The 60 Second Guide to Rosh Hashanah

The foundation of Judaism is that all existence is dependent on G-d who created, supervises and influences both the spiritual and physical realms of the universe.

In addition G-d created man who was given the tools and instructions to perfect and unify the physical world and connect it back to its G-dly source.

Every year, on the anniversary of the creation of man, G-d evaluates our progress in our mission both individually and collectively and judges what resources and events are necessary to help bring the world closer to its perfection.

Although the judgment is partially based on our past year’s performance, a major determinant is our commitment for the upcoming year.

To what degree are we committed to helping others and increasing our spiritual capabilities and to what degree will we succumb to the always present pull of ego-centricity and self-centered materialism.

The Shofar which was present at the giving of the Torah and will be sounded when we have succeeded in our mission, gives tribute today to the King of Kings.

The observance of the mitzvah of Shofar testifies that we are still committed to G-d’s plan and enables the spiritual judicial system to dismiss our mistakes for mitigating circumstances.

May we all increase our spiritual commitments and thereby merit to be inscribed and sealed for a good year.

The Dreamer

Jeff ran in terror. The gigantic dog was gaining on him and he had nowhere to hide. He knew that within seconds it would sink its razor-sharp sharp teeth into him. And then suddenly, the dog lunged at somebody else and Jeff got away.

Jeff Feder awoke in a cold sweat. He couldn’t shake the nightmares. The dreams about wild dogs and other savage animals had filled his sleep every night since he had arrived in Eilat.

Jeff had grown up in a non-observant home in New Jersey and spent his high school years with long hair, a lip ring and enmeshed in a counter-culture lifestyle. He searched desperately for meaning and substance to life, but felt only frustration at the inability of the world to provide serious answers to his existential questions. After he finished his first year at Emory University in Atlanta, GA in May 1996, Jeff decided not to return for a second year. Instead he set off to travel to try to find his place in the world.

His journeys took him all the way up to the frigid waters of Alaska, where he worked on a fishing boat, and down to the sandy beaches of Key West. He thought he would relish the freedom and independence, but he had never felt so alone and frustrated in his life.

In the midst of his journeys his mother offered to sponsor him to fly to Israel to record a video of his great-aunt speaking about how their family had survived the Holocaust in Hungary. Jeff flew to Israel, recorded the video, and then set off for a 10 day vacation across the country.

Jeff spent the first few days in Jerusalem with an observant cousin named Asher and his wife Yehudit. They asked him if he would be interested in attending a fascinating series of classes on Judaism at Yeshivat Aish HaTorah. He found the classes to be interesting but not life-changing.

He then traveled south for three days to Eilat. It was there that his nightmares began. The first night he dreamt that he was being attacked by savage, monstrous creatures and skeletons of wild animals. The next night he dreamt about the dog. After three days in Eilat, Jeff traveled to Tel Aviv. His nightmares became progressively more vivid and terrifying each night. A non-Jewish friend suggested that maybe G-d was trying to send him a message through the dreams. Jeff initially doubted the thought but eventually considered it.

“The idea of G-d trying to give me a message was completely different from my concept of G-d,” Jeff said. “My concept of G-d was that it was some kind of force that doesn’t have a will of its own, but in my dreams someone was trying to send me a message.”

The fact that some power was trying to communicate with him stood in contrast to the deep loneliness he was feeling. He felt comforted by the thought of a divine force looking out for him.

One evening Jeff decided to walk through downtown Tel Aviv to try to find answers to the chaotic thoughts cramming his head. There, in the middle of Disengoff Square in a pouring rainstorm, everything began becoming clear.

“I had this whole idea through high school of being invincible, that I was the center of things,” Jeff recalled. He had never been egotistical, but simply believed that he was always correct and the rest of the world’s was wrong. “After all these dreams, I had a moment of internal reckoning. None of this is working. I have to make a change. G-d wants me to change.”

Once he made room for G-d in his life, Jeff felt extraordinarily happy. He realized that he needed to learn more about G-d and the messages that He was sending. He decided to return to Jerusalem the next morning.

That night Jeff had only good dreams.

Jeff stayed again with Asher and Yehudit. He told them about his dreams and in particular the dream of the vicious dog. Asher told him that when people have nightmares about dogs, it is customary to read the verse (Shemot 11:7) that recalls that the dogs of Egypt did not bark when the Jews departed in the Exodus. The verse records that the dogs differentiated between the Jewish slaves and their Egyptian masters.

Jeff said he never understood why G-d would distinguish between Jews and non-Jews. But in the verse and in his dream he saw that even dogs knew the difference. The dog in his dream only attacked the other man. This helped Jeff realize that Hashem also could differentiate between people.

“I thought, ‘if he’s the G-d of all humanity, why does it matter who I am?’ But He was telling me you’re a Jew and I care,” Jeff said. “When I realized I was a Jew, I knew that Jews and G-d have a certain relationship. I had to find out about that.”

The next day Jeff went back to Aish HaTorah. He skipped the introductory classes and signed right up for classes on practical Judaism and mitzvot. Within a very short time he became an observant Jew. Once he had stumbled upon Hashem through the explanation of the dreams, and living in the spiritually fertile atmosphere of Israel, it was a very quick road to becoming religious.

Jeff spent six weeks at Aish and then returned to America. He now felt much more confident about the value of the world and his place in it. He finished Emory, and soon after returned to Israel. He now goes by the name Yitzchak and lives with his wife and children in Jerusalem.

While in Atlanta after his return to America, Jeff was at synagogue one Shabbat morning and received an aliyah to the Torah. His jaw dropped when he realized that the aliyah included the very verse from Parshat Bo that he had recited in his cousin’s house in Jerusalem.

“It was like G-d was keeping an eye on me. It was like he was saying, ‘are you sticking with the plan here? It was kind of scary,” Jeff said.

Once again, Jeff realized that Hashem was looking out for him.

Originally published in The Jewish Press in January 2011

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

What Are You Working On This Elul?

As yesterday’s post pointed out inspiration serves as a motivator but strengthening your Avodas Hashem (service of Hashem) is the real goal.

What are you working on this Elul

a) Improving kavannah during Shomenah Esrai
b) Saying Tehillim more often
c) Learning with more depth
d) Spending more hours per week learning
e) Starting another seder of learning
f) Refraining from Loshon Hara and Onoas Devorim
g) Being happy with my lot
h) Working on my anger
i) Wasting less time
j) Thinking more about Hashem during the day
k) other

Feeling Inspired is a Means, Not an Ends

By Yakov Spil

I heard a story last week that touched me and helped clarify an aspect of our avodas Hashem.

The maaseh occured in the days when Rav Yechezkel Levenstein zl was the Mashgiach of Ponovezh. There was a talmid chochom who was close to death and a few talmidim went to be with this adom choshuv in his last hours. This talmid chochom knew that he did not have much time left and he knew when to say shema, vidui, pesukim etc. etc. The talmidim were all davening with him and they were very touched as they witnessed this man’s lofty madrega in his last hours in this world.

He passes away and they cover him and stay with him until the Mashgiach zl comes.

Rav Chatzkel came and said to them, “Genug mit dem bitul! Geit zurik zu di Yeshiva!” “Enough with the waste of time. Go back to the Yeshiva.”

The talmidim answer him, “But, Rebbe, how can this be a waste of time. We were melaveh him to the Next World. We had such hisorrerus from it.”

Rav Chatzkel’s answer is so important I think.

“Hisorrerus iz nisht kein avodah.”

“Feeling inspired is not what constitutes a person’s avodas Hashem.”

When we think about it, there are so many aspects of our avodas Hashem that really and truly are inspiring events or activities, but we are thus missing out on meat and potatoes because this is not true avodas Hashem, they are ancillary. Important and life changing as they may be, they are not what really build our avodas Hashem and our connection to Avinu Shebashomayim.

This hits me because perhaps this is why there are so many “Kinus Hisorrerus” today. This is why so many are looking for chizuk. Could it be we are looking for chizuk because we have not built the proper foundation within ourselves?

Of course, one should go and hear a Rov or a Mashgiach about seminal life events and current events as we recently endured. But one should not think that he has fortified himself in his own Avodas Hashem by going.

It only comes through the struggle and toil we all have experienced in working over a Gemora, or working through some loshon in a sefer and we get it better because we “chorvened” over it. We worked on it. We made a kinyan on it. We all know that feeling.

My question to everyone is, with all of our family obligations and being kovea itim, how do we still make those kinyonim being older? It was much easier when we were younger! I have that longing to achieve still and find it so challening.

Until I heard this vort, I might have thought I was spending my time wisely. Now, I realize that there’s this and there’s that. There’s the need for outside chizuk and inspiration which is always welcome. And there’s the personal yegia.

I wish everyone the brocho to achieve in their own yegia and to reap tremendous nachas from it which encourages us to move on and acquire more Torah.

By the way, I hope we can approach this maaseh on its merits and not go with an idea, “Why did he have to be so critical?!” etc.

The talmidim of those days were extraordinarily special and only wanted to do what would bring nachas to their Rebbe who they admired immensely.

Revival of the Dead

It was every author’s worst nightmare. Summer, 2005. Just another routine morning, or so I thought. The screen went dark on my computer, with no fanfare or warning, as sudden as a solid oak door slamming shut in the wind. And nothing I did brought it back to life. I tried restarting it, davening, begging, and yelling at it, but the computer before me seemed to have left this planet. Inside of this mysterious metal box was untold hours of work, my kosher cookbook and all of the recipes I had developed in the previous two years, thousands of files that represented the heart and soul of my work life for over ten years.

Thank G-d I have regular back up, I thought, as I made an appointment with the nearest Macintosh repair shop in another town. I had been regularly backing up my most important computer files to an external hard drive, well aware of the dangers of depending on a computer that could break down with no forewarning. All I needed to do was retrieve those files, buy myself a new computer, (ouch, not in the budget), and I’d be back in business.

One major problem. The computer technician gave over the horrifying news the way a surgeon informs the anxious family that he’s so sorry he lost the patient on the operating table. “Did you ever test this back up to be sure it was working?” the computer genius asked me. “No, never did,” I replied, the panic rising up my chest. “I’m sorry to tell you,” he responded, “there’s nothing on this back up. I don’t know what you have been doing all these months, but this back up is empty.”

I just about fainted. My computer was dead as a doornail, he confirmed, all the files gone forever. And my so-called back up was useless. I was distraught. In our town of Highland Park/Edison, NJ, we Jews rely upon a “Yahoo board” where we post electronic messages for one another – SOS’s like “I need a ride, I need a doctor, has anyone got this in their attic not being used?” It was there that I posted my call for help. “Any mac geniuses in town who can resurrect a dead computer and save the life of an author in a panic?”

Marnin Goldberg, Mac Genius, responded. He took my computer home with him and promised he’d see what was possible. He’d be in touch when he knew. I doubt I slept, ate, or functioned until I heard from him. When I heard from him the next day, his words were pure gold. “I was able to bring your computer back to life just long enough to grab your documents off of it, and now it’s completely dead, you can bury it. You’ll need a new computer, but I have your documents for you.”

I’m a religious married woman. I couldn’t hug him, but I would have if I could. With new computer, and retrieved documents, I was back to the land of the living, breathing author.

I don’t know what Marnin did to bring my computer to life for those precious few hours, some kind of techno mumbo jumbo with a magic wand only he and other geniuses like him would understand. But this High Holiday, twenty years after Rabbi Alan Ullman of Massachusetts brought my neshama back to life, I honor the Rabbi who revived a secular Jew whoseJudiasm was for all intents and purposes dead.

In 1991, I woke up just long enough to be revitalized. Rabbi Ullman spoke words of Torah to me, and from the slumbers of secularism, something in me started stirring. What looked dark, and dead, was only dormant, waiting for the right person to know how to bring me back to life. All those Yom Kippurs when I ate and drank because I didn’t know better, those Rosh Hashana’s when I didn’t go to shul because I didn’t have a clue how to daven, those sukkots that passed me by because I had never even heard of the holiday….I wasn’t lifeless. I wasn’t forgotten. I was just lost.

Twenty years later, my frum husband and our three frum-from-birth children will be davening in shul, pleading for a good year from Hashem.

Rabbi Ullman, you didn’t only change the course of one Jew’s life. You altered the course of history for my family for generations. When you met me, you didn’t see a dead Jew. You saw a Jew who had not yet been awakened. And I met you in the nick of time.

Thank you. My Hakoras Hatov knows no bounds.

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

Remembering Moshe Yosef Reichenberg

I’m sure all of you have heard of the terrible tragedy that befell, Moshe Yosef Reichenberg A”H, while trying to save the life of a six year old neighbor and his father. Click here.

His petirah has left his already severely stressed family completely broken, and bereft of their pillar and support. The Reichenberg ‘s have been beset with many serious challenges and have lived a life of abject poverty despite R’ Moshe’s complete dedication to parnasah and his family.

A group of Rabbanim have set up a special fund to assist the family, which will be very carefully administered. Kindly open your hearts to the cries of his almanah and yesomim, by clicking here www.reichenbergfund.org

or call 845-232-0067 and donate what you can.

Kindly spread this information around to as many of your contacts as possible.

In the great zechus of helping ensure future of HaShem’s children, may the Avi Yesomim watch over all of us, and may we never have to make such an appeal again.

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Remembering Moshe Yosef Reichenberg zt’l
By Rabbi Yisroel Greenwald

I’m still in shock, reeling over the impact of the sudden tragic petira of my friend, Moshe Yosef. His final act of mesiras nefesh – literally – to rush to save a child’s life from electrocution with disregard to his personal welfare, transcends the realm of human nature and comprehension. The Medrash (Kohelles Rabba, 9:10) says that someone who gives up their life in order to save the life of others merits the highest level in Olam Haboh. My rebbi, Reb Mendel Kaplan, would call such a person a true kodosh.

I first became friends with Moshe Yosef when I left Lakewood Yeshiva to come to Ohr Somayach in Monsey. I was a single bochur in my upper twenties at the time, and I felt that I could be more productive if I would be in an environment where aside from my personal learning, I would also be able to teach and give to others. It was there I got to know and become close with Moshe Yosef then a talmid at Ohr Somayach. I may have been a positive influence on him, but to a greater extent I benefited from his friendship and his special qualities.

Moshe Yosef had a magnetic spiritual energy about him. I remember once sitting with him at a cafe near a university. In the midst of our discussion, a couple of drunken university students came to our table and tearfully asked us for guidance and advice how to do what is good and proper in the eyes of man and God. Moshe Yosef was able to talk their language and inspire them on their level.

I can’t remember ever seeing him angry – even at times where the situation may have called for it. The harshest reaction I ever received from him was when I once told him something which was clearly improper, and which I later regretted. His only reaction was his raising an eyebrow for a brief moment, which fleetingly hinted to his annoyance. I have observed him in the most trying of circumstances. Circumstances that a lesser person would have been perfectly justified in exploding or throwing in the towel, Moshe Yosef reacted with calmness, equanimity, and with his ever-present smile.

He would go to great lengths helping others. For years he spent his entire Purim eve and day performing Purim Shpiels in the homes of numerous Monsey residents raising money for the Monsey G’mach, Keren Hachesed. I recall once spending the entire Ta’anis Esther with him preparing for such a shpiel and hurrying together with him to shul just moments before Megilah leining. His professional performances always delighted his audiences and helped raise tens of thousands of dollars for tzadakah each year.

Moshe Yosef was a true friend, the type you feel totally comfortable with and always there for you when you need him. On more than one occasion, when he noticed I was going through a difficult period in shidduchim, he would invite me to his home for a weekday meal, or offer to go out and do a recreational pastime together.

When Moshe Yosef first came to Ohr Somayach, he left behind a rich and satisfying social life. In those early years he was popular with rebbeim and students alike. Even outside the yeshiva he had a bit of a fan club. I remember when we would go swimming at the local pool, the young cheder boys would gather around to watch him make impressive dives from the near ceiling high diving board. With his talent, intelligence, athletic abilities, and warm endearing nature, I felt confident that Moshe Yosef’s future held much promise.

After the week of shiva I called Rabbi Yochonon Wosner, who was one the rebbeim he was close with at Ohr Somayach. The first thing Rabbi Wosner asked me was, “Did you ever see Moshe Yosef without a smile?” To come to think of it, I haven’t.

But what is truly remarkable is that his infectious joy and optimism was not the product of a life blessed with material happiness and success. On the contrary, his life was beset with extreme financial and personal hardships. Whether it was a fire that destroyed all his material possessions or raising a child with autism, Moshe Yosef faced each extreme challenge with an equally extreme level of bitochon and simcha.

In a rare letter from the Chofetz Chaim, he gives chizuk to a young student who faced seemingly insurmountable difficulties. In it he writes:

“I have received your pure letter and my heart goes out exceedingly for your pain. Just know my beloved one, there is a general principle that anything that is more holy is more desolate during the time of its destruction. The land of Israel is desolate, Yerusholayim all the more so, and the place of the holy Temple most of all. And the same principle applies to the bodies of the Jewish people. Whoever is closer to Hashem is more desolate. But know that in the end, the place of the holy Temple will be elevated before the eyes of the entire world. The same applies regarding people as well.’In the end Hashem will make known before the eyes of all men the honor due to the people who held steadfastly to Him; in the time of their pain and affliction. . . ”

Chazal say that in the time of the future redemption, each person’s reward will be comparable to a light. A person who helps members of the community will shine like the sky, teachers of children will be like stars. Some people will be like the sun in the early morning hours, others will be like the sun in the later hours of the morning. The highest level is when the sun is at its brightest peak; a level the Sages say is reserved for true Torah scholars.

Chazal say that the sun in its midday glory is granted to another class of people as rn’ell. Not necessarily the scholar or person of notable achievement. Rather it is for those people who accept their suffering with joy and love of Hashem. Unto them the sages apply the verse, “And those who love Him will be like the sun going out in its full glory.”

I don’t know many people who aptly fit the above description as our beloved friend, Reb Moshe Yosef Reichenberg, zaycher tzadik v’kodosh I’vracha. Yehi zichro baruch.

Rabbi Greenwald is a former faculty member at Yeshivas Ohr Somayachi n Monsey,
and author of Reb Mendel and His Wisdom and We Want Life!

In the News: Matisyahu’s tzitzits

Reposted from Loose Ends – Ben Garson’s Tallis and Tzitzit blog

Outside of the tallit and tzitzit business, it seems the term “tallit katan” is most commonly found on the Web to describe frum stage performers, especially Matisyahu. Here’s a typical example, taken from the The Taos News:

Not only does the [Taos Mountain Music Festival] include everything from folk to mariachi, it also features artists who stretch the boundaries within their chosen musical styles.

Reggae artist Matisyahu has made waves around the world for melding Jewish themes with reggae and beat-box rhythms. His song “King Without a Crown” was a Top 40 hit on music charts in the United States, selling over 700,000 copies to date.

Playing with his Brooklyn-based band, Dub Trio, Matisyahu’s unique sound has been elevated to even greater heights. An Orthodox Jew who has garnered international attention for his uplifting, youthful and heartfelt approach to music, Matisyahu’s performances break down barriers, and open doors. He is certainly one of few, if not the only, American rock star to dive off a stage with a tallit katan — a fringed garment traditionally worn by religious Jewish men.

A similar article recently in Local iQ also noted Matisyahu’s tzitzit, though it sounds like the writer is not very familiar with the terminology (unlike the above article, which was written by a reporter with the last name of Kramer, which might explain why she got it right).

“Judaism isn’t just a religion,” asserted Matisyahu, “It’s a lifestyle.” Onstage and off, he wears the tallit [sic, tallit katan] and payot (Jewish prayer shawl [sic] and side curls) of Hasidic orthodoxy. With his wife, Tahlia, and their three children, he is a longtime resident of the Orthodox Jewish district of Crown Heights in Brooklyn.

Do I Really Have to Wake Up?

Do I really have to wake up?

I like to sleep, but I always got up for school without too much prodding (until college). However, like I wrote, I like to sleep. So, I get it when the Rambam writes that hearing the shofar relays the message:

“Wake up you sleepy ones from your sleep and you who slumber, arise. Inspect your deeds, repent, remember your Creator. Those who forget the truth in the vanities of time and throughout the entire year, devote their energies to vanity and emptiness which will not benefit or save: Look to your souls. Improve your ways and your deeds and let every one of you abandon his evil path and thoughts.” (Hilchos Teshuva 3:4- translation from chabad.org)

There are times that I am just not too motivated. Elul is one of those times, despite “going through the motions” (I actually wrote about this last year), I don’t always “feel it”. The difference between my Elul last year and this year is that I can look back now and see several times during the year that I was fairly motivated with bettering myself. I have found, since Rosh Chodesh Elul that I’m not interested in writing much (even this submission was difficult), I’m dragging through the work day, I’m not taking my 3 times a week doctor-recommended 30 minute walks, I’ve gained a quarter of a pound (I’ve been on Weight Watchers since June), etc. I could come up with a number of logical reasons why I have been acting this way, but the proverbial snooze button that is my lack of motivation during Elul is probably my yetzer hora. Ok, I said it. I feel a little better. By blaming my yetzer, I feel less responsible (just joking). In actuality, admitting that there is a force that designed to pull us away from kedusha only emphasizes our greater mission as Jews.

Of course, like most important things in life, there’s no magic spell to fix my problem of motivation. I might be the only one who feels like this, but I doubt it. Most of us probably just don’t want to admit that we’re not motivated all the time. It’s sort like having to complain about the heat of the summer when you’re wearing your black hat, it’s just not socially appropriate. For whatever sociological reason, it’s not fashionable to admit life isn’t peachy and blissful. It’s full of challenges and opportunities to reach our potential. There are times that it’s difficult to do even the easy things (like walking for half an hour), let alone issues involving working on Avodas Hashem and Tikun HaMiddos. It’s so easy to say, “I don’t want to do this now”. My kids say it all the time to me. Not wanting to do homework or eating your vegetables only makes things more difficult later on down the line. Usually, with me, it boils down to having narrow vision.

Losing sight of the big picture, no matter if it’s becoming a healthier person, approaching Rosh Hashana with the understanding that I am a child of the King of Kings, or getting out of bed so I am not late is an often employed tactic of our yetzer hora. Seeing a bigger picture, or even a slightly not so smaller picture, of anything in life only happens if you wake up.

The Battle of Our Lives

When you go out to war against your enemy…(Devarim 21:10)

The Torah only speaks versus the yetzer hara- the negative inclination(Rashi)

While still an unmarried yeshiva man I started learning with a friend the classic ethical work Mesilas Yesharim- The Path of the Just by Moshe Chaim Luzzato. Right before the semester was to end we reached a line in the book that baffled us. We closed the cover for the summer break with a big question mark hovering overhead. Describing the human condition, he writes, In truth a man is placed in the midst of a raging battle, since all things in this world whether good or not are tests for the man. We wondered aloud, What war? If we would ask the man in the street if hes aware of the raging battle he might accuse us of being paranoid fools.

A few days later four of us were in the Delaware River in two canoes. After passing the rough rapids, the river became wide and seemingly still, so we decided to treat ourselves. We pulled the canoes onto a flat gray slab of rock and jumped into the now calm lake like waters for a swim.

There I was floating on my back, soaking up the warm rays of the sun, and reveling in the experience. I shouted to the others, Hey guys, this is great! We gotta come back here again! I waited for some response. I soon realized that they were gone. Where were the canoes? Wheres that flat gray rock that was there moments ago? That could not have moved. I began to realize, as I was treading water, that the current had pulled me far down stream.

So, I started to swim back. It was not easy at all. The subtle imperceptible force of the river that had carried me so far so fast was now weighing heavily against me. It took a Herculean effort and it left me drained just to get back to where I had once been.

Weeks later, when we reopened the books, the lesson became clear. Why does that raging war seem to be the stuff of fiction? Perhaps, the reason is because so many are so often floating blissfully unaware going with the flow down stream. However, when we make any simple effort to improve, to change our direction, the weight of the river, the inertia of a lifetime of habits and attitudes are bearing down dissuading and discouraging us. Only with a determined will and great effort can we recover old ideals and then hope to move swimmingly beyond.

The Chovos HaLevavos-Duties of the Heart tells an apocryphal story about a certain pious man that confronted some soldiers returning with the spoils of war after vanquishing their enemy in a fierce battle. He told them, Now that you are returning victorious from the small battle, get ready for the big battle. They asked him in great wonderment, Which big battle? He answered them, The battle with your self!

As we prepare to weigh in for another new year it would be nice to think that all the effort and striving we have invested in the last many months have left us somewhat improved. We hope we have not yielded sacred ground in what we may to realize is nothing less than the battle of our lives.

Have a good Shabbos

What Have you “given up” to be Frum?

By Charlie Hall

Late last week I was invited to give a research presentation to a prestigious conference. But the time for the presentation was to be on Shabat, so I turned the invitation down immediately. Incredibly, in 16 years, this is the first time that this has happened — I’ve withdrawn presentations that were scheduled for Shabat but never before have I been *invited* to give a presentation on Shabat. I was sorry for the non-Jew who invited me that I was not able to come to the conference panel he was organizing but I was proud to be able to declare myself as a Jew who does not break Shabat for work.

I put “given up” in quotes in the title because we of course understand that the real reward for mitzvah observance is not material. I have been blessed in that for the past ten years I have worked for a Jewish institution and am in a profession whose major professional conferences are not on Shabat. Observance has thus been very easy for me. But most of us have had to say “no” on occasion to things that were it not on Shabat we would certainly have done. And there are many career paths for which Shabat is much more difficult than it has been for me.

Please share examples of situations where you found that you had to make the choice in favor of Shabat observance, and how that affected your life.

Written All Over Him

Oh, to be a squeaky-clean Ivy League “BT.”

Oh, you have your “wild” times — beer pong! woo-hoo! — find religion, clean up your act a little, snag a nice job in an investment bank or law firm after a couple of years in Israel learning Rashi script, and you can be very pleased with yourself and your perfect little route to repentance and, well, perfection, right? Special attention in yeshiva — quick acceptance, a better dorm room, special tutoring. You’re a poster boy for the “movement.” Eventually you end up in the video for your yeshiva’s college kiruv program, and they shoot your segment from your office overlooking Central Park, and you are proof to all the world of how a “normal,” “accomplished” person can become a religious Jew . . .

Meanwhile you still even send in cleverly-phrased updates to the alumni magazine. Still all those valuable contacts, after all — it’s a parnassah [earning a living] thing, believe me, you don’t hold of it at all . . .

You think I think there’s something wrong with that? It’s not a bad life. On the contrary, it’s a very fortunate life. E-Z teshuvah for the all-’round high achiever.

There are grittier stories, though. Harder climbs. Less celebrated ones. And while we all say we must never stop climbing, there are some whose uphill journey never reaches a suitable-for-framing plateau. You know, where you can just drop off your pack, take in the view, maybe even turn your BlackBerry around and take your own picture from up there to send to your friends when you get back to where the signal kicks in.

Many of the baalei teshuva who take these ascents aren’t the write-this-up-for-a-blog types. But being a poster boy means sometimes looking beyond your own marvelous reflection, right?

Doing so can be quite beneficial. Purifying, even. (Humbling? Well, now, let’s not push it. Still . . .)

So, there’s a powerfully touching story about the Satmar Rav. I have seen it written that it took place upon his taking leave of Eretz Yisroel, where he lived briefly after the War, or after one of his extended visits there, but the story essentially is this:

One of his devoted chasidim asked him, “Once you who leave, who can we take a kvitel to?” [A kvitel is a letter or note requesting that a tzaddik seek Divine intervention on behalf of a petitioner.] The Rav replied, “Anywhere you see a man with a number tattooed on his arm putting on tefillin — that is someone you can bring a kvitel to!”

This always compelled me, in many ways, but the beauty of this story is often lost in retellings of it.

What the Satmar Rav was saying was not that a person who survived the Holocaust takes on saintly status. Rather, it is that such a person who still puts on tefillin — which are nothing but an os, a symbolic affirmation, of faith — is a saint. For whose emunah [belief] has been proved more than that of such a person?

The Satmar Rav knew well that it’s easy to be a what in Yiddish they call “ah tzaddik in peltz.” The trick is to be devoted to Hashem and his Torah in a less luxurious skin than you’re comfortable in.

Whereas if you’re never really tested — E-Z teshuvah — what are your “religious” accomplishments, even if they are unconventional compared to the rest of your classmates?

Mere trophies.

And there are all sorts of tests.

Now, I have never been all that comfortable with the phrase “spiritual Holocaust” to describe the spiral of self-imposed national destruction Jews have imposed on themselves known as assimilation. But in light of the foregoing story, and an observation I made in the mikvah [ritual bath] a few years ago, I began to think that perhaps the term was more apt than I had thought.

The juxtaposition occurred to me after I went to the mikvah once on an erev Shabbos, as is customary among many men. And there I saw a young man who — you couldn’t avoid noticing it — was covered, chest to ankle, with tattoos.

Covered, big time. Purple. Green. Black. Monsters, whatever. Quite a sight.

He was the same young man I had seen in hasidic levush [garb] in shul. Quiet, unassuming, as earnest as you could ever like. Maybe to a fault.

I knew he was a baal teshuvah. I knew a little of his story, in fact.

But I didn’t know about . . . this.

I couldn’t get the picture that that tattooed torso out of my mind. And it occurred to me, eventually, that, well, you can wash off a lot in the mikvah, spiritually speaking. And I am certain there are people with tattoos who have less need for spiritual cleansing than many of the lilliest-toned among us.

But to go to the mikvah knowing that you look like that, and having a pretty good idea of what people will think, or being a meek person yet aware that they will notice, and . . .

How many of us poster boys would be up for that?

No, I have no rebbe. So except for what I send every couple of years to the Alumni Weekly, I don’t do kvitels.

But if I did — to that fellow, I would give my kvitel.

Ron Coleman blogs at Likelihood of Confusion.

Judgment or Feeling: Will the Real You Please Stand Up

An excerpt from Judgment or Feeling: Will the Real You Please Stand Up:

Our existential situation as in-betweeners subjects us to the insistent call of two different voices that hammer away at us. The Yetzer Tov, one of our appointed judges, speaks to us with his voice – the voice of spirituality. The locus of spirituality in the human being is the mind, not the heart. Spirituality does not communicate its message in the language of feelings and sensations; it does not send a rush of adrenalin through the blood or release endorphins in the brain. The soul expresses itself in words, concepts and ideas. The Yetzer Tov can only express itself in the language of the heart if it manages to drive the Yetzer Hara out of there and becomes our sole judge. In the case of us in-betweeners this never happens.

The voice of the Yetzer Hara is the voice of sensation and feeling. The locus of the Yetzer Hara in the human being is the heart; it knows how to stimulate us with the rush of adrenalin and endorphins that breed excitement. As long as the Yetzer Tov retains a foothold in our consciousness, the mind and the heart will continue to send us contrary messages, each in its own language. If the Yetzer Hara ever manages to become our sole judge, the voice of reason will cease its opposition and reason itself will broadcast the wishes of the heart. In the case of us in-betweeners this will also never happen.

The difference in the quality of these voices causes much difficulty and confusion. We live in a materialistic world, and we tend to invest a greater degree of trust in our feelings than in our thoughts. We tend to think of thoughts as being artificial and feelings as being reflective of our true selves. This predisposes us to give greater weight to the voice of the Yetzer Hara than to the voice of the Yetzer Tov. We need to experience some religious feeling in order not to dismiss our thoughts concerning the need to attach ourselves to God as irrelevant on the grounds that they do not truly reflect the real “me”.

Read the whole thing here.