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Thursday, 29 May 2014

Why some are antagonistic towards religious people

Rosh Hashanah 22

The last few years has seen an upswing in the number of books that have come out attacking G-d and religion.   From Dawkins’s The God Delusion to Hitchens’s God is Not Great, it seems that atheists have a newfound chutzpah.   These ideologues are not content to live their own lives sans spirituality, but they’ve made it their life’s mission to ridicule and destroy G-d and religious belief for everyone.

For example, Sam Harris, author of The End of Faith, writes, “I would be the first to admit that the prospects for eradicating religion in our time do not seem good.  Still the same could have been said about efforts to abolish slavery at the end of the eighteenth century.”   Similarly, physicist Steven Weinberg is famous for his remark to the effect of ‘the most important contribution modern science can make is to destroy the influence of religion on young people.’

Why is it so important to these atheists to destroy religion?

The Boethusians and Cutheans were two sects in the late second Temple period who opposed customary Jewish practice.  As the following three stories demonstrate, they would stop at nothing to subvert the traditional system.

All Roads Lead to Jerusalem
In order for the High Court in Jerusalem to declare the new month, they required the testimony of people who had seen the new moon.  It is such an important mitzvah that if one couldn’t make the journey on foot, one could ride a donkey on Shabbat! 

In an effort to subvert the system, the Boethusians would stand by the side of the road and ambush anyone who was attempting to reach Jerusalem.  The Mishnah teaches that one may even carry arms on Shabbat to protect oneself against the Boethusians.

The Calf-Moon
Originally, the High Court would accept testimony from whoever came.  Eventually they were forced to only accept witnesses that they knew.  Why?  One time the Boethusians hired two people to bear false witness.  Sure enough, the first arrived and his testimony was accepted.  Unbeknownst to them, however, the second fellow was a traditionalist.  

When he arrived the judges asked him how he saw the moon. 
He replied, “I was ascending Maaleh Adumim (a town near Jerusalem) and I saw it crouched between two rocks.  Its head was like a calf, its ears were kid-like and its horns resembled a deer’s.  Its tail was lying between its thighs.  I gazed at it, was startled and fell backwards!  If you don’t believe me, I have two hundred zuz bundled up in in my coat to prove it!”
“Who put you up to this?” they asked.
“I heard,” he replied, “that they were seeking Boethusians to trick the Sages.  I said to myself, let me go and inform them, lest deceitful individuals come and trick the Sages.”
“The two hundred zuz are yours as a present,” said the rabbis, “and may those who hired you receive their just desserts.”

Playing with Fire
Originally, following the High Court’s announcement of the new month, they would light fires to inform the world that the new month had arrived.  A fire was lit on the Mount of Olives.  When they saw it in Sartava, they lit theirs, which in turn was seen in Grophina, and so on “until the entire diaspora was lit up like a bonfire.”

But then the Cutheans began to light their own fires.  All they needed was one false fire and the domino effect began, confounding the entire system.  As a result, the Sages had to annul the fire method and they began sending out messengers each month who would inform the outlying communities that the new month had been established.

Here are three instances of the intolerance of breakaway Jewish groups towards traditional Judaism.  Why couldn’t they just let us be?  We never attempted to subvert their rituals or religious practices!

The problem is that groups that break from tradition are uncomfortable with the persistence of traditional practice.  The greatest example of such intolerance towards Judaism was the attitude of Christianity towards Judaism.  Yes, there were always allegations of deicide levelled at the Jewish people.  But their real issue was ‘If we’re the new Hebrews, why are the old Hebrews still here?  If G-d has abrogated our obligation to observe the commandments, why are the Jews still practicing?’  Consequently, they made it their life’s mission to destroy our way of life.

That’s the reason for the rhetoric of the new atheists.  They’re not content with simply living their lives the way they choose.  They feel the need to bring down everyone else with them.  It bothers them that people still believe in G-d, that people still have deeper meaning in their lives.  And they’ll do anything to destroy that.

We find it within religion as well.  People who adhere to more liberal religious streams often disdain those who still practice devoutly.   And yet they claim to be liberal and tolerant.  The problem is that they are only tolerant of people who are as ‘open-minded’ as themselves.  Present them with someone who believes in traditional religion and they become complete bigots.

Point in case: The leader of the Liberal party of Canada, Justin Trudeau, recently declared that only candidates who are pro-choice are welcome in his party.   He was widely condemned for his position, aptly described as an oxymoron: “There’s no choice but pro-choice.”  Many religious individuals have pro-life principles that they must abide by.   Not to countenance those principles is religious bigotry.

The strange thing is that – religious extremists aside – it doesn’t swing the other way.  We religious folk are pretty tolerant of those who aren’t.  There are no stories of Pharisees who saw the need to disrupt Boethusian rituals.  We’re not lashing out against atheists for believing what they believe, or don’t believe.  We’re not bombarding adherents of liberal religion with our letter-of-the-law convictions. 

We’re happy to live and let live.  We’d be quite pleased if they didn’t bother us and we didn’t bother them and everybody simply respected the other’s right to believe what they wish.   But they just can’t leave us alone.  It bothers them too much and they feel the need to constantly undermine our religious faith and practice.

Don’t let the naysayers sway you!  You know that you’re doing the right thing.  You know that you’re hanging with the right crowd.  Whether or not your observance level in your private life is reflective of your synagogue choice, you know where you belong.  Don’t let anybody convince you otherwise!  

Making Judaism easier in order to save the Jewish people

Rosh Hashanah 21

The latest Pew study has demonstrated that we are hemorrhaging as a people.  We are assimilating in droves.  How do we save our brothers and sisters who are fast disappearing off the Jewish radar?  Maybe the answer is to bend the rules a little and make Judaism more palatable to the disenfranchised.  Allow women to read from the Torah, shorten the service.  Bring music into the synagogue. 

Are we doing everything we possibly could to save the Jewish people?

Concerning his yearning for wisdom, King Solomon writes: “Ecclesiastes wished to yield matters he desired; yea, the words of truth are inscribed upright.”
Samuel explains: “Ecclesiastes wished to yield matters he desired” means that Solomon wanted to adjudicate according to the dictates of his wisdom and skip due process such as the need for witness testimony and the requirement to provide a warning prior to the crime. 

A Heavenly voice issued forth and declared “yea, the words of truth are inscribed upright.” 
The Torah states: “By the testimony of two witnesses or three witnesses the convicted shall be put to death.  He shall not be sentenced by the testimony of one witness.” 

Picture it.  King Solomon is sitting at the bench and he knows that the fellow standing in front of him is a psychopath who has committed multiple murders.  He definitely deserves the death penalty.   But there’s not enough evidence to convict.  Do we let this murderer walk or should Solomon rule according to “the dictates of his wisdom”?

The Talmud is clear: The Torah has provided us with a system of justice that requires two witnesses who must undergo detailed cross-examination.  If they fail to establish beyond a doubt that this person is guilty, then he walks.  It doesn’t matter that Solomon knows the truth.  G-d has spoken.  And ultimately, G-d will take care of the situation.

We can’t save everyone.  The Torah has given us guidelines as to how to reach out to our brothers and sisters, and as Hillel teaches in Ethics of the Fathers states, “bring them close to the Torah.”  Hillel is warning us that the people must be brought close to the Torah and not the other way around.   In our attempt to connect the people to Torah, we mustn’t, Heaven forbid, drag the Torah down in the process. 

G-d doesn’t need His rules to be modified to make it work.  Even if we know ‘better,’ it doesn’t matter.  G-d wants us to follow the Torah, which is “words of truth [that] are inscribed upright.”

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Getting through a 3-day Yom Tov

Rosh Hashanah 20

Today’s Life Yomi is dedicated by Ben & Eve Friedman in honour of their granddaughter Joey’s birthday.  Till 120 in good health!

Anyone who has experienced just one Shabbos can attest to the fact that the ‘gift of rest’ is incredible.  One day of the week we get to switch off the craziness of the world around us – no cellphones, no texting, no email, no Facebook and Twitter updates – one can finally breathe!

But isn’t it a little too much when we have a three-day Yom Tov?  There’s really no such thing as a three-day Yom Tov – the most a Yom Tov can be is two days.  But when Yom Tov starts or ends immediately after or before Shabbos, you get three holy days in a row, which is pretty heavy on even the most devout.  Somehow the novelty of unplugging wears off after a couple of days.

What are we doing wrong?

On Shabbos, we bless G-d “who sanctifies the Shabbos,” but on Yom Tov, we bless G-d “who sanctifies Israel and the festivals.”  The Talmud explains that whereas Shabbos is dependent upon the seven-day weekly cycle, Yom Tov is dependent on the High Court in Jerusalem’s determination as to the beginning of the new month.  Once they have announced the close of the old month and the start of the new month, the date of the festival is set.

When Ulla arrived from Israel, he told the Babylonians how lucky they were that the High Court in Israel had made a 30-day month of Elul.   
“They did you a real favour!” he exclaims.
“What favour?” they ask.
Ulla explains to them that the rabbis made an effort to set the calendar such that they wouldn’t have Shabbos and Yom Tov back to back.  This way, they’d be able to eat fresh vegetables.  Otherwise, sans refrigeration, they’d go bad after a couple of days.

Rabbi Acha the son of Chanina demurs:  “Actually,” he announces, “the rabbis are trying to avoid us having Shabbos and Yom Kippur back to back so that we don’t have any dead bodies lying around awaiting burial for a couple of days!”

The Talmud clarifies why Rabbi Acha doesn’t go with Ulla’s explanation – true, the vegetables might not last if you left them out for a couple of days.  But you could always refresh them by soaking them in warm water.

The complexity of celebrating Shabbos and Yom Tov back to back is not a new phenomenon.  The rabbis in Jerusalem were aware of the challenges and did their best to avoid placing us in a situation that people might resent.  Shabbos is meant to be pleasurable and Yom Tov is designed to be joyous.  We shouldn’t feel that they’re a burden.  So how do we keep them fresh for ourselves and our children?

Rabbi Acha tells us that we can keep our ‘little veges’ fresh by soaking them in warm water.  Don’t assume that they will keep themselves occupied for three days on their own.  You need to be creative to keep them excited and engaged. 

Shabbos and Yom Tov were given to us as a gift to carve out a space in time for our three pillars of personal spirituality, family and community.  Soak yourself in the warmth of Torah.  Make time to learn with your children.  Go out to the park and have a family picnic on Yom Tov.  Sing extra songs at the Shabbos table.  Prepare a topic for discussion at the table.

In today’s technological age, it’s an effort to get ourselves and our kids to switch off from the world and engage in what’s important one day each week.  It’s an even greater challenge to keep the momentum going for two or three days.  But with a little planning and creativity, you will wonder where the three days disappeared to; and together with your children, yearn for next Shabbos to roll around! 

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

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Is it time to annex the West Bank?

Rosh Hashanah 19

The State of Israel is the most humanitarian nation in the world.  Which other country drops letters alerting the local population to an impending attack so that innocent civilians can clear the area in time?  We place our soldiers in the most precarious situations to avoid endangering civilians who are often purposefully standing right in front of terrorists to shield them!

Some people say that Israel goes too far to placate world opinion.  They suggest that we should just do what we need to do and G-d will take care of us.  Judea and Samaria came under Israeli rule following the 1967 self-defensive war.  Instead of worrying what everyone else will think, perhaps it’s time to annex it already and let everything fall into place.  Prior to 2005, we were worried about the demographic problem, but under current conditions, that’s no longer a concern.

Is it time for Israel to do what it needs to do and stop worrying about what the world will think?

In the second century, the Romans decreed that the Jews could not learn Torah, perform circumcisions, or keep Shabbos.  Rabbi Judah ben Shamua went to seek advice from a noblewoman who was frequented by the great men of Rome. 
“Go and protest tonight!” she said to them, and so they did.

This is what they said: “For Heaven’s sake, are we not your brothers?  Do we not share the same father and mother?  Why are we different to any other nation and people such that you have made harsh decrees against us?” 

The Romans annulled the decrees and the Jewish people established that day, the 28th Adar, as a festival, the day that “good tidings reached the Jews that they would no longer be separated from the Torah.”

Sadly, it took a couple of generations of persecution before we figured out how to work the political system in Rome.  Only a few years earlier, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai was hiding in a cave to learn Torah and Rabbi Akiva was being martyred for teaching.   During that period, we humbly accepted the Divine decree and did what we needed to. 

And then, one day, Rabbi Judah ben Shamua woke up and wondered, ‘What if I were to go out and seek advice on how the Roman political system works?’  Off he goes to a wise lady of Rome who explains their system of democracy and that one can transform the system through citizen engagement.

‘Go and demonstrate for your rights,’ she says, ‘Present your case as a question of religious discrimination and equal rights for all citizens.’  Sure enough, Rabbi Judah and friends follow her advice and the laws are changed.

Who knows?  Had we figured out the system sooner, countless lives might have been saved!  The Romans might even have had mercy upon the Holy Temple and chosen not to burn it to the ground.

But we’re a stiff-necked people.  We think that we should do whatever we think is best and G-d will take care of us.   And yet, the Talmud teaches us that G-d helps those who help themselves.  He placed us in this world and each time and place has a political system that dictates how the world operates. 

We don’t have all the answers.  In Rabbi Judah’s case, he recognized that he needed to ask the Roman noblewoman how the system works.  And when he took her advice, voila, the decree was annulled!

Israel is not an island in the middle of nowhere.  We must be cognizant of world opinion and do whatever we can to succeed as a nation-state in the global society of nation-states.   Of course the world has higher expectations of us and nobody else is held up to the same standard as Israel is.  But that’s because we’re the Jewish people and we should strive to be a ‘light unto the nations’ – a model for all peoples as to how to be the most moral human beings on the planet.

Thank G-d, the world for the most part recognizes that Israel has bent over backwards for the peace and security of all peoples.  Let’s continue to do whatever we can to make the world think the world of us!

Monday, 26 May 2014

You want to get better? Pray harder!

Rosh Hashanah 18

On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we declare “Repentance, prayer, and charity remove the bad (of the) decree.”   Pretty simple formula: you want a good year?  Repent, pray and give lots of tzedakah!

So does that mean that if I had a bad year, I didn’t pray hard enough?  I didn’t give enough charity?

Rabbi Meir taught: If two people took ill with the same malady or two faced judgment over the same law, but only one left his bed or only one was acquitted, how are we to explain this phenomenon?  The answer is that one prayed and was answered and the other prayed and was not answered.

Why is one person answered while another in the same situation is not?  Answers Rabbi Meir: The one who prays a complete prayer is answered but the one who prays an incomplete prayer is not answered.

Does that mean that if we see someone who does not recover from their illness, it means that they didn’t pray hard enough?!?  Had they prayed a “complete” prayer, they would have survived!?!

That is absolutely false and based on a misunderstanding of the nature of prayer in Judaism. 

The word “prayer” in English connotes asking G-d for our needs.  Tefillah – the Hebrew word for prayer – means so much more.  There are various elements of tefillah, including praising G-d, beseeching G-d, and thanking Him. 

But the most important function of prayer is connecting with the Almighty.  G-d wants you to have a relationship with Him.  The deeper the relationship, the more complete the prayer and the more complete your relationship with G-d.

In fact, the Hebrew word for ‘complete’ – shalem – is the same word as ‘peace’ – shalom.  To be complete with G-d is to be at peace with Him.   

When you start praying, you expect that G-d is going to give you the answer that you want to hear.  But the more complete your prayer-experience gets, the more you begin to understand that ultimately G-d knows what’s best for us.  And if He has decreed a certain fate for us, He knows what he is doing.   A complete prayer is one where you develop such an intense relationship with the Almighty that you are completely at peace with His decision.

That’s why Rabbi Meir doesn’t suggest that the fellow who is “answered” recovers.  He may or may not.  But he does “leave his bed” – he leaves his predicament with the understanding that G-d loves him no matter the outcome.   Similarly, the one who is “saved” from judgment – whatever the final outcome, he is “saved,” knowing that G-d is in charge of the ultimate plan.

Our prayer on the High Holy days doesn’t promise that “repentance, prayer and charity” will remove or annul the bad decree.  Rather, it states that the bad of the decree will be removed.  When you develop a powerful relationship with the Almighty, whatever He sends your way will be much more tolerable, knowing that He has a plan.

Prayer is one of the pillars upon which the world stands.  It’s time to stop thinking about what G-d can give you or owes you when you talk to Him.  Next time you pray, think about everything He already does for you.  You will be incredibly awestruck and realize how much He loves you.

You will then be on your way to complete prayer – a relationship with the Almighty that is deep beyond words where your life and being will be out of this world!  

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Do we believe in Original Sin?

Rosh Hashanah 17

Today’s Life Yomi has been dedicated by Andrew Gergely in honour of his wife Aliya Spigelman’s birthday.  Till 120 in good health! 

Do you ever feel so tied down by your past that you just can’t move forward?

When regular counseling fails to work, mental health professionals sometimes turn to hypnotherapy as a tool to guide their clients.  The goal is to pinpoint the moment when the challenges began.  If they can reconstruct the moment and choose an alternative direction, perhaps then the butterfly effect that has led the person to this unfortunate point may be rectified. 

Many problems that people experience in their lives today are due to deep-seated issues that began way back in their past and are embedded in their subconscious.  If the original point of departure can be mended, the consequences will hopefully fall into place. 

One of the thirteen attributes of G-d’s mercy is that He is “abundantly kind.”  The House of Hillel teaches that the Torah means that G-d “tips [the scales] in favour of kindness.”

The academy of Rabbi Ishmael explains: When an individual is being judged by Heaven, G-d “removes the first sin first.”  Imagine all the merits are on one side of the scale and all the sins on the other.  G-d, in His abundant kindness, extracts the first sin that the person committed and allows the scales to tilt to the side of merit.

How does that work?  It makes sense if the merits and sins are more or less equal.  Take away one sin and the scales are now imbalanced in favour of the merit side.  But what if the person has many more sins than merits?   Simply removing one sin won’t achieve anything!

The key to understanding Rabbi Ishmael’s statement is in the fact that G-d is removing the first sin.   Oftentimes, it’s that first sin that leads the person astray.  At that critical juncture, the individual was tested.  Exercising his free will, he unfortunately chose to sin.  What then happens, though, is that he triggers a chain reaction where he ends up committing a slew of further sins in the wake of the first transgression.  

The reason that G-d sees fit to remove the initial sin is that in reality that was the only time the person acted of his own volition.  All subsequent misbehaviour was merely the consequence of his ‘original sin.’  And so those sins don’t really weigh much on the scales.  Remove the big sin and the scales automatically tip in favour of the side of merit.

The key to improving your relationship with the Almighty is look back on your life and figure out the turning point that led you on a path that parted ways with your ideal spiritual direction.  If you can pinpoint the decision you made that triggered your current path, you can work on redirecting yourself towards a different path in life.

Often it was just one bad decision that led you to where you are today.  Don’t let one mistake determine the rest of your life!  If G-d can remove that impediment, so can you!  Find the fork in the road, backtrack and take the other path. 

All roads may lead to Rome but very few lead to Jerusalem.  Set yourself on the right path in life and spiritual success will follow! 

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

Who is Satan?

Rosh Hashanah 16

The Zohar tells the story of Princess Anna who grows up in a kingdom of isolation.   An only child, her father gives her the finest education and upbringing, shielded from the corrupting influences of the outside world. 

One day, the king thinks to himself “My daughter is an incredible young lady.  She is intelligent, well-mannered and thoughtful.  But let’s be honest.  She knows no life other than the sheltered existence I have given her.  One day she will become queen of the kingdom and will have to run the country.  Does she have what it takes to face the vicissitudes and challenges of real life?”

He decides to test her.  He hires a handsome young man called Olaf to seduce her to sin. 

What’s going through Olaf’s mind as he steps into the princess’s chamber?

On the one hand, he’s been hired to do a job and must do his very best to succeed.  On the other hand, he knows that ultimately the king will be happiest if he fails at his mission due to the princess’s faithful moral compass. 

On Rosh Hashanah in the synagogue, we first sound the shofar before the musaf prayer and then again during the prayer.  The initial shofar ceremony is referred to as the tekiot meyushav – the seated blasts – since, although we all rise for the mitzvah, strictly speaking one could sit.  The second shofar ceremony is called the tekiot me’umad – the standing blasts – since the shofar is blown while we are standing for the musaf service.

Rabbi Isaac asks, ‘Why do we blow the tekiah and teruah shofar blasts while sitting and again while standing?’ 
And he answers, “In order to confuse Satan.”

Rosh Hashanah is the Day of Judgment when the Heavenly court scrutinizes our actions over the past year and determines the outcome for our year ahead. There are advocating angels that defend our record and Satan is the prosecutor that presents the case against us.  

Rashi explains that Rabbi Isaac is saying that due to the second set of shofar blasts, Satan will no longer be able to present his case for the prosecution.  When he hears how much the Jewish people love mitzvos – so much so that they’ve blown the shofar not once but twice – his words get confounded. 

Fine, I understand that the first time this happened, poor Satan got confused when the people blew the shofar an additional time.  All ready to present his case in the Heavenly court, suddenly he’s thrown a curve ball by the Jews’ commitment.  But how about the following year?  Seriously, he got confused again?  And again and again each year after that?  What is he, an idiot? 

The Zohar explains that G-d sends Satan, or Olaf, into the princess’s chamber – the lives of human beings – to test us.  Satan is not in competition with the Almighty or working against Him, G-d forbid!  He works for G-d.  His job is to seduce us to sin and then prosecute in the Heavenly court.   But ultimately, Satan knows what will make G-d happiest – if we faithfully pass the test and overcome the challenge! 

On the Day of Judgment, Satan is all ready to present his case for the prosecution when suddenly we blow the shofar not once, but twice!  At that point, he looks at G-d and shrugs his shoulders, “I tried!”

It’s not that he’s confused because he wasn’t expecting the defense’s curve ball.  Rather, he has executed his mission to the best of his ability but once again he has been bested by the people.  And at the end of the day, he is happy because the Almighty is happy.  His message is: I did my job, they beat the challenge and there’s nothing more I can say, other than ‘Good Yom Tov and Shana Tova!’

When you are faced with challenges and tests in life, always remember that even Satan wants you to win!  If you can overcome the obstacles, you will be happy, G-d will happy and even Satan will be happy!  You are the Almighty’s prince/ss!   He wants to know that you can lead His kingdom!  Stand up and show Him that you are up for the task and able to meet whatever challenges He sends your way!  

Friday, 23 May 2014

Hands-On or Hands-Off Parenting?

Rosh Hashanah 15

Today's Life Yomi has been dedicated by Justice Eric Macklin in memory of his father Yaakov ben Zev hakohen z"l.  

What’s the best way to raise your kids?

Contemporary parenting books offer all sorts of opinions ranging from totally hands-off to nurturing them to a degree that most would call smothering!    Should you be active as a parent, on top of your kids’ homework, meeting with their teachers, choosing their friends?  Or should you take a step back and let them grow unimpeded? 

In each year of the seven-year agricultural cycle, one must separate tithes for the Kohen and Levite.  In addition, on the 1st, 2nd, 4th and 5th years, one must eat a special tithe in Jerusalem.  On the 3rd and 6th years, this tithe is given instead to the poor. 

Concerning vegetables, the Beraisa teaches: “If one picked vegetables the day before Rosh Hashanah before sundown and then once again after sundown . . . if it was the end of the 2nd year and beginning of the 3rd, the first vegetables picked are subject to regular tithes and Jerusalem tithes, but the second lot are subject to regular tithes and poor-man’s tithes.”

By contrast, concerning an etrog, the Beraisa teaches: “If one picked an etrog the day before Tu BiShvat before sundown and then once again after sundown . . . if it was the end of the 3rd year and beginning of the 4th, the first etrog picked is subject to regular tithes and poor-man’s tithes, but the second is subject to regular tithes and Jerusalem tithes.”

The discrepancy between the time of year when these two cases take place is due to the fact that vegetables have their New Year on the 1st Tishrei while fruit have theirs on the 15th Shvat.  Each of those dates is the cut-off point to determine what crop belongs to the old year and what crop is the part of the new year. 

But why does the first Beraisa use the transition between years 2 and 3, while the second Beraisa switches to years 3 and 4?   The first time we encounter a difference in tithing duties is between the 2nd and 3rd years and so the second Beraisa should not have waited the extra year!

The Gemara answers that our Sages are teaching us about the tenderness of the etrog tree. During the sabbatical year when the field is a free-for-all, everyone comes in and touches the tree.   All this touching negatively impacts the tree’s ability to bear fruit and consequently it doesn’t produce any new fruit for the next three years. 

The Talmud is teaching us that as much as one touches the vegetable plants, there’s no damaging effect, but not so the etrog tree.  If nobody would touch the etrog tree, it would bear fruit immediately.  Instead people ruin its abilitiy to grow and bear fruit by their excessive handling.

King Solomon writes in Proverbs “Educate each child according to his way.”  In G-d’s parenting book, there is no one perfect way to raise children.  Some are little veges, which must be nurtured and constantly watched.  Veges are the kind of kids that you must ask whether or not they’ve done their homework, who their friends are, and what time they’re coming home.

Other kids are like the etrog tree.  Too much handling and the kid will not succeed.  Excessive attention and the tree won’t bear fruit.  These kids need their space and they will produce the most beautiful fruit of the field.

The art of parenting is taking the time to figure out the nature of each of your kids, and not parenting according to your own personal style, but according to what’s best for each of your children individually.

Remember, G-d entrusted you with His children, because He knows that you have the skill to raise them all exceptionally!  Tune in to what each child needs and your kids will turn out incredible human 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

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Rabbi Shopping

Rosh Hashanah 14

Are you allowed to go ‘rabbi shopping’?

What is rabbi shopping?   Rabbi shopping is the phenomenon where one seeks to always find the rabbi with the most lenient opinion in every matter of Jewish law.  There are rabbis that will allow you to eat gelatin; there are rabbis that will allow you to walk around bareheaded; there are rabbis that will allow you to eat soybeans on Passover; there are rabbis that permit using a microphone on Shabbat, and so on.

These aren’t all the same rabbis, of course.  But somewhere in the world, there is an Orthodox rabbi that permits each of these practices.  The art of rabbi shopping is mastering the ability to find the rabbi who is most lenient in each particular situation.  Is that okay?

The Talmud teaches: A Heavenly voice announced ‘The opinions of the House of Hillel and the House of Shamai are both the words of the Living G-d.  The Halacha, however, always accords with the House of Hillel.’

Prior to the Heavenly voice, continues the Tamud, ‘if you wanted to act according to the rulings of the House of Shamai, you could.  If you wanted to act according to the rulings of the House of Hillel, you could.   If, however, you were to act according to the leniencies of the House of Shamai and the leniencies of the House of Hillel, that is wicked.’ 

‘And concerning one who acts according to the stringencies of the House of Shamai and the stringencies of the House of Hillel, the verse says, “the fool walks in darkness.”  Rather, one must act either according to the House of Shamai regarding both their leniencies and stringencies or according to the House of Hillel regarding both their leniencies and stringencies.’

Rashi explains that the concern with following the leniencies of both or the stringencies of both only applies when maintaining both positions would be self-contradictory and therefore either wicked or foolish.   For example, the Houses of Hillel and Shamai disagree over whether the loss of one or two vertebrae of a spine renders it incomplete.  According to Hillel, you need just one; according to Shamai, it takes two to make it incomplete.

Thus, for the purposes of transferring impurity, an impure spine with only one missing vertebra would transmit impurity according to Shamai, because it is still complete.  The House of Hillel would demur.   However, for the purposes of deeming an animal treif (non-kosher), an animal with a broken spine that was missing one vertebra would still be complete according to the Shamai and therefore kosher.  For the House of Hillel, it would be incomplete and therefore treif.

In the first case, the House of Shamai is stricter and in the second, the House of Hillel is stricter, even though they are referring to the same question of what constitutes a complete spine.  Rashi explains that to take both lenient or both stringent positions would be a paradox and therefore wrong.

In contrast, Rashi says that you are allowed to adopt multiple leniencies or multiple stringencies from different rabbis in completely different situations.  Of course, we would only adopt this approach in matters where the Halacha has not yet been definitively decided universally accepted, and there remain acceptable halachic differences of opinion. 

And so Rashi would permit rabbi shopping, ‘where one agrees with the rationale of one rabbi in one case and another rabbi in a different case.’  In other words, you shouldn’t go shopping just because you are looking for the easy way out.  But if you sincerely agree with one rabbi in a particular situation and a different rabbi in a completely different scenario, that’s acceptable.

A good litmus test to determine whether you are acting sincerely is to ask yourself how often you adopt the stringent position.  If you never adopt stringencies, then you are obviously just looking for the easy way out and justifying the rationale in each case accordingly. 

Stringencies aren’t just for fools.  If you love someone, then you’ll go to great lengths to please them.  If you love the Almighty, then you’ll bend over backwards to serve Him in the finest way possible.   If your rabbi has ruled stringently on a case, he’s not just doing to make your life difficult.  He’s doing it because he believes that’s what G-d wants.  

But if your heart and head are leaning towards a more lenient position in any given situation, then Rashi says you may go with it.

The most important thing that the Almighty wants from you is that no matter what position you choose to take you do not disparage anyone else for choosing a more lenient or stricter position.   If there is a valid Torah opinion that has ruled one way or the other, then you must show tolerance and respect for anyone that chooses to adopt that ruling in their halachic practice.

If you decide instead to disrespect them, then you haven’t gone the stricter or more lenient route.  May G-d have mercy upon you, you have chosen the non-halachic approach and that is unacceptable! 

May you find the right approach to serve G-d in a halachic manner that is true to Him and true to your understanding; and you may you always have tolerance and respect for those who choose to serve Him in accordance with stricter or more lenient rulings!  

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Solving the Jewish Illiteracy Epidemic

Rosh Hashanah 13

Today's Life Yomi has been dedicated by Luba & Clive Allen in honour of their son Joel's birthday.  Till 120 in good health!

Over the last couple of years, there has been a flurry of books and accounts by young adults who have left their Hasidic communities and are trying to begin life anew.   The problem faced by many is that not only have they lost their familial support system, but they were never equipped with the tools to survive in the ‘outside world.’  Many don’t know how to read and write English, let alone have any secular education or qualification.

When most people hear such stories, they are shocked to learn that such illiteracy exists amongst the Jewish people.   The leaders of these communities believe that their children should be immersed in the sea of Torah with as little influence from and connection with the outside world as possible. 

Is this what G-d wants?

The Torah states: “You shall tithe the entire crop of your planting the produce of the field year by year.”  The Mishnah elucidates the phrase ‘year by year’: for tithing purposes one may not mix the crop of one year with the next year’s crop.  The cut-off date for the year is the 1st Tishrei (our Rosh Hashanah). 

Rabbi Assi points out that the Torah refers to the festival of Sukkot as “the festival of gathering as the year departs,” explaining that any crop that was gathered at Sukkot belongs to the previous year’s crop.  Crops that reached one third of their full growth potential before Rosh Hashanah belong to the previous year and the rabbis determined that anything that was gatherable by Sukkot (fifteen days later) must have reached their requisite third before Rosh Hashanah.

Rabbi Jeremiah asks Rabbi Zeira, “How would the rabbis know the difference between a third, and less than a third [of crop growth potential]?”

Rabbi Zeira responds sharply, “Have I not told you not to remove yourself from the world of Halacha?  Every measurement of the Sages is precise!”  He then proceeds to list examples, such as when the Sages instructed that the measurement of a mikvah is forty seah, they determined the exact amount of water needed to immerse one’s entire body.  A minute amount less would be insufficient.

Rabbi Jeremiah humbly apologizes for his question.

To be an expert in the Torah, one needs to be well-versed in all areas of scientific enquiry.  One must know mathematics, physics, biology, agriculture, astronomy, and so on.  Otherwise, it is impossible to figure out halachic measurements.  A talmid chacham – Torah scholar – cannot just know the Five Books of Moses and the commentaries.  One must have a solid general education to master the Torah.

And so it is sad to see religious communities that shun secular education, failing to recognize the broad scope of Torah wisdom.  If these kids never learned math, they never truly learned Torah.  If they didn’t learn biology, there’s no way they could’ve mastered the Talmud.

Sadly, this ignorance is just as prevalent on the other side of the coin.  Most Jews today deny their children a proper Jewish education.  Many young adults who seek a greater connection to their heritage suddenly find that they are grossly ill-equipped for a relationship with the Torah.  In most cases, they are lucky if they can read Hebrew, let alone be able to translate a verse of the Chumash with Rashi’s commentary. 

Are you giving your children a fair chance at their Judaism?  Are you equipping them with the basic skills they need to survive as committed Jews?  Can they learn the Torah and commentators in the original?   Can they study and understand a piece of Talmud on their own?  Do they have a decent knowledge of Halacha and different minhagim (customs)? 

Or will they be starting their spiritual lives from scratch?

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.  Or you can just post it to your Facebook page!  For more details, please email

Monday, 19 May 2014

Get rid of simmering anger before it boils over!

Rosh Hashanah 12

When I offer premarital counseling to young couples, one of the commitments I ask them to make to one another is that should the relationship ever go awry, they will seek counseling.  Sadly, too many marriages break up with one of them deciding that they’ve had enough and then simply walking out. 

Meanwhile, the other one is sitting there in shock, having never realized that their spouse was so unhappy.    Had they sought help, the marriage very often could have been saved.  But by the time it’s over, it’s often way too late for that.

How does this tragic state of affairs happen?

The Torah states: “In the six hundredth year of the life of Noah in the second month . . . all the springs of the great deep burst and the windows of heaven opened.”
The Beraisa teaches: “Since the generation of the Great Flood corrupted their ways, the Almighty corrupted the natural order over them.”

We’ve previously discussed the debate between Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Joshua concerning when the world was created.  According to Rabbi Eliezer, the world was created in the month of Tishrei, and according to Rabbi Joshua it was in the month of Nisan. 

For Rabbi Joshua, the Beraisa’s statement that G-d corrupted nature makes sense.   The second month following Nisan is the dry season and so if it rained, G-d had to change the natural order.  But according to Rabbi Eliezer, the second month following Tishrei is anyway the rainy season.  So what does the Beraisa mean when it says that G-d corrupted nature?

Rabbi Chisda answers that the water that descended was not ordinary rainwater.  It was boiling hot water that immediately scalded the inhabitants of the earth.   How does he know this?

When the Flood concludes, the Torah states “And the waters subsided.”  The same word is used to describe Ahasuerus’s anger when Haman is hanged, “And the king’s anger subsided.”  Rabbi Chisda explains that the Hebrew word for subsided suggests ‘cooling down.’   Therefore if the Torah employs that word, the waters must have been hot. 

Rashi clarifies Rabbi Chisda’s reference to the verse in the Book of Esther: Ordinary anger ‘boils’ as another verse in the scroll makes clear “And his anger was burning within him.”   And so to subside from anger normally evokes an image of cooling down.

Rashi’s description of ‘ordinary anger’ that boils implies that there is also a kind of anger that doesn’t boil, it just simmers.

Many people are good at concealing this sort of anger.   Unfortunately, however, doing so is really not helpful.  If you’re angry with your spouse, for example, and you just keep it bottled up, eventually you’re going to explode.  And sometimes your spouse has no idea how angry you are until that point of explosion, by which time it’s too late.

Maintaining your anger at a simmering point is dangerous.   You need to let go of it before it blows.   That means asserting yourself and discussing your problems with your spouse.    Yes, you might raise your voice and present yourself inappropriately.  But it’s much better that you get it out of your system now, rather than explode later in such a way that’s irreparable.

Of course, ideally, you should strive to avoid ever becoming angry.  The way to achieve that is to discuss matters of concern with your spouse as soon as they occur, so that they don’t become bottled up inside you. 

But if you do have simmering anger issues, you have to let go of them as soon as you can.  Holding them in will only make matters worse in the long run.  Talk to your spouse.  If you need to, seek outside assistance.  Sometimes it helps just to have a third party at the table.  And sometimes, the trained counselor can be particularly helpful – it’s probably not the first time s/he’s encountered whatever issues you have.

You don’t need to be angry!  You’re only making yourself miserable.  In the long run, everyone will suffer.  Don’t let it simmer, take care of it today!  

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Do you own your Judaism or are you just doing whatever your parents did?

Rosh Hashanah 11

We’re all familiar with the classic story of the balabusta who would always cut off the ends of her roast before cooking it.  Upon being questioned as to this strange practice, she explains that she was taught to prepare it that way by her mother.  They call the mother and ask her to elucidate and she says that she was taught to do it that way by her mother. 

One visit later to the seniors’ home and everything becomes clear. 
“Why would I always cut off the ends of my roast before cooking it?” chuckles the old lady, “Well, back in the day, we couldn’t afford a large pot.  And so I had to cut off the ends to fit the piece of meat into the small pot.”

While people often quote this fable to criticize the abundance of meaningless customs and rituals, in actuality it is a sad reflection of most people’s day-to-day lives.

On 15th Nisan 2448, our nation left Egypt.   The Egyptians had endured ten miserable plagues and finally Pharaoh agreed to ‘let the people go.’  During the plagues, were we still working as slaves? 

The Beraisa states: “On Rosh Hashanah, our ancestors in Egypt ceased being slaves.”   Thus, for our final six and a half months in Egypt, we were no longer working for Pharaoh.

Tosfos points out that according to the Mishnah in tractate Eduyot, the plagues lasted twelve months.   And so, for half the plagues, the Children of Israel were still enslaved.

Picture it.  The Egyptians are looking far and wide for pure water to drink, because everything has turned to blood.  Their lives have been completely disrupted because there are frogs everywhere.  They can’t stop scratching themselves because the land is writhing with lice.   There are wild animals everywhere wreaking havoc and then all the beasts die, spreading physical contamination.

And while all this is going on, the Israelites just keep showing up to work, day in day out.  They just continue doing their thing: looking for straw, making bricks, building pyramids; oblivious to the chaos around them.

And then one day, somebody wakes up and thinks to himself, “You know, we probably don’t have to do this anymore.  If I don’t show up to work today, nobody’s going to say boo.”  And slowly but surely this brilliant idea spreads and eventually all the Jews realize that they’re done with the whole slavery thing.

But why did it take them five and a half months to figure that out? 

Sometimes we’re so used to doing what we do that we get caught in a rut.  Our poor ancestors had been slaves for two hundred and ten years.  That’s all they knew.   Any other life didn’t ever occur to them.  The only life they were familiar with was the one where you get up each day and work as a slave to Pharaoh. 

Stop. Think.  Why do you behave the way you do?

Are you doing whatever Judaism your parents gave you?  Or have you taken ownership of your spiritual life?   Some people go through the motions for many years through childhood and into their adult years until one day they finally wake up and ask themselves why they’re doing what they’re doing.  And often there are pitiful consequences – because they failed to discover themselves earlier.

Or take the bulk of our people who go through life with at best a tenuous connection to their Judaism, as bequeathed them by their parents.  They hang onto it by a mere thread of consciousness because they’ve never stopped to give their religious commitment any thought.  It is what it is and hopefully nothing changes.  After all, change is complicated and takes effort, so why bother? 

Sound familiar?

It’s time to wake up!  Stop working for Pharaoh, he’s not even watching!  Don’t just do whatever Judaism you do because that’s what you’ve always done.  Stop and figure out what it means to you – maybe it’s time to do something completely different.  Perhaps it’s time to break free of the bonds of slavery that have trapped you throughout your life. 

It’s time you figured out for yourself the most spiritually enriching way to lead your life and may the Almighty bestow you with the wisdom to seek, find and own the truth.  Your life will become eternally meaningful and blessed.  

What's wrong with Intermarriage?

Rosh Hashanah 10

“Help, Rabbi, our son has just told us that he wants to marry Christina!”

We teach our children to love all peoples.  We impress upon them the beauty of equality, tolerance, appreciating cultural experiences. 

And then we tell them that they can only marry Jews.  How can we argue that everyone is essentially the same and then ask them not to marry people due to their creed?

The Beraisa taught: “Rabbi Eliezer says the world was created in the month of Tishrei . . . Rabbi Joshua says the world was created in the month of Nisan.”

Rabbeinu Tam explains that in Tishrei, G-d decided to create the world, but did not begin until Nisan.  Rabbi Isaac Luria, the holy Arizal, likens the process to the two stages of conception and birth, the former taking place at Tishrei, the latter at Nisan.  Hence the prayer we recite following the shofar blasts on Rosh Hashanah, “Today is the conception of the world.”

According to Kabbalah, the two stages manifest themselves in our personal identity.  On the first of Tishrei, the entire world is judged by G-d.  Our prayers in the synagogue are universalistic in nature – we pray for every human being and every creature.  Tishrei represents the creation of the entire universe.

By contrast, Nisan is a uniquely Jewish experience.   We sit at our seder table and recount the Exodus from Egypt and the birth of the nation of Israel.   Nisan is the creation of the Jewish people.

These two occasions are paramount to our understanding of ourselves and our purpose in the world.  We were created by the Almighty to make this world a better place.  We have an obligation to be citizens of the world and care for every individual and creature.

Integral to that worldview, however, is the necessity of having a strong Jewish identity.  If G-d has entrusted the Jewish people with a mission to teach the world His values of morality, love, peace, freedom and tolerance, we can only do so if we maintain our special Jewish character.   If we lose our identity in the process, we will ultimately forget that we have been charged with a unique task.

Natan Sharansky teaches that without a strong identity and value system, one cannot appreciate the importance of protecting democratic freedom.  To understand and love the ‘other,’ means that I have a strong sense of self and appreciate what I have been tasked to respect and protect.   

We must teach our children to love all peoples and promote tolerance and appreciation for all religions, cultures and nations.  But at the same time we must imbue them with a powerful feeling of pride in their own special heritage.  Telling them to love every individual and appreciate every culture is no way contradictory to asking them to love and appreciate their own identity.  On the contrary, it is an integral part of the message.

Tishrei and Nisan are the two poles of the calendar that are designed to hold sway over us.   If you feel that you are being pulled in the direction of universalism and also pulled in the direction of Jewish particularism, it’s because there’s a centrifugal force drawing you towards Tishrei and a centripetal force drawing you towards Nisan.

Both are integral.   With a strong Jewish commitment and identity, you and your children and children’s children will help to foster a global community of peoples living in harmony, tranquility and respect for all.  

Friday, 16 May 2014

Should we impose our "Western" values on the rest of the world?

Rosh Hashanah 9

Recently, the Canadian government appointed an Ambassador of Religious Freedom.  The job of Dr. Bennett is to promote religious freedoms and fight intolerance and persecution around the world.  The US has had such an office for over a decade, but not without controversy.

At issue is the question of whether we should be in the business of imposing our views of freedom on other peoples.    What gives us the right to missionize our values to the rest of the world?   If we believe in freedom and democracy, do we have a duty to share those ideas with the rest of the world or should we just mind our own business?

The Torah states: “And you shall sanctify the fiftieth year and proclaim dror (liberty) in the land for all its inhabitants.  You shall have a jubilee year, you shall return each one to his portion, and each one shall return to his family.”  This verse teaches us that slaves are set free in the jubilee year.

The Beraisa explains that the word dror means ‘freedom.’   Rabbi Judah explains the etymology of the word.  It comes from the word ‘ladur’ meaning ‘to dwell,’ since a free man can “dwell in any place and move his merchandise through every country.”

Why does Rabbi Judah add that the free man can “move his merchandise through every country”?  It seems to have nothing to do with the word dror, which refers to the first part of his explanation that he may “dwell in any place”!

Rabbi Judah is teaching us that although ‘liberty has been proclaimed throughout the land,’ we are not truly free until we can expand our freedoms to ‘every place and every country.’   Freedom should be for all peoples in all places.

There are critics who contend that our nations are pretending to promote freedom when in fact it is merely a façade for promoting our economic advantage.   Are we indeed gaining financially when freedom is encouraged?

Rabbi Judah acknowledges that our capacity to ‘move merchandise through every country’ is an important indicator of the level of freedom in any country.  Whether that merchandise is physical goods or an open market for ideas and ideologies, we are not truly free until we are able to move freely “through every country.” 

We are so blessed to be living in countries that share our values of freedom and tolerance.  May we merit to see the day when we will be able to ‘proclaim liberty’ for all peoples of the world.  And may our countries have success in their endeavours to bring the message of freedom to all the nations of the world: religious freedom, political freedom, economic freedom and ideological freedom.  

Thursday, 15 May 2014

G-d is waiting for your invitation

Rosh Hashanah 8

I was once giving a Lunch ‘n’ Learn for Hillel students at the university.  I was explaining that we believe that G-d is intimately involved with this world.  In fact, He is constantly recreating the world every moment.
“G-d doesn’t control my life.  It just randomly happens according to the dictates of nature,” one student brazenly challenged me.
“You’re absolutely right,” I responded. 
The poor kid was taken aback and didn’t know what to say. 

Concerning the festival of Rosh Hashanah, King David writes in Psalms, “For it is a law unto Israel, judgment for the G-d of Jacob.”  Based on this verse, the Rabbis teach that “the Heavenly Court does not begin judgment until the Earthly Court has sanctified the new month.”

It takes 29 ½ days for the moon to go around the earth and so every Jewish month ends up having either 29 or 30 days.  In ancient times, witnesses would come to the High Court and testify that they had spotted the new moon.  Once validated, the Court would declare that the new month had arrived.

The Gemara notes that since the new month is not in effect until the Court has said so, Rosh Hashanah – which falls on the first of the month – cannot happen until the Court decides.   And since Rosh Hashanah is the day that G-d judges the world, He cannot begin judgment in the Heavenly Court until the Earthly Court declares the day as Rosh Hashanah!

The Talmud is teaching us that we have the power to invite G-d into our world!  Until we declare that we are renewed and sanctified, the Almighty doesn’t enter! 

You can choose whether to invite G-d into your world or not.  If you choose to, you are allowing yourself to be guided through life.  If you choose not to invite the Almighty into your life, then your life will indeed be random.  Your life will be at the mercy of the forces of nature, as G-d has arranged the workings of the world. 

It’s not that G-d is not actively involved in your world – the entire world is in the hand of G-d – but He is acting in a more hidden manner.   And who wants that?

Invite G-d into your world!  Let Him guide you through life.  Your life will be out of this world!  

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Don't let life pass you by

Rosh Hashanah 7

The Gaon of Vilna, Rabbi Eliyahu Kramer, was one of the greatest Torah minds to walk the face of the earth.  His diligence was unsurpassed. 

His son once found him in tears.
“Papa, why are you crying?” 
Rabbi Kramer showed him a little notebook with times, dates and subjects. 
“You see this blank space?” the old man asked his son, “I was going over how I spent my time over the last twelve months and I discovered four minutes that I cannot account for.  Woe is me, they are lost forever!”

The Beraisa states: “The 16th Nissan is Rosh Hashanah for the Omer.  The 6th Sivan is Rosh Hashanah for the Shtei haLechem.” 

During the time of the Holy Temple, one was not allowed to eat of the new crop until the Omer (Barley Measure) offering was brought.  Similarly, one could not bring grains as an offering in the Temple until the Shtei haLechem (Double Loaf) was offered.  Thus, these two dates effectively became the New Year for consumption of the crops, which until those respective dates, were prohibited. 

Why does our Mishnah only list four Rosh Hashanahs?  It missed out these two dates!

Rabbi Six the son of Rabbi E.D. answers that the Mishnah only includes Rosh Hashanahs that are not dependent upon human action.    When the four major New Years roll around, it automatically becomes Rosh Hashanah simply by virtue of the date on the calendar. 

By contrast, the abovementioned two Rosh Hashanahs don’t happen unless we bring the Omer and Shtei haLechem offerings.  They’re not mentioned in the Mishnah because they’re not like regular Rosh Hashanahs.   The Mishnah wants to warn us about the nature of a regular Rosh Hashanah – they come whether you like it or not.

Ready or not, Rosh Hashanahs happen.  Even if you remain stagnant, the calendar doesn’t.  Life doesn’t stand still.  Every moment, the clock is ticking.  The Vilna Gaon understood that and that’s why he was so distressed when he realized four minutes had happened and he couldn’t remember what he had accomplished during that period of time.

Rosh Hashanah is a reminder that we are on the clock.  Every minute is precious.  Do you remember how you filled the last couple of hours, days and weeks?  You can’t afford to just sit back and relax, because while you are relaxing, the world is moving.   Every day, every hour, every minute comes independent of what you do.  But you can determine what will be accomplished in the next thirty minutes.

Life happens whether or not you choose to board the train.  For some of us, life just passes us by.  Don’t be left standing on the platform!  Run to catch the train, you have unlimited potential and a lifetime of achievement to accomplish!  

Feeling like an ATM for your spouse?

Rosh Hashanah 6

Today’s Life Yomi has been dedicated by Greg Pesin in memory of Rabbi Meir Baal HaNess ztz”l, whose yortzeit is today.  May you be blessed with all the miracles you seek in life! 

Prior to starting full-time in the rabbinate, I worked as a financial advisor in New York City.  Closing a deal was a three-step process.

First, there were the cold calls.  Once you’d established contact with a potential client, second step was to have an initial meeting where you would pitch the concept.  Step three was to meet with them and discuss their financial portfolio in full.

In setting up the third meeting, I learned that you always have to ask the question of whether it would be with the client alone or if their spouse would be there.  Many men in particular, did not want their wives to know the extent of their financial situation, for better or for worse.

King Solomon writes in Proverbs: “If you do not have money to pay, why must your bed be taken from beneath you?”

Rabbi Yochanan (some say it was Rabbi Elazar) taught the meaning of this verse:  “A man’s wife only dies if he is asked for money back and he does not have it.”

The Talmud contrasts owing money to other people with owing offerings to the Temple.  The Torah states: “If you promise [an offering] to Hashem your G-d, do not be late to pay, for Hashem your G-d will surely demand it from you and you will bear the sin.”

Says the Talmud: When you owe money to G-d, only you bear the sin, but when you owe money to other people, your spouse is part of the equation.

What does the Talmud mean when it says that one’s spouse dies if you do not pay back money you owe?

One of the primary causes of divorce is financial stress.  Sometimes the main breadwinner in the household is unable to adequately provide for his/her family, leading to the breakdown of the marriage.

If you desire a successful marriage, you must maintain a completely open relationship on all matters, including finances.  Some “men,” says the Talmud, will sink into debt – debts that they cannot repay – in order to keep their “wives” at a certain level of lifestyle.  Many wives don’t even know about their husbands’ financial woes until it’s too late.  And then they just pack up and leave.

And of course in our day and age, it’s very often the other way around.  The wife is the major breadwinner while her husband is studying, parenting or simply earning less.  The Talmud’s message goes both ways.

 If you don’t have an open and honest relationship with your spouse about your finances, in the words of King Solomon “your bed will be taken from beneath you” – your marriage will die.  The Talmud doesn’t mean literally that your spouse will die; but as your spouse, s/he will die.  S/he will no longer be your spouse. 

Even if the marriage appears to survive, is it possible to maintain a façade to one’s spouse that everything is okay with them spending money freely, while you are stressing out about paying back your debts?   Your marriage will only be alive and real if you are completely open with your spouse.  What’s the point of one spouse struggling and stressing out while the other is enjoying life with no holding back?  If they share their true financial situation with one another, they can work together to maintain the family finances at a reasonable level and share the burden of their situation.

The exception to this, says the Talmud, is perhaps when one owes money to G-d.  Owing money to the Almighty is not as stressful because He can forgive one’s debts.  If you get in over your head with your commitment to G-d, He will forgive you if you can’t afford to pay on time.  And so the Talmud suggests that when it comes to your personal relationship with the Almighty “[only] you shall bear the sin” – it is between you and Him.  You needn’t share all the details of your spiritual obligations with your spouse.  

Certainly – as Tosfos suggests from another tractate of the Talmud – sharing the most intimate details of your spiritual relationship with your spouse is the ideal – being completely open and honest with your spouse about all matters is important for your spiritual growth.  But if you are not ready to do so yet, that will not destroy your marriage.  Keeping finances secret from one another will. 

Before you got married, they probably read the traditional tenaim (conditions) before the two mothers broke a plate.  At that point, you made the following commitment:
“They shall not run away nor conceal from each other anything with regard to their possessions, rather they should equally share authority over their possessions, in peace and tranquility, as is the way of those who are children of the Torah and who are in awe of G-d.”

Being a child of the Torah and having awe of G-d means being honest and open with your spouse.  Share your entire self with him/her.   You will both live happily ever after!

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