Falling In or Standing Out?

Why is Viduy Maasros called a viduy when we aren’t confessing to any wrongdoing?
Chazal teach us that on Rosh Hashanah we are judged collectively and individually. How is that possible?

… I have removed all sacred shares from my home; I have given [the suitable shares] to the Levi, the orphan and widow, in accordance with all the precepts that You commanded us. I have not transgressed your commands nor have I forgotten anything. I have not consumed of it [the second maaser-tithe;] while in mourning, I have not apportioned / consumed any of it while tamei-halachically impure; nor have I used any for the dead, I have paid attention to the Voice of HaShem my Elokim and have acted in harmony with all that You commanded me.

 

—Devarim 26:13,14

Hashkifah-Look down; from your holy meon– habitation; in heaven and bless Your people Israel, and the soil that You have given us, the land streaming milk and honey, as You swore to our forefathers.

—Ibid 15

And the men arose from there, and they looked down upon Sodom …

—Bereishis 18:16

and they looked down:  Wherever the word הַשְׁקָפָה =hashkafah is found in TeNaK”h, it indicates misfortune, except (Devarim 26:15) “Look down (הַשְׁקִיפָה) from your holy meon,” for the power of gifts to the poor is so great that it transforms the Divine attribute of Wrath to Mercy.

 

—Rashi ibid from Midrash Tanchuma Ki Sisa 14

Divine Judgement is passed on the world at four intervals [annually] … On Rosh Hashanah all those who’ve come into the world pass before Him like children of Maron i.e. single-file, individually

Mishnah Rosh Hashanah 16A

And [please] do not put Your slave on trial; for before You [under Your exacting judgment] no living being will be vindicated.

—Tehillim 143:2

Who can say: “I have made my heart meritorious; I have purified myself from my sin”?

—Mishlei 20:9

Rabbah bar Bar Chanah said in the name of Rav Yochanan: [All the same on Rosh Hashanah] they are all viewed [together] with a single [all-encompassing] look. Rav Nachman bar Yitzchok said: We also have learned the same idea: “[From the place of His habitation He looks השגיח

upon all the inhabitants of the earth.] He that inventively designed the hearts of them all, Who comprehends all their doings” (Tehillim 33:14,15). … what it means is this: The Creator sees their hearts all-together and considers all their doings[collectively].

 

Gemara Rosh Hashanah 18A

The revealed facet of this teaching of the sages is self-evident but the esoteric meaning is undoubtedly difficult to grasp

 

—Rambams commentary to Mishnah ibid

Rabi Yochonan taught “tithe so that you grow wealthy.”

—Taanis 8B

The pauper speaks pleadingly; but the affluent respond impudently.

—Mishlei 18:23

 

The juxtaposition of the Yamim Nora’im-days of Awe; and Parashas Ki Savo, almost always read a mere two weeks before Rosh Hashanah, is among the oddest vagaries of the Torah calendar. Whereas the month of Elul, the yemei Selichos and Yamim Noraim are characterized by detailed A-Z confessionals the “viduy” maasros-“confession” of proper tithing; that we find in Parashas Ki Savo seems to be anything but a confessional. While the Sforno and other commentaries search for a subtextual sin being alluded to on the surface it reads like a kind of turned-on-its-head anti-confessional informed by an apparently unseemly braggadocio.

 

In it the “confessor” does not own up to any wrongdoing at all. On the contrary — he spells out all of the righteous and law-abiding things that he has done vis-à-vis the tithing of his agricultural produce.  If this braggarts confessional were not enough the cocky confessor concludes his Divine conversation with a crude, insistent, strong-armed demand; boldly inviting Divine scrutiny and reeking of tit for tat: “Hashkifah … and bless Your people Israel, and the soil that You have given us … as You swore to our forefathers.” It’s almost as if the confessor was kivyachol-so to speak; challenging HaShem by insisting “I’ve done mine, now You do Yours!”

 

We know that on the yemei hadin-judgment days; of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur the Divine Judgment proceeds along two, seemingly mutually exclusive tracks; the individual and the collective.  On the one hand the mishnah teaches that on Rosh Hashanah, like sheep passing beneath the shepherds crook for exclusive inspection, all pass before G-d single-file, kivyachol, to be judged individually.  But on the other hand the gemara, (per the Lubliner Kohen, apprehensive of the awesome and awful implications of trying to survive such a withering examination and, so, diluting “sweetening” absolute justice”) teaches that on Rosh Hashanah all are viewed and judged collectively with a single all-encompassing look. The Rambams comment that “the esoteric meaning of this mishnah is undoubtedly difficult to grasp” is interpreted by one of the great 20th century Jewish thinkers to mean that judging collectively and individually simultaneously are two antithetical elements in one process. It seems impossible that they could coexist.

 

That said, being judged as a member of a large collective is the safer of the two tracks and lends itself to greater optimism for a positive outcome for the defendants. As the Izhbitzer explains; HaShem judgmental scrutiny is infinite in its scope and breadth and plumbs the infinitesimal in its attention to detail.  Whenever He focuses on a single individual that individual is gripped by terror, for no individual can face G-d and declare that s/he is completely righteous and totally free of sin. One on trial by G-d can only exhale and begin to relax a bit when s/he is part of a communal body and when it is that collective entity, rather than its individual component parts, that is being judged. In a collective component parts “clarify” one another for every soul is outstanding and pure in one specialized field. Or, as the Lubliner Kohen puts it, component parts of the whole are complimentary.  What one lacks another completes … and vice versa.

 

In his analysis of various impediments to teshuvah-repentance; Rav Eliyahu Lazer Dessler asserts that the most serious hindrance is the character trait of gaavah– arrogance.  Among other ways that he self-sabotages his teshuvah, the arrogant egomaniac is thoroughly convinced of his outstanding salience that sets him apart from the rest of society and he always chooses to stand out rather than fall in. He is in love with his own, stand-alone individualism. In terms of teshuvah as a vehicle for a favorable Divine judgment this is his absolute undoing.

 

Rav Dessler cites a passage from the Zohar to prove this point.

 

When Elisha the prophet wanted to express his gratitude to the Shunamis-woman from Shunam; and reciprocate for the kindnesses she had rendered, he asked her (through his servant Geichazee): “… Behold, you have been anxious for us with all this care; what is to be done for you? Would you like me to speak to the king on your behalf — or to the captain of the army?” And she answered: “I dwell within my own people.” (Melachim II 4:13)

 

The Zohar (Beshalach page 244A) interprets this conversation as referring to the judgment day of Rosh Hashanah. Elisha was asking the Shunamis if, on Rosh Hashanah, G-d’s coronation day, kivyachol, if she’d like him to pray i.e. “speak to the King” on her behalf. Her response was that such a prayer would be counterproductive.  As the King was auditing and judging His Kingdom it would make her salient and draw Divine Attention to her as an individual. Elisha was offering to make her stand out when she wanted nothing more than to fall in and have her individuality melt away into the collective whole of society. “I dwell within my own people.” She was saying “I am just a cell within the larger organism of my people, and therein lays my salvation. For G-d is always merciful to the whole.”

 

Rav Dessler concludes that the arrogant egomaniac has set himself apart from the collective and, in a far more precarious situation than the Shunamis, lacks a prophet willing to pray for him such that he has subjected himself to the merciless, uncompromising rigors of passing beneath the shepherds crook for exclusive inspection and individualized  judgment.

 

There are many near-synonymous words in Lashon Kodesh-the holy tongue; for vision.  There are many different ways to look at something; to perceive it visually. One can take a cursory glance or stare intently and incessantly.  One can look to satiate a need or to analyze. One can gaze with skepticism, with benevolence or with longing. Vision can be telescopic or microscopic. But asking for haskafah-looking down; is always a risky business. As Rashi in Bereishis teaches viduy maasros is the one exception to the rule that hashkafah portends bad things to come. The Izhbitzer takes it a step further and asserts that, when applied to Divine vision, the word hashkafah carries a connotation of inviting specific, individualized scrutiny rather than generalized assessment as a mere cell in a larger organism.

 

Yet, remarkably, the one confessing viduy maasros invites this peril and treads fearlessly towards an encounter with HaShem that filled the Shunamis with mortal fear and where the recklessly arrogant meet their doom. This, avers the Izhbitzer, is what the Midrash Tanchuma (Ki Sisa14) means when it says “there is no other hour when we approach You, HaShem, with ‘strong-arm tactics’. It is only when we finish ‘expunging’ i.e. allocating, all of our tithes from our homes that we do so.” But he offers no elaboration as to how or why an individual who finished all of his maasros allocations becomes empowered to withstand HaShem’s judging him as an individual.

 

The Bais Yaakov, the second Izhbitzer, seems to say that, paradoxically, allocating maasros to all the fitting and worthy recipients is an individual act that creates the unity of the communal collective.  It is standing out in order to fall in. For, in truth, HaShem’s will is to vindicate Klal Yisrael-the Jewish people; not to find then guilty. The only dynamic that arouses the Divine Wrath and Rigor is when we prosecute one another by pursuing individualized, self-centered agendas that perceive others as competitive threats rather than as cooperative, complementary team-members. But through maasros, that assures that the worthy Levi, widow and orphan have been supported and sustained; Klal Yisrael coalesces into an organic unit.  The two halves of the haves and the have-nots dovetail cooperatively and cease prosecuting one another. This allows for G-d’s “plan A”, to vindicate and bestow favor on Klal Yisrael to function and then there is nothing to fear from pursuing a brassy, strong-arm approach to the trial encounter.

 

Jewish tradition teaches that the days of the month of Elul are meant to be used in preparation for a trial that our lives depend on. Conventional wisdom dictates that, in essence, the attorney for the defendant advises his client to “come clean, confess everything and throw yourself on the mercy of the Court. That is the one and only way to save your life.” Accordingly, the tzedakah-charity; component of the Yamim Nora’im, has no distinct character of its own.  It is of a piece with the humble, self-abnegating behavior modification that is part and parcel of teshuvah. But sometimes the best defense is a good offense and a two-pronged advocacy may be more effective.  In light of the Izhbitzer teaching I’d like to suggest that, perhaps, during Yamim Nora’im teshuvah manifests “The pauper speaks pleadingly” defense consisting of coming clean and begging for mercy.  Whereas tzedakah, the contemporary iteration of maasros, not only enriches those who give it but empowers them to pursue a brassy, cheeky, strong-armed tactic in mounting an “offensive” defense.  Like maaser distributors of old perhaps tzedakah givers needn’t fear individualized scrutiny on the Yamim Nora’im and boldly seize the role of “the children of Maron”, for “the affluent respond impudently.”

 

 

~adapted from Mei Hashiloach KiSavo D”H Hashkifah

Resisei Laylah 40, page 73

Michtav M’Eliyahu volume I General Impediments to Repentance pp 124-125

Bais Yaakov KiSavo D”H V’amarta

 

A Good Time to Think About G-d

A friend of mine was in a Mussar Vaad and was instructed by the leader to think about G-d a number of times through out the day. He confessed that it was very difficult and a member of the Vaad was texting reminders throughout the day.

I faced a similar problem a number of years ago after having been inspired by the sefer Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh to think about G-d throughout the day. I set up a few recurring reminders in MS Outlook. After a week or two the reminders were quickly dismissed without much thinking about G-d.

So we’re faced with a problem. We need to think about G-d to have a relationship, but how and when? Perhaps when we mention His name during the 100 blessings we recite each day. However, as many of us will admit, we often find it difficult to focus when we’re davening and saying brachos. We’re a distracted nation.

But we need to start somewhere. I think it makes sense to start with the most important time to think about G-d, and that’s when we say the first verse of the Shema: “Listen, Israel: Hashem Is Our God, Hashem Is One”.

The fifth chapter of the Shulchan Aruch says that when we say the four letter name of Hashem, like in the Shema, we should have in mind that Hashem exists, always existed, always will exist, and He is the Master of Everything.

Based on experience, I will warn you that thinking about Hashem twice a day during the Shema is not a simple matter. It will require some effort to do it regularly.

Teshuva is a tremendous opportunity to strengthen our relationship with Hashem. Thinking about Hashem when reciting the Shema is a good step on the road to that stronger relationship.

Appreciating the Torah’s Separation of the Sexes

This week I had what I like to call a “Mi Kiamcho Yisroel Moment.” It came upon me as I was reading through a new book called “The Girls Who Went Away.” As you probably already guessed this book is no sefer. Its not put out by Artscroll or Feldheim. In fact it’s the kind of story the frum press wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole, but nevertheless, reading it has given me a gevaldige hizuk in a strange sort of back handed way.

“Girls” is an an exquisitely researched journalistic account of the life stories of thousands of women who fell pregnant during their teens, and in the years before Roe v. Wade were coaxed or even coerced to give up their newborn offspring for adoption. The book details the trauma these girls, in some cases they were as young as fourteen, endured. Most of these girls were sent away from home because back in the fifties and sixties the shame of having a pregnant teenager around the house was to great for the family to endure. Then after a stay in a home for unwed mothers, where the girls were at times forced to adopt assumed names to “protect’ their anonymity, the girls were sent to the hospital alone and then forced to relinquish their babies who they were not even encouraged to cuddle, “so they wouldn’t grow attached,’ the social workers told them. After that experience, which of course was not to be mentioned, the girls were expected to reintegrate into society, to finish school, get married and start life on the proper footing. Needless to say more than a few had a tough time. Some fell into depression, others used drugs and alcohol to numb their psychic pain. In some cases the mothers reunited with their offspring after decades of separation; in others not.

Now the subtext of the books author is fairly obvious. Look how far we’ve evolved as a society. We now permit open access to contraception, sex education, legal abortion on demand. No longer do women have to endure this kind of suffering. We’ve solved it, but of course we know this isn’t true. If the Torah has one enduring message—of course is has many, it is that unregulated sex, sex without commitment leads to pain and in some cases (like the Sotah) to death. Our Torah is a Torah of life. Vechai bahem, is the message of our mitzos and as such the Torah erects a high fence, topped with barbed wire around the sexual drive. A dress code to minimize unwanted attractions, separation of the sexes in education, in prayer, for casual socializing, all of these are designed to eliminate the tragic scenarios described in ‘The Girls who Went Away.”

Sometimes it seems that we go off the deep end, expecting our girls to cover their elbows, knees, and toes, banning popular literature and music but all this is to protect that which Judaism designates as most sacred—an undisturbed clean relationship between husband and wife, a couple who stand under the Huppah, virgins both without the skeletons of a hundred failed relationships rattling around in their brains.

If there was any one reason why I chose to adopt an ultra orthodox lifestyle it was this. To live in a society where there were no cocktail parties, not even the “kosher “ cocktail parties (sans drinks) called kiddushes and simchas that occur regularly in certain circles where the separation between the sexes is disregarded. I wanted to raise my kids in an atmosphere that was free from the lewd sexuality that permeates the media, without Bratz dolls and Jennifer Lopez and Beyonce and Brittany Spears.

This is how we protect our families, through these fences which sometimes seem anachronistic and excessively high. And we’re succeeding. Every virginal Bais Yaakov girl that standing under the Huppa is a walking miracle and there are many, so many in fact that we don’t seem to take a deep breath and whisper a prayer of thanks to the Almighty whose protection made this possible.

I wouldn’t tell all of you to click onto Amazon and order the Girls who Went Away, but sometimes looking outside, observing how the other half live, or fail to live can give us some much needed perspective on just how lucky we are.

Now what does this have to do with Beyond BT? Nothing; none of the cases histories detailed in the book were about Jewish women but, wait, that is exactly the point. None of these women were Jewish, and certainly not Torah observant.

Originally Published April 7, 2008

The Permanent Preciousness of the “Secular” Jew

By Rabbi Nathan LopesThe David Cardozo Academy.
Originally Posted Apr 5, 2006

We are living in an age of flaunting irreverence. Debunking has become the norm and wherever we turn we experience a need to reveal the clay feet of even the greatest. Human dignity, while often referred to, has become a farce in real life. Instead of deliberately looking for opportunities to love our fellow men as required by our holy Torah, many have rewritten this golden rule to read: “Distrust your fellow men as you distrust thyself”. Disbelief in themselves has overflown into their relationships with their fellowmen. Fear for their own deeds and mediocrity has led them to believe that the spiritual mighty have left us and that we are a generation of spiritual orphans.

This condition has slowly entered into the subconscious of segments of the religious community as well, although in a more subtle form. Influenced by materialistic philosophies, many a religious personality, once known for his reverence for his fellow men, has, without being aware of it, become part of the problem. Instead of sending a message of unaltered love and respect for a fellow Jew, whatever his background or beliefs, many within the religious Jewish community have fallen victim to a kind of faint debunking which has led to a most worrisome situation in and outside the land of Israel.

When observing even those who are fully committed to help their fellow Jews find their way back to Judaism we see an attitude which is foreign to religious life and thought. Without denying their love for their fellow Jews, we cannot escape the impression that there exists a kind of talking down to “secular” Jews, which has become the norm.

Constant emphasis is placed on the need to cure the secular’s mistaken lifestyle. No doubt such an attitude is born out of love for one’s fellow Jew but it lays the foundation for infinite trouble. It is built on arrogance. While the religious Jew is seen as the ideal, it turns the “secular” Jew into a second class member of the Jewish people. It is he who needs to repent for his mistaken ways. Such an attitude is built on the notion of contrast and lack of affinity. The “secular” Jew will always feel inferior. As such the point of departure through which one would like to bring fellow Jews closer to Judaism is at the same time its undoing. The suggestion that “One should throw oneself into a burning furnace rather then insult another person publicly” (Berachoth 43b) may very well apply, since it is the community of “secular” Jews which is being treated with the notion of inferiority.

For Jews to bring their fellowmen back to Judaism there is a need to celebrate the mitzvoth which the “secular” Jew has been observing all or part of his/her life. Not his failure to observe some others. Only through the notion of sharing in mitzvoth will an authentic way to be found to bring Jews back home.

The foundation should be humility not arrogance. There is little doubt that “secular” Jews, consciously or unconsciously, keep a great amount of commandments. Many of them may not be in the field of rituals, but there is massive evidence that inter-human mitzvoth enjoy a major commitment among “secular” Jews. Beneath the divisiveness of traditional commitment lie underpinnings of religion such as compassion, humility, awe and even faith. Different are the pledges, but equal are the devotions. It may quite well be that the minds of the religious and not religious Jew do not fully meet, but their spirits touch. Who will deny that “secular” Jews have no sense of mystery, of forgiveness, beauty and gentleness? How many of them do not have inner faith that God cares or show great contempt for fraud or double standards? Each of them are the deepest of religious values.

This does not only call for a celebration but may well become an inspiration for religious Jews. This is not just done by honoring “secular” Jews for keeping these mitzvoth but in restoring ourselves in their mitzvoth and good deeds. There is a need to make the so called irreligious Jew aware of the fact that he is much more religious than he may realize. It is the realization that God’s light often shines on his/her face just as much, if not more, than on the face of the religious Jew.

Just as the irreligious personality needs to prove that he is worthy to be the friend of a religious Jew, the religious Jew needs to be worthy of the friendship of his secular fellow Jew. It would be a most welcome undertaking if religious Jews would call on their “irreligious” fellow Jews for guidance in mitzvoth which demand their greater commitment.

There is a great need for calling Jews back to their roots by showing them that they never left. Once religious Jews start to learn that irreligious Jews are their equals, and not their inferiors, a comeback to Judaism on the right terms will come about.

One of the tragic failures of ancient Jews was their indifference to the Ten Tribes of Israel which were carried away by Assyria after the Northern Kingdom was destroyed. Overlooked and not taking seriously by their fellow Jews, they were consigned to oblivion and ultimately vanished.

This is a nightmare that at this moment in Jewish history, should terrify each and every religious Jew: The unawareness of our being involved in a new failure, in a tragic dereliction of duty.

Elul…make the most of it

Elul…sweetness, light, redemption.

This is the month that Hashem gives us the opportunity to determine our destiny. Not to succumb to a fate that is inconsistent with our innermost desire but the choice to proactively affect our lives. The Slonimer Rebbe z”l writes that on Rosh Hashana we choose the life we want to live and ask for the tools that will assist us in refining and lighting up our world. Elul is a 30 days of preparation so that you have absolute clarity when making that decision.

The fact that you woke up this morning and are able to read this message is Hashem telling you, “I want you here, you have a mission to accomplish, and this mission has been waiting since the beginning of time for YOU to achieve.” We are here, partnering with Hashem to make a difference. We are granted the years of our life to fix, resolve and leave our mark, as we live our legacy. We don’t have much time. Seize the opportunities that are granted to you and make a difference.

We each have incredible potential and it’s about time that we stop talking and reading about it and take action. Live every day of your life to your best. Not the best…but YOUR best!

The questions we should be asking ourselves as we account for our existence are:
“Why am I here?”
“Am I living a meaningful life?”
“Am I living consistently with my values?”
“Am I the best spouse, teacher, friend, mentor, parent that I can possibly be?”

These are not “one off” questions, they are questions that can and need to be asked daily. These are the questions that help orient our lives and make them meaningful. Truthful answers to these questions have the power to help us transcend adversity and embrace each opportunity to reveal our inner essence.

We can be assured (but never perturbed) when at the moment of enlightenment, as we feel that we have discovered our unique mission in this world the inevitable happens. There will be a distraction. There will be obstacles. There will be challenges. And that is part of our story. Overcoming difficulty brings you closer to your mission. We are not born at the peak of a mountain, because it is not so much about the destination as much as it is about the journey to arrive there.

Hashem charges us to live a fulfilled life whereby we realize and actualize our dormant potential. We must act with courage to leap beyond our comfort zone to live our legacy.

אלול spelt backwards is לולא which translates as “if only”. This precious month is about reflecting all those lost opportunities throughout the year when I could have or should have but didn’t. It’s about asking for forgiveness for not bringing to the world what I was meant to. It’s about resolving to remain steadfast and committed to my mission.

May it be your will Hashem that we are granted clarity. That we are strengthened in our resolve to foster a deeper relationship with You as we embrace our unique mission in this world and remain loyal throughout the journey.

Rabbi Aryeh Goldman has released an ebook “Days are Coming – Inspiration for Elul and Tishrei”. Subscribe at hitoreri.com to receive your copy.

So, You’re Going to Meet a Shadchan?

By Miriam Kolko

Finding the right shadchan is a process in itself. Having spent the last years developing yourself you are ready to build a home and share it with your bashert, but now discover that a shadchan is often a prerequisite to finding a suitable match.

How do you promote yourself so that your shidduch information remains in the shadchan’s mind and does not get lost among the myriad collection of resumes that has gathered cobwebs in a drawer, or vanished into the maw of the shadchan’s computer?

The first step in creating an impression is to actually meet the shadchan. If a picture is worth a thousand words, the significance of a meeting is priceless. Set yourself up for success by dressing appropriately. The way you dress is a declaration to others and can reveal a lot about you. Dress neatly and conservatively. This is not a contradiction to who you really are, but an acknowledgement of time and place and not allowing fashion to overshadow your persona.

Be an active partner. Prepare a shidduch resume and attach a recent picture. Your resume is your calling card; and your photo has retention value. Be sure to include your family background, schooling and current activities. List your contact information and check that contact information for your references are current. Assess your strengths and be ready to describe them. Is there anyone that you admire and care to emulate? Be prepared to describe the kind of home you envision and the specifics of what you are looking for in a spouse. This is a summation of who you are, what you are doing, where you are going and who you visualize accompanying you in life.

Show an interest in the shadchan. You can ask polite questions about the shadchan’s family, be generous with compliments and be aware of the shadchan’s efforts. No mistaking the purpose of the meeting, it is about you, however, showing that you appreciate the time that the shadchan is spending with you demonstrates that you are a warm and caring individual.

Smile! A smile can make you more attractive. A nice, friendly and genuine smile influences people positively and is always noticed and reciprocated. Your only cost is the effort it takes to lift your mouth. Make sure that your smile radiates onward to your eyes and outward to others.

Send the shadchan a thank you by way of email or standard mail. It can be a simple note or a more elaborate letter, yet it will cement your image and in combination with the previous suggestions help create a positive impression.

Miram Kolko is the manager of the Rebbetzins. The Rebbetzins is a free shidduch program designed to provide singles from Baal Teshuva background with a way of connecting to reliable information about other singles throughout the United States and Canada.

The Rebbetzins program has a centralized network of trustworthy Rebbetzins in major communities. A Rebbetzin is a wise, life-experienced, reliable person who actively works on behalf of one single at a time, as a parent does. Your Rebbetzin will take the time to get to know the real you. You’ll never be just a name and a resume.

To find out more about The Rebbetzins please go to www.rebbetzins.org or simply call our office, 732-730-1000 Ext. 263, a coordinator will be happy to answer any questions and assist you in filling out an application

Originally published on 10/09/2010

Offering Up Our Egos on the Altar of Elul

I was recently reminded of an incident that happened nearly 20 years ago. In the English-speaking beis midrash where I learned, smoking was strictly forbidden. The Israelis who davened with us respected the rule even with, according to their cultural predisposition, they couldn’t quite understand it.

On one occasion, a young Israeli new the community lit up right after davening. I was standing near by and asked him politely to put out his cigarette. He waved me away without breaking his conversation. I asked him again, this time more forcefully. This time he complied, extinguishing his cigarette on my sleeve. The other Israeli with whom he had been speaking was considerably more outraged than I was. The young man shrugged his shoulders and walked away with a chuckle.

I didn’t see this young fellow often, but on the infrequent occasions I did I made a point of setting my face into the fiercest scowl I could manage.

It must have been nearly a year later, possibly in Elul, although I can’t say for sure. I was walking along one Shabbos afternoon and spotted the young man coming toward me. As I prepared to scowl at him, I suddenly asked myself what I hoped to accomplish. Surprising myself as much as him, I relaxed my expression and said, “Gut Shabbos.” I don’t remember whether or not he answered me.

Less than a week later there was a knock on my door. Guess who? Yes, it was the same young man holding a stack of seforim in his hands. He offered them to me, and I gave him a quizzical look. He said he wanted to ask forgiveness for the incident with the cigarette.

How little effort it required to restore shalom! How great a reward for so tiny an investment. And yet, how difficult was it for me to make the decision to turn my scowl into words of greeting.

Perhaps, if we thought more about how much we can accomplish through such small expenditures of effort, we would find it easier to set aside our petty egos and choose to do what’s right.

Please visit Rabbi Goldson’s blog Torah Ideals.
Originally Posted Aug 28, 2008

Torah Judaism and the Four Premium Values of Today’s Youth

R. D. Joshua Berman has a good post on “Why Are Young People Leaving Religion?” at Torah Musings. He references a book titled “You Lost Me”, by David Kinnaman, a devout Christian and a sociologist who discusses the four premium values of today’s youth:

Choice and Tolerance: What a young person sees is an endless parade of people like himself making choices about the ideals to follow and the lifestyle to lead and airing the feelings about the choices they’ve made. The result is that the paramount virtue of the younger generation is tolerance. We all do something a little differently, and that’s ok. Traditional religion, of course, says that there are absolutes, and that there is a core one, right way.

Complexity, Uncertainty and Doubt – In this vast exposure to viewpoints and ideas, young people quickly learn that there are no absolutes. They find cogent arguments against the existence of God, the divinity of the Torah, traditional notions of sexuality and endless more. They are more keenly aware of complexity than any generation of youngsters before them. When articles of faith are presented to them as simple fact with no complexity, they sense something phony.

Individual Expression – The Facebook post, the selfie – these accentuate for a young person the importance of self-expression, of being a unique and distinct “me.” They witness in their peers incredible creativity of expression literarily, musically, and artistically. For this generation davening in shul is a challenge – in shul, you do the same thing every single time, and you do it in lock-stop with everybody else.

Reduced Regard for Hierarchy and Authority – You don’t need to turn to anyone anymore to gain knowledge. No matter what question you have, it’s all there on the internet. The internet knows best, not father. Young people don’t turn to adults for advice; there’s Google for that. Once upon a time rabbis were placed on a pedestal, their esteem was unquestioned. But today, no models enjoy unquestioned esteem. Heroic athletes turn out to be steroid cheats. For young people, regular reports of rabbinic misconduct mean that today a rabbi must earn his esteem. It is no longer automatically assumed.

Go read the article to see Dr. Berman’s suggestions for dealing with these issues.

The Gradual Process of Teshuva in Elul

In the Practical Guide to Teshuva, Rabbi S. Wagschal writes:

-The process of teshuvah which begins on Rosh Chodesh Elul and continues until Yom Kippur, may be successfully achieved if it is performed in a gradual manner.

-One should strengthen his tefillah by becoming more punctilious about the times of the tefillah.

-In addition one should endeavor to improve the quality of his tefillah by increasing his level of conecntration and intention.

-The simple meaning of Kriyas Shema and the first blessing of Shemoneh Esrai should be clearly understood.

-Some emphasis should be put on raising one’s level of concentration during the recital of the prayers Ahavas Rabbah, Atah Chonein Le’adam, Hashivenu, Sleach Lanu and the first blessing of Birkas Hamazon.

The Key To Staying On the Derech is Maintenance

This is a follow up post to my thoughts on the topic of why some BTs go off the derech. The crux of my theory is that sometimes people go off the derech not so much because they are unsatisfied with their frum lifestyle, but rather, because when life’s pressures become overwhelming we seek to go back to the familiar. This is true even when what was once familiar won’t make us happy today. Though we might have evolved into different people, we stubbornly seek out our old habits, while we conveniently forget the reasons why we changed our former lifestyle patterns in the first place.

As an example, an ex-smoker might feel momentary relief in a cigarette during a stressful moment, but the pain of addiction and fear of cancer will be a quick reminder of why they quit in the first place. The drag of a cigarette can never be as sweet as those first puffs taken in ignorance of the consequences. Additionally, there will also be the sting of personal failure ingested with each inhale. Similarly, imagine the frustrations of a chronic dieter who struggles to lose weight, reaches a modicum of success, only to give up the difficult fight and pack the pounds back on. These analogies illustrate why I believe that BTs who go off the derech are never truly satisfied with their choice to revert back to their former lives. I realize that I am likening becoming frum to overcoming an addiction. However, I believe that this diagnosis is correct for many of us.

I knew a boy in high school who was addicted to drugs (I’ll call him Bill). I didn’t really know Bill, except that he was in quite a few of my honors level classes. Bill was first caught with marijuana when we were in 9th grade. Instead of serving time in a juvenile penitentiary, he was sent to an inpatient drug rehab program. When Bill entered the program, his mother asked our Social Studies teacher if she could pick a handful of students, who she felt might be a good influence upon him, to exchange letters with him while he was in the program. The program encouraged the patients to cut off ties with all of their old cohorts and make a new group of friends who didn’t do drugs. Bill’s mother hoped that if he could establish a few friendships with other kids during his program stay, and know that he had new friends waiting for him upon his return to school, it might give him the incentive he needed to stay clean.

I was one of the people chosen to befriend Bill. I wrote him letters and he wrote back to me, grateful for the communication. He said he was ready to give up on drugs, and looked forward to coming back to school and forming new relationships with new friends. When he came back to school, he put his best foot forward. He was participating in class and sought out the company of those who had written to him. Eventually, his former associates started seeking out Bill, just to say howdy. Bill still liked his old friends, and the only problem he had with them was that they still used drugs. Bill decided that it couldn’t hurt to hang out with them, as long as he stuck to smoking cigarettes and not pot. Gradually, he began to skip classes to hang out with these buddies. The boundary drawn between smoking tobacco and weed became blurred and he was back to where he started. Bill’s new friendships faded fast. His single mom was broken-hearted. Bill dropped out of school in 11th grade. The last I heard about Bill was that he had been arrested for possession and selling of cocaine.

So, what went wrong for Bill? In the beginning, he had lots of support. He was in an inpatient program being monitored and given therapy 24/7. His mom was enlisted to help him on the homefront. His schoolmates were enlisted to support him on the peer front. Bill was responding positively to the support. However, after Bill was released from the program, his mom went back to her full-time job, his old friends came around again, and Bill slipped back into his old patterns. He alienated his new friends who did not approve of his drug-enhanced lifestyle. Bill knew he needed to change or he would go down a dangerous path, but he couldn’t stop himself from slipping into his familiar routine.

How does this relate to the BT who goes off the derech? I have seen similar patterns emerging from the kiruv movement to those that emerge from the rehab movement. When counseling secular Jews who are interested in becoming frum, all of the emphasis is placed on the induction process, and not the life cycle process. In the beginning, there is emphasis on providing proof of the divine existence of Hashem, learning about the rituals, experiencing Shabbos/YomTov, becoming socialized within the frum community, dealing with the secular family of origin (or not), connecting with a posek, and more. There is much communal delight to be mekareve a formerly frei yid. The community gets nachas from turning on the light for the formerly blind. However, light bulbs only have a certain life expectancy before they burn out. They must be replaced every so often to keep the lamps burning. This too, is the way of the BT.

Binyamin Klempner writes of the Bostoner Rebbe and Harav Michel Twerski, and their method of ongoing maintenance and kiruv for the BTs in their communities. In his post, there is an interesting quote from Rabbi Twerski’s son:

“In the words of Harav Benzion Twerski regarding keeping our baalei teshuvah strong, “maintenance is everything in kiruv.” When Harav Michel Twerski or the Bostoner Rebbe is mekarev a Yid, they are accepting upon themselves the lifelong commitment of helping not only the baal tshuvah who they are being mekarev, but that person’s children as well. This commitment includes helping baalei teshuvah attain the necessary level of knowledge required to function in the Torah observant world, helping with shidduchim, shalom bayis counseling, advising the couple as to what is expected of husband and wife in a Torah true home, what kind of chinuch is appropriate for their children, and even taking responsibility for their children’s shiduchim; in short, advising on every aspect of life throughout one’s life.”

There is wisdom in these words. Just as some people unsatisfied with their jobs seek relief by abruptly quitting or just as some unhappily married couples immediately file for divorce, such is the drastic decision of some BTs to go off the derech.

How many BTs could be saved from leaving if there were support and programming to help with their doubts and frustrations? I have unsuccessfully tried to find information on the yearly percentage of people who become frum through various kiruv programs (if anyone has knowledge of such a study please let me know). However, whatever the percentage might be, an accurate portrayal would be to follow the study group through the years to see how many remain frum. The key is maintenance.

Originally posted here.

What I Like About You

I attended the wedding of a close friend’s son and it’s an occasion to take note and be thankful to Hashem for the wonderful communities that we live in and the wonderful Simchos we share. The Internet can often be a negative place and I think it’s important that we keep our primary focus on the wonderful things in our day to day lives.

So here are 10 things I like about my community and their Simchos:

1. You’re spiritually oriented.

2. You enjoy the food served at Simchos.

3. You can have deep meaningful conversations.

4. You’re not materialistic.

5. You know how to drink, without ever getting drunk.

6. You have great respect for Rabbeim.

7. You’re a pleasure to spend time with.

8. You care about people.

9. You have a great sense of humor.

10. You care about the community.

Reading for the Recipes

It’s motzei Shabbos just minutes to havdallah. My husband and sons are in shul and I’m home alone clearing up after shalosh seudos. On the table sits quarter of a hallah, soft and fluffy on the inside, crusty, dark and sesame flecked on the outside, still fresh even now, as the Shabbos draws to a close. I pick it up, fondling it in my hand for a moment before I pack it away . Harei Zeh Hallah. This is the challah, The best challah I’ve ever baked, since starting out almost two decades ago with the the Enchanted Broccoli Forest Cookbook as my guide.

The hallah recipe came form a Boro Park woman named Devorah Heller who is known far and wide as the Hallah maven, a title she truly deserves. What makes this story truly remarkable is that I found the recipe in the the pages of a hareidi woman’s magazine and I hate hareidi womens magazines. Really hate, Emphatically Hate, Hate Hate. Yuck Yuck Yuck!!!!!

I just hate them. They make me feel so weird and out of place that after even a quick leaf through I’m (almost) tempted to toss off my sheitel and crawl back into my long discarded blue jeans.

The tragic part is that I so wanted to love them. When they first hit the stands I thought that my dream was coming true. My two great loves writing and yiddishkeit together at last in one glossy printed, neatly stapled package (with plenty of bylines by yours truly, retired journalist on the comeback trail, of course). What I was hoping for was a glatt kosher version of the New Yorker sans the kefira and the erotic ads but what I got instead was Martha Stewart with a wig.

After driving for close to an hour to buy the first edition of one of these mags I called a good friend and kindred spirit to vent my distress.

“It’s not for people like us, “ she said. “ Just don’t buy it. “. I tried following her advice but somehow, every time I passed the newsstand, the magazines beckoned.

“Just one more time” I told myself. “ Maybe this week, there would be a clever short story, a well drawn essay, something something I could share with my hypercritical New York Times reading mother. And every week I was disappointed.

What were they printing? Articles about silverware, backpacks, teenagers, in-laws, buying guides for items I didn’t want or need. and rhyming Hallmark card poetry

Somehow, I had, quite ridiculously come to equate these publications with Yiddishkeit. Did the fact that they weren’t my style, meant that Yiddishkeit wasn’t my style either? I was no longer sure.

Then I discovered the hallah recipe. After years of baking dry, dense loaves my great joy at experiencing baking success washed away a good deal of my anger and doubt. I started to rethink my dilemma until I reached a startling conclusion. The problem wasn’t with the magazines, it was with me.

I was playing a ridiculous, game, as they say, looking for the proverbial oranges among the dibbles and clamps at the hardware store. These magazines didn’t want to compete with the New Yorker. They were never going to be the New Yorker or even Harpers but that didn’t mean that they were entirely without value in G-d’s world and in my life.

I mean after years of baking hallahs that could have doubled as free weights, it was no small thing to stumble upon this recipe. So I’m putting out the white flag, calling off my war. That is what Hashem wants anyway, Shalom between his children. From now on, I’m going to use these magazines for what they are good at – the recipes.

And as to that leftover piece of hallah sitting the platic bag. It ought to be yummy tomorrow morning toasted and, smeared with magarine. What could be wrong with that?

Originally Published on Jan, 14 2008

Faigy Mayer…the story of the lost princess

For those of you who have not yet heard of the tragedy of a young woman who took her life then you should. Faigy was a young woman who grew up in the Chassidic community in New York and after a turbulent life dealing with mental illness left that community. Last week she ended her life, leaping from a 20 story building. Her death torments me. I find no peace and share my troubled thoughts…

My heart aches and my eyes shed endless tears for you Faigy. For your dreams that are no longer, for the talent that is no longer and for the search that has ended prematurely. For those that refused to see and feel and reach out when you were obviously hurting so much. For your friends. For your parents, siblings and family. For Hashem whose pain must be far greater then mine.

You ran away from a world that I was drawn to. In the world that you felt imprisoned I found my freedom…and yet I feel your agony. Behind the images you posted and the anguish you expressed I see a princess lost in the abyss of her struggle to find inner peace and purpose.

Are you not the lost princess that Rebbe Nachman spoke off…I guess that the wait for the warrior that was meant to come and rescue you took too long and the pain was too unbearable to sustain.

We judge you not….for who are we to judge…we are all on a journey fraught with challenge, hope and uncertainty. Along the way each of us rise and fall while we experience the events and interactions that bring us closer to our purpose…although at times it appears that our experiences are in fact distractions from that purpose.

Faigy my heart doesn’t just ache for you…I cry for all the other lost princess and princes who in their search become so lost that they rather surrender then persist. I cry that a community that I love chose to abandon rather then understand you.

We need to find a way forward. We need to ask some hard questions and talk openly to find the answers. The truth is that there is a growing number of our youth that are opting out and we need to ask ourselves why? I don’t pretend to have the answers but I cannot bare the agony of another lost princess choosing to surrender rather then live.

To all the other lost princesses and princes out there my heart is open and my prayers are that our ever patient G-d grant you the time and means to heal the wounds and reconnect in a meaningful and inspired way.

Rabbi Aryeh Goldman writes at hitoreri.com

When Your Teenager Asks: How Can You Daven That Fast?

Dear Beyond BT

I would consider myself a very growth oriented BT and I’ve continued to progress over the years.

Recently my employment situation has required me to think about work when I am at home. This is a reality which can not be changed at this current time. As a result my kavannah during davening is suffering and my davening is often on the fast side.

The other day, my growth-oriented 15 year old Yeshivish son asked me how I could possibly daven that fast. I didn’t have a good answer, but someone suggested that perhaps I could at least stay in Shomoneh Esrai a little longer (by not stepping back) so at least it looks like I’m davening at a more respectable pace.

I’m a little uncomfortable with that, but at the same time I don’t want to provide bad role modeling for my son or get into a “Do as I say, not as I do” relationship.

Any suggestions on what to do and what to say to my son.

Thanks
Reuven

Originally Published May 13, 2009