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Wednesday, 31 December 2014

The Truth will transform you

Daf Yomi Yevamos 88

Shaindy has a heart attack and is taken to hospital. While on the operating table she has a near-death experience, during which she sees an angel.  She inquires whether this is the end of the line.  The angel says no and informs her that she still has another thirty years to live.  

As soon as she has recovered, Shaindy figures that since she's got another thirty years, she might as well stay in the hospital and have the face-lift, liposuction, and nose-job that she has always promised herself. So she does and even changes the colour of her hair!  But tragedy strikes: some weeks later, just as Shaindy is leaving the hospital, she is run over and killed by a drunk driver.

When Shaindy arrives in heaven she meets the angel from her vision.
“I thought you said I had another thirty years,” she screams at him.
“Oh, I am so, so sorry,” the angel replies, “I must admit, I didn’t recognize you.”

When the ten sons of Jacob arrive in Egypt seeking food for the family, the Torah states, “And Joseph recognized his brothers but they did not recognize him.”
Rabbi Hisda says, “This teaches us that he departed (Canaan) without the seal of a beard and arrived (at the encounter with his brothers) with the seal of a beard.”

You know when you bump into a friend after many years and they’re now sporting a beard or a moustache, or perhaps they’ve shed their former facial hair?  You hardly recognize them, right?  Well, in most cases you do recognize them, but you can’t put your finger on what’s different about them until it hits you, ‘oh, it’s the beard!’  What does Rabbi Hisda mean?  Is he seriously trying to convince us that the ten brothers of Joseph appear and not one of them recognizes him with a beard?!?

Our Sages explain that the ‘seal’ of the Almighty is truth and the only absolute truth is the Torah.  The word for beard, ‘zakan,’ is short for ‘ze kanah’ – ‘this one acquired.’   In other words, the brothers didn’t recognize Joseph, because during his absence he had acquired the truth.  He was a transformed individual, unrecognizable from his former self.   The former Joseph was a young lad that felt he had to report his brothers’ bad behaviour to his father.  The new Joseph understood that everyone should be judged in a positive light and that he must even find a reason why he was sold into slavery that would vindicate their actions. 
“Now, you did not send me here, it was G-d,” Joseph tells his brothers, “for G-d sent me before you for sustenance.”

If he only discovered the truth after his departure, does that mean that he was not Torah-observant before he was sold into slavery?  Of course he was.  But he had not yet internalized the Torah and made it the utter truth of the core of his being.  He was keeping Torah and mitzvos as he had been instructed by his parents.  Only after leaving his father’s house did he have the opportunity to grapple with the truth on his own and become transformed by Torah.

Torah must be transformative.  Many people go through the motions of mitzvos but never reach the truth.  Our goal in life is to ‘depart without the seal of a beard and arrive with the seal of a beard.’  You left the comforts of Heaven for your sojourn in this world and after 120, you will return to Heaven.  If you’re the same person you were when you left, what’s the point of all the heartache and suffering this world affords your body and soul?   You departed without the seal of a beard – when you came to this world, you did not yet have the truth.  But you must strive to arrive with the seal of a beard – life on earth is about grappling with the truth of Torah and internalizing it until you become transformed by your discovery and understanding.

Don’t drift through life going through the motions of a half-baked commitment to Torah and mitzvos.  Strive to attain the seal of the Almighty – a true appreciation of His Wisdom, the Torah.  May you merit the courage and strength to grapple with the truth and become transformed until you are so spiritually moved that you are unrecognizable!

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

When life has you down, you can always come home

Daf Yomi Yevamos 87

When I was learning in yeshiva in Israel, I bumped into an old friend from back in Australia.  I hadn’t seen Ari for many years and we’d taken completely divergent paths in life.  After high school, he’d gone off to Israel to join the army where, sadly, he had become less and less observant.  By the time I met him, Ari had a Filipino girlfriend and prided himself on being ‘the only one who comes to Israel and finds a non-Jewish girl to date.’

One evening, he came to our yeshiva to visit some of his old mates and at the end of a wonderful night of reminiscing, I suddenly said to him, “Ari, it’s time to come home.  Why don’t you consider joining us in the yeshiva?”
Ari shook his head.  “Na, mate.  It’s too late for that.”

The Mishnah states: The daughter of a priest who was married to an Israelite may not eat the priestly tithe (terumah).  If he died and she had a son by him she may still not eat terumah. If she was subsequently married to a levite she may eat the levite tithe (maaser). If the latter died and she had a son by him she may continue to eat maaser. If she was subsequently married to a priest she may eat terumah. If the latter died and she had a son by him she may continue to eat terumah. If her son by the priest died she may no longer eat terumah. If her son by the levite died she may no longer eat maaser. If her son by the Israelite died she returns to the house of her father; and it is concerning such a person that it was said (in the Torah), “And she shall return to her father's house, as in her youth; she may eat of her father's bread.”

It’s good to know that no matter what ordeals one has in life, there’s always a place you can call home.  This poor lady was married and widowed three times.  She buried three children.  She lived a life of tragedy but she’s not alone.  At the end of the day, she knows that her parents will welcome her back into their home where she will ‘eat of her father’s bread.’

Most people know that no matter what happens – whether it may be issues with relationships, financial difficulties or any other problem, your parents will always open up their hearts and welcome you back home.   Nevertheless, sadly, it’s not true for everybody.  Not everyone has parents that they can fall back on in times of need and distress.  Not everyone has that safety net, that warm cup of cocoa by the fire.

But we all have a Father in Heaven to Whom we can always turn.  His house is always open.  We can always eat His bread.  His love for us never ceases.  He always yearn for His children to come back home.  It’s never too late.  No matter what you have done in life, no matter how far you have drifted from your Father’s home, He is patiently sitting by the fire, cocoa in Hand, waiting for you.  He loves you and will never forsake you.

It’s time to come home.  Our Father in Heaven is yearning to have a relationship with you.  He yearns to embrace you.  There’s no curfew – it’s never too late to open up your heart to Him.  May you merit a deep, close, and personal relationship with your Father, and never be afraid to come home after years of sojourn through the perils of the wilderness of life!

Monday, 29 December 2014

Are you borrowing from Heaven?

Daf Yomi Yevamos 86

Ed was contemplating retirement but wasn’t sure whether the time was ripe.
“We’d like to move closer to our kids and grandchildren, Rabbi,” he tells me.
“Can you afford to retire?” I asked him.
“I think so,” he replied.
“And what do you plan to do in retirement?” I inquired.
“Actually I want to join a kollel and learn Torah full-time.  I never had the opportunity to learn when I was younger.”
“Well, if you can afford to do that, then you certainly should!” I responded enthusiastically.

The Rabbis taught: Terumah tithes are for the priests and the maaser tithes are for the levites, according to Rabbi Akiva.  Rabbi Elazar ben Azaria says: for the priest (cohen).
The Gemara asks: For the priest and not the levite?
The Gemara answers: He means, even for the priest, for Rabbi Joshua ben Levi taught, “In twenty four places in Scripture, the priests are called levites.”

That garden from which Rabbi Elazar ben Azaria (who was a cohen) would take levite tithes, Rabbi Akiva went and moved the entrance towards a cemetery (preventing access to a cohen).  Rabbi Elazar said, “Akiva has his pouch and I shall live.”
Rashi explains that Rabbi Akiva was originally a shepherd.  The pouch was worn around the neck for one’s provisions.  According to the Maharsha, Rabbi Elazar recognized that Rabbi Akiva needed the tithes more than he did, since in the absence of levites the poor people would take the tithes, while Rabbi Elazar was a person of means.

On a deeper level, ‘that garden’ refers to the Garden of Eden which is Heaven.  When we partake excessively of the pleasures of life in this world, we run the risk of taking our tithes from the World to Come.   The Almighty doesn’t want us to suffer in this world, but we must always make sure that we are not amassing unnecessary wealth.   Any monetary accumulation must be for the sake of Heaven.  Anything that you do not need for the service of G-d is superfluous and risks being taken off the tab from The Garden. 

Rabbi Elazar ben Azaria was very accomplished.  He became the chief rabbi at the age of eighteen and was financially well-to-do.  Rabbi Akiva realized that the young rabbi might be utilizing his tithes from the World to Come and demonstrated that access to The Garden should only be via the cemetery.  Only once you pass from this world to the next should you partake of the tithes of The Garden.  Rabbi Elazar was grateful to Rabbi Akiva for being a spiritual shepherd to him and bestowing him with eternal life and exclaimed, “Akiva has his (shepherd’s) pouch, and I shall live!”

Your job in this world is to accomplish as much in the Divine service as you can.  The more you devote yourself to the pursuit of this-worldly achievements, the less time you have for next-worldly pursuits.  If you have sufficient means to live comfortably, there’s no need to make another million and another million, simply for the sake of amassing wealth.  You can’t take it to the grave.  If you are overindulging in this world, you risk borrowing from the tab in the next world.  The Almighty wants you to live comfortably and enjoy this world.  But He doesn’t want you to overindulge.  The challenge is to know when to say ‘enough’ and then dedicate yourself to spiritual pursuits.

Early retirement means gaining the opportunity to go swimming – in the sea of Torah.  Shorter work weeks mean having time to volunteer for communal organizations.  Simply working to earn money that you don’t need is not your purpose on earth and may be detrimental to your ultimate Heavenly reward.  Instead, utilize your talents for the Almighty and your reward will be infinitely greater!

Our Sages tell us in Ethics of the Fathers, “This world is like a hallway for the World to Come.  Prepare yourself in the hallway in order to enter the palace.”  Don’t overindulge at the smorgasbord – leave loads of room for the Ultimate Dinner!  May you always merit discerning how much is enough pleasure in this world and what should be reserved for the World to Come!

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Finding the strength to leave the abuse

Daf Yomi Yevamos 85

Rena was in a terrible relationship.  Her boyfriend was constantly verbally abusing her and one time he even pushed her physically against the wall.   The Rabbanit had tried to convince her to leave the relationship but she was just too used to life with Serge.  How do you convince someone to leave an unhealthy situation?

The Mishnah states: If a widow married the High Priest, or a divorcee or chalutzah married a regular cohen, (when they divorce) they nevertheless receive the kesubah payment (despite the fact that these unions are forbidden).

Rabbi Elazar asked Rabbi Yochanan: In these cases, is she entitled to sustenance during the marriage or not?
The Gemara asks: What are we talking about here? If we’re saying that she is living with him, we should tell them to divorce! 
The Gemara answers: We must be dealing with a case where he went overseas and she borrowed money to live.  Do we say he’s responsible for repayment?  On the one hand, sustenance is a requirement of the kesubah.  If the Mishnah states that she is entitled to the kesubah, then perhaps she is also entitled to sustenance?  On the other hand, the kesubah payment is an incentive for her to separate, whereas sustenance is an incentive to stay! 
Rabbi Yochanan responded: She is not entitled to sustenance.

Sometimes you find yourself in an unhealthy situation but you are too timid to extricate yourself from it.  You might be with someone or you might be keeping certain friends.  You know that they are wrong for you, but you are too scared to leave the relationship for who knows what the future will bring?  Or maybe you’re in an abusive employer-employee relationship that you are too apprehensive to leave. 

Rabbi Yochanan teaches us that if the relationship is wrong, you need to get out.  The payment on the way out far exceeds the payment for staying.  It’s not easy to make that move but you know when you need to.  Don’t stay with friends who are dragging you down spiritually or emotionally.  Don’t stay with an employer who is putting you down constantly.   The Almighty has great things in store for you if you can just pull yourself out of the bad relationship you’re currently in.

Fear of the unknown can be crippling.  You know it’s time to get out and move on with your life but you don’t know how to.  Take that leap of faith and you will find happiness in your life.  May the Almighty shine His countenance upon you, and may you have the merit to discover the right people and the right relationships in life!

Challenges make you stronger, wiser, greater

Daf Yomi Yevamos 84

My friend Moshe was married to a lovely girl, Fraidy.  They were married for just six months when they suddenly received the terrible news that she had cancer and only another few months to live.   After she passed, he was devastated and didn’t know how he could go on with his life.  Eventually, he pulled through and has since dedicated his life to counseling people dealing with grief.  He has remarried and today has five beautiful children.

The Mishnah states: Rabbi Eliezer taught, “One is liable for copulation with an androgynous individual, as with a male.”
It was taught in a Beraisa: Rebbe said, “When I went to learn Torah at the yeshiva of Rabbi Elazar ben Shamua, his students ganged up on me like Beis Bukia chickens and all I was able to learn was this one teaching from our Mishnah that Rabbi Eliezer says that one is liable for copulation with an androgynous individual as with a male.”

We all have challenging experiences in life.  Even Rebbe, Rabbi Judah the Prince, who compiled the Mishnah, tried a certain yeshiva but left it because he felt bullied.  Sometimes when you have a bad experience, you want to try to forget everything that happened and move on.  Listen to Rebbe’s reaction to the experience: instead of putting it completely out of his mind, he asked himself, ‘Why did G-d send me here?’  And after racking his brain, he realized, ‘Hey, I might not have gained much out of my time there, but I do recall one thing that Rabbi Elazar taught.  Clearly, that’s why the Almighty sent me there!’

Every ordeal that you go through in life has been Divinely ordained.  If you find yourself in a negative space, G-d decreed that you should be there.  You need to ask yourself why.  What did He want you to learn from the experience?  How did you become a better person?  My friend Moshe utilized his pain and suffering to help others through their grief.  Now he knows what they are experiencing and feeling and he can help them get through it.

You may have dealt with serious trials and tribulations in your life.  You want to put them completely behind you, but the Almighty sent you those challenges for a reason.  You have become a better, stronger, wiser individual.  Now it’s time to help others dealing with their issues.

Everything the Almighty does is for a reason.  You are who you are because of life’s challenges.  May you have the merit to utilize every experience, for better or worse, in helping others and serving the Almighty!

Positive thinking is a mitzvah!

Daf Yomi Yevamos 83

There were three choices on the sheet of paper the Schwartzes handed me: do everything possible to save the life of their father, including resuscitation; do everything possible except resuscitation; or, only provide comfort medication.  The hospital had asked them to make a decision as to how to deal with Mr. Schwartz and they wanted to know what the Torah required of them.

I handed them siddurim (prayerbooks) and instructed them to open up to Ethics of the Fathers.  We read together, “One moment of repentance and good deeds in this world is greater than all of the life in the World to Come.”
“Choice number one is the right choice,” I told them, “we do everything possible to keep a person in this world doing mitzvos.”
“But what if he’s in bed and can’t even move or speak any longer?” Freddie asked, “Is it still worth prolonging dad’s life?  What mitzvos would he be doing?”

It was taught in a Mishnah: One who spreads his vine over the grain of his friend, renders it an unfit graft (kilayim) and he must compensate him.  This is the opinion of Rabbi Meir.  Rabbi Yossi and Rabbi Simon say, “A person cannot forbid something that does not belong to him.”

Tosfos asks: How is this case different from placing non-kosher meat into one’s friend’s dish, which would certainly prohibit the food?  Rabbi Isaac answers that we only employ the principle that ‘a person cannot forbid something that does not belong to him’ with regards to thought mitzvos.  For example, if one worshipped his friend’s animal, he cannot make the animal prohibited as an object of idolatry.   Therefore, kilayim (grafting produce) which is a thought transgression accords with this principle.

While you can’t affect your friend’s life with negative thoughts, you most certainly can affect their life with positive thinking.   When you think good, positive thoughts about someone else, you draw down blessing into their life!  According to Kabbalah, the soul has three garments, meaning that there are three ways that the soul expresses itself physically: thought, speech, and action.   Not only can your soul accomplish in this world by doing or saying good things, it also accomplishes incredible amounts of good just by thinking good things!

And that’s what I explained to the Schwartzes.  “You have no idea,” I said to them, “what your dad is thinking every time you walk into the room – what nachas he’s getting from the children and grandchildren!”
“It’s true,” responded Freddie, “sometimes we’re not sure if he’s cognizant or not, but then his face lights up when he sees the grandchildren!  Obviously, he’s thinking good thoughts.”

Positive thinking is not just for the ill and infirm.  You can achieve incredible blessing just by thinking positively about others.   We all know what we can achieve by our good deeds.  We even know what can be achieved by what we say.  But you have no idea how much you can accomplish just by what you are thinking!  And that’s why you always need to be thinking positively about others.  When you think positively, you give people the ‘good eye’.  G-d forbid, should you think negatively about them, you would give them a ‘bad eye’, which is a channel for negative energy to enter their lives.

It’s not just about the good things you say and do in life.  Every positive thought you have about someone else is a mitzvah.  When you think positively about their success and accomplishment, you bestow the ‘good eye’ upon them and draw down Divine blessing into their life.  May you always merit thinking positively about everyone and being a source of blessing to all!  

Thursday, 25 December 2014

Is there archaeological proof for the Torah?

Daf Yomi Yevamos 82

Recently, a piece of rock was found in Jerusalem with an inscription that clearly demonstrates that King David and his dynasty were historical figures that were well-known in the region.   Many people are ecstatic at the find.  We now no longer need to rely solely on the Bible; we have independent proof verifying the longstanding relationship of the Jewish people to the land of Israel.  Slowly but surely, we are finding more and more evidence that traces our claim, each taking us further back in history, so that should be no shadow of a doubt as to the Jewish people’s roots in Israel.

How important is this find to the Jewish people?

The Torah declares, “And Hashem your G-d will bring you into the land that your forefathers inherited and you shall inherit it.”

The Seder Olam Beraisa teaches: They shall have a first and second inheritance but they will need no third inheritance.
Rashi explains: The first inheritance took place in the days of Joshua and the second in the days of Ezra, for when they were exiled by the Babylonians, the sanctity of the land was annulled.   The third era, however, will not require us to re-inherit the land, for the original inheritance remains in force.  This verse teaches us that the sanctity of the land was not annulled by Titus’s exile of the Jews.

While every archeological discovery in Israel is interesting, we need no proof of our history in the land dating back to King David.  The fact that the historical record clearly shows that we were in Israel until the Romans exiled us is sufficient.  When that happened, says the Seder Olam, nothing changed.  Our claim to Israel is based on our habitation of Israel during that era.  The Torah promises us that Titus could never annul our relationship – it has been the same ever since Ezra returned to Israel. 

After all, other religions and peoples who claim a stake in the land didn’t exist thousands of years ago!   All we need to demonstrate is that we were verifiably in Israel two thousand years ago and our claim is rock solid (excuse the pun)!  And there is ample independent historical proof for that fact, such as the works of Josephus and an abundant archeological record.

Finding a piece of stone that shows that King David was real, is unnecessary for our claim to the land.  It might demonstrate the veracity of the Bible.  But we all know it’s not going to create any new believers.  The Torah is not a storybook.  Our Tanach was designed to instill faith in Torah and mitzvos.  Mere knowledge of King David’s historical existence is not going to send anyone running to shul.  So while the find is interesting, it is of no practical import.

If you’re waiting for a Heavenly sign to believe in Torah, Am Yisrael (the people of Israel) and Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel), open your eyes!   Look at the miracles He has wrought during our own lifetime!  After thousands of years of exile, we once again have sovereignty in the Land of Israel.  Where are the Romans today?  Where are the Babylonians today?  We are fortunate to bear witness to open miracles that our forebears only dreamed of!  May you always merit love and devotion for the Land of Israel and the ability to see the wonders of the Almighty manifest in our days!  

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Should you stay in Edmonton or move to Toronto?

Daf Yomi Yevamos 81

Avril and Chad were debating whether they should move out of Edmonton.  On the one hand, clearly Toronto would be a better choice in terms of access to Jewish amenities – more Torah classes, better availability of kosher food and a good Torah-observant environment.  On the other hand, the Almighty placed them in Edmonton.  Perhaps their mission on earth was to be a shining example of Jewish commitment to our brothers and sisters outside the centres of Torah?

“Rabbi, should we stay or should we go?”

The Beraisa taught: An impure piece of sacrificial meat that was mixed up in a hundred pieces of pure pieces or an impure piece of showbread that was mixed up in a hundred pieces of pure showbread is nullified.  Rabbi Judah says it is not nullified.  However, a pure piece of sacrificial meat that was mixed up in a hundred pieces of pure non-sacrificial meat, or a piece of pure showbread that was mixed up in a hundred pieces of pure regular bread, all agree does not become nullified.   

Rashi explains that there is no need to nullify, because we can simply sell the mixture to a cohen (priest) who may partake of both the sacrificial meat or bread and the regular meat or bread, as opposed to the first case, where without nullification, we would be forced to destroy the entire mixture.

Where you choose to live and with whom you choose to associate depends on how strong you feel in your commitment to Judaism.   In the first case, we have a piece of impure meat that gets mixed up in amongst pure meat and ends up being nullified according to the primary opinion in the Beraisa.  If you’re not very strong in your Judaism, then you’re better off living in a very Jewish environment where you will go with the flow and be swept up in the spiritual fervor. 

In the second scenario, the one pure piece doesn’t become nullified.  Instead, it elevates the entire mixture to necessitate priestly consumption!  In other words, if you are strong in your commitment to Judaism, then you have the ability to elevate those around you with your positive spiritual impact.  If that’s the case, then why would you want to become just another number in Toronto?  Stay in Edmonton and make a spiritual difference!

Each person knows where they’re at spiritually and what they’re capable of accomplishing. If you are not confident in the strength of your commitment, then you need to make that big move to a spiritually healthier environment.  But if you are confident in your own spirituality, you must utilize every opportunity to impact those around you!  May you have the fortitude to be honest with yourself as to what is best for you and your family, and may you always merit being a source of spiritual strength to yourself, your family, your friends and acquaintances!

Are you drinking diluted Judaism?

Daf Yomi Yevamos 80

After losing their entire families in the Holocaust, my grandparents decided to move as far away from Judaism and Jewish life that they could imagine.   They moved from Czechoslovakia to Australia and settled in the Blue Mountains, a couple of hours outside Sydney, far away from any Jewish community.  My father grew up with precious little Judaism but he always knew that he was Jewish and as he grew older, his heart yearned to learn more.

When he was eighteen, he moved to Queanbeyan, just outside Australia’s capital, for his first teaching position.  Canberra had a tiny Jewish Community Centre and he decided to check it out.  There he met a wonderful family, the Hasofers, who brought him into their home and taught him about his heritage.  He embraced his Judaism and today, he is proudly surrounded by children and grandchildren who are all committed Jews, thanks to his and mother’s valiant efforts to instill true Judaism in their children.

The Mishnah states: Rabbi Joshua taught, “I heard that a sterile man may perform chalitzah (levirate marriage annulment) and we likewise must do chalitzah for his widow; and that a sterile man may not perform chalitzah nor must we do chalitzah for his widow.  I can’t explain this discrepancy.”
Rabbi Akiva responded, “Let me explain.  One who became sterile may perform chalitzah and we must do chalitzah for his widow, since he had a period when he was suitable for marriage.  But one who was cut off from the sun cannot perform chalitzah nor must we do chalitzah for his widow, since he never had a period of suitability.”

The Gemara asks: What does “cut off from the sun” mean?
Rabbi Isaac bar Joseph quoted Rabbi Yochanan: Any man who never saw even one moment in a kosher state.  Rashi explains that he was sterile from birth.
The Gemara inquires: What is the cause of this condition of sterility from birth?
The Gemara answers: His mother baked bread at noon and drank diluted beer.   Rashi explains that the cause is the combination of the intense heat of the oven and the midday heat. 

Sadly, today most of our brothers and sisters are spiritually sterile from birth.  They have never seen a moment in a kosher state, due to two factors.  Firstly, we live in an age of intense heat.  The pressures of secularism and paganism are so strong and near impossible to withstand.   Secondly, even the Judaism that they have consumed has been diluted.   Diluted Judaism is not healthy at the best of times, but it doesn’t stand a chance in an age of intense heat.  And so it’s no wonder that our brethren are dropping like flies from the Jewish people, may G-d have mercy. 

My father was one of the lucky ones.  Sometimes it’s better to have no Judaism at all than a watered-down version.  When you are given the diluted story, you believe that you have tasted Judaism when in fact you’re just drinking the cheap knock-off brand.   Once you’ve drunk Johnnie Walker Blue, there’s no going back to Red.  And it’s no wonder that those who have only tasted the generic store brands aren’t big fans of whisky at all.  They’ve never savoured the good stuff!

If your Judaism isn’t thrilling to you, it’s time to come back to the table with a completely open mind and palate.  Chances are you’ve never truly tasted Judaism in its pure, pristine state.  Open your heart and mind to the undiluted wine and your soul will be elated.  May you merit to taste and enjoy pure undiluted Judaism and have the strength to withstand the heat of our times so that you may be blessed with a spiritually uplifting and invigorating life! 

Monday, 22 December 2014

Why are Jews liberals?

Daf Yomi Yevamos 79

Following the three years of famine in the land of Israel, David set out to appease the Gibeonites who had been wronged by King Saul, thereby causing the famine.

The Book of Samuel states, “The king called to the Gibeonites and said to them ‘What shall I do for you and how shall I atone so that you may bless the heritage of G-d?’  And they replied, ‘We do not seek silver and gold from Saul and from his house, nor do we seek a man from amongst Israel. . . Seven men shall be given to us of his children and we shall hang them to G-d.’

David tried to appease them but could not.   He then declared: There are three signs of the nation of Israel – they are merciful, they are bashful, and they are charitable.
As a consequence of their cruel demands, “The king called to the Gibeonites and said concerning them that the Gibeonites shall not be considered of the Children of Israel.”

Jews naturally lead the way in the promotion of liberal values.  As King David declared, at the core of our essence, we are merciful, bashful, and charitable.  Jews are very prominent givers to all causes and fight valiantly for the rights of all.  If someone does not feel anguish at the suffering of another human being, you must question their lineage.   Are they really Jewish?

The challenge is to know when to overcome one’s natural liberal proclivities for the sake of a higher morality.  For example, we might naturally be in favour of euthanasia – after all, shouldn’t people be able to choose for themselves whether or not to live a life of suffering?  But the Torah challenges our natural inclination and instructs us that murder is murder.

The same is true concerning Israel.  Our merciful tendencies inspire our hearts to go out to the Palestinians, who are suffering at the hands of leaders who have held them to ransom for half a century in an effort to maintain their underdog status.   The challenge is to overcome our natural proclivities and stand up and advocate proudly for Israel, whose government and army go to unsurpassed lengths to do whatever they can to ease the plight of the Palestinians, while valiantly protecting the safety and security of all Israelis. 

Your job in this world is not to be content with your natural inclination.  It’s wonderful that the Almighty created us with tendencies towards mercy, charity and liberal values.  The challenge is to overcome that proclivity when the issue calls for fighting for a higher moral calling.  May you always merit seeing the good in everyone, fighting for their rights but knowing when to put your own feelings aside to fight for a higher moral cause!

Divorce's Collateral Damage - the children

Daf Yomi Yevamos 78

Jessica and Justin wanted to initiate divorce proceedings. 
“We just don’t love each other like we used to,” they told me.
“But what about your kids?” I inquired.
“They’ll be fine.  We’re going to do this very amicably.  We wouldn’t want them to suffer.”
I thought to myself, ‘Sadly, I’ve heard that one before. . .’

The Book of Samuel states, “And there was a famine in the days of David for three years, year after year.”
The first year King David announced to the nation, “Perhaps there are idol-worshippers amongst you?”  They searched but found none. 
The second year, David said, “Perhaps there are lewd people amongst you?”  They searched but found none.
The third year, David said, “Perhaps there are those who publicly pledge charity but do not fulfill their word?”  They searched but found none.

David said, “The matter is dependent upon me.”  He immediately went and sought Divine counsel.
“And G-d said: This is due to Saul and the house of blood for he killed the Gibeonites.”

The Gemara asks: Where do we find in Scripture that Saul killed the Gibeonites? 
The Gemara answers: Saul killed Nob, the city of priests, and the Gibeonites had been providing them with food and water.  Now they remained without means of support.  Therefore, Scripture considers it as if he had killed them too.

Collateral damage is real.  Saul didn’t actually kill the Gibeonites, and yet the Scripture considers it as if he had killed them, because he removed their source of parnassah (livelihood).   The sin was so great, that it brought famine to the entire land!

Whenever you commit to a course of action, you need to ask yourself, firstly ‘Is this the right thing?’ and secondly ‘What might be the consequences of my actions?’  No doubt the Gibeonites didn’t even enter Saul’s mind when he decreed the destruction of the priests of Nob.  And yet, he was held responsible.

No matter how you cut it, it is near impossible for children of divorce not to suffer as collateral damage.  Parents begin – often even unwittingly and unconsciously – to strive to outdo the other parent.  It’s hard enough to work as a parenting team when you’re together, let alone apart!

Unless your spouse has committed some terrible, unforgivable sin against you, by divorcing you are failing to put these precious children first.  And when you brought them into the world, you promised to put them first.  You chose to marry this person – you owe it to your children to be on your very best behaviour at least until they are adults at which point you can make whatever choice you want with your life.  Then, they won’t be collateral damage.  But now, unless they are currently living in a toxic environment that divorce might spare them from, they will needlessly suffer by breaking up the home.

Always consider your actions.  And always imagine what the butterfly effect consequences of your actions might be.  May you merit always making the right decision to have the happiest outcome for all those in your innermost circle and outermost circles!

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Stop being a reactive Jew

Daf Yomi Yevamos 77

The Goldsteins used to live in Edmonton.   One day, young Jimmy came home from junior high public school with his non-Jewish girlfriend.  Mr. Goldstein wasted no time.  Within a month, he had found a job in Toronto.  He packed up his family and moved east.  The kids were all enrolled in Jewish dayschools and today Jimmy is happily married to a wonderful Jewish young lady who he met while he was studying at Yeshiva University.  Who knows what might have become of Jimmy had Mr. Goldstein not taken that huge reactive step?

The Torah declares, “An Ammonite and a Moabite [convert] may not enter the community of G-d.”
The Mishnah states: While Ammonite and Moabite males are forbidden forever, the females are permitted immediately.

The Gemara asks: Whence do we derive this ruling?
Doeg the Edomite said to King Saul: Ask about David whether he is fitting to enter the community, for he comes from Ruth the Moabite.  Amasa then girded his sword and said, “Whoever does not accept this law shall be pierced by the sword: So did I hear from the court of Samuel of Ramah, ‘An Ammonite, but not an Ammonitess; a Moabite, but not a Moabitess (are excluded from the community).’

The Gemara continues: But can we trust Amasa?  Did we not learn Rav’s teaching from Rabbi Aba concerning a scholar who comes to teach a new law: If he taught it prior to an actual matter, we heed him; but if not, we do not heed him.
The Gemara answers: Here is different, for Samuel and his court were still in existence and the matter could be verified with them. 

Jimmy was one of the lucky ones.  Mr. Goldstein reacted quickly and unequivocally to the situation his family was facing.  But many people aren’t as lucky.  When you react defensively to an actual matter, you run the risk of taking action too late.  When it comes to the spiritual success of yourself and your children, you can’t afford to be reactive, you need to be proactive.

That doesn’t mean that everyone needs to live in Toronto or New York.  What it does mean is that you can’t afford to wait until it’s too late to let your kids know your values.  I’ve heard way too many parents say, ‘Oh, they’re just dating, it’s not serious.  I’m not worried that he’ll actually marry her.’  As Rabbi Dovid Orlofsky says, “Nobody I know has gotten married without dating.”  In other words, dating leads to marriage. 

By the time your kid, G-d forbid, tells you that she wants to marry her non-Jewish boyfriend, it’s too late to have the conversation about your values.  That discussion needs to happen at the same time you have the talk about the birds and the bees.  And then again every week at the Shabbat table.   If it’s prior to an actual matter, they will heed you; but if not, they will not heed you.

Like everything in life for which you seek success, you need a plan.  You need to be proactive, not reactive.  If you plan to live in a small Jewish community, what’s your plan to keep your kids Jewish?  If you have a plan and you are proactively teaching your kids your values, then you will merit children who follow in your footsteps and give you nachas from grandchildren and great-grandchildren who are committed to our heritage!

No limits to Heavenly pleasure

Daf Yomi Yevamos 76

At one time, King David was forced to flee Jerusalem due to the revolt of his son, Absalom.   En route, he was shown kindness by Barzilai the Gileadite.  Upon his restoration to the throne, David wanted to reward Barzilai with a state pension and the ability to enjoy the pleasures of life in the capital.   Barzilai, however, declined.  He had spent a lifetime indulging in the desires of the flesh and could no longer even taste physical delights!

Rabbi Judah quoted Samuel: If the male member was punctured and sealed and it would tear open when he has a seminal discharge, he is unfit for marriage into the community; but if not, he is kosher.
Rava the son of Rabba sent to Rabbi Joseph: Rebbe, teach us, what do we do to determine that?
Abaye responded: We display colourful women’s clothing in front of him.
Rava retorted: Is everybody like Barzilai the Gileadite?
Rashi explains: Even such a modest stimulus was enough to evoke Barzilai’s desires in his youth.  Ultimately, his overindulgence accelerated his aging process until he no longer could taste any pleasure.

We were given this physical world to enjoy in moderation.  When you overindulge, life becomes tasteless and meaningless.  Since the pleasures of this world are physical, they are limited.  There’s only so much pleasure you can extract from this world.  At a certain point, you hit a pleasure ceiling and there’s nothing left to enjoy.

Do you think the person with one hundred million dollars is any happier than the person with one million dollars?  There isn’t much more you can do with an extra 99 million!  So you build a bigger house.  You buy a fancier car.  You take vacations over and over.  Even steak every night gets boring!

Not so with spiritual delights.  Since spirituality is unlimited, there is no end to the pleasure one can get from learning Torah and doing mitzvos.  The more you do, the more pleasure you get; yes, even in this world!  The feeling of delight that you get in figuring out a Tosfos (commentary on the Talmud) is indescribable – we should all be lucky to learn a small fraction of the Tosfos during our short lifetimes!

I mentioned to someone recently to get involved in a certain shul project.  “I’m sorry, I don’t have the headspace for that at the moment,” he tells me.  But he’s wrong!  When it comes to spirituality, you have unlimited headspace!  That’s the nature of spirituality.  It doesn’t work like the physical world where you max out on space, time and pleasure.  Your neshama (soul) is part of the Almighty and therefore there’s no limit to what you can accomplish!

Enjoy life!  But understand that physical pleasures are limited.  Spiritual pleasures are limitless.  May you merit gaining more and more spiritual pleasure with each further day you enjoy this world! 

Friday, 19 December 2014

Is the Shabbos App kosher?

Daf Yomi Yevamos 75

Recently, the YidTec company announced the release of the ‘Shabbos App.’ It’s a smartphone application that allows users to text on Shabbos.  The phone constantly stays on, operating with a continuous flow of energy.  In other words, you don’t need to switch the electricity on or off since the electrical charge is ever-present.

As things currently stand, they have yet to receive any rabbinic approbations.  But they are in the process of making modifications to their product to bring it up to an acceptable standard, because today there are many otherwise-observant teens that are already picking up their smartphones and texting on Shabbos. 

If they could make it halachically viable, would they solve the problem of teens who keep “Half-Shabbos”?

Concerning one who is impure, the Torah declares, “He shall not touch anything holy and he shall not come into the Sanctuary.”

The Gemara explains the juxtaposition of holiness and Sanctuary: Just like the Sanctuary is a matter involving the taking of the soul, so too holiness involves the taking of the soul.
Rashi explains: One who enters the Sanctuary in an impure state, his soul is spiritually taken.

Our Sages refer to the synagogue as a miniature Sanctuary, a microcosm of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.  When you enter into the sanctuary of the synagogue, you feel spiritually uplifted.  Your soul is taken on a journey to greater spiritual heights.  But in Judaism, holiness doesn’t only take place inside the synagogue.  Communal prayer is but one part of your service of the Almighty.

Every little thing that you do in this world has the potential for holiness and the taking of your soul on a spiritual journey.  When you make a blessing before eating and then consume the kosher food with the intention of using the energy to serve G-d, you have transformed a mundane act into a holy act.   If you want to take your soul on a journey, simply eating kosher food is not sufficient.  You need both the proper performance of the mitzvah and the spirit that you are investing into it.

And that’s what’s missing with the concept of the Shabbos App.  While the jury’s still out on whether it’s halachically sound, even if it is, it misses the point of Shabbos.   The spirit of Shabbos is the gift the Almighty has bestowed upon us that has only truly become manifest in the twenty-first century.  We live in a non-stop world where every five seconds we get a text, feed, tweet, or email.  Only on Shabbos do we get to shut it all down and live a spiritual existence. 

When we find ways to get around the Shabbos proscriptions, while they might theoretically work, they have forgotten the spirit of the day.   Believe it or not, there were those who argued that operating electrical items should be permissible on Shabbos, because it’s not really like fire, especially with the advent of fluorescent lamps, which don’t burn a filament!  And Tzomet in Israel has a whole range of Shabbos products including a synagogue microphone!  But our Rabbis have decreed that the active use of electricity is at least problematic in terms of the spirit of Shabbos, if not outright prohibited.

That doesn’t mean that we should utterly outlaw the Shabbos App.  If people are anyway going to text on Shabbos, yasher koach to YidTec for working valiantly to find ways to assuage the transgression!  But the app should come with a description that encourages users to curb their texting activity on Shabbos with a goal to its eventual cessation.  Because it’s definitely not in the spirit of Shabbos.

You can’t judge others and their commitment.  Holiness and spirituality come more naturally to some than others.  Your soul may go on a spiritual journey every time you do a mitzvah.  For others, it feels more like the yoke of Heaven that they are assuming and they struggle to go through the motions.  Don’t knock them, at least they’re doing the mitzvah.  Instead, encourage them to invest their Judaism with spirituality and holiness and may you merit being the vehicle to take their soul on a spiritual journey with every mitzvah they do!

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Why we love zombies

Daf Yomi Yevamos 74

Over the last number of years, there has been a surge in the popularity of zombie movies.   Scriptwriters have moved on from the model of zombie-as-foe to try to imagine how we might coexist with zombies.  After all, in the twenty-first century, can’t we all get past our differences and learn to just get along peacefully with one another?  Recently, a respectable political science publication even tackled the question of how we should react to a zombie attack!

Why indeed has there been a flurry of zombie activity and interest? 

When one would offer the tithes, the Torah states that one must declare, “I have not eaten it in mourning; I did not consume it impurely; and I did not give it to the dead.”

Reish Lakish quotes Rabbi Sammy: How do we know that one may use the second tithe that became contaminated for anointment?  The verse states, “I did not give it to the dead,” which means that the Torah is referring to something that could have been used for the dead but was used instead for the living.  What is such a thing?  You must say this refers to anointment

The technological advances of the twenty-first century are incredible and we have much to be grateful for.  Nevertheless, they have not come without their social challenges.  More and more people today are getting bogged down by the information age overload.   Instead of technology simplifying our lives and allowing us greater freedom to enjoy family and life outdoors, too many people are become zombified by TV, movies, video games and the internet. 

Let’s be clear: It’s not information overload; it’s information age overload.  Most of the time, people just do or watch the same thing over and over again on TV or the internet, not seeking any new information!  Ever noticed how many real news items happen each day?  Maybe one a day, if you’re lucky.  But news channels will discuss the issue over and over and over until you’ve become zombified watching. 

You end up staying up half the night watching for potential new developments or angles.  Until you finally crawl into bed, feeling overloaded by technology when in fact you haven’t really absorbed very much new information at all!  Indeed, not much different to your teenager who’s been up all night playing mindless video games.  And so the next day, everyone’s walking around like a zombie and it’s no wonder we’re fascinated by them and wonder if they might live amongst us!

It’s time to wake up and take hold of your life!  The Almighty has anointed you for his service.  But the Talmud teaches us that in order to be anointed, you have to be alive!  Living doesn’t just mean existing.  It means giving it your all!
If you are reading this Life Yomi, you have been anointed!  As you sit here learning, the vast majority of those around you are wasting away their lives and drifting through life half-zombified.   But you’re not one of them.  Yes, you must learn to coexist with the zombies, just make sure you don’t get bitten.  The Almighty has anointed you to be alive and give it your all!

Be excited and alive about life and your spiritual service.  You will merit being an inspiration to all the zombies around to wake them from their slumber so that they too may become anointed in the service of G-d and serve Him with joy and vigor!  

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Is self-promotion on social media kosher?

Daf Yomi Yevamos 73

“I’m sorry, Rabbi, thank you very much for offering to honour me at the synagogue gala dinner, but I’m just not looking for any kavod (honour),” said Joe, “I like to do things quietly.”
“This is not about you,” I replied, “it’s about the shul.  You are an inspiration to everyone in this city.  When they see that you are the honouree, they will be inspired to give generously!”
“Well, I don’t know,” responded Joe, “who am I already?”
“That’s exactly why we want you.” I said, “We don’t want the people who are running after kavod; we want the person who is running away from kavod!”

The Torah states, “The pure one shall sprinkle (the ashes of the red heifer) upon the impure one.”  The fact that the Torah calls him ‘pure’ means that he is actually impure.
Rashi explains: While he may be pure enough for this service, he is impure regarding other matters such as for example one who has been to the mikvah but not yet completed his purification process by waiting until nightfall, thereby disqualifying him from partaking of the priestly tithes.  If the Torah had indeed meant someone who was completely pure, it would not have called him anything since we anyway know that an impure person could not perform the sprinkling service.  Rather, the meaning of ‘pure’ is ‘a little pure.’

People who are pure don’t call themselves pure.  If someone wants everyone to know that they are pure, you can bet that they’re hiding some kind of impurity.  Truly righteous individuals don’t seek acclamation for their efforts.   They’re happy just to do the right thing for G-d and man.

There was a time, way back before the days of Facebook, Twitter and other social media forums when people would go about quietly doing good in the world without the need to use it as an opportunity for self-promotion.   Today, we live in a very confusing era, when everyone is fighting to carve out their space in the limelight.

So what is a humble person to do?  Run the other way; continue to do the right thing and avoid social media?  It really all depends why you are employing social media.  If it’s for your own kavod, then cut the cord and stay far away from the internet.  But if you’re doing it for the Almighty’s honour, then do it! 

We’re all familiar with the contrast between Noah and Abraham.  Noah stayed home building an ark while Abraham travelled the countryside promoting monotheism.  Do you think Abraham would have shied away from social media in the name of humility?  Absolutely not.  He would have utilized whatever means possible to get his holy message out to the world!

If you’re looking for the spotlight because you’re seeking kavod, that’s impure and you’re doing the wrong thing.  But if you’re doing it for G-d, run with it!  That’s completely pure!  May you merit to always be an ambassador for the Almighty, using the best PR and technology available, and may you be forever pure in your intentions to occupy the limelight not for yourself, but for Him alone!  

Monday, 15 December 2014

Does G-d have a cloud hanging over your head?

Daf Yomi Yevamos 72

Rabbi Avigdor Miller tells the story of a businessman who reappeared in Brooklyn after a hiatus of many years living out on Long Island.  His kids were reenrolled in Yeshiva Mesivta Chaim Berlin and initially struggled in their Talmud studies but eventually managed to catch up to their peers.
“Why’d you come back?” Rabbi Miller asked the man.
“I’m ashamed to say my business went under,” the man replied miserably.
Rabbi Miller finishes his story explaining that while this man was distraught at his economic woes, the Almighty had in fact sent him a hidden blessing – in those days, there no yeshivas on Long Island and now his children would once again have the opportunity for a good Jewish education. 

The Book of Joshua states: For all the people who left (Egypt) were circumcised but the generation of the wilderness was not circumcised.
The Gemara asks:  Why were they not circumcised in the wilderness?
One answer is that they were weak due to the travelling.
Another answer is that the northern wind did not blow for them, as the Beraisa teaches: For the entire duration of their forty year sojourn in the wilderness, the northern wind did not blow for them.
The Gemara asks: Why not?
One answer is that they were shunned for the sin of the Golden Calf.
Another answer is so that the Clouds of Glory would not disperse. 

You can imagine how the Children of Israel must have felt for forty years.  Every time they looked up, they saw clouds.  They yearned to see the sun, but the wind never arrived to blow the clouds away and let the sunlight in.  It’s easy to get bitter after all those years of longing for the sunshine. 

But the wind didn’t blow in order to maintain the protection of the Clouds of Glory above and around them.   The Clouds not only protected our ancestors against the harsh desert elements, they shielded them from enemy attack and kept their clothing fresh, laundered and physically growing as they grew! 

Very often we simply don’t understand how the Almighty is protecting us with those clouds hanging over our heads.  We think that He is just shunning us, but ‘every cloud has a silver lining’!   That cloud may be your salvation and protection from the burning desert sun!

Everybody wants to be rich.  But is wealth always a blessing?  I know a number of people whose kids haven’t amounted to much because they were born with a silver spoon in their mouths.  They never had to work hard in life and so instead they turned to sorrowful and decadent lives, leaving their poor parents reeling in despair.  Sometimes it’s life’s struggles that keep us on the straight and narrow, like the businessman whose kids gained a Jewish education due his deficient financial situation.

Stop looking at the cloud above your head as a burden and a sign of G-d’s lack of Providence.  The Almighty knows exactly what He’s doing.   He loves you and cares about you beyond your wildest imagination.  But sometimes He needs to cover you with His Clouds of Glory in order to protect you.  You may not see or appreciate why the cloud is here today or sometimes, even for many years, but when you maintain your faith in the Almighty, all will be good.

There’s an old Chasidic saying that goes, ‘G-d sends people many tests and challenges in life.  Some people get the test of wealth; others get the test of poverty.  Personally, I’d prefer the test of wealth!’   May the Almighty always shine His countenance upon you and send you His blessing in a revealed manner and may you utilize the sunshine to accomplish great things materially and spiritually!  

Sunday, 14 December 2014

G-d conceals His miracles

Daf Yomi Yevamos 71

Bill was in terrible pain.  Finally, Jill convinced him to go to the hospital.  Sure enough, he had gallstones. 
“We’re going to have to keep you here for a few days,” the doctor told him.
“Seriously?” said Bill, “I don’t have time for this.  They need me at work!”
But he had no choice.  It was stay in hospital or try to live with the pain until the stones passed themselves and there was no way Bill was going to do that.

As part of the tests at the hospital, they scanned the entire area.  Following this routine procedure, Bill’s doctor came into his room.
“Bill, I have bad news and good news.  The bad news is while we were doing the tests, we happened to discover what appears to be a potentially cancerous growth.  The good news is it seems to be at an early enough stage that we can remove it with very little difficulty.”
“That’s bad news?” cried Bill, “that’s a miracle!  Had I not had the gallstones, we would never have discovered the cancer in time!” 

Concerning the mitzvah to offer the Passover sacrifice on 14th Nisan and eat it on the eve of 15th, the Torah declares, “Every servant-man who has been acquired, you shall circumcise him, then he may eat of it . . . he shall circumcise for himself every male and then he may come close to offer it.”

The Beraisa teaches:  I would prima facie only understand that one’s sons must be circumcised at the time of offering and one’s servants at the time of eating.  How do I know that it is also the case vice versa?  The words ‘then’ and ‘then’ provide a link between the two laws.

The Gemara asks: It makes sense that you could have a situation whereby servants were not uncircumcised at the time of offering but were uncircumcised at the time of eating, such as when one purchased them in between.   But where do you find a case of sons who were uncircumcised at the time of eating and were not around at the time of offering?

Rabbi Sharabi answers:  For example where the baby stuck its head out of the womb of the mother on 7th Nisan and emerged completely on 14th Nisan in the afternoon, after the Passover sacrifice had already been offered. 
The Gemara asks: Can such a child survive?  Did we not learn the following?  Once a baby has exited into the air of the world, that which was closed is opened and that which was open is closed, for if that were not the case, he would not live for a moment.
The Gemara answers: What are we dealing with here?  Where he was sustained by a fever.
Rashi explains: A fever sustains an ill person. 

Most people get upset when they get ill and are running a temperature.  But what if I were to tell you that the fever is actually a sign that your body is fighting off illness!  The Gemara here is suggesting that fever is not a bad thing; it’s a little sign from the Almighty that your body needs healing!  Without running a fever, we might never know that we were ill and you would get sicker and sicker until it would be too late to find a cure.  It’s just like Bill’s gallstones that saved him from life-threatening cancer!

All too often we get upset at the Almighty for inflicting us but maybe He’s actually protecting you from something worse!  Friends of ours, Kathy and Bob’s son Jake always struggled at school.   They were devastated, thinking that his learning disability would leave him struggling throughout his life.  Today, Jake runs a successful plumbing company with a dozen people working for him.  Who knows?  Had learning come a little easier to him, maybe he’d be an unemployed Arts graduate today!

You have to trust the Almighty.  It may seem like He’s not treating you with kindness, but only He sees the big picture.  He loves you and wants the best for you.  He wants to shower you with His blessings.  When things don’t go your way, hang in there, don’t lose your faith.  The Almighty is setting you up to bestow incredible blessings upon your head!  

Should you say kaddish for grandparents?

Daf Yomi Yevamos 70

When Leibel’s father died, it went without saying that he would say kaddish for him for the duration of the eleven months and that he would be back each year on the yortzeit to recite the kaddish
But then he’d been thinking and came to me with the following question: “For years and years, I know that Dad would commemorate his parents’ yortzeits.  Now that he’s gone, should I be saying kaddish for Bubby and Zaidy?  But then where does it end – maybe I should also be commemorating my great-grandparents’ yortzeits!”
‘He was asking a good shayla (question),’ I thought to myself.  How far back does one go?  The Rabbanit can actually trace her lineage to King David.  Should she say kaddish on Shavuos, her great-grandfather King David’s yortzeit?

The Torah states, “And the daughter of a cohen who married a layman, she shall not partake of the holy tithes.  But if this daughter of the cohen became widowed or divorced and she has no offspring, she shall return to her father’s house as in her youth, and from her father’s bread (i.e. tithes) she may once again partake.”

Our Rabbis taught: The verse says, “And she has no offspring.” 
Question: From here, I only understand that offspring would maintain her layperson status.  How about the offspring of offspring, i.e. surviving grandchildren?  
Answer: The verse teaches ‘she has no offspring,’ meaning any offspring whatsoever.  
Question: How about illegitimate offspring? 
Answer: The verse teaches ‘she has no offspring’ – meaning examine her to determine if she has offspring of any sort (which would include illegitimate offspring).
Question: But you’ve already employed that verse to teach about offspring of offspring!
Answer: We don’t need a verse to teach about offspring of offspring, for grandchildren are just like children.

There is a special relationship between grandparents and grandchildren.  The old joke says that it’s because they have a common enemy!    But of course, the real reason, our Sages tell us, is that you don’t know whether you have succeeded at parenting – physically and spiritually – until you have grandchildren.   The Talmud explains that while the mitzvah of procreation obligates one to have a son and a daughter, one has not fulfilled one’s obligation until one has grandchildren from these children, thus ensuring replacement! 

In terms of reciting kaddish and observing the yortzeit for a grandparent, while you are not obligated to do so, it is certainly praiseworthy given the special relationship between grandchildren and grandparents.  Beyond grandparents, however, there is no need whatsoever to observe the yortzeit and we hope and pray that the yortzeits that were observed in their honour in years gone by will have effected the necessary elevation of their souls. 

In terms of grandparenting, however, the Talmud is clear: grandchildren are just like children.  That means that your job isn’t over just because you’ve raised wonderful children.  Whether it means helping out with Jewish education tuition payments if you’re able to do so, or calling your grandchildren regularly to discuss their spirituality, you need to have the same expectations of yourself in grandparenting as you did in parenting!   You can’t simply offload the responsibility to your children and say it’s their problem now; no, you have a responsibility to grandparent your grandchildren! 

Some people think that the golden years are about kicking back, relaxing, and focusing on themselves.  But as long as the Almighty has kept you here on this earth, He has a job for you to do!  You’re here to make this world a better place, beginning with your own children and grandchildren.  May you merit children and grandchildren who are committed to our heritage and may you always have nachas from every one of your offspring!