Six Constant Mitzvos

In an introduction to Sefer HaChinuch, the author singles out six mitzvos (commandments) that one is obligated to fulfill on a constant basis. These mitzvos, he writes, should not be absent from a person’s consciousness for even one second of his life. The six constant mitzvos are:

– Emunah: Faith in Hashem
– Lo Yihiyeh: The prohibition against idolatry
– Yichud Hashem: Hashem’s Oneness
– Ahavas Hashem: Loving Hashem
– Yiras Hashem: Fearing Hashem
– Lo Sasuru: Do not stray after your eyes and your heart

Since it is not humanly possible to perform six actions at the same time – and certainly not on a constant basis – it is clear that these mitzvos are meant to be performed through thought alone. Even so, however, it is difficult to understand the very premise of the obligation to fulfill Six Constant Mitzvos, for how is it possible to think about six different things at the same time? And even if someone could theoretically master the art of juggling six different thoughts in his mind simultaneously, how would he then go on to fulfill all of the other mitzvos of the Torah – let alone lead an otherwise productive life?

It would seem, therefore, that there must be a different idea behind the Six Constant Mitzvos.

Making Decisions without Active Thought
How many times a day do we think about the force of gravity?
It is quite possible that days, years, or decades go by in which we do not think about gravity at all. At the same time, however, our awareness of the existence of a gravitational pull in the atmosphere is evident in nearly every movement we make.

We sip coffee from a mug, and then place the mug down on the table. An astronaut traveling in space could not have done that. He would need some apparatus to hold the mug (and the coffee!) in place.

Even the simplest movements we make require an awareness of gravity. We would not be able to walk, lie down, or shake hands without it. Now that we are thinking about gravity, we realize that we would not be able to accomplish very much without its existence.

Although we are constantly aware of the force of gravity, we do not need to think about it on a conscious level. Our actions reflect our awareness of this invisible force as a constant presence in the atmosphere, even though we give little or no thought to it.

The idea behind the Six Constant Mitzvos is that each of the six represents an awareness that you must have. These six “awarenesses” should become so ingrained in your psyche that they should be reflected in all of your actions.

Art Scroll has just released a new sefer on the Six Constant Mitzvos based on a series of lectures given by Rabbi Yitzchok Berkowitz at Aish HaTorah in Jerusalem. Rabbi Berkowitz is a a leading posek and Rosh Kollel in Jerusalem, a pioneer in chinuch and kiruv and co-author of a work on shemiras halashon, A Lesson A Day. In this beautifully written, profound and yet readable work, we see that the mandate to fulfill these commandments is not an impossible task, but something that we all can do. Through stories, real-life practical examples, inspirational insights, and a deep understanding of Torah thought, Rabbi Yehuda Heimowitz, in collaboration with Rabbi Shai Markowitz, have produced a penetrating yet fascinating book that sets us thinking and striving.

A Mother of a Child-at-Risk

By “A Hopeful Mother”

Do you have a child who’s at risk, or maybe already gone off the derech? Well, I know how misery loves company, so I just wanted to share with you a shocking piece of news I heard… about someone (someone really big) who’s kids also went off the derech (don’t worry it’s not lashon hara, because a lot of people already know about it).

Are you ready?

Perhaps you already guessed… it’s Hashem. He has many, many children who went off the derech. And it’s a terrible source of anguish to Him.

I heard in the name of Rav Usher Freund ztz’l that we have to join our pain to His pain. We need to feel bad that Hashem is in pain. It hurts Him more than it hurts us that His children are lost and far from the truth.

“Anyone who prays for his fellow man when he is in need of the same thing is answered first.” Let’s daven – even beg – to Hashem to show His (and our) children the way back… for His sake… not because of shidduchim, seminaries, what will the neighbors think… but because as much as it hurts us it hurts Him much, much more.

Eat, Drink…For Tomorrow

by Rabbi Mordechai Rhine

The day preceding Yom Kippur is an anomaly on the Jewish Calendar. Although Yom Kippur is a solemn day, the day before it is a day of semi-celebration. We do not recite tachanun; it is a mitzvah to eat and drink. What is the significance of this day before Yom Kippur?

Some people will answer that the eating and drinking is simply a health precaution, preparing for the long fast of Yom Kippur. But as with all observance I believe there is a deeper message.

Not long ago, in a large city called Humanville, USA there was a terrible crisis. The largest company in the region, the employer of thousands of workers, was about to be closed down. Apparently their business had been run with enormous carelessness. Record keeping was seriously flawed. In fact, during a recent audit it was discovered that even the computer programs were messed up. In many cases assets were showing up as debts, while many debts were not being reported at all. Shareholders who heard the news were ready to sue. The Feds were appalled and threatened to close the company down. For over a month there were rumors that everyone would be getting a pink slip within days.

Suddenly there was hope. A certain expert, we’ll call him Mr. Fix It, called the CEO and offered to help. After checking Mr. Fix It’s credentials, the CEO decided that it was really worth a try. The CEO hired Mr. Fix It for an amazing 25 hours. The goal: To assess the problems, and to revamp the company.

Come join us as we eavesdrop on the CEO as he dictates a memo to the staff regarding the visit of Mr. Fix It.

“…all files are to be made available… all computers are to be at his disposal…staff shall be totally focused on ensuring that the consultation with Mr. Fix It is a productive one… There will be no cover-ups…all problems shall be identified and a recovery plan shall be put into place…”

The hope for recovery spread quickly. Although the staff knew that the consultation day would be a grueling one, they began to look forward to it because it provided a chance for salvation. The day before was celebrated in the cafeteria like a holiday. Hope for the company’s future, the city, and their jobs, had been rekindled.

The message of Yom Kippur is much the same. For a month now we were warned of a judgement day. Rosh Hashana came and we were judged. But we might not have fared as well as we had hoped. Perhaps our priorities were not found to be entirely in order. Sometimes we did mitzvos and then regretted them. Other times we considered our shortcomings as if they were assets. Our accounting books were a mess, and we feared that we might get closed down.

Suddenly a glimmer of hope appeared in the form of Yom Kippur. We are told that Hashem Himself is willing to do a Fix It type of review of our holdings. Aware that we are human beings with human failings, He is willing to give us another chance. During the 25 hour review nothing will be withheld. Infractions will be identified and a recovery plan put in place. Through our beloved machzor prayer-book we are confident that a full point checkup will be administered effectively.

The day of the review will be a challenging day. First the problems will be identified, and we will think that all is lost. Then Mr. Fix It will insist that there is hope, and He will propose a solution. We may be comfortable with the solution, or we will counterpropose one of our own. But if we cooperate with the review, we know that within 25 hours our company will be well on the way to recovery.

So as the day of review nears, hope fills the air. The day before Yom Kippur is a day of hope, a day of happiness. Eat, drink, and be ready, for tomorrow we will live.


Rabbi Mordechai Rhine, originally of Monsey, New York, is the Director of TEACH613, an organization which promotes Torah and Kiruv programming in the Cherry Hill/ Philadelphia area. He is the Rov of Young Israel of Cherry Hill, and the author of a popular book, “The Magic of Shabbos: A Journey Through the Shabbos Experience,” (Judaica Press, 1998). To invite Rabbi Rhine to speak in your community, please contact him at RMRhine@Teach613.org or 908-770-9072
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Rabbi Mordechai Rhine
Young Israel of Cherry Hill
www.teach613.org

The Teshuva Diet

Its now been nearly two weeks since I stepped on the large metal scale at my produce market and discovered that I was overweight Until then, I rarely weighed myself.. I didn’t even own a scale because, hey, I wasn’t fat. I wore a small dress size and nothing I owned (except for two skirts that weren’t all that nice anyway) seemed to be too tight. What weight problem? But then came that fateful afternoon when the market was empty and my eight year old son pounced on the scale . Just for fun, I followed him along (not at the same time) discovering, to my horror that I was the fattest I’ve been since puberty.

Yikes. How could that have happened? One of my friends said that the scale was wrong the produce man was a crook. I tried to convince myself of that , but, the produce man . seemed too nice to be doing a Bernie Madoff on his customers, but then again how could I have accumulated so much bulk? Just to be on the safe side, I went to the dietician.and of course she asked me what I had been eating. “Oh nothing too bad,” I mumbled describing the salads, whole wheat toast and fruit and yogurt I had consumed. “Just that” she wondered. I thought for a moment and then I came clean, confessing to her about . those frothy iced coffees at the mall –only on days when I was really wiped out, and the freshly fried chicken cutlets— to get me through Erev Shabbos and those late night cake licking sessions, only the frosting, never the cake. How bad could that be? . None of this could really be called overeating, right?

After that the dietician put me on her scale, an old fashioned doctors office models with the sliding beam and the little metal weights that you adjust by hand. To my horror the beam waved up and down like a lulav when little weight blocks indicated my new high weight. Well, at least I knew that the produce man was honest, but I wasn’t.

Its now almost a week since I’ve stopped fooling myself about food and started in earnest on the new eating plan prescribed by the dietician and it’s tough, not much fun, but all this has got me thinking. Since the body is just the soul’s down wintercoat what about the person who lives inside?. If I’ve been playing games about my eating, what kind of games have I been playing about the rest of my behavior. Quite a few, it seems. Here’s just some of the little lies I’ve been telling myself:

1) the I’m generally just fine. I do such great stuff, visiting the sick, giving people rides, that I’m a shoo in for the Righteous book even if I daydream or sleep my way through the davening.

2) The Loshon Horo Lie . Since I read “Guard Your Tongue” (sometimes) and even own a copy) that exempts me from the sin of evil speech. Yes, I know the rules, but does that mean I don’t break ‘em. Fat chance.

3) The anger lie. Losing it with my kids ( or my spouse) doesn’t really count because everybody does it and beside the bible says its okay. Here’s proof: King Solomon Proverbs Spare the rod and spoil the child and Genesis’s descriptions of the wife: “Helpmate against him”— isn’t that permission to chew out your man every once in a while? Well maybe not, especially if you are out of control..

4) The ingratitude lie- telling myself that teachers and babysitters and cleaning ladies and plumbers and wig stylists don’t need to be thanked for a job well done because they are getting paid for it anyway. Yeah? Is that how you would feel if it were you? And as for volunteers, like family members, they certainly don’t deserve a thank you because they owe it to me considering all the stuff I’d done for them already. Really?

5) Then there is my favorite one– the time wasting lie, — telling myself that tooling around in cyberspace revs up my creative motors. Again…Yeah, really?

And that is only scratching the surface. According to Mrs. Tzipora Heller in Temple times, the Cohanim, the high priests were teshuva therapists– short term only. No long hours on the couch. Just one look and they told where you had messed up and how to fix it. And don’t forget about the leprosy they had back then.. One misstep and KAZAM! a blotch on your wall or flesh. But what are we moderns supposed to do?

I’ve got a solution, not an original idea, and not perfect, but it’s a start. A short cut which I’d like to call the Teshuva Diet. Three short questions to ask myself every day . What did I do right today. When did I do wrong and how am I planning to fix it.

Of course there will be days when I’ll forget but the Teshuva Diet is one small step to a better me the way that each lo cal meal and each iced coffee skipped are small steps to a thinner me.

Since new year is a good time to take on new spiritual practices let this be mine, so that I can fix things as they happen instead of having them blow up on me the way my body just did.

Ketiva VeHatima Tova.

A Kesiva v’Chasima Tova Thought

Let’s Start at the Very Beginning…

Rabbi Yosef Albo in the Sefer Ha’Ikarim categorizes the Rambam’s 13 principles of Jewish belief into three:
(1) Hashem created the world
(2) Hashem gave us the Torah
(3) Hashem scrutinizes, punishes and rewards us for our deeds in this world and the next

The Sefer Ha’Ikarim says that on Rosh Hashanah, we strengthen our belief in these three tenets with:
(1) Malchiyos and its proclamation that Hashem is the King and Creator of the world
(2) Zichronos which says that Hashem knows all of our deeds and rewards or punishes accordingly
(3) Shofros and its affirmation of our belief in the Giving of the Torah

However, the primary theme of Rosh Hashanah is Malchiyos, and the focus on Hashem as creator, who created us for a purpose and gives us the tools and circumstances to accomplish our mission. Perhaps it’s a good time to commit ourselves to working on internalizing our intellectual awareness of Hashem through the learning of Mussar or Chassidus. This transformation of intellectual to heartfelt knowledge will help us keep focused on our purpose throughout the days of the year, and specifically when we’re involved in Torah, Tefillah and performing Mitzvos.

A Kesiva v’Chasima Tova to the entire Beyond BT community for making this the warm, supportive, growth oriented place that it is.

Rosh Hashona Resolutions- A Deeper Look

By Aryeh Taback

Rosh Hashona resolutions are not so much about changing what we do, as much as they are about changing who we are, and close to the core of who we are stand our middos. The word middos is often translated as “character traits” but a more literal meaning would be “measures”. Middos refer to the ingrained thresholds we all have in our character. In the area of gluttony, one person may be able to resist the double thick ice-cream sundae under almost all circumstances, whereas his friend may need little encouragement to wolf down three. For one person, laziness refers to the single day last year when he slept past six am, whereas for another, facing the world before ten is bordering on superhuman. These scales exist in all areas of our character; in some areas we may have low thresholds while in other measures we may have very high ones. The combination of all of these measurements is what makes up our unique middos constellation.

The Vilna Gaon writes: “All service of Hashem depends on the remedying of one’s middos …The primary reason for the existence of man is to be constantly exerting himself in the breaking of the middos. If he does not, why should he live?”

One of the great kabbalists, Rabbi Chaim Vital, states that not only is the improvement of ones middos of critical importance, but it is in fact more significant than the observance of the mitzvos. This does not meant that one can be lax in observing the mitzvos, but simply means that if one wishes to raise ones level of observance, more energy must go into repairing ones middos, because our middos are at the root of all of our mitzvah observance. Fixing a mitzvah without fixing the root middah is like cutting a weed without pulling up the root. At some stage the weed will again rear its ugly head.

Secular success literature has in recent years also moved in the direction of a deeper improvement of character rather than the “window dressing” of good manners. In one of the “bibles” of secular success literature, Steven Covey makes a distinction between what he calls a “personality ethic” and a “character ethic”, the latter being the preferred approach to a successful life. There is however a major difference between the secular approach and the Torah one, for the secular approach still sees the improvement of deep character as the means to an end, namely getting what you want out of life. Torah however views the improvement of character as an end in itself, and one of the major reasons we walk this earth. I quote Covey: “If I try use human influence strategies and tactics of how to get other people to do what I want, to work better, to be more motivated, to like me and each other — while my character is fundamentally flawed, marked by insincerity — then, in the long run, I cannot be successful. My duplicity will breed distrust and everything I do — even using so-called good human relations techniques — will be perceived as manipulative. It simply makes no difference how good the rhetoric is or even how good the intentions are; if there is little or no trust, there is no foundation for success. Only basic goodness gives life to technique. To focus on technique is like cramming your way through school…..”

A careful reading of his words reveals that fundamentally he does not disagree with the personality “quick-fix” approach, but simply sees that it will not always allow you to manipulate people and get what you want. Improving your character in his mind is simply a more effective method, like the crook who realizes that he must wear a suit and greet the guard if he wishes to be admitted into the bank he intends to rob.

But how does one go about changing or modifying a middah? One of the most important things to do is to first familiarize yourself with your unique “middos constellation”, the combination of thresholds that exist within you. Without knowing where your strong and weak points are, you cannot set out to improve them.

At the root of all middos improvement is one’s knowledge and awareness of the fact that a higher Power runs the world. A person who lives with an awareness of Hashem in his life is equipped to confront his ordeals and consequently shape and mold his middos.

For example, a person who struggles in the area of anger has just been told that his car was damaged and that he is not insured. His capacity to restrain himself and not vent his frustrations against the people around him is directly proportional to his awareness that Hashem is in control of his world. By wielding this tool, he extends his threshold and becomes a greater human being as a result. This is true with every middah, be it gluttony, arrogance, melancholia, anxiety or thriftiness. The more that we integrate the knowledge of Hashem into our lives the greater our chances are of standing up to our challenges and expanding our inner horizons. In truth, every struggle is actually a struggle of faith. The Orchos Tzaddikim, a classic work on the subject of Middos, sums this up in the following way:

“Any person who wishes to bring himself to fine middos, needs to blend Yiras Shomayim with every middah, for Yiras Shomayim is the knot which holds all the middos in place. This can be compared to a string which is threaded through the holes of pearls, and they tie a knot at the end to hold all the pearls. There is no doubt that if the knot unravels, all the pearls will fall. So to it is with Yirah; it maintains all the middos and if the knot of Yirah should unravel, all the fine middos will be separated from you. Moreover, when you do not have good middos, there is not in your hands Torah or Mitzvos, because the entire Torah hinges on remedying ones middos.”

May we all merit to a Shanah Tova filled with personal growth.

Eric Bruntlett’s Elul

By CJ Srullowitz (http://luleidemistafina.blogspot.com)

One of the joys of being an “ex-pat” Phillies fan, living in New York, is that I can watch my team’s games over the internet. This sure beats the good ol’ days when, in order to listen to my favorite team play, I had to drive around the county in my car, with the radio set to 1210 on the AM dial, until I found a spot that picked up, all the way from Eastern Pennsylvania, a somewhat static-free signal.

Nonetheless, when the Phillies come to New York, I am, ironically, left without video coverage of the game. You see, the way it works is that the local cable companies pay enormous sums of money to reserve all broadcast rights within a team’s market. So if you want to watch a game, in New York, featuring the Mets or the Yankees you first need to buy a cable television packages. In each market, Major League Baseball “blacks out” the local games from its internet service. So when the Phillies play the Yankees or Mets, I’m in a bind. It’s either the radio or Kosher Delight.

Such was the case today as I drove back from getting a tooth filled at my dentist’s office in Queens. The Phils were getting ready to take the field against the Mets at their brand-new home, Citi Field, just as I was driving past, my lower left jaw still numb from novacaine. I debated turning off the Grand Central Parkway and heading for the stadium parking lot to look for a last-minute ticket. But with more important things to do with my afternoon than invest three hours in a ballgame, I did the sensible thing and headed home, trying to convince myself that radio broadcasts are as good as the real thing.

The game appeared over as soon as it started. The Phillies hit two three-run homers in the first inning. But the Mets, down by six runs twice in the game, started to chip away at the Phillies lead. By the ninth, the Phillies were still in front, 9-6, but the momentum had begun to shift toward the Mets.

At this point my computer—through which I was listening to the game—informed me that the blackout had been removed for the bottom of the ninth inning, and the video feed commenced. This was great only briefly, as the first Mets hitter wound up on third, on a three-base error by the Phillies’ first baseman. That play, coupled with an unreliable Brad Lidge and his 7.05 earned run average, on the mound for the Phils, made the phaithful understandably edgy.

That unease gave way to unbridled nail-biting after second baseman Eric Bruntlett muffed the next two plays—the first, scored an error; the second, charitably, a hit. Why was Bruntlett even in the game? Where was Chase Utley, the Phillies’ perennial All-Star, and unofficial leader? He was being given—he never takes—a day off. Bruntlett, hitting .128 for the year, numbers that do not befit someone competing on a championship team, was subbing.

All of a sudden, it was deja vu all over again for the Phillies: holding a slight lead, the tying runs on base, the winning run at the plate, and nobody out—all being protected by Brad Lidge, who was carrying the weight of eight blown saves on his shoulders. We phans have been here before, we’ve seen this picture, and it doesn’t always end pretty.

And then it did.

The next hitter, Jeff Francoeur hit a bullet up the middle. Bruntlett, moving to his right, jumped up, caught the ball and landed on second base, doubling up Luis Castillo, who had been running to third on the pitch. Bruntlett then engaged in an awkward two-step with Dan Murphy, who was just arriving at second base, before tagging him on the letters. And just like that, the game was over. Phillies win.

An unassisted triple play!

I had never seen one before. Not surprising since this was only the fifteenth time in Major League history that one had ocurred. It is the rarest feat in baseball.

Eric Bruntlett, who had been responsible for allowing the two runners to reach base safely to begin with; who was on the verge of being the goat of the game; who because of his awful hitting this year might have been cut from the team if they had gone on to lose this game, emerges as the hero and will have his name in the record books. He was in the right place at the right time and reacted decisively.

Life, like baseball, has many twists and turns—some of them sudden. Elul is a time when we all are asked to come to terms with our behavior throughout the year. Perhaps we are hitting a spiritual .128 for the season. Perhaps we made a couple of errors over the summer. Perhaps we are on the verge of blowing the Big Game.

Now we are in the right place at the right time. We, too, must react decisively. Eric Bruntlett reminds us: “Yeish shekoneh olamo besha’a achas”—it’s never too late to turn it around. Redemption can come more quickly than you ever imagined possible.

Dealing With The Pain of a Difficult Year

Last Rosh Hashana, 2008 – I can’t even remember where I was. I mean in the sense of where my wife, myself and three children were for the Jewish New Year. How can one forget something like that? Either we were in Passaic, or in Far Rockaway or Pittsburgh – as well, we lived in Passaic, and usually for the holidays went out-of-town.

How can I forget which place I sat for all those hours? Whose home I was in? How can a healthy 35 year old forget?

I’ll tell you. Now, after I wrote that I just realized that in 2008 I was not even in the US! I was in Beit VaGan, Israel. Whew. But how could I even forget something like that and think that I was in another country altogether?

I’ll tell you. January 21, 2009, my wife gave birth to a dead baby. A baby that was 37 weeks old. Everything since that day has consumed my mind/spirits/energy surrounding the death of this potential person. Even today, September 11, 2009, I was thinking about it in an intense fashion while at a morning minyan.

Normally, and unfortunately, I do not make morning minyans. I work from 10pm until 5:45am. Sometimes, I stay on the phones for about a half-hour longer trying to get one more client and make one more commission. However, 99% of the time, by about 4am and until the end of the “night” I am wiped out and barely able to stay awake to make the calls I am supposed to make. Additionally, my bus back to Beit Shemesh doesn’t even run until around 7am, so what I am supposed to do from 6am until 7am? Daven.

For a while, I tried to walk to the closest minyan from my work location, but by the time I arrived that minyan was half-way done, and by the time I got my tallit and tefillin on, they were even closer to being finished, and by the time I sat down to start my prayers, I was asleep. Basically, it is not advised or “allowed” to sleep with tefillin on.

Now, no one at the minyan knew that I was awake all night and had walked about 15 minutes just to fall asleep. What they saw was a 35 year old man, healthy falling asleep with tefillin on his head. Since, this is not allowed, they would gently try to wake me up. Several times I was asked to leave and go home. Little did the people in this shul know that my home was another 45 minutes away by bus. We only know so little when we see things – we almost never see the whole picture when we observe people – and even if a person tries to describe the greater picture, like I am, they leave out so many details that one still really never knows exactly what the background story is or was. Especially, if the person telling it cannot even get the facts right, even though they experienced them! How insightful is for criminal lawyers?

Anyway, my wife gave birth to a dead baby. I know, I dropped that little nugget on y’all way up at the beginning and I am sure that this is why I am writing this letter. I just wanted you to know a bit of the background as to why I couldn’t remember where I was last Rosh Hashana.

So, today, I was at shul, when normally, I am not. I was supposed to go into work. Thursday, however, after my pre-work/pre-bus ride nap at 8pm, I just felt incredibly sick and did not want to go into work. So, I called in sick.

That meant I slept in my own bed at night and woke up around 6am. Two of my three children had already joined my wife and I in our beds and were trying to wake us up. I wanted to sleep more. I wanted to never wake up. Sometimes I hope that I just won’t wake up. But not in a suicidal way – that I want to kill myself – more in the way, that I just sometimes don’t want to get out of bed. That the view I’ll see is the ocean with white sand and seagulls.

Finally, around 6:30 my wife and I get out of bed and start our day. By the time 7:30am rolls around we’ve already dressed two of our children, fed them, and started to get dressed. I already took out a load of laundry and brought in clothes from the line on our porch (merapeset) and put another load of laundry into the machine. Our daughter was finally waking up, my wife was saying her brachot, and the boys had already spilled cheerios on the floor. One of the boys spilled cheerios on the other, so I had to change those wet clothes. It was now getting closer to 7:45am, and I still had not gotten fully dressed and wanted to go to a minyan, since I don’t normally go to minyan’s in the morning.

My wife had other plans, and she was about to tell me. “Honey, I have an idea,” she starts. I cut her off, “I am sure you do, and I bet it involves me running an errand,” I retorted in a mean voice. “Wait, let me finish,” she pleaded. “Hadassah, I know that it will involve me running some rather productive errand, meanwhile, I’ll miss the 8am minyan, and by the time I come home I’ll be tired and won’t want to daven at all.”

Okay, I didn’t say those exact words, but the argument had already started. Fortunately, my wife had the foresight to stop it, and we moved on. I left the house and made it to shul, only to realize that I was exhausted. After I put on my tefillin and tallit and tried to start my morning prayers, meanwhile the seleach zibbor (chazzan/or person leading the morning services) was already way ahead of where I was, even though I got there 10 minutes before the officials start.

Sigh – I’ll never fit it, I’ll never keep up. Why do I even bother? The negative tape had begun and now it was beating the crap out of my emotionally. See that guy in the corner in the front? He can daven. You? Don’t even start. See that guy in the side over there? I bet he never does laundry, work over-night, make the bed, and all the other things you do – he, he, gets to learn all day and his wife works, and their children don’t need to watch videos every morning. Why do you even start. So, I close my eyes. Wait, I am wearing tefillin! I try to open my eyes, I look at the Hebrew words. Sigh. Who am I kidding? I can’t read this and understand. But when I try to read the English, I just don’t believe. Why are you even bothering to come to this shul. The weather is beautiful outside, wouldn’t you rather be sitting on the grass and letting the world move by? Sigh. I close my eyes again. Wait, you’re wearing tefillin and why are you so tired? You slept in your own bed – none of your children woke up in the middle of the night. Sure, they came into your bed at 5:30am or some un-godly hour, but you should be awake and singing to Hashem. Okay. I start to try to sing the words that I know and quickly realize that I don’t have any tunes that I know well to fit the words that are on the page. Meanwhile, the minyan is speeding along and I still haven’t gotten to Baruach Shamar.

Anyway – I close my eyes. Again. Wait, I am wearing tefillin, I can’t sleep with tefillin on. There on the table is yet another distraction. A pamphlet about Hidraboot, the “Charedi” TV station. Yes, there is a Charedi TV station and according the materials that I started reading, instead of davening, has been revolutionizing the Jewish world.

Wow! I got excited, hey, maybe I could work for them? I started thinking about that idea, instead of davening of course. Wow – I bet I could really contribute. I mean, I am baal teshuva, I’ve been through a lot! People always say I have a great story, maybe I could inspire some one else? I know, it’d have to be English speakers, and I am not a rabbi, but maybe I could focus on people who are just starting on the path and need a “normal” voice/person to help them through the transitions in habits.

Wait. I can’t even daven, so what good can I do anyone? I close my eyes again. This time, while the minyan has started to get to the shomei esray, I start to think about the dead baby.

I start to imagine it’s last hours inside my wife’s body. I start to imagine all the water, the umbilical cord – that eventually killed my baby. I imagine it struggling for life-choking to death – drowning in the very source of its life.

I recall the hours in the hospital after we knew that the baby was dead inside – and that my wife had to give birth to a dead body. Since her last child was a C-section, we had wanted to have a “V”-back. Everything was planned around this idea – And now the baby was dead. We were at Hadassah Ein-Karem with a dead baby.

And my wife wasn’t even 1 centimeter dilated. No petosin, as that could rupture her internal scar from the C-section and make it impossible for her to have a vaginal birth again (of course, not that you two are thinking about other children right now, the doctors said).

Basically, because it was a horrible experience, I’ll skip all the crying, the fact that we left the hospital, went to a mall and had dinner!, and skip the part were we took a tour of the hospital to find the plaques that reported my wife’s grand-father who had donated money to the very hospital we were in (yes, we did those things – all in a fog – and all in the knowledge that we had a dead body with us).

I’ll skip the details of the hours of waiting until my wife was further dilated and all the kooky and odd things that her and our birthing coach did to get her to the point of delivery.

Now, “normally” babies send a signal somehow, and the internal pitosin kicks in, and contractions start and well, babies are born. Millions of them every day. For thousands of years. How can a dead baby send the signal? Yet, contractions started with some help – which I won’t describe, but it was not chemical drips from the nurses.

Eventually, my wife, our labor coach, and myself were trying to get a dead baby out of her body and into the ground.

They asked us if we wanted to know – to know its gender, to know what happened, to know. Before we left the hospital, to go eat – one of my brothers and his wife came. This brother is close with the Amshinov Rebbe in Beit Vagan. Now, this person, the Rebbe is known to keep himself in shabbot beyond the 24 hours that Shabbot exists for every other Jew. Anyway, it was Tuesday when we were in the hospital, around 6pm, when we were officially told via the sonogram that the baby was indeed dead.

By the time my brother and his wife arrived, it was close to 8pm – I think. My memory as demonstrated above is not so great.

The rebbe had told my brother to tell me the following: no shiva, no period of mourning, no ripping of our garments “kriah”, no knowledge of where the baby was going to be buried, no going to the site of the burial for myself or my wife – and the rebbe advised that we should not see the baby, we shouldn’t find out its gender and not to find out what happened. Okay – well – what can I say?

Put yourself in my shoes – I mean you can’t really, because you don’t know anything about me – except what I am revealing – which is not the complete picture.

So – now the baby comes out. Have you ever been at a birth? The three other children that were born to my wife – all were accompanied by their tears/screaming our tears of happiness, relief and exhaustion. G-d enters the room at a birth.

Don’t believe me? That’s fine too. G-d also enters the room when a baby dies. It is a silent entry – the quiet stillness of death – Judaism says that G-d has an Angel of Death. I don’t know anything about Angels. I am sure I know nothing about G-d – I do know that G-d was in the room. G-d came in the form of the nurses, the midwives, the small crib that our dead baby was placed in and wheeled out in – never to be seen again. I did see its face.

We did eventually find out its gender. We did eventually find out that the umbilical cord had wrapped itself around the baby’s neck. “There’s nothing you could have done to prevent this – and there is no reason to think it was preventable. It is not genetic. We are sorry for your loss.”

Today, September 11, 2009, is also my sister’s English birthday and also, the anniversary of September 11, 2001.

So, there I was exhausted at this minyan, trying to distract myself from thinking about the death of our baby – and just couldn’t even keep my eyes open, when really I should have all this energy – I mean I am a 35 year old man….

And the self-punishment starts. Finally, the minyan is finished with davening – and I am still at the Shema. I’ll never keep up with the Schwartz’s in this town. Sigh, I think I just want to home and go to sleep.

Instead, I wrote this. See, one can find energy for the things that are distractions – but where is the energy for the things that matter?

Rosh Hashana is next Shabbot. Does G-d suspend judgment because of Shabbot? What “trumps” judgment? Does the holy shabbot interrupt the din that is hanging on the world?

As I keep on trying not to daven, these thoughts enter my mind. Again, I just close my eyes –

And there is my baby.

Four Common BT Road Bumps

Partners in Torah recently listed four road bumps a BT might hit:

• Daily life as an observant Jew is not always easy. Many demands are made of us, and life is infinitely more complicated for a person concerned with Shabbos, Kashrus, a large family and yeshivah tuitions than it is for one with 1.2 children, a dog, and a boat.

• Very few BT’s can afford to sustain the high level of learning and regular interaction with inspiring personalities that they enjoyed in the introductory stages of their return.

• They’re no longer courted and wooed by people eager to ease their entry into the frum community. They’re viewed as successes, and the attention is focused elsewhere.

• Their view of the observant community is transformed from that of an outsider to an insider. Suddenly they see warts and imperfections that they somehow missed in their initial encounters. Reconciling these imperfections with their initial, overly-positive perspective is never easy, and often discouraging.

A Different Sort of Religious Experience

The hard science types out there will disagree, but it really wasn’t what I expected at all. In fact, I wasn’t expecting anything as far as I can tell.

Let me go back a bit and lay the groundwork here. My father, alav hashalom, was a very intelligent erudite individual who was also very good with his hands. Although I typically saw him reading a book or the New York Times or something related to school (he was a professional educator); he had a fascination and quick grasp of mechanical things, too. I remember as a little boy stopping by construction sites so that my father could marvel at the machinery and techniques employed.

My mother, every bit as intelligent and an educator as well, is the stereotypical liberal arts type. Song, dance, and theatre are her big interests. She devours books, and did some pretty fair writing in her time. Even in her eighties, she recently produced and directed a pretty serious show through the assisted living place she calls home.

Neither of my parents were outdoorspeople. They can’t figure out where I came from. From a small age I was playing in the local river or swamp (against stern parental warnings). As I got older, skipping school usually meant going off to meditate and write poetry by the Mianus River, rather than partying at someone’s house. As a yeshiva student, Aharon Bier alav hashalom was my hero and my professional aspiration was to be a guide and show people the wildest corners of the Land of Israel, Tanach in hand. As a school teacher, vacations were spent backpacking and fishing wherever was nearby in the American Southwest, British Columbia, or New England. If I had only a day, then a quick hike up a local hill was good, too. I am never so happy as when I take off with a deep or inspiring book in my pack and some time to contemplate Hashem’s creation. The Ramhal, The Nazir, Breslov Hasidus – whatever seems right at the time. Ten days in the wilderness to marvel at the creation ‘round the clock is my idea of rapture.

I never seemed to have my father’s mechanical talent; nor interest, really. I may be the only kid who flunked shop class for lack of aptitude. Math and physics made no sense to me, despite my interest in science. But put me in the beit midrash or out in the mountains, and I would figure out what to do with myself. The two places seem to go together naturally in my mind. The Netziv and the Radak are among those who point out how our forefathers would especially go out into the wilderness to meditate and seek inspiration. The Rambam says that one can achieve love of God (in the Mishneh Torah in the relevant halachot) by going out and examining/contemplating Hashem’s creation. To me, the outdoors guy, this makes easy sense. I once had a conversation with a couple in the mountains north of Vancouver, BC about this very effect. ‘Did you ever find yourself so inspired by the countryside that a sense of gratitude just welled up within you?’ ‘Yes, of course.’ ‘Well, WHO do you think you were grateful to?’ They got the point immediately.

So there I was, in my garage during the winter about three years ago. My 30 year old motorbike and main transportation was sorely in need of upkeep and serious repair. I know next to nothing about this stuff. So I set to it with shop manuals and the ongoing determined help of friends on an internet forum, SOHC4. (By the way, this incident is one of many that showed me how the internet is an amazing conduit for hesed ‘round the world. Complete strangers with little or no agenda helping each other daily with advice, encouragement, and material goods. Amazing. We see the inherent good that Hashem created within us.) For eleven days straight I worked on the tortured wiring on this bike, and a few more days on the carbureters. I was in a world I knew nothing about. Interestingly, I found the time therapeutic and focussing.

Then it began to happen. No, I wasn’t delerious. ;-) I was, however, very focussed on the tasks of diagnosing and repairing the electrical and mechanical issues with my ride. I started to realize, in the midst of working on the bike, how the principles taught in physics lay behind all the engineering I was taking advantage of and trying to cooperate with. Math became the language to express the ideas. But it didn’t stop there. I didn’t just come away with an appreciation for Mr. Sochiro Honda. I deeply sensed how all this finely tuned system of forces balance with each other in an undeniable and carefully scripted display of Hashem’s will. It is amazing to begin to see the interplay of factors like flow, turbulence and vacuum and how they can serve us when engineered into devices like a carbureter. A carefully engineered machine is an expression of the various forces through which God operates our world. All these factors are available to us for our benefit. Physics, Chemistry, the language of Math all express how the Divine will filters into the material world. God made it all.

I really don’t know how to describe the amazement that enveloped me, sitting next to my bike with greasy hands and realizing Hashem’s rule in His world. All I can say is it was a truly religious experience. I walked from the garage back into the house a different person. I have never been the same again. Today I look at these machines, and my limited understanding and appreciation of them immediately awakens a sense of awe like I feel in the mountains. Hashem’s will is expressed in myriad ways in all his creation and how it works. I don’t know how I missed it before; but I have never been quite the same again. I am truly grateful to our Creator that little window was opened and expanded how I am awed by His mastery and presence.

Rav Kook writes regarding the verse ‘know Him in all your ways’ that whatever ‘way’ we happen to be on or engaged in at the moment, we must know Hashem. Maybe this moment of enlightenment was a bit of what he means. It certainly wasn’t when or where I would have looked for a religious experience.

The Rosh Hashanah Yom Kippur Survival Kit

Excerpt From The Rosh Hashanah Yom Kippur Survival Kit
________________________________________

(From Introduction) Just Do It and Don’t Ask Questions

The dominant medium for communicating Judaism to this generation has been the synagogue or community Hebrew schools. Whatever Jewish education most Jews possess today came from those after-school or Sunday morning classes that we all swore we would never subject our children to. Another medium was our parents or grandparents. While no one can dispute that their hearts were deeply rooted in the right place, the fact remains that even the deepest of sentiments in no way readied them for the task of articulating Jewish values in a relevant and cogent manner. More often than not, their fallback position was, “We do it because we’re Jewish and that’s just the way it is.” And for better or worse, such an argument no longer carries the weight it once did.

We find ourselves in a bewildering world. We want to make sense of what we see around us and to ask: What is the nature of the universe? Where is our place in it and where did it and we come from? Why is it the way it is? Up to now, most scientists have been too occupied with the development of new theories that describe what the universe is to ask the question why.
— Stephen W. Hawking, A Brief History Of Time

The same, I believe, can be said about Judaism today. As educated adults who happen to be Jewish, we tend to look at our religious heritage and find it to be rather bewildering. We would like to make sense of it, to find for ourselves a place within it, but we just aren’t sure what to make of the whole thing.

To a degree, the quandary of Jewish identity also stems from a prominent focus on the what and how of Jewish life at the expense of the why. A great problem is that Jewish education has stressed the mechanics of Judaism (the what and the how) and has neglected the reasons, meaning and spiritual ideas behind Jewish practice (the why). In a world where people carefully consider which activities will fill their time, you had better give them a darn good reason for choosing High Holiday services over the World Series, or quite frankly, you don’t stand a chance! …

The Why of Being Jewish

… This book has been written for three types of people. Firstly, it is for people who have given-up on formalized Judaism and who are not planning to attend synagogue this year. If this is you, then I want to make the following promise: This book will give you a radically different understanding of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and perhaps your entire Jewish identity. Read this book—I dare you—and you will find that there just might be a side to Judaism, and even to synagogue, that you can learn to enjoy and look forward to.

Secondly, if you are planning to attend services but are dreading the experience, then again, this book has been written for you. What’s more, I would suggest you read it twice. Once during the weeks before Rosh Hashanah and again during the services themselves.

Lastly, if you are among those who already have some sense of the meaning of these holidays, then I think that you—perhaps more than anyone else—will find the Survival Kit to be a worthwhile intellectual and spiritual supplement to your experience in synagogue this year.

(From Chapter 4) How to Survive Synagogue

But Rabbi, even if I can read some of the prayers, I still don’t understand what I’m saying…To tell you the truth, I’d rather take a quiet reflective walk in the park this year than spend all that time in synagogue saying a bunch of words that don’t really mean much to me anyway.

Prayer is meant to be a powerful, relevant and meaningful experience. At the same time, a lengthy synagogue experience can be a bit intimidating. The following is a list of perspectives to keep in mind this year that should help to make the services as personally uplifting as possible.

1) Five minutes of prayer said with understanding, feeling and a personal connection to the words and their significance means far more than five hours of lip service. Therefore, don’t look at your prayer book as an all-or-nothing proposition consisting of hundreds of prayers that absolutely must be recited. Rather, try looking at each page as its own self-contained opportunity for prayer, reflection and inspiration. If you are successful with one page that’s great; if not, then just move right along to the next page, the next of many opportunities.

2) “Self-imposed expectations lead to self-induced frustrations.” Therefore, don’t expect to be “moved” by every prayer or to follow along with the entire service.

3) Read slowly through the prayers, carefully thinking about what you’re saying, and don’t be concerned about lagging behind the congregation. Look, the worst that could happen is that you will be on a different page than everyone else, but don’t worry, the pages will probably be announced so you can always catch up.

4) If a particular sentence or paragraph touches you, linger there a while. Say the words over and over to yourself—softly, but audible to your own ear. Allow those words to touch you. Feel them. And if you’re really brave, then close your eyes and say those words over and over for a couple of moments.

5) You’re not that proficient in Hebrew? Don’t worry, God understands whatever language you speak. And like a loving parent, He can discern what’s in your heart even if you can’t quite express it the way you would like.

6) As you sit in your synagogue on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur you are joined by millions of Jews in synagogues all over the world. You are a Jew, and by participating in the holidays you are making a powerful statement about your commitment to Judaism and the Jewish people.

________________________________________

This is an excerpt from the “Rosh Hashanah Yom Kippur Survival Kit”.

If you would like to purchase this book at 20% off click here

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Simple Kavannas for Elul

Elul is the Time to Start on the Little Things
At the beginning of Shaarei Teshuva (The Gates of Teshuva), Rabbeinu Yonah teaches that if we make our efforts in Teshuva, then Hashem will assist us in return, even to the extent of reaching the highest level of loving Him. But we have to make our efforts. Rabbi Welcher says that Elul is the time to start making efforts on the little things as we work up to dealing with some of our bigger issues.

Kavanna is a Big “Little Thing”

Where does kavanna fit in? On the one hand, we all know how difficult it is to daven a full Shomoneh Esrai with good kavanna, but on the other hand saying one brocha or doing one mitzvah with the proper kavanna is something that all of us can achieve. Being focused on Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh this year has shown me the importance of kavanna and awakened me to the fact they we can spend our whole lives involved in Torah, Mitzvos, Tefillah and Chesed, but if we are not focused on Hashem during our day to day lives, then we are not properly building our souls and achieving our purpose in this world and the next. The obvious place to start building is when we’re involved in Hashem focused activities like davening and mitzvos.

Kavanna during Mitzvos
There are three basic thoughts to have in mind before performing a mitzvah:
1) Hashem is the one who commanded this mitzvah;
2) I am the subject of that command; and
3) Through the act that I am about to perform, I am fulfilling Hashem’s command.
It’s that simple, the Commander (Hashem), the commanded (me), the fulfilment (the mitvah). So, perhaps we can focus ourselves before we do a mitzvah and have these three things in mind.

Kavanna during Prayer
Shacharis davening consists of four basic components, while Mincha and Maariv and brachos contain some subset of those components which are:
1) Thanking Hashem for the physical goodness He gives to us (Berachos/Korbanos)
2) Praising Hashem for His general awesomeness (Pesukei D’Zimra)
3) Intellectually accepting and appreciating the Kingship and Oneness of Hashem (Shema)
4) Standing before Hashem with spiritual awareness that He is the source of everything
Obviously there’s a lot to talk about here and I highly recommend Aryeh Kaplan’s Jewish Mediation as a primary source for understanding kavanna and prayer.

Kavanna during Shacharis
Let’s go through a typical Shacharis and pick some potential Kavanna points.
1) When putting on Tallis and Tefillin, have in mind the three points of Kavanna during mitzvos described above
2) When saying morning Brachos, be thankful that Hashem has given you the opportunity to say these Brochos
3) During Korbonos, say at least Parshas HaTamid and Ketores with extra focus concentrating on the simple meaning of the words
4) During Pesukei D’Zimra in Ashrei say this line with focus: Poseach Es YoDecha… – You open your hand and satisfy every living thing’s desires”. A basic understanding is that although Hashem runs the world through orderly natural laws (as symbolized by the aleph-beis structure of Ashrei), He is constantly active in running the world.
5) During Shema, before the first verse have in mind that you are accepting Hashem’s Kingship and oneship with the implication of following a Torah way of life. According to some you should have in mind that you would actually give up your life for Hashem, if necessary.
6) Before Shmoneh Esrai have in mind that you are about to stand before Hashem and pray to him, that He is awesome, and that we are relatively small compared to Him, the source of everything.

These are just some ideas. Certainly we can do one a week, or one a day, or possibly more. Whatever works for you, but let’s make the effort and earn the merit to grow closer to Hashem at this time.

Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh Author Speaking Schedule For Sept 2009

Rav Itamar Shwartz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh seforim will be arriving in the U.S. next week for about one week. He will be speaking in Lakewood, Boro Park, Flatbush, Monsey, and Toronto. The following is the schedule of his public speaking engagements.

Lakewood:

* Sunday, September 6th – 2:30 PM – Yeshiva Katana, 120 2nd Street
* Shabbos, Parshas Nitzavim-Vayeleich (Sept. 11-12th) Lakewood Schedule:
* Friday afternoon Parsha Shiur – 2 PM, September 11th at Rav Strulowitz’s Beis Medresh (Corner Madison Ave. & 8th Street)
* Shalosh Sheudos at Tiferes Shalom (Rav Berel Leifer’s Shul: Corner Monmmouth Ave. & 4th Street)
* For information on Slichos and other drashos in Lakewood, please call R’ Avigdor Jerusalem at 732-363-2453

Boro Park: Sunday, September 6th – Time & Location TBA – Call 516-668-6397 for more information

Monsey: Tuesday night, Sept. 8th 8:30 PM at Yeshivas Ohr Someach, 244 Route 306, Monsey
– Call or e-mail R’ Doniel Coren for private appointments before or after the drasha: 914-645-4199 or dcoren@aish.com

Flatbush: Wednesday night, Sept. 9th – 8:30 PM, at Bnei Binyamin Torah Center, 727 Ave. O (corner E. 8th)

Toronto:
* Sunday September 13th:
* 5:15-6 PM: At the Chassidishe Kollel (Rabbi Moeller)
* 7:15-8:30 PM: At the home of Dr. Seidenfeld
* Monday Morning, September 14th:
* 9-9:45 AM at the Old Yesodei Hatorah building on Lawrence Avenue

In addition to these public drashos, the Rav will be availible for an all day workshop on Labor Day, September 7th in preperation for the new year 5770. Spots are still available for that. Please CLICK HERE for more information and registration.

The Rav will also be available for private appointments in Woodmere, NY on Labor Day night, this coming Monday, September 7th. For an appointment, or more information about the trip in general, please call Benyomin Wolf at 516-668-6397 or e-mail him at benbenabe@aol.com.

For more information, please see Dixie Yid

How [Do] I Know I Made the Right Choice?

As I became frum [20 years ago at age 19 and fully observant by age 20] and for the first couple of years and afterwards, I would always question “How do I know I made the right choice?”. The answer I came up with then was:

• Everything physical is temporary.
• I believe in a soul.
• I believe in G-d.
• I believe in the Revelation at Sinai.

Those beliefs were the seeds that germinated into a firm conviction of making the choice to become frum with all that it entails. Of course having the commitment to learn four years in Yeshiva and the privileged of learning with VERY patient Rabbonim to field my questions and learning Torah only helped. However, I think one of the interesting dynamics of being a BT is that once you’ve turned your life upside down for something you believe, you will do it again if compelled to do so. So am I frum 20 years later because of habit, community pressure, family pressure, etc? How do I know I made the right choice?

I heard it once said that “Judaism is not a religion, it is a relationship.”. That really captures and underscores everything – I know this is the right choice because I am in a relationship with Hashem. A healthy relationship is a two way street where both define what needs to be contributed in order to sustain and nourish the relationship. So while I may have not initially thought to keep kosher, become shomer Shabbat, observe Taharas HaMipocha, daven 3x a day with a minyan, set times for Torah study etc. – since this is important to Hashem and I want a relationship with Him – then I accustom myself to these things (which may or may not come naturally (most don’t)) to foster our relationship.

Entering into the month of Elul, I am reminded of the verse by Shlomo HaMelech from Shir HaShirim “I am to my Beloved as my Beloved is to me” which makes up the acronym for Elul. So this concept of a relationship between Hashem and every individual Jew being compared to a marriage is not new and Elul is an opportune time to reflect on that.

Marriage has its phases – dating, newlywed and married life. These phases and how they play out in a BT’s experience deserves an article unto itself but the main point is – while dating and being a newlywed are times when feelings of love are overflowing – it is only during the 3rd phase – married life i.e. “I am together with you, no matter what, forever. I am willing to compromise, grow and build a life in partnership with you.” – that living that over time creates real commitment and true love. This 3rd phase is especially real to me because I’m no longer in 1rst & 2nd phases which are often characterized by the “wide-eyed” BT immersed in the beauty of Torah without obligations. Boruch Hashem I’m married, have 8 children [ages 15-1yr], and work as an IT Program Manager as part of an overall Torah lifestyle with all that it entails. Needless to say that while its very beautiful, its also has its challenges. At this stage in life and phase in my “marriage” with all of the “Orthonomics”, I often ask myself “Hey – you are now 40 and living a life based on beliefs and information you had at 19 – how do you know you made the right decision?”.

I know this is the right choice because I am in a relationship with Hashem. So while I may have gotten “married” at 19, I’m in a 20 year long marriage that has been a dynamic relationship filled with discovery, growth, ups, challenges and a love that comes from commitment, not convenience.

Now in Elul it is especially appropriate to review and deepen my “Shalom Bayis”, my relationship with Hashem as the pasuk says “I am to mt Beloved” first, then follows “my Beloved is to me.”.

Wishes for a shanah tovah U’metuka

Should Our Kiruv Focus Be All Jews or Just the Best and Brightest?

A reader wrote in stating that only the best and the brightest have a real chance of succeeding as Baalei Teshuvah and contributing to the overall Orthodox Jewish community, implying that our kiruv efforts should be focused on the best and the brightest.

If we view Kiruv as helping people to reach and maintain an observant life style perhaps the reader has a point that resources should be focused on the best and the brightest with the highest probability of success.

If we view Kiruv as bringing anybody closer to Hashem to whatever degree, whether they become observant or not, then it would seem that we shouldn’t limit our efforts.

What do you think – Should Our Kiruv Focus Be All Jews or Just the Best and Brightest?