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April 1, 2015 / 12 Nisan, 5775
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Posts Tagged ‘Ten Commandments’

The Wisdom within the Law

Thursday, February 16th, 2012

The Torah portion of Mishpatim deals primarily with the civil laws that govern communal interaction. The fact that these decrees are given at this point – directly after the Hebrew tribes receive the Ten Commandments – shows a clear distinction between Western religions and Israel’s Torah. In truth, the Jewish nation has no such concept as “religion” in the formal sense of the term, as we reject the notion of anything lying outside the realm of HaShem. It is Israel’s mission to elevate every sphere of Creation by infusing it with kedusha and bringing it to its highest potential in our world.

Western civilization generally views religious observance as something limited to an individual’s private sphere of ritual and prayer. This erroneous perception constructs a false division between private service to G-D and the way a person treats his fellow man. The Torah recognizes no such distinction as all areas of life are intertwined and holiness derives from ethical business dealings and proper military conduct no less than from piety in matters of Torah study and prayer. The Sages teach that a Jew wishing to be live a pious life should be scrupulous in matters of civil law (Baba Kamma 30a). From this it is derived that the seat of the Sanhedrin should be on the Temple Mount, for both the Temple and the Sanhedrin are expressions of HaShem’s Ideal in this world. A judge who rules properly is considered a partner in Creation while one who judges corruptly is called a destroyer of G-D’s world. It is therefore appropriate that immediately after carrying Am Yisrael through the recognition of HaShem’s power, the miracles of the Sea and the revelation at Sinai, the Torah commences with precepts that seem almost mundane in character but are in fact no less expressions of HaShem’s greater Ideal than is the first of the Ten Commandments proclaiming His existence and sovereignty over all.

In the book of Melachim I (Kings 1), the Queen of Sheba visits the Israeli Kingdom of Shlomo. At the commencement of her visit, she expresses great skepticism regarding international rumors of the monarch’s wisdom. But after observing the way in which the Hebrew society functioned, the visiting queen is astounded. She immediately begins to praise Shlomo’s wisdom and HaShem’s supremacy, recognizing kedusha not merely in how Israelis observed Shabbat or brought korbanot to the Temple, but also in the way the realm functioned day-to-day. She expressed immense admiration for every aspect of the Hebrew Kingdom, down to the way in which the servants were dressed. Sheba discovered that Israel’s Torah encompasses all of national and even international existence, including the most seemingly mundane aspects of life.

The Divine Ideal of Am Yisrael existing as a kingdom of priests and a holy nation necessitates the sanctification of every aspect of individual and national life, revealing the unity of HaShem as encompassing all. While any gentile can be a righteous and holy individual, only Israel has the potential to be a holy nation, expressing kedusha in every facet of nationhood. Only through establishing such a holy kingdom can the Jewish people fulfill our collective mission of bringing Creation to its ultimate goal of total perfection and awareness of HaShem.

Communicating With A Teenager

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

For both parents and teenagers alike, adolescence can be a very hard time. Unfortunately, when family life gets rough, communication tends to break down. And when it does, parents need to restore their ability to relate to their teenagers by learning about the rules of communication.


Without question, parents find it hard to deal with teenagers who are unpleasant to talk to or who limit their communication to grunts or short answers that stop abruptly at “yes” or “no.”


One of the most difficult breakdowns in communication I have ever seen was between a twelfth grade student, Rachel, and her parents. When Rachel came home after school and walked through the door, terror entered with her.  Her parents explained to me that Rachel often avoided communicating with them altogether, but when she did speak, she was insulting and would respond rudely to innocent questions such as, “How was your day?” or “What would you like for dinner?”  This pattern of behavior would enrage Rachel’s parents so much that they found themselves constantly screaming at and insulting their daughter. Unfortunately the situation got so bad that lately Rachel was staying in her room, locking her door and screaming at her parents when they tried to enter.


When I first saw Rachel’s parents, they were very pessimistic about their daughter’s future. For years they had tried to calm her anger by buying her presents and clothing.  They even offered her rewards just for talking to them, but nothing seemed to work.


Clearly this serious communication problem needed to be resolved. After finding out more about Rachel’s background and relationships, I began to speak to her parents about some of the key principles of relationships and I suggested that they begin to practice the Ten Commandments of Communication.


The Ten Commandments of Communication

Although they are not etched in stone, the Ten Commandments of Communication form the basis of relationship-centered communication with a teenager.


This is how it works. On one tablet are five “Thou Shalt Nots,” and on the other tablet, five “Thou Shalts.”Both sides are equally important.  The Thou Shalt Nots represent the types of words that tend to destroy a relationship, whereas the Thou Shalts can improve the relationship and bring teenagers and parents closer together.


Thou Shalt Not                                             Thou Shalt

Insult                                                     Compliment

Judge                                                        Accept

Blame                                                     Encourage

Insinuate                                                    Empathize

Embarrass                                                Find the Good

The Ten Commandments Of Communication



In Rachel’s case, I suggested that her parents work very hard to not use the Thou Shalt Nots.  When they talked to Rachel, they needed to avoid all forms of criticism and control.  The goal was to bring Rachel closer and not push her away through negative language.  Although their daughter may be insulting and often use the ThouShalts Nots, Rachel’s parents should not respond in kind.  Rather, they should focus primarily on the Thou Shalts and try to empathize with her.


It’s a fact of life that the Thou Shalt Nots are bound to distance people from one another.  No one enjoys being criticized, blamed or belittled for their behavior.  Worse, parents who rely on pressure tactics to force their teenagers to change often create a negative environment that breeds more mistrust and anger in their teens. However, when parents follow the Thou Shalts and use words that are caring and compassionate, they can create a warmer and friendlier relationship.


Take a moment to review your relationship with your teenager.  Are your words accepting, friendly, compassionate and understanding?  Or are they critical, aggressive, insulting or belittling?


By looking at the Ten Commandments, you can evaluate whether you are transgressing the Thou Shalt Nots or fulfilling the Thou Shalts of communication. If the content and tone of the conversations you are having are angry, critical and confrontational, then it’s up to you to move over to the positive commandments and to improve the tone and content of your words.  I would suggest that the ratio of positive to negative words should always remain four to one.  As we learned earlier, the relationship parents can build is like a wise investment.  Each positive word is one more coin in a parent’s emotional savings account with their teenager.


Also, always measure your words before they are spoken.  Strive to convey this positive inner message: “I love you and care about you and I want to deepen our relationship,” and evaluate whether what you are about to say will push your child further away or bring him or her closer.


For about two months, I worked with Rachel’s family to reduce their use of criticism and to have them compliment her whenever they had a chance.  At first, changing their style of communication seem awkward to them, but slowly they began to see that without criticism, Rachel was more willing to talk.


Rabbi Daniel Schonbuch, MA, is a Marriage and Family Therapist specializing in marriage counseling and teens at risk. He is the author of “At Risk – Never Beyond Reach” and “First Aid for Jewish Marriages.” To order a copy, visit www.JewishMarriageSupport.com. For an appointment call 646-428-4723.

‘America Is Better Served By A Religiously Vibrant Christianity’ An Interview with Rabbi Daniel Lapin

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010

   To some non-Jews, he is simply “America’s rabbi.” Rabbi Daniel Lapin — great-nephew of the widely revered mussar personality, Reb Elya Lapian — lectures across America to audiences both Jewish and Christian, produces audio CDs on such issues as marriage, the Ten Commandments, and the ill effects of vulgar speech, and disseminates a weekly e-mail called Thought Tools.


      The South African-born rabbi, who received semicha from England’s Gateshead yeshiva, Israel’s Kfar Chassidim yeshiva, and Ner Yisroel’s Rabbi Yaakov Yitzchok Ruderman, also hosts a weekly TV and radio show and has authored several books, including Buried Treasure: Secrets for Living from the Lord’s Language and Thou Shall Prosper: Ten Commandments for Making Money.


      He currently heads the American Alliance of Jews and Christians.


      The Jewish Press recently interviewed him after he returned home from the Second Annual Torah Home Education Conference in Baltimore. He and his wife home-schooled all seven of their children.


      The Jewish Press: How did you get started lecturing to mostly Christian audiences about Torah values and modern-day society?


      Rabbi Lapin: When I arrived in the United States in 1973, I was intrigued by the number of places with biblical names – Salem, Hebron, Bethlehem, etc.


      So I started studying the founding of America and discovered that the Bible used in colonial churches quoted Jewish sources like Rashi and Rambam in their notes about a third of the time. I also discovered the widespread intimate knowledge of Hebrew among the founders and their love of the Old Testament. Ezra Styles, who was the president of Yale University, referred to Yale as “our New England beit midrash,” which is remarkable.


      Then, as the years went by, I realized that most Christians in America were deeply baffled how the people who stood at the foot of Mt. Sinai could be the same people aggressively promoting such matters as abortion, homosexual marriage and the widespread growth of pornography. I realized that somebody needed to help them see a difference between Jewish values and the things that many Jews do. That’s how I got started.


      In your speeches and writings you promote a more religious American society and culture. What do you say to people who worry that a more religious America would pose a danger to Jews, who historically have been targets of Christian fanaticism?


      I think America has provided the most tranquil, prosperous, and durable haven for Jews in the last 2,000 years because it is a [religious] Protestant country, not in spite of it.


      Many Jews are not familiar with the difference between Protestantism and Catholicism. They need to understand that there’s never been a Protestant pogrom in the history of the world. It’s also important to understand the difference between European Christianity and American Christianity.


      In general, I also think it’s helpful for Jews to recognize that the only reliable group of friends we have in America, or in the world, right now are American Evangelicals. The main threat today is [radical Islam], and the one group standing alongside Jews and supporting the State of Israel is American Evangelicals.


      Why do you focus the majority of your speaking and literary efforts on the broader American society rather than solely the Jewish community?


      Everyone has their own area of contribution. If I had the ability to give an advanced shiur in a yeshiva three times a day, I’d probably do that, but this happens to be what I think I was created to do at this point in time.


      More generally, though, I think we should recognize that we have a stake in America. To not care about broader society is a lot like sitting in a lifeboat while somebody’s drilling a hole in the floor of the boat a few seats down, and you say, “Well, as long as my seat’s okay, everything’s fine.” I think it requires a certain cultural and social maturity to recognize that the chalav yisrael pizza parlors and glatt kosher restaurants will go down the tubes if America fails.


      What do you mean by America failing?


      That it loses its economic, military-defense, and moral defense capabilities. All those three things slide down in a declining culture, and history shows that those sorts of circumstances jeopardize the survival of the Jewish community.


      [America is becoming increasingly more secular and] I think Europe is an extremely good model of what happens when secularism wins. Anti-Semitism is an inevitable accompaniment of secularism, and Nazism and communism are essentially the ultimate expressions of liberalism .


      I think America is better served by a religiously vibrant Christianity and that means that we have to be as ardent about fighting anti-Christianism as we expect Christians to be in fighting anti-Semitism.


      You’ve written that Jews should wish Christians a “Merry Christmas” on December 25 rather than “Happy Holidays.” Why?


      Because Christians see “Happy Holidays” as the dominance of the secular culture forcing them to treat the word Christmas as if it’s an obscenity. What does it hurt us to be friendly and supportive on that? Is there some halacha that allowing the word Christmas to pass your lips means you have to go to the mikveh?


      I don’t see why Jews have to rear up like startled horses at the sight of any Christian symbolism. You have to understand that Christians don’t know the difference between various Jewish groups any more than Jews know the difference between various Christian groups. They see Chabad erecting menorahs in public places and then they see lawsuits filed by, what they believe to be, the Jewish ACLU every time a Nativity scene is put up in a public place. You can understand that that would lead to resentment.


      You’re also on record praising Pope Pius XII as a righteous Christian, even though many Jews vilify him for his alleged indifference to saving Jews during the Holocaust. Why?


      Because I know some of the background of the vilification campaign. I know who Ralph Hochhuth was and how his [1963] play, “The Deputy,” dramatically changed public perception in a direction that was completely improper.


      I also know that in spite of the fact that there were substantial and strong and viable Jewish communities in the United States during the time of the Mormon massacres in the middle of the 19th century, no Jew or synagogue is on record as having stepped forward to try and save Mormons from enraged lynch mobs. As such we’ve got to be a little careful before we castigate people for not having saved Jews. I’m not sure our record’s so wonderful on this.


      Why did you write Thou Shall Prosper: Ten Commandments for Making Money? Isn’t  it strange for a rabbi to write about this topic?


      The whole point of that book is to analyze, from a Torah perspective, God’s attitude to money. Did money just get invented by vicious, greedy, corrupt human beings while God’s attention was distracted elsewhere, or was money intended as part of God’s plan for humanity? I argue in the book that it was very much part of His plan.


      It certainly is not an accident that throughout the Talmud wealth is seen as an enormous blessing, even to the extent of a definitive statement [in the Talmud] that God’s prophetic powers don’t rest on anyone who doesn’t have wealth. I would associate the idea of “poverty equals virtue” as being Christian, not Jewish.


      Why is wealth good in your view?


      Because within a transparent and virtuous market place, the only way to create wealth is to supply the goods and services that other human beings want. There’s an incredible network of cooperating human beings who, as Adam Smith said, [provide for each other’s needs by looking out for their own best interest].


      So, in other words, the CEO of Ford may want to make millions of dollars for himself, but in doing so, he’s also providing a living for tens of thousands of employees while also providing cars for millions of people.


      Yes. I’m not sure that if he were running a non-profit, for instance, or serving in government, that he’d be doing more good for more people than he’s doing right now.


      Switching topics, why did you and your wife home-school your children?


      Because we regard them as our most precious investment. We felt nobody else would be as concerned with them as we were, and we relished the opportunity to imprint our values on them.


      What kind of Jews attended the Torah Home Education Conference in Baltimore last month, and what was their motivation in home-schooling their children?


      It was the most fascinating and delightful gathering of Judaism. I saw people dressed in full chassidic regalia and people who were Modern Orthodox.


      As to their motivations, it’s difficult to say for sure, but I think economics played a major part because day school tuition is out of control. In addition, many parents who spoke to me at the conference indicated that they weren’t happy with the hashkafos their children were getting in school. They didn’t feel their children were getting a comprehensive worldview in which Torah values were integrated with life in general, and in which respect for all people, including non-Jews, was instilled.


      Some people worry that home-schooled children will grow up to be socially inept adults. What is your reaction?


      First of all, home-schooled children meet regularly, often several times a week, with other home-schooled children in various groups.


      Second, there’s a myth that somehow there’s an advantage in allowing your children to socialize only with people of the same age group and academic level. Home-schooled children get on very well with older people and with all kinds of groups.


      Is home-schooling a growing phenomenon in the Orthodox community?


      Definitely. The conference was more than twice as big as it was the previous year.


      I should say, though, that I’m not on a home-schooling crusade. It was wonderful for our family, and I think many more people could do it than realize they could. But it’s not right for everybody.

Is There A Jewish Tradition About The Shape Of The Tablets Of The Ten Commandments?

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

Nearly six and a half centuries before McDonald’s first introduced its iconic logo designed by Jim Schindler, artists had already invented the double-humped shape. The Flemish painter Michiel van der Borch’s 1332 manuscript illustration “Moses receives the Tables of the Law” shows a haloed prophet, his hair twisted into horns, carrying his staff and wearing a red robe as he reaches out to receive the Ten Commandments from God. Hundreds of medieval manuscript illuminations, as well as dozens of paintings by Chagall, feature the same rounded layout.


But when Ghiberti sculpted Moses receiving the tablets of the law for the bronze Gates of Paradise for the eastern door of the Florence Baptistery (1425-52), the Italian artist depicted Moses receiving two unconnected rectangular tablets from God, surrounded by angels. Moses is poised to accept one tablet in each hand; Ghiberti has captured the exact moment where the tablets are still firmly in God’s hands and Moses is just reaching for them.


Lorenzo Ghiberti. Gates of Paradise;

Left Door. Florence Baptistery. 1425-1452



With the holiday of Shavuot on the horizon, it is important to ask: Is there a uniquely Jewish aesthetic tradition for the depiction of the tablets? Were they connected or separate stones? Were they rectangular or rounded?


Biblical and rabbinic texts seem to have avoided the question of the shape of the tablets for the most part. There are discussions about how the stones miraculously read properly from both sides (Exodus 32:15), since the letters were carved straight through the stone. There are event sources that say that some letters – like the somach – were miraculously suspended in midair. But the shape of the tablets does not seem to have made a tremendous impression on the biblical commentators.


The midrash in Exodus Rabbah (section 41:8) clearly states that the tablets were two separate stones to symbolize a variety of things including: heaven and earth, bride and groom, this world and the World to Come. The tablets were also made of sapphire, the midrash states, to remind those assembled at Sinai that if they did not obey the laws they would be subject to the death penalty of stoning with rocks as hard as the sapphire tablets.


Moses receiving the law. Sarajevo Haggadah. C. 1350



The depiction of the giving of the law at Sinai in the Sarajevo Haggadah (c. 1350) shows Moses, dressed like a medieval monk (though Richard McBee has called the “hooded gowns” a “characteristic of Barcelonan Jewry”), standing on a short hill surrounded by the Jewish people. A man, who seems to be reading a book and standing halfway up the hill closest to Moses is probably Joshua. Moses, still partially engulfed by the divine cloud, holds two attached tablets which have slight humps. One could make the argument that the tablets are rectangular and the artist has overcompensated in the perspective and shading but the more natural position is that the tablets are rounded.


Moses with tablets of the law. Alba Bible. Toledo Museum of Art. 1422-30



The Alba Bible, a 1430 translation from Hebrew to Castilian, shows a bearded Moses in a striped tunic playing a Jewish version of Atlas. Instead of bearing the weight of the world, the Alba Moses holds up two enormous, rectangular tablets for the Jews at the foot of the mountain to inspect. The tablets seem positioned to squash Moses’ head, and if one examines them carefully, one notices that the text – which is not carved into the rock, but painted on top of it – sometimes overflows the allotted space and hangs midair, particularly in the third commandment. It is almost tempting to read the white space surrounding the letters as empty space, in which case the artist has interpreted the forms of the letters as all being miraculously suspended.


Moses receiving the law on Mount Sinai. C. 1320. Tripartite Maḥzor 



The c. 1320 German Tripartite Machzor shows Moses receiving a rectangular, singular tablet from God as Aaron and the Jewish people look on (the women looking like birds and cats). Trumpets and shofars can be seen above, setting the mood, and the French symbol of the monarchy, the fleur-de-lis, can be seen throughout the image. The Ten Commandments are depicted as compartments on a larger metallic frame, though, strangely, there are slots for 12 rather than 10 commandments. The Tripartite Moses seems to have received the framed version of the commandments, perhaps ready to hang on the wall of his tent.


During one of my family’s sedarim, I observed that the depiction of the tablets in our Haggadah (illustrated by a Moroccan painter), which resembled the McDonald’s logo, was a Christian rather than Jewish interpretation of the scene. What should be clear by now is that I was wrong about there being such a clean separation of the Jewish and Christian traditions.


There are many different versions of the commandments in Christian art as well. In a 1408-1410 work, Italian painter Lorenzo Monaco (Piero di Giovanni) shows Moses bearing two separate rectangular tablets, inscribed with pseudo-Hebrew. Moses also has two pseudo-Hebraic rectangular slabs in Cosimo Rosselli’s 1481-83 “Scenes from the Life of Moses.” Francesco Bassano II’s bizarre 1576 painting “Autumn (Moses Receiving the Tablets of the Law)” shows Moses kneeling in the top left corner of the painting receiving two pointy tablets. The foreground is occupied by peasants going about their daily chores, oblivious to the monumental scene occurring in the distance.


Moses gets two separate but humped tablets, with true Hebrew, but an unnatural composition, in Guido Reni’s 1624-5 “Moses with the Tablets of the Law.” Several early 13th-century Psalters show Moses with a singular, humped tablet, but the illuminators made a point of painting the tablets small enough that they could be carried in one hand. A sculpture attached to an 1170 Gothic column shows Moses carrying a single tablet which is rounded on the top, while a 6th- or 7th-century woodcut depicts Moses with a single (seemingly rectangular) tablet and a basket of manna. The Master of Echternach’s c. 990 carved ivory Moses bears two rectangular tablets and a 15th-century woodcut seems to show a rectangular set of tablets attached but folded almost like a diptych. A 526 mosaic in Italy shows Moses receiving a scroll (the Torah?) rather than stone tablets at all and though the mosaic may be the first such interpretation, the scroll surfaces in several medieval manuscripts such as the Grandval Bible (c. 840), and in a mosaic at San Vitale (c. 547). More than a millennium later, Rembrandt, known for collaborating with biblical scholar Menasseh ben Israel, showed Moses carrying two separate, rounded tablets.


            Perhaps most inventively, the Begensburg Pentateuch (c. 1300, true Hebrew) shows Moses receiving two separate (rectangular) tablets and then attaching the two as he descends from Sinai. In fact, the Divine Hand gives the first tablet to Moses atop Sinai; Moses hands the first tablet to another Moses, who stands midway up the mountain; Moses II receives the first tablet from Moses I and hands tablet two to Moses III, at the foot of the mountain; and Moses III hands the joined tablets to Moses IV, who stands with the Jewish people. (Alternatively, Moses IV could be a different figure, like Joshua, as he wears a different color, but Moses IV and Moses I seem to have the same attire). One would expect the progression to go the other way – for Moses to receive the tablets whole, and then to dash them on the foot of the mountain upon discovering the Golden Calf – but the artist chose to reverse the process.


This is by no means an exhaustive (or scholarly) approach to the question of what shape Jewish tradition records for the tablets of the Ten Commandments. But it should be clear that the claim Jews envision the tablets in the rectangular while Christians hold them to have been rounded does not stand. For the most part, Jewish artists do seem to have followed the grammar of the biblical phrase luchot avanim (tablets of stone) or luchot ha’brit (tablets of the law), which is always presented in the plural, while many Christian artists attached the two tablets to each other. Surely, more work can be done on whether there are theological implications to these aesthetic decisions.


Menachem Wecker, who blogs on faith and art for the Houston Chronicle at http://blogs.chron.com/iconia, welcomes comments at mwecker@gmail.com.  He lives in Washington, D.C.

The Fifth Commandment

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

The Aseres HaDibros, the Ten Commandments, comprise the cornerstone of our edifice of life. Every clear-thinking individual is cognizant of the fact that a home built on a shaky foundation is in danger of crumbling. Absent the divinely communicated belief system that forms the basis of our day-to-day existence, our humanity would be diminished and we would become malleable, essentially physical creatures – much like a heartless and soulless golem.

God Himself relayed the Aseres HaDibros, disseminating them to us all at once. According to a midrash, the bulk of the people gathered at Mt. Sinai in anticipation of receiving God’s word discerned only the first two commandments before losing consciousness. The remaining eight were delineated in suspended words of fire that hung in the atmosphere surrounding the mountain.

When the Torah complained to Hashem that it was to be granted to living and breathing entities, God availed Himself of the dew reserved for the resurrection of the dead to resuscitate those whose soulshad left them. The Sefas Emes suggests that the reason the masses were thus affected was to teach all forthcoming generations that only through self-sacrifice could one hope to draw near to the Torah.

How is it that not all Torah scholars beget children who go on to become talmidei chachamim? One reason stated is that some fathers preoccupy themselves with learning to the point of neglecting to say the blessings recited each morning over the mitzvah of studying Torah. A sincere and heartfelt rendering of the blessings, which includes a plea for success in sweetening the words of Torah for us and our offspring, is indispensable if one is to merit children who will follow in their father’s footsteps. – Nedarim 81

In reaction to the heavenly enunciation of “Ani Hashem Elokecha” – I am Hashem your God – the nations rolled their eyes and scoffed, “Is there then a king who does not crave recognition?”

Equally unimpressed with the injunction of “Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” they sneered, “Which god is interested in sharing his glory? They all want to be the only one!”

Of the commandment to keep the Shabbos day holy, they declared, “Every king wants his special day, like his birthday, to be remembered and celebrated.”

But upon hearing the words “Honor thy father and thy mother,” the nations stood at attention and began to praise God, readily admitting that were any of them to be elevated to the highest station in the land, they would cease to heed their parents altogether, let alone pay tribute to them.

At the giving of the Torah, the envious nations wanted to know why they could not be the recipients of the Torah. Hashem responded by demanding that they produce a letter of yichus(privileged ancestry). The Yalkut Shimoni asks why yichus would figure as a requisite for learning Torah – should not a desire and willingness to learn suffice? The Ramban posits that belief in the Torah is only sustainable when earlier generations transmit their knowledge and traditions to later generations.

Our elders validate the true meaning of acceptance of the Torah by illustrating their own reverence and adherence to the belief system. A nation whose children regard themselves as being more perceptive and intelligent than their forebears lacks that laudable lineage essential to receiving the Torah.

On one of Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky’s flights back to America from the Holy Land, he was seated next to a prominent secular Jew. From time to time, a man accompanied by a young woman would approach Reb Yaakov to inquire about his state of comfort.

Rav Kaminetsky’s seatmate was intrigued by such absorption in the rabbi’s welfare, so Reb Yaakov explained that the man was his son and the young lady his granddaughter.

“Really?” exclaimed the secular gentleman, who then related that he seldom got to see his children, who didn’t show much interest in their father, and that his grandchildren hardly ever stopped by to visit their grandfather.

Reb Yaakov responded, “We believe God created the world and gave us the Torah on Har Sinai. As such, a father is closer to the generation that stood at Har Sinai and one’s grandfather even closer to his forbears of that significant time. In fact, the farther back one goes, the higher esteemed the ancestor.

“You, on the other hand, believe you evolved from the family of apes. Stands to reason that your son would consider himself to be of greater stature than his father or grandfather who are closer descendents of the animal and subsequently less refined as humans – and therefore less deserving of any respect.”

The Chasam Sofer lost his father as a child and his mother remarried. Renowned as a scholar and tzaddik, the Chasam Sofer was a sought-after prospect by affluent members of the community eager to gain him as a son-in-law. Even his stepfather wished to win his wife’s worthy son for his own daughter from a previous marriage. The Chasam Sofer’s brother was against this shidduch for he felt his acclaimed brother ought to marry a girl from a well-to-do family, an arrangement that would enable him to continue learning with ease.

In the interest of kibud eim – to spare his mother any shalom bayis upheaval – the Chasam Sofer turned down all the offers he received from wealthy families and married his stepsister. He later attributed his success in Torah learning to his wife, who never made any demands on him and allowed him a peaceful existence – whereas had he married into wealth, his wife would have expected to be supported in the lavish style in which she was raised, stifling his lofty ambition and holy works.

* * *

“… ushnei tzmidim al yadeha asarah zahav mishkalam …” When the camels had finished drinking, the man took a gold nose ring, weighing half a shekel, and two bracelets for her arms, weighing ten gold shekel (Bereishis 24:22). These words describe the gifts Eliezer bestowed on Rivkah, the virtuous maiden.

Rashi connects this gift that Eliezer gave Rivkah – two bracelets for her arms, each weighing in at 10-gold shekel – to the two tablets etched with the Ten Commandments.

The Talmud (Yerushalmi Nedarim) discusses the issue of whether a man can be mekadesh a woman with a Sefer Torah. The idea is subsequently negated since the Torah could not belong exclusively to her, as many others would have a share in it.

Yet the two gold bracelets alluded to Yitzchak’s being a living Torah and to his and Rivkah’s union resulting in the birth of Klal Yisrael who would, by virtue of accepting the Torah, be made a holy nation unto God. The bracelets were thus symbolic of the living Torah – by which Eliezer, Yitzchak’s messenger, was mekadesh Rivkah.

Moreover, there are exactly 613 Torah verses from the beginning of Bereishis to the particular verse that speaks of the bracelets, backing up Rashi’s contention and essentially corroborating that promise that the shidduch of Yitzchak and Rivkah would result in a people who would keep the Torah holy and observe its 613 commandments.

The two tablets of the Ten Commandments are reflective of one another. The commandment of Kabed es Avicha v’es Imecha (honoring one’s parents) thereby relates to the commandment of Lo Sachmod (do not covet). What possible connection is there between the two?

Regarding the latter, it is written that one who covets that which belongs to another will have a son who will curse him. How does such punishment fit the crime? According to Shimon HaGadol, the only possession one can unequivocally claim as his own is his children (literally a part of him). When one covets that which does not belong to him, his own son – his true possession – will, in turn, display behavior in a contradicting nature.

* * *

When the Sochatchover Rebbe, later to become the Baal Avnei Nezer, was a young child, he studied with his father, the Rav of Biala. The Rav once posed a difficult question to his son who was by then already an outstanding student. The son proceeded to explain it without hesitation, but the elder dismissed the hasty commentary and additionally admonished his son with a light slap on the cheek to teach him to refrain from hurried elucidations.

The child remained calm and continued learning as though nothing extraordinary had transpired.

Many years later, when the youngster had grown to become a gadol hador, he paid his aged and ailing father a visit. The Biala Rav recalled the incident of long ago and revealed how he had shortly thereafter discovered that his son had accurately interpreted the Gemara. However, he had held back from telling him so for fear of imbuing the child with an air of self-importance and smugness. Now he wanted to ask his son’s forgiveness for having chastised him without justification.

The Avnei Nezer replied that he had known at the time that his answer was correct and the slap unwarranted – and, he added, he’d forgiven his father on the spot. He nevertheless abstained from deliberately pointing out that his father had erred because of his deference to the mitzvah of kibud av (according a father respect and honor).

* * *

“Honor your father and mother so that your days will be lengthened.” Various sources in the Torah indicate that Hashem regards the honoring of one’s parents to be on par with honoring our Father above.

The creation of a human being occurs through the three-way partnership of Hashem and the biological father and mother. The child derives his bones, nails, brawn, brain and the white of his eyes from his father; skin, flesh, blood, hair and the black of his eyes from his mother; endowment of eyesight, hearing, speech, movement of limbs, understanding, spirit, soul and physical appeal by his heavenly Father. – Niddah 31

When the Brisker Rav, Reb Yehoshua Leib Diskin, was to become the Rav of Jerusalem, he moved to a new home. Among his instructions to the mover was the stipulation that two specific oversized cases stacked one upon the other were to remain in that same order during transport and delivery.

Despite the issuance of his strict order not to reposition the cases, Reb Yehoshua Leib accompanied them all the way.

The mover’s curiosity was aroused. What could the cases possibly contain to warrant such care and vigilance? And what could possibly occur if their order were reversed?

The Rav explained that the container that lay on top carried all of his father’s holy writings while the bottom case held all of his own. And it wouldn’t be right for his own to be placed atop his father’s – even for just the briefest of time.

* * *

Rabbi Tarfon, the renowned Mishnah sage, was said to revere his elderly mother to such a degree that he would stoop low to the ground so that she could use him as her stepping stool whenever she had need to ascend to or descend from her bed. When he reached the Bais Hamidrash and discussed the great honor he gives his mother, he was told that he was still far from fulfilling the mitzvah. Were he to keep silent and not embarrass his mother if she took his wallet filled with money and tossed it into the river, he would then be on his way to discharging the commandment properly.

The eldest of many children of a prominent family in Jerusalem was an accomplished young lady, well rounded in both character and intellectual capacity, and was expected to find a shidduch with relative ease. To everyone’s surprise, she rejected countless match proposals by invoking every excuse in the book: He was not compatible; she did not feel anything; she was not ready; she still needed to further her education; etc., etc. The pleas of her parents and rabbonim were duly ignored; regardless of how illustrious or well-suited the potential match proffered, the girl did not bend or break.

Soon, the second in line came of age, and the oldest daughter granted her categorical consent and approval for her younger sister to proceed. This pattern repeated itself down the line with all her siblings as their time of maturity approached, until they all were married.

When the still-single daughter turned 32, her mother initiated a heart-to-heart dialogue with her firstborn. “Do you recall when many years back I suffered a terrible illness and doctors just about gave up every hope for my recovery? I visited a tzaddik who granted me a blessing that I would regain my health and would merit to see all my children to the chupah. Your incomprehensible delay has been causing me so much grief that I would sooner prefer death over continuing to live with this heartache.”

When the daughter heard her mother’s words, she agreed immediately to be receptive to any offer that would come her way. Before long, a suitable 34 year old was suggested, and, true to her word, the match was concluded.

At the wedding, everyone’s joy was boundless – save for the bride, who emanated an unmistakable aura of underlying sadness. Her mother, escorting her daughter to the chupah, remarked that this day was the happiest of her lifetime. These were the last words she would utter, for shortly thereafter she collapsed and departed this world. The week of Sheva Brachos was transformed into a week of mourning.

The daughter finally revealed the secret behind her refusal to marry – she had hoped to prolong her mother’s life on earth, as the tzaddik whom her mother had seen had verbalized that she would live long enough to see all her children marry. With her mother’s expressed desire to die rather than watch her daughter become an aged single, the daughter’s noble objective lost its purpose and she found herself with no alternative but to honor her mother one last time.

(This essay is dedicated l’ilui nishmas Sara bas Bentzion, z”l, my wonderful mother, who was an exceptional human being and my greatest inspiration. May her memory be a blessing in the life of the World to Come.)

Rachel Weiss is a frequent contributor to The Jewish Press.

Myszyniec, Ostroleka

Wednesday, June 21st, 2006

I recently had the pleasure of meeting Abe Schwartz of Detroit. He and his family had traveled to Poland last year to see where their family had originated just one generation ago. They went first to their home town of Myszyniec, where they found almost nothing remaining of a thriving Jewish community. The cemetery is an empty field showing no signs of the hundreds (possibly thousands) of Jews who are buried there. Most of the homes from the pre-war era have been updated, and the whole town has changed. The family was able to find the home where the family had lived before the war in a courtyard of another home, but little else of interest.


A family portrait at the sign welcoming visitors to Myszniec, the town from where the family originated.



One of the Schwartz family members saying Tehillim at the desecrated memorial in Ostroleka.


         They went from there to nearby Ostroleka, where the family patriarch went to yeshiva. The yeshiva building, little more than a shack, is now used for storage. The cemetery at Ostroleka is also empty of marked graves. But there is a memorial marking the site made up of some broken tombstones. The small group of travelers were surprised to find that the reverse side of the monument had been desecrated. Some hooligans had thrown buckets of blue and red paint at the monument, covering a representation of the Ten Commandments. The group said some Tehillim for the martyrs and left, disturbed by their discovery.

Why Husbands Should Buy Their Wives Flowers

Wednesday, June 25th, 2003

Shavuot is considered the time when we “married” G-d or cemented our relationship with Him after our “courtship” on Pesach, during the Exodus from Egypt. The Luchot (Tablets with the Ten Commandments) is compared to our Ketubah (marriage contract) and explains the responsibilities of each of us in this relationship. Below is an essay explaining some aspects of that relationship and comparing the psychological differences between men and women to the varying Torah obligations of each.

Have you ever gone into a gift shop and noticed the many rows and rows of cards devoted specifically to women – especially mothers, wives and sisters? We don’t generally hear of wives buying flowers or chocolates for their husbands.

Ever wonder why these affectionate gifts are so gender-specific? Does a man not appreciate the flowers or chocolates? Is it perhaps a woman’s stronger connection with nature that allows her to admire the vibrant colors of the flowers more than her male counterpart? Or is it her poetic, more emotional nature that is so tenderly touched by the few graceful lines of poetry on the attractive card?

No, of course not. While these tendencies may be true, her love for these gifts has really nothing to do with her appreciation of poetry or nature, or whatever other small gifts women traditionally receive.

The secret behind these gender- specific gifts is that women thrive on feedback. The cards, the flowers, or the small tender presents show that he cares. They represent the time he took out of his day to think about her. It means that he values their relationship.

He took the moments to drive to the store and he deliberated on what she would most appreciate. He remembered to choose her best color, or her favorite chocolates. It means the world to a women that he showed that he cares.

Women need that feedback.

Every self-help book on improving married life invariably provides practical suggestions to husbands on communicating his care better, listening better, and understanding more what she is going through. Of course, buying flowers or cards is just one way of expressing that. She may not need the flowers, cards or chocolates, but these tender gestures demonstrate to her that he cares.

A husband neglecting to give his wife the attention that she needs or expects, notices her becoming withdrawn, irritable, upset, or in husband parlance, “nagging.” Venture to ask her what’s wrong, and she’s sure to rejoin, “nothing.”

Never buy that.

What is a woman implying by her response? She is saying that if you care enough, if I am sufficiently important in your life, you’ll keep asking. You’ll find a means to try to understand me. You’ll keep working on figuring out what’s really wrong. If our relationship is as important to you as it is to me, you won’t accept my retort at face value, but you’ll probe. As most husbands figure out soon enough, woe is to the man who assumes that “nothing” means “nothing”!

A man, on the other hand, doesn’t need as much feedback. He is comfortable in knowing that his wife is there for him. She doesn’t need to prove it or demonstrate it nearly as much, or nearly as often. He may be comfortable sitting silently on the couch beside her, just knowing that she is his. He might be doing his thing and she might be doing her thing, but he considers that spending time together. He doesn’t need the constant reminders that she is there for him.

But a woman, through her need for feedback, reminds her man that over time their relationship can grow static. Gestures are important to reignite that flame of romance, longing and tenderness. Demonstrating outright consideration and thoughtfulness through these gestures reawakens the original dynamism and passion in the marriage. She brings a message to the relationship that says that reaching a comfort level with one another is great, but let’s not take one another for granted. Show me regularly that you care, not only in your heart, but also through your deeds.

I know of a wife who complained to her husband that he never bought her anything – not jewelry, not flowers, not cards. His staggered response was, “Honey, do I ever tell you not to spend the money? By all means, if you want jewelry or flowers, go out and buy them!” He thought he was being generous, but of course, he missed the point entirely of what she was lacking. It’s not the time or money that he spent on her; it was the fact that he cared to spend the time and money.

A woman intuitively feels this need in any relationship she is in. She demonstrates through deeds, small and big, regularly, over and over, that she cares and that she loves.

Perhaps this natural dynamic is a reason why women are not obligated in the time-bound mitzvot of the Torah. Some of the traditional reasons given for this are the fact that women may be occupied with other more important things, namely her family life and children. Far from binding a woman to the chains of domesticity, this underlines the supremacy that Judaism places on the value of home life, and its precious regard for family and children – a goal that more and more of us are realizing in today’s hectic and turbulent times.

Another reason given for women’s exemption from these time-bound mitzvot is that she doesn’t require the spiritual powers of these mitzvot for her unique spiritual make up. She intrinsically is in tune with the point of the mitzva without the need to perform it.

What I think this means is that in our relationship with G-d, mitzvot serve as connections, ways of becoming closer. Torah is full of do’s and don’ts. G-d informs us of the things He wants us to do and those He prohibits. He tells us, “Whether you understand this or not, this is what I
need for our relationship. This is how you can demonstrate your love to Me.” Mitzvot teach us not to take our relationship with Him for granted, but to maintain the connection, keep the fire and dynamism alive.

While a woman is equally obligated to abstain from the negative precepts of the Torah, she doesn’t require the constant reminders of the time-bound, positive ones. She intrinsically understands the need for the positive gestures, and the feedback, because that is her own need. She intuitively knows how to demonstrate her love and care in her relationships, because that is so much of what she is all about.

Men on the other hand, need to be told specific directions. They need to be instructed: this is how you can show you care. This is how often you must demonstrate your love. This is the prescribed formula for expressing tenderness.

So, a woman doesn’t need to send her husband flowers, because she will find ways to express how much she cares through the many things she does in her day-to-day schedule. She doesn’t need to buy him chocolates or cards on a regular basis, because the message of these tender gifts is a message that she already is sending him on a daily basis.

And so she doesn’t need to wear a yarmulke or bind Tefillin daily on her arm or pray at three specific times a day to remind her of G-d’s presence in her life, because He is a reality. He is always with her. Not because she is more spiritual. Not because she is a better person. Not
because she is greater than her fellow male counterpart. But simply because feedback to a woman is as necessary as the air she breathes. She understands its importance and will find a million ways in her day to live it.

So, men, the next time you pass by your local mall, take a few moments to stop by and visit the small gift shop. Don’t forget to remember her favorite color, too – she’ll appreciate that you did.

Chana Weisberg is the author of “The Crown of Creation” and “The Feminine Soul”. She is the dean of the Institute of Jewish Studies in Toronto and is a scholar in residence for www.askmoses.com. She is also a columnist for www.chabad.org’s Weekly Magazine. Weisberg lectures regularly and welcomes your comments or inquiries at:

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/jewess-press/why-husbands-should-buy-their-wives-flowers/2003/06/25/

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