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December 10, 2016 / 10 Kislev, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘faith’

How Deep Is Our Faith?

Friday, October 28th, 2016

Editor’s Note: Rebbetzin Jungreis, a”h, is no longer with us in a physical sense, but her message is eternal and The Jewish Press will continue to present the columns that for more than half a century have inspired countless readers around the world.

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A young lady once came to see me with a devastating problem. When, among other things, I recommended that she turn to Hashem and follow the formula of teshuvah, tefillah, and tzedakah, she smiled indulgently and said, “Rebbetzin, I need real help, real solutions.”

For a moment, I was astonished. She was an observant woman – how could she have made such a statement? “Can there be any more real solution than the help of G-d?” I challenged.

To what extent do we really believe that Hashem can intercede and resolve our problems? How deep is our faith?

We are beset by so many difficulties, trials, and tribulations, be they personal or national. Our problems are huge, but we are short on faith.

So many of us are struggling financially and have difficulty just putting bread on the table.

So many of us are combating debilitating illness. The Malach HaMaves, the Angel of Death, does not discriminate. He makes his visits unannounced and the young and the elderly are equally vulnerable.

Our families are suffering from internal strife. Children are estranged from their parents and parents from their children, husbands from their wives and wives from their husbands and siblings from one another. Who is not familiar with such tragic stories?

As if that is not enough, we have to struggle with the shidduch crisis in our community– singles who just can’t marry. Sadly, I met some of these singles twenty and thirty years ago and today they are still single, still looking.

Who is not aware of all this? Who does not know the pain? Yet inexplicably, we don’t seem to get it.

When things are going well, when Hashem relates to us through His attribute of mercy and His blessings abound, we must be ever on guard not to take His gifts for granted, not to delude ourselves into believing that it is “Our might, our strength, our cunning, that is responsible for our success.”

On the other hand, when G-d speaks to us through His attribute of Justice, when we experience His disciplinary rod, we must remember the passage “And you shall know with your heart that, even as a father admonishes his children, so G-d, your Father, admonishes you.”

We are like children at the dinner table who “act out” and are reprimanded by their parents and ordered to their rooms. So too does our Father order us to our rooms.

There are two reactions children have under such circumstances.

There are those who will go to their rooms sulking, angrily muttering to themselves, “I don’t care. I hate you all! I’ll run away.” They slam the door, kick the furniture, and become destructive. To be sure, they may cry, but their tears are tears of indignation rather than contrition for they are convinced they have been treated unfairly.

When they do eventually emerge from isolation and are asked if they’re sorry, they’ll grudgingly say, “Okay, I’m sorry.” But their voices, their manner, make it quite clear that they are not sorry at all, and their words are mere lip service, meant to mollify the parent.

On the other hand, when a child, after being sent to his room, emerges and sincerely begs forgiveness, he will be embraced with love, seated at the table, and served his favorite dishes.

This illustration demonstrates our contemporary dilemma. How do we react when our Heavenly Father sends us away from the table? Do we respond like petulant children or do we return to our Father’s table with contrite, loving hearts? When difficult days befall us, do we feel self-righteous indignation and anger? Do we feel we have been treated unjustly, or do we return to our Heavenly Father in humility, prayer, and love?

Overwhelming problems can be analogous to boiling water. When you place a carrot into boiling water, it disintegrates into mush. When you do the same with an egg, it becomes hard and tough. But when you place coffee or tea into boiling water, it is transformed into a delicious drink.

This, then, is the option we all have: we can collapse and disintegrate like the carrot; we can become hard and tough like the egg, or we can take our boiling water and convert it into something positive – a delicious drink.

That is the option that stands before us. When confronted by overwhelming problems, when the water is boiling, we can fall apart like the carrot and become depressed – but that will not benefit anyone. Worse, it will consume and destroy us.

We can become tough like hard-boiled eggs; cynical, bitter, and angry like those petulant children. Once again, a self-destructive response that will only alienate us from others and from our true selves.

Or we can become like coffee or tea and convert our boiling hot water into something that can be tasty and nourishing for us as well as for others. We can look upon our problems as challenges, as opportunities for growth, and convert our negatives into positives, our liabilities into assets, and our shortcomings into strengths.

Yes, if we know how to listen, we can realize our full potential as Jews and return to our Heavenly Father and our Torah way of life. Our history demonstrates that there is no difficulty, no obstacle, we cannot overcome when we become one with our G-d. We need only allow the light of Hashem to lead us.

Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

Parshas Reeh: Give With Faith

Friday, September 2nd, 2016

The mitzvah of giving charity is one of the hallmarks of Judaism. The number of charitable organizations members of our community have formed and the donors who support them are a testament to our dedication to helping our brethren. But even greater than how much we give is how we give it. A Jew must do his utmost to ensure that the recipient does not feel shamed or embarrassed for his neediness. As we say in Shabbos davening, “Who is like Your people Israel, one nation in the land?”

If there shall be a destitute person among you… you shall not harden your heart or close your hand against your destitute brother… You shall surely give him, and let your heart not feel bad when you give him, for it is because of this matter that Hashem, your G-d, will bless you in all your deeds and in your every undertaking” (Devarim 15:7-8).

The Sages constantly stressed the tremendous importance and merit involved in giving charity:

  1. We are obligated to be careful in regards to the mitzvah of charity, more so than any other obligatory mitzvah… The throne of Israel is not prepared, and the law of truth does not stand except with charity… Israel will not be redeemed except with charity… (Rambam, Matnos Aniyim 10:1).
  1. The mitzvah of charity is tantamount to all other mitzvos (Bava Basra 9a).
  1. One is obligated to give charity with joy and a good heart (Sefer HaChinuch, mitzvah 479).
  1. One who gives charity with a doleful face loses his merit (Rambam, Matnos Aniyim 4).
  1. We do not recite a blessing when giving charity because we are obligated to give joyfully and most people lack that level of joy and enthusiasm when giving (Meor V’shmesh, Parshas Pinchas).

Why is this mitzvah so valuable that it is equal to all other mitzvos? Also, why are there so many nuances and additives involved in giving charity? Isn’t it hard enough to give up one’s hard-earned money? Why should one be obliged to give joyfully?

Nesivos Sholom explains that charity is not merely about giving away money. The ability to give away one’s own resources in order to help another must be rooted in faith in G-d. If one truly believes that he will get whatever he is destined to receive from G-d (as long as he does his part) it will be far easier for him to give.

This idea is expressed in the Mishna: “Rabi Elazar of Bartosa said: Give Him from His own, for you and what is yours are His” (Avos 3:18). Whenever a person gives charity he is essentially giving back to G-d what is His. G-d ensures that money and resources are granted to whomever He deems should have them. Our role in giving charity is the opportunity to overcome our nature and receive merit and reward for taking part in G-d’s Work, as it were. But in the end, our actions and efforts notwithstanding, every penny only ends up where, and with whom, G-d wants. This attitude and mindset is an integral part of giving charity.

A person who gives charity dolefully or begrudgingly demonstrates that his faith is somewhat wanting and he has not fully fulfilled the mitzvah of giving charity. On the other hand, a person who is able to feel joy when giving demonstrates that his faith in G-d is strong. Such a person has essentially achieved the underlying goal of all mitzvos, i.e. to fulfill the Word of G-d by subjugating ourselves to His Will and demonstrating our faith in Him. Therefore, when fulfilled properly, the mitzvah of giving charity is equivalent to all other mitzvos.

Every Jew is innately kindhearted and benevolent. It is part of our genetic makeup, dating back to our patriarch Avrohom. But there are certain Jews who dedicate their lives to being charitable and helping others. The truest level of chessed is accomplished by one who seeks to help others altruistically, for the sole purpose of being a giver.

The great chassidic master, Reb Mendel of Rimanov, was once learning with his students when he was interrupted by an impoverished individual begging for charity. The man appeared bedraggled and disheveled, his clothing was torn, and his face looked gaunt. Reb Mendel immediately turned to his gabbai and instructed him to go into his private room and take a gold coin from his coat to give to the poor man. When the poor man received the sparkling and expensive coin, his face lit up. He thanked the Rebbe profusely and left in a state of great joy.

Reb Mendel immediately resumed his studies. But about five minutes later he stopped again. After a moment of silence, the Rebbe again called over his gabbai. He asked him to please hurry and find the poor man who had just left his home and ask him to return immediately. The gabbai rushed out and soon found the poor man wandering through the market place, apparently trying to decide the best way to spend the generous donation he had just received. When the poor man heard that the Rebbe wanted him to return he looked crestfallen. He was certain that the Rebbe realized that he had given him too much and wanted to exchange it for a silver coin.

The poor man begrudgingly made his way back to the Rebbe, his eyes downcast. But as soon as he walked in, the Rebbe apologized for bothering him to return and handed him a second gold coin. The poor man was beside himself with joy and confusion. “Holy Rebbe, if the Rebbe had intended to give me such a magnanimous donation in the first place why didn’t the Rebbe just do so?”

Reb Mendel explained, “When I originally gave you the gold coin it was given wholeheartedly. However, after you left I realized that I had really given it to you out of compassion. I felt pained by your appearance and was struck by pangs of compassion. That would mean that I had given the coin to you in order to assuage my conscience.

Rabbi Dani Staum

Unshakable Faith

Thursday, August 25th, 2016

The year was 1909 and my grandmother, Perel Tunis, ob”m, was expecting a baby at the age of 35. The doctors told Grandma that carrying a child at such an “old age” would put her life in danger but Grandma believed that G-d should be the one to decide her fate. With unshakable faith, she told the doctors that if G-d wanted her to live, she would and if not, G-d forbid, she wouldn’t, but she felt strongly that she would indeed give birth and it would be to a son, who would be in her words, “the best one of them all!”

Grandma’s belief was, thank G-d, fulfilled. She gave birth to my father, ob”m, Avraham Moonish (Manny) the baby, an only son, because her other little boy, Henoch, passed away, unfortunately, at a very young age.

Daddy had the most amazing sense of humor. He used to joke that his four older sisters were so busy fighting amongst themselves that they had no time to give him any grief!

When he was 11, his oldest sister took him aside and informed him that as the only son, he would be responsible for supporting Grandpa and Grandma in their old age.

He most certainly fulfilled his parental obligations but this did not keep him from being a fun-loving kid!

He loved to take bread and butter sandwiches out to the fire escape so he could read to his heart’s content.

A teenage athlete of some note, Daddy was excellent at track and handball. However as Sabbath-observant Jews, Grandpa Tzvi forbid Daddy from participating in a track meet scheduled to take place on Shabbos.

­It is not surprising therefore, that Daddy was an amazing dancer.

When my parents married off their last child, my younger sister Civi, we honored them by performing a dance especially for them. After we finished dancing, Daddy, already in his 70’s, proceeded to dance in front of Civi and Jeff! The photographer captured the shock and delight of the onlookers who clapped their hands in time to Daddy’s agile steps!

Daddy loved to write poetry as well. One of his pieces was published in The New York Herald Tribune newspaper.

But most importantly to us, Daddy, an accountant, was as honest as they come.

He and my mother were on the same page, when it came to believing that Hashem sees everything one does every moment of the day. One must be honest and straight in business dealings and in any interchange involving another person, no matter what his color or creed.

Daddy was disturbed to have found many errors in the (accounting) books of the company where he was working. He felt a sense of pride in knowing that he saved the company a good sum of money when he straightened things out.

But most importantly, Daddy’s insured that a minyan was available especially if there was a mourner who was required to say kaddish.

His resolve in this respect would come into play the very last time that I saw him.

It was a hot Friday afternoon. Daddy and Mommie had done their monthly shopping in Brooklyn and afterwards came over to see their pride and joy: their grandkids. Daddy had just resumed driving after having undergone cataract surgery. He had also undergone cancer surgery within the past year. He looked very tired so I entreated my parents to stay with us for Shabbos.

Daddy told me that he couldn’t because if he wasn’t in shul, there would be no minyan as many families went to their seaside homes for Shabbos.

I still wanted to do something for him. He loved chocolate so I ran to the fridge and got him a bar to take home.

Penina Metal

Faith Over Reason

Friday, July 15th, 2016

Amongst the hundreds of commandments that God bestows upon the people of Israel, are many that on the surface are difficult to understand. These are classically called “Hok,” or “Hukim” in the plural. King Solomon himself, that most wisest of men, is quoted as stating that the law of the Red Heifer, featured in this week’s Torah reading, was beyond his comprehension.

The Temple rite of the Red Heifer consisted of a rare cow, completely covered in red hair, that was ritually slaughtered and subsequently burned. The resulting ashes were then mixed in water and that water was sprinkled over individuals, purifying those who had been ritually impure because of contact with the dead. What was perhaps most ironic about the rite was that the Kohen doing the sprinkling and having been ritually pure beforehand, became impure by the end of the rite, even though he was the source and cause of purification in others. It’s as if by purifying the other, he absorbs some of the impurity himself.

Nonetheless, the Sfat Emet in 5632 (1872) explains the path to understanding these perhaps incomprehensible commandments. He states that of course every commandment has a reason, but that we can’t understand the reason until after we accept the commandment without an explanation. Then, according to the level of faith, of acceptance of the commandment and the willingness to perform it without understanding, so too will be the level of understanding we achieve.

He further explains that the reasons behind these commandments are actually spiritual matters as opposed to merely intellectual exercises and only the spirit has the capacity to understand, or more accurately to “sense,” the reason behind the commandments.

May we develop the capacity to believe so that eventually we may understand.

Shabbat Shalom,

Dedicated to the Jewish Community of Uruguay on the celebration of its 100th anniversary.


Rabbi Ben-Tzion Spitz

Elie Wiesel: From ‘Night’ To Faith

Thursday, July 14th, 2016

In his seminal Faith After the Holocaust, Eliezer Berkovitz argued that only those who experienced the Holocaust can authentically respond to it; only those who were there may properly express what he characterized as “authentic rebellion” or “authentic faith.”

Elie Wiesel was there. And he expressed both.

This column not going to be about Wiesel’s biography and life’s work, which are already well known and in the wake of his passing well-covered by hundreds, if not thousands, of obituaries and articles. Suffice it to say he is best known as a Holocaust survivor who, as unofficial spokesman for Jewish Holocaust survivors, dedicated his life to implanting the Holocaust into the world’s consciousness and keeping the memory of the Six Million alive.

Rather, we will attempt to highlight Wiesel’s philosophical and theological voyage – his journey from rebellion against belief in God because of the Holocaust to his embrace of faith in God notwithstanding the Holocaust.

This transition may perhaps best be demonstrated through a comparison of Wiesel’s black despair and anger at God in the very bitter Night, his first book, with his ultimate acceptance of the eternity of the Jewish people as a manifestation of Jewish faith in God, as expressed in Ani Maamin, his lesser-known masterpiece.

Night, which establishes the basis for all Wiesel’s subsequent work, is a dark memoir based on his experiences as a prisoner in the Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps. He describes his loss of faith arising out of the ashes of the crematoria and, in one of the rawest and most often quoted paragraphs of the book, he concludes:

Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever. Never shall I forget that nocturnal silence which deprived me, for all eternity, of the desire to live. Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God Himself. Never.

Singer-071516-Ani-MaaminThe story of Wiesel’s Ani Maamin, however, begins with the great codifier of Torah law and Jewish philosophy, Maimonides (the Rambam), who compiled the Shloshah Assar Ikkarim, or the Thirteen Fundamental Principles of the Jewish faith, which he characterized in his Mishnah commentary as “the fundamental truths of our religion and its very foundations.” The Principles include belief in the existence of God as the perfect Creator who is absolutely unique, non-corporeal, eternal, and omniscient; a God who alone must be worshipped and who communicates with man through prophecy and who created a Torah that is divine and immutable and a just system of reward and punishment. The final two principles are the belief in the arrival of the Messiah and in the resurrection of the dead.

Many Jews recite each of the Thirteen Principles beginning with the words Ani Maamin – or “I believe (with a perfect faith…),” a formulation that constitutes the basis of Wiesel’s cantata, Ani Maamin: A Song Lost and Found Again. Written as a poem to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Wiesel emphasizes the Twelfth Principle – the coming of the Messiah and of the Messianic Age – and dramatically frames that belief against the devastating historical reality of the Holocaust.

After writing the poem, Wiesel presented it to composer Darius Milhaud, who wrote the music. He actually met with Milhaud only once, when he went to Geneva to see him and sang the chassidic version of “Ani Maamin” to him because Milhaud, the descendant of a Sephardic family, had never heard the chassidic rendition of the famous song. The completed work was performed in Carnegie Hall in November 1973.

Saul Jay Singer

Faith is the Joy of Religious Doubt and Uncertainty-Part II

Sunday, July 10th, 2016

Faith means striving for faith. It is never an arrival. It can only burst forth at singular moments. It does not arise out of logical deduction, but out of uncertainty, which is its natural breeding ground.

To have faith is to live with unresolved doubts, prepared to rise above ourselves and our wisdom. Looking into the Jewish tradition with its many debates, one clearly understands that those who deny themselves the comfort of certainty are much more authentic than those who are sure.

Faith means that we worship and praise God before we affirm His existence; we respond before we question. Man can die for something even as he is unsure of its true existence, because his inner faith tells him it is right to do so. This honest admission of doubt is not only the very reason why it is possible to be religious in modern times; it is the actual stimulus to do so.

We need to understand that faith is “the art of drawing sufficient conclusions from insufficient premises” (1), and “we can be absolutely certain only about things we do not understand” (2).

To believe is not to prove, not to explain, but to yield to a vision.

Of course belief cannot be credo quia absurdum est. It has to make sense and have a lot to say for itself in terms of knowledge and wisdom. Still, just as no building stands on rock-bottom, but on unsure pillars deeply driven into the ground so as to resist an earthquake, so must belief have enough strength to prove its worth without ever reaching absolute certainty.

Faith is like music. It is true because of its beauty not because of its intellectual certainty. Is it not created from impossible paradoxes, as well as a great deal of imagination that surpasses rationality and scientific or historical facts?

The truly great need no synthesis. They absorb whatever experience offers them. Their intensely creative personalities act like a fiery furnace, melting away contradictions. What emerges is either a harmonious whole or a creative parallelism with parts that mutually fructify and supplement each other. The truly great do not need to trim edges, as it were, to make genuine experiences fit with each other. They preserve them intact. And if their experiences appear contradictory, they build an emotional bridge spanning them allowing both the landscape and the water to be seen. Lesser mortals resort to logical means of harmonization (3).

The aim of halacha is to teach us the art of living with uncertainty. Halacha was not meant for those who are sure, because nobody can act out of certainty.

The most challenging question in all of life is what do you do and what do you believe when you are not sure. It is that notion that moves the scientist, the philosopher, and most of all the religious personality. We must destroy the security of all conventional knowledge and undo the normalcy of all that is ordinary. To be religious is to realize that no final conclusions have ever been reached or can ever be reached.

Halacha is the upshot of un-finalized beliefs, a practical way of living while remaining in theological suspense. In that way, Judaism doesn’t turn into a religion that either becomes paralyzed in awe of a rigid tradition, or evaporates into a utopian reverie. This dynamic can only come about when Jewish beliefs consist of fluid matter, which halacha then turns into a solid substance. The purpose of halacha is to chill the heated steel of exalted beliefs and turn them into pragmatic deeds without allowing the inner heat to be cooled off entirely. Jewish beliefs are like arrows, which dart hither and thither, wavering as though shot into the air from a slackened bowstring, while halacha must be straight and unswerving but still adaptable.

Indeed, we should be careful not to make faith into an intellectual issue. It is much more than that. The moment we look down on those who continue to have unshakable faith, considering them primitive in face of the many challenges, we have overlooked an important dimension of real faith. Besides the fact that such an attitude reflects arrogance, it also misses an important point: Faith is always more than just thinking about faith. Yes, those people who have lost their faith yet still hold on to it, honestly attempting by way of discussion and study to give their lost faith a new shape, should be deeply respected. At the same time, we should not forget that they are searching for something that the “simple” believer already has.

When we place the reflection on faith higher than the direct experience of faith, we are involved in a purely intellectual endeavor. The search for faith can only be genuine when it is personal, deep, and emotional, and the intellect only plays a small part. The accompanying qualities must be humility, the notion of inadequacy, and a strong urge to find authentic faith.  Genuine belief is a way of living, not an academic undertaking. It is an experience in which the whole of the human being is engaged.

Doubt only appeals to the intellect. The intellectual approach to faith is always a barer form of existence than faith itself. The reason is obvious. Besides our critical assessment, the other human faculties remain idle. Trust, hope, love and the notion that one is part of something bigger no longer play a role. Instead, life becomes nothing more than only itself. When doubt and skepticism are no longer the most important faculties through which one seeks religious faith, only then is it possible to actually find it. Skepticism, though it has its place, should not be at the center of one’s search. In today’s climate there is a certain gratification in going to the extremes of genius and brilliance until one nearly loses that which one would like to discover.  Intellectual thought and scientific discovery can never cover the sum total of the inner life of man. When one prays, one is involved in something that the intellect can never reach. When one studies Torah and hears its divine voice, it becomes something different than what academic study can ever achieve. It is in a separate category, which is closed to the solely scientific mind.

It is crucial that we see these facts for what they are. Only when we realize that intellectual certainty is not the primary path toward finding religious truth, will we be able to deal with our new awareness that the transitional phase we now experience has great purpose and has to be part of our religious struggle and identity. It won’t be easy. Novelty, as always, carries with it a sense of violation, a kind of sacrilege. Most people are more at home with that which is common than with that which is different. But go it must.

1. Samuel Butler and Francis Hackett, The Note-Books of Samuel Butler (Nabu Press, 2010)

   p. 27.

2. Eric Hoffer, The True Believer (Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2010) p. 81.

3. Rabbi Professor David Weiss Halivni, “Professor Saul Lieberman z.l.,” Conservative

   Judaism, vol. 38, (Spring 1986) pp. 6-7.


Rabbi Dr. Nathan Lopes Cardozo

Critically Wounded Police Officer Resumes Duty 5 Months Later, Offers Prayer of Thanks at Western Wall

Monday, November 23rd, 2015

A critically injured Border Guard Police officer has returned to duty after being stabbed by a Palestinian Authority terrorist in Jerusalem.

Officer Raz Bibi returned to active service on Monday, five months after he nearly lost his life in the terror attack at the Damascus Gate entrance to the Old City of Jerusalem. Just 20 years old, he went back to the Old City — the place where he was attacked — to offer prayers of gratitude at the Western Wall for his miraculous recovery.

Border Guard Police Officer Raz Bibi offers a prayer of thanks for his life being saved, at the Western Wall.

Border Guard Police Officer Raz Bibi offers a prayer of thanks for his life being saved, at the Western Wall.

Upon his arrival at the Western Wall Plaza, the officer found a touching surprise, when the members of his unit greeted him with cheers and applause for his bravery.

Just before he lost consciousness on that terrible day five months ago, the courageous officer had managed to shoot and kill the vicious terrorist who stabbed him.

“I was very happy to see this special military unit that has stood by the door at the hospital since [Bibi] was wounded, and supported him and prayed for his recovery together with all the people of Israel,” said Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, the rabbi of the Western Wall.

“Now [the unit] is once again with him, this time with thanks for the great miracle that happened to him, and his surprising recovery against all the predictions,” the rabbi told the soldiers who were gathered around the officer.

Hana Levi Julian

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/breaking-news/critically-wounded-police-officer-resumes-service-5-months-later-offers-prayer-of-thanks-at-western-wall/2015/11/23/

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