The Books in the Dumpster

Anxious Ima

Last Wednesday morning , sometime between sunrise and the arrival of the school bus, I took a few dozen of my secular books off the shelf and deposited them in the green plastic dumpster outside of my house. This wasn’t easy for me; there is something deep in my soul that resists the idea of putting books in the trash. It just seems so unJewish, even nazi.

I probably never would have done it at all had it not been for what that happened the previous Sunday with my son. On that day he tore a sheet of paper from one of his notebooks and scrawled on it a suggestion that his rebbe engage in conjugal relations with his morah.

Why? I’m still not sure. My son is only ten years old. He watches no TV, doesn’t surf the internet, doesn’t see any movies or read smutty books. But he picked up this word, knew it was something outrageous and wrote it down and to his bad luck his rebbe caught him just as he was sharing his purple prose with a boy in the next row. He was reprimanded, dispatched to the principal’s office, and my husband and I, the ultimate source of this dereliction, were summoned to school the following day.

Of course I freaked out; stuff like this drives me wild with fear, what with the exploding population of at risk youth.The last thing I needed on my head was for this son to add to their numbers. He’d already had more than his share of school troubles and this school seemed to have a handle on him. The last thing I needed was to have him thrown out .

I have to say that my prayers were answered because the meeting with the principal went much better than I expected. The principal actually smiled at us, told us how much he liked our son. He explained that the punishment, was ultimately in my son’s best interest, to teach him to control his speech and his writing. That seemed reasonable enough. After all., I wasn’t in the business of raising a future pornographer but the whole thing got me thinking.

If my son has been suspended for writing about the original biblical “knowledge ” what did that say about me? In my bedroom, I had an entire shelf of books describing just such behavior in its many permutations, not trash, G-d forbid, not Danielle Steele or Jackie Collins but classy stuff, by Phillip Roth, and Jhumpha Lahiri, Toni Morrison,and Bill Bryson, all Pulitzer prize winners of course , but with the moral sensibilities of the seven nations whom Joshua expelled from the promised land.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not against secular books or secular learning. “Chochma bagoyim ta’aminu, “ the wisdom of the nations is creditable, believable, something we can learn from, but these books contained something other than wisdom. I’d say it was more like pig flesh, with a New York Times hechsher.

As I picked the books of the shelves to ready them for incineration , the offending scenes flashed back into my mind.. I’ll spare you the unprintable details, but I’m resolved. No more dirty stuff. If I want my sons mind to be clean I have to be vigilant about my own mind.

What will I do as an alternative? Ah, that is the terrible question. I love a good book and the contemporary Jewish novels, well, lets just say that they don’t do it for me,but I’ve got a plan. I’ll try the classics. First the Jewish ones the real food for my soul. I’m proud to say that in the past year, . I’ve gone through the Hazon Ish, Emuna and Bitachon and Pirkei Avos with the Bartenura and Rabeinu Yonah, all on my own, over my morning coffee. Of course these are superficial readings but even leafing through these works has ultimate value.

And for entertainment, I’ll try to stick with non fiction, histories, sociology, and older novels, from a cleaner , more innocent time. I’ll never be trendy—that really isn’t in the cards for an orthodox Jew. So I’ll be old fashioned, harken back to an earlier age.

Edith Wharton anyone?

Originally Published Nov 19, 2007

Turning Ourselves Upside Down and Inside Out

Ki Sisa 5774-An installment in the series of adaptations
From the Waters of the Shiloah: Plumbing the Depths of the Izhbitzer School
For series introduction CLICK
By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz-Mara D’Asra Cong Sfard of Midwood

Moshe turned away and began descending the mountain with the two Luchos HaEdus-Tablets of Testimony, in his hand. They were written on both sides with the writing visible from either side.  The Tablets were made by HaShem and written with HaShems script engraved upon the Tablets.

-Shemos 32:15,16

Rav Chisda said: “the letters mem and samach in the Luchos stood miraculously” and, he added, “what was written on the Luchos could be read from ‘the inside and from the outside’ [i.e. from the front and from the rear] for example נבוב/בובן =nevuv/ buvan; רהב/ בהר =rahav/ behar; סרו/ ורס=saru/v’ras.

-Shabbos 104A

The writing pierced the entire Tablet. Hence a miracle was required so that the entirely circular letters of [the closing] mem and samach could be read accurately [without the circle in the middle falling out.]

-Rashi ibid

The words of Torah engraved upon the Luchos-tablets, penetrated the stones all the way through, from the front of the stones to their backs.  To illustrate this point, Rav Chisda mentions three words and their dyslexic inversions. Both Rashi and Tosafos ad locum are puzzled by the words that the he chose to use as examples.

Rashi simply states that these words did not actually appear in the tablets; that Rav Chisda chose words at random. Rashi further maintains that we learn nothing more from these examples than that the letters mem and samach in the Luchos stood miraculously. Per Rashi, Rav Chisda seems to be repeating himself.  Tosafos is more explicit and asks why would Rav Chisda do such a thing when he could have illustrated the same point using words that actually do appear in the aseres hadibros-Decalogue.

Additionally there is a margin gloss on that page of the Gemara that changes the sequence of one of the pairs of words; from rahav/ behar to behar /rahav, presumably because in the other two pairs of words the familiar, meaningful word appears first followed by the inverted, and apparently nonsensical, gibberish word.

The Izhbitzer teaches that Rav Chisda was describing two distinct miraculous, gravity-defying properties of the Torah; the ability to keep things that ought to be moving and falling stationary and the ability to effect drastic movement on things that otherwise would petrify and stay frozen in their places. The former being the stone “donut holes” in perfectly chiseled circles and the latter being the midos-character traits, of set-in-their-ways human beings.

None of the words that Rav Chisda uses to illustrate the latter point are gibberish, nor were they chosen at random.  The Izhbitzer presents a close study of the root etymology of these words to reveal that they are polar opposites and not mere word jumbles arbitrarily spelled backwards.  The inverted spellings serve as a metaphor for the words antithetical meanings. Think of an easy-to-remember lexicon of antonyms where every words antonym was merely the same letters arranged in the opposite order e. g. if the antonym of “cold” was not “hot” but “dloc” or if the antonym of “bottom” was not “top” but “mottob”.

The words that Rav Chisda chose describe midos that are antithetical to one another.  Taking issue with margin gloss the Izhbitzer asserts that the Gemara’s text stand as is, for in each illustrative example the first word describes a negative, antisocial midah-character trait, while the second defines it’s positive polar-opposite midah.

The outer, copper mizbayach-altar of the Mishkan was constructed by filling in a copper plated acacia wood shell with soil or sand.  The Torah calls this construction method nevuv luchos-a hollow structure made out of boards (Shemos 27:8).  This is the precedent for the word nevuv describing something hollow.  When applied to the psycho-spiritual makeup of the human being it refers to an empty-headed ignoramus, void of any Torah content.  Whereas the word buvan is etymologically related to the word binah, the word that defines the cognitive faculty for understanding and deductive reasoning.  Torah has the power to transform minds and spirits that are vacuum-like voids into minds and spirits filled to overflowing with meaningful, intelligent content and wisdom.

The Zohar (parshas Terumah 170B) teaches that the “prince”/guardian angel of Mitzrayim-the Egyptians, was named  Rahav.  In Jewish lore the ancient Egyptians were infamous for their licentiousness and unbridled passion.  This is the precedent for the word “rahav” describing something sensual and lusty. When applied to the psycho-spiritual makeup of the human being it refers to a ba’al ta’avah-someone overly drawn to, and even obsessed with, the temporal pleasures of the here-and-now world. Whereas the word behar-“in the mountain” connotes both being elevated from the earth and its mundane concerns and materialistic pleasures and being in an atmosphere that is less humid and drier than the air in lower elevations, in particular, in valleys.  Dry mountain air is symbolic of a dispassionate, sober and abstinent sensibility. Torah has the power to transform minds plagued by untoward thoughts and spirits drawn to immorality into drier, cooler minds and spirits that aspire to the noble, the lofty and the otherworldly.

The word saru (generically translated as: ”they strayed ”) refers, in particular, to one who has ossified and hardened because of anger and bitterness; as in “the king of Israel went to his house (סר)surly and  (וזעף) disgruntled, and came to Samaria.” (Melachim I 20:43) Or as we find the Gemara admonishing as us against verbally abusing a disenfranchised minority because “their hardened anger is terrible.” (Bava Metzia 59B)  The word v’ras is etymologically related to the root ras which connotes softness and fluidity. E.g. “so long as one would be memareis –shake or stir, the blood of the Passover sacrifice … [in order that it retain fluidity and not harden and coagulate.”] (Mishnah Pesachim 61A) Or as in laros es hasoles– and 1/3 of a hin of oil, to moisten the fine flour. (Yechezkel 46:14) Torah can help spirits hardened by rage and bitterness, regain gentleness, suppleness and goodwill.

According to The Izhbitzer’s interpretation both the word choices and the sequence in Rav Chisda’s second statement were very specific.  All three word pairings convey the concept that the Torah is more than a guide to self-improvement; it is transformative and empowers those who study it and observe its mitzvos to achieve a 180° turnaround and makeover.

ADDENDUM AS OF 12:20 AM EST 2.14.14

This concept is echoed by other Chasidic masters in their commentaries to Avos and Tehillim.

He (Rabi Yaakov) would also say: A שעה אחת sha’ah achas– single hour, of repentance and good deeds in this world is greater than the entire life of the World to Come. 

-Pirkei Avos 4:22

 … and HaShem turned towards-vayisha, the offering of Hevel. But to Kayin and towards his offering, He did not turn-lo sha’ah and Kayin became very furious and depressed.

-Bereshis 4:4,5

He [HaShem] has distanced our transgressions from us as far as the east is from the west.

-Tehillim 103:12

The Kozhnitzer Maggid provides a novel translation of the word sha’ah.  Based on the pesukim describing the HaShems acceptance of Hevels offering His rejection of Kayins offering the Maggid translates the word to mean — turning. I.e. A sha’ah achas– a single transformative “turn”; of repentance and good deeds in this world — an epiphany, a consciousness altering revolution, that turns someone completely around; upside down and inside out, that kind of teshuvah — THAT is what’s greater than the entire life of the World to Come.

The pasuk in Tehillim begs the question; just how far is east from west?  Is it the vastness that intervenes between California and Eastern Europe?  Is it the expanse of continents and oceans that separate New York and China?  Or, perhaps, is it a short as the relatively minor distance between an address on west 57th street and east 57th street on Manhattan Island?  The Rebbe Reb Avraham the second of Slonim explains that the distance between east and west is minute.  If one is standing facing the east, rotates on his heels, and does a 180° about-face, he has “traveled” as far as the east is from the west. One needn’t journey far in order to be distanced from his transgressions.  What one must do, however, is to make a U-turn.

As one great and influential 20th century rosh yeshivah put it “teshuvah is nisht dehr taitch besser tsu verren … nohr anderish tzu verren-teshuvah is not ‘becoming better’ but ‘becoming different’” It is not about self-improvement but about total transformation.  This is the message and the power of the Torah words that were engraved all the way through the Luchos.

~adapted from Mei HaShiloach Ki Sisa D”H Vayifen

and from MiMayaanos HaNetzach Pirkei Avos 4:22

Is Living Simply an Ideal or an Unfortunate Consequence of Tuition Induced Pressures

By: Always A BT

My 4 children (all girls) are mostly grown. Our eldest is 31; the youngest is now in high school.

We are fortunate to have chosen a Yeshiva where no child is turned away and although there is a “minimum tuition”, those with extenuating circumstances are dealt with on a case by case basis. The Hanhalah and Board are committed to this standard. As far as I know, none of the other Yeshivas (of which there are several) in our city have this policy regarding scholarship.
We managed to pay full tuition for several years when our children first started school. We managed to paid full tuition even while going through foreclosure. Our children know that Yeshiva tuition was a priority. We are very pleased by the “return” on our “investment” in their ruchniyus.

Now, in middle age, we have made peace with the fact that we will always be renters.

Due to health obstacles and several downturns in the economy over the years, we were never able to pay full tuition again. Our limitations, both due to our own health issues & caregiving obligations, made this impossible. We have a relative who helped with tuition for Yeshiva ketana and my husband has worked for my children’s high school for the last 13 years as barter for tuition as well. He currently works 3 jobs just to put food on the table. I have been a full time caregiver for my mother for over 18 years. I have been unable to work for the last 10 years because caring for her is a full time job.

It frustrates me that there is a prevailing perception that those of us who work in “business” are well heeled, wear custom sheitels and the latest fashions, go on lavish vacations, frequent Pesach programs and drive luxury cars. Nothing could be further from the truth. We take care of our things so they last as long as possible. Yom Tov comes and goes without the “requisite” new clothes for the kids and/or jewelry for the wife. Vacations are sporadic at best and very low budget. We try not to incur debt unless absolutely necessary. We and our children are very happy with the simple lifestyle we lead. In many ways, it has brought us closer because everyone pitches in.

Our children are all hard workers and while not lacking, do not get much in the way of frills unless they have earned a good portion of the money themselves. They realize it is impractical to marry a “learning boy” because their parents cannot afford to support. They do not want to live on public assistance or charity; they want to be financially independent. My husband learns Torah daily and my daughters’ husbands attend minyanim daily and have regular learning sedarim as well. Another myth dispelled; Torah is a priority to many men and women who work outside the frum community to support their families.

Many, if not most, of those in chinuch in our community, have a higher standard of living than we do. Most own their homes, but many work multiple jobs to support their families. Many get “perks” such as cash gifts, scholar in residence at Yom Tov programs, various discounts, parsonage, etc., not available to those in “business”.

I am not complaining. But please, recognize that not all of us “businessmen” live luxury lifestyles and have large disposable incomes.

I have no answers. My question is, why are the “haves” not teaching their children to live simply as well? Is this not a Torah value?

Of Open-Book Enigmas and Whispered Secrets

Tetzaveh 5775-An installment in the series of adaptations
From the Waters of the Shiloah:Plumbing the Depths of the Izhbitzer School
For series introduction CLICK

By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz-Mara D’Asra Cong Sfard of Midwood

Make a  Choshen Mishpat-justice breastplate. It shall be of patterned brocade, like the ephod.  Make it out of gold; sky blue, dark purple and crimson wool and twirled linen. … Set it with four rows of mounted gemstones.

-Shemos 28:15,17

… And the gemstones shall be upon the names of the 12 sons of Israel, one for each of the 12 stones. Each one’s name shall be engraved as on a signet ring to correspond to the 12 tribes.

-Shemos 28:21

Thus, Ahron will carry the names of the sons of Israel in the Choshen Mishpat over his heart when he comes into the sanctified site; it shall be a constant remembrance before HaShem.  Place the Urim and Thumim in the Choshen Mishpat and they shall be over Ahron’s heart when he comes before HaShem. Ahron will bear the just-decision instrument for the children of Israel upon his heart, before HaShem, perpetually.

-Shemos 28:29,30

This [the Urim and Thumim refers to a] writ bearing the explicit Name, which he [Moshe] would place within the folds of the Choshen, through which it would illuminate words on the gemstones (מֵאִיר) and perfect (ומתמם) those words. [i.e., the Urim and Thumim lit up letters forming words, and those words like an incontrovertible halachah/mishpat, were dependable. (Yoma 73b)] … Because of that Name-bearing-writ, the Choshen  was called “justice,” as it is said: “and he shall seek the just-decision of the Urim before HaShem on his behalf” (BeMidbar. 27:21).

–Rashi ibid

Conventional wisdom understands the power of the Urim and Thumim to illuminate the letters of the gemstones embedded in the settings of the Choshen Mishpat-justice breastplate as some kind of a sanctified Ouija Board, chalilah-Heaven forefend.  The questions would be put to it and it would, miraculously, “predict” future events.  According to this understanding the destiny of K’lal Yisrael–the Nation of Israel, is fungible.  As an entity existing entirely in the “now”, any number of alternative histories and futures are possible.

As is often the case, conventional wisdom fails to convey the deeper meaning.  Not only does it give the wrong impression the mechanism of the Urim and Thumim, the Choshen Mishpat and the “battery” that powered it but it misconstrues K’lal Yisrael as a temporal entity rather than as the eternal being that it actually is.  Transcendent of time, K’lal Yisrael is not subject to alternative histories.

Rav Tzadok, the Lubliner Kohen, teaches that the “power cell” that activated the mechanism of the Choshen Mishpat was the very heart of Ahron the Kohen Gadol-the High Priest, not merely the writ bearing the explicit Divine Name. His explanation for how it functioned follows the pasuk and midrashic excerpts:

HaShem’s wrath blazed against Moshe, and He said, “Is not Ahron the Levi your brother? I know that he knows how to speak; moreover, observe, he is setting out to meet you, and when he sees you, he will rejoice in his heart.

-Shemos 4:14

… Your suspicions about your brother, that he would resent you for your eminence as My spokesman, are unfounded. On the contrary, he will be happy for you. Rabi Shimon bar Yosee taught: “the heart of he who rejoiced in his brother’s eminence will wear the Urim and Thumim as it is written: ‘ … and they shall be over Ahron’s heart’”

-Midrash Rabbah Shemos 3:17

The opposite of love it is not hatred.  Very often, hatred is the same deep, passionate emotion as love, inverted.  As William Congreve wrote “”Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, nor hell a fury like a woman scorned.” The true antithesis of love is envy.

Love seeks to give to others and grows more tender and warmer with the success, happiness and fulfillment of the loved one(s).  In stark contrast; envy seeks to take away what others have and grows more venal and bitter with the success, happiness and fulfillment of the envied one(s).  Ahron’s heart was devoid of pettiness and was aflame with the love of Israel.  As there is no greater success imaginable for human being than to be HaShem’s spokesman and agent,  his heart had withstood the definitive litmus test determining if one is a giver or a taker in the crucible of the most extreme potential for envy; sibling rivalry.  Exulting in his younger brother success, he proved his heart to be utterly empty of envy and brimming with ahavas Yisrael-the love of Israel.

Unrequited love is the exception to the rule.  The default setting for love, as it is for all human emotions, is reciprocity.  Shlomo the king put it best when he wrote “as the face that is replicated in the reflecting pool, so is ones man’s heart to another”(Mishlei 27:19).  This axiom is borne out by the mutual and reciprocal of love that existed between Ahron and the people of Israel. When Ahron the Kohen Gadol died …  “The whole congregation saw that Ahron had expired, and the entire house of Israel wept for Aaron for thirty days. “ (BeMidbar 20:29) All of the people loved him intensely.

As Rashi, citing Chazal, says:  [both] the men and the women [loved him], for Ahron had pursued peace; he promoted love between disputing parties and between man and wife.(Avos d’Rabi Nassan 12:4).  Loving all the people and realizing that their own success and fulfillment depended upon their loving one another, the greatest gift that Ahron could bestow upon them was to eliminate the pettiness, envy and disputes and that drove them apart.  Loving them, he gave them the ultimate gift of love for each other.

It is in the nature of those in love to share secrets with one another.  In some instances this is because only those who love us will continue to accept us and not be too harshly judgmental when they discover our darkest secrets.  But, more often, it is our noblest secrets, our loftiest and dreamiest ambitions that we only feel comfortable sharing with those whom we love and who love us.  Those things about us that are closest to the core of our beings can only be revealed within the framework of love.

As a great twentieth century Torah sage explained; this may be because the supreme expression of love is, itself, a secret. Chazal interpreted the pasuk “It is the glory of Elokim to conceal a thing; but the glory of kings is to search out a matter.” (Mishlei 25:2) to mean that matters pertaining to the Genesis narrative-hishavus haOlamos, are shrouded in mystery and must remain hidden away. G-d brought the cosmos into being as an expression of His love.  As human beings are b’Tzelem Elokim– in the image of the Divine , tznius-top-secretiveness is apropos for the supreme expression of interpersonal love in that it is the closest that human beings, the  Tzelem Elokim, will ever come to emulating Elokim’s act of creation.

As we stand in the present moment, our most ancient past, lost in the mists of time, and our concealed and our unknowable futures, are secrets. Just as those in love share their most intimate secrets with one another, so too K’lal Yisrael bared her secrets to the human heart that most loved her. It was the loving heart of Ahron, the Kohen Gadol, that served as the “power cell” that activated the Urim and Thumim to illuminate the letters of the gemstones embedded in the settings of the Choshen Mishpat. The Choshen was not handicapping probabilities or predicting the future.  The letters that glowed and grew salient on the Choshen’s gemstones sounded the silent, soundless whisperings of eternal, transcendent, beloved K’lal Yisrael revealing her secrets to and through the loving heart of Ahron.

Sisrei Torah-the secrets of the Torah, are very much in vogue today. Everyone wants to learn, Kabbalah. Lamdanim-Talmudic theoreticians, have long known that even within nigleh-the more revealed, less mystical component of the Torah, there are hidden secrets; gems waiting to be unearthed. What many fail to realize is that a kabbalistic text and, in a larger sense, any Torah text, is an encoded message.  Merely setting one’s eyes upon the text and reading, or even intermittent and halfhearted attempts at deciphering, will no more force the Torah to yield any of her secrets than will with futile efforts of a third party who had intercepted love letters trying to grasp the hints and cryptic terms of endearment that these missives contain.

The Lubliner Kohen maintains that what is true for all interpersonal relationships informed by love and, writ large, what is true for K’lal Yisrael, is equally true for TorasYisrael. The Torah must be wooed and pursued. Sisrei Torah are not for weekend-warriors —  semi-committed dabblers who can take the Torah or leave it. Those who ardently love the Torah are loved by the Torah in return.  As Shlomo the king taught: “Does not Wisdom call out … ’I love them that love me, and those that seek me earnestly shall find me.’”(Mishlei 8:1,17) One’s heart must be ablaze with the love of Torah.  Torah must become a passion, an obsession and an infatuation, only then will the Torah reveal her innermost secrets.

~adapted from Tzidkas HaTzaddik inyan 198 

Twice Adar – Understanding the Halachos of Adar Rishon and Adar Sheini

Rabbi Daniel Travis
Kollel Torah Chaim

Rising to the Occasion

“When Adar arrives we increase our level of happiness” ( Taanis 29a). All year long Jews strive to feel the tremendous sense of joy that should accompany our service of G-d. As we draw closer to Purim, we are instructed to raise our spirits to an even higher level.

What is the reason for this?

We can answer this with help from the famous dictum of the Rema, “There is no joy greater than that which we feel when we have eliminated doubts” (Responsa 5). Adar and Nissan are months during which Hashem performed extraordinary miracles for the Jewish people. Through studying and celebrating these events we can achieve clarity of faith and rid ourselves of any doubts regarding G-d’s eternal dominion over the world. When everything is so clear, we know that our Father in Heaven is watching over us every moment of the day, and we are free to experience a constant state of simcha .

Haman’s lots determined that we celebrate Purim in the month of Adar, the month in which Moshe Rabbeinu was born. What do we do in a leap year, when we have two months of Adar?

Although all opinions agree that Purim is celebrated in Adar Sheni, the overwhelming joy of this period makes its presence already felt in Adar Rishon, with the celebration of Purim Katan. However, numerous other issues arise concerning the halachic question of which Adar is which.

Shabbos Mevorchim

The following scenario raises a fascinating halachic conundrum: On the Shabbos before Adar Rishon begins, the chazzan stands before the congregation in synagogue, holding the Torah scroll. As he clears his throat to announce the new month, he wonders to himself, “Should I call the upcoming month Adar, or must I say Adar Rishon?”

This chazzan’s seemingly simple question is discussed extensively by the commentators . They agree that Adar Sheni is the “real” Adar and Adar Rishon is the additional month ( Ridvaz 1:150). Although this information has relevance concerning when to commemorate a yahrzeit (a memorial day for the departed), our Sages did not define words based on halachic parameters. Interestingly enough, the meaning of a word is mainly determined by its colloquial use, i.e. what people mean when they say it.

Most Rishonim agree that when people say or write the word “Adar” by itself, they are referring to the first Adar, Adar Rishon (Rosh, Ran, Nedarim 63a). This answers our chazzan’s question, and he can say that next week will be “Rosh Chodesh Adar.” However, it is always better to avoid ambiguity, and for the sake of clarity it is preferable if he explicitly announces, “Adar Rishon” ( Mishna Berura 427:3).

An Adar Deadline

All kinds of legal questions can arise when people are not specific about which Adar they mean. Here is an interesting story of one young man whose confusion became almost overwhelming:

David’s father passed away on the second day of Adar during a non-leap year. To honor his father’s memory, David made a vow that by Rosh Chodesh Adar of the following year he would reprint a book written by his great-grandfather.

David hired a printer and wrote in the contract that the books must be ready by Rosh Chodesh Adar.

Meanwhile, David became engaged and the wedding was scheduled for the third of Adar Rishon.

Three weeks before the wedding David contacted the printer and requested that the first few hundred copies be printed as a souvenir to be given out at his wedding. The printer told him that he had not been planning to complete the books until the middle of Adar Rishon, but he could do it for him for an extra thousand dollars.

That week David found among his father’s papers a document recording a $1,000 loan given to someone three years previously, also a leap year. The document was dated “the fourteenth of Adar,” but David clearly recalled that the loan had been given on Purim – i.e., the fourteenth of Adar Sheni. The borrower had since died, but David hoped that with the signed document he would be able to collect the debt from the estate.

To add to his concerns, David wished to fast on his father’s yahrzeit , as was the custom in his family. Would this mean that he would have to fast on two consecutive days – the day of his father’s yahrzeit and the following day, the day of his wedding?

This story encompasses four halachic issues, each one discussed in a different section of the Shulchan Aruch .

The first question regards David’s vow to print the book by Rosh Chodesh Adar. Must they be ready by Rosh Chodesh Adar Rishon or Rosh Chodesh Adar Sheni?

The next question is by which date did the printer obligate himself to complete the printing?

Third, we must clarify whether the loan document is valid or not. If the loan is considered to have been predated to Adar Rishon, it would be invalid and David is not allowed to use it to collect from the property of the borrower.

Finally, we must determine whether the yahrzeit of David’s father should be observed in Adar Rishon or Adar Sheni.

The Shulchan Aruch and the Rema both rule that the word “Adar” used by itself refers to Adar Rishon. Therefore, since David vowed to print the books by Rosh Chodesh Adar, he must have them ready by Rosh Chodesh Adar Rishon ( Yoreh Deah 220:8).

Similarly, regarding the printer’s contract, since the word “Adar” without explanation means Adar Rishon, the printer is obligated to finish the job in time for David to fulfill his vow without any extra charge ( Choshen Mishpat 43:28).

Concerning the document David found, since the word Adar means Adar Rishon, while the loan was actually given in Adar Sheni, the date is incorrect, meaning that the document is predated and therefore invalid (cf. Rema, Even Ha’ezer 126:7).

In conclusion, when someone says or writes the word Adar, the Shulchan Aruch and Rema agree that it means Adar Rishon, even if he actually meant Adar Sheni.

However, other authorities differ, ruling that the word Adar refers to Adar Sheni (Bach, Shach, Yoreh Deah 220:8). Because of this and other factors that could affect the final ruling, a halachic authority should be consulted in every case.

The question of the yahrzeit depends on other factors. Let us study them in more detail.

Yahrzeits

The Shulchan Aruch writes that if a person passed away in Adar of a non-leap year, the yahrzeit should be observed in Adar Sheni during leap years ( Orach Chaim 568:7).

Regarding vows and financial contracts, the exact date usually depends on what people intend when speaking or writing. However, the date of a yahrzeit has more significance because it is a day of judgment for the deceased and his family, and can only be determined by the month which is considered halachically the “real” Adar. Since Adar Sheni is the real Adar, the Shulchan Aruch places all yahrzeits in that month.

The Rema, however, notes that even though Adar Sheni is the real Adar, we follow the principle of doing mitzvos at the first opportunity and yahrzeits should be marked in Adar Rishon ( Yoreh Deah 402:12). Yet the Rema himself cites authorities who say that since this issue is unclear, it is praiseworthy to observe the yahrzeit in Adar Sheni as well ( Orach Chaim 568:7).

The Mishna states that “the only difference between the first and the second Adar is that the megilla is read and matanos l’evyonim are given [in the second Adar]” ( Megilla 6b). In this vein, some rule that keeping the yahrzeit in both Adar Rishon and Adar Sheni is not just desirable – it is an obligation ( Magen Avraham , Gra, Mishna Berura ). As with the previous halachos , there are many different issues involved in determining which opinion to follow, so a Rabbi should be consulted.

Bar Mitzvas
While the question of when to observe a yahrzeit depends on which month is considered the real halachic Adar, regarding a bar mitzva in a leap year we calculate differently.

In order to consider a child as having reached manhood according to the Torah, it is not enough to identify the real Adar. This calculation requires us to be aware of when thirteen years have completed. Here, even the Rema agrees that a boy born in Adar during a non-leap year does not become bar mitzva until Adar Sheni of his thirteenth year, since the year cannot be considered complete until then (Rema , Orach Chaim 55:11).

Continuous Celebration

The Rambam writes that any celebration that is not accompanied by lifting the spirits of the downtrodden is mere self-gratification ( Hilchos Yom Tov 6,18). Therefore the commentators write that when preparing one’s seuda on Purim Katan , it is proper to give charity to orphans and widows ( Eshel Avraham 697,2). Similarly someone who experienced a personal miracle should distribute money among Torah scholars ( Mishna Berura 218,34). However, there is another secret for making sure that one has the correct intentions when celebrating miracles.

After discussing the opinions of whether one should make a seuda on Purim Katan, the Rema concludes his commentary on Orach Chaim , the section of the Shulchan Aruch which deals with daily life, with a quote from the Book of Proverbs: “ Vetov lev mishteh tamid ,” (One who has a good heart is always feasting). In doing so he repeats the word tamid that he mentioned at the beginning of the Shulchan Aruch where he quoted a Psalm: “ Shivisi Hashem lenegdi tamid ,” (I place Hashem’s Presence in front of me always).

The Birkei Yosef notes that the use of the word “ tamid” in both of these instances hints at a very deep concept.

The temidim , the offerings which were brought on a daily basis in the Temple , had to be offered in their specified order, i.e. the morning korban must always precede the afternoon one.

The use of the word tamid at the beginning and the end of Orach Chaim implies a connection between the two ideas. Only after a person senses Hashem’s Presence before him can he aim to achieve the second level of tamid of “One who has a good heart is always feasting.”

Mishkan and Mikdash – Joy and Awe

Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler – Michtav Mi Eliyahu – Strive for Truth Vol 5 – Page 220

The Desert Tabernacle, the details of whose construction take up the whole of parashat Terumah and much of the succeeding parshiyot, is sometimes called sanctuary” [mikdash] (“And they shall make Me a mikdash”)(1). More frequently, however, it is called mishkan, which means “dwelling place.” (2)

The meaning of mishkan—the dwelling place (so to speak) of Hashem — is clearly expressed in the verse: “And so shall he (the Kohen Gadol) do to the Tent of Meeting which dwells with them in the midst of their defilement.”(3) God rests His presence amongst us even in the midst of our defilement because He knows that we have the ability to raise and extricate ourselves from defilement. How? Through the Torah.

The Tent of Meeting is so called because it is the meeting place of God and Israel — the place where Torah is transmitted. In parashat Tetzaveh, the Tent of Meeting is described as the place “Where I shall meet with you [plural, i.e. Israel], where I will speak to you [singular, i.e. Mosheh].”(4) “To speak to you” means to transmit Torah, and Torah learning creates a closeness be¬tween us and Hashem, a sense of joy and satisfaction. “The commands of God are straightforward and rejoice the heart.”(5) All this is included in the term mishkan.

Mikdash, on the other hand, means a place of holiness. Holiness means transcendence. We feel the absolute gulf which separates the Creator from His creatures. Our response must be service—offerings and prayer — by which we recognize our lowliness before the grandeur of the Al-mighty. “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations.” (6)

But nevertheless, we find that mishkan is sometimes called mikdash and mkdash is sometimes called mishkan.(7) How they are called reflects what they are in reality, for their meaning and existence are really one. If mishkan represents the joy in the presence of Hashem, and mikdash represents the awe one feels in the transcendence of Hashem, then together they form one whole. We have to “rejoice in trembling.”(8) And the Rabbis say: “I experience fear in the midst of my joy and joy in the midst of my fear.” (9)

Notes
1 Shemot 25:8.
2 Ibid. 25:9.
3 Vayikra 16:16.
4 Shemot 29:42.
5 Tehillim 19:9.
6 Yesha’ya 56:7.
7 Eruvin 2a.
8 Tehillim 2:11.
9 Tanna de-Be Eliyahu Rabba #3.

You Have Graduated


By Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald
From Mishpacha Magazine BT Symposium – September 13, 2012

MOST FRUM-FROM-BIRTH JEWS fail to appreciate the life-wrenching decisions and monumental sacrifices that are involved in becoming a baal teshuvah. In a very real sense, becoming a baal teshuvah may be com¬pared to being asked to move to Mars. Once the decision is made, almost everything in a baal teshuvah’s life is challenged, changed, and transformed. For most who make that choice, exceptional conviction and indeed heroism are required to adapt to the rigorous lifestyle of Orthodox Judaism.

To support the development of healthy, balanced baalei teshuvah, we must be aware of a number of cogent principles. From bitter experience, I have concluded that those Jews who walk in and immediately become shomer Shabbos and kashrus might well eventually de¬part from observance just as abruptly. That’s less likely, however, for those who supplement their rapid transformation with intense Torah study. Rather than push for the quick observance of mitzvos, I would encourage additional study and deliberate religious growth.

A healthy baal teshuvah needs to be a balanced person. Yet some methods of contemporary kiruv are antithetical to that goal. Very often the mekarev, who invests many hours, days, and even years working with a potential baal teshuvah, assumes “ownership” of the new neshamah. The mekarev and his/her family generally study Torah with the neophytes, open their hearts and homes to include them in their family experiences, often adopting the beginner as an additional child or sibling.

But this is unhealthy for the baal teshuvah. I’ve long argued that baalei teshuvah need multiple, authentic religious experiences. By exposing them to other mechanchim and rabbanim, with other valid points of view, the future baalei teshuvah come away with a much greater, broader, healthier picture of Jewish life.

True, separation is often very difficult to accomplish, for both the mekarev and the baal teshuvah. When I first began conducting the Beginners’ Service, it was so difficult for me to “graduate” a beginner. I had worked on them and sweated with them, cried with them and labored with them, and I mistakenly perceived that these people were mine! It was a good feeling knowing that the beginners “loved” the service and did not want to leave, and I too, was not eager for them leave.

It was a thoroughly heartrending decision for me to have to say to someone, “You have graduated. I will match you up with someone who will help you during davening in the regular shul.” It was painful for both of us. But it was necessary, in order to create a healthy balance, and allow them to progress and develop religiously.

Another important factor that is often overlooked is that mekarvim and committed community members need to be concerned with the “whole person,” to be aware of the factors that motivate a person to explore Judaism. Is it a true spiritual search, or was it a reaction to a death in the family, or the loss of a boyfriend/girlfriend, or job? Is it possibly due to emotional or psychological instability? It is certainly not just how many chapters a day of Tehillim the newly observant recite, or how many Mishnayos they have mastered, that should concern us. We need to be attentive to the whole person, including issues of parnassah, social status, and relationships with spouses, children, I cannot think of a single instance in my many years where confrontation has proven beneficial either to baalei teshuvah or to their families and parents. Those concerns are also part of becoming a Torah Jew and living a full Jewish life.

Another important factor in the development of healthy baalei teshuvah is assisting them with coming to terms with their past. Alienating them from their parents, or encouraging them to deny their past, is almost always destructive and wrongheaded. Defiantly antireligious parents, who see their children acting with uncommon respect and concern — despite the parents’ venom — are often trans¬formed, and become more sympathetic. When children are taught not to be confrontational, but accommodating (and that can almost always be achieved), it has a most salutary effect on the entire family, and the entire adjustment process for the baal teshuvah is enhanced as well. I cannot think of a single instance in my many years where confrontation has proven beneficial either to baalei teshuvah or to their families.

I have always made it a point to keep in closer contact with those with whom I have “failed,” than with those who succeeded. It is crucial to never give up! We must try to win back the less committed to the growth mode, even if it is one tiny step forward. These so-called “failures” are the ones who receive our annual calls before the holidays. They are the ones who are invited to our home for Shabbos and holiday meals, more frequently than the “success” cases. Above all, it is important to keep the lines of communication open. And when occasionally there is a return, it is a reason for great happiness.

It is crucially important that the frum community be there to support and aid baalei teshuvah, to show them love and concern along the way. I can candidly say that being warmly welcomed in a new shul has an exhilarating effect on me, and I am no stranger to shul.

Today, unfortunately, we find trends that are going in the opposite direction, where baalei teshuvah and their children often discover that they are not welcome. I wonder if the children of Reish Lakish, who started as a highwayman, were prohibited from attending the local schools and shuls because of Reish Lakish’s ignoble past. This growing practice is not only terribly wrong, but a real turnoff to anyone who is thinking of becoming, or has become, an observant Jew.

Ephraim Z. Buchwald is the director of the National Jewish Outreach Program and rabbi of the Lincoln Square Synagogue Beginners Service.

Financial Realities in the Frum World

By “Sam Smith”

I want to share a conversation I had with the executive director of a yeshiva about the financial realities of raising and educating a family in the frum world today.

He said that households earning a combined $200,000 or more generally easily meet their financial responsibilities. Households in the $100-150,000 range, on the other hand, were “making it, but not necessarily easily” or were “making it but struggling.” He added he was talking about a typical family with 3-4 kids in yeshiva.

Then, he said, families earning less than $100,000 have “real issues” (including possible “marital” issues). Nevertheless, at his yeshiva, even kollel families, he explained, are required to pay at least $3,000 per child. No exceptions.

What if someone can’t pay?

“We’ll work with them,” he said, “but the board does not authorize me to reduce anyone’s tuition obligation to anything less” than the $3,000 per child. (And that figure doesn’t include lunch, transportation, books, tutors, etc.)

What does “working with them” mean? He wasn’t clear. Will they kick the kid out in the middle of the year if the parents can’t pay? No, he said. Will they forbid them from graduating and moving into the next grade? The conversation didn’t go that far. However, he was clear that the obligations were non-negotiable – even for the families that it might add to their “real issues.”

I thought to myself, Is there something inconsistent here?

In general I became frum to enter a society that valued the spiritual over the material. Yet, the reality is that the demands of this society create an arguably greater need for high-level material accomplishment than the society whose values I left behind. They force a person (without inherited wealth) to stay late at the office, take that second job, send the wife out to work, etc. – not to become wealthy but to pay the bills.

I glanced up at portraits of tzaddikim which stood high on the wall behind the executive director.

What would they think of this situation? What is the real message we are sending kids in yeshiva by painting romantic images of the Chofetz Chaim learning Torah in abject poverty, while at the same time, in effect, demanding parents make that $100,000 plus?

And what is the goal of yeshiva? Is it not to teach our kids the value of the spiritual over the material? Yet, what are we really setting them up for? To follow in our footsteps onto this ever-faster spinning treadmill of material accomplishment and obligation? Where does the cycle stop? How does one get out of the loop?

In my naïve, Baal Teshuvish way of thinking I guess I thought I was breaking this cycle; that my life would not be reduced to worrying about making more money; and even if it was, at least if I lived frugally and worked hard my kids’ yeshivas, if nothing else, would understand and not press me to produce money I didn’t have or make me feel worse about my financial situation than I already did; that they would seek the shortfall from the wealthier benefactors.

On the other hand, I fully understand where they are coming from. They have to pay rabbeim. They have to keep the lights on.

I have no answers. Only questions.

A popular post from 2006.

Facebook, Transparency and the Next World

Like everybody and his old chum from 10th grade biology, I’m on Facebook. Thanks to Facebook, reconnecting with people from the past has never been easier. Type in the name of someone you knew at any phase of your life – elementary school, summer camp, your first job out of college – and quite likely, you’ll find a picture of that very person, all grown up with a whole life story to tell you. So when I saw the prompt about reconnecting with old friends, I decided not to address the issue per se, but to present what I call “my Facebook moshol.”

I don’t think I’m alone when I say that joining Facebook has made me reflect on my past and my present, who I used to be and who I’ve become. Sometimes recalling the past is just pure fun and nostalgia. Sometimes, the memories are more mixed. When I try and imagine myself from the point of view of people I haven’t seen in years and who might remember me in less than flattering ways, Facebook is not so pleasant. And therefore, I want to put forth the theory – and I mean no sacrilege – that Facebook is a foretaste of the Next World.

Most of what I know about the Next World, I learned from Rabbi B. Shafier of The Shmuz, specifically his three-part lecture “Life 101,” which is the basis for his new book, The Shmuz on Life. The only things we take to the Next World are our neshomas and our deeds. Our deeds become, as it were, the clothing for our neshomas. Our mitzvos will shine on us like jewelry, but our aveiros will look like rags. And worse, they’ll have holes in them that will expose what we’d prefer to keep covered. For those, we’ll suffer eternal shame. In the Next World, we’ll experience both the honor of Heaven and the shame of Hell at the very same time.

So what does that have to do with Facebook? The neshoma of everyone you’ve ever known will be there, as visible as a profile picture – except there’s no privacy option, no choice not to upload. We’ll all be there, and we’ll all see each other. It’s the ultimate transparency.

But even transparency has mitigating factors. In the words of computer culture expert David Weinberger, “An age of transparency must be an age of forgiveness.” If I can see your sins and you can see mine, we can sympathize with each other for being such imperfect human beings. And since I want my sins erased, how can I begrudge you the same?

But the most important mitigation comes from seeing our lives in broader context. In this world, we get a little of that with the passage of time, but in the Next World, we’ll be able to see much, much more. Yes, the good, the bad, and the ugly will be part of the picture, but so will Hashem’s intentions for us, our spiritual purpose, why x circumstance was not negative, but necessary. I suppose in this sense, my Facebook moshol falls short, but even still, I heard in the name of the Chofetz Chaim that every technological innovation hints to some parallel spiritual experience, and this age of reconnection and transparency might be a taste of those aspects of the World to Come.

Originally Published Feb 7, 2011

Yisro in a Nutshell

Here’s Rabbi Rietti’s outline of Yisro. You can purchase the entire outline of the Chumash here.

Yitro
# 18 Yitro Converts – Advice: 10-50-100-1000.
# 19 Preparations for Divine Revelation
# 20 The Ten Commandments

# 18 Yitro Converts – Advice: 10-50-100-1000.
* Yitro arrives at Jewish Camp in desert with Tsiporah, Gershom & Eliezer
* Yitro blesses HaShem when he hears the details of the Exodus
* Yitro eats with Moshe in HaShem’s Presence
* Yitro sees Moshe’s method of adjudicating justice
* Yitro’s advice, delegate judges of 10, 50, 100, 1000
* Yitro returns to Midian

# 19 Preparations for Divine Revelation
* Moshe ascends Mt. Sinai
* You saw how I carried you on eagles wings out of Egypt
* Be to Me a Treasured Nation, a Priestly Kingdom & Unique People
* We declared “We will do!”
* Hashem reveals that the purpose of Divine Revelation is so that the Nation
will hear and witness G-d speaking to Moses directly.
* Purify yourselves for the third day, wash clothes, immerse in Mikveh, no
contact with wives.
* Loud sounds, thunder, heavy cloud, sound of the Shofar, everyone
trembled, we stood ‘beneath’ the mountain, HaShem came down in a fire,
entire Mountain trembled, Shofar continued blasting louder while
HaShem spoke to Moshe directly in the presence of the entire nation
* HaShem instructs Moshe to warn Kohanim not to ascend the Mt.

# 20 The Ten Commandments (14 Mitzvot)
* “I Am The Master, Your Power Who took you out of Egypt.”
* Have no other gods beside Me.
* Don’t say My Name in vain.
* Practice Shabbat.
* Honor both parents.
* Don’t Kill.
* Don’t adulterate.
* Don’t kidnap.
* Don’t bear false witness.
* Don’t envy.
* We all ‘saw’ the sounds, flames, blast of the Shofar and Mountain
smoking.
* We requested Moshe speak directly with us and not The All Powerful G-d
* Moshe ascended to the Arafel where HaShem was revealed
* See ! I spoke to you directly from Heaven
* Don’t make images of Me, gods of silver or gold.
* Make for Me an Altar where you will bring all your offerings
* Wherever I let you mention My Name, I will come down and bless you
* Don’t allow any metal to touch the stone Altar.
* Don’t ascend My Altar by way of steps for modesty sake.

The Engaging Shabbos Table

by Rabbi Aryeh Goetz

If the goal of your Shabbos table is to create a positive and unifying experience for participants of all ages and backgrounds, here are some simple techniques that encourage everyone’s participation. This format is wonderful for those who would like to invite guests who may be less familiar with Shabbos customs, but it works equally well any family or group, as well.

Set Up
The set up of the table should be to form one “circle”, so each person can have eye contact with every other person seated. It’s best not to have a separate children’s table or a T-shaped configuration, if possible. It is also helpful to have bentchers on the table, set at the places, or handed out to the guests. This is often a good job for one of the children. Remember to announce the page if you have guests that may not be familiar with the songs (Shalom Aleichem, Eishes Chayil, Shabbos zemiros). “Newcomers” that are not familiar with the songs, should be given an English/Hebrew version or a siddur to at least follow along reading to themselves in English, so they get a sense of what is being said.

Kiddush & HaMotzi
Introduce the concept to newcomers in a phrase that explains the meaning of Kiddush. It could be somewhat like this: “Kiddush is to testify that G-d created the world in 6 days and rested on the 7th day. We emulate this concept by refraining from creative work on Shabbos. The second theme of the Kiddush is that HaShem brought the Jewish people out from slavery in Egypt and formed them into a nation and gave them the Torah. Shabbos is one of the gifts in the Torah.” If there is someone who is not familiar with the washing of the hands, make sure someone in the family explains this procedure and recites the blessing of al netilas yadiam with him or her. Casually mention that there is no speaking between the hand washing and the distribution and eating of the challah. New guests enjoy this a lot!

Introductions & Theme Question
After the first course is served and everyone has some food on their plate and in their stomach, we begin “introductions”. Going around the table, I start (so I can model what I want to happen) and we go around to the right (counter-clockwise). I ask each person to say his or her name. This is especially helpful when there are guests who may not know the names of the children or the names of the other guests. I say something like, “Please say your name, since everyone may not yet know everyone else”. It is a helpful icebreaker at the start. Also, I ask each person to answer the “theme question” after they introduce themselves. The theme question is a one or two word topic to which everyone will be able to relate, and it has an “open ended” style. We are not looking for one ‘right answer’. Whatever comes to mind is a good answer. The topic is related either directly or indirectly to the weekly parsha. I announce the name of the parsha and then the theme. For instance, for parsha Bereshis the theme might be “garden” or it might be “tree” or any other related word, for Noach, some example may be “flood” or “animal”. One person may end up discussing the time that his basement flooded, and how he reacted. Another guest may talk about a big storm and how it affected her life.

The theme question gives people a chance to express themselves in a non-judgmental context. It works for all age groups and encourages speaking as well listening skills. Everyone gets to know what the others are thinking. Parents can get an insight into what is on the minds of their children. If someone can’t think of something to say relating to the theme, he can just state his name and ‘pass’ until everyone else is done and we can come back to him when he is ready, if he would like.

The Dvar Torah
The theme question is a great segue way to the Dvar Torah. When the children are younger, they are asked to speak about something they learned in school or discuss a point from their ‘parsha sheet’. Starting from youngest to oldest, keeps an orderly flow and allows the younger ones to say something that had not yet been said, since they are going first. After a young child has his or her turn to speak, he or she may want to leave the table to play if it is too much for them to pay attention to the others. They should be allowed to leave the table after their turn by asking permission. This allows the meal to be child-focused and not guest- focused for as long as it is enjoyable for the children, and the guests gain much as well by focusing on the children’s presentations.

When the children got older, I gave the Dvar Torah first and asked anyone (child or guest) who had something to share, to do so. Over the years, the children gained self-confidence in public speaking and listening skills. Some young children love the “public speaking” opportunity so much, they stand up on their chairs when their turns come.

Zemiros / Singing
As the main course ends, the singing of the zemiros is a cue for the plates to be cleared from the table. One can ask a newcomer guest if he knows any Jewish songs or a guest can choose the zemer or lead the tune, if they are willing.

The Dessert Question
The concluding question is called the “dessert question” because it is answered while dessert is served and eaten. The question is the same each week but the answer always differs, because each week has brought new experiences. The question is: “What was the highlight of your week?” This encourages people to think back from last Shabbos until now, review their week, focus on a positive experience, and share it with others. There is no particular order to answer the “dessert question.” Anyone who is ready to share their highlight, may start. It also encourages thankfulness to HaShem for many blessings.

Bentching
I thank my wife for the delicious meal, if I haven’t already done so, and all those who assisted in preparing, cleaning up or bringing something for Shabbos. We bentch together, as this brings closure to the meal. Afterwards, those who want to leave the table are free to do so. Those that would like to stay and talk are welcome to stay at the table or go into the living room. It is important that people (especially children) should not be “held hostage” at the table for too long. Children who have left the table should be called back for the dessert question and the group bentching. We usually sing the first paragraph in unison.

Our Shabbos tables have the potential to be unifying opportunities for participants of all ages and backgrounds, just by making a few simple accommodations. I hope this provides some ideas with which to experiment and enhance Shabbos pleasure!

Rabbi Aryeh Goetz is the Director of Neighborhood Investment for CHAI (Comprehensive Housing Assistance, Inc.) and rabbi of the Jewish Recovery Houses in Baltimore, Maryland. He can be reached at aryehgoetz@gmail.com.

Rabbi Label Lam on Personal Growth Lessons from Tu B’Shevat

Today is Tu B’Shevat.

Rabbi Label Lam gave a wonderful Drasha a few years back where he looked at the Mishna in Pirkei Avos which states “Rabbi Yaakov said, one who is walking along the road and is studying [Torah], and then interrupts his studies and says, ‘How beautiful is this tree! How beautiful is this plowed field!’, the Scripture considers it as if he bears the guilt for his own soul.”

In questioning what is the great crime here and why the cases of a tree and a plowed field is chosen, Rabbi Lam uncovers some powerful personal growth lessons that we can glean from Tu B’Shevat – the holiday of trees.

Click on this link to listen to Rabbi Lam on Personal Growth Lessons from Tu B’Shevat. (To download the file to your computer, click with the right mouse button on the link and select Save Target As)

Denying G-d and Denying Humanity

Beshalach 5774-An installment in the series of adaptations
From the Waters of the Shiloah: Plumbing the Depths of the Izhbitzer School
For series introduction CLICK

By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz-Mara D’Asra Cong Sfard of Midwood

 This weeks From the Waters of the Shiloah is dedicated in memory of Gitel Leah A.H. bas Menachem Mendel HY”D; Mrs. Lidia Schwartz, the authors mother, whose yuhrzeit is Thursday, 8 Shevat.
Please learn this dvar Torah l’ilui nishmasah.

HaShem will wage war for you [against Egypt] and you must remain silent. And HaShem said to Moshe, Why do you cry out in prayer to Me? Speak to the children of Israel and let them travel.

-Shemos 14:14,15

The Holy One, blessed be He, said to him, “This is no time to pray at length, when Israel is in distress.” Another explanation [of God’s question (Why do you cry out to me?) implies]: “The matter depends on Me and not on you,”

-Rashi ibid

And so it was that as long as Moshe held his hands up Israel would be winning but when he let his hands down then the battle would turn in Amalek’s favor …  and his hands remained faithful; steady until sunset. 

-Shemos 17:11,12

All is foreseen, yet autonomy is granted

-Avos 3:14

And Rabi Chanina said “all is in the Hands of Heaven except the awe of Heaven”

-B’rachos 33B

There are two conflicting approaches to confronting the enemy that appear in this week’s Sidra.  Towards the beginning of the Sidra, when the Jewish people literally had their backs against the wall with the pounding surf of the Sea of Reeds before them and the Egyptian cavalry giving chase from the rear, the Divine command for silence came.  Not only were the Jews not allowed to wage war against their enemies; they were not even permitted to pray for Divine intervention.

In sharp contrast to this, at the end of the Sidra, we find that prayer was the weapon of choice when the Jews were waging war against the Amalekites. Our sages teach us that during the Amalek war, when Moshe had his arms outstretched in prayer, the tide of the battle would turn in the Jews favor (Targum Yerushalmi ad locum).  When the hands would drop and the prayers stop, so would the military advances.  The Mei HaShiloach asks: why were there such a drastic difference in tactics and strategies for confronting these two mortal enemies?

His answer is based on the succinct epigram that encapsulates kivayachol -if you will, the “division of labor” between HaShem and human beings. “All is in the Hands of Heaven except the awe of Heaven IE how one serves HaShem.” This means that absolutely everything in our lives; our health, our wealth, our popularity and the success of our relationships is up to HaShem.  The only area in which we enjoy a true autonomy is in exercising our human free-will to make moral and ethical choices.

Both halves of the axiom are equally true.  To claim that “not everything is in the Hands of Heaven” is patently heretical.  This position advances a false theology that would limit HaShem’s Infinite Power.  But in Judaism it is not enough to have an accurate and true theology.  One must maintain an accurate and true “humanology” (for want of a better word) as well.  To deny the second half of the axiom by saying that there are no exceptions to the rule; that ALL is in the Hands of Heaven, period, including “the awe of Heaven” IE including how one serves HaShem, is no less heretical.

The Mei HaShiloach explains that, historically, the nations of the world that have opposed, antagonized and oppressed  Klal Yisrael-the Jewish people have been proponents of one of these two heresies.  Their cultures, their weltanschauungs, their very collective national beings, were predicated either on the proposition that not everything is in the Hands of Heaven or that, on the contrary, all is in the Hands of Heaven including human awe of Heaven IE that human free choice is an illusion and that all human behavior, even apparent moral and ethical choices, are entirely controlled by HaShem .

The Egyptians under the Pharaoh are archetypes of the first heresy.  Having positioned himself as a deity in his own right Pharaoh could hardly have conceded exclusive and absolute control of the cosmos to a “rival” deity.  On the contrary Pharaoh portrayed himself as the one in total control of all the transpired in Egypt as he declared; “The [Nile] river is mine, and I have made it.”(Yechezkel 29:9).  He was a living incarnation of “It was my own might and the personal power of my hand that has brought me all this prosperity”(Devarim 8:17)

The nation of Amalek is the quintessence of their progenitor, Esav. Esav is portrayed by our sages as a yisrael mumar-a Jew who has traded true faith for heresy (Kiddushin 18A). There are as many ways to become a heretic as there are heresies and the precise nature as of the Esavs heresy is unclear.  However, Chaza”l (Sanhedrin 60A,Berachos 10A-Hagahos HaBac”h footnote 2) use this term, yisrael mumar, to describe another Biblical character; Ravshakei.

He was the one who said to the emissaries of King Chizkiyahu “Did I now arise against this land to destroy it without HaShem? HaShem said unto me: go up against this land, and destroy it.” (Yechezkel 36:10). Ravshakei and the emperor he represented, Nebuchadnezzar, had exercised their free-will to arrive at the decision to destroy Chizkiyahu’s kingdom.  Yet he did not consider himself accountable.  He attributed his own choice to G-d.  In his soliloquy Ravshakei asks many rhetorical questions.  Expecting no answers, he was actually telling Chizkiyahu’s emissaries “don’t rely on your military alliance with Egypt.  But don’t rely on HaShem either, for it was He who sent me to destroy you.   I am no more than a knight in the hands of the Divine chess master.”

The Izhbitzer asserts that Ravshakei’s ostensible affirmation of emunah is, in fact, a denial of humanity, of the grandeur of human free-will and that this denial of humanity is the precise heresy of Esav and Amalek as well. Esav/ Amalek is a mumar because of believing that all is in the Hands of Heaven, there is no “except etc.” Amalek maintains that all of the evil that he does is, chalilah, the Will of G-d, that absent HaShem’s Will he would never have been able to have done it.  Superficially, it is almost as if Amalek accords greater honor to HaShem than K’lal Yisrael does.  The stance of Amalek-Esav is that HaShem’s control and authority is absolute.  They deny that humanity has any autonomy at all.

As one great 20th century thinker put it, when our sages taught that Amalek is “one who knows his master and intends to rebel against Him” they don’t mean that Amalek intends to rebel against HaShem in spite of knowing  that HaShem is their Master, but because of knowing  that HaShem is their Master; that their rebellion consists of knowing that HaShem’s mastery over them is absolute.  There is no wiggle room.  Not one small space, albeit a tiny one, for human independence, autonomy and free choice.

We can now resolve the apparent contradiction between the dissimilar tactics of war employed to battle the Egyptians and Amalek.  When the enemy rides under the banner of “not everything is in the Hands of Heaven” then the Jewish response must be to emphasize HaShem’s control.  Against the Egyptians it would’ve been out of place for the Jews to highlight and emphasize human free-will.  Free-will, AKA “the awe of heaven”, human avodas HaShem, is best exemplified through prayer; the “service of the heart”(Ta’anis 2A). So they silenced their prayers, eliminating their part in the “division of labor” and HaShem took total control of the battle. All, absolutely everything, was in His Hands.

But when the enemy rides under the banner of “ALL is in the Hands of Heaven with no exceptions” and that human free-will is a sham, then the proper Jewish response is to exercise our free-will. Human free-will is best exemplified through our service of the heart , our avodas hatefilah.  And so, during milchemes Amalek when Moshe would raise his arms in prayer the Jewish warriors would advance.  When his prayers faltered IE when his arms grew weak so would the Jews military efforts. 

~adapted from Mei Hashiloach Beshalach D”H HaShem yilachem

Rav Noah Weinberg – Whose Yahrzeit is on Shevat 11 – on Happiness

Rav Noah Weinberg on Happiness

1. There are many important things we all seek in life – happiness, love and success among others. Judaism teaches that a crucial tool for living is to have clear definitions for these important concepts.

People can often spend many years of life striving for something that they think will give them happiness – the right job, the right girl, working my way up the corporate ladder, retirement, the new home etc, but when they actually get it, they’re still miserable!

Why? – Because they didn’t take the time to define what happiness really is. Instead, they simply went for what society says will give them happiness or what they might feel might bring them happiness. Defining happiness would have saved them a lot of time and unnecessary pain.

People often say – you can’t define happiness. Interestingly, Judaism actually gives a definition. Let me explain.

2. If I offer you a thousand dollars for your eyes – is it a deal?
How’s about 10K? 100K? 1M?… As much money as I offer you, you’ll turn me down – right? Your eyes are worth more to you than all the money in the world.

3. So, now, imagine that I’m very wealthy, and after speaking to you for half an hour, I take a liking to you – so much so, that I say to you: let me give you this brief case as a gift. You take the brief case and open it up and look inside. You see wads of $100 bills. There’s a million dollars in there for you from me – no strings attached.
How would you feel – if it were really true? Wouldn’t you feel like a million dollars?! Wouldn’t you be doing a jig down the street?

Now, if you ask someone: You have eyes – how do you feel? Most people say: “the same miserable person I was before you asked me!” But, if our eyes are worth more to us than any money, and we’d feel ecstatic for the million, shouldn’t we feel even more ecstatic that we have eyes? Shouldn’t we be doing that jig down the street, all the more?

4. So what’s the problem?
The problem is that we get used to things – we take things for granted. Someone gets a beautiful Porsche for his birthday. He feels grand. Come back in a couple of months – he’s miserable again!

Happiness is therefore defined as the emotion of pleasure that we feel when we appreciate what we have.

Misery is the reverse. To be thoroughly miserable – just take all your blessings for granted, and focus on what you don’t have. The fact is that it’s much easier to focus on what you don’t have than what you do – we just slide right into it. It’s easier to get up in the morning and think: oh no – another work day at that miserable job… and I can’t believe it’s raining again…and I hate that train ride – especially all those weird & miserable people on the subway… and I wish my work-mates wouldn’t be so irritating…and my boss is so controlling…. etc

The trick of happiness is to learn how not to take things for granted.

If you can get used to your eyes you can get used to anything. You’ll get used to the new car, the new home, the new wife, the kids… If we don’t appreciate what we have – there’s no point getting any more – we’ll just get used to that too!
If you learn how to appreciate your eyes, you can learn how to appreciate all the gifts of life. That’s why every morning in Judaism we get up and say, thank you G-d for giving me life. We appreciate that we can think, see, have clothes, can walk, and that we have all our needs both physical and spiritual. We say blessings on food – to appreciate the food that we eat and not to take it for granted.

Each one of us has eyes, ears, a heart that pumps, hands and legs, friends and family – gifts worth more to us than any money. Each one of us is a walking multi-millionaire, even if we wouldn’t have a penny to our names. Only by learning how to appreciate the gifts we already have, how rich we truly are, can be truly happy.

Hishtadlus and Parshas HaMon

We are taught that although Hashem runs the world we have to do our Hishtadlus (our own efforts). What that is in any situation differs for each person and is dependent on a person’s bitachon (trust) and his or her personality type. It’s hard to get the hishtadlus factor exactly right, no too much and not too little. The key for us believing Jews is to remember that even after our hishtadlus, everything is in Hashem’s hands. This is something we have to continually work on to internalize.

The halachic works suggest that we read Parshas Hamon everyday to internalize this message. (Tur 1; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 1:5; Aruch Hashulchan 1:22; Shulchan Aruch HaRav 1:9). The Mishna Berurah says “And the parsha of the Manna is such that he will believe that all his livelihood comes through special Divine direction (hashgacha pratis)”.

From my observations, most people are lucky to get through all the davening, let alone recite extras, like Parshas HaMon. However, it just so happens that Rebbe Mendel of Riminov said that saying Parshas HaMon on Tuesday of Parshas B’Shalach is a Segulah for Parnossa. And guest what – today is that Tuesday.

Here’s a link to the Art Scroll Interlinear translation of Parshas Hamon.

The Second Amendment and the Oral Law

By Rabbi Yonason Goldson
Timeless Wisdom for Modern Times

As president Obama embarks upon his latest unilateral campaign to repair the world, this time by expanding restrictions on gun ownership, it’s worth revisiting my article on the Second Amendment from 2010.

Perhaps the greatest danger to the Constitution is manipulating its words to validate predetermined conclusions. By doing so, we violate the talmudic admonition against making the law “a spade for digging,” i.e., a tool to advance our own ends.

To preserve constitutional integrity, we have to familiarize ourselves with the context of its times, then apply those observations to the times in which we live. That only works when we are committed to honoring the system, rather than exploiting the system to fit our own agenda.

Last month’s Supreme Court ruling affirming Second Amendment states’ rights (and coinciding with the predictable Republican grilling of Supreme Court nominee Elana Kagan over the same issue) has brought back into the spotlight the constitutional ambiguity regarding gun ownership in the U.S. of A.

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed. So states the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution. At first glance, the stipulation seems clear enough. American citizens may own guns, plain and simple.

Or maybe not. The qualifying phrase that introduces the amendment appears to restrict constitutional protection to dependence upon a militia, or citizen army, to defend the nation. Accordingly, in times such as ours, when a standing army has assumed responsibility for the common defense, there may be no constitutional guarantee at all. And so, on second thought, the amendment seems to clearly limit the extent of private gun ownership.

Or, again, maybe not.

Perhaps the Founding Fathers meant that, since every citizen ultimately owns an equal share of the responsibility to defend his country, the right to bear arms is part and parcel of each person’s national duty to fight for the public welfare should the need ever arise. This would explain why the authors of the amendment might have mentioned a militia even if they never meant to restrict said right.

So what was the original intent of the Framers? If they were here, we could ask them. Since they are not, each side seems to have a fair and reasoned claim to support its respective position.

Is there any way to resolve the question of what was intended by men who passed away long before our grandfathers were born?

In fact, there may be.

THE REST OF THE STORY

Imagine that, as you pass by a window, you see a man wearing a mask raise a knife and plunge it into the chest of another man lying prone beneath him. You scream for the police, certain that you have just witnessed a murder.

Or, yet again, maybe not.

Now imagine that you were unfamiliar with the concept of open-heart surgery. Only after the police arrive and explain that the man in the mask is a surgeon working to repair the heart of the man on the table beside him will you understand that he is in fact saving a life and not taking one.

Context is everything. It orients us in time, space, and circumstance, transforms isolated acts into links in a chain of connected events, none of which can be understood in isolation. And so, if the words of our forebears sometimes appear to us muddled or imprecise, the surest way to achieve clarity is to examine comments and opinions from the same thinkers and the same era.

Here are a few examples to provide historical context:

James Madison, on the principle of individual rights: [A bill of rights] should more especially comprise a doctrine in favour of the equality of human rights; of the liberty of conscience in matters of religious faith, of speech and of the press; of the trial by jury… of the writ of habeas corpus; of the right to keep and bear arms.

Massachusetts Representative Fisher Ames: The rights of conscience, of bearing arms, of changing the government, are declared to be inherent in the people.

Supreme Court Justice James Wilson, contributor to the drafting of the Constitution:The defense of one’s self, justly called the primary law of nature, is not, nor can it be abrogated by any regulation of municipal law.

Vice President Elbridge Gerry, signatory to the Declaration of Independence, on national defense: What, sir, is the use of militia? It is to prevent the establishment of a standing army, the bane of liberty.

In the context of the times, the intention of the Framers becomes difficult to debate. Only in relatively recent times, when the concept of a militia has become an anachronism, has it become possible to question the true meaning of the Second Amendment.

PRESERVING THE INTEGRITY OF THE LAW

Is there any way for words to retain their clarity despite the persistent evolution of cultural references and values? Is there any method for protecting ideas from the ravages of changing times and sensitivities?

Indeed there is. It predates the United States Constitution by 31 centuries, and it is called the Oral Law of the Torah.

Consider these biblical commandments:

Remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy… And this will be a sign upon your arm and a remembrance between your eyes … Slaughter your [livestock] in the manner that I have prescribed… Do not seethe a kid in its mother’s milk.

These precepts, as they are written in the Torah, are impossible to observe. What does it mean to keep the Sabbath “holy,” and what actions — if any — are required to “remember” it? What kind of sign are we to place upon our arms, if elsewhere the Torah prohibits the application of any tattoo, and how do we place a “remembrance” between our eyes? Nowhere does the Torah outline any prescription for ritual slaughter, nor does it imply what is commonly understood, that that the prohibition against cooking a baby goat in its mother’s milk extends to every mixture of meat and dairy products.

In spite of these and many other ambiguities, the basic practices of the Torah observant community have remained essentially unchanged for over 3300 years. The explanation is simple. Unlike the family encyclopedia which once gathered dust on the shelf and now gathers dust on the CD rack, the Oral Torah forces every committed Jew to see himself as custodian of a living tradition that connects him with the origins of his identity and enables him to live in the modern world without compromising the values of his ancestors.

No longer purely oral, the discussions and debates of past authorities have been recorded for their children in the writings of the Talmud and the commentaries that elucidate them. Unlike the records left behind by the Framers of the Constitution, however, these records have become canonized as part of the structure and process through which Jewish law is determined in each and every generation. Even when questions and disagreements arise, there is no debate within the Torah community over the methods through which answers and solutions are to be found.

Society changes, technology changes, and the values of human beings twist in the winds of time like a weather vane spinning before a storm. Electricity, automobiles, computers, cloning, and in vitro fertilization may have once been unimagined, but we have inherited a legacy that teaches us how those earlier generations would have resolved the problems of our changing world if they were here themselves today. And so the Torah Jew never loses his bearings, for he is guided by the words of his forefathers and finds comfort in the knowledge that the ancient wisdom of the Torah will never become stagnant, corrupted, or out of date.

As my teacher Rabbi Nota Schiller often says, the Oral Torah allows the Jews to change enough to stay the same.

Originally published by Jewish World Review

The Most Famous Ramban in Chumash – The End of Parshas Bo

The Ramban at the end of Bo is a classic work on Jewish philosophy and probably the most quoted Ramban in Chumash. It’s well worth seeing inside. Art Scroll has published the Ramban on Torah, so if you won’t (or can’t) read it in Hebrew, consider picking up the English translation.

Here is a summary:

Reason for the Plagues

The Ramban says that from the time of Enosh there were three types of heretics: 1) Those that didn’t believe in G-d at all; 2) Those that believed in a G-d, but didn’t believe He knew what was happening in the world; 3) Those that believed in G-d’s knowledge, but didn’t believe that He oversees the world or that there is reward and punishments.

By favoring the Jews and altering nature through the plagues, the falsity of the heretical views became clear to all. The supernatural wonders indicate the world has a G-d who created it, knows all, oversees all and is all powerful. And when that wonder is publicly declared beforehand through a prophet, the truth of prophecy is made clear as well, namely that G-d will speak to a person and reveal His secrets to His servants, the prophets, and with acknowledgement of this principle the entire Torah is sustained. (The Ramban brings down a number of pesukim supporting this.)

Reason for so many Mitzvos regarding the Exodus

Now, because G-d does not perform a sign or wonder in every generation in sight of every evil person and disbeliever, He commanded that we should have constant reminders and signs of what we saw in Egypt and we should transmit it to our children thoughout the generations. G-d was stringent in this matter as we see from the strict penalties regarding eating Chometz on Pesach and neglecting the Pesach offering. Other mitzvos regarding the Exodus are tefillin, mezuzos, remembering the Exodus in the morning and evening, Succos.

There are also many other commandments that serve as a reminder of the Exodus (Shabbos, the festivals, redemption of the firstborn,…). And all these commandments serve as a testimony for us through the generations regarding the wonders performed in Egypt, that they not be forgotten and there will be no argument for a heretic to deny faith in G-d.

The Reason behind Mitzvos in General

When one does a simple mitzvah like mezuzah and thinks about its importance, he has already acknowledged G-d’s creation of the world, G-d’s knowledge and supervision of the world’s affairs, the truth of prophecy and all the foundations of Torah. In addition he has acknowledged G-d’s kindness towards those that perform His will, for He took us from bondage to freedom in great honor in the merit of our forefathers.

That is why Chazal say, be careful in performing a minor commandment as a major one, for all of them are major and beloved since through them a person is constantly acknowledging his G-d. For the objective of all the commandments is that we should believe in G-d and acknowledge to Him that He created us.

Purpose of Creation

In fact this is the purpose of creation itself, for we have no other explanation of creation. And G-d has no desire, except that man should know and acknowledge the G-d that created him. And the purpose of raising our voices in prayer and the purpose of Shuls and the merit of communal prayer is that people should have a place where they can gather and acknowledge that G-d created them and caused them to be and they can publicize this and declare before Him, “We are your creations”.

This is what the sages meant when they explained “And they shall call out mightily to G-d” as from here you learn that prayer requires a loud voice for boldness can overcome evil.

Everything is a Sign of Hashem

Through recalling the great revealed signs of Hashem of the Exodus, a person acknowledges the hidden signs of everyday life which are the foundation of the entire Torah. For a person has no share in the Torah of Moshe unless he believes that all our affairs and experiences are signs from Hashem, that there is no independent force of nature regarding either the community or the individual.

Reward and Punishment

Rather if one observes the commandments his reward will bring him success and if he transgresses them his punishment will destroy him. Hidden signs of Hashem can be more clearly recognized as regards the affairs of a community as in the predictions in the Torah in the matter of the blessings and the curses as it says – And the nations will say, “For what reason did Hashem do so to this land…?” And they will say, “Because they forsook the covenant of Hashem, the G-d of their forefathers”. This matter will become known to the nations, that this is from G-d as their (the Jews) punishment. And it is stated regarding the fulfillment of the commandments, “Then all the people of the earth will see that the Name of Hashem is proclaimed over you, and they will revere you.”

First published in January, 2008. Last 2 paragraphs updated January 2012

Share Your Approach to Making the Pesach Seder Stimulating and Meaningful for Everyone at the Table

Bayla Sheva Brenner, senior writer at the Orthodox Union (OU), is currently doing research for an article (to be featured in the upcoming issue of the OU’s Passover Guide) about people’s approaches to making their Pesach seder stimulating and meaningful for everyone at the table.

Pesach is a pivotal and challenging time for every Yid; we all come to the table with hopes and challenges. “The time of our freedom” is an opportunity to take ourselves out of our communal and personal Mitrayim (again) in order to serve G-d more fully – more of the person we are meant to become. With Hashem’s “Strong Arm” we will experience another Pesach, as well as another step towards true freedom – as a person and as a People. If you have children, please include your approach to teaching them this all-important lesson.

If you would like to share your perspective, please contact Bayla at brennerbs@ou.org. You can remain anonymous if you choose to.

In Prayer; the Medium IS the Message

Pharaoh asked Moshe to pray to end the plagues in a particular way. Why didn’t he?
Various plagues were wrought by HaShem, Moshe and Ahron.  Why was barad, in particular, brought about by Moshe?

“Try and test me” Moshe replied. “At precisely what time shall I pray אעתיר for you, your servants and your people … ridding you and your homes of the frogs so that they will only remain in the canal [i.e. the Nile]?”

— Shemos 8:5

Moshe and Ahron left the Pharaoh. Moshe cried out ויצעק to HaShem concerning the frogs that He’d brought upon the Pharaoh

— Shemos 8:8

Moshe replied “Behold I am leaving your presence. Tomorrow I will pray  אעתיר to HaShem, the mixed wild beasts will go away from the Pharaoh,  his servants and his people … Moshe left the Pharaoh’s presence and prayed ויעתר   to HaShem.

— Shemos 8:25,26

[The Pharaoh asked them] “pray העתירו to Hashem. There’s been too much of this Elokim-induced thunder and hail. I will send you/ your nation away; you will not have to stay.” … Moshe left the Pharaoh’s presence and exited the city. As soon as he spread his palms up ויפרוש כפיו to HaShem the thunder and din ceased and the hail and rain no longer fell to the ground.

— Shemos 9:28,33

There are six things which HaShem hates, seven which His Soul abominates: 1. stuck-up eyes, 2. a lying tongue, 3. and hands that shed innocent blood; 4. A heart that works out malicious thoughts, 5. feet that are quick in running to evil; 6. A false witness who exhales lies, 7. and one who causes conflict among brothers.

— Mishlei 6:16-19

Rabbi Chanina the son of Dosa would say … One whose deeds surpass his wisdom, his wisdom endures. But one whose wisdom surpasses his deeds, his wisdom does not endure.

— Pirkei Avos 3:9

There are 10 different expressions [in Lashon Kodesh-the holy tongue;] for prayer …

— Sifri on Devarim 3:23

In an abstract way we are aware of the Chazal that teaches that there are 10 near-synonymous expressions in Lashon Kodesh to describe humans communicating with HaShem. On a theoretical level we are also cognizant of the fact that diverse words carry assorted shades of meaning and that, as such, there must be 10 different ways to pray, 10 distinct media for prayer.

Yet, we are accustomed to congregational prayer during which everyone must be on the same page, both figuratively and literally. We also pray using a liturgy fixed by the anshei k’nesses hagedolah-the men of the great assembly; with later accretions canonized by tradition. And so on a practical level for us there is only one way to pray.  Gradations in the quality of our prayer vary according to levels of ones understanding of the liturgy and ones sincerity and depth of kavvanah-directing his heart and attention towards G-d. To us, the notion that varying circumstances require a different substance or even style of prayer seems utterly foreign.

In Parshas VaEra the Izhbitzer school teaches that the style and substance of prayer must react and respond to the particular needs being addressed and to the root causes of the distress that one is praying to resolve. Just as no two crises are exactly alike so too no two prayers can be clones of one another.

In each of the makkos-plagues; of frogs, mixed wild-beasts and hail we find the Pharaoh of Egypt beseeching Moshe to pray for the cessation of the makkah.  The Pharaoh is consistent. Every time he requests Divine intercession of Moshe he employs a conjugation of the word עתירה atirah-pleading. Yet only in requesting the end of the makkah of the arov– mixed wild-beasts; does Moshe actually plead with HaShem. In order to get the frogs back into the Nile Moshe employs tzeakah-shouting or screaming;  and to stop the makkah of barad-hail composed of fire and ice; Moshe prays with perishas kapayim-spreading his palms outwards and upwards.  The second Izhbitzer Rebbe, the Bais Yaakov, offers insight into the three crises and why the three different prayers were appropriate for each one.

Observing that both the makkos of tzefardea-frogs; and arov were incursions of wild animals into human habitats, the Bais Yaakov asserts that all creatures, both domesticated and wild, yearn for the proximity of human beings for they have a deep-seated, instinctive consciousness that their own actualization and fulfillment can only be brought about by human beings.  But for the vast majority of baalei chaim-animals; hobnobbing with human beings is not the proper means through which man might perfect and fulfill them. Among the Creator’s creatures Man alone is endowed with free-will and thus, with the capacity to exercise free-will to serve G-d.  These acts of avodah-serving HaShem; distinguish man from beast and are what drive away undomesticated animals from human habitats. The power inherent in various types of avodah is what make the different baalei chaim maintain their distance.

The croaking frogs and toads are distinguished by their ability to give voice to wordless cries, groans and screams. They have voices, but their voices cannot inform words.  Correspondingly, the type of prayer-based avodah that keeps frogs separate and distinct from human society is human tzeakah which is similarly inarticulate and wordless. When tzeakah is wielded by a human being it is a non-verbal, yet voice-based, form of communication.  This is why, when the time came to end the makkah of tzefardea, Moshe prayed with tzeakah.

Read more In Prayer; the Medium IS the Message

Ordinary Opportunities to be an Awesome Human

By Chaya Houpt

One night this week, I helped my neighbor carry platters of food to her car. I dropped a huge platter of beautifully-prepared salad, and it splattered all over the filthy sidewalk.

The next day, she left me a note saying that there were more than enough vegetables at the event, and she could tell I was pained by the spill, and I should not worry about it.

What a great example of how life offers a lot of ordinary opportunities to be an awesome human in the world.