Beyond BT

Spiritual Growth for Jews

Hishtadlus, False Blizzards and Parshas HaMon

Posted on | January 27, 2015 | By Mark Frankel | 3 Comments

One good thing about the predictions of the record snow storms is that I was extremely happy that we only got 12 inches. Another good thing was the public humility of Gary Szatkowski, meteorologist-in-charge at the National Weather Service in Mt. Holly, New Jersey, who apologized on Twitter (@GarySzatkowski) for the snow totals being cut back. “My deepest apologies to many key decision makers and so many members of the general public,” Szatkowski tweeted. “You made a lot of tough decisions expecting us to get it right, and we didn’t. Once again, I’m sorry.”

We can second guess the city officials for their road and transit closures, but like us, they have to do their hishtadlus to protect the citizens. And like us, it’s hard to get the hishtadlus factor exactly right, no too much and not too little. The key for us believing Jews is to remember that even after our hishtadlus, everything is in Hashem’s hands. This is something we have to continually work on to internalize.

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

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

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

Frozen Jews

Posted on | January 26, 2015 | By Katrin | 82 Comments

Originally Posted on Oct 25, 2006

When Modiin was first built, it was designed as a ‘secular’ haven for the people who used to fancy living in Jerusalem, but didn’t want hareidim for neighbours. As the city has grown, it’s begun to attract quite a few modern orthodox, including a lot of expat anglos, who for the most part, have similar feelings about the hareidim.

When we moved here last year from London, we were just happy to be somewhere where we had jewish neighbours, regardless of what they did or didn’t keep. I wonder now if we were a little naïve.
It’s not that we have had any difficulties, G-d forbid, with our secular neighbours. They have been as friendly as they can be, given the fact that we can’t eat in their homes, and they aren’t overly keen to come for a Shabbat meal.

But that ‘anti-haredi’ stance comes out in a lot of subtle, and not so subtle ways that has implications for everyone who lives here. It means that building synagogues, mikvas and schools in the area is loaded with a whole bunch of fears about being ‘taken over’ by the religious.

The irony is that if anything, the ‘religious’ people here are just as scared of being taken over by the hareidim. We also don’t want people telling us how to dress, telling us when we can drive our car, telling us what we can and can’t watch.

Until quite recently, I was firmly in this camp. How can you have free will – and the merit of doing a particular mitzvah – if you are being compelled to do it by outside forces?

But then my husband started to go to kollel a few hours a day, in the hareidi neighbourhood of kiryat sefer. There is no kollel in modiin, so that was the nearest option.

And lo and behold, we discovered that hareidim are not the scary monsters that many people persist in making them. Many of them are the kindest, non-judgemental and most genuine people you could care to meet. They have their priorities right: lots of kids, and a focus on learning and mitzvahs as opposed to accumulating pointless ‘stuff’.

In Israel, there is a long list of popular complaints against the hareidim, starting with the number of kids they have (that secular wisdom dictates that they can’t afford) and culminating with the ‘facts’ that they don’t pay taxes and don’t serve in the army.

I’m not qualified to comment on all the ins and outs of these issues. But it seems to me that they all touch on the same basic issue: hareidim act as if the ‘natural’ laws of the world don’t apply to them.

But of course, as jews, that is exactly how we are meant to act.

Once you see it in action, in a neighbourhood like Kiryat Sefer, it calls into question how many of us modern orthodox act and think.

I was talking to a hareidi woman who used to be chiloni (non-religious) and lived in Tel Aviv. She and her husband made tshuva a few years back, and now she lives in Kiryat Sefer with her five kids.

She does a lot of outreach work with girls in Ramle, many of whom don’t think twice before chowing down on a pork chop. She was telling me about her work and said something that really made me stop and think.

“A lot of these girls eat pig, but when you show them that the Torah is true, they make tshuva and over time, they go the whole way,” she said. “They understand that if the Torah is true, then ALL of it is true. Just as they shouldn’t eat pig, they understand that they should also try to do all of the other things in the Torah.

“It’s easier to work with them than to work with ‘frozen jews’, who are keeping more, but think what they are doing is enough. Frozen jews never really reach the top of the mountain, because they haven’t accepted that the Torah is true, and comes from Hashem. If you accept that the Torah comes from G-d, you can’t pick and choose which bits of the Torah you keep. They are all equally important.”

The point is not that we have to keep everything immediately. But the point certainly is that we have to continually strive to reach that goal.

It’s an uncomfortable reminder and it leads to a lot of uncomfortable questions, not least because i™ makes a very clear distinction between those that really believe in Torah and Hashem – regardless of their outward observance – and those that really don’t – again, regardless of their outward observance.

I don’t know what the answer is. But I’m increasingly of the opinion that when it comes to belief in G-d, you can’t spend a lifetime trying to sit on the fence.

Deep Into Darkness Peering, See the Light of the Intermediary Disappearing

Posted on | January 23, 2015 | By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz | 4 Comments

This weeks installment is dedicated l’iluy nishmas Gitel Leah a”h  bas Menachem Mendel Hy”dMrs. Lidia Schwartz nee’ Zunschein whose yuhrzeit is this week.

Did the plague of darkness cross the boundaries of Goshen?
Why is the plague of darkness the only one in which the Torah reveals that the opposite was happening to the Israelites?

Moshe lifted his hand towards the sky and there was obscuring darkness throughout the land of Egypt for three days. People could not see one another nor could anyone rise from beneath [the palpable, immobilizing darkness] for [another] three days. However, there was light for all of the Bnei Yisrael in their dwellings.

—  Shemos 10:22,23

Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the HaShem shines upon you. For, behold, darkness covers the earth and dark thick clouds [covers] the peoples; but upon you HaShem will shine, and His glory will be seen upon you. Nations will walk by your light and kings [will march] by the radiance of your shine.

— Yeshaya 60:1-3

No longer will the sun provide you with daylight and radiance, nor will the moon illuminate [the night for you]; but HaShem will be an everlasting light for you, and your Elokim will be your brilliance.

— Yeshaya Ibid:19

Even the darkness is not too dark for You, but the night shines as the day; the darkness is as the light.

—  Tehillim 139:12

HaShem will plague Egypt, plaguing and healing …

— Yeshaya 19:22

“Plaguing” the Egyptians and “healing” the Bnei Yisrael-the Children of Israel.

— Zohar commenting on the above pasuk

As in the days of your exodus from land of Egypt I will display miraculous things.

—  Michah 7:15

Rabi Yehudah combined and split up the makkos-plagues of Egypt; into simanim- mnemonics: Dtzac”h, Adas”h, B’acha”v

—  Haggadah shel Pesach

The Midrash says that wherever a Jew would sit down things would become illuminated for him. Rav Leibeleh Eiger explains that the Midrash deduces this from the difference in the Torahs description of the Bnei Yisrael being unaffected by makkas choshech- the plague of darkness; compared to the makkas barad-plague and hail.  When describing the plague of hail the Torah writes: “It was only in the Goshen where Bnei Yisrael were, that there was no barad” (Shemos 9:26). If makkas choshech had been identical to makkas barad what we should have had was a pasuk reading something along the lines of “No darkness dimmed the land of Goshen” or “there was abundant light throughout the boundaries of the Bnei Yisrael.” Instead the pasuk emphasizes the dwellings of the Bnei Yisrael rather than a particular area on the map of Egypt.

In fact, darkness lay on the land uniformly and respected no boundaries.  Darkness fell into pharaoh’s palace and land of Goshen equally.  The dichotomy between the Egyptian and the Israelite experience during this plague was not geographically rooted.  Instead, it derived from the difference between the Israelite an Egyptian soul. As the Jewish soul cleaves to HaShem, the dynamic that allowed the Bnei Yisrael to be untouched by this plague was that the Ohr Ein Sof Baruch Hu-the Light of the Endless One – Blessed is He [alternatively the Endless Light– Blessed is He]; was with them and, perhaps, diffusing through them.

While we’re all very familiar with the simanim of the Haggadah: Dtzac”h, Adas”h, B’acha”v , dividing the 10 plagues of Egypt into two sets of three followed by a final set of four, Rav Leibeleh Eiger introduces another way of categorizing the plagues.  He asserts that only during the first nine of the plagues, of which darkness is the final one, did the Egyptians have the opportunity of exercising their free will to liberate the Bnei Yisrael and dismiss them from the land.  The final plague, makkas bechoros-the smiting of the firstborn; forced their hands.  At that point they had they no longer had any choice in the matter.  Viewed in this way the makkos are divided into 9+1.  Makkas chosech was the final plague while makkas bechoros was something qualitatively different altogether.  As such, makkas chosech was the beginning of geulah-redemption; of the Bnei Yisrael from the Egyptian exile.  As darkness engulfed the land the salvation began.

In Jewish eschatology one of the hallmarks of the ultimate Geulah at the end-of-days, is that the presence of G-d will be palpable and manifest and that all powerless idols and false ideologies will be exposed for the obscuring mirages they are. Their smoke —their pollution — will blow away, scattered by the fresh winds of truth.  The Geulah will be a kind of cosmic reboot where everything is reset and recalibrated to the Manufacturer’s factory settings.  In order to get a glimpse of the ultimate Geulah it is instructive to study the sources describing how these “factory settings” where first fiddled with and misaligned.

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The Problem of Shul Beis Medrification; The Rise of Software and Startups: Video; Who Needs Miracles Anyway?<

Posted on | January 22, 2015 | By Administrator | Comments Off

The Problem of Shul Beis Medrification

The Rise of Software and Startups: Video

Who Needs Miracles Anyway?

Internalizing The Three Most Important Jewish Principles

Posted on | January 21, 2015 | By Mark Frankel | 1 Comment

The Rambam, R’ Yosef Albo and the Ramchal in Derech Hashem all focus on three key Jewish Principles.
1) Hashem who always has and always will exist, created the universe
2) Hashem communicates to man via prophecy, and through prophecy He gave us the Torah
3) Hashem supervises and guides the world based on our actions

Although it’s relatively easy to understand the above principles at some level intellectually, the real goal is to internalize and live with them on a constant basis.

The Ramban in his classic commentary at the end of Parsha Bo, connects our performance of mitzvos to these three principles:

When one does a simple mitzvah like mezuzah and thinks about its importance, he has already acknowledged G-d’s creation of the world, G-d’s knowledge and supervision of the world’s affairs, the truth of prophecy and all the foundations of Torah.

From a practical point of view, we can use every brocha on a mitzvah, such as the brochas on washing our hands, learning Torah, Tallis and Tefillin to internalize the three principles:

Before saying the brocha and performing the mitzvah be aware:

a) Hashem, the creator of the Universe is the One who commanded this mitzvah through the prophecy of the Torah

b) Hashem commanded and wants me to fulfill this mitzvah, and through this act I am fulfilling Hashem’s will

When we say the brocha we can have in mind:

Baruch Atah Hashem – Hashem, who always has and always will exist, is the creator of the universe

Elokeinu Melech HaOlam – Hashem is the Ultimate Authority and guiding force of the world

Asher Kid’shanu B’mitzvosav – Hashem separated, elevated and sanctified me, as part of the Jewish people, with His Torah instructions to fulfill the commandments

V’tzivanu Al – And He particularly commanded me with this particular mitzvos, which I am about to perform

The process of internalization involves performing the mitzvos with these thoughts again and again. Through this repeated process, the three most important Jewish Principles will become ingrained.

This is what spiritual growth is about. Try it for yourself. You won’t regret it.

R’ Dovid Winiarz – An Inspiration to Us All

Posted on | January 20, 2015 | By David and Mark | 3 Comments

By now, most of us have heard of the tragic loss of R’ Dovid Winiarz. You pretty much couldn’t be involved in the world of kiruv without having known Dovid. Most of our (Mark and David) interaction with Dovid was peripheral, online and through a phone call or two. But even on that level, you would quickly “get” who Dovid was: A proud but not prideful Jew, strong in his commitment but soft and caring in demeanor, a family man who loved Judaism and loved Jews. A man who saw the potential in every single person, Jew and non-Jew, and had a mission to better himself and help others reach their own potential. A man who not only gave out “Keep Smiling” cards to strangers but generously shared his own brilliant smile with everyone he met.

I (David) vividly remember seeing him at the Siyum Hashas dancing with so much joy that he stood out to me amongst the tens of thousands of attendees. He was in his glory: flanked by family members, young and old, surrounded by Jews of all types and rejoicing in the Torah.

R’ Dovid leaves behind a wife and 10 children. While we cannot take away the pain of this loss, we do have the opportunity to relieve some of the financial burden placed on their shoulders. Please click here to donate. Tizku l’mitzvos.

Wearing My Kippah Full Time

Posted on | January 19, 2015 | By JDMDad | 39 Comments

By JDMDad
Jewish Deaf Motorcycling Dad

I’ve been slowly ramping up my level of observance for the past several years. Really, in the past year it has been almost an exponential growth. Each time I added something new (starting to use Tefillin, starting to wear Tzitzits, etc.) I kept wondering what would be the next thing I would do. None of these were preplanned. I would get an inspiration, start reading up on it to understand it better, then pick a day to bite the bullet and start.

Now I have to admit, I just said that none of these were preplanned, but in the back of my mind, I always started to wonder when, if, I would start wearing a kippah all day every day. I figured that would be the ultimate “outting” of myself. Everything else that I had been doing was pretty much internal, where nobody else would know that I was doing anything different. (except the few times someone walked into my office when I was davening Minchah)

Turns out the inspiration hit me after the Holiday season (Rosh Hashana through Simchat Torah). I think the reason it happened then was I finally went completely kosher outside the home as of Rosh Hashana. (I have been kosher in the home since getting married over 5 years ago) My conscience couldn’t justify me wearing a kippah when still eating non-kosher food. Still, this was the nerve-wracking change for me. This would be the one that shouts out to the world (or at least the people in my office) that hey, I’m Jewish, and I’m not quite as quiet about it as I used to be.

I calculated it carefully. I would begin to wear my kippah in the week between Christmas and New Years. Two reasons for this: 1) I would be in Brooklyn the week before this, and could find a kippah that doesn’t quite stand out, i.e. matches my hair color a little bit. 2) This is usually the time that the least amount of people would be around the office, most were on vacation. I could break this in slowly.

So after returning from Brooklyn, I started wearing my kippah 17/7. (I only get about 7 hrs of sleep a day, and roll around to much to keep one on while sleeping)

For the first two weeks, I was uncomfortable. (Understatement!!) It felt like I was wearing a 50 pound flashing neon arrow pointing directly at my head. I would wear a cap when I went to the cafe downstairs for my daily bottle of orange juice. When I took the cap off and moved around the office, it felt like everyone was staring at me behind my back, I could hear them commenting to each other on it. (For those who don’t know me well enough, I’m deaf/hard-of-hearing, and usually can’t hear people talking unless I’m right in front of them, looking at them; this shows how much my mind was playing with me) When I glanced back, everyone was doing their usual work, talking to each other about business, etc. No one was looking at me, or discussing the kippah at all, it was all in my head. I only received two questions about my kippah; my boss asked how I kept it from falling off (bobby pins or clips, plus now I’m letting my hair grow a little bit longer than I did before, no more buzz cuts), and someone I worked with in a previous project asked if it was called a yarmulke or something else, and was I becoming more religious. Errrr… yes, I guess I am!

I’ve noticed several immediate benefits. Now when I do Minchah in my office, I don’t forget to put a kippah on, nor do I feel guilty taking it off as soon as I’m done. It just stays on the whole time. Also, the other day I found my division head’s ID badge on the floor. That’s a “donut offense” meaning he has to bring in donuts for everyone. So he brought in a box of donuts from Dunkin Donuts. After he showed me the box, he took a closer look at me, and I could see the light bulb come on… He confirmed it when he said “Oh wait, you can’t have these, can you?” Next time I’ll print out a list of where to find kosher donuts in the area!

Really, the only problem I’ve run into with wearing my kippah full time occurred at home. Twice now I reached up when in the shower and realized I still had the kippah on. As Homer Simpson would put it… D’OH!!

Originally posted April 17, 2007

In Prayer; the Medium IS the Message

Posted on | January 16, 2015 | By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz | 2 Comments

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

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

— Shemos 8:5

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

— Shemos 8:8

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

— Shemos 8:25,26

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

— Shemos 9:28,33

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

— Mishlei 6:16-19

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

— Pirkei Avos 3:9

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

— Sifri on Devarim 3:23

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Transforming Seating Problems into Chesed Opportunities; Being a Mensch on the Ski Slopes; Ideas, Products, Teams and Execution;

Posted on | January 15, 2015 | By Administrator | Comments Off

Ideas, Products, Teams and Execution

Transforming Seating Problems into Chesed Opportunities

Being a Mensch on the Ski Slopes

Introduction to Learning Gemora

Posted on | January 14, 2015 | By Mark Frankel | 17 Comments

In July 2009, my Partners in Torah chavrusa wanted to learn Gemora. We started learning the second perek of Bava Metzia about returning lost objects. We used Art Scroll for the basic flow and translation and then we discussed in depth on each step of the Gemora. It caused a good deal of brain pain and he enjoyed it.

Here is the outline I prepared when we got started.

1) Purpose of Torah Study
– Understand the practical law and the commandments
– Seeking the essence, relationships and connections of all things, in every area of life, in this world and beyond.

2) Components (See Appendix)
– Written Torah – 24 Books – Torah (5), Prophets (8), Writings (11)
– Oral Torah – Mishna, Talmud
– Commentaries, Halachic Works

3) Chain of Transmission
– Moshe, Joshua, Elders, Prophets (Described in the 24 books of the Written Torah)
– Great Assembly, (transition from Written to Oral Torah)
– Tannaim (literally the “repeaters”) are the sages of the Mishnah (70–200)
– Amoraim (literally the “sayers”) are the sages of the Gemara (200–500)
– Savoraim (literally the “reasoners”) are the classical Persian rabbis (500–600)
– Geonim (literally the “prides” or “geniuses”) are the rabbis of Sura and Pumbeditha, in Babylonia (650–1050)
– Rishonim (literally the “firsts”) are the rabbis of the early medieval period (1050–1550) preceding the Shulchan Aruch
– Acharonim (literally the “lasts”) are the rabbis of 1550 to the present.

4) Two Elements of Talmudic Study
– Understanding the steps of the discussion as described in the Elements
– Trying to discern new insights and a deeper understanding of the principles (Havana)

5) Seven Elements in the Steps of Talmudic Discussions
– Statement – an idea is expressed
– Question – requesting for information
– Answer – responding to a question
– Contradiction – disproving a statement or idea and totally refuting it
– Proof – presenting evidence from which the truth of a statement or idea is apparent
– Difficulty – pointing out something untrue or unpleasing about a statement or idea
– Resolution – turning aside a difficulty against a statement or idea

6) Understanding the Steps
– A Gemora statement consists of a subject and a predicate, which is information about the subject. For example, Women are obligated in the mitzvah of kiddush. Women is the subject and “obligated in the mitzvah of kiddush” is the predicate”.
– The Gemora often chooses unusual cases to highlight the boundaries of the subjects and predicates and the principles involved.
– Rashi’s commentary helps us understand the cases and the steps.

7) Deeper Understanding
– Torah learning often involves reconciling contradictions within the Gemora.
– Tosfos’ commentary points out additional contradictions from other Gemoras and reconciles contradictions.
– This process of reconciling contradictions gives us a deeper understanding of the principles.

Originally published July, 2009
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Appendix (Mostly from Wikipedia)
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Build Your Bitachon as a Zchus for a Refuah Shleimah

Posted on | January 13, 2015 | By Guest Contributor | Comments Off

Dear Friends,

When illness strikes close to home, it brings out a deeply enhanced sense of awareness of the frailty of human existence, the overwhelming need for Divine help and the critical need to maintain the closest possible relationship with the Creator,through Tefillah and Bitachon (prayer and trust in Him).

At this time my son, Yechezkel ben Gita and a young boy, Reuven ben Reizel, and his brother, Yisroel ben Reizel, are in great need of Divine mercy. I would like to ask all of my friends to pray for them. In addition to Davening, allow me to suggest that we can also help them by our efforts to strengthen our Bitachon (trust and confidence in Hashem’s kindness and mercy). This can be done in many different ways.

The basics of this process require our ongoing focus on a number of points:

a) There is nothing at all that is beyond Hashem’s power to do.

b) Hashem created the world for the purpose of doing infinite kindness and therefore it makes sense to expect His kindness to be forthcoming.

c) The name of Hashem refers to Him as the Master of Everything and the Merciful One. His name focuses on His essence. Every time we recite Hashem’s name and focus on its meaning, we can internalize and deepen our emotional feelings and appreciation of His power and His mercy.

d) All of the kindness that we or most others have experienced is far beyond what we deserve. Knowing that Hashem’s way is to bestow kindness far beyond what we deserve can help us to increase our confidence that He will help us in our time of need, even if we may deem ourselves less than deserving.

e) A practical stepping stone to real Bitachon can be found in a positive, optimistic attitude of my never giving up hope. Even if I can not yet feel confident in the desired results, I refuse to give up hope. An adamant refusal to give up hope can eventually lead to a greater feeling of trust and reliance that Hasem will in fact bring about the desired results.

Please review the above points and the Ten Ways to Bitachon again and again to develop and strengthen the feeling of confidence and trust in Hashem.

Click here to view or download the Bitachon Builder. See below for a weekly talk about strengthening Bitachon.

May all of your efforts be a zechus for a Refuah Shleimah for my son and the other two young people.

Thank you so much,
Shaya Cohen

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Conquering Life’s Challenges is Just a Matter of Trust.

Success in marriage, family, friend., and business relationships requires trust.
This applies tenfold to our relationship with Hashem.
By trusting Hashem, we can transform our outlook an our lives, and the events that shape it.

Expand your knowledge and understanding about Bitachon in just 30 minutes a week
by joining Rabbi Shaya Cohan, founder of Prority-1, for the Living with Bitachon live Phonecast.

LIVING WITH BITACHON
Every Wednesday at 10:00 pm. live Phonecast at 860-970-0300. Enter access code 377232

A PROJECT OF THE PRIORITY-1 COMMUNITY TRAINING INITIATIVE
Sponsor a shiur. Email info@priority-l.org

Four Top Misconceptions About Judaism

Posted on | January 12, 2015 | By Michael Gros | 36 Comments

A number of weeks ago I attended an excellent seminar in Kew Garden Hills, NY from Project Inspire, a joint initiative of Aish HaTorah and the OU aimed at creating a grass-roots outreach movement. One of the highlights of the evening was a presentation by Rabbi Chaim Samson from Aish about the four main misconceptions about Judaism than non-frum Jews hava, and the four reassurances that can overcome them. While I can’t recreate the full glory of the presentation in a written summary, the ideas are inspiring enough in any format. For anyone involved professionally or casually in outreach, keeping these four misconceptions in mind is a good starting point. The presentation is also great for ba’alei teshuva.

When he was learning at Aish HaTorah in Jerusalem, Rabbi Samson and his friends would often pass backpackers hanging out in the old city. He and his friends had a running that joke that if they approached two backpackers and asked them if they’d like to spend some time in a yeshiva learning about philosophy, mysticism, ethics, how Judaism can inspire our lives, etc., they would get the same answers every time. One of the backpackers would jump at the chance, saying that he had always wanted to learn more about Judaism. The other would demur and make up a litany of excuses. Inevitably the one who is eager to learn about Judaism would be non-Jewish, and interested in comparative religions or an understanding of the development of religions, and the one who wants nothing to do with the religion would be Jewish.

Why this hesitancy? Rabbi Samson points to four misconceptions that lead to this, and four reassurances which can counter them.

1. Judging Others

First, there’s the misconception that religious Jews look down on non-religious Jews, judging them to be less holy or less of a Jew. So therefore why would a non-frum Jew ever want to walk into a room full of frum Jews, thinking that everyone in the room is judging him?

But this idea is completely contrary to Judaism! At the core of Judaism are the concepts of care, concern and love for our fellow Jews. Judaism brought the ideals of charity, kindness and respect to the world. No matter the religious beliefs of another Jew, we have a mitzvah to love and respect them.

As an illustration, Jewish law rules that if someone puts a gun to your head and tells you to kill someone else, you must refuse. This is based on the Talmudic concept that we can’t know whose blood is redder, for only G-d knows who is holier. Taking the example one step further, if you were forced to choose between killing a homeless, alcoholic bum, who never worked a day in his life, and shooting the Chofetz Chayim, one of the biggest Rabbis of all time, Judaism also would say that you cannot choose. We as humans cannot know which of the two people is holier. Each of us has a mission in this world and a potential we can reach, and we cannot know who is closer to reaching it.

Therefore this is a complete misconception, for it could be that the non-frum Jew is truly on a higher level and closer to G-d that his religious brother! The frum person can gain and learn from his less-religious coreligionist, so we can never say that one person is on a lower level than ourselves.

2. Who wants Judaism? It’s a hardship!

There’s the common misconception that Judaism is a hardship, a deprivation of all enjoyment in the world, and that a non-frum person would have to give up all that he enjoys in life. Nothing could be farther from the truth! Judaism is about sucking the marrow out of life and making the most of it. While we have to temper and focus some of our desires, one of the goals of Judaism is getting the most out of this world and achieving the greatest amount of satisfaction.

One of the most important desires that any parent has for a child is that he or she should be happy. It’s the same for G-d. We are His children, and He wants us to get pleasure in this world and the next. Therefore He shows us how real happiness comes from becoming holy. Learning Torah and keeping mitzvot brings the greatest levels of enjoyment a person can have.

Just as a person would never drive a car without reading the instruction manual, we shouldn’t go through life without first reading the instructions. The Torah is our instruction book, our guidebook for getting the most out of life. When a non-frum Jew sees a beautiful Shabbas table with singing, a closeness among family members and true happiness, he or she gets a taste of real enjoyment. The way to do this is by sincerely showing people that Judaism, the Torah and the mitzvot hold the key to happiness.

3. It’s all or nothing.

Upon seeing the multitude of laws and customs in Judaism, many people will throw up their hands and say “It’s too great for me! I’ll never achieve it all, so why should I try?” When they realize they can’t do everything, they opt for nothing.

But it’s a fallacy to assume that we can achieve everything. There is no person on earth who can honestly say that he’s learned every item of Torah, perfected every mitzvot and learned every secret. No one achieves it all.

Instead we all need to take baby steps. We need to take on new mitzvot one at a time. A person may think it’s hypocritical to only take on particular items, but it’s really being human. We’re all constantly struggling to achieve perfection, but that’s human nature. As long as we’re focused on constantly improving and adding to our observance, taking small steps is the way to go.

For example if a jeweler put 613 precious diamonds on a table and told you to grab as many as you could in a few seconds, it’s obviously impossible to grab them all. But that doesn’t mean you should walk away from the table without trying. You need to try to grab as many as you can at once.

By showing other Jews how easy it is to do single mitzvot, such as lighting candles on Friday night, wearing tzitzit, etc., you’ll inspire them to tremendous heights. One mitzvah leads to another. It’s important to get to know a person well enough to be able to recommend particular mitzvot to them, but the most important item is that slow and steady steps helps one win the race.

4. It’s not true!

Often people outside the spectrum of Torah-true Judaism will think of the religion as archaic and backwards, a belief system for people who lack something and who are less intellectual. This probably stems from a misconception based on other religions that require a leap of faith to accept their laws.

Judaism is based on the completely opposite idea. We believe that not only is there a G-d, but that it’s possible to know that He’s out there, that it’s provable. It’s unreasonable to think that G-d would want us to pray to Him without knowing for sure that He’s there. What would be the point of it? How would we ever achieve the heights of spirituality if we weren’t sure our prayers were being heard?

Judaism is one of the only religions that encourages questions and challenges. These are the central goals of Jewish learning and the cores of Judaism. If we can constantly question and challenge, it’s a tremendous testimony to the veracity of Judaism! G-d wouldn’t encourage us to question if it was impossible to find the truth. Our eagerness to question demonstrates our supreme confidence in the truth of our religion.

Based on these four misconceptions and four reassurances, we also have four key methodologies for reaching out to people:

1. Showing care for people, to show that any thoughts that they’re being judged are incorrect.

2. Demonstrating the beauty and pleasure inherent in Judaism.

3. Taking baby steps to observance.

4. Showing that Judaism is based on truth.

These four statements are fundamental to outreach, and fundamental to our performance of our religion.

To end with my own addition, these four statements are also excellent items to work on as we prepare for the divine tribunal on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. These are four areas that we need to constantly work on. By strengthening our love for fellow Jews and refraining from judging them, we become more caring and compassionate people. By making sure that our actions radiate the beauty of Judaism, we remind ourselves and those around us how beautiful our religion is and we enhance our performance of the mitvot. Taking baby steps is the best way to adopt any new mitzvah or practice, and doing so is especially appropriate during this month of Elul. By spending this month taking small steps towards our commitments for next year, we demonstrate to G-d and ourselves that we are sincere and that we will really try to achieve them next year, instead of just jumping into them without preparation on Rosh Hashanah. And by demonstrating to the world that truth is at the core of Judaism, we can inspire ourselves, our families and our communities to greater love and observance of Judaism.

Originally Published in October, 2006

Righteous Indignation—the Root of Prayer and Salvation

Posted on | January 8, 2015 | By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz | 4 Comments

Shemos-An installment in the series

From the Waters of the Shiloah: Plumbing the Depths of the Izhbitzer School
For series introduction CLICK
By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz-Mara D’Asra Cong Sfard of Midwood

Blessed is Elokim, who has not removed my prayer, or His loving-kindness from me.

-Tehillim 66:20

The Izhbitzer taught that before the Divine Will to liberate is at hand a person remains blind, deaf and dumb to his own need for deliverance. The person cannot see his deficiencies and has no idea as to what he is lacking. However, once there is a Divine Will to liberate, It allows the one in need of deliverance to see the root cause of his deficiencies and proffers him the capacity to pray and cry-out for salvation.  Next, the one in need of deliverance begins to bluster and create a prayerful ruckus to HaShem. Then, HaShem shines his chessed- loving-kindness and the actual salvation transpires.

This is what the psalmist, King Dovid, meant when he wrote said “ … who has not removed my prayer, nor His loving-kindness from me.”  Even though the prayer is “mine” it is HaShem who implants the desire to utter it in my heart, He could remove it — but He chooses not to.

A long time then passed and the king of Egypt died. The children-of-Israel groaned (due to) [from] their slavery and they cried out; and their supplications ascended to G-d from [amidst] the slavery.

-Shemos 2:23

If one wanted to create a timeline charting the Geulah-salvation from Galus Mitzrayim-the Egyptian exile, the split second of this collective national groan would be the starting point of the timeline.  Before that moment they had no impetus, no drive to pray and call out to G-d. When the Divine Will decreed that the time for Geulah had come, HaShem stimulated their desire to be extricated from Galus and the will to pray for this salvation.  For the naissance of every salvation is the desire for salvation.

The Izhbitzer’s elder son, the Bais Yaakov, develops this concept further: The period of nocturnal darkness that is most intense and most concealing is the one directly preceding the dawning of the light. Our sages refer to this as קדרותא דצפרא–the starless morning gloom, and use it as a metaphor for the intensification of Jewish suffering. “A man and his young son were wandering on the seemingly interminable road and the boy began despairing of ever returning to civilization. ‘Father’ he asked ‘Where is the city?’ The man responded ‘Son, when we pass a graveyard that will be the sure sign that a city is not far off.‘  Similarly the prophet told K’lal Yisrael–the Jewish People ‘If you are swamped by travails you will be redeemed immediately — HaShem will respond on the day of your suffering’ ” (Yalkut Shimoni Tehillim 20:580)

When the new king ramped up the sadistic slave-labor he had overplayed his hand.  Somehow, the human capacity for adaptation to trying circumstances had allowed K’lal Yisrael to endure the slavery up until that point. They had grown inured and insensitive to the agonies and the indignities that their taskmasters heaped upon them.  But when the oppression intensified they finally sensed their own innate freedom and free men cannot tolerate being enslaved. They felt the pain and suffering of their slavery and began to sniff the sweet aroma of liberation. When it hurts, one groans and screams; ויזעקו   –“and they cried out.”

It wasn’t so much that the liberation was a response to the crying out, as the crying out was a reaction to the liberation process that had begun internally. By implementing the Geulah from the inside out it was, in fact, HaShem who gave them the drive to cry out.  This is the meaning of the pasuk “HaShem, You have heard the yearning of the humble: You will prime their heart, Your Ear will be attentive” (Tehillim10:17).  Once the human heart is primed for prayer that is the sure sign that the Divine Ear has already been attentive to the distress and taken the initial steps towards ending it. HaShem develops Geulah gradually until it is actualized. It begins with the end of endurance of Galus and the capacity to feel the pain, progresses to hope and the conviction that HaShem can help, flowers into crying out in prayer and culminates in the actual Geulah.

The Bais Yaakov adds an etymological insight: two nearly synonymous words in lashon kodesh-the holy tongue mean “to cry out”, זעקה-zeakah (beginning with the letter zayin) andצעקה  -tzeakah (beginning with the letter tzadee). Tzeakah is the verb employed when things are hopeless and the path to salvation is completely obscured. As that pasuk says “This case is identical to a man rising up against his neighbor and murdering him. After all, she was assaulted in the field, even if the betrothed girl had cried out (צעקה beginning with a tzadee) there would have been no one to come to her aid and save her (literally: she would have had no savior.)” (Devarim 22:26, 27)

Whereas zeakah is the verb employed when things are no longer hopeless and the salvation begins to become palpable. This type of “crying out” takes place when, sensing the possibility of salvation, one begins marshalling and concentrating all of his faculties towards the achievement of this goal, evoking a corresponding Divine response.  At its root the verb zeakah means to coalesce and band together as in וַיֹּאמֶר הַמֶּלֶךְ אֶל-עֲמָשָׂא, הַזְעֶק-לִי אֶת-אִישׁ-יְהוּדָה שְׁלֹשֶׁת יָמִים; וְאַתָּה, פֹּה עֲמֹד “And the king said to Amasha: muster the men of Judah together for me within three days, and you be present here.”  It is this latter verb that connotes hope and faith in the salvation, which our pasuk uses to describe the crying-out; וַיֵּאָנְחוּ בְנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל מִן-הָעֲבֹדָה, וַיִּזְעָקוּ - The children-of-Israel groaned due to their slavery and they cried out.

The first of the four famous expressions of Geulah (Shemos 6:6) is typically translated as “and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.” But the first Gerrer Rebbe, the Chidushei haRi”m  reads it in a way that resonates with the Izhbitzer’s  fixing the split second of this collective national groan as the starting point of the Geulah from Galus Mitzrayim. The Ri”m renders the first expression of Geulah as “and I will extricate you from your patience (savlanus), from your capacity to bear it [Galus Mitzrayim] anymore” for the redemptive process cannot begin as long as the exile can be tolerated.  Only after the Bnei Yisrael can no longer bear it and are disgusted by it, can the Galus be liquidated.  Getting in touch with their inner freeman, they must first grow furiously offended about the affront to their dignity — the insult, more than the injury, of slavery.

Hashem doesn’t take the slaves out of slavery until he takes the slavery out of the slaves.

Adapted from:

Mei Hashiloach II Shemos D”H Vayeanchu
Bais Yaakov Shemos inyan29 D”H Vayeanchu page 29 (15A)
and inyan 30 D”H Vayeanchu page 30 (15B)

Originally posted Dec 2014

Growing in Eretz Yisroel

Posted on | January 7, 2015 | By Mark Frankel | Comments Off

This post is courtesy of the winter storm of 2015 currently hitting Yerushalyaim. I’m currently visiting my son who is learning here. I was staying in Yerushalyaim and my flight is scheduled to leave Thursday, but a predicted 4-8 inch snow accumulation with accompanying road closures made me change my plans and head to snow-less Ramat Beis Shemesh for the last 2 days of my trip and an easier passageway to the airport.

Fortunately, we know many people here in Ramat Beis Shemesh and I am staying with David Levin, a friend for many years from my Shul in Kew Gardens Hills. I asked him what has had the biggest impact on his spiritual growth here. He mentioned three things: the extra mitzvos that are observed like terumah, maaser and shmitta; the variety of Jewish people you come across on a daily basis; and the learning opportunities. However, like all areas growth, it only happens if you apply yourself, growth *doesn’t* just happen.

With regard to the mitzvos there are many opportunities to learn and observe them. The more you apply yourself to them the more of a growth impact they will have.

There are over six million Jews in Eretz Yisroel and wherever you live, you will be exposed to a larger variety than in the states. However, if create self-imposed barriers between yourself and other groups you will not be able to take advantage of giving and learning from this wide variety.

There is much more Torah learning going on in Eretz Yisroel than in the states. More Daf Yomi, more chavrusas more shiruim, more Yeshivos. But as we all know, Torah only has an impact if you learn it. Having more shiurim in your neighborhood doesn’t really benefit you, unless you attend them.

Eretz Yisroel is the best place in the world to increase our emunah of Hashem through Torah, Avodah and Gemilas Chasidim. G-d willing more and more of us will be able to take advantage of that as years go on. Those of us still living in Chutz L’Aretz still have many growth opportunities on a daily basis in all areas if we take advantage of them.

Shovavim

Posted on | January 5, 2015 | By Guest Contributor | 5 Comments

It’s Parsha Shemos and also the beginning of Shovavim. Here’s some links on the whys and wherefores of Shovavim.

Shovavim and Self Improvement:

Shovavim is an acronym for the parshiyot that we read during the period between Chanukah and Purim. Rav Nachman Cohen writes that this period is an auspicious time to repent for Adam’s sin with the Eitz Hadaat and his subsequent errant behavior, pegimat habrit, for which mankind suffers until today. Why do we specifically repent now for the sin of Adam?

This period falls after the winter solstice when the days begin to get longer. When Adam sinned, the days began to get shorter and he thought it was because of his sin. When the days began to get longer again, he realized he was not doomed and that his repentance had been accepted. Thus this period is an eit ratzon where one can connect to Hashem.

Working on curbing one’s physical desires and avoiding inappropriate pleasures seems male focused. What is the corollary for women? The Maharal says that the primary praise of a woman is her level of tzniut. Rav Pincus writes that because Adam and Chava did not conduct themselves modestly, the snake desired Chava and devised a plot to make her sin. Therefore, in a sense, the sin of Eitz Hadaat came about through immodesty.

What is modesty? It is a call to concentrate our energies on our inner personality, our spiritual nature, which is deep and hidden within us. We must become attuned to our souls instead of getting caught up in the outer trappings of the physical world. Shovavim is not only a time to work on tzniut but a time of introspection, a time to work on our relationship with Hashem. This entails watching our behavior with the awareness that we are in the presence of Hashem. It is irrelevant what other people think. Life is about walking alone with Hashem. Elevating mitzvot to a higher level by practicing modesty in deed – not talking about the mitzvot you’ve done, is an appropriate goal to work on during Shovavim.

Shovavim Tat:

There are a number of reasons given for this period of Teshuvah:
1) During this period we read the parshiyot which describe the Jews’ suffering and exile in Egypt and their redemption, salvation, and exodus by the Hand of God. Just as Israel in the Torah called out from their physical exile, so too we call out of our personal spiritual exile. Just as the Jewish people overcame the darkness of the Egyptian exile so too we try to overcome the spiritual darkness in our lives and come closer to God from whom we are separated.

2) Many Chassidic and Kabbalistic sources describe the focus of this period as strengthening our resolve in areas of family purity (Taharat Hamishpacha) and in studying and keeping the laws of family purity.

A Sign of the Times:

Shovavim is something that came from the Mekubalim. I once heard it explained that as the generations get weaker, Hashem reveals to us the hidden light that can be found deeper into the year. Let’s face it, we didn’t really do a great job on Aseres Yimei Tshuva and Hashem is showing us these loopholes and extensions because he yearns for us to return and wants us to take advantage. This ties in nicely with something I heard from the Chofetz Chaim who when asked skeptically about Yom Kippur Katan, said that we no longer can go a whole year without a Yom Kippur. We need one once a month.

The Tenth of Teves – A Fast for Torah

Posted on | January 1, 2015 | By Guest Contributor | Comments Off

An excerpt From Torah.org:

The Rambam writes that the wise and the prophets should desire the arrival of Moshiach not because the stature of the Jews will have changed for the better, nor because they can then rejoice, but rather because they will be free to study the Torah without distraction. Exile is a time when we are all burdened with worries and afflicted by persecutions. Exile is not conducive to Torah study. With the start of the siege of Jerusalem, our exile effectively began. The splendor of the Torah began to dim. For the first time in our history, we were not in the optimal setting for Torah study. We were in a decline. With death of Ezra years later, the distance from the proper method of Torah study increased. With the translation of the Torah into Greek, we fell to a new low: not only were we in exile, but we were faced with the new challenge a translation presented.

The three events that the Fast of the Tenth of Teves commemorate share an unfortunate common denominator: a decline in diligent Torah study. This decline started with the siege of Jerusalem and remains with us until this very day. It is very clear what pain we are still suffering from that stems from the events of the Tenth of Teves. We should all feel this pain. We should all realize what a great loss we have been afflicted with. Most importantly, we should implement the words of the Rambam by reminding ourselves of these matters, so that we repent and improve our conduct.

A Baal Teshuva’s Letter to His Parents – Part 3

Posted on | December 31, 2014 | By Administrator | 2 Comments

By Rabbi Benzion Kokis

Part 1 is here
Part 2 is here

There are many different levels of observance. Take kashrus for example.

The lowest level would be a Jew who eats pork, shellfish, and meat and milk cooked together, in his own home. Next would be someone who buys kosher meat, but isn’‘t choosy about other foods. A higher level would be buying only types of food that are kosher, but not necessarily with rabbinic supervision. Yet a higher level would be keeping everything separate, and buying only “supervised” foods. Even among the kosher foods, some people hold by “cholov Yisroel”, dairy products that are specially supervised.

As you can see, there are many different levels of kashrus observance. People are inherently different, and so are their standards.

Our biggest area of potential conflict is going to be food. (Think for a moment about the grief that so many kids give their parents nowadays. Drugs, alcohol, AIDS, trouble with the police, running away from home, pregnancies out of marriage, etc. It’s amusing that we, the Chosen People, should argue about food.)
I am now holding on a higher level of kashrus than you provide in the house. This doesn’t mean that I don’t love you, because I do. I am writing this letter in the hope that you will understand that I am not rejecting you, but merely want to keep a more demanding level. I am like the problem child who decided to become vegetarian.

(The ideas that have changed his life are presented in a subjective, not doctrinal, tone. They are meaningful to him, and this is what he wants his parents to appreciate.

If, on the other hand, he would write in a doctrinaire and confrontational manner- “these ideas are the absolute truth, and that’s why I’m committed”- his parents would be cornered! They would become defensive, to justify their own level of observance both to their son and to themselves. The purpose of this communication would be lost.)

I won’t be able to eat even fish or salad in a non-kosher restaurant. I will, regrettably, not be able to eat your food. I also will not be able to eat off of your crockery, or use your cutlery, pots, pans, etc. I can therefore not eat your wondrous culinary delights. You know how much I love your cooking, so you can therefore understand that I must be sincere and committed, if I am denying myself.

You essentially have four choices.

1. You can kick me out of the house;
2. You can fight me every step of the way, yell, scream, and cry until you realize that I won’t budge;
3. You can say “good luck” and let me keep my own stuff and eat my own food. If you did this I would be very content, and would even be able to sit down for the occasional Friday night dinner;
4. As you are 60% kosher already, you could go the extra 40% and kosher up. During the interim I would be very helpful and supportive, and would keep level 3 above.

Kashering a kitchen is a lot of work, and keeping it kosher is even harder. I don’t expect you to do it just for me. I will be perfectly happy with level 3.

(He has made it clear that he’s not being manipulative, by playing on their parental instincts to get his way, i.e. get the home kashered. Whatever they are comfortable with is their decision, and he will adjust accordingly.)

To finish this letter off, I would like to give you an idea as to what my lifestyle is going to be like. This is however difficult, as I am not entirely sure. I doubt that I will ever look like one of the cast of Fiddler on the Roof.
(Much of the anxiety a family feels is that their child has become totally alien to his upbringing. They need to be reassured that despite becoming religious, he still can acknowledge the parameters of what always seemed “normal” to his family.)

At the moment I would put my money on living in England. I hope to be married within the next few years. As regards a livelihood, I probably will start up some sort of business at the end of next year. I will give large sums of money to charity, but will certainly provide for my family.

I fervently hope, and actually expect, that you will be proud of your son and, G-d willing, your grandchildren.

Your loving son,
N______

(It may interest the reader to know the impact which this letter had. When it arrived in England, his parents were so proud of their son’s open and mature approach that they showed it to the shames (sexton) of their synagogue. They then asked the shames to assist them in making their home suitable to the standards of their son. Soon the home was kashered, the dishes were toiveled (immersed in a mikve), and the homecoming, instead of beginning a pitched generational battle, initiated a process of growth for the entire family.)

A Baal Teshuva’s Letter to His Parents – Part 2

Posted on | December 30, 2014 | By Guest Contributor | Comments Off

By Rabbi Benzion Kokis

Part 1 is here

Ideal scenarios rarely occur exactly according to plan. I would like to focus on what alternatives would be fair for you to expect, given our upbringing. I am going to look at three scenarios:

1. Your sons marry non-Jewish girls;
2. We adopt your ideal scenario;
3. We become more religious.

Let’s start by looking at the track record. The family trend, as it stands now, seems to favor intermarriage.

My great-grandparents were still fairly observant, but markedly less so than their own parents. Grandpa’s generation can be described as “traditional”, but they would bear little resemblance to their grandparents.

Most of Grandpa’s nephews and nieces married out. As each generation drifted further from the source of Torah Judaism, this is unfortunately the result. The intermarriage rate in our family is worse than the national average.

Ask yourselves, how Jewish will the next generation be, if the mothers didn’t feel that Judaism was important enough to marry a Jewish man?

Therefore, it would seem to be quite likely, that at least one of your sons would have married a non-Jew. By becoming religious, I have made the odds considerably better in your favor.

Then again, we could all aim for your ideal package. But the reality is, that each successive generation tends to take on less religious practices. Your ideal is that we marry girls of a similar level of observance that we keep at home. This is not such a simple thing, as at least 50% of the Jewish girls are going to marry out, and of the remainder many are a lot less observant. I don’t think you would feel comfortable if we married Jewish girls who served up pork.

Therefore, it is unrealistic to expect exactly the same level of observance. I am taking on more, A______ seems to be taking on less, and R________ is still young, so it’s too soon to tell.

The only remaining alternative is that we become more religious, and take a leap back toward our great-great-grandparents. We would marry glatt kosher girls and live very happy lives (and be considerably less likely to get divorced!). You may safely assume that I at least will follow this path.

The way I see my life progressing, I will, with the help of G-d (who is now rather important in my life), meet most of your “ideal son list” . I know I will be happy, and I pray that I will be successful. I know that I won’t marry a non-Jewish girl, and will (G-d willing) marry a nice kosher girl and have as many children as possible. I might even join the Masons and keep up my golf subscriptions. I will also look after you both when you are old and gray.

Tell me, would you not be very happy if this is how my life turned out?
(The casual, conversational tone reassures his parents that their son has not become a stranger. He is not preaching or pontificating to them, and he is clearly trying to communicate in terms to which they can relate.)

The process I am going through is very difficult. You must wonder why I am doing it. Why would I want to keep Shabbos, rather than going to the game? Why should I keep kosher, when you know how much I enjoy Chinese, Italian, and fish and chips? Why go celibate, when I could continue to exploit my good looks, charm, sophistication and wit, to their best advantage? Why would I want to spend hours a week learning Torah, when I could spend the time watching T.V.? Why would I want to get up at 6 AM and put on my tefillin, when I could easily just roll over?

It might sound corny, but I believe in G-d. I believe that He gave us the Torah, and and that we as Jews should live by it. I don’t see it as dated or irrelevant, but rather as deep, beautiful, and very relevant to how we need to operate in this very complicated world.

I believe that living the kosher way will make me a better person, and more content with life. The more I accomplish, the happier I am, the more I learn, the more complete I feel, and the more I know, the better I become. I feel I am growing all the time.

I realize that going through your minds right now is the thought that I have been brainwashed. The integrity which you have taught me, however, does not enable me to ignore what I see as correct. Don’t think for a moment that I accept anything without questioning it. I question almost everything. I spend lots of time standing around arguing points with rabbis.

Part III is scheduled to be posted tomorrow.

A Baal Teshuva’s Letter to His Parents – Part 1

Posted on | December 29, 2014 | By Guest Contributor | Comments Off

By Rabbi Benzion Kokis

It is often very difficult to have a calm discussion with family and friends about the changes a ba’al t’shuva has made. There is too much emotional baggage, too many sensitivities that can be hurt, to expect a rational dialogue. On the contrary, it is much more likely that the discussion will be a catalyst to dredge up old resentments, and result in more, not less, acrimony.

What has proven to be much more effective is communicating through the almost forgotten art of letter-writing. Granted, in our day of mobile communications and instant messaging, the thoughtful articulation of ideas on paper seems almost quaint. But in this context, it has a tremendous advantage, because it creates the opportunity for a message to be gradually absorbed at an emotional distance. There is no need for immediate give and take, and there is time for much more than knee-jerk reactions.

We would like to present here a letter that was written by a ba’al t’shuva to his parents. He was traveling home to England for the first time since becoming religious, and anticipated a lot of turbulence and hurt feelings. One of several brothers, he had been given a “traditional” Jewish upbringing, meaning a secure sense of being Jewish, but only a smattering of knowledge, and token observance of Shabbos and holidays.

Along the way, we will spotlight certain facets of the letter that reflect, sensitive and skillful communication. We will present this letter in three parts with comments in parenthesis.. Here is part I:

My dear parents,

I hope this letter finds you all in good health. I am going to be home on the 24th of July, and I am looking forward to giving you both a big hug. I am not the best letter-writer in the world, but am now putting my best pen to paper. I feel that it is very important to share with you some of my thoughts and feelings before coming home. I want to have a close relationship with you, and a letter is the easiest way for me to give you an awareness of where I am religiously.

(An emotional tone has been set. He is communicating because he loves his parents, and, realizing that the changes he has made could cause problems, he hopes to avoid this by having a mature discussion before coming home. He has made it clear that far from being oblivious to the family connection, he seeks to maintain that warmth, and let it be a vehicle for enhanced understanding.)

In America the question, ”Where are you holding?”, is asked by religious people to those like myself who are becoming more observant. The question is where are you, on what stage or level, and implies that there are many levels one can be on.

I would like to share with you where I am “holding”, and show you what a positive thing it is for me. I would also like to allay some of your fears about a “religious lifestyle”, and your role in my life. I would love it if you could, but I don’t necessarily expect you to understand why I am becoming religious.

(He acknowledges his parents’ trepidation about the impact his becoming a ba’al t’shuva may have on the family, without blaming or indicting them. In addition, their understanding of his life changes will be welcome to him. In other words, in the emotional sense, he is still very much their son, whose parents’ validation is significant to him.)

My becoming more observant is a testimony to the upbringing which you have given me. The values you taught me are all part of a Torah way of life. You gave me a Jewish education from the beginning of my schooling: King David, classes at shul, Givat Washington, and Carmel College. You even encouraged me to go to Manchester Polytechnic rather than to St. Andrews University. You have given me nothing but support and encouragement all the way along. You laid the foundations for my religious observance.

(Telling his parents that he views his rather dramatic life changes as a continuum of his upbringing, and not a radical departure, reassures them that he is not rejecting them. Their relationship is intact, although many details may have shifted.)

So, why am I writing this letter? My difficulty is where I am “holding”. In a sense, I now know too much to go back to the level of observance I held before coming to America. I am concerned that you will feel that I am becoming too religious, and going too far.

I have spent a lot of time thinking about what I feel you have always wanted for your boys. Let me paint what I see as your ideal picture:

We would all marry nice Jewish girls; be happy, successful, and live comfortable lives; have children (2-4); go to shul every Shabbos, keep the same level of kashrus, traditions, etc., that we grew up with; give to JNF; join the Masons; and look after you when you are old and gray.

Ideal scenarios rarely occur exactly according to plan. I would like to focus on what alternatives would be fair for you to expect, given our upbringing. I am going to look at three scenarios:

1. Your sons marry non-Jewish girls;
2. We adopt your ideal scenario;
3. We become more religious.

Part II is scheduled to be posted tomorrow.

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

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