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September 19, 2014 / 24 Elul, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘pleasure’

The Upsherin

Thursday, October 4th, 2012

Have you ever been to an upsherin, a hair-cutting ceremony?

I had never been to one until I was invited by my gentleman friend, Sy, to attend one in honor of his great-grandson, Gabriel, given by his grandparents, Steve and Robin Kerzer. Even Sy, an Orthodox Jew, had not heard of it. Both of us knew it was the custom not to cut a boy’s hair until he was three years old, but we had no idea what was involved. It was common to hear “Oy, he looks just like a little girl” until the parents of the poor child must have been ready to plotz. To make such a party was definitely new to us, not to mention its expense. Invitations had been sent to numerous people. Out-of-town guests, including Sy’s two physician sons from Rhode Island, came in for the simcha. And what a simcha it was.

We drove with Sy’s sister and brother-in-law to the Young Israel of Emerald Isles for the Sunday event. We arrived on time to a cacophony of voices. There must have been more than 200 people in attendance, most of them gathered around the buffet table – ready to snatch a hearty nosh. A table close to the entrance was piled high with colorfully wrapped gifts for Gabby, the day’s guest of honor. I added to the stack with gifts for him and his two-year-old brother. I spotted the latter sleeping peacefully in his stroller, oblivious to his surroundings. Good for him, I thought, as I observed the other children running wildly in the hall – as little children will do.

After mazel tovs and other greetings were expressed, we settled at a table as far away from the noise as possible. There, we were joined by some family members and had the pleasure of receiving a kiss from Gabby, who indeed looked like a little girl with his long red curls. Only he was wearing tzitzis.

Included in the delicious food offerings was an enormous chocolate-covered birthday and hair-cutting cake. It was decorated with a huge pair of scissors made out of white icing.

I began to wonder where the barber was when the rabbi rose to speak. Through the noise, I learned that everyone would receive a lock of Gabby’s hair. How could that be, I thought – so many people, so little hair. But when Yossi, Gabby’s father, spoke, it all became clear.

“Everyone who wants a lock of Gabby’s hair [should] come and help with the cutting,” he announced. It appeared that the guests were the barbers.

Sy and I were honored to take the podium first, where Gabby was sitting calmly on his mother Farah’s lap. With a small pair of scissors, we both clipped off a lock of the ginger curls. That was our fond souvenir.

In his younger days, Sy had bright red wavy hair. His four sons, several grandchildren and, so far, his one great-grandchild inherited it. It was like a reincarnation of what he looked like at that age. It made for a strange sensation. And when he held the strands of red locks between his now snow-white hair he laughed and said, “The old and the new.”

As we prepared to head home, the happy parents’ parting words were: “Same time next year.”

It would be Zachary’s turn.

How To Make Resolutions Into A Habit

Friday, September 28th, 2012

There is a long laundry list of personal goals running through my head that I want to work on. I love taking advantage of a celebratory date to select one of these pressing items and promise myself that this time, I really will begin to do whatever it is that will make my life better. Yet, somehow, after the birthday or New Year passes, my fervent declarations are quickly forgotten and I lapse into my old behavior.

Somehow, though, when I meet someone who laments their lack of organization, I know all the right things say. I am quick to blurt out helpful tips and beneficial chores to achieve a smoothly run household, even as my audience is tuning me out. It’s hard for me to empathize, because organization is just something that comes naturally to me. The lists in my head are already segmented and in chronological order. This is not something I taught to myself; it’s a gift Hashem gave me. But perhaps, I can use the same process that gives me the quality of organization to achieve other worthwhile virtues, like the middah of shmiras haloshon, careful talk.

Using some research material I had available, I broke down a step-by-step plan to help someone become more organized, and tried to utilize those same techniques to help me achieve my own personal goals.

The first step in changing any behavior is to make the decision that you want to change. That would mean committing to the ideal of a smoothly functional household or in my case, only saying pleasant things. Rav Noach Weinberg zt”l, in his series of classes, 48 Ways of Wisdom, talked about making daily choices between what you want and what you feel like doing. What you want to do is, obviously, what you want to be doing, and what you feel like doing is the immediate gratification that you will regret come tomorrow, when you are reconsidering your decision to finish that great book instead of tackling the burgeoning laundry pile or indulging in that juicy piece of gossip instead of taking the higher road and protecting that friend’s feelings.

The familiar concept of the yetzer hara vs. the yetzer tov has within it the notion that although we may be of two minds, we are fully capable of listening only to the yetzer tov regardless of how enticing the yetzer hara may be. We only need to look at our past actions and how they have affected our life. How has the desire to procrastinate helped in the long run?

The second step is to pre-commit. In Daniel Akst’s phenomenal new book, We Have Met the Enemy, he talks about this concept. Pre-committing is when you limit choices in advance to deter temptation: don’t turn on the computer until your allotted chores for the evening are done or put Facebook on the blocked list if it’s causing negative middos. This has to be a binding commitment, one that you will be forced to carry out even if you lose your initial enthusiasm for the idea. Tell your spouse or children about your plan so that you will be held accountable.

Set goals for yourself on a daily basis, for example: wash and fold one load of laundry every day, or no lashon hara during the morning commute. It’s important to break a big project into small manageable parts, otherwise, it gets overwhelming and you’ll just push it off. This is why I wouldn’t recommend washing five loads on laundry in one day or no lashon hara during the lunch break when you are just starting. It would be too hard to maintain, making it tempting to just drop the whole project.

Of course, if you don’t meet your goals, there must be consequences. This is the last but most vital step. Set up a chart in a public place, and chart your habits. If you meet your goal for the night and week, you get a reward, but if not…

For example, unplug the phone if there’s a lashon hara slip-up. Or, if you don’t clean up after breakfast, there won’t be any sugar in your coffee at lunch time. Promising money to charity is popular, but an even better choice is to promise money to an anti-charity, which is donating money to an organization you hate. Rav Weinberg’s method is to hire a friendly “nudnik” to keep you honest. This person will check up on you to see if you have met your commitment, and if not, you have to give them money or do something for them. If you’re really committed to changing your behavior, check out this great website, StickK.com. You can set up a legally binding contract to change any bad habit. This had been proven to be especially effective at getting people to lose weight.

Syrian Refugee Girls Forced into ‘Pleasure Marriages’

Wednesday, September 12th, 2012

Syrian female refugees aged 14 and 15 who fled their country to Jordan and Iraq are being forced into “pleasure marriages” (Nikah al-Mut’ah) — a pre-Islamic custom allowing men to marry for a limited period.

Apart from being a cover for legalized prostitution (the marriage can last for as little as 30 minutes), Nikah al-Mut’ah deprives the wife of many rights.

No divorce is necessary in “pleasure marriages,” for instance, and the husband may void the marriage earlier than agreed.

What is most disturbing about this practice is not even whether or not the wife has rights, so much as that Muslim scholars and preachers have given the green light to their followers to exploit the plight of the poor and helpless Syrian girls.

Muslim men from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries have in the past few weeks asked their embassies in Amman and Baghdad to help them find Syrian girls living in makeshift refugee camps in Jordan and Iraq.

This is happening at a time when the oil-rich Arab countries are doing almost nothing to help the tens of thousands of Syrian refugees who are living in extremely difficult conditions.

Some Arab human rights activists have condemned the phenomenon, but their voice has thus far fallen on deaf ears.

Muslim preachers in a number of Arab countries have been encouraging their followers to engage in “pleasure marriages” with Syrian girls as a way of ridding them and their families of their misery. Some of these preachers have even issued fatwas [Islamic decrees] permitting the sexual exploitation of minors.

Many of these girls, according to reports in a number of Arab media outlets, are being returned to their families after hours or days of the temporary marriage.

Some of the victims are being sold by their desperate families to Muslim men in return for a few hundred dollars.

The Jordanian newspaper Ad-Dustour revealed that Muslim men from the kingdom were also exploiting the plight of the Syrian refugees by targeting 14 and 15 year old girls.

According to sources in Amman, some Jordanian Islamists have even divorced their wives in favor of temporary marriage of minors.

Abdel Bari Atwan, editor of the pan-Arab Al-Quds Al-Arabi newspaper, expressed outrage over the “ugly exploitation” of Syrian girls who fled the war in their country.

“Exploiting the conditions of the girls in the refugee camps by marrying them temporarily is a form of rape that must stop immediately,” Atwan wrote. “Those responsible for this crime should be brought to trial.”

Yet Atwan’s condemnation seems to be a lone voice in the desert. No prominent Muslim figure or organization has deemed it necessary to denounce the sexual exploitation of the Syrian girls.

Originally published by the Gatestone Institute.

Selichot

Sunday, September 9th, 2012

Jewish men at Selichot services at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem.

Why do we call these days and these rituals “Selichot” – Pardons and Forgiveness, when we keep on announcing and confessing our sins? Asks my friend H. from Tzfat. Why don’t we call them Confessions?

Because we assume that God has pleasure in forgiving and pardoning. He answers. This isn’t really about us.

It’s about God’s delight in our newly found sanity, as we prepare for the Days of Awe.

The Heroes of T’shuva

Wednesday, September 5th, 2012

If there was a guaranteed deal that by shelling out 15 dollars, you would get 15 million dollars in return, would you do it? Of course you would. Well, that’s exactly what I’m offering you. For the 15 bucks it will cost to order the book, “The Art of T’shuva” explaining Rabbi Kook’s incomparable writings on t’shuva, you will be receiving a value of $15,000,000 in return. For those of you who think I’m making myself a bundle from book sales, all the profit I get is donated to charity, so you win on both counts. And if this isn’t enough of a gracious offer, I’m serializing a condensed version of the book, right here at The JewishPress.com, for free, in the “Felafel on Rye” blogs  I’ll be posting until Yom Kippur. So at least, share the blog link with your friends, and do them the priceless favor of turning them on to the lifesaving depth and beauty of t’shuva.

We learned that the joy of t’shuva comes from removing the barriers of transgression and melancholy which separate a person from God. Another reason why the joy of t’shuva is so great is because the happiness of t’shuva is felt in the soul. Until a person discovers t’shuva, he experiences the pleasures of the world on the physical, emotional, or intellectual levels alone. He enjoys good foods, stimulating books, new clothes and the like. But a man has a deeper, spiritual level of being, his soul, which derives no satisfaction from earthly pleasures.

To what is this analogous? To the case of a city dweller who marries a princess. If he brought her all that the world possessed, it would mean nothing to her, by virtue of her being a king’s daughter. So it is with the soul. If it were brought all the delights of the world, they would be nothing to it, in view of its pertaining to the higher elements (Mesillat Yesharim, Ch.1).

When a person does t’shuva, he opens his soul to a river of spiritual delight. The joy he discovers is like nothing which he has ever experienced. Not only are his senses affected, t’shuva touches his soul. Just as his soul is deeper than his other levels of being, the happiness he discovers is deeper. Just as his soul is eternal, his joy is eternal. Unlike the transitory pleasures of the physical world, the joy of t’shuva is everlasting. A jacuzzi feels good, but when it is over, the pleasure soon fades away. But in the heavenly jacuzzi of t’shuva, you don’t just get wet — you get cleansed and transformed. Thus, Rabbi Kook writes:

When the light of t’shuva appears and the desire for goodness beats purely in the heart, a channel of happiness and joy is opened, and the soul is nurtured from a river of delights (Orot HaT’shuva, 14:6).

This river of delight is the river of t’shuva. Rabbi Kook’s use of this expression is not metaphorical alone. In the spiritual world, there actually exists a river of t’shuva. (For the Kabbalists among you, it’s the wellsprings of Binah flowing to us through the now t’shuva-unclogged river of the Yesod). This is the constant flow of t’shuva which, though invisible, is always present and active. It is our channel to true joy and happiness because it is our channel to God. Nothing in the world can compare to its pleasures. Rabbi Kook explains:

Great and exalted is the pleasure of t’shuva. The searing flame of the pain caused by sin purifies the will and refines the character of a person to an exalted, sparkling purity until the great joy of the life of t’shuva is opened for him. T’shuva raises the person higher and higher through its stages of bitterness, pleasantness, grieving, and joy. Nothing purges and purifies a person, raises him to the stature of being truly a man, like the profound process of t’shuva. In the place where the baale t’shuva stand, even the completely righteous cannot stand (Berachot 34B. Orot HaT’shuva, 13:11).

The real hero is not the Hollywood tough guy. It isn’t the man who smokes Marlboro cigarettes. It isn’t the corporate president who owns a Lear jet and three yachts. The true man is the person involved in t’shuva. Rabbi Kook teaches, “The more a person delves into the essence of t’shuva, he will find in it the source of heroism” (Ibid, 12:2). This is similar to the teaching of our Sages, “Who is a hero? He who conquers his evil inclination” (Avot, 4:1). He is the person who is always seeking to better himself; the person who is always trying to come closer to God. He is the person who is open to self-assessment and change; the person who has the courage to confront his soul’s inner pain and to transform its bitterness into joy.

T’shuva elevates a person above all of the baseness of the world. Notwithstanding, it does not alienate the person from the world. Rather, the baal t’shuva elevates life and the world with him (Orot HaT’shuva, 12:1).

Sometimes, people have a misunderstanding of t’shuva. They think that t’shuva comes to separate a person from the world. While some baale t’shuva make a point of isolating themselves completely from secular society, this is not the ideal. During the early stages of t’shuva, a person should certainly avoid situations which are antithetical to his newfound goals, in order to rebuild his life on purer foundations, but a baal t’shuva is not a recluse. He should not cut himself off from the world. The opposite. By participating in the life around him, he elevates, not only himself, but also the world. After returning to God, he must return to the world. By doing so, he returns holiness to its proper place, and makes God’s Presence sovereign in the world. Rabbi Kook writes:

Tzaddikim should be natural people, and every aspect of their bodies and beings should be characterized by life and health. Then, through their spiritual greatness, they can elevate all of the world, and all things will rise up with them (Arpelei Tohar, pf.16).

God created the heavens for the angels. Our lives are to be lived down on earth. It is our task to bring healing and perfection to this world, not to the next. When the powerful life-force which went into sin is redirected toward good, life is uplifted. A baal t’shuva who returns to a former situation in which he sinned, and now conducts himself in a righteous, holy manner, affects a great tikun. The Rambam writes: “For instance, if a man had sinful relations with a woman, and after a time was alone with her, his passion for her persisting, and his physical powers unabated, while he continued to live in the same district where he had sinned, and yet he refrains and does not transgress, he is a baal t’shuva” (Laws of T’shuva, 2:1). He is like a gunslinger who mends his ways and comes back to town to do away with the bad guys. Because of his t’shuva, Dodge City is a better, safer, more wholesome place.

The inner forces which led him to sin are transformed. The powerful desire which smashes all borders and brought the person to sin, itself becomes a great, exalted life-force which acts to bring goodness and blessing. The greatness of life which emanates from the highest holy source constantly hovers over t’shuva and its heroes, for they are the champions of life, who call for its perfection. They demand the victory of good over evil, and the return to life’s true goodness and happiness, to the true, exalted freedom, which suits the man who ascends to his spiritual source and essential Divine image (Orot HaT’shuva, 12:1).

It is time to take t’shuva out of the closet. The true champions of life are not the basketball players, not the Hollywood stars, not even the Prime Ministers and Presidents. The real heroes are the masters of t’shuva. They are the Supermen who battle the forces of darkness in order to fill the world with goodness and blessing. Teenagers! Tear down your wall posters of wrestlers and rock stars! The people to be admired are the masters of t’shuva! You can be one too!

Levana’s Whole Foods Cookbook

Friday, August 3rd, 2012

Ah, the joys of August. Whether it is from a farmer’s market, a roadside stand, your own backyard or even the produce aisle of your local supermarket, there is no doubt that now is the time to feast on the freshest and most delectable offerings of the year. But while many of us consider late summer to be prime time for enjoying the simple goodness of nature’s bounty, for one of the most respected names in the kosher cooking world, simplicity is the name of the game all year around.

A pioneer in kosher upscale dining, Levana Kirschenbaum made a name for herself as co-owner of the Manhattan restaurant that bore her name for thirty years. While Levana’s, which opened in the late 1970’s, closed its doors in early 2000, it’s proprietress has remained a fixture in the kosher cooking world, offering private cooking demonstrations and weekly cooking classes in Manhattan – and has authored four cookbooks. Levana’s latest volume, a four hundred page full color cookbook published by Feldheim, titled The Whole Foods Kosher Kitchen, is accompanied by a DVD featuring two of her cooking classes, showing simple yet delicious menus for Shabbos and Pesach and should be required reading for every home cook.

Opening up The Whole Foods cookbook, I expected to see magnificent glossy photographs of beautiful dishes that I would admire, and possibly drool over, but would never aspire to reproduce on my own. Instead, I was immediately greeted by twenty seven pages of common sense advice, given with Levana’s trademark good humor and candor, touting the benefits of using food in its simplest form to yield both the optimal taste and nutritional value as well as page after page of uncomplicated, yet tempting, recipes. While there are many beautiful photographs sprinkled throughout the book, myriad tips, explanations and practical information abound as well, with recipes easily identified as gluten free, gluten free adaptable or kosher for Passover. A three page section of suggested menus, as well as a gluten free index and a Passover index at the end of the book are sure to inspire many a cook, no matter what the occasion or dietary need.

I admit to being spellbound watching Levana’s Shabbos cooking demonstration on the accompanying DVD, titled Delicious Shabbat Dinner in Under an Hour and a Half. Clocking in at just over forty minutes, Levana prepares Minestrone, Mushroom Chicken, Cous Cous, Grilled Vegetables, Mixed Green Salad, Roasted Salmon with Maple Glaze, Chocolate Espresso Mousse and Halvah. Featured early on in the cooking demonstration was the chocolate mousse, something I rarely make because it is too time consuming. Preparing myself to hear lectures on the benefits of heavy cream or whipping egg whites into a snow, I was shocked to hear that this dish incorporated neither of those ingredients and instead contained a one-pound block of silken tofu, adding a walloping dose of protein to what promised to be a delectable dessert. I continued to watch the DVD, expecting Levana to exhort me to invest a small fortune in premium chocolate and the finest Swiss cocoa in order to make this dessert really pop but while Levana continuously repeated her mantra of using high quality ingredients to obtain the best results, I was literally stunned to see her pour both Hershey’s cocoa and store brand chocolate chips into her mousse, explaining that while it is important to buy cocoa and chocolate that are labeled “pure” there is no need to overpay for premium items.

“Why was everyone mourning Trader Joe’s Chocolate Chips?” asked Levana in a phone interview. “Chocolate doesn’t have to be brand name and there is no reason to spend a lot of money. You just need to use real chocolate.”

Levana, a New York City resident, scoffed at the notion of using only home grown or locally farmed produce in order to obtain the best flavors.

“Grow local?” queried Levana. “Who are you talking to? I live in Manhattan. Where are you going to find a farm? I find it nothing short of snobby and more than a little condescending.”

Another shocker for me was her unabashed devotion to frozen fruits and vegetables, which deliver optimal flavor at a fraction of the cost and often require no additional preparatory work at all.

While It’s Still Guilt Free

Monday, July 30th, 2012

Two kids outside an ice cream parlor in central Jerusalem. They get to enjoy it to the fullest, blissfully ignorant of the judgmental gazes they will encounter only a few years hence, for the same pleasure.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/photos/while-its-still-guilt-free/2012/07/30/

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