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January 19, 2017 / 21 Tevet, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘King Solomon’

We Can Make A Difference

Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

The High Holy Days are over. It was an awesome spiritual time – when we probed or souls, asked profound questions and tried to determine what our lives are all about.

We made resolutions – each in our own personal way – committed to being better Jews. We promised to become better ambassadors of Hashem, more meticulous with mitzvot, more devoted and zealous in doing acts of loving kindness, and in general, become more dedicated to our Torah and all that that implies.

And now comes the big question: Are we still determined to make that change? Are we controlling our anger or are we indulging our moods, making others miserable, suffering from our ups-and-downs? Are we exercising discipline in our speech or are we back to the pitfalls of lashon ha’ra, and once again resorting to crude and foul language? The list goes on and on. How many of these promises are still throbbing in our hearts and how many have been put away with our Yom Kippur machzorim until next year?

Was it only yesterday that we made those wistful commitments to become different? Have we already slid back to “same old, same old”? Can it be that our old habits have once again taken a grip on our lives?

To be sure, it’s not easy. We live in a consumer society and value that which is “pricey,” so we appreciate name-brand items, fine jewelry, spectacular homes, etc. But acts of chesed: a smile to someone who is downcast, a visit to the sick, a word of encouragement to the hopeless, an embrace to the lonely, a warm loving word… those little things which in reality are huge are of no consequence in our culture. In our consumer world they are valueless and go unnoticed.

Acts of chesed cannot be translated into dollars and cents; consequently, we consider them to be of no value. We cherish luxuries and are obsessed with accumulating things and more things, but ironically, the more we have, the more we desire and the less content we become. We are the generation that possesses more than any generation could have dreamt of; yet we are also the generation that is the unhappiest.

There is nothing surprising about all this. King Solomon and many of our sages taught this truth, but this gem of wisdom has been blown away by the winds of materialism and we no longer understand it. So yes, while on Yom Kippur we divorced ourselves from the craziness of the world and actually heard our souls challenging us, and even made genuine commitments to change, to live true Jewish lives, today it all seems like a faraway dream. The gap between our resolve and actually translating it into action remains more distant than ever. Once we exited the safe portals of our Yom Kippur sanctuary and the many voices of the outside world assailed us, we lost our spiritual underpinnings – our anchor melted away.

To be sure, we have other problems as well. Our yetzer ha’ra – that little voice in our minds and hearts – is relentless, ever on the attack. Insidiously, it whispers, “Those resolutions, those promises that you made they made sense in the isolation of the synagogue, but in the ‘real world,’ it just won’t work. All those mitzvos and acts of chesed that Jews are called upon to do are simply not practical. As it is, it’s difficult enough for you to manage your time. You cannot possibly undertake more.”

But our Yiddishe neshamos are so powerful that they will not let us go. Even when we are ready to run, there are always some quiet moments – sometimes just a split- second – when our neshamos talk and prod us to get back on track. They remind us that we are dissipating our time, wasting our days and years that we are investing our energy in “fluff” that has no substance or lasting value. We need only speak to individuals who have confronted or are battling terminal illness. Not one of them will ever say that they regret not having spent more time at the workplace or having made more money. Nor will they tell us that they regret not having pursued more pleasure. But they will all confide that they feel remorseful for not having been more connected with their Jewish roots, for not having made an effort to know G-d. Most painful of all, for having failed to fulfill their mission to impart a legacy of faith, love and honor.

The most devastating experience a neshamah can have is to arrive at the Next World and behold that which it could have accomplished, and then contrast that portrait with what it actually became. The agonizing, piercing cry of such a neshamah, “What on earth could I have been thinking of? How could I have done that?” reverberates through the seven heavens, and there are no answers.

But today we can still correct it, wipe the slate clean and recapture the days and years of our lives.

We need only bear in mind that life is not about accumulating things, but about elevating ourselves. It’s not about acquiring more, but about being more. Life is about making a difference in this world, fulfilling our Jewish destiny, the purpose for which

G-d created us. Every day, at the conclusion of our morning prayers, we beseech the Almighty to help us so that “our labors may not have been in vain and our lives may not have been lived for naught.” How tragic it is that so few of us are familiar with those words and even those among us who pray repeat them mindlessly and fail to absorb their deeper meaning.

But how do we realize such lofty goals? How do we remain grounded, yet spiritually elevated?

It is simpler than we realize. G-d has actually provided us with wings, available to all, with which to soar and rise above the morass of this world. We need only seize them.

When we study Torah on an ongoing basis, we are automatically transported into another world. We are reminded of our true purpose and of that which has lasting value. Our Torah is not only our road map for life, but it is the voice of G-d, directing us, speaking to us, telling us who we really are. Our mitzvos are not just random rituals and laws, but are life-transforming experiences that render us more generous, loving and kind. When we do chesed, it is we more than others, who benefit; when we give of ourselves, we become enriched and elevated. The formula is there; we need only take hold of it.

It sounds so simple – but is it?

The answer to that is an emphatic yes.

G-d promised us that if we take one step toward Him, He will take two steps towards us. He is ever ready to help us and will place in our hands that which we thought was beyond our reach. We need only will it and it will be.

In my next column, please G-d, I will share with you some real-life stories that demonstrate just that.

Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

Chronicles Of Crises In Our Communities – 4/09/09

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Epilogue to Esther’s Story (Part 5)

The following letter was written by Esther on Erev Rosh Chodesh Adar, a day before she boarded her flight and left America to settle in the Holy Land…

My Dear, Dear Angel of Life, Rachel,

I started answering you early this morning (5:00 a.m.). I could not sleep. Aryeh will be here around 3:00 p.m. and I will be occupied with last-minute things. So, I decided to sit and write my last e-mail to you before I leave the USA.

Rachel, the video has been replaying in my head all night – in reverse. I see the years that have passed by, my anguish, depression and torment. But I try to set that aside and to focus more clearly on the scenes and images that have run past ever since my first letter to you, when I was desperate, broken, and unwilling to go on. You read, you understood and you responded.

Your words were like the cool waters on a tired soul and the soft balm on a sun-scorched skin. They actually lifted me from the deep pit of despair I was laying in. You drew out of my pained soul the bitterness, the desperation, and the will to die. In words as wise as King Solomon, you were able to transform the taste of death in my mouth into a tremendous shot of life’s adrenalin and the will to live, to do and to accomplish.

The fat “shopping-bag lady” I had become has metamorphosed back to the almost original self, both bodily and in a healthier soul. Your support and encouragement peeled off the skin of emotional disaster I had been wallowing in for so long. The kind words and wise advice you showered me with enabled a suicidal woman to seek out the “light at the end of the tunnel” – and what light there was, there is!

Hashem sent you as the redeeming messenger to bring me back from the living dead; the letter you printed brought my son back to me and thrust me into the warm embrace of a loving family I would have otherwise never known to exist. No amount of gratitude can ever say what lies in my heart for you.

And last but never the least – Aryeh!!! To think that had Hashem not given me the thought to finally, desperately, reach out for possible help The thought of Aryeh, the crowning jewel of my return to life and the wonderful breath of hope he has brought me this all, my dear Rachel, will forever be marked in Heaven to your credit.

I know you would have liked to see me, to hear my voice to assure yourself that I am real and you are not dreaming, but I cannot yet do that. Not yet, my dear Angel of Life, who has been there for me, with me, every step of the way to my rehabilitation. Perhaps someday in the future perhaps when I am quite old perhaps

And yes, I am real. I am alive, and I am forever thankful that you came into my life.

Stay well, my Dear Rachel. May Hashem shower you with requited love as you have done for me. Do print my entire story, if you wish. Perhaps someone, somewhere out there in our world, will be helped by reading my story, and it will have been worth it.

Shalom, Rachel, and may Hashem be with you forever and ever.

Esther

My Dear Esther,

I do not cry easily, but your heartfelt parting words have moved me to tears.

How apropos that you chose “Esther” by which to disguise your identity – a name that means “hidden.” How appropriate that the date of your departure falls on the day that heralds the month of Adar – a month that celebrates simcha, joy, at G-d’s miracles. And how utterly befitting for you to be crowned Queen by your Prince just as we prepare to commemorate our own Queen Esther.

The happiness I feel for you at this glorious turn in your life is indescribable. You are young yet and full of hope and promise for a beautiful future with a special someone at your side, one who is fortunate to recognize your beauty inside and out. Chasdei Hashem!

At this time, I must beg your forgiveness for anything I ever said in our correspondence that may have hurt you. My intention was only to drag you out of the bottomless, useless and dingy pit you were mired in.

Your praise is too profuse… I take no credit for your transformation. It was G-d’s plan, but I am nonetheless immensely touched and grateful that He allowed me to play a part in it.

From the depths of my being I wish you hatzlachah and a wonderful life filled with endless nachas, joy and fulfillment.

I understand your need for privacy, especially in light of having led a secluded existence for so long, yet I do hope we will one day meet. And who knows… maybe we knew each other in another lifetime…

Please give my best to your adoring son who has my deepest admiration for all that he has done – his kibud eim will stand him well both in this world and the next. He has proven himself to be a model son. (And a model shadchan. Clever and considerate in his strategy, he had you and Aryeh encounter one another without ceremony, keeping his motive to himself – in order to avert discomfort for either of you should nothing have come of your initial meeting.) May G-d repay his tremendous compassion as he goes on to reap much nachas from his beautiful mishpachah for many, many healthy years to come.

Wishing you and all of our readers a sweet, inspirational and meaningful Pesach. Yours, my dear Esther, is sure to be a most memorable one. I’ll be thinking of you and keeping you in my prayers…

L’Shanah Haba’ah b’Yerushalayim!

Rachel

Emmanuil And Janet Snitkovsky – Paintings

Wednesday, August 18th, 2004

Two highly successful artists, the husband and wife team of Emmanuil and Janet Snitkovsky, are currently exhibiting a selection of eight large Judaic paintings at the Chassidic Art Institute in Crown Heights. Three of those paintings are truly singular visions of Jewish Art that cause us to stop and reassess our preconceptions about the meaning and importance of their subjects.

Emmanuil and Janet Snitkovsky were both born in the Ukraine in the 1930’s. Emmanuil was trained in Odessa in public monument art, and Janet majored in fashion at the Lvov Decorative Art Institute. After both narrowly survived the devastation of the Second World War in Stalin’s Russia, they began to collaborate on state sponsored art works in 1962. For ten years, they worked on grandiose public sculptural projects to commemorate the fallen Russian heroes of the Second World War in Moscow, Kiev, Tula and Kazan. They were exemplary Soviet Realists working for the Soviet regime. Eventually, this career became untenable for them, both as artists and as Jews, when they clashed with Soviet officialdom over a commission to commemorate the Babi-Yar massacre.

The Soviets refused to acknowledge this massacre of 100,000 Jews and eventually suppressed the memorial. In 1978, Emmanuil and Janet arrived in New York and began to recreate their artistic lives. In the ensuing 25 years, they have been quite successful, exhibiting widely in the United States and Europe.

They have nurtured a hybrid style of painting and sculpture called “Renaissance Revival” combining contemporary and classical subjects in a stylized realism that evokes both the American regionalist Thomas Hart Benton and the Italian Renaissance master Sandro Botticelli. The works are highly proficient, polished, and commercial productions in a quirky decorative style. They have continued to accept sculptural projects that have not shied away from kitschy realistic sculptures of Charlie Chaplin as “The Kid,” The Little Tramp” and Buster Keaton as “Cameramen.” In some ways, they have appropriated American culture just as they once accepted Soviet culture.

Young Hasid With Sefer Torah presents a parody of a stock sentimental image of youthful pietistic devotion. All the elements are there, a young hasid with peyos nearly as long as his talis katan peeking out from under his shin length beckesheh. He grasps the Sefer Torah, somewhat magically supporting its weight, as he strides across a black and white tiled floor.

Incongruously, a white bird follows him bearing a single lit candle that perhaps announces some kind of mystical wedding. The image becomes stranger as we notice that the background, a storied city and turbulent sky, presumably Jerusalem, is but a painted backdrop. Now the two fragments of a talis seen on each side of the painting fall into place as a kind of curtain that frames the iconic hasid with his Sefer Torah. In this painting, Snitkovsky comments on the stock image that it may be simply a play unveiled before a cardboard holy city. Certainly not what we might expect.

Moses And The Reed Sea is a similarly jarring image. Moses is striding forward, the waves beating a hasty retreat from his aggressive steps. An octopus glares out at us as his abode is uncovered by the great Jewish leader marching forward led by a pure white sea gull, perhaps representing an angel. B’nai Yisroel follow obediently in a long line that stretches back to the pyramids at the horizon, watched over by a lone Masonic Eye floating in the sky. This curious combination, the All Seeing Eye and the Pyramids, is a motif found on the back of the U.S one dollar bill. Moses, grasping a bamboo staff in one hand and a mysterious scroll in the other is depicted as a force of nature, his hair and beard blowing just like dramatically furious storm clouds. Emmanuil and Janet’s wit and charm bring us into the heart of the mythic narrative that seems be pointing to a latter-day Exodus out of American materialism and into an unknown future Promised Land.

What makes these paintings exciting is that each uses traditional Jewish imagery to reassess normative values and assumptions. We would not normally think of a young hasid as a play-actor or of Moses at the Reed Sea as a driven contemporary figure, and yet Snitkovsky’s paintings push us towards these thoughts. The next painting goes even further to uncover a layer of meaning about the nature of wisdom.

The Judgment of Solomon, painted in 1981, presents an iconic vision of exactly how the wise King Solomon made his famous decision between two women who both claimed the same infant (Kings 1; 3:16-28). Both women are clad in a warm red dress framing King Solomon. There is a poetic dance of six hands, each expressing one aspect of the narrative. Solomon symbolically threatens the child (nestled in a basket between the women) as his raised hand magically balances a sword that floats above his right shoulder. Solomon’s evenhandedness is the cunning stimulus to resolution as his gesture slices between the competing claims. The woman on the left seems willing to give up the child to save its life, pushing the basket away, while the other gestures dramatically that “Neither mine nor yours shall he be. Cut!”

Snitkovsky’s mannered rendition of gesture, costume and lighting add to the drama to allow us to fully appreciate Solomon’s wisdom just before the matter was resolved. King Solomon looks directly at us, challenging us to decide as the tension of the moment becomes close to unbearable. The artist’s point yet again is to bring the audience into the fabric of the narrative to engage us in the complexities of judgment that are as fully relevant today as they were close to three thousand years ago.

Emmanuil and Janet Snitkovsky have utilized their popular and commercial style to develop a successful career in America. When they turn their talents to Jewish subject matter, a very different kind of artistic success ensues. The Jewish art that emerges is one in which Jewish piety, leadership and even wisdom are examined through a vision forged in the restrictive crucible of Soviet Realism and developed in the heady surrealism of American popular culture. They force us to share their turbulent history that endured a totalitarian dictatorship and the jarring encounter with a brash America. After seeing these challenging paintings, these Jewish subjects will never be quite the same.

Emmanuil And Janet Snitkovsky – Paintings Chassidic Art Institute – 375 Kingston Avenue, Brooklyn, New York 11213; (718) 774-9149. Noon – 7 p.m.; Sunday – Thursday: Zev Markowitz, director.

Richard McBee is a painter of Torah subject matter and writer on Jewish Art. Please feel free to contact him with comments at www.richardmcbee.com.

Richard McBee

Where Rain Reigns, Hail Is Hailed, And Israel Is Real

Wednesday, February 4th, 2004

Perhaps the one characteristic that unites people of all nationalities, cultures and creeds is a
fascination with weather, especially bad weather. Strangers at bus stops, friends in carpools, colleagues around the water cooler love to commiserate about plans ruined by rain, snow, sleet or wind.

Except in Israel. Four days into a recent visit, I experienced precipitation for the first time, as I had never been in Israel during the winter months. The Jerusalem -Tel Aviv area was drenched by torrential rains and battered by hail. To the north, snow covered the slopes of Mt. Hermon and freezing rain hit the surrounding areas. Yet although they were soaked, drenched, pelted and muddied, the residents of the Holy Land did not utter one word of complaint. Everywhere I went I heard the words, from secular taxi drivers to chassidic shopkeepers “Baruch Hashem l’egeshem.” – “Thank G-d for the rain” or “Zeh bracha min HaShomayim” – “it’s a gift from Heaven.”

Rain is appreciated, cherished and embraced in Israel, despite the soaked shoes, dripping hair and flooded roads. Israelis understand that short-term unpleasantness or inconvenience is necessary for long-term benefits. They are also aware that complaining about it is useless anyhow – so why bother?

For a people under daily siege – they are remarkably cheerful, energetic – and defiant. The
streets are full with passersby going about their business. The lineups in the pizza places are long, the seats on the buses are occupied, and the sidewalks are full of vendors, shoppers and children.

The media would like potential tourists to believe that they visit Israel at their peril. That
normal activities like eating at a restaurant or waiting for a bus are risky. These observation are
true, but based on recent news, buying a newspaper in Manhattan can be life-threatening as well, as a grieving family discovered when a loved one was hit by a taxi that careened into a newsstand. And going camping in California can be deadly also. Or taking the Staten Island ferry can be bad for your health. Or eating a hamburger that someone else prepared, or
passing a dog on the street, or walking under a tree, or going on a boat, in a car, in an airplane, or showing up for work or just sleeping in bed when an earthquake strikes or a plane falls out of the sky.

The only way a person can avoid death – is not to be born in the first place. Otherwise you are at risk for dying – anywhere and anytime.

King Solomon states in Kohelet that there is a time to be born and a time to die. In a dvar Torah I heard from Rabbi David Algaze of Havurat Yisrael, he asked the question of why King Solomon points out the obvious – that people are born and people die? Rabbi Algaze presented the story of a childless couple who tried all kinds of infertility treatments. One day,
they were advised to go to a rebbe for a bracha. A year later, they had a healthy child. The couple regretted not going to this rebbe years earlier. They were then told that it wouldn’t have helped – as it was not the time for their child to have been born.

This concept of destiny applies to death as well. There is a specific time when each person is slated to die (although tefillah – prayer, teshuva – repentance and tzedakah – charity – can extend one’s life.) That being the case – it is pointless to cower behind closed doors. Israelis are not afraid to be out and about and to live their lives. Not to do so would be to grant
victory to those who want to shatter our spirits as much as they seek to break our bodies.

If we are afraid to travel to Israel, which means the withholding of crucial tourist dollars for a country whose economic health revolves to a great extent around tourism – then we inadvertently are aiding the enemy in realizing their dream of undermining the State of Israel.

If making aliyah is not a feasible option at the time for all Jews in the Diaspora – the very least we can do is visit and financially support the country that belongs to all of us. Israelis are already shouldering the brutal physical effects of the war of attrition – how can we sit back and let them bear the economic burden as well?

Cheryl Kupfer

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/magazine/where-rain-reigns-hail-is-hailed-and-israel-is-real/2004/02/04/

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