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May 3, 2016 / 25 Nisan, 5776

Posts Tagged ‘Hashem’

The Story Of Chanukah: ‘I Think I Can’

Thursday, December 6th, 2012

Chanukah is just about upon us and Jews across the planet are looking forward to family gatherings, delicious food (you can’t feel too guilty eating oily latkes and high carb donuts on the chag – hey, it’s practically a mitzvah to do so); giving and receiving gifts and in general celebrating our survival – our spiritual continuance as God-fearing Jews. (Our physical survival is an event we acknowledge on Purim.)

Chanukah commemorates two unlikely events – the triumph of the Jews over the Greeks and their pagan culture, and the lasting of a small jar of kosher oil – meant to burn in the Temple menorah just a day – for an extra seven days until more kosher oil could be produced.

Anyone betting on a rag-tag of Jews, led not by a trained warrior, but by a Kohen, a peaceful cleric, to defeat a vastly superior armed Greek forces would have been viewed as crazy.

So too, anyone betting the Temple oil would burn longer than 24 hours.

But, despite the mind-boggling odds of either event happening, the Jews were not deterred and went ahead with their plans. They had faith, both in themselves and in Hashem.

It is said that God helps those who helps themselves. But the person has to take the initiative, that first crucial step.

Many of us are familiar with the popular children’s story of the little engine that takes on an undertaking that bigger, stronger, more “qualified” engines refuse to accept. They are realistic in their refusal to attempt something they feel is extremely difficult, if not impossible to do. They are convinced they will fail, so why bother?

The little engine, however, despite the fact he was not designed to pull a large train, thinks he just might be able to do so. At the very least, he will attempt this formidable challenge. If he doesn’t try, then for sure he won’t succeed.

Fuelled by a positive attitude and great optimism, he is willing to give it his best shot – even if the laws of physics are not in his favour.

There is a life-enhancing lesson here that we should take to heart: Do not let the facts on the ground ever deter you from trying to reach a goal.

It might be amusing for some to discover (like I did) that this message of “going for it,” despite the “facts” staring you in the face, was often brought forth decades ago in the very popular science-fiction series, “Star Trek.” Frequently, the chief engineer of the spaceship exploring the galaxy would be ordered by the captain “to get us out of here.” Depending on the theme of the episode, the spaceship would be in imminent danger of being destroyed by an exploding asteroid; swallowed up by a space monster the size of a planet; about to be blown up to smithereens by alien forces or trapped forever in another dimension – unless it immediately went to warp speed and high-tailed it out of there.

Often the captain would tell the chief engineer that he had several minutes to repair the disabled warp drive. And the chief engineer, in a reproachful voice, would tell the captain that he needed at least a few minutes to do so – that he “couldn’t change the laws of physics.” But he would always try, and he always succeeded.

Of course this was television, and a happy ending was necessary for the show to continue. But the lesson to be gleaned here, as exemplified by the story of Chanukah, is that you can’t let pessimism stop you from taking on a difficult challenge, you can’t admit defeat before you even attempt what seems likely to be futile.

You may be faced with seemingly insurmountable odds: you are an older single; you have a physical handicap; you have learning disabilities; you have kids off the derech; you have severe shalom bayit issues, you have been out of work for a long time. There is no shortage of problems to tackle and goals to achieve. But it is crucial to make the effort to “fix” the situation.

Often multiple attempts to resolve your issues end in failure. You want to give up – no more putting yourself in an uncomfortable, even demeaning situation, like continuing to ask friend and casual acquaintance alike if they can think of a shidduch for you or a job. Or going for marital counselling- again, or for yet another invasive, costly fertility treatment.

Cheryl Kupfer

Chronicles Of Crises In Our Communities

Thursday, December 6th, 2012

Dear Rachel,

As a long time resident of Far Rockaway, I count my blessings that Baruch Hashem we’ve been spared flooding and water damage — though our power was down for a whole two weeks and was no minor inconvenience.

Rachel, it is so sad to see how many families have to pick up their lives again and rebuild. People lost washing machines, dryers, Pesach kitchens, furniture, and many memories that had been put away in storage. It breaks the heart to see piles of people’s belongings along the curb, waiting to be hauled away by the garbage trucks.

Cars were seen floating away; people’s back yard gyms were flung down the block; boats from Atlantic Beach landed in people’s yards and fallen trees are everywhere. The whole thing is totally mind-boggling!

And just when we thought things couldn’t get worse, a snowstorm felled more trees. People who already had their electricity restored went down again. What does Hakodosh Baruch Hu want from us? I think we all have to make a din v’cheshbon and look inside ourselves. What can we do better? How can we fix what needs to be fixed? What should we take upon ourselves to expand our growth in a spiritual sense?

Everything happens for a reason. We have to make sure that we draw some lesson from all of this destruction, devastation, and heartache — and increase our emunah and bitachon in Hakodosh Baruch Hu.

Just venting

Dear Rachel,

In response to your column’s recent letter from Mi k’Amcha Yisroel, I just want to say that it is just one example of the wonderful middos the effects of Sandy brought out in so many. And though there was much destruction and heartache, there were miracles at every turn and we have much to be grateful for.

I know of at least one man, a grandfather who lives in one of the “beach” boroughs that had a mandatory evacuation in place, who refused to leave. His wife heeded the warning, but he stubbornly insisted that he’d be fine staying put for the duration of the storm.

When the lights went out, he didn’t consider it a big deal. But when he looked out his window and saw the water covering the sidewalk and moving toward the front steps of his home, he sobered up. He called his son to come and get him, but at that point their street had already become inaccessible to cars, and so Dad was advised to don his boots and walk to the intersection to where his son would be waiting for him.

The homeowner decided to go down to his basement first, to pick some stuff up off the floor in case of flooding. As he was fumbling about with flashlight in hand, the wind suddenly blew the windows in and a flood of water gushed in to fill the basement knee high and was quickly rising.

The poor man could hardly catch his breath or see around him. He frantically searched for the stairs and luckily found them in time to scramble out of there. By the time he got out, the basement was completely submerged.

The prearranged spot where he was to meet his son was already deserted by then, but a patrol car picked him up and he was soon reunited with his family. Despite sustaining substantial material loss and damage, this man must realize how lucky he was to have escaped a worse fate.

One miracle of many

Dear Readers,

The stories of miracles and chessed abound and will no doubt fill a volume or more down the line. But as we ask ourselves how such a thing can happen and what is Hashem’s message to us, we should be reassured that the tremendous positive response set in motion by this horrific occurrence is exactly what is expected of us, and perhaps we were in need of that extra fix to prove ourselves worthy of G-d’s compassion in this topsy-turvy world.

No human being can pinpoint a cause for the disaster, as much as some cast the blame on climate change and global warming, and others draw a parallel to Sodom. With regard to the former, none but Hashem is in charge, and “climate change” can only affect us to the extent that G-d will allow it to. As for the correlation to Sodom… to the best of my knowledge, Sodom was so saturated with evil that Avrohom Avinu was hard-pressed to find any righteous individuals who might have saved the day.

Rachel

It’s My Opinion: Trash

Thursday, December 6th, 2012

Recently, a porcelain bathtub appeared atop a jetty off Miami Beach. The gleaming white object was perched upon craggy rocks. Ocean waves lapped around it. The origin of the tub was a mystery.

Some members of the South Florida community have conjectured that the tub was some strange artistic expression, perhaps inspired by the internationally recognized Art Basel festival to be held shortly on Miami Beach.

While some art aficionados might consider this exhibit a bold and creative work, there are others who consider the exploit as trash. A spokesman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission declared the action “littering” and a potential risk to the environment.

We are all greatly influenced by our preconceived ideas. We perceive. We interpret. We filter. What we see – as well as how we see it – is more than the reflection on our retina. We might have sight, but do we have insight?

The global reaction to Israel’s recent military incursion in Gaza has been quite compelling and a prime example of how bias affects facts. The mainstream media generally spun the actions as a “cycle of violence” and not as a victim nation responding to attack. After all, isn’t Israel always to blame?

An MSNBC anchor reflected that Israel was responding disproportionately. The anchor reported that Hamas missiles were largely “ineffective” and “rarely do damage” and inferred that innocent Arab civilians were being killed. Fox’s Juan Williams characterized Israel’s defense as overkill. Throughout the world, anti-Semitic rallies, thinly disguised as anti-Zionist in nature, exploded with a fury.

The worldwide Jewish community, for the most part, is just happy that the cease-fire was called and have moved on. There are Chanukah gifts to purchase and wrap, winter vacation plans to make and busy lives to contend with. The televised images of rocket explosions have passed.

Every morning Jews recite the prayer “Blessed are you Hashem, king of the universe, who gives sight to the blind.”

Certainly we need to truly see what is going on.

Trash is trash despite the spin. The Jewish world needs to open its eyes.

Shelley Benveniste

The Maccabees’ Response To ‘World Opinion’

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012

“Israel has bad public relations.”

This is the perennial cry. “Israel must improve its image to convince the world of the justness of its cause.”

As I write, a cease-fire is holding around Gaza, but let’s consider the whole story. In the past few weeks, hundreds of rockets rained down on millions of Israelis. I was there. My wife and I heard the sirens in Yerushalayim. We entered the shelter and waited for the explosions. Lives of millions in Israel became torture and a nightmare.

Israel reacted with surgical strikes against known terrorist leaders. The air force dropped thousands of leaflets and even took over Arab television, warning Gazans to keep away from military sites that, as we know, are planted intentionally in the middle of heavily populated civilian areas. Israel also mounted an expensive, brilliant defensive system called Iron Dome that knocked out hundreds of incoming missiles.

What was the result?

Granted, Israel received support from some Western governments. At the same time, the secular media lamented the pathos of the “tragic deaths of innocent civilians in Gaza.” In midtown Manhattan, a man with a yarmulke was called “dirty Jew” as he walked past an anti-Israel demonstration.

It is a very old story. Consider (Rashi on Bereishis 21:9 and Bereishis Rabbah 53:11 with ArtScroll commentary):

“Sarah saw [Yishmael], the son of Hagar, the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Avraham, mocking,” on which Rashi says, “[mocking] connotes…murder…. [Yishmael is associated with murder] because he would contend with Yitzchak over the inheritance and say, ‘I am [my father’s] firstborn son, and [am entitled to] take a double share [of the inheritance].’ They would go out into the field, and [Yishmael] would take his bow and shoot arrows at [Yitzchak]…like one who tires himself shooting fireballs and says ‘Am I not merely jesting….’ ”

Yishmael is still playing the game some 3,700 years later, sending “fireballs” and “arrows” at Yitzchak, this time from Gaza, and the game is still murder. Rocks and firebombs are also thrown at drivers near other Arab areas. Deadly missiles fall like poison rain. And those who shoot these fireballs and throw these rocks are termed “innocent civilians.”

“Why,” they ask, “is Israel massing war equipment on the border of Gaza? Why is Yitzchak so upset? Are we not brothers? Yitzchak always overreacts to our little games. Why is he so sensitive?”

And the world sheds tears for the “innocent civilians” in Gaza who are being subjected to such “suffering.”

* * * * *

Rabbi Yechezkel Levenstein, zt”l, legendary mashgiach of the Mirrer Yeshiva, stated (as quoted in the book Redemption Unfolding): “In the final war before the coming of Mashiach, all the Jews who fear Hashem will survive. Hashem will say to them: ‘All those who are removed from the secular, worldly culture, you are Mine….’ ”

It is easy to be carried along by the powerful societal currents that have enveloped us since the beginning of our Exile almost two thousand years ago. I too am a victim of this weakness. I too worry about what “world opinion” says about Israel. It is in fact difficult to imagine how Israel would survive without support from the rest of the world. We tell ourselves, “We need all the friends we can get.”

But are we correct?

No, we most certainly are not.

“Return, O Israel, to Hashem your God, for you have stumbled through your iniquity. Take words with you and return to Hashem. Say to Him, ‘Forgive every sin and accept goodness and let our lips substitute for bulls. Assyria cannot help us; we will not ride the horse nor will we ever again call our handiwork our god. Only in You will the orphan find compassion’ ” (Hoshea 14:2-4; haftara Parshas Vayeitzei). Or hear the words of King David: “It is better to take refuge in Hashem than to rely on man. It is better to take refuge in Hashem than to rely on nobles…” (Tehillim 118) We lean on a broken reed when we rely on the other nations, even when billions of people are on the “other side.”

Avraham Avinu’s name comes from the word “ivri” because he stood on one “eiver,” one bank of the river, with the entire rest of the world on the other side. This has characterized his children to this day. We are a nation apart – “a nation that will dwell in solitude and not be reckoned among the nations” (Bamidbar 23:9).

Roy S. Neuberger

Easing The Trauma Of Divorce: A Reaction

Friday, November 30th, 2012

Dear Dr. Yael:

I am writing to you in regards to your article, “Easing The Trauma Of Divorce” (Dear Dr. Yael, 11-16).

Now in my 30s, I am the product of a divorced home in which my parents made me, an only child, a pawn. Throughout my life the trauma and hatred I witnessed between my parents was unbearable. As a result, I am terrified to get married, despite the desire to do so in a normal and happy setting. I have gone for therapy, but this great fear is hard to overcome. I wonder if this feeling will ever leave me.

I still speak to both of my parents (neither of them remarried), who, to this day, hate each other so much that they cannot even be in the same room. Thus, how can I even have a wedding? I believe that had my parents divorced peacefully, my childhood would have been normal.

I work hard on my middos, am well educated and have a fabulous career. Without wanting to sound arrogant, I am confident that there are women who would be interested in me. Unfortunately, I am convinced that it is my deep fear of turmoil and unhappiness that is stopping me from getting married.

Dr. Yael, I strongly urge divorced parents to heed your sage advice to not turn their poor children into pawns during their divorce. If parents are getting divorced, they must try their hardest to make it as peaceful as possible, working together for the benefit of their children. I have happily married friends with divorced parents, but those parents did everything they could to keep things peaceful.

These friends seem to have come from homes similar to what you termed “the best possible divorce situation,” whereby their parents remarried and had an amicable relationship. Like you wrote in your column, my happily married friends from divorced homes felt the love and devotion from both parents as well as from their stepparents. I, on the other hand, think that my parents are emotionally not well – with that probably being the core issue in my situation. Having never remarried, they are extremely angry and negative people. I am sure that their emotional problems have also affected my view on marriage, as I do not want to end up like them.

I hope this letter inspires parents who are getting divorced to think carefully about their behavior as it pertains to the emotional wellbeing of the children they love. Only responsible behavior will spare their children the emotional destruction I’ve been forced to experience.

Thank you, Dr. Yael, for your helpful and informative column.

A Fan

Dear Fan:

My heart breaks for the predicament in which you find yourself. Even though you had a difficult childhood, Hashem obviously gave you other tools which you have used to create a life for yourself. All of these talents and your evident ambition should certainly make you very attractive to women.

As you seem very bright, please try to overcome your deep fear and get married. I would hate to see you live alone for the rest of your life. Learn from your parents’ mistakes and build a different life for yourself. If you feel that therapy has so far not worked for you, find another therapist who can help you. It is important to click with a therapist to the degree that you feel comfortable enough with him or her to share your insecurities. This will permit the two of you to begin the process of changing your views on marriage.

It is extremely difficult to want to get married and know how to make the marriage work, if you never saw a healthy marital relationship. But you can learn how to have a successful marriage through therapy. And once you feel equipped to enter into marriage, the concept will not be as frightening as it now seems.

You may also have to revisit some of your painful childhood memories and work through your anger toward your parents. When you succeed at doing these things, you may feel more comfortable with the idea of getting married. There are many children of divorced parents who are successful at overcoming their fears and insecurities, and are then able to build beautiful and happy families.

Dr. Yael Respler

The Secret To Defeating Our Enemies

Wednesday, November 28th, 2012

Events have been unfolding so rapidly. First it was Hurricane Sandy, which attacked with merciless fury and left multitudes homeless, their cars and belongings swept away. Power failed, not for a day, or for a week, but in some cases for several weeks.

When I was told I could safely return to my house, the power was back on and the poisonous water mixed with sewage that invaded the lower level of my home had been removed. When I reached my community it was evening and before I even arrived to my destination the lights went out again. You couldn’t see anything.

I’d had experience with power failures in the past but this darkness that now enveloped us was totally different. Imagine driving on a street where the streetlights are off and you cannot even see little bright lights flickering from windows.

“Where am I?” you ask yourself. “Is there a car coming toward me? Am I backing into something? Where is my street? Where is my house?”

My regular readers know I connected Sandy, as I have several other unusual occurrences, to the ten plagues that befell Egypt. Our Sages taught us that the manner in which we departed from Egypt would be replayed in the pre-Messianic period. As I was trying to make my way home it occurred to me that this dense darkness was reminiscent of the darkness that enveloped Egypt in the ninth plague. The Torah teaches us that the darkness was so thick it was almost tangible – you could actually feel it and didn’t even know who or what was standing before you.

As I was contemplating all that was going on around me, the news from Eretz Yisrael reached us of deadly rockets and missiles raining down on our brethren. While in the United States many lost their homes, in Israel – may Hashem have mercy – not only were homes destroyed but the very lives of our people were on the line. And then we heard the so-called good news of a cease-fire.

But isn’t that really good news, you ask? I invite you to consider why a people bent on annihilating Israel would desire a “cease-fire.” And why would Prime Minister Netanyahu agree to it? Surely we Jews know that in no time at all the savage murderers will resume their attacks.

The answers are simple. Hamas needed a small break to replenish its deadly arsenal. On the other hand, Netanyahu, like so many of Israel’s past prime ministers, felt he had no choice but to succumb to the pressure exerted by other nations. Some of you are no doubt asking what else Israel could have done – one nation versus the world. Logically speaking the objection makes sense, but there is nothing logical about Jewish survival. From the very genesis of our history we have been attacked by virtually every nation, every great empire, of the world. We were and are “one little lamb” lost among seventy ferocious wolves. What chance did we have for survival?

Was it not just yesterday that Hitler proclaimed his “final solution”? He harnessed 20th century know-how to build gas chambers and crematoria. But as always, we, the Jewish people, defied the odds. Hitler is long gone but we are here and shall always be here, for that is the will of our G-d.

What is our secret weapon? I’ve written about it frequently but it bears repeating – for we simply don’t get it. It is all found in one easy word: “Torah.”

The voice of Jacob, of Israel, is the voice of Torah and the voice of prayer. Yes, the power of our people is in our voice and in our supplications. It is found in our Torah studies, in our observance of mitzvos and in our commitment to Hashem.

Sadly, we have forfeited these precious gems. We no longer know how to sing to our G-d and have allowed Yishmael to seize our weapons. Yishmael prays five times a day. How many times do we pray? The answer should be at least three – but to our shame we pray zero.

I imagine many readers are asking, “Rebbetzin, how can you say that?” Just look around and be honest. Ask yourselves, how many Jews really pray three times a day? How many Jews go to minyan? Yes, the Orthodox do, but how many are they? The Orthodox are just a very small minority. If we are to survive the seventy ferocious wolves we – all of us – must take our weapons into our hands.

Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

Don’t Feel Bad! We Didn’t Lose the War!

Tuesday, November 27th, 2012

Albeit all the angry, bitter, and downright nasty articles and blogs which have been written on how Israel was defeated in its latest skirmish with the Hamas – that isn’t the case at all. We’re really the winner! Let me explain:

Firstly, on the simplest level, thanks to the grace of G-d, our casualties were far less than the Other Side’s. Regarding physical damage as well, the devastation on their side was far greater. So, just in terms of the way the military scorecard is usually figured, we were the victors by far.

In reply to the claim that the Hamas received a great boost in their morale in bringing mighty Israel to a cease fire, giving them added incentive for the next round – maybe. But their celebrations of victory are based on fantasy and lies, and their joy won’t last when we hit them ten times as hard the next time.

As far as the truce being a crushing blow to the morale of our own troops – my son and his friends in the army don’t seem any less gung ho about destroying the Hamas the next chance they get, so I think that claim has also been over-exaggerated. Our son was happy to be home for Shabbat, and we were happy too. Along with 30,000 other soldiers and their families.

Don’t accuse me of being a pacifist. Any reader who has been following my blog during the recent Israeli Air-Force exercise in Gaza knows that I would not have had any qualms at all if we had waited for a day when a stiff wind was blowing toward Cairo and dropped a small A-Bomb on Gaza City. But the time hasn’t yet come. Savlenut, my friends. Patience.

I am reminded of Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook’s reaction when the United Nations voted in 1947 to partition the Palestine of the British Mandate which sliced Eretz Yisrael into pieces and awarded a truncated area to the Jews. When the news came over the radio that a Jewish State would be formed, a spontaneous joy swept over the country. People rushed out from their homes to dance in the streets. But Rav Tzvi Yehuda was crushed. The Land of Israel has been divided! Large portions of the country had been placed in foreign hands! Half of Jerusalem, Hevron, Shilo, Yericho, Shechem, and the other side of the Jordan River! Multitudes of Israelis were dancing through the streets, but in his staggering sorrow, Rav Tzvi Yehuda remained in his home. The Land of Israel had been divided! It was impossible for him to feel glad. He felt as if he himself had been cut into pieces.

The following day, Rabbi Yaacov Moshe Harlop, a close student and friend of Rav Tzvi Yehuda’s father, Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak HaKohen Kook, came to visit him in the old house on Yafo Street in Jerusalem. They sat in the room which Rabbi Kook had used as his study and huddled together, distraught over what had occurred. Then, finding encouragement in each other, and raising themselves up to Rabbi Kook’s famous all-encompassing vision, they quoted the verse of Psalms, “This is the Lord’s doing. It is wondrous in our eyes.” Finally, Rav Tzvi Yehuda mustered the strength to go out to the Nation, realizing, with faith in Hashem, that is was God’s doing, and that with the passing of time, the newborn Nation would overcome the great difficulties and gradually return to all of its Land – to Hevron, to the Temple Mount, to Shechem, to Gaza, and to the other side of the Jordan.

During the recent operation in Gaza, we wrote that the Redemption of Israel was a process which develops gradually over time, little by little, like the emerging of dawn, stage after stage, in the wars which Israel must fight against its enemies who strive to block out its light, in what is known as “the Footsteps of Mashiach.” While we would like to see our salvation and victory occur all at once, Presto, with one wave of Mashiach’s wand, the Master of the World, who is also the Master of War, has decided otherwise. After the trauma of our national disintegration in our exile in foreign lands, Hashem rebuilds our Nation gradually, war after war, development after development, slowly bringing us back to our true selves, the proud lions of Judah, completely devoted to Hashem and His Torah, not only as individuals, but as a proud Torah Nation in Israel.

Tzvi Fishman

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