How Have You Used the Achdus Enhancing Facilities of Purim?

Purim is fast approaching.

How have you used Purim to increase your achdus to your fellow Jews?

1) Giving thoughtful gifts of Shaloch Manos to people.
2) Planning how to give my gifts to the poor.
3) Having a wonderful meal with friends and family.
4) Going to a Purim chagigah.
5) Appreciating the importance of unity as evidenced in the Megillah.
6) Something else.

Rabbi Noach Weinberg on Happiness

Aish HaTorah’s Project Inspire sent an email in March 2006 with some thoughts from Rabbi Weinberg on the subject of happiness and suggested we share it with friends and family. Since we’re in the period of happiness in the Jewish Calendar we decided to repost it:

Rabbi Noach Weinberg on Happiness

1. There are many important things we all seek in life – happiness, love and success amongst others. Judaism teaches that a crucial tool for living is to have clear definitions for these important concepts.

People can often spend many years of life striving for something that they think will give them happiness – the right job, the right girl, working my way up the corporate ladder, retirement, the new home etc, but when they actually get it, they’re still miserable!

Why? – Because they didn’t take the time to define what happiness really is. Instead, they simply went for what society says will give them happiness or what they might feel might bring them happiness. Defining happiness would have saved them a lot of time and unnecessary pain.

People often say – you can’t define happiness. Interestingly, Judaism actually gives a definition. Let me explain.

2. If I offer you a thousand dollars for your eyes – is it a deal?
How’s about 10K? 100K? 1M?… As much money as I offer you, you’ll turn me down – right? Your eyes are worth more to you than all the money in the world.

3. So, now, imagine that I’m very wealthy, and after speaking to you for half an hour, I take a liking to you – so much so, that I say to you: let me give you this brief case as a gift. You take the brief case and open it up and look inside. You see wads of $100 bills. There’s a million dollars in there for you from me – no strings attached.
How would you feel – if it were really true? Wouldn’t you feel like a million dollars?! Wouldn’t you be doing a jig down the street?

Now, if you ask someone: You have eyes – how do you feel? Most people say: “the same miserable person I was before you asked me!” But, if our eyes are worth more to us than any money, and we’d feel ecstatic for the million, shouldn’t we feel even more ecstatic that we have eyes? Shouldn’t we be doing that jig down the street, all the more?

4. So what’s the problem?
The problem is that we get used to things – we take things for granted. Someone gets a beautiful Porsche for his birthday. He feels grand. Come back in a couple of months – he’s miserable again!

Happiness is therefore defined as the emotion of pleasure that we feel when we appreciate what we have.

Misery is the reverse. To be thoroughly miserable – just take all your blessings for granted, and focus on what you don’t have. The fact is that it’s much easier to focus on what you don’t have than what you do – we just slide right into it. It’s easier to get up in the morning and think: oh no – another work day at that miserable job… and I can’t believe it’s raining again…and I hate that train ride – especially all those weird & miserable people on the subway… and I wish my work-mates wouldn’t be so irritating…and my boss is so controlling…. etc

The trick of happiness is to learn how not to take things for granted.

If you can get used to your eyes you can get used to anything. You’ll get used to the new car, the new home, the new wife, the kids… If we don’t appreciate what we have – there’s no point getting any more – we’ll just get used to that too!
If you learn how to appreciate your eyes, you can learn how to appreciate all the gifts of life. That’s why every morning in Judaism we get up and say, thank you G-d for giving me life. We appreciate that we can think, see, have clothes, can walk, and that we have all our needs both physical and spiritual. We say blessings on food – to appreciate the food that we eat and not to take it for granted.

Each one of us has eyes, ears, a heart that pumps, hands and legs, friends and family – gifts worth more to us than any money. Each one of us is a walking multi-millionaire, even if we wouldn’t have a penny to our names. Only by learning how to appreciate the gifts we already have, how rich we truly are, can be truly happy.

Whitney Houston: Didn’t She Almost Have It All?

Wikipedia says it this way: In 2009, Guiness World Records cited her as the most-awarded female act [performer] of all time. Her list of awards includes two Emmy Awards, six Grammy Awards, 30 Billboard Music Awards, and 22 American Music Awards, among a total of 415 career awards as of 2010. Houston was also one of the world’s best-selling music artists, having sold over 170 million albums, singles and videos worldwide.

So, didn’t she almost have it all?

Like all addicts, she knew what was missing – big time.

Rabbi Shais Taub in his wonderful book, God of Our Understanding: Jewish Spirituality and Recovery from Addiction, says it this way: Our somethingness is not our true essence. Oneness is our true essence. Not that it bothers all of us equally. Some people can live with it. Some people can’t…The real problem that lies at the core of addiction is that addicts are people who are in dire need of a relationship with God but are able to substitute fulfilling this need with a behavior that is essentially self-destructive.

The real problem is that a hollow sound reverberates within our souls once our awards get placed upon the shelf. Awards, applause, and notoriety only take away the loneliness very briefly.

The drugs, the alcohol, the whole bag of potato chips, illicit sex, and gambling can take the pain of loneliness away oh so briefly too. The yearning for that elusive unconditional love only grows more and more intense afterward, though. And the search gets ever more frantic, with the pain being so unbearable that it needs to be kept numbed, so that it can’t be felt anymore…at all.

Addicts are those who can’t live feeling alone, which really means, apart from God, the only source of unconditional love there actually is. Some people, it seems, can handle the separation, but those more sensitive, with their souls more exposed, and aware of the great love that is missing in their lives, cannot.

We may think that babies or pets can love us unconditionally, but that’s not real love; they are just trying to get their needs met. Physical beings can’t love unconditionally, only spiritual entities, with unlimited capabilities, truly can.

If we acknowledge the loneliness that is widespread, and then mine beneath the loneliness, we can discover that each of us is never actually alone. We are all on this amazing journey TOGETHER – with all of our souls connected and amazingly intertwined. We are all here to help each other through, revealing the full potential of each of our souls. Whenever the Oneness becomes clear, the love keeps reverberating.

Whitney Houston, a sensitive and very gifted person, felt what was missing in her life strongly, like many of us have. Being extremely talented, beautiful, powerful or wealthy can lead to extreme anxiety, however, if the source and purpose of one’s great gifts are not embraced, over and over again. Whenever we forget, and get cut off from the source of all our blessings, we experience a similar estrangement. This time, we saw it magnified to superstardom size. The pain from feeling isolated, instead of spiritually in union with the origin of all blessings, became unbearable.

The cause of all of our addictions is the suffering we experience when our souls become blocked off from the infinite whole of which they are an essential part. Abuse causes that blockage to occur, as the intrinsic value of those victimized, their godliness, becomes negated. When that connection gets obstructed, addictions are the desperate attempt to seek whatever temporary relief can be found. Relief is sought to escape the despair that results from the perceived loss of that vital bond.

Even all the awards in the world can’t make that kind of hurting end.

We thrive when we experience the deepest pleasure from the most intimate relationship possible – the one between our essence and its Source. When that relationship is viewed as severed, our gratitude dries up too, as we no longer understand from where all our gifts come.

A powerful G-d-given voice flowed through her. A stirring message can still resonate.

Bracha Goetz leads a spirituality group at Jewish Recovery Houses, coordinates a Jewish Big Brothers and Big Sisters Program in Baltimore, Maryland and is the Harvard-educated author of sixteen children’s books, including Remarkable Park , The Invisible Book and Let’s Stay Safe! You can reach Bracha Goetz at

Why Should I Study Torah?

I was talking to a Rav recently, who also is a high school teacher, and he felt that many frum teenagers are not connected to the Torah they are learning. They don’t really see how the sugyas in the Gemora or the Parsha is relevant to their every day life.

How would you answer the question: “Why Should I Study Torah?”

How would you answer the question: “How is the Gemorah Relevant to a Teenager?”

Teens at Risk and Baalei Teshuva Parents

Back in October, the AJOP newsletter sent out an announcement about a study that would be presented by Dr David Pelcovitz on Teens at Risk and Baalei Teshuva. We wrote a post about it, and speculated about the results.

At the time, I was a little concerned about the study because I thought it would portray BTs in a negative light. I emailed Dr. Pelcovitz and shortly thereafter a had a conversation with him. He told me that this study and another study in Israel found that Teens from BT parents were not at greater risk of having problems than FFB parents.

As it turns out, the study was not focused on who was at greater risk BTs or FFBs, but rather what were the factors for BTs that lead to a higher chance of at-risk teens.

You can see a synopsis of the study. In addition, there is a Power Point of the presentation.

Here are the four major findings of the study:

1) Results showed parents report an adolescent of a baal teshuva family who is poorly integrated in the community will be at greater risk for behavioral difficulties.

2) Results showed that those adolescents of parents who exhibit rigid or chaotic (unhealthy) parenting style are reported by their parents as exhibiting higher levels of behavioral and emotional difficulties than adolescents whose parents exhibit an authoritative (healthy) parenting style, a balance of love and limits.

3) Results showed that adolescents of families that are either disengaged or enmeshed (unhealthy family structure) are reported by parents to exhibit higher levels of behavioral and emotional difficulties than adolescents whose families exhibit a balanced emotional connection (healthy family structure).

4) Results showed that if a parent reported becoming newly religious during his or her twenties or thirties, his or her child was reported as vulnerable for having more difficulties during adolescence.

Dr. Pelcovitz said that there were no real surprises in the study, but finding number 4 needed a little explanation.

A major take away that AJOP presented is that BTs should be provided with more parenting classes. In reality, the fact that FFBs have the same at-risk rate, means that FFBs probably should also strive to be better parents through parenting classes.

I’m glad that BTs were not found to be at greater risk as I originally feared. As a result of emailing Dr. Pelcovitz and speaking to the head of AJOP, Rabbi Lowenbraun, David and I got to present our BT observations at AJOP based on the 6 years of articles and comments from Beyond BT.

We had a decent size audience for both of our presentations and I’m not sure what the impact was. We did however speak to a number of people involved in Kiruv in preparation and we gained some more clarity on the issues facing BTs. We’ll post the summary of our presentation in the next few weeks.

Tribute to Rabbi Avraham Ginzberg, zt'”l

by Jonathan Rosenblum
Mishpacha Magazine – February 17, 2012

Because magazines like Mishpacha work with advance deadlines my friend Rabbi Aryeh Ginzberg’s piece on Yerushalayim shel Ma’alah appeared last week, even though he was sitting shiva for his father Rabbi Avraham Ginzberg, the menahel of Yeshivas Chafetz Chaim for nearly six decades. Reb Aryeh, unfortunately, was back in Yerushalayim far sooner than he could have imagined when he wrote last week’s piece for Mishpacha, in order to accompany his father to his final resting place. I would like to share one of the stories Reb Aryeh told of his father, as he sat in Yerushalayim on Motzaei Shabbos before flying back to the United States.

Rabbi Avraham Ginzberg arrived alone in the United States before World War II, and began learning in Yeshivas Chafetz Chaim. He was virtually penniless, and worked nights in a bakery to support himself. While still single, he managed to purchase the bakery, almost entirely on credit. With the profits from the bakery, he was able to bring his whole family to the United States,after the War and the bakery provided parnassah for Reb Avraham’s father for the rest of his life.

The business acumen of the young immigrant did not escape the attention of Rabbi Alter Chanoch Henoch Leibowitz, Rosh Yeshivas Chofetz Chaim, and he asked Reb Avraham to takeover the day-to-day running of the yeshiva for a period of two years to help put the yeshiva on its feet financially. That dream of financial stability was never fully realized. The Chofetz Chaim educational network spread across America, inspired by the Rosh Yeshiva’s educational vision. Yet because a very high percentage of musmachim of Chofetz Chaim went into chinuch and few into business, the yeshiva never developed a large donor pool of affluent alumni.

As a consequence, Reb Avraham’s two years extended well over half a century. Each penny the yeshiva raised was far dearer to him than his own money. Reb Aryeh Ginzberg related how classmates once directed him to the foyer of the yeshiva building to see what his father was doing. When he arrived, only his father’s trademark worn blue straw hat, with a red feather, was visible above ground. The latter was digging down to uncover a burst pipe before the plumber arrived in order to save the yeshiva the expense of the digging. When the yeshiva honored Rabbi Ginzberg after more than half a century of service, his son told the Rosh Yeshiva not to bother purchasing any kind of gift because his father would refuse to accept anything that depleted the yeshiva’s bank account in any way.

The story that made the biggest impression on me involved an older couple who had contributed to the yeshiva at one point. Their only son had passed away, and they were alone in the world. When the husband too passed away, Rabbi Ginzberg undertook to oversee all the wife’s needs, which, unfortunately, included numerous calls in the middle of the night to rush to the hospital when she hovered on the verge of death. In her will, she left $250,000 to Rabbi Ginzberg.

The older Rabbi Ginzberg told Reb Aryeh that the money belonged to the yeshiva, as his original contact with the couple arose out of his position in the yeshiva. Reb Aryeh pointed out that the will specified Rabbi Avraham Ginzberg, not Yeshivas Chafetz Chaim. But his father would not budge.

Reb Aryeh first went to Rabbi Leibowitz, who told him that he should take the halachic shayla to the posek hador, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein. Reb Moshe ruled that the money belonged to Rabbi Ginzberg, and added that he could certainly give ma’aser to the yeshiva.

Reb Aryeh returned to his parents’ home to share Reb Moshe’s psak with his father. The senior Rabbi Ginzberg greeted the news with great joy and told his son that he had done him a great tovah. “How would someone in my financial situation ever hope to make a gift of a quarter of a million dollars to the yeshiva?” he explained. “You have made that possible.” And he proceeded to write out a check for the full $250,000 to the yeshiva, even though he was then carrying a couple of mortgages on his own home, the proceeds of which had also gone to help pay off the yeshiva’s debts.

That story characterized a whole life of thinking nothing of one’s own needs, only those of others, particularly the Yeshiva and the Rosh Yeshiva. That model deserves to be widely known, especially now that the hero of the story is no longer here to be embarrassed by its publication.

Mishpatim Summary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can You Picture G-d Differently?

Debbie’s father would beat her almost daily for looking “too happy.” Over forty years later, she is asking, “How am I supposed to believe in a G-d that’s described as an all-loving Father?”

Yaakov volunteers as an advocate for victims of sexual abuse. He has heard so many chilling accounts that he is feeling overwhelmed by the enormity of his mission. “Is G-d in the closed dark rooms where children are having their innocence stolen from them?” he asked last week.

As the relative of a recent victim, even later in my life, I suddenly found myself, not only experiencing profound disillusionment, but even having a very shaky time continuing to believe wholeheartedly in an all-merciful G-d. And I was surprised to find out pretty quickly that I had PLENTY of company in that too.

Yes, even for many adults, an image of a vengeful G-d can still override all the other ways in which
G-d can be understood.

It was astounding for me to discover, as I began to unexpectedly meet more and more survivors of abuse, how common it is for those survivors who still believe that G-d exists to picture G-d as a powerful and often cruel tyrant.

I began to struggle toward a new way of picturing G-d to help these survivors, and to help myself as well. I learned that imagining G-d very differently can transform lives – and this is possible even for those that have been deeply scarred from abuse in their childhood.

The key, it seems, is remembering that our souls are a part of G-d.

And since who we really are is our souls, who we are, essentially, is a part of G-d. Having anger toward G-d for letting cruel things happen, loses its force, the moment we see ourselves as being a part of G-d too.

Like G-d, our souls transcend the physical world. Like G-d, our souls go on forever. Like G-d, our souls can see and yet they cannot be seen. Our souls are a part of the endless spiritual entity that we can’t possibly grasp, and yet, at the same time, they are the deepest truth we know.

So it turns out, our souls are the best understanding we have of what G-d could be.

And since our souls are a part of G-d, they are made of the same infinite and invincible stuff that G-d must be made of. So our souls will never give up. Our souls are the sparks that can never be snuffed out, no matter how searing the pain has gotten in areas that cover our souls. Even the souls that have left this world as a result of the abuse on their bodies – those sparks are still shining too.

It’s not easy to comprehend that we are souls, as we live in a physical world that is constantly reminding us that we are bodies. And it certainly is not easy to understand that even the horribly painful things, happen for an ultimately good purpose. But not believing that, leaves everything arbitrary, random, and nonsensical. Our souls can’t buy that.

“As I wander through the dark, encountering difficulties, I am aware of encouraging voices that murmer from the spirit realm.” These words were written by Hellen Keller. Darkness can surround a person physically or emotionally. Yet no matter how many difficulties we encounter and no matter how much suffering is endured in this lifetime, there is always one still small spiritual voice that never goes away.

One’s self esteem can be trampled on, but the blows can never reach one’s innermost core because that’s untouchable. Harsh messages can muffle the inner voice that is still, miraculously, continuing to give us encouragement to go on. Abuse in dark rooms can obscure one’s inner light. But a person’s pure spiritual essence continues forever to remain as unsullied as ever. And maybe the most amazing part of all is, no matter what we’ve been through, down deep, we continue to know this.

We are not able to see why very painful experiences may be required in order to reveal our purest essence. Maybe the crucible we pass through can help our entire being ultimately emerge in our most sensitized, integrated, and compassionate state. We only get glimpses into the purpose of our soul’s journey in this lifetime. What we can readily discern, though, is that our soul only wants what is absolutely best for us, since it is us, in our most unpolluted form.

Picturing G-d differently, for those whose trust was broken early, begins by recognizing that there is a “piece” of G-d within our souls. Getting in touch with the part of us that nobody could touch in a demeaning and destructive way – helps reveal our hidden radiance. Through regaining trust in our pure souls, we let calmness, love, and joyfulness stream back into our lives.

Instead of picturing G-d as the sadistic abuser known too well, those who have been deeply crushed – even closest to their core, as innocent, purely trusting children – can come to picture G-d like the indefatigable souls that never deserted them. Then even without yet fully understanding why the suffering had to be, we can all become capable of shining our obscured light once again. And each time a soul’s light manages to still shine in this world – miraculously – and heroically – it’s light can even shine into a closed dark room.

Bracha Goetz serves on the executive committee of the national organization, Jewish Board of Advocates for Children. She also coordinates a Jewish Big Brothers and Big Sisters Program in Baltimore, Maryland and is the author of fifteen children’s books, including Remarkable Park , What Do You See in Your Neighborhood? and The Invisible Book.

This article was originally published in the Jewish Press on February 25, 2011.

Easy TuBishvat Combo–Almond-Silan Baked Apples for TuBishvat

By Tzirel Chana at Kosher Home Cooking.

TuBishvat isn’t some kind of trivial pursuit question (remember that 80s game in which players showed off their command of arcane and irrelevant information)

TuBishvat is mentioned in the Babylonian Talmud’s list of New Years (Any cheder boy will tell you that there are four the best known being Rosh Hashana) and TuBishvat is the day when G-d allocates strength to the soil which is a huge deal because here in water deprived Israel .

Though TuBishvat hasn’t got special prayers or rituals–though it is a good time to daven for a good Etrog, Sephardic Jews, like to eat 15 15 different kinds of fruit. That is because TuBishvat is celebrated on the 15th of the Hebrew month of Shvuat the word Tu being a Hebrew abbreviation for 15. Hebrew letters are also numbers. Tet is nine and vuv (the ooo sound) is six which adds up to 15, (you could also combine yud which is 10 and hey which is 5 but we skip that because it forms one of G-d’s ineffable names).

When you consider that nuts are fruits—they grow on trees, fifteen fruits aren’t that hard to come by. Most years I serve all fifteen but recently I found a recipe that a recipe that combines fruits up in one easy dish.. And since two of the fruits involved, date and almond from the Shivat Haminim, the seven species native ito the land of Israel , that makes it even better.

The third fruit is apple which is actually symbol of G-d Himself. You can find the tetragramaton, the four letter name of G-d with a numerical equivalent of 26 right in the fruit. (one for the stalk, 10 seeds inside, 10 points in the star light formation enclosing the seeds and 5 ridges= 26

Isn’t that cool? ..

Silan Baked apples

Silan is honey extracted from dates part of the seven species—as are almonds

Here’s how

Core an apple about two thirds of the way down—you don’t want to create a tunnel, just a hole for the filling to sit in

Pour inside the silan and add slivered almonds (figure on a tablespoon of silan and three or four almond slivers per apple) Silan is available in gourmet shops and specialized groceries.

Bake for an hour or until soft. I personally like them baked until they are smooth and fluffy but you can leave for less time for a firmer apple. Eat , Delicous healthy and fat free.

Before “Beyond”: Home for the Holidays

This essay was originally published before blogging existed or almost anyone had ever heard of the Internet. It was the first installment in what was a regular column called “On the Road… Back” in what turned out to be a short-lived weekly newspaper called the New Jersey Jewish Post. This column was entitled, “Home For The Holidays.”

And, please be kind. I was… very young, even for me: The date of this column is September 5, 1988.

As summer ebbs and the nights turn cool and crisp, Jewish families share many of the same concerns as other families. Children return to school, or, in the case of older children, head off — maybe for that first exciting time — to college. Jewish families, though, also think of this time of year as heralding the approach of “the Holidays,” which usually entails a pause in the back-to-school routine and, in the case of young people going out-of-town, an all-too-brief (for the parents, anyway!) return home to celebrate the High Holidays together.

It was around this time of year that my parents had sent me, their oldest, off to college, and the excitement was palpable for all of us. Though the school was only perhaps 15 miles from my par-ents’ home, it could have been a thousand. I was living on my own for the first time, and thrown into an environment — an entire world — for which nothing in my previous eighteen years could have prepared me.

My college was not the kind of place you send your child if broadening his Jewish horizons is foremost in your mind. The school’s reputation for academic distinction was second only to its renown as a bastion of “WASP elitism,” and much of the allure of it was the stamp of approval it provided for upward mobility in non-Jewish society — a guarantee of future “success.” Nonetheless, my parents, who had always endeavored to provide my brother and me with a strong “Jewish identity,” were concerned that we should have Jewish friends at college and hoped especially for a Jewish roommate. Imagine my surprise — and their wary amazement — upon learning that my roommate in this Ivy League citadel was an orthodox boy, also from New Jersey, who kept Shabbat and Kashrut and attended the on-campus minyan hours before I would even begin to stir from my bed.

I had never really known an orthodox person before, and it would be a mistake to say we hit it right off. He was somewhat aloof — maybe a little “yeshivish” I thought— and I was something of a rock-and-roller. (We would later become good friends and lived together for two more years.) In a matter of weeks, though, my eyes were opened to how a person—let’s call him Moshe—lived a distinctive and proud Jewish life in the very heart of assimilation. My growing respect for him wasn’t hurt by the fact that he was extraordinarily bright, from the top of his yeshiva high school class, with a very strong science background and near-perfect board scores. Surely this was not a throwback to the Dark Ages as I had expected!

As the Yomim Tovim rolled around, I asked my roommate if he was going to go home for the “High Holidays,” as I was. He answered me with a remark which never left me, but which took me years and years to begin to understand. “High Holidays?” he asked. In a patient, earnest way, he said, “Actually, there isn’t really any day that’s ‘holier’ than Shabbat.”

I was completely taken aback. I had just never thought of Shabbat that way. Shabbat was not part of my life. Saturday was the day we went down to the stadium and watched the Big Game against Yale. But planted in my head throughout that Yom Tov season was this idea of having a “holy day” every week.

Years later, when I was studying in yeshiva myself — partly as a result of the consciousness-raising” I received from three years with Moshe — I would finally taste Shabbat and learn what it meant for a day to be “holy.” Once a week I put on my best clothes, shine my shoes, dine festively, sing my heart out, pray and hear the Torah read in synagogue. Even more than the way I left college behind when I came “home for holidays,” I leave the material world behind without even “going” anywhere.

And yet paradoxically, the Yomim Tovim did not lose significance when I made Shabbat part of my life. Rosh Hashana was not diminished by losing its status as the prime “Jewish time of the year,” even though it now had to share its status as “the holidays,” not only with my old friend Yom Kippur, but also with Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret, and Simchat Torah. On the contrary, consciousness of the Jewish year — of the cycles starting with daily prayers, to the Shabbat-centered week, to the celebration of Rosh Chodesh every month, and even beyond years to shmitta years and the like — enhanced my appreciation of the festivals. And by hooking up with my heritage, I learned that “time” is not only in the future but has preceded me as well.

Now, rather than a short detour back on the trip away from my Jewish home, on the way to the seductive world of assimilation, the Yomim Tovim are an annual celebration that take place among the constant affirmations of what it means to be a Jew. Celebrating the festivals is no longer an incongruity for me but the logical culmination of day-to-day Jewish life. Only a couple of months into college, I’d learned more than many of us would take away even after four years, though it would take me that much time to realize what Moshe had been saying on that bright autumn day.

Ten Greatest Songs of All Time

This Shabbos is called Shabbos Shirah because of the song sung at the splitting of the Red Sea. Another song is read in the haftorah, the Song of Devora. The Medrash says there will be 10 great songs for Hashem. Nine have already been sung and the tenth in the the times of Moshiach.

Here’s a list of the 10 Songs from
1) Shiras Adam – The song Adam sang after Creation was completed: Mizmor shir l’yom hashabbos. To this day, it is part of our Friday night davening.
2) Shiras HaYam – The song at Yam Suf (Beshalach)
3) Shiras Ha’Be’er – Song of the Well in the desert (Bamidbar 21:17) when the Emorim were killed after plotting an ambush and the mountains crushed them. Their blood came up through the Be’er revealing the Nes to Bnei Yisroel.
4) Shiras Haazinu
5) Shiras Ha’Givon in Sefer Yehoshua when the sun remained up through the night to help Yehoshua in his battle.
6) Shiras Devorah in Sefer Shoftim – When Bnei Yisroel defeated the mighty Sisra’s and Yael killed Sisra himself.
7) Shiras Chana in Sefer Shmuel
8) Shiras Dovid – Tehilim 18 when Dovid was saved from Shaul
9) Shir Ha’Shirim of Shlomo Ha’Melech
10) Shir HaGeulah – This song hasn’t been sung yet; the song that will be sung in the times of Moshiach, as it says in the Book of Yeshayahu: “On that day there will be sung this song in the land of Yehuda…. (26:1)”

There are different versions of this list and other Medrashim bring
1. Shiras Mitzrayim
2. Shiras Yehoshafat

Is Choosing and then Possibly Changing Your Observance Style Practical?

On his website, Rabbi Dovid Gottleib describes his own “Coming Home” experience and gives the following advice regarding selecting a “style” of Jewish Observance:

Many baalei teshuvah become convinced that the Torah is true and try to observe as much of Jewish law as they can, but become bewildered by the wide variety of styles of traditional observance.

In addition to broad differences of philosophy and priorities (Modern Orthodox, Yeshivish, Chassidic, etc.) there are endless geographic variations. Having no personal tradition to fall back on, they must decide for themselves, without waiting for a comprehensive investigation of all options. In fact, at the beginning of his exploration, the baal teshuvah is usually introduced only to a very small sample of the alternatives – often only one.

Still, one cannot postpone having a single, consistent organizing style to his observance (I’ve seen the mixed up results of trying to form one’s own supposed “synthesis.”) The solution is to adopt a style temporarily, and to explore alternatives as time and circumstances allow. In the meantime, one remains committed and open to change. This requires clear communication with others who depend upon him, such as his spouse, children, etc., since any subsequent changes will affect them as well.

Does this approach to selecting a style of Judaism make sense to you?

What alternatives to this approach of selecting a style can you think of?

Do you know BTs who changed their styles? Did you change your style?

Do you feel that you have the opportunity to change your style?