Kiruv for the Already Frum

Too often, after a BT has joined the ranks of the observant, he/she is left to work out major life challenges without an adequate support system. FFBs forget that a BT doesn’t come from a family background with frum values, and may need a surrogate family (maybe just one family, but more often in the form of a supportive community structure) for guidance and Chizuk.

Particular attention should be paid to those BTs who are, or may feel, marginalized: singles (especially older singles, and especially those with children); those who become BTs in mid-life or beyond; those who are married but whose spouses aren’t making the Teshuva journey with them. Older singles are particularly at risk for not finding the support they need and, as a result, giving up observance. That happened to me, and I still remember the pain. Thank G-d that after I remarried outside the frum community, we ended up in the orbit of the wonderful community where we are today, but not everyone is so fortunate.

Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller New Sefer and Mp3

Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller was in Kew Gardens Hills on Tuesday. Here is the shiur she gave at Congregation Ahavas Yisroel on Chesed in Turbulent Times.

Rebbetzin has a new sefer, co-written with Sara Yoheved Rigler called Battle Plans: How to Fight the Yetzer Hara. Here is an excerpt from the book.

The book draws from the Maharal, Ramchal and the Chassidic and Mussar Masters to give specific strategies for battling the Yetzer Hara in different situations such as when you’re frustrated, angry, bored, egotistical, tempted by desire, etc. Well worth the price.

Torah Audio – Free or Pay

As the years go on, there is more and more Torah audio available for free on the Internet, however there are still a significant number of pay sites.

Some of these pay sites have shiurim that many would benefit from, but for which they are unlikely to pay given the wealth of free material.

1) Why are there sites that still charge, even though there seems to be few sites that sell significant amounts of material?

2) Should we or could we try to convince some of the pay sites to offer their material for free?

3) Is there a Torah hashkafah view as to whether to charge or give away, especially as the cost of production and distribution of audio continues to trend towards zero?

Am I Still a Baal Teshuvah?

By Shlomo

I grew up in a relatively unaffiliated Jewish household. About ten years ago, I began on my path of religious observance. I studied in Yeshivas in America and in Israel, learning what it meant to be an observant Jew. However, I never was able to “fit the mold”. Anyone who knows me knows that I march to my own drum and that I am fiercely independent. I had no issues being the only one in shul wearing a sweater while every other male wore a suit. I believe that the community or Rabbi you chose is a reflection of yourself and who/where you want to be and fit in. I don’t go to an orthodox shul, nor do I define myself as Orthodox or with any other affiliation for that matter. I find myself as sort of a religious hodgepodge. There are things I like from all forms of Judaism, and I incorporate them into my life. I am just as comfortable in a conservative shul as in an orthodox one and I am not afraid to find spirituality in any nook possible. Yet, I know and observe more halacha that many people who define themselves as orthodox.

I recently bumped into someone I knew from my early Baal Teshuvah days at a Jewish Eastern spirituality event that used these forms of spirituality within a Jewish context. I was very surprised to see him there, although I do see Chassidim and other frum people at gatherings like this on occasion. To be frank, these practices are clearly not stamped by the OU :) This “acquaintance” of mine was clearly new to this “path”, and was trying something new. We spoke after the event, and he asked me if I was still a Baal Teshuvah. Oddly enough, I have never not considered myself to be a Baal Teshuvah. Granted, I practice in ways that are different than most readers of this blog, but I have found a level of Shabbat, kashrut, and daily observance that is right for me. I have always taken to heart the midrash that each soul heard a different torah at Har Sinai, and I am practicing mine.

Along my spiritual path, I have met hundreds of Jews who have connected to their faith at a later age, although not in what we know as an orthodox context. It never occurred to me until this person unintentionally questioned my status as a Baal Teshuvah that I might not be. I have friends who I dormed with at Yeshiva that are now Chabadnicks and others that are reform.

So, my question is: is anyone who has taken it upon themselves (aleynu) to find a deep, personal, and spiritual form of Judaism deserving of the title “Baal Teshuvah”.

Translated Text of Pirkei Avos – and What Are The Most Popular Sayings

As many of you know, there is a widespread Jewish custom of learning Pirkei Avos in the six week period between Pesach and Shavous. Some have the custom to keep on learning a perek a week until Rosh Hoshana.

Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld of Beit Shemesh, Israel has an excellent commentary to Pirkei Avos over at

A few years ago, to facilitate review of Pirkei Avos, I cut and pasted Rabbi Rosenthal’s translation into a document so that I could print off the perek of the week and keep it in my wallet for review. Rabbi Yaakov Menken, the man administering, and other spreading Torah projects was gracious enough to allow the document to be downloaded here.

Here is the link for the English Translation of Pirkei Avos.

Almost everybody knows certain sayings from Pirkei Avos, such as “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.” I was wondering what people thought are the most popular sayings and why they think they are so popular.

Here is the translated text of the Second Perek of Pirkei Avos.

1 “Rabbi said, What is the proper path that one should choose for himself? Whatever is glorious / praiseworthy for himself, and honors him before others. Be careful with a minor mitzvah (commandment) like a severe one, for you do not know the reward for the mitzvos. Consider the loss incurred for performing a mitzvah compared to its reward, and the pleasure received for sinning compared to the punishment. Consider three things and you will not come to sin. Know what is above you – an eye that sees, an ear that hears, and all your deeds are written in a book.”

2 “Rabban Gamliel the son of Rabbi Yehuda the Prince said, Torah study is good with a worldly occupation, because the exertion put into both of them makes one forget sin. All Torah without work will in the end result in waste and will cause sinfulness. All who work for the community should work for the sake of Heaven, for the merit of the community’s forefathers will help them, and their righteousness endures forever. And as for you, God will reward you greatly as if you accomplished it on your own.”

3 “Be careful with authorities, for they do not befriend a person except for their own sake. They appear as friends when they benefit from it, but they do not stand by a person in his time of need.”

4 “He used to say, make His will your will, so that He will make your will His will. Annul your will before His will, so that He will annul the will of others before your will.”

5 “Hillel said, do not separate from the community, do not trust yourself until the day you die, do not judge your friend until you reach his place, do not make a statement which cannot be understood which will (only) later be understood, and do not say when I have free time I will learn, lest you do not have free time.”

6 “He (Hillel) used to say, a boor cannot fear sin, nor can an unlearned person be pious. A bashful person cannot learn, nor can an impatient one teach. Those who are involved excessively in business will not become a scholar. In a place where there are no men, endeavor to be a man.”

7 “He (Hillel) also saw a skull floating on the water. He said to it: ‘Because you drowned you were drowned, and in the end those who drowned you will be drowned.'”

8 “He (Hillel) used to say, the more flesh the more worms, the more property the more worry, the more wives the more witchcraft, the more maidservants the more lewdness, the more slaves the more thievery. The more Torah the more life, the more study the more wisdom, the more advice the more understanding, the more charity the more peace. One who acquires a good name acquires it for himself; one who acquires words of Torah acquires a share in the World to Come.”

9 “Rabban Yochanan ben (the son of) Zakkai received [the transmission] from Hillel and Shammai. He used to say, if you have studied much Torah do not take credit for yourself because you were created for this.”

10 “Rabban Yochanan ben (the son of) Zakkai had five [primary] students. They were: Rabbi Eliezer ben Hurkenos, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananya, Rabbi Yossi the Priest, Rabbi Shimon ben Nesanel, and Rabbi Elazar ben Arach.”

11 “He (Rabban Yochanan ben (son of) Zakkai) used to list their praises (the praises of his five primary students). Rabbi Eliezer ben Hurkenos is a cemented pit which never loses a drop; Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananya fortunate is she who bore him; Rabbi Yossi the Priest is pious; Rabbi Shimon ben Nesanel fears sin; and Rabbi Elazar ben Arach is as an increasing river.”

12 “He used to say, if all the sages of Israel would be on one side of a scale and Eliezer ben Hurkenos on the second side, he would outweigh them all. Abba Shaul said in his name, if all the Sages of Israel would be on one side of a scale with even Rabbi Eliezer ben Hurkenos among them, and Rabbi Elazar ben Arach on the second side, he would outweigh them all.”

13 “He (Rabban Yochanan) said to them (his students) go out and see which is a good way to which someone should cleave. Rabbi Eliezer said a good eye; Rabbi Yehoshua said a good friend; Rabbi Yossi said a good neighbor; Rabbi Shimon said one who considers consequences. Rabbi Elazar said a good heart. He said to them, I prefer the words of Elazar ben Arach over your words, for included in his words are your words.”

14 “He (Rabban Yochanan) said to them (his students) go out and see which is a bad way which a person should avoid. Rabbi Eliezer said a bad eye. Rabbi Yehoshua said a bad friend. Rabbi Yossi said a bad neighbor. Rabbi Shimon said one who borrows and does not pay back. One who borrows from a person is as one who borrows from G-d, as it says, “A wicked person borrows and does not repay, but the Righteous One is gracious and gives” (Psalms 37:21). Rabbi Elazar said a bad heart. He said to them, I prefer the words of Elazar ben Arach over your words, for included in his words are your words.”

15 “They (the five students of Rabban Yochanan – see above Mishna 10) each said three things. Rabbi Eliezer said: The honor of your fellow should be as dear to you as your own. Do not get angry easily. Repent one day before you die. Warm yourself before the fire of the Sages. But be wary with their coals that you do not get burnt, for their bite is the bite of a fox, their sting is the sting of a scorpion, their hiss is the hiss of a serpent, and all their words are like fiery coals.”

16 “Rabbi Yehoshua said, an evil eye, the evil inclination, and hatred of another person remove a person from this world.”

17 “Rabbi Yossi said, let your fellow’s property be as dear to you as your own, prepare yourself to study Torah because it is not an inheritance to you, and all of your deeds should be for the sake of heaven.”

18 “Rabbi Shimon said, be careful in reading the Shema and the prayers. When you pray, do not regard your prayers as a fixed obligation, rather they should be [the asking for] mercy and supplication before G-d, as the verse says, “For gracious and merciful is He, slow to anger, great in kindness, and relenting of the evil decree” (Joel 2:13). Do not consider yourself a wicked person.”

19 “Rabbi Elazar said, be diligent in the study of Torah. Know what to answer a heretic. Know before Whom you toil. And faithful is your Employer that He will pay you the reward for your labor.”

20 “Rabbi Tarfon said, the day is short, the work is great, the workers are lazy, the reward is great, and the Master of the house presses.”

21 “He (Rabbi Tarfon) used to say, it is not upon you to complete the task, but you are not free to idle from it. If you have learned much Torah, you will be given much reward, and faithful is your Employer that He will reward you for your labor. And know that the reward of the righteous will be given in the World to Come.”

First published April 27, 2006

On Disabling the “Frumkeit-Checker” In My Brain

It’s Shushan Purim, a school vacation day here in the Holy Land and I’m out with my brood at an amusement park. The children are scattered; some on the bumper cars, others on trampolines and I’m at the plastic picnic tables along with the other bored adults, waiting for the kids to tire out or the place to shut down, whichever comes first.

Meanwhile, I’m using my idle moments to people watch pretending to be Marcel Proust sitting in a Parisian sidewalk café, which of course, I’m not.

Most of the other patrons are secular Israelis, but then I see, one of us, a frum young mother cradling a newborn baby in her arms. She’s cute—the mother I mean: one of those rare creatures who combines her Yiddishkeit with an inbred funk. I’ll bet that she has jazz on her CD player and pesto and sundried tomatoes in her fridge and davens where no one winces at the long curls tumbling out of her beret or the fact that her flary skirt stops just above her knees.

She reminds me of a discarded earlier version of myself. I’ve since gotten stodgier, and frummer, taken on borer and bug checking, shatnez and tznius . But somehow in the course spiritual climb, I’ve gotten judgmental. It is almost as if someone managed to install a frumkeit checker in my brain which automatically monitors the madreiga of everyone I encounter.

Ooops , here comes the young mother’s reading —several notches below me ( I could have guessed that) , definitely not Bais Yaacov material, wouldn’t pass through the admissions board in Kiryat Sefer…. a joke, a pseudo-orthodox Jew….. right?
I look at her again. Now I see that she isn’t alone. Along with her baby, she has another companion— a middle aged woman with thinning red hair dressed in black pants. Now, I put the pieces together.

The old woman is her mother and the young mother is one of us, a ba’alat teshuva, someone with the spiritual fine tuning to hear the Torah’s call over the media’s din. And she’s upended her identity, possibly changing her name, her address, her friends, to mend the broken links in the chain of tradition.

I imagine her fighting grueling internecine battles to establish a beachhead of kashrut and Shabbat and family purity—a real heroine.

The truth is that I’m making this up, but I’m making a point. I think I can size her up in a instant, but—let’s be real, I can’t. Who can I size up? What do I know of the young mother’s life or anyone else’s life, for that matter?

So why the frumkeit checker?

A few reasons come up. It’s a kick, albeit an unhealthy one. Righteous indignation is a high. There is a perverse thrill in that irresistible “how dare she” feeling that comes from sneering at someone else’s (especially someone younger and cuter) deficiencies.

And the checker also deflects insecurity, by marginalizing anyone different and potentially threatening and it begs a little question that most of us don’t like to ask—what if she is right and I am wrong. Putting her down changes that subject.

That is great, but it’s got a problem. The problem is that this isn’t the Torah’s approach. According to the Torah, when I encounter someone different what I need to determine is what I can learn from them, how I can use the interaction to grow .

As to the young mother I have no clue as to why her tznius is not quite normatively Halachic but I do know that she (and most everyone else in the place ) is a Jew.

Once upon a time, when a Jew met another Jew he’d call out “Sholom Aleichem Reb Yid.” Hello Mr. Jew, but that is mostly gone today, replaced by the frumkeit checker and it’s accessories, judge mentalism and divisiveness.

I need to find my own “Sholom Aleichem For this woman (and for all Jews) —at least in my heart and to delegate the job of other people’s spiritual repair to the Kiruv Rabbis and G-d.

As soon as I get out of this park, I’ve got Pesach cleaning to do and my first stop will be the hametz in my own head. Disabling that nasty frumkeit checker is a good first step.

Our Fixation on Happy Endings

On Friday night, I heard a story – about a businessman in Baltimore who returned to Judaism late in life. Though he did not have the skills in Torah study of many of his new found peers, he found other ways to express his commitment to Torah and Jewish life – through tzedakah, charity and good deeds. For him and his wife, tzedakah was personal – it became for them what Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik describes as a ‘worshipful performance’ – an expression of their personalities in the service of G-d.

But then came Lehman and AIG, and the story that continues on the front page of every paper – that is, those papers not put out of business by the crisis. His portfolio declined forty-five percent; his profits diminished; his expenses, however, were on the rise. The couple hoped to continue giving as they had in previous years, though given their circumstances, they had already fulfilled their obligation for charity – even when defined by the most maximalist measure. So committed was his wife, however – even willing to give up her comfortable home for more modest quarters – that she encouraged her husband to consult a legal authority in Israel about their predicament. The rabbi answered quickly: of course the businessman – now down on his luck – had fulfilled his obligations. But, the rabbi added, if he and his wife were to find a cause which they found truly worthy, then further donations would be meritorious. Thinking through the advice of the sage, the couple determined to adjust their lifestyle – so they would be able to give close to the level they had in previous years.

An inspirational story – though it continues.

Only a few days later, the businessman received a phone call from a Swiss broker – who managed a large portion of his funds. It seems an error had been made – holdings had not been properly cataloged, account statements not properly calculated. The bottom line – the opposite of the Madoff story! – a surplus of funds in the range of several million dollars! Not only did this cover his previous losses, but the newly found income made the couple wealthier than ever before!

A triumphant look from the one telling the story; smiles all around, but when the warm fuzzy feeling dissipated, I thought of another story – that of Abraham, his uncle Haran, and the wicked tyrant Nimrod.

Our sages tell us that when Terach discovered his son’s belief in one G-d, he turned him over to Nimrod, who threw him in a fiery furnace: ‘if your G-d is so powerful,’ Nimrod boasted to Abraham, ‘let him rescue you!’ Standing on the sidelines, Uncle Haran calculated – ‘if Abraham gets torched, then I am with Nimrod; if he survives, I’m with Abraham.’ When Abraham emerged triumphantly from the furnace, Nimrod asked Haran – ‘whose side are you on?’ True to his prepared script, Haran answered – ‘For Abraham!’ And then Nimrod threw Haran into the fire where he was burnt to a crisp.

Haran makes his calculations not on principle, but on cost-benefit. Not because of his faith in G-d, but because of hopes of reward. ‘If Abraham turns out to be father of all the nations of the world, I will be his right-hand man… and if not – thinking like an Israeli politician – I’ll find something to do in Nimrod’s government.’

The message of this story is similar: do a good deed, and get properly compensated. It’s as if I’m saying to G-d: ‘Let’s be business partners… I’ll do my share, the mitzvos; you protect my family from hardship, and if you can throw in some earthly reward (BMW 320i in black please), that will also be fine. So whatever I give to you G-d, I will expect the dividends.’

This is what Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik calls the mentality of a religion for children – the pragmatic quid pro quo, the calculation and anticipated receipt of my just returns. But it’s not only childish – it’s dangerous. What happens when G-d isn’t the business partner I expect? Do I break off the business arrangement? After all, childish expectations do yield to disappointment. The facile stories of simple reward – our sages tell us we don’t know the nature of the reward for any given mitzvah – may lead to not just disappointment, but despair. ‘This business arrangement,’ I might think, ‘is not working out the way I had anticipated. Not at all.’ And then what?

The couple from Baltimore did the right thing – an inspiring thing. Even – or especially – without the results. With the coda of wealth and reward – thank G-d that it was, in this case, the outcome – it becomes part of the literature for a religion for children where there is always a happy ending. Though we may hope – and pray – for such endings, our ‘end’ in the moment in which we live is to transform ourselves through mitzvos that bring us close to the divine. So the story of the businessman from Baltimore, without the coda of the guaranteed happy ending, fits in a different and more demanding canon of stories – that of a religion which a fellow blogger calls ‘complex,’ or more simply a religion for adults.

The purveyors of the happy endings – and in our post-holocaust generation there is, strangely, a near cultural obsession with such stories – assume there are no longer any adults in the audience. I’m betting otherwise. Am I wrong?

A Short Pesach Thought

Pesach is a tremendous opportunity for spiritual growth, because it’s at this point of the year that it becomes extremely clear that despite our need to do hishtadlus (make efforts), Hashem was, is, and will always be in total control of the outcome.

As we perform the many mitzvos of the Seder night, we can also be thankful that Hashem has provided the clarity and the means through which we can achieve our primary purpose in this world, which is getting a deeper awareness and consciousness of Hashem.

Do You Have Specific Seder Table Customs To Engage the Participants?

By Rabbi Mordechai Scher

My wife’s best friend’s family has had us for Pesah for years now. That itself may qualify by now as a ‘tradition’. First Queens, then Beit Shemesh, for now Syosset.

There are a few customs, learned as a young man in Israel, that I do at the seder each year. There is a real advantage to living in ‘kibbutz galuyot’ – the ingathering of the exiles. As a young American Ashkenazi kid, I never would have experienced Pesah customs the same way had I stayed in America.

The first thing we do, Erev Pesah, is go out and find good walking sticks. We prepare walking sticks, and backpacks with provisions (matzah) for the journey that night for all the kids and me. The adults are usually too stodgy to participate in our ‘exodus’ at the beginning of the seder. I’ve been forewarned that Syosset may not offer much in the way of suitable dead branches; and we won’t bring hiking poles (Leki and others) as we did when driving to Queens from Massachussetts. So, this Erev Pesah may require a quick trip to the hardware store for some cheap broomsticks.

Before the seder actually starts, the children and I will go out the front door. One of the children knocks loudly on the door, and a short dialogue ensues from each side. Imma: Mi sham? Who’s there? Children: Bnei Yisrael. The People of Israel! Imma: M’ayin atem? From where do you come? Children: M’mitzrayim! From Egypt! Imma: U’l’an atem? And where are you going? Children: L’eretz Yisrael! To the Land of Israel! Then with a great cry of greeting the door opens and in we go with our packs and walking sticks.

The other custom varies in timing. Until now, the children were all quite small, so we did this right after coming in the front door. We would rush around the house, proclaiming ‘ b’vehilu v’rehimu yatzanu m’mitzrayim, with haste and mercy we left Egypt.’ Now that the children are a bit older, some of them, we may do this just before Dayenu or Hallel. I’ll have to find out if the parents are willing to have that interruption at that point.

Another manner of the seder my friend Dov Lapin (a fine talmid hacham and friend; does anyone by some chance know him and where he is?) related to me after coming back from the Gush one year. As I recall, Menuha Schwat took her little child’s toy animals and enacted an ‘exodus’ across the living room floor to engage the little child in a suitable manner. This has stuck with me for decades. My wife has brought ‘Pesah kits’ in the past, and thrown out frogs at the appropriate time, etc.

For the adults, some fairly standard but important fare. Our friends are sincere Jews who appreciate Torah, so we try to contribute to the divrei Torah and explanations of the seder. Seems straightforward, but everyone gets what suits them.

So, what do you do for yourselves or other participants at the seder?

Bringing Down the Light of Redemption

Dear Brothers and Sisters of the Nation of Israel,

As we enter this holiday commemorating our redemption, it is important to understand why we celebrate. It is not just to remember the miracles that led to our redemption but to bring this energy back in and recreate it so that we may experience it again.

The Jewish nation was able to leave Egypt because Hashem sent them a leader to rally all the souls of the jews as one. When we unite as a people Hashem’s light begins to descend very rapidly.

When we are fractured as a people we fall into disarray. It is through our scorn of one and another that we have been led to the brink of our destruction and the losing of our Holy Temple.

It is said that the Jewish Nation is a light unto all other nations and we can see in many fields how this has been so. The one field that is currently missing is the spiritual field. We have not been internal lights. We have used our inherent gifts to lead the world in technologies. It is time to be spiritual lights as well.

How do we do this? The first step is that we must be light unto ourselves. We must shine for those of our own faith and not judge others for practicing differently. Lead by example. Let your practice radiate its light through your countenance so that when your fellow sees you, they wonder how can i achieve such a state of joy and peace. Then when asked you can share the beauty of your practices.

Our Father, The Creator wants what every great father could want. That all their children get along and help each other, that we respect and love one another. If we could see our similarities and just feel the uniqueness of our vibrations given to us by God and His Torah, we can affect the world and bring about a time of peace. Our Father waits for us to unite consciously as a group soul. The effect of this would be to open a massive portal from the heavens to the earth and bring back the open revelation of our King.

Happy Passover

Here are Some Great Pesach Mp3s on Seder and Haggadah by Rabbi Moshe Gordon

Pesach is approaching quickly and we need to prepare both physically and spiritually. Here is an amazing series of Shiurim by Rabbi Moshe Gordon on the Seder and the Haggadah which covers the major Rishonim, Achronim and Poskim on the mitzvos of Pesach night.

Kadesh and Arba Kosos
Urchatz Karpas Yachatz
Hallel Rachtza Matza Heseiba
Maror Korech Shulchan Orech
Afikomen Barech End of Hallel Nirtza after Seder

Intro to Sippur Yetzias Mitzrayim
HaLachma Anya Akiras HaShulchan Intro to Ma Nishtana
Ma Nishtana
Avadim Hayeinu Arami Oved Avi
Arami Oved Avi 2
Makos End of Magid

There’s No Jewish Santa


I believe one of the most unique aspects of Judaism is the manner in which we transmit it to our future generations.

There is no Jewish Santa Claus. Whatever we tell our children, we believe ourselves. There is no place in Judaism for “Do as I say, not as I do” or “You can’t do that because I said so.” “WE can’t do that because HASHEM said so.” It makes it so much easier for parents to demand and children to obey when both are in it together, bowing to a Higher Authority.

The world’s concept of what constitutes “adult” behavior is off base. Adult movies? Adult toys? Adult entertainment? “Adult” often seems to equal filth. In Judaism, becoming an “adult” means accepting greater responsibility, more purity, more stringencies, not less.

A BT once told me that what impressed her most about a frum life was Shabbos zemiros. “Where else would you find fathers and children sitting around the table every week and singing together?”

Dennis Prager once said, regarding American Independence Day, that perhaps the major reason Jews have been able to keep their national identity alive for 3,000 years, the last 2,000 of which were nearly all spent dispersed among other nations, is ritual. No national or cultural identity can survive without ritual, even if the group remains in its own country.

Prager states that American national holidays were originally established to commemorate the most significant national events and individuals in our history; they now exist primarily to provide us with a day off. This was reinforced by the nation’s decision to shift some of the holidays to a Monday — thereby losing the meaning of the specific date in order to afford us a three-day weekend.

Without national ritual, Prager says, national memory dies. And without a national memory, a nation dies. That is the secret at the heart of the Jewish people’s survival.

Prager continues that “When Jews gather at the Passover Seder — the most widely observed Jewish holiday — they recount the exodus from Egypt, an event that occurred 3,200 years ago. We Americans have difficulty keeping alive the memory of events that happened 231 years ago! How have the Jews managed to accomplish this? Through the ritual of the Passover Seder. Jews spend the evening recounting the Exodus from Egypt as if it happened to them. In the words of the Passover Haggadah ‘every person is obligated to regard himself as if he himself left Egypt.’ The story is retold in detail, and it is told as if it happened to those present at the Seder, not only to those who lived it 3,200 years ago.

“That has to be the motto of the July Fourth ‘Seder’. We all have to retell the story, in as much detail as possible, while regarding ourselves as if we, no matter when we or our ancestors came to America — were present at the nation’s founding in 1776.

“The Seder achieves the feat not only through detailed recitation of the story, but through engaging the interest of the youngest of those at the table (indeed, they are its primary focus), through special food, through song and through relevant prayer.

“But someone — or many someones — must come up with a July Fourth Seder. A generation of Americans with little American identity — emanating from little American memory — has already grown into adulthood. The nation whose founders regarded it as the ‘Second Israel’ must now learn how to survive from the First.”

The Seder rituals – Four Questions to Afikoman-snatching and everything in between – are mainly about transmitting to our children the story of Yetzias Mitzrayim, which forms the basis of our heritage, in the most vivid and memorable way. Prager recognizes that the secret to Jewish survival is our adherence to tradition and the manner in which we transmit it to the next generation. Now if only all of us would realize this, we would be fulfilling our obligation to Hashem and the eternity of His chosen nation.

Preparing for Pesach and Beyond

Here is the Beyond BT Guide to the Seder which goes through the basic halachos of each step of the seder.

While getting ready for Pesach, you might want to give Rabbi Welcher’s Preparing for Pesach a listen.

The Absolut Haggadah, a refreshing blend of humor and commentary trying to uncover the pshat (basic meaning) of the Haggadah has been updated. You can distribute it to anyone who might be interested.