The Biggest Problem in Judaism

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

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

That’s what’s expected of us!

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

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

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

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

Blinded by the Light

Toldos

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

For series introduction CLICK

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

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

-Bereshis 27:1

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

-Midrash Bereshis Rabbah  65:5

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

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

-Bereshis 26:2-3

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

-Rashi Ibid

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

-Devarim 3:27

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

-Rashi Ibid

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

-Devarim 34:7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adapted from Mei HaShiloach I Toldos D”H Vehee

Bais Yaakov Toldos Inyan 35 (pp 223224)

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 4a

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dealing With Children and Non-Observant Parents

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

Here are some highlights from the comment thread:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By “Nancy”

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

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

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

Nothing is Perfect Until it’s Incomplete

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

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

— Bereishis 18:1

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

— Rashi ibid

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

— Bereishis 17:1,2

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

— Bereishis 17:10,11

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

— Bereishis 14:13

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

— Bereishis Rabbah 58:4

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

— Midrash Tanchuma Vayera 3

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

— Pirkei Avos 4:28

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more Nothing is Perfect Until it’s Incomplete

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

Chapter 3f

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Son, isn’t it worth another try? ”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Molly a guy needs to feel something..”

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

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

“So who is going to tell Simi?”

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

“Was it her look?” Simi wanted to know

“How did you know?”said Nahum.

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

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

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

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

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

Making Judaism Great Again

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

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

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

Noach was a good man

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Musical Chairs – Chapter 3e – The First Date

Chapter 3e

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

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

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

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

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

Instead, Moish winked and rubbed Asher’s shoulder.

“Don’t worry. I’ll faher you later. ”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Ugh” Nahum feigned a frown.’

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

“Good “Nahum nodded.

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

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

Just then Asher walked in . He was smiling.

“So you liked her?”

“Yeah. She’s cute . She’s fun.”

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

“Hey Mom and Dad not so fast.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Why not? asked Molly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What? How could that be?”

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

“So you’re going to get fat now?”

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

“I don’t think so.”

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

“Okay, tomorrow” said Nahum. ”

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

A Sukkale a Kleine – Meaningful Succos Music

By Gershon Seif

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

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

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

Here are the lyrics with their translation:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First Posted on Oct 12, 2006

Sukkos – The Jews Inner Self

From Bilvavi.net Succos – The Jews Inner Self
Visit the link to download a number of Sukkos Talks from Rabbi Itamar Schwartz.

Sukkah and the Four Species – The Dual Natures of Man

On Sukkos, we have two mitzvos: to sit in the sukkah, and to shake the Four Species. These two mitzvos represent the two sides of man. The Four Species, which we shake around and move, represent how man is always in movement. We are full of various retzonos (desires), and all of these desires are a kind of movement. The mitzvah of sitting in the sukkah represents a totally different side to us. In a sukkah, we don’t move; we sit there.

Hashem is mainly called by two names. The lower name of Hashem is “adonoy” – He is our adon, our master. This refers to how we serve him with the mitzvos. The higher name of Hashem is the four-letter name of havayah, and this refers to the simple recognition of His existence. The two names of Hashem reflect the two sides of our life’s mission. On one hand, we “move” constantly by doing all the mitzvos. This is how relate to Hashem as our Master, Whom we serve; that He is adonoy. But the inner essence to our life is that we recognize his existence and integrate our own existence as a part of Hashem. This is how we relate to Hashem with his higher name, havayah. It is the deeper part of our life.

The fact that Hashem exists is not just a fact about life, but it is something which we can connect ourselves to. The mitzvah of sitting in the Sukkah is entirely about this concept – to sit in Hashem’s Presence, with no need to move around, and instead to connect to Hashem’s Endlessness.

In this discussion, the intention is not merely to say a nice dvar Torah for Sukkos, but rather, to define the very essence of Sukkos: accessing our innermost point of our self – our point of non-movement – when we integrate with Hashem. It is also a concept that has ramifications to our entire life. It is the way how we can prepare for the future, when we will sit in the Sukkah made of the leviathan skin.

The depth of our Avodah on Sukkos is to combine the two sides of mankind and integrate them together: the Four Species, which represents our mitzvos\movement, and the mitzvah of sitting in the Sukkah, which represents our recognition of Hashem\non-movement.

Our Actual Essence Vs. The Outer Layers of the Self

We will try to explain this as much as Hashem allows us to understand it.

The most complicating thing in the world is our self. Anything else we recognize are all superficial realities – such as our house, the block we live on, the country we live in, even the world; it’s all an external, superficial kind of recognition. If this is all a person knows of, then he lives a superficial kind of existence – he lives on the outside world. He is thinking all the time about things that are outside of himself. The clothing we wear is not either a part of who we are.

When a person begins to look for his inner essence, he is apt to think that he “is” what he “does.” He identifies himself based on his actions, his emotions, and his thoughts.

For example, a person has an affinity to do chessed (kindness), so he thinks of himself as a “good person” since he sees that he is drawn towards doing good things. When he has to reprimand his children sometimes, he feels horrible inside, because now he thinks he’s a “bad person” by having to act cruel to them.

If a person is deeper, he knows that there is more to himself than the actions he does. He is aware of his thoughts – and he identifies himself based on what’s going on in his mind. Yet this is erroneous as well, because a person is not his thoughts either.

Our actions, our emotions, and our thoughts are just outer layers that cover over our essence. They are like garments that clothe our soul.[1] But there is more to who we are than our actions, emotions, and thoughts.

How can a person identify who he really is?

To be frank, there is almost no one who truly knows who he is, and there is almost no one as well who really recognizes Hashem. If a person doesn’t know he really is, he can’t either recognize Hashem!

There are many people who are searching to find Hashem. But, it is written “From my flesh I see G-d”[2]; in other words, we need to know who we are in order to be able to recognize Hashem.

Only By Recognizing Our Self Can We Recognize Hashem

Read more Sukkos – The Jews Inner Self

Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato (Ramchal) From Derech Hashem.

The significance of Yom Kippur is that God set aside one day for Israel, when their repentance is readily accepted and their aveiros (sins) can easily be erased.

Kapora actually erases aveiros, which is way beyond what Selicha (forgiveness) and Mechila (pardon) accomplish. Yom Kippur is the one day set aside for this Kapora and the Ramchal points out that they can easily be erased on this day.

This rectifies all the spiritual damage caused by these aveiros, and removes the darkness that strengthened itself as a result of them.

Every time we do an aveira (sin) much spiritual damage is caused and darkness (which includes the concealment of G-d) is strengthened. But the Kapora of Yom Kippur corrects the spiritual damage and removes the resulting darkness resulting from our sins.

Individuals who do teshuva (repent) on this day can therefore return to the levels of holiness and closeness to God from which they were cast as a result of their sins, for it is on this day that a Light shines forth that can complete this entire concept.

To accomplish this erasing of Aveiros we need to do teshuva. Yom Kippur has a special Light (spiritual energy) which enables us to return to the level we were at before we did our Aveiros.

Rabbi Dessler points out that the Teshuva of Yom Kippur is of a different nature and is much more achievable than the Teshuva of any other day. In the Rambam’s Hichos Teshuva, the formulation for Teshuva for Yom Kippur is noticeably different from the formulation for every other day besides Yom Kippur. Perhaps the Ramchal is alluding to this difference when he said above that our aveiros “can easily be erased on this day”.

In order to receive this Light, Israel must keep all the commandments associated with this day.

To access this spiritual cleansing we need to do the mitzvos of the day.

This is particularly true of the fast, since this causes each individual to be greatly divorced from the physical and elevated, to some degree, toward the aspect of the melachim (angels).

The fast is a Torah level mitzvot as opposed to a Rabbinic enactment. By abstaining from our main daily physical activity, eating, our spiritual side is more pronounced and this increase in spiritual character moves us in the direction of the purer spiritual creations, like the melachim (angels).

Other details of this day depend on the particulars of this rectification.

It’s a good day to follow all the mitzvos to the best degree possible.

Complete Teshuva

Rabbi Itamar Shwartz

In the blessing of השיבנו, we mention three kinds of Teshuvah – returning to Hashem, returning to the Torah, and returning in “complete” Teshuvah. What does it mean to do complete Teshuvah? Teshuvah means to return, to return to the original state we were in. Every sin affects a certain part of the body; when a person does teshuvah, he returns the damaged part of the body, to its original, undamaged state.

The Nefesh HaChaim says that every word of Torah is pure, even words such as “Pharoah”, “Bilaam”, and “Amalek”, who represent the most evil and impure forces in Creation. Therefore, first we ask Hashem to return us to the Torah, because from the power of Torah, we can have the strength to restore everything back to its original purity. That is the first part of the blessing, in which we ask Hashem to return us to the Torah.

But what is teshuvah shelaimah? The soul of man is comprised of five layers – Nefesh, Ruach, Neshamah, Chayah, and Yechidah. Each part of our soul requires a different Teshuvah. Teshuvah doesn’t end with stopping to sin. Shaarei Teshuvah writes that a person has to abandon the improper path he is on; it’s not enough to abandon sin – a person has to leave the very path he is on. Our soul abilities are mixed together, thus, we need to give ourselves inner order to our soul.

The Teshuvah we can do during Elul and Tishrei can rectify the entire soul, all five layers. It can be a Teshuvah shelaimah. If a person only does Teshuvah for the bad deeds he did that year, he has only done Teshuvah on the lowest part of his soul, the Nefesh, which is the sphere of his actions. A person has to penetrate into his entire soul and do Teshuvah for all of the soul’s layers.

Our soul is like a ladder footed on earth, and its head reaches the heavens. The Yechidah, the highest part of the soul, is really in the Heavens.

Our soul, beginning from lowest to highest, is: actions (Nefesh), emotions (Ruach), thoughts (Neshamah), life-source (Chayah), and connection to Hashem (Yechidah). When we do Teshuvah, we need to clarify what’s going on in our soul, beginning from lowest to highest.

For example, we are examining our actions. We need to become aware of the emotions behind our actions – like if we are doing the mitzvos with enough enthusiasm. This is how we connect Ruach with our Nefesh. Then we need to connect Ruach to our Neshamah, which is by analyzing if our emotions are in line with the thoughts of Torah we learn. If our feelings aren’t matching our thoughts, and if our actions are lacking feeling, we see that there is more Teshuvah to be done.

What is Teshuvah? The superficial answer is that we repent from our sins. This is what we are used to thinking ever since we were young. This is true, but that is not all there is to it. The first thing we must know is how we begin doing Teshuvah. First we need to begin with the lowest part of soul, our Nefesh, which is our deeds. But at the same time, we must be aware of the goal of all this, which is to arrive at the highest part of our soul – to deeply connect with Hashem, to stand “before Hashem”.

So if a person does Teshuvah for his deeds, and when it comes Yom Kippur he takes upon himself resolutions to better himself, and he feels elation and purity from Yom Kippur (anyone who doesn’t feel purity on Yom Kippur is very far from any vestige of spirituality…) and then he stops doing teshuvah at a certain point, it shows that he’s missing a certain understanding. We need to really understand what teshuvah is, by using our power of daas. To just go through learning Hilchos Teshuvah of the Rambam is being superficial. Even if a person feels some purity on Yom Kippur, this is not enough. We can’t be satisfied from this.

Teshuvah is a five-step process, as we said, and the goal is to deeply connect with Hashem, to be able to stand in front of Hashem pure. A person has to see how much he came to realizing that he is in front of Hashem after all the Teshuvah of Elul.

Moshe went up to Heaven for 40 days to receive the Torah, after the sin with the Calf. The depth behind this was not just so that he should wait for 40 days until Hashem forgave us. It was because he wanted to receive the Torah from the One who gave it. This helps us understand what teshuvah is.

Hashem breathed into a man a breathe of His life, so to speak. When a person does teshuvah, he has to return to the original breathe of life which Hashem breathed into us.

When we come to do teshuvah, we must seek teshuvah shelaimah – to do teshuvah with awareness of the goal, that we want to be able to stand before Hashem in purity when it comes Yom Kippur, after we do teshuvah from Elul.

Thus, we ask Hashem to return us to the Torah and to serving Him, because this will prepare us to have to be able to have complete Teshuvah. Real Teshuvah is not just to “return” to Hashem from sin. It is to return to our “Father”, as we express “Return us, our Father”. We must understand that only Hashem can return us to teshuvah. It is all due to the spiritual light which Hashem allows us to have during these days.

We can only do teshuvah because Hashem helps us, and in addition, we need to do teshuvah with Hashem in the equation. We return to Hashem from Hashem’s help and with awareness of Hashem, as we do teshuvah.

This understanding will totally change how you approach teshuvah. “Your right hand is open to accept those who return.” These are days in which Hashem can return us to Him.

All of our avodah during Elul must be done with awareness of the goal, that we want to arrive at deep closeness with Hashem. We must do teshuvah with Hashem in the equation. We can only do teshuvah with Hashem’s help, and our goal of doing teshuvah is to reach closeness with Hashem.

We must absorb this inner perspective on how to do teshuvah – the perspective that comes from our neshamah, as opposed to the superficial perspective towards teshuvah that comes from our body.

May we all merit to reach complete teshuvah.

From Bilvavi.net

Why Judgment?

An important article in preparation for Rosh Hashana: Why Judgement – By Rabbi Noson Weisz

An excerpt:

INVESTMENTS VERSUS REWARDS

The very first point that must be emphasized is that contrary to popular belief, Rosh Hashana is not about reward and punishment. The Talmud informs us that mitzvot cannot be rewarded in this world (Kiddushin 39b). The commentators explain that the physical world simply does not have the resources to deliver the amount of joy required to compensate the performance of even a single Mitzvah.

Only people who do not have the merit to make it to the World to Come are written into the Book of Life to compensate them for their past good deeds; we certainly hope that none of us are in this position, The conclusion: when we stand before God and pray for a good life in the coming year, we are not asking Him to provide it fo rus as a reward.

But if the judgment we face on Rosh Hashana does not concern reward, what exactly is being weighed? According to Rabbi Dessler, the model we should study as an aid to understanding the deliberations of the Heavenly Court on Rosh Hashana is an economic investment model; the judgments of Rosh Hashana are the heavenly equivalents of earthly investment policy decisions. On Rosh Hashana it is decided how much Divine energy God will invest in the world in general and in our own lives in particular in the course of the coming year.

Please read the whole thing.

Getting Chiyus/Vitality From Torah and Mitzvos

From this longer article on www.bilvavi.net

Throughout the year we need to handle many challenges, and everyone knows the difficulties that he must face.

Usually the solution does not involve making more kabalos. Certainly one needs also to make kabolos, but they are not the solution itself.

It’s like a man who doesn’t feel well. He goes to the doctor who examines him and prescribes three pills a day – morning noon and evening: take these pills and you will get well. The man goes back home and stops eating and drinking. What’s wrong with that? Didn’t the doctor tell him all he has to do is take three pills a day, so then – why should he need to eat and drink too?…

His family urges him: If you carry on like this, in a few days you will die! “But I don’t understand”, he complains, “didn’t the doctor tell me just to take three pills every day?”

The answer is: “You need to eat properly, drink properly, and in order to cure the illness you need to take the three pills daily, but you can’t survive on just three pills alone!”

We have problems, all kinds of illness and diseases, and we need our ‘pills’, prescriptions to heal body and soul; but before anything else, we need to eat the “bread” of Torah and “drink” its water and its wine. Once we have a source of chiyus / vitality internally from the Torah and its mitzvos – it’s like we have a proper diet of food, and now when problems arise we can look for solutions like kabolos. But if we aren’t going to eat a constant and proper diet of food next year, how can we fix what needs to be fixed?!

It’s clear to me that everyone has good intentions and deep desire to be better than last year, but an earnest desire alone will not help.

For example, a man wants to be mezakeh es harabim, and he wants that every Jew throughout the world will say Tehillim. So he gets an idea: publish 6 million sifrei Tehillim, for the zechus of the rabim. The problem is that each sefer Tehillim costs 10 shekel, meaning that he needs 60 million shekel that he does not have.

His intention is very good, his desire is excellent, and he can pour out his heart before the Borei olam to be mezakeh him, but in the meantime he doesn’t have 60 million shekel at his disposal, so he cannot just yet approach a publisher and order 6 million sifrei Tehillim.

We all desire to correct the coming year, but if we don’t have a source of chiyus, how will we do anything?!

There are many problems, and people try to fix up all sorts of things: one works on tznius, another on internet issues, a third on shmiras haloshon. They are all right. All these really are aveiros and we need to correct them. But what is the root of these issues? Why is it that people actually reach the point of having these problems in the first place?

Sure it’s easy to say: Look, it’s the generation, it’s the street, the yetzer hora today is so strong. . .

True and good, but where is the root of the problem? The root of the problem is that when a person does not have life internally, he has to look elsewhere. “Batallah (Boredom) leads to insanity.”

What is meant by “batallah”? That a person doesn’t have what to do? No. A person can sit in a beis midrash from morning till evening and learn, and not waste a moment, and nonetheless he is like someone who sits idle, as if he was asleep! His heart has no chiyus in his learning! The brain is working – sure; he understands the material very well, he even exerts himself, but his heart is disconnected from his learning. He is lacking chiyus, and he needs it, so what does he do? He goes outside to search for some kind of fulfillment. He looks at this, reads that, is drawn after whatever is available.

It is like what the Rambam writes: “A person only thinks a lot about immoral relations if his heart is empty of wisdom.” If the heart is filled with wisdom of Torah, the Torah would be to him a Toras chaim, and then he would have satisfaction from his ruchniyus.

A person who has satisfaction is much less likely to look for things outside. For example, people who have problems in their home look for fulfillment outside of it. By contrast, a person who lives in a good home will naturally, quite naturally be less drawn toward things pulling him from outside.

Someone who has in his heart a source of chiyus from a day of toiling in Torah and keeping the mitzvos, davening, emuna and connection with the Borei olam – he comes out feeling truly alive. Such a person isn’t going to be looking outside for chiyus, because he has something inside giving him life. A person looks outside only when inside he is empty, inside he is missing something, and if that’s the situation, he doesn’t have the self-control to handle the enticements that he sees. If he doesn’t have chiyus inside – he will search for it outside and he is liable to be drawn there.

We should understand that before making any kabolos, and before any corrective action on all sorts of things that need to be corrected – in order that we be able to correct them, we need a source of chiyus within ourselves.

We do not mean to say a person shouldn’t daven for his needs, but like we said before, first he should understand that what’s lacking for him in life is chiyus from holiness. It could be that he has very many maasim that are holy, yet he has very little chiyus from the holiness.

So the first thing he has to daven for on Rosh Hashanah is “Zochraynu l’chaim,” that we should have chiyus in the life that we have! How many people live without chiyus! How much chiyus is there within each one of us? We need to request and to plead, every one according to his where is at in life: “Ribono shel olam, Give me more chiyus in my life, allow me to feel internal chiyus within myself.”

When one has chiyus inside, he can then ask for parnassah, health, and whatever he needs, but the preparation for Rosh Hashanah needs to begin with hisbonenus about how much chiyus he had in his life last year, and from where he derives it. When a person contemplates this, he will be astonished what he is really “living” off of.

Once it’s clear to him what he’s living from, he can come and pleads honestly before Hashem: “Zochraynu l’chaim” – but which kind of chaim? “L’maan’cha Elokim Chaim”, the kind of chaim that my chiyus will be in serving the Creator. Chaim, that when I learn Torah in first seder, I will leave at the end with an inner feeling in my heart of someone who feels “alive”. Chaim, that when I finish Shacharis, I will go out of shul with the inner feeling of chiyus that results from the connection with Hashem when I talk to Him.

When tefillah is done with chiyus, and the Torah is learned with chiyus – then upon that, it’s possible to correct all the rest of our actions too.

The Cry of the Decaying Kernel

Why does Mikra Bikurim-the declaration accompanying the bringing of the first fruits/produce begin with a review of the Egyptian exile and exodus? In particular, why is there an emphasis on the population explosion during the Egyptian exile? Why do these pesukim-verses; serve as the opening of the maggid section of Pesach evening Haggadah-telling? Is there a common denominator between the two?

And then you shall respond and say before HaShem your Elokim: “my patriarch was a wandering Aramean. He descended into Egypt with a small number of men and lived there as an émigré; yet it was there that he became a great, powerful, and heavily populated nation.

Devarim 26:5

 … This was to teach you that it is not by bread alone that the human lives, but by all that comes out of HaShem’s mouth.

Devarim 8:3

According to the Jewish mystical tradition all of creation is divided into four tiers domem –silent (inert); tzomeach-sprouting (botanic life); chai-animate (animal life); medaber-speech-endowed life (human beings). Each tier of creation ascends to higher tiers through an upwardly mobile food-chain by nourishing, and thus being incorporated into, the level directly above it until, ultimately, it is assimilated into the human being, the creature that can face and serve the Creator. Minerals nourish plants and are absorbed through the roots buried in the soil and through photosynthesis. Plants are eaten by herbivorous animals providing nutrients for the animals’ sustenance and growth. Animals are ingested by carnivorous humans supplying the calories, vitamins and minerals human beings need to live and flourish.

This upwardly mobile food-chain has a spiritual dimension as well.

Man is more than highly developed biological machine that expires when enough of the moving parts wear down.  Man is endowed with a cheilek elokai mima’al-a spark of the Divine; and it is the union of soul and body that defines human life. Superficially the external symptoms of death may appear to be too many of the moving parts breaking down; in truth human death occurs as a result of the dissolution of the marriage between body and soul. This begs the question: If there is a spiritual element inherent in human beings what is it that nourishes the soul?  Eating food is often described as “keeping body and soul together” but how is this accomplished?

The Rebbe Reb Chaim Chernovitzer cites a teaching of the Arizal in response. Our sages teach us that even the smallest blade of  grass here below has a guardian angel on High that “bangs it on the head and exhorts it to grow”(Bereishis Rabbah 10:6). In other words, even the lowest tiers of creation have a spiritual element that animates them, lending them existence, form and substance.  In the case of grass, being a plant, a tzomeach-that which sprouts and grows; the grass’ “soul” demands growth. Presumably for animals the soul would demand and promote movement and vitality and for soil and all inert creatures the soul would demand and promote silence and stillness. Such that all food substances are also composed of both a body and a soul, albeit inferior to the human body and soul both physically and spiritually. The manifest, visible food is the “body” of the food, while the sacred emanation from on High exhorting it “to be” and not revert to nonexistence lending it form and substance is the foods “soul”.  When absorbed or ingested the physical element of the food nourishes the consumer’s material component while the “soul” of the food, i.e. its spiritual element, nourishes the consumer’s spiritual dimension.

This is the meaning of the pasuk “that it is not by bread alone that the human lives, but by all that comes out of HaShem’s mouth.” The motza pi HaShem-that which emanates from HaShems mouth; refers to the Divine Will that this thing/ foodstuff exist. It is the motza pi HaShem lending tzurah-form; and spirituality that is indispensable for human beings to live, not the corporeal, apparent bread alone.

 

Read more The Cry of the Decaying Kernel

Musical Chairs – Chapter 3d – Preparing for the First Date

Chapter 3d.

One morning shortly after the holiday ended Shulamis appeared at her door holding an an article which she’d clipped from one of the Jewish magazines and encased in a plastic sleeve. “. I thought you’d find it helpful.’ It was all about coaching your child through the dating process. Until now it had never occurred to Molly that she’d need to play dating coach. Wasn’t she doing enough just finding him dates but the article made a convincing case.

“Think of how scared these kids are sitting opposite a stranger and wondering if that stranger should be their partner for life—for keeps ! Think back to how scared you were!

“Be your child’s dating coach,”

By the time she’d finished she was convinced. The article had a side bar containing sample questions.
1. What does marriage mean to you
2. Where do you see yourself in one year, five years, ten years, at the end of your life….

What amazing questions. She’d never asked them, never been asked them, never even thought of them until now but she wanted Asher to go into his date with this list. But how? If she’d hand the article to Asher he’d smile and then shove it into a drawer but maybe Nahum. Nahum could get through but Nahum was on a plane now heading for New Jersey. She scanned the article and sent it to him.

In the evening his response appeared in her inbox. . “Trust Asher. I think has enough sense to date without reading this article.”

Molly shook her head and typed . ” I think this could have helped. ”

And the Nahum typed back “So then you do it.”

Asher was in the kitchen wearing his bicycle helmet, his trousers tucked into his socks filling up his hydration pack from the filtered tap.

“Please give me just five minutes. It’s important,”

“Later…I’ve got to go Mom,they’re waiting for me.” He sprinted out the door.
She followed him.

“This won’t take long….”She handed him the article .

“Ma, I know all of that. Trust me, I get an earful in yeshiva. They have classes about this stuff.” He bounded down the stairs leaving.
She closed her eyes. “Oh G-d” she moaned. How in the world will this ever work out?”

Asher came home at midnight on the day before the date sunburned falling into his bed exhausted but unable to sleep. His parents thought he didn’t care about the date but nothing was further than the truth. He was terrified. How would he get through this? Some of his friends were jealous of him. Ezi his morning study partner for example. A short ruddy fellow with a boxer’s physique Ezi was stuck in a matrimonial traffic jam . His parents wouldn’t even consider letting him date until his four single sisters were wed.

“You know how it says in the gemora that if you don’t get married by age eighteen your bones start to rot. Mine are rotting. I can feel it ” Ezi had told him just the day before while they drifted down the Jordan River in a kayak.

Asher couldn’t find much empathy. His own bones weren’t rotting. They felt felt fine, even strong.. He couldn’t imagine a better life than the one he was already living- great friends, great rabbis and his studies, challenging but also geshmack, delicious and yet he knew that the Talmud said a single man lacked joy, blessing, goodness. He wouldn’t have thought so, but maybe this date would uncover feelings he didn’t know he had.
Read more Musical Chairs – Chapter 3d – Preparing for the First Date

Flourishing in the Physical Dimension

The components of the Physical Dimension are the five senses. The flourishing currency is physical pleasure. In order to make pleasure purposeful and to prevent it from becoming destructive, we need to develop the good habit of self-control. The deterrent to purposeful pleasure is desire.

The two most common pleasures are eating and sensual pleasure. These are also the areas where people have the most problems. Let’s use eating as our example.
We have to eat to survive and our hunger drive reminds us when we need to eat. The challenge is choosing which foods to eat and determining when to stop eating. Here is where we need to do battle with the deterrent of desire. Desire attracts us to the best tasting food, regardless of nutritional value, and we want more of it and we want it now.

We have to control our desire with the conscious thought that eating during the week is primarily for health and energy. When we do that, we make the pleasure that we get from eating purposeful. This raises the physical act of eating to the loftier Emotional Dimension since successfully exercising our self-control creates happiness. And that happiness lasts longer than the physical pleasure of food which is only good until the last bite. One way to develop self-control over the way we eat is to maximize pleasure by eating slowly and being mindful of the aroma, taste, texture and satiation of our food.

Imagine you’re at a barbecue and you’ve just started watching your weight. So, you take a hot dog, which is approximately 100 calories, cut it into 15 small pieces and eat each bite slowly, focusing on all the pleasures. The guy next to you grabs 2 hot dogs with buns for 450 calories and finishes them in half the time it takes you to eat your one dog. At the end of the day, who had more pleasure? It’s fair to say that you experienced more pleasure savoring all of the pleasures of your one hot dog than he did gobbling down two.

In summary, the path to healthy pleasure in the Physical Dimension is to make it purposeful. The deterrents are our inborn physical desires. By focusing on self-control, we can resist these desires and choose our pleasures with purpose.

Previous posts in the Four Dimensional Flourishing series
Four Dimensional Flourishing – Introduction
The Four Dimensions – Spiritual, Mental, Emotional and Physical

Musical Chairs – Chapter 3c – 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 here, Chapter 2b here, Chapter 3a here, Chapter 3b here

Chapter 3C

Over breakfast, Nahum texted to Yidy. “I want them to go out next week, during Hol Hamoed.” Hol Hamoed, the intermediate days of the Succoth holiday was prime dating season.

“Any answer?” Molly feigned interest.

“No. He doesn’t get back to me. ” Nahum took another sip of coffee.

As he left for work Yidy’s text came through. “Sorry she’s busy now.”

“Drat,” Nahum’s head sunk into his chest like Rodin’s thinker.

Then Nahum looked up. “Yidy says that Bracha is busy. Its off for now.”

“Wow” Molly hoped she’d expunged any evidence of happiness from her tone.

“Your prayers must carry a lot of weight in heaven.”

Molly smiled wanly. Who would have ever thought that rejection could be so pleasant.

“Was it the money….? She’s not the only girl with money.”

“Well. that was nice but she sounded like a nice girl for Asher. I don’t want to see him hurt.”

“Do you think he built this up in his mind.?”

“It sounded like he did.”

“Guys think about girls. Normal twenty two year old guys, even guys in the Hadar yeshiva.”

“I thought it was all gemara, all the time.”

Molly looked deeply into her husband’s eyes. “Then this will hurt him.”

“Yes, I suppose it will.”

Molly’s early life had been suffused with just this sort of pain—In sixth grade—she cried for three full days when Robert Glen told her that he’d no longer walk her back home from school.

“I thought the parents took care of all this stuff and the kids could be spared the pain.”

“I wish It were that easy but I think he’ll be okay. I’ll call him,”

His fingers were on his phone.

“Right now?”

“No sense letting him build up false hopes.”

As Molly listened she had the same uneasy sensation she used to get when Asher was a baby and she had to take him for shots.

“The shidduch…” said Nahum.

Silence, Nahum listening as Asher talked. Was he devastated? Was he weeping? And then she heard “goodbye and a click. ”

“So” How did he take it?”

Nahum smiled. “How do you think he took it? Like a man.. He knew that Bracha was in high demand these days. He said that if it was meant to be then it would work out….”

“Wait a minute..” Molly’s mouth turned very round. “Does that meant that the guys in his dorm talk about girls? ”

“Of course they do. “Yeshiva boys aren’t Jewish monks. Stop thinking he’s not normal and he was cool. He took it well. What more do you want.”

She just wanted Asher to meet the right one. He’d barely started, had yet to go on his first date and already she felt weary of the process.

“Lets take a break. Let’s just forget about shidduchim for a while– until Hanukah.”

Nahum smiled at her. “This year or next?”
Read more Musical Chairs – Chapter 3c – A BT’s Shidduch Search for Her FFB Son