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September 17, 2014 / 22 Elul, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Rabbi Akiva’

I Am Saddened (Part Three)

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

In my last two columns I published a letter from a mother/grandmother who felt very saddened and discouraged at the shameless chutzpah that marks today’s parent-child relationship. In the first segment of her letter, she cited the disrespectful conduct of children, and in the second, she gave examples of the deplorable behavior of young adults – even married couples.

To be sure, there is a huge difference between the two. When children are chutzpadik, you hope that in time, they will learn, but when young adults are insolent, it is reprehensible – they should know better, but alas – it seems that they don’t. The following is my reply:

Dear Friend:

The chutzpah to which we are witness today should not surprise any of us. Long ago, our sages predicted that impudence and brazenness of the young would mark the pre-messianic period, referred to as “Ikvesa d’Moshicha.” We are into that generation. It is we who have been destined to witness the breakdown of our beautiful family life – the ignoble rebellion of the young against their elders. But that, in and of itself, should give us hope, for what we are witnessing are not random happenings, but the unfolding of prophesy.

Our Talmud relates that Rabbi Akiva, upon beholding the ruins of our Temple, smiled, while his colleagues wept. “How can you smile?” they asked.

“I smile,” he replied, because now that I see the prophesy of destruction fulfilled, I know that the prophesy of birth and redemption will also be realized.”

Similarly, we should take comfort in the knowledge that, even as we are witness to this intensification of chutzpah, so too, with the help of G-d, we will behold the time when Elijah the Prophet will come, reunite the generations and restore our people to their glorious past.

But this in no way means that we should countenance this chutzpah and regard this shameful behavior as acceptable. As Torah Jews, we have a manifest destiny to swim against the tide and battle the cultural waves that threaten us. Our ability to cling tenaciously to our Torah values has enabled us to overcome the vicissitudes of every generation and convert our homes into fortresses of Torah – fortresses in which the Word of G-d prevails and illuminates our families – We can do no less.

Recently, I was invited to speak for N’shei Agudas Israel on this very subject – “Enforcing and Enhancing the Mitzvah of Kibbud Av V’eim.” In my talk, I pointed out that if we are to address this issue in a meaningful manner, we must first identify the cultural manifestations of our 21st century, which condones and generates chutzpa vis-à-vis parents and elders. Therefore, before we even attempt to address this crisis, we would do well to expose the value system that gives license to this abhorrent attitude so that we may insulate our families from its ravishing effects. In the limited space of this column, it is impossible for me to cover everything that I discussed, but I will outline just a few points.

1) Being a Pal to Your Children – Ours is a culture that encourages friendship rather than respect between the generations. “I want my children to like me. I want to be their friend” is the popular mantra by which we raise our children. So it is that toddlers raise their hands against moms and dads without being reprimanded – that children horse around with their parents, even to the point where they call them by their first names and don’t hesitate to lecture them: “You don’t know what you are talking about” or they indicate the same through their body language…rolling their eyes in exasperation and giving a look that says, “I can’t believe that you’re so stupid!”

Some of these young people are so far removed from Torah that it doesn’t even occur to them that sitting in their parents’ seats or failing to rise in their honor is a violation of Torah ideals. Unfortunately, nowadays, such respectful conduct is regarded as archaic. How sad that we have lost our way.

I shared with my audience, that I, who belong to another generation, was raised with a different set of values. On Shabbos Eve, when before Kiddush, our parents bentsched – blessed – us, we rose in awe and gratitude and kissed their hands. To contradict our parents in any manner, shape or form would never have occurred to us…to refer to them as “he” or “she” was so alien a concept that we couldn’t ever conceive that Jewish children could speak of their parents in such a manner.

Moreover, when we visited our Zeide (of all my grandparents, only my maternal Zeide, HaRav HaGaon Tzvi Hirsh HaCohen,zt”l, survived the Holocaust), we children witnessed the reverence and love with which our parents related to him. The honor and love that they showed him remained forever engraved on our hearts. Sadly, this new generation has not been privileged to see such an example. Their frame of reference is one of disrespect and disregard. Too many parents mistreat their own mothers and fathers. Now, if this is the example that children see from their own parents, what can we possibly expect from them?

2) “Me Generation” – We live in a selfish, egocentric world in which sacrifice, devotion and commitment are rare. Parents are selfish, and they raise children who are even more selfish. “It’s coming to me!” – “You owe it to me!” they protest, but it never occurs to them that the reverse is true…. that it is they who “owe one!”…and it is they that it is they who are indebted!”

On what is this egocentric morality based?

(To Be Continued)

A Wake-Up Call Or Business As Usual?

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009

Last week I began to outline the three-fold formula that our sages advise will protect us from the painful birth pangs of the pre-Messianic era. Now with Hashem’s help, I will continue, for this is a subject of great urgency. But to those who have sent e-mails and letters regarding personal problems, let me assure you that I will respond to all your correspondence personally.

Before we come to the second formula prescribed by our sages – gemillus chassadim – allow me to point out that Hashem’s wake-up calls continue. Events keep unfolding that don’t make sense. Let us consider some of the happenings of the last few weeks.

Take, for example, the phenomenal survival of the passengers and crew on US Airways #1549. Undoubtedly, it was miraculous that the pilot brought the aircraft down safely on the Hudson and no one was seriously injured. The presence of mind of the pilot, as well as his own and his crew’s selfless commitment to the passengers’ welfare left us in awe. But, let us ask – was there a message for us in that miracle? As Jews we know that there are no random happenings in the world everything is orchestrated by Hashem.

Rabbi Akiva heard a life-transforming message from a stone. Admittedly, we are not on the level of Rabbi Akiva, and are not capable of hearing teachings from a stone, but the message from that US Air flight should not be too difficult to discern.

If we would only stop a moment and contemplate, we would hear that message loud and clear. “Birds!” Yes, birds knock out a sophisticated aircraft, and in a matter of minutes, succeed in downing it. Our technology and safety measures disappear in face of the birds. If not for the grace of G-d that allowed the pilot to take the measures that he did, those birds would have been responsible for the deaths of all the people on board.

Shouldn’t that give us pause? Shouldn’t we realize that all our knowledge and advances cannot outwit even birds? Shouldn’t this make us aware of our vulnerability? Shouldn’t we stand humbled before G-d? Have we humbled ourselves? Have we renewed our commitment to Him or did we congratulate the pilot and crew for their seamless performance and then continue with business as usual?

Our euphoric mood continues. Perhaps never before in the history of America has there been an inaugural extravaganza as just witnessed. Millions of people descended on the capital, but even as the celebrations went on, the financial markets plummeted to unheard of new lows. The financial meltdown has been consuming our leaders. The experts have been hard put to come up with a solution. Billions of taxpayer dollars have been allocated to overcome the crisis and pump new life into our limping, sick economy.

Billions of dollars have had no impact. Our emaciated economy remains as sick as before. The bailouts have not made a dent, and worse, have mortgaged our descendants for generations to come, and there is no relief in sight. Bad judgment? Lack of oversight? Greed? Corruption? Naïveté? Many fingers have been pointed, but to no avail. Solutions have yet to be found.

Can it be that Hashem is sending us a message and a wake-up call? Have we entered the period to which the prophets refer as the tribulations that will accompany the birth pangs of Messiah? Can it be that the failure of our icons and crumbling of our cherished institutions carry a message for us? Can it be that G-d is sending us a wake-up call so that we may come to the realization “Ein od Milvado – There is no one but Hashem,” or should we ignore the message and attribute it all to bad judgment, lack of oversight, etc. and go on with “business as usual?” In our heart we know the answer.

The wake-up calls abound. I was going about my daily tasks, listening to the inaugural ceremony with half an ear, when I heard the popular pastor of America’s mega-church, Rick Warren, deliver the benediction. Suddenly I was jarred to attention. Was I hearing right? Was this Christian minister invoking our ancient prayer before all America, before the entire world? Was Rick Warren saying the “Shema?” The words were unmistakable: “Hear Oh Israel, the L-rd our G-d, the L-rd is One.”

I have become accustomed to non-Jews borrowing from our Torah, Prophets and Psalms, but to the best of my knowledge, I have never heard the “Shema” from non-Jewish lips, especially in such an awesome venue. The Shema is the clarion call of our people going back to the beginning of time.

Our father Jacob proclaimed those sacred words when he arrived in Egypt and saw his beloved son, Joseph for the first time in 22 years. G-d Himself inscribed the Shema in the Torah for all eternity. Shema, which we recite every morning and every night is our declaration of faith. It is the prayer with which, throughout the centuries, our martyrs sanctified G-d’s Holy Name, and now, incredibly, the Shema became part of the presidential inaugural benediction. Can there be a message therein, or is it all just coincidence?

We have learned that at times G-d sends us wake-up calls through non-Jewish sources. Could this have been one of those times? Could this be a reminder to us to don our priestly garments and proclaim, “Shema Yisrael HaShem Elokeinu, Hashem Echad?”

Amazingly, when speaking to people, I discovered that most who followed the inauguration never heard Rick Warren quote the Shema, or perhaps more correctly, they may have heard it, but the words did not register. The gap between hearing and listening is much longer than those few inches that separate our ears from our hearts…The words were spoken, but not heard, and so it was back to business as usual.

“Wake-up calls” are all about us and there are many more that I could cite, but let us focus on the plight of our brethren in Israel. Our brave, young, valorous soldiers put their lives on the line and accomplished a Herculean task. Undoubtedly, Hashem performed great miracle.

The number of missiles and rockets that fell upon Israel during the last eight years could, G-d forbid, have destroyed the entire country. But Hashem, in His infinite mercy, protected us. While there have been tragic casualties, and many homes were destroyed, when you consider what could have happened, you can only shudder and realize that it was only through Hashem’s personal intervention, that time and again, our people have been miraculously saved – and the same holds true for our soldiers.

The ground operation in Gaza was viewed with pessimism and fear. All the pundits predicted that the casualty rate for Israel would be disastrous. The Hamas murderers arrogantly boasted that they were eagerly awaiting our sons so they might celebrate their blood bath. In Gaza homes, mosques, schools and hospitals…the very streets were booby-trapped and mined, not to mention the tunnels filled with the most lethal weapons.

Additionally, the civilians of Gaza, men, women and children have all been indoctrinated with the belief that killing Jews and annihilating Israel is a tenet of the Moslem faith and fulfillment of the will of Allah.

But once again, Hashem, in His infinite mercy, came to our rescue.

Our sons witnessed to miracle after miracle. This is not a forum for stories that emerged from these battles. Suffice it to say that, Chasdei Hashem, our casualties were minimal, some resulting from accidental “friendly fire.” And please, no one misunderstand. We do not regard the loss of any Jewish life as “minimal.” But when you consider the bloodbath that might have been you have to tremble with awe and say: “Hodu L’Hashem.”

But how many of us have actually said thank you? How many of us have considered the miracle of G-d’s constant protective care? In the wake of the Gaza operation, we salute the IDF, and we should well do so, but, and this is the big but, how many of us have saluted Hashem? How many of us are aware that even our best soldiers are totally vulnerable and helpless, if not for the constant care of Hashem.”Eileh ba’rechev, ve’eileh ba’sussim – They go forth with horses and chariots, but we go forth in the Name of our G-d” (Psalm 20).

As much as we would like to think that there is a cease-fire and the war is over, we know that the reality is sadly different. Even as I write this article, the Gazans are busy rebuilding and re-supplying the tunnels. Hamas may have lost some of its leadership, but that does not deter them. There is never a shortage of madmen who glory in the torture and slaughter of Jews. The destruction of Israel is a basic tenet of Hamas’ charter, as it is of Fatah and all extremist Islamic groups. As long as these Islamic terrorists exist, nothing will change. No matter what Israel does, no matter how much land she relinquishes, the senseless killing will continue as we saw when Israel gave away Gaza, Gush Katif and the region.

Nowadays, hatred of Israel has become vogue, her demonization global, and who should be sensitive to this if not we, who still recall the Holocaust? G-d is calling us, but we do not hear. In attempts to put out the fire, we explore every avenue; we take every road but the high road, the road that G-d Himself mapped out for us thousands of years ago… the road that guarantees our lives, our security, our prosperity.

But instead of choosing that road of Torah, we opt for business as usual, and G-d’s wake-up calls are lost in the wind. We have yet to don our priestly garments and become Mamlechet Kohanim, that Priestly Kingdom that He destined us to be.

Photojournalist’s Testimony: Photographs By Jerry Dantzic

Wednesday, August 13th, 2008

Trailblazing in the Rebbe’s Footsteps


Chassidic Art Institute


375 Kingston Avenue


Brooklyn, New York 11213 


718-774-9149


Noon-7 p.m., Sunday-Thursday 


Zev Markowitz, Director


 


Lag B’Omer is a communal sigh of relief. Historically the plague that consumed 24,000 of Rabbi Akiva’s students in the second century did not include the 33rd day of the counting of the Omer. The Talmud relates that this terrible scourge was caused because “they did not act respectfully toward each other.” Therefore one aspect of the holiday of Passover (when the counting begins) celebrates the healing theme of ahavas Yisrael, the imperative to love and respect our fellow Jews.

 

Another reason to express joy on Lag B’Omer is the commemoration of the yahrzeit of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, one of the most illustrious of Rabbi Akiva’s disciples and a fierce defender of the Jewish people and the Land of Israel. Following his instructions to his students, it is celebrated with outings, parades, bonfires and communal celebrations − especially at his grave in Meron in northern Israel.

 

Known as the author of the Zohar, his influence continues to this day in the practice of Kabbalah and many Chassidic customs. Not the least of which is the annual Lubavitch Lag B’Omer parade, in which Shimon bar Yochai’s lifelong crown of Torah study is proudly celebrated on the streets of Crown Heights. As a 1973 poster proclaims: “American Jewry! Join 50,000 Boys and Girls Saluting Judaism!” On that Sunday, May 20, 1973, the photojournalist Jerry Dantzic captured much of the spirit and happiness of that Lag B’Omer, seen in a stunning series of photographs at the Chassidic Art Institute until September 2.

 

Jerry Dantzic (previously reviewed here in April 2003) was a lifelong photojournalist, whose long career documented the arts, music and the vast diversity of New York life.  He freelanced for the New York Times and Life and Look magazines, among other major publications. He also taught photography at Long Island University and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

 

In 1971 he rediscovered the Cirkut camera that could take panoramic 360-degree pictures. His tour of all 50 states exploring the creative possibilities of this unique camera resulted in two Guggenheim Fellowships, an NEA Fellowship and, finally, a Museum of Modern Art exhibition in 1978.

 

The black and white prints shown here (all about 17 x 25 inches) are a curious mix of old and new technology. They were shot using Dantzic’s dependable Leica camera with Kodak Tri-X film. He took about 200 shots of the Lag B’Omer parade in May 1973, but didn’t print any of them because the funding sought for “The White Ethnic Project” that they were to be part of was never granted from the Guggenheim Foundation.

 

 



Grand Lag B’Omer Parade; Black and white photograph by Jerry Dantzic. Courtesy: Chassidic Art Institute


 


 

In preparation for this current show Dantzic’s son and archivist Grayson Dantzic, along with curator Zev Markowitz, chose the images for this exhibition and had them printed using the latest digital technology by Gamma One Conversions. They are brilliant, crisp prints, preserving all the qualities of the original black and white glossy technique.

 

The first half of the show consists mainly of photos of a Grand Farbrengen, celebrating the 46th anniversary of the 12 Tammuz release of the sixth Rebbe from Soviet prison and reversal of his death sentence for “counterrevolutionary activities” that included organizing an underground education network that helped Judaism survive the Communist suppression of religion. Seated prominently on the dais is Israel’s President Zalman Shazar, seen toasting Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson at the 1973 event.  All of these images were previously shown in the 2003 exhibition.

 

The Lag B’Omer photos begin appropriately with Eli Lipsker and his Drum Corp, a spirited 25-member marching band, setting the celebratory tone of the day’s festivities. Lipsker is seen proudly leading his band across an Eastern Parkway filled as far as the eye can see with men, women and children – and dozens and dozens of signs proclaiming a cacophony of messages: “Put on Tefillin,” “We’re From Boro Park,” and “Enjoy Torah, It’s the Real Thing.” In a more stationary mode, the six-man Neginah Orchestrais playing their tunes to an equally enthusiastic crowd.

 

The three images of the Rabbinical Grandstand move from conventional piety to an unexpected pictorial insight. The first image (actually number 3) captures at least 14 elders, almost all with long white beards and many bespectacled, appreciating the proceedings.

 

 


Rabbinical Grandstand #1; Black and white photograph by Jerry Dantzic. Courtesy: Chassidic Art Institute

 

 

The next image from a slightly different angle sees the same men a few moments earlier, but now includes a back row of “ordinary” Jews. One man in the upper left is quizzically looking up at the sky, as if to seek a Heavenly sign of approval of the celebration. 

 

And finally, the last image in this series (number 1) pulls back from the Rabbinical Grandstand to reveal the wooden bleacher on which the sages are seated. Behind them in clear focus is the corner of Kingston Avenue and Eastern Parkway, with the building at 770 Eastern Parkway overseeing the entire scene. The first two rows of the bleacher are empty, creating the illusion and perfect metaphor of Rabbinic elevation and perhaps even levitation.

 

The notion of an event that somehow transcends the mundane world is further explored in another image of the Kingston Avenue/Eastern Parkway corner. The fire escape of the four-story building at 788 Eastern Parkway is packed with young men overlooking the parade. On the second floor a banner proclaims, “The Torah Times: its what’s happening!!” under a six-foot size “pocket watch.” On the floor above, another banner simply proclaims, “Keep Shabbos!” And finally, the top-floor fire escape supports four or five Chassidim appreciating what they think is the best viewpoint. 

 

But the image continues to give more and more precious information the longer the viewer lingers. The fire escape crowd is exclusively men, while the packed crowd on the street below is discreetly mixed with men and women. Everybody is straining for a view of the parade, perhaps none more precariously than the eight men we suddenly notice all the way at the top of the image on the edge of the roof above.

 

Finally, just when we think the image has taught us everything we might want to know about this happy moment in time, we see the two women in the window at the extreme right edge of the print. Their presence peering out of the open window, almost secretively in the otherwise all male building, reanimates the scene with a diversity and excitement that make us want to continue scouring the photograph for more secrets and insights.

 

The combination of an intense crowd scene, the layered placement of 40 figures dressed remarkably alike and integrated with the architecture of an ornate building façade begins to express the complexity and transformative nature of this religious celebration.

 

The heart of this Lag B’Omer celebration may be found in what is the oddest, and yet most exciting, image in the entire exhibition: Dancing Rabbis. The location is suddenly strange and unfamiliar, an open field and bleachers with distant institutional buildings in the background. A line of six couples − all male − are seen dancing across the field with the clumsiest elegance imaginable.

 

 


Dancing Rabbis; Black and white photograph by Jerry Dantzic. Courtesy: Chassidic Art Institute 

 

 

The Lubavitch men are filled with the incredible spirit of the day’s joyousness without the necessary dancing experience – and yetdance they must! One seems to be telling the other, “Just prance and jump, that’s all there is to it!” while another drags his partner in happy excess. The innocence of man dancing with man as couples, not in an anonymous line dance, pushes the image into a transcendence of the moment that perfectly captures the ineffable spirit of Lag B’Omer, a day of release from sorrow; a day of immersion in the holy Torah, and love and joy of our fellow Jews.

 

It is said that photojournalism does not aspire to the refined status of art photography. Its job is relatively simple; just describe in pictures what happened and bring back the story for the uninitiated. We can see from this exhibition that Jerry Dantzic was a first-rate photojournalist who clearly went beyond simple reporting, as his work becomes a testimonial to the Jewish community – its joys and beliefs.

 

At this Lag B’Omer parade, he turned his lens not on floats, banners and spectacle. Rather it was the crowd that mattered to him, since he instinctively knew that the audience − the people who faithfully traveled and participated by their very presence − was the real subject of this celebration. As a proud Jew, he knew it was the Jewish people that ultimately mattered. So too, the banner quoting the 133rd psalm at the top of 788 Eastern Parkway proudly says that where Jews are this united, “For there Hashem has commanded the blessing, May there be eternal life!”

 

Richard McBee is a painter and writer on Jewish art. Please feel free to contact him with comments at rmcbee@nyc.rr.com.

Chronicles Of Crises In Our Communities – 9/13/07

Tuesday, September 11th, 2007

We encourage women and men of all ages to send in their personal stories by e-mail to rachel@jewishpress.com or by mail to Rachel/Chronicles, c/o The Jewish Press, 338 Third Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y. 11215.

To all women, men or children who feel that they are at the end of their ropes, please consider joining a support group, or forming one.

Anyone wishing to make a contribution to help agunot, please send your tax-deductible contribution to The Jewish Press Foundation.

Checks must be clearly specified to help agunot. Please make sure to include that information if that is the purpose of your contribution, because this is just one of the many worthwhile causes helped by this foundation.

* * * * * * * * * *

Dear Rachel,

I realize that my letter may be a little off topic for your column, but it can be a great source of reaching out to our community. I am a social worker in a community center and I work mostly with elderly immigrants, the majority of whom are Jewish.

It pains me greatly to hear day in and day out about how much these people are being mistreated by their landlords and/or managers, the majority of whom are also Jewish. The landlords do not live up to their part of the rent deal, like making repairs every three years as required by law, or making sure the buildings are mice-free, and the garbage is taken out regularly, and so on and so forth.

Don’t get me wrong: I know that there are wonderful and responsible landlords, but apparently they are a minority. I know how ugly it can get: I lived for five years in an apartment building owned by a frum couple and managed by a frum individual, and the only way we could get him to fix anything was by withholding a rent payment. Money talks!

As far as the elderly immigrants are concerned, the landlords raise rent mercilessly knowing upfront that these people are on fixed incomes; they are terrified of being thrown out in the street and will borrow from anyone they could to make that monthly payment – no matter how badly their apartment needs the repair.

Landlords/managers abuse the fact that these tenants are non-English speakers and elderly. However, all of the above is not the main reason I am writing to you today. Since most of my clients and those in similar situations cannot afford the ever-increasing rent, they apply to different housing programs. Section 8 is the most popular. It has been closed for new applications for a few years. Finally, in these past few months, the people who have been waiting for it for 14 years received their vouchers. Unfortunately, they will lose them because they have only six months to rent an apartment with it, and – you guessed it – the landlords refuse to take them.

Now, don’t throw stones at me, but I am pretty sure that the majority of these buildings have been paid for years ago and rental income is a clean income (minus maintenance expenses). Therefore, it is all about money. When I called one such landlord and pleaded with him to change his mind and accept a voucher from a couple that lived in that apartment for 12 years, borrowing left and right to always pay on time, he refused. When I told him that the wife had two brain surgeries and is on dialysis (we had all the letters from doctors and hospitals), and that as per her treating physician, the move would physically kill her (her husband is also disabled, and they are childless and elderly), all I heard was, “It is too much of a headache to deal with the Housing Authority.”

And there are hundreds of similar cases. It is a disgrace and a Chillul Hashem! And some are even taking bribes to accept the vouchers, and we are talking thousands of dollars. Widows, old and disabled are being denied shelter when it is Hashem’s commandment to do the reverse. You have to see the pain in these peoples’ eyes. The desperation is palpable. They have literally nowhere to turn.

I am writing to cry out to our community to treat our fellow Jews (no matter how unobservant, old, or non-English speaking that they may be) the true Torah way. Otherwise, it is just like the saying goes “In G-d we trust. Everyone else pays cash.”

A Concerned Social Worker

Dear Concerned,

It is indeed a heartbreak to watch the helpless suffer, and it is truly appalling that they do so at the hands of those who consider themselves to be Torah-observant.

I have chosen to publish your letter at this juncture – a time of year when minds perk up and hearts are on alert. Soon we will be judged for our deeds and we will be dealt with as we have seen fit to deal with others.

But there is still time for teshuvah, and every person should seek to make amends in order to merit favor in the heavenly courts.

The Midrash Tanchuma relates an awesome narrative. Rabbi Akiva one night observed how a man with a blackened face was hauling a heavy bundle of wood on his shoulder, rushing to and fro. He stopped the person and asked him why he was in such a hurry and whether he was a slave who was being tormented by his master – in which case, Rabbi Akiva offered to redeem him. Or, if it turned out that the man was poverty-stricken, Rabbi Akiva would enrich him.

The man replied that he was neither a slave nor a poor man – but a mes, a dead man dispatched from gehennom every night to chop wood and lug a bundle of it back with him. He would then be set ablaze atop the burning wood and be resuscitated in order to repeat the pattern: Fetch his own wood so that he can be burned and then resurrected only to re-enact the scene over and over again.

Rabbi Akiva asked the man what he did when he was alive. He answered that he was the king’s tariff collector and would curry favor with the rich while he’d harass the poor, not caring if they were left penniless or would die of hunger.

Need more be said?

May we all come to our senses and merit to be written up in the Book of Life for a Sweet and Happy New Year.

Secrets Bared

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2007

The powerful ox of Taurus symbolizes the month of Iyar. The bull’s characteristic of stubbornness features positively when it manifests itself as uncompromising loyalty. During the course of this month we brace ourselves in readiness to embrace the holy Torah by fortifying our fear and awe of God. Iyar‘s letters transposed spell yira- fear. “Reishis chochma yiras Hashem” – The beginning of wisdom lies in the fear of God (Proverbs 7:1).

Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai’s neshama emanates from the same root as Moshe Rabbeinu’s – thus Lag B’Omer and the fourth day of the following Sukkot (Moshe’s ushpiza) always fall on the same day of the week. Lag B’Omer and Moshe share the same numerical value of 345.

The month of Nissan corresponds to Reuven – our matriarch Leah named her firstborn when she said that God had “seen” her affliction; Iyar corresponds to Shimon – upon the birth of her second son with Yaakov, Leah proclaimed Hashem had “heard”; the month of Sivan, the third month, is linked to Levi, Leah’s third son – named when she declared that Yaakov would (now that she had begotten her share of the 12 shevatim) be forever attached to her (lavah – accompany or attached).

In the month of Nissan we witness God’s miracles; during Iyar we perceive the divine light from afar as we prepare for the most extraordinary event in the history of mankind, when in Sivan we are “joined” to God to personally receive His doctrine, the holy Torah (Zohar: Shem MiShmuel).

The generation that lived in the days of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai was imbued with chachmas haTorah. This extended across the spectrum of the Jewish people and was not exclusive to those who committed their lives to “sitting and learning.” From merchant to child and in between, all were versed in the wisdom of Torah, prompting the great tanna to disclose that the world would never again see such an exalted generation until the coming of Moshiach.

The souls of the children were reincarnations of the ones who had lost their lives when the Beis Hamikdash was destroyed. In the merit of R. Shimon Bar Yochai, the entire generation

of his day was ensured a place in Gan Eden. Hashem therefore saw fit to bring these holy neshamos back in his time (Zohar:Remak).

Persistence, integrity and dependability are the hallmark of the Taurean personality, augmented by the character traits of generosity and loyalty. One born under the sign of Taurus is given to forming lifetime friendships.

* * *

Little Meir’s shining face reflected the excitement of this glorious Lag B’Omer day. He and his family had traveled to Meron to convene at the burial site of the holy Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai – the age-old traditional setting for inaugurating the first distinct mark of maturity: payos.

Cheerful toasts of l’chayim and shouts of mazel tov were offered up along with cake and drink as family members took turns shearing the child’s lustrous locks.

Gedalya, the proud father and baal simcha, glimpsed a familiar face in the milling crowds. He called out to his friend whom he hadn’t seen for many years, “Baruch habah, Zalman! Come and share in our nachas!”

Zalman, an “older” bochur (single male) of 25 had not yet met the good fortune of encountering his partner in life. (In chassidic circles, every effort is made to adhere to the Torah concept of “ben shemone esrei l’chuppah” – to lead one’s children to the marriage canopy by the age of eighteen.)

The newcomer found himself surrounded by married couples and youngsters and secretly hoped that no one would guess at his spouseless status in light of his mature countenance. Holding scissors in hand, he was jolted by a sudden smack on his shoulder that accompanied an exuberant outburst of “Ah, Zalman, when we were in yeshiva together, little did we envision meeting here in Meron – you still a bochur and me the father of a three-year-old!”

Zalman knew that Gedalya had meant no harm but had simply gotten carried away with the moment. Yet his reasoning could not deflect the piercing blow to his heart. Pent-up emotion fused with shame and embarrassment, as at least twenty pairs of eyes seemed to bore into him.

Murmuring best wishes to the host, Zalman beat a hasty retreat to a lone corner of the holy site where the bulging lump that had lodged in his throat gave way to heartrending sobs. His wails of anguish left no one within the perimeters of the sacred chamber unmoved or unshaken. The stream of tears that soaked the ancient stones surely penetrated the very soul of the holy sage interred therein.

The inner dam that burst to unleash his tears left Zalman feeling renewed and at peace. A sense of relief washed over him, and he sensed that his agonizing expressions of pain had found a listening ear. It was as though a heavenly hand had reached down to stroke his tearstained cheek. In his comforted state, he was almost grateful to his friend for unwittingly unlocking the door to his hurting heart.

Long before the arrival of the next spring’s growth, Zalman had his longing fulfilled as he stood with his intended beneath a starry Jerusalem sky under the traditional wedding canopy.

Less than four years later, memories enveloped Zalman as he and his family set out to Meron for the happy event of his Avrumele’s upsherin (haircutting). He recalled a time when his broken heart had set the stones awash in a torrent of tears – the same stones that still stood in place and that had once allowed his earnest pleas and prayers to penetrate the very gates of Heaven. He had never ceased to be thankful to his Creator for the benevolence showered on him, even as he sojourned to Meron again . . . and then again with his third son, little Akiva’le. By now some nine years had elapsed since that eventful day.

Zalman’s children were evolving into fine and God-fearing young adults, and at the age of 48 (wasn’t it just yesterday when he was an “older” singleof 25?), the prominent and respected Reb Zalman experienced the euphoria of escorting his first child to the chuppah. His heart overflowed with gratitude to Hashem as he and his loved ones rejoiced in the happy occasion.

Hardly five years later, a minibus transported Reb Zalman and his extended family to Meron, this time to make payos for his first grandson! Breathless with exhilaration, they traversed the magnificent green hilly terrain toward the courtyard that housed the tzaddik’s ohel. Avrum, the proud father of little Bentzion, extended the cutting shears to his own father – now a proud zeida. Scissors passed from hand to hand as adult members took part in the time-honored tradition.

In the deep recesses of his mind, Reb Zalman pictured himself at another hair-cutting ceremony more than thirty years back. He vividly recalled the throes of pain, his unbridled emotions. . . . A spark of familiarity cut into his reminiscence. Reb Zalman blinked to clear his vision and jubilantly called out, “Baruch habah, R. Gedalya . . . Shalom aleichem!”

Two old friends greeted each other warmly. Reb Zalman’s gracious request that Reb Gedalya honor him by partaking in the cutting of his first grandson’s hair was met with tepid enthusiasm.

A casual exchange of pleasantries unearthed a startling fact: Meir, Reb Gedalya’s firstborn, was still single, at the age of 31. With deep sighs, Reb Gedalya described the torment of years spent searching and pursuing – yet neither Meir nor any of his younger siblings had had any luck in finding their intended.

Who better than Zalman could sympathize with such a plight? Searching for words to soothe his friend’s broken spirit, he found himself saying, “Yes, I remember your son, Meir… I even cut some of his hair” – as altogether different words played through his mind. “Ah, Zalman, when we learned in yeshiva together, little did we dream that we would be meeting here in Meron at such an occasion – you still a bochur and me a father of a three-year-old…”

Reb Gedalya’s face paled. “You were there? Yes, you were there. . . . You cried. I remember. I said something I shouldn’t have and embarrassed you. I instantly regretted my words but could not retrieve them. Afterwards I’d reasoned that in all likelihood you’d have forgotten. Perhaps now is a good time to put the incident to rest, by begging your forgiveness.”

Reb Zalman’s heart ached for his friend. To add to his personal misfortune, Reb Gedalya shouldered a burden of guilt as well. Reb Zalman feigned forgetfulness of the long-ago incident and insisted that if there were something to forgive, he did so now wholeheartedly. Upon taking their leave, the two communicated an ardent and mutual hope of meeting again soon under happy circumstances.

Meir met his future wife that same year. The big simcha was a forerunner of a ripple effect in the household as the younger family members very soon followed suit.

On a balmy spring Lag B’Omer some six years since they’d last met, Reb Zalman and Reb Gedalya chanced to meet in Meron yet again – one a seasoned zeida attending one of his numerous grandchildren’s haircutting occasions, the other at his first grandchild’s, Meir’s firstborn.

Together the two grandfathersrejoiced, their tears glistening like dewdrops on their silvery beards. Arm in arm they danced, their hearts soaring in unison, keeping in rhythm with their leaping feet to the tune of “Amar Rabi Akiva.”

According to Reb Avrum, the eldest child of the saintly Reb Zalman, his father hardly ever missed an opportunity to narrate the fascinating chronicle, always prefacing it with, “Who are we to even attempt to analyze the ways of the Ribono Shel Olam? I simply tell the story as it happened, the way it was . . . down here on earth.”

Both as a father and grandfather, Reb Zalman never tired of reiterating, “Remember, dear children, to guard your tongues, to be cautiously mindful of your words . . . to think very carefully before you speak.”

* * *

One of the reasons stated for the dreadful calamity that befell 24,000 talmidimof Rabbi Akiva was the lack of unity among them. Though exceptional in their dedication and devotion as Torah scholars, their downfall came about as each sought to outshine the other. It was Lag B’Omer, the 18th day of Iyar, that marked a cessation of the plague that had snuffed out so many lives – and is the date that marks the yahrzeit of Rabbi Akiva’s most illustrious student, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, who never ceased to ascribe his Torah knowledge to the venerable Rabbi Akiva. (The letters that form the name Yaakov are all contained within the name Akiva, illustrative of their shared attributes. Kabbalah teaches that the souls of Akiva and Jacob were connected.)

His life on earth was drawing to a close and his bedside visitors, namely R. Pinchas, R. Chiya and R. Abba, were deeply affected by R. Shimon’s declining physical health. “How can the sun leave this world?” they cried.

Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai began to comfort them with the assurance that he was going to be judged by a benevolent Creator. Abruptly he stopped in mid-sentence. The petrified onlookers perceived their rebbe carrying on a discussion with someone unseen – but were soon mollified by a heavenly fragrance that permeated their surroundings.

The mystery was shortly resolved. R. Shimon divulged that he had just been given the privilege of viewing his eternal habitat in the hereafter and had forthwith negotiated a different site. The scent that lingered in the atmosphere was a whiff of Gan Eden air that he’d brought back with him.

When he was about to unveil the Kabbalistic secrets that would become known as Sefer haZohar, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai secluded himself with his son R. Elazar and his chavraya (tannaim of the time). R. Shimon instructed R. Abba to commit his elucidation to paper, his son R. Elazar to study his father’s holy utterances, and the rest of the sages to imprint them in their hearts.

Thus R. Shimon Bar Yochai cloaked himself in his tallis and set about expounding the heretofore-concealed divrei Torah, all the while encircled by a radiance that prevented anyone from gazing in his direction.

It was only when the holy tanna concluded the revelation of the mystical body of knowledge and ceased to speak that the gathered students were able to see that their beloved leader, smiling serenely, had left this world.

R. Elazar took his father’s hands in his and kissed them, R. Abba kissed the dust beneath his rebbe‘s feet, while the rest of the chavraya were rendered speechless in their overwhelming grief.

* * *

Tuned in to the affairs of the universe from its inception to Hashem’s coming Kingdom, our esteemed Psalmist can always be counted on to sum it up neatly. “Sod Hashem lirayov” – The secrets of Hashem [are revealed only] to those who fear Him (Tehillim 25:14).

Rachel Weiss is a frequent contributor to The Jewish Press.

Learning The Hard Way (Part II)

Wednesday, May 24th, 2006

I am still getting calls and e-mails from mothers and grandmothers with girls for “Avi” (a non-New Yorker), the ben Torah “earner” who was having trouble finding girls in his community willing to go out with him because he was not learning full time.


Many of the phone callers decried the current attitude in the heimische community – that married men should be “professional learners and not professionals who are earners.” They felt that the failure of young married men to have the responsibility of supporting their family, the way it has been for thousands of years, has resulted in an unhealthy “es kumt mir – I deserve” mentality. There is an expectation that their financial needs be fulfilled – without any effort on their part – by their wives, parents, the community and even the government.


Yet inexplicably, in many frum social circles learning boys are in great demand, sought after by girls who have become very idealistic (via their high schools and seminaries) and have what I call the Rachel Syndrome – patterning themselves after the wife of Rabbi Akiva, a girl from a wealthy family who gave up a pampered lifestyle and embraced a life of dire poverty when she married the illiterate shepherd Akiva, encouraging him to learn. Parents may secretly not be happy with their daughter’s choice of a learning boy, but go along with it since it seems everybody’s kids are into learning and they want to “fit in”. Their choices are dictated by “What will my friends think?” I truly believe that their friends have the same thoughts – “I have to accept my son’s learning lifestyle/ my daughter wish to marry a learner – or what will my friends think?”


And so they toe the line and allow their daughters to date learners or allow their sons to become full-time learners – whether they have the talent to learn or not. Rabbi Akiva became a leading sage in Israel with thousands of students. However, a great number of the young husbands today who are full-time learners are not made of the same stuff as Rabbi Akiva – not in their learning and not in their acceptance of a materialistically-challenged existence. Many have a very strong sense of entitlement, which leads to another issue that was brought up by several of the distraught mothers who called. The families of learning boys will not give the slightest consideration to a girl whose family “does not have money”. It doesn’t matter how amazing the girl’s middos or personality is, the family has to have money (or incredible yichus). The boy’s family understandably does not want to shoulder the whole burden of support on their own – they want a daughter-in-law whose parents will share the load with them. Hence many wonderful girls are hitting their mid-20s unmarried, since their family finances don’t measure up. And yet many of these girls still insist on marrying “learners” – refusing to date “earners” and possibly “marrying down”. To a certain extent, the “shidduch crisis” may sadly be self-induced.


This phenomenon of supporting a young learning couple has been going on for years and is commendable when it involves serious, gifted learners. The sacrifices made by both sets of parents in the name of Torah are admirable. But there are two issues that have changed the nature of full-time learning. One is that every Yankel, whether qualified or not, can become a learner – and may do so for the wrong reasons; some in order to avoid having to learn a trade or get an education due to a lack of motivation or laziness; some because they also want to “fit in” or get a “good” shidduch; some because their parents insist they do – either because they have their hearts unrealistically set on their offspring being a talmid chacham – or again because of “appearances.” Supporting these young men who don’t belong for a long term in a beth medrash is a mistake.


The second issue is that times have changed and whereas one income used to adequately support a household, two barely do. The price of a house and rent are sky high. Even when both spouses are working, their parents often need to help out. And usually there are married siblings who are being assisted by the same set of parents. It is unrealistic to expect a wife who is juggling work and children as well as parents who have their own financial responsibilities – to pay the bills while the father of the household is in the beth medrash learning – or just schmoozing. Even the well-intentioned but mediocre learners should reconsider their choice. For while it is true that man does not live by bread alone, it is also clear that “im ein kemach ein Torah,” if there is no meal there is no Torah.


Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/magazine/learning-the-hard-way-part-ii/2006/05/24/

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