Kiruv Models

I look at the different kiruv (bringing one close to Torah Judaism) groups and organizations around I often find that while each has their own derech of outreach methods and techniques there are some striking similarities between different organizations and several successful businesses.

Each kiruv group is a kli (vessel) for Hashem to bring others closer to Torah Judaism. Just as no two people are the same, not every kiruv group, shul outreach program, or community kollel are the same. What works for teens doesn’t necessarily work for college students or for adults with children. The most successful outreach programs, IMHO, combine the best of the models listed below.

The Barnes & Noble model:
Create a warm friendly environment where you can browse, drink some coffee, and sit in a cozy chair and use their products. B & N offers a no pressure attitude towards making a purchase. You can come and go as you please.

This creates a friendly consumer culture that leaves a longing for more. It’s a no pressure environment that is part escape and part food for the mind.

While most people do not purchase something every time they go into a Barnes and Noble, when it does come time to buy a book, the odds are that they make their purchase in a Barnes and Noble and not think twice about the competition.
Possible examples: Youth groups, college campus organizations and outreach programs, Chassidic branches, adult Jewish learning programs or centers, shul outreach programs, various organization or yeshiva websites.

The Starbucks Coffee model:
While Starbucks is similar to Barnes & Noble (this explains why Starbucks has a contractual agreement with B & N) in the aspect of creating an escape from everyday life, yet there are differences.

Starbucks not only sells their own brand, but they sell a lifestyle that goes along with it. It’s the romance of Italy and the ‘everyday luxury’ of coffee house culture.

It even goes beyond this. Starbucks hopes that their stores become a ‘Third Place’. A place to spend your time when you are not at work or at home. They have, in fact, made their ‘Third Place’ almost everywhere you go like in grocery stores, libraries, banks, museums, and hotels. Now you don’t need an actual Starbucks Coffee shop to have your escape, you can, as they market it, “bring Starbucks to your home”, by brewing their coffee or even owning one of their self branded coffee makers.

Those who walk into a Starbucks are one of two types: those who know exactly want they want and those who don’t. When you walk in the door there is no one greeting you or directing you. If you want their product then you make the first move and order it.

Possible examples: Chassidic branches, youth groups, community kollel (as branches of yeshivos or independent institutions), branches of yeshivos.

The Gap or Apple Store model:
This model is very similar to the Starbucks model in that what is being sold is solely the company’s own product. Again, there are really two types of customers: those who know exactly want they want and those who don’t. Here is where things get interesting.

As you enter the store (either Gap or an Apple Store) you are greeted by a helpful person. If you know what you are looking for, then you are directed towards the specific product.

In case you don’t really know what you want, but know what type of item you are looking for (iPod or khaki pants for example) you are briefly educated and then give several options of what to buy.

Possible examples: Same as listed above, plus organization that specifically create programs to be run in shuls, kollels, and outreach centers.

The Lighthouse model:
While not a corporate business model, a lighthouse represents a subtle, yet at times, powerful approach to kiruv by the individual Jew.

The lighthouse stands and directs those who see it. It warns those of the dangers around, and gives direction to those who seek.

This is the example that each Torah observant Jew should live by, not just those involved in kiruv.

As we go though our day at the office, driving, learning in the beis midrash, and home with our families, we need to be a lighthouse. Our job is to be a shining example of the greatness of Torah Judaism, a walking Kiddush Hashem.

Rebbetzin Heller on April 30th and Rabbi Schwartz on May 1st in KGH

Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller will be speaking for Women in Kew Gardens Hills: Monday, April 30th

At 2:00 PM in a private home, email us for details
“Taking Tehillim to the Next Level”

At 8:30 PM at Congregation Ahavas Yisroel 147-02 73rd Avenue
“Finding Inspiration From Within”.

Shiurim Series in Kew Gardens Hills with Rabbi Dovid Schwartz: Great Books and their Authors

The Jewish People gave the world the Bible, the “Good Book” that has done more than any other to shape the course of human history. Since then Jewish civilization has produced authors of genius who have composed works that profoundly influence the way we think, feel and behave. This fascinating series will examine texts from some of the “Great Books” and reading between the lines, will familiarize the “People of the Book” with these influential “Books of the People”.

All classes Tuesdays 8 PM, Doors open at 7:45 At the Jewish Heritage Center – Queens Division 68-29 Main Street – Flushing

May 1st – Nachmanides: The Meaning of Holiness
May 8th – Bachya Ibn Paquda: Don’t Be an Ingrate
May 15th – Maimonides: The Messianic Era
May 29th — Luzzato: Why are We Here?
June 5th – Chaim of Volozhin: Unseen Worlds

Each shiur is free if you RSVP or $5 at the door
To RSVP please call 1-888-4JUDAISM (1-888-458-3247) or Or email

JIBs, Melava Malkas, Shabbatons, Shiurim

Jib Awards: First round voting for the Jewish and Israeli Blog Awards (JIBs) is underway and closes Sunday night.

Go here to vote for Beyond BT in Best Jewish Religious Blog.

Go here to vote for Beyond BT in Best Group Blog.

Go here to vote for Beyond BT in Best Torah Blog.

We wrote a post earlier on why we think you should cast your ballot for Beyond BT. We’re sorry to be pandering for votes, but since we entered the awards we might as well try to make a good showing, and we do consider this a communal project and we’re all in this together, and this has turned into a run on sentence… Whatever. Just go and vote so we can stop bothering you.

Melava Malka in Eretz Yisroel: We’re trying to arrange a Beyond BT Melava Malke in Eretz Yisroel on May 26th in Beit Shemesh at the home of Menachem Lipkin as I’ll be in Eretz Yisroel that week. Please comment or email us (at if you think you would like to join us.

Shabbaton in Passaic: We’re working on a Shabbaton in Passaic on June 9th. Passaic is quite possibly the BT capital of the US and although we’re in the early stages, I have a feeling this will be a great event. If you’re interested in helping us organize it, or you can host some out-of-towners, or if you think you are going to attend, please email us (at or leave a comment.

Possible Monsey Get Together: I’m hoping to be spending the Shabbos of June 2nd with Rabbi Lam in Monsey, so maybe we can daven and shmooze (after davening of course) at Ohr Somayach or something. Let us know if you’re interested.

Ezzie has a Post asking why BTs choose to become observant.

Have a great shabbos, but vote first!

The Great Fruity Pebbles Fiasco

By Chaya Linn

Act I –

I’m doing laundry, the day before Pesach.
Kim’s got stupid songs playing,
Take me home, country road…
Sorry about that.
Now you’re humming it, aren’t you?
She likes it, though.
She’s dancing all around as she folds laundry.

Act II

I lost it totally tonight.
I leave for one hour to do a massage with Devorah,
I come home.
The chametz has broken out.
My son is eating life cereal at the table
An entire box of Fruity Pebbles is spilled in the pantry.
And then someone (I won’t say who)
Kicks a bag of flour,
A fine layer of chumutz dust
On everything.
My husband starts announcing
That our home will not be
Kosher for Pesach
And therefore we will not be eating any meal
In our kitchen for the entire Pesach.
And me going,
Chaim, you will kosher my kitchen back to Pesach
Right Now.
And he did.
Until one in the morning.
I make it as miserable as I possibly can for him-
Saying over and over maybe 40 times:
Are we clear, now?
There is no more chumutz, ok?
So no more sneaking around looking
For a sugar fix, right? Ok?
Right? Do we have that straight?
Good, then it’s clear now.
Then I repeat the whole thing.
I had my husband climbing the walls to get away from me.
Sorry, but that’s what I did.


Man, you really crave something crunchy
Those few days before Pesach.

Attention: New BTs

On the road to learning more about Judaism, you are likely to encounter some obstacles. Having traveled on this road for 5 years and experiencing some highs and lows, I feel that I am in an excellent position to assist those of you who are currently struggling with issues and maybe even prevent some problems from coming up.

1. You will most definitely have to field questions from family and/or friends who are not observant. The best way to approach the situation is to always be respectful and honest. If they ask you a question to which you don’t know the answer, admit you don’t know the answer, tell them you will find an answer, and then call your rabbi as soon as you can to get that answer. If you hear things that frustrate or upset you, bite your toungue. As tempting as it is to want to talk back, now is not the time to do it. Remember that your family is most likely worried that you will reject them. Keep that in mind when they ask you questions that you are uncomfortable with. To your family, you are representing observant Judaism.

2. One day your family asks you a question that you are just stumped on and you don’t have someone to talk to about that. That’s where your rabbi comes in. If you don’t have a rabbi that you can talk to, find one ASAP. If it means you have to shul-shop all over town, do it. Your rabbi should be knowledgable in obeying Jewish law yet maintaining relationships with non-observant family.

3. You might wonder where all your interests fit in this new lifestyle of yours, you could ask yourself “Can I still listen to 80’s hair band music?”, “Can I still go see concerts?” If you liked taking ballet classes or jazz classes before you became observant, you can still do so within reason. If you made a living as a singer or an actor before becoming observant, you can still sing and/or act. There are all women for women shows, especially if you are lucky enough to live in New York. If there are no opportunities for such shows, make one of your own. Bottom line, you should not change so much who you are that you wake up one day in the future and you don’t recognize yourself.

On Marrying Off Another Daughter

With much appreciation to Hashem we saw the marriage of our second daughter last month, just a little over a year after our first daughter was married. Last year when I wrote here about the marriage of our first daughter I wrote in the comment section, ” Stay tuned, my next daughter will be going a more “Yeshivish” route, which could prove more challenging.” Well I’m very happy to report that the only real challenge was to some of my pre-conceived notions. Here’s the story…

About a year ago, just a little before Pesach, our then 18-year-old daughter who was still in her post high school year of seminary approached us with trepidation. She wanted our permission to begin dating after Pesach. Since she is a Bais Yaakov girl this clearly meant that she could theoretically get married before the summer and before she even turned 19.

Prior to this my thinking was that she should begin dating a year later. She was going to be attending a one-year program in Jerusalem where she would learn computer graphics and web design. My rationale was that if she got married toward the end of the following year she would be in a better position to help support her husband in learning.

Of course she pulled the Aliyah guilt card. She said that since we put her at a competitive disadvantage by bringing her to, what she always jokingly refers to as, a third world country in the middle of a hot desert, I should let her get a head start by starting the dating process early. She also felt that another disadvantage was that she was looking for an American Yeshiva boy who wanted to settle in Israel. (Something, which in the end may have actually been an advantage.) Compelled by her logic and our Jewish guilt my wife and I agreed. We also knew that just getting the process started would take some extra time here due to our smaller network.

After Pesach we put together her Shiddach resume (I kid you not), started putting out feelers and talking to Shadchaniot (matchmakers). In the end things didn’t really get rolling until the end of the summer with her first date occurring in September.

Knowing that the dating process could be relatively short and having heard some horror stories, we made it a priority to meet the boy on the first date. Since we live in Beit Shemesh and most of the boys are learning in Jerusalem it is not uncommon for girls to go to Jerusalem for their dates. In a scene out of a Woody Allen movie we arranged that my wife and I would meet the boy first while our daughter waited in the car for the green light. So here was this poor yeshiva boy sitting in a hotel lobby being grilled by his date’s parents. We gave the go-ahead. After several dates they decided it was not a match.

In December we got the name of a young man from my daughter’s seminary principal. I was given two references to call. One was a Rebbe of his from Mir who turned out to be the brother of a close friend of ours. The other, the Rosh Yeshiva at the yeshiva where he was currently learning and working as a dorm counselor, was a Rebbe of mine 27 years ago when I learned in Ohr Somayach for a short time. Things were looking good.

Their first date was in early January. Our young man had tickets to go back to America in mid-January. After the second date he cancelled his tickets. Now keep in mind, when my daughter began dating I told her I had a hard rule that she couldn’t get engaged in less than two months of dating. After all it was important for her and us to get to know her potential spouse. Well, Mr. Tough Guy over here ended up giving them permission to get engaged after just three weeks!

It’s not just that I’m a softy and I caved. Our new son-in-law did few key things that allowed us to feel comfortable. For the first date, instead of making us schlep to Jerusalem, he rented a car and came out to pick up our daughter. After another of their dates he came back with her to the house and sat and schmoozed with us. And one Motzei Shabbos he came for a Melava Malka with our whole family. Insightfully, one of the things that the Shadchanit saw in this match, aside from the compatibility of the couple, was that the young man would fit nicely with our entire family; BT’s, MO’s and all. Something to keep in mind when you’re in the “Parsha”.

They got engaged on January 24th and the wedding was March 21st. During that time we got to see that our daughter had found a terrific young man who will make a wonderful husband. Once again we were fortunate to have gotten great Machatanim (in-laws) who are well known and respected and who are very supportive of their children living in Eretz Yisroel.

The wedding was magnificent and very Leibedik (spirited). (You can see pictures and a short video at We feel very blessed and thankful to Hashem, and we pray that our children will build a Bayis Ne’eman B’Yisroel, and as I always add, B’Yisroel!

A Few Reasons to Vote for Beyond BT in the JIB Awards

Please go vote for us in the JIB awards, because a vote for Beyond BT is a vote for …

Go here to vote for Beyond BT in Best Group Blog.

Go here to vote for Beyond BT in Best Jewish Religious Blog.

Go here to vote for Beyond BT in Best Torah Blog.

We’ll give you lots of reasons to vote for the Beyond BT community later this morning, but for now consider voting for us in the Naaseh V’Nishma tradition.

Updated: Ok, here are some reasons:

If you’re a BT, you should vote for Beyond BT because this is your community and if you are not for yourself, who will be for you.

If you’re a FFB, you should vote for Beyond BT because you’re thankful for the growth-oriented perspective that BTs add to your community. And you probably feel guilty that you haven’t given all you can to BTs (remember when you said no to that lunch guest) and this is a good first step in your Teshuva process.

If you’re not observant, you should vote for Beyond BT, because we share your common not-born-frum roots and can empathize with you’re perspective the best. Please forgive us for our first few years, when we might not have been the models of acceptance and understanding. But we’ve doing Teshuva for that.

Updated Again
: In the comments, Bob Miller asks: “Beyond BT is a very good blog, but what are your grounds for believing it is the best?”

Here are some reasons:

1) We’re totally focused on supporting other Jews
2) We’ve had much real life chesed occuring as the result of this blog
3) We’ve succeeded to some degree in building a virtual Torah community
4) We have extremely diversified content due to the number of topics and posters
5) We have extremely dignified commenting
6) We have contributors that cross the whole frum spectrum
7) We have contributors from around the world including a significant presence in Israel
8) We have backing by some very prominent NY based Rabbanomim
9) We’ve had many offline events including Melava Malka’s and Shabbatons
10) We’ve actually refused money when it was waved in our direction

All these factors taken together objectively make us the best in our collective humble opinion.

The reality is we don’t need to be the best, we’re working on being happy with what we are (have), but unfortunately the JIB awards are structure around “the best”. Another reason to vote for us is that if we win, we’re *really* going to work on the sometimes negative trait of being competitive.


Note to readers:

These questions are a compilation of some of the many that I have been asked over the years by children who have lost parents and/or the surviving parent/stepparent of the children. Please pass this along to anyone on your email list that may find this to be helpful. May the dissemination of this column be a zechus for my father’s neshama, Reb Shlome ben Reb Yakov Moshe HaLevi Horowitz, whose yahrtzeit is today, Rosh Chodesh Iyar.

Dear Rabbi Horowitz:

How do I properly observe a yahrtzeit? What does the word yahrtzeit mean anyway? Are there special things to say or do? Is it OK to be sad or moody on this day or should I just “deal with it” as some people seem to be telling me? How should I respond when the adults in my shul greet me on the day of the yahrtzeit? I keep hearing the words “The neshama should have an aliya” from adults. What does it mean, and what should I do when people tell that to me? How can I get my friends to understand how difficult this day is for me, and how should I respond when they inadvertently make inconsiderate comments to me on this painful day?

Rabbi Horowitz Responds

The term “Yahrtzeit” is a Yiddish term that is literally translated as “A year’s time.” (‘Yahr’ means year, and tzeit is time). The term represents the anniversary of someone’s death and is commemorated by the children, siblings, spouse and sometimes parents of the deceased. The date of the Yahrzeit is calculated according to the Hebrew calendar.

The most common practices observed on a Yahrzeit are reciting kaddish, lighting a special memorial candle that burns for 24 hours on the evening before the Yahrtzeit, learning Mishnayos, and visiting the graves of the deceased.

Jewish tradition and hashkafa (philosophy) teach us that humans are a unique hybrid of a physical body and a spiritual neshamah (soul). When death occurs, one’s neshama takes leave of its body and ascends to the Heavens. At that time, he or she is judged for his/her actions and accomplishments spanning his/her lifetime. From that time onward, that neshama cannot improve its standing in the Heavenly realm. However, according to our Chazal (sages), the neshama receives a ‘review’ of its original judgment on its yahrtzeit – with the opportunity to elevate its status in Gan Eden. How could things change after one passes on, you may think? Because in reality, the books are rarely ever ‘closed’ on one’s life since the neshama almost invariably left a legacy during the time it spent in this world. Therefore, the secondary mitzvos they helped generate with their actions on this world still accrue after their death to bring merit to their neshama. For example, if someone donated siddurim (prayer books) to a shul during their lifetime, they get a mitzvah each time someone uses that siddur. The same concept would apply to one who helps start a shul, Jewish day school, or other chesed organization.

This concept most certainly applies to one who had children who lead meaningful lives – since they can bring merit to the neshama of the deceased for many years to come. This is where you come in. For children are the quintessential extensions of one’s years on this world. Therefore, many of the yartzeit practices revolve around children generating mitzvos that accrue to the merit of their departed parent. We learn mishnayos or other limudim in memory of the departed neshama. (Here’s an idea: For many years, I would dedicate an ‘extra-hours’ block of time all year long to learn a particular gemorah with the goal of completing it and making a siyum on my father’s yahrtzeit.) We say kaddish, which gets people to praise Hashem upon their response to our words. We take food and drink to shul so that people will make blessings on the refreshments that were brought.

With all this in mind, the phrase that you hear many people greet you with on the day of the yahrtzeit, “The neshama should have an aliya,” may be more meaningful to you. What they are telling you, especially those who knew your parent well, is that they, too, (obviously in a lesser sense than you) feel the loss of your parent and miss him or her. They are also expressing their sincere wish and hope that your departed parent will become elevated (aliya means ‘to go up’, as in getting an aliya in shul or when we say that one ‘made aliya’ when they move to Eretz Yisroel) in Gan Eden on this day. It is an expression of affection for your parent and for you, and a proper response would be to nod and say “thank you.” Perhaps if you are up to it, consider expressing to them that you really appreciate their well wishes.

I think that it is perfectly ok to feel sad, moody, confused – or anything else – on the day of your parent’s yahrtzeit. Just like people celebrate victories and successes in different ways, so, too, do people mourn losses in diverse manners. The yahrtzeit day is a very difficult one, especially for those of us who lost parents at a young age. It is made more complicated by the fact that it is a ‘normal’ day for everyone around us. Our friends at school – and later in life at work – do not understand that this day jars all sorts of unpleasant memories for us and it often feels like a scab was torn off a wound that had partially healed. So, I would suggest to you that if you just feel like you need some space to sort things out in your mind on the yahrtzeit day, it may be a good idea to take part of the day off and do just that. Try not to be critical of people who say silly or inconsiderate things to you. Many of them feel rather awkward, as they don’t really know what to say to you. Therefore, they may blurt things out that wind up doing the opposite of what they had intended.

I would love to tell you that the yahrtzeit day gets easier with the passage of time, but at least in my case, and those of my close friends who lost parents at a young age, it really doesn’t. I am writing these lines on the forty-fourth Yahrtzeit of my father, who passed away before my fourth birthday. And while the passage of time is a great healer for the ‘other’ days of the year, I have found that in many ways the actual yahrtzeit day gets harder as time goes on. Every year, on the evening of my father’s yahrtzeit, I tell my wife that I feel emotionally bruised and battered – like a truck ran over me, chas v’shalom.

One thing that I always tell teens and young adults who have lost parents is to reach out for help if you feel yourself bogged down by emotional overload. I would suggest that you please read my “Letter to Girls Who Lost a Parent” (click here) for more on the issue of reaching out for help and for some referrals. How bad does it have to be for you to reach out for help? I would say that you should certainly go for help if you feel that the trauma of your parent’s death is impeding your progress in school or in life. But I would recommend that you consider going for grief counseling, contacting Chai Lifeline (, 212-465-1300), a Rabbi/Rebbitzen in your community, or simply a grown adult who lost a parent at a young age to help you better cope. Mental health professionals have made such progress in the past few decades in understanding the grieving process and in helping family members sort out their emotions. Not taking advantage of this knowledge that is readily available is almost like getting a root canal without Novocain or like a nearsighted person not using eyeglasses.

In the broadest sense, the best thing that you can do to honor the memory of your parent on the day of his/her yahrtzeit – and throughout the year – is to live a meaningful life. Having experienced wrenching pain at a young age equips you better than most others to be extraordinarily sensitive to others. You have sadly learned the value of time, the gift of life, and the opportunity that each day presents.

I give you my heartfelt bracha that you use these life-lessons to live a life of Torah and chesed, a life where you give and rarely take, a life where you heal and rarely hurt, a life where you leave the world a better place as a result of your words and deeds.

Living this type of life will bring eternal merit and kavod to your parent – and eventually to your own children.

Please forward this important post to teens/children/even adults who lost parents.

The Ultimate BT and The Omer

I am thinking of a man by the name of Ben Kalba Savua.

Ben Kalba was a wealthy Jew who made a fortune in both the meat and textile industries. One of his employees was a JFB, which means a John Fitzgerald…oops…excuse means a Jew From Birth. I don’t know how frum this Jew could have been. He was the son of a righteous ger, but his knowledge of Yiddishkeit was severely lacking. He couldn’t even read the alef-beis. In fact, this man was not only an am ha-aretz by the standards of his day, he would likely be considered an am ha-aretz even by the vastly dimished standards of our day. On top of this, he had a genuine distaste for real Torah scholars.

With this information one should not be surprised to hear that Ben Kalba, who wanted to match his daughter with a Torah scholar, was not a happy camper on the day he was informed that she was intent on marrying this… nobody. Ben Kalba reacted by cutting his daughter off from inheriting any of his fortune.

What could have caused a child of the rich and well meaning Ben Kalba to make such an irrational and irresponsible decision? The answer is that her motivations were neither irrational nor irresponsible. Ben Kalba’s daughter was no ordinary woman. She understood that there were commodities in the world of far greater importance than wealth or luxury. In fact, for some people, wealth and luxury occupy a very low rung on their ladder of priorities.

On the outside, Ben Kalba’s daughter saw a man unique in his gentleness of manner and in his modesty, and she also saw an untapped wellspring of Torah potential inside the man. A wellspring that lacked only an avenue through which it could flow and flourish.

Against her father’s wishes they were married.

In case you haven’t yet figured it out yet, the subject of this piece is Rabbi Akiva along with his aishes chayil, the tzadekes Rachel. They married and had a son named Yehoshua. Part of the agreement that Rachel made with Akiva was that at an appropriate time, he would leave home in order to attend yeshiva and learn. In my humble opinion I don’t think very many Jewish woman would be willing to make such a demand upon their husbands.

Akiva took his son Yehoshua and they left for yeshiva together. In the beginning they even learned together, starting with the alef-beis. Soon however they had to learn separately as each would progress at his own speed. How wonderful it would be if yeshivos today would admit the sincere baalei teshuva to learn with the yeladim and bachorim, at whatever level they needed to help them catch up on what they missed growing up… AND allowing them to skip ahead according to the ability and perseverence of each individual. We might find mini versions of Rabbi Akiva suddenly appearing out of nowhere throughout the Jewish world. That is my personal definition of loving my fellow Jew, however impractical it may seem.

Akiva spent 12 years in concentrated study and came home having risen to incredible Torah heights and having established a large following of his own. After spending time at home with Rachel, it was the desire of his dear wife that Akiva again leave home to continue the rewarding work he had begun. Akiva departed for another 12 years.

What I have related is only one piece of the life of a Torah giant who not only reached for the stars…but actually touched them. Between purity and impurity there are 50 levels. Moshe Rabbeinu had ascended to the 49th level of purity during his lifetime. Rabbi Akiva had entered the realm of level number 50.

One of Rabbi Akiva’s life achievements was a sefer he wrote called, “Osios d’Rabbi Akiva,” in which he explained deep mystical understandings for each of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alef-beis.


Up to this point I have brought out various insights and information. I am now going to attempt to take these ideas apart and reassemble into a new picture I’m going to call, “The Omer.”


The divisions of the Torah Verses, known as pasukim, come from Sinai. There are 5,846 of them. I verified this myself by counting and numbering every Verse from Bereishis 1:1 to Devarim 34:12. For example, ask me to cite Verses 2,447 and 2,448 and I should be able to do so in less than 30

Actually I already decided on those two Verses because they coincide with the timeline of the Makkos (Plagues), followed by Yetziyas Mitzrayim, the Omer period, and culminating with Har Sinai on Shavuous. Unfortunately the Egel Hazahav found its way into this time period as well. All of this occurred in the Hebrew years 2,447 and 2,448.

So let’s look at Torah Verse # 2,447 and Torah Verse # 2,448, which land us on Shemos, Chapter 32, Verses 11-12 – “Then Moshe supplicated before G-d, his G-d, and said: For what purpose, O G-d, should your wrath flare against your people who You have brought forth out of eretz Mitzrayim, with great power and with a mighty hand?…Turn back from your glowing wrath…”

I don’t know about you but I am startled by this seemingly uncanny synchronicity between the events of 2,447-48 and the Verses 2,447-48. Maybe it’s just me, but I feel compelled to tell you that matching up Torah Verses with Hebrew years has startled me many times.


The Omer period, which begins the night following the initial Seder, is designed to be a time for a continuous spiritual climb up the 50 rung ladder, away from all that is impure, and toward all that is pure. At the end of seven weeks, 7 x 7 days, the pinnacle of our journey is reached. Next stop: Day number 49 + 1: Shavuous.

If I have written understandably to this point and you are still with me, let’s now move into one of countless tangents which are found everywhere when studying the Torah. My rabbi once told me that of the 5,846 Verses comprising the Torah, only two contain all 22 Hebrew letters. I found this information very exciting, but that’s just me. If anyone knows of any other such Verses I would be most interested in hearing about them.

Here are the Verses:

VERSE 1 – Shemos (Exodus) 16:16 – “This is the thing that G-d has commanded, ‘Gather from it (the manna from Heaven), for every man according to what he eats – an omer per person – according to the number of your people, according to whomever is in his tent shall you take.'”

VERSE 2 – Devarim (Deuteronomy) 4:34 – “Or has any god miraculously come to take for himself a nation from amidst a nation, with challenges, with signs, and with wonders, and with war, and with a strong hand, and with an outstretched arm, and with greatly awesome deeds, such as everything that the Lord, your God, did for you in Mitzrayim (Egypt) before your eyes?”

Notice that these two Verses are directly linked. In the first G-d has just drowned the Mitzrim in the Yam Suf and the mon is about to fall from the sky. This will provide the Jewish people with the sustenance they will need for their sojourn in the midbar. In the second Verse Yetziyas Mitzrayim has become a memory. On the Seder night however we are to reminisce those events as if we were going through it at that very moment.


When I was first made aware of these two Verses containing all 22 Hebrew letters I felt compelled to do something. I couldn’t wait I raced to count how many letters were in each Verse. I don’t know why but I just had to know. To say that I was startled (again) would be an understatement. The Torah startles me all the time.

There were exactly 70 letters in the first Verse, the number given for the nations of the world. There were exactly 120 letters in the second Verse, the years of life for both Moshe and Akiva. The first Verse talks about the total reliance the Jews would now have on G-d. We add 50 letters, the number of rungs from the bottom to the top of the ladder, and we reach the 120 letters of the second Verse. The second Verse is a constant reminder to us of where we came from and where we have ascended. It is the central theme of Pesach. Dayenu!

Oh…and Ben Kalba Savua did teshuva and gave Akiva and Rachel half his fortune.

It’s All In There

In my first Teshuva Journey column from The Jewish Press that appeared on BeyondBT, I wrote about the who, what, where, when and how of my journey back to Judaism, but the one question I did not fully answer is why. Answering that question is actually much more challenging than tackling all of the previous ones, because there simply is not enough space in a thousand-word column to mention all the reasons why Orthodox Judaism first attracted me and why it continues to do so.

Why does a Jew raised in a Conservative home, given all the conveniences, freedoms and choices of the modern world, find himself attracted to the seemingly restrictive and old-fashioned framework of Orthodox Judaism?

The Rabbis explain “Turn it [Torah] over and turn it over, because everything is in it.” (Pirke Avot 5:26) The Torah is the ultimate guide to everything. If you look closely enough, everything you need to know and do is contained within it.

For starters, the Torah is the decisive self-help book. The Torah and its Rabbinic commentaries teach people how to avoid anger, overcome poor self esteem, become more generous and beat addictions. It teaches people how to become better parents, better bosses and even how to be nicer to your pets. It contains essential lessons for how to succeed in business, and how to have a fulfilled marriage.

I became religious during college, while majoring in Psychology. As I learned more about Judaism, I realized that most theories of human behavior that modern psychologists have discovered in the last 200 hundred years were actually written down in the Talmud and other Jewish sources as long as two thousand years ago! For instance in 1965 Dr. Martin Seligman coined the theory of Learned Helplessness, as he discovered that a dog will accept even the most painful of situations if it believes there is no escape.

Seligman could have saved himself much work and the dogs much pain simply by looking at Jewish history. The Torah records that when the Jews were slaves in Egypt and G-d sent Moses back to free them, they did not want to hear about it. You would think the Jews would dance in the streets to welcome Moses and then go pack their bags, but they completely rejected him and his message of salvation. Several Rabbis explain that the Jews were suffering so much pain and persecution at the hands of the Egyptians that they had completely given up any hope of freedom. Sounds like the learned helplessness theory that Seligman “discovered” thousands of years later.

Growing up I often heard people lament at the complexity of life and wish they had a guide book for maneuvering through it. We Jews have that instruction manual! It’s called the Torah. The Torah was written by G-d in part as a guide book for us to know how to live our lives. And because He made all of us, He knows exactly what messages we need to hear. G-d knew in advance every event and struggle that the Jewish people collectively and individually would go through, and so He gave us the Torah to provide us direction.

In my Conservative Hebrew School I remember being taught that many of the Jewish commandments and traditions were old, worn-out customs applicable only to another time period. Years later as I started my teshuva journey I learned that nothing could be further from the truth! I finally learned about the eternal relevancy of Judaism and the Torah. Judaism teaches that there is something appropriate to do at every moment of our existence. Every minute presents us with the chance to choose between right and wrong, and shows us how to give our lives more meaning. The Torah’s commandments are practical ways to live our lives, to help us get the most out of this world and achieve our goals.

The American writer Henry David Thoreau wrote “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” American society offers people every possible enjoyment, distraction and physical pleasure, but what are we left with when we’re done? After we’ve run from one pleasure to another, what’s left? We’re always looking for something better and brighter that we can write about to the folks back home. But the majority of people are never satisfied, as they’re always chasing another short-lived goal.

How to solve this problem? Judaism offers the antidote. While other religions believe that one can only become holy by withdrawing from worldly pleasure and living an aesthetic life as a monk high up on a mountain, Judaism teaches that we can become holy in the physical world by elevating everyday activities. I discovered that Judaism offers a way to still enjoy the pleasures of this world, but to dedicate them to a higher purpose. Nearly every enjoyable activity, from eating tasty foods, to even sleeping and shopping, can be used for a spiritual purpose. When we eat food and say a blessing to thank G-d for it and use the energy to help someone else or do a mitzvah, we’ve converted a pure physical need into something holy. If we sleep and then use the energy to learn and teach, we elevate the act to a level far greater than we could ever achieve by sleeping in late on a Sunday morning. Judaism teaches that when we do any action in the right way at the right time, we are living for a higher purpose than just our immediate needs.

For many people, an ideal vacation consists of going to a faraway beach, and spending quality time with family without the distraction of Blackberries and PDAs. But why save up to get such a dream vacation only once a year when you can get it every week? That’s what Shabbas is! Shabbas is a day to unplug from all our everyday distractions and spend time bonding with our families and having long meals with plenty of delicious food. It’s the Day of Rest, so yes, you get points in heaven for sleeping! What an amazing religion we belong to.

There is an endless list of other features of Judaism which first attracted me and continue to do so. Each person that becomes frum has his or her own list of reasons, which we will uncover as we explore amazing stories of other peoples’ teshuva journeys in future
issues of this column.

The Teshuva Journey is a monthly column by Michael Gros chronicling amazing teshuva journeys and inspiring kiruv tales. To share a story or send other comments, email

Living in Highland Park, NJ as a BT

I remember like it was yesterday, four years ago, when we took our first look at Highland Park, NJ with a real estate agent. We had made the decision as a family to move to the area because we wanted to put our three then elementary-aged children into a yeshiva that separated the boys and girls, and offered the best frum and secular education we could find for them. The ideal school we could find is where they are now, “Yeshiva Shaarei Tzion” in Piscataway, NJ. The problem was, we would have to move. I drove the children from Pennsylvania to NJ for six months, three hours of driving a day, while we engaged in the house hunt.

Our lovely home in PA was worth about 250K in that local market. We had a huge plot of land in a beautiful neighborhood. That first day of house-hunting in Highland Park left me in tears. We looked at houses with a half a million dollar price tag that were substantially smaller than our PA home, on a postage stamp plot of land, and all of them needed some work. The real estate agent, a frum Jew from Highland Park, kept saying the same thing to me: “You aren’t just buying a house here, you are buying a community!” I couldn’t see it. I felt despondent.

We finally got what my husband calls “Highland Park-atized.” Meaning, we considered any house that had a place to sleep and a bathroom, and we started figuring out how to make just about any available structure on the market work for our family. We ended up in quite an adventure — living as a family in the finished attic of a 100-year-old two-family house for six months while we gutted the house below us and turned it into a one family house. The end result doesn’t look like like a half a million dollar house. It’s too small for our family. There’s no land to speak of. We are still in shock after all these years every time we have to pay the mortgage and property taxes. This is by no stretch of the imagination our “dream home.”

And yet, it is. It took a year or so to realize how ideal Highland Park is for us as a BT family. We are grateful every day that we had the courage and the determination to move here. We understand now that the real estate agent was right — what we bought was a community, and a place to live while we raise our children in Torah.

Highland Park is a very unique community. There are about 1000 shomer shabbos Jews living within 2 square miles, and six Orthodox synagogues from which to choose. The first thing that really stands out is that all of the Rabbis get along and are mutually respected. There are shiirum all over town, and none of the all-to-common- “I will go to this shul but not that shul” mentality. Residents here often daven at one place, but typically will go to lectures and social events in any shul. My husband is able to learn Daf every night, when his work schedule allows. I go to two shiirum during the week, and often take advantage of frequent illustrious speakers who come in to town.

We did not know when we arrived here which shul we would join, and who would become our Rav. We say now that we thought we were moving to Highland Park for the Yeshiva, but Hashem knew all along that it was also for our Rav, Rav Drucker, the Rav of the Agudath Israel in Highland Park. We established a relationship with him early on, and have grown in reverence and affection for him over the years. Dayeinu, if the schools had turned out to be excellent for our children — and they did — it would have been enough — but finding a Rav for our family whom we hope to be close to for years — that is an amazing, cherished blessing.

The other exceptional thing about Highland Park is the sheer number of BTs here who are all over town. You’d never know it. Lots of us look the part of FFB, and it’s only after some conversation that we are surprised to find out that this family, too, has been on a similar journey. Highland Park is full of BTs who are fully committed to the Torah path, and are working hard to raise their children frum from birth. The other nice benefit of living here is the lack of judgment for being a BT. If anything, BTs are often appreciated and admired.

It has taken me a good long while to stop mourning the big house and beautiful landscaped neighborhoods, as well as the much more affordable monthly expenses of our former community. But the rewards of our decision to move are evident every Shabbos when my three beautiful children come to the Shabbos table with their dvrei torahs and most of all, their love for Shabbos and Hashem. My children love being frum Jews. My husband is learning in the evening. I am growing in Torah every day. We have an amazing Rav who cares for our family. We are contributing to the community with friendship and chesed, and receiving it as well. You can’t put a price on that! Maybe we don’t really own our house, the bank does, and my husband has to give up gardening for now. We’ve got a different garden to tend, and the soil of Highland Park has turned out to be very fertile for our BT family.

JIB Awards and Pirkei Avos

The JIB (Jewish and Israeli Blogger) Award nominations are open. The awards bring an awareness of some of the great Jewish blogs out there. If there are any particular posts you like, you can nominate them for the Best Jewish Religious Post and the Best Torah Post Nominations.

We’re not such big fans of the word Best. Best implies comparison and in general comparisons are not proper from a Torah perspective with some limited exceptions like Kinas Soferim. The job of each Jew is to take their unique heredity, environment and circumstances and get as close to Hashem as possible. Comparisons have no role there except for each of us becoming a better Jew today than we were tomorrow.

The structure of awards are such that comparisons are inherent. In this particular case striving for “Best” will hopefully bring about some good and Beyond BT contributor Akiva is one of the organizers of the Awards and the Awards provide a means for Jews to unite around a common project. So, we’re throwing our hat in the ring and when the time comes we’ll softly encourage you to NOMINATE AND VOTE FOR BEYOND BT, for the good of the Klal of course.

It’s week one for Pirkei Avos and you can download an English translation here (Translation by Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld from his commentary at For those who don’t like to download PDFs, here is Chapter One:

Chapter 1
1. “Moses received the Torah from Sinai and transmitted it Joshua. Joshua transmitted it to the Elders, the Elders to the Prophets, and the Prophets transmitted it to the Men of the Great Assembly. They [the Men of the Great Assembly] said three things: Be deliberate in judgment, raise many students, and make a protective fence for the Torah.”
2. “Shimon the Righteous was of the last survivors of the Men of the Great Assembly. He used to say, the world is based upon three things: on Torah, on service [of G-d], and on acts of kindness.”
3. “Antignos of Socho received the transmission from Shimon the Righteous. He used to say, do not be as servants who serve the Master to receive reward. Rather, be as servants who serve the Master not to receive reward. And let the fear of heaven be upon you.”
4. “Yossi ben (son of) Yo’ezer of Ts’raidah and Yossi ben Yochanan of Jerusalem received the transmission from them. Yossi ben Yo’ezer used to say, let your house be a meeting place for the sages, cleave to the dust of their feet, and drink thirstily their words.”
5. “Yossi the son of Yochanan of Jerusalem said: Let your house be open wide, and let the poor be members of your household, and do not talk excessively with women. This was said regarding one’s own wife, certainly with another’s wife. Based on this the Sages have said, one who talks excessively with women causes evil to himself, wastes time from Torah study, and will eventually inherit Gehinnom (Hell).”
6. “Yehoshua the son of Perachia and Nittai of Arbel received the transmission from them (the Rabbis mentioned in Mishna 4). Yehoshua the son of Perachia said, make for yourself a Rabbi, acquire for yourself a friend, and judge everyone favorably.”
7. “Nittai of Arbel said, distance yourself from a bad neighbor, do not befriend a wicked person, and do not despair of punishment.”
8. “Yehuda the son of Tabbai and Shimon the son of Shatach received the transmission from them (the scholars mentioned in Mishna 6). Yehuda the son of Tabbai said, do not act as an adviser to judges. When the litigants are standing before you they should be in your eyes as guilty. When they are dismissed from before you they should be in your eyes as innocent, provided they have accepted the judgment.”
9. “Shimon the son of Shatach said, examine witnesses thoroughly, and be careful with your words, lest through them they learn to lie.”
10. “Shemaya and Avtalyon received the tradition from them (the scholars mentioned in mishna 8). Shemaya said, love work, despise high position, and do not become too close to the authorities.”
11. “Avtalyon said: ‘Sages, be careful with your words lest you deserve to be exiled and are exiled to a place of bad waters. The students who come after you will drink of these waters and die and God’s Name will be desecrated.’ “
12. “Hillel and Shammai received the transmission from them (the scholars mentioned in Mishna 10). Hillel said, be of the students of Aharon, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving people and bringing them closer to Torah.”
13. “He (Hillel) used to say, one who seeks a name loses his name, one who does not increase decreases, one who does not learn deserves death, and one who makes use of the crown [of Torah] will pass away.”
14. “He (Hillel) used to say, if I am not for me who is for me, if I am for myself what am I, and if not now when.”
15. “Shammai said, make your Torah study fixed, say little and do much, and receive everyone with a cheerful countenance.”
16. “Rabban Gamliel said, make for yourself a Rabbi, remove yourself from doubt, and do not give extra tithes due to estimation.”
17. “Shimon his [Rabban Gamliel’s] son said, all my life I have been raised among the Sages, and I have not found anything better for oneself than silence. Study is not the main thing but action. All who talk excessively bring about sin.”
18. “Rabbi Shimon the son of Gamliel said, on three things does the world endure – justice, truth and peace, as the verse says (Zechariah 8:16), ‘Truth and judgments of peace judge in your gates.’ ”

Life Through Orange-Tinted Glasses

Before we moved to Israel, I’d barely heard about Gush Katif, knew anyone who lived there, or ever visited the place itself. We moved the day of the disengagement in 2005, when all that changed and Gush Katif hit the headlines.

I’ve moved around a lot as a young teenager and young adult, and I still remember from that time just how horrible transient, temporary living is. So when we were still camping out in our new house in Israel, surrounded by boxes, seeing the pictures of people being forcibly removed from their homes really touched a chord.

But it appeared we were in the minority. At that time, where we lived, there was very little sympathy for the people of the Gush. To this day, I don’t know why. Maybe people bought the line they were being spun about the communities in the Gush being an ‘obstacle to peace’. Maybe they believed it was a sacrifice worth making for the greater good. (always easy to say that, of course, when it’s not you doing the sacrificing). But we also detected quite a distressing undercurrent of the Gush evacuees somehow ‘deserving’ what they were getting.

Six months after the disengagement, I signed up for a ‘tour’ round the main communities, mostly to satisfy my own curiosity and also to see with my own eyes what had happened to these ‘messianic fanatics’ and ‘rabid settlers’.

I was shocked by what I saw. In March 2006, people were still living in hotel rooms or the guest wing of kibbutzes, with 4, 5 and 6 kids crammed into one room; some had moved into their ‘caravillas’ in Nitzan, and discovered that most of their belongings had melted or broken in the packing crates that had been sitting in the scorching desert sun in the Negev.

Other ‘camps’, like the self-named ‘Ir haEmuna’ were almost too shocking to describe. The living conditions were absolutely terrible; tiny, decrepit trailers with large families somehow managing to keep their dignity, community and faith alive, against all the odds. Meanwhile, the people of Elei Sinai had spent the cold, wet, Israeli winter living in tents by the side of a motorway.

I came back and tried to tell a few people about it. Most people weren’t interested – and some were so dismissive of the gush katif people’s plight that once again, I was enormously shocked and discomforted.

Why so dismissive of other people’s suffering? Why the cruelty? Why the attitude that almost nothing was too bad for the former settlers of Gush Katif. I couldn’t work it out. To be honest, I still can’t, particularly when most of the people expressing these sentiments pride themselves on being observant jews.

In the year that passed since, I have struck up a relationship with some of the families formerly from the Gush. I have gone to visit them on a regular, if not frequent, basis, and seen them struggle to once again, keep their dignity, community and faith alive, when most people would have been crushed by everything that has happened – or failed to happen – a long time ago.

We are fortunate enough to be quite close to Rabbi Lazer Brody (, so when Rabbi Brody went to talk at the Ein Tsurim community centre a few nights ago, accompanied by a group of musicians, we went along to cheer him on.

If you’ve listened to any of Rabbi Brody’s CDs, or visited his website, you’ll know that Rabbi Brody’s main thing is to always emphasise the positive, stay hopeful and do a lot of praying that Hashem will turn bad situations around for us.

As he himself says, it’s not always easy to get people to ‘hear’ that message when they live in gorgeous homes, have gorgeous families, and nice jobs.

But the crowd in Ein Tsurim were potentially a particularly tough sell, because this is a bunch of people who have lost everything; who have very little hope left – and who have already prayed their hearts out.

The clip here will give you an idea of what I’m on about:– it’s from just before the hitnakut, and it really made me cry.

Nevertheless, around 40 people turned out to hear Rabbi Brody speak. They were mostly the older crowd; the people who had successful businesses, but who are now officially classified as being ‘too old’ to find work – so the government isn’t counting them in the unemployment stats for Gush Katif, and they long since ceased being eligible for unemployment payments.

In my previous visits to ein tsurim, I hadn’t realised how many Sephardim there were there, but there was a real mix of people from Tunisia, Morocco, France – and of course, a few from the States and even one woman from the UK that made aliya 36 years ago.

On the wall, there was a picture by someone called something ‘Fhima’ that caught my eye, as that’s my maiden name. The lady next to me explained that this man had moved to Israel from marakech, morocco (so he probably is a relative…) and had lost his wife 4 years ago in the Gush, and is now raising his kids alone.

There are lots of stories like that; stories of quiet loss and dignity in suffering – and gratitude to Hashem despite it all. Really uplifting stories.

The Rav spoke from around 8.30 to about 11 – which is an amazingly long time to hold anyone’s attention, particularly on a week night – but he had a rapt audience.

Can you imagine telling people who don’t have anything to look forward to that it’s a ‘mitvah gedola’ to be happy always? Or that the crowd would respond positively to this message and really take it to heart?

It’s a testament to just how extraordinary the people of Gush Katif are that this is exactly what happened. They ‘heard’ the message that so many of us, with so much more to be grateful for, simply don’t, can’t or won’t.

These are not ‘rabid settlers’; they are not ‘messianic fanatics’, or any of the other names that the Israeli press in particular loves to sling at them.

I’ve spent a lot of time with them now, and they are amongst the best, most sincere jews I have ever met in my life. To go through so many challenges, to have so many other jews ignore their plight, mock them or actively hate them – and to still be able to get up and sing about loving the Jewish people and G-d, and clinging on to their emuna – that is something else.

We’re trying to raise £10k for the community in Ein Tsurim, to help them to pay for small things like a few communal activities, including purim parties, the Rav’s talk and other things that while they don’t sound very important, are actually the ‘glue’ that is continuing to stick that community together.

To date, with G-d’s help and the generosity of some very special people, we’ve managed to raise: £1,368.

I know everyone has a lot of expenses; I know there is a lot going on etc etc.

But it’s not really about the sums of money, it’s more about sending a message that other Jews care what happens to them. If you can help even by giving a tenner, the koach it would give to this community would be enormous.

If you can’t give money at the mo, then feel free to write a message of support in the comments section, and I’ll make sure to pass it on to them. Even better, if you are in Israel over Pesach go and visit them for yourselves, and see with your own eyes that they are kind, lovely people, and they deserve to be treated so much better than they are being.

I know from past experience that the expellees are not a popular subject with many people. But Gush Katif stopped being about politics a long time ago. Now it’s about people who are suffering, and whether we as Jews are going to sit on one side and ignore it, or actually make even a tiny effort to let them know that we are thinking about them and want to try to help.

To help Ein Tsurim:

In Israel, you can send a cheque directly to:
Keran Yochanan (the name of the charity)
C/O Anita Tucker
Ein Tzurim
D.N. Ein tzurim

In the US, you can make a donation to the Central Fund for Israel, and just mark it to go to Ein Tsurim.
Central Fund for Israel
980 Sixth Ave.
3rd. Floor
New York, N.Y. 10018
Please clearly mark the cheque as going to Ein Tsurim, as the fund services a lot of different charities

You Have Reached the Voice Mail of Shloimie Sprintzer

Hello, you have reached the voice mail of Shloimie Sprintzer. I am currently davening. Please choose from one of the following options.

To leave a message, press 1.

To leave a message for me to call you back during kriyas haTorah, press 2.

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To page me, so that I can ignore your call and allow the phone to ring, increasing in volume, and thereby disturb everyone else’s Shmoneh Esrei, press 4.

To page me, so that I can answer during Shmoneh Esrei and make inarticulate grunting noises, press 5.

If you have video — to page me, so that I can communicate through sign language or written notes during Shmoneh Esrei, press 6.

If you are davening yourself and wish to respond to Kaddish or Kedusha, press 7.

To choose from ring options that can be played during Hallel, press 8.

If you would like to hear a pre-recorded p’sak permitting tefillah b’tzibbur via cell phone from Rabbi Yisroel Meir Shmeril Tupenovsky (RIMSHOT), press 9.

To make a Kiddush HaShem, hang up, turn off your phone, and wait until you finish davening to worry about your calls.

Life Lessons from Our Jet Blue Flight

Rabbi Yitzchok Fingerer

My wife and I were recently invited to Los Angeles. We were very excited because this would be my first opportunity to present my new book on the West Coast. On February 14th, Valentines Day morning, we boarded a Jet Blue red-eye flight destined for Burbank, California.

Our flight, apparently, wasn’t meant to be. We ended up trapped on the tarmac at JFK airport for a total of fourteen hours. As the hours wore on, fear and anxiety grew, as problem after problem arose. Several hours into our ordeal, the air conditioning system failed. It was so suffocating that the pilot had to open the emergency doors in order to give us much needed oxygen. Throughout our torment, a wonderful distraction for many of the passengers was television. At one point, a power outage caused the television service to be temporarily suspended. Passengers sat, as virtual hostages, with absolutely nothing to do. Luckily, the television service was soon restored. As we approached the eighth hour, the pilot announced that we can no longer avail ourselves of the restrooms as the waste capacity was filled. A bit later we were told that the ubiquitous Jet Blue potato chips were finished and the famished passengers faced the new reality that they may starve. As hour ten drew near we were casually informed that there were no more beverages available. Visions of 150 passengers dying of dehydration permeated the airplane.

As the product of good Jewish mothers, my wife and I packed a lot of food. This came in handy as we were able to share some of our provisions with other, less fortunate passengers. But even our food supply soon diminished and things appeared rather bleak.

A neighboring plane experienced a diabetic medical emergency and was sent rescue vehicles. We were fortunate that our plane was allotted one of those rescue busses and after almost eleven grueling hours we were rescued (ironically we were almost immediately placed on a second flight, on which we sat an additional almost four hours, after which the flight was finally cancelled).

Something about this harrowing experience struck me and two weeks later still resonates with me. Despite the horrible ordeal, the passengers on board remained calm, disciplined, and respectful. Not one person, at least those within my earshot, uttered a single vulgarity. Remarkable! Why wasn’t there total pandemonium on the plane? Why didn’t people go berserk? Why wasn’t there a coup d’état? Even for the most noble and extraordinary of individuals this was exceptional behavior.

The answer is rather simple. Every passenger on board, including myself, had the expectation that we were going to get to Burbank. Our anticipation was that things would, ultimately, work out and we would, eventually, arrive at our destination. Our long-term dream of arriving in Burbank totally ameliorated our short-term discomfort.

Let us picture a different scenario: The pilot announces in the very beginning of the flight, “Ladies and gentlemen welcome abroad! I would like to inform you of the fact that you will be trapped on this wonderful plane for the next ten and a half hours and will suffer severe distress. You will then disembark from the plane and return to lovely New York. We hope you enjoy your Jet Blue experience.” How would the passengers have reacted? I guarantee that there would have been complete mayhem on the plane. Why? The scenario seems so similar. What changed?

People can tolerate and cope with imposition, challenge, and even suffering if they feel there is an ultimate, if they feel there is a destination. Despair and recklessness sets in when there is no expectation; when a situation is viewed as the be all and end all.

Life is a test. We are being tested to see how we respond to challenge, temptation, confrontation, etc. If we were just inert, lifeless beings like sticks and stones we would have no struggles or tests. Sticks and stones that will eventually decay and rot would not react well to suffering. If human beings are only a composite of flesh and bones, if our only future is to putrefy and decompose, then we wouldn’t be exposed to suffering.

We experience challenge because we are really souls that are here for a limited time on Earth to make strides for ourselves and humanity. Just like an astronaut is placed in a special space suit and sent to space for a limited time to collect data and make a contribution to space studies, so are we placed in a physical body and sent to Earth, for a limited life span, to accomplish great things. We are here in this world, not only to engage in perfecting the world, but also to become perfected. How do you perfect and refine things? Knives are forged through steel, ovens are reinforced by fire. We humans are fortified, strengthened, and perfected through challenge.

Sometimes we lose sight of who we really are. We think of ourselves in a lowly state and equate ourselves as just bodies. We become obsessed with the material things in life and forget about the things that really last. We get transfixed on the physical and forget the spiritual. Physical suffering is an unfortunate necessity to remind us who we really are.

This concept reminds me of the parable offered by the Chafetz Chaim of a sailor (not a pilot!) who became shipwrecked on an island. He was left naked and bare. The people of the island quickly robed him in splendid garments and took him to a palace. He was treated royally. Whatever he desired, he received. He amassed a fortune of jewels and money.

Finally, some three months later, he began to wonder why he was receiving such royal treatment. He decided to entrust his query to a royal advisor.

The advisor answered, “Really, you are the first person to be shipwrecked on our island who has asked this question. Everyone else figured, ‘Why make trouble and start asking questions? Enjoy and be merry!’ Officially, I am forbidden to divulge the answer to you. But we will keep it a secret. Every year we find somebody who was washed ashore from a shipwreck. He arrives, like you did, naked and empty-handed. We treat him royally for one year. As soon as twelve months are up, we take him back to the seashore, disrobe him, and send him back the way he arrived. All the wealth and jewels that he amassed stay behind. If I were you, I would take all the wealth that is being showered upon you and secretly send it away on different boats for storage when your year is up. This way, when you leave the island, you will leave laden with fortune.”

The lesson from this story is clear. When a person is born into this world, he arrives stark naked. Oddly, he is taken to a home and cuddled and loved, robed and fed. He is treated first-class. He is given every opportunity to amass fortunes. Does he ever stop to ask, “Why? Why am I getting such special treatment? What is the ultimate point to this all?” One day, maybe even abruptly, he is taken from this world and must leave everything behind. If you spend your life accumulating money and possessions, or indulging your body, then when the end comes there is nothing to show. If, on the other hand, we spend our lives caring and sharing, and searching for meaning, then we depart this world with great fortune.

Throughout life we are confronted by so many different tests. How do we react to these tests? Well, it all boils down to whether we are stick and stones or human passengers on the plane called life. When a stick or stone is tossed around it develops indelible marks and scrapes. The stick or stone can never learn or grow from its experience. Things will never change. When a human being confronts challenge or suffering he/she has the opportunity to learn and grow, becoming a more resilient and far greater passenger on this trip called life.

Rabbi Fingerer is a rav at Aish HaTorah on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and is president of The Think and Care Tank, a non-partisan public policy think tank dedicated to addressing the crisis of assimilation (