Beyond BT

Spiritual Growth for Jews

Aunt Sadie’s Couch; The Last Ten Pounds; Teaching Generation Z

Posted on | December 25, 2014 | By Administrator | Comments Off

Paying it Forward With Aunt Sadie’s Couch

Rethinking The Last Ten Pounds

Teaching Generation Z

The Eight Sheets of Chanukah

Posted on | December 24, 2014 | By Guest Contributor | 8 Comments

By Ruby

With 5 weeks left to my son’s Bar Mitzvah, invitations were sitting at home waiting to be addressed and mailed. All my wife had to do was create the spreadsheet with all the addresses, set up the mail merge, and feed the envelopes through the printer. I had the really tough job – to buy stamps – and I was determined to do it right. I estimated 150 stamps would do. But which theme stamp would be most appropriate for a Bar Mitzvah? I went looking at the USPS website. Flags? Too standard. “Happy Birthday”? Too juvenile. “I Love You”? Too mushy. Flowers? Too feminine. Fighter planes? Maybe… But not very mitzvah-ish. Then I saw them. Chanukah stamps with a dreidle. Perfect! We’ll be mailing them on Chanukah. And they come in sheets of 20, so I needed 8 sheets of Chanukah. What could be better?

Off to the post office on Pine St. I went, and when my turn came I happily requested “8 sheets of Hanukah, please”.

The clerk frowned and said “Hanukah? We’re out of Hanukah”.

“No! it can’t be!” I exclaimed. “You must have Hanukah stamps”.

So she looked and looked through all her drawers and all her folders. In the end, all she could find was one single sheet of Hanukah stamps.

“But that won’t do”, I said. “One sheet won’t last. I need eight sheets of Hanukah.”

She called over to the next clerk who looked through his folders. He came up with another two. “Three, that’s all we have”, she said.

Suddenly emboldened, I said “Please check in the back. I know you will find 8″.

Her eyebrows raised at my attitude, she headed towards the back. As she passed each other clerk I saw her say something to them, and each time the clerk shook his head. After checking with the last clerk, she looked across the room at me and shrugged. I gave her a nod of encouragement and she disappeared into the back. (If I were one of the people standing behind me in line I would have killed me…) Several minutes later she emerged with a triumphant look on her face.

“8 sheets of Hanukah!” she proclaimed.

“Thank you so much for your perseverance”, I said. “I knew you would find 8″.

“How could you be so sure?” she asked.

“Why, it’s the miracle of Chanukah”, I said.

A Freilichen Chanukah to All.

Originally Published December 22, 2006.

Chanukah Then and Now

Posted on | December 23, 2014 | By Azriela Jaffe | 4 Comments

By Azriela Jaffe

The Judaism of my youth was defined by what I was not able to do. Is that not what characterizes any observant Jew? I may not eat non-kosher food, as G-d commanded. I may not work on Shabbat, as G-d commanded. I may not eat on Yom Kippur – as G-d commanded. I may not eat chometz on Passover – as G-d commanded.

True, but these Jewish ideals were alien to me as a child. We didn’t know from kosher, I had no awareness of even the concept of Shabbat, and although as dutiful – and perhaps superstitious- secular Jews, we always attended synagogue on Yom Kippur morning, we ate lunch that day, too. Our Passover celebration did include a rather abbreviated seder, but I had no understanding of chometz, or the avoidance of it – we bought a singular box of matzohs for the seder table, and enjoyed our bagels the next morning, (with no guilt, mind-you, as my uneducated family had no idea that this was a problem).

So what then, do I mean by this notion that my Jewish identity formed around what I could not do – when in fact, our family was so assimilated, it would have been difficult to differentiate us in any way from our goyish neighbors, and there were seemingly no restrictions on our life?

You knew our Judaism in December. Although my parents worked extremely hard to assimilate our family in every way imaginable – and they succeeded – there was only one time a year when they took a firm stand, and we children knew that we were Jewish, and different from non-Jews. Our family did not have Xmas trees and wreaths of holly on the door. Our family did not go to church on X-mas day, we went to the local Chinese restaurant and to the movies afterwards, where the parking lot was littered with hundreds of other Jewish-owned vehicles. We were Jewish, and therefore, we didn’t celebrate X-mas.

As a child, I saw this as a problem. The rest of the world got to have fun, and we were deprived. When we lit the menorah and eagerly awaited our presents, the complete absence of spirituality around the holiday made it only a competition we were sure to lose – which kids got the most presents – the Jews, or the non-Jews? We would comfort ourselves with the thought: Our holiday lasts 8 days, and the Christians only get one day, so we’re actually luckier. But I distinctly remember as a child that lucky is not how I felt. I was a Jew and therefore, I was not allowed to do the holiday that the rest of the world celebrated. We were different, and deprived.

With the perspective of adulthood, I now see my Chanukah “celebrations” with gratitude. It was my parents’ last hold-out, and through it, they formed my identity, albeit uneducated, as a Jew, different from my Christian neighbors. They had given up all other semblance of separation between us and the non-Jewish world, yet somehow, they hung on to this one. Thankfully, as an Orthodox Jew of many years now, I do not have memories as a child of singing Xmas carols, even if M ’aoz Tzur was not in our family’s vocabulary.

The Judaism of my children’s youth is also defined in part by what they cannot do, according to Jewish law, but now, their heads, hearts, and souls are filled with so much they can, and do, look forward to about Chanukah, there isn’t a glimmer of deprivation. The excitement of Chanukah starts early in school with Chanukah chagigas, lessons from their Morahs and Rebbeim about the true spiritual meaning behind Chanukah, and the exciting story of the Macabees, and of course – what would Chanukah be without homemade menorahs brought out of their storage bags year after year? The house smells of latkes, Tatty comes home early from work so he can light the menorah with us, and as we sing M ’aoz Tzur by the window, we thank G-d not only for the miracles that the Macabbees experienced so long ago, but also, the miracle that we are frum, and despite our secular lineage, we have returned.

The Macabees waged a war against assimilation, and with Hashem’s help, they won. We waged our own fight, and also, with plenty of help from Hashem, we’ve won, too. Thank you, G-d.

Syndicated newspaper advice columnist and author of twelve books, Azriela Jaffe is an international expert on entrepreneurial couples, business partnerships, handling rejection and criticism, balancing work and family, breadwinner wife and dual career issues, creating more luck and prosperity in your life, and resolving marital conflict. Her mission: “To be a catalyst for spiritual growth and comfort. Visit her web site here.

First published Dec 22, 2008

Continuing to Access the Power of Chanukah

Posted on | December 22, 2014 | By Guest Contributor | Comments Off

We pasken like Beis Hillel and we increase the candles as Chanukah progresses indicating an increase in accessing the power of the holiday.

R’ Yaakov Astor discusses this in Reality and Potential


Most people can experience the initial joy that comes along with lighting the menorah. By the second day, for many of us, the flush of the experience is not as intense. By the third day, it is even less so, and keeps on diminishing with each ensuing day.

But for others whose spiritual sensitivity is deep and internal, they experience the joy of the festival in an ever increasing fashion, with the last day being the climax.

Beit Shammai say we structure the law according to the average Jew who uses only his nefesh. Therefore, it is logical to start off with eight candles the first day when the novelty of the mitzvah and the flash of inspiration elevate the act for even the average Jew. Since each ensuing day becomes less intense and more routine, we naturally decrease as we go.

Beit Hillel may in fact agree that the majority of Jews experience Chanukah on a lower, nefesh level. However, they say that the law in this case must be groomed according to the minority of individuals who strive for the deepest experience and the greatest spiritual heights. Accordingly, we start off with one candle on the first day and increase each ensuing day. The law reflects the experience of the elevated Jew, whose experience increases with intensity as Chanukah wears on.

From another perspective, Beit Hillel are saying that the law must accommodate human potential — what a person can ideally become, while Beit Shammai reason that law must accommodate reality — the present level on which we actually find ourselves.

Read the whole article here.

Rabbi Noson Weisz explains the spiritual battle mankind faces and our role in it in Chanukah and The Importance of Being Jewish :


The current spiritual era of human history can be characterized as one of knowledge/belief. One can no longer detect God’s Presence in the world through the use of his ordinary senses, as God no longer makes Himself so available. It is no longer possible to reach God through the channel of direct communication. Human dealings with God must be based on the more subtle basis of deductive knowledge or belief. This spiritual era began with the construction of the Second Temple by the Members of the Great Assembly. Its two seminal markers were the development of the Oral law and the Mishna on the one hand, and the rise and spread of Greek philosophy and science on the other.

It isn’t by coincidence that the Miracle of the Lights associated with the Menorah is the symbol of the Jewish victory over the Syrian Greeks. The Menorah symbolizes knowledge. In spiritual terms, light and oil symbolize the ability of Divine Wisdom [the light] to be expressed in terms of human knowledge [the oil]. The word for oil in Hebrew is shemen, which is a compression of the word shemona, the number eight, symbolizing the heavenly Sphere of Bina, or understanding. All human knowledge is an expression of the spark of Divine knowledge contained within it.

To understand the spiritual essence of the world, we must realize that knowledge can cast darkness as well as light. Before the advent of Greek science and culture, it was impossible to look at the world and not see God. Nothing about the world could be explained other than in divine terms. Before the world could pass into a spiritual historic era where God was not universally manifest, man had to develop a system of knowledge that could explain the major phenomena of existence without the need of constantly referring to God [or gods].

We have hit upon the problem of Jewish ‘mityavnim.’ Being Jewish is important only because of the special knowledge that we Jews have to offer the world. Inasmuch as our spiritual era concerns the struggle between the two systems of knowledge, the system represented by the Oral law, versus the system represented by Greek culture, and whereas we Jews are the sole repositories of the system of knowledge represented by the Oral law, we are very important indeed. The track that leads back to Sinai can only be followed through the Torah. But Jews who embrace the other knowledge are as necessary to the world as the Italians in our example. They merely add color.

And that precisely is the tragedy of the Jewish ‘mityavnim.’ The nations never accept the Jewish abandonment of Judaism. Whether Jews prefer the foreign culture to their own or not, in the eyes of the world they remain members of the Jewish people who are truly unique in terms of embodying the very system of knowledge to which the ‘mityavnim’ no longer subscribe.

Read the whole article here.

Freeing Rav Weinberger’s Mp3; Praise, Thanks, Shuls, Chanukah; The Right Customer for Education

Posted on | December 18, 2014 | By Administrator | Comments Off

All of Rav Moshe Weinberger’s mp3 will be Free on YU Torah

Praise and Thanks For Our Shuls on Chanukah

Finding the Right Customer for Education

Get More Out of Your Hallel

Posted on | December 17, 2014 | By Administrator | Comments Off

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.

Our Chanukah Opportunity

Posted on | December 16, 2014 | By Mark Frankel | Comments Off

Chanukah is about light, specifically the light that brings awareness, connection and closeness to Hashem. On the first day of creation, that light burned bright, but it was diminished when the first man, Adam, introduced more physicality into human consciousness with his transgression.

The light was diminished further after the destruction of the first Beis Hamikdash when direct communication from Hashem through prophecy ended. Concurrent with the loss of prophecy, the Greeks shifted mankind’s focus away from Hashem and the spirtual, towards the understanding of nature and the physical. This caused further diminishment of Hashem’s light. A counterbalance to this concealment was the blossoming of the Oral Torah and the introduction of Brachos.

Our opportunity is for each of us to utilize the power of learning Torah, performing mitzvos, and davening and saying Brachos to increase the awareness of Hashem in the world. In our rushed day to day life, we often lose sight of the fact that every spiritual act we perform brings Hashem’s light into the world. The more we focus on that fact, the more light we begin.

So when we light the candles we should recognized that we are addressing Hashem, the source of all blessing who always was, is and will be. He created and is the ultimate authority of the spiritual and physical worlds. The physical world conceals Hashem, but he has set aside the Jewish people to sanctify the world through the performance of the mitzvos, and specifically during the next 8 nights through the lighting of the Menorah and the recognition that Hashem is the force behind everything that occurs in this world.

Make every candle count. A Freilichen Chanukah!

Here are some shiurim to help you fuel your flames.

Rabbi Welcher on Miracles of Chanukah

Rabbi Welcher on the Hashkafa of Chanukah

R’ Moshe Schwerd – Chanukah: Bringing The Light To The World And To Yourself

R’ Moshe Schwerd on Chanukah’s Message of Inspiration

Rabbi Tatz – Many Shiurim on Chanukah

Aish – Many Shiurim on Chanukah

Yakov’s Kiruv Dilemma

Posted on | December 15, 2014 | By Guest Contributor | 2 Comments

By Arieh Bauer

There is a Rashi in Vayishlach that fascinates me so much. Yakov hid his daughter Dina in a box to protect her from Eisav – and he got punished for it. Why? Because she could have approached Esav from “within”, getting married to him and to pull him over to the “good side of the force”.

As BTs we have a very similar dilemma regarding our kids. As we have a special role and the abilities to approach not frum people from within, by speaking their language, understanding their mindset and way of life, we might ask us the same question, that Yakov asked himself: Is it worth “risking” your children to bring back somebody else to Judaism?

And it is especially a question regarding our kids. We think about this question, when we have to decide in which school to send them. With which neighbors they are allowed to interfere. And what kind of guests we invite for Shabbos.

We know that the kids have a monumental power to do Kiruv, because of their untouched souls and their innocent natures. The kid’s strong believe in G-d, can touch an adult from “within”. Somehow BT-Kids are born into Kiruv and one of the toughest warriors to spread Hashems light. Still, even the BT understands that there are indeed risks that he has to avoid regarding his kids. But its not like he hides his kids in a box!

Interestingly, Yakov – the FFB – took a very “Charedi” approach: He closed his daughter off, hid her from the “not frum side”. But he ended up being punished for it! Didn’t Yakov know any better? A man, who spoke to G-d frequently and the biggest Talmid Chacham on earth in his time?

Seen from the perspective of a BT’s daily life and the small and big dilemmas he faces every day regarding this question, it is hard so understand his decision. Dina could have been a superb “Kiruv-Rebezin” and turn Eisav over into a Tora-true BT! And this would be the best thing that could happen! Because Torah is the best thing that could happen to anybody, even to Eisav. And nobody knows that better than a BT.

But from Yakovs FFB-perspective, it is highly understandable why he had to act like that. He didn’t see Eisav as a potential BT. He saw him as an enemy, as someone who goes against his core values and touches the inner nerve of his spiritual being. His daughter was his “capital”. He invested in her Chinuch, in her Yiras Shomayim and her Torah education. Why spilling out this treasure and risk her for a plain “Rasha”? Sending out a girl for “Kiruv”? Unthinkable!

Now, it wouldn’t be fair to make the point “you see, he got punished for it… the BTs are right…”. Because its not our calculation why Hashem does something to someone – even when Rashi explains it explicitly, its just not our “Cheshbon”. And if you want, you could argue, that it was a certain “Mesirus Nefesh” of Yakov to protect his daughter, even though that he knew that he will get punished for it.

But what really seems to be the case here is, that the scene with “Dina in the Box” has something to do with our times, the times of “Chevlei Mashiach”.

As the Parsha develops there are several hints in the scripture and in the commentaries, that the two brothers – Yakov and Eisav – will meet once again in the future. They will meet again, when Mashiach comes and “Yakov will conquer the mountain of Eisav”.

So maybe this whole issue with Dina is Mashiach-related as well. One could even argue that when Dina will “jump out of her box”, it will finally lead us to the Ge’ula.

For sure, one always has to weigh the risk and the profits of exposing his children to not frum people. But closing us off seems not to be the right, Torah-oriented approach, in a way. We have to get “out of the box”!

Arieh Bauer, born 1978 in Vienna, Austria (Europe), is an almuni of Yeshivat HaKotel in Jerusalem and author of the book “Der Leiner” about the Parshas HaShavua published in February 2014 in German. It is the first book in German of its kind. Bauer also publishes a weekly Parsha-Sheet “Der Leiner” in German in its fourth year. It is availabe at the israeli portal www.ladaat.info. He also mainains a website in German (www.derleiner.com) with a Parsha-Blog and Parsha-Archives. A rabbinic endorsement of his book is available at his homepage under Endorsement Der Leiner.

The Ethics of “What’s in it For Me?”

Posted on | December 11, 2014 | By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz | 3 Comments

Why was Yehudahs approach to saving Yoseph so different from that of Reuvens?
Why do the sages condemn those who find merit in Yehudahs tactics?

Reuven heard these words [the brothers’ plot to murder Yoseph] and tried to rescue him saying “Let’s not kill him.” And he said to them “Don’t commit bloodshed … “

— Bereishis 37:21,22

Don’t spill the blood of an innocent man

— Targum Yonasan ben Uziel ibid

Reuven responded and said “ didn’t I tell you not to commit a sin against the lad [Yoseph]? but you didn’t listen. Now a Divine accounting is being demanded for his blood”

— Bereishis 42:22

And Yehudah said to his brothers: “What will we gain [ מה בצע] if we slay our brother and conceal his blood?”

— Bereishis 37:26

And the greedy one desirous of gain [ובוצע ברך] blesses himself … in having infuriated HaShem

— Tehillim 10:4

Rabi Meir says: This passuk  [ובוצע ברך] refers to none other than Yehudah, for it is written, And Yehudah said to his brothers: “What will we gain [ מה בצע] if we slay our brother and conceal his blood?” So all who praise/bless Yehudah, the botzeia; infuriate [HaShem] …

— Sanhedrin 6B

There was a small city, with only a few inhabitants; and a great king came against it, surrounded it, and built great siege-works against it.  A poor wise man was present in the city who, by his wisdom, liberated the city; yet no one remembered that poor man.

— Koheles 9:14,15

[The above passage is interpreted as referring to the milchemes hayetzer-man’s internal moral battle to exercise his free will properly. The “great king” refers to the yetzer hara-inclination to evil; while the “poor-wise” man represents the yetzer tov-inclination to good. The Gemara comments:] “At the time that the yetzer hara holds sway no one can even remember the yetzer tov.”

— Nedarim 32B

Rabi Yehudah quoting Rav said  “One should always busy himself with Torah [study] and Mitzvah [performance] even if he does so for ulterior motives for the result will eventually be that, from within the ulterior motives, he will [develop to] attain the level of [Torah study and Mitzvah performance] for its own sake.

— Nazir 23B

Both Reuven and Yehudah tried to dissuade their other brothers from harming Yoseph. But their diverse approaches are markedly different. Reuven is an ethicist exhorting the brothers to avoid sin and spilling the blood of innocents. Reuven appeals the better angels of their natures and argues, in effect, that virtue is its own reward and that they ought to do the right thing for its own sake. Yehudah is a pragmatist.  His tactic to get the brothers to drop their murderous plan is “What’s in it for us? What do we stand to gain either monetarily (Rashi’s interpretation) or in terms of our fathers affection?”  There is no trace of a moral or halachic argument in Yeudah’s words.

The Izhbitzer explains that Yehudah based his approach on the psycho-spiritual dynamic revealed by the Gemara-Talmud; that “At the time that the yetzer hara holds sway no one can even remember the yetzer tov.” When the Divine Will chooses to test us It causes us to completely forget the severity of the prohibition and to put the moral repugnance of the sin out of our minds. HaShem designed the mechanism of bechirah chofshis-human free-will; to function such that, in the heat of the nisayon-test; when the yetzer hara asserts itself, none can even remember the yetzer tov. While enmeshed in the ethical challenge to reject evil and embrace good, exhortations for moral and ethical behavior, to do the right thing for its own sake, will fall on deaf ears.  The time for understanding  and internalizing the lessons of the superiority of good over evil and that virtue is its own reward is pre-need. In the heat of the moment of trial the inclination to do good is nowhere to be found.

It is at times like these when the most efficient tool against embracing evil, abusing our bechirah chofshis, is to appeal to pragmatic considerations and ulterior motives. The Izhbitzer maintains that Yehudah was a down-to-earth “man of the world” well acquainted with hardheaded realities and that he recognized that the brothers were in the very thick of a great nisayon. There internal voices of conscience and morality had been silenced and he understood that any appeals based on morality and ethics emanating from him would be similarly ignored.  And so he forwarded the מה בצע –what’s in it for us?  What will we gain?; argument. Even when the yetzer hara holds sway people “remember” such practical considerations and, if compelling enough, they can dissuade would-be-sinners from doing evil or, at least, affect some damage-control and diminish the intensity of the sin.

The brothers were in the midst of a great nisayon, their collective memory loss of their yetzer tovs was so great that they were convinced that the murder that they sought to do was justified and was, in fact, the moral and ethical thing to do.  Many meforshim-commentaries take the approach that the brothers convened as a Sanhedrin and ruled that Halachah demanded that Yoseph  be put to death.  The Sforno (37:25) opines that they had ruled Yoseph to be a rodeiph-a “chaser” with homicidal intentions. In such cases anyone may kill the rodeiph to save the life of the would-be murder victim. While the Izhbitzer asserts that the brothers ruled that Yoseph, trying to drive a wedge between them and their father was amounted to sundering the unity of HaShem. In so doing Yoseph had committed a capital offense akin to idolatry.

Read more

The Most Important Jewish Hierarchy

Posted on | December 10, 2014 | By Mark Frankel | Comments Off

There was a lot of push back to last week’s post “Growing At The Bottom Of The Heap”. A friend pointed out that the push back supports the Ramchal’s point that people are uncomfortable being on the bottom. One friend related an experience on how a pharmacy employee treated a wealthy customer and one of lessor means. The hierarchies at play were clear as day.

Recognizing the financial, wisdom and spiritual accomplishment hierarchies will help us improve ourselves regarding pride, anger, envy and desire for honor. However the most important Jewish hierarchy is the one of self-comparison, are we better Torah Observant Jews today then we were yesterday, last month, last year, ten years ago. This is the hierarchy of constant spiritual growth.

One difficulty with assessing spiritual growth is that because it happens gradually, we don’t always see the change. A second difficulty is that the rate of healthy growth is particular to each individual based on their nature and nurture. It’s not one size fits all. A third difficult is that we’re often afraid to do the introspection which improves our growth because of the pain that it might bring.

Growth is hard and it’s easy to fall back on the other-focused hierarchies which give rise to the bad middos of pride, anger, envy and desire for honor. Fortunately Hashem gave us multiple avenues of growth such as Torah, Prayer, Mitzvos, Kindness and Middos Improvement. I think our community is more collectively focused on growth, but this is one hierarchy where today’s top becomes tomorrow’s bottom, meaning, we have to keep on working.

Looking for Our Brothers

Posted on | December 9, 2014 | By Rabbi Label Lam | 6 Comments

A few years back I found out something about myself that surprised and amazed me. It was Erev Yom Kippur and a colleague of mine, we’ll call him Zalman, and I were on our way to Williams College (a small liberal arts school in western Massachusetts). We were going to meet with some college students to talk about Yom Kippur and present an opportunity for some to come to Jerusalem for a winter session. We drove up the New York State Thruway before turning into the back woods of western Mass. It was hours before we found our destination and a warm delegation of thirsty souls. After our presentation and discussions had run their course it was time to make the long trek home. It had certainly been worth our while. A number of students had shown interest in coming with us to Israel and as it turned out a few from that night made it “all the way to the Wall!”

On the way home Zalman and I had tossed our hats and jackets into the back seat of his station wagon and we had ceased to talk about work and began to talk “in pajamas” as the phrase goes. I asked Zalman how he had gotten involved in Yiddishkeit and what had spurred him on. He began to tell me how he had a brother that went to camp one summer and drowned. My heart fell into my stomach. He explained how he started to wonder, “What’s it all about?” and “Where do we come from and go to?”

When he finished, I asked him if he had heard about my story. He acknowledged that he had not. I told him that I had a little brother that went to the dentist to get a load of teeth fixed and they gave him gas and he never woke up. I explained with vivid recollections all the haunting philosophical questions that have followed me since. Here we were two grown men with families at home barreling down the New York State Thruway and we were both crying about matters that happened more than three decades earlier.

Then a verse from this week’s Torah Portion came to me. Yosef confronts a man who is really the angel Gabriel while he blunders on his way and the angel asks him, “What are you looking for?” Yosef answers, “I am looking for my brothers!” (Breishis 37:15) I told Zalman, “Look at us two crazy guys! Here we are grown up guys with families and it’s Erev Yom Kippur! Under normal circumstances we should have been in bed along time ago but here it is already Two O’clock in the morning and we are hustling down the thruway to get home. If the angel Gabriel would turn on his police lights and pull us over and, instead of giving us a ticket, he would peek into the car and ask us, “What are you guys doing out here at this crazy hour so far from home? What are you looking for?” If he would ask us the same question he asked Yosef, I think we could give him the very same answer with the fullest of hearts, “We are looking for our brothers!”

I never understood this aspect of my own life until that drive. Sometimes HASHEM puts a hole in our hearts, we get such a deep hurt that we spend the rest of our lives filling the gap and it may form the basis for our main accomplishments in life.

Each year on Chanukah, at some point shortly after candle lighting, I pile the kids into the car with a handful of candies of course and we take a ride all over our town and even to some uncharted areas. We drive through some of the wealthier and some of the more modest sections of town but our goal is not to scout out real estate at all. Rather what we are looking for in the heart of the night, in the windows of Jewish homes, are flickering Chanukah flames, keeping in mind the words of the wisest of men, Solomon “The candle of G-d is the soul of man.” (Mishle’) It’s always a treat and a thrill of endless depth, especially on Chanukah, looking for our brothers.

Originally posted 12/15/2006

Showing Respect For Your Family

Posted on | December 8, 2014 | By Guest Contributor | 1 Comment

By Rabbi Benzion Kokis

In the interaction between a ba’al t’shuva and his family, very often the religious issues, in and of themselves, aren’t the source of the difficulties. Rather, the family’s perception that for the ba’al t’shuva, all that matters are the religious issues, and their impact on family and friends is irrelevant- that is painful.

This is why the communicating that there is in fact a certain level of conflict and turmoil is so vital. The awareness that my commitment to Torah and Halacha are complicating the lives of people whom I love and care about, can make such a tremendous difference in how these situations are received. The “sigh” has to be expressed.

But one may be moved to respond….Just a minute! Does this mean that a ba’al t’shuva should be apologetic about his commitment?! Isn’t this a lack of respect for the fact that Torah is true, and it’s my family, albeit through no fault of their own, who have deviated from the way Jews lived throughout the ages? And you want me to feel like I’m doing something wrong??!!

This is where finesse is crucial. Granted, on one level, the demands of Halacha, such as the requirements of kashrus, are absolutes. The weight of truth, and the historic devotion of the Jewish people over the centuries to Torah, are all on the side of the ba’al t’shuva. Yet, in terms of family dynamics, he is the one who changed the rules! Every family unit has an unspoken “contract”, an expectation of how its members relate to each other. On a human and personal level, the level of trust within the family unit, the contract has been changed. The ba’al t’shuva is the “belligerent”, because in terms of the relationship, he has changed the terms of the family unit and “caused” the “complications”.

What impact does this have? Are we saying that this affects the requirements of the Halacha?

Certainly not!

What this does mean is that a responsibility lies on the ba’al t’shuva to anticipate potential problems, and make every attempt to minimize their impact. For instance, there could be creative ways to satisfy the demands of kashrus without compromising, in a manner that will be less of an issue for his family. He should sit down with a Rabbi and describe the challenges that he will face, and find out what he can do to accommodate the demands of the situation .

Furthermore, the more his family has to make adjustments to accommodate his new requirements, the more he has to express his love and appreciation to his family! After all, they are, in their own way, being moser nefesh to allow him to be religious. If, on the contrary, he seems to take their adjustments for granted, and conveys an attitude that since he’s living in an authentic Jewish way, it behooves them to adjust to him, this will definitely leave a sour taste with his family.

Even in situations where accommodation turns out to be impossible, despite the efforts that were put in, the fact that the ba’al teshuva made the attempt still expresses to the family that their feelings are important to him. Very often, this can neutralize much of the pain and hurt that would otherwise occur.

Forbidden Kiruv

Posted on | December 7, 2014 | By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz | 2 Comments

Why didn’t Yaakov simply pass Esav by instead of engaging him?
Why did Yaakov send Angels to his brothers rather than humans?

Yaakov sent representatives ahead of him to his brother, Esav, to Edom’s Field toward the land of Seir.

— Bereishis 32:4

The representatives returned to Yaakov and told him: “We came to your brother, Esav, and he’s also heading toward you. He has [a force of] 400 men with him.”

—Ibid:7

One who grows angry while passing by a quarrel that does not concern him is akin to one who seizes a [sleeping] dog by the ears.

Mishlei 26:17

Let sleeping dogs lie

Popular idiom version of passuk in Mishlei

Our Sages (Bereishis Rabbah 75:2) criticized Yaakov for this [sending representatives and gifts to Easv] comparing it to waking a sleeping dog by yanking its ears: The Holy Blessed One said to Yaakov “he [Esav] was going his own way [not considering any hostilities to Yaakov] and you had to send him representatives and remind him [of the old dormant enmity] ‘to my lord Esav. Your humble slave Yaakov says … ’”?

— Ramban Bereishis 32:4

Yaakov remained alone. A man wrestled with him kicking up dust until the darkness lifted

— Bereishis 32:25

… Our Rabbis explained (Bereishis Rabbah 77:3, 78:3) that the wrestling man was the prince (guardian angel) of Esav.

— Rashi Ibid

… Rivkah became pregnant. But the offspring clashed/ scurried inside of her …

— Bereishis 25:21,22

Our Rabbis (Bereishis Rabbah 63:6) interpreted it [the word וַיִתְרוֹצִצו] as an expression of running/ scurrying (רוֹצָה) . When she passed by the entrances of [the] Torah [academies] of Shem and Ever, Yaakov would scurry and struggle to come out; when she passed the entrance of [a temple of] idolatry, Esav would scurry and struggle to come out. 

— Rashi Ibid

Question: Isn’t it true that the yetzer hara-the inclination to evil; is not operative in-utero and that it is not within man until man is born … [if so why was Esav drawn to evil before he was even born]? The answer is that while it’s true that man has no yen and desire for evil, as part of his free-will equation, until after he is born; what Esav was doing here [when scurrying towards the temples of idolatry] was qualitatively different.  Esav was not yielding to the seductions of his yetzer hara, instead he was magnetically drawn towards his source, nature and species, as it were. For all things are aroused by, and inexorably drawn towards, the source of their intrinsic nature and self-definition.

— Gur Aryeh- supercommentary of the Maharal to Rashi Ibid

It is indeed odd that Yaakov would have awakened the sleeping dog/ giant. At first glance, what could possibly have motivated him to do so is incomprehensible.

According to one approach of the Midrashic sages the representatives that Yaakov dispatched to Esav were heavenly angels. Many commentaries have addressed Yaakov’s “need” for angels. Rav Shmuel Dov Asher-the Biskovitzer Rebbe, maintains that Yaakov was on what, in the contemporary parlance, might be called a mission of kiruv rechokim-bringing those distant from righteousness/ G-d closer.  Yaakov was unwilling to stand idly by as his twin brother degenerated deeper and deeper into the hellish depths of evil. He had hoped that the angels would prove equal to the task of discovering and nurturing Esav’s deeply buried goodness until it overwhelmed all his accretions of evil and washed them away in a cleansing wave of teshuvah-repentance.  After all, the passuk teaches us that angels are uniquely endowed with the capacity of advocating for deeply flawed individuals who possess as little as one tenth of one percent of decency and goodness: “If one has even a single angel out of a thousand advocating on his behalf by declaring his uprightness, then G-d will be gracious to him and say ‘redeem him from descending into destruction [i.e. the grave] for I havefound atonement/ ransom for him.’” (Iyov 33:23,24)

His interpretation is supported by a fuller, closer reading of the Midrash of “awakening the sleeping, vicious dog.” After citing the passuk in Mishlei the Midrash continues: Shmuel the son of Nachman  said “this is comparable to a traveler who awakened the leader of a gang of thieves sleeping at the crossroads and warned him of the imminent dangers [from wild animals]. Instead of thanking the traveler, the gang leader began beating his benefactor. The traveler cried foul ‘you cursed man [is this how you repay me for trying to save your life?]’ The gang leader then said ‘[you deserve it, it’s your own fault] I was slumbering comfortably and you woke me!’”

In this allegory Yaakov is represented by the traveler while Esav’s role is played by the gang leader. Nowhere in this allegory do we find a frightened Yaakov devising strategies and tactics to save himself and/or his family.  On the contrary, Yaakov is a selfless do-gooder trying to save the life and limbs of someone else, fast asleep and unaware of the looming, lurking dangers.  Yakkov’s good deed did not go unpunished and not only is he forced to struggle with the malicious ingrate Esav but, later, he was forced to contend with his evil guardian angel as well.

While it’s often said that “the path to hell is paved with good intentions” it is still hard to grasp what occurred in this case.  Why did Yaakov’s well intentioned plan to save his twin from the wild animals of spiritual ruin go so badly awry? This is especially quizzical in light of the Zohar’s observation that “praiseworthy is he who takes the guilty/sinful by hand [and leads them along the path of repentance and tikkun]”

The Biskovitzer explains that while kiruv is a most praiseworthy endeavor it is wasted upon those whose evil is intrinsic and incorrigible rather than those whose evil is acquired through the incorrect exercise of their free-will. Echoing the Maharal’s clarification for Esav’s in-utero scurrying towards temples of idolatry and, no doubt, paraphrasing earlier sources, the Biskovitzer goes so far as to identify Esav with the primordial serpent who enticed Adam and Chavah into Original Sin.  In other words; Esav is not a good kid gone bad, he is just plain bad. He is not one who falls prey to the yetzer hara he IS the yetzer hara. Such evil is incorrigible, dealing with it in any way, even for the noble goal of its rehabilitation, is doomed to failure and to vicious, attacking ingratitude.

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Attracting Young Marrieds; Good Habits Need Cravings; Top OU/YU/Text Source Websites

Posted on | December 4, 2014 | By Administrator | Comments Off

Addressing the Needs of the Young Marrieds

Good Habits are Fueled by Craving

Top OU/YU/Text Source Websites

Growing at the Bottom of the Heap

Posted on | December 2, 2014 | By Mark Frankel | 8 Comments

Finding Oneself on the Bottom
Torah communities are wonderful places to live, but we may feel uncomfortable if we find ourselves near the bottom of one of the hierarchies of the community. Three of the hierarchies which are discussed in Torah sources are those of wealth, Torah wisdom and spiritual performance. Two others that come to mind are spiritual heritage and the merits of our children.

Sometimes strength in one hierarchy, like wealth or Torah Wisdom, compensates for weakness in another. Sometimes people choose to live in communities where Torah knowledge and spiritual performance standards are lower, so that they can comfortably reach the middle or the top of the hierarchy. However, we will see that viewing ourselves at the bottom of a hierarchy is in fact a tool for growth and something we can embrace.

Pursuing Honor is an Attempt to Escape the Bottom
In the Mesillas Yesharim chapter on “The Details of Cleanliness”, the Ramchal discusses taking both our mitzvos and character traits to the next level. He discusses the chief traits that we need to work on, namely, pride, anger, envy, and desire.

When discussing desire, he doesn’t talk about the base desires that usually come to mind, rather the desire for wealth and the desire for honor. In regard to the desire for honor, the Ramchal states:

The desire for honor is even greater than the desire for wealth, for it is possible for a person to overcome his inclination for wealth and the other pleasures and still be pressed by the desire for honor, being unable to tolerate being, and seeing himself beneath his friends.

The desire for honor is so strong, because we are unable to tolerate being, and seeing ourselves beneath our friends. We are uncomfortable being towards the bottom of the heap.

Using our Distaste for the Bottom to Motivate Growth

In the chapter on the “Acquiring Watchfulness”, the Mesillas Yesharim discusses motivators for spiritual growth. He discusses three levels:

1) those who are striving for perfection
2) those motivated by honor and envy
3) those motivated by reward and punishment

In relation to honor and envy, he explains that we since find it extremely difficult when we are on a lower level in regard to the vanities of this world, how much more difficult it will be to find ourselves on the bottom in the eternal world of truth. Distaste for the bottom should motivate us to embrace spiritual growth now.

The Ramban Tells Us to Embrace Bottomhood

To overcome the trait of honor we need to be ok with being at the bottom of the hierarchy. In fact in the Iggeres HaRamban, when discussing how to work on the trait of humility, the Ramban says:

Consider everyone as greater than yourself. If he is wise or rich, you should give him respect. If he is poor and you are richer — or wiser — than he, consider yourself to be more guilty than he, and that he is more worthy than you, since when he sins it is through error, while yours is deliberate and you should know better!

In regard to the hierarchies of wealth, wisdom and spiritual accomplishment, we should actively figure out how we are lower than every person to whom we speak. Not an easy task, but humility is the art of seeing yourself at the bottom.

Humility Before Hashem

One might ask why did Hashem create the world with so many hierarchies and our strong distaste for being near the bottom? My Rebbe, Rabbi Yitzchak Kirzner zt”l taught that relationships between people are often training grounds for our relationship with Hashem. Developing humility among people, enables us to be more humble before Hashem and to realize that although we must make our efforts, He is the ultimate source of everything we have.

In the chapter on the “Divisions of Saintliness” the Ramchal writes that before we pray or perform a mitzvah we should recognize that we are standing before and communicating with our Creator, that Hashem is elevated and raised above all blessing and praise, and that man is inferior due to his earthly qualities and the sins he commits.

Growing at the Bottom

Hashem has created a world of hierarchies and a strong distaste for being at the bottom. Our goal is to embrace the bottom, strengthen our humility, and recognize this is the place of our growth. Acknowledging this makes us beloved in the eyes of Hashem and enables us to find pleasure as we take our next growth steps in Torah, Tefillah, Mitzvos, Acts of Kindness and Middos improvement.

Healthy Self-Love

Posted on | December 1, 2014 | By Rabbi Max Weiman | 5 Comments

A friend of mine told me his daughter bought him a kipah that’s half velvet and half knit, that says “I love every Jew” in Hebrew. Cute idea that expresses an important point we all need to think about more. Many of my fellow baalei-teshuva have an easy time saying “We should love all different kinds of Jews”. But some of us don’t easily fit in anywhere so it’s easy to say lets love everyone when you don’t really love anyone. Not that “not fitting in” is synonymous with not loving, but we all tend to develop a love for the members of our “group”, and cast aspersions on the others.

Within Orthodoxy against other Orthodox Jews or between Orthodox and Reform etc. Do we really need to puff ourselves up by denigrating others? If you really felt one with the Almighty, that you were an emissary of the Infinite Creator, would you feel the need to denigrate Reform Jews? As Baalei Teshuva, do we have an easier time loving all Jews or a harder time loving all Jews? If we have an easier time we need to share our thoughts with our fellow FFB’s. If we have a harder time, we need to learn from great people like R. Zelig Pliskin, and others how to generate more ahavas Yisroel.

Here’s one tip from our sages:

Healthy criticism is important and we do need to point out flaws in others to avoid them or help others avoid those flaws, but that mitzvah seems to be a little overdone. (The Chofetz Chaim cautions us regarding this in Clal Ches.) There’s more than enough of that going around.

Why does it say to love your fellow man like yourself? Why not just say “love your fellow man”? R. Moshe Rosenstein wrote that a person cannot properly fulfill the mitzvah of ahavas Yisrael if that person doesn’t feel good about his/herself. When you have a healthy self-love you can magnanimously pour your thoughts prayers and actions into others. They are an extension of you. When you feel crummy about yourself, you often will project that onto others. As the gemara says, “kol bmumo posel”. All people criticize others with their own flaws.

Whatever particular group you align yourself with, even if it’s just “observant Judaism”, or the Jewish people, or even just humanity, it’s crucial to feel good about yourself and that group. This doesn’t mean excusing flaws or ignoring areas in which we need to grow. It’s also crucial to be interested in growth. But we especially need to focus on our good points. We need to constantly reflect on what we are doing right, and what is positive about us. Not to put down others, but to appreciate ourselves.

From that base of healthy self-love we can spread it to everyone else.

Originally Published 11/05/2009

Parsha Vayetzei and Thanksgiving

Posted on | November 27, 2014 | By Guest Contributor | Comments Off

From Sara Yoheved Rigler – Beyond Just Desserts: A Recipe of Thanksgiving:

JUST DESSERTS

Ten years later I was learning Torah in Jerusalem. The Rabbi was explaining why the matriarch Leah named her fourth son Yehuda, a name derived from the word “to thank.” Since the moniker “Jew” derives from the name “Yehuda,” thanking is somehow integral to being Jewish.

But why did Leah wait until her fourth child to use this name? Wasn’t she more grateful for her first child than her fourth?

Gratitude is a function not of how much we have, but rather of how much we have relative to how much we feel we deserve.

The Rabbi, citing classical commentators, explained that Jacob’s four wives knew prophetically that they would give birth to the twelve sons who would become the progenitors of the twelve tribes of Israel. Since there were four wives, each one expected to give birth to three sons.

When Leah gave birth to her fourth son, she felt that she had received more than her fair share. So she named him Yehuda, saying, “This time I will thank God.”

This teaches us something essential about gratitude. Gratitude is a function not of how much we have, but rather of how much we have relative to how much we feel we deserve.

When you have worked hard at your job, you usually do not feel flooded with gratitude when you pick up your paycheck. Even a holiday bonus may come to be expected as your just desserts and not elicit a great surge of gratitude – unless it is a far bigger sum than you feel you deserve.

The opposite of gratitude is a feeling of entitlement. The attitude of “I deserve it” turns every gift into a paycheck.

……

A RECIPE FOR GRATITUDE

Here, then, are the 4 steps to gratitude:

1. Recognize the good that you possess.
2. Acknowledge that it is a gift, not something you deserve.
3. Identify the source of the gift, whether God or a human being.
4. Express your thanks.

The Pilgrims of the first Thanksgiving obviously traversed these four steps. They were grateful not for their high standard of living, but simply that they had survived their first winter in the New World. Deeply religious people, they felt gratitude to God. The first Thanksgiving feast was their way of expressing that gratitude to God.

According to Judaism, gratitude is the basis of everything: faith, joy, awe, and love of God. Only when we recognize how much God has given us and how little we deserve it, can we come to a place of faith and love.

Little wonder that a Jew is supposed to start every day with an expression of thankfulness for life itself, the recitation of the modeh ani.

———————

What better way to show gratitude to Hashem then by using some of our free time to learn Torah. Here’s Rabbi Rietti’s outline of Vayetzei. You can purchase the entire outline of the Chumash here.

Vayetze
# 28 Yaakov’s Dream
# 29 Yaakov Marries 4 Wives
# 30 Birth of Tribes & Yosef
# 31 Yaakov Flees from Lavan
# 32 Yaakov Enters Erets Yisrael

# 28 Yaakov’s Dream
* Yaakov goes to Haran
* Dream – Ladder
* Yaakov Builds an Altar
* Yaakov’s Promise

# 29 Yaakov Marries 4 Wives
* Yaakov removes stone from well
* Yaakov Marries Leah and Rachel
* Leah childs: Reuven-Shimon-Levi-Yehuda

# 30 Birth of Tribes & Yosef
* Yaakov angry with Rachel
* Bilha childs: Dan-Naftali
* Zilpa childs: Gad-Asher
* Doodayim
* Leah childs: Yisachar-Zevulun-Dina
* Rachel childs Yosef
* Yaakov wants to leave
* The Maklot
* Yaakov’s vast wealth

# 31 Yaakov Flees from Lavan
* HaShem tells Yaakov to return to the land of his fathers
* Yaakov confers with Rachel and Leah in the field
* Yaakov escapes
* Rachel stole Lavan’s idols
* Lavan in hot pursuit
* HaShem warns Lavan not to harm Yaakov
* Lavan rebukes Yaakov
* Yaakov’s response
* Lavan “everything you have is mine!”
* Treaty of Gal Eid between Yaakov and Lavan

# 32 Yaakov Enters Erets Yisrael
* Lavan returns home
* Yaakov enters Eretz Yisrael

Successful Kiruv Begins With Getting In Line

Posted on | November 25, 2014 | By Mark Frankel | 3 Comments

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about Circle, Point and Line Kiruv. Here’s a summary:

In the widely practiced circle Kiruv, the focus is to move people inside the Circle of Torah Observance.
In the Chabad centered point Kiruv, the focus is performance of a single mitzvah.
In line Kiruv, the goal is to get the individual to take the next step in getting closer to Hashem.

Instead of looking at the ups and downs of each of these models, I’ve decided to focus on the benefits and necessity of Line Kiruv, to encourage people to start thinking about this mindset.

At its root line Kiruv is about growth, and we all need to work on growing. If we’re not constantly working on growing in our relationship to Hashem, than we’re missing the main message of Torah Observance. And if we’re missing the main message, we’re in no position to encourage or inspire others to take spiritual growth steps.

One of the main remorses BTs express is disappointment with the people in the community. When we don’t make it clear that we’re all works in progress, and we have a long road to grow, then BTs lose faith in the power of Torah when they see our glaring imperfections. If we can find the courage to admit we’re far from perfect, then the non-observant will try to accept us in the same way we should accept them, with imperfections and all.

I do believe that we all need to get involve in Kiruv, but not before we are on a growth path, which means consciously focusing on taking the next small steps in improving our Prayer, Torah Learning, Mitzvos Performance, Character Traits, and Acts of Kindness. Successful Kiruv begins with the Observant actively getting on the growth line.

Being Thankful for Thanksgiving

Posted on | November 24, 2014 | By Neil Harris | 30 Comments

When it comes to Thanksgiving, some families within Torah observant Jewry tend to have the attitude: “I’m thankful the whole year. I say Modeh Ani every single morning. Why should I celebrate Thanksgiving?”

The truth is that when I was growning up, as a third generation American with marginal Synagogue affiliation, my family ‘did’ thanksgiving, but it was never a big deal. When I got married, things changed (for the better).

As a married couple, Thanksgiving became a big deal. My wife is a first generation American and her family is totally into Thanksgiving. When we spend it with family or friends we go all out. Turkey, sweet potatoes, stuffing, my homemade “I can’t believe the’re pareve” mashed potatoes, and apple pie.

For Baalei Teshuva, Thanksgiving is almost the best of both worlds-the secular and the holy. It provides an opportunity to be with family and friends whom we might not normally have a meal with,a meal without the pressure of: zimiros, accidentally turning off of lights, constant explaining of why we make tea or coffee differently on Shabbos, etc.

Over the years I’ve listened to my co-workers complain about the pressure of making such a lavish meal, “All that hard work just to eat food for one hour”. For the Torah observant Jew, Thanksgiving is a piece of cake. We make “lavish meals” every weekend.

I often tell friends of mine that I love Thanksgiving because we can eat like Shabbos, but still turn off the lights and watch TV (although I’m not a big sports fan, so I usually don’t watch the big games).

Over the past few years, due to geographical logistics we haven’t spent Thanksgiving with my wife’s family, but this year, Baruch Hashem, we will. There will be kashrus challenges, like a limited supply of kosher pots, pans, and utensils but they are letting us make the entire meal kosher. Armed with the ability to kasher an oven and several phone numbers of various Rabbis on speed dial, we’re looking forward to it. The zechus (merit) of the family members hosting our ‘kosher Thanksgiving’ is something they might never understand, but my wife and I do. The memories that my kids will have of spending Thanksgiving with family is something very dear to us. I am very thankful.

Originally Published on 11/11/2006

Har Nof Widows Request That We Increase Love and Affection for Each Other

Posted on | November 20, 2014 | By Administrator | Comments Off

With tears and broken hearts from the blood that has been spilled, the blood of the sanctified ones, our husbands, the heads of our homes (Hy’d),

We turn to our brothers and sisters, everyone from the house of Israel, in whatever place they may be, to stay united [to merit] compassion and mercy from on High. We should accept upon ourselves to increase love and affection for each other, whether between a person and his fellow, whether between distinct communities within the Jewish people.

We beseech that each and every person accepts upon himself or herself at the time of the acceptance of Shabbos, that this Shabbos, Shabbos Parashas Toldos, should be a day in which we express our love for each other, a day in which we refrain from speaking divisively or criticizing others.

By doing so it will be a great merit for the souls of our husbands, slaughtered for the sake of G-d’s name.

G-d looks down from Above, and sees our pain, and He will wipe away our tears and declare “Enough — to all the pain and grief.”

And we should merit witnessing the coming of the anointed one, soon in our days, amen, amen.

Signed…
Chaya Levine
Breine Goldberg
Yakova Kupinsky
Bashi Twersky
and their families

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