Antidote for Baseless Hatred – Part 2 – Loving Your Fellow Jew

Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller was kind enough to allow us to repost this article on Beyond BT during the 3 weeks. For more tapes and articles by Rebbetzin Heller please visit her site.

By Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller

Loving Your Fellow Jew

Now I want to share a completely different idea that relates to the issue of truth. The Torah tells us that in addition to loving truth, searching for truth, and promoting truth, we have to love each other. This should be no problem, of course, because everyone is pro-ahavat Yisrael (loving one’s fellow Jew). The problem is, being pro-ahavat Yisrael doesn’t necessarily mean you do ahavat Yisrael. This is because most of us don’t know the laws of how to love our fellow Jew. One big difference between Christianity and Judaism is that Judaism has halacha. “Halacha” comes from the verb lalechet, to go or walk. You want to reach a certain goal? Here are the steps you have to take.

There are three laws of ahavat Yisrael. The first is that you have to speak well of your fellow Jew—not just not speak ill of him. And what you say has to be true. This means you must choose to focus on what’s true and good in him. You don’t have to mention his name. But you have to have a reason to say what you’re saying. It may feel artificial at first. But when you speak well of someone, you subconsciously align yourself with him, so with time it will feel increasingly natural.

Obviously, you have to be intelligent about whom you speak well of and to whom. The following, for example, will not work: “How fortunate you are that your mother-in-law moved in with you! I’ve always found her to be a font of constructive advice and criticism…” You have to be smart enough to anticipate the reaction, and make sure your praise doesn’t do more harm than good.

The second law of ahavat Yisrael is that you have to be concerned with your fellow Jew’s physical needs. This doesn’t mean giving tzedakah (“charity”)—that’s a different mitzvah. It means that if you see she is hot, open the window. If you see an old lady struggling with her shopping bags, don’t say, “Boy, it’s a shame they don’t deliver after four.” Help her.

Being physically helpful reminds us that we all belong to one club: the club of the “mortals”. When you notice another’s needs, you become aware that she is not so different from you. You both get hot. You both need help carrying heavy things.

In Israel, when tragedy strikes, calls are put out on the emergency network for all volunteers to come to the hospitals. Most volunteers are young, religiously affiliated women ages 18 to 25. They often have nothing practical in common with the victims, many of whom are not religious, older, or younger. But they find themselves becoming part of the people whom they help.

In one terror attack, a whole family was injured, but the children recovered before the parents. Fortunately, neighbors were happy to take them for a while. The problem is, the neighbors were Ashkenazim and the children, who were Sefardim, didn’t like their food. Picture an 11-year-old Moroccan boy bursting into tears when he sees the gefilte fish. The next day a young American volunteer came to me asking, “Do you know anyone who knows how to make couscous?” As different as those children were from her, she became bonded to them through caring for their physical needs.

Speaking well of your fellow Jews and being concerned with their physical well-being are relatively easy. The third law of ahavat Yisrael is the hard one: You have to honor them. Here’s where the “truth” problem raises its head: How can I honor people I disagree with?
The answer is: You can honor them because they’re human. You can honor them because they’re real. You can honor them because of the good you see within them.

Reb Aryeh Levin

A person outstanding in this was Reb Aryeh Levin, who lived in Jerusalem during the British Mandate. He was well-known and loved for the honor he showed every individual. Despite this and his tremendous piety, some people in the community disagreed strongly with him. They felt his tolerance of and compromise with the secular Zionists would ultimately erode religious observance.
In the 1920s, Reb Aryeh became the self-appointed “rabbi of the prisons.” He visited and talked with all kinds of criminals. And they loved him. As time went on, the prisons became full of those the British had imprisoned for Zionist activities. They too loved him.

Why did they love him? There’s a phrase in Mishlei (Proverbs): “One face is the reflection of another face in the water.” You know how this works with babies. Smile at a baby of a few weeks old, and what does it do? It smiles back.

It’s not much different with adults. Once, Reb Aryeh daughter became ill. The diagnosis wasn’t clear and treatment was poor. Things didn’t look good. Reb Aryeh came to the prison on Shabbat as he always did to lead the religious service, and at kriyat haTorah (the Torah reading), he stopped as usual and asked, “Does anyone have anyone they want to pray for?” One of the prisoners said, “Yes—we want to pray for the rabbi’s daughter.” The prisoner began reciting the misheberach, a prayer ending with a pledge to donate tzedakah on behalf of the person one is praying for. The prisoner stopped. He said, “I don’t have money. None of us do. I want to donate time.” He offered a month of his life. The other prisoners followed suit. And they were real. They meant it. They loved him. And that’s because he loved them.

Another famous rabbi in Jerusalem was Rav Amram Blau, a leader of the old, religious yishuv (settlement) community and founder of the Neturei Karta, “Guardians of the Gates.” Rav Blau believed strongly that any inroads of secular Zionism would be the ruin of the yishuv. He would therefore go to extremes in protesting desecration of the Shabbat. He would lie down in the street in the ultra-religious neighborhoods of Geula and Me’ah She’arim and not let traffic go. (The policemen got to know him. They even came to his funeral, where they cried like children because they understood his sincerity.) For his activities, he was imprisoned.

And there was a problem: The prison food wasn’t kosher enough for him, so he wouldn’t eat it. The police wouldn’t let anyone from his community bring him food. The people didn’t know what to do. Finally, they approached Reb Aryeh and said, “You go to the prison every day. Bring him something.” So Reb Aryeh put some food in his jacket pockets and went.

When Reb Aryeh got to Rav Blau’s cell, Rav Blau, instead of gratefully taking the food and thanking him, turned his back. “I don’t want to look at you,” he told Reb Aryeh. “You sympathize with the Zionists.” 99 people out of 100 would have told Rav Blau what they thought of him, taken the food, and gone. But Reb Aryeh put the food down and quietly left.

Uncharacteristically, Reb Aryeh mentioned this to someone. The man was very indignant. “What is this? And he calls himself religious?” Reb Aryeh responded, “Don’t you understand? He wasn’t going to be friendly just because I brought him food. He’s so principled.”

If you want to see the good in another, you can see it, and bond. If you don’t want to see it, you won’t, and you won’t bond.

At one point the British sentenced some people to death. Reb Aryeh actually lay down in front of the British high commissioner’s car to protest. That he was pleading for the life of someone he didn’t necessarily agree with wasn’t relevant to him.

So if you want to love your fellow Jew, you have to learn to find what’s good in him, articulate it, and not be threatened by it.

This can be hard. We say, “Of course I like people. There are just some people I feel closer to than others. For instance, I like people from a cultural background similar to my own.” That eliminates 95% of the population. “And my own age group. I just don’t have what to say to teenagers or old people.” It finally comes down to, “I like people on the same level of religiosity as I and who share my interests…” Meaning, when I look at somebody else, who am I really looking for? Me. Why? Because I know the truth. Remember that problem?

Self-Expansion

Loving others forces you to become a little bit bigger.

Years ago, an American friend of mine made aliyah and moved into a rental apartment in Geula. I asked her how it was. She said, “Israel is great, but we’re going to have to find another place to live.” I asked, “What’s wrong with the apartment?” She said, “It’s not the apartment, it’s the neighbors.” So I asked her—you’re not supposed to do this, by the way, because it’s like an invitation to speak lashon hara (derogatory or potentially harmful speech)—“What’s so terrible about the neighbors?” She said, “Nothing. But I feel like I live alone in the building. They’re all over 70. They don’t read. I have nothing in common with them.”

Shortly thereafter she left and someone else I knew moved into the apartment. I asked her how she liked it. “I love it,” she said. “Really?” I asked. “The apartment’s so nice?” She replied, “The apartment’s okay—what’s wonderful is the neighbors!” I asked, “Oh, did new people move in?” “No,” she said. “They’re elderly Persians who’ve been living there forever.” I was curious to know why she liked them so much.

She told me that across the hall lives an elderly widow. One day she saw her heading down the stairs with a little grocery basket. She asked her, “You’re going to the grocery? What do you need?” The old lady said, “I’m just getting a bag of rice.” My friend said, “Why should you have to go down and up four flights for a bag of rice? I’ll get it for you and you can pay me back.”

Later that afternoon there was a knock on the door. The old lady was there with a plate of cooked rice. My friend looked at it and said, “You know, my rice doesn’t turn out like this.” In America, everybody buys Uncle Ben’s, and it takes effort to ruin Uncle Ben’s. But Israeli rice is real rice—you know, it grows in marshes, it’s real. So the lady said, “Come, I’ll show you how to make rice.” They went into her apartment, and she took out an ancient pot make of thick metal. She said, “First, you put a little oil on the bottom. Then you put in one noodle. When the noodle turns yellow, put in the cup of rice. Then you put in water that’s already boiling, and the salt. You cook it. When it’s done, you turn off the flame, and put a towel on it.” So my friend tried it. And lo and behold, it wasn’t one of those times when her husband would come home, look at the rice, and ask, “What’s for dinner?” Her rice looked like rice.

So she brought some of the rice to the old lady and said, “See, it came out good!” Which led to the old lady taking out her photograph album—and my friend got to see a whole other world: professional photographs taken in Persia, and then later in Israel in the ‘20s. It was the most interesting thing that had happened to her since she came. That led to them invite the old lady for kiddush on Shabbat morning. Which in turn led her to introduce them to her grandson when he was home from the army, which was their first experience talking to a real, live, native-born Israeli (since English speakers tend to form their own little ghettos). My friend concluded, “If I didn’t live in this building, I’d be in my own little world. This lady expanded my universe.”

That’s how we have to learn to feel about people who are different from us.
So let me review. We dislike each other for two reasons: One, we love truth and tend to not believe that other people could have it if their spark of truth is different from our own. Two, we are threatened by other people’s differences, and are often unwilling to expand ourselves. If you want to get past these two limitations, you must learn to speak well about, care materially for, and give honor to your fellow Jew.

Suppose you say to yourself, “Self, this is nice, but it’s too hard. Reb Aryeh Levin is a great guy to read about, but I’m not him. Personally, I like speaking ill of people I don’t like, devoting my time and efforts to my own physical well-being, and validating my own views. Why should I be different?”

I’ll give you some motivation. The most severe sin of all is idol worship. Remember how Avraham (Abraham) broke his father’s idols? (I have to say: As I get older, I feel more and more empathy for Avraham’s father. You know: “I leave the store for fifteen lousy minutes…” Or how other parents might see it: “There he goes, my ultra-religious son!”) The fact is, if you don’t expand yourself, you end up worshiping yourself—and that’s the most damaging form of all idol worship.

Approaches to Judging Favorably

We’re in the midst of the Three Week period leading up to Tisha B’Av and the Avodah (work) of this period is on Bein Adam L’Chaveiro (improving relations between man and his fellow). Here are some short thoughts on how to judge favorably.

Focus on the Overall Good
Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz in Sichos Mussar points out that the Pasuk in Koheles says “There is no Tzaddik who only does good and doesn’t sin”. He takes this a step further and points out that even a positive act has some bad in it, yet nonetheless we can judge the overall act as good. We should try to identify and focus on the positive aspects of the actions people perform and judge there overall acts as positive.

There’s a Part of You in Every Jew
Rabbi Moshe Cordervo in the Tomer Devora describes the level of soul conceptualized as the collective Jewish soul. Every person has a piece of that soul so in reality there is a spiritual piece of every Jew in every other Jew. The mitzvah to love your fellow Jew is really self-love, for one’s fellow Jew is oneself on the collective soul level. As each of us contains a piece of each other’s soul, when my fellow Jew is better off so am I. This framework can help us love our fellow Jew.

Other Peoples Mistakes are More Accidental
In his Iggeres, the Ramban writes “Consider everyone as greater than yourself. If he is wise or rich, you should give him respect. If he is poor and you are richer — or wiser — than he, consider yourself to be more guilty than he, and that he is more worthy than you, since when he sins it is through error, while yours is deliberate and you should know better!” Less observant Jews don’t understand the obligations of the Torah to the degree we do, so relatively, their sins/mistakes are by accident, while ours are done on purpose. Knowing this should help us humble ourselves and judge others more favorably.

The Essence of All People is Good
In the third Bilvavi sefer, the author book points out that our souls are pure and our bodies are just garments. Identifying with our pure souls as opposed to our stained garments is at the root of true self-esteem and enables us to work on removing our stains from a healthy perspective. In the same way we can view ourselves from this aspect of purity, so to we can view our fellow Jews from this perspective. At their root, every Jew has a pure good soul and that is their essence, even when their acts or personalities are negative.

Antidote for Baseless Hatred

We’re in the three weeks and Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller was kind enough to allow us to repost this article on Beyond BT. For more tapes and articles by Rebbetzin Heller please visit her site. To listen or download her mp3s (including a free one about the 17th of Tammuz) please visit the Aish Audio site.

By Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller

I’d like to talk about loving each other freely, and Jewish unity.

An interesting gemara (statement from the Talmud) tells us something we already know: Jews are the most quarrelsome of people. And the talmidei chachamim (Torah scholars) are the most quarrelsome of Jews.

Everyone knows the joke about the island where the man built two synagogues: the one he’ll go too, and the one he won’t set foot in. I’ve been to places like this, where there are several synagogues and none of them has a minyan (quorum). We do this to ourselves. In Israel, if there weren’t a law requiring that every political party have at least somebody voting for it, there’d be 5 billion political parties.

There’s a famous joke that dates from the beginning of the state. President Weissman visited President Truman, and Truman asked him, “So, isn’t it something, being a president?” Weissman replied, “It’s incredibly burdensome.” Truman said, “What do you mean? I’m the president of 186 million Americans. You’re the president of only one million Israelis.” To which Weissman replied, “No, I’m the president of one million presidents.” This is who we, the Jewish people, are.

The Fragmentation of Truth

The Maharal asks why Jews are so divided. He brings a gemara that lists many predictions about the world before Mashiach (the Messiah) comes. One is: “Truth will be absent from the world.” The word for absent is nehederet, which Rashi (the foremost medieval commentator) explains comes from the word eder, flock. Before Mashiach comes, truth will be such that every group is like a little flock. And within each flock will be sub-flocks. The fragmentation will be enormous.
The reason for this, the Maharal explains, is that to Jews, truth is very significant. We can’t be laid-back and say, “You have your truth; I have my truth; they’re both true.” It doesn’t sit right with us.
At the same time, we each have our own individual access to truth—and this is what divides us. What do I mean by “access to truth”?
There’s a gemara that says that when G-d created the world, He conferred with all His attributes. He asked Kindness, “Should I create the world?’” Kindness said go for it. Then He asked Justice. Justice was much more equivocal.
Then He asked Truth. If you were Truth, what would you say? “Forget it! There’s no place for me in Your world. I can’t exist there.” Why? Because the world is defined by time and space, which are subjective. And subjectivity means no truth.
So what did G-d do? He picked up Truth and smashed it to the earth so that it shattered. Concerning this, it says in Tehillim (Psalms): “Truth will sprout forth from the earth”—meaning there’s a little piece here and a little piece there.
But because we’re Jews, when we find our own little piece of truth, we see it as the whole picture. To give in and say “Maybe what you see as true is also true” is very painful—because how can I be tolerant of your view and still be a person of truth?
Because of this, the gemara says Torah scholars are the least accepting people, because for them truth is The issue. Either something is true, or it’s not.
In the era before Mashiach, the yearning for the whole picture, in which each fragment of truth joins with the others and forms something larger, becomes very great. But it’s presently beyond our grasp.

Different Kinds of Truth

This is one reason for our disunity. It’s not just ego. It’s not just limitation. It’s the fact that we care about truth, and we’re unwilling to move from our position. The question is: Is this something we should adapt to, or move beyond? And if we move beyond it, do we still retain truth?
We can get an idea by looking at the classical example of Beit Hillel (the house/school of Hillel) and Beit Shammai (the house/school of Shammai). They disagreed about a lot of things. And the Talmud’s conclusion, “These and these are words of the living God”—i.e. they both speak truth—doesn’t seem to work. How could they both speak truth while saying different things? It’s nice, but is it honest?
Let’s look at an illustration of their differences. In the times of the Mishnah, people would dance before the bride singing songs about her. The Mishnah asks: How do you dance before the bride?—i.e. what do you sing about her? Shammai’s school of thought was: Tell it like it is. “The bride is nasty, vindictive, selfish”—say the truth. Hillel, on the other hand, said that no matter what she’s like, say that she’s kind and nice (as the groom undoubtedly thinks).
The gemara explains that this dispute is really about the nature of truth. Is truth in the mouth of the speaker or in the ear of the hearer? Shammai would say it’s in the mouth of the speaker. If you believe in truth, make sure nothing false comes out of your mouth.
Hillel disagreed: Truth is in the ear of the hearer. What’s important is not so much what you say as how it’s received.
Let me give you an example. Suppose I said about my neighbor, “He isn’t going to be arrested.” If he’s done nothing criminal, that’s certainly true, but what image is created in the listener’s mind? Or how about, “He’s not being charged with wife-beating.” Again, this is true, but the image that he may be beating his wife is false. And that image is created because the listener is who she is.
Now, Beit Shammai would say that’s the listener’ problem—let her learn not to hear what isn’t said. Hillel would say you can’t expect her to do that—hearing what isn’t said is the human condition. The halacha (Jewish law) is according to Hillel. But both are equally valid interpretations of truth.
When Mashiach comes, we’ll rule according to Shammai, meaning that we’ll have to take responsibility for how we hear truth. If we yearn for messianic perfection, what does this mean? It means we have to learn to hear the truth, no matter what it sounds like or whom it’s coming from.

Dealing with Differences

We see truth differently because we have different personalities and experiences. Imagine a nice, empathetic person, the kind who could easily attach to anything—the kind who cries when she sees ads for Kodak moments. If you convince her that someone is persecuted, she’ll immediately side with him.
Now picture an entirely different person—one who loves reality. “I don’t want to know your feelings about the sunrise—I want to know how hot it is. The people in the Kodak moment are not real—they’re actors who don’t even know each other. Lassie will not come home.” Such a person won’t automatically empathize with someone portrayed as a victim. She’ll be concerned with truth and justice.
So the first problem in dealing with interpersonal differences is that we tend to see the world through our own eyes. The only person who rose above this was Moshe (Moses). The gemara says that Moshe saw through an “aspaklaria meira,” “clear glass.” The rest of us see things through the shadings of our personality and experience. So two people can see the same thing, but not see the same thing.
The other factor influencing our vision is experience—our circumstances and upbringing. Different people are raised to see the world in different ways, and can wind up with completely different frames of reference.
For example, a student of mine, before she was religious, had an abortion clinic. She’s an extraordinarily compassionate person who believes very strongly in life. But her education taught her to see only the mother’s life and needs. She therefore concluded that abortion equals compassion. As soon as she realized that compassion includes the unborn child, her perspective changed.
Unfortunately, none of us will ever see things as clearly as Moshe. Our middot (character traits) aren’t perfect, and neither is our education. So we see as far as we can, but it’s not far enough. The only truth we can rely is the Torah, because it comes from G-d and not us.
One rule, then, for getting beyond the issue of “your truth” versus “my truth” is to question whether or not your picture of truth fits G-d’s truth. If the answer is no, then you may have to accept the fact that your vision is limited.

The Three Keys To Jewish Happiness – Connection, Connection, Connection


The Improbable Happiness of Israelis

The WSJ ran an article yesterday titled “The Improbable Happiness of Israelis”, which pointed out that Israelis rank 11th of 158 countries in the United Nations’s World Happiness Index, and 5th out of the 36 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries on the OECD’s Life Satisfaction Index—ahead of the U.S., the U.K. and France. The author, Avinoam Bar Yosef, asks how can this be given that Israelis live in a hostile and volatile neighborhood, engaged in an endless conflict with the Palestinians and under the threat of nuclear annihilation by Iran.


The Nationality, Culture and Tradition of Israelis

Mr. Bar Yosef posits: “The explanation probably lies in indicators not considered in standard surveys. For instance, a new study by my organization, the Jewish People Policy Institute, looked at pluralism in Israel and found that 83% of Israel’s Jewish citizens consider their nationality “significant” to their identity. Eighty percent mention that Jewish culture is also “significant.” More than two-thirds (69%) mention Jewish tradition as important. Strong families and long friendships stretching back to army service as young adults, or even to childhood, also foster a sense of well-being. All of these factors bolster the Jewish state’s raison d’être.”


Connecting Within Ourselves, To Hashem, and To Others

I would like to suggest a different explanation of Jewish Happiness from a Torah perspective. Rav Itamar Shwartz, the author of the popular Bilvavi and Da Es seforim, points out that our purpose in this world is rooted in three types of connection: connection between our body and soul, connection between ourselves and Hashem, and connection between ourselves and other people.


The World Stands on Connection Via Torah, Service, and Acts of Kindness

The Mishna in Avos (1:2) says the world stands on three things, Torah, Service of Hashem, and Acts of Kindness. The Nesivos Shalom says that the world refered to in the Mishna is our personal world which we build each and every day. Torah provides us with the concepts and mitzvos that enable us to use the material world in a spiritual way – which connects or physical bodies to our spiritual soul. Service of Hashem is accomplished through prayer which connects us to Hashem on a daily basis. Acts of Kindness, both large and small, connect us to our family, friends and community.


Happiness is the Result of Completeness

The Maharal in his commentary on Avos (6:1) says that happiness flows from completeness, just as grief is the result of loss and deficiency. When we are connected within ourselves, to Hashem, and to other people, we are more complete and the happiness flows. Happiness is not the goal of Judaism, but when we accomplish our purpose through the pursuit of three types of connection, happiness is the result. If we are not feeling the resulting happiness, then we are not pursuing the connections properly.

May we continue to pursue our connections so that we can soon witness the day when Hashem is One and His Name is One in the eyes and hearts of the entire world.

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.