The Ninth Night

One of the most persistent themes on Beyond BT is about retaining the enthusiasm and excitement of the initial stages of reconnecting with one’s heritage and spiritual source when real life kicks in… and kicks, and kicks! Another one is squeezing metaphors out of the Chanuka menorah. Here’s another one.

It’s for the ninth night, when the menorah is stored away and there are no more lamps to ignite. Wise Hillel! Shammai, for his own reasons and based on his own tradition, had us start out with eight lamps and reduce the number over each succeeding evening. Hillel, however, taught that over the course of each succeeding night of Chanuka we add another bit of brightness.

This works well for us.

Now, we know this is the darkest time of year. We do not, of course, accept the cynical view of historians, always ready to discredit religious tradition, who view the Festival of Lights as a mere adaptation of that logical reaction to the dark which is to strike to a light. But there is certainly something to be said for the idea that if a little bit of light raises our spirits when it is dark, a little more, as the dark remains, or even, perhaps, increases — along with the cold and, in the regions of the Holy Land, the wretched wet — perhaps a bit more light will help even a bit more, and so on.

And so on, and so on. Until eight. And we have many traditions about eight, the number at which we break past the natural, i.e., the days of creation. Once we are at eight, we have done all we can. There are no nine days of Chanuka; by the ninth day, the regular process of preparing oil had completed, and no miracle was needed. And so on the ninth night we do not light the Chanuka menorah in our homes.

That was well and good in the Bais HaMikdash, but what about for us, now, bereft of its light — and now, on the ninth night, lacking the light of the menorahs in our windows or on our doorsteps or tables as well? What do we do when the crystalline sparkle we thought would always warm us is now gone, and it is still dark, and, it seems, will be for some time — and it is only getting colder?

Well, we know, again, that it would not have done any good to just keep lighting and lighting. Some cultures try to blot out the dark, so to speak, by a riot of tinsel, light and color. Eight days of Chanuka? We’ll sing about twelve days! Ornaments of red, green, gold; color, lights, trinkets, trees, balls — color, light, light, light, light, light, strung up high on trees, projected from the highest buildings!

Does this make the dark go away? Or are we merely jaded by the artificial stimulation, the garish, madding photons vomiting up a “light” that is useless as true illumination — that is, to see where one is going; to avoid obstacles; to gain perspective?

It hurts when the eight days are over and it is still dark and, perhaps, we are not as inspired by the Maoz Tzur and the spinning of the dreydel as we had hoped to be. We miss the warm glow of the olive oil, almost as comforting as a human embrace on a chill night. Real life’s harshness intrudes. But as we hunker down for what is, in fact, the winter ahead, what do we see in the fading echo of the light?

Were we inspired, did we grow, during that period of special illumination? Did we inspire someone else, even a little, in some positive way? Did we do nothing more than spin the dreydel? Did we encourage the dreydel to spin a little less? Or are we spinning when we try to convince ourselves one way or the other?

Each night’s added candle matters until it doesn’t, just as each step a child’s parent takes matters as he runs alongside a wobbling bicycle until, finally, letting go. Once the child rides by himself, whether or not it works out the first time, he never needs the parent running alongside again. Those steps will never be forgotten, though.

What if the child, sadly, forgets them? The parent will not. There is absolute value in this world. We give because giving is good. Giving inspires.

So too the light given off by flame inspires long after the light is gone, even if all we can see now is cruel, thankless dark.

The only darkness that matters is the one inside ourselves, and each other, not the one outside the windowpane. The season is irrelevant; Daylight Savings Time does not have to rule our moods.

We do not need tinsel, or even menorahs, or physical light at all, to illuminate that void if we can, with God’s help, just recall something of what we saw by the light we lit, or that someone we care about lit for us, in the world of the spirit, until the florid blaze of spring.

Our Divinely Approved Chanukah Service

In response to the question “Why Chanukah”, the Talmud relates the story of one jug of oil miraculously lasting for eight nights. In our extra prayers on Chanukah, we mention the underdog military victory of the Greeks. A military victory would probably not be enough of a reason to institute a holiday for all generations. But, neither would a miracle, as the 24 books of the Bible and the Talmud are replete with miracles for which on holiday was instituted. So perhaps there’s another approach to the question “Why Chanukah?”.

There are two major spiritual periods in history. In the first period, God’s presence was palpable and the Talmud relates that there were over one million Jewish prophets. In addition, the Written Torah (the 24 books of the bible) were received via prophecy during that period. The presence and belief in a God was strong, and living with an awareness of God was normative.

However, man was created with a strong ego and drive for self-sufficiency, and many people rebelled against serving God. This rebellion took the form of idol worship–the serving of other gods. The first spiritual period ended with the destruction of the First Temple (587 BCE). The rebellion against God had reached such a high level that He withdrew His presence from the world to a great degree. This withdrawal resulted in the gradual loss of prophecy, and since God’s presence was no longer palpable, the desire for idol worship also diminished.

When the Temple was rebuilt, there were no prophets, no open miracles and the service was at a much lower level. It was during this time that Greek philosophy and scientific exploration flourished. Increased intellectualism led to a heightened focus on the physical world and a lessened focus on the spiritual world and service to God. The Greeks sought to eliminate spiritual practice altogether and, eventually, the sacrificial service in the Second Temple was discontinued.

The Maccabees, who were Kohanim, were willing to give up their lives to restore spiritual service to the world. Since connecting to God through spiritual service is our purpose, they surmised that a life without service is not a life worth living. After many years, they eventually defeated the much larger and better equipped Greek army. The first spiritual act they performed was the lighting of the Menorah. The Menorah is a symbol of using our intellect to access the light of God, and the Maccabees desired to perform this inaugural service in the best way possible.

The Hebrew word for miracle is Nes which means “a sign”. A miracle is a clear sign that there is a force beyond nature, namely Hashem. Hashem wanted to give a clear sign that He fully approved of the Maccabees efforts and desire to serve Hashem in the absence of the Temple. The Nes of the oil was the sign of approval and Chazal instituted the Chanukah Service of lighting the menorah, accompanied by song and praise to Hashem, should take place on a yearly basis.

When we light the Menorah on Chanukah, it is the service of the Kohanim in the Temple that should come to mind. We are showing our dedication to serve God and fulfill our purpose in this world. Hashem has given His divine stamp of approval of this service. After Chanukah, we can keep in mind that the morning davening is also a replacement for the Divine Service in the Temple. Even after the destruction of the Temple, we still have powerful ways to serve Hashem. We should use these opportunities to improve our Divine Service with the desire that Hashem should restore the ultimate services of the Beis HaMikdash soon in our days.

Of Wisdom… Secular and Sacred

Chanukah celebrates more than a miraculous victory; it celebrates the triumph of the miraculous over the natural, and the sacred over the mundane and desecrated. We identify this triumph of the miraculous with establishing the preeminence of Torah vis a vis generic wisdom. (Mosarta…zaidim b’yad oskei torahsecha =[and] you delivered… the malicious into the hands of those who busy themselves wit the study of your Torah).

Since at least the pre-Chanukah period of Hellenization of large swaths of the Jewish population, Jews have grappled with the confluence, congruence and conflict of Torah and generic Chochma. In contemporary Judaism this tension is most evident in various debates over the relative quality, quantity and goals of Torah and secular education, in particular higher education. Ba’alei T’shuva, whose own educations typically inverted both the sequence and initial primacy of these two competing/contradictory/complementary branches of learning are generally more conflicted and bring unique questions and perspectives to bear on these nettlesome issues.

Apropos to the Chanukah spirit I’ve translated a brief but profound insight on the topic from one of the seminal Torah thinkers of the previous generation. Due to my great respect for the author O.B.M. and my fear over distorting his message I have refrained from adapting the piece and have attempted what I hope is a faithful, hence quite literal, translation. In so doing the lyricism and beautiful poetic meter of the original has been done great injury and some meaning may have been lost or distorted as well. If it has I hope to clarify the meaning to the best of my understanding and ability in the comment thread.

HaShem’s will is expressed in two units. One unit was expressed by the works of creation in a cosmos that was created through ten ma’amoros* and another unit was expressed at the foot of Mt. Sinai through Torah that was given through ten dibros*. Both are revelations of His will. Yet there is an underlying difference in the way that the Divine will revealed in each of these units is actualized. The way that the Divine will expressed through the works of creation is actualized is coercive. Whereas the way that the Divine will expressed through the Torah is actualized is through the exercise of human free-will. “Let there be light” is a ma’amar that is realized by way of an imperative, compelling law of nature. “Though shalt not prostrate thyself” is a dibra that is realized by way of the free-will of choice.

The wisdom of nature/the natural sciences is indeed the wisdom (of analyzing) the laws of G-ds will that were revealed to us through the ten ma’amoros. But since this wisdom is merely the wisdom of the will of G-d that was revealed to us by a “coercive” presentation it is, as a unit of wisdom, external and peripheral to Torah Wisdom that is the wisdom of the will of G-d that was revealed to us by a “non-compulsory” presentation. This distinction lends us insight into the idiom of the sages who referred to all disciplines other than Torah as “outer” wisdom. This is because the 10 dibros comprise the inner content of the 10 ma’amoros. “If not for my covenant day and night (the Torah) I would never have established the laws of heaven and earth (nature)”. That is to say, G-d never revealed Himself in the “coercive” presentation except to create a setting upon which he could reveal Himself in the “non-compulsory” presentation.

* Ma’amar and dibra/dibur in the singular. Both words mean “saying” or verbal expression. The nuanced difference of meaning in terms of the quality of the communication being expressed by either ma’amoros or dibros is the main topic of this passage.

This paragraph appears in Pachad Yitzchok –Chanukah M’a’amar 4. Anyone capable of studying it auto-didactically or with a mentor in the original is strongly urged to do so as it is best understood in the context of the entire essay and because (not that it needs my approbation) it is a philosophical masterpiece.

Originally Published Dec 21, 2006

Der Meistersingers of Athens – What’s Up with the Tune for Maoz Tzur?

Maybe it’s because I grew up listening to Xmas carols. Maybe it’s because what passes for Jewish music these days is frequently Jewish words grafted onto pop or rock instrumentals. Or maybe it’s because the perpetually waning enthusiasm I see in our young people today might be stemmed if we helped them tap into their neshomas rather than strengthening their connection with secular culture.

I suppose it’s really all three and more. But the bottom line is this: the one thing I despise about Chanukah is the pervasive, annoying, and distinctly un-Jewish niggun the whole world sings to Maoz Tzur – evoking not the heroism of the Hasmoneans but the flaky ambivalence of “Rock of Ages” and the red-suited jolliness of “Good King Wenceslas.”

It should come as no surprise that our popular Maoz Tzur sounds so goyish. It’s been traced back to an old German drinking song, and before that to the 16th Century hymns of the Benedictine Monks. I guess it fits right in with the inescapable practice of gift-giving, also borrowed from Christian society.

I know there are those who don’t object to borrowing Gentile melodies for our niggunim. But why can’t we borrow something that’s worth borrowing? Why do we have to embrace a tune that sounds like it should be accompanied by fat carolers sporting white cotton beards? And if we have to sing it, why can’t we limit it to Maoz Tzur and not repeat it endlessly in Lecha Dodi, Birkas HaChodesh, Shabbos morning kedusha, and twice in Hallel?

Above all, why doesn’t it bother us that on this of all holidays, the season when we celebrate the integrity of Jewish culture, we define our celebration by embracing the culture of Eisav, the culture that continues to dominate us in our final exile and which stands between us and the coming of Moshiach?

What’s that? You don’t know any other niggun? Call me, and I’ll hum a few for your over the phone.

Check out Rabbi Goldson’s latest articles at yonasongoldson.com.

Originally Published December 2008

Steer Clear of Band-Aid Solutions

What was the immediate purpose of Yoseph being privy to the dreams of his fellow prisoners?
Why is one dream about plants and the other about processed foods?
Why was the wine steward reinstated and the baker slain?

Soon thereafter the Egyptian king’s wine steward and the baker offended their master, who was the king of Egypt.

Bereishis 40:1

 [Regarding] this one (the wine steward) a fly was found in his goblet, and [concerning] that one (the baker) a pebble was found in his bread.  (Bereishis  Rabbah 88:2)

Rashi ibid

The wine steward told his dream to Yoseph,  “in my dream” he said, “there was a grape vine right in front of me and in the vine there were three shoots; and as soon as it began budding, its blossoms flowered, and its clusters matured into ripe grapes … I took the grapes and squeezed them into Pharaoh’s chalice and placed the chalice into the palm of Pharaoh’s hand.”

Bereishis 40:9-11

When the chief baker saw that the interpretation was good, he said to Yoseph: ‘I also saw myself in my dream and there were three baskets of fine white bread on my head; and in the topmost basket there were of all kinds of baked goods for Pharaoh [to eat] but birds were eating from the basket on my head.

Bereishis 40:16,17

Rabban Gamaliel sat and taught, “Woman is destined to give birth every day, for it is said, ‘the woman conceived and gave birth all together (Yirmiyahu 31:7).’” A particular disciple mocked him quoting, “there is no new thing under the sun (Koheles 1:9).” Rabban Gamaliel replied ”Come, and I will show you its simile in this world [currently under the sun]”. He went out and showed him a hen [hatching her daily egg]. On another occasion Rabban Gamaliel sat and taught, “Trees are destined to yield fruit every day, for it is said, ‘ and it shall bring forth branches, and bear fruit (Yechezkel 17:23).’ Just as the branches [exist] every day, so too new fruit will ripen every day.” A particular disciple mocked him quoting, “there is no new thing under the sun.” Rabban Gamaliel replied “Come, and I will show you its simile in this world”. He went out and showed him the caper bush. On another occasion Rabban Gamaliel sat and taught, “[The soil of] Eretz Yisrael is destined to bring forth pastries and silk robes, for it is said, ‘there shall be grain as large as a handbreadth in the land (Tehillim72:16).’”  A particular disciple mocked him quoting, “there is no new thing under the sun.” Rabban Gamaliel replied “Come, and I will show you its simile in this world”. He went out and showed him morels and truffles; and for silk robes [he showed him] the bark of a young palm-shoot.

Shabbos 30B

 Rav Yehudah said in Rav’s name: Of all that the Holy One, blessed be He, created in His world, He did not create a single thing lacking a purpose.

Shabbos 77B

The kingdom of the earth is analogous to the Kingdom of Heaven.

Zohar Miketz 197A

Rav Shmuel bar Nachmani said in the name of Rav Yonasan: in his dreams a man is not shown anything other than the musings of his own heart.

Brachos 55B

The musings of his own heart. i.e. what he ponders during the day/ waking hours [is what he dreams about while sleeping]

Rashi ibid

On a superficial level the fall from grace of Pharaohs wine steward and the baker and the wine steward’s rehabilitation reads like just another instance of palace politics that have characterized the courts of kings from time immemorial. However Rav Leibeleh Eiger avers that, as the primary “audience” watching this drama unfold was Yoseph haTzaddik-the righteous; there is a profound lesson to be learned from it. As Rav taught everything has a purpose even if the purpose is not readily apparent or easily understood.

The episode of Rabban Gamiel and his skeptical student teaches us that some of G-ds creations serve a dual purpose; their utilitarian function in the temporal here-and-now world, as well as serving as symbols and allegories for matters spiritual or belonging to the eternal world-to-come. The sanctified-poetic sensibility and the discerning eye perceive some of the loftiest, transcendent matters in the most mundane of allegories.

Rav Leibeleh Eiger goes a step further and says that some creatures and historical events one and only purpose is to function as hints and allusions to the inner metaphysical realities that they allegorize.  This is particularly true in the politics, intrigues, pomp and ceremony of royal courts as the operative principle is that “the kingdom of the earth is analogous to the Kingdom of Heaven.” This is even truer here with Yoseph haTzaddik as the Divinely intended audience. It is part of a tzaddiks job description to cultivate a penetrating and discerning awareness to tunnel in and mine lessons from the pnimiyus-inner content; of all that meets his eyes.

The primary qualitative difference between the respective dreams of the baker and the wine steward is that the bakers dealt with a final product , a processed food; fine white bread, while the wine stewards dealt with the most primary source of the beverage; the grapevine itself.  Both men found themselves incarcerated and in a dire predicament for having been deficient in their service to Pharaoh. The wine steward desired to do teshuvah-repentance; and tikun– repair; to restore his former relationship with his master and invested a lot of time reflecting on what went wrong and how he could set things right.

Read more Steer Clear of Band-Aid Solutions

Doing a Better Hallel On Chanukah

Chanukah is a time of L’hodos U’l’hallel, To give thanks and praise to Hashem and we fulfill that obligation with the saying of the Full Hallel all eight days. Here are some notes from Maharal: Emerging Patterns by Yaakov Rosenblatt on Hallel.

Give Praise Servants of Hashem from this time forth and forever more
Despite Hashem’s loftiness, He is still intimately involved with the life of man and continually bestows goodness through kindness, judgment or mercy.
He raise the needy from the dust is through judgment because the poor should be provided for.
To seat them with the nobles, nobles of His people is through kindness because although raising the poor out of poverty is just, elevating them to sit with nobles is an act of kindness.
He transforms the barren women into a joyful mother of children is an act of mercy since this women is not capable and therefore is not in the realm of judgment, nor is it kindness since children are not above and beyond human needs, rather it is mercy because even though this woman is unable to have children naturally, Hashem still allows her to conceive and bear children.

When Yisroel Went of out of Egypt, the House of Yaakov from a people of a Strange Language
After praising Hashem for His kindness through normal realms, we now praise Hashem for the miracles that transcend nature.
The sea saw and fled, the mountains skipped like rams, the hills like young sheep – water takes the shape of its container and the Earth is shaped by man. When Hashem acts and gives form and definition to all creation it is natural that the sea fled and the mountains skipped.
Hashem turned the rock into a pool of water, the flint into a fountain of waters – when Hashem is the force, even a rock is shaped effortlessly.

Not to us Hashem, but to Your Name Give Glory
This Psalm says the reason that Hashem performs miracles for the Jews is to give recognition to His name, His love and His truth. Only Hashem deserves this recognition and not things like idols which clearly have no power and are weaker than man. Man’s powers are listed in decreasing importance: speech, sight, hearing, smell, feeling, walking, and making sounds.

Hashem will Bless our Remembrance: He will Bless the House of Yisrael
Hashem will Bless our Remembrance requests that the lasting impact we will have on others and the world will be a blessing.
The Dead cannot praise Hashem, nor can any who go down into silence shows that only when the human body and the world are functioning properly can they “sing” the praises of Hashem. King David says allow us to live, allow us to thrive, so our very existence can proclaim your glory.

I love Hashem Who Hears my Voice and my Supplications
You have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling. King David thanks Hashem for saving his soul which represents the spiritual, the eyes which are the connection between the spiritual and the physical because they do not actively enter the world, but monitor it for the mind/soul to process, and the feet which represent the physical. Tears represent a loss of part of the soul.

How can I repay Hashem for all His kindness to me?
I will carry the cup that You have filled with salvation, and call upon the name of Hashem – A cup that is filled represents ones meaningful accomplishments and we think Hashem for the ability to act in meaningful ways.
I will carry …in my arms to show the cup that you filled precedes me and proclaims your greatness
I will pay my vows to Hashem in the Presence of all His People to use every opportunity to proclaim the greatness of Hashem and to publicly honor Hashem’s glory

Give Thanks to Hashem for He is Good
Thanks also mean to concede, so to the extent that a person recognizes and acknowledges the Hashem has given him everything is the extent to which he will thank Him. Different groups: humanity, Jews, Kohanim and G-d fearing people, have experienced different benefits and will therefore thank Hashem differently.

Out of My Distress I called upon Hashem
There are three levels of hatred, basic dislike (all the nations) because of economic, cultural or military threats, dislike due to differences in values which only the Jews hold (they surrounded me) and deep seated hatred (they surrounded me like bees) due to the subconscious understanding that the success of the nations is dependent on the Jew’s failure. If we act according to our spiritual potential the world’s event will be centralized around us for our benefit. If we do not, we are punished and the the nations are successful.

O praise Hashem all you Nations
Hallelukah combines a word of praise with Hashem’s name and is used to praise the miraculous because the only the one who created the worlds (Heh – this world, Yud – the next) can suspend the rules to perform miracles when he sees fit.

Why We Needed an Open Miracle on Chanukah

Chanukah Brings Forth the Light of Man’s Connection to G-d through Torah

In Derech Hashem, the Ramchal states:

“The significance of Chanukah and Purim is to bring forth the particular light that shone at the time of their original miracles as a result of the rectification they accomplished.

On Chanukah, the Kohanim prevailed over the wicked Hellenists, who wanted to disuade Israel from serving G-d. These Kohanim overcame them, and thus brought all Israel back to devotion to G-d. This especially involved the concept of the Menorah, since the Accusers were against what it stood for. The Kohanim, however, were able to restore everything to its rightful state.”

The Greeks Wanted to Eliminate the Spiritual Realm

Man relates in four ascending realms, the physical, the emotional, the intellectual and the spiritual. The Greeks advanced the intellectual realm but they did not recognize a spiritual realm beyond that. They tried to eliminate all spiritual practices involving G-d, because they contradicted their man-centered orientation. The Greeks sought natural explanations for everything in an attempt to explain away G-d. Although the Greeks recognized the Torah as a great work of wisdom, and even had it translated into Greek, they wanted to sever the Torah from its source, G-d.

The Macabees Restored Our Connection to Torah to Its Full Light

The Macabees clearly understood that the Jewish people (and the world) could not exist without man connecting to G-d through the Torah. The Macabbes defeated the great Greek army even though they were greatly outnumbered. They subsequently rededicated the temple and lit the Menorah which symbolizes man’s connection to G-d through Torah. The miracle of the oil burning for eight days occurred in the course of this rededication.

The War Was Also a Miracle

The Maharal of Prague teaches: “The main reason that the days of Chanukah were instituted was to celebrate the victory over the Greeks. However, so that it would not seem that the victory was due only to might and heroism, rather than to Divine Providence, the miracle was denoted by the lighting of the Menorah, to show that it was all by a miracle, the war as well …”

Nature, Hidden Miracles and Revealed Miracles

According to the Ramban and others, the essential difference between nature and miracle is that natural events occur frequently while miracles are unexpected. Miracles can be divided into two categories: those where Divine control is openly revealed; and those where Divine control is hidden and the miracle is made to appear as a natural occurrence. But, clearly, Hashem is behind nature, hidden miracles and open miracles.

If we know that everything emanates from G-d, what is the significance of the Maharal’s explanation of the re-categorizing the Macabee victory as a hidden miracle as opposed to a natural event?

The Need for Intellectual and Emotional Integration

Although we know that everything is from G-d, if that knowledge remains solely in the intellectual realm, it doesn’t transform who we are. The regularity of nature can obscure the fact that G-d’s hand is behind everything. To affect who we are, intellectual knowledge has to been transformed into emotional intelligence, because the heart/emotion controls our actions and the actions of man are integral to defining him. The integrated person uses his intellect to focus his emotions to perform appropriate actions.

Necessity of the Miracle

Seeing G-d’s hand in the open miracle of the oil and the hidden miracle of the military victory enables us to effect the spiritual changes necessary to reconnect to G-d through the Torah. This clear spiritual signal enables us to transform our intellectual knowledge of G-d to the emotional and, subsequently, to action in the service of G-d. After the Greeks had tried to disconnect the intellectual from the spiritual, G-d’s spiritual signal enabled us to re-integrate all four realms of man.

Miracles Lead to Praise and Thanks

In the normal Modim prayer of Shomoneh Esrai, we thank G-d every day for the miracles in nature that He performs as He sustains us each day. When G-d performs a greater miracle, a hidden miracle, greater praise and thanks is required. When we reclassify the miracle of the victory as a hidden miracle, we are obligated to praise and thank Hashem in a more recognizable fashion and thus we have the Al HaNissim addition to Modim on Chanukah as well as the recital of Hallel. This praise and thanks should be on a higher emotional level than normal and should prompt us to focus our actions more acutely on Torah and mitzvos.

In Summary

– Man has four ascending realms: physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual
– The Greeks wanted to eliminate the spiritual realm and it’s accessibility through Torah
– The Macabees realized the impossibility of a world with Torah
– They won the war and G-d performed an open miracle of the oil burning
– The open miracle clarified that the military victory was a hidden miracle and not a natural act
– Although we know nature is also G-d directed, its regularity can obscure G-d’s presence
– Intellectual knowledge must affect the heart so that it can direct the actions of man
– The open miracle revealed the hidden miracle enabling us to reconnect the spiritual leading to action
– Miracles require higher levels of thanks and praises which is why we have the extra Tefillos of Hallel and Hodaah on Chanukah

Originally Posted 12/18/2009

Fearing Fear Itself and Beating Brutal Arms with Happy Feet

Yaakov needed to defend himself and his family. So why was he anxious about killing others?
Why did Yaakov’s wrestling match opponent aim for the hip?

The messengers returned and said to Yaakov,” We came to your brother Esav and he is also heading towards you and has 400 men with him. Yaakov was very frightened and anxious …

— Bereishis 32-7,8

Yaakov was very frightened and anxious: He was frightened for fear that he might be killed and he was anxious lest he kill others (Bereishis Rabbah 75:2, MidrashTanchuma-Vayishlach 4.)

— Rashi ibid

HaShem; isn’t it so that I hate those that hate You? And do not I bicker with those that rise up against You? I hate them with supreme hatred; they have become my own enemies.  

— Tehillim 139;21,22

When it goes well for the virtuous, the town celebrates; and when the wicked perish, there is joy.  

— Mishlei 11:10

Save me I pray from the hand of my brother; from the hand of Esav for I fear him …

— Bereishis  32:12

[Regarding the miraculous trial of the Sotah-suspected adulteress;] our Rabbis taught: “And the man will then be free of sin [but the woman will be punished if guilty.]” (BeMidbar 5:31) — [Only] at such times when the husband is free of sin, will the waters test his wife; but when the man is not free of sin, the waters will not test his wife.”

— Sotah 47B

And [when] Yaakov was left alone, a stranger wrestled with him, raising dust, until the darkness lifted. When the stranger saw that he could not overwhelm him he touched Yaakovs upper thigh joint. Yaakov’s upper thigh joint was dislocated as he raised the dust with him.

— Bereishis  32:25,26

The sun rose and was shining on him as he passed through Penuel and he was limping on account of his [dislocated] thigh [joint.] Therefore the bnei Yisrael-Children of Israel; refrain from eating the gid hanasheh-the displaced nerve; on the hip joint to this very day.

— Bereishis  32:32,33

The sun rose for him: … The Midrashic interpretation (Bereishis Rabbah 68:10) [is]: The sun rose for him-to heal his limp, as it is said: (Malachi 3:20): “the sun of mercy, with healing in its wings.”

— Rashi ibid

Chazal-our Talmudic sages; quoted by Rashi teach that Yaakov had an ominous presentiment about his encounter with Esav based on the dual fears of killing and of being killed. At first glance it is perfectly reasonable that Yaakov Avinu would fear being killed. Almost all of humanity is afflicted with death anxiety for a variety of reasons. In Yaakov’s case, no doubt, it stemmed from nobler considerations than in the vast majority of humanity, but we can at least hazard educated guesses of why he feared his own death.  Not so when considering his other source of anxiety.

The Biskovitzer asks; what did Yaakov have to fear about the possibility of killing others (presumably Esav and his cohorts)? After all,  they were reshaim-wicked people; approaching Yaakov and his family with unjust and unprovoked lethal intentions and the Midrash Tanchuma (Pinchas 1) teaches that “one who spills the blood of reshaim is considered to have offered a korban-sacrifice; to HaShem.”

Read more Fearing Fear Itself and Beating Brutal Arms with Happy Feet

Thanksgiving and the BT

It’s clear that Thanksgiving is an “issue” for many Baalei Teshuvah. In addition to Neil Harris’ Being Thankful for Thanksgiving, the issue has come up in numerous posts and comments. We have highlighted some of those posts and comments below.


In Can You Really Get Everything You Want at Alice’s Restaurant?
, Rachel Adler sought advice on her first Thanksgiving in someone else’s non-kosher home:

“Thanksgiving, on the other hand, was one of the few holidays that I could spend at home with my family. For the past 10 or so years, we’ve hosted our extended family for Thanksgiving, with our cousins from New Jersey, California, and sometimes even Guatemala coming to the meal. Usually there are over 20 people. This was convenient when I started keeping kosher, since my parents started keeping a kosher house and no one had to make any special arrangements for me… I have a younger cousin, who just got accepted to Washington University in St. Louis, where she’ll be going next year. She’s among the cousins who usually visit us for Thanksgiving. This year, however, her parents want to host Thanksgiving since this is the first time she’s been away from her family and they want her to be able to go home for her first school break. This is understandable, but when my mom told me this yesterday, I asked “What am I going to eat? And what about Shabbat?”… My cousins don’t have a kosher kitchen and, as far as I know, they don’t even know how to keep kosher (besides the basics of no milk and meat) since they, unlike my parents, were never raised keeping kosher… I know that this would be a good opportunity for me to do a kiddush Hashem if I can figure out a way to make this work without causing strife. I really love my cousins. I just have no clue what to do. Any advice?”

Some advice from the comments:

Chaya:

Rachel,

If your aunt is open to you bringing your own food that is what I usually do in these circumstances. In my experience, it is better to discuss this directly with your hosts than have your parents advocate for you. Thanksgiving is usually celebrated Thursday afternoon, right? Could you be with your family Wednesday and Thursday night and then go to an observant family for Shabbat? …I have been doing stuff like this with my family for several years, and I have found that there is usually a way to compromise. I think you are taking a great attitude by thinking of the potential for kiddush Hashem.

Bob Miller:

As an aside, the kosher traveler can now find packaged kosher items in virtually every supermarket, convenience store, and Wal-Mart in the US. La Briute self-heating TV dinners are available in some stores and on-line (check www.labriutemeals.com )

Out of Town:

Thanksgiving can be a difficult holiday for BTs. I know my parents were very offended when I wouldn’t eat the turkey at their house when I started becoming frum. I would definitely agree that you should talk to the hosts in advance and warn them that you will be bringing your own food. Those La Briute meals are pretty good and I think they even have a turkey one. Another option is to either buy or make a meal at home, freeze it, then heat it up at their house. Or, maybe you could volunteer to bring one of the side dishes, that way you will have something to eat that everyone else will eat, then just bring your own turkey or whatever. Good luck!

Ilanit:

I have the same problem as well…

I would first discuss the situation with the appropriate family members. If you are comfortable, discuss the issue with the hosts. Since you love them and I am sure they love you, they will be happy to help come up with a compromise. This is a ‘better’ situation than one where the hosts refuse to compromise at all. I have done this in the past, and I have found it to be extremely helpful as it eliminates surprises and opens the lines of communication and sets expectations. Especially since Thanksgiving is an eating-oriented holiday, no one would want you to be left out of the eating.

Determine what is the most that you can do on your end. Bring a cold salad, plates & utensils, dessert, appetizers, etc. Do the max that you can do. When we went to a non-kosher house for Thanksgiving last year, I brought appetizers, side dishes, and dessert to ensure that we would at least have something to eat!

Include your family in your Shabbat plans. Since it’s also a family-oriented holiday, maybe your relatives would like to ‘do’ Shabbat with you, or whatever. See what their thoughts are. Maybe you can organize something! (which may be a relief for the hostess from all the cooking)

Now may be the time to be creative… It is obvious that you are willing to do that which maintains family harmony while also staying true to yourself. Being honest will help with that. Good luck!

SephardiLady:

Something that is definitely worth doing is really learning about kashrut, the foundations behind the halacha, and the very practical end of kashrut (what must have a heksher and what products don’t need a heksher, what is considered sharp/hot and what is not, steam, kashering burners, ovens, microwaves, bishul, and more).

As it is said, knowledge is power, and with some ingenuity, resources, and knowledge, it is more than possible to create kosher meals in a non-kosher home without upsetting everyone.

Goodluck and enjoy Palo Alto. The frum community there is very nice.

Chava:

Ah – Thanksgiving, the holiday of the BT :) . At least it is for our families.

Neither my, nor my husband have parents with kosher kitchens, yet we have managed to make a totally kosher Thanksgiving meal in their homes. Self cleaning ovens, tin pans, disposable plates and ’silverware’ with maybe a few pots brought in. If your relatives are game, it can be done. This also prevents the issue of ‘why do you have different food’ and ‘what, did I contaminate your food with my fork?’ and so on.

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Shayna spoke about how she “lost Thanksgiving” in Painfully Cutting Ties to the Past and the commentors offered support and some insight on the halachic parameters of the holiday.

Thanksgiving was supposed to remain a lifeline with my Before Teshuva world. At first, I stubbornly held on to New Year’s, defiantly rationalizing that we live by the secular calendar, too. But in truth, I’d long been uncomfortable with the idea that we kept our dates by their relation to the death of the Christian deity. (That’s pretty weird for a supposedly secular country.) Halloween was no great loss with the introduction of Purim. And, on Fourth of July, I usually serve my family something sweet and patriotically decorated and take the kids to a quiet spot to watch fireworks.

Then I lost Thanksgiving.

Rabbaim have poskuned that Thanksgiving has non-Jewish roots. Someone unhelpfully provided us with a pamphlet spelling out the problem. And since no one in the kids’ yeshivas does it, and, more importantly, I’ve lost my rebellious spirit in the realization that no matter how much I bristle, the frum way is usually best, after all…we don’t celebrate Thanksgiving either.

And now I feel a loss on that late November Thursday. I miss the politically uncorrect Pilgrims, stuffing, and pumpkin pie with whipped cream. Milchig.

Some advice from the comments:

Menachem:

It is by no means a foregone conclusion that Thanksgiving is a “treif” holiday. There was a diversity of opinion among gedolim in the last century on the subject. Rabbi Michael Broyde wrote an excellent analysis of the subject which you can read here http://www.tfdixie.com/special/thanksg.htm

There are enough things baalei teshuva must give up without going overboard and giving up things we don’t have to.

Melech:

See my response to another post on a similar topic on the suitability of Thanksgiving for BT’s!

Also, I think that some ties must be cut, and other ties do not need to be, or should not be. Here one needs the advice of a posek who “gets it” and who is familiar with your family situation in most cases. We should strive to make “yesses” wherever possible.

This year my parents could not make it,so we were spared some stress with non-Jewish cousins. But my wife still made some traditional dishes, and we talked about Squanto and mekoras hatov.

On the other hand, she refused to make me roast chestnuts, which my Dad always insists on- oh well.

David Linn:

Great comment. I wholeheartedly agree with the need to find a possek or rav who is familiar with one’s particular background and avoid making decisions, especially regarding restrictions, without first asking (we will be discussing the issue of finding a rav a sometime over the next few weeks). Sorry about the chestnuts, Melech.

Shayna – I think that the fact that no other kids in the yeshiva are celebrating is not, in and of itself, a reason not to do it. Sure, we feel peer pressure and we don’t want our kids to be singled out or made fun of. At the same time, we also need to teach are kids the importance of family and permissive individuality.

We are perhaps one of a handful of families in our school that actually has a Thanksgiving meal (my mother made a mean turkey this year, delicious!). At the same time, I think we would certainly be considered “more to the right” than the overwhelming majority of families in the school when it comes to many other social and parenting issues. My wife and I are constantly struggling to strike the balance where our kids understand that just because we don’t allow a particular activity until a certain age and their friends’ parents do doesn’t mean that we are better or frumer than they are. I think that equips them to handle the “peer pressure” when we do things that others don’t, i.e. Thanksgiving.

Teaching tolerance isn’t easy but as BTs that has got to be a priority especially when half of us are here complaining about how many sectors of the FFB world are intolerant of us.

All the talk of turkey and sushi on this site is making hungry!

Moshe Silver:

BS”D
Hey, BT! Lighten up! FYI, what we now observe as Secular New Year’s Day – 1 January – was observed in the ancient world before the birth of Christianity, and was co–opted by the Church. The reason Christmas Day falls eight days before the New Year has to do with making the beirth of the year correspond with the circumcision of Baby J. As to Thanksgiving, one way to look at it is to say it has Christian Roots. Another way is to recognize that its roots really lie in the quest for relgious freedom. I believe it was the Chofetz Chaim who exhorted his own children to go to America, stating that the future of religious Judaism would be there. The Founders of this country were more religion-oriented and G-d oriented than they were Christian oriented. They were Deists and Freemasons, for whom belief in a Deity superseded adherence to a religion. To this day, there is no country on earth more positively disposed towards religious observance, and more religiously tolerant. You couldn’t be a BT in most other countries in the world – not throughout human history, and not even today – without exposing yourself to physical danger. Here, all you have to worry about is embarrassing yourself by not knowing when to stand up and sit down during the services. Are you going to pasken yourself out of recognizing the blessing that HaKadosh Baruch Hu has given us, to be able to be BTRs in the world today? Or are you, like me, going to embrace the one holiday that celebrates G-d and belief, and America all at once?

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Rivkah cut to the chase with her American Holidays – Thanksgiving Survival Guide, really short version

For the last several years I have not had to face being around my family during any of the chagim because I had lived in Israel. Saying no to attending family holidays, for many people it is an extremely difficult burden to face. How do you say no when it is family? But how can you say yes to the Pesach Family Seder that lasts about 15 minutes and the Rosh Hashanah Meal both First and Second Night that isn’t kosher or Sukkot Chol Hamoed Lunch that isn’t in a Sukkah even when it isn’t raining. It is so hard because we love our family and we bend over backwards not wanting to alienate them from frumkite, chas v’shalom. But lets face it…knowing that the chagim are all about our relationship with HaKadosh Baruch-Hu and we just can’t get “there” to the loftiest of places in a home where there isn’t Kiddusha…or at least the brand of Kiddusha we need especially on a Yom Tov.

So how do you get out of the holiday of Thanksgiving? It never falls on a Shabbat…ok and it isn’t a Yom Tov… no problem there. The truth is, at least for me, Turkey-Day is the one holiday I don’t want or need to “get out of”. This year, for the first time in many years, I was able to and did attend the Family Thanksgiving Dinner. So here is my Survivors Guide, really short version, to spending Thanksgiving (or July 4th, Memorial Day, Labor Day, New Years Day fill in the blank __ Day) with your family.

It is really important that you are able to do the most important thing on Thanksgiving and that is of course EAT. Waking up early on Thanksgiving, my kosher turkey went in the oven. Quickly the house was filled with all the smells of my childhood. I made everything I needed to feel good at the table… I was able to sit next to my cousins (of course still at the children’s table) and stuff my belly with yummy Thanksgiving delicacies. I even had enough leftovers at home in the fridge to feel very American on “Black Friday”. The mashed potatoes were my “contribution” to the cornucopia feast. Of course they were parve. I couldn’t bring the traditional buttery potatoes to set along side the table of turkey and spiral-cut-you-know-what! At the end of the evening as we all reclined in our chairs, everyone wanted to know how I made the yummy dilled mashed fluffy stuff. They were all stunned to hear about my secret to make them creamy with out milk or butter (margarine and light mayonnaise). Smiling to myself I thought of my own theory. They tasted so yummy because they were the only kosher thing on the table…of course other than my shiny aluminum pan, double wrapped foil peeled back filled with all the essentials: half a turkey breast, a mini portion of yams with marshmallow, challah stuffing, string bean casserole and of course parve mashed potatoes. FYI … you can follow the Libby’s Pumpkin Pie recipe on the label but instead of condensed milk, replace with soy milk and Rich’s cream frozen.

Some advice from the comments:

Kressel:

BS”D

You did all that on a Thursday night? I am impressed. Did you have turkey for Shabbos?

Menachem

Thanksgiving is the last holiday one should try to “get out of”. In my mother’s extened family there are/were two huge gathering each year that go back at least 2 generations; Pesach Sedar and Thanksgiving. Both gatherings included 3 to 4 generations, often 50 or more people.

As soon as I became frum the Pesach sedar had to go as it was not even kosher let along pesadik. It just wasn’t an option.

Thanksgiving was another story. Since driving and housing were not an issue, I saw no reason not to continue attending this annual “seudah” in order to maintain ties with my extended family. It was usually held in a treif restaraunt and for a few years my mother would order special meals for us (my two siblings and I, and later my wife). Later on we decided to forgo the special meals as they were more hassle than they were worth and we realized the main thing was just to be together with family, not the eating.

David Linn:

I’ve been doing Thanksgiving at my Mother’s the past 15 or so years (that’s a lot of Turkey!) I’m fortunate in the fact that my Mother is now Shomer Shabbos (a story for another time) and kashrus is not an issue.

If you’re going somewhere where you can’t eat, make sure to bring something that you can eat and that everyone else can eat as well!

Conversation is just as importnat as food. O.K., almost as important as food. O.K., conversation is important too. Thanksgiving is just not the time to synopsize the daf for your non-frum cousin. Neither is it the time to sit on the side with your head buried in a sefer. Try to find common ground. If you follow sports and your family does too, voila. Reminiscences of childhood days may work (if you have good ones). Bottom line is to give it some thought before you get there.

Melech:

Hey, one of my favorite topics! I once heard an FFB make a crack to a very chashuv Rav, “Jews don’t do Thanksgiving, we thank Hashem _every_ day.” The Rav- very insightful and knew who he was speaking to said, “So what’s wrong with taking one day and doing it a little more?”

In my family, Thanksgiving persists because it provides few challenges. True, it has to be at our house so we can ensure the kashrus, but that’s not a challenge to my non-frum family and some of their non-Jewish spouses. We get together, eat, thank G-d for obvious blessings, sit around and talk, and don’t watch any football since we don’t own a TV. Then they all leave.

My own Rav has told me on many occaisions that BT’s have to work hard to find “yesses” since so much of what we do becomes “no’s” for them. Thanksgiving is a very easy “yes.”

Except when my wife served turkey on shabbos, my son, then 5 or 6, “poskened” “You’re not allowed to serve leftovers from a goyishe holiday for shabbos!”

That’s BBT’s, folks.

Oh, and there’s no kiruv either.

Originally published on 11/18/2006

Rabbi Dov Brezak – Staying Focused: How to Build and Maintain a Loving Relationship with Each of Your Children

Rabbi Dov Brezak give a shiur entitled “Staying Focused: How to Build and Maintain a Loving Relationship with Each of Your Children”. Rabbi Brezak is an internationally renowned lecturer and author of Artscroll’s “Chinuch in Turbulent Times” and the acclaimed “Chinuch Concepts” tape series.

You can download the shiur here. (right click and save as)

Here are some points from the shiur:

– Our goal as parents is not so much that our children should become a mensch or a servant of Hashem, but rather that they should want to strive for those goals.

– The key is to create positive ongoing relationships with your children.

– Catch them doing things right – even minor things.

– Be quiet in the face of power struggles.

– Preserve their dignity.

– Don’t expect them to be there, help them get there.

– Set them up for success

Listen to the mp3 to get the full benefit of this great shiur.

Of Odd Couples and Sleepwalking in the Ways of HaShem

What is the significance of HaShem making promises to an unconscious , sleeping Yaakov?
Why did HaShem allow Yitzchak to be duped by Rivkah and Yaakov to be deceived by Leah?
Why does our mystical tradition refer to Rachel as the “revealed world” and to Leah as “the hidden world?

Yitzchak summoned Yaakov, bestowed a blessing on him and commanded him “Do not marry a Canaanite girl”.

— Bereishis 28:1

Yaakov left Beersheba and headed toward Charan … taking some stones he placed them about his head and lay down to sleep there … Suddenly [he observed] HaShem Standing  over him … [HaShem said] I am with you. I will Safeguard you howsoever you go.

— Bereishis 28:10,11,13,15

HaShem Elokim said “it is not good for man to be alone. I will Make him a challenging helper.”

— Bereishis 12:18

Rav Yehudah said in the name of Rav: “Forty days before the formation of an embryo, a Bas Kol-Echo of the Divine Voice; emanates and proclaims, The daughter of A is destined for B.’”

— Sotah 2A

House and riches are the legacy of fathers; but a sensible wife is from HaShem.

— Mishlei 19:14

We see from all segments of the tripartite Torah that the match between a woman and a man is from HaShem[‘s Divine Providence.]

— Moed Katan 18B

There are those who must go after their mates and others whose mates come to them. Yitzchak’s mate came to him, as it is written “(He raised his eyes) and beheld camels coming [transporting his bride Rivkah.] (Bereishis 24:63)” Yaakov went after his mate, as it is written “Yaakov left Beersheba … (Bereishis 28:10) “

— Bereishis Rabbah 68:3

Yaakov loved Rachel and said [to Lavan] “I will work for seven years for Rachel your younger daughter.” … In the evening he [Lavan] took his daughter Leah to Yaakov who consummated the marriage with her … In the morning discovering that she was Leah [not Rachel] he said to Lavan  “How could you do this to me? Didn’t I labor with you for Rachel[‘s hand in marriage]? Why did you cheat me?

— Bereishis 29: 18, 23,25

A reasonable argument can be made that THE greatest enigma in all of Jewish thought is the conundrum of Yediah u’bechirah-HaShem’s perfect infallible Foreknowledge vs. human free-will. But spinning off of this supreme enigma there are many sub-riddles and mysteries e.g. the particular Providential involvement that our sages ascribe to one’s destined marriage partner. Another example are narratives, both scriptural and personal, of “all’s well that ends well.” There are times when what we think, say or do seems to be thoughtless, ethically neutral or even contrary to the Divine Will. However when later chapters of these biographies are written by the Divine Author, with the passage of time and with the clarity of 20/20 hindsight, we realize that, in truth, what we thought, said or did carried a positive ethical charge and was consistent with the Divine Will.

Our sages divide the Providential involvement in matching men with their destined marriage partners into two broad categories:  those who must go after their mates and those whose mates come to them.

The Bais Yaakov, the second Izhbitzer, explains that when the Divine Will ordained the creation of woman as a helper to man that, this help too, would manifest itself in two different ways: There are times when a man is proactive in the pursuit of a woman and chooses a mate based on what his rationale, and the rationale of his heart, dictate. He marries a woman in whom heperceives the qualities that will aid him in his life’s work and mission. Such men are among those “who must go after their mates.”

Then there are men whose mates are not at all in accordance with what would naturally be assumed or expected. They come to their husbands without the latter having invested any intellectual, spiritual or emotional capital in determining whether or not they would “make sense” as a married couple. HaShem sends this woman to this man in ways that are counterintuitive and that, at first, seem to thwart both the Divine Will and hinder or delay the achievement of the husband’s goals.

Read more Of Odd Couples and Sleepwalking in the Ways of HaShem

Messages From My Grandson’s Bris

The remnants from the Shalom Zucher were scattered around the dining room during Shabbos lunch as my son-in-law casually remarked: “We would like you to be the Sandek at the Bris”. My heart filled with joy and I could only muster a three letter interjection in response: “Wow”. After gaining some composure, I thanked my children and said it would be a tremendous honor.

The next day I contacted two friends who were previously Sandekim and asked them how they prepared. They told me what their research had uncovered, including a trip to the mikvah. At the mikvah, a third friend shared some additional insights. Most of the ideas shared are applicable for any person attending any bris, so I wanted to share them with you.

The first idea is that the Bris is considered the spiritual birth of the boy baby. It is the first spiritual act in which the baby is involved and we should pray that the baby will continually pursue their purpose, which is a life focused and filled with spirituality. It is also an opportunity for us to commit more fully to a spiritually focused life.

During the actual Bris, the cries of the baby and the Mesiras Nefesh involved activates Hashem’s attributes of loving-kindness and mercy. This creates an opportune time to daven to Hashem for our special needs and the needs of our friends and family.

Finally, the Bris is a sign that focusing on the spiritual over the physical is especially necessary in those areas which have tremendous physical pull. We can use the occasion to re-energize our own committment in these challenging areas.

Being the Sandek at my grandson’s bris was a tremendous event, but focusing on the ideas behind every bris helps make our life’s spiritual purpose a more central part of our lives.

Cross posted on Shul Politics.

My Non-Observant Sister’s Wedding

Hi,

My sister got married on Sunday, and I have written down some thoughts I have, the day after. I wondered if I could post them to beyondbt, as I could use some chizuk from others who have experienced similar things.

7th November 2011

Last night they finally got married. And it’s a major anticlimax for me. My sister met her boyfriend 5 years ago, when I met my husband. In that time, I have got married and had two children and she has continued dating him. They got engaged on New Years Day this year and moved in together a couple of months after and yesterday they stood under the chuppah and are now husband and wife.

I had been so thrilled for my big sister. She is 3 years older than me (31) and it was about time too. Now her relationship which has been so worrying to all the family is a kosher one and all is done and dusted.

They tried so hard to include us, the caterer was kosher, we had a hotel room paid for in the swanky five star hotel for us all, and a babysitter paid for the whole day so that we would be able to enjoy the wedding and that our children would be able to participate when they could and be looked after when they were too tired or noisy. I had an outfit made to measure which was as tznius as could be, as well as really gorgeous. But the whole event just underlined to me just how not frum they are, and how different our lives are.

The dancing was the hardest. We are a musical family and it was just so hard to not be able to join in the dancing. It wasn’t that I wanted to be dancing to “Living on A Prayer”, but I wanted that I would be able to be fully taking part in my sister’s wedding. My sister, who I love so much, who I am so so happy that she is finally in a committed relationship, that she is a wife, I wanted to be able to celebrate with her by dancing around the room, like I do at my friends’ weddings and even strangers!

But I had to stand on the other side of the hall, trying to bite back the tears. Of course, it’s perfectly acceptable to be emotional at your sister’s wedding, so I didn’t have to explain them. But it was so so hard to feel part of the celebration.

They kindly hadn’t filled me in on any of the details of the night as they knew I wouldn’t be able to attend and that I’d prefer not to know things which will upset me. But one thing I did know was that she, her friends, my mum and her mother in law had all learnt a dance routine which they performed to the rest of the guests. I wanted to see it, but then it was so painful to not be one of them doing it. I should have been able to perform a shtick with my sister, but instead I couldn’t, because they are just not frum. It really really hurt and I nearly ran out of the hall to not collapse into tears. We really are a very musical family and singing and dancing are such a way that we express ourselves. Not being part of the dancing was far more difficult than I had imagined.

Yes, she looked beautiful, yes the shul was magnificent, and the hall for wedding looked spectacular with the attention to detail incredible. The wedding favours, flowers made out of ribbon with sugared almonds enclosed looked enchanting. The real flower arrangements classy and refined. But that’s it. It was all the superficial details of beauty without the depth of a frum wedding. The best man’s speech was cringeworthy, all the silly things the groom had done growing up. I couldn’t bear it. When Michael gave his speech, I had the briefest of mentions, something along the lines of, “and thank you Jacqueline, my beautiful new sister in law”, which as well as being in contrast to the great shpiel about her other three bridemaids who are friends was bizarre for me to have anyone other than my father or husband tell me that I look beautiful. It was such a formulaic thing to say, rather than being applicable to me. No mention was made of my son (who was a page boy) or daughter (little bridesmaid). I’m sure that was just an oversight, but when I was already feeling sidelined, it didn’t help.

It all just made me feel like any old guest at the wedding rather than the sister of the bride.

The bedeken was beautiful though, and I mean that honestly. It was just the immediate family and I was called in for that, although they asked that my children weren’t there (which made sense, they’d never have stayed still or quiet and it was a tiny room). Both fathers blessed their children and his Dad even spoke to him about the meaning of the words, who Efraim and Menashe were and how that is applicable to him. The Rabbi at the chuppah spoke really nicely about the unity of the two families, and our families are families which really do work on keeping in touch with distant relatives. The chazzan happened to be an old neighbour of ours who sang beautifully. It was really special.

But then the party was just so so not.

When we’re in our frum bubble, it is so easy to forget what it is like to not be frum, and here it all was in all it’s glory.

I suppose that because they are so respectful of us when on our turf, I don’t realise what they do when they are in their own environs.

I had one cousin telling me all about the octopus and other interesting foods he’d eaten on a recent holiday to the far east, and how that’s really his sort of thing because he really likes prawns etc. He wasn’t trying to make a point, he was just sharing details of what he’d been up to.

Then there are my non Jewish cousins flitting about from various intermarried parts of the family.

And my little 4 year old chareidi son, in his kuppel and tzitzis, totally overtired, and during the meal, dancing to the background music. Thank G-d he isn’t any older yet, because it would have been far more problematic. He won’t remember what the lady singing looked like (I won’t go into it), or what the music was. He is just a musical boy and he wanted to dance.

At the end of the wedding, everyone kept coming over and telling me how lovely, beautiful and delightful my children were, which was nice, but I do wonder what he will tell the Rebbe tomorrow in school about what happened at Auntie Elizabeth’s wedding.

I just wish that they were all frum and that we could be fully part of each other’s lives. I want to say, I try my hardest, but maybe I don’t. I do try hard to maintain the contact with the non frum parts of my family, to remain parts of each other’s lives, but this event just made me realise how very different our lives are, and how it isn’t really possible to be fully part of each other’s lives even if we wanted to.

-Jacqueline

Don’t Just Bless … Reverse the Curse

Why didn’t Avraham bless Yitzchak?
Why was Yitzchak unaware of whom he was actually blessing?
Neither Yaakov nor Moshe required savory dishes before offering their respective blessings.Why did Yitzchak require a savory dish before blessing his son?

Yitzchak, who dined on Esavs game, loved him while Rivkah loved Yaakov.

— Bereishis 25:28

And it was as Yitzchak aged and his eyes grew too weak to see that he summoned his older son Esav and said “My son” and he [Esav] responded “I am here.” … “go out in the field and trap me some game and make me a flavorful dish the way I love it and bring it to me to eat, so that my soul will bless you before I die.”

— Bereishis 27:1,3-4

And Elokim said “the earth should issue forth flora; seedbearing grasses and trees that are fruits that produce seed infused fruits along species lines upon the earth.” and it (almost) happened. The earth issued forth flora, plants bearing their seedbearing own species and trees [that are wooden] producing seed infused fruits …

— Bereishis 1:11-12

and trees that are fruits [The Divine Creative Will was] that the taste of the tree should be identical to the taste of the fruit. However, it [the earth was insubordinate and] did not do so but “the earth issued … trees [that are wooden] producing seed infused fruits,” but the trees themselves were not fruit. Therefore, when man was cursed because of his Original Sin, it [the earth] too was punished for its sin (and was cursed.)

— Rashi Ibid from Bereishis Rabbah 5:9

HaShem Elokim said to Adam “Because you hearkened to your wife’s voice and ate of the Tree regarding which I specifically commanded you ‘Do not eat from it’ the earth will be cursed on account of you. All the days of your life you will eat of it [the earth’s produce] with sorrow. It will sprout thorns and thistles for you … “

— Bereishis 3:17,18

HaShem Elokim commanded the man saying:  “Eat from all the trees of the garden. And from the Tree of Knowledge /Union of Good and Evil do not eat from it. For on the day that you it from it you will definitely die.”

— Bereishis 2:16,17

The woman saw that the Tree was good to eat, desirable to the eyes and attractive as a means to gain intelligence.  She took from its fruits and ate and also gave some to her husband with her — and he ate.

— Bereishis 3:6

… but you shall not sever it; for man is a tree of the field

— Devarim 20:19

The Biskovitzer poses several pointed questions about the brachos-blessings; that Yitzchak bestowed on Yaakov, while under the impression that he was Esav:

Why, in fact, did Yitzchak deliver his brachos erroneously and unconsciously? Why was Yaakov’s worthiness for benediction concealed from Yitzchak, the conduit of blessing? Even with his physical vision impairment and the willful blindness caused by his love for his eldest son, as a prophet, Yitzchak could easily have been informed by HaShem that Yaakov is the son deserving of blessing.

We find two other great figures in TeNaK”h who bestowed brachos; Yaakov — first on his grandchildren Ephraim and Menashe — and then later, on his deathbed, on his sons. Immediately preceding his death Moshe blessed the Tribes of Israel as well. Yet neither Yaakov nor Moshe requested mataamim-a flavorful dish; in order to elicit their brachos; so why did Yitzchok?

In order to appreciate the Biskovitzer’s approach to resolving these questions we must first examine how some of the great Torah thinkers understood the roots of blessing and curse.

The Original Sin of the first human beings was not merely the first in a long unbroken chain of transgression on the part of humanity; it was qualitatively different from almost all subsequent sins.   The magihah-writer of the annotations; in Nefesh haChaim explains that while the original humans were endowed with bechirah chofshis-free will; there was still a paradigm-shifting difference between their bechirah chofshis and ours.

Read more Don’t Just Bless … Reverse the Curse

A Baal Teshuva’s Father’s Perspectives

By “David Shub”

As the father of two BTs, the first words of advice to parents of other BTs is to say that you cannot make it a power struggle. Not only is it not a power struggle, but it is not a “fight” of who is right and who is wrong.

If someone had told me these words twenty years ago, when my older child was becoming “frum,” I would probably have become angry. Years of adaptation, adoption, and understanding have softened my initial view points.

Twenty years ago, my wife and I did not understand what was happening to our 14 year old child. The child was raised in a rather non-religious household. (I was raised in a secular Jewish household where religion was often mocked as the “opium of the masses,” but Yiddishkeit was an understood value.) We did join a Reform synagogue so that we would be able to give our kids whatever it was that we were not exposed to. When our daughter studied for her bat mitzvah, she displayed such a passion for Judaism that we thought we had a rabbi in the making. After her bat mitzvah she decided she wanted more, so we allowed her to enroll in a local Sunday Jewish High School that was run by an Orthodox principal and Orthodox teachers. The student body was comprised mostly of children from Conservative and Reform households.

The first “shock” to us occurred when I went one Saturday night to pick up our daughter after a Shabbaton. I walked into the basement of the Orthodox shul, and the students and teachers were sitting in a circle, chanting a strange tune. Periodically, during what I later learned was termed a “kumsitz,” individuals would stand and explain what the Shabbaton had meant to him or her. All I saw was “cult.”

As parents, we did not know where to turn. We knew that we could not deny our daughter’s attraction to this life because she would do things behind our backs. We sought advice of our Reform rabbi and congregation. Better she would have contemplated conversion than to adopt the Orthodox lifestyle, they intimated

High school became difficult for us. Our once athletic child now placed Shabbos before a game. She was going across town to spend Shabbos with friends. We made, what to some seemed a ridiculous decision, to Kasher the kitchen. If your child will not eat at your table, the family unit is destroyed. I remember a family member said to me when she learned what we were undertaking, “No one will come between me and my shrimp!” How foolish a statement.

I will pass over the fights, the arguments, the fears…just to say that we adapted ourselves to what we could no longer fight. Our daughter attended Stern College, a place which we felt was not nearly as academic as she was capable of handling. By the time she turned 21, she had met her “beshert” and had married in a very traditional Orthodox ceremony. I cannot say we “loved” the thick veil, the maheatza, the separate dancing, but we adapted.

Now, there are five grandchildren…and they all sit at our dining room table.

Our son, four years younger than his sister, tolerated much of the arguments in the house while his sister was straying from our path. He honored the Kosher kitchen, he honored the lights and phone restrictions on Shabbas, but he went his own way. He also attended the Sunday Jewish High School, but was not swayed by them. He graduated high school and went on to attend a very prestigious four year college. He graduated with high honors, and moved to Brooklyn where he housed with his college friends. He was the only Jewish boy. He worked in the financial area in New York. When he was around 25, he started to become interested in religion. He also met his “beshert,” although he could not believe that she was Orthodox. Unlike his sister, she was dressed in short sleeves and pants. But there is Modern Orthodox, as well as “black hat” Orthodox. They married in an Orthodox ceremony, with a modern touch. Probably because our daughter paved the way, we were less “stressed” by his route. And, of course, Modern Orthodox is easier to comprehend than the more extreme route.

What do we all want for our children? We hope that they will have married the right mate, and that they will have married into a family that loves and supports them. Our children have done that. Now, we have eleven of us at the dining room table, with a recent high chair with the twelfth addition to the family.

What has been the most difficult aspect to understand? For me, it is probably the covering of the head. Why camouflage beautiful hair with beautiful hair? I still have difficulty understanding that nothing, nothing at all interferes with the observance of Shabbos. I am not totally comfortable with the role of the woman in the family. I am baffled by the laws of “sneis.” I am not comfortable with the Yeshiva education where the secular studies program takes a secondary role.

When my oldest grandson tells me, “Grandpa, you should really wear a kippa,” I respond that “I know…” When my six year old grandson asks me why I drive on Shabbos, I try to explain to him that there are all kinds of Jews.

And when my kids come for Shabbos, we leave the lights on, we do not answer the phone, we make cholent, and leave an urn of water on the counter.

My son-in-law asks me, “Dad, are you thinking of becoming frum?” I respond, “No, not yet.”

In the long run, the Reform temple was wrong. It would not have been better if my children had converted. We have adapted, we have adopted, and we try to understand. It is best that they are Jews and that we sit at the table as a family.

Grandpa of Six (in 2006)

First Published February 7, 2006

The Ramchal on Eating

In Mesilas Yesharim, Chapter 15 – the Ramchal says:

There is no pleasure more tangible and more palpable than that of eating. Yet is there anything more short-lived and fleeting that the pleasure of eating?

The food is enjoyed for the short time when it is in a person’s throat, and once it leaves the throat to descend into the intestines, its memory is lost and the food is forgotten, as if it had never existed.

Enough black bread will satiate one to the same extent as fattened geese.

One will be made especially aware of the truth of what is being said if he considers the many illnesses connected with eating or the heaviness and dull mindedness that one experiences after eating improperly.

These considerations would unquestionably cause one to avoid unhealthy eating, after seeing its limited upside and big downside.

The Interplay of Dread and Love

Why didn’t Yitzchak Avvinu seek his bride himself? Why was Eliezer dispatched?
Yitzchak represents gevurah, how was Rivkah, a personification of chessed, a fitting match for him?
Eliezer was not a card-carrying PETA member. Why was it so crucial that the intended bride water the camels as well?
Yitzchak was on his way, from Be’er laChai Roee. He was dwelling in the Negev Land at the time. Yitzchak went out to converse in the field toward evening.  He raised his eyes and saw camels come into view.

— Bereishis 24:62,63

For I have declared “the world is built through lovingkindness.”

— Tehillim 89:3

… Yaakov swore by the Dread of his father Yitzchak.

— Bereishis 31:53

Ben Zoma would say: … “Who is mighty? One who overcomes his inclination. As is stated ‘one who is imperturbable is better than a powerful, champion warrior; and one who reigns over his own spirit [is mightier] than the captor of a city. (Proverbs 16:32)’”

— Avos 4:1

In the day of good be absorbed of good, and in the day of evil observe; for Elokim has made one parallel/opposite the other.

Koheles 7:14

He [Eliezer] said [a prayer] “O HaShem, the Elokim of my master Avraham, Please cause occurrences to go my way today and do lovingkindness with my master Avraham … If I say to a [one of the towns] girl(s), ‘Tip your jug over and let me have a drink’ and she responds, ‘Drink, and I will also water your camels,’ she will be the one whom You have proven to be [the bride] for your slave Yitzchak. Through such a girl I will know that You have done lovingkindness with my master.

— Bereishis 24:12,14

As I live, says HaShem Elokim, surely with a mighty hand, with an outstretched arm, and with outpoured fury, I will be king over you.

— Yechezkel 20, 33

The Izhbitzer School teaches that the middos-defining character traits; of Avraham and Yitzchak, while antithetical to one another, are also complementary with each filling in what the other lacks.  Avraham was the exemplar of chessed-altruistic, overflowing loving-kindness; while Yitzchak was the paradigm of gevurah-strength-infused control.  Chessed is sourced in love while gevurah is rooted in fear and awe.

As the Lubliner Kohen explains both altruism and narcissism fall under the rubric of chessed as both are forms of love and, when acted upon, are both expressions of love. While altruism is a love that overflows the narrow boundaries of self and is considered holy, narcissism is a love directed inwardly and that never goes beyond the parameters of one’s own being. It is regarded as antisocial and evil.

The opposite can be said of gevurah. When this middah is self-directed we think highly of it and even revere it as sacred self-control. But gevurah that does not practice restraint and brims over the borders of the individual’s personality seeking to overpower others, often degenerates into dehumanizing, Machiavellian manipulation and, when a verbal or physically aggressive element is added, it becomes the foundation of all interpersonal violence and tyranny. Even when leading friends and overcoming foes is the call of the hour, the strength of true champion warriors flows from a deep-rooted self-control. As Douglas MacArthur, one of history’s greatest champion warriors prayed “O L-rd … Build me a son … who will master himself before he seeks to master other men.”

The Izhbitzer elucidates the pesukim-verses; leading up to Yitzchaks first encounter with his zivug-soulmate; Rivkah, through the prism of his middah of awe-based gevurah.  The lashon kodesh-holy tongue; root of the word Negev-desert; means dehydrated or dried out. Waters, perhaps because, absent containers, they are without form, represent lusts, yearnings and loves. Thus the Izhbitzer interprets the passuk “He was dwelling in Negev Land” to mean that Yitzchak, whose relationship with HaShem is described as “Dread” had exercised great gevurah to “dehydrate” himself of all lusts and yearnings. It is in the physical nature of dehydrated items to shrivel, shrink and withdraw somewhat into themselves and it is in the metaphysical nature of ovdei HaShem m’yirah bi’gevurah-those who serve G-d through awe and holy self-conquest/control; to shrink i.e. to be closely circumscribed by the boundaries of their own beings lest they contaminate their middah with manipulation and control of others; and withdraw from risks and being active altogether lest proactivity lead them to crossing the Will of the One they dread.

Read more The Interplay of Dread and Love

Parent’s Guide to The School Open House

By Michael Salzbank

It is quite remarkable how quickly things can change. Just a generation or two ago, an Open House was a real estate term. Today it is a season in the calendar when schools host major events to showcase their programs and buildings. One just has to look in the newspapers right after the Yomim Noraim to see that everyone has one. The reason for the change is quite simple. Years ago a community may have had one or two choices; each school was clearly distinct in their hashkafa and their target audience. Since it was readily apparent to all, there was no need for an Open House. Today, though, with our larger communities there are more schools and the lines that distinguish them are blurred. Since there is overlap between them, Open Houses are seen as the best way for discerning parents to make an informed decision.

Are Open Houses really the best way to learn about a school? Are these carefully orchestrated marketing events the most accurate reflection of an institution? Does anyone really think the boys walk the halls in suits or the girls wear Shabbos clothes each day? It’s nice that the 8th grader, carefully selected to speak is so articulate, but what does that mean for rest of the school and more importantly for my child? Of course there is a lot of valuable information provided at an Open House. One will learn about the academics, extra-curricular programs and where the graduates attend school. It goes without saying that doing one’s own research and speaking with those who have children currently attending the school will yield valuable insight. However, if an Open House only highlights the positive and camouflages the negative, how can parents gain the most from these visits?

It begins with a change in one’s focus. If you come to an Open House anxious to hear all about their wonderful programs, then that is all you will hear. You will be dialed into their pitch and walk away with just what they intended for you to know. However, if you come prepared with a different mindset, one where you listen attentively to see how what they say relates to your concerns, you will have separated the kernel from the chaff. An astute parent will gain as much from the avoidance of certain topics in the presentation as they do from the direct discussion of others. As they say “the silence is deafening”.

What is this change of mindset?

Firstly, parents must realize that despite knowing their child, they don’t have a crystal ball. For the incoming freshman in high school, the next four years are among the most turbulent. They are wrestling with academic, spiritual, emotional and social challenges that can have a major impact on their needs in high school. For parents, whose child is entering an elementary school, there is even more unknown. As adorable as they are now at 4 years old, their development is only beginning. What will be their strengths and weaknesses? Will they be at the top of the class, the bottom or in the crowded middle? What emotional and social challenges will emerge in the years to come? No one knows.

The key questions are, given that we don’t know what will unfold in my child’s future, what plan does the school have in place to identify his or her strengths and weaknesses? And once they do recognize them, are they equipped to address them with enrichment or remediation? What does the school do to challenge each of the children in the large middle group? So, the presentation takes on new meaning as they discuss their academic programs. You are not just listening for the enrichment opportunities for your 4 year old doctor-to-be, but you are listening to hear their approach for all students.

Success in school goes beyond academics, the social and emotional progress is essential for a healthy self-esteem and ultimate growth. How sensitive are the school’s tools for early detection of emotional and social issues or do they typically respond only after the fact? A child will face many changes as they mature. The question parents need to ask is how well the school handles them.

Perhaps the most overlooked, yet most significant impact on a child is the overall tenor of the school. Is it overly competitive creating stress or overly relaxed impeding responsibility or have they struck a healthy balance? How do they deal with students and parents? Are they responsive? Do parents and children feel they are being heard and validated? No, is an acceptable answer, provided it doesn’t come across as arbitrary or just a matter of expedience. Children will spend up to 10 years in a school and they will be exposed to hundreds of problems, if not thousands. Some may seem as trivial as forgetting their lunch at home, to a girl not being their friend. Serious issues like illness and even death will undoubtedly arise through the years. Students absorb their surroundings and unconsciously will learn how to respond in the future from how they had seen problems handled in their youth. They learn much more than just Chumash, math and science in school. They are called the formative years for good reason.

Around 1990 when I was attending Open Houses the question all parents asked was “do they teach computers?” (At the time I had no idea what they really entailed, but I knew I had to ask it). At the turn of century the question was if the school had smartboards as if that guaranteed an excellent education, and today they ask regarding special STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) programs. Schools and parents can get fixated on the latest buzz words when the bottom line is, “Is this a school striving to stay ahead of the learning curve, are they proactive in incorporating the best advances in education and are they striving to reach every student? Is this a school driven by short term results in education or one that nurtures long term academic, spiritual, social and emotional growth? I read the school’s mission statement, have I heard and seen how they achieve it, do they walk the walk? Am I leaving this Open House confident that I have learned the answers to these questions?”

In general if a parent goes into the School Open House with the outlook of needing to know how the school will deal with developing changes, in education and in my child, they will perceive the less tangible, yet arguably, the most important factors in their decision.

Michael Salzbank has lived in Kew Gardens Hills for 32 years. After a 23 year career on Wall Street as independent floor trader, He worked 5 years as the Executive Director for Mesivta Ateres Yaakov and currently serves in the role at Bnos Malka Academy in Queens.

The Simple Path Starts With Why

Judaism is simple. Jews are complex.

What do I mean by this statement?

Gd created a beautiful world. The plan was straightforward. He places us in a world in order to benefit and give of His goodness. Period.

So you ask, what happened? Why is there so much suffering, war, illness and tragedy.

And I respond.

We have become detached from Gd’s original kavana (intent). It’s that simple, my friends. Hashem laid out a clear and simple path for us to follow. It contains 613 pieces of advice on what you need to do in order to live a perfect life full of meaning and purpose.

Why then do so many Jews feel disconnected and confused? How have we have become so detached from His original kavana? Why is living a Jewish life so complicated?

I have just completed reading Simon Sinek’s book on leadership “Start with Why”. Although Sinek’s target audience is clearly the business world, the principles he lays down have a far broader reach. Let me explain.

Sinek developed what he calls “The Golden Circle” that contains three concentric circles. The inner circle is WHY? The middle circle is HOW? The outer circle is WHAT? He explains that all businesses are quite clear on what they do. Fewer business have an effective and efficient process for determining HOW they do WHAT they do, while a handful of business know WHY they do WHAT they do.

What differentiates highly successful businesses from those that are mediocre is there starting point. If you begin with the WHAT you do before you have developed a process for HOW you will do it before you have clearly defined WHY , then you are heading down a path where mediocrity at best and bankruptcy at worse are the more likely outcomes.

If, however, you start from the inside out, then you create a very different reality. When we have a clearly defined WHY, you are clear WHY you or your business exists? Your WHY will naturally give birth to HOW should you run your business, it will be clear which best practices and processes are fully aligned with your WHY. And then that HOW determines WHAT exactly you need to do to give expression to your WHY

The model is simple and brilliant.

When it comes to Judaism most Jews are familiar with WHAT they need to do. We know there is a Torah that contains mitzvot that we need to adhere to. Fewer Jews know HOW to keep those mitzvot, while an even smaller number understand WHY. This, in my humble opinion, is the tragedy of Jewish Education today.

In Jewish Day Schools we teach our children what to do and offer them guidance in how to do it properly but it is less common to find educators who inspire their students with the WHY. How many of our students or their teachers know the WHY of Judaism? And perhaps herein lies the reason for their disconnect. When my WHY is unclear, my WHAT lacks meaning and purpose.

As Jews, our WHY is defined by the Giver of good, by Gd himself. Our WHY is to connect with Gd – uldovcha bo. We are even given the WHAT in the form of the Torah. The Torah is an instructional manual on WHAT we need to do to fulfill the WHY. The HOW is left to our domain. HOW we choose to infuse and express our emotional connection to Gd is our unique purpose. As long as your HOW does not conflict with the WHAT, and the purpose of Halacha is to set the rules of engagement, then you have complete freedom to connect with Gd through the unlimited expression of your energies, talents, skills and gifts in the world. The more you express your HOW, in alignment with the WHAT, in order to achieve the WHY, the happier, more fulfilled and more connected you feel.

Judaism is experiential. Volumes about Gd can be written and hours of lectures can be presented but until one actually experiences the connection with the Divine it all remains theoretical. So while the WHAT (experience) is critical, it is far more uplifting when the WHY is at the fore of the conscious experience.

We invest a huge amount of time and energy attempting to discover and calculate our purpose. Why am I here? Should I be a plumber or a teacher? What am I meant to be doing with my life?

The answer, dear friends, to all these questions, lies in our ability to follow the simple path laid out before us by our Creator. Simply stated

To connect to Hashem,
by fulfilling His will
as described in the Torah
in my unique way.

Rabbi Goldman writes at hitoreri.com