Parshas Bo — The Crossroads of Repentance

During the last days of prophetic vision, some 25 hundred years ago, the sages divided the Torah into parshios – portions, and decreed that successive parshios should be read publicly as part of the Sabbath morning prayer service, so that the Jewish people would hear the reading of the entire Torah from year to year. The divisions of these parshios followed either historical, philosophical, or narrative patterns, so that each was, to some extent, self-contained with a particular thematic focus.

It is curious, therefore, that the sages saw fit to place the first seven of the of the Plagues upon Egypt into last week’s parsha, while leaving the final three for this week’s Torah portion. The commentaries discuss at length the arrangement of the plagues into three sets of three, with the final Plague upon the Firstborn in a class by itself. Consequently, if it were necessary to divide the plagues at all, it would better have been placed the point of division after the sixth plague – which completed the second set of three – than after the seventh.

Nevertheless, a careful reading of the narrative reveals that the seventh plague does stand out from all the rest by virtue of Pharaoh’s unprecedented reaction. After each of the previous plagues, Pharaoh had either stubbornly refused to yield or else promised to send the Jews out, only to revoke his permission once the plague had abated. But after the plague of fiery hail, Pharaoh makes an astonishing admission: This time I have sinned; God is righteous, and I and my people are wicked.

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Read more Parshas Bo — The Crossroads of Repentance

Getting Back on Track to Torah Based Happiness

I’m trying to write a short essay explaining Torah Judaism to interest people to learn more about Judaism. In the latest draft, I’ve written the following opening paragraph:

Many people realize that true happiness requires that a person lead a meaningful life of self-actualization and giving to people, community and the greater good. Torah Judaism provides the means and framework whereas a person can infuse every second of their life with meaning and happiness.

Although I believe the above paragraph is true, few people I know are living such a life. Most of us are so distracted by day to day events, that we’re fortunate if we can infuse a few mitzvos each day with the above-mentioned meaning. Yes we appreciate Shabbos and the fact that our children are being raised with a solid moral compass, but where is the encompassing meaning-based happiness that we perhaps felt when we started out.

I’ve been recently learning the dialog version of the Mesillas Yesharim and perhaps it holds the key. One deterrent to a Torah based life of meaning is complacency. Many of us worked hard to integrate successfully into the Torah community and after achieving that goal we feel that we made it and that we can take pleasure in our accomplishment. But the Mesillas Yesharim tells us that we can never be complacent in our Judaism, we need to constantly focus on become a better Jew today than we were yesterday. We need to focus on the next step we need to take to become that better Jew and not fall into the trap of being complacent with our achievements to date.

A second deterrent is lack of focus. In the dialog version, the Mesillas Yesharim makes it very clear that knowing all the halachos is necessary but insufficient for our Divine service. Every mitzvah act needs to be accompanied by a focus on why we’re doing the mitzvah and then performing it with love, fear and emulation of Hashem. Without this focus we are performing the mitzvos at the lowest possible.

Here is the basic focus we should have before performing a mitzvah:

1) Hashem the creator of the universe has commanded me to perform this mitzvah
2) I am accepting upon myself to perform it because I have been commanded by Hashem
3) Through the performance of the act, I am fulfilling Hashem’s commandment

Here is the basic focus we should have before davening Shomoneh Esrai:

1) I am standing in the presence of the Creator
2) Hashem is elevated and raised above all blessing and praise and above all forms of perfection that the mind can envisage and comprehend.
3) Due to our inherent earthiness and the sins we’ve committed, man is of a lower and inferior quality

It takes a lifetime to reach the highest levels but with a little focus in our daily mitzvah acts we can find happiness in our meaningful quest to perfect ourselves and our world. When it is evident that we are tapping into this meaning-based happiness, perhaps it will be easier to interest our fellow Jews in investigating Torah.

What Obstacles Did You Overcome?

Many people have overcome a number of obstacles to take the steps necessary to learn more about Judaism.

Here are some obstacles:

1) Was afraid that I would have to give up too many pleasurable activities.
2) Judaism seemed old fashioned and unsophisticated.
3) Thought it would be hypocritical to do somethings without doing everything.
4) Felt uncomfortable and judged by Torah Observant people.
5) Was afraid of what my friends and relatives would say.

Which of these did you need to overcome?
What obstacles are missing from the list?
What are the challenges facing the people you know?

Fear Within, Fear Without: Why the Movement Could have Changed the World and Why it Didn’t

Rabbi Francis Nataf, Executive Director of David Cardozo Academy

Synopsis.
Many BTs in the 70s and 80s felt that the ba’al teshuva movement was going to change the world by providing the bridge to bring back the lion’s share of world Jewry to a vibrant Orthodoxy. Unfortunately many of the framers of the ba’al teshuva movement were not interested in hearing some sort of new synthesis of the ba’al teshuva. Even if the BT continued his Torah studies to a higher level, one of the keys to his success in the system was to stop being a ba’al teshuva.

The BT movement, even more than the rest of Orthodoxy, values conformity and subordination. Letting the movement attempt to reach it’s potential involves risks and Orthodoxy is not prepared to take these risks. Judaism is in need of serious creativity and the author invites ba’alei teshuva as well as non-BT’s to seek to realize their true G-d given creative potential, not only for your own good, but for the good of the Jewish people and ultimately for mankind as a whole.

Given the recent events in India, I think it would be inappropriate to discuss the BT movement without mentioning the critical and pioneering contribution of the Lubaviticher Rebbe z”l and his shlichim. (Of course, when I say z’l, don’t mean to make a political statement)Though many people in the movement are unaware of it, or would prefer to be unaware of it, the idea to bring mass numbers of non-Orthodox Jews back to Orthodoxy has its origins in Crown Heights. Perhaps that is the main reason that last year when we asked our students to choose who they would describe as the greatest Jew of the previous century, to my surprise, they overwhelmingly choose the Lubavitcher rebbe. This, even though we had not a single Lubavitcher and we had many who were heavily impacted by the teachings of Rabbi Soloveitchik and others who might well have been alternative choices.

But well beyond providing the impetus for the movement’s origins, it is the Rebbe’s vision that assured the viability of much of Ba’al Teshuva life by sending out his shlichim to all the places that Ba’alei Teshuva would find themselves. I can only give you an example from my own journey to Orthodoxy. Intellectually, I was never really attracted to Chabad (I don’t know how many times I learned the first page of Tanya and still can’t tell you what it’s about) and so started my own path at a non-chassidic yeshiva in Israel. Still, when I came back to my college in Portland, Oregon, Chabad shlichim were the only ones around to nurture my continued interest in Judaism. Nor was there anyone else near my home in Santa Monica, California. These shlichim and their families, black suits, chalav Yisrael and all, bore the discomfort of moving to the most challenging places imaginable to sustain our connection to Jewish tradition. I found them in Portland and in Santa Monica, and on my travels to Berkley and Florence and, had I joined many others with such an interest, also in Mumbai. Had they not been there, I can’t be sure that I would be in front of you now.

All Jews owe a debt of gratitude to Chabad but we ba’alei teshuva owe more than anyone else.
Read more Fear Within, Fear Without: Why the Movement Could have Changed the World and Why it Didn’t

Compulsive Greatness

One of the great enigmas in the story of the Exodus is Pharoh’s behavior. Each time a plague hits, Pharoh promises to release the Jews. Each time a plague ends and the threat is no longer imminent, Pharoh reverts to his position that the Jews must remain as slaves.

Pharoh was warned by his own people that his behavior was destroying the country. “How long will you allow this trap to continue?” they ask him. “It is in our best interest to let the Jews go.” Yet Pharoh can’t seem to release the Jews.

It seems like Pharoh is displaying addictive or compulsive behavior which is almost out of his control.

To understand Pharoh’s behavior let us revisit the story of how G-d created mankind. The verse states that G-d said, “Let us make man.” To whom was G-d talking when He said “Let us”? One explanation is that G-d was talking to the man that He was about to fashion. G-d said, “Let us, you and I, make man.” I will give you the raw materials, and even some predispositions. But it will be up to you to develop yourself and achieve your potential greatness.

Read more Compulsive Greatness

Moving from “Miracles” to “Hashgacha Pratis” – Reflections on the Lessons of Operation Cast Lead

Moving from “Miracles” to “Hashgacha Pratis”
Reflections on the Lessons of Operation Cast Lead

by Rabbi Daniel Yaakov Travis
(based on a shiur heard from HaGaon Rav Moshe Sternbuch shlita, Ravad of Yerushalayim, leil Shabbos Parshas Shemos in Beis Keneses HaGra, Har Nof.)

Victors in Battle
The War in Gaza appears to be drawing to a close. The enemy has sustained a serious blow to its infrastructure, but their leadership and ultimate goal of destroying the Jewish People remain intact. Although the Israeli military forces can hardly claim victory, a major battle has definitely been fought and won; and that is, the knowledge that Hashem alone runs the world.

“Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we will make mention of the name of Hashem” (Tehillim 20,8). The enemy has fired enough deadly missiles to, chas vashalom, wipe out large numbers the Jews living in Eretz Yisrael, Hashem’s Name was sanctified among the many faithful Jews who have turned to him in their hour of need, and He answered us with open miracles, a sign of clear victory in the battle before the coming of moshiach.

The Sifrei Musar tell the story of a band of soldiers on their way home from a glorious battle who meet an elderly rav. Instead of congratulating them on their victory, the rabbi surprises them with his remark: “While you have won a minor war, the major one still lies ahead. Combat with flesh-and-blood soldiers is easy compared to the war with the yatzer hara which rages constantly throughout a person’s life.”

Whatever the outcome of the Gaza conflict, each of us will find that our own personal war with the yatzer hara will rage on. The front-line in this war is our emunah, which he is actively trying to undermine. The newspapers have reported so many miracles over the past few weeks that they have almost become mundane. How can we ensure that the true message of this war will be make a lasting impression on our hearts?

The answer is that we must stop using the word “miracle” and start referring to “hashgacha pratis” (personal Divine Supervision). A miracle is a remote concept that does not obligate us to make real changes in our lives. The recognition of hashgacha pratis, however, is one of the fundamental principles of the Jewish faith, and entails an obligation to seriously reconsider our outlook on life.

“I believe with complete faith that the Creator, Blessed is His name, creates and guides all creatures, and that He alone made, makes and will make everything” (1st of the 13 Ikrim). Seemingly, every mitzvah of the Torah can be considered ikrim, fundamental. What is so special about these thirteen?

Rav Chaim Brisker explains that a person who does not believe in hasgacha pratis or any of the other ikrim has crossed a red line and is no longer considered part of Klal Yisrael. Similarly, the Ramban writes at the end of Parshas Bo, “Anyone who does not believe that there is no such thing as ‘nature’ and doesn’t realize that everything is hashgacha pratis and Divinely guided, does not have a portion in Toras Moshe.” hashgacha Pratis is the foundation of our relationship with Hashem and His Torah.

A Knock on the Door
“My Beloved is knocking saying, ‘Open to Me, my sister, my love'”… (Shir HaShirim 5,2). Over 1,000 missiles have been fired at us from Gaza. Hashem intended every one of them as a wake-up call to us, to arouse us from our slumber to an active awareness of His Providence. They were His way of ‘knocking on the door’ and letting us know that the end of days is approaching.

Even though this war took place in Eretz Yisrael, Hashem wants this message to be heard around the world. In recent months, He has toppled global financial markets and massive amounts of wealth have disappeared without a trace. Economists are baffled but the meaning is clear to all believing Jews – Hashem is knocking on our doors and begging us to stop relying on other sources of power. He alone should be our source of security.

“Hashem is lifted up above all of the nations, His glory is in the Heavens” (Tehillim 113,4). Dovid Hamelech reveals to us the fundamental difference between Hashem’s relationship with the Jewish people and with the other nations of the world. While non-Jews view Hashem as too exalted to get involved with their personal lives, Jews proclaim, “Who is like Hashem Elokeinu, who is enthroned on high yet looks down to behold the mundane matters in the physical world (ibid. 113,5).”

Although Hashem is the unchallenged ruler and creator of the whole universe, this does not stop Him from getting involved with every single detail of a Jew’s life, no matter how trivial or unpleasant. “He raises up the poor from the dust heaps, and the destitute from the lowest grime” (ibid. 113,6). He rules the entire universe – yet the true mark of His greatness is His humility. It’s his care for every detail of every Jew’s life that characterizes him as a loving Father.

When a Jew davens, he should feel Hashem is with him. He has to know that every single word of his prayers is heard, and that every thought that is passes through his mind is noted. This is all part of Ikrei Emunah, and hashgacha pratis is first of the 13 Ikrim.

Chazal tell us that if we do not recognize Hashem’s Prescience in our lives He will send upon us a “cruel king like Haman.” We have the capability to save ourselves from a terrible fate. We must replace take the word “miracle” out of our vocabulary and replace it with hashgacha pratis.

Although the obligation to see Hashem in our lives is borne by every Jew, it is especially crucial for Roshei Yeshivos, Rabbanim and Mechanchim of both boys and girls, to relay this message to their students. If the Zohar tells us that when people discuss hashgacha pratis, Hashem gathers all of the melachim to hear, it is certainly a good use of our time to speak about it as much as possible. In doing so, we will make Hashem a very real part of our daily lives, and awaken an awareness of His hashgacha pratis in our hearts.

Hastening Redemption
Sefer Daniel describes the bitter tribulations that Klal Yisrael will suffer during the times of moshiach. Yet in Sefer Yeshiyah (60,22) the pasuk says “I, Hashem, will hasten it in it’s time.” The Chasam Sofer explains that if we merit Geula, Hashem will hasten it, If not, we will have to wait for the time and the circumstances that accompany this day.

“Unless You have utterly rejected us, and are extremely angry with us, Turn to us Hashem and we shall return, renew our days as of old” (Eichah 4:22 – 23). The Yeshuas Yaakov offers a beautiful explanation of these verses.

When someone is disgusted with his friend, he cuts off all ties with them and has nothing to do with them. On the other hand, if he instead expresses his anger and disappointment to his friend, this is a sign that he still hopes to continue the relationship in the future. If we see that Hashem “is extremely angry with us” and as a result has punished us, it is a sign that He still loves us and wants us “to return to Him as in the days of old ” when we were free of transgression.

We can best understand the situation of the Jewish people today through its parallel to a famous story of a tzadik who davened and toiled all his days for the redemption of the Jewish people. He vowed that when his soul left the world that he would shake the heavens until moshiach would finally come and finally put an end to the suffering of Klal Yisrael. Yet after his death, moshiach still did not come.

The tzadik was granted permission to come back to this world and appear to his friend in a dream. He explained that we live in such times of darkness, every mitzvah that we does has incalculable merit, and is extremely precious in Hashem’s eyes. From his new vantage point in Shamayim, he understood that the suffering of his fellow Jews was cherished by Hashem because it did not shake their commitment to serving Him.

We must hold on just a bit longer, and keep performing Hashem’s mitzvos faithfully, while strengthening our recognition of His hashgacha pratis. In this way, we will surely merit to hasten the arrival of the moshiach, amen.

Rabbi Travis is a Rosh Kollel in Yerushalayim and is the author of Shaylos U’Teshuvos Toras Chaim and “Praying With Joy – A Daily Tefilla Companion” a practical daily guide to improving one’s prayers, available from Feldheim Publishers.

The Torah Road to Happiness

I recently read the following on the site of Dr Martin E. P. Seligman one of the leaders of the Positive Psychology movement.

So the core thesis in Authentic Happiness is that there are three very different routes to happiness. First the Pleasant Life, consisting in having as many pleasures as possible and having the skills to amplify the pleasures. This is, of course, the only true kind of happiness on the Hollywood view. Second, the Good Life, which consists in knowing what your signature strengths are, and then recrafting your work, love, friendship, leisure and parenting to use those strengths to have more flow in life. Third, the Meaningful Life, which consists of using your signature strengths in the service of something that you believe is larger than you are.

Does this seem consistent with Torah views of happiness?

Can we use these findings to introduce our coreligionists to Torah or is the quest for the Pleasant Life so ingrained, that the Good Life and Meaningful life don’t appeal to most people?

The Crash of the Heavens – the Miracle of Flight 1549

The Crash of the Heavens.
The Power, Mercy and Wisdom of the Almighty Creator and the Miracle of Flight 1549.

by Dovid Zechariah Schwartz
Dovid Schwartz is writing now at the Zeh Journal

The miracle of Flight 1549, the US Airways jet that had both engines knocked out by birds and safely landed on the Hudson River, saved not only the lives of all 150 passengers and 5 crew members aboard. In a spectacular suspension of the laws of probability and nature, the jet avoided one of our deepest fears: it did not collide with any of the hundreds upon hundreds of densely-populated buildings surrounding Manhattan Island, greater New York City and eastern New Jersey.

But more than that, in a very real sense, it drove home a stunning portrait of the power and mercy of the Almighty Creator.

Governor David Paterson rightly declared the event a miracle. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg credited the “masterful” control of the aircraft displayed by the pilot. These two statements aren’t contradictory.

Mr. Sullenberger, a pilot who has flown for almost three decades for United Airlines, and a retired military fighter pilot, deserves great praise for his heroism. He demonstrated consummate skill in guiding the troubled plane to safety. But the skill of the pilot alone does not fully account for this salvation.

The Almighty G-d acts to imbue human beings with added awareness, control and coolness of mind. These traits are something that a trained fighter pilot like Mr. Chesley Sullenberger III had the ability to access, in general, but they are by no means generated by the intrinsic nature of the pilot himself. The Almighty Creator acts through human beings by giving added awareness to those who are worthy of helping Him carry out His great designs.

There is the skill that allowed Mr. Sullenberger to safely land the plane. But behind that, there was the will of the Almighty Creator Who allowed Mr. Sullenberger to use his full gifts of skill and control. And even more stunning, it was the will of the Almighty that the whole situation should have unfolded in such a shocking manner. Many people were left scratching their heads, saying, “Two birds can take out a plane’s engine?” The calamity, the disaster, and the threat all show the Almighty’s power.

We might understand the involvement of the Divine influence through human beings in the following manner. Human consciousness itself is bounded, and the ability to perceive danger and respond appropriately takes an enormous influx of awareness that, sadly, is not granted to many people on a constant basis. The ability to perceive danger, and to respond appropriately, is often generated by the desire and initiative of each human being himself. One who seeks to deepen his understanding of the world is rewarded by the Almighty Creator with greater insight and understanding. Those who do not stir themselves to seek understanding are often left the passive victims of the the winds of fate and chance.

With that said, we’d like to take a moment to reflect on two important lessons of faith that we can take from the miracle of Flight 1549. The first is the supreme power, and the second is the loving mercy of the Almighty Creator.

First, we see G-d’s power, from the way He was able to take out the plane in such an extraordinary fashion. Many people first suspected terrorism was involved in the downing of the airliner. It seemed laughable that such a sleek, powerful tool of technology can be rendered completely useless by a flock of geese. But whatever He wants to do, the Almighty G-d makes it happen. G-d has many messengers, and He may bring an event through the hands of terrorists, or through the flight of a couple of Canadian geese if He chooses.

Second, we can see from this miracle the mercy of the Creator, that G-d cares about human beings. Human life is valuable in His eyes, and He can sometimes perform miracles to interrupt the order of nature to protect and save human beings.

This salvation is also a rebuke to pagans who hold that the world is merely a collection of intermingling, independent forces. Pagans (and their modern-day offspring, atheists and secularists) view human beings as the pinnacle of all creation and pretend that man is free to engage at his leisure in taking up whatever powers that suit his fancy. Alternatively, other dogmas hold that the world is a fixed, monolithic block of powers where even the Almighty Gd Himself is powerless to intervene, G-d forbid, to save human beings.

The ability of the Almighty Creator to suspend the laws of probability and the raging forces of nature demonstrates His supreme power over all other forces.

Not only the power of the Almighty Creator was displayed when He interrupted the natural order to save Flight 1549. Also, the love of the Almighty Creator for human beings was displayed by His great mercy in saving every passenger, down to an infant in its mothers arms.

The fact that the Almighty Creator cared enough about human beings to save each and every passenger and crew member from death, against the natural order of the world, deals a sharp rebuke to ruthless religious extremists who give little value to human life as they try to advance their ideological and political goals. The vicious pretense of “suicide bombings” and calls for martyrdom in the name of radical religion shows how little these extremists value human life. People who claim that they are acting on behalf of G-d when they intentionally murder and hide themselves behind unarmed civilians are liars and frauds of the most sinister type.

It may be no coincidence that the day this miracle fell on was also the day it was announced that one of the dark masters of violence and bloodshed, one of the top commanders of the Hamas terrorist organization, Said Siam, his name should rot, was wiped off the earth by soldiers for the State of Israel in Gaza. This man championed a philosophy of brute force, bloodshed and uncompromising resistance at any cost. Callous disrespect for human life was evident by his planned attacks, and his cowardly hiding behind, unarmed civilians.

Because the world is interconnected, and all under the guidance and direction of the One G-d, in this writer’s opinion, a military victory that advances the cause of safety, accountability, justice and stability for civilization can have massive ripple effects in strengthening the Divine human spirit in every person, throughout the world. These miracles increase the sum total of salvations in the world, and we hope it may bring us a little closer to behold the ultimate in salvations, when the whole earth is united in cooperation and mutual self-interest guided by a recognition of the power and mercy of Almighty Creator and an acceptance of His wisdom in the authority of His laws.

Sadly enough, the inspiration of miracles dissipates quickly. Every person who was moved by this stirring event should turn this inspiration into action. Now is the time to take out a book, do an internet search, or talk to a reliable authority about deeping our own relationship with the Almighty Creator. The Almighty G-d has entrusted the laws that bind all mankind, called the Seven Laws of Noah, for safekeeping to the faithful Jewish people (also known as “Orthodox” Jews. These laws for all the nations are a separate set of laws from the 613 that bind the Jewish people themselves.

Throughout their history, the Jewish people have focused mainly on learning and elucidating the laws appliable to them alone. But every human being has a share in joining in a robust investigation and dialogue about the ways in which the Almighty Creator expects all people to conduct ourselves, in the laws that form the universal standard for all mankind. Why let this miracle fly by, when we can use the opportunity to reach back up to G-d and invite Him to come into our own lives as well?

Are You Feeling It?

Imagine you bought a new car and after six months it starts to get very sluggish. You take it to the mechanic and he recommends a good wash and wax. “What? Are you crazy? There’s an internal problem,” you say. “Okay,” he says, “how about putting on some of those fancy rims?”

Believe it or not, this is what we do with something even more precious than a new car. When people are feeling negative, sad, or unresourceful, they often opt for an easy superficial solution that is more of a distraction than a cure. Go to a movie, have a drink, eat some ice cream. Sleep. These bandaids don’t address the core issue. The reason why we opt for them is because we really aren’t used to delving into our insides. If you are able to get in touch with what’s on the inside, it’s a very useful thing to do.

One of the elusive things in life is surprisingly very close to your beating heart. It’s called intuition and for most people it has a life of its own. Do you want to have more of a handle on it?

Actually, your mind and heart are in cahoots to form an inner sense called intuition. This elusive part of us can be a powerful tool, if we understand it. Since you’re more familiar with your mind, let’s start with that. The sixth chapter and sixth mishna of Pirke Avot lists “binat halev” as a tool for Torah, and some girsot have “sichlut halev”.

Mental Intuition

In Hebrew the word Binah sometimes refers to intuition, and is one of the main spiritual connections to the Almighty, as explained in Kabbalah. Binah can mean knowledge that comes to a person without an intellectual process. A flash of insight or an uncomfortable feeling about a person or situation can come to us for a variety of reasons. But usually we think of this as intuition.

Technically, binah is a word that grammatically implies making connections between two different things. (Similarly the word “bein” means – between.) Sometimes it refers to the type of analysis that takes an idea and compares and contrasts it to everything else we know to be true. We can do this naturally, or we can do this intentionally. If I say “I’m not really 47 but I’m actually 35,” you will automatically, not necessarily intentionally, start matching that statement with internal knowledge in a split second. Does he look 47 or 35? Why would he have said he was 47 if he isn’t? Does he have an expression on his face that shows he’s joking?

On the other hand, a process of comparing a statement with everything else you know to be true can also be done intentionally. The Torah states God said to love your fellow man. Here are some analytical questions: Can I choose to love? What if my fellow man is a moron and a jerk that leaves his garbage cans in front of my driveway every week? Why isn’t it enough for me to merely like my fellow man? Can I just love my fellow man in my heart or is God asking me to try to stop famine and war in the world also?

You can develop, with practice, an analytical intellect that naturally breaks information down, clarifies, defines, and then compares and contrasts. The Gemara trains people to do this, and learning this process is a large portion or any “traditional” scholar’s training.

Premonition

Have you ever had a premonition? Have you ever felt like something was going to happen before it did? The heart knows when something is about to happen. The Gemara calls refers to this as the person doesn’t know but his/her mazal knows. We all have intuitive feelings all the time, but we ignore them because they are distractions. We have no idea, usually, what information these feelings carry. Is it heartburn? A headache? Or an inkling that something is about to happen. Job, the quintessential sufferer of the Bible, had three friends that sensed something was wrong and all showed up at his door on the same day. Their friendship was so strong that they were able to get in touch with their intuition. Many people have had an experience similar to this. They say “I don’t know why, I just felt I had to call my mother or my brother, etc.” and the phone call was needed at that moment.

There is a spiritual world all around us that is complex. There are thousands of spiritual beings on your left and on your right. And there’s a good reason why we are unaware of the spiritual world. It’s too much for us to handle. But many generations held onto sensitivity to spirituality and didn’t leave it completely. For the past one hundred years people have gone away from the unseen and the mystical. They wanted facts and science, not religion and superstition. But they threw the baby out with the bathwater.

The truth is that you are not required to get in touch with your intuition. But if you do, it can be an extremely powerful tool.

Intuition

Graphology is the study of handwriting and is used by psychologists, criminologists, (some yeshivos), and job application analysts. A good graphologist can tell you many things about your personality. They can describe your relationship with your parents; they can assess your general level of honesty, tell if you’re happy or depressed. But it takes time to learn this skill, and you have to have an intuitive ability also. They studied children’s ability to assess handwriting based purely on intuition. It turns out the children were extremely accurate until they reached puberty. After that, as pre-teens they began to rely more on intellect or visual factors and less on their intuition. Children are naturally intuitive. If you want to relearn your intuition, you need to get in touch with your “inner child.” You have to choose a time and a place to feel childlike. Not immature, but more like going with the flow, having unstructured fun. Sometimes spending time with a child and letting the child dictate the flow of activities and conversation can help. Sometimes being around other people who are intuitive like artists and musicians can help too. When was the last time you sat on the floor with a child and played?

The Gemara mentions that women have extra Binah, and many people understand this to mean something similar to what people refer to as “women’s intuition”. (How this relates to “daatan kalos” is an interesting discussion but beyond the scope of this article.)

Feelings

People tend to think of “feelings” as emotions like anger or jealousy, but there are various feelings that aren’t emotions. You can feel tired, hungry or thirsty. You can feel “funny”. You can feel out of sorts, awkward, uncomfortable, upbeat, or “on your game”. You can feel like something isn’t quite right. Feelings can be synonymous with intuition. Feelings come and go all day long. An exercise you can do to get control of the power inside you is to write down on a piece of paper numbers one to ten. Carry the paper with you and every once in a while write down exactly how you are feeling. It may not be easy, but with effort you can articulate what you are feeling. This act puts your internal barometer more in the palm of your hand.

Inside

Kabbalists describe the internal workings of the human being. We all recognize that we are not our body. The physical masks the spiritual. Our body is our “mortal coil” that we are enclothed with while in this physical world. Some of us are also aware that we are not our thoughts and feelings. If you can say, “I can’t control my thoughts.” then you are not your thoughts. If you can say, “I can’t stop feeling this way.” then you are not your feelings.

But the act of getting in touch with your thoughts, feelings, and intuition gets you one giant step closer to understanding your true self. Some people say “ignorance is bliss”, but I believe true happiness comes from understanding yourself, God, and spirituality. The tool described here, of getting in touch with your inner self, is a powerful means to greater happiness.

With Kabbalah entering pop culture in a way that makes us frum people uncomfortable, the stance towards Kabbalah in the yeshiva world has become even more closed than before. But its possible that the secular world is grabbing onto something that the frum world is leaving behind. One of the gedolim said that since the frum world didn’t grab the mitzvah of settling Eretz Yisroel, the secularists were able to be zocheh to that mitzvah. I wonder if the same thing is happening with Kabbalah? This is just my personal conjecture. I throw it out as a question to you.

Be that as it may, Binas halev remains a powerful tool unused by many. Teshuva is enhanced by introspection and this requires an accurate assessment of the inner you. We need to not only look at the mitzvah scorecard, but search inside for what inner challenges the Almighty is testing us with. That’s where the real work begins, and that’s where the greatest possible gain may be.

In loving memory of Joan Lipsitz Fried. And in the zechus of a refuah shelaimah to Yisroel Noach ben Hinda and Yisroel Moshe ben Golda Basya, and Yehuda Leib ben Chava Rochel

A Palm Beach Thanksgiving: Fear and Self-Loathing in South Florida

By Adam Hilliard

My family is very un-frum. I am, while very un-frum by the standards of most of the readers of these boards, what my family calls a religious maniac because I keep a kosher kitchen, daven, and manage to light Shabbat candles on occasion.

My brother Aaron and his gentile wife live in Florida and have just had their second daughter in 12 ½ months. Our mother wished to fly down to visit and asked me to accompany her. Hmmm, a weekend in late November spent in Cleveland versus one spent in Palm Beach… OK, I guess I’ll go, Mom.

Friday morning we went to a restaurant for breakfast and I got a good lesson in why the Midwest believes South Florida is peopled entirely with retired transplanted New York Jews: Because it is.

Waiting for a table in a crowded foyer, I found myself surrounded by impatient, heavily jeweled, gaudily attired older whiners, all complaining about the wait or the service or the bill…

“We had to wait over ten minutes for the check. I mean, we’re in here every week.”

“The toast was cold. We should have something taken off the bill.”

One old man was attired in hip-hop style saggy blue jeans and a matching shirt. He and his mummified wife appeared to be breakfasting with their daughter and her husband. “What kind of muffin do you want, Steve?” Pop asked his goyish son-in-law.

“He doesn’t eat muffins,” snapped Steve’s wife with a biting tone that made me feel sorry for his miserable home life. Poor Steve probably hasn’t gotten to answer such a question himself in years.

One heavily gilded older lady with a stiff helmet of blue hair referred my shiksa-in-law to shop at a discount store for baby clothes, where, “they’re in the back, only twelve ninety-nine.” (Like the princess would be caught dead in T. J. Maxx.)

As I took it all in I was feeling superior and then guilty for feeling superior. These were my people, even if they were very over-adorned, tackily dressed, embarrassingly demanding, sending the bacon back because it wasn’t crispy enough (no lie). And after all, I was eating here in a very non-kosher breakfast joint, and I had no intention of observing Shabbat that evening.

Driving to dinner that Friday evening, yes, driving, after dark, we passed a group of black-hatted men leaving services at Etz Chaim; passed them while they waited for the traffic light to change of its own accord so they could cross the wide, busy street and walk home for a Shabbos repast.

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Mom tried to be cute and asked if I had some secret hi-sign I was supposed to flash them. I explained that if there was such a thing, they wouldn’t approve of me speeding past in an automobile. A little less superiority then. And a little more guilt.

And then the story out of Mumbai.

The Chabad House, the only Jewish center in a city of 12 million people, was targeted by Islamofascist murderers, and the news media were befuddled at the ‘coincidence’. These monsters were described as “nationalists who were sending a message that they didn’t want foreigners in their country.” Then they were called “militants”, then “teenage gunmen”. Thus this absurd opening line in an Australian report: “An Adelaide woman in India for her wedding is lucky to be alive after teenage gunmen ran amok…” As Mark Steyn mocked, “Kids today, eh? Always running amok in an aimless fashion.”

The New York Times complied with the cover-up: “It is not known if the Jewish center was strategically chosen, or if it was an accidental hostage scene.” Yes, I said The New York Times.

And then the pictures of the Holtzbergs and news of their murdered unborn baby and of their orphaned son. A lot less superiority then, did I feel, and a lot of shame.

And still the news tells us how little is known about these mysterious terrorists and their incomprehensible reasons for killing innocents.

There’s a lot we don’t know about ourselves too, and events like these can help us to learn more, sometimes more than we care to, about ourselves.

As I reflected on my Thanksgiving weekend, a theme of contrasts, of extremes kept recurring to me, and I reminded myself of what I like to answer to people who ask me why do I bother to observe some mitzvot, or why don’t I yet observe more. And I say that I’ve learned that Judaism is on a scale, a range with two ends. Wherever you find yourself on the scale of Jewish observance, you’re bound to find people on both sides of you telling you you’re doing it wrong.

Every once in a while I take notice of where I stand on that scale, and I notice that I have progressed slightly towards a more observant life. To keep moving in the right direction is all we can ask of anybody.

How Would You Succinctly Describe Torah Judaism?

We live in a world of short attention spans. To that end I am trying to write a description of Torah Based Judaism in 300-500 words. The goal of the short essay is to interest the reader into exploring more about Judaism.

What would be your lead sentence of such an essay?

What points would you cover?

If your interested in writing such an essay, please email it to us at Beyond BT and we will consider it for posting.

Seizing the Moment in Time of Crisis

Rabbi Yakov Haber

I would like to share two “war stories”.

The first concerns a Yeshiva catering to Anglo students studying for their “year in Israel”. There’s an organization called “Grandma’s Packages” (www.apackagefromhome.org) which sends care packages to Chayalim in Tzahal. Apparently they ran out of funding and couldn’t send any more. The Yeshiva found out about this and asked how much it would cost to send a thousand packages to which the organization replied, “$16,000″. The menaheil of the Yeshiva addressed the students pleading with them to call their parents and raise the necessary funding. Within days, they had the $16,000. Two non-observant soldiers came to the Yeshiva to express gratitude on behalf of the recipients of the students’ families’ generosity. They put on Kippot for Mincha, davened with the boys and then addressed them after Mincha. They said, “what we have seen so far in Azza are ‘nissim v’nifla’ot’! By mistake, the army supply center where the soldiers were equipping themselves was next to an open room where they were preparing hundreds of body bags. Information received was that the Israeli army was anticipating 150 casuaties a day. Although each life lost is an olam malei, the relatively few casualties so far can be described as nothing short of obvious Divine protection. You here in the Yeshiva are our partners in battle. Your Tehillim , your Torah protects us!” The Yeshiva boys then sang and danced with the soldiers who were moved to tears.

The second story concerns an American Oleh of some time ago who is a regular Rav Tz’va’i, an Israeli army Rabbi. As the soldiers got the call for the ground incursion on last Shabbos, the Rav, together with his colleagues debated the halachic permissibility of their riding with them to the embarkation point to provide moral support. They compared this case to a husband traveling with his wife in labor to the hospital which is permitted according to many for similar reasons. They went and took a Seifer Torah with them for Mincha (presumably also for morale boosting purposes). When they arrived, the Rav, after exiting the bus, requested of a soldier to pass him the Seifer Torah from the bus to minimize the prohibition of carrying. After waiting a while with the Torah not coming, the Rav re-entered the bus to find each soldier hugging and kissing the Seifer Torah not wishing to part with it. Finally when they left the bus, one Rav was wrapped in a Tallis, the other held the Seifer Torah, looking like Kohanei M’shuchei Milchama perhaps. The soldiers one by one approached the Rabbanim asking for b’rachot. (Mostly the secular , not the Yeshiva boys!) Due to time constraints and the great demand, the Rabbanim spread the Tallis over a group of soldiers’ heads as on Simchat Torah and blessed them all together. Some soldiers told the Rabbanim that their presence strenghtened them more than all of the professional talks they received from their commanders earlier! As the soldiers entered into Gaza, the Rabbanim, with Torah in hand, called out after them, “Hashem Imachem!” (Hashem is with you) “Y’varech’cha Hashem!” (Bless Hashem) and passages from the Rambam’s directives in the Mishna Torah to Jewish soldiers. The soldiers, in turn, turned back to kiss the Torah as they passed it. Although a higher Rav in the army structure later rebuked them for their actions claiming that the soldiers were “strong enough” without the Rabbis’ accompanying them, they felt thoroughly justified retroactively in their actions.

I leave the formal halachic issues to the Poskim . But these stories indicate an enormous awakening of reliance on Hakodesh Baroch Hu (Hashem – HKB”H). Much has been written of the utter sense of helplessness caused by the disastrous havoc wreaked by the descendants of Yishmael. This in turn should cause a greater sense of reliance on HKB”H by Klal Yisrael. We B’Ezras Hashem (with the help of Hashem) beginning to see this in all segments of Israeli society. Of course, those who are Shomrei Torah U’Mitzvot all the more so must increase their sense of reliance on Hashem.

These two stories I believe also teach us of the ability to “seize the moment”. Times of distress for Klal Yisrael can also serve as occasions for enormous uplifting: in increased Tefilla, in increased Torah study, in increased Chesed and Tzedaka to worthy causes in Eretz Yisrael or in the US.

Holy Sneakers

Rabbi Mordechai Rhine

The tribe of Dan was a challenged one. Both physically and spiritually they did not have an easy ride. Yet somehow they managed to make it to the top.

Dan, son of Yakov, the founder of the tribe, must have set a good example. Dan had only one child named Chushim. Chushim was deaf. If we compared Dan to the other tribes who started with larger and more capable families we would hardly expect to hear of the tribe of Dan. Yet, when the tribes are counted just a few generations later Dan is most numerous among them, second only to the tribe of Yehudah. Apparently Dan gave his one handicapped son his best. The legacy he imparted to his tribe was to acknowledge challenge and then to persevere.

Not only in a physical way, but spiritually as well, the tribe of Dan was challenged. They did not find greatness easy to attain. During the time in Egypt there was only one incident in which a Jewish woman flirted with and was then assaulted by an Egyptian taskmaster. That breach occurred with a woman from the tribe of Dan. And when the Jews entered the sea at the time of the Exodus there was just one big complaint against the salvation. The angels argued that perhaps the Jews didn’t deserve to be saved because they had taken out an idol from Egypt. That idol was in the possession of people from the tribe of Dan.

Indeed the tribe of Dan found its place in the Jewish people, not as royalty, like the tribe of Yehudah, but rather as a growth oriented tribe, readily sympathetic and encouraging to those who found themselves challenged. They were dubbed “the gatherers of the camps” because it was the tribe of Dan that looked out for those who did not fit into their designated tribe. The tribe of Dan would take them in, and nurture them, until they were ready to return to their proper place.

No wonder that when G-d instructs the Jewish people to build the Sanctuary, the Directive is to take a representative from the tribe of Judah, and a representative from the tribe of Dan. The Sanctuary was to represent unity in the Jewish people. It required that Bitzalel from Yehudah and Oholiav from Dan should work together. As our sages explain, “Who is greater than Yehudah?! Who is more downtrodden than Dan?! Let a representative of each join together to build a Sanctuary for G-d.”

The legacy of the tribe of Dan is so powerful that it totally changed the blessing and outlook with which their tribe was viewed. When Yakov blesses Dan in this week’s parsha he talks of, “A serpent on the path.” His bite is deadly and effective. But to be described as a serpent is not a description of honor or royalty.

Yet when Moshe gives his blessing at the conclusion of the sojourn in the desert, Moshe declares, “Dan is like a lion cub.” The tribe of Dan- through courage, dedication, and perseverance- had proven itself. It was regarded as second only to Yehudah, the tribe referred to as “the lion” and associated with royalty.

In our time the legacy of the tribe of Dan is a dominant one. So often we encounter people who are significantly challenged. Yet, despite the starting point in life that they were assigned, they persevere and achieve greatness. It is important to realize where people are coming from and to recognize and celebrate moments of perseverance and greatness together.

For example: I recently walked into shul for morning services and noticed “Michael” taking his teffilin out of a cheap, plastic, shopping bag. I looked again, discreetly, but thoughtfully. “What happened to Michael’s beautiful teffilin bag from yesterday?” I wondered. But then I remembered. In the past Michael had been borrowing the shul’s loaner pair of teffilin, which did have a beautiful velvet bag. If he was not using the shul’s teffilin this morning, I reasoned, it must mean that he had bought his own teffilin. Probably he did not have a chance to buy a bag yet.

I went over to Michael and, pointing to the teffilin, I asked, “Do you get a Mazal Tov?” His smile literally lit up the room. He said, “Yes. We ordered the teffilin from the sofer you recommended, and they came yesterday.” And then he added, “I didn’t even have a chance to buy a proper bag yet!” His pride in his new mitzvah was tangible. I was so glad that I recognized the milestone; and all because of the shopping bag.

There is great value in noticing the legacy of the tribe of Dan in our daily lives. Not everyone finds greatness and spiritual excellence with ease. Some have enormous challenges which they must slowly strive to overcome. When we develop the skill of noticing a milestone, we have the privilege of acknowledging and celebrating together.

I recall one particular Shabbos morning when I was introduced to “Steve”. Steve was a good conversationalist and a stylish dresser. The only thing I couldn’t figure out was the sneakers he was wearing. It seemed to me an awkward match- to be wearing high tech sneakers with a stylish suit.

Until I found out that Steve lived on the other side of Kings Highway.

Suddenly I realized that the sneakers represented his newfound commitment to walk to shul on Shabbos. The commitment to walk a few miles from the other side of Kings Highway must have been daunting. Allowing himself to wear sneakers must have made the decision to walk just a little more bearable. My heart warmed with joy when I realized the monumental milestone that those sneakers represented.

Each of us is constantly involved in building a Sanctuary, sometimes in the literal sense, sometimes in the figurative sense through the mitzvos that we do. Our job is to bring together the people of Yehudah’s legacy of royalty, with the people of Dan’s legacy of persistence, so that we can truly sanctify G-d’s Name together.

Young Israel of Cherry Hill
Torah Links of South Jersey
www.teach613.org

Learn and Pray For A Specific Soldier

The following “open letter” was received from the Bostoner Rebbe and HaRav Simcha HaKohen Kook. It outlines a plan where soldiers are paired with people who will pray and learn for them. To participate, send an email to maortlmo@gmail.com, saying you wish to pray and learn with a soldier and they will supposedly email you back the hebrew name of a soldier.

An open letter to all Achenu Bene Yisroel

After learning about the heart rendering appeal of the Gedolay Torah to intensify our Tefilos and Torah learning during this very trying time for Klal Yisroel, we have undertaken to join and aid them in their prayers.

The Medrash Rabah and the Yalkut relate that during the war against Midyon, for every one that went out to battle there was a designated person whose task it was to pray and learn for him.

The Great Gaon and Sage Rebbe Chaim Kanievsky shlitah when asked about this tradition pointed out that Dovid Hemelech, as well continued and instituted the practice, that for every individual who was in combat, there was another person selected for the specific task of praying and learning for him.

Therefore in order to continue and accomplish this Minhag, we ask soldiers and/or their relatives who would want a “partner” in Torah and Tefillah to email maortlmo@gmail.com or fax 011 9728 9450027 and give their Hebrew name and mothers Hebrew name without any other particulars such as family name or other identifying factors, so that we may disseminate them among those who heed the call to add Torah and Tefiloh for the sake of those who find themselves in
jeopardy chas v’shalom. Anyone who finds himself or herself chas v’shalom in danger or in shelters because of the war may also feel free to call or email to the
above.

To bond with us and receive a name of your “partner” please email or fax the above.

May Klal Yisroel in the merit of joining together, speedily see a successful end to this trial and campaign as quoted in the Parsha “without loss of life”.

If Someone Asked – Why Do You Believe There is a G-d?

If someone asked, why do you believe there is a loving and kind G-d, who created and is still involved with the world, what would you answer?

There seems to be at least three approaches

1) Philosophically through First Cause (Cosmological Proof), Design, Planning and Purpose in Nature (Telelogical Proof) or one of the many others

2) Experientially – I know I exist even without proof because I experience my own existence. In the same way, I have experienced G-d’s existence through mitzvos, davening or simple Emunah.

3) Tradition passed down from generation to generation of G-d’s role in the Exodus and the giving of the Torah and other G-d – man communications throughout history.

Which of these is the one that brings you closest to G-d?

Which of these do you think would be most beneficial for a non Observant person?

A Modest Proposal for Ending the Shidduch Crisis (with apologies to Jonathan Swift)

Over the past few months I’ve started going to a shidduch club. Eshewing the traditional matchmaker model, our club essentially conducts a good natured swap meet for humans, each of us describing one or several singles we know, in the hope that someone listening will come forward with their beshert.

Aside from our fastitidous attention to the laws of proper speech—all singles are described anonymously with a contact person’s phone number to locate them, what I like best about our club is its openness. We handle anyone—and I really mean anyone. Ashkenazi, Sefardi. Litvish, Chassidic, national religious, young, old, short , tall, healthy people and people challenged by physical or mental handicap, even fat people (whom have the hardest time of all) . We like to think that everyone deserves to find his or her beshert and no one is ever turned away.

It is a heady undertaking. When the meeting ends—it takes about two hours in total, I’ve got a notebook full of descriptions of eligibles and strains of Oh Yishama running through my brain.

But then I phone up the Mom’s of singles that I know to “redt” someone I heard about at the meeting and the music in my head abruptly switches off. No one seems to buy what I am trying The answers go something like this:
“No, he’s hassidish (or sefardi or litvish or too young or too old) … Or he/she is too short, small or (worst of all) too heavy. As I put the phone back into the cradle I feel like yelling.. What is going on here??. I feel like yelling. Doesn’t my friend realize that her daughter is thirty five years old.What is she expecting will happen??

Look I’m not naïve. I know that today the Jewish people is a tapestry of diverse groups each with its own subculture, but c’mon….

It isn’t forbidden for an ashkenzi to marry a sefardi or a litvak a hassid or a tall girl to marry a short boy or anyone to marry anyone fat—and unlike ethnicity, weight can be changed.

I”d venture to say that a change in our shidduch mentality would probably promote better health overall. If we readjusted our concept of beauty to include the fuller figure, eating disorders would quickly disappear just as if more ethnic intermarriage would minimize the incidences of Tay Sachs, Guachers and other Ashkenazi genetic scourges.

People who don’t share a common ethnicity( or body type or body size) aren’t necessarily high risk for divorce. Of course, couples need to be attracted and to communicate but people have many different points of contact. A couple may share a love of music or hiking and we all share a common legacy the Torah which provides more than enough to talk about.

This kind is the fuel thinking (he’s too litvish, she’s too fat) is the fuel behind the current much touted shidduch crisis. I know several no longer young women who have been waiting for Mr. ethnically and religiously “right” for so long that they have probably lost their chance to become mothers.

It is especially infuriating to watching my BT friends following their FFB mentors in adapting this narrow minded and self destructive mindset, even more so when one considers that our secular brethren hook up with people from any ethnic or religious background.( although they too are prejudiced against the scale challenged) .

If we want to insure our survival and by that I mean, giving the maximum number of our people a chance to procreate we are going to have to rethink our shidduch choices. Who knows what that may create. Ashkesfards, chassido-litvaks, a new appreciation for the Rubens figure and other interesting developments .Vive la revolution.

Anxious Ima has started a blog at A Thin Thread of Faith.