Follow by Email

Friday, 31 October 2014

Choose the Best Path in Life!

Daf Yomi Yevamos 27

I was having coffee with Bill.  I needed a new shul president.  Let’s face it, I was asking a lot of him. 
“Rabbi, why me?  There are loads of other people who could do the job,” Bill said.
“Maybe,” I replied, “But, Bill, you are the best man for the job!”

Shmuel taught: We aim for the best chalitzah (levirate marriage annulment), as the following case demonstrates.  There were two brothers married to two sisters (Sisters A & B) and each had an additional wife (Co-wives A & B).   The brothers died, leaving their widows to perform the levirate marriage (yibum) with their surviving brother.  With whom should he perform the yibum or chalitzah?  (Reminder: When one does yibum or chalitzah, one automatically frees the co-wife.)

Choice #1: Do yibum with Sister A.  This is not possible, because he has a bond of potential levirate marriage with Sister B and one may not marry two sisters.
Choice #2: Do chalitzah with Sister A.  This would dissolve his relationship with Sister B, because one may not marry the sister of one’s ‘divorced’ wife.   It would also dissolve his relationship with Co-wife A, since she is the co-wife of Sister A.  However, it would not dissolve his relationship with Co-wife B, since she is two degrees of separation away from him and there is a more superior path he could take, as follows.
Choice #3: Do yibum with Co-wife A.  This would theoretically work, but practically her co-wife, Sister A, is forbidden to him, since he has a bond of potential levirate marriage with her sister, Sister B.  And so therefore yibum is not possible.
Choice #4: Do chalitzah with Co-wife A.   This would dissolve his relationship with Sister A, her co-wife.  It would also dissolve his relationship with Sister B, his now ‘divorced’ wife’s sister.  But he would have to do chalitzah still with Co-wife B, who is three degrees of separation from him (albeit still forbidden to him).   This path is the most superior, since yibum would have been possible with Co-wife A and Co-wife B, had the sisters not been in the picture.

Shmuel’s rule is that whenever you have two options, you must take the better option.  They might both be acceptable, but if one is more preferable, then it makes the other the relatively bad choice.  

We think of free choice in life as the ability to choose between right and wrong.  But sometimes the choice is between good and great.  According to Shmuel, when faced with such a decision, if you choose the option that is just good, then you’ve made the wrong choice, the bad choice.

In the realm of Jewish communal responsibility, you might have an opportunity to step up and lead and you’ve thought to yourself, ‘They don’t need me.  Anyone could take care of it.’  That may be true, but if you could do the better job of leadership, then you are the right choice and ‘anyone’ is the wrong choice.

The same is true in your own personal life choices.  If you have two options, free choice often means the decision to go with the better choice.  Taking the easy route and telling yourself that the okay choice is still acceptable sometimes means failing the test of free choice. 

Maybe you’re choosing where to live.  There’s nothing wrong with living in any particular place, as long as it’s not Sodom and Gomorrah (downtown Amsterdam?).  But there are okay choices and better choices in terms of Jewish community and education for your children.

Whether it’s a matter of what to eat, where to pray, or who to hang out with, you’re constantly making choices in life.  Most of those choices don’t ask you to decide between right and wrong.  The choice is most often between good and better.  May you make the best choices throughout your life!

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Are you a Martian?

Daf Yomi Yevamos 26

“Whenever we have an argument, he disappears!” said Nicole.
“Nicole thinks that you need to talk about everything.  Yap yap yap.  She doesn’t know how to be quiet, even when we’ve spoken about something a million times,” responded Keith.

Sounded like a textbook John Gray case.   In Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus, Gray explains that men and women have fundamental emotional differences.  When the Venusians had issues, they would gather together to discuss; but when the Martians had problems that would disappear into their caves. 

The Mishnah states: The following people may not marry Sheila for fear of an ulterior motive when they release her from her marriage to Bruce: One who arrived from overseas with a gett (bill of divorce) from Bruce to Sheila, claiming that he witnessed the signing of the document; one who arrived from overseas testifying that he witnessed Bruce die; a rabbi who prohibited Bruce and Sheila from living together for a vow of abstinence they made.  Nevertheless, Sheila is permitted to marry any of these men’s sons or brothers.

The Gemara asks: How is our Mishnah different to the case of the Beraisa that teaches that if there were rumours about a man and woman engaging in a forbidden relationship, not only may they not get married to one another, but nor may he marry her mother, daughter or sister.  In that case, we are concerned that they will see each other regularly and may come to sin.  The Gemara answers:  Women frequently go to visit other women, but men are not frequently around other men. 

John Gray was not the first to suggest that men and women are different in their social habits; the Talmud already proffered this explanation over a thousand years ago!   The Talmud clearly states that women are more likely to come out of their caves and chat than the men.

Men and women are different.  We have different needs and different ways of dealing with issues.  The first step to success in marriage is to recognize these fundamental differences.  Once you know that your husband has a biological tendency to disappear, it makes it somewhat easier to deal with and not take personally.  You’ll understand and give him the space he needs.

Once you recognize that your wife has a biological proclivity to talking about a problem, you won’t simply disappear.  You’ll sit down and talk.  You’ll listen.  You won’t jump to offer solutions without being asked.

We live in an age where we are increasingly being told that men and women are the same; that our differences are to be found not in nature but in nurture.  But it’s not helpful when it comes to dealing with relationship issues.  Unless you are prepared to acknowledge, respect, and understand your differences, you will not be successful in your marriage. 

The Almighty created men and women as a kind of yin-yang.  You want to thrive in life?  Don’t ignore the differences.  Make the most of the unique qualities your spouse brings to your life as a member of the opposite gender.  And your relationship will forever be exciting, meaningful, and unbreakable!

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

In your eyes you can do no wrong

Daf Yomi Yevamos 25

The prophet Nathan appeared before King David and told him a story: There was once a rich man who had abundant flock and cattle.  And there was a poor man who had just one sheep.  That sheep was treasured – a member of the family that meant everything to them.  One day a traveler arrived requesting a sheep.  The rich man seized the poor man’s sheep, leaving his family with nothing. 
‘What would you do?’ asked the prophet.

King David was furious.  ‘That man deserves to die!’ he replied.
Nathan looked at him pitifully.  ‘That man is you.  G-d gave you everything.  And you desired Uriah’s wife.  And so you sent him off to the battlefields to die, so that you could take his widow.’

The Mishnah states:  If Fred arrived from overseas and testified, ‘I killed Sheila’s husband, Bruce,’ we trust that Bruce is dead and Sheila is free to remarry, but she may not marry Fred, because we have relied on his testimony to release her.
The Gemara asks: How can we use Fred’s testimony?  He is a murderer!
Rava teaches: A person is closely related to himself and therefore cannot incriminate himself. 

You are your best friend and closest relative.  When you act in a certain way that might not be 100% kosher, you find all sorts of ways to justify your actions, because you love yourself so intimately and deeply.  That was King David’s problem.  He wanted something so bad that he could find all manner of rationalization to justify his actions.  But when he was confronted with the story told impartially, he was suddenly incensed at this fellow’s cruelty.

It’s time to start judging others the same way you would judge yourself.  You can find all sorts of excuses and reasons for your own imperfections.  When you see someone else acting out of line, instead of jumping to accuse them of wrongdoing, rack your brain to think about what might have motivated their improper behaviour.  That’s the key to judging everyone favourably.

Nobody’s perfect.  You aren’t perfect.  Your spouse isn’t perfect.  Those around you aren’t perfect.  But if you use the same litmus test on everyone else that you use on your own actions, you will see the beauty and righteousness in everybody!  

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

You are the only one in the race

Daf Yomi Yevamos 24

The great Chasidic master, Reb Zusha of Anipoli used to say: When I get to Heaven, they’re not going to ask me, ‘How did you match up to Abraham?  Or how did you match up to Moses?’  No, they’re going to ask me, ‘How did you match up to Zusha?’

The Mishnah states:  Two unrelated men married two sisters but we do not know which man betrothed which sister.  Then both men died in a freak roller-coaster accident while they were on their joint honeymoon.   Each of the deceased had two brothers, one of whom from each family is required to perform the levirate marriage (yibum) by marrying his brother’s widow.  But which one is his brother’s widow?

The problem is that if he chooses the wrong one to marry, he might be marrying his potential wife’s sister, which is forbidden.  Therefore, one from each family should perform the annulment (chalitzah) and then his brother may take the other sister in the levirate marriage.  If the two brothers from one family went ahead and both performed chalitzah, the two other brothers should not both perform yibum, since they cannot ascertain that they are marrying the right girl.  Rather, one should do chalitzah and then the other may do yibum.

However, if they went ahead without consulting the court and both did yibum, we permit them to stay married ex post facto.   The Gemara explains why: Each one may say that he happened to marry the girl that was right for him.

Here we have two men who turn around and say, ‘Hey, look, if I married her, then she was obviously my basherte (soul-mate) – it was meant to be.  This is the path that G-d paved for me!’  Says the Talmud: We accept that argument.  If only we all saw the hand of G-d in every step as He guides us through life.

Every person has their own special destiny.  Your strengths and weaknesses were custom-made for your opportunities and challenges.  The greatest nod of recognition you can give the Almighty is when you acknowledge that the lot in life you received was the portion that was meant for you.

Many people spend a lifetime comparing themselves to everyone around them.  As Reb Zusha taught, the only one you’re competing against in your race is you.  It doesn’t matter if your neighbour is richer, smarter, more learned, fitter, better-looking or kinder.  The Almighty wants to know how Zusha compares to Zusha.  How are you matching up to your potential in life?  G-d has given you all the right ingredients to make it happen.  Are you utilizing them to your fullest ability?

Your Portion in life is a custom-made Porsche that has all everything you need to succeed.  Recognize the hand of G-d, every step of the way.  If you max out on fulfilling the potential the Almighty has granted you, the day will come when you won’t hesitate when they ask you ‘How did you match up to Zusha?’!  

Monday, 27 October 2014

G-d has no favourites

Daf Yomi Yevamos 23

Following the victory of Deborah and Barak against Sisera, the Children of Israel enjoyed peace and tranquility in the Land for forty years.  But as time wore on, we forgot the debt of gratitude we owed the Almighty and began to forsake His ways.  G-d delivered us into the hand of Midian and for the next seven years, they ruled over Israel.

One day, an angel appeared to a young man called Gideon, who was threshing wheat at the winepress, to hide it from the Midianite rulers, for fear of it being seized.
The angel said to Gideon, “G-d is with you, O mighty hero!”  Gideon stared blankly back at the angel, not sure to whom he was referring. 
“I beg of You, my Lord, with what shall I save Israel?  Behold, my family is the most impoverished of Manasseh, and I am the youngest of my father’s house.”

Rabbi Pappa taught: Marriage takes effect even when one betroths a forbidden woman, as the Torah states, “When a man shall have two wives, one favoured and one despised.”  Now, does G-d favour anyone or despise anyone?  Rather, favoured means favoured in terms of marriageability; and despised means despised in terms of marriageability.  And the Torah states, “When he shall have . . .”

Rashi explains that the Torah here proceeds to instruct us that if his firstborn child came from the despised wife, he may not transfer the rights of the firstborn to his child from the favoured wife.  Now, that is obvious – the Torah need not teach us that a person may not break the Law due to his own passions.  Clearly, favoured and despised cannot refer to the emotions felt by the husband and so therefore the Torah must be referring to G-d.  And since G-d does not despise anyone for who they are, Rabbi Pappa explains that it must refer to the fact that the marriage was legally forbidden and therefore despicable in the eyes of G-d.

Sometimes we think that G-d has favourites.  You might look around you and see everyone else’s success and wonder why the Almighty has forgotten about you.  You might think you’re not worthy of G-d’s love, because of the family you come from, the place you come from, your poor education, the bad decisions you’ve made in life.

Those were the same thoughts going through Gideon’s mind when the angel appeared to him.  He felt he was a nobody.  Why would G-d choose him to redeem the Children of Israel?

But the Almighty has no favourites!  He despises no man!  He loves you with an affection that is way beyond anything you can imagine in this physical world.  He has great plans for you.  Who knows, you might even be the redeemer of Israel!

It doesn’t matter where you come from.  It doesn’t matter who your family is.  Maybe your own parents had favourites and you were labelled the black sheep.  G-d doesn’t listen to such nonsense.  He loves you unconditionally.  He sees past your past. 

Gideon turned to G-d and said, ‘I’m no mighty warrior, you must be confusing me with someone else!’  And G-d replies, ‘Oh yes you are.  I have already seen what you have yet to see!’  For the Almighty who is above time, the way He sees you is as the mighty warrior having already fulfilled your future potential!

The Almighty loves you to the very core.  He gets giddy just thinking about you and the amazing accomplishments you are going to achieve in life.   Believe in yourself, because G-d doesn’t just believe in you, He already knows it!

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Would you adopt a baby found on your doorstep?

Daf Yomi Yevamos 22

Have you ever thought about what you would do if your doorbell rang one day and you opened the front-door to find a baby lying there?  If the parents could not be located, would you take the child into your own family or give it up to someone else for adoption?

True, that kind of thing only really happens in movies.  But at any given time, there are thousands of children in your town looking to be adopted.   Let alone the hundreds of thousands of children in poverty-stricken areas of the world who are desperately seeking parents.  Would you bring a child who needs love and care into your home and family?

The Talmud teaches: A convert is like a newborn child.  Rashi explains this means that all of his biological relationships have no legal bearing.  Thus, theoretically, a brother and sister who both converted could marry each other. 

Nevertheless, our Sages decreed against such unions, lest people say that these converts came from a state of greater holiness to a state of lesser holiness – up until now they would not have contemplated this relationship (due to the Noahide prohibition against incest) but now that they have converted to Judaism they are permitted to engage in such a relationship!?!  

Rabbi Nachman taught: Although the Torah does not allow witnesses to be related to one another for fear of collusion, the rule is different for converts who have acquired the status of newborns.  Maternal brothers who converted to Judaism should not testify together in court.  However, if they did, their testimony is usable.  Paternal brothers may testify in the first place.  According to Ameimar, even maternal brothers may testify in the first place.

The Gemara asks: How is this case different from sexual relationships between siblings, which the Rabbis proscribed?  The Gemara answers: Relationships are seen by all (and an onlooker would misunderstand), whereas testimony is in the hands of the court, who understand the law that a convert is like a newborn child.

You don’t need to go to an adoption agency to find children who need your love and care, although that is certainly a most worthy, incredible mitzvah.   Know any converts?  Then you already know newborn children who don’t have parents.

The awkwardness in dealing with converts is that we spend a year or two attempting to dissuade them from their decision to convert.  And then when we finally do accept them ‘under the wings of the Shechina (Divine),’ we suddenly need to welcome them with open arms.  Until now they’ve been strangers in our midst; now all of a sudden they’re one of us.

It’s not easy to switch gears like that, but when you heed the words of the Talmud, you realize that it’s a whole different ballgame now.  The person you’re seeing today is a completely different person you’ve known for the last year or two.  S/he is a newborn and needs your care and attention. 

In fact, being a newborn, they don’t have parents of their own.  Often their decision to become Jewish means breaking ties with their biological families who have other religious expectations of them.  That’s an enormous leap of faith and commitment for G-d.

Instead of looking askance at them and asking, ‘Why on earth would anyone want to become Jewish?’ you should be opening the front-door, seeing the baby on the doorstep, and welcoming them into your family.  They need parents to adopt them.   They need parents to guide them as they start their own Jewish homes.   And the same way that parents who adopt love their children unconditionally without any expectation in return, so should you love your new adopted child(ren).

We all pay lip-service to the idea of converts being born again.  What are you prepared to do for these precious souls who need adopting?

Is it too late to mend your character flaws?

Daf Yomi Yevamos 21

There’s a classic story of the teacher who wants to teach his students a lesson about the dangers of gossip.   He takes them outside on a windy day and opens up a down-filled pillow.  The feathers are immediately swept up by the wind and scattered far and wide.
“Your project for today,” says the teacher, “is to go and pick up all the feathers.”
“But that’s impossible!” the students respond.
“Ah hah!” replies the teacher. “That’s the danger of gossip.  Once you let the feathers of gossip out of the bag, you can no longer control what happens to them and you have no idea where they will end up.”

Concerning the maintenance of correct measures in business, such as scales for produce in a grocery store, the Torah states, “You shall not have in your bag diverse weights, great and small.  You shall not have in your house diverse measures, great and small.  A perfect and just weight shall you have; a perfect and just measure shall you have; that your days may be long upon the land which Hashem your God gives you.”

Rabbi Levi taught: The punishment for incorrect measures (middos) is harsher than the punishment for illicit sexual relationships.  What makes it worse?  Once can repent for the sins of illicit relationships; one cannot repent for the sins of measures.

Rashi explains:  With regards to most illicit relationships, all one needs to do is to stop the relationship and repent before G-d.  However, when one has sinned with improper measures, he has stolen from the public and has no idea whom to pay back his ill-gotten gains. 

In Hebrew, the word for measures is middos.  The same word is used for character traits.  The deeper message of the Talmud here is that we must be so careful when it comes to our character and its expression in terms of our relationships with others.

Gossip is but one example of the feathers that fly about that you can’t bring back.  The same is true of any bad character trait.  When you treat people with contempt or disdain or a ‘holier than thou’ attitude, can you ever rectify that?  We spend a lifetime working on ourselves but even once you’ve recognized and perfected a character flaw, how do you then go about saying sorry to everyone you’ve ever acted inappropriately towards?     It’s so important to work on your middos sooner than later!  The more you clean up your act today, the less feathers that will be floating about that you can never truly repent for!

 Nobody is born perfect.  Some of us have greater challenges than others when it comes to character imperfections, but everyone needs to work on themselves.  Start looking inside and see which part of you needs fixing.  The more you learn to master your middos, the happier you and those around you will be, and the less feathers you’ll need to go chasing after later!

Friday, 24 October 2014

The Stain on the Rabbinate

Daf Yomi Yevamos 20

Recent events surrounding the shocking conduct of a prominent rabbi, who abused his authority and unfettered access into his victims’ personal space, both physically and emotionally, have been a source of pain to us all.   Let me take this opportunity to comfort the victims, both personal and congregational.  Our thoughts and prayers are with you during this difficult time.

Many have lashed out at rabbinic power and its abuse and potential abuse.   Is abuse of rabbinic power indeed the issue?  Should it be curtailed or regulated?

The Mishnah states: They said a general rule when it comes to the law of the levirate marriage.  Any relationship that would be forbidden between the widow and the brother is automatically dissolved – they do not require the levirate marriage (yibum) or its annulment (chalitzah).  Regarding a relationship prohibited due to a mitzvah or sanctity, they should annual the union and not proceed with the levirate marriage.

What is the meaning of a mitzvah prohibition?  Secondary relationships, which are rabbinically forbidden.  Sanctity prohibition?  A widow to the high priest, a divorcee or one who has been annulled from the levirate marriage (chalutzah) to an ordinary cohen, a bastard or Nesin (descendant of the fake Gibeonite converts) to a regular Jew, or a Jewess to a bastard or Nesin.

The Gemara asks: Why is it called a mitzvah prohibition?  Abaye answers: It is a mitzvah to heed the words of the Sages.
Why are they called sanctity prohibition?   For the Torah states (concerning priestly relationships), “They shall be holy to their G-d.”

The Beraisa states: Rabbi Judah reversed the terms.  A mitzvah prohibition refers to the forbidden relationship between a widow and the high priest or a divorcee or chalutzah and an ordinary cohen.  And why is it called a mitzvah prohibition?  For the Torah states concerning the priestly obligations, “These are the mitzvot.”  

Sanctity prohibition (according to Rabbi Judah) refers to secondary relationships which are rabbinically forbidden.  And why are they called sanctity prohibition?  Abaye taught: Anyone who fulfils the words of the Sages is called holy.  Rava asked: And anyone who does not fulfil the words of the Sages not only is he not called holy, is he not also called wicked?!?  Rather, teaches Rava: We are enjoined to sanctify ourselves with that which is permitted.

The Torah grants enormous power to the Rabbis.  It is a biblical mitzvah to heed the words of the Rabbis!  This power has been challenged and disdained over the centuries by many opponents of traditional Judaism.  In fact, the Karaites went so far as to call those who adhered to tradition, ‘Rabbinic Jews.’  They claimed, in distinction, that everyone should have the right to interpret the text as they saw fit, hence their name from the word ‘kara,’ meaning ‘read’ or ‘text.’

But the Talmud here gives us guidelines to know when the Rabbis are acting biblically and when they are acting, G-d forbid, out of line.  The role of the rabbi is to increase the holiness of our people.  That means teaching us how to remain pure and holy in a world that aims to tear us away from holiness.  It means teaching us how to sanctify ourselves in that which is permitted – even in our ordinary mundane lives.  When you come into shul, the rabbi’s job is to give you the energy and passion to infuse into your day-to-day life, making it meaningful and spiritual. 

The job of the rabbi is not just to lay down the law.  That’s not what the Talmud says.  It’s about imbuing the people with holiness.  It’s about leading the way in holiness.  And it’s about the congregational relationships that create the positive energy that moves people to holiness.   When the rabbi is distant from his congregants, it is a red flag that something is amiss.  When he is not bringing positive energy into the shul, something’s not quite right. 

And when horrendous information comes to light as did in recent events, it is a clear indication that said person was not a real rabbi.  It’s not a reflection of rabbinic power or its abuse; it’s a sign that someone was put in place that should not have been there to begin with, and sadly nobody said anything sooner to curtail the terrible damage.  Once a rabbi is failing to infuse the people with inspiration, positive energy, and holiness, he is no longer fulfilling his role. 

This man was one bad apple that should have been spotted years ago.  Let’s not allow one stain to undermine our entire system of tradition.  ‘Rabbinic’ Judaism has kept our nation alive for thousands of years!

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Get through the Perfect Storm of Life!

Daf Yomi Yevamos 19
Roy was absolutely distraught. 
“Rabbi, my world is caving in.  It seems like the perfect storm has brewed in my life.  I’m having problems in my marriage.   My kids are struggling at school.  I’ve been lagging at work and my boss is constantly looking over my shoulder.  And I’m floundering religiously.  Why is G-d doing this to me all at once?”

The Beraisa states: If two brothers are married to two sisters and they both die, Rabbi Shimon exempts the third brother from performing the levirate marriage (yibum) or its annulment (chalitzah) with both of the widows.  For the Torah declares, “One may not take his wife’s sister as a rival,” meaning that in a situation where they would become rivals to one another, he should not take either of them.

Rabbi Ashi explains: If one brother died and then the other died, they would become widows one after the other and then Rabbi Shimon’s law would not apply.  With what case are we dealing here?  That they died at the same time.  Rabbi Shimon holds like Rabbi Yossi the Galilean who taught that situations may occur simultaneously.

Rashi explains:  In tractate Bechoros, we learn about a sheep that gave birth to two baby lambs that emerged at the same time.  Rabbi Yossi says that both babies should be given to the cohen as firstborns, while the Sages opine that it’s impossible that both emerged at exactly the same time.  Instead, one should be given to the cohen as the firstborn and the owner should get to keep the other one.

Our Sages are teaching us that the perfect storm is a very rare occurrence.   Most of the time when life’s challenges appear to be occurring all at once it’s not really so.  One thing happened and then another and then another – your problems didn’t all begin simultaneously. You need to break it down and figure out the root cause of the multiple issues. 

Inevitably, there is one thing in your life that you’ll find has gotten you out of sync and everything else is caving in as a result.  Maybe things are tough at work and you’re taking it out on your spouse.  Resolve the work issues and everything else will be resolved.  Maybe family relationships are out of sync and your ability to do your job is suffering as a result.  Figure out the root cause, work on resolving it, and everything else will fall into place.

Perfect storms don’t come along every day.  Life’s challenges do.  Don’t let a challenge in one area of your life take everything else over.  Separate that challenge away from the other parts of your life and work on resolving it as smoothly and quickly as possible!  

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

How to get him off the couch

Daf Yomi Yevamos 18

Levi has graduated from university but isn’t working yet.  He just sits around the house, reads the newspaper, takes the dog for a walk, goes to the gym, blogs on the internet . . . and before he knows it, the day’s over.  It’s driving his parents crazy.  Every day, his mom searches for jobs and sends them to him but she doesn’t even know if he’s bothering to open her emails.  They’re at their wits’ end; they don’t know what more they can do for him.

Rabbi Judah ben Beseirah taught in the Mishnah:  If there were three brothers and one died, leaving a widow.  One of the surviving brothers wants to marry the widow’s sister but he or his other brother has an obligation to perform the levirate marriage (yibum) with the widow.  What should he do?  We tell him, ‘Wait until your brother takes action!’  Once his brother has performed the levirate marriage or its annulment (chalitzah), he is free to marry the sister.

Sometimes, we just need to be patient and wait for our brother or sister to take action.  We can send them all the job postings in the world, but if they’re not motivated, we’re just wasting our time.

Just like the couple in the Mishnah who are eager to get married, sometimes we are ten steps ahead of everyone else.   You might be passionate about a project but if you want it to succeed, you might need to have patience and wait until your brother shows initiative and takes action.  Maybe it’s an employee that is slacking at work that you’re trying desperately to push in the right direction.   Maybe it’s a spouse that is not yet on the same page as you with a big life decision. 

When people are told what to do or just spoon-fed, they are rarely successful.  But when they show initiative and take action on their own, the results are often incredible.  Not everyone moves at the same speed and it can be challenging to allow people to find their way on their schedules.  But it’s often worth the wait, because when they do end up taking action, this is their project, their idea, their motivator!

As eager as you may be, you need to be patient with those around you.  Let them take action of their own accord and then you will all be successful.  Everyone has great potential.  Those around you may just need some space.  But then you will see – when they take action, all the blessings will fall into place!

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Will your Grandchildren be Jewish?

Daf Yomi Yevamos 17

Thank G-d we have been blessed with four beautiful girls.  I was chatting recently with friends of ours who also have only daughters.  Sam asked me whether we planned to keep going and try for a boy.  I replied, as I always do, that it’s all in the Almighty’s hands and anyway, ‘as long as they’re healthy . . . intelligent and good looking!” But then I threw the question back at him.  His response: They’d decided to quit while they were ahead.
“After all, rabbi,” said Sam, “at this point we’re guaranteed that all our grandchildren will be Jewish.”
“Not necessarily,” I replied, “that really all depends on you.”
Rabbi Judah quoted Rabbi Assi: If a gentile betroths a Jewish woman nowadays, we must be concerned for the validity of the betrothal according to Jewish law (meaning, that the dissolution of such a union would require a gett), since perhaps he is a member of the ten lost tribes.   The Gemara asks: But we should assume that since most gentiles are not members of the tribe, he is not!  The Gemara answers: We are talking about a situation where he came from an area where they settled and were the majority population.

When I (Rabbi Judah) related the teaching before Samuel, he said to me, “Your child who comes from a Jewish woman is called your child.  However, your child who comes from a gentile is not called your child, but her child.”  There are those who record the exchange as follows: When I related the teaching before Samuel, he said to me, “They did not move from that place until they had deemed them complete gentiles, as the prophet Hosea declared, “They betrayed G-d, for they begot strange children,” and thus one need not be concerned for the validity of their betrothals.” 

The final consensus amongst the Talmudic legal decisors is that children born of a Jewish mother are 100% Jewish, as far as their status is concerned.  Practically speaking, that means that they may be counted in a minyan (prayer quorum), called to the Torah, and married under a huppah.   But the fact that there are differing opinions in the Talmud concerning this matter should alert us to the fact that it’s not so simple.  True, they may ultimately be considered Jewish as far as their proverbial birth certificate is concerned but growing up in an intermarried home, what are the chances that their Judaism will be meaningful to them?

We were celebrating Sukkot the other day in shul and I noticed an older gentleman whose family is active in the synagogue.  He was all alone and so I asked him where his grandchildren were.  He replied that he had no idea, were they his responsibility? 
I responded with a resounding, “Of course!!” 

Parenting and grandparenting is a never-ending job and it’s a commitment that one signs onto for life.  Just because your grandchildren are Jewish by birth doesn’t mean it will impact their lives.  You need to continue to work hard to ensure that their Judaism is meaningful to them.  Otherwise they’re Jewish in name alone.  And if that’s the case, what difference does it make that you only have girls and their children happen to be Jewish?

My grandmother had a girl-cousin who married a Christian.  They decided they would bring up their children with both faiths, which of course never works because you can’t believe in unity and trinity concurrently.  And so their children all turned out Christian.  This woman’s granddaughter (my third cousin) today is a museum tour-guide.  She tells me that she often has Jewish groups visit the museum and she finds herself talking to them about her Jewish heritage.  The conversation inevitably goes something like this:
“My grandmother was Jewish,” she tells them.
“You don’t say!” comes the reply, “Which side?”
“My mother’s mother,” she responds.
“Oh!  That means you’re Jewish!” they’ll tell her.
“Really?  Wow!” she replies, feigning incredulity.

She finishes her story shaking her head at the ridiculousness of these repeated encounters.
“It really doesn’t matter what they say.  I know that I’m Christian.”

Having Jewish children and grandchildren is no guarantee.  It takes hard work.  It takes commitment.  And your job is never over until the day you die.  Being Jewish is much more than what your birth certificate states.  If you want your great-grandchildren to be Jewish, it takes incredible sacrifice. 

But you can do it!  If this is the most important thing to you in life, and it should be, you will do whatever you can to ensure that your dream becomes reality!  Don’t ever stop instilling the values of our heritage within them and they will indeed make us all proud!

Sunday, 19 October 2014

G-d Repays His Debts

Daf Yomi Yevamos 16

When Grandpa “Poppa” Friedman returned home to Kosice from the death camps, he, like many other survivors, found their houses occupied by their neighbours.  Realizing that he wasn’t going to get into the home he’d grown up in, he told them that he just had to get access to the backyard.  But that too was denied him by the new occupants.

So off he went to the police to get assistance.  You see, before being carted off to Auschwitz, Poppa had buried the family treasures in the yard, including the house title documents.  Sure enough, however, by the time he returned, the wicked occupants had figured out what he was looking for and beat him to it.  All that remained was some freshly-shoveled dirt.

Now, Poppa was left with nobody and nothing.  All alone in the world.  You can imagine how forsaken he must have felt by the Hands of G-d at that moment.

King David writes in Psalms, “I was young and I also grew old, and I never saw a righteous man forsaken such that his offspring would need to ask for bread.”

Rabbi Samuel bar Nahmani quoted Rabbi Jonathan: This verse was said by the ministering angel of the world, for who else could have said it?  If you suggest it was said by the Holy One blessed be He, is there a concept of growing old by Him?  And if you want to suggest that King David was speaking of himself, was he ever even that old? (He died at age seventy.)  Rather, we therefore derive that the ministering angel of the world said it.

Poppa didn’t give up hope.  He said to himself, ‘What is the one thing that every Jew needs right now?’  His answer: Headstones!  While they could not bury their dead – most of whom, had been cremated in the death camps – the survivors at least wanted to erect monuments in memory of their loved ones.  Poppa taught himself stonemasonry and began to set up matzevos (headstones) for the murdered Jews.  In fact, that’s how he met Nanna – he was commissioned by the family to set up her parents’ memorial stones! 

Life still wasn’t easy.  Poppa and Nanna managed to scrape together some money to emigrate from Czechoslovakia, making their way eventually to Australia, where they worked hard to make ends meet for themselves and their ten children.   They started out cleaning hotels; Poppa ultimately became a cobbler and Nanna, a furrier.  Incredibly, however, thank G-d by the end of their lives they had built up enough wealth to become quite the philanthropists – giving generously to tzedakah (charity), including the donation of not one, but two Torah scrolls to the Sydney Russian Shul, F.R.E.E. (Friends of Refugees of Eastern Europe)! 

The Almighty does not forsake the righteous.  He promises that their children will not go hungry.  Sometimes it takes a lifetime or even longer to see this promise fulfilled.  Indeed, the Talmud says that King David’s seventy-year lifespan was not sufficient time to witness the guaranteed fulfilment of the blessing.  And so the Talmud concludes that only the ministering angel of the world who has seen one generation pass to the next could attest to the fulfilment of the Almighty’s promise.  It’s a guarantee.  It’s a promise.  And G-d never reneges on His promises.

You might feel that G-d hasn’t given you what you deserve.  You’ve worked hard, physically and spiritually and He hasn’t repaid you.  Think about Poppa and the horrors he endured, only to find that G-d had completely taken everything away from him.  And yet he didn’t lose hope.  Because G-d promises that the children of the righteous won’t go hungry. 

Keep believing the promise.  The fulfilment might not come tomorrow.  It might not even come next year.  But guaranteed, if you maintain your righteousness, G-d never leaves His debts unpaid.  You and your offspring will eat and be satisfied.  Just keep the faith.

Stunk on a Plane

Daf Yomi Yevamos 15

Israel’s national airline, El-Al, recently came under fire for massive delays on flights from the US to Israel.  The issue?  Ultra-Orthodox men who refused to occupy their pre-assigned seats next to women.  The saga made international news and the Washington Post reported that the pilot had to plead with the men to sit down so that the plane could take off.  But no sooner was it in the air, than the men jumped out of their seats and blocked the aisles, wreaking havoc and making the flight most uncomfortable for all the passengers.

If a man dies childless, the law of the levirate marriage (yibum) obligates his brother to marry the widow and bear children perpetuating the deceased’s name.  If they refuse to proceed with the yibum, they perform an annulment service called chalitzah.  If, however, the widow was somehow otherwise related to the surviving brother, she is exempt from yibum and chalitzah.  The Mishnah teaches that not only is a related woman exempt, but even if her polygamous co-wife is related to him, she is exempt.

The Mishnah states:  The School of Shamai permits the unrelated co-wife to the brother and the School of Hillel forbids the relationship.

Rabbi Yochanan ben Nuri taught: How should this law be disseminated in Israel?  If we decide according to the School of Shamai, the children will be bastards according to the School of Hillel; and if we decide according to the School of Hillel, the children will be illegitimate according to the School of Shamai!   Let us decree that the co-wives in question all do chalitzah and not yibum.

Chief Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel asked him: What then shall we do with any pre-existing co-wives, who already followed the ruling of the School of Hillel and, believing that there was no obligation to do yibum or chalitzah, went on to marry unrelated men?  Should they do chalitzah post-facto?  That would make them repulsive to their husbands, who would feel that until now they weren’t legitimately married!  And we could not, in good conscience, institute such a decree, for concerning the Torah, King Solomon writes in Proverbs, “Its ways are ways of pleasantness.”

It’s okay to take on extra personal stringencies in one’s relationship with the Almighty.  But not when they come at the expense of making others feel repulsed by the Torah.   Rabbi Shimon refused to accept Rabbi Yochanan’s solution, because it would turn people off.  We must strive to show the pleasantness of the Torah’s ways and any stringency that would threaten that is not a stringency – instead, you are acting contrary to G-d’s will!   If you refuse to sit in your seat on the plane because you think you’re being pious, you’ve missed the point.  The Torah’s ways are pleasant and nobody should be made to feel repulsed by a Torah decree!

Rabbi Shimon is offering us an important rule of thumb: When may you act piously?  Only if it increases the perception of the beauty of Torah.  For example, according to strict Halacha, if you find an object in a busy thoroughfare, you may keep it.  But imagine what a sanctification of G-d’s name you would make, if you were to put up signs around the neighbourhood seeking the owner!  Now that’s piety that demonstrates the Torah’s pleasant ways.  By contrast, self-righteous ‘piety’ that causes people to be repulsed, is antithetical to Torah.

We live in spiritually challenging times when we are bearing witness to the tragic vanishing of the vast majority of our people.  It is incumbent upon every one of us who cares to utilize every opportunity possible to demonstrate the pleasantness of the Torah’s ways.  Don’t mess up!  You can make a difference, for better or for worse.  Strive to ensure it’s always for the better!  

How to Solve the Shidduch Crisis

Daf Yomi Yevamos 14

In a recent article in Mishpacha magazine, Shlomo Yehuda Rechnitz attempts to resolve the “Shidduch Crisis.”  He points to the number of Bais Yaakov graduates who are pushing thirty and older and have not found their mate in life.  Bais Yaakov is the network of haredi (ultra-Orthodox) girls’ schools.  His suggestion is to encourage the boys to marry younger and thereby close the age gap between the boys and girls, in the process lessening the number of unmarried young women.

The Mishnah states: Even though they did not agree concerning whether certain relationships were forbidden or permitted, the School of Shamai did not hesitate to marry women of the School of Hillel, nor did the School of Hillel hesitate to marry women of the School of Shamai. 

The Gemara asks: How could they not hesitate to marry one another?  The offspring of forbidden relationships would be illegitimate (and forbidden to marry)!  The Gemara answers: They would simply inform a member of the other school if they could not marry certain individuals.  And this indeed makes sense, as the Mishnah continues:  Despite the fact that there were many instances where one school deemed certain foods kosher and the other deemed the food non-kosher, they would still not hesitate to use one another’s kitchen utensils.

And why does the Mishnah inform us that the School of Shamai did not hesitate to marry women of the School of Hillel nor did the School of Hillel hesitate to marry women of the School of Shamai?  To teach you that, despite their differences in halachic rulings, they treated one another with love and kinship, thereby fulfilling the dictum of Zachariah, “Love truth and peace.” 

There’s a much simpler solution to solving the “Shidduch Crisis” than asking men to get married when they still have very little education, barely out of high school.  Young women and men need to start looking beyond their own little enclave communities.

The most interesting element of Rechnitz’s article was his obsession with Bais Yaakov girls and the shortage of boys in the ‘yeshiva’ world.  The tragedy of our time is the factionalism that has developed in the Orthodox world, way worse than it ever was in days of yore.  Back in the day, says the Talmud, the Schools of Hillel and Shamai bitterly disputed many aspects of Jewish practice.  But at the end of the day, they displayed “love and kinship” towards one another and did not hesitate to seek marriage partners in the other community.

Today, we live in an age of unprecedented factionalism in the Orthodox world.   Many people wouldn’t dream of marrying a young man or woman outside of their hashkafic (philosophical) community.    You want to resolve the “Shidduch Crisis”?  Start by opening up your mind to the options out there.

When I was looking to get married, I am proud to say that I dated across the Orthodox spectrum.  I went out with girls who were Modern Orthodox, Yeshivish, Chabad, Sefardic, and even one girl who had been educated in Hasidic schools.  I was looking at the inner person, not meaningless external trappings.  My wife jokes that in the end, I got ‘all of the above’! 

If you know someone who is looking to get married and has been unsuccessful in their own little community, encourage them to be a little courageous.  Tell them to try YUConnects, Yeshiva University’s shidduch program.  Have them call a shadchan (matchmaker) in Crown Heights or Williamsburg.  You never know where that one right person might come from!  We may not solve the “Shidduch Crisis” but if we open up our minds, we’ll go a long way to closing the gap.

Don't confuse Custom with Law

Daf Yomi Yevamos 13

I recently read a newspaper article that categorized various streams within Judaism.  The author, a Reform rabbi, offered the following options: Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, Ultra-Orthodox, Chabad and Chasidic.   ‘Nice try,’ I thought to myself, ‘but you’ve compared apples to oranges in your assessment.’

The Mishnah states: The Megillah may be read on the 11th (of Adar), 12th, 13th, 14th and 15th, no earlier or later.   
Reish Lakish asked Rabbi Yochanan, “Why don’t we apply the Torah’s law of ‘You shall not create factions,’ which means that everyone should practice the same law?”
Rabbi Yochanan responded with the following Mishnah: In a place that people customarily would go to work on the Eve of Passover until noon, one may go to work.  In a place where people would not work, one should not work.  Rabbi Yochanan continued, “Why did you not quote that teaching?”
Reish Lakish replied, “I asked you about a case of law, and you respond with a case concerning customs?!”

The difference between Orthodox and non-Orthodox Judaism is a case of law.  Outside of Orthodoxy, Torah law is a matter of debate and becomes less and less rigid and conformist as the years go on.  Indeed, there is no agreement as to whether the Torah is even a Divine document, let alone whether one is bound by its commandments.

 In contrast, the differences within Orthodox Judaism are, by and large, matters of custom.  A Teimani (Yemenite Jew) can pray in a Chasidic shtiebel (small synagogue) in Boro Park.  A Ben-Torah (Yeshiva-world Jew) from Lakewood can pray in a Modern Orthodox shul in the Upper West Side of New York.   There will be a few minor differences in the customs, but the basic format of the service is the same.  And we are all in agreement over the basic laws.  These different customs are not different denominations or streams within Judaism, G-d forbid.   Divergences in custom are merely part of the cultural richness of Judaism.

In fact, a single friend of mine pointed out to me that he went on J-Date and the choices were Orthodox, Conservative or Reform.  He then went on Frumster (the Orthodox dating web-site) and the choices of nuanced Orthodoxy were unbelievable!  You could be Modern Orthodox, Yeshivish, Chasidic, Chabad, Carlebach, Sefardic, and the list went on and on!!  Why?  Because Orthodoxy is united when it comes to the law; but we thrive on our customary richness. 

Don’t get confused between law and custom.  The Law is the same Law that G-d gave Moses on Mt. Sinai, as handed down from one generation to the next for thirty-three centuries and kept the same way by Jewish communities at all four corners of the earth.   Customs may vary, customs may change.  But the Law remains eternally unchanged.

Is it safe now to visit Israel?

Daf Yomi Yevamos 12

After Grandpa Morris passed on, Grandma decided to move from the UK to Israel.  Her final years in the Holy Land were some of the most exciting years of her life – she loved being in the Holy Land and she loved going for tea in Netanya’s Independence Square.

During Black March of 2002, there were fifteen suicide attacks by Palestinians against Israelis.  Most Israelis were terrified and ventured out of their homes as little as possible.  Not Grandma.  She was interviewed by Haaretz as she sat drinking her tea in Independence Square.  Asked by the reporter why she was not afraid, she told of her younger days in England during WWII.  The Germans had dropped a bomb right near her house, causing the roof to cave in.
“I feel if I survived that once, when my time's up, it's up,” Grandma told the reporter.

Rabbi Bibi taught before Rabbi Nachman:  Three women may utilize family planning methods, a young lady, a pregnant woman and a nursing mother.  The young lady may do so, lest she become pregnant and die; the pregnant woman, lest her fetus become deformed; and, the nursing mother, lest she wean her child who may die.  Such is the opinion of Rabbi Meir.   The Sages, however, teach that in each of these cases, the woman should engage in intercourse in the usual manner and they will be shown mercy from Heaven.  For King David writes in Psalms, “G-d protects the simple.”

What was your response to the recent war in Gaza?  Did you cancel your trip to Israel?  Or did you hop on a plane and show your support?   Grandma a”h knew that “G-d protects the simple.”  When you simply go ahead and do what G-d wants without your own calculations, G-d will protect you.

Does that mean that you should walk across a highway blindfolded and say, ‘I have faith in G-d’?  Of course not.  That is stupidity.  It means doing what the Almighty expects of you without trying to calculate whether G-d knows what He’s doing.  He wants you to procreate.  He wants you to be in the Holy Land.  When logic dictates otherwise, you have to ask yourself whether this passes the test of reasonable risk.  Sure it’s dangerous to go to Israel during a war.  But guess what?  Statistically, there’s more chance your plane will crash on the way than that you’ll be killed while you’re there!

Have a simple relationship with the Almighty.  Trust in Him.  He will protect you.  And when your time is up, it doesn’t matter where you are; your time will be up.  Meanwhile, strive to fulfill His will and you will feel more fulfilled for it, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually!  

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Don't let those hockey tix go to waste!

Daf Yomi Yevamos 11

Seats for Kids is a great program run by the Edmonton Oilers Community Foundation.   Let’s say you have season hockey passes, but you can’t make it to every game.  Instead of throwing out the unused ticket and having your seat remain empty for the game, you can donate your seats to an underprivileged family.  Why would you waste the tickets when they could go to a good cause?

Two laws must be introduced: Firstly, when a man dies childless, the Torah obligates his brother to marry the widow and maintain the family name.  This tradition is call yibum – the levirate marriage.  If they choose not to proceed, they perform a ritual called chalitzah, which annuls the union.  If there are two wives, he may perform yibum or chalitzah with either and the other one is automatically exempted. 

Secondly, a cohen (member of the priestly family) may marry a previously-unmarried woman or a widow.  He may not marry a divorcee or one who has undergone chalitzah.

The Mishnah states: If the deceased brother left two widows, one who is kosher and one who is invalid for marriage, if he wants to do chalitzah, he should do so with the invalid widow.  And if he wants to do yibum, he should do so with the kosher widow.

The Gemara asks: What does kosher and invalid mean?  If kosher means kosher to the world (i.e. she could marry anyone, even a cohen) and invalid means invalid to the world (for example, she was previously a divorcee and therefore invalid to a cohen), why should it mean that – if she’s okay to marry him, what difference does it make who else she could marry?

Rabbi Joseph answers: Here Rebbe (Rabbi Judah the Prince) is teaching a lesson, “A person should not spill out his well-water if others could use it.”  Rashi explains: Since he could do chalitzah with the widow who would be invalid to the cohen (the divorcee) and exempt the ‘kosher’ widow, that’s what he should do.  He should not do chalitzah with kosher widow, because that would thereby invalidate her from marriage to a cohen (and now they would both be invalid).

There are many opportunities in life to do someone else a favour with something we weren’t going to use anyway.  Maybe it’s your hockey tickets.  Maybe it’s your gently-worn clothing.  Don’t spill out that well-water!  Other people could put it to good use!

There are two reasons why people spill out their well-water: Either they’re just not thinking about others or they’re thinking maliciously.  ‘If I’m not going to get the benefit, nobody should get the benefit.’   I knew a fellow once who had a parking stall at work.  But he didn’t have a car.  He was asked repeatedly by colleagues if they could park in his spot, but each time he flatly refused.  That makes no sense!  And yet we are driven by a feeling that if I can’t have it, nobody can.

Rebbe teaches us that life isn’t about relative gains.  It’s about absolute gains.  Stop looking over your fence to see how your neighbour’s yard is doing.  Instead, take the extra ten minutes to mow their lawn!  It won’t hurt you and it will certainly benefit them.  The more you start thinking about absolute gains for all as opposed to your relative gain, the better the world will be!  

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Averaging Down is Nonsense!

Daf Yomi Yevamos 10

When a man dies childless, the Torah obligates his brother to marry the widow and maintain the family name.  This tradition is call yibum – the levirate marriage.  If they choose not to proceed, they perform a ritual called chalitzah – the removal of the shoe, which annuls the union.

The Torah states, “His brother’s widow approaches him before the elders and removes his shoe from his foot and spits at him.   She shall declare and say: This is what is done to the man who will not build his brother’s house.”

Why does the Torah say “who will not build”?  It should be past tense: who did not build!   The Gemara teaches: Once he has not built, he will never build. 

It’s very difficult to break out of a cycle of bad investment decisions.  Instead of viewing past investments which have turned sour as a sunk cost, human nature is to continue to throw good money after bad.  There is even a ridiculous investment method called ‘averaging down,’ which says that if your stock drops, buy more and then just convince yourself that it was really all one purchase and you can think about the average price you paid, to make yourself feel better! 

In most cases, once you have not built, you will probably never build.  Most people won’t admit to themselves that their past decisions were a mistake and so they continue to do the same thing over and over instead of closing the door on their past errors and making the determination that this time will be different.  This time, I will build.

Maybe you made a poor spiritual decision in the past and now you keep going along with it because you’ve invested too much.  Maybe you made a bad relationship decision and now you figure it’s too late to do anything about it.  Maybe you made a bad property decision and you’re pouring good money after bad instead of starting fresh.  Don’t get into that rut of bad decision-making!  It’s time to close the door on sunk costs and make a decision today to build anew!

Monday, 13 October 2014

Stop cheating on your spouse!

Daf Yomi Yevamos 9

Jennifer was concerned about hubby Ben’s TV viewing habits.
“What’s the big deal?” Ben asked coyly, “So I like watching Baywatch.”
“I think it’s highly inappropriate for a married man to be watching scantily-clad women parading their goods around the beach,” responded Jen. “You should have eyes only for me.”

The Torah states, “The citizen of the Children of Israel or the stranger who lives among them, there shall be one Torah law for you, for he who acts unintentionally.  But the person who [worships idolatry] acts with a mighty hand, from the citizen or from the stranger, it is G-d that he blasphemes, that soul shall be cut off from the midst of its people.”

Rabbi Joshua explained the verses to his son:  The entire Torah is juxtaposed to idolatry, meaning that negation of any commandment of the Torah is akin to idol-worship.

Maimonides explains that idolatry originates in the false notion that G-d needs agents or helpers.  The sun shines and so idolaters would worship the sun as G-d’s agent for light and heat.  Of course that’s nonsense.  There is nothing besides G-d in this world and so any suggestion of agency implies that the Almighty is not the sole existence. 

And the same is true of any sin you commit.  For that moment, you are denying G-d’s Omnipresence.  He is everywhere, watching everything.   When you sin, you not only deny G-d’s Omnipresence, you actually cut yourself off from the Divine flow of energy and start feeding off the forces of impurity.  And that’s why committing any sin in the Torah is akin to idolatry.  By sinning, you’re choosing to feed off the ‘other side,’ instead of choosing G-d.

Concerning the sotah, the wife who secludes herself with another man, the Torah states, “If his wife shall turn (tisteh).”  Our Sages comment, “A person does not sin unless a spirit of folly (shtus) enters him.”   

What is this spirit of folly?  In the case of the woman who met with her guy-friend, she knew that she was doing nothing wrong.  ‘I’m just spending time with him.  I didn’t do anything.’   The truth is that her husband had every right to feel jealous.  You should not need any other male-female relationship than the one you share with your spouse.  The sotah’s need to spend time with this other bloke shows that her marital relationship is lacking. 

The spirit of folly says that it’s okay for a wife to have a relationship with another man.  The spirit of folly says that it’s okay for a husband to look at other women.  ‘I didn’t do anything.  I just looked.’  Wrong!  You must have eyes only for your spouse!  You must be able to share your most intimate feelings with your spouse!  Resorting to people outside of the marriage to get your kicks is, on a smaller scale, cheating on your spouse!  It demonstrates that your spouse isn’t everything to you.

And that’s why committing any sin is akin to idolatry.  “A person does not commit a sin unless a spirit of folly enters him.”  The spirit of folly is that this little sin is no big deal.  But it is a big deal.  At that moment of sin, you are having a relationship with the ‘other side’ which is idolatry!  You’re saying: My relationship with the Almighty doesn’t satisfy all my needs and so I’m taking a time-out with Satan!

Your spouse must be your everything.  The Almighty must be your everything.   You need nothing outside those two relationships.  Don’t ever let the spirit of folly enter and convince you that it’s no big deal.  You’re more committed than that.  You’re not a cheater.