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Posts Tagged ‘Yom Kippur’

A Soul Revisited

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

While working for the U.S. Census Bureau in 1990, I knocked on the door of Soviet ?migr?s in Boro Park and proceeded to converse with them about their recent arrival to the United States. This elderly couple had come from Moldavia. They were survivors of both Nazi and Communist tyranny.

The elderly man, 74, implored me to assist him in finding work since, as he explained, the boredom was becoming unbearable in his new homeland. Throughout his life, he had proudly supported his family by working as a shoemaker. He was limited in his choice of professions because he had an amputated leg. I offered to teach him how to bind books and he immediately excelled at this endeavor.

Over the next ten years, Fridel and I worked together in the book-binding field. He bound thousands of sefarim for numerous shuls. He worked meticulously, honestly and with a glad heart. He took great pride in his craftsmanship.

Fridel was the product of a painful era that produced millions of Jewish souls who suffered immensely yet continued to carry the tradition of their ancestors’ faith. He truly possessed “emunah peshuta,” the kind of simple and innocent faith in Hashem found only within the great ones among us.

Almost exactly ten years later, during the 2000 census, Fridel passed away in his Staten Island home. He was survived by his loving wife, children and grandchildren. After his passing, his wife presented me with his tefillin which he had worn faithfully every morning. I made a mental note to save them for a male grandchild.

In 2002, Fridel’s granddaughter gave birth to a boy who was named after him. Every few months, I would visit Fridel’s widow and we would reminisce about the time we had all spent together over the years. Unfortunately, the family moved, and we lost contact.

After four years of trying to track them down, something short of miraculous took place. This past Yom Kippur, 5771, I included Fridel’s name during Yizkor and pledged a donation in honor of the memory of his soul. This sparked several amazing occurrences into motion.

Right after Yom Kippur, my mother asked me to take Fridel’s tefillin home to my house, since she was getting rid of unclaimed property in preparation for the renovation of her house. I took home Fridel’s tefillin and placed them safely on a shelf. Shortly thereafter, I found a business card with Fridel’s new phone number. Now, with the new link to Fridel’s family in my hand, I proceeded to call his 94-year old wife. Sure enough, she picked up the phone and I felt a surge of joy. My four-year search had come to a happy conclusion!

The next evening, I called Fridel’s granddaughter to arrange to visit. I did not know whether to bring up the topic of the tefillin. As I spoke to her on my cell phone from a wedding hall stairway, a fifteen-year-old boy dropped his tefillin down the flight of stairs and they fell right in front of me. I bent down, kissed them, and handed them to him. I did not need any more direct sign from Above and immediately brought up the topic of Fridel’s tefillin. She was thrilled when I told her that I was holding onto her grandfather’s heirloom. I told her that it would be a very appropriate gift for her eight-year old son, Fridel, once he reached his Bar Mitzvah.

Throughout life, we receive signs from Above. I believe that because I pledged tzedakah for the sake of my dear righteous friend’s soul, Hashem helped me to once again be able to be part of his family’s life, and to ascertain that Fridel’s precious pair of tefillin would proudly be worn again by his only male descendant.

Fridel may have spent most of his life in a world where it was impossible to live as a proud Jew, but he left this world after ten years of proudly proclaiming each morning that Hashem is One each morning. And he left his tefillin to continue the golden chain of his shining righteousness.

Fridel ben Azik a”h, 1916-2000 – yehi zichro baruch.

A Kol Nidre Story

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010

This past Yom Kippur, my father, an 84-year-old Holocaust survivor, surprised our family by recounting a wartime Kol Nidre observance that stirred his soul.

It was erev Yom Kippur, September 26, 1944. My father, Kurt Lion, was in the French underground, acting as a scout for the advancing American Seventh Army in central France.

As dusk fell, he was scouting the town of Salieres in a jeep, checking to see if it was safe for U.S. Army contingents to move in following the German retreat. He was ducking into a narrow alleyway when he heard a hubbub coming from a nearby house. Intrigued, he went to investigate and discovered it was the sound of prayer.

My father, outfitted with a gun and army fatigues, went into the house and saw a small crowd with prayer books in hand. He was astounded to see one of the men wearing a tallis, because in those terrible Holocaust years, he did not expect to find any living Jews still in the area.

Four years before, he had been deported from southwest Germany with his parents and 6,000 other Jews to the Rivesaltes internment camps in southern France run by the pro-Nazi Vichy government. In 1941, his father, Philip, died from the horrible conditions there. In 1942, his mother, Rosa, died in Auschwitz.

My father managed to escape from the camps and tricked the Vichy police into issuing him identity papers under a Protestant alias. With these papers he became a farm laborer in central France, where he joined the underground, eventually serving as a scout under a gentile alias.

“I had to hide my Jewishness to get the identity papers and survive,” my father recalled. “I couldn’t tell anyone who I was because those in the underground would no longer trust me. They might even shoot me as a German spy. It was a very strange time. I had to shut off a large part of myself. I couldn’t be myself, a Jew.”

So my father listened silently as the congregation leader, overjoyed by the arrival of an Allied scout, explained that it was Yom Kippur, a solemn Jewish holiday. He invited him to stay.

“I hadn’t even known it was Yom Kippur,” my father remembered. “I didn’t react, continuing to play the role of a non-Jew. But I accepted his invitation and took the Hebrew-French prayer book he offered me.

My father listened as the man began to recite the Kol Nidre prayer in the French translation. He looked down at the book, saw the Hebrew lettering, and then suddenly it happened. The part of himself that he had shut off for so long emerged and, in full voice, he was singing Kol Nidre in Hebrew – as he had in his childhood.

My father suddenly felt that his father was right there at his shoulders, harmonizing with him. They were praying one last time together. It was surreal, and he sang with intense emotion. He had never sung better, before or since. They were all crying in that room, as there was so much pent-up emotion. The end of the war was in sight, as the long nightmare of the Nazi era was coming to an end.

When my father finished, the group excitedly crowded around him. They heaped salutations on him, praised him for making their first Kol Nidre out of hiding so memorable, and began to pepper him with questions.

But my father, taken aback by his lapse in hiding his true identity, reverted back to his survival mode. He said he must resume his duties, left the house, and returned to his unit.

But the wellsprings of his Jewish soul had been opened. A week or two later, when he learned that one of the American soldiers was also Jewish, he shared his secret with him. He also revealed that he had two sisters in America who had managed to escape before the war. Through Army mail, my father was able to contact his sisters for the first time in four years, and they were overjoyed to learn that he was alive.

In 1946, my father was discharged from the French military and immigrated to America. He married my mother, another survivor, and raised my two sisters and me.

Over the years, our father told our family many of his wartime experiences. Yet he had never told us this story before.

We know that there are no coincidences. And it was no coincidence that my father found himself at a Kol Nidre service that reconnected him to his people, his Jewish soul, and eventually, his sisters in America.

The Yom Kippur Miracle

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010

My treasured parents loved Yiddishkeit. Their belief in Hashem was unwavering. My darling Daddy used to tell me that if I was ever afraid, I should recite the Shema. Whenever I was troubled, my precious Mommy would reassure me, “Gott vet helfen!” (God will help!).

Those who knew my Daddy were privileged to hear his army stories. The most profound event that he recounted was his Yom Kippur miracle.

Both my parents passed away last year. I was overwhelmed with grief. How could something so terrible happen? Taking my Daddy’s advice, I said the Shema many times. Hearing my Mommy’s voice, I waited to see how God would help. When my faith wavered, I thought about Daddy’s Yom Kippur miracle. That story confirmed what I knew deep within my heart – that there is a God and He knows what is best, even if we cannot understand His actions.

A short time ago, I found a folder containing my Daddy’s handwritten account of his Yom Kippur miracle. I am sharing it in the hope that it will provide solace and hope to those in need. Here are his words:

The year was 1944. I was in the Burmese jungles along the Irrawaddy River. We had just captured the Myitkyina stronghold from the Japanese. Our only contact with the outside world was the radio.

Suddenly, a call came out to all Jewish servicemen to gather under a large tent at sundown. I couldn’t imagine why. It wasn’t Friday. That is when we would gather for services.

I started to wonder. Then it dawned on me that it was the month of September.

Oh, I said to myself. It must be Rosh Hashanah! I went to the tent. It was early. I was the only one there. I took out my Jewish Welfare Board prayer book, and as the sun began to set, I started to say Minchah with a heavy heart. Gradually, more and more soldiers began to arrive. It wasn’t too long before the tent was filled to capacity. Then I found out that it wasn’t Rosh Hashanah. It was Yom Kippur. I had lost Rosh Hashanah. You can imagine how I felt.

My friend Murray Fox was the cantor. He began the Kol Nidre prayer with such a strong voice that I knew the Japanese heard him because voices carry far in the jungle. We were all highly emotional. There we were, in full battle gear, unashamedly crying, the tears rolling down our faces.

When he finished singing Kol Nidre the third time, there was a moment of silence. Then, suddenly, we heard the most devastating bombardment imaginable. The Japanese had gotten a beam on us and were able to gauge our exact location. The bombardment went on for almost half an hour. When it stopped, we immediately started calling names to see who was wounded or killed. You know, not one of us even received a scratch! Miracle of miracles!

The bombs fell everywhere, but none reached our location. The Almighty, Blessed be He, looked after us.

This story is dedicated to the memory of my father, Refael Chaim Sholom Feivel ben Meir Shlomo, and my mother, Chaya bas Yitzchak. May their neshamos have aliyos.

The Hidden and The Unseen

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

It was no ordinary walk home on Yom Kippur night a year ago. The clear air was the kind lungs get high on. The moon’s bright essence in a star-studded sky lit my path along the familiar yet now deserted winding country road. Even the crickets’ rhythmic chirping seemed muted in the surrounding stillness.

Not a soul could be seen and no human sound heard – this was too sacred a time for people to be lingering about in animated conversation. Following the somber Kol Nidrei and Maariv prayers, families had gone home to their respective abodes and called it an early night. The day ahead, to be spent in fasting and prayer, would prove fatiguing enough.

The neighborhood shuls had concluded their services a while ago; ours was usually the last to empty out. In fact, I had left my husband behind with the small group of men who stayed on to recite Tehillim with their rebbe.

As I made my leisurely way, I communicated with my Maker. I thanked Him for having brought me thus far and beseeched Him to stay with us for the rest of our journey through life.

About halfway home and in deep introspection, I suddenly felt I had company. Instinctively I glanced to my right and came face to face with a deer that stood transfixed less than two feet away. Startled, to put it mildly, I managed an even-toned “Oh! Good Yom Tov!” and resumed my relaxed pace, leaving the animal looking more bewildered than I did.

In the past, those deer I had occasion to glimpse were the kind that gracefully sprinted away just as soon as they caught on that they were being watched. I also knew of the animal’s tendency to freeze when caught in a car’s headlights, but other than my white jacket and headdress, there were no bright lights on my person to mesmerize it – and yet it stood unmoving, eyeing me as I sauntered by.

Apart from my split-second twitch of panic, I was unruffled. After having put some safe distance between us, I glanced back and was quite surprised to find the deer had moved to the center of the road to get a better view of my receding form; you’d have thought that it had never before encountered a human being.

It dawned on me how often we believe we are alone and nobody is watching – and how we would feel and behave if we could discern eyes focused on our every move. The thought made me shudder, as though a cool wind had rippled through me.

* * * * *

 

What is there to say before You Who dwells in the heavens, and all that is hidden and unseen are to You known .”

The impact of these words (that precede the Al Cheit prayer in the Machzor) came to bear heavily upon a community in old Europe some 100 years ago

It was a rainy Erev Yom Kippur when the servant of the affluent and well-connected merchandiser Reb Mordechai came to the synagogue to drop off a massive white yahrzeit candle to burn for the duration of the somber day.

Without hesitation, Isaac the sexton gave it prominent placement in one of the copper candelabras that embellished the cantor’s lectern.

Soon an emissary of R. Sender, a well-to-do industrialist, arrived with a delivery of a smaller but still impressive yahrzeit candle, which the sexton placed on the other side of the cantor’s pulpit.

Before long, the door of the shul opened to reveal Zelda the almanah. The poor woman who was raising five young children alone also bore a yahrzeit candle, albeit one that was miniscule next to the two that had been brought earlier.

The weary-looking widow excused her lateness, explaining she had waited to sell her wares (a few shriveled onions) at the marketplace in order to afford the purchase of her own candle.

After briefly scanning the shul’s premises, Reb Isaac finally settled on a small, sand-filled wooden container in an unobtrusive corner, in which he inserted the small candle.

The Kol Nidrei service was conducted without incident, the town’s two illustrious residents flanking the Aron Kodesh as the sea of white clad figures swayed back and forth to the melodic chant of Reb Moshe the chazzan.

The following day brought a relentless driving rainfall, with intermittent bursts of thunder discernible through the walls of the old shul.

The sweet voice of Reb Moshe intoned the Unesaneh Tokef prayer (the soul-stirring supplication intrinsic to the High Holy Days). As he sang the words “It is true that You alone are the One who judges and remembers,” R. Mordechai’s yahrzeit candle inexplicably slid from the massive candelabra and hurtled wick first into the spit-kettle below.

A discomforting quietness overtook the bais medrash. When Reb Moshe resumed the haunting liturgy, his voice quivered with emotion. At the precise moment he concluded the words, “You inscribe their verdict,” a boom of thunder shook the rafters and an accompanying gust of wind wrenched loose the base of a window frame; the glass pane shattered and the wind whizzing through the interior of the bais medrash extinguished the flame of R. Sender’s yahrzeit candle.

Terror struck at the hearts of every congregant. By the end of the Mincha service, the darkness prevailing in the synagogue fostered even deeper feelings of remorse for past transgressions. The rav permitted a young child to carry the small unassuming wooden box that held the widow’s candle and to position it on the pulpit.

As per the congregation’s longstanding tradition, R. Mordechai was proffered the honor of leading the Neilah (closing) prayer. His hands shook as he wrapped himself in his tallis. The words emanating from his chalky lips were barely audible, his inexplicable demeanor plunging the congregants even further into the harrowing depths of despair and mystery.

The bone-chilling moment was still to come.

“Ashamnu” (we have been guilty), murmured R. Mordechai; “Bagadnu” (we have betrayed), he uttered; and hardly did he muster “Gazalnu” (we have stolen) when he raised glazed eyes to focus on the candle of Zelda the almanah and promptly collapsed, with the words “zei mir mochel ” (forgive me) on his lips – the last thought he would verbalize in this world.

Later that same night, motzei Yom Kippur, the sound of wailing sirens interrupted the sleep of the town’s citizens who ran into the streets in their nightclothes. The shocking news spread quickly: R. Sender’s house was burning and all of his property, comprising three lavish dwellings, was in danger of being consumed in the inferno. Thick black pillars of smoke covered the horizon as onlookers gasped and spoke in hushed whispers about the occurrences of that terrible night.

In the morning, the rav had a visitor. A barely coherent, disheveled figure asked that Zelda the almanah be sent for; he wished to ask her for mechila – forgiveness.

Mystified, the rav slowly extracted the details of what had precipitated the previous night’s baffling – and frightening – events.

R. Mendel, Zelda’s late husband, had been overseeing the welfare of his brother’s daughter, an orphan. The 300 rubles in his personal effects were earmarked for the purpose of marrying off his niece. When R. Mendel, a plasterer and painter by trade, had received an offer from the ministry to repair and paint the military barracks, he had turned to R. Sender for a loan of 500 rubles in order to secure the required labor and materials. R. Sender agreed to advance him this sum.

R. Mendel – taking R. Sender at his word – handed over the 300 rubles (belonging to his niece) to the general in charge of the job as a goodwill deposit. When R. Mordechai got wind of the profit-making deal, he convinced R. Sender to renege on his offer to R. Mendel, whereupon the two – R. Mordechai and R. Sender – would move to take over the lucrative transaction in a partnership that would net them substantial gain.

A dumbfounded and desperate R. Mendel spent three frenzied days in a futile attempt to find someone else to lend him the amount he had counted on. He subsequently lost the job (the general rescinded the offer when R. Mendel had no funds to properly carry out the assignment), as well as the 300 rubles. Devastated, R. Mendel had succumbed to a heart attack on Yom Kippur eve the previous year.

* * * * *

 

A man’s origin is from dust and his destiny is back to dust he is likened to a broken shard, withering grass, a fading flower, a passing shade, a dissipating cloud, a blowing wind, flying dust, and a fleeting dream” (Unesaneh Tokef prayer).

Reb Mordchele Nadvorner was a saintly man, one known to effectuate miracles. His many followers flocked to him in Nadvorna from all over Hungary and Romania for guidance and blessings. The tzaddik often traveled to distant places where he would meet with people he may have otherwise been unlikely to encounter.

On one such excursion, he found himself spending Yom Kippur in the city of Skole in Galicia. The enthralled chassidim held out hope that their honored personage would grace them with his presence for Sukkos.

To their dismay, Reb Mordchele hardly had a bite to eat after the fast before asking that his horses be readied for his departure. Despite their disappointment, the chassidim escorted the esteemed rebbe to the outskirts of town with exuberant song and dance.

The horses galloped along their way, the driver oblivious as to where they were headed. In fact, their destination would elude him all the way; whenever they reached some form of settlement, Reb Mordchele would stop to greet his welcoming admirers, surveying each of them intently.

Thus they journeyed from town to town, until the morning of Erev Sukkos when they arrived at yet another development. A sizable crowd of people surrounded their wagon and again Reb Mordchele scrutinized each individual who approached him – until A.Z., a smartly attired fellow, caught his fancy.

“Reb Yid,” inquired Reb Mordchele, “would it be possible for you to host us for Sukkos?”

A.Z. was taken by surprise but answered in the affirmative. As Reb Mordchele and his entourage followed their host, the young man wondered how the rebbe could have known about his large, newly erected home.

While happy to indulge Reb Mordchele’s request for a sukkah, the homeowner was bewildered at the rebbe’s choice of a particular room.

How would that work, A.Z. wondered. Reb Mordchele’s solution entailed “mere removal” of the ceiling and roof overhead, to be replaced with the appropriate schach (covering). When A.Z. suggested that a conventional sukkah be built outdoors in the yard, the revered guest simply reiterated his yen for a nice sukkah.

A flummoxed A.Z. reasoned to himself that this was no ordinary visitor and that in all probability there was good reason for all of this.

The messy and laborious task of dismantling the newly constructed quarters began forthwith.

Once the sukkah was erected, the rebbe expressed his desire to decorate it – at a cost of 100 reinish. To A.Z., known to be frugal in nature, this was quite a hefty sum. He almost regretted accepting the offer to host the rabbi. With some reluctance, A.Z. handed Reb Mordchele the amount he had asked for.

To A.Z.’s surprise, the rebbe asked his gabbai to round up some of the town’s needy inhabitants, among whom he then dispensed the entire sum.

Before long, Reb Mordchele asked to borrow yet another 100 reinish. The penny-pinching chassid vacillated until the rebbe assured him he would be repaid in full. Difficult as it was for him to reach into his pocket, A.Z. withdrew his second 100 reinish.

Accepting the handout with great flourish, Reb Mordchele blessed his benefactor profusely. Shortly thereafter, the gabbai approached A.Z. with the message that the rebbe was requesting his presence on an urgent matter. The frustrated homeowner obliged, only to have Reb Mordchele plead his case once more.

“Would you be so kind as to lend me another 100 reinish for decorating the sukkah?”

A.Z. lost his cool.

“The rebbe should forgive me but I am unaccustomed to such impositions. My roof has already been wrecked and I am already out 200 reinish. Regretfully, I am no longer able to accommodate the rebbe’s requests ”

After an uneasy moment of silence, Reb Mordchele spoke.

“You’ve been open with me, so I’ll be perfectly candid with you. I spent this past Yom Kippur in a faraway place in Galicia. Right before the Neilah prayer, I had a vision of one who had just recently finished construction of a new dwelling and upon whom there hovered a kitrug [an evil or satanic claim].

“Your house was to be destroyed by a devastating fire which would leave you and your family to wander from place to place in search for your daily sustenance. I was so overcome with pity that I made up my mind to locate you and help you avert this terrible decree. But I was given no indication of your whereabouts; all that was revealed to me was your physical appearance.

“Nonetheless I would not be deterred. As soon as the holy day ended I initiated my search for you and journeyed from town to town. I recognized you instantly.”

A.Z. was visibly mortified. Reb Morchele continued, “I asked you to break the roof over your head in hopes of removing the kitrug. When that didn’t work, I requested 100 reinish to allocate for tzedakah. When that didn’t do it, I figured that another hundred for charity would surely accomplish my goal but I soon realized that yet another hundred was necessary in order for you to accumulate sufficient merit to cancel the edict against you.

“I have been straightforward with you; now it is entirely up to you.”

A.Z. trembled as he handed Reb Mordchele his third donation of 100 reinish and wept with remorse at having been obstinate in his refusal to give in to the well-meaning tzaddik who reassured the chassid that he held no grievance against him.

The money was doled out to the poor and a relieved Reb Mordchele declared the decree against A.Z. finally expunged.

The town had a joyful Yom Tov with its esteemed guest, and A.Z. could not adequately express his gratitude to God for sending him the tzaddik to save him from catastrophe.

“Your Name signifies Your praise . You are hard to anger and easy to appease, for You do not wish the death of one deserving death, but that he repent from his way and live” (Unesaneh Tokef prayer).

Rachel Weiss is a frequent contributor to The Jewish Press.

Crowning Our King

Tuesday, September 7th, 2010

“I want a new me. But every year after Yom Kippur it seems the ‘old’ me is still here. After all those heartfelt prayers! The shofar blowing! Fasting! Crying! What happened to all my good intentions?”

This is a terrible problem. It even threatens our confidence in the reality of the Days of Repentance. Can we change? Does teshuvah “work”?

* “The loudest sound in the universe is the sound of a habit being broken.” (Rabbi Yisrael Salanter)

* “A person should constantly agitate his Good Inclination to fight against his Evil Inclination, as it is stated, ‘Tremble and sin not.’ If he vanquishes it, fine. But if not, he should engage in Torah study, as it is stated, ‘reflect in your hearts.’ If he vanquishes it, fine. But if not, he should recite the Shema, as it is stated ‘on your beds .’ If he vanquishes it, fine. But if not, he should remind himself of the day of death, as it is stated, ‘and be utterly silent’ ” (Berachos 5a).

* “In the future, the Holy One, Blessed is He, will bring the evil inclination and slaughter it in the presence of the righteous and in the presence of the wicked. To the righteous [the evil inclination] will appear like a high mountain and to the wicked it will appear like a strand of hair.

These will weep and these will weep. The righteous will weep and say, ‘How were we able to overcome such a high mountain?’ And the wicked will say, ‘How were we not able to overcome this strand of hair?!’ And so too, the Holy One, Blessed is He, will wonder with them, as it says, ‘Thus said Hashem, Lord of Hosts: As it will be wondrous in the eyes of the remnant of this people in those days, so will it be wondrous in My eyes’ ” (Sukkah 52a).

The yetzer hara, the evil inclination, never stops attacking.

Every day I struggle with myself. (At least I think I do.) My faults and inadequacies seem endless, but I’ll mention two that bother me very much. I don’t have to go far in the alphabet to find them: they both begin with the letter “a”: anger and appetite.

I could discuss these subjects for years. I wish I could consider myself a righteous person, as described in the Gemara I just quoted, but let’s just say I would like to be one. The yetzer hara does, however, seem like a mountain to me.

What about anger?

I get angry at those I care about the most. It is easier to look good in the eyes of people I hardly know, since I have relatively little to do with them. How much time do I spend with them, after all?

With those close to me, however, it is much more difficult. Here I have to work hard, because I’m with them all the time.

But actually, I say to myself, since they are all close to me already, even related to me, why do I need to present such a front? Why do I need to impress them? I can be a kvetch. I can be selfish and demanding. I can even be angry, because what are they going to do to me? Are they going to walk out of my life? (Watch out, Neuberger! This is getting dangerous.) What do I have to worry about?

So I am lazy. I know that there are tools to control anger. I know that “A person should constantly agitate his good inclination to fight against his evil inclination,” but it is hard. I can take it for granted that those close to me “will understand.”

Am I a fool? Don’t I understand I’m playing Russian Roulette with my life?

What about appetite?

You know the old joke: “I am on a ‘see-food’ diet.”

* “A wayward and rebellious son is not liable [to punishment] until he steals and eats a [huge amount of] meat and drinks a [huge amount of] wine. [He] is killed because of his end. The Torah [foresaw] the culmination of his way of thinking. The end [will be] that he will exhaust his father’s money and seek [to maintain] his habit, and not find [the money he needs]. He will then stand at a crossroads and rob the people. The Torah says, ‘Let him die as an innocent person, and not die as a guilty person’ ” (Rashi on Deuteronomy 21:18).

* “The death penalty imposed on this youngster is not because of the gravity of any sins he actually performed, but because his behavior makes it clear that he will degenerate into a monstrous human being” (Commentary to ArtScroll Stone Edition Chumash, Deuteronomy 21:18-21).

* “One who drinks his cup in one draft is a guzzler, [in] two [drafts is following] proper manners, [in] three [drafts, is] among the haughty” (Pesachim 86b).

I find that when I eat and drink, I am so involved in the desire for satisfaction that I swallow the brachah as if it were food, usually not even thinking about it. In my obsession for the sensation of taste, I forget all restraint. In my haste, I swallow without chewing, which is not healthy and certainly not “following proper manners.” Then I feel too guilty to say a brachah acharonah with kavanah.

Is that an exaggeration? Not much.

I am reminded of the story of the chassid sitting at the tisch. He thinks, “My Rebbe is certainly greater than I, but, after all, he is just flesh and blood and I am also flesh and blood. He eats and drinks, and so do I.”

The Rebbe looks at the chassid.

“Chaim Yankel, I know what you are thinking. I will tell you the difference between us. It is true that we both eat and drink. It is also true that we both make brachos. But here’s the difference: You make a brachah in order to eat; I eat in order to make a brachah.”

* * * * *

 

Day after day, year after year: the obsession with food, the slavery to anger.

And every time I succumb, I promise myself it will be different next time. I invent new strategies, and they are as good as the old ones. With each failure, I feel more hopeless. I cannot climb that mountain of self-restraint and Torah dignity. I cannot act like the holy Jews, the great Torah scholars I have seen who are majestic in their self-control and dignity, the sense of peace radiating from their shining faces, as the glory of Hashem radiated from the face of Moshe Rabbeinu.

Multiply this situation by an infinite number of bad habits, and you get a real headache. I’m serious, despite the tone. The sense of depression is dangerous, because one does not know where to turn. One’s entire life seems to be a maze from which one cannot escape. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur threaten to become mere exercises in words. I really don’t believe that I can change, so what after all is the point? My life will drag on and I will continue to be the same inadequate me.

Can I realistically grow into the person I want to be?

Do I really want to be the person I should want to be?

If I wanted it enough, I could be that person.

Now we understand why we must crown Hashem as King on Rosh Hashanah. We must elevate Him so that He will rule over us.

He will save us if we let Him.

“Praise Hashem, all nations, praise Him, all the states. For His kindness has overwhelmed us, and the truth of Hashem is eternal .” (Psalm 117).

“This is the shortest chapter in Psalms. Radak explains that its brevity symbolizes the simplicity of the world order which will prevail after the advent of Moshiach” (ArtScroll commentary).

“His kindness has overwhelmed us . Ki gavar alainu chasdo .”

What does “gavar” mean? Strength.

This is our salvation: when Hashem enters our lives and overwhelms us.

“Almighty God, this job is too big for me. I admit it. I can’t do it! I am not a tzaddik! I do not have the strength of my ancestors, who were mighty in their battle with the evil inclination. I feel so weak and incapable of winning the battle. Please help me. I know that is my only hope. Our Father and King, I know You are not only all-powerful but You are also our Father! You love us so much. Don’t abandon us! ‘Al tashlichaini milfanecha.’ Do not cast us away from You. As a father has mercy on his children, so, Hashem, please have mercy on us!”

Every weekday we say, “Riva rivainu – take up our grievance.”

“Please fight for me, Tati! I am weak, but You are completely powerful. If You will fight for me, I know I will be successful.”

* * * * *

 

I do believe it; I do believe that if I beg and plead, God will listen. And do you know my proof? I look back on my life and I see that He has saved me time and again. I see that my life has been a series of miracles, one after the other.

“Hashem protects the simple. I was brought low, but He saved me” (Psalm 116).

I make mistake after mistake, but I am still here. Time after time, He has rescued me, even though I keep stumbling.

Years ago, our rabbi asked if we could invite a visiting rosh yeshiva from Israel to our home for a Shabbos meal. The rosh yeshiva was sitting at our table in his beautiful Shabbos attire. My wife had prepared a platter of many different types of salad. The rosh yeshiva wasn’t taking any food, so my wife decided to bring the food to him.

She approached him carrying the salads. Apparently, there was a malach hidden there. My wife never spills anything (unlike her husband), but this time the tray tipped over. The salad went flying, covering the rosh yeshiva from the top to the bottom of his beautiful black coat. Not one salad, but many salads. Mayonnaise, beets, tomatoes, pickles, olives, vinegar, humus all went flying through the air and landed on the rosh yeshiva.

We wanted to die a thousand deaths. At that moment I felt the fate of Korach would be appropriate: let the earth open up and swallow us. Could any good come from this? The most embarrassing moment in the history of the world!

Believe it or not, that insane moment turned into a lifetime friendship with the wonderful rosh yeshiva. He became our beautiful friend and opened the door for us to the world of gedolim and the holiness of the Torah communities of Eretz Yisrael. He helped us in countless ways, and still does to this very day.

And now, every time he comes for Shabbos, he jokes, “Spill more salad! Spill more salad!”

Can you imagine? The moment of greatest insanity, the moment of greatest embarrassment, the moment of complete darkness becomes a symphony of light. This has happened time and again. Looking back on our life, I see that Hashem has overwhelmed us with His mercy over and over again.

Yes, we have to make Him our Melech – our King. We have to daven and daven again and then again, without stopping.

* * * * *

 

“Avinu Malkainu, my Father and King, please take over my life. Rescue me. I can’t do it, but You can do it, because you are the Only One Who is invincible. There are no limits for you! There is no strength that compares with Your strength! I know that if I ask You and never stop, You will listen to the cry that emanates from the depth of my soul.”

And at this time of year, our cries are buttressed by the sounds of the shofar.

What is a shofar? The instrument that allows the volcanic eruptions inside of us, the galactically powerful scream – HELP ME! – to emerge from within us. It travels through a piece of bone. A ram’s horn, the most animalistic piece of dead tissue you can imagine. And from that dead tissue issues forth a cry that is so cosmic it pierces the heavens.

Tati, Help me.

And Hashem hears our cry. He comes to the rescue of his weeping children. He hears.

* “The Holy One, Blessed is He, said to Israel: ‘My Son! I have created the evil inclination and I have created Torah as its antidote. If you involve yourselves in Torah, you will not be delivered into its hand” (Kiddushin 30b).  

Do we hear this? Hashem created the evil inclination. It didn’t just “happen” to be there. He made it.

Soon we will see that all God brings upon us is good. We will understand that we must cry out to our Father in Heaven to save us. We must grip the Torah with “all [our] heart, with all [our] soul and with all [our] resources” (Shema).   

This Rosh Hashanah let us indeed make our Father in Heaven our King.

“Hu Elokainu. Hu Avinu. Hu Malkainu. Hu Moshiainu. He is our God! He is our Father! He is our King! He will save us!”

May the shofar scream out our cry.

May our Father and King rescue His beloved children from all our troubles.

May He renew the world in the primeval purity of its ancient perfection.

May all our tears turn to laughter and our troubles into triumphal glory as we witness the rebuilding of the Holy Temple in our Holy City of Yerushalayim, the capital of the world of peace and justice that will last forever in the days of Mashiach ben David.

 

Roy Neuberger is a popular speaker and author. His latest book, “2020 Vision” (Feldheim), is available at Jewish bookstores, Barnes & Noble, Borders, and online at Amazon.com. Roy can be contacted at roy@tosinai.com.

Fine Wines For Rosh Hashanah

Wednesday, September 1st, 2010

           The blast of the shofar carries loudly and clearly over long distances. Because of that, it was often blown in biblical times as a means of communication – to announce times of danger or the onset of peace. Today the shofar is sounded in connection with the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. In fact, the only specific biblical commandment for the upcoming Rosh Hashanah holiday (in these times) is the sounding of the shofar.

What is not as well known is that the horns of rams, cows, sheep and goats served for many centuries as drinking vessels. Known in Greek as rhyton and in the Georgian Republic as khantsi, drinking horns first came into use with the Vikings. Later, however, made from the horns of bisons, gazelles, sheep, goats, antelopes and domestic cattle, they were adopted throughout Europe. By the Middle Ages, they had become one of the most prized drinking vessels, sometimes set with precious stones and trimmed with silver. Jewish communities were not averse to their use and today, a fine collection of quite ornate drinking horns may be seen at the wine museum on the premises of Chateau Mouton Rothschild in Bordeaux.

Drinking from such horns may have a romantic ring to it, but in fact these are not the ideal wine vessels, as each horn requires its own stand to keep it from falling over. Quite often, because of their size and uneven shape, it causes a good deal of wine to drip from the lip to the chin – and then to stain our clothing. As always, the best drinking vessels for fine wine will be made from thin crystal, keeping in mind that the higher the quality of the crystal, the more we will appreciate the aromas and flavors of the wines we are enjoying.

The following are recommendations for kosher wines from France, Israel and California that will be appropriate not only for Rosh Hashanah but for any celebratory meal. All are available from wine shops carrying kosher wines, as well as kosher wine Internet sales points throughout the U.S. Each of the wines will go well with meals based on large or small cuts of beef or lamb. They will also make fine accompaniments to other meals when served with a platter of mixed cheeses.

Yarden, Cabernet Sauvignon, Israel, 2006: Full-bodied, with gently mouth-coating tannins, sweet cedar wood and notes of tobacco integrating nicely. On the nose and palate wild berries, purple plums and currants on a background of spicy oak, all touched with hints of spices, coffee and light mineral-earthy overtones. On the long finish a hint of red cherries that brings a comfortable smile to the eyes. Drink now-2018. $21. Score: 92.

Herzog, Cabernet Sauvignon, Special Reserve, Alexander Valley, California, 2006: Dark garnet toward royal purple in color, opening with a generously aromatic nose that includes wild berries and tobacco and opens to reveal blackberries, black currants and plums on a background of sweet and spicy cedar wood. Long and elegant. Drink now-2014. $35. Score: 91.

Carmel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Kayoumi Vineyard, Israel, 2004: Aged in oak for 15 months, the wine is dark and almost impenetrable purple in color. Firm tannins and smoky wood come together with currant, blackberry, plum and mineral aromas and flavors, showing hints of Mediterranean herbs and light Oriental spices. Long and generous. Drink now-2012. $31. Score: 91.

Covenant, Red C, Napa Valley, California, 2007: Riper and more fruit-forward than the Covenant. Garnet to royal purple, medium to full-bodied, with soft tannins integrating nicely to highlight blackberry and black cherry fruits those on a tantalizing spicy background. Soft and round, but with plenty to grab the attention. Drink now-2013. $40. Score: 90.

Ch?teau Le Crock, Cru Bourgeois, St.-Estephe, Bordeaux 2005: Dark garnet, full-bodied, with chewy tannins and notes of spicy and toasty oak. Opens to reveal fine blackcurrant, blackberry and chocolate notes and, on the moderately long finish, a hint of eucalyptus. Best kosher edition to date from this winery. Drink now-2014. $30. Score: 90.

Dalton, Alma, Israel, 2007: Almost impenetrably dark garnet in color, a full-bodied blend of 65 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 22 percent Merlot and 13 percent Cabernet Franc. Developed in French barriques for 14 months, showing gently mouth-coating tannins and light notes of sweet cedar wood, opens with ripe black and purple fruits, those on a background of chocolate and sweet chewing tobacco. Drink now-2014. $26. Score: 90.

Ch?teau Giscours, Margaux, Bordeaux, 2005: Well done. Garnet toward royal purple with orange reflections, full-bodied, with soft tannins integrating nicely. Opens on the palate to show red and black berries, cherries and notes of citrus peel. Long, mouth- filling and generous. Best from 2011. $40. Score: 90.

Ch?teau Matras, St. Emilion, Bordeaux, 2004: Ruby toward garnet, with a rich floral, crushed berry and coffee nose. Medium (perhaps medium-full-bodied), opens to show still firm tannins and generous spicy wood waiting to settle down but in fine balance with blackberry and cassis fruits, those supported nicely by hints of roast meat and balsamico. Drink now-2015. $38. Score: 89.

Daniel Rogov is the world’s premier kosher wine critic and the author of two annual books, Rogov’s Guide to Israeli Winesand Rogov’s Guide to Kosher Wines. He can be reached at drogov@cheerful.com.

*  *  *

 

Fine Wines On A Budget

Tierra Salvaje, Cabernet Sauvignon, Mendoza, Argentina, 2009: Dark garnet, medium-bodied, with soft tannins integrating nicely and showing traditional blackberry, blackcurrant and citrus peel notes on a lightly spicy background. Drink now. About $6. Score: 86.

Sol de Chile, Cabernet Sauvignon, Single Vineyard, Estate, Maule Valley, Chile, 2008: Opens with damp earthy, almost compost-like aromas but those blow off after several hours. They reveal medium-body and chunky tannins, those parting to reveal blackberry, blackcurrant and purple plum fruits, those in turn opening to show raspberries and cranberries. A country-style wine, earthy to its core. Drink now. $12. Score: 86.

Our Son Wants To Leave Yeshiva

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

Dear Rabbi Horowitz:

We were taken aback when our 18-year-old son just called us from Eretz Yisrael (we live in Europe) and told us that he was coming home and wants to immediately go to work. He said that he is wasting his time in yeshiva, and just can’t take it anymore. He said that he will “run away from home” if we don’t allow him to go to work.

Our son was never much of a student in Hebrew or General Studies, but we honestly didn’t think things were so uncomfortable for him.

Help! What should we do?

Anonymous

Dear Anonymous:

Please start by taking a deep breath, making a cup of your favorite tea (for Americans I would have said coffee) and just relax. After all, it is entirely possible that your son had a bad day, week or month, and with the proper combination of problem- solving and parental love and guidance, you can help him get resettled in the yeshiva he is currently attending – or in a yeshiva setting that might be more appropriate for him.

It is of the utmost importance that you lower his anxiety as soon as possible and that you start getting comfortable with all reasonable outcomes – for the apparent emotional reasons, and also for pragmatic ones. Obviously, as his parents, you would like to calm him down. But perhaps more importantly, as the ones who will (hopefully) be best positioned to guide him through this challenging time/crisis in his life, it is crucial to realize that it is nearly impossible to have a rational conversation with an agitated person. And from the sound of things, your son is very highly agitated.

I have found that kids like your son (and people in general) get most anxious when feeling boxed in and without any options. It is precisely the frustration of feeling trapped that often drives kids to make rash decisions.

In is interesting to note that our Torah instructed Jewish kings not to completely surround an enemy on the battlefield, but rather to leave them an escape route in the event that they wanted to capitulate – even though placing an enemy under siege was common practice at that time. Why? Because a cornered enemy is a far more dangerous one than one whose back is not to the wall, and the Torah wanted to minimize casualties. And while I am certainly not comparing your relations with your teenager to a battlefield, the importance of reducing stress in situations like this one cannot be overstated.

In practical terms, please call your son immediately and tell him that you look forward to sitting down with him and discussing his life plans – with no preconditions. This means that you will assure him that an array of options will be open to him, including his wish to go to work. That should calm him down considerably.

Do your due diligence carefully and try to get honest feedback from previous rebbeim or teachers. They may help you discern between temporary frustration with his studies and more permanent reasons that may make full time learning impractical for his learning and personality profile.

If one or both of you are able to get away from work and familial obligations, and the finances of a trip do not present a challenge to you, I think it would be better if you would visit him in Eretz Yisrael rather than having him come home. This is because being there will allow you to get a handle on his current school setting, and will help you assess why things are not working out. And even if he ultimately comes home and goes to work, it will help you guide him if you understand why the wheels came off in the current setting.

I know that this advice of letting him know that all options are on the table – including some that you may not be thrilled with – may sound counterintuitive, but I believe that following this advice will result in a far greater chance of winding up with an outcome that will please you.

Here is an analogy that might drive this point home: Think back to the final few hours of Yom Kippur. In all likelihood, you were famished and waiting to finally eat and drink something. But somehow, once the fast was over, you may not have felt as deprived as you did earlier. Why? Because once you have the security of being able to eat, the hunger pangs don’t seem to be so all consuming.

So giving your son your blessing to consider the options he wants may actually make him comfortable enough to give school a second chance – knowing that “Plan B” is always available to him.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/family/parenting-our-children/our-son-wants-to-leave-yeshiva/2010/08/25/

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