A Life-Changing Moment

Some people can accomplish more in a single moment than the rest of us do in our entire lives.

The Baraisa (Avodah Zara 17a) recounts the story of Elazar ben Durdaya who dedicated his life to empty pursuits and pleasures. One day, a chance comment caused him to realize how meaningless his life had been. He immediately broke down in tears of sincere penitence, accepted responsibility for his misdeeds and committed himself to changing. At that moment he died, and a voice called out from heaven and said, “He has been readied for the life of the World to Come!”

When the incident was reported to Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi, he said the sincerity of Elazar ben Durdaya’s teshuva was the key to its acceptance. He said some people acquire their place in the World to Come through many years of work, and some can acquire it in a single moment.

Doniel Goldrich* witnessed a similar moment of life-changing teshuva nearly 20 years ago. Doniel participated in a learning program sponsored by Partners In Torah. Once a week, Doniel and several other men from Lakewood drove to a synagogue in a neighboring town where they learned one-on-one with community members.

Doniel was paired with 38-year old Marshall Lichtenstein*. Marshall’s two sons attended the nearby religious Shalom Torah Center school, but at home the family kept very few practices.

Doniel and Marshall studied the Torah portion of the week together and used it as a springboard into many other topics, including Jewish philosophy, mitzvot and holidays. Over the two years that they learned together, Doniel was constantly inspired by Marshall’s excitement for learning and his passion for the material.

When Marshall was a young man, he had been diagnosed with a serious heart condition. But after years with no episodes, he assumed the condition had passed. However a year and a half after Doniel started learning with him, Marshall began feeling ill. After a battery of tests his cardiologist said that he needed a valve replacement as soon as possible. He went through open-heart surgery to have a pig’s valve inserted, and when the procedure was unsuccessful, his doctors performed a second round of surgery.

“Through the process we got to know him,” Doniel said. “We went to the hospital to visit him. He wasn’t religious at all, but he put on Tefillin in his hospital room for the first time. He was very appreciative that we visited.”

Committing to particular mitzvot can be a major source of merit for a person in a difficult situation, so Doniel suggested some small religious steps that Marshall could take. Religious growth is based on taking baby steps, and Doniel suggested a few preliminary ideas.

“I said to him ‘would you want to take on something, to bring to action things that we’ve talked about? It might bring fulfillment to your life. You don’t have to keep completely Kosher, but at some level you might consider keeping Kosher in your home, or maybe your wife would like to light Shabbas candles,’” Doniel said.

“That’s an amazing idea,” Marshall said. “Let me think about it.”

The following week Doniel spoke to him during their learning session after he had been released from the hospital. Doniel could see a difference in him, a certain excitement that he had never seen before.

“I could tell that something had changed. His face was lit up,” Doniel said. “Marshall said, ‘we can’t keep Kosher in our home now, but every Thursday night we go out on a date to particular restaurant, because of our favorite dish on the menu which is made of pork. We decided we won’t go to that restaurant anymore. We’ll change our weekly date because it’s not Kosher. It’s something we accepted on ourselves because of your suggestion.’”

“You could see the happiness on his face. It was not an easy decision. It was very hard,” Doniel said. “I told him how wonderful it was.”

For Marshall, it was a major step. To give up a favorite dish and restaurant takes a lot of self-control, but Marshall and his wife were committed to their decision. They understood that the value of their decision outweighed their enjoyment of the particular dish.

Ten days later, Doniel received a call from Marshall’s wife at 6:00 in the morning. She said that Marshall had passed away during the night.

Doniel put the family in touch with a local Orthodox funeral home which gave him a full kosher burial. Doniel and several of the other men from Lakewood attended the funeral. A Rabbi from the sons’ school delivered the eulogy. He knew Marshall and over the last two years had witnessed Marshall’s growing excitement for Jewish learning. The rabbi quoted the first Mishnah in Bava Kamma that refers to man as maveh, a word which comes from the root “to search or inquire.”

“He said that’s the root of human beings – we’re always searching, always looking to make ourselves better. This was Marshall. He was able in mid-life to become a searcher, to accept new opportunities.”

At the cemetery, Doniel and his friends made sure that Marshall was buried in the proper way. Everyone else had gone home after the service, but the men wanted to make sure everything was done perfectly. They threw shovelful after shovelful of dirt into the grave until it was full.

“After we finished putting dirt in the hole, a woman came over to us, hysterically crying. She said ‘I’m Marshall’s first cousin. To see what I just saw, he must have done something in his life to merit having people like you burying him.’”

That was Marshall. With his one major decision, Marshall transformed his life both in this world and the next world. How much can we achieve, not just in one special moment, but over a lifetime of dedicating ourselves on the proper path?

* Not his real name

Michael Gros is the former Chief Operating Officer of the outreach organization The Atlanta Scholars Kollel. He writes from Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel. The Teshuva Journey column chronicles uplifting teshuva journeys and inspiring kiruv tales. Send comments to michaelgros@gmail.com To receive the column via email or see back issues, visit http://www.michaelgros.com

Do You Have a Rav?

Pirkei Avos says that you should aseh lecha rav – make for yourself a Rav.

What do you think is the most important aspect of a Rav:
– Answering Halachic Questions
– Teaching you Gemora and other aspects of Torah
– Giving you Hashkafic Guidance

Do you have a Rav for all these categories? What categories have you seen others lacking in?

Would you be willing to pay a small fee to a Rav to guide you in these areas?

Do you think others with a Rav would be willing to pay a small fee?

No Easy Way Out

Dear Rabbi Brody,
I’m not religious, but I get a kick out of your column and your broadcasts, even though I disagree with you plenty. One thing I particularly don’t like is the fact that you’re always hounding Jews about keeping all of the 613 commandments. So what if I’m Jewish? Why can’t I just keep the seven Noahide commandments like you tell the non-Jews to? How come you’re so nice to the non-Jews, and you’re all over the case of the Jews. That doesn’t seem fair. Please explain. Thank you, GA from Ohio

Dear GA,
Diesel fuel is fine for a diesel engine, but it won’t propel a jet engine. The spiritual profile of a Jew differs that of a non-Jew. Therefore, the spiritual diet that can keep a non-Jew healthy won’t get a Jew off the ground. A non-Jew can eat shrimp and lobsters all day long, and as long as he/she observes the seven Noahide laws, he/she is considered righteous. If you eat 28 grams of shrimp, you put a gaping hole in your soul. Whenever you turn on a light bulb with a tiny flick of the finger on the Sabbath, you cut yourself off from Hashem. On the other hand, a non-Jew can do whatever he or she pleases on their Saturday.

If a Jew keeps 612 out of the Torah’s 613 commandments, and willfully breaks #613, he or she is considered a transgressor. Not fair? Consider this – if a grain of sand lands on your hand, nothing happens. But, if it lands in your eye, you suffer excruciating pain. Not fair? A hand and an eye – while both being very necessary parts of the body – are built differently with different strengths and sensitivities; the same goes for a Jew and a non-Jew. While both are Hashem’s beloved creations, they have different strengths and different sensitivities because of their different tasks in the world. Yet, like an eye and a hand, both are vital.

Since you’re a Jew – whether you like it or not – the only way for you to guarantee yourself true happiness in this world and in the next is to keep all 613 mitzvas. There’s no easy way out. We all came down to this lowly world to perform a difficult task, and not to have fun and games. Yes, I will continue to get on your cage for your own good – if that’s so distasteful for you, why do keep on reading the Lazer Beam? I’ll tell you why, GC – deep down, it makes your soul feel good. Think about it, GC. If you add some emuna to your life, you’ll feel great.

With smiles & blessings, Lazer Brody

Originally Published Here.

A Chatzi Yarchei Kallah ( How We Spent Our Winter Vacation)

Last August, we said good bye to our daughter, son in law and granddaughter as they embarked for a year ( at least) in Israel at YU/RIETS’s Gruss Kollel. We kept in touch via cellphone and pictures. However, we decided to spend two weeks in Israel between the end of December and the middle of January. Our younger daughter joined us after completing finals at SCW. The following is a small travelogue of some of the highlights of our trip.

The Gruss Campus is nestled in the Bayit Vagan neighborhood of Yerushalayim, which affords some of the most gorgeous views of Ir HaKodesh, especially at night. It includes a Beis Medrash, classrooms and two buildings for accomodations for the kollelniks, most of whom are young married couples with preschool children. Unlike many kollelim, Gruss provides two hot meals a day and free board,as well as empty apartments ( if available) for family relatives, which are far less expensive than an apartment or hotel room. We stayed on campus for the two weeks.

Of course, we connected and met with some dear friends who had made aliyah and went to the Kotel. We did not do any real touring simply because we wanted to spend time with our children. We spent a lot of quality time babysitting , etc with our kids. We were amazed at the difference between our then 14 month old and a now 18 month old granddaughter who loves to be cuddled, read to , climb, run and chase the cats and birds around the Gruss campus as well as ride the swings and see her cousins in a nearby neighborhood!

Prior to our leaving in late December, my SIL advised me that his chavrusa would be returning to NY for some simchos. I decided that even with chavrusos and sedarim for learning in our neighborhood. and even though I could have had Net access in the Gruss building, that I needed to recharge my spiritual batteries as much as possible with as minimal interruption outside of meals and just sit and learn each morning to the best of my abilities. I went without Net access for the entire trip and without seeing a newspaper for most of the trip.

Every morning, I davened in a wonderful minyan that lasted about an hour-twice as long as the normal Shacharis weekday morning. The davening on Shabbos was wonderful-great Baalei Tefilah and Baalei Kriah. I couldn’t recall the last time that Kabalas Shabbos was so inspiring. Some of the Avreichim davened by the windows of the Beis Medrash just to have the view of the Makom HaMikdash raise their kavanah. To paraphrase a commercial, some things in life are priceless-davening facing the Makom HaMikdash is truely priceless.

We decided to learn during the morning seder so he could review for an upcoming bchinah.
After breakfast, we returned to the Beis Medrash and after a preliminary shiur in Mesilas Yesharim given by the Rosh Kollel, we proceeded to work hard at Perek Chezkas HaBatim, a wonderfully rich Perek in Bava Basra with many Shitos HaRishonim for most of the days we were in Gruss.. In the afternoon, after lunch and Mincha, I attended shiurim in Hilcos Nidah and Hiclos Ishus as well as wonderful shirim at night both in Gruss and as well with Bayit Vagan with R Asher Weiss in a neighborhood shul that was packed with Bnei Torah who represented the full spectrum of hashkafas in Israel.

Being in Yerushalayim means that you either hike the steps of the Arei Yehudah and the Chutzos Yerushalayim or take the buses. We did both. Taking the buses is a fascinating way of picking up a feel for the country, as is taking a far more expensive taxi.

We were also blessed with great weather. At the suggestion of a neigbor’s daughter who is now living with her family in Romema, we also met with R Sheinberg and received his brachos. We also did our share of shopping for Sefarim in Shanky’s, Manny’s and Girsa, three of the best ( but hardly the only seforim stores ) in Yerusahalayim. Somehow, we were not overweight upon our return to NY.

RYBS once commented that while he knew that some American Jews were Shomer Shabbos, few understood the meaning of Erev Shabbos. I finally understood the Pshat of that observation after watching so many Yidden shop for their challah, kugel, etc in Geulah. The aroma of the streets just was so evocative of the upcoming Shabbos Kodesh and the rush to complete preparations for Shabbos on such a short day.. Such an atmosphere cannot be duplicated anywhere else-possibly not in even the Chasidishe neighborhoods and definitely not in our more MO communities even with our bakeries. up to date stores with groceries., Glatt Kosher meat, etc.

The Gruss Kollel is a wonderful gem in the world of YU/RIETS. The Avreichim and their families represent the full spectrum of the RIETS Beis Medrash and Roshei Yeshiva . They celebrate their Simchos, work together in all means of Chesed and a Gmach and had a Tisch on one Shabbos while we were there for the Chasan Torah and Chasan Breishis for the past Simchas Torah with nosh, etc and Divrei Torah. The Kolelleit also serve as a liason for Mussar Vaadim and Hachnosas Orchim for talmidim in Yeshivas Torah Sharaga, a yeshiva for “gap year” Americans.

For those readers who have a son or son in law in a Kollel or even in a yeshiva for a one year program, I urge you to not just visit and take your kids out for dinner or away for Shabbos in a hotel or apartment. Spend some time in the Beis Medrash. Appreciate a Tefilah that is led by a Baal Tefilah, as opposed to a “chiyuv” with a less than inspiring command of Nusach HaTefilah or Perush HaMilos. Try to spend some time learning Torah with your son and SIL. There is simply no greater way of showing your family that you value and appreciate Talmud Torah.

For all of us, it was truly a wondeful trip, with our batteries recharged in so many ways.

What I Would Tell Every New BT

1. Listen to the wise advice of Pirkei Avos. Make yourself a rabbi and acquire yourself a friend. It’s essential to have a reachable rabbi who has a good brain, a good heart, a sense of humor and lots of practical good sense. It’s also important to have an understanding and patient friend whom you can cry on, vent on and kvetch on.

2. Don’t be like the guy who’s always changing the hands on his wristwatch whenever he spots a different time on someone else’s. Maybe, just maybe, the other guy is wrong! And that’s even if the other guy is an FFB going back to the Vilna Gaon. That’s why you need the reachable rabbi and the patient friend mentioned in #1.

3. Having too much money will never be a problem again.

4. Having too much leisure time will also never be a problem again.

5. Angels are perfect. Human beings, even if they wear black hats or sheitels, are not.

6. It is the most wonderful experience in the world to be a grandparent to frum from birth grandchildren. Unfortunately, you first have to pass through a stage known as Being a Parent. Being a parent to frum children is a three-way race to see what you lose first: all your sanity, all your money, or all your hair.

7. Parts of New York are their own planet.

8. Do one tremendous awesome Yom Kippur to atone for all of those sins in your previous non-frum existence. From then on, take it one year at a time.

9. Learn to read Hebrew. You don’t need to actually speak it, unless you’re planning on moving to Israel. You do, however, need to learn frummisher sprach (all of those Yiddish-Yinglish-whatever slangy expressions which are sprinkled through FFB speech). “Our b’chor won Chosson Bereishis on Simchas Torah at his Yeshiva Gedola by pledging to learn two thousand blatt.” “Bli ayin harah, my machatenesta is in remission from yenem’s machalah.” “The rav’s aynekel’s bris was on Shabbos Chol Hamoed, so they invited the entire kehillah to a fleishige seudah in the shul sukkah.” English, of course, right? But would anyone not part of our culture understand what you were trying to say?

10. Reach out beyond your reachable rabbi and your patient friend to a support group, like the people right here at Beyond BT dot com.

11. Distinguish between those family members who are supportive and those who are toxic. Spend quality time with those who are supportive and caring. Send Rosh Hashanah cards once a year to those who are not.

12. Gehinnom was created on Erev Shabbos. That’s why Fridays are frantic and stress-filled no matter whether sunset is four-thirty or eight-thirty.

13. Bosses are generally more willing to let you leave early on Friday if you work late on Thursday. The problem is, that’s also when you have to shop and cook for Shabbos. So say goodbye to any chance of getting to sleep at a decent hour Thursday nights.

14. If you have two cents the kids’ yeshivos will take it. See Number Three above.

15. Find a spouse who’s in it for the long haul.

16. Pray to G-d a lot.

I’m sure my fellow BT’s out there will have their own tips, strategies and survival secrets to pass along to new BT’s (hopefully without scaring them off).

Learning from Our Friends

My Rav says that often people learn more from their friends than their Rabbeim. The Rabbi will suggest a course of action from the podium (more Torah, better Tefillah, more Chesed) and we can easily dismiss it as, “that’s easy for the Rabbi to say, after all he’s the Rabbi – but us little guys here have our limitations”. But when we see our friends performing these actions, we ask ourselves “if he can do it, why can’t I”? But it’s important to find our own balance.

Our recent to Eretz Yisroel (EY) trip gave rise to such a learning experience. On previous trips, if someone asked me to take something for them I did so reluctantly because I didn’t want to be hassled on my infrequent trips. Last summer a friend and his family were making the trip and since he knew my daughter was going to seminary, he offered to take a full suitcase for us. He said that with so many people wanting to send stuff, he considered it “almost an aveirah (sin)” to not take the maximum weight. We were greatly appreciative and when I considered the distance between my attitude and his, I realized this was something I needed to work on.

So on this current trip we called many people to let them know we were going and if they needed anything to be taken. Many people accepted our offer and it became a little overwhelming in terms of numbers and weight. We couldn’t take everything so we realized that in the future we should accept requests with simcha, but perhaps refrain from calling so many people.

As a postscript, the trip to EY went amazingly smooth in every respect even with the security check – which was cleared when my wife identified the mysterious object as frozen Chinese food.

The Special Challenges of the Baal Teshuvah Marriage

The Orthodox Union has just released the findings of their Aleinu Marriage Satisfaction Survey conducted online from January 15-March 31, 2009. The full report can be read here and Ezzie has posted the video here.

Amongst the various findings is a section entitled Challenges to Baalei Teshuva. It states: “The survey made clear that baalei teshuva, with their new found religious fervor, face challenges in their marriages. Their stress factors, Dr. Schnall explained, include at-risk children; conflicts regarding education; lack of communication and intimacy; religious differences; finances; and lack of social network. He emphasized that ‘in large samples, even small differences can be statistically significant — in other words, while these findings likely did not occur by chance, the absolute differences between baalei teshuva and others regarding these stressors were not huge. The bottom line is that as rabbis and mental health professionals, or even simply as caring neighbors and friends, we need to show heightened sensitivity to these issues that might especially impact on baalei teshuva.’”

Does anyone find this surprising, enlightening, obvious, off-base, something else?

Question of the Week: Is Different Always Better?

Rivka writes:

I have, thank G-d, children of varying ages. I often find that I’m placed in a situation where I have to approve/disapprove or allow/permit certain activities that my children’s friends are engaging in. For example, we do not permit our children to attend movies. From time to time, my 11 year old will ask if he can go to a movie with his friends. This, despite, the fact that he knows that we will not allow it. My question is not how to deal with this issue or when to say yes or no. My question is how to explain things to a smart kid in a manner that doesn’t put down others who engage in an activity which we don’t permit. When I try to explain to him the differences in hashkafa, he asks things like “does that mean our hashkafa is better” or “if their hashkafa is legitimate, why isn’t it good for us?” Now, I understand that a kid will often say anything when frustrated or trying to get his way but how do I explain these matters in a way that doesn’t denigrate others? Thanks.

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Admin: If you have a Question of the Week to submit, please email us at beyondbt@gmail.com.

Why Does it Matter How We Dress?

I think I was fifteen that summer. I got all dressed up in the nicest dress I had with me. Actually I think it may have been the only dress I had with me. It was a sleeveless blue one, and I was even careful to wrap a crocheted shawl around my arms. Our counselors had told us that there was a big sign in Mea Shearim that said that we had to cover our arms when we were there.

That Saturday morning I got thrown out of the synagogue. The women in the little shul in Mea Shearim started screaming at me and calling me names in a language I didn’t understand. I found out afterwards what they were shouting at me. And, when I found out what the words meant, I realized that they had really made me feel like the low words they were shouting at me. They pushed me out of the shul and chased me away, from Judaism. It hurt a lot. I just kept thinking, “Could this be God’s world?”

Back at the youth hostel, I curled up in bed and reread the short essay on the application I had written to go on the teen tour to Israel that summer.

Application for U.S.Y. Israel Pilgrimage July-August 1971

I would love to go to Israel. Many people would love to go because of a lifelong dream they have had. When they even say the word, “Israel” something pulls strongly inside them. I respect these people greatly. I would love to feel something and believe in something as strongly as they do. I admire these people – but I don’t share in their understanding.

I feel, somehow, that Israel could help me. I want to be in the spiritual city of Jerusalem. I want to go to the land where dreams are fulfilled. I feel drawn to Israel like a magnet.

When I was in Temple, I saw an old religious man sitting in the back. He was praying with such emotion, such love, that it made my own emotionless state very evident to me. His face was filled with so many years of thought. I want to go to Israel because when I come back and say “Jerusalem” in my prayers – I will really be there – along with the old man in the back.

Then, still not ready to face the world, meaning my friends, I re-read my most recent diary entries:

July 1, 1971

i am here.

i know very strongly inside of me already that Israel and me were made for each other. after we got off the plane, the bus took us straight to jerusalem, straight to the wailing wall and the beautiful night hit me. the Bible actually came alive. it was spectacular.

I belong to this so much. It’s me. Just by being here, I feel creativity growing in me already. Touching the Wall touched something in me that is buried deeply, afraid to come out. Can I find deep within me the strength that helps that Wall to keep standing?

I can hardly believe it’s for real. The Old City looks like a fairy tale village I’ve been dreaming about for years.

july 5, 1971

The big why is hitting me in the face.

i am so spoiled.

Today we saw the memorial to the Holocaust

at Yad Va Shem.

And now we are sitting around the dining area,

complaining about the food

and our hotel rooms.

But that photo of the man with tallis and tefillin praying,

surrounded by laughing Nazi soldiers,

keeps staring at me.

How strong his prayers must have been,

With a feeling that even went beyond death,

can we still have that kind of strength?

july 16, 1971

there is still an ember glowing which i have been trying to smother. but it will just keep on glowing, probably sinking deeper and deeper into my being. is it a sacred part of me? too much for me even to speak about.

july 21, 1971

when i am praying

when i am listening and learning

i feel like myself.

The next entry, written on July 23rd, would be furiously penned. It would be about being thrown out of the first Orthodox shul I ever dared enter, the one in Mea Shearim. After that, there would be no more entries about seeking spirituality in Judaism. Not during the last two weeks of my tour in Israel, and not for years to come. My budding spirituality was replaced by cynicism. I tried to stuff my neshama down – to cushion it from further blows, but it just kept on popping up.

So I searched for spirituality elsewhere. In other religions, in expressive arts, in the vastness of science, in noble humanitarian causes, in romantic relationships with non-Jews, in all kinds of places. Places that wouldn’t judge me superficially, by how I was dressed.

And yet seven years later, after too many degrading experiences that I wish I’d never known, I finally found in Judaism, the spiritual sustenance that I was craving. Back in Israel, I found myself wandering one Shabbos morning to that same synagogue. With long sleeves and stockings, I walked in and poured myself into a prayerbook. The women, seeing my newness, helped me find the right pages. And a few invited me to their homes afterwards, to share their simple Shabbos meals.

Why did I return? Only because nothing else ever fit the same deep way. Nothing else lit up my Jewish soul. No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t smother that ember that just kept on glowing in darkness. And it yearned for more. A certain sacred part of me would not go away.

The insatiable longing I had for years found the infinite pleasure it was seeking.

I also found again and again the intolerance and closemindedness that can turn so many away. And we, who have returned, despite this, can try to do all that we can to work for understanding, with all those involved.

I hope that I’d never ever throw a young woman in a sleeveless dress and a crocheted shawl out of an Orthodox shul, but I don’t live in Mea Shearim.

I don’t live in the Garden of Eden, either, though.

There, before we internalized physical desires, our bodies served as the pure garments of our souls. Once we had a taste of self-gratification from the Tree of Knowledge, however, our bodies were no longer perfectly aligned with our spiritual essence. That’s when clothes became necessary, and G-d provided us with the clothes we needed. With self-refinement, our physical bodies can journey back to be in tune with our deepest spirituality.

At fifteen, I really think those women in that shul were trying to teach me this. They didn’t know how, and they sure weren’t helpful, but they tried in their own way.

And all I can do is try in my own way too.

Fragile Wings

Where was the freedom promised?

Where was the open sky?

Come on and meet the prisoner,

Who thought that she could fly.

Religious girls in summer,

Blouses buttoned high.

I’d see long skirts, with stockings,

As I would pass them by.

I’d laugh inside me, mocking,

The girls I used to see.

Those girls are missing so much.

How trapped could people be?

But how could I have known then,

Jogging through summer rain,

I strode past them, uncovered,

In years before the pain.

Those girls kept their wings hidden,

And my own wings got crushed.

Why did I jump too quickly?

Why was my childhood rushed?

Crystalline wings they treasured,

Even at that young age.

My wings, I learned, were fragile,

When I hit bars inside the cage.

My wings have long been broken.

Can they still be healed?

Those girls now fly past rainbows.

Tell me, how does it feel?

Inside, I’m thrashing lamely.

Can I get free?

Now that I see the picture –

Reversed, ironically.

Where was the freedom promised?

Where was the open sky?

Here I am. Meet the prisoner,

Who thought that she could fly.

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Bracha Goetz is the Harvard-educated author of ten children’s books, including Aliza in MitzvahLand, What Do You See at Home? and The Invisible Book. To enjoy Bracha’s presentations for both women and children, you’re welcome to email bgoetzster@gmail.com.

How to Stop an Intermarriage

Link Updated.

Rabbi Kalman Packouz’s “How to Stop an Intermarriage” is perhaps the best known of all writings on this tricky subject. It contains excellent advice for anyone trying to convince a child, relative or friend to break off a proposed intermarriage. The complete text is now available for free online here.

Does anyone have any additional advice, successes or thoughts on the topic?

Making Sure the Slow Path Remains a Path

Reading this great advice from Friedman’s Get Deeper Into Torah Without Going Off The Deep End raises the question that perhaps at some point we no longer have our sight on a goal and we’re basically content with where we are holding despite the fact that we have much room to grow in our Torah and mitzvot observance.

There is the intellectual and emotional commitment to a life of Torah. There is also the practical realignment of a thousand details in your daily life. Your commitment may happen in months or even in an hour. The nitty-gritty rearrangements of how you live should be grown into gradually over several years. It is enough to know you are heading towards total observance. Don’t lose sight of your goal, but pace yourself as you travel towards it. This pacing varies from person to person. If mitzvot are becoming a guilty burden, you have gone forward too fast. If you are depressed, cranky, or anxious about your religious life, or just unbelievably unenthusiastic, you have probably taken on too much too quickly.

A possible suggestion:

Women: just growing into kashrus, growing into Shabbos observance, continuing to learn, dressing more or less modestly, and finding your way around the prayers may be more than enough the first two years.

Men: Just growing into kashrus, growing into Shabbos observance, putting on tefillin, praying three times a day, and daily learning may be more than enough for the first two years. It’s not necessary to pressure yourself now to say all the prayers in the
prayerbook, to dress and speak like a tenth-generation Ben or Bat Torah, to learn every Rashi in Tanach, to become the school expert in checking bugs in vegetables, to study until midnight, to be especially stringent about which kosher labels you accept, to say psalms every day, etc. etc. It’s true that you should eventually create as rich a religious life for yourself as you can, but DON’T take it on all in one year.

The Roots of Chabad Outreach

What are the roots of Chabad Outreach? Perhaps the best way to understand it is to hear how the Rebbe himself describes it (from his collected talks, Shabbos Parshas Behar-Bechukosai, 24th Iyar, 5740)…

(The words of the Lubavitcher Rebbe…)

In certain segments of the Jewish community, the expression ‘Kiruv Richokim’ — drawing close those who are far — is used to describe the efforts to reach out to Jews who are presently estranged from Torah and Mitzvos. This expression is improper. Our sages tell us that it is forbidden to tell a convert “Remember your initial deeds.” Similarly, it is forbidden to remind a Baal Teshuvah of his previous behavior by calling him a Richuk — someone who is (or was) far away. It is true that the Talmud comments on the verse “Peace, Peace to the close and to the far,” stating “to the far who drew close.” However, it is improper to address those whom we wish to draw to Torah with that expression. For this reason, the Rebbeim never used such phraseology. They stressed the importance of loving all Jews — even one whom we never saw, — but they never used the expression ‘Kiruv Richokim.’

No Jew is ever Rochok — far away — from Yiddishkeit. The only reason the aforementioned text of the Talmud uses the terminology is because “Torah speaks in the language of men.” From the perspective of man, such an individual may be a Richuk, but from the perspective of Torah, Yiddishkeit is close to him.

Hence, there can be no condescension in the attitude with which we reach out to our fellow Jews. We must realize that “more than the rich does for the poor, the poor does for the rich.” When giving charity, the rich must give with a pleasant disposition, without letting the poor man feel that he is poor. The same principle applies in spiritual Tzedakah. In such a case, we are reinforced by G-d’s promise, “Since you gave life to the poor man… I will remember the Mitzvah you have done… and repay you soul for soul.”

(end of the Rebbe’s words)

When presented in his own words, it would seem rather difficult to disagree with.

In my words, we don’t dump on a Jew or consider him ‘lower’ because his circumstances weren’t as good as ours or have the learning opportunities ours have had. That ‘innocent’ neshama, from the standpoint of never being exposed to Jewish learning, isn’t of any less value than the neshama of the talmid chacham.

To use Rabbi Brody’s language from his shiur at BeyondBT in Passaic a few years ago, was there no room for another neshama in Boro Park or Bnei Brak?

Is that Jew of less value because he wasn’t born in to an observant Jewish home? Frankly, that neshama may be on a much higher level that it can take the challenge, with a chance of success, of being born outside a Torah community and immersed in a non-Torah upbringing and still having a chance of returning and reconnecting to Torah.

So do you walk in looking down on all the poor ignorant masses that you’re about to share your deep Torah knowledge with? You who were raised in Boro Park, served chalal yisroel milk from childhood, licked honey off the alef beis at 3, had rebbe’s and rosh yeshiva’s directing you from the day the sandek held you, or do you rejoice that these neshama’s are overcoming their challenges by coming to you, and be so thankful that Hashem Yishborach has given you the opportunity to help them on their path?

Even thought the answer is obvious, it is something we need to work on internalizing.

Akiva writes regularly at Mystical Paths.