Bittersweet – Rosh Chodesh Av

Rosh Chodesh Av is amongst the strangest of days.

As we’re aware, Rosh Chodesh Av marks the commencement of the nine day mourning period culminating in the most tragic and mournful day of the year, Tisha B’Av. As the gemorah states “MiShenichnas Av MeMa’atin B’Simcha” when the month of Av enters, we decrease our joy. Yet, it is still Rosh Chodesh, a joyful day, a semi-holiday. Quite the discordant mix.

On Rosh Chodesh Av, the melody of Hallel is tinged by the portending sobriety of Kinos and Eichah. Leining and mussaf which speak of the korbanos offered on Rosh Chodesh in the Beis Hamikdash remind us of the fact that we were deprived of the ability to bring such korbanos when the Beis HaMikdash was torn from our lives and hearts.

One of the causes for the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash was sinas chinam (baseless hatred). The Netziv explains that the sinas chinam that caused the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash was not exactly what we commonly think it was. The Netziv points out that the sinas chinam that caused the destruction included hatred between Jews with different hashkafas or a different psak in halachah. If someone would see another frum jew serving Hashem in a way that was different from his own, he would judge and vilify that person. The Netziv grieves over the fact that this type of sinas chinam existed in his time as well. Is our time any better? Are we getting closer to ahavas chinam (groundless love, the cure for sinas chinam) or further?

Rosh Chodesh Av is also the yahrtzeit of Aharon HaKohen, the ultimate lover and pursuer of Peace. Perhaps the fact that Aharon’s yahrtzeit falls on Rosh Chodesh Av serves as a reminder to us to make peace with our fellow jews, even when they are very different from ourselves. In doing so, may we be zocheh to see the tinge of sadness of this Rosh Chodesh removed and the fulfillment of King David’s statement “You turned my mourning into dancing, you have removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.”

This post originally appeared on July 26th, 2006.

Purim: Netanyahu, Congress, And The Battle Against Persia – A War Fought In Heaven

TorahAnytime.Com uses the tag line of “G-d’s Reason for the Internet” by which they mean that the learning of Torah and spiritual growth is the reason that G-d created the Internet. Of course, that’s not to say that there’s no potential spiritual downside to such a powerful tool, but the presence of so many distinguished Rabbis on the site, shows that they agree with its potential on the upside.

Rabbi Yosef Viener of Monsey has a recent shiur titled Purim: Netanyahu, Congress, And The Battle Against Persia – A War Fought In Heaven in which he mentions some of the political considerations regarding Prime Minister Netanyahu’s upcoming visit to Congress. However, he strongly points out that it’s easy to get caught up in the politics, but G-ds reason for the Persian threat then and now is for us to daven and do teshuva. Please watch the video.

Meanwhile, in Queens, Rabbi Moshe Schwerd was making similar points while discussing The Special Power of Prayer on Purim. Rabbi Schwerd also points out the connection between the Nachash (the snake) and Haman and why there is a requirement to curse Haman on Purim and the continuing necessity of our spiritual response of prayer on Purim. Please watch the video or download the audio of this great shiur.

“Just One Shabbos” Project

How many times have I sung the song, “Just One Shabbos” With the monumental Shabbos Project starting soon and involving over 212 cities and 33 countries, the magnitude of this grassroots project is pretty amazing. While I have heard some people brush off the whole event in various communities, I think the success will speak for itself.

While the primary goal of the Shabbos Project is to get all Jews to keep on traditional Shabbos together, I think we’ll end up seeing positive results on a few different levels. There is incredible achdus potential in having groups of woman get together to bake challah in various communities. Aside from the obvious excitement of strangers all getting together and being involved in a mitzvah, there’s an added bonus for those in the observant community. Often in larger communities both men and women can spend years in their own neighborhood and not even see others who live a block or two away. Throw in the idea of multiple frum communities in a city or in suburbs getting together in one place to make challah and it’s got to be mind blowing. Seeing the larger observant and not-yet observant community gives us view of bigger communal picture.

For those hosing guests who might have a limited halachic and hashkafic background, the Shabbos Project reinforces the idea that with a little common sense, it’s possible for the non-kiruv professional to reach out to others. For many, myself included, spending time at a Shabbos table and with a family was a major factor in my journey to becoming observant. So what if all of your kids don’t stay at the table for the whole seduah or that an argument erupts over who gets the last piece of gefilta fish. It doesn’t really matter because the idea is that the kedusha of Shabbos trumps everything.

Finally, the shul experience could be intense, in a good way. Inviting those less familiar with the structure of a traditional Orthodox services opens up many doors. I’m guessing some shuls will have specialized explanatory services and modified programs for kids and adults. Even without these, hosts will bring their guests to their local house of worship and will have the opportunity to not only help their guests follow along, but answer questions that might come up. And if you don’t know the answer to the question (s), then you have an opportunity to bring your guest over to someone after shul and see if you can get an answers. This is a powerful lesson because it shows the host that you take their question seriously and that we have a “chain of command” when it comes to finding answers. Another interesting thing about having guests in a minyan is that the “regular” daveners tend to be aware that they are being observed and we all behave better when we know we’re being watched.

While I think this Shabbos is going to be historical, the truth is that I’m more excited for what happens after the event. Will we still feel a sense of achdus as we keep Shabbos next week? Will there be follow up in communities? I’m hoping I will take away a lesson on the importance and excitement of the preparations lead me into Shabbos. Any Shabbos is a project, not simply spending 25 hours on auto-pilot.

Time, Space and Soul at the Kotel

On my recent trip to Eretz Yisroel, I had the good fortune to rent an apartment in Kfar David in Mamilla, very close to the Jaffa Gate. I davened almost every Tefillah at the Kotel, except for Shabbos when we were in Ramat Beis Shemesh. (As an aside, the apartment was great and priced at $160 a night off season. There are smaller ones for $100 a night. Email me at BeyondBT@gmail.com if you need more information).

Davening at the Kotel is amazing because it’s a Minyan factory and you get to join together with all types of Jews from the four corners of the world. However, I do find it distracting at Shacharis, between the people collecting Tzedakah and the simultaneous Minyanim going on at a somewhat loud volumne.

On my first Shacharis I went to the Vasikin minyan, which is at sunrise and is the best time to Daven according to the Shulchan Aruch. So here I was, at the best place-the Kotel, at the best time-sunrise, and with a great collection of Jewish souls from around the world. And to top it all off, since it was Vasikin every Minyan starts Shemoneh Esrai at the same time and the entire Kotel would be quiet together.

So I stepped into Shemoneh Esrai anticipating the sweet sound of silence, but unfortunately perfection was not to be found. There was one individual who was davening very loudly well into our Shemoneh Esrai. So there were 300 souls with the opportunity to join in Tefillah at the perfect time at the perfect place, but one person was out of step.

I decided to write three endings to this piece:

1) How does Hashem judge this situation. On the one hand the person was davening to Hashem in sincerity, but at the same time he was disturbing many other people in a situation where total quiet was a possibility.

2) I need to work more on my davening. If I really worked on it, I could daven anywhere without being distracted. Perhaps wanting or needing silence is really a deficiency in my davening.

3) We’re in Golus and even if we’re at the perfect place and the perfect time, it’s our souls that need correcting. That begins with me working on caring about this unknown individual as much before the Shemoneh Esrai as after. He’s a great Yid who made the same journey I did to daven at the perfect place and the perfect time. Even if he was mistaken in this one act, I make plenty of mistakes myself and I hope people judge me favorably.

So at the end of the day, maybe it was better that there was no silence. After all time, place and silence are external and davening is an internal act. And becoming a little more forgiving from this incident is probably more important than finding the perfect Time, Space and Soul at the Kotel.

Originally Published February 2010

Longing For His Children

By Rabbi Meir Goldberg.

More than 100 years ago in the city of Kiev, Ukraine in Czarist Russia, Mendel Beilis was accused of murdering a 13 year old gentile boy and using the blood for matzos. The viciously anti-Semitic government used the trial as a way of not only prosecuting Beilis, but the entire Jewish people as gentile hating murderers who deserved no sympathy. Not just Beilis but the Torah itself was put on trial for its attitude towards gentiles.

Jews from around the globe, religious and secular alike rallied around Beilis and pleaded with western governments to pressure the Czar’s government to stop this travesty of justice.

The chief Rabbi of Moscow, Rabbi Yaakov Mazeh, a gifted orator and spokesman, was called upon to defend the Torah’s teachings vis-à-vis non-Jews.

“The Talmud views non-Jews as sub-human,” charged the prosecution. “Yevamos 61 states ‘You are called Adam but non-Jews are not called Adam’.”

“You are misunderstanding the Talmud,’ countered Rabbi Mazeh. “The Talmud means to say that the Jews are called Adam, meaning that they are all like one person and not many disparate peoples who just happen to comprise a nation. When one Jew is in pain, we all feel that pain. This trial proves it. Here we have one Jew in Kiev accused of a crime he did not commit and Jews around the world rally to his side. Would non-Jews around the globe care about a non-Jew in Kiev who was falsely accused? They are not Adam – a single entity, but rather a group of individuals.”

Rabbi Mazeh’s words have never been truer than in these past weeks as Jews from all walks of life, Sefradi and Ashkenazi, Dati Leumi, Charedi and secular all cried out in the pain of our three boys, their parents and families. Our nation, desperate for achdus, banded together as all of klal Yisroel turned as one towards our Father in Heaven, beseeching Him to return the boys home safely and after their murder, crying out in their memory. While we may fight and bicker with one another, even bitterly, we are fundamentally one people, one heart, one soul.

So what can we as a zchus for the memory the three boys?

The agony of the parents of the kidnapped boys, even prior to the discovery of their murder, was unimaginable, waiting up nights, longing to hear from them. The terror of having a child snatched from us is too much to bear. To a great extant, Hashem is missing so many of His children, ‘kidnapped’ by lives of secularism, far from living lives of purpose, meaning and closeness to Hakadosh Baruch Hu. According to one study, 71% of non-orthodox American Jews will not marry Jewish. Yet during this time of beautiful hisorerus, we witnessed ostensibly secular Jews, seemingly far from Yiddishkeit, daven and perform mitzvos in their brother’s zchus and they continue to do so in their memory.

​Rabbi Shay Schachter of the White Shul in Far Rockaway, was sent as a shliach on behalf of his shul, to be menachem avel the families of the three boys. He writes the following,

“​In the middle of our flight, the stewardess began to speak with me, and we got into a very pleasant conversation. She then inquired when I was planning to return back to the States, and I said I would only be staying until until after Shabbos, and I would then be returning home. She said “just four days? What kind of trip is that?” And I proceeded to tell her that I was sent by our shul to visit the three respective families, to deliver our beautiful letters, and to let them know that the affection of their beloved brothers and sisters in America, knows no bounds.

She immediately began to cry uncontrollably, and said, this kehillah of yours is something unique and something incredibly special. For you to get on the flight is no big deal; but this speaks volumes about your kehillah, that this is what they feel is important. This is where their hearts are, and this is what is occupying their minds – how incredible!

So the stewardess proceeds to make an announcement in tears, to a plane filled almost to capacity with Birthright groups; “Rabotai! We have on our plane, a shliach Mitzvah! Come meet a Rabbi who was sent by his Kehillah to perform the great mitzvah of nichum aveilim, for those whom they feel are their own brothers and sisters! Our plane is safe because we have a shaliach mitzvah on board with us!”

This led to a whole pandemonium, and after I finally got to sit down again, the young man next to me informs me that he is 26 years old, from Seattle Washington; he works in a national zoo, and is going to Israel for his first time. He then proceeds to tell me that he was so inspired by our kehillah, and that he would like to borrow my Tallis to do a mitzvah that he has not done since his Bar mitzvah celebration (at age 16) in memory of the three precious neshamos.

I gladly gave him my tallis and then proceeded to ask him if he knew how to recite a bracha. He said “sure I do”, and went on to take out a small piece of paper from his pocket, and recited the “Tefillas Haderech”. This was the one and only Hebrew Bracha that he was familiar with, so he decided to recite it as well on the Tallis.

He then asked to borrow my Tefillin as well, which was followed by a long conversation with the other members of the plane, who were all taking pictures of this highly unusual scene.

But that wasn’t it; after a few minutes he turns to me and says “Rabbi, I am so inspired, but in Seattle Washington we don’t have these boxes. But I want to continue to do something special for these three precious souls, even after I return home. So what would you suggest I do?”

I was in complete shock, and overwhelmed with emotion, so the Satmar Chassid in the next row turns to this tattood and pierced young man and says, “Sweet Jew, if you promise me you will try and wear these Tefillin each and every day, I promise I will have a pair sent by FedEx to your home in Seattle Washington by the time you get back from Israel!” They then exchanged phone numbers and information, and the deal was done.​”

This is an incredible time in Klal Yisroel.​

It would behoove us to seize these precious moments of national unity and reach out to our not so distant brethren with bonds of love in order to draw them nearer to their Father.

Rabbi Meir Goldberg is the director of Rutgers Jewish Xperience (www.rutgersjx.com). He resides in Lakewood with his family.
Originally published in The Lakewood Scoop

Advancing Achdus Through Easier Fasting Advice

With good reason, many Jews throughout the world have been focused on Achdus. However, Achdus is easy to give lip service to, but harder to put into actual practice. Rabbi Meyer Schiller gave a great shiur a few years back providing a framework and a deeper understanding of Achdus. You can download Rabbi Schiller’s shiur by right clicking with your mouse on this link and choosing save as to download it to your computer. If you want to stream the file to your computer, just click on this link.

We can achieve Achdus at a practical personal level, by working on deepening our connections to fellow Jews. Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller gives some simple advice on this topic that resonates with me. She relates that whenever we are talking to somebody, two thoughts should go through our minds: “What can I learn from this person?” and “What can I give to this person?”.

In regards to giving, there are many ways to fulfill this mitzvah. It can be a listening ear, an encouraging word, or a piece of appropriate advice.

The power of giving good advice hit me yesterday as I was reading an emailed article entitled, “Tips for an Easy Fast”, by Ira Milner, R.D. a registered dietician. Some googling revealed that Mr. Milner wrote an article entitled “Helpful Tips to Insure an Easier Fast” in Jthe ewish Action Reader, Vol. 1. Noble Book Press Corp (New York, 1996). pp.142-5. That article was summarized and posted on the Internet in recent years, so 18 years after the easier fasting advice was originally given, people are still benefiting from it.

Thank you Mr. Milner. For those who have not seen it, here is a recap of the article “Helpful Tips to Insure an Easier Fast” by Ira Milner, R.D.

1) The first source of your discomfort is the body’s need for water. Water is involved in practically every bodily function, and if you provide the body with enough fluids, it will help you function as a whole. So, the day before the fast, remember to drink, drink and DRINK. (When you go from room to room, carry a tall glass of water as a reminder.) Your regular daily intake is supposed to be six to eight 8 oz glasses. The day before a fast, that should be upped to eight to ten glasses. (Do the math: That means one glass every hour between 9:00 am and 6:00 pm.) Warning: Although you may think cola, coffee and tea also supply water, the diuretic properties of caffeine make those beverages inadvisable. Remember also that most fruit are more than 80% water, and vegetables are from 70-95% water.

2) Decrease protein. Protein attracts water, and too much of it can leach water from body tissues. In extreme cases, dehydration could result from consuming too much protein because the extra protein pulls out water that is later needed to remove the waste products from the body.

3) Increase Starch and Fiber. Simple carbohydrates (chocolate bars and candies) are sugars. Complex carbohydrates (whole grain breads and cereals, pasta, potatoes and legumes) are starch and dietary fibers. Although during digestion both break down into glucose, complex carbohydrates take longer to break down, and help ease the pangs of a fact. (Think of what the marathon runners eat the night before their run.)

4) Decrease salt, spices and fried foods. What happens in your body when you eat them? Your blood level of sodium rises. This stimulates the brain’s thirst receptor, which triggers the thirst sensation. In addition, since water is required to remove salt from the body, it further increases the body’s need for water.

5) Avoid caffeine. If you regularly drink more than two to three cups of coffee per day, taper off several days before. Although technically caffeine is not addictive, the body becomes accustomed to its stimulant effect, and suddenly abstaining from it will inevitably produce the ‘withdrawal headache’.

6) Two other ways to minimize water loss the day before a fast: Don’t exert yourself too much and stay out of the sun.

So what is your meal before a fast? Chicken soup, roast beef, and a tall glass of cola? That’s a no-no-no. Here’s a suggestion:
Whole grain challah
Plain pasta
Baked potato
Steamed vegetables or tossed salad
Fresh fruit
Lots of plain water

Wishing an easy & meaningful fast. May all our prayers be answered.

The Tefilla Gathering and Going Beyond Ultra

I went to the Tefilla Gathering on Sunday in the Wall Street area. It was a tremendous Kiddush Hashem as 40,000 Jews gathered peacefully to pray. The next day a friend emailed me this Voz Iz Neias link with my picture and the following caption:
Ultra Orthodox men in downtown Manhattan protesting the plan to require the ultra-Orthodox to serve in the army. The Atzeres Tefillah was attended by thousands form across the tri-state region.

There were a few problems with the caption:
1) There’s a misspelling in it.
2) I wasn’t there to protest, but rather because I understood this as a prayer gathering for a better resolution of the problems facing the Jewish people in Israel, specifically in regard to the draft issue. That’s how my Rav framed it.
3) Coming from an Orthodox publication, I probably did not fit in to their understanding of the word Ultra.

But then I thought a little more about the definition of Ultra. If it means people who believe in the primacy of Torah as the guiding force in our lives and our communities, then I’m definitely Ultra. And the Ultra (primacy of Torah) label also fits a lot of Rebbeim I have had the pleasure to learn from and grow with, who were educated in Yeshiva University and other Modern Orthodox yeshivos.

In todays parlance Ultra is a dividing word, but just beyond the term is the uniting concept of Torah defining and driving our collective lives. We certainly need to discuss potential solutions to problems that exist in our communities, but when we are Torah centered we can remain united in our search for solutions.

Shabbos … the Great Unifying Principle

Vayakhel 5774-An installment in the series of adaptations
From the Waters of the Shiloah: Plumbing the Depths of the Izhbitzer School
For series introduction CLICK
By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz-Mara D’Asra Cong Sfard of Midwood

Moshe gathered the entire assemblage of the Bnei Yisrael , and said unto them: ‘These are the words which HaShem has commanded, that you should do them. Six days creative activities shall be done, but the seventh day t shall be holy day for you, sabbath; a day of complete respite for HaShem. Whoever actively creates in it shall be put to death.

-Shemos 35:1,2

And let every wise-hearted person among you come, and make all that HaShem has commanded. The Mishkan-tabernacle, its tent, and its covering, its hooks, its vertical boards, its bars, its pillars, and its sockets. The Ark etc.

-Shemos 35:10-12

 All that is called by My Name, and whom I have created for My glory, I have formed him and even made him.’

– Yeshyaya 43:7

 Rav Yehudah said in the name of Rav: Betzalel [principal artisan of the Mishkan] knew how to bond and combine the letters through which heaven and earth were created.

-Brachos 55A

How did Moshe gather everyone together, and forge them into a unit? Why is the commandment of building the Mishkan preceded by the commandment of Shabbos?

The Maharal of Prague explains that anavah-humility, is rooted in pashtus-generic simplicity and the lack of any specialty. There is a certain infinite quality to simplicities non-delineation. Simplicity specializes in nothing in particular and so; can be everything at once. Committed to nothing, simplicity enjoys infinite possibilities. This is how the Maharal explains the hanhagah Elyonah-Divine administration of the cosmos, expressed in the theological concept of “Wherever one discerns the Holy blessed One’s Might and Greatness there one will find His Humility.” (Megillah 31A) The Humility/ Simplicity IS the Greatness/ Infinity. Considered more deeply, this is the basis of monotheism. It is the Divine “property” (for lack of a better word, for this word implies specialization, chiseled-definition and constraining lines as well) of anavah that “makes” HaShem k’vyachol-as it were, both the undivided “One” and the encompassing “All.”

The roots of human ga’avah-ego and egotism, lie in the self-perception of individuality and specialization. That which we specialize in is what makes us salient and exceptional. “I am what YOU are not. I am capable of what you are incapable of, or, if your are capable of the same, I can do it better than you can.”  We are proud of what sets us apart and so; what separates and divides us is our pride. As any manager will tell you, a major part of teamwork is the surrender of ego.  There is nothing more ego-deflating than to feel that one is a fungible, interchangeable part in a larger entity, a mere cog in the machine. But for collective entities to coalesce and integrate the balloons of ego must first be deflated.

The Izhbitzer explains that when a craftsman works to produce something it is intrinsically a distinctive, one of a kind item.  Produced by his own individual mix of perceptions, tastes and faculties; it is as unique to him as his fingerprints and the antithesis of a mass-produced article.  As our sages expounded “just as their faces are dissimilar so too are their attitudes and perceptions (deos) divergent.”(Midrash Tanchumah-Pinchos) This is true even in as rarified and superhuman a “craft” as prophecy. As Chazal taught “No two nevi’im-prophets prophesize in the same style.”(Sanhedrin 89)

Logically, custom-made items should not be able to dovetail or interlock. Yet;  although the Mishkan was fabricated by individual craftspeople, each proud of their own unique talents and style, the individual components that they crafted were stitched, hooked, inserted in sockets, ringed or staved together to form a seamless whole. Oblivious to it at the time they plied their supposedly unique, inimitable specialties; they all conformed to the precise specs of a master plan. The Mishkan reduced one-of-a-kind artists to molds and die casts in a mass production assembly-line. When the Mishkan was complete and all could see how harmoniously everything fit together this observation raised their consciousness of the siyatta diShmaya-the Divine assistance that worked It’s Will through them.

They experienced a collective epiphany that it was HaShem, not they, who had actually built the Mishkan.  They came to realize that they were no more than the proverbial garzan b’yad hachotzeiv– the ax in the hands of the lumberjack. The ax is an integrated implement uniting blade, handle and the pegs that bind them.  Even if the ax was composed of sentient beings the blade could still not lord it over the handle or the pegs for none could accomplish their task or fulfill their role without the others. Moreover, even when their tree-felling missions are accomplished , the humbling realization that “axes don’t  fell trees … lumberjacks do” would unite them in their true, cooperative, integrated identity as the lumberjacks implement, rather than as free-lancers working on their own.

The Izhbitzer asserts that Shabbos is the key to this awareness.  The Shabbos concept lies at the core of every mitzvah performed l’shemShamayim –purely for HaShem’s sake with no ulterior motives whatsoever. He goes so far as to say that they are synonymous, that intent l’shemShamayim IS Shabbos by another name. I’ll attempt to offer a possible explanation for the Izhbitzer’s enigmatic axiom.

The Midrash teaches that the Divine Will for creation is described as nisaveh lo dirah b’tachtonim –He yearned for an abode amidst the lower spheres. (Tanchumah Naso 16) This seems odd. HaShem is transcendent, Existing outside of time in non-chronological terms; so how can any given time play host to HaShem? HaShem is omnipresent, Existing outside of place in non-spacial terms; so much so that Chazal tell us that HaShem is nicknamed HaMakom-The Place, because “He is the Place of the cosmos, the cosmos is not His place” (Bereishis Rabbah 68) so how can any given location serve as His abode? Yet … we also know that kedushas haz’man and kedushas hamakom – sanctified time and space are real, not delusions. HaShem’s dwelling place within the lower sphere of time is Shabbos. He ceased creating on the seventh day for His Will, that all of creation declare His Glory, had been done.

When, in perhaps the ultimate act of halicha b’drachav- imitatio dei, shomrei Shabbos cease their creative activity, they bear witness to the veracity of the Torah’s Genesis narrative. More than that, they bear witness that the creative activity of Genesis could cease because the goal of creation had been achieved. HaShem had his abode in the lower spheres in a cosmos in which every infinitesimal component part, and the grand macrocosmic whole that is greater than the sum of its parts, declare His glory.  And so, every mitzvah performed l’shemShamayim, for HaShem’s Will and Glory alone, is yet another iteration of Shabbos; the accommodating time in the hospitable place in the lower spheres that provide HaShem k’vyachol, with a glorifying abode.

How did Moshe congregate everyone?  How did he instill unifying humility in the hearts and minds of the formerly prideful, specializing craftspeople who, collectively, built the Mishkan for the Shechinah-HaShems Divine Indwelling? By first commanding them to observe Shabbos and by making the Shabbos concept clear to them.

Just as HaShem did not bless and sanctify the seventh day until all the work was done, until the cosmos was complete and perfect so too He would not allow His Shechinah into the Mishkan until it was complete and perfect. Had one peg anchoring the curtains of the Mishkan’s courtyard been missing or not engineered according to specs, the Divine Indwelling would have remained in the upper spheres. How then could the fabricator of the aron habris-the Ark of the Covenant have felt superior to the peg maker?  One and all the artisans and craftspeople had been an implement, the ax wielded by the Divine Lumberjack.

 ~adapted from Mei HaShiloach Vayakhel D”H Vayakhel
Nesivos Olam-Nesiv Anavah 1

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If you Really Want Unity, Stop Sleeping!

Yisro 5774-An installment in the series of adaptations
From the Waters of the Shiloah: Plumbing the Depths of the Izhbitzer School
For series introduction CLICK
By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz-Mara D’Asra Cong Sfard of Midwood

… and Israel camped there opposite the mountain

-Shemos 19:2

 וַיִחַן[the singular form, the pasuk does not say that the Israelites camped there. This indicates that they camped there] “as one man with one heart”, but all the other encampments were [on bad terms] with complaints and strife. — [from Mechilta]

-Rashi ibid

I am HaShem your Elokim who brought you out of Mitzrayim, from the place of slavery.

-Shemos 20:2

Sleep is one 60th of death.

-B’rachos 57B

Many meforshim commentaries address this question: why is HaShem’s calling card in the 10 commandments so provincial?  Why does He introduce Himself as “the One who brought you out of Egypt” rather than as “the One Who created the cosmos”?

Conventional wisdom views sleep as, at worst, a benign activity.  When sleeping we recharge our batteries, no more and no less. But the Izhbitzer school takes a much less sanguine approach to slumber than we do.

The Bais Yaakov, the second Izhbitzer, explains that that when one is asleep there is a kind of disintegration and dissolution at work.  It is only the wakeful, conscious mind that integrates a human being into an organic whole.  Under the sovereign direction of the mind and soul all of the body’s organs, limbs and digits work towards the attainment of the common goals that are mutually beneficial to the person as a whole.

Asleep and in a horizontal position the human head is on the same plane and level as all the other limbs and organs of his body.  This is true both literally and metaphorically.  The position of the recumbent sleeper is that of the proverbial level playing field.  It is an egalitarian posture in which no one member of the body has any pre-eminence or dominance over any other.

Then, the soul begins to stir the body into wakefulness and the human being transitions from a horizontal position to a vertical one.  The life-giving soul stands the person up and, by doing so, establishes a hierarchy (a shiur komah) in which the feet scrape the floor and the head, containing the mind and soul, is at the very top of the pecking order.

Our sages teach us that we don’t wake up merely because, when our batteries are fully recharged, so to speak, we are “done” sleeping. Instead it is because our souls, mostly absent during slumber, have been restored to our bodies.  This concept underpins the first words we utter upon waking “I admit to You, O living and eternal King that You have compassionately returned my soul within me, Your trustworthiness is abundant” and the morning blessing that is part of our daily liturgy that begins with the phrase “my L-rd, the soul that You put into me is pure etc.” It is only when we are awake and vertical that our diverse limbs, organs and faculties become truly incorporated into a united whole.

In stark contrast; death does not merely render the body inert and motionless. Death initiates the dissolution of the human being.  In death, anatomical connections begin loosening and the body breaks apart. The teaching of our sages can now be understood to mean that the disintegration of sleep is 1/60 of the decomposition, and utter disintegration, of death.

The unity that K’lal Yisrael   the Jewish People, achieved prior to the Revelation at Sinai was more than preparatory, it was anticipatory. As HaShem’s Shechinah Divine Indwelling, began shining forth from Sinai, it was the macro-soul beginning to enter the slumbering body of K’lal Yisrael that blended the various tribes and the conflicting interest groups of Israel into an integrated organism “as one man with one heart.” A plural, multiplicity of “Israelites” fused together to become “Israel” in the singular.

Rav Gershon Henoch, the Radzyner Rebbe spells out his father’s Torah more explicitly:

The aseres hadibros are most commonly translated as the 10 commandments.  However this translation is both literally and factually inaccurate.  The translation is erroneous on a literal level, because dibros, a plural form of dibur, translates as “sayings” or “pronouncements.”  Factually imprecise, because only the last nine dibros are expressed as  mitzvos-commands, the first one is not.  The opening of the Decalogue is a statement of fact, a presentation of credentials, as it were.

On the macrocosmic level the head and soul of the cosmos is HaShem Himself.  The Radzyner explains that it was K’lal Yisrael ‘s clear, expanded consciousness of HaShem’s Oneness and Omnipresence, that nothing and no one but He truly exists – ein od m’Lvado, that exerted an irresistible tug on them to follow the Head, the Mind and the Soul and, as such, to coalesce and form an organic whole.  With this clarity of G-d consciousness a command to believe in G-d was not only unnecessary, it was inconceivable.  It would have been as if a person’s two legs began walking in opposite directions or if his respiratory system began hyperventilating without any physical exertion and the mind would suddenly need to verbalize a command saying “hey YOU pay attention, I’m in charge here!

This explains why the first of the aseres hadibros ends with the limited “the One who took you out of Egypt” rather than with the universal “the One Who created the cosmos.” For if HaShem is the Omnipresent Soul that animates everything and all, what is it that is unique about K’lal Yisrael in particular?  The answer to this question is contained in the exodus experience.  The letters that spell the word Egypt, Mitzrayim, also spell the word constraints, metzarim.

When HaShem brought K’lal Yisrael out of Egypt He was also unshackling them of all the narrow-minded constraints that conceal and camouflage His control and management of the cosmos.  The balance of humanity was never liberated from these.  HaShem’s control and management of the cosmos is beyond their comprehension.  When “introducing” Himself to, and into, K’lal Yisrael HaShem informs them that it is only because I brought you, in particular, out of Mitzrayim /metzarim that you were uniquely capable of integrating and uniting to sense my Divinity, the Mind and Soul that directs and animates all.

There is a minhag Yisrael kedoshim   Jewish custom, of staying awake throughout the first night of Shavuos.  The Magen Avraham494 bases this minhag on the midrash that says that the Jews “overslept” the Revelation at Sinai and that kivyachol  so to speak, HaShem had to awaken them. We stay awake in order to be metaken  put right, the negativity generated by those who overslept.

I would add that the Izhbitzer insight adds richness and complexity to this custom. Oversleeping the Revelation was much worse than a breach of etiquette or an extremely poorly timed  slothful self-indulgence. It was antithetical to the entire experience and to the first of the dibros in particular. At the foot of Mount Sinai, organic unity for K’lal Yisrael was both the prerequisite for, and the direct response to, HaShems Revelation. The souls (re HaShems) return to the body (re K’lal Yisrael ) requires one that is awake, alert and able to coalesce and integrate, not one that is disintegrated through death-like slumber.

~adapted from Bais Yaakov Yisro 40 (pp113B, 114A)
Sefer Hazmanim , First Day Shavuos 5643 D”H Vayeechan page 61

Understanding and Accepting Different Types of Jews

I grew up in a “conservative” home where we kept kosher in the house, and ate treif out. We went to temple on Saturday morning and to the beach or the mall on Saturday afternoon. Like many a reformed smoker, when I became Shomer Shabbat I quickly became intolerant of that which I left behind. As I moved up the ranks of orthodoxy, becoming more careful in my mitzvah observance, I was becoming intolerant of those who were less observant.

I would silently question: Why does he dress like that in shul? Why doesn’t he go to minyan? Why doesn’t she cover her hair? Like the quintessentially egocentric highway driver, everyone else was either driving too slow or too fast, only I was driving at the right speed!

With the passage of time, added maturity, a little wisdom, and some hard life experiences I’ve come to see how foolish I was. We have absolutely no idea of either the entire picture of person’s life or what metric G-d uses to judge us.

The glimpse we see of other people is merely a few frames of a multi-million-frame movie. And even were we to view the whole movie we’d have no idea how to “review” it.

Moving to Israel has crystallized this outlook even more. Here, people are very neatly divided up as either “Chilonim” (non-religious) or “Daatiim” (religious). But there’s nothing “neat” about it. Here are just a few examples:

– It’s not uncommon to see a scantily clad women sitting on a bus reading from a well-worn sefer tehillim with kavanah that you’d expect from the greatest sage.
– When my wife recently offered my, apparently, chiloni workers some milk for their coffee they said they can’t have any because they are “basari” (fleishig).
– My ulpan teacher knows tanach better than the vast majority of FFB yeshiva kids in America!

Of course more fundamentally, we have no idea what kind of merit accrues to these “chilonim” for living here, building this miraculous country, and risking their lives to defend us all.

In our shul this past Friday after mincha we said tehillim as a refuah for Ariel Sharon. One person walked out and several people gave the Rabbi a really hard time about it. Even though the rabbi was strongly against the disengagement from Gaza, he was unapologetic. First he said, Sharon is a Jew and we have an obligation to pray for him. Then he added that Sharon, this Chiloni head of state, has “Z’chuyot Ein Kamohu”. (He has merits like no one else.)

I think we need to treat everyone as if he has Z’chuyot Ein Kamohu and leave it to G-d to do the actual tally.

Originally Posted on January 11, 2006

Rabbi Mayer Schiller on Orthodox Achdus – mp3

With his penetrating insight, Rabbi Schiller gets to the heart of the question of Orthodox Achdus.

It’s worth a listen (or a repeat) in our troubling times.

You can listen and download here. (To download the audio file to your computer, click with the right mouse button on the link and select Save Target As. To play it, just click on the link.)

Learning to Get Along with People of Wildly Different Persuasions

By Zev Gotkin

There is a lot of talk these days in the media about ‘polarization,’ especially within the context of politics. Often it seems as if being a ‘moderate’ is going out of style. Being labeled a centrist is to be seen as ‘wishy-washy’ or indecisive. Perhaps going to extremes makes people happy, because it means they don’t have to do too much thinking. When you see everything in black and white, you don’t have to worry about the shades of gray. I conjecture that this mentality is (and always has been) the reason behind why many exclusively hang around those who share their views and opinions. Dialogue poses a threat…especially to the insecure individual. Can we be friends with those who hold opinions and world-views that dramatically differ from ours? I venture to say that it is possible.

I remember when a few years ago that attention-loving, political pundit Ann Coulter made a comment on national television that Jewish people are “im-perfected Christians.” According to Ms. Coulter we Jews are ‘almost there.’ We just need to accept the man on the cross and salvation is ours. Even though Ms. Coulter wasn’t really saying anything new or original, but echoing the sentiments of Christianity since its inception, her statement caused quite the media storm. Naturally this not only offended many in the Jewish community, but rapidly became a subject of much discussion and derisive comments in the media. It is understandable why her comment shocked polite company as it recalled centuries of persecution Jews suffered at the hands of the Church and Christian regimes. However, if one is familiar with Christian teachings which clearly state that a person needs to have faith in Jesus being divine and/or the Messiah in order to attain salvation, one can almost see Ms. Coulter’s remark as her way of delivering a compliment to the Jewish people – if not a back-handed one.

At the time of this controversy a Jewish friend angrily told me how a mutual Catholic friend of ours told him point-blank that he agrees with Ms. Coulter. I privately took our Catholic friend aside and questioned him about it. “Do you believe I am going to Hell?” I asked. He stammered and sputtered before admitting that yes, he did in fact believe that I was destined for the underworld in accordance with Catholic doctrine. Of course it is hard to tell if this is in fact reflective of Catholic doctrine today as the Church’s position on this matter has done a bit of flip-flopping as of late, but you may wonder whether or not I became angry or upset with my Catholic friend.

The answer is no. I was not offended. This is my friend’s sincere religious belief and as long as he is not proselytizing me or trying to impose his religious views upon me, I can respect it. I actually like to occasionally discuss religion with this particular friend. As an observant Jew I feel I often see eye-to-eye more often with religious people of other faiths than I do with many Jews. My Catholic friend and I share many common values even if our theologies radically differ. I respect him the same way I would hope many of other religious or no religious affiliations would respect me.

Orthodox Jews have some customs and beliefs that seem strange to other people. I myself having become orthodox in my early twenties after having grown up in a secular Jewish home can understand why someone might find many aspects of Orthodox Judaism strange. While I seriously doubt I could be friends with someone who passionately hates Judaism and/or the Jewish people (I doubt they’d want to be my friend either), I don’t see a conflict between living in accordance with Torah and associating with those who do not share many of my values or points of view. In fact Judaism teaches that one does not need to be Jewish to be a good person or get to Heaven. The Torah teaches that a non-Jew who is an honest and ethical person and believes in the Creator will actually earn a share in the World-to-Come.

What about secular Jews? Surely, those heathens are going to Jew-Hell, right? Wrong. First of all while Judaism does have a concept of Hell known as Gehinnom, it is believed to be a temporary rest-stop to get the stains out of our souls before being moved into a blissful existence. We do not believe in eternal damnation (except for a select few, horrible individuals). Furthermore, most secular Jews today are not considered heretics by contemporary rabbinic authorities. Most Jews simply do not know enough about their religion to actively rebel against it and are therefore not liable to punishment. In fact even many Jews who grew up religious and abandoned it don’t usually go ‘off the path’ out of pure rebellion, but due to family problems or negative experiences in school.

Those of us who consider ourselves observant Jews must treat those Jews who self-identify as secularor non-orthodox with loving kindness in accordance with the dictum of our Sages that “all Jews are responsible for one another” (Shavuos 39a). Our Sages also teach that “all Israel have a share in the World to Come”(Sanhedrin 11:1). Furthermore, Chassidic philosophy and Kaballa explain that all Jewish souls emanate from the same root in G-dliness. Plenty of my friends and family members are secular and some are even anti-religious or hostile toward my way of life. The best thing we observant Jews can do is increase Ahavas Yisrael (love of one’s fellow), answer questions that are posed to us sensitively and honestly, and remember to love the person even if we vehemently dislike what the person says or does. This is not always easy and I don’t pretend to be flawless in this arena, but if we want to perfect the world and bring the Final Redemption it would be prudent to do our best.

Our Sages teach that we lost the Holy Temple due to senseless hatred between Jews. With senseless love we will rebuild it. Even though we can disagree and get into heated discussions about various topics we must work hard to make sure it doesn’t get personal and if it does to quickly apologize and make peace. It doesn’t matter who ‘started it.’ During the Three Weeks when Jews traditionally mourn the destruction of the Holy Temple we should make an extra concerted effort to ponder these ideas and put them into practice.

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.

Achdus in the Midst of Tragedy

Everyone’s minds and hearts are still with the Kletsky family. How can one absorb such a terrible, brutal and senseless crime commited by another member of our community?

How could G-d let a thing like this happen to a young innocent child?

That is a question that we cannot deign to answer but what be important is to consider not one crazed murderer but the thousands of Jews from Boro Park and beyond who turned out to search for Leiby and the thousands more in hidden corners of the globe quietly shedding tears over their tehillim books.

The story reminds me of a story Rabbi Eliezer Silver witnessed shortly after the concentration camps were liberated in 1945. It seems that there was a Jew who had a pair of tefillin and he made a neat profit charging his fellow survivors to use the tefillin to daven with. “How awful, “said one of the survivors. “A Jew charging his fellow Jews to put on tefillin. “Yes,” said Rav Silver but don’t think of the Jew who is charging, think of the dozens of others who are prepared to pay the price.

And so it should be with us. The Boro Park community showed all of New York City and in fact the entire world the depth of our caring. In a city where murder is commonplace we showed the world that we the Jews still place ultimate value on one Jewish life and that is a Kiddush Hashem of the Highest Order.

We have much reason to be proud.

21 Days of Ahavas Yisroel

There is a site called 21 days of Ahavas Yisroel which is a great idea for this time of year.

Here is the description (with permission) from their home page:

This time of year is traditionally one of mourning for the Jewish people. Starting on 17th of Tammuz (July 19) and culminating on the 9th of Av (August 9), this period commemorates the destruction of the second Temple and the end of the Jewish sovereignty some 2000 years ago.

Since that time we have lived in exile, moving from one country to another, often being openly despised and hated by our host nations. What was it that brought the nation of Israel to such a lowly state for so many centuries? Our sages tell us it was ‘Sinas Chinam,’ or senseless hatred, of one another.

What better reaction can we have than to make these days a time when we focus on acts of senseless love of all Jews, regardless of any difference we may have.

Each day during the Three Weeks we will post a different story of Ahavas Yisroel. The hope is that these stories will inspire us to to strengthen our own efforts in this area.

Send us your stories! Tell us any incident of how you succeeded in the mitzvah (good deed) of Ahavas Yisroel (loving Jews), no matter how small. Together, one small step at a time, we can change the world

Unity in Diversity in Ramat Beit Shemesh

In the US, and I suspect in other Jewish areas such as England as well, the Jewish community in any given area tends to be rather monolithic. For example in New Jersey, Passaic is Litivish Ultra-Orthodox, so is Lakewood. Morristown is Chabad. Monsey (ok, NY but just outside of NJ) is majority chassidic, some parts of town pretty exclusively one chassidic type or another – other parts a mixed bag. Teaneck, Elizabeth, and West Orange.

Yet I up and moved to Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel. For those who don’t know, Ramat Beit Shemesh has become, outside of Jerusalem, the premier destination for people moving to Israel from English speaking countries. (And there’s a nice contingent of French speakers there also.)

While Jerusalem somewhat follows the standard monolithic pattern above (again just substitute in neighborhood names to find the chassidic neighborhoods, the Litvish, modern orthodox, sephardic, etc), Ramat Beit Shemesh tries to perform the same exercise on a single street or two at a time. This leads to a level of intermingling that other areas lack.

Walk across the street and go from a more modern area to a litvish area. Another street and it’s chassidic. As an example, on my nearby street corner there’s a litvish shul, a mizrachi (modern-ish) shul, a sephardi shul, and a Chabad shul. There’s even a street of non-religious Jews that drive, slowly and carefully, in and out of the neighborhood on Shabbos.

Ok, people aren’t davening together on Shabbos – everyone has their preferred nusach, Shabbos songs, siddur, etc. But when walking down the street the guy in the shtreimel and gold stripped long coat (Jerusalem bekeshe) says Good Shabbos to the guy in the suite and tie.

Achdus, unity, isn’t becoming the same. It’s respecting each other. And in Ramat Beit Shemesh, that’s a good point.

(For some Torah from Ramat Beit Shemesh, check out Yesh Ma L’asot’s Emunah Institute at http://YeshMaLasot.org )

Akiva blogs at Mystical Paths.

A Glimpse of Redemption

By Michael Freund

This past Tuesday night, at the Western Wall plaza in Jerusalem, I think I may have witnessed a foretaste of the Messianic era.

It was the eve of Yom Yerushalayim, the day marking the liberation and reunification of Jerusalem during the 1967 Six Day War, when young Jewish paratroopers armed as much with faith as with firearms stormed through the enemy’s positions and unshackled the Temple Mount from nearly two millennia of incarceration under foreign control.

From across the country, thousands of Israelis streamed into the square in front of the Wall, anxious to commemorate the 43rd anniversary of this historic event and to bask in the aura of this holy place.

Some wore jeans, others wore dark suits or black caftans. But whatever their choice of outer attire, all were drawn to this spot for the same inner reason: to affirm our indestructible bond to Jewish history as well as our unshakeable faith in Jewish destiny.

The Wall stood there in all its grandeur and I could only marvel at the thought of all the despair and dreams, the hopes and the horrors that it must have beheld over the course of the centuries.

Indeed, the jagged grooves and soft cool crevices in the Wall seem to have been chiseled not by the hands of ancient workmen, but by the generations of tears that surely streamed down its façade.

But on this very special night, the massive stones would shine with sheer delight, as a remarkable and uplifting scene rapidly unfolded.

A large group of yeshiva students hailing from the Maarava high school near Modi’in swayed back and forth, deeply ensconced in the evening prayers with their black hats deftly perched atop their heads and dress jackets clinging tenaciously to their shoulders.

At the conclusion of the service, they began to sing, forming a series of concentric circles which slowly shuffled about, revolving in loop-like fashion with solemn intensity.

Nearby, a crowd of students from the capital’s religious-Zionist Horev school made their way towards the Wall, and the contrast between the two could not have been more striking.

With their knitted kipot and sandals, and slightly disheveled teenage look, the Horev boys looked ever so informal. They proudly sported white T-shirts with slogans on the back in Hebrew that said, “there is no Zionism without Zion”, and they were aflame with patriotic fervor.

The Maarava students, by contrast, projected formality and reserve, with their dress shoes, white button-down shirts and dark slacks conveying a seriousness of purpose and resolve.

And then, it happened.

As if by some unexplainable force, the two groups were drawn together. Enlarging the circles and joining hands, they proceeded to dance, and sing, and celebrate in unison.

All the ideological and theological disagreements, all the politics and mutual suspicion were cast aside, as the young scholars of Horev and Maarava joined arms – literally and figuratively – to thank G-d and rejoice in Jerusalem.

Faster and faster they went, picking up speed with each circuit, as their voices rose in a thunderous crescendo. “May this be an hour of mercy,” they pleaded with the Creator, “and a moment of acceptance before You”, as the seemingly myriad schisms that routinely divide our people melted away in the heat of Jewish harmony.

Onlookers stared in amazement at this scene, as Haredim and Religious Zionists, “black hats” and “knitted yarmulkes”, held onto each other firmly and with a familial grip, revealing the brotherly instinct that lay within.

Suddenly, the circles converged, enveloping two men at their center: Rabbi Baruch Chait, the founder of Maarava, and Rabbi Yitzhak Dor, the Rosh Yeshiva of Horev.

They reached across the divide, and toward one another, and started dancing with all the passion and zeal of two young grooms on their wedding day.

Their faces ablaze with joy, these two spiritual teachers gave all those present a tangible lesson in Jewish unity.

Inspired by the scene, their students began chanting a paraphrase of the words traditionally recited in the Sabbath Mussaf prayers by Sephardim: “Together, together, all of them together, shall thrice repeat with one accord the holy praise unto Thee”, with a clear and very vocal emphasis on the word “together”.

The purity of the moment was overwhelming, and I have no doubt that G-d looked down from Heaven like a proud Father enjoying the sight of His children bonding collectively in one accord.

Herein lies one of Jerusalem’s greatest and most intimate of secrets: its ability to unite Jews from across the widest of spectrums.

In just a few years from now, the bulk of those Horev students will be donning green uniforms and taking up arms to defend the state, while many of those in Maarava devote themselves to the study of our people’s ancient texts.

They will vote for different parties, live in different communities, and largely refrain from marrying into one another’s families.

But for a brief instant this past Tuesday, all that seemed very remote.

At the sight of such overwhelming Jewish fraternity, I was sure that the long-awaited Redeemer was about to arrive. Senseless love took the place of senseless hatred beneath the silhouette of where our Temple once stood.

Yet there was no sounding of the great Shofar that night, nor did the Messiah abruptly appear. The dancing eventually faded out, and people inevitably went home, going their separate ways.

But that evening, I am certain, I caught a powerful glimpse of our redemption, when all Jews will unite to serve G-d and embrace one another as brothers.

If we could just translate that moment from passing to permanent, if we could simply gaze beyond all the disparities. Then, perhaps, that glimpse just might finally become transformed into the enduring fixture we all long to see.

Originally posted in The Jerusalem Post, May 13, 2010

Recognizing the Greatness of a Small Act of Kindness

I’m not exactly sure why I was so struck by this act.

There are many times when we play the equivalent of musical chairs at Mincha. We’re all listening to the Chazzan repeat the Shmoneh Esrai and then it’s time to put our heads down for Tachanun, the next part of the prayer service. And often we find there are more men then chairs and somebody is left without a chair and has to improvise by putting his head on his arm standing up or waiting for a chair.

At the Yeshiva, where I usually daven Mincha, the guys will often give up their chair. But today it seemed different. The young man didn’t know me and the chair was right next to him and a short distance from me. But when it was time to say Tachanun he motioned for me to take the chair. I signaled that he should go first and I would use it afterwords and that’s what we did.

After davening I followed him out of shul and introduced myself and asked him his name. I told him his small gesture was an Act of Geulah, an Act of Redemption. When I related the story to my son, he said I shouldn’t have said anything. But the young man seemed to appreciate my appreciation and we went our separate ways.

From one point of view, what’s the big deal. I’m sure the majority of readers of Beyond BT would have done and probably have done this or something similar. And people have certainly done many small acts of kindness for me which I didn’t acknowledge in this way. But for some reason this act created a connection, and perhaps it wasn’t so much the act, but the recognition of it. I was able to put aside my own preoccupations and see the greatness of this fellow Jew doing the right thing and in the process create a bond between us.

There are three laws of Ahavas Yisroel
1) Speak well of your fellow Jew
2) Respect your fellow Jew
3) Care about their material and physical needs

The reason I’m relating this small story is because it showed me the power of Ahavas Yisroel and how it is the key to redemption. We have so many opportunities every day to fulfill this mitzvah and in the process become greater, not just because we did the mitzvah, but because we have created a bond and helped to add another brick to the building of a greater Klal Yisroel.

Morning Machsom L’Fi – No Loshon Hora from 9:00 Am – to 10:00 Am Each Day

In the Tisha B’Av videos yesterday, the Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation (CCHF) announced the start of a World Wide Machsom L’Fi program where people would accept upon themselves not to speak Loshon Hara from 9:00 AM – 10:00 AM each day.

As the CCHF site explains over here:

One of the prime benefits of participating in a Machsom L’Fi is the opportunity to conquer loshon hora in manageable steps.

Once a person sees that he or she can refrain for an hour or two, it becomes easier to maintain self-control and awareness throughout the day.

“The yetzer hara’s most effective argument against working on Shmiras Haloshon is to convince us that it’s impossible to succeed,” says the program’s coordinator. “Machsom L’Fi defeats that argument, showing people that they can do it. This gives them confidence to continue building upon the success they experience.”

“Just as the sunrise seems to travel across the world, now there will be another special light—the light that comes from achdus and shalom— moving across the globe every day, reaching one time zone after another, one Jewish community after another,” says one of the program’s organizers.

“The image is amazing.
The reality can be even more amazing.”

To join you can just accept not to speak Lashon Hora from 9:00 am to 10:00 am each day or you can sign up for a daily email or phone call reminder over here.

On Disabling the “Frumkeit-Checker” In My Brain

It’s Shushan Purim, a school vacation day here in the Holy Land and I’m out with my brood at an amusement park. The children are scattered; some on the bumper cars, others on trampolines and I’m at the plastic picnic tables along with the other bored adults, waiting for the kids to tire out or the place to shut down, whichever comes first.

Meanwhile, I’m using my idle moments to people watch pretending to be Marcel Proust sitting in a Parisian sidewalk café, which of course, I’m not.

Most of the other patrons are secular Israelis, but then I see, one of us, a frum young mother cradling a newborn baby in her arms. She’s cute—the mother I mean: one of those rare creatures who combines her Yiddishkeit with an inbred funk. I’ll bet that she has jazz on her CD player and pesto and sundried tomatoes in her fridge and davens where no one winces at the long curls tumbling out of her beret or the fact that her flary skirt stops just above her knees.

She reminds me of a discarded earlier version of myself. I’ve since gotten stodgier, and frummer, taken on borer and bug checking, shatnez and tznius . But somehow in the course spiritual climb, I’ve gotten judgmental. It is almost as if someone managed to install a frumkeit checker in my brain which automatically monitors the madreiga of everyone I encounter.

Ooops , here comes the young mother’s reading —several notches below me ( I could have guessed that) , definitely not Bais Yaacov material, wouldn’t pass through the admissions board in Kiryat Sefer…. a joke, a pseudo-orthodox Jew….. right?
I look at her again. Now I see that she isn’t alone. Along with her baby, she has another companion— a middle aged woman with thinning red hair dressed in black pants. Now, I put the pieces together.

The old woman is her mother and the young mother is one of us, a ba’alat teshuva, someone with the spiritual fine tuning to hear the Torah’s call over the media’s din. And she’s upended her identity, possibly changing her name, her address, her friends, to mend the broken links in the chain of tradition.

I imagine her fighting grueling internecine battles to establish a beachhead of kashrut and Shabbat and family purity—a real heroine.

The truth is that I’m making this up, but I’m making a point. I think I can size her up in a instant, but—let’s be real, I can’t. Who can I size up? What do I know of the young mother’s life or anyone else’s life, for that matter?

So why the frumkeit checker?

A few reasons come up. It’s a kick, albeit an unhealthy one. Righteous indignation is a high. There is a perverse thrill in that irresistible “how dare she” feeling that comes from sneering at someone else’s (especially someone younger and cuter) deficiencies.

And the checker also deflects insecurity, by marginalizing anyone different and potentially threatening and it begs a little question that most of us don’t like to ask—what if she is right and I am wrong. Putting her down changes that subject.

That is great, but it’s got a problem. The problem is that this isn’t the Torah’s approach. According to the Torah, when I encounter someone different what I need to determine is what I can learn from them, how I can use the interaction to grow .

As to the young mother I have no clue as to why her tznius is not quite normatively Halachic but I do know that she (and most everyone else in the place ) is a Jew.

Once upon a time, when a Jew met another Jew he’d call out “Sholom Aleichem Reb Yid.” Hello Mr. Jew, but that is mostly gone today, replaced by the frumkeit checker and it’s accessories, judge mentalism and divisiveness.

I need to find my own “Sholom Aleichem For this woman (and for all Jews) —at least in my heart and to delegate the job of other people’s spiritual repair to the Kiruv Rabbis and G-d.

As soon as I get out of this park, I’ve got Pesach cleaning to do and my first stop will be the hametz in my own head. Disabling that nasty frumkeit checker is a good first step.