Light to The Jews

We as Jews are failing our own people. Many people’s experiences with Judaism have clearly not been warm or inspiring enough for them to seek out more than a superficial level of involvement in Judaism. I believe that BTs especially need to be comfortable enough in their choice to become observant so as not to depict Judaism as a set of rigid rules. I think FFBs, due to more confidence, are generally better at showing others the beauty of Yiddishkeit.

IMHO, in dealing with secular (or Reform or Conservative) Jews, the focus must be on hashkafa and not necessarily halacha. We must be shining examples of mitvot bein adam l’haveiro, kindness, chesed, yashrut, etc. I cannot count the number of Jews (American & Israeli) who had negative preconceived notions of frum Jews, who told me “I’ve never met a religious Jew like you before”.

Our unique look (kippah, modest dress, etc.) makes us stand out and we are held to a higher standard by the general public because of it. We are walking advertisements for Observant Judaism; we must not ever forget this. If anything comes out of this thread, I hope it’s that.

– A Recent Comment By Susan

What Do You Eat On Shabbat?

We all know that food plays an important role in our Shabbat routine. We know that we have a halachic obligation for three Shabbat meals. Many of us know that the Ari emphasized a kabbalistic importance to these meals. And many of us are very much set on a particular menu for Shabbat.

This is not a deep post. Yet the Torah we live encompasses all aspects of our personal and communal culture; and so this, too, is relevant in some way.

I have Ashkenazi friends in the NYC area who think that if you don’t have cholent on Shabbat, you’re some sort of heretic. Or at least insufficiently respectful of the hallowed requirements of Judaism, and maybe to be held in slight suspicion as ignorant or unreliable. When I ask them what they think Jews ate on Shabbat in Teheran, Halab, Fez, Saana, or fill-in-the-blank – they give me a blank stare.

The truth is, what people eat on Shabbat has much to do with personal taste, local culture, and what’s available. Here in the American Southwest, we are especially blessed with deservedly famous hot chiles. In the fall, parking lots all over town host chile roasters. Farmers bring their produce in burlap sacks, and roast it fresh for the customer. Even the supermarkets offer this service. The smell of roasting chiles permeates the air for a few weeks each fall. Most of us buy a quantity (15 or 20 lbs is common) to freeze and last till the next crop.

For me, hot chiles are the answer to a prayer. I thrive on a good Yemenite schug. I can eat it three times a day, with almost any sort of meal. My wife’s best friend is a Teimani woman from Bnei Ayish, and she supplies our needs; but this means getting a fix in small quantities to make it last. A good schug is altogether a rare thing outside of Israel. The best is made at home, in small batches, in a Yemenite kitchen. So, imagine my delight when we discovered that good hot chiles are ubiquitous in New Mexico. One could say theyÕre the state food. The question here is never, ‘do you want chile?'; it is only ‘green or red?’

So, on a recent Friday night, for instance, we had the sort of meal that many of our New York friends (the majority Ashkenazim, anyway) wouldn’t quite understand. We started with hummous. We had three types of schug. Our neighbors just made their first batch of Santa Fe schug using chiles from their garden. Both the green and the red were very good. And we had some of the schug that I had brought back frozen in July from Bnei Ayish. Very tasty, with a mild sweat breaking the brow.

It happens we skipped the fish. If we had fish, it likely would have been smoked salmon. Sometimes we have a Yemenite salmon (‘Moriah’s salmon’) recipe. A few times a year my wife will make salmon ‘gefilte fish’. Our neighbors will sometimes serve sushi. I, of course, put schug on my fish. And we rarely ever have typical whitefish/carp gefilte fish in our house.

After a quick zemer/song or short reading from the Nechama Leibowitz biography we’re enjoying, it is time for the main dish. Chicken? Beef? Could be; but our classic and favored by far meal is green chile stew. Served in bowls, with spoons. Bits of lamb and vegetables with lots of hot green chiles. And an extra napkin just for wiping the sweat off the brow. The stew is excellent with a dry red wine, or beer. It awakens nerve endings in the mouth you might not know were there.

I remember when Beit HaTfutzot/Museum of the Diaspora opened in Ramat Aviv some 30 years ago. There was an excellent exhibit, like a modern diorama, or a Jewish home on Shabbat. But this exhibit changed before one’s eyes, to show how Jewish homes around the world were similar, yet different. Certain items were in place in each version, with changes of local style; while other items like foods and clothing varied.

In New Mexico, the hot chile pepper is culinary king. For many of us, that bears a strong influence on our Shabbat cooking. What local influences shape the way you eat on Shabbat?

Tu Bishvat – Eat some fruit! Enjoy life!

Some call it Israeli Arbor Day. Others think of it as Jewish Environmentalism Day. Mystics make a symbolic holy meal called a seder at night. Others plant a tree in Israel.

Its true name is Tu Bishvat, Hebrew for the fifteenth day of the Hebrew month of Shvat which always comes at this time in the winter, and is known as the New Year for Trees. Years ago it was practically an unknown or un-celebrated holiday on the Hebrew calendar but over the last ten years it has grown in popularity for different groups, from different angles.

Older traditional kabbalists started the original “seder” in Tsfat, Israel in the 16th Century. The seder consists of symbolic eating of fruits combined with recitation of verses from holy books. And with the popularity of Kabbalah these past years… this holiday has also taken on new meaning for some mysticism enthusiasts.
On the other hand young people who are into environmentalism are also taking part in a seder, but for different reasons.

For example, Next Dor is a local organization in a house that offers a place for young Jews to gather for social and educational events in a non-denominational atmosphere. At the house in St. Louis City, Next Dor is hosting a Tu Bishvat Seder. According to Yoni Sarason, spokesman for Next Dor, the seder will include both traditional aspects as four cups of wine and four types of fruit corresponding to the kabbalistic concept of four realms of creation, and also, as he puts it, “more modern Eco Jewish aspects.”

In general the holiday is focused on the theme of appreciation to the Creator for the benefits and pleasure of food. Because of its sweetness, fruit is most iconic for this focus. Fruit is nature’s dessert.

And in some ways this holiday is not that unsimilar to Thanksgiving, but with kabbalistic pilgrims.

You can do your own version of a Tu Bishvat seder by merely having a variety of fruits and expressing your appreciation to the Creator for the blessings you have.

Shvat is the month of Aquarius, the water carrier. Water is a symbol for wisdom. There is a potential outpouring of wisdom at this time. What is wisdom? The type of knowledge that allows you to become one with the Infinite.

There’s a three step process that the sages seem to be telling us is good for this:

Step One: Take a bite of a sweet juicy grape, fig, pomegranate, olive, date, apple, pear, etc.

Step Two: Silently thank the Creator for making the fruit, the tastebuds to enjoy the fruit, and your ability to have access to the fruit.

Step Three: Feel the closeness of Creator.

We celebrate the fruit in the winter when things look bleakest. Outside its pretty barren, but deep down the sap is starting to rise in the trees. This marks the beginning of the blessings to come.

Sometimes when things look bleakest, the blessings are in the making.

Eat some fruit! Enjoy life!

For more about the month of Shvat see: KME and St. Louis Spiritual Living Examiner

Parenting Teleconference with Rabbi Horowitz – Thursday Night Jan. 20th – “The Art of the Deal – Negotiating Effectively with Your Kids”

PARENTING TELECONFERENCE with Rabbi Horowitz – This Thursday Night Jan. 20th “The Art of the Deal – Negotiating Effectively with Your Kids”

Join Rabbi Yakov Horowitz and Rabbi Avraham Mifsud for a 30 minute live telephone parenting conference call titled:

The Art of the Deal: Negotiating Effectively with Your Kids

When raising children, effective negotiation helps to create healthy, open dialogue, and is a very beneficial relationship builder! On the other hand, if children feel their concerns are consistently unheard and/or dismissed, they tend to withdraw from their relationship with you. This is without a doubt one of the biggest “risk” factors – one as parents, you want to avoid. RELATIONSHIP is Job One.

When: Thursday, January 20th, 2011

Time: 9:30 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. EST

Conference line: (712) 432-1001

Access code: 464447411#

Time on the conference will be dedicated to YOUR questions! Email your parenting questions to: by 6:00 p.m. Thursday, January 20th, 2011 or click here to post them online.

This call is sponsored by The Center for Jewish Family Life/Project YES and NASO: National Association for Support & Outreach

Would You Pay For a Long Distance Rabbi/Torah Teacher?

The traditional means of supporting a Rabbi is through a Shul. Members pays fees and make donations and the Rabbi either owns and operates the Shul or gets a salary.

Nowadays there a lot of BTs and FFBs who live in areas where they have not found a Rabbi or Torah Teacher to fill their needs. There are Rebbeim throughout the country who might be able to teach, answer questions and give advice to these people, but they would need a financial structure to support these activities.

Do you think people would be willing to pay a long distance Rabbi to learn, posken and give advice?

How much do you think people would be willing pay to have access to and talk to a Rabbi for 30 minutes – 1 hour per month. $360, $500, $1,000 per year?

How much do you currently pay to belong to your shul?

How much time per month do you currently talk to your Rabbi?

The Refuah Comes Before the Maka

Since downsizing considerably to move from Pennsylvania to Highland Park, NJ, my husband and I have been sharing a closet in our bedroom for the past six years. Our turf is clearly divided, his belongings to the left, mine to the right, and like wool and linen, never the two shall mix.

My husband is in charge of making sure that our closet keeps smelling nice. I don’t ask what he does to make sure that happens, and he never volunteered the information.

One day, I saw something on the top shelf of my closet that I wanted to pull down. I was too lazy to get a stepstool, so I prodded the corner of the box with a hanger, hoping that I would be able to catch it as it fell off the shelf into my waiting arms.


Sitting on top of that box was a plastic cereal bowl I didn’t know was resting there.

Filled with baking soda.

My husband’s secret weapon.

Before I even knew what was coming, responding to my hanger’s prodding, this bowl sailed through the air, did a 180, and deposited about two cups of baking soda all over me. One moment I was eager to check out a box on the top of the closet, and five seconds later I was sputtering, and trying to breathe through nostrils full of white dust. My face, arms, torso, legs, shoes, covered in a white film that is hard to describe, but picture throwing a handful of flour up in the air and letting it settle on you wherever it may land. You get the idea. The angel dust even spread itself all over my hanging clothes, and as I opened my mouth to scream for my husband, it entered my mouth as well. (Baking soda is renowned for its dental health qualities, but I don’t recommend eating it raw.)

The sight my husband and children found as I slunk out of our closet should have aroused sympathy, but instead, it brought on gales of laugher, the rolling on the floor, every time you try to control yourself, you just laugh more… kind of laughter. You see, apparently, I was quite the sight.

But Hashem brings the refuah before the maka. My hair was covered in a cap, and although coated in baking soda, I was spared the grief of a sheitle full of baking soda, which might have been a novel way to introduce some extra shine to my wig, but who needs the hassle?

It wasn’t long after the baking soda incident saga that I felt Hashem’s preparation for the maka in another palpable way. I visit once a week with Mrs. Lola Mappa, a lovely holocaust survivor residing in Lawrence, NY, for whom I am privileged to write her memoirs. As I was leaving her home today, she suggested to me that I borrow a scarf of hers, so that I shouldn’t be cold on the way home. I insisted that I was dressed warmly enough in my jacket, and that I would only be in the car anyway, so there was no need for a scarf. Lola has a big heart, and she wouldn’t hear of it. She went to her room and removed from a drawer one of her personal scarves and showed me how to wrap it around my neck for warmth. I appreciated her kindness, although I felt the scarf to be entirely unnecessary. I left with it wrapped securely around my neck.

A half-mile from Lola’s home, I heard myself scream as my car made an explosive sound. My right front tire blew out into smithereens, rendering my car immediately incapacitated. I was traumatized by this unexpected, dangerous turn of events, and with shaking hands, I called Triple AAA from the side of the road. (I was not from there, and I didn’t know if they had Chaverim!). I paced the side of the road for quite some time as I waited for Triple AAA rescue to arrive. I was shaking from fear, but I was warm, in my new, winter scarf.

Hashem prepared the refuah before the maka. And good for me, Lola was listening.

Azriela Jaffe is a regular writer for Mishpacha magazine, the author of 24 books, a holocaust memoir writer hired by private families who wish to document their matriarch or patriarch survivor’s life story, and also known in the Jewish community as the “chatzos lady.” Visit for more information on how to transform your approach to the stress of erev Shabbos.

Some Thoughts About Shabbos Shira

Rabbi Dov Ber Weisman – Torah from Dixie:

This Shabbat is one of the few throughout the year that is given a special name. The day we read Parshat Beshalach is called Shabbat Shira (the Shabbat of Song), commemorating the glorious and awe-inspiring event when, after the miraculous deliverance from the Egyptians at the Red Sea, the Children of Israel simultaneously burst forth into a song of praise to Hashem. However, beyond giving praise to Hashem for miraculously saving us, the concept of shira (song) has a far deeper significance in correlation to our mission and goal in life.

After our earthly abode, we will ascend into a purely spiritual dimension to give an accounting of ourselves before the heavenly court. Did we fulfill our mission, our unique potential during our transmigration on earth? At that time, each individual will give his shira, song. This shira is the accomplishment that each of us made in our lives. Each of us will have to give an accounting of how we contributed to the sanctification of G-d’s name and the spread of His glory in this world.

Ironically, those very aspects in our lives that we looked upon as misfortunes and handicaps, whether in personality or in physicality, will be our crown of glory when we get to the world of truth. For example, a blind or slow-witted person will be asked, “What was most precious to you on earth?” That person will amazingly answer, “My blindness or dull-wittedness – because even though I had these handicaps, I didn’t question Your ways.” I did not complain, I did what I could with what I had. I understood that sometimes one need not understand. Some people are born rich, while others are not; some people are more attractive, intelligent, and talented than others. But life is fair, and I recognize that my G-d given attributes are what I needed to serve You, Hashem; and to have someone else’s attributes would only cause me harm and truly handicap me.

This is why our individual shira is so precious and unique; because each one of us has our own unique handicaps, our own little mix of problems. And if despite all that, we don’t give up and we do serve Hashem to the best of our abilities, then these very same handicaps will became our most prized possessions, our crown of glory, our song to Hashem.

Name That Tune or God’s Memory Is Better Than Ours
By Rabbi Pinchas Winston

The Torah (and Haftorah) speaks about Shira (song), the specially composed tribute to God for the miracles He performs to save the lives of His people. If anything, Shira takes the focus off our own military prowess, and focuses our attention instead on God, and how, with His help and guidance, we were able to overcome great odds, and to stand up against the world.

How important is saying Shira? The gemora says that had King Chizkiah, during the time of the First Temple, sang praises of God for the miracle that occurred for him (in his war against the massive army of Sancheriv), he would have been the Moshiach (Sanhedrin 94a)! But he did not, and the rest is history, our history, and all that occurred since then.

It’s not that God yearns for a pat on the back from us. It’s more that He desires to elevate us to a higher spiritual plain in order for us to be able to have an even greater experience of Him, the most sublime pleasure possible and purpose of life. Shira exhibits how much we are able to tear away the “veils” of nature from over our mind’s eye, and see the soul of the matter, the hand of God orchestrating all the events of daily life towards an ultimate goal that supercedes any events of current historical importance. Such a recognition serves to “purify” the world, and lead to a period of history of miracles even greater than those such as the splitting of the sea, or the overcoming of tyrants.

How Should We Format Beyond BT Meet Ups

We’ve previously had a few Beyond BT Shabbatons and Melava Malkas and those involved got much Chizuk out of it.

We would like to schedule a Beyond BT meet up every 2,3 or 4 months.

It can be on a Moetzae Shabbos, a Sunday or a Weekday night.

We can have it in NYC, Queens, Long Island, New Jersey, Monsey and we can rotate the venue.

We can discuss specific topics among ourselves, have a Rav give a shiur on a relevant topic, have a facilitated discussion, get together to eat and Shmuz.

Please comment below if you would like to participate and what format and venues you would prefer. You can also email us at

The ‘ABCD’ of Young American Jews

Notes from a talk given by Prof. Steven M. Cohen at the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, London, UK, December 2 2009.

Young people are distancing themselves from aspects of the Judaism of their elders, and responding to what they see as its shortcomings. Embodied within the endeavors outlined above is both a widely held, albeit unevenly shared, critique of conventional Jewish life. The Jewishly engaged but institutionally unaffiliated harbor four objections to the commonly available opportunities for affiliation, objections that may be encapsulated in the mnemonic “ABCD.”:

A = Alienating: The young people leading these initiatives feel alienated from the more conventional Jewish world, and wish to challenge many of its perceived norms by offering far more independence of thought and action.

B = Bland and Boring: This is how they view the Jewish lifestyle choices of the older generation. They see conventional leaders as too homogeneous, and disturbingly closed to diversity in social class and family status. The Judaism they seek is stimulating, upbeat, passionate and happy.

C = Coercive: The younger Jews find established Jewish institutions implicitly coercive – aiming to induce younger Jews to marry each other, to conceive Jewish babies and to support Israeli government policies of which they are ambivalent. By contrast, the initiatives they are creating are characterized by an emphasis on autonomy and the respect for individual growth.

D = Divisive: They find conventional Jewish institutions divisive, in that they are seen as dividing Jews from non-Jews, Jews from each other, Jewish turf from non-Jewish turf, and Jewish culture from putatively (and artificially defined) non-Jewish culture. In contrast, they seek diversity in people, culture, and geography. They tend toward the post-denominational. Similarly, they like to open up the boundaries between Jewish and non-Jewish, borrowing freely from non-Jewish culture to create new forms of Jewish culture, and demonstrating clear preferences for activities that happen in non-Jewish spaces, rather than exclusively Jewish ones.

Posted on Synablog

Trying to Keep the Peace

By Jonathan

I first went to Yeshiva when I was in my mid-20’s after graduating college. My oldest brother’s wife is an unabashed Catholic. When he made what they call a bar-mitzvah, the pressure from my parents, who were alive at the time, was very great. My Rebbe called a well known Rov who was known for understanding baalei teshuva but also towed a hard line, justifiably so, in these areas. I remember sitting in the office as my Rebbe spoke to the Rov z’l in Yiddish. Since I understand Yiddish pretty well, I knew my Rebbe was giving this every sympathetic touch that he could. I knew he was advocating for me.

My Rebbe said to the Rov, “Would the Rov speak to the bochur and tell him?”

I still remember the tone he used in these few words, “I am mispallel for your mesiras nefesh not to GO!”

I did go. Of course, I knew not to, nor did I want to “daven”with them in their services. So I showed up at strategic points that would be more family oriented. Came to the Friday night dinner, walked over after shul Shabbos morning etc.

When another family “simcha” came up a couple of years later, a relative said to me, “We haven’t seen you in so long.”

I responded, “Don’t you remember I was at ______ bar-mitzvah?”

“Oh, you were there?”

I have always recalled this story with charata that I did not listen and I made a point of telling myself that when the situation would come up again, I would do better.

It did and this Rov was no longer living.

I went to a preeminent posek to ask all of the pertinent shailos. Everyone would agree that his word is golden in p’sak.

He gave a completely different answer. He told me I should go! The situation was also different. I was closer with this brother who was making a “bar-mitzvah” and he factored in the family relationship and thought there would be more harm done in the long run by not participating.

He told me I was allowed to be in the reform sanctuary at the time of their services. He told me I should do everything they do, just not daven. I davened privately and then came, and mingled with all of the family. I remember this brother was happy to see me there and I think I knew it wasn’t so easy for me.

The other factor that is important here is the intermarriage already took place many years before. He approached this very secheldik: he said they know you don’t approve of this. They know you look different and think differently. Nevertheless, family is family and you have to do all you can to maintain the relationship.

It worked for a time.

Now, both of my parents are in the olam ha-emes and this brother and I have not spoken in years because he is openly hostile to my frum lifestyle.

Boruch Hashem, I have no regrets because I listened to daas Torah

Parsha Bo

Here’s Rabbi Rietti’s outline of Bo. You can purchase the entire outline of the Chumash here.

After you read the Parsha, take a look at the last Ramban, which many consider one of the most important Rambans in the Chumash.

# 10 Locusts – Darkness:
# 11 Warning: Death of First Born: 
# 12 Laws of Korban Pesach – Death First Born – The Exodus
# 13 Separate Every First-Born Man & Animal

# 10 Locusts – Darkness:
* The Purpose of the Plagues: To tell your future generations of the wonders
then you will know I am The Eternal G-d.
* Warning of Locusts
* Pharaohs’ servants complain:
* Pharaoh & Aron are called back to the palace
* Pharaoh asks who is going? “Everyone” “No! You Go on my terms!”
* Pharaoh throws them out the palace
* Plague of Locusts
* Pharaoh again admits his guilt:
* Moshe prays
* West wind blows every last locust away
* HaShem hardens his heart:
* Plague of Darkness
* Pharaoh agrees on condition they leave behind their livestock
* Moshe replies, “Even you will give us animals for offerings”
* HaShem hardens his heart:
* Pharaoh warns Moshe never to be seen again, Moshe agrees

# 11 Warning: Death of First Born:
* ‘Just one more plague and then Pharaoh will let you go’
* Moshe is instructed to tell Jews to borrow vessels of silver & gold
* ‘About midnight HaShem will strike down your first-born’
* ‘Pharaoh will not take heed so I can display My abundant Wonders’

# 12 Laws of Korban Pesach – Death First Born – The Exodus
* The first Mitzva: Sanctify the new moon.

Laws of the Korban Pesach:
* Slaughter the Pascal Lamb in the afternoon of erev Pesach.
* Place its blood on the doorposts of Jewish homes
* Eat Pascal Lamb completely roasted with Matza & Marror.
* Don’t eat the Pascal Lamb cooked.
* Don’t leave any meat of Pascal Lamb remaining till the morning.
* Eat it ready to leave, your loins girded, sandals on feet and staffs in hand
* I will Pass over Egypt and smite every firstborn, human male and animal
* I alone will smite the gods of Egypt
* Blood on your doorposts will be a sign for Me to Passover your homes
* This night will be observed as a celebration forever
* Destroy all Chametz from your home before Pesach.
* Eat Matza on the first night.
* Don’t own any Chametz.
* Don’t own any mixture of Chametz.
* How to answer your son (the rasha) when he asks about these rituals
* All the Jews did the rituals of the Korban Pesach exactly as instructed

* The plague of the Death of the First-born struck at exactly midnight
* Pharaoh awoke, not one Egyptian home was without a death toll
* Pharaoh begged Moshe & Aron to leave exactly as they had requested
* “And bless me too!”
* The Jews emptied out Egypt
* The Jews traveled from Ramses to Sukkot – 120 Miles in under 18 mins.
* 600,000 men between 20-60, beside children & the ‘Eruv Rav’ & livestock
* They left with mere Matzot cakes
* Jews had been enslaved for a total of 430 years

More Laws of Pesach:
* No alien can eat the Pascal Lamb.
* Circumcised gentile servant (no immersion) cannot eat.
* Don’t eat the Pascal Lamb outside of the designated group.
* Don’t break any of its bones.
* No uncircumcised person can eat it.

# 13 Separate Every First-Born Man & Animal
* Separate every first-born male man and animal.
* Remember The Exodus

More Laws of Pesach:
* Don’t eat Chametz for 7 days.
* Don’t let any Chametz be seen in your domain.
* Tell the story of the Exodus to your children.
* Separate all first born of your livestock.
* Every first-born donkey redeem with a sheep.
* If you do not redeem the donkey, decapitate it.
* Every 1st born male child redeem with 5 Sela of silver.
* How to answer the child who asks about Pesach,
* Tefilin on the arms and head

Is the Torah True Life Appropriate for Every Jew?

Dear Beyond BT

Stories about secular and unaffiliated Jews who undergo miraculous conversions after being exposed to the beauty of Yiddishkeit, the Torah lifestyle, etc… are very popular on BBT.

However, you usually avoid mention of those who experience the observant world and walk away. When you do deal with the ex-BT phenomenon, it’s often with derogatory and condescending terms.

Could you consider the possibility that the “Torah True” life isn’t for every Jew?

Is it a threatening thought that if it fails to work for those who left, it raises the possibility that it would fail to work for you?


He Who Has Sinned Can Teach

By Will Gotkin

In his book, Rebbes and Chassidim: What they said what they meant, Rabbi Abraham Twerski, M.D. quotes the following from King Solomon: “It is better to hear the rebuke of a wise man than one who hears the song of simpletons” (Ecclesiastes 7:5). Twerski writes that Rabbi Bunim of Pschis’che pointed out that this translation of the verse is inaccurate. Instead Rabbi Bunim says that it should be read: “It is better to hear the rebuke of a wise man who has heard the song of simpletons.” Rabbi Bunim explained that when a person who has spent his entire life studying Torah, praying, and pursuing spirituality preaches this as the correct lifestyle others may roll their eyes and say things like “Of course. What can you expect from someone who has never experienced the pleasures of life?” However, suppose someone who has indulged in earthly pleasures has come to realize their futility (Note: The Torah does not advocate an ascetic lifestyle, but it does teach us to utilize everything we do in the physical world for a spiritual purpose, including physical pleasures). This individual can say “I’ve been there and it’s all worthless!” Such a person is more likely to be heard.

A person who has not always been observant of Torah and mitzvos will likely find more of a listening ear among those who are non-observant than a person who has always been a practicing Jew. Perhaps this is one reason why the Talmud teaches that in the place of a baalteshuvah (one who has become observant), those who have been totally righteous their entire lives cannot stand.

This should be an encouraging message to all those who wish to deepen their commitment to Judaism. Our sins of the past should not make us ashamed. Rather, they should give us a sense of pride for how far we have come and remind us that we have the potential to make a big impact on our fellow Jews and the world.

Tzaddikim (those who have been righteous their entire life) can only serve Hashem within the realm of the permitted. However, the baalteshuvah can turn past sins into merits. He or she can serve Hashem in ways those who have always been righteous cannot. I mentioned in a previous article that the Lubavitcher Rebbe taught that one who experiences spiritual darkness returns to Hashem with an intensity much greater than that of a tzaddik. Such a person thereby elevates the negative acts they have committed, since their misdeeds become fuel for their return (See “A Perfectly Imperfect World”).

On a personal note, I have recently started my 8-month journey at a yeshiva in Jerusalem, Israel. Many of the bochurim (students) are baalei teshuvim, myself included. It is an exciting and inspiring place and I can only hope that I will be able to take the knowledge I gain out of this experience with me and use it to make a positive difference in the lives of others.

Originally posted here.

The Spiritual Magnificence of Snow

New Yorkers were treated to their first snow storm of the season last Sunday. After the storm, it was a beautiful sight and it was good packing snow for snow balls and snow men, but it presented a very real set of challenges. My wife and I had two weddings (among the five that were schedule in Kew Gardens Hills alone), one in Brooklyn and one in the Bronx, and it was quite an adventure. The plowing of the streets was the worse we’ve seen in decades, possibly due to a work slow down by the NYC Sanitation Department in protest of budget cuts.

By Thursday the street were navigable and Rabbi Hershel Schachter, Rosh Yeshiva at Yeshiva University, gave a shiur at Congregation Ahavas Yisroel about Inyanei D’Yoma (relevant topic of the day), namely the Halachos of Snow. It was an amazing shiur, which you can download here, highlighting that in addition to the snow on the ground, the abstraction of snow is also a beautiful sight.

The Ramchal in the Book of Logic teaches us that the labor of the intellect is to see things as they really are, but we often make mistakes and come to false conclusions. The two most basic functions of the mind in the quest for knowledge are the activities of comparison and differentiation. Mistakes can occur in either one of these two activities, when we compare things that are not similar or differentiate things which are not really different.

This is where snow as an abstraction is so fascinating as Rabbi Schachter gave us a whirlwind tour of some of the issues involved when we compare and differentiate the realities of snow in various circumstances. I mentioned the snow was great for packing, so one of the questions we can ask is whether our construction of a snow man on Shabbos would be considered building or not?

Another question is in what ways is snow similar to water. We know that a collection of water in a Mikveh has certain spirtual properties in that it can remove spiritual impurity. What happens if you had a Mikveh filled with snow and you immersed yourself in it. Is it considered a body of water at rest on the ground like a mikveh filled with water or perhaps the nature of snow prevent it from acting as a collected body of water at rest?

As we walked through the streets in the aftermath of the storm the snow was packed solid and piled high. Is that packed snow considered an extension of the ground or not? To build an eruv, the marker has to be at 40 inches above the ground. When packed snow covers the ground do we measure from the top of the snow or do we measure from the ground?

Rabbi Schacter dealt with many more issues regarding the abstractions of snow and I highly recommend listening to the audio. The physical reality of snow presents one set of issues, but the abstraction of snow sheds an entirely different spotlight on this wondrous creation in Hashem’s world.