as it were; with HaShem … Many people grow bitter and disappointed when, despite their best efforts at adhering to the segulah-prescribed practices, the promised yeshuos-deliverances; never come about.

Yet distinctions must be made between latter day segulos of unripened vintage and of dubious provenance and segulos that appear in the Gemara — or in the Chumash itself. For notwithstanding Antigonus ish Socho’s admonitions for completely selfless, non self-serving avodas HaShem-serving G-d; there are many mitzvah practices whose promised rewards are, in fact, guaranteed by the Gemara or in the Chumash.

Apart from the article of our faith that, in a general sense, observance of the Torah’s commandments reaps rewards (while transgressions evokes Divine retribution in the form of punishments); there is a lengthy causality list linking particular mitzvos and areas of Torah study to earning specific rewards: “Length of days” for honoring parents or shooing the mother bird away from the nest before taking the eggs or hatchlings, bountiful crops in the years preceding the Sabbatical and Jubilee years in consideration of scrupulous halachic observance of those years, wealth for proper tithing and offspring who are Talmidei Chachamim-Torah sages; in exchange for care and concern in the kindling of mitzvah lamps/candles — to name but a few.

Still another distinction must be made between activities that are mesugal– supposed to cause material benefits to accrue; and those that are mesugal for spiritual advances, greater intellectual acuity and / or ethical edification.  This last category comes a lot closer to Antigonus ish Socho’s paradigm than those segulos that promise temporal benefits.

Rav Shmuel Dov Asher Lainer, The Biskovitzer Rebbe, maintains that the mitzvah of tzitzis–ritual fringes on four-cornered garments; is a segulah for comprehensive tzidkus-righteousness/ saintliness. Moreover, this segulah is explicitly described by the Torah. After all, the pasuk says that when we see our tzitzis we recall all of HaShem’s commandments and, knowing that they are commandments, not non-compulsory suggestions, and that we are the commanded, how could we do anything but carry out our Divine orders? Thus, the pasuk concludes with the promise/ prediction … “and you will do them.”

The Biskovitzer then poses a very pointed, but rather obvious question.  Why doesn’t this segulah work? One would be hard pressed to find a self-described Torah-observant Jew who does not perform the mitzvah of tzitzis regularly. So why are true tzadikim-righteous/ saintly people; i.e. those who both recall and keep all of HaShems mitzvos and who resist all petty temptations, so few and far between?

This question is of far more than mere philosophical or exegetical interest. For if a Torah guaranteed segulah does not fulfill its promise it can bear the toxic fruits of disillusionment, bitterness and doubt.  To paraphrase Einstein; the definition of skepticism is repeating the same experiment that worked so well in the past over and over again without yielding the expected results.

A close reading of the Midrash , writes the Biskovitzer, provides us with the answer.

If we viewed tzitzis as the sage of the Midrash does the segulah of tzitzis would prove effective and deliver on its promise to make us righteous and saintly.  But, instead, we are willfully blind to the life-rope / breathing-tube that a Merciful and Paternal Providence flings our way providing us with the means to escape the clutches of sin-cum-death.

The paramount rule of Divine Administration of all creation is midah k’neged midah-quid pro quo. For good or for bad; for better or for worse; HaShems rewards and punishments are not merely just, but are informed by poetic justice.  So if we refuse to see the real nature of HaShem’s mitzvos, i.e. that they are the lifelines that tether us to Him  … the Life of all lives, then, in return, HaShem blinds us to the reality of the temporal world and its temptations. Instead of seeing raging cataracts of sin tossing us willy-nilly and threatening to inundate us once and for all, we perceive the world as safe, tranquil and secure natural-habitat.

If the man thrown overboard were delusional; if he continued to breathe easy — imagining that he was still on the deck of the ship in calm, windless waters, he too would reject the rope the captain flung him. Unaware of the danger and the means of escaping danger at his disposal we would, tragically, drown.

This, concludes the Biskovitzer, is why not everyone who wears a tallis metzuyetzes-a fringe bearing four-cornered garment; is, perforce, a tzaddik recalling and scrupulously observing all the mitzvos of the Torah immune to all of the attractions that lead people astray.

We do not lose faith in the segulah of tzitzis because it fails to work — it fails to work because we fail to believe in what the tzitzis truly are.

 

—Neos Deshe Parshas Shelach D”H Dahber

Bshalach 5774-An installment in the series of adaptations
From the Waters of the Shiloah: Plumbing the Depths of the Izhbitzer School
For series introduction CLICK

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I Wish Parents Would Stop…

I was asked this week: As a teacher what do you wish parents would stop doing?” This was my response…

Firstly, I wish parents would stop loving their children conditionally. Conditional love is the most devastating aspect of misguided parenting. Love is a fundamental and core need for every human being. Children who grow up in homes where they are loved for what they do (or don’t do) rather than for who they are, become dysfunctional. Children crave and depend on the love of their parents for their sense of self-esteem and self-worth. Over the years I have counselled many adults who in their childhood were loved conditionally by their parents and as a result, now struggle to cope with life. They experience every interaction as a judgement and are so fearful to fully engage or express themselves. It can take an individual who was not genuinely and unconditionally loved, hours of counselling and years of emotional rehabilitation to heal the wounds.

Moshe Rabenu loved the Jewish People, irrespective of their actions. Sure he was angry with their rebelliousness, frustrated with their actions, disappointed by their demands and heartbroken by their protests. But in spite of it all, he loved us so deeply, that he was willing to sacrifice his life in this world and the next for us. This is the love our children need. We can be disappointed, frustrated and heartbroken by them but we can never stop loving them.

Secondly, I also wish parents would stop trying to live their lives through their child. I see this time and again. Parents who failed to seize the opportunities that life presented to them, manipulate their children to live their unrealized dreams and aspirations. These parents place intense pressure on their children to live up to expectations that are neither realistic nor beneficial for each particular child.

The Ariza”l writes that just as the physical face of each person is different, so too are the emotional and intellectual dispositions of each person different. Every child is unique, with a unique personality, talents and desires. Every child has a unique core purpose and the distinctive potential to fulfill that purpose. It is the duty of every parent to give every child the greatest opportunity to reveal and express that unconscious potential. So instead of parents trying to mould their children into the people they failed to become, they should focus on creating a loving, caring and nurturing environment within which the child can actualize their unique potential.

Finally, I wish that parents would stop being afraid to discipline their children. When there are no boundaries, when children don’t receive the fundamental life skill of discipline, then they will struggle to actualize their unique potential. By discipline, I don’t mean an authoritarian or draconian approach but rather a system that educates the child to take responsibility for their decisions. ‘Free Will’ is a core Jewish belief. Hashem set up a world of cause and effect. He gave us a manual to guide us towards living a fulfilled and purposeful life. He also gave us the choice to follow that manual or not. Children need to learn that although they are free to act, there are consequences for making good and bad decisions – a lesson that not enough of our children are learning.

Visit Rabbi Aryeh Goldman at A Mindful Jew.

Outline of B’ha’alotecha

Here’s Rabbi Rietti’s outline of B’ha’alotecha. You can purchase the entire outline of the Chumash here.

B’ha’alotecha
# 8 The Ner Tamid & Inauguration of the Levites
# 9 Korban Pesach Sheni – Divinely Guided Clouds
# 10 Trumpets & Travel Sequence
# 11 Complaints-“Meat!” – Quail
# 12 Miriam Complains to Aron About Moshe

# 8 The Ner Tamid & Inauguration of the Levites
* Aron Lights the Menora every day.
* Taharat HaLevi’im – Purification of the Levi’im on the day of their
inauguration ceremony:
* Sprinkling of Mei Chatoz (after the following steps in the inaugoration)
* Shave all hair with razor,
* immersion of entire body,
* Immersion of all clothing,
* Bring 1st bull as Olah, with Mincha and oil,
* Bringing of 2nd bull as Chatat,
* All Levi’im and Beney Yisrael congregate,
* Beney Yisrael place hands upon heads of Levi’im to officially appoint
them representatives in the Avoda of the Mishkan,
* Aron waves 22,000 Levi’im in air,
* Offering of both bulls,
* Now Levi’im are officially inaugurated, replacing the firstborn, Levi’im
began their service from that day.
* Levi’im qualified for Temple Service from 25 – 50 years old.

# 9 Korban Pesach Sheni – Divinely Guided Clouds
* First Pesach was in 1st month of the 2nd year in the desert.
* Complaints from Tamey Met who could not bring Korban Pesach.
* Pesach Sheni instituted by HaShem on 14th of Iyyar for Tamey Met and those too far to arrive in Nissan, eaten with Matzot and Marror, no Notar, cannot break bone.
* Divinely Guided Clouds: Clouds resided above the Mishkan by day and a pillar of fire at night. When the Divine clouds moved, that was the signal for the camp to continue the desert journey.

# 10 Trumpets & Sequence of Travel
Two Silver Trumpets for seven types of announcements: 
1. Call Sanhedrin to session
2. Initiate Journey
3. Gather entire Camp (both trumpets with 1 long Tekia blast)
4. Call leaders (one trumpet with 1 long Tekia blast)
5. Sequence of travel for the tribal formations: 4 sets of blowing:
1st set TK-TR + 1 long TK = E. Camp
2nd set TK-TR + 1 long TK = S. Camp
3rd Set TK-TR + 1 long TK = W. Camp
4th Set TK-TR + 1 long TK = N. Camp
6. Prepare for War & signal to do Teshuva against calamities (Ramban)
7. Moment of offering a Korban Tzibur
* In 2nd month of 2nd yr, B”Y traveled from Midbar Sinai to Midbar Paran
* List of sequence of travel of each tribe and its leader
* Yitro returns to Midian
* The Ark travels ahead of the Camp (not same ark as in K”Kodshim)

# 11 Complaints -“meat!” – Quail
* Complaints of journey for 3 days without rest
* Fire descends and consumes Eruv Rav
* B”Y complain “We want meat! We miss the fish, cucumbers, melons,
leeks, onions and garlic! & we’re fed up with this Munn all the time!”
* Moshe cannot shoulder the burden alone
* HaShem instructs Moshe to elect 70 elders
* HaShem Promises Meat
* Moshe gathers 70 elders, HaShem inspires them with power of Prophecy
* Eldad & Medad Prophecy Moshe’s death and Yehoshua’s succession
* Quails descend
* HaShem strikes many with His anger.
* Place of Plague named Kivrot HaTa’ava, “The graves of the Lust.”
* B”Y traveled from Kivrot HaTa’ava to Chatzerot.

# 12 Miriam Complains to Aron About Moshe
* Miriam and Aron speak Lashon Hara against Moshe
* HaShem proclaims Moshe the most humble person on earth
* Miriam’s retribution, Moshe prays for Miriam
* Miriam quarantined for 7 days
* B”Y travel from Chatzerot to Midbar Paran

Mother’s Prayer

By Anonymous

This story is just so perverse
I thought it best to say in verse.
I’ve got a daughter, aged 23
Already grown up, you say to me.

I raised her right at least I tried.
Sent her to Bais Yaacov to bring me pride.
But the long blue skirt she threw away
And guess what she wears today?

A skirt so short
That I’m not proud
To show all that skin is not allowed!
But when I say her skirt’s too short
She says I don’t provide enough emotioal support.

She says it’s her right to show her knee
And that I love her conditionally
Perhaps my mother’s love has a flaw
But it’s Hashem’s who made the law

And when she flouts it I’m in pain
But she can’t hear me so I won’t say it again
Hashem I’m giving her over to you
Please make her value tznius , dress as a loyal Jew

Let her outsides reflect her inner glow
And let her sweet neshomo continue to grow


Originally Published 12/6/2011