Surviving the Seder – Guide to the Perplexed

Years ago, Maxwell House Coffees used to give out free Haggadahs at all the grocery stores, a nice way of reminding people that Maxwell House Coffees are Kosher for Passover. Those Haggadahs were actually quite nice (with charming illustrations) and were really helpful, with clear translations, a picture of the Seder plate layout, and easy instructions in English. In addition, if you had a couple dozen of these free Haggadahs, everyone at the Seder table could literally be on the same page.

OK, you can survive preparing for, and undergoing, the Pesach Seder even without the help of those good folks at Maxwell House. Bring some common sense, sanity and a lot of organization and you too can Do It Right on the Seder Night.

Kaarah shel Pesach (Seder Plate): Most seder plates have labeled spots where each item goes. Beytzah, Maror, Zroa, Karpas, Chazeres, Charoses. Beytzah (Roasted Eggs): Hardboil a lot of eggs in your Pesach pot (you’ll eat most of them later in salt water as a first course of the festive meal). Take one hard boiled egg, hold an end of it gently into the flame of the gas stove to get a dark spot. Use this slightly browned egg for the seder plate (keep it in the fridge to use again on the second night). If you prepare the egg on Yom Tov itself, eat the egg the next morning and then the second night prepare a new roasted egg (refer to the halachos of not preparing food on one day of Yom Tov for the next day, which starts evening before).

Zroa: I like to use a turkey wing just for this purpose, but really a chicken wing or any meat bone will do. I wrap the turkey wing in foil and place it right on top of the stove top gas burner flame. This could get a little messy, as the turkey fat melts and sputters. I have an old metal Pesach flat grater that I don’t use anymore for grating, so I put the foil wrapped packet containing the turkey wing on it, that holds some of the grease. I leave the turkey wing on the flame until it’s actually roasted and edible and browned (if anyone wants to eat it later following the Seder night they could if they wished). Again, as with the roasted egg, follow the halachos of cooking on Yom Tov if preparing the Zroa after Yom Tov begins (might need to eat it the next morning and prepare a new Zroa the next night for the second seder).

Charoses: There are a zillion Charoses recipes out there. If you want to make it easy on yourself, buy a package of ground walnuts. Peel and core an apple, cut into very tiny pieces (some people use a chopper or food processor). Mix the chopped bits of apple with the ground walnuts and some red wine. Add cinnamon and a speck of ginger if on hand. The exact proportions are disputed, make it as thick or as runny as you want. You don’t really need quarts of this stuff, we use just a large dollop on the seder plate and that’s good enough. People aren’t generally eating the stuff, it’s only a dip for the maror (and you shake it off, too). We used to be even lazier and use the dried Charoses mix that one yeshiva used to send us every year (they stopped doing that a few years ago). Those who want to keep kids busy might prefer buying whole walnuts, distributing nutcrackers and ordering kids to crack the nuts. Without kids to do it, don’t bother, use the packaged ground walnuts.

Maror and Chazeres: If you plan on using the eye-watering, throat-clearing stuff, be aware of the halachos about grating the horseradish root less than 24 hours before you use it (meaning grate it on Erev Pesach to be used the first Seder night) but then leaving it uncovered so that some of its strength lessens (the Pesach guidebooks by Rabbi Blumenkrantz zatzal and Rabbi Eider zatzal discuss proper preparation if you are using horseradish root). Also buy a clean new jigger glass (one fluid ounce) since the shiur or required measurement for fresh grated horseradish root is quite small (check with your own Posaik or local Orthodox rabbi).

My family gave up on fresh grated horseradish years ago (my husband used to turn purple after ingesting) and now we use romaine lettuce for maror. The shiur (minimum size) differs if you are using the leaves, the stalks or the solid centers of the romaine lettuce. Also romaine lettuce is extremely bug-infested and difficult to clean properly. We use the more expensive pre-checked pre-washed romaine lettuce (that used to be a specialty of Gush Katif before the expulsion, the Aleh Katif romaine lettuce). Again, the Pesach books have charts to measure the correct sizes when distributing the romaine lettuce for achilas maror and again for the Korech (combination).
On the Seder plate itself, some people use a little bit of the ground horseradish as Maror and a little bit of romaine lettuce for the Chazeres. We like to use a solid center from the romaine lettuce on the Kaarah as Maror, and a little piece of leaf for Chazeret.

Karpas: Everyone’s going to get a tiny bit, less than a Kazayis, so I simply boil a potato (we have tons) and use that for Karpas. Celery is OK too. This will be dipped into a small bowl of salt water (simply add some salt to water) and distributed to all participants in the Seder.

Matzah: If you use the hand baked shmurah matzohs for the Seder, follow what the R. Blumenkrantz and R. Eider guidebooks say and use approx 1/3 of a hand matzoh for a Kazayis (volume of an olive) and twice that or 2/3 of a hand matzoh for a K’beitzah (twice that or the volume of an egg). So everyone should get 2/3 of a matzoh for Motzi Matzoh, 1/3 of a matzoh for Korech, and 2/3 of a matzoh for the Afikoman. That works out to 5/3 of a hand matzoh for each person. Eleven hand shmurah matzohs are in a two-pound box, which is enough matzohs for six people at one seder. Obviously the three shmurah matzohs on the table for display won’t be enough to feed the crowd, so you give out little bits of those matzohs along with all of the extra matzohs you need to make up the minimum shiur. If somebody really can’t eat all of that matzoh I believe that in those cases just managing a total of one Kazayis or 1/3 of a hand matzo is enough, but ask your Poseik or Rav.

There is a nine-minute time period for eating the matzoh, this seems to include chewing but not swallowing, so your Seder participants sit with bulging cheeks chewing away at the round hand matzohs.

Wine or Grape Juice: Don’t be daunted by the requirement for four cups. We use small size cups, actually five ounce juice glasses, much easier than using regular size wine bechers which can be six or eight ounces. We also use very light wines for those who have trouble with heavy or high alcohol wines. Kedem has some very drinkable light wines such as Matuk Rouge Soft and Matuk Rouge Kal. The Pesach guides have a discussion here also about the minimum shiur. The first Kos has to be at least 4.42 ounces for Kadesh if the first Seder falls on Friday night and it is also Kiddush for Layl Shabbos, otherwise the shiur is even smaller for each of the arba kosos. Since for two of the kosos you must drink the whole kos and for two of the kosos at least half of the kos, it is easiest to use small glasses or cups for the kosos (measure in advance).

Maggid – With daylight savings time, the Seder doesn’t start until after the guys get back from davening Maariv, which means not even beginning until 9 PM. Pretty late. Our family takes about 2-1/2 hours on Maggid, we don’t get to the Matzah and Marror eating until about 11:30 PM and the dinner itself until close to 11:50 PM. Since chatzos is at 1 AM that gives us just one hour for the meal itself (we do it quickly by leaving out the fish and salad courses, just hardboiled egg in salt water, soup, main course, dessert), getting to the Afikoman at about 12:58. We try to allow everyone to say something during Maggid even though we want to move the Seder along. I think we strike a good balance. Benching then Nirtzah, we finish by 2 AM, hopefully the adults are awake enough to drink the last two Kosos and sing Hallel plus the famous Seder songs Chad Gadya and Echod Mi Yodaya.

You too can survive the Seder. Try to take a nap Erev Pesach, easiest when Erev Pesach is Shabbos, more difficult on a weekday. Help to get the table and the Seder Plate ready so that the Seder can begin right away after the men get back from Maariv. Everyone should start off with a Haggadah and a Kos on a small plate or saucer. The dish of three matzohs with a cover should be near the person leading the Seder, also the bowl of salt water and some utensil for dipping the bits of Karpas. Plenty of different strengths of wine and grape juice should be ready for pouring on the table. There should be a washing cup and towel near the sink for Urechatz and Rachtzah. People should have cushions or pillows ready on their chairs so they can lean (“recline”) when they drink the Arba Kosos. As mentioned above, it helps for everyone to use the same Haggadahs, however some people have their favorite Haggadahs and there are kid-friendly Haggadahs (aside from kid-made Haggadahs from school). Dig in the closet to get out the white Kittel that was cleaned and put away after Yom Kippur.

As long as you fulfill the halachic requirements, surviving the Seder is quite doable, and there’s plenty of room for some creativity and even humor. There are families who toss around stuffed frogs at the Esser Makkos – Ten Plagues point of the seder. My kids still sing songs from an old Pesach tape they heard about twenty years ago. I know that there are people who conduct a very serious Seder; we are a little more lighthearted. It’s very important for the children at the Seder table to be involved in the telling of the Haggadah; after all, that’s one of the mitzvos of the night, teaching your children about yetzias Mitzrayim. It’s interesting to think about how the sages of two thousand years ago designed the Haggadah and the Seder in a way to keep children interested and awake, millennia before anyone dreamed up the phrase, “multi media presentation.”

Chag Kasher v’Sameach to all!

Originally Posted on March 26, 2010

Ordinary Opportunities to be an Awesome Human

By Chaya Houpt

One night this week, I helped my neighbor carry platters of food to her car. I dropped a huge platter of beautifully-prepared salad, and it splattered all over the filthy sidewalk.

The next day, she left me a note saying that there were more than enough vegetables at the event, and she could tell I was pained by the spill, and I should not worry about it.

What a great example of how life offers a lot of ordinary opportunities to be an awesome human in the world.

Fearing Fear Itself and Beating Brutal Arms with Happy Feet

Yaakov needed to defend himself and his family. So why was he anxious about killing others?
Why did Yaakov’s wrestling match opponent aim for the hip?

The messengers returned and said to Yaakov,” We came to your brother Esav and he is also heading towards you and has 400 men with him. Yaakov was very frightened and anxious …

— Bereishis 32-7,8

Yaakov was very frightened and anxious: He was frightened for fear that he might be killed and he was anxious lest he kill others (Bereishis Rabbah 75:2, MidrashTanchuma-Vayishlach 4.)

— Rashi ibid

HaShem; isn’t it so that I hate those that hate You? And do not I bicker with those that rise up against You? I hate them with supreme hatred; they have become my own enemies.  

— Tehillim 139;21,22

When it goes well for the virtuous, the town celebrates; and when the wicked perish, there is joy.  

— Mishlei 11:10

Save me I pray from the hand of my brother; from the hand of Esav for I fear him …

— Bereishis  32:12

[Regarding the miraculous trial of the Sotah-suspected adulteress;] our Rabbis taught: “And the man will then be free of sin [but the woman will be punished if guilty.]” (BeMidbar 5:31) — [Only] at such times when the husband is free of sin, will the waters test his wife; but when the man is not free of sin, the waters will not test his wife.”

— Sotah 47B

And [when] Yaakov was left alone, a stranger wrestled with him, raising dust, until the darkness lifted. When the stranger saw that he could not overwhelm him he touched Yaakovs upper thigh joint. Yaakov’s upper thigh joint was dislocated as he raised the dust with him.

— Bereishis  32:25,26

The sun rose and was shining on him as he passed through Penuel and he was limping on account of his [dislocated] thigh [joint.] Therefore the bnei Yisrael-Children of Israel; refrain from eating the gid hanasheh-the displaced nerve; on the hip joint to this very day.

— Bereishis  32:32,33

The sun rose for him: … The Midrashic interpretation (Bereishis Rabbah 68:10) [is]: The sun rose for him-to heal his limp, as it is said: (Malachi 3:20): “the sun of mercy, with healing in its wings.”

— Rashi ibid

Chazal-our Talmudic sages; quoted by Rashi teach that Yaakov had an ominous presentiment about his encounter with Esav based on the dual fears of killing and of being killed. At first glance it is perfectly reasonable that Yaakov Avinu would fear being killed. Almost all of humanity is afflicted with death anxiety for a variety of reasons. In Yaakov’s case, no doubt, it stemmed from nobler considerations than in the vast majority of humanity, but we can at least hazard educated guesses of why he feared his own death.  Not so when considering his other source of anxiety.

The Biskovitzer asks; what did Yaakov have to fear about the possibility of killing others (presumably Esav and his cohorts)? After all,  they were reshaim-wicked people; approaching Yaakov and his family with unjust and unprovoked lethal intentions and the Midrash Tanchuma (Pinchas 1) teaches that “one who spills the blood of reshaim is considered to have offered a korban-sacrifice; to HaShem.”

Read more Fearing Fear Itself and Beating Brutal Arms with Happy Feet

Torah Judaism and the Four Premium Values of Today’s Youth

R. D. Joshua Berman has a good post on “Why Are Young People Leaving Religion?” at Torah Musings. He references a book titled “You Lost Me”, by David Kinnaman, a devout Christian and a sociologist who discusses the four premium values of today’s youth:

Choice and Tolerance: What a young person sees is an endless parade of people like himself making choices about the ideals to follow and the lifestyle to lead and airing the feelings about the choices they’ve made. The result is that the paramount virtue of the younger generation is tolerance. We all do something a little differently, and that’s ok. Traditional religion, of course, says that there are absolutes, and that there is a core one, right way.

Complexity, Uncertainty and Doubt – In this vast exposure to viewpoints and ideas, young people quickly learn that there are no absolutes. They find cogent arguments against the existence of God, the divinity of the Torah, traditional notions of sexuality and endless more. They are more keenly aware of complexity than any generation of youngsters before them. When articles of faith are presented to them as simple fact with no complexity, they sense something phony.

Individual Expression – The Facebook post, the selfie – these accentuate for a young person the importance of self-expression, of being a unique and distinct “me.” They witness in their peers incredible creativity of expression literarily, musically, and artistically. For this generation davening in shul is a challenge – in shul, you do the same thing every single time, and you do it in lock-stop with everybody else.

Reduced Regard for Hierarchy and Authority – You don’t need to turn to anyone anymore to gain knowledge. No matter what question you have, it’s all there on the internet. The internet knows best, not father. Young people don’t turn to adults for advice; there’s Google for that. Once upon a time rabbis were placed on a pedestal, their esteem was unquestioned. But today, no models enjoy unquestioned esteem. Heroic athletes turn out to be steroid cheats. For young people, regular reports of rabbinic misconduct mean that today a rabbi must earn his esteem. It is no longer automatically assumed.

Go read the article to see Dr. Berman’s suggestions for dealing with these issues.

Recommit to Shnayim Mikra With Noach

Chazal (the sages) instituted a weekly spiritual growth mechanism which takes advantage of the power of Torah learning called Shnayim Mikra V’Echod Targem, which is reading the weekly Torah portion twice in Hebrew and its translation once.

The Shulchan Aruch and Mishna Berurah describe different levels of performing Shanyim Mikra, but here’s the easiest way which will enable you to perform it and achieve its spiritual growth benefits:

1) Read out load the Parsha in Hebrew during the week to fulfill the first Hebrew reading.
2) Read out loud the Art Scroll translation in English during the week. This fulfills the translation component.
3) On Shabbos, during the public leining read along out loud quietly to fulfill the second Hebrew reading.

Each week counts as a separate mitzvah so don’t fret if you didn’t start this year with Bereishis and Noach. You can start this week with Noach.

Noach was a good man
a good man, a good man
Noach was a good man
….In his time
– A Cheder Song

Noach is described as a Tzaddik, but the first Rashi on the Parsha casts a shadow on his righteousness. Dig in to the parsha and rediscover Noach’s greatness.


Update: Rabbi Nebenzhal has a good analysis of the above issue here. Hat tip: Bob Miller

Rabbi Jonathan Rietti was kind enough to allow us to post the outline here, but you can purchase the entire outline of the Chumash for the low price of $14 for yourself and your family.

Noach
#6 Building Noach’s Ark
#7 The Flood
#8 Mt. Ararat
#9 Rainbow – Noach Drunk
#10 The Descendants of Shem, Cham & Yafet
#11 Tower of Bavel – 10 Generations of Noach

#6 Building Noach’s Ark
* Praise of Noach
* The Three Sons of Noach
* World corruption
* “Behold! I will destroy them utterly!”
* Build an ark
* Compartments
* 300 X 50 X 30 cubits
* Skylight – Slanted Roof – 3 Stories
* 1 Male – 1 Female of every animal – Store Food

#7 The Flood
* 7 pairs of kosher animals
* 2 pairs of non-kosher animals
* 7 pairs of birds
* Noach 600 years old when flood began (2nd month, 17th day)
* 40 days & 40 nights – 15 cubits above the highest mountain
* Total destruction
* 150 days

#8 Mt. Ararat
* 150 days till water receded
* 7th Month, 17th day, the Ark rested on Mt. Ararat
* 10th Month, 1st day mountain tops become visible
* Raven
* Dove #1, #2, #3
* 1st Tishrei Noach opened gate of Ark
* 2nd Month, 27th day, land was totally dry (exactly 365 days after the flood began).
* ‘Leave the Ark!’
* Noach built an Altar
* G-d appeased & promises never to flood the earth again
* Four seasons

#9 Rainbow – Noach Drunk
* Blessing to Noach “Be fruitful and Multiply!”
* All living creatures will fear you
* You can eat meat but not flesh from living animal
* Violation of suicide
* Death penalty for murder
* Command to be fruitful and multiply
* G-d promises never to flood entire world again
* Rainbow is sign of this promise
* Noach planted a vineyard
* Drunk
* Canaan cursed: slave of slaves to his brothers
* Blessed Shem and Yafet
* Noach died 950

#10 The Descendants of Noach
* Descendants of Yafet and Cham (Nimrod grandson of Cham & 1st world despot)
* Descendents of Canaan
* Descendants of Shem

#11 Tower of Bavel – 10 Generations of Shem
* One Language
* The Tower
* HaShem scattered them
* 10 Generations of Shem
* 11th Gen. Shem 600
* 12th Gen. Arpachshad 438
* 13th Gen. Shelach 433
* 14th Gen. Ever 464
* 15th Gen. Peleg 239
* 16th Gen. Re’oo 239
* 17th Gen. Serug 230
* 18th Gen. Nachor 248
* 19th Gen. Terach 205 – Avram-Nachor-Haran
* Haran – Lot – Milka & Yiska (Sarai). Haran dies in Ur Kasdim
* Avram marries Sarai
* Nachor marries Milka
* 20th Gen. Avram
* Terach leaves Ur Kasdim with Avram, grandson Lot & Sarai
* Terach dies in Charan

The 60 Second Guide to Rosh Hashanah

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

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

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

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

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

The Shofar which was present at the giving of the Torah and will be sounded when we have succeeded in our mission, gives tribute today to the King of Kings. The observance of the mitzvah of Shofar testifies that we are still committed to G-d’s plan and enables the spiritual judicial system to dismiss our mistakes for mitigating circumstances.

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

Preparing for the Mourning of Tisha Bav

The laws of mourning on Tisha B’av are modeled after the laws of mourning when a relative passes away. One significant difference is, that by a relative the stringency of the halachos decreases as time passes, while at of Tisha B’av increase as we pass from the three weeks, to the nine days, to Tisha Bav itself.

One explanation is that for a relative we feel the loss immediately and most strongly when they pass away, and the pain of that loss decreases as time goes on. Whereas for Tisha B’av it is difficult for us to mourn for a loss that we never experienced, so we need to work on increasing the feeling of that loss throughout the Three Weeks.

With that said here are some direct downloads and links to other sites to help prepare for the mourning of Tisha B’Av:

Torah Anytime on Tisha B’Av

YU Torah shiurm on Tisha B’Av

Torah Downloads on Tisha B’Av

Rabbi Akiva Tatz on Tisha B’av – Destruction of The Mind

Rabbi Herschel Welcher on Tisha B’Av (2006)

Rabbi Herschel Welcher on Tisha B’Av (2007)

Rabbi Herschel Welcher on Tisha B’Av (2009)

Rabbi Herschel Welcher on Tisha B’Av (2011)

Rabbi Herschel Welcher on “Lessons from the Pain of Bar Kamtza”

Rabbi Herschel Welcher on Tisha B’av Directions

R’ Moshe Schwerd on Bringing Korbanos With Our Lips

R’ Moshe Schwerd on How Mourning Brings the Dawn of Moshiach

R’ Moshe Schwerd on “The Morning after the Mourning”

R’ Moshe Schwerd on “Tisha B’AV Mourning and Consolation”

R’ Moshe Schwerd on Tisha B’Av – Past, Present & Future

BT in Difficult Times

B”H

Dear all brothers and sisters at ‘Beyond Teshuva’.

I am writing to you in response to Matys Weiser’s video on YouTube (another convert) – I was so touched and moved when he (as a Ger) spoke of his abject loneliness as a convert – the same applies to me as a BT. I’m sure this is true of so many of us – I don’t understand this – are Ger and BT esteemed more in Hashem’s eyes because of how we prevailed under everything blocking us???

I’m now 54 and was raised in a non-observant family in 60’s UK – my mother’s (grandmother, grt grandmother) lineage was Jewish (Greenberg/Greenbaum, via Poland and Ukraine) but my grandmother married a goyim and was expelled from the family. So, our Jewish heritage was forbidden to be spoken of.

Now, please understand that I “woke up” to my heritage whilst in China – 3 years of the most lonely struggle I could have never imagined, but there was, Baruch Hashem, Chabad and Breslov on the internet.

I thought, after returning to Canada it would be easy to become part of a Jewish community, especially after spending 3 months in Israel, mostly in Sussya and Tsfat (a wonderful Chabad community!!). I was wrong. The local synagogue doesn’t want to know me because they think I’m a Chabadnik (which I am unashamedly so…….my only “Rabbi” for 3 years was Chabad on the net!), any Rabbi I email in my two communities close to me don’t respond – I might as well have stayed in China!!

Desperately lonely Jew here………life was so much easier as an atheist…….but then, Avraham Avinu truly knew loneliness…..and HaKodesh Baruch Hu never promised us an easy road – just to keep walking. Honestly though, with the High Holidays approaching……….maybe I’m to move to another city……..another move, and another and another……

Be strong – for our only refuge is in Him.

Best always,

Julie (Rachel)
jcw58@hotmail.com

Cutting Connections – No More Web Browser In My Home

The Citi Field Asifa regarding the Internet was held last night, so we though it would be appropriate to repost this article that was originally published on May 30, 2006.

As everyone on this blog is aware, many, if not the majority, of gedolim are speaking out against the Internet. On Sunday, May 14 – Mother’s Day in the secular world – I attended what was advertised as an “historic asifa” on this very subject. My sons’ yeshiva sent home notes about it a month in advance, exhorting the parents about the importance of attending. They followed up with a personal phone call on the day of the asifa, and just in case the community hadn’t gotten the message, a car equipped with a loudspeaker drove around broadcasting: “Save our children! Attend the historic asifa!” Under such pressure, I attended.

I must admit, I was reluctant. In fact, when my ride there was delayed, I was happy to be late. But ultimately, I made it there and was persuaded to do something I never dreamed I had the strength to do: I disabled my browser.

The two speakers at the event were Rabbi Norman Lowenthal, a social worker with expertise in young people and Internet addiction, and Ha Rav Mattisyahu Solomon, Rosh Yeshiva of Beth Medrash Govoha. Both were extremely scary. Rabbi Lowenthal spoke about the predators on the Internet, who, with their smooth words, lure teens into the most exploitative of relationships. And even without those horrific stories, he described the easy access to porn, and obsessive behaviors like checking email and blog post responses up to twenty times a day. This last is probably the most benign of the things he described, but it fit me to a T, and that frightened me.
Read more Cutting Connections – No More Web Browser In My Home

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

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

So, didn’t she almost have it all?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jewish Power Lunch

This post was first posted on Healthy Jewish Cooking and the author’s BT story can be found here.

We’re told that if we eat the right foods, take the right supplements, eat at the right times (and with the right people), exercise, and so forth, we’ll see powerful changes in our lives.

The teachings of the Chassidic mystics, which can be simply defined as “applied Kabbala”, show us another food-related way to power-up. It seems that what we eat, while important, is less important than what our spiritual experience of eating actually is. In a way, eating is ¹prayer.

Likutey Tefilos is a collection of indelibly moving prayers on every topic–you can say the prayers as is, or use them as a springboard to your own personal prayers. It was written and complied by Reb Noson, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov’s primary student. Reb Noson was instructed by the Rebbe to take his ²teachings and turn them into prayers. He taught that knowledge accumulated without then applying it to one’s life and using it to strengthen one’s personal connection to the Creator, isn’t really knowledge at all.

It isn’t just Breslov Chassidus–Jewish wisdom across the sects and centuries has always insisted that one who is a scholar must be changed at his core by his scholarship–otherwise his scholarship is hollow, indeed.

In the introduction to prayer 47, in Volume 3 of the collection called The Fiftieth Gate (a translation of Likutey Tefilos published by the Breslov Research Institute), we read: “When a person eats only to satisfy his soul and not due to physical desires, G-d feeds him from the trait of truth. Then, when he praises G-d with the power that he derives from such eating, he speaks words of truth. Then this person can perform miracles.”

And: “If…a person is steeped in the desire for eating, G-d hides his countenance from him, and the person is far from truth.”

At the highest level are those who eat only in order to say the blessing over the food as well as because they must in order to live and serve G-d. That level is truth. The rest of us must start from “where we’re at”. Where we’re at can vary widely. Are we mindlessly pigging-out on entire bags of chips or containers of ice cream? Is there a reason that overeating and binging invokes the name of an unkosher animal rather than, say, the kosher goat, which also eats everything in sight?

Are we gourmets, constantly focus on creating and/or consuming tantalizing dishes whenever possible and not just in honor of Shabbos and the holy days? That was one of my weaknesses–I loved the process of creatively cooking and lovingly feeding people and, I admit, receiving praise for my efforts.

Are we rigid about the nutritional content and energetic balance of our foods, unable to bend at special occasions or when guests in people’s homes or unable to allow others to eat what they like?

For me, keeping the weekday meals simple, usually vegan, with the focus primarily on health, was a great place to start. I was first inspired to do this a few years ago when I heard someone say that “she couldn’t help it if she simply preferred the best of everything”. She insisted on travelling out of her way and mine to purchase an extremely expensive, hard-to-find chocolate (one with all the foodie bells and whistle). I don’t recall all the details but what springs to mind was that the chocolate had a delirium-inducing cacao percentage, was made with beans grown organically at the top of a mountain on a tropical island, hydrated by spring water hauled by hand up the mountain in golden buckets, then, when ripe, handpicked by poetry-spouting children under the age of seven, wrapped in handmade linen paper and flown business class directly to the Upper West side. Or something like that. I might be exaggerating a bit.

I had a horrifying shock of self-recognition, albeit I wasn’t that extreme or that extravagant. Seriously, anyone can spend their life cultivating and refining their tastes and strengthening their desires so that they constantly long for the rarest and the best. This does not a meaningful life make.

Yet, this has largely become America’s mainstream food culture. Think the Food Channel and designer kitchens that take two years to build. Think Chicago suburbanites who can easily tell you where the real foodies eat when in Sardinia, Madrid, or Taipei.

We’ve been Frenchified! The American Coasts (and places in between) are now rife with deadly earnest oeno-gastronomes who pepper everyday chat with terms like affineur, artisanal, and achiote.

This lurch towards Roman-empire scale food obsession (what next, ³vomitoria?), has had an effect on America’s sub-cultures, too. American Jews of all stripes from the most secular to the *Super-Orthodox have their share of gourmandising/gourmeting going on at a scale never-before seen. And not just at weddings and bar mitzvahs. Jewish magazines are packed with glossy food photos, recipes by Kosher-chef superstars, and glamorous table settings. There seems to be a food-style war going on between the two glossiest of these magazines.

For some reason, it’s easy to forget that Judaism is less a religion than a totally-encompassing life path. It’s easy to forget that how we approach eating is intricately bound with how we approach Judaism and and also tied in with what we understand our life-purpose to be.

In case that’s all a bit too heavy, here’s something light: my latest favorite hot-weather Jewish power lunch.

Jewish Power Lunch for 2

1 ripe avocado, peeled and diced

1 cup mixed sprouts (clover, broccoli, alfalfa is nice)

1 cup sprouted chickpeas (optional)

2 scallions, sliced

handful of sprouted or toasted pumpkin seeds or almonds

1/4 cup chopped fresh herbs such as cilantro, parsley, mint

2 cups mixed lettuces

Juice of one lemon

Pinch of chipotle chile powder

1 teaspoon Bragg’s liquid aminos or your favorite soy sauce

Wash lettuce and scallions and check for insects. Toss all ingredients together in large bowl.

¹Prayer in the Jewish sense isn’t about pleading with G-d to give you what you desire. (Although that is sometimes part of prayer). The Hebrew word for prayer is tefilla which is related to the word for judgment, lehitpallel. Prayer is the time where, while conversing and connecting with G-d, you also reflect on (hence, judge) yourself.

²Each of these prayers can be used as part of a comprehensive applied study of one of the Rebbe’s lessons from his powerful magnum opus, Likutei Moharan.

³There probably were no such things as vomitoria at Roman banquets. Scholars say the vomitorium is most likely a myth.

*Super sounds so much nicer in these times than Ultra.

Some Thoughts About Shabbos Shira

Rabbi Dov Ber Weisman – Torah from Dixie:

This Shabbat is one of the few throughout the year that is given a special name. The day we read Parshat Beshalach is called Shabbat Shira (the Shabbat of Song), commemorating the glorious and awe-inspiring event when, after the miraculous deliverance from the Egyptians at the Red Sea, the Children of Israel simultaneously burst forth into a song of praise to Hashem. However, beyond giving praise to Hashem for miraculously saving us, the concept of shira (song) has a far deeper significance in correlation to our mission and goal in life.

After our earthly abode, we will ascend into a purely spiritual dimension to give an accounting of ourselves before the heavenly court. Did we fulfill our mission, our unique potential during our transmigration on earth? At that time, each individual will give his shira, song. This shira is the accomplishment that each of us made in our lives. Each of us will have to give an accounting of how we contributed to the sanctification of G-d’s name and the spread of His glory in this world.

Ironically, those very aspects in our lives that we looked upon as misfortunes and handicaps, whether in personality or in physicality, will be our crown of glory when we get to the world of truth. For example, a blind or slow-witted person will be asked, “What was most precious to you on earth?” That person will amazingly answer, “My blindness or dull-wittedness – because even though I had these handicaps, I didn’t question Your ways.” I did not complain, I did what I could with what I had. I understood that sometimes one need not understand. Some people are born rich, while others are not; some people are more attractive, intelligent, and talented than others. But life is fair, and I recognize that my G-d given attributes are what I needed to serve You, Hashem; and to have someone else’s attributes would only cause me harm and truly handicap me.

This is why our individual shira is so precious and unique; because each one of us has our own unique handicaps, our own little mix of problems. And if despite all that, we don’t give up and we do serve Hashem to the best of our abilities, then these very same handicaps will became our most prized possessions, our crown of glory, our song to Hashem.

Name That Tune or God’s Memory Is Better Than Ours
By Rabbi Pinchas Winston
:


The Torah (and Haftorah) speaks about Shira (song), the specially composed tribute to God for the miracles He performs to save the lives of His people. If anything, Shira takes the focus off our own military prowess, and focuses our attention instead on God, and how, with His help and guidance, we were able to overcome great odds, and to stand up against the world.

How important is saying Shira? The gemora says that had King Chizkiah, during the time of the First Temple, sang praises of God for the miracle that occurred for him (in his war against the massive army of Sancheriv), he would have been the Moshiach (Sanhedrin 94a)! But he did not, and the rest is history, our history, and all that occurred since then.

It’s not that God yearns for a pat on the back from us. It’s more that He desires to elevate us to a higher spiritual plain in order for us to be able to have an even greater experience of Him, the most sublime pleasure possible and purpose of life. Shira exhibits how much we are able to tear away the “veils” of nature from over our mind’s eye, and see the soul of the matter, the hand of God orchestrating all the events of daily life towards an ultimate goal that supercedes any events of current historical importance. Such a recognition serves to “purify” the world, and lead to a period of history of miracles even greater than those such as the splitting of the sea, or the overcoming of tyrants.

I Really Have to Watch What I Say…

I haven’t been writing recently. Both here and my regular blog. There were several reasons, including the birth of my third daughter, things getting busy at work, getting very active in a new hobby, etc. But I think the one overwhelming reason was an incident I had just before Rosh Hashana last year.

A group I belong to has an email list, and we began sending each other “Shana Tova” greetings. One person sent out “Have an easy fast!” Now let me back up a little bit here. I’m sometimes a bit of a jokester. I like making people laugh, usually with light teasing, with emphasis on the light, I never try for mean humor, demeaning someone.

So I sent an e-mail out pointing out that Yom Kippur was in 10 days, and tonight (it was the day of Erev Rosh Hashana) “I plan to Feast, not Fast!” I had just meant it as a joke in the similarity between, yet totally opposite meanings of, the words ‘Feast’ and ‘Fast.’ However, while the group I belong to is a Jewish group, I’m the only observant member, and most of them know I became observant a few years ago (I was a member before I became observant).

My friend took my message not as a joke, but as if I was scolding him about not knowing the difference between the holidays, and also protested that because he was diabetic, he doesn’t fast as it causes medical problems for him. While his message wasn’t scathing, it was harsh enough that I knew I must have really hurt him and led him to think I was telling him he needed to fast. I quickly sent him an apology, and told him I was only joking, again, about the ‘fast’ and ‘feast’ thing, I knew about his medical issues, and that I was by no means telling him what he should or shouldn’t do, nor did I have any right or desire to do so. I worried about it all during the Yom Tov, and quickly checked my email after it was over. He had replied back that he understood, and probably took it the wrong way, and there were no hard feelings.

However, it still really struck me that a casual remark, meant to be a joke, brought such a reaction. I have tried very hard to be sure I was not judging others, not making them feel they should become more observant as well, etc. But I guess there’s always the underlying feeling that someone more observant is trying to force others to be as well.

Please Help Lancaster Yeshiva With a Click of the Mouse

In November 2008, we all did our part in helping Leah Larson win the $100,000 grand prize in the Wells Fargo’s Someday Stories Contest.

Well now we all have a another chance to help our fellow Jews. Lancaster Yeshiva is entered in Pepsi’s $50,000 good idea contest.

A Beyond BT reader describes the Lancaster Yeshiva:

First it was the Mikvah. When the Rabbi arrived in this dwindling Jewish community right in the middle of Amish country, one of his first projects was to build a Mikvah. With the assistance of several congregation members, they raised penny after penny until finally the Mikvah was built. But that was just the first step in attempting to revitalize the kehilla.

Next it was the Yeshiva. Indeed, it is not your ordinary off-the-block Yeshiva. Geared towards bochurim who sometimes fall in between the cracks, the kind who want to be in a yeshiva but are more talented in the hands-on department. The Yeshiva provides a combination of morning learning with afternoon vocational training in residential construction. It is well suited for the kind of bochurim who don’t see themselves as academically oriented and need something different than just sitting all day and learning. As such, it serves a vital need in the Jewish community at large. And it seems to be succeeding. From a recent article in Mishpacha Magazine:

“We started the yeshiva shelo lishmah,” Rabbi Sackett says, “as a means to a different end, as a means to building up the Lancaster community.But before we knew it, we were doing it lishmah. The yeshiva took on a life and a reason for being all its own.”

In other words, in teaching boys how to build, the Lancaster Yeshiva Center accomplishes an even bigger objective it builds up the boys themselves.

But of course running a Yeshiva requires funds. It’s not often that such an easy opportunity to take part in a Mitzva comes along. You’ll be helping this unique Yeshiva itself, and at the same time showing some hakoras hatov to the Lancaster Jewish community by helping it grow into a more vibrant kehilla. Anyone who has been to Hershey park and benefited from the Kosher stand has benefited from the Lancaster Jewish community.

With just a few clicks of the mouse you can help the Yeshiva – http://www.refresheverything.com/LancasterYeshivaCenter – so hurry up vote early and vote often (once a day – per email address) and don’t forget to spread the word!