Beyond BT

Spiritual Growth for Jews

When Opposites Attract

Posted on | November 13, 2014 | By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz | 1 Comment

Why did Avraham consider Eliezer to be cursed if Lavan referred to him as “the blessed of HaShem”?
If the cursed cannot bond with the blessed how are we to understand the unions of Shechem and Dinah, the Queen of Shevah and Shlomo the King et al?
Why didn’t Eliezer seek a girl who would do chessed proactively before having to be asked?

He [Noach] said, “Cursed is Cannan! He shall be a slave’s slave to his brothers”

— Bereishis 9:25

 “I will compel you with an oath in the name of HaShem, L-rd of Heaven and L-rd of earth that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites among whom I live.”

— Bereishis 24:3

“My master compelled me with an oath ‘Do not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites in whose land I reside. Instead you must go to my father’s house, to my family, and get a wife for my son there.’ I [then] said to my master ‘Perhaps the woman [from your family] will not follow me [back to Canaan]’? “

— Bereishis 24:37-39

Perhaps the woman will not follow me: It [the word אֻלַי (perhaps)] is written [lacking a “vav” and may be read] אֵלַי (to me). Eliezer had a daughter, and he sought a pretext so that Avraham would tell him, to turn to him [i.e. Eliaezers family], so that Yitzchok would marry his daughter. Avraham said to him, “My son is blessed, and you are cursed [Eliezer was a descendant of Canaan who had been cursed by Noach], and an accursed one cannot bond with a blessed one.”

— Rashi ibid

And Lavan said “Come O he who is blessed by HaShem! Why are you still standing outdoors? I have cleared the house [of what you might find offensive] and prepared a place for the camels.”

— Bereishis 24:31

Why is Mt. Sinai so called? [Sinai is, alliteratively, similar to the lashon kodesh-biblical Hebrew; word for hatred] Because it was there that hatred descended to the idolaters [for they rejected the Torah that was revealed there].

— Shabbos 89A and Rashi ibid

The intensity of the hatred that ignorami have for Torah scholars exceeds that of the anti-Semitism that the idolaters bear towards the nation of Israel …

— Pesachim 49B

As faces in the reflecting pool mirror one another, so too do the hearts of men.

— Mishlei 27:19

He [Eliezer] prayed O HaShem, L-rd of my master Avraham, be with me today and grant favor to my master Avraham … If I say to a girl ‘Tip over your jug and let me have a drink’ and she responds ‘drink and I will also hydrate your camels’ she will be the one whom You have designated [as a bride] for your servant Yitzchok.”

— Bereishis 24:12,14

When discussing the metaphysics of matchmaking Avraham declares “… an accursed one cannot bond with a blessed one.” Yet TeNaC”h-the Jewish Torah canon; is replete with desired, attempted and actual unions, both marital and extra-marital, between evil and good.  The assertion that evil cannot unite with good, that curse cannot cleave to blessing; seems to be unsupportable in light of such matches and near-miss marriages as those of Shechem and Dinah, Potiphar’s wife and Yoseph, Kozbee and Zimri and Achashveirosh and Esther, et al.

Moreover Rav Tzadok, the Kohen of Lublin, observes that while, per Chazal, Avraham rejected Eliezers marriage proposal on the grounds of Eliezer being cursed the Torah quotes Lavan as describing Eliezer as “he who is blessed by HaShem.”  Presumably “the Torah of truth” would not record nonsense, hyperbole or the insincere flattery of a sycophant. If Lavans words are true it means that at some point between Avraham rejecting his shidduch proposal and Lavan greeting him, Eliezer underwent a qualitative transformation from being accursed to being blessed.

The Lubliner Kohen illuminates the dynamic of a metamorphosis at least as astonishing as that of the caterpillar-into-butterfly variety.

Evil and Good are in a state of constant and intense antipathy towards each other.  They want no truck with one another and do not desire merger. Shlomo the king teaches in Mishlei that “as faces in the reflecting pool mirror one another, so too do the the hearts of men.” The nature of “emotion” is cyclical and reciprocal and so, the vicious cycle of abhorrence and recrimination between Evil and Good perpetually intensifies the alienation between the two.  But, at the risk of sounding trite, this begs the question: Who started the hostilities and estrangement?  Who’s to blame for the inability to come together?

A close reading of Rashi, “an accursed (one) cannot bond with a blessed (one)”reveals that it is evil that finds itself incapable of cleaving to good; it is not the other way around. I might add that this understanding is further supported by the gemara in Pesachim 49B that speaks of the hatred of the ignoramii and the idolatrous nations first, although it is safe to presume that the Torah Scholars and the Nation of Israel bear reciprocal loathing towards those who hate them. The passage in Shabbos 89A that pinpoints the origin of the Divine Hatred of the idolatrous nations at Sinai, only after they rejected the Torah, further bolsters this argument. Yet this makes it even more difficult to understand why it was Eliezer who initiated the proposed match between the daughter of Eliezer the cursed and the son of Avraham the blessed.

It is important to note that that Eliezer never articulated an explicit marriage proposal.  The proposal, such as it was, was an insubstantial allusion, a mere wordplay.  The Vilna Gaon explains that Chazal detected the subliminal marriage proposal in Eliezer employing the word אֻלַיperhaps; connoting a desired outcome, rather than פן–lest; connoting a scenario to be avoided. Moreover the Kotzker Rebbe insightfully points out that even this mere hint of a proposed match does not appear in the Torahs narrative of the actual dialogue between Eliezer and Avraham.  It is only later, during Eliezers repetition of that conversation to Rivkas family, that he had an epiphany and understood why he had employed the word אֻלַי rather than פן.

Along these lines, and to address the issues of evil and good bonding, the Lubliner Kohen maintains that during his actual conversation with Avraham, Eliezer revealed his subconscious desires in what contemporaries might call a Freudian slip, because he only had blessed potential at the time, but was not quite ready to transform into a full-fledged blessed being until after his encounter with Rivka. The nascence of his transformation from cursed to blessed began as soon as he accepted the mission of his master Avraham but, as he had not yet actualized his potential for blessedness he was, as yet, incapable of verbalizing his desire to unite with and cleave to the good and blessed on an overt level.

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Circle, Point and Line Kiruv

Posted on | November 12, 2014 | By Mark Frankel | 3 Comments

In September 2014, Mishpacha published an article called “Is the Door Closing on Kiruv?” which is summarized here.

In a recent response, four kiruv and Chabad professionals wrote articles stating that the reports of Kiruv’s death have been greatly exaggerated. Points made included:

-There is good growth in some measures of Kiruv.
-Measuring success just by the numbers is insufficient.
-The focus of Kiruv efforts is always changing and that’s to be expected.
-Kiruv has always been difficult.
-The success or failure of Kiruv is our collective responsibility.

For me the series of articles highlighted three models of Kiruv.

In circle Kiruv, which is widely practice, the guiding assumption is that living within the circle of Torah Observance is good. The goal of circle Kiruv is to move people from the outside, to the inside of the circle where the Mekarev is standing.

In point Kiruv, which is used by Chabad, the guiding assumption is that doing an individual mitzvah, a single point is good. The goal of point Kiruv is to get the individual to do a single mitzvah, like the Chabad Mekarev does regularly.

In line Kiruv, which is practiced by a few, the guiding assumption is that moving along the line from distant to closer to Hashem, is good. The goal of line Kiruv is to get the individual to take the next step in getting closer to Hashem. In the case of line Kiruv, the Mekarev should also be moving along the line taking their next steps.

In the future we’ll look at the benefits and drawbacks of each of these models of kiruv.

Factors in Choosing a Mesivta

Posted on | November 11, 2014 | By Belle | Comments Off

A BBT practical advice classic.

Factors in Choosing a Mesivta for Your Son – Part 1
Factors in Choosing a Mesivta for Your Son – Part 2

Here’s an excerpt:

Right Level of Learning
It is important to choose a school which is a close fit to your son’s level of learning. Boys’ yeshiva high schools, with the exception of a community school, tend to be narrowly tailored to a specific level of learning. It is important to consider schools where your son will be challenged, but not so much that he will feel frustrated or be on the bottom of the class and struggling to keep up, nor too little that he will feel bored too soon or where it would be difficult for him to find a chavrusa of similar skill. Larger yeshiva high schools might have more than one class/shiur, with the different classes tracked. It is important to determine if there are different kinds of boys in one track vs. the other and which group your son is most likely to be part of.

How to determine what learning level a school is on can sometimes be a challenge. Yeshivas, like other schools, like to strengthen their reputation to prospective families, and sometimes schools will declare, at an open house or elsewhere, that they serve “the best boys” or have a “top program.” It is important not to be naïve and take everything a yeshiva says about itself at face value. That is, it is important to go beyond these statements and find out what the learning level of the boys who are currently there really is to determine if it is a good match. [Similarly, if a school brags about its graduates who go on to the Ivy League, try to find out if they are bragging about one or two unusual boys, or whether it is typical for its graduates to go on to the Ivy League.]

I would hesitate to send a boy to a “top” school if his grades in learning don’t match up or if he is unmotivated. Some rabbanim recommend that a boy go to a “better” school rather than one with a lesser reputation if a boy is borderline in his learning abilities, because, if things don’t work out initially, it is easier to transfer from a better school to a lesser school than visa versa. I would say this should only be followed where the boy is very motivated and is the type to put in the extra effort he will need to maintain a fair position in the class, and if you as parents are willing and able to pay for tutoring if he needs it. It does him no favors to languish at the very bottom of the class at a “better” school rather than thrive at a more modest school (unless there are other factors present that would counterbalance this possible sense of failure and lack of accomplishment).

Read the whole thing.

Musical Choices for Observant Adults and Their Children

Posted on | November 10, 2014 | By Guest Contributor | 21 Comments

By Chaim

In 2007, I received a lot of emails regarding Matisyahu. Three e-mails have stood out for me and I wish to just lightly touch on them right now. All three were written by Baalei Teshuvah and people now raising their own children in a frum environment. They each wrote about the struggles they face in determining how much they allow their children to be exposed to from their past.

I think a lot of what Baalei Teshuvah deal with when it comes to their own parenting is the extreme disconnect many “BT’s” feel dealing with “FFB’s.” What they may not realize is that once they start raising their own kids in a frum community, sending them to frum schools, frum camps, their own kids become FFB’s.

There is something inherently different about a Baal Teshuvah and a Frum From Birth. A BT has something that is so pure and divine in what they have done that it often produces actions and feelings that a FFB will or struggles to have. When you discover something amazing on your own, after having experienced something else, and decide to embrace that something special, it changes you. Changing your whole life from top to bottom for the sake of your spiritual soul is something that an FFB cannot relate to.

As I have written before, I am a product of a two parent Baal Teshuvah home. My parents were there for me, they tried to help me but I knew that I would never see Yiddishkeit through their eyes. In some way the spiritual journey of an FFB is that much harder then a BT.

I remember when I was 15 I was getting a ride to Yeshivah with a family friend who had just become frum. He was asking me different questions about what Yeshiva is like because he was thinking about going to a BT Yeshiva. I will never forget that gleam in his eye. When he talked about his spirituality and how he wanted to learn more and become more, there was just something in his eyes. It was like he just “knew” what he wanted. He just “felt it” on a level that I feared I would never experience.

As I got older I had my own personal spiritual struggles. By the time I was 20 I had reconnected. Thats an experience I’d rather not share here, but it was special and in many ways I consider myself a FFB/BT hybrid. With that said I understand how many BT parents find is so difficult to raise their own kids in an “Uncle Moishy” world when they themselves feel more like “Maitisyahu’s.”

One of the BT’s who wrote me, spoke how he never gave up Rock ‘N Roll. At first he wanted to hide it from his growing children, but eventually it became something in the house where the kids knew this was the fathers thing. It’s not easy to strike those balances. How can I listen to Pearl Jam, but only let my children listen to Avraham Fried and Yaacov Shwekey.

There’s much to think about regarding this topic.

Originally Posted in 2007

Nothing is Perfect Until it’s Incomplete

Posted on | November 6, 2014 | By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz | 2 Comments

Why did Avram seek advice before proceeding with milah-circumcision?
Why did some of his closest friends and disciples oppose his undergoing milah?

HaShem appeared to him [Avram] in the Plains of Mamre while he was sitting at the opening of the tent as the day[‘s heat] blazed.

— Bereishis 18:1

Why did HaShem appear to him in the Plains of Mamre?  [He appeared there] as a reward Mamre for his offering Avram positive advice and encouragement concerning circumcision.

— Rashi ibid

… And He said to him [Avram] “I Am Keil Shakai. Walk yourself before Me and become perfect. And I will tender My covenant between me and you …

— Bereishis 17:1,2

This is My covenant between Me, and between you and your offspring that you must observe: you must circumcise every male. You shall excise the flesh of your foreskin and this will be the mark of the covenant between Me and you.

— Bereishis 17:10,11

The refugee came bringing intelligence to Avram the Hebrew who was living serenely in the Plains of Mamre the Amorite, brother of Eshkol, and brother of Aner; they were the masters of Avram’s covenant.

— Bereishis 14:13

Why was Kiryas Arba-the Town of the Four; so called? Because of the four saintly people living there; Aner, Eshkol, Mamre and Avram

— Bereishis Rabbah 58:4

When the Holy Blessed One told Avram that he should circumcise himself, Avram sought the advice of his three beloved friends; Aner, Eshkol and Mamre. He first went to Aner and said “HaShem commanded me to do such and such.” Aner responded “He wants to make you a baal mum- someone defective/ an amputee?! The relatives of the Kings that you slew will seize this opportunity to kill you in reprisal as you will not be able to flee.” He left him and then proceeded to Eshkol. “HaShem commanded me to do such and such.” Eshkol responded “You’re old. If you circumcise yourself you’ll hemorrhage and lose too much blood. You won’t be able to endure it and you’ll die.” He left him and then proceeded to Mamre. “HaShem commanded me to do such and such. What is your advice?” Mamre responded “You ask me about this? Wasn’t it HaShem who saved you from the fiery furnace and wrought all the miracles for you?  Wasn’t it HaShem who saved from the kings? If not for His Might and Power the kings would have slain you in battle. HaShem has saved all 248 of your limbs and organs [numerous times] and you’re asking my advice about the small appendage to a single organ?  Do as He commands.

— Midrash Tanchuma Vayera 3

הקנאה, התאווה והכבוד – מוציאים את האדם מן העולם
Jealousy, lust and the pursuit of honor eradicate a person from the world

— Pirkei Avos 4:28

The Izhbitzer School addresses various questions that arise from a superficial reading of the Tanchuma. How could Avram, greatest of the believers in HaShem, who had already withstood many Divine trials, grant Aner and Eshkol and Mamre “veto power” over a direct command from HaShem? Had all three advised against circumcision would he have actually complied with their advice instead of obeying HaShem? Why did Aner and Eshkol, described as “the masters of Avrams covenant” and as tzadikim-righteous ones; advise against circumcision? In Avrams previous and subsequent trials he did not seek anyone’s advice. Why did he seek advice regarding circumcision?

Rav Shmuel Dov Asher-the Biskovitzer, understands the dialogues between Avram and his consultants as not being a question of “yes or no?” but of “how”?  What’s the best way to go about this? He wanted to decide whether to undergo circumcision inconspicuously or publicly.

The fact was that 20 generations had passed since Adam without anyone undergoing circumcision and that people have a strong predilection for resisting change and having a skeptical attitude towards innovation. Avram considered the possibility that publicizing this groundbreaking development in Man’s relationship with G-d would evoke enough opposition of others to try and prevent him from going through with it or, at minimum, mocking and scorning this bizarre operation, after all circumcision affects a most sensitive area. This societal ridicule and scorn would diminish the gravity and appeal of the Monotheism that Avram had devoted his life to teaching and preaching. Avram did not want HaShem to become cholilah-Heaven Forefend; a laughing-stock.

Additionally, Aner opposed publicizing the covenant of circumcision because of the personal danger it would expose Avram to. Opportunistic relatives of the 4 kings bent on vendetta killings would consider a circumcision-weakened Avram an easy target. Aner reasoned that one shouldn’t rely on miracles when natural means to avoid danger, in this case keeping the circumcisions secret, were available. While clear-headed and cautious, this advice did not appeal to Avram. HaShem had Chosen to Grant him victory over the kings in the most transparent, prominent and famous way. How then could fulfilling HaShem’s command publicly and openly lead to his downfall?

Eshkol thought that the threat of Avram dying as a result of post-operative complications was very real and that, perhaps, the trial of circumcision was a kind of auto-Akeidah; would Avram be willing to kill himself at G-d’s behest? But Eshkol fretted over the disastrous PR consequences of “passing” such a test. How many potential new monotheists would be discouraged and dissuaded? How many of Avrams proselytes would drop out of a religion demanding such supreme human self-sacrifice? How many people would condemn the G-d of Avram as a wrathful and capricious Deity?  If the circumcision-related causes of Avrams death were to become widely known an epic chilul HaShem-desecration of G-d’s name; would result.  On the other hand if the circumcision was a well-kept secret and, worst-case scenario, Avram did not survive it, the cause of death could reasonably be attributed to Avram’s “old-age” or any number of causes. Avram rejected this as well. He thought it inconceivable that HaShem would command him to do something that would result in his death.

Mamre’s recommendation and encouragement resonated with Avram for all the reasons that the suggestions of Aner and Eshkol did not.  Avram followed the advice of his consultant Mamre and “B’etzem hayom hazeh-In the very core of that day; Avram and his son Yishmael were circumcised. All the men of the household both homeborn and bought for cash from a stranger were circumcised with him.” (Bereishis 17:26,27).  Elsewhere Chazal have taught that the phrase “B’etzem hayom hazeh” connotes an in-your-face challenge to would-be opponents, scoffers, skeptics or those who would stop it outright.  As if to say “I/We did it out in the open at high-noon … stop us if you can!”

As he often does, the Biskovitzer concludes with a take-away lesson that we can apply to contemporary Avodas HaShem. He maintains that each of us have an internal Aner, Eshkol, Mamre. When we exercise our free-will to do good and perform mitzvos there are still “voices” within us that will try dissuading us from performing HaShem’s Will in the best and most fulsome way, more often than not by voicing some iteration of the fear of ridicule and public misunderstanding.

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In and Out of Sync; More Pleasure, Less Pounds VIDEO: The Brevedy Diet Video; Jewish School Enrollment up 12 percent

Posted on | November 5, 2014 | By Administrator | Comments Off

In and Out of Sync – synchronizing Kaddish.

More Pleasure, Less Pounds VIDEO: The Brevedy Diet Overview

Jewish school enrollment up 12 percent in 5 Years

Kindness, Cruelty and the Akeida

Posted on | November 5, 2014 | By Administrator | Comments Off

A few looks at the Akeida.

Rabbi Ari Kahn on “The Binding”


If the test for Abraham was to perform an act which was against his natural kindness, he surely passed with flying colors. But what about Isaac? If his personality is identified with justice, perhaps his test was in coming down the mountain, joining the rest of the world, and relating to God through the attribute of kindness. Did Isaac succeed in his test?

Rabbi Noson Weisz on “Its a Cruel World Out There”


Why was God interested in developing such a wide cruel streak in the character of his chosen one, Abraham, by giving him such inhumane tests? Isn’t the cruelty and intense ruthlessness required to succeed at these tests absolutely abhorrent in the eyes of God? What is the qualitative difference in being able to follow such Divine instructions and blowing up the Twin Towers and annihilating thousands of innocent lives instantly all for the greater glory of God?

The answer lies in understanding the concept of serving God with your evil inclination.

Rabbi Herschel Reichman on “Avraham – Combination of Din and Chessed”


Avraham, the founder of the Jewish people epitomized chesed. Yet Hashem wanted him to develop din so that he could become a complete person. Therefore He tested him with akeidat Yitzchak, a seeming act of the highest cruelty. But Avraham responded with alacrity and incredible willingness to do Hashem’s will. His love for his Maker was so deep that he succeeded in bridging chesed and din in the ultimate way. This is why the Midrash says “Vayavo Avraham,” He came from the akeida, an act of din, but he was able to make a spiritual shift to chesed and bury Sarah. So too, although he was light years away ideologically from Terach he made the long trip to bury his father because he felt that the din of Kibud av demanded that. Then he returned to the chesed of accompanying Sarah to her final resting place.

How to Make a Bar Mitzvah and Actually Enjoy It

Posted on | November 4, 2014 | By Belle | 22 Comments

Having made two bar mitzvah’s within one year (no twins either!) and another one several years ago, I have some experience which I would be happy to share with Beyond BT readers who have reached this point in their family lives.

Practical Points
The most important thing is to make a list of all required actions and put them on a schedule leading up to the date of the Bar Mitzvah.
A sample would be as follows:

-9 months to one year before:
–begin bar mitzvah lessons if son is going to lein the parsha
–reserve the date with the gabbai of your shul

-6 months before:
–order tefillin if ordering from Eretz Yisroel
–decide what to do re: seudas mitzvah, Kiddush, Shabbos meals
–examine venues and reserve one for each of the above if needed
–start your diet (just joking!)

-3 months before:
–order tefillin if ordering locally
–make inquiries into invitation businesses and order invitation package. Don’t forget some form of thank you cards.
–make inquiries for catering and reserve caterer. The actual reservation can be done at a later time but it should be started early.
–hire musician and photographer. If they are popular or you live in a large city this may have to be done earlier.
–call neighbors and arrange for sleep over arrangements for those friends and relatives staying over for Shabbos
–order new sheitel if needed
–if cooking for meals or Kiddush yourself, start freezing!! You should not have to cook for shabbos at the last minute

-2 months before:
–begin shopping for clothes for family, including YOU! (for bar mitzvah boy this includes new suit, new hat (or two), shoes, etc.), for both Shabbos and seudah evening. This could be done earlier if clothing for the season is available, but since children tend to change size, I don’t recommend shopping too early.
–edit and make final changes to invitation

-1 month before:
–confirm and pay for hall and establish table set-up.
TIP: don’t forget to check out where the speakers will stand and make sure there is an outlet nearby for the sound system!
–decide and confirm menu for seudah, Kiddush and shabbos meals
–send out invitations
–confirm with musician and photographer.
–prepare a list/spread sheet for invitation responses and who sent gifts for thank you cards
–order benchers.
–confirm neighbor’s guest arrangements
–buy small gifts for neighbors who will be hosting your family
–buy small welcome bags and fill with snacks, water, etc for your out of town guests
–if you are self-preparing the Kiddush, hire waiters to set it up while you are at shul.
–decide how to prepare centerpieces for seudah, and if necessary reserve at a gemach or florist. Gemachs can also be used for Kiddush serving pieces if doing it yourself.
–have hubby (HELP-ha ha) write the pshetel (bar mitzvah boy’s torah speech) and his own remarks.
–invite your Rabbi, rebbe, principal, etc. to speak at the seudah
–sheitel appointment
–haircuts

-Week of:
–last minute food shopping & Shabbos cooking
–last minute clothes shopping –don’t forget several pairs of new stockings
–give final guest count to the caterer
–make sure everyone’s siddur, other Shabbos needs are in one secure place. Especially their shabbos shoes!

-Day of (for Shabbos):
–Wake up early! Leave for shul early! Take a chumash to follow along with the leining (unless the shul has enough copies)!

-Day of (for the seudah):
–check out set up as early as possible. Many times things are not set up properly
–bring the centerpieces
–bring the benchers
–bring along a long, heavy duty extension cord (just in case)

-TIPS: For those seeking to scale down the celebration and/or save some money, there are several things that can be done yourself.
–The Kiddush can be in your home. This will save $1000 or more by itself. Yes, it will be messy and crowded, but it will last only an hour. We did ours in our back yard and it was amazing! We cooked, baked and froze, and were supplemented by many generous friends.
–The invitations can be done by someone who knows or is studying computer graphics, for a fraction of the cost. Buy the stationary yourself at Staples, and do the copying at a Kinkos.
–For the photography, find someone with a good digital camera and arrange a deal where he takes the shots and you just take the chip/card afterwards and you do the printing yourself. But this is not worth it if he is not good. The photos are your remaining memories of the event, so make sure he/she is good!
–We did the centerpieces ourselves: with vases from the gemach I made fresh flowers for each table in matching pieces of fresh fruit. You can cut the cost even more by putting flowers only on the women’s tables (men don’t notice or care anyways).

Emotional Points
–Obviously, this is a lot of work. It can get quite stressful, especially when there aren’t frum family involved helping you with the arrangements, or who want to do things differently than you. And especially when holidays like Pesach are near or on your son’s bar mitzvah date.
–Despite the joy the event heralds, many BT mothers have experienced bar mitzvah planning as lonely and stressful. If you don’t have a mother or sister to share the planning with, it would be a positive move to involve a good friend to help you out, shop with you, and help you make your decisions (along with your husband of course).
–Family milestones can also resurrect difficulties with non-frum family that you thought were resolved. For example, asking them to dress modestly, issues of driving to you on Shabbos, the separate dancing, the separate seating, the women behind the mechitza in shul, can all be flashpoints for vocal disagreements. Being prepared for this eventuality and discussing with your husband how to respond to various possible scenarios is the best way to prevent or diffuse any arguments.
–After all the planning, however, when the day arrives, it ushers in a powerful experience of simcha and yiddishe nachas, when you realize how far you’ve come as a family and how much your son has grown. In my experience, boys take their bar mitzvah very seriously and it is an opportune chinuch moment to emphasize how proud you are of him and how you love seeing him involved in his learning and davening. Im Yirtzeh Hashem he should go from this accomplishment to other Torah milestones!

Mazel Tov!

Thanks to bar mitzvah planner Laurie B from Passaic.

Jewish Education, Learning Torah and Connecting to Hashem

Posted on | November 3, 2014 | By Mark Frankel | 1 Comment

Mosaic Magazine has an article by two prominent Jewish sociologists, Jack Wertheimer and Steven M. Cohen, titled “The Pew Survey Reanalyzed: More Bad News, but a Glimmer of Hope.” (link). One of their conclusions is that the non-Orthodox movements are facing major challenges keeping their constituents involved and their descendants Jewish.

On of their recommendations is “to persuade more Jewish parents to enroll their children in strong programs of Jewish education—and to support what those programs are teaching.” I agree with their conclusion that more Jewish education will lead to more identification with the Jewish community and less intermarriage. However, their report highlights for me one of the major problems with the non-orthodox Jewish education that I received in my youth. And that is the lack of focus on connection to Hashem as the goal of Jewish Education.

When I became observant, Jewsish Education was replaced with Learning Torah. One of the the central axioms of Learning Torah is that Hashem transmitted the Torah to Moshe and the Jewish People through the prophetic process. This axiom puts Hashem front and center with respect to Learning Torah.

However, even with the G-d centered focus of Learning Torah, there is no guarantee the result will be a deeper connection to Hashem. In fact for many students and BTs who have not become high achievers in higher-level learning of Gemorah, learning Torah is more likely to invoke an eye-roll, rather than represent a tremendous opportunity to get closer to Hashem.

The path to a solution is not to rail against the system, but rather for each one of us to consciously refocus our goals when we learn, daven, or perform any mitzvah. Our front and center goal has to be to develop an awareness, a connection and a deep relationship with Hashem. The Pew Report is a lesson for the entire Jewish People, that we all, regardless of denomination, need to deepen our connection to Hashem. All the rest is commentary.

Only G-d Can Make an Identity

Posted on | October 30, 2014 | By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz | Comments Off

What is the true definition of Identity?

Why does the Midrash call the second blessing of the Amidah “HaShems blessing”?  as though the others are not.

I believe with complete faith that the Resurrection of the Dead will occur at the time when the Creator wills it … 

— 13th Article of Faith per Maimonides

 I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and magnify your name. You shall become a blessing.

 — Bereishis 12:2

Rabi Chiya bar Ze’eerah said [How was Avraham’s name magnified? Through becoming a blessing! HaShem said] “Your blessing precedes mine for [in the amidah-silent standing devotion] only after they recite the blessing ‘Shield of Avraham’ do they recite the blessing of ‘He Who resurrects the dead’ “

— BeMidbar Rabbah-Nasso 11:4

 [The Caesar] Antoninus said: “I am well aware that the least one among you [Tannaim-authors of the Mishnah] can bring the dead to life”

— Avodah Zarah 10B

 An Angel comes to the grave and asks [the deceased] “what is your name?” He responds: “It is known and revealed before the Blessed One that I do not know my name.”  

— Pirkei d’Rabi Eliezer

Elokim made man level/straight; but they [men] have sought out many schemes.

— Koheles 7:29

[During the Resurrection HaShem] Desires to Straighten the crooked.

— Zohar Beshalach page 54A

People are resurrected in the same condition in which they died.  If they were lame, deaf or blind when they died; they will still be lame, deaf or blind when they are restored to life. Only afterwards will they be healed of their blemishes … they will even be wearing the same clothes …   [Why will HaShem resurrect the dead in this manner?] So that the wicked will not claim “[this is not true resurrection for] those who rose are not the same persons which He slew”. So the Holy Blessed One says “Let them arise in the same state as they went [while alive], I will heal them afterwards.”

— Midrash Tanchuma Vayigash 8

 Rabi Chiya bar Ze’eerah’s teaching seems odd. Why, asks the Bais Yaakov, the second Izhbitzer, should the first brachah-blessing; of the amidah be considered any less “HaShems blessing” than the second?  HaShem is both “He Who resurrects the dead” and the “Shield of Avraham”?

The answer, simply put, is that while human beings could, theoretically, approximate the role of protecting Avraham from harm and enemies and thus presume the role of  “shield of Avraham”; no human being can quicken the dead — even for a moment. Thus of all the many prayers, blessings and liturgy that praise Him, HaShem chooses to describe the second blessing of the amidah as “His” brachah.

But this answer dare not be understood on a superficial level.  As we believe in hashgachah peratis-micromanaged Divine Providence; we know that even if a human being were to protect Avraham from harm and enemies he could not possibly do so without HaShem enabling him to do so. But if deeds accomplished through Divine facilitation (in other words all human endeavors) are still counted among human accomplishments then so should resurrection! The prophets Eliyahu and Elisha and, possibly, Yechezkal resurrected the dead. Moreover, as the Caesar Antoninus observed, any Tanna had this capacity as well. Some might argue that current microsurgery techniques that reattach severed limbs and restore them to full function is a kind of resurrection. Likewise, if cloning technology continues apace to the point that a fully functional and completely identical human organism can be replicated from a cadavers DNA, everyone will acclaim this as a medical miracle of resurrection.

Medicine has long been concerned with memory and identity loss through amnesia and dementia. World literature and folklore is replete with tales of identity swaps e.g. The Prince and the Pauper. While infrequent episodes of identity theft have always plagued society, in our era, in which identifying personal and financial information is routinely stored electronically, identity theft has become a crime pandemic. The Bais Yaakov teaches that what we believe as a part of our theology, what makes the ultimate Resurrection of the Dead uniquely Divine, is not so much that HaShem will restore life to lifeless corpses but that He will return the truest, profoundest identity to those who have lost it.

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Getting Shul Things Done; Choosing Connection Over Estrangement; Disrupting Dieting; Kiruv Goes On

Posted on | October 30, 2014 | By Administrator | Comments Off

Getting Shul Things Done

Disrupting Dieting

Choosing Connection Over Estrangement

Kiruv Goes On: the Models Change

Of Slugs, Racquetball and Shabbat

Posted on | October 28, 2014 | By Michael Gros | Comments Off

When people become observant, they often face certain delicate situations in the workplace, from struggling to find kosher food at meetings to having to leave early on Friday afternoons in the winter to be home for Shabbat. But for a division president of a $1.5 billion retailer, becoming frum led to its own set of challenges, both harrowing and humorous.

Yehoshua (Harry) Looks grew up attending a synagogue affiliated with the Reconstructionist Judaism movement. He was always attracted to the intellectual side of Judaism. After he married his wife Debbie, the couple moved around; from Ohio to New York, then a stop in Boston for business school, to St. Louis, to Baltimore, and back to St. Louis. After shopping around, they eventually joined a Conservative synagogue.

Yehoshua’s spiritual journey started after his rise in the ranks of Edison Brothers Stores. At age forty, after ten years with the company, Yehoshua was promoted to president of the company’s international division. At this juncture, seemingly fulfilled in life, Yehoshua began asking questions about the authenticity of the Torah. These questions ultimately became a spiritual crisis. Based on numerous conversations with the rabbi of the Conservative synagogue, the two men began learning one-on-one together, studying the Talmud and other Jewish sources. .

With his appetite for Jewish learning whetted, Yehoshua began to ravenously search for all Jewish sources he could find and began dedicating every spare minute to learning. He traded in his daily 5:30 am racquetball match for a Daf Yomi shiur.

A common challenge for people when they become observant is figuring out what to eat at business meetings and other events, and especially how to get kosher food in places far removed from Jewish communities. However keeping kosher was generally not a challenge for Yeshoshua, and it even helped him out of several sticky situations.

Yehoshua’s position took him on frequent business trips to China to check on factories and to open new offices. Before becoming religious, Yehoshua had been an adventurous eater and eagerly partook of the food at the lavish banquets during the trips. The feasts featured a varied assortment of Chinese delicacies, including meat of questionable origin and even insects.

However one food that Yehoshua could never develop a taste for was slugs, a common item at the dinners. “The fact that I could no longer partake of the meals for dietary reasons was a nice side benefit,” Yehoshua said, smiling.

As he become increasingly religious Yehoshua began bringing canned food with him wherever he went. Noticing this, his colleagues became concerned that he did not have enough to eat. One night in a restaurant in China a coworker, assuming that he could eat all vegetables, ordered for him a plate of string beans. A few minutes later the waiter brought a plate with a beautiful bed of string beans, crowned by lobster sauce filled with fresh pieces of seafood.

Yehoshua’s craving for learning went with him on his trips. Everywhere he went, he brought a Gemarah and his Daf Yomi cassette tapes. At the end of one trip to China, his long-haul flight back to America was delayed by fog in Shanghai.. So with extra time in the airport, Yehoshua sat in the business class lounge listening to his tapes to learn the day’s daf.

Within twenty minutes he was joined by two other frum Jews who were also stranded.. Yehoshua shared his tapes with them so they could learn as well.

“Here we were waiting in the airport in Shangai, fogged in, and three yidden were learning the daf!”

Yehoshua’s religious growth came with some challenges at work. One of his superiors in the company was particularly unsettled with Yehoshua’s need to leave early on Friday afternoons in the winter. The boss began keeping track to the minute the time that Yehoshua left each Friday, and became increasingly cold to him.

One Friday the executive called Yehoshua into his office. He angrily berated Yehoshua, accusing him of slacking on the job by leaving early.. After several minutes of harsh attacks he roared at Yehoshua: “What am I going to do if your business falls apart on Shabbat and you’re not there to take care of it?!”

Yehoshua responded with composure and delivered a prefect response:

“You’re going to fire me. If my business falls apart on one day, I’m obviously not doing my job.”

Yehoshua’s boss had no rebuttal. Yehoshua calmly turned and walked out of the office and his boss never said another word to him about Shabbat.

In 1994 the Looks family took a 10-day trip to Israel to tour and study. The trip solidified the religious direction that they were heading in.

As the trip came to a close, Yehoshua, Debbie and their three children all agreed that one day they wanted to come back.

That day came much faster than they expected. In November 1995 Edison Brothers declared bankruptcy. In April 1996, the company bought out Yehoshua’s contract and he left with a severance package commensurate with his 15 years experience at the company.

With their future now wide open, Debbie suggested the family take a one-year sabbatical in Israel. They sold their house and cars and moved to Yerushalayim. The one year became two and then became a commitment to make Israel their home.. Yehoshua eventually became a rabbi. Since then he has worked in outreach and Jewish education in Israel and America, using his years of business experience to help manage Jewish organizations..

Since leaving Edison Brothers, Yehoshua’s life has taken a far different course. Now instead of overseeing the production of clothing based on ephemeral fashion trends, he is living and disseminating a product that’s eternal. And he’s working for a Boss who doesn’t mind if he leaves early on Fridays.

————————————————————–

Michael Gros writes from Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel. The Teshuva Journey column chronicles uplifting teshuva journeys and inspiring kiruv tales. Send comments to michaelgros@gmail.com

Published in The Jewish Press in July 2011

Shabbos Project Follow Up – Making Our Shabbos Transformative

Posted on | October 27, 2014 | By Mark Frankel | 1 Comment

Shabbos Project Follow Up
Prior to the Shabbos Project, Rabbi Dr. Warren Goldstein spoke in Kew Garden Hills about the project. (link) He stressed that it was not primarily a kiruv project, but rather an opportunity to help non-observant Jews experience the transformative nature of Shabbos.

There is no doubt that Shabbos can be transformative, but when we look at those leaving Shabbos observance, or observing “half-Shabbos”, or lightly observing Shabbos, or at our own observance, it becomes clear that the degree of transformation is variable. This is my Shabbos Project takeaway, how can I make my Shabbos more transformative.

Here is an excerpt from Rabbi Dessler’s piece, “Shabbos and Olam Ha-Ba” in Michtav M’Eliyahu (Strive for Truth – Part Four) to help us understand the potential transformative nature of Shabbos.


Rest And Restlessness
Shabbos, the concept of rest, provides the goal of the physical universe — the world of restlessness. By “rest” we do not mean the dead state of inaction and laziness. This indeed is the antithesis of true being. We mean rest from the perpetual turmoil of material demands. This still center within the hurricane of life is the essence of the spirit. Here we make contact with God’s revealed presence in the world. This indeed is the goal and perfection of creation.

“As If All Your Work Were Done”
God completed all the work in six days, and we too are commanded, “You shall labor for six days and do all your work” (Shemot 20:9). The Rabbis ask, “Can one complete all one’s work in six days?” The answer is that, of course, on the material level one’s work is not done. But on the spiritual level, when Shabbos comes we should feel as if we have nothing more to do; worrying about one’s work is now out of the question.

This is a spiritual level which is not easy to attain. How can one help thinking about the multitude of things left unfinished which will have to be attended to in the coming week? But Shabbos represents the higher-level knowledge that God is in charge and that, in essence, there is nothing to worry about. One can be so immersed in the sanctity of Shabbos that one has no more room in one’s mind for that important business deal that was pending when Shabbos came in. All mundane matters shrink into insignificance compared to the tremendous holiness of Shabbos. They are, after all, only the means to an end, while Shabbos is the end itself — the spiritual goal of all creation.

Shabbos During The Week
The holiness of Shabbos must also infuse our weekday activities. One should not become so absorbed in earning a living that one loses sight of the purpose of all our striving — coming closer to God. The test is: do thoughts of our work invade our Shabbos, or dues the spirit of Shabbos permeate our week so that weekday thoughts are automatically excluded as soon as
Shabbos enters?

This is the meaning of “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy” — “Remember the Sabbath day during the week and arrange your business activities in such a way that you will be able to take your mind off them on the Sabbath” (Sforno on Shemot 20:9).

Enjoying Shabbos
In view of all this, it may seem incongruous that the Rabbis require us to honor Shabbos not only with prayer, Torah and song, but also with good food, fine linen and bright lights — all definitely physical attractions. They learn this from the words of the prophet Yeshayahu (58:13): “You shall call Shabbos oneg (a pleasure), and give honor to God’s holy day.” ‘Pleasure’ here means physical pleasure, the Rabbis explain.

On the other hand, the Zohar (III, 94 b) teaches that oneg refers to the spiritual delight of being close to God.

There is no contradiction. Of course the essence of Shabbos is spiritual joy and serenity. But we are human beings, and it is human nature to express one’s joy with food and drink and fine clothes. By these means we reinforce in ourselves the honor due to the spirituality of Shabbos. The holiness of Shabbos is so great that it can absorb these physical pleasures, and others too, into the sphere of spirituality.

It is this transformation of bodily activities into the sphere of holiness which is the hallmark of Olam Ha-Ba.

The Blessing Of Shabbos
In Bereshit 2:3, we read that God blessed the Sabbath day. But blessing means expansion — unlimited expansion of opportunities for spiritual progress — and a day is a limited amount of time. How can a day be blessed?

Shabbos brings us a sense of closeness to God. It is above time. The more a person appreciates the essence of Shabbos, the closer he is to transcending the boundaries of the everyday. If he experiences real pleasure in the realm of the spirit, no limit can be set to this progression. The real blessing of Shabbos is the expansion of one’s consciousness from preoccupation with the trivialities of this world to immersion in the spiritual world. This is the “inheritance without bounds” which is promised to the one who takes pleasure in Shabbos. Here, too, we forge a link with Olam Ha-Ba.

The Deluge of Youth

Posted on | October 23, 2014 | By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz | 1 Comment

What do mankinds greatest and worst generations have to do with one another?
“The Fountain of Youth” … why has mankind been searching for it from time immemorial?

And HaShem said: “My Spirit shall not keep on judging man forever, for he is nothing but flesh.  His days will be a hundred and twenty years.”

— Bereshis 6:3

I will be slow to anger for 120 years. If they do not repent I will bring the Flood upon them.

— Rashi ibid

Where is Moshe alluded to in the Torah? — In the verse: “For he is nothing but flesh” [the gimatriya-numerical value; of the Hebrew words משה –“Moshe” and בשגם  – “For (he) is nothing but” are equivalent. Moshe lived exactly 120 years]

— Chulin 139BR

Go [My prophet] and call into the ears of Jerusalem, declaring: HaShem says as follows: For you[r sake] I will remember the affection of your youth, the love of your nuptials; how you followed Me into the wilderness, into an uncultivated land.

— Yirmiyahu 2:2

Remember, HaShem, Your compassion and Your loving-kindnesses; for they began before time. Do not remember the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions …

— Tehillim 25:6,7

Who Satiates your old age with good; so that your youth will be renewed like the eagle.

— Tehillim 103:5

 

Youth is an uncanny time in our lives.  While imprisoned within it we want nothing more than to escape it. Once we have escaped it we spend the balance of our lives yearning wistfully and futilely to return to it. By turns we long for the carefree times, irresponsibility, limitless possibilities, direction-changing impressions, dependence
on-others, physical attractiveness, good health, idealism and the simplicity of time when we were young.  From ancient and 16th century legends of Ponce de León searching for the Fountain of Youth to the contemporary multibillion dollar cosmetics and cosmetic surgery industries; vast swaths of mankind have never ceased looking for ways and means of recapturing youth.

Most of all we long for the sheer vitality, power and strength that marks our early lives.  When we were young we had the speed, strength, stamina, mental acuity, inquisitiveness, reckless courage and optimism to accomplish great and meaningful things.  Many used their youthful, robust powers for good. However, lacking the skill and wisdom of age and experience; youth is also characterized by catastrophic mistakes, crimes and misdemeanors. Accelerating at youthful takeoff velocity, the young often take forks in life’s road that make U-turns impossible. The lion’s share of crimes is committed by the young.  Maturity and old-age are marked not only by longing for the restoration of youthful energy, but by remorse and regret over youthful indiscretions and catastrophic misdeeds.

Rav Tzadok, the Kohen of Lublin, teaches that this is not merely true of individuals but for mankind as a whole. In its youth mankind was capable of great virtue and good — chessed neurim-the lovingkindness of youth; and of incredible transgression and evil — chatas neurim-the sins of youth.

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“Just One Shabbos” Project

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recommit to Shnayim Mikra With Noach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Selling Yourself the Truth About Judaism

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

Have you ever had this conversation?

“Did you hear about Sam and Susan?”

“No.”

“They’re separating”.

“Really? How many kids?”

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

“So sad.”

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

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

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

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

A Succos Reawakening

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Rambam: Laws of Torah Study 3:1, 2

 

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

— Eruvin 22A

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

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

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

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

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

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Succah: A Temporary Structure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With best wishes for a wonderful Yom Tov,

Rabbi Mordechai Rhine
Originally Published October 2009

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