Beyond BT

Spiritual Growth for Jews

A Powerful Middos Enhancer – Skip Step Two

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

By Jonathan Rosenblum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Originally published in Mishpacha.

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein on The Mistaken Rejection of Torah Leaders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Resolving Shul Conflicts

Tony Gwynn’s Happiness and Yours

Women In Kiruv & Jewish Education

12 Fundamental Spiritual Rules

Posted on | June 18, 2014 | By Mark Frankel | 1 Comment

Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato felt that it was very important that a Jew should have an understanding of the fundamental spiritual rules under which the world operates so he wrote the sefer, Derech Hashem. I wanted to share a few of the spiritual rules and hopefully people will be motivated to learn either English version of the sefer.

Derech Hashem is divided into four sections:
1. Fundamentals of Creation
2. Divine Province
3. The Soul and Prophecy
4. Serving G-d

Here are some of the fundamental spiritual rules from each section:

Fundamentals of Creation
- Hashem created the world to bestow goodness on man, who is composed of a physical body and non-physical soul.
- The ultimate goodness is coming closer to Hashem by doing mitzvos that strengthen our spiritual side and avoiding sin which distance us.
- The influences, forces and melachim of the spiritual realm direct what occurs in the physical realm, but man’s free will choices effect the spiritual realm.

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

The Soul and Prophecy
- Man’s physical body is connected to the spiritual world through five levels of soul.
- In addition to his senses, man can receive information about the world through his souls and the processes of dreams, divine inspiration and prophecy.
- Many prophets received information about the world through dream-state prophecy, Moshe’s prophecy was of an entirely different nature, and through his clear waking-state prophecy, the Torah was transmitted to him from Hashem.

Serving G-d
- Man serves G-d and achieves his purpose in the world through the study of Torah and the performance of mitzvos.
- Torah study plays a very large role in bringing man to perfection and the highest positive spiritual influences in the world come about through this study.
- Other areas of serving G-d are the emotionally centered mitzvos such as love and fear of Hashem and the thought, speech and action mitzvos which are classified as continuous (e.g. Belief in Hashem), daily (e.g. Saying Shema), periodic (e.g. Shabbos) and circumstantial (e.g. Mezuzah).

Turning the Tables on the Constant Test of Summertime Immodesty

Posted on | June 16, 2014 | By Guest Contributor | 7 Comments

By Rabbi Yonah Levant
The entire zechus of this post should accrue to, and contribute to the immediate freeing of the Yeshiva bochrim kidnapped by terrorists:
1. Yaakov Naftali ben Rachel Devorah,
2. Gilad Michael ben Bat Galim
3. Eyal ben Iris Teshurah

The 1st Mishna is Pirkei Avos, Chapter 2 says:
Rabbi [Yehuda haNasi] said:…
Be careful with a minor mitzvah (commandment) as with a major one, for you do not know the reward for the mitzvos. Consider the loss incurred for performing a mitzvah compared to its reward, and the ‘reward’ received for sinning compared to the loss….

The two parts of the Mishnah, the encouragement to keep mitzvos, and the steeling oneself to avoid aveirah, seem to be distinct and can be fully understood independent of each other. It seems.

I saw a chiddush (novel insight) that manages to link the סוֹר מרע (turn away from bad) with the עשה טוב (do good) in a way that can have a very big impact on a person’s entire relationship to Hashem.

This is based on what we all intuitively know – that it is most worthwhile to daven to Hashem during an עת רצון (time of divine favor). “Worthwhile,” in terms of having one’s tefilos heard and accepted. The Ohr HaChaim on the pasuk ואתחנן אל ה’ בעת ההיא לאמר (and I davened to Hashem in that time saying) explains that the בעת ההיא (in that time) meant that it was an עת רצון (time of divine favor), and that is why Moshe davened then. Moshe knew when it was an עת רצון (time of divine favor) and he took full advantage to daven then.

Wouldn’t we love to know when there is an עת רצון (time of divine favor), or better yet, be able to create such a thing, by ourselves!

Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein shlita of Bnei Brak quotes the Ba’al Sefer Shomer Emunim who says that whenever one does a mitzvah, it is an עת רצון (time of divine favor). And especially when one sees inappropriate scenes, pritsus (immodesty), and one looks away with proper שמירת עיניים (guarding of one’s eyes) , that creates a עת רצון (time of divine favor) such that your tefillos will certainly be accepted by Hashem.

What does this mean to us? What does it mean to us who live in a very degraded generation in terms of tsnius (modesty), and what does it mean to us in terms of our lives as Jews, in the Big Picture.

Before this insight, a person might feel overwhelmed by a non-tsnius (immodest) world, especially in the summer, where one is put to the test all the time. A person might end up feeling aggravated endlessly, that the world is so antagonistic to Torah observance. You can’t look around and walk around like a normal person. You always have to be on edge, like in a battle.

And Shemiras Aynayim (guarding ones eyes) is a tricky business, since willpower doesn’t stop your optic nerve from working! The Ran in Nedarim says (I don’t have the source location) “אבל עיניו ואזניו של אדם אינם ברשותו, שהרי על כרחו יראח בעיניו ובאזניו ישמע.” – (but the eyes and ears of a man are not his possession, because one sees with his eyes and hears with his ears, even when he doesn’t want to). So, it’s a mitzvah where you practically start off on the wrong foot all the time! You see something inappropriate and only then do you look away.

If you need to be on the street, or driving, etc. you can’t prevent your eye from seeing something un-tsnius (immodest) if it (or her) steps right in front of you. The chiyuv (obligation) is obviously to look away immediately. So, it is a nisayon (test) of great proportions, considering that a healthy human being is not Parev (neutral) about these things. It pulls at a person’s very base nature. If the mitzvah of Shemiras Aynayim (guarding ones eyes) was to avoid looking at wool, it would be much easier to observe, even though wool is also everywhere! Nobody has a deep desire for looking at wool!

So, a person can be exhausted and aggravated from the ongoing nisayon (test) , even if he is successful! Or, chas v’shalom (G-d forbid), a person can give up the fight, and not keep the mitzvah, and abandon that level of kedushah (holiness) that Hashem wants of every single Yid.

With the insight of the Shomer Emunim, a person can change each nisayon (test) of Shemiras Aynayim (and any other aveirah nisayon (trangression test)) into an opportunity for tremendous dveykus (closeness) to Hashem. When one looks away, one can proclaim “Hashem, I am yours, I do not belong to the street! And since I am yours, and since I am overcoming my desires, for You, please help me with…” A person can become Davek to Hashem amidst the shmutz of our world. A person can grow, because of the opportunity hidden within the nisayon (test). “I am not looking Hashem, because I am yours! I am not theirs!”

Rav Zilberstein in his sefer טובך יביעו ח”ב עמ’סח quotes an unnamed Godol who said that a person who doesn’t practice Shemiras Aynayim sullies his davening and learning which require Kedushah. But it also robs him of his ability to get real pleasure and sweetness from learning, and davening, and the like.

You essentially end up switching the forbidden pleasure for the pleasure Hashem wanted you to have in dveykus (closeness) with Him through a geshmak (wonderful feeling) in learning, a heartfelt davening, etc.

I think it was the Steipler Gaon zatzal who was quoted (2008 Men’s tsnius asifah in Lakewood, Rav Wachsman drosho) as saying that when a person foregoes a forbidden pleasure, because of Hashem’s Will, then he will get a תשלומים, an equivalent, a replacement pleasure through Avodas Hashem. He will find real pleasure, real earthly pleasure in davening, or learning, or some other kosher venue. You will not lose out, says the Steipler Gaon.

Let us all try to turn this constant test into an opportunity to have our prayers answered, especially in this troubling time.

Drowning on Dry Land

Posted on | June 13, 2014 | By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz | 8 Comments

Why are so many segulos ineffective?
In particular why doesn’t fulfilling the Mitzvah of tzitzis transform us into spiritual supermen, as promised by the Torah?

These shall be your fringes and when you look at them, you’ll remember all the commandments of HaShem, and do them; and will not [continue to] go astray [following] after your own heart and your own eyes, which [have had the ability to this point of] leading you to immorality.  So that you will remember and do all My commandments, and be holy unto your Elokim.

—BeMidbar 15:39,40

 “So that you will may remember and do all My commandments.” This is comparable to one thrown into the raging waters to whom the ship’s captain flung a rope. The captain told [the man thrown overboard]  “grasp this rope in your hands and don’t let go for if you do  … you’re a goner.” Similarly, the Holy Blessed One told Israel: “as long as you hold fast to the mitzvos [you will live] [as it says] ‘And [only] you who cling to HaShem your Elokim are all alive today’ (Devarim4:4). And it says ‘Take fast hold of mussar-reprimands /moral instruction; don’t let go; guard her, for she is your life.’ (Mishlei 4:13)”

—Midrash Rabbah BeMidbar17:6

 In this allegory the life-preserving rope represent the strands of the tzitzis-fringes. Through them, we remember HaShem’s commandments and do not “drown” in the “raging waters” of malicious transgressions.

—Commentary of Rav Dovid Luria ibid

 Antigonus ish Socho received the tradition from Shimon the Righteous. He would say: “Do not be as slaves, who serve their master for the sake of receiving reward. Rather, be as slaves who serve their master not for the sake of receiving reward. And the awe of Heaven should be upon you.”

—Pirkei Avos 1:3

We live in an era when the ideal of serving HaShem with no ulterior motives has become almost passé.  As one wit put it “How did the Ahm Segulah become the Ahm Segulos?” It seems as though almost every worthy cause and endeavor is marketed as a “you scratch My Back and I’ll scratch yours” tradeoff kivyachol-as it were; with HaShem … Many people grow bitter and disappointed when, despite their best efforts at adhering to the segulah-prescribed practices, the promised yeshuos-deliverances; never come about.

Yet distinctions must be made between latter day segulos of unripened vintage and of dubious provenance and segulos that appear in the Gemara — or in the Chumash itself. For notwithstanding Antigonus ish Socho’s admonitions for completely selfless, non self-serving avodas HaShem-serving G-d; there are many mitzvah practices whose promised rewards are, in fact, guaranteed by the Gemara or in the Chumash.

Apart from the article of our faith that, in a general sense, observance of the Torah’s commandments reaps rewards (while transgressions evokes Divine retribution in the form of punishments); there is a lengthy causality list linking particular mitzvos and areas of Torah study to earning specific rewards: “Length of days” for honoring parents or shooing the mother bird away from the nest before taking the eggs or hatchlings, bountiful crops in the years preceding the Sabbatical and Jubilee years in consideration of scrupulous halachic observance of those years, wealth for proper tithing and offspring who are Talmidei Chachamim-Torah sages; in exchange for care and concern in the kindling of mitzvah lamps/candles — to name but a few.

Still another distinction must be made between activities that are mesugal- supposed to cause material benefits to accrue; and those that are mesugal for spiritual advances, greater intellectual acuity and / or ethical edification.  This last category comes a lot closer to Antigonus ish Socho’s paradigm than those segulos that promise temporal benefits.

Rav Shmuel Dov Asher Lainer, The Biskovitzer Rebbe, maintains that the mitzvah of tzitzis–ritual fringes on four-cornered garments; is a segulah for comprehensive tzidkus-righteousness/ saintliness. Moreover, this segulah is explicitly described by the Torah. After all, the pasuk says that when we see our tzitzis we recall all of HaShem’s commandments and, knowing that they are commandments, not non-compulsory suggestions, and that we are the commanded, how could we do anything but carry out our Divine orders? Thus, the pasuk concludes with the promise/ prediction … “and you will do them.”

Read more

Diaspora Yeshiva; Productive Political Conversations; Unsafe at any Speed – Davening

Posted on | June 12, 2014 | By Administrator | Add Your Comments

Searching for Myself at Jerusalem’s Hippie Yeshiva

The Path to Productive Political Conversations

Unsafe at any Speed – Davening from the Amud

Ten Ways to Inspire Our Children

Posted on | June 11, 2014 | By Guest Contributor | 4 Comments

By Rabbi Shaya Cohen

I. Make sure that all Torah learning is exciting, stimulating, and interactive.

II. Make sure that they realize that t’filah is to inspire in us a greater appreciation of Hashem, develop a closer relationship with Him, and trust Him, and through that process be able to receive the benefits we want from Hashem.

III. Alert them to the ongoing, endless incidents of hashgachah pratis throughout our history and continuing throughout our own lives.

IV. Encourage them to discover Hashem’s hashgachah pratis — individual and intimate involvement in their own lives.

V. Make sure that they are aware that Hashem’s purpose in creating the world was to bestow chesed on His creations in both this world and the next.

VI. Be sure they understand that the purpose of mitzvah performance and Torah study is only to refine one’s character.

VII. Let them know, through teaching and personal example, that each mitzvah provides a benefit to the one who observes it specifically and generally, fostering happiness, closeness to Hashem, and eternal reward.

VIII. Learn with them parts of Shir HaShirim with Rashi to help them to realize how much Hashem loves us, despite our shortcomings, and how much we love Him, despite the difficulties He sometimes makes us endure.

IX. Let them know that the more they refine their midos, the more like Hashem they are, and the closer and more fulfilling their relationship is with Him — in this world and beyond.

X. Make sure that real simchah and a sense of privilege to have Torah permeate your home, your life, and your observance of all mitzvos.

Rabbi Shaya Cohen is the Rosh HaYeshiva of Yeshiva Zichron Aryeh and Kollel Ner Yehoshua for over twenty years. Before that, he founded Valley Torah High School in Los Angeles and served as its dean for a decade. Rabbi Cohen founded Priority-1 in 1987 to help at-risk teenagers and their parents and families. Its workshops and events have taught thousands of parents and educators to inspire children to a lifelong love of Torah and Yiddishkeit. Rabbi Cohen can be reached at 516-295-5700, and Priority-1 resources are available online at www.priority-1.org

The Power of Great Torah Teaching in Great Neck

Posted on | June 10, 2014 | By Mark Frankel | 1 Comment

When my wife and were becoming observant, more that 25 years ago, we lived in Manhasset Hills on the North Shore of Long Island. However much of our initial Torah growth occurred in Great Neck under the tutelage of Rabbi Yaakov Lerner and Rebbetzin Abby Lerner of the Young Israel of Great Neck. I would drive about 10 minutes every morning to attend Rabbi Lerner’s weekday 6:00 AM Gemora shiur, followed by Shacharis. It was too far to walk, so on Shabbos I davened in a minyan in the basement of the Shelter Rock Jewish Center in Searingtown.

I still remember to this day Rabbi Lerner’s amazing ability to teach a Tosfos in a way that a beginner like myself at the time, could understand. In addition to his teaching and Rabbinic responsibility at the YIGN, Rabbi Lerner has been running Project Identity since 1981, which provides beginners classes in Torah, Reading Hebrew and Prayer. Our initial connection to Rabbi Lerner was through Project Identity.

I saw Rabbi and Rebbetzin Lerner at the Chupah of a Manahasset Hills friend’s daughter this past Sunday. We do run in to each other on occasion, but we spent some extra time talking, and he updated me on the amazing growth of YIGN and some of the amazing Baalei Teshuva that have joined the Shul. Many are extremely successful professionals who have directed their talents and passions to Torah and Communal Service.

One of the most amazing thing about Rabbi Lerner and Project Identity, is there is no active Kiruv, just the teaching of Torah and the sharing of our wonderful heritage with Jews who have not had that opportunity. Of course many people, like my wife and myself, become more observant and are helped in that journey, but the connection is established through the teaching and learning of Torah.

With the “search for truth” kiruv of the 60s, 70s. 80s, and the more self-centered “happiness kiruv” of the 90s, 00s. 10s waning, perhaps it’s time to focus on the pure unadulterated teaching of Torah. The one small wrinkle is that Rabbi Lerner’s love, and passion and skill at teaching Torah, are is difficult to match. It would be useful for the community to model the teaching skills of our great communal Rabbis so we can try to teach it to others.

Wake Up and Smell the Bacon

Posted on | June 9, 2014 | By Rabbi Yonason Goldson | 66 Comments

It was my first visit back to my parents’ house since I became frum. Over a year had passed, a year without the king-size bed in their guest room, without central heating, without 24/7 access to a fully stocked fridge and cupboard. My mother had, most graciously, stocked up on every kind of O-U foodstuff she could find on the supermarket shelves.

My father, on the other hand, hadn’t spoken to me for half a year.

I felt some trepidation, leaving the womb of yeshiva for the spiritual wilderness of Palm Springs, CA and a secular home. I hardly felt competent to survive without my rabbeim at arm’s reach and without a local makolet that stocked only glatt-kosher food. I had no notion what I would do if a question came up on Shabbos that wasn’t addressed in my English translation of Shemirath Shabbath. I wasn’t even certain how to manage lighting my oil menorah for Chanukah — I had never used anything other than 30 minute candles.

But what I really wasn’t ready for was the first real evidence of how much I had changed.

I woke up my first morning back, not contemplating the luxury of my overlarge bed, but rather with mild bewilderment as my first conscious thought formed around the question, “What is that horrible smell?” It permeated my room, suggesting something dead and rancid, and it seemed incongruous with the obsessive cleanliness that dominated every corner of my mother’s house.

I don’t remember whether I finally identified the odor on my own, or whether I actually had to go out and investigate. But I do remember the source.

Bacon. A whole pound of bacon sizzling in the oven.

Let me explain. Before becoming frum, there was no food in the world that I enjoyed more than bacon. I could eat as much of it as anyone could cook up and serve me. Forget the eggs. Skip the flapjacks. Pass on the toast. Nothing else was worth eating if bacon was on the menu.

So that first morning back my father had started cooking, hoping that powerful aroma of cured pig flesh would penetrate my sinuses and my psyche, vanquishing the religious fanaticism that had taken hold of his once-sensible son.

It’s not remarkable that Dad’s plan didn’t work. Anyone who exchanges a year’s commitment to Torah for a whiff of bacon was never really committed to begin with. What is so remarkable is that an aroma that had previously aroused my senses like the fragrance of Gan Eden now turned my stomach before I even recognized what it was.

This, I realized, is the power of Torah. The power to transform us, to change who we are so that even our temptations change. I would later hear my Rosh Yeshiva say many times that, more than anything else, our yeitzer hara shows us where we are up to in the world. The desires that tempt us at one point in our development later hold no attraction for us because we are no longer the people we once were. As we become more spiritually refined, so too do our physical and material impulses adapt to challenge us on our new level.

I often wonder if, as ba’alei tshuva, we sell ourselves short, waxing nostalgic over the days when we were “free” to do as we pleased, or setting too modest goals because we think it unreasonable to expect more from ourselves. What a pity if we don’t appreciate how much we have changed, and how we can continue changing and growing with every day and week and year.

Blast from the past first published Jun 14, 2006

Shavuos – Not Just Another Joe

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

Rabbi Frand relates the following:

The Talmud relates [Pesachim 68b] that Rav Yosef would make a tremendous party on Shavuos.

He would say, “If not for this special day (on which the Torah was given), look how many Yosefs there are in the market place”. If not for the fact that I as a Jew have that precious gift of Torah, I would literally be ‘just another Joe’.
….
Every Yom Tov has its own message – that idea which we are supposed to appreciate about the holiday. The main idea that Shavuos must inculcate into our psyches is “If not for this day, where would we be? What would we look like without this Torah?”

The scary thing is that if we fail to properly appreciate that which Torah does for our lives, we are left with what the Talmud calls “they have abandoned my Torah”. This is our challenge as we approach the Yom Tov of Shavuos. Everyone should have a good and meaningful holiday.

Na’aseh V’nishma – Making Torah Observance the Core or One’s Life

Posted on | June 2, 2014 | By Administrator | Add Your Comments

Rabbi Noson Weisz is one of the best at making spiritual concepts from the Ramban, the Maharal and Rabbi Dessler accessible.

In this essay, Rabbi Weisz explains:

Perhaps the best known passage in Jewish literature concerning the covenant at Sinai is the following passage of Talmud:

Rabbi Simai expounded, “When Israel uttered na’aseh before nishma, or “we will do” before “we will hear,” 600,000 ministering angels came to each and every Jew and tied two crowns to each Jew, one corresponding to na’aseh and one corresponding to nishma. (Talmud, Sabbos, 88a)

The statement “we will do, and we will hear,” amounts to a commitment to carry out God’s commandments even before hearing what the observance of those commandments actually involves. Only someone who is totally willing to shape his entire life around Torah observance would be willing to make such a commitment.

To the modern mind, isn’t this kind of blind acceptance irrational?

BLIND ACCEPTANCE OR COERCION?

Perhaps we can begin to glimpse the answer to this question by considering a neighboring Talmudic passage nearly as well known as the previous.

They stood at the foot of the mountain (Exodus 19:17) R’Avdimi bar Chama bar Chasa said, “This teaches us that the Holy One, blessed is He, covered them with the mountain as though it were an upturned vat and He said to them: ‘If you accept the Torah, well and good. But if not your burial will be right here!’” Rav Acha bar Yakov said, “From here stem strong grounds for a complaint of coercion regarding the acceptance of the Torah.” (Talmud, Shabos 88a)
This passage would appear to indicate the diametric opposite to the first; far from accepting the Torah willingly, the Jewish people had to be coerced to accept it.

Is there any way to reconcile a willingness to say na’aseh v’nishma with a need to coerce the Jews into accepting the Torah?

Give the article a read for an explanation according to the Maharal.

The Embattled Mi-Shebeirach; Balancing Care and Liberty in Big Government; Please Daven for Henny Machlis

Posted on | May 30, 2014 | By Administrator | Add Your Comments

The Embattled Mi-Shebeirach

Balancing Care and Liberty in Big Government

Please Daven for Henna Rasha bat Yitta Reitza (Henny Machlis)

An Ambidextrous Theology

Posted on | May 29, 2014 | By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz | 9 Comments

Why is the Sotah’s case adjudicated through trial by watery potion?

Why do kohanim put their hands together when bestowing the priestly blessing?

He [the kohen] will then make the [suspected adulteress] woman drink the bitter curse-bearing waters and they will begin to take effect. ~BeMidbar 5:24

Speak to Ahron and his sons, saying: This is how you must bless the Bnei Yisrael-the Nation of Israel.  Say to them … ~BeMidbar 6:23

Your right Hand O HaShem is awe-inspiring in strength, Your right Hand O HaShem pounds the enemy … You stretched out Your right Hand the earth swallowed them. ~Shemos15:7,12  

Another interpretation (of the repetition of “Your right Hand) When the Bnei Yisrael perform the Will of G-d they transform the left into the right. But when they don’t, they transform the right to left as the pasuk (Eichah 2:3) says “He has drawn back His right Hand from before the enemy” ~Mechilta on Shirah Parshah 5

And he said: … I saw HaShem sitting on His throne, and all the host of heaven standing by Him on His right Hand and on his Left. ~Melachim  I 22:19

Does G-d have a left Hand/Side? [How could this be] when the pasuk states “HaShem’s right hand is exalted; the right hand of HaShem performs valiantly.” (Tehillim 118:16) [implying that, kivyachol -as it were; there are two Divine right Hands but no left Hand at all]. Rather [the meaning is] those Angels that advocate for clemency and mercy are described as being on the Right while those angels that prosecute and demand retribution are described as being on the Left.  ~Rashi ibid

Rabi Shmuel bar Nachman said “Woe to the wicked who transform the right into left ….and the righteous who transform left to right are commendable ~Bereshis Rabbah 73:2

[Do not divert from the ruling of the Judges] either right or left: Even if this judge tells you that right is left, and that left is right [believe them]! ~Rashi to Devarim 17:10,11 from Sifri

For the vast majority of human beings (estimates range from 70-95% of the population) who are right-handed, their left hand is the weaker and less nimble of their two hands. This statistic is reflected in our traditional Theology. In Jewish thought the middah-Divine trait for administration of creation; of Chessed- lovingkindness; is identified with the right side/ arm while the middah of Gevurah-rigor/ justice- untempered-by-mercy/retribution; is identified with the left side/ arm.   This is because the middah of Chessed is relatively stronger, kivyachol-as it were; than the middah of GevurahChessed is, kivyachol, HaShem’s “original” intent and antedates His administration of His creation, it is the middah that informs His very Creative process itself.  In the words of the psalmist “For I have said: ‘For the olam- cosmos; is built through Chessed” (Tehillim 89:3)

Gevurah is sometimes viewed as Chessed’s handmaiden; meant to add traction and heft to Chessed. The principle of nahama d’kisufa-“the bread of shame”; teaches that were Gevurah not even a possibility then the unearned gifts of Chessed heaped upon the recipients would humiliate them.

Alternatively, Gevurah is deemed to be obstructed, frustrated Chessed. One great late-twentieth century thinker explained the relationship between the two middos allegorically. When one throws a ball in a certain direction the throwers expectation is that the ball will run its course in the same direction that he threw it.  If a sudden impediment, e.g. a wall, springs up in the balls path the ball will not merely fall to the ground, it will boomerang back in the opposite direction, but with less force and velocity.  Our own misdeeds (or sinful thoughts or words) are barriers to the Divine “plan A” kivyachol of bestowing favor and blessing. The frustrated, impeded Chessed that could not run its course and reach its target ricochets and manifests itself as Rigor and Retributive Justice.

The disciples of the Izhbitzer school taught that our sidrah provide examples of the right “becoming” left, i.e. of Chessed and Rachamim-mercy; becoming Gevurah and Din-justice and vice versa.

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The Mystical Magic of “When The Ox Gores the Cow”

Posted on | May 28, 2014 | By Guest Contributor | 21 Comments

The following story appeared in Rabbi Frand’s parsha archives: http://torah.org/learning/ravfrand/5758/vayikra.html

I will tell you over a story that I heard from a prominent individual who works in Jewish Outreach.

When he was he was newly married, and studying at a Rabbinic seminary in Israel, he couldn’t afford an apartment in the desirable sections of Jerusalem. Therefore he bought one in what was then an outlying section, in a building where he was the only observant, religious Jews. All of the other residents were Israelis who were not religious. He went over to them and started building relationships. He invited every one of them to come once a week to his apartment to learn. After trying, he finally got several to come to learn, but he had not picked a topic.

What would he learn with non-religious Israelis? In a certain sense non-religious Israelis are even more removed from Judaism, and have more negative attitudes towards Jewish learning, than unaffiliated Jews in America. So he deliberated his options: something philosophical, like Maimonides’ Guide to the Perplexed, or a work which discusses the Jewish faith in comparison to others, like the Kuzari… he didn’t know what he was going to learn.

He went to morning prayers and there, as Hashgocha (Divine Providence) would have it, he met the famous Uri Zohar. Uri Zohar was Israel’s foremost entertainer: comedian, television game-show and radio talk-show host, social satirist, movie star, and film producer, and an icon of modern Israeli secular society. Then, in the midst of his career, he turned towards religion, eventually becoming fully observant. [For more information, read Waking Up Jewish by Uri Zohar, which is available through Genesis Judaica.]

He asked Uri Zohar what he should learn with these neighbors. R’ Uri asked him, “What are you learning in Yeshiva?” The Rabbi responded that he was learning Bava Kamma. Uri Zohar told him “Learn with them tractate Bava Kamma”.

The Rabbi looked at him incredulously and said “Bava Kamma? The ox that gores a cow; The Pit; The Ox; Fire that damages?… This will turn people on to Judaism?”

To which Uri Zohar responded “My dear friend, you don’t believe in Torah! If you can question and doubt that learning with them tractate Bava Kamma is going to bring them back — then you don’t fully believe and appreciate the power of Torah.”

Learn pure, unadulterated, “the Four Major Types of Damages” (Arba avos nezikin). You do not need to learn philosophical works such as Kuzari and Moreh Nevuchim. Learn about the Ox that gores the cow. It does something to the soul. It is mystical. It is magical. It is the nourishment that the soul thirsts for, and a teacher needs nothing more.

To this day, what does the Rabbi learn with beginning adult students? Tractate Bava Kamma.

That is what this Medrash says about Aharon. He returned sinners to Torah study. The power of Torah will prevail.

Ad kann l’shono (end of his story).

I am afraid that I share the same doubts with the Rabbi in this story. Having grown up on the Talmud since grade school, I don’t have the perspective of being exposed to it for the first time as a thinking, questioning adult, and it does surprise me to hear that learning “Arba Avos Nezikin” as someone’s first exposure to learning Torah would stir their soul. This represents a significant paradigm shift for me. So I would love to hear corroboration, comments or otherwise from those coming from a different perspective than me.

Originally published on Feb 19, 2009

The One Minute Guide to Shavuos

Posted on | May 27, 2014 | By Mark Frankel | 9 Comments

The foundation of Judaism is that there is a G-d, who is completely spiritual. G-d created both a physical and spiritual world. The centerpiece of creation is man who is composed of a physical body and a spiritual soul. Our collective purpose is to transform the world into a unified G-d connected spiritual world.

To accomplish this spiritual transformation G-d transmitted the necessary knowledge and tools in the form of the Torah. The Torah informs us how to turn physical acts into G-d connected spiritual acts. Every positive act we perform can be G-d connected, but the ones with the greatest connection power are the mitzvos G-d explicitly specified in the Torah.

The holiday of Shavuos is the day that G-d spiritually transmitted the Torah. The entire Jewish nation experienced this transmission and Moses experienced it to a much greater degree. The day is filled with a spiritual energy through which we can deepen our commitment to connect to G-d through the learning of Torah.

On Shavuos and other Jewish Holidays (Passover, Succos), there is a mitzvah to enhance the joy of the holiday with one special meal at night and one special meal during the day. In doing so we transform the physical act of eating into a spiritual G-d connected activity.

Chag Someach!

The Shabbos Project 2014; Slowing Down the Fast Lein; Pleasurable Eating Without Guilt

Posted on | May 23, 2014 | By Administrator | Add Your Comments

The Shabbos Project 2014

Life in the Fast Lein – Is There a Speed Limit

Pleasurable Eating Without Guilt

Is Torah Everything … OR is Everything Torah II

Posted on | May 22, 2014 | By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz | Add Your Comments

Why is the Zodiac sign of the month of Sivan the twins?
Why are we often frustrated by failure despite having put forth our very best efforts?
Conversely, why does unanticipated success sometimes come our way, relatively effortlessly?

… Similarly the Holy One, blessed be He, say to [the Children of] Israel: ‘My children! I created the inclination to evil but I [also] created the Torah, as its antidote [lit. seasoning]; if you busy yourselves with the Torah, you will not be delivered to your inclinations to evil.

— Kidushin 30B

Our Rabbis taught: There are two kidneys within Man, one of which counsels him to good, [while] the other counsels him to evil; and it is reasonable to suppose that the good one is on his right side and the bad one on his left, as it is written, “A wise man’s heart /insight is at his right side, but a fool’s heart/ insight is at his left.” (Koheles10:2)

— Brachos 61A

I considered my ways, and retraced my footsteps towards your testimonies.

—Tehillim 119:59

If you will “walk/go in” My statutes (Vayikra 26:3)” This alludes to what is written in Tehillim “I considered my ways, and retraced my footsteps towards your testimonies” [King] David was [really] saying “L-rd of the Universe every day I used to think ‘I plan on going to a certain place, and to a certain dwelling’ yet my feet walked me [as if of their own accord] to synagogues and Yeshivos.  Thus ‘[I] retraced my footsteps towards your testimonies’ “

—Vayikra Rabbah 35:1

He enthroned the letter Zayin as king over motion and he bound a crown to it and he combined one with another and with them he formed Gemini (i.e. the zodiacal constellation sign of twins) in the Universe (Space), Sivan in Year (Time) and the left foot in Soul of male and female.

— Sefer Yetzirah 5:7

In the above excerpt cited above from Sefer Yetzirah we find an example of, the kabbalistic- teaching that we’ve learned about in recent weeks; that all that HaShem created exists on the three parallel planes of olam/shanah/nefesh-world/year/soul i.e. in the realms of space, time and spirit.

For Rav Tzadok, the Lubliner Kohen, the parallel between motion, feet and Sivan are all fairly self-evident.  Sivan is the month of Mattan Torah-the Revelation at Sinai; when Torah was brought from Heaven to earth and the all-encompassing system of Torah observance is known as Halachah; a conjugation of the Hebrew verb translated as “walking” or “going”. In Parshas Bechukosai we analyzed passages of the Mei HaShiloach in which the kinetic nature of Torah, i.e. how Torah transforms “standers” and “sitters” into “goers” and “walkers” was explored at length.

What is less self-evident is why the motion of the Torah-of-Sivan relates specifically to the souls left foot rather than to the souls right foot. After all, the wisest of all men taught that mans inclination to evil is associated with the left side of his being (heart/ kidney) why should the Torah-of-Sivan, the source of all that is good and the antidote to the yetzer hara-the inclination to evil; parallel the foot that is on man’s “bad” side?

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Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan – Perhaps the Most Amazing BT of Our Time

Posted on | May 21, 2014 | By Administrator | Add Your Comments

As part of NCSY’s 60 year anniversary celebration, Rabbi Ari Kahn has penned, An Appreciation Of Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan + Video.

The video is Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan & Dr. Russell Barber discuss Jewish Mysticism on The First Estate broadcast on WNBC-TV channel 4 in 1979.

The audio of the discussion above can be found at torahdownloads.com.

Here is an exceprt from Rabbi Kahn’s article:

“In a sense, Rabbi Kaplan may be seen as the Ramchal (Rabbi Moshe Haim Luzzato) of the 20th century. Like the great Italian scholar, Rabbi Kaplan’s writings are straightforward and clear, yet profound, with Kabbalistic doctrine always just beneath the surface. However, whereas the Ramchal was born into an aristocratic Jewish family and received the best education available, Aryeh Kaplan did not. His Jewish education did not begin until after his thirteenth birthday, when he was already recognized as a prodigy in the sciences.

As a young adult, he pondered, questioned and studied. Those who knew him in his teens recall a brilliant scholar—and a “hevreman” who had a twinkle in his eye. Despite his late start in Jewish learning, he quickly closed the gap with his better-educated peers and soon outpaced most of them. Eventually, he travelled to Israel, where he studied with and was ordained by the leading rabbis. He was, all agreed, destined for greatness as a rabbi and scholar.

But in a sense, he was always an outsider—and this became a defining element of his greatest achievements. Because he was raised in a non-observant home, he knew how to speak to young people who were searching; he, too, had searched. Although he eventually attended the most prestigious yeshivot, his early experiences equipped him to communicate and identify with teens and adults who came from backgrounds like his own.”

Here is Rabbi Kaplan’s wikipedia entry.

Lot’s of articles from his books on Aish.

Books of his on Amazon.

Jewish Survival – The Paths of our Great Grandparents

Posted on | May 20, 2014 | By Guest Contributor | Add Your Comments

By Rabbi Meir Goldberg

While in the Janowska Road Concentration Camp, Nazi SS officers forced the Bluzhever Rebbe and fellow prisoners on a death march. The Rebbe walked with a maskil (free thinker) whom he befriended, a man who did not believe in G-d. As they approached several huge ditches, the prisoners were ordered to jump across, an almost impossible feat. If they landed in the ditch, they would be summarily shot.

“Well Spira,” said the maskil to the Rebbe, “It looks like we’ve reached our end.” “Just hold onto my coat and we’ll jump across together” replied the Rebbe. They closed their eyes and jumped. They opened their eyes alive on the other side. Shocked, the maskil turned to the Rebbe and asked, “Rebbe, we’re alive, we’re alive because of you! There must be a G-d! How did you do it Rebbe?” The Rebbe replied, “I had zchus avos (ancestral merit). I held on to the bekeshe of my father and his father and all of my ancestors. But tell me,” asked the Rebbe to the maskil, “how did you reach the other side?” The maskil answered, “I was holding on to you!”

I related this story to my students during an inspiring Shabbos in Krakow, Poland, while on a tour of old Polish towns and concentration camps. We had been singing and speaking words of chizuk for hours on that cold January Friday night and nobody wanted to go to sleep. We thought we came to Krakow and would inspire the town. Yet it was 600 years of kedushah from some of the most notable names in the Jewish world whose bekeshe we were hanging on to.

When living in the large frum population centers, we sometimes have the tendency to think that there are so many frum Jews, who view life and our surroundings much the same as we do. Yet we all realize that Torah Jews are but a minute fraction of the world population. What are the odds that out of the close to 7 billion people in the world, we are one of the 14 million of Hashem’s chosen people? And out of those 14 million, what are the odds that we would be one of the 1 million Jews who observe his Torah? How did each of us get here? Why are we frum, while so many of our estranged brothers and sisters are not?

The answer is that each one of us has a great grandfather and a great grandmother who made a conscious decision at some point in their lives, that living as a Torah Jew was the most important thing in their lives and they would pass it on to their children. And whether they lived in Frankfurt or Warsaw, Pressburg or Casablanca, Vilna, Allepo or Munkacz, they swam against the tide of assimilation that surrounded them on all sides. They chose to remain shomrei Shabbos, though they were in the minority. Many had to make these decisions after they came to these prosperous shores, while faced with the pressures of providing for their family, while some have made this decision on their own, after growing up in already secular households. This is why each one of us is here today, keeping Shabbos, going to a shiur, living as a Jew should, and passing these ideals on to our children.

The monotony of life has a way of breaking us down. Words, actions, life choices, often seem to be trivial. We subconsciously convey these messages to our next generation. They take note of our deeds and foibles, what we look at and whom we praise. Everything we do matters and will leave an impression on the next generation. The decisions we make now, however small they seem, echo in eternity.

A friend of mine is well known in the Kiruv world for his incredible success in inspiring hundreds of Jews to Teshuva. I often wonder what it is that makes him so successful. While he does speak beautifully and has a certain dynamism that creates an aura of life and vitality around him, he isn’t much different than many others who have not nearly made quite such an impact on Klal Yisroel. It was when he told me his grandfathers story that it all made sense.

His grandfather grew up in Germany and instead of spending his years in Yeshiva, he fled the Nazi’s. By war’s end this man was half dead, barely surviving the camps; 70% of his stomach needed to be removed. He was nursed back to health by his wife, my friend’s grandmother, who was determined to make a new life for both of them.

The couple moved to America and this German survivor, who knew not much more than how to daven, set out to find employment. During his first year here, he had 39 W2 forms, as he got fired almost weekly from his job as a tailor, because he refused to work on Shabbos. This simple man, educated in almost nothing other than the horrors of life, would not budge when it came to shmiras Shabbos. He finally found steady work which allowed him to keep Shabbos and he raised his family as Torah Jews.

When I heard this story, I understood the secret to my friend’s kiruv success.

Poland, the land inhabited by so many of our ancestors whose Torah life we cling to, is a land of paradoxes. It has a certain old world charm in its rolling, green pastures and quaint European small towns. Yet its big cities look something like the Bronx, with its throwback communist buildings and infrastructure. It is a land so rich in history, with nearly a millennium of a rich and varied panorama of Jewish life. Yet its soil is so saturated in Jewish blood that the ground nearly cries out wherever one goes. Is this land one of kedushah due to the presence of so many great Rabbinic luminaries and millions of Jews who died al Kiddush Hashem or is it a land of tumah because of the hate, murder, death camps and crematoria?

This is what brought 46 secular college students and their frum kiruv staff to the ultimate paradox. As we marched out of Auschwitz-Birkenau we walked along the old train tracks on which millions of Jews were brought in to death or misery. Yet unlike those Jews of 70 years past, we marched out singing Yaakov Shweckey and Yonatan Raizel’s classic, V’hi Sheamda. We gathered underneath the archway entering the camp, this archway of death, singing the words, “V’hakadosh Baruch Hu matzilainu miyadam.” 70 years ago they tried to annihilate us, yet here were 46 college students seeking life. Not merely in the materialistic sense, but more so, yearning for something real; for a fresh, spiritual vitality.

We sang together for a half hour and when we finished singing, we looked up at another paradox. During the Polish winter it is almost always cloudy, dreary and overcast. Yet on this evening a full moon shone. This same moon to which the broken inmates looked to in eager anticipation during Kiddush levana, one of the only Mitzvos they could perform; the moon of which they knew that although it may be small now, it will someday become full and complete again, just like themselves and the Jewish people. Now, 70 years later, it shone on us in all of its wholeness, on a group of 46 students looking to become spiritually whole once again, who were treading down the path of life of our great grandparents.

Rabbi Meir Goldberg is the Director of the MEOR Rutgers Jewish Xperience. He can be reached at mgoldberg@meor.org

Thanks to the Lakewood Scoop for permission to republish this tribute to Jewish survival.

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