Beyond BT Announces Effort To Curtail Internet Usage

In an effort to encourage others to reduce their internet* usage, Beyond Teshuva** has announced a weekly “Log Off Day”.

Mark Frankel, one of BBT’s Administrators and its resident IT guru explained the endeavor: “Every week, from just before sundown Friday to just after nightfall Saturday evening, we are asking that all of our fellow Jews do not use the internet.” In order to encourage full participation, David Linn, also an Administrator at BBT and its resident Blackberry*** expert, explains “We at BBT will not be posting during the designated “blackout time” and will not be monitoring the site. We encourage all Jewish blogs and websites to follow suit in a show of solidarity.”

Frankel and Linn added that those who have chosen to participate are encouraged to light candles just prior to the blackout period and take advantage of the free time by dining with friends and family.

Dr. I.V. Poll, BBT’s resident medical Resident, explains that the idea is actually healthy and that concerns about going cold turkey are unfounded. “Those who are nervous about going without internet for 25 hours should not be concerned. Those with strong addictions however, are encouraged to print out BBT posts to have at hand in case the need arises.” Dr. Poll does not recommend use of the transdermal patch.

*The internet, invented by former Vice-President Al Gore, is an electronic medium for the transmission of information. Users sit at devices called computers and watch as words magically appear on their screens. (Ed: Wow, those Jetsons writers were prescient!)

** Beyond Teshuva is the internet’s most popular web site with the name Beyond Teshuva.

*** Blackberry is an edible fruit produced by any of several species in the Rubus genus of the Rosaceae family. It is, botanically, an aggregate fruit. The plants typically have biennial canes and perennial roots. Blackberries are also called caneberries or brambles. Many of its over 375 species, are closely related apomictic microspecies native throughout the temperate Northern hemisphere and South America.

However You Say It, We Wish Everybody a Wonderful Purim.

However You Say It, We Wish Everybody a Wonderful Purim.

Is “Happy Purim” the traditional Purim greeting ?

Well, yes. “Happy Purim” is the principle anglicized version of a number of transliterated Hebrew variations of “Happy Purim”.

What are the transliterated Hebrew versions of “Happy Purim” ?

There are many traditional Purim greetings in Hebrew. The following are the transliterated versions:

* Chag Purim Sameach [Joyous (or Happy) Festival (of) Purim]
* Chag Sameach Purim [Joyous (or Happy) Purim Festival]
* Hag Purim Sameach [Joyous (or Happy) Festival (of) Purim]
* Hag Sameach Purim [Joyous (or Happy) Purim Festival]
* Purim Sameach [Joyous (or Happy) Purim]
* Purim Chag Sameach [Purim Joyous (or Happy) Festival]
* Purim Hag Sameach [Purim Joyous (or Happy) Festival]
* Chag Purim (Purim Festival)
* Hag Purim (Purim Festival)

Happy Purim Transliterations From Hebrew Into English

Chag = Festival

Hag = Festival

Sameach = Joyous, Happy

Samayach = Joyous, Happy

Someach = Joyous, Happy

Somayach = Joyous, Happy

Found here:

They did leave out Freilichin Purim – which also means Happy Purim.

Parenting and Drinking Responsibly

“It is an Aveira to Get Drunk on Purim,” was a direct quote from Rabbi Shmuel Kaminetsky shlit’a, who took precious time from his busy schedule and shared his da’as Torah with hundreds of participants worldwide last week during a Project Y.E.S. conference call, titled, “Purim Parenting: Keeping Our Children Safe and Sober.”

I had intended to keep the scope of the conference call limited to practical advice that my dear chaver Dr. Benzion Twerski and I would offer parents on setting appropriate limits on Purim activities and to teach their children how to resist negative peer pressure to engage in hard drinking. However, as soon as we announced the conference call, we were inundated with questions from many people who asked me to clarify the words of our chazal (sages) “Chayav einish l’besumei be’puria ad deloi yoda bein arur Haman l’baruch Mordechai” which loosely translated says that one is obligated to drink [on Purim] until he cannot discern between Haman and Mordechai. With that in mind, I asked the Rosh Yeshiva shlit’a, who has served as our posek in Project Y.E.S. since its inception thirteen years ago, to take a few precious moments from his busy schedule and share his da’as Torah with our listeners.

“Chas v’shalom (Heaven forbid) that our Torah would consider getting drunk to be a mitzvah,” said Reb Shmuel. He explained that the word l’besumei is derived from the root word which means to sniff something – and said that this means that one should have only “a whiff” of drinking.

The Rosh Yeshiva also shed light on the words “ad deloi yoda bein arur Haman l’baruch Mordechai” and said that when one sings a song when he is in a heightened state of simcha (joy) he occasionally will sing the verses in incorrect order – meaning that he will sing the verse of Arur Haman in the place of the verse of Baruch Mordechai. It is inconceivable, he stated, that the words of our chazal condone the type of drunkenness which render a person incapable of performing the mitzvos of our Torah.

Reb Shmuel shlit’a is hardly a da’as yachid (a lone voice) in this matter. There is a kol korei issued by Agudas Yisroel and disseminated by my dear chaver Elly Kleinman signed by 26 leading gedolim, admorim, rabbonim and mechanchim that states in unequivocal terms that “chayav ainish…” only refers to wine and not whiskey. And it states that “free use of whiskey” is entirely inappropriate and contrary to da’as chachamim. Obviously, the term “free whisky” was used to denote hard drinking as opposed to a moderate amount of drinking. (A hard copy of the kol korei can be downloaded from my website Just click here.)

Responsible vs. Irresponsible Drinking

To be perfectly clear, the Rosh Yeshiva shlit’a was discussing irresponsible drinking – and not the moderate drinking which allows a person to break free of his day-to-day inhibitions and arrive at the type of exalted “neshama yeseira” that allows him to connect to Hashem and all that is beautiful in Yiddishkeit with “soaring spirits” (pun intended).

My brother, Reb Yehudah shlit’a, who is the Mashgiach in Yeshiva South Shore, drinks along those lines on Purim. It would be fair to describe him as being above the legal drinking limit during the latter hours of the Purim Seudah. He would never think of driving home from the seudah on Purim, not should he, for it would be illegal, and he would be putting his life in sakana as well as the lives of others. So in technical terms or legally for driving purposes, he certainly could be classified as “drunk” during that time. But the words that would come to mind when observing him in that state would be, “Kedusha, elevated, hisorirus, simcha shel mitzvah, … perhaps even funny.” My brother sings “gramen,” gives brachos to all he speaks to, tells them how wonderful they are, talks about Mashiach and how he needs to do teshuvah. Honestly; I make sure my wife and I, and all our children and now our grandchildren go to him for a bracha when he is in this spiritual high. Far from being “drunk,” he has the “whiff” of intoxication that the Rosh Yeshiva was referring to.

However, the flat-drunk state that some adults and bachurim are engaging in under the guise of Purim which is in a very different category. This is the type of hefkarus (frivolity) that does not lead to any of the attributes of one who is drinking with true Simchas Purim, and that is the aveira that Reb Shmuel s’hlita was discussing. And Reb Shmuel firmly added that “It is an aveirah to say it [hard drinking] is a mitzvah.”

Some point to people of generations past who engaged in serious drinking on Purim and use that to support their claim that getting drunk on Purim is “a mitzvah.” However, I propose that it is illogical to bring proof from anyone who allowed or condoned Purim drinking back then and apply it to today’s climate. That would be like saying that one need not wear a seat belt today because someone in the 1950’s (before it became the norm and the law) didn’t wear one.

Times have very much changed in the thirty-five years since I was a teenager. None of my friends drank aside from Purim – including those who were less than model students – and many didn’t even drink on Purim itself. None of us. Period. Pull up a chair at a Shalom Zachor or Vort nowadays and see if that is the case today.

I also invited Professor Lazer Rosman, who is one of the original members of Hatzoloh, served as an active volunteer for the past 40 years and is currently the senior coordinator of Boro Park Hatzolah to join our conference call as well so our listeners can hear firsthand of the devastation caused by out-of-control drinking. He spoke about the chilul Hashem, injuries, carnage, full-blown toxic shock comas and even deaths that he personally witnessed as a direct result of Purim (and Simchas Torah) drinking. With all that in mind, I maintain that the dynamics have changed dramatically and in light of the sakana hard drinking represents nowadays we must completely end its existence in our community.

I very strongly recommend that all parents with pre-teen and teenage children at home listen to this conference call to hear the da’as Torah of the Rosh Yeshiva shlit’a and the wisdom and life lessons of Dr. Twerski and Professor Rosman. You can do so easily by visiting our website,, or by calling (712)432-1011 and entering access code: 455963558#. The content of that conference call is most certainly appropriate for children of any age and I suggest that you have your children listen along with you if possible.

Aside from the short-term danger, the brutal fact is that the vast majority of people in our community have their first exposure to drinking and smoking on Purim. Alcohol and tobacco are “Gateway Drugs,” meaning that nearly every single hard-core addict started with these substances. Worded differently, keeping your kids from early experimentation with alcohol and tobacco is by far the best way to keep them from becoming addicted later on in life. Just read these stunning statistics from the Center for Alcohol and Substance Abuse that I’ve been quoting in the dozens of columns I’ve written on drinking and smoking over the past 12 years:

• “A child who gets through age 21 without smoking, using illegal drugs or abusing alcohol is virtually certain never to do so.”

• “Teens who smoke cigarettes are 12 times likelier to use marijuana and more than 19 times likelier to use cocaine.”

The message is crystal clear – stop your kids from experimenting with smoking and drinking and they are almost certain to remain drug free all their lives.

In light of the danger of long-term addictions and their subsequent consequences, I honestly feel that any adult who encourages or even condones hard drinking on Purim bears some moral (and probably legal responsibility for short-term effects in many cases) responsibility for the ruined marriages and lives of those in his care who later become alcoholics and substance abusers.

One also must take in mind what message adult hard drinking gives to our children. Many things start out as neutral or commendable actions and then become distorted beyond recognition a generation or two later. So bear in mind, that your (what you may think is) “under-control” hard drinking might be giving free license to your children and grandchildren to get “toasted” on Purim in a manner that is far, far removed from yours, and certainly not what you had intended. And, sadly, you cannot “unring that bell,” once you decide it has gone too far.

Finally, please understand that kids really do “get it” regarding drinking and drunkenness – or almost any other topic – at a very young age. My jaw dropped some twenty years ago when a friend of mine casually asked our eldest son – then eight or nine years old – if his father gets drunk on Purim. (I had never really discussed this with him previously and his response was purely what he had picked up about this matter by osmosis.) My son responded, “No way. My father knows so many secrets about other people’s families [due to my work with teens-at-risk and shalom bayis] that he always keeps to himself. He would never get drunk because if he would, he might start telling people all those private things.”

© 2010, Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved

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How Much Should A Person Learn Each Day?

How much Torah do you learn a day on average from Sunday through Thursday?
a) less than 1hour
b) between 1 and 2 hours
c) more than 2 hours

What do you think is a reasonable amount of time to learn each weekday?
a) less than 1hour
b) between 1 and 2 hours
c) more than 2 hours

What keeps you from learning more?
a) too many other obligations.
b) learning is too difficult
c) I don’t have classes to attend or chavrusas to learn with

Mind Your Step

Looking on the bright side, I’m fortunate to have made through nearly half a century of life without breaking a bone. I’m fortunate to be in good enough physical condition to hold my own on the racquetball court, even if don’t usually win. I’m fortunate that it wasn’t my left ankle, so I can drive myself to work every day. I’m fortunate that it was a clean break, uncomplicated by torn ligaments or splintered bone. And I’m fortunate that, aside from the initial stab of pain that seared through my body like a white-hot skewer following the distinct crack of rending marrow, I experienced relatively little discomfort and seem to be on my way, bli ayin hara, to a quick recovery.

Nevertheless, for all that I have to be thankful, I still come home exhausted every day and have trouble meeting my responsibilities with adequate energy and attention, even when I’m stationary and pain-free. As it turns out, the amount of concentration required to think about every single step is profoundly debilitating. I can’t follow my routine on autopilot. Every movement demands intense planning and caution so that, after the most insignificant foray from here to there, my mind rebels against further taxation.

Needless to say, the loss of any capacity serves to restore our appreciation for those things we take for granted. In this case, my broken ankle has prompted me to give more thought to a bracha we recite every morning.

Boruch atah Hashem, Elokeinu Melech ha’olam, HaMeichin mitzadei gover – Blessed are You Hashem, Our G-d, King of the universe, who prepares the steps of man.

Rav Shimon Schwab explains that all the preceding blessings we recite at the outset of each day serve to reflect upon the past – our spiritual identity and the resources with which the Almighty has endowed us to fulfill our potential. With the blessing HaMeichin mitzadei gover, however, we turn our attention to the future.

Hashem creates every human being with free will, so that we can earn our eternal reward by resisting temptation and doing good. But Hashem has not left us to grope in the darkness of moral confusion. Rather, He has illuminated our way with the mitzvos of His Torah, requiring us only to follow the derech ha’emes – the path of truth that He has laid out before us. By providing us with a clear path, Hashem has prepared our steps; all we have to do is follow the path and not stray to either side.

But familiarity and habit are powerful opiates, and we easily slip into the narcotic rhythm of routine. To concentrate on every step, to weigh and calculate every action, exhausts us to the point that we would rather trust the unreliable patterns of yesterday than reevaluate our actions from day to day and moment to moment.

And so Hashem has no choice, so to speak, but to trip us up from time to time, to place obstacles in our way and sometimes let us fall, thereby forcing us to mind the path that lies ahead.

“If one comes to purify himself,” teach the sages, “then his is enabled to become pure” (Shabbos 104a). If we mind every step and choose our path carefully, Hashem will lead us along the road to spiritual success. If we drift into a trance of routine and thoughtlessness, then we have only ourselves to blame for the consequences of inattention.

When that happens, Hashem has countless ways of steering us back on the straight path. So I’m not complaining about my broken ankle. If that’s the worst I need to remind me to mind my step, I’ll try to be more attentive and be grateful for the warning.

With praise for and gratitude to the Master of the World, Rabbi Goldson is pleased to announce the publication of his first book:
Dawn to Destiny: Exploring Jewish History and its Hidden Wisdom

A comprehensive overview of Jewish History from Creation through the redaction of the Talmud, illuminating the intricacies and complexities of Torah tradition and philosophy according to the sages and classical commentaries, spanning the length and breadth of Jewish experience to resolve many of history’s most perplexing episodes, offering profound insights and showing their relevance to life in the modern world. An invaluable resource for scholars and laymen. A priceless tool for education and outreach. For more information click here.

They Don’t Make Anti Semites Like They Used To

By Rabbi Benzion Shaffier

“In the third year of his reign, he made a party for all of his officers and servants, the rulers of Paras and Madai, the Partamim and rulers in front of him.” – Esther 1:2

The Megillah opens with a description of Achashverosh’s vast empire, “He ruled over one hundred and twenty seven nations.” The common assumption is that he was in the height of his glory. However, Chazal tell us that shortly before this, he had ruled over an additional one hundred and nineteen nations. At this point in time, he was still a powerful ruler, but almost half of his kingdom had been taken from him.

In his commentary on the Megillah, the Nesivos (Megilas Sisarim) explains that by all rights, Achashverosh should have been in mourning. He had just suffered a striking loss. He had been the ruler of the earth, and now his power and glory were stolen from him. Yet he was joyful and made a party because he understood the ways of HASHEM, and he had a sign from the heaven.

Chazal tell us that throughout our long exile, HASHEM has kept the Jewish people scattered across the globe so that if an evil king would come to power and attempt to kill us, a portion of the nation would be living in other parts of the world not under his control. Never are all the Jews under one ruler.

Yet that rule was clearly broken. When Achashverosh reigned over the entire world, every Jew alive had been under his sovereignty. Even now that he ruled over only half of the world, every Jew was still under his dominion. Whether he would keep or lose a province seemed to have been based on whether Jews were living there. It was almost as if a laser beam were carving out his monarchy. If there were Jews in a region, it remained under his control. If not, it was taken from him. When the rebellion was finished, every Jew was still under his control. Achashverosh took this as a sign that HASHEM was delivering His people into his hands and therefore he was joyful and made a party.

This concept becomes very difficult when we focus on who this man was.

Achashverosh wasn’t the Pillsbury doughboy

If you were to ask a school age child to describe Achashverosh, you would likely get an image of a short, roly-poly, fun loving guy who liked to drink – the Pillsbury doughboy. Chazal tell us that is not quite an accurate description. In fact, it couldn’t be more off-base.

Rashi tells us that Achashverosh wasn’t born to nobility. He was an ego-driven lout who kicked, clubbed, and clawed his way into power. His ambition was nothing short of world dominion, and he had recently achieved his dream – Emperor of the Earth. When the Megillah opens, his honor and glory have been ripped out from under his feet. How is it possible that he made a party? How could he possibly be filled with joy?

The answer to this question comes from a better understanding of what actually drove this man.

Achashverosh was evil
In the first posuk of the Megillah, Rashi explains that Achashverosh was consistent – consistently wicked from the first verse until the very end. Make no mistake; this man hated the Jews as much as anyone in his times. But he knew why he hated the Jews: the Jews represented HASHEM, and he was engaged in a war against holiness.

As an example, the Nesivos explains why the Megillah delineates the details of the party that Achashverosh threw. We are told about the tapestries on the walls, the food served, and what the guests drank. Why, nearly twenty five hundred years later, do we need to know that the golden benches were covered with butz and agraman?

The Nesivos explains that this was all part of the plan. The focus of the party was the last seven days when the “people of Shushan” were invited. Shushan then was the center of Jewish life. Mordechai met with the Sanhedrin there daily. It was the epicenter of religious Jewry, and that was Achashverosh’s target. He invited the Jews to his palace to get them to sin. Everything in the party was focused towards that goal.

The benches were covered with butz and argaman, wool and linen, which is shatnez. The tapestries on the walls were placed there to get the Torah sages of the generation distracted. Maybe their eye would be caught and they would look at something inappropriate. The food at this affair was “according to each man as he wished.” It was kosher by design. Achashverosh knew that if he forced the Jews to eat treif food, it wouldn’t be considered a transgression; he needed to get them to sin willingly. So each invitee was given a private waiter and could ask for exactly what he wanted.

Achashverosh even eliminated the ancient Persian custom of forced drinking. At this party the drinking was done willingly. No one was forced. Achashverosh knew that if the Jews were drunk, there would be much less of a complaint against them. He did everything in his power to get them to sin in as an egregious manner as possible. He knew that if he got them to sin, they would be his for the taking.

The farmer with the dirt, the farmer with the ditch

When Haman came with his “plan” to kill the Jews, it wasn’t a difficult sell. Chazal give a parable: imagine two farmers with adjoining fields. One says to his friend, “I have this large pile of dirt in my field. Because of it, I can’t plow. You have a large ditch in your field. Because of it, you can’t plow. I would like to take my pile of dirt and put it in your ditch. For this, I will pay you handsomely.” The second farmer responds, “Pay me? You don’t have to pay me. I will gladly let you do it. You benefit, I benefit; there is no need to pay me. Go ahead with my blessings.”

When Haman offered the ten thousand talents of silver to “pay for the killing of the Jews,” Achashverorsh’s response was, “The money is yours to keep. As to the Jews, do with them what you please.” He didn’t even accept the fortune of money being offered to him.

The key to understanding this man is to recognize that as much as he was set on world conquest, he was engaged in an ideological war; a war against holiness, the Jews, and G-d.

This seems to be the answer to the question. Granted Achashverosh had just recently suffered a great personal setback, the loss of half his empire. But he had been given something even sweeter – he was given the Jews. He had the ability to eliminate the ultimate source of holiness in the world – G-d’s people – and therefore he was joyful and celebrated. This man was a real Anti- Semite.

They don’t make Anti- Semites like they used to

This concept is eye opening because for thousands of years, everyone has hated the Jews, yet the vast majority of our modern Anti-Semites couldn’t tell you why. If you were to ask one of them, “Why do you hate the Jews? You would likely see him take on the glassy-eyed look of the semi-conscious. “Why? Why do I hate the Jew? I hate him so much that I would drink his blood!” His hatred is quite clear, based on his fury and drive. But what is his reason? Your run-of-the-mill Anti-Semite can’t answer the question intelligently.

Once upon a time, the Jews faced a different sort of enemy, men who hated them and could tell you why. “I hate the Jew because he represents everything holy. I hate the Jew because he stands for everything good. He has introduced conscience to mankind. But more than anything, I hate the Jew because he represents G-d.” Such a man was Achashverosh, and such men were common in earlier times.

It is ironic that through the eyes of our enemies, we can come to understand the significance of the Jew, and the pivotal role that he plays in world history – that of G-d’s Chosen People.

May HASHEM quickly redeem us, and may we regain our unique status of the Exalted Nation.

“The Shmuz” an engaging and motivating series of Torah lectures, that deals with real life issues ,is available FREE at

We’ve Got It Backwards

“Mommy, I can’t read this.
It’s all upside down!
Mommy, it’s the truth –
Why do you have that frown?”

“b’s and d’s aren’t easy.
For me, they are hard.
M’s and W’s –
I can’t tell them apart.”

“Tatte, I can’t daven,
Like others in shul.
I don’t want to go.
I look like a fool.”

“Kids laugh at me.
It’s because I’m so slow.”
Years have passed by,
And you sure did grow.

There was no instant cure.
You worked hard many hours.
You didn’t give up,
Drawing out untapped powers.

Doors started to open,
We thought were sealed tight.
The first blessing read,
Brought such huge delight.

There’s still dyslexia,
But your eyes shine with joy.
Courage is now,
A big part of our boy.

You learned how to struggle.
You’re not scared to try.
You fall down. You get up.
I barely hear you sigh.

“It’s all upside down!”
Your words were not wrong.
Those given a big weakness,
Can end up the most strong.

Bracha Goetz is a Mentoring Coordinator in Baltimore, Maryland and the author of eleven children’s books, including The Happiness Box, The Invisible Book, and What Do You See At Home? For Bracha’s presentations, you’re welcome to email

Rabbi Mayer Schiller – The Biggest Challenges Facing Baalei Teshuva

This article was posted on Tuesday, December 9th, 2005, but many of our current readers might have missed it and it’s definitely worth reading again.

Part 1 — Challenges

I have been asked to write on the “biggest challenges facing baalei teshuva.” Of course, every Jew in his life’s pursuit of Hashem and His Torah encounters challenges. However, the challenges we face and how we respond to them is forever colored by who we are and where we come from. Thus, much of what follows may be relevant to all Jews but it strikes me that these challenges are of particular concern to baalei teshuva.

The tikkun that each individual’s life is to achieve requires a realistic assessment of the nisyonos that are specific to one’s place in life, human/Jewish history and cultural context.

Also, any discussion of this issue must be colored by much subjectivity. We can, in the end, only speak with authority about our own “challenges.” Part of us is always alone in the world. Yet, life is also a shared experience. Hopefully some of what I – and others on this site – have to say may resonate in the heart of another and together we may be worthy of giving and receiving a bit of chizuk as we seek to ascend the har Hashem.

In all honesty, I have encountered so many challenges, born of the baal teshuva experience, that one almost doesn’t know where to begin. Plus, the challenges change, some deepen, while others become weaker over the years, as one spends more time in the Orthodox community.

At the beginning, I think a baal teshuva is haunted by a certain loneliness in, and sense of alienation from his new environment. Everyone else practices Judaism as a matter of second nature. To baalei teshuva, at first, everything done, learned and experienced is new, startling and , at times confusing. Everything is a big deal. Everyone else seems to know what is a big deal and what isn’t.

As part of this problem there is the, at times, blasé attitude of FFBers who seem less than enthused about things that the BT has been taught are of the utmost importance. This too can be most disconcerting.

Before long, one realizes that Orthodoxy is not a monolith and that there are many different models of how to live in the Torah world. Should the baal teshuva select a significant sage to tell him where to go or, should he seek a derech that fits his own soul’s needs as he perceives/experiences them?

Perhaps, the most daunting challenge faced is the ever growing awareness that not all Orthodox Jews are paragons of empathy or kindness or patience or even honesty; or even very much engaged in proper study and prayer. Further, to some of them, their religion is simply a rote practice, little cherished and almost no source of inspiration to them. The personal encounters with all the above can give many a baal teshuva moments of pain and doubt. To a degree that pain will never pass. We all entered Yiddishkeit in search of a good, more meaningful and certainly more spiritual, moral and ethical life. The grim knowledge that this is often far from the reality hits baalei teshuva very hard.

Indeed, the pain for the BT intensifies when he later confronts the fact that his children are FFBs and often far less passionate about the same things that inspired him.

Often the BT learns by experience that it is even those Torah teachers that may have once seemed so perfect to him that are, in reality, flawed human beings as well.

For the thoughtful BT the process of engaging with Torah and halacha may at times prove disquieting. Laws and ideas concerning non – Jews, women, the disabled, slaves and the like are apt to be unsettling and the proposed answers often apologetic and/or seemingly inadequate.

Finally, there is the general stance of Orthodoxy in relation to non – Orthodox (or haredi towards Modern Orthodox and, more surprisingly, Modern Orthodox to haredi) society both in Israel and America as self absorbed, insular tribes with little interest in or responsibility towards “outside” groups /individuals, be it of a material or spiritual nature. This attitude inevitably costs many BTs some sleepless nights.

All or some of the above are among the challenges BTs face. As a BT member of the Beth Shraga Beis Medrash said to me in the summer of 1968, “In the end we are different. It is not just that we can’t go home for Shabbos. We are built differently and always will stay that way.”

This is both a blessing and a curse. Just as the BT will often carry some alienation and doubt throughout life, he will also experience Torah in powerful, wondrous, insightful and joyous ways that might be inaccessible to most FFBs.

In my next entry I hope to discuss the possible means (thoughts, seforim, leaders, books, communities and the like) that will help a BT through the moments of darkness just outlined.

For the interim, the essential issue is to retain the fervor and devotion of one’s initial experiences in Torah while living in the real world with its ambiguities. complexities, paradoxes and disappointments. This is the calling of the mature, thoughtful BT.

May we all be worthy of success and joy in our service of the Ribbono shel Olam.

Rabbi Mayer Schiller

Simplicity is Wonderful but it’s for the Next World!

Purim is somehow connected to Yom Kippur – in the Torah it is called Yom Hakippurim and the play on words is not lost on the Rabbis. They say that in a sense, Yom Kipur is a yom k’Purim, meaning a day like Purim, so in some way Purim is seen as a paradigm of something that Yom Kipur emulates. What’s that all about? On the face of it, the two days couldn’t be more different. Purim is all body and Yom Kipur is all soul.

Purim is about revealing the hidden Hand Of God in events. God isn’t referred to by any name in the Megillah at all, and only through putting together all the events could his workings be seen. Through doing so, we see it as a battle of good against evil, where each receives his just deserts. We see how God engineered each individual event according to an intricate plot to upstage the evil.

How ironic is it then that the mitzvos of the day ask us to drop our sense of right and wrong and just open our hearts and minds to the goodness within everything and everyone. We give mishloach manos to help us come close to others, we give gifts to those who need without reserve and without enquiry as to their righteousness. We revel in physical pleasures of eating and drinking more than usual. We even drink purposely to blur the line between good and evil – until we cannot tell the difference between the blessedness of Mordechai and the cursedness of Haman.

Isn’t it odd that on a festival whose essence is about the victory of good over evil, that we do all we can to overlook the evil and bring ourselves to a state of happy acceptance of everything and everyone?

Let’s think about the drinking aspect (my favourite mitzvah) a little deeper. What is this business of making it hard to tell between Mordechai (the epitome of good) and the monstrous Haman? How can this be desirable at all?

In the classical mussar work, the Orchos Tzaddikim discusses the ills and the benefits of drinking alcohol. The main benefit as the author sees it is in helping a person through a distressing time to lift his spirits and get him back on track both physically and spiritually. It’s no coincidence that the section on drinking is placed in the middle of the book’s chapter on simchah and in fact is used to make the transition in the chapter between the negative type of simchah and the positive.

Immediately after the piece on alcohol, Orchos Tzaddikim goes on to explain how simchah is achieved ultimately by totally trusting in God that everything that ever happens is God’s doing and happens for a reason that you will one day (not likely in this world) understand and truly rejoice in.

It’s with this kind of superhuman faith that a person could truly recognise that Haman’s evil is as much a part of God’s work as Mordechai’s good. From the perspective that everything that happens in this world is by God’s design, you can truly accept that Haman is as necessary as Mordechai in bringing about the ultimate redemption.

But the Orchos Tzaddikim, in telling us that a little drunkenness is a great way to get over a rough patch (if done with responsible friends and not in excess), he’s teaching something very significant: You have to realise that this is an extremely high level of faith and you’re not expected to reach it without a lifetime of effort. A little drink really can make you feel that things aren’t as bad as you thought they were, and that really does allow you to view the world as if you really believe God is leading the way.

In short, drunkenness is a very good simulation of the way the world would appear from a high level of faith.

So a little more wine than usual on Purim can bring you to a fleeting experience of that kind of faith that God is the Creator of both Light and Darkness, the Doer of Good and Evil.

But that’s the vital word: FLEETING!

The world you see when you’re drunk, where everything is just great, is really not something you’re supposed to experience in this world. The idea that things that seem bad are really good for you is an other-worldly concept and you can’t live in this world with that idea at the front of your mind.

The very fact that the mitzvah of the day requires you to drink to reach that conclusion is a lesson that you shouldn’t miss. The point is that it’s neither desirable nor really possible to look at the world in those terms on a daily basis.

Living in this world requires you to be acutely aware of what’s going on within you and around you, and in particular to be on guard against doing wrong or even witnessing wrong without protest.

Purim, as I said, is about the victory of good over evil. On the other hand the very essence of the day’s activities take us to a plane of existence in which evil is revealed as nothing other than God’s tool.

It’s a day of irony. The idea is to get that fleeting glance of a perfect world but to do it in such a way that emphasises that it’s beyond our reach and supposed to stay that way.

In this sense, Yom Kipur is very similar indeed to Purim. Yom Kipur also takes us to a plane of existence on which we feel the nearness of God and our ability to reach Him, only this time it’s through a complete negation of our physical needs. It too is a day full of irony, but yet different from Purim. Here, we do not negate the essence of evil, in fact we focus on it sharply and objectify it in an effort to expel it from ourselves and draw close to God.

Here too, the lesson is that yes closeness to God and cleanness from sin is a wonderful thing, and we need that glance of spirituality. But here too, it’s a one-off event and you shouldn’t even think about living permanently in that way. The mitzvos of Yom Kipur of fasting and refraining from other physical pleasures are there to get us to reach that unattainable plane, while teaching that it’s essentially unattainable to normal people.

The mitzvah of drinking on Purim is there to get us to another unattainable place, while teaching that it’s essentially unattainable to normal people!

But Purim and Yom Kipur are also polar opposites. The level of Yom Kipur is one of complete Din – Justice, where evil is evil and must be eradicated in all shapes and forms. Purim is overwhelming Chesed which actually reveals all evil to be essentially good.

The lesson of these days is that neither of these poles are a desirable place to inhabit as a way of life.

In real life, it’s not possible to distill pure evil and objectify it and then throw it off the cliff in the way we do on Yom Kipur.

Equally, it’s not possible to accept evil in it’s many guises as simply being God’s will and leave it be.

Real life entails complexity. Our mission is to use the tools that we have to view the world from a perspective of faith, while protesting evil and ridding ourselves and our world from it.

Purim and Yom hakippurim open up a brief window onto a simpler, more perfect world, but they do so in a way that reminds you that the window has to close at the end of the day.

Simplicity is wonderful but it’s for the next world!

Torah From Queens

A New Weekly Shiur by Rabbi Bentzion Chait on Integrating Torah into Daily Life as Per Chovos Halevavos begins this Wednesday at 8:30 PM at Congregation Ahavas Yisroel. (Check the website at if you can’t make it).

Bava Basra Siyum – R’ Moshe Schwerd, R’ Ruby Ginsberg, R’ Steve Weiss give some nice vorts on the ending of Bava Basra which can be downloaded here.

R’ Moshe Schwerd, a great Maggedie Shiur on the first daf in Sanhedrin – Daf Yoni – 2 can be downloaded here.

R’ Yechezkel Rosenberg – Rabbi Yonason Eibshitz’s understanding of the famous machlokes between Rabban Gamliel and Rabbi Yehoshua in Berachos 29b: Part 1 here and Part 2 here

Mishpatim – Daf Yomi Bava Siyum – Shnayim Mikra Breaker

The Daf Yomi cycle will be finishing Bava Basra on Shabbos (and starting Sanhedrin on Sunday). So it’s certainly no coincidence that this week’s parsha is Mishpatim which is the Torah source for many of the sugyas in Bava Kamma, Bava Metzia and Bava Basra.

A friend said that Mishpatim is a potential Shnayim Mikra breaker because there are so many Rashis. We just want to remind everybody that you can minimally fulfill Shnayim Mikra, by reading a English Translation like the Artscroll Stone Chumash. So don’t let the mitzvah packed parsha of Mishpatim derail your good intentions.

If you’re not currently learning Shnayim Mikra, it’s a great time to start and here is Rabbi Rietti’s outline of Mishpatim. (You can purchase the entire outline of the Chumash here).

# 21 13 Mitzvot
# 22 19 Mitzvot
# 23 21 Mitzvot
# 24 “We shall do and then understand”

# 21 13 Mitzvot
Laws of a Jewish Servant:
* Works 6 years & is freed in the 7th
* If he was single when he began working, he leaves single
* If he was married, his wife leaves with him
* If his master gives him a gentile maidservant and she then has children, she and the children remain with the master after the Jewish Servant leaves.
* If he refuses to leave his master after six years saying he loves his master, wife & children, he is brought to court where his ear is pierced and he remains in servitude till Jubilee year.

Laws of a Jewish Maidservant:
* Destitute father sells daughter into servitude, her master must marry her, if he refuses] he must help her be redeemed by her family.
* After she was sold once, she cannot be sold ever again, neither by her father or her first master.
* If the master gives her to his son in marriage, she has all equal rights as any other Jewish wife: Food, clothing & relations
* If neither of the three above options are exercised, (redemption, marriage, or marriage to a son) she is automatically released when she reaches puberty.

Laws of Murder & Manslaughter:
* Premeditated murder is punishable by death.
* If he did not plan to kill, G-d brought it about, he runs to a city of refuge
* Hitting a parent is punishable by death.
* Kidnapping and then selling is punishable by death.
* Cursing parents is punishable be death. (sefer HaChinuch does not count cursing parents here)

Laws of Personal Injury, harming slaves:
* If one knocks another out with a stone or fist but he does not die, he must pay for his loss of work & medical bills.
* If one kills his male or female servant, he is punishable by death.
* Two men fighting accidentally hit a pregnant woman causing her to miscarry, her husband sues in court. Full monetary compensation is paid for losing an eye, tooth, hand or foot.
* If a master blinds his slave or knocks out a tooth, the slave is set free.

Laws of a Killer Ox:
* Ox kills a man or woman, ox is stoned, no benefit from it.
* If the ox killed twice after the owner was warned & now it killed a third time, the ox is stoned & the owner is liable to death by the hands of heaven.
* The owner pays a monetary penalty fixed by the courts as an atonement
* If the ox kills a child, boy or girl, the ox is stoned
* If the ox kills a male or female slave, ox is stoned & its owner pays 30 shekel of silver to the master of the victim.

Laws of a Pit:
* One digs a pit or uncovers it, an ox or donkey falls in, the one who made the pit pays full cost of damage, dead animal belongs to its owner.

Laws of a Damaging Ox:
* An ox gores another ox, later it dies from the injury, the live ox is sold & the money is divided, they also divide the money from the dead animal.
* If the goring ox gored before and the owner did not protect it after being warned, then the owner pays the full value of the dead ox.

Laws of Stealing:
* One steals an ox or sheep, slaughters it and sells it, pays 5 oxen for the ox and 4 sheep for the sheep.

# 22 19 Mitzvot
Laws of Stealing continued
* A burgler is hit and killed while in the act of breaking into a house, this is
not murder.
* If he was killed in daylight (it is clear he did not intend to kill) it is murder
* A thief pays in full for what he stole. If he does not have the money, he is sold as a servant.
* If the stolen item is found in his possession, whether an ox, donkey or sheep, the thief has to pay double its price.

Damage caused by your animal grazing:
* If an animal grazes on private property, the owner of the animal must pay from the best of his field & vineyard.

Damage by Fire:
* A fire gets out of control and burns crops, the one who began the fire pays in full.

The Unpaid Guard:
* Items placed with an unpaid guard and stolen, the guard swears he did not touch the missing item.
* All claims of liability, negligence or denied guilt, where one side says it was stolen and the other claims it was lost, both parties come to Bet Din for litigation. The party found guilty by witnesses pays double
(This law is one of the 7 Mitzvot instructed to all mankind)

The Paid Guard:
* A paid guard swears he did not make use of the item that was killed, maimed or raided without witnesses, the owner must accept the oath and the paid guard is not penalized.
* If the guarded item was stolen, then the guard must pay the owner.
* If the guarded animal was killed by a wild beast and the guard can prove it, he does not pay for the attacked animal.

Borrowing & Rentals:
* If a borrowed item is broken or stolen, & the owner was not around at the time, the borrower pays in full.
* If the owner was there at the time the item was broken or stolen, then the borrower is exempt.
* If one hires an item that is then lost or stolen, the loss is covered by the rental price. (a renter has same status as a paid guard, so he is responsible for losses unless it was beyond his control). (HaChinuch does not count Sachir here)

Laws of Seduction:
* If a man seduces an unbetrothed virgin, he must pay a dowry & marry her.
* If she or her father refuses to marry her to him, he must pay the father 50 Silver Shekel.
* Don’t allow a witch to live.
* One who sleeps with an animal is punishable by death.
* Bringing offerings to other gods other than HaShem is punishable by death.

Laws of Oppression:
* Don’t hurt the feelings of a Ger, righteous convert.
* Don’t oppress a Ger in monetary matters.
* Don’t hurt the feelings of a widow or orphan.
* If you mistreat a widow or orphan & they cry to me, My anger will be focused on you till your wives will be widows and your children orphans.

Laws of Lending:
* Lend money to the poor.
* Don’t pressure him to repay you if he does not have the money.
* Don’t charge or participate in charging interest.
* If you take his garment as security against the loan, return it to him before sunset, it might be his only covering he sleeps in. *
* Don’t curse judges.
* Don’t curse a leader / King.
* Don’t give agricultural taxes out of sequence.

Laws of First born:
* Give Me your first born sons, oxen, sheep.
* Every first born animal remains with its mother for 7 days
* On its eighth day, you shall dedicate the first born animal to Me.
* Don’t eat flesh torn from a living animal, give it to the dog.

# 23 21 Mitzvot
Laws of Justice:
* Don’t believe Lashon Hara, derogatory speech.
* Don’t accept testimony if the opposing party is not present.
* Don’t join a wicked person to be a witness with him.
* Don’t accept a wicked person’s testimony.
* Don’t follow a majority of one to impose the death penalty.
* Don’t switch from a favorable verdict to one of guilty.
* All cases are decided on a majority opinion.
* Don’t favor a poor person in court because he is poor.
* If you see your enemy’s ox or donkey astray, return him.
* If you see the donkey of someone you hate collapsing under its load, & you would rather refrain from assisting, you must help unload it.
* When a wicked person appears in court, judge the case on its merits, don’t pervert justice because he is wicked.
* Keep yourself distant from anything false. *
* Do not kill one who is not proven guilty or one who has already been acquitted. I will not let anyone guilty escape punishment.
* Don’t accept a bribe to pervert justice.
* A Judge must not oppress a Ger, foreigner / convert. * sefer HaChinuch does not count this here
* Every seventh year, leave your produce alone.
* Stop working on Shabbos.
* Don’t say the name of Avoda Zara or swear in its name. *
* Don’t try to persuade others to follow other gods.
* Celebrate three festivals each year with Korban Chagiga.
* Observe the Passover festival
* Don’t slaughter the Pascal Lamb while you still own Chametz.
* Don’t leave over till the morning any fat of the Korban Pesach meant for burning on the altar.
* Bring your first-fruits to the Temple.
* Don’t eat Milk and Meat together.
* Sefer HaChinuch does not count not saying names of Avoda Zara here

Warning of obedience:
* I Am sending an angel to guide you, listen to him & don’t disobey him.
* Destroy the idols in the land you occupy
* Only serve Me!, then I will bless your bread & water & banish sickness from you. (sefer HaChinuch does not count Tefila here)
* I will send a deadly hornet to drive out your enemies from the land.
* I will drive them out gradually
* Don’t make any treaty with the seven nations.
* Don’t let them settle in your land.

# 24 “We shall do and then understand”
* G-d tells Moshe to ascend Mt. Sinai with Aron, Arons’ sons & 70 elders.
* Only Moshe ascended to the top.
* Moshe descended and shared all G-ds’ instructions, we answered in one voice, we will do everything HaShem spoke.
* Moshe wrote everything.
* Moshe awoke early and built an altar at bottom of Mt. Sinai & 12 pillars.
* Moshe sent first born lads to offer offerings.
* Moshe put half the blood in basins, the other half he sprinkled on the Altar.
* Moshe read out loud the Sefer HaBrit and they replied: “We shall do & then understand.”
* The blood in the basins, Moshe now sprinkled on the people.
* “With this blood you have entered a contract with all these words of G-d.
* Moshe, Aron & sons with 70 elders ascend the mountain.
* They had a vision of HaShem nourishing them like food.
* G-d tells Moshe to ascend & receive the Tablets, The Torah & the Mitzva.
* Moshe on Mt. Sinai 40 days and 40 nights

The BT and the SuperBowl

The NY Times has a good article about Alan Shlomo Veingrad, the Professional Football Player who won a Superbowl with the Dallas Cowboys and became an observant Jew afterwards.

The Ba’al Guf and the Ba’al Teshuva

A promotional flier announced the evening’s subject as “Super Bowl to Super Jew.” There was truth in that advertising. Mr. Veingrad goes these days by his Hebrew name, Shlomo. He wore a black skullcap and the ritual fringes called tzitzit; he wore the Super Bowl ring he won in 1992 with the Dallas Cowboys and the Rolex watch that was a gift from Emmitt Smith, the team’s star running back.

Within his 6-foot-5 frame, Mr. Veingrad embodies two Jewish archetypes that do not often meet. He is the ba’al guf, the Jewish strongman, and the ba’al teshuva, the returnee to the faith. While two Jewish boxers on the scene now — Yuri Foreman and Dimitriy Salita — also are prominently observant, Mr. Veingrad may well be the only Orthodox athlete from the United States’ hugely popular team sports.

“I believe I played in the N.F.L. and have that ring so I can share my story with other Jews,” Mr. Veingrad, 46, said shortly before the U.S.C. event.

During it, he told a spellbound capacity audience, “The Torah is a playbook for how someone can live their life.”

Sports, America and the Golus Yid

For Jews, abundant as fans but uncommon as top players, the visibility of a Shlomo Veingrad serves both reassuring and cathartic roles. Having a Jew to root for — whether Hank Greenberg, Sandy Koufax or the Israeli N.B.A. rookie Omri Casspi — “has a lot to do with our desire to define ourselves as Americans in the most American way, which is sports,” said Jeffrey S. Gurock, a history professor at Yeshiva University and the author of “Judaism’s Encounter With American Sports.”

At a deeper and more anxious level, American Jews continue to grapple with the stereotypical view of the Jew as egghead, nerd, weakling. That dismissive portrayal was a staple not only of anti-Semites, but also of early Zionists, who envisioned their “new man” with his plow and rifle as the antidote to the “golus Yid,” the exilic Jew unable even to defend himself.

“I don’t think those feelings are as conscious as in prior generations, but they still have some resonance,” Professor Gurock said in a telephone interview. “So there’s a residual pride of someone achieving in this very secular world of sports.”

Read the whole article here.

Dealing With Lack of Appreciation

People involved in Communal and Chesed projects know that it is not unusual for the recipients to not show adequate (or sometimes any) appreciation. Although at the higher levels of Chesed we should not care about the appreciation shown, it can be troublesome sometimes.

How have people dealt with this situation either internally or through verbal expression to the recipients?

Putting Hubby First

I didn’t grow up with a mother who gave me any kind of pre-marital chat about how to be a good wife. But I learned from watching her. In our household, she was fully dedicated to taking care of my father’s every need. I vividly remember their routine – he ran a business about a 25-minute ride from home. He would call when he was leaving work, and my mother would time the evening supper meal perfectly so that when we all heard the automatic garage door opener, and my father was pulling in the driveway, my mother was plating up his dinner. Perhaps that is why my husband comes home to a warm meal every night, timed with his train schedule. I grew up thinking this was entirely normal.

The longer you are married, the easier it is to get lax on this kind of commitment. My husband, Stephen, would most certainly be forgiving if on any given evening he came home to a flustered, busy wife, and she said, “Didn’t happen today, dear – make yourself a sandwich.” It’s never happened, not once, and truthfully, I fully enjoy the ritual of preparing my husband’s breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It’s what I love about being married to him all these years, not what I wish I could remove from my to-do list. Chas v’shalom.

And so it came to be just recently that my commitment to always putting my husband first was tested. A family simcha on my husband’s side meant that Stephen was going to go away to the Berkshire Mountains for a weekend, leaving the children and me here. (That’s a longer story, not for this column, but everyone who reads Beyond BT can relate to when you decide to send away one member of the family to the obligatory family simcha that takes place over shabbos amongst non observant relatives). I made him his own special Shabbos food, and we packed him up to leave Friday morning. Meanwhile, the idea of Shabbos in our home without him was too depressing, so I called two good friends and invited the children and me to them, one Friday night, and one Shabbos day.

We make plans, and G-d laughs. Friday morning, the only news anyone was talking about was the first weather “event” to hit our area – in the form of a major snowstorm for Saturday night and Sunday that promised to dump 2 feet of snow in the area. It would not be safe driving for my husband. And so, after a long pow wow, we decided that he would opt out of the simcha, and stay home for Shabbos. Fantastic news for us.

Here’s the rub. We NEVER go out on Friday night for a meal. It’s our family time, and my husband relishes Friday night dinner with just the family after a long workweek, and making up for the sleep he is deprived of all week long by his grueling schedule. When we learned that he’d be home, he requested of me that I cancel our attendance at my friend’s house, as he preferred to eat at home. I protested – “that’s not fair to her, as I’m sure she’s done all the cooking already”. And, truth be told, I wasn’t interested or ready to make a Shabbos meal. I am ready for Shabbos by chatzos every week, and this was two hours before chatzos.

My husband is an agreeable guy, and he shrugged and agreed. Decision made. But it nagged at me. I knew that I wasn’t putting him first. And, I knew that I could, if I wanted to. I called my friend to find out if she’d already cooked for us, and found out that she isn’t a chatzos family – she hadn’t even begun cooking yet. And that’s when I knew the right decision. I wouldn’t be putting her out by cancelling; in fact, it would relieve pressure on her. And I would make my husband very happy.

I got into gear, and without my husband’s knowledge (he had gone elsewhere for a few hours), I put together a meal and set the table for dinner – before chatzos. Stephen would never have demanded it, but as he sat at the table on Friday night, beaming at his children, enjoying his wife’s cooking, and admiring a beautiful table, I knew that I’d made the right decision.

I was looking forward to a night off – no cooking, no dishes to wash, someone else to serve me for once. I traded that freedom for something much better – a look of gratitude in my husband’s eyes.

Azriela Jaffe is the author of twenty books. Most recently she has been focusing her writing efforts on holocaust memoirs. She is hired privately by families to write the life story of their surviving holocaust matriarch or patriarch. After months of interviews, she produces a finished book for the family. Azriela’s new novella, entitled ,“Meant to Be” will be in Jewish bookstores the end of January. And most recently, she is known as the “chatzos lady” because she has organized an email support group that now includes 160 women from all over the world who want to learn how to be fully ready for Shabbos by mid-day on Friday. To join this group, email azriela at To inquire about her holocaust memoir writing, email

Holden Caulfield and the Lack of Observance

Note: A few of the thoughts and ideas that make up this post have been sitting in my Blogger Dashboard since 08/09/06, after I sent an email to someone regarding banned seforim and authors.

I heard on CBS radio that J.D. Salinger had died. As a former fan of fiction, avid reader of THE NEW YORKER, and someone who thought, once upon a time, of going into writing, I had to pause and give some thought to Mr. Salinger and, of course, The Catcher in the Rye. The primary thing that comes to mind whenever I think about The Catcher in the Rye is the fact that, sometimes, it takes just one written work to make an impact. Culturally, this book was one of the first written works to speak to and about teenage life in post World War II America. As often noted, while the book was intended for adults, many young adults felt that it spoke to them and reflected their feelings of alienation. It was published in 1951 and banned very quickly due to language, adult situations, promotion of smoking and alcohol drinking, etc. The book continues to be banned.

Even though I attended what was know as a “top” public school in Kansas, this book was never required reading. In fact, it wasn’t until I was 22 (summer of 1992) that I first read it. Holden Caulfield, the main character, was a mouthy teen who had been expelled from four schools and was rather discontent with society, adults, and especially people who were “phony”. Holden saw the hypocrisy within his society and in many of the people he encountered. In many ways, not so different from some individuals that would be labeled as “at-risk” or “in-risk”.

One of my favorite quotes (of all time) can be found in chapter two. Holden says, “People never notice anything”. I have always thought this to mean that Holden felt that people didn’t understand him and that they were not even willing to attempt to understand him. It is that lack of observance (not the Torah u’Mitzvos kind), that feeling that we are not important and what we say doesn’t matter that can often lead to a lack of observance (yes, the Torah u’Mitzvos kind). Most people want to be recognized and valued. When parents, teachers, family members or the community give the impression that someone isn’t important or “worth the time” it can have a devastating effect on a person. Of course, when a teen or adult gets to the point that they even contemplate the idea that Hashem forgets about them, then we get into a situation that might bring about that lack of observance.

“People never notice anything,” is a mindset that seems to go against many Jewish values. Part of the reason I like the quote is because I see how it resonates with many people. That’s I attempt to notice things. I try the be first to wish others a “Good Shabbos Kodesh” or give a “Yashar Koach”. I attempt to take an interest in what is going on in my life of those around me. Lately I have become keenly aware of when people have a birthday coming up (mostly thanks to Facebook). To simply ask someone how they are doing, but not push beyond the answer they give is really going only half the distance.

I know this personally, because friends will ask me how I’m doing, and my first reaction is to say, “everything is fine”. Mostly I do this because R Yisrael Lipkin (Salanter) held that “one’s face is a Reshus HaRabim”, a public area (I believe the story goes that he saw someone looking obviously very serious during Elul and commented to this person, that showing distress might bring others down, as well). I’m slowly realizing that if a good friend asks how I’m doing, the they do deserve a better answer than, “fine”. This is sort of like R Dessler’s idea that even though we want to be givers and not takers, sometimes you can be a taker, like when someone really wants to give you a gift, and by taking you are giving to that over person.

“People never notice anything,” just isn’t true. It’s easy to think that, in the big picture, our actions don’t really make a difference. I fall into this mentality quite often as of late. Usually, it’s really before I’m about to do something nice for someone or prior to actually making a difference. If a novel, movie, song, or other aspect of what’s called “pop culture” speaks to our youth, I think, for myself, that it is important to find out why. If you meet a teenager and they are into an author or a musical artist then there’s something (even if it’s completely off base) that “speaks” to that person. This isn’t meant as an academic critique of Mr. Salinger’s book, but I’ve often wondered to myself, “What if Holden had felt that an adult understood him?” Had that been the case, we would have had a very different story.

Originally posted on Neil’s blog here.