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May 24, 2015 / 6 Sivan, 5775
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Posts Tagged ‘Mordechai’

Was Mordechai Crazy? A Torah Thought for Purim

Wednesday, March 4th, 2015

There is an interesting parallel between Pharaoh and Ahashverosh. Both absolute rulers are sure that their way is just and supreme. Pharaoh rules by force while Ahashverosh rules with the honey trap, but they have the same intentions and the results are the same. Both of them enslave Israel to their will and threaten to destroy the Jewish People. Both Moses and Mordechai ‘irresponsibly’ endanger the nation and at the beginning, make the situation worse.

“Why, Moshe and Aaron?” asks/threatens the king of Egypt. “Why disturb the nation?” You are bothering them. They, after all, are used to slavery. They were born for slavery. “Go take care of your other issues.” You are not leaders. You are private individuals.

As opposed to Pharaoh, Ahashverosh does not threaten anybody. He simply invites them all to his feast. Is it kosher? Strictly kosher. So how can the Jews show contempt for the king and refuse to attend? True, the vessels on display at the feast are the vessels from the destroyed holy Temple in Jerusalem. But why get bogged down with petty details? This is how Ahashverosh pulls the Jews along, getting them to make peace with the fact that they are in exile, encouraging them to even enjoy their status. Ahashverosh entices the Jews to revel at the feast that celebrates their acceptance of the destruction of the Temple – the palace and symbol of the kingly rule of the Creator in His World. Instead of accepting G-d’s rule, the Jews accept the rule of a mere human: Ahashverosh.

Just like Moses and Aaron, Mordechai decides to ruin the party…

Mordechai is connected to Jewish destiny. He knows that the exile mentality that Ahashverosh succeeded in creating threatens the Jews’ ability to realize their destiny. He knows that without destiny, there will be no existence for the Jews, either. And so, despite the fact that no danger seems to be looming over the horizon, and strictly because of the betrayal of the Mount and the Temple, Mordechai ‘endangers’ the entire Nation (crazy, pyromaniac…) and restores the Jewish People to their destiny.

Was he crazy? Perhaps. Ben Gurion may also have been ‘crazy’ when he declared the establishment of the State of Israel. History is the judge. But the clear lesson is that the majority will always prefer to ‘manage’ with the current situation and pay for short-term stabilization of their existence in the coinage of destiny. True leadership is concerned about existence, but will never surrender or take its eyes off its nation’s destiny.

Happy Purim and Shabbat Shalom.

The Capacity to Change

Thursday, March 6th, 2014

Fundamental to the idea of the korban, which we begin reading about this week, is the power to change oneself. After all the term korban comes from the word karov, meaning coming closer to God. Yet change is not easily accomplished. On its most basic level, the process involves a belief that one has the capacity to transform.

This capacity is implicit in the Purim story. Note how Queen Esther undergoes a fundamental metamorphosis in chapter four of the megillah.

When told that Mordechai was in sackcloth, she wonders why. At this point, Esther does not even know the Jewish people had been threatened. She had become so insulated in the palace of the king that she did not feel the plight of her fellow Jew. Furthermore, when asked by Mordechai to intercede on behalf of the Jewish people, she refuses, claiming that the rules of the palace did not allow her to come before the king.

Yet when Mordechai rebukes her, declaring that she too would not be able to escape the evil decree, perhaps the most powerful moment of the megillah takes place. Esther courageously declares that she would come before the king, even if it meant she would perish.

Esther’s Hebrew name was Hadassah. Once she becomes queen, she adopts the Persian name Esther. This name, which means “hidden,” reminds us that at the outset of her rulership she abides by Mordechai’s request that she hide her Jewish identity. But as the narrative in chapter four reveals, she returns to her roots. At a key moment she is ready to speak out powerfully on behalf of her people. Esther provides an important example of how change is possible.

Rabbi David Silber notes that one of the smallest words found in the megillah, dat, is used often and teaches an important lesson about Purim. Dat means law. In Persia, the law was immutable, it could never change. And so when Vashti refused to come before the king, Achashveirosh asks, “according to the law (dat) what shall be done to Queen Vashti?” And when it is decided that a new queen would be selected, the megillah once again uses the term dat – the law of selection. And when Haman accuses the Jews of not keeping the king’s laws, again the word dat is used. Indeed, the decree that the Jews be killed is also referred to as dat.

Even when told of Haman’s plan to destroy the Jews, Achashveirosh declares that he cannot change the prior decree that the Jews be killed. The law must remain. All Achashveirosh can do is allow the introduction of a new dat, a new law that stands in contradiction to but cannot take the place of the first.

Rabbi Silber points out that not coincidentally, when Esther agreed to come before Achashveirosh, she declares, “I will go to the king contrary to the law. Esther had been so transformed that she is prepared to defy the immutable law of Persia.

Those Jerusalem Views, Always Changing

Sunday, August 18th, 2013

In 1969 I came to Israel to be a student at Machon Greenberg in Jerusalem.  At the time I had many friends doing the year at Hebrew University.  Most of them were housed in brand new dormitories, called “Shikunei Elef” at the edge of the Givat Ram campus near the orchards that separated the campus from Givat Mordechai and Bayit Vegan. The buildings were long, thin rectangles on barren land.

I spent a Shabbat with one of my friends, and in the afternoon we walked from her dorm through the orchards to Givat Mordechai to see friends of hers.  Two years later I was married, a mother and we lived in a top floor walk-up on Rechov Bayit Vegan which davka overlooked Shikunei Elef.  During the ten years we lived there, I was able to observe how the university’s landscaping department managed to camouflage those plain buildings.

I hadn’t seen them for a long time until last week when I visited a friend who lives in the Senior Citizens Residences of the Shalom Hotel.  During the time we lived in Bayit Vegan we also saw the hotel under construction.

My friend and I went out on the terrace and I was mesmerized by the view.  It was the same basic view I had from my old apartment.  That’s for sure, because you can’t see our building from there.  I walked around and tried to see from the sides, but it blocks our old building.

The Shalom Hotel has two buildings.  In between is the swimming pool.  I couldn’t get a picture of our old home.  It’s blocked by the other building.

There’s so much building going on in Jerusalem.

 

It doesn’t matter how many apartments are built.  Housing prices still go up in Jerusalem.  Supply never reaches demand, because the more there is, the more people want to be in Jerusalem.

When we moved to Bayit Vegan in 1971, it was considered a suburban, almost country-like neighborhood.  There’s little to remind anyone of that today, except for the tall trees in the park near our old building.

This picture is taken on Rechov Uziel, under our Rechov Bayit Vegan.  Our old building is hidden by the trees. When we lived there, we were next to the large park/playground that connected the two streets.  There was just an empty lot in-between us and the park.  I could even see my kids playing there from our apartment.  You can’t do that today.  Just as we were planning our move to Shiloh building began on an apartment house on that empty lot.

Nothing stays the same in Jerusalem.

Visit Shiloh Musings.

Vacationing Tip: Get Lost

Friday, August 9th, 2013

I’m on vacation this month, so there won’t be a regular column.  Or at least there wasn’t going to be.  The questions keep coming in.

Dear Mordechai,

I keep losing my stuff.  What do I do?

Lost

STEP 1: Check your person.  (Your person is you.  That’s just how people say it.  I don’t think you’re expected to carry around a smaller person and go, “Hi, I’m Mordechai, and this is my person.”  But if you do, you should probably check him as well.)

STEP 2: Make sure to check the same five places 68 times.  Especially if it’s not a likely place for it to be.  For example, if you’re looking for your car keys, make sure to keep checking the fridge.

STEP 3: Call for the item.  Continuously say things like, “I can’t believe this!  Where is it?”  Like the item is finally going to break down and tell you.

STEP 4: Calm Down.  Whenever I lose something, my wife ends up finding it, and whenever my wife loses something, I end up finding it.  Now I know what you’re thinking.  You’re thinking we should stop hiding each others’ stuff.  But it really has more to do with panicking.

STEP 5: Buy a new one.  As soon as you open the package, the old one will turn up.  Guaranteed.  For example, if you lose your car in a parking lot, the best way to find it is to buy a new car.  If that doesn’t work, you can use the new car to drive around the parking lot looking for the old one.

On the other hand, maybe the reason we can’t find anything is because we keep buying new things, and everything keeps getting lost under everything else.

 

Dear Mordechai,

Why does everyone around me move so slowly?  Especially when I’m in a rush.

No Time

 

 This is definitely a problem.  These people are everywhere.

For example, there are the people in front of us one the supermarket checkout line, who, even though they’ve been waiting the same 25 minutes you were, don’t even start looking for their supermarket card until they get to the front of the line.  Like it’s a total surprise to them that they need a Shoprite card.  In Shoprite.

Or how about the person directly in front of you who leaves his cart in line and goes off to do his shopping, even though you got in line behind him in the first place because he had a pretty empty cart?  But then he looked back at your cart, and he got some ideas.

“Orange juice!  Where’d you find orange juice?”

“Over by the refrigerated juices.”

“Ooooh!  I’ll be right back.”

There are also a lot of people in your way on the road.  Now I don’t begrudge other people for being on the road.  But sometimes I can’t go because the person in front of me is stopped, and has his window rolled down, and is talking to someone who’s sitting in a car facing the other way, who also has his window rolled down, and I want to yell, “Get a cell phone!”

But you know how your mother always told you, “If you do things quickly, you’ll just mess everything up and have to do it over?”  Everyone else’s mother told them the same thing, and they’ve taken it to heart.

But of course, on the other hand, there’s a pretty big chance that if you do things slowly, you’ll mess them up anyway.  At least if you go faster the first time, you’ll have more time to do it over.

 

Dear Mordechai,

Is it possible I just need a vacation?

Stressed

That depends.  How annoyed do you get by everyday things?  For example, I recently came across a poll of the top 20 irritating pieces of technology, and apparently, the invention that annoys us most is car alarms.  Of course, the main reason this annoys everyone is that no one knows what their own car alarms sounds like, so when it goes off in middle of the night, they’re just as annoyed as everyone else, and instead of going out and turning it off, they spends hours trying to block it out and to fall asleep.  So I’m thinking that maybe we should be able to personalize our car alarms, like ringtones.  For example, I would make mine sound like an ice cream truck, so that as soon as a burglar sets it off, everyone will run outside.

Another item on the list was printers.  Everyone knows how frustrating printers can be.  You have a tray that can hold 100 pieces of paper, but if you put in more than 5, it gets stuck.  And sometimes, for no reason at all, it will tell you that you’re low on ink.

“Proceed?”

Yes, of course proceed!  I spend $85 on that cartridge, and the papers are still coming out fine!

But when the printer breaks down, what do you do?  It has one button.  You press the button, and if that doesn’t work, you press the button again.  There’s no way this button is doing anything.

Another item on the list was alarm clocks.  Those guys take so much abuse.  It’s not their fault it’s 7:00.

But if you’ve gotten to a point where you’re finding technology inconvenient – technology, which is supposed to at least be better than not having technology, — then maybe it’s time for a vacation.

 

Dear Mordechai,

Where do you suggest I go to get away from it all?

Still Here

 

If you’re looking to get away from the irritations of technology and people in your way, the best place to go is Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.  My wife and I took the kids there recently, and it’s an excellent place to go if you want to get lost.  For example, one thing we did was walk through a gigantic corn maze.  Because getting lost while driving wasn’t enough for us.         

We actually spent a lot of our trip lost, because as it turns out, all farms look exactly the same, and there’s no one to ask directions from but the cows on the side of the road.  And we even did a lot of the steps of what to do if something’s lost: We called around for the place, we calmed down, we went down the same roads 68 times, but nothing.  And the whole time the kids are in the back going, “Look a cow!”  “Look! Another cow!”

Our GPS couldn’t find us either.  In fact, before we left, I had tried, unsuccessfully, to borrow a better GPS just in case this happened.  But then my wife put it in perspective.  “Were going to visit the Amish,” she said.  “We need a GPS?”

Because yeah, we visited the Amish.  The big draw of the Amish, apparently, is that they live without any of the conveniences of modern life, such as cell phones.  Except for one Amish guy that I saw while waiting for a buggy ride (mostly what you do with buggy rides is wait for them) in a town called “Ronks”, which, I have to admit, is a fun name for a town.  Ronks Ronks Ronks.  It sounds like a duck clearing its throat.

I later asked a non-Amish tour guide about it:

TOUR GUIDE: “The Amish don’t use electricity, because they don’t want any wires coming into their house from the outside world.”

ME: “I saw a guy on a cell phone today.”

TOUR GUIDE: “Um… Cell phones don’t have wires.”

But the Amish do have it tough when it comes to parental discipline.

“You kids don’t know how good you have it.  When I was your age, we didn’t even have… Wait.  You don’t have that either.  Well, we had to walk… Well, you have to walk too.  Oh, I got one!  When I was your age, we didn’t even have covered bridges.”

“Whoa, really?”

“Yeah.  All our bridges were uncovered.”

“Wow!  What did you do?”

So where do they take vacations?  Amusement parks, apparently.         I see them at every one.

 

Got a question for “You’re Asking Me?”  Send me a smoke signal.  My cell phone’s still missing.  Or maybe call it, and I’ll listen for the ring.

Zechut Avot : An Eternal Birthright

Monday, August 5th, 2013

The first time was many years ago. I had just concluded explanations about Yeshivat Knesset Yisrael” which arrived in Hebron from Slobodka, in Lithuania in 1924. The Hebron Heritage Museum at Beit Hadassah features an exhibit about this illustrious Torah-learning academy, nicknamed the ‘Hebron Yeshiva,’ which includes a ‘class picture’ from 1928.

As I finished my brief account, an older man approached me, put his finger on a picture of one of the yeshiva students and asked me, ‘do you see him? That’s me.’

That was Rabbi Dov Cohen, a phenomenal Torah genius, who, following my tour, came back to Hebron and gave us his tour.

I always thought that this was a ‘once in a lifetime event,’ having someone point themselves out in a photo taken so many decades ago, here in Hebron.

But it happened again.

On Friday afternoon the Farbstein family came into Hebron for Shabbat. Rabbi Moshe Mordechai Farbstein, today dean of the ‘Hebron yeshiva,’ now located in Jerusalem, arrived with his wife and many grandchildren. And his mother, Rabbanit Chana Farbstein.

Chana Farbstein was born in 1923. Her father was Rabbi Yechezkel Sarna, a Torah giant. Her grandfather was the legendary Rabbi Moshe Mordechai Epstein, dean of the yeshiva, located then located in Slobodka, which, a year or so later, moved to Hebron. Chana lived in Hebron until the 1929 riots, in an apartment next to Eliezer Dan Slonim and his family.

Friday afternoon, before Shabbat, the Farbsteins took a short tour of Hebron, which began in the museum. When we approached the Hebron Yeshiva exhibit, she moved, as hypnotized, to one of the photos on the bottom row, stared at it, and then pointed to a small girl in the right corner, saying, ‘that’s me.’ To her right, a young woman had her hand on little Chana’s shoulder. ‘That’s my mother.’

A ‘once in a lifetime event.’ And it happened to me for a second time.

Chana later told us that she must have been about four years old at the time the photo was taken.

Even though she was barely five and a half at the time of the riots, she remembered them quite clearly: “I remember a big truck going through the streets. They were throwing rocks at our house and calling out my father’s name ‘Chezkel.’ They were looking for him. It was our good luck, he was in Jerusalem.”

“Do you remember what was told to you, what was going on?”

“No one had to explain. We knew exactly what was happening.”

She said that on Saturday afternoon, her family was removed from Hebron and taken to the ‘Strauss Building’ in Jerusalem, across the street from ‘Bikor Cholim hospital. Asked when she ‘left’ the city,’ she replied: “We didn’t leave. The British came, on Shabbat, and took us to Jerusalem.”

Later she also spoke about remembering the pain of having to pray at the 7th step at Ma’arat HaMachpela, not being allowed to enter the structure. “We would stand there for a few minutes, and then leave.”

Were relations with Arabs always poor? “No, when we went shopping in the market an Arab with a large round basket would go with us. We would put the produce we wanted into the basket, he would carry it and later bring it to our home.”

Chana Farbstein is a phenomenal woman. She also stood with us on Friday afternoon, at the cemetery in Hebron, where 59 of the 67 massacre victims are buried. Her son, Rabbi Moshe Mordechai Farbstein, recited two Psalms at the site, his voice breaking, sensing the atrocities and pain of the events occurring 84 years ago.

The next morning, Mrs. Farbstein walked from Beit Hadassah to Ma’arat HaMachpela for morning prayers, and later in the afternoon, to the Avraham Avinu neighborhood to attend a special class presented by her daughter-in-law, Dr. Esther Farbstein, an expert on Holocaust studies, author of the book, “Hidden in Thunder.”

After Shabbat, as I arrived to interview her, I found her sweeping the floor.

Her son, Rabbi Farbstein, told me that that last winter she had been very ill, and there was grave concern that she might not recover. But recover she did, and despite only meeting her for the first time, her inner strength and iron will were quite obvious.

Why Most Marriages Can Work

Friday, October 5th, 2012

Mordechai, 36, and Chani, 35, were married for six years and came to me for advice on how to save their relationship. They seemed to have everything going for them. They were working professionals, successful and upwardly mobile; they shared many common factors including similar religious beliefs, intelligence levels, and were both pleasantly extroverted.

Yet, soon after marriage, it was apparent that they didn’t get along very well. Little things like the cleanliness of the house, or who made dinner, became mountain-sized issues that were often blown out of proportion. The quality of their relationship was going downhill and their marriage was in crisis. Only six months had passed since their chuppah and they were beginning to feel that they were unequipped to deal with each other’s emotional needs. Instead, they tended to withdraw from one another and were avoiding taking the obvious step of working together to solve their issues.

On the outside, they seemed to have everything going for them, yet now they had little to show for it.

What was causing their marital stress? Did they share some deeply-rooted negative patterns? Was it a question of personality differences? Did they have trouble managing their anger?

Mordechai and Chani were also scared, because some of their lifetime friends were also experiencing similar difficulties in their marriages, and the prior year, two of them had gotten divorced. They wanted to know if they were heading in the same direction and if there was anything they could do to sustain their marriage.

Before I began to advise them on ways to improve their marriage, I asked them to draw an imaginary circle in the middle of the room, to represent their relationship. I then asked them to take their chairs and sit in the middle of the circle if they were committed to their relationship. If they weren’t able to sit in the circle together, then, I believed, their marriage would have little chance of succeeding.

I also made it clear to them that, statistically, the overwhelming majority of failed marriages (between two emotionally healthy individuals) end because couples are having trouble building and staying committed to their overall relationship. In fact, many of the negative statistics about marriage boil down to the prevalence of couples losing interest in developing the quality of their marriage.

A 1995 statewide survey in Utah, for example, examining why marriages end in divorce, found that the lack of commitment to the relationship was the top reason for the growing phenomenon.

Specifically, the Utah Marriage Survey asked Utahns who had been divorced to answer the following: “There are many reasons why marriages fail. I’m going to read a list of possible reasons. Looking back at your most recent divorce, tell me whether or not each factor was a major contributor to your divorce. You can say, ‘yes,’ or ‘no,’ to each factor.”

The following responses show the percentages of those respondents who answered, “yes,” to each factor that they felt was a major contributor to their divorce:

Men/Women/The Mean

Lack of commitment: 87%/79%/83%

Too much conflict and arguing: 48%/58%/53%

Infidelity or extramarital affairs: 47%/56%/52%

Getting married too young: 39%/43%/41%

Financial problems or economic hardship: 31%/35%/33%

Lack of support from family members: 21%/20%/21%

Little or no helpful premarital education: 19%/29%/24%

Other: 17%/28%/22%

Religious differences between partners: 13%/16%/15%

Domestic violence: 6%/37%/22%

The table clearly reveals what Utahns who have experienced divorce perceive: that the lack of commitment was the number one contributing factor to their divorces. Commitment often involves making one’s partner and relationship a priority, investing in the marriage, and having a long-term view of the relationship.

That’s why the most important issue in marriage needs to be the couple’s focus on the quality of their relationship.

Couples like Mordechai and Chani are a perfect example of a relationship that had migrated onto the back burner. And, as I predicted, after several weeks of counseling, it became apparent that there was nothing fundamentally wrong with this young couple. Neither was particularly high on “control.” Neither of them had a history of serious emotional illness. And both came from parents who were happily married.

Mordechai and Chani needed to learn more about how to negotiate their emotions, how to communicate in a more effective way, and how to begin to recommit to their relationship.

Awkward Timing

Friday, July 13th, 2012

Welcome once again to “You’re Asking Me?” where we answer any and all questions sent in by readers. It’s a lot like all the other “ask the expert” columns, except that, whereas the other experts are interested in giving you a well-researched answer, our interest is more in meeting our deadlines so we can get back to looking for our car keys. Most of the time, we tackle advice questions, but once in a while we have to take a break from those, because of the lawsuits.

Dear Mordechai,

Why do garbage trucks always come in the wee hours of the morning?

A.S., Monsey

Dear A.,

They want to beat traffic.

I don’t know how it helps, though. It’s not like they don’t stop in front of every house anyway.

Actually, it depends what you call “wee.” To me, the “wee hours of the morning” is anytime before noon. I think they like seeing you run out with your shirt half buttoned and one shoe on, screaming “Wait!” and holding a full, dripping garbage bag over your head, like they’re not coming again in three days. This is why they always make enough noise to wake you up.

For years, I always assumed that garbage trucks went around all day, and that they just passed my house early in the morning. But so far I’ve lived in several different places, and wherever I’ve lived, they somehow managed to get there between the hours of 5 and 8 in the morning. So I’m beginning to think those are the only hours that they work. I guess they know that if they did it during the day, people would be chasing them down the block half dressed all day long, and it would take them forever to get anywhere.

Another reason they take garbage early in the morning is that in total, it amounts to less garbage for them to take, because:

A. Chances are you’ll forget to bring out the garbage the night before, and

B. If you do remember, the garbage will sit out on the curb all night, and the longer it sits there, the more chance there is that people will drive by and say things like, “Hey, a broken toaster! I can use one of those!”

Dear Mordechai,

Why do there seem to be more Hatzolah calls on Shabbos?

Y.S., Queens

Dear Y,

Obviously, it’s because you’re in charge of your own kids. And by “in charge,” we mean letting them watch themselves while you take a nap. When do you suppose they came up with that contest to see who could jump off a higher step? There is only one way that game ends. Unless there’s an adult sleeping in the basement.

Another reason more people call Hatzolah is that Hatzolah members are more up-to-date on what you can and can’t do on Shabbos. For example, let’s say your kid is hurt – would you be able to drive him to the hospital? Or do you have to make him drive himself? Hatzolah knows these answers. My heart actually goes out to the people who live where there is no Hatzolah, and are never sure what they’re allowed to tell the non-Jewish ambulance drivers straight out, and what they have to hint to them.

“My son broke his arm.”

“So you want us to take him to the hospital?”

“Um… My son broke his arm.”

“Okay, I think the father is going into shock. Load him in as well.”

Dear Mordechai,

Why do things never work out when you try to show someone something?

A.J., Silver Spring

Dear A.,

I blame their negative energy, and the look on their face that says, “Really? This guy dragged me away from what I was doing for this?” And it never helps that he starts off with, “Okay, but this better be quick.”

This also happens when you’re trying to show someone something cute that you just discovered your kid can do. Your kid doesn’t want to perform for this guy. It’s usually something mundane that you would never make a big deal about if a bigger person did it, and the kid knows that. He’s thinking, “I didn’t learn to walk so I could perform. I learned to walk so I could stop dragging lollies across the carpet. I never would have shown you if I knew you were going to sell tickets.”

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/magazine/potpourri/awkward-timing/2012/07/13/

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