The Teshuva Journey

There are so many amazing, inspiring stories of how people returned to Judaism, and last week I started writing a monthly column called The Teshuva Journey in The Jewish Press chronicling some of them. The first column is about the journey I know best (my own), but future columns will be on other people.

“Abba, is it time to learn Parsha yet?” asks my four year-old son, as he and his two year-old sister scramble onto the couch, with eager eyes and parsha books in hand. As I begin to read it’s hard not to reflect in amazement how only ten years ago as I began my Teshuva journey I barely knew what Parsha was, and here I am today shlepping nachas from my children’s burning desire to learn it.

When I was around my son’s age, I remember going to my grandfather’s house and watching him put on his tefillin each morning. He wasn’t Orthodox, but grew up frum in Europe. When he emigrated to America he continued to put on Tefillin every day and continued to go to shul each Shabbas. Even at such an early age, I remember being enthralled by watching my grandfather put on his tefillin. The sight planted a seed in me that would one day sprout to a burning desire to do the same. Indeed tefillin was one of the first mitzvot that I took on when I started my teshuva journey at age 19. There was another dramatic impact my grandfather had on my life, though it only took place years later, even after he passed away.

There were several other events and people throughout my life that pushed me onto the path towards Orthodox Judaism, and by the time I was finally exposed to it in college, I jumped at the chance. I always knew there had to be more to Judaism than bagels on Sunday morning and some old customs. For Judaism to last for so many years through so many challenges and hardships, there had to be something more to it than I was getting in my Conservative synagogue growing up.

Over my first nineteen years of life I accumulated plenty of questions about our religion, the world and my reason for being here. I finally got the chance to ask all my questions and start getting answers during my sophomore year at Emory University in Atlanta. Atlanta is home to an amazing frum community focused on outreach and personal growth. Any experienced Jewish organization professional knows that free food is the key to getting people to come to an event, and it holds true nowhere better than for reaching cash-starved students on a college campus. Rabbis from the local Kollel run a weekly Pizza lunch-n-learn on campus, and that combined with plenty of Shabbas meals in the nearby community and an assortment of programs from a Chabad family on campus, made the ideal environment for myself and several other students to return to Torah-true Judaism. (Of course there were bumps along the way, but looking back it’s much easier to see it as continuous journey towards an end goal than it must have seemed at the time.)

I’ve always held Sukkot to be the anniversary of the beginning of my Teshuva journey, since one of my first experiences was being invited to a beautiful meal on the first night of Sukkot. When having new baalei teshuva for a meal, families will try to provide a meal soaked in spirituality and enlightened conversations. We came away from that meal not only uplifted from the dinner, but also drenched from the torrential rainstorm that night!

After finally drying out, we continued on throughout the year attending plenty of Shabbas and Yom Tov meals and inspiring classes. I planned to return home for the summer to the Middle of Nowhere, NJ, with the hopes of interning in New York City. As we say, man plans and G-d laughs. Not one of the dozens of companies I sent my resume to or even the handful of interviews that I had led to a job. Where did I end up for the summer? Back in Atlanta. I received an amazing internship at a huge company there, though I don’t recall ever submitting my resume to it! Being able to spend an extra two months in a holy community being immersed in spiritual growth, Torah study and in the company of some true Tzaddikm helped cement my desire to become frum.

When I was 20 I met the woman I would eventually marry. It was actually the second time we met. She grew up in my grandparents’ synagogue, and our grandparents were close friends. My grandmother had long kept an eye on her for me (yes, every grandmother tries to make a match, but hers actually worked!) We had met fours years earlier at a synagogue event before either of us was frum. In the interim we each went to college and became religious, and even though we were hundreds of miles apart, when we finally met again we had grown to the same level of observance.

It’s often said that a person becomes frum in part because of the merits of his or her predecessors. In our case it wasn’t just bygone merits, but active involvement. It was not only my grandmother working to get us to meet, but our grandfathers working upstairs behind the scenes pushing us to become more religious and eventually get together.

Every ba’al teshuva has a different path back to Judaism and a different element which attracted them. I always joked that it was for me it was the free food I would get at peoples’ shabbas tables, but the real draw was Judaism’s infinitely deep intellectual tradition. At seminars and lunch-n-learns I got to debate the creation of the world and evolution, feminism, morality, etc. The discussions were definitely more stimulating and genuine than any course I took in college. Little did I know that those discussions around a pie of pizza would lead to far deeper discussions half a world away learning gemorrah, halacha, etc. in yeshiva in Israel after college and currently in a smicha program in NY.

But the pinnacle of that intellectual pursuit is today learning Torah with my children, and having to figure out clever answers to their probing questions. What truly matters is the knowledge, philosophies and inspirations that we pass on to future generations. And once again it’s our grandfathers helping to push us along, for our Torah-loving son is named in memory of the two of them.

The Slow, Long Climb

On Shabbos Parshas Yisro, I came across three small mussar insights brought down in Artscroll’s Limud Yomi all of which I thought have extra meaning for Baalei Teshuva.

Each of these insights are derived from the same pasuk. In the last verse of Parshas Yisro, the Torah tells us: “Don’t go up to My altar on steps, so that your nakedness will not be uncovered thereon.” Rashi explains that this means to tell us that the approach to the altar should not be built with steps. Rather, the approach should be built with a ramp since it is easier to walk modestly up a ramp and it would be “disrespectful” to the stones to do otherwise. Many of us are familiar with the explanation that this teaches us that if we have to be concerned for the respect of inanimate objects, how much more so must we be concerned for the respect of our fellow man.

The first insight arises from asking the question: Why did Hashem place this instruction at this particular place in the Torah? At this point in time, Bnai Yisrael had just received the Torah, why did Hashem see fit to place this law here even before the actual commandment to build the altar is given? It seems an incongruous place for this particular rule. R’ Yisrael Salanter once said that “A person running to do a mitzvah can tear down an entire world on his way.” Good intentions and fervor are great but not when they trample upon care and respect for a fellow Jew. In other words: doing the right thing is important but it must also done right. After matan Torah, Bnai Yisrael were understandably enthusiastic and ecstatic about living up to its new status and tackling the tremendous responsibilities that had been placed upon them. Often, enthusiastic, excited people rush headstrong into their obligations without giving proper thought to how their actions may impact upon or affect others. Additionally, zealous individuals will often view those that don’t share their level of enthusiasm with skepticism which is not always warranted. That is why the Torah issues this warning right after matan Torah, as if to say: In your newfound zeal and responsibility, do not step upon those whom you should respect.

The second insight is brought out by R. Reuven Feinstein who says that the idea of avoiding “stairs” is applicable as well to one’s attempt to ascend in spiritual growth. If one tries to climb too quickly, his weakness will become exposed, it is far better to climb slowly, being sure of ones spiritual footing, and even resting when necessary, than to attempt to jump to a level that one is not ready to attain.

The last point is found in the interpretation of Orach LeChaim who explains that this pasuk is advocating the necessity of humility within spiritual growth. When one wishes to ascend in his service of Hashem, he should take care not to place himself on any kind of pedestal (this is the meaning of “Maalos”-steps according to his explanation). If a person approaches the service of Hashem with true humility, he will succeed in ascending to great heights.

Mesillas Yesharim Introduction – What Does Hashem Request of You?

In the second half of the introduction, the Ramchal brings down the posuk upon which the Mesillas Yesharim is based:

This is what Moshe Rabbeinu, may peace be upon him, teaches us when he says (Devarim 10:12), “Yet now, Israel, what does the Eternal, your God, request of you? Only to fear the Eternal, your God, to follow all His ways, and to love Him, and to serve the Eternal, your God, with all your heart and your entire being; [and] to keep the Eternal’s commandments and statutes….” Here he [Moshe] incorporated all the elements that are necessary for the perfection of that service that is desired by the Holy One blessed be He: fear of the Eternal; walking in His ways, love [of the Eternal]; perfecting the heart; and observance of all the mitzvos.

Although the Ramchal structures his sefer based on the Gemora in Avodah Zarah (20b), all the elements of our service are include in this posuk. Many of the commentators are focused on the wording of the posuk which makes it seem easy, when we know it is difficult. There are a number of answers, but the simple understanding is that high levels of service are within our reach.

Rabbi Dessler says, “All we have to do is start”. So consider spending some time listening to the mp3 or reading the text below and perhaps together we can strengthen each other to take some steps on the wonderful path that the Ramchal has paved for us.

Here is the 2nd Shiur in Rabbi Oelbaum’s Mesillas Yesharim series in mp3 format on the Introduction

Here is the second half of the introduction as translated by R’ Yosef Leiber and posted here through the genrosity of Feldheim Publishers. It is available for purchased here.

If we analyzed the matter objectively, we would no doubt discover its veracity. This would benefit us, and we could then teach it to others, thereby benefiting them as well. As stated by Shlomo (Mishlei 2:4-5), “If you seek it as [you would] silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand fear of the Eternal.” He does not say, “Then you will understand philosophy; then you will understand astronomy; then you will understand medicine; then you will understand the legal issues and judgments of Halachah,” but rather, “then you will understand fear of the Eternal.” We see that in order to understand fear of the Eternal, one must seek it out as he would silver and search for it as he would hidden treasures.

What has been transmitted to us through our parents and what is generally self-evident to every religious individual is insufficient! But yet we see that time can be found for all other branches of study yet for this no time is available! Why can’t a person at least designate specific times for this purpose, that would not interfere with other studies and endeavors that he pursues in the remainder of his time?

Scripture states (lyov 28:28), “Behold [Rein – ]n], fear of the Eternal – this is wisdom.” Our Sages of blessed memory comment (Shabbos 31b) that hein here means one, for that is the meaning of the Greek word hein. Thus, fear – and fear alone – is considered wisdom. And surely something that does not require study [and investigation] would not be considered wisdom. In actuality, all these matters demand profound study for one to truly know them rather than in a subjective manner or through faulty judgment, and particularly if one is to acquire and [truly] understand them. Therefore, he who delves into them will see that piety is not contingent on those things that the pseudo-pious, in their foolishness, consider relevant, but rather on true perfection and profound wisdom.

This is what Moshe Rabbeinu, may peace be upon him, teaches us when he says (Devarim 10:12), “Yet now, Israel, what does the Eternal, your God, request of you? Only to fear the Eternal, your God, to follow all His ways, and to love Him, and to serve the Eternal, your God, with all your heart and your entire being; [and] to keep the Eternal’s commandments and statutes….” Here he [Moshe] incorporated all the elements that are necessary for the perfection of that service that is desired by the Holy One blessed be He: fear of the Eternal, walking in His ways, love [of the Eternal], perfecting the heart, and observance of all the mitzvos.

Fear of the Eternal refers to the fear that His exalt-edness inspires. One should express fear before Him as one would before a great and awesome king, and he should feel embarrassment before the Eternal’s greatness, in every movement that he makes, and particularly when speaking before Him in prayer or when engaged in the study of His Torah.

Walking in His ways relates to the finest traits of character and their cultivation. As our Sages of blessed memory have explained (Shabbos 133b): “Just as He is merciful, so shall you be merciful…” – the underlying principle being that a person must conduct himself with honesty and integrity in all his various actions. Our Sages of blessed memory summarized the idea as follows (Pirkei Avos 2:1): “That which brings acclaim to the doer and earns him the acclaim of others,” namely, all that moves toward the
goal of true benevolence, meaning that it results in the strengthening of Torah and the promotion of har
mony within society.

Love: to implant love of the Blessed One within a person’s heart so that his soul is stirred to find favor before Him, just as one’s heart is stirred to please his father and mother. And he will be anguished if he finds this quality deficient in himself or in others. Furthermore, he will zealously [safeguard] it and will rejoice intensely when implementing [even] a part of it.

Perfecting the heart: so that the service before the Blessed One should be carried out with pure intent, for the purpose of serving Him only and with no other motives. This means that one’s heart should be totally devoted to the Divine service, not like one who lacks commitment or acts out of habit; rather, one’s whole heart should aspire to this.

Observance of all the mitzvos: this means the complete observance of all the mitzvos with all their specifications and stipulations.

All of these principles require much elucidation. I have found that our Sages of blessed memory have incorporated these elements in a different type of arrangement, more detailed and specific, and systematized according to the order necessary for their proper acquisition. Their words are found in a baraisa cited in numerous places in the Talmud, such as the one in the chapter “Lifnei Edeihen” [“Before Their Festivals”] (Avodah Zarah 20b): “From here, Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair said: Torah brings one to vigilance, vigilance brings one to alacrity, alacrity brings one to [spiritual] cleanliness, cleanliness brings one to abstinence, abstinence brings one to purity, purity brings one to piety, piety brings one to humility, humility brings one to fear of sin, fear of sin brings one to holiness, holiness brings one to Divine inspiration, Divine inspiration brings one to the resurrection of the dead.”

On the basis of this baraisa, I have undertaken to compose this work to teach myself and to remind others of the conditions necessary for the perfection of the Divine service in all its stages. Regarding each stage, I will explain its content, components, and details, the methodology for acquiring it, those factors that undermine it and how to avoid them. As a result, I or anyone else who may be moved to read it will learn to fear the Eternal, our God, and we will not forget our duty toward Him. That which the material world seeks to remove from our hearts will be stimulated by reading and contemplation, and it will stir us to perform what we have been commanded to do.

May the Eternal support our aspirations and safeguard us from failure. May the supplication of the Psalmist, beloved to His God, be fulfilled for us (Tehil-lim 86:11): “Teach me, O Eternal, Your way; let me walk in Your truth; unify my heart to fear Your name.” Amen, so may it be His will.

Events and Links

Kiruv Training Seminar

On Motza’ei Shabbos, February 24th at 8:30 PM, there will be a Kiruv Training Seminar at Congregation Ahavas Yisroel 147-02 73rd in Kew Gardens Hills.

The presenters will be Rabbi Chaim Sampson and Rabbi Eliyahu Bergstein from the movie Inspired Too. I spoke to Rabbi Sampson this week and I think the seminar will be very informative and useful.

$10 at Door; $5 Prepaid. You can prepay at

Mesillas Yesharim Shiur by Rabbi Noach Isaac Oelbaum

You may have missed it, so here is the 1st Shiur in Rabbi Oelbaum’s Mesillas Yesharim series in mp3 format. It gives a great introduction to the life and times of Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto and the sefer.

Rabbi Shaffier of The Shmuz on the Entire Megillah

With an eye towards understanding what really was happening in those times, the series goes throughh the story line of the Megilah, based on commentaries of Rashi, the Gemarah, the Gra and other meforshim, bringing out the many details and issues that were going on behind the scenes and the lessons to be learned from them. Please take advantage of these tremendous shiurim to prepare yourself for Purim. You can download the entire set for free here.

Summary of the Megillah

R’ Eliezer C. Abrahamson has put together a nice summary of the Megillah. In addition his Talmud Torah site has lots of good information on Basic Judaism.

Good Shabbos!!

Orthodox Assimilation On Campus – Part 1

By Yaakov Weinstein

About eight months ago there was a post on Beyond BT about life at a secular university (non-YU, Touro). At that time Steve Brizel (someone I have never met personally but have been fortunate enough to become acquainted with via the web), suggested that I also write a post on the subject. While I was unable to do so at that time, I am happy to now have the opportunity to fulfill his request.

For this post I assume that much of my audience is familiar with the challenges facing students on secular campuses. Thus, I will include only a few short paragraphs on these challenges and then suggest some strategies for meeting these challenges. I will not include possible merits of attending secular universities. Some of these were addressed in the previous post on this subject. In addition, I can safely assume that a number of readers became ba’alei t’shuva at secular campuses at least partly with the help of other students. Finally, those interested in my personal experiences may enjoy a column I wrote in the YU Commentator concerning the community I was fortunate to be a part of at MIT. This column was in response to a previous piece by a YU student who spent some time at MIT.
The original piece is here:
My response is here:

I would like to divide the challenges facing students on secular campuses into three parts: sensual, intellectual and ideological. Each of these deserves a study in and of itself but for now I’ll just provide just a few highlights.

Some readers may remember the university atmosphere of the 1960s: rebellion against authority, free love, drugs and the like. College campuses no longer resemble what they were in the 1960s – they’re worse. All that the rebellious students of the 1960s fought for have become de rigueur on campus. There is a laundry list of statistics on alcohol consumption, sexual activity and drugs on campuses which are easily found on the web (for fun try a google search of – hookah in the sukkah – and note some ‘Orthodox’ sponsorship of smoking). Intellectual challenges can be found in many places on campus. Obviously, courses in Judaic studies, religion, and history will assume multiple, human, authorship of the Torah. But teachings genuinely antithetical to Torah may also be found in courses of psychology and biology. The issues raised in these courses go way beyond the ‘historical’ question of whether evolution occurred. The real challenges are the assumed denial of a supernatural being and the obvious equivalence of man with animal. Ideological challenges on campus can range from hatred of the state of Israel and anti-semitism to deconstructivism (and its accompanied rejection of anything not written by a professor) and the relativty of the terms ‘good’ and ‘evil.’ These are not to be confused with intellectual challenges which attack with certain assumed or understood facts. Ideological challenges attack a student’s attitude towards authority, religion and morality.

Of course, real life challenges cannot be nicely fit into one of these boxes. Generally, a given challenge will include elements of each of the above categories. I like calling this the “b’nos Moav syndrome.” As we are told the Jews only worshipped the idols of Moav as a means of attaining the Moavite women (Rashi Bamidbar 25:2, Sanhedrin 106a). Put into a modern situation, if it allows you to flirt with your gorgeous non-Jewish classmate, it is much easier to believe the human authorship of the Torah. Additionally, challenges on college campuses come at a very impressionable age and at a time when students may be living only with others of this age (i.e. tremendous peer pressure and limited people with life experience with which to talk). The gmara in Kiddushin 30a (according to the second opinion in Rashi) suggests the proper time to chastise and thus teach a child is from 16-22 or 18-24. Increasingly, ‘children’ in this age range find themselves away from home in what may be a religiously hostile environment.

What are some strategies that can be used to face challenges on a secular campus? The strategies I list below are a conglomeration of my own thoughts and experiences and results of conversations I have had with many, many people on this subject. I’ll divide strategies into three parts:
1) strategies for a rebbi, teacher or shul rabbi,
2) strategies for parents with kids on campus
3) strategies for students on campus.

But before getting to this list there is one ‘strategy’ that is most important – Know yourself/ your child / your student – some students perform best in a structured setting. Some do best when they do not have to be a leader. Others do best when faced with adversity. They step up when the going gets rough, but may not even bother if things are catered to them. There is NO way personal advice can be given or a proper decision can be made without this knowledge (if I can add a personal interpretation to a well-known discussion: Chazal discuss the spiritual stature of Noach. Some say that he was a great man and had he lived at the time of Avraham – where there were others worshipping the true Deity – he would have been even greater. Some say he was great for his generation but would not have been much had he lived at the time of Avraham – see Rashi Breishis 6:9. I suggest that this discussion actually relates to the personality of Noach rather then his spiritual stature. The latter opinion believes that Noach was the type of individual who needed the challenge. The natural rebel against what is popular. Thus, he excelled specifically in a generation of evil).

To Be Continued

The 11th Commandment: Thou Shalt Not Judge

It seems to be a consistent mantra for BTs, converts to the faith and others that we cannot, must not and should not judge others. That’s understandable: none of us can walk in another person’s shoes, or understand why they do – or don’t do – things. But if you are a committed jew, this approach raises not a few questions. For example, I believe that G-d appeared to all Jewish souls at Sinai, and charged us all with keeping his Torah.

Orthodox Judaism states very clearly that the obligation to try to keep the torah is on every Jew. If I try to play down or minimise that obligation for others, then I am running the risk of weakening one of the basic planks of my own belief and observance.

Why do I need to keep kosher? G-d told me to. Why does my Jewish friend / parents / sibling need to keep kosher. G-d also told them to. But they aren’t. This creates one heck of a problem for the ‘don’t judge’ paradigm, as the torah makes it clear time and time again that if the jews don’t respect G-d’s laws, they will be judged very harshly indeed.

Secondly, the Torah makes it very clear that we are responsible for one another, and will be judged collectively. We’ve all heard the parable about the jews being in one big, collective boat: it’s all very well for a few people to only drill under their own seats, but by so doing, they could sink the whole enterprise.

To come back to the kosher example: if my friend / brother-in-law / whoever is eating a prawn sandwich, why is it my problem? I shouldn’t judge him. But then, if his eating his prawn sandwich is in fact tipping the heavenly scales collectively against the jewish people, his actions could end up having a negative repercussion on me.

Not judging is a very modern, western thing, but in many ways it’s antithetical to Torah. And it’s completely unworkable in any genuine way. For all that we spout pious things about not judging others, we all do it. And if you have a go at someone else for being judgemental of others, you are doing exactly the same thing to them – why is your judgement value about their behaviour any more correct?

‘Not judging’ also blurs the line between what is objectively right, and what is objectively wrong. Is it right or wrong to mug an old lady? Right or wrong to have a one night stand? Right or wrong to marry out of the faith, or eat a prawn sandwich?

There are always mitigating circumstances for every individual, of course. But we have a clear manual, in the torah, about what actions are right and wrong in G-d’s eyes. And while we can’t and shouldn’t judge an individual (‘they are bad’), we have to judge their actions (‘that is bad’).

And the measurement we have to use is the Torah, as that is the only objective measure we have. And if we don’t judge other people’s action, then we end up blurring the lines even more between what G-d is asking of us, and what we expect from ourselves.

If my child comes to me and asks me why Mr So-and-So is eating a prawn sandwich, I will tell her that it – not him – is wrong. Because according to the Torah, it is. And because I want her to grow up understanding that the final arbiter of what is right and wrong is Hashem.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that I go up to Mr So-and-So and do a ‘fire and brimstone’ routine. Everyone is free to make their own choices in life, and be judged for it. But G-d is nowhere near as PC as our modern Western society, and we aren’t doing anyone – including ourselves – any favours by pretending otherwise.

The Debate

On a recent Saturday night, a local organization in my community held what has become an annual debate. These debates are a highlight of the year. Generally, there are two debates; one serious and one humorous. This year’s serious debate dealt with the following proposal:

“This house believes that the insularity of the Anglo community in Bet Shemesh is detrimental both to that community and to the wider Israeli society.”

In the last few years this has become somewhat of a contentious issue for our community. The modern city of Bet Shemesh dates back to the beginning of the Medina. For about 40 years it remained a moderately sized, mainly Sephardic community. In the early 90s, thanks mostly to a very ambitious real estate agent, a new development sprang up as, what was billed, an “Anglo” community. It was to be a religious Zionist neighborhood where people from America, Great Britain, Australia, etc. could have an easier absorption among a larger Israeli population.

Well the place took off. (And this doesn’t even include Ramat Bet Shemesh.) In our little “Sheinfeld” neighborhood (named for the builder) there are many hundreds of families and a half a dozen shuls. In the last 5 years, thanks to Nefesh B’Nefesh and the large influx of Americans, the neighborhood has become overwhelmingly Anglo. My shul, for example, has about 75 families and I am hard pressed to think of more than 5 who are “Israeli”.

For many of us, it has been incredibly easy absorbing into such an environment. Yet some of the “pioneers” are decidedly disappointed that the community, which they had thought would have a mix of Anglos and Israelis, has turned out to be so heavily Anglo.

The proponents in the debate made several points that one would expect to hear. They argued that our children’s language development is being hampered, their ability to themselves absorb into larger Israeli society will be affected, that we as a whole are not contributing to Israeli society, and that we are making those few Israelis who live among us feel like outsiders. On the whole they argued that this is not the picture of Aliyah and absorption for which they had hoped.

The opponents made some points that also touched on some issues we have discussed in this forum. The main thrust of their argument was that this insularity actually is a benefit in that it allows us to maintain many of the positive religious and American values that we want to pass on to our children and preserve for ourselves. Another benefit is that, though it is true our children’s Hebrew language development will suffer slightly, their English language skills will remain at a much higher level and this is a huge advantage in today’s global economy where English is the driving force. A very succinct take-away line was, “While it is a mitzvah to live in Israel, it’s no mitzvah be an Israeli.”

As Baalei Teshuva we bring certain things to the table, like a greater sensitivity to non-Jews, a greater tolerance of other races and cultures, and a greater appreciation for the value of worldly knowledge. So while it’s important for us to live in solid, frum communities we may also want to inculcate our children with some of the positive values and ideas from our “galus” lives.

In the end, as the opponents in the debate made clear, the children of our Bet Shemesh neighborhood will do just fine. They will learn Hebrew, (most will) defend their country, find gainful employment, and become contributing members of the greater society as upstanding Torah Jews. But in addition, they will hopefully bring with them a little something extra that only could have been gleaned from a little Anglo oasis such as Sheinfeld.

Likewise, our FFB children will continue to integrate into whatever type of community fits them best. Hopefully, they too will bring with them that little extra value that only our past experiences could have provided them with.

Rav Daniel Feldman on Shaloch Manos

Rav Daniel Feldman’s shiur on Shaloch Manos can be downloaded here.

Rav Feldman traces many of the disagreements in Shaloch Manos to a Teshuva of the Chasam Sofer who discusses the essence of Shaloch Manos. Is it like the Terumas HaDeshen who holds that the purpose of Shaloch Manos is to help people make the Seudah of Purim. Or is it like the Manos HaLevi (R’Shlomo Alacabes) who holds that the purpose of Shaloch Manos is to bring people closer to each other and strengthen the bonds of friendship.

Rav Feldman masterfully shows how many differences in opinions on Shaloch Manos can be traced to this machlokes as framed by the Chasam Sofer. Give yourself a pre-Purim treat yourself and download and listen to this wonderful shiur.

Thanks to Rabbi Zev Maybruch and the Vaad L’Chizuk HaTorah for sponsoring this shiur.

Perfection as a Torah Value – Mesillas Yesharim Continued

I received an email yesterday morning which made me feel so proud to be a member of the Torah Observant community. I had written to R’ Yaakov Feldheim of Feldheim Publishers telling him about Beyond BT and asking for permission to post the English translation of Mesillas Yesharim, as we learn it here together. Yesterday morning R’ Feldheim replied, permitted us to use either the older translation by R’ Shraga Silverstein or the newer one by R’ Yosef Leiber.

We will be using the newer translation by R’ Leiber and I want to thank R’ Feldheim and Feldheim Publishers for joining with us on this learning effort in memory of Sarah Bas Reb Eliezer Kops. If you don’t already own a copy of the translation, consider taking the opportunity to purchase one.

Rabbi Yitzchak Kirzner zt’l used to tell a story about a student of his who was no longer focused on growing in his Yiddishkeit. His argument was that as a Shomer Shabbos Jew he was already more observant than 90% of the Jewish population. He reasoned: when they catch up, then he’ll work on growing more.

Right in the introduction to Mesillas Yesharim, the Ramchal makes it clear that “the need for the perfection of Divine service and the necessity of its purity and cleanliness is recognized by every wise person”. This is an axiom, we need to strive for perfection, even though it is a never ending battle. Where we stand in relation to our neighbor is unimportant, we need to strive for our own unique perfection.

But there is a difference between being perfect and striving for perfection. Hashem doesn’t ask us to be perfect, just to strive for perfection. The path is a step by step process, which the Mesillas Yesharim lays out for us, quoting the Torah sources along the way. He also alerts us to the major obstacles on the path to perfection as well as providing thoughts and techniques to help overcome them.

But the first step is to recognize that striving for perfection in the service of Hashem is what life is about. It is only by recognizing this and constanly studing the means and mechanisms to approach this that we have any hope of making significant progess on the path. That is one of the messages the Ramchal is trying to convey in his introduction.

The first half of the introduction as translated by R’ Leiber follows:

Author’s Introduction

The writer says: I have written this work not to teach people what they do not know, but rather to remind them of what they already know and clearly understand. For within most of my words you will find general rules that most people know with certainty. However, to the degree that these rules are well-known and their truth self-evident, they are routinely overlooked, or people forget about them altogether.

Therefore, the benefit to be obtained from this work cannot be derived from a single reading; for it is possible that, after just one reading, the reader will find that he has learned little that he did not know before. Rather, its benefit is a function of continuous review. In this manner, one is reminded of those things which, by nature, people are prone to forget, and he will take to heart the duty that he tends to overlook.

Almost everywhere you look in the world today, you find that the majority of the bright and clever people are devoting their thinking and investigations to a profound analysis of worldly knowledge and its subtleties, each according to his intellectual capabilities and natural inclinations. There are some who focus their efforts on the study of the physical world and the laws of nature. Others immerse themselves in astronomy and geometry, and some follow the path of technological applications. And there are also those who have entered the realm of the sacred and are studying the holy Torah; some occupying themselves with the theoretical aspects of the Halachah, others with Midrash, yet others with the practical formulation of legal decisions.

However, there are few from this last group who choose to devote thought and study to the total perfection of the Divine service: to the love of the Eternal, the fear of the Eternal, the cleaving to the Eternal, and to all of the other aspects of piety. It is not as if they consider these aspects of knowledge unessential. For, if questioned, every one of them will maintain that these are of paramount importance, and that one cannot envision a truly wise person who has not comprehended all of these issues. Rather, their failure to devote more attention to the matter stems from its being so clear and so obvious to them that they see no need for investing much time in its study.

Consequently, the study of this subject and the reading of works of this kind have become the province of those whose minds lack subtlety and who are mentally sluggish. These you will see riveted to the study of piety, and this has given rise to the prevalent idea that anyone striving for piety is suspected of being dull-witted.

The result of this attitude, however, is detrimental both for those who possess wisdom and for those who do not, since it leaves both deficient in true piety and makes this quality extremely rare. Those who possess wisdom are deficient in piety due to their limited study of it, while the uneducated find it beyond their grasp. Piety, therefore, is construed by people to consist of the reciting of many psalms, making very long confessions, undertaking difficult fasts and performing ablutions in ice and snow, all of which are incompatible with intellect and reason. In the process, true piety, which we desire and strive for, eludes our understanding. For it is obvious that something which does not occupy a place in a person’s mind becomes of no concern to him. And although the beginnings and foundations of piety are inbred in the heart of every truthful person, if he does not utilize them he will lose the ability to discern their details, and he will pass over them without awareness.

For piety, fear of the Eternal, love of the Eternal, and purity of heart are not that deeply rooted within a person not to necessitate the employment of methods for their acquisition. In this respect they differ from natural states such as sleep and wakefulness, hunger and satiety, and all other natural instincts. Rather, the acquisition of these [qualities] definitely requires various methods and devices. Furthermore, while there are many factors operating to distance piety from man there are many elements that can counter these factors. Could it, then, conceivably, not be necessary to expend a great deal of time upon this study in order to know these truths and the means to acquire and keep them? How will this wisdom enter a person’s heart if he will not seek it?

Since the need for the perfection of Divine service and the necessity of its purity and cleanliness is recognized by every wise person (for without these it [the Divine Service] is certainly totally unacceptable, but rather repulsive and despised; “For the Eternal searches all hearts and understands all the workings of [our] thoughts” (Divrei HaYamim 128:9)), what, then, will we answer on the day of rebuke if we are lax in this study and forsake what we are required to do? This is the very essence of what the Eternal our God asks of us! Is it befitting our intelligence that we exert ourselves and labor in speculations concerning which we have no obligation, in fruitless debates and empty pilpul, and in laws that are not applicable to us, while the great obligation that we owe our Creator we abandon to habit and rote?

If we have neither contemplated nor studied what true fear of Heaven is or what its ramifications are, how will we acquire it, and how will we escape from the vanity of the world that renders our hearts forgetful? Surely it will fade away and be forgotten even though we recognize its necessity. And likewise, love of the Eternal: if we do not make an effort to anchor it within our hearts, with the power of all those means that lead us toward it, how will it exist within us? How will devotion and ardor for the Blessed One and His Torah enter into our souls if we do not direct ourselves toward His greatness and exaltedness, [thereby] internalizing it within our hearts? How will our thoughts be purified if we do not try to cleanse them from the blemishes infused in them by physical nature? Much the same can also be said about all the character traits, which need improvement and adjustment. Who will adjust them and who will correct them, with all the necessary rigor, if not us?

A Simple Guide to Happiness From a Mystical Perspective

True Happiness is a Spiritual Pleasure

Every pleasure in life is a piece of G-dliness to which we can connect. The awe of a sunset, a baby’s smile, hitting a home run, and winning the lottery are all experiences that G-d created, and they have a special connection to the Infinite. The more real the pleasure, the more of a connection to the Infinite.

Some pleasures bring a momentary happiness like an ice cream cone, or a new car. This is only a temporary joy. The Infinite Being created the physical universe as finite. The physical world by nature is temporary; pleasures that are tied to physicality are therefore limited. Our joy from these pleasures is also temporary and limited.

In contrast, we experience joy when we do the right thing under difficult circumstances. That joy is much more meaningful, and longer lasting. If you save someone from drowning, you might feel an inner joy from that event the rest of your life. Physical pleasure gives us temporary joy; spiritual pleasure gives us longer lasting joy.

True Joy Comes from Within

To access more joy, we must understand that true joy comes from within. When we have an experience that gives us true joy, like having a child, we aren’t really having an external experience, like we are when we eat a hamburger. The external event is merely allowing us to get in touch with the joy that’s inside us. That’s why a true joy experience lasts much longer.

We all have tremendous joy imbedded in our soul. The soul is a source of limitless joy. When we are able to focus correctly, we can unlock our hidden storehouse of happiness.

Max Weiman
Kabbalah Made Easy, Inc.

A Simple Guide to Happiness is available by phone and mail, bookstores and from Amazon. To order call 314-814-6629, email, or write to:
Simple Guide
PO Box 32088
St. Louis, MO 63132

Links and Events

Inspired Too, Kiruv Across America will be showing at Congregation Ahavas Yisroel in Kew Gardens Hills at 7:45 and 9:45 on February 17th. In addition, we’ll be holding a Kiruv Training Seminar on February 24th at 8:30. For other showtimes and locations, please visit

On Monday February 19th, at 10:15 AM the Vaad L’Chizuk Hatorah will present a shiur in Congregation Ahavas Yisroel in Kew Gardens Hills. The shiur will be given by Rabbi Daniel Feldman on the subject of “Mishloach Manos”

Rabbi Michael Rosensweig on Naaseh ve-Nishma: The Cultivation of a Torah Personality:

In any case, it is this ideal approach of naaseh ve-nishma when truly internalized that allows for the vanquishing of the yetzer hara and that establishes Klal Yisrael’s status as “banim la-Makom” who are elevated beyond the angels. Furthermore, the singular character of halachic law, in contrast to other legal systems (“lo asah chein le-kol goy”) can be traced specifically to naaseh ve-nishma. Chazal indicate that the introductory words of the parsha – “ve-eilah ha-mishpatim” link even Jewish civil law with the event of mattan Torah and integrate the branch of halachah seemingly most common to other legal systems with the courtyard of the Beit haMikdash. Indeed, the naaseh ve-nishma-anchored “mishpatim” are “lo yedaum”-incomparable to secular law. We can now better appreciate the words of Avot de-Rabbi Natan- that the priority of naaseh to nishma demonstrates that wisdom that is accompanied with an even greater commitment to good deeds is truly enduring. Halachic wisdom that stems from striving to internalize halachic values requires the anchor and concrete application of mitzvot.

As a community and as individuals we face many challenges as we struggle to live a maximal halachic life in a world which exerts diverse pressures and influences, many of which are incompatible with our commitment. We also live in an era of great opportunity in which certain social, technological and economic forces may be particularly conducive to spiritual growth. It is important that we seek halachic and hashkafic guidance to determine how and when to integrate the world around us. Immersion in mitzvot and the internalization of its values is the vehicle that will provide us with direction. It is vitally important that we recognize that the formula of naaseh ve-nishma was not only a historical declaration articulated by Klal Yisrael at a particularly crucial moment. This timeless proclamation remains the foundation for spiritual growth as individuals and as a community.

Rabbi Noson Weisz on Dale Carnegie With a Jewish Slant:

We Jews share this need for human contact with the rest of humanity. But God gave us a better solution to solve the problem of casual conversation. If we all had the benefit of a basic Torah education, we would all be quite familiar with the basic Talmud tractates which focus on Mishpatim. The traditional wisdom of the ages has assured that it is this area of the Torah that we focus on during the basic education period.

Theoretically, in a properly arranged Jewish world, instead of discussing sports or the weather, or playing Jewish geography, we Jews would debate concepts in Mishpatim. Instead of having to conduct boring conversations, we would be in the enviable position of being able to engage in heated discussions about deep ideas affecting the human character with relative strangers. Instead of gossip, the air would be filled with the sounds of heated debate over basic human issues. If we were fortunate, we might someday be in a position to resurrect that much-ridiculed stereotype of the Talmudic scholar.

Jonathan Rosenblum on Israels Greatest Internal Threat:

Whereas the state’s founding fathers envisioned a Jewish state engaging in normal relations with the rest of the world, and creating an enviable society within — “externally normalized, internally exceptional.” But just the opposite has occurred — Israel’s existence is still not accepted as normal by the nations of the world, and meanwhile her internal society has turned out to be anything besides exceptional.

In the nature of their critique, the writers surveyed differed in many details. But they all agree on two key points. First, in light of the external threats it faces, Israel cannot survive without a great deal of internal cohesion and sense of national purpose. And second, these qualities are notable today primarily by their absence.

These forceful critiques also contain a powerful message for the Torah community of Israel. We must do everything in our power to create the type of society that can serve as a model to other Jews of what a Jewish society might look like. Only then will be able to convince our fellow Jews that the Torah offers the answers for all that threatens our ability to summon up the will power to survive and prevail in our rough neighborhood.

Mesillas Yesharim – Author’s Introduction – MP3 – Summary

As we mentioned last week, we are learning together the mussar classic Mesillas Yesharim by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto (Ramchal) in memory of Sarah Bas Reb Eliezer Kops. We’ll be spending 3-5 weeks on each chapter and we are currently in the Author’s introduction.

Rabbi Noach Isaac Oelbaum, one of the best speakers in Kew Gardens Hills and the NY area has graciously permitted us to post the mp3s of the Mesillas Yesharim series he gave last year. They are very worthwhile. If you want to purchase the entire 23 part series (which goes through Perek Hay) on CDs for $90, you can call 718 520-0115. We will not be leaving the mp3ss up permanently, so please listen to them within 2 weeks of posting.

Here is the 1st mp3, which gives an introduction to the life and times of Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto and the sefer. The download is in zipped format, so you should “right click” with your mouse and “Save Target As” to save the file to your PC where you can then unzip it and listen.

In the more good news department, Rabbi Yaakov Feldman has graciously granted us permission to use parts of his adaptation of Mesillas Yesharim for the project. One of the things that I like very much about Rabbi Feldman’s work are the summaries. Here is the summary of the Ramchal’s Introduction.

1. The Path of the just was written to remind people of what they already know, not to teach them new things. It would be best read several times so that what is familiar could make an impression, and the reader could thereby be reminded of his obligations.

2. There are many people who dedicate their lives and studies to the various arts and sciences, and some others to the theoretical or practical aspects of Torah, but few dedicate themselves to the study of the love and fear of and attachment to God, or to piety.

3. That has resulted in fewer intellectual people dedicating themselves to those matters, and incorrectly so. Everyone suffers as a result of that, both the wise and the unlettered: the wise because they do not attempt true piety, and the others because they do not attain it.

4. Matters of piety call for investigation and thought and the acquisition of specific tools and devices. It is not what we might think it is. Among other things, it is not putting oneself through acts of mortification.

5. We often place great effort upon things within Torah that are not at all incumbent upon us and serve no practical purpose, while our very real obligations to God are either left abandoned or carried out by rote.

6. Fundamentally, the acquisition of piety involves the following five traits:
a. reverence (“that you be in a state of reverence before Him comparable to what you would experience being before a great and awesome king”),
b. walking in His way (“all of your traits and actions are to be just and ethical”),
c. love (“It should bother you if God’s desires are not fulfilled, either because of yourself or someone else, and you should want them to be and derive a great joy in ensuring that they are”),
d. wholeheartedness (“one’s service to God should be done with the purest of intentions”), and
e. the keeping of the mitzvot (“in their fullness and with all of their conditions”).

7. The tradition words this in an orderly, step-by-step manner when it says (in the words of Rabbi Pinchas Ben Yaer, Avodah Zarah 20b),
Torah study brings you to caution,
caution to enthusiasm,
enthusiasm to innocence,
innocence to abstinence,
abstinence to purity,
purity to piety,
piety to modesty,
modesty to fear of sin,
fear of sin to holiness,
holiness to holy spirit,
and holy spirit brings you to the resurrection of the dead.”

This book is an explanation and analysis of that statement.

What Material Would be Helpful in a Kiruv Training Seminar?

As the film Inspired Too highlights, there are many situations where Kiruv is possible and practical. If a person is friendly and approachable, co-workers, friends, relatives and even strangers might ask a variety of questions. Many of these are easy to answer and others can be researched. In some cases a book or website recommendation would be appropriate.

There are situations where a little training would be helpful. Here is a question for the Beyond BT readers, “What material would be helpful in a Kiruv Training Seminar?”

Here are some thoughts from frequent Beyond BT commentor Bob Miller (in no particular order):

1. Compare and contrast the western civilization outlook with the Jewish outlook.

2. What is the unique mission of the Jewish people? How have we accomplished that in practice? Where have we fallen short and why?

3. Compare and contrast the ways we learn about HaShem’s management of the world, such as observation and revelation, and detail the value of each.

4. Explain Judaism as a total life package.

5. Explain what tefilla is for and the modes of tefilla. What brings us to love HaShem and how do we express that? Explain and demonstrate the nuts and bolts of tefilla and negina. Explain how to get over mental obstacles to tefilla. Musical accompaniment is very good for this segment.

6. Tell true instructive stories of Tzaddikim and by Tzaddikim.

7. Use only instructors who know the material, but will not respond hastily to questions that need research, and who are exemplars of the virtues taught. This means that a crash course will not equip someone to instruct. Better to use someone with accomplishments.

8. Tell us how to view Jews who might need our help in a way that makes us respect them and not use them as objects or means to our ends.

The Different Paths of the Tzadikim

Ruby Ginsberg

Maseches Taanis concludes with a gemara that says in the future, Hash-m will make a circle of Tzadikim. The Shechinah will sit inside the circle, and the Tzadikim will point towards the center of the circle and declare, “This is my G-d, we will rejoice in His salvation.”

What is the meaning of this circle of Tzadikim? It is said in the name of Rebbi Akiva Eiger that the Gemara’s description of the circle of Tzadikim as they point to the Shechinah in the center teaches that every Tzadik has his own unique approach to Avodas Hash-m which differs from the approach of every other Tzadik. One’s approach appears more to the Right; another’s leans more Left, and yet another’s even appears to be the exact opposite. Yet all of the Tzadikim together comprise the full circle. Each successive Tzadik around the circle faces a slightly different direction; nevertheless, they are all equidistant from the center. This alludes to the fact that all of their different approaches to serving Hash-m are acceptable, as long as their primary goal is Kidush Shem Shamayim.

In the future, Hash-m will reveal that the approaches of all of the Tzadikim in the world were l’Shem Shamayim, and that even though they followed different approaches, they all strove to fulfill the will of Hash-m.

If in the future all will be standing shoulder to shoulder with those who are Mekadesh Shem Shamayim in different ways, why not hasten that time by starting now?

From Insights to the Daf.

I’m Back in the Middle Again

My last post is hibernating in my hard drive, still unsubmitted and unpublished. It’s pretty dark, as I was in a pretty dark mood when I wrote it. And even though I tried to lighten it up the second time through, I decided in the end it wasn’t something I wanted to post. Maybe I’ll wait till my next fit of melancholy and send it in then.

What had soured my mood was the set of circumstances that had prompted me to write another recent post, “It’s lonely in the middle.” Here you have it:

I teach in a yeshiva high school. Yeshiva high school is a curious phenomenon, an apparent oxymoron that attempts to create a hybrid combining the standard of learning and Torah commitment of a traditional yeshiva with a solid program in secular studies. And although Rav Hirsch invented this very approach and used it to save much of German Jewry from the influence of Reform, yeshiva high schools have, for the most part, gone the way of the dinosaur.

Like politics, the world of Torah has been steadily polarizing. The right gets farther right, and the left gets farther left. My principal gets calls from all over the country from parents who want a secular study program that will leave college open as an option for their children without sacrificing Torah study standards or separate education. Few such options exist.

But we exist, taking students from almost every background, providing boys and girls on separate campuses with first-rate Torah and secular educations. We’ve earned for ourselves an exceptional reputation from yeshivas, seminaries, and universities, beating private school SAT averages every single year for over a decade, and turning out class after class of committed young b’nei Torah. Some are chareidi, some are tzioni, some are learning in kollel, most go to college, many become established professionals. And the overwhelming majority continue to demonstrate the same level of Torah observance that I hope for in my own children.

So what’s the problem? Well, on the right: “You’re not a REAL yeshiva.” Possibly a good thing, since we’ve saved a number of kids severely damaged by real yeshivos. True, most of our boys don’t daven with black hats (well, one does — my son). Only a few wear jackets. Many of the families have televisions (or perhaps I should say, ADMIT to having televisions). And many of our students actually plan on having jobs when they grow up.

On the left: “You’re not Zionistic enough.” Never mind that 90% of our graduates go to learn for a year or more in Eretz Yisroel, and that our fourth student in three years is about to enlist in the Israeli army. Oh, don’t forget about the “benefits” of coeducation that our students are missing out on (since, as we all know, all those recent studies proving the benefits of separate education are wrong).

What do these people think about, I wonder, when they’re sitting on the floor on Tisha B’Av mourning the Beis HaMikdash that was destroyed for sinas chinom? The persistent, passionate rationalization of this war of ideologies that turns every one who doesn’t agree with MY VIEW OF THE WORLD into a heretic or a fanatic can’t possibly be bringing Moshiach any closer.

But the superficiality of so much of the frum world only seems to be getting worse, with a white shirt and a black hat becoming the line in the sand, either the hill I have to die defending or the enemy I have to kill at all costs.

Meanwhile, the boys I teach, despite their variegated backgrounds, demonstrate a degree of achdus the most shuls could envy, and the girls I teach are still complaining that our curriculum isn’t allowing us to continue learning Mesillas Yesharim.

Pity we aren’t a REAL yeshiva, isn’t it.

Inspired Too

I just came back from Inspired Too and I highly recommend it. This film is focused more on those doing Kiruv, with helpful ideas on doing Kiruv. It is also filled with a number of great and inspiring stories from the Baalei Teshuva themselves.

There are 5 million non- observant Jews in America. The bottom line message is that we can and should be involved in bringing them closer to Hashem at some level. One of the speakers made the point that the focus should just be to help each person take the next step on their personal ladder, for their bechira point (see Strive for Truth – Vol 1).

One of the speakers, Eliyahu Bernstein told a moshel that you’re obviously frum and on a plane looking all over the peanut bag for the kashrus symbol. The person next to you says there’s an OU over there. What the person is really saying is that I’m a Jew also, I’m in the same ballpark as you, although I probably don’t look for the kosher symbol as often as you do. You have a choice to say, thank you, eat the peanuts and go back to sleep or start a conversation with the person. Where are you from? How do you know about kashrus? Did you go to Hebrew School? And you can make mention of some classes or some Rabbi in the person’s hometown if you know about it. Rav Bernstein says that this encounter will result in the person taking the next step, one out of six times, so why not take the first step.

Aish uses the neumonic INSPIRE to suggest 7 avenues of Outreach.
Internet – Give them one great Jewish Website.
Nurture a friendship. Ask about their lives. Care.
Shabbos – Invite them to a Shabbos Dinner.
Publication – Give them an Inspring Book
Israel – Encourage them to go learn or tour.
Relationships. Share one Torah tip about love.
Excite Them. Explain why you love being observant.

Please go to Project Inspire to learn more and to participate in the current Purim project of sending a card or a Shaloch Manos to somebody you know.

And visit to find out when Inspired Too is playing at a location near you.

Helping People Develop G-d Awareness

If we believe in Hashem, Torah from Sinai and the eternity of the soul in the afterlife shouldn’t it pain us that the majority of Jews are not developing a relationship with Hashem? Some have opined that they can’t see their Aunt Rose ever becoming frum. Let me suggest that instead of targetting becoming frum as the goal, we just try to stir up a little more G-d awareness in our friends, neighbors and co-workers.

Inspired Too, Kiruv Across America premiered last week and we will be showing it at Congregation Ahavas Yisroel in Kew Gardens Hills at 7:45 and 9:45 on February 10th and 17th. In addition, we’ll be holding a Kiruv Training Seminar on February 24th at 8:30. For other showtimes and locations, please visit

There is a lot of great Kiruv material on the site including The Dead End of Jewish Culture by Sara Yoheved Rigler. Here’s an excerpt from the article:

According to the American Jewish Identity Survey 2001, out of approximately 5.5 million American adults who are either Jewish by religion or of Jewish parentage and/or upbringing, nearly 1.4 million say they are members of a non-Jewish religion.

We are not talking here about secularism, not about Jews who opt out of going to synagogue in favor of a baseball game or the movies, but rather in favor of church. Since the vast majority of American Jews are of Ashkenazic descent, this means that 25% of the descendants of European Jews who resisted the blandishments and threats of Christianity for some sixty generations, often at the cost of their lives, are now voluntary apostates.

Without the Branch, There’s no Fruit

I became an observant Jewess about 3 years ago, when I was 17. Today, I have a wonderful schedule and I love my life and learning – I’m studying to be an optometrist in the morning, and in the late afternoon I attend classes at a Jewish Women’s Seminar. But, I have a fly in my ointment – my parents.

My parents are lovely people, but their world is still at the level of 9 to 5 followed by dinner and popcorn in front of the television. Although they respect me, they embarrass me all the time. I’ve told my father a million times that he can’t shake hands with my girlfriends, but everytime I bring one home he sticks his hand right out. I’ve tried to explain to my mother the severity of slander and idle gossip, but she says everything about everybody. Even worse, all this gives me a nasty guilt trip; after listening to lectures from the best Torah teachers one could wish for, I come home to two people who only seem to be interested in what’s for dinner and what’s on TV. It’s hard for me to respect them, and that’s a big test, since I’ll be living at home at least for another two years or until Hashem sends me my intended (please make a blessing for me). Please give me some advice on how to accept my situation with emuna. Thank you for being there, Rabbi. With sincere appreciation, Karen from New Jersey

Dear Karen,

First of all, I’m glad that you’re still at home; the advantages of your sanctity far outweigh the peripheral aggravation you have from little details at home. Please forgive me, but I must take exception with the “fly in the ointment” metaphor. Maybe your mama isn’t a Lakewood rebbetzin and your dad isn’t a Rosh Yeshiva with a Homburg on his head, but I’m sure that they’re wonderful people to merit a daughter that’s devoting her life to Hashem. Remember, they are simply the products of their environment, much like babies that grew up in captivity. They never cast away Yiddishkeit, for they never had it. There’s a lot of headway to give them the benefit of the doubt.

You can influence them best by being a kind, considerate, understanding and loving daughter. Please don’t preach and don’t look down on them. Concentrate on your own soul-searching and self-improvement. The more you show compassion for your parents, the more Hashem will have compassion on you – that means you’ll find you bashert (intended) with considerable less hassle.

You don’t have to respect your parents’ lifestyle, but Halacha requires you to give them absolute respect. Since this is the month of Shvat, let me explain in terms of a fruit tree: Fruit can’t develop on its own; it must grow on a branch. You, as a baalas tshuva with a bright future, are the aromatic fruit. Your parents though, are the branch you grow on. One doesn’t eat the branch, but without it, there’s no fruit. Don’t forget that, and you’ll be fine – I’m glad you wrote. May Hashem send you your true soulmate in the nearest future, amen.

Blessings always, LB

This article was originally posted on Rabbi Brody’s site.

Learn Mesillas Yesharim With Us

We’re starting a new project at Beyond BT. We’ll be learning Mesillas Yesharim by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato (Ramchal) together. We’re going to go at a slow pace and we’ll supplement the text with posts, audios and of course comments. Whether you’ve already learned Mesillas Yesharim or not, why not take advantage of this great opportunity.

Leave us a comment or send us an email it you intend on joining us.

This project is dedicated in memory of Sarah Bas Reb Eliezer Kops a wonderful young woman from Kew Gardens Hills who was nifter a few years ago at a young age.

We will also accept names each week for people who want to dedicate the learning “in memory of” or “in honor of” someone.

You can purchase the latest Feldheim translation of Mesillas Yesharim here.

Rabbi Yaakov Hillel’s commentary is available here.

Rabbi Avraham Twerski’s commentary is available here.

Rabbi Avraham Twerski’s mp3 series on the sefer is available here.

Rabbi Noah Weinberg has some free audios of Mesillas Yesharim here.

Rabbi David Botton has a free audio series on the sefer available here.

Rabbi Mark Zelunka has a free audio series available here.

Rabbi Moshe Hauer has some free audios available here.

Rabbi Dovid Miller has some free audios available here.

Rabbi Herschel Reichman has some free audios available here.

Parenting, the BT and the TV

The Brisker Rav ZTL was once asked how and why his children developed into such exemplary Talmidie Chachamim. The Brisker Rav ZTL replied to the questionner by stating that Tefilah and Tehilim were two main bases as a starting point. I think that the issue of whether, if at all, a family should partake of popular culture and how to deal with the same within the four corners of their house is an issue that warrants discussion.

Obviously, if one has elected not to have a TV , that solves part of the problem. OTOH, that presents the issue of whether one should allow one’s children to visit friends from school who have a TV , etc. For many years, our kids had visitors from families who did not have a TV, despite the fact that we had a TV. However, the amount of time sent in front of the TV was minimal.

Gradually,as a family, we discovered that TV had deteriorated in terms of content, even during the so-called “family hour” and weaned oursleves away from the small amount of time in front of the TV. As R E Buchwald once pointed out, watching TV was the equivalent of bringing in the garbage that we had just taken out. Except for an occasional Yankee game or an old movie, there is really nothing really worth watching. As a child, we always watched the news. However, if one has a radio, the same can be obtained via any all news station at the beginning of the hour. As a NY Giant fan, I also discovered that the commercials were also objectionable as well.

We never darshaned in front of our kids that TV was evil, etc. We just realized that there were far better things to do with our time. FWIW, I think that if one does darshan on the evils of TV, your child will wonder what is so evil about it, especially if you or their friend has an internet connection.

I recently read a series of articles re parenting in a charedi magazine. Maybe I am wrong, but I think that communication with children, demonstrating by one’s own actions what is important and serving as a role model are ultimately far more productive means than insisting , for instance, that a child never watch TV or cannot be seen in shul without a white shirt, black hat , gartel or in tzniusdik attire that appears to be different than one’s neighbors.

We all have to realize that all teens in all cultures go thru experiementation, rebellion, etc that is healthy in some ways and problematic in others. It is important for parents ,especially for BTs to distinguish between these two very different trends and not to use Torah as a weapon in a way that will impact adversely on a child’s growth. I do believe that some Charedi parents who are worried that their child might become (Chas Ve Shalom-their language as documented in some Charedi media) a MO or Religious Zionist may in fact be losing sight of the forest in the trees..

I highly recommend R Wolbe ZTL’s Zeriah uBinyan Bchinuch , the Nesivos Shalom and R D A Twersky’s many works on these issues as well as a means of familiarizing oneself with these issues and for setting forth approaches to the issues.