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December 11, 2016 / 11 Kislev, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘growth’

Life: The School Of Growth

Thursday, September 1st, 2016

See, I have placed in front of you today a blessing and a curse. The blessing: if you will listen to all of the mitzvahs of Hashem your G-d as I have commanded you today…” – Devarim 11:21

 

In these verses the Torah sets out two divergent paths. One leads to ultimate success and blessing, the other to devastation and curses.

If you follow in the ways of Hashem, you will be richly rewarded. You will look back at your years of sacrifice with enormous joy and satisfaction, saying to yourself, “Whatever price I paid was so worth it. I am now being compensated beyond anything I could have imagined.”

On the other hand, if you don’t follow the Torah’s ways, there will come a time when you will deeply regret your mistake and you will look back and say, “How could I have been so foolish? How could I have chosen so poorly?”

The Daas Zakainim brings light to this concept with a mashol. He says it is comparable to a crossroads. One road begins as a difficult thorny trail, then it opens up and the rest of the way is clear. The other path begins as a smooth passageway but ends in a thicket of thorns. An old man sits at the crossroads and warns the passersby, “Be careful. This road begins smoothly, but ends up all thorns. Rather choose the other road. Even though it begins as a difficult path, it opens up and will carry you well.” Anyone who listens to the man will work at the outset of his journey but will travel in peace the rest of the way, whereas anyone who ignores the advice of the old man will get caught in the thorns for rest of his passage.

The Daas Zakainim explains this is what the Torah is telling us. If a man sins and follows his inclinations, he will find comfort in this world – but when he dies, he will go to a place that is all thorns. However, if one works in this world and labors in Torah study and mitzvahs, he will merit the World to Come – which is all goodness, joy, and happiness.

This Daas Zakainim is difficult to understand because the meanings of the verses seem self-evident – serve Hashem and you will receive blessing; violate the mitzvahs and you will be cursed. It doesn’t seem he is adding much to our understanding with this mashol. If the point is that punishment and reward aren’t in this world but rather in the next, that concept doesn’t need a parable. What point is the Daas Zakainim trying to bring home to us?

Progressive Weight Training

A yeshivishe fellow went to a power-lifting gym to learn how to work out. As a kid, he had little experience with sports and was clearly out of his element. Recognizing this, the coach showed him various exercises and worked closely with him. One day, this fellow was overheard saying, “That coach, I don’t know what’s with him. Every time I get the exercise right, he goes and adds more weight to the bar. What’s wrong with him?”

The point this fellow missed was that progressive weight training is all about increasing the load. By gradually increasing the workload, the body is called upon to respond. The work should never be easy. The nature of the activity is to incrementally increase the demand placed on the body, thereby causing it to grow.

This is a good parable because in life we are put into many situations. If a person doesn’t understand why he is on this planet, he will have many questions. Why is life so difficult? Why is it that when I finally get things under control, a whole new set of circumstances arises that sets everything out of kilter? Why can’t life just be easy?

The point he is missing is the very purpose of life. Hashem put us on this planet to grow. Many of the challenges and situations are given to us specifically for that reason. It isn’t by accident, and it isn’t because Hashem doesn’t pay attention. Quite the opposite – these situations were hand-designed to demand from us. They are catalysts to change who we are.

In weight training, the movement of the bar isn’t the significant part; the demand on the body is. So too in life, the situations I face are far less significant than my reactions to them. Who I become is a result of my attitude and the way I handle my challenges.

When a person understands this perspective, life itself makes sense. If not, the situations in life seem arbitrary and unfair.

The answer to the Daas Zakainim seems to be that this mashol defines our path in life. The road we are being asked to take isn’t easy. It isn’t laden with roses and doesn’t smell like lilacs. It has thorns. A life properly led will have moments of doubt, pain, and confusion. That doesn’t mean we are on the wrong path. If life is going too smoothly, it’s a bad sign. Since the purpose of life is to grow, we need the challenges of life to help us reach our potential. If the road is too level, that is likely a sign we have chosen the wrong path.

Hashem wants us to enjoy our stay on this planet, but there is a plan and a purpose to it all. If a person lives his life in accordance with the Torah, he finds deep satisfaction, an inner sense of peace and tranquility, and true simcha. But it isn’t a walk in the park. There is much work along the way. There are trials, travails, and circumstances that demand growth. If a person responds appropriately, he finds a sense of inner peace because he is in sync with his purpose in life.

That sense of balance is an indicator that he is on the right path, and the work he puts in on that path will bring him to true joy, happiness, and elation in this world, and much more so in the World to Come.

Rabbi Ben Tzion Shafier

Pesach: Fear, Discomfort and Growth

Wednesday, April 20th, 2016

What shall we be free of this Pesach? It is the holiday of Freedom, isn’t it? Most of us today live in democratic countries, with freedom of movement, of expression, of religion – so what other freedoms can we be seeking? What freedom can we suckle from this age-old celebration, this call-to-freedom, which is so fundamental to the Jewish people?

It turns out that Pesach has the capacity to free us, if we wish, from many things that enslave us in our daily lives. Freedom from materialism. Freedom from superficiality. Freedom from the meaningless and the trivial. However, I would like to focus on a specific angle: the freedom to be a better version of ourselves.

What’s wrong with the current version, you may ask. Plenty. We wouldn’t be human otherwise. But the celebration of Pesach is a clarion call to wake up, to discard the fears and habits that hold us back and to improve ourselves.

First we start by eliminating all of the Chametz, all of the leavened products, from our homes, our sight, our possession and our lives. Besides for the practical aspects, it is also a dictate to eliminate the extraneous things from our lives. Our lives quickly get cluttered with extra weight. We need to shed that baggage, existentially become lean and focused, leave the hang-ups of the past, for a meaningful present and a rewarding future.

Then comes the diet of Matza, simple, humble, clean, nothing added, just the basic ingredients of life, flour and water. We need a diet of simple to get back to our personal basics. What are the things that really matter? What is the direction my life is taking? How is my family life? How is my spiritual life? How is my internal life? Does my life have meaning? Or am I stuck in a certain course, a certain behavior and don’t have the strength and the courage to change course? Will I wake up at the end of my life filled with regrets, for those roads I didn’t take?

Then comes the Marror, the bitter herbs. Sometimes, many times, even most times, we need to bite the bullet. We need to take the hard road. Comfort and security are not always the optimal choices. Sometimes we need to leave our comfort zone to grow. Sometimes we need to overcome our fear, our distaste, our placidity, to truly awaken, to truly reach moments of meaning which in turn hold the hope to leading lives of greater meaning.

However, life is not all struggle and discomfort. We have to celebrate! We are the children of Kings and Queens, Prophets and Sages. We have a special relationship with the Creator of the world. And on this day, he took us, our people out of the bondage of Egypt to be his emissaries in this world: To be a light in the darkness; the joy amongst the somber; the serious amongst the frivolous; the revolutionary amongst the complacent; the respectful amongst the unruly; the meaningful amongst the meaningless. We drink. We feast. We dine like kings. We lean on our sides and remember the tribulations of the past and the hopes for the future. We are noble. We cannot forget that either.

But often we do. We get stuck in our own personalities. We have an innate fear of changing who we are. We have a practiced cynicism; a quick dismissal of the pure and the noble. We believe that reality demands a certain harshness, both with ourselves as well as with others. Someone good? It can’t be. They must have ulterior motives. They must have some benefit we don’t see. For us to be so good? We would be branded hypocrites. That is how corrosive and destructive our fear of our better selves has become. We do not allow ourselves or others to reach those heights.

Rabbi Ben-Tzion Spitz

Will Observant Judaism of the Future Look Like Satmar?

Tuesday, August 6th, 2013

A friend of mine (by way of the internet – I never met him personally) once told me never to predict the future based on linear projections. That was a very wise observation.

One of the things that many people seem to believe is that the exponential rate of growth of the Charedi community is so vastly greater than the growth of any other segment – that ultimately the future will be theirs. Meaning that the rest of Orthodoxy will either be absorbed by them, or will become so small in comparison that it will become either irrelevant, or extinct altogether.

I am one of those people. The Charedim have won. By their growth and sheer determination they are the wave of the future. But I have a modified version of that prediction. Moderate Charedim will populate the the new mainstream majority. It will also contain those I have called RWMO (right wing Modern Orthodox). And evolve into a sociological demographic I call the New Centrists. Rabbi Berel Wein was first made note of this phenomenon. And it is already in progress.

In brief  what is happening is that both communities have adopted modalities of the other. So that even if our Hashkafos are somewhat different, our lifestyles are not. Moderate Charedim and RWMO are both generally are well educated in Limudei Kodesh and Limudei Chol. Both generally have solid careers where many are professionals.

We are both Koveiah Itim (establish fixed times for Torah study); Daven in the same Shuls; send our children to similar – and occasionally the same schools; are very often good friends, trust each other’s Kashrus; and our families  interact socially each other. It is not that uncommon to find a Chavrusa  beween a moderate Charedi and a RWMO learning together at night in a community Kollel. Our differing Hashkafos are not a divisive issue socially. The extremes on both the right and left may continue to exist, but in my view will at best be marginalized.

Nothing new here.  I have mentioned all this before. Many times. But what I have not mentioned in this context is another demographic that is perhaps the fastest growing demographic of all. One that has absolutely nothing to do with the above phenomenon.  The exponential growth of Satmar and like minded Chasidim. Does that mean that I believe that Satmar is the wave of the future… that eventually they will overtake the rest of Orthodoxy by their sheer population size?  Based on linear projections, one might say that will indeed happen. But I don’t think so, despite their continuing and phenomenally rapid growth.

Currently Satmar Chasidim live in their own world and prefer to keep it that way. The same is true of other Chasidic sects like Skvere.  They will not ‘assimilate’ into any new grouping.  Their values are not the same as the New Centrists at all. They live in a world apart from the rest of observant Jewry.

They are not well educated in Limudei Chol. And although they do work, they generally do not work as professionals. They do not attend colleges and universities. They work at jobs that often do not pay a living wage. Certainly not for a family of 12 or 13 is which is a very common family size. So a great many of them live in poverty…. isolated from the rest of the world.

While it is true that there are some very wealthy Satmar type Chasidim in trades like the diamond industry, construction, and other businesses (like the wildly successful B&H) – they are the exception and not the rule.  Most Satmar Chasidim barely eke out a living and more often than not have to be aided by free loan societies.

There is an article in the Forward by a Frimet Goldberger. She was raised in the world of Satmar. Ms. Goldberger describes  Satmar Chasidim as not only living isolated lives, but as living very religiously demanding lives. More than any other religious demographic. Lives that are stricter now than at any time in the history of Satmar. They have taken upon themselves Chumros that that did not even exist during the life of their founding Rebbe, Rav Yoel Teitelbaum. And he was pretty Machmir  requiring the rejection of the outside world in its totality.

His purpose was to insulate his Chasidim form the slightest taint of non Jewish culture.  His method was to not only live in a tightly knit neighborhood  – but to be as different from the rest of the world as possible. That would make it virtually impossible to see any commonlaity and thereby assimilate.  That – combined with their extreme Tznius measures makes them culturally incompatible with –  not only the secular world, but even   the moderate Charedi world. Not to mention the Modern Orthodox world.

Here is how Ms. Goldbeger describes it:

(The Satmar Rebbe) had railed against married women growing their hair underneath the turbans and wigs. After his death, most Hasidic women finally adhered to this rule – many out of fear of the severe ramifications of defiance. It is now the acceptable practice in Satmar to expel children from school if their mothers do not shave their heads. The Satmar Rebbe also decried the thin stockings and uncovered sheitels worn in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s. Now, most Satmar women wear thick, seamed stockings.

The latest Chumra is the blurring out faces of little girls in their photos. Which did not exist when the Satmar Rebbe was alive. She calls such radicalization alarming and not to be ignored.

In my view, all of these factors are the reason that we should not project a victory for the Satmar way of life. This lifestyle is not the wave of the future. Despite their rapid exponential growth. Insuring the isolation that has kept this demographic together and intact, is no longer possible. The internet has just about assured that. Especially now that one can access it in the palm of one hand.  Bans of technological advances like I-phones no matter how harsh the consequences simply are probably honored more in the breach than in adherence.

I am not saying that young people will drop out in significant numbers. Although going OTD  is a growing problem for them like it is for every other religious demographic. But I do think that they will gradually see what the rest of the even Frum world has to offer and many will seek it out. The poverty and strictures particular to this community will accelerate that process. They will see that it is possible to be religious and not be as isolated as they have been in the past. Modernity will catch up to them. Their increasing poverty that their current lifestyle practically guarantees them will motivate many of them to try another way.

They will see a growing new Centrism and realize that there other legitimate ways to practice Judaism. I am not saying that they will all eventually become new Centrists. Although not likley – it is not out of the realm of possibility once they start seeking to better their lives materially. More likely is a scenario to create their own version of a centrist society – rebelling against that part of their culture that keeps them poor – by seeking a better education and pulling back a bit on their radically different appearances… like the insistence that all their married women must save their heads.

I can’t predict the future. But what I think I can predict is that this demographic is not the wave of the future as they are currently constructed.

Visit Emes Ve-Emunah .

Harry Maryles

Chauncey Gardner Is Alive and Well and Living in Foggy Bottom

Tuesday, December 11th, 2012

On Monday, December 10, 2012, State Dept. Spokesperson Victoria Nuland, during her regular Daily Press Briefing, started sounding like Jerzy Kosinski’s memorable character in Being There, Chance the Gardener, immortalized by Peter Sellers in the 1979 movie by the same name.

Here’s a short scene from the movie:

President: Mr. Gardner, do you agree with Ben, or do you think that we can stimulate growth through temporary incentives?

Chance: As long as the roots are not severed, all is well. And all will be well in the garden.

President: In the garden.

Chance: Yes. In the garden, growth has it seasons. First comes spring and summer, but then we have fall and winter. And then we get spring and summer again. President: Spring and summer.

Chance: Yes. President: Then fall and winter.

Chance: Yes.

Benjamin Rand: I think what our insightful young friend is saying is that we welcome the inevitable seasons of nature, but we’re upset by the seasons of our economy.

Chance: Yes! There will be growth in the spring!

Benjamin Rand: Hmm!

Chance: Hmm!

President: Hm. Well, Mr. Gardner, I must admit that is one of the most refreshing and optimistic statements I’ve heard in a very, very long time. … I admire your good, solid sense. That’s precisely what we lack on Capitol Hill.

And here’s yesterday’s exchange over the Quartet meeting in Brussels this coming Wednesday, dealing with the “peace process”:

MS. NULAND: We continue to work with Congress to make the case that continued U.S. support for the Palestinian people is in our national interest, is in the interest of the peace process. But again, there are a lot of views in the Congress, particularly in light of the move at the UN.

QUESTION: Just on this, there’s a Quartet meeting in Brussels on Wednesday, envoy level. Do you expect anything substantial or significant to come out of this, or is this just kind of a stock-taking exercise in looking at how dismal the chances are to get the peace process started again?

MS. NULAND: Well, I think it’s been a while since David Hale has met with his Quartet counterparts, so I think it’s an opportunity to look at where we are and if and when we might be able to be in a position to get these parties back to the table, obviously, in light of all of the factors. So it’s – let’s say that at this stage, it is gardening, but it is important gardening.

QUESTION: Gardening. You mean like weeding?

MS. NULAND: No, it’s nurturing of the soil. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Are they actually planting? Are they —

MS. NULAND: Nurturing of the soil.

QUESTION: Are they planting any seeds? (Laughter.)

MS. NULAND: They’re always trying to plant seeds, as you know.

QUESTION: There’s more gardening? (Laughter.)

And here’s the rest of Monday’s exchange regarding freezing settlements as the surefire way of bringing peace and brotherly love to the region, which preceded the above botanical discussion:

QUESTION: On the Palestinian issue, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas stated today that he, in fact, called for the resumption of direct negotiations with Israel from the point where they were last and during the last negotiation session, and – provided that all settlement activity be frozen for the time being. Do you support such a call, or is that – you consider that to be conditional?

MS. NULAND: As the President has said all the way along, as the Secretary has said, we are prepared to be full partners in supporting negotiations if and when the parties are ready to enter into direct negotiations. So it always takes two to tango, as we say. So – and we’ve also called for both sides to come to the table without preconditions.

QUESTION: Do you consider it reasonable to call for resumption of negotiations from the point where they ended?

MS. NULAND: Well, again, we support any scenario in which the parties can get back to direct talks, because it’s going to be the only way to settle all of the longstanding issues between them. It’s the only way to get to the two states living next to each other in peace that we all seek.

Yori Yanover

Microsoft CEO: Israel Is the High-Tech Country

Tuesday, November 13th, 2012

1. “[Australia’s] $30BN Woodside Petroleum is looking at taking an interest in the giant Leviathan gas field off the coast of Israel…. The Leviathan field, discovered in 2010, has an estimated 17 trillion cubic feet (TCF) of gas, making the biggest deep water gas discovery of the past ten years. 50-75% of the gas is slated for export….  Woodside Petroleum Ltd. bids for 30% of the rights to the Leviathan licenses. It is 50% higher than their market value. Woodside is one of the finalists in the licensees’ choice for a strategic partner.

“Woodside’s bid reflects a value of $7.5 billion, compared with analysts’ estimates of $4.7-5.5 billion for the gas field…. ‘Petroleum Intelligence Weekly’ reported that [Russia’s] GazpromWoodside and apparently South Korea’s Korea Gas Corporation (Kogas), are finalists in the Leviathan process…. [The Houston-based] Noble Energy [which controls 39.66% of Leviathan] prefers a Western partner for Leviathan.

“Woodside would fit the bill for Noble Energy: it is a veteran company with deep water expertise as well as building liquefied natural gas facilities for gas exports from its fields off Australia’s northwest coast. This area is considered the most developed in the world, attracting hundreds of billions of dollars in investment in onshore and floating LNG facilities” (Globes Business Daily, October 22, 2012).

2. Steve Ballmer, Microsoft’s CEO 4th visit to Israel: “I’ve arrived to Israel, the high-tech country…. The integration between Microsoft and Israel is natural, because Israel’s high-tech industries are among the global leaders…. I’m energized and inspired by Israel’s innovative capabilities, which have made Israel an important arena for Microsoft….” (Globes, November 2).

3. Intel Corp. CEO Paul Otellini is in Israel: “We are perhaps the largest private employer in Israel (about 8,000 employees in the company’s development and production centers), and most of those employees have technological know-how. Some of our most sophisticated engineering efforts are carried out in Israel…. We have been in Israel for 40 years and we have done many things. We’re here for the long term and we will decide next year regarding our next factory.”

Otellini visits Israel in order to launch the company’s $5 million investment in Israeli high schools over the next four years, in partnership with the Ministry of Education. The project’s aim is to double the number of high school students completing their science and technology matriculation certificate (Globes, November 2).

4. According to the $56BN Swiss bank, UBS – which is currently expanding its Israel wealth management operations – Israel is among the top five promising economies with the highest growth potential.

5. “The UK law firm Berwin, Leighton Paisner (BLP) LLP, Britain’s fifth largest, with 1,000 attorneys worldwide, is expanding to Israel, opening an office in Tel Aviv as part of the expansion of its international operations. The firm’s customers include 59 companies on the Global Fortune 500 list. Its decision is a vote of confidence in Israeli economic growth…. ‘We’re here because the Israeli business world is heading in directions which we see as markets of the future, like China and the Far East…. BLP sees the steady business growth of Israeli companies’ activity in international markets….(Globes, Oct. 30).’”

Visit The Ettinger Report.

Yoram Ettinger

Israel GDP Expected to Grow More than US’s in Next 50 Years

Monday, November 12th, 2012

Israel’s gross domestic product is expected to grow at a much higher annual rate than the United States for the next 48 years, according to a report by the OECD.

In the report “Looking to 2060: Long-Term Global Growth Prospects”, the OECD predicted that Israel’s average annual rate of growth between now and 2060 would be approximately 2.6% – the US growth is expected to grow at 2.1% in the next 50 years.

The report showed that India and China would grow by leaps and bounds – 5.1% and 4.1% respectively.

Malkah Fleisher

Our Best To The President

Wednesday, November 7th, 2012

We salute President Obama on his solid reelection victory. Though we were highly critical of his performance these past four years in a variety of areas, we hope he succeeds in his second term, as his success is America’s success.

The challenges of the next four years will be the same had Mr. Romney prevailed. We have an economy headed toward disaster with out of control spending, spiraling deficits, limited growth and high unemployment. Iran’s threat to peace and international security continues, as do the provocations of terrorist groups in Gaza, Lebanon and other parts of the world.

We hope the president will focus on these fundamental bread and butter problems and eschew any grand, Pollyannaish visions of changing the world. Only a strong and resilient America with its own house in order can reach out to help others.

Editorial Board

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