Beyond the Heads and Tails of the Sabbatical Year

Is the flip side of Rosh Hashanah the old year, meaning the outgoing year or, is the flip side of Rosh Hashanah the year’s tail, meaning the end of the upcoming year?

At the end of every seven year cycle, at an appointed time of the Year of Letting-Go, on the festival of Sukkos. When all of Israel comes to appear before HaShem your Elokim in the place that he shall choose, you must read this Torah before all of Israel so that it is heard by their ears.  You must assemble the Nation; men, women, children and converts who dwell within your gates and let them hear it …

Devarim 31:10-12

When they are a third grown by the end of the seventh year [then] produce and olives that ripen in the eighth year {i.e. the first year of the new seven-year cycle} have the halachic status of produce and olives of the Sabbatical “Year of Letting-Go ”] What is the source this rule? — Rabi Assi said in the name of Rabi Yochanan (some trace it back to the name of Rabi Yohsee the Galilean): The pasuk states: “At the end of every seven year cycle, at an appointed time of the year of Letting-Go, on the festival of Sukkos..” Why should the [seventh] year of Letting-Go to be mentioned here? When the festival of Sukkos is celebrated [coming as it does after Rosh Hashanah] it is already the eighth year? It is into teach us that if produce has grown one third in the seventh year before New Year, the rules of the seventh year are to be applied to it even in the eighth year.

— Rosh Hashanah 12B

The heavens are HaShem’s heavens; but He gave the earth to the children of Adam

— Tehillim 115:16

 Whatever HaShem wills He has done, in heaven and in earth, in the oceans and in all the depths.

— Tehillim 135:6

 A Pruning Song of David.  The earth and it’s fullness [belongs] to HaShem; the world, and its inhabitants.

— Tehillim 24:1/daily psalm of Sunday

 

Rabi Akiva would say … All is foreseen, yet freedom of choice is granted. 

— Pirkei Avos 3:15

Rosh Hashanah is often mistranslated as “the New Year” and while it is the moed-festival that comprises the first days of a new calendar year the more precise translation is “Year’s Head.” The difference may seem inconsequential and hair-splitting at first glance but takes on greater significance when considering the obverse. Is the flip side of Rosh Hashanah the old year, meaning the outgoing year or, is the flip side of Rosh Hashanah the year’s tail, meaning the end of the upcoming year?

While this quandary is of primarily semantical interest every year, it is of particular interest when contemplating the impending year, 5775, the seventh year of the seven year cycle endowed with sabbatical and debt absolving properties. Per the halachah the cessation of agricultural activities indicative of the shevi’is-sabbatical; nature of the year begins when the year does; whereas the absolution of debts, reflecting the shemitah-“Letting-Go”; nature of the year begins when the year ends (Rambam: Laws of Release and Jubilee years 4:9). The Izhbitzer adds an insight into the essence of this extraordinary year that expands the years parameters beyond its “tail” terminus and that should have us thinking about it differently beginning from its “head.”

Man perpetually oscillates between G-d-reliance and self-reliance. The reality is that Divine Providence and Omnipotence is absolute and all encompassing as Rabi Akiva taught “All is foreseen.” Nevertheless the mysterious, Divinely granted autonomy of human beings; “yet freedom of choice is granted” seems to carve out a space for human self-reliance and self-determination and echoes the formulation of David the king that “The heavens are HaShem’s heavens; but He gave the earth to the children of Adam” i.e. that man was granted limited autonomy in terms of making moral and ethical choices, selections and refining in serving G-d.

Read more Beyond the Heads and Tails of the Sabbatical Year

The Cry of the Decaying Kernel

Why does Mikra Bikurim-the declaration accompanying the bringing of the first fruits/produce begin with a review of the Egyptian exile and exodus? In particular, why is there an emphasis on the population explosion during the Egyptian exile? Why do these pesukim-verses; serve as the opening of the maggid section of Pesach evening Haggadah-telling? Is there a common denominator between the two?

And then you shall respond and say before HaShem your Elokim: “my patriarch was a wandering Aramean. He descended into Egypt with a small number of men and lived there as an émigré; yet it was there that he became a great, powerful, and heavily populated nation.

Devarim 26:5

 … This was to teach you that it is not by bread alone that the human lives, but by all that comes out of HaShem’s mouth.

Devarim 8:3

According to the Jewish mystical tradition all of creation is divided into four tiers domem –silent (inert); tzomeach-sprouting (botanic life); chai-animate (animal life); medaber-speech-endowed life (human beings). Each tier of creation ascends to higher tiers through an upwardly mobile food-chain by nourishing, and thus being incorporated into, the level directly above it until, ultimately, it is assimilated into the human being, the creature that can face and serve the Creator. Minerals nourish plants and are absorbed through the roots buried in the soil and through photosynthesis. Plants are eaten by herbivorous animals providing nutrients for the animals’ sustenance and growth. Animals are ingested by carnivorous humans supplying the calories, vitamins and minerals human beings need to live and flourish.

This upwardly mobile food-chain has a spiritual dimension as well.

Man is more than highly developed biological machine that expires when enough of the moving parts wear down.  Man is endowed with a cheilek elokai mima’al-a spark of the Divine; and it is the union of soul and body that defines human life. Superficially the external symptoms of death may appear to be too many of the moving parts breaking down; in truth human death occurs as a result of the dissolution of the marriage between body and soul. This begs the question: If there is a spiritual element inherent in human beings what is it that nourishes the soul?  Eating food is often described as “keeping body and soul together” but how is this accomplished?

The Rebbe Reb Chaim Chernovitzer cites a teaching of the Arizal in response. Our sages teach us that even the smallest blade of  grass here below has a guardian angel on High that “bangs it on the head and exhorts it to grow”(Bereishis Rabbah 10:6). In other words, even the lowest tiers of creation have a spiritual element that animates them, lending them existence, form and substance.  In the case of grass, being a plant, a tzomeach-that which sprouts and grows; the grass’ “soul” demands growth. Presumably for animals the soul would demand and promote movement and vitality and for soil and all inert creatures the soul would demand and promote silence and stillness. Such that all food substances are also composed of both a body and a soul, albeit inferior to the human body and soul both physically and spiritually. The manifest, visible food is the “body” of the food, while the sacred emanation from on High exhorting it “to be” and not revert to nonexistence lending it form and substance is the foods “soul”.  When absorbed or ingested the physical element of the food nourishes the consumer’s material component while the “soul” of the food, i.e. its spiritual element, nourishes the consumer’s spiritual dimension.

This is the meaning of the pasuk “that it is not by bread alone that the human lives, but by all that comes out of HaShem’s mouth.” The motza pi HaShem-that which emanates from HaShems mouth; refers to the Divine Will that this thing/ foodstuff exist. It is the motza pi HaShem lending tzurah-form; and spirituality that is indispensable for human beings to live, not the corporeal, apparent bread alone.

 

Read more The Cry of the Decaying Kernel

Time, Space and Soul

What is so awful about charging interest? After all it is the lubricant that greases the gears of commerce universally.
Why must even nirtza slaves, those who chose to stay on with their masters when they had the chance to become free, be liberated on the Jubilee year?
When where and why is it permissible to articulate and explicate the name of G-d?

When you come into the land that I am giving you, the land must be given a rest interlude, a sabbath for HaShem.  For six years you may plant your fields, prune your vineyards and gather your crops. But the seventh year shall be a sabbath of sabbaths for the land, it is HaShem’s Sabbath during which you may neither plant your fields, nor prune your vineyards … You  shall sanctify the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land for all its inhabitants; This is your jubilee year;  when each man shall return to his hereditary property and to his family … Do not make him [your brother] pay advance interest , nor give him food for which he will have to pay accrued interest … And if your brother becomes impoverished and is sold to you, you may not work him like a slave. He shall be with you just like a hired servant, or a resident [farm] hand. He shall serve you only until the year of jubilee.

                                                                                                                                      —Vayikra 25:2-4,10,37,39,40

 A sabbath to HaShem: For the sake of HaShem, just as is stated of the Sabbath of Creation (i.e the Shabbos we observe on a weekly basis)

—Rashi Vayikra 25:2 from Toras Kohanim 25:7

 I.e., just as every seventh day is a holy Sabbath day, acclaiming that G-d Himself rested on the seventh day [after creating for the first six days] and thus confirming that G-d is the Supreme Creator of all that exists, similarly, man must refrain from working the land on the seventh year, for the Glory of G-d, not for the benefit of the land, so that it should gain fertility by lying fallow for a year.

— Sifsei Chachamim ibid

The mekubalim-expositors of the Torah mystical tradition; teach that all that HaShem created exists on the three parallel planes of olam/shanah/nefesh-world/year/soul i.e. in the realms of space, time and spirit. (cp. Sefer Yetzirah) In Parshas Behar the Izhbitzer school explores several applications of this concept.  Among our Sidrah’s opening topics we find the Shmittah/Shvi’is-sabbatical year; d’ror avadim-the liberation of slaves; and ribis-the prohibition of charging interest.  The Izhbitzer explains the common denominator of these three topics in light of olam/shanah/nefesh.

A ma’amin-one who is theologically correct and believes in the thirteen articles of faith should, in theory, have complete bitachon BaShem– reliance upon G-d.  Believing that G-d is Benevolent, Omniscient, Omnipotent and directly controlling of the infinite to the infinitesimal (hashgachah p’ratis) it would be foolish to place ones trust in anyone or anything else. Yet, as the chasm separating our dispassionate beliefs from our heartfelt emotions is vast; people are constantly looking for substitutes for G-d to place their trust in and to rely upon. First and foremost we search for things to vouchsafe our ongoing existence; ways and means that can maintain and sustain us and, broadly speaking, these ways and means fall into one of three categories; property, time-charges and other people.
Read more Time, Space and Soul

O Daddy … Where Art Thou?

Tzav-Parshas Zachor 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

Remember what Amalek did to you on your way out of Egypt. When they encountered you [lit: cooled you off] on the way, you were tired and exhausted … they did not fear Elokim.

–Devarim 25:17,18

When they encountered: Heb. קָרְךָ, an expression denoting a chance occurrence (מִקְרֶה) … Yet another explanation: an expression denoting heat and cold (קוֹר). He “cooled you off” and made you [appear] lukewarm, after you were boiling hot, for the nations were afraid to fight you, [just as people are afraid to touch something boiling hot]. But Amalek came forward and started [waging war with you] and showed the way to others. This can be compared to a bathtub of boiling water into which no one could immerse himself. Along came a reckless man and jumped headlong into it! Although he scalded himself, he [succeeded in] making others think that it was cooler [than it really was]. [Tanchuma 9]

–Rashi ibid

Our Rabbis taught: [vis a vis parents] What is [i.e. how does one fulfill the mitzvah of] ‘fear’ and what is [i.e. how does one fulfill the mitzvah of] ‘honor’? ‘Fear’ means that he [the son] must not stand nor sit in his [the father’s] place, לא יסתור דבריו, nor contradict his words, nor tip the scales against him. ‘Honor” means that he must feed and hydrate him, clothe and cover him, lead him in and out.

–Kiddushin 31B

The relationship between the Jewish people and HaShem, and even between individual Jews and HaShem, is multifaceted.  Two familiar facets are those of our being subjects in G-ds Kingdom and of our being His children.  On every public fast day, most recently on Taanis Esther, we beseeched Avinu Malkenu– our Father/ our King.  To our detriment, true kings are very hard to find in contemporary society and, as such, we lack one of the primary role models for our relationship with HaShem.

Thankfully, at least fathers are ubiquitous and our relationships with our fathers can serve as ready metaphors from which we can draw relevant lessons in how to relate to HaShem.  And while, for many of us, the child-father relationship falls short of the ideal, if not being utterly dysfunctional, at least we have concrete, black on white parameters for what the ideal relationship ought to be as set down in Shas and in Shulchan Aruch in Hichos kibud av v’eim-the laws of honoring and being in awe of parents.

We are not permitted it to be soser the words/ matters of our fathers’.  This word, soser, is conventionally translated as “contradict.” But Rav Laibeleh Eiger reveals another layer of meaning in this word that impacts our understanding of the eternal war that we wage against Amalek:

Moshe Rabeinu was instructed to deliver this message at his first meeting with the Egyptian pharaoh as HaShem’s ambassador and as His agent to redeem His people from slavery: “this is what HaShem says: ‘Israel is My son — my firstborn. I’ve told you to send My son away [out of Egypt] to serve Me. If you refuse to let him leave I will ultimately kill your own firstborn son.’”(Shemos 4:22,23) As a result of the Exodus from Egypt HaShems Paternal relationship with the K’lal Yisrael-the Jewish People, became manifest and obvious for all the world to see.  Moreover, it revealed the fact that HaShem was a very involved Parent; a “helicopter Dadkivyachol -if you will, who was very concerned about his son’s welfare and insinuated himself directly into the sons affairs in order to relieve the sons suffering and to liberate him.

After the Exodus from Egypt K’lal Yisrael was cognizant of the special relationship that they enjoyed with HaShem.  However, around the time of their being attacked by Amalek, perceptions began to change.  For the nations of the world who were awestruck by the plagues of Egypt, the slaying of the firstborn and the utter destruction of the Egyptian military at the Sea of Reeds, it was not merely that the bloom was off the rose; it was that K’lal Yisrael had lost their air of invincibility.  Although Amalek had gotten its collective nose bloodied and had been “weakened” by Yehoshua; in launching their unprovoked attack on K’lal Yisrael they had blazed a trail and set the precedent for all future attacks, wars, ethnic-cleansings and genocides perpetrated by all future Jew-haters.

But, more significantly, doubts began creeping into the collective consciousness of K’lal Yisrael.  The Jews themselves internalized the implied message of Amalek’s attack. “If this could happen” the reasoning went “perhaps we are not really the apple of HaShem’s eye, maybe we are not so much different from the balance of humanity.  Who can still claim with confidence that we are His son and that He is our Father?” While the facts on the ground such as the manna bread from heaven and the miraculous cloud pillar should have eased these anxieties, nagging doubts remained.  They reasoned that HaShem must have some “hidden” agenda, something that is characterized by hester Panim-a concealment of the Divine Countenance.

Even before encountering Amalek the seeds of doubt had been planted in the national consciousness.  When K’lal Yisrael arrived at Rephidim there was no water readily available for them to drink.  Although Moshe Rabeinu worked the miracle producing the nomadic wellspring that would travel with K’lal Yisrael throughout their sojourn in the wilderness until death of Miriam; the upshot of that particular episode was this: “Moshe named the place Testing-and-Argument because the people had argued and had tested HaShem. They had asked ‘is HaShem within us or not?’” (Shemos 17:7).

Chaza”l provide a biting, acerbic characterization of  K’lal Yisrael’s ambivalence and under-confidence. “This can be compared to a man who carried his son on his shoulders and set out on the road. Whenever his son saw something, he would say, ‘Father, take it and give it to me,’ and he [the father] would do so. They met a man, and the son said to the man, ‘Have you seen my father?’ So his father said to the boy, “You don’t know where I am?” He threw him [his son] down off him, and a dog came and bit him [the son]. (Midrash Tanchuma, Yisro 3; Shemos Rabbah 26:2).  The boy in question never doubted whether or not he had a father.  He merely asked “do you see him … because I can’t!” The boy thinks that his father is out of sight — concealed.

The episode of Rephidim is the immediate preamble to the preemptive, unprovoked, initial attack of Amalek.  Amalek’s “chilling effect” did not merely cool down K’lal Yisrael in the court of public opinion but in their own self-perception and in their perception of HaShem as well.  While they still believed that they had a heavenly Father in the abstract, they were no longer able to “see” Him.  His administration of their affairs was now being orchestrated long-distance from behind a curtain, as it were.

In Lashon Kodesh-the holy tongue, there are many words synonymous with a contradiction; listor-to demolish/deconstruct, l’chalek-to argue/separate, l’hakchish-to deny/thin-out, l’hitnaged-to oppose.  Yet the verb that our sages chose to impart the lesson of not contradicting ones father is the verb in that is etymologically related to hiddenness and concealment; לא יסתור דבריו.  Rav Laibeleh Eiger maintains that one of the subtextual messages of this halachah is that a son is prohibited from characterizing his father’s words/deeds as being covert and clandestine.  The prohibition can be translated “he should not hide his father’s words/matters.” On a national level as a result of the chilling effect of Amalek’s onslaught, this is precisely the prohibition that K’lal Yisrael contravened in their relationship with their Father in heaven.

Rav Laibeleh teaches that part and parcel of our mitzvos to remember and to wage war against Amalek is to fight and suppress our own internal Amalek; the self-sabotaging a voice within our individual and collective psyches that mitigates and that dilutes the unique son-Father relationship that we enjoy with HaShem.  We need to scrap and claw to move beyond an abstract philosophical recognition of HaShems Administration of our affairs.  Knowing that we have a Father in heaven is insufficient.  We must fight the good fight to achieve a visceral awareness that we are riding on His shoulders and that He is always carrying us.  We need to develop the vision to see that our merciful father is directly and intimately dealing with us;  His firstborn son.  As the prophet thunders “O Why Yaakov do you say, and speak, O Israel: ‘My way is hidden from HaShem, and my justice is passed over by my G-d’”? (Yeshaya 40:27)

We must always remember and never forget that while our King may be remote and inaccessible and may be conducting a clandestine foreign policy or waging a covert military operation our Father is loving, merciful, intimate and directly involved in our affairs. Parshas Zachor would be a great time to start remembering this and, while listening to Megillas Esther is something that we do with our ears, in order to truly vanquish Amalek we needed to sharpen our eyes to abide by the halachah of  לא יסתור דבריו, do right by our Father in heaven and do our own personal Megillas Hester-revealing of the concealment.

~adapted from Toras Emes Zachor/ Tetzaveh 5628/1868 D”H Amru

Please note: I was at unable to provide an online link to the original Hebrew source material. If anyone would like a scanned copy of the pertinent page please email me at SfardClasses@gmail.com.  It should be available by tomorrow

There Are no Lightweights or Heavyweights … Only Half-Weights

Pikudei-Shekalim 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

Everyone who is to be counted in the census must give a half-shekel according to the holy standard where a shekel is 20 gerah … the rich may not increase [their donations over and above] and the poor may not diminish [their donations below the amount of] (than) this half-shekel …

-Shemos 30:13,15

I believe with absolute assurance that the Creator, Blessed is His Name, rewards those who observe His commandments with good and punishes those who violate His commandments.

-Maomonides 11th principle of Faith

Our Rabbis taught: A man should always regard himself as though he were half guilty and half meritorious [so that] if he performs one mitzvah, fortunate is he, for he has tipped his personal scale towards merit; if he commits one aveirah-transgression, woe to him for tipping his personal scale towards guilt … Rabi Eleazar son of Rabi Shimon said: Because the world is judged by its majority, and an individual [too] is judged by his majority [of his personal good or bad], if he performs one mitzvah, fortunate is he for tipping the scale, both for himself and for the whole world, [down] on the side of merit; if he commits one transgression, woe to him for tipping the scale for himself and the whole world towards guilt …

-Kiddushin 40A-B

The silver census money collected from the community came out to 100 kikars–talents and 1775 shekels by the holy standard …  The 100 [silver] kikars were used to cast the foundation sockets for the Mishkan and that the cloth partition. There were a total of 100 foundation sockets made out of 100 [silver] kikars, one kikar for each foundation socket.

–Shemos 38:25,27

Everyone, both rich and poor was commanded to contribute exactly the same coin.  As the census numbers were calculated by counting these coins the need for a standardized contribution is easily understood.  If the wealthy were to drop multiple coins, or a larger, weightier denomination, into the contribution box it would have been impossible to arrive at an accurate tally. Still, it would seem that a full shekel coin, the standard unit of currency, would have been a more appropriate uniform contribution for one and all. On a pragmatic level, it could simply be that this level of contribution might prove onerous for the poorest people in K’lal Yisrael-the Jewish People, whereas everyone could afford a half-shekel without being pinched too severely.  But the Izhbitzer drew a great, defining lesson in avodas HaShem-serving HaShem, from the use of the half, rather than the whole, shekel.

In our newfangled economies cash money has become nearly obsolete.  With the advents of ACH, wires transfers and scanning codes for payment; even credit cards and checks, that supplanted cash, are becoming passé.  But once-upon-a-time cash was the “new” currency. The truth is that our “fiat money” — paper document banknotes, AKA cash, is intrinsically useless and valueless; they are used only as a medium of exchange. They replaced banknotes of the gold and/or silver standard economies under which governments would not print more banknotes than they had precious metal reserves to back. Under the bimetal standards, one could redeem their dollars for fixed amounts of gold and silver. Before that there was no paper money at all. Currency was exclusively coins made of precious metals; gold and silver.  These coins did have inherent value and the value of the various coin denominations was determined by the weight of precious metal that each contained.  E.g. a silver dollar weighed four times as much as a silver quarter.

We can now understand the etymology of machatzis hashekel-the half shekel.  The verb in lashon kodesh-the holy language, for weighing is sh’kol, the noun for weight — mishkal. Thus, a more precise translation for machatzis hashekel would be “the half weight”.  The full unit of currency, the shekel, was very aptly and descriptively named, as it was the standard unit of weight of precious metal for the currency system. Larcenous coin-debasement practices such as coin-clipping and coin-sweating aimed at reducing the weight of precious metal of the coin while continuing to circulate it at face value. In fact, striping or engraving the rims of coins was first introduced to prevent clipping the coins’ circumference.

Mefarshim-commentaries, have explained that Maimonides 11th principle of faith; belief in reward and punishment, also expresses the belief in human Free-Will.  For as of the Rambam himself writes; if human Free-Will was an illusion if our thoughts, words and deeds were predetermined by Divine Providence then “through what system of justice would HaShem exact punishment from the wicked or compensate the righteous with reward? Would the Judge of all the earth not render justice?” (Hilchos Teshuvah 5:4)

Based on the Gemara  in Kiddushin the Izhbitzer extrapolated from the maftir of Shekalim that we read this week, that the opposite is equally true; that there can be no human Free-Will or, at least, that human Free-Will cannot be fully exercised, unless the willful choices that we make result in the ultimate in reward and punishment. If, when facing every new situation we do not confront the ultimate in reward and punishment, then we are self-sabotaging our Free-Will.

On the Beyond Teshuva Blog the challenge of plateauing has been explored many times.  Most people begin their lives as ovdei HaShem with the period of sustained growth.  Of course we stumble and suffer setbacks but, in general, the arrows on the graphs of our spirituality head upwards.  Then, for a variety of reasons we begin to flatline.  We get into a groove (some would call it a rut) and, essentially, we stop growing.

The Izhbitzer avers that the two primary causes of plateauing are the smug self-perception of secure, set-for-life spiritual wealth on the one hand and the utter hopelessness and sense of futility arising from the self-perception of spiritual poverty on the other hand.

Like the young entrepreneurs who may have found themselves in the right place at the right time making boatloads of money in a go-go economy, some of us, who’ve already learned lots of Torah and performed many mitzvos feel as though we can coast for the rest of our lives.  The spiritually rich, and sometimes even the spiritually nouveau riche, feel as though they’re so far ahead of the game that their next move, i.e. their next free choice opportunity, could not possibly negatively impact them, nor could the next 10,000 such moves.  In their delusional organization of reality they imagine that they have a very thick safety cushion, that  they have accumulated such a huge pile of Torah and mitzvos that spiritual bankruptcy, and the draining of their heavenly reward points accounts awaiting them in the afterlife, is unthinkable.

In stark contrast, the spiritually impoverished are paralyzed by hopelessness.  Their self image tends to be one of an inveterate sinner.  Like the compulsive gambler or the irresponsible social climber who purchased a home that he could not afford, who finds his mortgage underwater and his credit rating damaged beyond repair, the spiritually impoverished delude themselves into thinking that the hole of debt that they have dug themselves into is just too deep and profound to ever climb out of. The spiritually poor, and sometimes even those who just transgressed one “whopper” of a sin, feel as though they’re so far behind the game that their next move, i.e.  their next free choice opportunity, could not possibly positively impact them, nor could the next 10,000 such moves.

But what the rich and the poor share in common in these cases is an apathetic, detached approach to the future based on a profound sense of one-sidedness and imbalance.  In their minds eye the scales of Divine Justice, reflective of their own personal ledgers, are not in equilibrium.  There is no balance at all between their merits and their demerits, between their credits and their debits between their mitzvos and their aveiros.  As a result the next move is of no consequence.  Irrespective of what they do next time, the lopsided scales will not budge.  What both the smug and the hopeless lack is the machatzis hashekel sensibility.  If only they were to follow the advice of Chaza”l and view the personal, civic and global scales of spiritual merits and demerits to be in perfect equilibrium; their every move would be invested with cosmic consequence.  There would be no room for either taking it easy or for giving up.

This, says the Izhbitzer, is what the pasuk means.  The status of the rich and the poor described in the pasuk is not determined by the size of the persons bank account.  Rather, these terms describe their personal spiritual ledger; the scales of the persons mitzvos and aveiros or, at least, their perception of those scales.  The Torah issues as a stern warning “the rich may not give a more and the poor or may not give less than this half weight.” The Torah doesn’t ask us to build a house of G-d with the full shekel sensibility.  The Torah demands that they “give” i.e. that they perceive and come to realization, that half the standard unit of weight weighs down one side of the scales and that the other half standard unit of weight weighs down the other side of the scales in perfect equilibrium, and that the persons next move, his next exercise of Free-Will, shall tip the scales one way or the other.

Chaza”l have a very close, precise reading of the pasuk “they will make a sanctuary for Me and I will dwell in THEM.” (Shemos 25:8) Per Chaza”l this means that HaShem declares “I will dwell in them (the builders-klal Yisrael) not in it (the mere building.)”  In other words each and every one of us can become a tabernacle and sanctuary for the Divine Indwelling.  Rashi (Shemos 30:15) says that there were three separate terumos and that the first one that the Torah demanded of klal Yisrael, the machatzis hashekel, was used to supply the silver for the adanim-the foundation sockets of the Mishkan. I’d like to add that in light of the Izhbitzer’s Torah that we learn this take away this lesson: Our lives are meaningful. Our thoughts, our words and our deeds are of cosmic importance and that this gift of the machatzis hashekel sensibility and perception forms the very adanim-foundation sockets, of restructuring ourselves as abodes for the Shechinah.

 ~adapted from Mei HaShiloach II Ki Sisa D”H Inyan Machatzis

See also Bais Yaakov  Ki Sisa 17

Of Angels and Men

VaYera 5774-An installment in the series

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 he [Avraham] lifted his eyes and saw, three strange men standing near him

-Bereshis 18:2

The three “men” were angels

-Rashi ibid

When a man’s ways please HaShem, He causes even mans enemies to be at peace with him.

– Mishlei 16: 7

Two ministering angels , one good the other bad , escort a person home from the synagogue Friday evening.  When he comes home to find the lamps lit, the table set and his bed made the good angel says ‘May it be HaShems will that next Shabbos we find things the same way ’ and the bad angel is compelled to respond ‘Amen’ against his will

-Tractate Shabbos 119B

And Elokim said “Let Me Us make man”. Alternatively: “Man has [already] been made.”

-Bereshis 1:26

Chaza”l teach us that Malochim-Angels are fundamentally opposed to the creation and ongoing existence of human beings:  Rebee Seemon said: When HaShem, came to create Adam, the ministering angels formed groups and parties, some saying, ‘Let him be created,’ while others urged, ‘let him not be created.’ As it is written, “Loving-kindness and truth met up, justice and peace kissed.” (Tehillim 85:11): The Angel Loving-kindness said, ‘Create man, because he will dispense loving-kindness’; the Angel Truth said, ‘Let him not be created, because he full of lies’; the Angel Charity said, ‘Create man , because he will perform acts of altruism’; the Angel Peace said, ‘Let him not be created, because he is full of strife.”’ What did God do? God took Truth and cast it to the earth, as it is written, “and truth will be sent to the earth.” (Doniel 8:12)The Malochim said before the Holy One, “Master of the Universe! Why do you despise Your seal? Let Truth arise from the earth!” Hence it is written, “Let truth sprout from the earth.” (Psalms 85:12) …Me’od –‘Very ’) is [in reference to] Adam; [the letters מאד–very are a word jumble for אדם–man i.e. Adam=man is good] as it is written, “And God saw everything that God had made, and, behold, it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31), i.e. and behold Adam was good. Rav Huna the Elder of Tziporen, said: While the Malochim were arguing with each other and disputing with each other, HaShem created the first human. God said to them, “Why are you arguing. Man has already been made!” (Bereshis Rabbah 8:5).

This  Midrash implies that the creation of Man took place “under protest”. Even when temporarily suppressed many protests are ultimately successful. So it is not out of the question that the Angelic naysayers were complicit in the undoing of humanity through the first sin and the subsequent degradation of humanity by the generations of the Flood and the Dispersion.

The human predilection for lies and strife are a product of mans constrained G-d consciousness. An angel has but to lift its eyes to attain a limitless, incomparable awareness of HaShem and how His glory fills the universe. In marked contrast, even after years of intense exertion, mans G-d consciousness is meager. The light that man beholds is relatively dim and is known as “the Diminutive Face”.  Angels are illuminati bathed in HaShems infinite light. The angelic sense of superiority in terms of their G-d consciousness underlies the various “no-votes” protesting the very creation of man. Regarding uncircumcised man there was no adequate argument to refute the angel’s dismissiveness. There was no debating with them.  HaShem Kivayachol-so to speak had to ignore their protests and present His creation of Man as a fait accompli.

Many Mechabrim-Torah authors, in particular the Ramcha”l , explain that the very Raison d’être of Klal Yisrael- the Jewish People is to rectify the sin of the first man and to bring humanity back to the pre-sin state. As such it would stand to reason that our founding patriarch, Avraham, would earn the angelic seal of approval.

The second Izhbitzer, The Bais Ya’akov takes this approach in explaining the Angels post-circumcision visit with Avraham.

The new edition of Man, Avraham Avinu after the covenant of circumcision, could do something that angels could not.  As dim and meager as his light may have been he was capable of transforming darkness into light and able to draw new light into the gloom of our murky, materialistic world.  In marked contrast angels see things as they are without recognizing any potential for qualitative change. To an angel what’s light is light and what’s dark is dark. For the angels heaven is heavenly and the earth is, well, hopelessly earthy.

As long as the foreskin adheres to man all of mans internal light and potential for illumination are trapped and imprisoned within his being. But when man, Avraham, removes the foreskin his internal and external transformative powers are unleashed. Avraham spread G-d consciousness to the four corners of the earth and, in so doing, made something heavenly out of the earth.

The Tikunei Zohar reveals two remarkable, complementary acronyms in the phrase   מִי יַעֲלֶה לָּנוּ הַשָּׁמַיְמָהWho (mee) will ascend (ya’aleh) for us (lahnu) to heaven (HaShamaymah) [Devarim30 :12].  The first letters of each word form an acronym for Milah-circumcision. The last letters of each word form an acronym for the tetragrammaton-HaShems proper four letter Name. The encoded allusion being that the circumcised one, Avraham, can in fact ascend to Heaven for us and bring HaShem to the earth.

An angel can take light and multiply the light, take the tiniest blade of grass and exhort it to grow tall, thick and lush (Bereshis Rabbah 10:6). But these are, after all, quantitative expansions not qualitative transformations. Angels are incapable of making the inert-mineral botanic or metamorphosing the botanic into animal or the animal into the human. Omnivorous man ingests the mineral, the botanic and the animal and, through digestion, integrates them into his speech-endowed being.  When man uses this nutrition to serve HaShem through speech AKA prayer he has not merely grown the grass tall…he has altered the grass into something human, speaking and prayerful.  The angels were forced to recognize their relative inferiority and could no longer argue the uselessness of man in HaShems creation.  Impressed and even awestruck they too wanted to partake of the circumcised mans meal.

 Adapted from Bais Ya’akov-Vayera Inyan 16 (page 72A ) 

Is Torah Everything…or is Everything Torah???

An installment in the series

From the Waters of the Shiloah: Plumbing the Depths of the Izhbitzer School

For series introduction CLICK  

By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz

You shall take of the first of every fruit of the ground, produced by the land that HaShem your L-rd is giving you. You must place it in a basket and go to site place that HaShem will choose as the place associated with His name.  There you shall go to the Kohen-priest officiating at the time, and say to him: ‘Today I am telling HaShem your L-rd that I have come to the land which HaShem swore to our fathers to give us.’  

-Devarim 26:2-3

When referencing a Thesaurus it is imperative for the writer or speaker to discern the precise shade of meaning that he wishes to convey and to have a nuanced understanding of the differences between near synonymous words. Loping, jogging, sprinting, fleeing, chasing, scurrying, dashing, trotting and galloping are all forms of running.  Yet each verb retains a distinct and specific meaning and using the appropriate word paints a more accurate word picture.

In Lashon Kodesh there are many verbs for speech; amirah, dibur, sipur, hagadah and kriah to name a few. Each of these has a specific meaning and these words cannot be used interchangeably. Commenting on one of the preamble pesukim-verses to the Aseres HaDibros-the Decalogue; “This is what you must say (somahr) to the house of Jacob, and tell (v’sahgayd) the children of Israel” (Shemos 19:3) Rashi famously delineates the different meanings of the terms; amirah and hagadah: “to the house of Jacob: These are the women. Say it to them in a gentle language. — [from Mechilta] and tell the children of Israel: The punishments and the details [of the laws] tell the males, things that are as harsh / tough as tendons.” -[Mechilta, Tractate Shabbos 87A] (Rashi Ibid). So, in Lashon Kodesh, when the style and/or the content of the spoken message are harsh the correct verb to use is a conjugation of Hagadah.

With this in mind it seems odd that the Mikrah Bikurim declaration accompanying the bringing of the first fruits is described as a “telling”; “Today I am telling HaShem your L-rd that I have come to the land which HaShem swore etc.” Superficially there does not seem to be anything particularly tough or acerbic about either the style or substance of this declaration. The Mikrah Bikurim declaration is, by turns, grateful, joyous, melancholy (when speaking of the crucible of the Egyptian exile), reverent and exultant. But nowhere in Mikrah Bikurim do we find anything overtly harsh.

The Izhbitzer maintains that this “telling” is indeed harsh and he reveals the hidden subtextual tough talk of Mikrah Bikurim .

By Torah design the Kohanim and Levi’im were not part of the homesteading act  in ancient agrarian Israel.  The Torah constructed a society in which eleven of the tribes would till the soil, ranch or sail the seas to earn a living while one tribe, the tribe of Levi (including the Kohanim) would be totally dedicated 7/24/365 to Torah study, Mitzvah performance and Avodas HaShem. With no significant land of their own to farm this tribe could not possibly be self-sufficient. So a system of societal largess through Matnos Kehuna and leviya is mandated by the Torah to sustain the Levi’im and Kohanim. This system unburdened them of the earthy, materialistic concerns of  cultivating the soil and enabled them to dedicate themselves completely to the rarefied activities of advanced Torah study, additional Mitzvahs and sacrificial service in the Mishkan and Bais HaMikdash sanctuaries.  This kind of tribal apartheid led to them feeling a sense of spiritual superiority over the balance of the Jewish People. For the Kohanim and Levi’im Torah was everything.

But when the lowly Jewish farmer from one of the other tribes brought his first fruits to the Bais HaMikdash, gifted them to the Kohen and declared Mikrah Bikurim he was telling a tale that the Kohen did not want to hear. Back bent from too many rough rows to hoe, fingernails cracked from plow and sickle repair, hands callused from demanding physical labor, perhaps even vaguely redolent of the dung he spread to fertilize his fields, the farmers persona and  lifestyle implicitly passes judgment on the kohens. He is “telling” the Kohen (off) “Even though you toil in the Bais HaMikdash while I toil in the fields with every furrow that I plow, with every weed that I pull and with every branch that I prune I perform the Mitzvahs bound to the Land, and actualize the Torah that you study. In hindsight, now that I’ve brought my Bikurim,  it has become so clarified that everything that I did to bring forth these fruits from the Holy Land and every earthy, muddy even dung-covered place that I interacted with were suffused with the holiness of the Bais HaMikdash.  For me everything is Torah!”

When the Kohen who practices the lifestyle of “Torah is everything” is forced to hear that, in fact, “Everything is Torah”  that’s tough, really tough for him to hear.

Adapted from Mei HaShiloach 6:17 (D”H higad’tee) 

Using the G-word in Reference to Non-Jews

Some BTs have backgrounds where pejorative words like goy and goyim in reference to non Jews were not a part of their vocabulary. In their new communities these words are used more frequently sometimes coming out of the mouths of Rebbe’s, Morahs and Rebbeim. Another challenge is that we sometimes want to distance our children from non-Jewish practices and we may be tempted to use a negative term to show the intensity of our dislike of these practices.

Do you refer to non-Jews in more negative ways since becoming a BT?

If you’ve still don’t use the pejorative words, what do you do when your children use them?

If you’re comfortable using these words, do you think it would be a Kiddush Hashem or a Chillul Hashem if your non-Jewish friends, neighbors and workers knew that you referred to them in such a fashion?

First published August 26, 2008

A Foolish Consistency is the Hobgoblin of Little Minds

An installment in the series
From the Waters of the Shiloah: Plumbing the Depths of the Izhbitzer School
For series introduction CLICK

By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz

Do not erect a sacred Monolith for this is something that HaShem your L-rd hates                                                                                                                                -Devarim 16:22

Although HaShem commanded us to make Altars of soil and multiple stones He hates the (single stone) monolith… even though the monolith was beloved by Him during the era of the patriarchs He hates it presently…                                                                                                                        -Rashi Ibid

Good habits become second nature. As we grow and mature we develop attitudes and approaches that are translated into specific behavioral patterns. Once well established these attitudes and behavioral patterns become very difficult to break. On the rare occasions of inconsistency we are often described as “acting out of character” and most people consider consistency an unquestionable virtue.  We associate immutable consistency with being principled, sincere, dependable and serious.

However the Izhbitzer cautions against being too obstinate to ever alter ones attitudes or behaviors. In contemporary post-sacrificial terms this is what the prohibition of “erecting a monolith” means.  A monolith is a single pillar or slab of hard inflexible stone. While soil is soft and malleable and the variegated stones of a multiple stone altar are of different shapes, sizes and colors, a monolith is a model of, well, monolithic, monochromatic, monotonous consistency.    Even sacred monoliths are hated by HaShem.  Even regarding ones manner of relating to and worshiping HaShem the Torah prohibits monolithic, heels-dug-in inflexibility.

In the bygone era of the patriarchs, when HaShems sovereignty was not yet acknowledged by the vast majority of the mankind this kind of obstinacy was beloved by Hashem. At that time the call of the hour was for the Avos and Imahos to dig in their heels, draw lines in the sand and to be moser nefesh-to lay down their lives, for every minute detail of worship of the One True G-d. Whereas for us there are only three cardinal sins for which the Halacha demands death before transgression in all circumstances. It goes without saying that if in given situations we must steer clear of obstinacy and be flexible enough to actually sin then, depending on a variety of variables, we must certainly be responsive and flexible enough to adjust our ways and means of fulfilling Mitzvos and worshiping HaShem.

Understanding that the capacity for inconsistency is required of us in our relationship with Hashem has a tremendously positive impact on our interpersonal relationships as well. If we had the luxury of monolithic inflexibility we’d find it much easier to be dismissive of other people, their Hashkofos and approaches to Avodas HaShem –serving G-d. But since we ourselves must eschew a monolithic style in Avodas Hashem, if we ourselves serve HaShem in a less-than-absolutely-consistent range of ways then we are much better able to tolerate the diverse approaches of our fellow Jews.

While uniform standards govern the actual implementation of the 613 Mitzvahs that are equally binding on each and every Jewish Soul, the Ta’amei HaMitzvos– the rationale and motivation underpinning the Mitzvahs are “tasted” (Ta’am) and experienced by each soul in a unique and inimitable way.  This is why the  Pasuk (Devarim 6:17) says: “You (plural) should be very careful (Shamor Tish’merun) to keep the commandments of Hashem your L-rd as well as the Edos.. that He commanded you (singular- Tzivcha) . The Edos refer to the Ta’amei HaMitzvos which differ from individual to individual.  Hence the second person singular conjugation of the verb “command”.   It is imperative for each of us to understand that, in fact, it is impossible for our fellow Jews to observe the Mitzvahs using our unique and inimitable approach and attitude and that to expect their approach to be consistent with ours is not merely being judgmental and dismissive, but completely irrational and foolish.

 

Adapted from Mei HaShiloach to Devarim 16:22 (D”H Lo Sakum )

and 6:17 (D”H Shamor)

 

So NOT Deprived

My family of origin thinks that I am deprived. I am limited to eating only kosher food, and not any kosher food. If it has a “K” on the box, that isn’t good enough. When I go into the Food Court of the local mall, I can’t eat anything I want. If I should have a craving for an ice cream cone after a fleishig meal, I must wait. I live in a free country, and yet, I have willingly enslaved myself to a lifestyle of scarcity. (They think).

As a recent attendee to KosherFest, where all my senses were flooded with gourmet food of every nationality imaginable, and thousands of fellow Jews elbowed their way to get to the latest sample of delectable and decadent, I wanted so much for my family to witness –it’s never been so easy to be a kosher Jew. Anyone in the busy East Coast of the USA who would complain about kashrus limiting their choices hasn’t really taken a good look at the closest supermarket, glatt market, or any major department store and big-box grocer that provides an array of kosher choices beyond anything our grandparents could have imagined.

I am fortunate to be living in a suburban area with easy access to kosher food. (One of my children asked, “Mommy, how do people who don’t keep kosher ever make a choice about what to eat? There are too many choices out there!”)Not all Jews have it this good –Jews scattered all over this globe, and traveling on business, are sometimes living on a lot of tuna fish and maybe even the dreaded airline meal. But in my universe, it is the rare moment when I actually experience anything close to a feeling of deprivation when it comes to what I put into my mouth.

And so it is that when my family assembles by me one day a year, on the American holiday of Thanksgiving, that I make enough food to feed twice the number of guests, and the side dishes are plentiful. No one who eats in my home will ever see kashrus through the eyes of deprivation. So they can’t have ice cream on their pumpkin pie – that’s what parve ice cream is for. After all these years, I’ve stopped defending my choices to my family, and although they don’t join me in observance, they have stopped trying to convince me otherwise. What lightens my heart is that our children, who were raised in a Torah-observant home, view their secular relatives as being deprived, and not the other way around. “They don’t get to ever have Shabbos rest from shopping and phones?” “They don’t even know what Sukkot is, or Simchas Torah?” And when it comes to food, our children can’t imagine a life without cholent, potato kugel, deli roll, and chocolate bubka, Who is deprived?

The holocaust survivors I interview for the memoirs I write for them all originate from different parts of Europe, and yet each one of them has told me the same story – of a Shabbos of their youth with a simple and savored menu, looked forward to every week, and greatly missed once the Nazis ripped it all away. Now, amidst all the many choices in the local market, each one of them reminisces about the foods of their childhood; nothing currently sold or available holds a candle to their mother’s compote, or chicken soup, or cholent. Kashrus was once a true struggle, a life-altering commitment that required hours a day of preparation, and choices were simple then. Yet, never once has a survivor complained to me about feeling deprived as a child because their family kept kosher. Never once.

The language of kashrus is one of joy, of pride, of commitment, of family tradition, and always, of delicious. Too bad it’s not calorie free.

First appeared in Mishpacha magazine, January 2013.

It Was a Very Good Year

Mishpacha magazine has caught up with BeyondBT. I found the Baal Teshuva Symposium interesting.

I have my own little point that I have made before in comments here, but never as a self-standing post. And if I had been asked to participate, this is what I would have written in response to the question, “How should we respond to a baal teshuvah who speaks of ‘buyer’s remorse’ some years after his return to Torah, due to the sheer difficulty and expense of the frum lifestyle? Due to disenchantment with the frum world? Due to loss of faith or still unanswered questions?”:

It would be wise to recall that many of the roadblocks, much less bumps in the road, that we face as BT’s are merely specialized versions of the rough-and-tumble experience of growing into adulthood… parenthood… middle age… and beyond.

It is easy to assume that the road not taken would have been smooth, well lit and bedecked with clear, accurate signage.

But life really isn’t like that. Many, if not most, BT’s who look back on “before” and “after” are in an “after” that includes marriage, children, a mortgage, a career or two, tens of extra pounds around the middle, in-laws, ageing or dying parents, and general economic stress.

That, by the way, is pretty much, notwithstanding a few of us who have hit it big and seem to have it “easy,” the best-case scenario.

And “before”? My goodness! I will just speak for myself. I was 22; a recent Ivy League graduate en route to a top law school; I had all of my hair and all the color in it; I could not only touch my toes but I could palm the ground!

These seem like trivial things, but they contributed significantly to my emotional well-being. I had a lot to look forward to and every reason to believe it would be a great future, even if I had no credible concept of what that meant.

And it was an all-me future! I could go where I wanted to when I wanted to. No one needed to be driven anywhere or picked up. No one needed me to go shopping. No one else’s physical, emotional, financial or other needs were a daily concern. More: What I did and how I did it concerned and affected me alone.

It was easy to be idealistic, enthusiastic, flexible, relaxed, as well as self-centered, imprudent and rash. It was being 22, not 44 or the 50 I am now approaching.

Of course I feel the weight of life now. Disenchanted? It could happen even under the best of circumstances, or the worst; within the framework of a Torah way of life or the amorphous existence of being “secular.” On some level, for the vast majority of people, it does. We have to come to terms with that.

Ah, yes. When I was 22 and becoming frum, it was exciting! I thought I had found many things that eluded me for my previous life. I thought I could have both this and that. And be 22 forever.

The reality was, of course, different — as it is for everyone who remembers what he thought life would look like at 22 and is fortunate enough to live to be 50. That’s almost three decades of change. Life becomes complicated; or, if you like, life becomes richer. We experience joys we could not image as well as pain both predictable and otherwise. Yes, we learn to appreciate and treasure moments and achievements we had no concept of as overgrown adolescents. But it cannot be denied that the fantasies about the future many of us have surrender to the reality of life in this world. Gravity and time grind us down.

We are, one hopes, better for it — choose your metaphor. Let’s speak of coal that becomes a diamond. It’s still a crushing experience.

Disenchanted? Of course. Unanswered questions? More than ever.

I can say without a moment’s hesitation, however, that if I had made it to this point without having made the choice I did when I was 22, and suffered the same disappointments, struggles and changes — all of which I believe I would have experienced, and maybe even worse — if I had lived even this long but without ch’v Torah and mitzvos to give live meaning and direction… and, frankly, distraction from the pain and the stress, and to give structure to the process by which, as adults, we must become less self-centered …

I don’t even want to think about it.

Buyer’s remorse? When I think I might have that, I pull out the “receipt.” I may be indeed be regretting something, or ruing it — but not necessarily what I “bought” by becoming frum. It’s just growing old. And as my late father always used to say, it beats the alternative.

Getting Beyond The Externalities

BS”D

Dear Editor:

I am writing in response to “What more can I do?’” which expressed the emotional pain of being “outed” as a Baalas Teshuva.

As a Baalas Teshuva myself of 33 years duration I empathize with your pain. I know how deeply such an encounter can hurt. Unfortunately, it is an all too common BT experience. You are not alone.

At some point along your 15 year journey, after having transformed yourself into a sincere and committed Baalas Teshuva, a well intended but clueless kiruv mentor convinced you that being a BT was somehow a shameful condition which needed to be concealed from FFB society. Someone assured you that your new “spiritual” goal was to conceal your BT-ness and dupe FFB’s into thinking that you are one of them.

When BT’s are given the message that they have to disguise what they are in order to gain social acceptance, “fit in” & “blend in” with FFB’s, the result is dysfunctional for the frum community as a whole. Socially pressuring thousands of individuals into disguising what they are in order to deceive others cripples everyone emotionally. There is no societal incentive to acquire the tools that are needed for accepting others who are different.

Both BT’s and FFB’s are socially pressured, albeit in different ways, to conform in ways not necessarily mandated by the Torah. The result of all this pretending is that very few people will ever feel truly accepted & loved since only facades are being held out as worthy of acceptance & love. It implicitly encourages everyone to lie, compare, compete, and of course conform.

Many well intended but clueless people get involved in kiruv for the wrong reasons: the amazing “high”, the validation of their own Yiddishkeit, the confirmation of their position in the hierarchy, the self esteem rush etc. that comes from doing kiruv. Everyone knows that the cheapest way to feel good about one’s self is to feel superior to someone else.

Forgive the individual (or individuals) who unintentionally misled you by “laying this trip” on you. They didn’t have the self awareness to understand their own motivations for doing kiruv, and they didn’t understand the implications of their message that it is shameful to be what you are, that you must hide yourself away. They didn’t know better.

Instead of encouraging you to seek to find favor in H-shem’s eyes through internal, spiritual growth, you were directed to seek acceptance from FFB society through externalities that make up your disguise. The end result is that who you are (neshama, a cheilik Elokai m’mal mamesh) has become confused with externalities.

While it is unarguably halachically necessary to cover your hair, wear tznius clothing, send your kids to Torahdik schools and keep a kosher kitchen, a subtle shift away from the actual mitzvohs themselves to externalities has occurred in your outlook. Your sheitle, your clothing, the type of hat that identifies the school your children attend, and your kitchen are what you use to compare yourself to the woman who “outed” you. Externalities, and the comparing, competing and conforming that accompanies the focus on externalities, are really all about social approval seeking.

Rabbi Naftoli Weinberg wrote, citing the Chovos HaLevovos, that performing mitzvohs in order to impress others (social approval seeking) is tantamount, in a way, to avodah zarah (Yated, Center 20) in the very same issue of the Yated that contained “What more can I do?”. Social approval seeking is spiritually self destructive, and a big waste of energy.

Only the mitzvohs remain yours forever : the mitzvah of kesuei harosh, the mitzvah of tznius, the mitzvah of chinuch, and the mitzvah of kashrus. The externalities will not remain. Your sheitle and your clothing will be given away or thrown in the garbage, the hat style used to identify your kids’ schools will go out of vogue, and your kitchen will be remodeled or sold with the house it occupies to someone else.

Forgive whoever unintentionally misdirected, and confused you. The focus on externalities, mitzvohs done with a social agenda — because everyone around you is doing it, and you will hurt your children’s shidduchim chances if you don’t, etc. — is perhaps all that they’ve ever known. They certainly couldn’t provide you with a better motivation if social approval seeking/social pressure is what motivates them.

Be that as it may, when we look for the good in everything, instead of focusing on the painful, we will inevitably see H-shem’s love. Every experience no matter how horrible has a gift for you. It is essential to remember that you are the one choosing what to experience.

Although being “outed” by a stranger was undeniably painful, since you have the choice of perspective you can use that experience as an opportunity to acquire a healthier, more authentic, internal, spiritual sense of self and embrace a better, truer spiritual goal for the future.

Rabbi Dovid Gottleib (a BT) wrote in a Jewish Observer article nearly twenty years ago: Once a BT, always a BT. No matter what you do, or how long you’ve been frum you will never be a FFB. Never. You didn’t need to be one in the first place.

It would have been a simple matter for H-shem to have created you as an FFB, but your truest self (neshama) needed to experience His love and guidance in a way that most FFB’s never will. Your BT-ness is a testimonial to H-shem’s involvement in the affairs of human beings, and a monument to your own integrity and courage.

The frum community is comprised of many different cultural groups and many different types of people. Every group and every Jewish person is essential to fulfilling the collective mission of Klal Yisroel. Your BT-ness is not a stigma that needs to be concealed, any more than it is a stigma to be Sefardi instead of Ashkenazi, Litvishe instead of Chassidishe, French instead of South African, or brown eyed instead of green eyed, etc.

The truth is going to be a problem for a lot of people, but it doesn’t have to be your problem anymore.

It’s time to stop scrutinizing yourself in the mirror to try to figure out what part of your external disguise you need to adjust in order to conceal your BT-ness. As long as you seek to be someone else, you have no chance to discover who you are meant to be. Peace comes to each of us when we stop pretending to be something other than our true selves.

Give yourself the acceptance, approval, and validation that you have been trying to get from FFB society. Why look to them to give you something that you can give to yourself?

Every movement towards authentic, internal, spiritual self definition (neshama), as opposed to disguise/identification with externalities for social acceptance, produces what Gila Manolson (a BT) in Outside/Inside calls a positive ripple effect in the frum community. By accepting the real you, you help others in the frum communtiy to accept the real them. It makes for a spiritually & emotionally healthier environment for everyone.

The Torah cautions all of us against this human tendency to try to be someone that we are not. The second of the Aseres HaDibros reads: “You shall not make for yourself [lecha] any carved idol [pesel], or any likeness of any thing…” (Shemos 20:4). The Degel Machne Ephrayim points out that the word lecha can be understood as “of yourself”, and the word pesel is related to the word pesolet (garbage). Understood this way, H-shem is telling each of us: Don’t throw away who you are! Don’t see yourself as garbage! Don’t make yourself into a “likeness of any thing” by trying to be someone you are not! (Outside/Inside p.90).

Most BT’s (and their children who may be FFB’s) experience some level of painful social and institutional discrimination. Once a secular Jew has undergone the total life transformation to Yiddishkeit, he/she ought not to be misdirected into to a life of concealment and disguise. Duping FFB’s into believing that you are an FFB too is not one of the 613 Mitzvohs. Give yourself permission to stop the madness.

This misdirection is a cause of recidivism on the part of disillusioned BT’s and their children who do leave the frum community altogether. The externalities needed for social acceptance by FFB society are not spiritually or emotionally sustaining, and could not sustain those who left. A G-d oriented, internally focused spiritual life could have sustained them and kept them part of the frum community. Acquire a G-d oriented, internally focused spiritual life for yourself and for your children. Klal Yisroel needs you.

All of us would do well to take a closer look at what is happening: As the ranks of Baalei Teshuva continue to grow the systemic problem of concealment and disguise will become more and more untenable. It will invariably trigger a great deal more unnecessary pain like that experienced by the anonymous Baalas Teshuva writer of “What more can I do?”. It also threatens to result in destabilizing, large scale social backlash. With insight and planning both can be avoided.

Project Inspire and Acheinu are now trying to turn more FFB’s into front line kiruv workers to staunch the hemorrhaging of Klal Yisroel brought on by assimilation. Both programs need to give those they are recruiting to do kiruv, FFB society, and those who are being m’karved better spiritual & emotional tools to achieve the healthy social integration of more sincere, committed BT’s into the frum community. Every Jew is important, and every Jew counts.

Much has been learned in the last 40 years about what works and what doesn’t work well when it comes to kiruv. It will benefit none of us if these lessons are ignored, and everyone just keeps repeating the same old dumb mistakes over and over again.

Sincerely,
YMG
Monsey, NY

This letter was originally published in the Yated.