Beyond BT

Spiritual Growth for Jews

Parsha Vayetzei and Thanksgiving

Posted on | November 27, 2014 | By Guest Contributor | Add Your Comments

From Sara Yoheved Rigler – Beyond Just Desserts: A Recipe of Thanksgiving:


Ten years later I was learning Torah in Jerusalem. The Rabbi was explaining why the matriarch Leah named her fourth son Yehuda, a name derived from the word “to thank.” Since the moniker “Jew” derives from the name “Yehuda,” thanking is somehow integral to being Jewish.

But why did Leah wait until her fourth child to use this name? Wasn’t she more grateful for her first child than her fourth?

Gratitude is a function not of how much we have, but rather of how much we have relative to how much we feel we deserve.

The Rabbi, citing classical commentators, explained that Jacob’s four wives knew prophetically that they would give birth to the twelve sons who would become the progenitors of the twelve tribes of Israel. Since there were four wives, each one expected to give birth to three sons.

When Leah gave birth to her fourth son, she felt that she had received more than her fair share. So she named him Yehuda, saying, “This time I will thank God.”

This teaches us something essential about gratitude. Gratitude is a function not of how much we have, but rather of how much we have relative to how much we feel we deserve.

When you have worked hard at your job, you usually do not feel flooded with gratitude when you pick up your paycheck. Even a holiday bonus may come to be expected as your just desserts and not elicit a great surge of gratitude – unless it is a far bigger sum than you feel you deserve.

The opposite of gratitude is a feeling of entitlement. The attitude of “I deserve it” turns every gift into a paycheck.



Here, then, are the 4 steps to gratitude:

1. Recognize the good that you possess.
2. Acknowledge that it is a gift, not something you deserve.
3. Identify the source of the gift, whether God or a human being.
4. Express your thanks.

The Pilgrims of the first Thanksgiving obviously traversed these four steps. They were grateful not for their high standard of living, but simply that they had survived their first winter in the New World. Deeply religious people, they felt gratitude to God. The first Thanksgiving feast was their way of expressing that gratitude to God.

According to Judaism, gratitude is the basis of everything: faith, joy, awe, and love of God. Only when we recognize how much God has given us and how little we deserve it, can we come to a place of faith and love.

Little wonder that a Jew is supposed to start every day with an expression of thankfulness for life itself, the recitation of the modeh ani.


What better way to show gratitude to Hashem then by using some of our free time to learn Torah. Here’s Rabbi Rietti’s outline of Vayetzei. You can purchase the entire outline of the Chumash here.

# 28 Yaakov’s Dream
# 29 Yaakov Marries 4 Wives
# 30 Birth of Tribes & Yosef
# 31 Yaakov Flees from Lavan
# 32 Yaakov Enters Erets Yisrael

# 28 Yaakov’s Dream
* Yaakov goes to Haran
* Dream – Ladder
* Yaakov Builds an Altar
* Yaakov’s Promise

# 29 Yaakov Marries 4 Wives
* Yaakov removes stone from well
* Yaakov Marries Leah and Rachel
* Leah childs: Reuven-Shimon-Levi-Yehuda

# 30 Birth of Tribes & Yosef
* Yaakov angry with Rachel
* Bilha childs: Dan-Naftali
* Zilpa childs: Gad-Asher
* Doodayim
* Leah childs: Yisachar-Zevulun-Dina
* Rachel childs Yosef
* Yaakov wants to leave
* The Maklot
* Yaakov’s vast wealth

# 31 Yaakov Flees from Lavan
* HaShem tells Yaakov to return to the land of his fathers
* Yaakov confers with Rachel and Leah in the field
* Yaakov escapes
* Rachel stole Lavan’s idols
* Lavan in hot pursuit
* HaShem warns Lavan not to harm Yaakov
* Lavan rebukes Yaakov
* Yaakov’s response
* Lavan “everything you have is mine!”
* Treaty of Gal Eid between Yaakov and Lavan

# 32 Yaakov Enters Erets Yisrael
* Lavan returns home
* Yaakov enters Eretz Yisrael

Successful Kiruv Begins With Getting In Line

Posted on | November 25, 2014 | By Mark Frankel | 3 Comments

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about Circle, Point and Line Kiruv. Here’s a summary:

In the widely practiced circle Kiruv, the focus is to move people inside the Circle of Torah Observance.
In the Chabad centered point Kiruv, the focus is performance of a single mitzvah.
In line Kiruv, the goal is to get the individual to take the next step in getting closer to Hashem.

Instead of looking at the ups and downs of each of these models, I’ve decided to focus on the benefits and necessity of Line Kiruv, to encourage people to start thinking about this mindset.

At its root line Kiruv is about growth, and we all need to work on growing. If we’re not constantly working on growing in our relationship to Hashem, than we’re missing the main message of Torah Observance. And if we’re missing the main message, we’re in no position to encourage or inspire others to take spiritual growth steps.

One of the main remorses BTs express is disappointment with the people in the community. When we don’t make it clear that we’re all works in progress, and we have a long road to grow, then BTs lose faith in the power of Torah when they see our glaring imperfections. If we can find the courage to admit we’re far from perfect, then the non-observant will try to accept us in the same way we should accept them, with imperfections and all.

I do believe that we all need to get involve in Kiruv, but not before we are on a growth path, which means consciously focusing on taking the next small steps in improving our Prayer, Torah Learning, Mitzvos Performance, Character Traits, and Acts of Kindness. Successful Kiruv begins with the Observant actively getting on the growth line.

Being Thankful for Thanksgiving

Posted on | November 24, 2014 | By Neil Harris | 30 Comments

When it comes to Thanksgiving, some families within Torah observant Jewry tend to have the attitude: “I’m thankful the whole year. I say Modeh Ani every single morning. Why should I celebrate Thanksgiving?”

The truth is that when I was growning up, as a third generation American with marginal Synagogue affiliation, my family ‘did’ thanksgiving, but it was never a big deal. When I got married, things changed (for the better).

As a married couple, Thanksgiving became a big deal. My wife is a first generation American and her family is totally into Thanksgiving. When we spend it with family or friends we go all out. Turkey, sweet potatoes, stuffing, my homemade “I can’t believe the’re pareve” mashed potatoes, and apple pie.

For Baalei Teshuva, Thanksgiving is almost the best of both worlds-the secular and the holy. It provides an opportunity to be with family and friends whom we might not normally have a meal with,a meal without the pressure of: zimiros, accidentally turning off of lights, constant explaining of why we make tea or coffee differently on Shabbos, etc.

Over the years I’ve listened to my co-workers complain about the pressure of making such a lavish meal, “All that hard work just to eat food for one hour”. For the Torah observant Jew, Thanksgiving is a piece of cake. We make “lavish meals” every weekend.

I often tell friends of mine that I love Thanksgiving because we can eat like Shabbos, but still turn off the lights and watch TV (although I’m not a big sports fan, so I usually don’t watch the big games).

Over the past few years, due to geographical logistics we haven’t spent Thanksgiving with my wife’s family, but this year, Baruch Hashem, we will. There will be kashrus challenges, like a limited supply of kosher pots, pans, and utensils but they are letting us make the entire meal kosher. Armed with the ability to kasher an oven and several phone numbers of various Rabbis on speed dial, we’re looking forward to it. The zechus (merit) of the family members hosting our ‘kosher Thanksgiving’ is something they might never understand, but my wife and I do. The memories that my kids will have of spending Thanksgiving with family is something very dear to us. I am very thankful.

Originally Published on 11/11/2006

Har Nof Widows Request That We Increase Love and Affection for Each Other

Posted on | November 20, 2014 | By Administrator | Add Your Comments

With tears and broken hearts from the blood that has been spilled, the blood of the sanctified ones, our husbands, the heads of our homes (Hy’d),

We turn to our brothers and sisters, everyone from the house of Israel, in whatever place they may be, to stay united [to merit] compassion and mercy from on High. We should accept upon ourselves to increase love and affection for each other, whether between a person and his fellow, whether between distinct communities within the Jewish people.

We beseech that each and every person accepts upon himself or herself at the time of the acceptance of Shabbos, that this Shabbos, Shabbos Parashas Toldos, should be a day in which we express our love for each other, a day in which we refrain from speaking divisively or criticizing others.

By doing so it will be a great merit for the souls of our husbands, slaughtered for the sake of G-d’s name.

G-d looks down from Above, and sees our pain, and He will wipe away our tears and declare “Enough — to all the pain and grief.”

And we should merit witnessing the coming of the anointed one, soon in our days, amen, amen.

Chaya Levine
Breine Goldberg
Yakova Kupinsky
Bashi Twersky
and their families

Kedoshei Har Nof Fund

Posted on | November 20, 2014 | By Administrator | Add Your Comments

The kedoshim who were just brutally murdered, whether they were professionals, kollelleit or Roshei Yeshivah; were also breadwinners for their families. The many widows and orphans left behind have more to contend with them than the gnawing void in their hearts; they must also deal with the gaping shortfall in their budget.

Please give generously to this fund in order to alleviate some tiny part of the pain that they’re experiencing as best we can. You can help shoulder the burden of their plight. However much your donation may hurt, you will be comforted knowing that it may ease some of the pain that the bereaved families of the kedoshim are now experiencing.

In the merit of Tzedakah may Moshiach arrive speedily and in our days to finally mop up the waterfalls of tears cascading down the cheeks of Klal Yisrael!

The Kedoshei Har Nof fund is being administered by a 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization.

Please click on the link below and donate generously. Please forward this appeal to whoever you know. If you tweet or have a Facebook page please spread the word that way.

Divrei Hesped for Rav Kalman Zev Levine – Killed al Kiddush Hashem 25 of Cheshvan 5775

Posted on | November 19, 2014 | By Rabbi Daniel Travis | 2 Comments

Streams of Tears

Yermiyahu cried “Einei einei yordu mayim” (1,16). Rashi explains that this refers to crying constantly. What is the deeper message that the Navi is conveying to us?

Generally crying helps a person to feel better afterwards. However when a person feels boundless pain he just keeps crying and crying and crying. This is what Rashi means; even after all the crying, the mourner over Yesuhalayim still does not still does not feel better.

I do not believe that I have every cried so much in one day as I did on the day of the murder of these four kedoshim. The first niftar I heard about was Rav Aryeh Kupinsky my next door neighbor is a yedid nefesh, who learned together with me in yeshiva. Two years ago his fourteen year old daughter died unexpectedly in her sleep. His children were just getting over the shock of losing their sister and now their father is dead.

Afterwards I heard about Rav Moshe Twerski who was a magid shiur in Toras Moshe where I studied for five years as a bachur and I cried even more. Then I heard about Rav Dovid Goldberg, my son in laws uncle who made sheva berachos for my daughter not long ago in his home, and more crying. After these three doses of bad news in one morning I thought I had exhausted my supply of tears.

However at 1PM I got a phone call from one of my talmidim that Rav Kalman Levine, who is a rosh chebura and rebbi in my kollel, had been murdered. At this point I just collapsed in despair. The tears have been flowing all day, and the pain just gets stronger and stronger. There is very much to be said about all of these kedoshim, but I am going to focus on Rav Levine who was a member of my kollel.

The Biggest and the Smallest

Rav Levine had many, many maylos; but perhaps his greatest attribute was his humility. Rav Levine was a master of the entire Torah, and wherever you asked him, shas, halacha, mussar, the source was on his lips. He would mention the answer nonchalantly, like it was not a big deal that he knew everything. He exemplified what Chazal say “Lo pasak girsa m’pumya” Torah did not leave his mouth for a second.

Yet with all of this Torah knowledge, the concept of honor did not even cross his mind. He exemplified what Chazal tell us (Shabbos 105b) “He was the gadol of the chabura” the greatest of all the talmidim in the Beis Medrash, and at the same time he was “The katan of the chabura” for he carried himself with the ultimate simplicity and pashtus.

On the way to the kevura, his nephew Rabbi Yehuda Kraft commented that the Chafetz Chaim writes that if a person receives honor in this world, this detracts from his reward in the next. Rav Levine goes to olam habah with all of his reward intact completely.

Oved Hashem

Rav Levine was a complete oved Hashem. He learned until very late hours every night and woke up every morning for neiztz without exception. I daven neitz occasionally, and I am astounded how without exception he never missed a minyan. I was amazed by his consistency.

Rav Levine was a zariz. Wherever he went it was fast and in the midst of sherus, complete service of Hashem. He went from mitzvah to mitzvah like an arrow being shot from a bow – straight for the target. He lived and breathed the Boreh Olam.

Rav Levine headed a shiur in Mesilas Yesharim in the kollel once a week. This was the essence of his life. Everything he did was just one straight path to the truth.

His midos were exemplary. Rav Levine was always happy, and when he attended a wedding he was literally bubbling over with simcha. It gave him the greatest joy to see that his talmidim were growing and progressing.

Rav Levine’s greatest joy was Torah learning and whenever he was learning it was like he was in olam habah. When something went wrong he would say, “Anyway this world is not where we are meant to be. Our real home is Olam Habah.”

Emunah Sheleima

Most of us have a point, as small as it may be, of safek in emunah. By Rav Levine there was no point. His emunah was 100% complete with not an iota of room for any doubt.

Rav Levine and I traveled home together from kollel every day for a number of years. During the last year the conversation was almost always the same. Rav Levine constantly remarked that it is clear to anyone who can see that we are at the threshold of redemption. For Rav Levine, moshiach was already here.

Every time there was news of a killing or kidnapping his emunah was strengthened and strengthened. He would often say that there is absolutely nothing left for us to do except to come to the recognition that we have nothing to rely on except Hashem. He would say these words with all of his heart and all his soul.

Speaking to Hashem

Rav Levine davened like he was standing directly in front of the shechinah. The night before his petira he davened in the kolllel. He had his hands up in the air and he was speaking to Hashem.

I often davened next to Rav Levine and he was literally crying during prayer. Every single beracha was taken with the greatest seriousness. During his tefilah he looked like he was engaging in war – a battle to raise his emunah higher and higher and come to a complete recognition of Hashem.

A few days before he remarked to one of his students how it is so easy for a person not to be yotzei tefilah. If a person does not have kavanah in the first berachah of Shemona Esreh. Rav Leveine had kavana in every Shemona Esreh.

There was no such thing in his life as chopping a tefilah. A few days before his petria he told me Maariv takes me half an hour. He coomented that the only way he could daven and still make our ride is if he davened early.

Guarding His Toungue

Rav Levine guarded his tongue like no one else could. We once had a passionate discussion about one of the halachos of shemiras halashon. I was lenient and he was machmir. The discussion got so heated that we almost came to blows. In the end we agreed on the halacha, but I saw that he not only knew the halachos of lashon hara he lived them.

After Rav Levine had been buried one of his students got up and gave a fiery derasha. He spoke about Rav Levine’s hasmada and middos. Even after a full day of crying there were more and more tears.

However one of the most inspiring things he said was about Rav Levine’s shemirras halashon. You could not get in a single word of lashon hara when talking to Rav Levine. He had a complete mastery of the halachos, and they permeated through his blood.

Korbanos Tzibor

As Jews living in Eretz Yisrael we are being pursued daily. Jewish blood is spilled and the enemy just gets more and more blood thirsty. What can we do to deal with this situation?

Rav Rubin, the rav of the shul where the incident took place, mentioned that the way of the Jewish people is not to take revenge. Our job is to serve Hashem with complete emunah. The tests that we are experiencing now are all nisyanos in emunah. Each person has to think about what happened today and think how they can increase their emunah and come back to Hashem in teshuva sheleima.

The rav related that when he was learning in kollel they received a special visit from Rav Shach who was already very old and weak. Rav Shach just read the pasukim of Bereshis, explaining how Hashem created the entire world. Initially Rav Rubin was disappointed that this gadol b’Torah was relaying such a simple message, but in his later years the rav understood the great depth of relating emunah peshutah, simple faith in Hashem.

The rav also mentioned that the custom is to bury those who die al Kiddush Hashem in their blood stained clothes. The Shach explains that the reason for this is that when he gets to Olam Habah Hashem will see their blood stained clothes. This will arouse His anger against the murderers.

May the blood of these four kedoshim, and all the Jews that have died al Kiddush Hashem, come before Hashem’s throne and scream out for mercy. We are in the most difficult times, and there is nothing that can help us now except for tefilah and increasing our emunah in Hashem. May these four kedoshim be a malitz yosher for us and may our tefilos be answered speedily.

My First Sheitle

Posted on | November 18, 2014 | By Azriela Jaffe | 25 Comments

The tireless search for the perfect sheitle is a daunting one. Nabbing the perfect, and affordable, wig, first time out of the gate, is akin to finding a designer gown on sale for less than 100 dollars, in just the color you need for your next simcha. With a bracha from Hashem, it happens, and it feels like winning the lottery when it does.

When I called up the Partners in Torah organization eight years ago, looking for a mentor, I was clear with them about my goals. “Please find me a frum woman who can help me learn the laws of Shabbos and Pesach, but please don’t match me up with anyone who is going to pressure me to cover my hair. It’s not something I plan to do.”

And so, they assigned me to dear, Adina Henderson, of Saint Louis, Missouri, the most patient, non-judgmental teacher, and I gave her my speech: “I’m willing to keep Shabbos, kosher, mikvah. But I’m never going to wear a sheitle, so please don’t expect that of me.” I could hear her smiling across the phone waves. “No problem,” she said, and we proceeded with our first lesson.

A year later, I was progressing nicely in yiddishkeit, taking on new mitzvot by the week. Except for. . . covering up my gorgeous, back-length thick, wavy, hair, other than wearing a hat on Shabbos to shul to be respectful. Where I was living at the time, Yardley, PA, only a few women covered their hair. I wasn’t “frum enough” to be a card-carrying, sheitle-wearing, Jewish mama, or so I thought.

And then, Hashem intervened. As a public speaker for one of the books I had just published, I was stranded for a day in the airport, and to compensate me for my troubles, I received a free airline ticket to be used anywhere in the country in the next year. I put it in a desk drawer and completely forgot about it. . . until two weeks before it was due to expire, and I found it. “Where to go in two weeks by airplane?” I wondered. I had been learning with Adina every week for a year, and a thought popped into my mind. I picked up the phone and called her.

“Adina, I have an airline ticket due to expire in two weeks. What do you think about me coming to visit you? You’ve been teaching me the laws of Shabbos over the phone. How about doing so in person?”

Two weeks later, on a sweltering hot July day, I was standing in Adina’s kitchen, helping her make Shabbos. Unbeknownst to me, my – kind, non-judgmental, never going to push me into a sheitle- teacher, had a plan. She asked her sheitle macher to supply her with a box of sheitles to be just “sitting around her house”, in case she had the opportunity to introduce the idea to her completely sheitle-reluctant student.

Two hours before candle lighting, I was complaining to her about how hot my snood was in the Saint Louis summer heat. Adina casually responded, “I know what you mean. I find that a sheitle is much more comfortable than a snood in this heat. You know, I happen to have a box of sheitles in the house. Have you ever been curious? You could take a look.”

What fun. I never had the nerve to stick my hands into the Yardley rebbetzin’s hair. I’d always wondered what a sheitle felt like. Adult dress-up, why not.

Adina brought out this box full of sheitles and showed me where the bathroom was. “Have fun,” she called out.

I opened the box and pulled out the first sheitle. A shiver ran up and down my spine. I was holding my hair – the exact coloring, curl, and length. Below it in the box were short blond sheitles, red sheitles, a wide variety, but this first one. . . this was me. I placed it on my head and looked in the mirror. And the tears came. I looked like me. Only prettier.

I left the bathroom to show Adina. She tried to appear nonchalant. “Looks nice, why don’t you keep it on for tonight’s dinner, for fun?”

I did, and I wore it the next day, too. Motzei Shabbos, I knew I would be purchasing it. Her Sheitle machor couldn’t believe it. It needed no adjusting. It was perfect, right out of the box.

I was sure I was never going to wear a sheitle. Hashem had other plans when He stranded me in the airport for a day, one year earlier.

First Seen in Mishpacha, Family First, January ’08.

Profanity, Introspection and Guidance By Greatness

Posted on | November 17, 2014 | By Administrator | Add Your Comments

Here is an excerpt from Annual Dinner Address of Rabbi Avrohom Ausband, the Rosh HaYeshiva of the Yeshiva of the Telshe Alumni in Riverdale:

The Gra in Shir HaShirim tells us that the pasuk compares the Gedolei Yisroel—our guiding lights—to the beams of a house, while the general population is referred to as the slats that fill in the gaps. We understand that we cannot build a house without slats and the importance of every individual cannot be overstated. At the same time, we must not forget that the strength and the vision must come from the Gedolim who are the purveyors of the truth — the “beams” and our guiding lights.

There was a Jew in Toronto who was in the midst of negotiating a business deal, and was in constant contact with the lawyer from the other side. However, the lawyer’s language was so repulsive to him to the extent that he forfeited the entire deal. He also took the time to clarify the reason for his position by expressing his displeasure to the parties involved.

Two weeks later, the lawyer called the businessman and said that what happened had affected him to his very core, and he would like some guidance on how to improve his language. The businessman set him up with a chavrusa who would learn with him once-a-week. From there things progressed and eventually this lawyer became a sincere Baal Teshuva.

There was one hitch though. His wife was not on board with this extreme lifestyle change, and this brought tremendous tension into their marriage. His original contact suggested that they take a trip to Eretz Yisroel together and discuss the issue with Ray Shach. The lawyer agreed, but had serious misgivings about the presumed outcome. He assumed that Rav Shach would come down hard on his wife’s attitude and he could not picture himself presenting her with the decision of an old rabbi from Bnei Brak.

Upon arriving in Eretz Yisroel they went directly to Bnei Brak. Rav Shach listened to his story and inquired about the timing of his return trip. “This is a difficult question and I need some time to think about it.” When they returned, the response he got not only surprised him but also astounded him as to the clarity of its thinking. “Your wife married you on the premise that there’s no Shabbos. She is being the logical one in asking you to maintain the status quo. You are only entitled to ask her for a favor to accommodate you on something that pertains to your personal life.”

When he arrived home his wife’s greeting was: “So you’re divorcing me?” Today, she wears a sheitel and their children are all frum!

This is the clarity of the beams. This is where truth shines through in a world of darkness. And this is what a yeshiva is all about!

May we all merit to find the truth that is obscured in our world and one day clearly see the realization of Hashem Echad U’shmo Echad!

When Opposites Attract

Posted on | November 13, 2014 | By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz | 1 Comment

Why did Avraham consider Eliezer to be cursed if Lavan referred to him as “the blessed of HaShem”?
If the cursed cannot bond with the blessed how are we to understand the unions of Shechem and Dinah, the Queen of Shevah and Shlomo the King et al?
Why didn’t Eliezer seek a girl who would do chessed proactively before having to be asked?

He [Noach] said, “Cursed is Cannan! He shall be a slave’s slave to his brothers”

— Bereishis 9:25

 “I will compel you with an oath in the name of HaShem, L-rd of Heaven and L-rd of earth that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites among whom I live.”

— Bereishis 24:3

“My master compelled me with an oath ‘Do not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites in whose land I reside. Instead you must go to my father’s house, to my family, and get a wife for my son there.’ I [then] said to my master ‘Perhaps the woman [from your family] will not follow me [back to Canaan]’? “

— Bereishis 24:37-39

Perhaps the woman will not follow me: It [the word אֻלַי (perhaps)] is written [lacking a “vav” and may be read] אֵלַי (to me). Eliezer had a daughter, and he sought a pretext so that Avraham would tell him, to turn to him [i.e. Eliaezers family], so that Yitzchok would marry his daughter. Avraham said to him, “My son is blessed, and you are cursed [Eliezer was a descendant of Canaan who had been cursed by Noach], and an accursed one cannot bond with a blessed one.”

— Rashi ibid

And Lavan said “Come O he who is blessed by HaShem! Why are you still standing outdoors? I have cleared the house [of what you might find offensive] and prepared a place for the camels.”

— Bereishis 24:31

Why is Mt. Sinai so called? [Sinai is, alliteratively, similar to the lashon kodesh-biblical Hebrew; word for hatred] Because it was there that hatred descended to the idolaters [for they rejected the Torah that was revealed there].

— Shabbos 89A and Rashi ibid

The intensity of the hatred that ignorami have for Torah scholars exceeds that of the anti-Semitism that the idolaters bear towards the nation of Israel …

— Pesachim 49B

As faces in the reflecting pool mirror one another, so too do the hearts of men.

— Mishlei 27:19

He [Eliezer] prayed O HaShem, L-rd of my master Avraham, be with me today and grant favor to my master Avraham … If I say to a girl ‘Tip over your jug and let me have a drink’ and she responds ‘drink and I will also hydrate your camels’ she will be the one whom You have designated [as a bride] for your servant Yitzchok.”

— Bereishis 24:12,14

When discussing the metaphysics of matchmaking Avraham declares “… an accursed one cannot bond with a blessed one.” Yet TeNaC”h-the Jewish Torah canon; is replete with desired, attempted and actual unions, both marital and extra-marital, between evil and good.  The assertion that evil cannot unite with good, that curse cannot cleave to blessing; seems to be unsupportable in light of such matches and near-miss marriages as those of Shechem and Dinah, Potiphar’s wife and Yoseph, Kozbee and Zimri and Achashveirosh and Esther, et al.

Moreover Rav Tzadok, the Kohen of Lublin, observes that while, per Chazal, Avraham rejected Eliezers marriage proposal on the grounds of Eliezer being cursed the Torah quotes Lavan as describing Eliezer as “he who is blessed by HaShem.”  Presumably “the Torah of truth” would not record nonsense, hyperbole or the insincere flattery of a sycophant. If Lavans words are true it means that at some point between Avraham rejecting his shidduch proposal and Lavan greeting him, Eliezer underwent a qualitative transformation from being accursed to being blessed.

The Lubliner Kohen illuminates the dynamic of a metamorphosis at least as astonishing as that of the caterpillar-into-butterfly variety.

Evil and Good are in a state of constant and intense antipathy towards each other.  They want no truck with one another and do not desire merger. Shlomo the king teaches in Mishlei that “as faces in the reflecting pool mirror one another, so too do the the hearts of men.” The nature of “emotion” is cyclical and reciprocal and so, the vicious cycle of abhorrence and recrimination between Evil and Good perpetually intensifies the alienation between the two.  But, at the risk of sounding trite, this begs the question: Who started the hostilities and estrangement?  Who’s to blame for the inability to come together?

A close reading of Rashi, “an accursed (one) cannot bond with a blessed (one)”reveals that it is evil that finds itself incapable of cleaving to good; it is not the other way around. I might add that this understanding is further supported by the gemara in Pesachim 49B that speaks of the hatred of the ignoramii and the idolatrous nations first, although it is safe to presume that the Torah Scholars and the Nation of Israel bear reciprocal loathing towards those who hate them. The passage in Shabbos 89A that pinpoints the origin of the Divine Hatred of the idolatrous nations at Sinai, only after they rejected the Torah, further bolsters this argument. Yet this makes it even more difficult to understand why it was Eliezer who initiated the proposed match between the daughter of Eliezer the cursed and the son of Avraham the blessed.

It is important to note that that Eliezer never articulated an explicit marriage proposal.  The proposal, such as it was, was an insubstantial allusion, a mere wordplay.  The Vilna Gaon explains that Chazal detected the subliminal marriage proposal in Eliezer employing the word אֻלַיperhaps; connoting a desired outcome, rather than פן–lest; connoting a scenario to be avoided. Moreover the Kotzker Rebbe insightfully points out that even this mere hint of a proposed match does not appear in the Torahs narrative of the actual dialogue between Eliezer and Avraham.  It is only later, during Eliezers repetition of that conversation to Rivkas family, that he had an epiphany and understood why he had employed the word אֻלַי rather than פן.

Along these lines, and to address the issues of evil and good bonding, the Lubliner Kohen maintains that during his actual conversation with Avraham, Eliezer revealed his subconscious desires in what contemporaries might call a Freudian slip, because he only had blessed potential at the time, but was not quite ready to transform into a full-fledged blessed being until after his encounter with Rivka. The nascence of his transformation from cursed to blessed began as soon as he accepted the mission of his master Avraham but, as he had not yet actualized his potential for blessedness he was, as yet, incapable of verbalizing his desire to unite with and cleave to the good and blessed on an overt level.

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Circle, Point and Line Kiruv

Posted on | November 12, 2014 | By Mark Frankel | 3 Comments

In September 2014, Mishpacha published an article called “Is the Door Closing on Kiruv?” which is summarized here.

In a recent response, four kiruv and Chabad professionals wrote articles stating that the reports of Kiruv’s death have been greatly exaggerated. Points made included:

-There is good growth in some measures of Kiruv.
-Measuring success just by the numbers is insufficient.
-The focus of Kiruv efforts is always changing and that’s to be expected.
-Kiruv has always been difficult.
-The success or failure of Kiruv is our collective responsibility.

For me the series of articles highlighted three models of Kiruv.

In circle Kiruv, which is widely practice, the guiding assumption is that living within the circle of Torah Observance is good. The goal of circle Kiruv is to move people from the outside, to the inside of the circle where the Mekarev is standing.

In point Kiruv, which is used by Chabad, the guiding assumption is that doing an individual mitzvah, a single point is good. The goal of point Kiruv is to get the individual to do a single mitzvah, like the Chabad Mekarev does regularly.

In line Kiruv, which is practiced by a few, the guiding assumption is that moving along the line from distant to closer to Hashem, is good. The goal of line Kiruv is to get the individual to take the next step in getting closer to Hashem. In the case of line Kiruv, the Mekarev should also be moving along the line taking their next steps.

In the future we’ll look at the benefits and drawbacks of each of these models of kiruv.

Factors in Choosing a Mesivta

Posted on | November 11, 2014 | By Belle | Comments Off

A BBT practical advice classic.

Factors in Choosing a Mesivta for Your Son – Part 1
Factors in Choosing a Mesivta for Your Son – Part 2

Here’s an excerpt:

Right Level of Learning
It is important to choose a school which is a close fit to your son’s level of learning. Boys’ yeshiva high schools, with the exception of a community school, tend to be narrowly tailored to a specific level of learning. It is important to consider schools where your son will be challenged, but not so much that he will feel frustrated or be on the bottom of the class and struggling to keep up, nor too little that he will feel bored too soon or where it would be difficult for him to find a chavrusa of similar skill. Larger yeshiva high schools might have more than one class/shiur, with the different classes tracked. It is important to determine if there are different kinds of boys in one track vs. the other and which group your son is most likely to be part of.

How to determine what learning level a school is on can sometimes be a challenge. Yeshivas, like other schools, like to strengthen their reputation to prospective families, and sometimes schools will declare, at an open house or elsewhere, that they serve “the best boys” or have a “top program.” It is important not to be naïve and take everything a yeshiva says about itself at face value. That is, it is important to go beyond these statements and find out what the learning level of the boys who are currently there really is to determine if it is a good match. [Similarly, if a school brags about its graduates who go on to the Ivy League, try to find out if they are bragging about one or two unusual boys, or whether it is typical for its graduates to go on to the Ivy League.]

I would hesitate to send a boy to a “top” school if his grades in learning don’t match up or if he is unmotivated. Some rabbanim recommend that a boy go to a “better” school rather than one with a lesser reputation if a boy is borderline in his learning abilities, because, if things don’t work out initially, it is easier to transfer from a better school to a lesser school than visa versa. I would say this should only be followed where the boy is very motivated and is the type to put in the extra effort he will need to maintain a fair position in the class, and if you as parents are willing and able to pay for tutoring if he needs it. It does him no favors to languish at the very bottom of the class at a “better” school rather than thrive at a more modest school (unless there are other factors present that would counterbalance this possible sense of failure and lack of accomplishment).

Read the whole thing.

Musical Choices for Observant Adults and Their Children

Posted on | November 10, 2014 | By Guest Contributor | 21 Comments

By Chaim

In 2007, I received a lot of emails regarding Matisyahu. Three e-mails have stood out for me and I wish to just lightly touch on them right now. All three were written by Baalei Teshuvah and people now raising their own children in a frum environment. They each wrote about the struggles they face in determining how much they allow their children to be exposed to from their past.

I think a lot of what Baalei Teshuvah deal with when it comes to their own parenting is the extreme disconnect many “BT’s” feel dealing with “FFB’s.” What they may not realize is that once they start raising their own kids in a frum community, sending them to frum schools, frum camps, their own kids become FFB’s.

There is something inherently different about a Baal Teshuvah and a Frum From Birth. A BT has something that is so pure and divine in what they have done that it often produces actions and feelings that a FFB will or struggles to have. When you discover something amazing on your own, after having experienced something else, and decide to embrace that something special, it changes you. Changing your whole life from top to bottom for the sake of your spiritual soul is something that an FFB cannot relate to.

As I have written before, I am a product of a two parent Baal Teshuvah home. My parents were there for me, they tried to help me but I knew that I would never see Yiddishkeit through their eyes. In some way the spiritual journey of an FFB is that much harder then a BT.

I remember when I was 15 I was getting a ride to Yeshivah with a family friend who had just become frum. He was asking me different questions about what Yeshiva is like because he was thinking about going to a BT Yeshiva. I will never forget that gleam in his eye. When he talked about his spirituality and how he wanted to learn more and become more, there was just something in his eyes. It was like he just “knew” what he wanted. He just “felt it” on a level that I feared I would never experience.

As I got older I had my own personal spiritual struggles. By the time I was 20 I had reconnected. Thats an experience I’d rather not share here, but it was special and in many ways I consider myself a FFB/BT hybrid. With that said I understand how many BT parents find is so difficult to raise their own kids in an “Uncle Moishy” world when they themselves feel more like “Maitisyahu’s.”

One of the BT’s who wrote me, spoke how he never gave up Rock ‘N Roll. At first he wanted to hide it from his growing children, but eventually it became something in the house where the kids knew this was the fathers thing. It’s not easy to strike those balances. How can I listen to Pearl Jam, but only let my children listen to Avraham Fried and Yaacov Shwekey.

There’s much to think about regarding this topic.

Originally Posted in 2007

Nothing is Perfect Until it’s Incomplete

Posted on | November 6, 2014 | By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz | 2 Comments

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.

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In and Out of Sync; More Pleasure, Less Pounds VIDEO: The Brevedy Diet Video; Jewish School Enrollment up 12 percent

Posted on | November 5, 2014 | By Administrator | Comments Off

In and Out of Sync – synchronizing Kaddish.

More Pleasure, Less Pounds VIDEO: The Brevedy Diet Overview

Jewish school enrollment up 12 percent in 5 Years

Kindness, Cruelty and the Akeida

Posted on | November 5, 2014 | By Administrator | Comments Off

A few looks at the Akeida.

Rabbi Ari Kahn on “The Binding”

If the test for Abraham was to perform an act which was against his natural kindness, he surely passed with flying colors. But what about Isaac? If his personality is identified with justice, perhaps his test was in coming down the mountain, joining the rest of the world, and relating to God through the attribute of kindness. Did Isaac succeed in his test?

Rabbi Noson Weisz on “Its a Cruel World Out There”

Why was God interested in developing such a wide cruel streak in the character of his chosen one, Abraham, by giving him such inhumane tests? Isn’t the cruelty and intense ruthlessness required to succeed at these tests absolutely abhorrent in the eyes of God? What is the qualitative difference in being able to follow such Divine instructions and blowing up the Twin Towers and annihilating thousands of innocent lives instantly all for the greater glory of God?

The answer lies in understanding the concept of serving God with your evil inclination.

Rabbi Herschel Reichman on “Avraham – Combination of Din and Chessed”

Avraham, the founder of the Jewish people epitomized chesed. Yet Hashem wanted him to develop din so that he could become a complete person. Therefore He tested him with akeidat Yitzchak, a seeming act of the highest cruelty. But Avraham responded with alacrity and incredible willingness to do Hashem’s will. His love for his Maker was so deep that he succeeded in bridging chesed and din in the ultimate way. This is why the Midrash says “Vayavo Avraham,” He came from the akeida, an act of din, but he was able to make a spiritual shift to chesed and bury Sarah. So too, although he was light years away ideologically from Terach he made the long trip to bury his father because he felt that the din of Kibud av demanded that. Then he returned to the chesed of accompanying Sarah to her final resting place.

How to Make a Bar Mitzvah and Actually Enjoy It

Posted on | November 4, 2014 | By Belle | 22 Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-TIPS: For those seeking to scale down the celebration and/or save some money, there are several things that can be done yourself.
–The Kiddush can be in your home. This will save $1000 or more by itself. Yes, it will be messy and crowded, but it will last only an hour. We did ours in our back yard and it was amazing! We cooked, baked and froze, and were supplemented by many generous friends.
–The invitations can be done by someone who knows or is studying computer graphics, for a fraction of the cost. Buy the stationary yourself at Staples, and do the copying at a Kinkos.
–For the photography, find someone with a good digital camera and arrange a deal where he takes the shots and you just take the chip/card afterwards and you do the printing yourself. But this is not worth it if he is not good. The photos are your remaining memories of the event, so make sure he/she is good!
–We did the centerpieces ourselves: with vases from the gemach I made fresh flowers for each table in matching pieces of fresh fruit. You can cut the cost even more by putting flowers only on the women’s tables (men don’t notice or care anyways).

Emotional Points
–Obviously, this is a lot of work. It can get quite stressful, especially when there aren’t frum family involved helping you with the arrangements, or who want to do things differently than you. And especially when holidays like Pesach are near or on your son’s bar mitzvah date.
–Despite the joy the event heralds, many BT mothers have experienced bar mitzvah planning as lonely and stressful. If you don’t have a mother or sister to share the planning with, it would be a positive move to involve a good friend to help you out, shop with you, and help you make your decisions (along with your husband of course).
–Family milestones can also resurrect difficulties with non-frum family that you thought were resolved. For example, asking them to dress modestly, issues of driving to you on Shabbos, the separate dancing, the separate seating, the women behind the mechitza in shul, can all be flashpoints for vocal disagreements. Being prepared for this eventuality and discussing with your husband how to respond to various possible scenarios is the best way to prevent or diffuse any arguments.
–After all the planning, however, when the day arrives, it ushers in a powerful experience of simcha and yiddishe nachas, when you realize how far you’ve come as a family and how much your son has grown. In my experience, boys take their bar mitzvah very seriously and it is an opportune chinuch moment to emphasize how proud you are of him and how you love seeing him involved in his learning and davening. Im Yirtzeh Hashem he should go from this accomplishment to other Torah milestones!

Mazel Tov!

Thanks to bar mitzvah planner Laurie B from Passaic.

Jewish Education, Learning Torah and Connecting to Hashem

Posted on | November 3, 2014 | By Mark Frankel | 1 Comment

Mosaic Magazine has an article by two prominent Jewish sociologists, Jack Wertheimer and Steven M. Cohen, titled “The Pew Survey Reanalyzed: More Bad News, but a Glimmer of Hope.” (link). One of their conclusions is that the non-Orthodox movements are facing major challenges keeping their constituents involved and their descendants Jewish.

On of their recommendations is “to persuade more Jewish parents to enroll their children in strong programs of Jewish education—and to support what those programs are teaching.” I agree with their conclusion that more Jewish education will lead to more identification with the Jewish community and less intermarriage. However, their report highlights for me one of the major problems with the non-orthodox Jewish education that I received in my youth. And that is the lack of focus on connection to Hashem as the goal of Jewish Education.

When I became observant, Jewsish Education was replaced with Learning Torah. One of the the central axioms of Learning Torah is that Hashem transmitted the Torah to Moshe and the Jewish People through the prophetic process. This axiom puts Hashem front and center with respect to Learning Torah.

However, even with the G-d centered focus of Learning Torah, there is no guarantee the result will be a deeper connection to Hashem. In fact for many students and BTs who have not become high achievers in higher-level learning of Gemorah, learning Torah is more likely to invoke an eye-roll, rather than represent a tremendous opportunity to get closer to Hashem.

The path to a solution is not to rail against the system, but rather for each one of us to consciously refocus our goals when we learn, daven, or perform any mitzvah. Our front and center goal has to be to develop an awareness, a connection and a deep relationship with Hashem. The Pew Report is a lesson for the entire Jewish People, that we all, regardless of denomination, need to deepen our connection to Hashem. All the rest is commentary.

Only G-d Can Make an Identity

Posted on | October 30, 2014 | By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz | Comments Off

What is the true definition of Identity?

Why does the Midrash call the second blessing of the Amidah “HaShems blessing”?  as though the others are not.

I believe with complete faith that the Resurrection of the Dead will occur at the time when the Creator wills it … 

— 13th Article of Faith per Maimonides

 I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and magnify your name. You shall become a blessing.

 — Bereishis 12:2

Rabi Chiya bar Ze’eerah said [How was Avraham’s name magnified? Through becoming a blessing! HaShem said] “Your blessing precedes mine for [in the amidah-silent standing devotion] only after they recite the blessing ‘Shield of Avraham’ do they recite the blessing of ‘He Who resurrects the dead’ “

— BeMidbar Rabbah-Nasso 11:4

 [The Caesar] Antoninus said: “I am well aware that the least one among you [Tannaim-authors of the Mishnah] can bring the dead to life”

— Avodah Zarah 10B

 An Angel comes to the grave and asks [the deceased] “what is your name?” He responds: “It is known and revealed before the Blessed One that I do not know my name.”  

— Pirkei d’Rabi Eliezer

Elokim made man level/straight; but they [men] have sought out many schemes.

— Koheles 7:29

[During the Resurrection HaShem] Desires to Straighten the crooked.

— Zohar Beshalach page 54A

People are resurrected in the same condition in which they died.  If they were lame, deaf or blind when they died; they will still be lame, deaf or blind when they are restored to life. Only afterwards will they be healed of their blemishes … they will even be wearing the same clothes …   [Why will HaShem resurrect the dead in this manner?] So that the wicked will not claim “[this is not true resurrection for] those who rose are not the same persons which He slew”. So the Holy Blessed One says “Let them arise in the same state as they went [while alive], I will heal them afterwards.”

— Midrash Tanchuma Vayigash 8

 Rabi Chiya bar Ze’eerah’s teaching seems odd. Why, asks the Bais Yaakov, the second Izhbitzer, should the first brachah-blessing; of the amidah be considered any less “HaShems blessing” than the second?  HaShem is both “He Who resurrects the dead” and the “Shield of Avraham”?

The answer, simply put, is that while human beings could, theoretically, approximate the role of protecting Avraham from harm and enemies and thus presume the role of  “shield of Avraham”; no human being can quicken the dead — even for a moment. Thus of all the many prayers, blessings and liturgy that praise Him, HaShem chooses to describe the second blessing of the amidah as “His” brachah.

But this answer dare not be understood on a superficial level.  As we believe in hashgachah peratis-micromanaged Divine Providence; we know that even if a human being were to protect Avraham from harm and enemies he could not possibly do so without HaShem enabling him to do so. But if deeds accomplished through Divine facilitation (in other words all human endeavors) are still counted among human accomplishments then so should resurrection! The prophets Eliyahu and Elisha and, possibly, Yechezkal resurrected the dead. Moreover, as the Caesar Antoninus observed, any Tanna had this capacity as well. Some might argue that current microsurgery techniques that reattach severed limbs and restore them to full function is a kind of resurrection. Likewise, if cloning technology continues apace to the point that a fully functional and completely identical human organism can be replicated from a cadavers DNA, everyone will acclaim this as a medical miracle of resurrection.

Medicine has long been concerned with memory and identity loss through amnesia and dementia. World literature and folklore is replete with tales of identity swaps e.g. The Prince and the Pauper. While infrequent episodes of identity theft have always plagued society, in our era, in which identifying personal and financial information is routinely stored electronically, identity theft has become a crime pandemic. The Bais Yaakov teaches that what we believe as a part of our theology, what makes the ultimate Resurrection of the Dead uniquely Divine, is not so much that HaShem will restore life to lifeless corpses but that He will return the truest, profoundest identity to those who have lost it.

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Getting Shul Things Done; Choosing Connection Over Estrangement; Disrupting Dieting; Kiruv Goes On

Posted on | October 30, 2014 | By Administrator | Comments Off

Getting Shul Things Done

Disrupting Dieting

Choosing Connection Over Estrangement

Kiruv Goes On: the Models Change

Of Slugs, Racquetball and Shabbat

Posted on | October 28, 2014 | By Michael Gros | Comments Off

When people become observant, they often face certain delicate situations in the workplace, from struggling to find kosher food at meetings to having to leave early on Friday afternoons in the winter to be home for Shabbat. But for a division president of a $1.5 billion retailer, becoming frum led to its own set of challenges, both harrowing and humorous.

Yehoshua (Harry) Looks grew up attending a synagogue affiliated with the Reconstructionist Judaism movement. He was always attracted to the intellectual side of Judaism. After he married his wife Debbie, the couple moved around; from Ohio to New York, then a stop in Boston for business school, to St. Louis, to Baltimore, and back to St. Louis. After shopping around, they eventually joined a Conservative synagogue.

Yehoshua’s spiritual journey started after his rise in the ranks of Edison Brothers Stores. At age forty, after ten years with the company, Yehoshua was promoted to president of the company’s international division. At this juncture, seemingly fulfilled in life, Yehoshua began asking questions about the authenticity of the Torah. These questions ultimately became a spiritual crisis. Based on numerous conversations with the rabbi of the Conservative synagogue, the two men began learning one-on-one together, studying the Talmud and other Jewish sources. .

With his appetite for Jewish learning whetted, Yehoshua began to ravenously search for all Jewish sources he could find and began dedicating every spare minute to learning. He traded in his daily 5:30 am racquetball match for a Daf Yomi shiur.

A common challenge for people when they become observant is figuring out what to eat at business meetings and other events, and especially how to get kosher food in places far removed from Jewish communities. However keeping kosher was generally not a challenge for Yeshoshua, and it even helped him out of several sticky situations.

Yehoshua’s position took him on frequent business trips to China to check on factories and to open new offices. Before becoming religious, Yehoshua had been an adventurous eater and eagerly partook of the food at the lavish banquets during the trips. The feasts featured a varied assortment of Chinese delicacies, including meat of questionable origin and even insects.

However one food that Yehoshua could never develop a taste for was slugs, a common item at the dinners. “The fact that I could no longer partake of the meals for dietary reasons was a nice side benefit,” Yehoshua said, smiling.

As he become increasingly religious Yehoshua began bringing canned food with him wherever he went. Noticing this, his colleagues became concerned that he did not have enough to eat. One night in a restaurant in China a coworker, assuming that he could eat all vegetables, ordered for him a plate of string beans. A few minutes later the waiter brought a plate with a beautiful bed of string beans, crowned by lobster sauce filled with fresh pieces of seafood.

Yehoshua’s craving for learning went with him on his trips. Everywhere he went, he brought a Gemarah and his Daf Yomi cassette tapes. At the end of one trip to China, his long-haul flight back to America was delayed by fog in Shanghai.. So with extra time in the airport, Yehoshua sat in the business class lounge listening to his tapes to learn the day’s daf.

Within twenty minutes he was joined by two other frum Jews who were also stranded.. Yehoshua shared his tapes with them so they could learn as well.

“Here we were waiting in the airport in Shangai, fogged in, and three yidden were learning the daf!”

Yehoshua’s religious growth came with some challenges at work. One of his superiors in the company was particularly unsettled with Yehoshua’s need to leave early on Friday afternoons in the winter. The boss began keeping track to the minute the time that Yehoshua left each Friday, and became increasingly cold to him.

One Friday the executive called Yehoshua into his office. He angrily berated Yehoshua, accusing him of slacking on the job by leaving early.. After several minutes of harsh attacks he roared at Yehoshua: “What am I going to do if your business falls apart on Shabbat and you’re not there to take care of it?!”

Yehoshua responded with composure and delivered a prefect response:

“You’re going to fire me. If my business falls apart on one day, I’m obviously not doing my job.”

Yehoshua’s boss had no rebuttal. Yehoshua calmly turned and walked out of the office and his boss never said another word to him about Shabbat.

In 1994 the Looks family took a 10-day trip to Israel to tour and study. The trip solidified the religious direction that they were heading in.

As the trip came to a close, Yehoshua, Debbie and their three children all agreed that one day they wanted to come back.

That day came much faster than they expected. In November 1995 Edison Brothers declared bankruptcy. In April 1996, the company bought out Yehoshua’s contract and he left with a severance package commensurate with his 15 years experience at the company.

With their future now wide open, Debbie suggested the family take a one-year sabbatical in Israel. They sold their house and cars and moved to Yerushalayim. The one year became two and then became a commitment to make Israel their home.. Yehoshua eventually became a rabbi. Since then he has worked in outreach and Jewish education in Israel and America, using his years of business experience to help manage Jewish organizations..

Since leaving Edison Brothers, Yehoshua’s life has taken a far different course. Now instead of overseeing the production of clothing based on ephemeral fashion trends, he is living and disseminating a product that’s eternal. And he’s working for a Boss who doesn’t mind if he leaves early on Fridays.


Michael Gros writes from Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel. The Teshuva Journey column chronicles uplifting teshuva journeys and inspiring kiruv tales. Send comments to

Published in The Jewish Press in July 2011

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