Putting the Pieces Back Together

The journey of Jeff and Amy Brooke was born out of tragedy, but through it they were able to see the tremendous joy and beauty of Judaism.

Jeff grew up in a Reform Jewish home in Norfolk, VA. For years the region had the heartrending status of having the highest intermarriage rate in the country, at 90 percent. But over the last twenty years a small frum community has been growing in the area and is having some success at turning the tide.

Amy grew up in a similar nonobservant home in Brooklyn. After the couple wed, they settled in Norfolk. Amy’s parents moved to the area soon after, with visions of migrating south to a quiet vacation home on the water. They found lots of water in Norfolk but not much else and grappled to find sufficient recreational activities.

So one day her parents turned on the television. They stumbled upon a televised class given by Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis. They were mesmerized by her persona, her passion and her material. They quickly contacted her NY-based outreach organization Hineni and ordered many of her tapes and books. Over the next few years, Jeff and Amy watched in disbelief as her parents became observant, literally before their eyes.

“We thought they were acting a little bit odd,” Jeff said. “We were observing them in an interested but horrified way.”

During this time, Amy became pregnant with their first child. Jeff realized that they needed a more spiritual direction in their life to help guide them in properly raising their child.

Simultaneously Jeff’s 25-year old brother experienced a relapse of the leukemia which had afflicted him during childhood. Every procedure was attempted, including a bone marrow donation from their mother. Sadly, all of the efforts were to no avail. Jeff’s brother passed away just a few months after his relapse.

The two events left Jeff grappling for answers and direction.

“Putting the two together – having any kind of loss makes one think about his place in the cosmos, and having a child makes you think about where you are and where you’re going. It was a time of spiritual searching,” Jeff said.

Just before Jeff’s brother passed away, Norfolk gained its first outreach Kollel as Rabbi Shlomo Goder moved from Monsey with three other families. The Kollel members heard that Jeff’s brother had passed away and so came to pay a shiva visit at their parents’ home.

Jeff was incredibly impressed – the Kollel members had just moved to town and Jeff had barely met them, and yet here they were going out of their way to show their care and concern to a Jewish family simply because they were fellow Jews. For Jeff, the presence of the religious Jews in the shiva house also provided a much-needed grounding and perspective.

“Shiva in a non-observant Jewish home is a joke, or worse, it’s offensive. There are usually a lot of loud mouth relatives knocking around, eating bagels, trading stock tips, clapping each other on the back,” Jeff noted. “It’s bad enough when an older person died, but it’s horrendous when it’s a young person.”

At the back of his parents’ house was a den, and Jeff would steal away there during shiva to escape the cacophony of visitors in the front sitting area. Jeff was joined there on many nights by one or more members of the Kollel. They spoke to him about the Jewish perspective of death and also gave him an opportunity to share his tormented feelings.

“They were not working me over, but were sincerely concerned about our family. We spent a lot of time talking about life and death,” Jeff said. “In retrospect I couldn’t tell you once [specific] thing we talked about. But it was just the fact that someone would care enough to come and be there.”

The genuine concern of the Kollel members also helped Jeff and Amy to begin to appreciate Torah-true Judaism and understand the religious path that her parents were following. They began to see the religious lifestyle as something truly beautiful and meaningful.

Following shiva, one of the Kollel members invited Jeff and Amy to their house for Shabbat. They were hooked! They soon got involved in the local Orthodox synagogue, which just happened to be located near their house. They received many more Shabbat invitations and made friends in the community. Jeff began learning one-on-one with a Kollel member and loved it.

Jeff’s learning helped him to realize something else that he had sorely misunderstood about Judaism. Jeff felt that there had to be a spiritual side to life. He just didn’t know how to find it and never thought that Judaism had the answers. But now when he came face-to-face with Torah-true Judaism, he immediately knew that it held the spiritual direction he was seeking.

“To know that my own religion was the source of something so true and spiritual, it was an awakening,” Jeff explained.

Since those events nearly twenty years ago, Jeff, Amy and their two children have been on a direct upward shot. They’ve become fully religious and have helped to found and lead many local Orthodox organizations. Amy’s brother and sister-in-law have also become frum.

The puzzle that Jeff and Amy began assembling during the shivah has been steadily growing, piece by piece. It’s now a beautiful picture of a life lived with love, deep purpose and spiritual meaning.

Michael Gros is the former Chief Operating Officer of the outreach organization The Atlanta Scholars Kollel. He writes from Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel. The Teshuva Journey column chronicles uplifting teshuva journeys and inspiring kiruv tales. To read more articles and sign up to receive them via email, visit http://www.michaelgros.com

Teleconference: And You Shall Tell Your Son: Developing “REAL”ationships with Your Children

And You Shall Tell Your Son: Developing “REAL”ationships with Your Children

Presented by Rabbi Avraham Mifsud, Director of NASO

In this program you will learn ten chinuch principles of Rav Shlomo Wolbe, זצ’ל,

that will help you to develop a clearer understanding of how to create strong, loving relationships with each one of your children.

Wednesday March 30th, 9-10 pm Eastern time

Attendee Dial-in #: (712) 432-1001

Attendee Access Code: 429870820#

Where is The Place for that Old Time Rock and Roll?

Someone recently confided that they’re having trouble placing they’re Rock and Roll memories. They mentioned that a Yeshivish oriented friend recently confided that he listens and gets inspired by Simon & Garfunkel.

Many BTs in KGH, Passaic, Monsey, Five Towns and other Orthodox communities try to keep their children away from secular rock music. But how do you deal with your own Rock and Roll memories?

Do you ever sing or think about out old lyrics when keyed from a phrase in conversation?

Was the music from the 60s, 70s and 80s much more benign than that of today and is therefore not so bad?

Or perhaps it’s still rooted in the non-Torah values of the secular world they we’ve moved away from and should be avoided?

Do you approve of the Rock music of today?

How have you dealt with these musical conflicts?

The Engaging Shabbos Table

by Rabbi Aryeh Goetz

If the goal of your Shabbos table is to create a positive and unifying experience for participants of all ages and backgrounds, here are some simple techniques that encourage everyone’s participation. This format is wonderful for those who would like to invite guests who may be less familiar with Shabbos customs, but it works equally well any family or group, as well.

Set Up
The set up of the table should be to form one “circle”, so each person can have eye contact with every other person seated. It’s best not to have a separate children’s table or a T-shaped configuration, if possible. It is also helpful to have bentchers on the table, set at the places, or handed out to the guests. This is often a good job for one of the children. Remember to announce the page if you have guests that may not be familiar with the songs (Shalom Aleichem, Eishes Chayil, Shabbos zemiros). “Newcomers” that are not familiar with the songs, should be given an English/Hebrew version or a siddur to at least follow along reading to themselves in English, so they get a sense of what is being said.

Kiddush & HaMotzi
Introduce the concept to newcomers in a phrase that explains the meaning of Kiddush. It could be somewhat like this: “Kiddush is to testify that G-d created the world in 6 days and rested on the 7th day. We emulate this concept by refraining from creative work on Shabbos. The second theme of the Kiddush is that HaShem brought the Jewish people out from slavery in Egypt and formed them into a nation and gave them the Torah. Shabbos is one of the gifts in the Torah.” If there is someone who is not familiar with the washing of the hands, make sure someone in the family explains this procedure and recites the blessing of al netilas yadiam with him or her. Casually mention that there is no speaking between the hand washing and the distribution and eating of the challah. New guests enjoy this a lot!

Introductions & Theme Question
After the first course is served and everyone has some food on their plate and in their stomach, we begin “introductions”. Going around the table, I start (so I can model what I want to happen) and we go around to the right (counter-clockwise). I ask each person to say his or her name. This is especially helpful when there are guests who may not know the names of the children or the names of the other guests. I say something like, “Please say your name, since everyone may not yet know everyone else”. It is a helpful icebreaker at the start. Also, I ask each person to answer the “theme question” after they introduce themselves. The theme question is a one or two word topic to which everyone will be able to relate, and it has an “open ended” style. We are not looking for one ‘right answer’. Whatever comes to mind is a good answer. The topic is related either directly or indirectly to the weekly parsha. I announce the name of the parsha and then the theme. For instance, for parsha Bereshis the theme might be “garden” or it might be “tree” or any other related word, for Noach, some example may be “flood” or “animal”. One person may end up discussing the time that his basement flooded, and how he reacted. Another guest may talk about a big storm and how it affected her life.

The theme question gives people a chance to express themselves in a non-judgmental context. It works for all age groups and encourages speaking as well listening skills. Everyone gets to know what the others are thinking. Parents can get an insight into what is on the minds of their children. If someone can’t think of something to say relating to the theme, he can just state his name and ‘pass’ until everyone else is done and we can come back to him when he is ready, if he would like.

The Dvar Torah
The theme question is a great segue way to the Dvar Torah. When the children are younger, they are asked to speak about something they learned in school or discuss a point from their ‘parsha sheet’. Starting from youngest to oldest, keeps an orderly flow and allows the younger ones to say something that had not yet been said, since they are going first. After a young child has his or her turn to speak, he or she may want to leave the table to play if it is too much for them to pay attention to the others. They should be allowed to leave the table after their turn by asking permission. This allows the meal to be child-focused and not guest- focused for as long as it is enjoyable for the children, and the guests gain much as well by focusing on the children’s presentations.

When the children got older, I gave the Dvar Torah first and asked anyone (child or guest) who had something to share, to do so. Over the years, the children gained self-confidence in public speaking and listening skills. Some young children love the “public speaking” opportunity so much, they stand up on their chairs when their turns come.

Zemiros / Singing
As the main course ends, the singing of the zemiros is a cue for the plates to be cleared from the table. One can ask a newcomer guest if he knows any Jewish songs or a guest can choose the zemer or lead the tune, if they are willing.

The Dessert Question
The concluding question is called the “dessert question” because it is answered while dessert is served and eaten. The question is the same each week but the answer always differs, because each week has brought new experiences. The question is: “What was the highlight of your week?” This encourages people to think back from last Shabbos until now, review their week, focus on a positive experience, and share it with others. There is no particular order to answer the “dessert question.” Anyone who is ready to share their highlight, may start. It also encourages thankfulness to HaShem for many blessings.

Bentching
I thank my wife for the delicious meal, if I haven’t already done so, and all those who assisted in preparing, cleaning up or bringing something for Shabbos. We bentch together, as this brings closure to the meal. Afterwards, those who want to leave the table are free to do so. Those that would like to stay and talk are welcome to stay at the table or go into the living room. It is important that people (especially children) should not be “held hostage” at the table for too long. Children who have left the table should be called back for the dessert question and the group bentching. We usually sing the first paragraph in unison.

Our Shabbos tables have the potential to be unifying opportunities for participants of all ages and backgrounds, just by making a few simple accommodations. I hope this provides some ideas with which to experiment and enhance Shabbos pleasure!

Rabbi Aryeh Goetz is the Director of Neighborhood Investment for CHAI (Comprehensive Housing Assistance, Inc.) and rabbi of the Jewish Recovery Houses in Baltimore, Maryland. He can be reached at aryehgoetz@gmail.com.

Stop Playing G-d

By Rabbi Ben Tzion Shafier

Eighty percent of our emunah problems and ninety percent of our questions on HASHEM stem from one mistake — we play G-d. Playing G-d means I know exactly what I need. I need to marry that woman. I need that job. I need my child to get into that school.

I’ve talked to HASHEM about it. I’ve explained it Him. I’ve even brokered deals with Him. “If You grant me this, I’ll …”

Yet for some reason, He just won’t listen.

“HASHEM, what’s the deal? Are you angry with me? Are You punishing me? Why do You insist in making my life so difficult? This is what I need. It’s so clear. Why won’t You just grant it to me?”

And I go on asking questions. “It’s not fair. It doesn’t make sense! HASHEM, what do You want from me?”

The problem here is quite simple – I am playing G-d. I know exactly what I need, and now I have figure out how to get HASHEM to understand that. The simple reality that maybe, just maybe, this isn’t good for me never seems to cross my mind.

Historical Perspective

The strange part of this is that I have lived through situations that didn’t exactly turn out as I thought they would. I absolutely had to have that job; it was just what I needed. I could earn a living, support my family, and still have time to learn. It was the perfect fit. In the end, I didn’t get that job, and I had major questions. “HASHEM, why?! Why aren’t You there for me?” Then five years later, I find out that the entire industry is being shipped over to India. Oh…

I tried to marry that woman. She was perfect. Great match, good family. She would make a fantastic wife and mother for my children. And it didn’t go. “HASHEM why have you abandoned me? This is what I need!” She married someone else, and two years later, I find out that term “mentally unstable” is a mild description of her situation. Mmmmm….

Another time, my son absolutely, positively had to get into that class; it was just right for him. Great rebbe, good atmosphere – it was perfect for him. And the menahel wouldn’t let him in. “HASHEM, why? Where are You?” Then, two months later, I find out that there’s a child in that class who would have been the worst possible influence on my son. It would have been devastating. Hmm…


Part of Human Nature

And, we do this all the time. We act as if we truly know what is best for us. We run after it. We hotly pursue it for all we’re worth. “No obstacle is going to get in my way. Nothing will prevent this from coming about.” And when lo and behold my efforts are thwarted — the questions begin. “But, why? It’s not fair! I am a good person. HASHEM, why won’t You just help me?”

The problem here is quite simple; we are playing G-d. We act as if we know exactly what we need; we try to convince HASHEM to give it to us. And when it doesn’t go — the questions start.

And while it’s easy to see the folly of this when other people do it, when it happens in my world, then the real challenge begins. To break out of this, we need to change two perspectives. The first one is easy to grasp. The second one is far more difficult.

Perspective #1 – HASHEM Loves Me

The first perspective is that HASHEM loves me more than I love me. HASHEM is more concerned for my good than I am. HASHEM has my best interests at heart to an even greater extent than I do.

While this concept may sound lofty, it isn’t that far removed from us. To see it in action, all you have to do is study your life. Look back on the strange twists and turns of fate that brought you to where you are today. Every Jew has a story. “I met that person, who just happened to mention…” “I ended up in that that course, where it just so happened that….”

When you look back on the events that have shaped your life, you see the hand of HASHEM. You see HASHEM orchestrating the occurrences that shaped your life. And now in hindsight, you see that HASHEM was taking care of you, guiding you, leading you. While you were living through it, it looked “bad” It appeared that HASHEM didn’t care. However, after the fact, you understand that it was done out of love, and concern for your ultimate good.

Perspective #2 – HASHEM Knows Better Than I

However, knowing that HASHEM loves me is the easy part. The second concept, which is far more difficult, is knowing that HASHEM knows better than I what is best for me. And understanding that HASHEM knows better than me what it is that I need.

HASHEM created the heavens and all that they contain. He wrote the formulas for quantum physics and molecular biology. He views the entire universe with one glance. He sees the future as the past. And He has the wisdom to see far-reaching results. What will this bring to ten years from now? What will the consequences be twenty years from now?

I, on the other hand, see about two inches in front of my face. I can’t remember what I had for breakfast this morning. I make mistakes. I blunder. I get confused and caught up. As much as I think I know, I am often wrong. That which I think will be so good for me, is so often just the opposite. And, I forget. I forget lessons. I forget facts. I forget results. I forget consequences.

HASHEM doesn’t. HASHEM remembers every event since Creation. And HASHEM made me. He is my Creator, and He knows me even better than I do. And so HASHEM understands my needs better than I do.

While this may sound obvious, it is —until it comes to the thick and thin of life. In the busyness of doing, and going, and accomplishing, this simple reality fades from my sight. I need that. I must have this. I have to accomplish that. And, when I face the brick wall blocking my path – I push on, bucking against everything in front of me. And I ask questions: “HASHEM, where are You? Why aren’t You helping me?”

The idea that maybe, just maybe HASHEM is telling me something. Maybe HASHEM is saying no – never seems to cross my mind. Maybe it’s not going, because it’s not supposed to go. Maybe HASHEM knows better than I what is for my best. “Hmmmm…. Never thought about that.”

Putting It Into Practice

When I fully embrace these two ideas — that HASHEM loves me more than I love me and that HASHEM knows better than I what is best for me — I approach life differently. I still try. I still put in my effort. I use my wisdom, reach decisions, and then pursue them but now it’s different.

I have my part, and HASHEM has His. My role is to go through the motions; HASHEM is responsible for the outcome. And if I try and it doesn’t go, and I try again and it still doesn’t go, I don’t kick. I accept. When opportunities don’t present themselves despite my best efforts, I turn my eyes to heaven and say, “HASHEM, You know best. I trust in You.”

And finally I understand life and my place in it. I am the creation, and HASHEM, You are my Creator. I am but an actor on the stage; I have my part to play, You direct the play, and You alone write the script. I know that you love me and take care of me. My job is to do; and You take care of the rest.

This is an excerpt from the new Shmuz on Life book: Stop Surviving and Start Living. The book will be in seforim stores beginning April 2011. Pre releases copies are available now at www.TheShmuz.com.

Why Are BTs Willing to Blow Up Familial Relationships?

Based on some recent posts and comments on BT Martyrdom, it seems that many BTs get tremendous spiritual pleasure from blowing up familial relationships.

What are the reasons for this willingness to cut oneself off from their families with these acts?

a) They feel it’s comparable to giving up your life, which when appropriate is the ultimate Kiddush Hashem.

b) Their Rebbeim tell them it’s the right course of action and they rarely enter a question and answer dialog with their Rebbeim to probe/understand the reasoning behind a ruling.

c) Many families explicitly or implicitly reject a BTs life choices causing pain, which sets the stage for the act of familial martyrdom.

d) Other reasons

The Pursuit of Truth

Great minds think alike. When important thinkers from very different perspectives reach the same conclusion we should pay attention to what they’re saying.

Mussar comprises the Torah’s approach to personal and religious growth. Mussar teachings are spread throughout our religious literature and have received renewed emphasis during the last few hundred years of Jewish history.What does mussar teach us? Rav Dessler, an influential Rabbi regarded for his contributions to Jewish thought, defines mussar very succinctly. He says that people need to question their ability to reach valid conclusions and decisions. We’re not necessarily in a position to exercise good judgement because we are, unfortunately, likely to be swayed from truth.

Our wants bias our judgement. What we want shapes the way we view any given situation and the way we think through decisions. Our character flaws and self interest shape our wants and help to distort our perspective. To reach truth we need to refine our character traits (our middos) and develop an intense desire for truth. This is mussar. Mussar requires that we must become fully aware of the limits of our objectivity. Mussar then provides us the process through which we free ourselves from these limitations.

Rav Dessler describes that “This is the only way: to destroy bias at its source. Many years of devoted and selfless labor are needed before one can hope to strengthen the yearning for truth to such an extent that one can free oneself from the bias of the middos (1).” He goes even further and says “If an opinion or decision comes to him easily, without a struggle, he should hold it in suspicion and search for how his decision was motivated by self interest (1).”

The first step of mussar is to become aware of and critically analyze our thought process. Don’t accept the conclusions you reach without examining the thought process that led to those conclusions. Without hard work we won’t see things as they truly are.

The words of Rav Dessler can certainly stand on their own. In this case, however, I believe that by examining some other sources we can clarify and extend what Rav Dessler says.

Aaron Beck is a major contributor to the field of cognitive psychology. Beck has a revolutionary theory of emotion and writes that “The affective response is determined by the way an individual structures his experience…The cognitive structuring or conceptualization of a situation is dependent on the schema elicited. The specific schema, consequently, has a direct bearing on the affective response to a situation. It is postulated, therefore, that the schema determines the specific type of affective response (2).”

Beck is saying that our emotions are a function of our thought process. “Your emotions result entirely from the way you look at things (3).” To change our emotional response to a given situation we must be aware that our feelings are generated by the way that we view and experience that situation. Our schema are the way we look at the world and at various situations which arise. Without our awareness, these schema affect our decisions, specifically our emotional responses. To reach truth, it follows that we need to become aware of our schema and of how they shape our thinking. Again we see the same idea – we don’t automatically see things as they truly are. Our perspective is heavily colored by our own pre-existing wants and beliefs.

This idea is also implicit in Stephen Covey’s concept of a paradigm. Stephen Covey has sold over 15 million copies of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and has had a major impact on countless individuals and businesses. Covey explains that the way that we relate to the world and to situations that arise flows from our paradigms – from the models that we use to understand the world. Often we aren’t sufficiently cognizant of the effect that our paradigms have on our decisions and actions. “We interpret everything we experience through these mental maps. We seldom question their accuracy; we’re usually even unaware that we have them. We simply assume that the way we see things is the way they really are or the way they should be (4).” It follows from this that to make significant changes in our lives we need to examine and revise our paradigms. “Paradigms are powerful because they create the lens through which we see the world. The power of a paradigm shift is the essential power of quantum change… (5)”

What emerges from these sources is that the way we feel and the choices we make depend to a large degree on how we look at the world. We need to listen to our internal conversations and learn to focus on our middos. Our individual perspective effects our emotional responses and our decisions. To achieve personal growth we need to reexamine our thought process.

Sources
(1)Rav Dessler, Michtav M’Eliyahu,Vol 1, Mabat HaEmes, The Truth Perspective
(2)Beck, Dr Aaron, Depression: Causes and Treatment (Philadelphia 1967), pages 287-288
(3)Burns, Dr David, Feeling Good (New York 1999), Page 29
(4)Covey, Stephen, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (New York 1990), page 24
(5)Covey, page 32

Rightsizing Our Children’s Education

Educating our children l’derech Hashem is a chiyuv that we have as adults, rabbonim, educators, parents and a community. This is certainly not a newsflash. So why do I raise the issue?

Imagine that after camp ends in August, you take your child shopping for new Shabbos and school clothes. Money, of course, is usually a factor but you look for the one store that has the proper size and best selection. After spending several days going to numerous clothing stores, you’re unable to find one that carries your child’s slim, husky, tall or short sizes. Even the few shops that carry those special sizes have merely one shelf or rack to select from. With school starting the next day and your child experiencing meltdowns from the boredom of shlepping and shopping you decide to look no further and, out of convenience, settle on the regular sizes. Besides, the store is filled with attractive, regular size, and since everyone else from the neighborhood is buying their childrens’ clothes there, it makes sense to do the same. Sure, it’s a half size too small or big, a little short, tall, tight or big, but, hey, it’s good enough. For the most part, it works. So what if it isn’t the best fit. Nothing’s perfect. Admittedly, it’s not very comfortable but it’s okay. Most parents would obviously want their children to look and feel their best. Why then, do we do routinely send our children to a yeshiva or bais yaakov merely because it is ostensibly the frumest, the largest, the toughest, convenient, popular or they’ll be able to get a better shidduch?
Read more Rightsizing Our Children’s Education

Purim – It’s Not a Party for the Non-Observant

When I first came to yeshiva in Israel it happened to be this time of year leading up to the holiday of Purim. There was an interest and an excitement amongst the students and Rabbis. Since I didn’t really know what it was all about, I was kind of keeping it at a distance from myself in my mind and focusing on my studies. I had come to yeshiva seeking the answers to life’s most important questions and I had found a happy home there delving into the meaning of life, morality, and spirituality.

I noticed leading up to Purim that more and more people were saying to me how much I was going to enjoy the holiday and how much fun it would be. The implication was that since I was secular, and secular people like parties, I would like Purim because it’s a party. However, as Purim got closer, and the holiday was not really being explained to me, I forced an older student to go through the Megillah with me so I’d know a little bit more what the holiday is about.

Once Purim descended upon us I understood it to some extent, but I was highly unimpressed with the party aspect. You see as far as secular parties go it wasn’t much. Sure some costumes were interesting and it was different seeing the Rabbis more relaxed, but I was there in yeshiva for spirituality, not to party. In fact, since it was hyped so much by people it was even more of a let down.

Maybe all the guys had loved Purim their first time and thought I would too. Or maybe they forgot what it was like the first time. There are many good reasons for their enthusiasm and assumption I would enjoy the Purim parties. But my experience was flat and unexciting. My feeling was they were cheapening my search for spirituality by assuming I would love to drink cheap wine and dance in a circle.

Now that I’m frum and don’t watch T.V. or go to secular parties, the Purim parties are a lot of fun. And I’ve learned to appreciate the spirituality that’s hidden in the party.

But with my students, I try not to get there hopes up about the partying because for most of them, they could go to a party that’s a lot more fun and intoxicating. And I try to give them the benefit of the doubt that the reason they are studying with me is to get more spirituality in their lives. So I try to educate them about the deeper meaning behind the masks.

And then I pour them a glass of cheap wine.

Originally published March 6, 2006

Where Do You Put Your Old Time Rock and Roll?

The death of Michael Jackson was a shocker to some of us, since we all grew up with his music.

For me, I was very taken aback and felt compelled to follow some of it for awhile. I realized that integrating my cultural and societal priorities, then with now, was a continuing process, and that much of the “then” still lurks in the”now”.

For BTs the interaction with celebrity culture and music is not as simplistic as the “chazerish goyim” approach of many FFB’s.

How have people dealt with integrating their musical pasts with their current self?

– Esther

Originally Posted June 30, 2009

Inside/ Outside

Boarding the plane for my 6:00 AM flight from LaGuardia, bleary-eyed from too little sleep, I forced myself to offer a moderately enthusiastic good morning to the smiling steward as I crossed over the jet way and through the hatch. The steward echoed my greeting, then added, “You look very sharp today.”

I felt my eyebrows rise up toward my hairline. This isn’t a comment one hears every day. I thanked him and made my way down the aisle to find my seat.

Mid-way through the flight I wandered up toward the front of the plane. The steward stepped forward immediately when he saw me. “I hope I didn’t offend you earlier,” he said.

“Why would I take offense at a compliment?” I asked.

“Well, you never know these days,” he replied. “But you stood out so strikingly from the other passengers that I had to comment.”

I hadn’t considered my ensemble in any way remarkable. I was wearing a $120 gray suit, a $5 blue tie, and a black sweater vest that was a gift from my mother.

The steward wasn’t finished, however: “When you headed down the aisle, I saw that you were Jewish,” he said. “I’ve noticed that Jewish people are always conscious of how they dress.”

It was a nice kiddush Hashem to start my day, all the more so because it seemed to fly in the face of the stereotype that Torah Jews are unconcerned with the finer points of self-presentation.

I went on to explain to the steward – who showed more interest than many of my students – that the Jewish value of modesty has less to do with how much skin we leave exposed than with the projection of human dignity and our awareness of the sanctity that resides within every human being. We may reside within a shell of flesh and blood, but essentially we are beings of spirituality. By dressing in a way that is smart yet simple, restrained yet distinguished, those around us cannot help but take notice and, on some level, absorb a portion of our appreciation that the physical is meant to serve the spiritual and that our external form is merely a garment for the soul.

The interrelationship of the revealed and the concealed should occupy our thoughts as we approach the holiday of Purim. The apparent coincidences of the Purim story, the supernatural reversal of fortune, and the illusion of peril that prodded the Jews of Persia to rediscover faith in the wisdom of their Torah leaders… these are all part of the theme of hester ponim – the hidden face of G-d – that lies at the heart of the holiday. The physicality that surrounds us masks the spiritual reality of our universe, and by conscripting the material into service of the spiritual we succeed in showing the world (and reminding ourselves) who we are and why we are here.

Rambam and Ramban on the Purpose of Korbonos

Rabbi Shaya Greenwald – Ohr Yerushalim
Read the entire article here.

In Parshas Vayikra we are taught about the Mitzvah of Korbanos (sacrifices). The Rambam, in the Sefer Moreh Nevuchim (3:46), suggests that the reason for the Mitzvah of Korbanos is that a person has a drive to worship Avodah Zarah. The nations in whose midst the Jewish people had dwelled actually worshipped sheep, goats and cattle, and the Jews also exhibited such leanings (Moreh Nevuchim 3:32). The Torah commands us to negate those tendencies by showing that we can slaughter these animals with impunity, for they are not deities, and by channeling this desire for sacrifice toward service of Hashem and not idols.

The Ramban on this week’s Parsha vehemently disputes this idea. He argues that the Rambam has taken an important mitzvah and relegated it as a mere sop to the Yetzer Hora. The Torah says that the Korban provides a Reiyach Nichoach, a sweet fragrance, implying that the Korban evokes a favorable response from Hashem. In addition, the Ramban argues that offering these animals to Hashem may actually not negate the reverence that the aforementioned nations had for the sheep goats and cattle; rather this Mitzvah enhances the status of those animals in the eyes of those who commit Avodah Zarah.

In summary, according to the Rambam, the idea of Korbanos is merely to negate the concept of Avoda Zara, and to channel to Avodas Hashem our desire for sacrifice. In contrast, according to the Ramban, a Korban has an intrinsic value, bringing one closer to Hashem.

The Meshech Chochma offers a compromise between the opinions of the Rambam and Ramban. We must first define a Bama which is a Mizbeach located outside the Beis Hamikdash location, and permitted to be used only during the time prior to the first Beis Hamikdash when there is no Mishkan or Mikdash (such as Shilo) standing. Rav Meir Simcha ( Meshech Chochma) suggests that the opinion of the Rambam is correct when one brings a Korban on a Bama, as the Mishna (Zvachim 113) records “ayn Reach nichoach B’Bamah Ktana” which can be interpreted to mean that the unique positive attributes of a Korban are only found in a Korban that is brought in the Beis Hamikdash, but on a Bama one merely accomplishes a Harchaka (distancing) from Avoda Zara. In the Beis Hamikdash itself, however, the Meshech Chochma assumes the approach of the Ramban.

Can and Should BTs become Virtually Indistinguishable?

From a recent email from a Kiruv organization

I am of the belief that with proper guidance a Baal Teshuvah can [not must], by proceeding at a very moderate pace, achieve a very high level of integration into the frum community, ultimately becoming virtually indistinguishable from FFB’s even in ultra-Charedi settings. This level of integration requires one to largely dispose of a great deal of his former lifestyle and even many relationships. Nevertheless, I firmly believe that even for one who does wish to attain this level of integration, it is possible and almost always advisable to maintain many relationships from the past, especially familial ones. This is certainly not an easy feat and requires dedication and much finesse, but it is often worthwhile, as I will explain.

Agree? Disagree? Comment.

Hannah Has Two Mommies

The military has repealed its Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy toward gay soldiers. This is just one more manifestation of the increasing acceptance of homosexuals in modern life. Over the past fifty years, society’s perception of homosexuality has changed from seeing it as a mental illness, a perversion or a deviant criminal activity, to the 21st-century viewpoint that this is an alternative lifestyle choice involving capable consenting adults.

Judaism’s conflict with homosexuality begins with the Torah prohibition. Like other Torah laws dealing with forbidden kinds of intimacy, this refers to the action itself. Prohibited acts of intimacy, coming under the general heading of Giluy Arayos, are considered to be the most serious sins, along with murder and idolatry.

For years, our own Jewish world had a similar Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. Two older men, or two older women, living together for many years: well, that could simply be a financial arrangement. No one asked; no one told. It was no one’s business.

Nowadays, things are different. Men and women declare openly that they are gay Jews, lesbian Jews. What’s more, they want to be recognized by our mosdos, our shuls and our yeshivos and our communities, as openly gay and lesbian Jews. They want also to be Orthodox Jews, seeing no conflict between the gay lifestyle and the Orthodox Jewish lifestyle.

But isn’t there a fundamental underlying conflict? We don’t have communal organizations for those who announce they are going to eat pork or not observe the laws of Taharas ha Mishpachah. It’s the opposite: think of those shuls named Congregation Shomrei Shabbos or Congregation Mikveh Israel or some similar name. Don’t Jews band together to do mitzvos, not aveiros? Should we go back to a more genteel time, the old Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy: we won’t speculate about your private life as long as you don’t flaunt it? Isn’t homosexuality and other prohibited behavior outright pritzus, and not simply a lifestyle choice?

There are homosexuals married by civil law who are the biological parents, adoptive parents and stepparents of Jewish children. These are children who are halachically Jewish, born to Jewish mothers. They are being registered in yeshivos and day schools by gays and lesbians who want a Jewish education for their children. If a yeshiva turns away families with television in the home, can it turn away a Jewish child with two mommies or two daddies? Should a yeshiva take in any child who truly wants to learn more about his or her religion? It’s not the child’s fault what the parents do, or are.

But doesn’t a yeshiva or day school naturally want children from its own level of observance, from its own culture? For example, wouldn’t it be perfectly legitimate for a Sephardic yeshiva to take Sephardic children and not Ashkenaz? Or for a Bobover Chasidic yeshiva to require children to be Bobover, or at least from some other Chasidic group of an observance level similar to Bobov (Belz, Amshinov, Pupa)? So should or could our day schools and yeshivos turn away children whose families do not have the kind of lifestyle they prefer, not limited only to excluding gay and lesbian Jews, but also others?

What about gay and lesbian Jews who perform the mitzvos: gay men who wear Tzitzis and yarmulkes; lesbian women who are shomer Shabbos and Kashrus. Can we hold that there are Orthodox Jews who do certain sins, just like everyone sins? Or is it a lifestyle conflict that is incompatible? Can we be tolerant toward gays and lesbians, accepting of them as people, while condemning what they do? Are we homophobic bigots to reject their lifestyles as being against the Torah? Do we allow openly gay men and women to join our shuls, or quietly ask them to keep their private lives private?

Is Orthodox Judaism a big tent, big enough to include gay and lesbian Jews? Or must we exclude all those individuals who unapologetically and willfully violate an explicit prohibition of the Torah? What about celibate homosexuals and lesbians, those who consider themselves to be gay but do not engage in acts of intimacy? If a known pork eater is not at this moment eating pig meat, is he or she still a sinner? Is it just the activity itself or the entire lifestyle promoting and celebrating this activity? And where does Daas Torah, the rulings of our Gedolim, hold on these issues? Do we condemn sincere Jews for being too steeped in serious sins, and accept them only if they have utterly given up this lifestyle and become true Baalei-Teshuvah?

I don’t have the answers. I only have the questions.

Dealing with Non-Frum Family Summary

A fellow BT has written a good summary about Dealing with Non-Frum Family based on some posts and comment threads on Beyond BT so we’re reposting it here with permission.

There’s a lot of discussion about dealing with non-frum family in the Beyond BT site. It’s a hot topic for all baalei teshuva’s because we all go through it to some degree. It’s also a very sensitive topic as everyone has different types of relationships with their parents and families to begin with.

Here’s some tips other Baalei Teshuva have provided:

– Almost every BT has to resolve conflicts with their parents, it is a normal process.

– Obviously every parent and every situation is different, but it does need to be pointed out.

– There is an emotional factor of rejection that the parent often feels when the BT chooses a (radically) different lifestyle.

– There is also an implicit (and sometimes explicit) statement that what I’m doing is right and what you’re doing is wrong.

– One general approach is to be as accommodating and accepting as possible and over the long term expose the relatives to the depth and beauty of Torah.

– Another approach is to encourage mitzvos observance (positive and negative) whenever possible in a reasonable manner.

– We generally should set the rules in on our own houses, but we should consider which rules to set and how to gently enforce them.

– When our children are negatively effected by non-Torah behaviors we have to weigh that factor in heavily.

– We need to internalize the truth that our non observant relatives are good people and impart that understanding to our children. Non-observance is generally due to a lack of knowledge in our generation.

– If we focus on growing together, perhaps there will be less conflicts (oops, thats from the next Mussar post).

– BT conflicts with parents can be shalom bayis issues and a rav should be consulted.

– Every time you do or say something think whether it will create a Kiddush Hashem or Chillul Hashem.

– Most important word that summarizes this entire thread – tolerance!

To read more visit these popular posts & comments:

1. Dealing with non-observant parents

2. Alienating family & breaching values

Reb Meir Schuster Tribute Website

This week marks the launch of a major grass root initiative in honor of Rabbi Meir Schuster, a legendary Jerusalem figure who has been bringing Jews back to their heritage since 1969.

Now in his sixties, Rabbi Schuster has been struck by Lewy Body Disease, a rare degenerative illness with symptoms similar to both Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

For 40 years, stationed at the Western Wall, Reb Meir, as he known to his students, touched the lives of close to 100,000 Jewish young people. He brought tens of thousands to their first class in Jewish philosophy or their first Shabbat meal. Thousands stayed for a week or a month or ultimately decided to remain in Jerusalem to study.

Rav Noach Weinberg, of blessed memory described Rabbi Schuster as, “A model that inspired a generation of others who didn’t think they had ‘the right stuff’ to pursue kiruv ”

Said one of his students, “No one cared more deeply about a soul than Reb Meir Schuster.”

In more recent years, Rabbi Schuster founded Heritage House a youth hostel for tourists in the Old City of Jerusalem, and the Shorashim Torah Centers for Israelis. Both initiatives provide welcoming environments for Jews seeking more connection with their heritage.

Rabbi Michel Twerski, who knew Reb Meir when he was a boy in Milwaukee, describes the Reb Meir he became as “an unpretentious legend of our time. A rare figure of history who has touched so many lives through his profound authenticity.”

Now a group of Rabbi Schuster’s “students” have created a web site and online community where they are sharing photos, recollections and miraculous stories of Reb Meir.

You can learn more, and read some of these truly amazing and heartwarming “only-in-Jerusalem stories” at http://www.rebmeirschuster.org/.

Aren’t We Supposed to Question?

We had a bunch of guests over for Shabbos lunch. This was on a summer afternoon, just a couple of years ago. Since my husband hadn’t returned yet from shul, everyone was passing the time in the living room, waiting. There was a relatively new guest, David, seated on the couch, who had only just started coming to us to experience Shabbos. Sitting on chairs across from him, was a couple who had become Orthodox about fifteen years ago, and a few others guests were milling about too.

The couple was discussing something about what the rabbi had said in shul, and David piped in with a question about what the rabbi said. I don’t even remember anymore what the actual topic was. All that I remember vividly is the brief exchange that transpired next.

The wife stated very emphatically that one must never question a Rav. David responded very innocently that he thought that Judaism was a religion that welcomed questions, so rabbis would welcome being questioned. “Aren’t we supposed to question?” he asked, and a stiff silence followed. Nobody responded to David. Not even me. I just didn’t know what to say then. Another guest must have changed the subject, thank G-d, and the conversation in our living room shifted somewhere else. But David’s comment had scooped me up out of the living room, and it got me sailing back through time.

Back to an innocent time of questioning. Over thirty years ago, the wonderful Orthodox rabbis that we discovered – or that discovered us – encouraged the questioning of everything. They taught us that Judaism was all about questioning, and then questioning more, until you reached greater and greater levels of clarity. Keep asking until you find emes, we learned, within the Torah and within yourself. And we thrived on this – this freedom to examine and sift for absolute truth.

No stuffing dogmas down our throats – as in other religions, we learned. No more unconsciously accepting assumptions – as in the subliminally anti-religious mind-sets we hadn’t even realized we’d adopted. Develop delving skills, sift for truth! We were so thrilled to see that the way to study Torah was through questioning. It was open for genuine exploration, earnest close examination, and so were its welcoming teachers.

We loved discovering that wise people learned from everyone. And even though the rabbis and rebbetzins who taught us, had so much more Torah knowledge than we had, they let us know that through our questions, they were gaining new and refreshed perspectives on just about everything. They really helped us understand that we were expanding and deepening their wisdom through our challenging inquiries.

Then I was jolted back to the present. When did the encouragement of questioning stop?

And why don’t we feel safe anymore to question?

I’ve been trying to figure that out ever since.

It no longer tastes like the Torah we were first offered, when those with clout invalidate sincere questioning by dismissing it as being presumptuous.When people only feel unafraid to voice their doubts and questions as anonymous comments on frum blogs, we can be grateful for these opportunities for suppressed voices to be heard, but it also highlights that a fear of speaking up is prevalent. Instead of feeling threatened by these anonymous comments, and seeking to forbid them by imposing bans on these venues, we need more leaders who can garner genuine respect by encouraging as much open questioning as possible. Then they too can actually benefit from the perspectives and challenges presented.

Critical feedback is needed by all of us, if we really want to improve. The man recently caught on video kissing a mezuzah before stealing from a store, can serve as a kind of ridiculous caricature to keep in mind of how far off the derech we have gone, with plenty of our extra stringencies or just mere cultural trappings covering up – from others and even from ourselves – our inner spiritual lacking.

Painful experiences have taught us to fear communal reprisal, arrogant attacks from those who wield power, and mafia-like intimidation tactics within our midst. We discovered that our leaders made decisions based on financial backing and political favors, instead of on pure spiritual motivations. And we found out that this has been going on unquestioned. As we learned a little more Torah that we hadn’t initially been taught, we also came to understand that in the hands of unscrupulous people, Torah can be misused as a deadly poison (Yoma 72b).

Thank G-d, this isn’t supposed to be the religion that promotes viewing its leaders as infallible or even unapproachable. Throughout Jewish history, there has been an ebb and flow of leaders who became mired down by corruption. Power corrupts, and the Torah emphasizes concern, in reference to a Jewish ruler “lest his heart become haughty over his brethren” (Devarim 17:20). The ruling elite can too easily come to place its own preservation above all else, if left unchecked.

Nearly every day I hear from a baal teshuva who has become disgusted by an excessive focus on the superficial aspects of frumkeit at the expense of the intrinsically meaningful aspects that initially drew the individual to yiddishkeit. They describe their disillusionment with the stress on the façade and on sheer phoniness in place of underlying true moral behavior. Many of those who have been burnt by the corruption that has become entrenched, have been slinking away, but that’s exactly what intimidators are trying to achieve.

The ones whose eyes have been opened and the ones whose hearts are full of essential questions, could be just the ones needed most to help us all return to more pure practice.

Yes, we are supposed to question, alright.

Hope you’ll come back someday, David, along with everyone else who left, disillusioned. I’m sorry it took so long for me to have the clarity to answer. Your question really helped.

Originally posted here.
Bracha recently released – What Do You See on Purim?
A fun way for toddlers to learn vocabulary!
Teach your toddler about the holiday of Purim with this bright and colorful word-and-picture book! Children will learn basic vocabulary while becoming familiar with the objects and concepts that are unique to this special holiday.