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December 27, 2014 / 5 Tevet, 5775
 
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Hashem’

The Highchair

Wednesday, October 24th, 2012

Yael was tired of sticking the highchair together with glue or Sellotape. It had lasted through five children, a miracle in itself, but now it seemed to have given up all hope – and decided to self-destruct.

Every time she tried to clean it, more parts seemed to come loose. Yael was scared that it wasn’t safe enough to put her little Shloimy in it any longer.

But money was very tight and it was nearing Yom Tov. Shloimy only used the highchair on Shabbos; the rest of the time he sat in his stroller or on a booster chair at the family table.

But on Shabbos, especially if extra guests were present, it was best for him to be in a high chair in order for him to have the freedom to eat as he wished without Yael having to worry about him getting the food on everyone else. And of course it freed up more space at the table. But could she justify spending the money on a chair for one day a week?

Yael went to a store to see just how much a chair would cost. There were an amazing variety of high chairs from which to choose. Who’d have thought the manufacturers could think of so many different possibilities. It had been a long time since Yael had looked for a new one; thus the choice was baffling. Prices varied from the simplest to the 5-star models, with more bells and whistles than she’d have ever dreamt possible. But even the simplest one wasn’t very cheap.

She went home and decided that they’d have to manage a bit longer.

Another few weeks went by with Shloimy at the table during the week and in his highchair, under the watchful eye of his mother, on Shabbos. Yael tried to ensure that his excited movements didn’t unhinge any part of the chair. But eventually her managing the situation turned into surviving it – and the chair just became useless.

Yael went back to the store, hoping that there would be a special offer on highchairs. But the prices remained unchanged.

But then she remembered something she’d been taught in school. She had learned that Hashem returns to you the money you spend on purchases for Shabbos. We’re not always aware of when and how He does this, but if you designate (verbally, if possible) that what you are buying is l’kavod Shabbos kodesh, then what you buy for Shabbos is not an extra burden on the household finances. This is because, it was taught, that if it wouldn’t have been spent for Shabbos items, that money wouldn’t have been in your wallet.

With this in mind Yael chose an economical but sturdy highchair, and as she paid for it she said out loud, “This high chair is l’kavod Shabbos kodesh, because Shabbos was the only day when Shloimy used it. Buying in a Jerusalem store, her loud declaration barely raised an eyebrow, although she received a few smiles from those who heard her.

She went home satisfied that she had done the right thing, confident that her family’s already very tight budget wouldn’t suffer because of her purchase.

She arrived home, paid the babysitter, prepared supper, and bathed her six young children. After supper the older ones waited in their pajamas for their abba to come home from kollel so they could kiss him goodnight.

As he walked through the door, he had a big smile on his face. “Yael,” he said, “You can go and buy the highchair now.”

She turned around from washing the dishes. “Why?” she asked.

“You’ll never believe this but as I got off the bus I saw something on the sidewalk. I thought it must have been something that I had dropped, so I picked it up. It was a 200-shekel note. I was the only one who got off the bus and there was no one else around to ask if it was their money. So according to halacha, it’s ours. That should cover the cost of a highchair, no?”

Yael could barely see through the tears that blurred her eyes.

“Yes. Baruch Hashem, that exactly covers the cost of the highchair and the delivery cost. And it should be here in a few minutes.”

People Eat for Free and They Work for Free

Thursday, October 18th, 2012

Rebbe Nachman of Breslov once revealed what he called a great secret – people eat for free and they work for free. He explained this with the following parable.

There was a wealthy man who was renowned for his hospitality. He would happily and generously provide all guests that came his way with the finest food, drink and lodgings, leaving them content and satisfied.

Not far from his home, lived another very wealthy person; a great miser who wouldn’t even give a slice of bread to the poor.

Once, a pauper who hadn’t eaten for a few days, heard about the wealthy donor with the compassionate heart, so he dragged his feet to his door to ask for a meal. But, as the saying goes, “poverty chases after the poor,” and instead of arriving at the door of the compassionate donor, the pauper erred and accidentally came to the home of the stingy miser. The poor man bowed before the landlord, lavishly praised him, and pleaded for a meal. The astonished miser realized that the pauper had made a mistake, and decided to take advantage of the situation.

“Of course, I’ll feed you!” he said, “But first I have some errands for you to do.” Following the man’s instructions, the pauper chopped wood, drew water, and did other difficult chores until he was utterly exhausted.

Finally, the miser said, “Okay, now it’s time for you to have your meal.” Pointing to the home of his compassionate neighbor, he said, “Just go there and someone will serve you.” The pauper didn’t realize that he’d been fooled. He thought that both houses belonged to the same owner and that it was the accepted, general custom to work in the first house before being served in the other.

As soon as he entered the second home, butlers greeted him, washed him, and brought him to a lavish table were many different foods and delicacies were served. They treated him like a nobleman.

As he was eating his meal, he moaned, “It’s true I had to work so hard first…but it was worth it!”

The curious master of the house asked him, “My good friend, you said you worked hard for this meal. For whom did you work? It wasn’t for me!”

The pauper told him that he’d worked at the neighboring mansion, and the kind philanthropist immediately understood what had happened. “My friend, I’m sorry to tell you, but you worked for free and you’re eating for free. Where you worked, you didn’t eat. And where you eat, you didn’t work!”

Rebbe Nachman said that the same thing occurs in regards to our livelihood. We work and we think that it is our work that is earning us our livelihood, but actually, our income comes from another source; it is a gift from Hashem. “Where we work we do not eat, and where we eat, we do not work.” This is a great secret of life. While it appears that our work provides our livelihood, it is really provided by Hashem.

Of course, while Hashem is our Provider, we are still obligated to do hishtadlus and to work for our livelihood. And while the hishtadlus doesn’t essentially support us, it does serve several other important purposes, as the holy sefarim explain.

The Mesilas Yesharim (21) writes: “…Man should theoretically be able to sit idly, and the livelihood that Hashem ordained for him should come to him effortlessly. However the Torah states, ‘By the sweat of your brow, you shall eat bread.’ This ‘curse’ [that mankind received after Adam ate from the Tree of Knowledge] requires everyone to exert some form of effort, or hishtadlus for their livelihood. It has been decreed by the exalted King, and is a tax that all mankind must pay, which can never be evaded…”

The Chovas Halevovos (Sha’ar haBitochon 3) teaches us two other reasons why we must work: (1) To test our integrity, as the workplace constantly requires us to choose honesty or its opposite. (2) To make life more difficult. History has proven that in the generations where life was too “easy” and there was an abundance of easy comfort and pleasure, people began to forget Hashem. This is what happened to the generation of the flood (at the time of Noach) and other times as well. Therefore one must work for his livelihood, so life won’t be too easy, and we will remember our Creator.

A Nation Of Kreplach

Wednesday, October 17th, 2012

Hoshana Rabbah is, according to tradition, the day the judgment of Yom Kippur is sealed and finalized. There are some changes in the morning prayers. We circle the bima seven times with our lulav and esrog and then we put them down and take five aravos and beat them on the synagogue floor as if to say, “These are being beaten instead of me.”

Then we return home for a festive meal in the sukkah.

At this meal we include soup with kreplach. Kreplach are globs of dough with a piece of meat hidden in the middle. Why? Because we are not sure that this day is such a festive occasion that it requires a wine and meat meal, as on Shabbos or festivals. And as we await the arrive of Eliyahu to answer these types of questions, we hide the meat in the heart of the dough – thus, kreplach.

After what happened to me this Yom Kippur and Hoshana Rabbah, I must say I’ve gone deep into the heart of the krepel (singular for kreplach) and have concluded that indeed there is more to the krepel than meets the eye.

On the way to the Kotel on Yom Kippur, I met two young people. One said his name was Shai. “Shai,” I thought, “that’s an easy name to remember.” In fact, I had recently been involved in a bad situation with someone named Shai.

I invited them to come to my house to break the fast, and told them where I lived.

One of them came. I asked him where Shai was. “Shai?” he asked. “Who’s Shai?”

“The guy who was with you.”

“He’s Yossi, but he uses different names,” he said.

So now it was Hoshana Rabbah, and Yossi suddenly showed up at my house as I was talking to a friend on my iPhone. So I ended my call and put down my phone.

I told him I was making kreplach soup and invited him to eat with me in the sukkah. He helped me take down the food and I filled up a bowl of soup for him.

Suddenly he said he had to go to the bathroom. “Go right up,” I told him, “but first eat your kreplach or they’ll get cold!”

He said he’d be right back. After maybe two minutes, I remembered I had forgotten my iPhone upstairs and I needed to make an important call. So I went upstairs to get the phone. Whereupon I discovered that both my visitor and my iPhone were gone.

I called the phone from my landline. It rang, once, twice, but no one answered. And then he turned it off. Goodbye, iPhone.

Back in the sukkah, I realized the iPhone was a kapparah, an atonement, for the unpleasant occurrence mentioned earlier with a person named Shai, which is what Yossi had told me his name was when I met him on Yom Kippur.

The cell phone company told me that even though I had full coverage, the new phone would cost me 1,000 Shekel, deductible.

I looked into a gematria book for the significance of 1,000. And I saw that the numerical value of the verse “Es asher Hashem yeh’ehav, yoche’ach” – “He whom God loves, he admonishes” – is precisely 1,000!

So I was left thrilled by my final judgment, costing me only my iPhone. But I was also left with a new understanding of the custom of eating kreplach on the special day of the sealing of a Jew’s yearly judgment.

After it’s all over, the Jew goes back to being a krepel. His outer concern is the dough, the bucks. But on the inside, in his heart, he’s a delicious piece of meat.

Deep down, under all the dough, even the Shais and the Yossis are part of our charming nation.

Dov Shurin is a popular radio personality and the composer and producer of several albums. He lives with his family in Israel and can be contacted at dovshurin@yahoo.com. His column appears in The Jewish Press every other week.

Noach: Hashem Hates Thievery

Wednesday, October 17th, 2012

“And Hashem said to Noach: The end of all flesh has come before me since the land is filled with robbery through them, and I will now destroy the land.” – Bereishis 6:13

In this pasuk, Hashem appears to Noach, telling him the world has turned to evil and He will now destroy all of life. Noach, his family, and the animals that remained pure will be the core of a new world. The reason for this destruction is stealing – “since the land is filled with robbery.”

Rashi is troubled that thievery is being treated as the pivotal point of the world’s existence. There are many sins that are worse. Rashi seems to answer this by saying that stealing was the crime that sealed their fate. Granted they were involved in other iniquities, but this was the one that actually demanded justice.

This Rashi is difficult to understand, as we know stealing is not one of the most severe sins. There are three cardinal sins a Jew is obligated to give up his life not to commit: idol worship, adultery, and murder. While stealing is certainly a serious crime, it isn’t among these – in fact, it isn’t even in their league.

Even more to the point, in a previous pasuk Rashi told us the main crimes then were idol worship and illicit relations. The Torah tells us “all flesh was corrupted.” It is clear that these more serious sins were rampant. How then can we understand Rashi’s statement that stealing was the crime that caused their destruction?

This question can best be answered with a mashal.

Different Scales of Measure

Bangladesh is one of the poorest countries on the planet; the average working man there earns about 180 dollars a year. Imagine that I walk into a Savings and Loan Company in the United States and say, “I am looking to take out a mortgage on a new home.”

The loan officer will ask me, “What is your income? What assets do you have?”

I respond, “My friend, no need to worry. Why, I earn as much as ten men in Bangladesh. In fact, I don’t like to brag, but I earn as much as a hundred men there!”

Needless to say, I wouldn’t secure a loan. Because earning 1,800 dollars a year or even 18,000 dollars a year in our economy is below poverty level.

This is an example of different scales of measure. In a third world country where much of the population is starving, earning your daily bread and water might qualify you as well off, whereas in a more affluent world, it would be quite poor. More than objective wealth being the determinant of your status, it is the standard against which you are being measured. When the bar is raised, it becomes much more difficult to be considered acceptable.

So too, in the system of Hashem’s judgment, there are different standards of measure. There is din – strict judgment, and there is rachamim – the mercy system. Strict din demands perfection. There is no room for shortcomings and no place for excuses; you are responsible. You did an act that act that brought about a result, so you are accountable – utterly, completely and totally. No mitigating factors, no extenuating circumstances. You are guilty as charged.

Rachamim is very different. This system introduces understanding: “There were compelling factors.” “It was a difficult situation.” “There are few people in this generation who would have done much better.”

In the Heavenly system of judgment, there is a balance between rachamim and din. At one point, the balance may be 60 percent rachamim, 40 percent din. At another point it might be 80/20. If strict din would be in place, no mortal could stand. Even the Avos, the greatest humans who ever lived, would not have passed.

Certain times and actions change the balance between rachamim and din. Much of our davening focuses on asking Hashem to judge us more favorably, to introduce mercy into the deliberation. On the flip side, there are certain actions that strengthen the middah of din, moving the balance over to more strict judgment.

This seems to be the answer to Rashi. It isn’t that stealing is a more severe crime than immorality – it is less severe. However, there is an element to stealing that awakens din. Stealing from a person demonstrates a total disregard of his rights – it’s as if he isn’t a person. I can take away his property, even his very sustenance. Chazal tell us, “As a person acts toward others, Hashem acts toward him.” Because robbery is an abrogation of a person’s rights, it causes a change in the way Hashem judges. It is as if Hashem says, “If you act that way toward others, then I will act accordingly to you.” Therefore, stealing changes the way Hashem judges because it causes the middah of din to react more strongly.

The Power Of Prayer

Wednesday, October 17th, 2012

Once again I must postpone the continuation of my Oct. 5 column, “Technology, Yom Kippur, Ahmadinejad,” this time due to the heavy reader response to last week’s column.

As you recall, I shared my latest journey. It all started on Pesach in San Diego where I suffered four hip fractures and underwent major surgery, and now I was once again scheduled for yet another procedure on the day after Simchas Torah, Oct. 10.

I underwent my pre-op tests and was ready to go. But with every fiber of my being I believe in the miraculous power of prayer, especially when that prayer emanates from the heart of Am Yisrael , so I asked for one more Cat Scan, knowing full well that the odds of the results being different from the previous one were slim if not nil.

My surgeon studied the Cat Scan. “Rebbetzin,” he said, “the healing process has commenced. You don’t have to come for surgery next week.”

To be sure, my journey is not yet over. In a month I will have to be re-evaluated, but my heart overflows with profound gratitude. I am trying to keep the commitment I made to Hashem that if I would have the merit of healing without human intervention (surgery), I would publicly declare that through the power of prayer, the heavenly gates of healing can be opened and lives changed.

This past Shabbos I gave my usual shiur and taught Torah in the shul where I daven – the Agudah of Lawrence-Far Rockaway. It was Shabbos Bereishis, when once again we began the cycle of Torah readings from the very beginning. In that very first parshah the Torah describes the creation of the world and the creation of man, the very crown of creation. We learn that though the seeds of all vegetation were in place, it was only after man prayed for rain that the seeds blossomed and bloomed.

This prerequisite of prayer is evident throughout our Torah and history. My grandson spoke about it at our Shabbos seudah in his d’var Torah. Our mothers – Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel, Leah, Chana and many others – were granted the berachah of children only after they prayed with all their hearts and souls.

This prerequisite of prayer holds true not only with regard to children but in every aspect of our lives. It was only after Moshe Rabbeinu, the greatest man ever to walk the face of the earth, turned to Hashem with intense, genuine prayer that Hashem forgave the nation of Israel.

G-d’s response was comprised of just two words, but those two words had and continue to have more power than the most deadly weapons mankind can devise. We are all familiar with those two little words. They are engraved on our hearts and souls; they are the pillars of Yom Kippur: “selachti kidvarecha” – “I [G-d] have forgiven even as you requested.”

Yes, prayer is the foundation, the ultimate defense weapon of our people. Our father Yaakov was endowed with this gift by his own father, Yitzchak, who proclaimed those words that identified us for all time: “Hakol kol Yaakov” – “The voice is the voice of Yaakov.” That voice is the voice of prayer. It is so powerful that it can pierce the bolted heavenly gates and ascend to the very Throne of G-d.

Throughout the long centuries of our persecution, torture, and slaughter, this voice of Jacob has enabled us to triumph. It was prayer that enabled us to survive Hitler’s hell. I know – I was there. I heard it.

In our “enlightened” world, however, this voice has become muted; prayer has come to be regarded as something only a naïve, unschooled person can take seriously. We, the citizens of the 21st century, know the age of miracles has long passed.

And there are still other factors that impede prayer. Ours is a culture that has an

addiction to “instant gratification.” From computers to iPhones, fast food to microwaves, it must all be fast, fast, fast! So if our prayers are not immediately granted, we cut the line and lose connection with our G-d; we stop praying, sit in solitude, and our loneliness consumes us.

Everybody Is a Winner

Sunday, October 14th, 2012

I recently read a disturbing news article about a social phenomenon that is tragic beyond words.

The article stated that more people were losing their lives by committing suicide than by car crashes. This conclusion was based on a recent study by the American Journal of Public Health based on data compiled by the National Center for Health Statistics from the years 2000-2009.

The study found that vehicular fatalities during this period had declined by 25%, but deaths from suicides rose 15%. Experts, however, believe that the number is actually closer to 20%, and that many deaths listed as accidental were not. There is a cultural and religious stigma in regards to killing oneself, so some suicides were orchestrated to look unintentional.

Conversely, despite it seeming as if there are more drivers on the road – we are all to often frustrated by traffic congestion that turns highways into parking lots – and the increase in distracted drivers, the decrease in car accidents was attributed to various safety features like front and side air bags, seat belts and stricter penalties for speeding and drinking.

So why are so many people killing themselves, or attempting to, since some try but fail? I can only imagine that they are looking for a way out of lives saturated with abject misery; they feel trapped in a cage of never-ending unhappiness.

Many wake up wishing they hadn’t. Each day is emotionally traumatic and they do not even entertain the possibility of their lives getting better; they have no iota of hope that the situation they find themselves in will ever improve.

In trying to understand the mindset of a suicidal person, I imagine that it is like having your finger stuck in a flame. No matter how hard you try to pull the finger out of the fire, you cannot. You are in such torturous pain, and so desperate for the agony to stop, that you want to kill yourself to get blessed relief. You see no other option.

But their excruciating pain is not physical – it is emotional.

They are enveloped in the flames of relentless despair and hopelessness; some try to dull the pain through alcohol, drugs or unsavory distractions and behaviors. But all they manage to achieve is a temporary respite. Their finger is still in the fire and they face endless years of torment. I believe the fuel feeding this flame is a deep sense of worthlessness, an overwhelming belief that they are perpetual losers; thus they see no point in even trying to strive for success, be it socially, financially or spiritually.

They have given up, believing they have failed and will continue to do so. They feel like caged gerbils on an exercise wheel, running and running and running to no avail – as hard as they try, they get nowhere.

Sadly, the “oxygen” that feeds this extreme sense of inadequacy is often supplied by those who should have been building their egos and fortifying their sense of self, planting and nurturing the seeds of confidence and self-like that would bloom into a happy, optimistic, and emotionally healthy human being. These include mothers and fathers, siblings, spouses, teachers, neighbors, friends, colleagues, employers – even strangers.

Constant, unrelenting criticism, denigration, and belittling – whether unintentional (in a misguided attempt to motivate you to do better academically, improve your job performance, or your looks,) or deliberate – bullies trying to shore up their own low self-esteem by mocking, teasing, and even physically hurting someone they perceive to be a bigger “loser” than themselves – whittles away a person’s belief that he is worthful (as opposed to worthless) and deserving of respect.

Individually, every put down or jab is just a single straw, but thousands of these straws piling up over the years can crush the strongest back and break the sturdiest spirit.

(I remember when I was little and would walk down the street, an elderly neighbor who often sat on his porch, would call out to me, “Hey fatty!” I was a bit chubby, but what did he gain by denigrating me? I was too much of a tomboy to care how I looked, but it was a negative straw nonetheless.)

Bereishis: Appreciating The Good

Friday, October 12th, 2012

And Adom said, “The woman that you placed with me, she gave me from the tree and I ate.” Bereishis 3:12

Adom HaRishon was given one mitzvah: not to eat from the Eitz HaDas. When he transgressed it, Hashem gave him the opportunity to do teshuvah. Not only did Adom not repent, he played the blame game – “It was that woman that You gave to me. You gave her to me as a helpmate and she turned out to be my ruination.”

Rashi quotes the Gemara that calls Adom a kofi tov, one who denies the good. The Gemara explains that this is a trait that has plagued mankind from that moment. Instead of appreciating the good, man has continued to deny the very good that is given to him over and over again.

The difficulty with this Rashi is that it doesn’t seem that Adom was guilty of denying the good. Hashem appeared to him and he felt trapped, caught red-handed. The correct action on his part would have been to admit his guilt and beg for forgiveness. That isn’t what he did. Instead, he shifted the blame. There was, however, a logic to it. “Because she was given to me as a helpmate, I relied on her and trusted her.” After all, the Creator of the heavens and the earth gave him this woman. Surely he could trust Hashem’s choice.

Adom was guilty of not owning up to his responsibility for the act. Maybe he was guilty of being dishonest. He just wasn’t courageous enough to admit that he did wrong. But his sin wasn’t one of not appreciating the good.

Appreciating Our Great Wealth

The answer to this question lies in understanding a different perspective. The Chovos Ha’Levovos gives a parable. Imagine a man who becomes blind at age 35. For the next ten years he does his best to reconstruct his life, but now without sight. Being a fighter, he struggles to create a productive life for himself. One day his doctor informs him of an experimental procedure that, if successful, would enable him to see again. He is both frightened and exuberant. If it works he regains his sight; if it fails, he might die.

He gathers together his family to talk it over. After much debate he announces, “I am going ahead with it.” The operation is scheduled. The long-awaited day arrives. Paralyzed with dread, he is wheeled toward the operating room. Given sedatives, he sleeps through the 10-hour operation.

When he wakes up, the first thought on his mind is to open his eyes. He prepares himself for the moment. He will now find out how he will spend the rest of his life. With his family gathered around, with the doctors and nurses at his side, the surgeon begins removing the gauze. The first bandage is off, now the second. The surgeon says, “Open your eyes.” He does. And he sees!

For the first time in ten years, he looks out and experiences the sights of this world – and he is struck by it all. Struck by the brilliance of colors and shapes; moved by the beauty and magnificence of all that is now in front of him. He looks out the window and sees a meadow covered with beautiful green grass. He sees flowers in full bloom. He looks up and sees a clear blue sky. He sees the faces of loved ones that had only been images in his mind – the sight of his own children whom he hasn’t seen in years. Tears well in his eyes as he speaks: “Doctor, what can I say? What can I ever do to repay you for what you have given me? This magnificent gift of sight! Thank you!”

This emotion, this extreme joy and sense of appreciation, is something we should feel regularly. The feeling of elation that man felt when he regained his sight is something we can feel on a daily basis if we go through the process of training ourselves to feel it. We have this most precious gift called sight, and it is something we are supposed to stop and think about – not once in a lifetime, not even once a year, but every day. A part of our spiritual growth is learning to appreciate the gifts we have. Every morning we thank Hashem for this most wonderful gift of sight. The blessing is meant to be said with an outpouring of emotion.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/parsha/bereishis-appreciating-the-good/2012/10/12/

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