Note from Harry Maryles: I usually take this time on the eve of the New Year to reflect on what kind if a year this was for me. The sudden death of my grandson Reuven who suffered from cancer was unexpected. Although his prognosis was never great, he had defied the odds by living as long as he did. People all over the world davened for him and for that I am still grateful. But it was not meant to be.
Posts Tagged ‘Reuven’
The five-year-old boy was in a church in Puerto Rico with his parents. As they and his grandparents were Catholics, that made him Catholic – as far as his young mind could figure.
With an independent mind at such a young age the boy would not do as his parents did, namely bow down to a statue. Looking back decades later, he would say, “It seemed ridiculous” to do. But to avoid his parents’ probable spanking, he had to do something to appear as if he was interested in what was going on. So he moved his lips, pretending to pray.
Child number 10 of 19, he would not eat the pork his mother would cook. He would say later, “All my brothers would eat it and I wouldn’t.”
Why not? Why not just go with the program? Was he just a rebellious kid trying to be different from everyone else?
After many years of seeking his own way, he arrived at some startling facts and recalled certain remembrances. Research into his family background revealed that his ancestors on his mother’s side came from southern France. A key recollection was having seen his mother’s mother light candles on Friday night. When he asked her why she did this, she said she didn’t know.
After more research the fateful day arrived when, at the age of 40, he contacted a cousin in Florida who was also trying to understand his family history. She asked him, “Did you know we’re Jewish?” A short time later he confirmed his cousin’s statement, and after spending some time learning about his heritage he has been living the life of a shomer Shabbos Jew for nearly 15 years.
What a path the life of “Reuven” has taken! Brought up as a Catholic in a very religious home, his goal throughout that time was to search for Hashem. “I wanted the truth,” he said.
He read the New Testament and discovered that some central characters were Jewish but deviating from the right path. “They were trying to deviate from the path,” he said. “No one’s going to deviate from my path.”
The searching and learning processes went on. In the years before learning he was Jewish, Reuven went from being Catholic to being a Seventh Day Adventist in California. He kept learning from their leaders but they could not answer certain questions, raising his suspicions about what they were telling him.
Reuven felt like he was finding the truth when he began studying Jewish sources. “My family was very upset with me,” he said. “Some of them didn’t want to talk to me. I didn’t care. This is my life and I live it as I want. But it wasn’t easy.”
Of course it wasn’t easy. He was leaving behind the very foundation of his life’s first decades. And he was leaving it for what? For the joy of learning that he’d been Jewish all along.
While he lost some contact with his family, he found a new family among the people who warmly welcomed him in Brooklyn. It was there that he continued to investigate even more into his religious roots. And how has he taken to his new lifestyle of religious discovery and commitment? “The best part of being a Jew is that you know this is what Hashem wants.” Quite a statement from someone seeking the truth!
Reuven has faced many challenges along the way. Before ascertaining his Jewish roots, he was married with children – with whom he now has limited contact. In his new setting, rabbis urged him to undergo a bris milah. He complied.
And then there was the significant amount of property in Puerto Rico to be managed (before attempting to sell it). This forced him to live there, cutting him off from being involved in any type of meaningful Jewish life. Shabbos after Shabbos was spent sitting alone in his apartment – davening, eating and learning. But instead of this challenging period being a negative part of his experience, it strengthened his resolve and commitment to religious Judaism.
Things changed for the better and thankfully, over time, this gregarious and friendly man found a small religious community in San Juan. Warmly received there, he now spends Shabbos and other parts of the week in the company of fellow Jews.
I do not dress like the average Orthodox man in my Brooklyn neighborhood. It’s not that I’m trying to make a statement by often going hatless and wearing blue and brown suits, it’s just that in becoming religious I have changed so much – there are certain things I don’t want to give up, especially since my religion doesn’t truly ask me to do so.
So my fashion sense from years ago lives on and, more importantly, my inclination to try, at least occasionally, to go out of my way to do good deeds – such as visiting people I don’t know in the hospital to offer some words of cheer.
To be sure, I like to dress modestly and in good taste. But there’s a concern I have going back to my childhood, that too much emphasis is placed on the way one dresses – what’s on the outside – and not enough on what’s on the inside.
The first time this topic touched my life was as a 12 year old in a conversation with my friend’s mother when I definitely didn’t prescribe to the saying, “Children should be seen and not heard.” Boy, was I heard in those days, with an opinion to counter any statement that I thought was at odds with the truth.
One summer day, my friend and I went back to his house after playing ball wearing t-shirts and shorts, and somehow ended up in a discussion about the topic of clothes. My friend’s mother at that time commented, “When people are dressed up nicely, they are good people.”
I could not let that statement go unremarked upon. So, hopefully, with a tone of voice that was respectful (I was speaking to someone around 35 years older than I was), I said, “You mean, people who rob banks, if they’re wearing a nice suit, they’re a good person.”
To my surprise, she replied “yes.” In retrospect, she was probably just trying to get my goat, but at the time it added fuel to the fire of my beliefs regarding the importance of the clothes we wear in the total hierarchy of life.
Fast-forward around 35 years. Slowly but surely (and sweetly) I had become religiously observant. When my wife and I got married, I did wear a hat at the chupah because I thought it was important. But for the most part, since then, whatever hat I wear is not of the kind that most religious men in the neighborhood have on their heads.
The most important thing to me is that I get along with people and they get along with me. I am told that I am a friendly enough kind of person that the clothes I wear don’t seem to create a negative impact on the positive interactions I have with my peers.
This feeling of togetherness probably blindsided me to what some other people were thinking about my wardrobe, or at least one other person who I’ll call Reuven. I met Reuven at a shul that is rigorously Orthodox that I attended on Shabbos in order to learn with a friend between Mincha and Maariv. Over the months that I was there I would exchange “Good Shabbos” greetings with Reuven whenever we crossed paths, which was fairly often as it was a small shul.
We never had a conversation of any great importance until one fateful Shabbos afternoon, right before Yom Kippur. As we left the shul after the Shabbos Teshuva drasha, given by the rabbi, people were milling outside and talking. My friend was engaged with someone else and it was then that Reuven approached me – and this time he went beyond “Good Shabbos.”
Reuven said, smiling, “Since this is the head of the year, this would be a good time for you to get something for your head…a hat.” I was surprised and dismayed by what he said. Did he really think that if I wasn’t wearing a hat up until now, that his one statement would get me to change to the way he wanted? Those are the key words – what HE WANTED. He never stopped to consider what I wanted…what was important to me.
More importantly, what right does he have to tell me what I should or should not be wearing? Perhaps if he knew me better and had engaged me in a conversation, it could have come out more naturally. But as it was, all it did was leave a bad taste in my mouth. Rather than respond with a caustic remark, though, another thought entered my mind and I said it. I doubt I would have said it under different circumstances. I don’t push my way of life on to other people. (I figure if I’m doing something of merit, and other people see it, if they like it, perhaps they will emulate it. It more than likely would backfire if I told them they should do it.)
Shas MK Rabbi Chaim Amsalem, writing in a column for the Jerusalem Post, lambasted UTJ MK Moshe Gafni for his “cynical declaration” that the ultra-Orthodox should not serve in the IDF.
Amsalem wrote that he was “confused and angered” by Gafni’s statements earlier in the week because they had “no basis in Jewish law or tradition, or in basic human ethics . . . they were nothing more than a continuation of extremist haredi policies and politics.”
Amsalem said that “Jewish tradition is replete with teachings regarding the responsibility we have toward one another,” and cited the Bible portion where Moses rebuked the tribes of Reuven and Gad for attempting to shirk combat in order to settle on the eastern side of the Jordan River.
Amsalem added: “I plan to continue encouraging haredim to serve in the IDF while working together with the army leadership to make sure all their needs are met.”
A new shidduch initiative has created an ear-deafening buzz in frum communities across North America and beyond. How it works and what it requires from its clients has been the hot topic of discussion at dinner tables, in shul, online chat rooms, at Simchas – just about everywhere two or more heimishe Jews have congregated.
Called the NASI Project, it has generated a storm of opinion as to its merits, its integrity and its potential in solving what has been universally viewed as a shidduch crisis. Basically, it has been presented as a possible “cure” to the growing “epidemic” of unmarried frum women who are in their mid twenties and beyond. From what I have gleaned, its success in resolving the issue of older single women (22+) is based on the premise that if shadchanim have a greater financial incentive to set up these girls; if they receive monetary compensation that takes into consideration the more “strenuous” effort they must make in getting dates for these “over the hill” women, then they will be more motivated to take on these challenging cases, instead of focusing on the younger, more in demand “just back from seminary” girls. To that end, older girls will be charged a considerably higher rate than their younger counterparts for shidduchim. Hence it would cost thousands of dollars more for example, for a 29-year-old female to be set up than for a 20-year-old – since getting a date for the former is considered much more time and labor intensive.
There has been an avalanche of opinions as to the merit, effectiveness and affordability of this project; like every idea or system, there are pros and cons to what its designers have come up with and people will perceive it either as a solution to a vexing problem or something to avoid. The purpose of this column is not to lambaste the idea or praise it – everyone needs to examine it for themselves and come to their own conclusion.
However, one fact of life that the project brings to the fore, and that no one in the yeshivish/modern Orthodox community can dispute – is that with each passing year, the number of never married girls over the age of 25 is escalating, and there is much palpable despair, hopelessness, distress, resentment and anger besetting this population and their families.
We are taught that all Jews are responsible for each other – that we have a moral obligation to help one another. If we see someone floundering, it is incumbent on all in a position to do so to extend a helping hand, be it financially, emotionally or spiritually.
To this end, I feel that every adult in the community needs to get involved to prevent what to some degree should be viewed as an existential threat to our community’s viability – the huge numbers of singles who may never build batei ne’eman b’Yisrael, nor launch future generations. We cannot afford to have a reduced birthrate due to women staying unmarried well into their child-bearing years. The Jewish people lost too many millions to a deranged but tragically efficient Nazi genocide. We must replenish what we lost to the best of our ability. Each unmarried daughter of Israel represents a lost opportunity to do so.
At the end of the day, Hashem determines every outcome. Some women and men may never marry and create families. But we must make the effort to help them do so.
And we do so by becoming, to the best of our abilities – shadchanim – (matchmakers)!
A daunting idea since there are no shadchan schools where we can get a PhS (a Doctor of Shidduchim) – so how do we go about doing so?
Live donor kidney transplantation is often (but not always) an exception to the rule in Halacha which forbids mutilation of our bodies because of their inherent holiness, having been created “b’tzelem elokim,” in the image of G-d. In cases of ESRD, we are dealing with “pikuach nefesh,” saving a life, which, in Jewish law, is often considered to be a compelling reason to permit a normally forbidden act.
Kidneys can be donated by live donors or taken from the bodies of individuals declared to be dead. However, the overwhelming majority of deaths are ineligible for donation, resulting in a severe shortage of kidneys available for transplant.
A Jewish communal organization called Renewal, which was formed in 2006, specializes in finding living kidney donors for patients suffering from ESRD. Renewal works in cooperation with hospitals and medical teams across the U.S. specializing in transplants, and with the National Kidney Registry, which maintains the kidney waiting list in the U.S., and assures that the established medical and ethical guidelines are followed.
Renewal does not solicit donations from the family members of prospective recipients. It does not receive any government funding, and relies on donations from members of the community.
The logistics required for successful swap arrangements can be difficult to set up. To minimize the element of mutual trust required, kidney swap operations are generally scheduled to be performed simultaneously, to prevent any of the participants from backing out at the last minute. This requires both donors and the necessary medical facilities and personnel all to be available at the same time.
In last week’s column I began my response to the woman who wrote expressing her fears regarding the escalation of anti-Semitism and hatred of Israel throughout the world. I explained that our Sages and Prophets predicted it; they tell us that what we are witnessing today isikvesi d’Mashiach – a period in which we can hear the footsteps of the Messiah and experience the birth pangs that will precede the coming of that great day.
At the conclusion of the column I asked how long the labor will last, and how we can protect ourselves from the suffering that will accompany that period.
For that too, our sages have an answer. “Let he who wishes to be spared the birth pangs of Messiah occupy himself with Torah and gemilas chasadim (acts of loving-kindness) and let him be scrupulous about Seudah Shlishis – the third Sabbath meal.”
The first two recommendations – Torah and gemilas chasadim – are self-explanatory and do not require much elaboration, for he who is committed to Torah and mitzvos and to reaching out with loving-kindness must, of necessity, become a better, more spiritual person. But eating a third Sabbath meal is not as readily comprehensible.
We are enjoined to have three seudos on the Sabbath – Sabbath eve (Friday night), Sabbath noon (following prayer in the synagogue) and the third onein the late afternoon as the Sabbath queen prepares to depart. Through these three meals we honor the three Patriarchs, the three sections of our Scriptures (Torah, Prophets, and the Writings), and we recall the three Sabbath meals of manna G-d provided us with during our sojourn in the wilderness (Exodus 16:25).
The final Sabbath seudah is called Shalosh Seudos, which translated literally means three meals, rather than Seudah Shlishis,the third meal. Our sages explain the reason for this is that all three Sabbath seudos are embodied in this one.
This third meal presents a most auspicious time for prayer. To this day, when I close my eyes I can hear the sweet voice of my revered father and my beloved husband, of blessed memory, leading their congregations in singing Psalm 23, the psalm that is traditionally chanted at the Shalosh Seudos.
“The L-rd is my Shepherd, I shall not want…” The task of the shepherd is a lowly and lonely one. Day in and day out he is destined to wander from place to place seeking pasture for his flock, and yet David did not hesitate to refer to G-d as a shepherd, for he perceived that G-d’s love is so total, so encompassing, that when it come to caring for His children, nothing is beneath Him.
What a magnificent and fortifying thought – for no matter where life takes us, even if we have to walk in the treacherous valley overshadowed by death, we need not fear, for G-d our Shepherd will always be there to lead us to greener pastures, even if at first we do not recognize the pasture as being green.
Still, it is difficult to comprehend how the mere eating of a third meal, singing Psalm 23, and discussing words of Torah have such awesome power that they can actually protect us from the suffering that will accompany the Messianic birth pangs. But there is a profound lesson at the root of this teaching. The first two Sabbath seudos are eaten when we are hungry, but after a festive noontimeseudah we are hardly in the mood for another meal. So it is not to satiate our hunger that we gather around the Shalosh Seudos table. Rather, it is to celebrate the Sabbath and sing her praises, and that is why the Third Meal encompasses them all.
The Third Meal is symbolic of the conversion of the physical to the spiritual, and ultimately that is our purpose – to become spiritual beings and to free ourselves from the shackles of materialism. This is something our generation, obsessed with materialism and the pursuit of pleasure, has yet to learn.
But why must we experience birth pangs in order for Messiah to come? Why can’t he just announce his presence?
The Messianic period will be very much like Shalosh Seudos, when we sit around the table not to satiate our physical hunger nor to glory in our material achievements, but to celebrate our spiritual attainments.
In order for that to happen, we will have to divest ourselves of all the icons we hold dear. Therefore, our hallowed institutions, the bastions of strength in which we placed our trust, will have to fall away. It is that painful disintegration to which we are witness today. The corporate world, governments, religious institutions, science and medicine – all have failed us. And worse, we no longer feel safe or secure in our daily lives. Terrorists and suicide bombers have become a reality of our existence and no army or police force is capable of shielding us from them.
Shorn of all of our defenses, we stand vulnerable and terrified, and wonder what life is all about as we see our idols crumble before our very eyes.
How long will these birth pangs last? Until we recognize the simple truth – that “we can rely on no one but our Heavenly Father.” So let us sound the shofar, awaken ourselves from our lethargy and heed the voice of our Father calling us.
But even as we do so, let us not despair. There is an amazing Midrash that recalls the story of three great biblical figures, Reuven, Aaron and Boaz – about whom the sages said, had they only known the Torah would record their deeds, they would have done even more.
How can we understand such puzzling teachings? How can it be that such spiritual giants would have needed the additional incentive of being inscribed in the Torah to conduct themselves more nobly?
It has often occurred to me that there is a deep lesson to be gleaned from this Midrash that could be a great source of spiritual strength in our troubled times.
When Reuven discovered that the pit into which his brother Joseph had been cast was empty, he was overcome by inconsolable grief and cried out (Genesis 37:30), “The lad is gone! And I – where can I go?” But had Reuven known Joseph was on his way to Egypt to prepare the path for the family of Jacob – a path that would eventually lead the nation to Sinai – he would have rejoiced.
When Aaron went to greet Moses upon his return to the Auschwitz of Egypt, his heart fell, for he feared for the life of his younger brother. Had he only known Moses was coming to redeem the nation, he would have greeted him with an orchestra.
Had Boaz, from whose fields Ruth gleaned, known Ruth would one day become his wife and the great-grandmother of King David, he would have been overjoyed and made her a magnificent festive meal.
Had they only known what the Torah had mapped out for them, their hearts would have been filled with elation rather than trepidation.
Similarly, all our journeys, be they personal or national are guided by G-d. There is an ultimate goal – a destination at which we will all arrive. It is not for naught that we are launched on our paths. Our struggles are not in vain. So when our journeys become difficult, when our hearts tremble with fear, let us recall Reuven, Aaron and Boaz. Let us remember that we have not yet witnessed the end – and the end will be good.
We are experiencing birth pangs. Let us hold fast, for very soon we will see blessed new life that will make all our sacrifices and suffering worthwhile.
Finally, dear friends, every day when you daven, read the little closing paragraph withgreat concentration: “Do not fear sudden terror or the holocaust of the wicked when it comes. It shall not stand, for G-d is with us.”
You need only believe it. You need only place your full trust in G-d. Follow the light of His Torah and that light will pierce even the most dense darkness.
Photos by: Reuven and Tamar Ansh
Even those people who do not normally make challah all year long usually do find that they want homemade challahs for Rosh Hashana. Round challahs are most traditionally used for this time of year, as a reminder of the cycle of life. Many people also have the custom to serve sweetened foods as a harbinger to usher in a sweet ad delectable judgement and challah is no exception to this custom! For this reason, Rosh HaShanah challahs are often sweeter than those served the rest of the year. Some add more sugar, others add raisins, still others do both. I enjoy adding all this to my challahs, but with a twist: after they are egg-glazed and ready to be baked, I sprinkle each with a mixture of cinnamon and sugar. The smell they emit while baking is absolutely heavenly and the taste is out of this world. Truly a holiday treat!
Delicious Egg Challahs
This is quite a nice recipe, but as challah recipes abound at this time of year, the shaping I would like to demonstrate can be done with any good dough. However, this recipe is quite good, so it’s worthwhile to try it out
Makes: 5 large loaves or about 20-25 small individual sized rolls
Remember, that if you have a small family or don’t want to use so much challah at once, either halve the recipe or freeze the extra challah.
2 ounces/50 gram cube of fresh yeast or 2 Tablespoons of dry yeast
3-4 cups very warm water, divided