The three weeks period between the 17 of Tammuz and Tisha b’Av, besides being a time to remember and mourn the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash in Yerushalayim, is a very special time to focus on love. The spiritual root cause of the churban and all the other tragedies of Jewish history that resulted from it was sinas chinam, disliking and hating each other for no good reason. So it only makes sense that the way to remedy this is to go out of our way, especially during these three weeks, to try to like and love each other -- even for no good reason.
No one lives in a vacuum. No, that doesn’t mean we didn’t get sucked up through a vacuum cleaner hose in the pre-Pesach cleaning frenzy, it means that whether we like it or not, our environment—the people and things around us—makes a big impact on who we are.
I watch my children use blocks to build a large structure, observing the trepidation with which they add each block. As the structure becomes larger there is a greater risk of it collapsing, thus bringing an end to an hour of playful labor. I anticipate what will happen when one child adds a block to the top floor, compromising the integrity of the building and resulting in the collapse of the entire structure. The argument that ensues is predictable, as each child blames the other for “ruining” the fun. As an adult, I wonder about the need to attribute blame. Will assigning blame be instrumental in rebuilding the structure?
How can a person make sure that things will work out right? By doing what is right. When Hashem told the Jewish people to rest their fields and not plant any crops every seventh year, shmitta, it was a huge test of faith, as no crops meant no food! But Hashem also told them that if they did what’s right and listen to Him, they wouldn’t lose out because He’d miraculously give them enough crops in other years to more than make up for the year of rest. And that’s what happened.
The servant was ecstatic. He was racing to the King’s treasure house to retrieve two precious goblets to place on the King’s very table. Why had he been chosen to be the one to bring these royal treasures? Well, he was the one who had suggested the idea.
Even if nobody sees us, everything we do is being watched and recorded on video…by Hashem. Our conscience, that part of us that makes us feel guilty if we do something we shouldn’t have, is Hashem’s loving way of reminding us that He knows what we did, and knows that we’ll feel better, and become better by coming clean and putting it right.
Kids today... that’s not the way we behaved when we were younger!! That is the mantra I hear repeated as parents bemoan the spoiled nature and lack of responsibility of today's children. The problem is - it is not a fair comparison.
Someone sent me this e-mail: “The ABC’s of Purim: They tried to kill us. We survived. Let’s eat.”
Modim is the only bracha in Chazaras HaShatz that the tzibbur says is because one cannot give thanks to Hashem through the Sheliach Tzibbur, through a messenger. You have to thank Hashem yourself. It is a personal requirement that does not lend itself to be accomplished through an agent.
My family and I had recently enjoyed an outing to the bowling alley, courtesy of our friend, the owner. Children of all ages enjoy this weatherproof sport, and even preschoolers can easily score strike after strike as bumpers support the heavy ball as it creeps its way towards the pins at the end of the lane.
Let me say at the onset that I do not consider myself to be a sufficient role model when it comes to kibbud av v’eim – the 5th commandment; I humbly acknowledge my abysmal failures and inadequate performance of this critical mitzvah. However, I do detect a perilous and alarming trend, whereby performance of this mitzvah is spiraling to its lowest levels, threatening the very essence of the foundation that has sustained us over the past five millennium.
The following letter was sent in response to Pidyon Shevuyim: Redeeming The Agunah, a column by Cheryl Kupfer (12-21 On Our Own):
We all yearn to feel that we are part of something special. We all seek respect and acceptance for simply being who we are.
This coming Shabbos we bentch Rosh Chodesh Shevat, which falls on Shabbos Kodesh (January 12). The highlight of this month is of course Tu B’Shevat, the New Year of the trees. As the mind conjures up images of spring, I can spot nary a sign of spring from my vantage point here in the northeastern part of the U.S.
It is a short winter Friday, the house is upside down and it is almost Shabbos. Your kids are lying around or playing and are not interested in helping. So you put on Rav Yom Tov Ehrlich’s famous Yiddish song “Shabbos Kodesh, Shabbos Kodesh.” Soon the invigorating melody fills the room and things start moving. “The tanaaim – the amoraim – everyone is getting ready for Shabbos Kodesh – Shabbos!” His vivid description based on the Gemara in Shabbos (119a) of the holy rabbis of the Talmud each preparing for Shabbos, is enough to motivate even the laziest child to get up and start helping. (Okay, okay – it only works once in a while!)
Our Jewish calendar is based on the lunar year, and Rosh Chodesh, literally the head of the month, occurs when the moon renews itself. It is a holiday — in that we daven mussaf, just like on Shabbos and Yomim Tovim, we do not conduct fasts, and the pious among our people eat a special seudah. Traditionally, women do not sew on Rosh Chodesh and refrain from performing heavy-duty tasks.
It’s been a rough few weeks. It began with the news of a heinous crime just blocks from where I live on Manhatan’s Upper West Side: a nanny viciously took the lives of her two young charges. Hurricane Sandy came next, contributing additional loss of life and financial devastation of a magnitude never before experienced by our East Coast brethren.
Usually, when I begin a speech, I start with something interesting, lighthearted or funny - to get your attention and lead into the speech itself. Permit me to deviate from that this week, because there is nothing funny, lighthearted or interesting about what so many of us are experiencing, and if not us, than our friends, loved ones and neighbors, and if not them, than people a few miles away from us in Long Beach or Far Rockaway who have lost everything to 14 foot waves, or a little farther away where helpless Senior Citizens are living without water or power in high rises on the Lower East Side.
“Sandy gives New York a real thrashing!” screamed the headlines. “Hmmm, who exactly is Sandy and why is she thrashing New York,” I wonder. How about this one: (an exact quote) “For all those left homeless, for all those left scared and frightened, there is an enormous lesson from this hurricane – mother nature will do what she wants, when she wants, and our modern world can only bow before it.” Now I am really confused – who is this mother and why is she acting so mean – aren’t mothers supposed to be nice? And more so – what exactly is this “enormous” lesson? Why should I bow to her?
Rebbe Nachman of Breslov once revealed what he called a great secret - people eat for free and they work for free. He explained this with the following parable.
We are all familiar with the famous midrash (Vayikra Rabbah 30, 12) that compares the four species we take on the holiday of Sukkos to the four different types of Jews: the esrog, which has both smell and taste, corresponds to those who learn Torah and perform good deeds; the lulav, which has taste but no smell, corresponds to those who learn Torah but do not perform good deeds; the hadasim, which have a pleasant smell but no taste, correspond to those who perform good deeds but do not learn Torah; and finally, the aravos, which have neither smell nor taste, correspond to those who have neither Torah nor good deeds.
I rarely take the extended warranty when purchasing new electronics. I figure that this warranty must not be worth much if they feel the need to pressure me into buying it. They must know what I have learned the hard way: there is no such thing as a real guarantee. In my more naive days, I purchased this "peace of mind," as they call it, but never cashed in. Usually, by the time the item broke, I had forgotten about the extended warranty and purchased a replacement.
We all know that there are some synagogues that, unfortunately, only reach full capacity several days a year. There is something about these days that arouses even many unaffiliated Jews to attend High Holiday Services. In fact, each one of us also feels the holiness, and it helps us to be on our best behavior. We make sure to come on time to davening and we daven slower than usual. We are extra careful in our observance of halacha and how we treat the members of our family.
A passage at the end of the Zichronot blessing in the Mussaf Amidah of Rosh Hashanah appears to have two slightly different versions. The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim, 591:7) rules that this is the correct text: “V’akeidas Yitzchak hayom l’zaro tizkor.” It also rules and those who change the words and specify “l’zera Yaakov tizkor” are mistaken and guilty of changing the text instituted by Chazal. The source for this ruling is a responsum (chapter 38) by the Spanish and then Algerian Rivash (14th century).
It is hard to believe that Elul is upon us and that the Day of Judgment is only one month away. In a short 30 days we must face our Creator and have our deeds evaluated in the hopes of a receiving a merciful blessing for a good and healthy year. We spend the month of Elul focused on repentance, and we learn the holy books of mussar to inspire us to grow and change.