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October 21, 2016 / 19 Tishri, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘LIFE’

Earning A Living: The Great Life Test

Thursday, August 25th, 2016

“Who feeds you manna in the wilderness, which your forefathers knew not, in order to afflict you and in order to test you to do good for you in the end?” – Devarim 8:16


For forty years living in the midbar, the Jewish people ate mon. The Torah explains that one of the reasons the mon was given to the Klal Yisrael was in order to test them. The Sforno explains the test: “Will you do His will when He gives you your sustenance easily without pain?”

It seems the Sforno is telling us that the fact that the Jewish nation didn’t have to work was one of the great trials it faced.

This Sforno is very difficult to understand. We know that Hashem metes out many life tests. But where have we seen that not having to struggle is a challenge?

This question can be answered by focusing on why Hashem wants man to work. The ox was created to plow, the donkey to haul loads, the beaver to dam streams. But, man was created for a very different purpose. Man was not created to be a beast of burden. So, why does Hashem want man to work for a living?

One of the reasons can be best understood with a mashol. Imagine that a man recognizes his eight-year-old son has difficulty getting along with his peers. The little boy is constantly getting into fights, and in general seems to miss social cues. The school psychologist tells the father his son has social integration issues. He just doesn’t understand the rules of social conduct.

The father takes it on himself to help his little Moishe become a mensch. As part of the plan, he takes time off from work and invites Moishe and his friends to a play date. They are on the floor playing Monopoly when an ambulance passes outside, siren blasting. As the boys look to the window, the father notices Moishe reach into the “bank” and take out a five-hundred-dollar bill. The father doesn’t say anything. A few moments later, the doorbell rings. Again, all the boys look up, and Moishe reaches into the box and takes out two thousand dollars. When this happens again a few moments later, the father asks Moishe to join him in the kitchen.

“Moishe,” says the father, “I couldn’t help but notice that some of the money that belongs in the bank somehow ended up in your pocket. Can you explain this to me?”

“Sure,” Moishe answers. “Last night I heard you and mommy talking about how you need a lot of money. So here, I took this for you!”

While the sincerity of the little fellow might be touching, he is missing the point. The only reason the father was involved in this activity was to teach him how to be a mensch. The father doesn’t need the money, and certainly isn’t taking time off of his busy day to earn Monopoly money. But Moishe in his naiveté missed the entire point of the exercise.

This is an apt mashol to man working. Hashem doesn’t need man to work to earn a living. Hashem has lots of money. Hashem created the situation that man has to work to earn his daily bread. Now man is dependent. Now man can go through one of the greatest of life’s tests: how will he go about this activity called earning a living? Will he be honest? Will he be ethical? When he has difficulty in earning a living, will he learn to trust in Hashem, or will he make that ultimate mistake – thinking it is the sweat of his brow and the strength of his hand that earns him his bread?

Man Needs Needs

This seems to be the answer to the Sforno. The generation of the midbar was on a lofty level. They had received the Torah from Hashem and were living in a virtual yeshiva. While the mon took care of their daily needs, it was also as a great social experiment: would they attain the same closeness to Hashem without having to earn a living? Would they still reach out to Hashem if they didn’t lack for anything? Would they still come to recognize their dependence on Hashem if they didn’t need to struggle to survive? The mon was a test to see if they could reach greatness without the normal life settings – without needs.

Rabbi Ben Tzion Shafier

Dancing with Life

Thursday, August 25th, 2016

{Originally posted to Rabbi Weinberg’s website, The Foundation Stone}

The desires of the heart are as crooked as corkscrews
Not to be born is the best for man
The second best is a formal order
The dance’s pattern, dance while you can.
Dance, dance, for the figure is easy
The tune is catching and will not stop
Dance till the stars come down with the rafters
Dance, dance, dance till you drop.
W.H. Auden, “Death’s Echo”

Just more than a week ago I was sitting in mourning. I emerged from my mourning and wandered in a daze until Isaiah spoke to me on Shabbat and offered words of consolation. Today, I am back to life as it is, with its joys and challenges.

How could I possibly handle all these different emotions on top of the complexities of life?

I dance with them.There are times I dance in formal steps and patterns, according to the rules. Some dances demand the formality, especially when sharing the floor with other dancers. However, the dance from mourning to comfort to joy to comfort to life, and then, to who knows what next, is far more complicated than the Tango or Salsa. It is, for me, a free-form dance to express the different emotions, but even more so, how I experience the chaotic fluctuations from one emotion to another. I do not dance to the formal steps but to how my inner music plays out its response to life’s calendar and challenges.

People often express wonder how I can teach in a very “religious” neighborhood one day, and a completely secular community the next. They assume that I am simply dancing a different tune on different days and in different communities. They are wrong! I do not dance a different step to the very different tunes of extremely different communities. Nor do I dance different steps to different holidays and commandments; a slow dance on Tisha B’Av, say, and a joyous step six days later on Tu B’Av. It is all one dance; the Dance of Life, the dance that expresses my response to life. There are no formal steps to my dance other than being in touch with how I feel and what I want to express at any given moment. The dance is an expression of my joy in life, and my small response to its many realities and revelations.

This week’s portion, Eikev, or “Heel,” begins, “This shall be the reward when (Eikev – Heel) you hear these laws and perform them.” Why the heel? Dance Steps. The Dance of Life. “This will be the reward when you dance to these laws and express how they affect you,” is how I interpet the verse.

The key word in this weeks portion is “Hear.” it is a challenge to listen to the music of life, the song of the Torah as it guides us through life. The portion reminds us of the importance of expressing how our ‘heels’ respond in the Dance of Life to our experiences on every level.

This portion also stresses the importance of love, as if to say, “Above all, let your love envelope you in your dance: God’s love for you, your love of God, your love of family, your love of self.”

Remember: Love is the greatest adventure of them all, and our Dance of Life should reflect that.

When and if it does, our Dance of Life becomes not only a thing of enjoyment, but a thing of beauty.

Dance with me to: Chipping Away The Pieces, help me dance my way out of Stuck in a Role and The Fear Underneath, so I can nurture The Question Machine.

Shall we dance?

Shabbat Shalom (The Dance of Life is permitted and encouraged on Shabbat!)

Rabbi Simcha Weinberg

Life Chronicles

Monday, August 22nd, 2016

Dear Mrs. Bluth,

Many years ago, my then twelve-year-old daughter asked me to open a bank account in trust for her, wherein I deposited her bas mitzvah money and all the monies she made from babysitting, and being a counselor in camp. During the ensuing years she accumulated a few thousand dollars, having never asked me to withdraw any money. When she graduated high school and got a job she continued to hand over the bulk of her paychecks for me to deposit in her account, which still remained in trust for her.

Sometime during those years, my husband lost his job and my salary was not nearly enough to cover our household needs. Even with help from my own, elderly parents, I had great difficulty covering expenses and I “borrowed” from my daughter’s bank account on a number of occasions, always promising in my heart to return the amount just as soon as our financial situation improves. The guilt I felt for taking the small sums was always quieted by this mental promise. But the borrowing became more frequent and the sums larger as my older son got engaged and the cost of the engagement and wedding were overwhelming.

Without thought as to how much I was already indebted to my daughter’s account, I regularly withdrew monies to cover the costs. And after the wedding and sheva brochos, there was soon nothing left in the account. My daughter trusted me and never doubted that I was looking out for her welfare, so she never asked to see her bank statements. She had no idea that her hard-earned money was gone.

My daughter came home from a shidduch date and told us she had met her bashert. We were overjoyed to meet our soon to be son-in-law, who turned out to be a wonderful young man with a bright future and a wonderful family. As we began to plan the wedding, my daughter asked to have access to her bank account so she could withdraw $10,000 for her gown and deposits. She was determined, she said, not to be a burden to us.

I had no choice but to expose the terrible thing I had done and tell her that there was no money left. It broke my heart to see the crestfallen look of disbelief in her eyes as I tearfully begged her forgiveness. Though she told me not to worry and assured me that she would take out loans and repay them, the trust between us was broken and the closeness we shared gone. I had hoped that once she was married and time passed, things between us would return to the way they used to be however, it is a year since the wedding and the distance between us is greater than ever.

I miss my daughter so much and wish I could turn back time without repeating my mistake. What can I do to make amends and show her that I am truly sorry for what I did? How can I regain her trust and respect?



Dear Friend,

Trust, once broken, is an arduous endeavor to regain — but not impossible. What you did is reprehensible to say the least, but your daughter seems to me to be a sensible young woman, who showed her kibbud av v’aim by not losing her temper when you divulged your secret. She even went so far as to assume loans to cover her wedding so as not to have to burden you and your husband. But understandably, trust fell to the wayside.

Love, if it was strong and close with the two of you before, should have created a solid foundation upon which to reconnect and rebuild the trust that was tested. Call your daughter and sit down over coffee and explain what caused you to begin “borrowing” against her savings…. with the honest intention for paying it back. Tell her how sorry you are that this caused such a distance between you and how much you miss her and the way things used to be. I think you have a good chance of making her see how sincerely you want to have things back the way they used to be and I have a strong feeling she wants that too.

Rachel Bluth

Talk About Art, Change Your Life

Monday, August 22nd, 2016

“I wandered for a time looking for what was always right there” – Astrid Daley


Do you notice the things around you?

Do you really see the homes, stores, and buildings that you pass every day?

How well do you truly see?

Art Historian Amy Herman’s new book Visual Intelligence: Sharpen Your Perception, Change Your Life argues that most of us do not notice the things around us. We do not really see the homes, stores, and buildings we pass every day. And we do not truly see well.

For many years, Herman has been teaching a workshop at the Frick Museum in New York City entitled “The Art of Perception.” The workshop began when she brought a course created by a dermatology professor at Yale University to New York medical schools. This course taught students to analyze works of art in order to improve their patient observation skills. In other words, students looked at works of art and described the “who, what, where, when, and why” of the object. Shockingly, a clinical study found that students who took the “The Art of Perception” course had diagnostic skills that were 56 percent better than students who did not take the course. The presumably unrelated skill of observing art correlated with the skill of diagnosing patient illness.

Herman’s work poses and then answers the questions: “How can looking at Monet’s water lily paintings help save your company millions? How can noticing people’s footwear foil a terrorist attack? How can your choice of adjective win an argument, calm your children, or catch a thief?”

In reality, we all see just fine, but what Herman teaches and refines is visual intelligence – a set of skills that we are born with but do not know how to use effectively. Looking at art and describing what we see, helps sharpen our visual intelligence and communicate more effectively.

Over the last two decades, Herman has trained police officers, business executives, medical professionals, and customer service representatives in the art of perception. Of course, Herman understands the skepticism involved in using works of art to train people to do their jobs in very different fields. “Looking at old painting and sculptures is definitely not the first thing most people think of when I tell them we’re going to get their neurons firing and increase their brain-processing speed. They picture engaging in cutting-edge 3D computerized training or at least wearing Google glasses while walking down a busy street, not strolling through a museum viewing objects that have sat still for hundreds of years. But that’s exactly the point: art doesn’t walk away. If you want to study human behavior, you can park yourself somewhere public and people watch: guess at who they are, why they’re dressed that way, where they’re going…until they leave. And you’ll never know if you’re right or wrong. Or you could analyze words of art that we have the answers to: the who, what, where, when, and why. Art historian David Joselit describes art as ‘exorbitant stockpiles of experience and information.’ It contains everything we need to hone our observation, perception, and communication expertise.”

Looking at art forces us to engage in an entirely new thought process. Research shows that people learn best when they are in a slightly stressful situation (which novel experiences like looking at art can create). Therefore, perhaps the best way to reevaluate and reassess something we always do – the way we parent, the way we interact with others, the way we do our jobs, or the way we view the world around us – is “to step outside of ourselves, and outside of our comfort zone.”

Rifka Schonfeld

Life Chronicles

Monday, August 15th, 2016

Dear Mrs. Bluth,

For some time now I have been secretly delving into alternate religions because I have lost all faith in Judaism, so much so that I am no longer keeping Shabbat or eating kosher. My family and friends in the community have no idea what I am going through, even though they are largely responsible for my animus towards and disenchantment with God and with my people.

I have a severe speech disability, having been born with a cleft pallet, and I think I started questioning God’s mercy and love from my earliest memory. How could God punish a newborn child with disfigurement and a lifetime of torment by schoolmates, strangers and even family members? Why would He do this to me? What sin did I commit in utero that I and others like myself should be made to suffer endless taunts, be excluded from taking part in sports or being passed over for team events? Where is His mercy?

So, from infancy, this disenchantment with Judaism grew, but I was not fully cognizant of the silent metamorphosis that was taking place within my soul, eating away at my spirit and turning me off from all the teachings and indoctrination I was force fed in yeshiva. The shame and pain I endured at the hands of teachers, rabbis and my peers was more than I could bear, often with no one coming to my defense. I would come home crying and when I told my father what had happened, he became angry at me for not standing up for myself, he said that is why the bullies picked on me and others ridiculed me. He refused to come and speak to the principal on my behalf and said that I had to “man up,” and that the world was a hard place and everyone had to forge their own way.

I would cry myself to sleep almost every night, begging the Great Almighty Hashem who, I was taught to believe, loved little children and looked after them, I begged for a miracle, to be whole, or at least to be accepted the same way as everyone else. But no help ever came! And as I grew older and nothing changed, in fact in many instances it got harder, I slowly stopped believing, even though I pretended to.

Now that I am in college and exposed to so many other people, kind people who do not judge me for being different and are tolerant of my appearance and difficult speech issues, I feel like I have found my place in the world. I will not miss any of my Jewish friends because I have none, I no longer care what my parents will say or do because they never lifted a finger to help me, all I was to them was an imperfect son who would never be perfect, as well as an embarrassment and a burden. I’m writing this without return address or any identifying factor, as I really no longer exist in my old form. I guess I’m writing as the last remnants of my Jewishness falls away because of an uncaring God and a cruel people.



Dear Friend,

Since you have not as yet fully closed the door on your faith, or lack thereof, I will take the liberty to put my foot in it and try to stop the process, even at this late juncture. I truly felt the pain and disillusionment you must have experienced throughout your short life, at the insensitive hands of many of your friends and some of your family members and teachers. This can certainly destroy one’s hope and faith in humanity.

Rachel Bluth

Life Chronicles

Monday, August 8th, 2016

Dear Mrs. Bluth,

This letter has been a long time in the making, I guess courage comes when the realization that things will never get better, only worse, if no action is taken.  As I wait for the swelling about my face to subside and force my aching body to go about packing a few necessary things for myself and my baby, I am trying to fight off the terror of leaving by telling myself it is better than the terror of staying.

Two years ago, I married the man of my dreams, or so I thought. I had held out far longer than any of my school friends and my parents, family and friends had just about given up hope that I would ever find my bashert. And then I was redt to “Mr. Perfect,” who seemed to be exactly what I was looking for.

At twenty-eight, I couldn’t believe my luck, and smugly touted “I told you so” to all those who accused me of being picky.  On my first date with Dan,* a cosmetic surgeon who had come to town to work in one of our major hospitals, I was smitten.  Good looking, brilliant, worldly and intelligent, Dan was the man of my dreams and I became the envy of all my married friends.  We dated for four months, during which my parents’ enthusiasm waned, as rumor and gossip reached their ears. But I was not concerned; Dan was my soul mate and I closed my ears to all the hearsay and went about planning my wedding.

Three weeks before the wedding, I received an unsigned letter from a woman in another state, who said that she had been married to and divorced from Dan and that I should not to go through with the wedding.  She wrote that Dan was charming and attentive at the beginning, but within a short time after their wedding he had become angry and physically abusive.  His anger was also evident to his colleagues and superiors at the hospital where he worked and he was consequently fired.  Without a job and below par recommendations his anger was constant and she refused to stay with him. They had been married for seven months. She warned me that by marrying him I was signing up for a lifetime of misery.  I tore up the letter and convinced myself that this woman was jealous that Dan had moved on with his life. I never told my parents or anyone else about the letter and the wedding was on track.

We got married on a beautiful night in June and started life in a little apartment in the city.  Between my job and Dan’s we lived comfortably and enjoyed the first few months of marriage, eating out most nights and going to theater.  And then, one night, when we were married about five months, Dan came home from work early.  I smelled alcohol on his breath and when I asked him what had happened, a completely different Dan entered my life.  He started yelling at me to leave him alone and stop nagging him.  When I tried to explain that I was concerned for him, he picked up a heavy vase and threw it in my direction. When it didn’t hit me, he sprang forward and began pummeling me about the face and head, all the while shrieking and howling that everything was my fault, and I was the reason he lost his job.  We had no money in the bank as we spent everything we made, how were we going to live or pay the bills?  Why had I not foreseen this?  I should have been more prudent about our spending, and then maybe we wouldn’t be in this mess. As he yelled, his fists rained down on my body and I cowered on the floor.

Rachel Bluth

Life Chronicles

Monday, August 1st, 2016

Dear Mrs. Bluth,

I would like to reply to the woman who claims to read your column simply for the “entertainment,” factor and does not believe that any of the letters you publish are true. It seems she has a difficulty accepting that these terrible tragedies can take place amongst religious Jews. I am writing to vouch for the fact that they do.

I worked in a reputable mental health facility for over thirty years. While I myself am not Jewish, many of my clients were. Every imaginable mental and emotional affliction that is evident in the secular population can be found in the Jewish community as well.  What I have found among married Jewish women is a deep and silent depression, often culminating in an attempted suicide.  During my sessions with these women it is clear that they have suffered bitterly, over long periods of time, and have not sought help in any way for fear of being branded in some way or treated as an outcast.  They keep silent and suffer emotionally, and often physically, until they can no longer bear it and resort to suicide.

Guilt, betrayal, domestic abuse, fear of divorce or not being able to get a divorce through the Jewish courts are all part of the problem. Many of these women know of cases were women filing for a Jewish divorce walked away with little or nothing in support and may have been denied custody and visitation of their children.

When I would ask why they couldn’t go to secular court, they almost always said it was forbidden or that they did not have the finances to hire an attorney.  The common thread in all my Jewish cases was that there was little support emotionally or otherwise for a woman who’s marital plight became public knowledge.  Her family, friends and community abandoned and shunned her, siding with her husband.  She ended up an outcast within her community, a ghost amongst her own people, until suicide began to look like the only means of escape.

I am retired now, but I still see some patients on a limited basis. Their stories are still the same, differing ever so slightly in detail. I have come to understand that the insular community is often the reason these women resort to life-ending alternatives.  When there is no one to whom one can turn to for help, and rumors abound in regards to the situation, these women are technically “walking dead.”

The reason for this letter at this late date is to get a better understanding on how to deal with the issue before it is too late to save these women.  Your help and clarity would be invaluable.



Dear Friend,

Let me first say that I am impressed with the deep concern that comes across in your letter and your desire to find solutions by which you can better assist your patients in their darkest hour.  However, what you are asking me to do is nearly, if not totally impossible.

Suicide is a place that no one with a clear and solid understanding of hope will ever consider going to.  It is the absence of all hope that enhances the idea that suicide is the answer to the unceasing pain and grief.  It has little to do with being Jewish, Catholic or an atheist. It is more about the limits of a person’s capacity to handle emotional or physical pain, without respite.  What makes it different, to some degree, in regards to Jewish women is that the lessons of modesty taught in schools and in many homes encompasses the idea that one’s home life and marital issues are kept to be kept private and dealt with internally.  More often than not, this means that the woman will not confide in family or close friends, thus ensuring her a life of suffering in silence.  It is only when suicide enters the thought process of a mind so distorted by pain that the problem comes to light and help arrives, hopefully before it is too late.

Rachel Bluth

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/family/life-chronicles/life-chronicles-79/2016/08/01/

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