Rosh Chodesh, Blogging and the New and Improved Jew

Today is Rosh Chodesh the start of the new month and I’m thinking about starting a new program: “Daven Rosh Chodesh Mussaf Like a Mensch”. All that it entails is giving an extra 30 seconds so we can take off our tefillin and all start Shomeneh Esrai together, a little less rushed. The Yetzer Hara wants us to rush, expecially while stepping into Shomeneh Esrai, so why not try to fight him every now and then.

Rosh Chodesh is about novelty and our opportunity for a fresh beginning every month. For some deep thoughts on the relationship between Rosh Chodesh and spiritual renewal, check out this article by Rabbi Noson Weisz titled, Spiritual Quality Time.

This quest for novelty (chiddush) is also what makes blogging so popular. People have the need for something new, which according to Rabbi Akiva Tatz is also why newspapers are so popular. Our challenge is to look for new thoughts and insights everywhere and incorporate them to make ourselves, new and improved Jews.

The Value of Learning

American Jewish Spirit magazine recently interviewed Mortimer Zuckerman, the well- known Jewish activist and Chairman of U.S. News & World Report and the New York Daily News. The focus of the interview was Jewish learning and Jewish Unity. Mr. Zuckerman clearly recognizes the importance of Jewish learning as evidenced by the following rhetorical question he asks and then answers:

“You have to ask yourself, how is it that the Jewish community has survived? As the only community that survived through the ages? I would argue that a great part of this is based on a simple foundation and it is Jewish learning. I mean this in several ways – it is because the Jewish community has always respected learning and especially Jewish learning that has enabled the yeshiva scholar and the scholar in general to be considered so important within the Jewish community.”

Take a look at the entire piece here and see Mr. Zuckerman’s impressions upon visiting a yeshiva for the first time. Inspiring.

Hat Tip: Steve Brizel

Why I want to go to Yeshiva – Part 1, The Question

My name is Mike. I am 19 years old, currently living in a small Jewish community, but soon to be making Aliyah. And my initial plans for when I arrive in Israel are to study in Yeshiva. My family thinks that I’m crazy and that I’m wasting a year of my life. I beg to differ (clearly or else I wouldn’t be going.)

I grew up in a traditional Jewish South African family. Of course there was always a strong connection to Judaism, close ties with the Jewish community and the State of Israel but we were never “Frummers”. We would drive to shul on a Friday night (some weeks), make kiddush at home and even bentsch occasionally. But then we would watch TV after leaving the dinner table. Saturday was a day just like Sunday, time off from work or school but no greater meaning to it than that. And while pork and cheeseburgers were a no-no there weren’t too many qualms about eating beef lasagna or calamari.
Read more Why I want to go to Yeshiva – Part 1, The Question

New Google Mashup Enables Davening On the Web

Well if you’re looking to catch a Minyan on the Web, you’re out of luck. But the Shulchan Aruch (90:9) does say “However, if one is faced by compelling circumstances and cannot come to the Synogogue, he should see that the time when he prays coincides the the time when the congregation prays”. I wonder if there would be any halachic benefit to having a Shul webcam so you can daven at the exact same pace as the minyan and on Mondays and Thursday you can view and hear the reading of the Torah?

When you need to catch a minyan and you’re away from your normal Makon Kavuah, there’s a new site that mashes up Google Maps with your local minyan schedule called Minyan Maps. It’s pretty cool and useful and a friend of mine in Kew Gardens Hills heads the project, so give it a look.
Read more New Google Mashup Enables Davening On the Web

Observations on Administering Beyond Teshuva

As this blog has grown in leaps and bounds over the past three months, I think it’s a good time to step back and get some focus.

A lot of what I have to say here arises, to a great extent, out of the numerous private e-mails we have received and, to a lesser extent, from some of the comments here on the blog.

Administering a blog of this sort is a lot more difficult than it may seem. Mark bears the brunt of that load and for that we are all (especially me) thankful. Administering this blog is kind of like juggling. On a tightrope. In the rain. On one foot. With a piano on your back. Without a net. And that’s on a good day!
Read more Observations on Administering Beyond Teshuva

Materialism and Hiddur Mitzvah

Someone recently commented here that she was shocked by the level of materialism that exists in the frum world. I have also often felt that way, but I’ve recently come to the conclusion that it was an unfair judgment on my part, so I thought I’d share a bit about what caused me to change my attitude.

Many BTs start out with an anti-materialistic stance. That’s partly because we are spiritually inclined by nature and partly because we are reacting to the extreme materialism of the secular culture in which we were raised. I, for one, spent a great part of my teenage years proving to myself that I was not – please excuse my language – a J.A.P. I went so far as to attend far-left indoctrination meetings on a regular basis. The main thing I learned there was resentment toward the wealthy. That attitude stuck for years, well beyond my involvement with the Left.
Read more Materialism and Hiddur Mitzvah

Keeping in Touch with Before Teshuva Friends

Make new friends,
But keep the old,
One is silver,
And the other gold.

This was always one of my favorite songs throughout childhood. My family moved around a lot when I was younger, so it was difficult to sustain friendships while changing locations every few years. My friendships, even today, are mostly ones that have lasted a few years, rather than decades or since kindergarten.
Read more Keeping in Touch with Before Teshuva Friends

You Make the Call: Well Meaning Parents Give Problematic Jewish History Book

Phil emailed us the following request for comments:

Suppose you’re a BT with FFB children. Your parents give a pretty Jewish history book to your 12-year-old for his birthday. You manage to look through it before your child sees it and you see that some ideas go against the 13 Principles, and the general tone is, well, let’s just say that you wince on every few scans of the book.

Do you explain to your child that they can’t read it? Do you let them read it, but with your ongoing commentary? Do you ask your parents to stick to an “approved list” of books? Do you try to explain the book’s faults to your parents? Can you turn this into an educational experience for both your parents and your children? If any answer is ‘yes’, then what’s the best way to go about it?

You make the call (in the comments section)

The Spirit of Shabbat and My Car Alarm

In the community I was involved with in St. Louis in my pre-marriage days, a particular family hosted about 25 people each week for Shabbat dinner and I had the privilege to be their guest several times. It seemed to me that this family represented the epitome of the baal teshuvah experience: beautiful home filled with yiddishkeit everywhere, wonderful food that seemed without end, fascinating dvars, lively conversation. Both husband and wife came from very different backgrounds; she attended Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government while the husband lived a fun life in Brazil. Their adorable daughter symbolized the bright future that lay ahead for them, and quite possibly for all of klal Yisrael, so giving was their spirit and energy.
Read more The Spirit of Shabbat and My Car Alarm

Getting Closer to Hashem Through SOY

Although the Web does provide some excellent D’vrei Torah and such, when you really want to learn – Seforim still rule. And every Jew needs regular Torah learning as a part of their spiritual diet.

So may we suggest moseying down to the SOY Seforim Sale and picking up some new material. According to their Web Site, they are conveniently located at 2495 Amsterdam Ave. in Manhattan (Washington Heights), NY.

The sale continues through next Sunday, February 26 and they have some of the best prices available on the largest selection of seforim in any one location.

FYI – besides being a healthy protein substitute, SOY also stands for the Student Organization of Yeshiva who is sponsoring this great event.

On Marrying Off a Daughter

Three weeks ago my wife and I reached a new milestone. Our eldest child was married. I had always pictured that I’d be like Steve Martin in “Father of the Bride” when this time arrived; nervous, sad about “losing” my daughter, and suspicious of this new person taking her away. In reality I felt none of these emotions. I truly feel like I’ve gained a son and not that I’ve lost a daughter.

While I didn’t have a lot of the “Father of the Bride” type emotions, I did feel a sense of relief and pride. As a BT raising a frum child I often worried if I was going to be able to get this “religion thing” passed on to future generations. As my children got older and I saw them developing strong, and unique, religious sensibilities of their own this concern of mine definitely waned. Still, seeing my daughter, at this stage of independence, covering her hair, studying and implementing the laws of taharat hamischpacha, and setting up a kosher home I felt a strong sense of accomplishment.
Read more On Marrying Off a Daughter

Project Inspire and One People, One Purim

I had the pleasure of going to an Aish Kiruv Seminar at the White Shul in the Five Towns last night. The first lecturer presented a very short excerpt from the Discovery Seminars. I have heard the material in much more depth many times and I think it needs an update to take into account all the available objections now easily accessible on the Internet.

The second part discussed the four major reasons that people don’t approach Judaism. I found that part very insightful and enlightening. Part of the presentation was an introduction to Project Inspire, which provides very practical ways for ordinary folks like us to be involved in introducing more Jews to our incredibly rich and beautiful heritage. Please take the time to check and get involved with Project Inspire.

One of the great ideas coming out of Project Inspire is to have a monthly campaign to introduce people to Judaism. For the upcoming campaign in March, Purim and Shaloch Manos is the focus. Many organizations in addition to Aish are joining in a program called One People, One Family, One Purim. Please visit the site and seriously consider participating in this worthy endeavor.

You Used to Be So Much Fun – Part 3 – Audio Post

Today we are posting the audio file for the third and final part of Rabbi Shlomo Goldberg’s lecture at the Life After Teshuva conference, titled “You Used to be So Much Fun – Relating to Non-Religious Family and Friends”.

Click on the link to listen to Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3. (To download either audio file to your computer, click with the right mouse button on the link and select Save Target As)

Who Put the Baal in Baal Teshuva?

A commentor recently asked how do we define a Baal Teshuva? In the Talmud it means someone who was observant, but went off of the path and returned. Today it usually means someone whose parents where not observant, but the child became observant. But why Baal? Is anybody truly a master of Teshuva?

This year before Rosh Hoshana I asked some people why they thought the term Baal (master) was used. The most satisfying answer I receive was that we are Baalei Teshuva because we are the masters of our own return to G-d. It was not the path we were on, but at some point we took control of our lives and our Teshuva and made the conscious decisions and efforts to get closer to Hashem.

It makes sense to retain that mastery. To keep on improving and realizing that our Teshuva is always in our hands regardless of the challenges we might face. We also need to widen the circle of Baalei Teshuva to include all those who are choosing to get closer to Hashem on the path set forth in the Torah and by our sages. Although each of us individually are own masters of Teshuva, working on this collectively makes our travels easier and sweeter.

The Beyond BT Week in Review

As many of us shook off a record breaking snowstorm, there was warmth, inspiration and spirited debate here at Beyond Teshuva.

On the heels of David Shub’s inspiring “A Baal Teshuva’s Father’s Perspectives”, we heard from Mr. Shub’s daughter, Yael with “A Baal Teshuva’s Father’s Daughter’s Perspectives”.

Rabbi Lam “Tree”ted us to some Tu B’Shevat insights which are worthwhile to listen to even after Tu B’Shvat. It was another week of wonderful posts.

David Linn guest posted at Lazer Beams with Tucking in the Moshiach.

One thing that comes out from the entries and the comments is that it’s not so much where you came from, nor where you are currently holding. What matters the most is where you are going. When we are headed in the same direction, without putting limits on our potential closeness to Hashem, then we become “One Nation with One Heart”.

Thanks for reading, thanks for commenting, thanks for participating, thanks for growing with us.

The Courage for Kiruv

I am still not sure if it was a ruach shtus (foolish impulse) that motivated me to take the afternoon off from my Kollel yesterday or if it truly was a proper and appropriate decision. Whichever it was, I told my chevrusa what I planned to do (he told me I was absolutely meshuga) and I headed off to the old city.

The old city is a place where there are always secular American or English Jews touring around so I figured that it would be the best place to go. My goal was to emulate Rav Meir Shuster for the afternoon, ‘the man at the wall’ who has approached literally tens of thousands of secular Jews at the Kotel and around the old city and offered to let them stay for free at Heritage House or take them to a class. I personally know quite a number of yidden who are now rabbonim who became frum because Rav Meir approached them and made sure to connect them to a yeshiva.
Read more The Courage for Kiruv

In Memory of My Mother-In-Law

My mother-in-law passed away the week after Rosh HaShonah. Her kevurah (burial) fell on the afternoon before Yom Kippur, effectively eliminating any period of shiva (mourning). Approaching the three-month anniversary of her petirah (passing), I hope that a short reflection on the life of the mother of a baalas tshuva might provide some closure to the mourning process.

Barbara had reached 80 years old and was in reasonably good health before an aggressive brain tumor stole her independence, then her lucidity, and then her remaining faculties over the course of a few short months. Born and raised in semi-rural Massachusetts with virtually no Jewish awareness, her response to her only daughter’s commitment to Torah and mitzvos was nothing less than remarkable.
Read more In Memory of My Mother-In-Law

Living A Moral Life in an Immoral World

From a Torah viewpoint, contemporary secular society often adheres to immoral values and mores. Some common scenarios for today’s BT’s are the following:

A BT’s sibling gets engaged to a non-Jew. The entire family expects the BT to be happy for their sibling. The BT can either go along while their family members are rejoicing while keeping their disapproval silent, or run the risk of creating alienation and conflict with family members by stating their real feelings about intermarriage. Some of the non-observant relatives may accuse the BT of being intolerant or racist for being against intermarriage. They may even argue that the BT is standing in the way of their sibling’s happiness.
Read more Living A Moral Life in an Immoral World

Remedies for Spiritual Freeze

Dear Rabbi Brody,

I don’t feel any kind of emotion when I go to synagogue. Praying seems to be a drag, and I feel nothing. I want to be a proper BT, but I just can’t seem to pray. What should I do?

Thanks, FR from New Jersey

Dear FR,

The old Novardok Yeshiva remedy for firing up a person with your problem is to say the prayer “Nishmas kol chai” from the Shabbos morning service; you can say it at any time or at any place, and it works wonders. Say each word slowly, loudly, and with fervor, as if you’re counting one-hundred dollar bills. If you don’t understand the Hebrew, say the translation from an English prayer book, then go back and say the Hebrew. Contemplate every word. By the time you’re through, you’ll have thawed out. Normally, when a person says “Nishmas” like he/she should, he/she kindles a bonfire of love for Hashem in their heart.
Read more Remedies for Spiritual Freeze