Getting Chiyus/Vitality From Torah and Mitzvos

From this longer article on www.bilvavi.net

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Cry of the Decaying Kernel

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

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

Devarim 26:5

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

Devarim 8:3

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

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

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

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

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

 

Read more The Cry of the Decaying Kernel

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

Chapter 3d.

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

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

“Be your child’s dating coach,”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flourishing in the Physical Dimension

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

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

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

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

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

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

Musical Chairs – Chapter 3c – A BT’s Shidduch Search for Her FFB Son

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

Chapter 3C

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

“Any answer?” Molly feigned interest.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It sounded like he did.”

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

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

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

“Yes, I suppose it will.”

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

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

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

His fingers were on his phone.

“Right now?”

“No sense letting him build up false hopes.”

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

“The shidduch…” said Nahum.

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

“So” How did he take it?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elul is the Time to Start on the Little Things

At the beginning of Shaarei Teshuva (The Gates of Teshuva), Rabbeinu Yonah teaches that if we make our efforts in Teshuva, then Hashem will assist us in return, even to the extent of reaching the highest level of loving Him. But we have to make our efforts. Rabbi Welcher says that Elul is the time to start making efforts on the little things as we work up to dealing with some of our bigger issues.

Kavanna is a Big “Little Thing”

Where does kavanna fit in? On the one hand, we all know how difficult it is to daven a full Shomoneh Esrai with good kavanna, but on the other hand saying one brocha or doing one mitzvah with the proper kavanna is something that all of us can achieve. Being focused on Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh this year has shown me the importance of kavanna and awakened me to the fact they we can spend our whole lives involved in Torah, Mitzvos, Tefillah and Chesed, but if we are not focused on Hashem during our day to day lives, then we are not properly building our souls and achieving our purpose in this world and the next. The obvious place to start building is when we’re involved in Hashem focused activities like davening and mitzvos.

Kavanna during Mitzvos
There are three basic thoughts to have in mind before performing a mitzvah:
1) Hashem is the one who commanded this mitzvah;
2) I am the subject of that command; and
3) Through the act that I am about to perform, I am fulfilling Hashem’s command.
It’s that simple, the Commander (Hashem), the commanded (me), the fulfillment (the mitvah). So, perhaps we can focus ourselves before we do a mitzvah and have these three things in mind.

Kavanna during Prayer
Shacharis davening consists of four basic components, while Mincha and Maariv and brachos contain some subset of those components which are:
1) Thanking Hashem for the physical goodness He gives to us (Berachos/Korbanos)
2) Praising Hashem for His general awesomeness (Pesukei D’Zimra)
3) Intellectually accepting and appreciating the Kingship and Oneness of Hashem (Shema)
4) Standing before Hashem with spiritual awareness that He is the source of everything
Obviously there’s a lot to talk about here and I highly recommend Aryeh Kaplan’s Jewish Mediation as a primary source for understanding kavanna and prayer.

Kavanna during Shacharis
Let’s go through a typical Shacharis and pick some potential Kavanna points.
1) When putting on Tallis and Tefillin, have in mind the three points of Kavanna during mitzvos described above
2) When saying morning Brachos, be thankful that Hashem has given you the opportunity to say these Brochos
3) During Korbonos, say at least Parshas HaTamid and Ketores with extra focus concentrating on the simple meaning of the words
4) During Pesukei D’Zimra in Ashrei say this line with focus: Poseach Es YoDecha… – You open your hand and satisfy every living thing’s desires”. A basic understanding is that although Hashem runs the world through orderly natural laws (as symbolized by the aleph-beis structure of Ashrei), He is constantly active in running the world.
5) During Shema, before the first verse have in mind that you are accepting Hashem’s Kingship and oneship with the implication of following a Torah way of life. According to some you should have in mind that you would actually give up your life for Hashem, if necessary.
6) Before Shmoneh Esrai have in mind that you are about to stand before Hashem and pray to him, that He is awesome, and that we are relatively small compared to Him, the source of everything.

These are just some ideas. Certainly we can do one a week, or one a day, or possibly more. Whatever works for you, but let’s make the effort and earn the merit to grow closer to Hashem at this time.

Musical Chairs – Chapter 3b – A BT’s Shidduch Search for Her FFB Son

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

You can read Chapter 3a here.

Chapter 3b

When she got home Nahum was warming up the left over chulent from Shabbos for Melaveh Malka, the meal that King David had instituted as a gesture of gratitude. “Can I warm a bowl for you? It’s really good.”

For a moment Molly almost said yes but then she thought of how her insides would feel if she ate that stuff now.”No thanks.”

“By the way, did you check her out? Asher really wants to date this girl.”

“Yes, I don’t think it’s going to work out .” She rubbed her eyes and began walking in the direction of the bedroom.

“Hey wait a minute. We’re not done. What is the problem with her?” said Nahum.

“Take my word. It’s not for us.”

“Well why not?” Nahum put down his spoon.

“Well, how shall I say this….” Why besmirch Mr. Glick or was it Rabbi Glick’s good name but now she felt she had no choice. “I heard on good authority that Bracha’s father is a very troubled person and her parents are on the verge of divorce.”

“Hey, wait a minute. My parents were divorced and your’s—well you yourself said it was no Hollywood romance.”

“Excuse me.” Molly arched her brows.

“Well sorry to be so blunt but you told me yourself..”

“Yes , so do you want that for Asher? ”

“They struggled and we struggled and Asher will struggle. The lives of the sons echoes the lives of the fathers. Isn’t that what the Torah says?..”

“But I don’t want them to struggle.” Molly’s voice thickened with emotion.

“Well maybe they won’t and anyway, the father isn’t the girl”

“Yeah but this is bad news and we know about it. I don’t want to go near this girl Do you need a neon sign saying that?” Her voice had turned high pitched and shrill.

“Yeah but Asher really wants this. Just do a little bit more research. One or two more calls. Maybe that will put a different spin on this.”

“No. I fill like I’ve done enough.”

“So I’ll do it . I know how to ask questions” Nahum stood up from the table as if he were speaking in court.

“Are you firing me?”

“No, but I don’t want to overburden you.”

“Okay. I’ll do it .”She sounded like a trapped animal.

When she finally lay down to sleep she felt sick.

Molly spent Yom Kippur at the synagogue. On other years she’d enjoyed the holiday especially the feeling of community as the fast ended, and the spontaneous at the end of the end but this year she began the fast feeling anxious her anxiety only increasing as the day wore on.

In a way tomorrow would be the real day of judgment for Bella and by extension for Molly. Until now, Bella’s disciplinary slights had been the province of the vice principle, Rabanit Mor a small stout woman with a high voice and thick French accent who handled them by telephone. . The conversations had a set time for them 10 am–Molly wondered if Rabanit Mor had blocked out those moments anticipating the need even before Bella commited her crime

“I’m sorry to bother you, ” Rabanit Mor would begin which always tempted Molly to say, if you’re so sorry then you don’t have to call, but she never did. After that Rabanit Mor would describe the offense of the week–such petty crimes. Why couldn’t they cut the girls a little slack? . After several weeks of these calls Molly could hardly hold herself back from asking the Rabanit whether if was about the nail polish, the blouse button or the cell phone

Rabanit Mor would apologize again–the woman seemed to have a need to apologize profusely and then she’d end the call with blessings for ” sach nachas, a Yiddish expression meaning denoting a potent blend of love and pride and peace of mind that was akin to nirvana

Molly eventually became so accustomed to Rabanit Mor’s calls that she didn’t even break a sweat but a summons to the principal Rabanit Stark implied a new level of severity. Beit Rinah was a huge school–over five thousand girls. Rabanit Stark didn’t have time to mess around. Would she give Bella the boot? And then what? Beit Rinah was the least selective and also most tolerant of the mainstream schools, that is schools for regular girls. After Beit Rinah the only place to go was to a school that specialized in problematic girls. It was hard enough that Elazar had fit himself into that category, but Bella too. As the congregation recited a long litany about the ten holy martys Molly visualized her sweet beautiful daughter with her tiny upturned nose, Molly’s green eyes and Nahum’s thick dark hair in dirty torn jeans , track marks on her arms and a silver ring hanging from her nose.

It was only Molly who had freaked out. Nahum was his usual blithe self . As he left for services looking angelic in his crocs and white kitel he told her not to worry. “I’m going to daven and it will be fine. ” If only she had his faith.

When Molly appeared at Bella’s door to wake her for services she claimed a headache. “I’ll get there later, I promise, “she said. Did she really have a headache or was it that she just didn’t care about t Yom Kippur, or school?

Why was this all so hard? Years ago, that is when she was peering at the orthodox world form the outside one of the things that impressed with her was the lack of a generation gap, the lack of generations. Rav Muti’s children seemed to move seamlessly from childhood to adulthood to parent hood walking in the shadow of their elders. Why hadn’t that happened to her?
Read more Musical Chairs – Chapter 3b – A BT’s Shidduch Search for Her FFB Son

The Four Dimensions – Spiritual, Mental, Emotional and Physical

By Mark Frankel & David Linn

The Four Dimensions

Both secular and Torah sources discuss that human beings experience the world in four Dimensions: Physical, Emotional, Mental, and Spiritual. For example, eating occurs primarily in the physical dimension. Love is an emotional experience. Learning takes place in the mental realm. And prayer is a spiritual pursuit.

Each Dimension has four important aspects:
core components, through which we experience that Dimension best
a flourishing currency, the thing that you are trying to access in that Dimension
a primary good habit that we need to cultivate
a deterrent that keeps us from flourishing

Although we experience the world in all four Dimensions, they are not equivalent. There is a hierarchy which starts with the Physical Dimension, where we are focused on self and which becomes increasingly less self-centered as we move towards the Spiritual Dimension, where we are focused on God. Let’s take a look at some examples of this.

The pleasure of the Physical Dimension is completely self-focused; that chocolate cake tastes great, but that’s only because I like chocolate cake, it has nothing to do with anyone else. Emotional happiness, achieved through positive relationships, involves me and at least one other person. When I move up to finding meaning in the Mental Dimension, I’m even more outwardly focused and involved in pursuits that help others and improve the world. Finally, purpose in the Spiritual Dimension places God at the center of all my activities, it’s about what He wants, not what I want.

The lines between Dimensions are porous, meaning that flourishing in one Dimension often creates flourishing in another. Indeed, that’s one of the goals of Four Dimensional Flourishing, to take an activity in one dimension and raise it to a higher level. For example, eating a delicious Yom Tov meal is a physical pleasure that becomes spiritual when I’m focused on the fact that this is the type of pleasure that Hashem has commanded me to have on Yom Tov.

At the same time, two different activities might cause flourishing in the same Dimension but they may be of a very different quality. For example, eating a delicious weekday meal will provide physical pleasure but might also make me happy, which is an emotional state. Doing something meaningful, like volunteer work will make me happy as well, but it’s easy to see that these are different types of happiness. The happiness from pleasure ends after the last bite, while the happiness from meaning is more deep seated and enduring.

The chart below summarizes the Four Dimensions and the overview that we have just covered. You might want to refer to the chart as we discuss each Dimension individually.

FourDimensionalFlourishingV1

Musical Chairs – Chapter 3a – A BT’s Shidduch Search for Her FFB Son

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

Chapter 3a
The day before Rosh Hashana, Molly stood alone in the kitchen kneading dough to bake challahs which she would shape into circles, shofars, even a scale of justice. She’d heard somewhere that the bakers state of mind seeped into the dough. She stared at her hands, sticky and covered. In her present state of mind, perhaps she needed to throw the whole thing into the garbage – otherwise they’de eat her anxiety, which wasn’t inconsiderable.

First there was the matter of her employment — What would she do this year? Advertise to start a new yoga class? Would anyone come? Or perhaps something else. She tore out an ad in a local circular seeking tutors to work with at Ba’al Teshuva woman. Wasn’t she too old? Would they even want her?

And then there were the kids, Asher giving her an unexpectedly hard time and Elazar who just the day before lopped off his hair bizarrely, shaving the sides to near baldness and leaving a mowed patch in the center as a platform for his microscopic yarmulke. His old yeshiva would never take him back looking like that.

He didn’t seem to care at all. He stayed in bed — was he sleeping, playing on his phone? She had no idea — until noon or even later and then went out. To where? She didn’t know and she wasn’t sure she wanted to know. Was he on drugs? He didn’t smell, didn’t have bloodshot eyes or a runny nose. When he was awake he seemed cheerful, even pleasant and yet…

And then there was Bella, her only daughter who did go to school but invariably got sent home for wearing nail polish, hitching her skirt too short, being rude and sassy and sometimes combinations of all of the above. It was only a matter of time until she’d been kicked out too and then what would Molly do?

She dug her hands into the dough, The mystics said that one could pray while kneading. What would she pray for? The kids? Even Moshe, the youngest who seemed like Asher the second worried her. He disliked his new teacher and in seventh grade that could spell problems.

This was the season to introspect. Where had she gone wrong? Had she been too lenient, too easy going, not strict enough? The first time Bella was sent home to remove her nail polish she’d giggled. Did that demonstrate a lack of respect for authority? Was that the problem?

Maybe she needed to start with herself. She looked down at her skirt, white denim barely below her knees and above them when she sat down, and her blouse, that lightweight denim colored rayon that was so popular these days. What if she’d lengthen the skirt and put away the blouse?. Would G-d care about that? As frightening as it felt to think that G-d was observing her and recording all of her deeds into His supernal computer the opposite idea, that is that He didn’t care or even worse, didn’t really exist was even scarier. She’d banked her whole life on G-d, that He was there, that even as He made demands on her, He was her loving father. She’d adjust her wardrobe; this would be her sacrifice, certainly easier than the sacrifices Jews had made through the ages. Maybe then G-d would hear her prayers.

Rosh Hashanah passed quietly. Asher remained at yeshiva where the prayers were recited with extreme slowness. For the first time in his life he prayed to find his bride. His prayers didn’t have a real intensity. He wasn’t desperate; just as everything else in his life had fallen into place this would too but for the first time he identified a part of him that was scared. One of his friends was an alter, that is an elderly student, a guy in his mid twenties who’d gone on hundreds of dates and had yet to find his soul mate .For the first time in his life he asked G-d not to make him an alter.

The rest of the family attended services on time.— no small thing as most Shabboses she couldn’t peel some of them off of their beds. The family attended a small synagogue in a basement really a converted storage room, simple undecorated.

Molly poured herself into her prayers which offered a long litany of possible disaster. “Who by sword, who by fire, who by fierce animal” as well as an antidote. “Repentence, prayer and good deeds would annul the evil decrees” Could that really happen for her? Perhaps.

The day after Rosh Hashana, Molly attended an adult ballet class. She’d done ballet as a child but now it felt too hard on her knees but while she was changing she overhead a woman in pink flurescent yoga pants raving about a new yeshiva where the boys weren’t hassled about having the wrong haircut.

“Excuse me, I overheard you Would a boy with a short mohawk be accepted.”

The woman laughed. “Mohawk, rastas, ponytails. This Rosh Yeshiva looks beyond the hair at the real boy. “

Molly took his phone number and he accepted Elazar as a student. All that week Molly noticed that Moshe wasn’t complaining and Bella’s expulsions ended. “I gave my nailpolish away. I don’t want to get in trouble all the time.”
Read more Musical Chairs – Chapter 3a – A BT’s Shidduch Search for Her FFB Son

Four Dimensional Flourishing – Introduction

By Mark Frankel & David Linn

An Amazing Life

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

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

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

Four Dimensional Flourishing

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

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

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

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

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

To be continued.

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

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

Chapter 2b

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

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

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

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

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

“Of course… “

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

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

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

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

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

Molly smiled. That sounded like enough.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

“What do you really know about the…

“Plenty..”

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

“Such as……”

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

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

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

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

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

“Do they belch at the table?”

Do they cover their faces when they sneeze? “

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

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

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

“What?” Nahum tilted his head toward hers.

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

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

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

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

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

Nahum smiled. He leaned over and kissed Molly

“What was that for?” Molly smiled.

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

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

Tu B’Av – Completing the Circle

By Yossi from NJ

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

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

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

And what would they say?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 2a

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Any special kind?”

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

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

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

“Yeah, Easy for you to say.”

Shulamis put her hand on Molly’s shoulder.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

Shulamis stood next to her waiting for her.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

“Can’t it wait… I’m just zonked.”

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

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

“Yes, I think we should say yes.”

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

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

“So what are they going to live on?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What?”

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

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

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

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

By Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller

Loving Your Fellow Jew

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reb Aryeh Levin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Self-Expansion

Loving others forces you to become a little bit bigger.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 1

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

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

She didn’t sound sorry enough.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Find out how much the Maisels are offering.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Well I’ve got an idea.”

“With whom. I need to know.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“They said she’s busy now.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

”Do they speak English?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Power of Words

Rabbi Noson Weisz explains the power of words:

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

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

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

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

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

Read the whole thing.

Bar Mitzvah Planning Tips

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mazel Tov!

Thanks to bar mitzvah planner Laurie B from Passaic.

Approaches to Judging Favorably

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

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

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

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

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

Antidote for Baseless Hatred

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

By Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller

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

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

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

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

The Fragmentation of Truth

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

Different Kinds of Truth

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

Dealing with Differences

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

Eating Cookies at the Kosel on the 17th of Tammuz

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reposted from July 2009