Beyond BT

Spiritual Growth for Jews

“Just One Shabbos” Project

Posted on | October 23, 2014 | By Neil Harris | Comments Off

How many times have I sung the song, “Just One Shabbos” With the monumental Shabbos Project starting soon and involving over 212 cities and 33 countries, the magnitude of this grassroots project is pretty amazing. While I have heard some people brush off the whole event in various communities, I think the success will speak for itself.

While the primary goal of the Shabbos Project is to get all Jews to keep on traditional Shabbos together, I think we’ll end up seeing positive results on a few different levels. There is incredible achdus potential in having groups of woman get together to bake challah in various communities. Aside from the obvious excitement of strangers all getting together and being involved in a mitzvah, there’s an added bonus for those in the observant community. Often in larger communities both men and women can spend years in their own neighborhood and not even see others who live a block or two away. Throw in the idea of multiple frum communities in a city or in suburbs getting together in one place to make challah and it’s got to be mind blowing. Seeing the larger observant and not-yet observant community gives us view of bigger communal picture.

For those hosing guests who might have a limited halachic and hashkafic background, the Shabbos Project reinforces the idea that with a little common sense, it’s possible for the non-kiruv professional to reach out to others. For many, myself included, spending time at a Shabbos table and with a family was a major factor in my journey to becoming observant. So what if all of your kids don’t stay at the table for the whole seduah or that an argument erupts over who gets the last piece of gefilta fish. It doesn’t really matter because the idea is that the kedusha of Shabbos trumps everything.

Finally, the shul experience could be intense, in a good way. Inviting those less familiar with the structure of a traditional Orthodox services opens up many doors. I’m guessing some shuls will have specialized explanatory services and modified programs for kids and adults. Even without these, hosts will bring their guests to their local house of worship and will have the opportunity to not only help their guests follow along, but answer questions that might come up. And if you don’t know the answer to the question (s), then you have an opportunity to bring your guest over to someone after shul and see if you can get an answers. This is a powerful lesson because it shows the host that you take their question seriously and that we have a “chain of command” when it comes to finding answers. Another interesting thing about having guests in a minyan is that the “regular” daveners tend to be aware that they are being observed and we all behave better when we know we’re being watched.

While I think this Shabbos is going to be historical, the truth is that I’m more excited for what happens after the event. Will we still feel a sense of achdus as we keep Shabbos next week? Will there be follow up in communities? I’m hoping I will take away a lesson on the importance and excitement of the preparations lead me into Shabbos. Any Shabbos is a project, not simply spending 25 hours on auto-pilot.

Recommit to Shnayim Mikra With Noach

Posted on | October 22, 2014 | By Administrator | 3 Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Selling Yourself the Truth About Judaism

Posted on | October 20, 2014 | By Mark Frankel | 9 Comments

Have you ever had this conversation?

“Did you hear about Sam and Susan?”

“No.”

“They’re separating”.

“Really? How many kids?”

“I think three. And he’s far off the derech. Doesn’t believe in G-d,”

“So sad.”

And it’s not surprising. Sam was a BT and was told by many FFBs that:
– A Torah observant life is the definitive Jewish Experience
– The values and community of Observant Jews is superior to anything in the secular world
– Learning Torah is intellectually challenging and leads to meaning and truth

All the above are true, but many Observant Jews experience the following instead:
– They don’t keep working on their practice of mitzvos, so their Jewish experience degrades
– The financial pressures take their toll and they feel they are marginal members of the community
– Torah learning is difficult, and without significant time and effort, they don’t reap its rewards

In reality the Torah itself does not make “good life” promises, except for the Jews collectively. The individual promise that are made is that if you continually work on davening, developing your middos, learning Torah, and observing the mitzvos properly, you will develop a deepening relationship with Hashem.

That’s the truth about Judaism and if we can slowly cast aside our occupation with the latest distractions, and focus on bread and butter observance, we can all get a large piece of the unlimited spiritual pie.

A Succos Reawakening

Posted on | October 15, 2014 | By David Linn | 5 Comments

A few years ago, on Chol HaMoed Succos, our family headed to New Jersey for a few days of outdoor fun. It’s the time of year when our family spends the most extended time together. One of the expected highlights was a ferry ride between Delaware and New Jersey where we hoped to spot dolphins and whales sporting in the water. Unfortunately, on the morning of the ferry ride, we got a late start and the ferry left without us. We missed the boat! The following year, our family excitedly set out for our annual Chol HaMoed Trip.

On this trip we headed, once again, for New Jersey making our first stop at Allaire State Park, a restoration type village twenty minutes from Lakewood. At the Park, we rode an old time railroad and the children placed coins on the tracks and marveled at how the locomotive flattened them and smoothed them out. Afterwards, we walked through the village watching a blacksmith perform his trade, 1800s style. Next, we rented old-time fishing poles: a reed of bamboo, a piece of string, a cork, and frozen hot dogs for bait! We fished in the village pond and it seemed like the entire village was cheering us on when we snagged quite a large tenacious fish, along with two other smaller fish. Finally, we hiked along the Manasquan water table surrounded by streams, creeks, a small waterfall, lush greenery and, to the delight of the children, lots of mud. That night, upon returning to Lakewood, we had a barbeque in the Succah complete with S’mores.

The next morning, we were off vegetable picking. We visited a farm where you can pick just about any vegetable you could imagine. Potatoes, string beans, sweet potatoes, peppers (even hot ones which left the kids red in the face, teary-eyed and screaming for a drink!). There were black-eyed peas, eggplants, cucumbers, onions, you name it. We picked zucchini nearly the length of my arm and about as wide as my thigh! We ate corn, sugar sweet, straight out of the husk, no cooking or butter needed, thank you. On the way back, we stopped at the Manasquan Reservoir where we took in a gorgeous sunset and the children romped in a park complete with a zip-line. The evening was topped off with pizza and ice cream in the Succah.

The next morning, back on the road again. This time to the Shenedoah River where we rented row boats and attempted to fish with a broken rod and reel and uncooperative worms. The setting was bucolic; shimmering water, bright sun, a light breeze and ducks diving for their lunch as we floated along.

After this whirlwind, incredible three days, I asked my four year old daughter which part of Chol HaMoed she liked the best. She looked up at me through her wispy bangs, widened her big blue eyes and said, in her sing-song voice: ‘The Lulav’. Whoa! You could have knocked me over with a feather. I almost missed the boat again! I almost got so caught up in the Chol, that I forgot the Moed. I picked up my daughter, swung her around, gave her a big hug and a kiss, and secretly thanked her for her unintended lesson.

The next morning, Hoshana Rabbah, I took advantage of my last chance of thr year to bentsch lulav. I made the brocha with extra focus and kavanah and with sincere thanks to Hashem, and my daughter, that I didn’t lose the lulav for the trees.

This piece originally appeared in Horizons magazine.
Originally posted October 23, 2006.

I’m Happy … Feeling like a Room without a Glass Roof

Posted on | October 14, 2014 | By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz | 2 Comments

Is Judaism a meritocracy or an aristocracy?
Why do we dwell in our Sukkos on Shabbos but do not fulfill the mitzvah of Lulav on Shabbos?
Why is a stolen Lulav invalid for performing the mitzvah when one does fulfill the mitzvah of Sukkah in anothers Sukkah?

[The nation of] Israel was crowned with three crown: the crown of Torah, the crown of priesthood, and the crown of royalty. Ahron merited the crown of priesthood, as the passuk-verse; declares: “And it will be an eternal covenant of priesthood for him and his descendants following him.”(Bemidbar 25:13).  David merited the crown of royalty, as the passuk declares: “His progeny will continue eternally, and his throne will be as the sun before Me.” (Tehillim 89:37)

The crown of Torah lays at rest; waiting and ready for all, as the passuk declares:  “The Torah which Moshe commanded us is the inheritance of the congregation of Yaakov” (Devarim 33:4).  Whoever desires may come and take it. Lest you say that the other crowns are superior to the crown of Torah, consider that the passuk declares: “By me [Torah], kings reign, princes decree justice, and nobles rule” (Mishlei 8:15,16).  Thus, you have learned that the crown of Torah is greater than the other two.

— Rambam: Laws of Torah Study 3:1, 2

 

Today is to do them (the mitzvos) and tomorrow is NOT to do them. Today is to do them and tomorrow is to receive their reward.

— Eruvin 22A

Judaism contains elements of both an aristocracy and a meritocracy. On the one hand being a Kohen, a Levi or a candidate for Moshiach- the Messiah; is purely an accident of birth.  Jewish identity itself is determined by biological matrilineal descent while tribal identity is determined by patrilineal descent.

But on the other hand our sages teach us that a mamzer-one born from a kares prohibited union; who is a talmid chacam-Torah scholar; takes precedence over a Kohen Gadol-High Priest; who is an am haaretz-ignoramus. Anticipating sociological patterns, Chazal comment “take heed of [the dignity of] the children of the impoverished, for Torah [scholarship] shall emanate from them”(Nedarim 81A) and “[why is it] that the sons of talmidei chachamim are rarely talmidei chachamim themselves?” (ibid).  Some of history’s greatest Jews e.g. Onkelos, Rabi Meir and Rabi Akivah were geirim-righteous converts; or their descendants.  On this level Judaism is the ultimate meritocracy with no glass ceilings that impede upward social-spiritual mobility.

We will see that paradoxically; the aristocratic, heredity-based aspect is actually the more egalitarian, classless of the two elements whereas the meritocracy creates a stratified, multi-tiered hierarchy. Based on two Halachic differences between Sukkah and Lulav-the four species; the Izhbitzer understands the two mitzvos of the holiday in light of the hereditary- and merit-based components of kedushas Yisrael-Jewish sanctity.

On Shabbos the Halachah exempts us from fulfilling the mitzvah of Lulav whereas we are still obligated in the mitzvah of Sukkah.  The reason for the contrast is that Shabbos is a scintilla of Olam Haba-the Coming-World wherein avodah-serving the Creator through the exercise of free-will; no longer exists. There (then?) all that the person toiled to acquire in the here-and-now world through his choices and actions are secured in his heart. This is why all 39 categories of creative activity are prohibited on Shabbos. Whether we are speaking of our weekly Shabbosos or “The Day that shall be entirely Shabbos and eternal rest”, only one who has exerted himself on Shabbos eve will enjoy the fruits of his labors on Shabbos (Cp. Avodah Zarah 2A). Sukkah is an effortless mitzvah, one is merely “there.” Sukkah represents the hereditary kedushas Yisrael present in the heart of every Jew passed along like spiritual DNA from the patriarchs. The mitzvah of Sukkah resonates with same the kind of “all our work is done” sensibility that inform Shabbos and Olam Haba.

But Lulav, which we take up in our hands and move in every possible direction of human endeavor, is characteristic of all mitzvos maasiyos- the mitzvos requiring decision-making, exertion and activity. The Izhbitzer’s disciple, Rav Laibeleh Eiger points out that the gimatriya-numerical value; of Esrog is 610. When we count the other three species used to fulfill the mitzvah along with the Esrog the sum is 613, the precise total of all of the mitzvos. The 4 species embody every possible avodah endeavor. There is something very proactive, workmanlike and this-worldly about Lulav that makes it inconsistent with Shabbos.

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Succah: A Temporary Structure

Posted on | October 13, 2014 | By Guest Contributor | 2 Comments

One of the interesting laws about a succah is that it isn’t allowed to be too high. How high is too high? The Mishnah tells us: 20 Amos, which is about 35 feet tall.

The Talmud explains that a succah has to be a temporary structure. It is meant to represent the travels of the Jews in the desert after The Exodus from Egypt. Likewise it is supposed to represent the transient nature of our material possessions in this world. “If the succah is too high it is invalid, because it will have to be built in a more permanent way.”

Interestingly, the Talmud maintains that a person is allowed to build a permanent succah, as long as it isn’t too high. It is only when a person builds a succah in a way that it is so high that it must be permanent, that halacha declares it invalid.

A few months ago I read an article written by a woman who described a life altering odyssey that she had undergone. She described how at the age of eighteen she was engaged to a wonderful man. She considered him the best guy in the world, and he catered to her every desire. And then he broke the engagement. He told her, “I really liked you. But I see that with you everything must be ‘just so’ for you to be happy. I cannot live a life like that.”

The writer explains how pained she was by the broken engagement. But eventually she took his words to heart, and realized that he was right. She was living a life where everything had to be just right for her to be happy. And she decided that she must change.

She began to challenge herself in every area of life to prove that she could survive in different circumstances. First she skipped meals occasionally; then she fasted. Sometimes she went to sleep late, sometimes she woke up early, even though this deprived her of her normal sleep routine. She came to realize that life still worked even if things weren’t the way she preferred.

We do not wish on anyone the challenging experiences that that woman went through. We certainly bless people with a life that is stable, permanent, and comfortable. But the message of the succah is that it doesn’t have to be perfect for us to be able to function. Our living life correctly doesn’t hinge on everything being “just right”.

When you build your succah you may build it permanent and beautiful. But you may not build it at a height that requires that it must be permanent, because that symbolizes an attitude that everything must be “just right”, otherwise it will not stand.

The Mishnah in Avos states that if a person wants to succeed in Torah he should, “Eat bread, drink water, and sleep on the floor.” Certainly there are people who have succeeded in Torah even though their menu was more varied than the Mishnah describes, and their accommodations more comfortable than sleeping on the floor.

What the Mishnah seems to be conveying is that to succeed in Torah, you have to realize than amenities are not requirements. You can build your succah as permanent as you wish, as long as your succah is not built in such a way that it must be permanent.

As one man said to me: I will mortgage my home if I must. I will sleep in a tent if that is what is required. But my daughter must have a Jewish education.

So as you build your succah of life, make sure to build it in a way that recognizes that it could be temporary. In that way you will ensure that your’s will be a succah that will last forever.

With best wishes for a wonderful Yom Tov,

Rabbi Mordechai Rhine
Originally Published October 2009

The 60 Second Guide to Succos

Posted on | October 8, 2014 | By Mark Frankel | Comments Off

Three Principles of Judaism
Judaism believes in the importance of both action and belief. The Jewish principles of belief can be divided into three categories 1) G-d is the source and ultimate authority over all existence, 2) G-d revealed his plan for the perfection of the world through the prophetic experience, 3) G-d exercises providence over the world in response to man’s actions to assist in bringing the world to its ultimate perfection.

Jewish Holidays and The Three Principles
Every Jewish holiday has a spiritual energy which man can access in pursuit of self perfection. Three of the primary Jewish holidays help us strengthen our understanding and connection to the three principles of Jewish belief. Pesach is focused on G-d’s existence, Shavuos is focused on G-d’s revelation and Succos is focused on G-d’s providence.

Succos and G-d’s Providence
Succos is a reminder that G-d provided and continues to provide a special level of providence over the Jewish people. This special providence guarantees the physical survival of the Jewish people throughout history and provides a special continuing spiritual connection between G-d and every Jew. This special providence was originally provided by the special clouds that surrounded the Jews when they left Egypt. This providence is renewed every Succos when we live in the Sukkah and when we hold and wave the four species of the lulav, esrog, willows and mytle branches.

Happiness and Pleasure
Succos is a time of special happiness. Pleasure is the experiencing of unity and completion, while happiness is the active pursuit of that completion. We experience unity in the physical realm in a musical piece, work of art or the beauty of nature, in the emotional realm when two hearts beat as one, in the intellectual world through the understanding and reconciliation of ideas and concepts, and in the spiritual world through the experience of the unity of the body and soul.

The Happiness of Succos
On Succos the end of the harvest season provides physical happiness, the connection to others through the many meals and collective prayer services promotes emotional happiness, while the spiritual cleansing of Yom Kippur and the sense of G-d’s presence in the Sukkah creates a spiritual happiness.

May we all merit to use the tools G-d provided us to achieve the highest levels of understanding and happiness.

The Succah Hug

Posted on | October 7, 2014 | By Guest Contributor | Comments Off

Rabbi Aryeh Goldman
hitoreri.com

My family loves hugs. Towards the end of my overseas trips or school camps, I eagerly anticipate my family’s hugs. And the longer I have spent away the more intense these hugs tend to be.

There are times in our lives when we just need a shoulder to lean on or a comforting cuddle. Then there are times when we really need a true bear hug.

The pasuk says, semolo tachas roshi, veyemino techabkaini, meaning, His left hand supports my head (referring to Rosh Hashana) and His right hand embraces me (referring to the sukkos hug). The left refers to the middas hadin which is when Hashem acts with discipline and judgment, while the right is representative of middas hachesed – Hashem’s loving kindness.

Succos is the time of year when Hashem gives us a hug. Interestingly, the succah can be built in a few ways: with two and a bit walls, three walls or ideally four walls. Some of us are ok with a shoulder to lean on (2 and bit wall succah), while some of us need a comforting cuddle (3 walls succah) but then there are those of us who need a huge Divine bear hug (4 walls succah).

After Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, while the intention is for us to purify and discover who we are, some of us are not really happy with what we discovered about ourselves or quite ready to make all the necessary changes. On Succos Hashem says: You are my beloved child and I love you anyway…come and give Me a hug.

It is the only mitzvah that we are are totally engaged in with every fibre of our being. With our clothes, possessions, and as one chassidic master said, “and even with the mud on your boots.”

Perhaps that is why succos is referred to as zman simchasainu – the time of our joy – because for seven precious days, Hashem accepts me and embraces me as I am. It is this acceptance and love that will hopefully spark within me the desire to return the hug, savour it, and remember its warmth when confronting the challenges or relishing in the joys this new year will bring.

Hug Sameach!

Having and Being and the Happiness of Sukkot

Posted on | October 6, 2014 | By Administrator | 1 Comment

In this article by Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller, she brings down the Orchot Tzadikim to explain that happiness is never about having, it is about being”

“Western society is infused with the right of the pursuit happiness. We hunt it down with relentless drive. Do we find it? I’m not so sure. Sure, no one is happy when they are hungry, cold, in pain, or deprived of companionship. But the tricky part is that being satiated, warm, healthy and surrounded by our fellow homo sapiens doesn’t necessarily guarantee happiness.

Orchot Tzadikim, one of the classic Jewish ethical works, presents us with an interesting theory: Happiness is never about having (possessions, status, friends, etc.); it is about being. Ultimately it is about abandoning the role of a stranger in the universe, and becoming experientially mindful of God’s constant love, wisdom and providence. The result is a continual feeling of serenity and content that is independent of outside factors.

By no means does this mean escapism or denial. It means acceptance of the fact that we are here to elevate ourselves and the world around us, and that we need the inspiration and challenges that God provides for this to happen.”

Read the article to find the seven ways that the Orchos Tzaddim presents to can change our thinking and to bring the happiness of Sukkot into our lives.

Defeating Self-Defeat

Posted on | October 2, 2014 | By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz | 3 Comments

Why do people constantly sabotage themselves?
How does the scapegoat atone for the sins of Uza and Azael?

And Ahron [the Kohen Gadol-high priest] should place two lots on the two goats; one [marked] for HaShem and the other [marked] for Azazel

— Vayikra 16:8

And Ahron should press his two hands on the live goats head and confess all the sins of the Bnei Yisrael-Jewish people; on it, rebellious acts and unintentional offenses.  When, by doing so, he has placed them [all of these sins] on the goats head, he should send it into the desert with a man of the hour.

— Ibid 16:21

What would he [the man of the hour] do? He would take a crimson ribbon and tear it in two.  Half was tied to a sharp boulder while the other half was tied between the goat’s two horns.  He then pushed the goat backwards [over the peak] and it would roll down the mountain.  The goat was ripped limb from limb before it got halfway down the craggy mountain.

— Mishnah Yoma 6:6

The Rabbis taught: [why] “Azazel”?  That it should be strong and hard … the academy of Rabbi Yishmael taught [why] “Azazel”? for it atones for the deeds of Uza and Azael [two fallen angels].

—Yoma 67B

Rami bar Chama taught: the numerical values of the word Hasoton-the Satan; is 364. This implies that for 364 days of the year he has authorization to prosecute but that on [one of the year’s 365 days] Yom Kippur … he does not.

—Yoma 20A

Reish Lakish taught: The Satan-the prosecuting attorney on High; the Yetzer Hara-the inclination to evil; and the Malach Hamaves-the Angel of Death; are one and the same entity.

—Bava Basra 16A

It is odd and almost counterintuitive that man, allegedly the most highly evolved of all organisms, should have the weakest of all survival instincts.  From the cradle to the grave humans are capable of reckless behaviors that endanger lives and limbs.  Humanities self-destructive tendencies manifest themselves in a wide variety of ways.  From subconscious acts of self-sabotaging predicated on the excessive fear of failure, to cuttings and other forms of self-inflicted mutilation; from anorexia to obsessive overeating; from rampant consumerism that spells ecological disaster to nuclear fueled geopolitics that continue to push the envelope towards assured mutual destruction.

The most striking expression of the inclination to self-destruct is found in individuals who commit suicide including the most faddish and trendy iterations of murdering oneself including physician-assisted suicide, cop-assisted suicide and murder-suicides characteristic of both domestic violence and terrorist bombings. All in all both individual humans and humanity as a whole seem hell-bent on self-destruction.

Whence this uniquely human drive to destroy ourselves?

The centerpiece avodah –Divine service; of Yom Kippur was the lottery of the two goats; one goat dedicated to HaShem whose blood was sprinkled in the inner sanctum while the other goat was designated as the sair laAzazel-the goat “dedicated” to Azazel; and was pushed off of a jagged cliff in the desert wilderness.  In the popular vernacular the goat that “lost” the lottery is commonly known as the scapegoat.  Many a proverbial quill has been broken in the commentaries attempts to explain such a puzzling avodah, especially on the holiest day of the year. The Ramban characterizes it as a bribe to the sitra achara-“the ‘other’ [dark] side”; while the Lubliner Kohen does not mince words and calls it an act of idolatrous worship that is, nevertheless, the Will of HaShem.

The Bais Yaakov, the second Izhbitzer Rebbe, offers a novel approach that recasts the sair laAzazel as the antidote for the human drive for self-destruction. But before presenting it I must introduce the foundation to unlocking the mystery of human self-destructiveness upon which the Bais Yaakov’s approach is based. It is a teaching found in the text and a hagahah-margin gloss; in Rav Chaim Volozhiners Nefesh Hachaim (pp.21, 23).

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Recalibrating Din and Chesed on Yom Kippur; Millennial Jews Start Keeping Kosher; Goat for Azazel

Posted on | October 2, 2014 | By Administrator | Comments Off

Recalibrating Din and Chesed on Yom Kippur

Millennial Jews Start Keeping Kosher

Goat for Azazel

The 60 Second Guide to Yom Kippur

Posted on | October 1, 2014 | By Mark Frankel | Comments Off

While Rosh Hashanah is focused on G-d’s existence, authority and supervision of the world, Yom Kippur is focused on our role in G-d’s plan for the perfection of humanity.

We’re created half-spiritual and half-physical with a strong ego, so we’re conflicted between doing what is good (spiritual) and what feels (physical) or looks good (ego).

Judaism does not deny us physical or accomplishment pleasures, rather we’re instructed to make these pleasures secondary to a focus on becoming giving, emotionally mature, G-d aware individuals.

However, because the ego and body drives are so strong, we make mistakes and instead of driving towards the long-lasting perfection of our spirit, we pursue short-lasting and often self-destructive physical and ego satisfaction pleasures.

G-d expects that we’ll make mistakes and He gives us the means to self-correct and erase the negative effects of our mistakes on the day of Yom Kippur. In fact Yom Kippur is considered a joyful day and we eat a festive meal before the day begins and one after the fast ends.

To assist us in our self-correction, G-d instructs us to refrain from physical pleasures like eating, bathing and intimate relations and we focus on the greatness of G-d and put our egos on the shelf for a day.

Eliminating our physical and self-centered pleasures gives us the opportunity to introspect, admit and express regret over our limiting self-destructive actions and negative character traits. When accompanied by sincere intent to improve, G-d assists in removing the effects of our mistakes and allocates the resources we need to become the better people we want to be.

May we be successful in using this awesome day to set ourselves on the path of actualizing the greatness each of us possesses.

Method to Our Mitzvos

Posted on | September 30, 2014 | By Ron Coleman | 3 Comments

When is it appropriate, in our spiritual journey as Jews, to manipulate our own emotions — to perform, before an audience composed only of our own hearts, as an actor on a stage does, to simulate joy or other emotions in order to create… an “effect”?

I was always troubled by the suggestion I once encountered that crying during the Rosh Hashana prayers is so desirable that one should go so far as to bring on weeping, even by making oneself think of something unrelated to the day’s theme of repentance but guaranteed to bring on tears. The commentators or rabbinic sources are not universally in agreement with this approach, I have since learned; there would probably, if we knew how to count, be a majority vote against it. I was not surprised, however, to learn that among those who did not favor tearing up during the prayers at all is Rabbi Eliyahu, the Gaon of Vilna, who evidently counseled an attitude of joy, not sadness.

The consensus among learned Internet commentators seems to be that sincere tears are even fine with the Gaon, whereas a lack of any emotional movement during this period may itself portend a troubling lack of spiritual movement. But the Gaon’s approach appealed to a younger version of myself, not only because of what I considered at the time to be my own distrust of emotion, but because of something I learned when I was a student in a major Brooklyn yeshiva, known as “Chaim Berlin.” I had noticed that in Chaim Berlin, when the Ark was opened in order to remove the Torah scroll for reading, everyone remained where he was standing. This was in contrast to what I had seen even growing up in a Conservative synagogue and in virtually every orthodox one, where members of the congregation moved toward the Ark and the Torah scroll from the time the curtain was opened until the scroll was placed on the reader’s desk; and so again in reverse when the reading was over.

I asked the late Moshgiach [spiritual dean], Rabbi Shimon Groner, why no one moved. He told me that the yeshiva followed a teaching of the Vilna Gaon that reflexive, automated manipulations of our bodies, or of space containing our bodies, held a danger of making our service to Hashem thoughtless. Counseling that we move, for example, toward the Torah and make a point of thinking about it would hardly help, because human nature being what it is, we would end up automatically doing the moving and forgetting the remembering. From the Gaon’s point of view, as I came to understand it, this was worse than not doing anything at all, because it is a lie to ourselves and to anyone observing us. It is worse, to borrow the aphorism concerning speech, to stand in place and be thought of as not devotional than to walk like a zombie and prove that you aren’t.

It did occur to me, however, that this practice appeared to represent a minority approach to the matter, and that there was probably some reason for that.

At this stage of my life, I don’t have to worry too much about whether to make myself cry on Rosh Hashana, at least a little bit. When you’re older and you’ve racked up enough mileage, you don’t need to force it on the one hand. And on the other, you have no choice about whether, “trustworthy” or not, you are going to permit it: emotion will come, and probably the damp, too. (I once read that the great Rabbi Elyah Lopian explained that he no longer wanted to lead the congregation in prayer this time of year because “tears come easily to old men,” and he didn’t want the congregation to believe he was “really” crying tears of repentance.)

And at this stage of the year, I juxtapose those thoughts about spiritual “method” acting — the better-known kind being something I actually trained in during college — to the coming holiday, which on the one hand seems emotionally less challenging but is actually the opposite: Succos. And in doing so, I come out in favor.

I find Succos a great challenge because it’s supposed to be a very joyous experience. And me, well, I’m not known for joy; and I’m not feeling so joyous inside either after Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. I’ve missed all that work, and there’s even more to miss ahead with this big weeklong yomtov; I’m bleeding money on expenses relating to the holiday and its joyous celebration; my square old feet hurt from all that standing up and davening and there’s even more ahead, with those hakofos and the full Hallel too — I could go on, but I won’t. Let’s just stay that, it’s good for you if you just lap up the joyousness “by Succos,” but for this camper, I desperately lack what the method actors call, using a term that spawned a million show-biz one-liners, some “motivation.”

And the Torah gives it to me. Lulav bundle? Check. Hold it in your hand. Esrog? Check. Hold it in your other hand. Put ‘em together. Sit in the succah. Wave ‘em front. Wave ‘em right. Wave ‘em back, left, up, down. IT’S NOT OPTIONAL. DO IT!

Did you like that Mr. Sourpuss? Good! So now that you’ve put it all way… Take it all out again and walk around the shul in circles over and over while reciting stuff!! Are you having fun yet?

Well… yeah, I am.

I am. My body, directed by the Torah to have fun, makes me have fun… which we know there is no word for in the Holy Tongue. Which must mean I am having, or experiencing, something else.

Joy. Despite myself, my aching back, my twitching feet, I end up… how do you say? “Into it.”

We learn in method acting how to use the mind and the body to create an effect. The effect is not just for the audience. The novelty of the Stanislavsky Method, and what enabled its masters to leave mere play-acting behind, is that the effect is to create a stage-reality for the performer so that he is to some extent (not entirely, for he is still performing) living the moment on stage — emotionally, for real. He is not “emoting”; he is having a real emotional experience. The audience believes because he believes, and they are entitled to do so, because it is real.

The same thing happens when I make myself jump into the circle of dancers at a wedding. Oy, it goes on too long. Oy, the dance floor is too crowded. Oy, the kid in the middle doesn’t even know me. But it’s a mitzvah to celebrate a marriage, and the way we do it is to throw our body into it, no matter how intellectual of a creature we think we are. We do it, we let go — yes, even your crusty blogger lets go, and, what do you know? HAPPY FEET!!

It’s joy. It’s ok. And I know the Gaon would approve. I know it because on his deathbed he picked up his tallis katan and said, in tears, “For a few cents, in the world I am about to leave, I could buy this and by putting it on, earn a supernal award — and now I will have no more chances to earn merit that way!”

The Vilna Gaon earned virtually every merit a Jew could earn during his life, especially the kind you earn with assiduous application of the brain — and all the more so when that was coupled with determined denial of the body. But he knew — no, not “but”; rather, therefore he knew that there is a place in this world for the physical.

In stagecraft we called it a prop. And so too in mitzvos, wise use of props gets us where we need to be; not just where to go through the motions, pantomime or pretend, but to really be.

It may not be wise for most of us to use mental props such as emotions to simulate related emotions; that’s only for true masters. But when the Torah hands us a prop — a lulav, an esrog, a circuit ’round the shul; a succah to sit in; a massive mouthful of matzah; a daunting Hillel sandwich right afterward; a tallis; tefilin; a deep square of tiled “living water”; a gooey clump of challah; a pair of candlesticks — our job is to grab the prop, remember our lines and play it to the hilt — despite ourselves, to believe it and, as we say in the theater, “live in the moment.”

The applause in our souls is guaranteed to follow. And take it from a crusty old thespian: Applause is addictive. Plus when we take what we think are our final bows, we just might have reason to hope for another curtain call!


Ron Coleman writes a blog about intellectual property law called LIKELIHOOD OF CONFUSION®.

The Kingship of the Ten Days of Teshuva

Posted on | September 29, 2014 | By Guest Contributor | Comments Off

Rabbi Chaim Friedlander zt”l in the Rinas Chaim writes about the issue of Kingship after Rosh Hoshana:

“The similarity of issues, which appear in the prayers of both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, pointing to Hashem Yisbarach’s kingship and reign, leads us to a question. Why must we bring up the issue of malchus, Hashem’s kingship, on Yom Kippur as well?

Rosh Hashanah is the Day of Judgment, and the whole concept of judgment is a product of His kingship. Hashem Yisbarach, as the supreme monarch, distributes tasks — and the vehicles necessary for the fulfillment of those individual tasks — to each one of His subjects on Rosh Hashanah. Thus, on the first day of the year, HaKadosh Baruch Hu dons the cloak of the supreme Judge and estimates the quality of each person’s fulfillment of his tasks from the previous year. Those individual tasks are part of the general goal of proclaiming Hashem Yisbarach as King over creation, and over each one of us in particular. Hashem Yisbarach then delegates each person’s task for the coming year according to the level of his performance the year before.

However, due to Hashem’s lovingkindness, the judgment does not end on Rosh Hashanah, but lasts during the subsequent Ten Days of Repentance, during which it is still possible to repent and to amend the final verdict. On each of those ten days we en treat HaKadosh Baruch Hu with the supplications of “Inscribe us in the Book of the Living,” and “In the Book of Life… may we be inscribed before You.”

The whole issue of judgment is maintained within the concept of kingship, as we stated before. We are judged according to what extent we have accepted upon ourselves Hashem Yisbarach’s kingdom in all aspects of our lives, and especially in the fulfillment of our individual tasks. Our judgment also hinges upon the extent that we are prepared spiritually for the holy task of proclaiming Him as King in the forthcoming year. That is why we stress kingship in our prayers during those ten days, saying “the holy King,” and “the King of judgment.” All these ten days are days meant for us to proclaim Hashem as King over us — and our judgment flows from this.

The conclusion of the judgment occurs on Yom Kippur. On Yom Kippur it is assessed and established to what extent we are spiritually ready to recognize the reign of our King, the King of all kings — HaKadosh Baruch Hu. Therefore, on Yom Kippur we mention and we seek the acceptance of Malchus Shmayim, the Heavenly kingdom, just as we do on Rosh Hashanah. On Yom Kippur the spiritual task of the entire ten days of proclaiming Hashem King comes to its peak and culminates with the acceptance of Ol Malchus Shmayim at the end of the Ne’ilah prayer.”

Three Things to Keep in Mind on Rosh Hoshanah

Posted on | September 23, 2014 | By Administrator | Comments Off

1. G-d is the King and Master of the Universe and we, the Jews, are his primary subjects.

2. Make a greater commitment to recognizing G-d as King as often as possible.

3. Resolve to make G-d consciousness real, with increased focus on Torah, kindness, davening and performing mitzvos.

A K’siva V’Chasima Tova to all and a fruitful Rosh Hoshanah to all.

The 60 Second Guide to Rosh Hashanah

Posted on | September 22, 2014 | By Mark Frankel | Comments Off

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MP3s: Shabbos Project 2014; Securing a Favorable Judgement; Arba Minim; Malchius; Inspiration

Posted on | September 22, 2014 | By Mark Frankel | Comments Off

Rabbi Welcher on Grabbing the Inspiration can be downloaded here.

Rabbi Welcher on Malchius And The Tefilos Of Rosh_Hoshana can be downloaded here.

Rabbi Dr. Warren Goldstein, Chief Rabbi of South Africa on the Shabbos Project at YIKGH on Sept 28th can be downloaded here.

Rabbi Moshe Schwerd on “Securing a Favorable Judgment with a Checkered Past” can be downloaded here.

Rabbi Yair Sandler on Purchasing the Arba Minim – mp3 here.

Beyond the Heads and Tails of the Sabbatical Year

Posted on | September 19, 2014 | By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz | 6 Comments

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

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

Devarim 31:10-12

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

— Rosh Hashanah 12B

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

— Tehillim 115:16

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

— Tehillim 135:6

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

— Tehillim 24:1/daily psalm of Sunday

 

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

— Pirkei Avos 3:15

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

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

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

Read more

Shul Teshuva; Lean Startup; App Atonement

Posted on | September 18, 2014 | By Guest Contributor | Comments Off

Shul Teshuva

Lean Startup

App Atonement

On Which Day of Rosh Hashana Will You Be Judged?

Posted on | September 17, 2014 | By Guest Contributor | Comments Off

Rabbi Noson Weisz has a great article on the judgment of Rosh Hoshanah based on the writings of Rabbi Dessler in his work Michtav Mieliyahu.

On the first day of Rosh Hashana God only considers the cases of the people who are sincerely committed to developing themselves spiritually. It is they who offer Him investment opportunities, because it is they who require the renewal of His Kingdom. After carefully assessing the seriousness and feasibility of the proposals that are submitted, He determines the inputs that each individual whose case is being deliberated requires to actualize his ideas in the coming year, and weaves all these individual requirements into a common tapestry and recreates a world that will correspond exactly with the combined requirements.


The cases of all the people who did not pass muster on the first day are judged on the second. After God maps out the dimensions of His new Kingdom on the first day based on the requirements of those who were judged worthy of investment, on the second day He considers all the lives that need to be renewed to make His new Kingdom function.

Even if we focus only on religious requirements the new world requires a large population. The people for whom the world was recreated on the first day need synagogues in which to pray; this means that you will need a quorum of people to be written in the Book of Life even if there is only a single member who passed muster on the first day. They will need Talmudic academies in which to study; a functioning academy must have a large student body, teachers, administrators, maintenance people etc.; hundreds of people can be written into the Book of Life in the merit of the few students who actually require the academy for their spiritual growth. First day people require Kosher food to eat; thousands of people can be written into the Book of Life to make sure that there is a functioning food industry. If you think about it there are literally millions of functions that must be filled in order to keep the spiritual world functioning.

Please go and read the whole article.

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