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Posts Tagged ‘Good Shabbos’

Thoughts On Bridging The Great Jewish Divide

Thursday, January 19th, 2012

We recently observed the 10th of Teves, which, historically, represents the beginning of the siege of Yerushalayim by Nebuchadnezzar. It was this siege that began a string of calamities that resulted in the destruction of the first Beis HaMikdash.

According to some sources, it was on this day that Yosef was sold into servitude by his brothers – the first act of sinas chinam (baseless and unwarranted hatred) within the ranks of the Abrahamitic family.

Unfortunately, sinas chinam has lately been rearing its ugly head, with a vengeance, in Israel.

There are some who will claim that those who yell slurs at another Jew because he (or she) does not dress like them, look like them or believe like them are fighting for the honor of Torah. That calling someone a “shiksa” or spitting on a child is acceptable Jewish behavior. I call it a horrific desecration of God’s name.

Let us not, however, simply blame the haredim. A couple of weeks ago an 11-year-old haredi boy in Israel was hit in the face by two secular Jews. Is this what we have come to? After 2,000 years of Diaspora, when our children were beaten and abused by others, we pick up where the nations of world left off?

We know the individuals who perpetrated these acts do not reflect the feelings and beliefs of the larger groups with whom they associate and identify. But actions of individuals that go unchallenged by the masses soon become the acceptable norm.

No one group has the right to impose its beliefs on the greater public. No one group can claim to have cornered the market on Torah and Judaism and dictate how the collective must behave. We must learn that we can coexist beautifully even if we disagree vehemently. Creating a dialogue with a fellow Jew does not mean you have to accept or condone his beliefs or practices.

I say this to haredim and chilonim, chassidim and misnagdim, daati tzioni and haredi daati leumi; to Modern Orthodox, centrist Orthodox, left-leaning Orthodox, right-wing Orthodox, Conservative and Reform; to those from Lakewood, Yeshiva University, Chovevei Torah and every other group, denomination and faction.

People often ask me what my hashkafa is. I identify with the teachings of chassidus and gain much from the insights of Nechama Leibowitz; I am uplifted by the ideas of Rav Kook and Rav Soloveitchik and feel inspired by the Torah of the Satmar Rebbe; and I say Hallel on Yom Ha’atzmaut with a berachah but do not feel that Religious Zionism is the most important aspect of Judaism. I wear a black hat and a velvet yarmulke but believe in engagement with the outside world.

So what is my hashkafa?

It’s simple. I’m Jewish. I believe in Hashem and that it is my responsibility to observe His Torah and perform His mitzvos. I believe I do not exist for myself but for the benefit of the klal and therefore it’s my responsibility to contribute to the Jewish people in a positive fashion. I believe we can impact the greater society without compromising our values and beliefs.

I believe Judaism is not about what feels good or is politically correct but what the Torah tells us we must do. And at the end of the day I believe v’ahavta l’reyacha kamocha (love your fellow as you love yourself) is not to be selectively applied to people with whom I identify but should serve as the guide for dealing with those to the right and left of us.

We all bear responsibility for the current state of affairs and we are all charged with trying to find a solution. There is no quick fix or particular selection of Psalms to remedy this situation, but allow me to suggest three things:

Engage your fellow Jew. There are times when a new person walks into shul and he can sit for an entire davening without someone coming over to wish him a Good Shabbos. Whether the person looks more observant or less observant, go over, connect and help build the Jewish people. When you pass someone in the street, make sure to greet him with a Good Shabbos. When thinking about whom to have at your Shabbos table, consider those who may not have a large social circle and include them at your meal.

Do more chesed. We are all busy with the various demands of life but we must make time to do for others. If the only things we are occupied with during the week are our own needs or the demands of our own family, we can forget we are part of something bigger. We must create time and open our hearts for others.

Spend less time focusing on hashkafa and more time focusing on Torah. We spend so much time trying to figure out what religious label to attach to ourselves even as we carefully analyze the hashkafic implications of every move in our shul and community. Let’s stop wasting our time. Torah is the great common denominator that unites us all.

Where Have All Our Middos Gone?

Wednesday, May 5th, 2010

Shame wells up in me as I thread my way through the cluster of young wives standing near my home, animatedly talking with one another as their children play at their feet. Four shopping bags dangle from one arm, five from another, and I shift them uncomfortably as I carry them from my car, practically bent over from their weight.

I take a deep breath as I try to quell the hurt and disappointment I feel, the anger that courses through me. For I know – sadly and with great certainty – that as I wend my way toward my front door, no eager young hands will try to wrest the bags from me and insist on helping me drag them up the stairs to the third floor where I live. Not one of these fine young frum women will detach themselves from the group to inquire: “Do you need help?”

The clammy cold hand of truth grips my heart and tells me: “You are invisible to them, your need is invisible to them.” What else can I think, how else can I rationalize their indifferent behavior? That they do see me struggling mightily and simply don’t care? I’d rather not be seen.

I wish I could convince myself they still consider me young – not their contemporary, clearly, but young enough to easily carry these bags myself. But I’m in my late fifties, as old, or even older, than their own mothers, and my extra weight makes me lumber, not limber.

For years I’ve tried making excuses for them, but I’m running dry; I want to think well of them, but I just don’t know how to explain their oblivion. Shame scorches me, but I’m not quite sure why: is it my own shame at being rendered so irrelevant, or is it the shame I feel as the physical capacities I once took for granted now fail me?

Or is it the shame I feel for them, for their glaring lack of middos and consideration? Why do I race to help them shlep their baby carriages and strollers up the steps, when they always stare so blankly at my arms laden with ten bags?

When I grew up in Boro Park in the 1960′s, my teachers made it clear that while learning was important, menschlichkeit was supreme.

We were repeatedly instructed to surrender our seats on the buses and subways to pregnant women and the elderly and to assist all people (regardless of gender, age or religion) weighted down with too many packages and escort them home if need be until their cumbersome burdens were safely deposited at their doors. We were taught to open doors for the people filing into stores behind us, to gracefully give up our place on long lines at the bank or post office to those stooped over in age, and to leap at the chance to scour the sidewalks for loose change someone had dropped and was now bending over to anxiously retrieve.

(I was reminded recently of the soft-spoken teacher who delivered that particular lesson to us in her gentle, pleading voice, when my white-bearded husband dropped a roll of quarters that scattered in many different directions on a busy Boro Park street traversed by dozens of frum people, all of whom – I am sorry to say – ignored his kneeling figure and never once thought to stop and assist him.)

I sincerely wish I could exculpate my fellow Orthodox Jews by subscribing to the theory that a glaring lack of middos is a “New York thing,” a function of too many people squeezed into too small a space, and that common courtesies and general civilities are the sacrificial lamb of congested city life.

But I find that as I grow older (evidence of it apparently radiating from my face despite the best advertised attempts of Olay), these little courtesies are actually being extended to me more and more each day by the non-Jews in the neighborhood. Which makes the issue rankle me even more: When it comes to ordinary, everyday middos, why are frum people lagging behind those to whom they are supposed to be a beacon?

* * * * *

 

Recently, I was driving down a street in Flatbush looking for an address scribbled on a piece of paper. As much as Hatzolah has campaigned that all homes be marked by clear and large address numbers (so that they can be easily found in case of emergency) many are still woefully lacking, and I had to stop and start my car constantly as I tried to peer at the miniscule script inscribed on most front doors.

I was still creeping slowly down the street when a car pulled up to next me. The driver honked the horn, motioning that I should open my window. It was a frum young woman wearing a sheitel and the requisite high-necked, long-sleeved blouse. Since I had been, on that same day, brooding over what I perceived as the decline in middos in the younger generation, I felt heartened – downright elated – that this woman was trying to come to my aid, clearly disproving me and my theories wrong.

My assumption – as I rolled down the car window with a broad smile, my heart literally expanding with happiness that I was mistaken, that people did care – was that she had witnessed my confusion and distress and wished to help me out. She, too, rolled down her window and bent her head out to address me. But on her face no smile appeared. Instead, she snarled at me and spat out these words: “Why don’t you learn how to drive, lady?” She then extended her middle finger in my direction and sped away.

I pulled over to an empty space on the street and sat in my car, shaking for several minutes. I felt as if I had been punched in the stomach. If she had been just any woman, it would have been an ugly encounter. The fact that she was frum left me devastated.

Yes, I’ve heard the rhetoric before and I know it by heart: Frum people are human. There are bad apples in every group. You can’t judge a group from a few individuals. Yes, all of the above is true, so much so that they’ve become clich?s. And yet .

There was something deeply disturbing about that woman’s behavior that afternoon. Her outward appearance conformed to frum standards. Sheitel: check. Tzniusdik clothing: check. Tefillas HaDerech dangling from her rear view mirror: check. Deretz eretz: ZERO.

Was the woman’s chutzpah representative of something dark and pervasive in our community, or was she an anomaly? I would like to wholeheartedly believe the latter: that her behavior was uncharacteristic, that she belongs to a tiny minority of deviants, and that our community is drenched in kavod habrios, derech eretz, and exemplary middos.

* * * * *

 

Just the other day I was battling the Sunday crowds in a pizza shop when a burly young man rudely pushed past me, jostling me so strongly that I tipped off balance, almost keeling over to the floor. He was too frum to speak to me – a woman – Heaven forbid, perchance to say, “Excuse me, please.” But what about the laws of negiah he clearly violated as he tightly squeezed by?

The woman standing next to me and I rolled our eyes at each other, but as she was not wearing a sheitel and was clearly Modern Orthodox, I felt an immediate impulse to defend the young man. “I guess he was in a huge rush,” I stammered, embarrassed.

“Oh, come on, honey, it happens all the time,” she rejoined. “These people are so rude.”

Cringing at her criticism of “these people,” and not wanting her to leave with negative impressions, I ended up – ironically – trying to persuade her that the majority of frum people are aidel, fine, kind and respectful. I tallied up the huge number of chesed organizations in our community and asked her if there was anything comparable to be found among other groups.

“Yes,” she said, “that’s true. But chesed and middos are two different things.”

As I reflected upon her remark, I recalled an incident that had occurred to me the previous week. I had been on line at a takeout place when a frum young man cut in on me and bellowed out his order to the counterman, without checking to see if everyone else around him had been served.

Having been told I need to be more assertive, I timidly spoke up: “Excuse me, sir, but I believe I was ahead of you.” I expected an apology, a smidgen of remorse. Instead, the young man sneered and said: “So what do you want me to do about it now? Give you my sandwich?”

* * * * *

 

There are several other issues of common courtesy I wish rabbonim and teachers would address. Driving etiquette – more accurately, lack of same – is one of them. The incessant honking by impatient drivers in our neighborhoods grates on the nerves and is a huge contributor to the noise pollution that diminishes our quality of life. Aside from the assault on our ears and equilibrium, the constant honking creates a chillul Hashem. What exactly do frum drivers imagine they can achieve by aggressively pressing down on their car horns when there is a traffic jam up ahead? Do they want the cars trapped in front of them to sprout wings and fly over the cars stuck ahead of them?

Equally aggravating is the tendency of some of our brethren to stop their cars smack in the middle of the street while they engage in conversation with pedestrians, totally forgetting about or disregarding the cars idling behind them. Can’t they just pull up to the nearest empty parking space and have their discussions there, instead of holding up traffic?

And then there’s Purim. A good number of non-Jews reside on my block. It is appalling that the limos/trucks/SUVs and other vehicles carrying young merrymakers on Purim night roll down the streets at 2 and 3 a.m. blasting ear-splitting music at deafening decibels, waking up everyone within a two-mile radius, including the non-Jews, some of whom must rue the day frum Jews moved into the neighborhood.

Speaking of non-Jews, how many of us even bother to greet our non-Jewish neighbors and validate their presence in our lives? Most people know the inspiring stories of the Bluzhever Rebbe, who was spared the gas chamber because of his pre-War daily greetings to a rabid anti-Semite, and Rav Yaakov Kaminetzky, whose widow was paid a shiva call by a local priest who could not forget the rav’s hearty salutations to him each morning.

We love these stories, but how much do we incorporate their lessons into our own daily lives? We need to be conscious of our non-Jewish neighbors as people, not just convenient Shabbos goys.

Holding doors for people entering places you’re about to exit is a minor thing, as is saying “thank you” when the doors are being held for you. Extending greetings for a “Good Shabbos” to everyone you pass on the street (including strangers) is de rigueur in smaller frum communities, but infrequently practiced in the larger ones.

I’ve heard people argue that there are so many frum people on our streets that it’s just an impossible feat to perform. Perhaps that’s true – maybe it would become tiresome, tedious and robotic. But what about people who do greet you on the street and you look past them, ignore their greetings and just walk on? Not extending Shabbos greetings is one thing. Not reciprocating them is inexcusable.

* * * * *

 

People wring their hands at the stories of frum people embezzling one another or perpetrating massive and irrevocable kashrus frauds. How is it possible, we ask, shaking our heads in disbelief. Frum people would do this to one another? Incomprehensible! But is it really? Haven’t we already set the stage for this kind of behavior by ignoring its lesser manifestations – bad middos?

Lack of respect radiates outward, far beyond the domain and parameters of simple human decency. Allowing our children and grandchildren to get “away with it” – with chutzpah, rudeness, and offensive behavior – not only augurs poorly for the day-to-day interactions and relationships in our community, it also nurtures harmful, even dangerous, attitudes that spill over into other spheres and create myriad abuses.

If one is allowed to be impertinent and cheeky without formal restraint, if one is given free rein to engage in disrespectful behavior without any accompanying censure or the proverbial slap on the wrist, then the door is open to a complete breakdown in human relations – a breakdown that ultimately threatens our very way of life.

Unchecked disrespect of other human beings is an important building block on the road to spousal and child abuse, financial crimes, kashrus scandals and many of the other upheavals we’ve experienced in recent months. Many of the social ills currently besieging our community could have been at least partially avoided if we had inculcated our children with kavod habrios, ahavas Yisrael and overall menschlichkeit.

It certainly is true that when it comes to chesed, the frum community’s level of activities and programs is unparalleled, and in that regard we have much to be proud of. But make no mistake: As the woman pointed out to me in the pizza shop, chesed and middos are two very different things.

Let us hope the time will come soon when mitzvos ben adam l’chavero carry as much currency in our community as do mitzvos ben adam laMakom; when the current separation between these two pillars of Yiddishkeit dissolves and is integrated into one seamless whole; when we say “mi k’amcha Yisrael” in reference to both chesed and middos; and when we can effectively serve as the light unto all nations we were meant to be.

Soferet Dugri is the pseudonym of a writer living in Brooklyn.

Connecting The Dots

Wednesday, February 10th, 2010

I write this column during Parshas Yisro – the portion that focuses on Matan Torah -The Giving of the Torah. Paradoxically, the parshah is not entitled Matan Torah or Aseret HaDibrot – The Ten Commandments, or even Moshe Rabbeinu, who brought the commandments down from Sinai. Amazingly, the parshah is named for Yisro, the heathen priest. What did Yisro do to merit such distinction?

The first words of the parshah reveal the secret: “Vayishma Yisro – And Yisro heard.” However, what Yisro heard was audible throughout the world, so why was only he given credit for hearing the message?

The events that befell our fathers were open miracles. Only a blind man could have failed to see them; only a deaf man could have failed to hear them, and yet no one reacted. Only Yisro paid heed, came to Sinai and sought to become part of Hashem’s Covenant. There is a frightening message herein that should give us pause. If people can be blind and deaf in face of such world-shaking phenomena, how much more so can they be impervious to the daily events in their lives, laden with messages from G-d?

If they would only attune their ears, and open their eyes, they could connect the dots and elevate their lives. And when I say “people” – “they,” I mean you and me – all of us.

In past columns, I have shared stories with you that have showed Hashem’s guiding Hand in our lives. I now continue in this same vein, but this time, I focus on ordinary encounters that might easily be ignored, but nevertheless, are also messages.

For the past two weeks, my Shabbasos have been spent in Boro Park and Flatbush. I visited these two vibrant Torah communities in celebration of my granddaughter, Nechamie Gertzulin’s wedding to her very special chassan, Aryeh Botknecht. Following the joyous, beautiful aufruf in Boro Park, I walked back from shul with my family.

Walking in Boro Park on Shabbos is an exhilarating experience. Just to behold the beautiful families – fathers and mothers, zeides and bubbies dressed in their Shabbos best walking with children and grandchildren, wishing “Good Shabbos” to everyone, is nachas.

As we made our way, someone invariably greeted me with, “Good Shabbos, Rebbetzin. How nice to see you. What brings you to Boro Park? Are you giving a shiur?”

Happily, I explained that I was there for a great simcha. As we continued, we met a gracious lady who my daughter Chaya Sora introduced as one of the kind hostesses of our many guests that Shabbos.

“Rebbetzin, I owe you a debt of gratitude,” the lady now volunteered. “Some years ago, you published a letter from an almanah (widow), who wrote of her painful loneliness, and the apathy of so many people who just don’t stop to consider the feelings of a widow, living by herself, and the many challenges her situation presents. For an almanah, even attending a simcha can be complicated. How will she get there? How will she come home, etc.?

“Among the many suggestions you made, Rebbetzin, was that when sending invitations to widows, a card should be included saying, ‘We will be delighted to supply transportation to and from the chasunah. Please indicate if you need a lift.’

“I never forgot that, and I made a silent commitment that when Hashem helps me take my children under the chuppah, I will do just that. We recently had the zechus of marrying off our daughter. We printed the cards, and you can’t imagine how gratefully they were received.”

Hearing her words, it occurred to me that I should once again bring this message to our readers’ attention. Sadly, the plight of widows has not eased. Admittedly, such a gesture does not eradicate the pain of a widow who feels abandoned and alone. Nevertheless, it does tell her that people care and that very realization is comforting.

We have to appreciate that this is not only a matter of transportation, but much more. The word for widow in Hebrew is almanah, from the root “ileim,” which means “deaf and dumb” – teaching us that, very often, a widow can feel so lonely, so insecure, that she is incapable of expressing her needs for fear of being burdensome.

The following week, I was in Flatbush, celebrating sheva berachos. Again, the same pattern was repeated, “Good Shabbos, Rebbetzin, How nice to see you in Flatbush. Are you giving a shiur?”

When I explained that I was there for a great simcha – the sheva brachos of my grandchildren, one lady recalled a column I had written regarding invitations to semachos. At that time, I published a letter from someone who complained about lack of derech eretz – respect and common courtesy – with which some people treat wedding invitations.

The letter writer stated that, after she and her husband spent many weeks deliberating whom they would invite to their daughter’s wedding, they sent out their invitations. But many people did not bother to respond, or if they did send back the card, it was with just a cold “no.”

Daily, she would search her mail, but still some failed to acknowledge the invitation. As the date of the wedding approached, she called them, but even that turned out to be frustrating. More often than not, she encountered answering machines. Finally, when she did make contact, she would be given a glib response: “Oh yeah, I meant to send back the response card.”

The same letter writer complained that some responded in the affirmative, and she made costly reservations for them, but they never showed. Still others came only for the chuppah and never thought of informing the host that they weren’t staying for the seudah. They gave no thought to the expense incurred by the host or the unpleasant sight of half-empty tables.

“Since that article,” the woman confided, “I always make a point of responding promptly, indicating my intentions, and add a personal message expressing my good wishes and appreciation.”

Having these two random encounters regarding semachos, I connected the dots and decided that it was once again time to bring this matter to the attention of our readers. To be sure, there are so many problems in our tumultuous, chaotic world…. so much hurt and suffering that too often are beyond our control. But these are small gestures of derech eretz – chesed, consideration…. gestures in which we can all participate.

It requires no financial output, no great effort – just some thoughtfulness and kindness, and for a nation that has been nurtured in chesed, such consideration should come naturally.

Sweating Over The Small Stuff (Conclusion)

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009

In preparation for the Yamim Noraim, last week I focused on Mitzvos bein Adam L’Chavero – interpersonal relationships that are often overlooked, such as the escalation of chutzpah, that has become emblematic of our society.

We all know that our First Temple was destroyed because of the three cardinal sins, yet 70 short years later Hashem forgave us and allowed us to return to Eretz Yisrael and rebuild the Beit HaMikdash. The Second Temple was also destroyed, but this time it was because of Sinas Chinam – unwarranted hatred between Jew and Jew. It’s been almost 2,000 years since that catastrophe, but we have yet to be forgiven and redeemed from our long, dark galus. Why? Why doesn’t G-d redeem us?

Tragically, the sin that cast us into Exile still plagues us. We have yet to do teshuvah and free ourselves of the ugly shackles of jealousy and hatred. Even after that unspeakable evil – the Holocaust – we continued our animosity and bickering. Our communities and families continued to be splintered, and instead of love and good will, factionalism and mean-spiritedness prevail. G-d keeps sending us wake-up calls, but we remain obdurate. With each passing day, our national predicament becomes more and more perilous.

We are witness to an escalation of anti-Semitism throughout the world, but instead of unifying in love, instead of forgiving one another, we become more and more fragmented.

You might protest, saying, “We know all this, but there is nothing much we can do about it. Each of us is just one little “I” incapable of changing the course of history.”

As I write these words, it is Parshas Re’eh, in which Moshe Rabbeinu assures us that we can make a difference; that our little “I” is not so little after all – that by choosing blessing – by embracing our Torah, we not only impact on ourselves, but on all our people…even the world. Allow me to illustrate through a story.

A good man who was on a mission to foster chesed – loving-kindness went to a Rebbe for a brachah. “Give me a brachah, he pleaded so that I might bring about real changes among our people.” The Rebbe was delighted to comply and readily gave his blessing, but after a few weeks, the man returned, frustrated and upset.

“Rebbe,” he complained. “No one listens to me, so I came to the conclusion that I may have been too ambitious – that I should limit my outreach to my own community.”

The Rebbe agreed and wished him well, but once again, the man failed, and returned to his mentor. This time, he decided to focus only on his own family. Sadly however, here too, he failed. Ready to give up on his mission, he returned to the Rebbe, disappointed and dejected.

“Has it ever occurred to you,” the Rebbe asked, “that the best way to change the world is to start with yourself? Taken by surprise, the man didn’t understand the meaning of his teacher’s words.

“Each and every one of us,” the Rebbe explained, “has been charged with a unique mission – to ‘cling unto our G-d’ (Parshas Re’eh, Deut. 13:5). But, you might ask, ‘How can we finite beings cling unto the Infinite?’

“Our sages teach us that we cling unto G-d by emulating Him – ‘Even as He is compassionate, we must be compassionate – Even as He imparts chesed, we must impart chesed…even as He is forgiving, we must be forgiving.’ If we do that, we will not only succeed in changing ourselves, but in changing the dynamics of our families, our synagogues, our communities – yes, even the world.”

The moral of this story should guide us in this High Holy Day season. The time has come for all of us to change, to become the people that our Creator meant us to be. Instead of working on others, let us work on ourselves, and if we do that, we will transform the world and create the environment in which Mashiach can come.

Last week’s column focused on the unmitigated chutzpah of the young toward their elders. Subsequently, I received a large volume of e-mail and letters. Sadly, many families identified with the problem. Chutzpah is not just a social phenomenon, but a disease, which leads to family breakdown, and ultimately community breakdown. So as we approach Rosh Hashanah, let’s take a good look at ourselves, our relationships and see what we can rectify.

In addition to chutzpah, there are many other areas where we are shamefully lacking. Instead of warmth, kindness and compassion, the hallmark of our people, too often we relate to one another with lack of consideration.

Allow me to share an e-mail I received that illustrates how people unwittingly inflict hurt upon one another. I say “unwittingly” because by nature we are “compassionate ones and the children of compassionate ones.” Maliciousness and ignoble behavior are aberrations, rather than endemic to the character of our people.

If we were to stop for just one moment and honestly reflect upon our actions, we would immediately change our ways. We would be horrified at our own behavior and immediately make the necessary changes.

A Letter from a Reader:

Dear Rebbetzin Jungreis:

I have a close friend who is a devoted fan of yours. She reads your article every week. When she is out of the country I cut out your columns and send them to her. She doesn’t know that I am writing to you, but when she reads this letter in The Jewish Press, she will surely recognize herself and I think it will give her chizuk to know that her pain is being aired in a public forum and, hopefully, will inspire change.

My friend and I do not live in the same community, but we try to keep up with one another. At our last meeting, I noticed that she was very depressed. When I questioned her she just shrugged her shoulders and pretended that everything `was fine. But I know my friend… I sense when something is wrong, so I pressed her and was appalled to learn the reason for her sadness.

Almost a year ago, my friend moved to a new community – she and her husband chose the location carefully, thinking that it would be a good, friendly environment for them – but she was sorely disappointed. No one ever came to welcome her. When she went to shul, no one greeted her. She tried to make friends, but they would just not respond. The most she could get out of them was a “Good Shabbos” and sometimes, “How are you?” She told me that no one ever invites or calls her. While there are many shiurim that take place in the community, she is never included, nor is she invited for a Shabbos meal.

I know my friend for many years, and I can tell you that she is a great person – well- read, creative, artistic, and above all, kind. Additionally, she is very outgoing, friendly, and well put-together. Her children are grown and married and live in different cities across the U.S. She does visit them from time-to time and they visit her, but these infrequent visits do not compensate for her loneliness or fill the vacuum in her life. Her situation is compounded by the fact that her husband travels a great deal and she is alone for weeks on end, so if no one ever knocks on her door, she really feels the loneliness

I am accustomed to hearing such stories regarding children: a little girl is new in the neighborhood…Her classmates have cliques and do not allow her to enter. The pain of such a child is devastating, but for adults to behave in such a manner is unconscionable, but I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. If children behave this way, it is because they follow the example of their parents.

So what is wrong with our generation? My friend told me that one day, a cousin visited her for Shabbos and went to shul with her. Her cousin told her that the women resented her because she dressed too “fancy,” which I thought was outrageous. My friend does not wear designer labels – there is nothing “fancy” or snobbish about her. Admittedly, she does take care of herself, and why not? Every woman should look as good as she can. Could these women be guilty of jealousy or are they just outright mean? Neither option is very attractive.

You might suggest that she invite the women to her home. Well, she did, but after that, “Nada!” Nothing! I realize that in light of what is happening in the world, all this may appear insignificant, but as you wrote in previous columns, “small” things that inflict hurt, that leave deep scars on the neshamah, are not so small after all.

While we may not be able to change policies in Washington, Jerusalem, or the UN, we can change our own behavior. I believe it’s time for all of us to grow up and, if I may once again quote you, it’s time for us to remember who we really are, compassionate ones and the children of compassionate ones. Let us live up to our legacy. It’s in our genes.

The Importance Of A Caring Touch

Wednesday, January 3rd, 2007


         Imagine for a moment what it feels like to have raised your children, lost your spouse, and all your relatives (including your immediate family) live in a different state. Perhaps you are living alone in an apartment or in an assisted living or care facility. Perhaps you are chronically ill and still young, but are living alone with only a caregiver coming in twice a day to meet your physical needs. In this situation you can go for weeks, even months at a time without a positive, caring-touch from anyone. There is no one to hold your hand, touch your shoulder or in any way interact with you physically.


 


         We all need touch. Babies have shown tremendous problems from lack of it, even though their basic physical needs were met. The chronically ill and aged who are living alone cope with the adverse effects of lack of touch, as well.


 


         I recently met an amazing woman − a heroine, in my eyes. She is a reflexology therapist who volunteers her time at a senior center. She spends as much as two hours with each client. Besides taking a history and doing a diagnostic assessment, she concentrates on touch and caring. She told me that for some of her clients who live alone, her sessions are the only time any one touches them all month.


 


         Her warm personality immediately “surrounds” you when you meet her, even though she has to function out of a tiny room in a basement. As she chats with you, you are instantly put at ease. You immediately feel that you are with someone who cares about you. She takes her time when she talks to you. She listens, really listens to what you have to say.


 


         When she begins her session, she explains everything she is going to do and why. She wants your feedback as she proceeds. Nothing is unimportant, which gives you the feeling that you are very important. You are put in a zero gravity chair, the comfort of which is heavenly. She wraps you in a warm blanket, making you feel cocooned and turns on soothing music as she begins her work.


 


         As she works your feet, she is always conscious of your comfort. Not only is it a therapeutic session, but one in which you emerge feeling like a new person. You are relaxed − your stress level is lower and you feel that you have instantly become someone important. I can only imagine how this benefits a person who, only once in the course of the month, has this experience of being listened to and touched.


 


         After I left my session, I began to think of the elderly and chronically ill who have no one to hold their hand, or demonstrate through touch that they are cared about. I began to think how we, as neighbors and friends, are able to do something about this. Taking someone’s hand (when appropriate) while wishing them “Good Shabbos” or touching their shoulder when asking how they are, may indeed mean more to someone who is alone, than we realize. It also slows us down, so that the wishes and questions seem more sincere and shows that we are truly interested in the answer and in them. It may be the only sincere interest and touch anyone has shown them.


 


         And I began to think of the group of people that I write about − well spouses. They may be in desperate need of this kind of interaction. They too are alone, even though they are married. If the children and family live out of town, chances are that well spouses go without a caring touch, as much as anyone who is alone.


 


         Their spouses are often unable, or too involved in their own problems, to fill that need for them. The well spouses too, may go for weeks or even months without a positive or caring touch or without anyone questioning how they feel or asking what they need. I have seen well spouses melt into tears when finally, someone does hold their hand and asks sincerely how they are; because it has simply been so very long since anyone has demonstrated that kind of caring.


 


         It only takes seconds. But its positive effects can last for days. Next time you see someone who is alone, or virtually alone even though they are married, take the time to take their hand and wish them well. Put your hand on their shoulder and really ask how they are. Listen to their answer. It only takes a few moments, but it may truly take them through the next few days of feeling positive about themselves. Your few minutes may mean the difference between depression and relief from that depression. It may even prolong their life.


 


         Note: Reflexology is a system of massage used to relieve tension and treat pain or discomfort caused by illness, based on the theory that there are pressure points on the feet, hands and head that correspond to the nerves that lead to every part of the body.


 


         You can contact me at annnovick@hotmail.com 

Once Loneliness Strikes And You’re Unprepared

Wednesday, August 23rd, 2006

      Last week, in a response to a letter, I wrote about preparing for loneliness. Since we are the only one with whom we will spend the rest of our lives, the odds are that we will be alone at some point. As spouses die or marriages dissolve or children leave home, loneliness resides with us. The best way to deal with loneliness is to prepare for it. Never allow yourself to lose friendships entirely or lose interest in things, not just people. This goes a long way to helping one cope with loneliness. But what does a person do who hasn’t prepared? As many have found, those who have dedicated their lives to their children “awakened one day” to the fact that the children are all gone from home and involved and too busy with their own lives to make time for them. Or perhaps it is a person who has had to cater to a sick spouse for years and during that time has lost all contact with everyone but his or her spouse. He has even lost touch with his own needs and wants. How does he deal with the loneliness? Or perhaps it’s a couple whose sole life has been each other and suddenly one is alone. How does a person cope with the terror of loneliness?

 

         The first step is to acknowledge that you are lonely and accept that it is a normal part of life for many people. You cannot change what you don’t accept. Being alone for most people is devastating. A person who may never have had to make a decision before suddenly has to deal with making all decisions. The fear of being alone at home at night or alone when you’re sick and need support is horrible. Or just the loneliness of an empty nest makes many people feel such a loss, that they find functioning difficult and feel that life has lost its meaning. Accepting these feelings as normal is the first step toward changing them.

 

         Don’t wait for people to see your need for companionship and come to the rescue. As much as we wish that we did not have to do the work – and it is hard work to change the place we’re in – we do have to do it ourselves. It is often helpful to discuss your feelings with others in the same position. That’s where grief support groups may come in if you have recently suffered a loss. You can usually find them at local JCC’s or community groups. If you’re alone because of a recent empty nest, talk to others who feel the same as you. There are many in your peer group just hoping to have someone to talk to about their feelings. It is just human nature for everyone to be afraid to be the first to speak out. Seeking out people in similar circumstances may be the first step toward change for anyone who is lonely.

 

         Use the suddenly available time on your hands to volunteer. Volunteering not only eases the loneliness; it also helps you meet new people and gain new skills, and it raises the self-confidence that your loneliness may have eroded. Meeting other volunteers goes a long way to solving the problem of loneliness. Call your local Gemach or volunteer bureau and ask how you can help. Tell them what you like to do, and they will match you to someone who needs your skills. Hospitals need volunteers to rock babies and play with toddlers. Schools have children who need to be read to.

 

         Tomchei Shobbos” often needs packers and people who will deliver meals and spend a few minutes with the elderly and ill. Help brides choose their gowns at a gown gemach. Help with simchas at a Gemach party. Become a foster parent or grandparent. Jewish foster homes are badly needed, and those that do take in children need the volunteer grandparents to take the children for a few hours once or twice a week. Volunteering for those less fortunate can also put your loneliness into perspective and make you feel more blessed and positive about life.

 

         If your grandchildren live far away and have computers, learn how to correspond with them through e-mail. A whole new world will open to you both, and you won’t have to wait for that two-minute “Good Shabbos” phone call on Friday to connect.

 

        Reacquaint yourself with the friends you loved to be with, who contact over the years. If you’re the same age, you’re most likely in the same situation. They probably would love to connect but haven’t thought of it or had the courage to try. Be direct and honest. Tell them what your looking for – whether it’s company once in a while or lunch once a week. If you connect, set a date immediately.

 

         Mostly, accept the fact that it’s a slow path back. You might meet rejection on the way. But staying alone and lonely is no way to be. It’s worth it, to gear up and find the courage to go forward. None of the above suggestions are easy. Sometimes the loneliness, though devastating, is also comfortable. Change is always hard. As the saying goes, “The misery you know is more comfortable then the heaven that awaits.” Going out of your familiar circle is frightening and making friends in our older years is never easy. But, if you want to change your life, you must put in the work. No one can do it for you.

Letters To The Editor

Friday, August 15th, 2003

Blame Tenet For Pollard

The revelation that CIA Director George Tenet offered questionable information to President Bush concerning Iraq and uranium brings to mind how strongly Tenet opposed President Clinton’s promise at the Wye River Conference to release Jonathan Pollard as a goodwill gesture to Israel.

At that time Tenet declared that he would resign his position if Clinton followed through. He misled his president then and has done the same a second time. Because of his misdirected concern, Jonathan Pollard remains an imprisoned man even unto this day.

Sidney A. Green
(Via E-Mail)



He Said, She Said

I am no fan of Ariel Sharon’s, but in all fairness I don’t know if the following statement in Rebbetzin Jungreis’s July 11 column is accurate: “Can it be that today this very same Sharon has labeled the very same land ‘Occupied Territory’ “?

I thought I recalled that when I first read Sharon’s statement in May, he was not referring to the Land but to the problems associated with the non-Israelis in it. Indeed, I just did an Internet search and this is what I found reported in late May: “But last Monday, Mr. Sharon told angry legislators from Likud: ‘You may not like the word, but what’s happening is occupation. Holding 3.5 million Palestinians under occupation is a bad thing for Israel, for the Palestinians and for the Israeli economy.’ “

Yisrael Levi
(Via E-Mail)



Multiple Hashgachas

Re the question of multiple hashgachas on products (Letters, July 4 and 11):

I too recently inquired about the procedures employed, and found that there is usually only one agency that actually sends out a mashgiach. Although the second agency of the four on the product in question claimed to have a separate rabbi, I could not verify that from an independent source. In fact, both the agency whose symbol is imprinted on the product and the manufacturer denied having more than one rabbi. It seems that the product, which originally had a single hashgacha, just had a label slapped on it with three more hashgachas
- and of course there  was a sudden and significant price increase.

My question is, if there is only one agency that actually sends a mashgiach, and the rest just agree to use him, why do we need four hashgachas with such a huge markup? Isn’t it fraudulent to charge consumers for something they believe they’re getting, when in fact they’re not? Kosher food is expensive enough without the consumer having to pay extra for unnecessary and non-existent additional supervision.

Joseph Finkelstein
Brooklyn, NY



Political Brawl: Pro-Dear

Re the article on the Dear-Hikind political feud (“Dear, Hikind Both See Vindication in Judge’s Decision,” Jewish Press, July 11):

I have never been a fan of term limits. I believe that they unnecessarily restrict voter choice. What exactly is wrong with voters being able to vote for someone who has accumulated a record with which they agree? Think about it. The theory underlying term limits is the removal from consideration of someone who might otherwise be the voters’ choice.

Though I do not live in Noach Dear’s district, I support his attempt to run. Your article does not get into it, but there is some ambiguity in the term limits law which the courts could resolve in Dear’s favor. I am referring to the question of whether the term limits law, which requires an officeholder not to run for reelection for a “full term,” necessarily means for four years. Because of reapportionment, a “full term” can mean only two years - and if found to apply to his case, Dear would be allowed to run.

As reader Alan Weinberg pointed out last week in a letter to the editor, this issue is fraught with raw politics, as demonstrated by Assemblyman Dov Hikind’s efforts to keep Dear off the ballot in order to protect his prot?g?, Simcha Felder.

Gil Wechsler
(Via E-Mail)


Political Brawl: Pro-Hikind

While I cannot speak to why Assemblyman Dov Hikind and not Simcha Felder went to court to block Noach Dear’s efforts to get on the ballot in the upcoming City Council elections, Alan Weinberg’s criticisms are way off base. Not only is he being unfair in ascribing untoward motives to Mr. Hikind, he actually misses the central point in this dispute: The bottom line is that the law prohibits Mr. Dear from running and he should not be allowed to fool people by acting as if it doesn’t.

Craig Epstein
Brooklyn, NY



More On The Singles Dilemma

Many in the frum community oppose social interaction between single men and women, even for the purpose of finding a marriage partner. Some hold that socialization is halachically prohibited. Others feel that such behavior violates the spirit of the Torah. I’ve asked a variety of individuals to cite the halacha or responsa that documents these positions. My requests have met with intense and bitter anger, but no direct reply.

Recently I asked the owner of a kosher restaurant to sponsor a singles night. His initial reaction to this request was to glare at me. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, he said ‘That’s an interesting idea, but I don’t think so.’ Upon my questioning him, he said that he didn’t think the kashruth organization that provides supervision to his restaurant would approve. He further predicted that sponsorship of singles programming would ruin his business. He quipped, ‘Jews have long memories. If I held a singles night, some married people would stop dining at the restaurant for as long as I owned it.’ He also predicted that his wife and daughters would face prejudice as a result of his sponsorship.

Keep in mind: the restaurant owner never said that his kashruth organization prohibits singles programming. Nor did he state that singles programming is a violation of halacha. He merely rejected sponsoring a singles night based upon what he perceived the kashruth administrator’s reaction would be and the effect he felt the programming would have on his business and family.

Unfortunately, his pessimistic predictions may be on target. An individual whose agency sponsored an after-work singles boat ride told me there was ‘negative comment’ about it and exclaimed, “I will never do that again.”

Ba’alei teshuvah, geirim and Modern Orthodox singles report having difficulty finding a suitable shidduch. Throughout the 20th century, American Jewish couples met at singles events. During that period, secular and religious organizations, synagogues, hotels and social service agencies sponsored a variety of singles activities including dinners, lectures and weekends. These events were successful, resulting in many Jewish marriages. Today, comparatively few singles events are held in the New York City area.

Robert Ness
Brooklyn, NY



More On Discrimination Against Ba’alei Teshuvah

Concerning the recent letters to the editor on ba’alei teshuvah and their feelings of rejection in the shidduch scene, I think your readers would enjoy the words of the Maharsha on Baba Metzia Daf 58b. The Mishna says: “If someone is a ba’al teshuvah, you should not remind him of his former deeds. If he is the son of a convert, you shouldn’t remind him of his father’s past.”

The Maharsha asks why the Mishna mentioned the case of the son of a convert and not the convert himself. He answers by saying that there is no prohibition against hurting a convert by reminding him of his past because there was never anything shameful that he did. He adds that the convert is actually better than the ‘born Jew’ in that he made a complete turnabout from his past to become a Jew. He therefore is not hurt about something which he had no control over. For the son of a convert, however, to hear people disparage his father is quite hurtful.

The Maharsha adds that it is hurtful to remind a ba’al teshuvah of his past inasmuch as he was commanded (in the mitzvot) and he sinned. The Maharsha is referring to FFBs who went off the derech (path) and later repented. The definition of ba’al teshuvah today has changed from the time of the Gemara, and our present-day ba’alei teshuvah, having never knowingly sinned because they were brought up by non-religious parents, have nothing to be ashamed of. Being
a ba’al teshuvah is a badge of honor that one should wear proudly.

Unfortunately, as attested to by some of the letters you’ve published, certain elements in the frum world have still not accepted ba’alei teshuvah. Most of the letters have addressed the shidduch scene, but I know of at least one case where an assistant rebbe in a yeshiva who wanted to be a rebbe was told by the rosh yeshiva himself that he couldn’t be considered because he, the assistant rebbe, was a ba’al teshuvah! As we approach the Three Weeks, it behooves us to ask ourselves how we expect the beis hamikdash to be built when the cause of its destruction – sinas chinam – still plagues us.

(Rabbi) Mordechai Bulua
(Via E-Mail)



Thanks For Points (I)

On behalf of Torah Academy of Greater Philadelphia, I would like to thank you for your very generous Points for Education program. We have been able to purchase wonderful ArtScroll books for our ever-expanding school library. We greatly appreciate The Jewish Press’s commitment to Torah education.

We look forward to participating in your fabulous program next year.

Janet Eisenberg
Torah Academy of
Greater Philadelphia



Thanks (II)

It has been a pleasure participating in the ‘Points for Education’ program. Bruriah High School has been the recipient of a large amount of ArtScroll gift certificates as well as Davka software from this program. Our library is proud of its Judaica collection, and The Jewish Press has helped give it a boost. We look forward to participating again next year.

Chava Goldstone
School Librarian
Bruriah High School
Elizabeth, NJ



Thanks (III)

Yeshiva Derech HaTorah extends its heartfelt thanks to The Jewish Press for its ‘Points for Education’ program. As they’ve done the past couple of years, our school’s students and parents once again made an all-out effort to collect as many points as possible, and as a result we’ve been able to stock our library and classrooms with seforim, books and Jewish software. This makes a tremendous difference for a yeshiva on a tight budget. Again, thanks for making
it possible - and you can be certain we will be enthusiastic participants in next year’s program.

Randi Sina
President
Women’s Organization
Yeshiva Derech HaTorah
Brooklyn, NY



Readers Respond To ‘Troubles In The Hood’


‘State Of Awe’

As someone who lived in Boro Park for more than thirty years (and is presently living in the
adjacent Ocean Parkway area), I’d like to respond to the two letters to the editor regarding people being unfriendly in the Boro Park-Flatbush area on Shabbos and weekdays (Jewish Press, July 4):.

It is difficult to say ‘Good Shabbos’ to hundreds of people passing you (compared to living
in a remote area where there are relatively few Yidden). Moreover, you would never make it home for the chulent if you stopped to greet each passerby.

But there is another reason why in frummer areas people don’t say ‘Good Shabbos.’ Simply
stated, in frummer crowds people are more focused on the holiness of Shabbos. I see many frum people (unlike many of the Modern Orthodox ilk) who are almost in a state of awe. When you are so focused on the holiness of Shabbos, you tend not to notice many things around you in the mundane physical world. In short, it’s not that they don’t want to be friendly to a fellow Yid. Rather, it’s that they are in an intense, uplifted state.

If one would see the kohen gadol doing the avoda in Yerushalayim, it would be easily
understood why he couldn’t be distracted with greeting everyone. The same is true of the lofty
spiritual people of Boro Park. They are no different than the kohen gadol in the bais hamikdash. Don’t forget, it’s these very same frum Yidden who help all in times of crisis, be it through Hatzoloh, Shomrim, Chaveirim, etc.

With love for all Yidden,

(Rabbi) Yaakov Silver
Brooklyn, NY


Tongues Cleaving

Re the letter written by the woman whose greetings of ‘Good Shabbos’ when she walked with
her family in Boro Park were ignored:

I myself have had that experience on Shabbos in Boro Park – to the point where I now do not say ‘Good Shabbos’ to anyone for fear of being ignored. I have several theories about why this unfortunate occurrence happens primarily in places like Boro Park as opposed to other neighborhoods.

As Rabbi David Hollander pointed out in his Jewish Press column (on Parashas Shelach), the
worst sin of all is hypocrisy. When people hold themselves as being more frum than others but do not necessarily behave in a manner that juxtaposes nicely with frumkeit, they can become ashamed of themselves in front of those Jews who do not hold themselves as being so frum to begin with.

In addition to the widespread incivility and rudeness that one encounters all too frequently in
a neighborhood like Boro Park, there is also the fact that many Boro Parkers have practically cut themselves off from their brethren in Eretz Yisrael, except for perhaps a peek here and there at the headlines of newspapers they will not purchase.

As the pasuk in Tehillim says, ‘If I forget thee O’ Jerusalem, let my right hand wither and let
my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth.’ Being unable to mouth a ‘Good Shabbos’ to a fellow Jew is perhaps what is meant by one’s tongue clinging to the roof of one’s mouth.

Lawrence Kulak
Brooklyn, NY


The Army Can Teach Us A Thing Or Two

The letters by Rochel Frankel and Hindy Leibowitz about how so-called frum Jews often
ignore others and do not even respond when greeted on Shabbos or Yom Tov raise an issue that I have been concerned with for many years. How can anyone who considers himself or herself an observant Jew not greet others warmly? After all, Pirkei Avos (1:15) says that we are to receive everyone with a “saiver ponim yafos (cheerful countenance).” Rabbi Shimshon Rafael Hirsch says this means that our conduct with and approach to all persons should be so genuinely friendly that they will be convinced we are kindly disposed towards them and ready to do all the good that is reasonably possible to do for them.

In Pirkei Avos (4:20) there is the statement, “Rabbi Masya ben Charash said, “Initiate a greeting to every person.” Given this, one would expect that when two observant Jews encounter each other there would be a “race” between them to see who could greet the other first. Instead, we find that one party often ignores the “Good Shabbos” that the other person has proffered.

It is worth pointing our that both statements in Pirkei Avos referred to above use the terminology “kol odom (every person),” not every Jew. Thus one is also required to greet gentiles in a friendly matter. This is most important, since the Jewish nation is supposed to serve as a light unto the other nations and teach them the truth. How can we do this, if we walk by people without even acknowledging their existence?

A few years ago I was a visiting professor at the United States Military Academy at West Point. The first thing that struck me when I arrived was how I was greeted. “Good morning, Sir.” “Good afternoon, Sir.” “How are you today, Sir?” were the standard. And by the way, these sorts of greetings were not limited to the cadets. The civilian employees associated with West Point also greeted me in a friendly way, and I constantly was referred to as “Sir.” Many, many times when I got to the door of a building, the person in front of me or behind me would step ahead, open and hold the door and then greet me as I walked into the building. Unfortunately, this is not the standard that we find among observant Jews. To the contrary, in addition to not being greeted, I have often had someone younger than me push in front of me while entering shul.

It seems that those associated with West Point are fulfilling the precepts of Pirkei Avos to a
much larger extent than many who consider themselves meticulously observant of all mitzvos.
Perhaps what we need a program whereby every observant Jew is required to spend a few weeks at West Point learning how to greet others!

Dr. Yitzchok Levine
Department of Mathematical Sciences
Stevens Institute of Technology
Hoboken, NJ



Concrete Measures Needed

The appearance of the letters from Rochel Frankel and Hindy Leibowitz was very timely, as
we are now entering the Three Weeks of mourning for the destruction of the Temple. Any school child will tell you that the main reason was the lack of love and caring between Jews.

We learn in Pirkei Avos: Shamai said: “Greet every person with a friendly face.” The
commentators do not say that the word “every” refers only to chassidish people on your block, or only to people who daven in a yeshivish minyan, or only to the Young Israel crowd, or only to Sephardim, or only the people you recognize from ShopRite, or only the people who went to your summer camp in 1966, or only marrieds, or only people who ride bicycles, or only those who don’t ride bicycles…. okay, you get the drift. It says every person.

There may be plenty of rationalizations, but that’s all they are. Be friendly to everyone. That is
the Jewish thing.

I live in Brooklyn and, unfortunately, can well identify with the sad experiences of the two letter writers. What a stark difference when I visit my family and friends in Baltimore, where I am truly a stranger. When I walk there on Shabbos, every single person - man, woman, child, ba’al teshuvah, yeshivish, chassidish - will make eye contact and say ‘Good Shabbos.’ Once in shul, every person will acknowledge my presence and find out who I am and if I need a place to stay or a meal. The feeling of genuine interest, kinship, kindness, and openness is palpable. It’s cataclysmic!

I would like to begin a grass-roots movement, to be called Am Echad, by which we Brooklynites undertake to personally rectify this terrible situation, one person at a time, one block at a time, one shul at a time, one rabbi at a time, and one school at a time. Every person and family can undertake to do one brave action against the tide, such as saying ‘Good Shabbos’ to everyone on the street no matter how foolish we feel; warmly greeting new neighbors, even if they are not ‘our type’; and teaching our children that we are all one people in spite of our differences.

I would like to see classes in ahavas Yisrael become part of the school curriculum, and
rabbanim of all types of shuls give shiurim on this topic to their congregants, just as they do on
shmiras halashon.

If anyone is interested in starting such a project for his or her block or neighborhood, please
contact me at HavaNehama@aol.com.

Looking forward to the geula as we reach out to our fellow Jews,

Chaya Chava Shulman
Brooklyn, NY



Defending The Dor Hamidbar

The provocative remarks by Rabbi Shlomo Riskin in his Jewish Press column of June 27
demonstrate the ignorance and irresponsibility that plague this generation.

The victims he picked on are none other than the maapilim, the determined group in the desert
who were ready to risk their lives in attempting to ascend to the Holy Land. Even if they were not to succeed in their mission, they would be content to be buried in sacred ground as explained at length by the Gaon R. N.J. Berlin of Volozhin in his commentary on the Torah.

Let us quote a view on this matter by the first chief rabbi of the Orthodox Jewish community of Jerusalem and the Holy Land, the Gaon Rabbi Joseph Chaim Sonnenfeld, zt?l. He once happened to be present when some scholars were reviewing the chapter of the meraglim. The rabbi asked them, ‘How do you explain the unbelievable sin of speaking badly of the jewel of the Jewish people, their sacred Holy Land, and whose consequences were a ‘crying and weeping for all generations’ until the arrival of the true redeemer?’

The rabbi answered, ‘Today I see what prompted the meraglim. They foresaw that thousands of years later the Land of Israel would be under the reins of the secular Zionists who disrespect everything which is holy to us. They then decided that it would be better to live and die in the desert than have the Holy Land fall into the hands of wicked people. They were published so badly because human beings should never interfere with G-d’s decrees, even if they are beyond human comprehension.’

Rabbi Riskin’s terminology helps us understand somewhat a puzzling Rashi at the beginning of Parashat Korach, which follows the chapter of the meraglim. Rashi makes a statement which departs from his usual style of ‘merely’ explaining the text itself, writing that ‘this parasha is sufficiently explained in the Midrash Tanchuma.’ Rashi may have foreseen a time when certain religious leaders would raise their voices with unforgivable insults against the holy dor hamidbar, which despite all its shortcomings was the greatest generation in Jewish history.

At this point I’d like to shed light on the arrangement of Parashat Chukas after the two preceding ones, Shelach and Korach. It has been told about a traveling maggid who happened to arrive in a town on erev Shabbos Korach. He went to the local shul and couldn’t help observing the unethical behavior of the people. Talking, shouting, insulting was the order of the day. At the morning service the maggid asked to deliver a sermon. This was the right moment for the maggid to speak up. After all, it was the Shabbos of Korach, the rebel who enticed his followers against the leader and prophet of their generation, Moshe Rabbeinu. The maggid drew a picture of what happens to people of that type and their punishment in the end.

On the following Shabbos of Parashas Chukas, the maggid visited again and to his surprise he witnessed a complete change in the behavior of the congregants. No talking, shouting or insults were heard. A very dignified Shabbos indeed. When the maggid got up to speak, he didn’t
have enough words to express his pleasant surprise. What a change, that in only a week’s time
this disgraceful mob had transformed themselves into such a venerable crowd.

How do we explain this? The answer lies in the first sentence of the parasha, ‘This is the Law
of the Torah.’ ‘Chok’ is a category of laws whose reason has not been revealed. However, the
mysterious power of Torah can change them from bad to good, purify the tainted, bring forth light from the darkness and raise the sunken from the deepest depth to the greatest heights.

Let us drink from the continuous flow of Hashem’s Torah, and not G-d forbid from polluted
waters. And finally, let us be close to those whom the Torah has been handed down from Sinai, namely the responsible guardians from generation to generation.

(Rabbi) Jacob Eisemann
Elizabeth, NJ

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/letters-to-the-editor/letters-to-the-editor-23/2003/08/15/

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