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Posts Tagged ‘mitzvah’

So Many ‘Things’: A Personal Account of Hurricane Sandy

Wednesday, November 7th, 2012

There it was, a backyard full of my basement furniture, and bags and bags of waterlogged papers. There is something very humbling about seeing your “things” laid out on the grass. Of course, my home in Manhattan Beach, Brooklyn, is just one of many in the region devastated by Hurricane Sandy. But since possessions are by definition personal, it gives one no comfort to know others have the same problem.

In my case this is just the beginning, because the water that flooded my house rose above the basement and came up to the first floor, causing major damage. So over the next few days my daily living items will also be making their way outside.

As I stood on my porch, many thoughts came to mind. Leaving aside the enormity of what I have to deal with, I couldn’t help but think of how much we accumulate over the course of years. I am not by any means a hoarder – but I was quite surprised to see how much I had saved. Whose lock of hair is that in the water-soaked bag? My sons are in their forties with children of their own, but I guess I couldn’t part with that little lock from a long-ago upsherin. Now I would have to.

The table and chairs sitting outside were connected to a chesed I had done a while back. Actually, it was only the first part of the chesed. That probably is why we are told that if one starts a mitzvah, one has to finish it. I will not be able to finish that one.

I suppose some of the things in the basement were junk, but so many others were dear to me. There was the set of my father’s machzorim with larger print for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur that my mother gave me after my father died, with a beautiful inscription that only my mother was capable of writing. I still remember what she wrote, and that will have to be the memory I hold onto now that I can no longer hold those machzorim.

As I stood there, another memory came to me. It was about thirty-three years ago that my dear Aunt Sylvia died, and while my mother sat shiva it fell to me to empty out Aunt Sylvia’s small apartment. Everything Aunt Sylvia owned was in those two and a half rooms. And there I was trying to figure out what was valuable and what was not. Then again, valuable to whom?

I picked some things I thought my mother and my sister would like and I took some of the things that had special meaning to me. Much of the rest I discarded. But it wasn’t easy. I was crying as I worked on it. And when I was finished I promised myself I wouldn’t save so many things. Now, all these years later, I ask myself how it is that I indeed saved so very many things.

I think the answer is that while we live, different things have meanings to each of us. I saved the little card my son Zevie made for me when he was three years old in nursery school because I never could forget the joy on his face when he presented it to me.

I saved my children’s report cards, from first grade on, even those of the daughters who are now grandmothers themselves because – well, just because. I saved some of the birthday cards my parents gave me over the years because, as I mentioned above, my mother had such a wonderful way with words. And the list goes on and on.

My husband’s medical school diploma and other items related to his medical achievements were in the basement along with some of his other things. In a strange way I would feel a sense of comfort in touching them. It will soon be his second yahrzeit, and I miss him very much.

My eyes filled with tears as I stared at what was in those clear garbage bags, but then I quickly admonished myself. How could I tear up over “things” when I have my life and my health? But I stopped beating myself up about it almost as soon as I started.

Love Of Fellow Jews

Monday, November 5th, 2012

The kinship and love between Jews is one of the cardinal principles and hallmarks of Judaism and none could match Rav Eliezer-Lippa, father of the two great chassidic leaders Reb Elimelech of Lizhensk and Reb Zusha of Hanipoli, when it came to this particular characteristic.

Rav Eliezer-Lippa would spare no money or effort when it came to helping out a fellow Jew who was in desperate straits. Above all, he took a special interest in those poor Jewish tenants-farmers who were constantly being harassed by the feudal landlords because they fell behind in the staggering tax payments imposed on them.

Redeeming A Prisoner

It was the custom of the landlords to take these poor Jews and throw them into prison until they or someone else paid the debt. Rav Eliezer-Lippa was one who gave all that he owned for the mitzvah of pidyon shvuyim (redeeming the prisoners).

One time he heard that in a nearby town a certain Jewish tenant-farmer had been imprisoned by the landlord because he was unable to pay his rents and taxes. Leaping into his wagon, he took all of his money and drove off to see what he could do. When he arrived at the landlord’s home, however, he was told that the amount owed was twice as much as he had.

He pleaded with the landlord to accept the money that he had in payment of the debt and free the prisoner. His pleas were effective and the man was freed. Following this, the landlord turned to Rav Eliezer-Lippa and said, “I see that you are a truly good and righteous man and I am sure you are also an honest man in business. I have a business proposition you might be interested in.”

“What is it?” asked the rav.

The Proposition

“I have a certain relative who is a wealthy landlord in a town not far from here. He has a great deal of agricultural produce – wheat, barley, flax – that he is interested in selling, but he has been looking for an exceptionally honest merchant whom he can trust.

“I am sure you would be the perfect man and I will give you a letter to him so that he will sell you his merchandise.”

When Rav Eliezer-Lippa heard these words he replied, “I thank you very much for your trust in me but I am afraid that I have no money with which to buy the merchandise. You see, every available penny that I had, I gave you to redeem the prisoner.”

An Offer

When the landlord heard this, he said, “In that case, I will do this. Here is the money back and use it to buy produce. When you have earned your profit I am sure that you will come back and repay me.”

“I appreciate this very much,” said the rav. Taking the money and the letter he set off for the town to buy the merchandise and realize a handsome profit.

Arriving at the merchant’s home he explained why he was there and showed him the letter. The landlord read it and said, “My relative speaks very highly of you and he recommends that I do business with you. Since I have great respect for his judgment, I agree to it.”

The two men sat down and worked out a price and all the other necessary details. Then Rav Eliezer-Lippa went down to the granaries to look over the produce.

As he was walking with one of the servants he heard a terrible groan coming from one of the nearby buildings.

“What is that?” he asked in horror.

“Oh, that is a Jew who has been imprisoned by the landlord because he is behind in his debts. The landlord has decided to starve him to death.”

When Rav Eliezer-Lippa heard this he rushed back to the landlord and cried, “I wish to pay the Jewish prisoner’s debt immediately. Here is the money so you can release him.”

Prepare To Leave

When the Jew had been released, Rav Eliezer-Lippa prepared to leave. Where are you going?” asked the landlord in surprise. “What about the business deal that we have?”

Rav Eliezer-Lippa stood straight and stared at the landlord directly in the face saying, “I will be quite frank with you. Since I have seen with what cruelty you behaved towards this Jew, I have decided that I have no desire to do business with you in any way even if this means losing enormous profits.”

Keep Up The Good Work

Friday, November 2nd, 2012

Dear Dr. Yael:

I feel extremely guilty about my elderly father and am filled with anger toward my sisters and brothers in regards to his care.

First the latter: My five siblings give me, the youngest child and one of three daughters, little help in caring for our father, instead they provide me with constant advice and criticism. Unfortunately I am the only one who takes care him (I visit every day); my father lives near me and has a full-time attendant. Some of my siblings live nearby and others further away, but they only visit him occasionally – and basically expect me to do everything.

My three brothers feel that as sons, they are obligated to do less. My two sisters claim that they are busy with their married children. Well, I also have married children but somehow find the time for our elderly father. One of the things that angers me is the remarks they make. For example, they’ll say that since I was his favorite child, I am the one obligated to care for him. As our parents were wonderful to all of us, I cannot understand how they can turn their backs on him now – just when he needs us most.

At the same time, I feel guilty that I don’t do more for him. My father complains a lot, causing me to sometimes become angry with him. I find it hard to spend a lot of time with him, although I visit every day, take him to doctors, cook his favorite foods, and make sure he has everything he needs.

I need your advice on how to deal with my anger toward my siblings and guilt about my father.

Angry and Guilty

Dear Angry and Guilty:

It is amazing that one father is able to care for six children, but six children cannot care for one father.

I am impressed by your devotion to your father and your adherence to the mitzvah of kibud av. What I would suggest is that in dealing with your father’s complaining try to validate his feelings. You may find that this helps decrease his complaining. Often when people complain, the natural response from the person forced to listen is to say, “It is not so bad, so stop complaining.” This usually makes them complain more. Saying to your father, “I know how you must feel; it is not easy to feel that way,” may make him realize that he’s being heard and understood. As a result, he may complain less.

With respect to your siblings, you should confront them in a nice manner. At a minimum, you will feel better having told them how upset you are and why. They may be rationalizing to themselves that you enjoy having all of the responsibility.

Use the “I feel” message, as others are usually less defensive when confronted with that strategy. Say something like, “I know that you all have busy lives, Baruch Hashem, and you probably do not realize that I feel I end up having to take care of most of Daddy’s needs. Let’s make a schedule whereby everyone can chip in, so that none of us feels overwhelmed.” If they don’t increase their involvement in your father’s care, at least make it clear that you feel bad when you receive their advice and criticism, especially when you are the one handling most of the heavy lifting. Unfortunately, it is generally the one who does the most who winds up receiving the most criticism. But please take solace in the sechar that you are receiving for honoring your father.

If you validate your father’s feelings and he continues to complain, validate your own feelings. This does not mean that you should limit your visiting time with him and beat yourself up for sometimes feeling annoyed and frustrated. Remember that taking care of an older person is very difficult, as he or she often does not feel well and thus may be more critical and irritable. With this in mind, let yourself off the hook when you are feeling upset.

While it is certainly important to treat your father with loving care and not show him your annoyance in any way, if you sometimes feel that way (which is only normal), do something nice for yourself instead of feeling guilty. Also, remember two things: your reward may not be evident in this world, and your children will probably accord you the same respect that you are demonstrating to your father.

Q & A: The Sandak (Part I)

Friday, November 2nd, 2012

Question: I was at a brit where the father and grandfather of the boy argued over who should be sandak. The grandfather had served as sandak once before, but he persisted and, as they say, “might makes right.” I am curious as to your view on this matter.

M. Renkin
(Via E-Mail)

Answer: The source of the word “sandak” is important to our discussion, as is an examination of what exactly the sandak’s role is at a brit. We find the following in the Midrash (Tehillim pg. 723): “With the tender [young infants] I do sandikus at the time of milah and priyah.”

“Sandak” is clearly a Greek word, as are many words found in the Midrash. It means “companion of child” or “advocate.” Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech Spira of Dinov explains that it is an acronym: “Sanegor na’aseh din kategor,” which means “The defense emerges victorious vis-à-vis the prosecutor.” This is explained in the Zohar (Parashat Pikudei pg. 255b): “At the time that a person is cut [circumcised], the sitra acher, the one on the other side [Satan], is broken and no longer empowered to cause any harm because the defense of Israel has been performed.”

In answer to your question, we find that the Rema (Yoreh De’ah 265:11) writes as follows: “It is customary for one to pursue this mitzvah to hold the infant at the time of circumcision. And the sandak is considered even greater than the mohel in that he is given the honor of being called up to the Torah even before the mohel. This is because every sandak is compared to a kohen who offers ketoret [Temple incense]. It is customary not to give sandika’ot to someone more than once, as we find in regards to offering ketoret.”

The Rema is referring to the mishnah (Yoma 26a) and Gemara (ad loc.) that relate that the ketoret was never offered by the same individual more than once since it enriched the one who offered it, and everyone wished to benefit from this blessing. The Temple used to conduct a lottery for kohanim who had never offered ketoret to ensure that everyone had an equal share in this avodah.

The Shach (Yoreh Deah, ad loc., sk 22) clarifies that the Rema does not mean that one may not serve as a sandak more than once. Rather, he means that a father should not give the honor of sandika’ot to the same person more than once.

The Rema notes the possibility of a woman serving as sandak and cautions against it, especially where a man is available. He explains that it is immodest for a woman to serve as sandak. Rather, he writes, the woman serves as the companion to her husband as she is given the honor of bringing the baby to the synagogue where she hands the infant to him. (This husband and wife are commonly referred to as the kvater and kvaterin, which mean, respectively, “in place of the father,” his messenger, and “in place of the mother,” her messenger.)

(To be continued)

Lech Lecha: The Most Important Lesson We Can Teach Our Kids (And Ourselves)

Friday, October 26th, 2012

The new Jewish year is still young. The new Parshas HaShavua cycle is but a few weeks old. It is indeed time for new beginnings.

This is part of the reason why we read about the birth of the Jewish nation and of the challenges and successes of the most important man, Avraham Avinu. Can you even begin to imagine the uphill battle he mounted – standing against the entire world and their pagan and polytheistic beliefs? One man against the world and Avraham succeeded beyond his wildest dreams – to this day most of mankind has monotheistic beliefs because of him!

The obvious connection of the haftorah to our parsha is the description of Avraham Avinu. Hashem calls him, “Avraham Ohavi, Avraham, The One Who Loved Me (Yeshaya 41:8).” Rav Yaakov Weinberg, ztl, my Rebbe and the rosh hayeshiva of Ner Yisrael in Baltimore, would often point to this pasuk as the most unique of phrases, a totally different way of portraying a tzaddik and leader of the Jewish people. No one else, not even Moshe Rabbeinu, merited being referred to in such a loving way by HaKadosh Baruch Hu.

Why did Avraham do to merit this highest of compliments? It was all due to his tireless efforts to fight for the belief in Hashem, the One G-d, Creator of the world.

Listen to a Rambam; actually, listen to two Rambams:

“Once Avraham was weaned, he, as a child, began contemplating and thinking day and night, and wondered how the world could follow a fixed path without being directed. Surely it would be impossible for it to rotate on its own! Avraham did not have a mentor, but was immersed among the foolish idolaters of Ur Casdim, where everyone, including his mother and father, served idols, as did he originally. In his heart, however, he continued to contemplate, until he realized the way of truth and understood the ways of righteousness from nature, and knew that there is a G-d who created the world, and besides whom there is no other god.

“He also knew that the whole world was erring . . . Once he achieved this, he began to reason with the inhabitants of Ur Casdim and to argue with them, saying that by serving idols they were not following the way of truth. He broke their images, and began to proclaim that it is not fitting to serve anyone other than G-d . . . Avraham also proclaimed that it was fitting to break and destroy all the figures, so that nobody will err on account of them . . .He went and gathered people together from cities and kingdoms, until he reached the land of Canaan, where he continued his proclamations . . .Since people were coming to him with questions about this matter, he would answer the people so that they would return to the way of truth, until thousands and tens of thousands came to him. These were the people of the house of Avraham. He placed this important principle in their way of thinking, wrote books, and taught it to his son Yitzchak.” (Rambam, Avoda Zara, 1:3, paraphrased)

What an amazing life Avraham lived! We don’t begin to truly appreciate what he accomplished!!

And now listen to the second Rambam (Sefer HaMitzvos, Mitzvah 3, Loving Hashem, paraphrased):

“Our Sages also said that this mitzvah includes calling out to all mankind to serve G‑d and to believe in Him. This is because when you love a person, you praise him and call out to others to draw close to him. So too, if you truly love G‑d, you will certainly spread this true knowledge that you know to as many others as possible.

“We see that this mitzvah includes spreading love for G‑d to others from the Sifri: ‘You shall love G‑d, meaning to make Him beloved among the creatures as your father Avraham did.’

“Avraham, as a result of his deep understanding of G‑d, acquired love for G‑d, as the verse [Ed: in our haftorah] testifies, ‘Avraham, who loved Me.’ This powerful love therefore caused him to call out to all mankind to believe in G‑d. So too, you shall love Him to the extent that you draw others to Him.”

The Uniqueness Of Modern Orthodoxy (Part III)

Wednesday, October 24th, 2012

Question: What is unique about Modern Orthodoxy?

Answer: We established that Torah is the distinctive characteristic of the Jewish people. This suggests that the uniqueness of Modern Orthodoxy must lie in the character of its Torah. We suggested that Modern Orthodoxy, as opposed to other Orthodox groups, may be more inclined to side with the Aruch HaShulchan over the Mishnah Berurah.

* * * * *

It is interesting to note that our sages did not generally assume that poskim should rule stringently.

There is one instance that we do rule stringently. That instance is hekesh. The Talmud, for example, discusses how we know that women are biblically obligated to recite kiddush on Friday night. It notes that regarding Shabbat, the Chumash states “zachor – remember” and “shamor – guard.” The former refers to kiddush and the latter refers to the Shabbat prohibitions. The Talmud (Berachot 20b) rules that “whoever is included in the command to ‘guard Shabbat’ is also included in the command ‘to remember Shabbat.’ ” Therefore, since women are obliged to observe all the Shabbat prohibitions, they are also obliged to recite kiddush (even though kiddush is a time-bound mitzvah, which women are generally exempt from).

Of course the Gemara could have used the exact opposite line of reasoning. It could have stated that whoever is not obliged to ‘remember Shabbat’ is not obliged to ‘observe Shabbat.’ And since women are exempt from kiddush due it being a time-bound mitzvah, they are also exempt from Shabbat prohibitions.

The commentaries state that the Gemara did not reason in this fashion because there is a general rule that when it comes to a relationship between biblical verses – a hekesh – we interpret the relationship stringently. Rav Akiva Eiger explained that this is a rule based on mesorah and not because we are just being cautious (based on the dictum that safek d’oraisa l’chumra).

In any event, what emerges from this discussion is that the only tradition to be stringent relates to a relationship between biblical verses (a hekesh). In general, though, one may be lenient.

And yet, only Modern Orthodox poskim seem to generally rule leniently. Chassidic and yeshivish poskim do not. It should be noted, however, that sephardic poskim, especially HaRav Ovadya Yosef, also traditionally rule leniently.

(To be continued)

Rabbi Cohen, a Jerusalem Prize recipient, has authored eight books on Jewish law. His latest, “Jewish Prayer The Right Way” (Urim Publications), is available at Amazon.com and Judaica stores.

Who Performed Avraham’s Bris?

Wednesday, October 24th, 2012

In this week’s parshah Hashem commands Avraham Avinu to perform the mitzvah of bris milah. The pasuk tells us that Avraham was 99 when he performed the bris milah on himself. The Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer (29) and Tosafos, in Rosh Hashanah 11a, say that Avraham’s bris was performed on Yom Kippur. The Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer adds that Shem, Noach’s son, performed the bris on Avraham. There are several explanations as to why Avraham had Shem perform his milah.

Some opinions suggest that since the milah was to be performed on Yom Kippur, Avraham did not want to perform the milah himself since this would violate the laws of Yom Kippur. One may only perform a milah on Shabbos or Yom Tov if the bris is on the eighth day. Since Avraham’s milah was not on the eighth day after he was born, it was considered not in the proper time – and thus Avraham could not perform the milah. Since Shem, however, did not keep the Torah he could perform the milah. Therefore Avraham asked Shem to perform the milah.

But there is a medrash (Bereishis 49:2) that says that Avraham asked Hashem as to who would perform the milah on him. Hashem told Avraham that he should do it himself. Avraham immediately took a knife and was about to cut, but hesitated because he was worried about his age. Hashem sent His hand and held onto Avraham – and Avraham cut. The medrash’s source for this is the well-known pasuk from p’sukei d’zimra: “vecharos imo ha’bris – and he cut with him the bris.”

As according to Tosafos and the Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer the milah took place on Yom Kippur, we must then ask the following: since according to the medrash that says that Avraham performed the milah together with Hashem, how can this have been done on Yom Kippur – since Avraham kept the entire Torah even prior to matan Torah?

This question is based on the assumption that the milah of Avraham Avinu was considered “shelo bizmano – not in the correct time.” For if it was the correct time (the eighth day of a boy’s life) then one is permitted to perform a bris on Shabbos and Yom Tov. There are some Acharonim (the Yehudah Yaleh in Yoreh De’ah 254 and the Sdei Chemed, 7:2) who answer that, in fact, Avraham Avinu’s bris was considered to be done on time since he performed it on the day that he was commanded to perform it. Even though he was 99 years old, the bris was still considered to be on time and therefore permitted to be performed on Yom Kippur. Other Acharonim suggest that the reason Avraham’s bris was considered on time was because the commandment was for him to perform the bris on that very day, as the pasuk says: “b’etzem hayom hazeh, nimol Avraham v’Yishmael b’no – on that very day, Avraham and his son Yishmael were circumcised.” Since the bris was performed at the intended time, it was considered to have been done on time – and permitted to have been done on Yom Kippur.

Yet this is not the general understanding. Most consider the bris of Avraham Avinu to be shelo bizmano and therefore not permitted to be performed on Yom Kippur. It is quoted in the name of Rabbi Meir Soloveitchik, shlita, that it is for this reason that there is no mention that Avraham made a seudah by his or any of his household’s bris milah – with the exception of Yitzchak. This is because the Sha’arei Teshuvah (551:31) says that one only should make a seudah for a bris that is on time. We only find that Avraham made a seudah for Yitzchak’s bris because that was the only bris that was performed on time.

Another solution is that even though Avraham kept the entire Torah (as the Gemara says), certain discrepancies existed. Generally a bris milah that is not on time is not allowed to be performed on Shabbos or Yom Tov. However, since Avraham was not yet commanded to keep the Torah – and, for that matter, he was not commanded to keep Shabbos or Yom Tov – they were treated differently concerning this matter. Since they were not yet commanded to keep Shabbos or Yom Tov before matan Torah, a bris could be performed on Shabbos or Yom Tov even if it was not on time. Thus Avraham was allowed to perform his bris on Yom Kippur.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/parsha/who-performed-avrahams-bris/2012/10/24/

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