What Advice Would You Give to Schools and Parents as the Year Begins

The school year and it’s accompanying challenges begins this week and next.

How would you rate the school’s overall effect on your children’s relationship to G-d and Torah?
a) Positive
b) Neutral
c) Negative

What best describes your approach to schooling
a) Try to help my children fit into the system
b) Develop good relationship’s with the teachers so they can address my children’s special need
c) Try to contain the damage caused by the limitation of the system

What piece of advice would you give to the schools?

What piece of advice would you give to parents?

Hating Difference, Hating the Torah

‘Why is difference always linked with hatred?’ – asks the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

The sages of the Talmud say, ‘man was created in his singularity.’ Man was created as a unique being. But the Hebrew term for singularity – y’hedi – has two distinct meanings.

For one, Man is a species – and the first man, Adam, contains the possibilities that express themselves in every future generation. Each person, in this reading, is linked back to the first man – and each is a part of a whole that expresses that whole. Man is singular, or one; the species of man is unified.

But there is another way of understanding the Talmudic phrase, not emphasizing the unity of the species of man, but his individuality. Adam was created as singular – an individual. And the traits of the first man – his individuality – are passed on to his descendants. ‘When a man mints coins with one stamp, all of the coins are similar to one other,’ the sages say, ‘but when the King of Kings mints each man from the “stamp” of Adam, the first man, each one of them is different.’ The US mint makes coins that are identical, but in the Talmudic rendering of the divine mint, each individual, created from the stamp of the first man, and traceable to that original source, is different. Man is linked back to God through the divine image – to the first man, Adam: but one only fully realizes this divine image through becoming an individual. To realize a connection with the divine – to assert mans godly connection, his similarity to God, one has to be different.

The sages’ term singularity means both unity and individuality – at the same time. Man is the creature who expresses the whole, and man is the creature who expresses his difference. Just the former, man is a herd-like animal, with no responsibility, nothing that distinguishes him. To truly be part of the whole – and this may seem like a paradox – one has to be different, and to accept difference.

On Shavuot, we remember the Torah is accepted by the Jewish people in unity – a nation united with ‘one heart.’ The receiving of the Torah on Mount Sinai – and in every generation – requires this unity. But unity does not mean uniformity. The poet John Milton writes derisively of those who wish for an ‘obedient unanimity,’ dismissing both them and the ‘fine conformity’ they advocate. Yet there are those, in our generation, who continue to praise the unanimity that Milton disdains as a virtue. But the perception of individuality as a particularly modern or inauthentic development, a threat to an authentic Torah, is really just a political agenda inflected by fear and anxiety.

The sages say that there are many different faces of Torah. ‘The people of Israel,’ the sages say, ‘are distinguished by their faces’ – no two are the same. For the Torah to be revealed in its many faces, it needs the many faces of the people of Israel. So the many faces of Torah only are revealed in the different faces of Israel. Shavuot is a time that emphasizes the unity of the Jewish people: but it is a unity of disparate individuals, not just a conglomeration of clones.

Hating difference in our fellow Jews means hating the Torah – for only in their faces, as well as our own, is the Torah revealed.

Originally published on Bill’s Open Minded Torah.

Click on the link to purchase Bill’s recent book Open Minded Torah: Of Irony, Fundamentalism and Love.

Why Do Children Die?

The recent death of a young boy in a brutal murder shocked the frum community. This is only one of several tragic, strange deaths of our community’s children during the past few years. In 2009, a nine-year-old boy never woke up on Shabbos morning. The cause of death has still not yet been determined. A ten-year-old boy in Williamsburg died when he tried to escape a stalled elevator and fell down the shaft. A five-year-old girl crossing the street for her school bus was killed by a speeding car that ignored the stop signs and flashing lights of the bus. At a bungalow colony upstate, a bear snatched a baby from her carriage.

Three children died in a house fire in New Jersey (which occurred even after firemen had been called to check out a smell of smoke). Three sleeping children, including a baby, were murdered in Itamar with their parents.

Why did these strange terrible tragedies happen? Why do innocent young children die?

The question, “Why do innocent young children die?” is only part of the larger question of why any tragedy happens, which in turn is part of the biggest question of all, “How can a loving merciful G-d bring so much misery upon the world?” Job tried to answer these questions three thousand years ago and could not.

Perhaps we should be grateful in the sense that nowadays the death of children is something rare and unusual. In prior centuries it was commonplace for children to die. One monarch had fourteen children who all died very young. A noted tzaddik from the Old Yishuv had nine of his eleven children die during his lifetime. Rabbi Meir and Bruriah of the Talmud lost their two sons, while Rabbi Preida showed mourners a bone from the burial of his tenth son (the Talmud is unclear on whether this means just his tenth son died or if ten of his sons died). Rav Moshe Feinstein zatzal lost a young son to whooping cough in Russia. Jewish cemeteries have tiny headstones for infants. The Holocaust, which claimed six million Jewish lives, also killed one-and-a-half million Jewish children.

What do we do? Start off by hugging our healthy, wonderful children and thanking G-d for them every day.

Think seriously about the meaning of the blessing that a father says when his son is Bar Mitzvah, thanking G-d for “being released” from responsibility for his son. What does this release mean? Does a young child die for his parents’ sins, G-d forbid? G-d forbid! Then why would there be criminals and villains with with healthy, fine living children?

One explanation is that such children are Gilgulim, reincarnations, neshamos that only need to come to Earth for a very short time, in order to finish something important, and then return perfect and cleansed to Shamayim. That the parents are granted such precious neshamos as a brief loan of gems (see the story of Rabbi Meir and Bruriah above). The neshama finished his/her mission here in only ten years instead of seventy, and thereupon goes back to G-d.

I don’t know the answers to these unanswerable questions. One person said it as follows: “On Earth there are no answers. In Heaven there are no questions. Yet no one from here is rushing to get there.”

Sixth Perek for Pirkei Avos

This week is the Sixth Perek for Pirkei Avos. Here is the link for an English Translation of all six Perakim culled from Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld’s translation and commentary at Torah.org. The full text of Pirkei Avos in Hebrew can be found here.

Torah.org also has some of the Maharal’s commentary for Pirkei Avos and you can purchase the Art Scroll adaptation of the Maharal’s commentary here.

Here is Chapter 6 of Pirkei Avos

1. “Rabbi Meir (Mai-eer) said, anyone who engages in Torah study for its own sake (‘lishma’) merits many things. Not only that, but the entire world is worthwhile for him alone. He is called ‘friend’ and ‘beloved,’ he loves G-d, he loves man, he brings joy to G-d, he brings joy to man. It (the Torah) clothes him in humility and fear. It enables him to be righteous, pious, upright, and faithful. It distances him from sin and brings him to merit. People gain from him advice and wisdom, understanding and strength, as it says, ‘To me is advice and wisdom, I am understanding, and strength is mine’ (Proverbs 8:14). It gives him kingship, dominion and analytical judgment. It reveals to him the secrets of the Torah. He becomes like a waxing stream and an unceasing river. He becomes modest, slow to anger, and forgiving of the wrongs done to him. It makes him great and exalted above all of creation.”
2. “Rabbi Yehoshua ben (son of) Levi said, on every day a heavenly voice emanates from Mount Horeb, announcing: ‘Woe to them, the people, because of the affront to the Torah.’ For anyone who does not study is called ‘rebuked,’ as the verse says ‘As a golden ring in a swine’s snout, so too is a beautiful woman who has turned from sound reason’ (Proverbs 11:22). It also says, ‘And the tablets were the handiwork of G-d, and the writing was G-d’s writing engraved on the tablets’ (Exodus 32:16). Do not read ‘charoos’ (‘engraved’), rather ‘chairoos’ (‘free’). For you will not find a freer person than one who is involved in Torah study. For all those who study Torah are uplifted, as it states, ‘From Matanah [the Israelites traveled to] Nachaliel, and from Nachaliel to Bamos’ (Numbers 21:19).”
3. “One who learns from his fellow a single chapter [of Torah], a single law, a single verse, a single statement, or even a single letter, must treat him with honor. For so we find with David, King of Israel, who learned from Achitofel two things alone, and he called him his teacher, his guide, and his intimate, as it is said: ‘And you are a man of my worth, my guide and intimate’ (Psalms 55:14). And does not this matter allow for logical deduction: If David, King of Israel, who learned from Achitofel two things alone, called him his teacher, guide and intimate, one who learns from his fellow one chapter, one law, one verse, one statement, or even one letter, all the more so must he treat him with honor. And honor is [only due for] Torah, as it says: ‘Honor – the wise shall inherit’ (Proverbs 3:35); ‘And perfect ones will inherit good’ (ibid., 28:10). And there is no good other than Torah, as it says, ‘For a good possession have I given you; do not forsake My Torah’ (ibid., 4:2).”
4. “This is the way of the Torah: Bread and salt will you eat, measured water will you drink, on the ground will you sleep, a life of suffering will you live, and in the Torah will you labor. If you do this, ‘You are fortunate and it is good for you’ (Psalms 128:2). ‘You are fortunate’ – in this world; ‘and it is good for you’ – in the World to Come.”
5. “Do not seek greatness for yourself and do not crave honor. Do more than you have studied and do not desire the ‘table’ of kings. For your table is greater than their table, and your crown is greater than their crown. And your Employer can be trusted to pay you the reward for your efforts.”
6. “Torah is greater than priesthood and kingship, for kingship is acquired with 30 qualities, priesthood is acquired with 24, whereas the Torah is acquired with 48 ways. These are: (1) study, (2) attentive listening, (3) articulate expression, (4) understanding of the heart and perception of the heart, (5) awe, (6) fear, (7) modesty, (8) joy, (9) service of the sages, (10) careful discussion with colleagues, (11) sharp discussion with students, (12) composure, (13) Scriptures and Mishna, (14) limited business activity, (15) limited involvement with the world (some translate: sexual activity), (16) limited enjoyment, (17) limited sleep, (18) limited light conversation, (19) limited laughter, (20) slowness to anger, (21) a good heart, (22) trust in the Sages, (23) acceptance of suffering, (24) knowing one’s place, (25) being happy with one’s lot, (26) making a fence for one’s words, (27) not taking credit for oneself, (28) being loved, (29) loving G-d, (30) loving mankind, (31) loving righteousness, (32) loving justice, (33) loving reproof, (34) keeping far from honor, (35) not being arrogant with decision-making, (36) sharing his fellow’s yoke, (37) judging him favorably, (38) setting him on a peaceful course, (39) thinking deliberately in his study, (40) asking and answering, listening and contributing, (41) learning in order to teach, (42) learning in order to practice, (43) making his teacher wiser, (44) pondering over what he has learned, (45) repeating a saying in the name of the one who said it”
7. “Great is Torah, for it gives life to its doers in this world and in the next world, as it is written: ‘For they (the teachings of the Torah) give life to those who find them and healing to all flesh’ (Proverbs 4:22). It also says: ‘Healing will it be for your flesh and marrow for your bones’ (ibid., 3:8). It also says: ‘It is a tree of life to those who take hold of it, and those who support it are fortunate’ (3:18). And it says: ‘They are a graceful garland for your head and necklaces for your throat’ (1:9). And it says: ‘It will give your head a graceful garland; it will provide you a crown of glory’ (4:9). And it says: ‘For in me (the Torah) will you lengthen days, and years of life will be added to you’ (9:11). And it says: ‘Length of days in its right hand; in its left are wealth and honor’ (3:16). And it is written: ‘For length of days, years of life, and peace will they (the Torah’s teachings) increase for you’ (3:2).”
8. “Rabbi Shimon ben (son of) Yehuda said in the name of Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai: Beauty, strength, wealth, honor, wisdom, old age, fullness of years, and children are fitting for the righteous and fitting for the world, as it is written: ‘A crown of majesty is old age; it will be found along the path of righteousness’ (Proverbs 16:31). And it says: ‘The crown of the aged is grandchildren, and the glory of children is their fathers’ (17:6). And it says: ‘The glory of young men is their strength, and the majesty of old men is age’ (20:29). And it is written: ‘And the moon will be darkened and the sun will grow ashamed for the L-rd of Hosts rules in Mount Zion and Jerusalem, and before his elders will be honor’ (Isaiah 24:23). Rabbi Shimon ben Menasya said: These seven qualities which the Sages listed regarding the righteous were all fulfilled in Rabbi [Yehuda the Prince] and his sons.”
9. “Rabbi Yossi ben (son of) Kisma said: One time I was walking along the way and a certain man met me. He greeted me and I returned the greeting. He said to me: ‘Rabbi, where are you from?’ I responded: ‘I am from a large city of scholars and scribes.’ He said to me: ‘Rabbi, would you be willing to dwell among us in our place, and I will give you hundreds of thousands of gold coins, precious stones and pearls?’ I said to him: ‘Even if you would give me all the silver, gold, precious stones, and pearls in the world, I would not dwell anywhere other than a place of Torah.’ So too it was written in the Book of Psalms by David, King of Israel: ‘The Torah of Your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver [coins]’ (119:72). And further, when a person departs this world neither his silver, gold, precious stones, or pearls accompany him, but only his Torah study and good deeds, as it is written: ‘When you walk it will guide you, when you lie down it will protect you, and when you arise it will speak for you’ (Proverbs 6:22). ‘When you walk it will guide you’ – in this world; ‘when you lie down it will protect you’ – in the grave; ‘and when you arise it will speak for you’ – in the World to Come. And it says: ‘To Me is silver and gold says the L-rd of hosts’ (Chaggai 2:8).”

Groundbreaking New Children’s Book Released: LET’S STAY SAFE!

Groundbreaking New Children’s Book Released: LET’S STAY SAFE!

Let’s Stay Safe, published by Mesorah Publications, is the newest breakthrough from Project YES, a division of Agudath Israel of America Community Services. According to Artscroll, “It may well be the most important picture book that a parent will share with his or her young child.” We all want to keep our children safe, secure, confident, and happy.

With this book’s delightful pictures and child-friendly rhyming text, Let’s Stay Safe helps us give our children essential life lessons in safe and unsafe behavior:
• Personal safety • Staying away from strangers • Crossing the street safely • Bicycle safety • Fire safety • Safety in the home

In language that can educate and empower, this groundbreaking book gives children the tools to stay safe and secure in our increasingly difficult world.

A Personal Message from the Author (Bracha Goetz):

Over four years ago, our youngest daughter, Shira Goetz, gave me the encouragement needed to write a book designed for frum children about personal safety. I “knocked on the door” of every frum publishing house I could think of with my safety manuscript, but no company was willing to publish it back then.

It would still be just a file on my computer, if not for Rabbi Yakov Horowitz. Over two years ago, I sent my manuscript to Rabbi Horowitz, the Director of Project YES, and he devoted himself to getting the safety book published. Along the way, the personal safety book evolved into a more comprehensive safety book that includes personal safety as another normative safety measure. That’s what makes it a major breakthrough for the frum world – abuse prevention being acknowledged as an essential topic to be included for parents and children to learn in order to guard their safety, right alongside fire safety.

I believe that without Rabbi Horowitz’s tremendous efforts – and my daughter’s heartfelt prayers through these years – we would not be able to witness the miracle of this book being published now by Mesorah Publications, with the endorsement of Torah U’Mesorah as well, thank G-d. Although I really only became aware of the underground world of abuse in our midst just four years ago, B’H, there has been great progress during this time in beginning the process of weeding it from our beautiful garden. It should only continue – and prevention education is key.

From this whole endeavor, I learned that we don’t have to be great scholars or have lots of money or prestige to make our communities better places. We can be baalei teshuva, gerim or FFB’s, and if we see what needs fixing, we don’t have to be afraid, we can work on repairing things. I also learned during these four years, over and over again, that we really can never accomplish anything on our own. We need Hashem to smile upon every single effort we try to make. And we need support from other individuals committed to striving for improvement.

I wrote this book to help keep our little ones safe. In the merit of reading this book to young children, may all of our precious ones be blessed to remain pure and in good health, with shining neshamas.

Let’s Stay Safe is currently on sale at an introductory price of $10.79. Go pick up a copy here.

Does Anyone on the U.S. Supreme Court have Kids?

Does anyone on the U.S. Supreme Court have kids? How about grandkids, nieces, nephews, even neighbors with kids? I wonder.

In it’s final decision before adjourning for summer break the court struck down a California law intended to protect children from playing with video games that depict murder, maiming, rape and other forms of violence. In a gross perversion of First Amendment jurisprudence, one that probably has the Founding Fathers—all of whom were parents, reeling in their graves, a 7 to 2 majority said that the games are protected speech and can be freely sold to minors.

These are just a few of the games our Highest Court says our kids can have. “Manhunt 2,” which features a display of dismembered bodies and awards points to the player who can mutilate his victim most grotesquely; “Ethnic Cleansing,” in which the player selects a specific minority group then proceeds to gun down members of that race. “RapeLay,” in which the objective is to rape a mother and her daughters.

Writing for the majority Chief Justice Antonin Scalia a conservative Reagan era appointee said that the state’s “legitimate power to protect children from harm does not include “a free-floating power to restrict the ideas to which children may be exposed.”

In his opinion he mentioned Grimm’s fairy tales and Hansel and Gretel thus indicating that in the court’s eyes, today’s games are merely a digital extension of this tradition.

Is Judge Scalia off his rocker and what about the six other justices who concurred?

As a Mom of tween and teenaged boys, I’ve seen these games and they are horrible, even beyond horrible. Last summer, my sons got hold of GTA, Grand Auto Theft—one of the games the Court now protects. GTA is about crime, auto theft, prostitution and murder The soundtrack is a string of obscenities set to a rap beat.

Other than keeping my boys busy, by turning them into zombies (not a state I like to see my children or anyone else’s enter) I hated GTA. One afternoon, I got up my nerve and confiscated the game unleashing a tsunami of anger in my sons akin to the reaction one might get from addicts who are denied their fix. Lets face it, that is what I was doing. These games are drugs of a kind, highly addictive or “immersive,” in euphemistic gamer speak.

Research endorsed by the American Psychiatric Association indicates that these games lead to “an increase in aggressive behavior, physiological desensitization to violence, and decrease [in] pro-social behavior,”

Last year Craig Anderson, director of Iowa State University’s Center for the Study of Violence, authored a paper pointing to clear and convincing evidence that “media violence is one of the causal factors of real-life violence and aggression.”

So why did the Court strike down a law aimed at combating this scourge. According to the law’s author California Senator Leland Yee, who is by the way the senate’s only licensed child psychologist the reason was greed. According to Senator Yee, the Court has “once again put the interests of corporate America before the interests of our children.”

The impact of this decision will extend beyond California. The 11 other states—Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Texas, and Virginia—that submitted amicus briefs will find their options to restrict these games will be severely limited.

As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton herself a prominent opponent of these games, has famously said, “it takes a village to raise a child.” but that village has be aligned with that child’s best interests.

Right now thanks to the Supreme Court, the United States of America is not that village.

Can’t You See the Truth?!

In order to fulfull undergrad credit requirements, I once took a course in classical music, and was bored out of my mind. As announced in the beginning, our final exam would be to identify the composer from records which had been played throughout the term. In the end, I was still bored, but at least I aced the exam. (I cheated. As the class progressed, I noticed the color of each record label and and wrote down the corresponding artist.) To this day, I still moan about 18th century Top 40. However, there are certain Mozart violin concertos and Bach piano pieces which touch me in a way that I won’t leave my car until they’re over. Go figure.

I also refuse to step foot in an art museum. What is everyone “Oooh”ing and “Aahhh”ing about? Yet, a Monet scenery painting in a dentists office will make me pause. Quite nice. Would others of different tastes say to me, “How can you not like Beethoven’s Fourth” or “Modern art is so cool, don’t you see it?” It’s never happened so far, because we understand that each person is hard-wired differently.

Even though some “proofs” of Torah are presented on an intellectual level, we’re still partly emotional beings, and to a nonreligious person, not everything will click, no matter how logical it sounds. I once heard Rabbi Orlofsky discuss evolution, and he mentioned that even if you present the odds of a Big Bang making an orderly universe (say, one in megaquadgoogolmillion), a listener might still shrug his shoulders and remark, “So, it happened.” End of “proof”. Ok, so this didn’t go. If you continue to argue the point, maybe something will happen, or maybe not. This isn’t what hits the person. Just move on.

Some aren’t swayed much by the mesorah arguement, for example. My great(x100) grandpop was at Har Sinai? And there’s an unbroken chain? I didn’t find it in the archives (yawn). G-d revealed His rules to everyone and not just one person? Do the other religions know this? Why aren’t they converting? There’s something strange here, thinks the red-faced kiruv rabbi, it’s just not clicking with this guy. Because you haven’t found the spark inside. But there is one.

My personal “proof” of Torah is that in my mind, it is impossible for a set of man-made laws which could produce a Chofetz Chaim, or a Moshe Feinstein. It would never make demands which are detailed in the laws of loshon hara, or say that we need forgiveness from the lowest person in society if we accidentally step on him. Now, if I present this to someone else, he might shrug his shoulders and say, “Yes, it could.” End of “proof”. Howver for me, this “proof” hit me like a Mozart concerto, or a Monet painting. My spark was hit, and all of the other proofs would later be strong supports to what originally got me on track. The idea that I could point to someone and say, I truly believe that G-d wanted us to live life like that (and how did he get there?) really got me rolling.

Organizations such a Partners in Torah are so successful, because when you are learning with someone, the nonfrum person can digress and ask questions about what’s really bothering his neshama. In that way, they find the spark which begins the growth process.

If the intellectual proofs don’t always do it, try to get to know a person first…see what makes him tick. So…what worked for you?

Pay Attention to Me!

It was a busy Tuesday morning in the Jaffe household, and since I prepare early for Shabbos by chatzos, Shabbos was on my mind. I put the ingredients into my mixer for my challah, which I often make ahead for the freezer. As the mixer was doing its thing, I reached for the phone. Mistake number one: When making challah, focus on the challah; let the voice mail get the phone.

On the other end of the phone was what I considered bad news. A project that I had invested a number of months into was ending prematurely, at the potential loss to me of several thousand dollars. Mistake number two: Where did my bitachon go? I got very busy making phone calls and trying to fix the problem.

I got myself so emotionally worked up, I decided to go exercise, to release some of the adrenalin flowing through my body. Then, once I was out of the house, there were some errands to run, and four hours later, I returned to my home to pick up mycomputer and briefcase before leaving for my teaching job at Yeshiva at IDT.

When you walk in the front door of my home, the ground level is all one large room. My kitchen at the back of the room opens up to the dining area, which flows into the living room and my office, all of it within sight of the front door as I stepped into the lobby. From across the room, my challah dough called out to me.


Yes, I did. The mixer had stopped mixing hours ago, but the dough in the mixer continued to rise, ballooning out of my mixer to the size of a small beachball. I couldn’t stop laughing, when I wasn’t chiding myself about what kind of a woman are you to forget all about your challah dough?

I was on my way to work with only minutes to spare, so there was no time to bake the dough. I punched it back down into a small enough dough ball to fit into the largest mixing bowl I have, covered it with saran wrap, apologized once again to the dough for neglecting it, and placed it in my spare refrigerator to rise for the rest of the day while I was teaching in yeshiva. I braided and baked the dough that night and hoped that this unplanned experiment in rising would work.

That Shabbos, we enjoyed the best challah I have ever made. Apparently, it forgave me for my neglect, enjoyed it’s extended rising time, and produced for our family a taste of ganeden. Later on that week, I was asked to give over a shiur on the chazzak phone line, (personal story 105#) which I readily agreed to do. Incorporated into my shiur was the story of my rising dough, which I saw as a metaphor for all those times when I am busy at my computer, and one of my children is requesting my attention. I asked the question in my shiur: To what extent to our family members feel they need to act like this dough did in my mixer, rising and getting larger and larger and essentially shouting across the room: “You’ve neglected me!” before we pay attention.

It was the Sunday following my recording of the shiur when I listened to my recorded shiur for the first time, to ensure that I had given over what I wanted to share. At this time, my recently barmitzvahed son was working a few feet away from me on his school book report. The shiur was coming through the speaker phone on my desk, and just as I was telling over the story of the dough rising, Elijah said, “Mommy, can you come here? I need help with my book report.”

I didn’t know how to pause the shiur’srecprdomg, and I didn’t want to have to start listening to it all over again, so I raised my finger signaling one moment, and said to him, “As soon as I finish listening to this shiur.” At that very moment, my words echoed through the speaker phone for all to hear in the Jaffe household: “How often do we focus on our work, or our phone calls, or whatever it is, while our children are trying to get our attention, and they have to rise bigger and louder, like the challah dough, shouting at us, “Pay attention to me.”

My son heard these words, and he calmly said, “Mommy, I think we are having one of those moments right now.”

Oh, yes we were.

Azriela Jaffe is a holocaust memoir writer privately commissioned by families who wish to document the surviving matriarch or patriarch’s life story for future generations. She is the author of 24 books, and also founded the worldwide movement for bringing more kavod into Shabbos by preparing by chatzos on Friday. She can be reached at chatzoslady@gmail.com, or visit www.azrielajaffe.com

Outline of Va’eschanan

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


# 3 Moshe Pleads to Enter Promised Land
# 4 Fundamentals of Emuna
# 5 Review of Ten Commandments
# 6 The Shema
# 7 Warning Against Assimilation With The 7 Nations

# 3 Moshe Pleads to Enter Promised Land
* Moshe Pleads to enter the Promised Land.
* “Don’t say another word!”
* Moshe sees Promised Land.
* Yehoshua is charged to lead Beney Yisrael into Eretz Yisrael.

# 4 Fundamentals of Emuna
* Warning to Practise all the Mitzvot.
* Which Nation has An All Powerful G-d close to them like you?
* Don’t ever forget National Revelation at Sinai!
* Warning against turning to another god, it will only be self-destruction.
* Warning of Exile, remain few, scattered.
* Prophecy: We will return to HaShem.
* The unescapable Truth: There will never be another Divine Revelation.
* Know in your thoughts and emotions: There is no other Power.
* Practise the Mitzvot & you will have long days.
* Moshe designated 3 Cities of Refuge on E. side of Jordan river.

# 5 Review of Ten Commandments
* Review of National Revelation: “We all stood at Sinai.”
* “HaShem spoke to you face to face, you heard HaShem speak to you.”
* The Ten Commandments reviewed.
* Don’t desire anything belonging to another.
* Your leaders begged me to be G-d’s agent instead of hearing directly from G-d.
* “G-d said: If only you would always have this awe of Me!”
* HaShem told me to remain on Mt. Sinai to learn all the Oral Law.

# 6 The Shema
* The Purpose of the Mitzvot: To learn fear of HaShem and obedience to all His Mitzvot.
* The Mission Statement of the Jewish People: The Shema:
* He is Our Power, He is The Only Power, The Only One.
* Love HaShem with all your thoughts, your life, your talents, your money and still love Him even when you suffer!
* Learn & teach Torah.
* 5 Point plan of Jewish Parenting:
1) Talk with your Children
2) Be a role model Jew in the home
3) Be a role model Jew outside the home
4) Be a role model Jew when you go to sleep
5) Be a role model Jew when you awake
* Wear Tefilin on arms and head.
* Place this paragraph on the doorpost of your homes and gates.
* You are arriving in Eretz Yisrael into fully furnished homes!
* Warning: Affluence could be harmful to your soul!
* Don’t test HaShem (or His Prophet).
* How to answer you son (Chacham), recall the Exodus and its purpose.

# 7 Warning Against Assimilation With The 7 Nations
How to deal with the seven nations in Canaan:
* Destroy them.
* Don’t make a treaty with them.
* Don’t favor them.
* Don’t marry with them
* Warning against intermarriage.
* HaShem lovingly chose us to be His precious nation .
* ‘Know well that HaShem rewards and sets consequences for disobedience”

Rabbi Yakov Horowitz will be Sitting Shiva for His Father

August 8, 2011
Shiva Information and Shiur on Eicha this Evening

Rabbi Yakov Horowitz will be sitting Shiva for his father, Shlomo Zev ben Baruch Yehudah Nutovic, ע״ה in the home of his parents, 1423 East 13th Street in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn until Friday afternoon.

He will be sitting in his home in Monsey, 56 Briarcliff Drive, on Thursday between the hours of 1:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. Mincha on Thursday in Monsey will be at 7:45 p.m. followed by Maariv.

Rabbi Horowitz will be giving a Teleconference Shiur on Eicha in memory of his father, this evening, Monday, from 8:20 p.m. until 8:45 p.m. EDT. You can participate in the conference call by dialing (209)647-1600 and entering the access code: 827269#

The Shiur will be recorded. To listen to the recorded Shiur at a later time, dial: (209)647-1699 and enter access code: 827269#

Minyan times in Flatbush are as follows:

Mincha at 6:30 p.m.
Eicha Shiur at 8:20 p.m.
Maariv 8:45 p.m. followed by Eicha

Tuesday – Tisha B’Av
No minyan for Shachris
Mincha at 7:15 p.m. and Maariv at 8:45 p.m.

Wednesday and Thursday
Shachris: 7:00 a.m.
Mincha at 7:45 followed by Maariv

Shachris 7:00 a.m.
Mincha at 1:45 p.m.


Rabbi Horowitz’s family will be getting up from Shiva on Friday afternoon.

Neichum Aveilim messages may be emailed directly to: yhprojectyes@gmail.com

May we only share besuros tovos.

These Canvas Shoes

Growing up in New York City public schools in the 70s and 80s, one would simply just not wear canvas sneakers. These verboten items of apparel were derisively called “skips”. The unaware male student who breached this fashion taboo was subject to jeers and was most likely to suffer the gravest of schoolyard humiliations– being selected last when choosing sports teams.

Looking down at my canvas. sneakers during my father’s shiva awakened me to the fact of how much things had changed over the past twenty-odd years yet how much some things remained very much the same. Back then, wearing canvas sneakers was a clear marker, right or wrong, of a certain schoolyard stereotype. Now, wearing canvas shoes is also a clear marker but of one who is in mourning or in a state of solemnity. Now, as then, the “clothes make the man”. What we wear affects how we feel and how others feel about us. Funny how the world turns in such a way that the very item one would rail against his parent to avoid wearing is the same one he is now obligated to don to mourn that parent. These canvas shoes are heavy… with meaning.

According to Jewish law and custom, the shoe symbolizes our physical existence. Just as the shoe encases and protects the lowest part of the body and allows it to navigate the physical world, so too the physical body encases and protects the lowest level of the soul and allows it to live in and relate to the physical world. It used to be that each of the birchas hashachar (morning prayers),were recited in conjunction with a certain stage of awakening and preparation for the day. For example, after putting on clothing, the bracha of malbish arumim –blessing the One who clothes the naked– was said. The bracha specifically associated with donning shoes is sheasa li kol zarki—blessing the One who has provided me with all of my needs. We see from here that shoes, specifically leather shoes, are the ultimate paradigm of physicality. Our sages teach that one of the reasons that we don’t wear shoes on Yom Kippur is that on that Holy Day, we are considered as angels and angels, since they are purely spiritual beings without physical needs or desires, don’t wear shoes.

When G-d sees that a person needs to relate on a more spiritual and less physical plane, He commands him to remove his shoes. It happened to Moshe at the Burning Bush and Yehoshua when confronted by the angel of G-d. It happens to us on Yom Kippur, during Shiva and on Tisha B’Av. During these times, we need to realize that physicality must be ignored and that spirituality must be emphasized.

As we slowly and solemnly crawl toward another Tisha B’Av, it may make sense to focus on the physical/spiritual lesson that these canvas shoes teach us. We mourn for the loss of the two Holy Temples. But we are not mourning the loss of physical buildings. Remember, on Tisha B’Av we don’t wear shoes, we are ignoring the physical. As the Temples were the crossroads of the spiritual and physical worlds, we are mourning the spiritual loss of our actual proximity to G-d.

With the loss of the First Temple, we also suffered the loss of prophecy, the mechanism by which spiritual reality was voiced in our physical world. Such tragic losses have unfortunately catalyzed us to view the physical as true reality and the spiritual as a murky, irrelevant reverie.

G-d runs the world according to the principle of midda keneged midda. That means that we are punished or rewarded in accordance with the particular actions that we have taken for which we are being either punished or rewarded. If we truly wish to be rewarded with the return of G-d’s proximity, the return of the truly spiritual to our physical world, we must act in a way which begs for such reward. We must take the lesson of these canvas shoes beyond Tisha B’Av. We have to return our everyday focus toward the spiritual and away from the physical. It is not a once a year thing. It is an everyday, every opportunity thing.

May our continuing efforts to turn our focus from the physical to the spiritual lead to the exchange of Tisha B’Av’s shoes of mourning for Yom Kippur’s angelic footwear. Hey, I told you these shoes are heavy!

First published on August 2, 2006

How are you Improving Your Bein Adam L’Chavero

A friend from Beyond BT once emailed us that she likes the three weeks, because the shiurim and the divrei Torah are focused on improving our relationships with other people (Bein Adam L’Chavero).

Some specific mitzvos on the Weekly Work Ons list during this period are:
– Reducing speaking Loshon Hora
– Being careful not to hurt people with our speech (Onas Devorim)
– Judging people favorable

In our Shul we read a selection from “Positive Word Power” from the Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation after davening a few times each week.

What have you found helpful to work on in this period?

Are there any seforim that you recommend?

What techniques have you used to reduce speaking Loshon Hora?

What motivation techniques have you tried?

Teleconference: Tantrums and Sibling Rivalry: Maintaining Harmony in Your Home

Upcoming Live Teleconference…

Tantrums and Sibling Rivalry: Maintaining Harmony in Your Home

In this program presented by Rabbi Avraham Mifsud and Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC, you will learn effective strategies to deal with tantrums and sibling rivalry.

When harmony is disrupted it affects the whole family; call in to hear how you can develop better responses to challenges and strengthen the relationships with your children instead of damage them.

Wednesday and Thursday August 3rd and 4th from 9-9:30 pm, Eastern time

Dial (712) 432-1001

For part I on Wednesday enter access code 445 787 937#

For Part II on Thursday, enter 467 637 417#

This program is sponsored

לעילוי נשמת

ר’ משה ירחמיאל בן יהודה

Looking in

I recently wrote about the feeling of sadness I get when I pass up an opportunity to do something I either can’t do any more because now I am observant, or never even did but always wanted to and now that I can… I can’t. Here I want to, by focusing on one particular, persistent example of that in my life, come at the issue at a slightly different angle but, again, within the theme of understanding the difference between the sacrifices of becoming religious and just growing up.

When as a young person I imagined the successful future me I always had a vision of dining in a “fancy” restaurant, after the hours when regular people and families eat, with clients or colleagues or, I suppose, dukes and earls and magnates.

This fantasy was not entirely realistic for several reasons, most of them having to do with my own decidedly blue-collar bent at the trough. There is a fine euphemism for this – “meat and potatoes man” – but I had already experienced considerable class anxiety when out and about in groups where by virtue of some occasion we were eating in some sort of place where I wasn’t going to like anything on the menu. I don’t think it was a proletarian upbringing that was entirely to blame; others in my household had no problem with many of the things that I not only did not like, but the thought of which I found thoroughly nauseating. Then there was the whole wine thing… but ultimately I did not let this intrude on my fantasy.

Well, of course, by the time we got to what might have been just that fantasy scenario, considering the fortunate circumstances that sometimes attended my professional experiences, we had made the Change.

Notwithstanding a couple of attempts at going along for the ride – the fruit salad thing, the special order thing, etc. – it didn’t take long for all concerned to realize that this really was not going to work. Even when on the friendliest of turf, back home in New York City where there are plenty of perfectly fine “business restaurants,” it was never going to be that fantasy.

Of all the things one gives up based on a reasonable belief that it is what God wants one to do, this one is not too compelling, is it? I know it isn’t.

But I never really shook it. When I leave my office and walk to the bus station or the train station, I pass innumerable restaurants, be it 8, 9 or 10 in the evening, full of nattily-attired people glamorously quaffing their vintage je ne sais quois and elegantly appreciating their braised fillets of savoir faire. No, I don’t gawk at them in the windows as I walk by. But even peripherally I cannot avoid perceiving their suave enjoyment of the good life.

I was reminded of this as I attended a week-long conference far from home for lawyers who work in one of my areas of specialty. Each time, at the end of the day’s professional development activities, I head back to my hotel with a shopping bag full of generic groceries so I can make yummy sandwiches in my perfectly nice hotel room, passing on my way into the hotel all my colleagues attired in their fine-dining togs and waiting in line for cabs to whisk them to the most renounced and exotic temples of gustatory and social Nirvana the city of that year’s conference is known for.

Yes, when this happens, I feel a little sad.

But I do have an internal dialogue that is credible, and it helps, and it is to a large extent a function of adulthood as much as anything I might ever have seen in a mussar [ethics] book.

First, the low-hanging fruit: I always had a certain ambivalence about this fantasy, and in order to get past the many sources of anxiety that accompanied it, I had to deny them. That’s what makes fantasy work. But in reality, the person I saw in the restaurant window was never, and could never, be me. My dad never had cocktails at seven followed by dinner at 11, surrounded by charming, witty and arch colleagues. That doesn’t mean that I couldn’t, no, but wasn’t there something very right about where my dad had dinner every single night of my childhood: At our kitchen table, and finished by seven?

And yes, I don’t like fancy comestibles, though granted you can really gussy up a piece of beef if you are motivated enough. But why eat in a place where I’m going to be embarrassed not to try the special, which tonight is a poached something which is really just a large tick, or a flying thing that looks entirely too much as if it just landed on the plate, or part of an animal you thought they stopped serving some time after the Industrial Revolution?

Ok, so I am charming and erudite myself, don’t you know? But in reality, when I look in that restaurant window, do I think the swells enjoying each other’s swell company are talking about the things I would want to be charming and erudite about? Yes, sometimes they are; if I am in the company of lawyers, for example, I can count on a certain percentage of war stories, judge stories, money stories. But the conversation does not stay there; and I have heard the chatter. What do they talk about? Skiing. The latest movie. “Relationships.” Their children’s progress in prep school; on the varsity crew; in rehab. Kids today!

There was never a version of me that would have considered such prattle worth even a good steak dinner.

My conclusion is that I am not fantasizing about myself in that restaurant. I am fantasizing about someone else, just as when I read Dick and Jane in first grade I really though I would grow up to be a father like their father. Whom they called, unlike anyone I knew on East 12th Street, “Father.”

I mostly got past that, too.

Part of the issue is class insecurity, I admit it, but far more, to the extent it can be separated, is being a Jew and acting like a Jew, religious or otherwise. Jews can teach themselves to have these conversations, and certainly to eat these foods, but what they are doing is teaching themselves to be something other than, our tradition teaches, they really are.

He wasn’t religious, but my dad never wanted to do that.

So why would I?