Posted on | March 10, 2014 | By DixieYid | 117 Comments
During the first couple of years that I was becoming religious, all three of my local reform rabbis back in Dixie made times to meet with me personally to bring me back to the fold, since I had gone/was going “off the derech,” to the dark side of orthodoxy.
It was a bemusing experience for young, intractable me, and I know it was a frustrating experience for them. (I’m changing names to protect identities.) First was Rabbi Sol Friedman, the head rabbi of our nearly 1000 family Temple. After our discussion, he commented to me that he was disappointed that someone as intelligent as myself would waste my potential in orthodoxy. I later met with the assistant rabbi, Rabbi Barbara Dawson. She couldn’t believe that I was using the sexist Artscroll Siddur and the Ashkenazi pronunciation, which she felt constituted being poreish min haTzibur, separating myself from the majority of the Jewish people who use the Americanized Israeli pronunciation. Last was Rabbi Ralph Feldman, rabbi emeritus. After our conversation, he was convinced that my contention that women and men are equal in orthodoxy was the product of brainwashing.
One claim that all three made, along with many others, however, was that choosing orthodoxy is choosing “the easy way out.” The theory goes something like this: One of a weaker moral and intellectual character needs and wants the structure of a lifestyle that allows an outside authority to dictate every detail of life and every moral decision. These types of people are fearful of the personal responsibility involved in making moral choices and therefore choose orthodoxy to allow the rabbis and the law books make the tough moral choices so they do not have to. In contrast, reform Jews are braver and of a stronger moral character and therefore do not require the moral crutch of the detailed laws of orthodoxy to make their moral choices for them. They are not afraid of individuality and making informed moral choices.
Is this argument valid? I would illustrate the wilful blindness inherent in the above claim with an analogy: Is a person weak-minded if he follows doctors’ and nutritionists’ instructions on how to live a physically lifestyle? An exercise or diet regimen will include, for argument’s sake, a certain maximum calorie count that one is allowed to consume in a given day, and, let’s say, 30 minutes of exercise three times per week. Those are very specific instructions. Although one might claim that letting doctors and nutritionists make one’s health decisions for him is depriving him of his G-d given right to make his own health decisions, this argument would obviously be also false. Why?
Even if one is following the guidance of a nutritionist that he should eat, let’s say, a maximum of 2000 calories on a given day, there is a great level of personal input and creativity in how one meets that standard. He could cook French, Indian, Mexican, Japanese, or Italian style cuisine. He can eat a 100 calorie breakfast, a 100 calorie lunch, and then splurge on an 1800 calorie dinner. There is so much leeway within fulfilling that standard that one cannot say, with a straight face, that one is giving up personal choice by limiting himself to the recommended 2000 calories per day.
In regard to exercise, one can fulfill his weekly exercise regimen by jogging, taking Tae Kwan Do, lifting weights, going to the gym, playing any sport he chooses, or running on the treadmill. The fact that one must exercise does not take away his individual personal choice. There are many ways to carry out the doctors’ advice, and following their guidance is not an abdication of personal choice.
Similarly, there are laws in halacha for every aspect of life but a variety of ways that we carry out those laws, as an expression of individuality. Those aspects of halachic decision-making that individuals are not capable of making on their own because the lack the knowledge and information to do so, are up to the Shulchan Aruch and Poskim to decide, just as the general guidelines for exercise and nutrition are decided by doctors and nutritionists, since they are trained and schooled to be knowledgeable in those areas.
For example, halacha says that one must daven 3 times per day. A man can decide in what Shul to daven, in which paragraphs of Shemoneh Esreh to insert personal tefillos, in what part of the day to be misboded and speak to Hashem in his own words, and in which word, out of the hundreds in Shemoneh Esreh, to place extra kavannah, depending on his own personal nature. And a woman has even more leeway and discretion in when, where, and how she davens.
As another example, people must learn Torah. Aside from learning enough halacha to live a lifestyle in accordance with halacha, the gemara says, l’olam yilmod adam ma shelibo chafeitz , a person should learn that which his his heart desires. Some learn 100% gemara. Others may learn 80% and 10% Mussar. Others might mix it up with Tanach, Halacha, Gemara, and Chassidus.
There is a vast space in halacha that is given to us in which to choose how to serve Hashem . This means that not only does adherence to halacha not take away choice, it actually lends greater meaning to the choices we make. Just as one who makes medical choices without consulting any doctor or expert will end up wasting his efforts on his own ignorant ideas, so too will one who tries to make moral choices without any true authority or expert, will find himself clamoring around in the dark. However, if one allows the light of halacha to illuminate his path, then the choices that he makes within that system will have meaning and direction, rather than a random shot in the dark.
First Published Nov 6, 2007
Posted on | March 6, 2014 | By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz | 2 Comments
Vayikra 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
Speak to the children of Israel and say to them: When a man will bring near, from [among] you,( meekem) a sacrifice to the Lord; from animals, from cattle or from the flock you shall bring your sacrifice
–Vayikra 1: 2
When he brings. [The pasuk is not discussing an obligatory sacrifice, in which case it would have said, “a man shall bring ….” Rather,] the pasuk is speaking here of voluntary sacrifices [and thus says, “When a man …brings a sacrifice”]. — [Toras Kohanim 1:12]
from animals: but not all of them. [The phrase therefore] excludes the case of animals that have cohabited with a human, as an active or a passive partner. – [Toras Kohanim 1:17]
from cattle: [The phrase] excludes an animal that has been worshipped [as a deity].
from the flock: [This phrase} excludes muktzah-an animal set aside [i.e., designated for sacrifice to pagan deities]. — [Toras Kohanim 1:18]
Several sefarim from the Izhbitzer school pose a grammatical question about this pasuk ; Why the garbled sentence structure with the verb appearing before stating the subject precisely? The syntax of the sentence ought to have been “When a man from among you will bring near?
What follows is a sampling of the wide array of answers that are offered:
Referencing the famous drasha-derivation of a Halachah from close textual readings, of the gemara ( Sukkah 41B): “and you shall take lachem-to yourself–from that which belongs to you”, Rav Leibeleh Eiger understands the odd placement of the word meekem – “from (among) you”, to mean that the real sacrifice is not from ones property / livestock, but from oneself. After all, the pasuk need not mention that the donor of the sacrifice is from “among” the Jewish People as the entirety of the Torah is addressed to an exclusively Jewish audience. Rather, the pasuk seeks to convey the concept that the “stuff” of the bringing near/sacrificing is from “you”, from the very being of the donor.
Many people tend to compartmentalize their lives. Their attitude is that they “owe” G-d the performance of mitzvos and the avoidance of transgressions. However, if something in their lives; be it a thought, a word or action is Halachically / morally neutral; a devar reshus- something we are neither commanded to do nor to avoid; then we are, so to speak, free agents, we are on our own. As long as something is Halachically permissible then, the thinking goes, we ought to “go for all the gusto”, take full advantage of all permissible pleasures and thus, live life to its fullest.
This may be a pervasive attitude but it is not an authentically Jewish one. At the beginning of Parashas Kedoshim the Ramban famously condemns it as being the mind-set of a nahval birshus hatorah- a vile lowlife with the Torah’s imprimatur and “seal of approval.” Rav Leibeleh teaches that the nearness and the sacrifice of what is termed a korban derives mainly from meekem; giving up something of yourself, leaving some pleasure on the table, some of the great deals unconsummated or some adventurous experience unlived.
This, he maintains, is what Rashi is referring to when he explains “the pasuk is speaking here of voluntary sacrifices,” that a generosity of spirit and volunteerism grip the worshippers heart so that he is prepared to strive for the paradigm of “sanctify yourself with [i.e. by giving up some of] what is permitted to you.”
There is a well known argument between the Ramban and the Rambam as to the main underlying reason for the mitzvah of the korbanos-sacrifices in general . Per the Ramban (Vayikra 1:9) korbanos are meant to be an audio-visual aid to the teshuvah process of the sinner offering the korban. The animal being sacrificed becomes a stand-in; a substitute for the donor. When observing the sacrificial process the following types of thoughts and emotions are supposed to run through the heart and mind of the donor: “There but for the grace of G-d go I. By offending my Creator and the transgressing His will I have forfeited my right to exist. If justice was not tempered by mercy it is my own throat that ought to have been slashed, my own blood collected and sprayed, my own skin flayed from my body and my own viscera or limbs immolated on the altar.”
In light of this Ramban and extending the concept that, even after using the animal as a surrogate, the essential offering of the korban is still meekem-from you, the Izhbitzer and Rav Leibeleh Eiger argue that it follows that any Halachic limitations applying to the animal would apply to the donor as well. These limitations are the pasuks way of explicating ways and means to achieve the goal of sacrificing oneself through “sanctify yourself with [i.e. by giving up some of] what is permitted to you.”
Just as the animal is invalid for sacrifice if it was used for immoral purposes so too the donor must sacrifice meekem; of his pleasure-seeking, and purify himself from his baser animal instincts that drive his libidinous tendencies. Just as the animal is invalid for sacrifice if it has been worshipped, so too the donor must sacrifice of his ego-gratification and cleanse himself of lording it over others and being domineering over others or making himself salient above others in any way. Just as the animal is invalid for sacrifice if has been dedicated/set aside-huktzah as a sacrifice for idolatry, so too the donor must sacrifice of his social-networking with parties that have dedicated themselves to causes antithetical to the service of HaShem, the root of sadness and depression, and the donor must lose any sense of awe and self-abnegation towards anything worldly and temporal.
By not maximizing his own self-actualization and sacrificing of his lusts, of his glory-seeking, of his need for social approval and of his worship of temporal worldly matters the korban will be meekem, from the essential YOU.
~adapted from Toras Emes Vaykra D”H Adam (the first)
Mei HaShiloach II Vayikra D”H Adam
See also Bais Yaakov Vayikra Inyan 23
Posted on | March 5, 2014 | By Guest Contributor | 1 Comment
Purim… a time for fun, camaraderie, inspiration, connection with Hashem (G-d) and perhaps a L’chaim (or two!) -
So don’t forget to designate,
a driver that’s sober…
Save two lives!
1. Share this video with at least one friend right now (click on the paper airplane in the top right corner of the video screen)
2. Please drink responsibly on Purim!
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Make this Purim different – gain clarity and understanding about Purim, as the story of the Megillah opens up in front of you! Go to bit.ly/1fnrmKf to listen to Shmuz #25: They Don’t Make Anti-Semites Like They Used To!
Posted on | March 4, 2014 | By Ora | 113 Comments
I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the whole idea of Kiruv lately, due to various circumstances in my life right now. I’ve come to the conclusion that there simply is no such thing as Kiruv, at least not in the sense that most people use the word, where “kiruv” is an action that a “kiruv worker” does to any secular 20-something who wanders their way.
If you think about the Hebrew word, “l’karev,” the whole idea that Kiruv is something you can do to another person just sounds absurd. The word means “to come closer.” You yourself can approach a certain destination, but you can’t “come” someone else to something. You could maybe push them, but that’s not very effective in the long run. You can bring someone somewhere, but only if they want to go. If they don’t, it’s called kidnapping, and it’s totally uncool.
So if there is no such thing as kiruv, what do kiruv professionals do? And how can we work towards a stronger observance of Torah in modern Jewish society, which we can probably agree is necessary? I believe that what is commonly referred to as ‘kiruv’ is actually a mix of hesed (kindness) and chinuch (education). We need to forget kiruv and focus on our obligation to be kind and to teach Torah.
While this might sound like quibbling over terminology, I believe that it’s important to define these terms carefully. Use of the word ‘kiruv’ leads to a perception that there’s a mitzvah to make, as in entice/guilt/force/convince by any means, people to be religious that stands apart from education and kindness. This leads to kiruv gimmicks, and leaves a bad taste in many mouths.
The mixed-up terminology also leads to two misguided perceptions: that average people need training to do kiruv, and that relatively minimal training is necessary to do kiruv. In reality, anyone can and should do kindness, and only those who have a very solid base in Torah study should work as educators.
As a side note, one of the more annoying experiences I’ve had with kiruv workers, who have had just enough Torah training to go out and spread the word, is that several have given me overly basic, not entirely correct answers to complex questions. There’s been a definite tendency to say “When you keep mitzva X, a benefit is Y,” when Y is often tangentially related at best. As an example of an incorrect answer, I was told repeatedly that all decisions of Chazal get their authority from the verse “Lo tasur m’divrehem.” When I was in seminary, we learned that that verse is about something different, and Chazal’s ability to make laws is actually a much more complex matter, that major rabbis disagree on even today. I was very unimpressed by the kiruv workers who were either ignorant of the truth or chose to simplify it (i.e., lie) in order to make it easier for the not-so-religious to accept.
Another problem with the word ‘kiruv’ is that it turns the act of bringing Torah to our fellow Jews into a verb, when it should actually be a state of being. My non-religious friends are unlikely to start keeping mitzvot just because I told them it’s a good idea. (And even the most fancy kiruv tricks like using Bible codes and historical proof are basically a fancy way of saying “because I said so.”) However, if my whole way of being—my behavior, my family life, my mood—is better because of Torah, then they just might decide to take something on. In my opinion, this is what the phrase “ohev et ha’briot u’m’karvan l’Torah” means. Love people (important note: Loving the people came first, not teaching them Torah—another thing that Kiruv pros would do well to remember), and through your genuine love and your personal example, bring them closer to Torah. As support for this, a famous example of Kiruv in Chazal is the case of Aharon HaKohen, who brought people back to observance through friendship and personal greatness (as opposed to, say, gematria and misleading lectures about observance).
I also blame the whole Kiruv industry, as it’s come to be known, for adding to this disconnect. By having ‘kiruv professionals,’ we start to feel that it’s someone else’s job to worry about spreading Torah. Every Jew should be spreading Torah by living it. If my behavior and my very presence don’t make people who meet me gain new appreciation for Torah (which, at this point, I sincerely doubt they do), then I have a lot to work on. Also, there may be someone out there who only I can successfully encourage. If I leave it to the pros, it might never get done.
Finally, the idea of kiruv leads to the unfortunate phenomena of a lack of hesed. I’ve met more than a few religious folk who are in need of something, say a nice Shabbat meal or a place to pray on the holidays, and feel that their needs are being ignored because they’re already frum. As if helping them won’t add the imaginary “notch to the belt” that some on BeyondBT have mentioned, so why bother?
I’ve also met not-so-religious folk who are ignored because they are “too old” or too set in their ways, and are basically considered lost causes. In my opinion, this is the worst downfall of modern kiruv. When we realize that ‘kiruv’ is actually hesed, it becomes ridiculous to avoid doing hesed with those who want it because we prefer to do it with others. Or to choose our hesed project based on what we’ll get in return.
I also believe that kiruv workers who take the tack of only dealing with, say, college or post-college 20-somethings from non-religious but usually affluent backgrounds are shooting themselves in the foot. Showing the 20-somethings that Torah is fun and cool and cute young people do it might make for a good show, but quietly demonstrating acceptance of all fellow Jews, no matter what their situation regarding (for example) willingness to change or drug abuse, will show them real Torah. If we believe that real Torah must be replaced with nice shiny Kiruv Torah in order to work, then we lack faith. And in that case, we should not be teaching Torah at all, but rather hurrying ourselves to the beit midrash, or to a nice open field for a serious talk with Hashem.
To sum up, using the word (and associated mental concept) “kiruv” can lead to:
1. “Notch in the belt” thinking.
2. The idea that misleading people about mitzvot and about what they’re getting into in general is a valid and effective way to increase observance, which leads to
3. Insufficient/inaccurate explanations about important topics and
4. Shiny Kiruv Torah (SKT for those of you who like abbreviations) instead of RT—Real Torah.
5. A lack of willingness to help those who don’t make good kiruvees (kiruv targets?)—very much related to #1.
6. The idea that Kiruv is something we do, regardless of who we are, and not something we are, no matter what we’re doing.
7. Non-Kiruv workers (NKWs) being somewhat lax in their own responsibility, because they feel that the professionals are taking care of things.
OK, I think that covers it for now :). Any thoughts?
Originally Posted June 05, 2007
Posted on | March 3, 2014 | By Ron Coleman | 8 Comments
My, how I have grown. I don’t mean “how much.” I mean, “how,” as in the manner or progress of a thing.
One of the cliches we hear, and learn to repeat, as baalei teshuva is the idea that you have to always be moving forward, growing, or else you’re doing something other than staying the same. “Growth,” improvement, development, are necessary components to an ongoing, meaningful life as an observant Jew. This is the mussar imperative, and perhaps also a concept also found in chasidus, though it is not obvious from a casual study study of Judaism. To some extent the implantation of this idea early on in our development as orthodox Jews is the placement of what may propel most of us to “the right.” But this description of movement is facile… one dimensional.
On a graph along the X and Y axes, one would think that — if there were some way to quantify it — one’s avodas Hashem would be represented by a nice, smooth curve of upward spiritual growth. But we have discussed here many times how seldom it is that the experience is an unadulterated parabolic delight — or perhaps more accurately how the experience can be perfectly parabolic, in the less felicitous sense of featuring both the up and the down side of the curve.
Really, we should use integral calculus when measuring our ups and downs. As we all know, integral calculus means measuring the area under a curve, defined by f(x), between two points (say a and b). The area under a curve does not care what the shape of the curve is; its value is absolute. This value we may hypothesize as actually being the true measure of a meaningful Jewish life. Any life. Your life. (Yes, I recognize this steps a little on the toes of my most recent post on a related topic. Let us call this a… refinement.)
My curve in the last few years has been… funny. It wasn’t what I thought it would be. It wasn’t, perhaps, what I would have thought it ought to have been. The route it has traced along those famous axes has taken me places that I am sure if you had asked me ten or even five years ago I would not have volunteered to go. Life is full of surprises, though.
In my case, at a certain point I was in a holding pattern. I had not really continued growing. The pressures of family life, making a living, all those standard excuses, as well as laziness and, if I may use the term here, jadedness had probably kept me more or less meandering spiritually for a decade.
My curve dipped. It peaked; it valleyed. I needed to know, to feel, even to hurt more in order to be more, and God provided me with a number of extraordinary opportunities to learn more, some of which came at some risk to the safe and happy mental life in which I frolicked. For one, I got involved in new and different kinds of kiruv — don’t worry; all fully “sanctioned.” Also, through my professional life, I moved “up” in frum society, and thereby also gained behind the scenes looks at the sort of reality, sometimes squalid, sometimes glorious but necessarily anonymous, that does not get taught in beginners’ seminars. And, off a less beaten path, I chose to establish genuine friendships — not kiruv files — with people who had views about the Torah world and even the Torah itself with whom I previously would not have ever had anything to do, and I engaged them sincerely, as equals, and listened to what they had to say, and then some. In short, I exposed myself to the rough edges. Some pointy-rough edges, in fact, which were encroaching on me stealthily, anyway. But this engagement is what they tell us, as we leave BT school, we’re not supposed to do. And what I wrote in these very “pages” I would not do. But I did it.
The sort of engagement I took up, really, may not be for everyone. You have to have quite a bit of self-confidence, and ego, to follow the curves I have in this latest stage of my “growth.” I had to do it. I have to still. With my characteristic modesty I will remind those not already bored of hearing it that I was an early success, a quick learner, almost literally a poster boy for the movement. So I got “there” fast — and then what? After a period of stasis, I had to open the doors again (were they the same doors?) and walk through them and see who I really was, and who and what I could yet become. And I did.
And I am still here, never more sure of who I am, and the decisions I have made. I learned through these encounters to appreciate more than ever the world in which I have ensconced myself, — even if some of my new friends (and they will always be that, I hope) shake their heads more in wonder than ever about my choices, knowing me and my views and where we might agree about what they think are crucial things. They may not understand what they have done for me — how their passion, their honesty, the blood from their wounds they have bled on me and the gall of their own devices with which they have splashed me — have nourished who I am now, and what I can yet become as a Jew, if only because I opened my heart a crack … as a Jew really should do. I would never have dreamed, if you had told me about where I would “go” emotionally and psychologically in this process, how much stronger, deeper, wiser I would be at the end of it, how much more meaning there is in my choice, how much more love there is in my life.
Maybe my particular wrestling matches were not for everyone, but there is some juncture… some moment… some challenge… some “hard” or obnoxious question, from which each of us, depending on who we are, and where it is, and when, should not walk away. For our own good, our own eternity. That encounter is different for all of us, but at this time in history, in our place, each of us must, at some point, engage this world.
The formula that defines my curve is mine alone. The measure of it all is, I say, what is accumulated under the curve and, with God’s help, in its continued progress… yes, upward. Because of where my formula has taken me in the last few clicks along the x-axis, I will never be the same, after too long of being just that. Is there any other way to define growth? For me, there was not.
Originally Published April 2, 2008
Posted on | February 27, 2014 | By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz | 3 Comments
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 …
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 …
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.
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
Posted on | February 27, 2014 | By Administrator | Add Your Comments
Posted on | February 25, 2014 | By Mark Frankel | 1 Comment
In the beginning of Mesillas Yesharim the Ramchal writes:
When you look further into the matter, you will see that only connection with God constitutes true perfection, as King David said (Psalms 73:28), “But as for me, the nearness of God is my good,” and (Psalms 27:4), “I asked one thing from God; that will I seek – to dwell in God’s house all the days of my life…” For this alone is the true good, and anything besides this which people deem good is nothing but emptiness and deceptive worthlessness. For a man to attain this good, it is certainly fitting that he first labor and persevere in his exertions to acquire it. That is, he should persevere so as to unite himself with the Blessed One by means of actions which result in this end. These actions are the mitzvos.
The goal is connecting deeply to G-d and the path to achieving it are the mitzvos. The sefer Mesillas Yesharim itself is focused on doing mitzvos progressively better to achieve their intended goal.
Let’s take the first 2 lines of Shema as an example. The halacha states that we have to pay close attention (have kavanna) to what we are saying for the first 2 lines. If we don’t do that, we won’t get the full benefit from saying the Shema and it will not help us get closer to Hashem to the degree that it could.
It takes a reasonable amount of effort, just to observe the mitzvos, so we often feel accomplished just from the fact that we are observant. If we take a little step, and do mitzvos with intention and with a focus on connecting to Hashem, we will get much more out of them and will can avoid the frustrating plateauing state.
Posted on | February 24, 2014 | By Guest Contributor | Add Your Comments
Let My RV Go! – by Nicole Nathan.
Review by Batya Medad
Web site for the book
I never got up the guts to publically laugh at myself the way Nicole Nathan, the author of Let My RV does in her wonderfully entertaining book.
Let My RV Go! can be purchased in both eformat and as a “real book.” It was sent to me for review. I had no idea what to expect. It opened up a whole new world for me. I thought that I was the only one who felt “different” even though outsiders don’t see it. I study Bible and even give classes and lead tours of Tel Shiloh in Israel. But the real me will always be a bit different. In recent years I’ve requested that those giving our local women’s Shabbat shiur never ever use the phrase:
כמו שכולנו למדנו בגן….
Kimo sheculanu lamadnu bagan…
Like we all learned in pre-school…
I and others who are either converts or BT’s never learned in such pre-schools and it makes me feel very left out and rejected to hear such a phrase.
Let My RV Go! is about the bonding of two BT families and their adventures and misadventures on the way to spending a rather unconventional Passover. Adding to their Passover challenge and time limitations, they had been given an important package to deliver before the Holiday to a “mystery person.” Neither full name nor address, just a vague description of who he is and where he lives.
You need not know much about Judaism and Pesach to enjoy reading the book. I have no doubt that anyone who has attempted a family vacation in an RV, whether Jewish or not, will identify with some of the problems the families encounter. This is more than just a Jewish book.
By adding humor to all situations, whether between husband and wife, parents and children or navigating new roads, this is a book people will enjoy reading. Yes, I do recommend the book!
The message is that “it all works out in the end.” Yes, it’s an upbeat book with a happy ending, just the sort of book I needed to read.
Posted on | February 20, 2014 | By Administrator | Add Your Comments
Posted on | February 20, 2014 | By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz | 1 Comment
Vayakhel 5774-An installment in the series of adaptations
From the Waters of the Shiloah: Plumbing the Depths of the Izhbitzer School
For series introduction CLICK
By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz-Mara D’Asra Cong Sfard of Midwood
Moshe gathered the entire assemblage of the Bnei Yisrael , and said unto them: ‘These are the words which HaShem has commanded, that you should do them. Six days creative activities shall be done, but the seventh day t shall be holy day for you, sabbath; a day of complete respite for HaShem. Whoever actively creates in it shall be put to death.
And let every wise-hearted person among you come, and make all that HaShem has commanded. The Mishkan-tabernacle, its tent, and its covering, its hooks, its vertical boards, its bars, its pillars, and its sockets. The Ark etc.
All that is called by My Name, and whom I have created for My glory, I have formed him and even made him.’
- Yeshyaya 43:7
Rav Yehudah said in the name of Rav: Betzalel [principal artisan of the Mishkan] knew how to bond and combine the letters through which heaven and earth were created.
How did Moshe gather everyone together, and forge them into a unit? Why is the commandment of building the Mishkan preceded by the commandment of Shabbos?
The Maharal of Prague explains that anavah-humility, is rooted in pashtus-generic simplicity and the lack of any specialty. There is a certain infinite quality to simplicities non-delineation. Simplicity specializes in nothing in particular and so; can be everything at once. Committed to nothing, simplicity enjoys infinite possibilities. This is how the Maharal explains the hanhagah Elyonah-Divine administration of the cosmos, expressed in the theological concept of “Wherever one discerns the Holy blessed One’s Might and Greatness there one will find His Humility.” (Megillah 31A) The Humility/ Simplicity IS the Greatness/ Infinity. Considered more deeply, this is the basis of monotheism. It is the Divine “property” (for lack of a better word, for this word implies specialization, chiseled-definition and constraining lines as well) of anavah that “makes” HaShem k’vyachol-as it were, both the undivided “One” and the encompassing “All.”
The roots of human ga’avah-ego and egotism, lie in the self-perception of individuality and specialization. That which we specialize in is what makes us salient and exceptional. “I am what YOU are not. I am capable of what you are incapable of, or, if your are capable of the same, I can do it better than you can.” We are proud of what sets us apart and so; what separates and divides us is our pride. As any manager will tell you, a major part of teamwork is the surrender of ego. There is nothing more ego-deflating than to feel that one is a fungible, interchangeable part in a larger entity, a mere cog in the machine. But for collective entities to coalesce and integrate the balloons of ego must first be deflated.
The Izhbitzer explains that when a craftsman works to produce something it is intrinsically a distinctive, one of a kind item. Produced by his own individual mix of perceptions, tastes and faculties; it is as unique to him as his fingerprints and the antithesis of a mass-produced article. As our sages expounded “just as their faces are dissimilar so too are their attitudes and perceptions (deos) divergent.”(Midrash Tanchumah-Pinchos) This is true even in as rarified and superhuman a “craft” as prophecy. As Chazal taught “No two nevi’im-prophets prophesize in the same style.”(Sanhedrin 89)
Logically, custom-made items should not be able to dovetail or interlock. Yet; although the Mishkan was fabricated by individual craftspeople, each proud of their own unique talents and style, the individual components that they crafted were stitched, hooked, inserted in sockets, ringed or staved together to form a seamless whole. Oblivious to it at the time they plied their supposedly unique, inimitable specialties; they all conformed to the precise specs of a master plan. The Mishkan reduced one-of-a-kind artists to molds and die casts in a mass production assembly-line. When the Mishkan was complete and all could see how harmoniously everything fit together this observation raised their consciousness of the siyatta diShmaya-the Divine assistance that worked It’s Will through them.
They experienced a collective epiphany that it was HaShem, not they, who had actually built the Mishkan. They came to realize that they were no more than the proverbial garzan b’yad hachotzeiv- the ax in the hands of the lumberjack. The ax is an integrated implement uniting blade, handle and the pegs that bind them. Even if the ax was composed of sentient beings the blade could still not lord it over the handle or the pegs for none could accomplish their task or fulfill their role without the others. Moreover, even when their tree-felling missions are accomplished , the humbling realization that “axes don’t fell trees … lumberjacks do” would unite them in their true, cooperative, integrated identity as the lumberjacks implement, rather than as free-lancers working on their own.
The Izhbitzer asserts that Shabbos is the key to this awareness. The Shabbos concept lies at the core of every mitzvah performed l’shemShamayim –purely for HaShem’s sake with no ulterior motives whatsoever. He goes so far as to say that they are synonymous, that intent l’shemShamayim IS Shabbos by another name. I’ll attempt to offer a possible explanation for the Izhbitzer’s enigmatic axiom.
The Midrash teaches that the Divine Will for creation is described as nisaveh lo dirah b’tachtonim –He yearned for an abode amidst the lower spheres. (Tanchumah Naso 16) This seems odd. HaShem is transcendent, Existing outside of time in non-chronological terms; so how can any given time play host to HaShem? HaShem is omnipresent, Existing outside of place in non-spacial terms; so much so that Chazal tell us that HaShem is nicknamed HaMakom-The Place, because “He is the Place of the cosmos, the cosmos is not His place” (Bereishis Rabbah 68) so how can any given location serve as His abode? Yet … we also know that kedushas haz’man and kedushas hamakom – sanctified time and space are real, not delusions. HaShem’s dwelling place within the lower sphere of time is Shabbos. He ceased creating on the seventh day for His Will, that all of creation declare His Glory, had been done.
When, in perhaps the ultimate act of halicha b’drachav- imitatio dei, shomrei Shabbos cease their creative activity, they bear witness to the veracity of the Torah’s Genesis narrative. More than that, they bear witness that the creative activity of Genesis could cease because the goal of creation had been achieved. HaShem had his abode in the lower spheres in a cosmos in which every infinitesimal component part, and the grand macrocosmic whole that is greater than the sum of its parts, declare His glory. And so, every mitzvah performed l’shemShamayim, for HaShem’s Will and Glory alone, is yet another iteration of Shabbos; the accommodating time in the hospitable place in the lower spheres that provide HaShem k’vyachol, with a glorifying abode.
How did Moshe congregate everyone? How did he instill unifying humility in the hearts and minds of the formerly prideful, specializing craftspeople who, collectively, built the Mishkan for the Shechinah-HaShems Divine Indwelling? By first commanding them to observe Shabbos and by making the Shabbos concept clear to them.
Just as HaShem did not bless and sanctify the seventh day until all the work was done, until the cosmos was complete and perfect so too He would not allow His Shechinah into the Mishkan until it was complete and perfect. Had one peg anchoring the curtains of the Mishkan’s courtyard been missing or not engineered according to specs, the Divine Indwelling would have remained in the upper spheres. How then could the fabricator of the aron habris-the Ark of the Covenant have felt superior to the peg maker? One and all the artisans and craftspeople had been an implement, the ax wielded by the Divine Lumberjack.
Posted on | February 19, 2014 | By Rabbi Moshe Zionce | 2 Comments
This week’s parsha deals with the construction of the Mishkan (tabernacle). The Mishkan / Bais Hamikdash was the source of light for the world. The construction of its windows was unusual. In the Bais Hamikdash, the window openings were built to be narrow on the inside and wide on the outside. This allowed the light from within the Temple to illuminate the world without (as opposed to allowing the maxim of light from the outside to shine in). (Kings I 6:4)
Betzalel had the monumental task of constructing the Mishkan. The name Batzalel means, “In the shadow of Hashem.” The definition of a shadow is the absence of light. What is the significance of the light of the Mishkan and the darkness inherent in Batzalel’s name?
The Baal Shem Tov explained the verse in Tehillim, “G-d is your shadow” (121:5) Hashem, like a shadow, responds to your every move. The mystics offer perhaps a deeper interpretation. This verse suggests that the innate divinity in man, the tzelem Elokim – the Divine image in whose likeness we are created, is reached through embracing one’s inner shadow. What is the meaning of this?
The Megilah is the only book of Tanach in which Hashem’s name is not written. The Megilah’s authors, Mordechai and Esther wanted to maintain the true nature of the recorded Purim story in the same light that it originally transpired in and hence, teach a powerful lesson. Similar to life, the entire story can be perceived as an apparent random display of cause and effect. Only the trained eye sees Hashem in every nuance of the scroll.
In fact, Hashem’s name is encoded throughout the Megilah. The name of Hashem, can be found as an acronym in the words of various verses. In addition when the word melech / king is used without a direct reference to Achashveirosh, there is a secret hint to Hashem, the King of all kings. There is even a tradition that King Achashveirosh is a reference to Hashem, as this name is a combination of two words, acher (after) and rosh (first). Hashem is the first and last.
Like the hidden nature of the Megilah, costumes conceal the true identity behind a mask. Thus, costumes have an important role in the Purim celebrations. The pristine greatness of Mordechai, the tzaddik was hidden in coarse clothing. “Mordechai tore his clothes and put on sackcloth.” (Megilah 4:1)
Hashem Himself is said to wear clothing. “He wears light like a garment.” Like clothing, nature disguises Hashem. When one observes a sleeve move on a person, he does not perceive the arm itself, only the concealment around the arm. However, the intuitive eye sees the sleeve move and understands that it’s the arm within, that is performing the act. Similarly, the initiate can see nature / the world and know Hashem.
Hence, clothing does not only conceal, it reveals. Often the higher on the body a garment is worn, the less it conceals and the more it reveals. A crown for example, in essence does conceal a part of the body however, it is worn in order to reveal to the masses that this is the king. (This is the deep tradition for Jews to wear a hat. Unlike other garments of clothing, the hat is purely a sign of dignity). “Mordechai left the king’s presence clad in royal apparel of turquoise and white with a large gold crown…” (Megilah 8:15)
The challenge of life is to reveal the G-dly greatness deep in all of us.
The gemarah asks, “Resh Lakish said, ‘Great is teshuva (repentance), when sins done with intent are converted to accidental sins.’ However, didn’t Resh Lakish say (differently), ‘Great is teshuva for sins done with intent are converted to good deeds?’ The resolution (of the two statements) is; The first statement is true when the teshuva is accomplished out of fear of heavenly punishment; the second is true when the teshuva is preformed out of love for G-d.” (Yoma 86b)
Previously it was explained that all negativity in the world stems from one of three negative shells (klipah). These shells are so tightly tied to negativity they can never be elevated. For example, pig, an idol or the act of the sin itself. A person’s body mass is a consequence of everything that one has consumed. Throughout the duration of one’s life, food’s nutrients are ingested and become a part of one’s very being. If a person were to consume pig, he would become one with it in essence and he can never achieve a rectification. Only when one accomplishes a deep teshuva through “ahava rabba” / great love, the impossible transpires and this negativity is elevated. (Tanya chapter 7)
Chasidus explains, Yom Kippurim is only like (a kuf means like) Purim. Therefore, the true day of atonement is Purim and Yom Kippur is only like it. Perhaps on Yom Kippur we repent out of fear, however on Purim it is through love, transforming even the negativity of the sin / darkness into light.
Light is far more potent when it radiates in the darkness as opposed to it shinning in already illuminated surroundings. This is the unique quality of Beztalel. Through the darkness of this most physical and crude world, he disseminated a great light to all of creation. The mystics interpret the name Beztalel to mean, in the shadow is G-d.
This is the true depth of Purim. It is when Mordechai is wearing the royal garments, a concealment in order for a revelation, the Megilah relates “.The Jews had light …” (Megilah 8;16). This is the light out of the darkness. This familiar verse is repeated as we apparently descend from the light of Shabbos into the darkness of the week, as the havdalah candle illuminates our surroundings. This candle is not the light of Shabbos. It is the light out of the darkness of the week.
The Megilas Esther (the scroll of Esther) means to be megaleh / reveal the hester / concealment. There is a deep tradition that the names of the 3 utter negative shells are, Amalek, Agag and Haman. Perhaps the secret of the mitzvah in becoming so intoxicated until one can’t discern between baruch / blessed Mordechai and arur / cursed Haman is precisely the aforementioned concept. “When wine enters, secrets are revealed”. Once a year, through the lowly act of inebriation we reveal our inner G-dly greatness. Just as the Purim story turned utter despair into our greatest celebration. The gallows were built for Mordechai, however, Haman was hung on it. So too in life, as on Purim, the greatest darkness / evil can be the very source of the greatest light.
R’ Moshe Zionce
Originally Published 2/29/2008
Posted on | February 18, 2014 | By Administrator | 1 Comment
Yesterday, on 17 Adar I, a neshamah that exerted its last ounce of strength while here in this transitory world bringing tens of thousands of neshamos to their soul-roots was, itself, returned to the t’zror hachaim with the petirah of Rabbi Meir Schuster, zt”l, after a long illness.
Reb Meir was the proverbial “legend in his own time,” as he carved a mythical niche for his name in the annals of the kiruv movement as an incredibly effective recruiter for a wide array of kiruv programs, baal teshuvah yeshivos and womens’ seminaries. And while he sought out new soldiers for the milchemes Hashem in a variety
of eclectic venues including Yerushlayim’s Central Bus Station; he was most identified with the Kosel Hamaaravi where he literally “picked them off the Wall.”
It is a sad day for the Torah world because of the loss of this great, great man. Rav Meir Schuster zatzal passed away today after a debilitating illness. This man was singlehandedly responsible for bringing more people closer to Avinu sh’bashamayim than entire outreach organizations. Without exaggeration, many tens of thousands of people came to Torah observance because of the actions of this man.
The greatest insight into this man was perhaps a shailah that was presented to Rav Elyashiv zatzal, when Reb Meir had lost his father. According to the Torah, the period of mourning lasts for three days. Chazal extended this period to seven days. Rabbinic extensions of halachos are universally observed in Judaism. Chazal tell us (based on Koheles 10:8) regarding Rabbinic enactments – “Kol HaPoretz Geder yeshacheno nachash – anyone who breaks the fence (on a Rabbinic law) deserves that a snake should bite him.” Yet, here things were different. Every day that Rabbi Meir Schuster was not at the Kosel, the wailing wall, was a day that Jewish people would not get a chance to be brought to Torah-true Judaism. Should he sit three days or seven days?
It was, of course, not even a question. Rav Elyashiv paskened that he may only sit for three days. Rav Elyashiv had never ruled in this manner for anyone else. Rav Meir Schuster was irreplaceable.
I met Meir Schuster in 1970, at the Kotel in my first days after arrival from Madison. I felt an immediate affinity for Meir. I had been in Madison. And he was from Milwaukee. I was looking for myself as a Jew.
And Meir was there, at the Kotel, a selfless one man endeavor who only wanted to make sure that every Jew who sought a Jewish soul from within would have someone to talk to.
In those days before the internet, when few people had telephones, Meir developed a network of people who would welcome wandering Jews into their homes, especially on Shabbat.
For years, Meir Schuster would arrive at the Kotel each day, to be there for fellow Jews who had no real home in Israel.
Reading the stories about Rabbi Meir Schuster that are just now being collected, I am transported back over thirty years ago.
It is 1976. The man who was to become my husband was praying at the Kotel. Larry had finished his time in a kibbutz ulpan, and was still volunteering in a development town in the Negev, when he decided to spend the weekend in Jerusalem. He was scheduled to return to the States a few weeks later, with no clear plans. Larry put a note in a crevice in the Wall and then prayed sincerely to find his path in life. When he finished, there was a tap on his shoulder. It was Rabbi Schuster, asking him, “Do you have the time?” Thank G-d, Larry did have the time, and he followed Reb Meir to a yeshiva for baalei teshuva where he began the process of finding his life’s path. After nine years of learning and teaching at Yeshiva Aish HaTorah, young wandering Larry became Rabbi Aryeh Goetz.
It is 1978, and after completing my first year of medical school, I was volunteering on the oncology ward at Hadassah Hospital, visiting with patients who were dying, while my secret mission was to learn the purpose of living. During my first few days in Israel, I went to the Kotel, and Reb Meir Schuster found me there. His purity and his sincerity came right into my heart. I began to study at the women’s division of Ohr Someyach, and the process of understanding the purpose of living began for me as well.
Posted on | February 17, 2014 | By Administrator | Add Your Comments
Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, whose 203rd birthday we are observing, was a protector and friend for the Jews “In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity.”
At the outset of the Civil War the Jewish Community faced official discrimination as the legislation expanding the US Army restricted the chaplaincy to clergy of the Christian faith. Members of the Jewish Community energetically protested this exclusion. Petitions for change in the law, including one in the U.S. Senate presented by Lyman Trumbull of Illinois, later the author of the 13th Amendment ending slavery, were submitted. In response, President Lincoln wrote to Dr. Arnold Fischell on December 14, 1861:
I find that there are several particulars in which the present law in regard to Chaplains is supposed to be deficient, all of which I now design presently to the appropriate Committee of Congress. I shall try to have a new law broad enough to cover what is deferred by you in behalf of the Israelites.
President Lincoln was good to his word and on March 26, 1862 the act was amended to allow for brigade chaplains “one or more of which shall be of the Catholic, Protestant or Jewish religion.” The community reaction and Mr. Lincoln’s responsiveness set an important precedent for the far more dangerous threat that was to follow.
From Lincoln and the Jews:
In January 1863, Lincoln revoked the only incident of official anti-Jewish discrimination when he countermanded Ulysses S. Grant’s infamous Order No. 11, which expelled Jews from Northern Mississippi, Tennessee and Kentucky. Lincoln also appointed seven Jewish generals to the Union forces.
What were the reasons for Lincoln’s concern and kindly attitude toward the Jews? First and foremost was the fact that by the time of the Civil War, Jews had become a factor in American life. During the Revolutionary War and the founding of America, Jews numbered a miniscule 2,500 out of a population of approximately 4 million. By 1840, they had only grown to 15,000, but 20 years later, in 1860, the Jewish population had risen to 150,000, out of a nation of 30 million. The Jews emerged from a relatively docile and unseen element in the population to a viable minority, striving for its own rights and recognition.
With the increased Jewish population, the future president knew Jews as admirable neighbors even in the little towns where he grew up.
Louis Salzenstein was a storekeeper and livestock trader in the town of Athens, Ill., near New Salem, where Lincoln spent six years. When Lincoln was postmaster, he collected the mail from “Old Salty’s” store, which served as the regional post office. He became good friends with Salzenstein, who was remembered by a town historian as “doing more than any other man toward bettering the improvements and the mode of living in this section.”
First Published 2/21/2011
Posted on | February 13, 2014 | By Administrator | Add Your Comments
Posted on | February 12, 2014 | By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz | 7 Comments
Ki Sisa 5774-An installment in the series of adaptations
From the Waters of the Shiloah: Plumbing the Depths of the Izhbitzer School
For series introduction CLICK
By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz-Mara D’Asra Cong Sfard of Midwood
Moshe turned away and began descending the mountain with the two Luchos HaEdus-Tablets of Testimony, in his hand. They were written on both sides with the writing visible from either side. The Tablets were made by HaShem and written with HaShems script engraved upon the Tablets.
Rav Chisda said: “the letters mem and samach in the Luchos stood miraculously” and, he added, “what was written on the Luchos could be read from ‘the inside and from the outside’ [i.e. from the front and from the rear] for example נבוב/בובן =nevuv/ buvan; רהב/ בהר =rahav/ behar; סרו/ ורס=saru/v’ras.
The writing pierced the entire Tablet. Hence a miracle was required so that the entirely circular letters of [the closing] mem and samach could be read accurately [without the circle in the middle falling out.]
The words of Torah engraved upon the Luchos-tablets, penetrated the stones all the way through, from the front of the stones to their backs. To illustrate this point, Rav Chisda mentions three words and their dyslexic inversions. Both Rashi and Tosafos ad locum are puzzled by the words that the he chose to use as examples.
Rashi simply states that these words did not actually appear in the tablets; that Rav Chisda chose words at random. Rashi further maintains that we learn nothing more from these examples than that the letters mem and samach in the Luchos stood miraculously. Per Rashi, Rav Chisda seems to be repeating himself. Tosafos is more explicit and asks why would Rav Chisda do such a thing when he could have illustrated the same point using words that actually do appear in the aseres hadibros-Decalogue.
Additionally there is a margin gloss on that page of the Gemara that changes the sequence of one of the pairs of words; from rahav/ behar to behar /rahav, presumably because in the other two pairs of words the familiar, meaningful word appears first followed by the inverted, and apparently nonsensical, gibberish word.
The Izhbitzer teaches that Rav Chisda was describing two distinct miraculous, gravity-defying properties of the Torah; the ability to keep things that ought to be moving and falling stationary and the ability to effect drastic movement on things that otherwise would petrify and stay frozen in their places. The former being the stone “donut holes” in perfectly chiseled circles and the latter being the midos-character traits, of set-in-their-ways human beings.
None of the words that Rav Chisda uses to illustrate the latter point are gibberish, nor were they chosen at random. The Izhbitzer presents a close study of the root etymology of these words to reveal that they are polar opposites and not mere word jumbles arbitrarily spelled backwards. The inverted spellings serve as a metaphor for the words antithetical meanings. Think of an easy-to-remember lexicon of antonyms where every words antonym was merely the same letters arranged in the opposite order e. g. if the antonym of “cold” was not “hot” but “dloc” or if the antonym of “bottom” was not “top” but “mottob”.
The words that Rav Chisda chose describe midos that are antithetical to one another. Taking issue with margin gloss the Izhbitzer asserts that the Gemara’s text stand as is, for in each illustrative example the first word describes a negative, antisocial midah-character trait, while the second defines it’s positive polar-opposite midah.
The outer, copper mizbayach-altar of the Mishkan was constructed by filling in a copper plated acacia wood shell with soil or sand. The Torah calls this construction method nevuv luchos-a hollow structure made out of boards (Shemos 27:8). This is the precedent for the word nevuv describing something hollow. When applied to the psycho-spiritual makeup of the human being it refers to an empty-headed ignoramus, void of any Torah content. Whereas the word buvan is etymologically related to the word binah, the word that defines the cognitive faculty for understanding and deductive reasoning. Torah has the power to transform minds and spirits that are vacuum-like voids into minds and spirits filled to overflowing with meaningful, intelligent content and wisdom.
The Zohar (parshas Terumah 170B) teaches that the “prince”/guardian angel of Mitzrayim-the Egyptians, was named Rahav. In Jewish lore the ancient Egyptians were infamous for their licentiousness and unbridled passion. This is the precedent for the word “rahav” describing something sensual and lusty. When applied to the psycho-spiritual makeup of the human being it refers to a ba’al ta’avah-someone overly drawn to, and even obsessed with, the temporal pleasures of the here-and-now world. Whereas the word behar-“in the mountain” connotes both being elevated from the earth and its mundane concerns and materialistic pleasures and being in an atmosphere that is less humid and drier than the air in lower elevations, in particular, in valleys. Dry mountain air is symbolic of a dispassionate, sober and abstinent sensibility. Torah has the power to transform minds plagued by untoward thoughts and spirits drawn to immorality into drier, cooler minds and spirits that aspire to the noble, the lofty and the otherworldly.
The word saru (generically translated as: ”they strayed ”) refers, in particular, to one who has ossified and hardened because of anger and bitterness; as in “the king of Israel went to his house (סר)surly and (וזעף) disgruntled, and came to Samaria.” (Melachim I 20:43) Or as we find the Gemara admonishing as us against verbally abusing a disenfranchised minority because “their hardened anger is terrible.” (Bava Metzia 59B) The word v’ras is etymologically related to the root ras which connotes softness and fluidity. E.g. “so long as one would be memareis –shake or stir, the blood of the Passover sacrifice … [in order that it retain fluidity and not harden and coagulate.”] (Mishnah Pesachim 61A) Or as in laros es hasoles- and 1/3 of a hin of oil, to moisten the fine flour. (Yechezkel 46:14) Torah can help spirits hardened by rage and bitterness, regain gentleness, suppleness and goodwill.
According to The Izhbitzer’s interpretation both the word choices and the sequence in Rav Chisda’s second statement were very specific. All three word pairings convey the concept that the Torah is more than a guide to self-improvement; it is transformative and empowers those who study it and observe its mitzvos to achieve a 180° turnaround and makeover.
ADDENDUM AS OF 12:20 AM EST 2.14.14
This concept is echoed by other Chasidic masters in their commentaries to Avos and Tehillim.
He (Rabi Yaakov) would also say: A שעה אחת sha’ah achas- single hour, of repentance and good deeds in this world is greater than the entire life of the World to Come.
-Pirkei Avos 4:22
… and HaShem turned towards-vayisha, the offering of Hevel. But to Kayin and towards his offering, He did not turn-lo sha’ah and Kayin became very furious and depressed.
He [HaShem] has distanced our transgressions from us as far as the east is from the west.
The Kozhnitzer Maggid provides a novel translation of the word sha’ah. Based on the pesukim describing the HaShems acceptance of Hevels offering His rejection of Kayins offering the Maggid translates the word to mean — turning. I.e. A sha’ah achas- a single transformative “turn”; of repentance and good deeds in this world — an epiphany, a consciousness altering revolution, that turns someone completely around; upside down and inside out, that kind of teshuvah — THAT is what’s greater than the entire life of the World to Come.
The pasuk in Tehillim begs the question; just how far is east from west? Is it the vastness that intervenes between California and Eastern Europe? Is it the expanse of continents and oceans that separate New York and China? Or, perhaps, is it a short as the relatively minor distance between an address on west 57th street and east 57th street on Manhattan Island? The Rebbe Reb Avraham the second of Slonim explains that the distance between east and west is minute. If one is standing facing the east, rotates on his heels, and does a 180° about-face, he has “traveled” as far as the east is from the west. One needn’t journey far in order to be distanced from his transgressions. What one must do, however, is to make a U-turn.
As one great and influential 20th century rosh yeshivah put it “teshuvah is nisht dehr taitch besser tsu verren … nohr anderish tzu verren-teshuvah is not ‘becoming better’ but ‘becoming different’” It is not about self-improvement but about total transformation. This is the message and the power of the Torah words that were engraved all the way through the Luchos.
~adapted from Mei HaShiloach Ki Sisa D”H Vayifen
and from MiMayaanos HaNetzach Pirkei Avos 4:22
Posted on | February 11, 2014 | By David Kirschner | 4 Comments
Right now (although by the time you read this it would have been Sunday afternoon), I should be mired in preparation for a multi- defendant enterprise corruption trial which is scheduled to begin tomorrow morning. Yet the more I try to delve into transcripts of the hundreds of recorded telephone conversations and thousand of documents, the more I am distracted over some perplexing phenomena. Perhaps I am just procrastinating or maybe I’m in denial that the trial will actually start, but it troubles me that the more stressed out I become while attending to my daily mundane pursuits, the more spiritually disconnected I become.
Isn’t this counterintuitive? Shouldn’t it be the exact opposite? Aren’t we at our spiritual zenith during challenging or difficult periods in life? Isn’t that when, more than any other time, we achieve focus and clarity by crying out with fervor and sincerity to connect with Hashem? Why then, when it comes to the daily hustle and bustle, it seems that we’re just “too busy” to daven or learn
? Funny, but we don’t seem to have that problem with kashrus. When was the last time you said to yourself, “Gee, I’m too swamped to eat kosher. I better eat some treif.” I know what you’re thinking. Hey Kirschner, that’s not the same thing. Eating treif would require you to do something when you’re already too busy doing something else. It’s an entirely different matter to omit davening or learning because you’re too busy to stop doing what you’re doing. Somehow though, being armed with this knowledge doesn’t seem to prevent us from repeatedly falling into this abyss. At first glance, the obvious answer is that such is the very cunning work of the yeitzer hora. Fair enough, but simply recognizing that, by itself, doesn’t necessarily mean we will escape its grip. Frankly, if it were that easy, we would have little difficulty overcoming many of our challenges just by understanding that it is the work of the yeitzer hora.
Unlike many things in life, where a lack of clarity precludes us from sifting through the fog of the yeitzer hora, it really shouldn’t be that tough here. If anything, the busier and heavier our daily secular pursuits become, the need to spiritually connect with the Borei Olam becomes clearer. This is true if for no other reason than from a selfish desire to throw up our hands and beg Him to relieve us from our burdens. We seem to have little, if any, difficulty doing it for Shabbos. Why then is it so difficult to take the time out to daven, find a minyan or learn even for a few minutes each day to fulfill the mitzvah of kvias itim – setting aside a fixed time for daily Torah study?
Sure, the yeitzer hora relentlessly attempts to convince us that it is a mitzvah to miss a mincha or a maariv because we need the parnussa to pay yeshiva tuition. He tells us, “Don’t worry, while performing one mitzvah, you’re exempt from performing another mitzvah. It’s okay if you miss your shiur or cancel your chavrusa (learning partner) because you’re very tired, you worked very hard and you need your rest to be fresh for work tomorrow. You have to pay the bills, don’t you? You have to work hard for that promotion which will bring your more money with which to perform more mitzvos.”
It’s all quite perplexing. We can actually feel ourselves becoming disconnected the more we buy into that gibberish. Even if we overcome it and go to minyan or daf yomi, we do so by ruminating over that which still needs to be accomplished. And that’s if we’re awake!
Some years ago, I observed a well-respected rabbi in shul take out his pocket date book and make a few notes (that was before the PDA) after completing his shemonah esrei. After davening, I commented to him that it surprised me to see even rabbis have things pop into their head during davening. He responded, “Of course, that’s the best time for the yeitzer hora to disrupt us.” Then he shared with me a very effective tactic. Speak to Hashem and tell Him your thoughts during the day when you’re in the middle of your mundane pursuits. It doesn’t take much time, you can connect with Hashem in mere moments and best of all, by the time the yeitzer hora figures it out, you’ll be done. That, in turn, will provide the impetus to make minyan, attend shuir and learn with your chavrusa.
Now, if only I can figure out a way to “connect” with the judge tomorrow and beg him to adjourn that trial.
Originally Published on Dec 6, 2006
Posted on | February 10, 2014 | By Shayna | 21 Comments
I spent the first 25 years of my life big into non-conformity. I prided myself on digging hipper music than my high school friends, choosing a trendy college too cool for grades, eating vegetarian, camping through the USSR before glastnost, living in the East Village, and on and on.
Becoming a B.T. was the ultimate in non-conformity. One friend (now a prominent psychiatrist) tried to de-program me. Maybe I was a Ms Magazine subscriber but I couldn’t shake off that pull toward Yiddishkeit.
In other words, to so radically turn your back on your comfort zone–family, friends, career, even language–you have to be a risk taker, a non-conformist.
But…living frum. That’s the ultimate in conformity. Boy, was it hard the first years. Doing things just because it’s the frum way was, at time, impossible to digest. Squelching my well-honed instinct to disagree. Giving up T.V. All the forbiddens of Shabbos. Keeping a neutral expression at racist speech. Shaving my legs. Realizing that the right thing to do or say was pretty much the opposite of my instincts.
I think you have to be an actor to be a successfully assimilated B.T. And daven that after a while, you fully embody your character.
Originally Published Dec 13, 2005
Posted on | February 6, 2014 | By Administrator | Add Your Comments
Are You Getting Enough Things Done? (Concepts of GTD, one of the most popular organization and time management frameworks.)
Posted on | February 5, 2014 | By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz | 5 Comments
Tetzaveh 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
Make a Choshen Mishpat-justice breastplate. It shall be of patterned brocade, like the ephod. Make it out of gold; sky blue, dark purple and crimson wool and twirled linen. … Set it with four rows of mounted gemstones.
… And the gemstones shall be upon the names of the 12 sons of Israel, one for each of the 12 stones. Each one’s name shall be engraved as on a signet ring to correspond to the 12 tribes.
Thus, Ahron will carry the names of the sons of Israel in the Choshen Mishpat over his heart when he comes into the sanctified site; it shall be a constant remembrance before HaShem. Place the Urim and Thumim in the Choshen Mishpat and they shall be over Ahron’s heart when he comes before HaShem. Ahron will bear the just-decision instrument for the children of Israel upon his heart, before HaShem, perpetually.
This [the Urim and Thumim refers to a] writ bearing the explicit Name, which he [Moshe] would place within the folds of the Choshen, through which it would illuminate words on the gemstones (מֵאִיר) and perfect (ומתמם) those words. [i.e., the Urim and Thumim lit up letters forming words, and those words like an incontrovertible halachah/mishpat, were dependable. (Yoma 73b)] … Because of that Name-bearing-writ, the Choshen was called “justice,” as it is said: “and he shall seek the just-decision of the Urim before HaShem on his behalf” (BeMidbar. 27:21).
Conventional wisdom understands the power of the Urim and Thumim to illuminate the letters of the gemstones embedded in the settings of the Choshen Mishpat-justice breastplate as some kind of a sanctified Ouija Board, chalilah-Heaven forefend. The questions would be put to it and it would, miraculously, “predict” future events. According to this understanding the destiny of K’lal Yisrael–the Nation of Israel, is fungible. As an entity existing entirely in the “now”, any number of alternative histories and futures are possible.
As is often the case, conventional wisdom fails to convey the deeper meaning. Not only does it give the wrong impression the mechanism of the Urim and Thumim, the Choshen Mishpat and the “battery” that powered it but it misconstrues K’lal Yisrael as a temporal entity rather than as the eternal being that it actually is. Transcendent of time, K’lal Yisrael is not subject to alternative histories.
Rav Tzadok, the Lubliner Kohen, teaches that the “power cell” that activated the mechanism of the Choshen Mishpat was the very heart of Ahron the Kohen Gadol-the High Priest, not merely the writ bearing the explicit Divine Name. His explanation for how it functioned follows the pasuk and midrashic excerpts:
HaShem’s wrath blazed against Moshe, and He said, “Is not Ahron the Levi your brother? I know that he knows how to speak; moreover, observe, he is setting out to meet you, and when he sees you, he will rejoice in his heart.
… Your suspicions about your brother, that he would resent you for your eminence as My spokesman, are unfounded. On the contrary, he will be happy for you. Rabi Shimon bar Yosee taught: “the heart of he who rejoiced in his brother’s eminence will wear the Urim and Thumim as it is written: ‘ … and they shall be over Ahron’s heart’”
-Midrash Rabbah Shemos 3:17
The opposite of love it is not hatred. Very often, hatred is the same deep, passionate emotion as love, inverted. As William Congreve wrote “”Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, nor hell a fury like a woman scorned.” The true antithesis of love is envy.
Love seeks to give to others and grows more tender and warmer with the success, happiness and fulfillment of the loved one(s). In stark contrast; envy seeks to take away what others have and grows more venal and bitter with the success, happiness and fulfillment of the envied one(s). Ahron’s heart was devoid of pettiness and was aflame with the love of Israel. As there is no greater success imaginable for human being than to be HaShem’s spokesman and agent, his heart had withstood the definitive litmus test determining if one is a giver or a taker in the crucible of the most extreme potential for envy; sibling rivalry. Exulting in his younger brother success, he proved his heart to be utterly empty of envy and brimming with ahavas Yisrael-the love of Israel.
Unrequited love is the exception to the rule. The default setting for love, as it is for all human emotions, is reciprocity. Shlomo the king put it best when he wrote “as the face that is replicated in the reflecting pool, so is ones man’s heart to another”(Mishlei 27:19). This axiom is borne out by the mutual and reciprocal of love that existed between Ahron and the people of Israel. When Ahron the Kohen Gadol died … “The whole congregation saw that Ahron had expired, and the entire house of Israel wept for Aaron for thirty days. “ (BeMidbar 20:29) All of the people loved him intensely.
As Rashi, citing Chazal, says: [both] the men and the women [loved him], for Ahron had pursued peace; he promoted love between disputing parties and between man and wife.(Avos d’Rabi Nassan 12:4). Loving all the people and realizing that their own success and fulfillment depended upon their loving one another, the greatest gift that Ahron could bestow upon them was to eliminate the pettiness, envy and disputes and that drove them apart. Loving them, he gave them the ultimate gift of love for each other.
It is in the nature of those in love to share secrets with one another. In some instances this is because only those who love us will continue to accept us and not be too harshly judgmental when they discover our darkest secrets. But, more often, it is our noblest secrets, our loftiest and dreamiest ambitions that we only feel comfortable sharing with those whom we love and who love us. Those things about us that are closest to the core of our beings can only be revealed within the framework of love.
As a great twentieth century Torah sage explained; this may be because the supreme expression of love is, itself, a secret. Chazal interpreted the pasuk “It is the glory of Elokim to conceal a thing; but the glory of kings is to search out a matter.” (Mishlei 25:2) to mean that matters pertaining to the Genesis narrative-hishavus haOlamos, are shrouded in mystery and must remain hidden away. G-d brought the cosmos into being as an expression of His love. As human beings are b’Tzelem Elokim- in the image of the Divine , tznius-top-secretiveness is apropos for the supreme expression of interpersonal love in that it is the closest that human beings, the Tzelem Elokim, will ever come to emulating Elokim’s act of creation.
As we stand in the present moment, our most ancient past, lost in the mists of time, and our concealed and our unknowable futures, are secrets. Just as those in love share their most intimate secrets with one another, so too K’lal Yisrael bared her secrets to the human heart that most loved her. It was the loving heart of Ahron, the Kohen Gadol, that served as the “power cell” that activated the Urim and Thumim to illuminate the letters of the gemstones embedded in the settings of the Choshen Mishpat. The Choshen was not handicapping probabilities or predicting the future. The letters that glowed and grew salient on the Choshen’s gemstones sounded the silent, soundless whisperings of eternal, transcendent, beloved K’lal Yisrael revealing her secrets to and through the loving heart of Ahron.
Sisrei Torah-the secrets of the Torah, are very much in vogue today. Everyone wants to learn, Kabbalah. Lamdanim-Talmudic theoreticians, have long known that even within nigleh-the more revealed, less mystical component of the Torah, there are hidden secrets; gems waiting to be unearthed. What many fail to realize is that a kabbalistic text and, in a larger sense, any Torah text, is an encoded message. Merely setting one’s eyes upon the text and reading, or even intermittent and halfhearted attempts at deciphering, will no more force the Torah to yield any of her secrets than will with futile efforts of a third party who had intercepted love letters trying to grasp the hints and cryptic terms of endearment that these missives contain.
The Lubliner Kohen maintains that what is true for all interpersonal relationships informed by love and, writ large, what is true for K’lal Yisrael, is equally true for TorasYisrael. The Torah must be wooed and pursued. Sisrei Torah are not for weekend-warriors — semi-committed dabblers who can take the Torah or leave it. Those who ardently love the Torah are loved by the Torah in return. As Shlomo the king taught: “Does not Wisdom call out … ’I love them that love me, and those that seek me earnestly shall find me.’”(Mishlei 8:1,17) One’s heart must be ablaze with the love of Torah. Torah must become a passion, an obsession and an infatuation, only then will the Torah reveal her innermost secrets.« go back — keep looking »