Posted on | November 6, 2013 | By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz | 5 Comments
VaYetzai 5774-An installment in the series
From the Waters of the Shiloah: Plumbing the Depths of the Izhbitzer School
For series introduction CLICK
By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz-Mara D’Asra Cong Sfard of Midwood
She (Leah) was pregnant once again, and bore a son. She said: “This time let me express gratitude to HaShem.” She named the child Yehudah. Then, she stopped having children.
Rachel saw that she bore Yaakov no children. Rachel was jealous of her sister (Leah) and she said to Yaakov: “Give me children, or else I will die.” Yaakov became furious with Rachel: “Shall I take HaShem’s place?” he said “It is He who is holding back the fruit of the womb”.
There are teachings of Chaza”l that, when measured in the crucible of reality, challenge our emunas chachamim- faith in the Torah sages. Perhaps none so regularly and personally as this one: “If one were to tell you ‘I have toiled but I have not found- tried hard but have not succeeded’ do not believe him. ‘I have not toiled but I have found- have not tried but have succeeded’ (again) do not believe him” (Megillah 6B).
How many of us have been frustrated by failure in our personal lives, our academic efforts and/or our careers despite having put forth our very best efforts? Conversely, how many times has unanticipated success come our (or our competitors) way, relatively effortlessly?
The Izhbitzer teaches that our two matriarchs Rachel and Leah, are, to all appearances, the exemplars of these two claims, equally lacking in credibility. Rachel, after years of heartfelt prayer and buying a “fertility drug” (the mandrakes) was still childless. To that point, her life story had been one that veritably shouted: “I have toiled but I have not found”. On the other hand, Leah named her fourth son Yehuda as a way of thanking HaShem for having “taken more than my fair share” (Rashi ibid). Taking more than ones fair share is another way of saying “I have not toiled… but I have found”.
But the Izhbitzer tweaks the claims of the sisters and, in so doing, answers our questions. For now, we’ll concentrate on Rachel’s claim that “I have toiled but I have not found”.
Imagine a person wanting to enter a home, banging loudly and repeatedly on one of the homes windowless and doorless solid exterior walls the livelong day, but, tenaciously maintaining his position at the solid wall and refusing to move towards the door. While expending great efforts and burning many calories to achieve the goal of entry, he’s banging in the wrong place, his enormous efforts are misdirected. He may be working hard but he is not working smart. Were he to move a few feet and just rap on the door ever so lightly, it would immediately swing open and he would gain entry.
HaShem provides every individual soul with a unique makeup and an incomparable defining middah- characteristic, a leitmotif that colors all their perceptions, impacts all their decisions, tests them at every juncture and motivates all of their thoughts, words and deeds. The Divine Will desires that one’s leitmotif be both their greatest strength, their supreme source of good and their worst weakness, their most horrible enabler for evil.
Rachel was toiling mightily in prayer but where she really needed to concentrate her efforts was on the birur-the purification of her particular defining middah. Rachel’s soul was endowed with a matchless capacity for jealousy. But jealousy can be a stingy, malcontent green-eyed-monster or the engine that drives self-improvement and self-actualization.
Unholy, evil jealousy begins with an attitude of “It’s not fair. You don’t deserve that. I hope that you lose it. Only then will justice be served!” But jealousy can be sublimated into something good and holy, into the proverbial kinas sofrim –the academic envy of the wise students that spurs them to greater scholarship. The anthem of kinas sofrim is: “Hmmm…that looks good. You’re certainly entitled to what you’ve gained but I’d like some too. Some is good so more must be better. There’s plenty to go around and I won’t rest until I’ve gotten it, and more, too.” Kinas sofrim observes a good mousetrap and the boons that it brings to the mousetrap builder and to society. It then goes out and builds a better one.
The Ramba”n fails to understand Yaakov’s vehemence. What did Rachel do wrong? After all, the Gemara advises those suffering from illnesses, in her case infertility, to approach sages and ask them to daven on their behalf (Bava Basra 116A). Yaakov grew testy over Rachels misplaced yegiah-efforts and exertions. All her prayers, or any that Yaakov might have added, were like knocking on a brick wall instead of on a door. He recognized that she was jealous, that this was her defining characteristic. But he realized that she had yet to be mevarer- to clarify and purify her middah. Was her jealousy of the run-of-the-mill, catty, begrudging variety, or, was it the high-minded kinas sofrim that utilizes the irritants of envy to produce the pearls of ever-greater effort, innovation and achievement?
Rachel said: ‘Here is my handmaid Bilhah. Come to her and let her give birth on my lap. Through her I will then also have a son.’
“Isn’t it enough that you’ve taken my husband away?” snapped Leah “Now you’d even take my sons mandrakes? “All right” Rachel responded “Yaakov will lie with you tonight in exchange for your son’s mandrakes.”
Rachel offered Yaakov Bilhah, and negotiated a deal resulting in yet another pregnancy for Leah. These concessions brought more “competitors” into the marriage. By doing so she had rid her jealousy of any elements of pettiness and malice and distilled pristine kinas sofrim from her defining middah. With this small, yet significant step, she had stopped working hard and started working smart. She’d stopped pounding the brick wall and began lightly rapping on the door. Unsurprisingly, the door then swung open and she soon conceived Yoseph.
Essentially Yaakov bellowed at Rachel “I’m skeptical when you claim ‘I have toiled but I have not found’ because you’ve toiled, but in the wrong way, at the wrong spot. To unlock the doors of fertility you don’t need to pray anymore. Purify your jealousy and you’ll be knocking on the doors. You have not “toiled” smartly and that’s why you have not yet “found”. Work smart and those doors will swing open “
The second Izhbitzer adds that the efforts Rachel expended at working hard were not wasted. The Gemara teaches that if one sees that their prayers were not answered they should pray again (Berachos 32B). The Divine Will decrees precisely how long we must work our hardest before we attain salvation by working smart. There is no free lunch and there is no free epiphany that allows a person the sudden intuitive leap of understanding to correctly identify precisely which middah is their own leitmotif . Once discovered, one may begin the “working smart” of distilling the goodness of, i.e. being mevarer, their middah.
To carry the allegory further, there is something about banging on walls that eventually, cumulatively points us towards the door. And so, even while working hard and, apparently, ineffectively; claiming “I have toiled but I have not found” is a lie. All the banging on te wall eventually culminates in allowing the wall-banger to see the door that he must knock on. We toil, then we find. We work smarter, davka after working our hardest.
Adapted from Mei HaShiloach I VaYetzai D”H vaTomer haPa’am
Bais Yaakov VaYetzai Inyan 66 (page261)
Posted on | November 5, 2013 | By A Simple Jew | 11 Comments
After Modeh Ani: Realize that I need to be concerned only with this day before me and not what I will do tomorrow.
After kissing the mezuza when leaving home: Remember that it is Hashem who decides what happens to me during the day.
Before Davening: Remember that I will be talking directly to the Ribbono shel Olam
While Davening: Remember that the second I open my mouth and daven that Hashem is right there listening to me.
Before and During Learning: Remember that I am not just studying any old book, rather it is a sefer that is precious and holy.
After Learning: Say a quick personal prayer that I am able to put my learning into practice.
Before Eating: Take time to slow down and realize I am thanking Hashem for the food and that without Him I would not even have it to begin with.
After First Bite/First Sip: Say a quick personal prayer that I use the energy from the food or drink for mitzvos and not aveiros.
Before saying Birkas Hamazon: Remember that bentching after I eat ensures that the channel of blessing that enables me to support my family is unobstructed.
Before Seeing Another Person: Ensure my eyes smile at them and that I greet them with a kind word.
After Work: Ensure I leave a bad mood outside before I enter the threshold to my house. Imagine that someone is going to pay me my entire yearly salary if I can refrain from expressing my anger for just that evening alone.
Originally posted here.
Posted on | November 4, 2013 | By Guest Contributor | 1 Comment
By: R’ Aryeh Goldman
R’ Aryeh Goldman writes at Hitoreri
Parents: Step up to the Plate
How are our children to learn and integrate the inspiration and beauty of Judaism into their lives? How can we as parents make Judaism and our vision for our families something that they want to buy into and preserve? What happens when we choose complacency over pro-activity?
The answer lies within each and every one of us. Our children look to us for motivation and inspiration. They watch our every move and want to see if we are living in a way that is consistent with the mission we are trying to inculcate within them. They want to see us as a living model of a tradition that generates meaning, joy and purpose. Our children are in desperate need of people they can look up to as role models for how to live an authentic and committed Jewish life in a modern world and we, my friends, need to step up to the plate.
Throughout their childhood our children view us in different ways:
Birth to adolescence: During this phase children view their parents as perfect beings. They imitate our behaviours, and speech. They form a strong bond in those formative years. During this phase it is so important for us to lay solid foundations of love whereby the child knows and feels that you love them unconditionally. They must know that they can make mistakes and you will be there to support them as they rise again to learn from the experience.
Adolescence to young adulthood: This is the most challenging phase for parents but the most transformational for the child. During this phase of development the child is looking to form their identity and develop a sense of independence. The tension between parent and child that exist during this phase is an expression of the child’s desire to disassociate and disregard anything that they view as an obstacle. Therefore adolescents will seek to push the limits, assert themselves and challenge their parent’s decisions and way of life in an attempt to define their own identity and make independent choices. When the child views the parent as a controller they resist. Therefore the Piazcezna Rebbe Kalonymus Kalman Shapira zt”l advises:
“Thus, it is imperative upon the parent and educator to impress upon the child that it is the child’s responsibility to mature into a loyal member of the Jewish people; and that the parent and educator are only there to help the child help himself understand what the Almighty has instructed”
Ultimately that is the goal of chinuch, to inculcate within the child a sense of responsibly for their lives. Our children need to understand that each child has a unique mission to fulfil in this world and we as their parents are there to facilitate the process. In that way the Rebbe hopes the child will view the parent as a mentor and coach who has the best interest of the adolescent in mind.
Young adulthood: In young adulthood the child then reflects on the education they received and uses it as the platform for how they live their lives and educate their own children. It is common for a child and parent to “reconnect” at this stage of development as the child develops and matures they begin to understand and appreciate the dedication and love that went into their upbringing.
The Torah places a great emphasis on the role of a mentor in a person’s life. It is part of the reason why Torah is to be learned with a Rebbe/Teacher and not in isolation. The Torah is not an archaic theoretical code of life but rather an accessible and practical guide to a meaningful life. This does not come from reading a text; you need to see it alive. So do your children. Their teachers can instruct them how to accurately fulfil the mitzvos but as parents it is up to us to infuse Yiddishkeit with passion as we model a ‘Living Torah’.
We cannot afford to be complacent and take a back seat approach to the chinuch of our children. Our children need us to be proactive in providing them a framework for understanding the world they live in and and want us to create a safe environment to discover themselves. Rise to the challenge and be a positive role model for your children…so much depends on it.
Posted on | October 31, 2013 | By Administrator | Add Your Comments
Posted on | October 30, 2013 | By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz | 4 Comments
Toldos 5774-An installment in the series
From the Waters of the Shiloah: Plumbing the Depths of the Izhbitzer School
For series introduction CLICK
By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz-Mara D’Asra Cong Sfard of Midwood
Yitzchak had grown old and his eyes grew dim, so that he could not see. He summoned Esav his older son.
“so that he could not see” alternatively; “(his eyes grew dim ) on account of seeing”. When Avraham bound him upon the altar, Yitzchak gazed at the Shechinah-Divine Indwelling…at that time G-d decreed that his eyes be dimmed.
-Midrash Bereshis Rabbah 65:5
HaShem appeared to [Yitzchak] and said: “Do not go down to Egypt; dwell in the land which I shall assign for you.
Remain an immigrant in this land, and I will be with you, and bless you…
“Do not go down to Egypt.” You are [as] a perfect burnt offering, and being outside the Holy Land is not fitting for you.
[Moshe]…Climb to the top of the cliff, and gaze westward, northward, southward and eastward. See it [the Land of Israel/ Cana’an] with your eyes [only]; since you will not cross the Jordan.
“See it with your eyes”: You requested of Me “Let me… see the good land” (Pasuk 25). I am showing you all of it, as it says: “And HaShem showed him all the Land” (Devarim 34:1).
And Moshe was a hundred and twenty years old when he died: but his eyes had not dimmed, nor had his natural powers faded away.
The Izhbitzer observed that Moshe and Yitzchak were polar opposites. While Yitzchak was forbidden to ever leave the Land of Israel he was, ultimately, unable to see it. Whereas Moshe was denied permission to set foot in the Land of Israel but was allowed to look at the Land in its entirety!
His son, the second Izhbitzer adds an enigmatic wrinkle to his father’s thought-provoking observation: Moshe Rabenu is the Talmid Chacham-Torah scholar par excellence of the Jewish People. Talmidei Chachamim are, by definition, beings driven by keen perception and intellectual clarity. They channel the Divine will through precise, acute consciousness.
In contradistinction Yitzchak was, to use the contemporary parlance, “unconscious”. Even when completely oblivious to his surroundings and what he was actually doing he channeled the Divine will. Without consciously intending to do so he blessed Yaakov and this was, unknowingly, dare we say-blindly, consistent with HaShems will.
Imagine two archers both hitting one bulls eye after another. One was endowed with 20/10 vision and peerless hand-to-eye coordination while the other was myopic and all thumbs, but every arrow in his quiver had been fitted with a GPS device guiding it to its target, his arrows were mini “smart bombs”. Yitzchak was like the latter archer. HaShem had granted him the ability to see without seeing, to know without knowing.
While not contrasting Moshe and Yitzchak, Rav Tzadok, the Lubliner Kohen, offers a deeper understanding of Yitzchaks blindness stemming from his binding upon the altar.
The problem with gazing at the Divine Indwelling is that it is fatal. “HaShem said: ‘You cannot have a vision of My Presence, for no man can have a vision of My Presence and live.’”(Shemos 33:20). This begs the question; we know that the Akedah-the Binding of Yitzchak, was a near-death experience. But if Yitzchak beheld the Divine Indwelling at the Akedah why did it not result in his actual death?
A darkness exists that can become more visible than light “He made darkness His hiding-place, His Sukkah surrounding Him; the darkness of waters, the thick clouds of the heavens” (Tehilim 18:12). The blind can “see” as well in a pitch-black room as in a brilliantly illuminated one. This may be among the meanings of teaching of our Sages OBM that “one who is blind is considered dead” It is the tzimtzum of Yitzchak, his powerful personal restraint/constraint and self-abnegation, his trait of יראה –Awe of HaShem that allowed him a ראיה-a vision, of the invisible. (The two terms, יראה and ראיה, in Lashon Kodesh-Biblical Hebrew, are word jumbles of one another.) Yitzchak’s eventual blindness of the material world was a direct result of his visual perception of the spiritual world. To enter and perceive that supernal World is to cross the threshold of the surrounding darkness.
This metamorphosis of Yitzchak’s vision not only allowed him to see HaShem but to see kiv’yachol as Hashem does. “for it is not as men see: for a man gazes at the outward appearance, but HaShem sees into the heart.’” (Shmuel I 16:7). Although he saw into Esavs heart and understood his hypocrisy he still summoned Esav and intended to bless him, and not his younger brother. He knew that Esavs pretense of piety was the homage his vice was paying to virtue and imagined that the blessings could redeem Esav, while Yaakov did not need them. Yet through his unconsciousness and blindness to the material world he marched in lockstep with the Divine will.
Adapted from Mei HaShiloach I Toldos D”H Vehee
Yisrael Kedoshim page 86 D”H V’Noda & V’heenei
Posted on | October 29, 2013 | By Mark Frankel | 3 Comments
Divisions have always been a factor among the Jews, and our times are no different, but at our core we’re all children of Abraham, partners in the covenant, possessing spiritual sensitivity, and destined to help the world unite and collectively connect to Hashem. An event last week brought this message home.
Through Facebook, I keep in touch with friends with whom I grew up. Our neighborhood synagogue was Conservative, but many people intermarried, although they have not lost an awareness of their Jewish heritage. Last week, a friend’s mother passed away and they asked me to officiate at the funeral. The oldest son recently had a conversation with the mother about whether she preferred a cremation or a burial. I’ve seen this before, and Rabbis have told me that the main reason that they consider cremation is because it is less expensive and because they were never taught the reasons behind Jewish laws and customs. When the spiritual concepts behind a proper Jewish burial are explained, many will pay the extra money to provide this for their parents.
At the advice of my Rav, my focus was to provide a proper burial for the mother, which primarily included a Tahara, a pine box casket, and the actual burial performed by the immediate family and myself. I emphasized the tremendous final act of loving-kindness they were performing and that struck a very deep spiritual and emotional chord.
In the eulogy, I spoke very briefly about the body, the soul and its immortality. I pointed out how the strong loving-kindness traits of the mother shaped her soul, and paralleled the primary spiritual traits of Sarah and Abraham. Every word was true and they clearly saw the spiritual connection between them, their mother and all the Jewish people. And this message can be made clear to almost all Jews that I know, observant or not, since they are spiritually sensitive and full of loving-kindness.
The collective soul of the Jewish People is the second highest of the five levels of the soul. Every Jew is a part of that collective soul and we immeasurably improve as individuals and as a people when we sensitize each other to our spiritual traits, specifically loving-kindness. In the merit of the loving-kindness of the deceased and her family, may we internalize this message a little more and help each other grow spiritually and connect to Hashem.
Posted on | October 28, 2013 | By Neil Harris | 4 Comments
I have seen the future of Orthodox Judaism. It is a future not fueled or defined by either a stringent or a lackadaisical approach to halacha or by the type of shul where one davens. Those are, of course, important aspects of our Yiddishkeit, but I see something different that paves the way for our future.
The future of Orthodoxy lies in the hands of the parents and families who make conscious choices and exhibit mesiras nefesh, self-sacrifice, on behalf of their children.
It is often said that today’s generation has it much easier than previous generations with regard to maintaining an observant lifestyle. We have kosher restaurants, plenty of food with kosher certification, many choices for fashionable yet modest clothing, easy availability of sefarim, online divrei Torah – even Daf Yomi on an iPad.
I admit that we do have it easier, but there are also different challenges that today’s parents face. As this generation’s teens and young adults grow up and eventually become parents themselves, I think it is key that they understand some of the lengths to which their parents went to for them.
For example, there are many parents who choose free or low budget “staycation” options for their family not because they can’t afford something better but because they feel any “extra” money should be earmarked for tzedakah. This is a powerful life lesson for all of us.
What about the parents who look past social stigma and put their teenagers in substance abuse rehabilitation programs? These programs can put an additional strain on an already tight budget. Somehow, though, such parents figure out a way to make it happen because the alternative is unthinkable.
Recently I met a mother who canceled subscriptions to several magazines she had read for years because she realized the articles, pictures, and advertisements were not what she wanted her children exposed to. This has made a clear, tangible, and positive impression on those she is close with.
I know a mother and father who, instead of putting their children in a local public school, both walked away from successful and established careers and moved their family halfway across America to a community that offered yeshiva high school options. How many of us would be willing to do that?
I will never forget the parent who had a limited budget for a bar mitzvah and sold some of her jewelry in order to help pay for her son’s simcha. To part with sentimental and irreplaceable keepsakes must not have been easy, but when it comes to one’s kids, one does whatever it takes.
None of this is done for accolades or to be singled out at a shul tribute dinner. Acts of mesiras nefesh need not be grandiose and life altering. Every little thing we do has an impact. The parents who make sacrifices for their children are investing in and raising the future of Orthodox Judaism.
First published in a Letter to the Editor, from the Jewish Press, Oct 16, 2013
Links for 10/24; Learn 7 Powerful Habits Quickly; Shalosh Seudos is the New Shul Social; Secret Life of Gershon Burd
Posted on | October 24, 2013 | By Administrator | Add Your Comments
Posted on | October 23, 2013 | By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz | 5 Comments
If I say to the girl “Tip your jug over and let me drink” and she responds, “Drink, and I will water your camels as well” she is the one whom You have verified [as the mate] for Your servant Yitzchak. [If I find such a girl] I will know that You have done lovingkindness to my master.
She [Rivkah] is fitting for him [Yitzchak]for she will perform deeds of lovingkindness and is worthy of coming into the house of Avraham.
She is worthy of him, for she will perform acts of kindness, and she is fit to enter the house of Abraham;She is worthy of him, for she will perform acts of kindness, and she is fit to enter the house of Abraham;
At first glance the litmus test for Rivkah’s compatibility with Yitzchak seems ill-advised. While it’s true that Avraham Avinu is identified with Chesed-lovingkindness, Yitzchak Avinu is identified with Gevurah-might and self-control. So, while extending favors and lovingkindness might demonstrate that Rivkah was worthy of entering the house of Avraham, Eliezer had been dispatched to choose a bride for Yitzchak, not for Yitzchaks father. As such, perhaps Eliezer should have prayed for HaShem to arrange for circumstances that would test Rivkahs self-restraint, courage and strength rather than her lovingkindness.
HaShem said “It is not good for man to be alone. I will make him a helpmate opposite him
Rashi famously explains this Pasuk as an either / or proposition; “If one is worthy (his wife) will be his helpmate, if he is unworthy then she becomes his opponent to wage war”. However, the Izhbitzer writes that a straightforward reading of the Pasuk tells us that Hashem’s Will is that one’s help arises from a challenging opponent rather than from an ostensibly sympathetic ally.
To illustrate this concept he cites the Gemara (Bava Metzia 84A) that relates that after the death of Reish Lakish, Rebee Yochonon became despondent. Rebee Yochonon had been the deceased’s adversary in numerous Halachic disputes, At first Rebee Elazar ben Pedas was sent to him as a new disciple to “replace” Reish Lakish. But Rebee Elazar turned out to be a “yes-man” ally, buttressing each of Rebee Yochonon’s Halachic opinions with corroborating braisos. Rather than drawing comfort from his new student Rebee Yochonon grew even more grief-stricken and cried out “You are nothing like the son of Lakish! When I offered an opinion the son of Lakish would pose twenty four questions and I’d supply twenty four answers. In this way the topic would be illuminated and clarified.”
Hashem’s stated goal in the creation of the first woman; adversarial assistance, was to become the template for all subsequent women. The antithetical natures of man and woman are reflected on the biological, psychological and spiritual levels. Human males and females perceive reality in distinctive masculine and feminine ways. They are two genders divided by a common language. A contemporary author aptly titled his bestselling book about relationships using a metaphor indicating that men and women come from different planets and are as extra-terrestrial aliens to one another.
Chazal tell us that since the time of Creation, HaShem is a Matchmaker who “sits and pairs up couples.” (Bereshis Rabbah 68:4). Based on how He designed the first human couple to function as a unit this means that besides the two genders being diametrically opposed to one another in the broadly generic sense the Divine “Maker of pairs” customizes opposing forces in every specific couple according to each partner’s unique make-up.
The Izhbitzers great disciple Rav Tzadok, the Lubliner Kohen, carries the concept further: The attraction and pairing of opposites is based on more than the dynamic tension of opposing forces strengthening and sharpening one another. It is also because each individual is incomplete unto themselves. To use the Talmudic imagery, a single person is merely half a body. So when antithetical males and females are paired they complement one another and fill in that which their partner lacks.
This explains the prayer of Avraham’s servant, Eliezer. It is precisely because Yitzchak is defined by Gevurah that Eliezer sought a mate for him imbued with Chesed. To have paired Yitzchak with a woman of Gevurah would have been redundant, so to speak, as Yitzchak would already have provided the marriage with that half of the equation. Such a match would work against the Divine template for matchmaking; “a helpmate…. opposite him” davkah.
There are two ways in which a Midah B’Kedusha-A characteristic rooted in holiness can be linked to another characteristic; either by uniting with its opposing Midah B’Kedusha or by being conflated with its sympathetic, mirror-image Midah B’Sitra Achra-a characteristic rooted in evil. When two antithetical Midos B’Kedusha join forces their relationship is symbiotic. They complement one another like nesting concave and convex figures with each Midah B’Kedusha rounding out the other to form the whole. So, while a tension exists between them, sensing that it is their “adversary” that will make them complete, they are attracted to one another as well.
On the other hand when a Midah B’Kedusha connects to its mirror-image Midah B’Sitra Achra nothing beneficial accrues to the Midah B’Kedusha . It is stuck with and to the evil Midah B’Sitra Achra as part of the inescapable fallout of the cosmic mish-mash of good and evil resulting from the Original Sin *1. But there is no reason, hence no way, for a Midah B’Kedusha to unite with an antithetical Midah B’Sitra Achra. When confronted with an antithetical Midah B’Sitra Achra the Midah B’Kedusha senses all of the tension and the antagonism but none of the opportunity for fulfillment. In such instances, the Midah B’Kedusha is utterly repelled by the adversarial nature of the Midah B’Sitra Achra.
This helps us better understand the family dynamics of our earliest patriarchs and matriarchs. Avraham Avinu was defined by his midah of Chesed- loving-kindness, giving to, and pouring out upon, others. His mate, Sara, complemented and completed Avraham through her opposing midah of Gevurah. In the next generation the roles of the male and female marriage partners were reversed. Yitzchak Avinu was defined by his midah of Gevurah-forceful self-restraint. Informed by Hashems awe-inspiring Infinity, Gevurah is the trait of conquering, and impeding the expansion of, oneself. His mate, Rivkah, complemented and completed Yitzchak through her opposing midah of Chesed.
The evil parallel midah of Chesed is Znus-debauchery which bears some superficial similarities to acts of “giving to and pouring out upon others” but which is informed at its core by selfishness and egotism rather than by selflessness and altruism. The evil parallel midah of Gevurah is Shfichas Damim-homicide which bears some superficial similarities to acts of “forcefulness, conquering, and impeding expansion” but which seeks to dominate others rather than oneself and that is informed at its core by self-indulgence and paranoia rather than by self-abnegation and the awe of G-d. Yishmael is the embodiment of Znus while Esav is the personification of Shfichas Damim [The arms are Esavs arms…You shall live by your sword].
Although Yishmels midah was evil it had some affinity to the holy midah of Chesed and so Avrahams Chesed allowed him to tolerate Yishamel. But Sara, who possessed holy Gevurah, the trait intrinsically hostile to Chesed, was completely repulsed by Yishmaels unholy, evil “Chesed” and so she drove him away. In precisely this manner while Esavs midah was evil it had some affinity to the holy midah of Gevurah and so Yitzchaks Gevurah moved him to affection for Esav. Yitzchak loved Esav (Bereshis 25:28). But Rivkah who possessed holy Chesed, the trait intrinsically hostile to Gevurah, was completely revolted by Esav’s unholy, evil “Gevurah” and so she orchestrated events to disinherit him.
1* This fundamental concept received a fuller treatment in an earlier installment in this series. To learn about it CLICK HERE
Posted on | October 22, 2013 | By Administrator | 8 Comments
We’ve posted about the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People a few times here on Beyond BT because it contains many valuable ideas to help us get more out of life.
Many Jewish people we’ve met have read and praised the book. There is one small problem, many people can’t actually remember the habits, and if you can’t remember them, you can’t apply these useful perspectives in your daily living.
Today we’re releasing our first video: The 7 Habits in 3 Minutes. if you watch once or twice, you will be able to understand and retain the basic ideas of the 7 Habits.
Please give it a view and give Brevedy a like, a link or a tweet while you’re at it.
Posted on | October 21, 2013 | By Mark Frankel | 9 Comments
A FFB friend emailed me recently because he was very disheartened by the Pew Report and the potential loss of so many thousands of Jews. He wanted to know how I thought Kiruv played into the picture. I told him I thought that Kiruv has been very successful with the 60,000 – 100,000 families that have become observant. In fact many of us who read Beyond BT have been beneficiaries of that success. However I don’t think that our existing mindset will be successful at reaching out to the millions of Jews who are far from Torah and mitzvos. Let me explain why.
The primary role of the Jewish people is to be the spiritual leaders of the world. We’re here to lead the entire world towards connecting the physical world to Hashem. We lead by example. When the world sees clear evidence of the Jewish people’s connection to Hashem, we will assume our primary role as spiritual leaders.
However the vast majority of Jewish people have little spiritual connection to Hashem. How can we lead the world, if we as a people are not spiritually connected. It seems clear that Jews that are spiritually connected need to lead in connecting the Jews as a nation to Hashem. The problem is that even Jews who are regularly observing mitzvos are not achieving high levels of connection.
Let’s look at ourselves. We keep Shabbos, daven, learn, say 100 brachos a day, and observe many mitzvos, but can we honestly say that we and our peers are really connected. That fact becomes clear when you talk to a truly connected person. We’re doing the mitzvos, we’re fully observant, but we’re not achieving great results. It’s scary, but it’s true.
So let’s stop blaming this group, or these community deficiencies, or whoever is the scapegoat of the day or week. Let’s each look inside and take charge of our own spirituality. The purpose of the mitzvos is to connect us to Hashem, let’s focus on connecting as we do our mitzvos, pray, learn Torah and say our 100 brachos a day.
If we become spiritual proactive, and deepen our connection to Hashem through our Torah and mitzvos, the Pew Report will have served its real spiritual purpose.
Links for 10/17: I Was the One Who Said “You’re in My Seat”; Turning Education Upside Down; Pay Attention to This Post
Posted on | October 17, 2013 | By Administrator | Add Your Comments
Posted on | October 16, 2013 | By Administrator | 8 Comments
A senior writer at the OU is conducting research for an article about baalei teshuvah employing the professional skills they had previously used in the secular arena to benefit the frum community.
Examples thus far include: french horn player now ba’al toke’a, modern dancer in Merce Cunningham troupe currently working with frum individuals with MS, Parkinsons and other challenges, competitive horse racer turned horse therapist for frum individuals with special needs.
Anyone else fit the bill?
Please contact Bayla Sheva Brenner at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted on | October 16, 2013 | By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz | 3 Comments
From the Waters of the Shiloah: Plumbing the Depths of the Izhbitzer School
-For series introduction CLICK
By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz-Mara D’Asra Cong Sfard of Midwood
And he [Avraham] lifted his eyes and saw, three strange men standing near him
The three “men” were angels
When a man’s ways please HaShem, He causes even mans enemies to be at peace with him.
- Mishlei 16: 7
Two ministering angels , one good the other bad , escort a person home from the synagogue Friday evening. When he comes home to find the lamps lit, the table set and his bed made the good angel says ‘May it be HaShems will that next Shabbos we find things the same way ’ and the bad angel is compelled to respond ‘Amen’ against his will
-Tractate Shabbos 119B
And Elokim said “Let Me Us make man”. Alternatively: “Man has [already] been made.”
Chaza”l teach us that Malochim-Angels are fundamentally opposed to the creation and ongoing existence of human beings: Rebee Seemon said: When HaShem, came to create Adam, the ministering angels formed groups and parties, some saying, ‘Let him be created,’ while others urged, ‘let him not be created.’ As it is written, “Loving-kindness and truth met up, justice and peace kissed.” (Tehillim 85:11): The Angel Loving-kindness said, ‘Create man, because he will dispense loving-kindness’; the Angel Truth said, ‘Let him not be created, because he full of lies’; the Angel Charity said, ‘Create man , because he will perform acts of altruism’; the Angel Peace said, ‘Let him not be created, because he is full of strife.”’ What did God do? God took Truth and cast it to the earth, as it is written, “and truth will be sent to the earth.” (Doniel 8:12)The Malochim said before the Holy One, “Master of the Universe! Why do you despise Your seal? Let Truth arise from the earth!” Hence it is written, “Let truth sprout from the earth.” (Psalms 85:12) …Me’od –‘Very ’) is [in reference to] Adam; [the letters מאד–very are a word jumble for אדם–man i.e. Adam=man is good] as it is written, “And God saw everything that God had made, and, behold, it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31), i.e. and behold Adam was good. Rav Huna the Elder of Tziporen, said: While the Malochim were arguing with each other and disputing with each other, HaShem created the first human. God said to them, “Why are you arguing. Man has already been made!” (Bereshis Rabbah 8:5).
This Midrash implies that the creation of Man took place “under protest”. Even when temporarily suppressed many protests are ultimately successful. So it is not out of the question that the Angelic naysayers were complicit in the undoing of humanity through the first sin and the subsequent degradation of humanity by the generations of the Flood and the Dispersion.
The human predilection for lies and strife are a product of mans constrained G-d consciousness. An angel has but to lift its eyes to attain a limitless, incomparable awareness of HaShem and how His glory fills the universe. In marked contrast, even after years of intense exertion, mans G-d consciousness is meager. The light that man beholds is relatively dim and is known as “the Diminutive Face”. Angels are illuminati bathed in HaShems infinite light. The angelic sense of superiority in terms of their G-d consciousness underlies the various “no-votes” protesting the very creation of man. Regarding uncircumcised man there was no adequate argument to refute the angel’s dismissiveness. There was no debating with them. HaShem Kivayachol-so to speak had to ignore their protests and present His creation of Man as a fait accompli.
Many Mechabrim-Torah authors, in particular the Ramcha”l , explain that the very Raison d’être of Klal Yisrael- the Jewish People is to rectify the sin of the first man and to bring humanity back to the pre-sin state. As such it would stand to reason that our founding patriarch, Avraham, would earn the angelic seal of approval.
The second Izhbitzer, The Bais Ya’akov takes this approach in explaining the Angels post-circumcision visit with Avraham.
The new edition of Man, Avraham Avinu after the covenant of circumcision, could do something that angels could not. As dim and meager as his light may have been he was capable of transforming darkness into light and able to draw new light into the gloom of our murky, materialistic world. In marked contrast angels see things as they are without recognizing any potential for qualitative change. To an angel what’s light is light and what’s dark is dark. For the angels heaven is heavenly and the earth is, well, hopelessly earthy.
As long as the foreskin adheres to man all of mans internal light and potential for illumination are trapped and imprisoned within his being. But when man, Avraham, removes the foreskin his internal and external transformative powers are unleashed. Avraham spread G-d consciousness to the four corners of the earth and, in so doing, made something heavenly out of the earth.
The Tikunei Zohar reveals two remarkable, complementary acronyms in the phrase מִי יַעֲלֶה לָּנוּ הַשָּׁמַיְמָה-Who (mee) will ascend (ya’aleh) for us (lahnu) to heaven (HaShamaymah) [Devarim30 :12]. The first letters of each word form an acronym for Milah-circumcision. The last letters of each word form an acronym for the tetragrammaton-HaShems proper four letter Name. The encoded allusion being that the circumcised one, Avraham, can in fact ascend to Heaven for us and bring HaShem to the earth.
An angel can take light and multiply the light, take the tiniest blade of grass and exhort it to grow tall, thick and lush (Bereshis Rabbah 10:6). But these are, after all, quantitative expansions not qualitative transformations. Angels are incapable of making the inert-mineral botanic or metamorphosing the botanic into animal or the animal into the human. Omnivorous man ingests the mineral, the botanic and the animal and, through digestion, integrates them into his speech-endowed being. When man uses this nutrition to serve HaShem through speech AKA prayer he has not merely grown the grass tall…he has altered the grass into something human, speaking and prayerful. The angels were forced to recognize their relative inferiority and could no longer argue the uselessness of man in HaShems creation. Impressed and even awestruck they too wanted to partake of the circumcised mans meal.
Adapted from Bais Ya’akov-Vayera Inyan 16 (page 72A )
Posted on | October 15, 2013 | By Administrator | 2 Comments
In yesterday’s post, we pointed out that for mitzvos to have their intended effect of getting closer to Hashem, we need to perform them with mindfulness, which can include attention, focus and kavannah. Fellow spiritual growth traveler, Neil Harris, emailed us and pointed out that mindfulness is currently a very popular concept in the secular world.
In a recent post on Brevedy, titled Pay Attention to this Post, David Linn highlights a recent secular book named Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life by Winifred Gallagher. Gallagher states what we have known in the Torah world for a while, specifically, that we have the ability to control what we pay attention to and focusing on the good will expand our world and make us healthier and happier. I want to note that Brevedy, which is focused on growth in the physical, emotional and intellectual dimensions has gone to a daily posting schedule.
Getting back to spiritual growth and more mitzvah mileage, we suggested a simple starting point of saying one brocha a day with more focus and mindfulness and we gave a simple translation of the Shehakol blessing which we say over many foods including water and coffee.
R’ Micha Berger, mentioned in the comments to that post, that he has been focusing on his Shehakol over his first cup of coffee for a while and provided us with the translation he uses when he says the brocha. Micha has a great explanation of the meaning of a beracha in his post on his site called “What is a Berakhah”.
Posted on | October 14, 2013 | By Mark Frankel | 6 Comments
Rabbi Yitzchok Kirzner zt”l used to tell a story of an observant Jew who was not motivated to grow further. He told Rabbi Kirzner that he was in the top 10% in terms of observance, and when the other 90% of Jewry caught up, he would go further.
The Mesillas Yesharim in the chapter on Acquiring Watchfulness says that the majority of observant Jews have this attitude. He says that the average person says regarding the world to come that “if we do not have a larger portion, we will have a small one”.
From one perspective this attitude seems justified. After all observant Jews keep Shabbos, do mitzvos, learn Torah, daven, etc.. Aren’t we doing what G-d wants from us?
The Mesillas Yesharim in the chapter on Man’s Duty in this World points the way to our mistake. We are confusing the ends with the means. Observing mitzvos are indeed the means, but the goal is to continually growing in our connection to Hashem. If we don’t notice progress in that goal of closer connection, then we’re not getting the appropriate value from our mitzvah observance.
The Mesillas Yesharim also tells us what we’re doing wrong, we’re not focused on improving our performance of the mitzvos. We need to be more careful in their observance, and more mindful when we perform them. If we follow the Torah’s prescription in mitzvah performance, we will achieve the goal of continuous growth in our connection to Hashem.
Let’s try a simple experiment for one week. Once a day let’s make a brocha on coffee or water with more focus and mindfulness. At the end of each day mark down whether you made the brocha with more focus.
Here’s a standard understanding of the brocha you can use to increase your focus:
Baruch Atah – You are the source of all blessing
Adonai – Master of all (who always was, is, and will be)
Eloheinu – The source of all powers
Melech HaOlam – King of the World
Shehakol Nihyah- everything was created
Bidvaro – through His words
In a brocha over water we can focus on
1) The reality of Hashem’s existence
2) His creation of everything in existence
3) His continual supervision of everything
4) His absolute authority over everything
5) His transformation of the spiritual into the physical
Let’s hope this a week where we can start to get more mileage from our mitzvos.
Links for 10/10; Shul Financial Success Strategies; In Memory of Rabbi Dovid Heller; Are You Enjoying a Life Worth Living?; Progressive Lakewood
Posted on | October 10, 2013 | By Administrator | Add Your Comments
Posted on | October 9, 2013 | By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz | 3 Comments
An installment in the series
From the Waters of the Shiloah: Plumbing the Depths of the Izhbitzer School
-For series introduction CLICK
By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz-Mara D’Asra Cong Sfard of Midwood
“But of the Tree of the Knowledge Joining Together of Good and Evil, do not eat of it; for on the day that you eat of it you will definitely die.’
- Bereshis 2: 17
“Avram came to her [Hagar], and she conceived; and when she realized that she was pregnant, she looked at her mistress with contempt. Sarai said unto Avram …Now that she sees herself pregnant she regards me with condescension. Let Elokim judge between me and you.’”.
- Bereshis 16: 4, 5
Every other בֶּינֶיך - between me and you, in Scripture is spelled lacking the second yud, but this one is spelled plene. As such it may also be read וּבֵינַיִךְ (second person feminine, as though Sarai is threatening Hagar rather than Avram), for Sarai cast an Ayin Hara-evil eye on Hagar’s pregnancy, and she miscarried her fetus.
- Rashi Ibid
Many Mechabrim-Torah authors, in particular the Ramcha”l , explain that the very Raison d’être of Klal Yisrael- the Jewish People is to rectify the sin of the first man and to bring humanity back to the pre-sin state. This is why comprehending the workings of the original sin is a prerequisite to better understanding the family dynamics of our patriarchs and matriarchs.
In Nefesh HaChaim the Magiha –author of the glosses, explains that prior to eating of the forbidden fruit Adams Yetzer HaRa-inclination to evil was clarified and external to his being (personified in the Nachash HaKadmoni-the primordial snake). The qualitative paradigm shift resulting from the first sin was that the Yetzer HaRa became internalized and integrated into mans very being. The word Da’as means joining together and becoming as one. He and Chava became what they ate, entities in which good and evil are joined together. This had a universal cataclysmic effect as the mish-mash of good and evil spread throughout the macrocosm as well. The catastrophic result of the original sin is that on both a human and a cosmic level there is no longer any unadulterated good, even in the soul of the most saintly, nor any unmitigated evil, even in the deeds of the wickedest.
The Pasuk (Koheles 7:14) “In the day of Good…in the day of Evil…; Elokim made one corresponding to the other,..” teaches that everything in Kedusha-holiness and good has its parallel in impurity and evil. After Adams original sin these parallel entities become linked and blended together.
Avraham Avinu was defined by his midah of Chesed- loving-kindness, the trait of giving to, and pouring out upon, others. The evil parallel midah of Chesed is Znus-debauchery which bears some superficial similarities to acts of “giving to and pouring out upon others” but which is informed at its core by selfishness and egotism rather than by selflessness and altruism. As a patriarch of Klal Yisrael and a rectifier of Adam’s sin Avraham Avinu’s life’s-work was not merely to choose to actualize Chesed and avoid stinginess and callousness at every opportunity but to clarify and purify his Chesed, to thresh away its Znus dark underside.
Avraham Avinu’s progeny prior to Yitzchok were the incarnations of the dark underside of his midah. He needed to get them out of his system, as it were, before being able to reproduce a soul as free of evil admixtures as Yitzchaks. Whereas Avraham Avinu was defined by his midah of Chesed his son Yishmael would be defined by his midah of Znus. When HaShem Kivayachol-so to speak, shopped the Torah to other nations of the world our sages recount the following exchange: “‘He shined forth from mount Paran’ (Devarim 33:2) HaShem asked the Ishmaelites ‘Would you like my Torah?’ they replied ‘What is written within it?’ HaShem said ‘You shall not commit adultery ‘‘If so’ they responded ‘we do not want it’.” In a similar vein the Talmud (Kidushin 49B) tells us that “ten measures of infidelity/licentiousness descended to the world. Arabia took nine measures and the remaining measure was divided among the balance of the nations”.
Progressing from these principles Rav Tzadok, the Lubliner Kohen, offers insight into the apparent “domestic squabbles” in Avrahams home.
During Hagar’s first pregnancy the refinement process of Avrahams Midah began. The embryo then being formed embodied a blend of good and evil that was being filtered out. Yet in the mix that was being filtered out there was still a greater relative amount of Chesed vs. Znus. Feeling the gravity of the good growing within her Hagar “lightly esteemed” i.e. grew self-important and became condescending towards her mistress. By the second pregnancy unadulterated Znus was distilled from Avrahams Chesed in the person of Yishmael.
Just as Chava, Adams mate, was the one who induced him to internalize evil and to comingle evil with good it would be Sara, Avraham Avinus wife, who would prompt him to extract and externalize his evil. Just as Chava began her work of ruination-through-adulteration with her eyes “The woman (Chava) saw that the tree was good to eat, and that it was desirable to the eyes” (Bereshis 3:6), Sara would begin her work of repairing- through-sifting-out with her eyes, casting an Ayin Hara-evil eye. Just as Chavas work of ruination-through-adulteration would conclude with the conflicted, ambivalent humans, whose goodness had been contaminated with evil, being driven out of Eden (Bereshis 3:23,24), Sara would complete her work of repairing- through-sifting-out by banishing the unambiguous human, whose soul completely extracted and distilled the evil midah of Znus, from the house of Avraham. (Bereshis 21:10-14),
Posted on | October 8, 2013 | By Administrator | Add Your Comments
BORUCH DAYAN EMMES: MARAN HAGON OVADIA YOSEF ZATZAL; Yeshiva World News
1:23PM IL: Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital officials’ announced the bitter news moments ago. HaGaon HaRav Chaim Ovadia Yosef ZTVK”L was niftar a short time ago, Monday, 3 Marcheshvan 5774, after his bodily organs collapsed despite doctors’ best efforts. The gadol hador was 93-years-old.
Unprecedented Crowds Attend Levaya For R’ Ovadia Yosef; Voz Is Neis
Jerusalem – A historic number of people turned out today in Jerusalem to mourn HaRav Ovadia Yosef, who passed away early this morning at age 93 in Jerusalem’s Hadassah Medical Center. One of the world’s most highly acclaimed halachic authorities, the former Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel and the spiritual leader of the Shas party, R’ Yosef’s appeal was so broad according to the AP police estimated the turnout for the levaya at 700,000, with several Israeli news sites reporting that 800,000 mourners that swarmed the streets of Jerusalem.
Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, Spiritual Leader Of Israel’s Sephardic Jews, Dies at 93; New York Times
JERUSALEM — Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who became a fiery figure in Israeli politics as the spiritual leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas Party, championing the interests of Jews of Middle Eastern and North African origin, died here on Monday. He was 93.
Rabbi Ovadia Yosef buried in largest funeral in Israeli history; Times of Israel
Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the powerful, much-loved and sometimes controversial spiritual leader of Israel’s Sephardi community, passed away in Jerusalem early Monday afternoon after being hospitalized repeatedly over the last several weeks. He was 93. Ovadia was laid to rest Monday night in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Sanhedria, with some 800,000 mourners converging from all over the country to attend what became the largest funeral in Israeli history. Despite the huge crowds, far beyond the numbers police had anticipated, there were no reports of serious injuries.
Posted on | October 7, 2013 | By Mark Frankel | 2 Comments
In Derech Hashem, the Ramchal explains that G-d created man for the purpose of connecting and cleaving to Him through mans own efforts. In the the whole universe, only man was placed between perfection and deficiency with the power to earn perfection. The process of earning that perfection is what spiritual growth is.
In order that G-d’s goal of man earning his perfection be best achieved, G-d decreed that man should consist of two opposites, a pure soul inclined towards the spiritual and an unenlightened physical body inclined toward the material and away from the spiritual. Even though man is immersed in the physical, he is able to rise to perfection through his physical activities. The activities which enable man to rise to perfection are the mitzvos.
The Ramchal describes the categories of mitzvos and describes in greater detail the learning of Torah. In addition to learning Torah to know how to perform the commandments, Torah study in and of itself plays a very large role in bringing man to perfection. The Ramchal describes two means of fulfilling Torah study, through the reciting of the words of the Chumash, and through understanding of Torah.
Chazal (the sages) instituted a weekly spiritual growth mechanism which takes advantage of the power of Torah learning called Shnayim Mikra V’Echod Targem, which is reading the weekly Torah portion twice in Hebrew and its translation once.
The Shulchan Aruch and Mishna Berurah describe different levels of performing Shanyim Mikra, but let me recommend the easiest way, which will enable you to perform it and achieve its spiritual growth benefits:
1) Read out load the Parsha in Hebrew during the week to fulfill the first Hebrew reading.
2) Read out loud the Art Scroll translation in English during the week. This fulfills the translation component.
3) On Shabbos, during the public leining read along out loud quietly to fulfill the second Hebrew reading.
Each week counts as a separate mitzvah so don’t fret if you didn’t start this year with Bereishis and Noach. You can start this week with Lech Lecha.« go back — keep looking »