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Posts Tagged ‘davening’

Talking to Myself

Friday, November 9th, 2012

Ever since I started this question-and-answer column, people have been coming over and asking me questions.

Baruch Hashem, right?

Unfortunately, most of these questions have been about my column. That’s helpful. I can’t just spend every single column writing about my column. But this time, in honor of my first anniversary writing for The Jewish Press, I decided to see how many of them I can get in to one article:

Where did you grow up? And where do you live now?

I haven’t actually grown up yet, but I spent most of my childhood in my parents’ backyard. They live in Monsey, which is nice, because there are actually nice backyards where you can do things like torture insects and dig holes to China.

These days I live in New Jersey, because I wanted the feel of living in a punch line. Particularly, I live in Passaic, which is closer to New York City than most of New York State is. Not that I work in the city. I work mostly in my house with my kids hanging off my arm, because these days you can’t just let your kids play in the backyard unsupervised. What if the Chinese invade through a hole in the ground?

What do you do for a living?

You mean besides write for the Jewish Press? Actually, newspapers don’t really pay enough to live on, unless you don’t have kids and you don’t really need to eat or live anywhere. The Jewish Press is more of a side hobby that pays just enough to keep me from leaving. Other side hobbies that I have that pay just enough to keep me from leaving include writing for Hamodia, Aish.com, The 5 Towns Jewish Times, The Lakewood Shopper, The Queens Jewish Link, The Brooklyn Weekly, and various other magazines, writing a comic strip for The 20s and 30s, putting out books, teaching Language Arts to a bunch of high school kids who don’t really want to learn Language Arts as much as they want to go to recess, and writing and sprucing up speeches, web copy, scripts, and various other things for people who need it. Oh, and stand-up comedy. At the end of the day, I don’t really have time for a job.

How did you get started in writing?

I think I got started in Pre-1A. (For non-New Yorkers, this is the year between kindergarten and first grade. We need the extra year over here, for social reasons.) The teacher sat us down and made us write an “A”, and then a “B”, and so on. And the rest was history. And math and science. And recess.

Also, I used to make up stories with my action figures back then. As I got older, the stories got more sophisticated, and the reason I was still playing with action figures got flimsier and flimsier. Luckily, I’m the oldest of a truckload of kids, so my official reason was “babysitting.”

But eventually, I started actually writing things down, and got into the lucrative field of being rejected by newspapers using self-addressed stamped envelopes that I paid for. And the rest is davening.

What types of readers do you hope to reach?

Anyone who doesn’t take themselves too seriously. If the little things offend you, then this column is probably going to make your head explode.

Do you have any plans to write a book, or if you already have, to write another one?

At the moment, I have three books with Israel Book Shop Publications, and have a fourth coming out in May. My first book, Don’t Yell “Challah” in a Crowded Matzah Bakery! is about the stresses of putting together Pesach. My other two books, A Clever Title Goes Here and This Side Up, are mainly collections of articles that I’ve written — short spurts on random topics that are great for people who have Attention Deficit Dis-Let’s go ride our bikes.

This Side Up is also the first book ever to have been purposely printed upside down. That we know of.

Do you want to continue to integrate writing into your life in the future? How?

Like I said, it’s already pretty integrated. My entire life at this point, 24/6, is either writing, teaching people how to write, or thinking of things to write. Actually, if you include that third thing, it’s 24/7. I always get my funniest ideas on Friday nights, and then I have to try to remember them until after Shabbos. The worst is when I get them on the first night of a 3-day Yom Tov.

The Ever-Amazing Reb Elimelech (Part XIV)

Thursday, November 8th, 2012

As has been noted in a previous column, Reb Elimelech – like the Baal Shem Tov before him – asserted that pessimism and depression cause sin and spiritual apathy. Repentance (yes, even repentance!) that causes depression and sadness distances the Holy Presence.

Joy is absolutely essential for Jewish life. And although Reb Elimelech was determined to infuse all Jews with a state of simcha, he was especially concerned over the plight of orphans, and devoted special energy to arrange marriages for them.

The Baal Shem Tov was thoroughly foreign to the concept of evil. Indeed, when a despairing father inquired, “What shall I do with my son? He is so wicked!” the Baal Shem Tov, who shunned reprimands, characteristically counseled, “Love him all the more!”

This was a lesson that Reb Elimelech incorporated and would find essential in dealing with the unschooled and non-observant masses. Like those that preceded him, Reb Elimelech viewed his mission to be the spiritual elevation of the people – whether or not they were affiliated with chassidus.

The chassidic masters (Reb Elimelech is the perfect example) never remained cloistered in their homes or in the synagogues. They went out to the people and implored them to repent. “One cannot arrive at the proper and complete service of the Lord,” instructed Reb Elimelech, “without a guide that will direct toward the path to faith.”

Reb Elimelech championed emunah temimah (pure belief) above everything in the service of God. Like his predecessors, he focused on the importance of emunas tzaddikim (trusting the righteous) and what the responsibilities of a rebbe are. Namely, to raise the spiritual level of the masses who are mired in the pits of poverty – both materially and spiritually. It is the job of the leader to never seclude himself from the world and to be located among his people, so that he can hear their troubles and ease their burdens.

Reb Elimelech explained that some people serve the Almighty and perform good deeds under the impression that they are doing the Lord a favor, and accordingly deserve a reward. A consequence of this perverted thinking is that people need not work on themselves because they are assumedly good, benevolent individuals.

To counteract this mindset Reb Elimelech encouraged that before performing a mitzvah one should recite: “ha’reini oseh zos l’shem yichud kudsha b’rich hu u’shechintei, la’asos nachas ruach l’borei olami – I am engaging in this deed for the sake of the Almighty, so that I may cause pleasure to my Maker.”

For the very same reason he felt that serving God must be anchored in deep, not superficial, Torah learning. This includes Gemara with Rashi, Tosafos and the meforshim, and Shulchan Aruch and the poskim. Learning in depth and with diligence frees one from egotistical thoughts and cleanses the soul.

He instructed, “One should arise and pray, ‘May it be Thy will that my learning will motivate me to act with proper character and Torah knowledge. Spare me from interruption – even the slightest little disruption.’ ”

Among Reb Elimelech’s rules were: A Jew should guard himself against hating any of his folk, except for the wicked for whom no excuse can be found. He should not engage in any conversation at all before prayer, as it is a hindrance to concentration during davening.

One should speak gently to all men and see to it that one’s clothes are always clean.

Reb Elimelech pointed out four customs of zehirus (caution) that have becomes pillars of chassidus:

I) From the moment people arise in the morning, they must quickly wash their hands and accept upon themselves the yoke of Heaven. Their very first steps must be with sanctity and purity, and this will set the tone for the rest of the day.

II) “Chassidus,” as mentioned in the Gemara, means not walking four cubits with an uncovered head, and to live with the awareness of what the yarmulke symbolizes – namely that there is a Ruler above.

III) “Purity of the Home” mandates a staunch religious education for boys and girls so that tradition is never in jeopardy of being abandoned.

IV) One must learn Torah in order to observe and fulfill the commandments. Even those who are not enrolled in a yeshiva are obligated to learn on a steady basis, each and every day.

The Anonymous Eliezer: A Tribute to Zev Wolfson, Z”L

Wednesday, November 7th, 2012

“And the servant said to him…” (Genesis 24:5).

The biblical portion of Chayei Sarah comprises two chapters in the Book of Genesis. The first (chapter 23) deals with the death and burial of Sarah and the second (chapter 24) deals with the selection of a suitable wife for Isaac.

The connection between these two themes is indubitably clear: with the loss of his beloved life’s partner, a bereft Abraham understood both the tremendous significance of the role played by Sarah in his life as well as the awesome responsibility that lay before him to find such a suitable mate for his heir to the covenant, Isaac.

For this formidable and momentous task he chooses Eliezer, “his trusted servant, the wise elder of his household, who controlled all that was his” (Genesis 24:2).

The choice of Eliezer was indeed an excellent one. Eliezer demonstrated great skill in understanding what was primarily required for the wife of Isaac.

He understood she must be a member of the Abrahamic family and not be dwelling among the accursed Canaanites. He further understood the young woman had to be willing to live with Isaac in Abraham’s domain rather than removing Isaac to the home of her family – in other words, Rebecca had to come under the influence of Abraham.

Most of all, he understood the young woman had to have the character of Abrahamic hospitality, to the extent that she would not only draw water from the well for him (the messenger) but also for his camels.

And of course he needed to arrange for the young woman to take the journey to Isaac and live her life in the land of Israel under the tent of Abraham.

All of this Eliezer executed with wisdom, tact and sensitive understanding. He arranged a shidduch that would determine the destiny of God’s covenantal nation. Indeed, the Bible itself bears testimony that Eliezer set out for his mission “with all the bounty [goodness] of his master in his hand” (Ibid 24:10).

Rashi takes this to mean that Abraham gave Eliezer an open check; he would pay any price for the right wife for Isaac. Rav Moshe Besdin gives the verse a very different thrust: all the bounty and goodness that had been accumulated by Abraham was now placed in the hands of his most trusted servant since the future of Abraham was dependant upon Isaac, his heir apparent, and the future of Isaac was dependent upon the wife he would marry.

Strangely, throughout this lengthy biblical tale the name Eliezer is not mentioned. He is referred to as “the servant” (eved) ten times and as “the personage” (ish) seven times – but never once by his name, Eliezer. Would one not think that such an important individual entrusted with such a significant mission was deserving of having his name in lights for everyone to see and remember?

I believe this is exactly the point of the biblical record. Eliezer the individual has been completely overwhelmed by the enormity of this task: he is the servantof Abraham, committed to performing the one act which will determine the continuity of the Abrahamic vision; in this sense it is similar to the biblical description “and Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab….” (Deuteronomy 34: 5). In fact, the Midrash even suggests that Eliezer had a daughter of marriageable age whom he had always expected would marry Isaac, giving him grandchildren who would inherit the Abrahamic dream and wealth.

Eliezer forgets any of his personal ambitions or goals; he is the consummate servant of Abraham, using all of his innate wisdom and ingenuity in order to carry out the will of his master Abraham.

To be sure, Eliezer in his own right was a magnificent personage of rare ability. In this fashion the Bible declares, “And this is the blessing that Moses the personage (ish) of God bestowed upon the children of Israel before his death” (Deut. 33:1). But Moses utilized all of his spiritual and intellectual prowess in the service of his Master, the Lord God of Universe. And just as Moses was an eved and ish at the same time, with his individual personality having been totally given over to God’s will, so was Eliezer an ish and eved at the same time.

Contemplating the Divine Together

Wednesday, October 24th, 2012

We live on the first floor of a Netanya apartment building, which means that our living room panorama window overlooking the street below is about 15 feet high.

Our girl cat, Lightening, sits in the window much of the day, basking in our Mediterranean sun. She wasn’t for the move to Israel initially, but by now she’s very happy, grooms regularly and even put on some weight.

When I come home from shul Shabbat morning, around 10:30-11:00, I walk up the paved path from the street and whistle at Lightening and she recognizes me. She stiffens up, shocked at the notion that someone who is usually inside the house is now, by some unexplained miracle of science, on the other side of things.

Then she calls back, arches her back and rushes to the door to greet me. When I open the door, she’s there, demanding a thorough back scratch (and tummy).

She’s a lot like a dog that way.

But while dogs worship their masters, I believe Lightening sees me as an equal, who is sometimes frustrating when he doesn’t get what she’s asking for.

And I believe that this picture, of a cat davening alongside his co-equal, proves my point.

New Home For Kollel

Thursday, October 18th, 2012

Rav Yochanon Henig, mara d’asra of the Los Angeles Chassidishe Kollel, speaking at the Chanukas Habayis. Photo Credit: Rabbi Arye D. Gordon

The Kollel Yechiel Yehuda Menlo Family Building recently celebrated its move to its new beis medrash at 444 N. La Brea with a Chanukas Habayis.

The kollel is known to attract chassidim, misnagdim, Sephardim, Ashkenazim, ba’alei teshuvah, charedim and the Modern Orthodox. The kollel offers davening, learning with a chavrusah, and hearing a shiur from a visiting rebbe or rosh yeshiva, among other things.

The Chanukas Habayis program began with Minchah, followed by the kevias mezuzah. Rav Yochanon Henig, mara d’asra of the Los Angeles Chassidishe Kollel, thanked the kollel’s supporters and all the participants for attending – and for making the kollel a makom Torah. Singing and dancing followed.

Noach: Hashem Hates Thievery

Wednesday, October 17th, 2012

“And Hashem said to Noach: The end of all flesh has come before me since the land is filled with robbery through them, and I will now destroy the land.” – Bereishis 6:13

In this pasuk, Hashem appears to Noach, telling him the world has turned to evil and He will now destroy all of life. Noach, his family, and the animals that remained pure will be the core of a new world. The reason for this destruction is stealing – “since the land is filled with robbery.”

Rashi is troubled that thievery is being treated as the pivotal point of the world’s existence. There are many sins that are worse. Rashi seems to answer this by saying that stealing was the crime that sealed their fate. Granted they were involved in other iniquities, but this was the one that actually demanded justice.

This Rashi is difficult to understand, as we know stealing is not one of the most severe sins. There are three cardinal sins a Jew is obligated to give up his life not to commit: idol worship, adultery, and murder. While stealing is certainly a serious crime, it isn’t among these – in fact, it isn’t even in their league.

Even more to the point, in a previous pasuk Rashi told us the main crimes then were idol worship and illicit relations. The Torah tells us “all flesh was corrupted.” It is clear that these more serious sins were rampant. How then can we understand Rashi’s statement that stealing was the crime that caused their destruction?

This question can best be answered with a mashal.

Different Scales of Measure

Bangladesh is one of the poorest countries on the planet; the average working man there earns about 180 dollars a year. Imagine that I walk into a Savings and Loan Company in the United States and say, “I am looking to take out a mortgage on a new home.”

The loan officer will ask me, “What is your income? What assets do you have?”

I respond, “My friend, no need to worry. Why, I earn as much as ten men in Bangladesh. In fact, I don’t like to brag, but I earn as much as a hundred men there!”

Needless to say, I wouldn’t secure a loan. Because earning 1,800 dollars a year or even 18,000 dollars a year in our economy is below poverty level.

This is an example of different scales of measure. In a third world country where much of the population is starving, earning your daily bread and water might qualify you as well off, whereas in a more affluent world, it would be quite poor. More than objective wealth being the determinant of your status, it is the standard against which you are being measured. When the bar is raised, it becomes much more difficult to be considered acceptable.

So too, in the system of Hashem’s judgment, there are different standards of measure. There is din – strict judgment, and there is rachamim – the mercy system. Strict din demands perfection. There is no room for shortcomings and no place for excuses; you are responsible. You did an act that act that brought about a result, so you are accountable – utterly, completely and totally. No mitigating factors, no extenuating circumstances. You are guilty as charged.

Rachamim is very different. This system introduces understanding: “There were compelling factors.” “It was a difficult situation.” “There are few people in this generation who would have done much better.”

In the Heavenly system of judgment, there is a balance between rachamim and din. At one point, the balance may be 60 percent rachamim, 40 percent din. At another point it might be 80/20. If strict din would be in place, no mortal could stand. Even the Avos, the greatest humans who ever lived, would not have passed.

Certain times and actions change the balance between rachamim and din. Much of our davening focuses on asking Hashem to judge us more favorably, to introduce mercy into the deliberation. On the flip side, there are certain actions that strengthen the middah of din, moving the balance over to more strict judgment.

This seems to be the answer to Rashi. It isn’t that stealing is a more severe crime than immorality – it is less severe. However, there is an element to stealing that awakens din. Stealing from a person demonstrates a total disregard of his rights – it’s as if he isn’t a person. I can take away his property, even his very sustenance. Chazal tell us, “As a person acts toward others, Hashem acts toward him.” Because robbery is an abrogation of a person’s rights, it causes a change in the way Hashem judges. It is as if Hashem says, “If you act that way toward others, then I will act accordingly to you.” Therefore, stealing changes the way Hashem judges because it causes the middah of din to react more strongly.

Miracle of the Crowded Pilgrims

Tuesday, September 25th, 2012

The Mishna in “Chapters of our Fathers” 5:5 describes ten miracles that used to occur in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem (a couple of feet above the Western Wall in the picture). One of those miracle was that when the pilgrims—hundreds of thousands of them—stood in the Temple courtyard, they were crammed together, like the crowd you see here, photographed Monday night, the eve of Yom Kippur.

But when the time came for every pilgrim to prostrate themselves on the ground, the dimensions of the place morphed and each individual pilgrim had ample space so that no person touched the bodies of their fellow worshippers.

The multitude in the Temple courtyard fell on the ground as the High Priest read out the full name of God, all 72 letters of It. And when he was done, they all cried out: Blessed be the Name of His Kingdom for eternity.

We do both those things on Yom Kippur, during the Mussaf prayer: prostrate ourselves on the floor of the synagogue (on a sheet of paper), and cry out the blessing which, on normal days we only whisper.

It preserves the muscle memory of the ancient ceremony.

During the year, we whisper the “Blessed be the Name of His Kingdom for eternity” line after we say the opening line of the Shma reading. Each day, twice a day, when I say that line, I’m transported in my head to the place where I had last said it out loud, prostrated on the floor.

For an entire year now, I’ve been returning in my head, twice a day, to the Stanton Street Shul on the Lower East Side, where I last kept Yom Kippur.

This year, we’ll be staying with our friends in Tzfat, and will be davening in a Chasidish place in that strange, old town. I’ll be saying good bye to the last spiritual vestige of the Diaspora inside my head.

Possibly…

Have a meaningful fast. If you wish, this can be the most fun day of the year.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/photos/miracle-of-the-crowded-pilgrims/2012/09/25/

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