Beyond BT

Spiritual Growth for Jews

Unity, Diversity, the 9th of Av

Posted on | July 23, 2014 | By Rabbi Mordechai Scher | 27 Comments

During the summer months we tragically have to contend with the period of the Three Weeks and ט באב, the Ninth of Av. Our mourning centers around the physical and spiritual destruction of the holy Temple in Jerusalem and of Jewish national life in the Land of Israel. Indeed, we have many customs that mark this throughout the year. It is our custom in the beit midrash to learn about those customs on the afternoon of the Tisha B’av, the Ninth of Av. An additional important focus of our thoughts at this time is, ‘what is the remedy?’

To consider a cure, we must consider the root cause of a malady. The g’mara (יומא ט) discusses why our holy places were destroyed, comparing Shiloh and the first and second Temples in Jerusalem. Our particular concern is the destruction of the second Temple in Jerusalem, since this is the beginning of the exile that we yet struggle with and suffer from today, thousands of years later. Our g’mara tells us, “the second Temple period was a time of occupation with Torah and the commandments, and acts of kindness.

Why was it destroyed? Because of unwarranted enmity.” How are we to understand this?

How is it possible that large numbers of people are occupied with Hashem’s holy Torah, and acts of kindness; and are concurrently characterized by שנאת חינם – unexcused enmity?

This should scare us to the core! Isn’t this the very opposite of what we believe and expect of a Torah society? The very idea, the very possibility that Jews could be engaged in Torah study, in careful observance of the commandments, in acts of חסד/kindness to each other – and still hate each other at the same time? Yet this is precisely what our sages tell us characterized that period, and what we must still address and remedy.

It may be that the Netziv answered our perplexity in a famous responsum in Meshiv Davar (משיב דבר א סימן מד). A prominent Torah journal had published an editorial advocating the complete separation of observant Jews from other Jews in Europe. The Netziv wrote a lengthy response decrying this idea; analyzing and rejecting it as “like swords to the body and existence of the nation.” There the Netziv writes that during the second Temple period our nation was exiled and the Temple destroyed and the land cut off due to the ongoing public struggle between the P’rushim and the Tzadukim (Pharisees and Sadducees). This, he wrote, also brought about unjustified bloodshed because of the unwarranted enmity. When a Parush would see someone act leniently in a matter of Torah, he would judge him to be a Tzaduki (and therefore the enemy), even when this was simply an average Jew who happened to do wrong. But unwarranted enmity would make him judge this person to be an enemy in the great religious and social struggle, and violence would ensue.

The Netziv continues and says that such could certainly occur today, that one of the observant Jews would perceive that another Jew doesn’t behave the same as he in serving God and would judge him to therefore be a heretic and separate from him and they would end up persecuting each other.

We could, indeed, be occupied with Torah and acts of kindness; but still look down or askance at those very people we are helping or learning or davening with. The key to the cure is to first realize and deeply appreciate that the Torah does not require uniformity of us.

Yes, we all have to keep Shabbat and kashrut and give tzedakah. Yes, we all have to work to create individual and societal lives expressive of God’s will as revealed in His Torah. Yet time and again the Torah teaches us how that comes about through elements of diversity and individuality. Not free-for-all, make-it-up-as-we-go-along diversity; but a real diversity within Torah and tradition that comes about because of personality, character, style, and unique insights that result from real investment in Torah.

Consider that the holy menorah, the symbol and channel of Divine wisdom, had seven branches. Not one. Even though all the six peripheral lamps turned towards the center, they remained distinct. Each lamp had to burn on its own. Rav Avigdor Nevenzahl points out how this is a model for how each student eventually has to stand on his own, continuing but independent of what his rav has imparted to him.

Consider that even though we received one Torah as one people at Sinai (‘like one person of one heart’, Rashi to Ex. 19:2); the Torah rigorously preserves the identities (and therefore cultures) of the 12 tribes. Each tribe had its own flag and its own camp in the wilderness – though all centered around the mishkan/Tabernacle. In the Land of Israel each tribe retained its own territory, and through that some of its own customs and halachic behaviors. To create the Torah’s vision of a Torah society, we must maintain individual and distinct contributions that then work together synergistically. But we must realize and believe that the differences indeed lead to synergy. Only then will we not only tolerate differences; but we will value them and make good use of them.

Even with all our common obligations within the Torah, we must each find the particular path and style upon which we will make our particular contribution. What’s more, we must support each other and encourage each other to do so; and to rise ever higher in the heights of Torah. Then, Hashem will bless us to finally remedy the שנאת חינם, the unnecessary enmity which brought about our mourning and exile. Then we will be blessed to create a society in Israel that will be a blessing for all the nations.

כי ביתי בית תפלה יקרא לכל העמים – ‘for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.’ (ישעיה נו:ז/Isaiah 56:7).

It begins with us.

Originally posted August, 2011

When Silence Means No

Posted on | July 22, 2014 | By Guest Contributor | Add Your Comments

By Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller

“Even when you do what you know to be right…, you should feel humility and shame before Hashem.”

(Chouos Halevauos, Gate of Submission to Hashem, ch. 4)

I dumped my pocketbook out on the living room table, sure that the keys would come out of their hiding place, but they didn’t. It’s never good when you forget AMEN (Hebrew acronym for arnak, mafteichos and nayad — wallet, keys and mobile) before you leave the house.

This time it was more than unpleasant. Looking for the keys meant missing the last bus to the community where I was expected to speak. The women who arranged the evening were just beginning their journey toward greater observance, and coming late would potentially enforce some of their hoary old stereotypical images of chareidim.

I looked upward and said, “Hashem, You know where the keys are. If it’s Your will, open my eyes and let me find them.” I then put some money aside for tzedakah, re-examined the table, and found the keys where I must have looked but just not seen them. Hashem literally opened my eyes. I knew that my next response would be crucial.

How are you supposed to respond to an answered prayer?

There are several models. One is to react like an athlete who just broke a record: “Yes, folks, it was a lot of hard work, but I just kept going till I made it to the finish line.” In spiritual terms it might sound like: “I knew that davening would help. It works for me. I really had kavanah. It’s been so much easier since I learned through the sources. It’s just a skill like any other skill; since I mastered it everything is different.”

There are about four unnecessary references to self in this model, and no references to G-d. The subtle transformation of tefillah into what the Gemara calls “iyun tefillah” (Rosh Hashanah 16b) in the negative sense begins with subconsciously removing Hashem from the picture and substituting for it a curious form of self-empowerment. If you ever fall into this trap, try to recall the words spoken at Nachshon Wachsman’s funeral.

Nachshon was nineteen when he was abducted by Arabs on October 11, 1994. From the moment he was kidnapped his parents recognized that their son’s fate was determined by Heaven. Tens of thousands davened for him, including nonreligious mothers who lit Shabbos candles on his behalf.

No one will forget his father’s words to all those who had davened for his safe return: “G-d did listen to your prayers. Sometimes, just as a father would like to always say yes to all his children’s requests, sometimes he must say no, though the child may not understand why. So too our Father in Heaven heard our prayers, and His answer was no.” This response embodied absolute reliance on Hashem as was echoed by the mothers of the three kidnapped boys who unified the entire Jewish people in prayer. The words “regardless of the outcome, I will always have emunah” will never be forgotten.

This mindset leaves you open to make more and more supplications to the only One Who can really help. This is also called iyun tefillah, but it is of course seen as holy rather than at best a first step toward what tefillah is meant to be, or at worst a pathetic capitulation to your ego.

What are the mechanics of tefillah? Why even formulate words when the consequences are determined by Hashem, Who is fully aware of what we need the most?

Ramchal tells us (Derech Hashem, section 4, para. 5) that “In His infinite wisdom, Hashem created the world with rules and with order. One of His rules is that the created beings receive the flow of His goodness by being awakened to draw close to Him. The flow from Above, which descends, is in proportion to the awakening. The L-rd wants to give His creations daily all the goodness that they can receive. It is for this reason that prayer is the way that we draw down His blessing, which is given in accordance with what [His creatures] need, and what their position is in this world.”

Prayer is meant to draw you closer to Hashem. Ego can only take you further away from Him in every sense. When Hashem appeared to Avraham and asked him to leave everything and follow Him to the Land, He made promises. One of them was that He would empower Avraham to be a source of blessing. Avraham was humble enough to receive this gift. You can see this from the way he responded when his own prayers were not answered. He had beseeched Hashem to save at least one of the five metropolises that comprised the territory of Sedom. When his pleas were denied, his response was not anger toward Him, but the words,”I am dust and ashes” (Bereishis 18:32).

Avraham was unique in his humility because there is no doubt that had his request been fulfilled, he would have felt the very same way.

Reprinted with permission – Hamodia 18 Tammuz 5774/ July 16, 2014

Visit Rebbetzin Heller’s site at

Time, Space and Soul at the Kotel

Posted on | July 21, 2014 | By Mark Frankel | 26 Comments

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

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

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

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

I decided to write three endings to this piece:

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

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

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

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

Originally Published February 2010

Rising Cost of Living in BT Altanta; Are Shuls Democratic?; The Pen is Mightier than the Keyboard;

Posted on | July 17, 2014 | By Administrator | Add Your Comments

Rising Cost of Living in BT Altanta

Are Shuls Democratic?

Learning Styles: The Pen is Mightier than the Keyboard

Longing For His Children

Posted on | July 16, 2014 | By Guest Contributor | 1 Comment

By Rabbi Meir Goldberg.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is an incredible time in Klal Yisroel.​

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

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

Eating Cookies at the Kosel on the 17th of Tammuz

Posted on | July 15, 2014 | By Ross Kryger | 7 Comments

Before I became frum, I lit Channukah candles (I miss my purple and gold yarmulke), I didn’t eat bread on Pesach (I was stringent–it had to be bread davka) and I fasted on Yom Kippur. Even in college I fasted the whole day, and as soon as the sun finally went down (behind the administration building), the pepperoni pizza was mine. I deserved it after a day of affliction. Little did I know that other days of affliction dotted the Jewish calendar, too.

Just a few weeks after I joined my friend in his BT yeshiva, it was the 17th of Tammuz. I was given a briefing (very brief), and was told it was a fast day. Being natually respectful (and too shy to protest), I went along with it and during the early afternoon, I found myself sitting by my dirah window overlooking the Kosel while my friend was “praying Minkah” in the yeshiva. My stomach started to rumble. There was no one around, and I did have a stash of wafers under my blanket for emergencies. I glanced at the Wall, then at my cookies, then at the Wall. Do I miss what had been in the airspace above that wall? Ok, whatever, but mourning takes energy, doesn’t it? After all, when I used to go to a shiva in America, there was tons of food there. Wall vs. wafers [rumble!]…the wafers won.
I hid the evidence and dusted off the fingerprints…I still remember how amazed my friend was that I fasted so well.

Just three weeks later, another fast day. I didn’t eat, but I did manage to sneak into a chair every once in a while. I certainly didn’t greet anyone (my shyness came in handy again.) It was more than a little frustrating as it was so new, even though the very basics in yeshiva gave me a general idea. The fact is that as the first few years went by, I felt like I was lacking certain connections in all the holidays and fast days.

One year, I went to hear Rav Shlomo Brevda talk about the three weeks. Like so many others, he acknowledged that it’s very hard to mourn something that we never had. But unlike so many others, he spent much time going into great vivid detail (as he does so well) about what life was like when there was a Beis HaMikdash. (I heard that there are tapes for kids with this theme, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve learned quite a lot from children’s tapes in general!) Oh, really? So many miracles? This is what we lost? It was a step in the right direction, and another piece in the puzzle.

Nineteen years have gone by, and I’ve gained each year more pieces to the puzzle, about every holiday. As I look back, I see every holiday is a little different as I saw it before, (my impressions of Pesach are drastically different than even ten years ago!) and as every year more puzzle pieces are added, I get the sense of a whole picture coming together. Very slowly, but it’s coming. It takes a lifetime, but the satisfaction of looking back a few years and seeing some progress is tremendous chizuk. I’ve come a ways since munching on wafers in front of the Kosel on the 17th of Tammuz (really representative of the state of nonfrum Jewry as a whole). And believe it or not, the fasting even gets easier every year! I have never characterized myself as a spiritual fellow, but I see that the connections do come. What a great feeling!

So if you ever feel down about not growing, know it’s not true. It’s happening and it’s slow, but that’s the way it’s supposed to be–little steps, always little steps which are permanent. May we always continue to grow, and may your fast be even easier than last year.

Reposted from July 2009

Advancing Achdus Through Easier Fasting Advice

Posted on | July 14, 2014 | By Mark Frankel | 1 Comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tircha De-Tzibura; Quinoa; Minyan Now App

Posted on | July 10, 2014 | By Administrator | Add Your Comments

Slower Davening and Tircha De-Tzibura

Quinoa – the Superest of the Superfoods?

New App Aims to Deliver Instant Minyan

G-d’s Divine Plan and the Teshuva Movement

Posted on | July 9, 2014 | By Guest Contributor | Add Your Comments

By Rabbi Avaraham Edelstein
Reposted from Klal Perspectives Kiruv Issue – Winter 2012

There are many pessimists who suggest that the opportunity for American kiruv is rapidly dwindling. They cite decades of American intermarriage and the decreased familiarity of Jews with Torah and Jewish values and tradition (including the decline of Conservative Judaism, discussed below). But, though perhaps it is counter-intuitive, as I evidence elsewhere in this article the numbers of those interested in Judaism have been growing not decreasing. The average community mekarev is showing around three to five baalei teshuva a year, while the average campus rabbi is achieving five to six. And there has been a much larger number coming to learn on a weekly basis and making progress in their mitzvah observance. With the total numbers of mekarvim exponentially greater than it was twenty years ago, the cumulative efforts are highly significant.

Some have observed that English-speaking baal teshuva yeshivas are struggling with enrollment. However, this does not reflect decreased kiruv success – it simply reflects a different model of achieving success. For example, data reveal that 530 previously non-observant students became frum on North American campuses in the 2010-2011 academic year alone, and that figure rose nominally to 552 in 2011-2012. These are significant increases over previous years and previous decades. Moreover, there are entire new communities of baalei teshuva that have only recently mushroomed – in places like Tucson, Arizona and for sub-groups such as Bucharim in Queens, NY. This encouraging trend requires an understanding of the true roots of the Baal Teshuva Movement.

Contrary to the simplistic view of many, the movement was not simply a function of sociological phenomena, such as the shirayim (leftovers) of the Sixties’ generation looking for meaning (America), or the miracles of the Six Day War (Israel), or the arrival of a special kollel (South Africa), etc., etc.

According to Rav Yitzchak Hutner, zatzal (as told to Rav Moshe Shirkin, shlita, who reported this to me) the kiruv movement rather began as part of G-d’s guiding hand in history as we entered a pre-Messianic age. The elaborate teshuva prophesied for the Messianic era was beginning early, the influence flowing “backwards,” as it were, from the powerful inspiration of that anticipated age.

That the baal teshuva movement must be attributed to G-d’s guiding hand alone is evidenced by the fact that it began in multiple countries more or less simultaneously, without any human coordination – with most initiatives not even knowing of the others’ existence. Just as remarkable, although there were noble efforts at kiruv prior to this time, those early initiatives bore comparatively little fruit (I expect loud protests reminding me of Young Israel, Torah U’Mesorah and maybe even Torah Vodaas). For example, the same Rav Nachman Bulman, zatzal, who had many hundreds of BTs as his students by the time of his death in 2002, hardly made a dent before the time was ripe. In fact, after the advent of the BT movement, even those with relatively mediocre tools were able to realize significant achievements[2].

There has always been a Torah requirement that we do a national teshuva,[3] which is not the same as simply each individual in the nation doing teshuva. National teshuva was destined to be the central phenomenon of the Messianic era – אין ישראל נגאלין אלא בתשובה (the People of Israel will be redeemed only through teshuva).[4] And while the Nesivos Shalom[5] suggests that the teshuva of our generation draws from the past (specifically, the holiness generated by the experience of the Holocaust), this is no contradiction to the consensus of gedolim that it is a pre-Messianic phenomenon[6]. In other words, Messianic kedusha (holiness) begins to “peep from the cracks” – מציץ מן החרכים (Song of Songs 2:9) – in the generation of עקבתא דמשיחא (pre-Messianic era), when a teshuva movement becomes one of the defining phenomena of the age.

In Messianic times, not only do all Jews do teshuva, but we will be led by a descendent of that most illustrious of baalei teshuva, Yehudah. It is so destined, for Mashiach must be a composite of every fragment of kedusha in the world.

Predicting Jewish demographic trends is a risky business at best, especially since it is totally incapable of predicting the future of a meta-historical process like the baal teshuva movement. Social scientists simply lack the tools to anticipate G-d’s Divine plan to envelope history into one grand גילוי יחודו (revelation of His Oneness). The Baal Teshuva Movement cannot be explained as merely another religious awakening, subject to the ebb and flow of trends and social influences. We will not find ourselves running dry, with the next generation of Jews simply too distanced to be brought closer, chas ve’shalom (G-d forbid). On the contrary, kiruv will gather steam right into the Messianic era, when all Jews will do teshuva. We are but seeing individual examples, in whatever numbers, of what will become an across-the-board national phenomenon at a later stage.

Renewing the Four Dimensions of Appreciating Torah

Posted on | July 8, 2014 | By Mark Frankel | Add Your Comments

The four reasons people are attracted to Torah Observant Judaism mirror the four dimensions of the human experience:

Physical - the lifestyle is enjoyable
Emotional - the relationships are meaningful
Mental - learning Torah is deep and challenging
Spiritual - connecting to G-d is sublime

Unfortunately for many BTs, after the initial attraction the following occurs:

Physical - it’s expensive to support this lifestyle
Emotional - it’s difficult to find a really good group of friends
Mental - learning is hard and our world of distraction makes it harder
Spiritual - mitzvos and prayer becomes rote, so the G-d connection is weak

These problems are real, and unfortunately they drive many people to the negative, critical and cynical groups within Torah Judaism.

So here are four ways to start renewing your appreciation for Torah

Physical - focus on the pleasures of Shabbos with its meals, sleep and other great pleasures
Emotional - share some of your joys or tribulations face to face with a fellow Jew
Mental - spend a few minutes this week working on a difficult piece of Torah
Spiritual - say one “asher kidshanu” beracha slowly with concentration

Let’s face it, appreciating Torah takes work and it’s a lot easier to stay distracted and involved in negativity. However, if you put in the effort in renewing the four dimensions, the rewards are tremendous.

There Are No Perfect People

Posted on | July 7, 2014 | By Guest Contributor | Add Your Comments

By Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller

One of the greatest blessings that you can give a friend who is getting married is that the couple live together with peace and friendship. Peace isn’t what people think it is. It is too often confused with a mere lack of hostility in one extreme, or complete concord on the other. While there is absolutely no case to be made for overtantagonism, the absence of conflict leaves an empty space, which isn’t necessarily filled with peace. The word for peace, shalom, is related to the word shalem which means “whole”. A peaceful relationship is one in which each person welcomes the unique individuality of the other, and together try to build something real. It’s dynamic, rather than passive. With that in mind, I will tell you the bad news, which is also the good news.

Everyone settles.

There are no perfect people. Faults that are irrelevant from an emotionally safe distance are sometimes exquisitely painful when you recognize that you are merged with both the faults and virtues of the man who you marry. Recognizing this may feel like watching a dream shatter, if you had illusions that shalom means finding your clone, whose faults are the ones that you have somehow managed to forgive in yourself over the course of your life. If your vision of shalom is dynamic, you will realize that faults are one dimension of virtues. Every trait has two sides.

A person who is angry is saying, “things aren’t the way I would like them to be”. This can be almost idol worship, with the idol being the self. It also can be a misplaced yearning for wholeness, and the bitter fruit of misplaced idealism. If it is you who are the angry one, you have to accept your fault as being real, find a new address for the energy it generates and move on. You can and must learn damage control, but that isn’t the end of the story. If the fault is someone else’s, the temptation is to label it, dissect it, and despise it. This isn’t shalom. You have to be committed enough to see the hidden yearning for truth, and use it to build.

Rav Aryeh Levine, the famed tzadik of Yerushalaim, used to say that there are two kinds of people. There are those who hate lies, and those who love truth. A person who hates dishonesty will be sensitive to its presence, and see it lurking in the dark recesses of people’s inner lives and self-deceptions. They will despise the possessor of the trait because they despise the trait. Another type of person will seek the hidden truth in the heart of the person with whom they find themselves. They love the truth that emerges, and for that reason will love the person.

This isn’t only true in marriage, and the message of shalom is one that has to be carried with you wherever you go. It has to do with friendships, relationships with rabbis (what? Imperfect rabbis?), parents, just as much as it has to do with shalom bayit. The exception to this rule is illustrated in parsha Korach. Korach fermented a rebellion against Moshe. He presented himself as sort of the Jefferson of the Biblical world. We are all equal, we are all holy. Why should one person rule over others? Why should Moshe’s brother be the Kohein Gadol? Isn’t this just warmed over nepotism? The problem in his argument is that these offices were given by G-d and not by Moshe. It is Hashem Himself who gave Moshe the qualities that he had to have in order to give the Torah, and Aharon the traits he needed to bring down blessing to the Jewish people.

It is also G-d who, the Talmud tells us, since the time He finished creating the world has busied Himself with matching couples. This doesn’t mean only that He is the Ultimate Shadchan, but it also means that He creates the right situations to match the abilities of the people he destines to encounter those situations. Your role is to build, and to affirm. It isn’t to destroy or to negate. There are times when building is impossible, and then you have to have the vision and courage to move on. But the way to know whether that is the case can only come to the surface when you are really willing to question your own willingness to build, rather than to satisfy your ego by being the wronged party, or the higher deity on the totem pole. Lots of us enjoy machlokes (the opposite of shalom). It’s root is the word “chelek” which means portion. Finding the hidden truth is the only way out.

Originally Posted on

The Pressures and Joys of the Rabbinic First Family; Common Ground in Hobby Lobby; What You Don’t Know About the Ultra-Orthodox

Posted on | July 3, 2014 | By Administrator | 1 Comment

The Pressures and Joys of the Rabbinic First Family

Common Ground in Hobby Lobby

What You Don’t Know About the Ultra-Orthodox

The Way of G-d – A Quick Overview

Posted on | July 2, 2014 | By Mark Frankel | Add Your Comments

A few weeks ago, I posted 12 Fundamental Spiritual Beliefs based on Rabbi Chaim Moshe Luzzato’s Derech Hashem. The context was, if I only had a few minutes and wanted to give an overview, what would I teach from Derech Hashem.
I’ve refined them and created a graphic to help install these fundamental ideas into our long term memory.


The Way of G-d has four sections
1. Fundamentals of Creation
2. Divine Province
3. The Soul and Prophecy
4. Serving G-d

1. Fundamentals of Creation
Goodness - Hashem created the world to bestow goodness on man, who is composed of a physical body and spiritual soul.
Means – The greatest goodness is coming close to Hashem with our spiritually strengthening free will choices to do mitzvos and avoiding sins.
Environment – Although spiritual influences and forces direct what occurs in the physical realm, man’s free will choices influence the spiritual realm.

2. Divine Province
Purpose – Hashem created and oversees all things for the ultimate purpose of man, and humanity as a whole, to come closer to Him.
Challenges – All the qualities in this world, such as wealth, poverty, gratifications and sufferings,… serve as a challenge for man in pursuit of the goal of attaining closeness to Hashem.
Jews – At this point of history, the goal of fulfilling humanity’s ultimate purpose is dependent on the mitzvos and the aveiros of the Jewish People.

3. The Soul and Prophecy
Levels of the Soul – Man’s physical body is connected to the spiritual world through five levels of soul, the Nefesh, Ruach, Neshamah, Chayah and Yechidah.
Spiritual Perceptions – In addition to his senses, man can receive information about the world through his soul(s) and the processes of dreams, divine inspiration and prophecy.
Prophecy – Many prophets received prophecy in a dream-state, but Moshe’s clear waking-state prophecy was of an entirely different nature, and through it, the Torah was transmitted from Hashem to Moshe.

4. Serving G-d
Mitzvos – Man serves G-d and achieves his purpose in the world through the performance of mitzvos and the study of Torah.
Torah Study – Torah study plays a very large role in bringing man to perfection and the highest positive spiritual influences in the world come about through its study.
Emotion, Thought, Speech & Action – Emotion based mitzvos include love and fear of Hashem, while thought, speech and action mitzvos are classified as continuous (e.g. Belief in Hashem), daily (e.g. Shema), periodic (e.g. Shabbos) and circumstantial (e.g. Mezuzah).

“Teiku” – In Loving Memory of our Beloved Brothers Eyal, Gilad and Naftali HY”D

Posted on | July 1, 2014 | By Rabbi Yakov Horowitz | Add Your Comments

Several years ago, I was in a shiva home as Rabbi Moshe Dovid Tendler was sharing a profoundly beautiful Torah thought from his revered father-in-law Rabbi Moshe Feinstein zt’l with the mourners.

Reb Moshe posed the following question: “Why is it that we make the bracha (blessing) of ‘Dayan HaEmes’ (Blessed is G-d Whose judgment is just) when we mourn the death of a loved one, which basically means that we accept the bitter judgment Hashem gave us? Aren’t we obligated to believe that everything Hashem does is for our ultimate good? If that is the case, why don’t we make the blessing of ‘Hatov V’hametiv’ (Blessed is G-d Who bestows good upon us)?

Reb Moshe gently explained that our chachamim (sages), in their wisdom, crafted the “Dayan HaEmes” blessing to inform the mourners that it is perfectly understandable and theologically appropriate for there to be a deep chasm between what they know intellectually to be our Torah’s perspective on tragedy and the raw pain they currently feel due to their searing loss.

My dear friends, I share this with you in the hope that Reb Moshe’s timeless words will help us come to grips with the unspeakable tragedy of the heinous murder of our beloved brothers Eyal, Gilad and Naftali Hashem Yikom Damam (May G-d Avenge Their Blood).

We know what we are supposed to think, we know that our Torah expects us to process tragedy through its lens and accept Hashem’s Din as just and ultimately for the good – but we also know the searing pain that our human, broken hearts are feeling now.

Reb Moshe informs us that this is OK, and is part and parcel of our spiritual experience in this world as we do our best to see and feel Hashem’s presence in a world where it is often hidden from us.

Four times in the past fifteen years, I had the impossible task of explaining the inexplicable to our talmidim (students) as we lost a beloved teacher to a horrible automobile accident and three parents in our school passed away after long illnesses over that period of time. Here are some of the messages shared with our students.

Mazal Tov to David and Sandy Linn on the Engagement of Their Daughter Rina

Posted on | June 30, 2014 | By Administrator | 3 Comments

Please join us in wishing a Mazal Tov to David and Sandy Linn on the engagement of their daughter Rina to Binyamin Kanowitz of Kew Gardens Hills.

May we all merit to share many Simchos together!

Shul Members More Inspiring than Rabbi; Is There A Bracha On The Mona Lisa?; Weight Loss Math-1800 Calories a Day

Posted on | June 26, 2014 | By Administrator | 2 Comments

How Shul Members Are More Inspiring Than the Rabbi

Is There A Bracha On The Mona Lisa?

The Simple Math of Weight Loss – 1800 Calories a Day/

Filling Our Higher Walls With a Meaningful Relationship with Hashem

Posted on | June 25, 2014 | By Guest Contributor | Add Your Comments


Building “higher walls” is a hishtadus implemented in many communities in Klal Yisroel. It’s a hishtadlus that many FFB’s and BT’s put a good deal of their precious trust in to keep their kids on the derech.

But, no hishtadlus, however worthy, can “make” anything happen or guarantee a result. G-d alone made, makes and will make all happenings (Rambam Thirteen Principles of Faith #2). G-d is the One & Only Source of every seemingly independent power, and every seemingly effective hishtadlus (#’s 2 & 3 of the Six Constant Mitzvahs).

If you trust in Hashem while making a histadlus, He will requite and fulfill that trust in Him. Whereas if you repose your trust in anything else—-such as building higher walls—- Hashem’s system is to remove His Divine Providence and let “nature run its course”. The very thing you trusted in will be the “cause” of your frustration, disaster, loss etc and your trust in it will be unrequited.(Heard from Rabbi Avigdor Miller ztl)

There is a lot of emphasis placed on building higher walls but insufficient emphasis on filling the confines of those walls with a meaningful, loving and rewarding relationship with Hashem. Instead the confines of those higher walls continue to be filled with externalities based upon social/cultural conventions that are mistakenly confused with genuine Avodas Hashem.

Is it any wonder then that the hishtadlus/strategy of higher walls is failing regardless of what community is being discussed?

From Where Do You Put Your Old Time Rock And Roll? – Comment 45 by YMG

A Powerful Middos Enhancer – Skip Step Two

Posted on | June 24, 2014 | By Guest Contributor | 3 Comments

By Jonathan Rosenblum

Mishpacha readers could be forgiven for concluding that most of my time on trips to America is spent sponging rides from anyone who expresses so much as a word of appreciation for any column I have ever written. Yet what I inevitably gain from those rides is much more valuable than the cab fare I save.

Recently, I was met at the Denver airport by Mrs. Aliza Bulow, a writer, speaker, and educator, whose work I had admired from afar. She had expressed an interest in speaking to me while I was in Denver, and it turned out that she would be dropping off her daughter at the airport just as I would be exiting the baggage claim area.

As it happened, I preceded Mrs. Bulow. She did not arrive at the airport until half an hour before her daughter’s flight. By that time, there was no hope of her daughter returning to Detroit with the suitcase she had brought. “I’ll pick it up at Pesach,” she told her mother matter-of-factly. Meanwhile, there was still the matter of getting through security control with two children in strollers with just half an hour before flight time.

Clearly, she would have to rely on the kindness of many strangers to do so. (She did make the flight.)
I remarked to Mrs. Bulow that both she and her daughter had seemed preternaturally calm about a situation that would have tested my nerves to the breaking point.

In response, she told me that she has a rule in her family called “Skip step two.”

My ears picked up in anticipation of learning the magic formula for never losing your cool. She explained that in most situations that try us, first comes the triggering event — e.g., a dentist appointment that goes way overtime when you have to make it to the airport. Then you lose yourself in either panic or anger. Finally, you realize that you have to deal with the new situation one way or the other. Since you are going to have to deal with the situation eventually, why not just skip step two?

Mrs. Bulow gave me another example of “skipping step two” from the same daughter’s year in seminary in Israel. She and her roommates had been instructed that their closets were old and not overly stable and should not be moved. Nevertheless the roommates decided to rearrange all the beds in the room, which entailed moving the closets as well. Sure enough, the closet of Mrs. Bulow’s daughter collapsed and all her clothes were strewn around the room.

When her roommates came to tell her what had happened, she just went upstairs and put her stuff back. “Aren’t you even angry?” they asked.

“How would that help me?” she replied, without breaking stride.

Don’t we all waste a lot of time and energy losing our cool over things we are going to have to deal with anyway? Why not just skip step two?

Originally published in Mishpacha.

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein on The Mistaken Rejection of Torah Leaders

Posted on | June 23, 2014 | By Administrator | 2 Comments

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein in Darash Moshe comments on the mistakes of those who reject Torah leaders:

Korach’s argument, the entire congregation — all of them — are holy, and why do you exalt yourself over the congregation of Hashem, is the basic argument of those who reject the Torah leaders and think that they know the Torah as well as the gedolim, and they do not need a teacher or a leader.

Without the tradition from one of the great men of the generation, one can easily err, just as Korach erred in the laws of tzitzis and mezuzah, and just like the apostasy of Eleazar ben Po’irah, who maintained that the sefer Torah is lying in a corner, and whoever wishes to learn may come and learn (Kiddushin 66a).

The fallacy of this assertion is not only regarding the Written Torah,as the Sadducees maintained, when they denied the authenticity of the Oral Torah. One who believes that the Talmud and all the sefarim in the world are lying “in a corner,” and that anyone can learn from them without the direction and guidance of Torah authorities, is an apostate.

As is manifest, all kinds of apostates find support for their erroneous views in some Rabbinic maxim. This is because they misunderstand the meaning of the Rabbis. Even the generation of the desert, upon whom the Shechinah rested, for they had heard the first two commandments of the Decalogue, still required Moses and Aaron and all the sages of the generation.

Resolving Shul Conflicts; Tony Gwynn’s Happiness and Yours; Women In Kiruv & Jewish Education

Posted on | June 19, 2014 | By Administrator | Add Your Comments

Resolving Shul Conflicts

Tony Gwynn’s Happiness and Yours

Women In Kiruv & Jewish Education

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