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February 22, 2017 / 26 Shevat, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘Rebbe’

Who is Alex Clare? And Why Do I care?

28 Heshvan 5773 – November 12, 2012

Who is Alex Clare? He is a British pop singer with a top ten single entitled Too Close. He is the ex-boyfriend of Amy Winehouse. And he is an observant Jew.
How – one might ask – does an Orthodox Jew hook up with someone like Amy Whitehouse, a mega popular Grammy award winning Jewish singer who was anything but observant? And who had a history of drug addiction and alcohol abuse that eventually caused her death?

He doesn’t talk about his relationship with her. But a Times of Israel article does reveal that he has only been observant for about 5 years. Which might explain how their relationship both began and ended.

The YouTube video of his hit song (below) has had over 32 million hits so far. How observant is he? From the Times article:

Raised in a secular home, Clare hooked up with Chabad after studying in Jerusalem.
While on tour, Clare relies on daily religious practice to navigate a music world that provides no end of temptation. He studies the Tanya, a work of Hasidic philosophy by the founder of the Chabad movement, and the Talmud tractate Brachot…

Clare said his team helps him keep certain religious laws: For example, his bodyguards help ward off the mobs of screaming teenage girls — and there are many — so that nobody touches him, since he adheres to religious laws of modesty which forbid touching women.

“I know clubs and concert halls are not the best place for a nice Jewish boy, but everyone has their life choices and this is mine,” he said. “It’d definitely be different if I was a Satmar Hasid. They’d probably disown me.”

Clare says that he did lose a record deal opportunity because he refused to play on Sukkot and tour over the holidays. But he says these are small prices to pay, and even with sacrifices made, a little faith can go a long way.

This is truly an amazing story. Just like going OTD fascinates me, so too does becoming observant. In both cases there is a radical departure from one’s past that involves sacrifices. Difficult ones albeit different ones.

I haven’t written about Chabad in quite some times. Things seemed to have quieted down. But those who have been reading this blog for awhile will know about my issues with them. Not the least of which is their belief that at the very least their now deceased Rebbe can in theory rise from the dead to become the Messiah.

That belief varies among various Lubavitchers between a mere possible but unlikely occurrence to an actual devout belief that this will indeed happen. Although these beliefs are being mostly kept in the closet by the mainstream, they are still there.

In fact there are still some pockets of Lubavitch that are not shy about proclaiming the Rebbe’s messiahship either. You may occasionally see one of their homes or vehicles displaying a yellow Rebbe/Moshiach flag. This is especially the case in Israel with signs saying the Rebbe is Moshiach being seen all over the place. But their mainstream leadership has been doing a good job of marginalizing them. At least in America.

Even with all these problems, they must be given a huge amount of credit for their outreach work. Their Messianic beliefs do not seem to affect that. No one does it like Lubavitch. And according to the Times article they seem to be the ones responsible for Clare becoming observant. My hat is off to them.

Why do I care? Because when a high profile entertainer becomes a practicing Jew, it makes an impression. Of those over 32 million mostly young eople who have listened to his YouTube video some of them are Jews. And some of those may very well be motivated to seek their own roots. And that is not a small thing.

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The Joy of Fulfilling A Mitzvah

20 Tishri 5773 – October 5, 2012

Rav Moshe Sofer (The Chasam Sofer), one of the greatest Gaonim in his generation, always preached and practiced charity and kindness towards his fellow man. His door was always open to the poor and to the needy for help and advice.

Once, on a cold wintry day, in the city of Pressburg, the Chasam Sofer was studying the Talmud with his two sons, when he heard an urgent knock on his door.

“It must be a poor man seeking alms,” he remarked as he opened the door. Imagine his surprise when he saw the leading member of his congregation standing at his door, looking like a beggar.

“Do not be surprised at my appearance, Rebbe,” he said, “I am in great trouble and I need your help. I would like to talk to you privately.”

Motioning to the man to enter, the Chasam Sofer told his children to leave the room while he made the merchant comfortable. “What happened to you? Why are you looking so sad?” he asked.

“A terrible misfortune has happened to me,” the man responded. “I was a very wealthy man and as you know I became a banker. But through a series of misfortunes, I lost all my money and now I am penniless. I have practically become a beggar.”

“Do not lose faith in G-d,” answered the Chasam Sofer, while pity welled up in his heart. “You still have your good name, people will remember all the charity you have given and they will surely give you a helping hand. G-d may have taken your money only temporarily to test you.

“It isn’t my money which I am worried about,” cried the banker, but about the money of others, the widows and orphans, who trusted me. It is also gone. I will have to sit in the debtor’s prison.”

“No! No!” cried the Chasam Sofer, “It will never happen that the most charitable man in the community, its leader and banker, will sit in prison.”

The Chasam Sofer began to think of ways and means to help this unfortunate man. Suddenly, his face brightened. He approached his closet, and removed a small bag of coins, which he had been saving for a dowry for his daughter.

“In this bag is a hundred gold coins,” he said. “I am giving this to you as a loan. Now, go immediately to the city of Leipzig, and the first piece of merchandise that you will see, purchase it with these gold coins. And may Hashem be with you and make you prosper.”

The banker was reluctant to accept the money. He knew that the Chasam Sofer was not a rich man and it must have taken him a long time to accumulate this money. “Rebbe,” he said, “I cannot take this money for I cannot promise to return it to you and if I lose this money too, then I will also cause you grief.”

“The help of G-d comes momentarily,” replied the Chasam Sofer, “Do you think I would give you this money if I was not certain that G-d will see to it that you make good and you will return it to me very soon. You must never lose faith and trust in G-d. Remember, go to Leipzig and the first merchandise you see be sure to purchase.”

Meets An Old Friend

The following morning the merchant banker traveled to Leipzig and entered the trading market. He wandered around until he suddenly heard a voice call him. It was a merchant friend whom he had not seen for many years.

“It must be a stroke of luck that made me meet you here,” the friend said. “Only today a boatload of coffee arrived and I haven’t the time to make arrangements to sell it. Will you take care of it for me? You can pay me in three months. Only give me a hundred coins as a binder. I know you for many years and I trust you. I’ll sell it to you for the amount it cost me as long as I don’t lose anything on the transaction.”

The banker remembered the admonition of the Chasam Sofer to enter into the first business deal he sees, so he agreed. He signed the necessary papers and have him the deposit.

Now, This Is a Lulav

19 Tishri 5773 – October 5, 2012

Here’s an image of the Lubavitcher Rebbe benching his lulav and etrog.

 

Nancy commented, when she saw this image, how his eyes always look directly at you in all his pictures.

The etrog is upside down, which I thought meant the Rebbe is about to make the blessing, but reader JK was quick to correct me (from his iPhone) that the Rebbe never turned the etrog upside down and didn’t bench in shul.  He also added: “Get things right before writing to thousands.”

I was impressed by the lavish assortment of hadassim and aravot in his lulav bunch. Why haven’t I thought about it before? All these years I’ve been carefully counting them out, three of this, two of that – when I could have this big, fluffy hedge of a lulav.

This morning I plan to take my spare branches and add them to the ones that have so far survived the daily benching, see what that looks like.

Chag Same’ach!

Rabi Akiva Clarifies

28 Elul 5772 – September 14, 2012

The Strength Of Suffering

Man does not have it easy in this world. Sufferings are often visited upon him tempting him to curse his fate and ask why the Almighty punishes him so. But suffering has great value and serves a vital purpose. Rabi Akiva teaches this a clear and beautiful way.

Rabi Eliezer had been very ill and suffered a great deal. Fortunately, G-d had mercy upon the great sage and moved him from death’s door. As he improved, his devoted students came to visit him to voice their love and to give thanks that he had recovered.

“You are more important to us than the rain from heaven,” said Rabi Tarfon, “for rain is only important in this world but you, our Rebbe, are important both in this world and in the World to Come.”

“You are more important to us than the rays of the sun” declared Rabi Yehoshua, “for the sun is only vital to us in this world and not in the World to come.

“More,” said Rabi Elazar ben Azarya, “our Rebbe is more important to us than our own parents. They only bring us into this world but our Rebbe guides us in this world and leads us into the World to Come.”

When it was Rabi Akiva’s turn to comfort his master, he rose and said:

“Sweet are our sufferings.”

Everyone stared at Rabi Akiva, puzzled at the meaning of his words. Even Rabi Eliezer looked at his student and said to those around him:

“Let me sit up so that I may better hear and understand Akiva’s words.”

When he was propped up by his students, Rabi Eliezer asked:

“Tell me, my son, what did you mean when you said that our sufferings are sweet and dear to us. How do you know such a thing?”

“I have learned this from King Chizkiyahu,” Rabi Akiva replied. “Here was a great scholar and king who was able to teach Torah to all of Israel, but he was unable to teach his own son, Menashe, the ways of goodness and truth. His son walked on the path of wickedness and there was nothing the father could do.

“It was only when the Assyrian hordes captured him and tortured him and made his life bitter that he turned his eyes to Heaven and prayed to the Almighty.

“We see, therefore, that suffering, although apparently bitter, was the one thing that enabled a sinner to return unto G-d. Are we not justified then in saying that suffering is dear and sweet to man?”

The Right To Heal

There are certain misguided souls who believe that any nature which comes from G-d, must not be tampered with and should be allowed to take its course. Thus, when an illness strikes them or someone they love, they refuse to use the power of medicine, contending that this is going against the Will of G-d.

This is not the Jewish way as we can see from the following story:

One day, as Rabi Akiva and Rabi Yehoshua walked along the streets of Jerusalem engrossed in Torah conversation, a man looking weak and sickly approached them:

“Forgive me, Rebbe, for interrupting you but I am in need of assistance.”

“We will be glad to help you if we are able,” said the scholars.

“I am a very sick man and I suffer greatly. I have gone to many doctors who are unable to help me. Perhaps you can.”

The two sages, aside from being great Torah scholars, were also well versed in the science of medicine. They asked the man:

“What are your symptoms so that we may be able to diagnose your case?”

The man detailed his symptoms and they said:

“If you eat this specific food and drink this specific drink you will find yourself getting better.”

The man thanked them profusely and hurried away to do as they said.

One of the inhabitants of Jerusalem had watched the scene and heard the conversation. Walking over to Rabi Akiva and Rabi Yehoshua he asked:

“Tell me, who made this man ill?”

“Why, surely it was the Almighty,” replied the sages. “He is the One who moves all things in this world.”

In The King’s Presence

27 Elul 5772 – September 13, 2012

We all know that there are some synagogues that, unfortunately, only reach full capacity several days a year. There is something about these days that arouses even many unaffiliated Jews to attend High Holiday Services. In fact, each one of us also feels the holiness, and it helps us to be on our best behavior. We make sure to come on time to davening and we daven slower than usual. We are extra careful in our observance of halacha and how we treat the members of our family. Indeed, in Shulchan Aruch (OC Siman 603) we find that during the ten days of repentance, even those who usually eat “Pas Palter” (i.e. bread from a non-Jewish bakery that is kosher), should now be stringent and refrain from doing so. However, a thought may sneak into our minds – is this all just a game? Who am I kidding? Hashem knows exactly how I have been acting until now, so why should I put on a show?

But in truth, this approach is our salvation, as the Gemara in Rosh Hashanah (16b) states. “Rav Yitzchok said, a person is judged according to his actions at that moment. As it says concerning Yishmael, ‘ki-shama Elokim el-kol hana’ar ba’asher hu-sham – because Hashem has heard the boy’s voice, there, where he is’.” Rashi cites the Midrash Rabba that before Hashem caused a well to miraculously appear in order to save Yishmael from dying of thirst and fever, the angels in heaven protested. “How can You perform a miracle to save the one who’s descendants will cause Your children to die of thirst?!” To which Hashem answered, “since at this moment he is a tzaddik; I will not look at anything else.” On Rosh Hashanah, Hashem also judges us based on how we are at that time. Our past is not examined, nor our future. However, all this is quite perplexing. We all know that in a normal judgment the judge takes every fact into consideration. Why on the great Day of Judgment does Hashem ignore everything besides the present moment?

The Costume Or The “Real McCoy?”

Let us explain with the following parable. There was once a successful Jewish businessman named Getzel who had many dealings with non-Jews. On Shabbos he would don his streimel and bekeshe and walk down the street. “Hey Getzel,” one of his business associates called out to him. “What is that rabbit doing on your head? I thought you were from our day and age – not one of those Jews from the shtetel!” Greatly humiliated, Getzel lowered his head and ran home. This continued week after week until he decided to stop wearing his special Shabbos clothing. When he went to his Rebbe, though, he was too embarrassed to show that out of shame he had forsaken the ways of his forefathers. He would take out his streimel, dust it off and once again look like all the other Chasidim. One year he decided that this game had gone on long enough and he will show the Rebbe who he really is. When he came to the Rebbe for a brocha, wearing his weekday clothing, the Rebbe exclaimed, “Getzel, what happened to your Shabbos garb?” “Rebbe,” answered Getzel, “I’ll tell you the truth, this is how I always dress on Shabbos. I decided that it is time to act honestly and show you who the real ‘me’ is.” “Getzel, Getzel,” chided the Rebbe, “do you really think I didn’t know how you dressed every Shabbos? But until now I thought that Getzel in a streimel is the real Getzel and all year long you were dressed up. Now you tell me that the opposite is true!?”

This is what the above Gemara is teaching us. Even though we may have distanced ourselves from Hashem all year long, and not acted as befitting sons of the King, there is hope. If on this day we raise ourselves to where we are supposed to be, we will have shown that until now it was just a costume, and now the real “Me” is showing. Hashem will therefore judge us favorably, as we now deserve special treatment. True, we still need atonement for our past sins, but we will deal with them during the Ten Days of Repentance and Yom Kippur.

Not The Correct Charity

24 Elul 5772 – September 10, 2012

The Gaon, Reb Nachum devoted all his time, day and night, to collecting money for charity and helping the poor. The vast majority of the people thought so highly of Reb Nachum that they would deduct a fixed amount of their income every week and give it to him to distribute it to the poor. But there was always the exception, some people just tried to avoid contributing.

There was one such person who, although not rich, was well to do and had many children. When Reb Nachum came to him for charity he refused, saying, “Rebbe, you know what the Gemara says in explaining the meaning of the sentence in Tehillim (106:3). ‘He gives charity all the time!’ that this refers to a person who supports his little children. You know that I have many little children and therefore it is considered as if I have already given charity.” [Editor’s note: The Gemara in Kissuvot 50a describes how David HaMelech lauded a family man who supported his children, saying that it was truly an act of charity.]

Reb Nachum smiled and replied, “Apparently you forgot the sentence in Vayikra 16:2: ‘You should not come all the time into the holy place.’ With that type of charity you shouldn’t come unto G-d. It is not sufficient, you must also try to help other poor people.”

Helping The Judge’s Family

In the city of Horodna there was a Jewish judge who, although he was Jewish in name, was far removed from anything Jewish. He never participated in communal affairs nor did he ever help a poor person.

One day, Reb Nachum visited the judge and asked for money for the charity fund. The judge began to berate him and then angrily insulted him.

“Who appointed you to be a collector for charity in this town?” he shouted. “For all I know, you keep all the money for yourself!”

Realizing that he couldn’t convince the judge, Reb Nachum left with an apology. He wasn’t angry, he only pitied him.

A few days later the government charged the judge with bribery. This scandal was the talk of the country and people traveled from all over to be at the trial. The judge hired the best lawyers and he spent his last penny to offset the evidence but the result was inevitable. The judge was found guilty and sentenced to two years in prison.

While the town was stunned at the verdict and the people gathered everywhere to talk about it, Reb Nachum visited the judge’s wife. He found in a deplorable state and when she saw him she began to cry.

“Rebbe,” she wept bitterly, “what shall I do? My husband spent every cent we had on the trial and now that he will be gone for two years, how will I be able to support myself and the children? We will starve.”

Reb Nachum consoled her and told her that she would yet have better days. “By the way,” he said, “how much money do you need every week to carry on your household expenses?”

Wiping her eyes, she replied “Twenty rubles.”

“Here is twenty rubles,” said Reb Nachum. “Keep it as a loan, when your husband will come home he’ll repay me. Continue living in this beautiful home and continue sending your children to the same school and buy all the clothes you need. Don’t change your mode of living for even one day.”

The poor woman practically grabbed his hands as she accepted the money.

Every week Reb Nachum would visit her home and slip twenty rubles under her door. This he continued to do for two years. When the judge got out of jail he came home and was amazed to see the house as beautiful as when he left it.

“How did you manage to support yourself and live in this house?” he asked in surprise.

“That elderly charity collector, whom you threw out of the house, came around every week and he gave me twenty rubles. If it wasn’t for him, who knows what would have happened to me and the children.”

Without saying a word, the judge rushed out of the house and came to the home of Reb Nachum. With tears in his eyes he fell on his knees and begged Reb Nachum’s forgiveness for having had insulted him. He promised to repay every cent he have to his wide and he would always give to the poor, too.

Can a ‘Lefty’ Rabbi Save Yeshivat Chovevei Torah?

12 Elul 5772 – August 29, 2012

He calls himself a “Lefty”. Rabbi Asher Lopatin is most definitely on the left side of the Orthodox spectrum.

I have at times been critical of some of the things the left has done and their Hashkafos. One of those criticisms involved the establishment of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah – a Yeshiva where some of its goals counter my own Centrist Hashkafos. Most of which are based on the Hashkafos of my Rebbe, Rav Ahron Soloveichik and his illustrious brother, the Rav.

My criticisms do not include violations of Halacha. Which they follow. But they do include criticisms in their approach to various issues of the day. YCT founder Rabbi Avi Weiss candidly admitted that he has parted ways with his Rebbe on the approach to these issues. And he has incorporated it into the philosophy of his Yeshiva. For example there is is this item which is part of YCT’s mission statement:

(YCT promotes) actively pursuing the positive and respectful interaction of all Jewish movements.

This was expressly forbidden by the Rav as it would have the appearance of granting legitimacy to them. Interaction was only permitted as it affected the entirety of the Jewish people. There is also their emphasis on incorporating as much of the feminist agenda as possible into Orthodoxy. Then there is the issue of hiring Reform and Conservative rabbis as part of their faculty to teach “practical rabbinics”. All of this has caused the RCA to not automatically accept YCT ordained rabbis for membership. It has also caused many on the right to consider YCT to be outside the bounds of Orthodoxy.

The most damning statement came from Agudah after YCT head, Rabbi Weiss conferred the first “rabbinic” ordination upon a woman, calling her Rabba. Although he did this outside of the confines of his Yeshiva, one cannot separate what he does from what his Yeshiva stands for.

Making matters worse for YCT is that many of its graduates have taken taken YCT’s mission statements to extremes that have even crossed Halachic lines. I recall an inter-faith prayer service in one case. In an another a YCT Graduate joined a Reform “Kollel”. And in still another case there is what has to be the grand-daddy of all ‘line crossings’. From a 2008 article in Chosen Magazine:

[The girl] was immersed in the mikvah at [Reform] Congregation Beth Israel in a traditional conversion ceremony. A beit din of three rabbis, Robin Damsky of Congregation Or Chadash of the Northeast Valley, where the [family] are members; Mark Bisman, of Har Zion Congregation and Darren Kleinberg of KiDMa-The Southwest Community, officiated.

Although Rabbi Kleinberg was actaully criticized by YCT for doing this – agreeing that he crossed a line, it nevertheless is indicative of where the slippery slope of inter-denominational participation can lead.

That said there is a positive side to YCT. First I must give them credit for placing a high value on teaching professionalism in the rabbinate. Secondly – and perhaps more importantly – they serve a community of Jews who would be left without any Orthodox leadership. These are sincere people whose influences are incompatible with the Hashkafos of even right wing Modern Orthodoxy. While they are willing to give Orthodoxy a chance, the draw of a zeitgeist sensitive religious movement like Conservative Judaism can easily sway them away from what they see as an all too rigid approach to Judaism.

Without the left and its flagship Yeshiva, many of these sincere Jews would gravitate to those movements.

Some might argue, “Let them go!” It is better not to water down Orthodoxy. To that I answer, nonesense! I am not willing to concede a single Jew to heterodox movements where Halacha is considered optional (Reform); or where in many cases it is grossly misinterpreted and in any case not followed by the vast majority of its members (Conservative).

So as problematic as YCT is for me, as long as they follow Halacha – there is a place for them in Orthodoxy.

WHICH BRINGS me back to a Rabbi Lopatin. He is a Talmid of Rav Ahron Soloveichik. He received Semicha right here in Chicago’s Yeshivas Brisk, from Rav Ahron (as well as from YU). He is also a brilliant scholar who does not deviate from Halacha one iota.

He claims Rav Ahron as his Rebbe and rightfully so. As a rabbi of Anshei Shalom Bnai Israel, a very left wing Modern Orthodox Shul in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood he has many “interesting” and difficult Shailos come his way. Some of them dealing with serious issues like abortion. (Yes, MO Jews do ask Shailos.) When Rav Ahron was alive he used to consult Rav Ahron about all of them and followed his Psak meticulously.

He is beloved in his Shul. He is a charismatic fellow and attracts many non observant Jews to his Shul, including Mayor Rahm Emanuel. How wonderful it is for non observant Jews to have an Orthodox rabbi as their leader – someone they look up to! So charismatic is he that one of my good friends (and fellow Daf Yomi Shiur participant) who lives miles away from Rabbi Lopatin’s Shul often walks there on a Shabbos just so he can experience him and his Shul.

A couple of week’s ago Rabbi Lopatin announced that he was retiring from his Shul. And today I read the following news item in today’s Forward:

Rabbi Asher Lopatin of Chicago is set to succeed Rabbi Avi Weiss next year at the helm of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, the liberal Orthodox rabbinical school founded by Weiss.

I wish to offer my sincerest congratulations to Rabbi Lopatin. My belief is that Rabbi Lopatin will continue to follow the ways of our Rebbe, Rav Ahron Soloveichik. Although his Hashkafos are decidedly left wing by his own admission, I know that he can guide this institution on a path that will keep it from sliding too far to the left and cross the line of Orthodoxy. Because if YCT crosses that line, it will be tragic.

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My Big Fat Jewish Wedding

10 Elul 5772 – August 28, 2012

צאנז 111 from bhol on Vimeo.

Not being a Chasid of his (or Chasid of any kind) I don’t really know much about the Munkatcher Rebbe. But if he is like most other Chasidic Rebbes, he will have a huge blowout of a wedding next Monday for his grandson – similar to the one in the above video for the Sanzer Rebbe. The size of those crowds are comparable to those of Presidential inaugurations. Crowds numbering 10,000 people are not uncommon. An article in Matzav.com adds:

The chuppah will take place on the promenade in front of the shul on an especially erected elevated chuppah to ensure that all participants can see and hear all that transpires.

Following the chuppah, special buses will ferry the throngs of chasidim to the cavernous Palace Ballrooms on McDonald Avenue where the celebration will continue. During the meal, thousands of chasidim and well-wishers will have the opportunity to personally wish mazal tov to the Rebbe and mechutanim.

Whenever I see one of these events, I am reminded on the so called “Wedding Takanos”. These were guidelines established by members of the Agudah Moetzes (but not officially by the Moetzes themselves if I understand correctly) in order to combat a phenomenon where tons of money and resources are spent on lavish affairs.  They include*:

The Wedding:Typical families may only seat up to 400 invited guests at the seudah. The kabbolat panim smorgasbord should be limited to basic cakes, fruit platters, a modest buggest (sic), and the caterer’s standard chicken or meat hot dishes. The seuda menu is limited to three coures (sic) plus a regular dessert.

No Viennese table. No bar.

The Music:A band should consist of a maximum of 5 musicians or four plus vocalist. Recommended: a one man band.

Flowers and Chupa Decor: Total cost should not exceed $1,800. It is one thing when wealthy people have a lavish wedding. But the “Keeping up with the Cohens and Katzes” factor has caused some people who cannot afford it to do the same thing. They borrow money –sometimes putting second mortgages on their homes just to have that lavish wedding for their own children. And ‘prove to the world’ how successful they are. All that debt for keeping up an image – and one day of fun!

Contrast this with the tuition crisis. The parents who go into huge debt to make lavish weddings for their children are the same parents who ask for – and receive scholarships based on their actual income.

I need not go into the details of how unfair that is to schools whose huge budgets go mostly to pay teachers. Teachers that deserve to be paid a lot more than they actually are paid. These budgets require huge tuition bills which are more or less based on a cost per child basis to the school. A typical Orthodox family with four children will generate a tuition bill of at least $40,000 per year and a lot more in many schools.

Most people do not earn enough to pay that kind of after-tax money and require scholarship assistance. Thus placing a burden on the school to raise enough the difference between what parents pay and what they should pay. In many cases fundraising goals are not, putting schools in to debt. Year after year of accumulating debt in order to just meet the payroll obligations to their underpaid teachers.

One can easily see the absurdity and gross unfairness of parents borrowing money way over their heads to pay for a lavish wedding (just to keep up with the Katzes) who have in the past asked for and gotten scholarship assistance.

Although these wedding Takanos are well intentioned, I’m not sure they have been all that effective. Which means that there are still people borrowing money for weddings they can’t really afford.

As an aside I have never been a fan of these Takanos because I believe that wealthy people have a right to spend their money as they choose provided they meet all their financial obligations. And the wealthy people I know do meet their obligations and a lot more. The problem is with those who are not wealthy but for some reason feel the need to project that image. If a Takana could be made so that the wealthy would not be affected, I might support it. But Takanos don’t work that way.

The Three Weeks – Realizing What We Are Missing

24 Tammuz 5772 – July 13, 2012

The Geese and the Peasants

The story is told of a Chassidic Rebbe who stayed one night in the attic of a simple farmer. Promptly at chatzos (midnight) the Rebbe sat on the floor and began saying Tikkun Chatzos (a prayer said most nights by pious individuals, mourning the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash.) Immediately, a fountain of tears began to flow from his eyes, as he unabashedly mourned our great loss. Soon, his crying became so loud that it aroused the farmer and his wife from their sleep. The concerned farmer quickly knocked on the door and asked if everything is okay. The Rebbe answered that he is simply mourning the Bais Hamikdash. Seeing the puzzled look on the ignorant farmer’s face, the Rebbe began to vividly describe the glory of the Bais Hamikdash and what will be when Moshiach comes. He portrayed all the Jews around the world returning to Eretz Yisroel, unhindered by the influences of the non-Jews. As the Rebbe became more and more excited he grabbed the farmer’s hands and said “Come, let us pray for Moshiach! Perhaps at this moment, the Gates of Heaven are open, and our prayers will be answered!”

“I must ask my wife”, replied the simpleton. He rushed to his wife who looked at him in disbelief. “What?! Leave our farm and our geese and go to Eretz Yisroel?! Absolutely not!”

The farmer returned to the Rebbe with her answer. “Go remind her,” said the Rebbe gently, “about the peasants who are constantly stealing from you and ruining your farm. In Eretz Yisroel you won’t have any of these problems.”

The farmer trudged down the stairs and told his wife the response. After thinking for a moment, her face lit up. “I don’t mind if Moshiach comes, but he should take all the peasants with him to Eretz Yisroel, and leave us with our farm!”

Are we any different than that foolish couple? Each year, when “The Three Weeks” arrives, the time of mourning over the Bais Hamikdash, do we truly mourn the loss, and desire Moshiach’s coming? Or perhaps we just go through the outward motions, and look for legal loopholes. Yes, it is difficult for us to feel the loss, because we don’t really understand what we are missing.

Anyone Who Mourns Jerusalem

Our sages tell us (Bava Basra60b) “Anyone who mourns Jerusalem will merit and see its joy.” The simple implication of “anyone” is, no matter who you are and how little you mourn, you will merit seeing its rebuilding. That means that even now, just by reading these words you have joined the ranks of those who are seeking the redemption! However, this statement is a little difficult. Why is it written in present tense: “he will merit and see its joy,” which implies that right now he will see it. Shouldn’t it have said that he will see it in the near future when it will be rebuilt?

The Mikdash – A Miniature Mount Sinai

In a previous article (The Revelation On Mount Sinai, 5-25) we described how at Mount Sinai we merited the most fabulous revelation in the world’s history. We saw and clearly felt Hashem’s presence and His solitary rule. In addition we merited a feeling of extreme closeness to Hashem. In Shir Hashirim (1:2), the Song of Songs, we yearn once again for that closeness. “Kiss me with the kisses of Your mouth!” This refers to the moment when we heard the Ten Commandments. The Ramban tells us that the Mishkan, which was the forerunner of the Bais Hamidash, was in truth a miniaturization of that spectacular revelation. Meaning, that connection was not a one-time event, it continued in the Mishkan and subsequently the Bais Hamikdash!

When a person entered the Bais Hamikdash he immediately felt and saw Hashem’s presence. There were many miracles that could be instantly witnessed. For example, every morning the Kohen took a small portion of ashes from the altar and threw it on the solid marble floor, where it was swallowed instantaneously, leaving no trace. On the altar was a column of smoke which rose to heaven like a marble pillar. Even on the windiest day, it stayed straight! But that was only a small part of the uniqueness which resulted from Hashem’s presence. Jerusalem (not Disneyland) at the time of the Bais Hamikdash was called “The Happiest Place on Earth” (see Tehillim48). This was because one constantly merited atonement from sins. The joy which resulted from that closeness to Hashem was indescribable.

A Life Of Spirituality

All the above shouldn’t just excite a tzaddik, but every one of us. We know that we were created to serve Hashem, and therefore any spiritual accomplishment brings us more joy than a windfall on Wall Street. And if we lose an opportunity, we are greatly saddened. Even more so, we are saddened by the extreme disgrace of Hashem’s Honor in the world. The power and success of those who profane His name seems unstoppable, and it is extremely painful. Therefore, we yearn for the rebuilding of the Bais Hamikdash with all our hearts. For then, Hashem’s glory will fill the world, and we will merit to once again be close to Him. All the hindrances in serving Him will disappear and we will soar to great heights of spirituality.

The Evolution Of American Orthodoxy: An Interview with Yeshiva University Librarian Zalman Alpert

22 Tammuz 5772 – July 11, 2012

Books. Some people love them; others claim they can do without them. For Zalman Alpert, they are essentially his life.

For the past 35 years, Alpert has served as a reference librarian at Yeshiva University (YU). Educated at Columbia University’s School of Library Services and New York University’s School of Education, where he attained a master’s degree in Modern Jewish History, Alpert is one of those individuals who knows a little (sometimes a lot) about everything. Over the years, he has contributed articles to such works as Encyclopedia of Hasidim; Jewish American History and Culture: An Encyclopedia; Encyclopedia of Jewish American Popular Culture; Midstream; and The Jewish Press.

The Jewish Press: In your three decades as a YU librarian, what would you say was your most interesting experience or encounter?

Alpert: Well, one recent one took place last summer when I noticed a Catholic priest in the library. I started talking to him, and through conversation it became clear that his mother was a little girl during the Holocaust, was hidden by non-Jews, and never came back to Judaism. She adopted the Catholic religion and eventually married a Catholic in Poland.

For some reason, however – I guess because of the pintele yid inside her – she and her husband moved to Israel in the 1960s or so. This young man was born there and attended Israeli schools, but the family later left Israel and moved to a Polish enclave in New Jersey. Subsequently this young man returned to Poland, studied for the Catholic priesthood, got a doctorate in Old Testament studies using the Hebrew he had acquired in Israel, and is now a professor at a Catholic theological seminary in Poland.

I couldn’t really get this priest to admit he felt Jewish although he knew the halacha and didn’t deny he was Jewish. He said he came to the library to familiarize himself with midrashic literature because he wanted to see how the Jewish rabbis interpreted the Bible.

Have you ever met people in the library who would otherwise never dare step in YU due to ideological reasons?

Absolutely. In fact, many of the more interesting people I have met over the years are chassidic rabbis from Williamsburg. The Pupa dayan, for example, was here, as was the spiritual head of the Organization of Young Satmar Chassidim.

They come because everything is in one place, and many of them don’t want to go to the library of the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) for theological and halachic reasons. In recent years, though, there’s been a marked decrease in the number of chassidim who come here because of the availability of such databases as HebrewBooks.org, Otzar HaHochma, etc.

Many people claim JTS’s library is far better than YU’s. True?

If you’re doing research that requires use of old manuscripts, JTS is better. But if you’re doing research that involves books published in the last few hundred years, I would say YU compares favorably to JTS and in some areas is even better.

Why does JTS have a better manuscript collection?

They started building their collection a lot earlier than YU. When Solomon Schechter took over the seminary in 1902, he brought part of his library with him, which included a lot of Cairo Geniza fragments. Also, Schechter brought faculty members with him who were very interested in creating an academic library, and they went to Europe actively seeking manuscripts and rare books.

In contrast, YU’s college was first created in the 1920s and the Jewish studies graduate school only started in the late 1930s. YU’s library only really became very professionalized after World War II.

How many Jewish books does YU own?

I would say 300,000-400,000. We also have something like 50 incunabula, which are books printed before 1500.

You possess something of an interesting family background. Can you share?

My parents were Holocaust survivors from Lithuania/White Russia. In Europe, my father was part of the Lubavitch community, but my mother came from a misnagdic background. I attended Lubavitcher school in New Haven for many years growing up, and then went to YU later on.

Do you consider yourself Lubavitch?

The sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn, said there were three sorts of Lubavitcher chassidim: chassidei ha’geza, i.e., people descended from Lubavitcher chassidim; chassidei ha’nusach, i.e., people who live their lives according to Lubavitcher minhagim; and chassidei Lubavitch, which I imagine means people who study Chabad chassidus and have a personal connection to the Rebbe. I would put myself in the first two categories.

Ashlag Rebbe: Secular Youths Should Be Conscripted into Torah Study

20 Tammuz 5772 – July 10, 2012

The Ashlag Rebbe, Rabbi Simcha Avraham Halevy’s weekly talk last Shabbat included some sharp comments on the social wedge issue of equality in shouldering the military burden in Israel and the attempts to conscript Haredi yeshiva students, the website Kikar HaShabbat reported.

The Ashlag Chasidic dynasty was founded by Rabbi Yehuda Leib Halevy Ashlag from Warsaw, Poland. While most Chasidic dynasties are named after their town of origin, this one is known by the surname of its rebbes.

The Ashlag Rebbe said: “Unfortunately we have recently begun to hear about malicious plans of regime leaders here in our Holy Land, to stick their paws in the sacred halls of the yeshivas, with vain claims about equal burden and responsibility, in order to enlist the yeshiva students for military service – this will not be.”

He added: “The stupidity of their hearts keeps them from seeing and understanding that the men of Israel who prefer sitting on yeshiva benches even though there are opportunities open before them to earn a good living and become rich thanks to their intelligence – and yet they prefer to kill themselves in her tent of Torah, sacrificing themselves many hours each day. Those who leave behind them the vanities of this world – they are the real defenders of the nation of Israel in the land of Israel …”

The Ashlag Rebbe addressed the issue of inequality in sharing the burden, and argued that inequality is caused by the secular Jews  who do not study Torah and do not keep the commandments: “Regarding the claim of not shouldering the burden and the problem with equality, we call on our erring brethren who do not labor to learn Torah and do not obey the commandments: Come share the burden of learning Torah with devotion, for the sake of the nation of Israel.”

He also said, “The nation of Israel did not survive our brutal history by the deterrence of the IDF, nor by the might of the State of Israel, but by the merit of the study of Torah.”

Finally, the Ashlag Rebbe suggested penalties for anyone who dares dodge the obligation to study Torah and keep the mitzvot.

 

‘Frumer’ than God?

12 Tammuz 5772 – July 2, 2012

Summer should be a time of relaxation, of allowing your body to get the needed rest from the harsh winter and yearly toil. While the majority of the Jewish world works through the summer, I am sure that some sort of vacation or time off is on the agenda as we would literally fall to levels of fatigue and overwork, not to mention not taking advantage of the summer warmth and sunshine.

Therefore, when a student asked to see me a few days ago, I assumed that she was intending to thank me, perhaps give me a gift and ensure that my blood-pressure remain stable, as should be during the summer months.

As you can already imagine, the opposite happened.

This former student met with me and was very disturbed. Her quandary revolved around her work in the Maternity Ward of one of Jerusalem’s hospitals. A woman was admitted after her contractions had become increasingly close and, in the midst of the pain and breathing, her “water broke.” At that moment, a moment that she would not only be allowed to violate the holy Shabbat [Code of Jewish Law, OC, 330/1] but must if she didn’t invite it and it was a necessity [Tractate Shabbat 129a],  this women began to look behind her, as if someone was following her.  About a half an hour later, this woman was…gone. All attempts to locate her were unsuccessful. The police were called, and finally, after a (long) hour and a half, she returned. When the aghast staff asked where had she disappeared to, her answer was “The Mikvah. When asked why, she matter-of-factly answered that she would never consider giving birth to a baby without immersing in a Mikvah first, as a segula for an easy birth!

This story, to my dismay, was not the only one that gave my former student cause for concern. She went on to describe other such events, asking if this was a form of higher religious observance, a sort of a מידת חסידות [acts of the pious].

As my blood pressure levels began to rise, I looked out to see the beautiful summer skies, and recalled a forgotten experience I had many years ago, when spending the summer in the USA. As a day camp counselor, my nights were fairly free, and therefore I joined a typical “Daf-Yomi” class that would meet after Maariv each night. Like any Tractate of the Talmud, this one dealt with real-life scenarios, amongst them a known discussion about the punishment administered upon a violator of a sin in the realm of inappropriate sexual conduct. The “Magid-Shuir” [teacher of the class] was a very sweet and modest Chasidic Rebbe, who would teach each “daf” clearly [in a mixture of simple English and Yiddish idioms], and devotedly taught us each night, even in the so-called summer “vacation” months of July and August.

Thus, to my surprise, upon stumbling on this particular folio of Talmud, instead of explaining it, he said: “Look in the English,” waiting about two minutes till all the participants did so. Being a bit “Israeli,” just visiting for the summer, I admit that I didn’t own a translated Tractate and thus a chunk of that evening’s page was left unlearned. As the class continued, I found it rather strange that a part of God’s holy Torah was relegated to “the English” rather than be learned. As I was about 20 years younger than the rest of the assembled, I stayed quite; while another participant, apparently as agitated as me, decided to speak: “Rebbe, why don’t we learn it together, it’s the Torah, after all?

The kind Rebbe smiled, and answered as follows; “When I was a kid, I asked my “Tatte” why don’t we Chasidim learn Tanach like the Litvaken? He answered that we don’t learn it because there are immodest episodes in Tanach that would not be appropriate.” Being young, perhaps (too) cynical, and surely naïve, but having just completed high school saturated in the study of the Bible, I just couldn’t contain myself; “Rebbe,” I asked, “Are you saying that we are frumer than the Bible? Are you suggesting that we are too frum to learn what God said to the prophets?”

Stigma: A Barrier To Rewarding Relationships

26 Iyyar 5772 – May 17, 2012

Frailty and differences in other people often scare us. Why? They scare us because we see a reflection of what we fear in ourselves or because we just don’t know how to respond. Since we can’t live with this discomfort for too long, we make assumptions about and apply labels to those we fear. Now that we have come to a fabricated understanding about, labeled, and summarily discounted them from the inner circles of our lives, we can relax. There’s no need to spend time or energy discovering who these people really are, and confront the uncertainties that they represent. Then, we share our “knowledge” and labels with others and collectively build social fences to keep “undesirables” out. There. We have created a “stigma.”

Two Lives: Two Responses

Let’s look at how stigma works through the comparison of two lives.

Yitzchak, 22 years old, is the picture of competence and health. Everyone knows he’ll be successful in whatever he chooses to do. He is a choice shidduch prospect and has easily found his ideal kallah. Oh, Yitz might act impetuously now and then; but that can be seen as zerizut. He frequently texts or calls his kallah to find out where she is and what she’s doing. He’s a great catch and the phone calls show how much he cares. Time passes and we discover that this exemplary young man often demeans his wife and beats his child behind closed doors. Shocking! No symptoms, no reason for him to seek help, and no psychiatric diagnosis. Neighbors wonder, “How can such a personable and successful man do such a thing? What did his wife do to cause him to act this way?”

Then, there’s Estie, a 27 year old freelance writer with exemplary middot. She loves to read Michtav M’Eliyahu. Twice a week, she shops with Frady, a 75-year-old widow. Thursday is one of their shopping days. Estie checks her watch more often on Thursdays than on Mondays; she wants to be sure not to miss her psychotherapy appointment. You see Estie has been living with anxiety and depression since she was 15. A studious girl, she continually endured snide remarks by the high school “in crowd.” It could have been worse. Facebook and Twitter weren’t around in those days. Though hospitalized at 17 for 10 days, Estie has done quite well since the age of 22 with weekly therapy appointments, a decreasing dosage of anxiety medication, and a well balanced diet.

So, Estie’s doing fairly well now. Ah, one problem. The “nasty secret” about her hospitalization and subsequent treatment is known by some in her community and by shadchanim. No one would imagine presenting her as a viable shidduch for a talmid chacham who would appreciate a marriage partner who will eagerly join him in exploring the depths of Rabbi Dessler’s works. So, every Shabbos, Estie curls up with her Michtav M’Eliyahu, as she prays that maybe, one day, she will find the man to whom she give love in the very way that Rabbi Dessler upholds as the highest form of loving.

Who should we fear – Yitchak or Estie? With whom would you rather share life’s wonders, pleasures, trials and tribulations? Why should a 10 day stay in the hospital’s psychiatric ward (10 years ago), successful weekly therapy sessions, and a couple of pink pills prevent her from meeting her bashert, who may or may not have any labels attached to him?

The Mark of Cain

People who are known to have received or are receiving mental health services are stigmatized and painted with one broad swath of paint signaling “avoidance.” It’s like the “mark of Cain” if you will. Therefore, they often feel compelled to vigilantly hide a part of themselves in order to be matched up, hired, or called upon for community service.

It’s a catch-22. If one reveals his history and condition, he may be avoided or treated differently. Yet, if he hides it, then, by definition, he conceals his authentic self from others. The social pressure to hide his mental health condition effectively perpetuates the very stigma that he decries and against which he struggles. Ultimately, it can’t be fully hidden, for it’s a part of him and the ways he perceives, understands, interacts with, and contributes to the world around him. Some of teachings of the revered Rebbe, Rabi Nachman of Breslov were inspired by his own battles against depression.

‘They’ Are Not All Alike

As indicated, stigma places people into convenient categories and justifies exclusion. Many people will not even consider meeting fine shidduch candidates with mental health service histories. Even those who have their own shidduch-related challenges will often discount candidates with known mental health disabilities. Their family, friends, and community leaders often support or promote this position. While this article’s author understands their concerns, she is troubled by the categorical assumptions that are made and the resulting prejudices. Mental health conditions differ in kind and in degree. Many people with mental health conditions have learned how to live with their disabilities, have become supports to others, including their spouses, and raise insightful children with wonderful middot. Stigma, based in fear, is a destructive barrier to potentially fruitful relationships.

What Can You Do to Deconstruct Stigma?

· Become inquisitive about others and their lives.
· Approach a person you usually avoid.
· Get to know each other at a comfortable pace.

What about that person do you really appreciate?
What do you share in common?
· Ask them for their help or advice.
· What can you learn from each other about meeting life’s challenges?
· Tell another friend what you’ve learned from that person
· Keep possibilities for shidduchim as open as possible.
· Explore humility. What is it? How can you use it in your encounters with others?

Our Calling Card: ‘Baruch Hashem’

17 Iyyar 5772 – May 9, 2012

As I write these words, I am, Baruch Hashem, on the road to recovery and returning to my normal schedule of teaching and speaking. My experience during these past six weeks, however, has left me with memories that “speak” and that I believe have meaning for all of us.

B’ezrat Hashem I will continue to share with you my challenging days spent at Scripps Memorial Hospital in San Diego. Whenever difficult days befell me, my revered father would always say “Hashem sends us tests so that we might know how to help others when they have to confront their trials.” It is with that lesson in mind that I decided to write this series of articles regarding my hospital and recovery stay.

Our Sages ask, “Who is wise? He who can learn from every person.” But can we really learn from every person? Is that realistic? Jew, gentile, young, old, nasty, nice – can we really learn from everyone?

“Ya, mein kind,” my father would say – “Yes, you can learn from everyone.” From a nasty person you can learn never to be mean and from a good person you can always collect some gems. I try never to forget that lesson and at all times attempt to absorb something positive from each of my encounters, good or bad.

My father imparted to me an additional teaching: “Bear in mind that when you encounter people they will also learn from you.” Finding myself in an unexpected and strange environment a few weeks ago this teaching spoke to me. I heard my father’s voice: “You are an observant Jew in this 99-percent gentile hospital. No matter how ill you feel, no matter what your pain may be, remember you are teaching others through your example and words.”

Additionally, I realized that as a Jew in a non-Jewish environment, whatever I would say, whatever I would do, would not only be a reflection of and on me personally but of and on my people as well. These were the thoughts that went through my mind and became the compass that guided and directed me.

Jeanette was the physical therapist assigned to teach me to walk again. “Rebbetzin,” she would ask, “from one to ten, how is your pain?”

Baruch Hashem – thank G-d,” I would say and choose a number. She was fascinated with the words “Baruch Hashem” and asked me to explain the deeper significance of this phrase.

When we say “Baruch Hashem,” I told her, we proclaim our gratitude to G-d. That gratitude is one of the pillars of our faith. It is constant. It is ever-present. So whether we find ourselves in a hospital or enjoying the sunshine in a resort, we proclaim “Baruch Hashem.”

There is an additional teaching to “Baruch Hashem,” I explained. Life is such that sometimes we think we are on a smooth journey – but complications arise. We drive our cars without a care and then the bumps start – the car shakes from left to right and we might even fall into a pothole. Suddenly our cell phone rings. “How’s it going?” a friend asks. We don’t want to share that we’re in a pothole but we don’t want to lie either. So what do we say without compromising our integrity? It’s simple. “Baruch Hashem.” And if you think about it, there’s always a huge “Baruch Hashem” in all of our lives.

I further explained that when we wake up in the morning the very first words to come to our lips are “Modeh Ani” – “I thank You.” I Thank You for restoring my soul, for renewing my lease and granting me yet another day to see the sunshine and to pray – even if for nothing else than to say “Amen.”

I told her about my husband of blessed memory, HaRav Meshulem HaLevi Jungreis, zt”l, who in his last days at Sloan Kettering Memorial Hospital made an amazing request. He wanted to be taken outside to breathe the fresh air. I asked permission from the doctors and they agreed, provided it was only for a few minutes. My two sons lovingly carried him and my daughters and I went with them. I’ll never forget that day. It was a cold winter morning. Earlier it had snowed. We told my husband he could not stay outdoors too long. He assured us he just wanted a few minutes and then he raised his voice and with tears in his eyes said, “Baruch Hashem; Baruch Hashem for the life You gave me.”

Mind you, my husband was a survivor of Hitler’s hell who came to this country an orphan. His entire family had been annihilated and yet in his last days he desired nothing more than to thank G-d for every moment of his existence – for the spring, for the cold of winter, for the storms, for the sun, for the suffering and sorrow, for the kindness and joy. It was all “Baruch Hashem.”

My Machberes

5 Iyyar 5772 – April 26, 2012

Chassidim Elected To Public Office

Yidel Perlstein (left) and City Councilman David Greenfield.

The election on March 28 of Yidel Perlstein as chairman of Community Planning Board 12 in Brooklyn is an indication of unfolding voting patterns that are changing the face of local governance. His election follows the November 2011 election of Aron B. Wieder to the Rockland County Legislature, representing its 13th District.

 

Aron B. Wieder

Wieder, running on the Democratic, Republican, and Independence lines against an incumbent, won a resounding victory, garnering 79 percent of the vote. He has since been appointed to four important Rockland County Legislature Committees: Economic Development; Government Operations; Public Safety; and Environmental. The appointments are an affirmation of the respect and confidence he has earned from his colleagues and of his viability as a public servant.

Rabbi Jacob Z. Goldstein

Perlstein was elected with an impressive 75 percent of the vote. He had received the endorsement of several elected officials. Community Board 12 represents more than 200,000 residents. He succeeds Alan Dubrow, a member of the board since 1978 and chairman since 1990. Perlstein joins Rabbi Jacob Z. Goldstein, another chassidic elected official, who has served, with distinction, as chairman of Community Board No. 9 (Crown Heights) since 1979.

 

Who Might Be Next?

Of course, being elected to public office is no easy matter. We can laugh at Mark Twain’s comment, “Suppose you were an idiot and suppose you were a member of Congress – but I repeat myself.” But the reality is that getting elected to any public office is a noteworthy achievement. One must have the intuitive understanding to effectively communicate to the people whose votes are necessary for being elected. Being elected by a constituency that extends beyond the walls of one’s beis medrash is to be truly admired.

Our community has an impressive number of individuals worthy of public office. But they have to be encouraged and persuaded to run for office. Few, however, rise to the towering level of Rabbi Aaron Lewin, zt”l Hy”d (1879-1941), Reisha Rav and author of Hadrash Veha’iyun. Grandson of Rabbi Yitzchok Shmelkes, zt”l (1828-1905), author of Beis Yitzchok, Rabbi Lewin served in the Polish Sejm (parliament) from 1922 until the Nazi invasion of Poland in September of 1939. He was murdered in the Holocaust.

The internationally renowned attorney Nathan Lewin is a proud grandson of the Reisha Rav. Nathan Lewin is the son of Rabbi Yitzchok Lewin, zt”l (1906-1995), Agudath Israel Leader.

The Reisha Rav was extraordinarily unique. Nonetheless, there are individuals in our communities who are worthy of serious consideration. One name that immediately springs up is that of Chaim Israel. He was instrumental in the work of SEBCO over the last 35 years in stabilizing the neighborhood known as Boro Park West (the lower numbered avenues and streets), which thrives today. The same principles were applied to other neighborhoods. Those successes have received national attention.

Chaim Israel, back row, fourth from right.

Chaim Israel is well respected by administrators at Maimonides Medical Center and other area hospitals. He organized Vaad Refuah and propelled it to the forefront of Bikur Cholim challenges. In that capacity he leads volunteers from all walks of life: attorneys, businessmen, health care professionals, rabbis, real estate developers, men and women from yeshivish and chassidish backgrounds, all dedicated to improving the health and the delivery of health care services to our community.

He is the son of Rabbi Avrohom Meir Israel, zt”l (d. 1995), late rav of Honiad and author of Vaya’an Avrohom and Imrei Avrohom, and ybch”l Rebbetzin Chava Israel. Rebbetzin Israel (may she have a speedy recovery and be restored to full health soon) is the ideal bikur cholim practitioner, having made countless visits to patients during her decades of daily rounds of visits to every bed in area hospitals.

Surviving the Holocaust, Rabbi Avrohom Meir Israel served as chief rabbi of Vienna and was a key figure in guiding the resurgence of religious life in postwar Europe. He worked alongside post-Holocaust Torah leaders such as Rabbi Boruch Leizerowski, zt”l (d. 2000), Lodzer Rav and author of Taam Boruch who survived Dachau and Auschwitz and was appointed chief rabbi of Munich and later served as chief rabbi of Philadelphia.

Rabbi Avrohom Meir also worked shoulder to shoulder with Rabbi Eliezer Paltiel Roitblatt, zt”l (d. 1998), Shenitzer Rebbe, who was appointed rav of Shenitza, Poland, in 1935. He was the last surviving rav who served in Poland before the Holocaust. Surviving the Holocaust, Rabbi Eliezer Paltiel was appointed rav of the displaced persons camp in Lintz-Weigsheid and was instrumental, together with Rabbi Avrohom Meir, in freeing many agunahs whose husbands were murdered in the Holocaust but had no absolute proof.

These I Shall Remember

15 Nisan 5772 – April 6, 2012

By Rayzel Reich, as told by her grandfather, Mr. Efraim Reich

It was Moishele, and Itche, and me. We did everything together. We even made our own language, which only we understood. In shul they jokingly called us “the troika,” after the three bishops whose authority extended across Poland.

Then the War came. Things became… different.

The Judenrat picked Itche to work as a houseboy for Herr Garbler, the Gestapo chief who had moved into town.

Dr. Mikolaikow, my kind Polish doctor, offered to hire me so that I wouldn’t have to work for the Germans. He lived next door to the Gestapo, so at least Itche and I sometimes saw each other while we worked.

Rebbe’s door was always open. We came, we went, we learned… but yeshiva wasn’t the same. We weren’t carefree yeshiva bachurim now. We were workers, slaves, perhaps, stealing moments of peace when we could. We came to talk, to sing, to learn, to eat…A moment with our Rebbe was a stolen moment.

Rebbe – R’ Sruel Leib- was different. He seemed to grow, even as he shrunk, his cheeks thinner, gaunt. There were moments when his eyes were haunted… but mostly they were fiery black, seeing through you, loving you to your core.

You were created in the image of God, Rebbe told us. You are Godly beings. Whatever happens, remember that. Be a man. Hold your head high. Know who you are, on the inside, no matter what.

Nobody, nobody, can ever take that away from you.

R’ Sruel Leib’s thin frame seemed to take up the whole small room. His eyes burned.

What God decrees…is not always possible for men to change. We must face a decree, and learn to accept it from our Father in heaven. As men, who hold their head high.

But those who torment us… Who seek to beat us into the very earth… Do not allow them to crush you! My students… Know who you are, beloved children of God… You can resist, you can, in your heart. As long as you are master of yourself… you will never be a slave.

I have “poisoned you,” he said, that sin may never taste good on your lips. You are noble people.

And we were… all Rebbe’s talmidim were noble people.

Itche was, like the rest. Itche was refined, Itche was sensitive, Itche was proud.

We tried to make time to get together, all three of us, when we could. After all, we were the troika.

Itche, Moishele, and me.

Then came the first Aktzion. Herr Garbler removed his mask, and the blood of Jews flowed free.

Moishele’s family was murdered. He was sent as a slave to an airplane factory in distant Reishau, but he was safe. We knew that from his letters.

I ran Dr. Mikolaikow, who offered to hide my family. He hid me in an underground bunker beneath his garage.

And Itche… Itche was safe, houseboy for Herr Garbler, shining shoes in the Gestapo’s house a stone’s throw from where I was hidden.

Garbler liked Itche. He liked him so much, in fact, that he let his sisters live. Illegally. Incredibly, Garbler ordered the Judenrat to give Itche three extra food cards. For his two sisters and their friend, hiding in Itche’s house…

It went against everything he stood for. But he did it…for Itche.

Itche also had an older brother, Yankel. Yankel was still legal. He worked with a group of fifty other Jews for a German firm near the railroad.

And so Itche and his siblings lived, and survived every day, and held their breath, and hoped to live the next one.

There are always rumors.

Itche hears a rumor. He hears that Garbler is walking with Yankel’s workgroup, that he is heading towards a field at the edge of the ghetto.

An open field…a group of Jewish boys, with Garbler…that is danger.

Itche runs.

Garbler and his assistant make their way toward the railroad. Ahead is an overpass that Yankel’s work group must cross on their way home to the ghetto.

Garbler motions for his assistant to stop.

They stand under the overpass, hidden from the sight of those that will come.

They wait.

The group of Jewish workers makes its way down the road. The men and boys are tired, and hungry, and cold, but they talk, and make jokes, as they walk… After all this is life, and life must be lived.

Their feet clatter on the wood of the overpass. Soon they will be home, having a good supper… meager, but something… something hot…

There is home; a ghetto, but home, still dear…

The Gestapo Chief and his assistant are stepping out onto the overpass; they are blocking their way.

What is this?

Itche is running.

If it is true- if they are taken-

Parshas Vayikra: ‘The Call Of Humility’

1 Nisan 5772 – March 23, 2012

In his classic work, Tending The Vineyard, my Rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, relates the following vignette:

“At the time that my wife and I made aliyah, the Ministry of Interior required certification through the chief rabbinate that any new immigrants were Jews in order to qualify for citizenship and immigrant benefits. After an hour-long wait at the ministry to be interviewed, my wife and I sat before a hard-faced clerk. I did not have a letter from a rabbi certifying to my Jewishness, but I felt confident that since I was on the chief rabbinate’s list of approved rabbis whose letter would be accepted to verify the Jewishness of others, I would suffer no problem.

“Well, I was wrong. The clerk acknowledged that my name did appear on that august list of recognized rabbis but she sweetly said: ‘Simply because you are acceptable to say about others that they are Jewish does not necessarily mean that you are yourself Jewish.’

“This baffling piece of legal logic astounded me. I told my wife to continue sitting at this clerk’s booth and I hurried out and hailed a cab that delivered me to the house of a rabbinical friend of mine whose name was likewise on the approved list of rabbis. He wrote out a letter for me and I took the same cab back to the Interior Ministry. My poor wife was still sitting at the clerk’s booth as I breathlessly charged into the office and presented the letter to the clerk.

“The clerk smiled at us and said: ‘Now you’re Jewish!’ And so we were. Never underestimate the power of a letter written by a rabbi who is on the approved list of the Israeli chief rabbinate.”

Chumash Vayikra, also known as Toras Kohanim, is chiefly dedicated to the unique laws pertaining to the Kohanim and their daily Service in the Mishkan. It commences with a detailed account of the many laws endemic to the various offerings brought in the Mishkan.

Aside from animal offerings, there were also Mincha/flour offerings that could be offered. Although there were different types of Mincha offerings, flour and water were universal ingredients of every Mincha. Yet, the Torah warns that when the flour and water were mixed they could never be allowed to leaven or ferment. “Any meal-offering that you offer to G-d shall not be prepared leavened, for you shall not cause to go up in smoke from any leavening or any honey as a fire-offering to G-d” (Vayikra 2:11).

As we are all aware, there is another prohibition of chometz, during the days of Pesach. Throughout the rest of the year there is absolutely no prohibition to eat chometz, in fact bread plays a central role in many food-oriented mitzvos. But on Pesach the mere ownership of chometz becomes a serious transgression.

The austere prohibition against owning chometz on Pesach and offering chometz on the altar seems to be interconnected. What is the deeper idea behind that connection?

In order for bread to rise, leavening must take place, catalyzed by yeast or another leavening agent. As oxidation occurs, air pockets develop. Nothing is added to the dough, but it gets bigger, propelled upward by warm air. It is nothing more than the process of nature which causes dough to rise.

Our egos are compared to the yeast in dough. Our ego comprises our sense of self, which is vital to a healthy identity. It is our ego which propels us to accomplish and to grow. But at the same time our egos are always in danger of becoming inflated with “hot air.” This occurs when our sense of identity becomes befuddled, and we no longer appreciate our uniqueness. A false ego can persuade us that trivialities are hugely significant and we can easily be distracted from what truly matters. Just as a healthy ego helps us love, be compassionate, and sensitive to others, it also can cause us to become self-absorbed, envious, and hateful.

Matzah, which consists of nothing more than flour and water that has not been allowed to leaven, symbolizes self-negation before G-d. It is flat and contains nothing but the barest essentials, demonstrating that we are nothing without G-d.

Chometz, on the other hand, symbolizes our sense of identity and independent contribution. Ultimately G-d wanted us to exercise our free will to contribute to His world and bring His Presence into it. In that sense Chometz is not a negative force at all. In fact, it is the source of all accomplishment and positive action. However, when one becomes arrogant and forgets his place things can easily spiral out of control. He loses perspective of where his independence and achievements come from and he begins to take himself too seriously.

Purim And The Tyranny Of Beauty: A Plea to Mothers of Girls in Shidduchim

26 Adar 5772 – March 19, 2012

I know I’m going to be crucified, but if the appeal I make below helps even one girl in shidduchim, then it will be worth all the fury and outrage that shall inevitably descend upon my soon-to-be beleaguered head.

The other night, I was invited to a fascinating new shidduch initiative. Endorsed by leading rabbonim and spearheaded by a few righteous women valiantly trying to transcend the spiraling “shidduch crisis” in some small but meaningful way, the concept was to bring mothers of eligible young men together with young women looking for shidduchim (members of both groups were pre-screened and issued personal and discreet invitations by the organizers) in both a balabatish setting and a dignified way.

Everybody knows that the experiences of boys in shidduchim–in contradistinction to their female counterparts–is vastly different. This is the harsh truth: The mothers of “good boys” are bombarded with shidduch suggestions on a daily basis – a veritable barrage of resumes either flooding their fax machines or pouring out of their e-mail inboxes– while those with similarly “top” daughters sit with pinched faces anxiously waiting for the phone to ring. The disparity is bare, bold-faced and veritably heartbreaking: In the shidduchparsha,” boys are constantly being courted and pursued, while the best girls’ resumes barely elicit a modicum of interest.

As a friend recently told me: “When my nephew was 19 and started shidduchim, he went out with 19-year-old girls. When he turned 20, he still went out with 19-year-old girls. He kept getting older, but the shidduchim that he was “redt” continued to be 19-year-old girls. Now he is 24 and baruch Hashem just got engaged –to a 19-year old girl.” Sadly, women do not have this same recourse.

To rectify this inequity, a few concerned mothers brain stormed together and concluded that “shidduch resumes” (which never even existed as a concept when I was dating 35 years ago) fail to accurately capture the essence of the person being “summed up” and often–especially in the case of the girls– get lost in the shuffle. One organizer told me: “The boys’ mothers barely give the girls’ resumes a passing glance–they are so overwhelmed by the sheer numbers coming their way–and it becomes a daunting task to sift through them. And the resumes themselves are severely limiting. Can you really get a genuine sense of who the girl is from the resume? What does it tell you about her personality, her character, her intellect, her neshoma? It is demeaning to reduce a girl to a few sentences.”

The rationale underlying the new shidduch initiative was this: If eligible girls would be given personal and meaningful “face time” with prospective mother-in-laws, they would be able to present their qualities far more efficaciously than a cold and lifeless curriculum vitae.

Now for my full disclosure: I am the mother (baruch Hashem) of a great boy. He is continuously sought out, “in perpetual demand” (kinehora). I should be grateful that in shidduchim, he “wields the upper hand.” But as a woman who identifies with and feels great compassion for the throngs of girls in a parallel universe who are not being chased, I feel a little sad each time the fax machine cranks out yet another resume for my son. I know full well that there are fantastic girls out there who are his equals–perhaps even his superiors–who are NOT receiving comparable treatment. They are neither being hounded nor pursued half as vigorously as he, and they are denied the latitude of choices that he receives every day. I ache for their mothers who repeatedly call the shadchanim who never call back, but are visibly more responsive if you are the mother of a boy. Inwardly, I rail against the unfairness of it all (although the shadchanim are completely innocent of any wrongdoing, whatsoever; it is the system that is at fault– not they—the stark realities of supply and demand). Thinking of the mothers who do not have the privilege to wade through as many resumes as me, I try consciously not to revel in the continuous stream that cascade over my desk. I know how fortunate my son is, and I feel for those who aren’t.

So, when one of the extraordinary women who organized this event invited me to participate, I was actually reluctant to attend. Quite simply, there was no need. But because I like and respect this woman so much, and wanted to validate her efforts, I RSVP’d “Yes.”

“How are you going to work this?” I asked. “How are you going to ensure that all the girls get equal time? Are they not going to feel degraded? Is this process not going to end up even more demeaning than a resume?”

The organizer assured me that there would be facilitators on site who would introduce each girl to every mother. The facilitator would escort the mother to the tables where the girls sat, and be hyper-vigilant that no girl gets bypassed. I wondered how many girls would feel comfortable with this arrangement and actually show up, but as I said before, I wanted to support my acquaintance’s endeavor with my physical presence, so I went.

Lubavitch Replicate Another Major Edifice

10 Adar 5772 – March 4, 2012

Chabad.org reports that a new replica of Jerusalem’s Western Wall was unveiled last Thursday by Israeli Public Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein and El Al CEO Eliezer Shkedi, at the Jewish Children’s Museum in Brooklyn, N.Y..

So, after moving the Rebbe’s home at 770 Eastern Parkway to Israel, Lubavitch now moves the Kotel to America. My advice to you is, fasten the bolts and beams in your house, or one morning you’ll wake up to discover Lubavitch has moved you to a new continent…

The massive replica serves as the centerpiece of the museum’s new 6,000-square-foot fourth-floor exhibit, “A Voyage Through Jewish History.” Visitors will be invited to write their prayers on a note and insert it into the wall just like in Jerusalem; the notes will then be flown to Israel via El Al and placed in the actual Western Wall. The exhibit will officially open on April 1.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/yoris-daily-news-clips/lubavitch-replicate-another-major-edifice/2012/03/04/

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