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Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Do you ever wonder if your spouse might be a zombie or a demon?

Beitzah 32

Today's Life Yomi is dedicated in memory of Jonah Milner z"l by his granddaughter Sarah LaFreniere.  Today is the final day of shivah and we wish that the family be comforted among all the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

There is a mediaeval tradition (albeit of questionable origin) that suggests that Adam’s first wife was called Lilith.  The story goes that Adam and Lilith couldn’t get along, since each one wanted to be the boss and so Lilith was banished to the world of the demons.  Subsequently, Eve was created from Adam’s side which according to the Talmud means that Adam and Eve were always two equal partners ‘attached at the hip.’   

Believe it or not, Judaism believes in demons and even zombies!  The Talmud describes certain people who may technically be alive, but are essentially the ‘walking dead.’

The Rabbis taught, “There are three kinds of people whose lives aren’t worth living: one who looks to his friend’s table; one whose wife rules over him; and, one whose body is afflicted with maladies.”  Some add: also a person who doesn’t own a change of garment.

The first category that is not worth living is the individual who “looks to his friend’s table.”  This has multiple meanings.  On a basic level, it refers to a person who must turn to others for his basic needs including food and shelter.  Those who add the “change of garment” type similarly place clothing in the category of necessity.    

On a deeper level, however, ‘looking to your friend’s table’ means always looking to see what your friend has in order to size up your own material success.  With such an attitude, you will never enjoy what you have and consequently never enjoy life. 

The fact that one who is afflicted with illness is living a life that is hardly worth living is self-explanatory.  “Abi gezunt” – ‘as long as we’re healthy’ has been the blessing of one Jew to another since the beginning of time.

The middle type of ‘walking dead’ is the person “whose wife rules over him.”  It goes without saying that since up until recently the Talmud was studied almost exclusively by men, the authors saw no need to employ gender-neutral language.   Obviously, the Talmud means that one’s life is not worth living if your “spouse rules over you.”

The relationship between husband and wife should be completely equal.  No wife or husband should ever seek to gain the upper hand in a marriage and “wear the pants.”  Family decisions should be made as a couple with each one eliciting the advice and input of their spouse.  If either one ever starts to lord it over their partner, the subjugated party will begin to feel that their life is not worth living.

And that’s why our Sages explain that Adam and Eve were created equal.  Marriage isn’t about ‘who’s the boss?’  Marriage is about partnership; it’s about equality; it’s about sharing.

Look at your marriage and ask yourself, ‘Am I doing my very best to make sure that my spouse is an equal partner or am I ruling over him or her?’  If you are, Heaven forefend, lording it over them – whether consciously or subconsciously – you are sadly giving your spouse a life that’s hardly worth living.

Do you tell your spouse what to wear?  What to eat?  How to spend money?  Who to be friends with?  What time you expect supper on the table?  If this sounds familiar, then you are being the demon in the marriage.  If this sounds like your spouse, then you are the zombie in the relationship.

You have a duty to bring your spouse to life.  Make them an equal partner in the marriage today and your life will always be filled with blessing, meaning and vitality!  

Life Yomi dedications don’t cost a penny!  To dedicate a day of learning in honour of a birthday, anniversary or yortzeit, all you need to do is commit to sending the Life Yomi of the day (or another Life Yomi teaching of your choice) to 18 (chai) people!  You needn’t provide us with the names of recipients; all we need is the honouree’s name and occasion.  For more details, please email

Do you stubbornly stand up for what is right all the time or some of the time?

Beitzah 31

A friend of mine entered the rabbinate because he is not only an incredible talmid chacham (scholar), but has a wonderful way with people.  Everyone loves Yossi, he knows how to always say the right thing to make you feel good, and he is always able to find solutions to any conflict, by bending over backwards to accommodate.

But he’s been feeling a little pressure lately due to a major issue in his shul. 
“On the one hand, I want to be able to say yes to their demands,” he tells me.  “On the other hand, deep down I don’t think it’s what the Almighty wants.  What should I do?”

In order to utilize raw materials, such as branches and firewood on Yom Tov for cooking and heating purposes, one must designate them for such use prior to the holy day.  Generally, when branches are in a pile, it is understood that they have been designated for use.

Rava taught “Leaves of reeds or leaves of grapevines, even if they are gathered and lying together, are prohibited for use, since the arrival of a wind might scatter them.  If one places a vessel over them before Yom Tov, however, he is good to go.” 

Although Ethics of the Fathers (Pirkei Avos) instructs us to be “soft as a reed,” sometimes we must be a little tougher.   Although we are meant to be just like the grapevine that King David tells us “gladdens the heart of men,” sometimes we must be more solemn. 

Every interaction requires the right vessel – the right approach for the time and place.  Most of the time you must avoid being stubborn and strive to bend to the will of others, cooperating and compromising in order to achieve peaceful resolutions.  But some situations will call for you to place a vessel – a force-field – around you so that you are not blown away like a reed in the wind.  If you always bend, then not only will people walk all over you, but you will end up lacking in principles and sound moral judgment.

Likewise, most of the time, you should aim to make others happy, as wine does.  But you can’t please all the people all the time.  Rabbi Israel Salanter used to say that a rabbi who pleases nobody any of the time is obviously a bad rabbi; but a rabbi who pleases all the people all the time is even worse!   

If you’re not already that guy, turn over a new leaf and become as soft as a reed and as gladdening as a grapevine!  People should recognize you as an individual who is never stubborn and is always out to make other people happy! 

But be prepared for those occasions when you will have to cover yourself with a force-field against those who wish to take advantage of you and jeopardize your principles.  When that happens, you must stand up for what’s right, and not just try to please everyone. 

Ultimately, it’s the Almighty that must be pleased in every situation!

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

The Origins of the non-Orthodox Movements

Beitzah 30

Today's Life Yomi has been dedicated by Dave Marcus in memory of his father Allen Marcus z"l, grandmother Mina Marcus z"l, and uncle Aaron Furman z"l.

In the nineteenth century, assimilation in Germany was rife.  In an effort to climb the social ladder, the Jewish nobility was abandoning their faith and intermarriage was on the rise.  A number of well-intentioned rabbis gathered together with the purpose of reforming Judaism to make it more appealing to these Jews.

One reform led to another until it reached its peak at the celebratory banquet for the Reform seminary’s graduation ceremony in 1883 where shrimp was served.  Appalled by this complete break with tradition, a number of rabbis stormed out and thus began the Conservative movement.

Although carrying food and other necessities is permitted on Yom Tov, the Mishnah states that one should not schlep in the usual weekday manner.

Rabbi Chanan bar Rava inquires about certain women who would fill their buckets from the river and schlep them home in the regular manner.  Rav Ashi responds that in their case there is no other way they could do it without running into further holy day complications.

If those who normally use large buckets were to instead use smaller buckets, it would necessitate a greater number of carrying trips back and forth.  And so in their effort to honour the holy day by altering their approach, they would ironically end up increasing their workload!   Similarly, if those who normally used small buckets were to utilize larger buckets, it would mean that their load would be heavier and they might drop it and have to make even more trips due to the spilled water. 

And placing a lid on the buckets also wouldn’t work since they might come to tie a knot on the holy day.  Likewise placing a towel on top might lead to the forbidden activity of squeezing.

Rabbi Moses Sofer of Pressburg (Bratislava), known as the Chasam Sofer, was wont to play on the Talmudic dictum “Chadash assur min haTorah” (The Torah prohibits the new).  Literally the phrase means that one may not eat the new season’s grains until the Omer offering was brought.  But in an effort to combat the religious innovations of the nineteenth century, he punned that novel practices are biblically forbidden.

Are all novel practices utterly rejected?  Of course not.  On Friday night, Rabbi Sofer certainly sang Lecha Dodi, a hymn that was only composed in the sixteenth century.  On the final day of Sukkot, Rabbi Sofer undoubtedly danced with the Torah, a practice that originated in mediaeval times.

Nevertheless, Rabbi Sofer warns that we must be cautious about wanton innovation, because it might ultimately lead to greater pitfalls.  As the Gemara demonstrates, we could suggest that the women use different kinds of buckets, but if that leads to other potential complications, then better to leave well enough alone.

The word for Jewish law and practice – Halacha – comes from the word meaning ‘to go.’  Halacha is constantly moving forward and responding to the times in which we live.  But it is an organic process, not one that requires human stimulation and assistance.

A sound commitment to tradition is the first and foremost basis for halachic innovation.  And when the rabbis sense that an innovative practice might lead, G-d forbid, to a diminished fealty to tradition, they wisely close the door to such innovation, despite its creativity and prima facie ingenuity. 

We want Jews who are committed to Judaism.  Sans commitment to tradition, sadly it only takes a couple of generations before we lose our brothers and sisters altogether from our Jewish community.  

Let’s strive to find ways to engage every Jewish person and be creative!  But we must do so with a deep reverence of tradition.   And let us inspire all with the warmth and wonder of a Judaism that need not be watered-down and a Torah that is eternally unadulterated!  

Life Yomi dedications don’t cost a penny!  To dedicate a day of learning in honour of a birthday, anniversary or yortzeit, all you need to do is commit to sending the Life Yomi of the day (or another Life Yomi teaching of your choice) to 18 (chai) people!  You needn’t provide us with the names of recipients; all we need is the honouree’s name and occasion.  For more details, please email

Monday, 28 April 2014

Is it better to give money to the synagogue or the homeless shelter?

Beitzah 29

Sadie, the sisterhood president, was addressing the synagogue board.
“Let’s have a fundraiser for the youth homeless shelter!”
“We can’t do that,” responded the vice president, “we need to raise money for our own needs.  Let the homeless shelter worry about the homeless shelter!”

Since measuring is proscribed on a holy day, Rabbi Yehuda says that shopkeepers should avoid using measuring cups on Yom Tov.   Although, the halacha permits filling up a measuring cup without mentioning a precise measure, Aba Shaul ben Botnis would fill his up prior to the festival.

In fact, he would always fill the jugs of wine the night before in order to ensure that his customers received their complete measure and were not short-changed.   His concern was that if he poured out the wine at the time of purchase, they might lose out due to the foam that would gather on top or due to the wine that would remain on the sides of the original vessel.  Aba Shaul was a pious individual indeed!

Most of the time this strategy worked, but occasionally people would come to his shop when he had run out of prepackaged goods.  They would insist on taking their purchases without waiting for the foam or residue to settle. 

One day, Aba Shaul arrived at the Holy Temple in Jerusalem with his pious friends in tow.   He brought three hundred barrels of wine and his friends brought three hundred barrels of oil that they felt should be donated to the Temple since they calculated that over time this amount of foam and residue had accumulated and was not strictly speaking theirs.

The rabbis told them, ‘You really don’t need to do this, but if you insist, then your donation should not go into the Temple coffers, but should be used for public works.’

Our mission in this world is tikkun olam – to make the world a better place.  Sometimes we get so caught up in our own little parochial needs that we forget that the purpose of having strong Jewish institutions is in order to create and sustain a robust, flourishing society.

The rabbis’ message to Aba Shaul and co. was that Temple donations are wonderful, but it’s only a means to an end.  The purpose of our holy service is to make the world a better place.  Sometimes you need to contribute to the Temple and other times you must ensure that you are making equal contributions to society.

Public works are necessary for a vibrant G-dly society.  Such needs include good roads, libraries, universities, hospitals, museums and so on.  You were not placed on this earth merely to improve your own little lot.  You were placed here to create an incredible societal structure! 

That means feeding the homeless – Jewish and non-Jewish.  That means educating the people – Jewish and non-Jewish.  That means healing the people – Jewish and non-Jewish!

By the time you leave this world, you need to be able to say with pride that you are leaving a better world than the one into which you entered.  Invest in G-d’s handiwork – you can and must make a difference in all aspects of this precious world!  

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Develop an amazing memory and boost your IQ!

Beitzah 28

Abe Goldstein has been coming to minyan every day all his life.  But each morning, he runs out of shul straight after davening, not even staying for the Life Yomi shiur. 
One day, I confronted him.  “Mr. Goldstein, why don’t you stay for a few minutes of Torah?
“Oy, rebbenyu,” krechtzed Mr. Goldstein, “I’m not as young as I used to be.  I don’t have the kop for it anymore.”
“But Reb Avrum,” I exclaimed, “you’re a savvy, successful businessman.  How can you tell me you don’t have the head for Torah?”

The Mishnah states: “One may not sharpen a knife on Yom Tov, but one may scrape it upon another [knife].”

Rav Huna explains that the Mishnah’s prohibition refers specifically to sharpening with a stone; however one is permitted to sharpen a knife using a piece of wood.  Nevertheless, Rav Yosef rules that if the knife is so blunt that it cannot even cut by pressure, then one may not sharpen it under any circumstances on Yom Tov.

Rav Yosef’s words offer a deeper insight: ‘One may sharpen a knife that amad (became blunt) on Yom Tov, just as long as it can cut when one applies pressure.’

Amad means ‘blunted,’ but it also means ‘stood.’  We all believe strongly in the importance of educating children and young adults.   But many of us reach a point in our lives when we are at a standstill in terms of education.  We’ve “graduated,” and enter the workforce, never needing to open a book again.

But when you stand still and do not seek to further your education, you slowly lose your ability to think sharply.    Many people satisfy their thirst for knowledge with easy fixes like reading a daily newspaper, because there’s no pressure.   But Rav Yosef warns that your mind can only be sharpened if you apply pressure.

Remember how hard you worked in the pursuit of knowledge when you were back in college or yeshiva?  You were willing to subject yourself to the greatest pressures – late nights, long weekends and short lunch-breaks – in order to become smart, educated and knowledgeable.  Back then, you were sharp, you understood deep, abstract concepts and ideas!

You haven’t lost that edge!  But if you want to remain sharp throughout your life you must be prepared to push yourself to the limit in the pursuit of knowledge.   Memorize tractates of the Mishnah!  Spend time learning the Talmud from the original!  Subscribe to an academic journal!

As long as you are still prepared to push yourself, you will remain sharp as a tack!  Never stop challenging the limits of your mind.  If you rest, it will rust!  

Sleep is the best medicine

Beitzah 27

Rabbi Cohen, the Rosh Yeshiva in Melbourne, has a unique approach to discipline.  Whenever one of the boys in the yeshiva acts inappropriately, he immediately calls them into his office and says:
“Young man, I’d like to see you back here in my office in exactly 24 hours!”
What’s the reason for this strange ritual?

When an animal gives birth to its firstborn, the owner offers it as a gift to the cohen.  Ordinarily, the cohen must take it to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem to be eaten.  If the animal is blemished, however, he may eat it anywhere.  Since there is no incentive for a regular person to cheat, if one presents us with a blemished animal, we trust that the blemish occurred naturally. 

But if a cohen owned an animal that gave birth to a firstborn, we are concerned that the cohen might have intentionally wounded the animal in order to avoid the hassle of taking it to Jerusalem.  And so when he presents his animal to the rabbi to ascertain whether it is sufficiently blemished to disqualify it from the Temple service, the rabbi will interrogate him regarding the origins of the wound. 

Rabbi Ami teaches that while the inspection of the animal and the ruling regarding its blemish must be made before Yom Tov, the interrogation of the cohen may take place on the festival.

A cohen once came to Rava on the eve of the holy day with his blemished animal.  Rava took a look at the animal and asked the man to come back the next day.
“How did this wound occur?” asked Rava.
The man replied that there was barley on one side of a fence and the beast tried to stick its head through the fence to eat the grain.  In the process, it cut its lip.
“Perhaps you placed the barley there on purpose to cause the wound?” inquired the sage.
“Absolutely not!” said the man.  And Rava accepted his word.

Why did Rava make the man come back the next day for the inquiry?  By offering us this additional story, the Talmud is teaching us an important lesson about responding in a cool, calm and collected manner.

Sometimes we do things impetuously and we wake up the next morning and think, ‘Oh my, what did I do?’  

Leaving some decisions till tomorrow is often a healthy way to garner greater clarity and ascertain that you are making the right decision.  Rava figured that really there was no way that he’d be able to tell whether this cohen was telling the truth.  But maybe if the man were to sleep on it, he might just decide to do the right thing, even if he had originally chosen otherwise.  The brief interlude would give him the chance to lie in bed and reflect on his behaviour and make a refreshed decision the next day.

Likewise, Rabbi Cohen understood that if he had disciplined his student immediately, it might have been clouded by emotion.  Instead, he would ask the young man to return 24 hours later, after all emotion on both sides had hopefully subsided.  And at that point, they could have a meaningful conversation about the student’s actions, with much greater clarity and a much better chance to achieve a positive outcome and improved behaviour.

Always make sure that your decisions are not clouded by impure thoughts!  Sometimes those thoughts may be due to anger; other times it may be due to greed or laziness.  The most effective way to gain clarity and make sure that you are making the right decision is often to sleep on it.

You will have the opportunity to ponder the question in bed, unassailed by the noise of the world; the only sound being the voice of your conscience and reason.  And you will awake the next morning refreshed and with a greater sense of clarity to approach your decision in the best way possible.

Sleep on it!  It’s often the best medicine for everything!

Friday, 25 April 2014

Is taking vacation a waste of time?

Beitzah 26

Today’s Life Yomi is dedicated in honour of the visit of the dayanim of the Chicago Rabbinical Council, Rabbis Yona Reiss and Alan Abramson to Edmonton.  Yishar kochachem!

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch once took a vacation in the Swiss Alps. 
“With all due respect, Rebbe,” exclaimed one of his younger colleagues, “don’t you have important religious and communal matters to attend to?”
“My dear Moishe,” replied Rabbi Hirsch, “after 120, when I reach the Heavenly court and the Almighty asks me, ‘Nu, Shamshonke, what did you think of mein Alps?  Did you appreciate all my awesome creations?’ what will I say?”

In order to eat something on Yom Tov, it must have been designated as food at the onset of the festival.  Our tractate began with the problem of the egg that was laid on Yom Tov and therefore not ready to eat before the holy day.  

What if an animal was born on the festival, may it be slaughtered and eaten?  Since it was permissible to be eaten at the onset of the festival, it remains permissible to be eaten following its birth.  How could it have been eaten when the festival began? 

Had its mother been slaughtered prior to its birth, it would have been permissible to be eaten as part of the mother.  Therefore, it is deemed to be innately designated as food even before it is born.   And thus, it may be consumed if it was born on the festival, since in essence it was edible at the onset of the festival.

The Torah commands us to give our firstborn animals to the cohen.  Ideally, he should take it to the Holy Temple and offer it up as a sacrifice.  However, if the dayanim (rabbinic judges) determine that the animal is blemished, the cohen eats it in the regular manner outside the Temple.

If a firstborn animal is born with a blemish on Yom Tov, may the cohen eat it?   Do we say that this blemished animal was essentially edible from the moment it appeared – the judges just needed to come to confirm its blemished status?  Or do we say that since it was forbidden (sans ruling) to be eaten at the moment it was born, the judges’ decision cannot reinstate it as food that was designated to be eaten?  Although the animal may have been born with a blemish, it was not tarnished with that new status until the judges passed their ruling on it! 

The Beraisa teaches that this firstborn would certainly be fit for consumption if the judges were sitting there when it was born and immediately ruled that it was blemished.  As such, it would never have had the status of ‘just firstborn;’ rather, it immediately assumed the status of ‘blemished firstborn,’ and never became unfit to be eaten. 

What are the rabbis doing at the animal birth?  Don’t they have more important things to do than watch animals being born?

Absolutely not!  While for regular people, this is no more than nature doing its thing, for the rabbis, this is the Creator in action.  But this occasion is not just any old act of creation.  They have no doubt come to witness the appearance of a FIRSTBORN!  A special animal is being born today, one that will be dedicated to the Holy Temple. 

Every act of creation is an investment on the part of the Almighty.  He places Divine sparks in this physical world and our job is to elevate those sparks to holiness.  But today is an extraordinary event, the rabbis have come to see an animal that is born already holy – that’s a precious moment indeed. 

How much do you value the wonders of creation?  Do you see the Divine around you?  The entire world is filled with the sparks of heaven, but are you seeing it?  Are you feeling it?

If we would only appreciate the Divinity around us, we would never stop doing mitzvos!  Every piece of creation, every bit of nature has epic potential!

You just need to open your eyes and see the world through the same lens that our tzadikim, our righteous teachers, view the world.  Once you open your eyes, you will never stop running to witness creation in action and striving to elevate the Divine sparks in every part of nature!

Open up your eyes, it’s time to see the Almighty in action!

PS This is not a picture of the rabbis enjoying Edmonton

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Are you tough enough to be G-d's Chosen One?

Beitzah 25

The best-selling book of all time is the Bible.  Despite being few in number, the Jewish people have influenced the world more than any other civilization.  What’s our secret? 

Aussie actor, Paul Hogan, used to kvetch that his favourite scene in Crocodile Dundee was lost on the American audience.  After demonstrating to his potential muggers what a real knife is, Mick walks across the heads of the people in the crowded subway station, a clever allusion to how we impact the world around us. 

The Torah states, “From His right hand, [G-d gave the Torah] to those whose ways are fiery.”

Rabbi Meir explains that the Torah was given to the Jews, because we are tough.  In fact, says the Beraisa, had the Torah not been given to the Jews, no nation or tongue would have been able to stand up to us!

Is being tough a good or bad attribute?  Rashi teaches that the Torah was given to the “tough” Jews to keep them occupied, thereby weakening them and softening their hearts.   In other words, toughness alone is not a positive attribute.  Properly channeled, however, it has the propensity to change the world.

Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish explains:  There are three that are tough – the Jews amongst the nations, dogs amongst other animals, and roosters amongst fowl.  Some add goats amongst smaller animals or the caper-bush amongst other trees.

Ever watched a sheepdog herd the flock?  It does an incredible job of keeping the sheep together, moving them forward as a herd.  If it sees a poor lamb lagging behind – as Mick Dundee reminds us – it will run across the heads of the other sheep to reach the straggler and encourage it to keep up!

How about the rooster, what makes it special?  Every morning, we thank G-d for “giving the rooster the intuition to distinguish between day and night.”  The rooster is tasked with waking up the world to greet the new day.  With its mighty crow, all are awakened to their life’s task. 

Goats bleat their message of inspiration to their fellow creatures, directing them to their roles and duties.  But in a certain way, goats are even greater than roosters.  The rooster only crows first thing in the morning.  The goat understands that often a more constant reminder is necessary. 

And caper-wine, teaches Tosfos from the Mishnah, was utilized as a toughening agent for the Temple spices.  The caper might not have been the sweetest species itself, but that didn’t matter – it was dedicated to doing its part to enhance the Temple spices.

The nation of Israel was given the Torah and charged with becoming “a light unto the nations.”   Throughout history, many have attempted to silence our voice of morality.   But we are tough.  So tough, the Beraisa says, that had we not been softened up by the Torah, we would have walked all over everyone else. 

The Holy One blessed be He gave us the Torah so that we would utilize our tough character to change the world.  Just like the sheepdog is concerned for every last lamb, we are enjoined to seek the welfare of all peoples of the world.  Just like the rooster awakens the other creatures from their slumber, G-d has empowered us with inspiring the world to live with morality. 

Just like the goat never stops bleating, we are instructed to never allow ourselves to be silenced.   And just like the caper, it’s not about being in the spotlight.  When you develop the right relationships, you can be incredibly effective in impressing Jewish values upon those people, and they in turn will make a difference. 

The Almighty has empowered you with an awesome mission.  You are to teach the world.  You are to inspire the world.  You are to change the world! 

You have tough genes – G-d wants you to use them for the betterment of mankind.   Never stop caring!  Never stop awakening people from their spiritual slumber!  Never be silenced! 

And don’t ever think that the mission is reserved for a few sweet spices – the mission is incumbent upon every individual, whether you like being in the spotlight or prefer working behind the scenes.  In the Almighty’s production, all the roles are of paramount importance!

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Why would G-d care about little me?

Beitzah 24

Rabbi Aron Moss tells the following story:

A rabbi was once called to a hospital to see a teenager who was suicidal. Feeling that he was a good-for-nothing who could not get anything right, the boy had attempted to take his own life.  But even his suicide attempt failed.   
The rabbi arrived at the hospital and before he could even say hello, the boy said, “If you are here to tell me what the priest just told me, you can leave now.”
Taken aback, the rabbi asked, “What did the priest say?”
“He told me that G-d loves me,” replied the teen, “What a load of rubbish! Why would Gd love me?
It was a good point. This kid could see nothing about himself that was worthy of love. He had achieved nothing in his life; he had no redeeming features, nothing that was beautiful or respectable or lovable. So why would G-d love him?  The rabbi needed to touch this boy without patronizing him. He had to say something real. But what do you say to someone who sees himself as worthless?
“You may be right,” said the rabbi, “maybe G-d doesnt love you.  But one things for certain. He needs you.

While we are allowed to prepare food on Yom Tov, we may only perform tasks that could not be carried out prior to the festival.  And so one may slaughter meat on the festival, but you may not hunt animals, since it could have been done prior to the holy day. 

The Mishnah states that one may trap an animal that is enclosed in a corral.  The Gemara brings a Beraisa, however, that seems to suggest otherwise.  The Talmud concludes that one may take animals from a small corral, but not a large one.   But what’s considered small and what’s considered large?

Rav Ashi offers three distinctions between small and large corrals.  Firstly, in a small corral, you can catch an animal in a single lunge.  A large corral would require greater effort.   Secondly, a large corral has many corners for the animal to run to, whereas a small corral is much more limited.  Thirdly, the shadows of the walls of a small corral reach the other walls, which is not the case in a large corral.

The word for animal is chaya, which is also the word for ‘living.’  G-d expects great things from you in life.   And so He grants you with the power to achieve greatness in the huge corral of life.  How do you know if you are reaching your potential?

Rav Ashi says that if you can reach your chaya in a single lunge, you are aiming too small.   Aim higher, shoot bigger, you have the potential to achieve so much more!

But if you are dreaming without any limits because you don’t want to close yourself off in any corners, you need to focus.  Nobody can do everything!  You need to figure out what your talents are and develop them, because ‘a jack of all trades is a master of none.’  Aiming high doesn’t mean shooting to achieving everything.  It means choosing a direction and striving to be the best in that area.

Sometimes a field may already be overcrowded.  If you feel that the shadows of the competition are looming above you, it might be too small a coral to achieve greatness.  Find a niche that you can be the best in!  The Almighty created every human being individually.  You have a unique contribution to make to the world; the challenge is to discover it. 

Every day, four times a day, we ask the Almighty to “grant us our portion in your Torah.”  Every person has a special part to add to the world.  What is your special task?  The young man in the story couldn’t go on just thinking that G-d loved him.  G-d doesn’t just love you, G-d needs you and when you strive to achieve your unique mission, G-d’s purpose for creating you and placing you on this earth is accomplished.  You have a special task that nobody else can fulfil!

Inside of you is a part of G-d.  The Almighty wants you to achieve greatness in all areas of your life – spiritual, material, educational, psychological, and interpersonal!   Remember Rav Ashi’s three keys to success: Never settle for mediocrity, always stay focused, and seek to discover why the world needs you!

You can do better than an O.K. Corral!  Strive for an Epic Corral!!

Warning: Internet Ahead

Beitzah 23

Today’s Life Yomi has been dedicated by Ezra & Sara Bavly in memory of his mother, Sara bat Baruch z”l.  May the neshama have an aliya and may she be a melitz yosher (a good advocate) for the family and for klal Yisroel.

We live in a crazy world today.   Our homes, our minds, our children are being bombarded with junk and impurity in an endless stream of troubling information.  How do we protect our lives and the lives of our children from all of the pollution that seeks to infiltrate?

In order for an object to become ritually contaminated, it must have the status of keli, which generally means a manufactured item.  Raw materials cannot become tamei (impure).  The Mishnah states that a pepper grinder consists of three distinct parts that all individually have the ability to become tamei.  

The top section, which grinds the pepper, may become tamei because it is made of metal.  The middle section, which sifts the white pepper from its black shell, may become tamei due to its status as a sieve.   The bottom section, which collects the ground pepper, may become tamei since it is a vessel that is shaped as a receptacle. 

This world contains good and bad.  Kabbalah teaches that the good is often covered by the bad in the form of a kelipah – a shell that must be removed in order to discover the good.   And so our lives are about constantly grinding away the pepper shell to uncover the goodness inside.

Nevertheless, there are three different approaches to dealing with the world around us.  Some people open up their homes and lives as a receptacle to all ideas, perspectives and information.  With such an approach, you must never forget to grind out the kelipah first before it enters your open receptacle.  Ultimately, the Mishnah warns us that with such an open attitude, you run the risk of introducing impurity into your life. 

Others choose to go to the opposite extreme and block out everything around them in an attempt to keep their homes and lives completely clean of the rubbish out there.   The Torah teaches that metal represents warfare, which is why the stones of the Holy Altar (mizbeach) may not be hewn with metal.  And so the Mishnah speaks of the metal or militant approach to dealing with the world.  That too runs the risk of becoming impure, for two reasons:

Firstly, if you block out too much information, you have lost the opportunity to find the good within the bad.  For example, the internet, while being a vehicle for hazardous material is also the greatest teacher of Torah the world has ever seen.  And secondly, if we shield our children from everything that is out there, one day they might wake up and set out to discover it all for themselves with potentially destructive consequences.

Maimonides enjoins us to always seek the golden middle path. The Talmud teaches that in the middle is the sieve.   The ideal way to deal with the world around us is to sift the good from the bad and find the right information and influences to bring into our homes and lives.  But even that method, says the Talmud, runs the risk of becoming impure.  While it may be the safest of all three approaches, nothing is guaranteed and we must constantly be on guard against the dangers of the world around us.

You were placed into this world to discover the good that is hidden under every rock and in every nook and cranny.  Your job is to dig beneath the kelipah to reveal the G-dliness in creation.  It’s not an easy task; it is a task fraught with danger and risk.  But commensurate with the risk is the reward. 

In your quest to reveal the Almighty’s blessing in this world, don’t go to extremes.   Don’t open yourself up to everything but don’t close yourself to the world either.  Find that middle path; help your children learn how to sift through the information and ideas that constantly bombard our lives.  And may you be blessed that you find only purity and that purity only find you all the days of your life.

Life Yomi dedications don’t cost a penny!  To dedicate a day of learning in honour of a birthday, anniversary or yortzeit, all you need to do is commit to sending the Life Yomi of the day (or another Life Yomi teaching of your choice) to 18 (chai) people!  You needn’t provide us with the names of recipients; all we need is the honouree’s name and occasion.  For more details, please email

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Are you really achieving or are you just putting out fires?

Beitzah 22

Today’s Life Yomi has been dedicated by Hal Zalmanowitz in memory of his uncle, Ansel Mark, Osher Anshel ben Moshe z”l.  May the neshama have an aliya and may he be a gutter better (a good advocate) for the family and for klal Yisroel.

“I’m so busy, but I never seem to be able to get anything done!  What’s going on with my life?  I feel so overwhelmed, Rabbi.”  Mrs. Shpitz looked like she would collapse right there in my office.
“Well, let’s do a productivity assessment,” I said, “tell me how your typical day looks.”
“Are you kidding me, rabbi?  I am at peak productivity. I tell you, every day is jam-packed with important tasks.”

On Shabbos, one may not add fuel to a fire.  On Yom Tov, although one may not light or extinguish a flame, it is permissible to add fuel to an existing fire.  However, one may not syphon oil from a burning flame, because it is a form of extinguishing.

Tosfos explains that as you syphon off the oil, the flame momentarily gets weaker, which is akin to extinguishing. 

Sometimes we feel that we are so busy that our lives must be full of accomplishments.  But often we’ve spent our days running around putting out fires.  Had we planned our goals a little better, we would have achieved solid results.

Little do you realize that you are syphoning off fuel – you are sapping yourself of energy – but all you are really doing is putting out the fires in your life!    You feel extremely busy – so you figure that you must be achieving something.  But in reality, you’re not really achieving anything tangible at all. 

It’s time to start planning your life!  Take a notepad and write down your goals.  Then work backwards.  How are you going to achieve those goals?  Make a daily schedule for yourself so that you can see exactly what you need to do each day in order to arrive at your destination. 

With the right plan, you can achieve anything you put your mind to! 

Life Yomi dedications don’t cost a penny!  To dedicate a day of learning in honour of a birthday, anniversary or yortzeit, all you need to do is commit to sending the Life Yomi of the day (or another Life Yomi teaching of your choice) to 18 (chai) people!  You needn’t provide us with the names of recipients; all we need is the honouree’s name and occasion.  For more details, please email

Do Animals have Souls?

Beitzah 21

Today’s Life Yomi is dedicated in honour of the birthday of Rabbanit Batya Friedman, by her husband, Yours Truly, by her brother, Rabbi Yochanan Ivry and by her best friend, Miriam Feigelstock!  

In the movie, NOAH, Crowe’s character believes that his Divine task is to eliminate the evil human species from the face of the earth, while saving the sin-free animals. 

Were the animals as innocent as the movie suggests?

In order to be able to eat on Yom Tov, we are allowed to cook food for ourselves.  How about our pets, can we cook for them?

In contrasting the laws of Yom Tov with those of Shabbos, the Torah states: “Only that which may be eaten for any soul, that alone may be made for you.”  From here we learn that we are allowed to prepare food on Yom Tov.  Rabbi Yossi the Galilean derives from the extra phrase “for you” that one may only cook food for human consumption. 

Rabbi Akiva demurs pointing to the fact that it says “any soul,” which suggests not only human souls.  How does he know that animals also have souls?  Elsewhere, the Torah states: “One who smites the soul of an animal must pay [compensation].” 

Even though they disagree about whether or not one may cook food for one’s pets on Yom Tov, both rabbis agree that animals have souls.  What is the purpose of my cat’s soul?

Souls enter this physical world in order to fulfil the will of the Almighty.  But they are provided with a vehicle called body that is not interested in the pursuit of spirituality.  The body is not bad; it just wants different things to the soul.  We are mammals and our bodies are animalistic by their nature.  The body seeks bodily comforts such as eating, drinking, sleeping and the pleasures of this world.

The soul and the body compete for dominion over your psyche and you are granted free choice over whether body or soul wins.  Every time you are faced with a choice between the pursuit of spirituality versus the pursuit of materialism and physical pleasure, you have encountered the struggle between body and soul and it is up to you to make the right decision.

Our Sages tell us that prior to the Great Flood, just like humankind had turned on G-d, the animal kingdom had similarly become corrupted.  Animals are meant to breed with their own kind.  The pre-Flood animals, however, had chosen mates from beyond their species, violating G-d’s will.  And therefore they too were guilty and deserving of annihilation.  Only the animals that were indeed sin-free were granted entry onto the ark.

How do animals make the choice of whom to mate?  Since they have souls, they too have a certain level of free choice.  While it may seem that most of their behaviour is ‘animalistic,’ the Torah tells us that there are certain choices in life that they are free to make.  That’s why G-d gave them souls.

Treat all animals with dignity and respect!  Care for “All Creatures Great and Small!”  They all have souls – ultimately all of the Almighty’s creations are deeply spiritual beings!   

Life Yomi dedications don’t cost a penny!  To dedicate a day of learning in honour of a birthday, anniversary or yortzeit, all you need to do is commit to sending the Life Yomi of the day (or another Life Yomi teaching of your choice) to 18 (chai) people!  You needn’t provide us with the names of recipients; all we need is the honouree’s name and occasion.  For more details, please email

How to Fight with your Spouse

Beitzah 20

Today’s Life Yomi is dedicated in memory of Morris Karabus z”l, by his wife Erica.  Morris was known in his small town as a “bure Yud” and was beloved by all.  May his neshama have an aliya and may he be a ‘goeie advokaat’ in the Heavenly court for the family and all of Klal Yisroel. 

It had been a long time since Ray and Shirley had enjoyed a pleasant conversation.  Every time he opened his mouth, out came a biting comment.  Of course, her response was equally vicious.  And so day by day, week by week, the cycle of hostility continued and the mountain of animosity grew ever larger between them.

Was there any way to save their marriage?

One may cook food on Yom Tov to eat.  How about offering sacrifices?

Beis Shamai says that one may only offer a shelamim, since it is partly eaten by the contributors.  Beis Hillel allows the offering of the olah, even though it is completely burned on the altar.

Prior to slaughtering the sacrifice, one would lean on the animal which symbolized the transferring of one’s sins onto the animal being offered on the altar.   According to Beis Shamai, leaning is proscribed on Yom Tov, since it is similar to the prohibition of riding an animal on the holy day.  Beis Hillel disagrees and allows leaning on Yom Tov as part of the sacrificial service.

Hillel the Elder was once in the Temple on Yom Tov to offer an olah.  Suddenly, he finds himself surrounded by students of Shamai. 
‘What’s that you got there?’ they jeered at him menacingly, ‘It isn’t an olah, is it?’
Hillel decided to humour them.  Since an olah must be male, he responded, ‘You kidding?  Can’t you tell it’s a female?’ and starts twirling its tail.  Taken aback by his comedic performance, they sauntered off.

On another occasion, a student of Hillel was in the Temple leaning on his animal when he was approached by a student of Shamai.
‘What’s that you’re doing – are you leaning?’ the Shamaian asked pompously.
‘Do you know how to keep your mouth shut?’ responded Hillel’s student, ‘If I wanted your opinion, buddy, I would have asked for it.’
The fellow scuttled away. 

Abaye contrasts these two accounts and offers advice regarding situations of conflict:  ‘When someone starts up with you, never respond with any harsher words than those of the one who began to antagonize.’  

In the first episode, Hillel managed to defuse the conflict by making light of the abuse being hurled his way.   Instead of putting them in their place and rebuking them for their disrespectful attitude, he chose to deflect attention and began twirling the animal’s tail.  Taken by surprise, they walked away from what they probably perceived as a ‘senile old man.’ 

In the second episode, the young man responds sharply to his antagonist.  Yes, he shocks him enough to send the fellow running.  But did that escalate or deescalate the conflict?  No doubt, the Shaimaian walked off harboring even greater ill-feeling toward Beis Hillel.  While the response of the Hillelian was temporarily effective in quieting the individual, in the long run, it would only have served to escalate the conflict between the schools. 

Abaye teaches that when someone is trying to pick a fight with you, you need to think ‘How can I deescalate the conflict?’  The best way to defuse the situation is to take Hillel’s approach of acting calmly and even making light of the stinging comment.  If you absolutely feel that a rejoinder is warranted, your max reaction should be calm and measured, in a manner that directly addresses the situation at hand. 

All too often, sadly, we choose instead to respond in an even harsher tone than the one who started the fight.  That only escalates the conflict. 

The right approach is to ask yourself whether what you’re about you to say will help your relationship or make matters worse.  If what you’re about to say is going to lead to greater ill-feeling, then find something else to say. 

You have the power to choose whether to build or destroy your relationship!   If you value the relationship, make the right choice!

Life Yomi dedications don’t cost a penny!  To dedicate a day of learning in honour of a birthday, anniversary or yortzeit, all you need to do is commit to sending the Life Yomi of the day (or another Life Yomi teaching of your choice) to 18 (chai) people!  You needn’t provide us with the names of recipients; all we need is the honouree’s name and occasion.  For more details, please email

Friday, 18 April 2014

Catch the most beautiful sunset ever!

Beitzah 19

Are you ready for a total soul-body-world transformation?  It’s going to happen any second now.  Where will you be when the greatest event of all time takes place?

Twilight is that magical time between day and night.  The sun has set, but it has not yet become completely dark.  Halachically, we are uncertain as to whether to consider it day or night.  That’s why we begin Shabbos before sunset but conclude it after nightfall.

Just as one may not purify a utensil by immersing it in a mikvah on Yom Tov, one may not even immerse it at twilight on the eve of the festival.   Since twilight might already be Yom Tov, it is already out of bounds for holy day proscribed activity.   Rabbi Shimon Shezuri further rules that one should not purify utensils during twilight any night of the week, even if it’s not Shabbos or Yom Tov. 

Ordinary kitchen utensils that we purchase and take to the mikvah may be used immediately following their immersion.  However, vessels that have become contaminated and are ritually impure have two requirements that must be fulfilled prior to use.  They must be dipped in the mikvah, and then we must wait until nightfall to complete their purification process.

Rabbi Shimon is concerned that someone might dip their items during twilight and then assume that he may use them as soon as it gets completely dark.  But since twilight might already be considered nighttime, that’s not the case.  He would have to wait until the following night to use the items.  Therefore, Rabbi Shimon rules that one should never immerse his impure utensils during twilight, lest he come to use them too soon.

The Gemara suggests that even the first opinion (the Tana Kama) might agree with Rabbi Shimon that one should ideally not immerse anything during twilight during the week.  Their debate concerns whether we should stop somebody who we see running to immerse his utensil close to twilight.   

The Tana Kama assumes he’s running to fulfil the mitzvah of immersion in time.  If he makes it great, if not, he’ll wait until the following night to use it.  Rabbi Shimon, however, assumes that he’s running to ‘repair’ his contaminated tool in order to use it immediately for his work.  Whether or not he makes it in time, he’ll just assume it’s good to go.

The Tana Kama and Rabbi Shimon are arguing about why people are always running everywhere.  The Tana Kama believes that people run to do mitzvos.  Rabbi Shimon assumes they’re probably ‘chasing the dollar.’

One of the tenets of our faith is the belief in the coming of the messiah.  “And even though he should tarry, nevertheless, I shall await him every day.”  We are fast reaching the end of the day – the end of our present era.  With G-d’s help, very soon we will enter the new day of the messianic era. 

As twilight looms, where are you running?  Are you chasing your final dollars, dollars that will be meaningless in the age of spirituality?  Or are you running after mitzvos?  In the messianic era, mitzvos will be worth millions. 

You always need to ask yourself, ‘If the messiah came right now, would he find me pursuing spirituality or pursuing materialism?’  Prepare yourself now, the sun sets in the ‘blink of an eye!’

Thursday, 17 April 2014

If G-d wanted us to be circumcised, why didn't he just make us that way?

Beitzah 18

What’s the purpose of our souls descending into this physical world? 

Before we are born, we are just souls.  Then we are born and our souls enter physical bodies.  And then we die and our souls leave the bodies.  If they’re right back where they started, why bother?

To top it all off, when the messiah comes, the dead will be resurrected.  In other words, the souls will return to earth and occupy their former bodies once again.  What’s the point of all this space-time soul travel?

Beis Hillel teaches that one may not immerse a utensil in the mikvah for purification purposes on Shabbos.  People, however, may immerse themselves on Shabbos.

Rava explains that immersing a utensil on Shabbos is like repairing it.  Yesterday you couldn’t use it, today following immersion you would be able to and so you’re effectively repairing it.  Since repairing utensils is generally forbidden on Shabbos and this seems like a kind of repair job, it is prohibited to immerse the utensil. 

How about people?  They are also repaired by immersing in the mikvah! 

The Talmud answers that when you see someone immersing themselves, you don’t automatically think, ‘Oh, he’s doing a repair job.’  Instead, the immediate reaction is ‘Looks like he’s cooling down.’

Repairing ourselves on Shabbos is not forbidden because we must always work on fixing ourselves.  We were placed into this world to repair the world and ourselves.  The first act performed on a baby – the bris – is a repair job that signals to the child that life in this world is about constantly thinking ‘how can I repair myself?  How can I mend my ways?  How can I become a more complete vessel for G-dliness than yesterday?’

Sometimes you repair yourself quietly, privately.   Other times, you might feel the need to make a more public statement of your new commitment.  For example, for years maybe you generally didn’t get to shul on time.  But then one day you decide to turn over a new leaf and all of a sudden, you are now the first one there each morning.   

How do people react to the new you?  When people see you working on repairing yourself, their reaction should be ‘Looks like he was cooling down’ in his spiritual fervor and so he’s doubled and redoubled his efforts for G-d. 

The reason our souls descend into the physical world is in order to grow spiritually.  The hope is that when they return to Heaven they will be stronger and greater than prior to their descent.   By doing G-d’s will in this world, by constantly working on improving ourselves and the world in which we live, the soul attains greater levels of spirituality.

But the soul can’t do it alone.  Without the body, it would stagnant.  It would be stuck in a certain spiritual plane, unable to go anywhere.  With the help of the body, the soul achieves greatness.

That’s why the ultimate reward will be for the reunited body and soul.   Since they worked in tandem to achieve spiritual greatness, they both deserve to be rewarded.  And so when the messiah comes, the soul will once again descend into this physical world.  This time, however, it will be for good.  The partners who worked together to serve the Almighty – the soul together with its body – will be rewarded for all eternity. 

You were placed into this world to improve yourself.  Your job is to repair the vessel and make it a receptacle for G-dliness.  Every day, you must ask yourself ‘How am I better today than I was yesterday?  Am I passionate about my Divine mission, or am I cooling down?’   Every day that is not an improvement over yesterday is a missed opportunity in your mission on earth!    

Why are some people's lives so easy while others have it tough?

Beitzah 17

“Rabbi, my life is terrible,” Sally complained to me, “Why do some people have it so good?  It’s not fair!  I thought my golden years would be spent in utter bliss, but things haven’t quite worked out the way I thought they would.  Why has G-d done this to me?  Doesn’t He want me to be happy?”

Every day we recite nineteen blessings in the Amidah prayer, three introductory blessings of praise, thirteen blessings wherein we beseech G-d for our needs, and three concluding blessings of thanks.  On Shabbos and Yom Tov, we recite the same introductory and concluding blessings, but we should not beseech G-d for our mundane needs on the holy day – therefore there is only one intermediate blessing which speaks of the holiness of the day.    

The text on Shabbos is “Blessed are you G-d, who sanctifies the Shabbos.”  Rebbe teaches that on Yom Tov, the text is “Blessed are you G-d, who sanctifies Israel and the festivals.”    Ravina explains that whereas Shabbos is independently holy, Yom Tov needs our sanctification. 

When G-d created the world, he set up a system of six days of work and one day of rest, six days of work and one day of rest.  This system continues forever, independent of what anyone does.  In contrast, Yom Tov does not fall on a fixed day.  In ancient times, the High Court in Jerusalem would determine when the new month would begin based upon the sighting of the new moon.  Their determination of the beginning of the month would in turn determine the date of the festival.  And so Yom Tov is in our hands, hence the text of the blessing “who sanctifies Israel and the festivals.”

The quintessential attribute of Shabbos is menucha – rest.  The quintessential attribute of Yom Tov is simcha – joy.  The Talmud teaches us that while the former is not in our hands, the latter is.  We cannot control how much menucha we have in our lives.  Some people’s lives are tranquil – things go smoothly, they are not encumbered with health difficulties, livelihood concerns or child-rearing challenges.  Others have very rough lives; it seems that no sooner has one challenge been resolved when life throws them the next curveball.

Unfortunately, that’s life.  We don’t know why G-d provides some people with easy lives and others with difficult lots.  Menucha is not in your hands.  Simcha, however, is in your hands.  Simcha is the way you react to life’s challenges.  Many people think that happiness is out there, you just need to find it.  With such an attitude, you will never be happy.

Ravina teaches that you control your happiness.  You get to decide whether or not your life will be filled with joy.  You can’t control what life throws your way but you can control your attitude towards the vicissitudes of life.  If you maintain a positive attitude, if you cultivate the wellspring of happiness inside of your essence, then your life will be wonderful, no matter what challenges the Almighty has bestowed your life with. 

Happiness is your choice.  Choose to live a life of joy!  

Monday, 14 April 2014

How to avoid car problems

Beitzah 16

“I can’t believe my transmission’s blown,” Moshe said to his mechanic, “It makes no sense.  Five minutes out of warranty and the gearbox is gone, the exhaust blocks up and now the transmission!?  I don’t why I’m holding on to this piece of junk!”

Poor Moshe, why is his car giving him so much trouble?

Rabbi Takhlipha taught: One’s annual income for the coming year is determined between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, except for expenditure on food for Shabbos and Yom Tov and Torah tuition expenses.  If you spend more on these items you get more; if you spend less, you get less.

If your income for the year is already decreed by G-d on the High Holy days, why should you bother going out to work the rest of the year?  Our Sages explain that while the total amount has been decreed, it is still in a state of potential.  Unless you make an effort, G-d will not allow you to pick the money off the tree. 

At the same time, however, our Sages point out that there’s really no point in overworking since your total salary has already been determined.  You must make a decent effort, but beyond that, you’re wasting your time.  And that is time that you should be devoting to family, G-d and community. 

The exception to the total annual income is powerful: Whatever you spend on Shabbos and Yom Tov is above and beyond the predetermined amount.  And so when you kvetch about how expensive Yom Tov is, you are wasting your breath.  Yom Tov is outside the budget!  You can spend a fortune on Yom Tov and G-d will replenish your account.

How does that work?  My income is fixed, there’s no way G-d can give me more money!

Our Sages explain that when you spend on Shabbos, G-d will find ways in your life to do magic.  Your car won’t break down.  You’ll snag those Black Friday clothing bargains.  There are so many ways that G-d can repay you without you even realizing! 

It goes without saying that you shouldn’t be judging anyone else’s account by accusing them of not spending enough on Shabbos if their car breaks down!  But in your own life, this is the attitude that you should have towards Shabbos and Yom Tov expenses. 

Next time you miss out on that bargain, ask yourself, ‘Am I inviting enough Yom Tov guests?  Did I skimp on my Shabbos cholent meat?’ 

But more importantly, don’t kill yourself working!  G-d has already sealed the deal on how much you’re going to earn this year.  Just put in a good day’s work and then go home and spend time with your family, the Almighty and your community.  And maybe by the time Shabbos rolls around, you won’t be too exhausted to have a table full of guests that shines with zemiros (Shabbos songs) and words of Torah into the wee hours of the night! 

Have you had the big talk with your kids yet?

Beitzah 15

Today’s Life Yomi is dedicated in honour of the 56th birthday of Rabbi Shlomo Seidenfeld of Isralight, Los Angeles.  Biz 120 in good health and much hatzlocho b’gashmiyus uv’ruchniyus! 

We all make incredible sacrifices to ensure that our children are educated in the ways of our heritage.  Jewish dayschool tuition costs an arm and a leg, summer camp is a small fortune, and yeshivos and seminaries are not cheap either. 

Are we getting bang for our buck?  What’s the return on our investment?  Some kids thrive in the system and emerge as committed Jews and leaders of the next generation. Sadly, many others come out of the system ambivalent or worse towards their experience. 

As tuition costs rise and families’ abilities to afford such costs become more and more strained, many are jumping on the ‘charter school’ bandwagon.  I already pay for education in my taxes – if it’s not even guaranteed whether or not my kids will thrive in the system, why shouldn’t I get the government to pay for their education?

Rabbi Yochanan quotes Rabbi Eliezer the son of Rabbi Shimon: One who wants his assets to survive should plant an aider tree in them, as it says “The Almighty is adir (strong) on High.”   The tree is commonly known as aidara, because it survives from dara to dara (generation to generation).

Similarly it was taught in a Braisa: A field that contains an aider tree will never be stolen or attacked and its fruits are forever guarded. 

Rabbi Eliezer is teaching us the secret of Jewish continuity.  If you want your “assets” to survive “from generation to generation,” you must plant the “Adir” – the Almighty in them. 

We spend tens of thousands of dollars educating our kids in tradition, laws and customs.  But how often do we talk about G-d with them?  They become young adults, go off to college and for the first time, they encounter the big questions. 

‘Is there a G-d?  How did this universe come about?  Why do bad things happen in the world?  Why am I here?  Does G-d care about me and what I do?  Why did G-d bother with the universe?’

The Braisa teaches that if our children are conversant in the big questions, they will never be stolen or attacked.  No foreign influences or philosophies will be able to penetrate them, because by the time they have reached that stage of their lives, they will be so well-versed in the truth that nothing will ever sway their faith and reason. 

And so, not only are your assets – your children safe, but their fruits are guarded as well.  You will have grandchildren and great-grandchildren that are committed to our heritage.

The answer is not to throw the towel in and give up on our Jewish schools.  Relinquishing control over our kids’ Jewish education often means surrendering curriculum design to governing authorities, admitting non-Jewish students and a host of other adverse repercussions.    

Instead, we must make sure that we are truly tending to our fields.   It’s not enough to appoint a farm-manager of our affairs – in this case, the school.  The school has its role to play, but as the “asset” owners, it is incumbent upon us to plant the aider – to talk about G-d with our children.

Talk to your kids daily about the Almighty.  As your saplings become trees, the level of conversation must also mature.  Teach them, ask them, engage them.   You’ll be surprised at how much you learn along the way.  And they will forever be protected from any external threat – you will watch them flourish and go on to engage with their children and grandchildren for all generations! 

Life Yomi dedications don’t cost a penny!  To dedicate a day of learning in honour of a birthday, anniversary or yortzeit, all you need to do is commit to sending the Life Yomi of the day (or another Life Yomi teaching of your choice) to 18 (chai) people!  You needn’t provide us with the names of recipients; all we need is the honouree’s name and occasion.  For more details, please email