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April 17, 2014 / 17 Nisan, 5774
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‘I Celebrate Your Holy Name’

Thursday, October 11th, 2012

I am postponing the follow-up to my previous column – “Technology, Yom Kippur, Ahmadinejad” – so that I might share with you a very personal experience.

As most of you know, in the final days of Pesach, while speaking in San Diego, I sustained a severe hip injury that required immediate surgery. While three of my fractures healed, the fourth did not. Every time I took a step (despite my constant companion, the cane), I was in pain.

To be sure, I continued with my normal schedule of speaking and teaching. My trips abroad, however, had to be put on hold.

For example, I had been scheduled to speak in France where I was especially anxious to address the Jewish community of Toulouse, the site of that horrific massacre of a rabbi and three children by a Muslim fanatic. We had planned to have a mass gathering of the Jewish community during which I was to present the widow of the rabbi with a Hineni medallion symbolizing that her pain was the pain of Am Yisrael.

From Toulouse I was scheduled to go to Marseille, Lyon, Paris, and Budapest, but all those events had to be rescheduled.

As the weeks and months flew by, it became apparent that more surgery would be required. The operation was to take place on October 10and I asked one and all to pray for me. In our computerized world, the Internet makes such requests an instant happening. I received calls, letters and e-mails for a refuah sheleimah from every part of the globe. I felt blessed and strengthened in the knowledge that my brethren were praying for me and wishing me well.

There were those who asked why I shared such private concerns with the public. My answer was simple: “The Power Of Prayer.”

Yes, I have witnessed the power of prayer many times. With my own eyes I have seen that when all else fails, when the skeptics declare the situation is irredeemable, the miracle of prayer turns everything around. We, the Jewish people, never give up. Our strength, our might, is in the voice of Jacob, the voice of prayer. That still small voice can vanquish all. With words that emanate from our inner hearts, we storm the Heavens and open gates that even the best locksmiths cannot open.

That is why I went public.

Though all was in place and I was scheduled for surgery, in my inner heart I was hoping for a miracle.

Even as I write this, I must tell you I fully realize that everything in life is miraculous. To undergo surgery and emerge in good health is itself an awesome miracle. I recall witnessing a car accident some years ago while walking to shul. It was a frightening sight and I davened for the man’s refuah sheleimah. A bystander, visibly shaken, said to me in Yiddish: “Rebbetzin, people think you have to go to a rebbe for a berachah to find a shidduch, parnassah, and so on, but truth be told, you have to go for a berachah simply to go forth from your home and return in one piece!”

So yes, everything is a miracle. Everything is under the guidance of Hashem.

In our morning prayers, when we bless G-d Who resurrects the dead, in that very same berachah we also praise His name for the miracle of rain. At first glance, this is difficult to understand. Can resurrection be compared to rainfall? Of course it can! Our sages juxtapose the two blessings so that we may forever bear in mind that one miracle is the same as the other, the only difference being our perception of the events. Rain is common – we witness it regularly, so we do not see anything unusual or miraculous about it. Resurrection, on the other hand, is something we never experience and therefore the whole concept is miraculous.

As I mentioned above, I am very much aware that all is miraculous, including successful surgery. Just the same, I beseeched G-d for a miracle that all would see and identify with the power of prayer. I was yearning to continue reaching out with the teachings of our Torah to our people in all the lands of our dispersion. I asked G-d that He heal me naturally, without human intervention.

Hoshana Rabbah Rocks

Sunday, October 7th, 2012

Sukkot is by far the most mystical holiday in the Jewish holiday cycle, with the four species and the sukkah and the daily hakafot in shul.

Every day on Sukkot, except on Shabbat, we walk in a circle around a guy holding the Torah in shul, we all hold up our lulvim and hadassim and aravot and—with considerable difficulty and dexterity—the etrogim, and we recite verses, a special group of verses for each day of the seven-day holiday. On Shabbat we also recite special verses, but we don’t do the circle thing.

Then, on Hoshana Rabbah, the seventh day of Sukkot, everything reaches a crescendo and we recite seven groups of verses, and we circle the shul and the Torah sever times, and then we take a bunch of aravot and smack them five times against the floor – and we feel really weird but at the same time strangely liberated and actually quite content if not outright happy.

So today was Hoshana Rabbah in my new shul in Netanya, and I was recalling my special Hoshana Rabbah minyan on East Broadway, in Rabbi Heftler’s shul, where all the guys who were too impatient to endure the 4-5 hour deal up at the Boyan kloyze (the holy place where the first chassidic rebbe in America lived) would go for a shorter, but very uplifting version nonetheless.

In my new shul they don’t blow the shofar at all between the hakafot (those are the circling of the shul). At Rabbi Heftler’s shul they blow the shofar, and during the verses about the fire and everything we’ve lost in the fire, his voice would break down in a tearful cry that rattled my spine like a well honed lulav.

Granted, my new shul was a whole lot more crowded than Rabbi Heftler’s, where getting a minyan even for Hoshana Rabbah is a considerable task. But our rite today was tamer than I’m used to. And no shofar. I should probably try a chassidish minyan next year.

Have a fabulous two-day yom tov and think of us, here in Israel, getting the second day to tend to our cars and our smartphones…

Chag Sameach, dear friends.

Why Most Marriages Can Work

Friday, October 5th, 2012

Mordechai, 36, and Chani, 35, were married for six years and came to me for advice on how to save their relationship. They seemed to have everything going for them. They were working professionals, successful and upwardly mobile; they shared many common factors including similar religious beliefs, intelligence levels, and were both pleasantly extroverted.

Yet, soon after marriage, it was apparent that they didn’t get along very well. Little things like the cleanliness of the house, or who made dinner, became mountain-sized issues that were often blown out of proportion. The quality of their relationship was going downhill and their marriage was in crisis. Only six months had passed since their chuppah and they were beginning to feel that they were unequipped to deal with each other’s emotional needs. Instead, they tended to withdraw from one another and were avoiding taking the obvious step of working together to solve their issues.

On the outside, they seemed to have everything going for them, yet now they had little to show for it.

What was causing their marital stress? Did they share some deeply-rooted negative patterns? Was it a question of personality differences? Did they have trouble managing their anger?

Mordechai and Chani were also scared, because some of their lifetime friends were also experiencing similar difficulties in their marriages, and the prior year, two of them had gotten divorced. They wanted to know if they were heading in the same direction and if there was anything they could do to sustain their marriage.

Before I began to advise them on ways to improve their marriage, I asked them to draw an imaginary circle in the middle of the room, to represent their relationship. I then asked them to take their chairs and sit in the middle of the circle if they were committed to their relationship. If they weren’t able to sit in the circle together, then, I believed, their marriage would have little chance of succeeding.

I also made it clear to them that, statistically, the overwhelming majority of failed marriages (between two emotionally healthy individuals) end because couples are having trouble building and staying committed to their overall relationship. In fact, many of the negative statistics about marriage boil down to the prevalence of couples losing interest in developing the quality of their marriage.

A 1995 statewide survey in Utah, for example, examining why marriages end in divorce, found that the lack of commitment to the relationship was the top reason for the growing phenomenon.

Specifically, the Utah Marriage Survey asked Utahns who had been divorced to answer the following: “There are many reasons why marriages fail. I’m going to read a list of possible reasons. Looking back at your most recent divorce, tell me whether or not each factor was a major contributor to your divorce. You can say, ‘yes,’ or ‘no,’ to each factor.”

The following responses show the percentages of those respondents who answered, “yes,” to each factor that they felt was a major contributor to their divorce:

Men/Women/The Mean

Lack of commitment: 87%/79%/83%

Too much conflict and arguing: 48%/58%/53%

Infidelity or extramarital affairs: 47%/56%/52%

Getting married too young: 39%/43%/41%

Financial problems or economic hardship: 31%/35%/33%

Lack of support from family members: 21%/20%/21%

Little or no helpful premarital education: 19%/29%/24%

Other: 17%/28%/22%

Religious differences between partners: 13%/16%/15%

Domestic violence: 6%/37%/22%

The table clearly reveals what Utahns who have experienced divorce perceive: that the lack of commitment was the number one contributing factor to their divorces. Commitment often involves making one’s partner and relationship a priority, investing in the marriage, and having a long-term view of the relationship.

That’s why the most important issue in marriage needs to be the couple’s focus on the quality of their relationship.

Couples like Mordechai and Chani are a perfect example of a relationship that had migrated onto the back burner. And, as I predicted, after several weeks of counseling, it became apparent that there was nothing fundamentally wrong with this young couple. Neither was particularly high on “control.” Neither of them had a history of serious emotional illness. And both came from parents who were happily married.

Mordechai and Chani needed to learn more about how to negotiate their emotions, how to communicate in a more effective way, and how to begin to recommit to their relationship.

‘Did You Add Salt to a Wound?’

Friday, September 28th, 2012

Just days ago on Yom Kipper, The Day of Judgment, Jews gathered as one in shuls, shteibels and temples and desperately and profusely promised Hashem that we would reform our ways and improve our behaviors and actions towards Him, our Father and Creator, as well as towards our fellow man, who, being made in His image, is deserving of our respect and compassion, and of being treated as an equal, no matter their social or financial status, age or gender.

Our prayers were saturated with sincerity, our pleas- passionate and pure. This time, we would amend our not so pleasant ways. Nothing motivates the determination to improve oneself than the fear of Divine Retribution. The knowledge that teshuvah – repentance and remorse and regret for less than stellar behaviors, attitudes and activities – can postpone, even cancel a stern, life-altering judgment is the best fuel to ignite an unwavering commitment to change.

And many of us are making a conscientious effort to keep our promise to be kinder, more ethical and more tolerant, both as Jews and human beings. But within weeks, ingrained bad habits will free themselves from the restraints we so self-righteously encased them in, and reclaim their turf in our flawed personalities.

So how do we prevent that regression? How do we fortify our resolve to self-tikkun in a way that will help ensure that on the final Day of Judgment in the Heavenly Court, our neshama will be headed “north” not “south?”

It is generally accepted that one of the questions people will be asked on That Day will revolve around business ethics. We will be asked if we were honest in our financial dealings with others.

Perhaps one question that we should expect to be asked of us is, “Did you rub salt into a wound?”

“Rubbing salt into a wound” is an expression that has come to mean adding tzaar – emotional hurt – to someone who already is in great pain and distress. It actually is based on a practice centuries ago when slaves, captured enemies or prisoners of war were lashed either as punishment or as a way of making them talk. Many were further tormented by having salt rubbed into their open, bleeding wounds, causing excruciating pain on top of the pain they were experiencing from the whipping.

(Baby-boomers no doubt remember all too clearly the intense pain that would have us howling and jumping out of our skin when iodine was dabbed onto a skinned knee or cut or scrape to prevent infection. The cure was worse than the sickness. Only much later did soothing, antibiotic ointments become available.)

Of all the “bad” behaviors we indulge in, whether through misguided “kindness” or deliberate maliciousness, enhancing the pain, grief or hopelessness of someone who is hurting mentally, emotionally or spiritually is especially harmful to the recipient – it is like rubbing salt in an open wound.

When I say,” kindness,” it is because there were times when salt was rubbed into an open wound to prevent infection and promote healing. Nonetheless, the resultant agony was just as horrific as when it was done out of pure cruelty.

So many people are what I call the “walking wounded.” Young and old, wealthy or poor, married or single; pillars of their community or barely visible in the crowd, no one is spared from torment, loss, loneliness, fear, self-doubt or the inevitable emotional battering and trauma that comes from being a breathing, sentient human being.

Mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, children, teachers, rebbeim, acquaintances, friends, bosses, colleagues, even strangers like a bus driver or store clerk can deliberately or inadvertently, via “good” intentions, salt a wound.

This is clearly evident in the story of Penina and Chana, who became the mother of Shmuel Hanavi. In Shmuel 1 chapter I, verse 7, we are told that a man, Ephraim, had two wives, Penina who had many children, and Chana, who was infertile. Penina would torment Chana about being childless, but the Midrash says she did so out of kindness, to spur Chana to daven with more kavanah, and garner Hashem’s sympathy – but all it did was make Chana feel worse, so she did not even want to eat.

I Lashed a Guy

Thursday, September 27th, 2012

Here’s a Lelov chassid in Bet Shemesh, outside Jerusalem, getting 39 lashes on the eve of Yom Kippur. It’s part of the process of atoning for sins which used to be in wide practice even by non-chassidic Jews and is now not nearly as popular.

We spent Yom Kippur in the holy, kabbalistically saturated city of Tzfat, where I davened with a dear, old friend at a chassidish shul, overlooking mountains and valleys and a tiny bit of the Kinneret.

Right after Mincha, on the eve of the holiday, this nice gentleman approached me asking if it won’t be too much trouble to lash him in honor of the coming Day of Awe.

It took some persuasion, I’ll tell you. I’m not the aggressive type, I don’t recall the last time I was engaged in any incident of violent confrontation. Like every decent human being, I channel all my aggression to watching really awful action movies where other people do all the hurting for me. So it took some persuasion. But I finally consented because, hey, you have to try everything at least once.

So the guy handed me his leather belt, leaned over a bench and waited. He told me not to go too easy on him, not to fake it, hit like a man.

So I smacked him one across the back and he quickly changed his initial instructions and asked for a little less hard.

I finally found my groove and started hitting quite expertly, one on the left shoulder, one on the right shoulder, one across the back, 39 altogether. In the end the guy was happy, and I found something new I could do if the writing thing doesn’t work out.

This is Yori Yanover with another report on Jewish life today…

Combat Boots

Friday, September 21st, 2012

They called the colt Unbridled Song.

His father’s name was Unbridled, his mother’s Trolley Song. The colt loved to run, with an energy and spirit that stretched into an endless melody of wind and pounding hooves and the freedom of the open track. They hoped he would become a champion.

As a two and three year old, Unbridled Song won many of the races in his age class division. Those with a keen eye for thoroughbreds – and even those without – looked down at the racetrack at the spunky colt and said, “Now that one is going to be one to watch…”

The spring season of his third year brought with it hopes for the Kentucky Derby. The Derby is the race for three year olds, perhaps even the race of a thoroughbred’s whole career. In Mandysland Farm, excitement was high. Their colt, Unbridled Song, was registered to start in the Derby. They had a good crack at it.

A few weeks before the Derby, Unbridled Song won a prestigious race. In doing so, he also cracked his left hoof. The injury would heal, but the colt would need to wear a cast-like bar shoe to protect the leg while it healed. The question was on everyone’s minds. Would the gray colt compete in the Derby, or would he be scratched?

James Ryerson, the colt’s trainer, decided to go ahead with the Derby plans. Despite his injury, Unbridled Song was the favorite to win.

The crowd cheered as the tall gray colt came to the post on Derby Day. This was one to watch…

And they were off!

Barely two minutes later, it was all over. Unbridled Song had started strong but had soon weakened, finishing a disappointing fifth.

A picture in the news showed James Ryerson standing at the colt’s head, a friendly arm draped over his long neck. “He had a hard race there,” the reporters quoted him as saying, “and he did the best he could. He ran the best race that he could have run with that leg. Look at this boot he’s wearing. It’s like wearing combat boots. Can you imagine running a marathon wearing combat boots? He did the best race he could, and we’re proud of him.”

The reporter questioned the trainer as to his decision to take the colt to the post in this condition.

“Yeah, we could’ve pulled him out of it,” Ryerson responded affably. “We could’ve kept him in the pasture til it was totally healed. But, you know… the Derby is the Derby. Yeah, we could’ve kept him in the barn, but… what would we have been saving him for…?”

I have a medical condition that makes it hard for me to get up and do things. Sometimes it’s hard to get out of bed, or even to wake up at all. The weakness and the darkness and the apathy… they take their toll on the mind as well… sometimes I don’t even want to have the strength.

Rosh Hashanah is hard. Yom Kippur is hard. It’s hard to stand in shul all day. It’s hard to daven all day. And you know what? I don’t even want to. I feel those days coming with a kind of dread… the thought of feeling sick, exhausted, and miserable… I will not have any satisfaction at all from davening. It’s not something I can do.

And yet, whenever I think of that long, cold, early morning walk to shul, I think of Unbridled Song.

We could keep him in the barn… but what would we be keeping him for…?

I could stay in bed and conserve my strength, but what would I be conserving it for?

I could sleep late and save my energy… but what would I be saving it for?

Sometimes I tell myself that this is it, this is the time to throw myself into tefilla and beg for mercy. But sometimes I’m beyond that. There are times when I don’t care about mercy and tefilla, and all I care about is my aching body and tired mind. But then I say…

Shulamis, this is it.

These days… they are it.

What else can you say when Almighty God, King of the universe, descends to visit us in our humble earthly dwellings? “Call Him when He is close.”. He is close, right here, right now. Do I even have the choice, the option, to ignore? The mighty awe of these days screams through the blast of the shofar. Forget forgiveness. Forget judgment. Forget mercy.

Saturday’s Chicago Bar Car Bomb Latest in Ongoing Muslim Attacks on American Targets

Wednesday, September 19th, 2012

Adel Daoud, an 18 year-old from the leafy Chicago neighbourhood of Hillside was charged on Saturday with crimes arising from terrorism after months of surveillance by undercover federal agents.

Thinking that he had loaded a car bomb into the Jeep Cherokee that he was driving, he parked it outside a bar in downtown Chicago and walked away into an alley after doing everything he thought necessary for it to detonate. Safely distant, he then pressed the trigger mechanism in the presence of the agent, intending an explosion and deaths to follow. He was then arrested. Unknown to him, the bomb was inert and was designed not to explode. A preliminary hearing is set for Monday at a U.S. courthouse in Chicago.

The Chicago Tribune’s report says Daoud is a U.S. citizen. It’s alleged that he had been sharing information online about killing Americans in a terrorist attack since last October when he was presumably just 17. The affidavit accompanying the charge sheet [the legal papers are here] says Daoud believes the U.S. is at war with Islam and Muslims. That’s evidently why he wanted his attack to be recognized as terrorism and to be as deadly as possible:

“If it’s only like five, 10 people, I’m not gonna feel that good… I wanted something that’s… massive; I want something that’s gonna make it in the news like tonight.”

Ordinary people living in this terrorist thug’s neighbourhood or in others anywhere else in the United States are, in our view, left to take one of two views:

  1. The US authorities are completely on top of the situation and have all the religiously fanatical wanne-be jihadists and Osama Bin Laden followers under surveillance. They will pounce just in time to prevent the next massacre of innocent Americans whose crime is to believe in something other than what these creatures believe. And the attempted massacre after that, and after that and so on. So there’s nothing to worry about; Or
  2. No one really knows where the next mass-killer is going to come from. In fact, there may be lots of them – a completely unknown number, living in completely unpredictable locations, and they will look perfectly ordinary and will be undetectable until the bombs go off.

Take your pick. For our part, there’s no doubt. America has been lucky, and we need to pray the luck stays good. And to ignore the role that Islamist religious indoctrination is having on parts of American society is simply insane.

Visit This Ongoing War.

Who In the World is Sam Bacile?

Wednesday, September 12th, 2012

There’s a bit of a mystery surrounding the identity of Sam Bacile, who has claimed to be an Israeli Jew living in California.

Israel Channel 10‘s Nadav Eyal claims that Sam Bacile is a pseudonym and that the film’s creators are ex-Muslims who converted to Christianity – at least one of them Iranian.

The claim is further strengthened, based on statement in the Wall Street Journal, which leads one to suspect that Egyptian Coptic Christians are involved in the film making.

The movie has been promoted in the U.S. by conservative Coptic Christians, including Morris Sadek, who runs a small group called the National American Coptic Assembly. “The violence that it caused in Egypt is further evidence of how violent the religion and people are and it is evidence that everything in the film is factual,” Mr. Sadek said in a telephone interview from his Washington home.

Tzvi Yeheskeli (Channel 10 Arab Affairs Correspondent) questions if the attack on the consulate in Benghazi is actually just about the film, or also revenge for the recent killing of Al Qaeda number 2 in Yemen.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/breaking-news/who-in-the-world-is-sam-bacile/2012/09/12/

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