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November 25, 2014 / 3 Kislev, 5775
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Posts Tagged ‘Special Note’

Conflicts, Conflicts, Conflicts

Wednesday, December 9th, 2009

Special Note: For the past two weeks my columns have focused on the sad state of contemporary family life – controversies between siblings, parents, and children. Unfortunately, however, this deplorable state of affairs is not limited to families. Our communities and our institutions are all ridden by “infighting.”

I have received countless e-mails and letters from readers bemoaning this deplorable reality that crosses all boundaries and gender lines, running the gamut from the observant to the secular, from the young to the elderly, and from male to female. I could probably keep publishing these letters for many weeks without exhausting the topic, but I think that we are all too familiar with the scene, so instead of belaboring the issue, I invite you, my dear readers, to explore along with me, some big questions:

Why are we so self- destructive? Why are we constantly at each other’s throats? How is it that we fail to realize that the greatest harm that we are inflicting is upon our own selves? As Rabbeinu Bachya taught, “There is no foe that can inflict evil on a man like his own evil deeds.”

And so, the question remains: “How can we, enlightened individuals, products of a sophisticated education, continue to live by the laws of the jungle? The question is all the more puzzling since ours is a generation that has so much to contend with – we can apply the passage, “Ein bayis she’ein sham mes – There no family that does not have to wrestle with some tribulation.”

Additionally, we are surrounded by enemies who are bent on destroying us; so how can it be that we do not unite and reach out to one another? We are all only too aware that when our people, our synagogues, our communities, are torn by machlokes, strife – then every individual in those communities, in those synagogues is also diminished. And when families are destroyed, then every individual member of that unit is left broken and maimed – so again I ask, why are we so self-destructive?

The question challenges all of us, for this scourge affects every Jew. And what’s more, our history testifies that we were cast into our long, dark exile precisely because of this sin of sinas chinam – baseless hatred between Jew and Jew. So why do we persist in this self-destruction? Why can’t we free ourselves from the chains of jealousy, pettiness, animosity and hatred?

If any generation should be sensitive to the urgency of curing ourselves of this disease, it is surely ours. We were witness to the most horrific evil ever to be visited upon mankind, and surely we must realize that that which took Hitler, yemach shemo, years to do, can, G-d forbid, be done today in a matter of minutes…. and that is exactly what Ahmadinejad’s agenda calls for.

So what must it take to awaken us? How much more suffering must we endure until we learn to live by the laws of loving-kindness? What must it take to teach us the two simple little words “I forgive?”

Many will try to rationalize and dismiss the subject by saying, “Rebbetzin, what are you getting all excited about? That’s the reality of today’s world…. It is what it is…. ” Others will dismiss the subject by blaming societal conditions, values and mores: greed, chutzpah, selfishness, jealousy, and hatred…all intrinsic to our culture.

Still others will give it a kosher Torah twist. We are living in the period identified as “Ikvesa D’moshicha” – the generation in which the footsteps of Moshiach can be heard, and that generation, we are told, will witness an escalation of that which is most base and loathsome in human nature.

I don’t buy any of this. To be sure, we do live in a world gone mad, a world in which people have forgotten basics, in which traditional moral values have been eclipsed, in which greed has replaced devotion, indebtedness – entitlement, chutzpah – respect, family cohesiveness – self adulation. Alas, these cultural aberrations do exist, and there is no point in denying them, but all this does not change our reality, which is rooted in timeless Torah values.

From the genesis of our history, we were always in conflict with the times. We marched to the tune of a different drummer and never considered that which was in vogue or politically correct. Our values were set in eternity – they came from Sinai. So no, the cultural rationalizations of the ages did not impact on us… those among us who remained Jews did so precisely because we had the spiritual stamina to say “No!”

As for those who would throw up their hands in futility and hide behind the reality of “Ikvesa d’Moshicha” – that we are living in the period of pre-Messianic times – that rationalization is equally unacceptable. If anything, the awareness that we are living in the period of “Erev Shabbos” should goad us into action so that Moshiach might arrive in peace and blessing rather than through suffering and fire.

Should we not want to do teshuvah and usher in the Messianic period with joy and gladness? But, you might ask, what practical steps can we take to bring about such change?

That, B’Ezrat Hashem, I will discuss in next week’s column.

Family Conflicts Are More Prevalent Than You Think

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009

Special Note: It appears that my articles on the pain of a family torn apart touched sensitive nerves. Sadly, too many of our families have become fragmented; too many are suffering from a lack of shalom bayis. The e-mails and letters that I received are all painful testimony to this breakdown of traditional family life. The following is just one of these letters.

Dear Rebbetzin Jungreis,

Thank you! Thank you for last week’s article and thank you to the young woman who brought the subject to the fore. When I read her letter, I couldn’t believe it, because, for all that, it could have been my family that she was describing – it sounded all too familiar. My mother is also widowed; she is also suffering terribly from family infighting, the only difference being that, in my family, it’s my two sisters-in-law rather than my sisters who are creating the tensions.

We do have one bright side – Baruch Hashem, all the siblings are married so no one has to worry about how this ugly circus will affect his or her shidduch, although I realize that if it isn’t resolved soon, it may spell terrible consequences for the next generation. My oldest niece is 16 – the years go by very quickly, and before you know it, she will be in the shidduch parshah.

Our family situation has deteriorated to the point where my brothers (the husbands of my sisters- in-law) who had been very close are now barely communicating and limit their exchanges to business transactions.

Why are my sisters-in-law at each other’s throats? To be honest, I cannot tell you. Should you ask them, they give you some ridiculous reasons like, “She said this,” “She said that,” and when you hear them speak you wonder: Can these be mature women?

I have come to the conclusion that when jealousy enters a person’s heart, his or her entire demeanor and attitude changes. They pick fights over non-issues and are capable of the most despicable behavior. I guess the converse is also true. People, who are committed to chesed, will be patient and compassionate, and there is no amount of provocation that can reduce them to hatred and family infighting. They always bear in mind those beautiful and powerful words that you emphasized in your article: “She is your sister! How can you not talk to your sister? She is your mother! How can you hurt your mother?”

For the past three years, I tried to mediate between my sisters-in-law. I cajoled, I urged, I actually begged them to make shalom, but it was all to no avail.

Six years ago, our father, of blessed memory, passed away. During this period, my mother never considered remarriage, although there have been some very good prospects. My mother is an attractive, engaging, warm, loving woman, who is still vital and active. Her whole life however, focuses on the family – her children and grandchildren.

When shidduch suggestions were made, she immediately dismissed them telling us that she didn’t want to be put in a position where if she wanted to baby-sit for one of her grandchildren or visit them for Shabbos, she would have to ask a husband for permission. She didn’t want to have a husband who would object or be resentful of the time she spent with her family, which, she felt, was a real possibility in a second marriage. As much as we tried to convince her to build a life for herself, she wouldn’t hear of it. “I have a life, and it is with my children,” she would say with finality.

So you can see, family cohesiveness has always been intrinsic to our mishpachah. Our get-togethers have not been limited to special occasions, like a bar- mitzvah, wedding, or G-d forbid, funeral. We would make a concerted effort to see each other on a regular basis. I share all this with you so that you may better understand how devastated our family has been by this unexpected, shocking situation.

The dynamics of our family life changed radically. Our family gatherings were no longer happening, and if they did take place, they were certainly not the same. If one sister-in-law attended, the other refused to come and this placed a shadow over everything.

Our mother didn’t stop crying, but she was by no means passive. “This is not the nachas that I anticipated in my old age,” she told us. She tried to reason with each of my sisters-in-law separately, but on every occasion she came up against a brick wall. When she pressed hard, she was told that as “a mother-in-law,” she should stay out of it.

But that really made my mother furious. While she is normally a calm, controlled person, she was outraged, “I should stay out of it! Who should be involved if not me! A stranger? Who is affected more, if not me! I’m only the mother and the grandmother! The therapist, neighbors, and friends…they can all be involved, but I must stay out of it? Do any of these people stay up at night worrying, agonizing? Does this painful situation disturb their daily lives, their sleep? Who feels this pain, if not me? And I should stay out of it!”

My mother actually committed these words to writing and sent each of us a copy. “I’m putting you on notice,” she wrote. “I will never stay out of it! I am your mother, your grandmother, and you are my children. As long as I live, I will fight to keep my family united!” My mother meant it, and she has not budged from that position.

Despite my mother’s determination, the family situation deteriorated. Often, my sisters-in-law didn’t even call to wish her a good Shabbos, but that didn’t inhibit my mom. She called them and was relentless. You can imagine that when the story of the two sisters appeared in your column, it hit hard. My mother cut it out, made photocopies and sent it to my sisters-in-law as well as to all my other siblings…. My sisters-in-law did not react, so my mother asked them if they got the article.

“Yes,” they said, but instead of showing shame and contrition, they nonchalantly remarked that such is the reality of family life nowadays, and it would be best for my mother to get used to it. Needless to say, my mother was outraged by their chutzpah and was more determined than ever to do everything possible to unite the family.

So the following week, when your reply appeared in The Jewish Press and you wrote about the terrible horrific ramifications that can result when hatred goes unchecked in a family, my mom once again cut out your article and highlighted the powerful list enumerating the “Dayenu” that you wrote demonstrating how each contemptuous hostile act was, in and of itself, a horrible blight on the neshamah, a terrible sin.

After she sent your column out to the family, she let two days pass, and then she called my sisters-in-law with the daring suggestion that we all go to see you as a family. Initially, they refused, but my mom wouldn’t give up until finally, she wore them down and they agreed to give it a try.

By this time, Rebbetzin, I’m sure you recognize who I am. We visited your office just last night. I felt that I must write to you in the name of our entire family to thank you for your patience, even when we taxed it mightily. Baruch Hashem, the miracle did occur. We came to your office fragmented, and we left as a mishpachah.

I’m not saying that everything is perfect. It is by no means as simple as that, but the walls of hatred have been breached, and we are interacting – communicating – and that’s huge.

So, if we are on the way to mending, your readers may wonder, why am I writing? For two simple reasons: 1) People always write about bad news – seldom do they share good news and say thank you. 2) Additionally, I believe that we can all borrow a page from my mom. She never gave up. She refused to resign herself to the situation. She fought and fought until we all saw a light at the end of the tunnel.

Even as I write these words, she is planning a family Chanukah party and has given notice to everyone in the family that they all better show up. My maternal grandfather was a Kohen and it occurred to me that my mother must have inherited her determination to make peace from Aaron, the High Priest…about whom it is written, “He loved peace and he pursued peace.”

Please feel free to publish my letter but may I ask you to omit our names. Wishing you a Simchas Chanukah on behalf of our entire family. We thank you!

I Too Was There

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

Special Note: In last week’s column I published a tragic letter from a young Israeli girl who was at death’s door. Subsequently, I received much e-mail in response to her painful cry, and I will share one of them with you. Next week I will respond to the letters.

Dear Rebbetzin Jungreis:

The letter that you published in your last column broke me up. When I read it I couldn’t stop crying. It hit me in a very sensitive spot, for I too was there.

Before I relate my story may I ask that if you decide to publish my letter, please omit my name? I do hope that you will share my experience with your readers. If just one person learns from it, I will feel amply rewarded.

In many ways, my story is similar to that of Revital, a”h, your letter writer. I too was raised in a religious home and attended yeshivos, but despite it all, I lost my way and began to conduct myself in an inappropriate manner, unbefitting a bas Yisroel. The underlying causes were different from Revital; I was not blessed with special beauty… I did not have long, gorgeous hair. As a matter of fact, I don’t think anyone ever considered me pretty…. so that which pushed me over the edge was not that which was the undoing of Revital, although the end result was almost the same.

Revital wrote that she enjoyed people staring at her and commenting on her “exceptional beauty.” I guess that psychologists would say that my lack of good looks led me in the same direction. I also wanted people to look at me. I, too, wanted to call attention to my appearance, although, I never consciously made such a decision, nor was I ever aware that that was the underlying motivation for my rebellion.

It was a therapist who made that assessment and planted the thought in my mind. Maybe she was right – maybe she wasn’t, but it makes no difference. Bottom line, I lost my way. All I can say is that when I look back upon those years, I wonder what on earth I could have been thinking of. How could I have been such an idiot? How could I have been so self-destructive? How could I have caused my parents such terrible grief?

I remember the day when by mother was called by the yeshiva and told to find another school for me. My desperate parents had difficulty finding a yeshiva that would accept me. I remember seeing my mother’s tears, and yet I refused to see them. I remember hearing my father’s voice and yet, I chose not to hear him. I don’t know how I could have been so insensitive to the two people who loved me the most.

My siblings were mortified. My sister, who was up for a shidduch, was terrified that, because of me, she would never receive any recommendations. There was constant tension in the house, and with each passing day, I grew more and more obdurate.

Then, one summer day, I had a most agonizing wake-up call. My sister, that beautiful, pure soul, who was hoping to find a shidduch, was in a terrible car accident. Her life was hanging by a thread. Our entire family was destroyed. How could such a tragedy befall a girl who was such a perfect embodiment of chesed, so totally devoted to Torah and mitzvos? I felt responsible…surely, I thought, it must be because of me.

But then I thought, “Why would Hashem punish my wonderful sister because of my sins? It didn’t make sense. Don’t go on a guilt trip,” I told myself. Still, the feeling that I was somehow responsible kept gnawing at my heart. I tried to rationalize my emotions.

“Don’t get carried away…don’t lose it,” I said to myself. I wanted to daven for my sister, but I felt hypocritical taking a siddur in my hand. I had given up davening a long time ago, so I continued along my old path, behaving as I always did, and yet, the feeling that somehow, it was all my fault, gave me no peace.

I couldn’t stand seeing my parents’ suffering; I couldn’t bear seeing my bubbie crying day and night, and while no one said anything to me, I felt that they were all pointing a finger at me and blaming me.

My sister had to undergo several surgical procedures, which were followed by rehab. One day, while visiting her at the rehab center, she asked to speak to me privately. With tears running down her beautiful cheeks, she asked me to do her a favor. “If you will do teshuvah,” she said, “if you will give up all this craziness, if you will daven for me, in that merit, Hashem will grant me a refuah shlaimah. Please,” she pleaded. “Do it for me!”

I felt resentful and angry. Why was I being blamed? Was my sister suggesting that it was my fault that she had this accident? “That’s ridiculous,” I told myself. “She’s trying to lay a guilt trip on me . I’m not going to listen. I felt myself hardening and rejecting her pleas and continued my old ways. But I felt more and more troubled. My life became suffocating. What only yesterday I had regarded as “fun” and “exciting” became ugly and oppressive. I felt repelled by the “craziness” that was reflective of my life style, but I also felt that I had traveled too far and it was too late to come home.

Then, someone gave me your book, Life Is A Test. Actually it was given to me so that I might give it to my sister, who was making slow, painful progress. I thumbed through the pages and came upon the story of Nikki – Nechama, whose experience was, in many ways, similar to my own. I read her story and I couldn’t stop crying.

You probably won’t remember, but I e-mailed you at that time and asked how I could start on the long journey home, never expecting you to reply. But I received an answer immediately, and you wrote something that I will never forget – something that I found life transforming. You related the story of a man who, even as I, wanted to discover the path that would lead him home. He consulted a Rebbe and asked, “How far is the path of teshuvah?”

The Rebbe gazed at him quizzically and replied, “As far as East is from West.”

“So far!” the man cried out in dismay.

“No,” the Rebbe answered calmly – so near. You just have to make one turn in the right direction and if you do that, Hashem will take your hand and show you the way.”

I ran to the hospital – I shared your e-mail with my sister. We hugged and cried and discussed how I would make that turn, and Baruch Hashem, I did.

It’s now three years later. Baruch Hashem, my sister recovered and was married just a few weeks ago, and I am on my way. I am engaged to an amazing man who understands where I was and appreciates how I came back. B’Ezrat Hashem, I will be married after Sukkot. I will be sending you an invitation and hope that you will come, even if it’s just to the chuppah. It would mean so much to all of us.

I write this letter, not only to share my story, which, Baruch Hashem, has a happy ending, unlike that of Revital, but also because there is a question that keeps bothering me… “Why did my poor sister have to suffer because of me? It’s so unfair.”

Mind you, I’m not, chas v’shalom, questioning G-d’s justice, but still, I don’t understand why someone so innocent and pure should have had to pay for my sins? If you could shed some light on this, I would be most grateful.

In gratitude, wishing you a Kesivah V’Chasimah Tovah.

How Do We Understand That Which Is Unfolding? (Part Two)

Wednesday, July 8th, 2009

Special Note: In last week’s column I wrote about the seemingly inexplicable events that are unfolding throughout the world. How do we understand the demonization of Israel, the new escalation of anti-Semitism, and the preponderance of Islamic terrorists throughout the world?

Whenever we encounter challenges, be they major or minor, general or personal, it is always best to consult the Torah. But, you might ask, where are we to look? To which page should we turn?

It is always best to focus on the first place the subject is mentioned for the first is always definitive. So if we are to understand Yishmael and the terror he is inflicting, we should turn to the very first time we encounter him in the Torah.

In the Book of Genesis (16:11), the angel of G-d appears before Hagar and informs her that, ” she will have a son whom she is to call Yishmael. He will be a “Pere Adam – a wild donkey of a man…his hand will be into everything and everyone’s hand will be with him all over the world.” For thousands of years, this prophecy seemed farfetched and irrelevant. The descendants of Yishmael were a backward, nomadic people – certainly not major players on the world scene.

But we are the generation of Ikvesa d’Moshicha – the generation that precedes the coming of Messiah that has been destined to see the fulfillment of this prophecy, that will have to contend with the terrible tribulations and suffering that Yishmael will inflict.

Indeed, our own eyes have seen the barbaric savagery of which this “Pere Adam” is capable. Do you recall Daniel Pearl, who, prior to being beheaded, was forced to proclaim his crime, “I am a Jew?” And we have since seen multitudes of Daniel Pearls. Do you recall the Israeli soldier who was kidnapped and brought to Ramallah? They didn’t simply kill him – they hacked him to pieces and then threw his mutilated body out of the window and even as they did so, they gleefully held up their bloody hands in a sign of victory while the mob danced and stomped on his corpse.

But why, you might ask, am I bringing up yesterday’s news? Precisely because it’s not yesterday’s news. Alas, it is today. Each and every day our plight becomes more critical. We are the generation that has been destined to see Yishmael’s long arm reaching out to all, all reaching out to him, establishing cells in every country, on every continent.

With the passage of time, however, we have become inured, and we no longer understand that which our eyes behold, and that which our ears hear. We have bought into the world’s propaganda: “It’s all politics. It’s all because of Israel. … Israel must be more flexible, and then peace will be attained.” So, the pundits have come up with many solutions – the foremost being, two states living side by side.

A two-state solution will not do it however – Yishmael has no interest in it. He is determined that there be only one state – a “Yishmaeli” state in which the Moslem laws of Sharia prevail. Thousands of years ago in the Torah, our mother Sarah foresaw this and prophetically declared, “The son of this handmaiden shall not inherit with my son!” Yishmael cannot share this land with Isaac!

But our generation has chosen to disregard our mother Sarah’s warning. It considers itself smarter than G-d’s Torah and spurns the gift of the land that G-d gave us, the Jewish people, as an eternal inheritance. We follow our own paths, the machinations of our own hearts and assure ourselves that we can make it come out right. We tell ourselves that we need only make a deal and negotiate. After all, people are reasonable. If they are approached peacefully and amicably, they will respond in kind. So we have made deal after deal only to see more and more carnage.

We even did that which no sovereign nation in the annals of mankind has ever done. We forcibly evicted our own people from their homes, uprooted them from their farms – from the beautiful gardens that they created from the wastelands of the deserts. We ejected them from their synagogues and then went on to destroy those houses of worship. We made our people refugees in their own land, and we did all this to appease Yishmael.

Not surprisingly, Yishmael expressed his appreciation for our largesse and sacrifice by launching Kassam rockets against our towns and villages, terrorizing our men, women and children day and night.

You might think that after all this we would have learned our lesson. You might think that the world would finally understand. But no such luck. The more vicious Yishmael becomes, the more olive branches are thrown at his feet, the more pressure placed upon Israel.

This pressure emanates, not only from traditional, anti-Semitic sources, but from our American government as well. The concessions that Washington demands of Israel are nothing short of suicidal. And yet, no one seems to care.

Additionally, the administration has given the green light to Iran’s nuclear power program, provided, of course, it is used only for peaceful purposes! If it weren’t so tragic, it would be laughable. Don’t they realize that we…no, the entire world, heard Achmadinejad openly proclaim his intention to wipe Israel off the map?

So what, you may ask, is the solution? What are we to do? How are we to deal with Yishmael and our menacing world?

There is an answer to that, too, in the Torah. It is right there staring us in the face. We need only open our eyes. Even as our crises emanates from Yishmael, so does our solution. It is to be found in his name, which means “Yishma-Keil – G-d will listen.” We need only turn to G-d in genuine prayer and our salvation will come. It is as simple as that.

You might smile at my naiveté, but there is nothing naive about the Word of G-d. It is the only truth that has passed the test of time. I, a survivor of the Holocaust, can testify to that. If we would only allow a moment of truth to illuminate our hearts, we would readily concede our pitiful state. Just consider that we, the nation that has taught a pagan world about G-d… that introduced the language of prayer to humanity… that has lent meaning to the concept of faith and trust, has forgotten how to turn to turn to G-d, to trust Him, to have faith in Him and pray to Him.

To be sure, there are those among us who do storm the Heavenly Gates with sincere, heartfelt prayers, but sadly, they are few and far between, while the vast majority squirms at such simplistic concepts and has difficulty reaching out to G-d. We are a nation that is bound by a common covenant, which renders us all responsible, one for the other. It is as one that we stood at Sinai and proclaimed, “Na’aseh V’Nishma – We shall do it and we shall study it,” and it is as one that we must now return to our G-d.

The time has come to don our priestly garments – the time has come to give meaning to the beautiful prayer that we chant every Lail Shabbos – Shabbos eve, “Shake off the dust, arise! Don your glorious clothes, O My people…” (Lechah Dodi).

Stop and consider for a moment the painful irony. Americans have no difficulty singing “G-d Bless America.” Yishmael has no difficulty proclaiming the name of Allah at every opportunity, but we, the nation that stood at Sinai… that heard the voice of G-d, that was given this holy land by Him, have difficulty declaring His Holy Name. Just consider that HaTikvah, the national anthem of Israel reborn, the song in which we express our eternal hope to return to Zion, fails to mention G-d, who gave us Zion – Who gave us our promised land.

The lament of the Prophet Isaiah speaks to us anew: – “An ox knows its keeper, a donkey the hand that feeds it, but Israel does not know My people do not perceive.” How long will this go on? When will we wake up?

We need only seize the moment; we need only cry out to our Heavenly Father. He is waiting for each and every one of us. We dare not sleep. We dare not remain silent!

Shalom Bayis – Building A Family (Part Three)

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

Special Note: For the past two weeks, my columns have focused on ways and means to establish shalom bayis in our homes and our families. The following is the third installment of this series.

Peace is a most precious gift. Our sages teach that in its absence all our attainments are of no avail.  If we do not have shalom, we have nothing and how well those who lack it know this. Even the most magnificent palace, even enormous wealth, cannot compensate for turmoil, animosity and abuse. Sadly, our generation is plagued by conflict and contention…. contention between husband and wife, contention between the generations, and contention in families and communities. All this despite a plethora of self-help programs including therapy, vast amounts of literature and programs dedicated to the subject. Can it be that there is something in our value system that contributes toward splintered relationships and fragmented families?

There is a saying In Yiddish, “Azoy vee es…. ” the way the non-Jewish world goes, so goes the Jewish world.” So let us, if ever so briefly, examine some of the most popular adages of our culture and determine whether they are in consonance with our Torah way of life.

1) “It’s my life ” I owe it to myself. It’s time for me to be selfish.” People bent upon breaking up their families often try to justify their actions with such rationalizations, but is this the Torah outlook? Is it really your life? Does the Torah endorse selfishness? These are popular adages that people parrot and have accepted as non-debatable truths, but do they conform to our Torah way of life?

Very often, when people tell me, “It’s my life,” I challenge them with “Really? What part of your life did you create? Your eyes? Your ears? Which organ? Which limb? Moreover, did you will yourself to be born? Did you choose to be a child of the family that gave you life, or was it all the Hand of G-d?”

Our lives are gifts from Hashem for which we are eternally indebted to Him. Consequently we have a responsibility to safeguard and justify the gift of life that He gave us. In keeping with this idea, just before the conclusion of our prayers, we pronounce a most poignant prayer: “Please G-d, grant that I should not have labored in vain, and that I should not have been born for naught.”

No, our lives are not our own to do with as we wish. Our souls, our very bodies were given to us by our Creator to fulfill the special purpose for which He created us. So next time someone tells you “It’s my life, don’t just sit by silently, but remind him that one day he will have to give an accounting, not just of every day that G-d granted him, but of every minute… even every second, that he spent on this earth. So when, G-d forbid, someone abuses his/her family, it’s not one’s personal business. Rather, it is the business of the entire family and more -the entire nation, for with every splintered family, the fabric of the nation is weakened.

2) Scapegoating “It wasn’t my fault…. I’m just a victim”is yet another rationalization that people use to justify their aberrations and betrayals. There is nothing novel about this rationale. It is as old as man himself.

Adam, the first man, invoked the ire of G-d when he responded to G-d’s question of Ayeka – Where are you?” – that can also be read as “Eichah ” How?” (How did you do this?), with the infamous words: HaIshah – the woman that you gave me… she made me do it.” Thus, he was the first to shirk responsibility and scapegoat. The woman followed suit and pointed her finger at the nachash – the serpent. Both of their responses were unacceptable to Hashem. The Torah demands that, instead of accusing others for our shortcomings, we confront ourselves in all honesty, accept responsibility for our deeds, and make amends. Shifting blame gives license to continue the same hostile, sick behavior. On the other hand, confronting ourselves in truth and accepting responsibility for our deeds, is the path to teshuvah, which leads to new life, renewed commitment, and the fulfillment of our mission.

3) “Why? Why me? Life is unfair…what’s the use of it all?” Such “Why’s” can only lead to cynicism, bitterness, anger, or self-pity and depression. Instead of asking “Why?” I urge people to pose the same question in Lashon HaKodesh ” the holy tongue, for in Lashon HaKodesh, every word is definitive. Thus, while “why” evokes frustration, madua – the Hebrew version, leads to growth and development, for madua can be heard as, mah dei’ah – What can I learn from this? What wisdom can I glean from this?” or Lamah – l’ mah? To what end is this happening? How do I grow and become wiser and more mature from this?

Thus, the Torah teaches us to look upon our challenges and difficulties as opportunities for growth rather than as cause for cynicism and self-pity.

I recall a young couple coming to see me. She was determined to get a divorce while he was bent on saving the marriage. I asked to speak to her privately. Give me specifics,” I said.

Upon closer scrutiny, everything that she brought up turned out to be a non-issue certainly no reason for so drastic a step as divorce. I pointed out to her that when couples divorce, in the Beit HaMikdash of the Heavens above, the Mizbe’ach – the Altar, weeps.

Why the Mizbe’ach? Why not the Menorah or some other sacred item? The answer, our sages teach, is that the Altar weeps as if to say, “If only they had tried a little more…If only they had made a little more sacrifice.”

After offering further arguments, none of which showed justification for a divorce, she finally blurted out that her love had dried up and she no longer had feelings for him.  I’m still young,” she said, “and there is no reason for me to stay in a loveless marriage.

I told her that in Lashon HaKodesh, the word love ” ahavah comes from the root “hav” to give. Has it ever occurred to you,” I asked, that the reason why your love dried up is because you stopped giving? Take your cue from nature,” I advised, “When a nursing mother stops nursing, her milk dries up. And this is valid in every area. Start giving again, and your love will return.”

4. “I am entitled! You owe it to me.” We have created a “me” entitlement generation, best expressed in Yiddish with “Es kumt mir” It’s coming to me.” We are short on sacrifice but long on demand. We know how to take, but we don’t know how to give. We are all wrapped up in our own needs and fail to see the needs of others. We know how to cry for ourselves, but we are not good at crying for others. People who are in conflict never want to consider how destructive their actions are or the permanent scars their deeds will leave on those nearest and dearest. They parrot the popular catch phrases, “I owe it to myself” It’s my time to be selfish… It’s not my fault. The time has come for me to be good to myself,” never realizing that no man is an island unto himself and if he hurts others, it is not only his family and community that will suffer ” it is he who will suffer the most.

As we prepare for Kabbalat HaTorah, it’s time for all of us to return to the well-trodden, trusted path of our ancestors “the path of Torah” the path of Shalom.

Peace at Home And Among Our People (Part Two)

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2009

Special Note: In my last column, I discussed the tragic consequences of  Sinas Chinam jealousy and hatred of the brothers toward Joseph that cast us into our first exile in Egypt, which continues to plague us to this very day. The following is a continuation of that column:

It is well known that the story of “Kamtza and Bar Kamtza” was pivotal to our exile but we have yet to learn the lesson of that shameful tragedy. The very title of the story is puzzling, since the controversy was not between Kamtza and Bar Kamtza, but between Bar Kamtza and the anonymous host of the party. Why is Kamtza implicated?

To refresh our memories: A gentleman in Yerushalayim made a party. He had a best friend named Kamtza and an enemy whom he despised named Bar Kamtza. He sent his servant to invite Kamtza to his party, but his servant mistakenly delivered the invitation to his enemy, Bar Kamtza. Happily, Bar Kamtza came to the party only to be ordered to leave.

Mortified, he pleaded to be allowed to stay. He even offered to pay for the cost of the party, but his host remained adamant and had him thrown out. So, the question remains – why is Kamtza, the good friend, who never even made it to the party, implicated? Why is he named as a central player?

As a best friend, Kamtza had to be aware that his friend’s heart was filled with animosity and hatred. It would have been his responsibility to warn his friend not to allow such venom to overtake him. So too should the rabbis and all the other guests at the party have taken a strong stand and protested. But everyone remained silent and thereby countenanced this shameful act. Those same people would surely have protested had they seen their host serving treif, so how could they have remained impervious to his reprehensible behavior, which was a pure manifestation of sinas chinam – a treif manner of behavior?

We are all familiar with the teaching of Chazal that calls upon us to be among the disciples of Aharon, Kohen Gadol, and pursue peace among our fellow man. In Judaism, the pursuit of peace is so critical we are even permitted to bend the truth for its sake. When there is a conflict between emes and shalom, emes must take a back seat, for there is no greater good than shalom. So, it is that Aaron had no problem telling two warring parties that the other regretted his actions and wanted to make peace even though that may have been far from the truth.

We, however, not only fail to generate peace, but consciously or unconsciously, we often incite further discord. It behooves all of us to ask ourselves whether we are among the disciples of Aaron or those who attended the infamous party from which Bar Kamtza was ousted.

This question is all the more pertinent to us, for we are the generation that has been destined to live in this trying period of Chevlei Moshiach when, with every passing day, our trials and tribulations intensify. So the question remains B how can we spare ourselves this intense pain that is endemic to this period and speedily bring about the geulah?

But how do we go about making peace and fostering it among our family, our community and our people? Obviously, every conflict, every situation, is different, but the first step is to unlock the heart sealed by hatred. Experience has taught me that the best way to accomplish this is through Torah study and a story that has the power to reach the heart.

In one of my books, I tell the story of the Maggid of Kelm. On one occasion, he challenged his congregation and asked, If, chas v’shalom, Moshiach does not come in our lifetime and we are buried here in Kelm and then one day, we receive an invitation to arise from our graves and return to Kelm for half-an-hour, what would you do? Where would you go? And what would you say?”

Very often, I challenge my audiences with this very same question. What would you do? Where would you do? And what would you say? Would you check on your business, go shopping, to the gym? Would you visit your family? And if you did, what would you say?

On 9/11 we found out. For the very first time, something happened on that day that we had never encountered. Thousands of people were trapped in the Twin Towers. They knew that they were going to die, and somehow, they succeeded in sending out a last message. Tragically, there is nothing new about people being killed and dying, but this was the very first time that we had a recorded message from those facing death. Amazingly, they all got through on their cell phones.

Incredibly, they all left the same message B three little words, I love you…I love you Mom…I love you Dad…I love you, my husband…I love you, my wife…I love you, my children… I love you Grandma I love you Grandpa – I love you all so much!

I allow the people to digest the story and then I ask, Should we not say, “I love you” before it is too late? All the things that we fight about – money, kavod…Is it really worth it? In the end, when all is said and done, it’s all shtuot – nonsense. So once again I ask, Is it really worth it? Is it really worth destroying those who are nearest and dearest to you?” When these two preparatory steps are taken you can anticipate that you will succeed in making shalom. I learned this lesson long ago from my revered father, Harav HaGaon Rav Avraham HaLevi Jungreis, zt”l.

At the end of WWII we were taken to a DP camp in Switzerland. A group of Polish young men, all of whom had undergone horrific, torturous experiences in Auschwitz arrived at our camp. They were orphans, angry, bitter, and openly expressed their hostility toward Judaism and Hashem. No one had much to do with them, but my father could not bear to see Yiddisheh neshamos so affected. He didn’t argue with them or admonish them, nor did he give them mussar. Instead, every night, my father went to their dormitory and said the Shema with them. Then he would go to each bed, give each boy a brachah and a kiss. Thus, my father converted their anger, and bitterness into faith, commitment and love.

The lesson of my father has guided me in my efforts to make shalom and unify family members. But those lessons should guide all of us, for they belong to our people.

(To Be Continued)

Our Lives Have Been Turned Upside Down

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009

Special Note: Many have asked where I will be speaking this Pesach. I am happy to relate that I will be at the Fairmont Banff Springs in Alberta, Canada.

I have just returned from an exhilarating visit to Costa Rica and I can attest that the pintele Yid, the tiny spark that Hashem embedded in our souls is very much alive. In every Yiddish neshamah, that pintele Yid is so powerful that it breaks down all barriers, cultural or linguistic. The language of our Torah overcomes all.

As I prepare this column, once again, I am traveling. This time, B’Ezrat Hashem, on a speaking tour of Europe, culminating with a program in Jerusalem.

A few weeks ago, in the midst of all this heavy scheduling, my column arrived late at The Jewish Press and missed the publication deadline, but I guess that everything is basherte- for as a result, I was inundated with communications from many kind readers, for which I am deeply grateful.

If you recall, in my previous column I invited you to share the challenges you’re experiencing in these difficult times, and how you are overcoming them. I am now pleased to share another letter with you.

Dear Rebbetzin Jungreis:

I can’t begin to tell you how important your column has been in this most trying period. To one extent or another, everyone has been tested by the financial meltdown…. some of us more than others, and I’m afraid that my family falls into that category. Allow me to give you some background:

My husband is 40 years old, and I am 36. We have three adorable children and always had a good life, which, in retrospect, I realize I never fully appreciated. My husband was a successful investment banker and earned a very good living; I had a full-time housekeeper, a nanny, and a car service at my disposal. I never thought twice about the cost of things – my credit card was always available, and if I liked something, I bought it. In the winter, we vacationed in Florida or skied in Aspen. Life was good, although, as I said earlier, I never really appreciated it. Somehow I thought that was the way it had to be.

Then, a year-and-a-half ago, our world crumbled. The unbelievable occurred… Overnight, my husband’s company collapsed, and literally disappeared. Our stocks became worthless, and suddenly our lives turned upside down. We panicked, and our emotions ran the gamut from anger to depression. I couldn’t sleep, and when I did drop off, I had nightmares and woke up in a sweat a few minutes later. My husband was even more troubled. We sought help from our therapist, but then quickly realized that we could no longer afford the luxury of her services…. so even that solace was denied us.

My husband tried desperately to find a job, but there was nothing available. We were living on our savings, and very quickly, that too vanished. Our nerves were on edge, and we fought continuously. To say the least, our home, which had always been more or less serene, became a tumultuous place. My husband told me that we would have to let the housekeeper and nanny go and use public transportation. I was devastated.

To be candid, I had never done laundry – I didn’t even know how to use the washing machine. Our children were in private schools and we could no longer afford the tuition. We didn’t have religion or faith to sustain us. Neither my husband nor I came from observant homes, and our Jewish connection was, at best, minimal. We went to Temple on the High Holy Days and contributed to U.J.A…. and that was about it. No one ever taught us how to turn to G-d in prayer. My husband was Bar Mitzvah in a Reform Temple, and I received no Jewish education at all.

We soon realized that we had to give up our apartment in Manhattan. No matter how diligently my husband searched for work, there was nothing available. Our lives became a nightmare. Neither my parents nor in-laws could help us since they too were hard hit and lost much of their retirement money.

I just couldn’t adjust, and then, one of my friends, who had been going to your classes, gave me a set of your books. In The Committed Marriage I read the story of Jackie and Michael, and I saw myself. I wept through every page and re-read every chapter. Then I read The Committed Life and that book opened up a beautiful Jewish world to me and I clung to it tenaciously. But your book, Life Is A Test made the biggest difference. Suddenly I saw my trials and tribulations as tests and challenges that I could either win or lose.

I was determined to win – to be stronger than the material possessions that we lost. I made my husband read your book as well, and in my mind, I kept repeating your words: “Instead of battling each other, help and encourage each other; Instead of shouting and screaming, impart kind loving words and protect your children from further pain.” Your story of the couple who lost all their holdings and were determined not to lose its shalom bayis (a new term that I learned from you), impacted on me in a really strong way.

I guess by now you recognize who I am, because, not too long ago, my husband and I came to see you, and you advised him to take any job… and you emphasized “any” just so that there could be bread on the table. You told us to start coming to classes and discover the “life- transforming” teachings of Torah, the language of prayer and the beauty of Shabbos – and we did.

My husband still has not found employment in his field, but he did find some work which he never would have considered had you not encouraged it and shared with us how your revered father and husband, eminent rabbis, did just that when they arrived penniless in America. We try not to miss your classes.

Our difficulties have not abated, but we keep reminding ourselves to be strong for each other and our children. As challenging as it is, we made up our minds to pass this test. To all those who have had similar experiences I can only say, “Don’t give up! Don’t allow your anger or depression to take over your life. Such an option is self-destructive. Try the Torah way, and please forgive me if I sound preachy, but Torah is a powerhouse that imbues us with faith that is stronger than any adversity.

This is not to say we don’t have our dark moments, but faith gives us something to fall back on…to cling to. Of course, we are still novices and taking baby-steps, but just the same, we are on the path and for that, I am eternally grateful to you. Please keep writing and speaking.

In appreciation,

Your Student

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