Beyond BT

Spiritual Growth for Jews

Purim: Netanyahu, Congress, And The Battle Against Persia – A War Fought In Heaven

Posted on | March 1, 2015 | By Administrator | Add Your Comments

TorahAnytime.Com uses the tag line of “G-d’s Reason for the Internet” by which they mean that the learning of Torah and spiritual growth is the reason that G-d created the Internet. Of course, that’s not to say that there’s no potential spiritual downside to such a powerful tool, but the presence of so many distinguished Rabbis on the site, shows that they agree with its potential on the upside.

Rabbi Yosef Viener of Monsey has a recent shiur titled Purim: Netanyahu, Congress, And The Battle Against Persia – A War Fought In Heaven in which he mentions some of the political considerations regarding Prime Minister Netanyahu’s upcoming visit to Congress. However, he strongly points out that it’s easy to get caught up in the politics, but G-ds reason for the Persian threat then and now is for us to daven and do teshuva. Please watch the video.

Meanwhile, in Queens, Rabbi Moshe Schwerd was making similar points while discussing The Special Power of Prayer on Purim. Rabbi Schwerd also points out the connection between the Nachash (the snake) and Haman and why there is a requirement to curse Haman on Purim and the continuing necessity of our spiritual response of prayer on Purim. Please watch the video or download the audio of this great shiur.

Accepting the Unacceptable; The Practice of Great Teaching; Measuring the Journey

Posted on | February 26, 2015 | By Administrator | Add Your Comments

Accepting the Unacceptable

The Practice of Great Teaching

Rabbi Herschel Welcher on Measuring the Journey

The Exquisite Paradox of Teshuva

Posted on | February 25, 2015 | By Guest Contributor | Add Your Comments

By Rabbi Benzion Kokis

At the core of the process of t’shuva lies an exquisite paradox.

On the one hand, a mature commitment to a life of Torah and Halacha is the ultimate self-discovery, through which a Jew connects to his spiritual roots. In fact, very often what initiates the entire process of t’shuva is the realization that the modern world not only didn’t, but can’t, satisfy the inner needs of the Jewish soul. There is a sense of coming home to a deeper and more genuine appreciation of one’s own identity.

This is a familiar theme to the thousands of men and women who have made the commitment to transform their lives, and find their place within the Torah community.

Yet, that very same commitment often has the potential to alienate a ba’al t’shuva from the norms that, until that point, had shaped and defined his life. The relationships, friendships, values and habits that had formed his personality, and made up the fabric of life itself, are suddenly destabilized. So the same experience that helps a person discover and mold his inner self, can create issues that throw the self, on some level, into turmoil.

This then is the paradox of t’shuva: the coming home to a much deeper and richer sense of self, alongside a gradual, and sometimes awkward, transition from the “pre-existing” self. T’shuva is truly not an event, but a process, that involves much more than blending in externally to the framework of the religious community.

Often there is a certain duality and subtle tension that accompany ba’alei t’shuva for many years. True, the axioms and values of Torah have become the guiding principles and signposts of life. But the echos of one’s earlier experiences and influences still assert themselves, and tug in various directions.

In future posts, we will explore this paradox in more depth and discuss practical ways to deal with it.

Of Mice Traps and Men

Posted on | February 24, 2015 | By Rabbi Label Lam | Add Your Comments

One who reads the Megillah out of sequence has not fulfilled his obligation. (Megillah 17A)

The Sefas Emes asks, “Why is “Purim” not called “Pur”?” Why is it called plural- Purim for lots and not lot in the singular since Haman is described as having cast a “pur” to reckon the most favorable day to attack the Jews?

Michael Behe introduces in his book “Darwin’s Black Box” the concept of “irreducible complexity”. The explanation is as follows. Take for example a simple mouse trap. It has a number of functional parts that make it a mouse trap. Any component piece of the trap is useless and meaningless without the other small number parts. It could never have evolved gradually. Of what use would a spring be without cheese for bait or a board for it to slam its gait upon. The unadorned mouse trap needs all the parts present to be functional. The parts of it would have to have been created with the finished end in mind.

Similarly, a snake with poisonous venom would needs a hypodermic needle for a tooth to inject its pay load. Of what use would the tooth be without the poison and why would the creature need such a potent poison to kill a horse in seconds if it was lacking the sophisticated delivery system?

One of the keys to understanding the Megillah lies in appreciating how a sequence of seemingly simple events form an organized chain- with an eerily predetermined result. In the end, it can be observed how the aggregate is “irreducibly complex”. Minus any small piece in the puzzle and history would have looked so much different. If the King would have taken a sleeping pill instead of reading from a book of remembrances, had Esther not found grace in the eyes of the king, had the king not sent out his first foolish decree, had the king not relocated his capital in Shushan where Mordachai was quietly minding his own business before destiny backed up to his doorstep, then things would have turned out much different and the world would be unrecognizably different.

There is a growing paradigm in science that may help explain what is so deficient about reading or hearing the Megillah out of order. Surprisingly it is called, “Chaos Theory”. It does not aim to demonstrate that things are random and meaningless. Quite the contrary, it postulates the notion that all matters of seeming wild randomness display surprisingly complex and beautiful order. Even the way cigarette smoke dissipates throughout a room leaves a delicate trail of artistry. One of the proponents of this theory, Joseph Ford, refuted Einstein’s statement, “G-d doesn’t play dice with the universe!” He says, “Yes, G-d does play dice, but the dice are loaded.”

In the end Haman’s toss of the “pur” happened within a grander context of a more profound “pur” –or lot for the Jews. Haman not only could not derail the Divine scheme of things but perversely he furthered and promoted it in the most profound way. Our sages tell us that more than all the words of all the prophets were effective in returning the Jews to G-d; Haman was the catalyst to accomplish this when he received the royal signet ring of the king. His ultimatum resulted in the opposite of what he intended with his “pur”. Why? Because another “pur” dominates incorporating and adjusting to all the smaller Machiavellian moves making rather a prefect sense of this nice game of dice- a grand Purim play of mice-traps and men.

To subscribe to Rabbi Lam’s weekly Dvar Torah, go to the Torah.Org Subscription Center and subscribe to Dvar Torah in the Parsha section.

Originally Published March 8, 2006

Positively Powerful Prayer; $1M Crowdfunded Kiruv Campaign; Product Market Fit Videos

Posted on | February 19, 2015 | By Administrator | Add Your Comments

Positively Powerful Prayer

Over $1 Million Raised in 1 Day in a Crowdfunded Kiruv Campaign

Business Models and Product Market Fit Videos

Adar and Spiritual Sensitivities

Posted on | February 18, 2015 | By Guest Contributor | 1 Comment

By Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller

Today is Yom Kippur Katan. Yom Kippur Katan is a time to review the month and enter the new month, in this case Adar, the happiest month of the Jewish calendar, with a cleaner slate (after doing tshuvah), and a more open heart.

Most of you haven’t heard of this, since it’s only just a custom that has been adopted by many but by no means the majority of communities. It sets the stage for seeing how every month opens new possibilities. Adar begins at the end of this week.

If you were living in ancient Israel, you would be waiting for messengers to reach your town or village to collect half shekels. The money was collected annually to pay for communal offerings.

Messengers also went out to warn the farmers against growing kilaim (mixing species of plants by grafting or other means). Adar is the perfect time of year to do this, because the plants that were planted earlier are now beginning to be visible.

Some people find this mitzvah somewhat difficult to grasp (and some people find every mitzvah difficult to grasp because of the underlying assumption that a commandment implies a Commander…). Even if you have enough spiritual maturity to accept that the Master of the universe may know its rules, you may still find yourself asking, “What’s so really wrong with mixing a cherry with a banana and getting weird-shaped cherries with hard peels? Wouldn’t they be easier to package?”

The answer to the question requires that you look at yourself. You are both physical and spiritual, and the truth is that everything in the world has both components. The Talmud tells you that every blade of grass has an angel that tells it to grow. That means that it has a spiritual role in the world, and that its physical presence is necessary not only for the sake of the world’s physical ecology, but for its spiritual balance as well.

The arrogance involved in “fixing” things by intermixing species can trigger results that cause profound unbalance. Most of you aren’t farmers, and the laws of kilaim in agriculture aren’t all that relevant to your daily life. The idea of recognizing that everything has spiritual purpose is one of the most valuable lessons that you can learn.

One of the many civil laws the Torah told us in last week’s Parshah, Mishpatim, concerns theft. If you were to steal, you usually have to pay back what you stole plus a fine of the same sum to compensate your victim for the anxiety and grief that is an inherent result of being victimized. If you stole a lamb, you have to pay back 4 times its value, and if you stole an ox, 5 times. The reason why there is a different penalty for a lamb and for an ox is that if you were to steal a lamb you would have to carry it home on your shoulders, which is embarrassing, while if you stole an ox, it would follow you and let you maintain your dignity.

The Torah’s laws usually don’t take into consideration the emotional response of the thief; it is more concerned with the victim. Imagine a judge adjudicating a case by considering whether it was the thief’s mom’s birthday, and judging him leniently because he has the pain of knowing how disappointed she is…..

This case is an exception. Ben Yehoyada tells us that the reason is that theft is really very much like kilaim. When Hashem grants someone (say you…) a possession (say your phone) it’s because He wants you to have it to fulfill a specific aspect of what your mission on this world is. A theft is a distortion of your spiritual ecology. Assume that you were going to do good things with your phone (invite a friend over, be an empathetic listener, organize a kiruv weekend), and you are at least temporarily unable to do so. This doesn’t only affect you, it affects the person who needed the invitation today! or needed some validation now.

The thief therefore needs to pay two different types of fines, one for the theft itself (which is double the value of the object stolen) and twice more for the blinders that he puts on before every theft that prevent him from noticing that the world has a Master who governs His world with far more complexity and intricacy than he is willing or able to envision. If the circumstances of his theft awakened some shame within him, even though he obviously wasn’t able to move beyond himself enough to resist the temptation to steal, he is still in a far better place than the thief who feels no shame, who pays the heaviest fine of all.

What does this have to do with those of you who are neither thieves nor farmers?
It should tell you that the world has spiritual ecology, and that everything that you are and everything that you have is part of Hashem’s greater plan.

As you head towards Adar and begin thinking of Purim, try to find the time to read through Megillat Esther. If you can put yourself in the place of any of the main characters, Esther for instance, you will see that she always had enough spiritual sensitivity to recognize that there was a bigger picture. Otherwise she would have been content to be Miss Persia. She knew that there was a reason she was in the palace that was bigger than that.

Adar is almost here. It’s time to do battle against feeling the blahs. Recognize the gifts you have, see the Plan, and use a couple of minutes on Yom Kippur Katan to erase the nonsense that fogs up the screen.

Visit Rebbetzin Heller’s website at www.tziporahheller.com/

The Grand Unification Theory of Kiruv

Posted on | February 16, 2015 | By Mark Frankel | Comments Off

I’ve previously written about three models of Kiruv:

– The Chabad like Point Kiruv, where the focus is on performance of single mitzvos.
– The widely practiced Circle Kiruv, where the focus is to move people inside the Circle of Torah Observance.
– The growth oriented Line Kiruv, where the focus is to get the individual to take the next step in getting closer to Hashem.

What unifies all these models is the fundamental unit of the mitzvah. The Mitzvah is the focal point of the Grand Unification Theory of Kiruv. Point Kiruv says to just do them. Circle Kiruv says do them all. And Line Kiruv says to do them better.

If you look deeper, you’ll see that all three models believe that a person should aspire to continually grow in the performance of all the mitzvos. The difference is the emphasis and therefore the guidance they provide to newcomers to Torah Observant Judaism.

Regardless of the approach, bringing getting closer to Hashem is what Torah Observance is all about and the Kiruv organizations are extremely dedicated to helping other achieve this goal.

On Tuesday, February 17th there is a crowdfunding effort to raise $1 million in one day for kiruv.

Click on this link to find out how you can participate in this great project.

Another World

Posted on | February 16, 2015 | By Azriela Jaffe | 1 Comment

Many years ago I sought the attention of an obgyn doc in Manhattan, Dr. Kevin Jovonovic, for a tricky problem I was having that another doctor was recommending surgery to fix. Dr. Kevin specializes in this problem and although it took me an hour train ride, and then an hour’s walk to his office by Central Park (I’ll walk two miles in the city before I’ll get into a taxicab there!), I was glad I made the visit. He correctly diagnosed the problem, gave me a non surgical fix, and I’ve been coming back to him for annual physicals twice a year ever since; once you’ve found a doctor who is smart, compassionate, and responsive, you don’t let them go over something like a less-than-ideal distance away. I joke with Dr. Kevin that I must be his patient with the longest commute to his office!

I am writing this column on the train back from my visit to Dr. Kevin this morning. When a writer is struck with the writer’s muse, unless it’s Shabbos, she has to write while the inspiration flows in!

Last night I set the alarm for 5 AM, so that I could catch the 6 AM train to New York from my Highland Park, NJ home, and then walk to his office for my 8 AM appointment. I bundled up in layers, earmuffs, gloves, and winter tights for the cold long walk, and donned my best sneakers for the mileage. As I emerged from the train, I was immediately accosted by the sights, sounds and smells of the bustling New York city streets, as every nationality, size, and cultural group whisked by me, rushing somewhere. It struck me how weird it is that I leave my suburban home in NJ, take a one hour train ride, and I emerge on a different planet, an environment so different and unfamiliar to me, with no gradual transition. Off the train, walk a few minutes, and NY City is all around me.

I search for familiar landmarks to anchor me, and to reassure me that I have not lost my way. The kosher pizza store on Broadway.The three-story high Macys.The glittering billboards of Times Square.The 5-dollar pashimi scarves selling on the corner, and the carts on every corner selling trafe food not for me. The recognizable sights remind me that I am on track to my destination, but all around me, the New York City pandemonium overwhelm my senses. I marvel: How can a trainride transport someone to such a different world in under an hour?

This feeling I had in New York City this morning is as close as I can describe to what I feel like when I spend time visiting my secular family. The landmarks are familiar – old childhood photos on the wall, familiar people, the smells and sounds and language of my childhood. I try to orient myself, so I am not lost, but I am now on an alien planet. I left my home and entered another, but it’s not just another home – it is the home of family who do not observe Torah and mitzvot the way that we do. After over two decades of keeping Shabbos and raising a frum family, I am becoming as disoriented when I visit my family of origin as I feel when I emerge from the train to New York City.

Shomer Shabbos used to be the alien world and I was a visitor from another planet. Now the secular world is strange to me.

I can’t wait to get off this train, and to be back home where I belong.

Azriela Jaffe, www.chatzos.com and www.azrielajaffe.com.Author of 32 books, holocaust memoir writer, novelist, and freelance writer for Mishpacha magazine and Ami magazine. Contact email: azjaffe@gmail.com

Kosher Sausage Cart; In Praise of Shul Families; Why You Can’t Change Your Bad Eating Habits;

Posted on | February 12, 2015 | By Administrator | Comments Off

Holy Rollers Kosher Sausage Cart

In Praise of Shul Families

Three Reasons Why You Can’t Change Your Bad Eating Habits

Parshas Shekalim – Restoring the Fire

Posted on | February 11, 2015 | By Administrator | Comments Off

Here is an excerpt from the Shem MiShmuel on Parshas Shekalim: The Power of the Fiery Shekel:


Rabbi Meir said, “The Holy One, may He be blessed, took a type of fiery coin from under his Throne of Glory and showed it to Moshe. He said to him, ‘This shall they give.’ ” (Yerushalmi, Shekalim 1:4)


Reish Lakish said, “It was known and revealed to He Who spoke and made the world that in the future Haman would count out shekalim [to buy the right to exterminate] Yisrael. Therefore He arranged His shekalim [the obligatory half-shekel] to precede Haman’s shekalim.” (Megillah 13b)

When describing the evil nation Amalek, the Torah tells us that we should remember:

“…how he chanced upon you on the way…” (Devarim 25:18)

They cooled you down and made you lukewarm after your great heat, when all the nations feared to attack you. (Rashi loc. cit.)\

When Yisrael performed their mitzvos with a burning desire for closeness to God, they were invincible. But as soon as they lost their enthusiasm, as happened just prior to the war with Amalek, the enemy was able to strike, clearing a path for attack by any other adversary. As a future safeguard against this repeating itself on a national level, God gave the mitzvah of the half-shekel, the embodiment of excitement in mitzvah performance, the burning fervor of the fiery coin. Thus the Jewish people’s means of salvation was in place long before Haman, the wicked progeny of Amalek, was able to try his ancestral wiles against klal Yisrael. And in a deeper sense, we re-experience these feelings each year. Although we no longer give the half-shekel to the Beis HaMikdash, we are certainly able to reawaken our burning desire to serve God with all our strength.

We can now understand how it is that the simple mitzvah of the half-shekel can enable an errant Jew to rejoin the klal. Our task as Jews is to perform every mitzvah and to learn every word of the Torah with a great and passionate love. Failure to do so may mean that even a technically observant Jew has failed to achieve full membership of the Jewish nation. But anyone, even the least observant person, who appreciates the great power inherent in his soul and gives the half-shekel, intent on awakening these strengths, has revised his personality and Jewish orientation to the extent that he is now truly part of klal Yisrael.

Being A Mother-In-Law and Not a Monster-In-Law

Posted on | February 10, 2015 | By Judy Resnick | Comments Off

Now that all of my seven wonderful children (ages 25 to 38) are married, I am a Mother-In-Law (Yiddish: a “shvigger”) to seven adults. I just wanted to leave a few observations about making this potentially difficult parent-in-law relationship work well for all concerned.

First of all, please do not make the mistake. A son-in-law is NOT a son. A daughter-in-law is NOT a daughter. This can actually be helpful, as you don’t have twenty-plus years of conflicts and misunderstandings behind you: you start off with a clean slate.

Also there is the RESPECT factor. I can’t emphasize it enough and that is why it is capitalized. You must show RESPECT to your child’s spouse, and to your child’s spouse’s parents. Always speak politely and carefully to a child-in-law. Perceived slights can eat away at your child’s Sholom Bayis.

Rabbi Avigdor Miller zatzal once gave a great piece of advice: keep your purse open and your mouth shut. I actually enjoy talking to my children-in-law, but I never criticize, I always sound positive and upbeat. I try to praise as much as possible, telling my children and their spouses what a wonderful job they are doing raising my grandchildren. Words of chizuk and encouragement are always welcome to struggling young parents (particularly when accompanied by a cash gift to help out with the bills).

If you spend time reading books with three grandkids snuggled up close listening to every word, or take the grandkids out to the swings at the park so your tired daughter-in-law can catch a much needed break, your presence will be welcomed rather than dreaded.

Finally, if there is a special needs grandchild, your continued help and words of encouragement and strength are especially important. Raising a special child is a super challenge to parents, but if the grandparents get involved in a helpful and loving manner, it can make a great difference in making everyone’s lives a little easier. Special needs children adore the unconditional love of their Bubby and Zaidy, and tired moms really appreciate respite time when grandparents visit and entertain the special needs child.

To summarize, it’s not “shver” (hard) to be a great “shver” (father in law): respect, positivity and most of all love (plus an open wallet) will make the parent-in-law relationship work for everyone in the family.

Dr. David Pelcovitz – Three Keys to Raising Your Children

Posted on | February 9, 2015 | By Administrator | 10 Comments

On Moetzaei Shabbos, December 25th, Dr. David Pelcovitz, one of the foremost child psychologist gave a lecture to over 500 men and women at the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills. You can download the shiur here.

Dr. Pelcovitz is the son of the former long time Rabbi of the White Shul in Far Rockaway, Rabbi Raphael Pelcovitz and his lectures are filled with relevant Divrei Torah, psychological insights and amazing stories that drive home his message.

The lecture was sponsored by P’TACH, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide the best possible Jewish and secular education to children who have been disenfranchised because of learning differences.

Find the Right Balance between Love and Limits.

Chazal say the key to good parenting is the left hand pushes away while the right hand brings closer. The left hand represents limits and the right hand represents love.

In our times, our general society is relaxing limits and we are affected by those changes. As an example Dr. Pelcovitz points out that the majority of teenagers surveyed in certain Orthodox communities feel that their parents should put more filters and controls on their Internet usage.

On the love side, Dr. Pelcovitz points out that the overwhelming majority of parents want to be better parents. As he put it, “A mother can only be as happy as her unhappiest child”.

One area in which we can improve is giving our children our undivided attention. He speaks about email voice, which is the tone you detect when the person on the other side of a phone call is dealing with their email. We all have many distractions but we need to try to communicate with undivided attention with our children on a regular basis.

Keeping Perspective

The secular research on “mentsch making” says the number one predictor is how we talk about others with whom we disagree. We need to teach by modeling how we respect those we disagree with.

We have to realize that children are constantly absorbing lessons from our actions. And these lessons go very deep. Keeping perspective is a key component on good parenting.

Appreciating Your Child’s Uniqueness

Dr. Pelcovitz points out that families have bumper stickers such as “Lakewood or Bust”, “Ivy League Forever” or “Chesed or Else”. However, we often have children who don’t exactly fit into our vision. It’s very important that we see our children as they are and bless them for who they are.

Taking that a step further we not only have to recognize them for who they are but we have to be grateful for who they are.

There are just some of the keys to raising your children and we want to strongly encourage that you download and listen to the wisdom that Dr. Pelcovitz is teaching.

Originally Published on Dec 27, 2010

Skepticism — the Beginning of True Faith

Posted on | February 5, 2015 | By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz | 2 Comments

Why do the episodes of the war with Amalek and Yisro’s arrival serve as lead-ins to the revelation at Sinai and the Decalogue?
Is it better to be shrewd or gullible?
Is there any room for skepticism in the hearts and minds of believers in the 13 Articles of Faith?

And [thus] Yehoshua weakened Amalek and his allies by the sword

— Shemos 17:13

And Yisro priest of Midyan , Moshe’s father-in-law heard about all that Elokim had done for Moshe and His people Yisrael, when He extricated Yisrael from Egypt … And, along with Moshe’s wife and sons, Yisro came to the desert where Moshe was camped near Elokims mountain.

— Shemos 18:1,5

And Yisro … heard: What news did he hear that [motivated him enough] to come? The splitting of the Sea of Reeds and the war with Amalek. —(from Zevachim 116A, and Mechilta)

— Rashi ibid

Now I know that Hashem is the greatest of all the deities, for [He came] upon them [the Egyptians] with the very thing that they plotted.

 — Shemos 18:11

Of all the deities: This teaches us that he [Yisro] was familiar with every type of idolatry in the world, and there was no pagan deity that he had not worshipped. (from Mechilta)

— Rashi ibid

Destroy all the places, where the nations that you are driving out served their gods, [whether] upon the high mountains, the hills, or under every verdant tree.

— Devarim 12;2

For your gods were as numerous as the number of your cities, O Judah …

— Yirmiyahu 11:13

… yet upon every high hill and under every leafy tree[traditional places of idols and their worship] you recline, playing the role of a harlot.

— Yirmiyahu 2:20

The naïf believes everything; but the incredulous understands the correct footsteps to tread.

— Mishlei 14:15

Strike the scorner, and the naïf grows shrewd. 

— Mishlei 19:25

“Strike the scorner” this refers to Amalek “and the naïf grows shrewd” this refers to Yisro

 — Shemos Rabbah Yisro 27

I am HaShem your Elokim who extricated you from the land of Egypt, from the house of slavery

— Shemos 20:2

And he [Bilaam] gazed at Amalek, and took up his allegory, and said: “Amalek is the first among the nations; but his end shall come to eternal destruction.”

— BeMidbar 24:20

Like fire and atomic energy; faith can be a tremendously positive and constructive or a negative and destructive force. When one has faith in HaShem, true prophets and chachmei haTorah-authentic Torah sages; it sustains and nurtures the life of the faithful, as the pasuk teaches v’tzadik b’emunaso yichyeh-and the just will live in/through his faith (Chavakuk 2:4). However, when faith is invested in false gods, false prophets and/or assorted charlatans, there is nothing more corrosive, detrimental to society and self-destructive. To carry the simile further, just as nations are better served by building safe and secure nuclear power plants than in stockpiling surplus nuclear warheads, one must be extremely judicious and discriminating in deciding what and/or whom to invest their faith in.

So, while faith can potentially be the greatest of virtues, it is not to be confused with gullibility and naïveté. Faith unleavened by healthy doses of discernment and skepticism is folly and, as Yirmiyahu the prophet implies by describing the idolatrous Jews of his era as “playing the harlot” and having as many deities as cities, a kind of promiscuity of the heart and mind.  The emunah-faith; of one who has “complete and perfect faith” in the thirteen fundamental articles of Jewish belief is of diminished value if he also believes in every outlandish hoax ever publicized or if he can be swindled into buying the Brooklyn Bridge because he is convinced of the seller’s integrity.  For faith in truth and belief in reality to be commendable one must first stop suspending his disbelief in mirages and repudiate the bill-of-goods that he had formerly been convinced of for the lies that they are.

At one time or another Yisro believed in every possible manner of fabrication. Chazal teach us that there was not a single pagan deity that Yisro did not worship. To buy in to so much and such varied deception means that Yisro was possessed of an extremely credulous and gullible nature.  The lashon kodesh-biblical Hebrew; word that defines this kind of folly is pessi-a naïf who’ll believe anything.

At the extreme opposite pole of human nature stands the letz-scorner/scoffer who believes in nothing and no one. Such people wear their incredulous disbelief as badges of honor marking them as wiser and as sharper than the credulous. They scoff at believers, first and foremost by mocking all that they believe in. Such skeptics scorn across the board and no target is safe from their sneering, scathing “appraisals.” Such letzim are the Wildean cynics who “know the price of everything and the value of nothing.”

Amalek is identified by Chazal as the letz incarnate.  The national character of Amalek is wired to scoff and mock everything, up to and including all that is real, true and holy. How else can we understand that while all other nations were awestruck by the events of the Exodus from Egypt and the Parting of the Sea of Reeds, so much so that they had come to some level of belief in the invincibility-borne-of-chosen-ness of the Bnei Yisrael-the Jewish people; and the Infinite Power of the G-d of Israel, Amalek remained unimpressed?  The preemptive attack launched by Amalek was their über-skeptical “I’m from Missouri, you’ve got to show me” moment.

The Izhbitzer explains that once letzim are inevitably set in evil ways they become irredeemable. All exhortations to tikkun-repairing ones evil; depend on getting the perpetrator to believe in the value of change and improvement. But the scoffing, scornful, skeptical letz does not recognize or tolerate chashivus-value and significance. One can try to rehabilitate the letz with both high-minded arguments and/or corporal-punishment “convincing” and both will be wasted on those who know the value of nothing. On the other hand, when dealing with a pessi there is someone to talk to and something to work with.  The ethical challenge of the pessi is that he believes in the value of too many things.  Discernment and a healthy dose of skepticism come with experience and education, sometimes even from education gleaned from the lessons and exhortations wasted on the letz.

 

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Daf, Dues, Diet

Posted on | February 5, 2015 | By Administrator | Comments Off

Daf: Why Your Shul Should “Do the Daf”

Dues: The ‘Pay What You Want’ Experiment at Synagogues

Diet: Brevedy Diet: Eat What You Love and Still Lose Weight: Video

Eating as a Tikun

Posted on | February 4, 2015 | By Guest Contributor | Comments Off

Did you ever wonder why eating is such a challenge for most people. Sarah Yehudit Schneider has written a wonderful booklet explaining the spiritual basis for the challenge and how we can use eating as a tikun. You can purchase the book from Amazon or directly from Mrs. Schneider.

Here’s an excerpt:

Humanity’s first sin, teaches Rav Tsadok HaKohen, was Adam and Eve’s eating without right intention. The Tree of Knowledge, says he, was not a tree or a food, or a thing at all. Rather it was a way of eating. When ever a person takes self conscious pleasure from the world he falls, in that moment, from G-d consciousness and eats from the Tree of Knowledge.

All neuroses, personality imbalances, and existential dissatisfaction, teaches Torah, have their root in this sin of unholy eating. Its impurity lives inside each of us as a fact of the human condition. Every person has an eating disorder, for “eating” is a much broader activity than simply taking food into one’s mouth.

Since our first sin was unholy eating only its opposite can fix it. All of life and all of history are training us for one end: to learn to “eat” in holiness, to not let the world’s pleasures wrench our attention from G-d (even for an instant). The moment we grasp this in holiness the labor of this world will end.

See more at: http://astillsmallvoice.org/?page_id=381

Rabbi Label Lam on Personal Growth Lessons from Tu B’Shevat

Posted on | February 2, 2015 | By Rabbi Label Lam | Comments Off

On Wednesday night, Tu B’Shevat begins. Rabbi Label Lam gave a wonderful Drasha a few years back where he looked at the Mishna in Pirkei Avos which states “Rabbi Yaakov said, one who is walking along the road and is studying [Torah], and then interrupts his studies and says, ‘How beautiful is this tree! How beautiful is this plowed field!’, the Scripture considers it as if he bears the guilt for his own soul.”

In questioning what is the great crime here and why the cases of a tree and a plowed field is chosen, Rabbi Lam uncovers some powerful personal growth lessons that we can glean from the holiday of trees.

Click on this link to listen to Rabbi Lam on Personal Growth Lessons from Tu B’Shevat. (To download the file to your computer, click with the right mouse button on the link and select Save Target As)

Of Fanatical Humility and Impetuous Self-Confidence

Posted on | January 29, 2015 | By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz | 2 Comments

Why were there some who hoarded the manna?
What turned Wormy before it even spoiled?
Why did Yisro arrive right after the disaster at Rephidim?

Moshe said to them, “let no man leave any [mann-manna;] over until morning.”But they did not listen to Moshe, some men left some over until morning and it became maggoty with worms and putrid and Moshe grew angry at them.

— Shemos 16:19,20

And putrid: This verse is transposed, because it first became putrid and only later did it grow maggoty with worms, as it says: “It did not putrefy nor become maggoty with worms.” (ibid:24), and such is the natural progression of all things that become wormy.

— Rashi ibid citing Mechilta

They put it [the extra portion of mann that fell on Friday] away until [Shabbos] morning as Moshe had commanded. It did not putrefy nor become maggoty with worms.

— Shemos 16:24

The entire community of the Bnei Yisrael-the children of Israel; moved on from the Sin Desert traveling by the word of G-d, until they camped in Rephidim.

— Shemos 17:1

Moshe named the place [Rephidim] Testing-and-Argument after the quarrel of the Bnei Yisrael and after their testing of HaShem. They had asked “Is HaShem within us or not?”

— Shemos 17:7

To every thing there is a phase, and a time to every purpose under the heaven …   A time to love,  and a time to hate;  a time for war,  and a time for peace. 

— Mishlei 3:1,8

The lashon kodesh-Torah Hebrew; homograph/homophone middah can be defined as both a psycho-spiritual tendency, as in middos tovos-refined character traits, or as a unit of/ a tool for calculating measurements, as in middos umishkalos-measures and weights. From Maimonides to Rav Eliyahu Lazer Dessler (see Michtav m’Eliyahu II pp. 248-249), many baalei mussar-Jewish ethicists; explain the common root of these two dictionary entries as deriving from the truth that all of our psycho-spiritual tendencies are meant to be weighed, measured and applied in a precise, deliberate manner, at the proper time and under the correct conditions. Millimeters and kilometers are both true and valid metric units. But woe to the one who measures his footraces in millimeters and who gauges the thickness of his glass lenses in kilometers.

Even those middos that we consider to be intrinsically good can turn negative if pursued or applied excessively — nothing fails like excess.  The obverse of this coin is that there are no intrinsically evil middos and that we are meant to play the entire hand that G-d has dealt us. Perhaps the milk of human cruelty, jealousy and stinginess needs to be doled out with an eye-dropper and at very infrequent intervals (or even once in a lifetime) but as long as the eye dropper is wielded with measured, precisely calibrated applications, then cruelty, jealousy and stinginess become good middos as well.

Moreover, just as a merchant can put his thumb on the scale or otherwise falsify his weights and measures to short-change the customers, there exist counterfeit, false middos shebenefesh- psycho-spiritual tendencies; that somewhat approximate, but that misrepresent and counterfeit, the genuine article. The Izhbitzer examines two middos at the root of two narratives in our sidrah-weekly Torah reading; in light of this.

What motivated those who defied Moshe and left over a portion of their mann for the following day?  Most would aver that they lacked faith and trust in G-d, that despite already experiencing the mann’s miraculous descent from heaven and its extraordinary capacity to sustain them, they somehow felt that HaShem would not deliver on His promise the following day. But this really beggars credulity.  Why would anyone believe that HaShem would cause the mann to fall one day and fail to do so the next day?

The Izhbitzer maintains that their hoarding derived from not believing in themselves, from a self-confidence deficiency. In modern terms we’d call this low self-esteem or an inferiority complex. He says that the hoarders did not doubt HaShem’s munificence to the entirety of k’lal Yisrael-the Jewish people; and were sure that the following day mann would fall from heaven for k’lal Yisrael … just not for them personally — that somehow their particular allotted portions would be missing.  The Izhbitzer sharply condemns their low self-esteem terming this ersatz, counterfeit humility anavah beushah- rancid, putrefied humility.  Then as now, some people of a particular religious sensibility mistake low self-esteem for anavah-humility; a most laudable middah.   But the Izhbitzer teaches that no individual should consider themselves worse or less deserving than the balance of k’lal Yisrael. This is either taking humility to an exaggerated, and thus counterproductive, extreme or it is coming from an unhealthy element in the person’s makeup and is not sourced in true humility at all.

Read more

Black Ice

Posted on | January 28, 2015 | By Azriela Jaffe | 5 Comments

I don my trusty backpack for my early morning walk to the supermarket, stocking up for Shabbos cooking and tonight’s dinner before the sun even rises. This is how I start my day, while my husband is davening in morning minyan, while my teenage children catch the last moments of slumber. The calendar says that it is winter, but we’ve hardly had any snow except for that weird storm in October no one expected. Still, it is bitter cold this morning, and I walk slowly, navigating the icy, slippery sidewalks of Highland Park, NJ.

The weatherman warns of black ice, the hidden danger of a pavement that looks dry and safe, but it is really an ice skating rink in disguise. My morning walk is not enjoyable, nor at any pace one could consider it exercise. Having endured two serious sprained ankles and four different foot surgeries in my adult life, I am not eager to take an ill-fated step on black ice and find myself looking up at the sky. I find myself planting each step with care, never looking up from the ground, and for the entire walk, I keep thinking about black ice.

Black ice. Danger that looks harmless. Danger that can catch you by surprise in a moment’s notice, rendering you injured, or at least embarrassed, before you even have a chance to intelligently respond. Black ice, an oxymoron of sorts, as ice is supposed to be clear, crystal, colorless, yet this is not. Black ice, a winter nemesis.

Black ice. My teenage daughter who is learning how to drive is ready to take on the highways, the famous New Jersey mergers, even, be still my heart, drive one of my other children some place they need to go. She’s a good driver. It looks safe. Black ice. Be careful.

Black ice. My other teenage daughter wants to take the bus to Brooklyn to shop. She’s old enough, she says, to travel with her teenage friends into the city, to enjoy shopping with Mommy’s credit card, and without Mommy. It’s time, she says. It would be soooo much fun. She can handle it. But can I? Black ice. Who will be on that bus, in the city, how can I trust?

Black ice. My husband of eighteen years and I are two very busy professionals, and working day and night to care for children and household. We joke that we’ve probably been on five dates in the past five or even ten years. It’s not something we do, and as the children get old enough that we can see their imminent departure from the house, I can’t help but worry. Our marriage is solid, committed; we are kind to one another, always on one another’s team. We need to find our way back to each other again, to set aside the responsibilities that overwhelm us, and to reconnect. Black ice. I don’t want to be one of those women who marries off the last child, looks at her beloved husband, and doesn’t know him anymore.

Black ice. Two close relatives have entered cancer treatment in the last two months. You wouldn’t know it from looking at them. They visit the outpatient clinic every day for their daily radiation treatments. The doctors tell them their prognosis is good for a complete refuah. The radiation should do its job to shrink the tumors, and B’ezras Hashem, they will grow older with no return of the cancer. Except for the daily outing to the cancer treatment center, one wouldn’t even know that inside of their body, a battle rages on. It all looks so normal. Two old people still enjoying their life, and looking forward to the next simcha. Black ice. When will they fall? When will Hashem decide to take them, to allow the tumors to take control, to end a life still very much being lived?

Black ice. The secular family now consists of several secular teenagers. When we get together – infrequently, but it does happen – my teenage daughter is intrigued by the conversations she has with her secular cousins who have boyfriends, and a social life nothing like she’s ever experienced. How harmless are these conversations, as infrequent as they are?

Black ice. It looks like nothing, until in just a few seconds, you find yourself on your toucas, wondering what happened.

Originally posted on Jan 17, 2012

Azriela Jaffe is the author of 26 published books including, “What do you mean, you can’t eat in my home?” and “After the Diet, Delicious Kosher Recipes with less Fat, Calories and Carbs”, both of which are available directly from her at azjaffe@gmail.com. She is also a holocaust memoir writer, privately commissioned by families who wish to write up the life story of the survivor matriarch or patriarch of their family. Visit www.azrielajaffe.com for more information about her work, and visit www.chatzos.com for more information about the worldwide movement she founded to bring more kavod into erev Shabbos.

Hishtadlus, False Blizzards and Parshas HaMon

Posted on | January 27, 2015 | By Mark Frankel | 3 Comments

One good thing about the predictions of the record snow storms is that I was extremely happy that we only got 12 inches. Another good thing was the public humility of Gary Szatkowski, meteorologist-in-charge at the National Weather Service in Mt. Holly, New Jersey, who apologized on Twitter (@GarySzatkowski) for the snow totals being cut back. “My deepest apologies to many key decision makers and so many members of the general public,” Szatkowski tweeted. “You made a lot of tough decisions expecting us to get it right, and we didn’t. Once again, I’m sorry.”

We can second guess the city officials for their road and transit closures, but like us, they have to do their hishtadlus to protect the citizens. And like us, it’s hard to get the hishtadlus factor exactly right, no too much and not too little. The key for us believing Jews is to remember that even after our hishtadlus, everything is in Hashem’s hands. This is something we have to continually work on to internalize.

The halachic works suggest that we read Parshas Hamon everyday to internalize this message. (Tur 1; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 1:5; Aruch Hashulchan 1:22; Shulchan Aruch HaRav 1:9). The Mishna Berurah says “And the parsha of the Manna is such that he will believe that all his livelihood comes through special Divine direction (hashgacha pratis)”.

From my observations, most people are lucky to get through all the davening, let alone recite extras like Parshas HaMon. However, it just so happens that Rebbe Mendel of Riminov said that saying Parshas HaMon on Tuesday of Parshas B’Shalach is a Segulah for Parnossa. And guest what – today is that Tuesday, and many of us are home because of the snow, so we probably have a few minutes to say it.

Here’s a link to the Art Scroll Interlinear translation of Parshas Hamon.

Frozen Jews

Posted on | January 26, 2015 | By Katrin | 82 Comments

Originally Posted on Oct 25, 2006

When Modiin was first built, it was designed as a ‘secular’ haven for the people who used to fancy living in Jerusalem, but didn’t want hareidim for neighbours. As the city has grown, it’s begun to attract quite a few modern orthodox, including a lot of expat anglos, who for the most part, have similar feelings about the hareidim.

When we moved here last year from London, we were just happy to be somewhere where we had jewish neighbours, regardless of what they did or didn’t keep. I wonder now if we were a little naïve.
It’s not that we have had any difficulties, G-d forbid, with our secular neighbours. They have been as friendly as they can be, given the fact that we can’t eat in their homes, and they aren’t overly keen to come for a Shabbat meal.

But that ‘anti-haredi’ stance comes out in a lot of subtle, and not so subtle ways that has implications for everyone who lives here. It means that building synagogues, mikvas and schools in the area is loaded with a whole bunch of fears about being ‘taken over’ by the religious.

The irony is that if anything, the ‘religious’ people here are just as scared of being taken over by the hareidim. We also don’t want people telling us how to dress, telling us when we can drive our car, telling us what we can and can’t watch.

Until quite recently, I was firmly in this camp. How can you have free will – and the merit of doing a particular mitzvah – if you are being compelled to do it by outside forces?

But then my husband started to go to kollel a few hours a day, in the hareidi neighbourhood of kiryat sefer. There is no kollel in modiin, so that was the nearest option.

And lo and behold, we discovered that hareidim are not the scary monsters that many people persist in making them. Many of them are the kindest, non-judgemental and most genuine people you could care to meet. They have their priorities right: lots of kids, and a focus on learning and mitzvahs as opposed to accumulating pointless ‘stuff’.

In Israel, there is a long list of popular complaints against the hareidim, starting with the number of kids they have (that secular wisdom dictates that they can’t afford) and culminating with the ‘facts’ that they don’t pay taxes and don’t serve in the army.

I’m not qualified to comment on all the ins and outs of these issues. But it seems to me that they all touch on the same basic issue: hareidim act as if the ‘natural’ laws of the world don’t apply to them.

But of course, as jews, that is exactly how we are meant to act.

Once you see it in action, in a neighbourhood like Kiryat Sefer, it calls into question how many of us modern orthodox act and think.

I was talking to a hareidi woman who used to be chiloni (non-religious) and lived in Tel Aviv. She and her husband made tshuva a few years back, and now she lives in Kiryat Sefer with her five kids.

She does a lot of outreach work with girls in Ramle, many of whom don’t think twice before chowing down on a pork chop. She was telling me about her work and said something that really made me stop and think.

“A lot of these girls eat pig, but when you show them that the Torah is true, they make tshuva and over time, they go the whole way,” she said. “They understand that if the Torah is true, then ALL of it is true. Just as they shouldn’t eat pig, they understand that they should also try to do all of the other things in the Torah.

“It’s easier to work with them than to work with ‘frozen jews’, who are keeping more, but think what they are doing is enough. Frozen jews never really reach the top of the mountain, because they haven’t accepted that the Torah is true, and comes from Hashem. If you accept that the Torah comes from G-d, you can’t pick and choose which bits of the Torah you keep. They are all equally important.”

The point is not that we have to keep everything immediately. But the point certainly is that we have to continually strive to reach that goal.

It’s an uncomfortable reminder and it leads to a lot of uncomfortable questions, not least because i™ makes a very clear distinction between those that really believe in Torah and Hashem – regardless of their outward observance – and those that really don’t – again, regardless of their outward observance.

I don’t know what the answer is. But I’m increasingly of the opinion that when it comes to belief in G-d, you can’t spend a lifetime trying to sit on the fence.

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